Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bronx Principal Jamaal Bowman Debunks Common Charter School Myths

Please allow me to indulge for a moment. First, good schools are good schools. I don't care what we call them. The most important thing in a child's life after a parent is a good teacher, coach, or mentor. When I say good schools, I don't mean schools that simply have good test scores. I'm speaking of schools that get good scores, as well as develop the character and passions of their students toward self actualization.
Allow me to debunk a few charter school myths. I don't know if this applies to all charter schools but definitely the ones I have some experience with. First let me say that studies show if a parent is savvy and passionate about education, regardless of race, class, or educational background, their child is more likely to graduate high school and college. Charters (at least the ones I have experience with), make sure that parents prove how serious they are before even giving their child a chance of getting in. For example, one charter that I know, mandates (not using this word lightly), that parents attend 5-6 meetings before even entertaining the possibility of the child making it to the lottery. These are obviously parents that value education in the home. If parents miss one meeting, no lottery. On the other hand, district schools have to take everyone. The savvy parent AND the struggling parent without meeting mandates. A parent can go through an entire school year without attending a meeting and the child is guaranteed a spot in a district school.
Further, in case you didn't know, parents also sign contracts in many charters to ensure homework is done, meetings are attended, and certain behavioral execrations are met. If the parent or child breaks the contract, the child can be kicked out of school. I know. I've seen it done while "interning" at a charter school.
Lastly, charters can fire teachers and have extremely high turnover rates. From my conversations and observations of charter schools, I've heard many of the policies and procedures be called "inhumane." This could be why so many teachers can't last anymore than two or three years in many charters. Ironically, these charters serve as a perfect pipeline for TFA --mocking two year commitment.
Based on what I know, as they are currently constituted, charters, TFA, and yearly standardized testing are wrong for our high need communities. We should stop funding them all unless they agree to make major adjustments to how they do business. Why? Because that money can be spent on giving all students a quality holistic education. Charters, TFA, and yearly testing infuse anxiety, disunity, and even worst, standardization into the psyche of society. They are trying to recreate a 21st century idea of "empire." Keep the masses, and "lower class" under control while the elite continue to rule. A standardized mindset will always be controlled. Whereas in schools like Riverdale Country School, there are not state standardized assessment, no TFA and no need for a charter, and they are taught to lead and change the world.
Consider KIPP'S first graduating class. Ranked fifth in NYC in mathematics in the 8th grade, but only 21% graduated college. Why? Because KIPP test prepped the kids to death and the kids never built their character or learned to manage their own freedom. KIPP and many charters standardize and try to control everything from how kids walk through the halls to how they ask to go to the bathroom. But teaching and learning is organic; it is human. When are we gonna ask ourselves why must poor communities of color be treated like this, whereas middle class and upper class parents would NEVER go for this treatment!
WE HAVE TO hold politicians and private citizens who invest in education accountable to the true needs of our at-risk communities. We must give our communities a true voice. If charters, TFA, and the state really cared about our children being their very best, show us, by investing in daycare, Montessori, music, sports, counselors and everything in between. Charters should take all children and TFA should change everything! If not, the powers that be will continue to fatten up the district school kids to be slaughtered and fed to their private school bosses as adults.
For the rest we have jail cells waiting for them #wemustunitenow

Monday, February 23, 2015

No Teacher Left Behind: A Poem

I remember 
the time
They started making
the nation's villains.
It was 2001
Or maybe 2008
I forget whether 
It was Republicans,
Or Democrats,
Who started it
But they both joined
So by 2015
There was no 
Left behind
In the witch hunt.
Marked with a
scarlet "T"
A big target
on their front and back
an invitation for all
To attack.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Is the Atmosphere in Low Income Communities "Toxic?"- Two Different Visions of Urban School Reform

Urban School Reform,as it has been promoted by the Obama Administration, and implemented in almost city in the nation. is based on the assumption that poor neighborhoods, poor schools, and poor families are toxic, preventing young people "trapped" within them from achieving success in a dynamic and progressive society which provides limitless opportunity for trained people. If you follow that logic, closing long established public schools, firing their staffs, and replacing them with charters who staffs are "untainted" by neighborhood culture makes perfect sense. That's the only way to free children from cultural influences which will pull them down and prevent them from realizing their potential

But what if that basic assumption is wrong. What if the main source of "toxicity" in the society is elites who monopolize the nation's wealth, control its political system, and keep wages and compensation artificially low for the majority of the society's population? If that is the case, what School Reform does is put a once public resource at the disposal of elites for as a source of profitable investment without significantly expanding opportunity for the young people in it.

If the US is a basically healthy, well governed society whose poor neighborhoods are centers of dysfunction; then shuting down schools and starting over might make sense. But if the US is an Oligarchy, ruled by selfish, ruthless elites, then closing schools is a clever ruse to further disorganize the poor and make them unable to fight for a fair share of the nation's resources.

Which analysis do you think is right?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Speech that Got Michael Bowen "Booted for Life" from Buffalo Board of Education Meetings

The speech that got Mr. Michael Bowen "booted for life" from the Buffalo Public Schools Board of Education meeting:

The City of Buffalo is not unique when compared to other cities around the nation in regards to public education. The very same thing is occurring in Detroit, Chicago, Philly, Newark, and now Buffalo. The term is called privatization of education. It's when a group of investors: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Pearson Education team up with the Federal and State governments and take advantage of a fabricated problem to replace public education with their private product. You won't read this in the Buffalo News. They ignored the NYSAG investigation for two years. Why? Warren Buffett is partnered with Bill Gates and Pearson to bring you the Common Core. He and Berkshire Hathaway are profiting from privatization, the Common Core, standardized tests, and charter schools. This is going on in 45 states.

