The Lone Voice of Dissent Against Standardized Testing

Businesswoman shouting through the megaphone in the open air.


Everybody wants to fight the good fight.


Until the battle begins.


Then many of us are all too ready to give in to what was intolerable just a moment before.


To paraphrase Thomas Paine:



These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in times of crisis, shrink from service, but those who stand up in time of need deserve the love and thanks of every man and woman.


I see this almost every day in our schools.


Ask nearly any teacher what they think about high stakes standardized testing, and they’ll complain until they’re blue in the face.


They’ll give you gripes and grievances galore.


The tests take too long. They’re not valid assessments. They narrow the curriculum. They’re dumbing down the teaching profession and ripping away our autonomy.


To which I say – Amen, Sister!


Standardized tests more accurately measure economics than academics – poor kids generally fail and rich kids pass. They’re culturally biased, poorly put together, unscientifically graded and demonstrate a gobbsmacking conflict of interest.


Two conflicts of interest, actually.


First, the people who make the tests, grade the tests and thus have a financial interest in failing the most students possible because that means we have to buy more remediation material which they also conveniently sell.


Second, these test scores are used by the school privatization industry to unfairly label public schools failures so they can more easily sell fly-by-night charter and voucher schools.


So, yeah. Almost all of us agree standardized testing sucks.


But when there’s an administrator present, I too often find I’m the only one willing to speak that truth. My colleagues, who are pleased as punch to gripe in private, suddenly go quiet in the presence of their superiors.


What’s worse, some of them don’t just stay quiet – they offer arguments to support whatever nonsensical test-based solution our boss has in mind today.


Let’s say an administrator suggests we do something about the handful of students who opt out of standardized tests.


We could just respect the rights of parents who have handed in their written intention to opt their children out under a religious exemption – the only option in Pennsylvania. Or we could do as the administrator suggests and force kids who’ve been opted out to take a standardized look-a-like assessment.


I hear something like that, and I’m on my feet ready to fight.


But I find myself standing there alone.


“You can’t do that,” I say.


“It violates state law. In particular, Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4.


(Okay, I had to look up the particulars later, but I made sure the administrator got them.)


Consider subsection (d) (4). And I quote:


If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied…”


Or how about subsection (d) (3):


“School entities shall adopt policies to assure that parents or guardians [have]… (3) The right to have their children excused from specific instruction that conflicts with their religious beliefs, upon receipt by the school entity of a written request from the parent or guardians.” (Emphasis mine)


In other words, parents have a right to excuse their children from the tests and/or instruction such as test look-a-likes.


If we go forward with requiring students who are opted out to take tests that are just like the ones their parents instructed us NOT to give, we will be violating parents’ rights under state law.”


That seems pretty airtight to me.


But the administrator disagrees.


And I look around at the assembled mass of workaday teachers for support.


Not a peep.


Instead I get this:


-We’re being evaluated on these standardized tests, we have to make sure kids take them seriously.


-I see where you’re coming from but we have to do something about these kids who are opting out just to get out of doing the work. They don’t have any real intellectual objection. They’re just lazy.


-We’ve got to do something about grade inflation.


Oh. Em. Gee.


Yet after the meeting, some of them cautiously walk up to me asking my opinion of what went down.




Take my word for it.


Tomorrow or the next day or the next week, they’ll be complaining again.


I’ve seen some of these people reduced to tears by administrators unfairly manipulating them based on their students’ test scores.


Yet none of them have the guts to stand up and be counted when the moment comes.


I say again – everyone wants to fight. But no one wants to do the fighting.


They want someone else to do it for them.


Does that make you angry?


It makes me furious.


But if you feel that way, you’ve got to do something about it.


You think teachers are too cowardly? What have YOU done to fight corporate education reform today?


You think too many administrators are quislings. You think the lawmakers are bought and sold. You think the public schools are under attack.


Well, get off your ass and do something.


I am tired of being the lone voice of dissent here.


All across the country there are people like me – people willing to stand up and fight.


But it’s a big country, and we’re usually spread pretty thin.


We need people willing to put their money where their mouths are – right here, in our hometowns.


Put up or shut up, America.


Do you want a school system that serves the needs of children?


You’ve got to make it happen.


I can’t do this all by myself.


