Would Democrats Really Do Better Than Betsy DeVos on Education?

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Everybody hates Betsy DeVos.

 

 

As Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education, she’s ignorant, unqualified and insincere.

 

 

But would the Democrats really do much better if they had control of the Executive Branch?

 

 

The Center for American Progress (CAP), a left leaning think tank, wants you to believe that they would.

 

 

The organization founded by John Podesta and deeply tied to both the Clinton and Obama administrations has come out with a list of seven policy goals if Democrats take back the House and/or Senate in the midterm elections this November.

 

 

On the face of it, many of these goals are smart and worthy ends to pursue.

 

 

But this is the Center for American Progress, after all! These are the same people who pushed charter schools down our throats, the same people who never met a standardized test they didn’t love, the same people who think Teach for America temps are just as good – if not better – than fully licensed, fully trained teachers with 4 or 5 year education degrees.

 

 

Frankly, I don’t trust a thing they say.

 

 

The last two Democratic administrations pushed almost the same education policies as the last three Republican ones. They often use different rhetoric and pretend to dislike policies that BOTH parties have championed for decades.

 

 

So when an organization with a history like CAP offers school policy proposals – even if they’re innocuous on the surface – a closer look often reveals something disturbing hiding just under the skin.

 

 

In any case, it’s worth taking a look at this new report to examine what’s helpful in these think tank proposals and in what ways they might hide dangers for students, teachers, parents and society.

 

 

 

THE BAD

 

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CAP proposes we:

 

  1. Provide a tutor for all students who are below grade level:

 

 

This includes both academic and emotional support. And it sounds great! Imagine what struggling students could do with more one-on-one help!

 

However, according to the report, CAP’s major problem with previous tutoring initiatives like those provided under the No Child Left Behind Act was that they weren’t “high-quality.” Moreover, “tutoring could grow at the local level, helped along by things like an AmeriCorps expansion.”

 

Oh great! “high-quality” is often used by think tanks as a euphemism for standardized testing. And AmeriCorp has helped push more Teach for America temps into positions that should be held by teaching professionals.

 

I would love for struggling students to have extra help, but this sounds too much like sending Teach for America to give poor and minority students test prep and skill drills for hours and hours after school.

 

2) Go to a 9-to-5 school day:

 

 

Child psychologists have been suggesting we start school later in the day for at least a decade to better suit growing bodies and brains. Students would be able to get more sleep and come to school more rested and ready to learn. It would also help parents if students didn’t get out of school up to two hours before most adults are home.

 

 

In addition, CAP is cognizant that this would have to be a local decision – it couldn’t be handed down at the federal level. They suggest encouraging the move with more Title I funding and other sweeteners.

 

 

However, this ignores the fact that U.S. kids already spend more time in class than their international peers. Few countries make their children suffer through an 8-hour day. In Finland, for example, where kids start later and are released earlier than U.S. children, students get a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of class work.

 

 

This suggestion, coming as it does from test-obsessed partisans, could be just another way to try to increase the amount of work piled on students in order to raise test scores. I advise caution.

 

3) Pay teachers more

 

 

I’m certainly not against this one. CAP notes that teachers only take home about 60 percent of the salaries that employees with similar levels of education earn. They suggest a base salary of $50,000 – up from the current average of $38,000 for incoming educators.

 

 

“More-experienced educators with a track record of success should make at least $100,000,” the report suggests (emphasis mine). And THAT’S where I start to feel queasy. What exactly do they mean “track record of success”? Well, this is CAP, so that probably means teachers whose students score well on standardized tests.

 

 

So I’m guessing it’s a back door merit pay policy. In other words, they want to offer more money to teachers who clobber their students with the test prep club so they’ll magically score Advanced on high stakes tests. This is yet another attempt to bribe educators to narrow the curriculum, avoid collaboration and sideline students who don’t traditionally score well on these kinds of assessments – the poor and minorities.

 

 

I want a raise, believe me. I DESERVE a raise! But not if you’re going to make me sign a Faustian bargain first.

 

 

 

THE GOOD

 

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CAP proposes we:

 

4) Offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, no matter what their parents income:

 

We have this at both my daughter’s school and the district where I teach in western Pennsylvania. It is a tremendous success. Making it a nationwide initiative is an excellent idea.

 

 

It’s hard to argue with this, even if the main justification is that better nutrition will lead to better academic outcomes (read: test scores). Plus this removes the stigma of a free meal because all students receive it, and once initiated it would be harder to take away.

