Hey, You Have Been Teaching 3 ½ Hours, Why Not Open Up Your Own School?
By Dr. Michael Flanagan, member of the BAT Leadership Team
The Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, Carmen Farina, and
Mayor Bill de Blasio have recently instituted a reform policy of merging
small schools that are struggling with other schools in an effort to
promote success. The small schools in question are usually located in
buildings known as “educational campuses.” These campuses used to be
large comprehensive high schools and middle schools, but since 2002 have
been sub-divided. For example, Taft High School is now called the
William H. Taft Educational Campus. Roosevelt High School is now the
Theodore Roosevelt Educational Campus. Each campus houses five or six
small schools. The goal of these new mergers is to give “failing” small
schools a chance to “turn around” prior to being taken over by the state
and handed over to "receiverships". Placing schools into receiverships
is the result of Governor Cuomo’s new education law pushed through with
our state budget in 2015. Schools labeled as failing had to show fast
improvements or be placed into receivership, and most likely be taken
over by charter school operators. Before falling into receivership, the
schools were awarded turnaround funding ($154 million for 94 schools)
and allowed to modify teachers’ working conditions to provide longer
days, extra tutoring and other benefits to students. Even with the extra
funding many schools were not able to demonstrate enough rapid
improvement. So now the Mayor’s new position is that smaller schools
lack support services and would benefit from combining together. Not as
well-publicized is that many of these small schools will be merging with
charter schools. Yes, that sound you heard was the other shoe dropping.
Now, I enjoy when policy makers mandate sweeping changes as
much as the next guy; to heck with the impact on children and
communities. However, the idea of creating larger schools as a means for
improvement just plain cracks me up. I am sure all of the teachers who
were excessed or forced into early retirement during the small schools
initiative of our previous Mayor, Billionaire reformer Michael
Bloomberg, are laughing as well. You see, their careers were destroyed
because of this now obviously failed experiment. During Emperor
Bloomberg’s 12-year reign (2001 – 2014), one of his earliest education
reform tactics was to break up large public schools and create hundreds a
“mini-schools”. The political rhetoric used at the time was that large
schools were failing and that smaller schools would be more
accommodating to a child’s needs. Vilification of teachers unions,
blaming veteran teachers for the failures, and eliminating seniority
protections were tactics used to justify the dismantling of the larger
schools. Teachers who argued that the reason for poor academic
performance was the high poverty rate in the communities were not only
figuratively, but literally, dismissed. Students just needed to be fed
their daily bowl of grit and rigor in a small school setting to succeed.
Bloomberg’s push to shut down large schools fit right into the
education reform plans of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s New
Visions grant program. New Visions provided $150 million dollars to fund
the NYC small schools initiative. It is always fun when a couple of
billionaires decide what is best for our children. Gates eventually
invested $2 billion in this plan nationwide before abandoning it. The
New Vision grants allowed for the purchase of upgraded technology,
desks, materials and staff development. With all of that money on the
table, the media and the politicians could not wait to swing the
proverbial wrecking ball into our most underprivileged and vulnerable
Every wannabe principal with two or three years
experience was writing proposals to secure some of that Gates grant
money and open a new school. To obtain the money, these new schools had
to have a theme and a cute name, like: New Explorers High School, The
Urban Academy for Careers in Sports, The Knowledge and Power Academy
International High School, The West Bronx Academy for the Future, etc,
etc. If you could fill out an application and submit a proposal, most of
the time you got yourself a school. These New Vision proposals did
require you to partner with an outside organization. That organization
would co-sponsor the new schools, and also share control of the grant
money. Honestly, I am not sure if any of these proposals were ever
turned down. The new schools also led to a large number of 26 year-old
“instaprincipals” popping up out of nowhere. Few had even taught for
more than two years.