Twenty-One Reasons People Hate, Hate, HATE Betsy DeVos



Lesley Stahl: Why have you become, people say, the most hated Cabinet secretary?


Betsy DeVos: I’m not sure exactly how that happened…

I’m more misunderstood than anything.



The above exchange from last night’s 60 Minutes interview highlights an important point about our Education Secretary.


She is deeply unpopular, but not because she’s misunderstood. If anything, she’s understood too well.


We know what she stands for and we don’t like it.


If she was really so misunderstood, why didn’t her answers in the interview veer away from the same usual canned responses she’s given time-and-time-again to the same type of questions?


What’s wrong with schools? NOT ENOUGH CHOICE.


How do we prevent school shootings? LET SCHOOLS ARM TEACHERS.


You didn’t really even need DeVos to show up to the interview to be able to guess with a high degree of accuracy what her answers would be.


In fact, many of her responses seemed to have been coached – as if someone had prepared her with talking points before the interview even took place.


So without further ado, here is my exhaustive list of all the reasons I can think of why people really, REALLY hate Betsy Devos. If I’ve left something out, please feel free to add it in a comment.




1) She didn’t earn her position as Education Secretary. She bought it. And even then it took a tie breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence to shove her down our throats.


2) She wants to spend tax dollars to boost privatized schools in which she has a financial stake.


3) She doesn’t mind taking funding away from public schools to do it.


4) She wants to destroy the entire system of public schools which enroll 90% of America’s children.


5) She doesn’t really know what public schools are, having never attended one or having never sent her children or grandchildren to one.


6) She wants to arm teachers not because it will protect kids from school shooters, but because that boosts her family’s investment portfolio. (i.e. her brother’s mercenary army for hire, Blackwater)


7) She won’t make charter and voucher schools give the same services to special education kids as those provided by traditional public schools.


8) She’s getting rid of students’ civil rights protections while adding protections for nefarious student loan providers and fly-by-night on-line schools.


9) She’s rescinded rules that protected trans students.


10) She’s considering rescinding rules that protect minority students from being unfairly and disproportionately disciplined by schools.


11) She’s made it harder for victims of sexual assault and harassment to report abuse and easier for those accused to avoid prosecution.


12) She talks about state’s rights to determine their own education systems while using the power of the federal government to coerce them to doing things her way.


13) She wastes public tax dollars. She is the only Cabinet member protected by Federal Marshals, which costs us nearly $1 million a month. Whether this is necessary or not, as a billionaire she could save the taxpayers money by taking on this cost, herself.


14) She doesn’t care if the public doesn’t want her at their school or event. She goes anyway and then pretends to be angry that protestors showed up. She doesn’t seem to understand that as a public servant she should serve at our pleasure – not the other way around.


15) She uses tragedy as a photo-op – as she did when she visited the Parkland school to promote arming teachers. She didn’t meet significantly with students or staff. She didn’t listen to their concerns. She even bailed on her own press conference there when the queries weren’t to her liking.


16) She has no problem whitewashing black history as she did when she claimed historic black colleges were pioneers of school choice. In reality they had no choice. For many African Americans at the time, it was create black colleges or forgo post-secondary education at all.


17) She is ignorant (purposefully or not) of the results of her own policies. Her advocacy of school choice in her home state of Michigan has weakened that state’s public schools, not strengthened them.


18) She’s out of touch with average Americans. She’s the richest member of Trump’s cabinet and often travels in her on super luxury yacht.


19) She’s rich not because she earned it, but because she was born into it and married into even more wealth. Moreover, much of her wealth is due to her family’s Amway fortune – basically it’s founded on rooking average people out of their hard earned money with what’s essentially a pyramid scheme.


20) She’s arrogant. She smiles vacantly at topics that don’t deserve a smile – they deserve serious regard.


21) She is extremely biased and partisan. She is supposed to serve the public interest, but her radical Christian Fundamentalism and anti-LGBT activism make her untrustworthy to serve in that capacity. Statements such as “There is enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education… Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom,” do not help.


Okay. That’s all I can think of – though more may pop into mind as soon as I publish this. If I missed something please include it in the comments.


Hopefully this answers DeVos’ question about why she’s hated.

