More Truth in Teacher-Written Education Blogs Than Corporate Media

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Let’s get one thing straight right from the get go: I am biased.

 

But so are you.

 

So are the parents, students, principals and school directors. So are the policymakers, the corporate donors and professional journalists.

 

Everyone involved in education policy is interested in one side or another of the debate. It’s just that some pretend to practice a kind of objectivity while others are open about their partiality.

 

It’s unavoidable. I’m a public school teacher. Not merely someone who’s taught in a public school for a few years – I’m an educator with more than 15 years experience in the classroom. And I’m still there.

 

I’m not a Teach for America recruit who committed myself to three years in front of children after a few weeks crash course. Where I am now was my goal in the first place. I’m not doing this to get the credentials for my real dream job, being an education policy advisor for a Congressperson or Senator. Nor do I plan to become a Superintendent, Principal or school administrator someday.

 

All along, my goal was to have a classroom of my own where I could help children learn.

 

Moreover, I’m a public school parent. My daughter goes to the same public school my wife and I both attended as children. We could have sent her to a charter or private school. But we made the conscious choice not to, and we’ve never regretted it.

 

Our local district serves a mostly high poverty population. More than half of the students are minorities. The facilities aren’t as up to date as you’ll find in richer neighborhoods. Class sizes are too large. But we decided that being a part of the community school was important, and much of what my child has learned there simply isn’t taught at schools where everyone is the same.

 

So when you read one of my blogs (even this one), it comes from a certain point of view. And I’m okay with that. You should be, too.

 

However, when you read an article in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times or Pittsburgh Tribune Review, there is a presumption of detachment and neutrality. But it’s bogus.

 

Those articles are written by human beings, too, and thus they are likewise biased.

 

The only difference is what exactly that bias is.

 

My preference is plain and on the surface. I am in favor of public schools over privatized ones. I support teachers over corporations making decisions about how to educate. I’m an advocate for children and families.

 

When you read an article in the mainstream media, you frankly have no idea which direction their inclinations swerve.

 

However, you do know that money often plays a major role in their editorial spin.

 

Journalism is a business. Perhaps it should be a public good. We used to look at it that way. We used to try to keep it separate from advertising. It didn’t have to make a profit.

 

But that’s all changed. Now it’s expected to bring in money. It’s expected to generate “value” for the corporation that owns it. However, we rarely stop to think how corrupting an influence that is.

 

For some people, my position as an educator discredits my knowledge of schools. Yet getting paid by huge testing corporations doesn’t discredit journalists!?

 

I speak here from experience, too. I used to be a professional journalist.

 

Before becoming a teacher, I worked full-time at various daily and weekly newspapers in Western Pennsylvania. I can tell you first hand that sometimes editors encouraged or physically rewrote articles to spin the story the way they wanted.

 

I remember writing a story about a local tax collector seeking re-election. I didn’t know him, personally, but I had heard several rumors about unsavory practices he had allegedly engaged in while employed in a different capacity as a public servant. So I did research and found that they were true. I had proof. I even confronted him, personally, with what I had found to give him a chance to explain.

 

However, when I submitted the article, my editor had a conniption. Apparently, the tax collector had called the paper threatening to cause trouble. So the article was completely rewritten to downplay what I had discovered.

 

None of it mattered that much. It was just a local tax collector’s race. Frankly, I can’t even remember if he won re-election. But it was demonstrative of what happens in editorial departments.

 

I’ve seen businesses complain about news articles and threaten to withdraw advertising. I’ve seen colorful, glossy info-packets sent to reporters seeking articles about subjects enticing them with the ease of approaching it from their point of view. I’ve had editors assign me stories that I thought were non-issues and then they tweaked my finished product so it had the implications they intended from the get-go.

 

If that happens at the local level, imagine what happens at the biggest corporate offices.

 

Now don’t get me wrong.

 

I’m not saying that mainstream media is nothing but lies. I’ll leave that claim for the President. But it IS biased. And as smart consumers of media, we need to be aware of it.

 

We need to be aware that corporate media is often going to take the side of big corporations. They’re going to be in favor of standardized testing, Common Core, charter and voucher schools. They’re going to talk up computer-based depersonalized learning. They’re going to uncritically criticize those standing in the way of corporate profits – i.e. teachers.