Once the proposals for the new schools were
accepted, the yard sale was on! Existing schools became wholesale
markets where these new principals and outside sponsors could
cherry-pick the incoming students to fill their rosters. They were not
mandated to accept students with special needs in the same proportion as
the existing schools. In order to close down the larger schools, the
Department of Education would first conduct a dog and pony show to
pretend they were investigating whether or not the school was failing
and needed to be closed. We, the staff in the targeted school would fall
all over ourselves to show our best work, the love and dedication we
had for the school, and to discuss the frustrations and disappointment
we had with a system that sets up students to fail. Endless cadres of
suits would fill our classrooms and observe the hard work we were doing
in the most difficult situations. Then they would submit reports that
had already been written before they ever set foot in our building.
Next, they would begin to carve up the school like a turkey on
Thanksgiving, taking the choicest pieces for themselves. You would be
teaching your class and these DOE guys would walk in with blueprints and
survey equipment to set up the school du jour. They would take the best
classrooms and monopolize the common facilities like cafeterias and
gyms. We in the closing schools were left with the closets and the old
bathrooms to teach in. The new principals demanded separate entrances,
and our students were told to not even walk through the halls where the
new schools were located. Rules were put into place so that each school
could treat their students as special, compared to the closeout school’s
students. Meanwhile, the small schools had little discipline and their
students basically had carte blanche to run the building. See, 26 year
old principals might be chock full of energy and enthusiasm, but they
don’t know a damn thing about earning the respect of students and
maintaining discipline. That is a fact.
In order to disregard the
UFT contract, the “blame the teacher” rhetoric was ratcheted up. The
edict was that when the large schools were being phased out, 50% of the
existing staff had to leave. This is where the anti-union narrative came
into play. To destroy these schools they would have to grease some
pockets and change a few rules. Inevitably, the teachers removed were
the most experienced teachers who had the highest salaries. When
Bloomberg assumed mayoral control of the schools, one strategy used was
to give principals autonomy of their school budgets. Before mayoral
control school budgets were de-centralized, if a school needed a new
teacher, one was assigned by the Board of Education. Now, principals
were looking for the cheapest human capital. The only problem was the
pesky collective bargaining agreements that protected teachers’ rights.
So, those contracted rights had to be violated. Experienced educators
with many years of service were too expensive. They also knew their
rights. Those teachers were either excessed, forced into something
called the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, or retired. This end run around
of seniority protections was then ratified into our UFT contract when
teachers were thrown a bone of a raise after years of wage freezes.
ATR teachers became second-class citizens with fewer rights and
protections than other teachers. Of course, in order to destroy the
public schools, a corrupt bargain had to be made with union leadership
to give away our hard fought rights, and so it was. Countless teachers
were pushed out of their careers, only to be replaced by the six-week
Teach For America warriors who took a crash course in teaching theory
and came in to “save the schools.” Then fled in droves.
…Or became 26 year-old principals.
The experience of senior teachers was not respected. The propaganda
taught to TFA recruits was that older teachers were the reason the
schools were failing. The recruits arrived in these new schools with an
unmatched level of arrogance and ignorance. I will admit that it was
satisfying watching these TFA’ers get eaten alive when they tried to
teach their classes without the benefit of discipline and experience.
Except for the damage being done to the children in the classrooms, of
course, it was actually kind of enjoyable watching them cry and quit in
Gates abandoned the small school movement to focus on
Common Core and high stakes testing as his next attempt to privatize
schools. But this was not before an entire generation of students was
damaged, and the careers and reputations of countless teachers and staff
were destroyed. Creating smaller schools with new names and fancy desks
doesn’t solve the main problem, poverty. These smaller schools “failed”
with the same frequency as the larger schools did. Except now our
already-limited school budgets are being siphoned off by management
companies, tech suppliers, and outside vendors. These vulture
philanthropists take the money and run leaving the discarded carcasses
of the community schools that had been the foundation of our
neighborhoods. It was like the slaughter of the bison on the Great
Plains in order to starve out the native peoples and steal their lands.
