Charter School Lobby Panics as NAACP Rejects For-Profit Schools

 Man-Freaking-Out

 

White America has a history of freaking out at perfectly reasonable suggestions by the black community.

 

 

Hey, maybe black people shouldn’t be slaves.

 

 

SOUTHERN STATES SECEDE! THE CIVIL WAR BEGINS!

 

 

Hey, maybe black lives should matter as much as white ones.

 

 

BLUE LIVES MATTER! MAGA! TRUMP!

 

 

Hey, maybe we shouldn’t be making money off of children’s educations?

 

 

PANIC!

 

 

That’s what seems to be happening at think tanks and school privatization lobbying firms across the country after a new report by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) this week.

 

 

Some news sources are characterizing the report as “radical” or “controversial.”

 

 

However, the report, titled “Quality Education for All: One School at a Time,” basically says nothing more revolutionary than that all public schools should be transparent and accountable.

 

That includes charter schools.

 

“Public schools must be public,” the report states. “They must serve all children equitably and well. To the extent that they are part of our public education system, charter schools must be designed to serve these ends.”

 

And why shouldn’t they?

 

More than 3 million students attend charter schools across the country. Approximately 837,000 of them are black. Don’t they deserve the same kinds of democratically controlled schools and fiscal responsibility as their counterparts in traditional public schools?

 

 

Somehow your local public school is able to teach kids while still keeping a record of how it’s spending its money – your money. And if you don’t like what’s being done, you can go to a school board meeting and speak up or even run for a leadership position.

 

 

How does getting rid of that help kids learn? How does operating in secret in the shadows benefit children?

 

 

The report also recommends that local communities should have more control over whether to open charter schools in their districts and calls for an end to for-profit charter schools, altogether.

 

 

Not exactly the musings of anarchist provocateurs.

 

 

Charter school cheerleaders like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos call their movement School Choice. Shouldn’t communities get to choose whether they want them there in the first place? If the program is based on the free market, let them make their case to the community before setting up shop. They shouldn’t get to make a backroom deal with your congressman and then start peddling their wares wherever they want.

 

 

Moreover, if charter schools are, indeed, public schools, why should they be allowed to operate at a profit? They are supported by tax dollars. That money should go to educating children, not lining the pockets of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers.

 

 

The authors were very specific on this point:

 

“No federal, state, or local taxpayer dollars should be used to fund for-profit charter schools, nor should public funding be sent from nonprofit charters to for-profit charter management companies.”

 

But that’s not all.

 

 

The author’s also call out charters infamous enrollment and hiring practices. Specifically, these kinds of privatized schools are known to cherry pick the best and brightest students during admissions, and to kick out those who are difficult to teach or with learning disabilities before standardized testing season. The report called for charters to admit all students who apply and to work harder to keep difficult students – both hallmarks of traditional public schools.

 

 

In addition, the report suggests charters no longer try to save money by hiring uncertified teachers. If charters are going to accept public money, they should provide the same kind of qualified educators as their traditional public school counterparts.

 

 

However, even if such reforms are made, the report is doubtful that privatized education could ever be as effective and equitable as traditional public schools. In perhaps the most damning statement in the report, the authors wrote:

 

“While high-quality, accountable, and accessible charters can contribute to educational opportunity, by themselves, even the best charters are not a substitute for more stable, adequate and equitable investments in public education.”

 

The report was written by the 12-member NAACP Task Force on Quality Education after a set of intensive hearings or “listening sessions” across the country in cities such as New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and New York. The final product is the result of the input they received during these meetings.

 

 

This is only the latest in a growing movement of skepticism toward privatized education of all sorts – especially in relation to its impact on students of color.

 

 

Less than a year ago, the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in the country, called for a moratorium on any new charter schools. This week’s report takes that caution to the next level.

 

 

Despite a truly controversial record, over the past decade, the number of students in charter schools has nearly tripled. In terms of pure numbers, black students only make up more than a quarter of charter school enrollment. However, that’s a disproportionately high number since they make up only 15 percent of total public school enrollment. To put it another way, one in eight black students in the United States today attends a charter school.

 

 

The NAACP isn’t the only civil rights organization critical of charter schools. Groups such as the Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of grassroots community, youth, and parent-led organizations, and the Movement for Black Lives, a conglomeration of the nation’s youngest national civil rights organizations, have also expressed concern over the uses and abuses of students of color in charter schools.

 

 

 

However, this week’s report wasn’t focused solely on privatization. It also addressed the central issue at traditional public schools – funding disparities.

 

 

The report identifies severe inequalities between rich vs. poor communities as the cause of so-called failing schools. The report argues that “to solve the quality education problems that are at the root of many of the issues, school finance reform is essential to ensure that resources are allocated according to student needs.”

 

 

Closing the achievement gap requires specific investment in low-performing schools, not punitive measures. There should be more federal, state, and local policies to attract and retain fully qualified educators, improve instructional quality, and provide wraparound services for young people.

 

 

The report suggests states model their funding formulas on those of Massachusetts and California and that the federal government should fully enforce the funding-equity provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

 

 

It would be difficult to find more rational and reasonable solutions to the education problems in today’s schools.

 

 

But pay attention to the response it’s getting.

 

 

Corporate reformers are running scared with their hair on fire as someone finally has the guts to point out that the emperor is walking around stark naked!

Congress Frees Public Schools From Federal Test & Punish – Where’s the Catch?

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Let’s say you were kidnapped and kept in a small basement room where you were routinely beaten and starved.

Then after years of this treatment, your captors brought in a massage table and offered you a filet mignon after your spa treatment.

You’d be more than a little bit confused.

That’s the position of parents, students and teachers today.

After almost two decades of punishing public schools and their students for low test scores, Congress suddenly decides to step back and leave it to the states!?

Until now the federal government had mandated increasing high stakes standardized tests and forcing schools that don’t meet a certain threshold to be stripped of their school boards, turned into charters or simply closed. Until now, the federal government coerced states to enact every fly-by-night corporate education reform from Common Core to Teach for America to evaluating teachers based on student test scores.

But now the feds are just walking away!?

First, in 2015 lawmakers passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of federal K-12 education policy that (depending on how you interpret it) limited federal power over public schools. However, the Obama administration offered guidelines that put much of that federal power back in place.

Now both the House and Senate have voted to repeal those Obama administration guidelines in favor of… well… some other interpretation.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and one of the architects of the ESSA, says states can just follow what’s written in the law. But this is a 1,061 page document full of legalese, meandering bipartisan compromises and – frankly – contradictory language. Even the most simple legislation needs interpretation, and in this case it needs extensive interpretation.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is expected to offer her take on what all this means by Monday. So buckle up for that one. I’m sure the nation’s Grizzlies are so upset they can barely finish their picnic baskets.

As for the rest of us, it’s hard to know what this all will mean.

