Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why I oppose @NEAToday early endorsement of @HillaryClinton

Without unions, workers will lose many of the protections against abusive employers. Wages for all will be depressed, even as corporate profits soar. The American Dream will be destroyed for millions. And we will have a government of the corporations, by the already powerful, for the wealthy.
              ~ Kenneth Bernstein, teacher, author, education activist

Change your social media profile pic if you agree
Teacher, education activist and blogger, Fred Klonsky, posted this yesterday
What has been rumored for several weeks is now pretty much a sure thing. The NEA board of directors are meeting next week and they will go through the motions of taking a vote. But an endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party primary race is all but assured. (emphasis mine)
What's particularly troubling is that because this is a primary endorsement, many member voices simply will not be heard in this process. Steven Singer writes:
[S]ince this is only an endorsement for the primary election, the matter would not need to go before the Representative Assembly (RA). In effect, the move could sidestep the voices of the RA’s 8,000 delegates representing state and local affiliates, student members, retired members, and other segments of the united education profession. 
The decision would be made by a handful of leaders and the PAC council. Though there are thousands of PAC council votes, they are distributed by the amount of money raised by each state’s members. This means that little states like Delaware – where members donate greatly – have a larger vote relative to their membership than other states. 
The voices of the great majority of members would be silenced. (more on this below)

Even though I want a woman president, and I know I will see that happen in my lifetime, I don't want a president—man or woman—who does not stand for the views and values of public education as supported by the vast majority of hard-working NEA and AFT members in this country. 

The NEA should not endorse this early in the campaign. AFT did it this past summer and got substandial pushback from its members including a petition calling for a re-call of the endorsement and thousands of angry posts on the association's Facebook page. AFT President Randi Weingarten is good friends with Clinton and sits on the board of Priorities USA, a pro-Hillary super PAC.

Follow the money

If you're reading this post, chances are you've seen this meme floating around social media:

Social media memes say that Clinton’s top 10 donors are mainly "banks, corporations and media," while Bernie Sanders’ top 10 donors are labor unions. This contention fits quite closely with campaign data from the Center for Responsive Politics. However, it’s worth noting that this data refers to cumulative donations as far back as the 1980s, rather than just donations to their current presidential bids. The statement is accurate but needs clarification, so we rate it Mostly True. (emphasis mine)

Donors must disclose their place of employment when making campaign contributions, so it is entirely possible that some of these contributions could be comprised of individual donations from company employees rather than a few large checks from that organization.

According to the most recent report from The Center for Responsive Politics, so far in this election cycle Clinton's campaign has raised over $47.5 million while Sanders has raised almost $16.5 million. This does not include PAC contributions. But while 70% of Sanders' money has come from small, individual contributions, 82% of Clinton's has come from large, individual donors. And that's a big, red flag. Don't forget, President Bill Clinton signed the New Market Tax Credits bill into law that opened the floodgates for hedge fund investment in urban charter schools. And who has lots of money these days and is spending it on education 'reform'? Hedge fund managers, among others. Wall Street money.

Will history repeat itself?

Remember this? Obama vs. Romney in 2012:
NOTE: The organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organizations' PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.

Look at what that $815K from Microsoft employees has cost us as a nation. I remember sitting on the floor of the 2012 NEA RA and the buzz going around that convention center when, not President Barak Obama, but Vice President Joe Biden addressed the delegation. A lot of people were very angry—but not at Biden. While President Obama did address us via phone, it felt to many of us like he was afraid to face us, and rightly so. While I voted for him twice, the second time I held my nose because he was the lesser of two evils. The Obama-Gates-Duncan education policies have brought US public education to its knees—and I never, ever thought I'd say that about a Democratic president.

President Obama sold public education and our students to the highest bidders: Wall Street, Gates, Pearson, Eli Broad, The Walton Foundation, and everyone else who is profiting in the Gold Rush Education Rush of the 21st Century. We have no proof whatsoever that Clinton—or any of the candidates—will put an end to this madness, so why should we write them a check this early in the game?