 

5) Provide more opportunity for students going to college to get technical workplace experience:

 

 

Students should be able to get real world experience to help them decide if certain careers are for them. I’m struggling to see a downside.

 

6) Hire more social workers, counselors and school psychologists:

 

 

Heck to the yeah. I see no downside there.

 

 7) Initiate a national infrastructure program to fix crumbling school facilities:

 

It’s about time! Schools in impoverished neighborhoods are falling apart. We need to bring them up to the same level as those in the upper middle class and wealthy communities. Obviously, we’ll need to audit these programs and make sure money isn’t being wasted or embezzled, but this is a worthy goal well past due.

 

 

AND THE OTHER SHOE DROPS

 

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And that’s it.

 

 

Not a bad list, over all.

 

 

I do have some reservations as noted above. However, many of these proposals would be really positive…

 

 

…until the other shoe drops.

 

 

Queue Lisette Partelow, CAP’s director of K-12 Strategic Initiatives and the lead author of the report. Pay careful attention to her remarks about the report in Education Week.

 

 

The think tank doesn’t expect these policies to be introduced or enacted anytime soon, she says. And even if they were, Partelow understands they would probably go under significant legislative changes before becoming law.

 

“We’re really excited about this as a counter balance, as an answer to the ideas we’re seeing put forward by [U.S. Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration,” Partelow says.

 

So THAT’S their game!

 

CAP is playing the long con here. They are putting forward a bunch of puppy dog and teddy bear proposals to contrast with Trump and DeVos.

 

These aren’t policies as much as they are advertisements for the Democratic party. It’s the equivalent of saying, “We promise we’ll do good things like THESE if you elect Democrats – despite the fact that we mainly focused on standardization and privatization when we were in power.”

 

Look. Maybe I’m being too cynical.

 

Maybe the Democrats really, really are going to do a better job this time, cross their hearts and hope to die, if we give them just one more chance.

 

But words aren’t nearly enough.

 

I like many of these policy suggestions. But I just don’t trust the Democrats.

 

The brand has been tainted for me by the Clinton and Obama administrations – by leadership from the same people who are making these suggestions.

 

In short – I’ll believe it when I see it.

 

Perhaps the greatest lesson organizations like CAP have taught is not to trust organizations like CAP and the faux progressives they’re selling.

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For more, Read CAP’s Full report: HERE.


 

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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There Has Never Been a Better Chance to Defeat Neoliberals and Neofascists: Hopes for 2018

Demonstration against G8 Summit in Le Havre

 

As 2017 chugs and sputters to a well-deserved end, I find myself surprised at the pessimism around me.

 

Yes, I know. Donald Trump is still President.

 

The plutocrats have stolen trillions of dollars from the majority in unnecessary tax cuts that threaten our ability to function as a nation.

 

A slim majority of their sniveling creatures at the FCC have repealed Net Neutrality gifting our free expression to huge corporations.

 

And big business continues to sack and burn our public schools only to replace them with charter and voucher swindles.

 

This is all true.

 

But it does not make me lose heart.

 

These defeats may be fleeting, momentary as political and legal challenges mount against them. As far as the tide has pulled back, a wave is gathering strength at sea, such a prodigious burst of water as to create a new ocean once it hits land.

 

Yes, we endured many scars from the year that was. But we have gained something truly amazing – something that we probably could not have grasped without our sexual predator in chief, a reality TV show conman posing as a political leader.

 

People.

 

Are.

 

Awake.

 

They see the undeniable destruction, the naked power grabs, how our lawmakers are owned by the super-rich and the outright denial of democratic principles.

 

They see and they understand.

 

It is no longer debatable that we have lost control of our government.

 

It is no longer a question whether our lawmakers have our best interests at heart.

 

It is no longer at all uncertain that business interests and public interests are not the same.

 

Everyone knows.

 

Everyone sees.

 

The question is “What will we do about it?”

 

I’m reminded of the ending of John Carpenter’s cult classic “They Live.”

 

In the movie, Earth is conquered by aliens but no one noticed. The aliens took over the media and government using a transmitter to hide their ugly faces so that people couldn’t see what they truly look like. These intergalactic shepherds used the media and advertising to herd us human sheep to focus on naked consumerism and ignore how we’re being consumed by the powers that be.

At the end of the movie, the hero – played by Roddy Piper – sacrifices himself to destroy the transmitter so everyone finally can see the hideous aliens among us.