 

This doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t trust education reporting from professional journalists. There are writers out there who are trying to present both sides of the issue without editorial meddling. There are reporters who understand the big picture and are trying to expose the truth. Moreover, they have resources that bloggers often don’t – copy editors, fact checkers, knowledgeable and experienced colleagues in media, etc.

 

However, they are frankly working with significant limitations that teacher bloggers don’t have.

 

When I want to know how public schools work, I can simply appeal to my first hand experience. When a reporter want to do that, she is often stymied by rules and regulations that keep people like them out.

 

They are rarely permitted inside our schools to see the day-to-day classroom experience. Legal issues about which students may be photographed, filmed or interviewed, the difficulty of getting parental permissions and the possibility of embarrassment to principals and administrators often keeps the doors closed. In many districts, teachers aren’t even allowed to speak on the record to the media or doing so can make them a political target. So reporters are often in the position of being unable to directly experience the very thing they’re reporting on.

 

If I read a book about baseball, I might know a lot of facts about the players. But that can’t compare with someone who’s actually been to the games, been on the field, even played in the World Series!

 

 

At the same time, education blogs aren’t perfect either. For one, you have to be cognizant of who is writing them.

 

You’re currently reading The Gadfly on the Wall Blog. But that’s worlds different than reading the Education Gadfly. The latter site is owned and operated by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. This organization actually runs charter schools in Ohio. They spend millions of dollars spreading propaganda on charter authorization, school choice, standardized curriculum, digital learning, standards, testing, etc.

 

I, on the other hand, am just a school teacher with a laptop. Education Gadfly has a paid staff. No one pays me a dime nor do I even sell advertisements.

 

To be fair, I operate on a free WordPress site and sometimes WordPress puts ads on my page. But I don’t see any of that money. It’s just the cost of having a free site. If I wanted to pay for it, I could get an ad-free site.

 

Also, once in a blue moon a Website that reposts my blog pays me a couple of bucks for the privilege. So maybe I’ve ordered a pizza or two with money from the blog, but I certainly couldn’t survive off the revenue from it. I would literally make more money working one week at WalMart than I’ve ever pulled in from three years of education bloggery.

 

 

These are the reasons why teacher-written education blogs are superior to the competition.

 

They aren’t beholden to corporate money or influence. They have first-hand experience of the subject.

 

Journalists have a hard job and they deserve our respect. But they can’t compare to the expertise of practicing educators.

 

If editors included our voices more, perhaps the mainstream media wouldn’t be so skewed towards corporate interests.

 

But that’s really the goal, in the first place.

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

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

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

You can be killed, kidnapped, imprisoned – disappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why’s he doing it? Power. Pure power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We stand with you, Mexico.

We fight with you.

We bleed with you.

We are the same.

Peace and solidarity.

The Arrogant Ignorance of Campbell Brown: Education Journalism in Decline

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Apparently facts don’t matter much to Campbell Brown.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

She wrote:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Now she’s a paid Internet troll.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Change all public schools to private charter schools? Check.

 

Block teachers unions from collectively bargaining? Check.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I must respectfully disagree.

 

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

 

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

 

Look who’s funding these stories.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nowhere is this as obvious as with Brown.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Gadfly’s Choice – Top 5 Blogs (By Me) You May Have Missed from 2015

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There are an awful lot of great blogs out there.

Especially if you’re into education. But many are telling the same story.

You don’t hear much about it in the mass media, yet our public schools are being systematically starved to death. They’re being set up to fail while the vultures of privatization and free enterprise drool over the corpse.

Phony philanthropists offer schools fake donations with more strings attached than Pinocchio and noses twice as long. To secure these financial “gifts,” schools are forced to pay out more than they receive for reforms that ultimately benefit the benefactor more than the beneficiary.

And even when these philanthro-capitalists are absent, our government is pretending to hold schools accountable by forcing them to enact these same unproven, disproven or counter-factual policies that actually make things worse. Then when these schemes fail, lawmakers use that as a justification to close schools and gift them to for-profit companies who squeeze every ounce of profit they can from what’s left while further cheating students out of resources.

It’s a scam, a heist, a racket – and you’re paying for it with your tax dollars.

But if you’ve been reading the plethora of excellent edu-blogs out there, you already know this.