See for yourself

Here are the videos of the three Democratic presidential candidates that were shown at the NEA RA in July. Watch for yourself:

Hillary Clinton:

Bernie Sanders:

Martin O'Malley:

There is nothing in Hillary's speech that screams, "We must elect this woman!" Quite frankly, there's nothing in any of the speeches that screams that. And while Sanders' speech isn't as passionate as I've seen him in the past, in Klonsky's post above, he goes on to say this:
In her talks with state union leaders around the country [NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia] has admitted that Bernie Sanders and the NEA are more often in 100% agreement on education issues but that Hillary is more electable. (emphasis mine) 
Do we want to support a candidate that's electable? Of course. No one wants to back a loser. And although my personal position is in support of Sanders, I don't want to see NEA endorse any of them yet. There are too many unknowns. If our national association does not first and foremost support our students, our profession and our public schools, we might just as well line up at the door of the local charter school to apply for a job because pretty soon that's all that will be available. 

We have been playing nice for too long. Public education is being bulldozed into the ground. Democracy is being trampled in the name of 'choice'. Our schools are grossly underfunded; our students over tested; our professionals subjected to McCarthy-era witch hunts; and our neediest, poorest students of color are being segregated in numbers not seen since before the Civil Rights Movement.

Time for action!

It's time our association stood up and carved that canyon in stone. With 'reform'-style politicians on both sides of the aisle screaming for accountability within our ranks, when do we start holding them accountable? You want our money? You want our endoresment? You want our votes? Then prove yourself. Otherwise our association is part of the problem, not part of the solution, and we will be weaker for it.

Anthony Cody writes:
NEA members will be active regardless. If NEA endorses Clinton or any other candidate without an adequate process that actively involves and engages their membership, and without clear answers to the vital questions we have regarding the Department of Education and Democratic party support of corporate reform, then teacher activism will take place outside of the NEA. That will leave the organization weakened, and make the endorsement far less powerful than it could be. An endorsement that is the process of real member participation will then unleash that energy into a grassroots campaign in support of the chosen candidate. A top down endorsement will yield some millions of member dollars, and some union leaders on the podium for photos, but much less in terms of on the ground support. (emphasis mine)
In his open letter to Lily, teacher/blogger Peter Greene posted earlier this morning:
Teachers are tired of having their voices silenced and ignored. We have been silenced and ignored by political leaders, corporate leaders, virtually every big name in the last fifteen years of education reformy fiasco. To ask us to accept the same from our own national union is just too much. The democratic process is under attack in our country; we do not want to see it under attack within our own union. 
It is a mistake on the larger scale as well. The early endorsement is just another attempt to circumvent the democratic process, to say, "Well, it looks like the voters at large might make a choice we don't like, so we are going to take steps to keep that from happening. We can't just be letting the Democratic Party make these choices based on the will of the voter. We need to tip the scale." This does not say, "We have faith in the American voters." It says, "The American voters are boobs, and we need to push them where we want them." 
It won't work. The howls from NEA members will be loud and palpable, and the whole mess will feed the narrative that NEA is NOT the voice of three million teachers, but a group of political operatives who try to harness those voices for their own purposes. 
Democracy is under attack. The voices of ordinary citizens are being ignored and silenced. NEA must not become one more big organization saying, "Some peoples' voices just don't matter." (emphasis mine)

If you agree, and you are a member of an NEA state affiliate, consider changing your social media avatar to the meme above. Then, contact your state affiliate's elected leaders and tell them you do not support this early endorsement; tweet Lily at @Lily_NEA and @NEAToday; share on Facebook and post on the NEA Facebook page; and engage your fellow members to join the chorus of voices rising up to stop this.

Special note

Last week the NJEA PAC Committee took a position of 'no endorsement at this time'. Our members felt there was not a strong enough case for an early endorsement because Clinton has not come out strong against the corporate takeover of public education. Since NJEA is one of the top PAC fundraisers in the NEA, our vote will carry more weight at that meeting next week. 

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.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering 9/11

I've told this story many times, and on today's anniversary, I have to tell it again.

I took this picture somewhere around 1987
Having grown up less than 10 miles from Manhattan, I watched the Twin Towers being built every day as I walked to St. Stephen's School in Kearny. The Chestnut Street bridge offered the best vantage point. Every day, every week, every year they inched up higher and higher like two giant Lego towers, brick by brick, foot by foot. The audacity of their simplicity almost forcing them to lower Manhattan like the kid who is never allowed to sit with the cool kids at lunch because he doesn't look or act like them, but who inevitably leaves them all in the dust (in this case, quite literally).  

