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Sunday, March 25, 2007
I have long felt that education is an important issue for our future, and thus should be an important part of the campaign of any progressive candidate. In this diary I will examine what I found on the websites of the 8 who have declared their intention - this will therefore not include either Gore or Clark or for that matter Sharpton.
I will where possible provide direct links. I will use a mixture of quotes and summaries. I will offer some analysis, especially where the policy statement raises questions in my mind.
This diary is offered neither to support nor to criticize any candidate, except insofar as I may have issues with educational policy.
NOTE: the results below are as a result of an examination between 2 PM and 5 PM on Saturday March 24
Hillary Clinton's campaign website does NOT have an issues page! I looked further, including among the press releases, and found no statement on educational issues. There are links on the home page (once you are past the intro flash video) for 3 videos, on Our Troops, Health care, and Equal Pay. I suppose these are to serve in lieu of issues statements. I find that unsatisfactory.
Bill Richardson has an issues page which has statements on a number of key issues, but education is not among them.
Mike Gravel has a brief statement on education on the homepage:
which serves as a hyperlink to a brief statement which is little more than generalities:
Education should be our nation’s priority. We need to foster competition and rethink the system.
No Child Left Behind has left far too many children behind. We have a dire situation in America; 30% of our kids do not graduate from high school. Nearly a third of our children are condemned to a substandard economic existence. Education in America must be properly funded. However, money will not solve all the problems. Washington D.C. ranks first in dollars spent, yet ranks last in achievement. We need to approach education comprehensively. We must properly fund education while raising the overall standard of living in America and making education a vital part of a healthy, thriving community.
Joe Biden has an issues page which addresses (1) access to higher education, for which the key part of the statement is
Joe Biden believes that high school students should be engaged in planning and saving for college earlier in their careers so that students in their senior year are not overwhelmed by the process of applying to college and figuring out how to pay for it. He would expand national service programs to high school students so that they can earn money for college by participating in public service while they are in high school.and (2) Preparing for College, in which he says
Over the past two decades we have made incredible strides in updating our education system. Fifteen years ago it would have been hard to imagine students linked through a high-tech video and high-speed internet network to other students and teachers across the country or teachers interacting with parents via email. New technology holds promise for our education system that we're only beginning to discover. But nothing is more essential than quality educators and engaged parents. Joe Biden believes that to fulfill the promise to leave no child behind we have to direct adequate resources to update schools, reduce class size and school size, reward quality educators, and improve teacher pay.Again, there are no specifics to this plan at this point, although a number of key issue are at least mentioned.
Chris Dodd lists education second on his issues page (because it is alphabetical) where he leads with
Chris Dodd believes that there is no more important domestic policy priority for our country than providing an excellent education to every American child.At the end there is a 'read more' statement that takes you to a more complete statement. Dodd points to a record of legislation on behalf of education. For example,
As the senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development, Chris Dodd is a nationally recognized leader on children's issues. He has played a pivotal role in shaping legislation to improve the availability, affordability, and quality of Head Start, which has helped millions of children start school ready to learn. For his efforts, he was honored as the "Head Start Senator of the Decade" by the National Head Start Association.Dodd also lists The Sandy Feldman Kindergarten Plus Act which provides resources for an extended Kindergarten year (Summer before through summer after) for students in lower SES schools; an attempt to redirect resources in NCLB for greater fairness; accessibility to college in several ways:
he has authored legislation to expand student loans and grants, and to make tuition tax deductible - so that every deserving child can gain a college degree. Similarly, he understands that more and more college students are "non-traditional" students: parents, full-time workers, and others. To help them earn a diploma, he has been a strong proponent of campus-based child care, distance learning, and other innovations.
Dodd puts an especial focus on educational equity and students with disabilities. It is worth quoting those sections completely:
Chris Dodd believes that in 21st century America the quality of a child's education should not depend on skin color, ethnicity, region, or income. On the basis of that belief he has authored innovative legislation with Congressman Chaka Fattah (D – PA) and others that would provide each American child with a basic level of excellence in terms of class size, rigorous curricula, high-quality teachers, and resources such as books and computers.I found this page found an interesting mix of accomplishments and proposals. On an issues page such as this one won't necessarily find how to accomplish the goals such as those in the proposal with Fattah, but the page is detailed enough to encourage one interested in educational issues to want to read more.
