Commentary on Mike Pence and His Destructive Public Education Policies

On Saturday, July 16th, Indiana teacher and young adult author, Shane Phipps, posted an article about Mike Pence, the now official running mate for Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. The article was titled “Why Mike Pence Terrifies Me,” and was posted on Shane’s blog, Rambling Fractaled Musings: Welcoming You Inside My Random, Pattern Seeking Mind, and was then shared on Facebook. In the article, Shane shares what the overwhelming majority of Indiana public school teachers believe to be the destructive public education policies of Governor Mike Pence and his predecessor, Mitch Daniels. It is a great read and I will post a link to the blog post at the end of this article. No doubt, Donald Trump will buy into the Pence/Daniels education reform agenda.

The following paragraph, which was taken from the article, is an accurate reflection of the public education policies of both Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels, and seems to reflect the theme of the education reforms that are sweeping the country with their emphasis on privatization and high stakes standardized tests:

“. . .[Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence] implemented a plan that pitted high income schools against low income schools and judged them based on an A to F grading scale. These grades were given on the basis of scores on standardized tests where every school was judged on the same test which required all students to “clear the same bar” regardless of their starting point. This resulted in an (sic) predictable gap in achievement where the affluent school districts “out performed” the high poverty districts. As a result of the Daniels program, the lower performing districts got less funding than the higher performing districts.”

I have taken the liberty of modifying Shane’s paragraph to represent what I believe to be the fundamental flaw in public education in America and in the education reform initiatives. Simply substitute the quoted paragraph, written by Shane Phipps, with the one I added below. It is a flaw that has tragic consequences for our nation’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged students:

Public Education pits high income and middle income students against low income, disadvantaged students and judges them based on an A to F grading scale. These grades are given on the basis of scores on subject matter where every student is graded on the same tests which require all students to “clear the same bar” regardless of their starting point. This has resulted in a predictable gap in achievement where the affluent students out-perform the disadvantaged students. As a result, the lower performing students get less opportunities than higher performing students.

As I have pointed out in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, and countless posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream, this is a flaw that can be fixed, easily, by redefining the fundamental purpose of public education and then re-inventing the educational process at work in virtually every public school in America. The same educational process is at work in most private, parochial, and charter schools, as well.

Implementing such a change requires no state or federal legislation and is within the statutory powers of local public school districts. By making the changes that I recommend, we alter the equation that has allowed multiple generations of Americans to be swept into the maelstrom that I call the “cycles of poverty and failure.”

When we alter that equation, we give choices and opportunities to every young adult who completes their education. Today, the default decision for these young people is a life of poverty, hopelessness, and powerlessness. It is a default decision that contributes to what many are calling the “schoolhouse to jailhouse track,” on which many African-Americans find themselves.

What we will ultimately discover is that the poverty that pervades so many urban and rural American communities is the consequence of the problems in public education rather than the cause.

The link for Shane Phipps blog post: https://shanephipps.wordpress.com/category/mike-pence/

The links for my blog posts that provide an overview of my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream and for an outline of an implementation plan for the educational model I propose are:

http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/breaking-down-the-cycles-of-failure-and-poverty/

And,

http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/implementation-outline-for-educational-model-in-which-there-is-only-success-and-no-failure/

Separate and Apart – Again and Again

What happened in Dallas will happen again. These acts are symptomatic of the degree of separation between us. Although interactions between police and African-Americans bring the matter into the sharpest focus, these acts represent only the surface of the deep, dark place where racism resides in the collective consciousness of the American people. It is just one of the divisive issues that creates sufficient anger, resentment, and mistrust that so many Americans want more authoritarian leadership and are willing to support Donald Trump for President. It is an American tragedy.

We have also witnessed, in Dallas, an expression of grief that is shared by well-meaning Americans of every race, color and creed. We saw protesters from each side of an issue reaching out to embrace and comfort one another. This is a sign of hope. For healing to occur we, first, must grieve but we cannot legislate an end to the racism that exists in the hearts of man and neither can we wish it away. If we want a future in which all are truly equal, we must address the conditions, other than the color of our skin, that separate us as a people and that lead to police and African-American confrontations.

More often than at any time in our history, white Americans see well-educated African-Americans move into their neighborhoods and rub elbows with them on the job. Coming in contact with these black neighbors and co-workers begins to produce subtle shifts in the attitudes and perceptions of white Americans. We also see more inter-racial friendships and dating. It is hard to be prejudiced against a people who look like someone you have loved.

