XQ Live – Desperate School Choice Rebrand After Trump Touched It

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What do you do when your corporate brand has become repugnant to consumers?

You REBRAND, of course! And that’s exactly what uber-rich widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, paid a boatload of celebrities to do last night all over your TV.

The program was called XQ Superschools Live, and it took over four major networks.

It’s ironic really. Using an almost 100 year old medium to push “schools of the future.” They tweeted and Facebooked all over it, but the focus was on the old boob tube.

Why? Because the audience they wanted wasn’t so much the young. They wanted the old – those deep pocketed investors who might be startled by all the flash and bombast and ask their grandkids if this was “cool.”

It was the most pathetic display of desperation I have ever seen in my life.

If there is any justice, Tom Hanks, Yo-Yo Ma, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Hudson and Common will have to spend the rest of their lives to regain even a fraction of street cred.

 

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They were nothing but a series of singing and dancing sell outs. This was a modern day minstrel show. A bunch of highly paid shills pretending to represent the common folk.

I’m talking raised fists at the end of dance numbers meant to evoke all the power of authentic activists like Black Lives Matter without really having any grassroots support or message.

To be honest, my overwhelming response was pity.

Did anyone really think this was going to connect with an audience?

And speaking of that audience, if you had no idea who XQ or corporate education reform was, you probably watched the screen in bemused confusion. What the heck was this crap? It was platitudes about improving high schools broken up by song and dance numbers. It made the MTV Video Music Awards seem like a college dissertation.

Yet, to the initiated, you could see the subtle nods to privatization and charter schools, the shade thrown on traditional public schools.

Rethink high school?

Sure! Let’s do that! Let’s rethink inequitably funding it. Let’s rethink high stakes standardized testing. Let’s rethink Common Core, stealing local control, teacher autonomy and a host of the kinds of top down bull crap XQ tried obscure while selling  an issue of Tiger Beat.

So now that it’s over, what have we learned?

1) Corporate education reformers are THAT desperate to distance themselves from Donald Trump.

His wholehearted endorsement of their agenda has done them serious life threatening damage. He has exposed their racist, privileged, corporatist policies for exactly what they are. No amount of celebrities will replace that in the public consciousness.

2) Rich people cannot set education policy.

Steve Jobs widow may be a very nice lady. But she has no freaking clue about public education. Nor is she honest enough to engage actual classroom teachers in the discussion to find out.

Instead of relying on the billionaires of the world, we should tax them. Then we can afford to fully fund our schools and let the people actually in the classroom decide what’s best for the students in their care. Let parents decide. Let school boards decide. Not a privileged tech philanthrocapitalist.

3) Celebrities will do anything for money.

The things these Hollywood elite prostitutes did last night to sell snake oil would make porn stars blush. I will never look at any of these people the same. Some of them I knew were true believers because of other projects. Heck! As much as I love Common’s new album, he does rap about Corey Booker – so warning there. Viola Davis is an amazing actress but she was in the parent trigger propaganda film “Won’t Back Down.”

Being famous doesn’t mean you know a damn thing. We recognize their faces. We associate them with past roles and characters we loved. We think their political stands are authentic when they are often just a pose. We’ve got to stop respecting these people just because they’re celebrities.

What will the long-term effect of last night’s propaganda be?

I don’t know.

I seriously doubt anyone really bought that. But you know what they say – no one ever went broke betting on the stupidity of the public.

And that’s what this was – a high stakes wager on American gullibility.

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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.

How Far We Have Come Fighting Against the Testocracy: Network for Public Education Conference Ramblings

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Kelly Ann Braun said it best.

 

“Do you remember three years ago when I said this would all be over in 6 months?”

 

And we all laughed. Me the loudest, because back then I had thought the same darn thing.

 

Corporate education reform is on its last legs. Once we tell people about the terrible mistakes of standardized testing and Common Core, it will all be over in an election cycle or two.

 

Kelly, that incredibly dedicated member of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) from Ohio, hadn’t been the only one.

