After School Satan Clubs Are Teaching Public School Districts an Important Lesson in Free Speech  

Be careful what you wish for – you just might get it. 


 
That seems to be the lesson public school districts across the country are being forced to learn from an unlikely source – Satan. 


 
Thousands of districts in the US allow religious organizations and clubs to operate on public school property, especially after classes are over.  


 
So The Satanic Temple (TST) – an organization that’s not really Satanic or a temple – goes around proposing After-School Satan Clubs at the same districts – and all Hell breaks loose.  
 


Keep in mind none of these districts need open their grounds to religious organizations. They could simply cite the Separation of Church and State and be done with it.  


 
The first clause in the Bill of Rights states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This has been interpreted to mean that the government shall neither support nor prohibit religious expression. 


 
Our right-leaning Supreme Court has chipped away at this notion allowing all kinds of government support – however logic and consistency still mean something. 


 
Districts apparently CAN ignore the Church/State conundrumBUT – if a district is going to violate this tenant for one organization, it has to be willing to do so for all. 


 
And that is why TST is making this point.  
 


Unlike the Church of Satan, a religious institution founded in the 1960s that literally worships the Biblical devil, TST is a non-theistic organization which uses hyperbole and humor to protest the Religious Right and authoritarianism. The organization says it strives to “provide a safe and inclusive alternative” to Christian-based groups that may seek to “convert school children to their belief system.” 


 
The TST’s latest victory is the first After-School Satan Club in Pennsylvania, which is set to hold its inaugural meeting today


 
All it took was a police investigation and the threat of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to make it happen. 
 


The Saucon Valley School District in the Lehigh Valley already allows explicitly religious organizations to hold meetings on school grounds like the Good News Club run by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, a Christian fundamentalist organization that seeks to influence schoolchildren as young as five. 


 
So TST requested permission to start a new club on district property with the slogan “Educatin’ with Satan.” 


 
“Proselytization is not our goal, and we’re not interested in converting children to Satanism,” writes TST. “We prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.” 


 
The response was immediate with messages from concerned citizens flooding into the district. 


 
The point went over many people’s heads. “What’s next, the after-school heroin club?” asked someone in an email. 


 
Others seemed to understand the district’s hypocrisy in blurring the lines between Church and State: “Please shut down all religious after-school clubs if that’s what needs to be done to keep Satan out of that building,” read another email. 


 
And then there was this: “I’m gonna’ come in there and shoot everybody,” said a recorded voice. 


 
The caller wasn’t some hooded devil worshipper. He allegedly was a 20-year-old North Carolina man who was worried, “the After-School Satan Club is trying to turn kids into devils,” according to law enforcement. 
 


Shortly after, the suspect, Ceu “Van” Uk, was arrested by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. He was arraigned on a charge of Terroristic Threats and sent to jail in lieu of $75,000 bail. He is expected to be extradited to Pennsylvania, according to a news release. 


 
Though violence was averted, the school board and administrators denied the club’s request. They even blamed the After-School Satan Club for the controversy despite it being the target of Uk’s violence. 


 
“Our community has experienced chaos. Our students, staff, and teachers have had to endure a threat to their safety and welfare,” Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty wrote.  


 
“The gravity of feelings of instability, anxiety, and fear have been profound.”  


 
This is exactly what you get when you tear down the wall between Church and State. But the board eventually relented and allowed the club to meet after threats by the ACLU. 
 


 
Both the national and Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU sent a letter to the Saucon Valley School District demanding that it allow the After-School Satan Club access to school facilities just as it allows other clubs. The district eventually agreed. 


 
The club, which has six student members and is the first of its kind in the Commonwealth, New Jersey or Delaware, is expected to have its first meeting today in the district middle school. 
 


Sadly, the Pennsylvania incident is just the most recent one in which religious people have resorted to threats of violence to stop others from the same religious expression they take for granted. 


 
Another After-School Satan Club, which was allowed to meet in February at an elementary school in the Chesapeake School District in Virginia, followed a similar path
 


Parents protested outside B.M. Williams Primary School, but the first meeting was held on February 16 anyway and reportedly attended by nine students. 


 
Less than a week later, the elementary school was forced to evacuate following a bomb threat from an email saying the school promoted “devil worship,” according to local media.  


 
The email mentioned threats toward three people: a Chesapeake school board member, the superintendent and the organizer of the After-School Satan Club. “You are evil, there is no other way to put it,” the email reads. “You promote devil worship and unIslamic values.” 


 
It’s ironic how so-called religious values like tolerance and non-violence are more frequently found with Satan than adherents of faiths that are supposed to be espousing those beliefs. 
 


There’s also something glaringly disingenuous when schools complain about these issues –  they could avoid clubs of a religious nature entirely. 


 
Just respect the Separation of Church and State and your problem goes away.  


 
If people want religious clubs, hold them where they belong – churches, mosques, synagogues  and other houses of worship. Don’t pretend to legitimize your faith by placing these clubs at school – the same place kids learn science, history, math and reading. 


 
There are only seven active After-School Satan Clubs, according to June Everett, TST’s director for the project. Donovan Elementary School in Lebanon City Schools near Cincinnati, Ohio, hosts another such club. 


 
By contrast, there are more than 4,000 Good News Clubs in public schools (often elementary schools) in America. Their stated purpose is: 

“to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.” 


 
 
The lessons taught in these Evangelical and similar clubs are far more destructive than anything you’ll find in an irreverent “Satan” club. Good News Clubs and others like them stress Old Testament narratives of a retributive God who punishes sin, warns children that they will suffer an eternity in Hell if they refuse to believe, and stresses complete obedience as the supreme value. They tell children as young as preschoolers that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, were born that way, and “deserve to die” and “go to Hell.” Such messages rob children of the innocence and enjoyment of childhood, replacing them with a negative self-image, preoccupation with sin, fear of Hell, and an aversion to critical thinking. 


 
This is because most religious clubs are Biblically based and interpret that text literally. Meanwhile, The Satanic Temple’s more than 700,000 members don’t worship Satan. They take their central figure as a literary character, a symbol for the “Eternal Rebel,” according to their website. They are against “tyrannical authority” and support “individual sovereignty,” as well as empathy, compassion, and defiance. 


 
TST has waged public battles against the religious and GOP right on issues involving First Amendment freedoms, LGBTQ rights, and abortion access. 
 


Their approach has been often irreverent. In keeping with their belief in bodily autonomy, one of the temple members’ latest projects is an online clinic which aims to provide abortion medication by mail. They call it the Samuel Alito’s Mom’s Satanic Abortion Clinic. 


 
Last October, a Dallas-area Satanic Temple held an “Unbaptism” event. According to its website, an “Unbaptism” is an activity in which “participants renounce superstitions that were  imposed upon them without their consent as a child” — essentially, religious beliefs from which adults want to be disentangled. After all, most religions indoctrinate children into their beliefs before they are old enough to understand them or choose the beliefs for themselves. Why not offer them a chance to reject them once they’re mature enough to make a free choice? 


 
The fliers for the Saucon Valley program promised kids ages 5 to 12 science and community service projects, puzzles, games, nature activities, arts and crafts, snacks “& tons of fun.” 


 
This may scare some people, but I say thank goodness for Satan!  


 
It’s time we stop giving religious organizations the moral high ground as a matter of course.  


 
They need to prove their moral worth – and one way to do that would be to stop threatening people who have different beliefs. 


 
Moreover, administrators and school directors need to rediscover their reverence for the Separation of Church and State.  


 
This is one of the bedrock principles on which our nation was founded.  
 

Find your courage to stand up to religious organizations demanding you shred your morals and responsibilities to everyone in the community. 


 
If you value religious freedom, practice what you preach. 
 


Or get ready for an After-School Satan Club in your neighborhood. 


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Disaster Capitalists Try Ending the Teacher Exodus by Erasing Experienced Educators

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that [is] it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama (Later Chicago Mayor); Nov. 19, 2008

Experienced teachers always have been the biggest obstacle to privatizing public schools and expanding standardized testing.

That’s why replacing them with new educators has been one of the highest priorities of corporate education reform.

After all, it’s much harder to try to indoctrinate seasoned educators with propaganda that goes against everything they learned to be true about their students and profession in a lifetime of classroom practice than to encourage those with no practical experience to just drink the Kool-Aid.

So it should come as no surprise that supply side policymakers are using the current teacher exodus as an excuse to remake the profession in their own image.

Schools are facing a shortage of 300,000 teachers and staff, according to the National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest teachers union.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number closer to 567,000 fewer educators in America’s public schools today than there were before the pandemic. That’s 0.57 new hires for every open position – completely unsustainable.

This was exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, but the slow march of teachers out of the classroom has been going on for at least a decade. The federal government and most states have been either unwilling or unable to act – until now.

But it’s instructive to see exactly what it is they’re doing.

They haven’t even attempted to turn the tide. Nor have they simply tried to stop losing more educators. Instead they’ve taken steps to recruit new teachers while doing nothing to stop the loss of experienced professionals running for the exits.

In my home state of Pennsylvania, the state Department of Education (PDE) put forward a plan with the help of Teach Plus, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to select and train teachers to push its political agenda.

That agenda includes:

1) Embracing the practice of widespread staff firings as a strategy for school improvement.

2) Mandating that test scores be a significant part of teacher evaluation.

3) Advocating against seniority and pushing the false narrative that unions stifle innovation.

Unsurprisingly, Teach Plus has received more than $27 million from the Gates Foundation and substantial donations from the Walton Family Foundation.

And so we see nothing but policies to bring in new blood to the Commonwealth’s teaching force with no help to the veterans already in the field.

The minimum teacher salary in the Commonwealth stands at $18,500 — and has since 1989.

Newly elected Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed a tax credit in his budget of $24.7 million in its first year for police, nurses and teachers.

If approved by the legislature, newly certified members of those three professions would be eligible to receive up to $2,500 off their state income taxes.

However, the credit would be nonrefundable — recipients would save only the amount of tax they would have paid rather than also receiving the unused portion of the credit as a refund.

