Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why Saturday's "Say No To Cuomo" Rally in NYC Was An Historic Event

Yesterday's "Say No to Cuomo Rally" at the Governor's offices in Manhattan was the largest and most diverse teacher led protest I have ever attended! There were teachers, principals, paras and school aides, representatives of community organizations and large numbers of parents and students. There was rage and defiance in the air, but also joy and determination because this was a crowd determined to make sure the Governor, the Legislature and the Media knew that it was THEIR SCHOOLS that the Governor was trying to undermine and that Big Money interests were not going to take those schools away from them. The message coming from the crowd, loud and clear, was that New York still belonged to the people who lived and worked in it and those who were going to try to smother their voices were going to have a very big fight on their hands.The.smiles from the police officers, and the honks of support from passing truck drivers reminded us that teachers were not only speaking up themselves, but for all working New Yorkers. Everyone at the Rally came away with their spirits lifted and their deterimination to fight reaffirmed.. This was a great day and those elected officials who try to ignore the message being sent may find themselves in the fight of their lives.,

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Liz Phillips' Speech at the " Protect Our Schools Rally" at Cuomo's Offices in Manhattan

We all want great teachers teaching our children.  Unfortunately,the governor’s teacher evaluation proposals will do absolutely nothing to help us meet that goal—and in fact with have the opposite effect as great teachers and principals become demoralized and leave the profession—or decide not to enter it in the first place.

50% OF A TEACHER’S EVALUATION WOULD BE BASED ON A FLAWED GROWTH MODEL ON FLAWED STATE TESTS.  It is shocking to think that a model that has been shown to have a high margin of error—particularly for those who teach the highest and lowest performing students—would count for 50% of a teacher’s rating.  In New York City we remember what happened just a few years ago with TDR scores based on a growth model.  
Fabulous teachers by any other measure were at times rated in the lowest percentiles.   It is ironic that a year after passing a law mandating that state tests cannot be used for high stakes decisions for students, the governor has decided that they should be more high stakes than ever for teachers.    

But of course, making tests so high stakes for teachers will  make them high stakes for students.  Many schools will narrow their curriculum, focusing even more time than they currently do on test prep at the expense of an enriched curriculum that helps students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.  And there is no doubt that this will happen more in schools where students have traditionally had more difficulty ontests…which ultimately means a widening of the achievement gap. 

The governor also proposes that ongoing observations by the educational leaders in the building that currently count for 60% of a teacher’s evaluation would now count for only 15%.  35% of the teacher’s rating would be determined by one observation by an outside evaluator.   Maybe we should we bring in someone from the outside to evaluate those who work in state government on how they perform in a 45 minute meeting once a year?  What profession does this?  

The governor’s proposals will hurt students—and they will hurt our neediest students the most.  Teaching is both a science and an art.  Let’s not forget that.  Whose schools?  Our schools!

Why Charter Schools Have to Try to Destroy Public Schools

Many observers have been perplexed about why Charter School Organizations in New York, especially Eva Mosokowitz's Success Academies, have been spending huge amounts of money to mobilize in behalf of Andrew Cuomo's entire package of education reforms, not only his proposal to end the cap on charter schools, but  also his punitive system of teacher  evaluations which vastly increases the "stakes" attached to Common Core aligned tests, and take power away from principals.

Why are charters, which were once promoted as sources of innovation which would improve public schools, now pushing hard for measures which would saddle public schools with huge numbers of tests, weaken teachers unions, and vastly increase state authority over school administrators?  Doesn't that approach undermine the original mission of charters?

It would be tempting to attribute this approach entirely to an effort to appropriate the anti-union politics of the Charter Movement's big money contributors, thereby assuring their continued support,  but the explanation also lies in the implications of the charter's own labor practices.  Quite simply, if charters are surrounded by strong, well led  public schools, they will not be able to keep their best teachers, who very quickly get worn down and fed up with the long hours and authoritarian adminstrative practices they experience in most charter schools.

Look what happened in New York City last years when for a few short months, the NYC Department of Education lifted its hiring freeze on new teachers which had been in effect ever since the 2008 Recession.   The city's top public schools were DELUGED with applications from charter school teachers desperate to become part of school communities where they were treated with respect, and not scripted, micromanaged and intimidated on a daily basis.

 If that hiring freeze lasted a few years, New York's charters would have lost a good portion of their teaching staffs, or would have come under incredible pressure to unionize.

 But you can't count on that happening so you have to do what is second best;; put such pressure on NYC schools to raise scores on tests that their administrative practices have to become indistinguishable from charters, turning into places where teachers autonomy and professionalism is systematically undermined and micromanaging and intimidation are the orders of the day.

 That is exactly what Cuomo's education proposals would do. Not only would they remove the cap on charters, they would force public schools to become "mini charters"- zones of pressure, stress and intimidation where teachers have little or no power.

  If you think this explanation is too conspiratorial, look closely at how most charters are run, and then look at what Cuomo's proposals would require public schools to do

 If implemented, they would make all public schools in the state places where fear trumps creativity, joy and love of learning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Response to Julian Vasquez Helig on PAR from Berkeley Math Teacher Masha Albrecht

It was with sadness and surprise I read the article by Julian Vasquez Helig at this link: (> surprise arose mostly from the author's misunderstanding of mathematics, although as a math teacher this also brought me sadness. My greatest sadness came from the realization that one more educator with purported progressive views was overlooking the unjust fate of so many of my teacher peers who are thrown into Peer Assistance and Review. In fact, the sneering tone of his article indicated that he was plainly not on our side. My colleagues and I have been scrutinizing the data on Peer Assistance and Review for several years now. As we watched our peers in the Berkeley Unified Schools tormented by this system of false accountability, we were amazed at the complicity of our union leaders in what was so clearly an attack on a teacher's most precious possesions: her classroom, her pedagogy, and her livelihood. We also became curious, why were so many of the PAR teachers experienced teachers, and why were so many of them teachers of color? 
A simple public request for information validated our hunch: this data set was disproportionately Black and disproportionately older. The numbers were not disputable. Through the hard work and dogged efforts of our colleague Brian Crowell we obtained PAR data from other districts: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Jose. In every case, the data showed senior teachers and teachers of color being put into PAR disproportionately. With all the noise around teacher evaluations and school accountability, much has been drowned out. Some brave voices try to speak through the din about budget cuts, increasingly anxious and malnourished students, senseless curriculum purporting to be rigorous. But no one is brave enough to tell the stories of these thousands of teachers: after a full life devoted to teaching often our must vulnerable students, they are thrown out of their profession, humiliated among their colleagues, described as "inadequate", and forced to retire on a smaller retirement than they planned for, or perhaps none at all. All this is accomplished with the full complicity of their union, and with the support of "progressive" voices in educational policy. So what about Mr.Vasqez-Helig's claim that the PAR data from Los Angeles does not show disparate impact?

