Punching Teachers in the Face – a New Low in Presidential Politics.

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Chris Christie wants to punch me in the face.

Gosh!

I’ve never even met the man. I don’t even live in New Jersey!

But in an interview, the Republican presidential candidate told the media that the national teachers union deserves a punch in the face.

Gulp. I guess that means me.

After all, I AM a public school teacher. I DO belong to one of those nefarious teachers unions.

I must deserve it. My colleagues – most of whom are women – and I must be asking for the NJ Governor to bop us on the nose.

Well come on, Governor. Hit me with your best shot!

One day historians may look back on Christie’s statement as a new low in electioneering. And this campaign season, that’s really saying something!

A candidate from one of the major political parties actually thinks threatening teachers with physical violence will gain him votes.

Why?

Look at it from his point of view. Christie is one of 17 Republicans running against each other for the party’s nomination. The first GOP debate is coming up and they’re only going to let the top 10 Republican candidates participate. And Christie’s popularity is low enough that he might get left out in the cold.

What’s a guy to do? Well the frontrunner, Donald Trump, earned his lead by saying the most outrageous things he could think of – namely that Mexican immigrants are rapists and thieves. And – WOOSH! – up went his poll numbers! Mike Huckabee compared the Iran deal to the Holocaust and watched his poll numbers rise, too.

Heck! If it worked for them, might as well try the same thing, Christie style! Let’s punch teachers!

This is strange for two reasons: (1) the governor of a populous state is actually resorting to the schoolyard rhetoric of an 8-year-old to characterize his presidential policy, and (2) who he’s targeting.

Can you imagine a U.S. President – not a candidate but a duly elected Commander-in-Chief – speaking to the nation this way?

“Today the state of our union is strong because my administration has punched the teachers in the face. We’ve also thrown welfare moms off the top ropes, put illegal immigrants in a sleeper hold and kicked planned parenthood in the groin!”

But notice that Christie isn’t talking this way about Welfare, Immigration or Abortion. As usual, he’s saving his most bitter rancor for teachers.

Can you imagine him speaking like this about any other public employee? Would he challenge postal workers to a knife fight? Would he threaten to pistol whip firefighters? Would he dare promise to drop kick police officers?

No way! For some reason educators really bug him – always have. He has a reputation for shouting down and bullying teachers in his state.

A psychologist might easily look at Christie and say he’s overcompensating.

A 52-year-old who probably couldn’t beat up an egg with an egg beater continues to talk as if he’s a street tough. A grown man who is still apparently intimidated by people with any kind of learning or book smarts continues to attack education and educators.

It would be pathetic if the stakes weren’t so high.

Ultimately the success or failure of such tactics is up to the voters. Do they really want presidential candidates to talk this way?

Once upon a time, politicians ran for office based on what they were going to do for you once they won. Now they generate as much contrived reality TV drama as they can in the hopes this will get a nation of couch potatoes to go to the polls.

It’s as if campaign managers are taking their cues from the most thriving kind of democracy we have left – the televised kind. They’re emulating shows like American Idol or American’s Got Talent. Make a big noise, put on a freak show and try to start a fight. We used to justify this as truth. Remember one of the first shows in the genre, The Real World, used to begin every episode with the line, “What happens when people stop being polite and start being real?”

But it was never real. It was always pre-packed, pre-planned, pre-arranged crap that could only exist because we pretended that’s how people really act!

Now that’s how we run for president.

We used to have Kim Kardashian, Kate Gosselin and Snookie.

Now we have Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie.

Cynics say these kinds of shenanigans will just serve to make far right ideologues like Jeb Bush look increasingly rational because they have more self control.

But I wonder if these are really optimists. Given the choice between the fake adult and the clown, the public may pick the clown.

Politics may really have sunk that low.

If only we had spent more time listening to our teachers instead of punching them.


NOTE: This article also was mentioned on Diane Ravich’s blog and published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association Blog.

Did AFT Rank and File REALLY Endorse Hillary Clinton for President? If So, Release the Raw Data

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I have nothing against Hillary Clinton.

Heck! I might even vote for her in the coming Presidential race. Maybe…

But the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsement of the former First Lady is strange in many ways.

First, it’s awfully early. The initial Democratic primaries aren’t scheduled for half a year yet – February of 2016 to be exact. And the general election isn’t until Nov. 8, 2016 – more than a year away.

Second, the manner in which this endorsement was reached is somewhat mysterious.

This much seems certain:

1) The AFT executive board invited all of the candidates to meet with them and submit to an interview. No Republican candidates responded.

2) Democrats including Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley and Clinton were interviewed in private.

