|Dr. Rocky D. Killion|
America Minus Public Education Equals Failure
The history of public education can be traced back to America’s founding fathers. As they began to form a “more perfect union”, they realized the need to formally educate the masses. John Adams is recorded saying,
The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one square mile without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.
Adams view of an education system was that it is for everyone, not just the privileged or for certain groups. Out of his vision, America’s leaders started the creation of a universal common school that would eventually be available to all of America’s children. It wasn’t until the mid1800’s that Adam’s vision became a reality. Stemming from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, state leaders began establishing a public education for all.
As quoted by John Goodlad, Political scientist Benjamin Barber said “Public schools are not merely schools for the public, but schools of publicness: institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward a common national and civic identity.” The work of public school teachers to prepare their students for their future is an investment in our “publicness.” Idealized, criticized and re-invented many times over, public education continues to play a crucial role in America’s future. Public schools do not merely serve the public but actually create the public. Since its inception, public schools have produced presidents, statesmen, inventors, musicians, scientists, sports and entertainment figures. Without public education, America’s success story might read differently.
So why are some policymakers and special interest groups trying to dismantle public education? To understand the gravity of the situation, one needs to consider the current political landscape and the legislative agenda promoted by them aimed at privatizing America’s public education system. What is not being reported by the proponents of a “school choice” agenda is this: it is designed to allow the operators of charters, private and parochial schools to select the students they want attending their schools and to allow some financers the ability to profit from investing in educational contracts legislated by some of the “school choice” policymakers. If they are successful, then Adam’s vision of an education system for all of America’s children will become obsolete. America minus public education equals failure for America’s children who live in poverty and do not have the resources and/or the skills to operate in a “school choice” system.
Researching the Questions Before Supporting the Agenda
Will school choice or a free-market approach to public education improve the education system? There are some policymakers that believe a free-market model of competition, like that used in America’s economy, will help improve the outcomes of public education. Much of the rhetoric used by them is centered on the message that public schools are failing and parents need an alternative.
So will a two-system approach to educating America’s children improve America’s education system? Will it allow America’s schools to compete with the world’s best education systems? Are America’s public schools really failing? These are questions every citizen should research before supporting the “school choice” agenda.
The Plan to Dismantle Public Education
Over the past thirty years, there has been a growing movement by some policymakers to convince the general public that public schools are failing. The plan being implemented state legislatures across America includes the following:
1. Spend billions of dollars on a public relations campaign promoting the notion that public schools are failing.
2. Garner big donations from special interest groups that receive financial gain from “school choice” legislation, supporting politicians who agree to promote policies that shift taxpayer funding from public schools to charter, private and parochial schools.
3. Create an accountability system that is unachievable to make public schools look worse than they are.
4. Convince the general public that public schools are filled with bad teachers who are not doing the job.
5. Allow a two-system approach to public education called “school choice” where one choice (charters, private and parochial schools) does not play by the same rules as traditional public schools.
Valerie Strauss, education reporter for the Washington Post, offers some insight to the aforementioned plan as it relates to President Trump’s Secretary of Education appointee Betsy DeVos. She writes,
DeVos has worked on school reform issues with her husband, Richard. The two helped push for Michigan’s charter school law in 1993, and on Dec. 3, 2002, Richard DeVos gave a now-famous speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation laying out a state-by-state strategy to expand vouchers and school choice by rewarding and punishing legislators who either went along with the plan or did not. During the speech, he advised that supporters call public schools ‘government schools,’ as a pejorative, and urged that they ‘be cautious about talking too much about these activities’ so as not to call attention and garner opposition.
Strauss goes on to say the reason school reformers promote their “school choice” idea is allegedly due to the number of failing students in public schools. What the reformers do not talk about are the real factors outside of a teacher’s influence that, in part, cause those students to fail. The reformers blame the teachers rather than the other factors facing many of America’s children like poverty and a lack of access to early childhood education.
Poverty’s Impact on Public School Children
Since the inception of public education, parents have always had a choice of where to send their children to school. In a free America, parents can choose where they want to live and what schools they want their children to attend. This has always been the case. Over the past fifty years, the limiting factor preventing some parents this opportunity is poverty. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 21% of all children live with families that are considered poor. Another 42% of all children live with families who have low-incomes. America now has the second highest number of children living in poverty in the world. Collectively, 53% of all of America’s children are living with families who are considered impoverished.
Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, indicates the major problem facing public education is poverty. “Our average test scores are mediocre because the United States has such a high level of child poverty, the second highest among economically advanced countries (23 percent). Study after study shows that poverty has a devastating effect on school performance.” He goes on to say that the “current obsession with teacher quality and evaluation of teachers should be replaced with an obsession to protect children from the impact of poverty.”