Who writes about this public school shakedown? Often it’s the same teachers, parents, professors and bonafide education experts whom policymakers have excluded from the conversation.

As a public school teacher, myself, with more than a decade in the classroom, a masters degree and a national board certification, my empiricism and experience is not valued. So like many folks burdened with real-world knowledge, I write a blog.

In only a year and a half, I’ve had more than 487,000 hits and 9, 208 followers. In my last post I listed my 10 most popular articles from 2015.

Today I propose to continue a tradition I stole from fellow blogger Russ Walsh. I present not my most popular work, but 5 articles that deserve another look. Most of these didn’t receive massive public attention, but perhaps they should.

Please enjoy your humble gadfly’s choice.


 

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

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Published: Nov. 18

Views: 5,005

Description: America is rife with myths about the poor – mainly that the impoverished deserve their poverty. If they just worked harder, they wouldn’t be poor. Moreover, it’s a scam. The rest of us pick up the slack while they lounge around at home living better than we do. These are pernicious lies told with the certainty of truths. This article is my attempt to dispel these myths with facts.

Fun Fact: In my experience, often people are afraid to say certain things because they don’t want to appear racist. However, no such fear exists about sounding prejudiced against the poor, because few realize such bigotry even exists. It does. Big time.


 

4) Stories about Puerto Rican Resistance to Corporate Education Reform

Parents and Children Occupy Puerto Rican School Refusing to Let Corporate Vultures Raid Its Contents

(Aug. 22 – 1,551 hits)

In Puerto Rico, Students Go On Strike to Stop Teacher Relocations

(Sept. 25 – 1,211 hits)

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

(Nov. 15 – 634 hits)

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Published: Aug. – Nov.

Views: 3,396 TOTAL

Description: The US territory of Puerto Rico is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling island debt. Meanwhile 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 and hundreds of schools are being closed. However, the citizenry is putting up one of the most aggressive and successful resistance campaigns against corporate education reform in this hemisphere.

Fun Fact: For a while, few people on the mainland were talking about this – certainly not in the media. That appears to be slowly changing. There is so much we can all learn from Puerto Rico. We need each other.


 

3) Education Does Not Cure Poverty – It Cures Ignorance

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Published: Oct. 18

Views: 3,080

Description: One of the biggest lies told by our national education policymakers is that schools alone can cure poverty. We don’t need an anti-poverty campaign. We just need to ensure people get a good education. This is baloney. The purpose of learning has never been to gain wealth or even teach how to gain wealth. It is and always has been about eradicating ignorance.

Fun Fact: If more people knew this, there would be no more high stakes testing, Common Core, etc. Also I’m kind of  partial to this article because of the image I made to go along with it. Campell Brown vs. Socrates!? That always makes me smile!


2) Do Americans “Throw Money” At Their Schools? A Fair Funding Primer

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Published: July 9

Views: 1,372

Description: How many times have you heard someone complain about all the money we throw at our schools? It’s dismissive nonsense. We aren’t throwing anything. We INVEST in children. That money is not a waste. In fact, it is far from adequate for the job. This post is my attempt to explain the facts behind school funding. Please share.

Fun Fact: It is so nice to have all of this information in one place. I have tweeted, emailed, and posted this article to blowhards and ignoramuses more times than I can remember. Feel free to do the same.


1) We Shall Overcome… Our Lack of Standardized Tests!?

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Published: July 19

Views: 628

Description: This is the newest myth being spread about standardized testing. Somehow high stakes assessments ensure that minorities civil rights don’t get violated!? It is exactly the opposite of the truth. Yet many of the more well-funded civil rights organizations suddenly began singing this tune over the summer. My article tries to explain why.

Fun Fact: Make no mistake. Many civil rights organizations still vehemently oppose high stakes testing. If we really want to stand up for our black and brown brothers and sisters, we need to stand with them and counter this AstroTurf narrative at every turn. Testing violates their rights, not protects them.

I Doubt Hillary Clinton Plans to Close Half of All Public Schools – But She Does Want to Close Some

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“This school district, and these schools throughout Iowa, are doing a better than average job. Now, I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better than average job. If a school’s not doing a good job, then, you know, that may not be good for the kids.”
-Hillary Clinton

The above comments have caused a tremendous stir in the media lately.