Mr. Paladino knows nothing about education outside the "failure script" provided by NY Gov. Andi Cuomo, the Buffalo News, and Regent Bob Bennett. He is nothing more than the gatekeeper of privatization of education in Buffalo. His conservative face and democratic donations prove him fraudulent. I had an educational dealing with Mr. Paladino outside of BPS I would like to share. In 2006, he promised to relocate a baseball diamond he displaced when he purchased property from the rear of our school in West Seneca to construct his hotels. He also agreed to build a playground. Over 6 years, parents raised approximately $30,000.00 for the project.

Last June, construction began on the playground then surprisingly stopped with the promise it would resume over summer and be completed for opening day in September. I drove by school before the first day and I observed a mammoth dirt pit and no playground. I inquired around the district and had learned Mr. Paladino was possibly buying the entire school, not just a portion of land. He owns 3 hotels, 3 banks, a gas station, and most of the residential property in the Slade Ave. neighborhood. Now that he was buying the entire school lot, he doesn't want to build the playground. I spoke up and asked, "Aren't the kids deserving of the promised playground their parents paid for, especially if it is the last year at their school?" My questions were met with scorn. What could I do? I periodically visited the work site and took pictures. I contacted Mr. Paladino on Facebook and Twitter. I published the pictures of the unfinished playground and screen shots of his replies. The whole month of September, authorities claimed it was built. I have video of a backhoe working on the site Oct. 3rd that proves otherwise. I truly believe it was because of the pictures and video our group shot and the references to Ellicott Development and the incomplete work I tweeted that the playground was finally built. I stand corrected, the commemorative bricks, again purchased by parents, were never installed. If Mr. Paladino cannot fulfill a promise made on something as small, simple, and yet significant as a playground, how can he be entrusted to run an entire district?

Newark and Buffalo: Where "Civil Rights" Have Become Civil Wrongs And the Obama Admin Remains Silent

In Newark and Buffalo, attempts to promote charter schools over public schools, and suppress the voices of educators and community residents have stripped the "Civil Rights" rationale from School Reform in the most naked way. In each city, an authoritarian white leader- in Newark Cami Anderson, in Buffalo, Carl Palladino- have attempted to stifle community input into education policy while seeking to intimidate some of their city's most respected Black educators. In each instance, officials of the Obama Administration and the US Department of Education, who constantly claim that replacing public schools with charter schools advances the interests of children of color, have been conspicuously silent.

Let us be perfectly clear- what Cami Anderson and Carl Palladino are proposing mirrors what the Obama Administration is recommending for schools in the nation's cities, yet large portions of the Black and Latino communities in Newark and Buffalo are up in arms about what is being done to them, and how their voices and opinions have been rendered irrelevant or viciously attacked.

Rather than facing that contradiction, and standing up for democratic governance of public schools, officials of the Obama Administration remain silent.

At its best, this is opportunism. At its worst, it is a short sighted and hypocritical failure to recognize that their policies are not only flawed, but may be undermining the very objectives they claim to promote.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"One, Two, Three What Are We Fighting For" by Anonymous

 Today, America’s young people face the gravest threat they have confronted since the Vietnam War. In the 60’s, their lives were endangered by a Bi-Partisan military initiative destined to fail.  Today, their minds are threatened by a Bi-Partisan educational initiative that Is squeezing creativity and joy out of the nation’s public  schools.

 The Vietnam War generated one of the largest domestic protest movements in modern American history, eventually forcing  the US to withdraw its troops from this terrible military adventure; we  need a protest movement of equal size to force the insane levels of testing out of our public schools, tests which in their linkage to teacher evaluations, are turning all instruction into test prep.

 The Musicians and poets then rose to the occasion, developing  songs like Credence Clearwater’s “Fortunate Son” and Country Joe and the Fish’s “Fixing to Die Rag”to arouse the public against an unjust and unnecessary war and to force the US government to withdraw its troops.

We need a similar mobilization of songwriters and poets behind parents, students and teachers forcing the US government to withdraw its tests by Refusing to take them!

It is in that spirit that I have taken the first line of “Fixing to Die Rag” and applied it to education

“So It’s One, Two Three What Are We Fighting For”

OK, Parents Teachers and Students, This is What we are fighting For

** Classrooms where children’s potential and aptitudes guide instruction, not the profits of test makers or the needs of future employers

** Schools where recess and physical education periods  are sacred, times when young people get needed exercise and a release for tension, not another period of test prep.

** Classes which, at all levels,leave room for play and imagination, where children are allowed to be children,and all young people are allowed to dream

**Schools where the arts, and science and school trips are never sacrificed to prepare for tests, and where joy has equal weight as academic achievement

**Schools where testing, when it occurs, is used to help students improve their skills, not sort them out or rate their teachers. No test should ever be given which is not returned to students, teachers and  families to assess individual students progress

** Schools where no child, because of their race, or class  economic background, is viewed as a potential criminal, and is subject to “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies designed to whip them into line

**Schools where teachers are treated with respect, and encouraged to stay in schools for a long time and develop long term relationships with students and families

**School communities where parent,student and teachers voices are welcomed and shape development of curriculum and school policies,  and where the local community is welcome to come in after normal school hours end

** School Governing bodies at the city, state, and national dominated by professional educators, not business leaders, who respect local control of schools and solicit teacher parent and student input.

