Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Shawna Mott-Wright: The precarious finances of an Oklahoma classroom teacher

By:  Shawna Mott-Wright

The holiday season traditionally marks the start of a time to celebrate the family and friends who make our lives so rich. For many, it means it’s time to start hanging holiday decorations, write lists for Christmas shopping, and make plans to visit with loved ones both near and far. For our teachers, it means that their already very limited funds have to stretch even further to make the season bright for their children and families.
Imagine that you are a parent of two and you’ve just received your monthly paycheck. After you pay your bills to keep your family housed and fed, you have $268.78 left, or just under $3 per person per day until your next paycheck. What will you do if you get a flat tire? What if you have to cover the co-pay on an emergency room visit? While you’re figuring that out, do you know which bills you can pay late without interruption of service or penalty fees? How much credit is available on your MasterCard?
Oklahoma teachers navigate difficult questions like these every day. And while they’re worrying about making ends meet, your child’s teachers are also creating lesson plans, grading essays, scoring tests, reviewing performance data, tutoring students after school, and meeting with parents to discuss questions or concerns. They’re spending their own money on classroom supplies to enrich your child’s learning. It’s also likely that they have to get it all done with enough time left to get over to job No. 2 by the start of shift. I know teachers who keep grueling schedules like these — and have done so for years with no end in sight.
Nobody enters the teaching profession because they want to get rich. They do it for love of the work: for that “lightbulb” moment when a child just gets it, for the boundless opportunities they help create for the students in their care. They do it because they know the difference that great teachers can make, and they strive to be a change-maker every day. Isn’t it time that our state does the same for them? Our teachers deserve more than last place on the national educator salary comparisons. Tulsa teachers shouldn’t have to wait 27 years to earn the median household income in Tulsa County.
It’s time for our state leaders to pass a plan to create a permanent, sustainable source of revenue to increase teacher salaries to a level commensurate with the critical service they provide to students and families. We’ve talked about the problem of Oklahoma teacher salaries for far too long, and our teachers — those who remain in the state — have waited long enough for our legislators to fix it.
The Oklahoma Legislature reconvenes on Feb. 6, and that means that education supporters and advocates have more than two months to make their voices heard in Oklahoma City. Let’s ask the men and women who represent us to spend one of those months living on the take-home salary of a first-year teacher with one dependent. After a month living on $4.96 per person per day after housing, utilities, and insurance, maybe they’ll be ready do the right thing and pay our teachers what they deserve.
Shawna Mott-Wright has been a teacher for 12 years and currently serves as vice president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association. She is a second-generation TPS teacher, TPS student, and proud single mother of two children who attend Tulsa Public Schools.