I had been to the observation deck many times; taken the PATH to NYC via WTC for as long as I can remember. On long, out-of-state trips I knew I was almost home, almost to Exit 15W on the NJ Turnpike or Exit 145 on the Parkway, when I could see them standing there like twin lighthouses at the southern tip of Manhattan, watching over commuters, guiding us home. "Yes, you've been to the 'other' world—the world without bagles and real pizza and Taylor Ham ('pork roll' to the rest of you). Now it's time to come home to the grit and the grime and the crowded and the busy and the endless days that dissolve into endless nights, and you know as crazy as it is to live here, you wouldn't want it any other way." Yes, I was home.

The Twin Towers were a part of the collective unconscious of everyone in that region just as mountain ranges are for those who live near them. They were always there... until they weren't. 

14 years ago today was my very first day teaching ever—except I didn't teach. Instead, I sat at the front door of Immaculate Conception School in Annandale all day and signed students out. From where I sat I had a direct view of Rt. 78. All day I watched as a constant stream of police, fire and rescue vehicles raced east from Pennsylvania and parts unknown to a scene unlike any most of them had ever seen or prepared for. At one point I held the hands of a woman who was in the car line to pick up her child. She was in a panic because her husband was an airline pilot and he was flying that day. She didn't know if he was dead or alive. I just remember holding on tight and telling her that he was alive, and hoping to God that it was true. 

9/11 was a gloriously beautiful late summer day. Not a cloud in the sky. The days that followed were the same—picture perfect—except for the fact that the soul of America had been ripped from its gut and we were all walking around like vivisections.

Having lived the majority of my life under the flight paths of Newark, JFK, La Guardia and Teterboro airports, airplane noise was nothing more than white noise. I moved to Hunterdon County in 1996 for a better, less hectic way of life. Oh well, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl. The eerie silence that followed over the next few days as all air traffic was grounded was as unnerving as navigating Routes 1 & 9 at rush hour. I remember trying to play with my daughter in the sandbox. I remember trying to be 'normal', but there was no normal. Where were the planes? Where were the contrails? Where was the noise? It was as silent as a tomb because a piece of all of us died that day. As I write this, I hear the soothing song of the crickets—country living at its best. Silence that, silence the katydids, silence the birds, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in a different season for a different reasonThat's what it was like.

I remember traveling the Turnpike and the Parkway for years after that day, looking for my lighthouses. Scanning the horizon from the Empire State Building south... south... south... Where were they? Gone. Ashes and blood in the river. Would I ever make it home? No, I could never truly go home again. None of us could. That life before 9/11 is gone forever. 

Many of the people who lost their lives that day were simply going to work. Office workers, street cart vendors, pilots, flight attendants, custodians, cooks, dishwashers, store clerks—they were true innocents. Some were accidental heroes like the passengers on Flight 92. All were in the right place at the wrong time. But many were public employees whose job it was to run into Dante's Inferno while everyone inside was trying to escape: right place, right time. 

I think of all the brave members of Engine 10 Ladder 10the firehouse across the street from Ground Zero—especially the 5 who made the ultimate sacrifice. National Geographic made a powerful documentary about their bravery as they traveled into the heart of darkness. If you haven't seen it, please take some time to view it here:

They, along with hundreds of other brave men and women, were public employees who were just doing their job. They showed up for work every single day knowing that, at any moment, they might be called on to put themselves in harm's way. All in a day's work. How many of us would willingly take that job? And now we must add education professionals who are becoming first responders in the all too frequent and violent attacks on our schools.

When the attacks against public employees started raining down, the hipocrisy was undeniable. Elected leaders with a prescribed and scripted agenda villifying people whose job it is to protect and serve simply so they can push their agenda and protect those whom they serve. It's a sacrilige for any of them to partake of 9/11 activities. They might as well spit on the graves of those who died. 

