Last week I became one of ‘those’ people.
Researching genealogy has relied on family stories, written diaries, and documents. Now it has the truth. DNA. DNA doesn’t lie, it just gives you the facts. Unbiased, unwavering, insensitive facts.
People talk about the dangers of using DNA to research genealogy. DNA might reveal that the stories, diaries, and documents sometimes lie. Sometimes, even a birth certificate lies because the people who created it were there for the birth, not the conception.
On 23 January 2017, I became one of those people who found out that the DNA test disproved everything I had been led to believe about who I was, and to what family I belonged. I found out that the man who raised me as his son, was not my father.
Six decades ago, my mother became pregnant with a man known to her and our family. I was born in December of that year. I looked enough like my mother, that it probably wasn’t too difficult to sell the idea that I was the legitimate child of my father. In addition, the man we believe to be my father was tragically killed in an accident when I was five, so I didn’t really have a chance to interact with him as I grew up.
If it were not for the DNA test, I would have never known…until one of my children took a DNA test. Truth can be relentless.
What Do You Say to the Half-Son?
The news was unreal, then surreal, then it got strange. There is no way to describe how it feels to have a fundamental truth about yourself suddenly proven wrong. The displacement of my reality was not a sudden shock, but a creeping wave of unrest and confusion.
Some people might have been hesitant to share this information with others. Those people hate me. I’m not a private or secretive person, and after I realized that I had lived a lie for almost sixty years, I was determined to end the secret as quickly as possible.
Most of the immediate family members of both families have passed away, so other than ‘honor’ of both families, and the memories of the people involved, this was a matter that impacted me and my children. While trying to be sensitive to both families, I posted the news on Facebook.
Mostly, the reaction was stunned silence. I found out later that many people had read the post, but what do you say to someone in my position? I’m willing to bet even Hallmark doesn’t have a card for this situation.
The reaction was typically positive and supportive. There was a suggestion that the DNA test might be wrong, and a couple of people began suggesting that the affair might not have been consensual. I gave a terse response to one of those comments and deleted it.
One of the first questions that occurred to me was, “Who knew, and when did they know it.” It is somewhat of a pointless exercise because most people have passed on, and those still alive who may have known are not likely to implicate themselves in the deception.
I am confident my mother knew, or strongly suspected I was not her husband’s child. Several reactions and responses to questions about my family history seemed indicate she was deliberately vague and at times, almost disruptive to my research.
Among the most obvious oddities was her insistence that my fraternal grandfather was half to three quarters Native American. This was almost always followed by a reference that my coloring, (brown hair, brown eyes, and dark complexion) was Native American. The last time she made this reference, my brother had already proven that as far back to 1803, and beyond there was no Native American blood in the Kiser or Warner family.
The Brutality of Deception
Deception is an insidious malady. The bigger the deception, the more it infects a person’s sense of well being. I can’t imagine what my mother experienced during a lifetime of keeping this deception going, especially when the man who was most likely my real father died. His sudden death, mixed with the probability he was my father, could not have created a more chaotic mix of emotions for my mother.
As I became an adult I tried to analyze my mother and father’s relationship. It was clear that they were not in a positive emotional relationship. To me it felt more like they were performing the expected roles, but not with any emotional connection. It’s possible that was their behavior around me, but I suspect it was noticed by others.
My interactions with my mother were typically civil, but I would never have considered them warm. I don’t think she treated my brothers any different. That was who she was as a mother.
However, now I have to wonder if she saw me as the child that added complications in her life. Did my presence create a psychological conflict within her? Did she fear that other people might have known and were talking behind her back?
I can’t imagine what would have happened if the truth would have come out when I was a child, and perhaps it was best for everyone that it didn’t come out, but the collateral damage of maintaining a deception likely affected my mother’s relationships with my father, with the family, and with me. I am disturbed that she didn’t respect me enough to tell me at some point. To deny me the truth was unfair to me and my children.
The lesson of this is that deception can be as destructive as the truth. My mother may have believed she escaped the consequences of her situation by lying and maintaining that lie, but I don’t believe she did. I think she created a hole in her life, and now a lot of people are falling in that hole.
