Tag Archives: government

Teachers Have Been Telling You For Years that Rich People Cheat the System. Here’s What Else We Know.

 

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Photo: Angela Litvin, Creative Commons

The nation exploded in surprise that thirty people nationwide, including two famous actresses, were indicted for participating in scams to get their children into elite universities. Educators similarly exploded in surprise, but for a different reason– we were shocked that the wealthy and powerful were being held accountable for something that’s been widespread for decades. Educators have known about this– and more– for years, yet no one has listened to educators about the widespread inequities in education.

Are you ready to listen now?

Let’s start with the obvious:

Standardized tests are worthless. Educators know that performance on a standardized test is nearly useless in measuring a student’s overall performance in a subject or in predicting a student’s future performance in that subject. A standardized test only measures how good students are at taking standardized tests, which is why plonking down $1300 for an SAT prep course can bring a student’s scores up so dramatically in a such a short period of time. I’ve been teaching both university and high school students for 30 years, so believe me when I tell you that teaching someone how to take the SAT in my subject is entirely different than teaching my subject. Take a look at the job requirements for a Kaplan employee— they’re not looking for a PhD in the subject or experience teaching it; what they want is a high SAT or ACT score in the subject. High standardized test scores can be bought if you have the money for a test training class. Add to this our longstanding knowledge that people with economic privilege score higher on standardized tests overall, and you can see what these tests are really measuring.

But that’s not the only reason standardized testing is problematic. The SAT, PSAT, and AP exams (among others) are administered by a company called College Board. On the surface, they appear to be a nonprofit devoted to creating and administering standardized tests. Have you proctored one of these exams recently? I have. When students take the PSAT, a practice exam whose scores are never distributed to anyone but the students and their high school, College Board insists on students providing full legal names, home addresses, and social security numbers when each exam is already given a unique identifying code. College Board asks for pages of optional information such as phone numbers, GPA, and whether a student’s parents are US citizens.

Here’s why: College Board makes millions selling the student data they collect to anyone with the cash to pay for it. Here’s the link— buried deep on the website– that helpfully provides various payment plans. You can buy information on individual minors for just 45 cents “per name,” pay $7.710 for the right to roam free through the collected information of minors in an “unlimited annual subscription,” or upgrade your annual subscription to an unlimited “Segment Analysis Service™” for $17,750. Here’s a chart of the kind of data you can buy— including race, GPA, “religious interest,” and whether the student is a “first generation” American.

Is the ACT better? No.

Companies that market various services to students purchase your child’s information in order to market to them. College Board pressures students to check the box opting in to “Student Search Services” by requiring test proctors to read a paragraph extolling its virtues, pretending that opting in will result in elite universities recruiting them– without considering that universities are just as likely to use that data to eliminate them from consideration. Students are also told that opting in will result in scholarships contacting them, a deeply unethical promise that plays on the very real fears around paying skyrocketing tuition. This private company’s executives are dangling the false promise of scholarships to students to entice them to hand over data– data that those executives sell to enrich themselves and ensure their own children have unfair advantages over the very students whose data they sell.

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Photo: gvarc.org, Creative Commons

Standardized testing exists to generate wealth for testing companies, and for companies that purchase the marketing data testing companies gather.

But testing companies aren’t the only private companies lining their pockets with public education funds. Two of the most successful education profiteers are companies that market educational systems and companies that create charter schools.

 

In the past few decades, schools were suddenly labeled “in crisis,” and the phrase “failing schools” was everywhere. Nothing had changed– in fact, literacy rates were at an all-time high– but suddenly schools were all “failing” due in large part to “bad teachers” protected by unions. Never mind that non-union states have lower test scores than union states. Facts were not the point. This was marketing meant to shift public opinion, and it worked beautifully. Standardized tests were quickly positioned as the key factor used to measure “teacher effectiveness” and identify “low-performing schools” by demanding that scores rise by a set percentage each year in order to “pass.” This makes no sense, as pedagogical effectiveness can only be measured using a complex variety of assessments and data. Just ask anyone who’s been through a WASC report. This also makes no statistical sense, since the student population at any given site or in any given teacher’s classroom changes from year to year, so you’re comparing two different populations. But, again, this was not about facts. This was fear-mongering meant to manufacture a crisis. The crisis was manufactured by business-friendly politicians so that corporations could sell us the solutions. 

In addition to the billions of tax dollars shelled out to testing companies, and the additional profiteering in selling your child’s data, there are further billions to be made in educational systems and charter schools, all of which depend on maintaining the mythology that schools are “failing” and that we must continually hemorrhage money into private companies to “save” our schools.

 

 

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I’ll just take this over to the private sector #savingschools #wedogoodwork

It’s important to understand that the educational system is unfairly structured in favor of the wealthy at its core. Public school funding is based on property values. Yes, you read that correctly: higher property taxes means more money for schools, because so much about K-12 public education is district by district. This translates into endless benefits for the affluent: higher teacher salaries that attract and retain talent, smaller class sizes and more varied classes (including the art, music, and theatre programs that translate into better grades and better student retention), better facilities, better extracurriculars– in short, everything that educators know improves student outcomes. Poor Black women are jailed for “stealing” educations when they falsify residencies to get their children into higher-rated schools, but those schools are only better because the wealthy unfairly structured the system. While the children of the wealthy are given the best of everything, my public school teacher husband has had to seat students on the counters because there were not enough chairs. But there’s plenty of money in his district to spend on educational systems and charter schools.