Alexander offered a detailed explanation that anyone interested in this issue should read.

I’m no fan of the Senator’s. I think he’s a blatant opportunist, an unapologetic partisan and out to protect only one person – numero uno.

But he makes some excellent points about federal overreach in the Department of Education under the previous two administrations.

Moreover, unlike DeVos, the supremely unqualified Education Secretary he helped ram through Congress over bipartisan objections, he knows something about schools. He was Secretary of Education, himself, from 1991-93 under President George H. W. Bush.

First, the ESSA still mandates annual testing. Even without the Obama guidelines, students will still be tested in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

Second, Alexander says the law still requires each state to hold its public schools accountable. Each state must submit a plan detailing how it intends to do that by September of 2017. There is plenty of latitude on exactly how states will do this, but whatever they decide, this new accountability system must be implemented by next school year (2017-2018).

Moreover, he says, states have to identify and provide support to at least the lowest performing 5% of their schools. This must be done by the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

They also must use academic and English language proficiency indicators in their accountability systems. Which indicators? Standardized testing? Maybe – maybe not.

Many accountability provisions, such as the requirement that educators measure reading scores, math scores, and graduation rates, are specifically mentioned in the ESSA.

Still, many questions remain.

For instance: if the Department of Education isn’t allowed to tell states what to do, how is it supposed to help them comply with the law?

Alexander cites “Non-regulatory guidance; Dear Colleague letters; Frequently-Asked-Questions documents; Webinars, phone calls, and in-person conferences.”

Alexander stresses that repealing the Obama regulations does not open to door for the Department of Education to mandate a nationwide school voucher plan – unfortunately.

He writes, “A school choice program cannot be unilaterally created by the Department of Education. Only Congress could create a voucher program, and, unfortunately, Congress has rejected doing that.”

However, the Trump administration and DeVos have already made their intentions known about school vouchers. They intend to use Title I dollars – money usually earmarked for the most impoverished students – as federal bribes to enact vouchers. It’s basically the same thing Obama did with Race to the Top – promising federal money to states if their schools do what the feds want them to do.

For all his talk about states rights, Alexander appears to have no problems with this same kind of Obama-style coercion.

But he does appear to be correct about the transfer of power.

Apparently, the states really will regain control over their public schools.

This could be a very positive thing. And it’s not the only one.

In addition to repealing Obama’s accountability regulations, Congress scrapped Obama’s teacher preparation rules.

This change was less controversial. Eight Democrats joined Republicans in voting to repeal the teacher preparation regulations. By comparison, no Democrats voted to dismantle the accountability rules and one Republican joined them in opposition.

The teacher preparation rules were released in October after years of delay.

The main point of contention was the requirement that states develop a rating system aimed at evaluating the success of their teacher preparation programs. This would have included how programs’ teachers perform based on a measure of student academic achievement. Though the final version gained some flexibility with how to determine student academic success beyond just test scores, it remained a hot mess.

Any programs that didn’t perform well on the state’s rating system would have lost access to federal grants aimed at supporting teachers who work in high-need certification areas and in low-income schools (or TEACH grants). In effect, it would have pushed for a new generation of teachers dedicated to test prep and Common Core.

And these repeals of Obama regulations – these seeming improvements just waiting for Donald Trump’s signature – are brought to us by the same people who support removing protections for trans students. These are the same legislators who gave us an unexperienced mega-donor as Education Secretary.

Frankly, I’m having trouble believing it.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Perhaps the standardized testing industry has consolidated so much support at the various Republican controlled state legislatures that it no longer needs support in Washington. Perhaps our ridiculously gerrymandered state legislative districts will make any resistance even more difficult. Perhaps a completely toothless Department of Education will embolden the most racist state legislators to dramatically increase segregation and civil rights abuses for the poor and minorities.

Or perhaps Republicans actually got one right?

Republicans Suggest Federal Role in Education Be Limited to Bribery

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Hey! Let’s repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965!

Let’s hobble the Department of Education!

Let’s make the federal role just handing out bundles of cash to private and parochial schools!

That’s apparently how you improve public education. You make it private.

And you completely eliminate any protections for students’ civil rights.

THIS is the brave new world of Trumpian education policy. It’s called HR 610 and was introduced by Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa.

You may Remember King. He introduced an amendment in the U.S. House that would have prevented Harriet Tubman from replacing President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Sure she was an abolitionist, women’s suffragist and hero who rescued scores of black people from slavery in the Underground Railroad. Why would we want her to replace a former slave trader and architect of the Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears!?

His new piece of wonderful legislation – not at all written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – would turn the U.S. Department of Education into merely an authorizer of block grants to qualified states to participate in a nationwide voucher program.

The department would give out money to local districts to give to parents to home school or send their children to private schools.

In effect, the federal government would become a booster for private and parochial schools. Uncle Sam would be offering free cash to private interests, corporations, entrepreneurs and business people if they can just convince parents to choose them over the public school system.

Which brings up the question – what about that public school system? Would it still receive the federal help it currently does? Would there still be Title I Grants to schools serving impoverished students? What would happen to Pell Grants? Who would make sure states are doing their jobs? Where could we go to find accurate data about how our schools are doing nationally and not just state-by-state?

These are questions that have not fully been answered. It’s possible some of these services could fall back on other governmental departments as they did before the creation of the Department of Education in 1980. However, more likely this would be a redistribution of billions of dollars that used to go to public schools now going to private hands.

Moreover, abuses against students on the grounds of civil rights, gender, special education, etc. would skyrocket with little to no recourse. And we would be in the dark about how well we were educating our nation’s children.

Oh! And the bill also would reduce nutrition standards for school lunches and breakfasts.

I’m not kidding.

King apparently is troubled that kids are eating too many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and drinking low-fat or fat free milk. He is against reducing salt, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals. And he doesn’t think children’s nutritional needs should be met within their caloric requirements.

I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that these regulations were proposed by the Obama administration. It has nothing to do with undoing legislation from our first black President. It’s all about the children.

King’s bill, HR 610, is not to be confused with a similar bill by Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie that would simply dismantle the Department of Education in one year.

Massie, who introduced his one page, one sentence bill on the same day DeVos was confirmed, is a Tea Party Republican Libertarian. He supports disbanding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and allowing guns at the nation’s schools.

He is a hardcore Trump believer. During the election cycle after revelations about the candidate’s admitted sexual molestation of women surfaced, Massie famously said, “Trump is better than 90 percent of the congressmen I serve with.”

His bill, HR 899, reads in total:

“The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

As crazy as it sounds, Massie’s motivations are comprehensible. He wants to return complete control of education to the states.

It must be admitted that the Department of Education has overstepped the bounds of its authority during the last two administrations. When it was formed three decades ago, it was supposed to be a tool to support public schools, ensure student’s rights weren’t being violated and giving a boost to the poor. However, President George W. Bush made it all about standardized testing and giving slush money to charter schools. Obama was supposed to right these wrongs but, being a corporate Democrat, he only increased and administered them more efficiently.

