Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Four Reasons Why I Am Pumped Up About the BATS March on Washington

1. It is a celebration of the creativity of public school teachers, parents and students as well as a protest with songs, plays, flash mobs, banners, poems and chants. What it is NOT, is a litany of boring speeches.
2. It is a multiracial event which show cases our movement's growing strength in the inner city, with speakers highlighting protests against corporate school reform in Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia and Washington DC. We have speakers from the Badass Moms of Chicago, from the Newark Student Union, from parents groups in Philadelphia along choruses and theater groups from Akron and Washington DC.
3. We have a full day of leadership training the day before the March which includes workshops on blogging, on labor history, on how to run for union and public office, on how to deal with issues of race, and privilege within our movement.
4. This is an entirely self funded event, with all money raised through a Go-Fund Me site, We have not accepted grants from any foundation, publisher, business or union.
If you like what you hear, come join us at the US Department of Education in Washington on Monday, July 28, from 10 AM to 5 PM!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Five Ways to Tell Whether the Charter School Near You Sucks

There are some excellent charter schools in NY and around the nation. I am not attacking them. However, all too many charter schools have the following characteristics

1. Over paid "CEO's" who take pride in their dictatorial management style.
2. Terrorized teacher temps who have no union protection 
3. Student disciplinary policies which draw heavily upon shame and humiliation
4, Systematic weeding out of students who test poorly, especially ELL and Special Needs students.
5. Politically connected boards of directors who tolerate fiscal abuse, and in some cases benefit from it directly.

Poor and working class communities throughout the nation have been deluged with these schools in the last ten years, in part because favoritism towards them has been national policy under the Obama Administration, with the enthusiastic support of Republican elected officials. 

The results in terms of test scores, college entrance, or any other so called objective measure, do not justify the investment, much less the collateral damage that charter school favoritism has brought with it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

New York Now Leads the Way in the Movement Against Common Core- At The Polls

  Something truly extraordinary has happened in the New York State Gubernatorial race-something with broad national implications.  A big money Democratic Governor, Andrew Cuomo, who thought he was going to make himself a front runner in the 2016 Presidential Race by ramming through legislation requiring teacher evaluations based on Common Core aligned tests, has generated so much opposition among teachers and parents that there are now three different Gubernatorial candidates who oppose Common Core- the Republican candidate, Rob Astorino, the Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins, and the new and quite formidable challenger in the Democratic Primary, Zephyr Teachout.

   There are two reasons this situation is "game changer"

   First, it shows how much opposition to Common Core is emerging  across the political spectrum.  For the last year, Common Core supporters in the media, the corporate world, and the US Department of Education have tried to portray Common Core opponents as extremists whose views should be rejected out of hand, but the what we have in New York is a mainstream Republican, a strong candidate on the left, and a liberal Democrat all saying that Common Core is untested, undemocratic and a threat to strong, locally controlled public schools.  And this position is going to be put forward strongly from now until election day. Even if Andrew Cuomo wins the Democratic primary, he will be facing two strong anti-Common Core voices in the general election.

   Secondly, Zephyr Teachout's primary challenge to Andrew Cuomo shows that powerful, Wall Street financed Democratic politicians pushing Corporate School reform no longer can no longer be sure that their positions will go unchallenged and their jobs will be secure.  Anti-testing activism is now moving into the heart of the Democratic Party, and Democratic politicians like Rahm Emmanuel, Andrew Cuomo, and Dannel Malloy can no longer be sure their big money donors assure their political future.   Even the leaders of the national teachers unions have finally, thanks to their enraged membership, gotten the courage to challenge the Obama administration's education policies.  Ras Baraka's election as Mayor of Newark over a Wall Street financed Democrat was a first sign of Corporate Reform Democrats losing their vice grip on the party; Teachout's primary challenge is a second, and if Karen Jennings Lewis decides to challenge Rahm Emmanuel in Chicago, maybe, just maybe, the national Democratic party will get the message that its education policies are a disaster.

   What does all this mean?

