Linda Darling-Hammond vs. Linda-Darling Hammond – How a Once Great Educator Got Lost Among the Corporate Stooges

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Linda Darling-Hammond is one of my education heroes.

 

Perhaps that’s why her recent article in the Washington Post hurts so much.

 

In it, she and her think tank buddies slam education advocates Diane Ravitch and Carrol Burris for worrying about who governs schools – as if governance had nothing to do with quality education for children.

 

I’d expect something like that from Bill Gates.

 

Or Campbell Brown.

 

Or Peter Cunningham.

 

But not Hammond!

 

She’s not a know-nothing privatization flunky. She’s not a billionaire who thinks hording a bunch of money makes him an authority on every kind of human endeavor.

 

She’s a bona fide expert on teacher preparation and equity.

 

She founded the Center for Opportunity Policy in Education at Stanford University, where she is professor emeritus.

 

And she was the head of Barrack Obama’s education policy working group in 2008 when he was running for President.

 

In fact, she was the reasons many educators thought Obama was going to be a breath of fresh air for our schools and students. Everyone thought she was a lock for Education Secretary should Hope and Change win the day. But when he won, he threw her aside for people like Arne Duncan and John King who favored school privatization and high stakes standardized testing.

 

These days she spends most of her time as founder and president of the California-based Learning Policy Institute.

 

It’s a “nonprofit” think tank whose self-described mission is “to conduct independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice.”

 

The Learning Policy Institute published a report called “The Tapestry of American Public Education: How Can We Create a System of Schools Worth Choosing for All?

 

The report basically conflates all types of choice within the public school system.

 

On the one hand, it’s refreshing to have policy analysts admit that there ARE alternatives within the public school system above and beyond charter and voucher schools.

 

On the other, it’s frustrating that they can’t see any fundamental differences between those that are publicly managed and those outsourced to private equity boards and appointed corporate officers.

 

Hammond and her colleagues Peter Cookson, Bob Rothman and Patrick Shields talk about magnet and theme schools.

 

They talk about open enrollment schools – where districts in 25 states allow students who live outside their borders to apply.

 

They talk about math and science academies, schools focusing on careers in health sciences and the arts, schools centered on community service and social justice, international schools focused on global issues and world languages, and schools designed for new English language learners.

 

They talk about schools organized around pedagogical models like Montessori, Waldorf and International Baccalaureate programs.

 

And these are all options within the public school system, itself.

 

In fact, the report notes that the overwhelming majority of parents – three quarters – select their neighborhood public school as their first choice.

 

However, Hammond and co. refuse to draw any distinction between these fully public schools and charter schools.

 

Unlike the other educational institutions mentioned above, charter schools are publicly funded but privately run.

 

They take our tax dollars and give them to private equity managers and corporate appointees to make all the decisions.

 

Though Hammond admits this model often runs into problems, she refuses to dismiss it based on the few instances where it seems to be working.

 

Despite concerns from education advocates, fiscal watchdogs and civil rights warrior across the country, Hammond and co. just can’t get up the nerve to take a stand.

 

The NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a moratorium on all new charter schools in the country. Journey for Justice has requested a focus on community schools over privatization. But Hammond – a once great advocate for equity – can’t get up the moral courage to stand with these real agents of school reform.

 

She stands with the corporate school reformers – the agents of privatization and profit.

 

“School choice is a means that can lead to different ends depending on how it is designed and managed…” write Hammond and her colleagues.

 

In other words, if charters result in greater quality and access for all students, they are preferable to traditional public schools.

 

However, she admits that charters usually fail, that many provide worse academic outcomes than traditional public schools serving similar students.

 

She notes that 33% of all charters opened in 2000 were closed 10 years later. Moreover, by year 13, that number jumped to 40%. When it comes to stability, charter schools are often much worse than traditional public schools.

 

And virtual charter schools – most of which are for-profit – are even worse. They “…have strong negative effects on achievement almost everywhere and graduate fewer than half as many of their students as public schools generally.”

 

However, after noting these negatives, Hammond and co. go on to provide wiggle room for privatization. They discuss how state governments can do better making sure charter schools don’t go off the rails. They can provide more transparency and accountability. They can outlaw for-profit charters and put caps on the number of charters allowed in given districts and states, set rules on staffing and curriculum – all the kinds of measures already required at traditional public schools.

