Michigan: Students have no right to literacy

Literacy is not a fundamental right, argues the State of Michigan. The state is fighting a lawsuit charging Detroit schools are so bad they deny children a chance to learn to read, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Only a small percentage of Detroit students read proficiently.

Only a small percentage of Detroit students read proficiently.

“As important as literacy may be, the United States Supreme Court has unambiguously rejected the claim that public education is a fundamental right under the Constitution,” the state lawyers argue. “Literacy is a component or particular outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the Constitution.”

The lawsuit filed Sept. 13 on behalf of seven Detroit schoolchildren claims the State of Michigan has failed to provide them with basic literacy, a foundation of all education and a precursor to active citizenship. It asks the federal courts to order remedies, including “evidence-based literacy reforms,” a systemic approach to instruction and intervention as well as fixes to crumbling Detroit schools.

The suit argues that literacy “is a right because without it, citizens can’t access other constitutionally protected activities such as casting an informed vote, or serving on juries or in the military,” reports the Free Press.

Detroit, which has been run by state-appointed managers in recent years, is one of the lowest performing urban districts in the nation. Overall, fewer than 5 percent of students test as proficient.

Nearly half of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate, according to a 2011 report.

The Detroit Free Press has launched a series looking for solutions to the crime, abuse, poverty, neglect and school failure that affects the city’s children.

Learning to fall down


Japanese children ride unicycles without helmets or kneepads.  Photo: Ko Sasaki/New York Times

Japanese elementary schools supply “unicycles, bamboo stilts, hula hoops and other equipment that promotes balance and core strength,” reports the New York Times. Kids play, fall and get back up without protective gear or adult supervision.

During a recent morning recess at Kyuden Elementary School in the Setagaya ward of Tokyo, children raced to a rack of more than 80 unicycles with brightly colored wheels and began riding around the sand and gravel playground.

Some children were just learning, clinging to monkey bars or the shoulders of friends. Others sped fluidly across the playground for more than 20 yards at a time. Pairs of girls twirled around, arm in arm and perfectly balanced. Several girls rode unicycles close to four and a half feet tall.

Children learn on their own or to teach one another to ride unicycles, says the vice principal.

Riding unicycles is part of a culture that urges elementary school-age children to do things on their own, including taking the subway or walking around city neighborhoods.

“I see kids being challenged and encouraged to do things that I have never seen kids encouraged to do in the U.S.,” said Matthew Thibeault, an American who teaches at a middle school affiliated with Toyama University on the west coast of Japan, “and a lot of equipment that would be considered risky.”

Via Ann Althouse who quotes Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid— about being an American kid the 1950s:

In such a world, injuries and other physical setbacks were actually welcomed. If you got a splinter you could pass an afternoon, and attract a small devoted audience, seeing how far you could insert a needle under your skin—how close you could get to actual surgery. If you got sunburned you looked forward to the moment when you could peel off a sheet of translucent epidermis that was essentially the size of your body. Scabs in Kid World were cultivated the way older people cultivate orchids. I had knee scabs that I kept for up to four years, that were an inch and three-quarters thick and into which you could press thumbtacks without rousing my attention.

In Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, a 1930 book set in England’s Lake District, children ranging in age from seven to (maybe) 11 or 12 want to sail to an island and camp out for several weeks. Their father, a Naval or Merchant Marine officer, telegraphs his permission: “Better drowned than duffers if not duffers won’t drown.”

Updating Thanksgiving

Jimmy Kimmel’s Thanksgiving Pageant is updated for modern sensitivities.

History is a mystery

Fourth-graders at the New Hampshire Historical Society Photo: Jason Moon/NHPR

Each year, fourth graders visit the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord as part of their study of state history. It used to be a “capstone” field trip, said Elizabeth Dubrulle, the society’s director of education. Now it’s a substitute for the history education most no longer receive in the classroom.

“We used to employ a very Socratic method with the kids,” she told NHPR reporter Jason Moon. “We would try keeping them engaged by asking a lot of questions, drawing on what they knew. We had to change that because we would ask questions and it would be crickets. They didn’t know. They weren’t getting the background.”

Dubrulle and the museum teachers give examples of the “history deficit.”

. . . students who named ISIS as America’s enemy in the Revolutionary War or who were unable to name the president during the Civil War.“

. . . “We’ve had kids from Manchester schools, who when they came through our field have trip said they had no idea there were mills in Manchester. They had no idea what those brick buildings were that they saw everywhere.”

The society is creating a free, online curriculum on New Hampshire history for fourth graders.

It’s not just a New Hampshire problem, according to Knowledge Matters. Elementary students devote 85 minutes a day to language arts, but just 18 minutes a day to social studies. (And social studies may not mean history or civics.)

Most elite universities don’t require history majors to study U.S. history or government, complains George Will, citing an American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) study.

Who he?

Who he?

Others let students satisfy the requirement with “micro-history” courses such as “Hip-Hop, Politics and Youth Culture in America” (University of Connecticut), and “Jews in American Entertainment” (University of Texas).

More than a third of college graduates couldn’t identify Franklin Roosevelt as the architect of the New Deal in a recent ACTA survey. Nearly half did not know the lengths of the terms of U.S. senators and representatives.

Happy Thanksgiving

Ravinia Elementary students sang We Gather Together every fall, at least in my day. I remember learning the meaning of “chasten” and trying not to hiss too much in “oppressing” and “distressing.”

Here’s a link to Thanksgiving History from Plimoth Plantation.