 I looked over his analysis with another math teacher. We found his use of mathematical analysis baffling.

 Mr. Vasquez-Helig does some data analysis that has to do with age in the first case and with wage level in the second.  But neither of these addresses the issue of disparate impact.  He in fact explicitly admits that his analysis has not addressed either of these two areas:

 "The average age of White teachers is about 55. I don’t know the average age of teachers in LAUSD population, so this is just a “composition” analysis. I can’t calculate relative “composition” or “risk”. Which means that I cannot say from only a PAR sample whether older teachers are being targeted for PAR. You would need data for all teachers in LA Unified for that calculation to answer that question or make suppositions about the possibility."

 "Again, I cannot say from only a PAR sample whether teachers in higher pay scales are being targeted for PAR, I would need data for all teachers in LA Unified for that calculation and to make suppositions about the possibility." His third analysis, the chi-square test, does show signinficant results, meaning that the hypothesis being tested (that race is a non-factor in determining PAR placement) is rejected by the data.  The value of his chi-square statistic is 77.43.  He states that this value has a p-value less than .00001.  He also states that p-values less than .05 are significant, meaning that his p-value of less than .00001 is in fact significant. The chi-square test value is a value that is calculated from a set of data, in this case data for PAR and non-PAR teachers of various races in LAUSD.  Small chi-square values (close to zero) indicate that the data is as-to-be-expected based upon a given hypothesis.  Large chi-square values indicate abnormal data. The further the value is away from zero, the smaller the probability (p-value) that the event would happen by chance if the hypothesis were valid.  To re-iterate, the author says that p-values below .05 are significant and that this data gives a p-value below .00001.  Thus his analysis reinforces the notion that PAR program placement is not neutral with respect to race.

 Thus his data analysis seems to be in agreement with the notion of disparate impact with respect to race.

It is not clear to us why he claims otherwise. My concluding thoughts really come as requests for those who write sites with titles like "Cloaking Inequity":

1. Please use mathematics correctly.

 2. Please get to know some of these PAR teachers. Get to know what their classrooms are like, their personal pain, and their students. If you are concerned about inequity in the classroom watch carefully for inequitable practices directed at teachers that are cloaked as something else. Masha AlbrechtMath Teacher, Berkeley High

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Reservations About PAR

I have tremendous respect for Julian Vasquez Heilig, but his latest piece challenging Brian Crowell's statistical analysis of PAR doesn't remove my very serious reservations about the policy.

Here is my position.The California school districts with PAR have seen the same decline in percentages of Black teachers and the same pushing out of high salaried veteran teachers as you see in urban school school districts like DC and NY who do not have PAR. PAR has not stopped those destructive trends. It makes the union complicit with those trends. I think it is time unions reject the entire Bad Teacher narrative and refuse to collaborate in any effort to blame bad teachers for poor school performance. PAR concedes too much at this point in history and disarms unions from the kind of life and death fight they need to make for their members. Some will disagree. But I think the time for compromise with the enemy- the union busting corporate leaders controlling education policy- is over. No more discourse of "accountability" No more school closings! No more ATR's! No more teacher jails! If school districts want to go on a witch hunt for Bad Teachers they should do it without union collaboration.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Brian Crowell Challenges Head of California Federation of Teachers to Repudiate PAR

My name is Brian Crowell. I have been actively investigating  discrimination  produced by PAR ( Peer Assistance and Review) for the last 3 years. My data base keeps growing and shows overt discrimination of against Veteran Teachers and Teachers of Color among those referred to PAR in cities throughout Calfornia.

I am live blogging from the CFT Convention. I ran into CFT President Joshua Pechault. I told him "you have a problem with PAR". I said I 'm Brian Crowell. He said "yes I know who you are, you filed that case with PERB ( Public Employment Relations Board"...
I ran down to him the overt cost cutting that districts have used in referring veteran teachers to PAR. I explained to him how management is not barging in good faith with their overt cost cutting through PAR and  the racial discrimination that has occurred as a result of teachers of color being pushed into the program. He mostly looked down at his feet as he listened. He acknowledged all of my salient points. 

In the end he said he would follow the case (a case he was already following) which set the a precedent for academic freedom in the State of California. Bottom line; Pechault is resorting to bureaucratoic measures to avoid dealing with this issue. My union friend delegate tried to get a resolution to the CFT Floor to oppose PAR. It was blocked by the Rules Chair. She will try again tomorrow but CFT openly supports age and racial discrimination with PAR.
In closing. I'm a member of NEA and AFT and I can't get representation for my informal settlement conference. The fight continues...

Friday, March 20, 2015

The PTSD Crisis Among Teachers in High Poverty Schools

Teachers in low-income communities now suffer from double PTSD. The first portion of it comes from dealing with students and parents  living under extreme stress whose pain inevitably enters the classroom directly and indirectly and whose challenges, whether medical, legal, economic or academic, tug at a teachers conscience and disturb their sleep. The second portion comes from relentless, daily assaults from media and politicians, coupled with bogus teacher evaluation metrics, compounded by micromanaging and scripting from fearful administrators who miss no opportunity to humiliate teachers to preserve their own jobs ( there are some administrators who protect teachers and insulate them from the assault, but they are the minority)

The levels of stress this double assault engenders is truly extraordinary. It explains why so many teachers leave schools in poor communities at the first available opportunity, either to leave the profession entirely, or to move to a school in a higher income area.