What Diane Ravitch Means To Me

By:  Steven Singer, Director BATs Blogging/Research
Originally posted on his blog here
Am I crazy?
That’s what many of us had been wondering before we read Diane Ravitch.
As teachers, parents and students, we noticed there was something terribly wrong with our national education policy. The Emperor has no clothes, but no one dared speak up.
Until Diane Ravitch.
We were told our public schools are failing – yet we could see they had never done better than they were doing now.
We were told we should individualize our lessons – but standardize our tests!? We were told teachers are the most important factor in a child’s education – so we need to fire more of them!? We were told the best way to save a struggling school – was to close it!? We were told every child has a right to a quality education – yet we should run our schools like businesses with winners and losers!?
It was absurd, and the first person to question it was Diane Ravitch.
In doing so, she saved many people’s sanity, she saved a generation of students and educators, gave parents clarity and direction, and she started a social movement fighting against the preposterous policies being handed down from clueless businessmen and bureaucrats.
This weekend the Network for Public Education will honor Dr. Ravitch at a dinner on Long Island for her tireless work fighting against this corporate school reform.
I wish I could be there in person to tell her what she means to me and others like me. Instead I offer this modest tribute to a person who changed my life and the lives of so many others.
I was a different person when I read “Life and Death of the American School System” back in 2010.
I had been in the classroom for about seven years, but I was just starting to feel like a real teacher.
I had just completed my National Boards Certification and felt like I wasn’t just surviving with my students anymore but could actually make intelligent decisions about how best to educate them.
And a big part of that was Dr. Ravitch’s book.
For a long time I had noticed that things weren’t as they should be in public schools.
I had put in a great deal of work to get my masters in teaching, to engage in hundreds of hours of professional development, not to mention three to four extra hours every day at the school passed dismissal time doing tutoring, leading extracurricular activities, grading and planning for the next day. I spent hundreds of dollars every month buying books, pencils, erasers, even snacks and meals for my students. Yet the school still treated me – it treated all of us – like greeters at WalMart.
We were highly educated, highly dedicated professionals but our opinions were rarely sought on policy matters. We were the experts in our fields and in our students who we saw everyday more than many of their own parents. Yet we were told where to be and when, what to teach and how long to teach it. We were told how to assess the success of our students and ourselves. And we were told how to best remediate and what else we should be doing that we never had time to do.
Was I really such a failure, I remember thinking. I work hard with my students everyday, see them make tremendous strides and still the standardized tests say it isn’t enough. What was I doing wrong?
Then I read Diane’s book and saw the whole thing from a different perspective.
It wasn’t me that was wrong. It was the system.
It wasn’t the students that were failing. It was the tests that didn’t assess fairly.
It wasn’t the schools that were deficient. It was the way they were resourced, valued and set up to fail by government and industry.
That book and its 2013 sequel, “Reign of Error,” really opened my eyes. They did for many people. Without them, I’m not sure I would still be a teacher today. I’m not sure I could have kept at it thinking that my best efforts could never be enough, that my exhaustion, my fire, my skills would never bridge the gap.
Diane Ravitch put it all in context of the social and historical struggle I had learned about, myself, in high school. I was engaged in the good fight for the civil rights of my students. Brown vs. Board wasn’t just a story in some textbook. I could see how the outmoded excuse of “separate but equal” was still being given today in my own increasingly segregated school and segregated workplace. Why was it that most of my academic students were poor and black? Why was it that the honors kids were mostly upper middle class and white? Why was it that my school situated in a poorer neighborhood was crumbling and the school a few blocks over in the richer neighborhood looked like the Taj Mahal by comparison? And why was it that teachers in my district got $10-20,000 less in their paychecks with the same experience than those in the wealthier community?
Dr. Ravitch made sense of all of that for me. And it made me very angry.
When colleagues came to me to discuss how they wished we had merit pay, I could turn to her books and see how it was a trap. When students came into my classroom after being kicked out of the local charter school, I had an explanation for why they were so academically behind their peers. And when contrarians complained about our union dues and wondered what they were getting in return for their money, I could give them an intelligent answer.
Diane Ravitch gave me the light that made sense of my whole professional world. I had been living and working in it for years, but I never really understood it before. And that gave me the courage to act.
When my state legislature cut almost $1 billion from K-12 education, armed with her books and blogs, I volunteered to lead educators in social actions against them. I sat down with legislators asking them to help. And when they refused, I knew we could protest outside their offices, make noise and the story would get to the media.
Ultimately it didn’t convince the legislature to heal all the cuts, but it helped minimize them, and when the next election cycle came around, we sent the governor packing.
I read Diane’s blog religiously and through her found so many other teachers, professors, parents, and students whose stories weren’t being told by the mainstream media. In fact, whenever so-called journalists deigned to talk about education at all, they rarely even included us in the conversation. So I started my own blog to give voice to what I was seeing.
Through Diane I found a community of likeminded people. I found other teachers on social media who were standing up for their students and communities. I found the Badass Teachers Association and joined and acted and was invited into leadership. We all loved Diane Ravitch and apparently she loved us, too. She became a member, herself, and encouraged us to keep fighting.
Then with Anthony Cody she started the Network for Public Education where even more educators from around the country joined forces. I went to the second annual conference in Chicago and got to meet her in person.
I’ll never forget it. There were hundreds of people gathered together, and she was just standing in the hall talking with a small group. I said to myself, “Oh my God! That’s Diane Ravitch! She’s right there! I could go up and talk to her!”
I looked around and everyone else standing with me had the same look like we’d all been thinking the same thing. Somehow I mustered the courage to walk up to her.
They say you should never meet your idols, but I’m infinitely thankful I didn’t listen to that advice. Diane was eminently approachable. Here I found that same voice I had read so many times, but also a generosity and a goodwill you couldn’t get from the page alone.
She knew who I was, had read my blog and asked me to send her more of my writing. I couldn’t believe it. I thought she was just being polite, but she gave me her email address. I sent her a few articles and she published them on her own site.
Since that day I’ve talked with Diane a few times and she’s always the same. Her intelligence is combined with a boundless empathy and insatiable curiosity about people and ideas. She really cares to know you, to hear your story and to help if she can.
When I had a heart attack about a month ago, she sent me an email telling me to take care of myself. She suggested I change my diet and exercise before confiding that she was having trouble doing this, herself.
Who does that? I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’ve read authors before and maybe written to them, maybe even had them write back. But I’ve never met someone like her who’s actually cared enough to relate to me as an equal, as someone who is important enough to be taken seriously.
In the media, talking heads will sometimes criticize her for changing her mind, because she did do an about face. She had once been Assistance Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush where she advocated for standardized testing and the corporate model in education. But when she saw what that really meant, she changed her mind.
To the media, that’s a defect, but to me, it’s a strength. It’s how we learn. We come up with a theory, we test it and if it doesn’t work, we come up with another one. Her philosophy of education is a response to the real world.
That’s what teachers do everyday. We try to reach our students one way and if that doesn’t work, we try something else.
Perhaps that’s really why so many educators have embraced her. She’s like us – a passionate, compassionate empiricist.
I can’t say enough good things about her. I can’t put into words how important Diane Ravitch is to my life. Her ideas changed me. Her ethics invigorated me. Her friendship humbles me.
I’d love to be there this weekend to say all this to her, but I really don’t need to make the trip. Diane Ravitch is always with me. She is in my heart every day.
I love you, Diane.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A  Cry of Disgust over the appointment of Betsy DeVos
By:  Sandra Parker 

