The Further You Get From Public Schools, the Greater the Chance of Child Abuse

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A California home-school where parents shackled, starved and abused their children is a symptom of a larger disease.

 

 

And that disease is privatization.

 

 

David Allen Turpin and his wife, Louise Anna Turpin, were arrested after police found the couple’s 13 children living in deplorable conditions in their Perris, California, home.

 

 

Some of the children were actually young adults but were so malnourished investigators at first mistook them for minors.

 

 

It is a situation that just could not have happened had those children been in the public school system.

 

 

Someone would have seen something and reported it to Child Protective Services. But school privatization shields child predators from the light and enables a system where minors become the means to every adult end imaginable.

 

 

Let me be clear. Privatization is defined as the transfer of a service from public to private ownership and control.

 

 

In education circles, that means home-schools, charter schools and voucher schools – all educational providers that operate without adequate accountability.

 

 

We are taking our most precious population – our children – and allowing them to be educated behind closed doors, out of sight from those tasked with ensuring they are getting the best opportunities to learn and are free from abuse.

 

 

And since home-schooling operates with almost zero oversight, it is the most susceptible to child neglect and mistreatment.

 

 

Children who in traditional public schools would have a whole plethora of people from teachers to counselors to principals to cafeteria workers who can observe the danger signs of abuse are completely removed from the home-school environment.

 

 

Home-schooled children receive their educations almost exclusively from parents.

 

 

While most moms and dads would never dream of abusing their kids, home-schooling provides the perfect cover for abusers like the Turpins to isolate children and mistreat them with impunity.

 

 

It is a situation that at least demands additional oversight. And at most it requires we rethink the entire enterprise as dangerous and wrongheaded.

 

 

Charter and voucher schools at least utilize whole staffs of people to educate children. The chances of something like this happening at these institutions is much smaller. However, both types of school also are much less accountable for their actions than traditional public schools.

 

 

And that is the common factor – responsibility. Who is being held answerable when things go wrong? At traditional public schools, there is a whole chain of adults who are culpable for children. At these other institutions, the number of people in the hot seat shrinks to zero.

 

 

Much of that has to do with the regulations each state puts on privatized schools.

 

 

Just look at the regulations governing home-schooling.

 

 

In 14 states including Delaware, California and Wisconsin, parents don’t have to do anything but let the school district know they’re home-schooling. That’s it! And in 10 states including Texas, Illinois and New Jersey, you don’t even have to do that!

 

 

Kids just disappear without a trace. If no one reports them missing, we assume they’re being home-schooled.

 

 

But even in states that appear to be more exacting on paper, the reality is a virtual free-for-all.

 

 

Take my home state of Pennsylvania. To begin home-schooling, parents must notify the superintendent, have obtained a high school degree themselves, provide at least 180 days of instruction in certain subjects and maintain a portfolio of their child’s test results and academic records.

 

 

That sounds impressive. However, this doesn’t really amount to much in practice because these regulations have few teeth. Hardly anyone ever checks up to make sure these regulations are being met – and they’re only allowed to check up under certain circumstances and only in certain ways and at certain times!

 

 

Even when it comes to charter and voucher schools, most states, including Pennsylvania, go little further than that.  

 

 

Frankly, most of the time we don’t know what happens in charter and voucher schools, because few state governments insist on audits, unscheduled visits or reports.

 

 

For instance, though few charter or voucher schools starve, lock up or torture students, many have zero tolerance discipline policies. Few would claim even these controversial behavior management systems sink to the level of some home-school parents who have allegedly withheld food and bound children’s hands with zip ties. But adolescents being forced to sit silently with their eyes looking forward, hands on the table or else receive loud rebukes – as they are in many charter or voucher schools – may qualify as another kind of abuse.

 

 

Moreover, all privatized schools can withhold providing a proper education. Home-school parents can refuse to teach their children not just truths about science and history but the basics of reading, writing and math. Likewise, charter and voucher schools can cut student services and pocket the savings as profit. And no one is the wiser because the state has abrogated its responsibility to check up on students or even require they be taught much of anything at all.

 

 

Meanwhile, none of this is possible in the traditional public school setting because it must operate in the light of day. It is fully accountable to the public. Its documents are public record. Decisions about how it should be run and how tax dollars are spent are made at open meetings by duly-elected members of the community.

 

 

Some, including myself, would argue that the regulations required of public schools by the state and federal government are sometimes too onerous, unnecessary or even just plain dumb. But that doesn’t change the fact that regulations are necessary. It just leaves open the question of which ones.

