University Students and Cambodia’s January Violence: Global Lessons from Cynical Youth

Massive public demonstrations in Phnom Penh, December 2013

Massive public demonstrations in Phnom Penh, December 2013

by Teri Yamada, CSU Long Beach

“It seems logical: College graduates have lower unemployment and earn more than less educated workers, so, the thinking goes, the fix for today’s anemic growth in jobs and wages is to make sure that more people earn college degrees. But that’s a common misperception, deflecting attention from the serious work that has to be done to create jobs and improve incomes” (Making College Pay, NYTimes Op Ed, Feb. 12, 2014).

I have been going to Cambodia during academic downtime to work on literacy issues since 1995; yet, this past December was quite definitely different. I imagine  Phnom Penh felt this strange prior to the 1997 coup— the palpable anxiety and underlying fear represented by the eerily uncrowded streets.  Something felt very wrong on December 30 just standing outside the arrival terminal at Pochentong Airport.  And unexpectedly, everyone I knew was talking about political change—including the tuk-tuk drivers—in an atypical expression of public outspokenness.  So I wasn’t that surprised to get an early morning phone call from a close Cambodian friend a few days later telling me not to leave my hotel room today no matter what.

monks

Cambodian monks at January 3 demonstration threatened by the special police.

The previous day at the office, the Cambodian staff—all college graduates—had been live streaming the massive demonstrations of garment workers in “Freedom Park” near the new American Embassy. Organizing was taking place via Facebook and other social media while the “real situation” was missing from the official Cambodian TV evening news .  On January 3, the “special police” disbursed the large gathering of garment workers and their supporters, including youth and Buddhist monks, by shooting into the crowd—killing five and wounding an estimated forty others, including onlookers observing from second-story balconies—as many of us watched or received updates via social media.   This violence included clubbing saffron-robbed Buddhist monks.  A lesson seen before in Cambodia and elsewhere: State power trumps cultural values.  For the rest of my short stay,  I saw military police on every major street corner and huge rolls of nasty looking barbed wire distributed strategically along the major boulevards of central Phnom Penh.

The average garment worker in Cambodia is a rural young woman, age 16-30— now around 600,000 in number working largely in sweatshops— most of them unable to read or write Khmer fluently, working up to 80 hours a week for $125 a month including overtime. Next time you walk by Target, check the label on the designer T-shirts: “Made in Cambodia.”

Investors see Cambodia as an ideal place to make garments given its low wage costs and huge supply of young workers, many from rural areas where jobs outside of subsistence-level farming are scarce.… Chan’s dreams for the future are not uncommon. She’d like to have a family and children. And she’d like to have the money to send them to school so they can get good jobs and not have to work in a garment factory. While she is not ashamed of what she does, she doesn’t want her future children or even her 13-year-old sister following in her footsteps. “I’ve told her not to quit school,” she says resolutely. “I’ve told her not to come here, never to come here. ( DW, “Cambodia garment worker dreams of better future,” Feb. 02. 2014.)

 “Though progress has been made in terms of encouraging girls to attend primary and secondary school, a third of Cambodian adult women are still illiterate,” Ms. Channay said.  (The Cambodian Daily“Females Still in Need of Better Access to University Education” Oct. 8, 2012)

Not mentioned in any of the reportage about garment workers’ organizing was the support of a large number of college students now facing unemployment in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in Cambodia.  What unifies college students and garment workers is their mutual despair and disgust over government corruption, with its tentacles in the education sector as well.   The garment worker Chem Chan, mentioned above, has a younger sister who will encounter “barriers to success” in her school due to the very people running the public education enterprise.

 An investigation by two NGOs has uncovered a network of Education Ministry officials stealing schoolbooks that were intended to be given free to students, and then either selling them back to schools or in local markets. The investigation, conducted in December and January, found that officials at district education departments had intercepted the delivery of the official school textbooks, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and had created three revenue streams for personal enrichment. (The Cambodian Daily,  “District Education Offices Stole Free Books for Students,”  Feb. 13, 2014. )

While in Cambodia this January one of my Cambodian colleagues, who works in the government sector, asked me to review an English translation of the Prime Minister’s forthcoming education reform policy that proposed changes in both the public and private education sectors.  Anyone involved with the education sector in Cambodia hears about corruption in the public schools.  This has worsened over the years, starting with underpaid school teachers whose salary has increased so slowly from $60 to $120 a month during the past 15 years or so depending on your status as a K-12 or college instructor.  (Over the past few months garment workers were striking to improve their monthly wage from $90 to $130/$160 a month).   This means most teachers must have outside jobs to survive or ways of making money in the classroom: they may sell paper and pencils to their own students, or work independently as  motorcycle taxi drivers after school.  If you are a college teacher, you probably teach at three or four different institutions even if you are lucky enough to have a full-time job at one university.  This makes it impossible to update knowledge of your discipline or conduct research.   The salary for a full–time job at a public university is about $180 a month, plus some options for overtime; some private universities may pay more, but my colleagues tell me that outside teaching jobs are about $8 an hour.  It takes at least $400 a month to have a middle-class lifestyle with a family of four in Phnom Penh these days, with the cost of good private education for your children a significant expense.

