Sunday, September 14, 2014

Civil Rights, School Reform and the Danger of Weakening Unions

At the turn of the 21st Century, Civil Rights leaders and their liberal suporters were desperate to find some point of access to addressing racial and economic equality  Looking at a grim political landscape due to the Democratic Party's movement to the Right, they decided that education reform was the only strategy that had a chance of securing bi-partisan support because it required no sacrifice on the part of business elites who had achieved an ascendant position in both major parties by the late 90's. The result, beginning with No Child Left Behind, was a national crusade of unprecedented proportions, fully bi-partisan, which still continues. Unfortunately, it has not only failed to achieve the desired results in education, but has seen every other indicator of inequality- from child poverty, to the racial wealth gap, to wage compression, to the concentration of wealth at the top- worsen, not only during the Presidency of George W Bush, but during the ascendancy of Barack Obama.

But liberals and Civil Rights leaders stubbornly cling to school reform and become increasingly desperate to make it work, an understandable if self-destructive act of political stubbornness at a time when no other egalitarian strategy is likely to gain bi partisan support. What they would have to accept is that continuing current School Reform strategies might actually be worse than doing nothing

But there is a further irony which indicates the trap that liberals and Civil Rights leaders have dug for themselves.. The only egalitarian strategy that has a chance of working would be the unionization of the nation's low wage workforce, but that requires strengthening the very trade unions that education reformers decided to undermine and attack!

It is time for a cold hard look by liberals at the failures of School Reform and for them to end their war on America's unions. Unless they want our current march to Plutocracy to succeed so well that all other options are foreclosed.

Football, Violence and the Language of Male Domination

Some of the best times of my youth and well into my 20's took place on a football field. Like many young men who played the game, I needed an outlet for the violence inside me. An outlet that would bring me respect, camaraderie and the friendship of other men, a friendship that crossed racial and cultural barriers more than almost any other activity I was involved in. But though the game required skill and athletic ability,it was still about violence. and my aptitude for it for it derived from the violence implanted in me by parental beatings and scores of childhood fights.

The language that suffused the sport, whether on the field or the locker room, was also violent, and in many cases, had women as its subject. Men were not only challenged and insulted by comparing them to women, but sexual conquests, real and imagined, were a constant subject of bragging and banter. Control over and consumption of women were constant subjects, to the point that when I became politically conscious in my late teens and 20's, I was reduced to silence on the football field, not my normal way of handling situations.

But the point is this. The culture of football, as I experienced it in the 1960's and 1970s, was something that I could easily see spilling over into domestic violence. both because so many of the people who played it well were filled with rage, and because women were so thoroughly objectified by the language almost everyone used. Have things changed so much since then?. I don't think so. It would be interesting to have a tape recorder on in a college or professional football locker room and hear how women are talked about in that setting.

I may be wrong, but if I am right, the effort to deal more forthrightly with domestic violence among football players may be more complicated and difficult than at first meets the eye.

Are Public Schools Focal Points of Failure in A Successful Society?

Many critics of our public schools imply that public education is an ugly center of failure in a largely successful society, However, singling out public schools for failure relative to other spheres of America economic and social life, such as our banking system, housing market, and medical system does not hold up on close scrutiny. Before Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind left teachers and students stressed and demoralized, our public schools may have functioned better and more equitably than those three.
If you say that our public schools didn't function all that well in our poor communities, which is true- ask yourself if they functioned any worse than our banking system, medical care system and housing market in those communities. Just look at banking. In the 1970's and 1980's.the banking system TOTALLY ABANDONED poor and working class communities where check cashing places charging exorbitant rates now serve as substitutes for banks! Perhaps that is the model for education Corporate Reformers have in mind. Or our housing market where tens of millions of families are doubled and tripled up or renting out rooms,while there are more than 13, million abandoned apartments and homes. And for medical care, have you compared life expectancy and infant mortality rates by race and class?.
We, in education, can learn a lot-- about failure and inequality-- by looking at banking, housing and medical care in the US.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stop the Attack on the Nation's Veteran Teachers!