Have a good day.

E pluribus Trump

Celebrating our various racial, ethnic, gender and sexual identities has prevented liberalism from “becoming a unifying force capable of governing,” writes Mark Lilla, a Columbia humanities professor, in the New York Times. “Identity liberalism” put Donald Trump in the White House, he argues.

On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton “called out to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop,” Lilla writes. Those left out felt excluded.

Schools encourage children to “talk about their individual identities, even before they have them,” he writes.

High school history curriculums “anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country.”

When young people arrive at college they are encouraged to keep this focus on themselves by student groups, faculty members and also administrators whose full-time job is to deal with — and heighten the significance of — “diversity issues.”

Lilla concludes: Teachers should “refocus attention on their main political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their system of government and the major forces and events in our history.”

Lilla’s op-ed is “making white supremacy respectable,” writes Katherine Franke, a law professor who directs Columbia’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. She compares her colleague to Klansman David Duke.

It’s time to teach civics

It’s now or never for civic education, argues Robert Pondiscio, who’s taught civics at a Democracy Prep high school in New York City.

In an informal study of the mission statements of the 100 largest U.S. school systems, he found 60 percent didn’t mention civics or citizenship. Not one used the word “America,” “American,” “patriotic” or “patriotism.” Twenty-eight districts used “global” in phrases such as “global society,” “global economy” or “global citizens.”

Image result for letter from a birmingham jail

College Board’s redesigned framework for Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics requires students to read “19 Supreme Court cases and nine foundational documents, from Federalist No. 10 to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Pondiscio writes. That requires a high level of literacy.

Serious civic education also requires teachers who can teach well and fairly, he writes. “Fears of teacher bias are not misplaced and surely make district officials gun-shy about any political course content, but that squeamishness is a luxury we can no longer afford.”

Teachers are promoting anti-Trump hysteria, charges Larry Sand on Union Watch.  United Educators of San Francisco issued a “Lesson Plan on the 2016 Election” as a guide for teachers. It includes:

DO NOT: Tell them that we have LOST and that we have to accept this.  We do not have to accept ANYTHING except that we must and will fight for justice against an unjust system and against unjust people.

If Clinton was your choice, “you did lose and you do have to accept it,” Sand points out.

So, who’s going to teach civics and government?

How to do vocational ed right

Finland does vocational education right, writes Elizabeth A. Radday in Education Week. Ninth graders choose an academic or vocational high school: Nearly half choose the vocational path. It’s not considered the second-class track, writes Radday, who spent six months in Finland on a Fulbright.

Students at the Lahti circus school.

Students work on a certificate in “circus arts” at a school in Lahti, Finland.

Vocational schools offer certificates in a wide range of fields from plumbing and electricity to “tourism, business and entrepreneurship, health services, natural resources, technology, social services, and catering,” Radday writes. She visited a school where students learn to be circus performers.

Each year, vocational students spend at least six to eight weeks as apprentices. Employers are willing to provide training and evaluation.

After earning a certificate, typically at age 19, young people can find a job, train for a higher-level certificate or pursue a degree at a university of applied sciences. Those who wish can take the admissions exam for entry to a traditional university.

“College for all” has been the U.S. mantra for a long time now. Yet only a minority will complete a college degree. Few high schools offer high-quality vocational education and even fewer link students to apprenticeships.

The Obama administration tried to promote partnerships between employers, high schools and community colleges. I hope Trump’s education people can go farther to strengthen career-tech education and end the college (or nothing)-for-all philosophy.

Apprenticeships are expensive for employers — but worth it, reports New America’s Michael Prebil. A new federal report, The Benefits and Costs of Apprenticeship: A Business Perspective, discusses 13 case studies.

All equity all the time: Something’s missing 

Image result for lopsided appleEducation’s center “is two standard deviations to the left of the American public,” argues Rick Hess in Education Next. Most people in education don’t engage with conservatives or even see them.

“Equity” is “the organizing principle of K-12 school improvement,” he writes. Other virtues, such as “liberty, personal responsibility, and community,” which can conflict with equity, are ignored.

“The fierce conflict between the reform’ camp and the union-establishment” is really “between two wings of the Democratic Party,” he writes.

The “reformers” have mostly been passionate, Great Society liberals who believe in closing “achievement gaps” and pursuing “equity” via charter schooling, teacher evaluation, the Common Core, and test-based accountability. And their opponents have been the Democratic Party’s more traditional, New Deal wing. Other than occasional guest appearances by the likes of centrist Republicans such as Jeb Bush and Lamar Alexander, this has mostly been an intramural fight.

The key to making sense of this is that when Republicans have gotten into the ring — by overhauling collective bargaining (in Wisconsin) or passing universal Education Savings Accounts (in Nevada) — it’s generally been met with unified opposition from reform and union Dems.

Those on the left “frame every policy and debate in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender,” writes Hess. They see “talk of colorblindness or religious freedom” as “an excuse for implicit bias and oppression.”

Those on the right “experience calls for diversity and inclusion as efforts to police speech, suppress religious freedom, and condemn dissent,” he warns.

Underestimating the other guys — or not even knowing they’re out there — can have bad consequences.

On the ‘Edge of 17’

Edge of Seventeen, a new coming-of-age movie, is getting very good reviews.

Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine plays an odd duck worried about losing her best friend to her golden boy brother. Nadine connects with her history teacher (Woody Harrelson), in what Ed Week calls a 1980s high school movie for the social media generation. There’s also the nice guy who wants to be more than friends.