Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Jam for Occupy DOE 2.0- The Battle for Public Schools, from Notorious Phd

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
And we're moving fast
Because k-12 testing
just won’t cut it
A young mind needs stirring
tests just shut it
To the best of our teachers
You’ve said “Goodbye M’am”
You don’t make the grade
According to VAM
We'll rate you, assess you
And make your job harder
Your school will be gone
Replaced by a charter
But though teachers are stressed
They surely won't wilt
They’ll fight for their students
Not succumb to test guilt
They’ll 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 curriculum of love

In Education Policy, Renewal Must Come from Below

I have yet to meet a person of influence in Education policy, on a City, State or National level ( and I have met more than you might think) who wants to empower teachers, students and parents. Many claim they want to help students, but seem unable to imagine doing this without top down initiatives that involve intensive testing, while viewing technology as a "magic bullet" with a power to overcome the wounds of poverty. They also are prone to assign the most benign motives to those who employ extensive financial resources to influence education policy. Because of this, I am convinced that the only hope for public education in the US depends on a revolt of those who LIVE IT EVERY DAY, not those who legislate policies or are assigned responsibility for carrying them out. Even the best intentioned have a paternalistic attitude toward teachers, parents and students, while the worst seek to subject them to a level of control and surveillance that seem more worthy of a totalitarian state or a power hungry corporation rather than a pubic institution that provides preparation for democratic citizenship

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Resisting the "Inevitable" in Education Reform

Parents, teachers and principals who are reluctant to violate their conscience by subjecting children to the soul destroying, developmentally inappropriate tests that being imposed by education authorities around the nation are never really engaged in serious discussion. Instead, they are told these measures are inevitable, and that resistance is either illegal or damaging to the school or school district they are located in. But all resistance to immoral policies is initially inconvenient and illegal. Read Dr King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail" and you will see that many of the arguments used against those protesting school closures and abusive testing were once used against those using non-violent civil disobedience. So do not be discouraged by the difficulty of the task before you, the intimidation you face from authorities and the seeming indifference of good hearted people to what you are trying to accomplish. All great movements for justice begin with a small band of people willing to take risks to change the course of history

The Brave New World of American Education

Accountability officers. Testing in Pre-K. School superintendents trained in the art of intimidation by mentors from the military and corporate America. Teacher observations that resemble time and motion studies in factories in the age of Frederick Taylor. And if you're poor, metal detectors at the entrances, police in the schools, and zero tolerance policies that result in arrest for minor behavioral infractions.

Welcome to the brave new world of American education, being imposed in your town, your neighborhood and your school with breakneck speed. They guiding principles are standardization, surveillance and control, with parents, teachers, students, and increasingly families, under constant scrutiny by new age efficiency experts. No one is trusted. Everyone is under suspicion. And hence teaching and learning are scripted and micromanaged down to the smallest detail.
In this atmosphere, creativity, spontaneity, and democratic participation are erased. Everyone is looking over their shoulder. Fear --of losing your job, of failing a test, of being reported to child services-- is the dominant emotion. Children teachers, even parents are under treatment for anxiety and depression because of the relentless pressure.

This is no path to national renewal. It is a prescription for economic, moral and cultural stagnation

And only you can stop it. Speak out. Opt out. Resist

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why I Love Being an Angry Teacher

I love being an angry teacher because it puts me in good company. Most of the great teachers I know are as angry as I am that education policy- from the national to the state to the local level- has been being hijacked by people whose only qualification for job is the accumulation of great wealth or a hunger for power and position. My voice is meaningless, my experience-all 49 years of it-is irrelevant, my accomplishments, in terms of students mentored, minds opened, lives changed, is useless because it doesn't translate into profits and isn't usefully evaluated as "data." But being excluded from the National Discourse on Education Policy has its virtues- it has connected me to a "beloved community" of teachers and parents determined to stand up for learning environments where creativity, imagination, and community building are as important as knowledge of facts. And those people, who are in every portion of the nation, and to whom I am connected to via social media, inspire me very day. We will keep the light of learning shining no how many dark clouds rise over the educational horizon. We will not give up. And we will not give in.

Bronx Science Program for Youth Forcibly Evicted

Frends, after writing about the forcible eviction of the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective from their community center which they had turned into a creative, welcoming space for Bronx youth, I just got this message from the leader of a great youth community organization called the Harlem River Ecology Center, aka "The Urban Divers." Can we afford to have so many organizations which expose young people to the joy of learning, be it music or science, just get snuffed out with nary a peep from our elected officials.  Read this and weep

I just read your article about the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective. the same thing is happening to us The Urban Divers HARLEM RIVER ECOLOGY CENTER , located at RIVER PARK TOWERS, at the SOUTHERN END OF ROBERTO CLEMENTE STATE PARK-
RIVER PARK TOWERS had been sold and was taken over by new owners. We met with their management for the first time on March 9th. At which point with thought that this would be a meet and greet and with the new owners that it would a new day and our needs would finally be met and repairs done... instead less than 3min into the meeting they announced they are going to changed the locks and requested we vacated in 60 days...while leaving the center.They indeed send a crew to chop down our locks and changed the locks. No legal action in the process. We contact all our public officials, particularly our local Congressman, as HUD a principal and essential federal figure here at date ,we have yet to receive a response. We requested for bring HUD and the new owners to table to discuss the matter.
You can review our work here carefully to learn about lot of examples of work and services, scroll down the page for instruction to load all the video clips ( Generic).
Learn about our mobile museum here at 2:20
You can judge for yourself...if this is worthy for a home in this city.
It is unbelievable what is ,has been happening. We are being snuffed in the dark."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Big Surprise that Awaits School Reformers

A whole lot of people are gong to be surprised-none more than school reformers, the politicians that back them and the billionaires that fund both of them- by the mass movements that are going to erupt in response to school closings and abusive testing. These movements are still in their infancy, but in the next three or four years they are going to lead to massive disruptions and force many who have thus far been silent to take a stand in favor of the protesters. Mark my words. I can feel something building. And not just in Chicago. Parents all over the country are totally fed up with having e their children's school experience ruined by testing and test prep and by the way their voice is totally ignored in decisions about school closings and charter school co-locations.  And high school and middle school students are going to join them. Top down school reform has been orchestrated through well financed lobbying campaigns and networking among elites. Resistance to reform is going to take the form of strikes, boycotts, test opt outs, lawsuits, and civil disobedience- the kind of mass action characteristic of the non violent civil rights movement in its prime.

