Do We Still Have a Functioning Democracy?

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Do we still have a functioning democracy?

Really.

Do we?

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

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

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

But there were no people.

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

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

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

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

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

When I say “we” I don’t mean me.

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

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

That election literally sent me to the ICU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How am I supposed to choose between these people?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teacher Seniority – the Seat Belts of the Education Profession

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You wouldn’t travel a long distance in your car without strapping on a seatbelt.

So why do you think teachers should spend 30 plus years in the classroom without seniority?

Everywhere you look, billionaires are paying millionaires in government to pass laws to cut taxes, slash funding and find cheaper ways to run public schools for pleb kids like yours and mine. And that often means finding ways to weaken protections for teachers, fire those with the most experience and replace them with glorified WalMart greeters.

“Hello. Welcome to SchoolMart. Please plug into your iPad and begin today’s lesson.”

This is class warfare cloaked as a coupon. It’s sabotage described as savings.

And the only way they get away with it is because reasonable people buy the steaming load of manure they’re selling.

MYTH: Seniority with Tenure means a Job for Life

Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of teachers out of work.

Tell that to all the optimistic go getters who prance out of college ready to change the world as teachers and fizzle out during the first five years.

Tell it to the handful of truly terrible teachers who for reasons only they can explain stay in a job they hate through countless interventions and retrainings until the principal has no choice but to give them their walking papers.

Oh, yes. Teachers DO get fired. I’ve seen it with my own eyes numerous times. And in each case, they truly deserved it.

(Any “bad teachers” still on the job mean there’s a worse administrator somewhere neglecting to do his or her duty.)

So what does “Seniority” and “Tenure” even mean for teachers?

Basically, it means two things:

(1) If you want to fire a teacher, you have to prove he or she deserves it. That’s Tenure.

(2) When public school districts downsize, they can’t just lay off people based on their salaries. That’s Seniority.

If you think about it, both of these are good things.

It is not a good work environment for teachers or students when educators can be fired without cause at the whim of incoming administration or radical, newly-elected school board members. Teaching is one of the most political professions we have. Tenure shields educators from the winds of partisanship. It allows them to grade children fairly whose parents have connections on the school board, it allows them to speak honestly and openly about school policy, and it empowers them to act in the best interests of their students – all things that otherwise could jeopardize their jobs.

Likewise, seniority stops the budget butchers from making experience and stability a liability.

It stops number crunchers from saying:

Hey, Mrs. Wilson has been here for 25 years. She’s got a shelf full of teaching awards. Parents and students love her. But she’s at the top of the salary scale so she’s gotta’ go.

I know what you’re going to say: Aren’t there younger teachers who are also outstanding?

Yes. There are.

However, if you put all the best teachers in one group, most of them will be more experienced.

It just makes sense. You get better at something – anything – the more you do it. This could be baking pies, building houses or teaching children how to read and write.

So why don’t we keep the best teachers and get rid of those who aren’t up to their level?

Because determining who’s the best is subjective. And if you let the moneymen decide – POOF! – suddenly the teachers who make the most money will disappear and only the cheapest ones will be left.

Couldn’t you base it on something more universal like student test scores?

Yes, you could, but student test scores are a terrible way to evaluate teachers. If you wanted to get rid of the highest paid employees, all you’d have to do is give them the most struggling students. Suddenly, their students have the worst test scores, and they’re packing up their stuff in little cardboard boxes.

Almost any stat can be gamed.

The only one that is solidly unbiased? Seniority.

You’ve either been here 15 years or you haven’t. There’s not much anyone can do to change that fact.

That’s why it prevents the kind of creative accounting you see from penny pinching number crunchers.

Along with Tenure, Seniority is a safety net. Pure and simple. It helps keep the most qualified teachers in the room with kids. Period.

But look. It’s not perfect.

Neither are seat belts.

If you’re in a car crash on a bridge where it’s necessary to get out of your vehicle quickly before it plunges into the water below, it’s possible your seat belt may make it more difficult to reach safety. This is rather rare, and it doesn’t stop most people from buckling up.

I’ve known excellent teachers who were furloughed while less creative ones were kept on. It does happen.

But if we got rid of seniority, it would happen way more often.

That’s the bottom line.

Instead of finding more leeway to fire more teachers, we should be finding ways to increase school funding – especially at the most under-resourced schools – which, by the way, are the ones where lawmakers most want to eliminate seniority. We should be looking for ways to make downsizing unnecessary. We should be investing in our children and our future.

We’ll never improve the quality of the public school system by firing our way to the bottom. That’s like trying to lose weight by hacking at yourself with a straight razor. It just won’t work.

We need to commit to public schools. We need to commit to public school students. And the best way to do that is to support the teachers who devote their lives showing up every day to help them learn.

Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage

 

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America’s public schools are in crisis.

 

Because people make money when America’s public schools are in crisis.

