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

thumbnail_fullsizerender

I will never be Secretary of Education.

Frankly, I’m just not qualified.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

What would a person like me do as Secretary?


1) Respect the Limits of the Job

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

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

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

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

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


2) Push for More Federal Funding for Public Schools

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

School Accountability Without Standardized Testing

IMG_5312-cropped-proto-ccsa_root___topic_hero-thumb-640xauto-2188

Q: Is it possible to ensure educational accountability without giving standardized tests?

 

A: Not only is it possible, it is necessary.

 

In fact, we will never have accountability while we continue giving standardized tests.

 

This is the irony of modern education policy.

 

High stakes testing is seen as the only tool that can ensure schools operate correctly when in reality it is the very thing that blocks true responsibility.

 

Pundits and policymakers cry crocodile tears as they draw up elaborate ways to punish teachers and students for low test scores. Meanwhile they ignore some of the most basic facts about how education works.

 

FACT: Students and teachers are not the only factors.

 

FACT: Students and teachers don’t decide how much funding their schools get.

 

FACT: Students and teachers don’t get to decide education policy.

 

FACT: An education system is made up of a complex interplay of several interconnected factors that include parents, the community, the economy, culture, media, and local, state and federal governments.

 

FACT: High stakes testing ensures that teachers and students are held accountable for the entire education system including the vast majority of factors beyond their control.

 

So let’s stop pretending that standardized tests hold schools accountable. They don’t. They just point the finger without offering anything to help.

 

True accountability would be about diagnosing problems so we can fix them, not trying to fire your way to the top. When you break your arm, the doctor doesn’t immediately suggest you chop it off. He sets the bone and puts it in a cast and sling so it can heal.

 

When it comes to true accountability, we need to look beyond the school at all the factors involved. We also need to look to the legislature, the taxpayers, parents, the community, the media, and all stake holders.

 

However, this does not mean there are no ways to assess if schools, superintendents, administrators, teachers, and students are doing a good job.

 

In fact, it’s not even difficult to achieve. And we don’t need a single standardized test to do it.

 

We need a two-pronged approach. We must assess student learning, but we also must assess the adequacy of school funding, where it’s going and where it needs to go.

 

These measures are most often ignored in accountability discussions. When it comes to adequate funding, we usually blame the poor for being unable to provide for their children. And since many states allocate education funding based largely on local property taxes, we have rich schools with oodles of cash and poor schools that are falling over. True accountability would ensure all students – both rich and poor – start from an equal playing field. When society neglects this, it is society that is failing, not poor children.

 

When it comes to how funding is spent, we either throw up our hands that there’s no way to evaluate school funding or we pretend that school directors will be transparent just because. Both are untrue.

 

I still believe that local control is the best way to ensure true accountability. When school directors are not elected but appointed– as they are in charter schools – there is no reason to spend wisely. In fact, the laws are set up to shield charter school boards from having to show the community how they are spending taxpayer money. And since most are set up for-profit, there is an incentive to reduce services for students while keeping the saving as profit for themselves and their shareholders.

 

When school boards are elected and are required to hold deliberations in public, accountability is built in. Voters decide who gets to make decisions and if those decisions made in the light of day are in the best interests of their children. Moreover, elected school directors who come from the community have an incentive to make that community in which they live the best it can be and to provide the best quality education they can.

 

This isn’t to say that elected school boards are perfect. They are made up of human beings and are therefore fallible. You don’t have to go far to find local school directors who try to deliberate important decisions in private without notifying the public, circumvent the bidding process, make backroom deals, etc.

 

But there are ways to hold them and the community accountable for providing a quality education.

 

California has come up with an ingenious plan.

 

For the second year, the Golden State has been engaged in a bold experiment. Policymakers have initiated a new K-12 finance system: the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) that go with it.

 

Basically, California public schools use multiple-indicators to determine where funding needs to go and how to hold schools accountable for spending it wisely.

 

It’s not perfect. It certainly has some bugs in it, and I do NOT recommend we simply extend the program nationwide as is.

 

For instance, the program still uses standardized testing as one of many multiple measures of success. This is better than having testing be the sole measure or even the most important one. But – as you shall see – we can do better.

 

The law requires each district to identify specific goals and spending priorities in eight areas. I would modify them as follows:

  1. Basic services such as equipped classrooms, qualified teachers, textbooks and materials. It is essential to know if these needs are being met so we can budget accordingly. If funding is lacking, assessing the deficiency in this way helps make the argument for an increase of cash.

 

  1. Implementation of District Created Standards for all students, including English Learners (ELs). California specifically denotes Common Core standards here. I think that is a mistake. Accepting wholesale a set of unproven standards made by non-educators who have never been inside a district building or in front of a classroom is a recipe for disaster. Instead, teachers in each district should develop their own standards and then test whether they are achieving their goal. Many policymakers are in love with the idea of national standards but that’s like suggesting all restaurants must have some version of the McDonalds value menu. Standards should be locally developed to meet the needs of real students not idealized ones.

 

 

  1. Parental Involvement. This simply cannot be ignored. Schools need to know if parents are invested in the district, and if not, administrators and faculty need to work to find ways to bring them in. Schools can institute family game nights, community picnics, parent-teacher nights with food and babysitting services. No school can ever achieve greatness without parents. We must find ways to increase involvement where it is lacking and encourage increased involvement where it is present at all. We must work to make parents feel welcome and make them a part of the decision-making process for school activities and functions.

 

  1. Student Achievement as measured by district assessments, English Learner reclassification to fluency, and other criteria. California includes Common-core aligned standardized tests in this area. I think this is a mistake and that we can find better assessments here. I’ll return to this in a moment.

 

  1. Student Engagement determined by rates of attendance and absenteeism, dropout rates, and graduation. We must gauge how well students are buying in to what the school has to offer. And if it is lacking, we must take steps to improve it. Schools shouldn’t just provide a prepackaged product. They should actively engage students and provide classes and services suited to their needs. Student engagement is one way to determine if schools are successfully doing that.