 

It seemed so reasonable back then. Once it became common knowledge, our leaders couldn’t keep perpetuating policies that harm our children, we thought.

 

No one would actually continue to stomp on the futures of our little kids once we’d pointed out that that was what they were actually doing! Right?

 

Now the Network for Public Education is having its third annual conference – this one in troubled Raleigh, North Carolina. And far from being on its last legs, the testocracy is mightier than ever with a new federal education policy, the Every Student Succeeds Act, rebranding and refreshing its same horrific disdain for the young.

 

But that’s not really news, is it?

 

The powerful have always tried to find ways to keep the poor and minorities under heel. It’s a struggle as old as civilization, itself.

 

What’s new is us.

 

Yes, us – the ragtag band of rebels and revolutionaries who gather together every year to celebrate our victories, lament our losses and plan for the future.

 

This is a real community – stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. During the year we all have our separate support systems, be they Badass Teachers, United Opt Out, our teachers unions, our communities or – for many of us – some unique combination.

 

But once a year we all come together from our separate corners of the country (and in some cases beyond) to commune, to gather strength from each other so we can carry on the fight.

 

I cannot express to you the power and the glory I got this morning listening to Chicago parent activist Rousemary Vega talking about the pain of losing her children’s community school. This is still a raw wound for her, gushing blood. One moment she was heartbreaking sorrow; the next she was frightening strength and determination.

 

She told us how to learn from her example, how to put up a fight, how to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to ever do this again. And when she was done and I had dried the tears that she had somehow cried with my eyes, I found that I had a tiny Rousemary inside my heart. I will never forget her story. I hope I can call on even a fraction of her strength.

 

Later I sat in on a conference about Competency Based Education. Two of the founders of United Opt Out, Denisha Jones and Morna Mcdermott, gave the best presentation on the topic I have yet heard.

 

This is the future of standardized testing. It goes something like this: you don’t want a big high stakes test at the end of the school year? Okay. How about we sit your kids in front of a computer all day, everyday, and they can take endless high stakes mini-tests?

 

Morna would keep apologizing that what she was saying sounded too far-fetched to be true, but then she’d prove its veracity. Subsequently, Denisha explained how proponents of this new educational scheme had slipped this all under our noses by redefining and co-opting language we all thought we knew. You want “individualized” education? Fine! Kids can sit by themselves as individuals and take these standardized test snippets – in perpetuity.

 

I left them with a much clearer understanding of how this was happening and exactly what kind of push back is necessary.

 

Perhaps most inspiring so far though was the keynote address by the Rev. William Barber, president of North Carolina’s NAACP and organizer of Moral Mondays. He put the whole fight in perspective.

 

History, philosophy, economics, religion all mixed together into a picture that would have been grim if he hadn’t made it so beautiful. Our children are being harmed by the standardization and privatization of public education. The ones hurt the most are those who are poor and minorities, but that doesn’t make them any less “our” children.

 

This fight can’t just be about your school and your child. We have to love and care about all children and all schools. Only then can we really have a public school system worthy of the next generation.

 

Finally, the moment came when I couldn’t just sit in the audience and passively take all this in. I was actually on the program – I was part of a bloggers panel!

 

It was called “Blogging and Other Tools to Educate, Persuade and Mobilize Targeted Audiences.” It featured the amazing talents of Julian Vasquez Heilig, Susan DeFresne, Dora Taylor, Anthony Cody, Jonathan Pelto and – somehow – me!

 

It was the first time I had presented anything at one of these conferences. Sure I’m in front of my students every day, but this was a room full of adults, many with PhDs or more, who really know what they are talking about.

 

I had agonized over what I was going to say, wrote out a few remarks and then was told by fellow BAT and activist Gus Morales that I shouldn’t read it. I should just go with the moment. That’s what he says he did during his TWO TED Talks!

 

I practiced. I tried it his way, but I just couldn’t make it work. So when my time came, I compromised. I talked off the cuff when I could and then returned to the script when I couldn’t.

 

It seemed to work. I got laughs. I got applause. It looks like no one noticed how utterly terrified I was. (Sh! Our secret.)

