I Used to be a Reporter. Now I’m a Teacher. I’ve Become What I Used to Observe

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A long time ago, in a newsroom far, far away; your humble narrator was a respected journalist.

Today I am a beloved school teacher in a suburban middle school.

Okay. That may be laying it on a bit thick.

Like any human being whose job it is to get children to do their best and learn something, I’m beloved by some and beloathed by others. And if I’m honest, when I was a reporter, I was never all that respected. But I did win several state journalism awards.

The point I’m trying to make is that like a caterpillar into a butterfly or a tadpole into a frog, I made a startling transformation in career paths that flies somewhat in the face of popular wisdom.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “There are no second acts in American Lives.” Well, I’m on my third or fourth act and nowhere near ready for the curtain to come down yet.

It’s shocking how far I’ve come, though there’s a surprising amount of overlap between my two professions. In fact, the biggest difference is one of orientation.

I used to get up at 4 a.m., weave into the newsroom and type away for a few hours about the previous night’s school board or city council meeting before my deadline came down, the presses rolled and the morning edition went on sale.

Now I get up at 5 a.m., hobble into the classroom and go to meetings, grade papers or otherwise get ready for a 7-hour invasion by 12- and 13-year-olds, followed by more meetings and papers and planning.

I used to go into the classroom to interview teachers and students about special lessons, state and federal programs or standardized tests.

Now I’m in the classroom questioning myself about my students and what works best to help them learn, trying to navigate the state and federal programs so they get the best return and bang my head against the wall about the constant standardized tests.

I used to independently bebop all over my coverage area, asking questions, doing research, discovering things that many people would rather remain secret.

Now I independently plan my lessons, ask my students questions, do research on best practices and discover things about my children and their lives that many people would rather remain secret.

You’ve heard the old chestnut about education being a career for those unable to act. I’m living proof that it’s a lie.

As a journalist, I reported on. As a teacher, I do.

In my former job, I told. In my current one I show.

Perhaps that’s why I now find it so strange that many of my former colleagues have gone into public relations, communications or have become policy analysts.

I’m not surprised. I can’t say I didn’t know that that door was always open. But it’s peculiar.

In the newsroom, we all heard the stories about grizzled newspapermen and women with shelves stuffed full of awards and prized Rolodexes bursting with hard-earned sources who gave it all up for a 9-5 desk job writing the very press releases we disdained.

We all had friends who were making bank managing people like us and trying to get us to write what the company wanted or spin the story in the direction the advertisers liked.

There is no scorn, no disgust, no derision to match that of a journalist for a corporate sellout, and that’s because in our hearts we all secretly wondered if it wasn’t the better deal.

Every good reporter – like every good teacher – is a radical at heart.

You don’t get into either field to support the status quo. You want to rock the boat. You want to shake things up. You want to change the world for the better – all from the comfort of your swivel chair behind your computer screen or from the well worn tread of your classroom carpet.

Journalists live for the scoop, the big story, the article that shouts off the front page above the fold and which has everyone talking. Teachers live for the student epiphany, the moment the light comes on behind a child’s eyes, the transformation from ignorance to knowledge and – dare I say – wisdom.

But being a press agent or policy hack has none of that splendor.

You have to give it up – all for the right to have a chance at a life.

I loved being a reporter. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I got to do things, see things, talk to people, be there for things that I never would have been able to access otherwise. But I could barely pay my bills.

I was dirt poor in the newsroom. We all were.

We worked 50-60 hours a week, had no time for a second job, no time for a social life, no time for a family or kids, and we wanted more.

So I understand the allure of the steady paycheck and becoming a housebroken professional communicator of someone else’s message.

But being a teacher is different.

You still don’t get paid much. You still work long hours – though maybe not quite as long. But you can get that second job – often in the school, itself, tutoring students or in a summer or after school program.

And you get union protections that I only dreamed about as a reporter. A safe workspace, clean and tidy, no outrageous demands (or at least an upper limit on them), and a schedule you can predict and plan a life around.

Best of all, you still get to keep your idealism intact. Or you can try to keep it as you dodge this directive and that unfunded mandate and that deeply racist policy passed down from above.

Don’t get me wrong. Becoming a teacher was hard work. I didn’t go about it the easy way – no Teach for America, one-foot-in/one-foot-out, cheating for me. I dove in head first.

I went back to college and took an intensive, accelerated masters program designed exactly for people changing careers. To get there, I had to swallow a few prerequisites I’d missed in college the first time. Then they placed me in a high school where I watched and then took over multiple classes – all while enrolled in education courses at night and in the summers.

By the time it was all over, I still had the most important things left to learn – (1) whether I could actually teach a full schedule, and (2) whether I liked doing so.