 

And who sits atop this mountain of bribery and malfeasance?

 

Who gives the money that buys the politicians who make the laws that hurt the kids and profits the donors?

 

It’s none other than Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage!

 

Systemic underfunding, laissez-faire segregation and privileging privatization – this is what our children face every day.

 

It’s time we as a nation stop, take a moment – and offer our hearty congratulations to this years most pernicious saboteurs.

 

And what a year it was for disrupting education!

 

Charter schools, voucher schools – no one has benefited more from chucking the public school model in the trash in favor of control by corporations and bureaucrats than Betsy DeVos.

 

Because she’s both a dark money influence peddler AND a government flunky!

 

A two-for!

 

She turned complete ignorance and animosity toward public schools into the highest federal government job overseeing education! Her only qualification? CA-CHING!

 

But coming up right behind Ms. DeVos is this year’s crowned king.

 

He certainly knows a thing or two about CA-CHING!

 

It’s Bill Gates!

 

Progressive philanthropist by day, by night he transforms into the largest single purveyor of palm grease in the nation. No one has turned tax avoidance into influence more than Gates, the money behind the Common Core, evaluating teachers on student test scores and a plethora of irrational, untested ideas that are only considered mainstream because they have literally trillions of dollars behind them.

 

So there you have it, America! Your Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage!

 

Let’s take a closer look at these… winners.

 

 

DEVOS

 

As U.S. Secretary of Education, she’s proposed cutting $10 billion in public school funding, announced changes to make it harder for college students to report sexual assaults, and put struggling university students at risk of higher debt payments with changes to student loans.

 

But that’s child’s play for the billionaire heiress who married into even more money.

 

Now she’s planning to weaken the rights of students with disabilities.

 

That’s right – Jason Vorhees, Michael Myer, Freddy Kruger, they all went after those pesky post-graduate teenagers. But none of them had the audacity to go after kids with learning disabilities!

 

It’s not that DeVos is undoing any laws. She’s erasing decades of government guidance about how the laws are to be interpreted. And though she claims these 72 directives are simply “outdated unnecessary or ineffective,” she’s not replacing them with anything else. They’re just – gone.

 

Of the 72 guidelines, 63 affect special education and 9 affect student rehabilitation. And these aren’t simply undoing the work of the Obama administration. Some of these regulations have been in place since the 1980s.

 

The rescinded policies include “Satellite Centers for Independent Living,” “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Handicap in Programs and Activities Receiving or Benefiting From Federal Financial Assistance,” and “Information on the Provision of Vocational Rehabilitation Services to Individuals With Hearing Loss (Deaf and Hard of Hearing).”

 

Bah! Who needs all this paperwork?

 

Parents and students. That’s who.

 

These guidelines have helped parents of disabled and special education children advocate for their young ones’ rights. Without them, it may be more difficult for parents and teachers to ensure all children are receiving a free and appropriate education.

 

That’s some seriously stone cold sabotage, Ms. DeVos!

 

But at least her motivation is obvious to anyone with eyes.

 

She’s not purposefully making the lives of K-12, special education and college kids more difficult. Well, she is, but she’s not doing it out of spite. She’s doing it because it helps her investment portfolio.

 

How can she continue to promote charter and voucher schools that don’t provide the same kinds of quality services for special education and disable students as public schools do? She needs to degrade what the public schools provide, thereby making the privatized alternatives more marketable.

 

How can she keep making money off predatory lenders unless she loosens the rules to allow them more freedom to gorge on student debt? And how can she keep her lucrative job bending the rules in her favor unless she throws some red meat to the racists, misogynists and anti-Semites who helped elect her boss into the Oval Office?

 

 

 

And if kids get hurt, well those aren’t the people she’s looking out for, are they?

 

She’s only out for the other rich elites like herself making a mint off of our public tax dollars!

 

It’s almost enough to make you miss Arne Duncan.

 

Almost…

 

(Nah. Not really.)

 

 

GATES

 

 

Bill Gates, on the other hand, is more contrite.

 

His Common Core initiative has kind of exploded in his face.

 

No one likes it. NO ONE.

 

In fact, it was one of the key talking points President Trump used to garner support. The public’s hatred of Democratic plutocracy made them suckers for the Republican variety.

 

The problem isn’t so much political. It’s economic.

 

It’s rich people who think they can do whatever they want with the rest of us and our children.

 

More than anyone else, Gates is guilty of that kind of unexamined, unrepentant hubris.

 

Yet to hear him talk, after a string of education policy disasters, he’s learned his lesson.

 

He’s sorry – like a crack addict is after hitting rock bottom. But he’ll somehow find the courage to light up again.

 

Gates now admits that the approximate $2 billion he spent pushing us to break up large high schools into smaller schools was a bust.

 

Then he spent $100 million on inBloom, a corporation he financed that would quietly steal student data and sell it to the corporate world. However, that blew up when parents found out and demanded their children be protected.

