Monday, November 30, 2015

The War on Public Education in Broward County Florida- A Guest Post by Terry Pruess


Things I plan to say to my leaders with my local and national community of public education supporters listening in...

Let’s NOT be  “The Last Honeypot for Wallstreet.”

I have been a loyal, dedicated, caring, hard-working, responsible, dependable, trustworthy, “highly effective” career public educator for 3 decades, Teacher of the Year at Olsen Middle School and a Hispanic Teacher of the Year in Broward. I have been held in high regard and been a leader in three counties: L.A., Dade and Broward. I’ve also been a vocal advocate of student, teacher and parent rights in all the leadership roles I’ve held... As such, I know fully that my opinions will not be met with any repercussions or retaliation.
Some teachers, however, fear that they will be harmed for speaking out, brought up on some false charges, sent off to “Teacher Jail’ or “The Book Depository”…cast out to another school on the far end of the county to teach an unfamiliar subject until they are broken down and leave the profession on their own, marked via “gotcha” evaluations systems as “ineffective,” or even marginalized as a lone disgruntled voice. I’ve seen and heard it all from one coast to another as I have evolved in education advocacy, but those things can not worry me today because this letter is about JUSTICE for our children and communities. 
I have been, along with thousands of colleagues, far too “highly effective” to need to worry about retaliation. Right?  I am stealing this term from the hands legislators and our imposed evaluation system of Marzano because it fits too many teachers I know, far more than the shamefully low 5%SBBC’s flawed evaluation system officially produced for Broward County… among the lowest in the state of Florida!  
So, let me begin…

How we got to this point is not always clear to those of us who are working daily in the trenches, giving love, support, encouragement and a quality education to the students of Broward County. But we do sense that something is very wrong. We know that many complaints come into our union stating that our teachers cannot teach creatively, that they are losing autonomy in the classroom, that they are being asked to teach to the test and we all know that this is not REAL education. 

Parents know this! Educators know this! Students know this!

We know that mandates from above affect your decisions as leaders, and that some may seem insurmountable, but… there is NO way that we can continue on this path and say that we are truly serving our students, our loyal employees, and our communities. We know that your intent is to provide a quality education in our public school system so we are asking that you listen more to the teachers, parents, students and education experts.  

 is taking up more time than ever in our history. More funds are going to computers to be used for testing and test prep products than ever before. While budgets for testing, computers, and charter schools sky rocket, a large number of our teachers who have dedicated their lives to education have been slammed and insulted by the presumed funding shortfalls and the unrealistic guidelines of Florida Laws… like SB736. This law effectively strips away the hard won gains which put teachers on a reasonably predictive salary step schedule in the past. 

Prior to this law’s assault, there were other assaults on Broward educators and our economic strength. I will share my story because it is similar to many and relevant to Broward County... 

I worked tirelessly to gain every possible accolade as an accomplished “HIGHLY EFFECTIVE”teacher, then… I studied hard to earn National Board Certification. The promise of $10,000-$12,000.00 per year was bestowed upon me after much toil and effort for earning this distinguished honor. I became a mentor teacher, a Nova Southeastern University-South Florida Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a workshop facilitator. I went to many schools, helped many teachers and shared my talents. I was respected for my insights and accomplishments in journaling programs and behavior management among the “Drop Out Prevention” population which I gladly shared. I could make students LOVE to write and received some of the highest writing scores in the county… I felt proud. I was compensated professionally, not by my high test scores, but in ways that made a difference in my life and the lives of others, impacting the growth of student learning and teacher development. During this time, I even wrote a book, Voices in the Hall, about the complex lives of the at-risk students I was working with, whose stories, as revealed through their own writing, profoundly influenced the course of my life, my view of humanity and the beliefs I held as an educator.  National Board Certification was a pinnacle in the careers of many educators and we developed a sophisticated network of communication, mentorship and service to others that extended locally and nationally. Those were the happiest, most rewarding, and most productive years of my career… Then… POOF!  It was gone!  I felt defrauded and stripped of my previously lauded educational worth. In the same year, due to budget cuts, many Broward teachers lost their 6th period supplements and were asked to do the same work in less time, and with less compensation, often with more students per period. In my experience I lost over $20,000.00 in one year… a financial hit few can survive!  I was told that National Board funding was gone and would not return. Sorry Charlie! I had laboriously worked on the equivalent of a Master’s Thesis on the theories of my practice with at-risk students as developing writers, and would never again receive the financial recognition that was tied to it and promised to me... a devastating blow for thousands of Broward teachers who still proudly sign, NBCT, behind their names. All of this was insult enough, but no one could foresee what was to come. I encountered years of frozen steps, keeping me from obtaining my long awaited $10,000.00 step increase which was due at step 20. I hoped, in vain, that it might bring some financial stability back to my home life. My total losses were now over $30,000.00 per year, and … the next un-earned step brought it to $40,000.00. During this period my husband’s health began to fail, without the once steady income I could count on as a teacher, which allowed us to take entrepreneurial risks that influenced and enhanced our community, we slowly lost our other sources income. 
We had owned Thor Design, a popular anchor Art Gallery on Harrison Street from 1990 to 2006 with an adjacent Art Studio and Functional Art Furniture Workshop. It was a place where local artists hung out and networked on a street chock full of talented artisans in every medium imaginable from furniture designers and metal workers, to potters and sophisticated, nationally recognized, painters. That emerging artist colony that we were central in nurturing, and that my teacher income helped to support with occasional seed money, got the attention of the city and serious investors, sparked the push for the CRA, birthed the art movement that brought Downtown Hollywood back as go-to social hub and an economic force, created “Art Walks” and directly influenced the name of “Arts Park,” formerly known as Young Circle.  