My beloved cousin recently lost his battle with cancer. He was a retired firefighter with a heart as big as the ocean on which he loved to take his boat out to fish. He was as strong as he was generous and kind. It breaks my heart that he couldn't win that battle, but I'm so grateful that he wasn't called to the city that day. He had 14 more years to be a husband, father, brother, son, and all around great guy. I will miss him forever.

His memorial service will be later this month. I'm sure the members of the Maplewood-South Orange Fire Department will honor him. He deserves that and more, not only for the work he did, but for the work he didn't have to do. He didn't have to sacrifice his life. He didn't have to die in a burning building so others could live. But he would have if called to do so, because that was his job. 

Never forget...

They weren't as fluid and graceful as the marines at Iwo Jima. They weren't trained to fight wars, but they were the first to battle in a war that still wages today. They were awkward, exhausted, and filthy, covered in toxic dust and human remains. But just as their brothers did over 50 years before, they raised the flag and kept on going. One day at a time; one foot in front of the other against seemingly insurmountable odds, until the job was done.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Debunking Reformy Logic One Tweet At A Time Part 2

As I reported in Part 1 of this 3-part 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 was a 3-pronged discussion focusing on:

  1. Waters' continuous, illogical reasoning (Part 1)
  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. 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"
Today's post brings you...

Part 2: Ryan Hill: "All You Need Is [Choice]"

My exchange with Ryan Hill, founder and executive director of TEAM/KIPP charter schools, centered on school choice and funding. My beef isn't with whether charter schools are better or worse than TPS. That's not an either-or argument because recent research has shown that some are better; some are worse; many are about the same. 

What I have a problem with is 'charter school choice' being sold as the miracle cure when there is no proof whatsoever that market-driven reforms benefit all students. And if we're going to call charter schools 'public', then we have to talk about all students because traditional public schools educate all of them and charters simply do not. 

False Advertising: Charters don't do 'more with less'

During the exchange, Hill pulled out the 'charters do more with less' talking point, and even mentioned Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to NPS (which largely went to $1000/day consultants although Superintendent Cerf now says he's giving a whopping $100 to teachers for classroom supplies). It didn't take long for Jersey Jazzman to jump into the fray with his magic bag of charts and data—something 'reformers' are sorely lacking. (Note: to follow the exchange, read the text in the box first, then my reply):

Writing about Jonathan Alter's near religious zeal for all things charter, Jersey Jazzman also had this to say:
[Alter] won't acknowledge KIPP enjoys a resource advantage, both through being the recipient of large amounts of philanthropic giving, and through an employment policy that keeps a younger, less experienced, and therefore less-expensive teaching workforce on its payroll. 
It's nice that KIPP enjoys this advantage, but it's highly questionable as to whether it can be extended to all urban schools (at least not while we refuse to raise revenues through taxes for these districts). (emphasis mine)

For a definitive look at how charter schools miraculously do 'more with less', read Jazzman's 4-part series on the Hola Charter School in Hoboken:
  • Part I - Hoboken's charters amass social and political capital, helping them thrive.
  • Part II - Hoboken's charters raise substantial outside funds, casting doubt on the claim"we do more with less."
  • Part III - Hoboken's charters pay their teachers less, because they have less experience. 
  • Part IV - We can't have a serious conversation about charters -- in Hoboken or elsewhere -- until we are honest.

With 'choice' like this, who needs choice? 

From coast to coast, we have seen what the unincumberance of bureaucratic control has freed many charters to do: fiscal mismanagement, high staff turnover, fraud, waste, lack of transparency, nepotism, cronyism, segregation, failure and community disruption. And they call that 'innovation'? Granted, not all charters are like this. Some do an excellent job of educating their students, but if charter schools and school choice are being pushed as the Viagra of education 'reform', why are any of them allowed to operate like this? Why aren't state and federal governments swarming all over them the way they do 'failing schools'? Where is the outrage? Could it be that somebody along the food chain is actually profiting from them?