What Real "School Choice" Would Look Like

 It is amazing to me to see so many School Reformers talk about "Choice" when most teachers, students, and parents experience their policies as raw coercion.

  The best example of this is testing. States like New York are  not only imposing large numbers of new tests to insure compliance with the Common Core Standards and to insure that teachers can be evaluated on the basis of student test scores, they are witholding  funds from school districts that refuse to use tests for teacher evaluations  and are telling parents that it is illegal to opt their children out of state tests.

  That is choice? Sounds more like regimentation and intimidation to me- a one size fits all standard for all school districts, schools and families in the entire state.

  I have a better plan. Here is what New York State could do to insure real school choice and  offer many different models of how schools can function.

1. Allow any parent to withold their child from state testing without penalty to the family, the school, or the school district. Parents should have the right to decide whether state tests are developmentally appropriate for their own child.

2. Allow and even encourage school districts to create more "portfolio schools" like NYC's wonderful Urban Academy, which have exemption from state tests and use other measures of student achievement.

3. Allow local school districts, rather than the state, to decide whether they want to us test scores as a component of teacher evaluations. Leave that to elected school boards, not the Governor, the Legislature, or the State Education Commissioner to decide.

   These three simple "reforms" would do much to counteract the feeling, held by many many teachers, parents,  and school board members that they are living in a dictatorship where their own views have no weight. They would encourage a burst of creativity as new kinds of schools are created along more democratic principles and restore enthusiasm among teaching staffs whose morale has been broken by top down policies based on mistrust of their professional expertise and contempt for their input

   The only people who would lose would be test companies who see their profits go down

   It's time to change direction. Here is one way to do it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why I Love "Setting a Bad Example"

 I set a bad example, not only for people who work in education, but for workers everywhere. I love my job. I can't wait to get there in the morning.  And it's not because of the money. I get paid decently, but that's not what floats my boat. I could make a lot more money than I do. I have deferred merit increments for the past ten years so my younger  colleagues can have a better chance of receiving them  and contribute more than half my speakers income to the Bronx African American History to help pay our research staff.

No, what makes me love my job, and what makes me such a subversive, is the FREEDOM. I don't have a boss. I don't even have a supervisor. I can teach what I want, write what I want, and say what I want either inside the university.No one every monitors what I am doing and no one ever observes me. If someone came to observe me without asking my permission, I would throw them out of my classroom. Physically.

The US Department of Education, Middle States Evaluators, and some university administrators hate my having this kind of autonomy. Unable to control me directly, they are trying to assert indirect control by assessing my "outcomes." I fight all incursions like these tooth and nail. I provide as little information to the university administration as possible, and publicly attack any and all infringements on my jobs rights, my freedom of expression, and my commitment to peer evaluation and governance.

 But if it was up to most policy makers, people like me would disappear. And they are doing everything possible to try to make sure that a new generation of self-governing tenured faculty are not created. They are assigning more and more college teaching to adjuncts and part time faculty, and trying to water down tenure rights for those faculty who already have them. They claim that our freedoms are a smokescreen behind which "bad teachers" seek cover. And that they have to take away those freedoms to better serve students

But it is not to better serve students that tenure is under attack. It is that workers who approach their jobs with real autonomy and creativity are a threat to a system that thrives on intimidation and micromanagement as ways of extracting "productivity." And in which productivity gains almost exclusively accrue to those at the top.

So at a time when many people are contemplating retirement, I am still fired up with love for my work, and committed to Total Resistance to any incursions on my professional autonomy or freedom of speech.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Attacking Workers, Attacking Teachers- Different Targets, Same Result

One of the reasons I don't trust those who blame high teacher salaries and unon inflexibility for the problems in our public schools is I heard the same arguments being made in the 80's and 90's about unionized industrial workers. They were blamed for the non-competiveness of basic industry in the US, and pilloried as an obstacle to national economic renewal.

Well, the company heads and financiers who were making those arguments basically won the day, with the result that industrial wages in the US went from 3rd in the world in the early 70's to 13th in the world by the mid 90's  (David Brody "Workers in Industrial America"). But did CEO compensation decline with it? No CEO compensation skyrocketed, helping raise the average CEO worker compensation differential from 80 to 1 in 1980, to over 400 to 1

 Given this experience, I am extremely suspicious of the arguments  School Reformers make about overpaid and inflexible teachers, particularly since a good many of the people putting those arguments forward, such as Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, are deriving sizable incomes from their leadership of the "School Reform" movement, and others, such as Rupert Murdoch, stand to derive considerable income from the software they are marketing to school systems around the country,

 Somehow, in the US, attacks on overpaid workers as undermining the public good seem to lead to the funneling of wealth upward and the lowering of living standads for working Americans.  I would be very suprised if the breaking of teachers unions and the demoralization of teachers will lead to any more positive consequences than the attack on industrial workers did 30 years ago. It is unlikely to improve schools and very likely to shrink the middle class and funnel money to the CEO's of consulting firms and test companies.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chicago School Closings and the Murder of Kimani Gray-The Atrophied Conscience of Apartheid America

   Little by little, we have created an apartheid nation- a place where a profound spatial and moral divisions separate the lives of the priviliged and the unfortunate.  The boundaries are not strictly racial, though those on the lower side of the divide are overwhelmingly people of color, nor are they marked by gates, and walls and fences. Rather, they are enforced by a complex set of codes followed by law enforcement authorities who have acquired immense power to assure public safety since the imposition of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, powers which have effectively prevented the poor from doing anything to prevent their marginalization and immisertion, and which have given wealthy elites virtually immunity from threats to their well being coming either from political action, mass protest or street crime.