As business owners in Hollywood and Dania Beach for 3 decades, we fully understand just how the salary shortfalls of SBBC, the largest employer in Broward, affect our local economy. You can NOT tell ME that when you deny your teachers and other employees the pay they are due that YOU do NOT affect an entire community.  You DO, and YOU DID! 
I stuck with teaching as my husband recovered his health slowly. We raised our boys as we watched our whole world crumble around us, believing that eventually the economy would improve and my income would get back to what I had been promised, which was to be at $72,000.00 base salary after 25 years of service. But 25 years came and went, and that figure was never close to being reached as year after year, yet another excuse was found to keep from paying Broward teachers what they were due.  Like thousands of educators as “head of household” we struggled to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary… Then we had that 3% taken out for retirement funding… No worries…. SHHHH… Teachers will not complain!  Then… Enter, SB736. In what I never could have expected, lawmakers have effectively and cruelly tied our hands at the collective bargaining table, the very right we fought for when we gave up our right to STRIKE.  Does that mean we are NO LONGER a “Right to Work” state?  Our long awaited steps and expected salary increases for a lifetime of service were taken with the wave of a malevolent magic wand... GONE… After 25 years of waiting, I was informed I wouldNEVER reach the salary I had been promised and working towards all of my adult life. Meanwhile, I looked around and noticed that in less than a decade the great American Middle Class, which unions were known to build up and protect, was dwindling. Other Broward store owners, restauranteurs, and retailers my husband and I had associated with for decades were gone… favorite restaurants closed… mom and pop shops disappeared… teachers were struggling to get by with little if any disposable income… students I’d taught who were graduating from college could not easily find quality jobs… some ended up in jail… and this was a national trend!  The wealth once spread more equally to ALL Americans was rushing quickly into the hands of wealthy corporations, hedge funds and the 1%.  

I had seen the brilliant documentary by Clinton’s Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, called Inequality for All.  I came away asking myself…Why?

Why is this being allowed?

The answer was clear… The lawmakers are being “allowed!” Neither the UNIONS, nor thePEOPLE are stopping them.

Your job as leaders of education policy in Broward and as leaders of those who serve our students, parents, employees and our community is NOT to blindly “follow the laws” our obviously oblivious legislators concoct for us with their limited understanding of the dynamic of teaching and learning. It is to fight for Broward and find solutions within the problem.  It is also to protect the well-being and integrity of our local public education system. It is your job to give the people of Broward County peace of mind, a quality education for their children, a dependable and educated population upon graduation, safe and rewarding places of employment, a means to energize the economy, and most importantly to provide quality neighborhood schools that make great neighborhoods and wonderful, nurturing places to live and raise families. Only YOU have the ability to help improve the quality of life in each and every community throughout Broward for all citizens and taxpayers. 

So… when the SBBC says things about the teacher contract negotiations and present impasse in a press release and county email alert like … “The district would not absolve the BTU of its prior agreement to year three of the grandfathered salary schedule…”  to explain why teachers cannot get a professional wage… I get very worried!  It is SBBC that must get on its knees and ask its teachers and other employees to be “ABSOLVED.”  It is the people of Broward who SBBC might petition to grant“ABSOLUTION!”  To my understanding… Broward Teachers Union has already determined that you had 7.5 million in lapsed funds last year, and do have at least 30-40 million available to put towards your debts to teachers this year.. Our community has seen how money is found and generated when needed.  We commend you for this.  Please, NOW, place teams of people on the charge to find ways to pay your debts to our community.  We can join you in taking a stand against the educational assault.  We can help you find those ways!  Let’s do it together!