   That anti-Common Core voters in New York, now have candidates reflecting their views in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and in third party movements, and do not have to vote against their conscience on other issues to oppose Common Core and the top down, elite financed, coercive approach to School Reform it represents.

   And that bodes well for the future of public education in the United States

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Teacher Temps and Computer Tenders Can't Move Children Out of Poverty

One of the things I am most worried about in the rush to on line learning and disposable teacher temps is the elimination of relationship building and mentoring, which in my experience, is key in having education move people out of poverty and promote upward mobility.

When you grow up poor, there are many skills other than strictly academic ones you have to learn to bring resources into your family and community, or if you choose, to move into the middle class. Teachers and coaches who go the extra mile for their students- especially those who remain in their jobs for a long time- play a critical role in imparting these skills

One of the best examples of comes from a great Brooklyn based baseball organization called Youth Service League, which my son Eric played for, and produced many major league players. The head of the league Mel Zitter, realized early on that the vast majority of his players came from working class Latino families who had little experience with the world their children would enter if they went to college or played professional baseball. So one of the things that Mel raised money to do was have his older teams stay in hotels and eat in sit down restaurants when they were travelling to other cities. He also had them meet with major league players who had come out of Youth Service to talk about what off the field adjustments they had to make. That way, when his players went off to college or were drafted ( Mel got junior college scholarships for almost all his players) they would be prepared to interact with people who came from much wealthier families, would not be intimidated, and could concentrate on what they needed to do in the classroom and on the field.

If we are going to do something to unfreeze upward mobility in this country and have public schools help lift young people out of poverty, we need teachers and coaches who can do the kind of things Mel Zitter did for his players, Teacher temps and computer tenders can't do that.

A Comment Which Reinforces the Argument in the Post

Pamela Lewis Even inside a real live classroom, that mentorship is becoming lost. We are timed down to the minute for each section of the lesson. Even our "mini lesson," a term I always found to be funny, is being shortened. At most, during the 11 years I have been teaching, we couldn't teach for more than 10-15 minutes. Now teaching 10 minutes is too long if u don't break and have the kids talk or answer questions during that time. I understand the push for discussion and student autonomy but the teacher in the room is supposed to be invisible these days. So many kids I have taught need me in the room, need my love, my wit, my face. We all know how much more we are than instructors. I've often been told that I'm the mother someone's never had, so how smart is it to make such a person invisible?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why Charter School Scandals Resemble the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