I was pleasantly surprised by the new education reform policy since it actually listed many aspects of corruption known to everyone—the first step for change is to admit there is a problem.  Aspects of this corruption includes teachers and other ‘entrepreneurs’ selling the test questions and answers to the national university-entrance exams prior to the test; an online business where one can call or text  and get the answers to the test.

 In the past few years these examinations have been fraught with increasing amounts of large-scale bribery, cheating and intimidation, with the collaboration of many teachers and Education Ministry employees who occupied important supervisory positions in administering exams. Some of the bribing and cheating methods are outlined by an eleventh grade math teacher who sought anonymity in an interview with the Post.  He said: “The principal examination supervisor, sent from the Ministry of Education, had many ways of being corrupt because he controlled all aspects of the testing process, oversaw both the students sitting the test and the markers who corrected the students’ papers.  School teachers usually just monitored the exam. If they wanted to be corrupt they normally had to collaborate with the principal supervisor.”   (The Phnom Penh Post, “How $200 can buy exam pass,” 17 June 1994)

National High School Exam candidates each spent an average of 120,000 riel – about US$30 – on bribes over this year’s two-day testing period to secure exam answers, according to independent research released yesterday. Social researcher Kem Ley’s report Turning a Blind Eye purported that 92 per cent of students were involved in bribery or cheating during the exam, which is conducted under the supervision of high- school proctors, teachers and police officials. “We also see that 55 per cent of answers were copied from their hand phone after the answer was made and sent around by email,” Ley said, noting social media site Facebook had emerged as a popular means to cheat during this year’s exams, which took place on August 6 and 7. (The Phnom Penh Post, “Exam cheating rampant: report,” Aug. 22, 2012).

Not mentioned in this new education reform document for Prime Minister Hun Sen is the lack of training for proctors or examiners (since one gets paid for grading these examinations, connections will determine who gets the job not qualifications); no option to get a copy of your child’s test to see if it has been graded correctly; no process of appeal.    Essentially there is no accountability or transparency in the national college-entrance examination system.   How a child does on this exam determines whether he or she will receive a scholarship for university education or get into a free public university.

When you talk to Cambodians about this corruption among teachers in the education sector, many are surprisingly sympathetic.  That is because they know that survival on $60-$120 a month is tough, especially if one has a family.  Therefore it doesn’t shock them that schools are selling textbooks that should be distributed for free or that teachers are selling test questions and answers in advance of the national exam.  At the same time, they are outraged; but that anger is directed toward the government not the individual teacher perpetrator.

Once these “successful” high school graduates have advanced to college and completed their BA degrees, they face enormous competition for scare jobs:

As a recent university graduate with a degree in accounting, one might expect Sady Seang Saoly to be ideally placed to take advantage of Cambodia’s rapidly growing economy. Instead the 23-year-old from Kampot province is downbeat about his prospects two years after leaving university. “I and many friends I graduated with still have no jobs. We are very worried,” he said in a recent interview….Despite the Education Ministry citing a 37 percent rise in university graduates from approximately 8,000 in 2005 to around 11,000 last year, coupled with one of the most rapidly growing economies in Asia, high unemployment continues to plague young Cambodians. Only about one in 10 recent university graduates were holding down a job, according to statistics in 2005 from the Youth Star NGO. Between 1996 and 2006, the youth labor force in Cambodia grew by 78.7 percent from 1.29 million to 2.3 million, compared to 6 percent on average in ASEAN countries… “Economic growth in the last few years has been driven mainly by growth in the garment, construction and agricultural sectors, which don’t necessarily employ a lot of university graduates,” Hem said.

Sandra D’Amico, managing director of human resources and recruiting agency Hr Inc, said that despite the large number of graduates, many are unprepared for the rigors of the business world. “There remains a mismatch between the education provided at university versus what employers need,” she said. One major problem is the emphasis on rote learning at Cambodian universities, D’Amico said, when critical thinking skills are needed to learn quickly on the job. Another is that universities offer students little in the way of career guidance (Cambodian Daily,” “Recent Graduates Find Job Prospects are Bleak”  Sept. 9, 2007). (1)

The anonymous authors of the Prime Minister’s new education reform policy, echo D’Amico’s comments above.  They complain about the higher education sector producing graduates with majors and skills that are not aligned with business needs.  Sounds like U.S. politicians’ complaints about higher education in America.

We also have our own special form of higher education corruption in the U.S., the result of a poorly regulated private ed industry—both for-profit and non-profit—that promised future non-existent jobs and used federal funds to subsidize an education scam that indebted millions of young adults.  The 2010 Frontline expose College, Inc. about inflated and false data used to seduce students into debt still remains relevant four years later.  For an update see Forbes reportage “How the $1.2 Trillion College Debt Crisis Is Crippling, Students, Parents and the Economy.”  And then there is the example of Corinthian Colleges under investigation by California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris:

A year ago, if you were Jack Massimino, CEO of  Corinthian Colleges, you might have been feeling pretty good.  Despite extensive evidence from congressional and media investigations that Corinthian, along with other big for-profit colleges, has been abusing students — luring them with deceptive recruiting, offering high-priced, low quality programs, and often leaving them without jobs and deep in debt — you seemed to be getting away with it.  Almost 90 percent of the revenue for the schools you operated — Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges — was easy money: federal taxpayer dollars from student grants and loans, about a billion dollars a year.  You yourself were taking home over $3 million a year in compensation some years (Huff Post Business, “Federal and State Law Enforcement Dramatically Escalate For-Profit College Probes” Feb. 6, 2014).

