Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stop and Frisk May Not Be Main Cause of NYC's Low Crime Rate

When people are looking at explanations for NYC's low murder rate, has anyone considered that immigration may be a more important cause than "stop and frisk." Unlike Chicago, which has a large number of young people who grew up in inter-generational poverty, a sizable number of NYC youth are children of first generation immigrants or first generation immigrants themselves, and are immersed in social networks, especially churches and mosques, which tie them tightly to their families and their immigrant communities In the Bronx, NYC's poorest borough, the African American and Puerto Rican populations, who have lived in the borough for three or four generations, are declining, while the West African, Mexican, Dominican and West Indian populations are growing rapidly. The phenomenon is happening, with different immigrant groups, in Brooklyn and Queens.. I think people should consider the impact of these demographic shifts before recommending that "stop and frisk" be brought to other cities which are suffering from a wave of violence.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Bronx Story With Relevance to the Murders in Chiicago

It’s the mid 1950’s. Howie Evans, a 15 year old up and coming basketball and track star, is shooting hoops in the night center at PS 99 in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, which like most elementary school gymnasiums in NYC was kept 5 nights a week from 3-5 PM and 7-9 PM with supervised activity. All of suddenly, two of Howie’s friends rush into the gym. Their mostly Puerto Rican gang, of which Howie is a member, is having a rumble with a much feared Black gang called the “Slicksters.” The head of the night center,Vincent Tibbs, a powerfully built African American teacher who was a friend to many young people in the neighborhood, overheard what was going on and walked slowly over to the door of the gym. When Howie tried to rush out, Mr Tibbs stood in front of the door and said “I’m not letting you leave here. You have a future. You’re not going to die in the street.” Howie, who told me this story during an oral history interview I did with him, screamed and cried. But Mr Tibbs, who had the strength and appearance of a weightlifter, wouldn’t move. Howie ended up missing the rumble it is well he did because two young men died that night, not something that often happened in a time before guns were common weapons on the streets of New York. And Mr Tibbs was right., Howie did have a great future. He went on to become a teacher, a young center director, a college basketball coach ( which is how I met him)and the sports writer for the Amsterdam News, a position he holds to this day. ********But the story is not just about Howie, it’s about the incredible afterschool and night centers that were a fixture of every single public school in New York City until they were closed down during the NYC fiscal crisis of the 1970’s. These centers ( I attended one religiously in Brooklyn) had basketball and nok hockey, arts and crafts and music programs and held tournaments and dances. Some of them, like the PS 99 Center, held talent shows which spawned some of NY City’s great doo wop and Latin Music acts. But all of them had teachers like Mr. Tibbs who provide supervision, skill instruction, mentoring, and sometimes life saving advice to two generations of young men and women who attended the city’s public schools, a good many of whom lived in tough working class neighborhoods like Morrisania. ******** Now let’s segue to Chicago, where young people are killing one another at an alarming rate. The Schools in that city are in upheaval; many have been closed, some are faced with closing, teachers and students are being told that the fate of the schools they are at depend on how well students score on standardized tests; some of which have been installed at the expense of arts and music and sports programs in the schools. Those in charge of education, locally and nationally, think these strategies will improve educational achievement. ******* But what happens in these schools after regular school hours finish. Do they offer save zones for young people in Chicago’s working class and poor neighborhoods? Do they have arts and sports programs that will attract young people off the streets? Do they have teacher mentors like Mr Tibbs who will take a personal interest in tough young men and women and place their own bodies between them and the prospect of death through gang violence? ******* If the answer is no, that these schools are largely empty once classes end, and do little or anything to attract young people in, maybe it’s time to start rethinking current school programs? Wouldn’t it be better to have a moratorium on all policies- like school closings- which destabilize neighborhoods- and invest in turning schools into round the clock community centers the way they were in NYC when Howie Evans was growing up? And if the problem is money, how about taking the money currently spent on testing and assessment and use it to create after school programs where caring adults offer activities that build on young people’s talents and creativity. ******** But to do this, we have to rethink the roles school play in neighborhoods like the Bronx’s Morrisania and Chicago’s Humbolt Park, and view them, not primarily as places to train and discipline a future labor force, but as places which strengthen communities and nurture young people into become community minded citizens. But to do that, we have to also treat teachers differently, respecting those who have made teaching a lifetime profession and who are committed to nurturing and mentoring young people even in the most challenging circumstances. ******* If we don’t do that kind of reconfiguration of our thinking, and ultimately, our policies, we are likely to mourning a lot more young people killed by their peers, and not just in Chicago. January 30, 2012

