DeVos Targets the System

Recently I had a long discussion with an in-law who is a teacher. He desperately wants to help students and is full of zeal and naive good intentions.

I have no experience in teaching, but I suggested that the whole approach needs to be jettisoned. Evidently Education Secretary Betsy DeVos agrees. She gave a speech Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute. I don’t think anyone could disagree with her state of the school assessment.

She said:

We need a paradigm shift, a fundamental reorientation… a rethink.

“Rethink” means we question everything to ensure nothing limits a student from pursuing his or her passion, and achieving his or her potential. So each student is prepared at every turn for what comes next.

It’s past time to ask some of the questions that often get labeled as “non-negotiable” or just don’t get asked at all:

Why do we group students by age?
Why do schools close for the summer?
Why must the school day start with the rise of the sun?
Why are schools assigned by your address?
Why do students have to go to a school building in the first place?
Why is choice only available to those who can buy their way out? Or buy their way in?
Why can’t a student learn at his or her own pace?
Why isn’t technology more widely embraced in schools?
Why do we limit what a student can learn based upon the faculty and facilities available?


We must answer these questions. We must acknowledge what is and what is not working for students.

I couldn’t agree more. What we’re doing now is not working. She continued,

The vast majority of learning environments have remained the same since the industrial revolution, because they were made in its image. Think of your own experience: sit down; don’t talk; eyes front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class. Repeat. Students were trained for the assembly line then, and they still are today.

Our societies and economies have moved beyond the industrial era. But the data tell us education hasn’t.

She acknowledges that No Child Left Behind did not work:

With No Child Left Behind, the general consensus among federal policymakers was that greater accountability would lead to better schools. Highlighting America’s education woes had become an American pastime, and, they thought, surely if schools were forced to answer for their failures, students would ultimately be better off.

President Bush, the “compassionate conservative,” and Senator Kennedy, the “liberal lion,” both worked together on the law. It said that schools had to meet ambitious goals… or else. Lawmakers mandated that 100 percent of students attain proficiency by 2014. This approach would keep schools accountable and ultimately graduate more and better-educated students, they believed.

Turns out, it didn’t. Indeed, as has been detailed today, NCLB did little to spark higher scores. Universal proficiency, touted at the law’s passage, was not achieved. As states and districts scrambled to avoid the law’s sanctions and maintain their federal funding, some resorted to focusing specifically on math and reading at the expense of other subjects. Others simply inflated scores or lowered standards.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

She also says Common Core didn’t work and is dead:

The Obama administration dangled billions of dollars through the “Race to the Top” competition, and the grant-making process not so subtly encouraged states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the “largest-ever federal investment in school reform.” Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies — essentially making law while Congress negotiated the reauthorization of ESEA.

Unsurprisingly, nearly every state accepted Common Core standards and applied for hundreds of millions of dollars in “Race to the Top” funds. But despite this change, the United States’ PISA performance did not improve in reading and science, and it dropped in math from 2012 to 2015…
On a parallel track, the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants sought to fix targeted schools by injecting them with cash. The total cost of that effort was seven billion dollars.

One year ago this week, the Department’s Institute of Education Sciences released a report on what came of all that spending. It said: “Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”

There we have it: billions of dollars directed at low-performing schools had no significant impact on student achievement.

At last someone has come out with the truth. Our current system isn’t working and is mired in bureaucracy. Pouring more money into it isn’t the answer either.

Asking the right questions is a start. Previous administrations haven’t wanted to do that. They were invested in the system. DeVos has two other suggestions she feels would lead to better education besides rethinking the concept of school.

“First, we need to recognize that the federal government’s appropriate role is not to be the nation’s school board…The Every Student Succeeds Act charted a path in a new direction. ESSA takes important steps to return power where it belongs by recognizing states – not Washington — should shape education policy around their own people…
“That brings me to point number two. And, to finish the analogy… let’s call a new play: empowering parents. Parents have the greatest stake in the outcome of their child’s education. Accordingly, they should also have the power to make sure their child is getting the right education.” That includes school choice, DeVoss says.

As she also said, “When we try the same thing over and over again, yet expect different results, that’s not reform – that’s insanity.”

You can read the whole speech here:

Strickland’s State of the City

If you were one of the people excluded from Mayor Strickland’s State of the City address today, here it is for you to read:

Here’s what stood out to me. With his term half over (one and only probably) he says, “we’ve focused on a central mission: To improve the services we offer our citizens. To make life better for every Memphian, every single day.”

