Pennsylvania Legislators Want You to Foot the Bill for Unimpeded Charter School Growth With Little Accountability

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Fund my charter school.

Come on, Pennsylvania.

Let me just swipe tax dollars you set aside to educate your children and put them into my personal bank account as profit.

Please!

I’ll be your best friend. Or at least I’ll be your legislator’s best friend.

Chances are, I already am.

That’s why lawmakers in Harrisburg are once again looking to pass a school code bill (House Bill 530) that would let charter schools expand exponentially almost completely unchecked and without having to do any of that nasty, sticky accountability stuff you demand of your traditional public schools.

Sure there are a few provisions in there to make charters fill out more paperwork, but the benefits for privatization and profitization of your child’s education are huge!

For me, that is. For your child, not so much.

For instance, the proposed legislation would set up a charter school funding advisory commission. This august body would have many duties including the ability to authorize charter schools in your local school district.

No longer would prospective charter operators have to come before your duly-elected board members and plead and beg to set up shop and suck away hard to come by education funding. They could just appear before the commission and sidestep your local democracy completely.

Who will be on this commission? I’m glad you asked.

We’ve got eight legislators. Got to give THEM a voice. But they’re usually pretty cheap. A few bucks in the re-election campaign and we’ll be golden. We’ll also have the state secretary of education and the chairman of the state board. We’ve got to make the thing look legit, right?

But here’s the best part! We’ll have four public education representatives and FIVE representatives of the charter school industry!

Isn’t that great!? There are significantly more traditional public schools throughout the state, but they’ll have less representation on the commission! It’s stacked with charter friendly votes! The forces of privatization have a built-in majority! Ring the dinner bell, Baby! Once this bill gets passed, it’s charter school time all across the Commonwealth!

Okay. There is a downside. Commissioners can’t be outright voting members of charter boards or their families. And if they’re being paid by charters they have to sign a sworn statement admitting that fact. Also, no criminals – no one convicted of fraud, theft, malfeasance.

Sucks, I know, but we’ll find a way around it. Don’t you worry.

However, the best is yet to come. Once a charter school has been given the go-ahead to exist, the proposed bill allows it to expand without getting permission from anyone!

That’s right! No commission, no local school board, nobody.

If there are children on the waiting list to get in, we have to take them first, but then we can start enrolling kids from outside the district!

Yes! Outside the district!

Here’s what the bill actually says:

“If a charter school or regional charter school and the school district from which it is authorized have voluntarily capped enrollment or the district attempts to involuntarily cap enrollment of resident students and the charter school or regional charter school has enrolled the maximum number of resident students, the charter school or regional charter school may enroll students residing outside of the district.”

This would appear to allow charters to enroll kids outside of the district and still charge the district to pay for them!

But wait, there’s more! If charter operators want to expand in any way, they can – unless they agree not to. If operators want to add more grades, they can. If we want to consolidate one charter school with another, we can! Meanwhile all this expansion sucks away local tax dollars to pay for students that don’t even live there!

I drink your milkshake,” traditional public schools!

So while public schools are shrinking due to loss of funds to unchecked charter expansion, this proposed bill adds insult to injury. If a traditional public school has to close a building or even has a few empty classrooms, charter schools get the right to buy or rent them out before anyone else!

I see you’ve got 7 empty class rooms in your school building. Charter School X will rent those from you. Maybe next year, we can rent out the rest of the floor once we’re done slurping up all your funding!

But wait! There’s more!

We now get to my favorite part of the proposed bill. (Do I keep saying that? It’s just such a gorgeous piece of legislation. ALEC has really outdone themselves writing it!)

We get educational tax credits. That’s school vouchers, folks!

I know, I know. The state legislature tried to pass a voucher system (Senate Bill 1) in 2011, and it was soundly defeated because it was so unpopular.

Three out of Four Pennsylvanians didn’t like that it gave state tax dollars to charters, private and parochial schools without any accountability. Well, guess what folks!? There’s hardly any accountability in this here bill, too!

Here’s how it works. You donate $X to a voucher school and we just take that off of your taxes. And if that’s the same or more than you’d normally pay for, let’s say, public school taxes, then all of your money goes to voucher schools.

It’s not really new. We’ve been quietly encouraging this kind of thing for a while now. This bill just expands it.

It allows public tax dollars to be used by religious schools – a clear violation of the Separation of Church and State. But who cares? Let’s leave that up to the courts. How dare they try to violate state’s rights. And all that. Etc. Etc.

But it’s not all robbing public schools and enriching corporate charter school operators. There are a few sticking points.

For the first time, the proposed bill allows local school boards access to charter financial and personnel records. We even have to submit to full audits. And our teachers will be subject to the same pseudo-scientific evaluations as traditional public school teachers.

In addition, charter schools will have to undergo a whole new evaluation “matrix” to show that they’re doing a good job.

I know. It sounds a lot like what traditional public schools have to undergo right now. It sounds absolutely untenable.

But here’s the difference. This new evaluation system for charters carries absolutely no consequences!

Tee-Hee!

That’s right! Even if charters fail these evaluations, the state can’t do diddley squat to them! Not so with traditional public schools. If THEY fail to show progress, they can be closed down and turned into… charter schools!

Oh! It is a beautiful time to be alive!

If this bill passes, charter school operators will have it made in the shade.

Cut student services and increase corporate profits? Check!

Kick out special education and other hard to teach students? Check!

Escape almost any kind of accountability for our actions? YOU BET!

Pennsylvania lawmakers could bring this bill to the floor anytime now.

It’s up to you, lawmakers. Do you want to keep getting tons of campaign cash from our industry or do you represent those – yuck – voters?

Do the right thing. Or should I say, do the right cha-ching!

Did you see that? Did you see what I just did there?

I am a cad. I mean… card.


In all seriousness, if you live in Pennsylvania, please, contact your legislators and ask them to oppose this terrible bill. The Network for Public Education has made it very easy. Just click HERE and you can shoot off a letter to your representatives in moments.

Oppose HB 530. Fight for public education.

Big Money Fails to Oust In-Coming Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent

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Democracy 1, Oligarchy 0.

That might be the score in the latest contest between corporate education reformers and the Pittsburgh Public School Board.

Special interest groups and the media had stirred up controversy for months over one line in newly hired superintendent Anthony Hamlet’s resume.

Last night the board voted to let the 46-year-old African American start his job as planned Friday morning.

The board voted 7-2 not to cancel his contract. He will be sworn in tomorrow to start a 5-year commitment in the city.

He had been unanimously hired May 18 from the Palm Beach County district in Florida where he had distinguished himself with an excellent record of leadership and enacting authentic reforms.

Though critics cited one line in his resume as too similar to a statement in a Washington Post article, the real reasons for the dispute are ideological.

Put simply, Hamlet favors reforms that have nothing to do with teaching to the test, charter school expansion, closing schools and other market driven policies.

This put him at odds with the usual gang of corporate sycophants:

1) The Campaign for Quality Schools Pittsburgh – a PAC recently formed to Make City Schools Great Again by promoting charter schools and other failed neoliberal reforms.

2) A+ Schools, an advocacy organization that used to champion the same kinds of authentic reforms school directors are trying to enact with Dr. Hamlet’s help. However, after getting a fat check from the Gates Foundation, the group has became a cheerleader for privatization and disaster capitalism.

3) Various foundations who immediately offered to pay for a new superintendent search if the district dismissed Dr. Hamlet – a measure that probably would have meant paying him at least a year’s salary to sit at home.

Why?

