Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Corporate Coup Destroying Our Schools Has Finally Come For Our Government by Steven Singer

First they came for people of color and I said nothing.
Because I am not a person of color.

Then they came for the poor and I said nothing.
For I am not poor.

Then they came for our public schools and I said nothing.
Because I do not send my children to public schools.

Now they’ve come for our government and who is left to speak for me?

This is a paraphrase of Martin Niemöller’s famous lines about the cowardice of German intellectuals during Hitler’s rise to power.

The fascists purged group after group while those who could have stood against them did nothing – until it was too late.

That’s very nearly the position we find ourselves in today in relation to the Trump administration.

The neoliberal and neofascist façade has fallen away. And the naked greed of our runaway capitalist system has been exposed for what it is.

Just this week, Trump unveiled a new government office with sweeping authority to overhaul federal bureaucracy on the business model.

Led by the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, The White House Office of American Innovation will be an autonomous entity enforcing the president’s will. Described as an internal “SWAT team” of strategic consultants, and staffed with former business executives, the office will cut down democratic rule in favor of top-down authoritarianism.

And the excuse is the same one used to deny equity for minorities, the same one used to dismantle protections for the poor and the same one used to unfairly label and close our public schools – we need to run government like a business.

The goal of a business is profit for the few. The goal of government is service to the many.

In a private business only the owner or the board of directors reaps the benefits. But our government is not supposed to be set up that way. It’s not supposed to benefit merely all the president’s men. It’s supposed to benefit all of us – the citizens, the taxpayers, the voters.

We have shifted our concern away from students and parents to investors and corporations. For almost two decades, our education policies have increasingly been to reduce local control – especially at schools serving the poor and minorities – and give that control to private charter school operators. We have removed the duly-elected school boards and replaced them with appointed boards of directors. We have removed or diminished democratic rule and replaced it with an autocracy. And all the while the middle class has cheered.

It was a coup in plain site, and no one but parents, students, teachers and intellectuals spoke up.

Our voices were undercut or ignored. When we demanded equal treatment for our children, we were labeled welfare queens wanting something for nothing. When we demanded fair treatment, a safe work environment and resources for our students, we were labeled union thugs standing in the way of progress. At every turn we were tone policed into silence and passed over for the voices of self-proclaimed experts who knew nothing but what they were paid to espouse.

We were told that the only measure of academic success was a standardized test score. But no mention of the white, middle class standard our non-white, impoverished students were being held to.

When our schools were increasingly segregated by race, class and income, we were told that it was only fair. After all, it was based on choice – the choice of the invisible hand of the free market. When our schools were starved of resources, we were told to do more with less. And when our students struggled to survive malnutrition, increased violence and the indentured servitude of their parents to an economic system that barely allowed them to sustain themselves, we blamed them. And their teachers, because how dare anyone actually try to help these untouchables!

We allowed this – all of it – perpetrated by Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals, because they’re all really just different dogs to the same masters.

We justified it all in the name of the market, in the name of economics, in the name of business. Why should we care? It rarely affected us directly.

White, middle class folks could get by. It wasn’t OUR schools being given away to private equity firms. It wasn’t OUR children being educated by temporary employees on the model of the peace corps with little training and no experience.

Those were just someone else’s children. We weren’t even sure they were human. They certainly didn’t share the same portion of humanity as we did. They were unwashed and unfed. Even if you washed them, many of them would still have brown skin. We were happy to have them as an underclass, as a cushion to stop us from falling further down the social ladder.

Our kids went to either well resourced public schools with fully elected school boards and shiny new facilities or else we sent our children to pristine private schools that offered the best of everything for a price.

But now the chickens have come home to roost.

Because this same model is being applied to our government.

Now it is us who will lose our voices. It will be our services that are stripped away as an unnecessary cost savings. We will lose our healthcare. We will lose our environment. It will be our democracy suspended to make way for the more efficient means of government – fascism and autocracy.

Who has time to listen to the people? Much easier to just decide what should be done. And we can justify it with our business model. No more voters and representatives. Now we will be businessmen and consumers. Nothing will stand in the way of the corporate class enriching themselves at public expense. They will be merely providing the rest of us with the goods and services of government, the bits that trickle down on our heads like rain or urine.

