Worse Than Fake News – Ignored News. Top 5 Education Stories You May Have Missed in 2016

ignoring-wisdom

Fake news!

Watch out for fake news!

In the wake of the disastrous 2016 election cycle that left us with a conman turned reality TV star as President, the media has suddenly decided the whole thing can be blamed on too much fake news.

How else to explain the words “President” and “Donald Trump” combined together in one sentence without adding “will never be” between them?

Voters must have been swayed by fake news not to select saintly Hillary Clinton against Trump. Oh! What a spotless angel she was that everyone loved without reservation and there was never any warning that trouble might be brewing so it must be that those regular folks were swayed by false stories, otherwise… I mean why wouldn’t they vote for Clinton? She was just so great and we were paid to say that, but whatever.

Sure Trump won with an unheard of 60% unfavorability rating on election day. Sure even 17% of his own voters said he was unqualified for the job on election day! Sure millions of Democrats in the primary who supported Bernie Sanders were turned away from the polls, had their party affiliation mysteriously changed, and/or had to wait in ridiculously long lines while the news media called the race for Hillary before polls even opened! That certainly wouldn’t have had any impact on the general election! Sure voters everywhere made it clear the last thing they wanted was an establishment candidate and the Democrats ran the most establishment candidate of all time but it couldn’t be that the Democrats did anything wrong! No! IT. HAD. TO. BE. FAKE! NEEEEWWWWWWWSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And the Russians!

But mostly fake news…

Okay.

Deep breaths.

I’d like to postulate a theory – it wasn’t that too many people paid attention to stories that weren’t true. (Those email leaks from the DNC may or may not have been hacked by the Russians, but they were written by actual Democratic party operatives and proved the party to be just as corrupt as cynics claimed.) Maybe the problem wasn’t what people read – it’s what they didn’t read. It’s not the falsities that were out there but the truths that we refused to acknowledge.

We ignored the deep truths about Hillary’s unfavorables.

We ignored the deep truths that the Democrats haven’t done much for working people in years. That Democrats rely on minority votes to get into office, but once they get there, they pass few policies to actually improve the lives of people of color. That Democrats like Obama and Clinton support almost the same damn corporate education reform policies of the Bushes, the Waltons, and the Kochs.

As a public school teacher, the father of a school-age child and an education blogger, that last point is the most obvious to me.

There is so little daylight between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to public schools. Teachers and working people used to be a key constituency for Democrats. More than 90 percent of all US children go to public schools. Listening to the needs of teachers, students, parents and communities would seem to be a winning strategy. But instead – here as almost everywhere else – the Democrats continue to be the party of the donor class and not the working class. And for this remarkable sell-out, they get only a fraction of the campaign contributions of the Republicans. They’re weak, spineless and cheaply bought.

If only someone had warned us.

Wait a minute. Someone did. Many someones.

People like me wrote our fingers to the bone explicating the wrongs being done to our children, the civil rights violations being ignored and the errors of progressive party policy.

In that spirit, I’d like to offer a countdown of five stories from my own blog this year that I thought were pretty important but only got limited attention. To repeat, these aren’t my most popular stories. I provided a countdown of my ten most read articles of 2016 a few days ago. Instead, these are pieces that were read but not as much as they should have been.

I’m used to being a Cassandra, and nothing can be done but to cement that role in the history of the year that was. But the New Year beckons. With it comes new opportunities, new hopes.

The Trump administration will be easily defeated. They are greedy fools who are taking office with the highest unfavorability ratings in history. And given their stated plans to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense, that’s only likely to get worse for them.

What concerns me is the progressive response. We will get a chance to challenge Trump. But who will we be – the second choice to do the one percenters bidding? Or an authentic movement of people-powered progress?
I offer these articles in the hopes that they may finally pierce public perception and we will give up our excuses about fake news and instead start paying attention to what really matters:


5) Stories About the Racist Roots of Standardized Testing:

Blinded by Pseudoscience: Standardized Testing is Modern Day Eugenics

(March, 3,655 hits)

Standardized Tests Have Always Been About Keeping People in Their Place

Screen shot 2016-04-04 at 8.25.53 PM
(April, 3,412)
Published: March, April

Views: 7,067 TOTAL

Description: Standardized testing is the keystone of modern education policy. High test scores are how we determine if students, their schools and their teachers are a success. However, these tests are based on racist eugenics theories about human biology and have been used throughout our history to enforce the existing social structure. They were literally an inspiration to the Nazis and though terms have changed post-Nuremberg Trials, our modern tests rely on the same implicit social and economic biases. Yet no one dares discontinue them. In fact, they are held up as being necessary to ensure civil rights when they actually ensure that students rights will continue to be violated.

Fun Fact: When I wrote the first article, readers were shocked by the connection I researched between the creation of American tests like the SAT and Nazi Germany. Some simply refused to accept it because it was too in your face. I wrote the second article to make a similar point more gently. The facts presented here should be common knowledge and spark protests nationwide. Instead, they are treated like secrets when all that is needed to uncover them is a library card, internet connection and a critical mind.


