Standardized Tests Every Day: the Competency Based Education Scam

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IN THE NOT TOO DISTANT FUTURE:

Welcome to class, children.

Please put your hands down, and sit at your assigned seat in the computer lab.

Yes, your cubicle partitions should be firmly in place. You will be penalized if your eyes wander into your neighbors testing… I mean learning area.

Now log on to your Pearson Competency Based Education (CBE) platform.

Johnny, are you reading a book? Put that away!

Are we all logged on? Good.

Now complete your latest learning module. Some of you are on module three, others on module ten. Yes, Dara, I know you’re still on module one. You’ll all be happy to know each module is fully aligned with Common Core State Standards. In fact, each module is named after a specific standard. Once you’ve mastered say Module One “Citing Textual Evidence to Determine Analysis” you will move on to the next module, say “Determining Theme or Central Idea for Analysis.”

Johnny, didn’t I tell you to put away that book? There is no reading in school. You’re to read the passages provided by the good people at Pearson. No, you won’t get a whole story. Most of the passages are non-fiction. But I think there is a fun passage about a pineapple coming up in your module today. Isn’t that nice?

Laquan, you haven’t put on your headphones and started your module yet? You’ve been on module three for the past week. How can you learn at your own rate if you never progress beyond module three?

What’s that? Your mother wrote me a note? Let me see that.

Huh. So she wants to know how come you never get beyond module three. You should be able to answer that question for her, yourself, Laquan. (At least you could get that one right.)

Laquan, tell your mother that you haven’t passed the proficiency standard yet. You’ve taken all the remediation available on the computer program, haven’t you? Yes, that fun game where you answered multiple choice questions and when you got one correct the spaceship blasts an asteroid. And then you took the daily assessment but you just haven’t received a passing score yet. But don’t worry. I’m sure if you continue to do the same thing again today… eventually… you’ll get it right. It’s how the state and federal government determine whether you’ve learned anything on a daily basis.

In ancient times, teachers like me used to make up our own assignments. We’d give you books to read… Johnny, have you started yet? …whole books, novels, literature. And then we’d hold class discussions, class projects, act out scenes, draw posters, relate the books to your lives, write essays. But now all that silliness is gone.

Thanks to the good people at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Gates Foundation, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, The state and federal government have mandated a much more efficient way of determining student learning. Back in the day, they forced schools to give one big standardized test in Reading and Math every year. Teachers would have to scramble with test prep material to make sure all learners could pass the test, because if students didn’t get passing marks, the teacher was out on her butt.

We’ve done away with such silliness now. Thankfully the government got rid of yearly high stakes standardized testing. What we do now is called Competency Based Education. That’s what this program is called. It’s kind of like high stakes standardized testing every day. So much more efficient, so much more data to use to prove you know this set of basic skills written by the testing companies with hardly any input from non-experts like classroom teachers.

That’s how the district became composed of 100% charter schools. No more inefficient school boards made up of community members. Today our schools are run by corporate CEOs who are experts at finding ways to cut corners and increase profits for their shareholders. And, ugh, make you learn good.

Hm. I seem to be talking too much. No one’s paying me to impart any information. I’m just supposed to make sure you’re all hooked up to the program and making satisfactory daily progress. Otherwise, I’ll be out of a job again.

You laugh, but it’s hard to get minimum wage work like this. Since the U.S. Supreme Court made labor unions all but illegal and public schools instituted CBE programs, teachers like me could no longer demand such exorbitant salaries. Now I make an honest living. Speaking of which, I may have to get out of here a few minutes early today to make it to my shift at WalMart. I’m greeter today!

And if you work hard, someday you can be, too!


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

 

Hypocrisy: Democrats Criticize Trump but Not a Peep Against Emanuel

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So Donald Trump is a narcissistic, bigoted, fascist.

Not exactly a surprise.

He’s also the Republican front runner for President. I’ll admit to being mildly shocked by that.