** A National Education Policy which stops using threats of school closings and privatization to improve student  performance and uses cooperative, and not coercive measures to help schools improve

** A Commitment, from all levels of government, to make public schools places where children are nurtured, and loved and inspired in all their diversity and individuality. Where profit isn't in the equation and where critical thinking is prized and enlightened citizenship is the goal;

The Snowy Day the Public Took Buffalo Schools Back--by Publius

Buffalo, February 11, 2015

The Snowy Day the Public Took Our Schools Back

“Why aren’t you listening to the public?” Buffalo Board of Education member Ms. Bianca Brown asked the majority block of all white, mostly real estate developers after another raucous night of democracy.

Now that’s leadership.

Funny thing is, Ms. Brown is the non-voting student representative on the Board.

Why did she so boldly ask the Buffalo Board of Education this direct question?

She asked because she, like all Buffalonians, sees an immoral majority and moral minority split on the Buffalo Board of Education.

She asked because she witnessed Board member Larry Quinn (known for < during Board meetings) ignoring one of the very students he pretends be concerned about.

She asked because, the citizens – who had braved a cold, snowy Buffalo winter day to rally for their schools – repeatedly defended Kevin Gibson, the teacher who was thrown out of a public meeting by Quinn simply because he was a member of the Buffalo Teachers Federation’s union. Apparently the Board is not familiar with Section §10, Legislative declaration of the New York Open Meetings Law.

Ms. Brown asked because over the past several months, Mr. Quinn has referred to teachers as “clowns,” “idiots” and “pigs” rather than work collaboratively with them.

It’s clear that these pesky Buffalo citizens are messing up his, and fellow carpetbaggers Carl Paladino & James Sampson’s business plans to disassemble and profit from at the expense of children. Lest we forget these profiteers are directing millions of dollars away from some of the nation’s poorest kids.

It is also clear the public understand what the Board doesn’t want them to understand. Mike Vacanti, an Economics teacher from McKinley High School gave the audience a “pop-quiz.” When asked “What is the primary goal of a business, like charter schools?,” the unanimous reply was, “profit.” He queried further, “What is the primary goal of a public school? and was answered uproariously, “to educate!” Vacanti delivered one of the night’s better zingers. While tabulating the audience’s quiz grade, he took an inordinate amount of time to add 1 + 1. Vacanti apologized for the delay noting, “I was using Common Core Math.” He proclaimed the public, “Highly Effective.”

An unfathomable 78% of Buffalo Public Schools students live in poverty. These numbers are skewed because Buffalo’s pervasive poverty is coupled with the fact that our district is the most highly chartered in the state and those charters tend to serve the needs of Buffalo blue and white collar, middle class community. Making matters more unconscionable, New York State has the most segregated public school system in the nation.

Tapestry Charter School alone pays close to $1,000,000 annually to rent a school building owned by none other than Carl Paladino. This building was built, despite protestations from self-appointed reformy maven Amy Friedman, who lamented it was unfair to have to pay a prevailing wage to laborers while Paladino’s Ellicott Development company received close to $700,000 in tax breaks to construct his building. Lay your fears to rest; according to the Buffalo News (renowned clarion for the “schools-are-failing crowd”) there are no conflicts-of-interests according to Paladino’s lawyers because he puts the income from Charter school rents into a trust for his son… What’s that joke about waterfront land for sale in Florida?

These are the same lawyers, presumably, whose extralegal attempts to get a school principal caught up in an unfortunate imbroglio to answer questions not through the Board, but through his private real estate office. When Carl’s henchmen didn’t get the answers they wanted, Paladino sent a rambling tirade of an email that included such gems as,

            “She is obviously part of the sisterhood friends and family club,”


“You are blind to your incompetence and the dysfunction that your racist and union oriented attitudes brought to the Buffalo Public Schools. … You should resign.”

It’s ironic that Paladino accuse and African-American woman of being racist. Remember his Tea-Party bid for Governor of New York when he was caught up in the public shame of his own racist-laden emails being released.

Seriously Carl? Who should resign?

The Board majority was asked why they do not listen to the public because Paladino tonight defiantly told the public, despite the admonitions of civil rights expert, Mr. Gary Orfield of the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, that this Board would not “let grass grow” and will push forward with its plans to close our schools. For the record, Mr. Orfield did inform the Board,

“It would be advisable to avoid major changes in the use of the district’s facilities until this work [of the investigation] is done and the district and Office of Civil Rights have agreed on a plan.”

Paladino’s defiance was reminiscent of Governors Faubus and Wallace’s non-compliance with federal desegregation laws.

And on and on it went…

Ms. Brown asked this poignant question because tonight’s Public board meeting was a triumph of democracy. Board President Sampson doesn’t like it when citizens question his having voted on a lucrative contract that went to a company he was then president of. Among other things we the taxpayers funded was $64,000 to pay his fees to Buffalo’s elite supper clubs [public not welcome]. When asked, Sampson crowed out his favorite line, “You’re done” and had the citizen escorted out.

This favorite directive was brandished repeatedly tonight as speaker after speaker called out Board members directly, exceeded allotted speaking limits and continued to talk, boo and jeer the bombastic and cantankerous Sampson into irrelevance. The citizens repeatedly, loudly and democratically chanted, “Whose schools? Our Schools!” & “Who decides? We decide!”

Fully emasculated but still pouty, Sampson was powerless. Not one “rule-breaker” was escorted out. Not even a PUSH Buffalo organizer who continued to lead the “Whose Schools?” chant while face to face with the policeman who was directed to escort him out.

