Monday, December 14, 2015

In remembrance of Newtown: Schools are becoming prisons

December 14th marks the three year anniversary of the terrorist attack at
Sandy Hook Elementary School, and nothing has been done to prevent it
from happening again.

If you follow me regularly, you know that every week I update (when necessary) and post this piece as a protest/plea to President Obama and officials anywhere and everywhere to stop gun violence. But as we've seen far too many times—most recently in San Bernadino—this country is run by the NRA, and until that changes, the massacres and bloodshed will only continue.

Next to public education, gun violence is an issue about which I care deeply and passionately. It started with Sandy Hook. I was eating my lunch at my desk and catching up on the news, when I heard about it. I shared my experience in an open letter to America's elected officials
I stood in the hallway of my K-4 school and said to a coworker, "Did you hear? There was another shooting—at an elementary school. They shot kindergarteners." I remember looking at the little ones who were passing us on their way to class and thinking, it could have been them; it could have been us.
Nothing has changed since then. The terrorist attacks continue; the empty rhetoric from the NRA and the politicians they've bought continues; and so do the prayer vigils. 

While elected officials everywhere refuse to act, our schools are becoming prisons. They have to, because we never know when and where the next terrorist attack will occur. Instead of spending money on educating our students, school districts are now forced to spend far too much upgrading school entrances, fitting them with more security cameras and equipment, including bullet-proof glass. 

No longer do we only have fire drills, we now have lock down drills, where kids practice hiding from terrorist invasions. A far cry from the 1950's 'duck and cover' drills against nameless, faceless Communists who were thousands of miles away. We now have to hide from people who could be our neighbors: that strange guy, that angry teenager.

Classroom doors in many districts must now remain closed and locked at all times. And that's so much fun in the warm weather when there's no air conditioning. Staff must use a key to lock and unlock every door in the building, even storage closets and copy rooms.

Many districts now have high-tech devices that scan the drivers license of every visitor. And police regularly walk the halls.

All this does not make me feel safer. Quite the contrary, I feel less safe because it reminds me we live in a very violent society. We have to do all this because some nut job with a gun could force his way into my school at any moment and blow us all away. We have to do this because a powerful minority is holding this country hostage just so their members have the 'right' to own WMDs. I'm sorry, I didn't sign up to be a prison guard, and my students aren't prisoners. But that's what it's become because elected officials are too afraid of losing all that NRA PAC money and possibly losing their next election.

After the terrorist attack in San Bernadino, The NY Daily News posted this front page headline that quickly went viral:

It reminded me of the joke about the guy who is in his house praying to God to save him as the flood waters are rising: 
A police vehicle arrives and offers to help him evacuate. "No", he says, "God is going to save me." Then as the waters rise, a rescue boat arrives. Again, he refuses to go because God is going to save him. Then the flood waters rise some more, and he moves up to the roof. A helicopter arrives and again he refuses help because God is going to save him. Finally his house is submerged. He's floundering in the flood waters and angrily shouting to God. "Why didn't you save me?!" To which God replies, "What more do you want? I sent the police, a boat and a helicopter, and you wouldn't go!"
We don't need to pray to God to fix this. We already have the power to do so. All it will take is for elected officials to stand up and do something about it. The second amendment says: 
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The key words are "well regulated". Right now in the United States, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" is more important than the right of the people to live. And it is not well regulated.

Time for elected officials to come out of hiding and do their damned job!

"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything."
~ Albert Einstein

The Star Ledger's double standard on organized labor

Yesterday's Star Ledger editorial page is a case study in the double standards it applies to organized labor. On the one hand, they make an impassioned and completely justified plea in support of the unsustainable wages earned by SEIU 32BJ's 7,000 custodians and janitors who are fighting for a $15 minimum wage; while on the other, they excoriate Sen. Sweeney for pushing for a constitutional amendment to fund NJ's anemic pension system, and as usual, beat the war drums for public employees to pay more for less. 

But this is nothing new. The S-L editorial board, led by Tom Moran, has a long history of union bashing—especially teachers. Just search this blog or Jersey Jazzman's for a list of Moran's rants. Who knows why he hates us and loves others. And now that Sen. Sweeney has proposed the amendment that would require quarterly pension payments, Moran is at it again, spinning his ill-informed, teacher-hating rhetoric to unsuspecting readers:
But public workers continue to receive health benefits that are far more generous than those enjoyed by the typical taxpayers. The cost is about 50 percent more than the average plan in the private sector, according to Tom Byrne, a former Democratic state chairman and member of the governor's bipartisan reform commission.
First, I beg to differ on those generous benefits. The days of 'Cadillac' benefits are long gone thanks to Chr. 78 (more on this below). Second, does anyone else see the subtle fracturing here? The blaming and shaming of middle class workers? The pitting of public vs. private sector? The brainwashing of the general public that the financial crisis would go away if only we could get rid of those pesky, greedy unions? 

Those in power, including Moran, have done an admirable job of convincing private sector, middle class workers into thinking that labor is the problem, when instead, labor is the solution. If more middle and working class people belonged to unions, wages, benefits, workplace safety and morale would be up, and so would the economy (more on this below). The middle class was built on labor, and the glory days of the middle class in the mid 20th Century are a perfect example. 