However, much more astonishing are the chauvinistic and possibly illegal actions of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – and the fact that no major Democrat of note is calling him out for any of it.

Let’s review.

Trump made a name for himself during this election cycle calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. Then he insulted women and the disabled. He proposes surveillance of mosques and registering all Muslims. He even incites supporters at his rallies to beat Black protesters.

And every time this happens, his poll numbers rise.

Predictably Democrats have decried this state of affairs. They have pointed their fingers accusingly at a Republican base that would champion such an odious figure for leader of the free world. And rightly so!

By contrast, Emanuel isn’t currently a candidate for anything. He’s a second term Democratic Mayor of one of the most populous cities in the country.

During that time, he has closed 50 public schools46 of which serve mostly black students. Southside residents had to resort to a month-long hunger strike to keep their last neighborhood school open. In addition, his economic policy consists of closing public health clinics for the poor and installing red light cameras to increase fines – none of which has actually boosted the economy.

But perhaps worse than all of that is the recent revelation that Emanuel’s administration with full knowledge of the Mayor may have actually covered up the police killing of an unarmed black teen!

In October, 2014, Officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. Most of those bullets went into the teenager after he was already flat on the ground and the officer was at least 10 feet away.

As usual, the police story includes all the usual racist clichés – a trained and experienced officer of the law fears for his life from a black teen. Van Dyke says he was attacked. The dashcam video, however, shows no such thing. McDonald did not lunge at the officer. The young man was walking away when Van Dyke shot, and after he fell, the officer unloaded a barrage of bullets at his prone and seemingly helpless body.

Then the cover-up began. Emanuel allegedly was told about the incident in February, 2015, while he was in the midst of a contentious re-election bid. His administration quickly issued a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family on the condition they keep quiet about the incident. It wasn’t until May, after Emanuel had won re-election, that an independent journalist asked for the dashcam video to be released. It took the full power of the media and a lawsuit to accomplish this. Last Thursday, a Chicago judge ordered the video be disclosed and Van Dyke was quickly charged with first degree murder.

It seems impossible to deny that Van Dyke would have been charged a year ago if not for the cover-up. The officer had already received 17 citizen complaints including that he had made racist remarks and three excessive force complaints over four years. Only Emanuel’s protection kept him out of jail.

So which is worse? Trump loudly champions prejudice and bigotry without the power to do anything about it. Emanuel protects an actual racist, stops him from being charged for what may well be a racially motivated murder, but makes no flashy public comments about it.

Yet only one of these two politicos gains the ire of the supposedly progressive and enlightened Democratic party.

How can this be? If we accept Fox News to represent a realistic presentation of the Republican platform, the party is often regressive, counterfactual, and rife with prejudice. On the other hand, media representations of the Democrats present them as the exact opposite. They propose progressive policies based on facts and a much more pluralistic view of society. They’re just much more inept at achieving this vision than their GOP counterparts.

But if that were true, how could one of their anointed, one of the most powerful Democrats in the country, a man who had been White House Chief of Staff at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, a former U.S. Representative, senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, how could HE be perpetrating so many repressive, bigoted, “conservative” policies? How could so many leading Democrats support him? Why are so few criticizing him now?

It makes one question the perceived wisdom about the two parties. Is there really a difference, or are the left and the right wings just two parts of the same bird? When you look at what Democrats do – I mean when you actually examine the policies they enact when they’re in office – they really aren’t much different than those proposed by Republicans.

Perhaps there are a few far left Democrats like Bernie Sanders who actually represent a real progressive movement. Or perhaps there is no  major progressive party anymore in the United State.

We  must keep our eyes on Chicago. If there is any fight left for the soul of the Democratic party it will be here. Will the party call for Emanuel’s resignation? Or will it continue to side with one of the most regressive politicians currently holding office while it congratulates itself for condemning clownish Trump?


NOTE: This article also was published on Commondreams.org, the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association Blog.

