Friday, May 23, 2014

Why It's Time to Go Green- A Guest Post By Laurel M. Sturt

In the last decade, the Democratic party has become increasingly indistinct from the Republican, both parties in virtually impervious thrall to the siren of money. As exacerbated by the Citizens United and McCutcheon Supreme Court decisions, the--for all intents and purposes--wholesale prostitution of both parties to special interests has forced the true agenda of today’s elected officials into the light: the sacred civic duty supposedly embodied in a position called, after all, “public service,” has been exposed to be less motivational than the perks and influence inherent in a position of power. While we watch, haplessly marginalized on the sidelines of integrity, these unworthies blithely ply their incompetence--via obstructionism (McConnell), corruption (Rangel), or any number of ignominious affronts to decency, or democracy. This laser-focused drive to maintain a privileged position, moreover, comes with the most flagrant, arrogant dismissal of accountability. We came very close, after all, to electing a president with the hubris to trumpet the slogan “Country First” while simultaneously exposing us to the possibility of governance by Sarah Palin--and Rod Serling wasn’t even in the room when that decision was made! Indeed, her very choice as a running mate was a perfectly indicting metaphor for a system whose morality has gone AWOL, in a scenario increasingly where an elected official is not a bonafide public servant but simply playing one on tv.  As such, our national script has abandoned the dignified legacy of John Adams, alas, in favor of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

The convergence of the two political parties in a shared embrace to protect the power status quo--enabled by money overriding principle--has been nowhere more evident than in the attack on public education. No Child Left Behind, despite its feel-good soundbite of education as a civil right, has been revealed to be a privatizing agenda  from conservatives not compassionate but impassioned, in fact, by the prospect of public dollars pouring into private coffers. Indeed, the tools for this, among them a pervasive culture of high-stakes testing, have had the added bonus of busting teacher unions, the last inhibition to fully exploiting the education cash cow, a trillion dollar business opportunity here and abroad. Yet far from coming to the rescue of public education, Obama and likeminded Democrats such as New York’s Governor Cuomo have taken up their own torch and pitchfork with alarming alacrity: Race to the Top, and its proponents, have seized on the malevolent premise--and promise--of NCLB, simply ramping it up with steroids. Between the Common Core and other elements designed to privatize a public good, our education system is on the verge of devastation; incredibly, both parties have proven to be equal opportunity plunderers not just of any resource but that most precious of all, our children, the very future of our nation. We could use a Patriot Act, alright, one expressly for education.

 The bitterness over teacher tenure from pols on both sides now is funny, considering their obsessive investment in tenure for themselves. Plus, as we are seeing more and more, it doesn’t matter whom we elect, considering the elected are likely to pursue public office for self-serving ends. This state of the State has invited wholesale cynicism, not only alienating voters but in its encouragement of feelings of apathy and powerlessness, simply generating further hopelessness. Such a cyclical dynamic assures the rats on a wheel who summon the energy to vote for either party will gain nothing more than further enabling the rats driving it.

It’s time, then, to collectively step off the wheel. We won’t get integrity from our public servants until we ourselves muster the integrity to drive them out by voting in those who actually represent us, and not their own selfish desires. The only change we can truly believe in, at this point, is a third party, one which doesn’t pander to special interests, plutocrats or ideological agendas, just a commitment to equal opportunity, fairness, justice and health for the planet and humanity. As such, never has there been a more urgent or viable time for a breath of fresh, Green air.

The lesser of two evils was never acceptable, and now it’s come down to a choice between two evils. Please check out the Green party platform and register at


 Laurel M. Sturt, a long time member of the Green party, is the author of the recent book Davonte’s Inferno: Ten Years in the New York Public School Gulag.




We Are All Craig Charvat: Defend the Free Speech Rights of a Great Long Island Teacher!


Craig Charvat, the Social Studies Teacher from Center Moriches High School who made headlines all over New York State for denouncing the Common Core Standards, and refusing to accept evaluations based on Common Core tests, has been removed from his classroom.
The grounds for doing this were his refusal to participate in Professional Development sessions related to Common Core, which he felt were a waste of time, and for allegedly inciting students to rebellion, charges based on a recording of one of his class sessions in which he was leading a discussion about the American prison system!
The latter charge is the one most disturbing to me. Can you imagine Administrators enlisting student to surreptitiously tape their teachers during a class room discussion? That violates every rule of Administrative ethics I have ever heard of and is a deadly threat to the freedom of expression of every teacher.
I am calling on every teacher I know, from nursery school right up through to the University to write the people responsible for personnel decisions in the Center Moriches School District to demand that Craig Charvat be restored to his classroom and the secret taping of teachers be repudiated as a violation of academic freedom and good administrative practice.
Please address your comments to the following individuals:
.Center Moriches School District: Superintendent Russell Stewart: rstewart@cmschools.orgDeputy Superintendent Lynda Adams: ladams@cmschools.orgHigh School Principal Edward Casswell : Board President Wendy Turkington : (she is a librarian in East Islip School District)Board of Ed Trustees Kristen Turnow-Heinz : (She is a former teacher and she works at Eastern Suffolk BOCES)Dan Finnegan : (He's a retired industrial arts teacher) Tom Hogan : Heather Magill Hmagill@cmschools
Craig Charvat must be returned to the job he loves and the job he does so well!
Note One of my best students at Fordham had Mr Charvat as a teacher and said he was an amazing teacher who went above and beyond the call of duty to help his students both when they were in his class and after they graduated

