Thursday, February 28, 2013

Racial Entitlement Redux- A Reponse to Justice Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia really touched a chord with me when talking about the Voting Rights Act as an example of "racial entitlement." Even though I live in Brooklyn rather than Alabama, where the Voting Rights Act case was being challenged, I see Racial Entitlement everywhere. Black folks here, along with their Latino brothers and sisters, are entitled to be- *********stopped and frisked while walking down the street **********pulled over and searched while driving down interstate highways **********followed by security guards when shopping **********made the object of inappropriate humor at their workplace **********passed over when trying to hail a taxi **********mistaken for "the help" while going to meetings or public events **********exoticized and eroticized in every form of commercial media ***********not shown apartments or houses in "neighborhoods where they won't be welcome" ***********rejected in jobs where their background my cause offense to customers or clients. **********Clearly, racial entitlement is something we as a society must strive to eliminate if we want to achieve greater justice and fairness. Only not the "racial entitlement' Justice Scalia had in mind.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why School Boards Love Temporary Teachers aka Teach for America

All over the country, school districts who do not have a teacher shortage- the most recent is Buffalo- are trying to bring in Teach for America corps members to staff their schools. Why any school district would want to bring in teachers who have been trained for 5 weeks and have no classroom experience to replace teachers with years of training, experience, and mentoring would seem to defy common sense unless one considers the budgetary considerations at stake. Since few Teach for America teachers stay beyond their two year commitment in the schools they are assigned to, there is a huge saving in pension costs for using them over teachers likely to stay till they are vested. Having a temporary teaching force also gives a school board greater flexibility in assigning teachers, and in closing old schools and re-opening new ones. It also, in the long run, will totally destroy the power of teachers unions in the district, allowing for costs savings that can be invested in increased testing and evaluation protocols. ********In a time of austerity, these economic considerations easily trump educational and social ones. Does it really matter if students can't develop long term relationships with their teachers because they come an go with great rapidity? Does it really matter if the majority of teachers leave before they achieve a minimum level of mastery of their subject Does the loss of classroom authority and control on the part of teachers thrown into classrooms cold really make much of a difference? Does the elimination of teaching as a lifetime profession for people-especially women-from working class communities to aspire to really affect the economic stability of those communities? ********For school districts looking for a quick fix to budget problems and labor problems, those questions are easily shunted aside. But the long term damage that turning teaching into "temp work" inflicts is very very real, though it may take years for school boards to understand what the consequences of their policies are for the most t under served students and wounded communities.

Who Is James Leibman? The "Civil Rights Connection" And School Reform

Outside of New York City, the name James Leibman will probably mean very little to educators, even critics of the panoply of current policies labeled "School Reform." But among New York City teachers and principals, the mention of his name evokes more than a little rage because he was the first "accountability officer" in the Joel Klein led Department of Education under Mayor Bloomberg, responsible for developing the first "letter grades" for schools that were eventually to be used as the basis for policies ranging from school closings to evaluation of teachers. ********And who was Jame Leibman? Did he have years of experience working in the New York City public schools?. No, he was a Columbia Law Professor, an expert in death penalty litigation, who had children in the public schools and thought if he could develop a forumla for rating schools, he could put more pressure on them to better serve students of color. ********This noble goal let to a correspondence with the Mayor and his School Chancellor that ended up with Professor Leibman not only be hired in a new position, but given a team of statisticians to help develop a formula to rate schools on how much they helped children improve from year to year, based on results on standardized tests. The result of this was the first "letter grades" given to the City's Schools. *********Unfortunately, because of the narrow base of information used to compile the grades, the results, which were published in the press, not only humiliated many hard working teachers and principals, but defied common sense. Some of the best schools in the city, with the most innovative approaches to instruction, and the best community programs, got low grades, while schools widely seen as "struggling" got grades of A. This was true whether the schools were in high income neighborhoods, low income neighborhoods, or those in between. The grades that Professor Leibman came up for schools departed radically from the grades that would have been given had the input of parents, students, teachers and principals been the primary basis for compiling them *********The sad part of all of this, other than the careers and reputations tarnished, and the schools closed using this flawed system, is that Professor Leibman believed he was advancing the cause of Equity by imposing such a system. *********But swooping in to a school system that you have never worked in for two years, instituting radical measures without consulting the most skilled and experienced professionals in that system, and then going back to your original job is hardly a model for effective reform, much less Civil Rights activism