For me, the answers were unequivocally positive. I took to it like I’d taken to journalism. I needed lots of fine tuning, but the basics came naturally. And I loved every exhausting minute of it.

I regret nothing about becoming a teacher. It’s the best job I’ve ever had and am ever likely to have.

As a journalist, I got to rock whole communities with exposes about corruption. As an educator, I get to impact individuals.

I no longer get to be the talk of the town, but I get to change lives all the same – one person at a time.

And there’s something deeply satisfying about it – to look in another person’s eyes and see the need right there in front of you, and to be able to heal it even a fraction of the way well.

This world is hard. It takes people, chews them up and spits them out. There is so rarely a helping hand, a smile, understanding. But to be able to offer your hand, to be able to share a smile, to attempt to understand – that’s pure magic.

When the day is done, I know it was well spent.

I’ve come a long way from the newsroom. And in doing so, I’ve broken journalism’s number one rule – don’t become the story.

I no longer report on the action.

I participate in it.

What a way to make a living!


 

Still can’t get enough Gadfly? 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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The Arrogant Ignorance of Campbell Brown: Education Journalism in Decline

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Apparently facts don’t matter much to Campbell Brown.

 

 

Though her latest “fact” about public schools has once again been shown to be more truthiness than truth, she refuses to retract it.

 

 

During an interview published in Slate where she gave advice to the next president, she said:

 

 

“Two out of three eighth graders in this country cannot read or do math at grade level. We are not preparing our kids for what the future holds.”

 

It’s a scary statistic. The problem is it’s completely unsupported by evidence.

 

And when education experts called her out on it, she complained that SHE was being attacked.

 

When pressed, Brown admitted she got this figure from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a test given to random samples of students in fourth and eighth grades every two years.

 

However, Brown either misunderstands or misinterprets the scores. If one were to interpret the data in the way Brown suggests, the highest scoring countries in the world would be full of children who can’t read at grade level. Hardly anyone in the world would be literate or could add and subtract. It’s beyond absurd.

 

And when she was notified of her error by authorities in the field including Carol Burris, Tom Loveless and Diane Ravitch – who, by the way, served on the NAEP Governing Board for seven years – Brown responded by likening her critics to Donald Trump.

 

She wrote:

 

“That the people who disagree with my characterization would react by attacking me personally… speaks volumes. Those feigning outrage over the difference between “grade level” and “grade level proficiency” are the people who profit off the system’s failure and feel compelled to defend it at all costs. Sadly, in the age of Donald Trump and Diane Ravitch, this is what constitutes discourse.”

 

I especially like the bit where she attacks experts, teachers, and PhDs because they “profit off the system’s failure.” It’s pretty rich stuff coming from Brown who makes a pretty penny retelling the fairytale of “failing public schools.”

 

Once upon a time, Brown was a respected reported for NBC and anchorperson for CNN.

 

 

Now she’s a paid Internet troll.

 

 

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true.

 

 

She co-founded and edits a Website called The Seventy Four – a reference to the 74 million children across the country who are 18 or younger.

 

 

It might be more honest to call it The Four, instead, for the $4 million she receives annually from the mega-rich backers of school privatization to bankroll the endeavor.

 

 

She claims her site is “nonpartisan.” Funny. I guess that explains why she continually backs every cause and campaign championed by her donors.

 

 

Change all public schools to private charter schools? Check.

 

Block teachers unions from collectively bargaining? Check.

 

 

Ignore the overwhelming preponderance of stories about charter schools cheating the public and their students? Check.

 

 

When called out on her bias, she proudly proclaimed, “I have learned that not every story has two sides… Is The Seventy Four journalism or advocacy? For 74 million reasons, we are both.”

 

 

Pithy. Yet it remains unclear exactly how the nation’s school children will benefit from Bill Gates and the Walton Family having an even larger say in education policy.

 

Brown has sold her image and rep as a journalist so it can be used to purposefully mislead the public into thinking she is still dedicated to those endeavors. She’s not. What she’s offering these days is not News. It’s bought-and-paid-for public relations meant to destroy our nation’s public schools.

 

If anyone thought Brown retained even a shred of journalistic integrity left, she should have removed it when she called herself, “a soldier in Eva’s army.” This is a reference to Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of a New York City charter school chain – Success Academy – where children are put under such pressure they wet themselves during testing and kids in first grade are shamed and berated for math mistakes.

 

As a public school teacher, myself, this makes me sad.

 

John Merrow, one of the elder statesmen of education journalism, recently proclaimed that we live in the “golden age of education reporting.”

 

I must respectfully disagree.

 

Yes, there is more being written about education policy and public schools than ever before.

 

But most of it is just paid advertisements from the standardization and privatization industry.