The Department of Education is a tool, and like any tool, it can be misused. That doesn’t mean it should be disbanded. Republicans wouldn’t ban all guns because of instances of gun violence. Why disband the Department of Education because administrations of both parties misused it? Put it in check with proper regulations…

Oops. I think I’ve lost them.

Anyway, despite Massie’s slavish devotion for all things Trump, the President appears to be siding with King.

Trump and his mega-donor Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, have already shown their commitment to King’s voucher legislation.

On Tuesday, they invited ten parents and teachers to Washington, D.C., to talk about their education agenda.

Who did they invite? One was a public school teacher. One was a public school principal for a building specializing in special education. One was a public school parent who also had children in private school.  The rest were homeschoolers, charter school parents or private school representatives.

So 70-80% of the people they invited were not associated with public schools. The Trump administration has made it clear that they are not interested in serving public school students. They are primarily concerned with children going to private and parochial schools who currently make up less than 10 percent of the country’s students.

During the meeting, Trump even praised a “Nevada charter school” that he had visited.  This school is a religious school where students pledged allegiance to the Bible for the former Reality TV star. (Don’t believe me? Watch the video by clicking here.) Like many private or parochial schools, the one Trump praised is notorious for regularly excluding students with disabilities.

The Trump administration is apparently not very concerned with special education students. DeVos refused to commit herself to defending these students during her confirmation hearing (and still was confirmed by Republican legislators!). Moreover, one of the first things the Department did after DeVos took over was to shut down its Webpage for students with disabilities and direct users to another page with fewer resources.

Currently, Republicans control both houses of Congress. They could easily ram through this legislation and Trump would almost certainly sign it. Moreover, there are numerous corporate Democrats like Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey who may be overjoyed that the ideology they have pushed for their entire careers have finally been proposed by Trump.

The only thing standing in the way of this wrecking ball bill is parents and teachers.

We flooded our lawmakers phones, emails and town halls during the DeVos confirmation. We demanded a qualified candidate with a commitment to public education. But because she and her family have paid more than $200 million to these same GOP lawmakers, they voted for her anyway.

Will they continue to override their constituents? Only time will tell.

As the Trump administration continues to unravel and public support plummets for him and his corporate agenda, resistance will become more politically possible.

All we can do is keep up the pressure. Keep calling. Keep emailing. Keep showing up at lawmakers offices. Keep marching in the streets.

Eventually, these people will have to listen to us – or else we’ll stop them at the voting booth.

But will public schools last that long?


You can email your U.S. Representative about HR 610 by clicking HERE.

Standardizing Whiteness: the Essential Racism of Standardized Testing

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“As a method of social production, as well as social reproduction, standardized testing has had serious cultural implications, not the least of which has been the eternal question of American identity. Consistent with notions of American identity, standardized testing, as an opposition to a cultural other, represents the normalization of whiteness, richness, and maleness.”
-Andrew Hartman

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
-Toni Morrison

We talk about standardized testing as if we don’t really understand what it is.

We say we want No child left behind!

And then we pass a law named after that very sentiment that ensures some students MUST be left behind.

We say we want Every student to succeed!

And then we pass a law named after that very sentiment that ensures every student will NOT succeed.

It would be absurd if not for the millions of children being forced to endure the harsh reality behind our pretty words.

It’s not these ideals that are the problem. It’s standardized testing.

Researchers, statisticians, and academics of every stripe have called for an end to high stakes testing in education policy. Parents, students and teachers have written letters, testified before congressional committees, protested in the streets, even refused to take or give the tests. All to deaf ears.

The federal government still requires all students in 3-8th grade and once in high school to take standardized tests.

But these assessments are graded on a curve. A certain amount of students are at the bottom, a certain amount are at the top, and most are clustered in the middle. This would be true if you were testing all geniuses or all people with traumatic brain injuries.

It doesn’t matter how smart your test takers are. There will always be this bell curve distribution. That’s how the tests are designed. So to talk about raising test scores is nonsensical. You can raise scores at school A or School B, but the total set of all test takers will always be the same. And some students will always fail.

But that isn’t even the worst part.

Standardization, itself, has certain consequences. We seem to have forgotten what the term even means. It’s defined as the act of evaluating someone or something by reference to a standard.

This socket wrench is a good socket wrench because it most closely resembles some ideal socket wrench. This McDonald’s Big Mac is good because it resembles the ideal McDonald’s Big Mac.

That’s what we’re doing to people – children in fact. We’re evaluating them based on their resemblance to some ideal definition of what a child should know and what a child should be.

But children are not socket wrenches nor are they Big Macs. It is not so easy to reduce them to their component parts and say this is good and that is bad.

When you try to abstract them to that point, it is impossible to remove various essential factors of their identity – race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. Nor would it be admirable if you could, because you would have abstracted to the point where the individual is no longer visible or valued. A child raised in poverty is simply not the same as a child from a privileged upbringing. A child from a culture that values cooperation is not the same as a child from a culture that values individual achievement. And that’s often a good thing.

But when you define a standard, an ideal, you make certain choices – you privilege some attributes and denigrate others. Since the people creating the tests are almost exclusively upper middle class white people, it should come as no surprise that that is the measure by which they assess success.

Is it any wonder then that poor kids and children of color don’t score as well on these tests? Is it any wonder that upper middle class white kids score so well?

We’ve known this for almost a century. Standardized tests do a poor job of assessing intelligence or knowledge. Those things are too complex and the tests are too simple. If you’re evaluating something equally simple like basic addition and subtraction, these tests can work alright. But if you’re trying to get at something complex like critical thinking or creativity, they end up doing little more than prizing the way some people think and not others. In short, they elevate the thought processes most associated with rich white kids.

It doesn’t mean poor and/or black children are any less intelligent. It just means rich white kids have the things for which the test designers are looking. Some of this is due to economic factors like greater access to private tutoring, books in the home, parents with more time to read to their kids, coming to school healthy and more focused. However, a large portion is due to the very act of taking tests that are created to reflect white upper class values and norms.

Think about it. Almost all the questions are field tested before they become a permanent part of the exam. Students are given a question that doesn’t count to their final score, but test makers tabulate how many kids get it right or wrong. So when most white kids answer a field tested question correctly and most black kids get it wrong, it still becomes a permanent test question because there are so few blacks relative to whites. Maybe it’s a question that references sun tan lotion, something with which darker skinned people don’t have as much experience. Imagine if a question referencing the hair care practices of  black people became a test item. White people would have difficulty with it because they can’t easily relate. But the field testing process doesn’t allow that because it normalizes whiteness.

So black kids stumble while white kids have an easier time. We even have a name for it: the racial proficiency gap.

