Saturday, September 12, 2015

Debunking Reformy Logic One Tweet At A Time Part 3

This one's personal

As I reported in Part 1 of this series, I recently got into a Twitter debate with Laura Waters, Derrell Bradford and Ryan Hill which turned into an all-day affair, with Save Our Schools NJ, Jersey Jazzman and a few other pro-public education advocates chiming in. It all started with this Tweet:

It was a 3-pronged discussion focusing on:
  1. Part 1: Waters' continuous, illogical reasoning 
  2. Part 2: Hill's assertions that:
    - charter schools are underfunded compared to district schools
    - every child should have choice but only when that choice is a charter school
  3. And here Part 3: Bradford's assertions that:
    - I'm a teacher, therefore I am not an expert on public education
    - I'm a white, suburban woman so I should "say nothing"

Who is Derrell Bradford?

Currently the executive director for the 'reformy' group, NYCAN (The New York Campaign for Achievment Now), his previous stints include two 'reformy' NJ shops: the billionaire-funded Better Education for Kids (B4K), and Excellent Education for Everyone (E3).

Bradford's 'reform' pedigree also includes many public speaking gigs including one wherein he claimed in a rather snarky tone to be an expert on education because he watched the movie, "Dangerous Minds". I kid you not. I, along with many, many others saw this video online and shared it before it mysteriously disappeared from public consumption—and with good reason. It's an Excellent Example for Everyone (E3) of the truly 'Dangerous Minds' behind the 'reform' movement.   

Jersey Jazzman wrote about Bradford back in 2014 which included this Twitter exchange:

And this:

Bradford's sole experience in anything remotely having to do with education was working at the now-a-ghost-of-its-former-self voucher lobbying shop, Excellent Education for Everyone, or E3: first as a director of communications, and then as Executive Director. E3's mission was to bring "choice" in the form of opportunity scholarships vouchers to New Jersey's urban children. 
Bradford is always happy to use his personal story to sell the idea of "choice": he claims he just wants for every child what he himself had. What he fails to acknowledge is that he went to an extremely expensive and elite private school (not that there's anything wrong with that) that spends twice per pupil what the local public schools spend. Yet he questions whether New Jersey schools spend too much on "bells and whistles," and the opportunity scholarships vouchers he promoted wouldn't have come close to providing children with the "hoity-toity" (his words) education he enjoyed. Derrell Bradford's "personal story" has nothing to do with his preferred policies.
Bradford's service on [Gov. Christie's teacher evaluation] task force produced a disaster of a report, which led to a disaster of a teacher evaluation scheme (AchieveNJ, aka Operation Hindenburg). But it also opened up new possibilities in reformy advocacy -- for Bradford, that is. When the Christie administration needed someone to serve on the secret charter school review panels of 2010, they called Bradford. When they needed someone to take a cheap swipe at then-NJEA President Barbara Keshishian, they called Bradford:
(My note: The video originally embedded in Jazzman's post is no longer visible. It now looks like this:)

Hmmm... is someone cleaning up their image? I do hope so because in this video, he is quoted as saying this about then NJEA President Barbara Keshishian:
I go up against the president of the teachers union in New Jersey all the time, right? She's got a bad haircut and terrible fashion, right? 

Way to keep it classy. 

Who is really listening?

So, when Bradford said this to me:

I let him know who I listen to:
  • The students who have been denied choice because they didn't win the charter school lottery
  • The students who've been denied their choice of school in the disastrous One Newark enrollment plan
  • The outraged parents whose children are sent to schools all over Newark also as a result of One Newark
  • The parents in NJ's state-controlled school districts who've been denied choice because they have no say in how their local school district is run
  • The students who've marched in the streets to protest the closing of their school of choice: their neighborhood school
  • The voters of Newark who overwhelmingly elected an educator as their mayor as part of a city-wide referendum against the Christie, Cami, Cerf, Hespe education 'reform' blitzkrieg
These people have been denied choice and voice in a democracy and that is somehow something to be celebrated? That is good for all students? That will ensure all students are magically lifted up out of poverty even though the 'reform' agenda starves public schools, and will never, ever provide students with the choice to attend an elite private school such as the one Bradford attended?

And as for the 'privileged power structure' comment, what exactly does he mean? I don't have billionaires at my beck and call throwing me money to set up shop whenever and wherever. I don't have direct lines of communication with the governor that will ensure I get a seat on panels and committees that help shape education policy. And I'd sure like to compare our paystubs because I have a feeling his has a few more zeros and commas than mine.

Sit down and shut up

But what really got to me was this:

It's the epitome of the 'reform' industry's opinion of education professionals: We don't care how many degrees or years of experience you have, just sit down and shut up because we (with little to no education experience) know what's best for kids. And as for that 'choice' thingy that suburban kids have so much of? The majority of students in wealthier suburbs choose to attend their local public school. So, why are so many students in our state controlled districts being denied that choice?

And people wonder why I use SHOUTY CAPITALS and bold, italic, underlined text in my posts. Oy!

I freely admit I don't know what it's like to attend a school where the overwhelming majority of students suffer the effects of poverty. I don't know what it's like to live in a neighborhood that is unsafe; where I couldn't go outside to play; where violence is a frequent occurrance. I don't know what it's like to be born with a skin color that automatically puts me at a disadvantage. 

But here's what I do know: 

I know what it's like to be homeless, to go to school hungry, to steal food because there was none in the house, to not have proper clothing to wear or medical intervention, to not have parental support and supervision, to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to attempt suicide, to experience abuse and neglect, to go home to a war zone every day, to go to sleep at night and wonder if I'd even wake up the next day. While my family wasn't poor on paper, it was very dysfunctional. My father earned a good living but squandered it on his addiction. 

I know what it's like to go to a strict, regimented Catholic school where drill and kill were all we knew. Where art, music and PE were non-existent and recess was withheld as punishment. Where kids were hit, slapped, locked in closets and put in garbage cans in the name of discipline. Where class sizes often topped out at 35, 40 and even 50 students. Where there were no special education, minority or ESL students, and those who didn't toe the line were there one day and gone the next. I didn't know which was worse: home or school. But for whatever reason, my sisters and I were blessed with academic minds. We all excelled at school, we are all artists and teachers, and we all have numerous scars from the work we did to heal the wounds that threatened to consume us. 

So, while I may not know how it feels to be a high-achieving student (which I assume Bradford was), possibly living in a dangerous neighborhood and attending a school where the majority of his classmates suffer the debilitating effects of poverty, I have my own history, my own hole that I had to crawl up out of, that has profoundly shaped my views on public education. And unless education 'reformers' have a recipe to address all the baggage that many students in their target districts carry with them to school every day, their efforts will never, ever succeed. 

Bradford, my sisters and I made it. We are the success stories. But we are in the minority. Not every person has the ability to pull themselves up out of debilitating situations. Not every person has the mental and emotional strength to keep pushing forward despite seemingly insurmountable odds; to never give up. So when those kids don't win the golden ticket that gets them a seat in the latest miracle charter school, they damned well better have an excellent public school to fall back on. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case. The students who are left behind in the name of 'choice' simply become collateral damage as the 'reform' machine marches on.

So, when Bradford accuses me of being part of a 'privileged power structure', I have to laugh because I prefer to stand with the people who are standing up and fighting back because they have been denied the right to choose their neighborhood public school because—ironically—people like him choose to impose their 'power structure' on them.

If that makes me 'privileged' then so be it. I guess the only 'privilege' we have is that our freedom of speech hasn't been taken away—yet.