 

 

  1. School Climate evident in rates of suspension and expulsion, as well as other locally-identified measures. Discipline is very important but must be conducted judiciously. It must be fair and not unduly harsh. It must serve the purpose of improving academic outcomes. Moreover, we need to make sure there are no racial or cultural biases at work – even if they are unconscious. We want to create an inviting atmosphere, not a stepping stone to the prison system.

 

  1. Access to a Broad Curriculum evident through student enrollment across grade levels and subject areas. We know high stakes testing narrows the curriculum. We must work to actively broaden the curriculum and offer students a wide range of classes to maximize their educational experience. This includes arts, music, foreign languages and extra curricular activities. If we don’t have the funds to make that happen, what better tool to help argue for an increase than a detailed account of what’s missing and why it’s important?

 

  1. Other Student Outcomes as identified locally, which may include locally chosen tests and assessments. This could include participation in AP exams, college courses, etc. No accountability system would be complete without an “Other” category. Districts should be free to customize to meet the needs of students, parents and the community.

 

Which brings us back to testing.

 

We’ve got to have it. There must be some way to assess student learning. But we needn’t resort to money-making corporate products.

 

Teachers have been creating tests since the beginning of time. No one ever thought there was anything wrong with that until giant corporations discovered they could make huge profits selling us their standardized assessments.

 

We need to trust teachers again to assess as they see fit. But we can do more than that. We can have district-wide assessments systems that are not standardized – that are personalized – yet comparable across the district.

 

Performance or portfolio-based assessments.

Schools around the country are incorporating direct demonstrations of student learning into their assessment programs. These include projects, individual and group presentations, reports, papers and portfolios of work collected over time. These provide much more accurate reflections of student learning than snapshot tests developed far from the classroom. Moreover, if properly coordinated by departments and administrators, these assessments are comparable across the district.

 

The New York Performance Standards Consortium is leading the way. It consists of 28 schools, including grades 6-12, throughout the state that rely on these teacher-created assessments to the exclusion of standardized tests.

 

And the results have been tremendous! These public schools have higher graduation rates and better college-retention rates, while serving a population similar to that of other urban schools. We say we’re looking for innovations that work. This is it!

 

Just imagine a school that used such an accountability system. It would have a plethora of data about what’s working, what isn’t working and what needs to be done to correct deficiencies.

 

We forget that accountability systems show our values. High stakes testing pretends that the only thing that matters is the results of a standardized test. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

 

A system like the one I’ve described would ensure every student receives a robust education that is assessed fairly. It would invigorate children, parents and the community. And when students graduate from such a school, they would be prepared for whatever comes next.

 

Moreover, there’s not a single standardized test necessary in the whole system!

 

Our policymakers need to start thinking along these lines. These aren’t pie in the sky suggestions. Most of these ideas already have been tested and proven effective.

 

We need to free our minds from a reliance on the testing industry. We need to think outside the bubble and free our children from corporate servitude as education policy – a system that ensures they won’t receive a quality education – all under the guise of “accountability.”

 

Can real accountability exist without standardized tests?

 

Yes. That’s the only way it can.

Five Ways Hillary Clinton is Running a Dirty, Underhanded, & Disingenuous Campaign

2213399733_a9a86fb14a_z

Dirty politics is nothing new.

Negative campaign adds, spreading false rumors, jamming the other party’s telephones, sabotaging opponents, stealing an opponent’s debate playbook, staging fake riots even sabotaging peace talks to help an incumbent.

Historically, we’ve seen all this and more during presidential campaigns from politicians on both sides of the aisle.

But even with that said, the Hillary Clinton campaign is finding new and more unsavory ways to wage political warfare against her challenger Bernie Sanders.

The race for the 2016 Democratic nomination has been marked by some of the most underhanded and repulsive moves we’ve seen in years.

When the dust clears, Democrats will be asked to support the winner, but given the scorched Earth policy of Clinton, it may be very difficult to put the base back together if she eventually comes out on top.

Here are five ways the Clinton campaign has sunk to new lows in its race against Sanders:

1) Voter Suppression in New York

In numerous general elections across the nation, Republicans have gleefully passed voter ID laws they admit were designed to keep down Democratic votes.

However, in this year’s primary election, we may be seeing Democrats working to stop other Democrats from voting.

Consider this: Sanders has won seven of the last nine Democratic primaries. The two won by Clinton were marked by massive “voter irregularities.” And in the overwhelming majority of cases, these problems affected Bernie supporters and not Hillary devotees.

In New York this week, 126,000 people were mysteriously dropped from the voter roles in Brooklyn, where Bernie was born and raised. They were registered in October, but on election day they were gone.

Another 60,000 Brooklyn Democrats had their registrations mysteriously changed to Republican so they couldn’t cast a ballot for their native son. What’s more, these changes were made after the April 1 deadline for voters to make these modifications, themselves. Someone else had to alter registrations in secret without voters’ knowledge.

This fraud wasn’t limited to one Sanders stronghold. According to various reports, approximately 30% or more of the Democrats throughout the Empire State who went to vote found their registrations had been changed, making those Democrats (invariably Sanders supporters) ineligible to vote. Had these people been counted, the state would probably have gone Bernie.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer – both Hillary supporters – have each called for an investigation. But the results won’t come until after the election. By then, there will be nothing we can do about it.

Is this just a coincidence? Given the stakes at hand, could someone have specifically targeted these people?

Yes. Someone could. Read on.

2) The DNC is Taking Sides

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is supposed to be working to help both Clinton and Sanders coordinate their campaigns. The party is supposed to be impartial. It is not supposed to favor either candidate, but it clearly does.

It is staffed by Clinton supporters like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the party’s national chair and a former Clinton campaign manager. Moreover, the company hired by the DNC to collect campaign information for both parties, NPG Van, has its own ties to Clinton.