 

Look who’s funding these stories.

 

 

TV Networks such as NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo have broadcast various education segments on “Nightly News” and “Today” underwritten by Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

 

 

The Education Writers Association – which boasts more than 3,00 members – receives money from Gates and Walton. The L.A. Times receives funds from Broad for its Education Matters Digital initiative.

 

On-line publications also have been infiltrated. The Education Post took $12 million in start-up funds provided by Broad, Bloomberg and the Waltons. The site focuses on “K-12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students,” according to the Washington Post.

 

Even well-respected education blogs including Chalkbeat and Education Week are funded in part by the Waltons (in the latter case, specifically for “coverage of school choice and [so-called] parent-empowerment issues.”) Education Week even tweets out paid advertisements for Teach for America as if they were news stories!

 

 

We’ve all seen “Waiting for Superman,” the infamous union bashing, charter loving propaganda film packaged as a documentary. Its popularity was helped with outreach and engagement funds by the Waltons and a host of other privatizers. It’s far from the only effort by market-driven billionaires to infiltrate popular culture with corporate education reform. They tried to sell the parent trigger law with “Won’t Back Down,” but no one was buying. Efforts continue in Marvel Studios television shows.

 

A plethora of teachers, academics and other grassroots bloggers have taken to the Internet to correct the record. But they are often ignored or drowned out by the white noise of the same corporate education reform narratives being told again-and-again without any firm footing in reality. In fact, after blogger and former teacher Anthony Cody won first prize from the Education Writers Association in 2014 for his criticism of Gates, the organization banned bloggers from subsequent consideration.

 

We bloggers are almost completely unpaid. We do it because we care about our profession. Meanwhile the so-called “news” sources are funded by corporate special interests, yet it is bloggers that are looked at as if they were somehow reprehensibly compromised and biased.

 

Education journalism is not going through a golden age. It’s a sham, a farce.

 

When we allow our news to be funded by private interests, we lose all objectivity. The stories are spun to meet the demands of the big foundations, the billionaires bankrolling them. And the real experts in the field are either not consulted or left to quixotically do whatever they can on their own time.

 

Education journalism isn’t about what’s best for children. It’s about how best to monetize the system to wring as many taxpayer dollars out of our schools as possible for corporate interests.

 

It goes something like this: reduce the quality to reduce the cost and swallow the savings as profit. But it’s sold to the public in propaganda that we call journalism.

 

As famed cartoonist and counter-culture figure Robert Crumb wrote in 2015:

 

“You don’t have journalists [in America] anymore. What they have is public relations people. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.”

 

Nowhere is this as obvious as with Brown.

 

Just as Broad was initiating a plan in February to double the number of charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Brown’s site, the Seventy Four, was given control of the LA School Report, an on-line news site focusing on the second largest district in the country. Brown was expected to run interference for the takeover. She was running the propaganda arm of the privatization push.

 

And that’s really what’s happening with our education journalism.

 

I’m not saying there aren’t actual journalists out there trying to tell unbiased stories. But they are few and far between. They are beset by corporate interests. And anyone who wants to tell the truth is silenced or marginalized.

 

As we’ve seen, when you actually try to point out errors like Brown’s ridiculous assertions about eighth grade students, the media treats it as a he-said-she-said.

 

They say, “Wow! Teachers really hate Brown.” Shrug.

 

Meanwhile the truth is left murdered on the floor as our schools are pillaged and sacked.

The Democrats May Have Just Aligned Themselves With Test and Punish – We Are Doomed

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Almost every Democrat in the US Senate just voted to keep Test and Punish.

But Republicans defeated them.

I know. I feel like I just entered a parallel universe, too. But that’s what happened.

Some facts:

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a disaster.

It took the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – a federal law designed to ensure all schools get equitable resources and funding – and turned it into a law about standardized testing and punishing schools that don’t measure up.

This was a Republican policy proposed by President George W. Bush.

But now that the ESEA is being rewritten, those pushing to keep the same horrendous Bush era policies are the Democrats.

Almost all of the Democrats!

That includes so-called far left Dems like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren!

It comes down to the Murphy Amendment, a Democratically sponsored change to the ESEA.

This provision was an attempt to keep as many Test and Punish policies as possible in the Senate rewrite.

The amendment, “reads more like NCLB, with its detailed prescription for reporting on student test results, for ‘meaningfully differentiating among all public schools’ (i.e., grading schools), including publicly identifying the lowest five percent, and, among interventions, potentially firing staff and offering students the option to transfer to other schools and using part of the budget to pay for the transportation,” according to blogger Mercedes Schneider.

Education historian Diane Ravich adds, “This amendment would have enacted tough, federal-mandated accountability, akin to setting up an ‘achievement school district’ in every state.”