No one is doing anything about either assault. Income inequality grows, poverty worsens and the attack on teacher professionalism is still picking up steam.

And our poorest children, already living under stress, are deprived of both an anchor and much needed support and inspiration.

Why DeBlasio's Plan to Apply Comstat to "Failing Schools" Would Be Disastrous

Today, in an article in the NY Daily News, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that he would begin applying a version of the NYPD Data system, Compstat, to  100 so called "Failing Schools" to put them under pressure to improve.

I could think of no policy that could be more misguided.

Compstat, which has put fierce pressure on precincts, and individual police officers to make arrests, if not for major felonies, then for "quality of life" crimes like turnstile jumping and drinking in public,  has played a major role in increasing police community tensions in recent years.

Not only was it the driving force behind the hundreds of thousands of "Stop and Frisks" during the Bloomberg administration, it contributed to the incident that led to Eric Garner's death - an arrest for selling illegal cigarettes on the street.  And despite Mayor DeBlasio's promise to "decriminalize" marijuana, Compstat has helped drive a disturbingly large number of buy and bust operations, almost all in communities of color, aimed at young people who sell marijuana.

Basically, what Compstat does is tell precinct commanders, sergeants and individual officers is that their careers depend on generating data- in this instance, large numbers of arrests. No matter that the arrests they make are overwhelmingly in poor communities, directed at young people of color, often involving non violent offenses. .

Now think of what this will mean when applied to so called "failing schools." Principals and teachers will be under fierce pressure to get their students to do well on tests, with their careers at risk if they don't succeed. Think there is too much test pressure in schools now?  If this policy is implemented, you can be sure that instruction in any school designated as "failing" will be nothing but test prep and that teachers and principals will view students as their adversaries.

Already hard pressed teachers will be pushed to the breaking point. Students lives will be made miserable

This is the last thing we need in public education in New York City

We actually need to get rid of it in law enforcement

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

BATS and BTC- A Short Overview

I helped start BATs, along with several other people, to build on the amazing energy of the NY test revolt in the spring of 2013 which featured alliances across the political spectrum that I had never experienced before. I had started a Badass Parents Association with a libertarian named Michael Bohr and it grew pretty quickly so some of us decided to start a Badass Teachers Association, but none of us were prepared for the amazing response that group generated! It was like a firestorm

There were no goals for BATs in the beginning other than protesting Common Core and excessive testing and giving teachers a loud powerful voice. We made the rest up as we went along

The group grew at the rate of almost 1000 new members a week for the first few months because teachers were enraged and felt they had been abandoned and betrayed by both political parties. And there were people with me in the leadership who figured out a structure to build on the amazing energy, a combination of theme groups(issue groups) and state groups.  Members chose what issues to concentrate on based on both interest and location. It was a great structure that I had little to do with creating. I was the most visible public figure so to some people I became the face of BATs, but I was not running the organization

In terms of accomplishments, BATs let a whole lot of elected officials and people shaping education policy know that teachers are furious and are going to demand a voice.The group also has shaken up the teachers unions and made them more militant.

Finally, BATs has  helped expand the power and influence of the opt out movement and helped elect pro-public education candidates to important offices.

 As for my departure from the group, there was and probably still is some resentment toward  me for leaving BATs, but the group is doing fine without me because the people who created the structure that allowed BATs to grow are still there

As for BTC it was necessary to create the group after the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner to provide a space for teachers to conduct a frank discussion of racism and white supremacy that could not easily be done in a group as heavily monitored as BATs is.

BTC is not an organizational alternative to BATs-- it is a free space where teachers of color and allies can have no holds barred discussion of race in America in all its dimensions, even when education policy is not the main focus. Some of the people in BTC are still in BATs; others left; others were never in it at all.

BTC plays a vital role as a free  space for discussions of race and politics; BATs still plays a vital role as a  teachers activist group. They can and will continue to coexist

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why Do the Rich Love Charter Schools: A Poem

Why do the rich
love charter schools
Is it because 
they are led by high
paid CEO's
And their teachers
work in
Or because their students
don't protest
Stop and frisk
Because they are stopped
and frisked
at school
Or maybe it's
the tax credits
Or the dance galas
that pay tribute
to the One
It's all good
No unions
No protest
No rage
The workforce of
the future
In minitature

The Collateral Damage of "School Reform"

The term "School Reform" has, until recently, possessed great cache among policy makers.  Many cities, such as Philadelphia, and  many states, such as New York, have created "School Reform Commissions" to revitalize, and in some cases replace, allegedly "failing" public schools.  But in implementation,  the term"School Reform" has  been a convenient euphemism to hide policies which privatize public education and institutionalize a program of national testing and teacher evaluation. 

Behind the benign rhetoric lies a history of disastrous consequences for students, teachers, families and entire communities where "School Reform" - a toxic mix of testing, school closings, charter school preferences, and data driven teacher evaluations- has been implemented.

Here are some of the major examples of the Collateral Damage experienced on the ground from School Reform from No Child Left Behind ( 2001) through
Race to the Top. Please feel free to list others in the comments section below:

1. The termination, marginalization and forced retirement of hundreds of thousands of veteran teachers, whose accumulated skills were not only a resource to students, but to recently hired young teachers

2.  The sharp reduction in the perecentage of teaches of color in virtually every American urban center where school reform policies have been implemented, from Washington, to Chicago, to New Orleans, to Los Angeles.

3.  The destabilization of low and moderate income urban communities through school closings, leading to consequences ranging from rising crime rates to real estate speculation and gentrification.

4. The deprofessionalization of teaching and the proliferation of mental health issues for teachers as a result of intrusive, unscientific, and humiliating teacher evaluation protocols, leading to the lowest levels of teacher morale ever recorded.

5.   The humiilation and marginalization of Special Needs and ELL students through the forced participation in developmentally inappropriate tests

6.    The closing of arts and music programs because of the expenses incurred as a result of high stakes testing.

7      The elimination of recess and even physical education programs in high needs schools as a result of the panicked use of all available school time for test prep

8.     The across the board transformation of instruction to test prep, making a whole generation of students, in every social category, hate going to school.

