The Joy of Opting Out of Standardized Testing

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Testing season is a gray period in my classroom.

 

But it’s a joy in my house.

 

As a classroom teacher with a daughter in the public school system, I’m always struck by the difference.

 

In school I have to proctor the federally mandated standardized tests. But I’ve opted my own daughter out. She doesn’t take them.

 

So at home, I get to see all the imaginative projects she’s created in her class while the other kids had to trudge away at the exam.

 

“Daddy, daddy, look!” she squeals.

 

And I’m bombarded by an entire Picasso blue period.

 

Or “Daddy, will you staple these?”

 

And I’m besieged by a series of her creative writing.

 

My daughter is only in second grade and she loves standardized test time.

 

It’s when she gets to engage in whatever self-directed study strikes her fancy.

 

Back in kindergarten I missed the boat.

 

Even as an educator, myself, I had no idea the district would be subjecting her to standardized tests at an age when she should be doing nothing more strenuous than learning how to share and stack blocks.

 

But when I found out she had taken the GRADE Test, a Pearson assessment not mandated by the state but required by my home district in order the receive state grant funding, I hit the roof.

 

I know the GRADE test. I’m forced to give a version of it to my own 8th grade students at a nearby district where I work. It stinks.

 

Ask any classroom teacher and they’ll tell you how useless it is. Giving it is at best a waste of class time. At worst it demoralizes children and teaches them that the right answer is arbitrary – like trying to guess what the teacher is thinking.

 

Then I found out my daughter was also taking the DIBELS, a test where she reads a passage aloud and is given a score based on how quickly she reads without regard to its meaning. In fact, some of the passages test takers are forced to read are pure nonsense. It’s all about how readers pronounce words and whether they persevere through the passage. It’s not so much about reading. It’s about grit.

 

No. My precious little one won’t be doing that.

 

I talked candidly to her kindergarten teacher about it. I trust her judgment, so I wanted to know what she thought. And she agreed that these tests were far from necessary. So I set up a meeting with the principal.

 

The meeting lasted about an hour. Sure, it was a little scary. No one wants to rock the boat. But even he agreed with most of what I had to say. He didn’t feel as strongly about it as I did, but he respected my wishes and that was that.

 

Ever since, my daughter hasn’t taken a single standardized test.

 

For me, it was a political statement as well as a parental one. I wanted to do my part to chip away at the corporate school reform movement. I know how much they rely on these test scores to justify closing poor schools like mine. I don’t want to give them a chance.

 

But little did I know what bliss I would be providing for my little one.

 

Beyond politics, I thought I was just protecting her from a prolonged period of boredom, unfair assessments and cognitively invalid measurements.

 

I wanted to shield her from adult woes. What I didn’t realize was I was opening a door for her creativity.

 

It’s amazing. All the other poor children sit there dutifully filling in bubbles while she pours her heart out onto the page.

 

She loves creating these illustrated books telling the wildest narratives: Colorful superheroes blast bad guys into oblivion. Game show hosts get lost in other dimensions. Even her Mommy and Daddy get in on the action riding Yoshi through Super Mario land.

 

Often she adds text to these adventures. Her spelling could use some work, but I’m impressed that an 8-year-old even attempts some of these words. Sometimes she writes more in her adventure books than my 8th graders do on their assigned homework.

 

I’ve even noticed a marked improvement in her abilities during this time. Her handwriting, sentence construction, word choice and spelling have taken a leap to the next level. While her classmates are wasting time on the assessments, she’s actually learning something!

 

I wish I could provide the same opportunities for my students that I have for my daughter.

 

It’s strange.

 

As a parent, I have the power to make educational decisions on behalf of my child. But as a trained education professional, I’m not allowed the same privilege.

 

Don’t teachers stand in loco parentis? Well this is loco, so let me parent this. Let me at least talk to their parents about it – but if I do that on school time, in my professional capacity, I’m liable to be reprimanded.

 

I have studied standardized testing. It was part of my training to become a teacher. And the evidence is in. The academic world knows all this stuff is bunk, but the huge corporations that profit off of these tests and the associated test-prep material have silenced them.

 

I have a masters in my field. I’m a nationally board certified teacher. I have more than a decade of successful experience in the classroom. But I am not trusted enough to decide whether my students should take these tests.

 

It’s not like we’re even asking the parents. We start from the assumption that children will take the tests, but if the parents complain about it, we’ll give in to their wishes.

 

It’s insanity.