Our educators and parents know that the laws that you are sometimes told you must follow are oftenill-conceived and improperly funded. Your job is NOT to just blindly follow these misguided laws which are so often NOT educationally sound… but YOUR job is to protect your electorate, your schools, your students, your employees, and your communities from the corporate greed, injudicious rulings and faulty ideals that often drive the creation of those laws, and to find solutions for Broward. We ask YOU to help us to take a stand for Broward against the national educational assault we are facing. Please listen to us as we speak to you... 

As education professionals… We love our jobs. We love to teach!  We love to inspire learning and creative thinking.  And… we love to be appreciated, trusted and paid as the educated professionals we are.

Let us teach with creativity and with honor to our practice and profession. This is what every student deserves!

This is why every teacher chose education as a career path… to serve kids and to impact their local communities.
Do not take away from us the ability to use the art and craft of teaching we happily share with the kids we love. Do not continue to require the new, ill-conceived trend of scripted, timed, packaged education, and repeated testing of students.
Please take away from us the mountain of unnecessary and overwhelming evaluation mandates, testing prep, paperwork and data collection instituted under the guise of evaluating both students and teachers. These are corporate influenced trends that continue to demoralize teachers, stress our students, stifle natural learning and will eventually bring an end to our profession and possibly to public schools as we know them, if they are allowed to continue unchecked. 

If you doubt my words... I encourage you to “FOLLOW THE MONEY!”  The cash trail of unfortunate laws and decisions crafted by politicians through… TESTING… on the backs of our young people and education professionals… with wealthy investors as benefactors will astound you.

Why is our money… our taxpayer dollars… money from OUR education coffers leaving OUR county… and the pockets and dinner tables of OUR employees and business owners and going to outside corporations that sell computers, testing, and test products?  One corporation in particular,Pearson, whose name is seen on the TESTS we hand our students… is an overseas company from England.  So why do OUR dollars from OUR children being tested go there? And it is not just OUR tax dollars in Florida… it is the tax dollars of our nation.

Please do not allow frivolous laws made by these misinformed lawmakers who listen to lobbyists, corporate investors, privateers and campaign contributors who benefit from the new “education reform” movement that drives… OUR tax dollars… away from public education to sway you!  Your DUTY is to true, artful, inspired, quality EDUCATION and that DUTY must continue to guide your decisions.REAL teaching and learning CAN NOT be replicated or replaced by computerstest prep, testing, temp teachers, massive new hires when once higher paid quality teachers flee, or VAM scores!  This is a false narrative and is driven by corporations and promoted by lawmakers. It attempts toblame teachers for the 
failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality through education. It asks Broward County to accept assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for authentic teaching and learning to guide our instruction and determine what our teachers and students are worth.  I ask you to evaluate what is really happening here and say, Enough is Enough!  You will be saying it with tens of thousands of Broward educators, SBBC employees, their spouses, friends, neighbors, loved ones, and children.

And, please, not take from us our livelihood, and our hard earned retirement benefitsafter we have given to you and to our communities a lifetime of service. We have always been dedicated to improving the lives of KIDS and the quality of public EDUCATION.  Broward’s most qualified teachers, some because they are reaching the top of the pay scale, are being shamed and muscled out by laws like SB736 and demeaning evaluations. If this is to make room for a less experienced, and less expensive work force, it may be a way to divert a few dollars to educational profiteers, but is NOT the way to sustain quality educational  and economic stability for Broward.  Are our children not worth more than this? 

Thousands of QUALITY educators have fled their jobs, or retired, and we presently have a teacher shortage approaching 200 vacant positions. This is also a national trend! Is this good for our students and our schools?  NO!

Please do not continue allow any outside forces to rob us of the pride with which we have lived our lives and the dignity and honor we were promised at the ends of our careers if we gave to you, SBBC, our talents, our knowledge, our efforts, our craft and our youth. The people of Broward County have already received these gifts willingly from us. It is not in the best interest of those you serve, or of those we serve, to devastate so many Broward families by drastically cutting our ability to teach instinctively and our ability to provide a living wage for our own families, and economic stimulus to the Broward economy.  
WE are not JUST your employees!  

Remember… we are also the parents whose children are tested, the taxpayers whose money you collect and use. WE are the voters who go to the polls and must have confidence in you.  WE are ALL those things…  We stand together, as ONE, in this initiative.  Our VOICES must join!Together, we can send a message to those who wish to defund public education and who wish to take our tax dollars out of Broward County.  