9.  The transformation of teaching into a revolving door profession, with a majority of teachers staying less than five years

10.  The erosion of local control of public education as state and national mandates control more and more of what is taking place in public school classrooms.

11.   Profiteering and influence peddling on a grand scale in the distribution of test contracts, charter school licences, and consulting services for
"school transformation."

   School Reformers say public education was in "crisis"  before they took over.  It is in more of a crisis now.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Some Windows Should Stay Broken: Time to End Marijuana Arrests in New York City

I just finished two weeks of Grand Jury service in Brooklyn. In some respects, the experience was quite positive. I was very impressed by my fellow Grand Jurors, who took their reponsibilities quite seriously, and were no rubber stamp for the prosecutors; thought many of the Assistant DA's were  capable and was positively impressed  by the racial diversity  of the police officers who testified  before us

However, one very negative aspect of the experience will remain with me a very long time and that is the number of marijuana arrests and prosecutions still taking place in Brooklyn, almost all of them occuring in communities of color and involving people who were working class and poor.

My fellow Grand Jurors and I thought that maijuana had been decriminialized in New York City. Apparently not. Fully one fifth of the cases that came before were  marijuana arrests, some of them involving buy and bust operations requiring large number of police officers; all of them involving defendents who were Black, Latino, and  Mideastern; none of them involving large enough quantities of the drug to make their possessor a major distributor.

Given that large numbers of college students and  middle class and wealthy residents of New York possess marijuana in the quantities that came before us, the discriminatory nature of these arrests and prosecutions leaped out at me and my fellow Grand Jurors. Not only did this seem to be a significant and expensive waste of police manpower, it clearly placed an unfair burden on young people living in Black and Latino neighborhoods, who are going to be arrested, prosecuted and possibly roughed up for actions that are left entirely alone on white middle class and upper class communities. 

Nothing could do more to exacerbate tensions between police and community residents, especially youth, than marijuana arrests requiring large scale police operations, especially since everyone knows they never take place in other sections of the city. They leave people who have no history of violence with criminal records; put some behind bars, and undermine a much needed source of income in communities where wages are low.

It is hard to see who gains from these arrests and prosecutions, other than developers seeking to invest in once poor communities, or cynical law enforcement officials who think that young people of color should be intimidated and contained.

Defenders of Police Commissioner Bratton will say that marijuana arrests are a logical extension of the "Broken Windows" theory of policing, which argues that arresting people for petty offenses- such as turnstile jumping or selling pot- will deter them from more serious and violent crimes

But the price of this kind of policing in terms of giving large number of young people criminal records, exacerbating police/ community tensions and providing a living example of discriminatory law enforcement is far too high to pay.

Some windows should stay broken. It is time to end marijuana arrests in New York City

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Ghost of Derrick Bell: Racial Realism and the Myth of a Colorblind America by Dr Lori Martin

Thousands made the historic voyage to Selma, Alabama over the weekend to commemorate Bloody Sunday. Fifty years ago brave men, women, boys, and girls sacrificed their bodies to move the nation closer to realizing the values upon which the country was founded. While the signs directing people to race-specific neighborhoods, schools, bathrooms, and the like, are long gone the structures that differentiate access to valued resources such as, wealth, status, and power are still very much in place. President Obama spoke of racial progress but also acknowledged that racism is alive and well in America. At the foot of a bridge, named after a confederate solider and member of the Ku Klux Klan, President Obama made note of the recent report from Department of Justice on the Ferguson Police Department, which highlighted a pattern of unequal treatment directed towards people of color and included emails containing disparaging remarks about blacks including, President Obama and the First Lady. The report is just one manifestation of contemporary racism in America. The video that surfaced of a fraternity formerly of Oklahoma University, where members used a racial slur and made mention of the practice of lynching, is another. The killings of unarmed black men including, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown are also manifestations of racism in the 21st century, using all too familiar tactics. The very attack on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed due in large part to the brutality of Bloody Sunday, is even further evidence that racism is a live and well. With chants of “Black Lives Matter” and continued assaults on the basic civil and human rights of communities of color it is hard, if not disingenuous, to make the case that the dominant racial narrative is one best characterized by progress. If we are to use the term progress to describe changes in race relations over time, then we should draw from the writings of the late Derrick Bell. In a 1992 article in Connecticut Law Review, Bell described a hard truth that will save this and future generations feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and disappointment. Bell defined “peaks of progress, short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance.” The integration of modern-day baseball and the persistence in racial inequality in sports; the Brown v. Board of Education case and continuing school segregation; and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and restrictive voter identification laws; all support Bell’s claim. While controversial and unpopular with contemporary change makers, the racial realism that Bell spoke of “is simply a hard-eyed view of racism as it is.” The ghost of Derrick Bell, a legal scholar and civil rights activist, cries out to those committed to social justice saying, the “struggle for freedom is…a manifestation of our humanity that survives and grows stronger through resistance to oppression, even if that oppression is never overcome.”

Lori Latrice Martin
Louisiana State University

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Scurrilous Attack on "Montclair Cares About Schools"

I was just sent a video, posted  in the comments section of the Washington Post Answer Sheet by an unnamed group attacking the group "Montclair Cares About Schools" some of whose members were featured on the brilliant film about resistance to PARCC in New Jersey,. The film is filled with snippets of comments made at Montclair School Board meetings

I will not comment on the video as a whole, but will point out one aspect of the film that falls within my area of expertise and which is so outrageous that it discredits the entire enterprise

There are two snippets seeking to discredit remarks by Professor Michelle Fine of CUNY Graduate Center, questioning the Montclair school boards claims of progress in Black Achievement. Professor Fine, WHO IS NEVER IDENTIFIED, is not just some random parent; she is one of the most respected Social Scientists in the city of New York, if not the nation, who has published numerous books and articles examining poverty, inequality and educational achievement. Do the makers of the film put forth data by an equally credible social scientist to challenge it? No, they simply
say "the data is correct." No credible education scholar, or indeed any scholar, would respond to an argument made by a scholar of Michelle Fine's reputation this way. And failing to identfy her is unconscionable.This way of handling a serious critique about the Montclair Board's use of data shows the makers of this filmhave no respect for the common rules of evidence,

It shows every sign of being the slick product of people who have no knowledge or respect for the standards of education research or social science research generally.