In short, they want a superintendent who thinks like them who they can control. They want to undermine our elected school board and community input process. They want to further THEIR agenda – not the education of our children.

Pittsburgh school directors are to be congratulated for not giving in to the monied interests.

Even the two directors who voted to remove Hamlet did so for good reasons. Though I thoroughly disagree with them, I think Terry Kennedy and Lynda Wrenn truly have the best interests of students at heart. They have always voted that way before.

It’s easy to write a blog about a district where you don’t live, as I do. They, however, are accountable to their constituents. I’m just a doofus with a WordPress account. They had a lot of information to process and made a tough decision. Thankfully, the other seven board members didn’t see it their way.

But that’s the beauty of it. This was democracy at work! At so many other urban districts throughout the country – even in similarly troubled Philadelphia – decision making “by and for the people” has become disbarred.

Many schools like Pittsburgh’s with a shrinking tax base, large pockets of crippling poverty and a history of state disinvestment are taken over by the state. Bureaucrats and flunkies make these decisions not members of a duly elected school board held accountable by the voters.

In fact, many calling for Hamlet’s dismissal were surely cheerleading just such a move in Pittsburgh. They were hoping to show that democracy doesn’t work in the Three Rivers community and must be replaced with … THEMSELVES.

The defeat of that position is the biggest victory here.

Now Hamlet and the board will get a chance to enact authentic reforms to help the children of Pittsburgh get the best possible education.

Now Hamlet will get to strengthen the restorative justice project already under way at 20 city schools. Instead of simply assigning detention or suspension for student misbehavior, administrators are encouraged to make students set things right after doing wrong.

In Florida Hamlet made a name for himself partnering with the criminology department at Florida Atlantic University on this same project.

It’s widely acknowledged in education circles that suspensions can have lasting impacts especially on black students making them more likely to enter the school-to-prison pipeline. Finding an approach to increase discipline without adversely affecting students’ prospects is imperative. This is especially true since Pittsburgh Public Schools have been known to suspend black students at a rate four times higher than white students.

Hamlet also will get to enact measures to transform Pittsburgh’s schools into a central part of the community and not apart from it. Like many on the board, he is an advocate for community schools. That means pushing for social services to help students and the community to make the schools the center of the neighborhood.

Hamlet has received support from all over the city including from the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

However, in an unexpected move, some educators came out individually in favor of Dr. Hamlet even though doing so might mean putting targets of their backs from corporate forces.

High School teacher Jon Parker even wrote a blog about the issue where he pulled no punches:

“While the [Pittsburgh] Post-Gazette is complicit in this scheme to defame and destroy Dr. Hamlet, the real enemy here, as always, is A+ Schools. They simply cannot pursue their Gatesian agenda with a superintendent who believes in community schools. They need one who believes in firing teachers. They can’t pursue their agenda if the superintendent believes in collaboration rather than stacked ranking. And they can’t pursue their agenda of closing schools and turning them into charter profit factories if the narrative in our schools shifts away from “achievement” being measured by high stakes tests. Simply put, Anthony Hamlet is not their style, and they can’t stand that Pittsburgh’s community, through real grassroots activism and real community empowerment, elected a school board which genuinely engaged its community in a selection process that produced a once-in-a-lifetime superintendent selection.”

 

Erin P. Breault, a district teacher with three children who graduated from Pittsburgh Public, wrote to the Post Gazette to praise Dr. Hamlet:

“First, he will be a fine superintendent who will work to foster community schools, increase student learning outcomes and graduation rates. He will be an especially welcome breath of fresh air, not beholden to corporate “reformers” agenda. Second, I am especially alarmed about growing calls for his contract to be dissolved and if it is not, that our democratically elected school board be replaced by an appointed system.

This is outrageous. These attacks on Mr. Hamlet and on the process of the search need to be viewed in context. There are powerful interests including the Pittsburgh foundations, A+ Schools and Students First who are upset that their vision of privatization of our public schools has been challenged by our school district.

They have leapt into action, using their money, and political clout to engage into what amounts to character assassination.”

 

Kathy M. Newman, an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote to the Post Gazette to school them on the definition of plagiarism:

“Mr. Hamlet’s resume is not a copyrighted work of art or nonfiction, such as a novel or a work of history. Nor is it a work of journalism. He was not trying to “pass off” (a legal term) the work of another artist or historian or journalist as his own.

…the outrage over Mr. Hamlet’s resume doesn’t acknowledge why it is that we demand citations from students and historians, or why artists might sue those who have appropriated their work. As the scholar Steven Dutch has argued, in an article called “Sense and Nonsense about Plagiarism,” citations “allow readers to check the accuracy of facts, gauge the credibility of the ideas being presented, know whether an idea is solidly established, controversial or hypothetical, and find further information.” When Mr. Hamlet borrowed a sentence from a Washington Post editorial to express his educational philosophy he did not, to use another phrase from Mr. Dutch, diminish the “credibility of the ideas being presented.”

Finally, the furor over Mr. Hamlet’s resume has had a tone of moral outrage so hysterical that I have been concerned about the toxic mixture of sanctimony and glee expressed by many people I otherwise like and respect. Again, according to Mr. Dutch, “the institutional hysteria over plagiarism [can become] a ‘witch-hunt.’ … Charges of plagiarism are fast becoming the blood sport of choice among academic bottom-feeders.”

Ouch. But perhaps the most incendiary remarks came from Churchill resident Lorraine Turner. In the Post Gazette, she accused the paper of outright racism in its criticism of Dr. Hamlet:

“As an African-American, we are taught this particular lesson many moons ago (along with the talk about police) growing up in, “Pittsburgh, Mississippi.” That lesson is: Black people must run twice as fast and jump twice as high as their white competitors. Black people must be exceptional with every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. The comparison of President Barack Obama and Donald Trump will highlight this lesson…

…The editorial goes on using language to highlight nearly every antiquated, racist stereotype referencing black men: Mr. Hamlet made a “perfunctory apology” (he didn’t bow his head and say, “I’se so sorry), Mr. Hamlet “sounded like a nervous student” (just call him boy), then “a bad superintendent” (black is bad), “a good superintendent” (one approved by someone white), Mr. Hamlet “prefers recalcitrance to transparency’ (recalcitrance is when one is stubbornly resistant to authority or guidance — he thinks he’s actually going to have the power of the superintendent!)…

… I hope the board quotes a line from “The Wizard of Oz,” and tells your good ol’ boy editorial staff what the Good Witch of the East told the Bad Witch of West: “Go away, you have no power here!”

In the end, the power of the monied elites evaporated against the power of good ol’ fashioned democracy.

Because the fight against corporate education reform is a fight for representative government.

And the winners of today’s battle are as always our children, our grandchildren, our posterity.

Killed for Being a Teacher – Mexico’s Corporate Education Reform

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In Mexico, you can be killed for being a teacher.

Correction: you can be killed for being a teacher who opens her mouth and speaks her mind.

You can be killed, kidnapped, imprisoned – disappeared.

That’s what happened to approximately six people a week ago at a protest conducted by a teachers union in the southern state of Oaxaca.

The six (some of whom were teachers) were gunned down by police and as many as 100 more people were injured near the town of Nochixtlan, about 50 miles northwest of Oaxaca City.

Conflict between teachers and governments has become commonplace across the globe as austerity and neoliberalism have become the policies du jour. Tax cuts for the rich lead to shrinking public services. And investment in the next generation through public education becomes a thing of the past.

