Archive for October, 2012

October 29, 2012

The Education-Testing Complex of Mass Destruction

Companies that create and administer standardized tests are making a fortune in this era of test-based accountability

by Marion Brady | Published October 25, 2012 by Answer Sheet Blog

Which brings me to your local, state, and federal tax bill for last year, this year, next year, and into the foreseeable future. And also brings me to the famous warning in President Eisenhower’s January 1961 Farewell Address to the Nation. “We must,” he said, “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence …by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Here’s another version of that warning: “Beware the education-test manufacturer complex. The potential for disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Right now the scale on a per-dollar basis of the education-test manufacturer complex isn’t on par with that of the military-industrial complex. However, companies that create and sell tests are on the problem and moving fast.

Forget for now the money involved. Think about the long-term consequences of taking control of kids’ minds away from homes and parents, away from neighborhood schools and teachers, away from locally elected school boards and local press, and handing it over to people for whom quality education is far down their list of priorities, if it appears at all.

Do that, and you may come to the conclusion — to continue Eisenhower’s warning — that this is a greater danger to our children’s and grandchildren’s  “liberties and democratic processes” than that posed by the military-industrial complex.

What’s the education-test manufacturer complex’s long-term strategy, as coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council?

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October 25, 2012

Pour la fin des subventions au privé

By Françoise David | Published 24 octobre 2012 by Le Devoir

“Au moment où un débat refait surface sur le financement des écoles privées, il est urgent de se dire une ou deux choses. D’abord, que l’école publique est vraiment sous-financée et que le personnel de ces écoles commence à en avoir assez. Y compris les directions. Deuxièmement, que dans beaucoup de ces écoles, la générosité et la compétence du personnel sont au rendez-vous.

Il serait grand temps que le ministère de l’Éducation revalorise l’école publique et la fasse mieux connaître, surtout aux parents de la classe moyenne traumatisés par certains palmarès. Troisièmement, que la population québécoise finance à la fois un système public et un secteur privé, celui-ci au moins à 60 %. Pourquoi ? Je propose plutôt de diminuer progressivement le financement des écoles privées et de rapatrier la majorité des élèves au public. Et de proposer aux parents de la classe moyenne de s’engager aux côtés des enseignantes et enseignants pour que toutes les écoles publiques, primaires et secondaires, répondent aux besoins de tous les enfants.”

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October 21, 2012

Civil Rights Leader James Meredith on Saving Public Education

Published Octobre 17, 2012 by Diane Ravitch’s blog

“‘There is no real difference between the two candidates and parties when it comes to the most critical domestic issue of our age, public education,’ Meredith says. ‘Both Obama and Romney are in favor of multi-billion-dollar boondoggles and money-grabs that have little or no evidence of widespread benefit to K-through-8 children or the community at large, like over-reliance on high-stakes standardised testing; over-reliance on charter schools and cyber-charters; and the funding and installation of staggering amounts of unproven computer products in schools.’

According to Meredith, ‘Education is much too important to be left to politicians. They have failed. They came up with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, both of which are largely failures. It is time for parents, families and teachers to take back control, and to step up to their responsibilities to take charge of education.’

His solution? ‘Storm the schools,’ says Meredith, echoing the challenge he issues in his book A MISSION FROM GOD, which has been compared by one reviewer to a work by Dostoyevsky and hailed by Publishers Weekly as ‘lively and compelling.’ He says, ‘I call on every American citizen to commit right now to help children in the public schools in their community, especially those schools with disadvantaged students.’ He also suggests that citizens flood the schools with offers to volunteer to read to young children, and flood every school board and political meeting to demand that politicians and bureaucrats justify, with concrete evidence, every proposal made and every dollar being spent on public education, line by line.