4) The DNC is Giving Trump the Greatest Gift of All – a Weak OpponentDonald-Trump-Hillary-Clinton

Published: July

Views: 4,779

Description: It was obvious to many campaign watchers that the Democrats were all but giving up the general election to the Republicans. If you only paid attention to the media talking heads, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy seemed like a slam dunk. But if you looked at the facts, the truth was laid bare. The disaster that will be the Trump administration could have been avoided. I called it here.

Fun Fact: It’s hard to think of anything fun with inauguration day coming so soon. I wish I had been wrong. But even more I wish that progressives will learn their lesson from this travesty and become all the stronger for it. Only time will tell.


3) How to Get Rich From Public Schools (Without Actually Educating)

Get-Rich
Published: February

Views: 4,483

Description: Public Schools are big business, and that’s the first problem with them. Schools should never be about making a profit. They should be about educating children, first, second and third. However, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle think it’s just perfect to use them as a vehicle for personal economic gain. Charter schools, in particular, are a super easy way to generate tons of cash at taxpayer expense without having to put hardly any effort into the act of educating. This article can be used as a blueprint to get rich or a vomit bag for anyone disgusted at what we’ve allowed happen to our system of public education.

Fun Fact: I’m hoping for vomit and outrage. Still waiting. And hoping for the best.


2) New PAC Descends on Pittsburgh Public Schools to Charterize and Take Over School Board

Published: April Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.39.31 AM

Views: 3,891

Description: Pittsburgh, the town of my birth. This one hits close to home but is indicative of what’s going on across the nation. Wealthy elites are using our perverted tax and campaign finance laws to attempt to steal control of our duly-elected school boards. Public schools are some of the last truly democratic institutions left in this country. That’s why the rich are funding attacks against them. They don’t want Joe and Jane taxpayer to have any say in their kids’ schools. So they gather money, meet at private fundraisers and draw their plans against us. Pittsburgh voters have turned away from the plutocrats plans of late and that’s something the upper crust simply will not accept.

Fun Fact: So far we’ve been winning this battle along the three rivers. Fingers crossed that votes will continue to triumph over cash.


1) My Daughter is Not a Widget

Published: January Father Holding Daughter's Hand

Views: 2,860

Description: It’s all about the children. That’s what everyone says as they pass laws to pull the rug out from under them. Take Exxon CEO and soon-to-be Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Last year, he had the gall to complain about struggling students in impoverished public schools. He called them “defective products” as if they were irregular widgets stamped out in a factory. I wasn’t having it. However, this attitude shows exactly how the powerful view our children. They have no intrinsic value. They only matter if they meet the needs of business – society has no responsibility to meet their needs, only that of the corporations and CEOs.

Fun Fact: The media turned this story into a case of a famous man misspeaking. But he didn’t misspeak. This is a rare case of someone saying what he actually thinks. No one held him accountable and now he will reap the rewards of the in-crowd – power in the Trump administration. When will we hold cowards like this accountable? When will we rise up and throw them out of the corridors of power? Perhaps on the same day that we stop harping about “fake news” and start paying attention to what’s actually going on around us.


NOTE: Special thanks to my fellow education blogger, Russ Walsh, who originally gave me the idea to write a countdown of under-read articles. He does it, himself, every year at his own excellent blog. If you’re new to the fight against corporate education reform, Russ has written an excellent primer on the subject – A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century: Navigating Education Reform to Get the Best Education for My Child.

Goodbye, 2016, and Good Riddance – Top 10 Blog Post by Me From a Crappy Year

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-3-29-49-am

Is it just me or did 2016 really stink?

Both personally and publicly, it was a year I’d rather not revisit. I lost family. I lost idols (RIP, David Bowie and Prince). And we lost a horrible, protracted Presidential election.

But as has become a tradition, I find myself in front of the computer compelled to compile this list of the best of my own writings.

It would be easy to just say nothing much of value happened in 2016 so let’s just move on. But that wouldn’t be true.

There were good things. I’m just stumped to remember many of them right now. Perhaps as time goes on we’ll look back fondly on a smattering of events from this year that was. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. That was kinda cool. There were some decent movies and a heck of a lot of good TV shows. The Arrival, Star Trek Beyond, Deadpool… Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, two excellent series about O. J. Simpson. We got a Harry Potter sequel of sorts – and another movie! I thought “Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters was quite good. We got an amazing musical in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” Technically it opened in 2015, but it swept the Tonys this year. And hey! We stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline – for now.

It was certainly a productive year for blogging.

There was so much to write about.

This little education and civil rights blog went into overtime. I almost doubled traffic to the Website and got 2,145 more followers for a total of 11,335.

Gadflyonthewallblog, or if you prefer Gadfly on the Wall Blog, has been going strong since July 2014. In those two and a half years, I’ve gotten 849,000 hits – 363,000 just this year, alone. I also increased the number of posts I write a year. Last year, I only managed about 90 posts. This year it was 120 posts – a full 30 additional articles.

I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I hope you’ve found them valuable.

Sometimes readers send me a note saying that they’re going to share this post or that post with their school board or their representative in the House or Senate. I’m always very flattered to hear that something I wrote is helping someone else fight for what’s right. Of course, I do get a lot of hate mail, too. No death threats yet, but it’s getting awfully close. Readers have wished I was dead, but no one has offered to give me that little push to the other side.