Wow! With crime rampant, schools failing (the SCS head Hopson wants to turn them all over to charter schools), roads bad and services slack, he has a lot of nerve to claim this. But, as Democrats always do, their strategy is to tout the very things they fail at doing.

Strickland says, “We don’t get involved in the partisan politics of the day, or the shouting matches that far too often define politics these days. You probably know by now that’s not my style.

“Our team shuts up, rolls up its sleeves and takes action.”

They take action, all right. Action like, in my view, illegally taking down public statues and selling the park for a paltry sum to a partisan political crony. No partisan politics? Really?

He goes on to say that unemployment is down. Not because of your actions, Mr. Mayor. Rather, it’s good policies from a Republican run state in an economic environment boosted dramatically by a president who knows what he’s doing.

Strickland boasts that street paving is up and the time for a 911 phone call has declined. That’s pretty sad as top achievements.

He notes the approaching 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death expects a lot of people to our city. That has nothing to do with his abilities, but is just a historical fact. Nothing he can take credit for.
“Population loss remains our No. 1 challenge, but we are losing far fewer every year than we did just a few years back,” he continued. Loss is still loss and until it turns around that remark seems ridiculous.
He touts “Major moments for Downtown and Midtown — USL Memphis, ServiceMaster, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Hickman Building rehab, Tennessee Brewery, Crosstown Concourse, among others.

“Major moments in Whitehaven with Elvis Presley Enterprises, and in Binghampton with the Binghampton Gateway Center.

“My job is to spread more of that throughout the city.”

Wasn’t most of that underway before he took office two years ago?

Strickland then looks to the future. He plans more paving, multi-family residential tax incentives (some more tax payer giveaways?), keeping our sewers in our city, embracing deannexation (because we can’t afford it), and fighting blight through code enforcement.

He acknowledges that crime is our No. 1 problem. He says “crime is our greatest challenge. Everywhere I go, in every corner of this city, I hear it.” His answer is to expand the police gang unit by eight officers.

Strickland said, “I’m particularly proud that last year, we added literacy training in our summer community center programming for the first time. This is a critical point, and here’s a critical stat: If a third-grader can read at the third grade level, they have a 90 percent chance of graduating high school — even if they grow up in poverty.”

How do we get there? Strickland believes in Universal Pre K. Where the money comes from for that and whether it really does help are not discussed, but it sounds nice, doesn’t it? What about K-12? Maybe some attention should be directed to the failures there in a system that spends hundreds of millions with little improvement.

The mayor believes “positively affecting our young people is the moral calling of our time in this city.” Is this the point of a city? I have a problem with the phrase “moral calling.” It’s a very subjective term, isn’t it and one Democrats appear obsessed about when it comes to directing other people.

He references the statue removal: “Last fall, we went to work building a coalition to support our application to the state. We built a diverse group of Memphians — black and white, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal clergy, business leaders, and everyday Memphians — a show of unity I’ve never seen in Memphis. And there we were four weeks ago watching these monuments placed years ago to support segregation being removed — legally.”

Legally is under scrutiny. The people he refers to as Republican and conservative may not be what the rest of us call those people. It was done in secrecy and without any announcement. If the coalition was so strong, why did it happen that way? Why couldn’t it be put to a vote?

He closes: “We can accomplish the impossible. We’re Memphis!”

It’s a feel good speech that sounds very much like a Democrat. It also has little vision and few particulars. I’m not sure there’s much to get us through another year successfully. As the year progresses, expect him to laud himself many more times and pander to his constituencies.

Does that ever result in a great city?

Lost His Head?

Ryan Poe writes on twitter: “Former Memphis mayor A C Wharton speaks at the funeral of businessman & politico Jack Morris, comparing him to St. Thomas More.”

This is a tantalizing snippet. I can’t find any other mention of this on the internet, but I would greatly like an explanation.

I didn’t know Jack Morris and salute him if he led a saintly life, but St. Thomas More? Did Morris get his head cut off because he stood up against a king or ruler because he refused to throw his values over for the king’s convenience?

What does AC Wharton know that we don’t? I think this would have been a big story because anyone getting his head cut off today would be Page 1 news even at the CA.

Maybe the former mayor is the one who has lost his head in hyperbole or else does not know history.

How much more bizarre could this be? Morris was a Democrat so that must raise him to a higher level than the rest of us can appreciate.