But Gov. Christie and other anti-union leaders, corporate heads and the newspapers they control have done an admirable job of convincing the general public that labor is the problem. The message goes something like this:
How dare you want. How dare you expect anything more than what we elected officials and corporate heads feel you deserve. How dare you expect us to sacrifice when we are so important and—well—wealthy? 
We are the job creators. We can't sacrifice anything because we provide you with your ever increasing workloads and ever decreasing salaries and benefits job, and you should be grateful. After all, times are tough, and we all have to "share the sacrifice". (Notice how you never hear that phrase anymore. Could it be because the only people who were sacrificing realized they were also the ones getting screwed?)
We're sorry we have to screw you cut your compensation, ship jobs overseas and lay off employees, but those greedy unions have negotiated contracts just want more and more, and we would have to take less in salaries and bonuses can't afford that. So, we're hoping that if we cut your compensation enough you will speak out against their greed and selfishness so no one notices that new yacht we just purchased because they are destroying NJ. 

Now, about those benefits: if they are so 'generous', then why did NJ Spotlight report this last year?
Today, however, while the cost of New Jersey public employee health insurance coverage remains the third-highest in the nation, most New Jersey public employees are paying more than the national average for state government workers toward their health insurance costs, an NJ Spotlight analysis shows. 
In fact, the average New Jersey government employee is paying more for individual health insurance coverage than government workers in any other state and the 10th-highest average premium for family coverage in the country.Further, state and local government workers are paying a much higher percentage of the cost of their individual health insurance policies than private-sector employees in New Jersey have been paying, and not much less than the percentage paid by the state’s private-sector workers for family coverage. 
The health benefit payment schedule set by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) as part of the controversial 2011 pension and health benefits overhaul established a complex premium-sharing formula based on “ability to pay” that is the most progressive in the nation — one that ranges from a low of 3 percent of premium cost for those earning under $25,000 to a high of 35 percent of premium for those making over $110,000 for family coverage. 
“Public employees are paying more for their health insurance in New Jersey than in most other states, but we made sure that the premium schedule is based on ability to pay. That’s important going forward,” Sweeney said in a comment aimed squarely at Christie’s pension and health benefits panel. (all emphasis mine)
And don't think for one minute that we're paying more because we're getting more. Far from it. Labor has had to give back a lot over the past 5 years. Co-pays, premiums and deductibles are up, and services are down. I can put you in touch with many public employees who are in the same boat as private sector workers—paying more and getting less. Sinking all ships instead of raising all boats makes everyone drown. 

Moran continues...
The problem with Sweeney's amendment is that he answers the key demand of the unions – to fully fund the pensions – without asking for cuts in health spending in return. 
Why should public employees—and all middle and working class families for that matter—have to sacrifice to the point of unsustainable living while America's 1% is making more now than at any other time since the Great Depression? Why isn't anyone questioning the near loan shark tactics of health insurance companies that jack up premiums by double digits seemingly overnight? Why has this country not yet moved to a true universal healthcare system so that everyone has access to quality, affordable healthcare? (Yea, I know... I know... that's a convo for another day) How much more can public employees—and all workers for that matter—sacrifice and still pay our bills? How much more can we be forced to give back while Gov. Christie gives billions in tax cuts to corporations? How much more can we do without before it becomes impossible for us to do our jobs? Why should public employees, the majority of whom have seen a net decrease in take home pay, give back one more penny while Christie refuses to keep his end of the deal, opting instead to give his Wall St. buddies/GOP donors huge bonuses for their lackluster returns on our deferred compensation? 

None of this is the fault of public employees, who built the middle class, yet we are blamed by people like Moran who have a hidden agenda and either don't know or are in denial about all the facts. 

But this hypocrisy is nothing new. In Jersey Jazzman's latest he reminds us of the S-Ls bizarre-o endorsement—and later retraction— of Christie for governor in 2013, and eviscerates Moran for criticizing The New Hampshire Union Leader for its recent endorsement of Christie:

Tom Moran ignored Chris Christie's many, many failings and endorsed him for reelection as governor for one reason: Christie was willing to go to war with the New Jersey Education Association. In Moran's bizarre world, Christie's jihad against the teachers union was more important than solving the pension problem, or adequately managing Sandy relief, or keeping the state's credit rating up.
Tom Moran is the most shameless type of hypocrite imaginable. He looks down his nose at another newspaper for ignoring the facts about Chris Christie — the same facts Moran ignored just so he could stick it to teachers and their union. 
Look, as a registered Democrat and proud union member, I was incensed when Sweeney and other Trenton Democrats sold us down the river on the Pen-Ben deal. They turned their backs on the core values of our party and those for whom they are supposed to fight. But, I'm not going to sit here and rehash that, especially when the clock is ticking on the pension fund time bomb (see my countdown clock at the top of this page). The fact is that Sweeney is taking steps today to fix this mess by ensuring that the state finally does what it promised. Are there political aspirations tied to it? Probably. But, it's a helluva lot more than Christie ever had any intentions of doing.

With corporate money now controlling virtually every aspect of American life, it's only natural for the news media to spin tales of union greed as the downfall of civilization, when in fact, that downfall is being caused by corporate greed. Robert Reich's documentary film, Inequality for All lays it all out in devastatingly simple language and stresses the importance of organized labor as a key to building a strong middle class. Here's the trailer:

Everyone should watch this film. 

Public employees are not the cause of this financial crisis. Instead of sinking all ships, Trenton should be trying to lift all boats—both public and private. If unions die, so does the middle class. We are the last vestiges of a workforce that can stand up to corporate greed, and fight for fair wages, benefits and working conditions—for everyone—because as go the unions, so goes the middle class. But private sector workers have been turned against us by the likes of Moran and the S-L editorial board who spew hateful and derisive rhetoric. 