 

But the crux of their objection is here:

 

“In a recent commentary in this column, authors Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris erroneously asserted that our report aims to promote unbridled alternatives to publicly funded and publicly operated school districts. Quite the opposite is true.”

 

In other words, they continue to lump privatized schools like charters in with fully public schools.

 

They refuse to make the essential distinction between how a school is governed and what it does. So long as it is funded with public tax dollars, it is a public school.

 

That’s like refusing to admit there is any difference in the manner in which states are governed. Both democracies and tyrannies are funded by the people living in those societies. It does not then follow that both types of government are essentially the same.

 

But they go on:

 

“The report aims to help states and districts consider how to manage the broad tapestry of choices available in public schools in ways that create quality schools with equitable access and integrative outcomes.”

 

Most tellingly, the authors admonish us to, “Focus on educational opportunities for children, not governance structures for adults” (Emphasis mine).

 

The way a school is governed is not FOR ADULTS. It is FOR CHILDREN. That is how we do all the other things Hammond and co. suggest.

 

“Work to ensure equity and access for all.”

 

That doesn’t just happen. You have to MAKE it happen through laws and regulations. That’s called governance.

 

“Create transparency at every stage about outcomes, opportunities and resources.”

 

That’s governance. That’s bureaucracy. It’s hierarchy. It’s one system overlooking another system with a series of checks and balances.

 

“Build a system of schools that meets all students’ needs.”

 

Again, that doesn’t just happen. We have to write rules and systems to make it happen.

 

Allowing private individuals to make decisions on behalf of private organizations for their own benefit is not going to achieve any of these goals.

 

And even in the few cases where charter schools don’t give all the decisions to unelected boards or voluntarily agree to transparency, the charter laws still allow them to do this. They could change at any time.

 

It’s like building a school on a cliff. It may be fine today, but one day it will inevitably fall.

 

I wrote about this in detail in my article “The Best Charter School Cannot Hold a Candle to the Worst Public School.”

 

It’s sad that Hammond refuses to understand this.

 

I say “refuse” because there’s no way she doesn’t get it. This is a conscious – perhaps political – decision on her part.

 

Consider how it stacks up against some of the most salient points she written previously.

 

For instance:

 

“A democratic education means that we educate people in a way that ensures they can think independently, that they can use information, knowledge, and technology, among other things, to draw their own conclusions.”

 

Now that’s a Linda Darling-Hammond who knows the manner in which something (a state) is governed matters. It’s not just funding. It’s democratic principles – principles that are absent at privatized schools.

 

“Bureaucratic solutions to problems of practice will always fail because effective teaching is not routine, students are not passive, and questions of practice are not simple, predictable, or standardized. Consequently, instructional decisions cannot be formulated on high then packaged and handed down to teachers.”

 

This Linda Darling-Hammond is a fighter for teacher autonomy – a practice you’ll find increasingly constrained at privatized schools. In fact, charter schools are infamous for scripted education, endless test prep and everything Hammond used to rail against.

 

“In 1970 the top three skills required by the Fortune 500 were the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1999 the top three skills in demand were teamwork, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. We need schools that are developing these skills.”

 

I wonder what this Linda Darling-Hammond would say to the present variety. Privatized schools are most often test prep factories. They do none of what Hammond used to advocate for. But today she’s emphatically arguing for exactly the kind of school she used to criticize.

 

“If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorize lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet.”

 

Isn’t this how they routinely teach at charter schools? Memorize this. Practice it only in relation to how it will appear on the standardized test. And somehow real life, authentic learning will follow.

 

“Students learn as much for a teacher as from a teacher.”

 

Too true, Linda Darling-Hammond. How much learning do you think there is at privatized schools with much higher turnover rates, schools that transform teachers into glorified Walmart greeters? How many interpersonal relationships at privatized institutions replacing teachers with iPads?

 

“Life doesn’t come with four choices.”

 

Yes, but the schools today’s Linda Darling-Hammond are advocating for will boil learning down to just that – A,B,C or D.

 

“We can’t fire our way to Finland.”

 

Yet today’s Linda Darling-Hammond is fighting for schools that work teachers to the bone for less pay and benefits and then fire them at the slightest pretense.

 

In short, I’m sick of this new Linda Darling-Hammond. And I miss the old Linda Darling-Hammond.

 

Perhaps she’s learned a political lesson from the Obama administration.

 

If she wants a place at the neoliberal table, it’s not enough to actually know stuff and have the respect of the people in her profession.