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Plummeting Job Satisfaction Among the Nation's Teachers

Here is a quote from a Met Life Survey of the American Teacher which speaks volumes about declining morale among education professionals during the last five years: "Principal and teacher job satisfaction is declining. Principals’ satisfaction with their jobs in the public schools has decreased nine percentage points since it was last measured in 2008. In that same period, teacher satisfaction has dropped precipitously by 23 percentage points, including a five-point decrease in the last year, to the lowest level it has been in the survey in 25 years. A majority of teachers report that they feel under great stress at least several days a week, a significant increase from 1985 when this was last measured". Of course, these dismal numbers are all the fault of the Republicans, right?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Time for a Moratorium on School Closings

Given the disruptions in the lives of poor and working class people that are about to ensue through the mandatory budget cuts likely to go into effect on March 1 ( that have been labeled "sequestering") which include cuts in housing subsidies, food aid, and vital health services, along with layoffs of government employees, the US Department of Education should call for an immediate cessation of School Closings mandated by its Race to the Top Program. How much destabilization can our most hard hit communities take at one time? I fear for the safety of children and families living in those areas. More hunger, more homelessness, more sickness, coupled with the loss of neighborhood institutions which have provided "safe zones" is a toxic combination. This is what happens when Ideology trumps humanity and common sense, a phenomenon which has afflicted Democrats as well as Republicans when it comes to education policy.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

:Letter from a First Year Teacher in a Brooklyn School That Faces Closing

I wanted to touch base with you about the chaotic and seemingly fatal status of my school. Tonight, I attended a Joint Public Hearing between the DOE and the School Leadership Team, along with an opportunity for public comment. All 3 proposals that were introduced [all including charter schools] seem to lead nowhere fast. Sheepshead Bay HS has taken in the lowest performing students from across Brooklyn; students who are no longer able to go to their local community high school because the large high schools [Tilden, Canarsie, South Shore] were broken down into smaller schools that screen their students before admission and do not accept these low performers. SBHS has a huge population of ELL students, students with multiple and profound disabilities, and those who live within the traumatic world of poverty. If these students are not going to be admitted into the charter schools that are housed within the corpse-like building of former public community schools, where are they to go? *******I know that you feel as passionately about this issue as I do [we are facebook friends, hehe], so I'm sure you can accept and witness the pain of a first year teacher who is struggling to hold on to her

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beware of "The Best and the Brightest"

Don't get too excited by all the Ivy Leaguers ( Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama etc) lined up behind Education Reform. Just remember that Ivy League scholars provided the intellectual rationale behind the Jim Crow Laws ( (John Burgess, Woodrow Wilson and the Dunning School) and that Ivy League efficiency experts ( McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara etc) provided the rationale for the use of American ground soldiers in the Vietnam War. Take a close look at the policies they are promoting- school closings, preferential treatment of charter schools, universal testing, test based teacher evaluations. They have to the potential to be every bit as disastrous as the two earlier initiatives supported by "The Best and the Brightest."