National Academic Standards – Turning Public Education into McSchools



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America is obsessed with standardization.

Let’s make everything the same – neat and uniform.

It’s ironic coming from a country that’s always been so proud of its rugged individualism.

But look almost anywhere in the US of A, and you’ll see a strip mall with almost all of the same stores and fast food restaurants selling the same crusty burgers and fries left waiting for the consumer under a heat lamp.

Somehow this has become THE model for public education, as well. Corporations have convinced our lawmakers that the disposable franchise business schematic is perfect to increase student learning.

That’s where we got the idea for Common Core. All schools should teach the same things at the same times in the same ways.

It’s been a horrendous failure.

But this article isn’t about the Common Core per se. It isn’t about how the Core is unpopular, expensive, developmentally inappropriate, created by non-experts or illegal. It’s about the very idea of national academic standards. After all, if the Core is flawed, one might suggest we simply fix those flaws and institute a better set of national standards. I contend that this would be a failure, too.

The problem with standardization is that it forces us to make uniform choices. In situation A, we always do THIS. In Situation B, we always do THAT. There are some areas where this is a good thing, but education is not one of them.

For instance, we can all agree that children need to read books, but what kind of books? Should they read mostly fiction or nonfiction? Should books be limited by subjects or should they be chosen by interest? Should they be ebooks or hardcopies? Should they be organized by grade level or an individual’s reading level?

These are decisions that are best made in class by the teacher. However, when we write national standards, we’re taking away educators’ autonomy and giving it to some nameless government entity. This isn’t smart. Teachers are the scientists of the classroom. They can use their observational skills to determine what a child needs and how best to meet those needs. If we remove this, we’re forced to guess what hypothetical children will need in hypothetical situations. Even under the best of circumstances, guesses will not be as good as empiricism.

But, some will say, standards should be broad. They shouldn’t determine what children will learn in detail. They just set a framework. For instance, they’ll detail that all children should learn how to add and subtract. All children will learn how to read and write.

There is some truth to this. We can all agree to a basic framework of skills children need before graduation. However, if the framework is this broad, is it even necessary?

Do you really think there are any public schools in this country that don’t attempt to teach adding and subtracting? Are there any schools that don’t teach reading and writing?

I doubt such educational institutions exist, and even if they did, you wouldn’t need national academic standards to change them. By any definition, they would be cheating their students. If the community found out this was going on, voters would make sure things changed.

What about evolution, someone asks. This is a central scientific concept vital to a modern understanding of the field that in many places isn’t being taught in our public schools. Don’t we need national standards to ensure things like evolution are part of the curriculum?

The short answer is no.

For a moment, let me remove my ban on talking about Common Core – our current attempt at national standards. Some people defend the Core with this same argument. However, it should be noted that the Core has no science and history standards. It does nothing to ensure evolution is taught in schools.

But could we ever have standards that did ensure evolution was taught? Yes, we could.

Why don’t we? Why doesn’t Common Core explicitly address this? Because enacting such standards would take political power of a sort that doesn’t exist in this country. Too many voters oppose it. No state or federal legislature would be able to pass it.

But let’s assume for a moment that the political stars had aligned, and we could get lawmakers to vote for this. Why would they need to? This is a central theory to so many fields of science. Do we need an act of Congress to make sure all schools teach about gravity? Do we need one for Nuclear force? Friction?

You don’t need a Congressional order to teach science. If the community wants it, teachers will just do it. That’s their jobs. You can’t legislate that everyone believes in evolution. You have to convince people that it should be taught. National standards won’t change that. You can’t sneak it in under Newton’s laws of motion. We need to come to consensus as a society. As much as I truly believe evolution should be taught in schools, national standards are not going to make that happen.

Even if I were wrong, the cost would be far too high. We shouldn’t want all of our public schools to be uniform. When everyone teaches the same things, it means we leave out the same things. There is far too much to know in this world than can ever be taught or learned in one lifetime. Choices will always need to be made. The question is who should make them?