Millionaires are not fleeing NJ in droves. On the contrary, they are the only ones who can really afford to live here comfortably. NJ is home to over 600,000 public employees who contribute to local, county and state economies every day. But, unless the pension system is fixed—without any more public employee sacrifice—many middle class people will be forced to leave because we are the ones who can't afford it. But that's an inconvenient truth Moran is all too happy to avoid.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Is the NJDOE protecting Gov. Christie's POTUS run?

As those of us in NJ know, Gov. Christie will do anything and everything to side with the prevailing right-wing opinion-of-the-day. So, with his poll numbers in the toilet—not only for his job as governor, but for his POTUS run—is he pulling out all the stops to ensure he protects his image as an ed 'reformer' on the national stage?  

The front page of today's Star Ledger contains an article on NJs PARCC opt-out rates. The state has been less than forthcoming on releasing the numbers despite the fact that Colorado did so last month. 
And we still don't have that all-important data that's supposed to prep students for the March PARCC test "drive instruction" and magically make every single student "college and career ready" (whatever that means). 

The state DOE estimates that 15% of high school juniors, 7% of freshmen, and 4.6% of students in grades 3-8 refused to take the test. But based on anecdotal reporting and comparing '14-'15 enrollment numbers to the actual number of tests completed, NJEA and Save Our Schools NJ put those numbers at around 110,000—the second highest opt-out number in the nation in our first year of testing. New York was number one with 240,000.

But there is absolutely no reason for the delay. The state has the data. So, why have they not released it? Save Our Schools NJ speculates
Could they be protecting Governor Christie's presidential campaign from the embarrassment of NJ having the second highest opt out rates in the country?
Remember, Christie gave an $82.5 million tax break to Pearson to stay in NJ. What else was promised? Big participation numbers? Who knows? But numbers like that will surely put a chill on all those high-powered cocktail parties, fundraisers and glad-handing. And we can't have that now, can we? With only 12 states left in the consortium, and an estimated 500,000 students across the country refusing the PARCC last year, Pearson needs all the help it can get. And with his POTUS campaign verging on life support, so does Christie.  

As Save Our Schools NJs, Julia Sass Rubin stated in the article:
There is no reason why we should all be speculating. They should just put it all out there. They clearly have the data. The people have a right to know this.
Also quoted in the article was Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest:
The notion that (New Jersey) can't put out data until January of 2016 for a test that was administered in early spring of 2015 is ludicrous.
For those of you who are old enough to remember:

Monday, November 30, 2015

NJ Legislature looks at full day K this week

Camden resident and public education activist, Sue Altman, is guest posting today to call attention to an important bill up for a vote this week in the NJ Assembly:

Two important education related bills are up for floor votes in the NJ State Assembly this week. One bill will establish a task force to look at whether full day K should be mandated statewide

Is full day Kindergarten a good thing? On one hand, some parents say that not all little ones can handle being in school for a full, seven-hour day, and they would rather provide enrichment on their own; on the other hand, there are many families who might want and need full day school as soon as possible.

And, importantly, there are worries from parents and others that the mandatory kindergarten would just turn into hours upon hours of sedentary test prep and heavy academic work for our littlest, wiggliest students, who should be spending their days outside, playing and exploring the world. Test prep for little kids is an absolutely terrible thought— surely there is no test prep in kindergarten… right?

Sadly, there is. Given the stakes attached to tests in later grades, it is unsurprising the test prep starts early. The following is an excerpt from a public testimony submitted by Ms. Phyllis Doerr, a Kindergarten teacher in Newark, NJ, from the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey.

The antics of the little ones in her class are at once a testament to the wonderful imaginations of 5-year olds, but also a sad illustration of why high-stakes testing affects all students, even when testing is not done in the grade itself. In New Jersey, there is a moratorium on grade span testing in grades K-2, but the long shadow of testing still hangs over those students. Who can blame the schools or the teacher for teaching to the test? These are predictable effects of focusing on this kind of narrow definition of educational attainment. If our education system is based on standardized testing outcomes, we will continue to see test prep infused into every nook and cranny of K-12.

Have you ever known a kindergartner? They are curious, silly, adorable, with a brilliant imagination. Why would we force them to practice ridiculous tests that conform to our weird, "rational," adult-view of the world? Why are we making the worst part of education (tests) the focal point of our whole system?

In another universe, I'd support full-day kindergarten. But in an era of scant recess, little play, no free time, and high-stakes testing, I worry that full day Kindergarten is excessive academic test-prep in disguise. I hope I'm wrong. At the very least the task force should contain a heavy dose of parents with small children.

From Phyllis Doerr:

In the Kindergarten grade level at my school we do not administer standardized tests. However, hours and hours of tests are included in our math and language arts curriculum. In order to pain a realistic picture of the stress, damaging effects and colossal waste of time caused by testing in kindergarten, allow me to bring you to my classroom for our first test prep session in late September... 
The test for which I was preparing my students was vocabulary. I say a word that we had learned in our Nursery Rhyme unit. Then, I read a sentence containing that word. If the sentence made sense and the word was used correctly, the student would circle the smiley face. If the word was used incorrectly, they should circle the frown. This task requires abstract thinking, a skill that kindergartners have not yet developed and this is a foundational problem for this type of test. 
My first sample vocabulary challenge as we began our practice test was the word "market" from the nursery rhyme "To Market, To Market." After explaining the set up of the test, I begin. "The word is market," I announced. 
One boy answered, "I like oranges!" 
"Okay, Luke is on the right track. Who can add to that?" 
"I like apples. I get them at the store." We're moving in, closer and closer. A third child says, "It's where you go and get lots of things." 
"Yes! What kinds of things?" 
"Different stuff." 
Another student chimes in: "We can get oranges and apples and other types of food at the market." 
"Excellent! Everyone understand market?" A few nod. 
"Now I will give you a sentence with the word 'market' in it. If the sentence makes sense, you will circle the smiley face, but if it is a silly sentence, and it doesn't make sense, you circle the frown." A hand goes up. 
"Mrs. Doerr, what's a frown?" I explain what a frown is. 
Next, I read the sentence: "'I like to play basketball at the market.' Now does that sentence make sense?"
The students who are not twisting around backwards in their chairs or staring at a thread they've picked off their uniform nod their heads. 
"Guys, listen. I'll tell you the sentence again: 'I like to play basketball at the market.' Does that make sense? Remember we said a market is where we shop for food." 
A hand goes up. Terrell says, "I like soccer!" 
"Okay, Terrell, that's great! But did I use the word 'market' correctly in that sentence?" 
"I don't know." 
Another hand. "Yes, Ariana? What do you think?" 
"My dad took me to a soccer game. He plays soccer!" 
"Thank you for sharing that, Ariana." She picked up something from the sentence and made what seems to be, but is not, a random connection. "Girls and boys, look at me and listen. I want you to really think about this. Would you go to a market to play basketball?" 
At this point everybody seems to wake up. Finally I was getting somewhere! 
"YES!!!" They cried out in unison. 
Of course!! It would be a total blast to play basketball at the market! 
So here we find another problem with this vocabulary test: a 5-6 year old's imagination. A statement that uses a word incorrectly sounds okay to a child whose imagination is not limited by reality. It is the same reason Santa and the Tooth Fairy are so real to kindergarteners-- unencumbered imagination.... 
Next, I tested a second group that I knew would have more difficulty. During testing, I walked around to see that a few students had nothing written on their papers, one had circle every face on the whole page, another had just circled all the smileys, and one, a very bright little girl, had her head down on her arms. I tapped her and said, "Come on, you need to circle one of the faces for number 5." She lifted her head and looked up at me. Tears streamed down her face. I crouched down next to her. "What's wrong, honey?" 
"Mrs. Doerr, I'm tired," she cried. "I want my mommy." 
It was a moment I will never forget. I took her test and said, "Would you like a nice comfy pillow so you can take a rest?" She nodded. I exchanged her paper for a pillow.

Ms. Doerr's entire testimony was published this summer in the Washington Post.

Sue Altman is a proud graduate of NJ public schools. She attended Columbia University, received a dual degree from the University of Oxford, UK in International and Comparative Education and a Master’s in Business Administration. She also worked in independent schools for six years as a teacher and administrator. Originally from Hunterdon County, NJ, Sue currently resides in Camden, NJ.

Note: To contact your state legislator, click on the link on the right side of this page and find your legislative district. Be sure to call!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hey NJ! #EdReform Big Brother is watching your kids!

I'm coming for your kids' data.
The first time I heard then NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf speak at the NJEA Convention he spoke about all the student data the state was collecting. He was giddy with excitement over it; frothing over how it will 'transform' education... Into what exactly? My first thoughts were that Big Brother had indeed landed. 

So, where is all this fabulousness and wonderfulness that Cerf and other 'reformers' literally drool over? Because the only 'transformations' I've seen are the vast numbers of students refusing to take the PARCC and SBAC, massive public school closings, the expansion of segregationist charter schools, and the beaucoup bucks 'reformers', for-profit education services companies and 'non-profit' charter operators are raking in as a result.

But this is how America operates. We're a capitalist society. Money—not people—runs this country. And those with a lot of it and who want more of it have finally managed to crack the code of the last hold out against corporate takeover: public education. And they've got their sites (sic) set on our kids.

Right now it's being used to evaluate students, teachers and schools. It's also an ad hominem judgment on communities of low income and color. But who knows what the future will bring and how this data will be used? It's one thing for the government to have my child's social security and driver's license numbers. It's quite another for them to have her entire educational history at their disposal to use as a marketing tool so education companies can ply their wares. What other data will the government then try to collect? And of course, what proof do they have that any of this is valid?

So, what can you do? Well, thanks to the efforts of Leonie Haimson and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, you can send this letter to the NJ Department of Education:

To whom it may concern: 

I am the parent and legal guardian of (full name of child), currently (x ) years of age. 

My child attended x school in grades K-x (during what years); x school in grades x-y, (during what years) and x high school (during what years) in [what] school district.
Please provide me with whatever personally identifiable information (PII) that the State Education Department has collected on my child and which of this information is included in the state’s student longitudinal database, including any and all information in the database that has been contributed by other state agencies. 

To access this information, and challenge it if it is incorrect is every parent’s right under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99), and the state cannot charge me a fee for accessing it. 

This was confirmed by Dale King, Director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office, in a letter he wrote to the Nevada Education Department on July 28, 2014: 

….educational agencies and institutions, as well as SEAs [State educational agencies] may not charge a fee for search and retrieval of education records. See § 99.ll(b) 

I also demand a list of any and all third parties, and/or governmental agencies, that have been provided with any of my child's PII, which elements of PII they have received, and under what privacy and security agreements these disclosures were made. 

Finally, I would like to know what governmental, citizen or advisory board exists to oversee the collection, use, distribution and eventual destruction of my child’s PII data, and their members. 

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

The letter should be submitted to the NJ Department of Education by clicking here. S
elect Education, then Chief of Staff. Fill out the requested information at the top, cut and paste the letter in the space at the bottom including your child's information. Although these requests are free, write $1 under payment information, which is the maximum authorized cost. Without an entry in that space, the form won't allow you to submit.