 

We should start from the assumption the kids won’t take the test. If parents want their kids to be cogs in the corporate machine, they should have to opt IN.

 

As a teacher, I can try to inform my students’ parents about all this, but at my own peril. If the administration found me talking about this with parents, I could be subject to a reprimand. Giving my honest educational opinion could result in me losing my job.

 

As you can see, it hasn’t stopped me. But I teach in a high poverty, mostly minority district. My kids’ parents often don’t have the time to come up to the school or even return phone calls. They’re working two or three jobs. They’re struggling just to put food on the table. They don’t have time for standardized tests!

 

So every test season I sadly watch my students trudge away at their federally mandated bubbles. I see their anxiety, their frustration, their sad, sad faces.

 

And it breaks my heart.

 

But then I come home to my daughter’s exuberant creations!

 

You would not believe the joy of opting out!

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?

Why Are So Many Democrats Behind Backdoor School Voucher Expansion in Pennsylvania?

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Democrats are supposed to be liberals, progressives.

 

That means upholding the Constitution and the Separation of Church and State.

 

So why are so many Pennsylvania Democrats sponsoring an expansion of the state’s de facto school voucher bill?

 

A total of 11 out of 84 sponsors of HB 250 are Democrats. The bill would expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs.

 

The Commonwealth already diverts $200 million of business taxes to private and parochial schools. That’s money that should be going to support our struggling public school system.

 

The new bill would add $50 million to each program for a total of $100 million more flushed down the drain.

 

Pennsylvania has a budget deficit. We’ve cut almost $1 billion a year from public schools. We can’t afford to burn an additional $300 million on private and church schools.

 

 

We expect Republicans to support this regressive nonsense. Especially in gerrymandered Pennsylvania, they’ve gone further and further right to please their Tea Party base and avoid being primaried.

 

But the few Democrats left in the House and Senate are likewise in districts that would never vote Republican. You’d expect them to get more and more progressive. Instead, even here we see them taking steps to the right!

 

Democratic sponsors of the bill are almost exclusively from the state’s urban centers – Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

 

They are:

 

Vanessa Lowery Brown (Philadelphia County)

Donna Bullock (Philadelphia County)

Dom Costa (Allegheny County)

Daniel J. Deasy (Allegheny County)

Michael J. Driscoll (Philadelphia County)

Jordan A. Harris (Philadelphia County)

William F. Keller (Philadelphia County)

William C. Kortz II (Allegheny County)

Joanna E. McClinton (Delaware & Philadelphia County)

Harry Readshaw (Allegheny County)

Mark Rozzi (Berks County)

 

These corporate tax giveaways are based on the premise that our public schools are failures and that students must be rescued from them. The Commonwealth has developed a list of approximately 400 “failing schools” and created a voucher-like system allowing students living near them to take public taxpayer money to go to private and religious schools. Students can also go to another public school in a different district, if they will accept them. However, few public schools take part in the program because school boards know it’s just another attempt to weaken their districts.

 

How does the state define a “failing school”?

 

Partially it’s based on standardized test scores. Districts with the bottom 15% of reading and math scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSA) and Keystone tests are supposed to earn this label. However, the state has been notorious for including districts that actually are making academic progress.

 

Since low test scores are highly correlated with poverty, that’s the real indicator. If you live in a poor enough district, you’re probably eligible.

 

What about charter schools?

 

It’s funny you asked. Though they often have subpar test scores, they rarely are included on the state’s list of “failing schools.” They even exclude most of the state’s execrable cyber charter schools. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that students in every single Pennsylvania cyber charter school performed “significantly worse” in reading and math than their peers in conventional public schools. But somehow that’s generally not failing enough to earn you a voucher-like tax credit.

 

How can we tell that students at private and parochial schools are doing better than those in public schools?

 

We can’t.

 

The scholarship organizations have no auditing requirements and almost no reporting requirements. Moreover, private and parochial schools don’t have to take the federally-mandated standardized tests! So there’s no way to do an apples-to-apples comparison!

 

But here’s the best part. The EITC law prohibits state administrators from requesting any information related to academic achievement. You’re not even allowed to ask!

 

However, the law goes out of its way to remove regulations on how these tax dollars are spent. For instance, schools taking these tax credits can spend as much as 20% of the money to cover pure administrative costs.

 

Yet the public schools are still responsible for many of the costs of students living in their attendance areas but who use these de facto vouchers. For instance, there’s no limit to how far away an EITC student can go with their publicly-subsidized scholarship. But the student’s home district is legally obligated to provide transportation for up to ten miles.