I’m thinking, in the State of California, of the Bureau of Private Post Secondary Education, which remained legislatively impotent and underfunded for over  twenty years  while scam, predatory vocational training schools established themselves in our under-regulated state.  There are scores of online law schools in California, none accredited by the California ABA.  The issue of law schools, even those accredited, attracting students into an overcrowded profession while leaving them in deep debt, is addressed in  Brian Tamanaha’s controversial Failing Law Schools (U Chicago P, 2012).  As quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Law School Professor Gives Law Schools a Failing Grade,” Tamanaha writes : “Law schools are thriving, kept afloat by students making poor judgments to attend, while the federal government obligingly supplies the money to support their folly.”  (2)

povertyrates

What we can say about a college education is that those with one have the lowest rise in poverty rates in the U.S.

And some law firms complain  that law schools are not training students as they should, in practical skills like writing contracts. An Education Week article frames it this way, “it appears that standardized-test results are positively correlated with a shallow approach to learning.”  Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame,  observes:  “tests have increasingly come to be seen as a ritualized burden that encourages rote learning at the expense of good thinking”. That assessment is confirmed by empirical data, including a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, which characterizes the learning of high test performers as “superficially engaged.”   “The students are not to blame, but it does mean that law teaching now involves shaping learning for a generation that has been encouraged to memorize rather than engage in critical thinking” (The Chronicle of Higher EducationLaw School’s Failure to Prepare Students…It’s Complicated,  Dec. 11, 2013).

Our situation sounds more and more like Cambodia’s: children trained in rote learning (teaching to the test via No Child Left Behind); an essentially unregulated private higher education sector without quality control; an increasing number of college graduates who don’t fit the job market, which is actually underperforming or collapsing.  And we also see flawed management in our own institutions and misuse of funds.

In a world where globalization with its glossy ideological promise of ‘raising all boats’ has stalled out, while  higher education is still advocated religiously as the path to economic success, we should contemplate the creation of new policy that actually produces economic restructuring so that all these college graduates might find meaningful employment instead of taking to the streets.  As a recent op ed (Feb. 12, 2014) in The New York Times points out: “On its own, more college won’t change the economy’s low-wage trajectory.”  That is so both  in Cambodia and the United States.

NOTES

(1)  See Sandra D’Amico’s excellent study, “Higher Education and Skills for the Labor Market in Cambodia” (2010)

(2)  See also “Law Schools on the Defensive Over Job-Placement Data” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

OTHER REFERENCES

“State of the Union: The Poverty and Inequality Report, 2014,”  (The National Report Card), The Stanford Center on Poverty


Colleges, universities should show less caution, more courage and challenges (Jeff Kolnick)

img_0997Jeff  Kolnick’s thoughtful comments below, questioning the quality and courage of administrative leadership in our public institutions, echo a number of other recent media commentaries and publications that problematize this issue.  Where have all the creative, courageous, and competent administrative leaders gone?   Or is this a new form of academic nostalgia?  Bringing clarity to this question   is Diane Ravitch’s cautionary lecture on the  ‘fetish of measurement’ overtaking the public higher education sector and the need for courageous administrators to rethink the “obsession with data let loose on the land.” This obsession is enhanced by President Obama’s recent campaign for a type of NCLB accountability system tagged to universities receiving federal aid; such aid abuse can be solved by other means.    There is also Serena Golden’s intriguing new publication Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education.As we chuckle at the zombie meme we simultaneously note the dead zone of communication that often seems to exist between higher level administrators and their worker faculty on our campuses.  Perhaps we have entered a post-MOOC media mania moment, where some very serious issues like the real and immediate need for strong and principled academic leadership at this moment in the shifting sands of higher education history can find some space in our ed journalists’ tweets and blog musings.     Teri Yamada

Colleges, universities should show less caution, more courage and challenges

Prof. Jeff Kolnick (Southwest Minnesota State University), Aug. 21, 2013

The fall semester is an exciting time to be a college professor. The spring semester has its charms with the promise of summer and the thrill of graduation, but for me, the start of the school year is what keeps me coming back for more. My scholarly work over the summer months pays off immediately in the changes that appear on my syllabi. My batteries are recharged by a blessed absence from office politics and paperwork. And the best part is I get to encounter a new class of college students. This year many of these newcomers will be from the high-school class of 2013.

The class of 2013 is an important group of young people. Many of them would have started their academic journey in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency and entered first grade under No Child Left Behind. They also began the first grade around the time of the Sept. 11th attacks. For this class of young people, their academic minds have been shaped by a steady diet of high-stakes standardized tests, and their civic consciousness has been molded by a nation continuously at war.

What kind of colleges and universities will these students enter? While reading the current issue of Harper’s Magazine I discovered Harry Lewis, a distinguished professor of computer science at Harvard and the former dean of Harvard College. To give you a sense of Lewis’ thinking on the current state of higher education, I share this with you:

“One of the reasons that moral courage is lacking in the [United States] is that it is lacking in universities. As institutions, they now operate much more like ordinary corporations, fearful of bad publicity, eager to stay on good terms with the government, and focused on their bottom lines, than as boiling cauldrons of unconventional ideas sorted out through a process of disputation, debate, and occasional dramatic gestures.”

