Randi and Lily, For the Good of Our Unions, Please Step Down. You Are a Distraction

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Dear Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia:

Unions are facing hard times.

We are under attack by the new fascist wing of the Republican party.

So-called “right to work” laws are being drafted at the national level to strip us of our rights and transform us into the factory slaves of The Gilded Age. New court challenges at the state and federal level could make it next to impossible to collect dues without allowing countless free riders. And in the mass media criticism of teacher tenure is mounting despite widespread ignorance of what it even means.

More than ever we need to be united in our efforts to fight the forces of regression and tyranny. We need each other to protect our public schools and our students from those who would do them harm. But the biggest obstacle to doing that isn’t Donald Trump. Nor is it Mike Pence, Steve Bannon or even Betsy DeVos.

It is you. Both of you.

Frankly, as Presidents of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), you have become a distraction.

When DeVos was blocked by protesters from entering a Washington, D.C., school this week, Randi actually took her side. She tweeted:

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“Just heard a protester blocked & almost knocked Secy @BetsyDeVos down at Jefferson.We don’t condone such acts.We want her to go to pub schls.”

How dare you dictate to protesters what “we” want!?

This action may not have been something you, personally, condone. But DeVos just got away with purchasing her position as U.S. Secretary of Education. She and her billionaire family paid off mostly Republican lawmakers to the tune of $200 million allowing her to become the titular head of our nation’s public schools. This despite having never attended a public school, refusing to protect special education students, refusing to hold charter and voucher schools to the same standards, even refusing to keep guns out of our children’s classrooms! Well, Betsy, your money may buy you the title, but it buys you zero respect!

Randi, your statement just goes to show how tone deaf you and Lily are to the spirit of the rank and file.

We are not somewhat distressed at what is happening to our schools and our profession. We are enraged! We are taking to the streets! We are occupying our lawmakers offices and marching through community thoroughfares! And we aren’t throwing shade on other protesters behind the safety of Twitter.

For many of us, you both represent everything wrong with unionism. We are a people powered movement. We get our strength from the grassroots up, but you both try to rule from the top down.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the early endorsements by both unions of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Neither one of you made an honest effort to gauge member opinions on these endorsements before going ahead. You thought you knew better. You pushed through these endorsements despite a strong vein of support for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

Sanders was much more in-line with our needs and values. And he had much more support among progressives and independents. He had a much better chance of winning! Meanwhile, Clinton was just another neoliberal in a long line of neoliberals like President Barack Obama who would offer us only the back of their hands.

You wanted a seat at the table, and you didn’t mind how much it would cost the rest of us.

Lily, when you took the reins of the NEA in 2014, you famously said “We are what Democracy looks like.” I was never more proud of my union than at that moment. But that pride has turned to ashes in my mouth.

Many of us will never forgive either of you for the results of this election. We blame you for Trump.

Had you not dictated to us that we must support Clinton, had you supported a candidate with a real chance of wining, there is little doubt that we could have defeated the clown currently in the Oval Office. Moreover, under a President Sanders we would have had a real chance at a progressive future that benefits everyone – $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, sanctuary cities, justice reforms, fair trade, free college tuition.

Trump did not win alone. Unwittingly, you were his biggest supporters. It was your hubris – along with that of corporate Democrats deaf to the voices of their base – that gave us these next four years. And none of you have learned your lesson.

Lily, your three-year term is up this year. Randi, your two-year term is up in summer 2018.

We can wait you out if we must. But do what’s best for the people you claim to represent. Step down now.

Otherwise, you can look for opposition in our Representative Assemblies.

Let me be clear. I don’t think either of you have broken any by-laws. I don’t think there is evidence for impeachment (if our by-laws even allow it). But members could easily make a motion from the floor for a vote of no confidence.

Support may already be mounting for such positions at the Region level. It could go to the State House of Delegates as a New Business Item and get a majority vote from the floor. Or perhaps at our next Representative Assembly, someone will just make a motion.

I don’t know if it would pass. But I know that this division among us is holding us back from being the force we can be. I know that it has stopped many of us from talking about how we fight external forces, because we are instead focused on enemies from within.

We want to transform our unions. We no longer want to focus solely on collective bargaining. We want to focus on social justice and the needs of our students and communities. To be sure, our labor rights are essential to this fight, but they cannot be everything nor can we be willing to give up on the needs of our students if the powers that be will only leave our salaries and benefits intact.

We want a union that is more at home in the streets than in the boardroom. We want leaders who mobilize us to fight not tell us what to think. We need leaders that listen to us – not the other way around.

As a classroom teacher and education activist, I make this request in no official capacity for any of the various groups to which I belong. I ask as merely another member of the NEA. I have no affiliation with the AFT.

Moreover, I have nothing personal against either of you. We met briefly at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago two years ago. You were both congenial and inspiring. It may not seem like it now, but I hold tremendous respect for both of you. I think in your own ways you have accomplished much that benefits our members.

But the time has come to step down. You believe in accountability. Hold yourselves accountable.

Put the strength of our unions first. Let it no longer be about you. Let it be about us.

Here’s hoping you’ll do the right thing.

Yours,

Steven Singer

NEA and PSEA member

P.S. – If any NEA or AFT member reads this open letter and agrees with the sentiments expressed here, please add your name and union affiliation in a comment on my blog.

My Election Day Heart Attack: Lessons for Moving Forward

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I had a heart attack on Election Day.