Hello everyone! My name is Sandra Parker. I am a public school teacher. I am highly educated in my field holding five degrees from the University of Michigan; all education degrees. I am writing this open letter of thanks to the president elect to show my appreciation for appointing me as the overseer of all medical institutions in this country! I believe this nomination is partly due to the fact that I donated $245,000 to his campaign fund, but hey, that is how the American political scene plays!

I have always been fascinated by the medical field. Hospitals and health care have interested me very much since I was a young girl. I care deeply about our national health and am thrilled that now I will be put in a position to oversee their daily operations and to make sure that the best medical care is available to all of you. I have been outspoken about my feelings on traditional health care. Never mind that the likes of me (and my family and friends) have never stepped foot inside a public hospital or a traditional doctor’s office.

You see, I believe deeply in alternative medicines to fix what ails you. I firmly believe in holistic medicines, herbal medications and have a personal shaman who I visit whenever an ailment plagues me. But, I want you to know that I am passionate about public health care, mainly public hospitals and physicians who earn degrees from traditional public colleges. I will take good care of the public health system even if I don’t personally honor any of their practices, I will take good care of them (wink, wink).

I know some of you are concerned about my lack of qualifications to take on such a position…after all, my degrees are all in the education field. Hey, I am asking you to throw caution to the wind once again as you did on November 8th and pick someone who has no qualifications for the job and help me and our president elect “make America great again!”

Of course, the above is a satire.

