Black Schools Matter – Chicago Protesters Go on Hunger Strike to Save Their Last Neighborhood School

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Somewhere in Chicago tonight, Mayor Rahm Emanuel may be sitting down to his favorite desert – warm pecan pie with vanilla ice cream.

Across the city in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville, 11 parents, teachers and community members aren’t eating so well. Their meal – a few sips of coconut water to keep their strength up.

These brave men and women are on the third day of a hunger strike to save their last open enrollment public school.

If the Emanuel administration has its way, this mostly black community will have to choose between sending their children to a failing charter school or a failing public school run by a private company – all while the neighborhood’s historic Walter H. Dyett High School is closed.

Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Red Fox and Bo Diddley are all alumni of Dyett.

Why close such a vibrant connection to the community’s proud past?

The unelected Board of Education voted in 2012 to phase out the school because of low standardized test scores and dropping graduation rates.

It’s the same excuse lawmakers used in 1988 to take away local control from Chicago residents throughout the city. Most Americans have the right to vote for the people who run their local public schools. But not in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans or many other places dark complected people live. The poorer the people and the darker their skin, the more likely the state will swipe away their right to self government on the excuse that their neglected and underfunded schools are “failing.”

Chicago, the third largest district in the country, is a prime example of this kind of disaster capitalism.

While schools in wealthier neighborhoods had all the amenities, Dyett students had no honors or AP classes and no art or music. Even physical education classes had to be taken on-line.

No wonder test scores were low! These children didn’t have nearly the same resources as other richer, whiter kids.

Despite such unfair challenges, academics were actually improving prior to the board’s decision to shutter the school.

In 2008, there was a 30% increase in students graduating. The improvement was so spectacular it was even recognized by then Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan (soon to be U.S. Secretary of Education).

Likewise, in 2009, a community program helped decrease out of school suspensions by 40%.

However, by the time Emanuel took office, this wasn’t enough for the city’s Board of Education – all of whom are appointed by the mayor.

Emanuel has already shuttered 50 Chicago City Schools46 of which served mostly black students.

But not Dyett. At least, not yet.

The South Side community has been fighting to change the board’s decision for years. About 7 months ago, it seemed to have some success.

Eleven community members chained themselves to a statue of George Washington outside Emanuel’s office demanding the board reconsider. It did. But once the protesters removed themselves, the board decided to take bids on how to keep the school open.

Three plans were submitted – two to privatize and one to keep it an open enrollment public school.

That last plan submitted by the community, itself, would transform the facility into the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. This would be a district run school for up to 600 students mostly from the Bronzeville area.

The plans to charterize the school have strengths and weaknesses, but the biggest problem with both privatization schemes is they disconnect the new school from the community and its history.

If either charter school plan is enacted, Bronzeville children may or may not be able to attend it. They could apply, but the entire student body will be selected by lottery. So it’s a roll of the dice whether they could go to their neighborhood school.

Community children not selected would be sent to Phillips Academy – a public school being run by a private management team. Phillips has a worse academic record than Dyett did in it’s darkest days. In 2012, less than 1% of Phillips students passed the state math test and just 8% passed the reading test.

Student prospects aren’t much better at a new charter school. Countless studies – even the Walton Family Foundation-funded CREDO study – have shown charter schools don’t provide better educational outcomes than traditional public schools. In many instances, they do much worse. And students uprooted from community schools rarely improve academically. However, Emanuel and other policymakers like him continue to push for the creation of more charters despite any track record of success or justification beyond increasing the corporate profits of the companies running them.

The best solution seems to be the plan created by and for the Bronzeville community to keep a public school in place. But when a public hearing was abruptly cancelled this month, they suspected the worst – the board was trying to sidestep a democratic vote.

That’s when community members started the hunger strike.

Protesters vow not to eat unless there is an emergency meeting on Dyett and a final vote taken.

The activists say they’re starting to feel tired and a bit light headed but severe hunger has not set in yet. They are getting daily checkups from a nurse to ensure they’re healthy enough to continue.

Meanwhile, where is the national media?

The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the hunger strikers Tuesday and vowed to join them in their quest for justice.

But even this hasn’t brought national attention.

How typical! While black schools are closed and black communities gutted, White America yawns and the band plays on.

But some of us are committed to the idea that black lives matter.

Black schools matter.

Black communities matter.

Are you?