This is not hyperbole.

I literally went to the polls, went to my doctor and then went to the hospital.

I didn’t know Donald Trump would win. Like most of us, I thought the nation would heave a big sigh, eat its vegetables and vote for Hillary Clinton.

But the election had been weighing on my mind (and apparently my body) for a long time.

How can we have narrowed it down to these two candidates nobody wants? How can these really be the only choices we get here in America? If either one of them wins, we all lose just in different ways.

So as I write this from my hospital bed, I’m left pondering lifestyle changes. I’ve got to start eating healthy. I need to exercise. I need to start taking care of myself.

But this kind of introspection is also what we need as a nation. After a disastrous election like the one we just had, the country is at least as sick as my ailing heart. We need to sit down with each other and decide how we’re going to move forward, how we’re going to prevent a national disaster like this from ever happening again.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1) Admit Who’s to Blame

Donald Trump was just elected President of the United States. That is unbelievable! This clown, this buffoon is now the “leader of the free world.” How did this happen?

There are many factors leading up to this, but politically the blame must be placed with the Democratic Party.

They put up a candidate – Hillary Clinton – who could not beat someone as odious as Trump. The people made it clear during the primary that they wanted a populous candidate, someone who wasn’t part of the establishment, yet the DNC ignored them. In fact, party elites did everything they could to tip the scales in Clinton’s favor.

We must always remember this lesson: when you rig the primary, you lose the general.

Bernie Sanders packed stadiums while Clinton could barely pull together rallies. He polled double digits ahead of Trump while Clinton was much less competitive. He would have beaten Trump in a landslide.

So if you want someone to blame, blame the DNC. Every party leader should immediately be fired. We must regain control of the party. If the Democrats refuse to be a real progressive institution, they will continue to lose and we will have to look elsewhere for political affiliation.

So admit the truth, it wasn’t third party voters with 3-4% of the vote, it wasn’t 45% of registered voters who didn’t show up at the polls because we gave them no one to vote for. It was the DNC. Period.

2) Understand the relationship between Race and Class

There are lots of folks out there blaming the election results on the racism of Trump voters. There are lots of folks blaming it on working class people choosing Trump over Hillary.

They’re both right.

Racism has always been a tool of the rich in this country. It’s a way of throwing a bone to poor whites so they will support the 1%.

Don’t go after us as we cheat you out of a living wage, they say. We’ll give you whole swaths of people you can lord it over.

White privilege is the grease that keeps our economy running. Without it, poor whites might look to the rich and see how much they’re being swindled.

Heck yeah Trump ran as a racist. Heck yeah he ran as a populist. But the only thing poor whites will get from him is a license to be racist.  No jobs. No better wages. No better education. Just go ahead and subjugate brown people.

We must understand this relationship. As anti-racists we must also fight for the middle class. As activists for the middle class we must also fight racism. These are two sides of the same coin, and we must address both if we are ever to achieve real positive change.

3) Acknowledge Sexism

That a nation of grown adults would pick a boorish misogynist against an educated, intelligent woman speaks wonders. Hillary Clinton was far from my first choice,  but compared to Trump she was obviously less odious.

There is no doubt that sexism played a part in this. Even white women chose Trump over Clinton. So many of Trump’s policies were anti-woman. He was an admitted serial groper. He’s on trial for child rape!

And if that’s not enough, I can’t even recall how many times I heard women tell me that a person of their gender doesn’t belong in the Oval Office.

This is something we have to overcome, and frankly I think we are. Millennials are not nearly as sexist as the rest of us. As the population ages and today’s kids become tomorrow’s adults, I think sexism will be left behind. Trump’s election is the last gasp of this antiquated prejudice. But we must recognize it for what it is.

4) Unions need to represent the rank and file

I’m a big supporter of labor unions, but in many cases they let us down in this election. Trump was no champion of the working stiff, but he got an awful lot of union votes. Why?

Many of our unions prematurely endorsed Clinton even though she has a spotty relationship with them and didn’t support many natural union initiatives like the fight for 15.

On the other hand, Sanders was the union candidate. He was the natural fit, yet union leadership like the American Federation of Teacher’s Randi Weingarten offered to attack other unions that didn’t fall in line behind Clinton. Both big teachers unions, the AFT and the National Education Association endorsed Clinton early in the primary without truly democratically polling membership. It doesn’t matter if they broke by-laws or not. If unions really represent the rank and file, these leaders should be held responsible.

In short, we should fire leaders like Weingarten and the NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia immediately. Our union leaders must show a healthier respect for the rank and file or else they jeopardize the entire enterprise of workers’ rights.

 

These are just some of the ways we can move forward in the days and weeks ahead. It will be a rough road  but I’m sure we can come out of it together.

Just like my aging body, our nation is ill. For me, the result was a heart attack. For us, the result is President Trump.

Will we turn it around?

I’m sure going to try.

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FULL DISCLOSURE: I didn’t vote for either Clinton or Trump. I happily voted for Jill Stein.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Unions Belong in the Fight Against Corporate School Reform?

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In the fight for public education, the forces of standardization and privatization are running scared.

 

They’ve faced more pushback in the last few years – especially in the last few months – than in a decade.

 

The Opt Out movement increases exponentially every year. Teach for America is having trouble getting recruits. Pearson’s stock is plummeting. The NAACP and Black Lives Matter have both come out strongly against increasing charter schools.

 

So what’s a corporate education reformer to do?

