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Benjamin Riley

Benjamin Riley

People who care about California’s children watched in horror this week as the battle between Governor Brown and Molly Munger over their dueling education initiatives descended into a Hobbesian war of all against all (with most of the “all” firmly in the governor’s camp). Brown’s Proposition 30, already barely above 50 percent in the polls, now faces $30 million in “funded opposition” from Munger and thus the very real prospect of failing at the ballot box. If that happens, and if Munger’s favored Proposition 38 also does not pass (which seems all but certain), the resulting budget cuts to education would seem to ensure that  California’s students will face a future that is poor, nasty, brutish, and – given the possible truncating of the school year to an indefensible 160 days – extremely short.

Yet it’s not Thomas Hobbes but another, more obscure philosopher named Ivan Illich who’s been on my mind lately. If you’ve never heard of Illich, you’re not alone, but forty years ago he wrote a provocative tract titled “Deschooling Society.” Illich’s basic thesis – to the extent one can be discerned from his fascinating but very rambling postmodernist essay – is that the institutionalization of schools leads to the “institutionalization of values.” That in turn conflates the process of schooling with the substance of what schools are supposed to accomplish (learning). As a result, “the pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.”

To combat this, Illich urged the “disestablishment” of formal schools in favor of a variety of decentralized learning possibilities, including the creation of informal computer-based learning webs to match students with experts; allowing learners to experiment with educational artifacts in laboratories and tool shops; providing skill credit (such as badges) for learning for mastery of specific tasks, such as computer programming; and providing educational games to receptive students.

What’s remarkable is that many of Illich’s ideas anticipate those that are relevant to education today, particularly around the growing use of technology to “personalize” learning. For instance, Joel Rose, the founder of New York City’s “School of One,” echoes Illich’s school-industrialization critique when he (Rose) calls for an end to the “19th-century factory-era model education system.” Similarly, compare Michael Horn of Innosight Institute’s definition of blended learning, which involves more student control “over time, place, path, and/or pace” of learning, with this passage from Illich:

The inverse of school is possible: that we can depend on self-motivated learning instead of employing teachers to bribe or compel the student to find the time and the will to learn; that we can provide the learner with new links to the world instead of continuing to funnel all educational programs through the teacher.

Not bad for someone writing in 1971. Of course, Illich also proposed creating an extensive network of trails connecting villagers in Peru by means of three-wheeled mechanical donkeys – suffice it to say that idea has yet to catch on.

But the real reason to read Ivan Illich is that his philosophical musings on the nature and role of school in our society inform the views of none other than Governor Brown. Lest there be any doubt, compare this (admittedly somewhat arcane) abbreviated passage from a radio interview Brown conducted of Illich in 1996:

Brown: So Deschooling was based on the insight that the school industry teaches people, not teaches them but manipulates them, into thinking that they have certain needs that the school itself alone can satisfy?

Illich: Schooling, which we engage in and supposedly creates equal opportunities, has become the unique, never before attempted way of dividing the whole society into classes. Everybody knows in which level of his twelve or sixteen years of schooling he has dropped out, and in addition knows what price tag is attached to the higher schooling he has gotten.

Brown: So you get a precise definition of where you are in the social hierarchy by how much schooling you had or how much schooling you don’t have, so you didn’t know you needed fourteen years and a postgraduate degree to get out of high school depending upon where you lived.

Illich: It’s a history of degrading the majority of people.

Brown: So you take somebody who’s poor and you modernize the poverty by not only having a person that doesn’t have a lot of material goods but now lacks the mental self-confidence that his father or grandfather had before that.

Although this interview took place 16 years ago, I contend Illich’s thoughts on the role of schools and education provide the closest thing we have to a “Rosetta Stone” to understanding Governor Brown’s approach to education policy. This is not to say Brown agrees with every radical idea Illich proposed – far from it. Rather, Illich’s philosophical skepticism of the school as an institution helps illuminate why Brown would be skeptical of certain education reforms that he perceives as “technocratic” – teacher evaluation and data-driven instruction come to mind – while simultaneously embracing others, such online instruction and charters, that allow for new approaches to student learning.