This is significant because NPG Van was shown in at least one instance to having exposed privileged campaign information to both sides.

Facts about who supports each candidate and where they live is kept in a database run by NGP Van. The data helps each side figure out phone banking schedules, where to effectively campaign, etc. So when the company experienced a brief “glitch,” it exposed all this information to both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns.

A Sanders staffer was fired for looking at Clinton’s data to determine the scope of the leak. However, the DNC and the Clinton campaign spun this so it looked like the Sanders campaign was stealing the information when the staffer knew perfectly well everything he was doing would be traceable back to him. The DNC even cut off the Sanders campaign from accessing its own files until Bernie took the party to court.

Let’s say the situation had been reversed. Let’s say Clinton staffers had accessed Sanders information about who supports him and where they live. What would they have done with the data? Who knows? But it would have given them the exact information necessary to pull off the voter suppression we saw in New York – which communities need to have “voter irregularities,” and which voters to disenfranchise in order to ensure a Clinton victory.

But if Clinton activists had accessed Sanders information, the DNC would have gone public about it just as the party did about the Sanders staffer, right?

Would they? Would a party that has shown such favor to one candidate, staffed in large part by supporters of that candidate, would it be entirely transparent and forthcoming about improprieties from that campaign? Maybe. Maybe not. But the fact that SOMEONE clearly had access to Sanders information and used it against his campaign in New York leaves us with many unanswered questions.

3) Voter Suppression in Arizona

Voters in Democratic districts of Arizona went to the polls to exercise their civic duty only to find lines literally miles long and wait times of several hours.

The most populous county in the state, Maricopa County, reduced polling locations from 200 during the last election to just 60 this year. That amounts to over 20,000 voters for every location.

The reason given was financial. The Republican administration was trying to save money.

But in retrospect two other explanations seem worthy of consideration. First, this may have been a dry run for the general election. The GOP may have been trying to gauge how well it was suppressing the vote in the highest democratic districts.

Or this may have been an attempt to hurt one specific candidate – Sanders – and help another – Clinton. Once again these “voter irregularities” disproportionately affected Sanders supporters more than Clinton advocates.

Hispanics and Latinos in the state leaned Sanders. They make up more than 40% of the population of Phoenix (30% state wide). Yet in these densely populated neighborhoods, there were few to no polling places open. Faced with such difficulties, many working class people didn’t have the time to wait up to 5 hours to cast a ballot – they had to get to work.

Why would Republicans help Clinton? In polls she is weaker against every GOP presidential candidate than Sanders. Moreover, even if she wins, she is much farther right than Bernie.

Add to that suspicious actions by the media. At roughly 8:30 pm, a little over an hour after polls closed, with less than one percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press declared Hillary Clinton the winner.

In Democratic primaries delegates are awarded proportionally. It’s not winner take all. Delegates are awarded by the percent of the vote each candidate receives. If the race is really close delegates are split.

Prematurely declaring Hillary the winner while hundreds are still waiting to vote discourages Sanders supporters from staying in line and, thus, can reduce the number of delegates he receives.

The media is clearly biased in favor of Clinton, and she enjoys a cozy relationship with pundits and talking heads everywhere.

4) Hiring Social Media Trolls

On the Internet, Clinton supporters have been silencing dissent and lowering the conversation. A Super PAC headed by a longtime Clinton operative is actually spending $1 million to hire online trolls to go after Sanders’ supporters on social media.

Correct The Record (CTR) is operated by Clinton friend and new owner of Blue Nation Review David Brock. CTR just launched an initiative called “Barrier Breakers 2016” for the purpose of debating Sanders supporters on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other social media platforms.

The “Barrier Breakers” also are tasked with publicly thanking Clinton’s superdelegates and fans for supporting her campaign. These paid trolls are professional communicators, coming from public relations and media backgrounds.

I may have come afoul of the group, myself. Until recently, I had been a member in good standing of the closed Facebook group Democrats Only. It was a place for fellow progressives to basically talk trash on conservatives and champion Democratic initiatives. However, in recent weeks it has become something else entirely. Posts started to appear that were nothing more than Clinton campaign press releases. For every pro-Bernie post, there were 99 pro-Clinton ones. Posts would appear calling Bernie and his supporters “assholes.” That’s how a site for Democrats talks about fellow Dems!?

And when I politely brought up these disparities, I was kicked out of the group!

This is not about convincing fellow progressives why Hillary is the best choice. It’s about silencing dissent and creating a false sense of Clinton’s inevitability.

5) Misappropriating Sexism

Clinton is clearly the most successful woman candidate in American history to date. She came close to getting the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 against Barack Obama. She has been a Senator and Secretary of State. If she is actually elected president, she will forever shatter the glass ceiling of the highest office in the land for women.

But that doesn’t mean that every criticism she receives is by definition sexist. Calling for her to release her paid speeches to Wall Street is not anti-woman. Demanding an accounting of her hawkish pro-war policies is not being a male chauvinist. Questioning her commitment to the black community given her support for the privatized prison industry is not a faux pas.

However, this is how the campaign, supporters and even the candidate, herself, talks. They call any male who oppose them a Bernie Bro – a loaded, nudge, nudge, wink, wink term implying that any male opposition to Clinton cannot be based on reason and logic but only on sexism.

On the one hand, this is politics as usual. The Clinton campaign is using the same coded language Hillary has always been so adept at – she knew the term “super predator” was a racist dog whistle.

On the other, this misappropriation hurts women everywhere. It devalues the concept of sexism. It cheapens it.

If simple opposition to a female candidate is sexism, then when real sexism rears its ugly head, we’ll be less apt to take it as seriously as we should. The fact that women make only 79 cents an hour for every dollar earned by men is sexism. The fact that women’s healthcare is under attack and so much harder to access than men’s is sexism. The fact that toy companies limit or refuse to market female characters that aren’t overtly “girly” is sexism.

