Sunday, October 25, 2015

@DmitriMehlhorn who's really being uncivil in the ed 'reform' debate?

Venus, Jupiter and Mars weren't the only planets aligning in the sky this month. For the past couple of weeks, Jersey Jazzman has been engaged in a debate on the merits of charter schools with Dmitri Mehlhorn, venture capitalist, education 'reform' blogger and co-founder of Michelle Rhee's ed 'reform' lobbying group StudentsFirst. 

Last week, former news anchor turned education 'reformer', Campbell Brown posted a piece on her ed 'reform' website, The Seventy Four, in support of Britain PM David Cameron's call to end public education in his country titled, Britain's Education Reboot And Why America Needs A David Cameron. Brown's husband is on the board of StudentsFirst. She is a vocal opponent of public education, tenure and teachers unions, and accuses them of coercing suburban parents into opting out of CCSS-driven standardized tests even though the opt-out movement was started by parents. Then Jeff Bryant wrote this scathing piece in Salon about how dangerously out of touch Brown and the ed 'reform' movement in general are about labor unions.
My colleague Dave Johnson at the Campaign for America’s Future recently came across a new study conducted for the Center for American Progress, which found in places where union membership is higher, low-income children, in particular, benefit from “economic mobility” and “intergenerational mobility.” In plain English, this means union strength correlated with low-income children being more apt to rise higher in the income rankings — and for their children in turn to be better off. 
Reporters at the New York Times looked at the study as well and noted, “There aren’t many other factors that are as strongly correlated with mobility” as the presence of unions. “A 10-percentage-point increase in the rate of unionization in an area coincided with a rise of an additional 1.3 points on the income distribution as the average child becomes an adult,” they wrote. 
Combating unions is not only a strategy unlikely to result in good outcomes for low-income kids, it also seems completely out of step with the political zeitgeist of the times.

So, when Brown tweeted out her post about Cameron and privatizing America's public schools, I tweeted this meme:

And I've continued to do so every day since. I don't have billionaire backers to finance and spread my message the way Brown does, but I do have social media. 

So, after one of my tweets, Dmitri responded with this, which Brown 'liked':

I read Mehlhorn's link. You should, too. There are some contradictions in there that had me scratching my head. But this quote in particular stuck out:
If we want a civil debate, we should first and foremost strive to be civil.
He uses the example of Vladimir Putin's ruse of pacifism and civility to justify his invasion of the Ukraine, then goes on to say that "in education policy, although some genuinely seek productive discourse, calls for civility often serve as cover for nasty personal attacks."

And that's where his hypothesis derails. He immediately attacks Diane Ravitch for being uncivil:
While Ravitch was attacking Rhee for lack of civility, she was receiving financial payments from the teachers unions that were funding a secret campaign to personally demonize Michelle Rhee.
Those financial payments are speaking fees, no doubt the same ones that Michelle Rhee and Campbell Brown receive when they speak in front of education 'reform' groups who attack public education on a daily basis. But I never hear either woman publicly denouncing the vilification of public school teachers that they regularly pump out.

Personally, I knew nothing about that website until I read his post. And I certainly can't speak to whether or not Diane knew about it. That said, if in fact AFT did create a website that mocked Michelle Rhee, then shame on them. That's a low blow. Shame on NJEA members who mock Gov. Christie for his weight. Shame on any education professional who puts personalities before principles. But, Dmitri, you must admit, there's plenty of uncivil behavior to go around. Do I need to recount all the horrible things Gov. Christie has said about teachers? Look at this picture. Is this a man with whom educators could sit down and have a 'conversation'? 

"I am tired of you people."

How about Campbell Brown's outlandish accusation that the New York City teacher's union harbors sexual predators? What about the NRA blaming teachers for the Newtown massacre because they weren't carrying guns? Are you aware that while he was working for then NYC Schools Chancellor, Rupert Murdoch, former NJ Education Commissioner and current Newark Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf was spying on Diane Ravitch and Parents Across America founder and education activist, Leonie Haimson? Don't you think it's uncivil to blame tenure for 'failing schools' as Campbell Brown does, despite the fact that some of the nation's leading legal scholars find no basis in that claim, nor have there been any long-term studies to support it? Don't you think it's just a tad disingenuous when newspaper reporters and editorial writers don't even bother to do their homework about education policy, relying instead on baseless talking points from 'reformers' to spread their propaganda? Don't you find it mind boggling that there is a mountain of research like this showing how poverty affects children's brain development and their ability to learn, and yet it is summarily dismissed by education 'reformers' and elected officials on both sides of the aisle who do nothing but hold teachers responsible? Don't you find it hypocritical that Governors like Scott Walker, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Rick Scott and Rick Snyder—to name just a few—have done all they can to destroy labor unions in the name of helping the middle class despite the fact that strong labor unions help lift low income earners out of poverty, and provide the middle class with more financial stability? Don't you find it downright mean and cruel that Michelle Rhee fired an educator with cameras rolling? How would you feel if you were an educator and you saw this? 