Which brings us back to the November election and the governor’s duel with Molly Munger. Make no mistake, like everyone else who cares about California’s schools and students, I hope the voters pass Proposition 30 to prevent further fiscal Armageddon. Should California voters decide otherwise, however, my hope is that the resulting crisis might finally provoke a serious effort to dramatically rethink and redesign every aspect of our education system. Though not by choice, we are already “deschooling” in California through budget attrition, and we may soon need to innovate like never before.

Benjamin Riley is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports education entrepreneurs. Previously, Ben worked as a deputy attorney general for the California Department of Justice, where he worked primarily on education-related matters. He currently lives in Washington, D.C. but will one day return to the Golden State.

 


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  1. Winslow 4 years ago4 years ago

    What all of you, starting with Mr. Riley, miss completely is that Illich called for a true disestablishment of that institution called schooling, of the entire idea that one must "have an education" to be judged worthy in this society. His call for disestablishment was modeled on the U.S. Constitution's disestablishment of religion. Just as employers are prevented by law from asking you what religion you have or what church or temple you attend or … Read More

    What all of you, starting with Mr. Riley, miss completely is that Illich called for a true disestablishment of that institution called schooling, of the entire idea that one must “have an education” to be judged worthy in this society. His call for disestablishment was modeled on the U.S. Constitution’s disestablishment of religion. Just as employers are prevented by law from asking you what religion you have or what church or temple you attend or what creed you adhere to, Illich thought the same about employers and schooling. No company should be permitted to ask you what school you went to, how much “education” you have (ie. how much you’ve spent on your schooling), or what degrees you’ve earned.
    Clearly, this is a radical idea. But Illich is radical kind of guy. And he really thought through what schooling is, symbolically, in a way that nobody else has. He found it to be a myth-making ritual. The school system, with its graded classes and degrees, is the new world religion, he saw, pursued essentially in the same way everywhere around the globe.
    The myth is that school somehow produces socio-economic equality, levels the playing field, helps the poor – pick your figure of speech. But the fact is that it enforces inequality and the status quo. Schooling’s main product is dropouts; There are many many more of them than graduates. Everyone who goes to school learns that there is always, no matter how much you’ve already acquired, more of that stuff called education to consume, more grades or tests or exams to pass, and that one has only one’s self to blame if one doesn’t manage to consume more of this stuff — or even, in the developing world he mainly wished to warn off of the Western model, to get that next year of schooling. School is where we learn about being consumers, for the system encourages us to distrust what we learn outside of school and believe that the only knowledge truly valuable is that which is provided by professionals. And we learn, too, that those are just one of many ranks of professionals who always (supposedly) have our best interests in mind, who “care” about us, who know better than us, who control scarce knowledge. School is where we learn, quite implicitly, about needs that must be fulfilled. School, Illich said, is an advertising agency for society the way it is. It is many other things, too.
    Not that schools themselves, those red-brick buildings, should be torn down. Rather, Illich thought, the institution needs dismantling. Nobody should be given the power to force you to go to school or to attend any particular class, to learn things you don’t necessarily want to learn at a given moment in time. Much better to make these schooling resources available – teachers, labs, classrooms, etc. – for people to use to teach each other, to learn from each other as friends and members of the community.
    Yes, this envisions a radically different society than the one we know and take for granted now, with all its technology and engineered artifacts and systems. He wrote his book at the time when there was real revolution in the air, when the Whole Earth Catalog was encouraging people to unplug, build a new society. And so forth. While much of that thinking has been dismissed by now (much of the energy went into believe that the PC would help liberate us!), Illich’s book remains a penetrating and perhaps the radical dissection yet of schools and what this hyper-industrial, knowledge-driven society relies on that institution for, and of the assumptions that underpin our belief in the system as it is.
    In fact, and Illich admitted this towards the end of his life, his book Deschooling Society (available in complete form here and there around the web for downloading at no charge) serves, too, as a thinly-veiled critique of the Church and what he saw as its deeply corrupt conception and promotion of itself as yet another social agency that has a monopoly on the New Testament – on God, if you like. In another essay, Illich (a monsignor in the R.C. church at age 30) was brave enough to call for a disestablishment of the Church, as well, but that is another story. (Suffice it to say, he and the Vatican didn’t see eye to eye.)