If we allow individuals to make different choices, it diversifies what people will know. Individuals will make decisions, which will become the impetus to learning, which will then become intrinsic and therefore valued. Then when you get ten people together from various parts of the country, they will each know different things but as a whole they will know so much more than any one member. If they all know the same things, as a group they are no stronger, no smarter than each separate cog. That is not good for society.

We certainly don’t want this ideal when going out to eat. We don’t want every restaurant to be the same. We certainly don’t want every restaurant to be McDonalds.

Imagine if every eatery was a burger joint. That means there would be no ethnic food. No Mexican. No Chinese. No Italian. There would be nothing that isn’t on that one limited menu. Moreover, it would all be prepared the same way. Fast food restaurants excel in consistency. A Big Mac at one McDonalds is much like a Big Mac at any other. This may be comforting but – in the long run – it would drive us insane. If our only choices to eat were on a McDonald’s Value Menu, we would all soon die of diabetes.

But this is what we seem to want of our public schools. Or do we?
There is a bait and switch going on in this argument for school standardization. When we talk about making all schools the same, we’re not talking about all schools. We’re only talking about traditional public schools. We’re not talking about charter schools, parochial schools or private schools.

How strange! The same people who champion this approach rarely send their own children to public schools. They want sameness for your children but something much different for their own.

I have never heard anyone say this approach should be applied to all schools across the board. That’s very telling. These folks want your kids to be limited to the McDonald’s Value Menu while their kids get to go to a variety of fancy restaurants and choose from a much daintier display.

If standardization were so great, why wouldn’t they want it for their own children? I think that proves how disingenuous this whole argument is. Standardization makes no one smarter. It only increases the differences between social classes.

The rich will get a diverse individualized education while the poor get the educational equivalent of a Happy Meal.

Think about it. Every generation of American that has ever gone to public school managed to get an excellent education without the need for national academic standards. Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Carl Sagan, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Spike Lee, Larry King, and Stan Lee along with 90% of the United States population went to public school. None of them needed national academic standards to succeed.

This is a solution in search of a problem. The only reason we’re being sold the need for these standards is because it makes it easier for corporations to profit off federal, state and local tax dollars set aside for education. New standards mean new text books, new tests, new test prep materials, new software, and new computers. In the case of Common Core, it also means failing as many children as possible to secure a never ending supply of the above and an open door to privatization.

We must wake up to the lies inherent in these sorts of policies. Yes, the Common Core is horrible, but the problem goes far beyond the Common Core.

National Academic Standards are a terrible idea propagated by the 1% to turn the rest of us into barely educated subhumans and boost the bottom line.

Do you want fries with that?


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

 

I am a Public School Teacher. Give Me All the Refugees You’ve Got!

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Come into my classroom any day of the week and you’ll see refugees.

That little Iraqi boy slumped over a book written in Arabic while the rest of the class reads the same story in English. Those twin girls blinking back memories of the Bosnian War as they try to underline possessive nouns on an English worksheet. That brown-skinned boy compulsively rocking back-and-forth in his seat fighting back tears wondering when his dad is going to come home from prison.

Every day, every hour, every minute our public schools are places of refuge for children seeking asylum, fugitives, emigres, exiles, the lost, the displaced, dear hearts seeking a kind word and a caring glance.

Some may shudder or sneer at the prospect of giving shelter to people in need, but that is the reality in our public schools. In the lives of many, many children we provide the only stability, the only safety, the only love they get all day.

And, yes, I do mean love. I love my students. Each and every one of them. Sometimes they are far from lovable. Sometimes they look at me with distrust. They bristle at assignments. They jump when redirected. But those are the ones I try to love the most, because they are the ones most in need.

I told a friend once that I had a student who had escaped from Iraq. His parents had collaborated with the U.S. military and received death threats for their efforts. So he and his family fled to my hometown so far away from his humid desert heartland.