They left our schools rotting and bloated on the streets of the city,
while they counted their money and worked towards the new methods of
public school genocide; charter schools, vouchers, Common Core,
anti-tenure lawsuits, etc. etc.
So, yeah, when I see these brand
new administrators come in to scout out locations for school mergers I
am, what you might call, suspect. As teachers they were just crying in
their classrooms like yesterday. By reformer logic they must be
qualified to be an administrator. “Hey, you have been teaching 3 ½
hours, why not open up your own school”? What could go wrong? The more
things change, the more things remain the same.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
BATs - Stand up for our Undocumented Children
In schools and classrooms around the nation we teach amazing children who live in fear. They are our undocumented children and their families. Like the teachers in North Carolina we must join the fight to be the voices for the voiceless and demand that our undocumented children and their families be treated with respect and honor NOT like criminals. http://prospect.org/article/north-carolina-educators-fight-deportations-central-american-students-1
Many flee violence in their countries http://clclt.com/charlotte/youths-found-at-the-border-fleeing-violence-are-now-being-returned-to-the-flames/Content?oid=3729861 ,
Many are brought here by extended family at a young age. Listen to award winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmz9cCF0KNE
Time to raise our teacher voices! Here is how you can support undocumented youth and their families - please read this carefully for information and tips on how you can support our children. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8TC8l2jpdQ3MzdncWdZQURJRTQ/view
Take to twitter this week - here are tweets for each day that we fight for our children and their families who remain afraid and voiceless https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RIoq32ChyCx6p2hcld8oKT2Su1ivkwg_aYltFqcD3WQ/edit?usp=sharing
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Another Brick From the Wall: When Education Reformers Fail
By Dr. Michael Flanagan, Co-Director BATs Action Team
I will be honest; I really enjoy stories where corrupt and greedy education reformers just epically fail. Now granted for the past ten years or so reformers have been cashing in big time on the backs of school children and their teachers. Continually racking up public tax dollars in one way or another. Money for charter schools. Money for Teach For America. Money for Pearson etc. etc.
These reformers have been successfully embezzling public school funding, attacking teacher rights, and disregarding collective bargaining agreements all while generating huge profits for test companies and vulture capitalists. As this has been happening countless numbers of parents, teachers, activists and students have organized to push back against the billionaires and their political shills through grassroots efforts, often to no avail. Our protests are met by reformer stonewalling.
The seemingly insurmountable money and power behind these education reformers brings to mind Pink Floyd’s: The Wall. Teachers and parents have faced the brick wall of Common Core, vouchers, charter schools, anti union lawsuits and high stakes testing from the likes of the Fordham Institute, the Broad Foundation, The Walton’s, the Koch’s, David Welch, Bill Gates, the mainstream media, governors, the Department of Education and the President of the United States.
However, lately I am seeing more “Karma” like stories. There are more articles like; Pearson's stock is dropping, or Pearson’s New York State contract is canceled. Common Core has been voted out in several states and Teach For America is laying off employees. A school board in San Francisco actually voted TFA out. I have especially enjoyed watching charter schools like Success Academy and Gulen Charters facing criticism, while some Ohio charter operators have actually been indicted. I applaud how hundreds of thousands of parents opted out of state tests in New York (myself included) while Friedrichs v. California and Vergara v. California both fail spectacularly. Just this past week Sheri Lederman won her case against value added measures of teacher evaluation. Stories like these create hope that the tide may actually be turning, and we BATs are loving it.
I don’t know about you, but I think more people in the education activist movement should be able to celebrate and even take credit for some of these epic reformer fails. Because every time I read a Humpty Dumpty like story of a terrible Ed reform policy that bit the dust I think the same thing: Another brick from the wall! Each time one of these pirates is shown the door it is one more opening to bring back control of our public schools to the community, not the corporations. Schools for children, not for profit. The voice of the people not crooked politicians.