  2. navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

    So I've been getting a lot of questions about these props and one of them is always the concern that prop 38 does nothing for higher education. This is obviously true as a direct statement (it targets k-12 and early education only). One counter to this argument is that prop 38 provides $3B / year of debt reduction to the general fund, from which higher education could be given more money, but the requisite term is 'could'; … Read More

    So I’ve been getting a lot of questions about these props and one of them is always the concern that prop 38 does nothing for higher education.

    This is obviously true as a direct statement (it targets k-12 and early education only).

    One counter to this argument is that prop 38 provides $3B / year of debt reduction to the general fund, from which higher education could be given more money, but the requisite term is ‘could’; there is nothing in prop 38’s text that requires that.

    I do think its important to note that of the $6B in prep 30’s trigger cuts, about $1B are to higher education (with about half of that to community colleges).

    Prop 38’s debt reduction efforts would free up about $3B a year in the general fund, or about 3 times the higher education trigger cuts. In fact, if the LAO’s analysis correct, that $3B would cover the entire amount that prop 30 would have raised for education anyway (this may be little consolation given that the trigger cuts are about double that).

    But the important point is that if higher education is a priority for the state, the debt reduction efforts of prop 38 would be much more than sufficient to cover not only community colleges, but even the UC and CS trigger cuts. While my expectations usually have little to do with what the state actually does, it does seem like it would be problematic to have prop 38 pass, save k-12 schools while imposing full trigger cuts on higher ed. But who knows.

    On another note, I have not yet met someone in the general community who knows that prop 38 limits spending for administration. So, although I think I understand why that limitation was put in the law, it has apparently not made it to the voters and looks like it was a wasted concession. To bad, given that that limitation is actually a valid concern for some.

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    • Manuel 4 years ago4 years ago

      As I've stated elsewhere, I know why I am voting no on 38. But I've noticed that nobody (or at least the TV ads) mentions that a good chunk of money is going to go to pre-K "education." Why is that? Is it because it is not doing well in the focus groups? Instead, we keep hearing that all money will go directly to schools "for education only." Maybe. But the LEAs can do all kinds of … Read More

      As I’ve stated elsewhere, I know why I am voting no on 38.

      But I’ve noticed that nobody (or at least the TV ads) mentions that a good chunk of money is going to go to pre-K “education.” Why is that? Is it because it is not doing well in the focus groups?

      Instead, we keep hearing that all money will go directly to schools “for education only.” Maybe. But the LEAs can do all kinds of things with that money as long as they claim it is for education. Who is going to make LAUSD, for example, to stop running a large police department (with the salaries that go with that) and call it a “school-site resource?” (I can see some mid-level apparatchik droning on at a community meeting “explaining” the budgeting for Prop 38 funds: “We are allocating $60/child to the LAUSD PD because we need security for the children. You want the children to be safe, don’t you?”)

      Prop. 38 does not stop that abuse at all because nothing in its language puts teeth on local watch-dogging.

      BTW, speaking of budgets, I finally learned that the “Alligator Chart” is a product of a school “services” company and come from a “product” they sell to figure out what the state budget is going to give a school district (thanks, John, for that article). The numbers in it are, not surprisingly, the same ADA amounts that show up in LAUSD’s budgets. Yet, they don’t coincide with those reported by the state in the spreadsheets found at this web page: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/fd/ec/currentexpense.asp

      Does anybody know what is going on? I suspect an accounting trick of some sort, but I don’t have the time to track it (“I am not an accountant, I just pretend to be one”). The worse may be that schools actually get more money but they don’t report it. That can’t be, can it?

      • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

        The alligator chart is about revenue limits, which is only one part of total expenditures.

        • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

          Sorry for typing too fast. Revenue is obviously not part of expenditures, even though it is used to pay them. The point was there is more revenue than just revenue limits. If you saw my comments on John's article, you'll see that is one of my criticisms of the alligator graph. That said, the discrepancy characterized by the graph does exist, and is a real burden. Also not clear why the use of funds for school … Read More

          Sorry for typing too fast. Revenue is obviously not part of expenditures, even though it is used to pay them. The point was there is more revenue than just revenue limits. If you saw my comments on John’s article, you’ll see that is one of my criticisms of the alligator graph. That said, the discrepancy characterized by the graph does exist, and is a real burden.