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Passing of Dr Vincent Harding- Minister, Scholar, Activist- Proud Product of the Bronx

Today, I just learned of the passing of Dr Vincent Harding, a minister, civil rights leader, and pioneering scholar in the emerging field of Black Studies. Dr Harding's odyssey led him from a childhood in the Bronx, where he graduated as valedictorian of Morris High School, to work with Dr King in Atlanta, Selma and Birmingham, to the founding of the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta, toward a role as a major academic adviser to the great film series
"Eyes on the Prize." I had the privilege of meeting Dr Harding for the first time when I interviewed him for the Bronx African American History Project at Morris High School about his experiences growing up in the Bronx and attending Morris HS and remained in touch with him till his passing. Dr Harding was perhaps the single most inspiring figure I have encountered in many years of scholarship and activism, someone who had a unique ability, whether in speaking to a large group, or in private conversation, to make people around him strive to be a more humane and caring person. He was a spiritual leader in the best sense of the word, as his influence was not so much through instruction as example. He radiated goodness, and compassion and humility, even though he was one of the most brilliant scholars of his generation. R.I. P. Dr Harding. You will live in every person you touched with your writing, your speaking and your incandescent spirit

Here, in tribute to Dr Harding, is an excerpt of an interview I did where he reflects upon teachers who inspired him when he was in high school.

Historian Vincent Harding Reflects on What Constitutes Great Teaching at an Urban Public High School
The following is an excerpt of an interview that we did for the Bronx African American History Project with Historian and Civil Rights activist Dr Vincent Harding at Morris HS in the South Bronx, from which Dr Harding graduated a valedictorian in 1948. In it, he reflects on great teachers who influenced his  life, and how his experience at Morris affected his future scholarship and activism ( e.g. his work with Dr King at the Albany Georgia and Birmingham Alabama protests, his founding of the Institute of the Black World, and his word as an adviser to the film series “Eyes on the Prize). Needless to say, his reflections have a certain relevance to current policy debates about what makes a great teacher.

 MN. What I would like to do, if it’s OK is turn to your high school experience. When we were talking before we went on tape, you said there were a number of memorable teachers you had at Morris.Could you talk to us a little about your Morris experience.

VH. That’s a very important matter. When I first was applying to high school, I started out thinking that I was going to apply to the School of Aviation Technology, but someone wise told me that’s probably not what you want to do,because that was more a technical school than anything else. And my next goal was Stuyvesant ( a prestigious exam school). I had a tremendous amount invested in going to Stuyvesant because of the reputation of the school and because I was supposed to be a pretty bright person. And it was a marvelous experience for me to be to be rejected because even though I did well in math, I was not as good in math as some of the other applicants and so Stuyvesant was out. The next place I thought I should apply was Clinton,, and it was only after Clinton said “ No, you are not in our area” that I considered Morris. Its was kind of a last choice. And I was soon disappointed that I was being sent to Morris because I had heard that Morris was not nearly as good as these other palaces and it was a disappointment for a while.

 But as I said to you earlier, Mark,for me Morris played an absolutely crucial part in shaping my identity and my sense of purpose in the world. When I came to the school for this interview, I was very happy to see the name Jacob Bernstein, the Morris principal when I was there, on the wall, because I remember him saying often that what he wanted to do was make Morris a real United Nations. He used that phrase often. And that whole idea of seeing diversity as something you’re not forced into or trying to avoid, but something you welcome and try to shape into its best possibilities was a very important matter to me. 