 

And so another year’s worth of inspiration has ended – all stuffed into that first day.

 

We’re a different group than we were last year. We’re more somber, perhaps. Maybe a bit more seasoned, more knowledgeable.

 

There’s a sadness that society hasn’t joined us to crush those who would harm our children. But there’s also a renewed commitment to the struggle. A feeling of our place in history.

 

We hear the marching feet of those who came before. We see their pale upturned faces, their sad smiles. And somewhere in the distance that may be the sound of our own children marching in our footsteps continuing this same fight.

 

We will have victories. We may end high stakes testing. We may abolish Common Core. But we may never see the promised land.

 

One day perhaps our children will get there. And the only thing we have to propel them to that place is our love and activism.

 

At the Network for Public Education, you begin to realize these are really the same thing.

 

 

 

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.

 

Much Ado About an Enigma – No One Really Knows What Impact the ESSA Will Have on Public Schools

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President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) this week.

The new legislation reauthorizes federal law governing K-12 public education.

In 1965 we called it the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Until today we called it No Child Left Behind (NCLB). And now after a much-hyped signing ceremony, the most definitive thing we can say about it is this: federal education policy has a new name.

Seriously. That’s about it.

Does it reduce the federal role in public schools? Maybe.

Does it destroy Common Core State Standards? Possibly.

Is it an improvement on previous policies? Potentially.

Will it enable an expansion of wretched charter schools and unqualified Teach for America recruits? Likely.

The problem is this – it’s an over 1,000 page document that’s been open to public review for only two weeks. Though it was publicly debated and passed in the House and Senate, it was finalized behind closed doors and altered according to secure hurried Congressional votes. As such, the final version is full of legal jargon, hidden compromise, new definitions and verbiage that is open to multiple meanings.

How one reader interprets the law may be exactly the opposite of how another construes it.

Take the much-touted contention that the ESSA reduces the federal role in public schools. Even under the most positive reading, there are limits to this freedom.

The document continues to mandate testing children each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school. It also mandates academic standards and accountability systems. However, what these look like is apparently open to the states.

For instance:

The Secretary [of Education] shall not have the authority to mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision over any of the challenging State academic standards adopted or implemented by a State.

That seems pretty clear. The federal government will not be able to tell states what academic standards to adopt or how student test scores should be used in teacher evaluations.

But it also says that states will have to submit accountability plans to the Department of Education for approval. It says these accountability plans will have to weigh test scores more than any other factor. It says states will have to use “evidence-based interventions” in the schools where students get the lowest test scores.

That sounds an awful lot like the test-and-punish system we have now.

What if your state decides to take a different road and reject the high stakes bludgeon approach to accountability? In that case, some readers argue schools could lose Title I funds – money set aside to help educational institutions serving impoverished populations.

Will that actually happen? No one knows.

It may depend on who will be President in 2017 and whom that person picks as Secretary of Education. And even if the Feds try to take advantage of these potential loopholes, the matter could end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What about Common Core?

Some readers interpret the new law as destroying forever the possibility of national academic standards. If states are allowed to pick their own standards, it is highly unlikely they’ll all pick the ones found in the deeply unpopular Common Core. However, the law does force each state to have academic standards of some kind, and it defines what those standards must look like. One interpretation of this is that they must look a lot like the Common Core.

They must be “state-developed college- and career-ready standards.” You read that right – “College and career ready.” That’s the Common Core catchphrase. If someone says they want to eat lunch at “the golden arches,” they haven’t said McDonalds, but you know they’re craving a Big Mac.

Will the Fed allow states to choose standards radically different than the Core? Again only time and – possibly – the courts can tell.

This same problem occurs throughout the document. As the public painstakingly combs through it, new legal wiggle room may be found. And I am not so naive as to suppose we’ve found all of the loopholes yet. Some of these may be the result of poorly chosen wording. Others may be purposefully hidden time bombs waiting for opportunists to exploit.