To understand why  we may be approaching a charter school crisis that resembles the one that developed around subprime mortgages, you need to understand how investment banks and credit rating agencies seized upon an instrument to make homeownership available to people with limited resources as a vehicle to make fortunes and advance careers, leaving the tax payers with a large bill. I think something similar is happening today with charter schools, once seen as an opportunity to provide better educational opportunities for families in low and moderate income neighborhoods. In each instance,  an institution initially aimed at expanding opportunity for those with limited resources became, because of government favoritism and lack of oversight, a vehicle for profit taking on a grand scale by the very privileged that sometimes left those the institution was designed to help in very bad shape
  The subprime mortgage was a loan offered by banks and financial institutions to people whose credit rating and financial position was too weak to qualify for a normal 20 to 30 year mortgage at the prevailing interest rate.  To protect the lender, this was done by making the interest rate much higher, with the penalty, in the case of default, being repossession of the home that was purchased. This was obviously a high risk endeavor for the borrower. But because the nation was becoming more economically polarized, with working class incomes plunging and middle class incomes stagnant, the Clinton administration and federal lending agencies started pushing this instrument as a way of keeping the dream of homeownership alive in the nation, especially among working class people and people of color.  Banks, savings and loans, and mortgage companies rose to the challenge, writing millions of these mortgages to people whose incomes and collateral did not qualify them for a conventional mortgage.
At times, they aggressively marketed these mortgages, pushing them on people who never dreamed they could purchase a home, triggering a wave of new residential construction in many parts of the nation.  It seemed like a democratic moment in the nation’s history- millions of new home owners, many of them people of color, a boom in residential construction, work for lawyers and bankers specializing in residential loans.
 But underlying this boom were shady practices that elected officials chose to ignore. Many of the mortgages were written in ways that hid the risks borrowers were taking with variable rates that rose sharply after the first few years.   There was no way  borrowers were going to be able to pay their mortgages with the rates they would have five or ten years after they were initially written and many  would lose the homes they had purchased.  Worse yet, investment banks began to bundle these mortgages into bond offerings, and sell them as a safe investments to insurance companies, pension funds, government institutions, and high end investors around the world, raking in huge commissions as they did so.  And here, corruption on a grand scale turned a risky lending practice into a destabilizing force of deadly proportions in the global economy.  Rating agencies, seeing huge profits being made by their best customers, the large investment banks, started giving triple A ratings to bonds based on the bundling of individual mortgages which, were they rated, would have been giving a rating of “F.” This practice ended up spreading the risk into every corner of the global economy, as investors rushed to gobble up the bonds, more mortgages were written and sold to meet the demand. And for a while it all seemed to work. Millions of people who never had homes how had them, while fortunes were being made in the writing, bundling and marketing of these mortgages.
   But inevitably, the boom turned to bust.  When the high rates on the mortgages started kicking in, millions of people defaulted on their loans, not only losing their homes but setting in motion a chain reaction which destabilized not only the banks which had written the mortgages, but the financial institutions which had bundled them, along with their customers. Some of the largest banks and insurance companies in the nation failed and went under, and others had to be rescued through an injection of funds from the federal government at huge expense to tax payers.  And as the economy plunged into near Depression, the residential housing market was shattered, and along with it the dream of widespread home ownership among the poor. Today, there are 13 million abandoned homes and commercial properties in the US, while large numbers of families live doubled and tripled up in properties which were designed to be private homes
      While the comparison is not exact, there are some powerful similarities between what happened to subprime mortgages and what is currently taking place with charter schools, another “short cut” to opportunity which has been seized upon by elites for financial and political gain, to the detriment of those for whom the charter school was initially designed to help.
     Charter schools, which are public funded schools which have their own boards of directors and can set their own hiring policies, curricula, and patterns of student recruitment and discipline independent of the regulations governing public schools , were initially created to promote greater experimentation and innovation in public education.  Many early charter schools were created by teachers and parents and promoted innovative pedagogies. Some still do.
    But somewhere along the line, public officials began to see charter schools as a way of circumventing expensive labor contracts with teachers unions and of providing an alternative to public schools in inner city communities which had been battered by disinvestment, job losses and drug epidemics. They invited foundations and the private sector to come in and create charter schools on a far larger scale and with a very different model than parent/teacher cooperatives, using private money as well as public money.  The professed goal was to give inner city parents and students safe alternatives to battered, underfunded and often troubled public schools, something many parents welcomed, but inviting powerful interests to help shape what was essentially an alternate school system free from public regulation and oversight proved to be as dangerous as it was tantalizing.
    By the end of the Clinton Administration, “Charter School Fever” had started to spread through Corporate America and Wall Street, spurred on by an investment tax credit that offered huge tax breaks for those who invested in charter school construction.  Not only did the number of charter schools rise exponentially in every city in the country, but self- described “education entrepreneurs” began creating  charter school chains, some of them non profit, some of them for profit,  which attracted  private funding along with public money, headed by powerful “CEO’s” who were sometimes relatives and friends of powerful politicians, and in a few instances, politicians ( or ex-politicians) themselves. Flush with funding the chains began building new schools in inner city neighborhoods where public schools were starved of funding, or in some cases, colonizing existing public school buildings and seizing the best facilities.  Founders of the new chains eagerly embraced the corporate model of management, giving their executives far higher salaries than their counterparts in public education, and creating a climate of insecurity and fear for their teachers, along with data driven performance targets, with the expressed goal of vastly outperforming inner city public schools on the standardized tests which had become the central component of school evaluation following the passage of No Child Left Behind.   