It is a hatchet job, pure and simple, created by an Astro Turf group which refuses to identify itself.

It shows the desperation of the Big Money Interests behind corporate education reform, whose Civil Rights rationale for their policies is being discredited and exposed.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

If You Think Opposition to Charter Schools is "Racist" .....

Why did Bill DeBlasio win election as Mayor of NYC with 90% of the Black vote on a platform that rejected the Charter School Favoritism of
his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, and gave a ringing endorsement to neighborhood public schools?

Why did Ras Baraka win election as Mayor of Newark over a candidate that got huge funding from pro-charter Wall Street contributors, running on a very similar pro public school platform as Bill De Blasio?

Why is Jesus "Chuy" Garcia running dead even with pro-Charter Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, even though Emmanuel is outspending him 12-1?

Why is pro Charter Buffalo School Board Chair Carl Palladino mocking the four African American women on the Buffalo School Board as "The Sisterhood" because they oppose closing neighborhood public schools over the opposition of students, teachers and parents, and replacing them with charters?

And, with a big thanks to Jeff Canady

Why were Charter Loving Mayor Adrian Fenty and his School Chancellor Michelle Rhee forced out of office amidst scandals whose full extent has never been publicly investigated?

Here's my position

Whenever someone accuses people opposing charter schools of being "racist," I hold on tight to my wallet because that person is about to rob me blind!

From Selma To Buffalo: How to Distinguish between Real and Fake Educators Through the Lens of Black History by "Publius"

Today, I taught the most powerful lesson of my career. The original lesson was simple, but important: fill out voter registration forms. With the voter registration form on whiteboard, we filled out each section as a class. That was first period. Third period, when the lesson was introduced, a young man blurted the too often repeated canard, “Mister, my vote doesn’t count. This is not important.” That was the moment. Rather than launching into the long history of the struggle for suffrage in the US for so many groups, the students were told, “Leave everything here except your voter registration form. We’re going for a walk.” More on this later.

I teach at McKinley High School in Buffalo, NY. It is a vocational (aka CTE – Career and Technical Education) school. Our Principal, Mrs. Crystal Boling-Barton is a real educator. As teachers, we still have the luxury of signing many field trips permission slips throughout the year. We have the honor of collaborating with students, colleagues and members of the community to coordinate and host assemblies. It was difficult to maintain continuity in teaching during Black History Month, joyously, because of the numerous activities held. For one hour a year, every class participates in the “Teachable Moment.” Lessons focus on the role of African American in history, literature, science, math, arts, music and physical education or classes host a guest speaker. I work in a school I can walk my Senior class to the main lobby for a spur-of-the-moment change in lesson plans. Real educators create learning environments like the one we enjoy.

What is so great about the school climate just described is how these many events come together. The shop teachers take students to work sites, fish farms, construction sites, local businesses etc. Last week, students traveled to a program sponsored by a local college and featured activist, actress and film producer Aunjanue Ellis discussing her role on BET’s The Book of Negroes. Ellis also detailed her courageous, if not dangerous, cause to get the Confederate flag removed from Mississippi’s state flag. The students also heard from Ona Brown, a motivational speaker, who successfully made a students from across Western New York believe in themselves. Last year, our students met CT Vivian. All three speakers instilled a sense of confidence in our students.

When Lincoln was still at the theaters, the entire Junior class walked to the movie theater down the street. During the movie when the 13thAmendment finally passed Congress, our students cheered boisterously and clapped loudly. Yes, I was a little verklempt. When the school received thirty tickets to see Selma this year, off they went. These are the moments real educators create and that real educators cherish. They cannot and will never be measureable by any test. There is no metric for life, living and authentic learning.
Better yet, just before any field trip departs, students assemble in the auditorium and we are reminded of our collective responsibility to represent McKinley High School in its best and truest light. It works. Our students regularly receive compliments for being ‘such nice kids.’ Before we depart, the names of students whose grades or behavior are not what they should be are read aloud. Those students are sent back to class and those who have done what is expected board the busses. Students who skipped detention the previous day know better than to even come to the auditorium. Many students do not even bother to take a permission slip if they know they have not given their best efforts. That is how real educators educate. This is meaningful “accountability.”

We still have assemblies. The Martin Luther King Day “Keeping the Dream Alive,” Black History Month and African American History Quiz Bowl assemblies are held with some alternating regularity. Students, faculty, administration, security guards, aides, counselors, substitute teachers and members of the community all contribute. The year that an inspired faculty reading of the “I Have a Dream” speech synchronized, for a short while, word-for-word with the video projected on screen and above the stage of Dr. King reading the same was … pure magic. Again, high school students rose to their feet, cheered, clapped and celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream. It is not just Black History Month our school focuses on. Other assemblies held include Native American, Hispanic or Irish Heritage assemblies. Winter concerts are joyous affairs. Faculty beware, you will be called to the risers to sing a carol or two as a finale. Assemblies for academic and athletic achievement recognize our Honor Roll students and successful scholar-athletes.

Our students have listened to and talked with a Civil Rights activist who was a King family friend, a former student-activist and litigant in Brown v.Board of Education? Just this year, Carolyn Maull McKinstry, a survivor of the 16th Street Baptist Church, spoke with our students during the annual “Teachable Moment.” Every assembly has the same requirement: it must educate. Thanks to our Principal-Teacher, our school still hosts the types of events real educators know are important.

The learning environment described above is slowly disappearing from schools across America. Fake educators (self-proclaimed “reformers”) have wreaked havoc and destruction on public education. They call it “creative disruption.” Real educators, like Mark Naison of Fordham University, keenly observe this “reform” has systematically created “psychic violence” on and gentrification of urban neighborhoods. Yes, it is disruptive. No, it is not creative. Yes, it is destructive. No, it does not improve learning.

Fake reformers twist the language and heritage of Civil Rights to justify policies that create more inequality for the many while diverting millions of dollars to the few. They repeat their own scripted lines such as, “I was elected by the people to do a job; I’m here for the children; This is a Civil Rights issue.” In Buffalo, when those hackneyed lines are spewed, the public regularly boos these false claims into irrelevance.

