Sunday, September 30, 2012

Defending Teachers and Teaching

Every day, for the past year, I have posted something on Facebook, or on my blog, to uplift the morale of teachers I am in touch with, in every part of this nation, who feel demoralized by the relentless pressure they feel to solve problems not of their making. Some times I tell stories about great teachers; sometimes I make fun of teachers enemies; sometimes I tell stories which reveal that that racism and poverty are so deeply rooted in our history and institutions that “school reform” will do little to uproot them. But those words will have little meaning, to me or anyone else, unless my own teaching provides an example of what education at its best can do. School reformers like to talk about the “value added” a great teacher can provide and have developed all kids of statistical formulas to measure it. They are not wrong about adding value, but their measurements, because they are all based on tests results, fail to encompass the things the contribution that great teachers make to their students. Every time I walk into a classroom, I am trying to do for my students what the best teachers I had for me; to capture my imagination to such a degree that what went on in that class would be etched in my memory for life. It might be a quotation; it might be a story; it might be in an essay that was assigned in course reading; it might be a glimpse of the face of a person so transfixed with passion for what they were teaching light seemed to emanate from their face. It could also be a comment in the margin of a paper or an exam, or in a conversation after class, which led you to think that it was in your power to accomplish things you never thought possible Or it could be a long conversation in a cafeteria or in the teachers office, where you described your life and prospects in ways you had never done before, and which all made sense And it is these experiences, which you repeat with your own students, which give you the confidence to fight back against people who think that anyone can teach, or that the skills teachers have can be easily scripted, measured and evaluated. To defend teaching effectively, you have to know critique the motives and methods of those seeking to undermine the profession. But you also have to believe in the integrity of your own approach to teaching in order to wage that battle effectively day in day out. Which is why approach every class session as though it were my last, determined to leave my students with an image of passion and commitment etched in their memories as powerfully as the one that my teachers were able to create for me.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Time for a Palace Revolt in Teach for America

Maybe it's time for a palace revolt in Teach for America. I am proposing that my wonderful former students who joined TFA, and all the others socially conscious teachers who got their jobs through TFA, create a spinoff of TFA called ALT ((America Loves Teachers) which encourages "education leaders" to become classroom teachers, rather than vice versa and proclaim that recruiting talented people to spend 20 plus years in the classroom is the best way to improve the nation's schools. They would also change the minimum commitment to teaching to 5 years, increase training from 5 weeks to a full year, and refuse to send TFA corps members into schools where veteran teachers have been fired. How about it TFAers? How about creating an organization that really improves teaching and learning in the country rather than turning the teaching profession into a revolving door?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Teachers Do

Recently, I asked teachers I am in contact with Facebook to list some of the ways they spent their own money to make their classrooms better learning spaces. The responses were so moving that I decided to post them in a separate thread. The teachers represented here come from the Bronx, Upstate New York Philadelphia, Rhode Island, Chicago and Minneapolis. And they represent the unsung, unrecognized contribution teachers everywhere make to help their students, especially students growing up in poverty and families of modest means It is responses like this which make me ever more determined to challenge the demonization of public school teachers which plays such a destructive role in our political discourse. Teachers are some of the most selfless, generous people in our nation. They deserve better than what they are currently getting from our political leaders and mass media ********Katherine Palmer To provide my students with a rich curriculum that equals one available to students in middle class schools, I buy books,videos/DVDs, tools/toolboxes, hardware, software, apps, motivational materials, and misc. supplies for the lessons I write. Aside from the dollar figure, there's the time spent by both myself and my drafted husband in the pursuit of the acquisition of all this stuff. I don't know the dollar amount; I try not to think about it too much. *********Sedaqah B. Wise I can be kind of frugal, but I figure I probably spend a few hundred dollars a year on my students. The food and drinks for when I have parties with them is probably about $200/year. I buy some books to use in the classroom and then there's the stickers for the younger kids I work with (these little kids love those Hello Kitty and Marvel Hero stickers). I buy some supplies/materials and sometimes I give my students gifts (usually books). There are also the fish tanks, which the kids love, and the expenses associated with them. It all adds up to probably about $500, but I'm good at finding good deals. Any time I pass a dollar store I go in and it's very rare that I don't find something to buy for school. There's one dollar store by my house where books are marked down up to 1/10 of their original price... and they're great books. I go there regularly and spend about $25 on $50-$100 worth of goods. I was very fortunate in that I used to get a decent stipend (about $500/year) from my department to buy materials, but that's gone now, so I'll probably be spending more of my own money now. The funny thing is I'm one of the newest teachers in my school but everyone else knows to come to me for materials. **********Michelle Pfeffer Enser I don't keep track because quite honestly, I tend to sneak the stuff into the cart when hubby isn't looking. Things that I buy: snacks, stickers, halloween goodie bags, christmas (yep that still flies in my rural school) goodie bags, end of year gifts, books, craft supplies for Mother's and Father's Days and then anything that I don't have that I want or need for them. Of course, that doesn't count the professional books I buy throughout the year. *********Wilma de Soto . I am already $1500 in the hole for this year and climbing; plus I bought colorful seat pockets for all my students' chairs. Every time you go to a store, something else goes into the basket and the school district only allows $100/yr. Forgetting project supplies. I am lucky my husband is Creative Director for an advertising agency, so I can get paper and markers sometimes. Not to mention treats for Halloween, Christmas, Easer Baskets and all the fun crafts we do around those holidays. There's a thrift store across the street where I can get shirts, sweaters, jackets, socks, etc. It all adds up. iPhone apps etc. ***********Michelle Strater Gunderson Early childhood education requires stuff, and not just any old stuff --beautiful objects for children to manipulate, play, and learn from. I will never forget my first exposure to Froebel and the concept that when we present children with these materials we are giving them gifts. I teach in Chicago, I troll garage sales in wealthy neighborhoods on Saturdays for my kids. Rich people toss out amazing stuff, and I purchase it out of pocket. ************Maureen Feerick Danforth For my 5th graders I buy books on topics I teach so the kids can read more in depth, dvds, teaching books, craft supplies for doing hands on colonial craft activities (quill pens, ink, construction paper, twisted rafia paper, quilling strips and tools, aluminum pie plates, candle wax and wicks, flowers, needles and thread, cross stich fabric, hoops, floss and needles), I pay fees to bring in guest speakers, provide lunch for guest speakers. I have also bought an ipad and three kindles. I have purchased a tv and vcr/dvd player, models, christmas ornament kits, food, pens, pencils, highlighters, notebooks, rulers, calculators, paper plates, cups, milk crates and other various organizational and storage materials, a computer chair, supplies to cook a complete meal over an open fire. **********Patricia Rydeen I buy diapers, gloves, wipes, bottles, formula, cereal just to keep my high school students with severe disabilites comfortable so the money I spend on educational materials might have some impact.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

