Charter School Cheerleaders Elected to Leadership with PA House Dems

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Democratic gains in the midterm elections were a repudiation of the policies of Donald Trump.

 

Yet holding nearly the same views as Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos earned two Pennsylvania state representatives high leadership positions with House Democrats.

 

Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, was elected minority whip – the second highest position after floor leader. Rep. Joanna McClinton, another Philadelphia Democrat, was selected chair of the Democratic Caucus.

 

Even after making gains in the election, Democrats did not get control of either the state House or Senate from Republicans, but kept control of the Governor’s mansion.

 

New leadership positions will last for two years, but have many scratching their heads.

 

Both Harris and McClinton are staunch supporters of charter schools over and above traditional public schools just like DeVos, a Republican megadonor before being selected for Trump’s cabinet.

 

Harris and McClinton support school vouchers – just like DeVos – if labeled opportunity scholarships. In their relatively short time in Harrisburg they’ve pushed for charter school expansion and even state takeovers of struggling schools serving mostly children of color.

 

Such strong neoconservative values might make it hard to tell which party the two belong to if it weren’t for one thing – the color of their skin.

 

Both Harris and McClinton are African American.

 

In fact, McClinton will make state history as the first woman of color in her leadership position. Harris will be the first black whip since Rep. K. Leroy Irvis in the 1970s.

 

Even so, their views put them in direct opposition with many civil rights leaders.

 

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Black Lives Matter have called for a moratorium on new charter schools. Journey for Justice (J4J), a nationwide civil rights collective made up of more than of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in several cities including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, has gone even further demanding more community based traditional public schools.

 

Jitu Brown, national director of J4J, put it this way:

 

“Who are these bankers and why are they concerned about my school? Isolation is defeat. Privatizers are not reformers. They are colonizers and settlers. We do not negotiate with our executioner. We need to kill the privatization movement. We have worked in silos and adopted the values of our oppressors. You want a seat at the table, but you are on the menu too. We have more in common with each other than any of us do with our oppressors. People will vote against their interest with hatred that they learned centuries ago – but we need to be different. We cannot adopt the language of our oppressors. We don’t have failing schools, we have been failed.”

 

Perhaps Harris and McClinton’s support has something to do with campaign finance. Both have accepted large sums from the charter school industry.

 

Harris’s 2012 campaign was funded 58% by school privation business interests – Students First PAC and its associates. That breaks down to $37,295 from Make a Difference PAC, $30,000 directly from Students First PAC and $2,000 from Economic Development PAC.

 

And he’s still bankrolled mostly by that industry. More recently, he has taken $25,000 from Excellent Schools Pa and $11,500 from Students First Pa PAC.

 

McClinton has taken $5,250 from Excellent Schools PA and $1,000 from Students First PAC. However, she also received $3,000 from the public school friendly Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers.

 

Students First PA and Students First PAC are Pennsylvania political action committees associated with the national school privatization lobbying firm American Federation for Children (AFC) which is chaired by DeVos.

 

What are Democratic House leaders doing taking large campaign contributions from Trump’s Education Secretary?

 

Moreover, both Harris and McClinton got their start in politics working for state Sen. Anthony “Tony” Williams, D-Philadelphia, the biggest recipient of school privatization money in the entire state. He took at least $5 million from the industry during his failed bid for governor in 2010, and an additional $7 million for a failed run at Philly Mayor in 2015.

 

Harris was an intern for Williams and McClinton was Williams’ chief counsel.

 

Even in Harrisburg, some question the two state reps ties to the far right billionaires bankrolling the school privatization industry. After all, these are the same people whose candidates just lost the midterms – and now fresh from an electoral victory Dems are elevating those of their own who are taking money from the same well!?

 

Student First PAC wasn’t just a main contributor to Harris and McClinton. It contributed $1 million to Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner before he was defeated by Democrat Tom Wolf. It also contributed boatloads of money to numerous GOP candidates in the Commonwealth running against Democrats just this last election cycle.

 

So why would the Democratic caucus vote for Harris and McClinton as new faces of party leadership?