  You can see this in New York City where you can shop in a newly wealthy neighborhood, like Park Slope, go to and Arts destination in Manhattan, or go to one of those boroughs great universities, like Columbia, NYU or Fordham, without seeing groups of young people from one of the outer boroughs poor neighborhoods congregating in a group. Police practices have made it clear to them that they are not welcome there- that their very presence constitutes a virtual threat, a "crime waiting to happen." But youth of color cleansing, and spatial controls are not just imposed in already established centers of wealth. In Bedford Stuyvestand and Red Hook, both gentrifying areas, police practices keep young people penned into neighborhood housing projects, wary of walking streets, in a group, where middle class residents have moved or hip cafes have opened. Very quickly, young people with certain race and class markers learn that they are subject to being stopped and questioned and frisked in almost all spaces out of the neighborhoods, and in a growing number of spaces where they actually live

  But worse yet, what is daily life for young people of color who are poor, is quite literally out of sight and out of mind, and thereby unimaginable, not only for middle class and wealthy residents of cities, but for the  Mayors of thoses cities. Because they never talk to  young people  who are on the receiving end of these spatial controls,  and ever see them in action, they can pretend they don't exist. Their conscience has atrophied when it comes to the fundamental realities of life for the young and the poor.

  Two recent events dramatize this for me- the police murder of Kimani Gray in East Flatbush Brooklyn, and the school closing order given by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in Chicago. Never has New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg reached out to the grieiving mother of a 16 year old boy who was killed for doing nothing more than walking home from a neighborhood party. Instead, he hides behind a "narrative of criminality" used to hide the ugly facts of Kimani Gray;s death, which is that this was an outgrowth of a "stop and frisk" procedure initiated by plainclothes police that will NEVER happen to young people in the Mayor's family or social circle.  Kimani Gray was  one of New York City's legion of "disposable youth" that must be policed and contained in every aspect of their lives to make the city's engines of economic growth secure. He could be snuffed out without anyone in power losing a moment of sleep

   Similarly, the lives of  tens of thousands of young people of color to be disrupted by the school closings ordered by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in Chicago could be conveniently erased from his thoughts by a ski trip because his own children, safely enrolled in Chicago Lab School, would never experience the disruptions, nor would their friends. The impact of these policies would be felt by "Other People's Children"- the same people who live in fear of gun violence, gang violence, and police containment, who feel alternately penned into poor neighborhoods or pushed out of the city altogether

     A leadership which can inflict this kind of containment and moral erasure on a large portion of their city's population  can only be described as profoundly corrupt- but we are all complicit insofar as we have allowed our own security to be buiilt on an edifice of other people's suffering.

Friday, March 22, 2013

My Six Point Program for Improving Bronx Schools.

My Six Point Program for Improving Bronx Schools.

1. Moratorium on School Closings
2. Cut testing in half
3. Put first rate art and music programs in every school
4. Make sure every child gets healthy food and plenty of exercise
5. Restore the night centers- keep every school open to the community 5 
PM to 9 PM.
6. Create a culturally relevant curriculum which includes community history.

Education Reform and the Vietnam War- A Teacher's Lament

The Vietnam War was the Vietnam War for my generation. The war on public education is somehow more insidious. At some point the media exposed the Vietnam War for the debacle that it was. The vets came back and their conflicted truths were at least entertained. I teach very disabled students in the inner city, to atone for my family’s involvement in banking and insurance. I even live in the inner city, mostly because it is what I can afford on a teacher’s salary, but I also quote Ruth, “'Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.” Yet I have somehow become the scourge of America, the cause for all the failings of the United States. I take (meager) hope in the fact that when soldiers came back from Vietnam, they were literally spit upon. Thirty years later most people understand the complexity of the situation. Some of the most fabulous folks I know are in Veterans for Peace. I can wait 30 years, gods willing I should live so long, for the acknowledgement that I teach in an incredibly complex situation. My daughter can’t. She is in 7th grade and needs education policy to change this summer.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why Chicago School Closings Are Disastrous

Evil thrives in the crevices of created by opportunism and
indifference. No better example exists than of the disastrous decision
made to close 50 schools in Chicago the vast majority of them serving
African American children.   The greatest impact is on the city's most
wounded neighborhoods, places already traumatized by violence . The
last thing the families in these neighborhoods need s further destabilization
by closing community institutions that in some cases have served these
neighborhoods for decades, and making children  go to school in another
neighborhood where they may not feel safe, while depriving them of teacher mentors they have developed relationships with. Only people who think relationship building between teachers and students is irrelevant could
destroy 50 school communities with the stroke of a pen

Make no mistake about this, this is both a local and a national
tragedy. You cannot blame this on the Republican Party. Or the NRA. Or
the Tea Party. This is an example of a poisonous cynicism that thrives
in the heart of the Barack Obama Democratic party and its liberal, once
radical apologists. Let us see if Michael Eric Dyson, Angela Davis,
Michael Moore, Rachel Maddow etc say a peep about this. It will take
open revolt, non-violent or otherwise, to turn this train around. And
it will come. Probably when people least expect it. Those who defy the
laws of history and morality usually get payback.

My Thoughts on Chicago School Closings

Chicago School Closings.

Evil thrives in the crevices of created by opportunism and 
indifference. No better example exists than of the disastrous decision 
made to close 50 schools in Chicago the vast majority of them serving 
African American children.   The greatest impact is on the city's most 
wounded neighborhoods, places already traumatized by violence. The last 
thing they need is further destabilization by closing stable community 
institutions and making children  leave places they are comfortable  
and teacher mentors they have developed relationships with.

Make no mistake about this, this is both a local and a national 
tragedy. You cannot blame this on the Republican Party. Or the NRA. Or 
the Tea Party. This is an example of a poisonous cynicism that thrives 
in the heart of the Barack Obama Democratic party and its liberal, once 
radical apologists. Let us see if Michael Eric Dyson, Angela Davis, 
Michael Moore, Rachel Maddow etc say a peep about this. It will take 
open revolt, non-violent or otherwise, to turn this train around. And 
it will come. Probably when people least expect it. Those who defy the 
laws of history and morality usually get payback.