When Students Stay Up All Night Playing Fortnite and You’ve got to Teach Them in the Morning



There is something monstrously unfair about our teacher evaluation systems.


If your students fail because they were up all night playing video games, it’s your fault.




When students fail at academic tasks, there is no responsibility attributed to the students, no responsibility attributed to the parents and certainly no responsibility given to society.


It’s all just thrown on the teacher because, hey, someone’s got to be responsible. And it might as well be them.


I’ve written scores of articles about how standardized tests forced on students by the federal government are unfair.


They are developmentally inappropriate, culturally biased, and subject to a deep conflict of interest because the people making the tests get more money if test takers fail.


The tests drive the curriculum instead of the other way around. The scores needed to pass change from year-to-year invalidating annual comparisons. And many lawmakers pushing for these assessments are funded by the school privatization industry that uses failing test scores to sell its own fly-by-night brand of education.


These are real problems our education system faces every day.


But we mustn’t forget an even more fundamental one: we’re all responsible for student success or failure.


Not just teachers. EVERYONE.


Society, lawmakers, business people, parents – but those most responsible are the students, themselves.


Case and Point—


Over the last few months a word has entered my students’ vocabulary that hadn’t been there before: Fortnite.


It’s not that they’re so interested in an antiquated term for a two-week period. It’s the name of a popular multiplayer on-line shoot-em-up video game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac. Players build forts with teammates to defend against other players or enemies.


Apparently, many of my students got it for Christmas. Or since there’s a free on-line version, they were turned on to it by others who had gotten the deluxe version as a present.


It started as an undercurrent of trash talk. “You suck at Fortnite.” “You can’t beat me on Fortnite.” “You just wish you could take me on Fortnite.”


And then it started to manifest physically.


Those same kids would come in to school with Fortnite Face – glassy red eyes, heads slumped on the table and the inability to stay awake for more than 10 minutes at a time.


It’s not all of my students, but it’s a significant percentage. Almost all boys. And almost all at a distinct learning disadvantage.


Teaching them is like teaching someone in a deep sea diver suit. They can’t really see or hear you very well. And any message you get back from them sounds like it’s coming from the bottom of the ocean.


When I noticed it, I cleared as much of my schedule as I could to call parents. It’s hard because administration decided not to fill positions in my department for teachers who retired last year – so all our classes are larger. And they gave me a new class I haven’t taught in years so the planning load is more cumbersome.


Plus I have as many special education students as legally allowed in every class, which requires mountains of extra paperwork and monitoring for each child.


And of course the phone in my room doesn’t call out and the cell reception is terrible, so I have to move to one of the few phones that will actually allow me to contact parents and try to communicate my concerns.


Most parents I talked to noticed the same things I had. Fortnite was taking over their children’s lives. Their kids were playing the game at every opportunity and ignoring most everything else.


However, most parents I couldn’t reach. Those cricket burner phones get disconnected quick. Others go straight to a voicemail box that’s so full it won’t accept new messages. Others allow me to leave a message that will never be returned.


But sometimes I did get through. And sometimes parents didn’t simply throw up their hands and say they don’t know what to do. Sometimes a parent actually laid down ground rules or took the game away.


However, if I’m being honest, contacting parents did not solve my problem.


I’m not blaming them. Most of my students live below the poverty line. That means their folks are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Or they’re grandparents raising their sons’ or daughters’ kids. Or they’re foster parents with a full house.


They’re doing the best they can. But it doesn’t end up stopping the addiction.


And – let’s be honest – it is an addiction.


For the first time in 2018, the World Health Organization recognized video game addiction as a real thing. Not every video game. Not every time someone sits down to play a video game. But video games can lead to addictive behavior.


That’s what I’m seeing in my students.


So after talking with as many parents as I could, I came to a mostly dead end.


My next step was to try to use student interests to influence instruction.


We were in the middle of a poetry writing unit. So I allowed students to write their poems about Fortnite.


That perked up a few heads.


Here’s a cinquain about Fortnite. Here’s an acrostic, a narrative, a concrete poem in the shape of a soldier or his gun.


To be honest, none of them were masterpieces.


They were just the normal trash talk and braggadocio written down in verse.


So I got an idea. Use the heightened competitive urge to push artistry.


We came to limericks – a difficult but fun type of poetry with five lines, a specific rhyme scheme and meter.