I told her how difficult it was trying to communicate with a student who spoke hardly any English. I complained about budget cuts that made it next to impossible to get an English Language Learner (ELL) instructor to help me more than once a week. And her response was, “Do you feel safe teaching this kid?”

Do I feel safe? The question had never occurred to me. Why wouldn’t I feel safe? I don’t expect ISIS to track him down across the Atlantic Ocean to my class. Nor do I expect this sweet little guy is going to do anything to me except practice his English.

In one of my first classrooms, I had a dozen refugees from Yugoslavia. They had escaped from Slobadan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing. Yet you’d never know unless they told you. They were some of the most well-behaved, thoughtful, intelligent children I’ve had the pleasure to teach. They were always smiling, so happy to be here. They approached every assignment with a seriousness well beyond their years.

But sometimes you’d see a shadow cross their faces. Rarely you’d hear them whispering among themselves. I was so new I didn’t know any better but to come down on them. But later they told me what they had been talking about, what they had been thinking about – how Henry V’s military campaign brought back memories. They taught me that day. Every year I learn so much from my children.

My high poverty school doesn’t get a lot of refugees from overseas these days. But we’re overwhelmed with exiles from our own neighborhood. I can’t tell you how many children I’ve had in class who start off the year at one house and then move to another. I can’t tell you how many come to school bruised and beaten. I can’t tell you how many ask a moment of my time between classes, during my planning period or after school just to talk.

Last week one of my students walked up to me and said, “I’m having a nervous breakdown.”

Class had just been dismissed. I had a desk filled to the ceiling with ungraded essays. I still had to make copies for tomorrow’s parent-teacher conferences. I had gotten to none of it earlier because I had to cover another class during my planning period. But I pushed all of that aside and talked with my student for over an hour.

And I’m not alone. On those few days I get to leave close to on time, I see other teachers doing just like me conferencing and tutoring kids after school.

It was a hard conversation. I had to show him he was worth something. I had to make him feel that he was important to other people, that people cared about him. I hope I was successful. He left with a handshake and a smile.

He may not be from far away climes, but he’s a refugee, too. He’s seeking a safe place, a willing ear, a kind word.

So you’ll forgive me if I sigh impatiently when some in the media and in the government complain about the United States accepting more refugees. What a bunch of cowards!

They act as if it’s a burden. They couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s a privilege.

When I see that iconic picture of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi drowned in Turkey as his family tried to escape the conflict, I find it impossible that anyone could actually refuse these people help. Just imagine! There are a host of others just like this family seeking asylum and we can give it! We have a chance to raise them up, to provide them a place to live, to shelter them from the storm. What an honor! What a privilege! What a chance to be a beacon of light on a day of dark skies!

I’m an American middle class white male. My life hasn’t been trouble free, but I know that I’ve won the lottery of circumstances. Through none of my own doing, I sit atop the social ladder. It is my responsibility to offer a helping hand in every way I can to those on the lower rungs. It is my joy to be able to do it.

It’s what I do everyday at school. When I trudge to my car in the evening dark, I’m exhausted to the marrow of my bones. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s not uncommon for a student or two to see me on the way to my car, shout out my name with glee and give me an impromptu hug. At the end of the day, I know I’ve made a difference. I love being a teacher.

So if we’re considering letting in more refugees, don’t worry about me. Send them all my way. I’ll take all you’ve got. That’s what public schools do.


NOTE: This article also was published in Everyday Feminism, the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog. It was also quoted extensively in an interview the National Education Association did with the author.

 

Prejudice of Poverty: Why Americans Hate the Poor and Worship the Rich

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Take a breath.

Take a deep breath. Let your lungs expand. Let the air collect inside you.

Hold it.

Now exhale slowly. Feels good doesn’t it? You’d never realize there are hundreds of contaminates floating invisible in that air. Dirt, germs, pollution – all entering your body unnoticed but stopped by your immune system.

If only we had such a natural defense against prejudice. Racism, classism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia – we take all that in with every breath, too.