Hillary Clinton wants to close half of all public schools!? She wants to shutter all public houses of learning that are average or below average!?

The Federalist even did some quick math and decided this means Clinton would shutter 50,000 schools. They even put that number in the headline of their article!

But hold your horses, media backlash.

I’m not really a Hillary supporter, but this has gotten a little out of hand.

Maybe I’m being too generous here, but I’m going to assume that Clinton may be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.

She made a gaffe. She said something that doesn’t make much sense mathematically. Close all schools below average? Average means 50%. That’s half of all schools.

It was a blunder, a mistake, a foot-in-the-mouth moment.

I can believe a lot about Clinton, but not that her education policy includes shuttering half of our nation’s schools.

However, don’t take my word for it. Seriously! Ask her. She should clarify what she meant. But give her a chance to do so. Don’t mob her just looking to trip her up.

I doubt I’ll vote for Hillary in the primary, but she deserves a certain modicum of respect. She is an impressive person. She’s accomplished a heck of a lot in her life under some pretty intense circumstances.

As a college student in the 1960s, she volunteered to teach reading to children in poor Boston neighborhoods. She fought to ensure voting access for African Americans and even worked at an alternative newspaper in the black community. As First Lady and in Congress, she pushed for universal pre-kindergarten, arts education, after-school tutoring, smaller class sizes and the rights of families.

And in 2008 she ran an impressive – if ultimately unsuccessful – campaign for President.

As one of the most prominent women in the nation, she’s made some enemies.

Remember that Benghazi nonsense! Conservatives have been out for her blood because an American diplomatic compound in Libya was attacked in 2012 while Clinton was Secretary of State. They’ve trumped up a crazy amount of lies and innuendo that she was somehow responsible when it was the Republican-controlled Congress that voted to reduce security at these installations.

Heck! Michael Bay has a hatched job movie coming out during this election season just to wound Clinton’s current bid for president!

So give the woman some credit. She’s proven she’s a serious-minded, intelligent and capable politician.

However, like every human being she misspeaks from time-to-time. George W. Bush couldn’t open his mouth without English teachers and grammarians hiding under the sofa.

I think this explains much of what she said in Iowa trying to consolidate votes for the first Democratic primary on Feb. 1, 2016.

It explains much – but not all.

Clinton may have fudged her math momentarily forgetting that 50% of all schools are – and always will be – below average. If tomorrow every school in the country provided the greatest education the world has ever seen, half of them would still be below average. That’s what average means.

What bothers me is that Clinton thinks we should be closing schools at all.

That’s not a slip. That’s not a blunder or a miscalculation.

She really seems to believe you can improve public education by closing schools. And THAT is much more dangerous than any nonsense about her going on a nationwide school shuttering spree – something of which she would not, by the way, even have the power to do as President.

This idea that we can close schools to improve education is one of the founding principles of corporate education reform. And it’s demonstrably untrue.

Never has a school ever been improved by being closed. Student academic outcomes do not increase when children are displaced. In fact, they suffer.

If schools are struggling, a sensible strategy would be to find out what’s wrong. What is the reason kids are having trouble reaching academic success?

Spoiler Alert: nine times out of ten the problem is disinvestment. The school doesn’t have adequate resources to meet students’ needs.
More than half of our nation’s public school children live in poverty. Their schools don’t get equitable funding with districts that serve the rich. Moreover, privatization, charterization, increased efforts at vouchers, tax breaks and school choice have segregated our schools to such a degree that these problems disproportionately affect our students of color to a much larger degree than white children.

THAT is the problem with American education. It’s been proven time and again in study after study. Yet corporate education reformers like Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, Bill Gates, and Andrew Cuomo continue to ignore the facts in favor of simply closing more schools. In his time as Mayor, Rahm Emanuel has closed 50 Chicago schools46 of which serve mostly black and brown students. And he’s a close Clinton friend.

It is no accident that so many of these corporatists are Democrats. The entire neoliberal wing of the party is sick with these sorts of conservative policies. And Clinton can be connected with many of them.

Since getting the support of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), Clinton’s tried to distance herself from her disaster capitalist buddies. But it isn’t working.

On the one hand, she criticized charter schools for ignoring the most difficult students. On the other, she still champions keeping privatized education in the mix.