More cautious, increasingly conservative

I teach at Southwest Minnesota State University, not at Harvard. And at SMSU, disputation and debate are common, though the dramatic gesture has retreated largely to the theater building! But Lewis was thinking institutionally and not about individual classes or particular events on campus. And I think he is right. I have been around colleges and universities since 1977, and in that time the institutions have become cautious.

kolnick portrait

Jeff Kolnic
What has changed, I think, is that the austerity agenda has starved them of money. As the conservative hostility to all things “public” (including idea of a public good) has settled in as the new normal, universities have entered into a life-and-death competition for students (customers?) that has caused them to wither from the top.

Education is now seen as a personal investment, not a public good. Scarce dollars cause colleges to chase money from billionaire philanthropists who push free-market solutions to every conceivable problem. University leaders feel the need to appeal to increasingly conservative state legislators who despise government.

University governing boards, chancellors, presidents, provosts, deans and chairs (and, sadly, even most faculty) are afraid to challenge the conservative orthodoxy because they desperately want to save what is left of higher education. Colleges and universities, as institutions, used to challenge authority with facts and reason. This is less common today and stems, I believe, from the austerity agenda of the super rich.

Mentor ‘shocked one into thinking’

Eleanor Roosevelt once said of her mentor and favorite teacher, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, that she “shocked one into thinking, and that on the whole was very beneficial.” It is this chance to shock students into thinking, into realizing the power of their own minds and ideas, that causes me to return each fall semester.

If ever there was a class of students that needed to be shocked into thinking, it is the class of 2013. After 12 years of No Child Left Behind, too many of them have been numbed into believing that filling in bubbles can measure intelligence. Never having known a conscious moment of peace, some of them might think that war is normal.

What they need from a college is a boiling cauldron of unconventional ideas that are tested through rigorous debate and civil discourse. I fear that they will find instead institutions that prepare them only for work and not to think or, when necessary, to challenge stale orthodoxy.

Jeff Kolnick is a professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.  This blog entry, originally posted  on MINNPOST on August 21, 2013  is reposted here with permission of the author.


The “Not-So-Lite” SUMMER READING LIST for Academics

From the "No Reading After the Internet" Salon site.

From the “No Reading After the Internet” Salon site.

The “Not-So-Lite” SUMMER READING LIST for Academics!

    Teri Shaffer Yamada

Jeffrey J. Selingo, Editor at Large at the Chronicle of Higher Education, has extensive experience with the politics of higher education.  In  College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students  (2013), he historically constructs with thoughtful veracity an understanding of our current  disruptive-technology moment in higher education while anticipating future trends.  He suggests as many as three-quarters of current higher ed institutions may not survive the shake-up over the next decade because they are financially unsound.  His overview of the “lost decade in higher education” (1999-2009) and the fraud or willful ignorance in student loan and tuition discount practices entrenched in the higher education sector produces faculty outrage. This business practice of obfuscating tuition costs for profit in the education sector has certainly fostered the legislative shift to cheaper education experiments with MOOCs in California’s public ed sector (the least culpable) and elsewhere across the country, along with the growing public perception that a degree may not be worth the cost.  Highly recommended for faculty.

Musician and computer scientist Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future? (2013) creatively explores the intersection of  technology, economics and culture  and “also looks at the way the creative class —especially musicians, journalists and photographers — has borne the brunt of disruptive technology.”  See Scott Timberg ‘s review.  And for another opinion on the cultural impact of technology see Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (2013)Both authors remind us how in our world of disruptive technology moderation is important as a response to the current wholesale embrace of analytics, framed as the solution to (all) problems in education.  This drive for a quick-fix solution to student access, bottleneck courses, or the four-year graduation rate, through the use of technology and analytics, has unintended consequences. (1)  We need the education media to embrace this discussion in a more complex, nuanced manner.

Lost in digital cyberspace. Student attempting to read academic prose on a digital platform for an open-source quiz.

Lost in digital cyberspace. Student attempting to read academic prose on a digital platform for an open-source quiz.

Shahnaz Habib’s review of Robert Darnton’s The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future is a thoughtful discussion of the debate on physical and digital books, typically framed in an “either-or” proposition.  To many of us, the either-or discussion is absurd.  We use an e-reader for light reading or news and “codex” for the purpose of research and publications.  Anecdotally, I recently discovered a student in class who had used her smart phone to scan chapters from our 654-page text and was attempting to use that digital copy for an open source quiz.   It was not working well for her. She is smiling about my OMG reaction as I contemplate copyright issues among other things.

For those contemplating how to reach our new N0 CHILD LEFT BEHIND freshmen population, see Elizabeth F. Barkley’s Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (John Wiley & Sons, 2010).  This handbook contains many creative ideas for engaging students in active learning practices with or without the application of blended learning pedagogy.   The first few chapters explain why we often don’t see engagement and motivation in independent learning among  our freshman students; and how we can foster a meaningful educational experience, for both instructor and pupil, as we switch from passive to active learning strategies.  In many public university systems like my own, there has been no significant funding to support faculty development in new teaching pedagogies over the past decade (if ever).  Dedicated faculty, noticing the sad disengagement from learning among our freshmen cohorts, have struggled to retrain themselves in an organizational vacuum or in an institution with an administrative ideology that incorrectly demeans faculty as obstructionist and unwilling to change.   Student Engagement Techniques is an inspirational example of faculty concern and creativity in new pedagogical practices nationally.  (2)

 

As a reward for all this heavy reading, please consider Indian writer Farahad Zama’s novel The Marriage Bureau for Rich People (Penguin, 2009).