 

She needs to support the corporate policies of the day. She needs to give the moneymen what they want – and that’s school privatization.

 

This new approach allows her to have her cake and eat it, too.

 

She can criticize all the evils of actual charter schools while pretending that there is some middle ground that allows both the monied interests and the students to BOTH get what they want.

 

It’s shrewd political gamesmanship perhaps.

 

But it’s bad for children, parents and teachers.


 

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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I Was a Radical Republican – For About a Week – And I Didn’t Change a Single Progressive View

Republican

I do not like Ronald Reagan.

I own no guns.

Back in high school I won a debate arguing for pro-choice.

Trickle Down sounds more to me like a bladder condition than an economic theory.

So why was it that last week so many right wingers were retweeting me on Twitter?

Did I say “retweeting”? They were taking my words and memes and sending them out to the Twitterverse as their own thoughts with a reference to my account.

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I think Michelle Malkin pushed down the new heart emoticon on something I wrote.

She may have retweeted me, too. Heck! I may have retweeted her back!

“What new Hell is this?” I thought. “Why am I getting so much love from people who – if they met me in person – would probably try to give me a wedgie and scream, “NERD”?

It turns out I was caught in a maelstrom of political events. And his name is John King.

President Barack Obama named the former New York Education Commissioner as his pick to replace Arne Duncan as US Secretary of Education.

As a public school teacher, this really pissed me off. It pissed off just about every public educator in the country.

Are you kidding, Obama!? John-Freaking-King!? The guy whose only previous experience was teaching for three years at a “no excuses” charter school!?

This is the guy who oversaw the systematic destruction of schools in one of the most populous states in the country all the while pointing his finger at teachers. He approved an obviously fraudulent charter school run by an obvious conman. He ignored and dismissed parents at various education forums. The people of New York hated him so much, he sparked the largest opt out movement in the nation.

And THIS is the guy you’re nominating as Secretary of Education!?

It’s not like he’s even pretended to change his stripes. After New Yorkers booted him out of their state, he was offered a job at the US Department of Education – a prime example of falling upward. Soon afterward, his wife took a job at a corporate education reform company, Bellwether Education Partners!

Isn’t that a conflict of interest? I mean – through her – Bellwether will have the ear of the highest education official in the land. And the rest of us will just be supplicants sending letters, making phone calls hoping for an audience with the King.

THIS was why I was upset. THIS was why I was writing angry blogs and pounding out my rage on Twitter.

And I wasn’t alone.

The usual gang of educators and far left progressives gave me the usual support.

But we were soon joined by a tsunami of social media activists from the other side of the aisle.

Very soon someone made a popular hashtag, #StopJohnKing, and I started seeing hundreds of retweets, restatements and messages of support.

Two of my tweets were particularly popular: one about the conflict of interest of King’s wife working for Bellwhether, the other a seemingly unrelated message about the need to fund public libraries.

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That’s when I started to notice the Twitter accounts of the people joining in. There were folks proclaiming their love for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. They described themselves as libertarians and refused to speak to “libtards.” And the pictures on their Twitter accounts were often famous conservatives, racist cartoons of the President, pictures of themselves packing heat or just the darn guns, themselves.

“What the heck have I gotten myself into?” I thought.

That’s when I questioned why they were supporting me. For many of them I wondered if it had less to do with how terrible King would be as Education Secretary than with who nominated him in the first place.

Ever since Antonin Scalia died, many Republicans have sworn a blood oath not to approve any of Obama’s nominees – for the Supreme Court or ANY office.

For them this wasn’t about opposing a terrible Presidential pick. It was about blocking everything Obama did.

I had to face it. I had become a radical Republican, and I hadn’t even needed to change one of my positions to do it. The GOP came to me.

I have to admit, my right wing supporters were mostly very nice. I felt like I had a stronger group behind me than during most progressive campaigns.

There was some strain, however. A few times I could tell they were choking back anti-union rhetoric. “Why don’t we fund our libraries? Because unions,” apparently. “Who needs libraries – I home school.” That kind of thing.

And unfortunately, my progressive buddies were starting to notice the right wing support and take offense.

I got trolled by several lefties demanding I support Common Core.

“How can you be against it?” they’d ask. “Rand Paul hates Common Core. Do you agree with Rand Paul?”

I’d respond politely that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Card-carrying Democrats refused to listen to any criticism of the Obama administration’s education policies. Little did these progressives realize, they were the exact opposite of the GOP activists they hated.