We read funny examples, we sang the rhythm together in chorus – da Dum da da Dum da da Dum – and then I set them the task of writing their own limericks.


With one twist. Whoever wrote the best limerick would get a homework pass.


That got them going like a shot.


All of my Fortniters perked up.


They wrote like I’d never seen.


Each wanted to one-up the others. And no one wrote about the game.


By the end of class, we had some pretty good poems. I wouldn’t say they are the best ever written, but they were miles better than where we were before.


So what does it all mean?


When we talk about video games these days, the conversation usually strays toward violence.


Pundits caution that video games will desensitize children and make them more prone to aggression and acting out. It might even contribute to the creation of school shooters.




In general, video games don’t make children more violent. Fortnite is a game where students shoot each other with guns all night long and it hasn’t made my students any more aggressive or violent than they already were.


Many cultures like the Japanese are much more into video games than ours and they have fewer violent incidents or school shootings.


However, video game addiction is a real thing and it impacts learning.


Some corporations want to try to harness this addiction to push learning. Hence the move to personalized or competency based education. That’s pure rubbish.


It’s a way to monetize education without paying attention to what’s best for kids. The same with gamification – using game theory to drive instruction.


And don’t think I’ve lost sight of my own use of competition in class. I haven’t.


Games and competition can be used to positive ends in moderation.


You can motivate reluctant kids to do things they wouldn’t normally do with competition. But it doesn’t work for everyone and it doesn’t work all the time.


It needs to be a novelty. Any tool can be overused.


Even video games aren’t bad in moderation. I used to be a gamer, myself.


The problem is when it becomes an addiction.


Our social structures can’t handle it.


Game corporations only care if it makes money. Parents are often stressed to the limit just to provide the basics.


The only group we require to be responsible is teachers.


And that’s just not going to work.


Video game addiction is another area where it becomes painfully clear how much work we all need to do to help our children succeed.

Gadfly on the Road – Reflections on My First Book Signing



So there I was standing at a podium in Barnes and Noble before an audience of 25 people who had come to hear me talk about my book.


Speech uploaded to my iPad – check.


Cough drop – check.


Fear that no one would take me seriously – Oh, double, triple check!


Let me just say there is a big difference between sitting behind a keyboard pounding out your thoughts for consumption on the Internet, and being somewhere – anywhere – in person.


I’ve spoken at rallies. I’ve spoken at school board meetings. I’ve spoken in private with lawmakers and news people.


But none of that is quite like being the center of attention at your own invitation, asking people to take time out of their busy lives and drag their physical selves to some prearranged place at some prearranged time just to hear whatever it is you’ve got to say.


I had been practicing my remarks for weeks after school.


I had a 15-20 minute speech ready to go – a distillation of the main themes in my book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”


Would people hear what I had to say?



I surveyed the audience. A few people I didn’t know. But there was my mom and dad, a bit more grey haired than I remembered yet doing their parental duty. There were a few colleagues from work – teachers, aides and substitutes. There were a few students standing in the back with their parents. One of my old high school buddies even showed up though he lived about a half hour away.


And there in the second row was my daughter.


For a moment, the whole world seemed to be nothing but her 9-year-old face – a mix of emotions – curiosity, nervousness, boredom.


In that moment, everything else disappeared. I had an audience of one.


I began.


It was surreal.


I spoke the words I had written weeks before, pausing to look up at the audience when I could.


Somehow I was both more and less nervous. I stumbled over parts that had caused no problems when alone. And I hit other points with more passion and purpose than ever before.


At certain points I found myself getting angry at the people behind the standardization and privatization of public education.


I rebuke these greedy saboteurs just about every week on my blog. But there was something different about putting the words on my tongue in public and letting the vibrations beat a rhythm on the ear drums of those assembled before me.


It was like reciting a spell, an incantation. And the effect was visible on the faces of those in front of me.


I glanced at my daughter, expecting her to be nagging her Pap to take her to the children’s section, but she was as entranced as the others.


And was I kidding myself or was there another emotion there? Pride?



I finished my remarks, getting a few laughs here and there. Anger and mirth in equal measure.


I thanked everyone for coming and took questions.


There were quite a bit.


Which aspect of corporate education reform was the worst?