 

 

The bottom line is this: Public school is the equivalent of teaching children in an open room with qualified educators that have proven and continue to prove they have no criminal record and are able and ready to educate.

 

 

Privatized schools are the equivalent of teaching children in a closed room with educators who may not deserve the name and may or may not have deplorable criminal pasts.

 

 

Looked at in the abstract, no one in their right mind would conceivably suggest the latter is a better educational environment than the former. However, we have been subjected to an expensive propaganda campaign to make us think otherwise.

 

 

Look. I’m not saying public schools are perfect. Certainly students can be abused there, too. The media salaciously reports every doe-eyed teacher who stupidly has a sexual relationship with a student – whether it be at a public or privatized school. But in comparison with the worst that can and often does happen at privatized schools, these incidents at public schools are extremely rare (1 in 800,000) and of much less severity.

 

 

Though both are bad, there is a world of difference between the infinitesimal chance of being propositioned by your high school teacher and the much more likely outcome of being treated like a prison inmate at 13 by the charter school corporation or being starved, shackled and beaten by your parents!

 

 

Human beings aren’t going to stop being human anytime soon. Wouldn’t it be better to entrust our children to an environment with regulations and accountability than letting them go off in some locked room and just trusting that everything will be alright?

 

 

Our posterity deserves better than privatization.

 

 

They deserve the best we can give them – and that means fully responsible, fully regulated, fully accountable public schools.

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Men, Too, Need No Longer Suffer in Silence the Pain of Sexual Harassment

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This is one of the hardest articles I’ve ever written.

 

I’ve started it several times. And each time I deleted it.

 

After all, what right do I have to talk about sexual harassment?

 

I wasn’t raped.

 

I wasn’t drugged, beaten or blackmailed.

 

No one physically abused me in any way that did lasting physical harm.

 

But I was misused.

 

I was harassed.

 

And I shouldn’t have been.

 

I was made a victim, and my victimizer was a woman.

 

That, alone, shames me to my core.

 

I’m a grown man.

 

We’re not supposed to care about things like this.

 

We’re supposed to be unfeeling, undisturbed, stoic cowboys with our eyes ever fixed on the horizon.

 

If anything, I should be the one accused, not the accuser.

 

Some would deny that you even CAN sexually harass a man.

 

They’d look at the cultural ideal of manhood as an emotionally stunted beast of burden, and say men are too callous and shallow to be susceptible to this sort of pain. After all, men are always ready for the next sexual encounter. Or we should be, because that’s what it means to be a man.

 

But they’re wrong.

 

Men have feelings, too. We hurt. We cry. And we can be scarred by unwelcome advances.

 

So what happened?

 

It was almost thirty years ago.

 

I was just a kid in middle or high school – 8th or 9th grade.

 

It was in pottery class.

 

I’ve always loved the arts. I used to draw every spare second. My notebooks were covered with doodles and sketches. Cartoon dinosaurs and skulls. Sometimes an alien or dragon.

 

And I loved working with clay, too.

 

For years my mother had a vase I made in that pottery class. It was fat on the bottom with a slender neck. Purple glaze on the outside with a blue interior. Mom displayed it proudly in her dinning room, sometimes with a few flowers inside, until one day it accidentally fell from a shelf and shattered.

 

I might have been working on that same vase when it happened. I really can’t remember.

 

I think it was a pinch pot.

 

I was standing at a table I shared with three or four other students, wrapping tubes of hand rolled clay around and around into the shape of a container, when someone came up behind me, grabbed my butt and squeezed.

 

I jumped in surprise, and said “Ohh!” or something.

 

Then I heard, “Hey, sweet cheeks!”

 

And laughter. All coming from the other side of the room.

 

I turned my head to see who it had been.

 

It was a girl I hardly knew though she had been in my classes since first grade.

 

Let’s call her Nancy.

 

She was a chunky but not unattractive girl from the other side of the room.

 

She walked back to her friends, both boys and girls, at her table, and they were all losing it over what had happened.

 

I blushed and turned back to my work, feeling like the clay my fingers molded.

 

I couldn’t even process what had happened.

 

Why had Nancy just walked over to me and pinched my butt?

 

It wasn’t even a playful pinch. It wasn’t grabbing someone with the palm of your hand and giving a squeeze. She had clawed into my flesh, secured a good hunk and pulled.

 

It was angry and mean.

 

I didn’t understand. What had I ever done to her?