Many Republicans hate Common Core because Obama touched it. Many Democrats love it for the same reason.

The majority of teachers throughout the country hate it because we’ve read it, tried to use it and seen what a load of bullshit it is. We know it was developed with very little input from classroom teachers or child psychologists. We know it has no research behind it to show that it works. We see how it erodes our autonomy in the classroom and increases the amount and difficulty of high stakes tests for our students.

But my progressive friends refused to accept that anything Saint Hope and Change approved could be so terrible.

I’d turn to my newfound Republican posse only to find many of them hated Common Core beyond reason. It wasn’t just bad practice – it was going to turn our kids gay. It was a liberal plot to make children progressive atheists.

Oy vey.

The week just flew by. Eventually the Senate voted to approve King, both Democrats and Republicans – though the opposition was almost entirely in the GOP.

In my home state of Pennsylvania, the Senator I can usually count on to have my back (Bob Casey) stabbed me in the same place. And the Senator who usually only votes for things that are officially endorsed by Lord Satan, himself, (Pat Toomey) was my boy.

What kind of a topsy-turvy world am I living in!?

Elizabeth Warren – the liberal lion – said she wasn’t going to vote for King but ultimately gave in. Oh, Elizabeth. They got to you, too?

There were two points of light though. First, there was one Democrat who actually voted against him: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York – the sight of King’s last catastrophe. Second, my Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, didn’t vote at all. Fwew! I can irrationally justify that – he was too busy, that’s all. Bernie would never have voted for King. Tee-hee!

So once again we see the two major parties as mirror images of each other. Where Republicans made the right choice for the wrong reason, Democrats made the wrong choice for the right one. Progressives were circling the wagons around the President. They were making a point that they weren’t going to let the evil GOP block his nominees – even if one of those nominees was an absolute pathetic failure.

This is politics in 2016, folks.

Decisions are rarely made because of logic, experience, or sound judgement. It’s all political maneuvering, personal gain or both. Meanwhile, the world goes to Hell.

After the vote, I got a smattering of conservative retweets and then… nothing. As quickly as they had come, they were gone.

My tiny caucus of teachers, academics and other ne’er-do-wells are still there. We shout our truths into the wind hoping someone will hear.

On days like today it seems impossible.

But perhaps there is a silver lining in there somewhere. If people from such opposite sides of the political spectrum can agree on something like how terrible John King is, maybe there’s hope. If we can shake hands over the fatuousness of Common Core, maybe we can find other points of agreement.

Maybe these brief moments of concord are opportunities for understanding. Sure my GOP compatriots supported me for the wrong reasons, but maybe some of them were exposed to the right ones.

I know I’ve learned from them. I consider myself an FDR Democrat with an abiding faith in a strong federal government. But even I can see how both the Bush and Obama administrations overstepped their power with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

I don’t buy any of that baloney about Big Government vs. Small Government. But I do think that some things like education policy don’t belong at the federal level. The federal government should ensure public schools are funded properly and maybe regulate outright abuses, but local communities and districts should be deciding how to educate the children in their care.

If those ideas rubbed off on me, what rubbed off on my brief Twitter followers?

Will there come a day when we meet again, join hands and fight for our common good?

Can we overcome the blinders of party and politics to build a better world?

#IHopeSo

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

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Sometimes the messenger matters.

You wouldn’t expect Native Americans to believe an apology from Christopher Columbus.

You wouldn’t expect African Americans to believe an apology from David Duke.

So why the heck do the Democrats expect teachers to believe an apology from John King!?

The acting U.S. Secretary of Education is – himself – responsible for more attacks on public educators than almost anyone else.

In his former role as New York Chancellor of Education, he refused to fix a school system he was responsible for destroying all the while pointing his finger at teachers.

However, late last month in his new federal position, King gave a speech at a Philadelphia high school acknowledging the mistakes of the Obama administration in tying teachers’ evaluations to student test scores – a practice he was guilty of in New York.

“I think there’s just such an urgency around making sure that teachers feel valued in our society,” King said in an interview with the Washington Post in January.

“It’s one of the things I worry a lot about. I want young people to see a future for themselves as teachers.”

Seriously!?

Were you worried about teachers in New York when you tied their evaluations to unproven and inferior Common Core tests? Were you worried about students when you approved an obviously fraudulent charter school run by an obviously fraudulent con man? Were you worried about the profession when you ignored and dismissed parents at various education forums? Were you worried about public schools when you sparked the largest opt out movement in the country?

