Posts Tagged 'retention'

A Momentary Lapse …

A Momentary Lapse of Character

In a moment of uncharacteristic candor and persona, Hanna Skandera, the twice passed over candidate for New Mexico Secretary of Education, had this bit of truth to say about her mission: “I came to New Mexico to do a job, and I plan to do that job.” With the tacit approval of legislators on both sides of the aisle, what a job it is she is doing to schools, teachers and students.

By not taking up Skandera’s confirmation and rejecting her Legislators obtained by default their personal “don’t blame me” licenses. Clearly the “job” she refers to is bringing New Mexico into line with the educational policies of ALEC including their spawn of phony “foundations”, “institutes” and her other corporate sponsors. Nearly verbatim copies of ALEC promulgated educational policies, the ABCD-F Act among them, have been presented and passed into law. This is happening without critical analysis, proper public discussion or truthful disclosure of sources nor an understanding of the strategy, purpose and ultimate consequences imbedded in those new laws.

The same underhanded conspiracy is taking place across the United States and besides New Mexico, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida are good examples. State legislators elected by their constituencies in the belief that they would write and pass legislation particular to their constituencies are carrying water for a private organization, ALEC, introducing bills written by ideological trolls in Washington DC. Of course to prepare them for this mission legislators are wined and dined at exclusive resorts sequestered by armed guards to keep out the prying eyes of the public and the press. If a resort isn’t handy ALEC will happily pick up the tab at an expensive local restaurant as it did recently in Santa Fe. Either way ALEC picks up the tab and asks only that you introduce the bills they have written as though they were your own. It sounds a lot like a conspiracy scam doesn’t it? Personally I want my elected representatives to write their own legislation based on what we in New Mexico need and not what some corporate sponsored bill mill in Washington DC is cranking out.

In Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida state legislatures already have been and are uncritically passing new laws governing schools to enable take-over by private charter schools, the devaluing of teachers, and the mechanized stupidizing of the educative process. What is the motive? Among other things like destroying organized representation for working class people, the end result ALEC and it sponsors want is to take over public education for profit. In some places people are waking up. In Wisconsin for instance they are recalling their recently elected Governor, Scott Walker, who, like Susana Martinez in New Mexico, was sponsored by the Koch boys and the ALEC. This recall business can happen anywhere when people realize they are being sold out by their elected officials. Throw the bums out of office and start over; that’s how it done unless of course you are happy with the idea of uniform laws promulgated across the country written by ALEC and passed by corporate toadies in state legislatures.

What’s at stake here? Well, how about your democratic form of government for starters? How about schools accountable to their communities as opposed to schools accountable to their stockholders and corporate managers. How about honesty and above the board legislative dealings. How about doing your job as a legislator and doing the dirty work that job sometimes requires? If all you think about is being re-elected and not wanting to affront some of your constituency or potential fat cat donors then you are not doing your job and don’t deserve to hold office. In the final analysis it isn’t whether Skandera was approved or not, what matters is that you had the courage to take up the matter and deal with it. We are now into the 2012 legislative election cycle and November will be the reckoning. I’ll bet education is going to be on  the agenda.

It was announced this afternoon, Wednesday February 15th, that New Mexico had been granted exemption from the NCLB business. President Obama’s hoops buddy came through for Skandera on this matter which is by definition, is no more than a straw issue. In fact what has been achieved is exactly no more than this: New Mexico, you no longer have to walk backwards but you will have to walk on your hands and knees. Keep going. Boy whoopee! Such a deal…..

This essay first appeared at:

Ditch the Corpse


Both social promotion and holding children back in grade for failing to achieve according to arbitrary standards are counterproductive. The first is a disservice, the second a punishment. Both of these notions constitute a fundamental denial of the learning process and could easily be eliminated from the current educational narrative in one fell-swoop by simply eliminating grade levels.

If there were no grade levels from what are now considered kindergarten or first grade to 5th or 6th grade levels and if instead achievement or developmental levels were the gauge there would be no social promotion and no holding back. Nothing can change the simple fact of life that all  learning is personal and is accomplished at a rate appropriate to each individual.