If you would like to help, you can call Mayor Rahm Emanuel at (312) 744-3307 and Alderman Will Burns at (773) 536-8103 and ask them to support the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

You can also tweet in solidarity to the hunger strikers using the hashtags #SaveDyett#WeAreDyett and #FightForDyett. Finally, you’re invited to email the protesters at info@reclaimourschools.org and let them know you stand with them and would like updates on their progress.

NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive, on CommonDreams.org and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

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Playing Games With Our Children’s Future: A Pennsylvania Budget Parable

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So let’s say I have this friend.

Let’s call her Ellie.

Ellie borrowed my car last week without my permission. She went off-roading and flattened all my tires.

So I’m understandably mad at Ellie, but we’ve been friends for a long time. In fact, we have plans to go on a road trip next weekend.

So I tell Ellie I’m not going to go with her unless she pays for new tires.

Sounds fair, right? And she agrees.

Well the day of the trip arrives, and Ellie shows up with my car. We tow it to the garage and the auto technician puts on brand new Michelins.

I turn to Ellie and say, “May I please have money for the tires now?”

She says, “Yeah. I already paid for them. I filled up the car with gas before we got here.”

“Wait a minute!” I reply. “You promised to pay for new tires!”

“I did,” she reassures me. “I used the tire money to fill up the tank.”

“But the technician still needs money for the tires?”

“Yep.”

“Do you have any extra money to pay him with?”

“No. And you should be thanking me. I filled up the entire tank. It was on empty. I gave you more tire money than I’ve ever given you before. I’m not giving you another penny.”

Do you have a friend like Ellie?

Well everyone in Pennsylvania does. As the license plate used to say, “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania,” and her name is Ellie. Ellie Phont.

She’s your Republican party, everyone!

And she’s been pulling shit like this for years.

She slashes money for public schools but pays for pensions. And she’s suddenly thinks she increased school funding!

It was the common refrain under Gov. Tom Corbett, and tax payers liked it so much we rode him out of town on a rail.

Now we have a new Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, but the state House and Senate are still overflowing with Ellies!

In 4 years, Corbett and his GOP legislature slashed almost $1 billion a year from K-12 public schools. We lost 25,000 teachers70% of schools cut staff and increased class size. Kids lost music, arts, sports, extra curriculars, nurses, councilors, etc.

So this year, Wolf suggested we put that money back. Ellie refused.

Instead, she suggested adding $120 million. Not bad, but not nearly what she and Corbett sliced out of our children’s education.

Unfortunately, Ellie is still being Ellie.

Of that $120 million, $87 million would go to Social Security and $25 million would go to pension obligations.

Schools would get just enough to give every public school student in the Commonwealth a whooping 3 extra cents a year!

Oh Ellie! It’s the tires all over again!

Well, Gov. Wolf isn’t putting up with her crap. He vetoed the budget she passed.

In addition, it’s a budget that:

  • creates a $3 billion deficit.
  • doesn’t tax natural gas drillers (something every other state abundant in gas does.)
  • offers no property tax relief.

Poor Ellie. She looks so sad. How could she have known mean old Gov. Wolf would ruin her fun (Except that he told her he would do this if she tried anymore of her nonsense)?

So she turns to all her friends – all her friends in Pennsylvania.

With tear streaked eyes she cries about how much money she wanted to add to schools. She cries about how much her typical Ellie schemes would help the Commonwealth.

Now that the budget’s been vetoed, Ellie will have to come back to work on her vacation. She’ll have to sit down with Wolf and come to some sort of compromise.

And the taxpayers? We’re in the same position as the hypothetical narrator above with the busted tires.

Are we going to let Ellie get away with just filling up the tank? Or are we going to force her to do what’s right and pay for those darn tires she destroyed!?

It’s up to you, Pennsylvania.

But I, for one, am tired of her bullshit.


If you’re state representative or senator is an Ellie, please get on the phone, send an email, and/or make an appointment to tell her to stop playing games with our children’s future.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Turning Kids into Cash

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For too many children, public school is just a “GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL” card.

Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

The institution that should be raising kids to the skies is chaining them to the ground.

It’s called the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and it disproportionately affects students of color and the poor.

School policy at the highest levels is designed to sort and rank students. Some go to the college track. Some go to the industrial track. And even more end up on the prison track.

We actually have procedures that prepare certain children for life behind bars.