 

I remember watching the film the first time back in the ‘80s and wondering what people would do once they could see the truth.

 

Would they fight? Or would they try to convince themselves that they weren’t seeing the evidence of their own eyes?

 

(WARNING: The video below is NSFW, contains nudity and sexual situations.)

 

We’re in a similar situation today.

 

Trump did not cause all of this. He certainly made it worse, but the groundwork was laid by years of neoliberals from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama.

 

Reagan and both Bushes started us rolling down into the pit, but it was the Clintons and the Obamas who convinced so many of us that we weren’t headed into oblivion, it was merely a trick of the mind, this was the direction we wanted to go and that if anyone got left behind it was merely their own darn fault.

 

But now the truth is right there before our faces.

 

And that’s thanks to the blunt, unrepentant greed of Donald J. Trump.

 

He steals from us and doesn’t even pretend he’s doing anything else.

 

He hordes our money. He destroys our laws and disregards our values. He raises racists and bigots to respectability while appointing unqualified sycophants with the expressed purpose to run our government into the ground. And if anyone dares proclaim the emperor has no clothes, all he can say is “Fake News.”

 

And though I thoroughly despise him for everything he’s done and continues to do bringing our world to the brink of annihilation – I also have to thank him.

 

There is no longer any denying the truth.

 

It is merely a question of how we fight.

 

Opportunities abound for victory, and on a scale we could not previously have dreamed.

 

It would take such a little push to topple this pathetic toy dictator’s regime.

 

Merely a whisper out of all our mouths could bring it down.

 

The slightest flick of the smallest finger on all our hands could send a shock wave causing this pitiful empire to crumble.

 

If we merely took to the streets at the same time, these dollar store monsters would dissolve in our wake.

 

And in their place – imagine the world we could create.

 

All the socialist ideals of Roosevelt’s New Deal could be realized. We could enact a NEW New Deal where everyone truly had a fair shot at flourishing.

 

As the Rev William Barber says, we could bring about a Third Reconstruction so that our future was firmly built on the foundation of equity and understanding for people of all races, genders, nationalities, religions and creeds.

 

We could forever banish money from the halls of power and force the plutocrats to pay for all they have stolen from us – with interest.

 

We could do all this with the merest flexing of our muscles. Because the conquering power is so weak, so disorganized, so pathetic.

 

And the status quo false flag opposition is just as weak and powerless.

 

There is but one puissant force left in this country of ours, and it is us. The people.

 

We were there at the beginning and we are here still at what might be our end.

 

We, the People.

 

We can take this country back from the sick and stunted and powerful.

 

We can take this country back from the frail and the deranged and prejudiced.

 

We can make America great – if not again then perhaps for the first time. We can make America truly great.

 

That is the promise of the future.

 

As our darkest hour dawns, our brightest light may yet shine.

 

Here’s to igniting that spark.

 

Here’s to a brighter tomorrow.

Will the U.S. Follow New Zealand’s Lead and Repeal National Academic Standards?

 

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Kiwis don’t like corporations telling them what to do.

 

 

Especially when it comes to educating their children.

 

 

That’s why this week, New Zealand’s Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced that schools in the pacific island nation would no longer need to use the national academic standards mandated by the government for the last decade.

 

 

“I don’t think anyone will be surprised that we are ditching a failed experiment,” he said.

 

“We want teachers focused on less testing and more teaching because that’s the way we’re going to improve students’ progress.”

 

I pause at this point for American readers to catch their breath.

 

Yes, a national government just reversed course on standardized, canned, one-size-fits-all academic standards for all students in its public schools.

 

Yes, they had spent millions of dollars to create, roll out and enforce the standards.

 

But now they see the results have been less than expected and they’re changing their collective minds.

 

Shocking, I know.

 

If only we still did things like that in THIS country.

 

But wait, there’s more.

 

Why exactly did New Zealand turn against its national standards?

 

Did parents hate them?

 

Yes.

 

Did kids hate them?

 

Yes.

 

Did teachers hate them?

 

Yes.

 

All things that could be said of our own Common Core. But was there more to it?

 

Yes.

 

In short, New Zealand’s national standards weren’t helping kids learn. In fact, they appeared to have the exact opposite effect.

 

New Zealand children’s performance on international tests dropped significantly since the standards were introduced in 2010.

 

And publication of these results showing 10-year-old’s reading achievement taking a nosedive since the standards adoption ignited an already smoldering public outcry.