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October 20, 2012

CHRY ‘News Now’ Interview with Robert Green on the Problems with Quebec’s 4-Tiered Education System

CHRY is the York University campus/community radio station. To listen to the ‘News Now’ feature interview with Robert Green on the problem’s with Quebec’s 4 tiered education system  click here. (To download as mp3 right-click and select ‘save link as’)

October 19, 2012

The Conflict in Context: A Québec high school teacher’s perspective on the movement for accessible education

By Robert Green

This article appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of ‘Our Schools / Our Selves’ edited by Erika Shaker and published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

I teach a secondary five level course called ‘The Contemporary World’ at a public English high school in Montreal. One of the messages I am constantly trying to pass on to my students is that in attempting to understand world events, we should always be wary of overly simplistic formulations. Events do not occur in a vacuum. The historical and political context in which an event occurs always matters.

In recent months, as the student strike in Québec has come to dominate the headlines, I have found myself repeating a very similar message in discussions with students, friends, neighbours and colleagues. The mainstream media has been very successful at framing this conflict in the narrowest of terms; as being strictly about students not wanting to pay a $1,625 tuition increase. With such a simplistic framing of the issue it has been very easy for people to agree with commentators who characterize Québec students as irrational and entitled because they already pay the lowest tuition in Canada.

The problem with this analysis is that if indeed this movement is merely about irrational, entitled students, how does one explain the series of historic demonstrations of between two and four-hundred-thousand people? How does one explain the fact that these demonstrations were filled not just with students, but with teachers such as myself, university and Cégep [college] professors, parents, senior citizens groups, union members, etc.? There’s something missing from the simplistic picture the media is offering us.

In examining the student strike within its broader historical and political context, I hope to offer a more complete picture of the issue. In so doing I also hope to articulate why, as a public school teacher and as a citizen of Québec, I find it important to actively support the movement for accessible education.

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October 18, 2012

Op-ed on Private School Subsidies and Two Letters in Response

Opinion: For my son, English high schools failed

By Juliet Waters | Published October 12, 2012 by the Montreal Gazette

MONTREAL — I always expected my children to follow my educational path, more or less: French elementary school to develop a good accent, English high school to develop writing.

Every time I went to alumnae dinners at Sacred Heart School, it seemed tuition had doubled from what it had been at the time of the last dinner. So I figured, no problem: it will be public school for my children. Back in my day, education at a Catholic confessional school was pretty close to that. I had schoolmates from hard-working immigrant families, neighbouring suburbs, Kahnawake (Sacred Heart was once a boarding school) and the wealthiest parts of Westmount. When I went to Marianopolis, I made friends from great public schools.

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Letter: Private schools are out of reach for most families

By Robert Green | Published October 15, 2012 by the Montreal Gazette

While I certainly respect Juliet Waters’s decision to do what’s best for her child, her assertion that Quebec’s private schools are meeting the needs of the “lower middle class” is something of a stretch. The average Quebec household enjoys just $53,000 in disposable income. For single-parent households that number drops to just $28,400. It is therefore hard to imagine that, even with some form of subsidy, an average Quebec household could afford the $3,000 per student per year fees charged by many French-language private schools. These numbers illustrate the reality that private schools subsidized by the taxes of all Quebecers are out of reach for the majority of families.

This perverse situation where working class families are subsidizing the education of elites should be opposed by all citizens who believe that educational opportunities should exist for all Quebecers, not just those with above average incomes.

Letter: Public schools serve the common good

By Eric Houde | Published October 13, 2012 by the Montreal Gazette

Education Minister Marie Malavoy has political courage I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

The end of subsidies to private schools that choose their students based on admission tests would allow for the rebuilding of our very damaged public education system. Without the subsidy, much of the ordinary (francophone) middle class will be forced to re-invest their children in the public system. That will lead to a not-so-miraculous rise in its success rates. It will also strengthen the culture of achievement for everyone by having more strong, motivated students in the public classroom and vocal middle class parents as stakeholders in the public system. Let us remember that in Montreal, about 35 per cent of secondary students are enrolled in private schools. Compare that to Toronto’s 6 per cent. This has been a disaster for our public schools and thus for our democracy.