 

I barely knew her. I hadn’t said more than ten words to her in eight years.

 

“You like that?” she asked from across the room.

 

I just kept working on my pot, looking at it as if it were the only thing left in the universe.

 

The others at my table were giggling, too.

 

I remember it like a scene in slow motion. Me rolling out and unwinding the clay. Everyone else laughing. Nancy smirking.

 

And then she came back and did it again!

 

I jumped and squealed.

 

But I did nothing. I said nothing.

 

She pinched me at least three or four more times. Maybe more.

 

And she said something each time.

 

And like it was on a script, always the laughter and guffaws.

 

Eventually I think I started to quietly cry.

 

That’s when it stopped mostly.

 

 

The others at my table were as silent as I was. When they saw my reaction, I think they got embarrassed.

 

We were all working with incredible concentration trying not to acknowledge what was happening.

 

I made sure not to turn and look behind me. But I could hear the snickers.

 

Where was the teacher?

 

The room had a strange L-shape. At the foot of the L was a kiln where she was diligently firing last week’s pottery. From where she was, she probably couldn’t see the rest of us working at our tables.

 

I don’t think she saw anything. She never said anything if she did.

 

When she returned to our side of the art room, she may have asked if I was okay. I’m not sure. I probably just shrugged it off. Maybe asked to go to the bathroom.

 

Why did this bother me so much?

 

Because I wasn’t asking for anyone to come over and touch me like that.

 

I just wanted to make my stupid pot. I just wanted to be left alone.

 

I didn’t want to be treated like anyone’s joke. I didn’t want my physicality to be the cause of anyone’s laughter.

 

It’s not that Nancy was a pariah or a terrible person or anything. If things had been different, I might have responded differently.

 

But when you’re a guy in high school, you aren’t allowed to be upset when a girl comes and pinches you.

 

You’re supposed to respond a certain way.

 

I couldn’t ask her to stop. I’m supposed to love it.

 

Even if it’s a joke.

 

Even if it’s a way to denigrate me in front of the whole class. Even if it’s a way to proclaim me the most undesirable boy in the whole room.

 

It felt like someone pointing at a banana peel in the trash and mockingly saying, “Yum! Yum!”

 

But I was the garbage.

 

It certainly made me feel that way.

 

I’m not sure why this has bothered me for so long.

 

Maybe it’s the feeling of powerlessness – that there was nothing I could do. Maybe it was a feeling that I should be reacting differently. I should be more assertive either telling her to leave me alone or maybe actually liking the physical contact.

 

I’m not sure how to explain it.

 

I was made to feel inferior and degraded.

 

Perhaps that’s why I’ve remained silent about it all these years. The only solution had seemed to be to forget about it and move on.

 

Yet doing so leaves a cold lump in your chest. Oh, it won’t kill you. But it’s always there. You just learn to live with it.

 

I suppose in writing about it, I’m trying to rid myself of that lump.

 

I don’t know if it will work. But I’m tired of carrying it around with me anymore.

 

We’re living in a remarkable moment. Women everywhere feel empowered to share their stories of abuse at the hands of men. Shouldn’t I feel empowered to share my story of abuse at the hands of a woman?

 

But there does seem to be a disconnect here. A disanalogy.

 

No matter who you are, everyone has been the victim at one point or another.

 

Whether you’re male or female, rich or poor, black or white – everyone has been on the losing side.

 

However, some people use that truth as an excuse to pretend that all groups have been equally targeted. They use it as a way to justify the marginalization and minimalization of women and people of color, for instance, groups that have been most often earmarked for abuse.

 

 

Let me be clear – I firmly reject that. I am not All Lives Mattering sexual harassment and abuse. Clearly, women have born the brunt of this burden and men have more often been the cause.

 

But that doesn’t mean that men are immune to being victimized or that women are incapable of being aggressors.

 

Perhaps that’s my point in writing this – to caution against easy expectations and easy labels.

 

Toxic masculinity exists because we have toxic expectations for men and boys. Our society molds them into the shape of our collective expectations.

 

It’s about time we expect more from men.

 

And it’s time we allow them the space to be hurt so that they, too, need no longer suffer in silence.

Hidden Gadfly – Top 5 Stories (By Me) You May Have Missed in 2017

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So that was 2017.

 

It was a year that frankly I wasn’t sure I’d survive.

 

But I did. We did. Together.

 

I think if there’s any lesson from the last 365 days, it’s that: We can endure anything if we stay united.