But now it is time to move forward. It is strange, but my last name feels like I am lying every time I say it. I feel I have to say, “My name is Paul Kiser, but actually I’m not a Kiser by blood.” I don’t think I’ll do that when I go through immigration next week, but still, the impulse is there.
Fortunately, my children, and the children of the other family are intrigued by the new family history. As offsetting as this is in the old world of hiding shame and embarrassment, the new world doesn’t end when someone’s decades old indiscretions come to light.
And this is where the story begins.
Pokémon GO has announced its Christmas/New Years events and players were served coal in their stockings. It’s clear the people at Niantic are out to teach their customers about having expectations, and they want to end any hope for trainers that the game will become reenergized.
The stunning game of the Summer of 2016 has been replaced by an anemic and expensive app that rapidly drains the phone battery, insults players, and rewards loyalty with false hopes. Those loyal players have kept a belief that Niantic was committed to keeping the game interesting, and that by the end of the year there would be scores of new characters in the field to seek and capture.
Instead, we discovered that the naysayers who pitied us for playing a game that they felt was a waste of time, were correct. The Pokémon GO game has become Pong.
Niantic’s cruel trick of December 12 was doubled down with the anti-event for the end of the year. Not only did Niantic fail to add new characters in the field…AGAIN, they took away the double point bonus of the Halloween and Thanksgiving events.
I’m embarrassed by my support for Pokémon GO. I thought Niantic was a company who appreciated their customers, and were keenly aware of what had to happen to keep their loyal players and bring back their old ones, but I was completely wrong. I apologize to former players who I mislead. Niantic is not going to reenergize the game, and it is a waste of time.
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“What we got here is a failure to communicate“
Prison Warden in Cool Hand Luke
Organizations should use extreme caution in employing anyone over forty-five for handling public image and public relations. I fall into that bracket and I’ve been studying social media since 2007, but I only know enough to understand that most ‘professionals’ of the traditional media don’t have a clue when it comes to communicating information to people in this century.
Traditional media professionals reminisce about the glory days when the game was to be on good terms with the editor of the local newspapers, have drinks with the news directors of the local television stations, and talk shop with the other local public relations (PR) directors at the bigger companies. Those were the days when a phone call could land a big story for the local news that would launch a new product or service. Top management would pat the PR guy on the back (or on the butt if the person was female) and tell him or her what a great job they did.
Those days are over.
The Internet, Facebook, customer reviews, Twitter, Yelp, and a thousand other media channels severely wounded traditional media and the old ways are never coming back. Yet, talk to an old PR person and say that nothing has really changed. It’s all about who you know. Old PR people don’t have a clue at how silly they sound.
I was at a school board meeting for a public charter school last week where a self-professed ‘expert’ in public relations announced that she was at a conference and learned that people no longer used websites to obtain information. She said that parents of school-age children only paid attention to Facebook and Instagram.
It should be noted, and that the school’s website is one of the worst on the Internet, and that the school is known for its severe deficiency in communicating information to parents.
Public Communication 2015
As part of the out-of-touch generation, take my advice with a grain of sodium chloride, or whatever water retaining additive you choose, but here is what I have learned in the past eight years.
It is true that many people from different generations tend to engage in social media at varying levels; however, there is no one single media that can reach everyone regardless of their generation. Education level, social economic status, and language all play a role in where people gather information. To declare that there are one or two media sources that parents of school-age children rely on is arrogant at best, and more likely, ignorant.
Any organization’s strategy has to be to use every possible form of media delivery to reach the stakeholders. In the case of a school, information has to be delivered through student folders, phone call announcements, in-school announcements, school website, parent emails, mail, Public Service Announcements (PSA,) school’s Facebook page, etc. Information must also be repeated in order to reach people when they’re listening. A single Facebook post is like going to a street corner at 6:00 AM and yelling out information and then assuming that everyone who passes by that street corner that day will hear the message.
But just sending out the same message through all the channels is ineffective. Social media channels are best used as a ‘reminder’ or ‘alert’ forum with a link back to one source (e.g.; the school website.) Long posts on Facebook make the information less likely to be read both now and in the future. Short posts with a link to more information for those interested is the most efficient method of delivery.