 

Oops. His bad?

 

He also quietly admits that the $80 million he spent pushing for teachers to be evaluated on student test scores was a mistake. However, state, federal and local governments often still insist on enacting it despite all the evidence against it. Teachers have literally committed suicide over these unfair evaluations, but whatever. Bill learned a lesson.

 

When it comes to Common Core, though, Bill refuses to take his medicine – even to mouth the words.

 

By any metric, these poor quality uniform academic standards are an abject failure. He spent hundreds of millions of dollars for development and promotion. He influenced trillions of taxpayer dollars to be poured down the drain on it. All to no avail.

 

Instead, he’s quietly backing away. No explanation. No apology. Just on to something new.

 

Kind of like: “That didn’t work. Let’s try something else!”

 

His new plan – spend $1.7 billion over five years to develop new curriculums and networks of schools, use data to drive continuous improvement, and give out grants to high needs schools to do whatever he says.

 

What’s so frustrating is that Gates shows glimmers of self-awareness.

 

“It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade,” he said during a speech at Harvard in 2014.

 

But then when he sees it isn’t working, he just doubles down on the same crap.

 

While he may not be committed to any one policy, Gates is committed to the idea that he knows best. Whatever nonsense bull crap that floats through his mind deserves to be tried out on a national scale.

 

No asking experts. No asking teachers, parents or students. Just listen to me, Bill Gates, because I’m rich and that makes me better than you.

 

No, it doesn’t Bill. It makes you just like Betsy DeVos.

 

So there they are. Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage.

 

Short may their reign be.

 

 

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Will the REAL Grassroots Activists Please Stand Up – Teachers or School Privatization Lobbyists?

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Everyone claims to be grassroots.

 

We’re the ordinary people – they say – the Hoi Polloi, the everyday Joes and Janes who make the world go round.

 

Which is to say we’re NOT the wealthy elite who get what they want simply by buying lawmakers and the political process.

 

You’d think the plutocrats wouldn’t even bother hiding. After all, it should be pretty obvious who is who.

 

One group has barrels full of cash. The other has numbers. However, our laws are written to obscure exactly how much money any one side has. And if you have money, you can use it to buy bodies to line up on your side and “prove” you have numbers.

 

So when it comes to the American education system, which side truly represents the grassroots – those supporting privatized schools like charter and voucher institutions or those supporting public schools?

 

It’s kind of a ridiculous question to ask, when you come to think of it.

 

One side actively lobbies for big business and huge corporations to take over local schools and districts. The other supports neighborhood schools.

 

One side pushes for schools to be striped of local control and instead to be managed by private equity firms and corporate officers. The other supports democratically elected school boards.

 

One side demands taxpayer dollars be available as profit that they can pocket and spend on mansions, yachts and jewelry. The other fights for transparency and for all taxpayer funds to be used in the service of educating children.

 

Which side do you THINK represents the little guy and which represents Goliath? Which side do you THINK represents the Rebel Alliance and which the Galactic Empire?

 

Come on now!

 

It’s the public school advocates who represent the common people. They are literally an extension of the masses struggle to reassert control over their lives and our society. Not those looking to raid our public services for fun and profit!

 

People get kind of upset when you try to do that. So when the villagers show up with torches and pitchforks, it does little good to argue that money equals speech. Better for the aristocrats to disguise themselves in peasant garb.

 

Enter Jeanne Allen.

 

She wants to convince you she’s the real underdog grassroots champion.

 

As Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the Center for Education Reform, she’s spent most of her career lobbying for public schools to be gobbled up by private enterprise.

 

So when the folks behind a new documentary about school privatization, “Backpack Full of Cash,” had the gall to cast her and her organization as the bad guy, she did what any grassroots activist would – she called the Hollywood Reporter.

 

Why would anyone be against charter and voucher schools, she whined. They just suck away necessary funds from the already underfunded neighborhood school so that businesspeople can play with your tax money. They just cut services for children and parents while miraculously transforming the savings into yummy profit.

 

I can’t imagine why anyone is calling her out. Can you?

 

But perhaps the most pernicious aspect of her argument is monetary.

 

Allen, the Center for Education Reform and the entire corporate education reform movement are the real grassroots, she says, because they are outspent by the opposition.

 

By which she means teachers unions. As if the overwhelming majority of parents, students, social scientists, civil rights activists and concerned citizens somehow didn’t count.

 

But oh well.

 

“The people praised in the film” (i.e. public school teachers) “get paid from taxpayer dollars,” Allen told the Hollywood Reporter, as if the people the film criticizes (charter and voucher operators) don’t also get paid from the same pot.

 

“The teachers unions spend $300 million a year on political races. We don’t have that kind of money.”

 

Is that true?

 

Are those pushing for corporate control of our schools really unable to match the monetary might of the big bad teachers unions?