This uncertainty about exactly what the ESSA will eventually mean for our public schools may help explain the range of reactions to the formative law – from ecstasy to despair to shrugs and snores.

I’m not sure what to think of the thing, myself. I started the whole process disgusted but came around to accepting it if the final result was any kind of improvement over previous legislation. And now that it’s the law of the land, I look at this Frankenstein’s monster of a bill – stitched together pieces of mystery meat – and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I still hope it will live up to the limited promise it holds to bring us some relief from NCLB. But I admit this thing could go sour. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine.

Which brings me to perhaps the biggest problem with this law that no one seems to be talking about.

Education needs reformed. We need to repeal the bogus policies that have been championed by the 1% and their lapdog lawmakers. We need to get rid of test-based accountability. We need to trash high stakes testing, Common Core, value added measures, charter schools and a host of other pernicious policies. We need to initiate a real anti-poverty program dedicated to attacking the actual problem with our schools – inequality of resources.

But more than any of that, we need to reform our government.

We need to find a better way to make our laws. The process that shat out this ESSA must go.

Think about it. No Child Left Behind was an abject failure by any metric you want to use. It didn’t close achievement gaps – it increased them. And the major policy of this law – annual standardized testing – remains intact in the reauthorization!

There has been massive public outcry against annual testing. Parents are leading an exponentially growing civil disobedience movement shielding their children from even taking these assessments. Everyone seems to agree that we test kids too much – even President “I’ll-veto-any-bill-that-deletes-testing” Obama.

Yet our legislators did next to nothing to fix this problem.
Instead preference was given to lobbyists and corporatists interested in making a buck off funding set aside to educate children. The focus was on smaller government – not better government. These aren’t mutually exclusive, but they aren’t exactly one-and-the-same, either.

This can’t continue if we are to keep pretending we have a representative Democracy. The voice of lobbyists must not be louder than voters. Money must be barred from the legislative process. Demagoguery must not overshadow the public good. We need transparency and accountability for those making our laws.

Until that happens, we will never have a sound and just education policy, because we don’t have a sound and just government.

Unfortunately, that is the biggest lesson of the ESSA.


NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive, Badass Teachers Association Blog and quoted extensively on Diane Ravitch’s blog.

 

National Academic Standards – Turning Public Education into McSchools



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America is obsessed with standardization.

Let’s make everything the same – neat and uniform.

It’s ironic coming from a country that’s always been so proud of its rugged individualism.

But look almost anywhere in the US of A, and you’ll see a strip mall with almost all of the same stores and fast food restaurants selling the same crusty burgers and fries left waiting for the consumer under a heat lamp.

Somehow this has become THE model for public education, as well. Corporations have convinced our lawmakers that the disposable franchise business schematic is perfect to increase student learning.

That’s where we got the idea for Common Core. All schools should teach the same things at the same times in the same ways.

It’s been a horrendous failure.

But this article isn’t about the Common Core per se. It isn’t about how the Core is unpopular, expensive, developmentally inappropriate, created by non-experts or illegal. It’s about the very idea of national academic standards. After all, if the Core is flawed, one might suggest we simply fix those flaws and institute a better set of national standards. I contend that this would be a failure, too.

The problem with standardization is that it forces us to make uniform choices. In situation A, we always do THIS. In Situation B, we always do THAT. There are some areas where this is a good thing, but education is not one of them.

For instance, we can all agree that children need to read books, but what kind of books? Should they read mostly fiction or nonfiction? Should books be limited by subjects or should they be chosen by interest? Should they be ebooks or hardcopies? Should they be organized by grade level or an individual’s reading level?

These are decisions that are best made in class by the teacher. However, when we write national standards, we’re taking away educators’ autonomy and giving it to some nameless government entity. This isn’t smart. Teachers are the scientists of the classroom. They can use their observational skills to determine what a child needs and how best to meet those needs. If we remove this, we’re forced to guess what hypothetical children will need in hypothetical situations. Even under the best of circumstances, guesses will not be as good as empiricism.