Why? Because people make money from it.

Think about it. The United States represents only 4.4% of the world population but we house 22% of the world’s prisoners. We’re the number one jailor!

It’s not that our citizens are out of control. It’s not a rise in violent crime. In fact, the crime rate has decreased to 1970s levels.

But instead someone has found a way to convert prisoners into cash.

Since the 1980s, we’ve been handing over our prison system to private companies to run for a profit.

The number of inmates in privatized prisons has increased by 44% in the last decade alone, according to a 2013 Bloomberg report.

This creates a market. Without a steady stream of prisoners, these institutions would go bankrupt. And corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group spend tons of cash lobbying our government to ensure just that.

It’s no accident that our national education policy meets the needs of the for-profit prison industry.

Look at the so-called education reforms of the last decade: increasing standardization, efforts to close schools serving poor and minority children, cutting school budgets and narrowing the curriculum. All of these serve to push kids out of school and into the streets where they are more likely to engage in criminal activity and enter the criminal justice system.

Federal education policy – whether it be No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top – continually doubles down on privatization and standardization. These policies consistently have failed to produce academic gains but are offered as the only possible solution in school reform initiatives.

Question: Why do we keep enacting the same failed policies?

Answer: Because they are not MEANT to succeed. They are meant to fail a certain percentage, race and economic bracket.

If we had effective education procedures that increased academic success, we wouldn’t have enough prisoners to feed our for-profit prisons. Lawmakers would loose valuable lobbying revenue.

Call it what you will – misplaced priorities, profiteering or an outright scam. But the reform-to-profit cycle is advocated, perpetrated and championed by the most prominent figures in the so-called education reform movement.

Take Bill Gates – the monetary force behind Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one of the leading policies in education.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also is an investor in The GEO Group – one of the biggest for-profit prison providers in the country. It’s most recent tax filing (2013) shows a more than $2 million investment.

Nominally a philanthropic organization, the Gates Foundation refuses to admit if it still backs the industry or by how much. Sure Gates underwriting is just a drop in the bucket, but it proves how the organization’s interest is economic and not charitable. It is one of a herd of Trojan horses stampeding over the cries of critics under a banner of largesse.

Likewise, Common Core essentially isn’t concerned with increasing the quality of children’s education. CCSS has never been proven to be effective and is – in fact – developmentally inappropriate. But it’s touted as a panacea to a host of ills when its real concern is to continue fortifying the prison machine.

We live in a country where more than half of the children attending public school live below the poverty line. They need proper nutrition, social assistance, tutoring, counseling and a host of wrap around services. But instead they get so-called “higher” academic standards and standardized tests.

It’s like a sporting goods store withholding wheelchairs to the Special Olympics and instead donating extra hurdles – all the while claiming it was trying to help participants become better hoppers!

Even worse, these standards aren’t actually better. They’re just confusing, ignorant and ill-conceived. After all, they weren’t developed by educators. They were made by ideologues who admit they were unqualified for the task.

Was this a huge mistake? No. These standards and the associated bubble tests that drive them do exactly what they were meant to do.

They increase the numbers of failing students. They push more kids out of school and into the waiting arms of the prison industry.

And when kids have difficulty sitting through the hours, days, and months of test prep that are increasingly replacing a well-rounded curriculum, they face unfair discipline practices.

We treat misbehaving kids like little criminals.

Can’t sit still in class? Can’t keep quiet? Can’t control your frustration?

Out you go! Detentions, suspensions, expulsions!

We have zero tolerance for your childish behavior – even if you are still a child.

And unsurprisingly the majority of the children who are crushed by the hammer of discipline have dark skin.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that misbehaving children shouldn’t be disciplined. Far from it.

But we need to stop criminalizing their misbehavior.

If we can’t provide them with schools that teach in a developmentally appropriate manner – it’s not the children who are misbehaving. It’s us! The school system!

Moreover, when a child has a problem conforming to the norm, our first reaction shouldn’t be punishment. It should be understanding. The goal should be to find ways to change the negative behavior, not weed the kid out of the system.

But this means treating children as ends not means.

We have to care about their well-being. They have to be more than just piggy banks for big business.

Otherwise, it is our sick society that really deserves to be sent to jail.


NOTE: This article also appeared in the LA Progressive, ConversationED and the Badass Teachers Association blog.