It may not seem like it, but all these value judgments are inherent in American culture. They’re as much a part of life in the United States as the flag, football and apple pie. And to a greater or lesser extent, you have subconsciously accepted them to help construct your ideas of normality.

What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? How should black people be treated? To whom is it appropriate to be sexually attracted? What makes a person poor and why? All of these questions and so many more have been answered one way or another for us by the dominant culture. Not everyone accepts this perceived wisdom, but most of us have swallowed these solutions whole without thought, logic or criticism – and we don’t even know it’s happened.

Take our preconceptions about wealth and poverty.

Well paying jobs are drying up. Minimum wage work is becoming more common. Salaries are shrinking while productivity is increasing. Meanwhile the cost of living continues to rise as does the cost of getting an education.

Yet we still cling to the belief that all rich people deserve their wealth and all poor people deserve their poverty.

When we hear about someone on Welfare or food stamps, we sneer. The average conception is that this person is probably faking it. He or she could have earned enough to avoid public assistance, but he or she isn’t trying hard enough.

Moreover, we KNOW with a certainty that goes beyond mere empiricism that many of the poor still manage to buy the newest sneakers, have flat screen TVs and eat nothing but Porterhouse steaks.

You can hear this kind of story uttered with perfect certainty from the mouths of white, middle class people everywhere. They don’t mind helping people who are really in need, they say, but most poor folks are gaming the system.

Never once do they stop to consider that this story about impoverished individuals living better than middle class Americans is, itself, one of the most pervasive myths in our society. We know it the same way we know all Polish people are dumb, all Asians are smart and all Black people love fried chicken and watermelon.

However, none of this “knowledge” is supported by the facts. Look at the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to the New York Times:

Allegations of fraud, including an informal economy in which food stamps are turned into cash or used to buy liquor, gasoline or other items besides food have been used to argue that the program is out of control. In fact, the black market accounts for just over 1 percent of the total food stamp program, which is far less than fraud in other government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

If you include erroneous payments because of mistakes on applications, overall loss to the food stamp program comes to 4%, according to the Department of Agriculture. Compare that to the 10% lost to Medicare and Medicaid – programs no one is calling to be cut or eliminated.

But figures like these don’t convince the average American. We’re so certain that all or most poor people are just lazy parasites. Everyone “knows” some low-income person they deem to be living too high for their circumstances.

And, yes, sometimes you do see an impoverished individual not wearing rags. Sometimes you do peek into an indigent person’s hovel and see new electronics or game systems.

How does this happen?

Debt.

Credit card companies are waiting in the shadows to extend a line of credit to just about anybody. It’s a safe bet for these businesses. If they give you money today, they can charge exorbitant rates of interest – even more so with the highest risk clientele. But there isn’t much risk to these corporations these days when almost anyone can take a job as a state constable or bail recovery agent to hunt down debtors and bring them to economic justice.

When you see a destitute child with new sneakers, his parents probably bought them with plastic. When you see an X-Box in a needy person’s house, chances are that wasn’t paid for in cash. They used the charge plate and will end up paying for that game system many times what it’s worth.

It’s a problem not limited to the poor. Even middle class folks are drowning up to their eyeballs in debt. As wages have decreased, people have used their credit cards to keep a standard of living they expect. But they’re paying for it with huge portions of their paychecks going to these credit card companies. Yet even though we all do this, middle class folks look down their noses at people lower down the economic ladder for doing the same thing.

In fact, they refuse to even see that obvious truth. Instead they cling to the lie that poor folks are social parasites. We even begrudge them food. Those are my tax dollars going to pay for that penurious person’s free ride, they say.

Unfortunately, we don’t stop to consider how much of our taxes are actually going to help the less fortunate.

Let’s say you make $50,000 a year. That means, you pay $36 toward food stamps. That’s ten cents a day – the same amount many charities ask to help feed starving children in Africa.

