By February 25, 2017 Uncategorized 6 Comments

During a speech to the Tulsa Republican Club Friday, State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger remarked that the Oklahoma state government cannot continue to function at anything close to current levels without new revenue, calling the state’s current budgeting path “not sustainable.”

Duh, ya think!

Thank you, Preston Obvious.

To Secretary Doerflinger’s credit, he is at least willing to call out fellow republicans for their double talk and hypocrisy:

“At some point,” Doerflinger said, “we have to decide what kind of state we want, and do we want to invest in things like common education. Or not. And if we’re not, let’s just be honest.

“I have friends who are teachers. I have friends who are corrections workers. I have friends who are child welfare workers. At some point, we just need to tell those people we don’t care.”

First, it appears Mr. Doerflinger has a rather diverse group of friends. Good for him.

As to his final point, there is really no need to tell teachers there’s not a lot of love for them at the Capitol. Over the past few years, that message has been communicated loud and clear.

To illustrate this, in his response to a question from the audience a few minutes later, Mr. Doerflinger engaged in a little double speak of his own by firing a few Trumpian bullets into the chest of the so-called “education establishment.” (emphasis mine)

“The problem is that the education establishment really is fixated on just maintaining the status quo, which is sick and really disgusting and it really doesn’t benefit our children in this state, so enough of that already.”

In essence, “I have friends who are teachers” so I love teachers BUT, that disgusting “education establishment,” why they’re just awful, horrible people!

Mr. Doerflinger’s comments come one day after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos took some shots of her own at the education establishment at her speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.

DeVos urged conservative activists to help her fight against the “education establishment,” which she said has blocked students from getting access to school choice and quality schools: “Our nation’s test scores have flatlined. The education establishment has been blocking the doorway to reforms, fixes, and improvements for a generation … ”

Since I have not heard Ms. DeVos articulate any other substantive ideas related to school improvement other than school choice, DeVos’s somewhat ambiguous phrase “reforms, fixes, and improvements” can be accurately shortened to “vouchers.”

Let’s get back to the central premise behind Doerflinger and DeVos’s argument that the education establishment is opposed to change and clings stubbornly to the status quo.

This is a false narrative.

Our current top-down, test-worshiping, teacher-punishing, student-hating, one-size-fits-all system is the status quo. And it is people like DeVos and her corporate reformers who are the ones clinging to it, not educators.

Betsy Devos’s status quo is a well-organized, highly funded nationwide campaign to privatize public education, decimate teachers unions and turn the teaching professions into a low-paid, high-turnover test proctor service. She represents a far-reaching network of rich and powerful people working to take the public education system as we know it and simply make it go away, to be replaced by a system that is focused on generating profit rather than educating children.

For decades, DeVos and her family have focused their fortune and clout on recreating the education system to suit their own personal ideas about how it should work and what it should do. They’ve been joined in this by other wealthy, powerful plutocrats who see the democratic process as an obstruction to be swept away.

And, when their reforms don’t work, they fall back on this stale argument of blaming the education establishment.

Blogger Peter Green captures this idea beautifully in the following statement:

We’ve been living and teaching in their world for over a decade. They have had control of education for the entire school life of our current students. They cannot whine that they are outsiders, bravely trying to pull down the ramparts of the status quo, because they ARE the status quo. And in the words of that great philosopher, Dr. Phil, I have to say, ‘How’s that working for you?’ If the car’s wrapped around a tree, and you’re the one who demanded the driver’s seat, don’t start blaming the hostages you stuffed in the trunk.

So, yes, Mr. Doerflinger and Secretary DeVos, the Oklahoma education establishment would love to see a change in the status quo. 

We’re tired of a status quo where lawmakers claim they want children to ride in a Cadillac but are only willing to pay for a Hugo.

We’re fed up with a status quo that touts the importance of quality teachers but refuses to provide the necessary funding, resources, and respect to recruit and retain them.

We’re weary of a status quo where the people making decisions lack expertise in education and the fundamental belief in the promise of public education.

We are frustrated with a status quo where experienced teachers and administrators have been pushed out of the decision-making process by amateurs, profiteers, scam artists, and others who are more interested in making a buck than sustaining the foundation of our robust and vibrant democracy.