You can submit as many forms as necessary to obtain this information about all of your children.

Keep a copy of what you submitted.

NJDOE must respond within seven days.

Please email and let them know what you find out.

Thank you to Save Our Schools NJ organizer, Christine McGoey, for sharing this valuable information!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

An important message for all @NJEA members

Dear Fellow NJEA Members,

I'm pleased to formally announce today that I'm running for NJEA Secretary-Treasurer. The election is in April, 2017. Having to reach members from High Point to Cape May, this race, unlike an assembly race, is a marathon, not a sprint, so it's essential to start early. 

From the moment I stood up to Gov. Christie at a Town Hall Meeting in 2010, I've been fighting for our great public schools, students and education professionals—you! Whether running for state office, testifying before the State Board of Education, blogging about education and social justice issues, speaking to crowds at protest rallies or appearing on national television, I've worked hard to fight the attack on public education. But I want to do more. That's why I'm running for NJEA Secretary Treasurer, and I'm asking for your vote and your support.

My decision to run for state assembly in LD16 in 2011, '12 and '13* was born out of a passion for public education and a committment to fight corporate education 'reform' which is designed for one thing only: to turn neighborhood schools into profit mills - threatening not just our profession, but the ability of every child in New Jersey to receive a thorough and efficient education. I will not sit back and watch that happen to one of the best public education systems in the country—that we built! 

On day one, I will fight for an iron-clad guarantee that the state will fully fund our pensions and return cost of living adjustments to our retired members. I will work to restore the honor and respect we deserve as educated, experienced professionals, ensure fair and equitable funding of our public schools, and eliminate the punitive effects of standardized testing on our students and teachers.

Social justice begins with free, open and accessible public schools for all students. I will fight to stop the educational apartheid that closes schools and marginalizes special education, ELL students and students of color in our poorest communities . I will stand up to the corporate interests that want to privatize our schools, turn our students into test-taking machines, destroy our association and reduce our profession to one of low-wages and high-turnover. 

I will not stop. I won't give up. I won't back down. Send me to NJEA so I can work for you, and together, we can work for our students!

For more information, including ways you can help me help you, please visit my website and like my Facebook page. And of course you can find me on Twitter @mariecorfield.

Thank you for all the work you do to make ours one of the very best public education systems in the country, and thank you for all you do for the children of NJ. 

All my best,

The work we did in '11, '12 and '13 helped pave the way for what looks to be a flip of at least one seat in the district, and move the state one vote closer to a veto-proof majority. As of this writing the NJEA-endorsed challenger Andrew Zwicker leads incumbent Donna Simon by approximately 70 votes. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Newark, 'civility' & ed 'reform'

StudentsFirst co-founder, Dmitri Mehlhorn, has been engaged in a charter school debate with Jersey Jazzman for the past few weeks. As I read one of Mehlhorn's responses, I clicked on a link that led me down an Internet rabbit hole and into my own response to one of his blog posts about civility in the ed 'reform' debate. That led to Mehlhorn's response via a set of tweets. 

It's taken me a while to respond, but I don't believe in coincidence. So it was no coincidence that last week I attended a Newark Advisory Board meeting, which became the perfect starting point for my response. 

This is Part 1.


When people are subjected to years of abuse, they generally respond in one of two ways:

  1. Cower in fear, close up, shut down, go inside
  2. Get loud, aggressive, defiant, act out
The students and parents at the October 26th Newark Advisory Board meeting definitely fell into the second category. Having been under state control for the last 20 years—the last 6 under the unholy triumverate of Christie/Cami/Cerf—they have had little to no say in how their public schools are run. And right now, they're being run into the ground.

Under Gov. Christie, charter school expansion has ballooned and NJ's public school system, one of the most equitably funded in the nation, has been underfunded to the tune of over $7 billion...

Source: Education Law Center

While corporate tax breaks welfare has soared to... guess how much? You got it, over $7 billion! 

Coincidence? I think not.

Newark's school budget has also been hit with a one-two punch: budget cuts and $225 million diverted to charter schools. 

Instead of doing anything to fix poverty—a proven factor in a child's ability to learn— the ed 'reform' zeitgeist says the teachers are to blame, so we should give children who are 'stuck in failing schools' choice, then there will be better educational outcomes for all. Except that's just not the case because choice is not for all; it's only for those who are lucky enough to win the charter school lottery. 

So those in Newark who are being denied the choice of their neighborhood public school have been loud and angry because no one is listening to them. That's what normally happens when one isn't being heard. Whether a one-on-one conversation or a geopolitical debate, when one side isn't being heard, they tend to get louder and louder until FINALLY THEY ARE HEARD! The protest rally before the start of the meeting was one in a long list of actions aimed at being heard. Parents and students who are being denied their choice of a quality education are enraged because, first Cami, and now Cerf is starving them to death. Their schools of choice are, as parent advocate Donna Jackson said, "crumbling, while the charters get all the bells and whistles." How is that choice? How is that good for students? 

The Newark Students Union, which has largely led the revolt against the state-sponsored apartheid, quite literally took over the meeting. After staging a rally outside the venue and marching in under a banner that read "Full Local Control", they rushed the stage and demanded Cerf's resignation. They roused the already charged audience to chants of "Cerf's gotta go!" and stood in front of the stage holding the banner the rest of the night. Spontaneous demonstrations interspersed with pop-up arguments between public and charter school parents left what little control the board had over the proceedings in tatters. 