For many white Americans, however, their core values do not change. Instead, they carve out space in their mental view for the exceptions that these neighbors and co-workers represent. Yes, “he’s black but he’s a good worker or a good neighbor.” When these same white Americans see stories about drive-by shootings, black men arrested and sent to prison, or even when they pass judgment on the contents of a welfare mother’s grocery cart, all of their deeply-rooted stereotypes are re-confirmed.

We must challenge our fundamental assumptions about our society and about the way we educate our children. Poor people do not choose to live in economically depressed neighborhoods in America; they live there because it is the only place they can afford to live. They lack the knowledge and skills needed to qualify for good jobs and that give them choices of where and how to live. Poor Americans, whatever the color of their skin, lack such choices because the educational process at work in American public schools is neither structured, tasked, nor equipped to teach disadvantage kids.

We are not powerless to alter this reality. Solving the problems of poverty and academic failure are possible but only if we are able to imagine a different reality. They are simple human engineering problems that will yield to the fertile imagination of the human mind.

People will remain poor for as long as we continue to defend a system of public education that consistently fails the poor and the disadvantaged, with African-American children affected the most. In spite of all the talk about education reform in the U.S., we do nothing to help disadvantaged kids but try to entice families away from our most challenged public schools with charter schools and vouchers or we tinker with a flawed educational process with one meaningless, education reform after another. We fail to see that incrementalism has the same destructive power as erosion and that it is subverting the very purpose of public education.

If we cannot address the problems in our public schools, the social crises these problems create will continue to prompt people to reach out for a more authoritarian leadership and Donald Trump for President might be the least of our fears. The problems in our society are functions of the choices we make and if we want better outcomes we must be prepared to make better choices. Those choices must begin with how our public schools respond to the challenge of disadvantaged kids.

A Square Peg in the Round Hole of Public Education

A single failure by a single student in a public school is evidence of a flawed educational process. Rarely, if ever, is there a single failure, however. In almost every public school in the U.S. there are multiple failures and in many public school districts in America there are hundreds or even thousands of students who fail. Multiply either of those numbers by the number of public school districts in the America and we are talking about an unacceptable number of children who are failing in school.

Would we accept that many deaths in a hospital emergency ward? Would we accept that many deaths or serious injuries because of a flaw in a major component of a make of automobile? Would we continue to dine at a restaurant if 30 percent or more of the meals we order were inedible? Teachers may well have done everything they can for their students within the context of the educational process employed by American public schools but since when have Americans been constrained from fixing something that is broken?

When a child arrives at school with a hearing or vision impairment we are required, by law, to take whatever steps are necessary to accommodate the child’s disability. The same is true if the child has some physical impairment or has been found to be mentally or emotionally impaired. These are not choices we make, these actions are required by law.

Within in the context of an socio/political environment governed by such laws as the American Disabilities Act, et al, how can we continue to deny such accommodations to children who, through no fault of their own, arrive for their first day of school with some level of “academic preparedness deficiency?” Making accommodations for children who are burdened with disadvantages resulting from insufficient academic preparedness is not nearly as costly as making our buildings handicap accessible or as burdensome as other extraordinary measures.

All we must do to meet the needs of children with “academic preparedness deficiencies” is to acknowledge what the evidence has been telling us for the last half century or more: “the educational process employed by American public schools does not work for children with these types of disadvantages.” These children both need and deserve meaningful accommodations. They desperately need us to take the time to understand how far behind they are and in what ways and then design an academic plan that gives them the time, attention, and support they need to be successful.

That educators have failed to recognize that the current educational process does not work for these children is one of the great mysteries of the last 100 years and it will be unforgiveable if we continue to ignore the needs of these youngsters. The only possible justification for perpetuating this gross injustice is if we truly believe poor children, children or color, or children for whom English is a second language are incapable of learning.

We like to blame poverty, discrimination, and segregation as the reasons why these children fail because that belief, we think, absolves us of responsibility. The truth is that discrimination is the only reason why so many of these children fail and why so many leave school as young adults with little if any of the knowledge and skills they will need to make a place for themselves in mainstream America.

The horrible and uncomfortable truth is that these children fail because the public educational process in America, and the professional educators who are loyal to that process, discriminate against these children. We discriminate against them because we ignore their unique requirements and insist on trying to push their quadrilateral peg through the round hole of public education and the educational process on which it relies.

Trying to force these boys and girls through the proverbial round hole has not worked for the last seventy years and it will not work for the next seventy years. The irony is that in seventy years it won’t matter, anymore, because the U.S. will be so far behind the rest of the world that it will be the United States of America that needs an accommodation.