Recently, the Board has exploited the good men and women of the Buffalo Police to achieve the goals they cannot because they have lost the moral authority to run this district. Energized, speakers became increasingly defiant. Undaunted and clueless, Sampson foolishly repeated, “you’re done” only to be drown out by the good citizens of Buffalo as they shouted, “Let him speak! Let him speak! Let him speak!” The coup de grĂ¢ce came when the citizens began proclaiming, “No Sampson, you’re done!”

The night was full of democracy. The Board was reprimanded for policies that will lead to more gentrification, accused of acting like imperialists (a quote credited to Dr. Mark Naison), greeted by the melodic voice of Principal Crystal Boling-Barton singing “I Open My Mouth to the Lord” ending poignantly with the lyric, “and I won’t turn back.”

Barton then eloquently placed the evening into a larger context, comparing the audience’s calls to accept their community developed re-design plans to the efforts of Civil Rights activists. Last week, Ms. Barton did the same as she took the moral high ground and shamed this board simply by recognizing their disdain for the public trust.

Barton was preceded by Phil Rumore, President of the Buffalo Teacher’s Union. Mr. Rumore sternly informed the Board that their leveraging technique of telling the schools their re-design plans might be considered if the Buffalo teachers acquiesced to their reformy demands, that this action would result in a likely sanction from the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). As you could guess, their demands are straight out of the Broad & Gates foundation-funded stink tanks that our shill of Governor Andrew Cuomo is similarly trying to use as he withholds state funding for districts unless they accept a hodge-podge slate of his hedge-fund buddies “reforms.”

It is nice working in a state that still has unions and labor boards. Interestingly, New York still has a strong middle class.

One of the more powerful moments of the night came from another student. Max Reiling denounced the board for their failed policies and proudly proclaimed that he and the student body of the city’s best magnet school, City Honors, stood with the students of Bennett, Lafayette, East and Martin Luther King School. Former City Honors student Johnny Sansone (aka Johnny Buffalo) put the impending closing of a school named for Dr. King into prophetic context in a hip-hop anthem entitled “Rally to Save Buffalo Public Schools.”

Did Ms. Brown get an answer to her question?

No. Quinn (aka Cell Phone) dismissively moved to another hackneyed, union-bashing item on the business agenda.

Ms. Brown, we applaud you for speaking truth-to-power. Most importantly, you turned our despair into hope. The type of hope and change we all yearn for and were once promised. We will push back this hostile takeover of our public assets. Just last month, this Board was going to give away four public buildings to four charter schools. As of today, not a single charter school is slated to go into our buildings.

By simply asking, “Why don’t you listen to the public?” you emerged as a student leader who will be joined by all the other students who spoke, protested and beat-boxed in support of our Buffalo Public Schools.

At this point, the only way this Board will listen to the public is when the good citizens of Buffalo vote this shameful band of bandits out of office and out of our public schools.

But, alas, the Board has scheduled one last public meeting when all final decisions will be made concerning the closing of public schools so that private charters may colonize those buildings. This special open public meeting is scheduled, ominously, for February, Friday the 13th. Must be coincidence that the week-long February break is the following week. That’s shady.

Stay tuned. Organize. Fight. Register to vote. Save our public schools.

Yesterday, we were enervated. Today, because of the youth, we are all energized.

Welcome home democracy, it’s good to have you back.


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Incessant Testing of Our Students Must Stop- Guest Post By Justin Williams

Read aloud, in its entirety, during the community comments period, by Justin Williams at the Uniondale School District Board of Education meeting, Uniondale High School, N.Y., February 10, 2014

As you get older, wiser, more formerly and informally educated, life gets complicated.  My position as a teacher in our district as well as a product of our schools and a resident in the community is a complication.  Some might even say these aspects of who I am are a conflict of interests.  Others might say that I’m crossing certain unbreachable lines by acting upon my right to be an informed community resident, neighbor and professional. My intention is to be the good citizen, parent, educator and human being I was raised to be here in Uniondale, a town in which I hold a great deal of pride.  So I’m compelled to speak up about the detrimental effects of the incessant, standardized, multiple choice-based testing that is ruining both the lives of our students (and students everywhere) as well as the beautiful science we refer to as teaching and learning.  I am aware that previously, our board has made an official statement on this matter.

My two oldest children, one in 9th grade, the other in 4thgrade, do not attend school here in Uniondale.  They love going to school.  A big reason why is because their parents understand the intricacies of the educational system. Another reason is that we, as parents, do not allow our children to take any tests that are used for the purpose of evaluating their teachers.  This includes all state exams given in grades 3 through 8.  This also includes locally designed exams given in K through grade 11 at the beginning and end of each school year, commonly referred to as SLOs.  In addition, I do not allow my 9th grader to take any field test exams, which are practice tests used to help the State Education Department determine future questions for the high school Regents examinations.  My children will only take exams in school that impact their report card grades and academic transcripts.  My job as a father and husband is to protect my family. Protecting our children from excessive, abusive testing should be of paramount concern to every single person in this room and in our community.  But why?

First, teachers are evaluated, in part, based on the amount of growth their students show on locally created tests from the beginning of the school year to the end.  Therefore, every September now, teachers in Uniondale, across Long Island, in New York City and throughout our state and nation, give their students exams that they know their students cannot possibly pass.  In response to the sensible questions we receive from our students regarding why they have to take tests that we know they will fail, we, teachers, say things like,“Don’t worry about it, you’re taking the exact same test in June” or “Just choose random answers now, you’ll do better at the end of the year.”  Then, at the end of the year, many teachers and administrators feel so much pressure to see growth that cheating scandals are appearing in schools across the country. This demoralizing, embarrassing process is a waste of time, paper, money and energy for all parties involved.  But we have to do it, right?