Broward County teachers, like myself, on steps 17-25 have been most harshly treated for many years, placing us in dire financial situations. Lower steps have lost all hope to advance at a pace anywhere near what was promised them. Long years of service are now unforgivably ignored by SBBC.  Teachers in Broward have lost our homes, gone into foreclosure, filed bankruptcy, and still show up to teach every day wondering if we will be able to continue to provide for our own families. Held back for years by salary freezes during the recession… we were asked to be “team players”gaining little if any cost of living increases once minimal movement began. Cheated out of our standing with the school board, our peace of mind and our long awaited step increases in exchange for decades of quality work while awaiting our projected income that never came, many Broward educators have been emotionally and financially destroyed. Feeling robbed of our PAST, our FUTURE, our NOW and our DIGNITY by Broward’s application of law (SB736)  We are left unable to pay our rising food bills, taxes and insurance payments; our mortgages; our children’s college expenses;our basic needs; or even be certain of what retirement awaits us. Will it be welfare? This is NOT how WE, the parents, taxpayers, and voters want to treat the worthy educators and other employees who dedicatedly face YOUR most precious treasure… the young people of Broward County…OUR CHILDREN!  

SB736, which other Florida districts have been able to get around without devastating teacher steps and livelihoods seems to have been purposely designed to prevent some districts from providing its employees that which is owed to them.  While negotiating, decision makers in Broward either didn’t know how or did not want to find the way! This law poses a mandate to reward “highly effective”teachers on the “pay for performance schedule” to be given as much as the highest paid salary step increase within the teacher pay scale in every Florida county. While this sounds benign, it has harmed and defrauded Broward teachers, and it falsely presumes student testing as a means to determine teacher worth. This unfunded law must be challenged.
Firstly… testing is flawed.  Secondly… student testing CAN NOT determine the value of a teacher.  Thirdly… the faulty mathematical system (VAM) used to evaluate student test scores in an attempt to tie them to the value of a teacher’s teaching ability and student growth is not reliable… It FAILS students, teachers and communities.  National studies show this reform trend mostly FAILS and affects communities of poverty and communities of color.  This is unacceptable!  

A solution must be found.  

I suggest Broward serve as the state leader in finding one. This ill-conceived law that aids those who wish to defund public education through expensive tests, test scoring, test prep materials, mathematical VAM mayhem… shifting of hard earned public taxpayer dollars into private and sometimes foreign hands is a THEFT that cannot be tolerated by any self-respecting individual, and citizens in Broward will not continue to tolerate it. We hope you join us in our concern to the welfare of our students, employees and communities.  We are working tirelessly to bring this awareness to our communities!
Please lower testing and the dollars spent on it that go to wealthy corporations and pay our experienced teachers what you promised them in writing, and what they are owed.  

Please do not allow education in Broward to be… as this December 2014 Huntington Post article woefully describes it… “The Last Honeypot for Wallstreet.”

The financial industry's vigorous support of privatized education, however, aids its bottom line. Venture capitalists see big promise in the K-12 education market, estimated to be worth about $790 billion next year. Donald Cohen, executive director of think tank In the Public Interest, told The Nation, “It’s really the last honeypot for Wall Street.”

Please take whatever measures are necessary to FIND THE MONEY to stop this egregious and discriminatory practice resulting from a misguided and arbitrary law using student standardized test scores to wipe out our steps and promised salaries. This is within your power. WE expect you toFIND A WAY!

Sincerely, Terry Preuss, NBCT
NSU-SFWP Teacher Consultant
BTU Executive Board Member 2013-2016
President, Broward BATs Caucus of BTU
SBBC District Advisory Council 2011-2016
Mother, Teacher, Broward Voter, Concerned Citizen and Taxpayer

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What It Means to Be "White" In a Rapidly Changing Nation

Being "white" was once a central feature of being American. Those who were able to become "white" had the fullest range of political rights and economic opportunities the rapidly expanding nation had to offer. Those who were not were subject, at various times, to enslavement, caste segregation, racial pogroms,ghettoization,and extreme forms of discrimination. As a result, new immigrants to the country worked mightily to "become" white, with the Irish achieving this goal after the Civil War, and Southern and Eastern Europeans achieving this after World War II. Many mixed race African Americans also participated in this process by "passing,"- moving to another part of the country away from friends and relatives and re-identifying as white. The numbers of people who did that ran into the hundeds of thousands; quite possibly in the millions
Another portion of dynamic were the extreme measures the society took to assure the preservation and growth of the "white" population. Untile the Loving v Virgina decision in 1967, nearly half the states had laws banning intermarriage between whites and non whites. These laws were basically designed to assure white women had white children. And extra legal measures, including murder, were used to assure the preservation of the "white race." From the late 19th Century right up to the 1950's, Black men were routinely murdered and mutilated for having consensual relationships with white women. Such relationships were defined as "rape" under lynch law, a sign of profound fears of intermarriage, "race mixing" and the erosion of a "white" majority, whose perpetuation was seen as an essential condition of the nation's successful growth and development
Now, all these strategies of "race preservation" are starting to erode. More and more whites are marrying and having children with non whites. It is only a matter of time before the US has a majority of people who are non-European or mixed race.
In the face of these demographic changes, along with the growing political power exerted by "people of color," however you define them, many whites are feeling embattled and displaced. They see what was once defined as a powerful communal goal, preserving the "whiteness" of one's biological family and social circles, be redefined as an anachronism rather than an essential feature of national identity.
These "homogenous whites," as I call them, are a now a minority in the country, but a very angry and powerful political force, Some commit acts of violence toward Blacks and Latinos though thankfully such actions are still the exception rather than the rule. Their deep sense of alienation, their feeling they are losing THEIR country, is a major theme in talk radio as well as on some TV outlets.
And they are right. The US is no longer THEIR country. It belongs to everyone. There is no great advantage in preserving "whiteness" in one's family or social relations.
And while to some, that development seems like liberation, to others it seems like delivery into hell.
They cannot imagine living in a world without white supremacy and a white racial majority..