A Day At Sheepshead Bay: Where Young People Prove More Special Than Their Needs

Just got through in credible experience at Sheepshead Bay HS in Brooklyn, where I was invited to talk about the history of hip hop to two classes of special needs students one led by my wonderful former student Anne Brewka. The day began with my passing through a scanner and a metal detector, which I always set off because of my artificial hip, after which Anne met me and gave me a heads up on the group I would be talking to. Many of the young people in the group in the two classes were physically disabled, some less so, and twelve of the twenty plus in the group had their own paras, some because they were in wheelchairs, some because of behavioral issues.

What happened was a living embodiment of the principle "never judge a book by its cover" and even more so of the principle, "every child has magnificent gifts to offer the world." In the course of a 90 plus minute presentation in which I lectured, asked questions, played music, and rapped, the students in the class turned what began as a lecture into an old school hip hop party with students rapping, dancing, creating complex rhythms on their desks and on the floor and asking great questions. Freed from some of the restraints and discipline more "socialized" students display, these young people let loose with an explosion of talent and of joyous creativity that blew everyone in the room, away even the paras, who started the day somewhat dour and then clapped their hands with the beat and cheered their students on. And the teachers just let the party going on. It reached it's high point when I put on Afrika Bambatta's "Looking for a Perfect Beat" and a 7 minute b-boy b-girl battle began. 

I have had great experiences speaking to high school groups where people dances, rapped and beatboxed. But nothing like this. Nothing like brilliant questions coming from a young man in a wheelchair who understood the essence of what hip hop lyricism can mean to disfranchised young people who are routinely treated with contempt. Or three young men in a special needs class creating beats on a desk for another one of their peers who rapped brilliantly. Or two young men trading b-boy moves that would have gotten them dollar tips on the subway

This is education. This is what should happen in our schools. Every day. It is art that unlocks the key to the mind and the soul. Not for some students. For all of them

Arts vs Tests- The Logic of a Plutocracy Reproducing Itsel

Whenever I tell someone in influence that we need to restore the great music programs that were in the the New York City public schools from the mid 40's through the mid 70's along with the "night centers" that kept every elementary school in city open from 3-5 and 7-9 five days a week, they always tell me "those are too expensive;" but somehow, the NYC Department of Education always finds enough money for new tests and for consultants to evaluate schools and teachers. Except when it comes to their own children's education, school reformers always seem to prefer tests over arts, sports, and community building. Exposing the cynical logic underlying that choice is what education activists must do, day in day out. The more arts are forced out of the schools and the gyms and auditoriums in schools are kept shuttered to the community when school hours end, the more we can be sure that the prisons of the future will have an ample supply of inmates and that graduates of elite private schools will have little competition for leadership positions. Current education policy represents the logic of a Plutocracy reproducing itself.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Response to Survey on Regimentation and Creativity in School Reform-From a Parent and Teacher in Upstate NY

Parent perspective

What percentage of the changes in your school's pedagogy and curriculum, implemented in the last two years, have been designed to stimulate greater creativity in your child and nurture independent thinking?

I would have to say close to 0%. I do like some of the higher order thinking that is theoretically part of the Common Core; however, curriculum is often developmentally inappropriate even for the strongest students. The Core does NOT nurture independent thinking but seems to encourage students to manufacture similar responses. Lastly, the wording of many of the texts and tests is so confusing that it creates frustration in young children, their teachers and their parents. My happy-go-lucky son has had quite a few tearful breakdowns over homework and testing this year. By the middle of the second quarter, he was frustrated and burnt out.

What percentage of those changes have led to greater regimentation, discipline and efforts to enforce mastery of a fixed body of knowledge?

I do believe that we are forcing a fixed body of knowledge on innocent, vulnerable children, which is in turn destroying their curiosity and love of learning. Students are now losing recess more than ever. Many teachers feel forced to teach to a test. Sadly, my son is the student of one of these teachers. Though I have approached her via meetings, phone calls and email to indicate that my son thrives on creative learning, she has stuck to her guns, and my son will take over 500 pages of tests in 3rd grade. I am ashamed that this is allowed to go on, but when I meet with the principal, she indicates that the teacher is doing what she feels is right. As a mother, I’m torn up about this. I would guess a high percentage of the changes we have seen with APPR and the Core Curriculum have led to greater regimentation, discipline and enforcement of a fixed body of knowledge.

Educator perspective:

What percentage of the new protocols for teacher evaluation and student learning, and the professional development that has accompanied them, has empowered you to be more creative and innovative in the classroom?

What percentage of those protocols have eroded your autonomy, undermined your ability to connect with your students, and made you doubt whether you wanted to stay in the profession?

I would say close to 0% of new protocols have allowed me to be more creative. There are less and less extras, very few field trips or hands on lessons, and the lame professional development we have been offered has been a true waste of time because my colleagues and I need any “extra” time to create interim exams, SLO’s, and do data analysis.
 I have started using a smart board this year because one was placed in my classroom, but I have had no training on how to use it. Other than that, the Silver Strong APPR model that my union/district agreed upon does not inspire me very much because it is so time consuming and takes valuable time away from my students and my planning for students. I will give you a specific example that has bothered me since it happened. On top of 5 evaluations, lengthy pre-observation paperwork, observation paperwork, and post-observation work, I have to create an “evidence binder” to prove my worth. It is due June 1st, so I have had to start filling it.  One day last week, a former student approached me with the newest chapter of a novel she has been working on (and I have been editing) for two years. I was excited to read it! It was lunch time, and I was eating at my desk helping other students, so I placed it on top of my pile to read as soon as I got the chance. That afternoon, I had some feelings of panic about the red binder that had been sitting near my desk staring at me since October. (We had a very short meeting about them in September, but did not receive the actual binders until October. The binder will be 20% of our teacher score.) So, I decided to start photocopying, printing and taking pictures of my room during my prep set. (Yes, we need to take pictures of our room to three hole punch and place in the binder, but we have no color printer to print them on, so I e-mail them to myself and print at home then bring them back to school!) I was lost in paperwork when I heard an excited, familiar voice behind me asking, “What did you think of my new chapter?”
As you can guess, I hadn’t had time to read it, and it hurt me to think that I felt I had to put that binder before my budding writer. THE THOUGHT THAT THESE KINDS OF THINGS ARE NOW HAPPENING EVERY DAY, IN SCHOOLS ALL ACROSS THIS COUNTRY, MAKES ME SICK TO MY STOMACH AND SO VERY ANGRY. I would say that a pretty high percentage (50% or higher) of new protocols have eroded my autonomy and undermined my ability to connect with students. For the first time in seventeen years, I daydream about leaving the profession.