Back in 2011, The Miami Herald uncovered the seedy underbelly of the Florida charter school industry with an in-depth report on the blatant corruption and lack of oversight that turned education into another get-rich-quick scheme. One charter even tried to do double duty as a lewd after hours nightclub. (Did they remove the pasties and g-strings before students arrived the next morning?) Just the other day, Diane Ravitch posted this:

Last month as the country marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (aka. "the best thing to happen to the education system of New Orleans" according to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) much was written about the progress (or lack thereof) in New Orleans' Recovery School District (RSD), the poster child for education 'reform', which is 100% charter. Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig weighed in with a policy brief which concluded that:

Louisiana charter schools perform worse than any other state when compared to traditional schools. This finding is highly problematic for the conventional narrative of charter success in Louisiana and the RSD. Also, the RSD dropout, push out, and graduation rates are of concern— placing last and nearly last in the state. After ten years of education reform it is a disappointment that only 5% of RSD students score high enough on AP tests to get credit. The review of data also demonstrates that neither the Louisiana ACT nor RSD ACT scores are positive evidence of success.
In conclusion, the national comparative data suggest that there is a dearth of evidence supporting a decade of test-score-driven, state-takeover, charter-conversion model as being implemented in New Orleans. The predominance of the data suggest that the top-down, privately controlled education reforms imposed on New Orleans have failed. The state and RSD place last and nearly last in national and federal data. These results do not deserve accolades. (emphasis mine)
Louisianna public education advocate and founding member of Parents Across America, Karran Harper Royal, frequently speaks about how NOLA charter schools come and go like a corner deli. When one doesn't quite work out, it closes and is quickly replaced by another school. New name, new owner/operator, same m.o.: disruption and churn. Writing on the PAA website, she said this about the RSD:
The Recovery School District was supposed to improve the schools and give them back to our local board; however, it seems that the only method that the RSD is utilizing to improve the schools is to maintain the schools’ failure so that the schools will qualify to become charter schools. The RSD has not improved any of its direct operated schools enough to qualify for return to the local board, and it’s imperative to question the validity of the RSD. One has to ask “was this by design?” Has the RSD deliberately trapped the lowest performing students in schools under their jurisdiction so that the charter schools would have more access to the higher performing students in New Orleans? (emphasis mine)

And former Newark Mayor Cory Booker wanted to remake the Newark school district in the image and likeness of New Orleans.

The horror stories of charters sucking the life out of local school districts in the name of 'choice' is seemingly endless, but perhaps the worst is what's happening right now in the Chester (PA) Uplands School District:

Peter Greene writes: 
Some districts can weather the budget storm. CUSD, sucked dry of money by charter schools, cannot. So while the state's elected officials cannot get their jobs done for pay, Chester Upland teachers and staff will get their jobs done for free. Tell me again about how teachers and their unions are the big obstacle to education in this country. (emphasis mine)

In reporting on research about school 'choice' in Chicago, Rebecca Klein writes in the Huffington Post, that it's not necessarily a good thing. While low income students have much more 'choice' than their higher income counterparts, the latter group is much more likely to attend a local neighborhood school, while the former group is more likely to travel across town thereby disrupting neighborhood connections and fostering social isolation. And while many low income children end up choosing successful schools, some don't. 'Choice' means nothing when you struggle to get through the 'choice' maze either because of a lack of English proficiency or reading ability or simply of time. 

The idea that poor Chicagoans frequently leave their neighborhood for education contradicts the perception that low-income kids are often "trapped in underperforming local schools," according to Burdick-Will's paper on the subject. This perception often drives the arguments of school reform advocates in Chicago who push for greater school choice options 
[T]he fact that low-income families are more likely to exercise school choice should not be seen as a positive. The ability to not have to search for schools outside your neighborhood is the real privilege, said Burdick-Will.  
"Not having to participate in this complicated system is really a privilege. The most advantaged people really don’t have to figure out how to read the Chicago high school book. They don’t have to gather the information or spend a lot of time figuring out if charter school A is better than charter school B."
When kids live in areas where most people opt not to attend a neighborhood school, they are more likely to choose poorly and attend a school that is worse than the one to which they've been assigned, Burdick-Will found.
For those of  you who are old enough to remember, Listerine was once marketed and sold as a cure for the common cold. When that claim was disproved, they had to stop saying it. When will charters be forced to do the same?

It's not the 'choice', it's the poverty 

Charter cheerleaders love to say their schools give students in 'failing schools' 'choice', but Jersey Journal reporter Earl Morgan writes about the real problem: funding inequities:
In Jersey City, the dirty little secret is that there are actually two schools systems; the one that exists north of Montgomery Street and the other south of that educational demarcation.