Juliet Waters (“For my son, English high schools failed the test” Opinion, Oct. 13) rightly points out a very frustrating reality in Montreal. The public system has to imitate the private system with exclusive admissions standards if some of its schools were to retain strong middle-class students. Because the private system is so inexpensive in Quebec, it is able to attract the strongest students in its drive for top marks and a marketable reputation of excellence. The elite public schools are as good as anything the private system has to offer except they might have poorer infrastructure, mould or torn books. Their brand is not quite as glamorous. They usually don’t have iPads and Chinese language courses like Regina Assumpta, nor are they as successful in accumulating dollars for a huge, wealthy foundation of private donations (tax deductible) to create beautiful entrance ways and music facilities.

When you do the open house circuit and go from the very good French public school Académie de Roberval to Regina Assumpta, it is a vertiginous culture shock. And it seems bloody unfair. Roberval is an admirable yellow school bus of a school with great results. Regina is a Mercedes-Benz, with even better results and a glamorous name. Both will get your kid where he or she needs to go.

The question of where we send our children is an individual decision. Some are convinced they need a Mercedes for their kid. The government, however, must make decisions in favour of the larger good of society. The decision to no longer subsidize the Mercedes-Benz schools is a sound and just policy decision in favour of that old yellow school bus, the common good.

October 16, 2012

Education Profiteering: Wall Street’s Next Big Thing?

By Jeff Faux | Published October 15, 2012 by Alternet

Wall Street’s involvement in the charter school movement is presented as an act of philanthropy, but it’s really about greed.

The end of the Chicago teachers’ strike was but a temporary regional truce in the civil war that plagues the nation’s public schools. There is no end in sight, in part because — as often happens in wartime — the conflict is increasingly being driven by profiteers.

The familiar media narrative tells us that this is a fight over how to improve our schools. On the one side are the self-styled reformers, who argue that the central problem with American K-12 education is low-quality teachers protected by their unions. Their solution is privatization, with its most common form being the privately run but publicly financed charter school. Because charter schools are mostly unregulated, nonunion and compete for students, their promoters claim they will, ipso facto, perform better than public schools.

On the other side are teachers and their unions who are cast as villains. The conventional plot line is that they resist change, blame poverty for their schools’ failings and protect their jobs and turf.

It is well known, although rarely acknowledged in the press, that the reform movement has been financed and led by the corporate class. For over twenty years large business oriented foundations, such as Gates (Microsoft), Walton (Wal-Mart) and Broad (Sun Life) have poured billions into charter school start-ups, sympathetic academics and pundits, media campaigns (including Hollywood movies) and sophisticated nurturing of the careers of privatization promoters who now dominate the education policy debate from local school boards to the US Department of Education.

In recent years, hedge fund operators, leverage-buy-out artists and investment bankers have joined the crusade. They finance schools, sit on the boards of their associations and the management companies that run them, and — most important — have made support of charter schools one of the criteria for campaign giving in the post-Citizens United era. Since most Republicans are already on board for privatization, the political pressure has been mostly directed at Democrats.

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October 15, 2012

The False Promises of “School Choice”

by Barbara Miner | Published October 13, 2012 by Common Dreams

“Milwaukee’s program has long been a model for other cities and state programs, from Cleveland, to New Orleans, Florida, and Indiana. Beginning in 1990 with 300 students in seven non-sectarian schools, by 2012 vouchers had expanded to almost 23,000 students in more than 100 private schools, most of them religious-based. In size, the voucher program now rivals Wisconsin’s largest school districts, but with minimal public accountability or oversight.

For more than twenty years, supporters of vouchers for private schools have had a chance to prove their assertion that the marketplace and parental choice are the bedrocks of educational success, that unions and government bureaucracy are the enemies of reform, and that vouchers will lead to increased academic achievement.

After two decades and more than $1.27 billion in public funding, however, the Milwaukee voucher program’s enticing promises have not materialized.