          Also not clear why the use of funds for school security would be a concern with 38 when the use of 30 funds for things other than education is not a concern. Regardless, I’d be surprised if PD spending could be justified.

          Its noteworthy that people dont trust sacramento, but when offered a choice to let local entities decide, the criticism is that we should not trust them either. Is there anyone taxpayers will let us trust?

  3. Ze'ev Wurman 4 years ago4 years ago

    Ben, Thanks for your nice response, but in it you raised another point: that many education entrepreneurs and innovators look at per-pupil funding in California and decide they would rather innovate somewhere else. This may be so, but I wonder: should we increase California per student funding through additional taxes to entice education entrepreneurs? When phrased this way, I suspect that even you will recoil a bit. Enough said. I agree with you about budget gyrations, and I … Read More

    Ben,

    Thanks for your nice response, but in it you raised another point: that many education entrepreneurs and innovators look at per-pupil funding in California and decide they would rather innovate somewhere else.

    This may be so, but I wonder: should we increase California per student funding through additional taxes to entice education entrepreneurs? When phrased this way, I suspect that even you will recoil a bit. Enough said.

    I agree with you about budget gyrations, and I could even be persuaded to consider changes to prop 13 for commercial properties, except that I know it would be to increase the overall tax load rather than replace one type of revenue by another more stable one. Hence, I am against it. In any case, if we learn how to live within our — already huge — budget, with 2-3% reserve funding being built into it, the gyrations will stop on their own.

    Replies

    • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      Its funny, I think cutting per-pupil funding is what entices private interests. This is because the priority becomes cutting costs and not providing a service. Its why one never hears privatization interests argue for increased funding. They know it would help things work better.

  4. Ben Riley 4 years ago4 years ago

    Great comments, everyone. To follow up briefly on a few of them: -- Navigio, to extent I can pretend to understand Illich's philosophical position, I think he'd agree with you that our culture (or society) drives demand for a hierarchical, school-based system of education. But he sees the process as self reinforcing, because the schools instill in us a perverted value system that trumps other cultural norms and influences. To wit: "The claim that a liberal society … Read More

    Great comments, everyone. To follow up briefly on a few of them:

    — Navigio, to extent I can pretend to understand Illich’s philosophical position, I think he’d agree with you that our culture (or society) drives demand for a hierarchical, school-based system of education. But he sees the process as self reinforcing, because the schools instill in us a perverted value system that trumps other cultural norms and influences. To wit:

    “The claim that a liberal society can be founded on the modern school is paradoxical. The safeguards of individual freedom are all canceled in the dealings of a teacher with his pupil. When the schoolteacher fuses in his person the functions of judge, ideologue, and doctor, the fundamental style of society is perverted by the very process which should prepare for life. A teacher who combines these three powers contributes to the warping of the child much more than the laws which establish his legal or economic minority, or restrict his right to free assembly or abode.”

    Let me hastily add that I don’t agree with Illich on this, I’m just grappling with the argument as he presents it.

    — El, I agree (and I think Illich would agree) that 4H clubs and the Girl Scouts are viable alternative education deliverers (to invent a phrase), and they aren’t based on technology per se. I’m seeing more and more of this pop up around the country, but as you rightly point out, the quality varies greatly. Mozilla is trying to develop a universal badge system to address this, but it’s a daunting project.

    — Ze’ev, it’s fair to say that one can be for California schools and students and against Proposition 30 (Molly Munger might fall into that camp!); I plead guilty to allowing some subtle advocacy to creep into my piece. That said, I know for a fact that many education entrepreneurs and innovators look at per-pupil funding in California and decide they would rather innovate somewhere else. And, without going too far down the tax rabbit hole, I’d argue a big part of California’s problem is not how much we tax but how we collect state taxes — the endless year-to-year budget gyrations make it all but impossible to undertake multi-year systems-change projects.

    — mcdez, I think Governor Brown hoped to “school” at least one Republican into passing legislation that would have obviated the need for Proposition 30! His failure to do so is what prompted the need to turn to the voters. We will know soon whether his gamble pays off.