Educational systems. Without getting too deep into the ed policy weeds, pre-2018, schools that went into “program improvement” were forced into choosing from a list of draconian measures that included firing every single teacher or purchasing an expensive “program improvement” educational system from a private company. While the rules have become somewhat less draconian, “low-performing schools” are still singled out through testing and are still required to take steps to “improve.” These “educational systems” sold by private companies are expensive and proprietary. Teachers must undergo hours of training on the new system and have almost no flexibility for what we call “differentiated education”– changing things up for individual students who have different learning styles, the gold standard in pedagogy. While I have all the academic freedom I had in university teaching in my private school classroom, my public school teacher husband is required to teach to a system that is, in a word, wretched. I’ve found multiple errors in the material the system requires his students to use, everything from teaching students erroneous grammar to study questions that don’t match the reading . Even without the errors, no educator on the planet would say a one-size-fits-all system was pedagogically useful. It’s the antithesis of effective pedagogy. Yet these essentially useless systems drain billions of tax dollars out of schools and into the pockets of the corporate profiteers who sell them, while those corporate profiteers send their own children to expensive private schools with individualized instruction.

Charter schools. Charter schools are run by private companies but, somehow, are considered public schools and funded by your tax dollars. The charter school system was a gift from a business-friendly government to private companies as the first step towards privatizing education. Literally any company that files the paperwork can start siphoning tax dollars out of the local school system and into their own pockets without having to prove they actually know how to teach.  Don’t get me wrong– there are good charter schools out there run by true believers with a vision– but too many charter schools are run by people with no experience in pedagogy or school administration. In order to collect public funding, you need students, and charter schools have aggressively marketed themselves. Shady charter schools have run wild in areas that lack economic privilege, preying on desperate parents, promising a better education than the woefully underfunded public schools– schools the charters are helping to defund– and pretending to deliver results by manipulating test scores through weeding out low performers in the admissions process, “counseling out” low-performing students, and suspending them or just marking them absent on test day. Charters are notorious for low teacher pay and poor treatment of teachers because they’re exempt from hiring union teachers, just as they’re exempt from almost all the regulations and oversight we put in place to ensure high-quality public schools. While there are good charter schools, the program itself was designed as a love letter to regulation-hating corporations who wanted to privatize public education, and as such it privileged the needs of the wealthy over the needs of the students, and created a host of problems for which charter schools have become notorious among educators. And while all aspects of privatization of public schools, like charters and vouchers, have been the darling of the right, it’s worth noting that charter schools were created by the Clinton Administration and heartily supported by the Obama Administration.

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Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP

 

This is the tip of the iceberg; there’s so much I’ve left unsaid, including the critical influence of racism on all of this. This is just a taste in the hope that people will begin to listen to educators when forming ed policy. For decades, we have formed ed policy around the lie that educators cannot be trusted to helm education, and now we have a ship that has been all but handed over to corporate raiders and privateers.

For the past few decades, education policy in America has been set largely by business-friendly politicians who have done everything they can to use public education funding to line the pockets of the wealthy. They have allowed testing companies to collect and sell personal data about minors. They have wildly overstated the efficacy of standardized tests and increased their importance in every sector of American education to create revenue for testing company executives. They have used those standardized tests to create impossible standards for schools to meet, and when schools inevitably “failed,” they forced schools to purchase expensive “program improvement” systems from private companies. They’ve used those standardized tests to justify handing public funding to private companies to open “charter schools” with no oversight. In short, bad ed policy has opened the coffers of public education and tacked up a sign saying, “Carpetbaggers Welcome.”

Believe educators when we tell you where the problems are– and where they are not. Stop allowing the wealthy to enrich themselves by raiding public school coffers. Put education policy back in the hands of educators. 

 

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Transgender? The California DMV Has Some Questions From 1972 For You

My daughter is transgender. Like many of the kids in our area, where so many walk or use public transportation, she doesn’t yet have a driver’s license. When she turned 18, she needed a California ID. Sounds easy, no? Not for trans folks.

We had already gone to court and had her name and gender legally changed in the state of California. It’s an involved process. You need several official court forms and a letter from your doctor attesting that the petitioner is undergoing “medically appropriate treatment” for the gender change. California wisely leaves the definition of “medically appropriate treatment” up to the doctor and petitioner, as there are so many different options available now, and what is an appropriate medical approach for one person may not be appropriate (or even safe) for another. The filing fee is $435, and the court date is set after the clerk reviews all your completed documents, making sure everything is in order. You must appear in person on the court date, whenever it is. The court here groups all the name and gender change people together, and the judge we drew was a sweetheart, so our court appearance was a memorable day of various families and friends hugging, weeping, and laughing. The judge was clearly enjoying himself (“Don’t cry, Mom,” he smilingly said to me as I wept while he genially and casually changed my daughter’s life by affirming her identity.). We immediately went to Records and got several original copies of the court order, knowing we would need them.

