Saturday, February 6, 2010

Flores: How Do the United Nations Frame the Case for Public Education

The Perimeter Primate is pleased to post this piece by Sergio Flores. Sergio has been a teacher since 1978 and currently works at a public school in Whittier City.

How Do the United Nations Frame the Case for Public Education

Under the current circumstances and conditions, the public education systems in the United States, and in particular in California, are on the verge of being privatized. In order to find out why this is not a desirable outcome for our democratic society, and how to articulate a defense against privatization, public education stakeholders must read the United Nations research and the recommendations.

The United Nations has an untarnished reputation on publishing valid and intellectually honest research, and an equally uncompromising status on making policies designed to solve social problems. The UN has at its core universal and humanitarian intentions, and progressive and inclusive solutions. In the area of education, the United Nations have done extensive research and compelling arguments for the social need and pragmatic usefulness of public education systems.

The bottom line is that education is first and foremost a human right, and as such an unavoidable duty for both governments and citizens. For that reason, the UN takes a premier interest in education, and provides help to countries with the goal of providing universal access to the best education possible. Thus, the United Nations insists that every country considers education quality and learning achievement the center of a national education planning.

It is necessary to study the present situation from a different perspective than the one framed by the reformers. Indeed, I propose an analysis and evaluation of the reforms, their outcomes, and predictable future in the United States, and particularly here in California based on the principles that the UN recommends. At the onset, public teachers and teacher union members must agree that the Education Reform in the United States can be described as a prescription or list of procedures emanated from the free-market ideology. At best the reforms have been political assertions without the proper mechanisms that would make the proposals successful. Thus, regardless of our personal or ideological beliefs, in order to improve public education it is important to study the issue dispassionately and evaluate what the reformers have attempted and achieved, and then contrast it with realistic goals in the context.

If public school stakeholders all share the ideal goal of preparing the most educated citizenship in California and the US, they and their associations have to play a more effective role in defending public education against privatization. Public school stakeholders should take the United Nations’ advice and build and support their own arguments. It is reasonable to believe that public school stakeholders can rebuild trust and commitment from policy makers at federal and local levels to create authentic reforms with realistic goals.

The United Nations eight thematic lessons for having a successful public education system are:

Equity in Education

The benefits of education must reach everyone; not only some. Policy makers must ensure that disadvantaged groups and undeserved regions be given the same quality services other groups receive. For that to happen policy makers may 1) introduce financial incentives for the children of disadvantaged backgrounds, 2) provide support to keep children in school, and 3) provide well-trained teachers. In order to establish equity in education it is critical to study spending patterns, and ensure that schools, teachers and resources are skewed towards those with the greatest need rather than those with the greatest wealth.

There must be a political decision to adopt equity goals in education and monitor the progress. National and local agendas must include concrete targets for reducing disparities. Specific targets would be set for particularly marginalized groups or regions with high concentration of deprivation.

Sustained political commitment is necessary

Political leaders need to put education at the center of national development strategies and use their influence to make equity a shared goal through society. In order to accomplish this ambitious goal, leaders need to reach beyond the government agencies and involve the civil society. It is important to understand the importance of having coherent efforts to support education.

Strengthen anti-poverty commitments

Progress in education cannot be built on the foundation s of mass poverty and deep social inequality. Public spending in health services and social services is a must in this respect. In other words, for the investment in education to be fruitful, governments should invest in social areas.

Every school must become an effective learning environment

These environments require well-nourished and motivates students, well-trained teachers using adequate facilities and instructional materials, a relevant curriculum, and a welcoming gender-sensitive, healthy, safe environment that encourages learning. The school offer should have a minimum of 850 hours per year in instructional time.

Strengthen capacities to measure, monitor and assess education quality, and inform parent and policy-makers.

The methods and the information collected in monitoring and assessment exercises should be transparent and accessible to diverse stakeholders. The monitoring of education quality should include three dimensions: input or enabling conditions for learning, trained teachers and adequate budgets; pedagogy and the learning process; and learning outcomes.