If the overwhelming majority of the new policies undermine creativity, and encourage regimentation, in both students and teachers, what does that say about the future of civic life in the United States? What does it say about the kind of society we are becoming?

I am scared of the society in which my children and students are growing up. Starting with “No Child Left Behind”, we have fostered a generation of uninspired test takers and have perpetuated the cycle of poverty and welfare in our country by not preparing students for the real world. There are very few common sense classes anymore, such as parenting classes, business classes, study skills, etc. In the rural district I teach in, these are truly a necessity, but it’s often about the newest test.

Are there elements of "fascism" in our current education policy and discourse, or is that too strong a word to apply to what is going on?

Elements of Fascism? Sadly, I suppose so. People on the outside are making decisions that are not well-informed and are forcing a body of knowledge on schools in a “one size fits all” approach. The slower learners fail, and, in my opinion, gifted students like my son are also set up to fail.  We are stripping children of their individuality, and I struggle with this every single day. 

Who Are The Real Criminals?

The most toxic culture in the US is not the one you find in your local meth lab, or among the dealers outside the neighborhood corner store; it is not even among gang bangers or people housed in your local jail; it among people in executive suites who vote themselves more compensation for exporting jobs, lowering wages, packaging home mortgages into salable debt, or finding new outlets for profitable investment in what were once public services. It is these individuals who have driven down the living standards of tens of millions of individuals while steadily enriching themselves. And who have supported the creation of a police state to enforce growing levels of inequality.

So when you make social policy based on containing and marginalizing and punishing "criminals" you might want to look up the social to the very top, where the greatest damage is being done.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

R.I.P. Kimani Gray

During the 15 years I coached baseball and basketball and ran basketball leagues in Brooklyn- from the mid-80's through the late 90's, I coached and worked with scores of Kimani Grays. They were in my van, in my house, part of my family. If you gave them respect, gave them space, and, when they were ready, showed them love, they returned everything five fold. Because of those experiences, I am both haunted and enraged by Kimani Gray's murder. It is a terrible waste of a life with limitless potential, and an even more terrible commentary on a society who only knew how to deal with him, and young people like him, through deadly and impersonal force. And that force is being multiplied in the response to those protesting and crying out in pain. What kind of city and what kind of country is this. Disposable youth to be met with the full force of the state at random moments,. They don't even have to be a threat at that moment. They just have to exist. There are no words for that kind of casual cruelty, especially since it secures the comfort of those insulated by race and class by the force of an oppressive state, unless they decide to join the ranks of protesters

Whither Education Policy? Regimentation or Creativity?

 I have a few simple questions that might help us understand where we are and where we are heading when it comes to education policy

 First is for the parents of school age children attending public schools in any portion of the United States. Please answer as honestly as you can

 What percentage of the changes in your school's pedagogy and curriculum, implemented in the last two years, have been designed to stimulate greater creativity in your child and nurture independent thinking?

)What percentage of those changes have led to greater regimentation, discipline and efforts to enforce mastery of a fixed body of knowledge?

Second is for teachers in public schools, once again in any portion of the United States

What percentage of the new protocols for teacher evaluation and student learning, and the professional development  that has accompanied them, have empowered you to be more creative and innovative in the classroom?

What percentage of those protocols have eroded your autonomy, undermined your ability to connect with your students, and made you doubt whether you wanted to stay in the profession?

If the overwhelming majority of the new policies undermine creativity, and encourage regimentation, in both students and teachers, what does that say about the future of civic life in the United States? What does it say about the kind of society we are becoming?

Are there elements of "fascism" in our current education policy and discourse, or is that too strong a word to apply to what is going on?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Education Quiz for the Day

School Reformers are:

1. Sincere idealists who have desperately, albeit mistakenly, seized on transforming schools as our one and only chance to make headway against rapidly growing poverty and inequality

2. Opportunists who have seen which way the wind is blowing and have decided to build careers on implementing the Reform agenda of testing and privatization ( esp. school chancellors, charter schools administrators, professors of education).

3. Politicians and media commentators who have decided that School Reform is the wave of the future because the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country all support it

3. Billionaires who spend so much money pushing the Reform program that it disguises the fact that the measures they endorse are unsupported by research and are in fact bat shit crazy

4. All of the Above

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Does the Bi-Partisan Consensus on School Reform Really Help Reduce Inequality

There is no bi-partisan consensus in this country on how to eliminate poverty. However, there is a bi-partisan consensus on how to improve schools- weaken unions, expand school choice, rate teachers on student test scores, create and impose national standards and test students on them from grades K-12. Is this set of policy measures going to reduce poverty and inequality? One way to judge this is to see in whose pockets the immense funding these reforms involve ends up. Who gets the contracts to create the tests? Who gets the funds to administer the reforms? Who are hired as teachers? Are there any direct benefits in terms of employment or business opportunities to people in low income and working class communities, or will all the benefits come "down the road" when these allegedly better educated students will graduate from college and get good jobs? If the answer to the last question is "No?" tell me why School Reform isn't a new strategy for profit maximization for American business and a jobs program for the upper middle class

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The School Reform Credo

I am a School Reformer and this is what I believe:

Some time, about thirty years ago, the teacher force in America's public schools were inundated with the most incompetent and unimaginative graduates of our colleges and universities, people who could not find work in the private sector. Slowly but surely, protected by powerful unions, they transformed our public schools into centers of cultural and educational stagnation, unable to help our country meet the challenge of international economic competition, while contributing to greater inequality at home. Only by sweeping away large portions of this teaching force by removing their tenure rights and subjecting our public schools to the discipline of the market can we create a world class school system that serves all sections of our population. We must break the power of teachers unions, subject teachers to the kind of data driven evaluation that all employees in the private sector experience, and create alternatives to public schools through a combination of charter schools and school vouchers. We must also unleash the genius of the business world into the system by subcontracting test development and evaluation to corporations with the resources to do these well and have all school employees wages and salaries targeted to performance the way virtually all business do.