During the public address portion, parents and students didn't hold back. Why should they? Why should people who've been treated like ants at a picnic sit politely in their seats while being sprayed with Raid 'ed reform'? Why should people who are watching their beloved neighborhood schools being stripped of funds, closed and flipped to charters, their teachers let go, classes and activities cut, buildings left to collapse from neglect while the charters get all the 'shiny new' sit there and take it? 

One speaker after another complained about how disastrous conditions in many of Newark's public schools have become:

One speaker told the board that, because of the complete dysfunction that is One Newark, a third grader is still not enrolled in school. How is this good for all students? How is this 'raising the bar'? How is this more 'rigorous'?

It takes a special kind of cold heartedness to sit and listen to the cries of parents and students and do nothing. Cerf's an expert.

Not one charter school parent complained. Maybe because they are getting the very best the district has to offer. Must be nice if you win the lottery.

The US has chronically underfunded public schools that are mostly in large, urban centers with high concentrations of low-income, minority citizens. What would happen if, instead of policies that bled them, those schools were infused with resources to meet the needs of their students? What would happen if every one of our 'failing' schools suddenly became true community centers that helped not only students, but their parents succeed? What would happen if every mother in those areas had access to high quality prenatal care? What if every parent had access to quality preschool, quality, affordable food and a living wage like so many who live in the mostly white suburbs? Well, maybe those 'failing schools' wouldn't be so 'failing'. But it's a lot more profitable to invest in charter schools than fix any of those other things, so why bother? 

No one writes about Newark like Bob Braun, who summed it up perfectly here and here:

State control of the Newark schools is, well, just plain nuts. Crazy. Lunatic. Insane. A case study in mass hysteria put to the service of politicians who use it to enhance their careers while avoiding their responsibility to children and bureaucrats who can make a good buck pretending the process makes sense. Where else could losers like Chris Cerf and Cami Anderson make $257,000 with bonuses and chauffeured limousines?  
[T]rying to get out of state control is a perfect example of what has come to be known as a Catch-22 and, those of you who already know what a Catch-22 is, know it is insane. This is how the Urban Dictionary defines Catch-22:
“A Catch-22 is a requirement that cannot be met until a prerequisite requirement is met; however, the prerequisite cannot be obtained until the original requirement is met. ” 
The people responsible for [the continued state control of Newark are]–you got it!–STATE APPOINTEES. State appointees led by none other than the weeping weirdo running the show, Christopher Cerf. Cerf is the state appointed superintendent, put in office by the Big Buffoon himself, Chris Christie. The state person actually responsible for this particular requirement is Vanessa Rodriguez, who has her own special title–"Chief Talent Officer.”  The school board has tried more than once to fire Rodriguez and Cerf won’t let it. 
Are you following along? The board can’t get its control back until it does what the state says. But it cannot do what the state says because the state failed to do it in the first place and is insisting on continuing to fail because it is in the best interest of the state and its high-paid appointees to fail but let the board take the blame for the failure. If Cerf continues to fail–as Cami Anderson did before him–then the board continues to be powerless and, because it is powerless, it cannot force Cerf to do anything. 
An endless loop of loopiness. 
Look, face it–it’s just nuts to go along with this Catch-22. It will allow charter schools to take over the Newark public school system and make a lot of money for a lot of people who live in places like Mendham, Montclair, and Glen Ridge. 
That should be obvious. Obvious to any sane person. (emphasis mine)

No one running the Newark school district bothers to listen to the sane people—the ones with the protest banners. Their disruption is in direct response to the disruption that the has been heaped on this city for decades. Their walk-outs, march-ins and protests are in direct response to the cone of silence Cami Anderson erected when she became superintendent. Their rage is an equal and opposite reaction to Anderson's launch of the dysfunctional, disorganized and downright disrespectful One Newark plan that continues on under Chris Cerf. 

Ed 'reformers' don't listen to those who disagree with them

I asked someone near me if this was typical of these meetings. His response, "Yea."

And they call this 'reform'.

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. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Congress, stop the bloodshed NOW!

"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil but by those who watch them without doing anything." 

~ Albert Einstein. 

UPDATE #2: 6.20.16: Since the massacre in Orlando just 8 days ago there have been 9 more mass shootings, most of which have not been reported by the mainstream media.

UPDATE #1: 6.20.16: Click here for the complete list of mass shootings in the US for 2015

UPDATE 12.2.15: Today there was another mass shooting. This time at a developmental center in San Bernadino, CA. At least 14 people dead. See link below.

Since I first posted this piece, there have been two more school shootings and, no doubt, many others that didn't even make the news. That said, I will re-post this piece every time I hear about such an incident. Today, November 1, 2015, I added Colorado Springs.

Unfortunately, there are far too many mass shootings occurring in this country on a seemingly daily basis to update this list myself, so look for 'UPDATES' above with links to the Gun Violence Archive.  

I started writing this post right after the terrorist attack at the Emanual AME Church in Charleston, SC, but then remembered the rhetoric of extreme gun rights advocates that says we shouldn't talk about gun violence in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting because it politicizes a tragic event. So I waited a few weeks to see if any of them would start talking about it. But then there were more mass shootings, so I waited again. It seemed that every time I tried to finish this piece, another shooting occurred, the latest of which happened Thursday in Oregon. So, to hell with it, today I'm talking about gun violence. 