 

Vouchers have been repeatedly defeated on every referendum held on the subject in the entire country. One of the reasons people have been up in arms against Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary has been her support of vouchers.

 

What do voters have to do to tell legislators that they don’t want school vouchers – no matter what you call them? What do voters have to do to show that they support our public school system – a system that despite being underfunded and weighed down with corporate education reforms remains one of the best in the world?

 

And when will Pennsylvania’s Democrats start acting like Democrats on the subject?

Pennsylvania: No School Property Tax for the Rich, Poor Still Pay

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Eliminating property tax to fund public schools sounds like a great idea!

Until you read the fine print.

Because what Pennsylvania legislators are proposing won’t actually eliminate property taxes – unless you’re rich.

And it won’t ensure students get the funding they need.

And it will limit school boards’ local control.

But it will benefit the rich and big corporations, which is really the only reason we’re talking about it – AGAIN.

Let me break it down for you.

First, the bill being shopped around is called the Property Tax Independence Act or SB 76. It would get rid of all property taxes used to fund public schools and replace them with increases in sales and income taxes.

Somehow these increases would need to generate an additional $12 billion a year in revenue so that we can keep funding our schools at the present level. That’s some tax increase – and guess who’s going to pay the bulk of it – YOU.

Guess who’s not going to pay much of it – the huge corporations who used to pay property taxes on all those commercial, industrial, oil and gas properties.

This is a huge giveaway to big business, and it’s a substantial hike for regular Commonwealth citizens like you and me.

But that’s not all!

If you live in a poor school district, you’ll still have to pay property taxes. That’s right – if your district is in debt, you’ll still get a property tax bill to pay it off.

Considering that the state cut almost $1 billion a year in school funding for the past 6 years and that most districts have had to go into debt, increase taxes or both, you’re probably not going to see your property taxes go away anytime soon.

They might go down up to 40%. Or they might not go down at all. AND you still have to pay higher sales and income taxes.

But here’s the best part.

Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of being the national leader in unfair school funding.

We spend 33% more money on our rich students than on our poor ones. That’s the greatest disparity in the entire country!

And that’s saying something in a nation where spending more on wealthy kids is the norm.

However, this new bill won’t do anything to change that. In fact, it will lock-in that disparity.

Rich districts that today spend $23,000 per student will still spend $23,000, and poor districts that today spend $8,000 per student will still spend $8,000. But instead of your tax dollars going to the kids in your community, they’ll go to the state to be distributed everywhere. This means folks living in poor neighborhoods will probably be paying higher taxes so that they can fund the wealthiest kids. Likewise, rich parents will probably pay less while the difference is made up from taxes collected from the poor.

Call me crazy, but that just isn’t fair.
Finally, it takes away a lot of the local control from your local school board.

At present, if your local district has needs, your board can meet them by raising taxes. But under this bill, the only entity that can do that is the legislature.

I know, I know – your taxes are already too high. But the issue is who is more suited to making that decision – Harrisburg or your own community?

This bill is nothing new. Legislators have been trying to sneak it through for years.

Back in 2015 it passed the House but was defeated in the Senate when the Lt. Governor cast the deciding ballot against it. In 2013, it almost passed as an amendment to another bill, but the nonpartisan Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office ruined it by projecting a $1 billion shortfall within four years if it were passed.

However, the makeup of the Senate has changed. Now we have two new members who campaigned promising to pass this legislation, so it might actually squeak through.

The bill is being shopped around by state Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) who authored it along with the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations.

This group claims to be a simple citizens organization made up of 87 nonpartisan tax-conscious advocacy groups. But a quick look at the names of these organizations includes multiple uses of terms like “patriot,” and “freedom,” and “liberty,” and “conservative,” and “tea party.”

Nonpartisan, my butt!

Moreover, the stated goal of the group is just to pass this legislation.

That’s not a group of concerned citizens. It’s almost a PAC!

The organization has even endorsed candidates – some of them noted progressive Democrats like state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-West Chester) and James Brewster (D-McKeesport), who both voted for the legislation in 2015.

To make it even more complex, the authors of the bill have a point. Property taxes are a terrible way to fund schools. They ensure that some districts will be better funded than others based on the local wealth of the community.

However, this bill does nothing to fix the inherent problems for children or poor and middle class communities. It compounds them.