Lest you feel pity for the Board member who is regularly heckled, know that he has sent emails laden with racist and sexist comments too offense to describe. He also recently asked an Board lawyer, an African American woman lawyer, “How could you be so ignorant?” when she was about to clarify a matter of Roberts Rule that would – and did – thwart his attempt to give away our best public schools. Huzzah for her!

This is also the fake educator who regularly votes to close public schools and to give public buildings away to charters for free. He also recently completed the paperwork that changed ownership of his real estate development company into his son’s name. VoilĂ ! No conflict of interest, he boasts! Only he and the Buffalo News believe it. He also derisively regularly uses the terms “Sisterhood” to describe the African American women on the Buffalo Board of Education. Kudos to those real educators as they have appropriated that name, thusly robbing him of his derision.

Fake educators wave their hand to evict a citizen-teacher, simply because he is a member of the Buffalo Teachers Federation union. They rudely disregard a student they purport to “care” about by texting during a passionate speech where, ironically, that student had just called out Board members for – you guessed it – texting during Board meetings. Fake educators use monies they voted to appropriate to companies they personally own and then use close to $100,000 for his personal car and dues to local supper clubs. Yes, I’m verklempt again, not the happy kind.
Fake educators spend five weeks in Teach for America training and teach for a short stint at a charter school. The same charter that once instructed a teacher to “ignore him until he leaves.” The teacher left instead. The student to be ignored was a child with autism in the fifth grade. Fake educators then become Commissioners of Education in the states that spend a lot of precious resources on education and arbitrarily lower scores, fail students and then blame teachers. Fake educators promise “death penalties” for “failing” schools, to “dismantle Buffalo public schools” and to “destroy public education.”

What are the results of this unrelenting war of attrition? Nationally, near catastrophic drops in enrollment to real and fake teacher training programs. Billions of un-accounted for taxpayer dollars. Widening inequality and a public school system that is more segregated than it was prior to Brown. Stress, anger, exhaustion, fatigue and everything that is bad for learning.

Locally, schools lose teachers, assemblies and field trips in order to test and test and test. This year, the “Keeping the Dream Alive” assembly was postponed twice. First, it could not be held on the traditional Friday before the MLK holiday because of English and Math Common Formative Assessments. The following Friday was out because of useless Post-Tests for half-year courses. It was held during February. Our assemblies were traditionally held in the afternoon. This year, they are held in the morning because our Choral and Instrumental (and Art) teachers were cut to half time. Thank you Governor Cuomo and the Gap Elimination Adjustment and budget cuts. Our students also lost a valuable opportunity to study in Buffalo’s last remaining African American History elective course. It too was cut.

Intentional or not, fake educators have implemented policies that have reduced faculty – too often, faculty of color - diminished arts and music and obliterated the study of Black History (and just about every other elective). Fake educators are everywhere and they do the bidding of Wall Street Hedge fund managers like dutiful vassals.
Fortunately there are real educators left who find a way to enrich our student’s educational endeavors. Unfortunately, most real educators cannot surmount the onslaught of “reforms” that systematically undermine public education for the many while, again, the few are enriched.

Back to that powerful lesson: When confronted again with the ‘my vote doesn’t matter’ response, we went to the main lobby. There, thanks to our sheet metal teachers and students, is a replica of the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. More to the point: thanks to our Print Shop, there is a life size mural of the Selma marchers which is poignantly framed – if you stand in the right spot – by a replica of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The bridge is courtesy of our Carpentry program.

The students stood, voter registration in hand, in that spot. They were then asked to look at the mural and find a person who reminded them of someone they loved. Students who had seen Selma then recounted what happened when the marchers first attempted to cross the bridge. After the recounting of the history, there was a long, quiet pause.

They were standing in a historically recreated place where our sister and brothers, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers were beaten with clubs, trampled by horses and whipped. One by one, that look overtook their faces. It was the “aha” look. Deep. Contemplative. Ponderous. It is safe to say the importance of voting was permeating their consciousness. That look and that learning: they are the reason today was most powerful lesson of my twenty years in public education.

Electives, assemblies, field trips attrite as the deluge of testing and severity of budget cuts bulldoze forward. As we commemorate the 50thAnniversary of the March from Selma for voting rights, we must reflect on what has been gained and what has been lost. Our public schools are more segregated than they were pre-Brown. Millions of taxpayer dollars are unaccounted for or become profits in ‘public’ charters. Black History and teachers of color too, slowly fade from our schools. Thankfully, not from every school.

President Obama today argued that much has changed and that our work is not done. If that is to remain true, we must stop the destruction of public education and teachers unions. If we are to honor those who marched from Selma to Montgomery, we must now work to not only stop, but to also reverse this attack on the public education and on unions nationwide.

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Selma and the Civil Rights movement obliges us to act in defense of public schools. We owe it to our students. Our democracy depends on it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Unholy Alliance of Charters And Common Core- By Rochester Teacher Teddi Urriola

Dr. Cala, interim superintendent of Fairport Schools up here near Rochester spoke last night at a forum on many topics, one of them was Charters. Here is how this works. Hedge Funds and other billionaires. are allowed to invest in Charters. (Hedge Funds are people too...) they get a 39% tax credit for their investment so in 7 years they double their investment. That's guaranteed $$. Not a risky investment in stocks, guaranteed tax credit. Courtesy of our government. There is also a Federal law that allows foreign investors to put $500K into charter schools and with that investment they are purchasing their Green Cards, buying legal immigration status into the US. Now none of this works if they simply invest in public schools because that is not the law. The law is exclusive for Charters. These laws are passed by politicians who receive huge donations to their campaigns for providing these opportunities to the rich. I want a sure thing investment... (I get 1.4% investing in something not risky and secure.) So to continue the story. The increase on the Charter cap must occur so that they have more opportunity to double their money in 7 years. Now how does this go with CC? Well, these developmentally inappropriate standards are the basis of the tests that are used to test the children and fail the teachers and close the schools to open more charter schools. So they have the right to make money any way they can, right? remember they are people too. wink emoticon Well to sweeten the pot and make the deal even better the governor is decreasing funding to public education, closing schools and failing and firing teachers while increasing funding (not just raising the cap on the number of charters) by 20+% for Charters with NO Strings attached. Not tied to improved test scores! Nada! They get the tax payers money (that's you) while the rest of our kids are struggling to fail on tests that were created to fail them so the cycle could continue. Wonder why Charters are the darlings of Hedge Funds and the Billionaire Boys clubs?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Straw That Broke the Teacher’s Back-Guest Post By M Shannon Hernandez

The Straw That Broke the Teachers Back

My teaching career began at the age of twenty-one, straight out of college, in a second-grade classroom in a small town outside of Concord, North Carolina. Early in my career I thought I wanted to teach the little ones, but I learned rather quickly my personality was better suited to middle-school students. So after a few years of teaching in elementary school, I transitioned to teaching in middle school, where I remained for the next twelve years.