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bet Ready for the Coming Crisis in Higher Education

Here are some of the key components: 1. Huge numbers of college graduates are leaving college with huge debt and no realistic prospects of paying off the debt in a stagnant job market where the majority of jobs have low wages. 2. Many universities have mortgaged their future by going into debt to finance the construction of new buildings, at a time when the pool of those able to pay high tuitions is shrinking fast. 3. On line colleges are cropping up which promise university educations at a fraction of the cost that most universities currently charge for a 4 year degree. **********The probably result are: 1. Bankruptcy of some colleges 2; Drastic shrinkage of others involving elimination or consolidation of whole departments and firing of full time faculty 3; Attacks on tenure and replacement of tenure track faculty by adjuncts or those receiving short term contracts 4. Massive protests against student debt which will require lenders to renegotiate student loans at a fraction of their value, leading to another round of bank and lender bailouts by the federal government ******(((All of these things will happen in the 5-10 years, possibly earlier. Some are happening already. *********University teaching and instruction, except at a small number of elite universities, will be transformed beyond recognition.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Teachers and PTSD

All over this country, teachers are suffering from clinical symptoms of stress as a result of a relentless effort to rate and micromanage everything they do, accompanied by a campaign of vilification in the media, that squeezes every ounce of joy out of a job they once loved. These cruel and heartless policies, forcefully imposed by politicians and the very wealthy, are being justified in the name of equity and opportunity, but children hardly gain when the people working with them on a daily basis are looking over their shoulders in fear. It will take parents and teachers and students working together to bring this nightmare to an end, but first people have to realize how much damage has already been don

Why Teachers are Coming to Washington in April

Teachers and parents don’t be blue ***Its Occupy DOE Number 2 ***Duncan must have hoped we’d disappear ***But we’ve come from all over to bend his ear ***From New York ,Virginia, Cali and Mass ***We're taking no prisoners ***We're marching en masse ***Because testing in every grade ***just won’t cut it ***A young mind needs stirring ***But tests just shut it ***To our nation’s best teachers ***You’ve said “Goodbye M’am” ***You don’t make the grade ***According to VAM ***We'ill rate you, assess you ***And make your job harder ***Your school will be gone ***Replaced by a charter ***But though teachers are stressed out ***They surely won't wilt ***They will fight for their students ***Not succumb to test guilt ***They will stand up for music, ***gym, recess and art ***For novels and poems ***That inspire the heart ***We bring to your doorstep ***A teachers vision ***A pedagogy of love ***To transcend your derision

Monday, January 21, 2013

Teachers as Collateral Damage: Thoughts on Dr King's Birthday

This was written by a teacher in South Carolina, but it could have been written by a teacher in the Bronx, or anywhere else in the country. *********"We have teachers who have become physically ill due to the stress this year so that their doctors ordered them to take days off from work. Some of us are actually having panic attacks thinking about having to return to our school. I have seen some of the most positive and experienced teachers, who never complain, so frustrated and stressed that they are considering seeking employment elsewhere" **********Teachers have become "collateral damage" of an effort to transform public education from above, financed and implemented by people who regard teachers with contempt. **********I cannot presume to know what Dr King, a leader whose career I have studied in great depth, would say about the policies currently emanating from the US Department of Education and most state capitols, but I find little precedent in his speaking, writing or activism for attacks on unions, demonization of public servants, and the scripting of teaching and learning according to scripted formulae. *********It seems ironic, to say the least, for Educational Reformers to claim the legacy of a person who speeches were masterpieces of improvisation, drawn upon multiple traditions rarely deemed compatible- Greek and German philosophy, African American folklore; the writers of American theologians like Benjamin Mays and Reinhold Neihbuhr; global revolutionary ideologies- who challenged the actions of his own government in Vietnam and whose final act on earth was speaking out in favor of striking sanitation workers . *********Dr King learned at the feet of great teachers- among them Morehouse College President Dr Benjamin Mays- and was a great teacher himself who used the pulpit and the jail house as his classroom *********This made him a threat to the state, and the powers that be of his time. *********Something to think about on a day where we honor his memory.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Beefs With Education Reform-- A List