3) The executive committee voted to endorse Clinton.

4) NOW the interviews are scheduled to be released to the public.

This is a perplexing timetable. Why would the AFT endorse BEFORE releasing the interviews? Ostensibly, the executive council used these interviews to help make its decision. Shouldn’t that same information have been available to rank and file members of the union before an endorsement was made?

Which brings up another question: were AFT members asked AT ALL about who to endorse before the executive council made the final decision?

According to the AFT press release, they were:

The AFT has conducted a long, deliberative process to assess which candidate would best champion the issues of importance to our members, their families and communities. Members have been engaged online, through the “You Decide” website, through several telephone town halls, and through multiple surveys—reaching more than 1 million members.

Additionally, over the past few weeks, the AFT has conducted a scientific poll of our membership on the candidates and key issues. The top issues members raised were jobs and the economy and public education. Seventy-nine percent of our members who vote in Democratic primaries said we should endorse a candidate. And by more than a 3-to-1 margin, these members said the AFT should endorse Clinton.

So the AFT claims union members said to endorse Clinton on-line, on telephone town halls, surveys and a scientific poll of membership.

But did they really?

Clinton may be the Democratic frontrunner, but she isn’t a favorite for a lot of teachers. Chiefly this is because her education positions are not that great. Sure, she’s better than every Republican running so far. But she has stiff competition in the Democratic field – especially from Sanders.

If Clinton had come out against Common Core, standardized testing and using student test scores to evaluate teachers effectiveness, I wouldn’t question the AFT’s endorsement at all. But she has been rather supportive of these issues – just like our current President, Barack Obama.

Teachers are fed up with Obama’s education policies. Why would they overwhelmingly endorse someone for President who seems bound and determined to continue them?

So I hope I’ll be excused if I ask for a bit more proof than a press release.

Where exactly are the polls, surveys, etc. that show the Clinton support AFT leadership claims?

For instance, which polls produced which results? The press release says AFT members prefer Clinton 3-1. But even if Clinton came out on top consistently, surely the results weren’t identical on every poll. Maybe she got 75% on one and 65% on another.

The AFT hasn’t released everything, but the organization’s website gives us a memo about ONE of these phone surveys. This national survey of membership planning to vote in Democratic primaries found 67% picked Clinton. However, only 1,150 members participated! That’s a far cry from the more than 1 million cited in the press release.

Moreover, there is no mention of what questions were asked. For instance, there is a world of difference between “Who would make the best President?” and “Who is most electable?” Is it possible there was selection bias present in the questions used to make this determination?

But that’s only one survey. Where is the rest of the data? Where is the raw information from this survey? Where is the data from all these other outreach attempts and on-line activities? How many took phone surveys? How many took on-line surveys? And what were the results in each case?

If union members really did endorse Clinton, that’s fine. But many of us would like to see the proof.

I’m not a member of the AFT, but I’m on the mailing list. I never received any survey.

A lot of my friends are AFT members, but none of them recall any survey.

As a member of numerous education and teaching groups, I know of no one else who admits to being polled either. In fact, I haven’t been able to find ANYONE who was polled on this issue!

I admit that’s not exactly scientific. But that’s why I want to see the data! Blind me with science, AFT!

I believe in teachers. I believe in Unions. I believe in Democracy.

Please release the raw data, AFT, so I can believe in this endorsement, too.


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

Clash of the Titans – Unionism at the Network for Public Education

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It was billed as the fight of the century.

Or at very least – the weekend.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia vs. Randi Weingarten.

National Education Association vs. American Federation of Teachers.

Union president vs. union president.

All moderated by education historian Diane Ravich.

“Oh snap!” cried six hundred voices in tandem at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago.

“It’s goin’ down!”

No soft pitches coming from Diane, either. These were going to be tough questions. No politicking. Only candid truth.

And the interview actually seemed to live up to its hype in one shinning moment.

Will you both commit to no longer taking any money from the Gates, Broad and Walton Foundations?

Ravich’s question hung in the air a second before the crowd erupted into a standing ovation.

We cheered so loudly at the question, we didn’t hear the answers – two quick short yeses.

When it quieted down somewhat, Lily nodded and Randi cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted “YES!”

At the time, I was overjoyed. But in retrospect something keeps bugging me.

That wasn’t as candid and organic as it appeared.

There’s no way the heads of the two largest labor unions in the country could commit to something like that off the cuff. They were expecting that question and they had already agreed in private on the answer.

Does it matter?

Maybe not. If the NEA and AFT actually follow through with this promise, who cares if the presentation was staged?