Broken Promises! Pennsylvania Republicans Ready to Renege on Pension Deal Even if It Means Breaking the Law

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Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering breaking the law.

In fact, they may have already done it.

The reason? Pension debt.

The Commonwealth owes an estimated $50 million in unpaid pension obligations to state employees.

Instead of doing the responsible thing and paying off the state debt, Republican legislators are trying to rip up the bill and pay whatever they want.

If you or I did that, they’d put us in jail. But I guess the rules are different in Harrisburg.

As a public school employee, I work for the commonwealth. So do the state’s troopers, judges, university staff, etc. When I took this job, I signed a contract. I agreed to certain things (i.e. teaching, keeping up my certification, etc.) if the state agreed to certain things (i.e. pay, benefits, etc.).

But now GOP lawmakers – I don’t mean to be partisan but it is ONLY Republicans – want to renege on that deal.

Let’s say I came into school one day and said, “You know what? I just don’t feel like teaching today. But you still have to pay me.” No reasonable person would expect the state to cut me a check.

I need to live up to my end of the bargain. Otherwise, the state doesn’t have to give me one dollar.

And I have no problem with that. I love teaching. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.

But the state has to live up to its end, too. That goes beyond common sense. It’s one of the key principals of any civilized society. Each party to a contract has to abide by the agreement.

That’s really the issue – breach of contract. Legislators want to reduce benefits for both new employees – which is shortsighted but legal – and current employees – which has NEVER been permissible.

This isn’t just my interpretation. When lawmakers in Oregon and Illinois tried to rip up their state employee pensions, their state Supreme Courts ruled it unconstitutional.

State constitutions in both Oregon and Illinois specifically prohibit violation of contracts. Pennsylvania’s state constitution has an almost identical provision.

1+1=2.

That is not serious lawmaking. It’s theater.

This legislation has already passed the state Senate with all Democrats and one Republican voting against it. If it somehow were to pass the state House (which is by no means a sure thing) and if Gov. Wolf signed it into law (which he has said he would NOT do), it would go straight to court.

There would be no cost savings. In fact, the state would have to spend additional taxpayer money to defend legislators’ disdain for their own laws and 370,000 state workers.

So why do it?

Politics.

Gov. Wolf has proposed a budget that would right the wrongs of the previous Republican administration. Among other things, Wolf would restore $1 billion in annual cuts to public schools.

With this, we could reduce class size by rehiring the 25,000 teachers we unnecessarily sacked four years ago. We could ensure all children get arts, music, science labs, foreign languages, sports and extra-curricular activities. Even amenities like school nurses and guidance counselors could be restored.

But from the moment the governor made this promise, Republicans have vowed to oppose it. They had no problem four years ago voting to cripple our state education system. The result: Pennsylvania has the most inequitable school spending in the nation.

The commonwealth spends only 36.1% of the cost to educate students. That’s far below the national average of 45.5%, and ranks 45th in the country. The remaining cost is absorbed by local property taxes. Not only does this put an enormous tax burden on residents, it ensures schools in richer communities are better funded than those in poorer ones.

In fact, Pennsylvania has the worst disparity in the nation between dollars spent on rich vs. poor children.

But our Republican lawmakers are refusing to do anything about that…

Unless!

Unless the Democrats allow them to pilfer state workers pensions.

Republicans are holding the budget hostage to this criminal pension scheme.

Realistically, they need no help in the House and Senate. They control both bodies and in theory could pass whatever they want. However, this is the first year we have a Democrat in the governor’s mansion, so they need to bargain with him.

Funny when Republicans controlled both the executive and legislative branches, they didn’t have the guts to do this alone. Once it failed, who would they have had to blame?

That’s the reason for this elaborate hoax of a bill. They know it’s illegal. They know it won’t make it through court. They know it won’t save the state a dime because it will never be enacted.

But they are putting on a show for the voters.

Look how hard we tried to save the state money, but the Democrats (i.e. Wolf) wouldn’t let us do it. Look how hard we tried to increase school spending, but the Democrats (i.e. Wolf) wouldn’t pass our pension bill so we just couldn’t do it.

Excuse me while I go vomit all over myself!

How did we get in such a situation?

Basically, the legislature stopped paying the bills for 17 years.

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Both the state government and commonwealth employees are responsible for paying into the pension system. And state workers made all their payments. They put aside 7.5% of their salaries every year to pay for their retirement.

