IN THE BEGINNING: POLITICAL CONTROL AND FEDERAL INVOLVEMENT
Educators gave up their control of America’s public schools more than 30 years ago when for reasons no one could identify the world’s greatest public education system no longer worked.
States control education. Governors were at a loss and could not stem the downward tide.
For the first time the Federal Government, which had always played a secondary role in education, was thrust into the mix. The political answer from Congress: new national standards of performance. The demand ignored several critical realities: the fact that different states and regions taught many subjects differently; that after years of trying, educators could not agree on a national approach to teaching subjects like American history and social studies; and that California had provided new approaches to teaching reading and math that spread quickly across the country to be adopted by most States… though teachers weren’t trained to teach them and Schools of Education had not begun training their students to teach these new methods.
Not surprisingly, students’ ability to read suffered and today’s high school graduates still cannot make change unless they have an electronic device to do it for them.
Politicians pushed for a new approach – testing…national grade level tests that would help provide new standards of student performance and help guide teachers to get better results. President George W. Bush and the Democratic Party’s liberal lion Ted Kennedy acted together to produce “No Child Left Behind” and promised Federal funding for it.
Tests were introduced and teaching to the test became the norm. The funding never came – results were dismal. But the presence of Federal money had a powerful impact on education – and it does today.
When the Obama Administration did provide funding for “Race to the Top,” State Governors stood in line with their hands out. Test results continued the downward trend. Teaching and learning were not taking place. Something else was necessary.
COMMON CORE, TEACHER EVALUATIONS AND CHAOS
Something else appeared. After seven years of development by a team of prominent educators, a new national curriculum was accepted by the Federal Government. It was essentially based on the work of respected educator E.D. Hirsch and had much to recommend it. It was called the Common Core.
But then the trouble started.
No one knew if this new curriculum worked.
Common Core had never been tested in classrooms. Never. Educators had no idea whether it was actually any good. But the Obama Administration promised hundreds of millions of dollars to State Governors if they moved immediately to adopt it for their schools.
The “bribe” in New York State was $345 million. New York said yes and so did 44 other States.
Common Core was now the curriculum for elementary and secondary public schools. The curriculum became operative as the school year began in 2013. There was no effort to prepare teachers to teach it…they’d never seen it before they had to work with it.
Amazingly the Teachers Union allowed this to happen without any outcry. The results were horrific and remain so in the second year of its existence.
It was absurd. But it is exactly what happened. The results have been a disaster. Students did so poorly that parental complaints reached an uproar. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the problem was with parents: they thought their children were smarter than they actually were.
He apologized soon after that comment.
But the absurdities didn’t stop.
With everything falling apart, it was time to start “scapegoating”. Everything was failing we were told because teachers weren’t teaching…the system must now start evaluating teachers very differently.
To compound the absurdity of introducing a new, untested national curriculum without preparing teachers to teach it, came the news that tests using that curriculum would become a major factor in evaluating teacher performance.
Anyone who has studied the Common Core curriculum knows it is pretty good stuff. It demands a little more of the students but much more from the teacher. And “more” wasn’t easily found.
And then politics reentered the landscape.
THE BATTLE ROYAL
Andrew Cuomo, is one of 50 Governors with no clue about why public education is in such dire trouble, and as with other areas his “solutions” seem most politically applicable to his ambitions and his ‘historical’ record as Governor.
Michael Mulgrew, is head of the NYC Teachers Union. He knows what’s wrong but refuses to do anything about it other than collect 90,000 monthly union dues checks and fight with the Governor and Mayor Bill DeBlasio. Under his “astute leadership,” teachers are being blamed for everything that is wrong in our schools. Mulgrew wants an end to overcrowded classrooms, an end to the lack of supplies and far more support for teachers and struggling students …though on these two last items he gives no specifics and doesn’t seem to know what to ask for. The same old complaints…all of them with little merit in the current big picture.
And so instead of answers from two sources who should have some ideas, we are treated to a series of nightly, warring TV commercials. Here is Cuomo literally yelling (his oratorical style) that it’s all about money: rich school districts vs poor school districts…with the poor ones losing out when it should be about all kids first. And while not helping them much is school, he gives a number of kids starring roles in the commercials.
And here is the union response – also featuring children and teachers saying that there’s not enough money, there are too many tests and not enough time for teachers to teach, there is heavy pressure on teachers to get results on those tests – everything but putting kids first.
All that noise and no help for students or parents and nothing but angst for New York teachers.
But there’s more.
Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature have moved the bar against teachers higher: If a teacher fails in two successive years to show class improvement on those tests, that teacher’s next evaluation will be made solely and completely on the results of two State-wide tests…no other factors will be part of that evaluation. In addition failure to improve class testing performance in one year will lead to a delay of tenure and little chance of advancement.
All over the State parents who now understand what this Common Core standardized testing is all about – teacher evaluations and pressure – have opted their children out of the tests entirely. The tests, they say, have nothing to do with their children’s performance—it is only about teacher evaluations.
Here’s a historical fact for Cuomo and Mulgrew: you are both doing such a “good job at improving education” that the number of high school students in NY State wanting to become teachers is the lowest in history.
And 65% of new teachers leave the profession in just five years.
The number of parents beginning to understand how horrendous the education landscape really is for their children grows (at last) and they are making their concerns known in important ways. Unless parents really get involved, apply pressure and never let up…the political control of schools in America will continue to lead nowhere. Their children’s education is essentially a mirage.
Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Mulgrew are letting us down. They talk about ‘students first’ while their supposed leadership is essentially a mirage.
For the past ten years the Liberal Party has identified the primary problem with public schools as the failure of Schools of Education to properly prepare their students to become teachers.
In the last several years two major studies – one actually involving National UFT President Randi Weingarten – have reported that teachers are being inadequately prepared to walk into classrooms to teach. That they, in fact, are unprepared to be in classrooms…uncertain of what to do and getting very little postgraduate help from the public schools that employ them.
Ms. Weingarten has never explained how she could have signed her name to one of those studies without actually talking to the public about it and working to improve the training of teachers. Apparently she never will. She says she wants teacher education to be like medical and law school education but never says how or complains that it is not.
The Liberal Party has explained the challenge for her. We recommend that every student teacher, like every medical student, begins an internship in local public schools in their sophomore year and continues for three years until graduation. By then each of those student teachers will graduate ready to confidently walk into a classroom in charge of the environment and hopefully, the subject matter.
Three years of classroom work not five or six weeks of co-called ‘student teaching’. If physicians -in-training have that kind of preparation as hospital interns, so should teachers. We will continue to work towards that end.