 

Part of the reason seems to be a power struggle inside the party between the two halves of the state.

 

Leadership had been over-represented by lawmakers from the west – the Pittsburgh region and thereabouts. Harris and McClinton’s new positions go further to balancing the power with the east – the Philadelphia region.

 

Moreover, there was a legitimate concern that party leadership was too white and male.

 

However, there were other eastern Democrats, other women and people of color in the chamber who didn’t come with the baggage of Harris and McClinton.

 

Harris was asked point blank if he’d stop taking charter school money if elected to a leadership position, according to anonymous sources. He gave no indication that he would.

 

In his role as whip, Harris will have the greater opportunity to work for the charter school industry.

 

The whip is responsible for making sure that Democratic members attend sessions and generally understand the specifics of legislation and procedural votes in the House.

 

However, his comments on education policy are extremely biased.

 

For instance, he took exception when a report by the nonprofit Public Citizens for Children and Youth concluded that Pennsylvania’s charter schools are not outperforming traditional public schools, and the state’s 20-year-old charter law needs to be reformed.

 

The report says only 21 percent of Pennsylvania’s charters made the grade on the state School Performance Profile versus 54 percent of traditional district schools.

 

Harris response?

 

“I think it’s unfair to take all of the traditional public schools in the state and all of the charter schools in the state and compare them to each other.”

 

Really? Yet you propose we increase the number of charter schools BECAUSE they allegedly produce better academic outcomes. How can you know that if you’re unwilling to compare them? Or are you only unwilling to compare them when the results don’t support the policy positions you’re being paid to promote?

 

Harris also joined with Republican state Rep. John Taylor (another Philadelphia politician) to allow the state to takeover the lowest performing districts and give them over to charter school operators on the model of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

 

Almost a third of the state’s most struggling schools — 95, according to PA Department of Education — are located in Philadelphia. Taylor and Harris’s proposal was called the Educational Opportunity and Accountability Act.

 

Harris and McClinton, who represent adjacent areas of south Philadelphia, have rallied for charter schools and de facto school vouchers together.

 

“People have told me that I’ve been trying to dismantle public education,” said Harris. “No! I just know what it’s like to grow up in a neighborhood without options.”

 

The options he’s pushing for will greatly help corporations accepting public tax dollars to run schools at a profit, cherry pick enrollment, cut services and otherwise spend that money behind closed doors without accountability.

 

Payments to charter schools represent one of the fastest growing portions of the School District of Philadelphia’s budget. These costs are pushing the district toward fiscal uncertainty. Yet Harris and McClinton are pushing for a similar model throughout the Commonwealth.

 

 

Harris calls the push for more charter schools a “righteous movement.”

 

I’m sure Betsy DeVos would agree.

 

Education advocates in the Keystone state find themselves in a precarious position.

 

Though many of our candidates won in this midterm election, we will have to keep a close eye on Harrisburg.

 

Where will Harris and McClinton lead the party?

 

Will they encourage their colleagues to take money from the school privatization industry – the same industry bankrolling their opponents?

 

Or will they keep their biases to themselves and work for the betterment of the party and the communities it is sworn to represent?

 


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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We Are All Chicago Schools – More Layoffs, Less Help for Other People’s Kids

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“Fuck those kids.”

 

 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel couldn’t have been clearer if he’d said the above.

 

 

Chicago Schools Chief Executive Forrest Claypool couldn’t have made his priorities clearer if he’d given Chicago’s parents the bird and told them to “Kiss my ass.”

 

 

The Chicago Board of Education – made up of members all of whom are appointed by the mayor – decided to layoff 1,000 teachers and staff at the city’s public schools just a month before opening day. Sure, some may keep their jobs through reassignment, but hundreds will be unemployed.

 

 

This after a recent history of closing more than 80 schools and slashing thousands of jobs. Just last February, the district laid off 62 employees, including 17 teachers. In January, it laid off 227 staff members.

 

 

This begs several questions: How many teachers and support staff can Chicago Public Schools afford to lose? What exactly is this doing to its students? How is it affecting their future prospects to be taught by a skeleton crew?