R.I.P. Father John Flynn- One of the Bronx's True Heroes

There are not that many people you meet, in real life, whose personality is so incandescent they light of the world. Father John Flynn, pastor of St Martin of Tours Church in the Bronx who passed away yesterday, was one of those people. I met him at the height of the crack epidemic when gun battles and beefs were taking an incredible toll on young people in the Bronx. I was part of a group of religious leaders, an community activists who met as his church to try to do something about the violence, which was making normal activity impossible for many people in the Bronx because they literally feared to leave their homes and apartments. Father Flynn's parish, only 8 blocks from Fordham, was in the heart of that zone. He had officiated at more than 20 funerals of young men between 17 and 25 in a single year. Father Flynn, white haired and in his 60's, walked the streets without fear, talking to those young men. He knew their pain and desperation. And he asked those of us present to work with him in developing a program for out of work, out of school young people, that would rescue them from the street economy. If you had a heart and a conscience, you could not help but respond to his plea and his example. So we came together to form the Save a Generation program. I spent the next year with Father Flynn and several other great Bronx leaders, among them Sister Barbara Leniger of Thorpe Family Residence, and Dr Lee Stuart of South Bronx Churches, writing proposals, giving talks, walking the streets, even going to Washington to lobby Congress. During that time, I never saw Father Flynn lose his composure, his optimism, his ability to inspire people with quiet eloquence, whether it was talking to the Borough President, or throwing footballs with local youngsters in the street outside his church. And he was as kind and thoughtful when he was alone, in his parish house as he was in his group. He had been in Latin America before he was in the Bronx and he had a deep empathy for the poor along with an equal level of respect. Working with them was his life's mission and he did it with joy and a wonder at life's ironies and life's mysteries. I spent nearly four years working with Father Flynn helping to get Save a Generation off the ground, and watched it become a life changing program that offered 35 Bronx youngsters a new chance at life. When the crack epidemic eased, I moved on, but kept in touch until he retired. Greatness takes many forms. It is not always associated with wealth and power and fame. In the Bronx, it may have reached its highest point in the person of a parish priest who walked the street with the lost boys of the community while bullets were flying. And who those boys learned to love as much as everyone else who knew him R.I.P. Father Flynn. You will always live in the hearts of everyone who knew you

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Bronx as an "Exercise Desert:" New Language To Talk about the Health Crisis in Working Class Communities