The website is NOT dead. In fact, it is more vital than ever. A charter school’s website is an information source for those considering enrolling their children, a primary source for parents for detailed information, and it establishes the public image for the school. A Facebook page is vital, and if you have a brilliant administration, Twitter can be the inside source for parents who want to know the inside scoop of what is happening now, but the school website will always be the 24/7/365 place for vital information.
It will take a decade or more to weed out the old PR professionals who live in the past; however, it doesn’t take a sixteen-year-old to know when someone doesn’t understand how to communicate in this century. If the stakeholders say they are not being adequately informed, it’s obvious the organization has a problem.
Incentive programs are the tip of the sword in organizational suicide. They are often designed by people who believe that there is a single cause leading to a positive effect in achievement. The reality is that life isn’t that simple. Here are three examples of incentive program fails:
EXAMPLE 1 – Retaining Major Customers
ISSUE: A business owner loses a major customer and believes that it was because his employees weren’t responsive enough to the major customer’s needs.
INCENTIVE: The owner creates and incentive program that rewards employees for being more attentive to major customers. (Potential measures: Major customer satisfaction surveys, increase in revenue from major customers, response time data.)
EFFECT: Some employees learn how to gain the favor of the major customer through unethical tactics: i.e. kickbacks, access to inside information about the major customer’s competition, sacrificing minor customers in order to be more attentive to major customers, giving more product or service to the major customers and charging it to minor customers, etc.
RESULT: The owner finds out that some unethical employees look like superstars to the major customers, while ethical employees seem to be failures. Minor customers, a primary source of new revenue, leave for competitors leaving the company with a few major customers that demand special treatment.
EXAMPLE 2 – Improving Student Performance
ISSUE: Recognizing and reinforcing good student behavior and educational achievement.
INCENTIVE: Teachers are given special reward tokens to give to students who display good behavior, or who perform exceptionally on class or homework assignments. Students with the most tokens are given a special reward at the end of the school year.
EFFECT: Some teachers give out tokens liberally and gain favor with the students. Some teachers attempt to ethically administer the program, but find that they are not consistent in giving out tokens to the students for similar positive events. Some teachers do not buy into the incentive program and rarely give out tokens.
RESULT: High performing students discover that their behavior and achievements is subject to different evaluators who create an reward system that is not objective. Students who are recognized feel superior to other students, and other high performing students become angry, frustrated, and discouraged.
EXAMPLE 3 – Improving Productivity
ISSUE: Motivate management to improve to eliminate wasted time and resources.
INCENTIVE: Financial bonuses for top managers who have higher output per employee and/or expenses, OR have lower cost per dollar of revenue.
EFFECT: Managers discover that by making salaried employees work longer hours and not replacing old equipment as needed, they can look more productive. Employees may not like working with broken or outdated equipment, or be required to work longer hours, but that is not what is measured, so it is irrelevant to the manager.
RESULT: Other indicators (high turnover, loss of customers, etc.) might indicate a failure of the manager in performing his or her duty; however, because the incentive is to improve productivity, those factors are ignored. The manager looks like a superstar and yet the division or department has severe morale issues and is a business failure.
Why Incentive Programs Fail
Despite the popular idea that incentive programs are a good motivational tool, there are four reasons why they are not.
Organizational success is not a science, but an art
Incentive plans are based on the old idea that the ends justify the means. True organizational success is all about the ‘means’ and the success comes only after multiple factors combine. Organizational success often can’t be repeated because it was contingent on the talents of key team members who brought key talents or skills into the formula of success.
Cause and effect are rarely in a one-to-one relationship
Whatever is defined as the positive outcome, people will find multiple ways to achieve the desired goal, regardless of ethics.
People are not ethical by nature
Incentive programs encourage unethical behavior. The goal is assumed to be the highest priority and that is tacit approval to some that anything goes as long as the goal is met or exceeded.
Some organizations intend the incentive program to encourage unethical behavior
Executives cannot tell their employees to be unethical, but they can create the environment that fosters unethical behavior in pursuit of the indicators of success. This protects the company and puts all the risk on the employees.