I hope that no matter what your reaction, you’ll remember these are just the writings of a humble public school teacher and father. No one pays me, though sometimes I do get donations for the right to reprint something elsewhere. I write all this stuff because I have to. So few people seem to care what people like me have to say – even in my own profession. Like many others, I’ve stopped waiting to be asked.

So for your end of the year amusement, I offer this top ten list of my most popular writing from 2016. And here’s to a better 2017.


10) F is for Friedrichs… and Freeloader: A Supreme Court NightmareScreen shot 2016-01-11 at 9.50.07 PM

Published: January

Views: 5,550

Description: Some crazy lady didn’t want to pay the union for benefits that she got as a member and didn’t want to give them up. And rich folks everywhere had her back. They slobbered all over and pushed forward a bull crap case through the Supreme Court that probably would have made it much more difficult for labor unions everywhere had not Justice Antonin Scalia died deadlocking the vote. This article was my attempt to show how absolutely absurd the argument was against being forced to pay for something that benefits you.

Fun Fact: Now that Congress blocked President Obama’s Constitutional right to appoint a replacement for Scalia, and Donald Trump will probably get to pick a replacement, look for a similar case to come down the pike and win! Oh, 2016, will you ever truly leave?


9) The Charter School Swindle – Selling Segregation to Blacks and LatinosScreen Shot 2016-05-31 at 4.22.46 PM

Published: June

Views: 6,489

Description: Charter school promoters often sell these institutions to minorities as being “Separate but Equal.” Hm. Didn’t Brown v. Board outlaw that kind of practice because if schools were separate, they usually were anything but equal? This article is my attempt to explain how charter marketers are really selling minorities on segregation and trying to talk them out of their own civil rights.

Fun Fact: During the Obama years, it was common practice to sell corporate education reform as a way of increasing civil rights while it actually violated them. It will be interesting to see if that rhetoric gets left behind in the Trump years when lawmakers already seem to have little interest in them at all.


8) ‘We’re Sorry Teachers are Unfairly Blamed’ says John King – Man Responsible for Unfairly Blaming Teachers

Published: February John King AP

Views: 6,832

Description: When John King became temporary Secretary of Education, he went on an apology tour telling educators that the federal government was sorry for how terribly it had treated teachers. In particular, he was sorry the department had blamed educators for societal problems that our schools need to fix without giving them the resources necessary to actually correct them. However, King was personally guilty of many of these same practices in his old job in New York. It was typical disingenuousness from the Obama administration and the Democrats – ignore and abuse their key constituents until election time and then make positive noises in their general direction hoping we’d support them at the polls.

Fun Fact: It didn’t work.


7) Bernie Sanders is Right: We Should Federalize Public School FundingBernie_Sanders_by_Gage_Skidmore

Published: January

Views: 6,947

Description: The way we fund public schools in this country is messed up. In many states, we rely heavily on local property taxes which result in poor communities being substantially underfunded and rich ones having more than enough of everything. In most of the world, funding is done much differently – the burden is handled mostly by the federal government who then distributes it equitably from place-to-place. Bernie Sanders proved he was the real deal by suggesting we do the same thing here in the US, a suggestion that no one in either party was ready for.

Fun Fact: Even some of my readers were uncomfortable with this one. They feared that if the federal government took responsibility for funding, it would increase their ability to micromanage local school districts. This is a fair concern, but there is a way to do this without increasing federal control of education policy, just funding. In any case, funding disparity is an issue that hardly ever even gets acknowledged less than discussed. Thank you, Bernie!


6) Summer Break – the Least Understood and Most Maligned Aspect of a Teacher’s Life

Published: June Screen shot 2016-06-20 at 4.18.07 PM

Views: 7,429

Description: Just about every teacher gets crap from non-educators about summer break. Everyone thinks they know what it’s like to be a teacher and how easy we’ve got it. This post was my way of shutting up the ignorant. It explains why educators aren’t teaching in summer, what they’re actually doing and how the public benefits from giving teachers this time. Share it with someone you love.

Fun Fact: Or just shut someone up with it.


5) Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Manager is a Longtime Corporate Education Reformer

Clinton Gives Speech On American Global Leadership At Washington Conference

Published: March

Views: 9,268

Description: Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, is not a nice man. I unearthed a speech he gave to corporate school reformers including Jeb Bush in 2012 where he pledges his allegiance to conservative, market-driven school policies. And THIS is the guy who was influencing Hillary’s approach just like he influenced Obama’s when he worked on that campaign. Legend has it, Podesta is responsible for giving us Arne Duncan. He suggested Duncan over Obama’s campaign education advisor Linda Darling Hammond, a critic of high stakes testing. These were truths that needed to be told and tell them I did.

Fun Fact: That this came out was a huge embarrassment to the Clinton campaign. All they could do was suppress it. Even dedicated supporters who read the article had to admit that she would probably not be very good for education – but she’d be better than Trump. It’s these kinds of Faustian bargains that derailed her campaign. How much better off we would have been had we had a real progressive to vote for than just another Democrat in Name Only!


