Monday, May 29, 2017

The Star Ledger's #FakeNews On NJ Charters

I swore I wasn't going to do this anymore. I wasn't going to respond to irresponsible editorial boards that make grossly inaccurate claims about public and charter schools because they will never change their minds anyway. But then, this little tidbit dropped front and center on the Star Ledger's Sunday editorial page yesterday, and...

So, let's give this a go...

First, read Jersey Jazzman's piece that blows the roof off every single cockamamie claim made by the Ledger by presenting facts and figures:

  • Students in Newark and Camden charter schools are less expensive to educate because they have fewer special needs than their TPS counterparts
  • Newark and Camden charter schools enroll significantly less students who are Limited English Proficient
  • Newark and Camden charter schools employ significantly less experienced teaching staff than their TPS counterparts
  • Newark and Camden charter schools have much higher administrative costs than their TPS counterparts
  • Newark and Camden charter schools do have access to public funds as well as private, philanthropic money

But facts and figures aren't the only things the S-L gets wrong:

In Newark and Camden, where parents have fled failing district schools by the thousands, charter schools have been one of the great social successes of the past decade.

I guess that's true if you count 'success' as discriminating and segregating. The S-L has reported countless times about those thousands-deep charter waiting lists with nothing more than charter cheerleaders saying so. But this isn't surprising in the era of fake news and alternative facts. 

The truth is that in Newark and Camden, thousands of students have been forced out of their beloved neighborhood public schools, communities up-ended, and families scattered because their state-appointed superintendents have deemed them as 'failing' or simply not worth saving. Or, as in the case of Newark, which has the one-two punch of being underfunded by Christie and bleeding millions to the charters, they have had to hold fire sales. This is state-sponsored destruction of democracy, and you are paying for it.

But the Ledger consistently supports this.

What about parents who want to save their local public schools? They vote with their feet, too—by marching in protest. But they still have no say. There are no billionaires lining up to write nine-figure checks to save their schools. And in both these state-run districts, their boards of ed are powerless. In Camden, the appointed board members are nothing more than head-nodding minions of the local Democratic political machine. In Newark, the board has been reduced to 'adivsory' status, with no real power. So much for government of, by and for the people.
Yet the Democratic candidates in our governor's race are all curiously skeptical about charter schools. Each is departing from former President Barack Obama's courageous support for charters that defied the teacher's union, which is a real threat to this progress in our cities.

Maybe because they're looking at the facts that say well-funded, neighborhood public schools that are open to every student, supported by the community, and employ highly-educated, well paid teachers do, in fact, succeed? 

I've said this before and I'll say it again: President Obama, the first African American president, whom I voted for twice, did more to segregate public schools than any other president in this modern era. He completely turned his back on the core Democratic Party principles of equality and social justice. And he wasn't alone. Many Democratic leaders, from the local to national level, have stood with him in supporting state-sponsored segregation. As Diane Ravitch reports in The New Republic
The Obama years saw an epidemic of new charters, testing, school closings, and teacher firings. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools in one day. Democratic charter advocates—whose ranks include the outraged [former Newark mayor, now Sen. Cory] Booker [D-NJ] and [Sen. Michael] Bennet [D-CO]—have increasingly imported “school choice” into the party’s rhetoric. Booker likes to equate “choice” with “freedom”—even though the entire idea of “choice” was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.
Whether they're in it for the 'reformy' donations (Booker, Bennett, Govs. Cuomo, Brown and Malloy among many) or just political revenge as is the case with NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney vs. NJEA, far too many democrats have turned their backs on their core base of supporters and their party's founding principles. The fact that the democratic gubernatorial candidates are taking another look at charter regulations is (maybe, possibly) a sign that they are looking at the facts instead of their campaign account balance sheets.

Oh yea, and while newspapers like the Ledger and others shill for the anti-union, 'reformy' elite, this has quietly been happening all across the country:

As the saying goes, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.' And then make 'em better and stronger!


My high school alma mater, Queen of Peace, in No. Arlington, NJ announced it's closing its doors come June 30. The S-L/ posted several articles about it. It's a Catholic school, and the lack of funds and declining enrollment made it unsustainable. I was sad. I have a lot of memories of that place, both good and bad, and some very dear friends still to this day. Back then, every good Catholic who could afford it—and many who couldn't—sent their kids to Catholic school. The area was solid middle-to-upper middle class White from Scottish, Irish, Italian and Polish descent. Everybody knew everybody. 

How must it feel for those current students and parents whose lives are now completely upended? Where will they go? What will happen to friendships? To their community? What will happen to academic goals and dreams? What about the staff? Where will they go? What must it feel like to suddenly have all that ripped out from under them? 

Now ask yourself how it must feel for the mostly low-income, Black and Brown students and families in places like Newark and Camden who live with this real possibility on a daily basis; who may have experienced this not once, but several times in their academic careers? What about their connections? Their neighborhoods? Their academic goals and dreams? Their futures?