But there were other cracks in the facade along the way.

It started well enough. Both women said some really supportive things about teachers and our unions.

ROUND 1: LOVEFEST

Randi:

-Teachers are first responders to poverty. Never say I’m just a teacher. (NOTE: activist parent Rosemary Vega says she used almost the exact same words to Randi in a private conversation.)

-All middle class workers have to realize we’re all in it together.

-The other side lives in an evidence free zone. We need to keep pushing the truth.

Lily:

-Privatizers have to get people to distrust teachers. This is hard because most people naturally trust our profession.

-It’s strange that some celebrities want to make the world a better place by making it easier to fire more teachers.

-People who say teachers go into this profession for a cushy job are “idiots.” (Randi then countered that these folks are “morons.”)

-Teachers need tenure so they won’t be fired for helping kids.

-We talk about the progress gap – what about the resource gap?

-They say if kids had better teachers, they wouldn’t need resources!

-There are three pillars of corporate school reform:
1) privatize
2) standardize
3) delegitimize (teachers)

RESULT: Lily takes it. She came off more eloquent and genuine than Randi who seemed a bit strident and defensive. Judging by the mediocre applause and even outright hissing Randi earned from the audience, New York teachers may still blame her for Gov. Cuomo who she supported in the last election.

ROUND 2: STANDARDIZED TESTING

Randi:

-We need to get rid of high stakes tests. We need tests that are diagnostic. I took tests when I was a child, but they were about ME – not my teacher.

-We wanted three things from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) rewrite – no federalization of teacher evaluations, school closings or Common Core.

Lily:

-If we have standardized testing at all – and I’m not sure we should – we should use them for general trends. Not to fire teachers, close schools, etc.

-The NEA is against annual testing in the ESEA rewrite. Instead we want informational grade span testing at the state level. That means testing reading and math once in elementary school, once in the middle school and once in the high school.

-Lawmakers say you need to test kids every year. They think we need the data. However, the NEA told them that we don’t test that much even now! We only test kids in grades 3-8 every year. We test high school students only once. So we already have grade span testing in the high school. If that’s working, why not do the same in the elementary and middle schools?

RESULT: Yuck and yuck. Are these really the same rabble rousers from Round 1? They both agree on grade span testing. Yes, it’s clearly better than annual testing but it leaves so many unanswered questions:

1) If we had grade span testing, would our test-obsessed country really only test once at each academic level? Right now, standardized tests aren’t required in Kindergarten, first or second grade – yet in most schools WE HAVE THEM! To paraphrase Lily – we already have literally annual testing through 8th grade! Prove to me that grade span testing won’t be that!

2) How can you be sure grade span testing will actually remove high stakes? Just because you say something doesn’t have high stakes doesn’t mean it isn’t actually de facto high stakes. I can call a cat a “dog,” but it still won’t use the litter box.

3) Do we really need any of this “demographic”, “purely informational,” nothing-to-see-here-folks data? Do we? Why? To prove kids are learning? We give them grades for that. To prove kids are getting the proper resources? We do audits for that.

So let’s call this one a sloppy and ugly draw with few punches thrown.

ROUND 3: COMMON CORE

Randi: Standardized testing is ruining the potential of the Common Core. (Ravich responded that it is an outrage that so few kids pass Common Core tests who passed the tests they replaced.)

Lily: Many Common Core standards can’t be evaluated on standardized tests. They ignore the best parts. Organize a project, give an opinion, do a multi-media presentation. You can’t assess that with a multiple choice fill-in-the-bubble test.

RESULT: They agree again. The rank and file hate Common Core. The majority of teachers are against it or uncertain, but our largest union leaders think it’s just swell. It’s so gosh darn great, but toxic testing is ruining it. Are you freaking kidding me!? Why are the leaders of our biggest unions – who are supposed to represent us – defending standards that were not developed by educators, are developmentally inappropriate and have never been proven to work!?

Standardized tests are bad, but standardized curriculum is good!?

Once again light starts to shine through the cracks here. Somewhere, sometime ago, a decision was reached between these two ladies and parties unknown to make a compromise. Save Common Core by lightly ribbing standardized tests. Champion a slight decrease in testing (that may not actually reduce testing at all) in exchange for saving standardized curriculum.

I’m sorry. I’m calling the fight. No winners here.

BUT WAIT!

OFF THE TOP ROPES COMES RANK AND FILE UNIONISTS FROM THE BREAKOUT SESSION ON SOCIAL JUSTICE UNIONISM!

Michelle Gunderson chaired an incredible session about the need to transform our labor unions around the issues of social justice.