For the last few years, public health experts have used the term "Food Deserts" to describe communities where residents lack access to healthy food and suffer the twin problems of hunger and obesity. The Bronx has been identified as a classic example of such a Food Desert and my students have written several term papers and theses demonstrating the difficulty of finding fresh fruits and vegetables in Bronx food stores, and affording them even when they are available. One result is that the Bronx has the highest obesity rate of any borough in New York City and one of the highest obesity rates of any county in the United States But food is not the only health issue that the metaphor of a "Desert" can be applied to. Bronx residents, especially young people, have so much difficulty finding opportunities for sports and recreation in the neighborhoods and their schools that the Borough can be described as an Exercise Desert as well. The following are my criteria for describing a community as an Exercise Desert. I suspect many working class communities around the nation would qualify 1. Neighborhood schools do not offer regular gym classes during school days. Time once used for recess and gym are now devoted to "test prep." 2. School gymnasiums, fields and schoolyards, are not used on a daily basis for free, or affordable sports and exercise programs ( including dance) after school, either for their own students, or community members 3, There are few health clubs or community centers that offer regular sports and fitness programs that neighborhood residents, whether youth or adults, can afford 4. Public parks are poorly maintained and have few, if any youth sports leagues that use them on a regular basis If you live in a community where these conditions prevail, chances are that regular exercise will not be a part of your life and that the soccer leagues, baseball leagues, and dance classes that are a fixture of young people's lives in middle class and wealthy neighborhoods will reach only a tiny portion of neighborhood youth The result- an epidemic of obesity, and related health issues, ranging from diabetes to circulatory problems And yet another indication of how far race and class inequality have deformed our national life.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How Bloomberg Housing and Education Policies Contribute to Health Disparities in the Bronx

Since everybody in the Bronx knows me as Notorious Phd, I have to begin my remarks with a line from one of the Bronx’s greatest rappers, Big Pun, whose life and early passing symbolizes many of the issues we are confronting here today. The line--”Iverson crossover, cheese doodles, grape soda” is one part of a litany of cultural practices which Pun found on the streets of the Bronx, some of which condemned people to an early death. This is certainly true of eating practices in Bronx neighborhoods, many of them places where it is almost impossible to find fresh fruits and vegetables, and where residents would have difficulty affording them even if they could find them. The Bronx is not only the poorest of New York’s 62 counties, it has been rated the unhealthiest, and has the highest rates of both hunger and obesity among New York’s five boroughs. Despite all the heroic efforts health professionals and community activists to bring healthier food to the people of the Bronx, and promote healthier lifestyles, the forces activists are up against, some of them political, some of them market driven, are making that task extremely difficult.In the remarks that follow, I will argue that the health problems of the Bronx are not primarily a result of poor choices on the part of its residents, but of policies which accentuate the poverty of Bronx residents and make their lives more difficult and stressful. And while I fully support community based health programming, I also urge people to turn their attention to policies shaped by powerful forces outside the borough which undermine the health of Bronx residents. There are three different dynamics currently affecting the health status of Bronx residents in a negative way, each of which is rarely discussed in the medical literature—Gentrification, Housing and urban planning policies which promote hyper-segregation; and Test driven education policies which undermine health and fitness of public school students. I will discuss how each of these shape life in Bronx neighborhoods, and intensify health problems that were serious even before their effects became visible. First, let us look at Gentrification. The Bronx has been the site of a demographic revolution in the last 20 years, with people from West Africa, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico moving to the borough in large numbers. But this has not been an entirely voluntary migration. According to Greg Jost, deputy director of the University Neighborhood Housing Progam “ New York’s poorest renters are being priced out of other boroughs and are moving to the West Bronx one of the last bastions of affordable housing in the borough.” When in the Bronx, Jost adds, many of these new residents are paying over half their income in rent, putting a huge dents into funds available for things like health care, food and recreation. And that is not all. According to community activists I have spoken to, the exodus from gentrifying neighborhoods like Harlem, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side and Williamsburgh, has resulted in immense housing overcrowding in many sections of the Bronx, with families doubling and tripling up in apartments, people renting out rooms, and even couches to boarders, and spanking new townhouses being subdivided into illegal rooming houses where immigrants can rent rooms with communal bathrooms and kitchens at prices they can afford. These crowded conditions accentuate the risk of fires and communicable diseases, while the income pressures inhibit families abilities to purchase health food. You cannot realistically address healthy conditions in the Bronx, in my judgment, without looking at housing overcrowding, and housing affordability; both of which are at crisis levels in the Bronx The second factor is housing and planning policies which promote hyper-segregation and accentuate the concentration effects of poverty. During the last ten years, almost every vacant lot in the South Bronx has been the site of new housing construction, some of it in the form of town houses, some of it in the form of large apartment complexes. This has definitely increased the supply of affordable housing in the borough, not enough to offset the impact of gentrification related migration, but still an impressive contribution. But while all of this new housing has gone up, it has not been accompanied by the construction of new youth or recreation centers, raising the question, where are the young people living in these new buildings going to go to get exercise or supervised recreation? If the local public schools were open to the community for this purpose, that would be different, but because ofbudget cuts, some of them stemming back to the fiscal crisis of the 70’s some of them more recent;, those gymnasiums are almost entirely unused in after school hours. And the result is a recreation crisis- felt most acutely by youth= fostered by planners who concentrate affordable housing in already poor-segregated neighborhoods without providing the new recreation resources these residents will need. Most Bronx neighborhoods are not only FOOD DESERTS, they are RECREATION and EXERCISE DESERTS. The dangers of the double whammy should be apparent to everyone in this room. And they can only be corrected by changes in city policy regarding the relationship between housing and recreation space in all new development The final force, shaped by political interests outside the borough, negatively affecting the health of Bronx residents, is school policies shaped at the City, State and National level which rate teacher performance, and the fate of entire schools, on the basis of student results on standardized tests. In New York City today, both as a result of Bloomberg Administration policy, and as a condition of accepting Race to the Top Money, schools who do not meet certain performance targets on standardized tests must be closed and half of their teaching staffs removed. More than 144 such school closing have taken place already, many of them in the Bronx, despite the protests of students, parents and community members, with more slated for the future. Along with this, new procedures have been approved at the state level requiring public ratings of teachers, 40 percent of which is based on students test scores, with several years of bad ratings requiring that the teacher be removed. These two policies have created an atmosphere of near panic in the schools of the Bronx, where many of the students are children of immigrants, and a high portion have special needs. And the results have been devastating for the physical and emotional health of these students. To make sure students test well, many schools have taken time once used for gym or recess and use them for test prep; while converting after school recreation programs into study halls. The result is that already recreation starved youngsters in the Bronx get almost no physical activity in their schools and sit at their desks all day. This in my judgment, is a public health disaster, but you cannot address it without reducing the impact of high stakes testing on the careers of Bronx educators. It is a policy problem that has to be addressed at it’s source, City Hall, the State Capital in Albany, and the US Department of Education. I am not pointing out these larger forces to undermine the valuable work everyone here is doing to improve health opportunities and health choices for Bronx residents. Everything you are doing builds communities and saves lives. But we also have to try to change policies at the city and national level which make this work more difficult- and build the kind of alliances necessary to do that. The people of the Bronx did not create the conditions they live in; and while they can organize to make their lives better it they will need help from both markets and government who thus far have done more to accentuate their hardships than relieve them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nothing Goes to Waste

