Dear Lawmakers, Please Hire Teachers as Education Aides – Not TFA Alumni

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Dear freshmen lawmakers,

 

We did it!

 

After a fiercely contested election, we have finally begun to turn the tide back toward progressive politics.

 

Midterms usually are sparsely attended, but this year we had an unprecedented turnout.  A total of 23 states had double-digit percentage-point increases compared with their 1982-2014 midterm election averages.

 

And the result is one of the largest and most diverse groups of freshman Congresspeople ever!

 

We got rid of a ton of incumbents – 104 lawmakers won’t be returning to Washington, DC, in January, making this the third-highest turnover since 1974.

 

 

And those taking their place will be largely female. Out of 256 women who ran for U.S. House or Senate seats, 114 have won so far (Some races are still too close to call), according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. That makes the 116th Congress the largest class of female lawmakers ever.

 

Moreover, this incoming group will be incredibly diverse.

 

We have Jahana Hayes, a nationally-recognized teacher, who will be the first Black Congresswoman from Connecticut. Ayanna Presley, the first black Congresswoman from Massachusetts.

 

Angie Craig will be the first out LGBTQ Congresswoman from Minnesota. Chris Pappas, the first openly gay Congressman from New Hampshire.

 

Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland from Kansas and New Mexico will be the first Native American women elected to Congress – ever. And Davids will also be the first openly LGBTQ Congresswoman from the Sunflower State.

 

Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will be the first-ever Muslim women in Congress. Omar, a former refugee, will also be the first Somali-American and Tlaib will be the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress. This is especially noteworthy because there have only been two other Muslims to serve in the legislative branch, both men: Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. André Carson.

 

And let’s not forget New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Not only is she a Democratic Socialist, but the 29-year-old will be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress!

 

With so many new faces and so much more representation, is it too much to ask for a change in the way things are done in Washington?

 

Many progressives are hoping not.

 

After all, it was people power that propelled these new lawmakers into government.

 

We marched in the rain, licked envelopes, made phone calls, wrote letters, and knocked on doors. We went to rallies and bake sales and stood by the polls with our little signs and fliers.

 

And we did it, because we wanted a change.

 

So, incoming lawmakers, that’s why I’m writing to you.

 

As a public school teacher, a father of a school-age child, an education activist and a concerned citizen, it really matters to me what happens to our schools.

 

Yet so many politicians – Republicans and Democrats – have turned a blind eye to our concerns for years.

 

No matter their party affiliation, they’ve pushed for increasing school privatization – charter and voucher schools. They’ve hammered us with biased and unscientific standardized tests and used the results to justify any number of atrocities including school closures, withholding funding and even stealing the democratic process from taxpayers. Instead of listening to the concerns of teachers and parents, they’ve followed the caprice of every bored billionaire who thinks they know how to better our schools with halfcocked schemes that cost us billions in taxpayer dollars while wasting children’s time and depriving them of an authentic education.

 

They’ve chased every new technological fad without regard to how it affects students or their privacy. They’ve let our schools become increasingly more segregated and made deals with private prison companies and unscrupulous security and business interests that made our schools a gateway to incarceration as much as they are to college or careers. They’ve actively engaged or silently stood by as classroom teachers lost autonomy, rights and professionalism. And finally, though many of them talk a good game, they haven’t done nearly enough to ensure that every student gets the same opportunities, resources and equitable funding.

 

Why?

 

Often the answer is ignorance.

 

They don’t properly understand the issues facing our schools. They don’t hear from parents, teachers and students – the rank and file. They only hear from the wealthy businesses and philanthrocapitalists preying on our schools like vultures over road kill.

 

In many cases this is because of the poor quality of education aides on Capital Hill.

 

Several years ago, I went to DC with other education advocates to ask our representatives to change course. Though we made reservations to speak with our duly-elected lawmakers months in advance, very few of them had the guts to see us face-to-face. We were almost always sent to education aides – well meaning and fresh faced kids only a few years out of college – who wrote down our concerns and sent us on our way with rarely any follow up from the people we’d come to see.