(1) This the issue of bottlenecks and barriers to 4-year graduation see Michel Feldstein’s blogpost “The Scope of the Bottleneck Course Problem” on e-Literate.

(2) For insight into how devastating ‘teaching to the test’ has been for K-12, and what the new push for analytics (if done thoughtlessly) would mean for higher ed, watch Ellie Rubenstein’s impassioned video resignation (Illinois, Lincoln Elementary School).  Highland Park News (updated May, 28, 2013).

PLEASE CONTRIBUTE Your RECOMMENDATIONS!


Some Good News from Florida: Court Rules that Florida Politicians Must Justify Their Actions

Guest blogger Kathleen Oropeza (FundEducationNow.org) represents a grassroots movement of activist parents and their educator allies in Florida, who are successfully opposing the total privatization of public education in that state.   She reports on a recent court victory in their case on  the Florida legislature’s “paramount duty” that takes them  to the Florida Supreme Court.  Other education activists around the country are using “education adequacy” lawsuits in the courts as a means to stop further erosion of public education.  Kudos to our colleagues!!

Court Rules That Florida Politicians Must Justify Their Actions

Just before Thanksgiving, the First District Court of Appeals told Florida politicians “no.”  In a rare move, the entire panel of 15 judges voted 8/7 to deny the writ of prohibition and certify the suit as a “question of public importance,” sending it directly to the Florida Supreme Court.

Attorneys representing Senate President Mike Haridopolos, House Speaker Dean Cannon and the state used an obscure writ to try to stop the suit and deny the courts the right to consider whether the Florida Legislature meets its “paramount duty” to the people as described in Article IX, section 1 of the state constitution.

State attorneys called the funding of Florida public education a “political matter.”

Have Florida politicians forgotten that we, the taxpayers, are the reason they have any money at all to send back to our school districts?  The explosion of “education adequacy” lawsuits springing up in states from Texas to Maine means that people everywhere are weighing the same question.

Each and every year we spend our hard-earned money building public education for our children.  We pay our property taxes to fund public education only to see billions cut from education budgets.   Wanting the best for our children, we send in hundreds of millions of dollars in crayons and paper.  We sell enough wrapping paper to cover the earth three times.  We use that money to pay for direct classroom needs like books, smart-boards and computers.  This asset belongs to us.

Despite these facts, Florida politicians continue to make high art out of subverting the will of the people.  They do not value our state constitution as the purest expression of the peoples’ will.   Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution clearly instructs the Florida Legislature that their “paramount duty” is to fund a free high-quality system of public education for every child.

Instead, Florida politicians, coached by Jeb Bush and the American Legislative Exchange Council, are laser-focused on showing the whole country the most expedient way to sell public education off to the highest bidder.  Clearly, a majority of Florida politicians, tempted by special interest dollars, now ignore their official oath to uphold the state constitution.   Our public servants refuse to serve us.

The court did its job.  The 8 judges who solidly rejected the State’s move to silence the voice of the court have brought hope to every classroom in this country.  Their decision says that the court believes it can decide whether Florida public education fails the high-quality test.  It says this case is not just about funding:

DOES ARTICLE IX, SECTION 1(A), FLORIDA CONSTITUTION, SET FORTH JUDICIALLY ASCERTAINABLE STANDARDS THAT CAN BE USED TO DETERMINE THE ADEQUACY, EFFICIENCY, SAFETY, SECURITY, AND HIGH QUALITY OF PUBLIC EDUCATION ON A STATEWIDE BASIS, SO AS TO PERMIT A COURT TO DECIDE CLAIMS FOR DECLARATORY JUDGMENT (AND SUPPLEMENTAL RELIEF) ALLEGING NONCOMPLIANCE WITH ARTICLE IX, SECTION 1(A) OF THE FLORIDA CONSTITUTION?

This is Florida’s chance at redemption.  Instead of providing outrageous supermarket headlines, Florida just may be the place where the whole country learns the truth behind the “education reform agenda.”   The court action will force an unvarnished discussion.  It won’t take long for average citizens to see that these unwanted, unfunded “reforms” are a shameless scheme to rob public tax dollars from the education pot of gold meant for our children.  Maybe then, the word “no” will be on everyone’s lips.

 

Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of FundEducationNow.org.  She and her partners Christine Bramuchi and Linda Kobert are plaintiffs in the lawsuit mentioned in this article.  Contact her at Kathleen@fundeducationnow.org

Link to Florida First District Court Decision:

http://opinions.1dca.org/written/opinions2011/11-23-2011/10-6285.pdf

 


Blood Money: Pearson’s Profit

The Obama administration’s recent, modest change in policy toward No Child Left Behind (NCLB), indicates some response to years of activism and a statistically-based critique of the inadequacies and injustices of NCLB.  One recent critique is Diane Ravitch’s “School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade.”