 

Answer: Change the narrative.

 

They can’t control the facts, so instead they try to control the story being told about the facts.

 

It’s a classic propaganda technique. As Malcolm X put it:

 

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

 

Their story goes like this – yes, there is a battle going on over public education. But the two sides fighting aren’t who you think they are.

 

The fight for public schools isn’t between grassroots communities and well-funded AstroTurf organizations, they say. Despite the evidence of your eyes, the fight isn’t between charter school sycophants and standardized test companies, on the one hand, and parents, students and teachers on the other.

 

No. It’s actually between people who really care about children and those nasty, yucky unions.

 

It’s nonsense, of course. Pure spin.

 

They want you to believe that the corporate vultures preying on our public schools are really just misunderstood philanthropists. And those demanding a fair shake for their own children and communities are really just paid shills from a monolithic and uncaring bureaucracy.

 

In essence, they want you to believe two things:

 

1) Despite profiting off the system and zero evidence supporting the efficacy of corporate school policies, they’re motivated purely by empathy.

 

2) Unions are evil by definition and they pervert everything they touch.

 

I’m not going to bother with the first claim here. There is an inherent bias from those who wish to change the laws so they can more easily profit off of schools without actually helping students learn and in fact exist at the expense of that learning. If you can’t see through the propaganda wing of the Walmart corporation, the Broad Foundation and Big Daddy Bill Gates, you probably won’t be very receptive to anything else I have to say.

 

Instead I will focus on the second claim, because it is the more pernicious of the two.

 

Put simply, unions are not perfect, but they are not evil. In fact, they are essential to the health of public education.

 

Many progressives are upset with teachers unions because of the current Presidential election. Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary election without what many would consider adequately polling rank and file members. For better or worse, the endorsements were top-down affairs reflecting the preference of union leaders.

 

That’s not how unions are supposed to work. And it’s having consequences for the way both members and non-members view teachers unions.

 

Critics infer from this that unions don’t represent membership. They are de facto arms of the waiting Clinton administration and the neoliberal agenda.

 

There may be some truth to this, but it does not represent the whole picture. Not nearly.

 

Unions are like any other democratic organization. The larger the association, the further from the grassroots the decision making body.

 

In the mammoth national unions, decisions are made by representatives most removed from our schools. They probably were teachers or support staff at some point in the past, but that may be ancient history. Now they are professional leaders and therefore at a remove from the grassroots.

 

By contrast, in our local chapters, leaders are most often working classroom teachers. Decisions are made by those still meeting students’ needs on a day-to-day basis. As such, they retain an authenticity and expertise that may be more cloudy in the large bureaucracies.

 

This isn’t to say the national unions are by definition unconcerned with the needs of teachers and students. I’m sure that most of the NEA and AFT leadership who decided to endorse Clinton did it because they honestly believe doing so will help public education. And – who knows – they may be right. But what they forgot in this case was the democratic process they were tasked with preserving. As such, they may have to pay a price for their hubris when their terms are up.

 

In most cases, the leaders of national teachers unions are at too much of a remove to see what is best for our schools. And they usually know that. It is up to the rank and file to tell them what to do, and that’s what happens every year at representative assemblies through various caucuses made up of work-a-day members. And if leaders overstep their authority it is members’ duty to hold them accountable at election time.

 

So even though the national organizations are most likely to go astray, they often don’t. Usually even these giants are trying to improve the situation in our public schools.

 

However, it can’t be denied that the most intense and passionate activism happens a bit closer to where the rubber hits the road. It’s those local chapters that are there everyday and make the most difference. They are the heart and soul of unionism.

 

So when corporate education reformers sneeringly deprecate their opponents as mere unions, they’re glossing over an important distinction. Opposition to privatization and standardization policies doesn’t come from the leadership of the NEA and AFT. It comes from the grassroots. This is not a top down initiative. It is bottom up.

 

This is how it’s always been. There is no political organization directing the fight to save public education. The Democrats certainly aren’t overly concerned with reigning in charter schools. It was grassroots Democrats – some of whom are also union members – who worked to rewrite the party platform to do so. The Clinton campaign is not directing anyone to opt out of standardized testing. However, voters are demanding that Clinton be receptive to their needs – and some of them are union members.

 

There is no great union conspiracy to fight these policies. It’s called public opinion, and it’s changing.

 

That’s what scares the standardizers and privatizers. They’ve had free run of the store for almost two decades and now the public is waking up.

 

They’re desperately trying to paint this as a union movement when it’s not. Unions are involved, but they aren’t alone. And moreover, their involvement is not necessarily an impediment.

 

The needs of the community and the needs of teachers are the same.

 

Both want excellent public schools.

 

Both want the best for our students.

 

Both want academic policies that will help students learn – not help corporations cash in.

 

And both groups want good teachers in the classroom – not bad ones!

 

The biggest lie to have resonated with the public is this notion that teachers unions are only concerned with shielding bad teachers from justice. This is demonstrably untrue.

 

Unions fight to make sure teachers get due process, but they also fight to make sure bad teachers are shown the door.

 

In fact, in districts with strong unions, MORE bad teachers are fired – not less, according to a new study by economics Prof. Eunice Han from the University of Utah.

 

The study entitled The Myth of Unions’ Overprotection of Bad Teachers concludes that when unions are strong and successfully bargain for higher salaries, they have an incentive to help ensure ineffective teachers don’t receive tenure. In short, it costs too much to keep bad teachers on staff. It is in the interests of the collective bargaining unit to ensure those unfit to teach move along.