Second, middle and upper middle class parents across the nation are participating in a growing revolt over the incessant testing of their children in public schools.  These parents are finding out that once the exams are completed and graded, they are not allowed to review them, their children are not allowed to review them and their teachers are not allowed to review them.  One great way of helping students improve is by showing them precisely how well they did or did not do on each aspect of the test.  This educational right has been taken from us as teachers, students and parents.  We’re talking about tests given in kindergarten through 8th grade especially, not state exams necessary for high school graduation.

Third, by the time teachers receive the numeric test scores in the later part of the spring semester, what do they do with them that will aid the academic development of their students?  The answer is nothing, because there is no time.  The crux of the school year is complete, one usually devoted much more to test preparation than it is learning about the world in critical, creative, authentic, joyous ways.  During the early part of the following school year, I would challenge whether or not it is a fair, humane practice to lump kids in learning groups based on a score they received over the course of a few hours of their lives, months before.  For all we know, that testing day may have been a day where one student may not have eaten breakfast, another may have been ill, another forgot his glasses, or still another may have been a bit down over the fact she hadn’t seen or heard from her father in over a year.  Education research has shown repeatedly that standardized testing, by itself, is a better indicator of household income than it is a measure of learning, let alone future success in life.  Soft skills like learning how to shake someone’s hand while smiling and making eye contact or professional networking are not measured on any of these tests. Where are our children learning how to perform these and other vital skills necessary for success?  There is far too much emphasis currently being placed on formal testing in our schools.

In addition, these scores do not reveal to experienced, well trained teachers (of whom this district has MANY) anything about their students they don’t come to know through the professional practices they spent a great deal of time and money studying in bachelors, masters and doctoral degree programs.  Under the current state of affairs, what we, as teachers, all over the country, are doing in our classrooms isn’t teaching.  It’s following a script.  It’s test preparation.  It’s being a robot.  Any amateur can be brought into a classroom to do this, people like those coming out of programs like Teach for America after a five-week crash course on teaching.  Real teachers are not being treated as professionals.  We’re not perfect, but perfection is not a prerequisite for being a teacher, an administrator, aboard member, politician, economist, an attorney, doctor, or any other professional.

Finally, it is our students, African American and Hispanic American children, who are and will continue to suffer the most from this period in the history of American education.  Even under normal circumstances, our particular population does not do as well on standardized tests.  Why?  It has nothing to do with their skin color and a great dealto do with the economic conditions within their homes.  As a teacher, I try to control for as many variables as I can.  I can’t control for the various issues that arise in the various households of my students.  What goes on in the lives of our students outside of these school buildings has a greater effect upon their scores than what I do in the classroom for 42 minutes a day.

This is the crucial reason why kids in Rockville Centre, East Meadow, Long Beach, Roslyn and Jericho do better, IN GENERAL, on state exams than our kids do. NOT because they’re smarter. It is the job of state and federal government, our elected officials, to create safe, democratic, economically healthy conditions under which all kids can thrive.  It is our responsibility to hold our elected officials responsible.  It is impossible for teachers to teach while doing the job of politicians as well.  Thank you for your time and attention.          

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Muslim Lives Matter: A View from the Bronx

I have taught and worked in the Bronx for nearly 50 years. i know the Bronx's neighborhoods and people  through work I have done with community organizations, programs i have done in the public schools, and countless hours spent eating, playing ball, and hearing music in many parts of the borough. And I will tell you this. Muslim immigrants, from West African and South asian countries,  and from Albania and the Middle East, have played a major role in revitalizing Bronxneighborhoods and business districts during the last 20 years. Their grocery stores, restaurants, travel agencies, mosques and Islamic centers, can be seen in wide stretches of the borough, from Parkchester to Highbridge, some in areas that had previously been devastated by fires and the crack epidemic. Overwhelmingly, they have played a positive role in Bronx communities, have gotten along extremely well with their Christian and Jewish neighbors and have preached interfaith harmony and co-operation. Whenever people attack American Muslims as would-be terrorists, scores of individuals from Bronx Muslim families and communities who i have worked with or taught come to mind, reminding me that an injury to one is an injury to all. I cannot remain indifferent when three young American Muslims, who could have been my students, are gunned down in cold blood just because of their religion. They are not the enemy. They are not the other. They are family.u

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Where Have All the Black Teachers Gone- An Anonymous White Teacher's Call To Action

Where Have All the Black Teachers Gone?
 ~ An anonymous white teacher’s call to action

It is time that the teachers of color that are left in our cities band together with white teachers to end the abuse of our children and the takeover of our schools. I want to see a teacher of color from each and every city stand up and lead a movement of teachers refusing to harm kids. It is evil that so many black and brown teachers have been removed from teaching and it is no accident.

They are after my friend and colleague, Marcus – a fellow high school teacher and the leader of a local activist organization and huge community advocate in the city in which I teach. He is black. He is the only black teacher in a school with over 88 % free and reduced lunch. He is the heart of the school and is as far from a school reformer as the east is from the west.

