Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Trends and Tribulations from the 2016 Rural Schools Conference

1. We are using the schools of yesterday to educate the leaders of tomorrow.

Bill Daggett was the keynote speaker, and there's nobody better to demoralize teachers, shame administrators, and convince the rest of us that we're on the wrong path. Here's a classic Daggett example.

When we test kids, we make them give us their phones so they don't cheat—because god forbid they should use resources or collaborate the way we'd expect them to do in real life.
2. As the feds get out of education, beware.

Some people are all smiles at the thought of education's being wrested from federal hands and sent back to states and localities. ESSA, the replacement for ESEA and NCLB, throws up its hands and says, "Okay, no more AYP (annual yearly progress) reports; you take care of it." Daggett thinks the feds want out because they're going to have to use those dollars to fund Social Security and Medicare—old folks' demographics going up, kiddies' demographics going down, so you need to put your money where the need is. Doesn't matter what the reason is; it's happening. And even certain states are pushing things down the road toward the localities; see, for example, Texas's "Districts of Innovation" plan. Kentucky's been doing this for a while. A word of warning: The state can still come in and shut you down if they don't like your results.

Kansas's recent resurrection of the "government schools" mantra (which I first heard right here in Dryden 15 years ago in this context: "PreK is an attempt by government schools to take our children away as soon as possible") just exacerbates the movement. But as I wrote a year ago, the feds are all that stand between our civil rights and chaos. Without federal oversight, there's no clear mandate to educate all students. Do you think that a local town will spend $1 million to support a child with significant disabilities? Or do you think the town will find a way to house such children out of sight, as happened prior to the 1960s? My cousin used to care in her home for women who were released from institutions with the big institutional dump of the 1970s; their only deficit was mental retardation, but they had never received any training or education of any kind. Want to go back there? We're well on our way.

3. There's never a lack of tech innovation, but it just magnifies inequalities.

Google Classroom is wonderful, and I would absolutely use it if I were teaching. But kids without broadband access at home have to rely on libraries and after-school programs, which really minimizes the flip in their flipped classrooms. Daggett is pushing Google's AR/VR-supporting Cardboard. It's totally fun and fabulous, but it assumes that every kid has a smart phone with a pretty flexible plan.

By the way, how's that broadband initiative coming, New York? What? Providers only want to upgrade the already-have rather than spending a dime to provide to the don't-have? You didn't consider requiring an "last-mile" block with every "cheap-and-easy" block you sold? There's a shock.

4. ESSA requires tracking kids post-graduation, which could be a game-changer. Or not.

Paul called for this every single year he was on the school board and earned a deafening silence in return. Meanwhile, we continue to send graduates to college, where 34.8%* drop out in their first year of four-year schools, and 44.5%* drop out of two-year schools. In New York, 37.8%* graduate four-year colleges in four years, and 10.9%* graduate from two-year programs. (*Daggett's numbers) College for everyone? Well, we still advertise it that way, and we proudly post the numbers of college-bound seniors in our graduation programs.

I went to a presentation by the superintendent of Unadilla Valley CSD, where the motto is "Everyone will flourish today, tomorrow, and beyond." I asked him what he's doing to assess that "tomorrow and beyond" part, and he said they gave kids a questionnaire at graduation rehearsal, after one year out, and after five years out. However, because they just started doing that, he didn't have results to share. I would posit that pretty soon, all schools will be doing something similar, and I think they'd better start sharing those results with their communities. Schools will begin to be judged by what students do after they leave. It will be eye-opening.

5. The governor's office is trying to strangle State Ed.

I heard this more than once. Positions are not being filled, because new applications are held up in a stalled queue at the Division of Budget. Getting approval for a capital project, even a minor one, takes nearly a year. The Commish is running around the state trying to win back teachers and parents by making changes to testing and standards, but she is being undermined by the lack of personnel support to do the work in Albany.

6. Opioids are the rural school scourge.

This was the first year that I heard a lot from all sides about how heroin and prescription drugs are affecting schools. The main problem right now is the devastating effect on families, but there are problems with student addictions as well. This one won't be going away soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Death of Supranationalism?

At my core, I'm a one-worlder, in the supranationalist sense of the word. I'm not into world domination, but I do think that things such as income inequality, climate change, and peace can never be solved nation by nation.

It's that kind of supranationalist thinking that led in the 90s to trade agreements that have sent a lot of lefties into a sudden nationalist tizzy. Even though it's ostensibly the right wing that wants to eliminate the EU and close our borders, a surprising number of people on the left are clamoring for similar changes.

Nationalism sucks; it gives us border clashes and independist wars. It's not a natural construct; in many cases, "nation" is held together by a strongman dictator; remove the dictator, and the nation flies to pieces. Nationalism is the reason I cringe when I hear Trump spout the old anti-Semitic "America First" line, or when I hear references to American exceptionalism. We fly a flag at our house to counter the nasty elements of nationalism that popped up in the flying of flags post 9/11. I like America, but it's an America of my own construct, not the one you all impose on me.

If the pendulum toward free trade is now moving back in the other direction, we can expect what we've seen this year: nativism, sabre-rattling by white supremacists, reduction of political freedoms.

The problem I didn't foresee with free trade was that it meant corporate world domination. The one world we got wasn't an end-of-days Narnia run by a free population of diverse but loving human beings. It was a worldwide dominion controlled by a few monopolies, with the "common good" way, way down on the list of priorities. There is not a chance that such a ruling structure would address income inequality, climate change, or peace.

If the pendulum toward free trade is now moving back in the other direction, we can expect what we've seen this year: nativism, sabre-rattling by white supremacists, reduction of political freedoms.

So what now? We retreat to within our borders and make widgets no one wants as a means of achieving full employment? We hoard our own water while the rest of the world burns? We stop educating and feeding the world? We wall everyone out, deny our own diversity, and pretend we are the Aryans of de Gobineau's fantasies?

It's a creepy, sad time in America, a time when one political candidate has enabled our dormant racism and xenophobia to awaken, full-throated. Since history tends to go in cycles, some day we should swing back toward a freer, more collaborative world. I truly hope it's not too late.