1.Deluging schools with tests from pre K on up, in every grade, and every subject, to the point where little else goes on in school but preparing for tests. ******2. Pushing the arts out of a central role in the life and culture of public schools. ******3. Demoralizing teachers, especially the most talented and experienced teachers, by subjecting them to evaluations based on junk science *******4. Discriminating against special needs and ELL students by giving favorable treatment to charter schools which exclude or drive out such students, and forcing such students to take tests that are developmentally inappropriate for them ********5. Destabilizing communities by closing schools that have been important community institutions for generations. *********6. Undermining the mentoring and relationship building that are at the core of great teaching, especially in poor and working class communities, by raising class size and substituting on line learning for direct instruction without thinking through the consequences of such policies on young people who need personal attention and guidance. *********7. Creating such unrealistic pressure on schools, and on administrators and teaching staffs, that cheating on tests becomes endemic. *********8. Giving billionaire philanthropists, and wealthy companies which provide services to schools such power over education policy that the voices of teachers, parents and students are totally smothered.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The "Double Whammy" of Pursuing School Reform Amidst Austerity

If we continue to cut education budgets. which we are doing now even when we say education is a priority, the consequences will be ( and already are) higher class size, elimination of arts, music, sports and science programs, closing after school programs, firing school counselors and librarians. In doing so, we are taking away the very things which allow teachers to give students personal attention, and which excite students curiosity and imaginations. This will have devastating effects in communities where parents do not have the resources to give students after school tutoring and enrichment programs and will widen gaps in educational performance by race and class. It will also result in students hating school because you take away the things that most bond them to their school experience. ***********There will also be an intensification of health problems in communities as a result of this. Taking away gym and sports will contribute to already severe obesity problems in communities like the Bronx ( which has the highest obesity rate of all 62 NY counties) and taking away school counselors will exacerbate already severe mental health issues among students where the school provides the only realistic counseling students will get. We should not be surprised if this leads to more illness, shorter life expectancy, higher levels of violence, especially if these cuts remain in place for years. ***********But the most tragic thing about this kind of austerity is that school districts have shown they are far more willing to use increasingly scarce funds on testing and evaluation rather than art, music, sports, gym, and school counselors and librarians. Which gives us a Double Whammy- the added stress of tests, with sharply curtailed resources for dealing with stress. This is a prescription for added suffering in schools, families and neighborhoods

Sunday, January 13, 2013

When Profitability Rises and Wages Stagnate: An Historians Warning

The recently published report ( Greenhouse, NY Times, January 12) that virtually none of the increases in productivity that have occurred in the last few years, have gone into wages fills me with trepidation. The last time this happened for an extended period was the 1920's and many historians view this as the most significant underlying cause of the Great Depression. In the 1920's, a time of rapidly rising productivity when virtually no important industries were unionized, profits outpaced wages by a 2 to 1 ratio. For a while, the underlying lag this would place on consumption was hidden by consumer credit ( the 1920's was when buying big ticket items on the "installment plan" became common);but when the stock market crashed after speculative financial products created as an outlet for surplus capital tanked ( sound familiar?) the whole economy went into a tail spin which led to a financial collapse because no one could pay back their loans. *********Now segue to our current economic situation. Profits, executive compensation, and investment income have far outpaced wages for the past thirty years, but a significant portion of the working class and middle class didn't feel the pinch for a while because they went deep into debt through credit cards, home mortgages, and school and university tuitions. ***********But in the last five years, the housing bubble and the credit card bubble collapsed, leaving those strategies for funding consumption severely weekend. Soon the student loan bubble will collapse, causing more hardship and leaving the last major credit outlet for the population severely constricted ********Let's do the math. In an economy where between 60 and 70 percent of GNP flows from consumption, where is the economic growth going to come from if credit dries up and wages remain stagnant? Not only will it be impossible to have a new wave of economic growth, but we could easily plunge back into Recession, or worse. **********As I survey the current political climate here is what I see- weak unions, unable to press employers to raise wages; an economic leadership stratum that continues to monopolize what income growth takes place; a political climate which makes it impossible to redistribute income through taxation; and a student loan higher education bubble that is about to burst ***********Anyone who thinks that we can stimulate economic growth without policies which funnel income and productivity into wages must have magical powers of insight this writer sorely lacks