According to an Associated Press analysis in March, to receive the full $2,500 annual benefit with the state’s 3.07 flat income tax rate, a teacher (nurse or police officer) would have to make almost $82,000 — far above the normal starting wage for those professions.

The proposal, which seems unpopular on both sides of the aisle, doesn’t even do much to increase recruitment.  It should have been used to raise the base salary of teachers instead of focusing on just newbies.

But its intent was clear – get more teachers in the door.

We see the same concerns in the state’s new guidelines for antiracist teacher training programs.

PDE is putting forward a new program starting in July called Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Education (CRSE) which includes 49 cultural competence standards to encourage teachers to be more aware of racial issues in our schools.

They were created by the previous Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration with help from The New America Foundation. In fact, most of these guidelines come directly from the foundation by use of a creative commons attribution.  

This is a left-leaning DC think tank with ties to President Barack Obama’s administration. Why does that matter? Look at who funds the organization – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Family Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, etc.  

 These are the architects of the most dominant education policies of the last two decades – high stakes standardized testing, charter schools, etc.  

The impetus behind enacting these standards is to help recruit more new teachers of color. It’s a worthy goal considering how few teachers are non-white in the Commonwealth. However, increased salary, prestige and autonomy would go a lot farther than this kind of whitewashing.

After all, if the state, the New America Foundation or the billionaire philanthropists backing them actually wanted to decrease racism, they’d be much more successful attacking racist structures than random interactions – reversing the neoliberal policies (charter schools, high stakes testing, etc.) that they, themselves, promote.

However, new teachers won’t know any of this context.  They’ll be perfectly happy trying to change the world, themselves, while many of those responsible for it cheer them on safely hidden behind their performative group of standards.

The excuse constantly given for such an emphasis on recruiting new teachers is that so few graduates are entering the profession.
A decade ago, roughly 20,000 new teachers entered the workforce each year in the Commonwealth, while last year only 6,000 did so, according to the state Department of Education (PDE).

However, recruitment is only part of the picture.

Nationally, our teaching workforce is already more inexperienced than in the past. In 2008, more than one in four of America’s teachers – 28 percent – had less than five years of experience. This is especially true in underprivileged areas where schools often have much higher proportions of novices in the classroom.


According to the NEA, educators quitting is driving a significant part of the current educator shortage. More teachers quit the job than those who retire, are laid off, are transferred to other locations, go on disability or die. And this has remained true almost every year for the last decade with few exceptions.

If our government really wanted to solve the problem, it would spend at least as much time keeping the experienced teachers we have as trying to get new ones to join their ranks.

Research shows that teacher experience matters.

“The common refrain that teaching experience does not matter after the first few years in the classroom is no longer supported by the preponderance of the research,” Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky write in Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness?

“We find that teaching experience is, on average, positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career.”

Their analysis is based on 30 studies published over the past 15 years and concludes:


1) Experienced teachers on average are more effective in raising student achievement (both test scores and classroom grades) than less experienced ones.

2) Teachers do better as they gain experience. Researchers have long documented that teachers improve dramatically during their first few years on the job. However, teachers make even further gains in subsequent years.

3) Experienced teachers also reduce student absences, encourage students to read for recreational purposes outside of the classroom, serve as mentors for young teachers and help to create and maintain a strong school community. 

The road to keeping experienced teachers isn’t exactly mysterious.

First, there must be an increase in salary. Teacher pay  must at least be adequate including the expectation that as educators gain experience, their salaries will rise in line with what college graduates earn in comparable professions. This is not happening now.


In addition, something must be done to improve teachers working conditions. Lack of proper support and supportive administrators is one of the main reasons experienced teachers leave a building or the profession.


And perhaps most obviously, politicians have to stop scapegoating educators for all of society’s problems and even for all of the problems of the school system. Teachers don’t get to make policy. They are rarely even allowed a voice, but they are blamed for everything that happens in and around education.

If we want teachers to work with socially disadvantaged students, they must be provided with the institutional supports needed to be effective and steadily advance their skills. 

But this requires making education a priority and not a political football.

As it is now, the same disaster capitalist shenanigans echo over-and-over again in the halls of our country’s education history with disastrous consequences for students.

Perhaps the most obvious example is in New Orleans.

In 2005, the state and federal government didn’t rebuild the city’s public schools following Hurricane Katrina. Instead, they ushered out as many of the local teachers of color as possible so they could create an entirely new system of charter schools without opposition from the grassroots educators who would oppose such a grand experiment on poor and minority children.

The disaster took place under George W. Bush, but Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan certainly approved, even going so far as to say, ”I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”

Republicans, Democrats – it doesn’t matter. They both champion nearly the same education policies of standardized testing and school privatization.

Thus it should come as no surprise that our contemporary policy makers are using the current crisis – an ongoing teacher exodus – as an excuse to remodel the education workforce into a more ignorant and malleable one.

When will they ever learn?

When will we ever learn not to trust them?


 

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Stop Giving Away Our Tax Dollars to Private & Parochial Schools, Matt Gergely & James Brewster!!! 

 
 
I got an email from my state representative the other day, and what did I see?  


 
A picture of my smiling elected representatives to both the state House and Senate giving a check for almost half a million dollars to local private and parochial schools! 
 


What the beach sludge chewing GUM!!?  


 

Public schools in my home state of Pennsylvania just took the Commonwealth to the state Supreme Court and won because it wasn’t providing fair funding to students. And now my representatives are offering a novelty oversized check to religious schools and private sector academies!?  


 
This would be bad enough if they were Republicans who run their campaigns against public education and support only free market solutions to everything and White Christian Nationalism in all its forms.  


 
 
BUT THESE ARE DEMOCRATS!!!!!!! 


Democrats who somehow think that tromping onto the bleachers at Cornerstone Christian Preparatory Academy with a fistful of our tax dollars is a good photo opportunity!!!!?  


 
 
They think this is what they should share with constituents to show all the good work they’re doing!!!?  


 
Stealing our public tax dollars for schools that we have no business funding while our own schools that serve every child in the state go wanting!!!!!????? 


 
The email was from State Rep. Matt Gergely of McKeesport who just took office in February. Here’s the message from under the photo: 


 
 
“Yesterday, I was honored to help present $465,000 in scholarship funds to many students enrolled in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program. Congrats and best of luck to all who will surely benefit from the scholarships that will be provided! 
  
Big thanks to U.S. Steel and the Bridge Foundation for making these dollars a reality, to Sen. Jim Brewster for his continued collaboration, and to Cornerstone Christian Preparatory Academy for hosting the presentation.” 


 
 
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) was created in 2001 by Republican Gov. Tom Ridge. Here’s how it works. 


 If you expect a tax bill of $X at the end of the year, you can donate that same amount to the state for the purpose of helping parents pay off enrollment at a private or religious school for their children. Then you get between 75-90% of that donation back. 


  
So if your tax bill is $100 and you donate $100, you can get back $90 – reducing your total tax bill to a mere 10 bucks. 


  
Heck! Since this money is classified as a “donation” you can even claim it on your taxes and get an additional refund – even to the point where you end up making money on the deal! Pennsylvania even allows a “triple dip” – so you get the EITC tax credit, a reduction in your taxable income, and a reduction in your federal taxable income. We actually pay you to shortchange us on your taxes! 
  


Now I’m oversimplifying a bit since you can only use the EITC for up to $750,000 a year, but it’s still a sweet deal for businesses. It just really hurts nearly everyone else because it reduces the state’s general fund – by up to $340 million a year. 


  
When we give away hundreds of millions of dollars every year to religious and parochial schools, we have less money to spend on public schools, roads and all other services that benefit the majority of our citizens – especially the poor who rely more heavily on these services. 


 So why doesn’t the state just budget this amount of money directly to religious and private schools instead of ransacking the general fund after businesses donate it to the tax incentive program? 


 
Because it’s illegal to give taxpayer dollars to religious and private schools. The establishment clause of the First Amendment forbids it. 


  
The founders of our country didn’t want a state religion with schools teaching theological propaganda like we had in Great Britain. Moreover, they demanded tax dollars be spent with accountability to the whole public – something you cannot do in a private or religious school which isn’t set up for everyone but only those who choose and can afford to go there. 


  
However, some nefarious character in the Ridge administration (the Governor was pro-school-voucher but couldn’t get the policy passed in the legislature) thought up a loophole. He said that if tax money is turned into a tax credit, it’s no longer tax money and it doesn’t violate the rules to spend it on religious and private schools. 


  
So this is a fiscal sleight of hand meant to give businesses a tax break while boosting private schools. 


  
However, there’s an even more important reason they don’t call these things school vouchers. That term is extremely unpopular with voters. 
 


People don’t like school vouchers. But if you call it a “scholarship,” it’s more palatable. For instance, while school vouchers are mostly supported by Republicans, a substantial number of Democrats support education tax credit scholarships


  
 
 
I live in Allegheny County in the Pittsburgh region – the second highest area of the Commonwealth for these tax dodge…. I mean credits. The other is Philadelphia. 


 
Defenders of the project claim this money goes to fund “scholarships” for poor children to help defray the costs of enrollment at these schools. 
  


However, a family making as much as $100,608 per year can qualify for an EITC scholarship for their child. A family with two children could make up to $116,216 and still qualify. 


  
According to the law, the state is not allowed to collect income information about people using these vouch… I mean tax scholarships. However, we know that a significant number of them are being utilized at private schools with average tuitions of $32,000 – far more than the few thousand dollars provided by the scholarships. They are apparently being used by wealthy and middle class students who can already afford private schools but are using public tax dollars to reduce the cost. I wonder how many already go to these schools before even taking the scholarship. 


 
Consider this: one of the largest single recipients of this money in Allegheny County is the exclusive Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh where tuition ranges from $56,495 for boarding students and $32,995 for day students. The private secular school takes in around $1 million annually from this program so that its wealthy students don’t have to spend as much on enrollment. 


  
So we are subsidizing the rich. 


 
And we are robbing the poor to do so. 
  


Even worse we’re using public money to fund the teaching of climate denial, creationism, indoctrination in religious and political ideologies! 
 