Many well-intentioned progressive voices have bemoaned this problem and wondered how to solve it. But it’s not the scores that are the problem. It’s the assessments. They are doing exactly what they were designed to do.

That’s right. You cannot have such obvious, historical problems perpetuated year-after-year, decade-after-decade, and still think they are mere unintended consequences.

This is how the system was designed to work. This is how it’s always been designed to work.

If you were going to create a racist and classist school system from scratch, what would you do? How would you go about it?

You’d need the lower classes to have SOME mediocre education so they are able to do the menial work that keeps society running. But only so much. Education as a social ladder is all well and good as propaganda. But you don’t want that ladder to lead out of the basement for more than a few.

You need something that will create a hierarchy with people of color at the bottom and poor whites only slightly better off so they can feel ennobled compared to their darker subordinates.

You need a biased sorting mechanism – something that allows you to put students into privileged and unprivileged categories but that will look to all the world like it was doing so fairly. It would have to appear like you were choosing students based on merit.

You’d need something like standardized test scores.

This is how these assessments have functioned from their very beginnings.

When Carl Brigham and Robert Yerkes, U.S. Army psychologists during WWI, designed the alpha and beta intelligence tests to determine which soldiers deserved to be officers, they were creating a pseudoscientific justification for white privilege. They used biased and unfair assessments to “prove” that rich white folks were best suited to give orders, and the rest of us belonged in the trenches.

Brigham and Yerkes were drawing upon eugenics, also called “racial hygiene” or “scientific racism.” This was a radical misreading of Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin. Eugenicists thought positive traits such as intelligence were widespread in Northwestern European races and almost nonexistent in others. Moreover, negative traits such as laziness and criminality were common in nonwhites and almost absent in those same Northwestern Europeans.

“We should not work primarily for the exclusion of intellectual defectives but rather for the classification of men in order that they may be properly placed,” wrote Yerkes.

THIS is the basis of standardized testing.

After the war, Brigham took the same principles to create the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T. – in principle the same exam still taken by 2.1 million teenagers every year to ensure they get into their chosen college.

The test was further refined by fellow eugenicist Lewis Terman, Professor of Education at Stanford University and originator of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. Together these three men created the foundations for the modern field of standardized testing. And make no mistake – its axiomatic principle is still that some races are genetically superior and others are inferior.

Or as Terman put it:

“A low level of intelligence is very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among Negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come… They constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding.”

After WWII, the eugenicist brand suffered from comparison to the Nazis who had been inspired by the findings of Brigham, Yerkes and Terman among others. In the post war years, we’ve discarded the overtly racist language but kept the assessments. Yet they still function the same way – sorting out blacks and the poor while prizing the rich and white.

This information is not secret. It is not kept under lock and key in some hidden military base somewhere. It’s accessible to anyone with Internet access or a library card.
We ignore it, because otherwise it would destabilize the current power structure – the corporate education policies that drive school practices in our country. We close our eyes and pretend it isn’t happening.

But it is.

“Standardized tests are the last form of legalized discrimination in the US,” said Education and Psychology Prof. Phil Harris.

With them you can give rich and middle class whites every advantage while withholding the same from students of color. And we don’t call it racism or classism because we pretend the whites earned their privileges by their test scores.

“We are using the testocracy as a proxy for privilege,” said civil rights theorist Lanni Guinier. Test scores are the excuse for prejudicial and unjust practices that would be impossible without them.

For instance, if you really wanted to help someone who’s struggling, you might offer extra help. But low test scores are used as the reason for withholding that help. We actually use these invalid scores as a means of demeaning and firing poor black kids’ teachers – as if anything they could do could completely overcome biased assessments and poverty. In this way, we not only remove those already in place to help these kids, we ensure few people will volunteer to take their place.

And when you have a teacher shortage in these poor urban neighborhoods, you can use that to justify further deprivations. Instead of teachers with 4-year education degrees, you can hire lightly trained Teach for America temps – college grads who’ve taken no coursework in education beyond a six weeks cram session.

And if the parents of these children complain, you can open charter schools to pull a quick bait and switch. Make them feel like they have a choice when really you’re pulling the rug out from under them. You provide them with a school with none of the safeguards of a traditional public institution – no elected school board, no transparency on how tax dollars are spent, little oversight, a right to refuse any student they wish, etc. And when the school goes belly up, these kids will be pushed back to their former traditional public school that has had to make due with less funding and now can provide even fewer  services than it could before students jumped ship.

Using standardized test scores to judge not just students but whole schools, you can destabilize the entire system of public education. Charter schools and traditional public schools fight over ever-dwindling funding, one required to prove everything it does, the other able to do whatever it wants until it closes with little to no consequences for charter operators who take the money and run.

The US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board that we can’t have “separate but equal” schools because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal. But somehow that doesn’t apply to charter schools.

Somehow we’ve stopped caring about integration – one of the central victories of the Civil Rights movement! This plays right into the hands of the corporate education reformers. They have done everything they can to increase segregation because it makes it so much easier to privilege rich white kids and crush poor black ones.

They don’t want an equal mix of black and white, rich and poor in our schools. That would make it much harder to select against one class of student while boosting another.

They need to keep the races and classes as separate as possible. Charter schools help in this regard, but they would be insufficient without the help from many white families who flee from these “other” darker complected kids. It’s just another way to send more funding to white kids and less to poor black kids. They say it’s based on local property taxes. That way they can pretend it’s all fair and above board. Rich folks have a right to be able to give their kids the best, and if poor folks can’t afford to do the same, who do you expect to pick up the tab?

Oh! And let’s not forget setting “high academic standards” while all this is going on. They throw out everything that’s been working and come up with a Common Core of knowledge that all kids need to learn. Don’t include black and brown history, culture or the arts – just the stuff the business community thinks is valuable because they know so much about what’s really important in life. And have the whole thing written up by non-educators and non-psychologists and don’t bother testing it out to make sure it works.

Your rich white kids will have no problem jumping through these hoops. But your poor black and brown kids will stumble and fall – just as planned.

This is what has become of our public schools.

This is corporate education reform.

This is our racist, classist school system.

And it’s all based on standardized testing – a perfectly legal system of normalizing rich whiteness.

What If Clinton and Trump Debated Education Policy?

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The second Presidential debate was a bust for the millions of Americans who care about public schools.

 

Instead, we got Donald Trump mansplaining away his vagina-grabbing days. We got Hillary Clinton blaming Machiavellian duplicity on a movie about Abraham Lincoln. But not a word about K-12 education.

 

After all these debates in the primary and only one more debate left in the general, it seems a pattern is emerging. The media just doesn’t ask the kind of questions parents, teachers and students really care about. After all, there is no defined position staked out by each political party on schools and schooling. Both sides are kind of the same. Asking about it wouldn’t support the usual narratives about so-called “conservatives” and “liberals.”