Yes, I am referring to Betsy DeVos.

Mrs. DeVos comes from privilege. Her father owned and employed one quarter of Holland Michigan’s residents. She attended parochial schools and then moved on to Calvin College, a product of the Christian Reformed Church. Mrs. DeVos has a degree in Political Science and Business Administration. One degree in a field that is not related to the education field at all. One degree only. She came from money and married into money. Her husband ran for governor in our state and lost. Her own children also attended private schools. Not public. Yet, this woman has said (self-acclaimed) to have a strong passion for public education. She has never worked for a public school, for that matter, she has never worked for or in any school. She does not believe in or supports public education. She believes that public school teachers are overpaid (heck yeah, I laugh all the way to the bank every two weeks and take vacations in my private villa in the coast of Monaco). She is a strong for profit education proponent. She has invested millions of dollars in Christian education. She strongly believes in taking public school funds and placing them into Christian schools or other such private schools. She is a strong proponent of the Common Core, a system that has taken down the public school’s ability to succeed.

There, in a nutshell, you have her beliefs and background. Her nomination makes sense to the president elect because???

The history of public school in this country dates back to the 1700’s. The public school system was created to assure that children, no matter their social status would be able to obtain an education in a free school system. The decline of public school education became evident in the last decades. Teachers like myself and their unions are often blamed. I have argued before the fallacy of this belief, but will once again, for the sake of argument spell out the real reasons why we are failing American students.

No one that can’t come in my classroom and do my job with their eyes closed should tell me how to do my job! I went to a prestigious college to obtain my education, passed classes and earned my degrees with perfect grades while working full time and raising four children alone. I passed every single state test (MTTC) to obtain my state approved certificates. I take classes and professional developments and pay money to keep this certificate current. I dance the dance to appease our state regulations. I know my content areas, I know special education, how to write an IEP to suit individual student’s needs and test them for deficits using a complex test and by filling out paperwork that the state created. I can co-teach and re-teach every content area to my students. I know them personally; I know their lives—I know their needs. I have worked in less than ideal conditions. In classrooms that have windows that are painted shut and when in the heat of early summer and late fall, the heat actually makes students sick. In the winter, I wear coats and sometimes gloves, my students are freezing while learning. The plumbing in these buildings let out a stench that my nose has become immune to. I have to forgo teaching content daily to test, test and then test some more. Never mind that Johnny and Mary can’t do simple math and have basic reading skills (because of their chronic absenteeism or other factors I can’t control), they must be fluent in Algebra according to the Common Core or else I am not doing my job and will not get to keep my job because a huge component of my evaluation is how well Johnny and Mary does on such tests. I don’t have time to go back and teach important concepts to my students no matter how hard I try because what I do each teaching moment is dictated by someone’s ideas on how and what I should be teaching…someone, who like DeVos, has no clue on what my students know and need to know before I get them to the step the state and the DeVos like people believe my students should be in. You want me to produce high scoring students? Let me do my damn job people, the way I was taught to do represented by the over $150,000 in student loans I incurred and pay for monthly!

The AFT and MEA represents teachers in this state as their unions. Blame them all you want; again, you know nothing about them if you do. They take whatever little dignity they can scrape off the floor in Congress and state level houses of governments leave behind after their sessions and work with it to bring some respect to my profession. I pay for their existence out of pocket, not you. So, it is my choice.

I could no more oversee public health care than the likes of DeVos can oversee public education. This is the ever loving truth that no one sees. Self-serving career politicians with their hidden agendas is what has ruined the public school system. Tell me, would you go to a school teacher for treatment for heart disease? I think not. The question that begs an answer is why would you rejoice to see a career politician run your local public school systems? Oh, by the way, let’s bring up DPS for a moment…in a not so distant past, those who were appointed by Lansing to clean up the mess, proved to be corrupt and pocketed tons of education dollars…another example as to why politicians don’t belong in the education component.