But the legislature didn’t make its payments. It pushed them off to the future, and now that the future’s here, lawmakers have the gall to act like they have no idea where this cost is coming from!?

You ran up the bill! Time to pay! But instead of doing that, you blame the hardworking men and women who do all the state’s actual J.O.B.’s. And you practice Al-Qaeda tactics against labor, teachers and students!

Is that too harsh?

Who else holds people hostage to their demands?

This is terrorism as governmental policy. Our course of action should be the same with guerrilla extremists at home as it is with those on foreign soil: We don’t bargain with fanatics.

Gov. Wolf has a plan to pay off the pension debt. It’s nothing fancy. It’s the same kind of advice you might get from your accountant – or your mom. Refinance, reduce costs elsewhere and pay your bills.

That’s certainly a more sound strategy than holding a knife to workers and kids.


If you live in the commonwealth, please write your Senator and State Representative asking them not to support the GOP pension plan and to pass Gov. Wolf’s budget.

NOTE: This article was also published on the Badass Teachers Association blog. I also talked at length about this subject on the Rick Smith Show.

BONUS VIDEO:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhUPs6SJQMc

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

FATHERS-AND-DAUGHTERS

I’ll admit it – I was scared.

I’m a nationally board certified teacher with a masters degree in education. I’ve taught public school for over a dozen years. But I’ve only been a daddy for half that time.

Would making this call get my little girl in trouble?

I didn’t want to rock the boat. I didn’t want my daughter to suffer because her old man is making a fuss. I didn’t want her teachers and principal giving her a hard time because of something I did.

But I couldn’t deny what I know.

Standardized testing is destroying public education. It’s stressing kids out by demanding they perform at levels they aren’t developmentally ready to reach. And its using these false measures of proficiency to “prove” how bad public schools are so they can be replaced by for-profit charters that will reduce the quality of kids’ educations to generate profits.

No. There was no doubt about it. I had to make this phone call.

I used my most professional voice on the line with the principal.

“Hi, Mr. Smith. This is Steven Singer. I’m Amy’s father. I know she’s just in kindergarten but it’s come to my attention she’s taking standardized tests, and I’d like to opt her out.”

Before my little girl started school, I hadn’t even realized there were standardized tests in kindergarten. She takes both the DIBELS and the GRADE test.

He seemed surprised, even a bit fearful, but he quickly suggested a meeting with me, my daughter’s teacher, the councilor and a few others to get it done.

It was my turn to be surprised. I had expected to be asked to review the tests before writing a formal letter citing my “religious” reason for refusal. But I guess things are different before students reach third grade. Without legislation mandating a formal process, we needed to meet and discuss like adults.

And a few weeks later, here I was waiting for that meeting to begin.

It wasn’t long before my daughter’s teacher arrived. We chatted briefly about a fire drill and how my sweetheart hadn’t been afraid. Then the councilor, principal and others came in and ushered us into the conference room.

Most of the space was taken up by a long rectangular table surrounded by black leather chairs on wheels. It looked like the kind of place where important decisions are made – a bit imposing really.

We sat down and Mr. Smith introduced me to the team and told them I had some concerns about standardized testing.

He paused letting me know it was my turn to speak. I took out my little notebook, swallowed and began.

“Let me start by saying I think the education my daughter is receiving here is top notch,” I said.

“Her teacher is fabulous, the support staff do a wonderful job, and I could not be happier with the services she’s receiving here.

“My ONLY concern is standardized tests. In general, I’m against them. I have no problem with teacher-created tests, just not the standardized ones.

“It’s come to my attention that my daughter takes the DIBELS and GRADE test. Is that correct?”

They nodded.

“As you know, I teach at the secondary level and proctor the GRADE test to my own students. I’m sure the version given to elementary children is somewhat different, but I know first hand how flawed this assessment is.

“Put simply, it’s not a good test. It doesn’t assess academic learning. It has no research behind it to prove its effectiveness and it’s a huge waste of time where kids could be learning.”

I paused to see them all nodding in agreement.

In many ways, the GRADE is your typical standardized test. Vocabulary, sentence completion, passage comprehension – fill-in-the-bubble nonsense.

Mr. Smith blushed in agreement. He admitted that he probably shouldn’t be so candid but the district probably wouldn’t give the GRADE test if it didn’t receive a Keystone to Opportunity Grant for doing so. When and if the grant runs out, the district probably would stop giving the test, he said.