On one hand, she thinks there should be a federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department for civil rights abuses. On the other hand, she thinks Rahm is doing a heck-of-a job.

I am deeply troubled that Clinton seems to think we can close our way to academic success. She should know better than that by now. Everyone should. It is absolutely unacceptable that any candidate with such teacher support should hold these views. Quite frankly, it’s a deal breaker.

The ball’s in your court, Hillary. You need to explain what you meant by your Iowa comments.

I admire Clinton’s bravery for actually talking about K-12 education – something her rival Bernie Sanders seems much less inclined to do. However, we all know Clinton’s endorsements by the AFT and NEA don’t represent the views of the rank-and-file. These were top down decisions made without much member input. If Hillary wants those endorsements to translate into votes, she’d better do some serious convincing.

Otherwise it won’t be schools that are shuttered. It will be her campaign.


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

 

Education Does Not Cure Poverty – It Cures Ignorance

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What good is an education?

Will it get you money? Will it make you rich?

No. Not really.

And that’s one of the biggest problems with American public school policy of the last 15 years. It misunderstands the purpose of the very thing it purports to promote.

Poverty is skyrocketing. It’s been on the rise for at least three decades, but since the economy collapsed in 2008, the ranks of the poor have swollen like an untreated wound left to fester and rot.

We could be doing something about that. We could be working on a jobs package – on something to get people back to work. Instead we crowd around unemployment data and clap each other on the back because on paper it looks like we’ve overcome this obstacle.

Unfortunately, we haven’t.

Since President Barack Obama took office, there have been less people out of work than during the disastrous Bush years. However, most new jobs created since the crash only pay minimum wage. The good jobs are drying up and being replaced by poverty wage employment. And that’s not even counting the hordes of people who’ve given up even looking for a job but don’t merit a mention in these Pollyanna publications!

So how do we truly answer this dilemma? How do we get America back to work?

According to our policymakers, through magic.

Provide people more training, they say. Make sure those out of work obtain new skills and the next generation receives a rigorous education.

It’s the kind of solution our grandparents – who lived through the Great Depression – would have laughed to silence. Give someone a book, put them in a school, place them before a teacher and – POOF – they’ll be able to get one of the nonexistent well paying jobs that – may I repeat – DON’T EXIST!

It’s not that we have an unskilled workforce. We have more people than ever with Doctorates and Masters degrees living on food stamps. The problem is lack of well paying jobs. We’ve tax sheltered, down sized, and corporatized America into a land where the rich play Monopoly with all our cash while the rest of us subsist on McJobs.

Claiming that education alone can resolve this problem is like saying all a starving person really needs is a fork and spoon. But that won’t help if he has nothing to eat!

It should be no surprise that those championing our school system as a silver bullet to our jobless nation speak out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they say, education can save us. On the other, they say, if education was better we wouldn’t need saving. And since they’re almost exclusively employed by the same people who gobbled up all the jobs in the first place and then spat them out to China, it’s a travesty that anyone listens to them.

They’re not offering a solution. They’re making a last ditch effort to clear the board of any remaining public money – education dollars.

If only the teachers had taught us better, they say, we’d all be able to have a corner office in the sky. But since those evil, lazy educators are doing such a bad job, we need to close as many schools as possible to save those kids. And then we can privatize them and swipe even more of that sweet, sweet public money to the 1% who can run charter schools and cut student services while scarfing up the rest as yummy profit.

To prove this thesis, policymakers force untested and irrational reforms on public schools – standardized testing, computerized test prep, Common Core. When none of this works (as planned), they simply blame the educators who never wanted any of this in the first place. But it helps us serve up teachers on a silver platter as the scapegoat of the day.

These so-called reforms solve nothing – they just make things worse.

Furthermore, they’re a distraction, smoke and mirrors so we won’t see the real issue of how we’re being swindled by the 1%. After all, THEY were the ones who got us into this mess in the first place! They were the ones who crashed the economy – not Mrs. Jones, the local science teacher.

We should know this already. It’s out in the open and easy to see. The media is not doing its job of reporting the truth. The public is being dazzled by propaganda that appeals to our basest selves. But most importantly, we’re being fooled because we no longer remember what education is for!