Getting a new Social Security card was a breeze with the court order. We didn’t even have an appointment. We popped by, waited about 20 minutes, showed the very sweet woman behind the counter the original court order, and my daughter had her receipt in hand (and a warm congratulations) within five minutes of our number being called. The re-issued card came in the mail a week later.

Getting a new birth certificate was a breeze with the court order. We filled out the proper forms, enclosed a $23 check and one of the original court orders (which is why you need several– they keep it), and within several weeks, the new birth certificate came. My baby girl bearing my grandmother’s name. So precious to me, and much, much more precious to her.

Down the line, everything we needed was a breeze, smiles and congratulations, stamp, stamp, “That’ll be $27.50” and you’re done. The DMV was another story.

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Actual, unretouched photo of our DMV clerk

The DMV was our first stop after we obtained the court order, as I naively believed it would be one of the easiest and would facilitate getting the rest done. It’s just an ID, right? She definitely is who she says she is. I had her original, official birth certificate and social security card with her deadname, along with an original, official, stamped court order and the entire packet of paperwork the court made us file, including the doctor’s note. I had several pieces of mail proving her address and my own, along with my own ID proving that I was the person listed as her mother on her birth certificate. I was, as usual, over-prepared. Or so I thought.

What would be good enough for the social security office, for the California Office of Vital Records, for the school system, for the passport office, for literally every other local, state, and federal government agency, was not good enough for the California DMV.

The California DMV has its own form, you see. The DMV will not accept an official court order. Instead they demand a special DMV doctor’s note, called a DL329. What information does the DMV insist transgender people collect that is so critical that an official court order is deemed inadequate?

You must get a physician or psychologist to attest that your “gender identification” is “transitional” or “complete,” and that you have a (check one) male or female gender identification and a (check one) male or female demeanor.

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The DL329. 

First of all, the California DMV does NOT need to know whether my daughter’s “gender identification” is “complete.” What the hell does that even mean? Because it sure sounds like the California DMV is asking my teenage daughter if she’s had bottom surgery. When I asked about this, they said it was “because it’s used for ID.” I use my driver’s license for ID all the time, and I have never once been asked by anyone to prove I’m female with my genitalia. Additionally, transgender people are precisely the gender they say they are. What procedures they may or may not undergo to change their bodies is no more relevant to their identity than it is when cisgender people have them. People have plastic surgery all the time, and the DMV makes nary a peep about it. What reason could the DMV possibly have for demanding information about the “completeness” of someone’s “transition”? It can’t possibly be for identification purposes. It seems that the demand is there for no other reason than to harass and abuse transgender people.

This also demonstrates a woefully outdated understanding of gender. EVERYONE’S “gender identification” is complete, even if you change your gender daily. Whatever your gender is in any given moment, as you experience it, is a “complete” gender. You may, like someone of any gender, choose to have various procedures to be happier with your body, but there is no such thing as a “transitional gender,” and even if you disagree with that, there’s no reason for the DMV to have that information to issue you a state ID in a state with picture IDs.

Do you reasonably match your picture? Great. Your genitalia does not need to be involved in this. No, sir, please do not show me your genital– SIR. Sir, please put that away. Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the building.

I suppose I understand male and female “gender identification;” at least, I understand what they mean by it. What I don’t understand is why they need a physician to confirm it and why there are only two choices. At least 1 in 2000 babies are born intersex, and there are plenty of people who are nonbinary. But sure. I’ll give them this one, provisionally, if only because I need room in this piece for the immense, mind-boggling nonsense that is the DMV’s demand for a physician to assess the gender of your “demeanor.”

The California DMV forces you to ask a physician or psychologist to check a box attesting that you have either male or female “demeanor.” There are only two choices, and I have no idea what either of them mean. I’m a cis woman and I would fail traditional “female demeanor” every day of the week. What does the DMV want the doctor to confirm? That transwomen can walk in high heels? Move daintily? Defer to men? Say “I love my career, but nothing is more important to me than being a good wife and mother”? What, specifically, does the DMV think it’s asking for when it’s asking for a doctor to assess the gender of someone’s demeanor?

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What the DMV is picturing as “female demeanor” (source: puzzlewarehouse.com)

Remember that this is in addition to the court order that I had in my hand at that moment proving that the human standing in front of them was legally female. Think about this: The DMV insisted that we force a doctor to attest that my daughter had a “female demeanor” in order to get an ID that reflected her LEGAL gender.

What made this all so much worse was that the staff at our local DMV were openly hostile. This is the Bay Area, and, naively, so very naively, I had expected them to be professional. Of course not.

We eventually got her ID. My daughter had me and my husband to fight for her. Imagine having to face that– and much worse– alone.

California, you’re supposed to be leading the way in these issues. Instead, the DMV is allowed to force transgender Californians to undergo humiliating, abusive treatment for no reason at all other than that they can, and no one in the state government has ever cared enough to stop them.

 

 

 

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