If we do this, we will clear a way a huge log jam in the way of economic growth, while insuring greater economic opportunity to those currently trapped in poverty.

This is a glorious moment in the history of American education and I am so proud to be a part of it

Thursday, March 14, 2013

East Flatbush Memories

My heart goes out the the people of East Flatbush who are now under police occupation. Theirs is a neighborhood I know well. Every spring, for three years, between 1960 and 1962, I took the Church Ave bus from Flatbush Avenue to Kings Highway and then walked three blocks to the Highway Courts on Foster Avenue and Kings Hwy, where the Erasmus team had tennis practice, and where we played all our matches in the Brooklyn public school league. The neighborhood then was mostly Jewish and Italian, with a small number of West Indian families starting to buy homes there. It was a community of one and two family homes, interspersed with small factories, and it had two high schools with great sports traditions- Samuel J Tilden HS, the public high school and Nazareth HS, the Catholic HS.

I didn't really return to the neighborhood much until 1976 when I moved back to Brooklyn, this time to Park Slope. I resumed playing tennis at the Highway Courts which was all the best players in Brooklyn congregated. I had fierce games with three longtime rivals, John Mogulescu, Ollie Tiegerman and Allen Polen, and occasionally got my butt whipped by Brooklyn legends Kenny Lindner and Steve Ross. By that time, the neighborhood had become about 80 or 90 percent West Indian, but it still looked and felt the same as it had in the 60's, filled with hardworking homeowners who kept their lawns and sidewalks clean and patronized local businesses.

In the late 80's the Highway Courts closed so I had no reason to go back to the neighborhood until I started coaching CYO basketball and started taking teams to tournaments in some of the neighborhood churches. By the 90's, the neighborhood was close to 100 percent people of color, with some Latinos and South Asians adding to the West Indian presence

In all my times in the neighborhood, in four different decades, I never felt uncomfortable in the streets, never felt an air of menace. So what has happened in the last fifteen years to make it a flash point for tensions with the police. 

I have a few thoughts. One is the possible effects of gentrification and displacement of poor people from Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Bed Stuy, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights. I don't know for sure, but it may be that people pushed out of those communities have moved South into East Flatbush, doubling and tripling up to pay the rents, or taking in boarders to their homes and apartments

The other issue is school closing. Both Tilden and Nazarth High Schools, once anchors of the neighborhood have been closed, the former divided into numerous small schools competing one another. Perhaps that has undermined neighborhood stability.

In any case, it really hurts to see police drive a neighborhood into rage and despair by killing a sixteen year old boy and then putting the neighborhood on lock down.

There is a message here about what is happening to once peaceful outer borough neighborhoods and we'd better figure out what that message is

Notorious Phd's "Value Subtracted" (VS) Ratings for School Reformers

During the last few years, America's teachers have had their careers held hostage to something called Valued Added Measures developed by econometricians to judge how much students progress in their classes, based on the variation in their test scores during the time teachers have had them in class.  While most education scholars, and psychologists and statisticians specializing in testing, have written off VAM as " junk science," school districts all over the country have used VAM ratings as a bases for judging teacher, with the consequences of negative VAM ratings being termination or denial of tenure.

 To give those promulgating and implementing the ratings as taste of their own medicine, Notorious Phd has Developed a Value Subtracted (VS) Rating system based on how much damage their policies have done to teachers, students, and the communities schools have been located in.  The following are the criteria on which School Reformers VS is going to be rated

 To give this system a trial run, I would each of you to rate your favorite School Reformer according to this scale. In each category, you will rate each Reformer from 1-5, with 5 representing the most value subtracted. You will average in all the scores to give each Reformer their composite Rating

Here Goes

1. Closing Schools and Destabilizing Neighborhoods.  VS Score _______

2. Pushing Arts and Music Out of Schools Because of an Obsessive Emphasis on Testing  VS Score_______

3. Destroying Teacher Morale by Attacking Teachers in the Press and Insisting they Be Rated on Student Test Scores
VS Score_____________

4.  Making Student Hate Coming to School Because Everything they Love Has Been Replaced by Test Prep
VS Score__________

5.  Contributing to Obesity Problems be Eliminating Recess and Phys Ed and Contributing to Psychological Problems
by Firing School Counselors  VS Score______________

6. Depriving Student of Mentoring and Inspiration by Veteran Teachers and Replacing them with Teach for America Temps Who Leavve After 2 Years   VS Score___________

 OK Folks. Rate your favorite school Reformer According to this Scale and share your results!!

 If you can't think of one close to home, how about Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Rahm Emmanuel, or Michael Bloomberg?