I’m sorry, but this apology rings hollow to most educators. We know you. We know that your biggest qualification for your position in charge of the nation’s public school system is a three year stint teaching in a “no excuses” charter school with a high suspension rate.

It’s kind of hard to believe you mean a thing you say. And by extension, it’s hard to believe a thing President Barack Obama says about education, either. He was the dunderhead who picked Arne Duncan to be his first Secretary of Education and then you to succeed him.

It must be an election year.

Since a few months before the Presidential Primaries, the Democrats have been apologizing for the damage they’ve done to public education.

Obama says he wants to reduce standardized tests. That’s great – with less than one year left in his second term! After increasing it beyond even the wildest dreams of his predecessor George W. Bush!

But since we’re talking apologies here, are you, Mr. King, willing to actually do anything to make things better for the nation’s teachers?

For instance, do you think the U.S. Department of Education should be exempt from regulatory capture? In other words, should a regulatory agency like the Department of Ed advance the commercial or political interests of special interests that dominate the industry it is charged with regulating?

In other words, should any employee of the department or their immediate family be permitted to collude with the corporate interests seeking special favor in the field of education? Should a prominent member of the department also be allowed to work for an industry seeking to profit off our public schools? Should his wife?

No? Then perhaps your wife Melissa Steele King shouldn’t be accepting a position at Bellwether Consultants, a leading corporate education reform organization. They represent The New Teachers Project, New School Venture Fund, KIPP, IDEA Charter Schools, Gulen Charter Schools, Rocketship Charters and many others.

So while classroom teachers will only be able to communicate with you through official correspondence, a representative of the standardization and privatization movement will be right across from you at the dinner table every night!

If you really wanted us to take you seriously, your family wouldn’t be pulling this crap.

Your latest apology is just an attempt to smooth over your own Senate education committee confirmation hearing on Thursday, Feb. 25. You want to show how much bipartisan support you have so you can become the official Education Secretary and not just acting Education Secretary.

Look, you might say. I just threw a bone to teachers. They love me!

What a steaming pile of bullshit!

Does that offend you? Oh. Then please accept my most heartfelt apology.


NOTE: Diane Ravitch also posted about this article on her blog.

 

Whistleblower Fights New York Officials to Enforce Their Own Child Safety Laws

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Stephen and Cathy Cole with their device for safe use of gym partitions. Photo: Long Island Business Times.

 

Are New York city and state officials doing enough to protect public school students?

Kathy Cole says no.

The co-owner of a gymnasium equipment company has been battling with city and state officials to comply with their own child safety laws for over a decade.

Her crusade stems from the crushing deaths of three students in New York and New Jersey over several years.

The problem is motorized partitions meant to close off sections of larger gymnasium spaces. Once set in motion, if safeguards aren’t put in place, and/or the devices aren’t properly monitored, they can shut on children causing fatal injuries.

In 1976 a boy in New Jersey was crushed and killed in the school gym electric partition. James Pesca, 12, was found lifeless, trapped between the cement gym wall and the partition.

In 1991, Deanna Moon met a similar end in her Long Island school. The nine-year-old got caught between the partition when she tried to slip through. Staff could not retract the wall off of Deanna’s neck so fire fighters had to use the jaws of life. It took 27 minutes to free her. Deanna’s mother was called to the scene but was restrained from coming inside and seeing what was happening. The elementary school student lingered in a coma and died nine days later from her injuries.

In 2001, twelve-year-old Rashad Richardson was looking for a teacher to give him a hall pass when he was crushed between a wall and a motorized room divider in his Ithaca, N.Y., school. The gym teacher had started the motorized door, defeated a spring-loaded safety switch, then walked away.

The first two incidents prompted the New York state legislature to require school staff be trained in the usage of these devices. However, it wasn’t until Rashad’s death that safety mechanisms were required to be installed in these partitions. New York is the only state with these provisions.

Since 2001 New York schools have been required to install Life Safety Detection Systems on these partitions to stop them from operating if a child is sensed in their path. Districts are also required to train staff in proper usage of these devices and to ensure staff observe the partitions until they are fully closed.

However, Cole, who owns Gym Door Repairs with her husband, Stephen, says many schools are not buying these mandated devices, correctly installing them or properly training staff. Her company invented and distributes these safety mechanisms.