 

We’ve taken down titans of industry simply by acts of belief. When women came forward with credible tales of abuse, for the first time we – as a society – actually believed them.

 

 

We’ve taken down the most morally repugnant child abusers with designs on national office simply by supporting the black vote. And no matter how much power tried to disenfranchise our brothers and sisters of color, we stood by them and made sure their voices were heard.

 

We’ve taken down the authors of some of the most backward legislation in the country by supporting the very people who were targeted – I’m talking about Danica Roem the first transgender state legislator in the country taking down the author of Virginia’s bigoted bathroom bill! Absolutely amazing!

 

These are the kinds of things we need more of in the New Year.

 

If you take all the “minorities” in this country – minorities of gender, race, sexuality, creed, religion, etc. – if you add us all together, we actually are the majority!

 

When you add white people of conscience with black people, Latinos and Hispanics, LGBTs, women, Muslims, and every other historically disenfranchised group, we have the upper hand. And when you compare economic disparities of the 99% vs the 1% or poor vs rich, it’s not even close!

 

And I’m not talking about some time in the future. I’m talking about right now!

 

All we need to do is stand together and fight for each other.

 

Our democracy is in tatters, but not much needs to remain to empower our overwhelming supermajority.

 

So as 2018 is about to dawn, I am filled with hope for the future. A truly amazing year may be about to dawn. It’s all up to us.

 

In the meantime, I take my last look over my shoulder at the year that was.

 

As an education blogger, I write an awful lot of articles, 119 articles so far this year. In fact, this piece – which will probably be my last of the year – brings me to 120!

 

I’ve already published a countdown of my most popular articles. If you missed it, you can still read it here.

 

However, as is my custom, I like to do one final sweep of my annual output counting down honorable mentions. These are the top five articles that maybe didn’t get as many readers, but that I think deserve a second look.

 

I hope you enjoy my top 5 hidden gems before I place them in the Gadfly vault and begin the hard work of making 2018 a better tomorrow:


 

 

5) Standardized Testing Creates Captive Markets

 

Published: April 8 thumbnail_Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 10.41.23 AM

 

 

Views: 4,301

 

 

Description: Standardized testing is often championed by people who claim to be free market capitalists. Yet it struck me that there was nothing free about the market being perpetrated on public schools when it comes to high stakes tests. Schools don’t give these tests because anyone in these districts actually thinks they help students learn. We do it because we’re forced by federal and state governments. It’s a racket, and in this article I explain exactly how and why.

 

 

Fun Fact: This article was well received, but I thought it might deserve to be even more so. Education writer and classroom teacher Frank Stepnowski wrote about it in his most recent book RETRIBUTION: A scathing story of mandatory minutiae, softening students, pretentious parents, too much testing, common core conundrums, and the slow death of a noble profession.” He was so taken by it he even taught my piece to his high school composition students. In addition, education historian Diane Ravitch probably liked this article more than any single work I’ve ever written. She positively beamed on her blog calling it, “One of the best articles you will ever read about standardized testing.” I guess it’s no wonder that I included it in my first book published just a few months ago, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.” In particular, Ravitch wrote:

 

“When I read this post by Steven Singer, I was so excited that I thought about devoting an entire day to it. Like posting it and posting nothing else for the entire day. Or posting this piece over and over all day to make sure you read it. It is that important.

 

Steven’s post explains two different phenomena. First, why is standardized testing so ubiquitous? What does it have a death grip on public education?

 

Second, in the late 1990s, when I was often in D.C., I noticed that the big testing companies had ever-present lobbyists to represent their interests. Why? Wasn’t the adoption of tests a state and local matter? NCLB changed all that, Race to the Top made testing even more consequential, and the new ESSA keeps up the mandate to test every child every year from grades 3-8. No other country does this? Why do we?”


 

 

4) I Am Not A Hero Teacher

 

Published: Aug. 1 Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 10.53.52 AM

 

 

Views: 2,137

 

 

Description: According to landmark research by Dan Goldhaber and James Coleman, only about 9 percent of student achievement is attributable to teachers. The entire school experience only accounts for 20%. By far, the largest variable is out of school factors, which accounts for 60% of a student’s success. Yet we insist on holding teachers accountable for nearly 100% of it. We demand our teachers be superhuman, give them next to zero support, and then get indignant when they can’t do it all alone. Sorry, folks, I’m just a human being.

