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America’s schools are at a turning point.  Our children are being over-tested, our teachers are physically exhausted and emotionally demoralized, and our tax dollars are being diverted to replace our public schools with a privately managed, free-market system of education.

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Corky O'Callaghan

Main Goal of Public School Education?


What do you think should be the main goal of a public school education: to prepare students academically, to prepare them for work, or to prepare them to be good citizens?  When a national sample of Americans was asked this question by Phi Delta Kappan, fewer than half (45%) reported they view the main goal of public education as preparing students academically.  The rest are split between a focus on preparing students for work (25%) or preparing them to be good citizens (26%).  The 48th annual PDK survey is based on a random, representative, 50-state sample of 1,221 adults interviewed by cell or landline telephone, in English or Spanish, in April and May 2016.

 

One of Their Major Challenges

On November 21, 2014, Ohio’s public school superintendents kicked off a grassroots movement to give their citizens a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy.  The Ohio Public School Advocacy Network has grown to include 140 school districts.  With the final days of the current school year coming to a close, now is a good time to address one of the major challenges facing the leaders of this movement.  That challenge is the tone of the conversations which will be occurring this coming year between Ohio’s citizens and their education policymakers in Columbus.  Face it.  We live in a hostile political environment in which some of our citizens are angry and disrespectfully lash out at their elected representatives.  As a result, an increasing number of our policymakers are leery of anyone who shows up and questions their thinking.  For citizens to have a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy, it needs to be a voice of civility and reason.

Something to Think About

Is preparing children for college or the workplace (as some believe) the main reason why we need good schools?  Or is it something else?  The following quote from noted educational historian Diane Ravitch provides anyone pondering this pivotal question something to think about: “Unless the schools provide our children with a vision of human possibility that enlightens and empowers them with knowledge and taste, they will simply play their role in someone else’s marketing schemes.  Unless they understand deeply the sources of our democracy, they will take it for granted and fail to exercise their rights and responsibilities.”

We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For

When citizens deliberate on important issues and concerns, they draw strength from one another.  This is the fundamental message from Kettering Foundation President David Mathews in his closing remarks at the 2016 Public Voice forum held on May 5 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  He explained that when we as human beings feel vulnerable and are looking for strength, rather than turning to those who come along and promise to be the strength we don’t have, we can turn to ourselves.  Referencing the phrase and song of the civil rights movement, he concluded that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  The video of his remarks is a reminder of the importance of deliberation in the current grassroots movement being led by the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network to provide local citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy.

Why an Engaged Public Is Necessary

For the past 25 years, I’ve been a devoted student of the work of the Kettering Foundation, a non-profit foundation which studies what it takes for democracy to work as it should.  In the foreword to a research report published in 1993 entitled “Meaningful Chaos:  How People Form Relationships with Public Concerns,” Kettering Foundation President David Mathews wrote something that has had a profound influence on my thinking over the years.  In it he explains that on important issues, the conventional approach is to try to reach the public through publicity.  However, to be authentic or legitimate, he said that public opinion has to be more than a manipulated response.  It has to be formed independently by the interaction of citizens with citizens.  He concludes that “when issues can only be resolved by public action (as in those situations where sacrifice is required), an engaged public is a necessity.”  For school districts faced with the prospect of a school tax issue, Dr. Mathews’ insight has shown that local residents are much more likely to support a tax increase if they have a voice in placing the issue on the ballot.  For the… Continue reading

The Case Against Exit Exams

Not too long ago more than half of U.S. states required that students pass an exam to graduate from high school.  That is changing, according to a story published on April 18 in The Washington Post.  Behind this change is research conducted in 2014 by the Gates-funded New America think tank.  Its report, entitled “The Case Against Exit Exams,” concludes that exit tests don’t help the students who pass and hurt the students who don’t.  They increase dropout rates and incarceration rates without improving college participation, college completion levels or economic prospects for graduates in states that have them.

A $2 Billion Annual Testing Business

On April 11, noted educational historian Diane Ravitch wrote on her blog:  “In the late 1990s, when I was often in D.C., I noticed that the big testing companies had ever-present lobbyists to represent their interests.  Why?  Wasn’t the adoption of tests a state and local matter?  NCLB changed all that, Race to the Top made testing even more consequential, and the new ESSA keeps up the mandate to test every child every year from grades 3-8.  No other country does this?  Why do we?”  At least part of the answer to these questions may be found in an analysis showing that the four corporations which dominate the U.S. standardized testing market spend millions of dollars lobbying state and federal officials to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business.  According to the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit watchdog agency that tracks corporate influence on public policy, Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and McGraw-Hill spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.

The Impact of High Stakes Testing

According to Linda Darling-Hammond, American public schools remain among the most standardized test-heavy education systems in the world.  In a presentation for Tedx Talk, she discusses the impact of high stakes testing on our nation’s students.  She is currently Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University and has been named one of our country’s 10 most influential leaders affecting educational policy over the past decade.

Evidence That Public Schools Outperform Private Ones

Based upon the belief that private institutions—because they are competitively driven—are better than public ones, policy makers have increasingly turned to vouchers, charter schools and other market-based models to help improve our schools.  In their book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, Christopher A. and Sarah Theule Lubienski offer powerful evidence to undercut this belief by showing that public schools in fact outperform private ones.



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