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Which Way Will Campus Protests Go?

One of my great fears with the current wave of campus protests is that Universities will respond to student protests by trying to reshape student and faculty attitudes rather than having universities change who they recruit and admit and hire. Right now, what institutions seem to be doing, in part because this is what students are asking for, is creating new "Diversity Offices," while initiating workshops and training sessions, along with a handful of new courses, some voluntary some mandatory, to make faculty and students more aware of their own biases.
If this is all the current protest movements achieve, the changes will be marginal. Universities will simply produce more culturally sensitive elites to rule over a nation where upward mobility is frozen, wealth is concentrated at the top and the middle class is shrinking.
The bigger challenge is to get Universities to recruit and fund far more students from low and moderate income communities and from marginalized communities.

In a school like Fordham, or even Columbia and NYU, it means recruiting less students from gentrified urban areas and wealthy suburbs and more students from communities like the Bronx, Mount Vernon, or Southeast Queens.
It also means recruiting far more faculty of color, and faculty who WANT to teach students who are first in their families to go to college, from the huge pool of talented scholars our graduate programs have produced.
University administrators will resist these changes, not because they disagree with them, but because they will offend very powerful and wealthy donors and members of Boards of Trustees.
It is up to student, alumni and faculty to engage in protracted trench warfare, over years, not months, to change who universities hire as faculty and recruit as students.
Whether the current movement has this kind of stamina and staying power only time will tell

Preparing Our Children for a Grim Future By Insuring They Are Unhappy in School

When I look at educational programs designed for public school children, especially children in high poverty neighborhoods, almost all of them seem punitive and socially isolating. They involve monitoring students education progress through computers and tests and requiring them to sit in one place for long periods of time, all to get students ready for a future where they going to be asked to work in conditions which are equally alienating and isolating.
Clearly most policy makers imagine a grim future for most of our school children and are trying to get them ready for that through creating a grim present
Think I am exaggerating?
Then ask yourself, where are the Congressional bills promoting recess, play, arts, sports and, school trips or encouraging schools to nurture mechanical skills.
Why are there are no programs giving incentives for teachers to spend a lifetime in the profession and live in the communities they teach in
The vision of education being project in the halls of Congress and our state legislatures is is joyless, painful and isolating
I don't know about you but that sounds an awful lot like child abuse..

"Something's Happening Here"- Understanding Divisions Among Whites About "Race" At Fordham and Elsewhere

One of the most gratifying things about the response to the latest racial incident at Fordham- which featured students shouting "White Power" and even more disturbing racial slurs for 20 straight minutes at a party- has been the incredible support given by so many Fordham students of every background to the "Zero Tolerance for Racism" campaign which my Affirmative Action Seminar started.
This support has crossed all racial lines, has mobilized athletes as much as student activists, and has reached students who consider themselves conservative or moderate as well as students on the left.
The students who were at that party may be shocked at how many white students were outraged by their words, but they shouldn't be. At Fordham, as in the rest of the nation, a growing number of white students are not only part of interracial teams and friendship circles, they are part of multiracial extended families- families like mine where there is a wide spectrum of racial identities. This makes racially targeted acts of vandalism or verbal abuse directed at marginalized people- whether Blacks, Latinos, Muslims or Jews- seem very personal to a lot of students who fall into none of those categories. The people being insulted or threatened by expressions of racialized hatred are not just abstractions, they could be your cousin, your niece, your aunt or uncle, your step brother or step sister. This element of deep identification with people of color and marginalized religious groups should not be underestimated as a force in campus social movements
What I see happening in the US is this. There is a sizable group of whites in the US whose families and social circles are still entirely white. It is in those networks that deep resentment of Blacks, immigrants, Muslims find their most powerful echo, and in the most extreme instances can surface in outbursts of rage, verbal and otherwise. But they are increasingly challenged by the growing group of whites whose family lives as well as work and school environments are multiracial, and who fund those outbursts threatening to people they love as well as morally reprehensible.
I see this dynamic playing out at Fordham with my own students and it actually makes me optimistic about where the University is heading, at least in the long run.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Terrifying Post On the Computerized Learning Future from a Teacher From a Southern State