Asking Clinton to explain her record is not.


When this election cycle began, I considered myself a strong Democrat.

No matter who won the primaries – Clinton or Sanders – I was pretty certain I’d support that candidate in the 2016 general election for President.

Now I’m not so sure.

Scaremongers say it may come down to deciding between Clinton or Trump. That’s not much of a choice: one candidate is a member of the 1% and the other is bought and paid for by the 1%.

What’s the difference?

If the Clinton campaign continues to disenfranchise voters, receive an unfair advantage from party leaders, silence dissent and misappropriate sexism, I may end up casting a write-in for Sanders or voting for the Green candidate Dr. Jill Stein.

Either way, I won’t be bullied into giving my vote to a candidate that’s done nothing to deserve it and has worked to make sure people like me often don’t get the chance to vote at all.

I Was a Radical Republican – For About a Week – And I Didn’t Change a Single Progressive View

Republican

I do not like Ronald Reagan.

I own no guns.

Back in high school I won a debate arguing for pro-choice.

Trickle Down sounds more to me like a bladder condition than an economic theory.

So why was it that last week so many right wingers were retweeting me on Twitter?

Did I say “retweeting”? They were taking my words and memes and sending them out to the Twitterverse as their own thoughts with a reference to my account.

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I think Michelle Malkin pushed down the new heart emoticon on something I wrote.

She may have retweeted me, too. Heck! I may have retweeted her back!

“What new Hell is this?” I thought. “Why am I getting so much love from people who – if they met me in person – would probably try to give me a wedgie and scream, “NERD”?

It turns out I was caught in a maelstrom of political events. And his name is John King.

President Barack Obama named the former New York Education Commissioner as his pick to replace Arne Duncan as US Secretary of Education.

As a public school teacher, this really pissed me off. It pissed off just about every public educator in the country.

Are you kidding, Obama!? John-Freaking-King!? The guy whose only previous experience was teaching for three years at a “no excuses” charter school!?

This is the guy who oversaw the systematic destruction of schools in one of the most populous states in the country all the while pointing his finger at teachers. He approved an obviously fraudulent charter school run by an obvious conman. He ignored and dismissed parents at various education forums. The people of New York hated him so much, he sparked the largest opt out movement in the nation.

And THIS is the guy you’re nominating as Secretary of Education!?

It’s not like he’s even pretended to change his stripes. After New Yorkers booted him out of their state, he was offered a job at the US Department of Education – a prime example of falling upward. Soon afterward, his wife took a job at a corporate education reform company, Bellwether Education Partners!

Isn’t that a conflict of interest? I mean – through her – Bellwether will have the ear of the highest education official in the land. And the rest of us will just be supplicants sending letters, making phone calls hoping for an audience with the King.

THIS was why I was upset. THIS was why I was writing angry blogs and pounding out my rage on Twitter.

And I wasn’t alone.

The usual gang of educators and far left progressives gave me the usual support.

But we were soon joined by a tsunami of social media activists from the other side of the aisle.

Very soon someone made a popular hashtag, #StopJohnKing, and I started seeing hundreds of retweets, restatements and messages of support.

Two of my tweets were particularly popular: one about the conflict of interest of King’s wife working for Bellwhether, the other a seemingly unrelated message about the need to fund public libraries.

Screen shot 2016-03-16 at 11.06.15 PM

Screen shot 2016-03-16 at 11.06.40 PM

 

That’s when I started to notice the Twitter accounts of the people joining in. There were folks proclaiming their love for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. They described themselves as libertarians and refused to speak to “libtards.” And the pictures on their Twitter accounts were often famous conservatives, racist cartoons of the President, pictures of themselves packing heat or just the darn guns, themselves.

“What the heck have I gotten myself into?” I thought.

That’s when I questioned why they were supporting me. For many of them I wondered if it had less to do with how terrible King would be as Education Secretary than with who nominated him in the first place.

Ever since Antonin Scalia died, many Republicans have sworn a blood oath not to approve any of Obama’s nominees – for the Supreme Court or ANY office.

For them this wasn’t about opposing a terrible Presidential pick. It was about blocking everything Obama did.

I had to face it. I had become a radical Republican, and I hadn’t even needed to change one of my positions to do it. The GOP came to me.

I have to admit, my right wing supporters were mostly very nice. I felt like I had a stronger group behind me than during most progressive campaigns.

There was some strain, however. A few times I could tell they were choking back anti-union rhetoric. “Why don’t we fund our libraries? Because unions,” apparently. “Who needs libraries – I home school.” That kind of thing.

And unfortunately, my progressive buddies were starting to notice the right wing support and take offense.

I got trolled by several lefties demanding I support Common Core.

“How can you be against it?” they’d ask. “Rand Paul hates Common Core. Do you agree with Rand Paul?”

I’d respond politely that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Card-carrying Democrats refused to listen to any criticism of the Obama administration’s education policies. Little did these progressives realize, they were the exact opposite of the GOP activists they hated.

Many Republicans hate Common Core because Obama touched it. Many Democrats love it for the same reason.

The majority of teachers throughout the country hate it because we’ve read it, tried to use it and seen what a load of bullshit it is. We know it was developed with very little input from classroom teachers or child psychologists. We know it has no research behind it to show that it works. We see how it erodes our autonomy in the classroom and increases the amount and difficulty of high stakes tests for our students.

But my progressive friends refused to accept that anything Saint Hope and Change approved could be so terrible.

I’d turn to my newfound Republican posse only to find many of them hated Common Core beyond reason. It wasn’t just bad practice – it was going to turn our kids gay. It was a liberal plot to make children progressive atheists.

Oy vey.

The week just flew by. Eventually the Senate voted to approve King, both Democrats and Republicans – though the opposition was almost entirely in the GOP.