Incentive = Manipulation
People who design incentive programs explain that the intent is to reward good behavior, and they fail to complete the sentence, “through manipulation.” Manipulation requires a lack of respect. Most people want to do the right thing and don’t need to be tricked into doing it. It is possible that unethical behavior is stimulated by incentive programs because the person feels disrespected by the use of manipulation and responds by obtaining the reward while sabotaging the program.
The Need For An Incentive Program?
Organizations that need an incentive program indicate a failure in leadership. Any business or school should know who its best performers without an artificial measurement program in place to identify them. In addition, any organization should have an ongoing effort to recognize and reward the best performers. Leadership that is effective in celebrating success will be setting the example for others without manipulation through an artificial program that disrespects people and will likely be vulnerable to unfair evaluation and unethical behavior.
The parent always correct. That is the basis of free-range parenting. The idea that a parent should be allowed to do whatever they want, including nothing, with their children.
I grew up in rural northwestern Colorado. The idea of ‘free-range’ is common in farming communities where it refers to animals. It means the rancher allows his animals to roam on open land, usually federal land and expends minimal personal resources on the care and maintenance of his or her livestock until it’s time to round them up for sale. The expectation is that some of the animals will be lost to predators, but the money saved by not feeding and watering them is worth the risk.
In parenting, ‘free-range’ is applied to the children of the mother and father. The concept is that children of almost any age will mature faster as unsupervised survivalists than under the care and monitoring of an adult. It is as stupid as it sounds.
This idea gained national awareness when Rafi, a ten-year-old boy, and Dvora his six-year-old sister were picked up by law enforcement when they were reported to be unsupervised about a mile from home. They are children of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv who believe that their children should be allowed to roam free on streets and in parks in order to learn the lessons that life offers. The parents have been charged with child neglect.
The real issue with free-range parenting is not one of parenting style. Parenting style requires that you actually take the responsibility to be a parent, which free-range parents don’t. Free-range parenting can be compared to having something of infinite value entrusted to someone, for which they go to the back door and throw it as far away has possible.
The critical issue with free-range parenting is assuming that children are born with an automatic sense of right and wrong. They are not. Children learn good behavior and they learn it from the human examples around them. Left on their own, many children experiment with cruelty and seek to satisfy baser desires, especially when one child is older and/or stronger than another child.
Parents have to constantly guide children to understand the concepts of boundaries, respect, kindness, responsibility, and humility. Often children battle against parents when told that certain behaviors and/or actions are not acceptable, but as a child matures they begin to understand that parents are acting out of love in teaching proper social behavior. They understand this, often because they see other people around them who lacked proper parental supervision and who are social failures as an adult.
A free-range parent is also setting themselves up for failure. The child will soon discover that the more they stay away from the parents, the less hassle they will experience, so the detach themselves emotionally from the parent. Once a child has found the parent to be irrelevant the opportunity for the parent to offer advice and guidance is lost forever.
This week my son’s Elementary school is engaged in a venture into the world of Harry Potter. The teachers of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades have divided the students into the four Houses of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is an opportunity to look back on the single person who created a series of fictional children’s books that revitalized reading for millions of people of all ages.
Any story of great personal success is characterized by being the correct person, in the correct place, at the correct time. That is a requirement. The story of J. K. Rowling is more compelling for why she was the correct person.
Her birth name is Joanne Rowling and she uses “Jo” in casual environments. She has no given middle name but was asked by her publisher to disguise her name so that young boys would not know that Harry Potter was written by a woman. Since she had no middle name she used her grandmother’s name, ‘Kathleen,’ and thus became, “J. K. Rowling (her last name is pronounced, ‘rolling.’)
Rowling accomplished the unthinkable. At a time when reading books was declining and the Internet was blossoming, the idea that one person could ignite a renaissance of book reading was considered absurd. Rowling’s first publisher told her to get a day job because writing children’s books would never provide enough income.
