Friday, January 26, 2018

Ethnic Cleansing of the Nation's Teaching Staffs: A Civil Rights Tragedy Done in the Name of Civil Rights

During the last fifteen years, tens of thousands of Black teachers have been removed from their positions on the staffs of the nation's public schools. This unacknowledged ethnic cleansing, which has decimated the nation's black middle class, has taken place all over the nation, from Chicago, to New Orleans, to San Francisco, to Washington DC. Making matters worse is that the Black teachers removed were for the most part lifetime educators, while those replacing them have been white, short timers coming from programs like Teach for America.
Anyone looking at this pattern with the luxury of distance would say this was a tragedy of profound proportions, destabilizing communities and leaving our most vulnerable young people without mentors in their school. Yet the architects of the policies which produced this were for the most part political liberals using slogans like "School Reform is Civil Rights for the 21st Century" to justify school closings and mass firings of teachers in the nation's urban centers.
How did this happen? At the root of this was the profoundly misguided notion that public school failure, was the primary reason for the rapid growth in racial and economic inequality
in the United States in the last 40 years, and that "bad teachers"
were the primary reason for "failing" schools. This belief, promoted by billionaire "philanthropists" like Eli Broad and Bill Gates, spread through the foundation world like wildfire and influence a generation of up and coming liberal politicians like Barack Obama and Corey Booker. If you accepted this analysis, the fastest path to greater equality was to close failing schools
(with "failure" defined exclusively by test scores) fire their teachers, and start over again with new schools, preferably charter schools, staffed by young people from the nation's top universities. Though this explanation for growing inequality- in the US or anywhere else- would never be endorsed by any credible economist, it spread with the fervor of religion throughout the highest levels of the Democratic and Republican Parties. All across the nation, "School Reform" policies were put in place which mandated closing of schools where test scores were low and the funding of charter schools and alternative certification programs like Teach for America. One entire city, New Orleans, where the entire public school system was replaced by charters, and thousands of teachers were fired, was held up as model for the entire nation, and used to justify school closings, charterization, and teacher firings in almost every major city.
Only now is the country beginning to wake up and see the casualties- not in terms of the tens of thousands of Black teachers fired, but in terms of communities destabilized, and in many cases gentrified, and students left without mentors who understand them and believe in them.
It's time to put a stop to the madness, Stop closing schools Stop opening charters. Stop supporting alternative certification programs. Make cultural competence a higher priority than test scores. Start identifying and recruiting teachers of color to work in the nation's public schools. And begin rehiring some of the great teachers pushed out by the travesty known as "School Reform."

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Are Charters Resegregating Schools-Aixa Rodriguez Weighs In