In my home state of Pennsylvania, the Senator I can usually count on to have my back (Bob Casey) stabbed me in the same place. And the Senator who usually only votes for things that are officially endorsed by Lord Satan, himself, (Pat Toomey) was my boy.

What kind of a topsy-turvy world am I living in!?

Elizabeth Warren – the liberal lion – said she wasn’t going to vote for King but ultimately gave in. Oh, Elizabeth. They got to you, too?

There were two points of light though. First, there was one Democrat who actually voted against him: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York – the sight of King’s last catastrophe. Second, my Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, didn’t vote at all. Fwew! I can irrationally justify that – he was too busy, that’s all. Bernie would never have voted for King. Tee-hee!

So once again we see the two major parties as mirror images of each other. Where Republicans made the right choice for the wrong reason, Democrats made the wrong choice for the right one. Progressives were circling the wagons around the President. They were making a point that they weren’t going to let the evil GOP block his nominees – even if one of those nominees was an absolute pathetic failure.

This is politics in 2016, folks.

Decisions are rarely made because of logic, experience, or sound judgement. It’s all political maneuvering, personal gain or both. Meanwhile, the world goes to Hell.

After the vote, I got a smattering of conservative retweets and then… nothing. As quickly as they had come, they were gone.

My tiny caucus of teachers, academics and other ne’er-do-wells are still there. We shout our truths into the wind hoping someone will hear.

On days like today it seems impossible.

But perhaps there is a silver lining in there somewhere. If people from such opposite sides of the political spectrum can agree on something like how terrible John King is, maybe there’s hope. If we can shake hands over the fatuousness of Common Core, maybe we can find other points of agreement.

Maybe these brief moments of concord are opportunities for understanding. Sure my GOP compatriots supported me for the wrong reasons, but maybe some of them were exposed to the right ones.

I know I’ve learned from them. I consider myself an FDR Democrat with an abiding faith in a strong federal government. But even I can see how both the Bush and Obama administrations overstepped their power with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

I don’t buy any of that baloney about Big Government vs. Small Government. But I do think that some things like education policy don’t belong at the federal level. The federal government should ensure public schools are funded properly and maybe regulate outright abuses, but local communities and districts should be deciding how to educate the children in their care.

If those ideas rubbed off on me, what rubbed off on my brief Twitter followers?

Will there come a day when we meet again, join hands and fight for our common good?

Can we overcome the blinders of party and politics to build a better world?

#IHopeSo

Most Charter Schools are Public Schools in Name ONLY

charterart

Charter schools are public schools.

But are they?

Really?

They don’t look like a duck. They don’t quack like a duck. Do you really want to serve them confit with a nice orange sauce?

Sure, charters are funded by tax dollars. However, that’s usually where the similarities end.

They don’t teach like public schools, they don’t spend their money like public schools, they don’t treat students or parents like public schools – in fact, that’s the very reason they exist – to be as unlike public schools as possible.

Advocates claim charters exist as laboratory schools. They are free to experiment and find new, better ways of doing things. Once they’ve proven their successes, these improved practices will eventually trickle down to our more traditional houses of learning.

At least, that’s the ideal behind them. But to my knowledge it’s never happened.

As a public school teacher, I can never recall being at a training where charter operators taught us how to do things better with these time-tested strategies. I do, however, recall watching excellent co-workers furloughed because my district had to meet the rising costs of payments to our local charters.

Moreover, if the freedom to experiment is so important, why not give that privilege to all public schools, not just a subset?

The reality is much different than the ideal. In the overwhelming majority of cases, charter schools are vastly inferior to their more traditional brethren. To understand why, we need to see the differences between these two kinds of learning institutions and why in every case the advantage goes to our much-maligned, long suffering traditional public schools:

1) Charters Don’t Accept all Students

Charter schools are choosey. They don’t take just any old students. They only accept the ones they want. And the ones they want are usually easy and less expensive to teach.

The process is called “Creaming” because they only pick the cream of the crop. Then when these students who are already doing well continue to do well at a charter, the administrators take all the credit. It’s as if they were saying – Look how well we teach. All these former A-students continue to get A’s here at our school. It’s really quite an achievement. (Not.)

However, sometimes the bait-and-switch isn’t so obvious. Occasionally, charters actually do accept special needs and/or difficult students – for a few months. Then when the big standardized test is coming up, they quietly give these kids the boot. That way they can claim they accept everyone but still get excellent standardized test scores.

Ironically, that’s what they mean by “School Choice.” It’s usually touted as a way of giving alternatives to parents and students. In reality, the choice only goes to administrators. Not “Which school do YOU want to attend?” but “Which students do WE want to accept to make our charter look good?”

Keep in mind, this situation is allowed by law. Charters are legally permitted to discriminate against whichever students they want.

By contrast, traditional public schools accept all students who live within the district. It doesn’t matter if children have special needs and therefore cost more to educate. If a child lives within district boarders, your neighborhood public school will take him or her in and provide the best experience possible.

Bean counters complain about poor test scores, but traditional public schools aren’t gaming the system. They aren’t weeding out difficult students. They take everyone. Administrators have no choice. This is dictated by law. Public schools are equal opportunity educators.

2) Charters Have No Transparency

Have you ever been to a school board meeting? Ever listened to school directors debate the merits of one course of action versus another? Ever looked over public documents detailing district finances and how money is spent? Ever read over bids vendors provide for services? Ever spoken at a public meeting to school directors about what you think is the best way to proceed in a given situation? Ever had a school director or two disappoint and then worked to vote him or her out of office?

At traditional public schools, you can do all of this – even if you don’t have any children in the school system! At a charter school, you’re out of luck.

Charters rarely have to tell you how they spend their money, rarely debate management decisions in public, rarely invite or even permit you a seat in the audience. Heck! They don’t have to!