 
The state Budget and Policy Center estimates that about 76% of these “scholarships” go to religious schools. Many of these educational institutions are explicitly fundamentalist. This includes the 155 schools in the Association of Christian Schools International (ASCI) where they boast of “the highest belief in biblical accuracy in scientific and historical matters.” It also includes at least 35 schools in the Keystone Christian Education Association. 


 
And you don’t even have to be a business to divert your tax dollars into the program. 


 
The largest and shadiest group donating to the EITC Program are Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs). 


  
These “special purpose entities” are set up to represent individual donors so they can more easily divert tax dollars to private and parochial schools. 
  


LLCs represent hundreds of individuals who allow the LLC to donate on their behalf and then they get the tax credits passed back to them. It’s a way to encourage the wealthy to get the tax cut and support school privatization without all the hassle of doing the paperwork themselves. 
  


And most (if not all) of these LLCs are set up by religious organizations to boost their own parochial schools! 


 
For instance, Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools is perhaps the largest LLC receiving EITC funds. 
   


In Allegheny County, the largest are CASTA-SOS LLC and Pittsburgh Jewish Scholarship LLC. 


  
CASTA was set up by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Jewish Scholarship benefits Jewish schools in the city. 


 
Bridge Educational Foundation, a Harrisburg-based scholarship organization, operates the same way. On its Website, the organization claims to have provided $1,000 scholarships to more than 32,000 students in 61 state counties. 


 
 
I just cannot understand why Gergely and Brewster are not only supporting this program but think that it will generate good will among voters. 


 
 
They should be fighting to end this gaping hole in the state budget. They should be out there working their butts off to get adequate, equitable and sustainable funding for our public schools – not sitting on their butts congratulating themselves for helping religious and private schools get away with our hard-earned money! 
 


 

Like this post?  You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.

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Just CLICK HERE.

Patreon+Circle

I’ve also 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!

 

 

Training Teachers to be Antiracist Sparks Backlash in PA for Good Reasons and Bad

We all agree racism is bad. Right? 


 
So teaching people to be less racist is good.  


 
And teaching teachers to be less racist is even better.  


 
So why are three western Pennsylvania schools suing the state Department of Education (PDE) over guidelines for antiracist teacher training programs? 
 


The Mars Area, Penn Crest and Laurel school districts filed a lawsuit Monday trying to stop Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration from implementing a program called Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Education (CRSE) in every school district in the Commonwealth starting next school year. 


 
CRSE is a set of 49 cultural competency standards kind of like the Common Core – guidelines for teacher training programs to be used for both new educators and continuing education credits for current educators.  


 
Plaintiffs complain that the program is vague, requires teachers to think a certain way, encroaches on districts’ autonomy to pick their own curriculum and threatens to take away owed subsidies if districts don’t comply. 
 


Let’s examine each in turn. 
 

Is the policy vague? No way. It has nine core competencies, each with between 4 and 7 standards. These are guidelines and certainly don’t outline every possible use, but you could argue they’re detailed to a fault. One regulation requires educators to disrupt harmful institutional practices. Another asks educators to acknowledge microaggressions –  when someone unintentionally expresses prejudice towards a person or group. 


 
Do they require teachers to think a certain way? Yes. They ask teachers to embrace the idea that racism is bad and to strive to work against it.  I’m not seeing how that’s a problem.
 


Do they encroach on district’s autonomy? That’s debatable – but should districts really resist taking steps to make themselves less racist?  


 
Do they threaten districts with loss of funding if schools don’t comply? I don’t see anything explicit in the program that says this, but that could be implicit in the program or have been expressed by PDE employees. In any case, I don’t see why it’s a problem to offer tools to do something you really should want to do anyway.
 


In short, there’s nothing wrong with the guidelines, per se, if you agree that racism is something schools and teachers should strive against. Now I can’t read people’s minds, and I don’t know explicitly what their motivations are, but the real issue seems to be that certain people don’t believe in the cause.  


 
They don’t believe racism is much of a problem today or that schools should be engaged in antiracist work.  


 
It’s a culture war issue for them. That’s all. Republicans vs Democrats. So-called conservatives vs so-called liberals. The usual cable TV political football game. 


 
However, for some of us, the matter isn’t so simple. 
 


Frankly, I’m of two minds when it comes to these new guidelines for antiracist teacher training. 


 
On the one hand, I am in favor of teaching people to be less racist – especially when those people are teachers, themselves, who can spread the message even further and use it to be more fair and equitable to students.  
 


However, taken in context, such guidelines are little more than passing the buck onto teachers while letting the most powerful get away with doing nothing. 
 


Consider where these guidelines come from.  
 


They were created by the previous Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration with help from The New America Foundation. In fact, most of these guidelines come directly from the foundation by use of a creative commons attribution
 


This is a left-leaning DC think tank with ties to President Barack Obama’s administration. Why does that matter? Look at who funds the organization – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Family Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, etc.  


 
These are the architects of the most dominant education policies of the last two decades – high stakes standardized testing, charter schools, etc.  
 


Think about that for a minute.  
 


Here we have the same people responsible for the most racist public school policies of the last several generations writing guidelines to teach educators how to fight racism! 


 
Well isn’t that something!?  
 


Imagine if these same billionaire philanthropists demanded an end to their own policies! Now THAT would be antiracism!


 
Standardized testing is based on eugenics. Children of color and the poor get lower test scores than wealthier whiter kids BY DESIGN, and we use those scores to justify doing all kinds of terrible things to them – narrowing the curriculum at their schools, cutting funding to anything but test prep, closing their schools and forcing them into unproven privatized alternatives.

Speaking of which, take a look at charter and voucher schools. These are institutions surviving on public tax dollars that aren’t held to the same accountability standards. Charter schools target black and brown kids giving them less quality educations and pocketing the tax money provided to educate them as profit. Voucher schools use tax dollars to fund religious and parochial education, teaching blatantly racist and anti-scientific ideas.  


 
If the people behind CRSE really wanted to make a dent in racism, they’d abolish these policies.  


 
If the state really wanted to be antiracist, it would stop the tyranny of high stakes testing, abolish no account charter schools and stop funneling tax dollars to private and parochial schools. It would work to reduce school segregation, equitably fund all districts – especially those serving poor and minority children, etc.


 
But no. They do none of these things. Instead they throw it all on teachers.  
 


Once again the powerful do nothing to actually fix our problems but put the burden of our crumbling societies on our crumbling public schools and traumatized teachers. 
 


THAT’S my problem with this program. 


 
It’s not that they want to teach teachers to be antiracist and to take steps to create more fair and equitable classrooms. It’s that this is all a smokescreen to allow the people who are really behind many of the racist systems in our society to keep getting away with it and perpetuating more and more inequality. 
 


I can just imagine how well the state would greet educators “disrupt[ing] harmful institutional practices” by refusing to give standardized tests!

Teachers have an attrition rate of nearly 50% every 5 years. We can’t keep dumping every social problem into their laps and expecting them to perform miracles all by themselves.

Public schools are a PART of the solution to our broken society. But they are not the WHOLE.  


 
We need real public policy to address these issues. We need to get rid of reductive and prejudicial laws.  

And the fact that we don’t have any of that is certain to poison the fervor of many teachers next year who will be required to sit through antiracist programs paid for and conducted by the same folks behind the public school apartheid that is our everyday reality.  


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Lobbyists Congratulate Themselves for 20 Years of NCLB Standardized Testing

It’s hard to learn your lesson – especially if doing so costs you money.

Case in point: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the largest lobbying organization in the country, issued a new report examining the impact of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the George W. Bush era law making standardized testing the centerpiece of K-12 education.

So an organization representing oil companies, pharmaceutical giants and automakers just opined on public school policy as if it were made up of experts.

And guess what?

Business folks don’t know what the heck they’re talking about in education.

Because after sorting through 20 years of NCLB controversy, political shenanigans and factual mistakes, the supply side cabal thinks the law is just fine.

It’s kind of like a judge watching a driver plow his car into a brick wall repeatedly and then instead of taking away his license, awarding him a safe driver certificate.

It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out why.

Think about it. These are supply side cultists. If our education policy is working just fine as is, then there’s no need to raise taxes on all the business interests the free market fan club represents to fix the problem.

And, moreover, we can keep funneling the education dollars we do spend to corporations (many of whom are represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation) who profit off the law by making tests, grading tests and selling test prep material.

The only thing shocking here (maybe) is the way the media publishes the Foundation’s results as if they were truths handed down from on high.

What’s the matter, journalists? You’ve never heard of a conflict of interest?

An organization like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation with proven ties to the Koch Brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is somehow the epitome of unbiased advocacy!?

The organization’s own report describes the Foundation as “tireless advocates for high-quality academic standards, assessments, and accountability as tools for educational equity.”

By its own admission, then, this is the testing industry evaluating itself. And – surprise – it gave itself a high score!

The report was written by Dan Goldhaber and Michael DeArmond of the Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research with a qualitative analysis by Brightbeam CEO Chris Stewart and his staff.

CALDER is a federally-funded nonprofit organization with several testing industry-funded and conservative think-tank members in management, on the advisory board, and working as independent researchers – in case, you thought anything they produced might be fair and balanced.

Brightbeam is a corporate education reform think tank financed by the usual billionaires such as Michael Bloomberg, Alice Walton, Jim Walton, Laurene Jobs Powell and Mark Zuckerberg. And Stewart is a long-time standardized testing and school privatization cheerleader – not exactly the kind of people who can afford to find much fault in NCLB because doing so would put them out of work.

The report highlights eight key findings – four positive and four negative.

First, the authors of the report pat each other on the back because NCLB collected so much yummy data that had been unavailable previously. In particular, the law extracted data from the nation’s schools based on race, socioeconomics and special needs. “No longer were school districts able to hide the performance of some students behind an average,” the report states.

It’s certainly true that NCLB collected a mountain of data. However, such information conceivably could have been gathered without making standardized testing the fulcrum around which schools turn. It could just as easily have been collected based entirely on classroom grades. It’s just that doing so might have been considered invasive and a violation of privacy. You might have had to explain why you wanted such data first – but why explain when you can just take?