 

 

The city’s leaders don’t give a shit.

 

 

And why should they? These aren’t their kids!

 

Emanuel’s children attend University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools, a private institution. Claypool’s kids go to Francis W. Parker, a private school in Lincoln Park. Even Gov. Bruce Rauner’s six kids don’t go to public school. They’re all grown.

 

So this doesn’t affect them. Nor does it affect any charter school kids. Not a single one of these 1,000 cuts will occur at a city charter school.

 

It’s just the traditional public schools, those schools where approximately 85% of students are Latino or African-American. Just those schools where 87% of the children come from low-income homes. Just those schools where 12% of kids are reported to have limited English proficiency.

 

Yeah. Fuck those kids.

 

And the worst part is that it’s not necessary. Chicago doesn’t have to continue to abandon its neediest children.

 

When you’re in a family, you make sacrifices for your kids. If funds are tight, you make cuts elsewhere or maybe you even take another job. Anything to make sure you’re providing your children with the best.

 

But Chicago’s leaders aren’t interested in doing any of that for these kids because they just don’t care.

 

Otherwise they could find the money. The teachers union suggests declaring a TIF surplus and reinstating a corporate head tax. The city isn’t exactly a wasteland. Wealthy developers are looking to build yet Emanuel has no intention of inconveniencing them by making them pay a fair share of taxes. Instead, the full burden falls on the city’s working families. And he calls himself a Democrat!

 

There’s always enough money for projects leaders care about. For instance, there was no problem finding $250,000 to pay a law firm where Claypool and his handpicked general counsel, Ron Marmer, both formerly worked. Marmer still has financial ties to the firm! So cut a check to Jenner & Block LLP? YES! Ensure kids have all the teachers they need? HECK NO!

 

Strangely there’s $27 million hiding in the seat cushions to open a new charter school for the University of Chicago. The Woodlawn Campus of the University of Chicago Charter School will be part of the development around the newly-planned Obama Library. It’s a fitting symbol of the President’s legacy – a brand new privatized educational facility while a few blocks away traditional public schools molder in ruin.

 

Meanwhile, Gov. Rauner holds the state education budget hostage. Illinois lawmakers could only agree on a 6-month state budget in June. Republicans expressed concern about the state being responsible for bailing out Chicago Schools. It’s not our problem, they seem to think. Well of course not. These aren’t your kids.

 

It’s the same swindle we see throughout the country. Refuse to pay for public schools – especially the schools serving poor brown kids, and then shrug. “Look at the impasse,” they shout, hoping voters are too stupid to realize it’s an impasse created by these lawmakers, themselves! It’s a textbook disaster capitalism move, approved by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other conservative think tanks. But Rauner can at least be forgiven for being a proud Republican. This is, after all, the behavior progressives expect from GOP lawmakers.

 

What about Democrats like Emanuel? This isn’t the way progressives are supposed to act. They aren’t supposed to favor privatization over public schools. They aren’t supposed to fawn on big business and promise tax cuts, tax shelters, and every other kind of tax avoidance.

 

Some might say it’s just Emanuel. After all, for a Democrat he sure pals around with a lot of conservatives. He and Rauner are best buddies. When Emanuel earned his fortune, he was an investment banker, and one of his best clients was Rauner. They go out to dinner and even spend vacations together. Sure they occasionally criticize each other in public, but behind closed doors the ideological differences just melt away.

 

What about the rest of the Democrats? Surely they don’t agree with Emanuel’s tactics. They made sure to keep him away from the Democratic National Convention – out of sight, out of mind.

 

But if the party is really so opposed to these policies, where is the condemnation from party leaders?

 

I haven’t heard a peep from the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, about these layoffs. Have you? She’s the de facto leader of the party and she’s got nothing to say about this. What does that tell you about her priorities?

 

Sure she’s cozied up to the two biggest national teachers unions who liked her so much they didn’t even need to consult the rank and file before endorsing her in the primary. Ronald Reagan had the support of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) right up until he declared their strike illegal and demanded they return to work. Will Clinton, too, turn against union teachers once she’s used them for their vote in November?