Dear Mark,
Are charters resegregating public schools? I know you may not see it in NYC and there may not be obvious parallels to the segregation of the past, but I see the pattern. I believe they are. Let me tell you why.
One issue is that charters are particularly targeting/locating in neighborhoods that are black and brown. They are juxtaposing their facilities, and resources against those of the local public school. They co locate in public schools demanding the best space and squeezing the host school out like a parasite. Parents in these areas are understandably hungry for quality schools after decades of neglect and restructuring that caused chaos. They see what those schools have and want it. Who could blame them? Then the charters pit one group of parents against another; a parasite attacking its host, the charter parents vs public school parents. The divide begins.
They prey on the frustration with the public schools and the feelings of parents of color who wish they could offer their child the best, who want the best and can't afford private school. “Public Schools are bad” is their main advertisement. That is a problem. It separates us. The biggest issue is the disunity they create by pitting one group of parents who feel entitled to put their kids in a charter because it is their "choice" versus the parents who choose public schools and whose children are being impacted by the siphoning of money and students to these schools. Divide and conquer.
Charter supporters are often seen talking up how they are saving black and brown kids but are not accountable for their harsh discipline, abuse, and the negative impact their presence has on the education quality of other brown and black students. Those kids are simply collateral damage. The kids they routinely pushed out of their schools when they are unable to serve them, just eggs for an omelette.
Consider the ridiculous white savior attitude of hedge fund board members and charter school leaders who claim the mantle of civil rights and actually use language like "we are helping little black kids" in their attacks and swings at the public school system. They try to play the race card while deflecting blame and changing the subject.
The segregation moves charters are imposing may not be obvious on a racial basis in a city like NYC, however, when you look at who is attracted to the charters, we have several things to look at.
1. academic segregation: parents with bright kids are justifiably afraid of the violence, bullying and crass climates and behavior in local public schools. As the bright kids are siphoned out, the resulting population in the public school does not have those kids to balance out their statistics. This has a serious impact on scores, and eventually school closings. The well publicized push out of children with disabilities either with IEPs or 504s, is another layer of academic segregation. Increasingly small pockets of ELLs are being welcomed into charters but not in large numbers at all. There is talk that they also are experiencing push out if they don't "learn english" fast enough or have low grades on exams. The result is the local school having to take students after the charter has already received and kept state funding for.
2. Socio-economic segregation: The lottery process and recruitment for charters is getting more aggressive than before , with student info being released so advertisements can be sent home. The middle class and aspiring middle class parents who are attentive to the dates and steps for their process to apply to these schools are the ones who will secure seats first. These families are siphoned out of the public school population. If they are the types to be engaged and involved, to have the economic resources, skills and talents to mobilize and fundraise, the public schools are missing out on this.
3. Racial/Ethnic/religious segregation: The entire process of applying to a charter means that some groups will not be immediately aware of the options and the charters will not get as many of these sub-populations. Unless charters take all children, the public schools will continue to have the vast majority if not ALL of the newcomer English Language Learners, new immigrants and diverse religious groups.
Charters use the manufactured failure of public schools to justify their existence. They mean to create the environment that leads to school closure and paves the way for their wholesale real estate take over. Redlining education? Feels like it. This is #edugentrification, the Columbusing of our school system, the shock doctrine in education.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Precious Legacy

My 4 grandparents
came in steerage
The wretched refuse of
countries seen as toxic 
in the halls
of Congress
They sold herring on the 
streets of Brownsville
pressed garments, tended
bar, fought scabs, cooked and
sewed in disease filled tenements and 
brought up children who, if they
went to college and became
teachers, musicians, social 
workers and owners of
small businesses
Their memory drives me
to love and cherish
immigrants of today 
making the same

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Gadfly on the Wall" -Steven Singer's Brilliant, Stereotype Shattering Book

Steven Singer's "Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform" is a courageous, stereotype-shattering book which presents the nation's public school teachers with a powerful weapon in their defense

It is courageous because it takes on racism and white supremacy as  toxic forces not only in the lives of students  and people of color, but in the thinking and action of white educators. Singer challenges white teachers to interrogate and confront their own racism, arguing that they cannot serve their students, and their profession, without undertaking this painful task.  He begins with himself, discussing how even white people with the best intentions have privileges relative to their friends, colleagues and even family members of color. He does this in conversational language whose meaning is unmistakable, even though he draws on history and social science research to support his arguments.  The directness of his approach may offend some people- telling people "I am a racist and you are too" leaves little room for evasion- but the arguments he provides are not that easy to refute, and present a challenge to those he  angers which they may well return to when they calm down.

  Because challenging racism is not all that Singer does. He also takes on virtually every policy and initiative which devalues and undermines public schools and public school teachers- from charter schools, to test based accountability, to schools closings and privatization- no matter what political party or ideological stance it uses as cover. Indeed, Singer may actually be harder on Democrats than Republicans, arguing, in his brilliant opening chapter, that Arne Duncan and John King were far more dangerous enemies of public education than Betsy Devos, and that public schools will have no problem surviving an assault from Donald Trump after facing 8 years of hostility from Barack Obama.

 And herein lies  the stereotype shattering  power of Singer's work.

