As an “Education Researcher”, my focus has always been on academic excellence, literacy and empowering parents to make the best decisions for their children. Others involved in reforming education have had a differing view.
From “Community Organizers” who want to focus on changing a child’s values and beliefs to reformers who simply want to throw more money at education, there are plenty of people driving education reform who do not prioritize literacy and academic excellence as their main goals. We are starting to see more influence in the New Hampshire schools coming from Community Organizers and that should concern everyone.
Several years ago there was an effort by the Annenberg Foundation to improve education in the Chicago public schools. It was called the “Chicago Annenberg Challenge” (CAC). The CAC pumped $100 MILLION dollars into the Chicago public schools but when it was all over, the results were dismal.
When the focus on education becomes more about changing values, attitudes and beliefs in children vs. focusing on literacy and academic excellence, should we be surprised it ended in failure?
According to the Wall Street Journal article titled, “Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism on Schools,” Annenberg poured $100 million dollars into the hands of radical education activist and community organizers from 1995 to 1999 as a way of improving Chicago’s public schools. “The CAC was the brainchild of Bill Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground in the 1960s. Among other feats, Mr. Ayers and his cohorts bombed the Pentagon..”
The article goes on to explain, “The CAC’s agenda flowed from Mr. Ayers’s educational philosophy, which called for infusing students and their parents with a radical political commitment, and which downplayed achievement tests in favor of activism.”
There is a powerful influence in reforming public education that does not include a focus on helping kids to become literate and productive citizens. Instead the focus of education is to transform your children into radical political activists with values and beliefs that may very well be in conflict with what you want for your children.
The CAC tied schools to working with outside radical community organizations like ACORN. Some may remember that ACORN captured national attention when it was revealed that they were involved in voter fraud.
There are good people who want to see public education improve in this country. Those people have a clear focus on “making kids smarter”. With a quality education, the sky’s the limit. When public education is focused on everything but literacy, students are often times left with two options: seek outside help from tutoring centers or fall through the cracks.
This is why it’s so shocking that schools in New Hampshire are aligning with Annenberg again. After a track record of failure and radical reforms that do not elevate the quality of education in public schools, one has to wonder why some schools like Pittsfield and Manchester would seek their assistance.
Community Organizers come to schools with money in hand in the form of Grants. Those Grants come from the Nellie Mae Foundation. Nellie Mae has made their focus on community organizing too. As you can see from their brochure, there is a focus on “Community Organizing.” Nellie Mae even references one of the most radical political organizers, Saul Alinsky, in their report. (page 1)
Granite State Organizing Project is now working with Annenberg and attempting to influence public schools in New Hampshire. However it’s important to note that what is sometimes pushed through these organizations, does nothing to improve the quality of education in the public schools.
In fact, some of what they push has actually been shown to LOWER academic achievement among students. That’s why it’s critical that School Board Members ask the tough questions like, where is the INDEPENDENT data that shows your reform efforts will lead to academic improvement in the district?
One of the big pushes from these organizations is on “student centered learning”. While this may sound like a good idea, one should look past the slogans and ask for additional information like, what does that mean? How does “student centered learning” improve academic achievement among the student population?
For instance, “Student Centered Learning” is grounded in Constructivist learning theories. This means that knowledge is “constructed” from the experiences of the student. There is a fundamental shift from the teacher instructing their students to the teacher becoming a “facilitator” of learning. This approach to learning has been around a while so we can look back to see how this pedagogy has failed when forced on teachers in core subjects like mathematics.
The “math wars” have been raging for years over this approach to teaching mathematics.
Traditionalists will argue that when teaching math, students need to be instructed by a highly qualified teacher. When the teacher knows their subject and can explain the math concepts, students will better understand math.
Constructivists will argue that it’s best for children to discover math or inquire their way through the problems. This is done with the teacher “facilitating” in the learning process.
This has set up a situation that has led to years of public debate on how best to teach math to children.
As one who has tutored students in mathematics, I fall on the side of the traditionalist. I have seen the damage inflicted on students when they are left to discover mathematics with little instruction. Even among traditionalists, there is an support for teachers to use the best approach as they see fit.
This leads me back to Annenberg, Nellie Mae and The Granite State Organizers. Instead of allowing teachers to use the methods they feel are best for their students, they want to push a teaching method that we know can have a negative impact on a student’s ability to learn math. A school will have to agree to use this teaching method in order to qualify for the grant money.
Their track record of improving the quality of education does not exist and their methods of using grant money to push reforms that does not improve the quality of education should concern everyone.
These Community Organizers have been around for decades. With no real track record for improving public education and their focus grounded in radical political activism, everyone needs to be asking more questions and demanding more answers from administrators who accept their grant money and implement their reforms within the school district.
Money has been thrown at public schools for years and taxpayers are becoming more frustrated by the lack of results. They want to guide public education in their own communities and not have community organizers or unelected bureaucrats have the kind of influence that fails their children.
Additional sources on the failures of Constructivism when used in Mathematics:
Ann Marie Banfield is an Education Researcher and has been volunteering her time for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire. She advocates for excellence in public education and for parental rights.