School Voucher Industry Strikes Back: We’re Segregated!? No, You’re Segregated!

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In what must count as another new low in American discourse, the school voucher industry is striking back against claims that their products lead to greater segregation of students.

 

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), had the audacity to voice the truth:

 

“Make no mistake: This use of privatization, coupled with disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation,” she said a week ago during a speech at the AFT’s yearly convention.

 

To which school privatization mouthpieces quickly countered with the truth:

 

“If vouchers are the polite cousins of segregation, then most urban school districts are segregation’s direct descendants. The vast majority of our urban public school districts are segregated because of white flight and neighborhood neglect.”

 

This was from a statement by Kevin Chavous, founding board member of the American Federation for Children, the school privatization advocacy group that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos used to lead.

 

So there you have it.

 

A nation of more than 325 million people, with a more than 241-year history reduced to – I Know You Are But What Am I?

 

The sad fact is that they’re both right.

 

School vouchers do lead to increased segregation (and so do charter schools, by the way, the method preferred by corporate Democrats). But many traditional public schools are, in fact, deeply segregated both racially and economically.

 

Does that mean that both systems – privatized and public – are equally at fault? Does it mean that both somehow get a pass for reprehensible behavior?

 

No and no.

 

First, we must explain why segregation is bad.

 

Peter Cunningham, former assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the Education Department under Obama, wagged his finger at Weingarten on the privatization propaganda Website, the 74.

 

He called out Weingarten’s hypocrisy, which takes some cojones for a man who only last year pondered aloud and in public whether segregation was really such a bad thing.

 

He had this to say last September:

 

“Maybe the fight’s not worth it. It’s a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it’s been a long fight, we’ve had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. It’s a good question.”

 

Funny, isn’t it?

 

He calls out Weingarten because of public school segregation but defends charter schools because their segregation is somehow just swell.

 

Keep in mind. Cunningham is the executive director of the Education Post, a well-funded charter school public relations firm that packages its advertisements, propaganda and apologias as journalism. And he’s not about to poop where he eats.

 

So, yes, Mr. Cunningham, segregation is worth fighting.

 

When you have schools made up mostly of minority and/or economically disadvantaged students, it makes it easier to provide fewer resources and less funding to those children while sending the lion’s share to the white and wealthy.

 

That’s why in Brown v. Board the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “Separate but Equal” – because when races are kept separate, their schools are rarely equal.

 

This game of excusing one system based on the deficiencies of the other is pure sophistry.

 

You can’t defend voucher and charter schools from being segregated by reference to public school segregation. Nor can you ignore public school segregation by reference to the same at privatized schools.

 

They’re both bad, and they both need fixing.

 

To be fair, Weingarten seems to tacitly admit this about public schools.

 

She acknowledges the disinvestment in public education, how public schools have been systemically undermined by politicians and lobbyists, many of them advocating for privatized schools, so that they could use this disinvestment as an excuse for their own for-profit education schemes.

 

“…no amount of facts or evidence will sway voucher proponents from their agenda to starve public schools to the breaking point, then criticize their deficiencies and let the market handle the rest, all in the name of choice,” she said in a statement.

 

The fact of the matter is this: public schools have become more segregated not because teachers or administrators want it, but because of local, state and federal law; a series of subsequent Supreme Court decisions allowing it within district boundaries; the continuation of racist redlining in the loan and insurance industry; and the xenophobia of wealthy and middle class whites who prefer their kids be educated separately from those they consider undesirable.

 

These policies could be changed. The system could be fixed. All it would take is the will to do it.

 

Charter and vouchers schools, on the other hand, will never solve the problem of segregation, because they have turned that problem into a “solution.”

 

Schools serving poor and minority students aren’t getting the proper resources. So they propose further segregating them.

 

That’s a terrible idea. It’s like escaping from a leaky cruise ship by jumping into a leaky lifeboat. You’ll sink in both, but the lifeboat will sink quicker.