The administration is trying its best to remove Marcus from his job and that is making me very angry. I know he represents all teachers of color who are refusing to drink the education reform Kool-Aid.  He is the conduit in the building to the community that the school serves. He knows each and every family – their histories – their success and their failures. He knows because he is one of them in heart and is accepted by them and is trusted. He is an invaluable resources to the white teaching staff, because of his race, his place, and because he is accepted. He has a relationship with the community I never will have regardless of my own love and devotion to that community. He is the community; I am a welcomed guest.

It has taken me a decade and a half of working in my urban school to realize that I can never do what Marcus does. It was years before I would be invited to family parties and celebrations, but even when I do go and have relationships with my students and their families, I am always an outsider – a trusted outsider, but an outsider nonetheless. Marcus is the insider. Teachers of color are the insiders and we must do all we can to keep them in our schools as our way of connecting to the families of our students.

If you are trying to take over a school with top-down suppressive mandates, you cannot have someone like Marcus around. He is too dangerous because he can call the community out and can expose the injustices within the school system. He is the community. He, like thousands of teachers of color who have already been taken out of their classrooms, is a threat to the reformers.

Why are there no black teachers left in our classrooms? There are no black teachers left because they have been systematically removed from our schools.

Marcus has a huge target on his back. He can no longer teach the student-centered lessons he used to teach because of the intrusive new curriculum and the testing. So instead of having classes overflowing with students learning about urban studies, his classes are either deleted or are so poorly attended, his job is seen as superfluous. You see, the elective classes he and I used to offer for graduation requirements, no longer can be taken as requirements in the four disciplines – Mathematics, English, Social Studies, and Science. This is happening across the board – but more so with teachers of color who had a history of offering student-centered, student-focused, creative, and socially-appropriate classes.

Why are there no black teachers left in our classrooms? There are no black teachers left because most of them refuse to put up with the top-down management and micro-management that turns their students from human beings into data points. My friend is being written up because he refuses to comply with redundant and irrelevant demands.  I see him being set up to be taken down – because he is a threat.  It is ugly and wrong.
Marcus is a lifeline for the students in my school. He is the only black teacher we have and he has been in the building for over 30 years. But with few students in his classes, and with an evaluation system that is tracking every little omitted required task, I do not know how much longer he will be able to remain a teacher – even with tenure, even with community support, even with his unrelenting passion to “touch a life forever” and to literally work 24/7 to keep our students from entering the school to prison pipeline.

Why are there no black teachers left in our classrooms?  There are no black teachers left because white teachers are letting this happen. I myself do not know what to do. Teachers of color being pushed out and silenced is a huge issue and it is probably too late to do anything. The damage is done, but there is a remnant left who are just not going to go away – ever – and I plan to stand with them. I know I will stand with Marcus and put my own job on the line if need be. It is about the decimation of black voice - it is about class but I believe it is more about race. The spin masters are weaving a net that is going to blanket this country in death, desperation, and despair. And it is all so unnecessary.

Why am I going to stand with the few remaining black teachers? I will stand with them because if you silence all the black voices and if you kick out all the black teachers, our society will have condemned a generation or more of black children to poverty and suppression. The system now is set up so white kids grow up to be consumers and workers (which is bad enough), but too many black and brown kids grow up to be used, abused, and subservient their whole life.  I stand with the black teaching remnant because this is not what I want to leave behind as my generation’s legacy.

As a final appeal, please listen to the voices of the children as they call out to have teachers of color in their schools.
(This Story comes from Raise Up, a project of Youth Speaks in collaboration with the Association of Independents in Radio, funding by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of American Graduate.)

The Path Not Taken in Trying to Improve Schools- Soliciting the Input of our Best Teachers

If I were going to try to improve schools in low income communities, and indeed all communities, the first thing I would do would be to identify the best teachers who live and work in those communities- and everybody knows who they are- and ask them what policies they think would produce the best results !!! This is the one thing, to my knowledge, that no "School Reform Commission" in any state or any city has done.Instead, they bring in business leaders, consultants, academic "experts"-everyone but the people on the ground working with students and families every day.

And what is frightening is that, if by some miracle, education policy bodies would start doing this now, it might just be too late, because so many of these great teachers have been driven out of their jobs by misguided policies and micromanaging administrators. often with the collaboration of teachers union leaders.

When we wonder, ten or twenty years from now, why our public education system is still stagnant and gaps in performance by race and class are still huge, we might just consider that in our rush to bring business methods to this portion of the public sector, we squandered our most precious resource- the accumulated wisdom of the nation's most talented veteran teachers

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why School Reform is an Irresistible Strategy of Urban Development for Economic Elites

In virtually every urban center in the nation, there is a concerted effort, supported by a cross section of the business community, to dismantle urban public schools and replace them with charter schools. A full court press of this kind is taking place in Buffalo New York, Memphis Tennessee, Camden New Jersey, Little Rock Arkansas and literally scores of other small and medium size cities.
Why is this taking place, often accompanied by a campaign of demonization directed at teachers and teachers unions?
The answer is actually simple. Money. There are huge profits to be made, in the short run and long run, by dismantling urban public schools, and replacing them with charters Here is a summary of the ways elites gain from privatizing urban public school systems
1, Tax credits gained from investing in charter schools Federal tax codes allow a 39% tax credit for investing in a new charter school, allowing investors to recoup their initial investment in 7 years and begin registering profits.
2. Real estate speculation. Closing long established public schools destabilizes poor and working class neighborhoods and pushes residents into suburbs or the outskirts of cities, allowing real estate investors to buy up existing properties at bargain rates and build market level units that attract a far wealthier clientele. You can see this kind of investment in several New York, Chicago and Washington neighborhoods where public schools have been replaced by charters and it it starting to occur in small cities as well
3.Creating of consulting firms which get lucrative state contracts to "turn around" failing schools and school districts, or provide professional development services to newly created charters. There are actually now programs in "Educational Entrepreneurship" at major universities which train you how to do just that.
4. Creation of for profit charter schools or on line schools to replace public schools, a phenomenon which has taken off in Florida, but is about to spread to many other states.
5,.Weakening worker bargaining power in the private sector by destroying a key union in the public sector. One of the best ways to keep wages low is to weaken the labor movement as a whole, both as a bargaining agent and a political force, and attacks on teacher unions are key to weakening organized labor's power in urban centers.
If you look at what economic elites have to gain from destroying urban public schools, you can see why the attack is so widespread and so ferocious. And it will require a far more broad based and militant resistance than we have seen thus far to prevent this effort from succeeding

