Monday, April 9, 2018

Dear @BetsyDeVosED THIS is what it means to "serve the students"

Dear Betsy,

I hear you aren't happy with Oklahoma teachers who walked off the job to protest the drastic cuts to school funding in their state. You told them they should "serve the students." You also called the strike by West Virginia teachers—who, along with OK teachers, are among the lowest paid in the country—an "adult squabble." Interesting choice of words from the head of a department that has, for the better part of the past 20 years, treated us like servants. Interesting choice of words from someone who knows virtually nothing about education law or policy; who never spent a day in her life inside a public school; who has absolutely no concept of what a public school teacher does or what it's like to work two, three or more jobs to keep a roof over your head; who wants nothing more than to shutter public schools and use that money to fund religious schools. 

What, exactly, should that "service" look like? Tea and crumpets and classical music at lunch? Neck massages after computer class? Or perhaps valet parking for those students who are fortunate enough to afford a car? 

How much more "service" must teachers perform? How many more classroom supplies, and food and clothing for their students must they buy with their own money? How many more students must be packed into their classrooms? How much more are they supposed to do with ever-decreasing budgets before you, or some elected official with strings attached to the oil lobby realizes what's going on in Oklahoma's schools? 

When is enough enough?

Since you continue to remain woefully ignorant of the workings of public schools (I guess that stuff's just not important to a billionairess who can build whatever school she wants with a wave of her magic wand), allow me to educate you on exactly what those teachers—and others around the country—are doing in "service" to their students:

Did you see these images? I can't imagine you didn't, seeing as how they went viral. But just in case you missed them, here's CNN's report. They were taken by real Oklahoma teachers, and are real pictures of what they have to work with every single day thanks to their state's massive education cuts. Did you have these problems when you were in school? Did your children? I bet not.

Sarah Jane Scarberry
According to the article: 
Scarberry also shared images of her classroom's broken desks and chairs, and said they weren't too bad compared to other classrooms. 
"As for the desks, I'm more fortunate than most I guess. My husband works with me at Heavener and works in maintenance. He usually can use salvageable parts from discarded desks to keep me going," she told CNN. (emphasis mine)

Sarah Jane Scarberry

Mary Burton
Teacher Mary Burton shared this picture of the anatomy books her students have to use at Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma.
"I don't have enough and the ones left are in terrible shape," she said. 
Last year, her class's 25 anatomy books were shared by about 70 students, Burton said. 
"Because graduation requirements changed, I only have one section of human anatomy, so there are enough books for my students for the first year in a long time," she said.
On Twitter, user jamiebh73 shared a photo of a textbook from her daughter's eighth-grade history class in Owasso. In the book, George W. Bush is still president, she said. (emphasis mine)

Allyson Kubat, who teaches at Mustang High Scool, just southwest of Oklahoma City, said the textbooks students in her public speaking class use are so old that they advise them to ask librarians about "this new thing called the Internet" and explain how to use microfiche. (emphasis mine)
 The article ends with this quote from Scarberry:
"I could go on for days about the things we need, and the opportunities my students deserve. For myself, a raise sounds great, but this walkout for me was never about that. It was always funding for our schools," she said. (emphasis mine)

Can you imagine this??? I can. This is what happens when states give massive tax cuts to corporations. This is what happens when teachers are treated like servants instead of highly-educated professionals. This is what happens when years of begging and pleading with elected officials, who care more about tax cuts for corporate donors than the future of this country, falls on deaf ears. This is what happens when teachers and parents say, "Enough!" This is not an "adult squabble." This is a fight for every child in the state of Oklahoma (and West Virginia and Kentucky and Arizona) to have a good education. This is what happens when teachers "serve the students."

This is a national disgrace, and as Secretary of Education, you should be leading the charge to fix this instead of trying to sweep it under the rug. The wealthiest country in the history of humanity has schools that rival those of third-world countries while our government blames teachers, slashes budgets and says testing and privatization are somehow going to magically fix everything. 