When she brought this noncompliance to the attention of city and state education officials, she claims she was silenced.

“I was told not to bring it up publicly by high level education officials or I would be put out of business,” she says.

“I was told that compliance with the law was a financial decision and that if another child is killed their family will be compensated for their loss.”

The cost for implementation for these devices is about $37 million, most of which would be paid by New York State Building Aid. Cole’s safety mechanisms were installed in 5,000 facilities – the majority of state and city schools. But many still don’t have them.

Cole estimates there are hundreds of schools missing these devices. They were funded just not installed, she says. Still other schools have devices in place but they have fallen into disrepair and instead of being fixed are simply bypassed putting thousands of children at risk of death or injury.

“You can walk into any 10 New York City schools and 9 would have no training and no maintenance,” she says.

When Cole persisted in bringing these issues to various New York government officials, city and state public schools stopped using her company. The business, founded in 1976, specializes in safety inspection and preventative maintenance service, supplies and repairs to help keep school facilities in compliance with building and life safety codes.

“I was a vendor for over thirty years without incident until I reported this noncompliance,” she says.

“I was told they had had enough of my writing and complaining to the elected officials and that I was now considered a rat…That I would be out of business in New York State and that I had poked my nose where it did not belong.”

The battle has gone to federal court where Cole is suing for violation of her First Amendment rights to free speech.

Her suit implicates both Andrew Cuomo and John King. Cuomo was state Attorney General at the time and is now the state’s Governor. King was state Commissioner of Education and has risen to U.S. Secretary of Education.

The problem is one of accountability. In New York, the state Inspector General has no jurisdiction over the Department of Education. In fact, the Department of Education is the only branch of state government without an inspector general. So the Attorney General is responsible for both investigating and defending the Department of Education. When Cole first brought this issue up, that was Cuomo.

“It’s a conflict of interest,” she says. “There really is no where to go to report fraud and abuse at the highest levels. They investigate themselves.”

Cole condemns Cuomo in both his role as Attorney General and Governor for taking no action to fix the problem. She first brought the matter to his attention in early 2009 and has met with him several times since.

“He let the children of this state be intentionally  endangered and did nothing to protect them.”

King, too, was aware of the issue but did nothing as Commissioner of Education to help enforce the law protecting children, according to Cole.

“King has been there overseeing this,” she says. “He let this noncompliance continue.”

Cole has numerous suits in the courts alleging civil conspiracy, intellectual property theft and tortious interference with her business.

Since the first suit was filed, Cole has watched as long-standing contracts that had been awarded to her company were instead given to a competitor – Young Equipment Sales. As a result, her business has gone from 14 employees to two.

“My business has been devastated,” she says. “It’s disgraceful what’s been done. I’m not looking for sympathy, but I want justice.”

The financial loss to the Great River business owner caused her to further investigate state and city education practices. She implemented numerous Freedom of Information Act requests. In doing so, she discovered further startling school purchasing practices.

Many Long Island districts use cooperative bidding programs called the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to find competitive prices for school supplies. However, Cole found that using this system has resulted in paying much more for goods and services than necessary.

For instance, her data shows that districts using Nassau BOCES are paying $996 for a whiteboard available online for just $740. Also, a security card for charging laptop computers costs $1,910 through Eastern Suffolk BOCES, while it is listed online for just $1,560. Meanwhile, a 12-foot cafeteria table that you or I can buy online for $1,623.99 costs schools $2,275.99 through Nassau BOCES.

Cole’s findings are consistent with a 2012 state comptroller’s report on the cost-effectiveness of BOCES. The report audited four central New York BOCES and found that their costs for services were roughly 56 percent higher than costs for the exact same services being paid by districts not using the service. The availability of BOCES aid does not encourage BOCES to minimize costs or persuade schools to demand cheaper choices, the report concluded.

Eastern Suffolk BOCES responded to the allegations by releasing a statement saying in part, “At times, it may be possible to find a lower price for a product from an alternative source that does not meet the above criteria.” That criteria includes being able to “comply with all specifications, pay prevailing wages, be insured and be able to provide products and services to the large pool of participants in the Eastern Suffolk BOCES bidding program.”

And so it goes.

Meanwhile, Cole continues to fight this battle in the courts and is optimistic she’ll eventually receive justice for herself and the state’s children.

No young person should have to worry about being killed in school equipment and their parents shouldn’t have to worry about the state wasting their tax dollars.