Thankfully it was voted down. The ESEA will probably not be affected. The rewrite was passed by both the House and Senate without these provisions. Once the two versions of the bill are combined, it is quite possible – maybe even probable – that we’ll have a slight improvement on NCLB. Sure there is plenty of crap in it and plenty of lost opportunities, but the ESEA rewrite looks to be a baby step in the right direction.

The problem is this: the failed Murphy Amendment shows the Democrats’ education vision. Almost all of them voted for it. Warren even co-sponsored it!

When it was defeated and the Senate approved the ESEA rewrite, Warren released a statement expressing her disapproval. But if you didn’t know about the Murphy Amendment, you could have read her criticisms quite differently.

She says the (ESEA rewrite) “eliminates basic, fundamental safeguards to ensure that federal dollars are actually used to improve both schools and educational outcomes for those students who are often ignored.”

That sounds good until you realize what she means. “Educational outcomes” mean test scores. She’s talking about test-based accountability. She is against the ESEA rewrite because it doesn’t necessarily put strings on schools’ funding based on standardized test scores like NCLB.

She continues, “Republicans have blocked every attempt to establish even minimum safeguards to ensure that money would be used effectively. I am deeply concerned that billions in taxpayer dollars will not actually reach those schools and students who need them the most…”

She is upset because Republicans repeatedly stripped away federal power to Test and Punish schools. The GOP gave that power to the states. So Warren is concerned that somewhere in this great nation there may be a state or two that decides NOT to take away funding if some of their schools have bad test scores! God forbid!

And Warren’s about as far left as they come!

What about liberal lion Bernie Sanders? I’d sure like an explanation for his vote.

It makes me wonder if when he promised to “end No Child Left Behind,” did he mean the policies in the bill or just the name!?

The Democrats seem to be committed to the notion that the only way to tell if a school is doing a good job is by reference to its test scores. High test scores – good school. Bad test scores – bad school.

This is baloney! Test scores show parental income, not academic achievement. Virtually every school with low test scores serves a majority of poor children. Virtually every school with high test scores serves rich kids.

Real school accountability would be something more akin to the original vision of the ESEA – making sure each district had what it needs to give kids the best education possible. This means at least equalizing funding to poverty schools so they have the same resources as wealthy ones. Even better would be ending our strange reliance on local property taxes to provide the majority of district monies.

But the Dems won’t hear it. The Murphy Amendment seems to show that they’re committed to punishing poor schools and rewarding rich ones.

I really hope I’m wrong about this. Please, anyone out there, talk me down!

Up until now I’ve always been with the Democrats because they had better – though still bad – education policies than the Republicans. I’m not sure I can say that anymore. In fact, it may be just the opposite.

Which party is most committed to ending Common Core? The Republicans!

Which party has championed reducing federal power over our schools and giving us a fighting chance at real education reforms? Republicans!

Which party more often champion’s parental rights over the state? Republicans!

Sure, most of them still love vouchers and charter schools. But increasingly so do the Democrats.

This vote has me rethinking everything.

Our country’s education voters may have just been abandoned by their longest ally.

Where do we go from here?


NOTE: This article also was published on Commondreams.org and on the Badass Teachers Association blog. It was also mentioned in the Washington Post.

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.

Montel Williams is a True Public Schools Advocate

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Montel Williams did something truly amazing yesterday.

When he heard the Newark Student Union was having difficulty getting food during their sit-in at Cami Anderson’s office, he volunteered to personally send them something to eat!

He tweeted, “Could any reporter currently covering #OccupyNPS @NewarkStudents kindly tell the district spokesperson I intend to send these kids food ;)”

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That takes guts. He wasn’t just offering his opinion. He was threatening to get involved.

It’s that kind of integrity that’s behind his #StandUpForPublicSchools campaign. Here we have a national celebrity, known as a groundbreaking talk show host who could just sit back and enjoy life. But instead he uses his notoriety to help public school teachers!

That might not sound like much to some, but our public schools are under attack. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the public eye to say something nice about our school system. Our national debate about education is curiously absent teachers. Yet here comes Montel who not only praises our work but starts a campaign to advocate for us and our students! Heck! Another one of his hashtags is #LetTeachersTeach!

Finally we have a prominent figure with the courage to take the public stage and not call for more school closures. He calls for support!

Last night he even went on Fox Business to talk with former MTV VJ Kennedy who famously said “There really shouldn’t be public schools.” And he boldly told her the truth: public schools need our advocacy!

As teachers, it brings tears to our eyes to finally see someone have our backs. He’s taking some heat on twitter for it, too. But, Montel, just know we will always be there to back you up.

You are truly badass! Much love and appreciation from all of us at the Badass Teachers Association!