Even under the best of circumstances, education does not make someone rich. That’s not it’s goal. It never has been. Education seeks to enrich people’s minds, not their bank accounts.

Yes, there is a relationship between the two, but its several steps removed. A well educated person may be able to more easily obtain money than an uneducated one. She may be more prepared for a well-paying job. However, being prepared is rarely what makes someone rich.

People gain wealth most often by inheriting it (See Paris Hilton, Bill Marriott, Mitt Romney and Donald Trump). Others get money by cheating the public out of it. This takes a person with a weak moral code, not necessarily strong book smarts. For instance, look to the Walmart model of selling groceries cheaply by paying poverty wages to employees who then must rely on the federal government to survive and thus can only afford to shop at Walmart. That’s not smart. It’s sociopathic. Anyone could have thought that up, but it takes a person with a stunted conception of the value of other people to actually do it.

More important than a college degree are connections. The Rich know the right people. They have contacts in high places with whom they can barter for lucrative tips, jobs and partnerships. They have friends on Wall Street who can tip them off when a stock is about to rise or fall. They know editors at prominent papers who have no problem changing the headlines to match a preconceived narrative rather than the facts on the ground.

Again, that doesn’t require all A’s on your report card. It’s the result of a lottery of birth, social standing and an undeveloped sense of fairness.

There are some people who actually do gain riches on the merits of their intellects. But they are few and far between. Even among them there is a large portion who are more lucky than genius. I love Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, but it doesn’t take an Einstein to come up with it. Sometimes the gods of finance just smile on hippy dippy flavors with fun names.

Since the ancient world, thinkers have postulated that the purpose of education is not to increase material gain – it is to become a better person. The Ancient Greeks believed that there is value in knowledge and wisdom that doesn’t translate into gold. Aristotle called it eudaimonia or human flourishing. The best life includes wisdom.

This builds on the philosophy of Socrates – one of the founders of Western thought – who famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We have strayed far from these ideals. Today we might say the unreciprocated action is unworth doing. If something doesn’t translate into cold, hard cash, it is considered weak, a wasted effort. Even philanthropy has become a way to gain control over the industry you’re ostensibly trying to help. (See Bill Gates immense influence on Education policy.)

In their hearts, most teachers would side with Aristotle and Socrates over the Waltons and Gates’. And that’s why our corporate masters look down on us. We represent an ethos that they have abandoned and tried to destroy.

They tell themselves the fairy tale that wisdom means cheating others out of money. The removal of ignorance, they say, is the removal of any obstacles toward clawing and punching your way to the top.

But true wisdom recognizes that people are more than mere animals. We do not need to continue the Darwinian struggle of survival of the fittest among ourselves. We can cooperate. We can value each others lives. We can love.

If people valued this kind of knowledge over money, what would happen to the rich? Wouldn’t it prove that they have wasted their lives betraying and manipulating the less fortunate? Wouldn’t it reveal the poverty of their souls?

Because if people were truly educated, they would see these sick, twisted individuals for whom they really are. And we would demand justice. Not so that we could replace these penny-ante tycoons with our own wealth addiction. But instead so that we could all live in peace and bask in the joy of knowledge, compassion and an unending quest to chip away at our own ignorance.


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

 

Why Were So Many Education Reformers Bad Students?

 


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Bad students often hate school.

Not exactly shocking, I know.

But perhaps more surprising is the pattern of low, sloppy or inconsistent academic achievement by so many of those adults who consider themselves education reformers, particularly corporate school reformers.

Our ideas of school are certainly formed during our years in it. Those working so diligently to destroy the public school system and reshape it to resemble the business model are so often people who didn’t fit in. They earned low grades or only excelled in subjects they really liked. Perhaps school failed them or perhaps they failed school. There’s no way to know for sure since school records are almost always kept private. But details do trickle through and display a clear pattern – a pattern that certainly gives the appearance of an ulterior motive.

Are these former bad students more interested in fixing the perceived problems they see with the system? Or are they consciously or unconsciously seeking revenge against a system that found them to be inadequate?

Take Scott Walker.

The Wisconsin Governor-cum-Presidential candidate has been one of the most virulent enemies of public education and public school teachers in the past decade.