Like William Shakespeare, there is no significant indicator in Rowling’s pre-Potter life of her eventual rise to the top of the literary world. Still, there are earlier experiences that probably contributed to her success. Among them are the following:
- Her parents met at King’s Cross Station in London, which became the fictional departure point for the fictional train station departure point to Hogwarts. [Potter influences]
- As a child she was known to write out a story and read it to her sister, Dianne. [Early fiction writing]
- Her mother, Anne, was a science technician and also taught science at the Secondary school that Rowling attended. [Priority of education]
- She speaks English, French and studied German in Secondary school. [Broad-based education]
- She read and is an admirer of Jessica Mitford, a British-turned-American journalist, author, and political activist. [Ethics, writing, and honor]
- She has a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in French and the Classics from the University of Exeter. [Writing and knowledge]
- She studied a year in Paris. [Broad-based education]
- She taught English in Portugal [Life experience]
- Her mother had multiple sclerosis (MS) and died while she was writing her first Harry Potter book. [Life experience]
- Rowling suffered from depression triggered by several life events (Unemployed, her mother’s death, her divorce, etc.) [Life experience]
The idea for Harry Potter apparently came in 1990, during a four-hour train delay to London. She began writing as soon as she reached home and among the first chapters written was the final chapter of the last book. The first book was not finished until 1995. It was submitted and rejected by twelve publishers before it was finally accepted by Bloomsbury Publishing in England the follow year.
She went from living off of State benefits to a millionaire in five years. Since then, she has devoted a large portion of her fortune to philanthropic causes.
Though remarkable, Rowling’s financial success is not as significant as what she did for slowing the decline of children reading for fun during the period her books were published (1996-2007.) According to a study by Common Sense Media, 9-year-olds reading for fun at least one to two per week dropped only one percent from 1984 to 2004; however, by 2012 that dropped by another four percent (76% in 2012.) For 13-year-olds the decline in reading for fun from 1984 to 2004, was six percent, but that decline nearly doubled five years after the last Harry Potter book was published (down an additional eleven percent in 2012 to 53%.)
No one, including possibly Rowling, herself, could have expected anyone to capture a worldwide audience, as did the Harry Potter series. She brought new readers into the literary market that had no interest in reading. Her unexpected achievement is a reminder that what is possible extends beyond the impossible.
PART III: An Answer to the Question: Good? or Bad?
In the past year significant political forces have targeted Common Core. The protests have been at near hysterical levels in many communities around the country. The complaints about Common Core are as follows:
- Standards create a factory-like environment that attempt to put all students in one ‘box.’
- Teachers focusing on test scores, not educational achievement
- Parents don’t understand math methods
- United States history under Common Core is un-American because it includes both positive and negative aspects of the history of our country
- A belief that parents should define school curriculum, not the school, district, state, or federal government
- A belief that President Obama is behind the implementation of Common Core and other conservative conspiracy theories
Many of the issues have been generated by conservative voices after a push by Republicans during the past election cycle to ignite anger and votes against public education. Almost all of the complaints would have occurred from any attempt to improve and refine American educational techniques, especially when those improvements involve standardization for all American schools.
If you believe that setting minimum standards in reading, writing, and math is bad, then Common Core is bad. If you believe that children in your community should graduate with similar skills to other students around the country, then Common Core is good. If you believe that a high school degree should be the end of a person’s education, then Common Core is bad. If you believe that every student should receive an education that would prepare them for college, then Common Core is good.
THE REAL PROBLEM
Despite the politicizing of Common Core, there is a real issue in implementing any change in education. Funding.
Any business that seeks to upgrade or improve their methods knows that there is a real cost to any change. Yet, even smart business people seem to forget that to improve our educational system requires a major funding commitment. It takes money to research and establish new programs. It takes money to train school districts, principals, and teachers. It takes money to create new teaching materials, and it takes money to educate parents.
What Common Core is missing is the funding needed to make it a success. Until we can accept the fact that a commitment to education requires a commitment to funding, then we will continue using 20th educational techniques in a 21st century world. America’s efforts to update our educational system will cost money and Common Core is a victim of a society that has abandon quality education because it costs too much.
THE HYSTERIA OF THE LOUDEST VOICES
Unfortunately, Common Core lost a lot of support in the past twelve months. Much of that was due to the political rhetoric during last year’s campaigns, but some teachers are also pulling back support. This is not surprising. As parents become more vocal in opposition, few teachers are willing to oppose parent sentiment even if they are wrong.