If you add all safety net programs, the cost only goes up an additional $6 a year. That doesn’t seem like a huge chunk of my taxes. Honestly, do you begrudge needy people less than the price of a meal for a family of four at Bennigan’s?

By and large, your tax bill isn’t going to the poverty-stricken. It’s going to the wealthy. Over the course of a year, you pay $6,000 for corporate welfare.

You read that right. Six K. Six grand. Six thou. Those are your tax dollars at work, too. And it’s a much larger burden on your bank account than the $42 you shell out for the poor.

What do you get for that $6,000 outlay? It includes at least $870 to direct subsidies and grants for corporations. An additional $870 goes to offset corporate taxes. Another $1,231 goes to plug holes in the federal budget from revenue lost to corporate tax havens. Oh! And don’t forget a sizable chunk for subsidies to Big Oil companies that are polluting our skies and fueling climate change and global warming.

Most of your money isn’t going to feed hungry children. It’s going to recoup losses for giant transnational corporations like Apple and GE that hide their money overseas to boost profits and avoid paying taxes for things we all need like schools, police and fire departments.

This money subsidizes giant multi-national corporations that are already making billions and billions of dollars in profit each year. In the past decade alone, corporations have doubled their profits – all while reducing their American workforces and sending jobs overseas. Yet we only complain about poor folks using food stamps and buying new sneakers on credit.

Why is that? Why does it only bother us when poor people get help and not when huge corporations do?

Part of it is the media. We’ve been convinced that big business deserves its money and poor people don’t. Another part of it is that these facts often go underreported. Movies and TV shows love portraying the parasite poor person but rarely portray the corporate leech. Outside of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol,” the wealthy are usually portrayed in the most positive light possible and not as addicts hoarding cash they don’t need to compete with each other in a childish game of one-upmanship.

Finally, there is the racial and sexual element. By and large, corporations are run by white males. The poor are mostly black, brown and though women make up a slightly higher percentage than men, it is often conceptualized as uniquely female. Take the term Welfare Queen. Why is there no Welfare King? How telling that our conception only allows for one gender in this role!

The reality is much different. The true Welfare Queens are Big Businesses. They make unprecedented profits and avoid paying taxes on them. They have tons of cash on hand but never can seem to get enough. And if we increased the corporate tax rate to what it was in the 1950s when the Unite States was more prosperous than it has ever been, these same corporations would still be Filthy. Stinking. Rich.

So the next time you hear someone blaming the poor for gobbling up your taxes, remember the facts. First, it’s simply not true. There is no widespread fraud by the poor. They are not gaming the system. They are not putting an undue burden on the middle class. However, big business IS – in fact – cheating you out of income. Business people are getting fabulously wealthy on your dime – and even if we stopped subsidizing them, they’d still be fabulously wealthy!

Finally, don’t ignore the racial component. Would middle class Caucasians still complain so vehemently about the poor if they weren’t mostly talking about Black people, Latinos and women? I doubt it.

We may breath in these prejudices but we’re not helpless. It’s up to all of us to dispel these myths, not to let them stand, to confront them every time they come up. And, yes, I mean EVERY. TIME.

The only immune system we have as a society is education, knowledge, wisdom. And once you know the truth, don’t let anyone get away with this kind of racist, classist bullshit.


NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

 

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

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Welcome to sunny Puerto Rico.

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

The protest has begun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not all.

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

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

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

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

“Teachers will have no rights,” Martinez says.

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

Discussions began in the House last week.

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

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

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

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

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Puerto Ricans are not alone in this fight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As you can see, we’ve been busy.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

While Hillary Clinton Courts Teachers, Bernie Sanders May Have Conceded The Education Vote

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Hillary Clinton has made huge strides this week courting education voters. The Democratic Presidential candidate made a statement critical of scandal ridden charter schools. She also met with educators to answer questions in a closed door meeting.

Meanwhile Clinton’s main competition for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, remains silent on K-12 public education. He’s a favorite among teachers but he hasn’t really articulated much of an education policy at all.