But when he was a lowly student, he wasn’t anywhere near the head of the class. His grade school years are mostly shrouded in mystery, but his college career is ablaze in controversy.

He claims to have been a solid C-student with a 2.59 grade point average. Contemporaries say it was closer to a 2.3.

“I had some classes I was more interested in than others, I suppose,” he admits.

In any case, college wasn’t for him. He attended Marquette University for almost four full years before dropping out. He only had a year or more to go before earning a bachelors degree.

Why did he quit? Numerous contemporaries allege he was expelled for cheating in student government. Walker says he simply accepted a full-time job and had to devote his time there.

The facts are these: Walker unsuccessfully ran for student body president with a tumultuous campaign. He was found guilty of campaigning a week early thereby losing campaign privileges at one facility and a day of campaigning at another.
When the student paper endorsed his opponent, the edition mysteriously vanished from the stands. Students reported seeing Walker staff taking almost all of the papers and replacing them with campaign literature against his opponent.

An investigation was conducted but the university refuses to release it saying the results are either private or have been destroyed.

However, the university denies that Walker was ever in bad standing or that he had been expelled.

The matter could easily be cleared up if Walker released his academic records to the public, but unlike most Presidential candidates of either major political party, he refuses to do so. (All while continuing to criticize President Barrack Obama for not releasing a birth certificate that the President clearly released to the public.)

Not exactly student of the year. Nor would the preacher’s son ever win “Most Ethical” in the student superlative section of his college yearbook.

It’s easy to see why someone who had such difficulty in college would spend so much time as Governor attacking that world.

He reduced state funding to Wisconsin colleges by 13% and then mandated they freeze tuition for 4 years. He recommending replacing University of Wisconsin leadership with a private authority governed by his own appointees. He proposed the university change its fundamental commitment from “a search for truth” to the goal of workforce readiness.

That’ll show ‘em, I guess.

But he didn’t just attack post-secondary education. He went after high, middle and elementary schools, too. He signed a law mandating high stakes reading testing begin in kindergarten. That’s right – kindergarten! Teachers and principals, of course, had to be evaluated based on these scores. Oh and don’t forget the massive school budget cuts.

He also presided over the largest roll back of collective bargaining rights in state history – and who make up the biggest unions? Teachers. Other working people are just more grist for the mill of his petty power trip.

If Walker had studied harder, spent less time on extra-curricular politics and finished his degree – I wonder if he wouldn’t have such animosity towards education. Maybe then he wouldn’t spend his days congratulating himself for hobbling colleges and public schools while trampling on workers rights.

Moving from politics to punditry, few people have devoted their careers to destroying the teaching profession as much as former anchorperson Campbell Brown.

Since being quietly let go from CNN when her news program was cancelled for low ratings, Brown has become an outspoken corporate education reformer. School choice, the destruction of teacher tenure and labor unions – there are few supply side education ideas she doesn’t support. Most notably, she serves on the board of directors for the infamous Success Academy Charter Schools – a system that uses student humiliation to ensure children swallow a curriculum consisting almost entirely of standardized test prep. Moreover, her husband, Dan Senor, is on the board of StudentsFirstNY, a corporate school reform organization affiliated with Michelle Rhee.

How anyone so personally invested in the factory schools model could possibly claim she was impartial enough to serve in a journalistic capacity on this matter is beyond belief. But that’s just what Brown does. This summer she even co-founded The Seventy Four – a news site dedicated to covering education. She claims it’s all “non-partisan” and “non-profit.” Ha! Her husband is a former adviser to the Romney campaign and spokesman for the Bush administration’s Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq! Her “news” site is like Fox News for schools – which given the supply side bias of MOST news organizations is really saying something!

Is it any surprise that when Brown was in school, herself, she wasn’t exactly honor roll material?

She describes herself as a “terrible student” in Catholic school, but immediately justifies her academic performance by saying the teachers were awful, too. Since she had such a horrible parochial school experience, it’s a wonder she reserves her rancor for the public school system where she has little first hand knowledge. A child of privilege, Brown was a private school girl.

At Virginia’s elite Madeira School, she was kicked out for sneaking off campus for a party. She eventually earned a GED, and briefly attended Louisiana State University before waitressing in Colorado and enrolling in a Catholic college in Denver. It was there that a priest who taught political philosophy finally reached her. She eventually earned a B.S. in political science.