 

So once again I appeal to the power of education bloggery to give you what I imagine a debate on this subject might sound like from Clinton and Trump.

 

Hold on to your pussies. Here goes…

 


 

Me: Thank you, Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, for being here today to talk about education issues.

 

Clinton: You’re very welcome.

 

Trump: (sniff) Yes. I am very glad to be here. No one cares more about education than me. Okay?

 

Clinton: Well, hold on there, Donald. I’ve spent my entire career fighting for kids and families…

 

Trump: (sniff. sniff.) What about the kids and families of Benghazi?

 

Me: O-kay! Let’s begin. Shall we? This question is for both of you. How would you describe your education vision? Mr. Trump, you won the coin toss, so you go first.

 

Trump: Thank you, Steven. And let me just say I have lots of education vision. My education vision is just tremendous. I think public schools are the most important thing in our country. The taxes we pay for them are just incredibly high. No one pays more taxes for schools than we do. Not the French. Not the Chinese. Not the Russians. And as President I would make America great again by cutting taxes on schools. The business community doesn’t need this. It hurts competition and that hurts education. And there are too many taxes for you regular people out there, too. Unlike my opponent, she’s just terrible. Isn’t she, folks? I’d cut taxes while she would raise them.

 

Me: Your time is up, Mr. Trump.

 

Trump: …and I just want to say this one last thing, Steven. Hillary Clinton is a liar. And I would never lie like her. Ask Bernie Sanders about that.

 

Me: Thank you, Mr. Trump. Secretary Clinton? Same question.

 

Clinton: Thank you, Steven. I want to take this opportunity to thank you, personally, for being here. As a country, we don’t appreciate teachers enough. You are our number one resource. And a renewable resource. Right? You can clap here, People. Ha! Ha! But seriously my vision for education is a strong one. I’ve fought for children and families all my life as First lady of Arkansas, as First Lady of the United States, as a U.S. Senator and as Secretary of State. You might say that I am the most qualified candidate for President in U.S. history.

 

Me: Thank you. Madame Secretary. Though I wish you had answered the question.

 

Clinton: Oh I will answer the question. That’s why I have been endorsed by the largest teachers unions in the country…

 

Me: Next question. Secretary Clinton, you mention your experience. Some have criticized you for putting the needs of Wall Street ahead of working families. How would you prioritize the needs of students and parents over the corporations and edu-tech industry?

 

Clinton: As you said, Steven, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen a thing or two. Like you, I’ve raised a daughter and know how to navigate the pitfalls of our education system. And, honestly, I don’t think we have to have a conflict of interests between business and education.

 

Trump: Crazy Bernie says differently.

 

Clinton: …I see our public schools and public charter schools working together hand-in-hand to provide our children with a world class education. You know my husband and I have long supported…

 

Trump: You should be in jail.

 

Clinton: Donald, I think this is my time. Is this my time, Steven?

 

Me: Yes, Mr. Trump. Please stop interrupting. You’ll have a chance to respond.

 

Trump: Sorry, Steven. I’m just not used to a woman talking for so long. It’s exhausting.

 

Clinton: Anyway, I’ve always been a booster for higher academic standards. And as President I would do everything I can to make sure our students get the best education possible.

 

Me: Mr. Trump. Same question.

 

Trump: What was that question again, Steven? I kind of forgot while I was listening to that long speech she just gave. Talk. Talk. Talk. This isn’t the Bengazhi commission, Hillary, but I wish it was. Trey Gowdy…

 

Me: Mr. Trump. The question was “How would you prioritize the needs of students and parents over the corporations and edu-tech industry?”

 

Trump: Students and parents? They’re just wonderful. We need more students, but I guess that’s where parents come in. That’s why I had so many kids, and they’re all so successful. We didn’t stop with just one. We raised one, two, three… a whole bunch of them. And they’re just tremendous. So I would definitely make sure their needs were being met. Their needs are my needs and so, of course, I would make sure they were being met. You know, perhaps she should have spent more time meeting her husbands needs. Do you know what I mean?

 

Me: Mr. Trump, the question was about corporations servicing public schools.

 

Trump: (sniff.) In that case, I’d service corporations. I believe in business. I’ve been a businessman all my life. Very successful. No one knows success like Trump. And I’ve just got to say we all might have been better off in the ‘90s if she had serviced her husband more. I have to tell you.

 

 

Me: You are disgusting.

 

Trump: (shrugs) This debate is rigged.

 

Me: The next question is for you, Mr. Trump. Whenever you’ve spoken out on education issues, you’ve consistently criticized Common Core. As President, what would you do about Common Core and what role do you think is appropriate for a President in setting national education policy?

 

Trump: Common Core? I’m against it. It’s no secret. I think it’s been just terrible. It’s been a disaster. A national disaster. And one of the first things I’d do – well the first thing I’d do is throw you in jail…

 

Clinton: Donald, I…

 

Trump: But after that I’d get rid of Common Core. There would be no more Common Core. Our kids don’t need Fed Ed. Period. They need more choice. Parents should get to pick the schools they send their kids to. We should stand back and let the parents choose. That’s what I did for Ivanka and my other children and they turned out just fine. Don’t you think they turned out fine, folks? You all saw them on my hit TV shows ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ Those were great shows. Award-winning TV. Must See Television. Those were good days.

 

Me: Secretary Clinton. Same question.

 

Clinton: Thank you, Steven. I appreciate the quality of your questions. It’s clear that this debate has been put together by educators and not representatives of the media. Though I thoroughly support the field of journalism as a profession and a calling.

 

Trump: You never had a TV show.

 

Clinton: As to Common Core, I just want to ask Donald something.

 

Trump: (pops a Tic Tac) It’s surprising you’re going to give up your time to let me talk. I have to say. This is the first time you’ve let somebody else talk…

 

Clinton: How do you propose to get rid of Common Core when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives that power back to the states?

 

Trump: (sniff.) E-S-S-A? Never heard of it. I’ll have to ask Mike Pence about it. But the President can do what he wants. You know the old saying, folks: it’s good to be the king.

 

Clinton: You talk a good game about states rights, Donald, but when you propose getting rid of Common Core, you’re proposing a federal policy that takes away states rights. Every state legislature has the power to change academic standards or retain…

 

Me: Secretary Clinton, that may be true, but the question was meant for you. What would YOU do about Common Core as President?

 

Clinton: Nothing. I would respect the law.

 

Trump: THAT’S a first!

 

Clinton: I would encourage states to adopt high academic standards and if those standards were the same as Common Core then so be it.

 

Me: How would you encourage them? By withholding federal grant money like the Obama administration did?

 

Clinton: I… I think the federal government has a strong role to play in the education of our children. But I would not violate the spirit of the ESSA, unlike Donald. He says he’s for states rights but he calls for a bigger federal power grab than anything my party has ever participated in.