 

New Zealand’s average score on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) had been steady for 15 years, but fell dramatically at the end of 2015. In short, New Zealand went from 23rd to 33rd out of 50 countries.

 

Funny.

 

The US has had a strikingly similar result on the same test with the same age children since the mandate to use the Common Core.

 

The PIRLS is an assessment given to fourth-graders in schools around the world every five years. In 2016, the average score for US students dropped from fifth in the world in 2011 to 13th. And the drop wasn’t merely perfunctory. It was “statistically significant” according to test organizers.

 

The biggest drop was for the lowest-performing students, what the organizers considered a sign that we’re providing much greater support for economically advantaged children than for underprivileged ones.

 

Why is this important?

 

Because Common Core was introduced across the nation in 2010-11. These fourth grade students were the first to be educated using the Core since Kindergarten, and far from creating a boost in achievement, it opened a chasm.

 

Reading scores went down just as they consistently have done time-and-time-again since we started using the standards.

 

Scores go down on state tests. National tests. International tests.

 

Meanwhile the test makers and their proxies keep telling us the problem is that the standards are simply more rigorous and it just will take time for our children to get up to speed. Meanwhile their publishing and software subsidiaries sell us hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new text books, new computer programs, new devices, new apps, new “specialists” and consultants offering professional developments, etc.

 

Choo! Choo! The gravy train is rolling. We can’t let something like international test scores derail the money train!

 

Keep in mind, this is the same international test and the same age group of children that caused a revolution in New Zealand.

 

Will our response be the same?

 

Probably not.

 

New Zealand’s authentic reform resulted from a political change. The National Party was replaced by the Labour Party, and repealing national academic standards was part of their platform.

 

It marked a sharp divide between the philosophies of both groups.

 

The National Party wanted more testing, more data, more standardization, more holding funding hostage to test scores – just like both Republicans and Democrats in the US.

 

However, the New Zealand Labour Party ran on significant reductions to standardized education, substantial cuts to standardized testing, repealing national standards and considerable investment in students, schools and teachers.

 

We in the US simply have no political equivalent.

 

There is no political party – right, left or centrist – that puts the needs of children, parents, teachers and working people at the center of its platform.

 

Both the left and right take billions of dollars in campaign contributions from the testing and privatization industries and thus support policies that serve the interest of their donors over their constituents.

 

There is a tremendous political opportunity here for one party to change course and support a winning strategy.

 

Republicans tried it in 2016 by lambasting Common Core and then quietly forgetting they could do a thing about it at the state level every day since.

 

Including today.

 

Admittedly their education policy is incoherent since they support every standardization and privatization initiative on record so long as a black President didn’t touch it. And even then their opposition melts away when they have the power to do something about it but no one’s looking because the President is too busy playing nuclear chicken with North Korea on Twitter.

 

Imagine if politicians promised to fix something and then had the courage to actually do it!

 

It worked in New Zealand.

 

It’s worked in many places all over the world.

 

Why can’t it work here?

 

“We Want Our Money Back!” – The Rallying Cry of the 99% After GOP Tax Scam Passes Senate

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We want our money back!

Every penny!

With interest!

Do you hear us, Republican Senators?

Early this morning while most of us slept, you passed a $1.5 trillion tax giveaway to the wealthiest people in America!

And you did it 51-49 with only one Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee, joining all Democrats against it.

This was a 500 page piece of lobbyist-written legislation hastily put together – in some cases scribbled in pen across type written pages – that no one had a chance to read before voting.

I am no fan of the corporate Democrats who have taken over what used to be a progressive party. But we can’t blame them for this one.

This scandal belongs entirely on the shoulders of Republicans.

The Dems even offered a resolution to delay the vote so that legislators had a chance to read it. All 52 Republicans voted against it!

This is what happens when the people lose control of their government.

This is what happens when the rich control lawmakers with their money.

There is no longer any doubt that we no longer live in a Republic. We no longer have any form of representative Democracy. We live in a pure plutocracy.

The rich pay the representatives and the representatives do what the rich want.

The wealthy are their real constituents. We are merely patsies told polite falsehoods to keep us in line.

You have no political power.

None.

Governments get their legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

You did not give your consent to give away more than a trillion dollars to rich douchebags who don’t need it. But Republicans gave it to them anyway.

Therefore, our government has no legitimacy.

We are an occupied people.

We are the victims of a palace coup.

