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Peter Schrag has a piece on the California Progress Report on School Reform: Why it’s  so hard?  I have read Schrag for over 30 years.  I once used an early book by him in a class I taught to future teachers.  I usually agree with him- but this time I disagree.  Here is my response.  It is from the summary of Chapter 13 Democratic School Reform: How do we get from Here to There ? of my book, Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education.  ( 2010).
This  is time for a change for  our society and  in our schools.  This generation must  renew our democratic society.  As described in my book Choosing Democracy, we face  marked crises in government, politics, families, communities and in the schools. Public schools have a particular responsibility to reverse these crises and to renew our democratic society.  The first mission of pubic schooling is to equip all students for the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship – and  many of the schools in low income areas  are presently not fulfilling this mission. If we do not solve the problems of low performing schools our democracy suffers.  For  our  democracy to survive we  need to create schools  that value  all of our children and encourages  each of their educational achievement.

All children need a good education to participate in our democracy and prepare for  life in the rapidly changing economy. Making schooling valuable and useful is vital to prosperity for all.   Lack of education is a ticket to economic hardship.  The more years of school that a student completes, the more money they are likely to earn as adults  and the better  their chance to get and keep a good job. Unemployment is highest among school dropouts as is incarceration for crimes.  When we fail to educate all of our children, the high costs of this failure come back to hurt us in unemployment, drugs, crime, incarceration, violence and social conflict.

We need to invest in urban schools, provide equal educational opportunities in these schools, and recruit a well prepared  teaching force that begins to reflect the student populations in these schools. We must insist on equal opportunity to learn, without  compromise.  When we do these things, we will begin to protect the freedom to learn for our children and our grandchildren, and to build a more just and  democratic society.
 Teacher advocates consider schools as sites for the struggle  for or against more democracy in our society.  The struggle for education improvement and education equality will be a long one.  Schools serving urban and impoverished populations need fundamental change. These schools do not open the doors to economic opportunity. They usually do not promote equality. Instead, they recycle inequality.  The high school drop out rates alone demonstrate that  urban schools  prepare less than 50 percent of their students for entrance into the economy and society. A democratic agenda for school reform includes insisting on fair taxation and adequate  funding for all children.  Political leaders in most states  have not yet  decided to address the real issues of school reform.  We cannot build a safe, just, and prosperous society while we leave so many young people behind.
The problem is to provide the resources, including well prepared  teachers  with adequate support, needed to  make the current schools successful.   The California legislature has failed a this consistently for the last several years. We face  a choice between providing high-quality schools only for the middle and upper classes, and underfunded, understaffed schools for the poor.  Or, we can also choose to work together to improve schools that are presently failing.
   Why then in schools do we allow politicians, lobbyists, and other “experts” who are not teachers and have not worked in classrooms for over ten years, and who have not taught children, to make the basic decisions about schooling.  As a starting point, clearly those establishing our policies do not understand testing and its limits.  (See Bracey, 2009).
  A major problem with our campaigns for a democratic approach to schooling is that most of the media has been sold a mindset or framework of accountability.    Corporate sponsored  networks and “ think tanks” such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Bradley Foundation,  the Olin Foundation  and their access to the media is not likely to change.  The domination  of the accountability frame within the media and political circles  must be opposed.  The appointment of Arne Duncan was symptomatic of the problems.   He represents the kind of corporate/media approach to reform. Certainly  in the current battle with Arne Duncan over the "Race to the Top Funds,"  he has ceased the high ground with a claim of accountability – it’s a false claim- but it works. Education and explaining will be a constant struggle.
There are many advocacy  strategies.  However, the most important is to share and magnify teacher voices.  Politicians make bad decisions – such as the current budget cuts, or an over reliance on testing- because they are not listening to teachers voices.  Instead they are listening to paid consultants, and “experts” from the corporate establishment.
    Newspaper writers and other media writers make the same mistake.  They call their favorite “source” which just happens to be a corporate promoter like Arne Duncan, Michele Rhee,  or one  of the “experts” at elite universities.  Note:  few professors in the elite universities work with  teachers.  They are several steps removed from the classroom.  You can read more about this on the blog Choosing Democracy  The most basic  strategy is to insist on teacher participation in the development of policies.  We need to get the politicians and the corporate shills out of the classroom. – they have failed our children.
See more at the Democracy and Education Institute – Sacramento.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We really need to reform our communities (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koosah, not this time, quill

    I think the problem lies less with our schools - in terms of them as institutions or processes - and more with communities that don't or can't value schools and education, adults who are struggling in their lives, kids in poverty whose home lives are not conducive to reading and homework and curiosity about the world.

    Most of our schools have good adults in them.... though not enough adults. We have decent curricula. I'd love to see more oriented towards hands-on and project based activities.

    What we don't have is facilities that show the kids we value their education. Too many schools would never pass muster as workplaces due to inadequate HVAC, leaky roofs, inadequate electrical and communications infrastructure, etc.

    What we don't have is 100% of families who have stable housing and whose kids have quiet, safe places to read and study after school.

    We have families struggling to pay their bills, which naturally gives then less time with the kids, less patience, less time to take them out and about on educational experiences, even as simple as a trip to the beach.

    More adults in schools  - California has the lowest ratio of administrators to students in the country, IIRC, would make it more possible to address and solve those problems as individual students deal with them.

    And of course, 10% cuts year after year with dramatic financial uncertainty really hurt too. Nothing like training people, getting them up to speed, and then laying them off to really mash things up.

    People imply there was some golden age of California education when everything was better. I think you'd have a hard time saying there were any years better than circa  2008, our high point for funding.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 02:11:13 PM PDT

  •  Your implication (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    not this time, quill
    Why then in schools do we allow politicians, lobbyists, and other “experts” who are not teachers and have not worked in classrooms for over ten years, and who have not taught children, to make the basic decisions about schooling.  As a starting point, clearly those establishing our policies do not understand testing and its limits.  (See Bracey, 2009).
    is that schools have the power to make decisions on their own.  Schools are funded by entitiies whose members listen to those who pay them.  School don't have the power to 'allow' others to make decisions.  The teachers are at the mercy of those with the purse strings.  And right now those in power are being bought by the corporations who want to take over and make schools the next McDonald's, mass-producing children who don't have adequate substance to their education, but from who the corporation can make a ton of money.

    Not all those who wander are lost.

    by Leftleaner on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 04:45:52 PM PDT

    •  Your implication (0+ / 0-)

      Yes, you are correct.

      What I was trying to say is that we should not allow the politicians and the con artists to speak for us.
      That would require  a consistent and effective campaign to get teachers' voices heard.  I recognize that the professional organizations try to tell the other side of the story.  But, we who support public education are certainly losing the message war.  
      Do you or others have ideas ?
      For example.  I live in Sacramento in the district of Sen. Darrel Stienberg- the leader of the Senate. We frequently have statements of what we should do to improve schools. However, the legislature and the governor are unable to adequately fund the schools.  That is, they do not do their job, but they consistently tell the public how the schools should be improved.  I recognize that they only have a 13% approval rating.

  •  I am surprised at Schrag's distrust (0+ / 0-)

    of local control. Perhaps I don't know enough about the history of public schools in CA, but it doesn't seem like there has been any experiments in local control in the last 25 years. Yes, some experiments will go off track, and need to be adjusted... but right now, we have a lot of schools that aren't working for their students, and nothing is being fixed.

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