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Making of an Educational Subversive

****** What I have seen taking place in the last two years suggests that these efforts might not have been in vain. Between the Chicago Teachers strike, the teachers test revolt in Seattle, the civil rights mobilization to Washington to protests school closings, and the growth of parents groups around the country encouraging opting out of standardized tests, the Reformers can no longer pretend that their policies can be implemented painlessly and without resistance. ******* And that makes this Educational Saboteur feel very good

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why I Am Speaking At Occupy DOE 2.0 in Washington

I am coming to Washington because our public education system is being systematically dismantled by people whose power derives solely from the unprecedented concentration of wealth in a small number of hands. Without the Gates, the Broads, the Waltons, the Bloombergs and the hedge fund executives, the three bulwarks of current Education Reform policy- privatization, universal testing and school closings- would have never gained traction because they are unsupported by research and are abhorred by most educators.. What we are facing is not only the degradation of the teaching profession and the transformation of the nation's classrooms into zones of child abuse, but an attack on what little democracy we have left in this country. Therefore, I am not only coming to Washington defend the integrity of the profession I have dedicated my life to, but to join a movement which is one of the most important fronts of resistance to Plutocratic Rule *******I also come to Washington, as a scholar of African American History, and a long time community activist, to strip the false facade of "Civil Rights" legitimacy from policies which promote increased segregation, push teachers of color out of the profession, open our schools to profiteering by test companies,and promote narrow workforce preparation as a substitute for the creation of active citizens who can change the world. So I will not only be calling out the billionaires and those who are directly on their payroll, but those who call themselves "progressive" who give aid and comfort to those policies, either because of the hope of political gain or a deficit of courage.. ,

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How To Know If Your Local Charter School Sucks

How to Know If Your Local Charter School Sucks" By Mark Naison and Bruce Bernstein ********We will not categorically write off charter schools because there are some great ones. However, more and more charter schools are bringing the worst features of private enterprise to public education. You know the local charter school probably sucks if: ********1. Its leader calls himself/herself a CEO. ********2. The CEO's salary is more than three times the salary of the highest paid teacher in the school. ********3. The board of the school is full of hedge fund executives. ********4. Teachers in the school are terrorized and students treated as though they were in prison or on the verge of being sent to prison. *********5. The construction company who built the school is owned by a relative of a politician or a powerful community organization. *********6. The school teaches that those who practice some of the world's great religions are heading straight to hell. *********7. The school drives out students who are discipline problems or don't test well. *********8. The school accepts a co-location with a public school and then tells its teachers and students not to talk to anyone in the other school. ********9. The school is run by a private for-profit "educational management company" which won't reveal its budget for the school. ********10. The Principal or "CEO" of the school is related to one of the owners or executives of the "educational management company." *********11.The school has board members who blog and tweet about how screwed up teachers unions are. *********12. The school uses extreme forms of "merit pay" or a bonus system to create huge disparities among teachers. *********13. Teachers who used to teach at the school tell horror stories about how everything was geared towards tests and fundraising. *********Please feel free to add your own points!