 

And more often than not, these eager young go-getters were Teach for America (TFA) alumni.

 

I’m not sure if you know what that means.

 

TFA is a nefarious neoliberal organization more interested in busting unions and influencing policy than helping kids learn.

 

They recruit people in college who didn’t major in education to become teachers for a few years before moving on to bigger and better things.

 

Often these rookies have only a few weeks training and just hours of experience before taking over their own classrooms. And unlike education majors, they only need to commit to the job for two years.

 

This not only does our children a disservice, it does very little to make these former teaching temps into education experts.

 

But that’s how they’re treated on Capital Hill.

 

Through programs like TFA’s Capitol Hill Fellows Program, alumni are placed in full-time, paid staff positions with legislators so they can “gain insights into the legislative process by working in a Congressional office” and work “on projects that impact education and opportunities for youth.”

 

Why do so many lawmakers hire them? Because they don’t cost anything.

 

Their salaries are paid in full by TFA through a fund established by Arthur Rock, a California tech billionaire who hands the organization bags of cash to pay these educational aides’ salaries. From 2006 to 2008, alone, Rock – who also sits on TFA’s board – contributed $16.5 million for this purpose.

 

This isn’t about helping lawmakers understand the issues. It’s about framing the issues to meet the policy initiatives of the elite and wealthy donors.

 

It’s about selling school privatization, high stakes testing and ed-tech solutions.

 

As Ocasio-Cortez said on a recent call with Justice Democrats, “I don’t think people who are taking money from pharmaceutical companies should be drafting health care legislation. I don’t think people who are taking money from oil and gas companies should be drafting our climate legislation.”

 

I’d like to add the following: people taking money from the testing and school privatization industry shouldn’t be drafting education policy. People who worked as temps in order to give themselves a veneer of credibility should not be treated the same as bona fide experts who dedicate their lives to kids in the classroom.

 

But that’s what many lawmakers of both parties have been enabling.

 

It’s not hard to find authentic experts on education.

 

There are 3.2 million public school teachers working in this country.

 

There are still 116,000 fewer public education jobs than there were before the recession of 2007, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive nonprofit think tank.

 

If we add the number of teaching jobs needed to keep up with growing enrollment, we’re missing 389,000 educators.

 

So that’s hundreds of thousands of laid off and retired teachers out there – a huge brain trust, a plethora of professionals who know – really know – what goes on in our schools, what they need to succeed and what policies could fix them.

 

THAT’S where you should go to find your educational aides – not TFA.

 

And these experts are not hard to find. You can contact the teachers unions – the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers. Or, better yet, contact the various education activist groups focused on policy – the Badass Teachers Association or the Network for Public Education. And if you want experts at the crossroads of education and equity, you can contact civil rights groups who focus on our schools like Journey for Justice, a nationwide collective of more than 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in several cities.

 

Or you can give education bloggers (many of whom are teachers or former teachers) a call – people like Peter Greene, Mercedes Schneider, Nancy Flanagan, Jose Luis Vilson, Julian Vasquez-Helig, and others.

 

Heck! You can give me a shout out.

 

We’re here.

 

We want to help.

 

So congratulations on your election victories. Let’s work together to transform them into intelligent policies for all our children everywhere.


 

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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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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Nationwide Charter School Expansion Slowing Down

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Charter schools used to be seen as the hot new concept in education.

 

But that fad seems to have jumped the shark.

 

For two decades since the first charter school law was passed in Minnesota, they’ve grown at about 6 to 7 percent nationally.

 

But for the last three years, that growth has dropped each year – from 7 to 5 to 2 percent.

 

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Even states that historically boasted the most growth are falling behind. Of charter powerhouses Texas, Florida, Ohio and California – only Texas has shown a significant upward trend.

 

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So what happened?