Common Core is not a perfect educational system, but it does attempt to better prepare America’s children for a higher level of achievement. Most of the real issues can be resolved with better funding. Just as a school built in the 1950’s is no longer relevant for 2015, education methods of the pre-information era are not relevant today. Our population is continuing to increase and the skills our children must have to thrive as adults are going to advance. Education is going to be expensive, but if we don’t pay now, we will pay more later.
PART TWO: What is Common Core?
The Third Generation of Standardized Education
The basic premise of the George W. Bush (43rd President) administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandate was that reading, writing, and math are fundamental to all learning. This is a sound concept; however, these basic skills cannot supplant other subjects traditionally taught in K-12 schools, nor can they be isolated from those subjects. Our society, both business and personal interactions, require an adequate understanding of a wide variety skills and knowledge that exceed the basic skills of reading, writing, and math.
Common Core is an attempt to refine the concept of NCLB by creating standards for all schools that focus on reading, writing, and math, but it also folds these skills into other subjects that impact personal success in the 21st century. Common Core emphasizes teaching methods and outcomes, but leaves it to the State, school district, and school on how to incorporate the program into the curriculum.
Why Some Parents Dislike Common Core Math
Some of the methods adopted by Common Core have angered parents and politicians. In particular, the approach to teaching math. The math issue centers on bewildered parents who don’t understand the revised math teaching methods and why equations seem to be more complicated than when they attended school. The assumption by parents is that whatever they were taught is good enough for their children; however, that is not necessarily true.
Almost every adult in this country was taught that the symbol for a number (e.g.; ‘7’) was everything we needed to know about the number that it represents. We were taught to memorize how the symbol ‘7’ multiplied by the symbol ‘9’ equals the symbol ’63.’ That teaching method does not mean that the student understands that ‘7,’ ‘9,’ and ’63’ are symbols representing a group of objects.
This is a subtle, but important understanding in math functions. The equation ‘7 x 9 = 63,’ means that we are taking a group of seven objects, adding eight more groups of seven, and determining the total of objects. That is much more complicated than just memorizing that 7 x 9 = 63, but it helps us realize that multiplication is a shortcut to manually counting out 63 objects individual, rather than grouping them.
The weakness of memorization of relationships between symbols also creates confusion as a student moves into higher mathematical equations. In algebra, geometry, and calculus the numeral symbols become less relevant. For example, X = (X+1) and Y = (X-3) can be confusing because ‘X’ stands for EVERY number.
The Credit Card Example
A man is given ten credit cards, but he is NOT told that each credit card represents an amount of money in the bank and, that if used, the money is replenished the next day. He is told how to use each credit card. One card is to buy gas, one to use at the grocery store, etc. Today, he’s at the gas station and it so happened that two of his friends are already there. He decides to pay for his friend’s fuel, which they appreciate. They go on their way, but when he tries to pay for his fuel, the credit card is declined. He didn’t understand that the card represented a limited amount of money, he just assumed it could be used for any amount of fuel. That is similar to how math has been taught in the past. We may have known what to do with the numbers (symbols,) but we may not have fully understood that numbers are just symbols.
Good News, Bad News
Parents objections to the new math teaching methods are a good sign that our children are gaining a deeper understanding of mathematics than their parents did in school; however, parents need to be able to assist their children with homework.¹ This means parents need to be taught the new methods, but few if any schools have developed programs to teach parents because there is no funding available to accomplish the task.
Who Came Up With the Common Core Math Techniques?
Despite the belief that Common Core math techniques were invented in the past few years, the techniques were modeled off educational programs in certain Asian countries where they have been more successful at preparing students for college. In 2009, a coalition of State Governors and Educators worked together to build an educational program that would serve as a ‘best practices’ guide for American schools, which was the birth of Common Core.
¹Most studies indicate that students perform better when parents are involved in their children’s education. At the very least it indicates to the child that their parents place a high value on becoming educated.
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PART I: A Primer in American Education
Who’s Afraid of Common Core?