Why don't you write about that, Star Ledger? 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Public Education: Death By A Thousand Retirements

Retirement dinners are bittersweet. We say goodbye to those who have worked for decades, but we also lose those decades of experience. Last week I hosted my county education association's annual retirement dinner. These were my opening remarks:
Tonite we are celebrating almost 800 years of educational excellence. Whether bus driver, maintenance, custodian, classroom teacher, instructional aide, administrative assistant or cafeteria aide, you are part of a learning community and you contributed to the education and advancement of students. And for that, we thank you. 
Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds who ever lived— student and eventually teacher himself—once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” 
In an era where educational success is measured more by what can be counted than what counts, your decades of experience can be counted, but they can never be replaced. 
So, while you all are enjoying your well-deserved retirement, your colleagues will—I’m quite sure—carry on the traditions, wisdom and experience that you passed on to them with their students. That’s what masters at their craft do. That’s what those at the highest levels of their professions do. We pass on our gifts, so they can be given to others, so that excellence can continue. 
I’m not talking about the best ways to prep students for PARCC or how to effectively collect data; I’m talking about what you learned about dealing with students of every make and model over the years. How, through all the chaos of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, testing, budget cuts, the overall attack on our profession and our professional association, you preserved your dignity as well as that of your students. I'm talking about how you took in all the changes and insanity forced on you in your long careers, synthesized it all, and gave it to your students in ways that respected them as individual learners while maintaining your dignity as highly qualified education professionals.

As I was creating tonite’s program, I was looking at your numbers. Five of you passed 30 years, and one of you reached 42 years! You have taught, not just children, but generations of children. And oh how they have changed. And while you may have had to adapt to Pokémon, technology and social media, at your core, you always found ways to touch students’ hearts like no standardized test ever could. 
As a child, I remember laying in the grass in my backyard while my mother hung clothes out to dry, staring at the clouds, and wondering what they were, where they came from, were they were going, and marveling at the different images I saw in them.

I remember lazy summer afternoons with boxes full of random stuff, recycled this, bits of that, crayons, glue, spools of thread, scraps of fabric left over from my mother's sewing, and the uninhibited joy of mashing it all together and seeing what happened. 
Life was slower, kids could be kids.

Students today don’t have that luxury. In an era where they are ‘plugged in’ from the moment they wake up 'til the moment they go to bed—including far too much of that during the school day—you kept them focused on the really important things like kindness, respect, empathy and fairness. You taught them that it’s more important to see what’s in another person’s heart than what’s on their Instagram page. You reminded them that it’s not what score you got on a test, but how much you learned along the way. You taught them how to lay in the grass and stare at the clouds because sometimes we have to just shut off our minds and feel life happening all around us. 
Those things can never be measured, but boy oh boy, they sure do count.

So, thank you for your years of experience and dedication to the most important profession on this earth, and for choosing to practice it in the state that has one of the best public education systems in the country. Your efforts have made it such...
How much longer will we continue to see educators retire with 30 or 40+ years of experience? At the rate education 'reform' is going, not much longer. Our profession can't sustain the assault. 'Reformers' have brought the 'churn' of corporate America to our ranks. Teach for Awhile America markets education as a resumé padder instead of a career. ALEC-funded politicians write bills allowing people to teach without certification. Charters pay teachers less and administrators more. And all across this country, wages are down, workloads are up, and we are continually expected to do more with less. 

Oh yea, and Betsy DeVos is Education Secretary. 

This is what 800 years of education excellence looks like. Will we ever see it again? Not if we don't stand up and fight for it. I'm fighting. Are you?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

#ManchesterBombing: This One's Personal

See that picture? That's my extended family and me back stage with Ariana Grande after one of her concerts. The four little girls in the front are friends of the family. More on them later. 

No, we didn't win a radio station contest. Ariana is my cousin. And what happened in Manchester is personal—but not just because we're relatives. 

I teach in a K-4 school. My students are between the ages of five and ten. Many of them love Ariana, and they know we are related, but they're little, so I get questions like, "Is Ariana Grande really your daughter?" or "Is Ariana Grande really your sister?" They ask if she will come do a concert, if I can get her autograph. You get the idea. 

Her concerts are full of starry-eyed little girls, 'tweens and teens just like some of my students; just like all the little girls in that picture. The Manchester concert was no different. They wear their computer-operated cat ears that blink on and off in sync with the music. They know the words to every song and sing them louder than I remember singing at a concert when I was young (or maybe it just seems that way because I'm older). They worship Ariana because she is a pop star with Nickelodeon roots. She's 23 but looks much younger.

Georgina Callendar and Ariana in 2015
There's a special place in hell for people who hurt children. Children like 18 year old Georgina Callendar, the first named Manchester victim. Or 8-year old Saffie-Rose Roussos, the youngest.

Saffie-Rose Roussos

Earlier today, these young people were still among the missing...

Braces. Pimples. Are they alive? Have they lived long enough to even have their first crush let alone their first kiss? This scenario gets played out far too often: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Syria, and many more I should include, but after a while, my mind kind of numbs out to it all. I mean the victims no disrespect; it's just 6 degrees of PTSD, I guess.

My good friend, Rosi Efthim, of the Progressive blog, Blue Jersey, posted a touching tribute to the Manchester victims, including this poem by Maggie Smith:

This is the reality from which parents in the 21st Century desperately try to shield our children. I think of my own daughter, who will be going to college in another country. The fear of 'what if' knocks at my heart's door, but I refuse to let it in. I have to be strong for her—and myself. I have to show her how to stare down fear with the biggest, bad-ass face of steel wrapped in love and warmth I can muster, because if all she knows is the "shithole" of fear, how could she ever hope to "make this place beautiful"?

Every one of the people who died made a place beautiful for someone just by the very fact of their existence. That's what we have to do. No matter how hard or how painful or how often we want to just say, 'fuck it' and throw in the towel, and give in to the fear and hatred and rage over yet another innocent life lost, we have to continue to go out and make our place beautiful for someone somehow, to show them their lives were not lived in vain, because that is how love wins.