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thoughts on the Carol King Musical "Beautiful"

So many thoughts still running through my head after seeing the Carol King musical "Beautiful" last night. Liz and I were holding hands throughout the show because her songs had so much meaning to us, and because Carol King's story, in so many ways was that of our whole generation, who grew up with a hope and optimism and confidence in changing the world that is sadly missing today. The story line of the show,which included much we didn't know about Carol King's life, was incredibly powerful, the performances dazzling, sometimes astonishing, and the sheer array of life changing, gorgeous songs ("Up on the Roof" "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" "You Make me Feel like a Natural Woman," "You've Got A Friend") left us moved and inspired

There was sadness too, that this music was a product of a special time in American History, the mid-50's through the early 70's, when the wealth of the society was more widely shared than it ever was before, and would ever be since, and where working class and middle class Americans, not only thought the prospect of a good life was there for the taking,but that they could strive for that good life while making the country better for all those who had been left out of the American Dream. It was also a time when people still believed in Love and Romance and when the music nurtured that hope and expectation.

So many of the hopes and feelings associated with the music have come to grief, or seem naive, yet Liz and I still try to be guided  by them in our work and personal lives, We are still in Love. Still working for justice. Still trying to share our good fortune with others.

The great music Carol King wrote, that the show presented so lovingly,is not just a reminder of our youth, it is a moral compass that motivates us to keep true to the ideals we grew up with, and still remain the best hope for a happy life and a better world.

Time to Chuck the Small Schools Movement- A Commentary by Bronx Teacher Aixa Rodriguez

#WeneedaRestorationMvt: Time to Chuck the Small Schools Movement

By Aixa B. Rodriguez

The small schools movement in NYCDOE high schools has got to go. It has run its course and enough students have been experimented on, enough veteran teachers have been pushed out via institutional ageism and the UFT high school divisions have been broken. It is time for this lie to end. We need a restoration movement. These boutique schools based on half-baked themes, were really “charter lite” and allowed for many a despotic principal to burn their small faculty out. I could go on and on on about how these “small” schools have impacted the teaching profession, but I first, let us focus on what this 99cents bargain store attempt at education reform has done to the students of the Bronx. They have suffered under the lie of “school choice” and endured a narrowed curriculum, less services and supports, less electives and less variety of sports and after school extra-curricular activities. The very existence of small schools has impacted the remaining large comprehensive schools and the education of those students in those schools.

The students at the small schools have been sold the illusion of “choice”. Once committed to one of the many schools that have all types of colors, logos, themes, designs, uniforms etc., it becomes painfully evident that your choices end there. Hoodwinked and bamboozled: the kids soon learn they were sold an idea in a glossy brochure that was not fully developed.  Students are subject to taking courses based on what the school offers, and if your schedule permits it. Small schools do not have the funding to have a variety of languages, electives, or even levels of classes. Small schools do not have the ability to have flexibility in which teacher a student can choose to learn from. Have a personality conflict? Too bad, you won’t have options to choose from. Small schools most often don’t have “departments” larger than four teachers and they are usually committed to one grade. If you have an IEP that is an entire other set of problems, because you will be limited to the classes that fit your needs, ICT and SETTS, your therapies etc. It complicates your schedule, and you might find yourself having to take SETTS during lunch, or come to gym 0 period. Not exactly an attractive choice for a teen with a commute since local schools have died the slow death. No choice in classes. No choice in teachers. No wonder credit accumulation is a problem for many of these vulnerable students.

Let’s face it small schools do not, and will never have the supports that a large comprehensive school does. Even at year 4, small schools will not have the arts, music and drama faculty, the social services, the college counseling, the variety of sports and teams, the librarians, the computer/technology teachers, etc. The small schools will never be able to afford to pay the salaries of these professionals. The kids who attend these schools will not be able to benefit from the necessary services and instruction these people provide. This is well known. It is time to stop lying about whether this is okay. It is not.

Stop lying that a kid clicking out a tune on a keyboard in a classroom used for Social Studies and English from a Drama teacher who happens to know how to play the piano is getting the same instruction as a kid who attends a school that has an orchestra and music instruction for all 4 years. Stop lying that a little play done for parents in a cafeteria space is equal to fully produced musicals done on the large stages of the very school they attend only 30 years ago. Stop lying that the guidance counselor can give counseling sessions to all students, program all students, and help with college planning. Things fall through the cracks when one person does everything. Stop lying that teachers like myself can do an excellent job teaching both a foreign language and ESL in the same day to all levels. It is not happening. Stop accepting the mediocre for Bronx students. Stop it. Have the will to call out the injustice for what it is.