It appears that the momentum of the public relations campaign that has been waged against the “positive image” of the public school teacher may be changing.  National Public Radio has started a StoryCorps project “National Teacher,” which will foreground the transformational impact of  educators  on their students.  A new documentary “American Teacher” portrays the real lives of four teachers in the classroom.  Forty-six percent of all teachers quit before the fifth year of teaching; many need to find a second or third job to survive.  Meanwhile, nearly 15 million children in the United States live below the federal poverty level; one-third of all Hispanic children now live in poverty here.  Shouldn’t the cultural focus of the Gates Foundation and friends be a war against poverty instead of a war against teachers and public education?  In the meantime, it is the educator’s selfless act of conscience and  integrity  that makes a difference as we see in “Blood Money” below.

The damage done to the public education system through NCLB and the standardized test movement will take many years to repair.  We now find the same failed standards-based management ideology, which fueled NCLB, making an impact on the rush to  restructure public higher education.  Perhaps, if we are able to articulate the lessons learned from K-12, we may better fight the transformation now underway to cheapen the quality of public higher education through assessment regimes and quick fixes such as charter universities and  for-profit online education schemes.  Texas is well on its way down this path of devolution with Florida racing to catch up.   Texas’ Gov. Perry has cut $4 bil from the state’s health and education budget this year, leading to the potential  firing of 49,000 teachers. Thom Hartmann reports that “43,00 students will lose at least part or all of their financial aid — including 28,000 low-income college hopefuls who will  their entire scholarships” in a state that ranks dead last in the number of residents with college degrees.  Moreover, Eugenie Reich reports in “Texas Holds Firm on Physics Closures” that Texas plans to phase out nearly half of its physics programs at state funded universities this year if they have failed to graduate at least 25 students every five years.  This may seem reasonable but many low performing programs “are in areas with predominantly black, Hispanic or disadvantaged populations. Statistics provided to ‘Nature’ by the American Institute of Physics suggest that some 35% of the undergraduate physics degrees awarded in the United States go to students in programmes that would not meet the Texas board’s requirements for staying open.”  I guess science and engineering degrees will  be just for the children of wealthy Texans.

And as much as we want to support our president, his quote from the Department of Education’s  latest report “Our Future, Our Teachers”  gets it just plain wrong.  He states,  “From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents, it’s the person standing at the front of the classroom… America’s future depends on its teachers”.  According to physics professor Michael Marder, based on his extensive data analysis of students’ standardized text  results in Texas, what matters most is not just the teacher, or whether the school is public or charter.  What matters in improving higher student test scores  is also the socioeconomic and ethnic status of the student.  He invites EVERYONE to check his data.


“Joseph K. is a 24-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), a former mentor teacher twice named a Johns Hopkins University Teaching Fellow, who now teaches poor, inner-city children who wake up every morning in their gang-ridden, drug-infested neighborhoods at five a.m. to catch the bus by six.  He teachers the old-fashioned way —by ignoring standardized test scores. Instead of teaching bubbling, he tries to instill a love of knowledge and learning in his students and for this reason will probably be allowed to continue teaching for fifteen more minutes.”  He blogs at The Trials of Joseph K. (http://thetrialsofjosephk.blogspot.com/)/

BLOOD MONEY

Dear Teachers,

We are being asked (key word “asked”) to be trained (key word “trained”, like dogs) by Pearson “Learning” August 29th and 30th. Pearson is going to pay us. Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, the money they are going to pay us is blood money. And the blood money they are going to pay us with is our own blood. It is the blood we bled when the Los Angles Unified School District (LAUSD) cuts our pay. It is the blood we will bleed every day when we struggle with larger and larger class sizes. It is the blood Jenny, Isabel, Jared, River, Susan, Summer and all the rest are bleeding right now as they sit home BLEEDING because they no longer have jobs.

It is blood money.

Pearson “Learning” was once a nice publishing house. They printed books under names like Penguin and a number of textbooks primarily in England. They made a tidy profit in the millions of dollars each year. In 2000, as NCLB was being written and discussed, they bought their first testing company. That may or may not have been a coincidence. After passage of NCLB, they bought another testing company. Then they bought another and another and another and another. That was no coincidence. Today they are a conglomerate of testing companies, seven by my count. They have created a vast, powerful TESTING INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. Their profits are not a few million each year, but a few billion each year and they are growing exponentially.

They employ legions of well-paid lobbyists who infest Washington, D.C., every state capital, and many local school boards. I would love to know how much they contribute to reelection campaigns. They have infested LAUSD which I will explain in a minute. They have one agenda: Profits. Until recently, they had one means to their agenda: Testing. More standardized testing means more profits for Pearson. NCLB is Pearson’s business model. Teachers are laid off, their salaries cut, class size increased, and curriculum narrowed as Pearson lines its pockets with gold.

Consider this regarding standardized testing:

  • high scores often signify relatively superficial thinking
  • many of the leading tests were never intended to measure teaching or learning
  • a school that improves its test results may well have lowered its standards to do so
  • far from helping to “close the gap,” the use of standardized testing is most damaging for low-income and minority students
  • as much as 90 percent of the variations in test scores among schools or states have nothing to do with the quality of instruction
  • far more meaningful measures of student learning – or school quality – are available.

-Alfie Kohn’s  The Case Against Standardized Testing

Standardized tests are DEMONIZING all of us in the inner city, demonizing our union, and being used by almost infinitely powerful economic and political forces in this country to dismantle public education.