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Testing in a Time of Austerity- The Collateral Damage

Virtually every testing reform organization in the nation advocates rating schools and teachers on the basis of student test scores, and imposing far more tests to make sure this evaluation system is equitable and comprehensive. The tests and evaluation systems are quite expensive. And in times of economic growth, they might be imposed without taking away funds from other dimensions of instruction. But in times of economic stagnation, with tax revenues plummeting and government budgets being cut, spending large amounts of money on testing and evaluation leads to: *********1. Larger class size *********2. Laying off school counselors and librarians *********3. Cutting arts programs, bands and orchestras *********4. Eliminating sports programs *********5. Cutting after school programs that service students and community residents *********6. Cutting teacher salaries and/or health and pension benefits **********If you go through this list, the very programs being cut are the ones that promote student engagement and build healthy school communities. Are the values to be gained from testing and evaluation so important that it merits eliminating the very things that insure that students get personal attention and actually enjoy going to school.? **********They are if the goal is to make school a place where students learn discipline and obedience to prepare them for a life of low wage labor

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Vision for Revitalizing Public Education

I have a very different vision of what public schools should be doing than Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg and the current generation of “School Reformers.” My vision involves making schools centers of community revitalization where young people's curiosity and creativity is nurtured, where student differences are recognized and respected, where the physical and emotional health of children is promoted, where teachers have long careers, and where parents and community members are welcome. ******* I think you begin with creating a child friendly environment. That means sharply reducing the number of tests, leaving ample room for exercise and play, giving primacy to the arts, and having instructions in subject areas, when possible, incorporate hands on learning and project based activity. I would also like as many schools as possible to grow and prepare food (with indoor and outdoor farms) and link that to science instruction; have students participate in community improvement initiatives, have students use computers they can carry with them rather than forcing them to use them at desks and become involved in mentoring younger students. As much as possible, I would like learning to be cooperative rather than competitive and extend that to the teaching staff- a process that would mean removing the threat of school closings and having evaluation done by peers using multiple measures rather than consultants deriving their data from student test scores. *********I would also like to see and end to the “one path fits all” approach to secondary education and revive the vocational and technical schools once a fixture in our educational mix to prepare students for decent paying jobs in traditional trades such as repair of automobiles and appliances as well as emerging areas like solar and wind energy and environmental friendly agriculture. Here, we can learn a great deal from how Germany and other Northern European countries do this. **********Additionally, I would try to create a climate where talented people enter teaching a lifetime career, which involves treating teachers with respect, giving them input into all decisions affecting their professional lives, including at those made at the city, state and national level, and an end to attacks on their collective bargaining rights. ***********And in communities which suffer the effects of poverty, I would turn schools into 24 hour community centers which serve neighborhood residents as well as students, and train residents of those communities to run programs in the schools, whether they be after school sports, arts and computer programs, school based farms or community improvement initiatives. i would also actively recruit the teaching staff for those schools from people who live in those communities, or communities like them and incorporate the culture and history of the people in those neighborhoods into school curricula. ********** Right now, the basic thrust of Education Policy is making teachers hate teaching, students dread going to school, and parents fear that the love of learning in their children will be snuffed out by excessive testing. ********* We can do better, but only if our basic goal is to make schools places where young people are inspired and nurtured, and where teaching is treated as a lifetime calling that allows talented people the opportunity to work collaboratively and creatively.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why "Children First" Rhetoric is Hypocritical

If leaders who claimed to "Stand for Children" and "Put Children First" campaigned to raise wages, build more affordable housing, release non violent drug offenders from prison, and turn schools into 24 hour community centers in wounded communities, I might take their language and imagery at their word. But when the focus of their organizing is the mythical figure of the "Bad Teacher" and their remedy is to weaken unions and to impose more testing in public schools, a stench of hypocrisy surrounds their activities. A way to test their intentions is to see how much time they actually spend with children, as opposed to politicians, media figures, heads of corporations and foundations. By that standard, a cloud of suspicion hangs over their work, since it turns out that the very people who actually spend time with children are the teachers these leaders attack. Promoting teacher accountability through testing is a sure fire way to build a successful career. Devoting your life to teaching, in the current political climate, is an invitation to abuse. Children need love and inspiration more than tests. Harassing and micromanaging those who offer that love and inspiration,day in day out,is a policy that will squeeze the joy and the life out of the nation's classrooms.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Is Diane Ravitch the George Ball of Our Generation and Education Reform our Vietnam?