According to data* compiled by Mother Jones Magazine, since 1982

  • 572 people have been killed by mass shooters
  • 510 have been wounded 
  • Of the 70 shooters
    - 55 obtained their gun(s) legally
    - 43 were White
    - 11 were Black
    - 6 were Asian
    - 4 were Latino
    - 3 were Native American
    - 1 was unknown
    - 2 were listed as 'Other'
    42 are listed as having a history of mental illness- 17 have no confirmed history- 11 are listed as 'unclear' or 'unknown'- All but 2 were male

    (Emphasis mine)
    * This data does not include any data from the Oregon shooter going forward)

No matter what social, religious or ethnic classification, be it on US soil or a newspaper office in Paris or an embassy compound in Lebanon, people who commit these acts are terrorists and mentally unstable.

When a tragedy like this occurs, the natural reaction is to find a way to stop it. The simple fact is that if there were no guns, there would be no gun violence. But we have a second amendment, and this nation has many responsible gun owners who should not be denied their rights because of the actions of a few deranged souls. But the reality is the only way to stop this killing is to toughen the requirements for obtaining a gun. If fewer mentally unstable people have access to guns, there will be fewer mass shootings. As John Farmer writes:

Some gun control advocates see hope in something like the Australian approach. The Aussies, stunned by the mass murder of 35 people in a cafĂ© in 1996, took on their gun lobby and won, with detailed background checks, a waiting period for all gun purchases and a program to buy existing guns from private owners. 
The result: The rough-and-ready Aussies have one of world's lowest gun-related death rates. But we're probably too far gone down the gun-loving road for something that comprehensive. 
Mass murder in American is primarily the product of too many guns (300 million), too easily acquired, with too little gun regulation. To deny that is to lie. But it's a lie we seem able to live with.

Unfortunately, he's right. The NRA, one of the most powerful and influential lobbys in the US, pulls out these talking points whenever one of these tragedys occurs: 
  1. Instead of new gun laws, we should be enforcing the many that already exist
  2. We need better mental health laws 
  3. Criminals don't follow laws anyway, so enacting new ones won't change anything
I freely admit I am no expert on the history of gun legislation and enforcement, but I am sick and tired of hearing about innocent people—especially children—being gunned down—especially in school. This must stop. In researching this piece I found some sources that raise a lot of questions and provide a few answers. Read for yourself and decide. 

Let's take these talking points one at a time, shall we?

Instead of new gun laws, we should be enforcing the many that already exist.

Until I actually started digging, I assumed the NRA was just blowing a smoke screen with this one, but it turns out they're right—at least on the second half of that statement. And party politics doesn't seem to matter. Democrats and Republicans alike have been equal opportunity offenders. This piece by CBS's Dick Meyers from 2003 is astonishing. Two years after 9/11, we were here:

Everybody says they favor tough enforcement, they always have. But if it were true, it would have happened.

He presents a lot of disturbing statistics, so please do check out how your tax dollars were not being spent.

Congress and President Obama have failed to properly fund the NRA-supported National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), increased mental health screenings and Project Exile which imposed harsh prison terms for people who committed crimes with a gun. But while the NRA and the White House agreed on those initiatives, the lobbying group dug its heels in when it came to passing common sense legislation that is supported by an overwhelming majority of its members including preventing terrorists on the FBI watch list from purchasing guns, and requiring mandatory background checks.

It seems the only way we can have meaningful change is through executive order. And we all know how well that goes over with right-wing extremists. 

So, if there is common ground, why isn't the NRA leading the charge? Where's the massive ad campaign? Jeeze, it seems every day I see all sorts of TV ads trying to convince me that—among other things—the Iran deal is horrible, Koch Industries is wonderful, and BP cleaned up the Gulf Coast and everything is fine and dandy (except stay away from those 3-headed shrimp). You mean to tell me the NRA can't cough up a few mil to run an ad campaign to put pressure on Congress and the White House to take some action? If they really, truly were interested in being part of the solution, no expense would be spared. After all, they spare no expense when it comes to electing pro-NRA candidates up and down the political ticket.

Which leads me to talking point #2:

We need better mental health laws

Look at these maps. See all that green? That's all the NRA money that's controlling this country. Granted, this is from 2012, but many of these elected officials are still in office. Click here to see just how much money the NRA has donated paid to your present and/or former representatives to represent you prevent the passage of meaningful gun legislation

The House
The Senate
According to the NY Times, more than half the members of the 113th Congress have been given an A rating—and money—by the NRA. Some are Democrats, most are Republicans. How many of these NRA-endorsed representatives are/were also hell-bent on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act? In the past 5 years, the House has voted 55 times to repeal and replace the law, with the latest vote this past February. Here's how they voted by party: 

The NRA and its minions are symptoms of a much larger problem: rampant ignorance. Writing in Psychology Today about the Charleston shooting, David Niose brings the big picture into focus:
In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.  
In considering the senseless loss of nine lives in Charleston, of course racism jumps out as the main issue. But isn’t ignorance at the root of racism? And it’s true that the bloodshed is a reflection of America's violent, gun-crazed culture, but it is only our aversion to reason as a society that has allowed violence to define the culture. Rational public policy, including policies that allow reasonable restraints on gun access, simply isn't possible without an informed, engaged, and rationally thinking public. 
What Americans rarely acknowledge is that many of their social problems are rooted in the rejection of critical thinking ... many Americans seem to honestly believe that their country both invented and perfected the idea of freedom, that the quality of life here far surpasses everywhere else in the world. 
But it doesn’t. International quality of life rankings place America barely in the top ten. America’s rates of murder and other violent crime dwarf most of the rest of the developed world, as does its incarceration rate, while its rates of education and scientific literacy are embarrassingly low. American schools, claiming to uphold “traditional values,” avoid fact-based sex education, and thus we have the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world. And those rates are notably highest where so-called “biblical values” are prominent. Go outside the Bible belt, and the rates generally trend downward. (emphasis mine)
We are becoming imprisoned by our own ignorance, and that ignorance is turning us back on a path headed straight for the Middle Ages. Need proof? Look no further than the Miss America Pagent GOP presidential debates. Many on the far right, including the Republican presidential candidates, are more concerned about what goes on inside a woman's uterus than the pressing issues of the day, including gun violence, which The American College of Physicians designated as an epidemic twenty years ago