For decades, schools south of Montgomery Street to a large extent lacked, and still lack, the resources of those north of Montgomery. For many years there were few if any gifted and talented or accelerated enrichment programs in schools south of Montgomery. In their stead was a surfeit of special education and Title I classes.

North of Montgomery, teachers would routinely order needed supplies or items that their colleagues would have to purchase themselves.

If the state wants these troubled school systems to succeed, they’re not going to make that happen in the 5 1/2-hour school day. They will have to go deep into the weeds, to where students in low-performing schools live. It will take time to unravel the Gordian knot of turmoil, anxiety and despair these young people grapple with every minute of every day of their lives.
Ride the Amtrak past Camden and you’ll see something resembling the aftermath of a disaster movie with one dilapidated and abandoned neighborhood and building after another. If you want to improve education, it’s not charter schools or a few “vouchers” used to transfer a handful of students to more affluent districts. It’s the soul destroying poverty that must be confronted in Jersey City, Paterson, Newark and Camden. That’s where you need to start. (emphasis mine)

Ah, yes, poverty—that dirty little word that 'reformers' deny is really the problem in 'failing schools'.

Choice for some, just not for you

But what about the people who choose their neighborhood public school, but are denied that choice because education 'reformers' want to close it, flip it to a charter or, in the case of the One Newark plan, send siblings to different schools all over the city—in the name of choice? Where is their choice? Why don't they have a say? Why is their choice not valued as much as those who choose a charter school? We've seen it in Newark not only with parent and student protests to save Hawthorne Ave. School, West Side High School and Barringer High School, but with the protests and boycotts of One Newark. Blogger Bob Braun's extensive coverage of the Newark school district insanity included this scathing report:

“Why are they doing this to us?” cried Richardson, an immigrant from Dominica who raised six grandchildren, two of them war veterans. “Are they doing it because we are poor?” 
A helpful school security officer  found Richardson a chair and moved it to place outside Newark Vocational Sc hool–the so-called “enrollment center”– where there was just a little shade. The woman had dressed in formal clothes, a long-sleeve top and a long, black skirt because, well, that’s how you dress when you are dealing with people in government. You showed them respect and you hoped they would show it in return. But to Deseret Richardson, the  school system, under Gov. Chris Christie and his superintendent, Cami Anderson, wasn’t showing anyone respect. 
“I tried to explain to them that I have watched these children all their lives,” said Richardson of her grandchildren. “I have taken care of them when there was no one else. And I will do that until I die. But they didn’t want to listen.” 
Richardson lives near Barringer High School. Has for years. That’s where her other grandchildren had gone, including the sailor and the solider and the young man who made it into Cheney State. That’s where she intended to send her youngest granddaughter, also Deseret, Deseret Segura. 
But [former Newark Superintendent] Cami said no. Cami has a plan she calls “One Newark.” She won’t tell anyone how she devised the plan. Cami–who lives far away with rich friends in Glen Ridge and has enough money not to worry about such things–insisted this woman somehow find a way to get her namesake all the way across town to Shabazz High School. 
Thousands of children  are being forced to attend schools outside their neighborhoods. It is destroying the system. It is destroying the city.
And this is what this cruel woman calls “school choice.”
(emphasis mine)
We see it in Chicago with the hunger strike still going on to save Dyett High School. Parents are willing to literally fight to the death to save their neighborhood school. In all of these instances, and others, parents, students and the community have no choice in what is happening to their local school. Where is their 'choice'? Why is it ok that they have none?

Ryan Hill, please answer this question:

If 'choice' is so great and wonderful, why was former Central HS Principal Ras Baraka elected Mayor of Newark based on his platform of rejecting Cami Anderson's One Newark plan? Why did Baraka have to set up this to help parents who couldn't get their children into the school of their 'choice': 

Why did the President of the Newark Teachers Union post this on Facebook:

If 'choice' is the miracle cure-all for low income communities, what are 'reformers' doing about the fact that these people are being their denied choice?

