Monday, February 20, 2012

A Defense of Public Education

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.
—John Dewey, educational philosopher, The School and Society, 1907 
Politics is not the focus of this blog. But politics often invades everything. Over the weekend, Republican candidate for President, Rick Santorum, weighed in on public education:
“Yes the government can help,” Mr. Santorum added. “But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home-school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools. And while those factories as we all know in Ohio and Pennsylvania have fundamentally changed, the factory school has not.” 

Oppel, Richard A. Santorum Questions Education System; Criticizes Obama, NYT February 18, 2012.

 While there are some anachronisms in the current system of education -- (to name a few)
  • the requirement that students attend school only nine months a year.
  • the idea that education comes in tidy bundles of minutes - Carnegie units
  • the idea of school provided one-to-one computing,
there is no doubt that the idea of publicly funded and mandated education is an idea that still carries great weight in contemporary society.  I am not saying that we don't need to improve public education (we can discuss those improvements - like online education in later posts), put rather public schools are not anachronisms.

The Center on Educational Policy publication, Why We Still Need Public Schools, cites six missions of public education. Our schools:
  • Provide universal access to free education.
Public schools are the only way to assure that ALL  children have the benefits of education. The school choice movement is a movement toward the privatization of public schools. The idea that parents should have a choice in their children's education is a market-based argument. Market-based solutions, while providing an "efficient" outcome, do not always produce the best outcome. Market-based solutions assume that access to products is equal. Issues like transportation to and from schools are crucial parts of the decision.
[T]he fact remains that the whole country is directly interested in the education of every child that lives within its borders. The ignorance of any part of the American people so deeply concerns all the rest that there can be no doubt of the right to pass laws compelling the attendance of every child at school . . .
—Frederick Douglass, African American writer and abolitionist, speech at the National Convention of Colored Men, 1883
As an online teacher, one of my concerns about the online education programs is that online education can increasingly be privatized. Why is this a concern? Because as people make choices about education, I have seen parents choose an online educational program for their children based not on quality, but on the program that has lesser graduation requirements.

Local based education makes it possible for states and localities to emphasize local needs. National companies respond to markets. As seen in textbooks, large states like Texas exert a larger power on content. We need to be concerned with all students and their community.
  • Guarantee equal opportunities for all children.
It is not hard to see that, even in our "Great Recession," education has been a huge determination in the economic impacts felt by families and individuals. Those with more education suffered lower unemployment rates, and maintained higher incomes.

Public education has been a path for people of all economic and racial backgrounds out of poverty. Public education makes education a path toward a public good. Public education has provided for people to be successful, to grow, and to even be President. If public education were to give way to private education (even compulsory private education), where you went to school would be of greater importance. Would the "well-off" maintain the equivalent of gated communities in education? I'm not willing to take that chance.
  • Unify a diverse population.
The most effectual, and indeed the only effectual, way to produce this individuality and harmony of national feeling and character is to bring our children into the same schools and have them educated together.
—Calvin Stowe, theology professor and abolitionist, Transactions of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Western Literary Institute, 1836
Today, we have more diversity than ever. Race, income, political views are sources of diversity. In a world torn with ethnic strife, the ability to understand other perspectives and deal with conflict are critical skills. Private schools may actually serve to limit diversity and increase intolerance in the "marketplace of ideas."
  • Prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society.
Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.
—Thomas Jefferson, U.S. president, letter to James Madison, 1787
In the 2008 election, only 50.5% of those without a high school education voted compared to 64% of high school grads, and 81% of those with college degrees.
  • Prepare people to become economically self-sufficient.
I addressed some parts of the economic benefits of education earlier. 
Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance-wheel of the social machinery . . . It does better than disarm the poor of their hostility towards the rich; it prevents being poor.
—Horace Mann, “father of the common school,” Report no. 12 of the Massachusetts School Board, 1848.
Given the concern over the "Occupy" movements and the increasing economic disparity, this goal should be seen as one of the strongest reasons for public education.
  • Improve social conditions
Fewer pillories and whipping posts and smaller gaols [jails], with their usual expenses and taxes, will be necessary when our youth are properly educated, than at present. I believe it could be proved that the expenses of confining, trying, and executing criminals amount every year, in most of the counties, to more money than would be sufficient to maintain the schools.
—Benjamin Rush, physician and statesman, Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philosophical, 1786
Mr. Rush's conjecture has recently been the subject of research.