Sean Slade, Senior Director for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) indicates, “In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprise no less than 40% of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of students in 2013.” He goes on to say that it has been nearly 51 years since America declared poverty unacceptable when President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a “War on Poverty” in his 1964 State of the Union Address.
School Choice vs. Child Poverty
The first step in improving America’s public schools is for policymakers to address the number of children living in poverty. A “school choice” agenda will not help those children who need the basic essentials of healthy nutrition, healthcare, a safe place to live and access to early childhood education. Poverty not only impacts public education, it also impacts America’s economy and its future. Rather than spend $20 billion on expanding “school choice” as declared by President Trump, he should use those resources to diminish the impact poverty has on the lives of America’s children living in poverty.
If President Trump and Secretary DeVos ignore the real issue facing public schools, that of poverty, and they continue their march to expand the “school choice” agenda, they should provide answers to the following questions:
The True Cost of a “School Choice” Agenda
A study by Columbia University Professor Henry Levin concluded a school choice plan would cost taxpayers nearly $33 billion additional dollars just to pay the tuition for students already in private schools. The gain to private schools would also be a loss to public schools, with taxpayers actually paying higher taxes, as demonstrated in Milwaukee.
Dean Paton, writer for Yes! Magazine, examined public school reform over the past 34 years. His findings conclude that, “in the rush to privatize the country’s schools, corporations and politicians have decimated school budgets, replaced teaching with standardized testing, and placed the blame on teachers and students.” He goes on to show that even though public schools are getting better results, the push for privatizing public schools has created a propaganda machine to convince the general public that public schools are failing. He says the true reason for privatization of public schools is so media moguls like Rupert Murdoch can seize on education contracts to make more money:
In a land where the free market has near-religious status, that’s been the answer for a long time. And it’s always been the wrong answer. The problem with education is not bad teachers making little Johnny into a dolt. It’s about Johnny making big corporations a bundle-at the expense of the well-educated citizenry essential to democracy.
In Indiana, policymakers declared that Indiana’s “school choice” agenda would save taxpayer money. The premise behind this statement is that by giving parents a student scholarship of up to $4,500 per child, the state will save money by not having to pay public schools for these students. In 2011, when the voucher program was introduced, approximately 3,919 families received a student voucher so their children could attend a private/parochial school. According to an Associated Press report, this saved taxpayers approximately $4 million dollars.
Today, the number of vouchers currently being used by Indiana parents to send their children to private/parochial schools is approximately 33,000. According to a report authored by Chelsea Schneider and Tony Cook, reporters for the Indianapolis Star, Indiana is now spending “$131 million in taxpayer dollars to support sending children to private schools . . .” They go on to report Indiana ran a “$53 million deficit” during the 2015-2016 school year to fund Indiana’s “school choice” agenda.
Are Public Schools Failing?
With billions of tax dollars flowing to charter, private, and parochial schools, taxpayers should question whether or not these schools get better results than public schools. Benjamin Wood, reporter for the Deseret News, reviewed a study completed by the Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes regarding the academic results of charter schools vs. public schools. The study looked at 26 states to determine if charter schools were producing better results. Wood states the following:
In the 26 states that participated in the study, which together account for 95 percent of the nation's charter school students, researchers again found that most charter schools are performing no better, if not worse, than their traditional school counterparts in reading and mathematics, based on standardized tests.
Dr. Dianne Ravitch, education historian and a research professor at New York University, has studied charter schools for over 20 years. As assistant secretary of education under former President George H.W. Bush, she helped start the charter school movement because she thought it would greatly assist disadvantaged students. Now, she is opposed to charter schools. In a guest column found in the Washington Post, she states,
Numerous national and state studies have shown that charters on average don’t get better results than regular public schools. A small percentage get high scores, more get very low scores, most are about average in terms of test scores. Why kill off a community’s public school to replace it with a privately managed school that is no better and possibly worse?
Jessica Shepherd, in her report about world education rankings (2010) provides the world’s educational rankings from the data collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The top five education systems in the world are found in Finland, South Korea, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. These rankings are based upon the results of the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) reading, math and science assessments taken by 15-year old students randomly selected by the OECD.
One purpose of PISA is to compare the educational results for over 65 countries. According to Shepard’s report (2010), the United States ranks 14th in reading, 25th in math, and 17th in science. These are the rankings some policymakers and special interest groups use to promote that public schools are lagging behind the rest of the world. However, in the sampling process used by OECD to test America’s students, Martin Carnoy, professor of education at Stanford, and Richard Rostein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, found the OECD over-samples the number of America’s public schools with high free and reduced lunch populations compared to the other countries.