Charters survive on public money, but once that money goes in those charter doors, the public never sees it again. If you don’t like how the charter is treating your child, you can remove the little dear from the school. But if a non-parent doesn’t like how they suspect the charter is spending his or her tax money, there is absolutely no recourse. You are taxed without any representation. Wars have been fought over such things. It’s hard to imagine how that can be Constitutional.

In sum, traditional public schools are like most other government organizations. They are required by law to be transparent to the public. Charter schools, however, are money pits and what goes down those gaping holes is lost forever from public view.

3) Charters Advertise

Have you ever seen those huge billboards by the side of the road trying to convince motorists to send their children to a charter chain? Ever hear a radio advertisement about how happy little kiddos are at Brand X Charter School?

Those advertisements cost money. Your money, to be exact. You paid for those commercials. And what’s more, every penny spent on those glossy advertisements is one less that actually goes to educate your child.

By contrast, traditional public schools are not allowed to advertise. All their budget dollars have to be spent on things broadly educational. They have to spend on books, teachers, building upkeep, etc.

Not only are charters allowed to keep quiet about how they spend their money, even if they told you, it doesn’t all have to be spent on the children in their care. What could possibly go wrong with that?

4) Charters Defraud the Public

Despite all their best efforts at secrecy, charter school operators have been caught in countless financial scandals in recent years. According to Integrity in Education$200 million in taxpayer money was lost, misused, or wasted in just 15 of the 42 states that have charter schools.

These aren’t mere allegations. These abuses are well documented. The report states: “Charter operators have used school funds illegally to buy personal luxuries for themselves, support their other businesses, and more.”

Mountains of evidence demonstrate fraud throughout the country: Schoolchildren defrauded in Pennsylvania; “out-of-control” charters in Michigan and Florida; rampant misspending in Ohio; bribes and kickbacks, also in Ohio; revenues directed to a for-profit company in Buffalo, NY; subpoenas for mismanaged charters in Connecticut. Heck! In California alone, $100 million in fraud losses were expected just last year.

And that’s just the fraud we can see!

I’m not saying our traditional public schools are scandal free, but nothing like this level of malfeasance has been revealed. Traditional schools are under much stricter regulations. People are actually watching to make sure nothing like these charter scandals happen at our time-tested neighborhood schools. They are much better value for your money.

5) Charters Often Get Worse Results

It all comes down to teaching and learning. When we compare the results at charters versus traditional public schools, who does better?

Bottom line: the research shows that the overwhelming majority of charter schools are no better – and often much worse than traditional public schools. This is true even of studies backed by the charter school industry, itself!

For example, a recent study by charter-friendly CREDO found that in comparison to traditional public schools “students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.”

In a study of Chicago’s public schools, the University of Minnesota Law School found that “Sadly the charter schools, which on average score lower that the Chicago public schools, have not improved the Chicago school system, but perhaps made it even weaker.”

Another report from Data First – part of the Center for Public Education – says, “the majority of charter schools do no better or worse than traditional public schools.”

However, there is plenty of evidence of charter schools producing dismal academic results for students. For instance, a Brookings report showed low performance in Arizona’s charter schools. A District of Columbia researcher for In the Public Interest group, “could not provide a single instance in which its strategy of transferring a low-performing school to a charter management organization had resulted in academic gains for the students.” The Minnesota Star Tribune reported that “Students in most Minnesota charter schools are failing to hit learning targets and are not achieving adequate academic growth.” Over 85 percent of Ohio’s charter students were in schools graded D or F in 2012–2013. In the celebrated New Orleans charter experiment, the Investigative Fund found that “eight years after Hurricane Katrina…seventy-nine percent of RSD charters are still rated D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education.”

That’s not exactly a record of success!

Meanwhile, our traditional public schools often do a much better job.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that U.S. math and reading skills have improved for all levels of public school students since the 1970s, with the greatest gains among minority and disadvantaged students. Other results indicate that our schools achieve even greater success when properly funded.

The facts seem pretty clear. Charter schools are not like traditional public schools at all.

Most charter schools are a losing prospect for our children and our Democracy. Yet well-funded corporate lobbying interests continue to push charters as a public policy solution while instigating the closure of an increasing number of traditional public schools.

This is like closing hospitals and opening clinics on the power of crystals, snake oil and phrenology.

We need a national moratorium on new charter schools. We need to investigate every existent charter to determine if each are providing a quality service to students and not just the charter’s corporate share holders.

We know what works, and it isn’t charter schools. Support your friendly, neighborhood, traditional public school.

The Credibility Gap Between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

bernie-sanders-y-hillary-clinton

I Believe Bernie Sanders. I Don’t Believe Hillary Clinton.

Really. It’s that simple.

These two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency both have things going for them. But at the end of the day one of them is much more credible than the other.

They’re both career politicians.

Sanders has been a Vermont Senator for nine years, a U.S. Representative for 16 years, and Mayor of Burlington for eight years.

Clinton was Secretary of State for four years, a New York Senator for eight years, and – most famously – First Lady of the United States for eight years and of Arkansas for 11 years.

But when they speak, only Sanders seems genuine.

I know that’s a personal value judgement. Maybe it doesn’t hit you the same way.

I just don’t know how it could hit you differently.

For instance, both candidates say they’re going to keep the banking industry in check and stop the risky practices that crashed the economy under President George W. Bush. However, that same industry is Clinton’s main financial supporter while Sanders has almost nothing to do with them.

Look at the facts.

Clinton admittedly accepts a massive amount of donations from Wall Street – $824,000 from Citigroup, $760,000 from Goldman Sachs, $696,000 from JP Morgan Chase, $636,000 from Morgan Stanley and the list goes on and on. More than 760 of Clinton’s over all donors list their occupation as CEO or another form of chief executive, according to CNBC.

Meanwhile, Sanders has accepted almost nothing from Wall Street, doesn’t have a super PAC and still raises nearly as much money in donations as Clinton. Small individual contributions make up 70% of his campaign cash. His biggest contributors are from retirees, unions and progressive political organizations – $105,000 from Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union, $93,000 from the Teamsters union, $89,000 from the National Education Association.