Chris Dodd also believes that our nation has a particular obligation to ensure that children with disabilities can receive the caliber of education that allows them to rise as far as their talent and imagination takes them. For that reason, he has worked for years to increase our nation's commitment to improving special education.
John Edwards does not have a specific section on his main issues page for education. However, if you click on the link for Eliminating Poverty you arrive at page which places education within that context. Under "Strengthening Education" you will find mentions of (1) a proposal to for students at public colleges who work part time to get their tuition paid. This applies only to public colleges and only for the first year. Edwards is able to point at a specific program in NC and to some research supporting such an idea; (2)Create Second-Chance Schools for High School Dropouts, under which the page notes
Edwards believes that we should create second-chance schools, including some in evenings and at community colleges, to help former dropouts get back on track.- this section also cites research; and (3)
Strengthen Public Schools: Edwards suggested expanding access to preschool programs such as Head Start and North Carolina's Smart Start, investing more in teacher pay and training to attract good teachers where we need them most, and strengthening high schools with smaller schools and a more challenging curriculum.
Dennis Kucinich lists 10 key issues, of which Guaranteed Quality Education, Pre-K Through College is listed 5th. The link takes you to a very detailed narrative written in the first person. There is too much to totally explore, but it is worth noting that Kucinich takes the time put his proposals into context, although he does not cite specific studies the way one finds on the Edwards page. For example, note the following discussion of Pre-K:
I am a strong supporter of the keystone federal educational program for poor children, Head Start. In the House Education Committee, I have offered an amendment that would vastly expand Head Start by allowing all centers to run for a full day and by increasing the number of children who qualify for the program, raising family eligibility thresholds to twice the federal poverty line. By tripling the Head Start budget, we could bring an additional 1.5 million children into the program.Kucinich also asserts his strong support of public schools
In the 107th and 108th Congresses, I introduced the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Act, a bill to create a free, universal, and voluntary pre-kindergarten program for 3- to 5-year-old children across the county. Universal pre-kindergarten would revolutionize America's commitment to early childhood education and change the nature of child care provision for the better. The cost of this program is $60 billion per year, which I plan to pay for by cutting the bloated Pentagon budget by 15%.
Pre-kindergarten programs prepare children to meet the challenges of school. Studies show that young children who have access to a quality education benefit with higher academic achievements, increased graduation rates and decreased juvenile delinquency. Nationwide, there's a severe shortage of affordable, quality education programs. By providing universal pre-kindergarten, we are ensuring that all of our children are ready for school. The Universal Pre-Kindergarten Act will provide funding to states to establish universal pre-kindergarten programs that build on existing federal and state pre-kindergarten initiatives. The program is voluntary and will be available free of charge to all families who choose to participate. The legislation requires pre-kindergarten programs to meet quality standards of early education and provides resources for the professional development of teachers.
For grades K through 12, my priorities are based on the bedrock principle of a free, universal, and high quality public education for every child in America. I strongly oppose initiatives that seek to undermine that commitment and have established a strong anti-voucher voting record. I believe that we cannot improve education by draining funding from our public schools.He also has a similar detailed statement on post-secondary education.
In Congress, I have proposed a constitutional amendment to codify the right of all citizens to equal, high-quality public education. To achieve that goal, I support a substantial reinvestment in the infrastructure of our nation's public schools. I co-sponsored the Better Classroom Act and the Expand and Build America's Schools Act, two bills to help communities make needed school repairs and expansions. I have supported additional funding for teacher training.
I do want to offer the final two paragraphs on this page on education, because they touch on issues I think critical:
The current Administration wants to box our young people in with standardized tests and a limited focus on math and science. These days, American students are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in American history and unparalleled anywhere in the world. Education must emphasize creative and critical thinking, not just test taking.