Is there any way for parents to protect their children from standardized testing?


How has the gun debate impacted the move to privatization?


My mother even asked what alternative methods of assessment were preferable to standardized testing.


It went back and forth for a while.


When it seemed to die down, I thanked everyone for coming and said I would be there for as long as anyone would like to talk one-on-one and sign any books if people would like.


I had a line.


Thankfully, my wife brought me the nicest sharpie marker just before I got up there.


I tried to personalize as much as I could but everything seemed to be a variation on “Thanks for Coming.”


Students came up to me with huge grins. Parents asked more questions about their children. Lots of handshaking and hugs.


Teachers came up to tell me I had done a great job. Many introduced me to their kids – most itty bitty toddlers.


A former student who had already graduated got really serious and said, “It was about time someone said that.”



And it was over.


The store manager told me how many books we sold. I had no idea if that was good or bad, but he seemed well satisfied.


I packed everything up in my car and then went looking for my family.


I found them in the children’s section.


They had picked out a few books Mommy was purchasing. A really nice one about Harriet Tubman among them.


My daughter was sitting alone by a toy train set. She was worn out. It had been a long day.


“Daddy!” she said when she saw me. “You were amazing!”


And that was it.


That was all I’d needed.


She asked me about this or that from the speech. Obviously she didn’t understand the ins and outs of what I had said, but some of it had penetrated.


We talked about racism and why that was bad. We talked about what we could do to help stop it.


The rest of the time she held my hand and took me on a tour of the store.


I have hope for a better world, but if I’m honest, I’m not sure if writing this book or my activism or any of it will ever actually achieve its goal.


As ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.”


But I’ve shown my daughter where I stand.


I’ve shown her where I think it’s appropriate to stand.


I’ve shown the same to my students, my family, my community.


They’ll do with that what they will.


I just hope that one day when I’m gone, my daughter will remember what I taught her.


She’ll remember and feel my presence though I’m long gone.




Videos of the majority of my speech:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Economists Don’t Know Crap About Education



I hate to be blunt here, but economists need to shut the heck up.



Never has there been a group more concerned about the value of everything that was more incapable of determining anything’s true worth.



They boil everything down to numbers and data and never realize that the essence has evaporated away.



I’m sorry but every human interaction isn’t reducible to a monetary transaction. Every relationship isn’t an equation.



Some things are just intrinsically valuable. And that’s not some mystical statement of faith – it’s just what it means to be human.



Take education.



Economists love to pontificate on every aspect of the student experience – what’s most effective – what kinds of schools, which methods of assessment, teaching, curriculum, technology, etc. Seen through that lens, every tiny aspect of schooling becomes a cost analysis.



And, stupid us, we listen to them as if they had some monopoly on truth.



But what do you expect from a society that worships wealth? Just as money is our god, the economists are our clergy.



How else can you explain something as monumentally stupid as Bryan Caplan’s article published in the LA Times “What Students Know That Experts Don’t: School is All About Signaling, Not Skill-Building”?



In it, Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, theorizes why schooling is pointless and thus education spending is a waste of money.


It would be far better in Caplan’s view to use that money to buy things like… oh… his new book “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money.”


His argument goes something like this: the only value of an education is getting a job after graduation.


Businesses only care about school because they think it signifies whether prospective employees will be good or bad at their jobs. And students don’t care about learning – they only care about appearing to have learned something to lure prospective employers. Once you’re hired, if you don’t have the skills, employers have an incentive to give you on the job training. Getting an education is just about getting a foot in the door. It’s all just a charade.


Therefore, we should cut education funding and put kids to work in high school where they can learn how to do the jobs they’ll need to survive.


No wonder economics is sometimes called “The Dismal Science.” Can you imagine having such a dim view of the world where THAT load of crap makes sense?


We’re all just worker drones and education is the human equivalent of a mating dance or brilliant plumage – but instead of attracting the opposite sex, we’re attracting a new boss.


Bleh! I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.


This is what comes of listening to economists on a subject they know nothing about.


I’m a public school teacher. I am engaged in the act of learning on a daily basis. And let me tell you something – it’s not about merely signifying.