Ironically, Gov. Wolf proposed a compromise solution two years ago with his first budget. He suggested reducing residential property taxes by $3.8 billion, targeting the biggest cuts for the neediest taxpayers and neediest schools. Moreover, he proposed increasing funding to the most impoverished districts so they could catch up to the well-funded ones.

But Republicans, who control both houses, refused to even consider it.

So here we go again. We have another Trojan Horse proposal. A good idea has been twisted and bastardized so that it serves the wealthy and private enterprise while doing irreparable harm to children and the poor. And even though it is an example of far right ideology, it has received bipartisan support.

Gov. Wolf is set to propose his new budget sometime this month. Sen. Argall is expected to reintroduce SB 76 during the subsequent budget negotiations.

It is a piece of zombie legislation that no matter how fetid and rotten just refuses to die. But this time, it just might bite us.

School Privatization Turns Business Into Predator and Students Into Prey

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The mother sea turtle struggles to shore to lay her eggs.

 

A typical clutch includes anywhere from 50–350 eggs, which the mother hides under the sand. Her sole contribution to their future complete, she swims away.

 

They incubate underground for 50-60 days. Then just at dusk, the tiny sea turtle hatchlings emerge and struggle their way to the waiting sea and surf.

 

Well they try to get to the sea. Most of them don’t make it.

 

Predators are always lurking in the shadows to pluck up these movable hors d’oeuvres. Sea gulls, crabs, small fish – all are waiting to enjoy a meal of fresh baby sea turtle.

 

It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive into adulthood.

 

Is that really the model we should be using for our public schools?

 

Because – make no mistake – it is exactly the kind of thing the market-driven model of education is based on.

 

The idea goes something like this: schools should be run like a business. Parents and students should choose between educational institutions, which would then compete for their budget allotments.

 

Some schools would thrive but most would fail – just like in business, athletics or other competitive pursuits. And while these fledgling schools struggle to make ends meet, predators will be waiting in the wings to benefit from their failure and perfidy.

 

To be fair, it’s a model that works well in many circumstances. In business, it ensures that only the best enterprises stay open. In sports, it translates to athletes striving to give there all to prove superiority over competitors.

 

But if we look at it through clear eyes, it’s obvious that this is really just the same as baby sea turtles struggling to get to the ocean. Many will compete. Few will win.

 

That’s a terrible way to run a school. Think about it.

 

We don’t want only our best students to get an education. Nor do we want only our best schools to provide one. We want all schools to provide the best education possible to the highest number possible. Clearly some schools will be better than others. That can’t be helped. However, we can maximize the quality of the education each provides. We can ensure that none fail.

 

That isn’t what the market-driven approach does. It forces schools to compete for their very existence. They have to spend a considerable amount of time and money attracting students to enroll. That’s time and money that doesn’t go to education. It goes to advertising.

 

Moreover, any school that attracts a surplus of students can choose which ones its wants to enroll. The choice becomes the school’s – not the parents’ or students’. In fact, administrators can turn away students for any reason – race, religion, behavior, special needs, how difficult it would be to teach him or her. This is much different from traditional public schools. There, any student who lives in the district may attend regardless of factors such as how easy or difficult he or she is to educate.

 

Another major change with this approach is how these schools will be run. Many of these institutions will be operated privately without the input of a duly-elected school board, without transparency for how they spend tax dollars, without even the guide rails of most regulations.

 

Like in the charter school sector, these schools will get almost free reign to do whatever they want. And we can see the results of this bold experiment already. The predators are lining up to make a meal of their students.

 

Corporate interests offer to run charter schools while cutting services and increasing profits. In fact, administrative costs at charter schools are much higher than at traditional public schools. Students lose, the market wins.

 

Moreover, many charter schools provide a sub-par education. To put it more bluntly, they do things that would be impossible for public schools to do. One in Philadelphia literally transformed into a nightclub after dark. Another funneled profits into the CEO’s personal bank account to be used as a slush fund to buy gifts and pay for rent at an apartment for his girlfriend. Another CEO used tax dollars to buy a yacht cheekily called “Fishin’ 4 Schools.” A study found that cyber-charters provide almost less education than not going to school at all. Even brick and mortar charter schools can close on a moments notice leaving students in the lurch.

 

It’s a Darwinian model made to benefit the predators, not the prey. It’s a boon for any unselfconscious businessman who doesn’t mind getting rich stealing an education from children.