It’s an old story – the same as at my own district. Two school systems serving high poverty populations bribed with extra money if they spend a large chunk of it on Pearson testing and remediation.

“As to the DIBELS,” I went on, “I had to really do some research. As something that’s only given at the elementary level, it’s not something I knew much about.

“However, after reading numerous scholarly articles on the subject, I decided it wasn’t good for my daughter either.”

When taking the DIBELS, the teacher meets with a student one-on-one while the child reads aloud and is timed with a stopwatch. Some of the words the child is asked to read make sense. Some are just nonsense words. The test is graded by how many words the child pronounces correctly in a given time period.

“My concern is that the test doesn’t assess comprehension,” I said. “It rewards someone who reads quickly but not someone who understands what she’s reading.

“Moreover, there is a political side to the test since it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch. Cut scores are being artificially raised to make it look like more students are failing and thus our schools aren’t doing a good job.

“Finally, focusing on pronunciation separate from comprehension narrows the curriculum and takes away time from proven strategies that actually would help my daughter become a better reader.”

I closed my notebook and looked around the table.

Silence.

I thought that maybe I hadn’t done enough research. I had been too quick and simple.

But the team quickly agreed with me. And when Mr. Smith saw that, I noticed his cheeks darkening.

He stuttered a few words before giving up. “I’ve never had a parent ask to opt out of the DIBELS before,” he said.

He said the DIBELS is a piece of the data teachers use to make academic decisions about their students. Without it, how would they know if their children could read, were hitting certain benchmarks?

“I know I teach secondary and that’s different than elementary,” I said, “but there is not a single standardized test that I give my kids that returns any useful information.

“I don’t need a test to tell me if my students can read. I don’t need a test to know if they can write or spell. I know just by interacting with them in the classroom.”

The fear was still in his eyes. He turned to my daughter’s teacher. “I don’t mean to put you on the spot here, but what do you think? Does the DIBELS provide you with useful information?” he asked.

The look on her face was priceless. It was like someone had finally asked her a question she had been waiting years to answer.

“No,” she said. “I don’t need the DIBELS to know if my kids can read.”

It was all down hill from there.

I agreed to revisit the situation if a problem arose but teacher recommendation will take the place of the DIBELS in the meantime.

Conversation quickly turned to hilarious anecdotes of my daughter’s school antics. What she said to get in trouble last week. How she tries to get adults to put on her coat when she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself.

I left the building feeling really good. This is the way it’s supposed to be.

Before we signed up my little girl for school, I had been nervous about her attending my home district. I wasn’t sure it was good enough for her. The papers said it was a failing school. I wanted so much to ensure my baby would have the best of everything – the best I could provide.

My district may not have the most up-to-date facilities. It may not have the smallest classes. But it has a team of dedicated educators and administrators who are committed to meeting the needs of their students.

Even Mr. Smith’s hesitancy is understandable. I don’t blame him one bit. He probably thinks DIBELS scores make an elementary principal like him look good. Kids starting from scratch only can go up. The scores can only improve.

Moreover, he sat down with me and heard me out. He may not have entirely agreed with me – in fact at times he looked at me like I had a third arm growing out of my forehead – but he respected my parental rights.

It wasn’t until then that I realized the power parents truly have. Mr. Smith might have refused a TEACHER who brought up all of the concerns I had. He’s their boss. He trusts his own judgment.

But I don’t work for him. In fact, he works for me. And – to his credit – he knows that.

I know everyone isn’t as lucky as me. Some people live in districts that aren’t as receptive. But if parents rose up en masse and spoke out against toxic testing, it would end tomorrow.

If regular everyday Dads and Moms stood up for their children and asked questions, there would be no more Race to the Top, Common Core or annual standardized testing.

Because while teachers have years of experience, knowledge and love – parents have the power.

Imagine if we all worked together! What a world we could build for our children!


NOTE: Small details may have been changed to protect the innocent.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: This article also was published in the Washington Post, Diane Ravich’s blog and the Badass Teachers Association blog.

Teach for America – What a Stupid Idea! (Or is it?)

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Welcome to the Hall of Stupid Ideas!

I’ll be your guide through this section of the museum.

Moving past the hall of phrenology, past the flat earth wing and the newly renovated rotunda of climate change denial, we come to one of my favorite displays – Teach for America or TFA.

This really is a very dumb idea.

Imagine, if you will, a country besieged by an education crisis! In this case, a shortage of teachers.

To meet the needs of this deficiency, we hire a slew of poorly trained college grads to fill-in the gaps.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Young go-getters ready to take a stand and help the country by devoting themselves to our little children.

Yet it’s just so much bullshit.

You see the problem is real. We DO need more teachers – especially at our poorest schools. However, the same people who are promoting TFA are the ones who caused this shortage in the first place.

As public school budgets are slashed at both the state and federal level, local districts are forced to furlough more-and-more educators. Students are stuffed into larger classes and forced to do without the arts, foreign languages, technology courses, anything that isn’t on our federally mandated standardized tests.

So there IS a real shortage of teachers in the classroom, but there is NO shortage of unemployed teachers.

More than 300,000 teachers are out of work. These are people with at least a bachelors degree in education – many of whom have even more experience in the classroom actually teaching kids.

You might think that we could just allocate funding and hire them! Right!?

Wouldn’t that be better?

We could fill our public schools with dedicated education professionals instead of lightly trained temps.

Because this is what Teach for America is providing. TFA recruits get 5 weeks training and only have to sign on for a two-year commitment.

So those advocating for TFA insist it’s somehow better to give a child an instructor who has a few weeks training versus someone with a 4-or-5-year degree and who has real life experience on the job!

It’s staggering isn’t it?

Now this would never fly in most neighborhoods. Imagine trying to convince the rich that their children would be best served by this kind of scheme. They’d riot!

But this scam is almost exclusively perpetrated in poor neighborhoods because that’s where our state and federal governments cut funding. In rich neighborhoods, they can just raise local property taxes to give their children all the best that money can buy. In poor neighborhoods, this isn’t an option. They rely on state and federal tax dollars to give their kids a fair start in life so they can equally compete in the job market.

Well, the joke’s on you, poor people!

Rich folks are selling you substandard teachers and pretending like it’s philanthropy!

You’d think this scheme would be laughed out of existence but many national news sources praise it to the sky! They even make excuses when research proves how ineffective the whole scheme is!

Take this report from March 2015 concluding that students taught by TFA recruits score no better on standardized tests than those of traditional teachers.

Time Magazine – yes, THAT Time Magazinepublished an article claiming that this proved TFA was a success!

Look! It’s just as effective as bachelor-degree-holding-teachers!

However, all it really shows is that judging an instructor – whether TFA or not – based on student test scores is ridiculous!

(Yes,Value-Added Measures are coming up later in the tour. But I’m getting ahead of myself!)

Standardized test scores have been shown time-and-again to measure the student’s parental income – not academic abilities.

So you would expect poor students to have lower test scores than rich students – no matter how well-trained their instructors are!

Which leaves us with motivation. Why would anyone still advocate for TFA?

Answer: because it’s actually not a dumb idea at all!

It’s an evil one!

The whole point of this sham is to serve the needs of the privatization movement.

Investors want to change public education into a cash cow. They want to alter the rules so that corporations running districts can cut services for children and use the extra cash for profits.

And that starts with teachers.

If we allow privatizers to replace well-prepared and trained teachers with lightly trained temps, we can reduce the salaries we pay instructors. We delegitimize the profession. We redefine the job “teacher.” It’s no longer a highly-trained professional. It’s something anyone can do from off the street – thus we can pay poverty wages.

And the savings from cutting salaries can all go into our corporate pockets!

This kind of flim-flam would never be allowed with our present crop of highly trained professionals because many of them belong to labor unions. We have to give them the boot so we can exterminate their unions and thus provide easy pickings for the profiteers.

There’s no question that this scheme is bad for children.

But that’s not the point for TFA advocates. It’s all about money.

I guess this is as good a time as any to reveal the name of the wing we’ve just entered – Corporate Education Reform!

Here we’ll see many more exhibits displaying ideas that appear just as stupid as TFA but are really as intelligent as they are immoral.

What’s that, little boy? Who’s that man pictured above the archway? That’s Bill Gates.

Step right this way to the Common Core display…


Movie Extra:

-This article also appeared in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

The Worst Sort of Violence Against Children

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She was smiling and laughing, but her eyes were terrified.

Sitting in class among her fellow middle school students, her words were all bravado. But her gestures were wild and frightened. Tears were close.