 

Moreover, Han also concludes that strong unions actually help reduce the dropout rate. It just makes sense. When you treat people like the professionals they are, when you give them autonomy and respect, they’re free to concentrate more energy into their jobs than fighting to keep those jobs.

 

But unions stand in direct opposition to the efforts of corporate vultures trying to swoop in and profit off of public education. Teachers provide a valuable service to students. If your goal is to reduce the cost of that service no matter how much that reduces its value to students, you need a weak labor force. You need the ability to reduce salary so you can claim the savings as profit.

 

THAT’S why corporate education reformers hate teachers and their unions. We make it nearly impossible to swipe school budgets into their own pockets.

 

So do unions belong in the fight against corporate education reform?

 

Answer: Heck yeah! In fact, they are essential to it.

 

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

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Meet John Podesta.

 

He’s a Washington lobbyist working hard to support high stakes tests, Common Core and charter schools.

 

He’s also Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.

 

That’s right – the 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate who has been endorsed by the leaders of the national teachers unions has a corporate education reformer running her campaign.

 

Here are a few choice quotes from a speech Podesta gave in 2012 to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a corporate education reform think tank established by Jeb Bush.

 

 

On Competition in Education:

 

“I think this emphasis that President Obama and Secretary Duncan have placed on competition – not just Race to the Top but competition throughout the system of education – is quite a good one, and I think the federal resources can be used to both support the development of new models and can force state experimentation in a way that’s quite healthy.”

 

 

On Using Student Test Scores to Evaluate teachers:

 

“In my view, [education] requires an accountability system that ensures students achieve at the highest levels… It requires a teacher and principal workforce that are rigorously trained, highly skilled and comprehensively evaluated.”

 

 

On Teachers Unions’ Resistance to Corporate Education Reform:

 

“I would argue that while there are clearly still strong rejectionist voices in unions, national union leadership has come a fair distance in recognizing that teacher effectiveness matters, and that evaluation systems need to include student outcomes… The majority of teachers have less than 10 years experience, and younger teachers know what counts. They’re more reform minded… So the question I think for reformers is how do you keep the pressure on unions to change, how do you keep the pressure on to put kids first without demonizing teachers in the process?”

 

On School Vouchers and charter schools:

 

“I think vouchers are an unneeded distraction. We should concentrate on PUBLIC school choice.”

 

On the Bipartisanship of Corporate Education Reform:

 

“In my opinion, the Obama administration has made its key priorities clear. The Republicans are pretty much in the same place…”

 

On the new frontier for Corporate Education Reform:

 

“Early childhood education is ripe for investment and reform.”

 

It’s all there on video. I strongly recommend you put aside 42 minutes and watch Podesta cozy up to Bush and Chester E. Finn, President of the ultra-reformy Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

 

Podesta is probably the single most effective person at destroying public education of which you’ve never heard.

 

You know Arne Duncan – the worst U. S. Secretary of Education of modern times. But did you know that Arne wasn’t President Barack Obama’s first choice?

 

Obama almost picked Linda Darling-Hammond – his education advisor during his 2007 campaign. Hammond is a former teacher turned Stanford education professor. She is also a vocal critic of Teach for America.

 

However, Podesta oversaw the transition committee that helped Obama make cabinet choices. Ultimately, the responsibility rests with the President, but it was Podesta who suggested and lobbied for Duncan, the know-nothing Chicago Schools CEO for U.S. Education Secretary. In fact, Duncan’s selection is an achievement of which Podesta is given gleeful responsibility by the privatization and standardization crowd.

 

And now guess whose ear he is whispering into?

 

Podesta has a long history with the Clintons. He was Bill’s Chief of Staff for three years during which time the President pushed hard for voluntary national standards – a school policy that has become known by another name – Common Core State Standards.

 

Podesta also founded the reform think tank Center for American Progress, a bastion for neoliberal thought. The organization routinely hires the crème de la crème of corporate education reformers who then push for test and punish policies in the media and on Capital Hill.

 

 

Podesta has already helped push Hillary closer to the dark side.

 

Remember when she shocked the neoliberal establishment by suggesting that some charter schools game the system by refusing to accept the most challenging students? (Which, by the way, is 100% factual.)

 

This really turned off some super-wealthy donors. According to the Wall Street Journal, after hearing the comment, one of Clinton’s longtime supporters, Eli Broad, turned off the money faucet.

 

Broad allegedly refused requests for contributions to a Clinton-friendly super PAC until Podesta personally assured him Hillary supports charter schools.

 

Also running interference on this issue was Clinton’s education adviser Ann O’Leary.

 

She wrote an op-ed calming charter fans because Hillary does, in fact, support charter schools – if they’re equitable and accountable.

 

Unfortunately, O’Leary has a strong corporate education reform streak, herself.

 

While an aide to Clinton in the Senate in 2001, O’Leary pushed Hillary to support No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

 

This was the bill that changed the federal role in education from ensuring equity to enacting an endless series of high stakes tests and expanded school privatization more than ever before. By it’s own measures of success, it was a terrible failure.

 

But O’Leary sees it differently.

 

 

“It was a really important moment,” O’Leary says. “When you look back at what happened, this was serious, bipartisan, constructive work. We were committed to high standards and helping states get there.”

 

O’Leary has somewhat stepped back her support of this bill. However, she blames the problems on implementation and not on the basic idea of high stakes testing.