 

How did the hippest new thing to hit education since the chalk board suddenly hit such a wall? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that every celebrity from Magic Johnson to Andre Agassi to Deion Sanders to Sean “Puffy” Combs to Pitt Bull had their own charter school. Even Oprah Winfrey, the queen of multimedia, donated millions to charter networks in Louisiana, California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and her home state of Illinois.

 

How could something with so much high profile support be running out of gas?

 

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has a theory.

 

The charter school funded think tank (read: propaganda network) released a report boiling the issue down to three factors: real estate costs, a teacher shortage and political backlash.

 

Real estate costs? Yes, few public schools want to offer you public property to put your privately run school that will inevitably gobble up a good portion of its funding and turn a portion of that into profit for private investors.

 

Teacher shortage? Yes, when you pay your educators the least, don’t allow your employees to unionize, and demand high hours without remuneration, you tend to find it harder than most educational institutions to find people willing to work for you.

 

Political backlash? DING! DING! DING!

 

Of course, most people who aren’t paid by the charter school industry – as those working for CRPE are – would simply call this a charter school backlash – not political, at all.

 

This isn’t one political party seeking advantage over another. It’s concerned citizens from both sides of the aisle worried about the practices of the charter school industry.

 

The general public is starting to understand exactly what charter schools are and why they are a bad idea for children and society.

 

For instance:
-Charter schools are rarely controlled by elected school boards – they’re run by appointed bureaucrats.

 

-They are often run for profit –which means they can reduce services for students and pocket the savings.

 

-They cherry pick which students to enroll and how long to keep them enrolled – they only let in the easiest to teach and give the boot to any that are struggling before standardized testing time.

 

-And they very often close unexpectedly and/or are the site of monetary scandals where unscrupulous charter school operators take the money and run.

 

Moreover, it’s no accident that much of the criticism of charter schools comes from people of color. About one quarter of all charter school students are black, whereas black students make up only 15 percent of enrollment at traditional public schools.

 

To put that in perspective, approximately 837,000 black students were enrolled at charter schools during the 2016-17 school year. Yet civil rights organizations are concerned that this over-representation is having negative consequences on students of color.

 

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has issued numerous criticisms of charter schools most recently calling for a moratorium on them. So has the Movement for Black Lives and the Journey for Justice Alliance.

 

In addition to the concerns already mentioned, civil rights advocates are concerned with the tendency of charter schools to increase racial segregation.

 

Seventy percent of black charter school students have few white classmates, according to a study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

 

But some charters are even worse. More than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had student bodies made up of at least 99% minority students, according to an Associated Press analysis from three years ago. And it’s getting worse!

 

Certainly increasing segregation is a problem even at traditional public schools, but nothing like the numbers we’re seeing in the charter school sector.

 

Civil rights leaders know that “separate but equal” schools don’t work because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal.

 

For instance, charter schools suspend students at a much higher rate than traditional public schools. Some charters suspend more than 70% of those enrolled, according to an analysis from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

 

 

Researchers found the situation is even more dire for minorities. Black students are four times more likely to be suspended than white students, and students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended as non-disabled students.

 

With all these problems dogging their heels, it’s no wonder that the charter school juggernaut is starting to lose momentum.

 

Instead of concentrating solely on why these schools are losing popularity, we should also ask what set them shooting off into the stratosphere in the first place.

 

After all, no one was really crying out for private schools run with public money.

 

No one, that is, except big business and greedy investors looking for a quick buck.

 

Since the Clinton administration, charter school investments get automatic tax credits that allow investors to double their money in as little as 7 years. Lobbying at the state and federal level by charter schools and their investors and contractors have enabled a monetary scam to enrich private industry at public expense.

 

Put simply, charters are not subject to the same instructional, operational, fiscal, accounting or conflict of interest rules as traditional public schools. Therefore, in most states it’s perfectly legal for a charter school operator to give his brother the instructional contract, his sister the maintenance contract and his uncle the textbook contract. He can replace the teachers with computer programs and apps, while his own privately held company rents and leases the school building at a hefty markup – all with public money.

