Rise Above the Mark

Mikel Livingston, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, has an article entitled, “1,000 attend documentary premiere two years in the making” about the premiere of Rise Above the Mark; a documentary about the effect of the privatization/voucher/charter movement on public schools. I am happy to say that I was among the 1,000.

It is an effort spearheaded by the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation — an organization associated with West Lafayette School Corporation but funded separately. WLCS superintendent, Rocky Killion has been instrumental in its development. The documentary, I think, has two primary goals: start a discussion that is focused on finding the best way to develop the children who will be our citizens in the future; and to give a voice to the public schools and public school teachers who feel that they have been largely voiceless in the debates that have gone on in recent years. The pro-voucher side is well-funded, well organized, and seems to have the ear of most of the decision makers.

Relentless standardized testing is panned by this film. We spend a lot of money paying testing companies to waste a good bit of our kids’ educational time in order to provide information that the teachers and principals already knew. (The implication (not mentioned in the film) is that those advocating standardized testing don’t particularly trust public school teachers and administrators.) It also distorts the educational process; tending to produce students who lack creativity and the ability to self-direct their studies. Our democracy depends on creative, self-directed citizens far more than it relies on citizens with superior Scantron bubble filling skills.

Another primary point is that we have had 20+ years to experiment with public funding of alternative schools and, turns out, they don’t produce results that are notably better than traditional public schools. Often enough, they perform worse.

The sharpest attacks were on some of the Indiana-specific processes we have seen; particularly those having to do with former Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett. The stony-hearted inflexibility, and rules-are-rules attitude, shown by the Indiana State Board of Education toward Munster High School was contrasted with the contortions and after-the-fact metric changing used to ensure that political darling, Christel House charter received an “A” instead of the “C” that the initial metrics gave it. Munster High School was apparently given a “C” for its performance. Due to the metrics in place, the difference between the school receiving an “A” instead of a “C” was one special education student who required a little extra time to graduate. Had that particular student graduated on time, the grade would have been dramatically different. Munster did not get nearly the consideration that Christel House did. The Munster principal (I believe that was his position) cynically wondered whether he could have saved Munster’s grade if he had contributed $100,000 to Bennett’s campaign the way Christel House’s founder did.

The documentary also goes abroad, looking at what countries with successful educational outcomes do that works. Finland’s model, in particular, appears to be one to emulate. Students can choose; but all of the schools are public, all are well funded, and there is not a great deal of disparity in funding. On the other hand, nowhere is a privatization model notably successful.

One thing only alluded to briefly is that money is a driving force behind the privatization movement. Having a conversation about finding the best way to educate our kids is only useful if all the people honestly agree that the best way to educate should guide our decisions. If both sides are motivated by a desire for excellent education; common ground can likely be reached. You look at the evidence about what educational models are most successful, you look at the resources, and you allocate the resources accordingly. However, if one side is (probably secretly) motivated primarily by a desire to redirect resources to friends and well-wishers; successful educational models probably aren’t going to be all that persuasive. I’m not saying that any of the people involved in this debate are nihlistic opportunists looking to mine the educational system for power and profit. I’m just saying that if such people designed an educational system, it would probably look a lot like the system we’ve been developing over the last twenty years.

It’s time to look around the world at what more school systems do to produce a highly educated, capable citizenry and discuss how to imitate those methods. Rolling the dice on our kids’ lives guided by non-evidence based ideological convictions is reckless.


  1. says

    Believe it out not the kids will learn in any school with motivated teachers and parents. Got in a discussion with a couple of people at Speedway (needed gas, coffee and threw away $1.oo on a scratch off) about schools. The one teacher from Pike High School told me he has a bunch of motivated kids (a lot who never show up) in his history class and I would be amazed at the number who are going on to higher education. Most people in Franklin Twsp in Indy think Pike is in the hood but he see lots of motivated Mexicans and African Americans who want a better life!

  2. Jim says

    As a teacher in higher education, I’ve been seeing the adverse effects of standardized testing for the last 5 to 6 years. Many students have difficulty thinking critically and analytically. Some prefer to have everything structured and neatly laid out for them rather than wanting to make sense of things independently. Some want to have their hands held through every step of the process; they’re afraid to make mistakes, and when they do make mistakes, they tend to freak out about them rather than trying to learn from them. What’s more, a higher percentage of students enter my class with serious writing deficiencies. Some have never written a paper that is more than 3 pages in length.