I teach 7th and 8th grade language arts. My students aren’t simply working to appear literate. They’re actually attempting to express themselves in words and language. Likewise, my students aren’t just working to appear as if they can comprehend written language. They’re actually trying to read and understand what the author is saying.


But that’s only the half of it.


Education isn’t even just the accumulation of skills. Students aren’t hard drives and we’re not simply downloading information and subroutines into their impressionable brains.


Students are engaged in the activity of becoming themselves.


Education isn’t a transaction – it’s a transformation.


When my students read “The Diary of Anne Frank” or To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, they become fundamentally different people. They gain deep understandings about what it means to be human, celebrating social differences and respecting human dignity.


When my students write poetry, short fiction and essays, they aren’t merely communicating. They’re compelled to think, to have an informed opinion, to become conscious citizens and fellow people.


They get grades – sure – but what we’re doing is about so much more than A-E, advanced, proficient, basic or below basic.


When the year is over, they KNOW they can read and understand complex novels, plays, essays and poems. The maelstrom of emotions swirling round in their heads has an outlet, can be shared, examined and changed.


Caplan is selling all of that short because he sees no value in it. He argues from the lowest common denominator – no, he argues from the lowest actions of the lowest common denominator to extrapolate a world where everything is neatly quantifiable.


It’s not hard to imagine why an economist would be seduced by such a vision. He’s turned the multi-color world into black and white hues that best suit his profession.


In a way, I can’t blame him for that. For a carpenter, I’m sure most problems look like a hammer and a nail. For a surgeon, everything looks like a scalpel and sutures.


But shame on us for letting one field’s myopia dominate the conversation.


No one seems all that interested in my economic theories about how to maximize gross domestic product. And why would they? I’m not an economist.


However, it’s just as absurd to privilege the ramblings of economists on education. They are just as ignorant – perhaps more so.


It is a symptom of our sick society.


We turn everything into numbers and pretend they can capture the reality around us.


This works great for measuring angles or determining the speed of a rocket. But it is laughably unequipped to measure interior states and statements of real human value.


That’s why standardized tests are inadequate.


It’s why value added teacher evaluations are absurd. It’s why Common Core is poppycock.


Use the right tool for the right job.


If you want to measure production and consumption or the transfer of wealth, call an economist.


If you want to understand education, call a teacher.

Go Ahead, SCOTUS. Rule Against Unions in Janus Case. You’ll Only Make Us Stronger





The corporate owned far right has been trying to destroy labor unions for decades.


But this time they may have finally overplayed their hand.


The upcoming Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case set for a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb 26 has been billed as the final nail in the coffin for public sector unions.


With the pitifully weak Democrats giving up President Obama’s pick for the bench in favor of Trump’s absurd choice, Neil Gorsuch, the court has a decidedly conservative bias.


So court watchers expect the latest challenge to collective bargaining rights to come out in favor of the corporations and billionaires who have spent truckloads of money to ensure the little guy has less of a say in the workplace.


BUT! They aren’t taking into account how stupid these far right shills truly are!


The case comes down to this: some people working in a union job don’t think they should have to pay union dues even though they benefit from the contract negotiated by their union. They affirm that being part of a union is political speech and thus they cannot be compelled to pay – yet somehow they should be able to keep all the benefits of being in a union, anyway.


So the union gets me a raise and better healthcare, but – even though none of my dues go to pay for political campaigns (that money is donated separately and voluntarily) – just being in a union is a political act.


If the court rules in favor of this position, unions would no longer be able to compel members to pay dues.


Pay them, don’t pay them – there’s nothing the union could do.


Conservatives are betting that if dues become voluntary on a person-by-person basis, at least a few members will opt out and thus weaken union finances and ability to collectively bargain for everyone.


But what they don’t seem to understand is that a decision like this would overturn decades of established law.


It would overturn mountains of legal decisions that provide the foundation for how our government works.


In short, how many times are we compelled to pay for things we don’t necessarily believe in?


Answer: every freakin’ day!


How much of my tax dollars go to the military? What if I don’t want my taxes used to pay for a bloated war machine?


How much of my hard earned money is wasted on corporate subsidies? What if I don’t want to prop up huge multinational businesses already making record profits?


How much of my money go to privatized schools? What if I’m against charter and voucher schools and want my taxes instead to fund fully public schools with elected boards, transparency and who have to accept all students regardless of ability?