4) What Antonin Scalia’s Death Means to the People I Loveantonin-scalia-26

Published: February

Views: 14,001

Description: Scalia was a terrible Supreme Court judge who used his position to justify hurting a lot of people. While others tried to hide their excitement at his passing, I let mine show. It might not be nice to say, but the world is a better place without him in it. I had hoped my honesty would make it harder for anyone like him to ever reach that office again. Unfortunately, weak Democrats and an incoming Republican President mean his replacement will probably be just as bad as he was.

Fun Fact: Originally my title was much more provocative – something like “Antonin Scalia was a Terrible Person and I’m Glad He is Dead.” It got over 10,000 hits in a few hours, but then I reconsidered and changed the title. People almost immediately stopped reading it.


3) Without Black Culture There Would Be No American CultureScreen shot 2016-06-28 at 12.10.37 AM

Published: June

Views: 15,519

Description: We often talk about black people as victims. Police brutality, civil rights violations, economic disparities – but this is only half of the story. There is a buried history of success that rarely gets mentioned. Think of what American culture would look like without black people. It would be something completely different. This was my attempt to tip my hat at the incredible ways black Americans have made their mark on our society especially in the field of music.

Fun Fact: Black Twitter really liked this article. It was especially gratifying to see how appreciative people were. Of course, at the same time, some folks’ white fragility couldn’t handle it, either. Some readers tried to bully me into making changes here or there for no reason other than that it made black people look too good. Sorry, folks, no one determines what I put on this blog but me.


2) The Essential Selfishness of School Choice

Published: November img_5992

Views: 40,268

Description: School choice is less an education policy than a propaganda effort. Most people don’t understand what it really is. They don’t understand how essentially selfish it is like cutting a piece of pie from the middle of the dish so no one else can get a whole slice. I tried here in the most simple, direct language I could to explain why.

Fun Fact: With the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary and Trumps’ promise to spread school choice across the land like a Trump University franchise, the article remains popular. A lot of readers told me that it helped make sense of the issue for them for the first time. No doubt it’s been sent to policymakers across the nation. And it all started when I saw that picture of a ruined pumpkin pie on Reddit. I started to think – isn’t that a lot like school choice?


1) Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice

Published: JanuaryLittleKidThumbsDown

Views: 77,139

Description: Both Democrats and Republicans love school choice. So I thought that real education advocates needed a quick list of the main reasons why it is bad policy. There’s nothing really new or amazing here. We’ve known this for decades, but this keeps getting brought up again and again like zombie legislation. The wealthy will push this forward whether we want it or not. There’s just too much money they can make if it passes. That’s why it’s good to know why what they’re peddling is so harmful to students, parents and communities. Consider it ammunition for quick come backs.

Fun Fact: I wrote this long before the Trump administration was a prospect to be taken seriously. This was long before DeVos or the Donald pledged to bring this to the national stage. It has continuously gotten a steady flow of hits since it was published. If my goal as a blogger is to be useful, I think this post more than any other written this year fits the bill. You can quibble with one or two points here, but all ten are enough to show any rational person why school choice is no choice.

While Hillary Clinton Courts Teachers, Bernie Sanders May Have Conceded The Education Vote

hillary_clinton_bernie_sanders_ap_img

Hillary Clinton has made huge strides this week courting education voters. The Democratic Presidential candidate made a statement critical of scandal ridden charter schools. She also met with educators to answer questions in a closed door meeting.

Meanwhile Clinton’s main competition for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, remains silent on K-12 public education. He’s a favorite among teachers but he hasn’t really articulated much of an education policy at all.

Parents, educators and students are looking for a candidate with the guts to turn away from the destructive school policies of the last two presidents. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have increased privatization and standardized testing while reducing teacher and community autonomy. Instead of helping alleviate an epidemic of child poverty, they have blamed the problem on schools and teachers while starving them of the funding they need to succeed.

Frankly, moving away from these corporate education reform policies is a bad fit for Clinton. Her past education positions have been almost identical to that of the Obama administration. She’s been a strong advocate for charter schools and Common Core. She receives hefty support from wealthy corporate school reformers like Eli Broad, George Soros, Bill and Melinda Gates and the Walton family. After all, her first major policy achievement was her 1983 campaign to establish accountability-based school reform in Arkansas when her husband was Governor.

Her connections to this movement have not weakened. Just this week, #TeachStrong – an education reform organization – was launched with ties to Clinton. The group is organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP) – a think tank long affiliated with both Hillary and Bill. Husband and wife have hired numerous staffers from this organization and have championed policies that originated behind CAP’s closed doors. Many education observers are theorizing that the #TeachStrong initiatives which blame teachers and try to make their lives more difficult will eventually become Clinton’s education policies if she becomes President.

By contrast, Sanders would seem to be well suited to oppose these corporate-driven school reforms. He’s anti-privatization, anti-Wall Street and pro-worker. His vitriol against the banking industry and the 1% using tax loopholes to avoid paying their fair share would only be enhanced if he included corporate school reformers on his hit list. These are, after all, most of the same people he’s already going after just for different reasons. Unfortunately, he has yet to embrace public schools. Up to this week, both he and Clinton favored only pre-kindergarten and college support. Now she has started talking about K-12, but Sanders’ lips remain buttoned.