Throughout my middle-school years, I taught English Language Arts (ELA) and Social Studies. I coached sports teams and served as grade team leader, curriculum chair, and student teaching supervisor, mentored new teachers and initiated many programs and clubs in the schools I served in North Carolina and New York City.

I taught students firsthand how rewarding it is to learn while traveling. We took summer trips to the Grand Canyon, Canada, London, Paris, and Rome. I worked diligently every year to secure grant funds so I could have the most current literature in my classroom library. I also worked with local organizations to ensure my students could visit museums, attend plays, and have other cultural experiences so they could learn about the world around them.

After meeting my Brooklynite husband during the tenth year of my teaching career, I was ready for the adventure of city life. My first New York City teaching job was in Spanish Harlem. While some days I wondered if I would make it from the school to the train station alive, I fell in love with my inner-city studentstheir strengths, their struggles, and especially their big-city survival skills.

The last four years of my teaching career were in an excellent school in Manhattan. I had never taught with a more dedicated and unified staff. The students were also some of the most kindhearted and intelligent I had had the honor of teaching.

Upon accepting a teaching position in New York City, I was well aware I would need to return to college and earn my masters degree, as this is a certification requirement for this state. I enrolled in Brooklyn College and began working towards a degree in Biology Education. I also knew that I would be losing the tenured position I had worked so hard to earn during my first ten years of teaching in North Carolina. While I wasnt thrilled about the latter point, because it meant, once again, proving” myself to a new school district, I accepted it. Within three years of teaching in New York City, my tenure had been granted to me once again.

In October of 2012, two months before I was to graduate with a my Masters Degree, I learned something that would change the course of my life and career. I had just been informed by the New York City certification department that I would lose my tenure, again, once I began teaching under my new biology certification the following fall.

I was livid. I cried. I screamed. I made phone calls. And with each person I spoke to, the news was consistent: Because I was switching from a certification in ELA to Biology, my tenure would be taken from me, and I would have to prove, once again, that I was a teacher worthy of keeping.

I guess you can say that I had had enough, 15 years into the career. And you know what the sad part was? I LOVED teachingI still do. But I just got so tired of the policies and the proving of myself” over and over again. I rarely felt appreciated, valued or heard in the teaching profession, no matter how high my ratings were, how much growth my students showed on the exams, or no matter how much work I put in.

So, I decided it was time to change pathsbefore bitterness and resentment set in. I turned in my resignation in June 2013, and Ive been teaching future teachers at Brooklyn College, I became the author of my memoir about my exit of public education, and I have turned much of my time to speaking about student-centered education reform. (I can talk now openly, without being fired!)

Above all, I am committed to giving teachers a voice in education reformbecause we shouldnt be left out from the discussions. We are the very professionals who know what is happening in public schools. To help amplify the voices of teachers and students across this nation, I recently launched a podcast entitled Transforming Public Education: Creating REAL Reform Through Compassion, Love, and Gratitude. The goal of the podcast? To give teachers, parents, administrators, and students a voiceand to help transform schools into places where students and teachers cant wait to get their days started. I do hope you will take a listen to the showand if youd like to be a guest, please reach out to me via email.

REAL education reform requires many voices, working on a variety of platforms, and a variety of issues. But the one voice that is consistently missing is the voice of educators. We can change that as a profession. We can blog, we can podcast, we can speak to our legislators. There are countless ways to get involvedin a way that feels safe and authentic to you. Because, in the end, there are many straws that are breaking so many teachers’ backs\ across this country. Lets work together to change that.

M. Shannon Hernandez is a college professor, former public school teacher of 15 years, education activist, and author of the book, Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher. Shannons podcast, Transforming Public Education is a voice for educators and a cry for student-centered education reform. Shannon blogs passionately about public education for her website and The Huffington Post.

"It Isn't Nice to Block the Doorway"- What Must Be Done To Save Public Education

If the history of the Labor Movement, the Civil Rights Movement and the Struggle Against the Vietnam War are guides, a lot of people are going to have to lose their jobs, and some are going to have to to jail, to stop the War Against Public Education. There were no great Labor Victories without sit-down strikes; no Civil Rights victories without student sit-ins and mass arrests; no end to the Vietnam War without tens of thousands of people refusing the draft.

The lesson: You cannot change policy on such a grand scale, and fight such an array of powerful interests, without immense sacrifice. These historic struggles were won as much in the streets as at the polls, and civil disobedience. along with more confrontational forms of resistance were essential to their victory. We are at least five years away from creating enough disruption and winning enough local elections ( these two have to go hand in hand)to have Presidential candidates proclaim their support for public education rather than competing to see how they can dismantle it.

I wish I had better news, but as a student of the history of protest movements, I cannot offer it.

We all have the privilege of making history, but it may require more work and sacrifice than we ever dreamed to secure what we once thought of as a basic human right- a quality PUBLIC education.

Monday, March 2, 2015

School Closings, Charters and VAM- The Wrong Response to Neighborhood Trauma- A View from Buffalo and the Bronx

 All throughout the nation, School Reformers are following a similar script. They have identified schools in high poverty areas as "failed institutions," with the main  cause of their failure being incompetent teachers and union rules which protect them from dismissal. Their solution, close the schools, fire the teachers and replace them with charter schools which can hire and fire teachers at will.