I was recently at a training where the state superintendent of education .........., was speaking to the......... county teachers. She began her speech with trying to inspire and motivate us to prepare the students for the future they will be entering into.(last I checked the students I'm teaching create the future. There isn't a predetermined future we are streamlining students into) "There is a hotel completely run by robots," she said and "there will soon be driverless cars" she also told a "cute" little story about the time when operators were no longer needed in elevators because of inventions and technological advancements!!!!!! She then switched gears and began saying that it is of the utmost importance that we move in the direction of standards mastery education(computer based learning) instead of the regular grade progression we are implementing now. It was at that point that I walked to the front of the auditorium, raised my hand was called upon and asked June, "is what you are telling us is that we are preparing our students to enter into a future where there are no longer jobs for our students, there will no longer be a need for educators as well?" She gave me a political response stating something along the lines of if I stay for the remainder of her speech, that is not the case....I walked out. I now have a formal letter in my file for my behavior and was told I have lost my credibility as an educator for doing what I did. And my administrators told me that I would be upset if any of my students did what I did. Mind you, I teach social studies and constantly encourage my students to ask questions and debate. I'm an amazing teacher with amazing relationships with my students and I am the exact kind of teacher ............. wants to get rid of.

Computerized Learning ; A Great Strategy for Undermining Resistance in the "21st Century Labor Force"

As School Reformers unveil their new strategy for public education, which involves having children sitting in front of computer terminals all day, where their progress in various subjects can be monitored on line in daily assessments, I ask myself this question:
Is any elite private school in the country switching to this model?
The answer to this question, of course is no. Those schools continue to have small classes, much direct interaction between student and teachers, students and students, as well as a great many opportunities for group activities
Then I ask myself, why are students in public schools, most of whom are working class, middle class or poor, being forced fed individualized computer driven instruction with little opportunity for interaction and discussion, while wealthy students get the opposite?
 The answer seems clear;Our elites want a compliant, atomized labor force that has little experience with any form of discussion that might lead to resistance.
Lets be blunt, children brought up separated from one another in school, almost entirely free of opportunities to influence one another's opinions, or develop bonds with one another in the classroom, will find it very difficult to bond with their fellow workers, even when their work conditions are stressful and humiliating and their wages extremely low
And given their future prospects for employment in an economy in which 7 out of 10 new jobs will be at or above minimum wage- that makes sense as an education strategy-- FOR OTHER PEOPLES CHILDREN

Monday, November 16, 2015

What Sort of Places Should Our Universities Be?

Amidst all the campus protests that have taken place in the last three weeks, an important issue that is structural, as well as ideological, has to be addressed- what are the role of universities in a nation which is becoming more unequal, not only by race, but by class, and where wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top?
Are universities places which consolidate existing social hierarchies or reduce them? For students who come from communities where people feel beaten down, marginalized and trapped, the answer to these questions shape their ability to feel an integral part of the university community almost as much as the attitudes of fellow students and faculty. What happens outside university gates has a powerful influence on what occurs inside them. Even at places like Fordham, where the gates are quite high.
Let me state, for the record, that I am deeply suspicious of mandatory “Undoing Racism” training for faculty, students and administrators, as that substitutes a theraputic model of institutional transformation for the hard work of hiring more faculty of color and shifting around scholarship funds, and lowering tuition to bring more students of color and working class students to campus. It has also been my experience that such mandatory sessions do not convert or transform people who are not already predisposed to identify with marginalized populations and may actually make them more bitter and cynical.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Best Decision I Ever Made