    I don’t fault my students for these problems. Most of them are hardworking, but they’re the products of a system that doesn’t adequately prepare them for higher education. Fortunately, those lacking in critical thinking skills can still learn them. But the students with writing problems–they have more difficulty improving. I wonder whether it would help to have writing across the whole curriculum in elementary and secondary schools. That would require a lower student/teacher ratio, which would probably require the hiring of more teachers. But I think that sort of investment might be worth it.

    • says

      As a teacher do you want to grade 100 to 150 papers a day. Most of the schools have cut the assistants so to make them write twice a week would be grading over 300 papers a week. Not sure what you do but Mason is a lawyer. Could you see him going over 50 briefs a week with no assistants! Why can’t he stay late at the office take them home and get them done! His wife and kids would kill him that’s why! Nope he gets paid big bucks and hires his staff to do this. Teachers have to grade papers, attends events (hey why can’t ya come to see my football, basketball, baseball game teacher?) deal with kids life (so does Mason but he can fire someone when they don’t show up for work) and the administrators that want you to teach their way because they know best. Oh on top of that they are being told by everyone that they aren’t doing enough. That will be my next blog post on TIME
      and you will never have enough of it. It will be great I will reference songs, books and have some great quotes. Opps have to go XMAS shopping ran out of time! ;)

  3. Stuart says

    Excellent review of your experience and some of the issues at stake. If a method or strategy works better than what is being done, that is one issue, but if strategies are advocated because people talk louder, and money is driving changes in an ideologically driven, factless universe, that is just plain destructive. Then it’s about selfishness, rather than what is good for kids, but it sure gets the attention of politicians who are familiar with that sort of world and think they should make the decision, despite the fact that they know nothing. It appears that what goes around comes around, especially when the bad guys don’t erase their email.

    It’s interesting how, in education, someone gets an idea, then it’s implemented and then after a few years, someone actually gathers data to see if the idea was any good. At that point, people see that it was a bad idea that did a lot of damage. Imagine if the medical profession worked like that.

  4. knowledge is power says

    Vouchers are also used so that caucasian children from lower economic circumstances won’t have to attend a public school in their own neighborhood that is segregated.

  5. steelydanfan says

    Our democracy depends on creative, self-directed citizens far more than it relies on citizens with superior Scantron bubble filling skills.

    I think that’s the whole point.

    People whose education consisted of filling in the blanks are less likely to question whether anything better than the status quo is possible, and won’t go into the streets demanding more than just a subsistence wage.

  6. Stuart says

    In a recent dissertation, the author (Bruce Aardsma) found that, despite the claim that the Common Core curriculum is based on research connecting the K-12 goals to what is actually taught in the university, there was none. It’s just a bunch of stuff written by politicians with some consultants. The Common Core goals are basically written to accommodate multiple-choice tests, but he found that university departments set qualitative, not quantitative goals for students. (Personally, I am not weighing in on the political issue here. I am saying, however, that the politicians have taken an educational issue out of the hands of educators who should be in charge of these issues, certainly from the standpoint of curriculum continuity.)

  7. says

    Last post and I am going to stop wasting my time and have a great home made dinner! My brother graduated from IU law school in 1977. He was cleaning out his office (the firm was moving) and he pulled out his first hand written brief. No PC’s back in 1977 and he was amazed of how well it was written and researched. He told me the briefs he reads from the new young associates and attorney’s were badly written and with grammatical errors that make him shiver. They rely on Microsoft word to fix their errors and rarely proof read them. There are still young people in the law profession that understand how to use and write well in the English language but they have taken it upon them self or had a great teacher or mentor that taught them how to write. With kids sending thousands of text messages daily it is easy to see how our language is being dumbed down. I went to a retirement party were the lady had put in 37 years with our company. She was tech savy and was involved in every department and did a tremendous job. I was curious (her older brother was extremely smart) and asked her who won in scrabble her or her brother. She said she never played because she was horrible with spelling and language. So don’t worry if your kid not the best when it comes to English, they may be business or tech savy instead!

Leave a Reply