 Why? Because the very publication of a brilliant, anti racist book by a teacher working in a public middle school challenges the entire narrative of public school failure promulgated by School Reformers, from Arne Duncan, to Bill Gates, to Eli Broad and Rahm Emmanuel to the leaders of Teach for America. What those individuals have  tried to convince the public, and especially political and economic elites, is that the nation's public school teaching staffs are filled with incompetents, people drawn from the weakest student cohorts at the lowest ranked universities. Replacing those teachers with students from top colleges, they have argued, even those with no classroom experience, is a precondition for improving the nation's schools. This  insulting view of public schools teachers, perhaps best conveyed in the comments  of Arne Duncan and former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is not only refuted by the arguments in Singer's book, it is challenged by the emergence and growth of the organization Singer represents, The Badass Teachers Association, which is filled with tens of thousands of working public school teachers all over the nation whose dynamism and courage gives the lie to narrative of public school stagnation that Reformers have used as an argument for school privatization.

   It also gives the lie to the argument that "bad teachers"  in classrooms serving students of color are the primary reason for the persistence of educational and economic inequality in the nation. Singer whose passion for racial justice leaps off every page, is profoundly devoted to the students of color in his classroom, and he challenges his peers to strive for greater Cultural Competence and self-awareness as integral parts of their professional mission. It would be tempting to write off Singer as an outlier or exception except for one stubborn fact- tens of thousands of teachers read  his blog posts religiously and are struggling. on a daily basis, to  make public schools better serve their students at a time, when wage policies, housing policies and the expansion of the prison industrial complex put them under severe and growing stress.

   Steve Singer is a national treasure. His "Gadfly on the Wall"is a clarion call for public school teachers to rise up, not only to defend their schools and communities, but to take the lead in the fight for racial justice.

    It is a book whose time has come.

The Shame of A Nation

"We're letting in people from Shithole countries"
Just the latest outrageous comment from Donald Trump, and one of the most damaging.
Make no mistake about it, if you are an American of color, the message is coming across that your President despises you and thinks people like you do more to undermine the nation than strengthen it. Anyone who thinks that this perception is without consequence is not a very serious student of history.
The people hurt by these remarks are not just the bulwark of our work force from health care to education to technology to fast food- they are essential components of our armed forces and law enforcement.
Those of the President's party who stand by without denouncing such speech and behavior bear a fearful responsibility for the division and mistrust they inspire, consequences that will be felt for years, and perhaps decades to come
Their silence is the shame of a nation.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Bronx African American History Project and Narratives of Globalization

. There are many different globalization narratives. Mine is shaped by migration experiences which have transformed societies throughout the world in ways that have made my Bronx research interesting to people thousands of miles away. Prior to the formation of the Bronx African American History Project 15 years ago, I had little experience or interest travelling abroad, and few research contacts in other nations. However, when the oral history project I was involved with discovered that multiracial, multi-culural communities in the Bronx forged by migrations from Harlem and East Harlem produced more varieties of popular music than any place in the world in the 1940's 50' and 60's, something extraordinary happened. When this research was publicized through articles in the New York Times and academic journals, scholars from Germany, Spain and Italy started contacting me to ask if they could participate in our oral history interviews. Why? Because cities in their countries were being transformed by migration the way the Bronx had been 50 years ago and had become multiracial and multicultural. They thought the Bronx experience could help explain what was happening in their countries and in particular inform an examination of the transformation of popular music in their societies. By 2008, I was hosting scholars and artists in residence from all over the world and was being invited to lecture in Berlin and Barcelona on my research. And out of this research emerged a social worker/artist collaboration called the Bronx Berlin Youth Exchange. None of this experience was a result of corporate sponsorship or funding (The BAAHP is supported by hundreds of small and medium size donations by people who live in or once lived in the Bronx).. It was driven by bottom up recognition of commonalities in culture and music forged by global migration patterns which had transformed the world's urban centers.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Why Charters will NEVER Replace Public Schools in NYC

Anybody who thinks charter schools will eventually replace public schools in NYC hasn’t had frank conversations with people who work in the charter sector! The problem of teacher and principal burnout and turnover is actually WORSE in the charter chains than it is in the public schools. Authoritarian management has its price when applied to those who work with children and the most publicized charter chains can’t hold on their best teachers. As a result, children who attend these schools are deprived of the nurturing and mentoring that experienced teachers can provide. The test-factory model has severe limits in creating kind, caring and compassionate citizens. And the most idealistic educators and would be educators who enter the charter chains soon realize what they have gotten themselves into and yearn to escape