 

Yes, our public schools are segregated by race and class and therefore poor and minority students receive inequitable funding and resources. Charters and vouchers cannot possibly remedy that. They will always make it worse. Only a robust and integrated public school system can be truly equitable. A system that deifies choice cannot combat racism if it is freely chosen.

 

What Weingarten is getting at is this: if we want to help the nation’s children – all of the nation’s children – we must support and reform public schools.

 

We must also acknowledge that many of the problems of systemic disinvestment are caused by those who want to privatize in the first place.

 

We have let the wolf write our education policy. It should be no shock that his solution isn’t to build more houses of bricks but to process our little piggies into bacon.

 

Full disclosure: I am no fan of Weingarten.

 

I recently called for both her and National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia to voluntarily step down because of undemocratic practices and mismanagement in both teachers unions.

 

However, I’ll stand up for her when she’s right, and in this instance, she is.

 

If anything, maybe she should have included charter schools in her criticism. I laid into her in June for writing an op-ed with Jonah Edelman, an anti-union activist, specifically praising charter schools over vouchers.

 

But I get it. Now that some charter school teachers have unionized and joined the AFT, she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.

 

Frankly, it makes her ineffective in speaking out on this matter. I have nothing against charter school teachers. I know, personally, several very good educators who work at charter schools. In this job market, sometimes you have to take what you can get. However, the sad fact of the matter is that by their very structure, charter schools are inferior to public schools. They are less democratic, less transparent, less accountable and more easily subject to fraud and abuse of children. That’s not to say all charters are guilty of this, but just by being a charter school and being subject to the deregulated rules governing them, they are more susceptible to these errors than their traditional public school brethren.

 

But, of course, the same can be said of voucher schools. It’s just that you can’t criticize one privatization scheme without also criticizing the other.

 

Perhaps the biggest mistake Weingarten made was in glossing over the worst abuses of public schools. If she was going to call out the segregation at voucher schools, she also should have explicitly called it out at public schools.

 

But that’s something even our first black President Barack Obama refused to do. You’d think he’d make that a priority for his administration, but instead he favored the same school privatization schemes that just made it worse.

 

Currently, you’ll find no political party that actively champions integration. Democrats will give it more lip service than Republicans, but both parties either ignore it in practice or actively work against it.

 

The only use they have for it is as a club with which to hit the other side when issues like this come up.

 

You’re segregated!

 

No, YOU’RE segregated!

 

And so we are all lead over the cliff by partisans and fools.

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Teachers Union President Joins Anti-Union Operative to Praise Charter Schools

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Randi Weingarten must be out of her damn mind!

 

The president of the second largest teachers union in the country, The American Federation of Teachers, is now writing op-eds with anti-union activists!?

Just this week she authored an article in the Los Angeles Times along with Jonah Edelman.

Perhaps you remember him. He’s the corporate shill who infamously bragged on YouTube about tricking teachers unions into supporting an Illinois law that would have stripped educators of their right to strike while eliminating seniority and due process.

Yes, THAT Jonah Edelman!

And why is she joining forces with a man who has dedicated his life to destroying the lives of the more than 1.5 million people she is supposed to represent!?

To fight school vouchers while pretending charter schools are a much better alternative.

No, I’m not kidding.

In the midst of an article that correctly outlines many of the problems with school vouchers, you’ll find this telling nugget:

“We believe taxpayer money should support schools that are accountable to voters, open to all, nondenominational and transparent about students’ progress. Such schools — district and charter public schools — are part of what unites us as a country.”

So once again we get the false distinction between charter and voucher schools.

Yet they ignore that BOTH are run privately without community input.

BOTH are not accountable to taxpayers.

BOTH are allowed to cherry pick the easiest students to educate and turn away those with special needs.

Yet Weingarten and her new best friend somehow think charters are worlds better than vouchers.

Wrong! They’re BOTH terrible.

Publicly funding privately run schools is nearly the same no matter whether you call them charter, private or parochial schools!

Yet we see Democratic partisans trying desperately to distinguish their cash cow charter schools from the extremely similar golden geese of voucher schools.