Moreover, it’s strange to celebrate NCLB for disallowing hiding student performance behind an average when that’s exactly what it does. Everything is an average now! Average test scores, aggregate passing scores, whether your school made adequate yearly progress… it’s all averages! Oh to go back to the times when you could look at a single student’s academic record without having to compare it to anyone else!

Second, the authors claim student test scores increased because of NCLB especially among Black, Hispanic, and low-income students. However, this depends on how you massage the data.

Test scores have stayed relatively the same throughout the last 20 years with dips here and rises there. No matter the test, the overall trajectory has been pretty flat. You can focus here or focus there to create a picture that supports whatever narrative you want, but taken as a whole, there has not been any significant progress as shown by test scores.

But even if there had been, let’s not forget that no one has ever proven standardized test scores actually have anything to do with real academic progress. Just because you get a good score on a multiple choice test, it doesn’t mean you’ve actually learned to do anything but take a very limited and artificial test that is far removed from the circumstances where anyone actually uses the skills the test purports to be assessing.

Third, the report celebrates the production of “more reliable, comparable education data.” This is a suspect claim.

Are test scores more reliable than classroom grades? That has never been proven. In fact, when it comes to predicting future success in college or careers, there is plenty of evidence that classroom grades do a better job than test scores. After all, tests are based on work done over a relatively few number of days. Grades are based on an entire year’s worth of work.

However, it is true that test scores are more easily comparable because they come from the same assessments. Why this is so important is unclear. Learning is not the same as sports statistics. It is not a competition. Students learn when they’re ready to learn – not based on anyone’s schedule. What matters is if they learn at all.

Fourth, the authors admit “Reforms in teacher evaluation and school turnaround initiatives did not consistently improve student outcomes at scale, in part due to significant variation in quality of implementation.”

It is interesting that even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can’t spin NCLB into an unquestionable success. But it is almost a cliche among the standardized testing industry that any failures of the big tests are always excused as failures solely of “implementation.” If teachers and districts just tried harder to put the testing industry’s plans into effect, everything would be working perfectly. It’s these darn teachers and schools! Whine! Cry! Sob!

For the negative findings, the report concluded there were unknowns about the impact of NCLB that should be further studied.

First, they were unsure if schools serving minorities and the poor ended up getting more money to improve than they otherwise would have done. SPOILER ALERT: they did not.

The original Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed under Lyndon B. Johnson was focused on equity – the exact concern the authors of the report pretend to be all about. However, when the law was reauthorized as NCLB in 2002 (and reauthorized again in 2015 as the Every Student Succeeds Act) it focused instead on test scores as a gatekeeper to equity. Instead of looking at needs, you had to pass the tests to get the money to meet your needs. And if you had needs, that meant your district and teachers were failing so they had to lose funding to punish them, first. Somehow you were supposed to end up with more funding after all that nonsense.

Second, if schools did get more funding because of test scores, the authors of the report were unsure what schools did with it. SPOILER ALERT: It went to test prep and charter school expansion.

NCLB refocused education on test scores, so if students did badly on the assessments, they needed test prep material. And if the teachers and districts weren’t miraculously overcoming social, economic and special needs of students in impoverished areas, money was given to open competing charter schools.

Did this help? Just the opposite. Now you have two schools vying for an even smaller pot of funding but one of these schools (the charter) doesn’t have to follow the regulations the others school must. So anyone with no background in education can open a school, hire uncertified teachers, make decisions on how to spend tax dollars without an elected school board, etc. Not helpful.

Third, the authors of the report were unsure how many struggling schools became successful under NCLB. SPOILER ALERT: Not many.

You don’t help a malnourished person by starving him even further or making him compete for food. The same with school districts. In almost every case where a school miracle is proposed in which kids simply pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, the reality turns out to be a byproduct of creative accounting or selective data.

That was the entire foundation of NCLB – George W. Bush’s fairy tale about Texas schools during his time as Governor which miraculously improved when you tested the heck out of them. That never happened, and neither did it happen when his dream became national policy.

Take New Orleans, a district often held up by the testing and privatization industry as a success. This is the only all-charter school district in the country. After 2005 and Hurricane Katrina, a predominantly white Republican legislature forced the district’s public schools to become charters – outright experimenting on a majority African American city. The result? School enrollment declined from 65,000 before the hurricane to 48,000 a dozen years later. The most recent state scores rated 49% of the city’s charter schools as D or F, based on their academic performance. The New Orleans district scores are below the state average, and that’s saying something since Louisiana is one of the lowest performing states in the nation.

Not exactly an overwhelming success.

Fourth, the authors wondered if NCLB might have resulted in non-academic improvements – things like a reduction in chronic absences, school climate, etc. SPOILER ALERT: Nope.

A focus on standardized testing does not convince more kids to come to school. Few kids get excited about taking tests. They get excited about broad academic curriculum, arts and extra curricular activities – the kinds of things districts had to cut back on because of NCLB.

So there you have it. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is proud of their little report about the impact of NCLB. They give themselves a gold star.

The reality though is much different than what you’ll find on this bit of propaganda.

Any reasonable examination of the last 20 years in education would show this policy is ripe for repeal. We need to forgo standardized testing entirely in our public schools – not double down on them for yet another decade of failure.

Not only should it not be required to determine which schools need what funds, it should be kicked out of our schools like foxes from the henhouse.

And charter schools should be abolished in all 45 states plus the District of Columbia that have been duped into passing laws allowing them.

We need to put the focus back on equity, back on student need.

Let’s get real. Poverty and wealth are the most important factors determining test scores. This shows up on every standardized test. In fact, that’s what the name means – STANDARDIZED test – these assessments are normed on a bell curve reflecting family income and education. Kids from families from higher socioeconomic brackets are at the top of the curve and poor kids are on the bottom.

And consider this: nearly half the students in the U.S. now qualify for free or reduced lunches – the federal measure of poverty. So if we really want to help kids achieve academically, we need to first reduce the impact of poverty on children and families by making sure that they have access to nutrition, medical care, and good housing. Ensure pregnant women get medical care so their children are born healthy.

That’s how you improve education. The federal government should fully fund the schooling of students with disabilities and at least triple the funding for low-income schools. Pay teachers the kinds of wages that will keep them on the job and stop the steady stream of educators out of the field. Teachers should be treated like professionals and never have to work at second or third jobs to make ends meet. Assessment should be a teacher’s job – they should write their own tests as we trusted them to do for generations. And we can use the billions in savings now wasted on standardized testing instead to reduce class sizes so children can get individualized help from their teacher.

In short, don’t give students corporate canned tests. Give them well-maintained schools with nurses, counselors, and libraries with flesh-and-blood librarians. These are just some of the ways we could actually make things better.

It’s been two decades already. People know high stakes testing has failed despite whatever public relations reports are issued by lobbyist organizations. It’s time we had the courage to admit NCLB was a mistake and acted to finally put things right.

It may hurt some businesses that rely on testing to make a buck. It may require big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. But that is the only way to improve education.

We must put our money where our mouths are – or else be quiet.


 

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I am a Charter School Abolitionist, and You Should Be, Too 


 


 
 


After three decades, it should be achingly clear.

 

Charter schools are a terrible idea. 


 

These types of schools have been around since 1992, a year after Minnesota passed the first law allowing certain public schools to exist under negotiated conditions (or charters). 

 
It works kind of like this. Here are all the rules public schools have to follow in order to be funded by taxpayer dollars – they have to be run by elected school boards, have open records, accept all students from the community, etc. Now here are the tiny set of rules this one particular school has to abide by – it’s charter, if you will.

So there’s one set of rules for authentic public schools and another for each individual charter school.

This means charter schools can be governed by appointed boards of bureaucrats, they don’t have to share their records with the public who are paying the bills, they can even pocket some of that taxpayer money as profit (and in many cases they can still call themselves non-profit). And they don’t even have to accept all students! They can cherrypick whoever is easiest to teach and tell those they rejected that it’s all the result of a lottery – a lottery that they don’t have to share with anyone to prove it was impartial.

 


No wonder the situation has been a disastrous mess! 

Even today they aren’t nationwide. Only 45 states and the District of Columbia have been duped into accepting these schools and even then they enroll just 6% of the students in the country – roughly three million children.

The five states that do not have charter school laws are Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont.

So after 32 years of trial and error, we’re left with a charter school system that does not get better academic results than authentic public schools (despite being given dramatic advantages in their charter agreements) and in many cases drastically fails by comparison. Not to mention all the fraud, malfeasance and ineptitude you get from removing regulations for any Tom, Dick or Harry who thinks he can open a school.

WHAT DEREGULATING PUBLIC EDUCATION GETS YOU

 Consider that more than a quarter of charter schools close within 5 years of opening. By year 15, roughly 50% of charter schools close. That’s not a stable model of public education.

Moreover, 1,779 charter schools (37 percent that receive federal grants) never opened in the first place or were quickly shut down. Since 1994, the federal government has spent $4 billion on these types of schools. Think of how much money has been wasted that could have been put to better use in our much more dependable authentic public schools!

According to a 2010 Mathematica Policy Research study funded by the federal government, middle-school students who were selected by lottery to attend charter schools performed no better than their peers who lost out in the lottery and attended nearby public schools. And this was the most rigorous and expensive study of charter school performance commissioned by the US Department of Education to date, yet it found no overall positive benefit for charter schools at all.

None. Nada. Zippo.

In the intervening years, the matter has been studied further with similar results.

A 2016 study found that Texas charter schools had no overall positive impact on test scores and, in fact, had a negative impact on students’ earnings later in life. So if you attended a Texas charter school you probably made less money as an adult than someone who attended an authentic public school.

Even a 2020 study by the charter-friendly Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that charter schools do not exceed public schools in most areas of the country. In addition, the study found vast variations in the quality of charter schools – some being better and many being much worse than the norm.

According to a 2018 report by IBM Center Visiting Fellow for Evidence-Based Practices, the things charter schools do that have the best academic outcomes are:

  1. Longer school days or academic years
  2. Zero tolerance and other strict discipline policies associated with rewards and sanctions
  3. Centering the curriculum on improving test scores and test prep.

Not exactly progress and innovation!