That is what Trump is attempting. He is turning the United States into a banana republic – even installing his relatives and children in top leadership positions. Our government now resembles the corridors of power in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein with henchmen Uday and Qusay in tow.

The question is this: will we allow it?

Will we continue to allow it?

Will we stand for it as the administration installs Trump loyalty officers in every federal office?

Will we say nothing as nepotism and greed become the most prized attributes of governance?

Will we remain silent as our public schools continue to be raided, sacked and burned?

Because the answer to those questions is the answer to so much more.

Are we on the cusp of revolution or is history merely repeating itself?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Case Against Crayons by Catherine Malley

Crayons are illegal today; Classroom contraband, reeking of play.

My box of new September crayons: Flawless, sharp tipped, begging to escape their yellow and green striped Crayola box. Each color was perfectly placed in the spectrum: red, maroon, scarlet, brick red and my favorite, magenta. Magenta fell somewhere in the purples, but it was rarely returned to its identified space. At seven, I revered the fuchsia hue, utilizing it at every opportunity to color lips, tulips, and princess gowns.

Now my second grade students’ crayons maintain their sleek points most of the year. They are rarely used for any length of time. Crayons are illegal, especially when they are gloriously scattered under a desk just as the principal walks in to observe my classroom at reading time. I watch two pony tailed girls, one mahogany, one peach, scramble to take exquisite measures to lovingly return errant colors to the box. They roll the crayons in their palms, check for broken tips, set them in rainbow hues. ROYGBIV, a mantra for the order of color. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet – the progression as sacrosanct as the words of a prayer.

The careful placement of each color in the Crayola box takes too much time, is too engaging, enables the students to avoid decoding and reading comprehension. As the principal typed comments on his IPad, I knew the act of crayon spilling would have consequences.

Coloring rainbows makes little sense; When standards based tests demand recompense.

Daisies, sunflowers and a soft gray cat with a celestial blue collar. Panda bears and butterflies. My students can barely contain their excitement when given rare opportunities for free time – crayons, scissors and folded paper are exponentially exciting. Soon enough, we will be back to searching for the main idea in a story, identifying the problem and solution and making inferences.

For those lessons, hands are kept still and quiet on top of their desks.

Instead, small child, put that crayon box away; You won’t need sixty-four colors, just the color gray. “Testing one, two, three” is the only goal; All colors but gray will be leached from your soul.

There were six of us, growing up, and the deluxe box of sixty-four crayons was a treat. When they were brand new, sometimes my sisters and I inexplicably spent time dropping colors like burnt sienna and royal purple through the heating vents in the floor. Later, I would peer through the silver grill to see the preserved crayons - inert, untouched. A mystery – what drawings of oak trees, kangaroos and king’s robes would never exist because these colors were abandoned?
What pictures using forest green, sea green and mountain meadow green lie dormant in my students’ imaginations? 

One child expresses his frustration by breaking crayons. Shards of red-orange and medium violet spray like flecks of mosaic glass around his chair. He strips off the paper, erases the identity of lavender or turquoise, leaves naked stubs piled like wax corpses in the recesses of his desk. It’s the only way he can access his crayons on a daily basis. By systematically destroying them, he protests the dearth of creativity in my classroom. The curriculum dictates that I pass out piles of Xeroxed papers, littered with hulls of multiple choice questions, assigned in preparation for standardized tests.

Pencils only please – graphite, the color of lead, is the single acceptable writing tool.

Metrics can’t be assigned to bright yellow suns; Smiles can’t be measured, so crayons are shunned.

I sit in the principal’s office for my observation conference. He brings up the crayon incident. What were those children doing anyway? It’s because of your lack of classroom management skills that students waste time in your class and have no accountability for their learning. I think back, remember the day it happened, remember watching in horror as sixty-four crayons tumbled to the floor. Knowing the students would not get back on task quickly because for a brief moment, pleasure had escaped. The reverential act of collecting crayons was much more compelling for them than reciting sounds of long and short vowels at reading time.
Small fingers, touching color, holding imagination in their fists. Dropping crayons, a last revolutionary act of childhood, a fervent cry for freedom.

