Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why You Can’t Reason With School Reformers- You Have to Bring the Machine to a Halt

Yesterday, during some fierce twitter debates I was having with Charter School Advocates one of them replied ” the majority of American teachers graduated in the bottom 1/3 of their college class.” To them, this provided the justification for erasing teacher voices from education debates. This is a perfect example of the mindset of those shaping current education policy. Because they have convinced themselves that American students have failed relative to their international counterparts- based on similarly misleading statistics- and that most teachers are incompetent, they have prescribed a complete makeover of the US Education system from the top down in which everything that happens in a classroom is scripted and controlled from pre-school on up.
And here is the problem. When you have constructed a Narrative of Failure from broad statistical comparisons, testimony based on personal experience becomes irrelevant. All you have to do is meet with Arne Ducan or NY Education Commissioner John King, either in person, or in a public meeting, to realize that they don’t listen to a word you, or anyone else says, no matter how eloquent. Children, parents and teachers can get up and speak their heart outs about how current policies are snuffing out creativity and joy, humiliating students, and driving the best teachers out of the profession. They don’t care. They use a closed, circular logic to justify their policies that is immune to complaints of collateral damage that do not take statistical form. The Data Driven Universe they are silences criticism- literally. They will continue doing what they are doing no matter how bad people say it is.
Faced with this way of thinking, we have only one way of changing policy. Bring the machine to a halt. Stop taking their tests. Stop administering them. And vote everyone who supports administering the tests and sharing the Data they generate out of office.
You cannot reason with people who think this way. Your voice doesn’t count. Your experience means nothing to them But your votes count. Your campaign contributions count. And your power to stop the Test Machine scares the crap out of them because without Test results, their precious Data — which is the fuel for their Ship of Fools- disappears.

“School Choice” Is Not only About Charters and Vouchers

Where are all the advocates of “school choice” when inner city parents and students organize in defense of their neighborhood schools threatened with closing, as they have done in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and now Newark? Somehow, they only mobilize when inner parents want charters or vouchers. They have no problem with Mayors and Governors shutting down public schools that have been community institutions for decades over the protests of principals, teachers, and parents, and even suspending principals for speaking out as Chris Christie’s hand picked Superintendent Cami Anderson has done in Newark.

This is rank hypocrisy

If you are going to support “school choice” you should also support the right of parents to attend well funded local public schools which have had a historic relationship to the neighborhoods they are located in. But when your funding comes from hedge fund billionaires, the Waltons or Bill Gates, you are going to only support the kind of “choice” that fits their agenda of privatization and competition.

It is your right to be selective about which community voices you choose to promote.

But standing silent when equally legitimate community voices are suppressed, or even encouraging and participating in their suppression, as Michelle Rhee or New York State Education Commissioner John King have done, give the lie to your pretension to be exponents of the nation’s great Civil Rights traditions.

Los Angeles Unified School District Stonewalls Researcher Asking for Demographic Data on Its PAR Program

 One of the unacknowledged tragedies in education policy is the United States is the systematic marginalization and forced retirement of  a generation of veteran teachers, many of them teachers of color, who could play a valuable role in helping young teachers adapt to the challenges of their new job. Done in the name of “improving teacher quality,” a variety of strategies have been implemented which have directly or indirectly forced the firing of veteran teachers or pushed them into a reserve labor pool.  One such strategy, approved by the major national  teachers unions, has been PAR  the Peer Assisance and Review Program. Originated with the professed goal of identifying low performing teachers and giving them the help they need to improve their skills, the program has, in all too many school districts, been implemented in such a way as to allow school districts to sharply cut costs by removing teachers with the most seniority and highest salaries.

 One of the scholars who has done the most to reveal the discriminatory dimensions of PAR, as it has been implemented in California School Districts, is BAT Research Team member Brian Crowell., Looking at data in the Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco school districts, Brian Crowell has not only documented a sharp decline in the percentage of Black teachers in all three districts in the last ten years, he has gathered data from the PAR program in all three districts which show that teachers with the greatest seniority have been the ones overwhelmingly placed in that program, making a prima facie case for age discrimination, and quite possibly race discrimination, that may well be the subject of future litigatio

 Now Brian Crowell has turned his attention to the Los Angeles Unified School District and has asked for demographic data on teachers in their PAR program. After being stonewalled for several weeks, he received a letter saying he would have to pay $1,200 for the information he requested. Clearly the LAUSD is not anxious to have this data made public.  Which suggests that they are not anxious for people to see the age and race distribution of teachers referred to PAR.  Here is Brian Crowell’s memo on his Los Angeles data request:

My name is Brian Crowell. I am a member of the CTA Union. On September 11, 2014 I made a Public Records Request to the Los Angeles Unified School District. I requested the age, race, gender and placement on salary schedule for teachers referred to Peer Assistance and Review. I request the calendar years of 2003-2013 for this data.
Los Angeles Unified School District responded to my query on October 10th, 2014. In their letter to me, LAUSD stated that they would comply with my request if I paid a fee of $1,200.00 for compiling the data into an electronic format. The Public Records Act does allow for the institution to charge for the labor to compile the information, however $1,200.00 is absolutely outrageous!
My theory. The time period of a month to respond to my query tells me the LAUSD legal department was trying to find a way to exempt disclosure. I have no evidence of this. The data itself, I believe will suggest massive age discrimination particularly of teachers over the age of 46. I think the $1,200.00 fee is to also dissuade me from getting the information.
I have been in contact with members of the UTLA Leadership who have shown interest in this issue. I hope they help me in endeavor to obtain this information.

  Brian Crowell’s research calls for a very careful analysis, by local and national leaders of teachers unions,ly, whether this highly touted program has been used in a discriminatory fashion. It is not unknown for once promising ideas that teachers unions supported to be corrupted in implementation. Just look at Charter Schools. 

What We Lose When We Replace Public Schools With Charter Schools

Among most frightening things about the replacement of public schools with charter schools in low and moderate income communities are the removal of schools from public scrutiny, the institutionalization of authoritarian school management, and the suppression of parent, teacher and student voices
Our public schools, with all their faults, were places where the public had input, whether it was by legislators, school boards, parents, or community leaders. They were public institutions in the best sense of the world, where community meetings were held, where programs open to the community were often sponsored and where voting took place during elections for public office. In contrast, all too many charter schools see the communities they are located in as toxic and seek to insulate the children and families in them from their surroundings. They run their schools as heroic outposts of civilization and progress in a grim social landscape, limiting access to their buildings to those enrolled in the school, and seeing the communities cultural traditions as more a threat than an asset to their efforts to march students to “college and career readiness.”
Along with that approach comes a top down management style where high paid school CEO’s have far more power than public school principals to intimidate staff, discipline students, fire teachers and push out students and families. It is not uncommon for charter schools to have enormous teacher turnover, high rates of student expulsion, and disciplinary policies which would not be tolerated in a public school. Fear of the school CEO shapes school culture in a way that leave teachers parents and students little recourse, since charter schools are freed from many of the regulations that public schools operate under.
What we are seeing, unfortunately, is that political officials, in a desperate effort to produce better results on test scores in low and moderate income communities, are willing to sacrifice democratic traditions, community input, and due process for teachers and students.
That is a fearsome price to pay for “global economic competitiveness” and “the production of a 21st Century workforce” goals which our public officials and education leaders claim they are pursuing.

Thoughts on Socialism, Liberty, and Government and Corporate Power

   As long as there is a huge concentration of wealth at the top of the society, as we have now in the US, we cannot assume that centralized government initiatives will have positive consequences. Government at all levels has become the tool of powerful corporations.  This makes the historic socialist identification with strong government highly problematical. In the US today, policies which are egalitarian in intent often become the opposite in implementation because large corporations make themselves the prime beneficiaries. I think we have to pursue egalitarian policies at the local level, through democratic means, while also respecting peoples hunger for greater freedom and control over their lives.

  The irony is that some people who respond positively to the idea of “socialism” have a libertarian side as well- they oppose repressive drug laws, stop and frisk, restrictions on personal liberty in areas ranging from gun laws to religion, and resent surveillance control and authoritarian rule every aspect of their lives, from the work place, to their neighborhood, to the schools their children attend. You cannot have freedom in a society where large corporations have this much power and bend the government to their will. You have to smash the power of the large corporations and at the same time give people greater freedom in their schools neighborhoods, and workplaces. We need much more equality and much more freedom. Developing the policies that do this positively will be the challenge of the next 30 years.

  In the meantime, we fight to get the boot of the large corporations and the state off our necks when they work in tandem to simultaneously suppress personal liberty and funnel greater wealth to the very top. The Common Core standards are a prime example of this. They have simultaneously stripped away local control of public schools while funneling huge amounts of public money to corporations who develop tests and curricular materials. They are promoted in the name of public good, but result in restrictions on teachers, and pressures on students and families, which wealthy elites are exempt from because their children do not attend public schools

  That is the negative side. On the positive side, we need much stronger unions, we need much stronger community organizations, we need to fight for greater freedom from surveillance and control, and we need to develop policies which encourage small businesses and cooperative enterprises.

   Also, we need to be vigilant about policies which attack government power only to enhance corporate power. Beware of those who attack trade unions in the name of enhancing personal freedom. Trade unions are the ordinary citizens most powerful protection against the excesses of great wealth. Weakening them, as we have done for the last 30 years, has contributed greatly to the plutocratic society we live in now.