 

And somehow that’s still called a “public” school.

 

We have to face this simple fact: Charters took off not because they were a good idea to help kids learn, but because they were an excellent way to make a lot of money off of the government. It was a way to steal money meant to help children.

 

What we’re seeing in terms of a backlash is just a more common realization of the motives behind charter schools echoed in the negative consequences these schools leave behind.

 

And in the Trump era, charter schools can’t hide behind a friendly face like Barack Obama.

 

The neoliberal agenda is as fervently being pushed by the right wing as the left – more so.

 

This slowdown may signal that people have gone beyond politics.

 

We don’t care what the left and the right wish to sell us. We’re not willing to buy the charter school boloney anymore. If our policymakers want to continue getting our votes, they may need to give in to what the people actually want and stop trying to lead us over the cliff and feed us to the sharks.

Funny How School Closings Are Merely Accidental Racism. Never Intentional.

Students Protest School Closings At Chicago Public Schools Headquarters

 

It’s funny. When you close schools serving minority students, they tend to move away.

 

That’s what’s happening in Chicago.

 

In the last seven years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 49 schools serving mostly students of color. And from 2015 to 2016, alone, the city lost 12,000 black residents.

 

Huh.

 

Who would have ever thought that cutting funding to services for minorities might make them get up and leave?

 

But God forbid you suggest this is intentional!

 

These are just disparate facts. There is no conceivable causal link between making life intolerable for people and their leaving.

 

When has that ever happened before?

 

The Great Migration (1919-1950) when hundreds of thousands of blacks moved from the deep south to the shores of Lake Michigan looking for better opportunities?

 

Well, sure, but when else has that ever happened?

 

You can’t connect one dot to another.

 

That would just be rude.

 

Yet that’s just what Chris Kennedy, a candidate vying to run against Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on the Democratic ticket, did this week.

 

He said that Emanuel is running a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents out of the city.

 

“My belief is they’re being pushed out. This is involuntary. That we’re cutting off funding for schools, cutting off funding for police, allowing people to be forced to live in food deserts, closing hospitals, closing access to mental health facilities. What choice do people have but to move, to leave?” Kennedy said at a press conference.

 

“And I think that’s part of a strategic gentrification plan being implemented by the city of Chicago to push people of color out of the city. The city is becoming smaller and as it becomes smaller, it’s become whiter.”

 

 

The establishment immediately pushed back against him.

 

The Chicago Sun-Times couldn’t find any fault with Kennedy’s facts, but they called his interpretation “irresponsible.”

 

Emanuel’s office likewise issued a press release likening Kennedy’s claims with those of Republicans like Rauner and President Donald Trump, even though both of those individuals would be more likely to champion a plan to kick blacks out of Chicago than criticize it.

 

Kennedy’s remarks simply echo what black Chicagoans have been saying for years.

 

FACT: Since 2001, 72 Chicago schools have been closed or phased out. Ninety percent of the students affected are black.

 

And now Emanuel is suggesting closing four additional schools – all from the predominantly African American Englewood community.

 

Sure, eventually they’ll be replaced by one new school, but only after at least a year without any high school in the area.

 

When the new school finally opens, the neighborhood will be less black and better suited to what? Gentrification!

 

Jitu Brown, National Director for a broad based collective of civil rights organizations called Journey 4 Justice, estimates that more than 30,000 people of color have fled Chicago since Emanuel took office.

 

Brown led a group of community members to sit in at the Chicago Board of Education today to protest the proposed closings.

 

“Rahm wants to close successful black grammar school to make room for upper income families! We have proof! That’s why we sit-in,” he tweeted.

 

Back in 2013, Brown broke down his argument at a hearing before the US Department of Education:

 

“To deny us the right to improve our schools as community institutions is a violation of our human rights. To destabilize schools in our community is a violation of our human rights. To have communities with no neighborhood schools is a violation of our human rights.  . . . We are America’s mirror. Do you have the courage to accept what you see?”