 

She takes the same tack with Common Core. Implementation is the problem, not the policy.

 

And THIS is the woman advising Clinton on education!

 

By the way, she served with Podesta on the same Obama-Biden transition team that helped create our current disastrous U.S. Department of Education, though her focus was early childhood.

 

If Hillary Clinton really wants to forge a new path for U. S. schools, it’s surprising she’s surrounding herself with the same people responsible for the status quo.

 

Funded by wealthy privatizers, advised by standardization true believers, it is difficult to accept a second Clinton Administration would be anything more than a seamless continuation of the Testocracy.


Special thanks to Jake Jacobs who brought much of this to my attention.

 

Dr. Jill Stein is the Best 2016 Presidential Candidate, But Can She Win?

 

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In 2008, I shook Barack Obama’s hand.

 

Yesterday Dr. Jill Stein gave me a hug.

 

Eight years ago, I was so inspired by Obama’s campaign speech in my hometown of Pittsburgh that I rushed forward along with the crowd to grab his hand. It was soft but firm with a tinge of moisturizer. Now I look at his incredibly regressive education policies and feel the need to scrub my palm.

 

This weekend in Philadelphia, I was at the United Opt Out Conference and saw Stein sitting in the audience.

 

I walked past the Green Party Presidential candidate the first time thinking I must be mistaken. Then her name tag removed all doubt.

 

“You’re Jill Stein!” I stuttered.

 

She smiled warmly, stood up and said, “You’re Steven Singer!”

 

I want to believe she knew who I was, but I was wearing a name tag, too.

 

We talked for a moment about what most of us were here for – education policy. She reaffirmed that she wanted to end all high stakes testing and school privatization.

 

Think of it – a presidential candidate speaking in specifics. Not “We test too much.” Not “Some charter schools are bad.” But I want to end these two perverse school policies!

 

And to top it all off, before she hurried off to tidy up as the time approached for her campaign speech, she game me a warm, tight hug.

 

Compare that to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

 

As part of the Badass Teachers Association, we reached out to all the Democratic and Republican candidates on these exact same issues. The Republicans ignored us entirely, but both Democrats gave us phone calls by campaign aides.

 

Even then, the Democratic response was far from convivial. It mostly came down to something like “Education is important.” Well, duh.

 

In Sanders’ case, we had to conduct an impromptu sit-in at the Senator’s Washington office before anyone would talk to us about policy. And Hillary only started to speak in measured tones about public schools after our national teachers unions voted to endorse her – well, the leaders of those unions voted. No one ever really asked us, rank-and-file.

 

Moreover, when Sanders voted for the horrible Murphy Amendment of what became the Every Child Succeeds Act, several teachers including myself wrote him an open letter asking him to explain his apparent support for a Test and Punish education provision. One of his aides sent us a replysome nonsense about accountability.

 

And Jill Stein just gave me a hug.

The difference is huge!

 

When activists were holding this conference centering on the movement to Opt Out of Standardized testing, Sanders and Clinton didn’t even send campaign literature. Stein came in person and even gave a keynote address!

 

Don’t get me wrong. Hillary is far preferable to any Republican candidate seeking the office. I just wish her Presidential bid wasn’t funded by the very people we’re fighting against.

 

I love Bernie, too. I’ve even got the t-shirt to prove it. I just wish he loved us as much by throwing out a few more specifics. The general thrust of his campaign seems tailor-made to support test resistance and a fight against corporate education reform, but he rarely connects the dots with anything that we could hold him accountable for saying.

 

And then you have Stein, perhaps the most human politician I’ve ever met.

 

One look at her platform and it’s obvious she’s the best candidate for President in 2016. But is she electable?

 

Think about that for a moment.

 

What does it say about our country?

 

Design an excellent platform that benefits the most people, organize a movement to get your message out there, draw on the experience of experts in various fields… and you’re an incredible long shot to win the office.

 

The media says the same thing about Sanders as he speaks to overcapacity crowds and struggles against party politics seemingly written to hobble any populist campaign like his.

 

Yet Stein has no giant crowds. She has no adoring fans, no comedian on Saturday Night Live giving her friendly jibes.

 

She’s almost completely ignored by the media. Yet her actual policies make even a progressive like Sanders look like… well… Hillary Clinton!

 

For instance, Sanders wants to make college free to everyone. Stein wants to do that, too, AND erase all existing student debt.

 

Sanders is (kind of) against for-profit charter schools but has been vaguely supportive of Test and Punish school accountability practices. Stein is unequivocally against all forms of school privatization and high stakes standardized testing.

 

Sanders wants single-payer healthcare paid for by raising taxes (but net savings over all). Stein wants single-payer healthcare paid for by cutting our bloated military budget with no raise in taxes.

 

In fact, while Sanders is against unnecessary military action and an increase in military spending, he is in favor of keeping the $1 trillion military budget mostly intact. Stein wants to cut it by 50%, stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, stop giving weapons to Israel, freeze terrorist-funder’s bank accounts, end the War on Terror and engage in a policy of peace.

 

Moreover, Stein wants the savings from slashing our biggest federal expenditure to be used to fund a New Green Deal, creating full employment and a living wage all while transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2030!

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but all of Stein’s policies sound rather sane and measured. Yet she is the one the media labels a radical and out-of-touch – if they talk about her at all.