All those years when you raised issues that no one wanted to hear; when you wrote books that no one bought; when you gave lectures and students looked at you blankly when you got to the most important point- Chicago and Occupy show us that nothing goes to waste. That at moments when it seems that everything you've done and all the things you've worked and fought for have evaporated withouta a trace, a movement begins that places things you have devoted your life to before the public in ways that can't be ignored. And you realize that all that grunt work you were doing meant something. And you would do it all over again

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thank You Chicago Teachers

A huge THANK YOU is due to the teachers of Chicago, who are going back to work tomorrow, after making the most important statement in defense of public education in this country in the last ten years. There will be plenty of time to analyze the contract and the entire movement, but what has already been achieved, on a national scale, is quite simply breathtaking. For the first time, a cross secti on of progressives are willing to admit that Democratic Party education policies, as well as Republican ones, are disastrous, and that you cannot improve schools unless teachers are treated with respect and brought into the center of every discussion which shapes education policy. It is too soon to say the tide has turned, but at least teachers now have a fighting chance to get their voices heard, after years of being frozen out of the conversation, even by their so called friends​watch?v=3yN7cRZP58k

The Festive Atmosphere of the Chicago Teachers Strike is a Sign of Its Strength

Conservative pundits, and some liberal Education Reformers, have seized on the festive atmosphere of the Chicago Teachers Strike as a way to discredit it. But many of the greatest social movements in American History had a festive atmosphere. The Sit Down strikers in Flint, some of whom stayed in occupied factories f or six weeks, wrote songs and put on plays, had boxing matches and dance offs, and held "kangaroo courts" to enforce discipline in the builds. Non violent civil rights protesters, some of them facing danger and even death in small southern towns, sang when they were being arrested, sang when the were being beaten, and sang when they were in jail. The songs they sang are still a staple of the American folk tradition, performed to this day by Sweet Honey and the Rock, Mavis Staples, and even Bruce Springsteen. And the Columbia Strike, which I participated in included a wedding, a performance by the Grateful Dead, and a wonderful soundtrack provided by the Columbia radio station WKCR, which played music in support of the protesters. All these movements were successful in achieving their perspectives, so when I see Chicago strikers creating a wonderful video adaptation of "Call ME Maybe" and listen to the words and watch the video, of Rebel Diaz amazing song, "Chicago Teacher" I feel the power and authority of this great movement being echoed on the cultural plan in ways that resembles earlier justice struggles in our nation. When people who have been stigmatized, marginalized and abused by those in power finally revolt, there is not only the release of accumulated rage, there is a usually a profound outpouring of joy. And that is a sign of the movements strength.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.- What Teachers Everywhere Gain From the Chicago Strike Whatever the outcome of the Chicago Teachers Strike, teachers around the country are going to face the future with new pride and confidence. After ten years of being attacked and held up to ridicule by an incredible cross section of the nations leaders ranging from politicians to editorial writers to business leaders to talk show hosts and Hollywood film personalities, teachers have shown they have the power to shut down a large urban school system and have the support of many parents and students in the process.. No only do the images of tens of thousands of teachers marching through the streets of Chicago have inspirational power, so does the brilliant commentary of strike leader Karen Lewis, who has eloquently portrayed the teachers fight against school closings and high stakes testing as a battle for the future of Chicago's children. At a time when teachers around the country increasingly work under extreme stress, not only from policies which evaluatee their performance on the basis of student tests scores, but from the daily battering they take in the press and the broadcast media, Chicago teachers have shown the way, not only to force changes in policy, but to create a new narrative about what is really going on in the nation's schools, one which puts the onus on reformers for policies which raise class size, eliminate music art and sports, and undermine the role of schools as centers of community life. In the long run, putting that narrative into the center of the nation's discourse may be as important as the show of power. Chicago teachers have put forth a vision of schools as places where students talents should be nurtured in all their variety, not confined to testable components, and where the views of students, parents and community members should be determinative when the fate of neighborhood schools is decided. They have not only decisively shattered the image of union teachers as selfish timeservers protecting the incompetent, which the Reform movement has used to justify its policies, they have raised the question of what education should look like in a democratic society, and show the Reformers policies to be ones which offer public school students a kind of rote learning which they would never allow their own children to endure