 

Well, first let’s examine the number Allen bandies about as if it were fact.

 

$300 million. Do teachers unions actually spend that much annually on political races?

 

It’s doubtful. The entire operating budget for the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers union in the country, is only $367 million. And the union does an awful lot besides lobby lawmakers for pro-education public policy. It raises funds for scholarships, conducts professional development workshops, bargains contracts for school employees, files legal action on behalf of teachers to protect their rights, and partners with other education organizations to promote sound educational practices. Political lobbying is an important part of what unions do, but if they spent what they’re accused of spending on it – even if you include other unions like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – they couldn’t do the rest of what they do.

 

It turns out the figure Allen uses is a stale conservative talking point that Poltifact, a non-partisan fact checking Website, rated as false.

 

It’s based on a funding target the unions had for the 2008 election of which the unions fell short by almost a third. But now right-wingers and anti-labor trolls everywhere are married to that number and quote it as if it were fact.

 

In the real world, where Fox News talking points aren’t accepted without question, it’s increasingly difficult to determine exactly how much organizations spend on politics. But it’s incredibly doubtful teachers unions have the monetary might attributed to them by corporate school reformers.

 

And speaking of those who fight on behalf of poor beleaguered corporate America, how much do THEY have to spend fighting public schools?

 

Well, let’s just take two of their most famous backers – Charles and David Koch.

 

This duo runs one of the largest privately held companies in the United States: Koch Industries. It is involved in petroleum, chemicals, natural gas, plastics, paper and ranching. In 2013, Forbes said it had an annual revenue of $115 billion.

 

That’s an incredible amount of resources they can draw on every year when compared to teachers unions. The NEA would have to bring in more than three times its annual revenue to even come close to matching 1% of the Koch’s annual pay.

 

And do the Kochs spend on politics? You BET they do!

 

In 2012, alone, they spent at least $407 million on Mitt Romeny’s Presidential campaign! Yes, just that one campaign! They spent more on others! But even if we limit it there, that’s more than even the most absurd estimates of teacher’s unions political spending.

 

And they’re only two people!

 

We’re comparing about 3 million members of the NEA, and 1.5 million members of the AFT with two individual human beings.

 

Even if teachers unions spent $300 million, that only comes to less than $67 per member.

 

A quick look at Allen’s backers at the Center for Education Reform includes some of the richest people on Earth including: Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walton Family and Eli Broad.

 

And this woman has the nerve to cry poor in comparison to the big bad teachers!

 

Herself, she draws a six-figure salary as the organization’s President Emeritus – well more than the overwhelming majority of teachers.

 

But you’ll still find corporate reformers who contest this analysis with creative accounting. They’ll give you a spreadsheet with hundreds of millions of union dollars laid bare compared with a handful of poor billionaires who just can’t scrape together enough change in the couch cushions. And to do so, they’ll hide the super richs’ donations to super PACs or exclude dark money contributions, etc.

 

Look, I’m not saying our campaign finance system is perfect. In fact, it’s pretty messed up.

 

I am the first person to advocate for getting money out of politics. No more defining money as speech. One person, one vote.

 

But you must realize, the super wealthy don’t want that. More than anything else it would exponentially increase the power of the unions and the middle class from which they come. Not to mention their allies – the parents, students, child advocates, etc.

 

You really don’t need a detailed analysis of each group’s relative financial worth. You just have to look at who is in each group.

 

We’re talking the richest 1% of people on the planet backing charter and voucher schools versus teachers, parents, students, college professors, civil rights activists and concerned citizens backing public schools.

 

Which group do you think truly represents the grassroots?

 

Which group is an authentic demonstration of the will of the people?

 

And which is emblematic of the arrogant, hypocritical wealth class demanding we all bow down to the power of their pocketbooks?

 

You decide.

‘Schools of the Future’ And Other Scams to Monetize Your Child

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Do you feel it?

The future is coming.

There it is hovering just over the horizon.

You squint your eyes trying to get a quick peak before it arrives. But that rarely works. By the time it’s here, it’s never quite in the shape you expected.

Yet we always stop and listen to the prophets and prognosticators. Those google eyed figures, wearing trench coats and sandwich boards standing proudly on milk crates and cracking open their mouths to vociferously voice their “visions.”

They smell like B.O. There are insects in their hair. And their mouths spray halitosis as much as haloes.

Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t trust them to park our cars, to give us directions, to do just about anything. But when it comes to “The Future” somehow we swallow their swill with conviction.

Through sheer force of charisma they convince us that their predictions will come to pass and if we’re smart we’ll invest in their brand of patented polished snake oil.

So we’ll be ready.

Just once I wish people would heed the skepticisms of the doubting Cassandras. But so it goes.

This week it’s “Schools of the Future.”