  5. Ze'ev Wurman 4 years ago4 years ago

    Navigio, I appreciate your sincere cri de coeur, but I think you are barking up the wrong tree. I did not write that only education needs to become more effective. What I wrote is that "our problem is not taxing us more but effectively spending the taxes we already collect." This applies to essentially *everything* California does, from the train to nowhere, through prisons and police, through over-regulating anything that moves, to education. It could be that … Read More

    Navigio,

    I appreciate your sincere cri de coeur, but I think you are barking up the wrong tree.

    I did not write that only education needs to become more effective. What I wrote is that “our problem is not taxing us more but effectively spending the taxes we already collect.” This applies to essentially *everything* California does, from the train to nowhere, through prisons and police, through over-regulating anything that moves, to education. It could be that education, eventually, deserves more than prop 98 suggests — prop 98 does not prohibit us from putting more to education. It is our excessive spending anywhere and everywhere that doesn’t allow education to get even its prop 98 share.

    I will leave the argument of how education efficiency can be improved to another time. I certainly do not believe that charters or privatization will solve all the problems as you think I do. But please remember the simple truth — systems do not reform themselves unless forced to do so by external crisis. We need to reform the system rather than try and defer the crisis for another few years.

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    • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      Merci Ze'ev. And thanks for allowing mon coeur some cri. Agree on deferring the tangent of education efficiency discussion. I only brought those up as examples of things that a failure of prop 30 would not cause to change (which I think is an important point: pragmatics vs theory). I do think the question about spending or not spending is relevant though. As you point out, one of our biggest problems is the the fact that … Read More

      Merci Ze’ev. And thanks for allowing mon coeur some cri. Agree on deferring the tangent of education efficiency discussion. I only brought those up as examples of things that a failure of prop 30 would not cause to change (which I think is an important point: pragmatics vs theory).
      I do think the question about spending or not spending is relevant though. As you point out, one of our biggest problems is the the fact that we are putting money in places it should not be (obviously a value judgment to a large extent), to the exclusion (given a balanced budget requirement) of putting it in places it should be. This is, of course, an admission that education is under-funded. (for me there is a real problem there, not only morally, but as a disinvestment in our state’s future). But more importantly, it is an admission that it will remain so (to its detriment) until one of two things happens: more overall budget is created to allow putting it in places it should be, or money is directed away from places it shouldnt be to places it should be. Clearly prop 38 attempts to achieve the former (though may also cause the opposite of the latter–further reductions in state funding). Prop 30 probably does not truly attempt to achieve the former, but pretends to. But the question for me is whether failure of both will achieve the latter. I dont believe it. Not only because I’ve never seen that happen, but because the ‘correction’ in the case of the failure of prop 30 is already law. We know whats going to happen (assuming its no bluff).

      Furthermore, I think the discussion of actual spending is way over-simplified. The ‘train to nowhere’ (whatever that means) has spent exactly how much money so far? Has that money been ‘diverted’ from education? Most of the ‘current’ amount is general obligation bonds that havent yet been or are just being issued. So it is not yet ‘diverting’ anything from education. The rest of it is matching federal money. And a big part of that amount is in fact going to what would otherwise be considered ‘normal’ upgrade/upkeep. While I agree its possible to argue about the relative values of education vs public transportation, I dont think ‘the train to nowhere’ would be part of the discussion at this point. You can correct me if I’m wrong. 🙂

      Ironically, one of our biggest ‘problems’ has been the lack of funding directed toward pension and heath funds. That is of course not over-spending, it is under-spending. It is also a function of other things than merely spending, such as revenue and valuation reductions.

      I also think part of the discussion includes the very real tradeoff between making cuts to systems that provide water, food and security and how that meshes with the priority of an educated populace. Security and education are of course related in some nebulous way via the relationship between crime and education, but Pavlov had some good points in his definition of a hierarchy of needs. I wish more of our public policy discussions revolved around those priorities and how they relate to the tradeoffs we must make.

      In the end, I think for the anti-tax camp, there is never a right time for government-based services or programs. Rather the goal is to change the philosophy of why we have government, not modify it into being a lean, mean, fighting machine while doing the same things. George Lakoff wrote an interesting book about how liberals and conservatives (pardon the over-simplified labels) generally talk right past each other in debates because they base their philosophies on very different underlying priorities, and rarely address the priorities themselves, rather argue about their symptoms.

      Anyway, thanks for the response.