 

By contrast, our traditional public schools are modeled after something else entirely. Instead of offering various kinds of school competing with each other, they provide one basic type that is shielded from predation.

 

In short, public schools are modeled after primate childcare practices – not the egg-laying habits of reptiles. Primates usually have a very limited number of offspring per pregnancy – often just one. Unlike sea turtles, they don’t just lay their eggs and leave their offspring to their own devices. Primates provide excellent care and nurture for their child making sure it is safe from those that would hurt it.

 

This is exactly what public schools do. They provide one basic kind of school. The public gathers twice a month with an elected school board to decide how the school should be run. Most functions of the school are open to public view as are expenditures, documents, etc. And there are regulations that stop the most extreme practices that put students at risk.

 

Public schools aren’t perfect. Neither are primate parents. But the model is child-centered where the goal is all about what’s best for the next generation – every member of that generation.

 

In short, the entire debate about school choice really has little to do with choosing this or that school. It’s about choosing a style of education – public or private, primate or reptilian, one that favors prey or predator.

 

Deep down, the public knows this. That’s why school vouchers have never passed a public referendum despite obscene spending from advocates. That’s why the money behind school choice is almost entirely from the same would-be predators who would benefit from opening our tax dollars and our children to such harm.

 

The media churns out the myth of failing schools and this has had a damaging effect on public perception of public education in general. However, when you ask people about their neighborhood school, opinion is generally high. People like their schools the way they are. Ninety percent of American students attend public school and that’s just the way we like it.

 

We aren’t about to take a chance on a system that instinctually reminds us of neglect. For school choice advocates, it really comes down to ideology. They hate anything public. They hate government in all its forms and wish for the freedom to do as they wish.

 

They wish for the freedom to be a predator – a predator of children.

Why Schools Should NOT Be Run Like Businesses

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America loves business.

 

We worship the free market. Nothing is more infallible – not reason, not morals, not even God.

 

Money is the true measure of success – the more you have, the better a person you are.

 

This perverted ideology has taken over much of American life. Where we once cared about our country, justice and fair play, today it has all been reduced to dollars and cents.

 

Every problem can be answered by business. Every endeavor should be made more business-like. Every interaction should be modeled on the corporate contract, and every individual should try to maximize the outcome in his or her favor. Doing so is not just good for you, personally, but it’s what’s best for everyone involved. And this dogma is preached by the high priests of the market who claim that as they, themselves, get wealthier, one day we too will reap the same rewards – but that day never seems to come.

 

These principles are articles of faith so deeply ingrained that some folks can’t see past them. They have become the driving force behind our country and much of the world. Meanwhile, most people get ever poorer, our environment gets increasingly polluted and everything is up for sale.

 

One of the last holdouts against this market-driven nightmare is the public school system.

 

We still have widespread educational institutions run democratically at public expense dedicated to providing every child with the tools and opportunities to learn.

 

They’re not perfect. Far from it. But they enshrine one of the last vestiges of the America of our grandparents. Democracy and justice are the system’s core values – not profit, expansion and market share.

 

However, our schools suffer from disinvestment. Since we’ve segregated the rich from the poor into privileged and impoverished neighborhoods, it’s easy to provide more funding and resources to wealthy children and less to poor ones. That’s the main reason why some schools struggle – they haven’t the resources of the Cadillac institutions. Whenever we look at school spending, we look at an average allotment never bothering to consider that most of that money goes to children of the wealthy and much less to poor kids. Nor do we consider that more than half of our public school students live below the poverty line. Public schools strive to overcome the barriers of poverty, but the way we fund them ensures many of them are burdened by these same factors.

 

 

To make matters worse, our federal and state governments have allowed huge corporations to profit off our schools through an industry based on constant standardized testing and then selling schools the remediation materials to pass the tests. That’s all Common Core is – a more efficient way to market text books and test prep materials regardless of their inherent value (or lack thereof) to students. The same people criticizing public schools for being untouched by a business ethic often ignore how much they have already been brutalized by free market capitalism and the profit motive.

 

In any case, despite all these encumbrances, these problems are all surmountable. Doing so only requires us to go in the opposite direction away from the boardroom and the Wall Street subprime bubble. We need to work intrinsically for the good of each student. We need to see them as ends in themselves and not just incidentally for how much profit they can generate.

 

Unfortunately, such a solution is inconceivable to those in power. It goes against everything in which they believe. Too many Americans have been converted to the cult of the market so that the only solution they can support is to double down on what’s not working – to turn public schools even further into a business.