Even here in the United States, educators are taking to the streets to protest a system that refuses to help students – especially poor and minority students – while blaming all deficiencies on one of the only groups that actually show up to help: teachers.

Though in America educators have been ignored, unjustly fired and even arrested for such protests, the Mexican government has resorted to all out murder.

How did it come to this? Follow the trail backwards to its source.

The activists in Oaxaca were protesting because several union officials had been kidnapped by the government and unjustly imprisoned the previous weekend.

Those union officials were asking questions about the 2014 disappearance and alleged murder of 43 protesting student teachers by agents of the government.

These student teachers, in turn, were fighting incoming President Enrique Peña Nieto’s education reforms.

Specifically, Nieto threatened to fire tens of thousands of teachers by using their impoverished, neglected and under-resourced students’ test scores against them.

The government provides next to nothing to educate these kids. And just like officials in the U.S., Nieto wants to blame a situation he created on the people who volunteered to help fix it. It’s like an arsonist blaming a blaze on the fire department.

Why’s he doing it? Power. Pure power.

Poverty in Mexico is more widespread than it is even in its northern neighbor. This is because the most populace Spanish-speaking country in the world also has one of the most corrupt governments on the face of the Earth: A government in bed with the drug cartels. A government that has no interest in serving the people whom it pretends are its constituents.

Since before the Mexican Revolution in 1810, teachers have been the center of communities in impoverished neighborhoods empowering citizens to fight for their rights. These teachers learned how to fight for social justice at national teacher training schools, which Nieto proposes to shut down and allow anyone with a college degree in any subject to be a teacher.

Not only would this drastically reduce the quality of the nation’s educators, it would effectively silence the single largest political force against the President.

In short, this has nothing to do with fixing Mexico’s defunct public education system. It’s all about destroying a political foe.

The government does not have the best interests of the citizens at heart – especially the poor. The teachers do.

Though more violent than the conflict in the United States, the battle in Mexico is emblematic of the same fight teachers face here.

It remains to be seen how this southern conflict will affect us up north.

People have died – literally died – fighting against standardized testing, value added measures, school privatization and the deprofessionalization of teaching. Will this make Bill Gates, John King, Campbell Brown and other U.S. corporate education reformers more squeamish about pushing their own education agenda? After all, they are trying to sell stratagems that look almost exactly alike to Nieto’s. How long can they advocate for clearly fascist practices without acknowledging the blood on their own hands, too?

For our part, U.S. teachers, parents, students, and activists see the similarities. We see them here, in Puerto Rico, in Britain, in much of Europe, in Africa and throughout the world.

We see the violence in Mexico, and we stand with you. From sea to shinning sea, we’re calling for an end to the bloodshed.

The Network for Public Education has issued an urgent appeal to the Mexican government to stop the violence. Members of the Chicago Teachers Union have taken to the streets to protest in solidarity with their brothers and sisters south of the border.

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We stand with you, Mexico.

We fight with you.

We bleed with you.

We are the same.

Peace and solidarity.

Summer Break – the Least Understood and Most Maligned Aspect of a Teacher’s Life

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It’s inevitable.

Once the weather gets warm and school lets out, it’s no longer safe for teachers to be out in public.

You’ve got to stay indoors, get off the Internet, hide the cell phone – do whatever you can to stay away from non-educators.

Because if, like me, you happen to be out and about – let’s say standing in line at your favorite neighborhood burger joint waiting for a juicy slab of ground beef to stop sizzling on the grill – you’re bound to hear the kind of willful ignorance that sets a teacher’s nerves permanently on edge.

Imagine just two normal people – they seem nice enough – standing in line having a friendly conversation. It’s hot outside, so you might hear the usual topics discussed: the weather, the best place to buy ice cream, which public pool has the best prices – that an oh I don’t know, how easy teachers have it with their summers off.

Son of a…!

Normal folks, I know you often get the urge to talk about this. You think it’s just another topic of polite conversation. It’s nothing serious. You think it’s just like complaining about the heat or how the price of admission at the local theme park always seems to be on the rise.

But you’re wrong.

Here’s why: first, you aren’t alone in the comfort of your own home. You’re out in public. And I guarantee there’s probably a teacher somewhere within earshot. Second, you have no idea what the heck you’re talking about. You are completely talking out of your ass.

Oh, you think you know. Everyone thinks they know what it’s like to be a teacher. Everyone thinks they can do that job no matter what qualifications they have.

It’s funny. I never presume to assume I could do other people’s jobs without some kind of training or skill. I’d never say, “Police officers have it so easy. I could do that!”

I’d never say that about any public servants. Not firefighters, sanitation workers, social workers, lawyers, doctors – even politicians.

I think most people feel the same way – except when it comes to teaching. That’s the one job where everyone has an opinion and it’s based on next to nothing.

Here’s how it goes: I’ve been a student, therefore I can be a teacher.

Imagine if we applied that logic elsewhere. I’ve been sick, therefore I can be a doctor. I’ve been to court, therefore I can be my own lawyer. I can turn on a light, therefore I can run the electric company.

No one would be so ignorant. Except when it comes to teaching.

But that’s not all.

Not only are most folks comfortable opining about a topic of which they are so ignorant, but they feel themselves to be particular experts about one aspect of the job more than any others – summer break!

Those teachers sure have it easy, they say. They get their summers off! That’s one sweet deal!

Don’t get me wrong. As a public school teacher, I’m grateful for summer break. But it’s not what non-teachers think it is.

First off, summer break is not a vacation.

When you work a regular job you get a vacation day here and there. You get a week or two of paid time off. Teachers don’t get that.

During the summer teachers don’t get salaried like that. Some of us don’t even get a paycheck, and those of us that do aren’t earning money for those days off. We’re getting money that we already earned from August through June. This is money that was withheld from our pay during the fall and winter, money given to us now in the summer.

Wait a minute. Money withheld from our salaries? When someone pays you later for services rendered, don’t they owe you interest? Usually, they do. But not for teachers.

We work for the government. We get paid with tax dollars from the community at large. If the community had to give us our salaries up front – like almost every other job in existence – it would be harder on the taxpayers. So we let the community pay us later – interest free.

Like I said, summer break isn’t a vacation. It’s more like an annual couple months of being laid off.

When I say this to non-educators, though, they often smirk. “It must be pretty sweet getting so much money that you can afford to have it paid out like that.”

Let me just say this – You don’t know me. You don’t know what the heck I can and cannot afford. Teachers aren’t millionaires. We’re barely thousandaires. Many of us CAN’T afford it. We work a second job in the summer – often at little more than minimum wage.

Moreover, during the school year, teaching is not a 9-5 job. We don’t punch a clock working 8 hours with an hour lunch and then punch out.

If I’m not at least working 10 hours a day, I’m not even trying. Those 8 hours on the books barely cover my time in front of a class of students. I get a 30-40 minute lunch, various duties throughout the day and about 40 minutes to plan what I’m going to teach. That’s time to make any materials for my classes, design programs for the students, grade papers and fill out the never-ending and ever-expanding piles of paperwork.

As a language arts teacher, I routinely have my students write essays. You think they grade themselves? I’ve got to read those things, son, each and everyone. I’ve got homework to grade. I’ve got scores to input into the computer. I’ve got parents to call, students to tutor and a stream of detentions to oversee. And that’s just the minimum, not counting any extra-curriculars, clubs, PTA meetings, meet the principal nights, etc.

So the way I see it, I’m owed a little bit of down time during the summer. I need it just to recharge my batteries. During the school year, I’m going at a pace like lightning every day. If I didn’t have some time in the summer to unwind, I wouldn’t be able to keep up that pace for the majority of the year.