  6. Ze'ev Wurman 4 years ago4 years ago

    "People who care about California’s children watched in horror ... like everyone else who cares about California’s schools and students, I hope the voters pass Proposition 30" I find what you wrote about Gov. Brown and Ivan Illich insightful, even as I disagree with some of their characterization of education. I also like your point about our increasing potential -- even if yet barely fulfilled -- to customize future education. But if that's the case, why do … Read More

    “People who care about California’s children watched in horror … like everyone else who cares about California’s schools and students, I hope the voters pass Proposition 30”

    I find what you wrote about Gov. Brown and Ivan Illich insightful, even as I disagree with some of their characterization of education. I also like your point about our increasing potential — even if yet barely fulfilled — to customize future education.

    But if that’s the case, why do you label me as one who doesn’t care about California’s schools or children? I was pleased rather than horrified to see props 30 and 38 face a failure, yet I care very much for our schools and our children. I simply can’t see how even more taxes, and throwing more money at education, will improve schools — it will simply teach the education establishment that it is “special” and it deserves to be shielded from the general economic misery that surrounds us. Much like our police officers, firefighters, or correctional officers and other government employees already do, to the detriment of all of us.

    California is already one of the most taxed states in the nation. Our problem is not taxing us more but effectively spending the taxes we already collect. Higher taxes will just postpone the necessary course correction, meanwhile destroying whatever is left of our economy.

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    • Navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      Ze'ev, can you explain how the failure of props 30 and 32 will cause more effective use of the taxes we already collect? Why will only this time the impact of the cut be 'more effective use' as opposed to the now standard 'response': to lop off programs and services wholesale? In addition, I your opinion is that 'more effective use' is in fact the increased privatization of district and school functions. The increase in consultant … Read More

      Ze’ev, can you explain how the failure of props 30 and 32 will cause more effective use of the taxes we already collect? Why will only this time the impact of the cut be ‘more effective use’ as opposed to the now standard ‘response’: to lop off programs and services wholesale?
      In addition, I your opinion is that ‘more effective use’ is in fact the increased privatization of district and school functions. The increase in consultant use in both administration and instruction has been dramatic as ‘public’ staff has been cut. In our own school, computer instruction is done by a private company, but note only because the parents raised the money? How far does that go? Is that more effective? More importantly, for all kids?
      I understand the theory behind your comments (in fact it’s one reason our district has closed 25% of our schools in the past handful-plus years as it continues to approve new charters. And when does ‘more effective use’ become trumped by the losses of opportunity for our kids (even if that is caused by stubborn admins and ruthless unions)? Ever? Really?

    • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      And one quick followup: Ze'ev, do you think our accountability system is 'effective'? I cannot tell you how much time I watch being spent on things like data collection, data tabulation, data analysis, data reporting, truancy and attendance recording and reporting, budget reporting, for years on out. I myself am a data geek, but why are all these things somehow more important than instruction? Why can a district not decide to simply forgo the CST … Read More