 

 

Fun Fact: Our expectations for teachers are ridiculous. We want them to do everything and then we blame them for acting like saviors. I think it’s vital that people acknowledge this impossible situation we put educators in and start to take more social responsibility. Your schools won’t get better until you do something about it. Stop complaining and get to work. That means voting for lawmakers who support public education. That means attending school board meetings. That means holding the decision makers responsible. Not just taking advantage of an easy scapegoat.

 


 

3) A Teacher’s Dilemma: Take a Stand Against Testing or Keep Abusing Children

 

Published: Sept 8 AJGE5E_2026469c

 

 

Views: 1,262

 

 

Description: What does a teacher think about when he or she is forced to give a standardized test? This article is my attempt to capture the no-win situation that our society forces on teachers every year. Apparently we must choose between doing things that we know are harmful to our students or taking a stand and possibly losing our jobs. You become a teacher to help children and then find that harming them is in the job description. Is this really what society wants of us?

 

 

Fun Fact: This article resonated deeply with some readers. In fact, a theater group in Ithaca, NY, Civic Ensemble, was so inspired by it that they used my article as the basis for a scene in a play made up of teacher’s real life stories about the profession. The play was called “The Class Divide.” You can watch a video of a practice performance of my scene here.

 

 


 

2) Top 10 Reasons Public Schools are the BEST Choice for Children, Parents & Communities

 

Published: Sept. 15 thumbsup

 

 

Views: 734:

 

Description: A lot has been written about why charter and voucher schools are bad for parents, students and society. Less has been written about the ways that public schools do better than privatized education. This was my attempt to illuminate the ways public schools are better. They attract better teachers, have a more robust sense of community, have more educational options, have greater diversity, are more fiscally responsible – and that’s just the first five!

 

Fun Fact: When you list all the ways public schools are better than privatized ones, it becomes hard to imagine why they’re struggling. Public schools are clearly the best choice. The fact that they are being sabotaged by the privatization industry and their creatures in government is inescapable.

 


 

1) Black Progress Does Not Come At White Expense

 

Published: Nov. 14

People of different races hold hands as they gather on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge in Charleston

 

 

Views: 219

 

 

Description: When you ask racists why they oppose racial equity, the number one reason they give is the feeling that equity is a zero sum game. If black people are put on an equal footing with white people, then white people will ultimately lose out. This is patently untrue. White people will lose supremacy over other races, but they need not become subservient or lose their own rights. We can champion fairness for all without doing ourselves harm.

 

 

Fun Fact: This article kind of died on the vine, but I’m still proud of it. I think it is one of my best this year expressing my own thoughts and feelings about antiracism. I just wish more people had read it, because it sounds like this is an idea that more white people need to hear. We can only build a better world hand-in-hand.


 

NOTE: Special thanks to my fellow education blogger, Russ Walsh, who originally gave me the idea to write a countdown of under-read articles. He does it, himself, every year at his own excellent blog. If you’re new to the fight against corporate education reform, Russ has written an excellent primer on the subject – A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century: Navigating Education Reform to Get the Best Education for My Child.


Gadfly’s Other Year End Round Ups

This wasn’t the first year I’ve done a countdown of the year’s greatest hits. I usually write one counting down my most popular articles (like the one you just read from 2017) and one listing articles that I thought deserved a second look. Here are all my end of the year articles since I began this crazy journey in 2014:

2017

What’s the Buzz? A Crown of Gadflies! Top 10 Articles (by Me) in 2017

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2016

Worse Than Fake News – Ignored News. Top 5 Education Stories You May Have Missed in 2016

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Goodbye, 2016, and Good Riddance – Top 10 Blog Post by Me From a Crappy Year

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 2015

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

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Who’s Your Favorite Gadfly? Top 10 Blog Posts (By Me) That Enlightened, Entertained and Enraged in 2015

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2014

Off the Beaten Gadfly – the Best Education Blog Pieces You Never Read in 2014

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Top 10 Education Blog Posts (By Me) You Should Be Reading Right Now!

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Still can’t get enough Gadfly? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Betsy DeVos – Extreme Image Makeover as Champion of Special Needs Children

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Meet Betsy DeVos, Champion of Students With Special Needs.

 

At least that’s who she’s pretending to be this week.

 

The wealthy Republican mega-donor who bought her position as Secretary of Education published an article in the current issue of Education Week called “Commentary: Tolerating Low Expectations for Students With Disabilities Must End.”

 

It was almost like she expected us all to forget who she actually is and her own sordid history with these kinds of children.

 

Up until now, the billionaire heiress and public school saboteur always put the needs of profitizers and privateers ahead of special needs children.