Department of Education SorryNotSorry About High Stakes Testing

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The Obama Administration must think the nation’s parents, teachers and students are pretty darn dumb.

President Barack Obama and his hand-picked Department of Education are solely responsible for the knuckle dragging academic policies strangling our public schools day in, day out. Yet instead of doing anything to reverse course to proven methods that might actually help kids learn, the department trudges out its annual apology.

It goes something like this:

Hey, Everybody! So sorry about all those high stakes tests, Common Core Standards and Value-Added teaching evaluations. We know they’re bad and we’re going to stop.

Then whatever functionary drew the shortest straw toddles back into the building and for the rest of the year things continue on exactly the same as they always have.

Let’s just pause for a moment and imagine how incredibly stupid they must think we are. I’m surprised they don’t issue public service announcements reminding us to exhale, multi-colored pamphlets on the benefits of blinking, and puppet shows instructing us how to use the potty.

The Obama Administration has had 7 years to fix this mess, and the only things they’ve done are to make it worse. Most of us voted for this so-called progressive because we thought he’d improve upon George W. Bush’s astoundingly wrongheaded school policies. But instead he doubled down on them! We hired a competent janitor but he was successful only in creating greater disorder.

We thought someone with the intelligence and grace of Barack Obama would be able to understand more than the eternal C-student Bush that you can’t ensure equity by standardized testing. That’s like trying to ensure a bathtub was filling with hot water by using nothing but Tarot Cards. The cards don’t give you an accurate reading and even if they did, you’d need to adjust the faucet at some point!

We thought a Constitutional scholar would understand that a national school curriculum violates federal law – even if you get a faux state commission to propose it and slap a new name on the thing! The federal government is allowed to do some things and state governments are allowed to do others. It’s not that hard. Moreover, armchair generals who have zero understanding of educational pedagogy, psychology, sociology and no classroom experience have no business telling teachers what they should be teaching!

We thought a political party that claims to be on educators’ side wouldn’t then turn around and initiate a witch hunt against us using poor student test scores instead of pitch forks and torches. Every independent, peer-reviewed study shows that poor kids do badly on standardized assessments and rich kids do well. Every statistician says you can’t use a test created to measure one thing (students) to measure another (teachers). Yet this is exactly what this so-called intellectual president mandates, and then he and the Democrats expect us to be there for them at the polls!?

In short, we expected a liberal Democrat, but got instead a Conservative Democrat in Name Only (DINO). He took far right ideas that Bush could barely officiate and made them much more efficient and thus much more damaging.

And every year like an alcoholic stumbling off a bar stool, the administration swears they’re not going to take another drink. Then they hire the head of Anheuser-Busch (John King) as a nutritionist. And some of us still believe them!

Just look at the crumbs they’re throwing out to us, peons!

Hey, Girl. We’re going to cut testing down to 2% of the school year.

That’s 23 hours! Almost 3 full days! Imagine if the dungeon master told you he was only going to put you on the rack for 2% of the time! Would you thank him? Maybe, but it would be a pretty half-hearted thank you.

Can the administration prove any positive value for standardized testing? I’m not asking them to trot out the tired party line about equity. I mean can they prove that testing actually helps children learn in any appreciable way? If the answer is no (and Spoiler Alert: it is!) then we shouldn’t be wasting any more time with it. Not 2%. Not 1%. ZERO PERCENT!

Moreover, Obama has been talking about reducing testing since he ran for office in 2008. America’s schools are still waiting for him to come through on that one. Maybe on his last day in office we’ll have a testing moratorium. Fingers crossed!

The department says, “The assessments must be worth taking.” No shit. That’s exactly the problem! They aren’t! And they’re shrouded in secrecy under the guise of test corporations intellectual property. How will we be able to determine they’re “worth taking”? Will you just tell us? THAT sure puts my mind at ease!

You know what assessments have been proven worth taking? The ones created by teachers. Yet these are exactly the kinds of tests that schools have been forced to cut back on. Perhaps this is what the administration has in mind. No more teacher-created tests. Let’s just have tests made by the professional test creators who have no idea what the heck they’re doing!

And speaking teachers, this one’s for you: “No standardized test should ever be given solely for educator evaluation.” It sounds like a condemnation of Value-Added Measures (VAM), of evaluating teachers on student test scores. However, it’s just the opposite. Notice the word “Solely.” We’re not going to give kids tests if we ONLY use them to evaluate their teachers. Well woop-de-do! Professional flunkies will talk to you for hours (if you pay them enough) about how great the tests we give now are at doing both! So no change in policy, just some purple prose to light on fire and blow the smoke up educators hind ends.