So as the morning bell rang and the conversation continued unabated, I held myself in check. I stopped the loud rebuke forming in my teacher’s throat and just listened.

“You know that shooting at Monroeville Mall Saturday night, Mr. Singer? I was there!”

I swallowed. “My gosh, Paulette. Are you okay?”

She acts street smart and unbreakable, but I can still see the little girl in her. She’s only 13.

She slowed down and told us what happened; a story framed as bragging but really a desperate plea for safety and love.

She went to the mall with her mother. When they separated so she could go to the restroom, the gunfire began. She ran out and Mom was gone. She was ushered into a nearby store where the customers were kept in lockdown. She stayed there until the police cleared the mall, and it was safe to find her mother and go home.

A 17-year-old boy had gunned down three people. One was his target. The others were bystanders – parents who had gotten in the way. Now they were all in the hospital, two in critical condition.

And my student – my beautiful, precious, pain-in-the-butt, braggadocious, darling little child – was stuck in the mix.

I could imagine how scared she must have been separated from her mother, hiding with strangers as police swept the shops, food court and children’s play center.

Here she was telling the class her story and getting more upset with each word.

I gave her a meaningful look and told her we’d talk more later. Then I began class.

But I kept my eye on her. Was that relief I saw as the talk turned from bullets and bloodshed to similes and metaphors? Did the flush leave her cheeks as we crafted multi-paragraph theses? I hope so.

I think I know her pretty well by now. She’s been mine for two years – in both 7th and 8th grades. I even taught her older brother when he was in middle school.

I know she’s rarely going to do her homework – and if she does, it will be finished in the last 20 minutes. I know she’d rather be out playing volleyball or cheerleading than in school writing or reading. I know when she’s secure and when she’s scared.

And I know that today’s lesson will be a breeze for her. So why not put her in her comfort zone, show her things haven’t changed, she’s still the same person, she can still do this – nothing is different?

At least, that was the plan.

As any experienced public school teacher knows, you have to satisfy a person’s basic needs before you have any chance at teaching them something new. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is always at the back of mind.

Students must have their physical needs met first – be fed, have a full night’s rest, etc. Then they have to feel safe, loved, and esteemed before they can reach their potentials.

But meeting these needs is a daily challenge. Our students come to us with a wealth of traumas and we’re given a poverty of resources to deal with them.

How many times have I given a child breakfast or bought a lunch? How many kids were given second-hand clothes or books? How many hours have I spent before or after school just listening to a tearful child pour out his heart?

Let me be clear. I don’t mind.

Not one bit.

It’s one of the reasons I became a teacher. I WANT to be there for these kids. I want to be someone they can come to when they need help. It’s important to me.

But what I do mind is doing this alone. And then being blamed for not healing all the years of accumulated hurt.

Because that’s exactly what’s expected of teachers these days. Fix this insurmountable problem with few tools and if you can’t, it’s your fault.

I didn’t shoot up the mall. I didn’t pass the laws that make it so easy for kids to get a hold of a gun. I didn’t pass the laws that allow such rampant income inequality and the perpetuation of crippling poverty that more than half of our nation’s public school children live with every day. And I sure didn’t slash public school budgets while wealthy corporations got a tax holiday.

But when society’s evils are visited on our innocent children, I’m expected to handle it alone. And if I can’t solve it all by myself, I should be fired.

That is where I take umbrage.

The issue is violence but not all of it comes at the end of a gun.

Keeping public schools defunded and dysfunctional is also a form of violence. Promoting privatization and competition when kids really just need resources is also cruelty. Pretending that standardized curriculum and tests are a Civil Right is also savagery.

It’s called class warfare. Its most prominent victims are children. Its most active soldiers are teachers. And we’re on the front lines every day.

When the bell rang to end class, Paulette stopped by my desk.

I looked up at her ready to give whatever support I could. It was my lunch break, but I was willing to skip it and just talk. I’d get the guidance counselor. I’d call home. Whatever she needed.

But none of it was necessary.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah.” She gave me a big smile and a deep breath.

I returned it.

Today would be alright. Tomorrow? We’ll meet that together.

But we sure could use some help.


NOTE: Names and other minor details may have been changed to preserve anonymity.

This Article was also published in The Progressive, Portside Navigator, Common Dreams, Public School Shakedown and the Badass Teachers Association blog.