 

It’s a testament to how perverted our politics have become: Sanity looks like the exact opposite. Logic and intelligence are revolutionary concepts.

 

And only the activists and intellectuals seem to know this is happening.

 

When Stein was done speaking, someone asked her the inevitable question about Ralph Nader. Wouldn’t casting a ballot for her just divide the Democratic vote and give the race to the Republicans as it did in 2000?

 

Her response was a bit evasive – the only time, in fact, where she seemed a bit uncomfortable.

 

She said that Nader wasn’t a member of the Green Party, where she is. She is engaged in building the party and the movement even beyond 2016.

 

On the one hand, it sounded like she was suggesting that even if she loses, it will bring real progressive issues into the limelight. However, this is not what happened when Nader lost as a third party candidate against Bush and Gore.

 

On the other hand, she stressed that she actually could win. About 43 million people are trapped by student debt, which she wants to unilaterally eliminate, she said. That’s a large enough chunk of the population that if they all voted for her, she would win.

 

It’s time for a Hail Mary moment, she said. We have to take a chance to vote for the best policies and not continue to compromise by supporting the lesser evil. Concession is the road to what we have now – continued oligarchy and global hegemony.

 

We need a functioning world for our children. If we don’t do something about Climate Change, the Earth may not be habitable in as little as five decades.

 

It’s now or never, she said.

 

I offer all this not as an endorsement of Stein. Nor of Sanders or Clinton (though seriously stay away from the Republicans, they’re freaking crazy).

 

I offer this only as food for thought.

 

Stein is offering us the best platform, bar none. But can we afford to vote for her? Can we afford not to?

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

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“Pennsylvania educator and public school advocate Steven Singer is one of the most powerful voices in the nation when it comes to speaking out for students, parents, teachers and our public schools.”
Jonathan Pelto, founder of the Education Bloggers Network

 

 

“Steven Singer wrote these five terrific posts last year. I didn’t see them when they appeared. Probably you didn’t either. You should.”
Diane Ravitch, education historian

 

“Your name should be Sweet Steven Singer. You are a delight.”
Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union

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Hello. My name is Steven Singer, and I am a gadfly.

I make no apologies for that. It’s what I set out to do when I started this blog in July of 2014.

I told myself that people were too complacent. There was no curiosity. People were too darn sure about things – especially education policy and social issues.

They knew, for instance, that standardized testing was good for children. Why? Because Obama said so. And he’s such a nice man. It’s too bad all those mean Republicans keep making him do all this bad stuff.

They also knew racism was over. After all… Obama! Right? Black President, therefore, the hundreds of years of struggle – finished! Move along. Nothing to see here.

Yet all this “knowledge” went against everything I saw daily as a public school teacher.

Standardized tests are good for children? Tell that to more than half of public school kids now living below the poverty line who don’t have the same resources as middle class or wealthy kids yet are expected to magically ace their assessments. Tell that to the kids who get hives, get sick, or throw up on test day. Tell it to the black and brown students who for some unexplainable reason almost always score lower than their white peers.

Racism is over? Tell that to all my minority students who are afraid to walk home from school because they might get followed, jumped, beaten or killed… by the police! Tell it to their parents who can’t get a home loan and have to move from one rental property to another. Tell it to the advertising executives and marketing gurus who shower my kids with images of successful white people and only represent them as criminals, thugs, athletes or rappers.

So when I started this blog, I consciously set out to piss people off. But with a purpose. To quote the original historical gadfly, Socrates, my role is, “to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.” It seems well suited to a school teacher. After all, Socrates was accused of “corruption of the youth.”

It’s been quite a year. When I went to the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago last April, some folks actually seemed to know who I was. “Don’t you write that Gadfly blog?” was a common question.

When I met NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten, they both said, “I read your blog.” And then they looked me up and down suspiciously as if they were thinking, “THIS is the guy who writes all that stuff!? THIS is the guy giving me such a hard time!?”

Of course, I am human, too. One can’t sting and bite every day. Sometimes the things I write are met with love and approbation. Some weeks even Lily and Randi like me. Sometimes.

Education historian Diane Ravitch has given me tremendous moral support. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to have one of your heroes appreciate your work! Her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” really woke me up as a new teacher. I’m also on the steering committee of the Badass Teachers Association, an organization that has changed my life for the better. The more than 56,000 people  there are my support. I would never have had the courage to start a blog or do half of the crazy things I do without their love and encouragement.

And there are so many more people I could thank: my fellow bloggers Jonathan Pelto, Peter Greene, Russ Walsh, Nancy Flanagan, Mitchell Robinson, and Yohuru Williams. Also the good people at the LA Progressive and Commondreams.org. The incredible and tireless radio host Rick Smith.

There are just too many to name. But no list of acknowledgment would be even close to completion without mentioning my most important supporter – you, my readers. Whether you’re one of the 9,190 people who get every new post delivered by email or if you otherwise contribute to the 486,000 hits my site has received so far, THANK YOU.

So in celebration of my first full year of blogging, I present to you an end of the year tradition – a Top 10 list. Out of the 90 posts I wrote in 2015, these are the ones that got the most attention. Often they incensed people into a fury. Sometimes they melted hearts. I just hope – whether you ended up agreeing with me or not – these posts made you think.

Feel free to share with family, friends, co-workers, etc. After all, I’m an equal opportunity gadfly. I always cherish the chance to buzz around a few new heads!


