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Alan J. Singer: Event at Hofstra

Sep 23, 2016 by


An Interview with Alan J. Singer: Event at Hofstra

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Professor Singer, for our readers, could you provide a brief blurb as to who you are and what you do?

I am a social studies educator and historian in the Department of Teaching Learning Technology at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York. Before coming to Hofstra I taught at a number of secondary schools in New York City, including Franklin K. Lane High School and Edward R. Murrow High School. I am the author of Education Flashpoints (Routledge, 2014), Teaching to Learn, Learning to Teach: A Handbook for Secondary School Teachers (Routledge, 2013), Social Studies For Secondary Schools (Routledge, 2014), Teaching Global History (Routledge, 2011), and New York and Slavery, Time to Teach the Truth (SUNY, 2008) and a regular blogger on educational issues for Huffington Post. I am also a lifetime political activist, a leftist, pro-union, progressive.

2) In a few days, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be on your campus, Hofstra University in New York, for the first Presidential Debate. What is the general mood on campus regarding this event?

To say excited would be downplaying the mood. As part of the run-up to the debate, Hofstra organized over fifty panels, presentations, and discussions, most of which were open to the general public. I was part of an education panel in the library mini-auditorium. Its seats two hundred and there was standing room only. Yesterday faculty and students recorded radio podcasts on issues in the election that will be broadcast non-stop on the campus radio station WRHU. Saturday night comedian and political commentator Larry Wilmore, formerly of Comedy Central, and controversial comic at the White House Correspondent’s dinner, will perform on campus.

3) Recently, there have been pipe bombings and events in Charlotte. Do you anticipate an increased police presence?

This is the third Presidential election cycle and there is always major security. Some parking lots and buildings have been closed for days. Students signed up for a lottery to attend the debate in the University’s arena. Once they are selected, they will be processed off-campus, last time at the Nassau Coliseum. If they pass background checks they are ferried by bus back to campus and go directly into the debate site. There will be protests on Hempstead Turnpike, the main thoroughfare through the Hofstra campus, but not on university grounds. The Green Party candidate Jull Stein is expected to attend and demand to be allowed into the debate. Four-years ago she was arrested. “Fight for $15” is organizing thousands of fast-food workers to rally and demand a higher minimum wage.

4) Since you are in education, this question seems appropriate – what do you see as the main educational issues that need to be discussed?

Education has largely been ignored in the campaign so far. Donald Trump has never had much use for public schools. He and his children all attended pricy private schools from pre-K through B.A. Trump is promoting an education plan designed to destroy public education in the United States. The basic Trump proposal is to divert $20 billion in federal grants from public school districts to charter, private, parochial, and online schools, effectively bleeding public school systems to death. Trump calls his school plan choice, as if ordinary Americans will ever be able to choose the kind of schools he chose for his kids.

Hillary Clinton is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers and has close ties to the union’s leadership. But Hillary flip-flops on charter schools and is tied to an administration that endorsed Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing and hedge-fund types that support privatization. So I don’t expect K-12 education to be a major subject.

5) Certainly, while Clinton was “Secretary of State” she may have had little to do with education during that 8-year time frame – BUT in your mind, how much progress has been made in education in the last 8 years?

First I want to say that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have both made Barack Obama look pretty good as President and whoever wins the election, he will be missed. Obama is a pretty smart guy, so it is amazing to me that even his efforts to compromise on high-stakes standardized testing are so far off. On testing he keeps failing the test. After six years of pushing high-stakes testing as part of his Race to the Top education initiative, the President decided there was too much testing in American schools. This decision was really a response to intense push back by parents and teachers against the testing regime. The average student in some United States big-city schools was taking over 100 hundred hours of mandatory standardized tests during their school career. Eighth grade students were the most tested. They sit through between 20 and 25 hours of standardized tests, which makes up about 2.3% of school time. The Obama Administration proposed that Congress cap standardized testing at 2% of instruction time. The Obama proposal did not mean students would not have to take traditional teacher-made, school, and district tests which somehow did not figure into the hourly calculations.

6) Some point to ESSA as replacing NCLB as a major event. Will this be discussed at the debate –  and do you feel it SHOULD be discussed?

It should be discussed, but I doubt if it will. Last December Congress overwhelmingly voted to jettison penalties for schools, districts, and states mandated by the Bush era No Child Left Behind law. NCLB was signed into law by George Bush in 2002 and was supposedly designed to expose and solve “achievement gaps” in American education. It did this by mandating the continuous testing of students and required that all gaps be eliminated by 2014. While the testing industry overwhelmed American schools, achievement gaps did not disappeared. The new law is known as the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA.

Major provisions of ESSA include repeal of annual federal yearly progress reports that will be replaced by individual state-designed accountability systems. ESSA transfers responsibility to states to identify and provide support for struggling schools and prohibits the federal government from interfering in state and local decisions. I don’t think anyone really believes that low-funded poorly performing states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, New Mexico, and West Virginia will create meaningful accountability systems and tests that will expose the low quality public education they offer Black and Latino students. Buried in the new law is a provision lobbied for by private and religious schools. State education officials are required to set aside funds for “equitable services” for eligible children who attend private and religious schools. The bill also requires that state education departments create an ombudsman position to ensure private and religious schools get what they consider to be their fair share of federal dollars.

7) If you were a moderator, and were able to ask both candidates an education question – what would it be?

I have a number of questions. Do you view education as a social good or a market commodity and why? How do we educate students to become active participants in a democratic society? What is important to know and why about science and history, which are left out of Common Core? What does college and career ready in the 21st century look like? What role can schools play in addressing major societal problems like racism, income inequality, and climate change?

I also have one question just for Donald Trump. Were you expelled from the Kew-Forest School in Queens as a boy for being a bully?

8) Since Clinton has been in politics for an extended time, does she seem to align herself with the Federal perspective on education, or more the state and local perspective?

I wish I knew or that Hillary knew. The Clintons, Bill and Hillary, have a history of moving to the middle. As the middle moves to the right, so do they. The best thing I can say here is that Hillary needs support from public school parents and teachers so the hope is that she will be responsive to their wishes.

9) It is tough to get platforms from either candidate – but where do the two stand on charter schools? Common Core? Will these issues come up and do you anticipate getting any direct answers about these issues?

Trump supports charter schools, vouchers, and privatization. He is anti-union and anti-teacher. He follows the traditional Republican line that we need to get the federal government out of the education business. I actually support more federal involvement in education, but different involvement. I want to see broad discussion of a national curriculum that includes content and concepts as well as skills. It is absurd the number of Americans who reject science. It places us in danger. I am not sure where Hillary stands on education. I just know politically she has to respond to public school parents and teachers, she is not a bully, and she believes in reason, science, and evidence. Those are good starting points.

10) What have I neglected to ask?

Readers should follow me on Huffington Post. They can also check out Drumpf for President: A Scary Fable by R. Pieces in Kindle and Paperback from Amazon.

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