And the situation is only going to get worse. [LAUSD Superintendent John] Deasy and [Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan both are pushing value-added standardized testing measures to evaluate teachers. The “LA Times” slanders all of us on a daily basis with its value-added measure on its website. Deasy calls it AGT.

Slander is slander. This year he is bribing teachers with $1,250 (after cutting their pay) to “volunteer” in a pilot project for AGT. “If you volunteer, we will pay you (after cutting your pay.)” To measure “improvement” you need baseline scores (pretests), probably at least one or two interim assessments, and a post test. These tests will be maximally time consuming and VERY expensive. All teachers need to be evaluated, so multiple tests will be given in every subject of every grade multiple times every year. You can bet that Pearson is using its vast influence to get to the front of the line to write (and sell) those tests. As far as I know, they may well have already elbowed out the competition. Their profits will be enormous. And guess where those profits will come from. They will come from you and our students. Your job, if you have one left, will rely on these tests, so you can be damn sure you are going to teach to them and probably teach little, if anything else.

Read this: The Test Generation.

Pearson “Learning” has now figured out a way to “double down” its billions in annual profits, its rape of public education. They are using their publishing arm to sell “Teaching Guides”, “Lesson Books”, etc. so teachers can “better” teach its own tests. Genius. They have created a mobius strip of profit production. We are pawns in their game and they are going to move you two spaces ahead August 29th and 30th.  Don’t think you are getting paid very much for being a pawn. Pawns, if you don’t play chess, are the first things sacrificed.

I reject Pearson and their blood money. I reject everything that they stand for. I reject their endless bubbling. I reject their process of elimination universe. I refuse to be trained like a dog to teach my students how to bark like seals. So should you.

I am drawing my own line in the sand. Public education is going up in flames in this country because of profiteers like Pearson and teachers are going down. I intend at least to have a say in my own demise.

I may show up on August 29th. I will not sign in. I will not touch their food. I will go nowhere near their blood money. If I do show up, it will only be to stand up before everyone and publicly denounce Pearson in much the same way I am doing now. My fantasy is to walk out and have everyone follow; but, alas, that will never happen. It would be nice if some of you would follow, though.

If I do not show up, it will be because I chickened out. Fear is something I understand. In an age of perpetual layoffs and teacher transfers, fear is not without merit. We are surrounded by fear. We are immersed in it. You all will make your own decision regarding the Pearson “training”. You all have your own lives, your own families, your own personal situations. You have to decide what is right for you. I will respect whatever decision you make. Count on that. But consider what is being done to you and our profession by Pearson, companies like it, and politicians who exploit their malevolence. Consider. Consider Jared, Jenny, Isabel, River, Susan, Summer and all the rest. Consider that you are next. We are next.

original post, Friday, August 26, 2011; reposted with permission of the author on October 1, 2011.


What’s Up With Teacher Pay Cuts in Florida!

Guest blogger Kathleen Oropeza  is an activist education leader in the Florida grassroots organization “Fund Education Now!”  .   Activist moms started this organization in 2009 after Florida’s Orange County School Superintendent Ron Blocker warned that the cuts to schools would be both ” catastrophic and criminal.”   Florida and Texas seem to be the policy setters for bad ideas in education.  Since the effects of the Texas invention “No Child Left Behind” on K-12 are now trickling up to higher education,  we’d best keep a cautious watch on the new education policies and legislation being developed in these two states.  One can predict that Texas and Florida policies will go viral under the right political and economic conditions.

Florida Teacher Salaries Have Dropped

Thursday, Sept. 1

This week is bound to be rough.

This week teachers all over Florida will get their first paycheck of the school year.

Last session Florida legislators passed a law requiring every teacher to contribute 3% of their salary to the Florida Retirement System. Hearing about a 3% to 5% cut is very different than seeing what that cut looks like.

The other side of the story is that districts all over the state have cut teacher pay on new-hires by as much as 15%. $44,000 is the average teacher pay in the state of Florida, but some districts pay $30,000 per year. Georgia’s average teacher pay is $53,000.

It’s common knowledge that Florida teacher pay, among the lowest in the nation, was based on the promise of employer-funded retirement.  For decades, teachers have accepted changes in their employment conditions based on this promise.

A school district is often the largest employer in the county.  Cutting 3% from salaries in large districts like Orange, Hillsborough or Miami-Dade takes at least $50 Million dollars out of the local market. That’s a tangible loss to all of us.

On the most intimate level, teachers have been spending their personal money on classroom materials or more commonly, making sure their growing roster of homeless or at-risk students have what they need to thrive and learn.

Teaching in Florida has always meant a meager paycheck.  Since there have been no raises for years, that small paycheck now means supporting families at near-poverty levels.  Teacher pay stopped being the source of “extra” family income a long time ago.  Florida politicians often talk about getting paid for 9 months as an amazing freedom.  They dismiss teaching as a “choice.”

It certainly is a choice.  Things have become so difficult, that staying reflects a level of job commitment most of us will never know.

In Florida, the choice to teach after the 3% cut could mean the loss of home ownership and foreclosure.  Many of our best thinkers are being forced to choose between being able to pay the bills and the students they love.