It’s a trick. Republicans champion privatized education in all of its forms. Democrats pretend to be discerning by boosting only charter schools.

But there’s really very little difference between these two positions. In each case, these partisan hacks are defending privatization against any and all forms of public education.

Weingarten apparently is even willing to throw the majority of her constituents under the bus to do so!

Charter schools are a failed social experiment. The majority have become merely parasites on traditional public school districts sucking out much needed funding without putting anything of value back.

They result in larger class sizes, a narrowing of the curriculum and more layoffs for the very teachers Weingarten is supposed to represent.

In the rare occasions when charters actually provide good educational value, the law explicitly allows them to change for the worse at any time. The problem isn’t a few bad apples. It’s the concept of charter schools, themselves.

You can’t have a separate level of school competing with its community district and expect the two not to end up harming each other. You can’t allow one school to operate in the dark without hardly any transparency and expect operators not to take personal advantage of it. You can’t allow one school to choose its students without expecting to drastically segregate the community’s children.

Yet here we have Weingarten joining hands with the devil signing a Faustian bargain with the blood of every member of the American Federation of Teachers.

Yes, school vouchers are a bad idea. They violate the separation of church and state. But other than that, they’re pretty much the same as charter schools. If you agree to defend the one while attacking the other, you’re just fighting about what to name the privatized school that will eventually overtake the public ones.

Weingarten should know that.

But this isn’t the first time recently that she’s agreed to hob knob with those salivating over the destruction of her own chosen profession.

Just last month, she went on a field trip to a public school with Betsy DeVos, our Anti-Education Education Secretary.

As parent and teacher activists were physically barring DeVos from entering some public schools, Weingarten was giving her a guided tour!

Some will say that we need to educate DeVos, a Republican mega-donor with next to zero experience of public education and a history of spending billions to destroy public schools. So how did it work out?

DeVos said the school was nice but could benefit from more privatization.

Thanks anyway, Randi.

You can’t make friends with the corporate education reformers.

This was one of the major weaknesses of Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She tried to walk this same divide praising “high quality” charter schools while criticizing those that exploit the system.

In both cases, they’re ignoring the fact that the system was designed EXPLICITLY TO BE EXPLOITED – by charter schools.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been calling for Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association, to step down.

They aren’t listening to their constituents.

They have both gone rogue. They are playing politics on our dime without giving proper consideration to what’s in our benefit.

Teachers don’t want their national union representatives playing patty cake with those out to destroy us. We want action in the streets! We want activists and resisters, not diplomats and politicians.

It’s time Randi and Lily stepped aside for union leaders who understand what our schools, our students and our profession really needs.

Randi and Lily, For the Good of Our Unions, Please Step Down. You Are a Distraction

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Dear Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia:

Unions are facing hard times.

We are under attack by the new fascist wing of the Republican party.

So-called “right to work” laws are being drafted at the national level to strip us of our rights and transform us into the factory slaves of The Gilded Age. New court challenges at the state and federal level could make it next to impossible to collect dues without allowing countless free riders. And in the mass media criticism of teacher tenure is mounting despite widespread ignorance of what it even means.

More than ever we need to be united in our efforts to fight the forces of regression and tyranny. We need each other to protect our public schools and our students from those who would do them harm. But the biggest obstacle to doing that isn’t Donald Trump. Nor is it Mike Pence, Steve Bannon or even Betsy DeVos.

It is you. Both of you.

Frankly, as Presidents of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), you have become a distraction.

When DeVos was blocked by protesters from entering a Washington, D.C., school this week, Randi actually took her side. She tweeted:

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“Just heard a protester blocked & almost knocked Secy @BetsyDeVos down at Jefferson.We don’t condone such acts.We want her to go to pub schls.”

How dare you dictate to protesters what “we” want!?