The first apples-to-apples comparison between Milwaukee’s private voucher and public schools wasn’t until 2010, a testament to how difficult it is to demand public transparency from private schools. State test results showed that students in private voucher schools performed significantly worse in math and about the same in reading as their public school counterparts. Recent results have been similar.

Nor has Milwaukee’s voucher program met the promise of increased parental satisfaction. A longitudinal study on achievement, in its final report, noted that only17.5 percent of the voucher students remained in a voucher school after five years. The comparable figure for the public schools was 43.5 percent.”

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October 14, 2012

Video: Letter to Arne Duncan – Two Teachers and a Microphone

October 14, 2012

Quebec study of post-reform students yields disappointing results

By Janet Bagnall | Published October 9, 2012 by The Montreal Gazette

MONTREAL — Several years into Quebec’s controversial education reform — under which students are to learn to think for themselves and not just memorize facts — the farthest one of the researchers evaluating it will venture is: “It’s too soon to tell.”

The researcher, Simon Larose, a professor at Université Laval’s education department, is in charge of a longitudinal study of francophone and anglophone students across the province as they make their way through high school. The study compares 2,000 students in a pre-reform cohort, from 2004-05, with two later groups of 2,000 students each, one from 2006-07, the other from 2007-08, who started high school under the reformed curriculum. (The reform was introduced in secondary school in 2005-06 and in elementary school in 2000-01.)

This week, researchers brought out two new studies: one that tested the pre-reform and reform groups’ knowledge of math; the other comparing the groups’ written French proficiency. Anyone hoping the reform was leading to improved results was in for a disappointment.

“For the moment, there is not much change (between pre-reform and reform results) and what there is isn’t positive,” Larose said.

Questions for the math test were taken from the international PISA study which evaluates education systems worldwide every three years, testing 15-year-olds’ skills in reading, mathematics and science.

“We found very, very small differences between the pre-reform and reform groups, but the differences we found reflected a poorer performance by the reform groups,” Larose said. Among the two reform cohorts there was an additional, worrying tendency: youngsters from deprived areas performed significantly worse on the test. Their results might be a consequence of resources being diverted from student support programs while the reform was being put in place, Larose said.

October 13, 2012

Quebec’s Subsidized Private Schools: The Elephant Lurking Inside the Student Movement

By Katharine Cukier,

The public commitment to egalitarianism alongside a private nurturing of elitism breeds a bizarre kind of schizophrenia’ ‘. Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion

Progressives everywhere are inspired by the commitment and passion of the red square movement.  The students have insisted that access to quality education is at the heart of any society that takes its democracy seriously.  A few of us, however, have been waiting impatiently for the movement to take on the fundamental cause of unequal access to quality education in Quebec;  it is the elephant in the room, so to speak whenever you talk about education here in Quebec.  Noboby talks about it much: that may be because 30% of the population is riding on top of the elephant all the way to the doors of university.

Many people who get to university in Quebec have   benefitted from   generous subsidies given to a large network of exclusive private primary and secondary .  33% of all Montreal high school students are enrolled in private secondary schools . In contrast, the Canadian  average is 6%. Many striking students, and probably the majority of all francophone university students in Quebec are graduates of this very unfair system. And no one in the student movement is talking about it.

Yet, in Quebec, access to quality education at the secondary level is a significant determinant of who gets access to university. My own young children are in the private primary system, and as I marched and banged pots I, knew that there was something paradoxical if not hypocritical about demanding lower university fees while not giving any prominence to the fact that more and more people are paying fees for primary and secondary schools.  Publically subsidized private schools; this oxymoron describes the financial incentive behind the exodus of the middleclass from public schooling in Quebec. And in Montreal,  it is an emerging societal disaster .