If school 'choice' will miraculously level the playing field; if it will truly provide a pathway to a more enriching education for every child, then it's a farce, a joke, a crime if even one child is denied their school of choice. Ryan, if charters are really, truly public schools as you and other charter supporters claim, if they really, truly are a better option than 'failing schools', then why have a lottery? Why won't you accept every, single child who wants to attend, first come, first served. Start a waiting list that is verifiable, accurate and open to public scrutiny. Serve the needs of every, single child—no exceptions. That is a real public school. That is real choice. Anything less just... isn't.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Debunking Reformy Logic One Tweet At A Time-Part 1

My blog was mostly quiet this summer. I made a conscious decision to dial back and re-charge my batteries after several years of non-stop work. But as if on cue, on the second day of school, this happened on Twitter and we were off to the races:

The exchange between Laura Waters, Derrell Bradford, Ryan Hill and I turned into an all-day affair with Save Our Schools NJ, Jersey Jazzman and a few other pro-public education advocates chiming in. It was a 3-pronged discussion focusing on:

  1. Waters' continuous, illogical reasoning 
  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. 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"

Part 1: Laura Waters' Illogical Reasoning

Waters, a 'reformer', blogger and Lawrence Twp BOE member frequently posts at NJ Spotlight and is frequently excoriated in the comments for her illogical reasoning and inability to grasp basic public education facts, policy and research. See here, here, here. See Mother Crusader here, here; Jersey Jazzman here, here, here; Bob Braun here

Here's an example from her latest post that started all this (linked in the tweet above):

Notice she doesn't deny any of this. But in her world, calling out the district and Hill's charter schools for possibly violating both state and federal laws in numerous ways, including segregating students who are most in need of these 'miracle' schools, is defending "the status-quo". 

As for the "lobbying groups" comment? This is news? If Waters is so concerned about lobbyists pressuring legislators, perhaps she should look in her own backyard. The NJ Charter Schools Association (which stayed mum during the whole exchange) is one of many education 'reform' (*ahem*) non-profits including Students First (Michelle Rhee), NYCAN (Derrell Bradford is ED), The Foundation for Excellence in Education (Jeb!s baby), The Gates, Walton, Broad and Koch Foundations, ALEC and a zillion other pro-charter/pro-ed 'reform' organizations that spend a lot of time and money lobbying legislators. And yes, so do ELC, NJEA and SOSNJ. Unfortunately, that's the business of government, made worse by Citizens United. 

But what does New Jersey have to show for all that lobbying, and other stuff, by ELC, NJEA and SOSNJ (which is a volunteer organization)? Plenty! The list of accolades for NJ's public schools is long. We consistently rank as one of the top three in the nation, we outperform many countries, and our school funding forumla (at least what's left of it after Christie has hacked away at it) which the Education Law Center originally litigated and continues to fight for, is a national model for school funding. NJEA provides one of the largest educator professional development conferences in the country (that pesky convention in November that Gov. Christie hates), and despite his best efforts to weed out all those "bad teachers", over 97% of us were rated effective or better last year. All of this didn't happen by magic. It happened because of the continued efforts of organizations such as these. Don't believe me? Check out their mission statements, then tell me about the status quo. 

But... we are also home to one of the poorest, most dangerous cities in the country: Camden, with a staggering 52% of children living below the poverty level. And while poverty numbers in the rest of the country have declined, NJ's have risen. So, it defies all logic and reasoning—not to mention research—to think that slashing funding, closing public schools and opening charter schools will magically cure all the ills in our poorest communities. But pesky facts never stop 'reformers' from spouting stuff like this:

Speaking of reality checks: where's the link to the research that backs that claim? Which students? Special ed? ELL? Disabled? Free lunch? Free and reduced price lunch? Do better at what? Which schools? What about attrition rates? So many questions, no answers from someone who refers to herself as “one of the premier analysts of New Jersey education policy”. I would think that if she really wanted to make her case, she would have posted a link to some research or at least the NJDOE website. C'mon, throw us a bone... a scrap... something... anything?

And as for that question I asked? Yup, never got an answer. I have never seen nor heard a charter advocate admit that most serve a different population than traditional public schools even though recent research confirms this. And therein lies the rub.

In Part 2 I take on Ryan Hill and his "All you need is [choice]" mantra.