 

Kennedy really isn’t saying anything different. He’s just echoing the concerns of the community he wants to represent.

 

“I don’t know what you can say when the strategic plan for Chicago Public Schools suggest that the entire community of Englewood can go an entire year without access to a high school,” Kennedy said this week.

 

“What are you saying to the people there? No one’s going to move there who’s got a high school kid. And anybody with a high school kid has to think about what they’re going to do. It’s just a device to empty out the community.”

 

The problem is not limited to Chicago. It’s emblematic of public school policy nationwide.

 

From 2003-2012, in New York City, 117 schools were closed. Sixty-three percent of the students affected were black.

 

In 2008, 23 schools were closed in Washington, DC. Ninety-nine percent of the students affected were black, Latino or Hispanic.

 

Since 2005, in Detroit, 130 schools have been closed. Ninety-three percent of the students affected were children of color.

 

And one and on.

 

We intentionally segregate students based on race and class, then allocate funds accordingly. Richer whiter students get all the resources they need. Poorer blacker students get crumbling schools, narrowed curriculum until their schools are shuttered and they’re forced to either move away or put up with fly by night charter schools.

 

Look at what happened in New Orleans.

 

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state took over 107 of the city’s then-128 public schools, removing them from local control of the residents. The majority of these schools were turned into charters, closed or simply never reopened – a move affecting 90 percent of black students and only 1 percent of white students.

 

Karran Harper-Royal, a New Orleans parent and cofounder of the national group Parents Across America, argued at the same hearing in 2013 before the US Department of Education that the result was racist.

 

They call it school choice, but parents don’t have choice when 80 percent attend charter schools – some of which run a lottery enrollment process, she said. As a result, parents are forced to apply to multiple charter schools to ensure their children have somewhere to go to learn.

 

Your choice is between charter schools – 79 percent of which are rated “D” or “F” – and 15 state run public schools that are all rated “D” or “F,” she said.

 

“African-American students are more likely than their white counterparts to experience schools that are at risk of being closed down, phased-out, turned around or co-located,” Harper-Royal said. “To guarantee me a seat in a failing school system is not ‘choice.’ It’s racist is what it is.”

 

This is the reality for poor and minority students across the country.

 

It’s refreshing to hear a Democrat brave enough to actually speak the truth about it – especially since Democrats have been as apt to preside over these corporate education reform policies as Republicans.

 

Closing black schools and keeping white ones open is not an accident.

 

Neither is continuing school segregation, the proliferation of charter and voucher schools and the continued insistence that the only way to hold educators accountable for actually educating is high stakes standardized testing.

 

These are all choices that result in winners and losers.

 

It’s time we recognized that. If we really want to champion civil rights and equity for all, we need to stop promoting racism as school policy and pretending to be surprised at the results.

Puerto Rico Teachers Plan One-Day Strike to Protest Corporate Education Reform

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Welcome to sunny Puerto Rico.

The ocean is a gorgeous cerulean blue. Palm trees wave gently in the salty breeze. And in the distance you can hear percussion, horns and singing.

The protest has begun.

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Residents of this United States territory have been fighting freshman Governor Alejandro García Padilla’s efforts to close public schools, privatize those left and shackle teachers to the same corporate education reform schemes that are crippling schools on the mainland.

This Tuesday island educators are asking parents not to send their children to school. Teachers plan to conduct a one-day strike to protest legislation that could be passed the same day to further cripple the Commonwealth’s public education system.

“On November 17th we’ll be giving our lesson’s outside our classrooms,” says Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the teachers union.

“We’ll be in front of our schools early in the morning and at 10:00 a.m. will march from Congress to the Governor’s Mansion in San Juan. This is one of many activities that we’ll perform in defense of public education. We will not accept these precarious impositions and will fight back.”