Heck. If I’m sick one day, when I come back to school it takes a few days to get back up to speed.

But non-teachers don’t know any of that, because students don’t know. Students just see the teacher in class and they assume that’s all we do. And that’s a forgivable assumption for students. You know why? Because they’re children! But you? You’re an adult human being. You don’t have the right to make such assumptions without any pretext at even trying to find out.

However, this is exactly what most people do. They think there’s nothing wrong with complaining about teachers, especially during the summer.

And here’s the worst part.

When you complain like that, you make my job so much harder.

You’re going to go home with that negativity, you’re going to keep voicing it, you’re going to say it in front of your own impressionable children who might not seem like it, but they listen to every word you say. Not just that, but they listen to HOW you say it. Even more than the words, they hear the disdain.

So when school is back in session, they bring that false impression of how easy their teachers have it, and that becomes disrespect, just another thing I have to overcome in order to help your child succeed.

You hear a lot in the news about foreign countries having better education systems than ours. It’s mostly B.S. propaganda, playing with statistics for political ends, but there is one area where there’s a grain of truth to it – respect.

In many foreign countries especially in Asia, teachers are held in the highest esteem. It wouldn’t even cross parents’ minds to scorn educators, and if their kids did it, the adults would be mortally ashamed!

But not in the U.S.A. We take the one profession most dedicated to helping our children have better lives and we crap all over it.

You know that’s why I’m there in the classroom – to help your child succeed. Sure I get a paycheck, but there are lots of jobs I could do to support my family, many of them paying a whole lot more while requiring less hours a week and providing actual paid vacation days.

Like most educators, I’ve got a masters degree. Every year I take continuing education courses. Heck! I’m even nationally board certified – a distinction of which only about 34% of teachers throughout the country can boast. I’ve been nominated for teachers excellence awards. I travel across the country multiple times a year at my own expense to enrich my field. I write letters, I protest, I lobby my congresspeople to support our national system of public education. I’ve devoted my life to making a difference in young people’s lives.

Isn’t that something worth a little bit of respect? Don’t you want someone like me to be there for your child in the classroom?

It’s funny. When it comes to most public services, you wouldn’t dream of denigrating a helping hand.

You’d never hear anyone say something like this:

Those damn firemen! There would be fewer fires if it weren’t for them! Have you ever seen a building burning without it being surrounded by firemen? If they’d just work a little bit harder, there’d be fewer burning buildings!

Or:

Those damn doctors! All they do is make people sick! You never see a sick person unless he’s surrounded by doctors prescribing him medicines, doing surgeries. If we had fewer doctors, fewer people would get sick! Let’s close more hospitals!

But this is how people talk about teachers. Regular folks have been convinced that far from helping children escape ignorance, teachers actually cause it. They don’t work hard enough. They don’t care enough. They have too many union protections.

I’ve never heard anyone complain that firemen would fight fires better if they didn’t have helmets and fireproof clothing. I’ve never heard anyone say police would work harder to fight crime if they didn’t have Kevlar and service pistols.

But somehow when it comes to teachers, the situation is different.

Normal people, you’ve got to understand something. We live in a world where rich folks want to take away teachers for the poor and middle class. They want your kids to learn from computer programs and YouTube while their kids get… teachers!

For your kids it’s always narrow the curriculum, more standardized tests, more unproven academic standards, more corporate profits, less parental control, fewer regulations, fewer student services.

And do you know who has volunteered to fight against all this craziness to make sure your kids actually get some kind of quality education?

THE TEACHERS!

That’s right – the same people you feel empowered to deride while standing in line waiting for your burgers and fries. The same people who you have no problem denigrating with just as much certainty as ignorance.

So please, think about that next time.

Don’t bitch and moan about your community’s teachers. How about giving them some support?

At very least add teaching to the list of impolite topics to address in public. That’s right – religion, politics AND TEACHING.

Because every time a non-educator vents their spleen about those lazy, no-good teachers, they make it that much easier for the powers that be to continue eroding your child’s educational experience.

Witch Hunt Against Incoming Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Escalates

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To be or not to be.

That is the question for incoming Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet.

He is set to takeover the district on July 1, but a well financed public smear campaign is trying to stop him before he even begins.

Big money interests oppose him. The public supports him.

Meanwhile the media helps fuel corporate attacks on the 47-year-old African American because of criticisms leveled by a Political Action Committee (PAC) formed to disband the duly-elected school board.

It’s ironic.

Corporate school reformers criticize Hamlet for allegedly plagiarizing a single statement in his resume. Meanwhile they have plagiarized their entire educational platform!

Mayoral or state takeover of the district? Check!

Close struggling schools? Check!

Open new charter schools to gobble up public tax dollars as profit? Check!

Hamlet represents a new direction away from corporate education reforms. The new school board who hired him has soundly rejected these policies of the old guard. Many of the same members are still on the board who first changed course in 2013 by tearing up a contract with Teach for America.

But the Empire strikes back with allegations of plagiarism and resume padding.

Yes, Hamlet used some of the same words from a Washington Post editorial in his resume. He wrote:

“A successful superintendent has to satisfy many constituencies, keeping high achievers in the system while devoting resources to those who need them most.”

The Post wrote:

“A successful superintendent has to satisfy many constituencies, keeping high achievers in the system even while devoting resources to those who need them most.” (Emphasis added)

These aren’t exactly the same words used by the Post. They don’t rise to the level of plagiarism, but he certainly should have attributed them or reworded the ideas.
On the other hand, his critics want to use the same policies that have failed again-and-again in Philadelphia, Newark, Little Rock, Memphis and elsewhere. They want to steal control of the district and give it to bureaucrats who will do what THEY say. They want to take money set aside to help all students and use it to enrich their friends and associates.

Sure, Hamlet used someone else’s words to describe a good idea of leadership. But his critics are using their own words to describe someone else’s terrible, failing educational platform.

Hamlet made a small forgivable error. His critics are seizing upon it to turn the tide in their favor and take away the community’s right to representative democracy.

Make no mistake. This is a witch hunt.

Critics are splitting hairs, disputing statistics and calling it fact.

Hamlet has a proven record as a principal in Palm Beach, Fl.

He says the schools he administered improved academically for various reasons. Critics point to Florida state records that show those improvements to be less dramatic.

So both sides agree those schools did well under Hamlet. What’s in dispute is the degree.

Hamlet counters that state data is inaccurate. He was there on the ground. He lists several factors not accounted for by the state that fully justify his statements.

For example, when he talks about school improvements, he counts the total number of student suspensions – if a student is suspended twice, he counts that as two suspensions. The state, however, ignores multiple suspensions. In this and other ways, Hamlet shows his data is more accurate than the state’s.

National data backs up Hamlet. Florida is infamous for being backward, regressive and untrustworthy in education circles, often spearheading some of the worst abuses of policy in recent history.

“This has been a hoopla,” said Valerie Allman, a Troy Hill parent and activist interviewed in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “And it’s taken the focus off what’s important: these kids. … We’re expecting him to climb this huge mountain at the same time we cut his legs out from under him.”

One of the reasons the board originally hired Hamlet is his background in “restorative justice.

Instead of simply punishing or suspending students who misbehave, the program calls for making students set things right.

At Palm Beach County Schools, Hamlet implemented this approach with help from Mara Schiff, a criminology professor from Florida Atlantic University. It’s “far tougher than sitting in detention,” Schiff said in the Post Gazette.