And that’s not even getting into how charter schools target children of color, increase segregation and fail to meet the needs of minority children.

WHY ABOLITION?

At this point, any sane person has to at least wonder if we should continue having charter schools at all. 

 
Some folks want to try reform. Let’s fix the rules, they say, so that charter schools are more accountable and less prone to fraud and malfeasance.  

 
However, you can’t reform a system that is at its core inequitable. No matter what you do, charter schools will always play by one set of rules and authentic public schools by another. That is fundamentally unjust.

We need better than just reform – we need abolition

 
Ask yourself: Why are we allowing charter schools in the first place?  

 
Really. 

 
Why SHOULD there be schools paid for with public dollars that don’t have to abide by all the rules?

 

 
If there are too many regulations, let’s look at them one-by-one and decide which ones should go and which should stay. But why are we giving special privileges to some schools and not others?  

 
That’s what’s led to the exact catastrophe we find ourselves in today

 
For me, the question is not whether we should have charter schools or not. It’s a question of how best to get rid of them.

I think the best way is as follows. 

HOW ABOLITION?

 
Many charter schools are private businesses.  


 

They are run by corporations or other private enterprises. In these instances, the schools should be given the choice to stay private or try to transition to the public system. If they choose the former option, they would become authentic private schools.   

 
This would be pretty easy and require no major changes. The charter school could go on exactly as it does now with one exception – it would no longer receive any public money.  


 
 
It would be just another private school subject to the whims of the free market. The major difference is the public would no longer be bankrolling it.

And speaking of business, time to pay up your debts. Now that you’ve become a private school, you should have to pay the public system back for any major assets you acquired during your start-up phase.

If the school bought any real estate, purchased buildings, etc. when it was a charter school, it should have to pay the taxpayers back. You want to be a private business now and abide by your own rules? Fine. We can work on a payment plan to reimburse taxpayers for these assets. You think you can just walk away free and clear? Uh-uh.

However, the biggest change for a charter school going through such a transition would probably be the need to charge a tuition fee now for students attending. That’s what private schools do, after all.

 
Perhaps students could get a school voucher or some kind of scholarship tax credit mumbo jumbo (voucher lite) to help fund tuition. I think that’s a terrible waste of tax dollars, too, not to mention unconstitutional, but that’s an argument for another day

 


TRANSITIONING BACK TO THE PUBLIC SYSTEM

So that takes care of private businesses. Which only leaves those charter schools who deem themselves public enterprises.  

They can try to become authentic public schools (and thus continue to receive taxpayer funding) if they meet certain conditions.

First, they have to start abiding by all those rules they sought to escape when they signed their charter agreements in the first place.

The difficulty of such a transition depends on how much these institutions acted like authentic public schools throughout their existence.

 
Perhaps they have elected school boards and open meetings. Perhaps they run themselves very similarly to an authentic public school. In that case, wonderful! They can pretty much continue to do so… 

 
IF – And I do mean IF – the neighborhood public school board agrees to accept the former charter into the district.  
 

But this time the public gets an actual say whether the charter school gets to exist – unlike how the charter was created at the outset.  

 
Today, charter schools are hardly ever a venture proposed by school boards or the public at large. Very rarely does a group of concerned parents or citizens rise up and demand a charter school in their neighborhood.  


 
These are ventures proposed primarily by outsiders who see an opportunity for themselves. Maybe they have only good intentions and want to meet this or that need that they see going unmet by the authentic neighborhood school. But instead of asking the public’s permission to follow their self-appointed plan, they barge in and force the opening of a charter school with the additional tax burden this often requires. 
 

Now that we’ve abolished the state’s charter school law, the choice goes back to the community. Do you want this former charter school to remain in your district? Do you want to incorporate it into the district? Do you want to continue supporting it with tax dollars so long as it abides by all the rules all the other public schools need follow?  

 
If the answer is yes, then the school can stay. And I think it perfectly fair to require a series of public hearings before any decision is made so that the community can be heard on the issue. 

 
However, unlike when the charter school was opened, there is no longer any state charter approval board to oversee this processes. There will be no rules requiring school districts to approve charter schools unless certain conditions are meant.  

 
Local communities are perfectly capable of making up their own minds without any interference from the state government. If this former charter school really is an asset to the community, the school board will vote to keep it. If not, the board will vote to close it. 

CONCLUSION

 
So that’s it. 

Charter schools are fundamentally unfair as proven by decades of waste, fraud, abuse, and a spotty academic record at best.

The only way to balance the scales and provide taxpayers with a fair return on their investment as well as provide every child with a quality education is to abolish this failed experiment.

I know it may seem impossible now, but it probably seemed just as impossible in the early ‘90s when the charter school project began. Now it’s time to undo that mistake.

If things can go wrong, we can set them right again. It just takes rational people of conscience to fight for it.

I invite you to join me and become a charter school abolitionist.


 

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When Students Cheat, They Only Hurt Themselves 

 
 
Paolo invited me to his desk yesterday.  


 
“Mr. Singer, take a look at this,” he said and handed me a scrap of paper with a few hastily scribbled lines of poetry on it.  


 
“What do you think?” he said and smiled up at me hopefully.  
 


 
I squinted at the page and said slowly, “I think it’s wonderful. The use of assonance in these lines is perfect…” 


 
And his smile matured into a grin, until… 


 
“…if only Edgar Allan Poe hadn’t already written them.” 


 
Cheating is a part of school.  


 
It’s probably always been.  


 
Students copy off of other students, they take quotes from books without giving the author credit, they make crib sheets to consult during the test. 


 
But since technology has pervaded nearly every aspect of our classrooms, cheating has skyrocketed


 
Just ask the students. 


 
According to a survey of 70,000 high school students conducted between 2002 and 2015 across the United States, 95 percent admitted to cheating in one way or another, and 58 percent admitted to plagiarizing papers outright.

According to a 2012 Josephson Institute’s Center for Youth Ethics report, nearly 3/4 of high schoolers said they’d copied a friends’ homework, and more than half said they’d cheated on a test.


It’s hard to blame them. These days there are few things cheaper than information.

Nearly every student – no matter how impoverished – has a smartphone. And even if they don’t, districts supply them with virtually the same features in tablets or laptops. Like never before, students can connect to the Internet anywhere, anytime, and they don’t even have to type in a question – they can simply ask Alexa or Siri.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen children sit in front of shelves stuffed to bursting with dictionaries as they clandestinely whisper into their phones asking how to spell certain words.

Mountains of studies show that technology has made cheating in school easier, increasingly convenient, and more difficult to detect. So much so that many students don’t even consider digital plagiarism to be plagiarism.

Current generations practically were raised on social media and thus have a warped sense of intellectual property. Watching TikTok parody videos, reposting images on Instagram, and repurposing memes on Facebook or Twitter have eroded their sense of what constitutes intellectual property and what counts as original work.

Going back to Paolo, I don’t think he consciously tried to pass off Poe’s poetry as his own. He was trying to complete an assignment using assonance (repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words) in a poem.

He probably asked his district-issued iPad for examples and was directed to a snippet from Poe’s “The Bells.” So he copied it down, changing a word here and there and thought he had created something new.

It wasn’t word-for-word. It was just very close. He didn’t realize that such an exact approximation of an iconic verse would be so obvious.

And it was my understanding – knowing the student, judging his reaction to being caught, and being able to piece together how this act of plagiarism took place – that informed my reaction.

I explained to him that he needed to go further a field – to create his own lines that might be inspired but more distinct from Poe’s. And he did.

This wasn’t the end product; it was a bump in the road.

However, not all cheating is so forgivable.

There are many cases where students know exactly what they’re doing and simply don’t care or feel the risk is worth the reward.

A study from 2021 published in the International Journal for Educational Integrity concluded that students’ emotions and attitudes toward assignments have a lot to do with whether they engage in purposeful cheating.

Students who feel sad, distressed or other negative emotions tend to be more open to plagiarism than those who feel more positive. In fact, one can use student’s negative emotions to predict the chances that they’ll cheat on assignments, according to this research.

The fact that so many aspects of modern day curriculum focus on standardized testing and teaching to the test also factors into the equation.

Students have admitted that drill-and-kill assignments, testing look-a-likes, etc. are seen as worthless and thus they are more prone to cheating on them.

Students will perpetrate fraud even on assignments that they see as valuable, but they are much more likely to do so on standardized curriculum – the kind policymakers and many administrators are increasingly pressuring districts and teachers to include in the classroom.

Educators are under incredible pressure to include the most boring and useless of skills in their lessons – not how to think critically, read thoughtfully or write expressively, but how to take this or that assessment. Then when students rebel by cheating, teachers are admonished to detect it at every corner but not to punish students too severely.

Thus we create an infinite loop of academic dishonesty. And no matter what happens, it’s the teacher’s fault.

The way I look at it, teachers should take steps to stop cheating in the classroom, but without administrative support, they can only go so far. If there aren’t academic consequences for cheating, administrators have tacitly accepted the behavior regardless of what teachers do in the classroom. If there are no consequence – no adequate disincentive – cheating is normalized regardless of the words written in the student handbook.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be grace and understanding, but there need to be consequences, too. Students feel more free to be authentic and original when they are immersed in a school culture where authenticity is valued over fraud.

After all, even in circumstances where teachers have full support, they can’t catch everything. And I think that’s okay.

Who is most harmed when students cheat? It is not a victimless crime. When students engage in such behavior, they aren’t really hurting anyone other than themselves.

Think about it.

You’re a student in school ostensibly here to learn. If you cheat on an assignment (a valuable assignment) you’re just stopping yourself from achieving the intended learning.

You’re limiting your own knowledge, your own skills and abilities. Instead of grasping how to write and read critically, for instance, you get the grade without the learning.


It would be like going to the doctor and presenting fake bloodwork. That’s not going to harm the physician – it’s going to hurt the patient.

It’s the same for accidental and purposeful cheating.

So what can we do about it?

1) Perhaps the most important thing to discourage the unintentional variety is to teach kids what it is – especially with relation to technology.