Remarks included:

-Get Up! Get down! Chicago is a union town!

-After Gov. Walker, there weren’t supposed to be any unions. But WE’RE STILL HERE!

Rosemary Vega: true leaders don’t make more followers. They make more leaders.

-Everyone is a worker. Everyone deserves rights – whether you’re in a union or not.

-Fighting for social justice is key to building strong unions.

-Do you want a service union or an activist one? Associations shouldn’t just be about salary and benefits. They need to be about Justice.

-People of color used to be banned from joining unions. Now they’re leaders.

-You’d never know how much our unions had to fight for the rights we have today. We don’t pass that on to the next generation. We should.

Michelle: Union members aren’t friends. They’re brothers and sisters.

RESULT: Randi and Lily are teetering on their feet! They’re almost down! Somehow they’re still standing! How can they still be standing!?

OH! IS THAT KAREN LEWIS ENTERING THE RING!? NO WAY!

Diane had a brief talk with the Chicago Teachers Union president to end the entire NPE conference. Karen didn’t say anything revolutionary.

In fact, she deflected any kind of praise back to someone else. When Diane said Karen was her hero, Karen said she felt the same way about Diane. When Diane asked her about being attacked in the media, Karen thanked the Badass Teachers Association for coming to her aide on Twitter.

She was poise, finesse and grace.

The strength she demonstrated! The power! The integrity!

RESULT: Boom! It’s all over! It’s all over! Ring the bell! Ring the Bell!

Unions still have an important place in our fight as teachers. But it’s not top down. Unions work best when they’re bottom up – just like any Democracy.

Lily and Randi seem like very nice ladies. In many ways they DO stand up for teachers and students. But there is more to their stories. They have seats at the table in the smoke filled rooms where decisions are made at the highest level about how our country will be lead. And to keep those seats, they have to make compromises. They have to sell these compromises to you and me as if these were their own ideas. They want to convince us that these are really OUR ideas.

But it’s not true. It’s showmanship.

We have to be smart enough to see through it and call them out on the bullshit when it comes.

Unions have always been about people power – and what powerful people we have on our side!

The audience at NPE was full of these courageous, big hearted activists and organizers. I’m so honored to have been included in this tremendous event.

Power to the people!


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

WANTED: Progressive Candidate With the Guts to Stand Up For Public Education

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Wanted:

Progressive presidential candidate.

MUST SUPPORT PUBLIC EDUCATION.

No. Not just the words. Not as a soundbite. Must actually support policies that help public schools – not tear them apart and sell them away piece-by-piece while you smile and brag about how much you support education.

This means you must:

1) Repudiate and Vow to Repeal Common Core State Standards

-Must know how they were created by unqualified partisans with little input from real educators.

-Cash strapped states were coerced into accepting them – in many cases even before they were done being written – as a condition for increased funding.

-They have never been proven to help kids learn and are in fact a massive social experiment at taxpayers’ expense and students’ peril.

-They are a huge payday for the testing and test prep industry who provide the new standardized assessments and new textbooks necessary for their implementation.

-They are developmentally inappropriate, demanding all students to learn at the same rate and at a time frame that is inconsistent with the way children cognitively develop.

2) End Annual Standardized Testing

-Must promise to end policies forcing public schools to give standardized tests in reading and math to all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Ideally, standardized tests should be completely eliminated.

-Must understand that standardized tests are poor assessments that have never been proven to measure academic achievement. However, they do an excellent job of demonstrating a student’s parental income – rich kids do well, poor kids less so.

-Must realize these tests are nothing but a money-maker for private industry and are used as an excuse to close under-funded schools predominantly serving children of color.

MUST REPUDIATE THE MEDIA NARRATIVE OF FAILING SCHOOLS, which is not supported by facts and merely the propaganda of an industry feeding off of our public taxes and children’s misery.

3) Stop the Expansion of Charter Schools

-Must understand how for-profit charters siphon away public money for use as private profits. Charters reduce services for children to increase the bottom line.

-Must vow to protect funding meant for traditional public schools that is lost when charters open in the district.

-Must know that no research has ever shown charters to be better than public schools, and many studies have shown them to be drastically worse.

-Must appreciate the lack of transparency charters are afforded feeds the growing plague of national charter financial scandals.

4) Work to Stop School Segregation

-Our public schools are more segregated now than they were before Brown vs. Board of Education 60 years ago. This is intolerable and makes it easy to disenfranchise students of color.

-Must not only recognize this, but have a plan to solve the problem.