Perhaps this is because he thinks education voters have already sided with Clinton. The largest teachers unions – The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – both endorsed Clinton in the primary. However, in each case these endorsements were highly controversial coming mainly from union leaders without much or any involvement from rank and file members.

Clinton seems to know that top-down endorsements alone won’t get her votes. She needs to win the hearts and minds of membership, and she seems to be committed to doing just that. Her education comments may not be entirely satisfactory, her connections may be highly unsavory, and her history may be deeply disturbing, but at least she’s making the effort to reach out to voters who care about the education system.

Sanders, where are you? You’re a Democratic Socialist. You say you’re committed to the public good. What is a greater public good than public schools? The education vote is by no means decided. It remains on the table for either candidate to take.

Personally, I don’t think Clinton is a good choice to come to education’s rescue. No matter what she says, I just don’t trust her. Someone who champions privatization isn’t going to save us from for-profit charter schools. Someone who is in bed with the testing industry isn’t going to reduce standardized testing. Someone who helped establish Common Core isn’t going to repeal it.

But if I’m honest, Sanders has skeletons in his closet, too. In the Senate he voted to expand charter school funding, voted for No Child Left Behind and most recently voted to keep test and punish policies in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. However, given everything else he espouses, all these votes seem like anomalies. While Hillary looks like a seasoned professional who knows exactly what she’s doing in education circles, Bernie seems like a bumbling amateur who keeps making mistakes. It appears all he needs is a good talking to, someone to explain how our interests and his align perfectly. (Call me maybe!)

Of course, there is another possibility. Perhaps Sanders is against us as much as Clinton. Perhaps there is no major politician out there who has any interest in saving our schools.

Perhaps we really are alone.

In that case, maybe we shouldn’t wait for major politicians to come to us. Maybe we should consider supporting someone who is honestly in favor of us but does not yet have much political clout.

What say you, Dr. Jill Stein?

In the meantime I find myself waiting impatiently for Sanders to make his move. But I won’t wait forever. If he wants my vote – and the votes of hundreds of thousands of parents and teachers – he’s going to have to make his case.

Otherwise, we’ll look somewhere else.


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

 

Hillary Clinton’s Charter School Problem

hillary

Good news! Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton just admitted there are significant problems with the nation’s charter schools!

Bad news! She has no interest in solving them! In fact, she thinks charters are just great.

Here’s Clinton criticizing charter schools:

Most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.

And all over the country, teachers, parents and students rejoice. Someone actually notices our problem!

Charter school scandals seem to hit the paper with the regularity of a grandfather clock. Charters cut student services and boost overhead to produce profit. Charters rack up debt and then sell it for a profit. Charters fudge the paperwork so they get paid for students who don’t actually attend. And just as Clinton said, they push out the children who are most in need and hardest to teach.

In short, most charter schools stink. Clinton admits we have a problem. But how do we solve it?

Clinton:

I have for many years now, about 30 years, supported the idea of charter schools, but not as a substitute for the public schools, but as a supplement for the public schools. And what I have worked on through my work with the Children’s Defense Fund and my work on education in Arkansas and through my time as first lady and senator is to continue to say charter schools can have a purpose, but you know there are good charter schools and there are bad charter schools, just like there are good public schools and bad public schools.

So I want parents to be able to exercise choice within the public school system — not outside of it — but within it because I am still a firm believer that the public school system is one of the real pillars of our democracy and it is a path for opportunity. …the original idea… behind charter schools was to learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools…

So Clinton’s solution to the charter school crisis is what exactly? She seems to be saying that charter schools have major problems, but the best way to fix them is to redouble our belief in this flawed and failing system.

It sounds like a line from Peter Pan: Clap your hands, children, and Tinkerbell will live! You just have to believe! Oh! Close your eyes and believe in charter schools, and they’ll be all fixed!

It’s a non-answer, an evasion. It’s the kind of politics Hillary Clinton excels at – say something so empty and middle-of-the-road that both sides of a position can find something to like about it. Take something and focus group the hell out of it until it’s almost meaningless.

The problem is that this kind of spin doctoring doesn’t help improve our schools one bit. It’s really an endorsement of the status quo. After all, what solution has she offered here?

If you aren’t paying attention, it sounds like a commitment to fix our charter schools, but it’s actually just a commitment to gift wrap them more of your tax dollars with zero accountability.

Notice what Clinton said about choice. She supports parents having a choice between various kinds of public schools – but not parochial and private schools.

Choice!? What a bunch of baloney! By and large parents don’t want to have to shop around for a school the way you would melons at the grocery store. Weigh them in your hands, look for soft spots and hope they’ll be sweet once you cut through the rind.

Parents want all public schools to be excellent. “Let The Buyer Beware” is a poor principle on which to found our system of public education.

Mrs. Clinton, who exactly are you trying to give choice to – parents or corporations? Do you want parents to be able to choose between several mysterious options or do you want to give corporations another market in which to make a profit?

It’s almost a veiled threat. There are some people out there, she might as well as be saying, who want to give your tax dollars to private and parochial schools. Not me. Nope. I’ll only give your tax dollars to traditional pubic schools or charters.