If the court rules against unions, then I guess I won’t have to pay my taxes anymore – or at very least, I will have to be given the option of where my tax dollars go.


Not just SOME of my tax dollars – every single penny on a line-by-line basis for every single tax payer in the United States!


An Illinois based engineering union wrote in detail about exactly how such a ruling would change the landscape. Operating Engineers Local 150, wrote on their blog titled, “Union Busters Set Themselves Up for Janus Backfire”:



“If not bargaining is protected free speech, then bargaining will conversely be protected free speech, giving union workers new protections that we’ve never enjoyed before.  For example:

  1. Governor Scott Walker’s now infamous Act 10, the law that destroyed public sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin, will be declared an unconstitutional, content-based restriction on speech and association.


  1. Every state in America will now be subject to bargaining with their public sector employees, even if they didn’t previously.



  1. Local municipalities will be subject to numerous taxpayer lawsuits based upon forced contributions to lobbying groups.


  1. The municipal lobbying industry, currently an extremely large source of revenue for lobbyists, will be decimated as taxpayers now have a First Amendment right to demand their tax dollars are not used for lobbying or political advocacy.



  1. Public Sector pensions will be adversely affected as participants demand that their forced pension contributions are not used for corporate speech.


  1. Municipal advertising, tax increment financing, and all other types of tax breaks (think Foxxcon in Wisconsin) will be subject to litigation based upon taxpayers’ First Amendment rights to opt-out of this type of speech. The same burdensome calculations that are currently leveled only upon unions would become widespread.”


Shaun Richman, a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers, agrees.


In an article for In These Times called “How A Supreme Court Decision to Gut Public Sector Unions Could Backfire,” he writes:



“The ruling could both wildly increase workers’ bargaining power and clog the lower courts with First Amendment challenges to routine uses of taxpayer money. At a minimum, it has the potential to turn every public sector workplace dispute into a constitutional controversy…”



Frankly, this is kind of exciting.


In trying to stifle workers’ free speech, conservatives may unravel the statutes that have muzzled us for years.


A decision against unions by the Supreme Court would open the way for thousands of cases throughout the court system – challenge after challenge. Certainly conservative justices would try to staunch the tide, but they simply couldn’t stop every case – especially after such a dangerous precedent has been set!


The SCOTUS would be unleashing chaos on the justice system, and I, for one, hope that every workers union takes advantage of it.


Every individual across the political spectrum should file suit against whichever political peccadillo they want. Evangelicals can file against public schools using their tax dollars to teach evolution. Libertarians could file against having a standing army. Liberals could file against oil pipelines.


And on and on and on.


Meanwhile, those workers unions that conservatives are hoping will be destroyed will be just fine.


You think workers won’t pay their union dues? Some might try, but doing so will have immense personal ramifications. At very least, it will make those individuals social pariahs. Who wants to associate with someone who thinks they should get all the benefits without paying like everyone else?


Moreover, I don’t advocate violence against anyone, but stiffing your co-workers on your union dues is a sure fire way to get slashed tires. Do you put your lunch in a communal fridge? I wouldn’t eat that after word gets out you’re a free rider. Not unless you like to share your co-worker’s saliva.


Again, I’m not advocating for any of that, but it’s just the way humans behave. We don’t like paying for any other able-bodied person whose “political” decision puts our lives and livelihoods in jeopardy.


The end result of a ruling against unions would forever put collective bargaining rights firmly under the protection of the First Amendment.


It would protect all speech – including union rights.


So I say, go ahead, SCOTUS, make our day!

Study Suggests Bringing “No Excuses” Discipline Policies from Charter to Public Schools



The teacher begins class by taking out her Glock.


She casually walks to the front of the room and shoots a misbehaving student in the head.


All the others immediately begin working on their assignment.


It sounds like something from a horror movie. But it’s actually not all that far away from what real researchers at the Brookings Institution and Princeton University are suggesting we do.


Sarah Cohodes has written a new report called “Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap” that praises “No Excuses” discipline policies at urban charter schools and suggests they be more widely implemented at traditional public schools serving the poor and students of color.


I wish I were kidding.


Let’s return to the hyperbolic situation with which I began this article.


The noise of a gunshot brings the principal racing to the classroom.