But, some will say, standards should be broad. They shouldn’t determine what children will learn in detail. They just set a framework. For instance, they’ll detail that all children should learn how to add and subtract. All children will learn how to read and write.

There is some truth to this. We can all agree to a basic framework of skills children need before graduation. However, if the framework is this broad, is it even necessary?

Do you really think there are any public schools in this country that don’t attempt to teach adding and subtracting? Are there any schools that don’t teach reading and writing?

I doubt such educational institutions exist, and even if they did, you wouldn’t need national academic standards to change them. By any definition, they would be cheating their students. If the community found out this was going on, voters would make sure things changed.

What about evolution, someone asks. This is a central scientific concept vital to a modern understanding of the field that in many places isn’t being taught in our public schools. Don’t we need national standards to ensure things like evolution are part of the curriculum?

The short answer is no.

For a moment, let me remove my ban on talking about Common Core – our current attempt at national standards. Some people defend the Core with this same argument. However, it should be noted that the Core has no science and history standards. It does nothing to ensure evolution is taught in schools.

But could we ever have standards that did ensure evolution was taught? Yes, we could.

Why don’t we? Why doesn’t Common Core explicitly address this? Because enacting such standards would take political power of a sort that doesn’t exist in this country. Too many voters oppose it. No state or federal legislature would be able to pass it.

But let’s assume for a moment that the political stars had aligned, and we could get lawmakers to vote for this. Why would they need to? This is a central theory to so many fields of science. Do we need an act of Congress to make sure all schools teach about gravity? Do we need one for Nuclear force? Friction?

You don’t need a Congressional order to teach science. If the community wants it, teachers will just do it. That’s their jobs. You can’t legislate that everyone believes in evolution. You have to convince people that it should be taught. National standards won’t change that. You can’t sneak it in under Newton’s laws of motion. We need to come to consensus as a society. As much as I truly believe evolution should be taught in schools, national standards are not going to make that happen.

Even if I were wrong, the cost would be far too high. We shouldn’t want all of our public schools to be uniform. When everyone teaches the same things, it means we leave out the same things. There is far too much to know in this world than can ever be taught or learned in one lifetime. Choices will always need to be made. The question is who should make them?

If we allow individuals to make different choices, it diversifies what people will know. Individuals will make decisions, which will become the impetus to learning, which will then become intrinsic and therefore valued. Then when you get ten people together from various parts of the country, they will each know different things but as a whole they will know so much more than any one member. If they all know the same things, as a group they are no stronger, no smarter than each separate cog. That is not good for society.

We certainly don’t want this ideal when going out to eat. We don’t want every restaurant to be the same. We certainly don’t want every restaurant to be McDonalds.

Imagine if every eatery was a burger joint. That means there would be no ethnic food. No Mexican. No Chinese. No Italian. There would be nothing that isn’t on that one limited menu. Moreover, it would all be prepared the same way. Fast food restaurants excel in consistency. A Big Mac at one McDonalds is much like a Big Mac at any other. This may be comforting but – in the long run – it would drive us insane. If our only choices to eat were on a McDonald’s Value Menu, we would all soon die of diabetes.

But this is what we seem to want of our public schools. Or do we?
There is a bait and switch going on in this argument for school standardization. When we talk about making all schools the same, we’re not talking about all schools. We’re only talking about traditional public schools. We’re not talking about charter schools, parochial schools or private schools.

How strange! The same people who champion this approach rarely send their own children to public schools. They want sameness for your children but something much different for their own.

I have never heard anyone say this approach should be applied to all schools across the board. That’s very telling. These folks want your kids to be limited to the McDonald’s Value Menu while their kids get to go to a variety of fancy restaurants and choose from a much daintier display.

If standardization were so great, why wouldn’t they want it for their own children? I think that proves how disingenuous this whole argument is. Standardization makes no one smarter. It only increases the differences between social classes.

The rich will get a diverse individualized education while the poor get the educational equivalent of a Happy Meal.