The attack on the nation's veteran teachers- which has taken and continues to take an incredible toll on the mental and physical health of hundreds of thousands of people- is something which must be analyzed and exposed no matter whose "ox is gored" and that includes leaders of the nation's teachers unions. All over the nation teachers are being evaluated, micromanaged and rated in ways that are intrusive, humiliating, and demoralizing. Almost everywhere, teachers at the high end of the salary scale are the ones most targeted. Programs billed as necessary to improve the quality of the profession have turned into  cost cutting through humiliation. Administrators target teachers with the highest salaries; elected officials support such purges as an indirect way to cut pension costs. The varied measures chosen to evaluate staff and remove "bad teachers" have also contributed to the "whitening" of the teaching profession, something which has been documented in city and city which has been willing to provide researchers with the data. We now have a teaching force in this nation which is much younger, more unstable and whiter than it was fifteen years ago. And much less able to resist high powered campaigns to privatize public education and make it a profit center for corporate interests, to the detriment of the students and families public schools serve.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The California PAR Program- How Teachers Unions Have Collaborated in the Removal of Veteran Teachers and Helped “Whiten” The Teaching Profession.

During the last fifteen years, the teaching profession in the United States has undergone a massive upheaval. The average length of a teaching career has declined to 5 years; many veteran teachers have left the profession, either voluntarily of through forced termination, and the percentage of teacher of color, especially African American Teachers, has declined precipitously in many American cities. There are many reasons for these changes- among them a sharp rise in testing, the imposition of test based teacher evaluations; school closings and charter school preference mandated by Race to the Top- but one little examined factor has been union approved protocols for removing allegedly “bad “ or incompetent teachers” which has led to tens of thousands of teachers, often those at the highest end of the salary scale, being pushed out of the profession, or in the case of NY, Los Angeles and Chicago, being pushed into a teacher limbo where they represent a surplus labor pool.
One of the most publicized and highly praised of such protocols has been the PAR ( Peer Assistance and Review Program) which has been widely implemented in the state of California. PAR is a program which gives teachers, appointed by their union, input into the evaluation and rehabilitation of teachers given a “U” rating by their administrators. The program sounds great on paper. It has been praised as a model program by AFT President Randi Weingarten, and has been strongly supported by critics of dominant education reform policies such as Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody. However, thanks to research done by Brian Crowell, a highly rated African American teacher from Berkeley California who was given a “U” rating when he became a thorn in the side of administrators and union leaders in his city, PAR in California has been exposed as an abettor, if not an actual collaborator, in destructive and discriminatory policies.. What Crowell discovered, when he asked for PAR Data from major California cities, is that a large and statistically improbable proportion of teachers referred to PAR were veteran teachers at the highest
end of the salary scale, that most were women and that a disproportionate number were teachers of color. Worse yet, the pattern of teachers terminated at the end of PAR resembled those initially referred to the program. To quote Brian Crowell “,
I found it was over 80% women over 55 years old, masters degrees, tops on the pay scale and disproportionately minority. This was the data I uncovered in Berkeley, CA with the same trends following in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Diego California. A massive austerity and discriminatory program signed off on by the union at the pleasure and delight of school districts. Oakland was so laser like in its data that literally the most expensive teacher (with very few exceptions) at each of the school sites was referred for remediation and possible termination. I can’ tell you how many teachers have gone through this ordeal getting no support or representation from their union.
Crowell came to his devastating conclusion: that PAR actually ended up aiding and abetting California school districts efforts to cut costs by removing the highest salaried teachers, and in the process, undermining resistance to the very controversial “reforms” they were implementing, ranging from VAM, to Common Core, to intrusive teacher observations. Worse yet, instead of mobilizing resistance to these top down policies, teacher union leaders were signing off on them and implying they were teacher approved- participating in what amounted to a campaign of intimidation of rank and file teachers in which the union and school administrators were allied. In Brian Crowell’s words:
. “The outspoken teacher, the active union representative, the highly paid teacher are now arbitrary discipline targets of school districts. Couple that with CCSS and Common Core removing academic freedom no wonder the demoralization of teachers unions and the inability to fight back.”
It is time that teacher advocates, teacher union leaders, and all those who care about the future of public education stop endorsing the narrative that “Bad Teachers” are the main threat to the quality of our public schools, and to withdraw support from all measures which make it easier to remove veteran teachers until those measure are proven not to discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender and position on the salary scale.
PAR, and programs like it, have let to a cruel, and massive assault on veteran teachers all over the United States, documented brilliantly in Laurel Sturt’s brilliant book Davonte’s Inferno: Ten Years inside the New York City Public School Gulag, as well as Brian Crowell’s important research. They have also contributed to a shocking whitening of the teaching profession in major urban areas, even though may city’s are reluctant to reveal that date. In Chicago, the percentage of Black teachers has fallen from 44% in 1995 to 18% today, and most major California cities have seen the percentage of Black teachers go down precipitously in the last ten years. In California as a whole, there are 4,000 fewer Black teachers than there were in the year 2000.
There is something badly wrong when teachers unions have become collaborators in brutal cost cutting, in age race and gender discrimination, and in the removal of teachers most likely to lead resistance to the destructive policies imposed on public schools by the last two Administrations in Washington.
It is time for rank and file teachers union activists to stand up and call for a suspension of PAR and an immediate review of all protocols for evaluating and terminating teachers that have shown themselves to reinforce age race or gender discrimination. And the time to do this is now
Thank you Brian Crowell and Laurel Sturt for sounding the alarm. Enough is enough