This action may not have been something you, personally, condone. But DeVos just got away with purchasing her position as U.S. Secretary of Education. She and her billionaire family paid off mostly Republican lawmakers to the tune of $200 million allowing her to become the titular head of our nation’s public schools. This despite having never attended a public school, refusing to protect special education students, refusing to hold charter and voucher schools to the same standards, even refusing to keep guns out of our children’s classrooms! Well, Betsy, your money may buy you the title, but it buys you zero respect!

Randi, your statement just goes to show how tone deaf you and Lily are to the spirit of the rank and file.

We are not somewhat distressed at what is happening to our schools and our profession. We are enraged! We are taking to the streets! We are occupying our lawmakers offices and marching through community thoroughfares! And we aren’t throwing shade on other protesters behind the safety of Twitter.

For many of us, you both represent everything wrong with unionism. We are a people powered movement. We get our strength from the grassroots up, but you both try to rule from the top down.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the early endorsements by both unions of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Neither one of you made an honest effort to gauge member opinions on these endorsements before going ahead. You thought you knew better. You pushed through these endorsements despite a strong vein of support for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

Sanders was much more in-line with our needs and values. And he had much more support among progressives and independents. He had a much better chance of winning! Meanwhile, Clinton was just another neoliberal in a long line of neoliberals like President Barack Obama who would offer us only the back of their hands.

You wanted a seat at the table, and you didn’t mind how much it would cost the rest of us.

Lily, when you took the reins of the NEA in 2014, you famously said “We are what Democracy looks like.” I was never more proud of my union than at that moment. But that pride has turned to ashes in my mouth.

Many of us will never forgive either of you for the results of this election. We blame you for Trump.

Had you not dictated to us that we must support Clinton, had you supported a candidate with a real chance of wining, there is little doubt that we could have defeated the clown currently in the Oval Office. Moreover, under a President Sanders we would have had a real chance at a progressive future that benefits everyone – $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, sanctuary cities, justice reforms, fair trade, free college tuition.

Trump did not win alone. Unwittingly, you were his biggest supporters. It was your hubris – along with that of corporate Democrats deaf to the voices of their base – that gave us these next four years. And none of you have learned your lesson.

Lily, your three-year term is up this year. Randi, your two-year term is up in summer 2018.

We can wait you out if we must. But do what’s best for the people you claim to represent. Step down now.

Otherwise, you can look for opposition in our Representative Assemblies.

Let me be clear. I don’t think either of you have broken any by-laws. I don’t think there is evidence for impeachment (if our by-laws even allow it). But members could easily make a motion from the floor for a vote of no confidence.

Support may already be mounting for such positions at the Region level. It could go to the State House of Delegates as a New Business Item and get a majority vote from the floor. Or perhaps at our next Representative Assembly, someone will just make a motion.

I don’t know if it would pass. But I know that this division among us is holding us back from being the force we can be. I know that it has stopped many of us from talking about how we fight external forces, because we are instead focused on enemies from within.

We want to transform our unions. We no longer want to focus solely on collective bargaining. We want to focus on social justice and the needs of our students and communities. To be sure, our labor rights are essential to this fight, but they cannot be everything nor can we be willing to give up on the needs of our students if the powers that be will only leave our salaries and benefits intact.

We want a union that is more at home in the streets than in the boardroom. We want leaders who mobilize us to fight not tell us what to think. We need leaders that listen to us – not the other way around.

As a classroom teacher and education activist, I make this request in no official capacity for any of the various groups to which I belong. I ask as merely another member of the NEA. I have no affiliation with the AFT.

Moreover, I have nothing personal against either of you. We met briefly at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago two years ago. You were both congenial and inspiring. It may not seem like it now, but I hold tremendous respect for both of you. I think in your own ways you have accomplished much that benefits our members.

But the time has come to step down. You believe in accountability. Hold yourselves accountable.

Put the strength of our unions first. Let it no longer be about you. Let it be about us.

Here’s hoping you’ll do the right thing.

Yours,

Steven Singer

NEA and PSEA member

P.S. – If any NEA or AFT member reads this open letter and agrees with the sentiments expressed here, please add your name and union affiliation in a comment on my blog.