Morris was an important counterpart for me to the church in Harlem I attended, Victory Tabernacle Church, and together they gave me the key elements of citizenship in a truly democratic society.Because what I had at Victory was a solid African American base from which I could move. I  didn’t stay there. I moved into the more diverse world that Morris represented. So that whole idea of moving from a particular cultural base into a larger society, into which you can bring something powerful out of that base, is something we Americans have to learn to do better 

Now as for teachers, the most important teacher I had a Morris was a biology teacher. I never had her in a course, but she was my adviser, thank God. Her name was Ellen Bursler. I don’t know how long she had been a biology teacher, but she provided something to be of tremendous importance, and that is that Mrs Bursler loved me. I was more than just a number on her list of advisees. She really came to the point where I knew she cared about me. And she got to know my mother, and my mother appreciated her, and she helped me find part time and summer jobs because she knew that if I really wanted to go to college, I not only needed income, but exposure to a wider world-all that was part of her role as teacher. In my mind, I keep coming back to the image of her address in the upper left hand corner of the letters she constantly sent to me even when I was in college. 975 Knowlton Avenue is what I would read. I would visit her house at times, meet her husband. She even invited me to her synagogue on a couple of occasions. She was for me the model teacher and she marked me for life through her deep concern and love for me. 

The second person who comes to mind is a woman who taught French, Helen Prevost And the impact she had on me was a little unusual. When I came to Morris, I had this side vision of myself as an athlete of some sort because in Junior High School, I had been on the softball team. I always had enjoyed sports very much. But when I came to Morris, I acquired an interest in journalism and thought that I would like to write for the school paper, the “Morris Piper.” And it turned out that in this particular period, at the end of my first year at Morris, the tryouts for the Piper and the tryouts for the basketball team were on the same afternoon. And for reasons I don’t fully understand, maybe knowing what she would say, I went to Mrs Prevost, with whom I had been friendly, and asked “ Mrs Prevost, could you help me decide what I should do. Both of these tryouts are at the same time.” And she said “Basketball you can enjoy but for a very short time. Writing,journalism, you can do those your entire life.’ So I ended up going to thePiper and Mrs Prevost was very important to me because going into journalism turned out to be a very important direction for me in my life.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Should Labor Historians Encourage A Boycott of Teach for America?


In the last few years, Teach for America has gone out of its way to send its Corps members into cities which have fired large numbers of veteran union teachers- among them Chicago, Newark and Washington DC. Basically, the organization has become a source of replacement labor 
for cities seeking to close schools, eliminate or weaken teacher tenure, and undermine the power of teachers unions. This role forTFA seems to have coincided with the increasing influence the Walton Foundation, which is now TFA's largest single source of funding, has had on Teach for America leadership.

Do you think there would be any support among labor historians for a petition or some sort of national action to get faculty to refuse to allow TFA to recruit in their classes, and students to refuse to join it?If so, let me know if you would be willing to work with me on such aaninitiative

In the meantime, here is a short video I just did to take the cover off the damage TFA has been doing in inner city communities

Feel free to circulate it widely

All the Best


Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University
Co-Founder, Badass Teachers Association

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Charter Schools: The Education Equivalent of Subprime Mortgages

Charter Schools are looking more and more like the educational equivalent of subprime mortgages---a short cut to greater equity and opportunity that becomes the basis of a huge unregulated industry, which gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to make quick profits, and the very wealthy tax breaks and opportunities for investment.What makes both the charter school and subprime mortgage seductive is that they appear to circumvent the grim long term decline in income of large sections of the American population and give low and moderate income people a share of the American dream, in one instance by allowing them to own a home, in the other by getting a rigorous education that will make them "college and career ready." But both "short cuts" have, when you read the fine print, a built in component of "crash and burn" in the case of subprime mortgages, adjustable mortgage rates which can rapidly put monthly payments out of a working class families reach, and in the case of charters, the capacity to drive out students who present disciplinary problems or don't test well.

After the housing crash, home ownership was no more reachable by poor families than it was before the development of the subprime mortgage, and after the coming education crash, when charters are finally regulated because of rampant corruption, discrimination, and expulsions of high needs students, we will be no closer to education equity than we were before charters proliferated

The Charter Fad which seems to have swept through major parties, is going to result in a very painful Day of Reckoning. Any industry given this kind of public subsidy, and this kind of freedom from regulation, is going to lead to extremely high levels of corruption.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mark Naison EduNews Takes on Teach for America

Here it is!!! Mark Naison EduNews takes on Teach for America!!!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

On the "Civil Rights" Defense of Common Core

It is a grave error to portray the Common Core Standards as a Civil Rights measure opposed largely by right wing fanatics seeking to undermine pubic education. Not only does this offend people on the right whose views on education and social policy it caricatures, it offends liberals and people on the left who have view the CCSS as the product of the same undemocratic policies which have been undermining public education in the nation's great cities and deluging all public schools with tests.

CCSS is inextricably linked to school closings, data mining, VAM, scripted learning and a whole range of policies designed to subject public education to top down, standardized control, making it a new area for profitable investment by test companies, software companies, and management consulting firms. Given that toxic brew, to describe CCSS as in any way as "progressive" makes a mockery of that term- even more so with the term "Civil Rights."