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why the Chicago Teachers Strike is a "Game Changer"

Every since No Child Left behind, School Reformers promoting school closings, privatization, and the use of high stakes testing in teacher and school evaluations have had no significant political opposition and no "grass roots pushback" strong enough to make them think twice. That is, until the Chicago Teachers Strike. Yes, there was the Save Our Schools March, attracting 8,000 people, and yes, there have been petitions all over the country against high stakes testing, but none of these represented something strong enough to make those promoting school reform initiatives to back off. Shutting down the school system of the nation's third largest city, however, and filling the streets of that city with 50,000 red shirted marchers is a "game changer." It will not stop the Reform Juggernaut or even slow it's momentum, but it will encourage opponents to ratchet up their opposition to the Testing/ Privatization regime on all fronts, including strikes by teachers, test refusal by students and parents, and lawsuits against reform policies which are abusive and discriminatory. If the Save Our Schools March showed that there was significant opposition among teachers and educators to the Obama Administration's Education Policies, the Chicago Teachers Strike shows that the opposition has the power to challenge those policies in ways that command attention and respect because they are now mobilizing parents along with teachers. And anyone who thinks that this strike is the last gasp of of a dying movement may find the future holds quite a few surprises!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The False Salary Issue in the Chicago Teachers Strike

Nothing irritates me more than seeing media pundits try to rally the public against the Chicago Teachers Strike by focusing on their $70,000 a year average salaries. The same strategy was used by corporation executives and their media supporters against unionized industrial workers in the 1980's and 1990's in order to soften them up for outsourcing, layoffs, and dual wage structures. The result then was a huge shrinkage in the percentage of industrial workers making a living wage. and freezing of wages in the service sector. The attack on teachers will have the same result, this time with government workers. And when that transition is completed, the MAJORITY of working Americans will be living below, or barely above the poverty line. You think that is something to look forward to, by all means support Rahm Emmanuel and those seeking to " cut teachers down to size. You want to protect what is left of a working America that has a decent standard of living, then stand with Chicago's teachers, who are standing up for YOU!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chicago's Teachers "Won't Back Down" and Inspire Teachers Throughout the Nation

Whatever the outcome, the Chicago Teachers strike shows that cross section of the nation's teachers are fed up with being made the whipping boy for the nation's failure to reduce racial and economic inequality and provide equal educational opportunity for its citizens. You do not mobilize tens of thousands of people to put their jobs at risk and take to the picket line without a powerful undercurrent of frustration and rage with the way they have been treated. The strike won't stop Education Reformers- who have the support of the nation's biggest corporations- from cementing their stranglehold on education policy on the local and national level, and from consolidating their influence in both major parties. But it pulls aside the facade of support and compliance with the Obama Administration's education policies that the Democratic National Convention hoped to project and revealed how wildly unpopular Race to the Top is with many of America's teachers, and a small, politically savvy group of public school parents. The strike also provides a powerful antidote to the propaganda campaign for the new Hollywood teacher bashing movie "Won't Back Down" which hits American theaters at the end of the month. The sea of red shirts marching through Chicago, and the teachers around the country wearing red in solidarity, show that teachers may not be as easy a target as the movie's backers anticipated. The Chicago Teachers Union has flipped the script on Michelle Rhee, Democrats for Education reform and other backers of school privatization and showed how a teachers union can be a militant advocate for the right of students to have a school experience which includes music, art, sports and class sizes small enough to receive individual attention. There is no guarantee that the strike will achieve its major goals, but it has already succeeded in giving America's teachers a huge emotional lift and in forcing the media to recognize that teachers voices cannot be marginalized and suppressed without significant consequences