Think about it. Every generation of American that has ever gone to public school managed to get an excellent education without the need for national academic standards. Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Carl Sagan, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Spike Lee, Larry King, and Stan Lee along with 90% of the United States population went to public school. None of them needed national academic standards to succeed.

This is a solution in search of a problem. The only reason we’re being sold the need for these standards is because it makes it easier for corporations to profit off federal, state and local tax dollars set aside for education. New standards mean new text books, new tests, new test prep materials, new software, and new computers. In the case of Common Core, it also means failing as many children as possible to secure a never ending supply of the above and an open door to privatization.

We must wake up to the lies inherent in these sorts of policies. Yes, the Common Core is horrible, but the problem goes far beyond the Common Core.

National Academic Standards are a terrible idea propagated by the 1% to turn the rest of us into barely educated subhumans and boost the bottom line.

Do you want fries with that?


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association Blog and quoted extensively on Diane Ravitch’s blog.

 

The Resistance is Real – They’re All Here at the Network for Public Education Conference!

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An old adage says, “The most radical thing we can do is introduce people to one another.”

If that’s true, then the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago may be the most radical gathering in the history of the world!

Everywhere you turn are familiar faces that belong to people you’ve never actually met.

I wasn’t checked-in to the hotel for more than a minute before I ran smack into a colony of Badass Teachers.

Melissa Tomlinson, Marla Kilfoyle, Larry Proffitt, Kelly Ann Braun, Kristin Vogel, Karen Wolfe, Denisha Jones, Terry Kalb and so many more.

I’m “friends” with all of them on Facebook. Just like I’m “friends” with Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and George Takei!

But these are at least people with whom I’ve actually engaged. We’re all in the Badass Teachers Association – many of us on the leadership team.

We plan actions, incite twitter storms, write articles and all around raise Hell about the standardization and privatization of public education.

But meet them in person!? No. I’ve never done that… until today.

And is that abnormally tall man greeting folks in the lobby Anthony Cody? Yes, it is. The most prominent education blogger in the country is helping sell souvenir t-shirts!

And is that Melissa Katz – the 19-year-old teaching student setting the field aflame with her youthful activism!? Yep!

It’s like some science fiction story where the Internet came alive and started spitting out virtual people into the hotel lobby.

At first, I was simply speechless. I could hug, nod and take pictures, but that was about it.

But as the magic spell refused to fade away, I gradually accepted the reality of the situation.

These weren’t phantoms. These are real people.

And so – we began to talk.

I’ve spent hours messaging these individuals on-line. We’ve done much to steer the course of the resistance to corporate education reform. But nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

And the door kept popping open with more people I’d never even known existed who felt the same way I do about schools and learning.

In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve met a cloud of BATS from all over the country. We’ve talked about:

-The way Pearson standardization is seeping into college level teacher education courses. The complaint has always been that standardized tests don’t prepare students for college. And instead of fixing the tests, we’re dumbing down the universities!

-How activists in some states have made progress holding charter schools accountable and in others activists have made progress holding cyber schools accountable. But rarely do we seem able to do BOTH. It’s like a bureau in a “Three Stooges” episode. When you get one closed, the other pops opens wider.

-The way parents feel about their own children isn’t that much different than the way teachers feel about their students. However, it’s very difficult for each group to acknowledge they’re on the same side. How powerful we could be if we worked together!

-How education blogging is so much more authentic and free to tell truth to power than print or television journalism. Big money controls the media, but it can’t control everyday folks who feel compelled to write articles and publish them on-line.

And so much more!

Not a single conference has started, yet my brain is swimming with ideas. There are so many people I want to talk with and so many subjects I want to discuss!

In any case, it will probably be a long day tomorrow with some really tough choices to make. There are so many incredible presenters giving talks on so many important subjects – many at dueling times.

I feel energized and part of a growing community of people dedicated to righting the course of public education. The profiteers and privatizers have a war chest loaded with cash on their side.

But we’ve got people. Real people.

I’ll side with people any day.

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(Watch this site for further updates throughout the weekend if I can find a spare moment.)

NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog and was mentioned in a post on Diane Ravich’s blog.