Scale up education financing with a commitment to equity

Although high levels of education financing do not guarantee universal access or strong learning achievement, sustained underfinancing is unequivocally bad for efficiency, equity and education quality. Underfinancing is not consistent with a commitment to public education. It is noted that current spending patterns are often pro-rich rather than pro-poor.

It is important for central government to retaining a strong redistributive role, facilitating the transfer of resources from richer to poorer. Policies and laws should consider indicators such as poverty level and health status. Often it is the case that the wealthiest regions receiving the highest levels of per capita public spending in education. The guiding principle should be that those in greatest need receive the most per capita support.

Recognize the limits to competition and choice

Under the right conditions, competition and choice can support education. However, policy makers need to recognize that education provision cannot be reduced to oversimplified market principles. For one, competition is constrained by faulty information, time, distance, and institutional capacity. Also, the benefits of choice are limited by poverty and social disadvantages. Public-private partnership strategies such as vouchers programs, state funding for private schools, and the development of independent schools have each limited record of success.

Although choice and competition are presented as a solution to the failings of public provision, in most cases are not the best option when it comes to efficiency and equity. If the public system is failing, it would be better to first consider fixing the system, and then consider options for competition between providers.

Strengthen the recruitment, deployment and motivation of teachers

A good-quality public education for all requires an adequate supply of motivated, qualified, and properly trained teachers. In the process of finding ways to provide sufficiently qualified supply, it is important to recognize the trade-off between quality and quantity of teachers and the importance of finding ways to get teachers to undeserved areas and disadvantaged communities.

Comment: Sergio cites information from the 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report (large pdf @ 477 pages). EFA is Education for All, an initiative of UNESCO.


Laura said...

I predict that if the UN recommendations and the better education systems of other countries start becoming a model for the demands of education activists, the response of the mainstream and right wing will be that we need "a uniquely American" education system.

That has been one of the main arguments against real reform of the health system.

sflores815 said...

I partially agree with the prediction. I can see the right wing responding that way. What I don't agree with is that the mainstream will automatically go along with it. An informed citizenship would evaluate proposals on their merits, not on empty loyalty to ideologies.
My goal, and the many others who have seen the destruction of the current system in the name of an ideology, is to provide other valid points of view. The current reforms talk about choice as a necessary component to solve problems; and quality but only for some. The rethoric does not match with the premises or the results obtained.
The UN recommendations,on the other hand, serve as a model or formula for any government serious about educating all its citizens for the creation of an inclusive and sustainable quality education system.
I believe it is time to stop politizising education and come up with a thorough independent study that we all can refer to in order to have the best public education system in the world.

Ted said...

The U.N.'s eight lessons for a successful public education system contain most of the ideas advanced by progressive educators and parents. Unfortunately, their U.N. source will bring forth a knee-jerk resistance from the right, assuring that implementation here will be difficult. Consider the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The treaty was negtionated during the Reagan adminstration and the U.S. government was one of the most active governments in shaping the treaty. In spite of that, only two U.N. member nations have not ratified the treaty, Somalia, which does not have a functioning government and is thereby unable to ratify any treaties, and the U.S. One of the rights stipulated in the treaty is the right to an education.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Comment from the author, posted by P.P.:
The assumption that the right wingers would have a knee jerk reaction to the UN proposals to solve American problems is well founded. The United States refusing to sign the UN treaty for the past twenty years indicates a major roadblock for public education and other progressive causes as well.

In my opinion, the best progressives can do is continuing voicing relevant concerns and challenging the reformers' premises, conclusions, and measures. Providing information that gives people a better, more complete perspective serves this goal of education people. A next level would be promoting public events like panels and debates with the reformers. In the case of public education, progressives have a monumental task in educating teachers, parents, and other stakeholders alike.

Another ideal goal would be to reach equal access to mainstream media in order to present and defend progressive ideas. To achieve this goal most or all the progressive figures, think tanks, and organizations would have to organize a movement demanding a rightful place in the battle of ideas. For the moment, I am grateful that we have this and other outlets in the internet media to exchange ideas and help each other.