 

10) The Democrats May Have Just Aligned Themselves With Test and Punish – We Are Doomed

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Published: July 17, 2015
Views: 7,122

Description: It hit me like a slap in the face that almost all Senate Democrats voted to make the reauthorization of the federal law governing K-12 public schools a direct continuation of the same failing policies of the Bush and Obama years. Heroes like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren seemed to be turning their back on teachers, parents and school children. And they were stopped in their efforts by… Republicans!

Fun Fact: This story had some legs. It inspired a bunch of education advocates like myself who are also Bernie Sanders supporters to write the candidate an open letter asking him to explain his vote. His campaign eventually responded that it was about accountability!?


 

9) Punching Teachers in the Face – New Low in Presidential Politics

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Published: Aug. 3
Views: 14,735

Description: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie thought he’d run for the Republican nomination for President. He thought threatening to metaphorically punch teachers unions in the face would get him votes. It didn’t.

Fun Fact: This new low in Presidential politics came just after Donald Trump had announced he was running. Christie’s new low now seems almost quaint after Trump’s calls to tag all Muslims and monitor their Mosques. How innocent we were back in… August.


 

8) This Article May Be Illegal – Lifting the Veil of Silence on Standardized Testing

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Published: April 18
Views: 15,818

Description: Teachers and students may be legally restrained from telling you what’s on federally mandated standardized tests, but we’re not restrained from telling you THAT we’re restrained. Is this just protecting intellectual property or direct legal intimidation of educators and children?

Fun Fact: I have not yet been arrested for writing this piece.


 

7) Stories about Teachers Union Endorsements of Hillary Clinton

Did the AFT Rank and File REALLY Endorse Hillary Clinton for President? If So, Release the Raw Data

(July 12 – 4,448 hits)

 

The NEA May Be About to Endorse Hillary Clinton Without Input From Majority of Members

(Sept. 21 – 3,873 hits)

A Handful of NEA Leaders Have Taken Another Step Toward Endorsing Hillary Clinton Despite Member Outcry

(Oct. 2 – 739 hits)

Teachers Told They’re Endorsing Hillary Clinton by NEA Leadership, Member Opinions Unnecessary

(Oct. 4 – 7,074 hits)

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Published: July 12 – Oct. 4
Views: 16,134 TOTAL

Description: You expect your union to have your back. Unfortunately it seems our teachers unions were more interested in telling us who we’d be endorsing than asking us who the organizations representing us should endorse.

Fun Fact: I broke this story pretty much nationwide. News organizations like Politico were calling me to find out the scoop.


6) Why We Should Have ZERO Standardized Tests in Public Schools

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Published: Jan. 30
Views: 16,443

Description: Someone had to say it. We don’t need any standardized tests. We need teacher-created tests. And that’s not nearly as crazy as some people think.

Fun Fact: This was written back when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was being rewritten and naïve fools like me thought we might actually get a reduction in high stakes testing. Spoiler alert: we didn’t.


 

5) Atlanta Teacher RICO Conviction is Blood Sacrifice to the Testocracy

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Published: April 3
Views: 18,187

Description: There is something terribly wrong when we’re using laws created to stop organized crime as a means to convict  teachers cheating on standardized tests. I’m not saying cheating is right, but the mafia kills people. These were just teachers trying to keep their jobs in a system that rewards results and refuses to balance the scales, listen to research or the opinions of anyone not in the pockets of the testing and privatization industries.

Fun Fact: Watching all those seasons of “The Wire” finally came in handy.


4) Not My Daughter – One Dad’s Journey to Protect His Little Girl From Toxic Testing

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Published: March 20
Views: 26,420

Description: How I went to my daughter’s school and demanded she not be subjected to high stakes testing in Kindergarten.

Fun Fact: They were very nice and did everything I asked. If you haven’t already, you should try it!


 

3) I Am Racist and (If You’re White) You Probably Are, Too

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Published: June 2
Views: 28,906

Description: White folks often can’t see white privilege. This is my attempt to slap some sense into all of us. If you benefit from the system, you’re responsible to change it.

Fun Fact: Oh! The hate mail! I still get it almost every day! But I regret nothing! A black friend told me I was brave to write this. I disagreed. Anytime I want I can hide behind my complexion. She can’t.


2) I Am A Public School Teacher. Give Me All the Refugees You’ve Got

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Published: Nov. 19
Views: 45,196

Description: Our public schools are already places of refuge for our nation’s school children. Send me more. I’ll take them all. I’d rather they end up in my classroom than drowned by the side of a river.

Fun Fact: I got equal love and hate for this one. Some folks were afraid of terrorists. Others didn’t think we could afford it. But many told me my heart was in the right place. Lily and the folks at the NEA were especially supportive.


 

1) White People Need to Stop Snickering at Black Names

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Published: Sept. 6
Views: 96,351

Description: Maybe we should stop laughing at black people’s names. Maybe we should try to understand why they are sometimes different.

Fun Fact: You’d have thought I threatened some people’s lives with this one! How dare I suggest people should stop mocking other people’s names! If you want to know how strong white fragility is in our country, read some of the comments! But many people thanked me for bringing up something that had bothered them for years but that they had been too polite to talk about, themselves. This is easily my most popular piece yet.

 

Does Bernie Sanders Offer Education Advocates Enough? Are We Feelin’ the Bern or Just Feelin’ Burned?

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You probably didn’t hear about this on the news.

To my knowledge no one covered it on TV, the newspaper or even on the blogosphere.