5) Promise to Increase Public School Funding – Especially to the Poorest Districts

-Must understand that nationwide, rich schools spend on average 15.6% more than high poverty schools. Being born poor should not mean you get a worse education. In fact, impoverished students have greater needs than wealthy ones. It costs MORE to educate them.

-Must champion an effective plan to address funding inequalities with an emphasis an equity.

6) Have a Plan to Address Child Poverty

-Must understand that more than half of public school students live below the poverty line.

-Must have an effective plan to help children, parents and families rise out of poverty.

7) Allow Teachers Autonomy and Recognize Them as Professionals

-Must support letting teachers run their own classrooms, champion teacher-created tests over standardized ones – in short, LET TEACHERS TEACH.

-Must vow to eliminate any so-called teacher accountability programs that evaluate educators based on student test scores. Let teachers be evaluated by their own administrators based on classroom observations.

8) Stop Supporting Teach For America

-Must admit six weeks training for college graduates without education degrees is not good preparation to become classroom teachers. All students deserve a teacher with a 4-year degree specializing in education.

-Must condemn valuing TFA recruits who have only promised to be in the classroom for two years over teachers who have devoted their whole lives to their students.

9) Repudiate Any So-called School Choice or Voucher Programs

-Must understand that these policies are often backdoor support for the unconstitutional practice of spending public money on religious or parochial schools.

-Must recognize these policies are another attempt by private industry to convert public taxes into profits. Private schools are not subject to the same regulations as public entities and as such can freely use tax money in more nefarious ways.

-Must acknowledge that school choice is a sham – sending children to schools without public school boards paradoxically reduces the choice parents have over how the school is run.

-Public schools must remain public. Policies allowing for choice among schools – if done fairly – would increase the cost of public education exponentially. It is a much more efficient policy and less open to fraud if we instead ensure every student has a quality education. We need one excellent education system – not multiple ones.

10) Support the Right of Workers to Unionize

-Must support policies to make it easier for private citizens to exercise their collective bargaining rights. Period.


I would be willing to vote for any candidate who met all of these requirements regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, background or party affiliation.

That’s right. This job need not be filled by a Democrat. Any party will do. I am sick of being offered false progressives under a Democratic banner.

And Hillary Clinton coming right out of the gate praising Common Core may have been the last straw.

Why vote for her over Jeb Bush when they support THE SAME THING!?

No. I will not vote Democrat just because. Never, never again.

If they want my vote, they will have to meet my job application. I will vote to hire the best candidate. Whoever that is.

And I bet I’m not alone.

The education vote is no longer a gimme for the Democrats.

Progressive education candidates? Are you out there?


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

It’s a Badass Film Festival! Closeup on Corporate School Reform!

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I blog.

I write.

I look at the devastation, the hopes and promise of our public school system, and I report it to the world.

It seems a futile pursuit some days. Does anyone actually read this stuff? Or am I just talking to myself?

The hit counter tells me that, yes, indeed, there are people out there clicking on my humble little gadflyonthewallblog. Comments appear under my Facebook posts. My tweets get retweeted. Followers and friends multiply.

But I wonder sometimes about all the sets of eyes that see a block of text under my name and just keep on scrolling.

Would the minds connected to those eyes have understood? Would they have been spurred to action? Might they have been just the people we need to turn the tide and take back our education system?

And I answer: maybe.

So today’s entry is an attempt to get those roving, impatient orbs to stop, look and see.

Because today I bring not just words but pictures. Movies, in fact.

But first some background.

This whole enterprise began by accident. My school district received a $360,000 donation from Apple and Bill Campbell so every student could have an iPad for use in class.

The program will be rolled out next year, but teachers have already been given devices and some minimal training.

We were encouraged to play around with the devices to find applications for our students next year. One such app we were told to explore was iMovie.

I made a brief preview trailer for S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” – one of the novels my students read. I thought it might make a good lesson on theme for next year’s kids.

However, in doing the assignment, I wondered what it might look like if I made a similar short movie about corporate education reform. After all, I spend a lot of my off hours writing about it. Why not try another medium?

Let me be clear. I did NOT use school equipment. I have my own personal iPad at home. It’s not nearly as nice as the ones the students will be using. In fact, I had to pay for a few upgrades to get it up to similar specs.

But once I did, it was a simple matter to make the “OPT OUT OF STANDARDIZED TESTING” movie you see here:

The newest version of the program provides several short preview templates in various movie genres. All you have to do is insert pictures or video and change the text to suit your purposes. In some cases, I had to extend the templates so they’d fit the topic I was tackling.

I was kind of tickled by the result so I shared it with my fellows at the Badass Teachers Association. I serve on the Leadership Team. And in a moment of whimsy I had designated my film a production of “Badass Films.”