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The protest is in response to Project 1456 which would close more than 380 public schools. The government has already closed 150 schools in the past 5 years.

This would force many students into even more overcrowded classrooms. Thousands of children would have to be relocated to schools far from their homes.

But that’s not all.

The proposed legislation would also privatize 15% of those schools left standing. Unlike the mainland, Puerto Rico has no charter schools. Teachers went on a 10-day strike in 2008 which only ended after the island Secretary of Education Rafael Aragunde signed an agreement promising not to open any charters.

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If privatized schools opened on the island, parents might have to pay an additional fee for services they now enjoy for free. Amenities like lunches and even tuition may have to be subsidized by parents out of pocket.

Moreover, it would collapse the teachers retirement system, Martinez says. Charter schools would not deduct employees payments to the pension system so it might not be able to remain solvent.

Project 1456 would harm teachers in another way, too. It would enact a punitive evaluation system where 20% of educators value would be based on students standardized test scores. Any teacher with a 79% or less would have two years to improve or be fired.

“Teachers will have no rights,” Martinez says.

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The proposed legislation has already been approved by the Commonwealth Senate. It’s main author Sen. Eduardo Bhatia is pushing for the House to fast track it for approval.

Discussions began in the House last week.

Protesters were there on Wednesday. They stood up in the government chamber and walked out en mass when it was brought up for discussion. Eighteen of them wore white T-shirts spelling out the message “Our Schools Are Not For Sale.”

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Inside the House, presidents of private universities testified in favor of the measure.

“Obviously they want to become administrators of charter schools on our island,” Martinez says.

Outside the building, protesters held their own emblematic hearing on the matter. Community members, teachers and parents testified in the open air about how this legislation would hurt children. They ended with a symbolic vote against it.

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Puerto Ricans are not alone in this fight.

Jitu Brown, a community organizer from Chicago and Director of Journey for Justice Alliance traveled there to stand in solidarity with those fighting for their schools. Brown participated in a 34-day hunger strike in his hometown a month ago to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to close the last open enrollment school in his neighborhood.

“This beautiful, breathtaking place is marred by ugly U.S colonialism and privatization of public services on steroids!” says Brown of Puerto Rico.

“I was blessed to spend time with powerful people fighting for a better world. Big ups to your warrior spirit, discipline and hospitality! Where we struggle, we can win! If we don’t struggle, we are guaranteed to lose.”

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The plight of Puerto Rican communities also inspired support from the Badass Teachers Association, a group of more than 56,000 educators, parents, students and activists.

“The Badass Teachers Association stands in strong solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who are fighting for the very foundation of their democracy – the survival of their public school system which is under assault by the 1% who seek to close it up and deny Puerto Rican children a right to an education,” says Executive Director Marla Kilfoyle.

Protesters are getting the word out. They’ve already handed out thousands of fliers. Today they plan to drive in a large caravan across the island.

“We’ve got a bunch of cars with sound equipment,” Martinez says.

“We will go to all the communities near our schools in different regions asking parents to support the strike on the 17th.”

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Much of the the island’s financial woes are imported from the mainland. Puerto Rico is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling the territory’s debt.

Hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

As a result, tax revenues to fund public goods like education are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.

Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!

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“That’s why the Teacher’s Federation and other teacher unions allied together to fight back against the attack on our education system,” Martinez says.

“As you can see, we’ve been busy.”

If Project 1456 is passed by the House, the union is considering a general strike.

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Of the 135 schools closed in just the last two years, Commonwealth Secretary of Education Rafael Román had originally proposed shuttering 200. The remaining 65 were only kept alive because communities occupied the buildings and refused to let the government step in.

Protesters stormed the Senate in October when Bhatia first introduced Project 1456.

“Senators decided to approve it without discussion because they did not want to listen to teachers chants and indignation,” says Martinez.

“Senator Bhatia has become the symbol for privatization under this administration. He has never been in a public School. He has no bond with it. He’s a demagogue.”


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