    If you use test scores as an indicator, there is no doubt that many schools in poor neighborhoods seem to perform poorly. But is closing those schools, firiing their teachers, and replacing them with charter schools; all the while subjecting teachers to performance reviews based on student test scores, the appropriate response?

    It is- but only if you ignore history and mis diagnose the cause of the "failure."

    Let us take a close look at the history of  two places- the Bronx and the City of Buffalo- which  have a disproportionate number of failing schools.  Both have extremely high poverty rates, and many of the associated ills that come with poverty, such as high rates of unemployent, housing overcrowding, and mental illness.

   But as sociologist Orlando Patterson has reminded us when examining African American history, history cannot be reduced to  mere numbers. When people have been subjected to traumatic experiences, it has an impact on their lives far beyond the moment those traumas occurred. And the residents of Buffalo and the Bronx, and the institutions which serve them, bear the scars of three major social upheavals which have affected their families and communities- deindusrialization, the crack epidemic, and the war against drugs.

   Deindustrialization- the closing of factories and the departure of factory jobs- shattered the social fabric of the Bronx in the 1960's and 1970's and of Buffalo in the 1970's and 1980's,  leaving in its wake abandoned factories and warehouses, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of decent paying jobs
which allowed working class families to own their own homes or rent  sizable apartments.  When the jobs left, families shattered and the housing stock was decimated. By the time the process was completed, and most of the good jobs were gone, many neighborhoods in the Bronx and Buffalo looked as though they had suffered aerial bombardment.  Worse yet, the residents of these neighborhoods, like those who survived warfare, suffered from what Medical Researcher  Mindy Thompson Fullilove has called "Root Shock" a form of PTSD that affects people who have watched the communities they live in destroy by market forces.

     Then, in the final stages of de-industrialization, both Buffalo and the Bronx were hit by drug epidemics spawed by the arrival of a form of an extremely cheap and highly addictive derivative of cocaine called "crack"-- which provided unheard of income opportunities to neighborhood youth while stirring equally unprecedented levels of violence and addiction in the neighborhoods where they lived.  Shootouts and drive-bys became commonplace occurances in communities where legal work was  scare, and few businesses remained, creating a feeling that no one was safe in public space. Along with this, many mothers, often the sole support of families, became addicted, forcing grandparents to step in to raise children, or pushing them into foster care. People living through this experience again were traumatized by it- as anyone who lives amidst flying bullets would be. And the remaining institutions, especially the public schools,  had the burden of caring for the victims, while the teachers and administrators sometimes became victims themselves.

    Finally, in the latter stages of the crack epidemic, and even after it has diminished, came the Drug War, a strategy of deluging poor communities with police and arresting drug sellers en masse whether they were engaged in acts of violence or not, whether the drugs they sold were damaging or no more harmful than alcohol.  Although this strategy of militarized, zero tolerance policing reduced neighborhood violence,  at least in the short run, it led to the mass incarceration of neighborhood youth and the creation of an environment where all neighborhood young people found themselves under suspicion of criminal activity. Traumatic encounters with police became a common place occurance for youth, mostly through humiliating searches, but occasionally resulting in shootings when police officers panicked

    This sequence of traumas, occurring over a period of 30-40 years, left deep emotional scars on the people who experienced them. Among the casualties were trust, self-confidence, hope for the future,  all characteristics which you want children to have when they come to school. Schools in such communities were not only dealing with poor people, they were dealing with traumatized, deeply wounded people, whose experiences inevitably entered the classroom.

    When people have been traumatized this way, what they need most is an opportunity to heal.  They need stability, they need caring, they needed the opportunity to rebuild trust

     But what School Reformers decided to give turned out to be a new Trauma- closing the one institution that had survived through all the upheavals, removing the teachers who had remained there, and staring afresh with a new insitution and new teachers who knew nothing of what the neighborhood and its people had gone through.

      Is is any wonder that this approach is failing. That it is not improving school performance. Not stabilizing neighborhoods, not rebuilding them, but instead making them ripe for gentrification.

      What was really needed was never really done- transforming schools into true community insitutions, open 24 hours a day and serving the entire neighborhood as a place of healing for all residents. Will we ever wake up and try to do that? Or will we just keep piling Trauma upon Trauma upon those who have lived an American Nightmare more than an American Dream

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Teacher's Sleepless Nights

As a teacher, I go through sleepless nights trying to find just the right words and sounds and images to change my students lives, to make them see or feel things so strongly, that they will never quite be the same again. It might be a passage from W.E.B Dubois "The Souls of Black Folk"; it might be Billie Holliday singing "Strange Fruit," Sam Cooke singing "A Change Is Gonna Come" or Janis Joplin singing "Little Girl Blue"; it might be a scene from "The Grapes of Wrath" or "Cinderella Man": that brings to life what it meant to be crushed by the Great Depression and yet have the resiliance to fight back; It is those "moments of clarity" ( an expression I have borrowed from JZ) if I find can find them, which will make the classes I teach far more lasting in their impact than any simple array of facts.THIS is wherein the magic of teaching lies, at least for me. It is why I keep teaching. And fighting to preserve the art that teaching represents, which is under assault from every direction.

R.I.P. Anthony Mason

Still grappling with the death of one of my favorite Knick players,Anthony Mason who passed on yesterday of heart failure at the age of 48. Anthony Mason was a product of the same New York streets that produced Biggie, JZ, Nas, Lil Kim, MC Lyte, and Big Daddy Kane, and was part of the same generation which brought hip hop to its highest point of artistry . Like the greatest of NY hip hop artists, he was proud, defiant, crusty, and hugely talented. Thick and muscular, Mason had remarkable ball handling skills and could play any position on the court, but did not take kindly to coaching and preferred to invent his own way of playing. He spent five difficult years with the Knicks, fighting with coaches and teammates, but helped make the team a contender. In many ways, he embodied the spirit of a pre-Gentrification New York when young people had genuine power in many inner city neighborhoods and did not defer easily to adult authority. I am not sure the current version is better than the one he grew up in. R.I.P. Anthony Mason. I was never bored watching you play, and you made every team you played for better than it was before