What goes unsaid is the fact that many charters run themselves like private schools. They’re almost the same thing but on the public dime. Why do you think so many call themselves “academies”? They want to look exactly like private schools. The biggest difference is they can’t violate the separation of church and state.

So Clinton is against private schools if they’re called private schools, but if we call them charter schools, they’re just peachy! Wow! There’s such a world of difference between that view and Jeb Bush’s!

Thanks a bunch, Mrs. Clinton. That’s a mighty progressive position you’ve got there. You’re going to support public schools by allowing parents to opt out of them? This is the best the Democrats can do these days!? Yikes!

And please spare me the nonsense about the original purpose of charter schools. They were supposed to be laboratories to try out new things that would eventually get applied in the traditional public school setting!? That has never happened! Not once! No one has ever looked at the charter school model and said, ‘Gee! They’re really doing such a great job! Let’s do that here!” unless it was in terms of the Cadillac funding they often receive while public schools strive to get by on what’s left between the couch cushions.

Moreover, if having the freedom to experiment is so great, why not offer traditional public schools the same option? Why not free public schools to experiment instead of weighing them down with Common Core and toxic testing (which – if I’m not mistaken – you wholeheartedly support, Mrs. Clinton)?

If most charter schools are abusing that freedom by pushing out needy students, why not take that power away? Why not support a national moratorium on any new charters? Why not investigate every existent charter and close down the ones that aren’t effective? Why not take the money saved by such a venture and use it to invest in the traditional public school system that has proven time-and-again to be the best educational alternative for our nation’s children?

Instead of pretending to offer choices, why not make sure every public school is excellent and allow parents and students choices within those schools such as whether they want to take art, music, foreign languages, extracurricular activities, etc.?

Why? Because those would be real solutions, and if there’s one thing politicians hate, it’s solving problems.

If Clinton did that, she might offend someone. She’d lose votes. Better to try to appear to be pleasing everyone.

And thus she pleases no one.


NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

 

The Most Important Election You’ll Probably Skip

t1larg.voter.jan10

The future prosperity of your state may be decided this November.

Will your public schools receive adequate, equitable and sustainable funding?

Will you be permitted to choose medical marijuana to treat certain ailments?

Will your state enact sensible gun reforms to keep firearms out of the hands of the criminally insane?

Will your voice be heard in future elections?

All this and more is on the table and YOU get to cast the deciding vote.

But more likely than not, you won’t show up.

Why? You’re too busy worrying about the upcoming Presidential election.

With both Democratic and Republican Presidential Primaries approaching in February through June, 2016, most people just don’t have the energy for another general election before the end of 2015.

However, most states will ask residents to cast a ballot on Nov. 3 for all kinds of important initiatives. There will be municipal, school board, gubernatorial and state legislative elections in a few states; as well as numerous citizen initiatives, and a variety of other local offices on the ballot.

Yet if history is any guide, most people will stay home while vastly important decisions are being made by the few who trudge to the polls. On the one hand, that means the results are bound to be unrepresentative. On the other, it means if you show up, your vote will have more weight than ever!

Either way, the course for the future of your state will be quietly and discreetly set for years to come.

Take my home state of Pennsylvania.

We’re holding a historic election with three state Supreme Court seats up for grabs. The last time this many seats were open on our highest court in the same year was 1704, and the body was still called the Provincial Appellate Court.

This is huge because it will determine who gets the final say on a plethora of contentious political issues.

For instance, four years ago, Republicans controlled every branch of Commonwealth government and redrew the state’s legislative districts to gerrymander in a GOP majority. They redrew district lines to ensure that conservatives got elected to public office by making boundaries around areas that have pockets of people who generally lean Republican.

With that foundation in place, the GOP ran the state into the ground. While most taxpayers didn’t agree with the corporate tax giveaways and draconian budget cuts to public services like children’s schools, there wasn’t much we could do about it. The redrawn district boundaries were such that legislators were free to do whatever they wanted without fear of reprisals from constituents.

Voters gave the GOP Governor the boot, but almost all of his good soldier legislators stayed in place. This was only possible because Republicans controlled the state Supreme Court. When those gerrymandered districts were challenged, the court backed the legislature. So, in practice, continued Republican control of state Senate and House districts was due not to voters but to the state Supreme Court.

Currently, Republicans hold the balance of power in the highest Commonwealth court by 3-2 with two vacancies. This election could rewrite that balance of power.

If Democrats win two or more seats in this Supreme Court election – thereby replacing two Republicans and one Democrat – it could change everything! Democrats would have a majority.

When redistricting comes up again in 2022, if Democrats want to re-draw the lines more fairly (or in their favor), a Democratic-controlled Supreme Court could make that possible.

Moreover, the new court would almost certainly rule on cases that will have a dramatic impact on the lives of everyday Pennsylvanians.

Perhaps the most hot button issue in the state is education funding. Republicans have been waging all out war on poor Commonwealth schools. For the past 4 years, the legislature slashed public school funding by almost $1 billion – an ideological divide that still rages between the newly elected Democratic governor and the legislature where Republicans remain in control.