Everywhere you look it seems you’ll find some slickly produced inducement to “Rethink schools.” Some admonition to completely change public schools. Some empty promise in naked technology to save us all.

They’ll tell you that our public schools haven’t changed in a century. They’re set up for the agricultural past. Or schools are great for creating assembly line workers for the industrial revolution, but times have changed. And education needs to change with them.

Never mind that schools were never designed to supply any workforce. Their goal was – and is – to help the next generation become citizens capable of free thought.

But whatever.

This sales pitch about outmoded schools sounds really nice.

It resonates.

It makes us feel good.

Yes, I KNEW there was something wrong with my public school. That explains my own failures. I mean, I went through 12 plus years of public schooling and look at me! I’m not one of the handful of billionaires who own the world. It MUST have been the school’s fault!

Forget economic inequality, money in politics or any of that progressive crap! I could be sitting on top of the world with my boot firmly planted on the neck of everyone else – if only the public school had taught me right.

PLEASE!

But this is the comforting lie many folks tell themselves and one of the major reasons corporate school reformers get away with raiding public education. Their lies flatter white people’s vanity.

So billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs’ bought a four-network propaganda hour telling us to “rethink” high school while Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ began her “Rethink Schools” publicity tour days later.

As if the thought never occurred to anyone else.

Rethink schools? What do you think classroom teachers do? We rethink every lesson every day!

It’s standard practice. We call it reflection. Some of us even keep reflection journals where we jot down things that worked and things that didn’t.

Haven’t these privileged fools ever logged on to the blogosphere? The Internet is fit to bursting with teacher blogs overflowing with ideas about how to change things up. This very blog has been pushing authentic reform after authentic reform – but the powers that be – people like DeVos and her billionaire philanthrocapitalist peers – aren’t listening.

You want to rethink schools? How about sitting down and shutting up?

Seriously.

Let the experts have a say for once.

Classroom teachers have much more experience than you do. We’re there every single day engaged in the actual practice of teaching children. You learn something about it by doing it for at least 180 days a year, for decades. And that’s not even counting the years of college preparation before even entering the classroom, the pedagogy, debate, and hard won wisdom of generations of teachers before us.

Meanwhile, all you have is a bank account.

You’ve hardly stepped foot in a public school to do more than spit on it. Nor did you likely experience it as a student or parent of students who go there.

You know nothing. And that’s no sin in itself.

Many people are ignorant of a great many things. I, for one, am completely ignorant of how to fly an airplane. That’s why I’d never dream of busting open the cockpit and preceding to tell the captain how to land the plane!

But you are not humble enough to admit your own ignorance. You think your money gives you the ability to do anything. After all, you DESERVE all those billions. It’s not an accident of birth or circumstances. You’re just that good, that special, that much better than the rest of us.

And what kind of brilliance do we get from these pampered prophets?

Here’s DeVos remarks to faculty and students at Woods Learning Center in Casper, Wyoming, from Sept. 12:

“…I’m issuing a bold challenge this week: it’s time to rethink school.

For far too many kids, this year’s first day back to school looks and feels a lot like last year’s first day back to school. And the year before that. And the generation before that. And the generation before that!

That means your parent’s parent’s parents!

Most students are starting a new school year that is all too familiar. Desks lined up in rows. Their teacher standing in front of the room, framed by a blackboard. They dive into a curriculum written for the “average” student. They follow the same schedule, the same routine—just waiting to be saved by the bell.”

All that money and the best you can come up with are that we should rearrange the desks!?

It just goes to show that you don’t know what goes on in real public schools.

My middle school classroom doesn’t have desks. We have tables that seat four.

Yes, those seats typically begin the day with students facing the teacher and the board. But you could say the same of seats at any auditorium since Plato’s day. I don’t hear anyone talking about rethinking that!

In any case, seats are mobile. I direct my students to move their seats all around the room. Just yesterday we had them in a circle. The day before, they were in small groups. And many days my students aren’t even in their seats – they’re wandering around the room doing some sort of task or project.

None of this is that revolutionary. Most middle school teachers do the same thing. You have to. Kids that age don’t have the attention span to sit in their seats in the same position for 40 plus minutes at a time.

Seats are often more stationary at the high school level, and they’re probably even less fixed at the elementary.

You would know this if you ever talked to a public school teacher. But, no. You know best because of your net worth.

Let me tell you something. Public schools today are much different than they were in the past.

For example, the way we teach special needs children is light years away from what it was just a few decades ago. We used to send these children to specialized facilities or classrooms in the basement well away from other students. Now, they’re mainstreamed and their educations are dramatically tailored to meet each student’s individual needs.

Schools used to just be about the three R’s – reading, writing and ‘rtithmetic. Today at wealthier districts, students have a wide range of courses to choose from. They have arts, music, foreign languages, vo-tech, extra-curriculars, computer science, robotics, drama, almost anything you can think of! I wish this were true at all schools, but that’s a funding issue, not a lack of innovation.