Districts have to shift from embracing any technology as a given to being technologically literate. EdTech is like the Internet – a sewer. There’s way more garbage in there than treasure. If the district can’t control its own technosphere, it’s best not to have one at all. Be purposeful about the kinds of hardware and software you allow, and actively teach students how to use it.

A 15-minute crash course once every four to eight years is not enough. At minimum computer etiquette and digital proficiency should be an annual semester course, because students who cannot navigate the new media will be forever slaves to it.

However, that’s only half of the solution.

2) The best way to discourage purposeful cheating is to present students with meaningful work.

If kids actually want to learn what you’re teaching, they’ll be less inclined to fake their way through it.

Of course, this can only be truly effective when educators are allowed a voice in their own curriculum, their expertise is valued, and they are free to determine how best to go about their jobs. But let’s be honest – that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

3) Focus on process more than product.

For example, when my students write an essay, I never give them the prompt and then wait to see the results. We do prewriting together that needs to be approved before they can even begin their first drafts. We discuss it every step of the way until they submit it for a grade – and if it still has issues, I simply don’t accept it. I hand it back with suggestions for changes again and again until it meets the agreed upon standard.

That makes cheating much harder to do. It also puts learning – the journey from point A to B – at the forefront rather than coming up with something arbitrary.

4) Finally, relationships are the bedrock of responsibility.

Nothing in my class is high stakes.

If a student messes up today, there’s always tomorrow. All assignments are accepted late up to a point. All tests can be retaken. Everyone gets another chance to succeed.

It’s a huge burden on me, the teacher, but I think it’s worth it to extend a little grace to students. It’s worth it demonstrating that I value them over their work.

In teaching, relationships are everything, and you’re less likely to get purposeful cheating from students who respect you and whom you respect.

I’m not saying this is perfect or that I have all the answers. But in an age where everyone seems worried about academic integrity without any concern for academic freedom, it’s important to put your priorities front and center.

Cheating may never go away entirely, but at least we can be honest about why it happens and who it hurts.


 

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Finally! PA Court Rules Unfair School Funding is Unconstitutional! 

Welcome to Pennsylvania, where a common-sense judgement takes 8 years in court


 

And regressive Republicans respond with more illogical nonsense. 

 
A judge in Commonwealth Court finally ruled this week that the state’s school funding system violates the state constitution.  

 
It took school districts, parents, and advocacy groups banding together to file the lawsuit back in 2014, but it was really kind of a no-brainer. 

It basically comes down to whether you can provide a mountain of funding to rich kids while throwing a few pennies at poor kids.

Spoiler alert: You can’t.

The reason? The state Constitution guarantees a “thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth” – and cake for rich kids while poor kids get crumbs just isn’t thorough or efficient or meets the needs of the Commonwealth.

The problem is that the state funds schools based heavily on local taxes – so rich neighborhoods can afford to pile on the monetary support while poor ones do the best they can but fall far short of their wealthier counterparts.

If the state paid more of the cost of educating Commonwealth children, this would be less of an issue. But Pennsylvania is 43rd in the country when it comes to the share of revenue for local school districts that it pays.

The result is one of the biggest spending gaps between rich and poor kids in the nation.  

Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer, a Republican, ruled that this was discrimination. In short

“…the Pennsylvania Constitution imposes upon Respondents an obligation to provide a system of public education that does not discriminate against students based on the level of income and value of taxable property in their school districts… 

The disparity among school districts with high property values and incomes and school districts with low property values and incomes is not justified by any compelling government interest nor is it rationally related to any legitimate government objective…

[Therefore] Petitioners and students attending low wealth districts are being deprived of equal protection of law.” 


 
Unfortunately, no mention was made in the nearly 800-page ruling of exactly how to fix the problem. 

The trial began in November 2021 and lasted more than three months. You’d think the judge had time to toss off a line or two about what to do next, maybe that it’s up to the state to take up the slack or something.  


 
But no. 


 
Which leaves room for right wing creeps like the Commonwealth Foundation to crawl out from under a rock and give their own nonsense solution.


 
Enter Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the Harrisburg based conservative and libertarian think tank that pushes for the destruction of any common good – especially public schools


 
Benefield wrote a response to the ruling praising it for leaving the legislature and executive branch to find a solution, rather than “mandating more money to a broken system.” 

Um, Benefield? Buddy? It’s broken mostly because we haven’t paid to keep it in good repair.

But he goes on…

“The only way to ensure that ‘every student receives a meaningful opportunity’ is for education funding to follow the child. Students that are trapped in their zip-code assigned school — especially in low-income and minority communities — often have no alternatives when their academic or social needs are unmet.” 

So the solution to not having enough money is more choice!?

I can’t afford to buy breakfast. Having a choice between raisin bran and pancakes won’t make a difference. I CAN’T AFFORD EITHER ONE!!!!

If every district received fair funding, it wouldn’t matter what your zip code is anymore. That’s the whole freaking point!

But look for neofacists and libertools to start spouting this kind of rhetoric at every turn now that they can’t hide behind the old excuse that it’s somehow fair to steal poor kids lunch money and give it to rich kids.

The next step is not entirely clear.

Some think it likely that the state will appeal the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 

However, they would have a pretty weak case if they did, said Maura McInerney, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

“The record is very, very clear that local school districts are not adequately resourced,” she said. “I think it would be extremely difficult to be successful on appeal.” 

Judge Jubilerer wrote in her ruling that she hoped everyone would work together now to find a solution:

“The Court is in uncharted territory with this landmark case. Therefore, it seems only reasonable to allow Respondents, comprised of the Executive and Legislative branches of government and administrative agencies with expertise in the field of education, the first opportunity, in conjunction with Petitioners, to devise a plan to address the constitutional deficiencies identified herein.” 

It may sound naive, but it’s happened in other states – specifically New York and New Jersey. 

A suit filed in 2014 in New York argued that the state never fully funded a 2007 Foundation Aid program. The program was supposed to consider district wealth and student need in order to create an equitable distribution of state funding. 

The Empire State settled in 2021 and is now required to phase-in full funding of Foundation Aid by the 2024 budget. 

New Jersey tackled the issue way back in 1981. A state court ruled officials had to provide adequate K-12 foundational funding, universal preschool and at-risk programs. 

This made New Jersey the first state to mandate early education. The state also undertook the most extensive construction program in the country to improve the quality of school buildings in impoverished neighborhoods, according to the Education Law Center. 

Could such sweeping reforms be coming to the Keystone state?

“For years, we have defunded our public schools at the expense of our students,” said state Sen. Lindsey Williams (D- 38th district), who is the minority chair of the PA Senate education committee. “[The ruling] is game-changing for our students across the Commonwealth.” 

Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the state Senate’s Appropriations Committee, said the state can afford a big boost in aid to the poorest schools right now because we have billions of surplus dollars in the bank. 

This is exactly what is needed.

During the trial, plaintiffs presented evidence that schools are underfunded by $4.6 billion, an estimate that they said does not account for gaps in spending on special education, school buildings and other facilities. 

 Some organizations like PA Schools Work are calling on legislators to act now by adding approximately $4 billion in Basic Education Funding. They even suggest the increase be at the rate of one billion per year over the next four years to make it more feasible. Finally, they propose this money be distributed through the Fair Funding Formula and the Level Up supplement so that it is more equitably distributed to districts in need.

To make matters even more complicated, the state uses an “outdated” formula to calculate how to allocate school funding.  

The legislature developed a new formula based on enrollment numbers and how much it costs to educate students who are living in poverty, English language learners, or have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  However, a large chunk of money isn’t distributed using that new formula.

The way I see it, the Commonwealth has a lot of education funding issues to fix.

Hopefully, this ruling finally means we’ve stopped arguing over whether a problem exists and can start focusing on how to solve it.

That, itself, would be a huge victory!


 

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Fact Checking Propel Charter Schools – Do They Live Up to Their Own Hype?

The Propel Charter School network has a history of making fabulous claims for its schools – claims not always backed up by reality.

The non-profit chain of 13 schools based in Pittsburgh, Pa, boasts high academics, safe campuses and certified teachers.

At least, that’s what its advertising blitz proclaims from every grocery store cart, newspaper page, radio announcement and billboard. Which just goes to show that anyone will tout your virtues if you pay them enough money – taxpayer money, that is.

Take Propel McKeesport – the franchise located in my own neighborhood.

The other day I saw a bus advertisement bragging:

“Catch Your Star!

#1 Elementary Charter School in the Nation – Just Blocks Away!

Propel McKeesport”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any support for this claim anywhere.

When I went to Propel’s own Website, in fact, there was nothing about it. Instead, it claimed Propel McKeesport was:

“…ranked as ONE OF THE BEST charter schools in the nation by U.S. News World Report” (Emphasis mine).

One of the best is not THE best. But it’s still good. Let’s call it embellishing the school’s resume.

According to Propel’s Website, in 2021, the McKeesport location was #11 in the state’s charter elementary schools and #7 in the state’s charter middle schools.


I suppose that is impressive, too, though being one of the best CHARTER SCHOOLS isn’t the same as being one of the best SCHOOLS.

In fact, when compared with all schools in the state, Propel McKeesport is in the bottom half for standardized test scores in both math and reading – one of the main metrics used to calculate its rank by US News and World Report.

The percentage of students achieving proficiency in math was 7% (which is lower than the Pennsylvania state average of 38%) for the 2020-21 school year. The percentage of students achieving proficiency in reading was 34% (which is lower than the Pennsylvania state average of 55%) for the 2020-21 school year.

Moreover, test scores in both subjects were higher at the McKeesport Area School District, the local authentic public school – 17% higher in math and 3.5% higher in reading at the elementary level and 6% higher in math and 2% higher in reading at the middle school level. Propel McKeesport does not teach beyond 8th grade.

So what exactly is Propel celebrating?

Maybe it’s the fact that its McKeesport location achieved these standardized test scores while teaching an intensely racially segregated student body – 86% minority (mostly Black). By comparison, the authentic public schools range from 52-71% minority students (mostly Black).

I’m not sure that’s much of a victory. Wasn’t one of the major tenants of the civil rights movement having racially integrated schools – that doing so would help students of color achieve academically because resources couldn’t be horded away from them?