 

Trump: (sniff.) Wrong.

 

Me: Okay. Next question. Since we’re talking about the federal role in education, let me ask you both what role you see for the U.S. Department of Education under your administration and whom would you nominate as Education Secretary? Secretary Clinton. You go first.

 

 

Clinton: Thank you, Steven. As I said, I believe in the Department of Education. I believe in the Secretary of Education. I believe in teachers. And if we’re going to give our students a leg up – all of our students – then we need to strengthen our public schools and public charter schools. That’s where the Department of Education comes in. Not to enforce education policy but to set the agenda. It helps the states get things done through competitive grants, research and data collection.

 

Me: So whom would you nominate to head the department?

 

Clinton: I would have to talk about that with my advisors…

 

Me: Give us the shortlist.

 

Clinton: Perhaps someone like John King.

 

Me: John King!?

 

Clinton: He’s already there and as my daddy said, if it ain’t broke do not fix it.

 

Me: Mr. Trump. Same question. What in your opinion is the federal role in national education policy?

 

Trump: Well, Steven, I don’t think there is one. You know the government that governs best governs least. I learned that from my good friend, Gary Busey. You know? Come to think of it, he’d make a pretty good Secretary of Education, but no. One of the first things I would do is completely disband the Department of Education. On day one. Gone.

 

Me: So what would happen to Pell Grants, for example, and all the federal money that helps buoy our public schools?

 

Trump: Do we need it? I was able to raise my family without any help from the federal government.

 

Clinton: Unless you count your nine bankruptcies, and using loopholes to avoid paying any federal income taxes for over a decade at least.

 

Trump: I did it all on my own. My father gave me a loan but I made it pay out for me so I could build the Trump empire.

 

Me: Didn’t you inherit most of your money?

 

Trump: I’m surprised at you, Steven. I expect something like that from her. She’s bleeding from her… whatever. But you should know better. You think Americans are stupid. And I just think they are strong enough to do it on their own. They don’t need the government to help. We don’t need the regulation, the taxation. Parents can use state money to choose and that will be good enough. Let the free market decide.

 

Me: Okay. Next question. Standardized testing has come under fire for assessing children’s economic situation more than what they’ve learned. Would you continue to mandate annual testing for all public schools? Mr. Trump?

 

Trump: I dunno. I’ll have to ask Pence on this one.

 

Me: You have to ask your vice president what to think on standardized testing!?

 

Trump: Yes. I mean no. I’m not really sure. Could you make this one multiple choice?

 

Me: Secretary Clinton? Same question.

 

Clinton: Standardized testing has been an important part of how we hold school districts accountable. While I understand the concern about over-testing, I think it is important we keep testing our children in grades 3-8 and once in high school. It helps us make sure our schools are meeting all our students’ needs and not violating their civil rights. Many of my former colleagues in the Senate expressed the same concern you mention, Steven, but changed their minds when they were approached by various civil rights organizations…

 

Me: Many prominent civil rights organizations such as Journey for Justice and various chapters of the NAACP still oppose testing. Why do you chose to side with the organizations who are beholden to the testing industry for their funding?

 

Clinton: I think… maybe we can give the situation more study and find solutions that would satisfy both the civil rights organizations and testing critics. But it is imperative that schools are held accountable…

 

Me: What about politicians? Shouldn’t they be held accountable for adequately funding our public schools? That’s why schools struggle. They serve poor populations and don’t have the resources to help their kids excel.

 

Clinton: This is something you’re obviously passionate about. I have always listened to teachers and with the NEA and AFT would strive to work together to find a solution that’s mutually beneficial to everyone.

 

Me: Okay. Last question. Since you brought up civil rights, Secretary Clinton, one of the biggest issues facing our schools today is segregation. Many modern schools are as segregated or more segregated by race and socio-economic status than they were before Brown vs. Board. What would you do about that?

 

Clinton: That is a problem. We must make sure that all our students needs are being met. We cannot let our schools revert to old bad habits. We cannot have schools for blacks and schools for whites. Black lives matter – even when they’re in school. As President, I would make sure everyone had the opportunity to go to the best schools possible. Students who don’t get what they need at school end up on the streets. They feed the school-to-prison pipeline. They end up lost, and many of them become super-predators.

 

Trump: (laughs)

 

Me: Isn’t that the term you used as First Lady to describe black youth when your husband’s mandatory sentencing policies expanded our prison population exponentially?

 

Clinton: Yes and I stand by that statement. We need to help minorities rise above their circumstances. We need to give them a helping hand. They deserve all the same amenities my daughter had, because all lives matter…. Oh shit.

 

Me: Mr. Trump? Your response?

 

Trump: Do I have to?

 

Me: Yes.

 

Trump: Okay then. Let me just say that segregation is a bad thing. It’s terrible. I’m not exactly sure why but that’s what I’m hearing. We need to make sure only the best students get to go to the best schools and the worst students get their own schools, schools that are right for them. That’s why we need school choice to weed out the worst kids and let them go to the schools that are right for them.

 

Me: Isn’t that just segregation?

 

Trump: N…No. That was a really stupid thing to say. Too many people are just stupid today. That’s why I’m going to make America great again. We’re going to have the best schools. You won’t even believe it. They’ll be just the best anyone has ever seen. Okay?

 

Me: But they’ll be separate schools for blacks and whites? Rich and poor?

 

Trump: I’d like to pass, Steven.

 

Me: Okay. That’s all the time we have for today. I’d like to thank both candidates for coming…

 

Trump: Steven, I just want to say one last thing.

 

Me: O-kay.

 

Trump: I… uh… I never grabbed anyone’s pussy. That was just locker room talk.

 

Clinton: Oh please! It’s just that kind of talk that empowers rapists…

 

Me: Thank you both for coming…

 

Trump: Your husband certainly understands this, Hillary. Men like us with such big hands, we’ve never had any complaints. You know? Here let me show you. (reaches into pants.)

 

 

Me: Cut their microphones please. Call security on, Mr. Trump. Thank you, everyone, for coming. We’ll see you at the polls in November. Just remember, you picked these two assholes. We could have had Bernie Sanders but we’re left with these two tools. This is your democracy at work. We should have let Jill Stein in here to class up the joint. Oh well. Goodnight and good luck.

If I Were Secretary of Education – A Classroom Teacher’s Fantasy

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I will never be Secretary of Education.

Frankly, I’m just not qualified.

I’m only a classroom teacher. The powers that be don’t trust someone like me with that kind of responsibility. It’s okay to give me a roomful of impressionable children everyday, but there’s no confidence I can make sound policy decisions. For that we need someone with experience in management – not schools, pedagogy, children or psychology.