“You have to acknowledge what you’ve done … and take responsibility for the harm you’ve caused. It’s not a kumbaya approach.”

It’s widely acknowledged in education circles that suspensions can have lasting impacts especially on black students making them more likely to enter the school-to-prison pipeline. Finding an approach to increase discipline without adversely affecting students’ prospects is imperative. This is especially true since Pittsburgh Public Schools have been known to suspend black students at a rate four times higher than white students.

In fact, the district has already launched a restorative justice program at 20 schools.

“I have nothing but good things to say about Dr. Hamlet,” said Schiff. “He had a [restorative-justice] coordinator who was fabulous, and who Dr. Hamlet completely empowered.”

Another reason for Hamlet’s hire is his advocacy for community schools. Like many on the school board and in the district, he has pushed for social services to help students and the community to make the schools the center of the neighborhood.

“You can have the best teachers, the best curriculum, the best classrooms,” said Rev. Rodney Lyde, a Homewood pastor and president of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network. “But we need a place on-site that can comprehensively address the other impediments — like kids coming hungry, or from abusive situations.”

Despite community support, several well-financed organizations oppose Hamlet and the board’s authentic reforms.

Foremost among them is Campaign for Quality Schools Pittsburgh, a new PAC formed recently to make city schools great again – by doing the same failed crap that didn’t work before.

Also on the side of corporate education reform are the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. Representatives for both organizations have offered to pay for a new superintendent search if the district gives Hamlet his walking papers – a measure that probably would mean paying him at least a years salary without having him on the job.

This would also result in weakening the district’s ability to hire a new superintendent and increasing public mistrust of the electoral process. Such a move would pave the way for disbanding local control.

How generous of these philanthropies! I remember a time when giving meant providing the resources for organizations like public schools to fix themselves – not having the right to set public policy as a precondition for the donation. But in the age of Bill Gates and the philanthro-capitalists, this is what we’ve come to expect.

Even the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette has drunk the Kool-aid. In a June 10 editorial, the paper published the following statement:

“The (school) board’s failure at this essential task calls its leadership into question, and will renew calls for legislation to dissolve the elected school board and move to an appointed system.”

Finally, we have A+ Schools – an advocacy organization that at one time championed the same kinds of reforms school directors are trying to enact. However, after a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation, the group has become a cheerleader for weakening teachers unions, privatization and standardized testing.

Against these special interests stands a public school board and a community at the crossroads. Will they give in to public pressure and big money? Or will they allow Hamlet to do the job he was hired for and attempt to improve an urban district suffering from crippling poverty and state disinvestment?

This particularly tragedy has yet to find an ending.

To be or not to be?

Stop Treating Public Schools as Society’s Whipping Boy

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The United States is no stranger to stupidity and ignorance.

A significant portion of the population doesn’t know basic science facts like that the Earth revolves around the sun.

We only learn history and geography by going to war or drone striking countries usually  filled with brown people.

And when it comes to basic math and English, just read the poorly spelled placards at our political conventions calling for more trickle down economics.

Heck! We’re the country that elected C-student George W. Bush President!

Twice!

And lest you think that was a fluke, Donald Trump, a xenophobic reality TV star with zero political experience, is the presumptive Republican candidate for the same office RIGHT NOW!

Yet whenever so-called intelligent people bring up these and countless other examples of American idiocy, they invariably simplify the blame.

We’re a country of more than 320 million people made up of various cultures, nationalities, ideologies, economic brackets and living in a wide range of geographic areas and circumstances. Yet we think the cause of our national ignorance somehow isn’t complex and multifaceted.

No. That would be too much for us to understand. Instead, we take the easy way out and put the blame squarely in one solitary place – public schools.

It’s always the school’s fault. That and those lazy, complacent teachers.

Some folks think the moon landing was a hoax. So apparently the schools aren’t doing their jobs.

Other people can’t tell you the month and year of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Therefore, bad teachers.

Everything from believing you can catch AIDS from a toilet seat to thinking President Barack Obama is a secret Muslim – it all could have been rectified if the schools had just taught us better.

Nonsense.

If you need a legal warning that your McDonald’s coffee is hot, there’s not much your third grade teacher could have done to help.

If you think the solution to gun violence is strapping bullet proof backpacks to kindergarten children while arming their teachers, there’s little that could have been accomplished by further academic study.

Anti-intellectualism is in the very air we breathe in this country.

No one wants to appear smart. We want to be the jocks, not the nerds. But when we feel guilty for our ignorance who do we attack? The smart people! The teachers! The schools!

Sadly, it’s often really intelligent people doing it.

A few weeks ago, famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson got into a Twitter battle with rapper B. o. B. over whether the Earth is flat.

Yes, in America that is somehow still debatable.

And Dr. Tyson was understandably upset. “I don’t mind that people don’t know things,” he said in a Huffington Post interview. “But if you don’t know and you have the power of influence over others, that’s dangerous.”

Agreed, but then he became guilty of his own criticism by pointing his finger solely at the schools. “I blame the education system that can graduate someone into adulthood who cannot tell the difference between what is and is not true about this world,” he said.

Maybe this would be a more effective criticism if B. o. B. were an actual high school graduate and hadn’t, in fact, dropped out in 9th grade. Tyson has a masters in astronomy and a doctorate in astrophysics, but he couldn’t tell what is true about this world in relation to one rather famous rapper’s education. Therefore his alma maters of Princeton and Columbia must be pretty shitty schools?

Perhaps the problem isn’t that B. o. B. is ignorant, but that too many people are willing to accept him as an expert on the shape of the Earth instead of someone like Dr. Tyson. But that’s not a fault of the public school system. It’s because of our attitude toward schooling, knowledge and expertise. An attitude that Dr. Tyson perhaps unconsciously helped foster.

I don’t mean to pile on Dr. Tyson. He’s one of my heroes. I’m just disappointed that in this case he’s being so intellectually lazy.

He’s not the only one.

Unfairly blaming schools also came from columnist Andy Borowitz when describing the dangers of Trump’s candidacy.

“Stopping Trump is a short term solution,” he said. “The long term solution, and it will be more difficult, is fixing the education system that has created so many people ignorant enough to vote for Trump.”

To be fair, almost everything Borowitz says publicly is satirical, uttered with tongue buried deeply in cheek. But it still feeds into this scapegoating of public schools. The public schools didn’t create ignorance. They fight it and in some cases fail. I wonder why?

Whatever the reason, Trump, himself, isn’t decrying it. He’s celebrating it.

When he won the Nevada GOP primary, he made a point to thank all the dumb people who voted for him. “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated,” Trump told a crowd to huge cheers.

Strangely he didn’t then go on to laud what a great job public schools are doing by providing him with so many brain dead supporters.

So what exactly is the problem? Isn’t it troubling that so many American’s hold stupid beliefs? And isn’t this at least partially the fault of our public schools?

The answer is yes and yes.

We live in an anti-intellectual age. And that is troublesome.

And yes, our public schools are struggling to adequately educate everyone.

But when you blame everything on public schools you (1) obscure other factors like our piss poor media, and (2) you aren’t helping improve our schools.

First of all, much of our modern ignorance is fueled by toxic mass media. Most of us aren’t in school anymore. Unless you’re younger than 21 or 18, you probably get most of your facts from the news, TV, movies, video games and/or the Internet – not textbooks or school teachers.

We used to have an independent press that could investigate stories and report the truth. Now almost all of our major news sources are owned by a handful of giant corporations.

