Friday, October 27, 2017

Fixing schools means overcoming the education establishment

"How can we, through a variety of efforts, whether it's through technology, innovation or policy, have an equal opportunity for everyone to participate in the future?" Those were the words of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Michael Moe, and it was the central question addressed by Moe and the nation's leading education innovators and thought leaders on the occasion of the Center for Education Reform's 24th anniversary last week. These individuals, diverse in race and ideology, are unified in their focus and their work.

Their conclusion? Education must be rooted in rigor assuring high levels of literacy and numeracy, be broad in scope, personalized, and accessible beyond ZIP codes and traditional schooling lines. "The way to have better outcomes for all kids is to meet them where they are and inspire them," said former D.C. City Councilman and author Kevin Chavous, rather than the current system that requires them to sit still, be directed by teachers still trained the way they were 50 years ago, and not provide them with an education that truly meets their own way and interests in learning.

Former Gov. John Engler, R-Mich., who this month took over the reins as chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which conducts national assessments and publishes "The Nation's Report Card," kicked off the evening's discussion. Engler's biggest concern is with the nation's inadequate reading scores and its multiplier effect on an individual student's long-term growth.

According to its latest assessment of reading levels, only 9 percent of fourth graders reached the level of "advanced" in reading, only 27 percent are proficient, and a combined 64 percent are basic or below basic. That's in fourth grade.

These troubling figures nearly mirror the NAEP scores from two years prior, and they're almost identical when U.S. students are measured in eighth grade (4 percent advanced, 31 percent proficient and 64 percent basic or below basic). In other words, the U.S. education system has flat-lined from year to year and between grades.

Consider that an estimated 40 percent of students will enroll in a two- or four-year college, but more than 60 percent of those students will need remedial courses, and only 59 percent of first-time college students will graduate within six years.

Engler encouraged the education reform community to eliminate the stigma attached to skilled technical and manufacturing jobs, and the pathways to those careers.

For years, the mantra in education was preparing and ensuring every student would enroll in college, but the evidence is clear, both in terms of student debt, remedial rates, and college dropout rates that the nation is failing to ensure that a majority of students will be prepared for education and for life.

While we must work to resolve these issues for young students, we must also address the single biggest issue facing our economy – millions of jobs that don't have workers and workers without the skills and lacking basic literacy necessary for many jobs. The fastest growing sectors in the U.S. economy are technical and manufacturing jobs that require high technological literacy, not to mention a wholly different approach to schooling.

A study by Deloitte estimated the U.S. economy will create 3.5 million manufacturing jobs in the next 10 years.

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta told a gathering at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week that an estimated 6.2 million unfilled jobs include a high percentage of skilled manufacturing positions that rely on employees having advanced training and technological know-how that yesterday's manufacturing positions did not require.

As our conversation at CER made evident, more needs to challenge the status quo in order to improve our nation's education system. Doing so requires a relentless pursuit of ensuring that innovation and education opportunity are infused throughout all of education, and that we must provide diverse offerings for students to pursue multiple pathways to master basic subjects and become college or career ready.

Chris Whittle, an education entrepreneur who started the first public-private partnership in education, founded the internationally recognized Avenues Schools and now has launched Whittle School & Studios, said the modern school should help every student master the basics and identify the area(s) every student is good at.

Whittle impressed the importance of helping students achieve their unique long-term goal, and more importantly, the vital role a school can play in enabling a student to succeed for the rest of their life. Whittle added, "If a school can help you find that, that school helps you find something else that's even more important, which is confidence…"

Today, the education system silos students throughout their schooling lives to the detriment to students and our nation's success. Those silos are supported and protected by hundreds of separately regulated and restricted funding streams, processes and rules that mandate arcane behaviors that no longer recognize how students learn, how teachers might better teach, how schools may be constructed, and how technology and knowledge might be better utilized and transmitted.

In the next 24 years, we need to break down these silos. We must move away from the us-versus-them mentality perpetuated by the education establishment (namely, teachers' unions, school board associations, and other entities that profit off the antiquated one-size-fits-all approach to education). The need to eradicate silos doesn't end there. As a country we must also eliminate the mentality that education should be delivered by fixed grade levels, that 8th grade or 12th grade has an objective definition, that primary and secondary education should be separate from post-secondary.

The Center for Education Reform is committed to a future for education that centers on the individual needs of the student, from kindergarten through adult life. This nation must ensure that learners at all levels have what they need to access the American dream. That doesn't require more funding; it requires different approaches that embrace the truly American idea of freedom at the core.


Leftists have had their greatest successes in undermining American values on the nation’s college campuses

Walter E. Williams

Our nation’s leftist progressives have long sought to undermine the American values expressed in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Though typical Democrats and Republicans do not have this leftist hate for our nation, they have been willing accomplices in undermining the most basic value the Founding Fathers sought to promote—limited government.

Leftists have had their greatest successes in undermining American values on the nation’s college campuses. Derelict and dishonest college administrators, professors, and boards of trustees have given them carte blanche.

Let’s look at some of it.

Students at the University of Virginia desecrated the statue of Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder. Students at the University of Missouri want Jefferson’s statue gone.

Why? He was a slave owner. Many in the college community supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid. They welcomed Sanders’ belief that the United States was founded on “racist principles.”

There have also been calls for the removal of President George Washington’s and President Abraham Lincoln’s statues. Some have called for the renaming of schools that honor Washington, Jefferson, and 11 other slave-owning presidents.