    By the middle of the Bush administration, hundreds of new charter schools had been created in cities throughout the country and charter schools were rapidly emerging as the favored strategy for inner city education among an unprecedented array of interests including Wall Street and Silicon Valley, Civil rights organizations, Hollywood and the media, and the Democratic and Republican leadership. The prospect of creating great schools in inner city communities while  offering opportunities for profitable investment, all without raising taxes or increasing school budgets proved irresistible to  a broad spectrum of the nation’s leadership. Charter Schools, like subprime Mortgages, were increasingly marketed as a Win/Win proposition for all concerned, a way to help the poor while unleashing the creative power of the private sector. The power and breadth of this emerging coalition was revealed for all the nation to see when Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans in 2005.   Charter School advocates literally seized upon Katrina as the “Perfect Storm,  putting forth a plan to turn New Orleans into all Charter School district by phasing out and closing all public schools in the city. During the last three years of the Bush administration, the plan was put into effect with the full support of the city administration and the state legislature, leading to the closing of scores of New Orleans public schools and the firing of thousands of teachers, many of them teachers of color, replacing them with charter schools staffed by mostly white teachers supplied by Teach for America.
   But in terms of Charter School Fever and Charter School Favoritism, the Bush years proved to be only a prelude to what was to transpire in the Obama Administration.  With the appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and the launching of Race to the Top, President Obama not only made Charter School Favoritism official national policy, he put hundreds of billions   dollars of federal funds behind an effort to force municipalities to close “failing” public schools (defined as failing exclusively on the basis of student test scores) and replace them with charters.  At a time when the nation had fallen into a severe Recession, municipalities eagerly complied as a way of getting much needed federal funds, closing public schools en masse  and creating thousands of new charters, often with little oversight and only the most perfunctory investigation of the school founders and boards of directors.  Ironically, this was done even though the available research showed that charters did NOT outperform public schools in the same neighborhoods, with comparable student populations.  But data and evidence, when its results were inconvenient, did not deter the President and Secretary of Education from promoting Charter Schools as their preferred solution to problems of educational inequality, a position affirmed for all to see when the President celebrated “National Charter School Week” rather than “Teacher Appreciation Week.”
       It is in the Obama years, with the financial incentives of Race to the Top sparking rapid charter school growth with little oversight, that the abuses associated with charter schools began to take on proportions akin to those associated with the subprime mortgage crisis. In the case of the charter school industry, the abuses took two forms:  mistreatment of students, teachers, and families, and fiscal issues ranging from mismanagement to outright embezzlement and fraud.
   Many of the educational abuses of charter schools stem from their determination to make sure their test scores surpass those of neighboring public schools, thereby justifying the favorable treatment they receive, and hope to receive in the future.  These abuses include:
** Discrimination against Special Needs students and English Language learners. In every city in the nation, charter schools enroll far lower number of such students than public schools in the same neighborhoods.
** Expulsion or harassment of student who do not test well, sometimes right before state tests. In some cities, public school teachers have called this “The Charter School Dump” as they can expect an influx of charter schools students, who they HAVE TO accept, shortly before test time.  On one instance a famous charter school operator in NY expelled his entire 8th grade class because of their disappointing performance on tests
** Draconian discipline policies which would never be tolerated in public schools such as putting students in closets, having them stare at walls, or wear special articles of clothing to indicate they are being punished when they violate school behavior codes.
** Telling students, parents and teachers to avoid all contact with their counterparts in co-located or neighboring public schools lest they be “polluted” or “corrupted” by such contact.
** Failure to hire or retain teachers of color. Charter schools have far lower proportions of such teachers than public schools with comparable student populations.
Not all charter schools practice these forms of discrimination. But enough do, with the number growing every day, that the issue cries out for investigation at the city, state and federal level.
The same is true of fiscal abuse and political favoritism, which, if anything, may even be more prevalent. These include
**Inflated salaries for Charter School CEO’s and founders of charter school chains. One charter school operator in Washington DC is under investigation for drawing more than 3 million dollars in compensation a year.
** Putting public officials, and relatives of public officials on the boards of charter schools seeking public funding. Instances of this have been uncovered in Indiana, Florida, California, and Tennessee and can probably be found in most other states.
**Outright embezzlement of funds by charter school operators, instances of which have been uncovered in New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Connecticut.
** Involvement of charter school operators in real estate fraud with the intention of inflating the value of properties in neighborhoods where new charter schools are being built.
** The creation of on line and for profit charter schools, without serious oversight, even though such entities have no track record of effective instruction.
** The granting of charter school franchises, in some states, to religious institutions which teach creationism and biblical literalism, and exclude students who do not share those beliefs.
  What we have here, to put it bluntly, is a pattern of discrimination and fraud that hurts the very families the charter schools were intended to help, allows ambitious individuals to enrich themselves at public expense, and ultimately undermines the quality of public education in cities throughout the nation. The entire charter industry, riddled with fraud, corruption and discrimination, is poised to slowly build to a public education collapse if the trends of cherry picking the best students, dumping the high needs kids into public schools then closing them for under performing continues.
 It is time that all forms of Charter School Favoritism come to an end, that Charter Schools be subject to the same level of oversight that public schools are, that closing of public schools to make way for Charters stop immediately and that there be no further expansion of charter schools until their patterns of governance and operation fully investigated