      And one quick followup: Ze’ev, do you think our accountability system is ‘effective’? I cannot tell you how much time I watch being spent on things like data collection, data tabulation, data analysis, data reporting, truancy and attendance recording and reporting, budget reporting, for years on out. I myself am a data geek, but why are all these things somehow more important than instruction? Why can a district not decide to simply forgo the CST and its overhead as well as all the staff and time needed to implement and then crunch the results for years on end without being subject to a large reduction in revenue?
      Might it not be more effective to have the state and federal governments actually fund their mandates? It is unacceptable to me that 33% of our SPED budget comes from the general fund while we have community members railing that we spend over $10,000 ‘per student’ (each and every student). Mmhmmm.
      How effective is it to have a single number to measure the quality of a school? How ridiculous is the API as a metric when things like what Doug brought up about ways to not only manipulate it, but to do so to the disproportionate detriment of minorities and low-income kids? And even for the state to provide incentive to do that? To have that metric based on proficiency rates on tests that correlate almost wholly to parent education level. How effective is it to have a school on one end of the district in which 80% of the kids have a parent who went to college while on the other side of the district to have a school where 70% of the kids dont have a parent who finished high school, and then chastise the latter for having an API 150 points lower? And worse, threaten it with closure and switch to a charter for that reason.
      If you really cared about the kids as much as you say, you’d vote against prop 30 (for the reasons you mentioned) but for prop 38 because it bypasses most of the things that you rail against (with the possible exception of unions–forget where you stand on that) and sends money straight to schools to be spent on instruction. Period. So we dont continue to have cuts that cause people with means to be able to fund education themselves, while the rest of the population (increasingly segregated by those means) simply does without.
      If you really cared about kids as much as you say, you would cry out to have even a fraction of those 80% of charter schools that score no better than their public counterparts closed. Are they really ‘more effective’? For whom, exactly?
      And what about administrator evaluations? I hear floods of cries about teacher quality, but virtually zero about the quality of their bosses, whose job it is after all, to evaluate those very teachers, and the ones who run districts?
      Is it effective to have school site councils trying to make decisions without sufficient data on which to make those decisions because there are too many privacy laws about what can be made public? Is it effective to have even board members not have any insight into personnel issues for similar reasons? What about trying to figure out a way to make the job of superintendent less of a political one? Is it effective to have neighborhood schools, which used to be part of the community, locked off hours because its too expensive to buy insurance to keep them available to the community? Is it effective to have community organizations raising money for public schools be forced to have their get-togethers somewhere other than on a public school campus because they want to serve wine? We had this happen recently. The get-together was on a private school campus. Oh the irony.. Is it effective to have it take 13 years for the state to add the metrics to the API that were supposed to avoid a narrowing of the curriculum? 13 years?? Oh but wait, we’re doing away with that metric anyway… or at least changing the tests upon which its based.

      Recently, I was doing some calculations of API because I noticed something that I thought was odd (reduction in proficiency rate for a subgroup while the same subgroup had an increase in API). After a bit of sanity checking (and memory enhancement), it made sense: API is calculated not just on proficiency rate, but on the makeup of all 5 bands of the CST (or CMA or CAPA) result classifications. One of the goals of the API calculations (apparently) was to provide strong incentive to move kids into higher bands. This was achieved by providing a disproportionately positive impact on API the lower the student originally scored from. In other words, it is more valuable to move a student from FBB to BB than from BB to Basic, or even than from Basic to proficient. As a quick example, if you had 100 elementary kids (all taking CST, and not SPED) evenly distributed across the 5 bands (20 each) and moved all 20 from Basic to proficient, you would increase your API 35 points. But if you instead moved all 20 BB to Basic you’d increase your API 40 points, and if you instead moved all 20 FBB to BB, you’d increase by 60 points. (ironically, there would be no change in proficiency rates in either of the latter two examples, while there is a difference in API of 20 points). The supreme irony in all of this is it provides more incentive for a school to lose an FBB level student than one at any other level (with the least incentive for advanced). And this impact is different depending on the ‘base makeup’ of that school. In other words, the API calculation itself, when combined with the myriad methods to manipulate it (CMA, School Choice, etc), actually provide an incentive to segregate based on ability. While I guess I should not be surprised, I really hope this is not what we mean by ‘more effective’.

      In the end, these rants are, in and of themselves, not the point. Rather the question really is, with all the ineffectiveness we have in how we even think about education, let alone how we implement it, if the goal really is to be the loving, but strict father figure by teaching a lesson through a poverty of resources, then should that not actually be the outcome? In every example I have seen to date, the response has been that the public has spoken, and instead of the message having been interpreted as, ‘mend your ways’, its been heard as, ‘we want fewer services’. The public entity, of course, has no choice (and sometimes even seems happy) but to oblige. Who gets hurt by this? The kids. Wasnt it Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes. But what did he know.. more cuts are sure to make things better. Especially this time, I guess..

  7. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    “But placing the burden of raising taxes on the voters seems a very cowardly and ineffective way to govern.”

    It seems to me that Californians asked for that style when they passed Proposition 13. I don’t think you can lay that at the feet of this governor.

  8. mcdez 4 years ago4 years ago

    Brown: . . . "the school industry teaches people, not teaches them but manipulates them, into thinking that they have certain needs that the school itself alone can satisfy?" Hmmmm this sounds eerily similar to Brown's approach to education finance and his idea of how to close the budget gap. He wrote his budget assuming that his tax increase would pass and threatens to cut the legs off of our schools if it … Read More

    Brown: . . . “the school industry teaches people, not teaches them but manipulates them, into thinking that they have certain needs that the school itself alone can satisfy?”