The question remains if there is even a semblance of democratic principles left to allow us to regain what has been stolen.

The present plutocracy is weak. It has not had time enough to consolidate its power.

The old plan of gradually stealing control under cover of neoliberal policies has been abandoned. This is a naked power grab.

Perhaps it will be the jolt we need to snap us all awake.

Perhaps it will be enough to move the 99% to grab what little remains of the system set up by Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and the other founders.

We must rise up and demand these crooks pay us back.

“We want our money back!” should be our rallying cry.

If there are any lawmakers left in the halls of power that want to represent us, they should take a page from the GOP handbook.

How many times did Republicans propose overturning Obamacare regardless of whether they had the votes or the power to do so?

We must do the same with this tax scam bill.

At every turn, we should propose repealing the bill and forcing the wealthy to pay back every red cent they stole! With interest!

It doesn’t matter if it won’t pass. Do it.

Clog the wheels of power with our cries. Don’t let them do a single thing more to make the lives of the majority of the population worse.

Democrats, now is your last chance to show us where you really stand.

You and I both know that if the Republicans had offered even the slightest concessions, many Dems would have voted for almost the same tax scam bill. It would have been a terrible piece of legislation that stole banks full of money from you and me. But it wouldn’t have been quite as terrible.

Frankly, that’s not enough, Democrats.

You aren’t to blame for what just happened, but you haven’t proven yourselves to be part of the solution.

If you want our continued support, you need to move to the left. HARD!

The masses have been stoked and stirred by this scandal. The political landscape has never been more primed for a landslide against the ruling class.

Democrats could take advantage of this and earn a blue wave next year.

But this will only happen if you run candidates that are willing to fight on our side in the class war that has already begun.

Bernie Sanders is great, but let’s be honest. He’s kinda elderly, and he’s a moderate.

That’s right. “Crazy” Bernie with his “kooky” socialist ideas is in the middle of any sane political spectrum. He only seems like a radical because of how far to the right the spectrum has shifted in this country.

We need real progressives who aren’t afraid to take on the establishment and fight inequality, police brutality, white supremacy, school privatization and a host of ills that – frankly – Democrats have historically championed almost as much as Republicans.

The pieces are all lined up. The board is ready to play.

We will support anyone who supports us.

We are coming for Republicans.

They will be repealed and replaced.

We will get back every penny they just stole last night. And we will grab every Richy Rich plutocrat by the heels, turn them upside down and shake until we get back every penny they took – with interest.

We will wring every last drop of Democracy we can from this government.

And if we find that there is not enough left…

History has an answer for what comes next.

Americans don’t take kindly to taxation without representation.

And that’s exactly what Republicans gave us this morning.


 

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. Check it out!

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Black Progress Does Not Come At White Expense

People of different races hold hands as they gather on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge in Charleston

 

Relax, white people.

 

Take a breath.

 

It’s okay.

 

America survived its first black President.

 

You didn’t have to freak out and elect a neo-authoritarian-pseudo-populist!

 

Holy Crap!

 

Donald Fucking Trump!

 

Talk about an over-reaction!

 

But I get it.

 

You’re scared.

 

You’re used to the faces of authority being white and male. Yet for eight whole years you had to endure Barack Obama – a far from perfect neoliberal politician, who none-the-less gave the U.S. the most stable two terms in decades.

 

And then you were asked to vote for a white face (sigh!) that unfortunately was attached to breasts and a vagina! Oh the horror!

 

Seriously, white people. Sit the fuck down and listen to some sense.

 

You don’t need white supremacy.

 

You don’t need male supremacy.

 

You can function just fine in a world where people of color and women have the same rights as you and yours.

 

I know. Sounds crazy! But it’s true.

 

Think about it.

 

Let’s say unarmed black people were no longer killed by police at a higher rate than white people.

 

Would that hurt you?

 

I don’t think so. In fact, it might actually help, because then we could focus on the fact that police in this country kill far too many unarmed people – of any race – than they should. In most countries, they make lots of arrests but kill almost no one. Here, they kill hundreds – thousands!

 

We need to demilitarize law enforcement. We need new training programs that emphasize de-escalation of violence – not a shoot-first-ask questions-later mentality.

 

And it’s hard to focus on that when racism and prejudice get in the way. We need to fix racism first. Only then can we address the root issue.

 

Here’s another example.

 

Let’s say we had truly integrated public schools.