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Strike Against Race to the Top- Chicago Teachers Take a Stand

Since Arne Duncan, with President Obama's full support, launched Race to the Top, three and a half years ago, America's teachers have been astonished and appalled to see a Democratic Administration that they worked hard to put in office, turn on them and launch a campaign of testing and privatization that have put their jobs in jeopardy and placed their students under intolerable stress, To get this policy changed, they have written letters, signed petitions, marched on Washington, formed Facebook groups, and Occupied, all to no avail. Now a group of them in the nation's third largest city have decided to go on strike. It is hardly accidental that the Mayor they are facing off against, Rahm Emmanuel, is President Obama's former Chief of Staff, and the major fundraiser for his re-election campaign. The policies they are fighting- school closings, teacher firings, weakening of teacher job protections, favoritism toward charter schools- are all part and parcel of the Obama Administration's education policies. And this contains an important lesson. The struggle for justice in this country does not just pit Democrats Against Republicans. It also pits portions of the Democratic Party's traditional constituency, especially teachers and government workers, against elites which have taken control of the Democratic Party This division may or may not influence the outcome of the Presidential election. But it will shape the direction of the Democratic Party, locally and nationally, for years to come, and may even split that Party or lead portions of historic constituency to abandon it. In the short run, all eyes are on Chicago where a courageous group of teachers have decided to put their careers at stake to resist policies spawned in elite circles of the Democratic Party that have made their lives a living hell, and have threatened to subject a generation of Chicago's students to a regime of relentless, stifling test prep. They deserve our support, and more importantly, need us to follow their example and fight back against Corporate Education Reform in our own communities with all the weapons at our disposal

Friday, September 7, 2012

Press Statement on Chicago Teachers Strike

The Chicago Teachers strike is an incredibly important development because it is a the first time a union local has threatened to strike against education policies pushed by the Obama Administration through its Race to the Top initiative, policies, in my judgment have had incredibly destructive consequences for Urban school systems and distressed urban communities The policies pushed by Rahm Emmanuel, which are being simultaneously implemented in New York and many other cities, involve evaluating teachers and schools on the basis of student test scores, closing schools whose test scores fail to meet a certain standard and firing half their staffs, replacing public schools with charter schools, some run as non profits and some run for profit, and trying to weaken teacher tenure and introduce merit pay The first three components have been already introduced in Chicago and the mayor wants to intensify them and legnthen the school day. The union is saying enough is enough. I support the union in taking this stand for the following reasos 1. Closing schools many of which have been a bulwark of neighborhoods for generations, has been a complete disaster. It has destroyed one point of stability in the lives of young people who have precious little. It removes teachers who have been a part of students lives. It is not an accident that Chicago has seen a serious uptick of violence since Emmanuel became mayor. Young people in distressed neighborhoods need to see community institutions strengthened and teachers mentors protected. School closings and staff turnover take away needed anchors 2. Rating teachers and schools on the basis of student test scores, and threatening to close schools and fire teachers if the proper results aren't achieved have not only ratcheted up stress levels in schools, they have led to the elimination of art music, sports, school trips and even recess for test prep. The result is that more and more teachers hate teaching and more and more young people hate school, increasing the drop out rate in neighborhoods which desperately need schools to become community centers where young people want to go. The union wants to make schools welcoming places where students want to come by reducing class size, and bringing back sports and the arts, and strengtheining struggling schools rather than closing them. That makes a lot of sense to me 3. Favoring charter schools over public schools has resulted in the systematic creaming off of high performing students by the charters and the warehousing of ELL and special needs students, along with students who have behavior issues, in the remaining public schools. The result is that overall academic performance in the district has not improved 4. Removing teacher tenure and job protections has resulted in the most talented teachers leaving the city system or trying to move from low performing schools to high performing ones where they are less likely to be fired. The result is an accentuation of racial and economic gaps in performance Basically, what the union wants is to strengthen neighborhood schools and invest in making them places where students are nurtured and want to come, rather than stress filled test factories which the Emmanuel plan and Race to the Top guarantees The union, in this instance is far better advocate for the children of Chicago than the mayor I am available for interviews on my cell all weekend (917) 836-3014

Stubborn Facts About Obama Education Policies That No Amount of Convention Sugarcoating Can Cover Up