They seemed really taken with it. They loved the idea of having our own film studio – even if it was just a hand-held Apple device.

With the power of an organization representing more than 54,000 people, they promoted my first little film on their YouTube channel. They pushed it out on twitter and facebook. Even Education Historian Diane Ravich gave it a push and a very kind review.

They asked me to make more. I did.

My fellow BATS helped me decide on topics, made suggestions for revisions, helped provide photos and even made a kick ass mock movie poster for each film!

And every day they’d send out into the ether a reminder that Badass Films is coming soon!

I hope you enjoy them.

Without further ado, here are the remaining 12 Badass Films:


COMMON CORE

On YouTube


CHARTER SCHOOL TREASURE HUNT

On YouTube


V.A.M. SHAM

On YouTube


SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE

On YouTube


SOCIAL JUSTICE

On YouTube


TEACH FOR AMERICA

On YouTube


TEACHERS UNIONS

On YouTube


TEACHER TENURE

On YouTube


PENSION THEFT

On YouTube


SCHOOL “CHOICE”?

On YouTube


BADASS TEACHERS ASSOCIATION

On YouTube


G.E.R.M. – Global Education Reform Movement

On YouTube


So there you have it. Badass Films.

I’m hoping these short videos can serve as a primer for our fight against the standardization and privatization movement.

People who wouldn’t sit to read an entire blog entry might stop long enough to watch a less than 2 minute film. And – hey – videos are like potato chips – you can’t stop at just one!

Some might criticize this project as being shallow. How can you really explain a topic like the School to Prison Pipeline or even Common Core in such a short span?

Well, you can’t. But these are meant to be attention-getters. I only hope they’ll spark interest. There are so many sources for more information – many of them previous articles published on this very blog!

I’d love to hear your thoughts. How did I do? Are these films successful? Will they help the fight against factory schools?

Feel free to leave a comment and certainly to share this blog or any of the individual videos.

Special thanks to all the BATS who helped bring this project to completion. You earn the name “Badass” every day!

As for me? I will continue to write.

To blog.

And – when possible – make movies.


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

Coming Soon – Badass Films!

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Quick! Somebody microwave Bill Gates a bag of popcorn!

Fluff up Arne Duncan’s favorite pillow!

Get Chris Christie some Sour Patch Kids!

A lot of Sour Patch Kids!

Because the show is about to begin!

Coming Friday, March 6, I’ll be launching Badass Films.

This new venture is a division of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs). Your humble blogger is a member of the leadership team.

I’ve made 12 very short films about corporate school reform and the grassroots movement that fights against it.

They’re nothing fancy – just something I whipped up with imovie. But I hope they’ll help spread the message and get people up to speed on the damage being done to our school system by standardization and privatization. I also hope to shine a light on some of the amazing people out there – parents, teachers, students, and people of conscience – who are fighting against factory schools with all their might.

I already released this film called “Opt Out of Standardized testing:

Friday I’ll release the remaining 11.

Here are the working titles and a few mock movie posters made by our incredible BAT Meme Team:

COMMON CORE

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

CHARTER SCHOOL TREASURE HUNT

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

V.A.M. SHAM

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

SOCIAL JUSTICE

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

TEACH FOR AMERICA

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

TEACHERS UNIONS

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

TEACHER TENURE

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

PENSION THEFT

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(Meme by Deb Escobar)

SCHOOL “CHOICE!?”

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

BADASS TEACHERS ASSOCIATION

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(Meme by Lisa Smith)

I hope you’re as excited as I am! I always wanted to be in the movies! Move over, Orson Welles! Here comes a BAT with an ipad!

See you Friday at the movies! ^O^


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

Forget Education Saviors – They Aren’t Coming

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I feel so left out.

I get the emails just like you:



Run Warren Run!

Run Sanders Run!



Are You Ready for Hillary?

But I just can’t get excited about any of them as potential presidential candidates in 2016.

Sure I like Elizabeth Warren’s stance to hold Wall Street accountable. I like Bernie Sanders‘ New Deal rhetoric. I even like Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming confidence and competence.

But none of them pass the most important test.

None of them are really committed to supporting our public school system.

For education advocates like me, it’s a case of being once bitten, twice shy.

One of President Obama’s campaign promises was that he would reform our education system. And he did! If by “Reform” you mean “make things much worse!”

I remember watching him at a 2008 rally in my hometown as he spoke about standardized testing overload and how we needed to support teachers. He promised to improve No Child Left Behind, hold charter schools accountable, provide better resources for struggling schools instead of punishing them, etc.