She notices the slumped bleeding body of the shot child and walks up to the teacher ready to physically disarm and arrest her. But then she notices all the rows of neatly placed desks and the children diligently doing their work.


She glances down at a paper here and there and notices that the children are getting most of their work correct.


So she turns to the teacher and says, “Carry on, Ms. C. You seem to have everything under control here.”


That’s perhaps the most immediate concern brought by Cohodes research – it proposes to evaluate a discipline model based solely on its academic results and completely ignores other aspects of the student experience. For instance, how does the model affect students’ social and emotional development? Is it harmful to students’ curiosity, self-motivation and psychological well-being?


Pardon me, but these are important issues.


I don’t care if my fictional teacher’s shoot first discipline policy gets students to do exceptional classwork. My daughter will not be enrolled in that class – nor do I expect anyone would want their child to learn in such an environment regardless of how well it maximized test scores.


Let me be clear. This is hyperbole, but with a point.


“No Excuses” discipline policies don’t result in any gunshot wounds or deaths (to my knowledge), but they do create environments that are not conducive to the flourishing of children.



For instance, at a New Orleans charter school, students were punished for not standing straight, not sitting up straight, for putting their heads down, for closing their eyes for too long, for not tracking speakers correctly with their eyes! Between classes students had to walk single file between the wall and a line marked with orange tape. And they had strict dress codes.


This is not school. It is prison.


And it’s unsurprising that these sorts of discipline policies are found at urban charter schools like the KIPP network serving mostly poor and minority students.


Cohodes champions them because – in her view – they get results.


I say that she is missing the point.


Her view of what is important in school is far too narrow.


Moreover, it’s based on a misconception of what constitutes academic success.


Cohodes concludes “No Excuses” policies work solely because schools with such policies tend to have students who get higher test scores.


This is to make a few assumptions.


First, it assumes that the number of students weeded out by such discipline policies isn’t significant enough to wipe out the apparent increase in scores. The punishment for breaking the rules at these schools is often detention, suspension or expulsion. Every child who is enrolled at the beginning of the year isn’t there by testing time. How do we know that the school hasn’t lost so many students who couldn’t obey the rules that they wipe out any gains in testing?


Second, she is assuming standardized testing provide accurate assessments of knowledge and skills. This is far from an accepted premise. These tests have repeatedly been shown to be both economically and racially biased. Cohodes is assuming that since the students scoring better on the assessments are still poor and predominantly black, what they’re being tested on is fair.


Standardized tests are poor assessments. Multiple choice exams do not possess the flexibility to allow for creativity and depth of knowledge. They simply expect a “standard” student to think a certain way and reward dissimilar students for conforming to that standard.


“No Excuses” charter schools may be better at getting different children to act and think alike, but that is not necessarily an endorsement.


Cohodes concludes that these gains in test scores are ultimately beneficial because they will lead to success at college. However, numerous studies have shown that charter school students end up dropping out of college at higher rates than traditional public school students. They simply haven’t learned how to motivate themselves to learn without the rigid, military structures of the charter school environment. One can imagine similar outcomes for charter students (successful charter students) who immediately enter the workforce.


None of these considerations make it into Cohodes research.


She jumps from the brilliant standardized success of “No Excuses” charter schools to the need to include these policies in traditional public schools.


Cohodes worries that the charter school sector can never fully compete with traditional public schools, so we need to make traditional public schools more like charter schools.


However, I cannot imagine many parents would jump at the chance to have their children treated like prison inmates for the chance of higher test scores.


Unlike charter schools, public schools have school boards. They have to make their decisions in public and are accountable to voters who can come to the public meeting, protest and even run for a seat on the board themselves.


In short, this is a terrible idea.


It is somewhat staggering that a grown adult could look exclusively at the data and come to such a conclusion without considering what it means for flesh-and-blood students.


Not only that, but we’re talking about predominantly black and brown students. Is it somehow more acceptable because we’re talking about turning schools serving darker skinned students into Guantanamo Bay? Would it be as acceptable for rosy cheeked affluent white kids?


This is what happens when you let economists set public policy.


It is essential that we include parents, teachers, psychologist and even students in the processes. Otherwise, we’ll continue to get heartless number crunching offered as sincere solutions to our problems.