Clash of the Titans – Unionism at the Network for Public Education

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It was billed as the fight of the century.

Or at very least – the weekend.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia vs. Randi Weingarten.

National Education Association vs. American Federation of Teachers.

Union president vs. union president.

All moderated by education historian Diane Ravich.

“Oh snap!” cried six hundred voices in tandem at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago.

“It’s goin’ down!”

No soft pitches coming from Diane, either. These were going to be tough questions. No politicking. Only candid truth.

And the interview actually seemed to live up to its hype in one shinning moment.

Will you both commit to no longer taking any money from the Gates, Broad and Walton Foundations?

Ravich’s question hung in the air a second before the crowd erupted into a standing ovation.

We cheered so loudly at the question, we didn’t hear the answers – two quick short yeses.

When it quieted down somewhat, Lily nodded and Randi cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted “YES!”

At the time, I was overjoyed. But in retrospect something keeps bugging me.

That wasn’t as candid and organic as it appeared.

There’s no way the heads of the two largest labor unions in the country could commit to something like that off the cuff. They were expecting that question and they had already agreed in private on the answer.

Does it matter?

Maybe not. If the NEA and AFT actually follow through with this promise, who cares if the presentation was staged?

But there were other cracks in the facade along the way.

It started well enough. Both women said some really supportive things about teachers and our unions.

ROUND 1: LOVEFEST

Randi:

-Teachers are first responders to poverty. Never say I’m just a teacher. (NOTE: activist parent Rosemary Vega says she used almost the exact same words to Randi in a private conversation.)

-All middle class workers have to realize we’re all in it together.

-The other side lives in an evidence free zone. We need to keep pushing the truth.

Lily:

-Privatizers have to get people to distrust teachers. This is hard because most people naturally trust our profession.

-It’s strange that some celebrities want to make the world a better place by making it easier to fire more teachers.

-People who say teachers go into this profession for a cushy job are “idiots.” (Randi then countered that these folks are “morons.”)

-Teachers need tenure so they won’t be fired for helping kids.

-We talk about the progress gap – what about the resource gap?

-They say if kids had better teachers, they wouldn’t need resources!

-There are three pillars of corporate school reform:
1) privatize
2) standardize
3) delegitimize (teachers)

RESULT: Lily takes it. She came off more eloquent and genuine than Randi who seemed a bit strident and defensive. Judging by the mediocre applause and even outright hissing Randi earned from the audience, New York teachers may still blame her for Gov. Cuomo who she supported in the last election.

ROUND 2: STANDARDIZED TESTING

Randi:

-We need to get rid of high stakes tests. We need tests that are diagnostic. I took tests when I was a child, but they were about ME – not my teacher.

-We wanted three things from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) rewrite – no federalization of teacher evaluations, school closings or Common Core.

Lily:

-If we have standardized testing at all – and I’m not sure we should – we should use them for general trends. Not to fire teachers, close schools, etc.

-The NEA is against annual testing in the ESEA rewrite. Instead we want informational grade span testing at the state level. That means testing reading and math once in elementary school, once in the middle school and once in the high school.

-Lawmakers say you need to test kids every year. They think we need the data. However, the NEA told them that we don’t test that much even now! We only test kids in grades 3-8 every year. We test high school students only once. So we already have grade span testing in the high school. If that’s working, why not do the same in the elementary and middle schools?

RESULT: Yuck and yuck. Are these really the same rabble rousers from Round 1? They both agree on grade span testing. Yes, it’s clearly better than annual testing but it leaves so many unanswered questions:

1) If we had grade span testing, would our test-obsessed country really only test once at each academic level? Right now, standardized tests aren’t required in Kindergarten, first or second grade – yet in most schools WE HAVE THEM! To paraphrase Lily – we already have literally annual testing through 8th grade! Prove to me that grade span testing won’t be that!

2) How can you be sure grade span testing will actually remove high stakes? Just because you say something doesn’t have high stakes doesn’t mean it isn’t actually de facto high stakes. I can call a cat a “dog,” but it still won’t use the litter box.