In his blog titled “PISA: It’s Poverty Not Stupid”, Mel Riddle indicates that if the experts reporting PISA would account for the level of poverty found in America’s public schools, America’s PISA scores would surpass the best education systems in the world. He says, “The problem is not as much with our educational system as it is with our high poverty rates.”
A Flawed Accountability System
Throughout America, some policymakers are creating a so-called “accountability” model to label public schools. Many of the models are using an A - F grading system to rate teachers and schools. Some of those models use the results of a testing company’s standardized test to determine how well a teacher and/or a school is doing. This is a flawed system of accountability. Standardized tests were not developed to grade teachers or close schools. Using a grading system to measure the effectiveness of a teacher, a school or a school district based in part on a standardized test is junk science.
Leila Meyer, in her column titled “Report: States Need to Improve High School Accountability Systems”, emphasizes the need for state policymakers who have implemented an accountability system based on the results of standardized testing to reconsider this approach since the results of those scores “closely correlates with student demographics . . . “ and has little to do with the actual proficiency of the students. Meyers promotes an accountability system that measures student learning over time.
Indiana spends over $100 million annually on standardized tests. Over the past three years, the implementation of the standardized tests has been at best tumultuous. Taxpayers should remember not to allow the results of a flawed standardized testing system to define the children from and the schools of their respective communities. Standardized testing, specifically ISTEP+, will never provide a true picture of Indiana public schools or communities because of what it cannot measure.
In Valerie Strauss’ article “The important things standardized tests don’t measure” (Washington Post, March 1, 2015), Arthur Costa, emeritus professor at California State University, provides a salient statement regarding what mandated standardized testing has done to the quality of public education. “What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn’t worth learning.”
Strauss goes on to indicate that “using the scores on standardized tests to shape the life chances of students, determine the pay and reputation of teachers, gauge the quality of school administrators, establish the worth of neighborhood schools, or as an excuse to hand public schools over to private, profit-taking corporations is, at the very least, irresponsible.” She goes on to say that it is also unethical.
Saving America’s Public Schools
The equations are simple. A – PE = F: America minus public education equals failure. A + PE = S: America plus public education equals success. The true choice is whether or not America’s citizens will stand up for a public education system open to all or will allow the “school choice” proponents to use taxpayer dollars to allow a chosen few to attend charter, private or parochial schools?
According to a 2016 Rasmussen online survey, “85% of adults with school-aged kids give the performance of their child’s school good or excellent marks.” Despite the continued rhetoric that public schools are failing, public schools continue to improve in student achievement and graduation rates.
Unlike charters, private and parochial schools, public schools are open to all. If America is to continue its success story, public schools need to continue to improve and parents need to become more involved in their children’s education. Spending billions of dollars on a “school choice” agenda attached to a flawed accountability system will not make America’s education system comparable to the world’s best education systems.
A federal education policy agenda that leverages equitable resources and invests strategically in high-quality teaching would support real accountability--that is, accountability to children and parents for providing the conditions under which students can be expected to acquire the skills they need to succeed. Merely adopting tests and punishments will not create genuine accountability. In fact, adopting punitive sanctions without investments increases the likelihood that the most vulnerable students will be more severely victimized by a system not organized to support their learning, especially children from impoverished families.
Instead of throwing more money at an unproven “school choice” agenda, policymakers should use taxpayer resources on proven strategies that will improve America’s public education system. The “school choice” agenda being implemented throughout the United States will not make America’s education system comparable with the world’s best education systems. If policymakers want America’s schools to compete with the world’s best education systems, then they should look to their counterparts from those countries and learn from them. The commonalities found in the best education systems include offering early childhood education, reducing class size, investing in professional development and assisting students who live in poverty. These are the strategies policymakers should use if they are truly interested in providing America’s children with the world’s best education system.
Superintendent of Schools
The West Lafayette Community School Corporation
Adams, J. (2004). [Letter written April 10, 1785 to John Jebb]. In Online Library of Liberty (pp. 3-4). Indianapolis, IN: Charles Francis Adams. Retrieved January 17, 2017, from http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/adams-the-works-of-john-adams-vol-9-letters-and-state-papers-1799-1811?q=John Jebb#lf1431-09_head_358.
Carnoy, M. & Rothstein, R. (January 24, 2013.) Response from Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein to OECD/PISA Comments. Economic Policy Institute 2013. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from http://www.epi.org/files/2013/EPI-Carnoy-Rothstein-Resp-to-Schleicher.pdf.