    Hmmmm this sounds eerily similar to Brown’s approach to education finance and his idea of how to close the budget gap. He wrote his budget assuming that his tax increase would pass and threatens to cut the legs off of our schools if it doesn’t. If this isn’t manipulation, I don’t know what is.

    Change the term “school industry” with “the governor” and see how it reads.

    Now, I’m not unsympathetic to the position the governor is in. There is a need to do so many things differently when it comes to funding our schools and assuring that our students are prepared for the 21st century, and, of course, there is that nagging deficit to address. But placing the burden of raising taxes on the voters seems a very cowardly and ineffective way to govern. If Prop 30 fails, then the governor can say, “Well, California, I’m cutting student funding because YOU didn’t do what was necessary.”

    Perhaps it’s because he’s working with a legislature that has not had the benefit of being “deschooled” that we find ourselves locked in these damaging patterns.

  9. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    Blended learning certainly provides an opportunity for some kids to explore new areas and to push themselves ahead of their classmates, and to me that is very valuable. However, it also provides an opportunity for other kids to stagnate and to get further behind. The students still need substantial supervision and assistance from a real teacher, and I'd argue that blended classes - if we are to take advantage of their strengths and let … Read More

    Blended learning certainly provides an opportunity for some kids to explore new areas and to push themselves ahead of their classmates, and to me that is very valuable. However, it also provides an opportunity for other kids to stagnate and to get further behind. The students still need substantial supervision and assistance from a real teacher, and I’d argue that blended classes – if we are to take advantage of their strengths and let the kids work independently – probably require smaller student/teacher ratios, not larger ones as many ‘reformers’ suggest. It’s also going to require substantial investments in infrastructure and a dedicated IT staff if it’s going to be available to all students.

    I would suggest a useful model for personalized and skill credit learning would be programs like Girl Scouts and 4-H where kids of multiple ages mix together to work on various badges, tasks, and activities. (FFA is in schools and I believe works similarly.) I would say that what I see there (keeping in mind that the teaching is done by volunteers of various quality and skill) is that you still see some kids mastering the material easily and some kids floundering and doing the minimum. So there may be lessons to learn and ideas to crib, but I’m not thinking we’ll find magic ponies there that will suddenly burst the achievement of low achieving students beyond what happens in our existing schools.

  10. navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

    This sounds a lot like the alternative school movement that was tried in the early 70's. I wonder if he was part of the inspiration for that. If so, it would be a good idea to study what happened, and why that model has not persisted. I also feel like I want to disagree with the concept that school is what divides society into classes. I think society/culture does that, school gives us a means to … Read More

    This sounds a lot like the alternative school movement that was tried in the early 70’s. I wonder if he was part of the inspiration for that. If so, it would be a good idea to study what happened, and why that model has not persisted.

    I also feel like I want to disagree with the concept that school is what divides society into classes. I think society/culture does that, school gives us a means to achieve that if we want to (or maybe more accurately, is an extension of societal values and needs). To put it maybe another way, the division of society has been achieved by society’s demand for people who have been schooled. A hundred years ago, that demand was only for a few percent of our population. Now its nearly all of it (or at least the perception is that it is). Of course, the demand is largely not real yet. Part of the ‘demand’ is created by our morality of opportunity (liberty and equality), part by the technological advancement of society, and part by the perceived increase in the latter toward the future. It is true that we are trying to do something we never did before (Vollmer does a great job of explaining this in his book).

    I think this can be seen in the fact that other cultures do fine with what is essentially the same kind of schooling concept. There is no ‘mass degrading’ or especially a building of a lack of confidence in lower-educated people (nothing could be further from the truth in europe).

    As someone who thinks about this a lot, I think a large source for this uniquely American phenomenon is the value we’ve placed on being rich (and partially famous). Paul Vockler had some interesting comments recently about his impression of how people in the banking industry have changed over the past half decade or so. In europe, when someone talks about a movie and the ‘famous person’ associated with it, its the director. In America, its the actor. I’ve always felt that was telling.

    Sorry, you cant talk about philosophy and keep me quiet.. 🙂

    Oh, and 38 may just win. Look out!

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