Friday, June 21, 2013

"We Oppose The Teaching Of Higher Order Thinking Skills" . . . What?

Although I've been a critic of the propaganda organization National Council on Teacher Quality on this blog, and have even exchanged pointed emails with staff members, they seem to think I'm someone they should include on their mailing list, even contacting me not long ago to "confirm" that I am, indeed, Teacher Tom, before sending me a press release about their latest bald-faced attack on the teaching profession wrapped up to look like research. I'm not going to share the press release with you today, although news media around the country have run with it, further fanning the flames about how everything that's wrong with our schools is the fault of those horrible unionized teachers, which is one of the key points of the corporate education reformers' plans to turn our public schools into privately run, high-stakes testing factories. I hope to write a direct response to this "research" in the coming days, but since it's Summer Solstice Friday, I thought I'd share something I wrote on the topic last year. At the bottom of the post, I've included a few links in case you're interested in reading more about how corporate interests are using smoke, fear, and mirrors to "sell" their ideas of reform.


The Texas Republican Party recently released it's 2012 party platform. Under the "education" part of the document they called for an increase in the use of corporal punishment, opposition to mandatory preschool and kindergarten, and support for legislation that would ban the children of undocumented residents from public schools, all of which flies in the face of scientific evidence and common sense, but perhaps the craziest thing of all:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills . . . critical thinking skills and similar programs . . . which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

The Center for American Progress, a major progressive think tank, recently released a report entitled Increasing the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Existing Public Investment in Early Childhood Education, in which they seem to be calling for us to double-down on the corporate reform education policies of the past two presidential administrations by bringing standardized testing, the de-professionalization of teaching, and federally mandated curricula, all with an economic focus, into kindergarten and preschool classrooms. It's a report written by two economists and the "money quote" (pun intended) is from yet another economist named James Heckman, this one with a Nobel Prize no less, who warns us once more, breathlessly, that the Chinese are beating us! The report writers say that they "assembled a number of highly respected experts in the early childhood education field, who are listed in the front of this report," but this reporter has been unable to locate said list anywhere on their website. I really would like to see which "experts" signed off on this nonsense.

There are few things upon which the right and left agree in this country, but one of them is to be dead wrong about education policy.

But, you know, we keep hearing how both sides are working hand-in-hand on this, in a bi-partisan manner, to bring us schools with lots of tests that focus on "trivia" instead of critical thinking skills, a top-down curricula that mandates what children learn rather than on teaching them how to learn, young, cheap teachers who could have just as easily have been "trained" to flip burgers, and a carrot-and-stick approach to keeping everyone in line.

Oh, and spankings will be administered until teh children haz learned.

None of this, from either the left or right can be supported by what research tells us about how children learn, brain development, or best practices. None of this supports the purpose of public education in a democracy, which must be civic, not economic. None of this serves children.

The good news, I think, is that our political system is so dysfunctional right now that the two sides, even though they seem to agree on all their key points, will still cancel one another out. The bad news is that this means yet another generation of students, parents and teachers stuck making lemonade from lemons. I could almost live with this situation, one in which those of us most invested (those same students, parents, and teachers) are sort of left alone to cobble together a high quality education for our kids, but now that corporate interests have focused in on the pot of gold represented by the nation's collective education budgets, I don't think they're going to stop, unless we stop them, until they've privatized the whole thing, turning our children into "human resources" in their for-profit education schemes. Money, as it usually does, might well trump ideology in this case. Check out what US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's chief of staff Joanne Weiss had to say in the Harvard Business Review about proposed new national education standards, which she admits will do nothing to improve learning:

"(Common Core) radically alters the market . . . Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale."

So as you can see, it's a sort of win-win for right, left and corporations, leaving students, parents and teachers with even smaller, harder and more sour lemons with which to work.

To take a survey of the media landscape, you would think there is very little opposition to what's going on in the nation's capitol or in state houses around the country, but you would be wrong. You rarely see "our side," the side not championed by either of the two political parties, represented in the mainstream media exactly because it is a well-known "fact" that if a point of view is not held by Democrats or Republicans, then it is too fringe-y for serious discussion.  

Diane Ravitch, an education historian and author, who was appointed to high level education department positions by presidents of both political parties, is one of the few voices regularly included in the national debate. I admire Ms. Ravitch immensely, as I do other champions for real education reform such as Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, EdWeek bloggers Anthony Cody and Nancy Flanagan, founder of Parents Across America and Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, director of Race To Nowhere Vicki Abeles, teacher and blogger Dave Reber, and the good folks at both the Rethinking Schools and Shanker Blogs.

There are hundreds of other voices out there as well, many probably more worthy of my list, doing the good work even if we rarely hear their voices outside the blog-o-sphere. And it's adding up. Arne Duncan has complained about the "bloggers" who are opposed to his plans. Bill Gates (the most prominent of the corporate reformers) has called us his "enemies." Despite our invisibility on the national stage we are being at least somewhat effective in pushing back as a grassroots movement outside the confines of the two-party system, but so far they see us as more of a nuisance than a real political force.

There are a lot important issues that need our attention, I know, but this is a biggie. Without higher order thinking skills we're lost. This is a call to get involved, not just for your children, but for the future of America. Read these writers, write those letters, run for office, let your representatives know you will vote on education issues. We can't let the spankers and the testers win.

Other posts about the "marketing" of corporate education reform:

If you want to read even more, there are many links within those posts, and I'm a little shocked to see that I've written over 100 posts with the "education reform" tag (see the links under "Teacher Tom's Topics" in the right-hand column).

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ako said...

Well that totally sucks big time Angry Tom! Go hard!

We in Aotearoa face similar crap from the neoliberals and their economic mantra.

What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy by Joel Westheimer, is worth a read - get the kids united and we'll never be divided right?


Rebekah said...

When our government constantly compares our children's test scores and academic accomplishments with that of other countries, it makes me think of parents who desire so much to live out their dreams through their children that they force their children into pursuing their (the parents') interests.
This country's education is a sad state of affairs. Is it wrong that I'm not even going to put my children in public school? I know that a lot of people consider it to be a smack in the face to public school teachers, but that's not my intent at all. I value teachers so much. I'm homeschooling so my children will have an education free from Common Core and the corporate and government interests it represents. I want to teach my children how to think. Higher order learning skills are definitely a part of that. I will still be vocal with my representatives about my opposition to the way things are going, but I won't have my children's minds be the subjects in their experiment.

Steph said...

If I lived in the United States, I would be panicking! We are not to far from you, Teacher Tom, in British Columbia. I am proud to say our government is moving in the right direction (it seems!).

Anonymous said...

Brava! Thank you so much for writing what so many of my teacher friends have been whispering to each other for fear of being anti-education. All we want to do is teach! Our district is stressing "rigor" and "having conversations about implementation" without being given any materials. I have 34 students and shown 'motivating' videos of excellent CC teachers that have 15 students. I think "Hooray For Diffendoofer Day" should be required reading for every person.

jessie said...

Teacher Tom, I take issue with some of your claims. I am a 7-8 math teacher, as well as a preschool teacher during the summer. I have studied the common core for mathematics extensively, and they promote MUCH more critical thinking than the previous standards. The new Smarter Balanced assessment will focus heavily on high order thinking skills, with problems that require students to make connections and apply their knowledge and understanding. Additionally, the CCSSM include 8 standards for mathematical practice, which are k-12 practices that students should be using the entire time they are using mathematics. Look them upper. Good stuff.

I thoroughly enjoy your blog. I just disagree with your view that the common core are a bad thing.