 

It’s absurd. Not everything benefits from being sold for a profit. Imagine if your spouse suggested running your marriage that way. It would turn you both into prostitutes selling yourselves at ever cheaper rates while any self respect, dignity and love disappeared.

 

Some things just are not for sale. Would you give up your deepest held convictions because doing so might help you turn a profit? Today I’m not a Christian, I believe in Baal because he’s got a bigger market share. Today I’m skeptical about gravity because the Acme Parachute Company is offering a bonus to jump out of the tenth floor naked.

 

Only fools let themselves be manipulated in this way. And that’s exactly what corporations and big business are trying to do with our public schools. Make no mistake. These are our institutions – they belong to us – yet privateers see a way to gobble up tax dollars while downgrading the services provided. They want to play us all for suckers even if it means leaving the next generation of poor and middle class children in the lurch. The only thing that matters to them is making bank.

 

They say we should run schools like a business? What kind of business exactly?

 

There are many different kinds of free enterprise. A coal company runs much differently from a restaurant, for example.

 

Public schools are nothing like any for-profit business. Sure, historically we’ve had a small percentage of private schools, but our country has never survived on an education system that is wholly private. By definition, the model does not work for everyone. That’s what the term “private” means – belonging to one person or group and not another. Our schools traditionally serve everyone. No single business in the country does that day-in-day-out. Perhaps we could find some new paradigm that would fit public schools, but let’s not pretend we can take some business model that already exists and apply it willy nilly. At the start, this mindset is naive at best.

 

Second, most businesses fail.

 

Most public schools succeed. They have a proven track record. Why are we going to jump to a model that builds its success on the failure of competitors?

 

Competition means there will be winners and losers. That’s fine in sports. It’s even fine in most goods and services. There’s not so much at stake. If I go to a bad restaurant, I have a bad meal. No big deal. I just go somewhere else tomorrow. If I get a bad education, there is no do over. I’m screwed.

 

That’s just not acceptable. Would you bet your life on opening a new restaurant? Would you bet your child’s education? Schools might not live up to your expectations, but the system isn’t set up from the outset so that some of them will eventually crash and burn.

 

Third, businesses get to choose their raw materials. If you’re making pizzas, you buy the best grains, cheese, tomatoes, etc. But public schools don’t get to choose their students. They have to teach even those who are more difficult to instruct. They accept kids with special needs, kids who’ve been abused, who live in poverty, who are undernourished, etc. And that’s how it needs to be.

 

If we were to follow the typical business model where the goal is merely profit, we would try to find ways to weed out these difficult students and make them someone else’s problem. In fact, that’s exactly what many privately-run charter schools and vouchers schools do. If they want our tax dollars, they shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against our children. We should be seeking to stop such nefarious practices, not universalize them.

 

Finally, businesses are not essentially democratic. Corporations are beholden to their shareholders and businesses are beholden to their founders. Who, exactly, fits that role if we model our school after a business?

 

Public schools are run by democratically elected school boards. Privately run charter and voucher schools often are run by appointees. They aren’t beholden to the public who provide the tax dollars they need to operate. They are beholden to the limited group of people who would profit from them economically.

 

This is a terrible model for public schools. It gives very little back to the taxpayer. It gives less value to the student.

 

Should we run our schools like businesses? Not if we value students and taxpayers more than the handful of investors looking to profit off our dime.

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

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Is it just me or did 2016 really stink?

Both personally and publicly, it was a year I’d rather not revisit. I lost family. I lost idols (RIP, David Bowie and Prince). And we lost a horrible, protracted Presidential election.

But as has become a tradition, I find myself in front of the computer compelled to compile this list of the best of my own writings.

It would be easy to just say nothing much of value happened in 2016 so let’s just move on. But that wouldn’t be true.

There were good things. I’m just stumped to remember many of them right now. Perhaps as time goes on we’ll look back fondly on a smattering of events from this year that was. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. That was kinda cool. There were some decent movies and a heck of a lot of good TV shows. The Arrival, Star Trek Beyond, Deadpool… Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, two excellent series about O. J. Simpson. We got a Harry Potter sequel of sorts – and another movie! I thought “Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters was quite good. We got an amazing musical in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” Technically it opened in 2015, but it swept the Tonys this year. And hey! We stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline – for now.

It was certainly a productive year for blogging.

There was so much to write about.

This little education and civil rights blog went into overtime. I almost doubled traffic to the Website and got 2,145 more followers for a total of 11,335.