Many schools are less segregated today than they were before Brown v. Board. The courts have let us down in supporting this Supreme Court decision, instead permitting an awful lot of regression in some districts. But even at the most resegregated schools, they are rarely100% one race or another. We should do something to increase integration, but don’t tell me we haven’t made progress.

Let’s get one thing straight.

People like DeVos and Jobs only care about “rethinking” schools because they have a product to sell.

They’re promoting a problem so they can sell us the solution. They want us to buy more charter and voucher schools, more edutech competency based education B.S., more testing, more publisher and computer boondoggles.

You want real innovative reforms in our public schools?

Here’s what you do.

First step, give the reigns to public school teachers. We’ll tell you what needs to be done.

Here’s a short list:

-Stop privatizing and start supporting public schools.

-Give us equitable funding so that poor and minority students have the funding they need to learn.

Integrate schools again – both racially and economically – no more schools for rich white kids and schools for poor black kids.

Get rid of high stakes testing use funding allocation, spending decisions, principal classroom observations and student projects for accountability purposes, not scores on a limited and biased multiple choice test.

Repeal Common Core and let teachers write their own academic standards instead of being beholden to goals written by corporations to sell their own products and tests.

-Make a national commitment to reducing class size across the board, hire more teachers, increase their autonomy and salary.

Examine very closely every use of technology in the classroom to make sure student data isn’t being stolen by corporations, devices aren’t used for test prep or babysitting, and beware Trojan horse edutech applications like so-called personalized learning and competency based education.

Those are the kinds of reforms that would actually help improve our public schools.

But you can only learn that if you have the humility to listen to the experts – classroom teachers.

And people like DeVos and Jobs have proven they don’t have an ounce of humility.

Perhaps we don’t need to rethink schools. We just need to rethink our standards of expertise.

Betsy’s Choice: School Privatization Over Kids’ Civil Rights

Betsy DeVos attends education meeting at the White House in Washington

 

Betsy DeVos seems to be confused about her job.

 

As U.S. Secretary of Education, she is responsible for upholding the civil rights of all U.S. students.

 

She is NOT a paid lobbyist for the school privatization industry.

 

Yet when asked point blank by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) whether her department would ensure that private schools receiving federal school vouchers don’t discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students, she refused to give a straight answer.

 

She said that the these schools would be required to follow all federal antidiscrimination laws but her department would not issue any clarifications or directives about exactly how they should be doing it.

 

“On areas where the law is unsettled, this department is not going to be issuing decrees. That is a matter for Congress and the courts to settle,” DeVos said at a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education yesterday.

 

“I think you just said where it’s unsettled, such discrimination will continue to be allowed under your program. If that’s incorrect, please correct it for the record,” Merkley replied.

 

DeVos did not correct him.

 

Instead she simply repeated, “Schools that receive federal funds will follow federal law, period.”

 

Merkley said she was dodging the question.

“I think that’s very important for the public to know, that today, the secretary of education, before this committee, refused to affirm that she would put forward a program that would ban discrimination based on LGBTQ status of students or would ban discrimination based on religion,” he said.

 

“Discrimination in any form is wrong. I don’t support discrimination in any form,” DeVos replied.

 

But that doesn’t mean she’ll fight against it.

 

She held firm to her position that it is not her job as Secretary of Education to fight for students’ civil rights. That is the responsibility of Congress and the courts.

 

But she’s wrong.

 

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is part of the Department of Education.

 

According to the department’s own Website, the “OCR’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools.”

 

There is nothing “unsettled” about that at all. What IS unsettled is how and if the U.S. Constitution allows federal funds to be spent on private schools in any manner whatsoever.

 

At very least, it has been argued that giving tax dollars to parochial schools violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment guaranteeing a separation of church and state. Moreover, the degree to which voucher schools that don’t explicitly teach religion would have to abide by federal laws about what they can and should do is likewise “unsettled.”

 

Yet DeVos has no problem advocating for the school privatization industry. In fact, it has been her lifelong calling. As a billionaire Republican mega-donor, that’s exactly what she’s done for years – shoving bundles of cash at candidates and lawmakers to support school vouchers and charter schools.

 

Someone needs to remind her that that is no longer her role. In her official capacity as Secretary of Education, her job is not to advocate for school choice. But it IS her job to protect students’ civil rights – regardless of the type of school those students attend.

 

If a school is at all public, she is responsible for ensuring those students’ rights. And receiving public funds makes a school public.

 

 

Specifically, she is responsible for ensuring no child is discriminated against on the basis of race, color and national origin, according to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This includes protecting children who are being treated unfairly due to limited understanding of the English language or who are still learning to speak the language. This includes children experiencing bigotry as a result of their shared ancestry, ethnicity or religion such as Muslims, Sikhs or Jews.