I believe we can take our children and society in a new direction by challenging this notion that education should be so limited. We ought to be encouraging art, music, and creative writing in our schools. In doing so, we recognize and fuel the wide range of talents our children possess. Also See: Vouchers Floor Statements, 109th Congress: Reporting of School Bus RR Crossings Funded H.R. 609 Will Not Help Students Don't Let the War on Drugs Become a War on Children Students Pay for Tax Cuts for the Rich
Finally, Barack Obama has an issues overview page on which we find
Improving Our SchoolsThis is hyperlinked to a more extensive statement on which we find statements on 3 items, Innovating Teacher Pay:
We are failing too many of our children in public schools. Right now, six million middle and high school students read at levels significantly below their grade level. Unfortunately, the debate in Washington has been narrowed: either we need to pour more money into the system, or we need to reform it with more tests and standards. Senator Obama has worked on bills that cut through this false choice and recognize that good schools will require both structural reform and resources.
School districts across America face systemic barriers to attracting and putting the best teachers in schools where they are needed the most. Although the federal role in education is limited, one way the federal government can make the most of its scarce resources is by fostering innovation -- identifying the best programs and practices, and helping expand them around the country. Senator Obama introduced the Innovation Districts for School Improvement Act to award grants to school districts that try new methods to improve student achievement and reward effective teachers. Under this initiative, 20 districts across the country would get grants to develop innovative plans in consultation with their teacher unions. High-performing teachers would be eligible for pay increases of 10 to 20 percent of their base salary. These innovation districts would be required to implement systemic reforms and show convincing results.
Expanding Summer Learning Opportunities:
Differences in learning opportunities during the summer contribute to the achievement gaps that separate struggling poor and minority students from their middle-class peers. Senator Obama worked with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to introduce the Summer Term Education Programs for Upward Progress (STEP UP) Act to address the achievement gaps among grade-school children. STEP UP establishes a grant program to support summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children through local schools or community organizations.
and Increasing Federal College Loans:
Across the country, 5.3 million students use Pell Grants to finance their college educations. Not long ago, financial aid was primarily in the form of grants. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, and graduates now have more and more difficulty keeping up with loan payments. The first bill Senator Obama introduced in the U.S. Senate was the HOPE Act, which would help make college more affordable for many Americans. The bill would increase the maximum Pell Grant from the current limit of $4,050 to a new maximum of $5,100.
SOME REACTION AND SUMMARY FROM teacherken - I tried to be balanced in what I offered above, to fairly represent what I found. Given the unequal weight placed on various aspects of education by the various candidates, it is not easy to make exact comparisons. Clearly those with legislative records on education, especially Dodd and Kucinich, are well within their rights to emphasize what they have already done.
I find it interesting when education is placed in a broader context. I find that Edwards does that very well, although I wish I saw more detail about some of the K-12 issues that concern me. I do like that he provides informal citations (although there is insufficient detail to walk the trail) for some of his assertions, as I also like the explanations, even if a bit verbose, one finds on the website of Kucinich.
I was surprised that a Governor such as Richardson offers no detail on education. It should be a major priority for any Governor, especially given the many recent conflicts I have noted between Federal mandates and the US Department of Education and quite a few states (for example Utah, Connecticut, Nebraska) and localities (eg: Fairfax County Virginia) in recent months. And I was totally shocked at the lack of any issues page on the Clinton website. In both of these cases (Clinton and Richardson) I did extensive poking around to assure myself that I was not drawing an incorrect conclusion. In Richardson's case, I cannot help but wonder if the reason he is steering away from talking about education is because the quality of the schools in New Mexico is not something about which one would be inclinded to brag, but I don't know.
I had not intended to endorse or become active in a presidential campaign before we finished the current (2007) Virginia General Assembly cycle. I had endorsed Tom Vilsack because of his willingness to come out against reuathorization of NCLB. Now that he has withdrawn, I have no inclination to endorse any of the 8 currently in the contest. Certainly on most issues, including education, all are likely to be far superior to any of the probably standard bearers for the Republicans. Were I looking ONLY at education (and I will not be) I would be most drawn to Kucinich and Dodd. But there is still time for the others to flesh out their own educational policies.