That still sounds like a worthy goal – and one that is being actively worked against by Propel’s business model.

Moreover, Propel McKeesport is the only school in the charter chain where students of color outscore white students. Across the Propel system, white kids do anywhere from 17.6% better in math at Propel Pitcairn to 32.6% better in science at Propel Braddock Hills.

Not exactly a civil rights victory.

So what about the rest of Propel’s claims?

Since charter schools are paid for with tax dollars but can be privately operated (like Propel), they are free from many of the safety regulations that make authentic public schools great – like elected school boards, and transparent curriculum and finances.

The corporation runs the following schools in Allegheny County: Propel Andrew Street High School, Propel Hazelwood K-8, Propel Montour Middle School, Propel Braddock Hills Elementary School, Propel Homestead K-8, Propel Northside K-8, Propel McKeesport K-8, Propel Pitcairn K-8, Propel Braddock Hills High School, Propel Montour Elementary School, Propel Braddock Hills Middle School, Propel Montour High School, and Propel East K-8.

According to an advertisement in mass circulation, each of the schools in the charter chain provides:

“Safe Learning Environment

Individual Attention


Small Class Size

100% Certified and Qualified Teachers

Award Winning Arts Programs

Leaders in Technology Integration

Uniforms

Tuition Free”

Let’s take a look at each claim in turn.

-Safe Learning Environment

What exactly does that mean?

Propel schools are no more safe than other schools in the area. There certainly isn’t any evidence they are somehow MORE safe.

There have been numerous incidents of arrest, criminality and danger in and around Propel Schools.

In 2021, a security guard at Turtle Creek, Pitcairn and McKeesport Propel Schools was fired after being charged with open lewdness and indecent exposure, according to court documents. North Versailles Police said the suspect was captured on video exposing and fondling himself inside a Walmart. When confronted by police, he allegedly showed officers his Propel School ID badge.

In 2015, two teenagers at Propel Braddock Hills High School were arrested after one allegedly tried to sell guns to another in a bathroom during the school day. Two guns were recovered by police and the students were taken into custody on campus. The rest of the students were placed on lockdown until police cleared the area.

In 2015, a visiting dance instructor at the Propel Middle School in Braddock was fired and arrested after allegedly sexting a 13-year-old female student. He allegedly told the girl not to tell anyone about it. In a statement from Propel, school officials say it happened “after school hours and off of Propel property.”

In 2019, Pitcairn Propel was evacuated when fumes made three teachers and four students nauseous. Roughly 280 teachers and students were evacuated from the school and the affected people were taken to nearby hospitals. Monroeville Borough was doing work on a sewer when fumes got into the school.

In 2019, police arrested four people in connection with a scheme to steal nearly $23,000 from Propel Schools by forging checks in the charter school operator’s name. The Propel Schools Foundation filed a report with police after discovering nearly two dozen fraudulent checks in Propel’s name had been cashed at various places, a Pittsburgh Public Safety spokeswoman said. At least 28 checks drawn against the school’s bank account were counterfeit, the complaint said. The fake checks were cashed using the forged signature of the school’s co-founder, Jeremy Resnick.

So does Propel provide a safe learning environment? Maybe. But not more so than any other district.

Individual Attention and Small Class Size


The problem here is verification.

Charter schools are not nearly as transparent as authentic public schools. They are not required by law to provide as much information about their operations as neighborhood public schools. For instance, nearly every authentic public school district is run by an elected school board which has open meetings and open records.

For Propel it is unclear exactly how members are chosen for its corporate board, but it is difficult for parents and community members to be appointed.

According to an article in Public Source, individuals can only become board members if they are already members of the “Friends of Propel,” but the charter chain did not provide information on this group or how its members are selected.

So for most details we’re really left with just taking Propel’s word without any method of verifying it.

When it comes to class size, most Propel schools report having student-to-teacher ratios slightly smaller or the same as at neighborhood authentic public schools. But who knows? There’s no way to tell whether classes may actually be larger.

However, individual attention is even harder to verify.

Most schools focus on more individual attention these days.

Unfortunately, the network provides very little detailed information about its curriculum.

Even in 2018 when Propel had submitted applications to the state to consolidate its network into a Multiple Charter School Organization, it did not submit its entire curriculum which had been requested to see if it was aligned to state academic standards. The state ultimately denied this request due to insufficient information.

So does Propel provide individual attention? Your guess is as good as mine.

-100% Certified and Qualified Teachers

Authentic public schools need to have certified and qualified teachers by law. To teach math, for example, you usually need someone with at least a 4-year teaching degree or more. Only in the case of shortages can positions by temporarily filled by individuals with emergency certifications. Not so with charter schools. They only have to have certified and qualified teachers in core content areas – English, Math, Science and Social Studies.

So this claim by Propel is a way of bragging that the network doesn’t have to have certified and qualified teachers, but it does so anyway.

Unfortunately, it is definitively false.

According to those US News and World Report spotlights that the charter school network likes to highlight, several Propel schools do not have all certified teachers. For instance, Propel McKeesport only has 92% full-time certified teachers, Propel Homestead only has 94%, Propel Pitcairn only has 96%, etc.

Moreover, a state audit of the Propel network conducted in 2016, found that even in core content areas, Propel charter schools did not have “highly qualified” teachers in accordance with state law.

So does Propel have 100% Certified and Qualified Teachers? Absolutely not.

Award Winning Arts Programs

Kudos to Propel for recognizing that arts are an important part of the curriculum. Or at least using it as a selling point on its advertisements. However, without details of its curriculum submitted to the state and verifiable by audit, there is nothing to back this claim up factually.

In fact, on Propel’s own Website, the only reference I see to awards for art is a brief mention in its after-school program which they label as “award-winning.”

What award did it win? The ‘Propel Presents Itself with an Award’ Award? Is there anything more substantial to this claim?

-Leaders in Technology Integration

Some Propel charter schools do claim to provide laptops to students. However, details are pretty sketchy beyond this point.

Moreover, technology in school is a terrible end in itself. It really matters how it’s being used. There are very few details on this that I can find.

-Uniforms

Yes! Propel does require students to wear blue, black or khaki clothing of a particular type. And you can even buy clothing on the network’s Website.

But is this really such a positive? Standardized testing is bad enough? Do we have to standardized dress, too?

Certainly every school should have a dress code, but can’t students express themselves freely anymore? I just don’t see why emulating the worst qualities of private schools is a great thing – especially when it adds an unnecessary cost for parents.

-Tuition Free

Charter schools are funded with public tax dollars. So, yes, you don’t have to pay a tuition to attend. However, you do have to pay for extras like school uniforms.

Also having multiple schools that provide duplicate services is instrumental in raising your local taxes.

Think about it. You already have an authentic public school you pay to operate. Now here comes Propel, a charter school network, demanding to open up shop. That means an additional tax burden on all residents and a reduction in resources for the neighborhood schools already in service.

In fact, overcoming the unpopularity of charter schools because of the increased expense for taxpayers is cited by Droz Marketing – the company that made all those glossy Propel advertisements – on its Website portfolio as an obstacle the company had to overcome to sell Propel to the masses.

Which brings us back to the beginning.

Does Propel go beyond the facts in its claims for itself?

Certainly.

Many businesses do that these days. And make no mistake – Propel IS a business. If it can cut a corner or find a loophole to put more money in operators’ pockets, it will.

Don’t let its non-profit status fool you.

For instance, in 2016 the state caught Propel stealing $376,922 of your tax dollars to pay for rental fees on properties it already owns. It was literally charging itself an unnecessary fee and paying itself with your money.

Technically, this is not illegal. But it certainly doesn’t help educate children. It just goes to enrich the charter school operators.

Non-profit? Yeah, in name only.

However, let me end with what may be the most telling indicator of what it is like at Propel’s charter schools.

indeed.com is a Website workers use to decide if they should apply at a given job site. Employees anonymously review their current place of employment to let prospective job applicants know what it is like there and if they should consider seeking a job there.

The site has many entries on schools in the Propel network. Some are positive. Some are glowing. But most are incredibly negative.

Here in their own words is what it’s like inside the Propel network from the people who work (or worked) there.

Propel Schools – Insiders’ Accounts:

 

 

Students rule.

Para Educator (Former Employee) – Propel East, Turtle Creek – July 19, 2020

Pandering to the cultural climate and using all the right talking points still doesn’t provide a quality education because of the many behavior problems.

 

 

 

Educator (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – August 4, 2022

Management verbalizes a desire, but does not actively seek to improve diversity within the ranks of educators. The lack of diversity directly impacts how the student body is educated.

 

Stressful, consuming place to work with little support from administration.

First Grade Teacher (Former Employee) – McKeesport, PA – April 15, 2022
I worked at Propel McKeesport for 9 days before I realized it would negatively affect my mental health greatly if I stayed. Everything about the school was chaotic and unorganized. There is so much asked of the teachers, and they are given little to no support in the process. The people that are put in place to act as supports are spread so thin, that you aren’t able to receive the support necessary. I would have to get to work early and stay late in order to get all of my tasks done. I had no time for my personal life, and I was constantly overwhelmed. Leaving was the best decision I could’ve made for myself and my well being.
Pros
Higher than average starting pay for new teachers, healthcare benefits
Cons
Unorganized, consuming, little support/structure

 

 

Hope you have a good therapist if you get hired at the Hazelwood location.

Elementary School Teacher (Former Employee) – Hazelwood, PA – February 3, 2022
My time at Propel Hazelwood was the worst experience I have ever had in a professional setting. The principal, at the time, had all sorts of big ideas, and no clue how to make them actionable. Behavior was managed through a failed token economy… so I’m sure you can imagine what behavior looked like. But good news, they’ll just fire you before you qualify for benefits, and trick the next poor sap. For reference, I was the 3rd of 5 teachers to go through that position in 2 years.

In summary, I hope you line up a therapist before you sign your soul away to Propel. I know I needed one.
Pros
There were no pros. I can’t even make one up.
Cons
Pitiful everything. People, leadership, attitudes, slogans, curriculum (or lack there of). Run away… fast.