 

 

It is also her job to protect children from sexual discrimination as per Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  No matter her own personal conservative views, she must protect pregnant teens or teen parents. And to speak toward Merkley’s point, according to the Department’s Website, this explicitly includes, “…sex stereotypes (such as treating persons differently because they do not conform to sex-role expectations or because they are attracted to or are in relationships with persons of the same sex); and gender identity or transgender status.”

 

She is also required to be a champion of students with disabilities as per Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Moreover, Title II explicitly forbids public entities – whether or not they receive federal funds – from demonstrating any partiality against students with disabilities.

 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She has to protect against age discrimination per the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 and enforce the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act. She is responsible for investigating complaints about equal access to youth groups conducting meetings at public schools and/or that receive federal funding.

 

To quote the Website, one more time:

 

“These civil rights laws extend to all state education agencies, elementary and secondary school systems, colleges and universities, vocational schools, proprietary schools, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, libraries and museums that receive federal financial assistance from ED [the Education Department].”

 

I’m not so sure DeVos understand this – at all.

 

Nor do I expect her to get much help from the political ideologues she’s using to staff the department.

 

Take her choice for Assistant Secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson.

 

She’s an ANTI-Civil Rights activist. She literally doesn’t believe in the office she’s running.

 

The 39-year-old attorney is anti-women’s rights, anti-distributive justice and possibly even anti-compulsory education and anti-Civil Rights Act of 1964!

 

She once filed a complaint against her prestigious college, Stanford University, for discriminating against her rights as a rich, white person by refusing to allow her access to free minority tutoring.

 

For all its faults, the Barack Obama administration took civil rights seriously. So much so that conservatives often criticized the Democratic organization as being overzealous in the execution of its duties.

 

The Obama era Education Department issued so many clarifications of the law that it received a record number of civil rights complaints. This required hundreds of additional lawyers and investigators and increasing the civil rights division by 30 percent.

 

Complaints went from more than six thousand in 2009 to almost ten thousand in 2015. Of these, the largest increase was in complaints of sex discrimination.

 

However, President Donald Trump has recommended the Department be downsized in his budget proposal.

 

The Reality TV star would cut the Department’s budget by 13 percent, or $9 billion, eliminating after-school and summer programming for kids and professional development for teachers.  Instead, he would invest $250 million in a school voucher incentive program and an additional $168 million for charter schools.

 

Also, getting a boost is personal security for DeVos, herself. She is spending an additional $1 million a month for U.S. Marshalls to guard her against protesters.

 

It should come as no surprise that Trump and DeVos don’t support the mission of the Department of Education. Both have expressed interest in disbanding the office altogether.

 

In a February magazine interview, DeVos said, “It would be fine with me to have myself worked out of a job. But I’m not sure that – I’m not sure that there will be a champion movement in Congress to do that.”

 

Likewise, Trump wrote in his 2015 book “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America” that “if we don’t eliminate [the department] completely, we certainly need to cut its power and reach.”

 

That is exactly what DeVos is doing.

 

Under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, it could be argued the Department was guilty of overreach. But Trump and DeVos are going in the opposite extreme.

 

Someone has to look out for students’ civil rights. That someone has traditionally been the Department of Education. With DeVos abdicating her responsibilities and continuing her role as a school privatization cheerleader, it is anyone’s guess who – if anyone – will step into the void.

Charter Schools and Voucher Schools are Virtually Identical

Screen shot 2017-05-17 at 8.30.20 PM

The stark orange monolith that was Donald Trump is starting to crumble.

And with it so are the dreams of corporate education reformers everywhere.

Where in previous administrations they could pass off their policies as Democratic or Republican depending on whichever way the wind blows, today their brand has been so damaged by Trump’s advocacy, they fear it may never recover.

Under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, they could champion both charter schools and school vouchers with impunity. But now the privatizers and profiteers hiding in progressive clothing are trying desperately to rebrand.

Not only is Trump’s voucher plan deeply unpopular, but the public has already begun to associate any kind of school privatization with a doomed President.

So like cockroaches, neoliberals have begun to skitter to one type of privatization over another. Fake Democrats hide beneath unfettered charter school expansion. Bought-and-sold Republicans cling to the idea that we should spend taxpayer dollars on private and parochial schools.

But is there a real substantial difference between each of these so-called “choice” schemes? Or are they both just scams when compared with traditional public schools?

THE DIFFERENCES

Charter Schools and Private Schools are basically the same thing.

The biggest difference between the two is funding.

Charter schools are completely funded by tax dollars. Private schools – even when school vouchers are used – often need to be subsidized by parents. For instance, many private schools charge tuition of $30,000 – $40,000 a year. Vouchers rarely provide more than $6,000. So at best they bring the cost down but still make it impossible for most students to attend private schools.