3) Do we really need any of this “demographic”, “purely informational,” nothing-to-see-here-folks data? Do we? Why? To prove kids are learning? We give them grades for that. To prove kids are getting the proper resources? We do audits for that.

So let’s call this one a sloppy and ugly draw with few punches thrown.

ROUND 3: COMMON CORE

Randi: Standardized testing is ruining the potential of the Common Core. (Ravich responded that it is an outrage that so few kids pass Common Core tests who passed the tests they replaced.)

Lily: Many Common Core standards can’t be evaluated on standardized tests. They ignore the best parts. Organize a project, give an opinion, do a multi-media presentation. You can’t assess that with a multiple choice fill-in-the-bubble test.

RESULT: They agree again. The rank and file hate Common Core. The majority of teachers are against it or uncertain, but our largest union leaders think it’s just swell. It’s so gosh darn great, but toxic testing is ruining it. Are you freaking kidding me!? Why are the leaders of our biggest unions – who are supposed to represent us – defending standards that were not developed by educators, are developmentally inappropriate and have never been proven to work!?

Standardized tests are bad, but standardized curriculum is good!?

Once again light starts to shine through the cracks here. Somewhere, sometime ago, a decision was reached between these two ladies and parties unknown to make a compromise. Save Common Core by lightly ribbing standardized tests. Champion a slight decrease in testing (that may not actually reduce testing at all) in exchange for saving standardized curriculum.

I’m sorry. I’m calling the fight. No winners here.

BUT WAIT!

OFF THE TOP ROPES COMES RANK AND FILE UNIONISTS FROM THE BREAKOUT SESSION ON SOCIAL JUSTICE UNIONISM!

Michelle Gunderson chaired an incredible session about the need to transform our labor unions around the issues of social justice.

Remarks included:

-Get Up! Get down! Chicago is a union town!

-After Gov. Walker, there weren’t supposed to be any unions. But WE’RE STILL HERE!

Rosemary Vega: true leaders don’t make more followers. They make more leaders.

-Everyone is a worker. Everyone deserves rights – whether you’re in a union or not.

-Fighting for social justice is key to building strong unions.

-Do you want a service union or an activist one? Associations shouldn’t just be about salary and benefits. They need to be about Justice.

-People of color used to be banned from joining unions. Now they’re leaders.

-You’d never know how much our unions had to fight for the rights we have today. We don’t pass that on to the next generation. We should.

Michelle: Union members aren’t friends. They’re brothers and sisters.

RESULT: Randi and Lily are teetering on their feet! They’re almost down! Somehow they’re still standing! How can they still be standing!?

OH! IS THAT KAREN LEWIS ENTERING THE RING!? NO WAY!

Diane had a brief talk with the Chicago Teachers Union president to end the entire NPE conference. Karen didn’t say anything revolutionary.

In fact, she deflected any kind of praise back to someone else. When Diane said Karen was her hero, Karen said she felt the same way about Diane. When Diane asked her about being attacked in the media, Karen thanked the Badass Teachers Association for coming to her aide on Twitter.

She was poise, finesse and grace.

The strength she demonstrated! The power! The integrity!

RESULT: Boom! It’s all over! It’s all over! Ring the bell! Ring the Bell!

Unions still have an important place in our fight as teachers. But it’s not top down. Unions work best when they’re bottom up – just like any Democracy.

Lily and Randi seem like very nice ladies. In many ways they DO stand up for teachers and students. But there is more to their stories. They have seats at the table in the smoke filled rooms where decisions are made at the highest level about how our country will be lead. And to keep those seats, they have to make compromises. They have to sell these compromises to you and me as if these were their own ideas. They want to convince us that these are really OUR ideas.

But it’s not true. It’s showmanship.

We have to be smart enough to see through it and call them out on the bullshit when it comes.

Unions have always been about people power – and what powerful people we have on our side!

The audience at NPE was full of these courageous, big hearted activists and organizers. I’m so honored to have been included in this tremendous event.

Power to the people!


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