Pennsylvania Proposes Smaller Tests, Same High Stakes

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It’s not the size of the tests, it’s how you use them.

 

And that’s kind of the problem with Gov. Tom Wolf’s new proposal for Pennsylvania public schools.

 

Wolf wants to reduce the amount of time students are taking standardized tests, but he seems to have little problem using those tests to hold schools accountable for all kinds of things that are beyond their control.

 

The proposal released today applies only to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests – those taken by students in grades 3-8. Keystone Exams taken by high school students are unaffected.

 

It would cut one of three reading sections and one of three math sections – two total. Wolf also wants to cut some questions from one of the science sections.

 

Such a move is estimated to eliminate 48 minutes from the math test, 45 minutes from the reading test and 22 minutes from the science test. However, judging from my own students, these times vary considerably depending on the individual taking the tests. I’ve had 8th grade students finish a PSSA section in as little as 5 minutes or as much as two hours.

 

Most schools give either a section a day or two in one day. Therefore, this proposal probably translates to 1 to 2 fewer days testing in most districts.

 

Um. Thanks?

 

Look I don’t want to seem ungrateful here, but these suggested modifications are little more than fiddling around the edges of a massive problem.

 

Yes, it will be helpful to reduce testing times, but this does very little to address the fundamental problems with test-based accountability in the Commonwealth.

 

At best, this proposal will allow students to spend two more days a year learning. Assuming most districts don’t use that extra time for test prep, that IS a good thing.

 

But tacitly committing students throughout the state to taking these tests almost guarantees that test prep is exactly how these additional days will be used.

 

The problem with standardized testing isn’t just the number of raw days it takes students to complete the tests. It is how the tests deform the entire year-long curriculum. Students don’t just learn anymore. They learn what’s on the test – and anything else is purely optional.

 

Regardless of the size of the assessments, they are still being used to sort and judge students, teachers and schools. Shortening their length does nothing to address the fundamental unfairness of the evaluations. Rich white kids still tend to have high scores and poor minority kids still tend to have low ones.

 

At best, they reveal structural funding disparities between poor and wealthy districts. At worst, the cultural bias inherent in the questions favor those from dominant, privileged ethnicities while punishing those who don’t fit the standard.

 

That’s what “standardized test” means after all – defining normal and punishing those who don’t fit the definition. Most questions don’t assess universals like the value of 2 and 2. They evaluate cultural and social norms required to understand the questions and easily find an answer that another “normal” student would choose. (Don’t believe me? Watch “Black Jeopardy” on Saturday Night Live.)

 

This is true whether the test takes one day or 100 days.

 

We should not be using standardized testing to meet federal accountability standards. Period.

 

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains provisions to circumvent them. States are supposed to be given leeway about testing. They may even be able to replace them with projects or other non-standardized assessments. THAT’S what Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Education should be exploring – not half measures.

 

To be fair, the state Department of Education is attempting reform based on the ESSA. This year, the department introduced Future Ready PA, a new way of using test scores and other measures to assess school success. To its credit, The Index does place additional emphasis on academic growth, evaluation of school climate, attendance, graduation rates, etc. However, for my money it still gives far too much importance to standardized testing and test prep.

 

Like reducing the size of the PSSAs, it’s a positive step but won’t do much to get us to our destination.

 

Neither measure will have much impact on the day-to-day operations of our public schools. Districts will still be pressured to emphasize test prep, test taking strategies, approaches to answering multiple choice questions, etc. Meanwhile, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity will still be pushed to the side.

 

Moreover, since schools and teachers will be assessed as successful or not based largely on these test scores, districts will be under tremendous pressure to give countless practice tests throughout the year to gauge how well students are prepared for the PSSAs. The state will still be providing and encouraging the optional Classroom Diagnostics Tools (CDT) tests be taken several times in reading and math throughout the year. Trimming off two days from the PSSA will affect that not at all.

 

In addition, today’s proposal only applies to the PSSA. While that assessment is important, the Keystone Exams given to high school students are even more so. According to existing state law, passing the Keystones in Algebra I, Literature and Biology are required in order to qualify for a diploma. However, that condition has yet to go live. So far the legislature has continuously pushed back the date when passing scores become graduation requirements. The Governor and Department of Education should be proposing the elimination of this prerequisite before anything else. Other than education funding and perhaps charter school accountability, it is the most important education issue before Commonwealth lawmakers today.

 

Don’t get me wrong. The Democratic Governor is somewhat hamstrung by the Republican-controlled legislature. Partisan politics has stopped lawmakers from accepting Wolf’s more progressive education measures.

 

Though Wolf has gotten Republicans to increase education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars during his term, K-12 schools still receive less than they did before the previous GOP governor’s administration. Moreover, there have been absolutely zero inflationary increases to keep up with the rising cost of doing business. Pennsylvania schools receive less funding – whether you adjust for inflation or not – than they should, and that has a real world impact on our public schools. Moreover, how that money has been allocated by the legislature still – even with our new better funding formula in place – benefits wealthy districts more than poor ones.

 

If you want to talk about accountability, that’s where the majority of the issue belongs.

 

And primarily it’s out of Wolf’s hands. One can understand why he is proposing changes where he can and trying to do whatever good is possible given the political climate.

 

Shortening the PSSA tests would benefit our students. It is a step in a positive direction.

 

However, it is far from solving our many education problems.

 

The biggest roadblock to authentic school reform is a legislature that refuses to do anything but the absolute minimum for our neediest students.

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Charter Schools and Voucher Schools are Virtually Identical

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The stark orange monolith that was Donald Trump is starting to crumble.

And with it so are the dreams of corporate education reformers everywhere.

Where in previous administrations they could pass off their policies as Democratic or Republican depending on whichever way the wind blows, today their brand has been so damaged by Trump’s advocacy, they fear it may never recover.

Under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, they could champion both charter schools and school vouchers with impunity. But now the privatizers and profiteers hiding in progressive clothing are trying desperately to rebrand.

Not only is Trump’s voucher plan deeply unpopular, but the public has already begun to associate any kind of school privatization with a doomed President.

So like cockroaches, neoliberals have begun to skitter to one type of privatization over another. Fake Democrats hide beneath unfettered charter school expansion. Bought-and-sold Republicans cling to the idea that we should spend taxpayer dollars on private and parochial schools.

But is there a real substantial difference between each of these so-called “choice” schemes? Or are they both just scams when compared with traditional public schools?

THE DIFFERENCES

Charter Schools and Private Schools are basically the same thing.

The biggest difference between the two is funding.

Charter schools are completely funded by tax dollars. Private schools – even when school vouchers are used – often need to be subsidized by parents. For instance, many private schools charge tuition of $30,000 – $40,000 a year. Vouchers rarely provide more than $6,000. So at best they bring the cost down but still make it impossible for most students to attend private schools.

Sure they may start as an effort to allow only impoverished children to use tax dollars towards private and parochial school tuition. But they soon grow to include middle class and wealthy children, thus partially subsidizing attendance at the most exclusive schools in the country for those families who can already afford it.

Parochial schools, meanwhile, are exactly the same except for one meaningful difference. They teach religion.

Their entire curriculum comes from a distinctly religious point of view. They indoctrinate youth into a way of seeing the world that is distinctly non-secular.

Progressives complain that using tax dollars to pay for student tuition at such schools – even only partial tuition – violates a foundational principal of our nation.

Using public money to pay for religious teaching has historically been interpreted as a violation of the establishment clause of the first Amendment to the Constitution – namely, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Thomas Jefferson called it “a wall of separation between Church and State.”

This is further exacerbated in many parochial schools where religious teaching includes a blatant political bias toward conservatism. Children at many of these schools are taught that supply side economics, voter disenfranchisement and prejudice are normative bedrock truths.

These are the main distinctions between voucher and charter schools.

In short, they’re not all exactly the same. And corporate reform apologist are trying to rebuild their brand on these split hairs.

But the similarities between these types of school are much more striking.

THE SIMILARITIES

The biggest commonality between these types of educational institutions is how they’re run. Unlike traditional public schools – which are governed by duly-elected school boards – charter, private and parochial schools are overseen by private interests. They are administered by independent management firms. They rarely have elected school boards. Their operators rarely make decisions in public, and their budgets and other documents are not open to review by taxpayers. This is true despite the fact that they are funded to varying degrees by public tax dollars.

So in all three cases, these schools are run privately, but taxpayers pick up the tab.

It’s ironic. Sending kids to charters, private and parochial schools with public money is called school choice. However, each of these types of schools gives taxpayers much less choice about how their money is being spent.

The community funds the school, but almost all decisions are made by people outside of the community – people appointed, in fact, by bureaucrats or business managers.

To be sure, parents can express their displeasure of administrative decisions by disenrolling their children in the school. But beyond this nuclear option, they are powerless. Even more troubling, taxpayers without children or with children who do not attend these schools have no say whatsoever about how their money is spent.

And to add insult to injury, it doesn’t even really allow the parents to choose which schools their children attend. They can put in a request for their kids to attend a choice school, but enrollment decisions are made by these same private equity managers. In short, administrators make the ultimate choice – not parents.

If the religious school doesn’t want to accept your child for whatever reason including operators’ disapproval of your religious beliefs, they don’t have to accept him. If the private school doesn’t want to accept your child based on race, gender or nationality, they don’t have to accept him. If the charter school doesn’t want to accept your child because of bad grades or troublesome behaviors, they don’t have to accept him.

The traditional public school, however, cannot refuse a child who lives in district borders for any of these reasons. In effect, school choice really isn’t about parental choice. It’s about increasing choice for the operators of privatized schools – letting them choose their students and how to spend your money without any meaningful input from you.

And it’s true at all three types of school!

Those are pretty considerable similarities. Moreover, they highlight major differences between these so-called choice schools and traditional public schools.

This is important because we don’t even have to get into the academic records of individual schools. The way each type of school is structured shows the clear inferiority of choice schools compared to traditional public schools.

By their very structure, public schools give parents and taxpayers much more agency in children’s education and how taxpayer money is spent.

Second, the latitude for school administrators to perpetrate fraud on the public is maximized in so-called choice schools and minimized in public schools. This doesn’t mean public schools are perfect, but it is much better to have a school under public scrutiny and local control than otherwise. This is demonstrated by the huge numbers of charter school scandals popping up in the news every day, where charters close suddenly, money is misspent on luxury items for operators that have nothing to do with education, and – especially in cyber charters – the quality of education students receive is literally lower than having no formal education at all.

Finally, if public schools struggle, it is almost always due to a lack of equitable funding and a surplus of impoverished students. It is no accident that poor students receive less resources and larger class sizes than middle class or wealthy ones. Nor is it an accident that we judge the effectiveness of schools primarily on standardized tests which are so good at highlighting the results of lack of resources rather than any academic deficiency.

If we spent our education dollars ensuring equitable resources instead of funneling tax dollars to charter, private and parochial schools, we would better increase the quality of children’s education. But for the last few decades that has not been the goal of education policy. It has instead been to enrich these same privatized school managers and investors – the corporate education reform industry. Nor is it a coincidence that this industry and its subsidiaries counts itself as major donors to both political parties.

Before she was elevated to Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos was exactly that – a billionaire mega-donor pushing school privatization while getting richer off investments in the same. Now that she’s driving school vouchers off a cliff in the Trump train, her co-conspirators are getting nervous.

Neoliberal Democrats may try to save the movement by claiming charter schools are completely different. But they aren’t. They are fundamentally the same.

The public sees the clear similarities between these kinds of schools. And much of that is thanks to the incompetent boobery of Donald J. Trump.

The Corporate Coup Destroying Our Schools Has Finally Come For Our Government

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First they came for people of color and I said nothing.

Because I am not a person of color.

 

Then they came for the poor and I said nothing.

For I am not poor.

 

Then they came for our public schools and I said nothing.

Because I do not send my children to public schools.

 

Now they’ve come for our government and who is left to speak for me?

 

This is a paraphrase of Martin Niemöller’s famous lines about the cowardice of German intellectuals during Hitler’s rise to power.

 

The fascists purged group after group while those who could have stood against them did nothing – until it was too late.

 

That’s very nearly the position we find ourselves in today in relation to the Trump administration.

 

The neoliberal and neofascist façade has fallen away. And the naked greed of our runaway capitalist system has been exposed for what it is.

 

Just this week, Trump unveiled a new government office with sweeping authority to overhaul federal bureaucracy on the business model.

 

Led by the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, The White House Office of American Innovation will be an autonomous entity enforcing the president’s will. Described as an internal “SWAT team” of strategic consultants, and staffed with former business executives, the office will cut down democratic rule in favor of top-down authoritarianism.

 

And the excuse is the same one used to deny equity for minorities, the same one used to dismantle protections for the poor and the same one used to unfairly label and close our public schools – we need to run government like a business.

 

But government is not a business.

 

The goal of a business is profit for the few. The goal of government is service to the many.

 

In a private business only the owner or the board of directors reaps the benefits. But our government is not supposed to be set up that way. It’s not supposed to benefit merely all the president’s men. It’s supposed to benefit all of us – the citizens, the taxpayers, the voters.

 

This is exactly the model that has been used against our public schools.

 

We have shifted our concern away from students and parents to investors and corporations. For almost two decades, our education policies have increasingly been to reduce local control – especially at schools serving the poor and minorities – and give that control to private charter school operators. We have removed the duly-elected school boards and replaced them with appointed boards of directors. We have removed or diminished democratic rule and replaced it with an autocracy. And all the while the middle class has cheered.

 

It was a coup in plain site, and no one but parents, students, teachers and intellectuals spoke up.

 

Our voices were undercut or ignored. When we demanded equal treatment for our children, we were labeled welfare queens wanting something for nothing. When we demanded fair treatment, a safe work environment and resources for our students, we were labeled union thugs standing in the way of progress. At every turn we were tone policed into silence and passed over for the voices of self-proclaimed experts who knew nothing but what they were paid to espouse.

 

We were told that the only measure of academic success was a standardized test score. But no mention of the white, middle class standard our non-white, impoverished students were being held to.

 

When our schools were increasingly segregated by race, class and income, we were told that it was only fair. After all, it was based on choice – the choice of the invisible hand of the free market. When our schools were starved of resources, we were told to do more with less. And when our students struggled to survive malnutrition, increased violence and the indentured servitude of their parents to an economic system that barely allowed them to sustain themselves, we blamed them. And their teachers, because how dare anyone actually try to help these untouchables!

 

We allowed this – all of it – perpetrated by Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals, because they’re all really just different dogs to the same masters.

 

We justified it all in the name of the market, in the name of economics, in the name of business. Why should we care? It rarely affected us directly.

 

White, middle class folks could get by. It wasn’t OUR schools being given away to private equity firms. It wasn’t OUR children being educated by temporary employees on the model of the peace corps with little training and no experience.

 

Those were just someone else’s children. We weren’t even sure they were human. They certainly didn’t share the same portion of humanity as we did. They were unwashed and unfed. Even if you washed them, many of them would still have brown skin. We were happy to have them as an underclass, as a cushion to stop us from falling further down the social ladder.

 

Our kids went to either well resourced public schools with fully elected school boards and shiny new facilities or else we sent our children to pristine private schools that offered the best of everything for a price.

 

But now the chickens have come home to roost.

 

Because this same model is being applied to our government.

 

Now it is us who will lose our voices. It will be our services that are stripped away as an unnecessary cost savings. We will lose our healthcare. We will lose our environment. It will be our democracy suspended to make way for the more efficient means of government – fascism and autocracy.

 

Who has time to listen to the people? Much easier to just decide what should be done. And we can justify it with our business model. No more voters and representatives. Now we will be businessmen and consumers. Nothing will stand in the way of the corporate class enriching themselves at public expense. They will be merely providing the rest of us with the goods and services of government, the bits that trickle down on our heads like rain or urine.

 

That is what Trump is attempting. He is turning the United States into a banana republic – even installing his relatives and children in top leadership positions. Our government now resembles the corridors of power in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein with henchmen Uday and Qusay in tow.

 

The question is this: will we allow it?

 

Will we continue to allow it?

 

Will we stand for it as the administration installs Trump loyalty officers in every federal office?

 

Will we say nothing as nepotism and greed become the most prized attributes of governance?

 

Will we remain silent as our public schools continue to be raided, sacked and burned?

 

Because the answer to those questions is the answer to so much more.

 

Are we on the cusp of revolution or is history merely repeating itself?

Donald Trump, If the US is Attacked, We Will Blame YOU

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Donald Trump,

Our nation is on the brink of massive violence.

Many people in the Middle East think the United States wants a war with Islam. Our relations with North Korea are more strained than they’ve been in decades. Russia has infiltrated the deepest levels of our government. Our international standing has been called into question. Our closest allies have been insulted and threatened. Our economy continues to stagnate. Our citizens live in fear. Hate groups are ramping up bomb threats, spray painting their rhetoric in public spaces and celebrating it being echoed back to them on the lips and Twitter accounts of our very own lawmakers. For the first time in decades, our sick, our elderly, our children are left to wonder – not if they will have enough – but if they will have anything at all.

All while our military grows fat and anxious and waiting.

It’s a power keg looking for a match.

And it’s mostly your fault.

Don’t think we’re unaware. We see what you and your cabinet of fools and hate-mongers are doing.

We see how they are “dismantling the administrative state.” We see how they are tearing away protections for your own citizens. We see how they are spreading fear and instability. We see how you are preparing the way for the next unnecessary war.

Most of these fires were not started by you, but your policies have poured gasoline on them.

There is only one thing you need to know: we will hold you accountable.

That’s right. We will hold YOU, personally, responsible.

If a terrorist attacks the United States, we will hold YOU accountable.

If a foreign power attacks us, we will hold YOU responsible.

If desperate and frightened Americans lash out at law enforcement or our military, we will hold YOU accountable.

We will not all rally together behind you. We will not close ranks. We will not hide behind the flag and join together to fight whichever enemy you point out.

We have lost too much innocence to believe such fairy tale propaganda anymore. George W. Bush used up the last drop of our bedtime story gullibility. We don’t roll that way anymore. We are cynical and awake.

You will not take advantage of our patriotism. You will not herd us like cattle to follow blindly after you.

We will not let you get away with stoking violence and then using the results as a justification for what you did to cause the problem in the first place.

Violence will not make you stronger. It will give us an excuse to tear you down and remove you from office.

If our nation is attacked, we will know it is because of your xenophobia. You can’t denigrate the entire religion of Islam, one of the most populous faiths in the world, without bringing down the ire of hundreds of millions of people. You can’t libel the intentions and histories of our nation’s multitudinous black and brown people without pushing us closer to violence. You can’t withhold a helping hand from the sick, poor and needy without expecting some to find other more violent ways to survive.

And if even one of these people responds to your government-sanctioned violence with a violence of their own, we will blame you. Because you are responsible.

You are President of the Untied States.

And an illegitimate President at that.

The only power that gives someone in your office the right to rule is the “consent of the governed,” and that, sir, you do not have.

You did not win the popular vote. The governed have not given you their consent. They consented to someone else. You only rule because of crusty bureaucratic red tape – an electoral college system that was put in place centuries past to prop up slavery.

So you will be held accountable if things go south. Because you deserve it.

You will be held responsible – not those poor devils who voted for you out of desperation. You will be taken to account – you and the other billionaire kleptomaniacs who gave voters only a choice of plutocracy or plutocracy – a choice of corporate controlled Democrats or corporate owned Republicans, a slow or a quick death.

Do not for one second think that war or violence or terrorism is in your best interest. It isn’t.

Right now you face deep unpopularity. You face federal investigations, judicial challenges to your rule by executive order, and mounting calls for impeachment.

But if your arrogant and ignorant administration devolves into violence, you will wish for these peacetime challenges.

There will be no more golf weekends at Mar-a-Lago. No more fun time trips to Trump Tower. No more complaints about TV ratings and crowd size. No more whining about protests and marches.

Because Americans are patient. We can wait out your idiotic Presidency. We can challenge you at the proper time and place and take back our country peacefully.

But if your rule breaks the peace, do not expect us to come to your aide.

I am not advocating violence. Just the opposite. But if violence comes, it will because of you.

For you have already woken a sleeping dragon. Beware her fiery breath.

Consider this a prediction, a warning, not a threat.

You will be held accountable.

Sooner or later.

Without Progressive Opposition, Trump Will Win in 2020 and Beyond

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“You maniacs! You Finally did it! Oh damn you all to Hell!”

This was Charlton Heston at the end of “Planet of the Apes.”

But it could just as easily have been progressives everywhere after the Democratic National Committee voted for corporate shill Tom Perez to lead the party over bonafide change agent Keith Ellison.

What the Hell is wrong with you, DNC?

Perez supports the TPP, he’s a friend of the big banks and the donor class – AND he was part of the disastrous, dirty, LOSING Hillary Clinton campaign.

Don’t you get it? We lost against a reality show TV clown, Donald Trump, and you’re just repeating the same mistakes!?

And don’t give me this Russia hacking crap. Yes, they probably helped Trump win by exposing DNC emails. But they were real DNC emails. Democratic operatives actually wrote that stuff.

You will never convince me that it was enough to turn the election. If we had had an actual progressive running (Cough! Cough! Bernie Sanders!) it wouldn’t have mattered.

This was a choice between a corporate candidate and Donald Trump and people chose Donald. F’ing. Trump!

That’s on you.

And what is the first thing you do to fight back? You vote for another corporate Democrat to lead the party to oppose him!?

You maniacs! You Finally did it! Oh damn you all to Hell!

The Democratic Party is all but dead now.

Trump will walk into a second term in 2020 – no matter how terrible he continues to be between now and then.

He could take a dump on his desk in the oval office on live TV and there is probably NOTHING. We. Can. DO!

There is no opposition party.

No one is going to vote for Trump-lite.

This is not an opinion. It is a demonstrable fact. Just look back at freakin’ November!

Almost a million people signed a petition for Ellison. He won the backing of key unions – including the Teamsters, steelworkers, Communications Workers of America, and UNITE HERE. He won the backing of key activist groups including Democracy for America, 350.Org, the Center for Popular Democracy, MoveOn.Org, the Working Families Party, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and others. He was supported by notable progressives like Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Zephyr Teachout, Gloria Steinem, Walter Mondale, and Dolores Huerta ( co-founder of the United Farm Workers). He won over left-leaning publications like The Nation, whose editorial board wrote, “It is Ellison who combines the ideals, skills, and movement connections that will revitalize the party.”

Yet he lost by 35 votes to Perez.

When it came down to the 447 party insiders actually eligible to vote, Perez won by 235 to 200 (not counting abstentions).

If the DNC were a child, I would praise them for making progress. But it’s not a child. It’s supposed to be a national political party that can put up a robust challenge to the neo-facist in the White House!

This is completely unacceptable. And party leaders know it.

That’s why Perez immediately made Ellison his co-chair.

Good try, but too little, too late.

Perez, not Ellison, will be in charge of key decisions about the future of the party. As party chairman, he holds the balance on the makeup of the DNC Unity Reform Commission.

Were you one of millions of Americans who thought the party’s use of superdelegates during the primary was undemocratic? Well this is the commission that can eliminate them.

Sanders and Clinton delegates at the DNC convention in Philadelphia this summer clashed over these issues until Clinton agreed to let the matter be decided later by creating this group. It was a way to avoid a floor debate at that time and unify the party.

Clinton’s team gets to name nine members of the commission, and Sanders’ team gets seven. Now, Perez, as DNC chair, will control three additional votes. For those of you counting at home, that’s a 12-7 majority on the commission for the corporate Democrats. So superdelegates won’t be going anywhere. So if you want a Democratic party that is more democratic and more responsive to rank-and-file Democrats, well you can just stuff it.

Of course, all that’s in the future. How can we know now that Perez and other Democratic leaders won’t commit themselves to reform anyway?

Because of how else they voted at yesterday’s convention in Atlanta.

Before voting for Perez, they actually decided to vote down a resolution that would have reinstated former President Barack Obama’s ban on corporate political action committee donations to the party.

Resolution 33 also would have forbidden “registered, federal corporate lobbyists” from serving as “DNC chair-appointed, at-large members.”

And the DNC said, “Nah. We want that corporate money.”

Just what we need. More corporate donors, more support from big business and the rich – less impact from the working class people the Democrats actually need to vote for them to take back the country!

The Democrats need new blood. The party needs a top-to-bottom reorganization. It needs young people, working class people and minorities. It needs to rebuild county organizations and follow Sander’s $27 average donations.

Consolidating power among corporate donors and refusing to make any real structural reforms is not going to accomplish any of it.

Why did Ellison lose? Short answer: Israel.

Ellison is an African American Muslim who has been a vocal critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and continued expansion into disputed territories. His position is well within the party mainstream – even for many Jewish members. More than 60 percent of Democrats agree Israel should stop expanding in the West Bank or else face sanctions. Sanders – a Jew, himself – holds similar views.

However, prominent Clinton supporters spearheaded a smear campaign to deflate Ellison’s candidacy. His most vocal critics were the Anti-Defamation League, mega-donor Haim Saban, and lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

So instead the DNC has picked Perez, Obama’s former Labor Secretary who did next to nothing to help labor.

But Perez was a trusted adviser to Clinton on how to defame Sanders during the primary election.

He famously sent an email to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta published by Wikileaks suggesting Clinton paint her rival as an angry white male candidate with little minority support.

He wrote:

“Emmy and the team have a good plan to attract all minority voters. When we do well there [Nevada], then the narrative changes from Bernie kicks ass among young voters to Bernie does well only among young white liberals—that is a different story and a perfect lead in to South Carolina, where once again, we can work to attract young voters of color. So I think Nevada is a real opportunity, and I would strongly urge HRC to get out there within a couple days of [New Hampshire].”

Like others Clinton staffers, he described Nevada as her “firewall” and was unconcerned about how minorities would feel if they were described in such exploitative terms.

The Nevada caucus was the only decisive victory for Clinton with African Americans, according to entrance polls. However, more Latinos voted for Sanders so the state did not make it abundantly clear that Sanders was incapable of attracting support from people of color.

Despite smears by the Clinton campaign, there was never evidence Sanders supporters were motivated by white male angst. In fact, American National Elections Studies found white identity was more important to Clinton supporters than Sanders supporters.

But Perez’s loyalty to Clinton and other corporate Democrats has paid off.

Trump immediately responded with a tweet literally thanking the Democrats for choosing Perez and increasing his own chances of re-election.

Repeating the same failing strategy over-and-over is not the definition of political success. It is the definition of insanity.

Perhaps one day the Democrats will realize that and run actual progressives for leadership roles and higher office. But by then, it will be far too late.

Every day Trump further erodes our freedoms and social services. Every day he endangers our lives with his incompetence and undiplomatic relations with foreign governments. Every day he breaks our laws, spouts blatant lies and fosters hate and discord.

We simply don’t have the time for the Democrats to get their act together.

It is becoming even more clear that we need a completely new political party organized from the grassroots up and dedicated to progressivism. Whether this can be accomplished in the two years we have before the midterm elections seems doubtful. Whether it can be done in time to stop Trump’s re-election is unknown.

But waiting for the Democrats to get their collective heads out of their asses is an exercise in futility.

The cavalry is not coming. We must all learn to ride.

PA Senate Regulates Union Political Spending But Not Corporate Political Spending

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In a display of blatant hypocrisy, the Pennsylvania state Senate voted yesterday to further regulate labor unions political spending but not that of corporations.

 

By a vote of 28-22, the Senate passed a bill blocking government agencies from deducting union dues used for political activity from employees’ paychecks.

 

Even though six Republicans joined all Democrats in opposing SB 166, it now goes to the state House for consideration.

 

Typically only about 10 percent of union dues are used in politics. These are voluntary contributions employees ask to be deducted from their pay for lobbying in their own interests. Like contributions to the United Way or other charities, it’s an issue of convenience for employees but poses no significant burden on employers.

 

However, businesses such as insurance companies, big banks and financial companies also are involved in politics. Shouldn’t their spending be subject to similar controls?

 

Apparently not, according to Senate Republicans.

 

Leading Democrat Sen. Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) proposed an amendment to the bill that would have put similar regulations on corporations in the state. It was defeated by a party line vote of 16-34.

 

Costa’s amendment would have required corporations that are organized in the Commonwealth to get shareholders consent before spending any more than $10,000 a year on politics.

 

It was a common sense measure meant to ensure that CEOs and board of directors are acting in the interests of their shareholders. However, Senate Republicans turned it down while ramping up restrictions on working people.

 

State Republicans have made it clear that the problem is not political spending. It is political spending by labor unions. It is political spending that more typically goes to the opposition party.

 

They don’t care how corporations participate in the political process. They only care about unions, which historically vote against Republicans.

 

It is impossible to conceive that political considerations played no part in their decision. After all, corporations are much more likely to donate to members of the GOP than they are to Democrats. Republicans can talk about liberty all they want, but voters know this is all about protecting contributions to the GOP while weakening such revenue streams to Democrats. Otherwise, why not level equal regulations for both parties?

 

Getting money out of politics is a noble goal. But that’s not what this is. It is about getting the opposition party’s money out while keeping bags of gold doubloons for you and yours.

 

The measure could just as easily sail through the House, which also has a hefty Republican majority. Pennsylvania is one of the most extreme examples of gerrymandering in the country, with many more Democratic votes being cast yet having a GOP majority in the legislature. However, it is doubtful Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf would sign this bill even if Republicans ram it through. So it’s prospects of being enacted are dim.

 

The measure would force unions to collect any dues or contributions on their own to fund get-out-the-vote efforts, lobbying or voter registration drives. Fortunately, it would still permit union deductions for non-political activities such as collective bargaining and grievances.

 

The bill is sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger, (R-Duncansville) one of the most virulent anti-education lawmakers in the state. Eichelberger hasn’t seen a measure that harms school children, teachers or unions that he hasn’t written, himself, or at least supported. He is the architect behind Senate Bill 229, a measure that would strip teachers of sick days, bereavement leave and sabbaticals. The bill would make teachers bargain with their individual districts for any kind of leave.

 

Eichelberger is infamous for getting into verbal and digital confrontations with teachers at Altoona Area High School.

 

In one particular battle, a teacher allegedly yelled at the fiscally conservative state Senator for jogging during working hours, between 9 am and 5 pm. He also berated Eichleberger – a vocal critic of teachers’ pay scale – for the lawmaker’s own large salary.

 

A salary database on Open Pagov.org states the Altoona teacher makes just over $43,000. Eichelberger’s salary is $85,339, according to a state website.

 

For his part, Eichelberger wrote a letter to the district superintendent complaining that teachers were sending him derogatory emails during school hours.

 

The state Senator has turned this spat into public policy positions. Both he and Senate Republicans got a pat on the back from their corporate masters at the far right Commonwealth Foundation for the passage of the union regulation bill.

 

Once again, Republicans have targeted teachers, nurses and public safety workers, while championing corporations. No wonder union members rarely vote for the GOP.

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

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Democrats are supposed to be liberals, progressives.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

They are:

 

Vanessa Lowery Brown (Philadelphia County)

Donna Bullock (Philadelphia County)

Dom Costa (Allegheny County)

Daniel J. Deasy (Allegheny County)

Michael J. Driscoll (Philadelphia County)

Jordan A. Harris (Philadelphia County)

William F. Keller (Philadelphia County)

William C. Kortz II (Allegheny County)

Joanna E. McClinton (Delaware & Philadelphia County)

Harry Readshaw (Allegheny County)

Mark Rozzi (Berks County)

 

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

 

How does the state define a “failing school”?

 

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

 

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

 

What about charter schools?

 

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

 

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

 

We can’t.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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