In 2003, Lochner and Moretti reported:
"Crime is a negative externality with enormous social costs. If education reduces crime, then
schooling will have social benefits that are not taken into account by individuals. In this case, the
social return to education may exceed the private return. Given the large social costs of crime,
even small reductions in crime associated with education may be economically important. . . .
these data sources produce similar conclusions: schooling significantly reduces criminal activity."

So,  in a variety of places, we see public education pays both individuals, society, and the community.

These six goals of education still matter.

When asked to choose which reason for public schools seemed most important to them, 25% of Americans participating in a 2006 national poll cited as their top reason “to give all children a chance to get ahead and level the playing field”; 22% said “to keep America strong and competitive in the global economy”; 19% said “to help strengthen our democracy so children will have the skills to participate as adults”; and 16% said “because today’s children are tomorrow’s workforce.” (Other reasons were cited by 10% or less of those polled.) (CEP Report, page 13.)

Our Founding Fathers were among the strongest supporters of public education:

In 1785, John Adams wrote, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Ben Franklin, in 1749 proposed: "The good education of youth has been esteemed by wise men in all ages, as the surest foundation of the happiness of both private families and of commonwealths. Almost all governments have therefore made it a principal object of their attention, to establish and endow with proper revenues, such seminaries of learning, as might supply the succeeding age with men qualified to serve the publick with honour to themselves, and to their country."

Thomas Jefferson proposed a public school system in Virgina. He added: "The tax which will be paid for the purpose [of education] is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests, and nobles who will rise up if we leave the people in ignorance."

Peggy Zugibe, a member of the Haverstraw-Stony Point (N.Y.) Board of Education stated" "Our public schools have produced presidents, statesmen, scientists, sports and entertainment figures. We can’t let outside forces result in public education becoming a system of haves and have-nots. We must make sure that we remember what our Founding Fathers saw: that public education is essential to our country’s common good."
It was in making education not only common to all, but in some sense compulsory on all, that the destiny of the free republic of America was practically settled.
—James Russell Lowell, poet, editor, and diplomat, Among My Books: Six Essays, 1870.
We can debate the improvements that we need to make to education, by Mr. Santorum, the importance of a free, compulsory, public education is NOT up for discussion.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Best way to start a blog on online learning? With History of course.

And what better way to cover the history of the 21st Century than with Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century. For those that haven't read the book yet, a 2005 New York Times article by Friedman entitled "It's a Flat World After All" gives a preview.

Friedman's book, written in 2005, recounted the events and devices that have lead to our globalized world. Friedman discusses the ten events that lead to the flat world. And while I cannot recommend the entire book highly enough, the book has a variety of obvious (2x4 to the head moments) implications to education, the book is a paradigm shifter. When Friedman discusses the "new world" of Globalization 3.0.  Individuals from around the world now have access to our markets, our jobs, and our dream. With the internet, there is no longer a guarantee that American's will be the leader in the world.

 In one chapter, Friedman address the question, how do we prepare our kids for the increased competition? He suggests as the competition intensifies, we must make ourselves “untouchables.” He identifies 4 categories of untouchables:
  1. special workers (the truly creative, innovative, and talented)
  2. specialized workers (the engineer, programmer)
  3. anchored workers (the plumber, barber)
  4. really adaptable workers (the 21st Century Educated)
The simple key to being an untouchable is education. Friedman relates the state and importance on education in his article:
These are some of the reasons that Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman, warned the governors' conference in a Feb. 26 speech that American high-school education is ''obsolete.'' As Gates put it: ''When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations. . . . The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind.''
This flatter world in which competition comes from all around the world means that as American's we had better get moving.   I read the book and with each page I was challenged in my goal to teach. It is important to us all.

Friedman related an African Proverb that is now among my favorite "quotes" of all time:
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.” 
That quote, and the book, motivated me. Whether we are the lion or gazelle, we better start running. My challenge is to look at how I could best improve the educational outlook for my grandchildren.

Online learning is my answer. To use the tools of globalization to expand access and change methods of education seems appropriate. Online education and tools have allowed me to better individualize instruction. Online education and tools have allowed me to encourage thinking skills. Online education and tools have offered me hope.

This blog is one of the ways I hope to help our world.