 

But you know what? Forget Hillary. Where’s Bill? Where’s Tim Kaine? Where’s Barack and Michelle Obama? Where’s Joe Biden? Where’s Al Franken? Where’s Cory Booker?

 

We have to get beyond labels like Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Almost all of them are neoliberals. They all believe essentially the same things.

 

And as proof I offer the deafening silence offered against Emanuel in Chicago.

 

He’s hurting school children.

 

But no one in power gives a fuck.

Standardized Tests Every Day: the Competency Based Education Scam

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IN THE NOT TOO DISTANT FUTURE:

Welcome to class, children.

Please put your hands down, and sit at your assigned seat in the computer lab.

Yes, your cubicle partitions should be firmly in place. You will be penalized if your eyes wander into your neighbors testing… I mean learning area.

Now log on to your Pearson Competency Based Education (CBE) platform.

Johnny, are you reading a book? Put that away!

Are we all logged on? Good.

Now complete your latest learning module. Some of you are on module three, others on module ten. Yes, Dara, I know you’re still on module one. You’ll all be happy to know each module is fully aligned with Common Core State Standards. In fact, each module is named after a specific standard. Once you’ve mastered say Module One “Citing Textual Evidence to Determine Analysis” you will move on to the next module, say “Determining Theme or Central Idea for Analysis.”

Johnny, didn’t I tell you to put away that book? There is no reading in school. You’re to read the passages provided by the good people at Pearson. No, you won’t get a whole story. Most of the passages are non-fiction. But I think there is a fun passage about a pineapple coming up in your module today. Isn’t that nice?

Laquan, you haven’t put on your headphones and started your module yet? You’ve been on module three for the past week. How can you learn at your own rate if you never progress beyond module three?

What’s that? Your mother wrote me a note? Let me see that.

Huh. So she wants to know how come you never get beyond module three. You should be able to answer that question for her, yourself, Laquan. (At least you could get that one right.)

Laquan, tell your mother that you haven’t passed the proficiency standard yet. You’ve taken all the remediation available on the computer program, haven’t you? Yes, that fun game where you answered multiple choice questions and when you got one correct the spaceship blasts an asteroid. And then you took the daily assessment but you just haven’t received a passing score yet. But don’t worry. I’m sure if you continue to do the same thing again today… eventually… you’ll get it right. It’s how the state and federal government determine whether you’ve learned anything on a daily basis.

In ancient times, teachers like me used to make up our own assignments. We’d give you books to read… Johnny, have you started yet? …whole books, novels, literature. And then we’d hold class discussions, class projects, act out scenes, draw posters, relate the books to your lives, write essays. But now all that silliness is gone.

Thanks to the good people at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Gates Foundation, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, The state and federal government have mandated a much more efficient way of determining student learning. Back in the day, they forced schools to give one big standardized test in Reading and Math every year. Teachers would have to scramble with test prep material to make sure all learners could pass the test, because if students didn’t get passing marks, the teacher was out on her butt.

We’ve done away with such silliness now. Thankfully the government got rid of yearly high stakes standardized testing. What we do now is called Competency Based Education. That’s what this program is called. It’s kind of like high stakes standardized testing every day. So much more efficient, so much more data to use to prove you know this set of basic skills written by the testing companies with hardly any input from non-experts like classroom teachers.

That’s how the district became composed of 100% charter schools. No more inefficient school boards made up of community members. Today our schools are run by corporate CEOs who are experts at finding ways to cut corners and increase profits for their shareholders. And, ugh, make you learn good.

Hm. I seem to be talking too much. No one’s paying me to impart any information. I’m just supposed to make sure you’re all hooked up to the program and making satisfactory daily progress. Otherwise, I’ll be out of a job again.

You laugh, but it’s hard to get minimum wage work like this. Since the U.S. Supreme Court made labor unions all but illegal and public schools instituted CBE programs, teachers like me could no longer demand such exorbitant salaries. Now I make an honest living. Speaking of which, I may have to get out of here a few minutes early today to make it to my shift at WalMart. I’m greeter today!

And if you work hard, someday you can be, too!


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