Deny people access to quality public education, affordable secondary education, quality, affordable health care, housing, high-paying jobs with opportunities for advancement, and you keep massive numbers of Americans in check, perpetuate the decline of critical thinking and control the message. And this is part of the message:

Criminals don't follow laws anyway, so enacting new ones won't change anything

This argumet is just plain stupid. Let's abolish all laws. Let's abolish prisions, the courts and law enforcment because criminals don't follow laws anyway, so why have them? This argument defies all logic and reasoning and it blows my mind that anyone in this country buys into it.

The time to talk about gun violence is now

I watched Hard Ball with Chris Matthews last night and they aired clips of the GOP candidates' statements on the Oregon shooting:

Donald Trump: "You have very strong laws on the books, but you're always going to have problems. I mean we have millions and millions of... sick people all over the world."

As usual, lacking any real substance.

Marco Rubio: "I always find it interesting that the reflexive reaction of the left is to say we need more gun laws. Criminals don't follow gun laws... and there's just no evidence that these gun laws will prevent these shootings. But it would prevent law abiding people from being able to defend themselves."

Hey Marco, ever hear of a little thing called the Brady Bill
Since February 28, 1994, the Brady law has blocked more than 2.1 million gun purchases, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That is 343 purchases blocked every day. More than one million of those attempted purchases were by felons. Another 291,000 denials were to domestic abusers. And, 118,000 gun sales to fugitives were blocked thanks to background checks. 
“It is clear Brady background checks work. Lives have been saved by the Brady law as we have seen the undeniable evidence showing gun homicides have decreased since the law took effect 20 years ago,” said Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “We need Congress to expand Brady background checks to make it harder for criminals and other dangerous people to get guns online, in classified advertisements or at gun shows.”
Just sayin'.

Carley Fiorino: "One of the first things I think we can do is prosecute those folks who have guns and are not supposed to have guns. So, before we start calling for more laws, I think we ought to consider why we don't enforce the laws we have. I found the president's comments last night premature at best, and at worst, a really unfortunate politicization of this tragedy." (emphasis mine) 

Yea, Carley, you're running for president, so how are your comments not political? 

Mike Huckabee: "What stopped that shooter yesterday? He was continuing to shoot. What stopped him? It was a police officer with what? A conversation? A reading from a book? It was a cop with a gun that stopped him."

Sounds eerily familiar...

Statement made after the Newtown massacre
The police officer who killed the Oregon shooter did nothing wrong. He did his job, he saved lives, he stopped a maniac, he put himself in harm's way in service to others. He is a hero and he deserves enormous thanks and praise. But he committed an act of violence just the same, and that's part of his job. Sometimes violence needs to happen, but it shouldn't be—and isn't—the only way to stop an act of violence. We must stop them before they even start.

Jeb Bush: "We're at a difficult time in our country and I don't think that more government is necessarily the answer to this... Look, stuff happens. There's always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something and it's not necessarily the right thing to do."

Yea, Jeb, "stuff" happens. Realizing, I guess, that his remarks were shockingly lame and out of touch, he later tried to clarify: "Sometimes you're imposing solutions to problems that don't fix the problems and takes away people's liberties and rights. And that's the point I was trying to make."

So, Jeb, when it comes to public education, it's perfectly okay with you to impose solutions to problems that don't fix the problems, but take away people's liberties and rights. But we shouldn't dare try to fix a problem like gun violence, 'cause... well... that might rob some people of their liberties and rights. 

And then there was the voice of reason...

Robert Reich"No other advanced nation has the kind of gun permission and gun laws we do that allow people to go around and basically use guns with no safety checks, no background checks. No other nation does that, and no other nation has the carnage that we do over and over and over again... You have the United States, the outlier, where everyone can get guns basically very, very easily and there's 'shoot 'em up' kind of Wild West every two months, and the rest of the world kind of looks at that and says this is nuts."

Another day, another shooting in America. Meh. As long as those in power can convince the public that this was just a random crazy person, nothing changes. But the real crazy people are those who are controlling this message.

Jon Stewart summed it up best immediately after the AME Church massacre: 

By acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won't do jack sh--.
We invaided 2 countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives... all to keep Americans safe. Nine people shot in a church. What about that? 'Hey, whaddya gonna do? Crazy is as crazy does.'
I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it.
If innocent children being shot to pieces in the one place where they are supposed to be safe when they are away from home isn't enough; if adults being executed in their house of worship—a safe and sacred space—is not enough; if any of the horrendous killings of innocent people going about their lives isn't enough to galvanize Congress to take immediate and aggressive action to drastically reduce gun violence, then nothing will change. America is doomed. We are being held hostage by blood money paid to our elected officials by the very people who hold up the US Constitution as the symbol of liberty and freedom. 

Thoughts and prayers will not stop gun violence. Candlelight vigils and memorials will not stop gun violence. "A good guy with a gun" will not stop gun violence. The only way to stop gun violence is for elected officials to make it a priority, and right now, it's not. With every day that passes, with every mass shooting that occurs, more and more blood is on their hands.