Several lawsuits demanding more equitable school funding are winding their way through the state court system. These cases are bound to end up in the state Supreme Court. So if voters still care about making sure all Pennsylvania children have a fair shake at an education, voting for Democrats to retake the court may be the surest option! If recent history is any guide, Republicans sure won’t do it!

Other issues such as the death penalty and gun laws are likely to appear on the docket. Moreover, without opposition, it’s feared a GOP court could easily allow Tea Party legislators to enact so-called Right to Work and other union busting initiatives. A Democratic court could stop such shenanigans cold.

For decades, Pennsylvania politics have been like a game of tennis – power going almost exclusively from one party to another. Neither major party has held the governor’s office for more than two terms since 1955. Democrats broke the Republican Party’s hold on the state House in 2006 only to give back the chamber during the 2010 elections. So the Supreme Court remains the ultimate arbiter.

Voters will have the choice of 3 of the following candidates for Supreme Court Justice: Democrats Christine Donohue, Kevin M. Dougherty and David N. Wecht; Republicans Anne Covey, Michael A. George and Judith F. Olson; and independent candidate Paul P. Panepinto.

In my opinion, the Democrats are the strongest candidates – especially Wecht who is vowing to ban gifts for judges, tighten anti-nepotism policies, and broadcast court proceedings on television. Dougherty has strong union ties and clearly respects collective bargaining rights. Donohue is a strong supporter of personal rights including holding corporations accountable for fraudulent behavior and eliminating bias against LGBTs.

Of the Republicans, Covey is the most reasonable and has shown a willingness to reach across the aisle. The others are your typical extreme right Tea Party conservatives. Panepinto may be running as an independent, but I see little to distinguish him from the GOP candidates.

Choose carefully, Pennsylvania. Whoever you decide to support in the Supreme Court race, it will have a long-term impact. State Supreme Court justices hold 10-year terms! And three more justices will be replaced by 2018.

Whether you live in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the US, it is vital that you get off your duff on Nov. 3 and vote. Focusing exclusively on Hillary vs. Bernie is not just myopic, it’s dangerous. Even if your candidate wins the presidency and does a fabulous job, the forces of stagnation and corporate greed could net tremendous gains in these other elections.

Unless we turn up.

Unless we vote.


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

 

 

Near Silence on Education at First Democratic Debate

11dd341d_GettyImages-492526072.xxxlarge_2x

None.

Null.

Nada.

That’s how many questions CNN anchors asked presidential hopefuls about America’s public schools at the first Democratic Debate.

Imagine if Anderson Cooper and company had been silent on Climate Change. The candidates would have brought it up anyway. Bernie Sanders actually did talk about the threat to the environment when asked a question about national defense.

Imagine if moderators had no questions about gun violence. Candidates competed with each other to demonstrate which took a stronger stance against the National Rifle Association.

Imagine if no one asked about finance reform. On that stage each candidate tried to position his or herself as the new sheriff of Wall Street.

But when it comes to one of the most important issues of the day – our children’s struggling schools – the media apparently thought it was of no interest to the viewing public.

Admittedly both Hillary Clinton and Sanders briefly brought it up when asked about other things.

Clinton said we need universal pre-kindergarten and good schools. However, she neglected to say what those good schools would look like.

It’s almost like saying nothing at all. EVERYONE wants good schools – Even dunderheads like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump! But their ideas of good schools differ greatly from that of most parents, teachers and students. McCharter schools for the poor and Cadillac campuses for the rich isn’t exactly what real progressives have in mind.

And universal pre-k? Great! But that’s kind of the flavor of the month. Who really disagrees that we should help toddlers prepare for school? It’s like asking, “Who wants ice cream?” in a room full of little kids on a hot day. EVERYONE wants ice cream – even the kids who are lactose intolerant!

Sanders took a second in a diatribe about social services to mention the need to fund schools. However, he didn’t say a thing about equity or if that funding would have strings attached. President Obama talked about funding schools, too, when he was running for president in 2008. Once he got into office those education dollars came at the cost of accepting untested and developmentally inappropriate Common Core State Standards. And equity meant closing poor schools to save them.

I wonder if CNN would have felt more pressure to ask even a single token education question if the largest national teachers unions hadn’t already endorsed Clinton. Both the American Federation of Teachers representing 1.5 million members and the National Education Association representing 3 million members have backed Clinton.

Well, leadership has. Member outreach, polling, even voting by the organizations largest representative boards has been almost entirely absent.

But now that teachers have been pigeonholed in Clinton’s camp, what’s the point of asking education questions? In the public eye educators have already chosen their candidate. Why would they need to hear Clinton’s thoughts on education policy? Why hear her opponents thoughts? Their minds are made up.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to run roughshod over teachers concerns. For 7 years education professionals from all walks of life have complained about the administration’s failing school policies and its buffoonish education secretary Arne Duncan. But now that Duncan is leaving, the President replaces him with John King – ex-New York State Commissioner of Education who enraged parents so much he was run out of the state on a rail.

The media just doesn’t care about public education. Nine times out of ten if they even print a story about schools, it’s a puff piece spin doctoring a school reform policy that isn’t working, never has been working and is – in fact – making things much worse for our nation’s students. Otherwise it’s an expose of how teachers can’t make these horrendous policies work so its their fault and don’t even glance at the ballooning child poverty rate – that’s completely irrelevant to the issue of all these lazy teachers who can’t be fired because we’d have to prove they’re bad first.