 

 

Teacher (Former Employee) – McKeesport, PA – September 3, 2021
Propel McKeesport cannot keep their staff members. They have so many open positions because their lesson plan template is 6 pages long, and the work pile-up is more than loving your scholars. The wonderful scholars don’t get a chance to love who you are because you (if you are not a favorite) are swamped with work. The job is a nightmare.
Pros
There is not one pro I can think of.
Cons
Flooded with work. Lies and says it is “Propel-Wide”

 

Don’t work for them

Janitor (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 3, 2022

Hr treats you bad
Teachers treat you bad
You are less then nothing to everyone even your bosses
Never work for Braddock propel worst school I’ve seen
Pros
Nothing
Cons
You will be treated like you are worthless

 

Pure and total chaos

Teacher (Former Employee) – Braddock Hills, PA – September 27, 2021
Wow. It sounds good from the outside but is terrible in the inside. High school students were out of control. Administration offered little help. The parents were just as aggressive as their children. The teachers will throw anyone under the bus as soon as possible.
Pros
Great pay. Amazing benefits. Stellar retirement and health insurance.
Cons
Terribly behaved students, aggressive parents, woke and offended staff

 

Long school day, longer school year, longest time spent working outside of contractual hours

Educator (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – May 21, 2021
Even though I went in knowing the hours would be long and the school year would be longer, I was not prepared for the lack of work life balance. I have worked with Propel for 3 years and I will say that it is all consuming. I have been expected to not only do my job during building hours, but outside of work as well. This would be fine if it was occasional, but especially during COVID, it has become constant. Not only is the work never ending, but in my buildng we are not given adequate time to eat (25 minutes) or plan (50 minutes, but this time is often taken up by meetings almost daily). On top of limited planning time and expectations that never seem to stop coming, many of us have been forced into taking on additional, unpaid roles that we did not ask or agree to, and “no thank you” is not accepted as an answer. The district struggles to employee substitutes, so teachers are often expected to split classes when other grade level members are out. This has resulted in 30+ students in classrooms during non-COVID times, with one educator.
Pros
Good benefits, reasonable pay for the area, great curriculum
Cons
Short breaks, underqualified building administration, limited support

 

Schools care for kids but profit can get in the way

Teacher (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 13, 2021
Propel staff does care a lot about the students, but it doesn’t feel like those who are higher up care as much about them. Having a CEO/Superintendent may be the reason for this.
Pros
Dedicated cohorts
Cons
Work-life balance off

 

Administration had a lack of trust for teachers and lack of discipline for students.

teacher (Former Employee) – Montour, PA – July 24, 2020
There was always a feeling of being watched in a critical way throughout the day. Administration was constantly evaluating teacher performance in the classroom which created a negative work environment.
When a student became disruptive in the classroom administrators were difficult to locate. If an administrator did come to the classroom he/she would coddle the student with candy or a fun activity before returning him/her to the classroom. Needless to say the disruptive behavior would continue within an hour. Positive effective leadership was nonexistent.

 

Not very friendly

Accounting Manager (Former Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – March 4, 2020
Did not get the job I was hired to do. Turnover was high. Cannot speak to majority of the the issues that I had due to a clause in my severance package.

 

Ehhh.

Educator (Former Employee) – Pitcairn, PA – February 3, 2020
Challenging work environment, burn out is high, little support from administration. Propel varies from building to building, but overall its sounds great in theory and in their “plans”, but they’re not able to carry out what they promise to students or staff.

 

This is a good ole boys system

Principal (Former Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 26, 2020
Pros: Let me start by saying, the students are amazing! The parents can be challenging but they truly want what’s best for their children. Cons: If you aren’t LIKED by the superintendent and assistant superintendent your days with Propel are numbered. From the onset, I was deceived by this organization. I spent 4-months interviewing for a High School principal position. I was offered the position of high school principal only to find out I would be a K-8 principal. This was the first red flag of many. Unfortunately, I wasn’t well liked therefore I received very little of what I needed to effectively lead the school. Instead, I got the unhelpful support they thought I needed and none of which I requested. By Feb. I had lost both my APs – one by choice and the other by force. In March I was given a replacement AP that wasn’t a good fit. Work-life balance does NOT exist at Propel Charter Schools. On average, I worked 12 -14-hour days. Sadly, this is the norm for principals in this network. If you are considering Propel for a position as a school administrator, I would not recommend it.
 
 
Teacher (Former Employee) – Hazelwood, PA – September 18, 2019
The staff is wonderful and very supportive. However, the students there are very disrespectful, rude, and have major problems with authority. As a teacher walking into the classroom, they refuse to listen, talk over you, cuss you, and not a lot is done about it.

Cons

Being cussed at and put down by students daily
 
 
 

Poor working place

Teacher (Former Employee) – Homestead, PA – August 10, 2019
Propel is not ran like a school, it is ran like a business. They do not give the students a fighting chance for a bright future. They are more worried about the name ‘propel’ than anything. The work-life balance is awful. They expect way too much of your own time and when they don’t get it, you are looked down on for it. They create cliques and if you are not in the clique, consider yourself gone. They place you wherever they want, certified or not, and will watch you fail. There is lack of help and support from the administration. The only decent people around are your co-workers. I would never recommend this as a work environment nor for parents to send their kids there. No learning takes place. You constantly deal with behavior problems while the children who want to learn are put on the back burner. They change rules half way into the school year and fudge their data. At the rate they are going, they will never compare to peers across the state for PSSAs due to behavior issues and poor management. Not to mention, your lunch is 20 minutes so I hope you can eat fast and 9X out of 10, your planning time to taken away from you for meetings! Be prepared for meetings!!!

Pros

Good benefits

Cons

Everything
 
 
Teacher (Current Employee) – Pitcairn, PA – May 6, 2017
There was little time to be able to practice individualized teaching practices and spend time working with students. Leaders were only focused on enrollment and test scores, and did not focus on the important needs of the child. Work/Home life balance did not exist, as emails and texts were sent at 9:00 PM at night. Money is the number one focus, and for a school system, it was not what was expected.

Pros

Teaching children, benefits and compensation

Cons

Bad work/home life balance

 


 

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I’ve also 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!

Congress May Raise Educators’ Minimum Salaries to Combat the Teacher Exodus

When it comes to teachers, America doesn’t mind getting away cheap.

The minimum salary for a teacher in Pennsylvania is $18,500 a year.

That’s not a lot of money – roughly $9.63 an hour.

It’s barely more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour ($15,080 annually).

But in many states there is no minimum teacher salary – so the minimum wage IS a teacher’s minimum salary!

You could probably make more as a dishwasher, cashier or parking lot attendant. So why take on a four-year education degree, mountains of student loan debt, and the added challenge of a (likely unpaid) internship?

Just pick up a broom and start sweeping.

Perhaps that’s why a group of Congressional Democrats have proposed a national minimum salary for teachers.

Rep. Frederica Wilson and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, (both former teachers) and six other members of the House have introduced The American Teacher Act establishing a minimum salary of $60,000 for all public school teachers working in the U.S. – the first legislation of its kind.

Though state minimums are less (assuming your state has one at all), the average starting salary of teachers nationwide was $41,770 in the 2020-21 school year, according to the National Education Association (which supports the bill).

However, even that number shows how poorly we reimburse teachers for their labor.

It means on average teachers make about 77 cents on the dollar compared to their peers in similar professions, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

So a potentially $20,000 base increase would help.

If passed, the bill wouldn’t simply force all states to comply. It would offer funding through federal grants encouraging states and school districts to raise their minimum starting salary to $60,000 by the 2024-25 academic year.

In the short term, the funding would pay to implement the new salary minimum but states would be responsible for sustaining the cost in the long run.

No cost projection for the program has yet been conducted.

The new minimum salary would be adjusted for inflation each year, beginning with the 2025-26 school year, and any grant funding would have to be used toward salaries and not to supplant any existing funding that goes toward schools.

Sponsors hope the bill would affect more than just minimum salaries.

The idea is that states would adjust their entire teacher salary schedules with $60,000 as the floor and all other salary steps increasing incrementally based on education levels and years of experience. So even veteran teachers should see their wages increase.

However, the bill doesn’t stop there. The authors of the legislation know that respect for the teaching profession is important to ensure salaries remain adequate.

In addition to wages, 4 percent of the grant funding would be used to launch a national campaign about the teaching profession, highlighting its importance and value as well as encouraging high school and college students to pursue a career in education.

It’s high time something were done because the US is losing teachers at an alarming rate.


After decades of neglect only made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re missing almost a million teachers.

Nationwide, we only have about 3.2 million teachers left!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 567,000 fewer educators in our public schools today than there were before the pandemic. And that’s on top of already losing 250,000 school employees during the recession of 2008-09 most of whom were never replaced. All while enrollment increased by 800,000 students.

Meanwhile, finding replacements has been difficult. Across the country, an average of one educator is hired for every two jobs available.

Not only are teachers paid 20% less than other college-educated workers with similar experience, but a 2020 survey found that 67% of teachers have or had a second job to make ends meet.

It’s no wonder then that few college students want to enter the profession.

Over the past decade, there’s been a major decline in enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs in education.

Beginning in 2011, enrollment in such programs and new education certifications in Pennsylvania — my home state— started to decline. Today, only about a third as many students are enrolled in teacher prep programs in the Commonwealth as there were 10 years ago. And state records show new certifications are down by two-thirds over that period.

Legislation like The American Teachers Act is absolutely necessary to stop the teacher exodus and ensure our children receive a quality education.

However, at present not a single Republican lawmaker has expressed support for legislation of this type, only support in individual states when it becomes obvious the whole system will collapse without help.

Moreover, even neoliberal Democrats want to use such measures to sneak in unnecessary and destructive policies like more standardized testing, evaluating teachers on student test scores and increased funding for charter schools and school voucher programs.

At present it seems unlikely that this legislation would pass in any manner that would be helpful if at all.

It may take further crumbling of the public school system and/or a change in political leadership and power for anything to be done.

On the bright side, it is encouraging that for the first time (ever?) lawmakers actually seem to recognize there is a real problem here.

It has finally come down to a simple matter of dollars and cents.


 

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I’ve also 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!