If you watched the Democratic Convention, you would never know that the Obama Administration’s education policies were extremely controversial with America’s teachers and had provoked outrage among many of the nation’s most distinguished education scholars. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel spoke at the Convention without anyone mentioning that his policies had provoked an impending strike among tens of thousands of teachers , and that these policies were one’s supported by the Administration’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Duncan also spoke at the Convention, making the incredible statement that “no teacher should teach to the test” when his Race to the Top policies requiring that teacher evaluations be in part be based on student test scores, had resulted in “teaching to the test” everywhere those funds were distributed. And finally, the President’s statement that “teachers shouldn’t be fired” goes squarely against the school closing component of Race to the Top which mandates that schools designated as failing- again, by the criterion of test scores, should be closed, and fifty percent of its teaching staff removed when a new school is put in its place What was also not said is that the Obama Education policies are the one part of its political program most praised by Republicans, and that Obama officials have effusively praised the education policies of two Republican Governors, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. And because these policies are likely to be continued no matter which party wins the Presidency, it is important to enumerate some of the negative consequences of the Race to the Top initiative that has been a hallmark of this Administration’s education policies. The following are some stubborn facts about the consequences of Obama Administration education policy should be aware of FACT ONE. Teacher morale is at the lowest level it has been in recorded history. This is in part because virtually every major leadership group in the society has blamed teachers for the nation’s problems, but also because teachers job protections and job rights are under attack and because they are increasingly evaluated on the basis of student test scores FACT TWO, Special needs students and ELL students are everywhere experiencing humiliation, and occasionally outright discrimination, because students who do not test well are seen as threatening the careers of teachers and school administrators It is in the interest of schools to exclude such students or push them out to maintain a positive test profile, a practice notoriously common among some of the nation’s best know charter schools. FACT THREE The teaching force in the nation is being steadily “whitened” as a result of school closing and teacher firings mandated by Race to the Top and the replacement of experienced union teachers in large city school districts with Teach for America Corps members. FACT FOUR- Students throughout the country, even in middle class, high performing districts, are increasingly complaining that they hate school because of an enormous rise in the number and frequency of standardized tests and the elimination of gym, recess, sports and the arts to make room for test prep. These problems will all intensify in coming years unless there is a radical change in the nation’s education policies. Based on what transpired at the Democratic Convention, no such change will forthcoming unless there is something close to a revolt on the parte of America’s teachers, students and parents. September 7, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Calling All Lawyers- Time For “Testing As Child Abuse Suits” to Fill the Nation’s Courts

A tragedy is quietly taking place in America’s public schools that represent an important opportunity for America’s lawyers to advance the cause of equity and justice All over the nation, with the support of both major parties, schools systems are now requiring that teachers and administrators be evaluated on the basis of student test scores, with their jobs placed in jeopardy if the scores do not reach a certain level. To implement these protocols, the number of standardized tests being administered in schools is being ratcheted up to unprecedented proportions, with some systems testing student in every grade and every subject. Worse yet, these tests are being applied across the board, with no exemptions given to special needs students and English Language Learners, and severe consequences attached to students who don’t pass them, as well as the teachers and administrators who work with them. For teachers and administrators, stress levels have reach unprecedented proportions, as long established job rights are being overturned. But for students, the consequences are far worse. Not only has an adversarial relationship been created between teachers and students which is ratchets up classroom stress, but it puts tremendous pressure on teachers and administrators to remove, or otherwise avoid, students who don’t test well. All over the country, students with learning disabilities are being stigmatized, and marginalized, because of this testing regime, so much so that a identifiable pattern of discrimination has been created that cries out for litigation. But this kind of discrimination against special needs students is not the only consequence of new testing and evaluation norms which is potentially actionable. Another consequence, which is particularly visible in high needs schools, is the cancellation of recess, gym and after school recreation programs for test prep. In communities where there are severe child obesity problems, schools are eliminating already limited programs of physical activity so that every available moment of schools can can be devoted to preparing for tests, even in the face of laws and school procedures which require a certain amount of physical education per day. Finally, and this is taking place even in middle class communities, classes which once left time for the arts, and science projects and school trips, are now concentrating entirely on achieving strong tests results, making a generation of students look upon going to school with emotions ranging from resignation to dread. A final incentive to subject these consequences of high stakes testing to legal action is that the vast majority of tests that help produce these consequences are produce by for profit companies like Pearson which lobby elected officials to get the contracts to produce them. What we have here are not only abusive practices, but identifiable individuals and entities who PROFIT from their implementation. There are organizations all over the country which have sprung up to challenge the destructive consequences of high takes testing- among them United Opt Out and Parents Across America- but they have thus far not yet developed a systematic strategy to subject these practices to litigation I therefore urge justice minded lawyers interested in protecting the nation’s children from discriminatory practices to contact these two organizations so that the abusive dimensions of high stakes testing can be challenged in the courts as well as the political arena When a massive threat emerges to the health and well being of the nation’s children, action must be taken. Protecting children from abusive testing is the REAL civil rights cause of our time. September 5, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Teacher's Legacy in an Age of Educational Entrepreneuship