There’s no grade for a child on the blue of their sky, no percentage for joy in an orange butterfly.
At the end of the conference, my teaching is marked as Ineffective.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Independent Democratic Conference Denies Promised Funding to NY’s Poorest Schools by Jake Jacobs

video interview released last month by Nomiki Konst of The Young Turks has raised the profile of the controversial eight member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of NY legislators who have entered a “strategic” power sharing coalition with Republicans in a closely divided State Senate.
The IDC is actually receiving money from the very wealthy through pro-charter PACs to deny long-owed school funding to the poorest districts in NY. The good news is there is still time to come through for NY schools, but the final budget vote is less than two weeks away.
The IDC has been a sore issue for New York Democrats who outnumber Republicans two to one. In the age of Trump, however, the IDC has seen a sharp rise in the number of grassroots groups coalescing to pressure rogue IDC senators to help mainline Democrats regain the majority as issues like campaign finance, taxation, healthcare and education funding hang in the balance.
Teacher and parent groups were keen to learn from the TYT video that IDC members take funding from the same charter school backers that fund Republicans and were concerned that the IDC is helping Trump and Betsy DeVos increase privatization of NY’s public schools.
In the NYC suburb of Rockland County, founding IDC member David Carlucci learned a local resistance group was forming and attended a meeting to explain his IDC membership. I went to the meeting and asked Senator Carlucci if he supports charter schools and if he takes money from charter school backers:
As the video shows, Senator Carlucci was in no rush to get on the record for or against charter schools. He instead offered “public schools [are] my top priority”, but would not disclose whether or not he opposes charter schools, even as the approaching NY state budget vote will include a measure to increase the number of charter schools in nearby NYC. Other IDC members are on the record in support of charter schools.
Senator Carlucci was also in no rush to talk about charter school funding, but when pressed, explained that pro-charter PACs fund both sides, including IDC members. He initially said he didn’t know if he took charter money, but eventually conceded that he probably did, and also lumped charter school supporters in with voucher supporters.
I soon after learned that Senator Carlucci received $7,000 from the pro-charter PAC Democrats for Education Reform on the eve of the last election, but that DFER and other Wall Street-backed charter PACs had been flooding IDC coffers with hundreds of thousands more, including gifts from frequent Republican donors, Walton family heirs and money moved through “housekeeping” accounts.
As the various PACs intersect and overlap, we see PACs like New Yorkers for Putting Students First shares staff with StudentsFirst of Michelle Rhee fame, while others like DFER include “Democrats” in their name to deflect just how tied to Republicans they actually are.
I followed up with Senator Carlucci who clarified some of his positions, for example saying he now opposes vouchers, but did not offer clear-cut opinions either for or against standardized testing or Common Core.
But the biggest education issue bearing down on Albany at the moment is the Foundation Aid funding battle, where Republicans want to greatly shortchange impoverished schools while traditional Democrats are seeking full funding of a court-ordered settlement allocating over $4 billion to districts based on poverty.
Senator Carlucci and the “Independent” Democrats first agreed to full funding, but balked when just such an amendment was introduced for a vote. Instead, they endorsed the meager Republican plan which offers $1.2 billion but changes funding formulas and in so doing, nullifies the original settlement, wiping billions owed off the books.
Commenting on an Assembly proposal for a $1.8 billion dollar increase with full funding within three years, Senator Carlucci said they were “at a really good number” but because they were getting there by raising taxes on millionaires, he said “I just don’t think it’s realistic right now that that’s going to happen”.
Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Joy of Opting Out of Standardized Testing by Stephen Singer

Originally posted at: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/the-joy-of-opting-out-of-standardized-testing/
Testing season is a gray period in my classroom.

But it’s a joy in my house.

As a classroom teacher with a daughter in the public school system, I’m always struck by the difference.

So at home, I get to see all the imaginative projects she’s created in her class while the other kids had to trudge away at the exam.

“Daddy, daddy, look!” she squeals.

And I’m bombarded by an entire Picasso blue period.