Sure they may start as an effort to allow only impoverished children to use tax dollars towards private and parochial school tuition. But they soon grow to include middle class and wealthy children, thus partially subsidizing attendance at the most exclusive schools in the country for those families who can already afford it.

Parochial schools, meanwhile, are exactly the same except for one meaningful difference. They teach religion.

Their entire curriculum comes from a distinctly religious point of view. They indoctrinate youth into a way of seeing the world that is distinctly non-secular.

Progressives complain that using tax dollars to pay for student tuition at such schools – even only partial tuition – violates a foundational principal of our nation.

Using public money to pay for religious teaching has historically been interpreted as a violation of the establishment clause of the first Amendment to the Constitution – namely, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Thomas Jefferson called it “a wall of separation between Church and State.”

This is further exacerbated in many parochial schools where religious teaching includes a blatant political bias toward conservatism. Children at many of these schools are taught that supply side economics, voter disenfranchisement and prejudice are normative bedrock truths.

These are the main distinctions between voucher and charter schools.

In short, they’re not all exactly the same. And corporate reform apologist are trying to rebuild their brand on these split hairs.

But the similarities between these types of school are much more striking.

THE SIMILARITIES

The biggest commonality between these types of educational institutions is how they’re run. Unlike traditional public schools – which are governed by duly-elected school boards – charter, private and parochial schools are overseen by private interests. They are administered by independent management firms. They rarely have elected school boards. Their operators rarely make decisions in public, and their budgets and other documents are not open to review by taxpayers. This is true despite the fact that they are funded to varying degrees by public tax dollars.

So in all three cases, these schools are run privately, but taxpayers pick up the tab.

It’s ironic. Sending kids to charters, private and parochial schools with public money is called school choice. However, each of these types of schools gives taxpayers much less choice about how their money is being spent.

The community funds the school, but almost all decisions are made by people outside of the community – people appointed, in fact, by bureaucrats or business managers.

To be sure, parents can express their displeasure of administrative decisions by disenrolling their children in the school. But beyond this nuclear option, they are powerless. Even more troubling, taxpayers without children or with children who do not attend these schools have no say whatsoever about how their money is spent.

And to add insult to injury, it doesn’t even really allow the parents to choose which schools their children attend. They can put in a request for their kids to attend a choice school, but enrollment decisions are made by these same private equity managers. In short, administrators make the ultimate choice – not parents.

If the religious school doesn’t want to accept your child for whatever reason including operators’ disapproval of your religious beliefs, they don’t have to accept him. If the private school doesn’t want to accept your child based on race, gender or nationality, they don’t have to accept him. If the charter school doesn’t want to accept your child because of bad grades or troublesome behaviors, they don’t have to accept him.

The traditional public school, however, cannot refuse a child who lives in district borders for any of these reasons. In effect, school choice really isn’t about parental choice. It’s about increasing choice for the operators of privatized schools – letting them choose their students and how to spend your money without any meaningful input from you.

And it’s true at all three types of school!

Those are pretty considerable similarities. Moreover, they highlight major differences between these so-called choice schools and traditional public schools.

This is important because we don’t even have to get into the academic records of individual schools. The way each type of school is structured shows the clear inferiority of choice schools compared to traditional public schools.

By their very structure, public schools give parents and taxpayers much more agency in children’s education and how taxpayer money is spent.

Second, the latitude for school administrators to perpetrate fraud on the public is maximized in so-called choice schools and minimized in public schools. This doesn’t mean public schools are perfect, but it is much better to have a school under public scrutiny and local control than otherwise. This is demonstrated by the huge numbers of charter school scandals popping up in the news every day, where charters close suddenly, money is misspent on luxury items for operators that have nothing to do with education, and – especially in cyber charters – the quality of education students receive is literally lower than having no formal education at all.

Finally, if public schools struggle, it is almost always due to a lack of equitable funding and a surplus of impoverished students. It is no accident that poor students receive less resources and larger class sizes than middle class or wealthy ones. Nor is it an accident that we judge the effectiveness of schools primarily on standardized tests which are so good at highlighting the results of lack of resources rather than any academic deficiency.

If we spent our education dollars ensuring equitable resources instead of funneling tax dollars to charter, private and parochial schools, we would better increase the quality of children’s education. But for the last few decades that has not been the goal of education policy. It has instead been to enrich these same privatized school managers and investors – the corporate education reform industry. Nor is it a coincidence that this industry and its subsidiaries counts itself as major donors to both political parties.

Before she was elevated to Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos was exactly that – a billionaire mega-donor pushing school privatization while getting richer off investments in the same. Now that she’s driving school vouchers off a cliff in the Trump train, her co-conspirators are getting nervous.

Neoliberal Democrats may try to save the movement by claiming charter schools are completely different. But they aren’t. They are fundamentally the same.

The public sees the clear similarities between these kinds of schools. And much of that is thanks to the incompetent boobery of Donald J. Trump.