Now that I have overburdened you with all this detail, what do YOU think? What questions might you want to ask each of the candidates about education?
I look forward to your responses.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Each moment we live never was before and will never be again. And yet what we teach children in school is 2 + 2 = 4 and Paris is the capital of France. What we should be teaching them is what they are. We should be saying: "Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been another child exactly like you. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel." -Pablo Casals
The quote above is an epigraph from a new report of "the Commission on The Whole Child" published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development entitled The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action (this is a PDF). I urge you to keep reading.
For those who do not know about ASCD it describes itself as "a community of educators, advocating sound policies and sharing best practices to achieve the success of each learner" and consists of "175,000 educators from more than 135 countries and 58 affiliates. Our members span the entire profession of educators - superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members." I am a member of ASCD.
As a teacher I know that what occurs in my classroom is a small part of educating my students, even in my own domain of social studies. As a music major who teaches government and also coaches soccer, it has always been clear to me that school is about far more that mere intellectual development. History is replete with examples of the damage done when we develop the intellect and fail to develop behavior, morality, concern for others, physical awareness, and so on. And in a liberal democracy (for those two words are an accurate description in political science terms of our form of government) we should not be attempting to force all students to be the same - our society is enriched and enlivened by our variety and our differences, and our educational practices should be informed by an awareness of the importance of and respect for those differences.
I remind people that a few days ago I wrote a diary entitled Imagine in which I argued that given the exact uniqueness of each of us our educational system should reflect that, including in its assessment practices (one reason I have trouble, btw, with our overreliance upon high stakes standardized testing). At the time I wrote that diary I had not read this report.
Since it is a 36 page PDF that is available for free, I will not make extensive quotations. But I do want to give a few selections to whet your appetite for its contents.
The following two selections are from a letter from the Commission cochairs, Stephanie Pace Marshall and Hugh B. Price, and appear on page 6 of the PDF:
1. This report frames education within the most fundamental context - the personalized engagement and nurturing of the whole child.
2. It describes how the focus on one size fits all education has marginalized the uniqueness of our children and eroded their capacity to learn in whole, healthy, creative, and connect ways.
3. It offers a new learning compact with our children that rightly puts the children and learning needs within the center of every educational program and resource decision.
When we commit educating whole children within the context of whole communities and whole schools, we commit to designing learning environments that weave together the threads that connect no only math, science, the arts, and humanities, but also mind, heart, body and spirit - connections that tend to be fragments in our current approach.
If the whole child were truly at the center of each educational decision, as ASCD Executive Direct Gene Carter posits (see p. 4), we would create learning conditions that enable all children to develop all of their gifts and realize their fullest potential. We would enable children to reconnect to their communities and their own diverse learning resources, and we would deeply engage each child in learning. Finally, if the child were at the center, we would integrate all the ways children come to know the natural world, themselves, and one another, so that they can authentically take their place in creating a better future for all.
It is time that the United States begin a new conversation about K-12 education by asking, "What is possible now?" IT is our conviction that given what we now know about learning and development, we can do better and we can do more. And when we can do more, then we should do more."
ASCD has taken a position that academic achievement " is but one element of student learning and development and only a part of any system of educational accountability." It argues for a combination of elements that "support the development of a child who is healthy, Knowledgeable, motivated, and engaged." (this is from ASCD's position on the Whole Child which can be found on p. 7 of the PDF). It sees this as a cooperative effort by communities, schools, and teachers, each responsible for providing part of the necessary context. A few of the points for each sector (and in each case there are several more):
- family support and involvement
- Government, civic, and business support and resources
- challenging and engaging curriculum
- a safe, healthy, orderly, and trusting environment
- a climate that supports strong relationships between adults and students
- evidence-based assessment and instructional practices
- rich content and an engaging learning climate
- student and family connectedness
While I am going to urge people to download and read the entire report (don't I always encourage you to go to the source and not depend upon my interpretation? I do try to be a good teacher) I want to give two more summaries of what to expect.