It was a long, difficult academic road for Brown. I wonder how she would have done at Success Academy where mostly poor Black and Hispanic students must sit with hands clasped and eyes following the speaker; where reading passages must be neatly annotated with a main idea; where her teachers would be inexperienced drones forced to work 11-hour days and face high turnover.

Something tells me as a student she’d find those teachers just “awful,” too. It’s a hard thing to take responsibility for one’s own actions especially as a child. If only the teacher had taught me better, if only I had gone to the good school, if only someone had done this or that. Poor little rich girl.

Now Brown is a professional at casting blame on our public school system in favor of unproven or disastrous education models. She’s come from the back of the class to the front – where she can criticize and wag her finger.

But to do the most damage to the school system, you need to be more than a politician or a pundit – you need to be an ideologue. And you need so much cash you don’t now what to do with it all.

No one has had a greater negative impact on public education than Bill Gates and his billions in so-called philanthropic contributions. As one of the richest men in the world, he has steered the course of education policy away from research-based policies to a business-minded approach favored by corporate raiders.

Common Core State Standards would not exist without his backing and financial bribery of federal and state governments. The man of ideas who instinctively understands the world of computers extends his hubris to encase all subjects. For clearly, what is true of a network of calculating machines must be true of young minds. Gates knows best, and where he is contradicted by one peer-reviewed study, he can pay for several independent ones to back up his pet ideas.

But whatever you say of Gates, he differs dramatically from Walker and Brown. Gates is clearly brilliant. He was a National Merit Scholar who scored a 1590 out of 1600 on his SATs. One would think his academic record must be impeccable. But one would be wrong.

While he excelled in subjects he cared about, he neglected others that weren’t immediately interesting. According to a college friend:

Gates was a typical freshman in many ways, thrown off pace by the new requirements and a higher level of competition. He skipped classes, spent days on end in the computer lab working on his own projects, played poker all night, and slept in a bed without sheets when he did go
 to bed. Other students recall that he often went without sleep for 18 to 36 hours.

Even at Harvard, Gates continued his pattern of 
getting good grades in the subjects he liked and disdaining those that were of little interest. His heart didn’t seem to be in his studies. Gates joined few college activities unless his friend Steve Ballmer dragged him off to a party.

School was of little interest to him. He dropped out of Harvard before getting a degree to start his computer software company.

Some tell it as a story of an eccentric’s unstoppable rise, but few tarry long enough to remark on the privilege from which Gates emerged. He didn’t have a public school education. He attended an elite preparatory school since he was 13. Once again someone with such little experience of public school is a self-appointed expert in reforming it.

His parents also instilled in him a peculiar marker for success. In his home, the family encouraged competition. One visitor reported, “it didn’t matter whether it was hearts or pickleball or swimming to the dock … there was always a reward for winning and there was always a penalty for losing.” How interesting that this same philosophy has become Gate’s vision for all school children! Schools must compete against each other for resources and the losers get shut down. Yet what irony that his own personal success relies on ignoring his weaknesses and focusing solely on his successes! We excuse the inconsistent grades and dropping out of college. But would Gates-backed education policies do the same for other children?

Gates, the student, easily might have wilted under the education policies of Gates, the edu-preneur. How hard it is to see oneself clearly. How hard to admit one has limitations. Especially when one is brilliant in one narrow field and has too much money and free time.

And so the enemies of America’s public education system gather round. Many of them may have axes to grind. Of course this doesn’t hold in every case. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, for example, is no friend to schools. Yet by all accounts he personally had a relatively trouble free academic experience.

However, the case holds often enough to be instructive. An awful lot of C-students think corporate education reform is needed to fix our schools. Heck! Most of these policies come from No Child Left Behind legislation proposed by the most infamous C-student in American history – President George W. Bush!

These kinds of psychological conflicts of interest should give us pause. Do we really want to support such personal crusades? Should all the power of public policy really back the revenge of indifferent students?

Corporate education reform policies don’t work. They never have worked. They’re destroying our system of public education.

Doesn’t there come a time when you have to get over your personal childhood traumas and pay attention to the facts?


NOTE: This article also was mentioned on Diane Ravitch’s blog and published in the LA Progressive and the Badass Teachers Association blog.