Lawmakers told us that they had “no choice” when they cut public education by $1.3 Billion.  Florida politicians should know that “choice” can cut many ways.  After all, elections are also about choices.

The 3% teacher salary cut that the Florida Legislature eagerly imposed comes at a high price. Be honest. Does the level of teacher pay reflect the value we expect a dedicated teacher to bring to their students?

“Teacher Salaries a Victim of Budget Cuts”  (Lily Rockwell, News Service of Florida, wctv.tv- August 30, 2011)

Stephanie Rothman has done the math. On her roughly $48,000 a year salary, the 15-year high school English teacher in Broward County barely gets by.In the last year, Rothman has had to abandon a Boca Raton home she could no longer afford, moving into a room at a friend’s house and feels “cynical and hopeless” about her financial prospects.”I love teaching, I was born to teach,” Rothman said. “But I feel there is no way I can sustain a living with just teaching. So that is why I decided to become a certified personal trainer and get a part-time job.”

Rothman is one of hundreds of thousands of teachers in Florida that have gone years without a significant raise.  Read the full article here.

Permission to repost given by the author.


Final reflections: SOS, Wash., D.C., July 31

So far, I have been disappointed with the national media coverage of the July 30 SOS Rally: there isn’t as much as I’d like to see (1). It’s as if 6,000 plus activist teachers, parents, and their allies never existed. I guess it takes 100,000 to interest CNN.  In truth, it was a rowdy, impressive bunch with teacher and parent representatives from across the nation. Speaker highlights included Greg Gower, superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Texas.  His speech is not yet on YouTube,  but he inspired a crowd in  Texas recently with a similar speech.  Matt Damon’s mom is a professor of early childhood education and a supporter of SOS. She introduced Matt, and he gave a very compelling speech about the significance of public education on the development of his creativity and talent; the kind of support now threatened by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

After the march, I talked with  Greg Gower, an activist singer who performed “Test Teacher” at the rally.  He and his companion asked the same question I’d heard at my SOS conference workshop and in personal conversations with teachers and parents throughout the conference: “Can you see the influence of  NCLB on your students?”

I’m sure that most college educators have heard about No Child Left Behind; but unless they currently have children in the public schools or happen to teach in a college of education, they probably do not know how NCLB has so successfully restructured K-12 curriculum and destroyed the “space” to teach creatively.  I didn’t.  Essentially K-12 teachers are under threat of their school being shut down.  Just  like a hostile corporate takeover, your school will be restructured and all teachers fired if test scores in English and Math do not meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) outcomes based upon standardized test scores.     Your state could have opted out of NCLB by refusing Title 1 federal funds,  but name a state that could afford this option?  This is restructuring though bribery under duress. So you get teachers, principals, and supervisors cheating on the test results as we have seen lately in PhiladelphiaNew York and Georgia.  NCLB has been devastating to teachers. The space to teach creatively has been replaced by scripted curriculum to improve test scores (fill in the bubble).  At the same time, NCLB has generated a multi-billion dollar business in testing, test prep, scripted curriculum, take-over charter school companies, consultancies, and Teach for America.  It has established a reign of terror on K-12, which is spreading into higher ed through the attack on colleges of education across the country, Lumina Foundation’s push for the national standard “Degree Qualifications Profile” in higher education, charter colleges and other forms of radical restructuring.  Lumina has paid $1 mil. to WASC, the accrediting agency for higher ed in the west, to embed these degree qualification outcomes in its next cycle of accreditation standards. No one is going to declare that public education is perfect; but high-stakes testing and  a canned curriculum based on data driven outcomes is not the answer for reform.  After nine years of NCLB,  there is data to show it has failed to improve student success.

So how are Freshmen different now  and can these differences be attributed to their education under NCLB?  Certainly there is still a significant number of Freshmen across the nation who need developmental English and Math courses to become ‘college ready.’  NCLB has not solved the ‘readiness gap’ between high school and college.   I hesitate to say that the changes I have noticed in my students, especially over the past four years,  are due just to NCLB.  It is a busy, video-game generation of high consumer culture and reality-T.V., of infatuation with gadgets (ipods and smart phones); it is a generation with a multitasking consciousness.  This is the cultural context  in which NCLB is embedded. I also must compete with the necessity of work. Most of my students work 30-50 hours  a week to support their college education, parents and siblings.  These students  often take five classes including mine. This is not the world of 1988 when I first started teaching at CSU Long Beach nor my world as an undergraduate at U.C. Santa Barbara in the 1960s.  At the same time, I know that our students can overcome  any knowledge or intellectual development gaps left by NCLB by the time they graduate in 4-6 years IF they do the work and put  genuine effort into their own academic career.  The current free market PR in higher education that touts the student as ‘consumer’ and ‘customer’ often fails to comprehend this point: real education requires depth of effort from both the teacher and the student.  It is more than simple consumption like ordering a latte from the university library coffee shop.

(1) It is true that “Democracy Now” carried a short segment on the SOS today, Aug. 1.    Media expert Alice Sunshine tells me that from her analysis of the SOS event that the coverage was pretty good, including articles in the Washington Post and Parade magazine, with possible CNN and AP coverage in some regional markets .

Recommended,  Randy Traweek’s blog post on SOS:
http://www.k12newsnetwork.com/2011/07/joseph-k-on-the-save-our-schools-march-and-conference/