The report will tell you on p. 10 (p. 14 in the PDF) that a whole child is
- intellectually active
- physically, verbally, socially, and academically competent
- empathetic, kind, caring, and fair
- creative and curious
- disciplined, self-direct, and goal oriented
- a critical thinker
- cared for and valued
Elements of the compact are presented in a graphically rich display on p. 9 (p. 13 of the PDF)for which I give just the text:
- Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle
- Each student learns in an intellectually challenging environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults
- Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community
- Each student has accessed to personalized learning and to qualified, caring adults
- Each graduate is prepared for success in college or further study and for employment in a global environment
I have not had time to parse the document in as much detail as I might like. As with many things, there are points with which I might quibble. For example, on the last of the points of the compact, for far too many of our young people the economic future we are currently presenting to them has little connection with a global environment: flipping burgers or greeting people in a Walmart will seem very disconnected from anything global, and as a result may well not provide a motivation to be serious about present and future educational opportunities. But then, school cannot fix many of the problems of the larger society, and even this statement represents an aspiration, a goal to which we should be dedicated in the belief that we can model our schooling to match our hopes for all of our children and for the society which we will bequeath to them. We can hope, even against hope.
This diary is not part of the official Education Uprising /Educating for Democracy effort, that is, our efforts for the educational panel(s) at the forthcoming Yearlykos. But the content is intimately interconnected with the issues with which we have been wrestling in our presentations to you.
I hope that at least a few of you will find this useful, and that this diary will not simply scroll into oblivion with no notice. But that I leave to the larger community.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
I STROKED my mother's short, soft hair for many minutes. Her eyes were closed. I had not seen this much peace in her still-beautiful, velvet face for many years. She sat motionless on her nursing home bed, erect as a Buddha. A fresh spring breeze whispered through the window.
I thought to myself, my mother's final journey has begun.
The words are not mine. I do not write that well, and my own mother passed years ago. They are from a remarkable piece in today's Boston Globe entitled Seizing life's precious journeys. The author is Derrick Jackson, and you MUST go read the piece. Now. Before you continue reading this diary. If necessary, instead of continuing to read this diary. Only then will it be worthwhile to continue reading what little I have to offer.
If you have followed instructions, you will realize that the title of this diary is the final line of Jackon's column, a column that is both personal and universal. It discuss a universal principle of making the world better through the particular and personal experience of one man. It shows how he attempts to pass on the good that was given him. He shares his connections, not only with his mother, but with the young man who was his "little brother" and that young man's continuation of the process in himself now serving as a big brother. He talks about others. And at lest as I read, it connected with my life and the lives of others I knew.
My wife has a dear friend from her days at Oxford, another American, who is now very successful in her own creative field. Her father was a very successful businessman who late in life decided to start honoring creativity. He was in many ways a difficult man, but he was also a generous and caring man. He was able to see creativity in unusual ways, and was also able to convince others of his vision. Both my wife and I worked with him some on this project, and as a result got to know him far better in his later years. We were honored guests as his collaborators the Smithsonian sponsored an annual award ceremony, with conversations with the principal recipient of the honors he bestowed. In the few years until now we were able to participate in honoring people like Yo-Yo Ma and Sandra Day O'Connor, as well as acknowledge creativity of young people still in high school.
He passed earlier this week. He knew his end was near, and went home. His children and grandchildren were able to gather around him, to reminisce, to thank one another for a common journey. This afternoon we will go to his apartment to be with the extended family. Perhaps that is one reason why Jackson's column spoke to me.
But I also thought of how others have enabled me with gifts of love and caring they have given me. I think of my parents sacrificing things they would have enjoyed to enable my sister and me to explore our musical gifts, including my mother getting up early on a Saturday morning to drive us to our lessons in New York City. Or of teachers, counselors at National Music Camp, professors, who would take the time to offer support. I know that I was in many ways a difficult child, and an impossible adolescent. Perhaps it is one reason I feel a responsibility to offer something to the adolescents I teach - because at troubled times in my own life there were those who were there to support me.