We don’t get news anymore. We get corporate public relations. The reason most people believe this crap is because it’s reported as if it were truth.

The rise of Fox News has a lot to do with it, but that is not the only culprit. Even traditionally revered sources such as the Associated Press are guilty of corporate collusion and bad, bad reporting.

They have no problem conflating an anonymous poll of superdelegates with actual votes as if they were the same thing even if doing so unduly influences the election in favor of one candidate. They have no problem broadcasting a Playboy Playmate’s vaccination advice every day of the week while mostly ignoring what research scientists have to say on the subject.

Second, constantly ragging on public schools doesn’t help make them better.

It’s not as if doing so actually resulted in addressing the real problems we have with our school system. Instead it reinforces the idea that they can’t be saved. We should just give up on public schools.

If we actually focused on the real problems with schools instead of constant innuendo, defamation and vitriol, we might be able to enact real solutions. For instance, more than half of our public school students live below the poverty line. They go to schools that aren’t funded adequately. We’ve allowed them to be resegregated based on class so its easier to ensure rich kids get a Cadillac education and poor kids get the scraps.

Moreover, we’ve let corporate interest take precedence over the needs of children. Instead of letting the experts in the field make education policy, we’ve left that up to the businesses that profit off of it. Instead of letting teachers and professors decide what are best academic standards, we’ve let think tanks create and impose shoddy, untested and developmentally inappropriate Common Core Standards. Instead of letting students be evaluated based on data gathered in the classroom by teachers who are there day-in, day-out, we’ve insisted schools be judged based on crappy high-stakes standardized tests. Instead of giving educators respect for the difficulty of their jobs and providing them with the autonomy necessary to help kids, we’ve denigrated the profession and chipped away at union protections, pay and benefits.

These are some of the real problems with public schools. When people throw shade at our education system, they are never so specific. It’s the schools that are “failing.” It’s never that they’re under-resourced. It’s the teachers who aren’t doing their jobs. It’s never that they’re being forced to teach to the tests. In fact, the people responsible for eroding our public schools often do so with the same rallying cry – our public schools are failing so let us enact these terrible policies that will actually make them worse!

It’s time we stop the lazy practice of criticizing public schools without also educating ourselves about what’s actually wrong with them.

Dr. Tyson, I love you, but don’t just blame schools. Blame Common Core and toxic testing. Andy, it’s not our schools that produce ignorant citizens. It’s the unfair funding formulas that don’t provide poor children with new books and a broad curriculum.

Public schools in general – and public school teachers specifically – have become our easy scapegoats, our whipping boys.

It’s about time we realized that such criticisms aren’t helping. In fact, they’re being used by the same people who are destroying our schools as an excuse to destroy them further.

The so-called failure of public schools has been used to justify massive school closures especially in neighborhoods of color. It’s been used to create more privately run charter schools. It’s been used to excuse cutting school funding, and making it even less palatable to be a teacher.

Too many of us believe these are good ideas.

Americans believe a lot of stupid things, but perhaps THESE are the dumbest of them all!

The Charter School Swindle – Selling Segregation to Blacks and Latinos

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Segregation now!

 

Higher suspension rates for black students!

 

Lower quality schools for Latinos!

 

These may sound like the campaign cries of George Wallace or Ross Barnett. But this isn’t the 1960s and it isn’t Alabama or Mississippi.

 

These are the cries of modern day charter school advocates – or they could be.

 

School choice boosters rarely if ever couch their support in these terms, but when touting charter schools over traditional public schools, this is exactly what they’re advocating.

 

According to the Civil Right Project at UCLA, “The charter school movement has been a major political success, but it has been a civil rights failure.”

 

It’s choice over equity.

 

Advocates have become so blinded by the idea of choice that they can’t see the poor quality of what’s being offered.

 

Because charter schools DO increase segregation. They DO suspend children of color at higher rates than traditional public schools. And they DO achieve academic outcomes for their students that are generally either comparable to traditional public schools or – in many cases – much worse.

 

In Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is Unconstitutional to have “separate but equal” schools because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal. Having two parallel systems of education makes it too easy to provide more resources to some kids and less to others.

 

Who would have ever thought that some minority parents would actually choose this outcome, themselves, for their own children!?

 

After Bloody Sunday, Freedom Rides, bus boycotts and countless other battles, a portion of minority people today somehow want more segregation!?

 

It’s hard to determine the extent of this odd phenomena. Charter advocates flood money into traditional civil rights organizations that until yesterday opposed school privatization. Meanwhile they hold up any examples of minority support as if it were the whole story. However, it is undeniable that large minority populations still oppose their school systems being charterized.

 

It’s especially troubling for civil rights advocates because black and brown charter supporters have been sold on an idea that could accurately be labeled Jim Crow. And they don’t even seem to know it.

 

The reason is two-fold: (1) the success of privatization propaganda and (2) the erosion of our public school system.

 

Charter schools are big business. Many of them are managed by huge corporations for a profit. They are run at taxpayer expense with little to no oversight. As you might expect, this often results in multi-million dollar financial scandals and worse outcomes for students. But these facts have not fazed some of the public. Propagandists know how to sell people on things that are bad for them: Fast food, miracle cures and charter schools.

 

They’ve marketed corporate McSchools as if these were mostly charitable institutions founded for the sole purpose of making children’s lives better. Meanwhile, funds that might actually help kids learn are funneled to hedge fund mangers and investors: Schools don’t open yet tax money disappears. Student services are reduced below that offered at comparable neighborhood public schools. Charter students are expelled for low test scores or special needs. Yet the public still buys the glossy full-color advertisement without bothering about the small print.

 

One thing corporate education reformers have over advocates of traditional public schools is their willingness to talk about race. They clothe their arguments in the terms of the Civil Rights movement. They talk about having high expectations for children of color. They talk about closing the achievement gap. They talk about understanding the needs of minority children.

 

It’s all bullshit.

 

Their “high expectations” are really just an excuse for treating brown and black kids as if they weren’t human. They put these children under intense pressure, berating them for wrong answers and kicking them out if they don’t perform.

 

Yet the academic results produced at charter schools are often less than stellar. Sometimes they’re downright abysmal. Instead of addressing the fundamental inequalities inherent in the achievement gap – economically and culturally biased high stakes testing, shoddy and developmentally inappropriate academic standards, etc. – they reinforce that status quo. It’s like instead of fighting a prohibition against sitting in the back of the bus, they berate black folks for not enjoying the ride.

 

I’m sorry. But when it comes to understanding the needs of black and Latino kids, I refuse to believe children of color need a second-class education system. (Just as I refuse to believe Teach for America’s claim that all black kids really need are less experienced, less educated and less committed teacher trainees.)

 

Perhaps if traditional public schools actually addressed these issues head on, privatizers wouldn’t appear to be saviors. There are real problems faced by children of color in our school systems. They have real needs that most of our schools – charter, traditional, private or parochial – just are not meeting. But while charter schools pay lip service to the problems without fixing them and in fact often making them worse, public schools pretend these problems don’t exist in the first place.

 

No wonder some minority parents choose charter schools. At least there they get the illusion that someone cares about their needs.

 

In fact, privatizers couldn’t sell their substandard products if it weren’t for what we’ve allowed to happen to our traditional public schools. Segregation is made worse in charter schools, but it is also prevalent at our traditional public schools – though often to a lesser degree.

 

We have allowed traditional public schools to be largely segregated based on parental income. We have schools for poor kids and schools for rich kids. Thus, we have schools for black kids and schools for white kids. And guess which ones are well-funded and which go lacking?

