One of the old education reformers is Chester E. Finn, Jr. of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He referred to himself as aging–not me. But he is old, and my point with this is that the push to destroy public schools, as we know them, started a long time ago.
Finn just wrote a letter to Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg for all of us to see, like we are the bystanders in their goofball, grand design of schools. Schools will no longer be public–other than they will still receive our tax dollars.
It is hard not to be struck by the arrogance of it all.
If one understands what a democracy is, and how it relates to public schools, they will be puzzled as to why Finn isn’t writing a letter to the American people–you know–the ones who are supposed to be the real owners of their schools.
But instead, he writes to Chan and Zuckerberg. He wants them to think about school reform. He sees them as the owners of America’s schools. They, like Gates and the other wealthy oligarchs, assume they know best how children learn because they made a lot of money and got rich.
That school design is laid out best in Finn’s mention of special education, where he calls IEPs a clumsy version of “personalized learning.”
Individual Educational Plans really are the key to understanding the wide range of needs that students present when they come to school. Teachers have known this for a long time.
But that’s not what Finn is referring to. If you don’t get it yet, and unfortunately there seem to be a lot of people who still don’t get it, the new personalized learning (or competency-based learning) is online–where a student’s narrow academic skills can be measured continuously, and teachers can forgo any kind of learning to understand the real all-encompassing needs of children.
How children will relate to each other and to teachers is not explained well with the new online escapade.
All one will need to do is make sure the student sits in place at their computer station and doesn’t act out.
My first reaction was, how dare Finn speak of children and special education this way! Those of us who studied and taught in this area saw firsthand the struggles of children with disabilities, gifted and talented students, and twice exceptional students and the problems they and their parents face.
Where was Chester E. Finn, Jr. when special education teachers were trying to sort out the mysterious, albeit fascinating, needs required to create programs for students with autism?
Did he sit and counsel a student on the brink of a behavioral meltdown?
How will a computer do this?
Has he ever struggled in a school that is falling apart, or stood in front of a class with not enough desks for students in the room?
When did he ever advocate for creating decent schools and really helping children–instead of tearing their institutions and those trying to do the job down?
Relationships with people?
Should we be not be concerned with his idea of a future generation of adults who idolize machines and not people? Sounds like a utopian, sci-fi plan gone wrong to me.
Finn has plenty of praise for Relay and all the other reformy groups that have been around for years and done nothing to make public schools better. They now create fast-track programs to put computer patrol dogs out in force in today’s charter schools. They will be prepared well in enforcement but know little about the children themselves–unless you call data collection perfect information in the new utopian world.
A lot is being said online right now about the serious takeover over of our public schools and their remaking into online warehouses–ironically on Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Will Americans who understand what’s happening to their schools be able to stop such a takeover?
Time will tell. In the meantime, Finn should apologize to America’s teachers, students, and parents. He still doesn’t understand what real school reform should be, and he is still being compliant in walking our students towards a disastrous future.
If you want to learn new insight about how we came to this point of losing our public schools, check out my new book.
Or, the older one. HERE.
Sheila Resseger says
I just started reading Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids–and How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras. Why is it that these clueless know-it-alls who are pushing (as in drug pushers) all digital/all the time wifi “learning” haven’t the slightest concern for what may be the short-term and long-term adverse physical, emotional, and social consequences for America’s children, and particularly for America’s most vulnerable children–those living in extreme poverty, those with the whole panoply of neurological/cognitive/sensory disorders, and those from non-English speaking families. Who will accept responsibility when the damage becomes so evident that no one can deny it? As a retired teacher of the deaf, this part of Finn’s callous and wrong-headed letter made me see red (thanks, Nancy, for showcasing it): he calls IEPs a clumsy version of “personalized learning.” Maybe he should consider that “personalized learning” via algorithm on digital devices (nevermind eons of human teaching of human children in nurturing social groups) is what is clumsy and totally inadequate to the challenge of truly teaching children–building on their unique strengths and interests and giving them the support they need and deserve to overcome their unique obstacles.
Nancy Bailey says
You always make so much sense. I don’t know what motivates Finn and the other reformers. Ideology gone wrong. Thanks, Sheila!
Ann Bracken says
Chester Finn does not identify himself as a member of the Maryland State Department of Education. As a retired public-school, special education teacher, I am very disturbed by the things that Finn says in his letter. He should have identified himself and his position on a state board of education. So far, charter schools in MD are confined to Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, which both have very high rates of poverty and minority students, as well as special education students. Please share this information.
Nancy Bailey says
This is an important point, Ann. Maryland, look out!
Wendy Samford says
I find this letter to be frightening. The heavy backing of charter schools that refer to Teach for America as “great outfits today” that “assist talented individuals who want to work in education to gain entry—as teachers, principals, leaders, and so on—without requiring them to pass through all the traditional certification hoops”. What? Traditional hoops? I believe we refer to those “hoops” as curriculum and instruction, theory into practice. I have never thought about my experience in graduate school while becoming certified as a public school administrator as a “hoop”. I actually learned from the experience and later applied that knowledge in my field as a building and central office administrator in a public school district. Maybe the bottom line is this, public education professionals don’t need government or philanthropist intervention. If we finally fund education equitably, those in the field of public education are more than capable of making educated decisions on behalf of our own children in our own communities.
Nancy Bailey says
I agree, Wendy, when it comes to philanthropy. Or, if they wanted to help they could put they money into public school facilities (not the separate charters), resources, and materials teachers need. They could also help districts lower class sizes in k-3rd grade and reinstate the arts in ALL schools–not just 13 favorites (I am referring to the President’s Turnaround Arts program).
Kathleen Rambo says
The whole notion of “device based education” is abhorrent to me. As a recently retired public school educator, the idea of interaction with my students primarily with the digital push” to their devices leaves me chilled. How will the teacher note the student that has vision issues because of an inability to do far-point copying? When does the student develop the trust with the person who spends more time with them than their parent? How does a student develop a love of language without the daily read-aloud and story discussion of a class-selected book? I am so glad I am retired. I am sad for this generation of students.
Nancy Bailey says
Wonderful points, Kathleen. Thank you for sharing. I find it sad as well, and also worry and wonder how students will turn out in the long run.