How Trying to Get Rid of Bad Teachers Has Demoralized Our Best

Every time I have a discussion with someone who claims to be passionately committed to improving schools, they bring up the subject of the "bad teacher." They see public schools as zones of cultural and economic stagnation in an otherwised dynamic society, saddled with a smug and incompetent teaching force which prevents schools from playing their assigned roles of creating a competitive global workforce and elevating people out of poverty. They feel that the American educational system can only be transformed into an asset in the global marketplace if schools have the power to remove bad teachers, and if that means undermining, or circumventing teachers unions, so be it, whether by giving preference to non-union charter schools, or developing teacher and school evaluation systems that are based on hard data derived from student test scores. ********There are many problematic features of this analysis. among them, the irrationality of singling out schools over other instituutions ( for example banks and financial institutions!) as a cause of the nation's economic difficulties and of singling out teachers as the cause of poor educational performance in high poverty schools when research shows out of school factors are responsible for between 60 and 80 percent of the determinants of student achievement ********* But the most damaging of all is how this world view leads to teachers being excluded from policy discussions at the highest level and being deprived of agency and autonomy in the classroom. When you take two propositions as a given- first, that teachers have enormous power over student performance and functioning of entire school systems and second, that our public school system is a dismal failure, the logical response is to do everything you can to take power away from the existing teaching force and put people from other walks of life in charge of schools. This is what has been done at the national, state and local level. When Presidents, or Governors, or Mayors create Educational Policy or School Reform commissions, they make sure that business leaders and foundation heads have the determining voice, with lifetime educators, especially teachers, often entirely excluded. Not surprisingly, the policy recommendations coming out of these bodies usually involving weakening or eliminating teacher tenure, they involve scripting classroom learning, through continuous testing and observation, to such an extent that teachers have little power to determine what goes on in their classrooms. ********* I am sure reformers would like to say that these measures have shaken up a stagnant system and led to improved instruction, especially for high needs students, but there is little evidence of such improvement in terms of graduation rates, or scores on global tests. What these measure have done is reduce teacher morale to it's lowest level on record and lead to an exodus of talented people out of the teaching profession. ********* I see this every day in my communication with teachers, both in the Bronx, where I have developed close ties to many schools, and nationally, where my reputation as a teacher advocate has brought me in contact with both veteran and young teachers. Not only do teachers everywhere feel the sting of being excluded from policy discussions and attacked almost daily in the media by politicians and School Reform advocates, their classroom experience has been poisoned by protocols which require them drill students to pass standardized tests to the exclusion of all else, and to continuous invasion by administrators and evaluators who scrutinize their every move. It is hard to put in words how difficult to work in a profession that is "under suspicion," where you are regarded as a potential danger to the children you work with, and where everything that goes on in your classroom is being shaped by people far away, be they in the offices of test companies, or the programs developed by management consulting firms hired by school systems. ******* From Bill Gates, to Michelle Rhee, to Arne Duncan, educational reform advocates constantly emphasize the need to improve the quality of the nation's teaching force. Ironically, the policies they have pushed for, and that are being implemened in every state and every community, insure that exactly the opposite will happen.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Coming Crash: Liberal Arts in the Age of Educational Globalism

Our universities are becoming global corporations in desperate search of new markets and in this atmosphere, faculty members in the humanities and the arts become something between an anachronism and an annoyance to ambitious administrators and bottom line conscious boards of trustees. While we flail in impotent rage at the proliferation of administrators and the huge expenditures on facilities and sports programs, the institutions that claim to be driven by practicality sink themselves deeper and deeper into a fiscal hole. it is only a matter of time before higher ed crashes the way the housing market did. And it won't be the fault of faculty, whose salaries are the least of the reasons these institutions have gone into debt and raise tuitions to unsustainable levels

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Our Educational Stasi

The Bill Gates vision of Public Education, now made official by the Obama Administration and Governors of most states, is a place where Departments of Education from the national to the local set themselves up as Educational Stasi (East German Secret Police) who subject students to constant testing- from Pre-K on up- and teachers to constant evaluation and observation. Just heard from a friend that he teacher he communicates with expects to be observed 75 times a year! And that kindergarten students in some school districts are being tested almost weekly. The results: Creativity-GONE! Imagination-GONE! Spontaneity- GONE! Play- WHAT IS THAT? All in the service of creating an obedient labor force for the billionaires of the future, and making huge profits for test companies and educational consultants. Welcome to the New America- drones in the sky, drones in our schools, drones in our workforce. If you aren't angry, you aren't paying attention.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Life Changing Teachers Ignored

My Department at Fordham has over the years housed great, life changing teachers- among them Dr Claude Mangum, Dr Irma Watkins-Owens and Dr Mark Chapman- yet I have never about any of them being asked to speak about how they inspire students inside and outside their classrooms and build lifelong relationships with those they have taught. The same is true, perhaps even more so, for all the great elementary and secondary school teachers I know and their counterparts around the nation. Instead, we rely on people like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan, who have never taught at all, or Michelle Rhee, who taught for two years, to shape education policy and determine what constitutes great teaching. This inevitably leads to measures of teaching effectiveness which erase the impact teachers have on the lives of their students outside the classroom and the effects of great teaching over time. And to assuring that our most effective teachers will be pushed out of the profession and that idealistic young people who become teachers will be demoralized and beaten down.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Coaches Are Teachers Too!