Parents, educators and students are looking for a candidate with the guts to turn away from the destructive school policies of the last two presidents. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have increased privatization and standardized testing while reducing teacher and community autonomy. Instead of helping alleviate an epidemic of child poverty, they have blamed the problem on schools and teachers while starving them of the funding they need to succeed.

Frankly, moving away from these corporate education reform policies is a bad fit for Clinton. Her past education positions have been almost identical to that of the Obama administration. She’s been a strong advocate for charter schools and Common Core. She receives hefty support from wealthy corporate school reformers like Eli Broad, George Soros, Bill and Melinda Gates and the Walton family. After all, her first major policy achievement was her 1983 campaign to establish accountability-based school reform in Arkansas when her husband was Governor.

Her connections to this movement have not weakened. Just this week, #TeachStrong – an education reform organization – was launched with ties to Clinton. The group is organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP) – a think tank long affiliated with both Hillary and Bill. Husband and wife have hired numerous staffers from this organization and have championed policies that originated behind CAP’s closed doors. Many education observers are theorizing that the #TeachStrong initiatives which blame teachers and try to make their lives more difficult will eventually become Clinton’s education policies if she becomes President.

By contrast, Sanders would seem to be well suited to oppose these corporate-driven school reforms. He’s anti-privatization, anti-Wall Street and pro-worker. His vitriol against the banking industry and the 1% using tax loopholes to avoid paying their fair share would only be enhanced if he included corporate school reformers on his hit list. These are, after all, most of the same people he’s already going after just for different reasons. Unfortunately, he has yet to embrace public schools. Up to this week, both he and Clinton favored only pre-kindergarten and college support. Now she has started talking about K-12, but Sanders’ lips remain buttoned.

Perhaps this is because he thinks education voters have already sided with Clinton. The largest teachers unions – The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – both endorsed Clinton in the primary. However, in each case these endorsements were highly controversial coming mainly from union leaders without much or any involvement from rank and file members.

Clinton seems to know that top-down endorsements alone won’t get her votes. She needs to win the hearts and minds of membership, and she seems to be committed to doing just that. Her education comments may not be entirely satisfactory, her connections may be highly unsavory, and her history may be deeply disturbing, but at least she’s making the effort to reach out to voters who care about the education system.

Sanders, where are you? You’re a Democratic Socialist. You say you’re committed to the public good. What is a greater public good than public schools? The education vote is by no means decided. It remains on the table for either candidate to take.

Personally, I don’t think Clinton is a good choice to come to education’s rescue. No matter what she says, I just don’t trust her. Someone who champions privatization isn’t going to save us from for-profit charter schools. Someone who is in bed with the testing industry isn’t going to reduce standardized testing. Someone who helped establish Common Core isn’t going to repeal it.

But if I’m honest, Sanders has skeletons in his closet, too. In the Senate he voted to expand charter school funding, voted for No Child Left Behind and most recently voted to keep test and punish policies in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. However, given everything else he espouses, all these votes seem like anomalies. While Hillary looks like a seasoned professional who knows exactly what she’s doing in education circles, Bernie seems like a bumbling amateur who keeps making mistakes. It appears all he needs is a good talking to, someone to explain how our interests and his align perfectly. (Call me maybe!)

Of course, there is another possibility. Perhaps Sanders is against us as much as Clinton. Perhaps there is no major politician out there who has any interest in saving our schools.

Perhaps we really are alone.

In that case, maybe we shouldn’t wait for major politicians to come to us. Maybe we should consider supporting someone who is honestly in favor of us but does not yet have much political clout.

What say you, Dr. Jill Stein?

In the meantime I find myself waiting impatiently for Sanders to make his move. But I won’t wait forever. If he wants my vote – and the votes of hundreds of thousands of parents and teachers – he’s going to have to make his case.

Otherwise, we’ll look somewhere else.


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