The Cult that Controls Public Education in the US

Public education in the US has been hijacked by well-funded Cult that seeks to apply the language, metrics and management style of the most powerful American corporations to a sphere of civic life that has been driven by public interest, rather than profit, for more than 200 years. It would be one thing if the proponents of these measures come to education with an experience of great success in their own world. But these are the same corporations whose speculations in the mortgage market, evaluated and signed off on by ratings agencies like Standard and Poor's and Moody's, destroyed trillions of dollars in value while plunging the world economy into crisis and created the greatest CEO/worker wage gap in the world. Did this earn them the right to manage the nation's schools or have they simply seized it as a new sphere for profit taking now that the housing market has run out of gas? Whatever the motivation, the consequences are there for all to see. Chaos, demoralization and test after test after test.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tired of Tragedy

Tired of the tragedies, big and small, coming across my radar screen every day. The young men being killed by police. The young men killing one another. The students graduating with huge loans and minimum wage jobs. The people  locked into minimum wage jobs for life. The prisoners wasting away in jails which have now became
a prime target for capital investment. The children being deadened and demoralized by relentless testing. The teachers being demonized and driven out of their profession by billionaires pretending to be educators. The people being forceclosed into homelessness or forced to double and triple up with friends, relatives or strangers. The people laid off after or twenty or thirty years who will never find another job in thier field or a secure job in any field. The tens of thousands of adjunct instructors teaching in universities for McDonalds pay. The millions of people being criminalized because they choose to make or sell drugs to supplement minimum wage incomes or because they can't find legal work at any wage.  The hundreds of thousands of victims of Hurricane Sandy and other climate related natural disasters who still face significant hardships.  And those who go through life, because of race, gender, religion, or other personal characteristics, never knowing whether they are going to be searched, harassed or stopped and frisk

And that doesn't include all the people around the world being killed, saddled with dictators, or prevented from exercising their right of self-determination because of the actions of our government.

I may be tired, but not tired enough to stop fighting.  The fires inside me burn hot with indignation, love and solidarity.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Education Catastrophe Redux- A Story of Non Transferable Skills

Most people who know me think I am pretty good at two things- playing tennis and teaching history. I worked really hard to acquire those skills and feel pretty good about the result. Now imagine if, based what competence I had acquired in those areas, I was put in charge writing new protocols for every highway engineer in the United States, and creating evaluations for those engineers to assess the quality of their designs.. Would you feel confident that new highways in the country, designed under my administration, were going to be safe and efficient? What I just described is a good metaphor for what is happening in education in the US. Every dimension of education policy has been put in the hands of people who have had success in other areas, leaving long time professionals in the field devoid of input. Is it any surprise that the results are a complete disaster. That everything that makes students excited school is being pushed out, while mind numbing testing is being pushed in. Or that school after school is being closed in neighborhoods under stress that desperately need stability? Many of the most powerful people shaping the direction of education in the US, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, have never been classroom teachers. Is it any wonder that what they are presiding over has destroyed teacher morale in the country and made children hate school?

Protecting Interviewees in Teacher Oral History Projects- Additional Thoughts

The idea of doing teacher oral history project to document the damage being done to public education by midguided School Reform iniitatives, and the devastating impact they have had on teacher morale and student engagement, has taken off like nothing I've ever been associated with. In the last two days I have been contacted by people in more than 20 different communities asking how they can launch such a project. I have also had several people offering to post interviews on their blogs, and one organization, United Opt Out, which will discuss possibly providing a national repository for the interviews.

As this initiative takes off, with numerous local projects, I want to reiterate how important it is to protect the interests of people being interviewed. No interview should ever be done without a release form specifying the conditoins under which the interview can be made public. People who want their identities disguised should only be interviewed under strict conditions which assure that wish is respected, and with signed release form that specify that condition.

For people launching projects at universities, the question arises, do these projects come under the jurisdiction of IRB's ( Institutional Review Boards that cover research with human subjects). Oral History Projects, conducted by historians, such as the Bronx African American History Project which I founded and direct, do not normally come under the jurisdiction of IRB's. However, if you are a scholar in a filed such as sociology, or psychology, or even education, where your research is normally under IRB jurisdiction, you should seek IRB approval for this. project

\There is no single template or one size fits all model for Teacher Oral History projects. They should be adapted to local conditions and in ways that will best get the largest participation of teachers.

But one thing that that must be respected is the MORAL ObLIGATION to protect your interview subjects. That cannot be compromised.

That being said, please move forward! And let me know via Facebook or email ( when you actually have a project under way.

This is true demoracy in action. Oral History is one of the way that the voices of marginalized peoples have found their way into public discourse, as well as the writing of history. It is not only a way of flipping the script on those who confidently proclaim " Hsitory Belongs to the Victors., " it is a way of helping insure the victors share power or even relinquish it, to the vanquished

Sunday, March 10, 2013

We Need More than a "Network" To Fight the Corporate School Reformers

While I welcome the creation of Network for Public Education, and plan to join, we need to couple it with more radical initiatives that use strikes, boycotts, lawsuits and civil disobedience to challenge the testing, privatization and school closing agenda of the "School Reformers," and do grass roots organizing to demand greater community input into the shaping of school policies. While lobbying and research is important, only mass action can stop the School Reform train. Remember the lessons of the civil rights movement. Legal segregation wasn't finally overturned until people took to the streets, and flooded the jails, of Birmingham and Selma!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

How To Start a Teacher Oral History Project in Your Community

Step One: Find an institution or organization to be the repository for the interviews- it can be a university, a library, a local historical society, or a local of a teachers union. You need to find some place to store the interviews and make them available to the public

Step Two: Get together a small interview team to develop a list of questions as well as release forms which detail the conditions under which the interviews can be used. Many people will want to disguise their identities and you have to develop protocols to assure anonymity. I can send you a sample release formd from the Bronx African American History Project both for people who want to be interviewed under their own names and those who don't..

Step Three: Purchase the equipment needed to record the interviews, which will consist of digital tape recorders and/or digital video cameras ( you will have to decide if, and under what conditions the interviews will be videotaped).

Step Four (optional). Raise funds to get the interviews transcribed

Concluding Comments:  The initial  investment to get a project like this started is well under a thousand dollars. The hard work is getting a small group of people to design and conduct the interviews and locate an institutional repository for them. I guarantee you will have no problem finding teachers to tell their stories.

Teacher Oral History Project to Document the Destructive Impact of School Reform

 Every day, I get emails and facebook messages from teachers around the country describing the demoralizing conditions they are working in as a result of the "School Reform" movement unleashed by No Child Left Behind and y Race to the Top-conditions which are forcing teachers to retire en masse, seek medical help, and lose the ability to inspire their students or give them individual attention.