So, what’s the deal here with this urgent push to end social promotion and replace it with the Draconian practice of holding back? What personal, social or political agendas are being served by demeaning and humiliating children with this form of punishment? Is there an assumption that children who do not learn according to arbitrary expectations are doing so deliberately? Have any of those who are making these proposals ever taken instruction in human developmental psychology? We are not talking about Skinnerian pigeons here, we are talking about children – human children – and it is a given that all humans, children and adults, learn at their own rate according to their abilities. (n.b.: Not all of Skinner’s pigeons learned at the same rate either.) I would ask the so-called reformers who propose the holding-back policy how well they would do today in a differential equations class. How would they feel if they were socially stigmatized for not keeping up with others who are more mathematically inclined in a chat about Newton’s thoughts on the Binomial Theorem for Fractional or Negative Exponents?

What do the proponents of holding children back believe would be gained by social stigmatization? Do those who propose this antediluvian educational practice believe they are actually helping a child when they humiliate him or her in front of peers, and are they presuming to speak for the child and assert there is no need to feel humiliated? Do they want not only to specify how quickly a child should learn but also tell the child how to feel about being held back? This sounds to me a lot like adding insult to injury.


How can anyone claim with a straight face that cutting school budgets, eliminating teachers, shortening the school day or week and limiting various classroom resources produces better educational outcomes and better serves a child who might be held back?

Where is common sense here? How can schools achieve more learning with fewer necessary resources? I think most educators would agree that, of all the educational resources, time is the one most closely related to good instructional outcomes. All of the most successful schools in the U.S. are making more time a priority and the KIPP schools are a sterling example of this. In one case, the Brooklyn Generation School ” … replaced most administrators with teachers and staggered all employees’ schedules allowing it to increase learning time by 30 percent without additional cost.” The result of this reordering of priorities and resources? “Last Spring, 90 percent of seniors graduated on time.” And this in the face of the fact that when those students entered the school, ” … only 20 percent were at grade level.” by the Bell&st=cse So, what is the logical answer to the challenge for better alternatives? I would say more teachers and more time for them to teach and for children to learn.

In “The Process of Schooling” (Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1967), J.M. Stephens tells a beautiful story to illustrate the ongoing educational debate.

“This preoccupation with the conspicuous and artificial aspects of education reminds one of an amusing, if spurious, account of the origins of agriculture. There was once a suggestion that, in some early burial services, it was customary to place wild grain in the grave for the use of the deceased in his new life. Inevitably some of this grain was spilled around the edge of the grave. In that fertile soil it took root and flourished, ultimately providing a harvest. The survivors noticed this result, and soon a definite principle was formulated: At a certain season, bury a corpse with all the proper ceremonies, and in due course there will be grain to harvest. The corpse, of course, was the most prominent feature of the process, and it became the focal point around which the whole principle was organized. When the planting season came around, corpses were in great demand and were even produced to order when not otherwise available. It was upon treatment of the corpse, moreover, that the success of the harvest was supposed to depend.”

Sooner or later it dawned on people that the corpse could be left out of the equation which, needless to say I suppose, depressed the market for corpses.

Stephens went on to say: ” It is easy to focus our attention on the conspicuous, dramatic events that call for deliberate attention. Conversely, it is natural to ignore the humble ever-present forces that work consistently, independent of our concern.”

I used to read this passage to my students in both my “Schools and Society” and “School Reform” classes because it illustrates how we become enamored of and wrapped up in certain kinds of ideas – ideas which lead us away from a more fundamental and effective understanding of the process of schooling, the natural processes of teaching and learning. I wanted to focus their attention on those “humble ever-present forces” that determine the outcomes of teaching and learning. So many “great” ideas have repeatedly come and gone, such as the mechanistic approach with all its whiz-bang gadgets and the Draconian approach with its punishment and humiliation regimes, and so on. None of these easy answer approaches has ever worked, which is exactly why they are always playing musical chairs with each other in the ongoing educational and political debate. It’s time to ditch the corpse of the grade level system and get on with the task of meaningful education.

Good and effective education is not about social promotion or holding back – it is about time and attention given by dedicated and committed adults, teachers and parents equally, exactly as it was when people taught their young to haft a spear-head or cook a bison. Life and learning go on as they have for eons and some things will simply never change. Properly teaching a child what he or she needs to know to survive is the result of care, concern, close attention, thoughtful mentoring and a belief that teaching is important work, which belief must be reinforced by the community at large. It should go without saying I suppose that the whole of society must participate in and respect this essential task. Educating children was, is and always will be a community responsibility for the simple reason that our children are our collective future.

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