No matter what labels defenders of CCSS place on its critics, the origins and consequences of CCSS will be subject to greater and greater scrutiny, and its profoundly undemocratic character will be exposed.

Hysterical attacks on Common Core opponents will do nothing to discourage that kind of inquiry- indeed, it will encourage more people to wonder what CCSS defenders are trying to hide

Saturday, May 10, 2014

An Open Letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center on Common Core and Threats to Public Education

With public schools being closed all over the nation and charter schools being created in their place; with tens of thousands of veteran union teachers, many of them teachers of color, being pushed out of their jobs; with charter schools in inner city neighborhoods practicing zero-tolerance discipline and discriminating against ELL and Special Needs Students, one wonders why the Southern Poverty Law Center would issue a special report focusing on conservative opponents of Common Core as the major threat to public education in the United States today. Their report not only implicitly gives legitimacy to the most undemocratic education policy initiative in modern American History- CCSS- it implies that the greatest threat to pubic education in the nation comes from the far Right, when in fact it comes from the top leadership of both major parties.

Anyone who thinks that public education is only, or largely under attack from the Right and that liberal Democrats are there to save the day with CCSS needs to spend some time in Chicago, or Philadelphia, or Los Angeles where Wall Street funded Democrats have waged war on public schools and teachers unions. Worse yet, many of these attacks have been mandated by the education policy of the Obama administration, Race to the Top, and cheered on by its Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

I have long respected the Southern Poverty Law Center for speaking out against racial injustice, in times good and bad, but in this instance, they have me, and many other long time supporters shaking their heads, wondering why they would see Glen Beck and his followers, rather than Barack Obama, George Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Rahm Emmanuel and the Billionaires who support them, as the greatest threats to public education in the United States

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Charter School Hustle by Notorious Phd

There's something going
called the Charter School
pushing public schools
And charter schools
When a student acts
Or bombs on a test
The charters throw
him out
So their numbers
look best
And the public schools
who take
Charter refugees
Watch pols use their
to Bring them to their
Its all about the
And political muscle
It's the Urban Dance they
The Charter School Hustle.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The "Sit and Stare" Policies used against Test Resistors are Daily Practice in Many Charter Schools

For the past year, I have been working with, and trying to get legal representation for, parents whose children have been forced to "sit and stare" during standardized tests they have refused to take. This punitive policy has outraged parents and Test Refusal advocates throughout New York State and has resulted in mass pressure tactics which have persuaded many school districts- but not all- to eliminate the practice
Given the appropriate level of outrage this practice has generated among people in the Opt Out movement, it is important to understand that this practice was not invented for their children-- it has long been prevalent in "zero tolerance" charter schools that have proliferated in inner city neighborhoods in recent years.
Schools like those associated with the K.I.P.P. charter chain, the "Uncommon Schools" chain where NY State Education Commissioner John King was once a principal, and Eva Moskowitz's "Success Academies" have long made a practice of disciplining allegedly "unruly" students by making them sit and stare at a wall for hours at a time. Indeed, it is through disciplinary measures like this that these schools have used to drive out students they deem difficult who they fear might lower test scores as well as undermine school discipline
This is yet another reason why parents, teachers and students in suburbs and rural areas must communicate with the counterparts in the inner city, and vice versa. No one is living in a bubble, and abusive education policies pursued in one area will inevitably spread if they are not exposed 

Friday, May 2, 2014

On the Hunt for "Bad Teachers"

The percentage of "Bad Teachers" in our public schools is probably no higher than Bad Principals, Bad Superintendents, Bad Commissioners, Bad Politicians, and Bad Philanthropists. Yet people in every walk of life seem obsessed with getting rid of them. This isn't a well thought out policy position. it is more like a form of communal Magic, a ritual to rid to rid ourselves of Demons, real and imagined. We have met the enemy and they are Teachers! WRONG! You have found a convenient scapegoat for the nation's failures- especially the profound inequalities embedded in our economic and political system, our vanishing liberties and the economic forces shrinking our middle class. And when the smoke has cleared and the witch hunt ends, you will find that among the victims will be the BEST TEACHERS who cannot stand seeing their entire profession maligned and their autonomy and creativity undermined while the schools are turned inside out and upside down and turned into Test Factories.

I have a suggestion When you have finally figured out your obsession isn't working, why don't you start over and stop worrying about Bad Teachers and start thinking about what you need to do to attract and keep Great Teachers. And lo and behold, what you will find is that the thing that will attract them is the very thing you are denying every teacher right now- Autonomy and Respect.