In the spring and summer of 1965, as US policy makers debated whether to send large numbers of US ground troops to Vietnam to insure that the South Vietnamese government not collapse , a longtime Washington insider named George Ball issued a fierce warning that the policy being recommended would be disastrous. Declaring that the conflict in Vietnam was a “civil war among Asians” not a front of a global struggle against Communism, Ball warned that sending US ground troops lead would lead to national humiliation no matter how large the force sent or the technological advantage it possessed because it would cement the character of the war, from the Vietnamese side, as a struggle against a foreign invader. Ball’s advice needless to say, was disregarded, and the result was exactly as he predicted- a humiliating defeat for the US which extracted a terrifying toll in deaths and ecological damage on the Vietnamese people **********In our time, a bi-partisan initiative of equal import, though less immediately destructive consequences, a movement to revitalize public education in the US and eliminate racial and economic gaps in educational performance, has prompted an equally momentous dissent from a Washington insider, this time in the person of a education scholar Dr Diane Ravitch. An Undersecretary of Education in the Bush Administration, and an initial supporter of landmark “ No Child Left Behind” legislation, Ravitch became convinced that the fundamental assumption that undergirded the bi-partisan Education Reform, that the “achievement gap” between Black and Latino and White and Asian students was caused by “bad teachers” and recalcitrant teachers unions rather than entrenched poverty, would lead to policy recommendations that would demoralize teachers, destabilize the nation’s public school system, profession, encourage privatization and profiteering and, in the long run, increase performance gaps between racial and economic groups. **********As with George Ball before her, Dr Ravitch’s recommendations were systematically ignored not only by the administration that appointed her, but the administration which replaced it. And as with George Ball, her warnings are proving to be eerily prophetic. All over the nation, policies are being implemented which are leading to demoralization of teachers, to closing of schools which honorably served communities for generations, to marginalization of special needs and ELL students, to testing scandals in high needs schools and districts, and to an uncontrolled proliferation of tests that has put profits in the pockets of test companies, while pushing aside science, history and the arts, and making a growing number of students hate going to school. **********The question is not whether these policies- an odd mixture of privatization, universal testing, and teacher/ school accountability based on student test scores- will be effective in reducing the impact of poverty on educational performance. The question is how much damage will be done before a critical portion of the public, the media, and the nation’s political leadership realizes how counterproductive these policies are. *********** If Vietnam is any precedent, such a “national wake up call” on educational policy could be quite long in coming, and the damage inflicted immense. And as with Vietnam, only massive protest and civil disobedience will be able to stop the policy in its tracks.

Living in a Police State- The Airport Experience

Having just spent ten days in Italy, a country where you didn't even have to show your passport on heading to baggage claim, much less fill out a form indicating what items you purchased before entering the country, and the agricultural products you might be sneaking in, I was utterly astonished, upon my return flight, to be shown a 20 minute film "Welcome to the USA" which hammered home to me how far along the path to becoming a police state we have traveled. *******This film, after presenting inspiring images which show what a multiracial, multicultural country we have become, suddenly starts indicating to travelers all the different forms they have to fill out, all the lines they have to pass through, all the documents they have to show, and all the occasions upon which they or their luggage might be searched upon getting to their baggage claim or a connecting flight. Each of these steps is accompanied by a picture of a grim faced border control agent, ready to protect the nation against disease, economic sabotage, terrorism, organized crime, and God knows what else. *********The entire effect of the film was to present the United States of America as a nation under siege, fearful not only of visitors, but its own citizens. **********I felt insulted, embarrassed and frightened. What kind of country have we become? Why are we afraid of so many things? What are we protecting? *********And all the multicultural imagery that began and ended the film could not prevent a chill from running through me as I returned to the country where I was born and where I live.