  Since the press and commercial media have refused to tell this story, I suggest that teachers, with or without the help of university based scholars, start telling these stories themselves.  One way to do this is to start teacher oral history projects in which teachers, either under their own names, or using psudonyms, describe what has been happening to them individually, and to their students and colleagues. This way, education activists, policy makers and historians of the future will have a record of a collective tragedy whose full dimensions have never seen the light of day.

 It is one thing to show, as a Met Life Survey has, that teacher satisfaction has plunded to the lowest level on record, dropping 25 percent since Barack Obama took office,  it is another to describe in detail why this has taken place, and what the texture of teachers lives has been since policy makers have started evaluating schools and individual teachers on the basis of student test scores, closing failing schools, giving preference to charter schools, and deluging schools with tests, all in the context of a relentless attack on teachers  in the commercial media.

In many societies, story tell is a time honored way of building community, and giving people the courage to resist unjust conditions. It can play this role today.  It's time to start documenting the damage, as a way of building the resistance.

If you want to start such a project in your own town or school district, please contact me at I have experience in creating community based oral history projects (see and can give you some advice in how to get one started

Friday, March 8, 2013

Other People’s Children: A Notorious Phd Jam

They send their kids to Exeter
 Sidwell Friends, Chicago Lab
While yours  get jail like charters
And a testers power grab

If literature is a problem
And  Common Core the solution
Why  are the arts still  taught and loved
At their children’s institutions

As testing and school closings
Come to cities across the nation
Their children thrive in  spaces
To which yours lack an invitation

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In Support of the Planned Student Test Walkout in Colorado

There is a national movement against high stakes testing, which reminds me very much of the movement against the Vietnam War, which I was part of when I was a student. The first people who joined protests were severely criticized because there was no precedent in recent history for protesting a War, but as the full damage that was being done there started to come out, more and more people joined. That is what is happening with testing. It is squeezing the life out of public education, and putting huge profits in the hands of those producing the tests. The students participating in these actions will be hailed around the nation for their courage, and will ultimately be recognized in their own communities as pioneers and heroes. You may doubt my words, but remember I am an historian and have seen the actions of a  small number of dedicated individuals change the course of history. Remember those four students who sat down at the lunch counters of Greensboro and asked to be served?  Within a year, there were tens of thousands of people joining them in more than 30 southern towns and cities.  Your actions could provide a similar spark in a nation where testing in every grade and every subject is being imposed in our schools by people ill equipped to understand the damaging consequences because they excluded teachers and student's voices

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What I Have Learned from Studying African American and Labor History

One of the great things about spending the last 45 years studying and teaching African American History, and US Labor History is that I am no stranger to tragedy, disappointment and defeat, and will not give in when those become my reality or the reality of those around me. Having immersed myself in example after example of cruelty, inhumanity, and collective indifference to the suffering of others, I have learned to cherish the moments of enlightenment and resistance which do inevitably come, and the ingenuity of people who have been written off by the wealthy and the powerful, and the cultural and political creativity that results. You can jail people, kill people, stigmatize them and marginalize them, but you cannot permanently break their spirit, They will rise again, often in ways that will surprise everybody. That knowledge sustains me through the hardest times. And gives me something to share with those who have been on the journey a shorter time

I Am Dr Mark Naison and I am RDAC ( Rebel Diaz Arts Collective)

My Name is Dr Mark Naison and I am RDAC

 I was there in Berlin with Rebel Diaz when the idea for a hip hop community center in abandoned and neglected space was inspired by the example of the Hip Hop Stutzpunkt, Cafe Zapata and a wonderful community arts center in Kreuzberg

 I was there when a broken down paint factory on Austin Place was occupied and painstakingly transformed into a people's space with the help of volunteer painters, carpenters and plumbers from the Hunt's Point community
 I was there when a performance space with a stage was created where poets and mc's and film makers and b boys and b girls from the Bronx and around the world could show case their art.

 I was there were a state of the art music studio was created in the center and young people from the community were trained in the art of music production

 I came in, as Notorious Phd, and recorded two tracks under the direction of sound engineers from the neighborhood aged 13-17

 I was there when the first mural went up, which could be seen from the Bruckner Expressway, with the slogan "No Human Is Illegal" and proudly posed in front of it with Rod and G-1

 I was there when a group called the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective was formed to administer the facility and was proud to see two artists I admired greatly, Patty Dukes and Rephstar, and two of my former students at Fordham, Charlie Johnson and Karla Rodriguez, become members of the Collective

 I was proud to invite members of the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, including the brilliant young MC Y-C the Cynic, perform at Fordham  showcasing progressive hip hop.

 I was proud to bring my own students to RDAC on numerous occasions, and invite groups from all over the world I was hosting to make RDAC one of the sites on their tours of the Bronx.

 I was there when the "I am Troy Davis" mural went up and spread the beautiful song Rebel Diaz produced "Troy Davis Lives Forever" far and wide

 I was there, in the RDAC Studios, filming a video for the Badass Teachers Association, wearing the BTA tee shirts which RDAC produced for me, which are proudly worn by teacher activists all over the country.

 I swelled with pride when Rebel Diaz produced a song " Chicago Teacher" to support the heroic teachers in that city, wearing the BTA tee shirts that they produced for me

 I was there when RDAC stared "Boogie Mics" a show case for young hip hop talent from all over New York City, especially the Bronx

 I was there at the amazing South By Southbronx Hip Hop Festival at Hostos College, where I was given the honor of introducing hip hop pioneers Cindy Campbell and DJ Kool Herc And finally,

 I was there at the Rally and Block Party the night after RDAC was evicted, telling these heroic young sisters and brothers that they were setting an example for the entire world in standing up for the disfranchised and giving young people an opportunity to express themselves through the arts

 I am RDAC

 And today, I pledge to do whatever is in my power to help RDAC acquire another space, and take their programs to a new and higher level.