 

No run down under-resourced schools that just happen to serve mostly students of color and yet across town we’ve got the Taj Mahal with marble columns and a broad curriculum that just happens to serve the best and whitest.

 

Instead we’d have schools that serve everyone – a broad mix of cultures, races and ethnicities all properly resourced and offering a broad range of curriculum and extra-curricular activities.

 

Would that hurt you?

 

I don’t think so. In fact, it would actually help because every child would get what he or she needs to succeed. Crime would drop, and even prejudiced and racist attitudes would begin to disappear because it’s harder to hold xenophobic views about people who you actually know because you’ve learned everything with them since you were in kindergarten.

 

There’s one thing you have to understand. Racism isn’t an ideology. It’s a sickness. It’s a virus that blinds people to real truths about the world and makes them more prone to holding views that are just plain wrong.

 

The same with sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and a plethora of modern day maladies that should have gone the way of small pox and polio.

 

Inoculating yourself against prejudice will not hurt you. Living in a society where everyone has the same rights doesn’t impinge on those you already have.

 

Yes, it will mean dismantling white supremacy. But that’s a good thing. You don’t really want the world to prize you just because of the color of your skin.

 

Do you?

 

Do you want to get into college just because you’re white?

 

Do you want to get a job just because of the hue of your epidermis?

 

Do you want the sum total of your value as a human being to be dependent on the way light reflects off your skin?

 

I don’t.

 

I’m white, and I don’t want that for me or my posterity.

 

I want people to judge me for me – not some preconceived notion of who I am based on culturally received generalities and the amount of melanin in my outermost cells.

 

Fuck that shit.

 

I’m me. And if that’s not good enough for anyone they can just go and jump in the river.

 

I don’t need white supremacy. And I don’t want it.

 

I refuse to sit back and accept things I don’t deserve while others are denied what they do deserve just so I can get some free stuff.

 

I refuse to let my society continue to be built on a foundation of prejudice and cruelty.

 

We’re all human beings. It’s time we treated everyone as such.

 

That means everyone gets the same human rights.

 

To paraphrase Oprah – YOU get human rights, and YOU get human rights and EVERYONE gets human rights!

 

For white people that means losing a certain sense of normativity.

 

White will no longer be considered normal. Neither will male.

 

It’s just another way to be – no better or worse than any other.

 

That doesn’t mean being ashamed of your whiteness. Hell. We can revel in it.

 

Imagine reconnecting with all the messy ethnicities we’ve plastered over to claim this homogenous white overclass! Imagine being Polish again, and Czech and German and Scandinavian and so many other nationalities that we barely connect with because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves as anything other than white — That’s me. Just white. Plain white. Nothing to see here. White.

 

We’ve had to sacrifice a whole lot to get that status. But we don’t have to keep sacrificing. We can be who we are, too.

 

The Alt-Right Nazis are out there in the streets chanting, “You will not replace us.”

 

How about we replace ourselves.

 

Why don’t we redefine who we are as – who we are.

 

Not homogenous. Not white. But specific human beings belonging to various cultural, ethnic and religious groups and societies.

 

Human beings all taking part in the symphony of homo sapia, engaged in a robust love of all things people and a recognition that all people are human.

 

Think for a moment what that truly means.

 

Take a deep breath.

 

Let it in. Let it out.

 

It means letting go of this irrational fear that anti-racism is anti-white.

 

So, let me say it again – no. Black progress will not come at white expense. Nor will female progress or anyone’s progress.

 

Because we go through this life together.

 

We are one race. We are one people – though we are also many – and we will survive or perish together.

 

Take my hand and let’s build a better world for all of us.

 

Let us all benefit.

 

Let us all progress.

 

Together.

Do We Still Have a Functioning Democracy?

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Do we still have a functioning democracy?

Really.

Do we?

Because when I look around at the mess we’ve got here today, I honestly don’t know.

I went to my polling place to vote, and it was nearly deserted.

The candidates’ signs were still there, stuck in the ground like some kind of seasonal weed in need of a gardener.

But there were no people.

Well there was one nice lady sitting on a bench who smiled and handed me a flier from the county Democratic committee.

When I got inside, the poll workers were as cheerful and friendly as ever. I’ve known these ladies since I was a little kid. They remember when I worked at the local newspaper and could probably recite some elements of my resume better than I can.

They made polite conversation asking about my parents and grandparents as they looked up my information and geared up the machine to take my ballot.