In the late 80's, I made a momentous decision. I decided to return the advance on a book that was 3/5 finished- a book that might well have taken me from Fordham to Columbia or Princeton or Yale- and devote the next ten years of my life to coaching and running youth programs in my Brooklyn neighborhood. It is a decision that I have never regretted. Not only did I have a chance to see my own two children mature into top flight athletes who played their sports in college, I had an opportunity to spend long hours with young people who came from some of Brooklyn's most hard pressed neighborhoods as well as Park Slope, which was then a mixed income community. Those experiences had a profound impact on me as a teacher and a scholar as well as bringing me great joy and a feeling of accomplishment. It is the players I coached who gave me an intensive exposure to hip hop, often on car rides around Brooklyn and Queens and up and down the Eastern seaboard , while revealing its relevance to their lives and experience. It was in those car rides in the early and mid 90's that I first heard Wu Tang, DMX, Biggie and JZ; along with stories that placed their music in context. It is through the basketball program I ran on Saturdays in JHS 51 that I learned that even the toughest young men, people most other coaches feared, could be reached with the right combination of love, respect and discipline, along with an opportunity to take leadership.
I came away from this experience with a deep belief in the potential of the most marginalized young people in our society, along with a deep respect for the power of teachers and coaches to change the world for the better.
Everything I have done since that time, as a scholar and teacher and public citizen, rests on what I learned during a time when the young people of Brooklyn were my teachers as well as people I coached.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

School Reform, Charters and Gentrification; The Bronx Connection (with reference to Camden, Detroit, Buffalo and Newark)

Those in the Bronx who want to know what happens when the nation's most battered urban spaces get in the crosshairs of developers, investors and their kissing cousins, school reformers, have many places to choose from-Detroit, Camden, Newark, Buffalo are among the best examples
In all of those places, the public schools are one of the first institutions to come under assault. Using the rhetoric of "school failure" to go after institutions which stood virtually alone as community spaces in the face of disinvestment, abandonment and the crack epidemic, financiers and developers, along with local politicians, launch a campaign to close public schools and replace them with charter schools FROM WHICH THEY DIRECTLY benefit, through a 39 percent tax credit. In the process, they eliminate one of the few places where local residents can meet, and which has some tradition of democratic governance, with institutions that are privately managed to which the community has no access. Charterization is not just an attack on public education, it undermines poor communities capacity to resist undermocratic attacks on their communities. It clears the path to gentrification!

This is why Bronx activists should look very carefully at what is happening in education in their borough. 33 of 144 receivership schools in New York state are in the Bronx, many of them located in neighborhoods targeted by developers. All of these schools are in danger of being turned into charters if their test scores don't dramatically improve. Coincidently- though perhaps not- the Bronx Borough President just announced himself to be a strong supporter of charter schools and spoke at a big charter school rally organized by Eva Moskowitz of Success Academies.

The prospect of the South Bronx and West Bronx becoming majority charter school areas at a time when developers have an eye on those areas for major investments is truly frightening. It is why those fighting gentrification in the Bronx, and those fighting to preserve public education in the borough need to work together.

In both instances, the voice of community residents will be smothered in favor of powerful investors who benefit from what is promoted as reform and opportunity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Time for a 180 Degree Reversal on Education Policy

As economic conditions worsen for both the middle class and the poor many children are coming to school harboring extreme stress. They are fearful, tense, in the worst instances lacking sleep and nourishment, wondering if anyone can care for them
The LAST thing they need when they get to school is more pressure, and more stress.
We need to make schools places where they are nurtured, loved, supported and given confidence.
But to do that, we need to cut back radically on the testing, and hire teachers who have the right personality to nurture students and the freedom to respond to them individually.
Teacher temps fearful for their jobs- which is what current reforms are flooding our schools with- is exactly what we don't need.
If we are going to save this generation of children, the ENTIRE array of reforms which this administration and the last one have endorsed have to be discarded, to be replaced by child centered pedagogy and entirely new methods of identifying, recruiting, and supporting great teachers.
And we must cherish and empower those great teachers we still have.
It is time for a 180 Degree reversal on school policies
Get rid of Common Core
Drastically reduce testing
Stop closing schools on the basis of tests
Do everything possible to keep our best teachers
Find new teachers who love children and plan to stay in their jobs for life

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why It's Not Irrational to Fear Gentrification- Especially in the Bronx

Gentrification is nothing new. There have always been urban development initiatives which have displaced poor and working class people, sometimes associated with urban renewal, sometimes shaped by market forces

But what makes gentrification so toxic and dangerous today, not only locally but globally, is that the immense concentration of wealth in a small number of hands, coupled with declining incomes for working class and middle class people. This gives large developers unprecedented economic and political power. The wealth of a single developer can exceed the combined wealth of an entire neighborhood! This gives them the power, not only to buy off politicians, but to get local business leaders and non profit organizations to support their plans, even if such plans may in the long run, damage their standing.because they will displace so many of their long time clients and customers.

This is why I worry when big developers set their sights on the Bronx. These individuals have billions of dollars at their disposal to distribute in communities where many people and businesses require heroic efforts to stay afloat. They can sweep aside opposition with breakneck speed and put through plans whose consequences won't be apparent until long after they are implemented.

Residents and activists need to organize now to at the very least slow down if not stop development, insist that it occur without displacement, and get community benefits agreements which strengthen local businesses and organizations.