Or “Daddy, will you staple these?”

And I’m besieged by a series of her creative writing.

My daughter is only in second grade and she loves standardized test time.

It’s when she gets to engage in whatever self-directed study strikes her fancy.

Back in kindergarten I missed the boat.

But when I found out she had taken the GRADE Test, a Pearson assessment not mandated by the state but required by my home district in order the receive state grant funding, I hit the roof.

I know the GRADE test. I’m forced to give a version of it to my own 8th grade students at a nearby district where I work. It stinks.

Ask any classroom teacher and they’ll tell you how useless it is. Giving it is at best a waste of class time. At worst it demoralizes children and teaches them that the right answer is arbitrary – like trying to guess what the teacher is thinking.

Then I found out my daughter was also taking the DIBELS, a test where she reads a passage aloud and is given a score based on how quickly she reads without regard to its meaning. In fact, some of the passages test takers are forced to read are pure nonsense. It’s all about how readers pronounce words and whether they persevere through the passage. It’s not so much about reading. It’s about grit.

No. My precious little one won’t be doing that.

I talked candidly to her kindergarten teacher about it. I trust her judgment, so I wanted to know what she thought. And she agreed that these tests were far from necessary. So I set up a meeting with the principal.

The meeting lasted about an hour. Sure, it was a little scary. No one wants to rock the boat. But even he agreed with most of what I had to say. He didn’t feel as strongly about it as I did, but he respected my wishes and that was that.

For me, it was a political statement as well as a parental one. I wanted to do my part to chip away at the corporate school reform movement. I know how much they rely on these test scores to justify closing poor schools like mine. I don’t want to give them a chance.

But little did I know what bliss I would be providing for my little one.

Beyond politics, I thought I was just protecting her from a prolonged period of boredom, unfair assessments and cognitively invalid measurements.

I wanted to shield her from adult woes. What I didn’t realize was I was opening a door for her creativity.

She loves creating these illustrated books telling the wildest narratives: Colorful superheroes blast bad guys into oblivion. Game show hosts get lost in other dimensions. Even her Mommy and Daddy get in on the action riding Yoshi through Super Mario land.

Often she adds text to these adventures. Her spelling could use some work, but I’m impressed that an 8-year-old even attempts some of these words. Sometimes she writes more in her adventure books than my 8th graders do on their assigned homework.

I’ve even noticed a marked improvement in her abilities during this time. Her handwriting, sentence construction, word choice and spelling have taken a leap to the next level. While her classmates are wasting time on the assessments, she’s actually learning something!

I wish I could provide the same opportunities for my students that I have for my daughter.

It’s strange.

Don’t teachers stand in loco parentis? Well this is loco, so let me parent this. Let me at least talk to their parents about it – but if I do that on school time, in my professional capacity, I’m liable to be reprimanded.

I have studied standardized testing. It was part of my training to become a teacher. And the evidence is in. The academic world knows all this stuff is bunk, but the huge corporations that profit off of these tests and the associated test-prep material have silenced them.

I have a masters in my field. I’m a nationally board certified teacher. I have more than a decade of successful experience in the classroom. But I am not trusted enough to decide whether my students should take these tests.

It’s not like we’re even asking the parents. We start from the assumption that children will take the tests, but if the parents complain about it, we’ll give in to their wishes.

It’s insanity.

We should start from the assumption the kids won’t take the test. If parents want their kids to be cogs in the corporate machine, they should have to opt IN.

As a teacher, I can try to inform my students’ parents about all this, but at my own peril. If the administration found me talking about this with parents, I could be subject to a reprimand. Giving my honest educational opinion could result in me losing my job.

As you can see, it hasn’t stopped me. But I teach in a high poverty, mostly minority district. My kids’ parents often don’t have the time to come up to the school or even return phone calls. They’re working two or three jobs. They’re struggling just to put food on the table. They don’t have time for standardized tests!

So every test season I sadly watch my students trudge away at their federally mandated bubbles. I see their anxiety, their frustration, their sad, sad faces.

And it breaks my heart.

But then I come home to my daughter’s exuberant creations!