Jackson points out that we can learn from those younger than us. Certainly as a teacher I encounter this regularly. I will in a bit more than two months reach my 61st birthday, I devour books and information, and yet the most important lessons I encounter are those offered me by those 13-18 year olds in my care. Perhaps it is a willingness to take on formidable academic loads because they can. Or it may be the caring to help a classmate who is struggling because many of my students reject the idea of competing against one another in a way that leaves some behind.
But all of what I have just written still misses what I drew from the Jackson piece. We may feel a responsibility to give back, but that is not the challenge Jackson offers us. The key is not responsibility, or paying back, because at some point we might feel as if we had fulfilled such task.
The key is love.
Jackson frames what he offers in terms of the love he received, and the love we should be passing on. Love is, as one can read, something that does not diminish when it is given out, but can actually increase.
And in a world full of turmoil, unhappiness, fear, and anger, what else can help break through those barriers to human connection than love?
If I look at all that I encounter each day, whether in person or through my reading, I would despair. It would be like when I first walked into the Strand Bookstore on 4th Avenue in NY City in 1963. There were so many books. I could never hope to read them all. And I began to weep.
There are so many people. There is so much need. How can I hope to make a difference? How can I ever hope to offer love that will matter?
And yet the answer is simple. If I have allowed love to lift me up, whether from my parents or those not related by blood, I have already seen how. We may start with those close to us, related by blood or marriage, or with whom we have natural affiliation. That may remind us of the power that is involved.
And then? Perhaps it will be small gestures of those we encounter in our daily endeavors. We might not call it love, we might call it caring, or simple courtesy. But it initiates a process in us, one that opens us to possibilities otherwise as closed as the walls around hearts, those of us and others, because of turmoil, unhappiness, fear and anger. And it is the open heart that can break down those walls in others.
It is an open heart that may suffer serious insult, cause us pain, when our love is not accepted. But our task is to offer, and what we offer is a gift. When we give it away, if we attempt to control how the other uses it we are still claiming ownership, we are still attempting to control, and that is not loving, at least, I do not think so.
For me, love is not exclusive or closed. To experience the connection of love is to be a flower that opens to the sun, or the once-clenched fist whose fingers loosen and can how intertwine with those of another, or stroke the neck of a cat, or reach down and pick up something dropped by a person with Parkinson's, or simply gently touch another person.
Jackson challenges us to love others more. That can be read in different ways. Perhaps we can understand it as "more than we do now." Perhaps we pick one occasion, one person, to whom we will find a way of loving more than we do know. And if we persist we realize that rather than draining us it empowers us: having been able to remove our own barriers to love towards one person we discover it is easier to do so with another.
But this is particular. It is not that we love people. It is that we love persons - each in her absolutely uniqueness. It is not that we are out to "fix" his flaws (for certainly we have equally many of our own that need addressing). It is that we are therre, caring, lifting up, sustaining. Each small effort, each additional outreach, each continued relationship, is our contribution ot lessening the turmoil, unhappiness, fear, and anger that are so destructive in the world in which we live.
I have offer a few of my own not very well shaped thoughts. Enough of that. Let me close as Jackson closed. If you have followed directions, you will be reading these words not for the first time. If you have not followed directions, perhaps the conclusion of the piece may encourage you to go and read all of his words. Either way, Jackson speaks with far more power than can I:
One is never too young to show others the way. At our Boy Scout and Venture Crew meeting this week in Cambridge, three of the first girls ever sponsored by our Boston council for an 11-day wilderness trek at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico told the newer scouts they needed to take that journey in 2008. One Philmont girl, Ryan, who fought past altitude sickness to climb an 11,000-foot peak last year, said, "It was hard, we got sick, but we had so much fun and learned we could do anything."
A week from today, a great journey will begin. My wife, Michelle Holmes, will attempt to hike the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. In a letter to her family and friends, she wrote, "I view it as an amazing adventure in the natural world and a spiritual pilgrimage echoing the Underground Railroad to freedom."
Michelle can talk about mere echoes of the Underground Railroad because people like my mother, sitting in her Buddha state, completed their journey. For her children, she bridged the gap between segregated Mississippi and American opportunity. It is now our turn to show others how we love them more.