I hope that all of you who are happy with the appointment have plenty in the bank to pay for private schooling for you children and grandchildren, because this appointment will be proverbial nail in the coffin of public schools. I am going to use a part of one of your favorite quotes in closing: “Keep drinking that tea in the name of making this country great again!” You are the sheep that follows the bell-wether; in this case DeVos and her cronies. God help us all.

Students Respond to “Let America Be America Again”

By: Maryam Dilakian

I have taught “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes every year for the last five years. I wasn’t planning to teach it in either of my courses this year, even Rebels With a Cause, into which the poem would fit perfectly. But I did teach it. To all my classes, including Service Learning.
I taught it in response to the election. Because it was the first of many things I read myself in an effort to make sense and forge ahead. Because I couldn’t find my own words to express what I was feeling, fearing, and thinking. Because this poem was the most appropriate piece through which to mourn.
When I returned to my classroom two days after the election (I am burdened but not ashamed to have taken a day off to gather myself precisely for my children at home and at school), I showed my students Abeena Koomson’s riveting rendition of the Hughes classic.
Then, we read and reread the poem, together, in groups, in silence. We asked questions. We sought answers. We pondered the significance of particular lines, and words, and punctuation marks that gave meaning to the “homeland of the free” and (America never was America to me). We made connections, and asked ourselves whether this poem, written eight decades ago, is relevant today.
I didn’t capture everything, least of all the poignant personal connections students made to both the despair and the hope conveyed in the poem, with which we spent time in the days immediately following the election. I want to share some of my students’ thoughts on why “Let America Be America Again” is relevant today.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Locally Owned and Operated: The Logical Fallacy At the Center of Trump’s Education Plans

By:  Cheryl Gibbs Binkley 

Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign and in his recent announcements he has come out swinging on education that, "There's no failed policy more in need of change than our government-run education monopoly and you know that's exactly what it is."

There’s just one problem.  Schools are not a monopoly! In fact, they are the last vestige of the old Mom-and-Pop local democracy holding out against Corporate driven Federal takeover! They are not managed by a single entity.

There are well over 14,000 different local school districts across the country, and 80% of them are managed by locally elected school boards, providing every parent in the district with a direct conduit of someone to meet with, complain to, and fire through the next election if they don’t like the service they are getting.  Each school system is directly responsible to the people who own it-- the people in that district.

Each district is different,  in size, demographics, and services- just like the locally owned stores that we once had; the locally owned department stores, where you could get alteration services, often for free; the hardware stores where you could get someone who would not only sell you the part, but explain how to put it on; the medical care where you got follow up calls, free samples if the doctor knew you were laid off, and even the occasional house call.  That’s the kind of service we still have available from our schools in most communities across the country.  

Think about what your child’s teacher does for their classes every day: buying crayons and pencils, supplying newsprint, bandaiding booboos,  and keeping extra changes of children’s clothes in their cabinet, just in case, and waiting with them for you to arrive when they miss the bus. The service our children are getting -- when the district is not impoverished, is a very person to person service.  

Who then, is so dissatisfied with the schools, that they want them leveled, closed, and remade? Those who would like them to be managed by Corporations (profit and non-profit) whose offices are almost always hundreds of miles away; people like Betsy DeVos, who never attended a public school, and whose children never attended a public school, but who along with her husband contributes heavily to private schools, and Alice Walton who owns her own charter chain, as any number of other billionaires do.  Mostly people who want to apply that money districts are spending on local children, to their own pockets instead.

Those 14,000 districts, currently contribute about 46% of the money it takes to education their children.  Another 45% comes from taxes they pay into their state, and only about 8-10% comes from special programs the federal government funds-- Title I funds for extremely poor schools, IDEA funds for students with special learning needs, and a handful of other programs.   

Lately, though the federal government, heavily influenced by outside lobbyists, has pushed localities and states to standardize, withholding chunks of that 10% if localities and states don’t up the standardization of how they treat their students, including standardizing the curriculum through the Common Core (or federally approved substitutes) and standardized measurement through commercial, poorly developed standardized tests-- and lots of them.

