My Thoughts on Chicago School Closings

Chicago School Closings.

Evil thrives in the crevices of created by opportunism and
indifference. No better example exists than of the disastrous decision
made to close 50 schools in Chicago the vast majority of them serving
African American children. The greatest impact is on the city's most
wounded neighborhoods, places already traumatized by violence. The last
thing they need is further destabilization by closing stable community
institutions and making children leave places they are comfortable
and teacher mentors they have developed relationships with.

Make no mistake about this, this is both a local and a national
tragedy. You cannot blame this on the Republican Party. Or the NRA. Or
the Tea Party. This is an example of a poisonous cynicism that thrives
in the heart of the Barack Obama Democratic party and its liberal, once
radical apologists. Let us see if Michael Eric Dyson, Angela Davis,
Michael Moore, Rachel Maddow etc say a peep about this. It will take
open revolt, non-violent or otherwise, to turn this train around. And
it will come. Probably when people least expect it. Those who defy the
laws of history and morality usually get payback.

Attacking Workers, Attacking Teachers- Different Targets, Same Result

One of the reasons I don’t trust those who blame high teacher salaries and unon inflexibility for the problems in our public schools is I heard the same arguments being made in the 80’s and 90’s about unionized industrial workers. They were blamed for the non-competiveness of basic industry in the US, and pilloried as an obstacle to national economic renewal.
Well, the company heads and financiers who were making those arguments basically won the day, with the result that industrial wages in the US went from 3rd in the world in the early 70’s to 13th in the world by the mid 90’s  (David Brody “Workers in Industrial America”). But did CEO compensation decline with it? No CEO compensation skyrocketed, helping raise the average CEO worker compensation differential from 80 to 1 in 1980, to over 400 to 1
 Given this experience, I am extremely suspicious of the arguments  School Reformers make about overpaid and inflexible teachers, particularly since a good many of the people putting those arguments forward, such as Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, are deriving sizable incomes from their leadership of the “School Reform” movement, and others, such as Rupert Murdoch, stand to derive considerable income from the software they are marketing to school systems around the country,
 Somehow, in the US, attacks on overpaid workers as undermining the public good seem to lead to the funneling of wealth upward and the lowering of living standads for working Americans.  I would be very suprised if the breaking of teachers unions and the demoralization of teachers will lead to any more positive consequences than the attack on industrial workers did 30 years ago. It is unlikely to improve schools and very likely to shrink the middle class and funnel money to the CEO’s of consulting firms and test companies.

America’s Education Nightmare

Imagine if someone gave you the following scenario- The wealthiest and most powerful people in the country are going to spend huge amounts of money trying to improve education. But instead of using those funds on getting talented and idealistic young people to devote their life to teaching, they were going to direct their funds so that such people gravitated to high paid positions creating and administering tests, assessing and evaluating schools, and joining private companies profiting from the rapidly growing education marketplace. 

That scenario, which an objective observe would say was destined to dismal failure, has become the reality in education policy around the country The money flowing into education from the federal government or private sources has overwhelming gone into management, assessment and quality control rather than recruiting and empowering great teachers and enriching the classroom experience so that children are excited about learning. Indeed, this top down approach has driven great teachers out of the profession and make children hate school.

All over the country, teacher morale is plummeting and children and families are in a state of shock over the uncontrolled proliferation of tests. There is a rebellion brewing, though the powers that be that created the current reality seek to suppress it and mock it. But none of their packaging and propaganda and bluster can hide the fact that you can’t improve schools by management techniques that make teachers had their jobs and children hate going to school.

We need a moratorium on testing and school closings, and an redirection of existing funds into enriching classroom instruction while adopting policies which affirm the character of schools as community institutions not just one size fits all institutions shaped by a national blueprint.

If we don’t do that, and reverse course quickly, we will lose a generation of teachers and more than one generation of children.

On Test Scores and Poverty

  To understand how unique our current historical moment is, and in particular, how much powerful corporate interests have seized control of BOTH political parties, ask yourself  the following questions:.
When FDR spoke of a third of a nation “ill-housed, ill clothed, and ill-fed” did he identify raising student test scores as a major component of his program to heal a wounded nation?
When LBJ launched the anti-poverty program, did low test scores of young people living in poverty represent a major target of the programs he initiated?.
When Dr King unveiled his idea for the “Poor People’s Campaign,” was poor performance on tests among the nation’s poor a central subject of his rhetoric?
   The very posing of these questions moves us into the  realm of absurdity- yet in state after state, and in the US Department of Education, “closing the achievement gap”- i.e. raising the test scores of students in poor communities- is lauded as the civil rights cause of our time and the one sure fire method to reduce inequality in a society where every other policy seems to maximize it.
  Do current policy makers know something that FDR, LBJ and Dr. King didn’t, or is the egalitarian rhetoric underlying their obsession with raising student test scores disingenuous and self-deluded?
 While I cannot pretend to know what policy makers, in their heart of hearts, really think, I do know this—that since No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, child poverty has skyrocketed, the concentration of wealth at the top of the society has grown, the prison industrial complex has expanded, and the gap in college admission and retention between poor and wealthy students has expanded
And as for schools, we see the wealthy sending their children to private schools with few tests and a huge emphasis on the arts- and the poor and the rapidly shrinking middle class sending their children to schools which are stripped down test factories with beaten down and demoralized teachers
.This is the ugly reality that the flowery rhetoric of inclusion hides
  If narrowing the achievement gap is an anti-poverty strategy, is the single most ineffective such strategy in modern America History..

Big Breakthrough for “Test Refusers” in New York State

After one week of protests against state testing,  the Opt Out movement in New York State can count many important victories.  First of all, thousands of children in the state, from Long Island, to New York City, up the Hudson Valley, to Western New York and the Adirondacks, refused to take the ELA and Math tests put in front of them, sometimes doing so alone, sometimes as part of large groups in their school.  They did so in spite of the State Education Department’s insistence that such acts were illegal, and in spite of some awful examples of intimidation by school authorities. This showed that parents activism around high stakes testing could not be
discouraged by threats and in fact that such threats would backfire.

Secondly, the movement got considerable news coverage, first locally and then nationally, with stories appearing on cable outlets throughout the state, passionate discussions taking place in local newspapers, and finally stories appearing in the New York Times. Washington Post and on  Now most parents in New York state, many in the Tri-State area, and quite a few in other parts of the country know there was a major  Test Revolt in New York State.  It puts an action once inconceivable within the realm of possibility.

Finally, for the first time that I know of since this movement started, Opting Out parents were able to secure representation from civil liberties lawyers in cases of harassment or intimidation of their children. Three different lawyers, including the most respected civil liberties lawyer in New York State, have stepped forward to help embattled Opt Out families. This is also something of national significance, as Opting Out parents in other parts of the nation have had little success in securing such assistance

  When you look at all these developments, you have to conclude that a movement launched by a handful of parents, with no funding, and no support from elected officials, has inspired a public discussion of great power and significance about the dangers of standardized testing and has awakened parents in the state and the nation to the importance of their voice in determining what goes on in the schools they send their children to.