We are angered by a status quo where teachers are vilified and attacked and their professional skills and dedication continually questioned.

We are resentful of a status quo where we are accused of dereliction and failure so often that now even our friends take it as a given that American schools are failing.

We are strained by a status quo of ever-changing standards and assessments.

Most of all, we are exhausted by the status quo that has made education a slave to standardized testing and test-based accountability.

We live in a bizarro world where we pretend that test results tell us everything from whether a ten-year-old is college and career ready to whether teachers (and the colleges at which they studied) are any good.

The future of teachers, schools, and students themselves ride on these tests that, when all is said and done, measure little more than students’ ability to take tests.

Lest I be accused of criticizing the “status quo” without articulating an alternate vision, here is an abbreviated list of state and national reforms I would support.

1. Replace A-F accountability with transparency.

Replace our current flawed and inaccurate system that is based primarily on test scores alone. This system provides little useful information and simply seeks to rank, sort, and punish schools. We need to replace it with a comprehensive system that communicates to parents and communities the true condition of their school by analyzing numerous measures of effectiveness.

The proposed updated version of the A-F system working its way through the legislature in a step in the right direction. However, the state’s insistence that we refine this information into a single, summative letter grade makes this system as fatally flawed as its predecessor.

2. End accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing.

There is much more to public education than preparing students for tests. We also teach children a wide range of knowledge, social and behavioral skills, and habits of the mind that cannot be measured with a test.

Grading schools solely on the basis of how its students perform on math and reading tests in like rating basketball teams based on free throw percentage and turnovers alone. No one dismisses the idea that reading and math are critically important, but so are character, arts and music, critical thinking, technology, collaboration and teamwork–along with a broad sense of what it means to be literate in the 21st century.

And, finally, teachers’ evaluations should NEVER be tied to how their students perform on state tests.

3. Dramatically reduce amount of mandated testing.

If the federal government must be involved in school accountability, they should follow the lead of Finland and other so-called international models, which conduct no standardized testing of students until high school.

The federal government already has this in place with the existing National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP uses a systematic and limited process for administering tests to random samples of students in all states.

The federal reformers cannot have it both ways. They tout the accuracy and reliability of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to compare us to other nations and make decisions about education policy. The latest PISA used a sampling technique that included only 6,200 students, two-tenths of one percent of all high school freshmen in America.

The NAEP can be used to compare state systems with a similar sampling technique. If this was adopted, it would eliminate testing costs in every state and save millions of hours associated with administration of tests.

Finally, there will be no high stakes standardized tests for children. None. Not one. I hate them.

4. Re-imagine what it means to be an educated person in the 21st century.

This is a central debate that has been going on since the late 19th century. Our current high school curriculum is virtually unchanged since the Committee of Ten published its original work in 1893.

The Committee of Ten suggested that students should be permitted little curricular choice and that all high schools should offer a narrow academic curriculum that did not differentiate students heading for work from those bound for college.

This is the same model most schools in America use today.

This idea ignores two essential facts about high school students: they enter high school with different academic skills, and they aspire to disparate occupational futures. Requiring all students to complete the same academic courses for graduation is inequitable because it ignores students’ natural skills or interests and their unique social realities.

The list above is certainly not exhaustive but it is a start.

It must also be noted that any reforms which fail to address the rising social inequity in the United States are doomed to fail.

You cannot improve education by pretending that poverty and inequality are not major factors in student academic success.

According to a 2013 analysis of the Pew Research Center’s Economic Mobility Project, you are ten times more likely to end up in the richest fifth as an adult if you were born there than if you were born in the poorest fifth.

Here is another statistic to chew on: A person is 2.5X more likely to be a rich adult if they were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if they were born poor, went to college and graduated.

That is a status quo that must change in America.

Secretary DeVos can talk all she wants about the education establishment clinging to the status quo, but it is she and her fellow reformers failed ideas which truly represent the education status quo in America today.

To borrow Mr. Doerflinger’s words, their adherence to this failed status quo “is sick and really disgusting” and it really doesn’t benefit our children in Oklahoma or our nation.

So enough of that already!

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