 

This is what people are really talking about when they mention “failing schools.” They pretend as if the teachers are failing, the principals are failing, the democratic process, itself, is failing. In reality, it is our state and federal lawmakers who are failing. They have failed to provide equitable resources that our nation’s children need.

 

Schools cost money. If you don’t provide the funding necessary to properly educate children, you will get an inferior result. Meanwhile, pundits play with numbers and make false comparisons to hide this basic fact – we aren’t providing all kids with the resources they need to succeed. Rich kids have enough. Poor kids don’t. But we look at national averages, add in unfunded legal mandates and pretend that tells the whole story.

 

How does this happen? Segregation. In fact, we’re allowing segregation of place to determine segregation of school. Instead of counteracting an unfair status quo, we’re letting the way things are today determine how things will be tomorrow.

 

Fact: people of different ethnicities tend to cluster together, like with like. Part of this is because people tend to self-segregate with people around whom they feel most comfortable. However, this is also a function of social planning. Banks tend to shy away from giving loans to families of color who want to move into white neighborhoods. Moreover, white homeowners are often reluctant to sell to families of color. The result is an America made up of black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods.

 

In organizing our public schools we could try to overcome these differences, but instead we amplify them. In many states we insist that schools be funded based on local property taxes. So poor brown and black people who happen to live clustered together get poorly funded schools for their kids. And rich white folks who live together in their gated communities get well-funded schools for their progeny.

 

Is it any wonder then that some people of color buy into the charter school lie? They’re offered the choice between an obviously under-resourced public school or a glossy new charter school that actually offers them less. But they don’t see that far. They’re tired of the indifference behind traditional public school funding and opt to try something different. Unfortunately, it’s just another lie and a more pernicious one for several reasons.

 

First, charter schools take an already segregated population and make it worse. Second, they weaken the already stumbling traditional public schools by siphoning off their dwindling funding. And finally, they obscure the fact that it’s often the same policymakers who champion charters that are responsible for eroding public schools in the first place.

 

People of color would be much better served by sticking with their traditional public schools and fighting to make them better. For all their faults, traditional public schools often provide a better quality education. They have more resources and less flexibility to take away those resources. They have more well-trained and experienced staff. And since they serve a more diverse population, they offer the chance for people of similar economic backgrounds but diverse cultures to join together in common cause.

 

Dividing people makes them weaker politically. When people band together, they have power. They can fight more effectively for what they deserve. Perhaps this is the greatest problem with charter schools – they destroy communities and rob neighborhoods of the collective power that is their due.

 

In many areas of the country, communities of color know this. Ask them in New Orleans what they think of their all-charter school district. Ask them in Chicago what they think of the city’s plan to close public schools and turn them into charters. Ask them in Philadelphia or any urban district taken over by the state.

 

They’ll tell you straight out how privatized education is cultural sabotage. They’ll tell you how it’s the new colonialism, another element of the new Jim Crow. They’ll tell you how important it is to fight for our system of public schools.

 

And when privatizers and propagandists try to paint all communities of color as if they support charter schools, these folks will loudly cry foul.

 

They aren’t buying the snake oil. The rest of us need to step up and help those who have been swindled to see the truth. Likewise we need to recognize their truth – that the struggle for civil rights is ongoing.

 

Because we can’t win the fight against privatization without them. And they can’t win the fight for equality without us.

 

We need each other.

 

Public school advocates need to recognize it’s not all about testing, Common Core and privatization. We can’t be so afraid to talk about race. We need to recognize that racism is not an unnecessary distraction, it’s at the center of our struggle.

 

We need communities of color.

 

We need our black and brown brothers and sisters.

 

Because only together shall we all overcome this madness.

The Arrogant Ignorance of Campbell Brown: Education Journalism in Decline

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Apparently facts don’t matter much to Campbell Brown.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

She wrote:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Now she’s a paid Internet troll.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Change all public schools to private charter schools? Check.

 

Block teachers unions from collectively bargaining? Check.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I must respectfully disagree.

 

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

 

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

 

Look who’s funding these stories.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nowhere is this as obvious as with Brown.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

White Teacher: We Need More Teachers of Color in Public Schools

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Black students relate to black teachers.

White students relate to white teachers.

It’s just human nature. We identify most with people like us.

It doesn’t mean kids can only be taught by teachers of their own race. That’s silly.

But it’s just as ridiculous to pretend like this doesn’t matter at all.

Fact: Roughly 48% of our nation’s public school children are children of color.

Fact: Only 18% of our nation’s teachers are persons of color.

We’re missing a tremendous opportunity!

I am a white teacher with classes made up mostly of African Americans. The suburban Western Pennsylvania district where I teach has a smattering of Hispanics, Asians and other nationalities, but most of the students are white, black or multiracial.

I love all of my kids and try to relate to them. But I’d be fooling myself if I thought my culture and complexion didn’t sometimes stand between us.

When I walk down the halls of my school, I see the African American principal fist bumping kids and talking to them in ways I never could.

It doesn’t mean he’s a better educator then I am. It just means he’s different.

When I give a fist bump, it’s funny. We he does, it’s authentic. It’s not that I haven’t tried to bridge the divide. Kids understand and appreciate the effort. But there is a divide.

For example, I saw him collar a black student the other day and ask about the child’s misbehavior in class.

“What’s up with Mrs. Johnson’s class?” he asked.

And the student looked down at the ground embarrassed that he had let the principal down. He’d let down a strong black man in a bow tie and ascot cap, someone from his own community, someone who might look like his dad, grandpap or uncle.

They have a relationship, a connection that – as a white teacher – I’ll never have. Sometimes black kids want to impress me, too, but as you’d impress an outsider, as you’d make inroads into a world outside your comfort zone.

That doesn’t threaten me.

In fact, it makes me feel good. They have the option to seek role models both within and without their usual frame of reference.

Black children in our district have a role model in our principal. These kids see him as a possibility. Yes, black people can be authority figures. Yes, our school is the kind of place that includes African Americans in the way it functions. And, yes, blackness is a part of the school community and not something apart from it.

Moreover, I can serve as a positive example of a white authority figure. In the very act of trying to understand my students and attempting to be a fair educator, I’m demonstrating one way in which different people can relate with each other. And I offer them a safe opportunity to relate to someone with a host of different experiences and backgrounds.

That’s the benefit of having racially diverse teachers in any school. It isn’t just good for the black kids. It’s good for all of them – even the white children.

One of the biggest obstacles to racial harmony is segregation. So often we don’t know each other personally. All we know is second hand. Many white people get their knowledge about black folks from the police blotter, rap lyrics, and racially tinged anecdotes.

If that’s all white folks know about black people, it’s no wonder our conceptions of them can be skewed. Even the brief personal interactions we have can become somehow emblematic of our prejudicesTHAT black person was loudly singing on the subway so all black people must be annoying. THAT black person hit me with her shopping cart, therefore all black people are absentminded or mean.

But if we get to know all kinds of different people as children in school, we become less prone to this kind of prejudice. We get to see people for who they really are instead of as mere representatives of their entire race. So for students – of any race – to experience black teachers and administrators has tremendous benefits for everyone.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy.

There are roadblocks at every step of the way.

In my district, even with our new black principal, people of color make up less than 10% of the staff. There are no other black teachers in the middle school, two black teachers in the high school and maybe as many in our two elementary schools. Yet about half of our students are African American.