Gadflyonthewallblog, or if you prefer Gadfly on the Wall Blog, has been going strong since July 2014. In those two and a half years, I’ve gotten 849,000 hits – 363,000 just this year, alone. I also increased the number of posts I write a year. Last year, I only managed about 90 posts. This year it was 120 posts – a full 30 additional articles.

I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I hope you’ve found them valuable.

Sometimes readers send me a note saying that they’re going to share this post or that post with their school board or their representative in the House or Senate. I’m always very flattered to hear that something I wrote is helping someone else fight for what’s right. Of course, I do get a lot of hate mail, too. No death threats yet, but it’s getting awfully close. Readers have wished I was dead, but no one has offered to give me that little push to the other side.

I hope that no matter what your reaction, you’ll remember these are just the writings of a humble public school teacher and father. No one pays me, though sometimes I do get donations for the right to reprint something elsewhere. I write all this stuff because I have to. So few people seem to care what people like me have to say – even in my own profession. Like many others, I’ve stopped waiting to be asked.

So for your end of the year amusement, I offer this top ten list of my most popular writing from 2016. And here’s to a better 2017.


10) F is for Friedrichs… and Freeloader: A Supreme Court NightmareScreen shot 2016-01-11 at 9.50.07 PM

Published: January

Views: 5,550

Description: Some crazy lady didn’t want to pay the union for benefits that she got as a member and didn’t want to give them up. And rich folks everywhere had her back. They slobbered all over and pushed forward a bull crap case through the Supreme Court that probably would have made it much more difficult for labor unions everywhere had not Justice Antonin Scalia died deadlocking the vote. This article was my attempt to show how absolutely absurd the argument was against being forced to pay for something that benefits you.

Fun Fact: Now that Congress blocked President Obama’s Constitutional right to appoint a replacement for Scalia, and Donald Trump will probably get to pick a replacement, look for a similar case to come down the pike and win! Oh, 2016, will you ever truly leave?


9) The Charter School Swindle – Selling Segregation to Blacks and LatinosScreen Shot 2016-05-31 at 4.22.46 PM

Published: June

Views: 6,489

Description: Charter school promoters often sell these institutions to minorities as being “Separate but Equal.” Hm. Didn’t Brown v. Board outlaw that kind of practice because if schools were separate, they usually were anything but equal? This article is my attempt to explain how charter marketers are really selling minorities on segregation and trying to talk them out of their own civil rights.

Fun Fact: During the Obama years, it was common practice to sell corporate education reform as a way of increasing civil rights while it actually violated them. It will be interesting to see if that rhetoric gets left behind in the Trump years when lawmakers already seem to have little interest in them at all.


8) ‘We’re Sorry Teachers are Unfairly Blamed’ says John King – Man Responsible for Unfairly Blaming Teachers

Published: February John King AP

Views: 6,832

Description: When John King became temporary Secretary of Education, he went on an apology tour telling educators that the federal government was sorry for how terribly it had treated teachers. In particular, he was sorry the department had blamed educators for societal problems that our schools need to fix without giving them the resources necessary to actually correct them. However, King was personally guilty of many of these same practices in his old job in New York. It was typical disingenuousness from the Obama administration and the Democrats – ignore and abuse their key constituents until election time and then make positive noises in their general direction hoping we’d support them at the polls.

Fun Fact: It didn’t work.


7) Bernie Sanders is Right: We Should Federalize Public School FundingBernie_Sanders_by_Gage_Skidmore

Published: January

Views: 6,947

Description: The way we fund public schools in this country is messed up. In many states, we rely heavily on local property taxes which result in poor communities being substantially underfunded and rich ones having more than enough of everything. In most of the world, funding is done much differently – the burden is handled mostly by the federal government who then distributes it equitably from place-to-place. Bernie Sanders proved he was the real deal by suggesting we do the same thing here in the US, a suggestion that no one in either party was ready for.

Fun Fact: Even some of my readers were uncomfortable with this one. They feared that if the federal government took responsibility for funding, it would increase their ability to micromanage local school districts. This is a fair concern, but there is a way to do this without increasing federal control of education policy, just funding. In any case, funding disparity is an issue that hardly ever even gets acknowledged less than discussed. Thank you, Bernie!