I was so overwhelmed that a politician actually cared about the same things I did, as he was leaving the arena I reached over the barrier and shook his hand. (Personal Note: he moisturizes.)



I hung signs, I passed out “Hope” buttons, I took to the phones – things I had never before done for a political candidate. And the results are less than overwhelming.

Sure he’s done some good things. Obamacare’s not bad. It’s a good first step toward universal single-payer healthcare. Yes, it’s nice we finally got Osama bin Laden, federal stimulus, drawing down troops on foreign soil – it’s all a step up from his predecessor.

But when it comes to education, Obama is actually worse than George W. Bush.

It’s so liberating to say that out loud. Liberating and scary.

Standardized testing, national curriculum, privatization – all of these have become worse under Obama. While he and his laughably unqualified Education Secretary Arne Duncan still pay lip service sometimes to the problem of toxic testing, they make no move to reduce it. They just increase their support year-after-year.

Whenever you say this to a hardcore Democrat, they usually respond that it’s not his fault. He was blocked from initiating the policies he wanted by a Republican Congress, they say. And this is true on some issues, but education isn’t one of them. He’s chief executive. He controls the US Department of Education and thus national policy.

Race to the Top and all its failures belong squarely at his feet. It will be interesting to see him try to distance himself from these policies in his retirement years attempting to preserve a legacy as a liberal lion. Nice growl. Toothless bite.

So I hope I may be forgiven for looking toward the horizon. Is there anyone on the political scene who promises to change this situation in 2016?

The short answer: no.

There are Republican legislators who oppose Common Core, but their criticism often comes down to – Ooooh! Yuck! A black man touched it!



I fear that if a member of the GOP somehow gains our highest office, Common Core will suddenly be rebranded as something Saint Reagan thought of – or perhaps something Jesus told W. to bring to the people along with endless war and tax cuts for the rich.

Those few conservatives who actually do have a reasoned argument against Common Core lose me when they talk about what should replace it. Because it’s usually school choice.

I guess it makes sense. They hate any kind of national curriculum or standards but have no problem with leaving it all in the hands of big business privatizers. They take it too far like someone whose boots are too tight so he spends the rest of his life barefoot in all weather.

So I turn back to my Democrats – the party of my father. And I’ll admit it proudly – I’m a lifelong, FDR-loving, donkey riding, social policy supporting Dem. But when I look around at the current crop of democratic presidential hopefuls, there’s not much support for education.

Take Hillary Clinton – the clear frontrunner for the party nomination.

This is not her first rodeo. Her positions are no mystery. All you have to do is a little bit of research to see what she’s championed in her long career in public service.

And she’s been on the right side from time-to-time.

She’s pushed for universal pre-kindergarten, arts education, after-school tutoring, smaller class sizes and the rights of families.

As a college student in the 1960s, she even volunteered to teach reading to children in poor Boston neighborhoods. She fought to ensure voting access for African Americans and even worked at an alternative newspaper in the black community.

However, at core she’s a true political animal. Whatever her real feelings on the issues, she never lets that get in the way of an expedient compromise.

Sometimes that’s a good thing – but when it comes to education, that usually means someone’s losing big – and that someone’s usually a child.

For example, she opposes religious instruction in public schools – but sees no problem with school-led prayers.

She is against merit pay for individual teachers but champions it for entire schools.

She opposes using taxes to fund students attending private or parochial schools but thinks parents should be able to choose among public schools.

And she is a strong advocate for charter schools as a solution to the media-driven fallacy of “failing” public schools.

But perhaps worst of all is her support for Common Core. Both she and her husband backed national standards before they were even called Common Core.

One of President Bill Clinton’s central education policies (to which Hillary gave her full support) was a push for national voluntary education standards – something that Republicans in Congress vehemently opposed and squashed. Then George W. Bush became president and the Republicans suddenly loved the idea until Obama championed it, too.

As much as I admire Hillary Clinton, the person, I cannot trust Hillary Clinton, the politician. Even if she changed her stated views on all education issues and received the full support of the NEA and AFT, I could never trust that if the winds changed she wouldn’t change her positions right back.

That takes us to Elizabeth Warren – Clinton’s main challenger for the nomination.

Warren hasn’t announced that she’s running. In fact, she’s denied it many times. However, my buddies on the left are completely enamored of her.

Moveon.org is trying to generate support on the Left for Warren to challenge Clinton. And they have good reasons. There’s plenty to like about her.