My main legacy will always be the accomplishment of my students, who continue to inspire me with all they do to make the world a better place; but in the last few years, I have become immersed in creating another legacy- documenting the descent of the nation into a Dark Age of Educational Entrepreneurship which is turning teaching into a revolving door profession while imposing upon students ( at least those who can't afford to go to expensive private schools) a stifling regime of Universal Testing. An alliance of testing companies, management consulting firms, on line learning programs, and for profit schools, coupled with non profit organizations like Teach for America and charter schools chains which mimic the salary structure and employment policies of the private sector, supported by leaders of America's largest corporations plus Wall Street investers, now have leaders of both major parties in their vise like grip. I do not pretend that I can stop this political juggernaut, which Big Capital has made it's favorite cause,, but I can place my dissent on the public record, day in and day out, and document the damage it is doing, particularly in working class, immigrant areas like the Bronx whom its innovations purport to help. So you can de-friend me, ignore me, marginalize me, even mock me, but I will not shut up. This is a story that needs to be told so that future generations can learn from it

Monday, September 3, 2012

Thoughts for Labor Day

****Hedge fund financiers, such as the ones behind Democrats for Education Reform, who support programs to weaken teachers unions and privatize schools and say "we need to do it for the children" should subject themselves to a bit of transparency. Were the companies they took over, the jobs they eliminated or exported, the taxes they evaded, and the huge commissions they extracted for doing these things also done "for the children." The children of those who lost jobs as a result of their actions, or saw their wages and salaries slashed, might question their sincerity. *****In a just world, Barack Obama, and much of the Democratic Party with him, would be defeated in the upcoming election for betraying the nation's teachers and much of organized labor with them But because much of the Republican Party has been taken over by people who are racist, sexist and Bat Shit Crazy, even people who once swore they were going to sit out this election n are now planning to vote for the President and work for his re-election. Never in my life have I seen such a strange situation. It makes me acutely uncomfortable to work for candidates whose policies I despise to stave off a take over of the country by people whose core values are opposed to everything I have stood for during the last 50 years. To quote Marvin Gaye "Makes me Wanna Holler, Throw Up Both My Hands." *****Just made my contribution to the Chicago Teachers Union Solidarity Fund. This is in keeping with my commitment to fund grass roots initiatives which will pay dividends in terms of protest and resistance AFTER this election is over. *****i have no problem with sacrifice if sacrifice is shared. But if sacrifice for the many is accompanied by enrichment of the few, I think it's time to flip the script.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Criteria For Judging Charter Schools

Unlike some of my friends and political comrades, I am not against charter schools as a matter of principle. However, I am acutely aware that the charter school movement has been used by the nation’s financial elite as a strategy to weaken public schools, undermine teachers unions, divide parents in working class communities against one another, and in all to many cases,build careers or make profits. The following are some common sense categories I have developed to judge whether charter schools, or charter school organizations, represent well intentioned experiments in diversifying public education, or cynical efforts to undermine public schools and degrade the teaching profession. If charter schools or charter school organizations possess the following attributes, you should be very, very wary of what they are about. 1. The leaders call themselves “CEO’s” and make salaries many time higher than those of public school administrators in their communities. 2. They have extremely high rates of turnover for teachers because they are not unionized and subject their teachers to extreme pressure and intimidation. 3. They systematically exclude, or drive out, special needs students, ELL students and students who can’t and won’t conform to draconian behavior codes 4. They define the communities they are located in as toxic and seek to make their students aspire to cultural values of wealthy people outside their communities who fund their schools. 5. They denounce local public schools and seek to have them replaced by more and more charters and refuse to work with public schools when they are located in the same building. 6, They are run for profit by private companies. When we apply these standards to real life what we come up with is chilling. The most publicized charter school organizations- K.I.P.P., the Harlem Children’s Zone and Harlem Success Academies, all possess the first five attributes while a shocking number of new charters are run for profit. And as a result, the charter school movement, despite incredible support from both major parties and corporate America, have not expanded educational opportunity as a whole in America’s poor and working class communities because it has systematically weakened public education to advance itself and left children not in charter schools in resource starved institutions.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Another Message to Teachers in a Difficult Time

I am not going to lie to you- I have never seen a more toxic political climate for teachers than the one we are in now. After three years of a Democratic Administration holding teachers responsible for the problems of failing schools, we now see the leaders of the Republican party making attacks on teachers and teachers unions a focal point of their Presidential campaign. And while this is going on, privatizers and profiteers circle around the nation's public schools like vultures, waiting to pick their carcass clean as political leaders compete to destroy them and/or sell them off. But my teacher friends, don't let these forces run you off and run you out. Outlast them, outsmart them, and outmaneuver them, all the while serving your students and their families as your conscience dictate. Because the policies offered by those that attack you will not work- they will make the country more unequal, and transform schools into places where young people dread to go. I realize I am asking a lot of you. But you are quite literally the hope of this nation, and what is left of its conscience, so hang in, hang on, and help educate your students, and colleagues, to the damage current policies are inflicting on the nation's children, and the nation's future.