And what of the candidates? Do they care about public education?

The Democrats say they do and then zip their lips. They might make positive noises about preschool or universities – especially when it comes to funding. But they have next to nothing to say about K-12 schools. When the issue comes up, they deflect to toddlers or the college campus.

Meanwhile Republicans can’t contain their glee about mentioning teachers during debates and stump speeches. They want prospective voters to know that conservative types like them want to punch teachers in the face. During the first Republican debate, at least half of the candidates in that crowded boasted how much they stood up to the teachers unions.

And so there you have it, folks. That’s what passes for a substantive Democratic debate of all the important issues of the day. Now voters can make an informed decision in the primaries. There will be a few more debates, but they’ll probably be no different than this one.

And if you actually care about public schools, if you have children in the system, or derive your livelihood from it, or even if you just don’t want to live in a society of uneducated dummies – you’d be better served using Tarot cards to determine where the Democrats stand on this issue.


NOTE: This article also was quoted extensively on Diane Ravitch’s blog and published by Commondreams.org and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

 

Teachers Told They’re Endorsing Hillary Clinton by NEA Leadership. Membership Opinions Unnecessary

141231-hillary-clinton-mn-2130_14257f8a4ebbc2bf8806b492060dd415

The decision has been made, teachers.

YOU WILL ENDORSE HILLARY CLINTON IN THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES.

Your union has spoken.

Now please donate to the Political Action Committee (PAC).

The National Education Association (NEA) represents 3 million educators. It is the largest labor union in the country. However only about 180 people made the decision to back Clinton.

The NEA Board of Directors voted today 118 to 39 in favor of the endorsement with 8 abstentions and 5 absences.

Thursday the 74 member PAC Council voted to endorse Clinton with 82% in favor, 18% against and some of the largest delegations – California and New Jersey – abstaining.

Check my math here. So 61 PAC votes plus 118 Directors plus one President Lily Eskelsen Garcia equals 180 in favor.

That’s about .00006% of the membership.

And we call that an endorsement.

But wait. It can’t really be that simple. All of these people are voted in by members. Surely they polled their constituencies to gauge how individuals wanted them to vote.

Nope.

To be fair, some NEA directors may have polled state union leaders.

Ronnie Ray James, NEA Director from South Carolina, wrote in to this blog saying he took a straw poll of the South Carolina Education Association (SCEA) board about an early endorsement. He said the vote was close but came out in favor of making the endorsement.

However, that’s a far cry from asking actual card carrying members of the rank and file! Moreover, it is unclear how widespread these straw polls were, if they polled board members about outright support for Clinton and if the leaders of state boards have the pulse of their constituents.

According to NEA by-laws, the organization need go no further to obtain input from individual members for a primary endorsement. Even these straw polls are a formality.

The 8,000 strong Representative Assembly (RA) did not get a say. This larger body representing state and local affiliates will get to vote on an endorsement in the general election when the field is narrowed down to only two major candidates.

But anything like a poll of individual members is apparently not desired by leadership – now or later.

Perhaps that’s because for weeks the rank and file have been vehemently criticizing leaderships’ mounting push to endorse Clinton.

Some opposed to the decision are certainly Bernie Sanders supporters. However, many others complain that it is too early to endorse before candidates have clearly outlined their positions on education or even had a chance to debate.

In an effort to solidify the vote among wavering leadership, Garcia called in the big gun – Hillary Clinton, herself.

The Democratic candidate met with Directors today before the vote. No other candidate was present.

It’s one thing to vote. It’s another thing to do it in the presence of one of the candidates!

This whole process has been a mockery of what labor is supposed to stand for.

Unions are supposed to be about solidarity. The word, itself, means joining together. But this move by NEA leadership has been nothing like that. It has been a top down decision imposed on membership.

It is ludicrous that leaders claim they are representing card carrying rank and file when they haven’t asked us what we think. Nor do they even seem to have the slightest interest in doing so.

Full disclosure: I am not a Clinton supporter. I lean towards Sanders. However, I could accept this decision if it had been conducted democratically – if it really was a reflection of the thoughts of my union brothers and sisters.

Instead, we’ve been treated like sheep. We’ve been herded, fenced in, hushed and placated.

The way I see it, there are only two ways to go from here: we can give up or we can fight back.

It is tempting to become despondent and stop participating in the union. Why bother with people who don’t care what I think? In fact, maybe all those fat cats fighting to destroy us are right. If the NEA won’t include me in something this important, why should I continue defending it? Why keep paying dues?

But I can’t go that route. I won’t. Together we bargain, alone we beg.

The problem is not unions. The problem is our leadership. We must fight to take it back.

We must replace those who would silence the rank and file. We must vote in new leaders who actually represent us and have an interest in our input.

We need leaders who will fight for us, not those who are satisfied with a mere seat at the table and an opportunity to enrich themselves at our expense.

This is hard. It’s much easier to just wave a white flag, go home and watch the football game.

A union is not made of leaders. It is made of members.

Lily is not the NEA. I am.

And I will fight to take it back.


NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.