Education in America is often the centerpiece of someone’s agenda, and the newest chapter of the how-to-fix-our-schools controversy is called Common Core. Conservatives have apparently decided that Common Core is the path to Satan. Liberals have reservations about Common Core because it smacks of a factory-like environment that assumes every student and school is the same.
The problem is that the most vocal critics of Common Core have no authority to speak on effective educational methods. Common Core is a significant paradigm shift in education, and opinions of untrained, uneducated, unhelpful ‘experts’ do nothing to move forward the debate on how best to prepare our children for Life 3.0.
The Cost of Achievement
In 1950, only one-third of the population in the United States had a high school degree or better, and only six percent had a college degree or better. In 2010, almost ninety percent of Americans had at least a high school degree, and thirty percent had at least a college degree. That increase is impressive, but what is astounding is that in the same sixty year time frame, America’s population doubled.
To accomplish that feat cost money. A lot of money. As the bandwagon to attack government spending gained steam, education loomed large in the sights of conservatives. The real cost of the success of American educational achievement has been to become a target of the post-Reagan agenda.
A Historical Perspective
In the pre-Information age, schools were isolated in their own districts. How well the students of any given school performed was a local issue, not a state or national issue. In addition, a relatively small percentage of students sought out a college degree, and there were few school districts keeping track of college bound students.
The goal for most school districts in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s was graduate as many students as possible, which sometimes opened the door to unethical practices, such as giving diplomas to students who clearly did not meet reasonable expectations (ability to read, write, etc.) to graduate.
However, by the 1990’s, the idea that all schools in the United States should be able to measure academic success through a unified set of academic standards began to take hold. As the Internet became the backbone of our society, the resulting information explosion forced us to accept that adequate math and reading skills were vital for success as an adult in a technologically advanced society.
First Generation of Educational Standards
By the beginning of this century, plans had been put into motion to establish a set of educational standards for all schools and testing of all students to determine a school’s success or failure. Under President George W. Bush, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB,) was mandated and it required States to establish standardized testing, teacher qualifications, and annual academic progress reporting. This was one of the most sweeping federal intrusions into public education. The primary focus of NCLB was to improve reading, writing, and mathematics in schools nationwide, while allowing States to establish the educational standards that would have to be met.
The catch was that rather than investing in those schools that needed help, No Child Left Behind focused on punishing schools that didn’t meet the artificial standards. Almost ever reputable educational review of NCLB has given it a failing grade. Some of the reasons are as follows:
- The emphasis on reading, writing, and math during a time when States were cutting funds for kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) created a shearing effect on other programs (language, history, music, arts, etc.) as money had to be reallocated to the studies under the NCLB Act.
- Politicians had little understanding of education and the variables in a classroom environment and they attempted to apply factory-like operations to school systems that failed to address the real issues that impact the ability to learn.
- NCLB assumed that teachers were mostly at fault for poor educational performance and politicians sought to intervene by imposing punishments for schools rather than actually acting in the best interest of the students.
- The education of higher performing students was sacrificed in order to devote more resources for the poorer performing students.
- Students with special needs were not excluded from the testing standards creating a population of students that automatically counted as failing against the school.
Educational Standards – Second Generation
Soon after taking office, the Obama administration began to move away from NCLB by introducing “Race to the Top.” This program flipped NCLB by seeking to reward States for adopting standardized programs rather than punishing them for not meeting federal standards. States competed for additional federal education funding; however, not every State rushed to play the game that offered no guarantee of financial carrot at the finish line.
The most searing problem with Obama’s Race to the Top program may have been the requirement that a teacher’s performance had to be linked to the student’s test scores. This concept of Pay For Performance suggests that teaching professionals must be threatened with a financial stick, forcing teachers to teach students to be successful on the tests by sacrificing all other educational values. It also discourages teachers from working with groups of challenging students who will not be able to produce the test results of more privileged and economically stable students.
NEXT: Part II: What is Common Core?
To be published Wednesday, 25 March, 0700 PDT/1400 UTC
NEXT NEXT: Part III: An Answer to the Question – Good? or Bad?
To be published Wednesday, 25 March, 1200 PDT/1900 UTC