Will Hutton of the Guardian wrote last July, Born poor? Bad luck, you have won last prize in the lottery of life  about how  the growing inequality in many societies is fueled by the weakening of public institutions.  ‘’The rich, dealing themselves out of society’s institutions into ever stronger and sealed ghettoes of their own, become ever more ignorant of the world around them even while they ensure their off-spring scoop life’s prizes’’. He could be describing Quebec when he discusses a major study that singles out private schools as a significant engine of reduced social mobility.  ‘Private schools play a pivotal role in repressing mobility; however good state schools become, private schools’ well-understood job is to stay a step ahead and deliver economic and social advantage’’. The advantage that these subsidized schools offer to Quebeckers  is a classroom free of  ‘problems’ .  Excluding kids with learning and behaviour challenges, or the challenges associated with economic deprivation, allows the private classroom to focus on academics.  Students who don`t perform well in these schools are expelled.  Further, the students flourish with the multiple enrichment activities and a school culture that motivates them to pursue higher education.  Our celebrated student leaders, Gabriel Nadeau Dubois, Leo Bureua Blouin and Martine Desjardins are all graduates of these elite schools.

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October 12, 2012

Le Devoir on the PQ’s “Ultimatum” to Private Schools

Le Devoir is reporting this morning that the PQ intends to deny public subsidies to private schools with selective admissions:

“Schools that accept everyone will receive public funding. If schools want selective admissions, they will no longer receive public funding” – PQ Education Ministre Marie Malavoy

Ultimatum de Québec aux écoles privées

Québec cessera de financer les écoles privées qui font de la sélection. Les établissements, qui sont subventionnés à 60 % par le gouvernement, devront « accepter tout le monde » s’ils veulent continuer à bénéficier du financement, a soutenu la ministre de l’Éducation, Marie Malavoy, en entretien au Devoir. « Oui, la pression est immédiate. Si vous acceptez tout le monde, vous êtes financés. Si vous voulez faire votre sélection, vous ne l’êtes plus », a-t-elle déclaré.

Selon la ministre, il faut que la répartition de la population étudiante soit plus équitable. « L’école publique a hérité de tous les enfants en difficulté. Notre régime privé, avec les modes de sélection qu’il a, fait en sorte que les élèves qui aboutissent dans le privé sont ceux qui ont de grandes capacités et peu de problèmes. Le poids sur le réseau public de tous ces élèves qui ne passeraient pas ce genre de sélection est énorme », a-t-elle noté.

L’idée voulant que le financement des écoles privées soit « lié » à la sélection est l’une des orientations du Parti québécois avec laquelle Mme Malavoy se dit « très à l’aise ». « Je trouve honnêtement que c’est une position qui se justifie très bien, a-t-elle insisté. On parlait des élèves en difficulté dans le réseau public… si on veut améliorer le sort du réseau public, il faut mettre à contribution le privé. »

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October 10, 2012

CJAD Panel Discussion on Homework

To listen to Tommy Shnurmacher’s discussion on homework with Robert Green and McGill professor Jon Bradley click here. (To download as mp3 right-click and select ‘save link as’)

October 9, 2012

Opinion: I don’t understand Quebec’s disregard for public schools

By Anne Chudobiak | Published Octobre 9 2012 by the Montreal Gazette

After 19 years in this province, there are still moments when I am reminded that I am not from here, and therefore, I might not share the dominant beliefs. This is true right now as I search for a high school for my daughter to attend next year. I don’t know yet whether she will continue in French or switch to English. But one thing is for sure: whatever school we choose will be public.

“Public for primary, private for secondary.” I first encountered this refrain when my children were benefiting from some of the best care they have ever received, under our province’s generous and inspired $7-a-day daycare program. Call me a dreamer, but I believe that if Quebec can be a world leader in accessible early childhood education, it can be the same for public education at the high school level.

Instead of developing its public system to its fullest, though, Quebec props up its private schools with subsidies to the tune of up to 60 per cent of the cost of a private education.

As Martin Lauzon, chair of the Syndicat de l’enseignement secondaire des Basses-Laurentides, explained to Le Devoir last week, people who can’t afford a private school education for their own children are conscripted into subsidizing it for those who can.