So it is at this point in our story that we at the Badass Teachers Association are asking those who read this blog, to share some of your favorite Ed Reformer Fails. Every brick that falls out of that corrupted wall is another chance to make public education the people’s again. BATs wants to hear from you! Please write and post or tweet your favorite “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” reformer story to the Badass Teachers Association Facebook Group, twitter @BadassTeachersA or in the comment section of this blog piece. Use the hashtag #AnotherBrickFromtheWALL
Sunday, May 15, 2016
An Important Election for New Jersey
By: Anonymous NJ BAT
On June 7, 2016, polls will be open from 6:00am - 8:00pm for Primary elections in New Jersey. There is a great deal at stake during these upcoming elections. The candidates that make it onto the ballot for November can shape the future of education in our state and country. It is important that voters are informed when they go to the polls on June 7th, and even more important that you take the time to VOTE.
Pennsauken is located in District 1 within New Jersey. In an effort to become informed about those that will be on the ballot on June 7th, I reached out to the Democratic Congressional candidates to get more information. My experience was eye opening.
I used one of my favorite social media outlets (Facebook) to reach out to both candidates: incumbent Donald Norcross and his opponent Alex Law. I asked each if they would like to tell me and the members of PEA a bit about themselves. Was there anything that they would like us to know when going to the polls in June? Both replied to the private messages I sent, rather quickly. My response from Mr. Norcross was as follows: “Hello. Kindly check out this link. It’s from the National Education Association’s Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress, in which they provided me a score of ‘A.’ http://nea.org/home/65595.htm”
I must admit, that this was not the kind of response I was looking for. I can google and search for information on NEA’s website myself. As a constituent, I want more.
Alex Law replied with an offer to meet in person, or talk on the phone. As I am quite busy during the week, he agreed to meet me at his office on a Sunday morning so that we could talk. I was floored. When meeting with Alex Law I was able to ask him whatever I wanted and he responded candidly. He spoke to issues that were very personal for me as an educator and spoke of his father who is a teacher as well. He also provided me with his official stance on Education Reform (This can be found on PEA’s website for reference). Our conversation became most interesting when speaking of charter schools. Alex spoke passionately about keeping funding in public schools. He is in favor of stopping the funneling of public money to charter schools, who he said, “Send all of the low achieving students back to public schools to keep their graduation rates and scores high” As we are facing the possibility of a charter school opening in Pennsauken, this is an important issue that has been on my mind.
On the issue of merit pay, Alex stated that it could never work, because no two classrooms are the same and then went on to share a quick personal example, of his favorite teacher from high school and how this teacher taught a range of classes, sometimes higher level and sometimes struggling students. It would be unfair to assess him and pay him differently because he chose or was assigned to work with struggling students. In his position statement, Alex writes:
“It’s been particularly frustrating to see conservatives increasingly treating teachers like a salesmen in a business, attempting to tie their pay to the performance of their students - a totally unfair and unrealistic strategy - while ignoring the failure of the American education system at large and refusing to look at systematic changes to the way we educate.” (Law, 2016)
Our conversation went on for a little over a half hour, and with each topic, I continued to be impressed. When I returned home, I sat to read his entire position statement on Education Reform. As we are currently in the middle of PARCC testing, his position on high-stakes testing interested me greatly . Alex recognizes that poorly designed tests that take away from large chunks of authentic teaching and learning are a huge issue. He spoke of other countries who are continuing to advance in the area of education, while we fall further behind. The major difference between us and them - testing.
While talking about his position statements, Alex shared with me that he didn’t write these on his own. He shared that although he had ideas about specific aspects of education, he needed to know more and called together a group of teachers to discuss the issues before solidifying his position. Wow - a candidate that is willing to sit and LISTEN to teachers.
My experience with responses from these two candidates spoke volumes to me, as a voter and as an educator. Someone who points me to a website for an organization (of which I am already a member) to read a web article, shows that they don’t want to take the time to put thought into our interaction. On the other hand, someone who was willing to accommodate my busy schedule to meet on a Sunday morning and talk candidly, cares about what myself and my colleagues have to say, shows me that they value my time and my vote.