6) Summer Break – the Least Understood and Most Maligned Aspect of a Teacher’s Life

Published: June Screen shot 2016-06-20 at 4.18.07 PM

Views: 7,429

Description: Just about every teacher gets crap from non-educators about summer break. Everyone thinks they know what it’s like to be a teacher and how easy we’ve got it. This post was my way of shutting up the ignorant. It explains why educators aren’t teaching in summer, what they’re actually doing and how the public benefits from giving teachers this time. Share it with someone you love.

Fun Fact: Or just shut someone up with it.


5) Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Manager is a Longtime Corporate Education Reformer

Clinton Gives Speech On American Global Leadership At Washington Conference

Published: March

Views: 9,268

Description: Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, is not a nice man. I unearthed a speech he gave to corporate school reformers including Jeb Bush in 2012 where he pledges his allegiance to conservative, market-driven school policies. And THIS is the guy who was influencing Hillary’s approach just like he influenced Obama’s when he worked on that campaign. Legend has it, Podesta is responsible for giving us Arne Duncan. He suggested Duncan over Obama’s campaign education advisor Linda Darling Hammond, a critic of high stakes testing. These were truths that needed to be told and tell them I did.

Fun Fact: That this came out was a huge embarrassment to the Clinton campaign. All they could do was suppress it. Even dedicated supporters who read the article had to admit that she would probably not be very good for education – but she’d be better than Trump. It’s these kinds of Faustian bargains that derailed her campaign. How much better off we would have been had we had a real progressive to vote for than just another Democrat in Name Only!


4) What Antonin Scalia’s Death Means to the People I Loveantonin-scalia-26

Published: February

Views: 14,001

Description: Scalia was a terrible Supreme Court judge who used his position to justify hurting a lot of people. While others tried to hide their excitement at his passing, I let mine show. It might not be nice to say, but the world is a better place without him in it. I had hoped my honesty would make it harder for anyone like him to ever reach that office again. Unfortunately, weak Democrats and an incoming Republican President mean his replacement will probably be just as bad as he was.

Fun Fact: Originally my title was much more provocative – something like “Antonin Scalia was a Terrible Person and I’m Glad He is Dead.” It got over 10,000 hits in a few hours, but then I reconsidered and changed the title. People almost immediately stopped reading it.


3) Without Black Culture There Would Be No American CultureScreen shot 2016-06-28 at 12.10.37 AM

Published: June

Views: 15,519

Description: We often talk about black people as victims. Police brutality, civil rights violations, economic disparities – but this is only half of the story. There is a buried history of success that rarely gets mentioned. Think of what American culture would look like without black people. It would be something completely different. This was my attempt to tip my hat at the incredible ways black Americans have made their mark on our society especially in the field of music.

Fun Fact: Black Twitter really liked this article. It was especially gratifying to see how appreciative people were. Of course, at the same time, some folks’ white fragility couldn’t handle it, either. Some readers tried to bully me into making changes here or there for no reason other than that it made black people look too good. Sorry, folks, no one determines what I put on this blog but me.


2) The Essential Selfishness of School Choice

Published: November img_5992

Views: 40,268

Description: School choice is less an education policy than a propaganda effort. Most people don’t understand what it really is. They don’t understand how essentially selfish it is like cutting a piece of pie from the middle of the dish so no one else can get a whole slice. I tried here in the most simple, direct language I could to explain why.

Fun Fact: With the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary and Trumps’ promise to spread school choice across the land like a Trump University franchise, the article remains popular. A lot of readers told me that it helped make sense of the issue for them for the first time. No doubt it’s been sent to policymakers across the nation. And it all started when I saw that picture of a ruined pumpkin pie on Reddit. I started to think – isn’t that a lot like school choice?


1) Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice

Published: JanuaryLittleKidThumbsDown

Views: 77,139

Description: Both Democrats and Republicans love school choice. So I thought that real education advocates needed a quick list of the main reasons why it is bad policy. There’s nothing really new or amazing here. We’ve known this for decades, but this keeps getting brought up again and again like zombie legislation. The wealthy will push this forward whether we want it or not. There’s just too much money they can make if it passes. That’s why it’s good to know why what they’re peddling is so harmful to students, parents and communities. Consider it ammunition for quick come backs.

Fun Fact: I wrote this long before the Trump administration was a prospect to be taken seriously. This was long before DeVos or the Donald pledged to bring this to the national stage. It has continuously gotten a steady flow of hits since it was published. If my goal as a blogger is to be useful, I think this post more than any other written this year fits the bill. You can quibble with one or two points here, but all ten are enough to show any rational person why school choice is no choice.