Perhaps worst of all is the use of English Language Learners (ELL), students with disabilities and minorities as props. We’re doing it all for them, they say. Bull! Shit!

The administration has nothing to say about fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). There’s nothing about sanctions on districts that don’t provide proper services for ELLs. There’s nothing about ensuring adequate, equitable and sustainable funding for all students – especially the poor and minorities. Instead the Department of Education pretends like high stakes tests are candy bars and what poor disadvantaged minority ELL disabled kid doesn’t love the soft velvety chocolate taste of a multiple choice test!?

This announcement is not reason to celebrate. It’s more of the same fake apologies soaking wet in crocodile tears and bad candor.

If Hillary Clinton wants to get elected President, she’d better do more than that. If Bernie Sanders wants a shot, he’d better do more than spout socialism about Wall Street and silence about K-12 schools.

You can only lie to our faces for so long. Despite your best attempts to trash public education in the name of saving it, we’re not so dumb as to believe any more of your evasions, deceit and dishonesty.


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

 

Near Silence on Education at First Democratic Debate

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None.

Null.

Nada.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Do Democrats Give a Crap About Public Schools? John King as Next US Secretary of Education

John King, Arne Duncan

Meet the New Boss.

Same as the Old Boss.

Arne Duncan is out. John King is in.

It’s the kind of tone deaf decision we’ve come to expect from President Barack Obama on education matters.

We’ve put up with 7 years of Duncan’s buffoonery as U.S. Secretary of Education: A man with no practical knowledge of the field. A corporate functionary. A drone. A mouthpiece for all the worst ideas of the 1% to sabotage public schools and replace them with charters.

And who does Obama replace him with!? Former New York State Chancellor King!? A man who was almost run out of his state on a rail!? A man with – admittedly – more experience than Duncan but all of the worst kind.

King resigned his NY position in the throes of terrible publicity for his and NY Board of Regents’ foolish approval of an obviously fraudulent charter school run by an obviously fraudulent con man. He ignored and dismissed parents at education forums, refused to fix an education system that he, himself, destroyed and was met with the largest opt out movement in the country. Oh. And that education experience I spoke of – he spent three years teaching in a “no excuses” charter school with a high suspension rate.

And now King’s the top policymaker in the nation for public schools.

It’s hard to imagine a worse choice. The Koch Brothers? Donald Trump? An inanimate carbon rod!?

Lest we forget, this is a decision made by Democrats – the supposed saviors of education.

Progressives have been howling against Obama’s test-and-punish education policies since early in his first term. And now when this liberal lion has an opportunity to show what he’s learned, to demonstrate that he’s taking our concerns seriously, his response is a middle finger salute.

It’s revealing politically.

The Presidential Primaries are only a handful of months away. If the Democrats really wanted to court educators, the party would have put pressure on Obama to make a pick teachers might actually be able to stomach. After all, whoever the President picks will only have a year in office – not long enough to make any major changes one way or another. But at least the Democrats could make a show of listening to an important voting block.

Instead the Democrats have demonstrated their true colors. They don’t care about schools, teachers, parents or students. They figure we have no where else to turn. We’re a gimme. They don’t have to concede anything. We’ll vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is.

I am only one man. I belong to a lot of education groups, but I am speaking only for myself here when I say this: MY VOTE IS NOT A SURE THING.

I will not vote for just any Democrat over any Republican. No, I don’t see any of the GOP candidates as being good for education. But most of the Democrats are the same or almost the same.

If the Democrats don’t give me a candidate I can believe in, I will not vote Democrat. I will vote third party. Heck! I’ll write in “John Dewey” before I’ll vote for a faux progressive Democrat like Obama.

I know what some people will say. This is a wasted vote. We have to keep a seat at the table. We need someone who maybe someday might possibly do something just a little bit helpful.

And that’s exactly why we’re in the predicament we are now. We can’t keep voting for the lesser of two evils, because at the end of the day, we’re still voting for evil.

I am so sick of politicians who smile to my face and stab me in the back. If I’m going to vote, it will be for someone I believe in, and if a Republican bent on destroying public education wins, at least he’ll have the decency to be honest about it.


NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive.