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?

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Pittsburgh School Director Donates Kidney to 7-Year-Old Student

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Moira Kaleida represents the best of public service.

 

 

Some people would give you the shirt off their backs.

 

 

She gave a sick child a kidney out of her body.

 

 

The Pittsburgh School Board Director isn’t related to the 7-year-old student. She is barely an acquaintance. She doesn’t even represent the ward in which he and his family live. But when she read a Facebook request asking for donors, she says it was a “no-brainer.”

 

“I thought if it were my kid, I’d want to know someone was out there trying,” Kaleida says.

 

“It really doesn’t affect my everyday life beyond the couple of weeks of recovery. But for him, it’s something that changes his life drastically.”

 

The child, Laith Dougherty, had already undergone two heart transplants, one when he was 3 months old and another when he was 3 years old. But in 2012, a test showed his kidneys were working at only 35 percent capacity. After a series of illnesses in the fall, they were down to 6 percent and he was on dialysis.

 

None of his immediate family was a match and his B blood type made finding one difficult. He was looking at a wait of between 6 months and two years before a donor could be found.

 

That’s when the family reached out to Facebook. Kaleida saw it, privately investigated to see if she was a match and when she was, she contacted Ghadah Makoshi, the child’s mother.

 

“It’s shocking to me because I had only met her once or twice,” Makoshi says. “It’s sacrifice to say, ‘I’m going to go through surgery and pain to make sure your kid survives.’ Most people wouldn’t do that.”

 

The surgery was done in June and the kidney began working immediately. Laith is expected to make a full recovery.

 

Kaleida is a woman of high ideals.

 

 

The 32-year-old mother of two doesn’t just talk the talk. She walks the walk.

 

 

Though she’s only been on the board since November, she has been on the right side of just about every issue.

 

 

She was the impetus behind the district’s newly approved transgender student policy. After principals and legal experts alerted her to the need for procedures to protect students’ rights and provide supports, she successfully lobbied her fellow school directors to take action.

 

 

“We’re moving forward on the right side of law and history,” she said at the time.

 

 

She’s also an advocate for community schools and the restorative justice discipline policies currently being enacted district-wide. She supports the idea that Pittsburgh schools should be at the center of the community providing medical care, wraparound services, before- and after-school programs, etc. to help keep children in the classroom. She favors a discipline policy not focused on punishing students but ensuring they make things right for their misbehavior.

 

To that end, she is a firm supporter of new Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet. When Hamlet was attacked by corporate education reformers and big money interests earlier this summer, she stood by him.

 

 

She may be one of the most progressive members of a very high-minded board.

 

 

Though city schools struggle to keep afloat because of underfunding from the state and federal government plus an increasingly impoverished local tax base, the district has one of the best boards in the state.

 

 

In fact, in many similar urban districts like Philadelphia City Schools, there is no elected school board.

 

 

If a Political Action Committee (PAC) has its way, the same thing will happen here. Deep-pocketed investors are gathering funds to unseat as many Pittsburgh School Directors as possible and – if possible – push for the district to be run by government appointees, not duly elected representatives.

 

 

Kaleida’s story shows exactly why this would be a mistake.

 

 

Corporate cronies would never look out for the needs of the community the way actual residents do. People who live in the community, know the community and relate to the families and children living there are far superior to anyone making decisions based on a spreadsheet.

 

 

Kaleida is a lifelong resident and graduate of the district. When she ran for office, even the privatization-loving Pittsburgh Post Gazette couldn’t help but endorse her due to “her superior detailed knowledge of the city schools and their challenges.”

 

 

Kaleida dedicates herself to raising her children and volunteering for various organizations. She has given time to the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN); NurturePA, which supports new mothers; and various neighborhood efforts. She also tries to find more funding for the district’s Pre-K initiative so it can provide services to even more children.

 

 

She represent District 6 neighborhoods including all or parts of Brookline, Beechview, Banksville, Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights.

 

 

Laith is lucky his school is represented by a woman like Kaleida. So are all the parents and children of Pittsburgh.

 

 

We need more school directors like her and her colleagues. And more than anything we need more local control of public education.

School Accountability Without Standardized Testing

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

 

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

 

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

 

This is the irony of modern education policy.

 

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

 

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

 

FACT: Students and teachers are not the only factors.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

California has come up with an ingenious plan.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Which brings us back to testing.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Performance or portfolio-based assessments.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Can real accountability exist without standardized tests?

 

Yes. That’s the only way it can.

Teachers Offer to Work for Free to Save Their School

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Lawmakers have failed Chester Upland School District.

And now it’s up to teachers and professional staff to save the day.

For two decades, the Pennsylvania legislature hasn’t fulfilled its duty to equitably fund the public school district. Neither has the federal government. Instead, they left the impoverished school just 20 miles west of Philadelphia to survive on the drip of local property taxes from residents who, themselves, don’t have two pennies to rub together.

Moreover, our lawmakers not only permitted but encouraged three privately run charter schools to come to Delaware County and suck away whatever funds they could from the district while shortchanging student services at their privatized facilities.

And even worse, our elected officials drew up legislation allowing these charters to gobble up more funding from the district than the public school is allowed to spend on its own students.

Surprise! It didn’t work!

So the state put the school in receivership, taking away control from local tax payers so unelected bureaucrats could fix all the problems.

Surprise! That didn’t work, either!

And now state and local officials say there isn’t enough money left in the district’s piggy bank to make payroll by the time the school’s 3,300 students are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.

In such situations, there’s only one thing to do: close the school. Bus the kids to neighboring districts and any charter or cyber schools willing to take them.

No more Chester Uplands. Another neighborhood school bites the dust.

But the district’s more than 300 employees refused to let that happen.

The dreaded teachers union held a meeting and decided to what? Hold a strike? Demand more pay?

No. The 200 members voted unanimously to work without pay as the school year begins – and the district’s secretaries, bus drivers, janitors and administrators joined them.

Sadly, this is the second time the union came to this decision. In 2012 the district was in similar straights but a federal judge forced the state to cough up a few bucks only a few days after the school year began.

To be fair, Gov. Wolf has tried to help the struggling district more than his predecessor. His administration supported a plan to eliminate the district’s $22 million spending deficit by reducing payments to charter and cyber schools so they actually reflect the cost of the services they provide.

The plan called for capping payments to cyber schools at $5,950 per student. After all, schools where students attend class on-line don’t have nearly the overhead of brick-and-mortar districts. Why pay them more than the actual cost?

The plan also would reduce reimbursements for special education students at brick-and-mortar charter schools from $40,000 to $16,000 per student. After all, if the public school only spends this much for these services, why permit charter schools to demand more than twice that amount – more than any other district in the state receives?

These proposals didn’t come out of thin air. Both changes were consistent with recommendations by two bipartisan school funding commissions.

However, County Judge Chad F. Kenney denied the measure because it would do nothing to pay back the district’s charter schools an additional $8 million it already owes.

So to sum up – teachers are willing to work pro bono for the community’s children. They’re willing to put their own lives and families at risk to ensure their neighborhood school has more time to find a solution to its financial woes.

And charter schools? They want their money! Pay up, bitch!

If nothing is done to fix the problem, Chester Uplands deficit is expected to reach $48 million by the end of the year. Wolf and other state officials are scrambling to come up with a new plan.

Meanwhile, the problem is spreading from the Chester Upland District across the entire Commonwealth. Public schools are tightening their belts because the legislature is more than 50 days late passing a state budget. The major sticking point? School funding!

Republicans refuse to heal long-standing education cuts from the previous GOP administration while Democrats support an increase.

As lawmakers bicker, schools across the state are forced to dip into their reserves to keep their doors open. Public schools were required by law to complete their spending plans months ago making educated guesses how much they’d get from the state. Without that money coming in, they’re surviving on their rainy day funds – and as usual storm clouds are pouring on our schools.

Districts serving poor communities often don’t have much left over to continue running while Harrisburg plays political games. If something isn’t done soon, Chester Upland could be the first in a series of dominoes set to topple down.

The only thing keeping these districts afloat is the hard work and good will of their teachers and staff.


A GOFundMe has been set up to help Chester Upland staff.

If you’re able to, please donate whatever you can to the 300 teachers and staff of Chester Upland School District in Eastern Pennsylvania.  Please help these heroic people make ends meet during this time they’re working pro bono.

NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

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.

Public School Takeovers – When Local Control is Marked ‘White Only’

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Do you like Democracy?

Then you’d better not be poor or have brown skin.

Because in America today we only allow self-government to rich white folks.

Sad but true.

American public schools serving large populations of impoverished and minority children are increasingly being taken over by their respective states.

People of color and people living in poverty are losing their right to govern their own schools. They are losing a say in how their own children are educated. They are losing elective governance.

Why? No other reason than that they are poor and brown skinned.

The most recent example is Holyoke Public Schools in Massachusetts.

Just two weeks ago, the state education board moved to place Holyoke schools in receivership.

So later this spring out goes the elected school board and in comes either an individual or non-profit organization to take over running the district.

On what grounds?

Well, Holyoke is a city of about 40,000 residents in the western part of the state. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures, 31.5% of the city’s residents live below the poverty level – nearly three times the state average.

Nearly half of Holyoke students do not speak English as a first language and nearly 30 percent are English-language learners. Eighty-five percent of Holyoke students come from low-income households.

But those aren’t the reasons given for the state takeover. It’s poor test scores and high dropout rates.

The state board can’t just come out and admit it’s waging class and race warfare against its own citizens. Instead, out comes the racist dog whistle of test scores and accountability.

If those kids had just filled in the right bubbles on their standardized tests, freedom would continue to ring in Holyoke. If more kids didn’t become frustrated and drop out, the district would be a haven to rival ancient Athens.

Never mind that poor students almost always score lower on standardized tests than rich kids. Never mind that children trying to learn English don’t score as high as kids who have been speaking it since before preschool.

However, these “alarming trends” are actually improving – just not fast enough for the state.

The graduation rate climbed from 49.5 percent in 2011 to 60.2 percent in 2014. The dropout rate also has improved. However, when compared with richer, whiter districts, this “performance” still leaves much to be desired.

But Holyoke isn’t alone.

In January, the Arkansas Board of Education did the same to the Little Rock district.

The state dissolved the local school board but at first kept Superintendent Dexter Suggs in an interim capacity.

Little Rock – one of the flashpoints of desegregation in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s – is the state’s largest school district, with about 25,000 students.

Once again, African-American and Latino students are about three-fourths of the city’s student body. About 70% of students meet the federal government’s definition of poverty.

Yet the state cited low standardized test scores as the reason for the takeover.

About 45% of Little Rock high school students attend schools designated as “underperforming.” Last year, the Arkansas state board classified six of its 48 schools as being in “academic distress” after fewer than half their students scored at the “proficient” level on achievement tests.

So out with democracy and in with bureaucracy.

Does it work?

Not really.

Across the country, more than half of all states have laws allowing the dissolution of local control for districts that meet certain academic and economic parameters. However, even after decades of receivership, most districts still don’t improve their test scores.

In New Jersey, for instance, the Newark school district has been under state control since 1995 but still registers low test scores and graduation rates. Pennsylvania took over Philadelphia’s public schools in 2001, and test scores have actually dropped while the creation of new charter schools have drained state coffers. In 2013, district officials had to borrow $50 million to avoid delaying the beginning of the new school year.

Nationally, takeovers tend to improve administrative and financial practices but have less of an effect on classroom instruction, according to a 2004 report from the Education Commission of the States.

Academic performance for state-controlled districts is usually mixed, the report concluded, with increases in some areas, and decreases in others. “The bottom line is that state takeovers, for the most part, have yet to produce dramatic and consistent increases in student performance,” the report concluded.

Q: If state-takeovers don’t actually improve academic outcomes, why do we continue to allow them?

A: It’s cheaper than actually fixing the problem – poverty.

Poor students need resources they aren’t getting.

Fact: across the country, we spend more money to educate our rich children than we do our poor ones.

Fact: Poor students need MORE resources to learn than rich ones. They need access to food and nutrition, stability, tutoring and wraparound social services.

In short, we’re ignoring the needs of our impoverished children, because many of them are children of color.

And we’re selling this whole-sale neglect as the impartial product of “accountability” measures. We say that schools and teachers aren’t doing their jobs, so we’re taking over poor districts – where nothing much improves – but at least we made a show of doing something.

The people behind this sham are actually selling it as a Civil Rights issue. And it IS a Civil Rights issue – but not the one they claim. Standardization and privatization of public schools and the blatant government overreach involved in state takeovers are Civil Rights ABUSES.

We should be helping high-poverty schools meet the needs of their students. Instead we put on a show and hope no one peeks behind the curtain.

We liberally dole out blame and conservatively hide our pocketbooks. We point the finger at easy targets – poor and minority parents and children. We demonize the one group devoting their lives to actually helping improve the situation – teachers. And instead of empowering neighborhoods, we steal their vote and call it “help.”

Until we recognize these facts, our public schools will remain “separate but equal.” Ensuring an adequate education for all will remain a privilege of the elite. And the dream of racial and social equality will remain stifled under the boot of false accountability.


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association Blog.

When Kids Teach Adults – Lessons from the Newark Student Union Sit-in

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If ISIS extremists flew in from the Middle East and took over our public schools, we wouldn’t stand for it.

But if those extremists are from our own state or federal government, we just yawn and change the channel.

Though not for the last three nights.