But Bernie Sanders may have made a reply to his Democratic Primary rival Hillary Clinton’s gaffe about closing public schools.

“I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better than average job,” Clinton said at a campaign stop in Iowa on Dec. 22.

The media took this to mean Clinton is in favor of closing half the schools in the country. The comment has been much debated with calls for context and explanation by the Clinton campaign.

However, very quietly on Dec. 24, Sanders tweeted, “We should not be firing teachers. We should be hiring teachers. School teachers and educators are real American heroes.”

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The @BernieSanders twitter account has more than 1 million followers, a little less than the @SenSanders account. But it does appear to be affiliated with the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. If Sanders, himself, posted the tweet is unclear. The candidate used the same account to live tweet the Republican debates so he – at least sometimes – is personally responsible for the material that comes out of there.

Moreover, the comment can be connected directly to something he said on C-SPAN at a campaign stop in Cleveland, OH, on Nov. 16 – before Clinton’s gaffe. In a larger speech that touched on numerous issues he said, “We should not be firing teachers and childcare workers, we should be hiring teachers.” The line about teachers being American heroes is new.

Start the speech 56 minutes in to hear the comment.

So I think it’s fair to say that the sentiment is, in fact, Bernie’s. It’s only the timing that is in question.

Is this tweet an attempt to distinguish himself from Clinton? Is this his way of saying that he’s NOT interested in closing schools and firing teachers – instead he wants to invest in education and hire more educators?

Maybe.

It sure would be nice if he’d come out and tell us. Frankly, I’m getting tired of having to read the tea leaves to get a glimpse of Bernie’s K-12 education policy.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

He’s been one of my favorite politicians for years. As a U.S. Senator, he’s consistently worked against economic and social inequality for decades. He’s been a fearless critic of Wall Street and privatization, an advocate for single payer healthcare and fighting global climate change.

He champions historic investments in preschool and college – even vowing to make post secondary tuition free. But somehow when it comes to K-12 schools, he’s got very little to say.

Most notably, he voted against No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – the devastating schools bill passed with bipartisan support during the George W. Bush years. However, he also voted in favor of the Charter School Expansion Act of 1998 which further opened the nation’s piggy bank to for-profit school privatizers. He also opposed a bill in early 2015 that would have prohibited the federal government from imposing the terrible Common Core standards on the nation’s schools.

On the campaign trail, when asked about his stance on K-12 schools, Sanders has boasted he would end NCLB. That was just accomplished by Congress through a reauthorization of the bill now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Sanders was an active participant in that process.

When this legislation was still in the Senate, he – along with almost all Democrats – voted for a failed amendment that would have continued most of the worst aspects of NCLB. The bill eventually passed the chamber in a potentially more palatable form. Sanders eventually voted for that Senate version but was conspicuously absent from the final vote.

Though keeping a busy campaign schedule, Sanders is known for returning to Washington to vote for important legislation. He does this much more than most of the other sitting Congressional Presidential candidates.

So why was he absent for the final vote on the ESSA? Was that done on purpose, and if so why? Could it be an attempt to distance himself from this legislation? Or is it an attempt at plausible deniability – a way of justifying both his approval and disapproval of the same legislation?

Sanders hasn’t said much.

This puts would-be-supporters in an uncomfortable position. We like what Sanders has to say about the economy and poverty, but we have little to go on when it comes to K-12 education. Certainly if Sanders was elected President and came through with all of his other promises, that would help our public schools tremendously. And since Sanders has been fighting for these things his entire lengthy political career, it’s hard to doubt his sincerity. But why not include education as part of this platform? It seems to fit perfectly with everything else he believes.

On the other hand, there’s Clinton. She is making a real effort to clarify her education positions. In fact, last week’s gaffe was part of a much larger policy speech on K-12 schools. Sander’s reply – though better stated – was a one off. It was a sound-byte. It was an applause line. It didn’t have much substance behind it.

How are we to take it? Would Sanders hire more teachers as part of a nationwide education equity policy? If so, what exactly is that policy? Or is he – like Clinton – in favor of closing some struggling schools?

Certainly Clinton has a credibility problem. One of her first actions on the public scene as the First Lady of Arkansas in 1983 was to fight against the state teachers union to enact accountability-based school reform. Many of the billionaires and shady think tanks that are working so hard to destroy public schools have donated heavily to her campaign. Her endorsement by both major teachers unions – the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers – were allegedly the result of leadership and not rank and file members.

But unlike Sanders, Clinton actually seems to care about getting the education vote. She is actively fighting for our advocacy. Bernie doesn’t seem to think he needs us.

The Democratic Primaries are about two months away. If Sanders is going to make a play for teachers, parents, students and education advocates, he still has a chance. But time is running out.

Personally I’d rather vote for him, and maybe I will. But if he finally came out swinging, if he actually made me feel like he’d strip away the high stakes testing, unproven or failing policies and put teachers in the drivers seat – he could get so much more.

There are tens of thousands of teachers and advocates standing on the sidelines looking to Bernie. If he gave us a major policy speech, he’d find his campaign offices flooded with new volunteers. Educators would take to the streets and phone banks. We’d lead the charge. We could help turn the tide in a Democratic primary where the margin of victory could well be razor thin.

We’re out there, Bernie. Just say the word and we’ll come running.

We want to Feel the Bern, but you’ve got to turn up the heat!


NOTE: This article also was published in Commondreams.org and the LA Progressive.