People of color often don’t go into teaching. In fact, there is a nationwide teacher shortage irrespective of race. Constant attacks by lawmakers and media pundits and reductions in benefits and pay have made the profession increasingly unattractive to college students looking for a career.

This is even more so for people of color. Why would individuals from a group that is already marginalized and scapegoated want a job where they can be doubly marginalized and scapegoated?

Even when racially diverse people become teachers, they face more obstacles than the rest of us. The same expectations and prejudices outside the school walls are present in the faculty room, conference center, office and classrooms.

I’ve seen it, myself, multiple times: black teachers getting the worst schedules with the most difficult children and the least time to prepare; black teachers being questioned more frequently about their use of technology, pedagogy and rationale; black teachers snickered about behind closed doors because they aren’t perfect and white staff unwilling to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t think the white folks I’ve observed doing these things are purposefully trying to be racist. But the results are the same. Schools can be as unwelcoming a place for black staff as they can be for black students.

That’s why it’s imperative that we take steps to change.

If we want to improve public schools for all our students – including our students of color – we need to encourage more adults of color to take charge. We need to have incentives at the college level to increase the number of black and brown education majors. (And white ones, too, for that matter.) When positions open up, school directors and administrators need to prioritize filling them with people of color whenever possible. Administrators need to be more cognizant of treating black educators fairly, not assuming they’re only suited to the lowest academic tracks, etc. And white staff needs to be more understanding, less hyper critical of everything black teachers do.

There are a lot of white educators out there who really care about their minority students and colleagues. I’m one of them. But I know there’s more we can do.

We can demand more cultural competence training. If I were asked to teach a class full of Syrian refugees, I’d want extra training. If one of my co-workers only spoke sign language, I’d want help to communicate with her. White teachers need to admit that we could use that, too, when teaching children of color.

That’s one of the drawbacks of having so few black colleagues. Where do we turn for help in understanding our African American students? Who is there to point out potential hazards and help us better meet our minority students’ needs?

But the biggest challenge will be the first one – admitting that we have a problem in the first place.

Admitting that when we look around at all the white faces at the staff meeting and the faculty room, there is something missing.

Admitting that our black and brown students deserve to have teachers who look like them whom they can turn to from time-to-time.

Admitting the absence of our black brothers and sisters – and welcoming them to join us.

Great Reading Must Be Felt, Not Standardized

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I made my classes cry today.

That sounds terrible, but if I’m honest, I knew it would happen and meant to do it.

I teach in an urban district and most of my 8th grade students are African American and/or impoverished. We’re reading Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” together, and the kids were loving it.

Until today when we got to the verdict in the Tom Robinson trial.

Jaquan closed his book with wide eyes.

“What the heck happened?” he asked.

Other students in the room murmured their agreement.

“They found him guilty!? What the F!?”

“I hate this book.”

“This is so freakin’ racist.”

I let them go on for a moment.

Frankly, it was the reaction I had been expecting.

It happens every year around this time.

Until this moment, my kids were really into the book. They were enjoying the case and excited by how well the defense attorney, Atticus Finch, had proven that Tom, a black man in the 1930s South, is innocent of raping a white woman.

But even last night I knew what was coming. The next day – today – I’d have to go and break their hearts when they read what the jury actually decides. Some of them were bound to be crushed. And today they were.

For those who haven’t cracked this book open in decades, let me recap.

There is no physical evidence that the crime actually took place. Moreover, because of a crippling injury as a child, Tom is physically incapable of perpetrating the crime in the first place.

In a world where black males could be tortured and killed just for whistling at a white woman – like Emmett Till – it’s clear that Tom is the victim, not the aggressor.
It seems like a slam dunk case. Yet the all-white jury finds Tom guilty, and ultimately he is shot 17 times in prison after losing all hope and trying to escape.

It’s no wonder that when we read that cascade of Guilty’s from the jury’s mouths today, my kids couldn’t believe it.

Some of my best students closed the book or threw it away from them.

So I let them express their frustrations. Some talked about how the story hit too close to home. They have family members in jail or who have been killed in the streets by police. One girl even told us that she’s never met her own mother. The woman has been locked away since the child was an infant, and because of a missing birth certificate, my student hasn’t even been allowed to visit.

“Mr. Singer, when was this book written?” one of the girls in the back asked.

“The late 1950s,” I said.

“I thought you were going to say it just came out.”

And so we talked about what the book has to do with things happening today. We talked about Eric Garner. We talked about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray.

At a certain point, conversation ceased.

My class of rowdy teenagers became quiet. We could hear people stomping in the hall, a movie being shown a few doors down.

There might have been a few tears.

I knew it would happen.

Last night I debated softening the blow, preparing them for what was about to take place. When we read “The Diary of Anne Frank” a month ago, I made sure they’d know from the very beginning that Anne dies. It should have been no surprise to them when Anne and her family are captured by the Nazis. It’s scary and upsetting but not entirely unexpected.

However, with “Mockingbird” I just let events unfold. And I stand by that decision.

It’s frustrating and painful, but my students need to feel that. It’s something I can’t shield them from.

It’s not that they have never felt this way before. Many of them have experienced racism and injustice in their everyday lives. But for this book to really have the desired impact, they need to FEEL what the author meant. And it needs to come from the book, itself.

A book isn’t just sheets of paper bound together with glue and cardboard. It’s a living entity that can bite. That’s the power of literature.

I can’t in good conscience shield them from that. They need to see it and experience it for themselves.

Writer Flannery O’Connor put it like this:

“I prefer to talk about the meaning in a story rather than the theme of a story. People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like the string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if you can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. But this is not the way meaning works in fiction.

“When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you experience that meaning more fully.”

This is what our policymakers either misunderstand or forget when they demand we assess understanding with standardized tests.

The meaning of a story is not expressable in discrete statements A, B, C, or D. We wouldn’t read them if it was.

Every person is unique. So is every reaction to literature.

You can’t identify the meaning of this story on a multiple choice test. You can’t express what it means to YOU. All you can do is anticipate the answer the test maker expects. And that’s not reading comprehension. It’s an exercise in sycophantry. It teaches good toadying skills – not good reading strategies.

Perhaps that’s why Common Core encourages us to shy away from complex texts like “Mockingbird.” We’re told to focus on short snippets of fiction and to increase our student’s diet of nonfiction. Moreover, we’re told to stay away from narratives like Anne Frank’s. Instead, we should have our children read from a greater variety of genres including instruction books, spreadsheets, recipes – just the facts – because as Common Core architect David Coleman famously said, “No one gives a shit what you think or feel.”

Frankly, we don’t do a whole lot of that in my class. We still read literature.

Today, even after the blowout, we kept reading “Mockingbird.”

My kids suffered along with Jem and Scout. They reveled in Atticus’s example. They feared where it was all going.

And when class was over, a few of them had come around.

“This is such a good book, Mr. Singer,” one girl told me on the way out.

“Is Atticus going to die?” another asked to which I smiled and shrugged.

Jaquan stayed after the bell to ask his own question.

“Do you think in a hundred years things will be any different?”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean do you think people will still do things like THIS?” he said holding up his book.

I looked at him and swallowed.

“I don’t know, Jaquan,” I said. “But things are better now than they were. We can hope.”

He nodded.

I clapped him on the back and wished him a good weekend.

You don’t get that kind of reaction from Common Core, and you can’t assess it on a standardized test.

Students can’t ask such questions to computer programs.

They need teachers with the freedom to teach and assess as they see fit.

Otherwise, it is not just Tom Robinson that suffers a miscarriage of justice.

We all do.