Saturday, July 5, 2014

NBI at the NEA-Restore Crenshaw HS Music Director Dr Iris Stevenson

Important NBI at the NEA!

Restore Crenshaw High School Music Director Dr. Iris Stevenson

Therefore Be It Resolved That:

1. The NEA calls for the return of Dr. Iris Stevenson to her post as head of the Music and Performing Arts Magnet at Crenshaw High School now.

2. The NEA calls for an end to the LAUSD School Board policy of firing or driving out beloved and successful teachers who foster creative and critical thinking.

3. The NEA calls for an end to LAUSD’s practice of placing teachers in “teacher jail” where teachers are taken out of their classrooms and forced to report to without any charges or explanation, simply to be driven out of the teaching profession. 


Dr. Iris Stevenson is one of Los Angeles’ most renowned music teachers and the pride of Crenshaw High School. Under her leadership, the school’s choirs have won numerous national and international music competitions, performed across the globe, and have been invited to sing for world political leaders including President Barack Obama, French President Jacques Chirac and Prince Charles of Britain. 

In November 2013, Dr. Stevenson of took members of the Choir on a triumphant Thanksgiving Holiday tour that began during their break. By invitation, the Choir sang for the French government in France and for President Obama at the White House. 

Upon returning in December 2013, Dr. Stevenson was suspended by LAUSD administration pending a sham “investigation” for the District to determine whether they approved a trip that they could never have refused to sanction. For five months, Dr. Stevenson had to report to “teacher jail”, and today she is still suspended from her classroom at Crenshaw High School.

The District’s attack against Ms. Stevenson is politically motivated. Ms. Stevenson has been a champion of public education, especially for black, Latina/o, and immigrant students. She fought against the reconstitution of Crenshaw High School. Through Ms. Stevenson, students for many years have been able to break the boundaries of the isolation that comes from the profound racial segregation and mistreatment of the Crenshaw community. For thirty years Dr. Stevenson’s choir members have had the opportunity to travel the nation and the world, performing before government officials, royalty, celebrities, and countless others. She has helped thousands of students overcome so many stereotypes and to refine who they are. The District is targeting and witch- hunting Dr. Stevenson because she fights for her black, Latina/o and immigrant students, raises their expectations and fills their hearts and minds with hope and confidence. She is a living example of what can be achieved through public education and a classroom regime premised on bringing out the best in students. 

Winning this fight will build our movement and serve as an example for students and youth everywhere that when we fight we can win. It will strengthen the campaign to save public education and be a milestone in the struggle to defeat the new Jim Crow.

National Pattern of Decline in Percentage of Black Teachers

National Pattern of Decline in Percentage of Black Teachers

June 29, 2014 at 1:20pm
 From the late 1990's to today
44% to 19%
30% to 18%
12.3%  to 6.5%
Los Angeles
14.5% to  10%
San Francisco
8.3% to 4.6%
Please continue to gather this information
For New Orleans, NY, Detroit, DC, Newark, Philadelphia