I have the privilege of counting as facebook friends three baseball coaches- Mel Zitter, Pete Matsoukas, and Walter Paller- who have changed the lives of thousands of young people , the vast majority from working class families, through their work in two organizations- Youth Service League and the Bonnie Youth Club-along with high school teams they coached. Hundreds of scholarships to colleges and junior colleges; scores of players drafted by major league teams, several major league players and a handful of major league stars. All three were great teachers, because coaching is teaching, and none of them were motivated by money- their sandlot coaching was all done as volunteers. When Education Reformers start throwing around concepts like test based accountability and merit pay, let us remember that our greatest teachers and coaches are motivated by their students and players achievements, achievements over the course of a lifetime, not on one test or in one season. I have seen this first hand through my son Eric, who played for all three of these amazing people, and came out of it with a pricieless expeience of being part of a multiracial community of athletes as well as a much better ballplayer

Friday, February 8, 2013

The "Achievement Gap"- A Seductive but Dangerous Euphemism for Poverty and Inequality.

Any time I see an advertisement or a fundraising appeal for an organization whose goal is to shrink the "achievement gap,' I immediately put that organization on my personal "enemies list." *******No phrase is more symbolic of our society's efforts to avoid dealing with real life impact and consequences of rapidly growing poverty and inequality, which arrogantly presumes a profound collective tragedy can be eased by raising test scores. *******The "achievement gap" is a form of linguistic magic that erases what it means to be young and poor in the United States, and the stress that fear that involves, such as ******worrying when the lights and gas are going to be turned off ******or whether you are going to be evicted from your apartment *******or whether you are going to eat during the weekend when there ******is no longer breakfast or lunch in school ******or whether it is safe to walk to the corner store in the new neighborhood which you've moved ******or whether the boarder your mom or grandma just took in because they need help to pay the rent is going to molest you *******Or whether you can ever sleep or do homework because there are 18 people living in an apartment meant for 8 and there is constant yelling and screaming *******or whether your mom is gong to have a heart attack or nervous breakdown because she is working three jobs to keep you and your brothers and sisters fed and clothed *******or whether you will ever be able to get the glasses you need to see the blackboard in school or treatment for your asthma ******or what you are going to say when your brother gets out of prison and goes back to selling drugs when he can't find a job. ******* or whether you are going to be thrown against the wall and frisked by police when you are going to the schoolyard to play ball *******Achievement Gap! As if some how all these things that are happening to you are a result of low test scores and can be magically erased if those scores are improved. ********There is no euphemism for poverty. It is numbingly, brutally real and affects those trapped in it in every moment of their lives. ********I propose banning the term " the Achievement Gap" and instead start talking about the Wealth Gap, the Wage Gap, the Nutrition Gap, the Housing Gap, the Opportunity Gap and all the other real life inequalities that deform and corrupt our social order

Donald Byrd and the Power of Music Instruction Inside and Outside Our Public Schools

I just found out that the great jazz trumpeter, composer and music innovator Donald Byrd passed away. I am devastated by this news, not only because Donald Byrd owned a brownstone on the Park Slope block to which I moved in 1976, but because Donald Byrd was a central figure in the musical history of the Bronx, which I discovered when doing oral histories for the Bronx African American History Project. In the 1950's, Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock got an apartment together on Boston Road and 164th Street in the Bronx in Morrisania, which was then the Bronx's largest and most vital Black neighborhood. Byrd was then working as a music teacher at Berger JHS near St Mary's Park, a common destiny for great musicians during a time when NYC middle schools and high schools had bands and orchestras and hundreds of instruments which students with talent could take home to practice. During his years in the Bronx, Byrd mentored many talented young r musicians, among them jazz trumpeter Jimmy Owens, who took private lessons from Byrd, and salsero and trombone player Willie Colon, who was his student at Berger JHS. But the most amazing Byrd story has to do with his role in the recording of Mongo Santamaria's "Watermelon Man." One day, in the early 1960's, Mongo Santamaria called up Herbie Hancock and asked him to sit in as a pianist with Mongo's band, which was then performing at Club Cubano InterAmericano on Prospect Avenue, a popular Latin music spot. Herbie was reluctant to do it because he never played Latin before, but accepted the offer and was doing pretty well by the end of the first set. Then during intermission, Donald Byrd, who was there, asked Herbie to play his original composition "Watermelon Man" for Mongo. When Herbie started doing this, Mongo's band, especially his huge percussion section, started joining in, and before you knew it the whole club was dancing. Mongo was so excited by what happened that he asked if he could record the song. He did, and it became his greatest hit. Such is the influence that Donald Byrd had as a teacher and a mentor to young musicians. It is is not only a testimony to his own unique vision, and to Black Latino cultural and musical cross fertilization, it is a reminder of how important it is to keep music instruction and music performance as an integral part of the life of our public schools

