Sunday, June 7, 2015

Education By Dummies

Politicians can talk all they want about how changes to the American education system such as the Common Core, new testing rubrics and teacher evaluation systems will vault us into the top tiers of learned nations over the next few years, but, really, that's not going to happen if what's happening in Arizona and other states doesn't get fixed.

At least 30 states spent less per student this school year than in the year before the economic downturn began, and 14 states, including Arizona, have cut per-pupil funding by more than 10 percent over that period.

The drop is not simply a reflection of state economies still struggling to recover. Experts say politics and policy have also played a role.

Of the seven states with the deepest cuts in education from kindergarten to 12th grade, six — Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin — also cut income tax rates, leading to a series of vigorous protests and public disputes between lawmakers and educators that are still playing out.
The Great Recession was terrible, but that part about cutting taxes and school funding is reprehensible. There is simply no excuse to give money back to taxpayers when the schools have a library that nobody can use or that run out of supplies before the end of the school year.

But that's not the only problem. Here in New Jersey, Governor Christie recently did an about-face and said that he no longer supports the Common Core Curriculum Standards but does support the PARCC tests that are based on...the Common Core. This neat bit of contradiction, endemic to Republican politicians, not only makes no sense; it invites testing students on skills and content that they will not learn in their classrooms. Couple this with the Governor's previous bashing of teachers and their association, and his severe education budget cuts and you have the scary proposition of someone sitting in the Oval Office who supports testing, but not the people who will be delivering a curriculum that is yet to be determined.

Christie has good company in another soon-to-be Republican presidential candidate, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Not only did he and the GOP-led legislature end collective bargaining for public employees, now he's proposing a bill that would significantly affect tenure in public colleges and universities. That law would repeal the idea of shared governance when it comes to tenure and is best explained this way:
Shared governance gives powers to faculty, staff and students over such matters as instruction, personnel matters and student services. The shared power is not the adversarial relationship many think of, Fair said. “It’s a conversation across the different bodies to reach consensus on what is best for the institution,” she said.

And while the employment protections conveyed by tenure can seem self-serving, Compas said, that is not what it is about.

“Tenure doesn’t protect anyone who breaks university rules or doesn’t do their job. Instead, it is a cornerstone of academic freedom,” he said. “It provides protection for faculty to challenge conventional notions and present ideas that often are unpopular,” said Compas, who has tenure.
What Walker wants to do is to take tenure decisions away from the shared model and transfer authority to a state body that is--surprise!--appointed by the governor. I'm guessing that the makeup of the body will be sharply different than the people making tenure decisions now. And I can see great mischief in how it will be applied should this bill pass. Which it most likely will.

These are but three examples of how terribly education policy is made and implemented in the United States. After 2016, it could get even worse.

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