This is just the beginning. This "service" to the students is only going to grow. You would do well to educate yourself.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

America Does Not Love Her Children

I usually start my day with the news and social media. It does a lot more to get me fired up than caffeine. I do ask my Higher Power to help me to not be mean or demeaning. It's far too easy to get into endless debates with anonymous profiles who are entrenched in their beliefs. Alas, I'm not perfect. I've shared more than enough snark and pointed my finger at others many a time. I've been trying to distance myself by taking news blackout days, but not so this morning. My friend, DEFEND NJ PUBLIC ED!, aka. @StopTheFreezeNJ, posted this piece of brilliance from Bill Maher and I was off to the races.

I quickly dug out the draft for this post.

I started it several years ago, during the Obama administration, amidst the upheaval of Race to the Top and the useless standardized tests that accompanied it, and are still in practice in many states. (So happy to report that this will be the last year for the CCRAP PARCC test in NJ!) I started it during Arne Duncan's utterly tone deaf tenure as Education Secretary (do read the comments for a trip down memory lane); during NJ Gov. Chris Christie's reign of error when he slashed education funding and berated educators on an almost daily basis; after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker shoved Act 10 down teachers' throats and Ohio Gov. John Kasich failed to pass SB5; when we thought things just couldn't get any worse... 

I had to put it down because the more I researched, the more upset and overwhelmed I became. It was just too painful. I couldn't step out of what I was living through.

But America has reached a new high in all-time lows. We are no longer a democracy, we are a hypocrisy. The wealthiest nation in the history of humanity does not love her children:

  • The wealthiest nation on the planet has one of the highest child poverty rates in the industrialized world
  • We have the highest infant mortality rate of comparable countries
  • We have the highest child obesity rate of all OECD nations
  • That number continues to climb and there is a direct correlation between it and poverty
  • The richest 1% are getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer
  • Our lowest-paid workers are not paid a living wage
  • Our current administration is rolling back regulations that keep our water, air and food safe
  • The GOP tax increase will eventually take more money from the poor and middle class, and millions will lose health insurance
  • Tax cuts in state after state are having a devastating effect on public education budgets 
  • Educators often work two, three and even four jobs to survive
  • Our teachers earn far less than other industrialized nations, and our female teachers earn even less
  • Our schools have become shooting galleries for lunatics with semiautomatic weapons
  • Elected officials would rather arm teachers with guns than supplies to effectively do our jobs
  • Elected officials would rather offer 'thoughts and prayers' and continue to take blood money from the NRA than enact sensible gun legislation that the overwhelming majority of Americans—including NRA members—want

The education piece is not a D or R issue. There's plenty of blame—and profits—to go around. From Bill Clinton's New Market Tax Credits which opened the floodgates to corporate profits from charter schools, to George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind, to Barak Obama's disastrous Race to the Top that made NCLB look like child's play, America's schools—especially those in high poverty districts—have been defunded to the bone and accountability has skyrocketed. Our teachers have been reduced to trying to force information into children's heads who are then expected to regurgitate it to prove their school's and teachers' worth. And that Arizona teacher in the video who posted her measly $320 pay stub is more the rule than the exception. Veteran educators are fleeing the profession, taking decades of experience with them. Charter schools open and close like Wack-A-Moles. Public schools are shuttered often with no public input, disrupting the lives of families and communities. The Network for Public Education even has a regular column dedicated to the dysfunction and fiscal mismanagement in that industry. All of this is supposed to help America's children. 

And I haven't even touched Betsy DeVos.

As Maher said, "We pay such lip service to our kids." But they have been watching and suffering, and now they are fighting back—and voting.

This is insanity. It has to stop—and it will.

Teachers have been protesting for at least the past ten years, but in the past few months, the tone has changed. Teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, Oklahoma and New Jersey are walking off the job not just for higher wages but for more funding for their schools—for their students. This is only going to continue.

America is in the middle of a revolution. On any given day, in any given state, grass-roots campaigns are mobilizing to stop the injustice and inequality that have long festered in this country, and that ultimately hurt our children. These are just a few:  


I'm sure I forgot a few. If so, leave them in the comments.

But thanks to Bill Maher, we now have a new one:

Welcome to the Revolution!