Why themes? The themes at many of these schools are not even  fully developed. There are many small schools with ridiculous names and ridiculous themes that have come and gone. The supposed close and personal education, and small class sizes promised by the small schools movement’s supporters does not happen and comes at a steep price. Honors classes, AP classes, remedial classes, business classes, psychology classes, life skill classes, all have taken a hit. Do Bronx students not deserve and need these courses? What’s the subtext of denying this to the students of the Bronx? Hmmm?

Stop lying that small schools can serve everyone well. There are populations of students being actively discriminated against by the very institutional structure created by small schools. English Language Learners, and students with IEPs and 504s have been impacted by the chaos of small schools. The rooms are limited. Teachers are forced to teach mixed level classes which wrecks the idea of consistent curriculum for grade levels in ESL. God forbid you need intense reading interventions, Wilson classes etc. If your small school isn’t hip to your needs, you will be grouped with everyone else for “equity” and spend effort trying to hide your weaknesses from your peers for fear of being discovered. #bullying #actingout #schooltoprisonpipeline.

Is it a choice when large comprehensive high schools have to absorb the excess students who don’t go to small schools at a “campus” bldg, and become extremely overcrowded, with the neediest kids, no real resources or extra supports to handle the chaos? Is it fair to those who chose to go to large schools to have their schools be collateral damage of the small schools movement?  Talk about #dontstealpossible ! Please. Every kid deserves the chance to find themselves. Small schools cannot serve the needs of all students, and when they close because they are disposable and are not beholden to the community and can be dissolved and created on a whim on a flimsy idea, then you don’t have alumni associations, the networks that many people use in the future as professionals. We are denying generations of students this access. What is the consequence of this to the students of the Bronx, raised in poverty, many of them immigrants and students of color? Hello?

Stop lying that small schools were great for teachers. Teaching as a profession has become collateral damage with the small schools movement in NYCDOE. The closing of schools just happened to cause a shake up that dumped out veteran teachers over 40, those with licenses no longer in vogue. It just happened accidentally that principals now with budgetary power had to worry not just about the teachers skill level but also their average salary level? It just so happened that entire schools could be populated with teachers all under 40? I was the oldest female teacher last year at 36. Oops institutional ageism. Where will mentors come from when you don’t have departments with veteran teachers? Science teachers mentoring Drama teachers. No mastery of the subject needed? Let’s all stop lying that the hours being put in for mentoring are not being fudged either. Teachers are being denied the opportunity for growth and self-actualization across the city. Our unions are unable to respond to this because they are fragmented in the buildings among small schools and subject to the popularity contests, petty cliquish competition and  too many inexperienced teachers who lack the knowledge to know why a certain initiative should not happen because of consequences like lack of credit accumulation or being out of compliance with the laws and therefore don’t push back against equally inexperienced principals.

We need to restore large comprehensive schools so the kids at a science school dont miss out on language, arts or technology. High school should give students the opportunity to explore the universe of ideas to prepare them for university. High quality programs are needed not high overhead for salaries for multiple principals overseeing the same basic classes under the illusion/delusion of choice. We need CTE classes like computer technology and automotive technology. We need music departments to collaborate with drama departments, dance departments and English departments and home economics departments and art departments to write plays, choreograph, act, build sets, and sew costumes. We need teachers of all ages and education levels. We need adjunct professors to be chairpersons of departments at high schools.  We need all students to have the same access to the same course diversity as is offered in suburban schools. We need our funding from NYS. We need to stop eduexperimentation in public schools on populations of vulnerable youth in poverty and youth of color. There was no informed consent for these EdDeforms. We need to implement strategies to help large schools function better, to be more responsive and inclusive of parents, to be less bureaucratic, but size is not the answer. We need to be innovative in how we communicate in the digital age. We need to be innovative in how we address discipline, safety and the need for consistent and safe and productive classroom environments.


Friday, February 6, 2015

A Veteran Teacher's Take on Teach for America- Guest Post by Justin Williams

I'm an actual teacher, the real McCoy. I trained to do what I do my junior and senior year of college. My first year in the field was as a substitute teacher by day, English teacher to alternative school 18-20 year old kids from 6-9 pm Monday through Thursday. I was 23 years old. I then went back to school for a year (full time, scholarship) to complete a master's degree. Then I got a full time teaching job during the day and coached football and track on and off for 15 more years, straight. In this regard, I am not special. Millions of my colleagues had similar experience coming out of accredited teacher preparation programs with great track records of producing teachers who prove to have staying power in the field.

Even with two years of teaching preparation, many teachers do not make it to year three in the field.

Teach for America, conversely, produces teachers with FIVE WEEKS of training before they are unleashed into the neediest classrooms in the neediest schools located in the neediest communities. Most of these people cannot possibly expect to be in the field very long. If I trained to be a surgeon or trial attorney for five weeks, how could I possibly expect to last in those professions? What on-the-job damage would I commit while in the midst of my hubris? How would my colleagues feel about my presence, my preparation, in comparison to theirs?

Excellent teaching is a science acquired over a number of years. If 1 in a hundred doctors in a 5 week Medicate for America program managed to be great long-term doctors in the field, would that be a valid argument to expand the program?

Public education needs to be upgraded, no doubt, but let the experts (people like us) work on the details of that. Working with politicians and parents, we'll get things done right.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

When You See A Teacher: A Poem

When you see a 
You are looking at someone
They can destroy our
And our country
By encouraging students to think
And worse yet have fun
They have to be
Put under observation 
And if necessary
To save America,
For the Billionaires,
Who alone are equipped
to rule us
In our own best