She was an early advocate for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She’s opposed big banks being labeled “too big to fail” and pushed to hold Wall Street accountable for the risky business practices that crashed our economy. She’s in favor of increasing the minimum wage and fighting against income inequality.

But for all that, she’s strangely quiet on education policy.

The only major education legislation she’s supported in her time in the Senate is reducing loan rates for college students.

Strange for someone who actually worked as a teacher!

For a year she taught children with disabilities in a public elementary school in New Jersey. Though she had originally aspired to be a teacher, she didn’t finish her degree. She used an emergency certification. Then she moved on to law school.

With a personal story like that, it’s not surprising the NEA supported her successful run for John Kerry’s Senate seat.

So what’s the problem?

She wrote a book – not a minor article, not an off-the-cuff remark – an entire book championing school choice.

It’s called The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke. In it, she makes a case for a universal school voucher program. She strongly supported giving parents taxpayer-funded vouchers they could use at any school – public, private or parochial. This would “relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.”

Not exactly the kind of policy you’d expect from a far left liberal – but she was a Republican then. As soon as she changed parties, her support for school choice was stashed in the closet.

When asked about it, she said she was misunderstood. Like Clinton, she said she never intended taxpayer money to go to private or parochial schools – only that parents could chose an adjacent public school for their children if they wished.

It’s a huge stain on an otherwise nearly blank book. Like Obama, she can rhapsodize on the importance of public schools as much as she wants at her stump speeches. I’d like to see her support some real education policies before backing her horse for president.

Could she convince me? Maybe. If I’m honest, I want to be convinced. But I need more than words. I need deeds.

Which brings me to the last populist champion for the Democratic Presidential nomination – Bernie Sanders.

The Vermont Senator is technically an Independent but he caucuses with the Democrats. In fact, unlike most on the left who cringe at the label “Socialist,” Sanders actually uses it to describe himself as a Democratic Socialist.

He’s been a leader calling for breaking up media monopolies, and a staunch supporter of universal healthcare. He was against the bank bailout and a warrior against income inequality.

Though education policy has never been his forte, his voting record is mostly positive. He voted to increase federal funding for public schools, in favor of grants to Black and Hispanic colleges, in favor of reducing class size in the early grades, against school prayer, and against school choice. In fact, he is one of the most aggressive enemies of school vouchers in Congress.

Most recently, when President Obama suggested making two years of community college free for everyone, Sanders championed going even further– free tuition at any public college or university!

It’s a pretty impressive record. However, it’s not perfect.

In 1998, he voted to expand funding for charter schools. Considering that his home state of Vermont had zero charters at one point – yes, zero – it’s unclear how knowledgeable he was on the issue. It certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of thing he’d be for now. That was 17 years ago. Has he learned more in the meantime? Is he now for or against charters? It’s unclear.

Even more damning, in May 2001, he voted for No Child Left Behind requiring states to conduct annual standardized testing. That’s hardly an unforgivable sin. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Congress fully against testing – especially back in 2001.

But that wasn’t his only misstep. Sanders also showed brief support for Common Core. As recently as 2011, he explicitly supported legislation to expand it in Vermont. However, lately he has refused to give an opinion either for or against it.

Could he be souring on corporate education reform? The most tantalizing answer lies in legislation he helped author in 2013.

In a bid to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, he developed legislation that would have allowed states to demonstrate student learning through innovative projects instead of standardized testing. The bill fizzled, however, with lack of Congressional will.

Is Sanders evolving away from the testocracy of Bush and Obama or is he just playing it close to the vest? I would like to know more. Sanders would need to do some work to convince me he is on the side of public schools, but he might be able to do it. If that’s what he really wanted.

Of the three candidates examined here, he is most likely to become a true education advocate. But he is also least likely to receive the party’s nomination or to win a general election.

So where does that leave us? Who can I support as a possible education savior in 2016?

The answer again: no one.

We have to face it, people. No one is coming to save us and our children. There never will be. Politicians aren’t made of that kind of self-sacrificing stuff. Not Democrats, Republicans or Independents.

Those of us who cherish public education will have to push 2016 hopefuls to move as far our way as possible. But when it comes to the actual election, we may have to face the distinct possibility that there will be no one in whom we can safely vote.

We may have to run our own independent candidate – someone with no chance of winning, but who might continue to push the mainstream candidates toward education. Because no matter who wins, chances are he or she won’t be as friendly toward public schools as they are toward the lobbying dollars of the privatizers and standardization movement.

We can’t elect our way to sound education policy. It will take a massive popular movement of parents, teachers, students and people of conscience. Demands will be made. Protests will be staged. Revolutions may be waged.

Because the only education savior we can count on is us.


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