 

During her confirmation hearing, she refused to say whether she would hold private, parochial and charter schools receiving tax dollars to the same standard as public schools in regard to how they treat special education students. Once on the job, she rescinded 72 federal guidelines that had protected special education students.

 

But now she’s coming off like a special education advocate!

 

What a turnaround!

 

It’s almost like David Duke coming out in favor of civil rights! Or Roy Moore coming out in favor of protecting young girls from pedophiles! Or Donald Trump coming out in favor of protecting women from crotch grabbing!

 

It begs the question – who exactly is she trying to fool?

 

Does Education Week really expect us to buy

this crap? Or has the so-called corporate media enterprise simply caved to the Trump administration’s demand to publish a puff piece for rubes without any journalistic integrity?

 

Real journalists might have published this BS, but only after giving readers the proper context.

 

Not Education Week. The only nod toward objectivity was inserting the word “Commentary” in the title of DeVos’s article.

 

It’s almost like saying – DeVos ALLEGEDLY champions students with special needs.

 

Give me a break.

 

She’s championing a feel good decision from the US Supreme Court from March. Way to get on that, Betsy!

 

Moreover, the decision isn’t exactly substantive.

 

It basically says that public schools need to ensure their special education students make more than minimal academic progress.

 

Great! Who doesn’t want that?

 

Has Congress jumped on this decision to increase federal aide to help public schools meet this requirement?

 

Nope.

 

And neither is DeVos calling for any additional federal help. In fact, her administration is proposing CUTTING federal special education funding.

 

Yet when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in 1975 by the Gerald Ford administration, the federal government was supposed to fund 40% of the cost of all special education students. It has never met that promise.

 

Today, the federal government only shoulders 15.7% of the cost with the states and individual districts picking up the rest.

 

This is extremely unfair.

 

It costs roughly twice as much to educate a special education student as a non-special education student. Yet the numbers of special needs students are on the rise.

 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 statistics (the most recent available), students with special needs account for 8.8% of the population. That’s up an additional 100,000 students from the previous year.

 

And the areas with the largest increase of special needs students are the most impoverished.

 

So we’re expecting the poorest communities to take up the largest percentage of the tab.

 

There are several bills in Congress demanding the federal government increase funding to the 40% threshold, but DeVos didn’t see fit to mention them.

 

To her, money is a thing only worth being lavished on private, parochial or charter schools.

 

Instead, she mentioned “personalized” education as a remedy for special needs students in public schools.

 

She wrote:

 

“No two children are the same. Each has his or her own unique abilities and needs. Personalized, student-centered education can help all children thrive, especially children with disabilities.” (Emphasis mine)

 

Though few people really disagree with this statement, the use of the word “Personalized” sets off alarm bells.

 

The term has come to mean “personalized learning” or “competency based education” which is code for making students sit on a computer or a device for hours at a time completing stealth assessments. These are programs made to look like video games that really just assess the same standardized material on the typical fill-in-the-bubble high stakes test.

 

And the results of these assessments are likewise used against schools and students as an excuse to privatize and strip them of local control, legal protections and mandated transparency.

 

There are authentic ways to use technology to help kids learn, but the rush by corporations to cash in on this emerging market has been largely unregulated, unstudied and unchallenged.

 

DeVos has already noted her commitment to edtech solutions to academic problems.

 

At a conference for edtech investors earlier this year she said:

 

“We’ve just scratched the surface in the role technology can play. I only have to look at my young grandchildren to see how powerful tech is. It is a thousand flowers, and we haven’t planted the whole garden.”

 

Another place she can look is her investment portfolio.

 

Both she and her husband have a $5 million and $25 million investment in a shady “brain performance” company called Neurocore. DeVos even sat on the company’s board until she got her job as Secretary of Education and had to step down.

 

The company claims to be able to train young brains to think better by hooking kids up to hats with wires hanging out of them.

 

I’m not kidding. The whole things goes against just about every peer-reviewed study in the field of neuroscience, but DeVos claims her company can help cure attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, stress, depression, poor sleep, memory loss and migraines.

 

In other words, hooking kids up to machines of dubious scientific value is the cure for special education.

 

This is where we are people.

 

Our government is run by frauds and hucksters.

 

And the media calmly gives them an unchallenged platform to spout whatever nonsense they like with little to no skepticism.

 

So Betsy DeVos is a champion for students with disabilities, huh?

 

File that under B for Bullshit.


Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Teacher Seniority – the Seat Belts of the Education Profession

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

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

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

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

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

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

MYTH: Seniority with Tenure means a Job for Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basically, it means two things:

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

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

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

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

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

It stops number crunchers from saying:

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

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

Yes. There are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost any stat can be gamed.

The only one that is solidly unbiased? Seniority.

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

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

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

But look. It’s not perfect.

Neither are seat belts.

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

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

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

That’s the bottom line.

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

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

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

My Students Are Addicted to Screens

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Michael sat at his desk with ear buds inserted, an iPad balanced in front of his eyes and an old fashioned paper book open on his desk.

His head was bopping and weaving. His eyes were transfixed on a YouTube video of an animated soldier blasting away bad guys. And his book was laid out in front of him, largely ignored.

This was during our class’ sustained silent reading time – a period of 15-20 minutes where my 7th grade students were supposed to read self-selected books. Eventually, they’d have to complete a project, but today all they had to do was read.

Still, many used the time the same way as Michael did – lost in cyberspace, merely pretending their eyes gloss over the page.

“And what did the teacher do?” I hear some readers say indignantly.

“If you allow this type of behavior, you’re worse than the child doing it.”

So come with me as I redirect Michael.

“Hey, buddy,” I say.

“Huh?” he responds as if awakened from a dream.

“Are you reading?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“You’re not just watching that video and ignoring your book?”

“Nope,” he says now fully awake. And he proceeds to give me a canned summary of the text that he memorized from the Internet.

But I’m still skeptical.

“I’m going to take your iPad away just for SSR time,” I say.

BUT WHY!? I’M READING!”

“I just want you to be able to concentrate on what you’re reading.”

And as I gently pry the iPad from his curled fists, he stands up and gives me a look of pure hatred.

This is a look from a 7th grade boy who’s considering violence.

It’s the same look you’d get trying to take away a dog’s bone, or an addict’s crack pipe.

It truly depends on the child what happens next. Some will regain control, slam down into their seats and sulk. Others will whine and cause a scene. And some will lose all control and lash out.

This is what teachers deal with every day when it comes to technology in the classroom.

In point of fact, many of our children are addicted to their devices.
iPads, laptops, Smartphones – we might as well be giving them pills, joints and syringes.

According to Merriam Webster, addiction is defined as, “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance… [characterized] by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.”

For most students, their devices have become just that – a compulsion, the cause of a nearly irresistible impulse to check them, access them, use them to keep themselves entertained and plugged in.

With repeated use, it becomes habit forming, and separation from the device can lead to a kind of withdrawal.

From a neuro-psychological point of view, one wonders if repeated use is clinically damaging – especially to adolescent brains that have not yet fully formed.

From an educational point of view, one wonders if relying on such devices in class is pedagogically sound.

I’m not qualified to answer the first question (though it deserves much more study than it is receiving). But from my 15 plus years of experience in the classroom, I feel qualified to answer the second – and that answer is often a resounding “NO.”

In my kids’ everyday lives, this type of constant technology reliance doesn’t make them better students. It doesn’t give them access to more information. It makes them dependent on instant gratification and sensory overload.

Their minds are submerged in a soup of constant noise and conflicting demands for their attention. Stringing together thoughts and coming to reasoned opinions becomes increasingly difficult.

This isn’t to say that technology has no place in the classroom.

There are ways to use it that can enhance learning. However, in my experience these are NOT the ways it is being used most of the time. That takes, thought, planning, intention. Instead, many well-meaning administrators or school directors prescribe technology as an end in itself regardless of the goals of an individual lesson. They want to prove their buildings, schools or districts are cutting edge, and that only takes the constant use of technology – not surgical, intentional use.

It’s not that teachers don’t know how to apply it or don’t care. It’s that technology – especially the presence of a one-to-one device in the hands of every child at all (or most) times – creates more problems than it solves.

This is why the same people who invented these technologies strictly regulate them for their own children.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two of the biggest tech titans in the business, famously limited screen time for theirs sons and daughters.

Gates, a Microsoft co-founder, refused to let his children have personal technological devices until they were developmentally ready for them.

“We don’t have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal,” he told the Mirror. “We didn’t give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier.”

Today, most children get their own cellphones at age 10. And if their schools have one-to-one initiatives like mine, they have their own iPad as early as 5th grade with less but still substantial hours of usage as early as kindergarten.

Jobs, an Apple co-founder, also limited screen time for his children.

When asked if his children liked the original iPad shortly after it was launched, Jobs said, “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

In fact, according to Walter Isaacson, who wrote a near-definitive Jobs’ biography, technological devices were only allowed at prescribed times.

“Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things,” he said.

“No one ever pulled out an iPad or a computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”

And this practice seems common among parents in Silicon Valley.

According to educators Joe Clement and Matt Miles, authors of “Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber,” those in the tech industry know the dangers of their own products on children.

A number of specialty Silicon Valley schools, say Clement and Miles, such as the Waldorf School, rely almost exclusively on low-tech tools to teach. This often means chalkboards and pencils. The emphasis is on learning interpersonal skills such as cooperation and respect – not the ins and outs of computer coding.

At Brightworks School, even the physical environment of the class is a tool to learning. Students attend class in treehouses and kids learn creativity by building things with their hands.

This is a far cry from the technological wonderland our kids are being sold by these kids’ parents.

No one really knows what effect it’s having on growing minds. However, psychologists are beginning to see alarming trends.

For instance, frequent use of social media makes an eighth-grader’s risk for depression 27% higher. Moreover, use of smart phones for at least three hours a day increases children’s risk of becoming suicidal. Some experts believe that increased use of technology has contributed to the teen suicide rate which for the first time eclipses the homicide rate.

We are jumping head first into an educational model that puts technological devices like a tablet at the center of learning.

Teachers assign lessons on the device. Students complete assignments on it. Projects are virtual as is research. Even conversations are conducted through a chat page, emails or messaging.

Why? Not necessarily because of any proven link to increased academic results. It’s because tech companies are marketing their devices to schools and students.

This is industry-driven, not pedagogically-driven.

There is an unquestioned bias that doing things with technology is somehow better simply because we’re using technology. However, an article written on a computer will not necessarily be better than one written with pen and ink. There are other factors involved.

Now Gates and company are pushing personalized learning objectives. Sometimes called competency based education, these continue to place the device in the center of what should be the student-teacher relationship.

Student learning becomes a video game and the teacher becomes a virtual avatar. Kids spend their time doing infinite standardized testing as if it were authentic education, yet it’s all on-line so it appears to be cutting edge. It isn’t.

It’s just another scam.

In my own classes, I’ve put the brakes on unquestioned technology. I only use devices, programs or applications that are (1) reliable and (2) when I know why I’m using them.

Even then, I find myself unable to even talk to students without beginning every lesson telling them to at least temporarily put their devices away so they can hear the directions.

Sure, I could give them a QR code to scan and get a written copy of the directions. I could upload a video for them to watch. But that limits direct feedback. It makes it more difficult for them to ask questions. And it makes it almost impossible for me to tell if 20-30 kids are actually doing the assignment before they turn it in for grading.

These are just kids, and like kids in any age they’ll take the path of least resistance. Often they’ll try to get through the assignment as quickly as possible so they can listen to music, or watch a video, or play a video game or chat on-line.

Lessons can be engaging or thought-provoking or spark the creative impulse. But you have to get students’ attention first.

That’s hard to do when they always have the option to crack their brains open over a virtual frying pan and watch it sizzle away.

To be fair, living in the modern world, we’re probably all somewhat addicted to technology. This blog isn’t written on papyrus and it isn’t being accessed in a hefty library volume.

I use social media – Facebook and Twitter mainly – to disperse it.

But there’s a difference between me and my students.

I’m an adult.

I know the concessions I’m making. I enter into this with eyes open. I have a lifetime of experience and knowledge with which to make such a decision.

Children don’t have that. They look to us to protect them.

We are their guardians. We’re only supposed to subject them to things that will help them learn, keep them healthy and happy.

But in our rush to be trendy and hip, we’re failing them miserably.

We’re letting business and industry take over.

It’s time to take a stand.

Our kids may be addicted, but we don’t have to be their pushers.

We need to get them clean and show them how to use this brave new tool with moderation and restraint.

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

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Do you feel it?

The future is coming.

There it is hovering just over the horizon.

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

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

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

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

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

So we’ll be ready.

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

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

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

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

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

But whatever.

This sales pitch about outmoded schools sounds really nice.

It resonates.

It makes us feel good.

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

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

PLEASE!

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

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

As if the thought never occurred to anyone else.

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

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

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

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

Seriously.

Let the experts have a say for once.

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

Meanwhile, all you have is a bank account.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That means your parent’s parent’s parents!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get one thing straight.

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

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

You want real innovative reforms in our public schools?

Here’s what you do.

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

Here’s a short list:

-Stop privatizing and start supporting public schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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