There was something almost frightening about the whole thing. It was both familiar and tainted – kind of like returning to the scene of some grisly murder.

Just a year ago, this was where we knowingly voted for Donald J. Trump to be President of the United States.

When I say “we” I don’t mean me.

I didn’t vote for that tiny-handed racist asshole. But I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, either.

And when the whole thing was done last year, I had terrible chest pains that sent me to my doctor and then the hospital with my first-ever heart attack.

That election literally sent me to the ICU.

And yet today here I was standing on my own two feet getting ready to do it all over again.

I stood there staring at the choices on the machine, looking at my helpful Democratic flier and even referring to an email on my phone from my union.

“Why is the union recommending a bunch of Republicans?” I thought.

“Their chosen candidates want to dismantle the very institution recommending I vote for them!”

And then I looked at the list of Democrats. I didn’t know any of them.

Some of their names were familiar from hastily aired campaign ads that told me a folksy story about their families or education or how they’d never called off a day in their lives – but nothing about their beliefs, their values, even their politics.

How am I supposed to choose between these people?

I thought about just voting for the Green candidates but there was a whole one to choose from in only one race.

So I ended up voting for the Democrats. At least I have some nominal idea where they stand.

And I have to admit when it was all over and I pressed “VOTE,” I felt really good.

The machine made that metallic buzz like it was tabulating my ballot, and I felt like I had really accomplished something.

Then I went out into the nearly deserted parking lot and got hit by a wave of depression.

“What the fuck just happened?” I asked myself.

And I answered, “You got played, son.”

“Again.”

Trump is still President. And he’ll be President tomorrow and probably tomorrow and tomorrow.

And even if he was magically ushered from the scene, there’s another nearly identical Republican ideologue waiting to take his place. And another to take his. And another…

Meanwhile, the Democrats are little more than a steaming crater in the ground. They hold fewer political offices than they have at any point in my lifetime. And it doesn’t appear like that will change anytime soon.

We just had a grassroots, people-powered revolution demanding American politics move back to the left. We had a popular progressive candidate overflowing huge stadiums, an influx of young people committed to fighting against intersectional issues like racism, sexism and class warfare. And it was crushed by the Democratic nominee who coopted the process and the party with big money.

Maybe we were all just incredibly naive. I mean how can you get money out of politics when the system is already corrupted by money?

Laws aren’t made by consensus anymore. They’re made because lawmakers get paid.

And lawmakers aren’t elected because people vote for them. They’re elected because they have big money behind them – because these are the people the donors want to offer the rest of us as a choice. And no one else. Republicans and Democrats picked by the same oligarchs to make it look like us, plebeians, have a choice.

Occasionally an outlier sneaks in, but that’s rare, and the plutocrats – the real owners of this country – spend hundreds of millions of dollars to stop them.

So what do we do? Strengthen a weak and disorganized third party? Even under the best of circumstances, that would take decades. In the meantime, the environment would be destroyed, millions would have died in unnecessary wars and what little majority rule we have would have inevitably been repealed long ago.

I wish I had some more optimistic note on which to end. But I don’t.

All I have is this question: Do we still have a functioning Democracy?

And I put it out there in the real hope that readers will consider it deeply.

No kneejerk reactions. No received wisdom from this pundit or that anchor or that party hack.

It’s a question we all have to answer – and soon.

Because if the answer is “no,” what the heck can we even do about it?

Pennsylvania Proposes Smaller Tests, Same High Stakes

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It’s not the size of the tests, it’s how you use them.

 

And that’s kind of the problem with Gov. Tom Wolf’s new proposal for Pennsylvania public schools.

 

Wolf wants to reduce the amount of time students are taking standardized tests, but he seems to have little problem using those tests to hold schools accountable for all kinds of things that are beyond their control.

 

The proposal released today applies only to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests – those taken by students in grades 3-8. Keystone Exams taken by high school students are unaffected.

 

It would cut one of three reading sections and one of three math sections – two total. Wolf also wants to cut some questions from one of the science sections.

 

Such a move is estimated to eliminate 48 minutes from the math test, 45 minutes from the reading test and 22 minutes from the science test. However, judging from my own students, these times vary considerably depending on the individual taking the tests. I’ve had 8th grade students finish a PSSA section in as little as 5 minutes or as much as two hours.

 

Most schools give either a section a day or two in one day. Therefore, this proposal probably translates to 1 to 2 fewer days testing in most districts.

 

Um. Thanks?