It would also be good if they persuaded politicians to respect THEIR voice as much as billionaire developers, but that would be an uphill battle, to say the least.

Monday, November 9, 2015

An Oral History Inteview with the Bronx African American History Project With Lessons for Today

Yesterday, we resumed interviewing for the Bronx African American History Project by bringing in Mario Sprouse, a musician, composer, arranger, educator and musical director who grew up on Ritter Place in the Bronx in the 1950's and 1960's on the same block where the great jazz singer Maxine Sullivan lived. The story he told left everyone in the room enraptured. The community Mario Sprouse described growing up on a block of homeowners in the South Bronx defied every stereotype people have of Bronx neighborhoods during that period. It was multiracial and multicultural, filled with energy and, optimism, and provided a mentoring experience to many young people that prepared them for successful and productive lives. For Mario Sprouse, that mentoring came from his block, where people like Maxine Sullivan and the person who ran the dance studio down the street took a personal interest in him; in schools, where he got support and encouragement from teachers, most of them white, some black; and in the church he attended, St Augustine Presbyterian Church, whose minister Rev Edlar Hawkins was a powerful figure in the neighborhood and someone who influence hundreds of neighborhood youth to pursue professional careers. At St Augustine, Mario Sprouse sang in the choir, learned to play the organ, attended the Church's summer camp and performed with his musical group when he became a teenager. He also drew inspiration as a budding intellectual, from the famous African American political and cultural figures who came to the Church, among them Duke Ellington, Rev Martin Luther King, and Yaphet Kotto
The story Mario Sprouse told us resembled the one told by civil rights leader and historian Vincent Harding. Both individuals benefited from mentoring they received in African American Churches and in Bronx schools, the first from Black ministers and Church elders, the second from a multiracial but largely white group of teachers..The combination prepared these two remarkable individuals for leadership in their chosen fields.
There is a lesson here for those who chose to apply it, Strong communities and strong schools are BOTH needed for young people to flourish.

Friday, November 6, 2015

How Do I Explain "Gentrification?"

Imagine you and your family have been living in a neighborhood for decades. It's not perfect but its home. You have neighbors who are also friends. Stores that you feel comfortable in; Inexpensive restaurants that serve your favorite ethnic foods There is crime, but not as much as 20 years ago when you and your neighbors push the drug gangs out , get more police patroling during daylight hours and get the abandoned buildings knocked down and replaced with affordable housing.

Now after all that work you put into make the neighborhood safer and more livable, everything starts to change before your eyes. New people start moving in who never look at you when they pass you or when they do, look at you with pity and contempt, New buildings start going up, on the few remaining vacant lots, that none of your longtime neighbors can afford. Rents start creeping up, and then skyrocketing not only in apartments but in the commercial districts. Soon, the stores you have shopped in for years start closing, replaced by establishments which sell products you don't want at prices you can't afford.

And then the exodus begins. Friends and neighbors moving, not only out of the neighborhood, but out of the city, because it has become impossible for them to afford. After five years, you look around and you are a stranger where you once felt at home. None of the people who worked to bring back the neighborhood from crime and violence and disinvestment are still there

And the new people on your block look at you as if YOU represent crime and violence and danger, and the local police follow suit.

This is what has happened in city after city, neighborhood after neighborhood, from Fillmore in San Francisco to Harlem in NYC

It is the price of uncontrolled development in a nation where working class incomes are stagnant, the middle class is shrinking, and trickle down economics rules.

It has led to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people displaced from neighborhoods they have thought of as home, with more refugees being created every year

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Enemies Eva Moskowitz Has Made

Eva Moskowitz may be popular with Hedge Fund Managers, famous singers some politicians, and to be fair, many parents in her schools, but she is a lot less popular with
1. Parents, Teachers and Students in schools who are Co-Loated with Success Academy schools who have been insulted, ostracized deprived of classrooms, libraries and gymnasium space and treated like carriers of a dread disease that might "infect" Success Academy "scholars" and teachers. By now, these people number in the tens of thousands!
2. Parents whose children have been pushed out of Success Academy schools because they are considered behavioral problems who might undermine school discipline or lower test scores. This group now numbers in the hundreds.
3. Teachers who left Success Academies because they couldn't stand the authoritarian treatment, long hours, and lack of union protection. This group also now numbers in the hundreds.
Finally, and this is something few will talk about, there are Charter School founders, principals and teachers who abhor the authoritarian methods and relentless self promotion Eva employs and feel they give the entire Charter School Movement a bad name.
When you add up all these groups, you will see why Eva could NEVER be elected Mayor of New York City, and why so few people are defending her in the wake of revelations of abusive practices at her schools