You would not believe the joy of opting out!

A Teacher's Response to Booking.com's Anti-Teacher Commercial by Alana Milich

I know this is minor compared with what's going on in the DOE, but it irritated me enough to write to Booking.com about their commercial.

Here is the text of my email:

After watching your ad in which a kindergarten teacher is letting her class run wild with no supervision while she contemplates her vacation choices, I am moved to do something I've never done before- write a company to complain of the image they are portraying of my profession. As a 15 year veteran teacher, I can assure you that my stress does NOT come from the students in my classroom. My stress comes from endless meetings forcing me to enact tactics that do not help my students learn and achieve; my stress comes from not getting a cost of living raise in 10 years; my stress comes from national figures who know nothing of public education working to destabilize our system in favor of private, religious, and for-profit charter schools that are free to discriminate against differently-abled children with no penalties.

Isn't there enough teacher bashing without you adding to the myth of the inattentive, non-caring, child-hating teacher?

If you want to show a teacher needing a vacation, how about showing one burnt out on caring too much? Giving of her own time and money to her kids while an uncaring administration makes ridiculous demands on her? That would be relatable and not turn off the 3.1 million public school teachers in the US.

Thank you,
Alana Milich

Update - Here is the reply from Bookings.com:

Dear Dr. Alana Milich

Thanks for your feedback.

We’ll be sure to pass it on to those relevant. At [link removed] we value all professions, including teachers, and this ad was only intended as a light-hearted bit of fun. We are passionate about connecting our customers with great stays, empowering them to experience the world in the easiest, most seamless ways possible, which this advert aimed to convey.
Kind regards,
Kyrillos Saeid
Customer Service Team

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Emotional Teacher Moment of the Day by Sandra Valentine

Remember your worth. This sweet child reminded me of mine on one of the toughest years I've had in my personal life.

**Emotional Teacher Moment of the Day**

With state testing the first week of April, it really is crunch time. I thought about putting our daily journals to the side until after the test, but today I fell in love with them more.

Like any other class across America, my classroom is very diverse. I have gifted, on grade level, and I also have a handful who are well below 3rd grade.

For those students, these next two weeks will have added pressure and frustration as I hammer through yet another test taking strategy or do a quick review over a concept they are still struggling with from August.

Yesterday, however, I saw a fresh faced student really having a great time writing about the adventures over Spring Break. This child is not on level, but that doesn't matter when it comes to journals.

When I called her over today so we could talk about her journal, her eyes lit up.

As I opened her journal to her last entry, my heart grew and tears formed. Not only did she have a complete sentence, but she had written an entire paragraph. It wasn't "up to 3rd grade standards" whatever that means to the State of Oklahoma, but it was her own personal work that she was very proud of.

I listened with great excitement as she read me her story and talked me through the pictures she had drawn to accompany her entry. I flipped to the very front of her journal after she was done and I showed her the tremendous growth she had just presented to me. Her first entry was just a picture. Her 3rd entry had its first word. Today, she showed me the first paragraph.

She told me how she tried her hardest to sound out words and the letters to the sounds she didn't know for sure, she tried her best on. I told her how extremely proud of her I was and she replied,

"You teach good to me."

I said, "Oh, you think I teach the class well? Thank you."
She said, "I don't know about everyone else, but you teach good to me. I understand you. You teach me. You teach good to me."

I asked her about her feelings on the state test and she said she was really worried about the reading part since she can't read, but was excited to show off her Math skills. She said she was ready to show the State of Oklahoma all she had learned this year.

The sad truth is that this child may not pass the state test.
But you know what? This teacher couldn't be more proud of her. This teacher couldn't be more proud of her today. In fact, when this school year is over, she will probably be the child I miss "teaching" the most.

I wish I could show the world her gains this school year. I wish I could show the world her creativity, her personal best, her friendly face and forgiving heart. I wish I could show the world how intelligent she is despite what a state test may or may not say.

The real beauty is that I won't have to because she will show the world how amazingly talented she is, how beautiful her voice is, and how artfully skilled she is with a pencil and that, State of Oklahoma, will be way more than the numbered score, or label, you would have given her.