The presiding incumbent in this prestigious position, John King, somehow overcame that handicap. He had taught for three whole years at a charter school, but the bulk of his experience is in administration – administrating a Boston charter school with high suspension and attrition rates. He also was New York State Education Commissioner, where he single-handedly dismantled the state system of education and sparked one of the largest parental revolts in the nation in the state’s opt out movement.

The previous Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was much more qualified, having never taught a day in his life. Before getting Congressional approval, he was appointed to run a charter school and later was entrusted as CEO of Chicago City Schools where he likewise blundered his way to the top with policy decisions that devastated a great system of public education.

What do I have to offer compared to all that? I only have more than a decade’s worth of experience helping kids learn. I’m only one of 3% of teachers nationwide who are Nationally Board Certified. I’ve only earned a Masters degree in Education. I only help run a more than 56,000 member national education advocacy group, the Badass Teachers Association, and write a popular blog dedicated to education and civil rights.

 

I’ve never sunk a major metropolitan school. I’ve never been run out of a populous state chased by citizens armed with torches and pitchforks.

But let’s close our eyes and imagine that somehow through the magic of education bloggery I was whisked into office at the U.S. Department of Education.

What would a person like me do as Secretary?


1) Respect the Limits of the Job

Though George W. Bush and Barack Obama come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, these two Presidents did more to increase the powers of the Department of Education than any chief executives before them. They turned it into – as former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander puts it – a national school board with the Secretary was the national superintendent.

The department forced test and punishment policies on the states, cudgeled and bribed state officials to enact lousy Common Core Standards, and held federal grants hostage unless states accepted every corporate education reform scheme big business could think up.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a New Deal Franklin D. Roosevelt Democrat, but even I think these two administrations blatantly abused their power and overstepped their Constitutional authority.

So the first thing I would do is take a step back and follow the law. The recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) sets explicit limits on federal power over education policy returning much of it to the states. As Education Secretary, I would respect the power of the states to control public education. It is the state’s job to set policy. It is the federal government’s job to provide support, encouragement and oversight.

Therefore, the role of the Department of Education is to ensure public schools are being properly funded, civil rights are not being violated and to be a repository for national data and research. I’d dedicate myself to that – not some corporate fueled power trip that both parties condemn except when they’re practicing it.


2) Push for More Federal Funding for Public Schools

Therefore, the first thing I would do is use the full power of the office to ensure the federal government is giving its utmost to help state public schools. I would use whatever grants were available to increase federal funding to the most impoverished schools. I would fully fund Title I. I would increase the federal share of Special Education – (Under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the federal government is supposed to fund 40% of the per pupil cost of all special education students but has never met this obligation. I would seek to rectify that if possible.) I would enact a national after school tutoring initiative. I would provide funding to hire additional teachers to reduce class size.  And as far as is possible, I would forgive college students loan debt so they can begin their lives with a clean slate.

This is something that those who seek to disband the U.S. Department of Education never seem to understand. The federal government has an important role to play in our school systems. It’s not the unfounded power grab of the last few decades, but we need another robust player on the field to help the states achieve their goals and also to keep the states honest.

If we disbanded the Department of Education, as some conservatives from Reagan to Paul to Cruz to Trump suggest, what would happen to Pell Grants, for instance? What would happen to the bundles of federal money that boost our public schools? Who would make sure states are doing their jobs? Where could we go to find accurate data about how our schools are doing nationally and not just state-by-state?

If we got rid of the department, at best these jobs would fall back on other government agencies that haven’t the funding, staff or ability to accomplish them. More likely, it would result in the elimination of billions of education dollars that the states simply couldn’t (or wouldn’t) replace. Abuses against students on the grounds of civil rights, gender, special education, etc. would skyrocket with little to no recourse. And we would be in the dark about how well we were educating our nation’s children.


3) Encourage States to Enact Accountability Measures that Don’t Include Standardized Testing

Accountability has become a dirty word in many education circles because of the way the Bush and Obama administrations have perverted it to mean test and punish. It has become a boondoggle for the standardized testing industry, an excuse to close poorly funded and often urban public schools to be replaced by unaccountable charter schools. While this is a terrible misuse of federal power, states must be responsible for the education they provide their children. And contrary to popular belief, this can be accomplished without resorting to the usual corporate reform measures.

As Secretary, I would put an immediate stop to the era of test and punish at the federal level. As it stands, the ESSA allows states to determine what they will use to demonstrate their educational progress for students. This is a state decision, but I would encourage states not to use standardized testing. I would offer to help any state interested to find new ways to show accountability. For instance, districts could submit to a simple audit showing student-teacher ratios, per pupil funding, discipline data broken out by race, degree of segregation, richness of the curriculum, etc.

Let me be clear: it is up to states to make these decisions. As Secretary, I would have no power to force legislatures or departments of education to do any of this. However, I’m willing to bet that many states would be excited by these possibilities and jump at the opportunity. Helping them achieve this would be my job.


4) Stop Federal Funding to Charter Schools, Teach for America and Common Core

Speaking of encouragement, I would stop all federal help for corporate education reform policies. That means turning off the money faucet for programs that enrich corporations and big business at the expense of school children.

This means not one more federal dollar to help private companies open new charter schools. Teach for America would have to rely on its corporate donors, not the taxpayers. And the Common Core gravy train would come to a screeching halt. No more money to help states enact the standards, no more bags of cash for book publishers and test manufacturers.

If states that had enacted the Core wanted to keep it, fine. If not, fine. But they would be on their own.

(In a sad aside, opposition to Common Core is most virulent from conservatives, yet there are an awful lot of state legislatures completely in GOP control that could get rid of Common Core tomorrow but which have done – and continue to do – nothing about it. No matter who the next Education Secretary is, the fate of Common Core is in the hands of state legislatures across the country – not the President, not Congress and not the Education Secretary. There’s far too much rhetoric and not nearly enough action.)


5) Do Everything I Can to Increase Teacher Autonomy, Respect, Pay and Training

Finally, I would use my position as Education Secretary to boost the greatest resource we have to help students learn – teachers. I would speak out on the need for educators to have autonomy in the classroom so they are empowered to meet student needs. I would work to increase public perception and respect for the profession. We simply can’t afford teacher bashing, because when you disrespect educators, you reduce their power to help kids. I would boost teachers pay through matching state grants. If you want the best possible teachers, you have to pay for them. If you want to attract the best people to the field, you need to ensure they will have a reliable middle class income and not have to work a second job or use their own money to buy school supplies. I would invest federal funds in training programs so the newest crop of teachers are up to date with the latest pedagogy and techniques. I would encourage more people of color to enter the field. And I would partner with teachers unions to strengthen protections for teachers while educating the public on the meaning of due process and the reality that strong unions mean fewer bad teachers in the classroom.


 

Are there more things we need to do to help improve our national system of public education? Certainly.