So when Sanders says he’s going to break up the big banks and regulate Wall Street, I believe him. Apparently, they do, too, since they aren’t giving him any money.

But when Clinton says she’s going to hold Wall Street accountable, too, it’s just laughable. Why else would they be giving her all this money? Are they paying her to get tough on THEMSELVES!? As Sanders supporter Dr. Cornell West puts it, “I was born at night but not last night.”

The same thing goes for healthcare.

Both candidates say they want to reform the system to make it more affordable and fair. However, Sanders supports a single payer Medicare for all system, while Clinton supports tweaking the existing Obamacare system.

Two decades ago, Clinton agreed with Sanders. Now she receives $13.2 million in donations from the medical and insurance industry – $11.2 million when she was a Senator and $2 million since she began her presidential campaign. From 2013-2015 she received more than $2.8 million in speaking fees alone from the industry.
It’s funny how all that cash coincided with a change in her healthcare policy. She just said recently that single payer will “never, ever” happen.

By contrast, Sanders doesn’t receive sizable donations from the industry at all. Though he voted for Obamacare, he made it clear he thought it was a first step toward the better system he still supports.

So I suppose both are credible in this regard, but Sanders seems to be holding his position more because of conviction than monetary gain. Moreover, how much tweaking of the current system would Clinton really support while still in the pay of the healthcare industry?

However, it’s not all about campaign contributions.

Sanders positions have been fairly rock solid throughout his long career. Clinton’s have changed.

Look at mass incarceration – a huge problem in the United States. We have more than 2 million people incarcerated, many for low level infractions, boosting a for-profit prison industry. By contrast, China – with four times our population – only locks up 1.6 million of its citizens. The US has only 4 percent of the world population but locks away nearly a quarter of the world prison population. Thirty Seven states have higher incarceration rates than most nations, large or small.

When she was First Lady, Clinton supported her husband’s tough on crime legislation. “We need more prisons,” she said in 1994, “to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.” Now that the devastating results of that policy have become clear, Clinton has changed her tune. “We must end the era of mass incarceration,” she said in October of 2015.

That’s quite a switch, and its fairly new. The last time she ran for president, she criticized her rival Barack Obama for being soft on crime and not committing to opening more prisons. Now on the campaign trail she tries to convince us she hates mass incarceration MORE than Obama. In 8 years, she went from a prison booster and belittling Obama for not loving prisons to a prison skeptic.

Did she just evolve on this issue? Has she finally come around to seeing things the right way? Or is she pandering to what she thinks voters want to hear?

Sanders, on the other hand, has been against mass incarceration for most of his career. He’s been speaking about the dangers of ballooning prison populations for more than a decade. As far back as 1994, he said, “Mr. Speaker, all the jails in the world, and we already imprison more people per capita than any other country, and all the executions in the world, will not make that situation right. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails.” Compare that with his statement from July of 2015: “The result of kids not being in school and kids not having jobs is that tragically, today, we in this country have more people in jail than any other country on Earth.”

This issue has become a popular rallying cry recently receiving support from people across the political spectrum. But Sanders was championing it when no one else was paying attention. Clinton has suddenly seen the light.

But it’s not even just past policy decisions.

Clinton is guarded and only seems to make statements that will get her political points. Sanders says things that are sure to loose him votes but that he apparently believes.

For instance, he recently came out in favor of the federal government being largely responsible for public school funding. As a nation, we have drastic monetary and resource inequalities in our nations schools, but no one else is talking about ways to fix it. The trend has been to cut funding. Yet Sanders is willing to put forward a common sense solution the rest of the world has proven works. It’s not bound to get him many votes, though, even from some education advocates afraid of recent federal overreaches in school policy.

Another example is religion. No presidential candidate in recent memory – perhaps ever – has openly admitted to being irreligious. Both Democrats and Republicans usually fall all over themselves to prove how pious they are in their everyday lives. Clinton, for instance, responded during this election cycle that her favorite book is the Bible. Conversely, Sanders admitted he is not a part of any organized religion, though he considers himself Jewish.

That might not get him many votes. But it is refreshingly honest. There is no reason to say something like that unless it were true.

Moreover, Sanders seems like more of genuine person than Clinton. In 1987 when he was Mayor of Burlington, Sanders recorded a folk album. Yes, folk music! It’s called “We Shall Overcome.” The late night shows have been playing it and getting laughs at his expense, but when they bring it up to Sanders, he just laughs and admits that he wasn’t much of a singer.

Can you imagine anything like that from Clinton? Sure, Bill played the saxophone, but Hillary? There is nothing so personal that has leaked to the public. Moreover, the folk song lyrics that Sanders sings are in-line with his political ideology.

Heck! The very fact that Hillary is famous for getting a $600 haircut while Sanders often lets his grey locks fly whichever way they want! It seems like Clinton is trying too hard to convince us, while Sanders is kind of like – here I am, this is me, what you see is what you get.

Ultimately questions of credibility are very personal. People will feel differently. However, looking at the facts, I find it impossible to believe Clinton’s rhetoric and impossible not to believe a good deal of Sanders’. We’ll see how voters feel as the primary elections begin today.

Whistleblower Fights New York Officials to Enforce Their Own Child Safety Laws

Cole-Kathy-Steven
Stephen and Cathy Cole with their device for safe use of gym partitions. Photo: Long Island Business Times.

 

Are New York city and state officials doing enough to protect public school students?

Kathy Cole says no.

The co-owner of a gymnasium equipment company has been battling with city and state officials to comply with their own child safety laws for over a decade.

Her crusade stems from the crushing deaths of three students in New York and New Jersey over several years.

The problem is motorized partitions meant to close off sections of larger gymnasium spaces. Once set in motion, if safeguards aren’t put in place, and/or the devices aren’t properly monitored, they can shut on children causing fatal injuries.