Leftists have called for the renaming of streets named after slave-owning presidents. There have been many leftist calls for the elimination of Columbus Day. Their success at getting Confederate statues taken down has emboldened them.

What goes unappreciated is just why America’s leftists’ movement attacks the Founders. If they can delegitimize the Founders themselves, it goes a long way toward their agenda of delegitimizing the founding principles of our nation.

If the leftists can convince the nation that men such as Washington, Jefferson, and James Madison were good-for-nothing, slave-owning racists, then their ideas can be more easily trashed. We find the greatest assaults on our founding documents on the nation’s college campuses.

The average parent, taxpayer, and donor has absolutely no idea of the bizarre lessons that college professors are teaching students.

Professor Adam Kotsko of Shimer College teaches, “Whether or not your individual ancestors owned slaves, you as a white person have benefitted from slavery and are complicit in it.”

Micah Johnson, a research assistant and graduate student instructor in the University of Florida’s Department of Sociology and Criminology and Law, teaches that the American notion of patriotism is “drenched in whiteness” and that patriotism implies that black people are “un-American.”

These types of attacks on American values have reached one of our most prestigious institutions of higher learning—the U.S. Military Academy.

The administration at West Point knew of 2nd Lt. Spenser Rapone’s disqualifying insubordination at the academy, extremist political views, and regulation-breaking online activity. Proof has surfaced that West Point leadership knew as early as 2015 that Rapone was an avowed communist and held Marxist anti-American beliefs.

One of his Facebook posts read, “F— this country and its false freedom.” Despite Rapone’s conduct and demonstrated hatred of our nation, the U.S. Military Academy’s administration saw fit to allow Rapone to graduate in 2016.

But the rot at our premier military academy goes beyond the traitorous ideas of Rapone’s. That was revealed in an open letter written by retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Heffington, once a professor of history at West Point.

Heffington’s letter exposed widespread corruption, cheating, and falling standards at the academy to which the administration has turned a blind, politically correct eye.

In response to Heffington’s widely circulated letter, the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., released a standard bureaucratic letter saying the administration will address the concerns raised in Heffington’s letter about falling standards.

It will also investigate the revelations that it not only managed to graduate Rapone but also sent him on to Army battlefield units, thus enabling him to spread his anti-American ideas.

The American people need to stop being sheeple and put a halt to the undermining of our nation taking place in our institutions of higher learning.



The Answer to Failing Schools? Give Students ‘Backpacks Full of Cash’

Imagine you are Jeanne Allen—who joined me recently on “Common Ground”—and you’re a longtime educational reformer, and you’ve coined this phrase, “backpacks full of cash.”

And the phrase is catching on because it truly captures an exciting idea in American education—the notion that, instead of appropriating giant sums to school systems, we, in effect, give each child a backpack full of cash to spend on education as their parents see fit.

The money in the backpack goes to the school the parents choose. If public schools performed well, parents could send their students—and the accompanying backpacks full of cash—to them.

If private or public charter or specialized or virtual or home school environments best suited students’ interests, the money would go to them.

Imagine how excited she must have been when producers putting together an education documentary five years ago contacted her about the phrase and its meaning.

Finally, imagine what it must feel like to be Allen now. That film is now being released, and rather than a balanced treatment of a variety of approaches, it is a hatchet job on her idea.

The trailer makes this clear, opening with a succession of speakers from the film.

“This ‘backpack full of cash’ is about privatizing, not improving, public education,” says one. “It’s an opportunity on islands of privilege amidst a sea of inequity,” says another. “There is no high-quality research that shows that this is a good method of teaching and learning,” says a third.

Better, they say, to spend more on public schools.

Not only that, but Matt Damon, whom she used to really like, is the narrator.

Damon isn’t telling us his story of his public school experience—a high-income public school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a favorite with people from Harvard.

Not surprisingly, he can’t seem to find this experience today in California and sends his own kids to private schools. It sounds like he thinks that the rest of us just need to work a little harder and spend much more on our public schools as they stand.

That’s the part that gets to Johnny Taylor, CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, who joined Allen and me on the show. He should know, his fund helps 300,000 African-American students go to college every year.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, test—widely regarded as the nation’s report card—found last year that two-thirds of American kids are not grade-level proficient in any subject. Not math. Not civics. Not reading, history, or geography.

Among immigrants and minorities, the numbers are even worse. In the D.C. school system, which has the second-highest per-student expenditure in the country, only 17 percent of black, brown, and Latino eighth-graders were doing math or English on grade level.

That’s 1 in 6, which is about the rate nationwide for minority student achievement.

Taylor draws on his experience working for media innovator Barry Diller. Taylor explains, “Education is an industry that refuses to innovate. And that’s my rub. Let’s not pretend that all of our public schools are working wonderfully. Why can’t we want to be better?”

But we have an educational establishment—with Damon as its spokesman—that seems more concerned with preserving teachers unions’ prerogatives than improving schools.

Allen says she believes Damon is educable on this.

So let’s try a thought experiment that might persuade him. What if Hollywood were run like schools? Wouldn’t that mean a monopoly with a central studio that controlled all movie making?

Would Damon be OK with making the same amount of money per picture as the worst actors in Hollywood, the way the worst and best teachers are paid the same?

Would there be color or even sound in movies? Both were expensive gambles taken by smaller studios to give them a competitive edge over larger rivals.

It’s not that everything is broken in public schools. It’s that, if two-thirds of America’s kids are not proficient in any subject, we can’t be closed to attempts at innovation.

And we can’t let Damon or Hollywood or teachers unions stand in the way.


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