The woman in this picture does not want to have a 'civil conversation' about 'fixing' America's schools. Any third grader looking at this as a writing prompt could figure that out. I'm sorry, I know she's your friend, but can you walk a mile in my shoes for a minute and see how this image sends the wrong message?

I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. These are attacks, plain and simple. They are not 'conversations' and they certainly are not 'civil'. They are not even debates. If education 'reformers' such as you think you unequivocally know what will 'fix' education, why not sit down to a 3-hour debate on national television with leading education experts? I would pay good money to be in the audience for that! Unfortunately, I doubt that will ever happen because the facts are on our side. But Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton Foundation, ALEC, StudentsFirst and many other anti-public education 'non profits' have boatloads of money which is used to buy up the media and politicians, and thus control the message. 

And if you think I'm off my rocker, then please tell me why organizations like the Broad Foundation are pouring millions of dollars into local board of education races in states all across this country? 

No, there was never any plan to have any type of civil discourse. Bill Gates simply showed up at America's public school doorsteps and declared, "This is what I'm doing because I believe it will work." He never sat down with educators to hear our expert views on education in America. He has treated public education as another novelty on which he can focus his vast wealth. He manipulates it, shapes it and molds it to his liking, then moves on when he tires of it. We're not real to him; we're just his lab rats scurrying through his mazes, unwillingly helping to carry out his grand scheme to turn public education into a system to which he would never send his own children. No, his children, along with many other 'reformer' children, are educated in elite private schools that would never stand for this nonsense. Education 'reform' isn't for his children; it's for everyone else.  

Now, I know what you're thinking: See? That's just what I'm talking about. You're not being civil; you're attacking. But we've tried—really, really tried to no avail. Anthony Cody, bless his heart, is still the most civil educator out there debunking 'reform'. He tried to engage Bill Gates and members of the Gates Foundation in civil discourse about ed 'reform'. He even wrote a book about it: The Educator and The Oligarch. But not all of us are blessed with his time and patience. And when somebody is standing over you kicking you repeatedly in the gut and blaming you for starting the fight, it's really hard to be civil. When a billionaire tells an oncologist she's got to treat her patients with cotton candy because he believes that's the cure (and said billionaire coincidentally owns a cotton candy factory), would you blame the oncologist if she acted just the teeniest bit incredulous?

There are a lot of people in this country who have lined up to grab their piece of the $700 billion public education pie. But those people have already eaten their way through the entire bakery— banking, real estate, the military, prisons, healthcare—and left the rest of us scrambling for crumbs. The only thing left is public education. And most teachers are just too nice, too polite to fight back. As for the rest? Well, some think that if they bog us down with so much extra, meaningless work, we won't have time to fight. But that's backfiring.

So, excuse me if I'm not polite. Excuse me if I don't know my place. Excuse me if I don't genuflect at the altars of the super rich and powerful who have brought this country to its knees with greed and selfishness as they plow through one economic sector after another leaving a wake of death and destruction as they toss aside the foundations of our democracy like over-indulged children at Toys-R-Us hell-bent on the next immediate gratification.

I am not becoming a better teacher because of the Common Core, Race to the Top, standardized testing, defunding of public schools, the expansion of charter schools, and the demonizing of my profession. I am working longer, harder and getting less results and personal satisfaction from the work I do. But I am becoming stronger. And every educator who becomes stronger, empowers others to become stronger, too. 

So, if you don't like my snark, I'm sorry, but as the saying goes, "You don't bring a knife to a gunfight."

So, in answer to your question: 'Has Ravitch said anything else we need to keep in mind?" Yes. Here's a sampling:

Poverty is the greatest handicap to the academic performance of students today, not “bad teachers.” 
The problem with turning public education over to the private sector is that they don't know anything about education. 
American Education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, for it threatens to destroy public education. Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so? 
We are now reducing corporate taxes, reducing taxes on the richest people in this country and cutting the budget of public education. This is crazy. 
Bill Gates is wrong. American education is not 'broken'. Federal education policy is broken. Testing children until they cry is a bad idea. It is educational malpractice. 
Can teachers successfully educate children to think for themselves if teachers are not treated as professionals who think for themselves? 
Our schools will not improve if we value only what tests measure. The tests we have now provide useful information about students' progress in reading and mathematics, but they cannot measure what matters most in education....What is tested may ultimately be less important that what is untested... 
Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction. Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators, and closing schools.

Oh, and fyi... parents are more powerful than educators. Remember, the Opt-Out movement was not started by the teachers unions. It was started by all those white suburban moms Arne Duncan accused of daring to have an opinion about their child's public education. Hell hath no fury like a mother of an over-tested child.