All the requirements the Education Reform movement (both Republican and Democrat) have been pushing have one thing in common-- They syphon off those local dollars to distantly managed corporate enterprises and take control away from local districts as to how they manage their schools.  When you look at the numbers on average-- by pulling those dollars collected from the parents at the local level (mostly through property taxes) and at the state level (mostly through state taxes) -- that’s on average about $9,000 per year per student.  We educate 50 million children a year in this country.

Trump published that  he would require localities and states to contribute $12,000 per year, per student for the new Education Secretary to give to private schools or charter school services.  -- That’s correct, Trump would increase the taxes local parents have to pay, and that money would not go to the schools their children attend, but go to the corporate-school only certain students could go to.  

So, the next time Trump says local schools are a government run monopoly, we might just ask, Does he know what a monopoly is?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Better Education for Kids!

“Better Education for Kids!” Now, who does not want a better education for kids?

This was what I saw when I started to look at information about Better Education for NJ Kids. I started this research after reading a NY Post article that blamed the teacher’s union for the current NJ Pension crisis.

The NJEA...not the governor that has failed to fund the pension...not the hedge fund managers that have profited from the fees of managing the pension portfolios...not the legislators that have failed to hold the state accountable for honoring the commitment of Chapter 78 to make the required pension payments…

Looking at the B4KNJ website, their section about teachers makes this claim:

Research has shown that no in-school factor – not class size, not school attended, not facilities has a greater impact on student performance than a great teacher, and we believe that every New Jersey student should have the opportunity to learn from a great teacher.

So, am I to believe that if you put the best teacher in a room of 30 students within a rundown classroom with little resources that this teacher will be able to create miraculous results and achieve success with every student in the class? After all, this is the best teacher, right?

Their website also states:

Put simply, our teachers are the single most important part of the NJ public education system, and it is inconceivable that any significant reform could occur without due regard for teachers and the teaching profession.

Ask classroom teachers what reforms they really want to see in the classrooms. It will not be the reforms that B4KNJ are promoting. Teachers want a reduction in paperwork (SGOs = nightmare), a decoupling of standardized tests and teacher evaluations (Refuse PARCC!), access to resources, teacher-led professional development, a collaborative work environment, a stake in decision making processes and policy decisions, protection of tenure to be able to advocate for their students, small class sizes, and the freedom to make curriculum and instructional decisions.

Instead, this is how B4KNJ wants to improve the NJ Education system

1 - Teach NJ - including “value added measures”

2 - Align Personnel Policies with Teacher Performance - merit pay and stripping of teacher tenure

3 - Empower Principals and Hold Them Accountable for Excellence in Their Schools - extension of TeachNJ for principals, holding them accountable for the performance of others that includes factors that are not under their control

B4KNJ focuses only on teachers as the main target for reform - again emphasizing the point that if a great teacher is in front of every classroom, then nothing else will matter.

And where does B4KNJ want to recruit good teachers from? Why Teach for America of course!

Furthermore, we must expand opportunities for the recruitment of non-traditional teaching candidates such as outstanding college students (via programs like Teach For America)...

Here is a breakdown of the people behind B4KNJ who proclaim to want what is best for kids in NJ.

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From there, I started researching some of the people involved in B4KNJ.

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Better Education for Kids NJ is not really new on the scene, but they seem to be rearing their ugly head again in the education reform scene. Most recently, this was evidenced in Jersey City where their mailings for the Jersey City School Board race must have cost a pretty penny.

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I urge you to read some of the past history so you can become educated about this reform group.

Additional interesting information:

Starting to dig deeper into the financial hedge fund companies that surround David Tepper some connections were noted:

Connection of Appaloosa Management to Palomino Fund, based in the tax-exempt Cayman Islands.

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