Child Poverty. (2016). Retrieved December 15, 2016, from http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html.
Goodlad, J. (2004). Education for everyone: Agenda for education in a democracy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, pg. 35.
Krashen, S. (August 12, 2012). Poverty’s role in bad U.S. test scores. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved September 27, 2014, from http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/letters/povertys-role-in-bad-us-test-scores-648669/.
Levin, H. (n.d.). History and Implications of Vouchers. Speech presented at Founder's Day in Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. Retrieved December 18, 2016, from https://www.tc.columbia.edu/articles/2000/december/henry-levin-delivers-speech-on-history-and-implications-of-v/.
Meyer, L. (2016, November 15). Report: States need to improve high school accountability systems. The Journal. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from https://thejournal.com/articles/2016/11/15/report-states-need-to-improve-high-school-accountability-systems.aspx.
Parents give their kids' schools high marks. (2016, August 19). Retrieved January 7, 2017, from http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/education/parents_give_their_kids_schools_high_marks
Paton, D. (2014, February 21). The myth behind public school failure. Yes! Magazine. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/education-uprising/the-myth-behind-public-school-failure.
Ravitch, D. (2012, February 13). Ravitch: why states should say “no thanks” to charter schools. The Washington Post. Retrieved January 15, 2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/ravitch-why-states-should-say-no-thanks-to-charter-schools/2012/02/12/gIQAdA3b9Q_blog.html.
Riddle, M. (December 15, 2010.) Pisa: It’s poverty not stupid. The Principal Difference. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from http://nasspblogs.org/principaldifference/2010/12/pisa_its_poverty_not_stupid_1.html.
Roach, M. & Kloosterman, P. (2014, Winter). 2013 NAEP: How does Indiana compare? Education Policy Brief, 12 (1), 1-3. Retrieved February 13, 2014, from http://www.indiana.edu/~ceep/projects/PDF/PB_V112N1_2014_EPB.pdf.
Schneider, C., & Cook, T. (2016, July 18). Are vouchers costing or saving taxpayer dollars? Indianapolis Star. Retrieved December 20, 2016, from http://www.indystar.com/story/news/education/2016/07/18/report-private-school-vouchers-cost-state-53-million/87254558/
Slade, S. (2015, July 24). Poverty affects education-and our systems perpetuate it. The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 14, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-slade/poverty-affects-education_b_7861778.html.
Strauss, V. (2011, December 5). When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids. The Washington Post. Retrieved August 10, 2014, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/when-an-adult-took-standardized-tests-forced-on-kids/2011/12/05/gIQApTDuUO_blog.html?fb_ref=NetworkNews.
Strauss, V. (2016, November 23). Trump terrifies public school advocates with education secretary pick. The Washington Post. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/11/23/trump-terrifies-public-school-advocates-with-education-secretary-pick/?utm_term=.d626b76d5661.
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Additional Superintendent Articles
Welcome Back Everyone,
As we begin the 2014/2015 school year, I am mindful of the great challenges that lie ahead for our school district. Currently, our school corporation leadership team, with the assistance of over forty community members, is carefully looking at our facilities. Several of our facilities are nearing fifty-years of age and when they were built, the design and construction were definitely lacking for a public school. Over the next school year, our facilities strategic planning group will consider all options to develop a long-term facilities plan for our school district. The facilities planning group has made three global recommendations as we begin putting together this plan:
I anticipate by the fall of 2015, our strategic facilities planning group will be ready for me to begin presenting our initial planning ideas to our community for feedback. Then, based upon the feedback, we will regroup to finalize our plans for future implementation. So stay tuned.
Another issue on the horizon is the expiration of our General Fund referendum. I am thankful to our community for supporting our referendum request of a rate not to exceed $0.43 per $100 of assessed valuation which was approved by nearly a 2 to 1 margin back in May 2010. Since then, our administration team and staff have worked diligently to bring down costs while at the same time trying to improve our education system for all of our children.
I am pleased to report that we have thus far accomplished both. Since the passage of our referendum, our rate has never exceeded $0.37 per $100 of assessed valuation, and we are maintaining quality class sizes while experiencing student enrollment growth of nearly 400 students over the past five years. If we did not have the current referendum, our class sizes would be nearly 45 students per elementary classroom. So I am very thankful to you for supporting a high quality education for all of our students.
I want to wish all of you a wonderful school year. I truly believe the best is yet to come.
Dr. Rocky Killion
Superintendent of Schools