A handful of plucky Newark school students have demanded our attention, and, Brother, do they have it!

At least six Newark students have staged a sit-in at the offices of Superintendent Cami Anderson demanding she step down and the district be returned to the voters. The district has been under state control for the last two decades.

This could have been handled easily. Anderson could have met with the students to talk about their concerns. After all, she is a public servant and even school kids are members of the public.

But instead she’s abandoned her office, sent threatening letters to the children’s parents and blocked or held up shipments of food to the young protestors.

Undeterred, the youngsters have set up a live feed on youtube to broadcast their action to the world, tweeting with the hashtags #OccupyNPS and #OurNewark. And the world has been paying attention. Local officials including Mayor Ras Baracka are calling for Anderson’s resignation. The teachers union is discussing holding an illegal strike if the students are forcibly removed.

But more importantly, people all over the country are talking about something they haven’t talked about – maybe – ever: local control.

What gives the state or federal government the right to come in and take over your public school?

Sure if there’s some kind of malfeasance going on, it makes sense to oust a particular school director. If the entire board is working in collusion against the public interest, maybe then it makes sense to get rid of all of them. A temporary acting school board might be necessary in such an unlikely case.

But why not then just hold another election and be done with it? Why would the state keep control over a public school for years or decades after a crisis?

The answer: many of our state and federal government officials don’t believe in local control.

Don’t worry. They’re not against it for everyone.

They don’t come in and take over just any school. If you live in a rich neighborhood, you can breathe easy. No state has ever taken over a posh district.

However, if you live in a poor community with a school that struggles to get by on the contributions of the impoverished local tax base, then the state may be gunning for you.

In my home state of Pennsylvania this has happened numerous times: Duquesne, Chester Upland and Philadelphia spring immediately to mind. In fact, Philly schools have been under control of the State Recovery Commission almost as long as Newark. At the same time Newark students were settling in for their second night in Anderson’s office, the Philadelphia SRC was having citizens arrested for protesting the state-appointed directors decision to expand charter schools.

What gives these people the right to take over our schools?

Poverty.

The excuse is always that the democratically-elected school board didn’t manage the district’s finances well enough. That’s why there were dwindling services for students.

However, the truth is more simple. School directors weren’t able to get blood from a stone. While rich districts rely heavily on a fat tax base that could support whatever services their children need, poor ones limp by. The state and federal government – seeing the trouble our poor districts are in – have a responsibility to come forward and provide financial assistance. After all, every child in this country has the right to a free and appropriate public school education. This doesn’t change just because your folks are poor.

But instead of facing up to their responsibilities, the state and federal government have used this monetary crisis to steal control of the poorest public schools.

And what’s worse, they haven’t improved the quality of services for students under their care! Instead they make sure any moderate increase in funding gets siphoned off to the corporate education reform movement before it ever reaches kids.

The standardized testing industry has increased 57% in the last three years alone to a $2.5 billion a year market. And that doesn’t even count the billions more being raked in by textbook companies (many of them are the same ones producing and grading the tests) with test prep materials and Common Core.

So why does the state and federal government unconstitutionally swipe away local control from people living in poor districts?

Because they can make money off of it!

This is exactly the abomination that the Newark Student Union is shinning light on.

Five years ago, Newark Schools received a $100 million gift from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to turn around the district. The project is called One Newark. The director is Anderson.

However, instead of turning the district around, it has been responsible for closing or relocating schools, opening new charter schools and displacing staff. And no improvement to district services!

Where’s the money going? Here’s a hint: Anderson has been sharply criticized for spending $37 million on consulting fees to prominent factory school reformers.

It’s time to end the practice of public school takeovers. There is no good reason for the state or federal government to snatch away our local schools. This is clearly a violation of the almost every state constitution (including New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s) and the rights of citizens and students. Public schools should remain public.

This is what our children are trying to tell us there in Cami Anderson’s office.

As they continue for a third night, I find myself with two distinct opposite emotions.

I feel an overwhelming shame for my generation. We have let greed get the better of us. How dare we trample the future of countless generations of children for financial gain! When I think of people like Anderson and ex-Mayor Cory Booker, people like my own ex-Governor Tom Corbett, I want to throw up.

However, at the same time I’m also filled with such immense hope! These children have shown us that we can be so much more than the sum of our base natures! We can overcome our menial immediate needs and put the suffering of others over that of ourselves!

I can’t express enough the joy and admiration I have for the members of the Newark Student Union! They represent the future we might attain – if only us adults will let them shine!


UPDATE: The sit-in ended after three days when Anderson met with students. They continue to call for her resignation.

This article was also published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.