 

Look I don’t want to seem ungrateful here, but these suggested modifications are little more than fiddling around the edges of a massive problem.

 

Yes, it will be helpful to reduce testing times, but this does very little to address the fundamental problems with test-based accountability in the Commonwealth.

 

At best, this proposal will allow students to spend two more days a year learning. Assuming most districts don’t use that extra time for test prep, that IS a good thing.

 

But tacitly committing students throughout the state to taking these tests almost guarantees that test prep is exactly how these additional days will be used.

 

The problem with standardized testing isn’t just the number of raw days it takes students to complete the tests. It is how the tests deform the entire year-long curriculum. Students don’t just learn anymore. They learn what’s on the test – and anything else is purely optional.

 

Regardless of the size of the assessments, they are still being used to sort and judge students, teachers and schools. Shortening their length does nothing to address the fundamental unfairness of the evaluations. Rich white kids still tend to have high scores and poor minority kids still tend to have low ones.

 

At best, they reveal structural funding disparities between poor and wealthy districts. At worst, the cultural bias inherent in the questions favor those from dominant, privileged ethnicities while punishing those who don’t fit the standard.

 

That’s what “standardized test” means after all – defining normal and punishing those who don’t fit the definition. Most questions don’t assess universals like the value of 2 and 2. They evaluate cultural and social norms required to understand the questions and easily find an answer that another “normal” student would choose. (Don’t believe me? Watch “Black Jeopardy” on Saturday Night Live.)

 

This is true whether the test takes one day or 100 days.

 

We should not be using standardized testing to meet federal accountability standards. Period.

 

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains provisions to circumvent them. States are supposed to be given leeway about testing. They may even be able to replace them with projects or other non-standardized assessments. THAT’S what Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Education should be exploring – not half measures.

 

To be fair, the state Department of Education is attempting reform based on the ESSA. This year, the department introduced Future Ready PA, a new way of using test scores and other measures to assess school success. To its credit, The Index does place additional emphasis on academic growth, evaluation of school climate, attendance, graduation rates, etc. However, for my money it still gives far too much importance to standardized testing and test prep.

 

Like reducing the size of the PSSAs, it’s a positive step but won’t do much to get us to our destination.

 

Neither measure will have much impact on the day-to-day operations of our public schools. Districts will still be pressured to emphasize test prep, test taking strategies, approaches to answering multiple choice questions, etc. Meanwhile, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity will still be pushed to the side.

 

Moreover, since schools and teachers will be assessed as successful or not based largely on these test scores, districts will be under tremendous pressure to give countless practice tests throughout the year to gauge how well students are prepared for the PSSAs. The state will still be providing and encouraging the optional Classroom Diagnostics Tools (CDT) tests be taken several times in reading and math throughout the year. Trimming off two days from the PSSA will affect that not at all.

 

In addition, today’s proposal only applies to the PSSA. While that assessment is important, the Keystone Exams given to high school students are even more so. According to existing state law, passing the Keystones in Algebra I, Literature and Biology are required in order to qualify for a diploma. However, that condition has yet to go live. So far the legislature has continuously pushed back the date when passing scores become graduation requirements. The Governor and Department of Education should be proposing the elimination of this prerequisite before anything else. Other than education funding and perhaps charter school accountability, it is the most important education issue before Commonwealth lawmakers today.

 

Don’t get me wrong. The Democratic Governor is somewhat hamstrung by the Republican-controlled legislature. Partisan politics has stopped lawmakers from accepting Wolf’s more progressive education measures.

 

Though Wolf has gotten Republicans to increase education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars during his term, K-12 schools still receive less than they did before the previous GOP governor’s administration. Moreover, there have been absolutely zero inflationary increases to keep up with the rising cost of doing business. Pennsylvania schools receive less funding – whether you adjust for inflation or not – than they should, and that has a real world impact on our public schools. Moreover, how that money has been allocated by the legislature still – even with our new better funding formula in place – benefits wealthy districts more than poor ones.

 

If you want to talk about accountability, that’s where the majority of the issue belongs.

 

And primarily it’s out of Wolf’s hands. One can understand why he is proposing changes where he can and trying to do whatever good is possible given the political climate.

 

Shortening the PSSA tests would benefit our students. It is a step in a positive direction.

 

However, it is far from solving our many education problems.

 

The biggest roadblock to authentic school reform is a legislature that refuses to do anything but the absolute minimum for our neediest students.