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When Teachers Marry Police Officers- Reflections on Race and Neighborhood Culture

During the controversy over the teachers who wore NYPD shirts to work in protest against their unions participation in the Staten Island March mourning the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, numerous commentators noted, correctly, that it is quite common in New York City for teachers to marry police officers.

This pattern is particularly common in certain New York Cit...y ethnic neighborhoods, many of which I became quite familiar with during my 15 years of  coaching Catholic Youth Organization basketball and sandlot baseball in Brooklyn Queens and Staten Island. Among those which immediately come to mind are Marine Park and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn, and Belle Harbour ( particularly St Frances De Sales parish) in Queens. In those communities, it was ( and in some cases still is) quite common for young women to become teachers, and young men to become firefighters and police officers, and for the former to marry the latter

I have great affection for these communities and the people in them. All produced more than their share of heroes during 9/11, some of whom were personal friends whose deaths I still mourn.

However, there is one feature of all these communities which has to be faced honestly- they had few if any, Black residents. People growing up in those neighborhoods had almost no contact with Black people unless they went to school outside their neighborhoods, and rarely had Black people as part of their social networks or extended families. This did not make people openly racist. The teams I brought into these communities, which were multiracial, were normally treated with hospitality and respect, though there was one important exception to this instance in a parish which was adjoining a Black community
What it does mean however, is that in those communities, people did not have a first hand, direct exposure to how Black New Yorkers saw the world, their nation and the city, and how their views and experiences might differ from those of most whites.

Fast forward to the death of Eric Garner. Given such a racially sheltered upbringing, it is easy to see how teachers who have police officers in their family might not grasp how difficult this event was for their African American co-workers, or the families of African American children in the schools where they teach, and what feelings of vulnerability it triggered.

The main point here is not to explain or excuse but to suggest we all- even the best among us- pay a price when we live segregated lives and live in segregated neighborhoods.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What's Wrong With Minneapolis Schools

As someone who has followed events in Minneapolis Schools for some time, I am not surprised by this author's comments. Well financed School Reformers who see Charter Schools and Teach for America as the path to educational equity have dominated school planning in Minneapolis. But having revolving door teaching staffs largely drawn from outside the state have, almost everywhere they have been tried, weakened the communities high needs schools are located in., How about a different approach- one that emphasized public schools that are round the clock community centers, that hire neighborhood residents to work in them, and try as much as possible to recruit teachers either from these communities or willing to settle in the communities where their schools are located and work in them a long time. Imposing an educational model created outside neighborhoods and staffed by people with no long term connections to neighborhoods is not working. Time to go back to the drawing board in Minneapolis and around the nation.