In 1976 a boy in New Jersey was crushed and killed in the school gym electric partition. James Pesca, 12, was found lifeless, trapped between the cement gym wall and the partition.

In 1991, Deanna Moon met a similar end in her Long Island school. The nine-year-old got caught between the partition when she tried to slip through. Staff could not retract the wall off of Deanna’s neck so fire fighters had to use the jaws of life. It took 27 minutes to free her. Deanna’s mother was called to the scene but was restrained from coming inside and seeing what was happening. The elementary school student lingered in a coma and died nine days later from her injuries.

In 2001, twelve-year-old Rashad Richardson was looking for a teacher to give him a hall pass when he was crushed between a wall and a motorized room divider in his Ithaca, N.Y., school. The gym teacher had started the motorized door, defeated a spring-loaded safety switch, then walked away.

The first two incidents prompted the New York state legislature to require school staff be trained in the usage of these devices. However, it wasn’t until Rashad’s death that safety mechanisms were required to be installed in these partitions. New York is the only state with these provisions.

Since 2001 New York schools have been required to install Life Safety Detection Systems on these partitions to stop them from operating if a child is sensed in their path. Districts are also required to train staff in proper usage of these devices and to ensure staff observe the partitions until they are fully closed.

However, Cole, who owns Gym Door Repairs with her husband, Stephen, says many schools are not buying these mandated devices, correctly installing them or properly training staff. Her company invented and distributes these safety mechanisms.

When she brought this noncompliance to the attention of city and state education officials, she claims she was silenced.

“I was told not to bring it up publicly by high level education officials or I would be put out of business,” she says.

“I was told that compliance with the law was a financial decision and that if another child is killed their family will be compensated for their loss.”

The cost for implementation for these devices is about $37 million, most of which would be paid by New York State Building Aid. Cole’s safety mechanisms were installed in 5,000 facilities – the majority of state and city schools. But many still don’t have them.

Cole estimates there are hundreds of schools missing these devices. They were funded just not installed, she says. Still other schools have devices in place but they have fallen into disrepair and instead of being fixed are simply bypassed putting thousands of children at risk of death or injury.

“You can walk into any 10 New York City schools and 9 would have no training and no maintenance,” she says.

When Cole persisted in bringing these issues to various New York government officials, city and state public schools stopped using her company. The business, founded in 1976, specializes in safety inspection and preventative maintenance service, supplies and repairs to help keep school facilities in compliance with building and life safety codes.

“I was a vendor for over thirty years without incident until I reported this noncompliance,” she says.

“I was told they had had enough of my writing and complaining to the elected officials and that I was now considered a rat…That I would be out of business in New York State and that I had poked my nose where it did not belong.”

The battle has gone to federal court where Cole is suing for violation of her First Amendment rights to free speech.

Her suit implicates both Andrew Cuomo and John King. Cuomo was state Attorney General at the time and is now the state’s Governor. King was state Commissioner of Education and has risen to U.S. Secretary of Education.

The problem is one of accountability. In New York, the state Inspector General has no jurisdiction over the Department of Education. In fact, the Department of Education is the only branch of state government without an inspector general. So the Attorney General is responsible for both investigating and defending the Department of Education. When Cole first brought this issue up, that was Cuomo.

“It’s a conflict of interest,” she says. “There really is no where to go to report fraud and abuse at the highest levels. They investigate themselves.”

Cole condemns Cuomo in both his role as Attorney General and Governor for taking no action to fix the problem. She first brought the matter to his attention in early 2009 and has met with him several times since.

“He let the children of this state be intentionally  endangered and did nothing to protect them.”

King, too, was aware of the issue but did nothing as Commissioner of Education to help enforce the law protecting children, according to Cole.

“King has been there overseeing this,” she says. “He let this noncompliance continue.”

Cole has numerous suits in the courts alleging civil conspiracy, intellectual property theft and tortious interference with her business.

Since the first suit was filed, Cole has watched as long-standing contracts that had been awarded to her company were instead given to a competitor – Young Equipment Sales. As a result, her business has gone from 14 employees to two.

“My business has been devastated,” she says. “It’s disgraceful what’s been done. I’m not looking for sympathy, but I want justice.”

The financial loss to the Great River business owner caused her to further investigate state and city education practices. She implemented numerous Freedom of Information Act requests. In doing so, she discovered further startling school purchasing practices.

Many Long Island districts use cooperative bidding programs called the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to find competitive prices for school supplies. However, Cole found that using this system has resulted in paying much more for goods and services than necessary.

For instance, her data shows that districts using Nassau BOCES are paying $996 for a whiteboard available online for just $740. Also, a security card for charging laptop computers costs $1,910 through Eastern Suffolk BOCES, while it is listed online for just $1,560. Meanwhile, a 12-foot cafeteria table that you or I can buy online for $1,623.99 costs schools $2,275.99 through Nassau BOCES.

Cole’s findings are consistent with a 2012 state comptroller’s report on the cost-effectiveness of BOCES. The report audited four central New York BOCES and found that their costs for services were roughly 56 percent higher than costs for the exact same services being paid by districts not using the service. The availability of BOCES aid does not encourage BOCES to minimize costs or persuade schools to demand cheaper choices, the report concluded.

Eastern Suffolk BOCES responded to the allegations by releasing a statement saying in part, “At times, it may be possible to find a lower price for a product from an alternative source that does not meet the above criteria.” That criteria includes being able to “comply with all specifications, pay prevailing wages, be insured and be able to provide products and services to the large pool of participants in the Eastern Suffolk BOCES bidding program.”

And so it goes.

Meanwhile, Cole continues to fight this battle in the courts and is optimistic she’ll eventually receive justice for herself and the state’s children.

No young person should have to worry about being killed in school equipment and their parents shouldn’t have to worry about the state wasting their tax dollars.