 

We need to start integrating schools again and stop the constant push to segregate through charter schools and white flight. We need to ensure every student receives adequate, equitable, sustainable funding. We need to change charter school laws so that they can’t cherry pick students and are as transparent and accountable as traditional public schools. We need to stop closing struggling schools and address root causes. We need to stop state takeovers except under the most dire of circumstances and set limits on how long states can stay in control. And we need to pass strong student privacy laws – even updating the Family Education Privacy Act (FERPA) to protect our children from predatory ed-tech companies that constantly data mine students and sell millions of data points on our children to the highest bidder.

There are a whole host of things needing done. However, most of these things go beyond the powers of the Department of Education and its cabinet level Secretary. They can only be addressed by the President, Congress, state legislatures and/or the court system. The Education Department can help steer that agenda, it can be an ally to real positive change, but it can’t go it alone.

Unfortunately, no matter who wins the Presidency in November – Clinton or Trump – neither seems likely to nominate an Education Secretary who would do any of the things I’ve outlined.

 

For all his talk of reducing the size of the government, Trump proposes increasing the federal footprint with school choice initiatives turning the Department of Education into a wheelbarrow marked “free money” for big business and parochial schools while forcing states to accept his school policies. Meanwhile, Clinton is likely to continue the course set by Bush and Obama of embracing every corporate school reform package from which Wall Street benefits.

It’s a crazy time full of crazy candidates and crazy solutions, but of this we can be sure – no one is crazy enough to let a teacher make decisions about public education policy.

You Can’t Be Anti-Opt Out and Pro-Democracy

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Our lawmakers have a problem.

This summer they doubled down on one of the most anti-democratic mandates in the federal repertoire yet they claim they did so to protect states rights.

Here’s the problem.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of public school parents across the country opt their children out of standardized testing.

But Congress voted to keep mandating that 95% of students take the tests.

It all happened with the much celebrated bipartisan passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal law that governs K-12 schools.

While lawmakers made changes here and there to let the states decide various education issues, they kept the mandate that students participate in annual testing.

They didn’t leave that to the states. Whether they were Republican or Democrat, almost all lawmakers thought it was just fine for the federal government to force our children to take standardized tests at least every year in 3-8th grades and once in high school.

If any school district, has more than 5% of students that don’t take the tests – for whatever reason – the federal government can deny that district funding.

Think about that for a moment.

Our lawmakers are supposedly acting in our interests. They’re our representatives. We’re their constituents. They get their power to pass laws because of our consent as the governed. Yet in this instance they chose to put their own judgement ahead of ours.

They could have made an exception for parents refusing the tests on behalf of their children. They just didn’t see the need to do so.

Why? Because they were worried about minority students.

It’s a laughable claim in so many ways.

It goes something like this – without standardized testing, we’ll have no way of knowing if public schools are educating students of color.

Let’s say for a moment that this were true. In that case, we can expect no parent of color would ever refuse standardized testing for his/her child.

First, this is demonstrably untrue. Black and brown parents may not be the most numerous in the opt out movement, but they do take part in it.

Second, in the majority of cases where white parents refuse testing, that would have no bearing on whether testing helps or hurts students of color. If the point is the data testing gives us on black kids, what white kids do on the test is irrelevant.

Third, even if opting out hurt students of color, one would assume that it is the parents prerogative whether they want to take part. If a black parent doesn’t want her black son to take a multiple choice exam, she should have the right to waive that exam and the responsibility would be on her head.

So there is absolutely no reason why lawmakers should have overstepped their bounds in this way and blocked all parents rights about what the schools do to their children.

It is a clear case of governmental overreach. And there are plenty of parents just waiting to bring it to the U.S. Supreme Court for the ultimate Constitutional test.

However, that probably won’t happen for the same reason it never happened through the 15 years of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which also contained the annual testing rule.

The federal government has never withheld tax dollars based on students not taking standardized tests. officials at the U.S. Department of Education have made threats, but they have never devolved into action.

The bottom line is this: they know how Unconstitutional this mandate is, and they aren’t itching to have it tested in the highest court in the land.

It would open a whole can of worms about standardized testing. What is the federal government allowed to do and not allowed to do about education policy?

The ESSA is an attempt to reduce the federal role, but keeping the annual testing mandate was either a grievous mistake or the last vestiges of federal hubris.

But let’s return to the reasoning behind it – so-called civil rights fears.

Various groups including the NAACP asked for it to be included to protect minority students. Annual testing is the only way, they claimed, to make sure schools are teaching students of color.

It’s nonsense.

There are plenty of ways to determine if schools are meeting the needs of minority students – especially since most students of color go to segregated schools.

Even after Brown v. Board, we have schools that cater to black kids and schools that cater to white kids. We have schools for poor kids and rich kids.

It is obvious which schools get the most resources. Why isn’t that part of this “accountability” scheme? We can audit districts to see how much is spent per pupil on poor black kids vs rich white kids. We can determine which groups go to schools with larger class sizes, which groups have more access to tutoring and social services, which groups have expanded or narrowed curriculums, which groups have access to robust extra-curricular activities, which groups have the most highly trained and experienced teachers, etc.

In fact, THAT would tell us much more about how these two groups are being served by our public schools than standardized test scores. We’ve known for almost a century that these test scores are more highly correlated with parental income than academic knowledge. They’re culturally biased, subjectively scored and poorly put together. But they support a multibillion dollar industry. If we allow a back door for all that money to dry up, it will hurt lawmakers REAL constituents – big business.

So why were civil rights groups asking the testing mandate be kept in the bill? Because the testing industry is comprised of big donors.

Only a few months before passage of the ESSA, many of these same civil rights groups had signed declarations against standardized testing. Then suddenly they saw the light as their biggest donors threatened to drop out.

Make no mistake. Standardized testing doesn’t help poor minority children. It does them real harm. But the testing industry wrapped themselves up in this convenient excuse to give lawmakers a reason to stomp all over parental rights.

The conflict wasn’t between civil rights and parental rights. It was between parental rights and corporate rights. And our lawmakers sided with the corporations.

Let me be clear: legislators cannot be against opt out and in favor of individual rights.

The two are intimately connected.

Our schools have no business telling parents how to raise their kids. But our parents DO have a right to do the opposite. In fact, that’s how the system is supposed to work.

We, parents and citizens, control our schools – not you, our representatives. The principal can’t say you haven’t a right to opt out your kid. He’s just your representative. So is the teacher.

Everyone who works in the school is there to do what you want them to do for your child. Yes, they are well trained and have a world of knowledge and experience that we should draw on. And in most cases, they’re being forced to confront us by lawmakers who are tying their hands and directing them to do the dirty work.

We have common cause. We need to stand with our teachers and principals, our school boards and education professors. We need to stand together against lawmakers who think they know better.

In short, we don’t need lawmakers consent to opt out. They need our consent to stop us.

They get their power from us. They work for us.

And it’s time they get to work and rescind the annual testing mandate.