Monday, February 4, 2013

Post Super Bowl Blues

I woke up this morning with a profound sense of sadness and ambivalence about yesterday's Super Bowl, an event which exposed powerful cracks in the facade of power and invulnerability which we like to project to the rest of the world-and to ourselves. Between the incredibly moving performance of the chorus from Sandy Hook elementary school, and the blackout, which brought the game to a halt for 35 minutes, no one could mistake this event for an arrogant celebration of American immunity from tragedy. That no one planning the event, or announcing it, ever mentioned the thousands of people who had sought refuge in the Super Dome following Hurricane Katrina, and turned it into a symbol of American indifference and cruelty to its poor only added to the Bad Karma. If you were a person with a taste for metaphor, you could even regard the blackout as "Katrina's Revenge." ******As for the game itself, I loved it- the drama, the passion, the incredible athleticism displayed by the receivers and the kick returners, and the arm strength of both quarter backs. But there were some hits during the game that were so hard and violent that I was forced to examine my own immersion in the contest and ask "should anyone really be playing this game?" Each year, the players get bigger and faster and the full speed collisions get more damaging. Should our entire culture be organized around a sport that subjects its participants to permanent physical and mental damage? ********The experience forced me to interrogate the sources of my own addiction to the sport, an addiction rooted deep in my childhood From the age of 8 on, football was one of the ways I marked my passage into sometimes cruel and demanding world of working class masculinity. Whether it was watching the Giants on Sundays with my uncle Mac, dodging cars to play touch in the street, or dragging five kids down the field during pickup games in the local park, football became one of my chosen vehicles to win respect in a tough neighborhood even though I wore glasses and skipped third grade. Although I was marked off for difference by ambitious parents and academic success, football was a space where I could erase those differences and become an initiate in the church of heteronormative masculinity. The skills I learned from playing and watching the games could bond me instantly with tough, socially dominant men and boys wherever I met them. it gave me immunity from the victimization that was the fate of many of my male peers who loved books, loved schools, loved learning as much as I did. Through playing it, watching it and talking about it, I could instantly bond with people who might otherwise be predisposed to attack me, ridicule me, or ignore me. *********This immersion in the game continued through college and young adulthood, where I played football constantly even though tennis was my varsity sport. Being able to throw a football sixty yards and smash through blocks when playing linebacker produced instant acceptance, whether it was in Columbia intramurals, schoolyard games in Harlem, a rough touch league in then Irish Inwood, or a lawyers league in Central Park. *********My immersion in this profoundly male space continued, virtually unchecked, through my radicalization through the Civil Rights movement, and even my exposure to, and ultimate embrace, of radical feminism. Although I became acutely aware of and uncomfortable with, racist and sexist dimensions of football in both its institutional forms and its grass roots local manifestations- I couldn't give up what I had gotten, and continued to get from the game- a feeling of power and competence validated by camaraderie with the country's toughest men, a group of which I considered myself a part. **********I cannot say that my experience with the game reflects that of many other men, much less that of women. But it does suggest how powerfully embedded football is in the shaping of gender identities in this society, and how difficult it will be to wean people away from it even when they see its destructive power. ********February 3, 2013