Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Taking On The Ex-Gay Educator Caucus At 2017 NEA RA by Sue Doherty, MA BAT, in Consultation With Deb McCarthy and Graziana Ramsden

Tucked amongst the nonprofit exhibits for various state affiliates and member caucuses at this year’s NEA RA (Representative Assembly) in Boston, the NEA Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus table stood out as seeming peculiarly out-of-place. Under the caucus banner on the wall behind their table, they had two questions prominently posted: “Do you know someone who struggles with unwanted same sex attraction?” and “Do you know someone who struggles with gender identity?” Because we live in a society that still discriminates against the LGBTQ community, certainly most LGBTQ individuals have struggled with these issues at some point, yet the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus uses these difficult and painful questions to promote the harmful and discredited idea that being LGBTQ is a “choice” that individuals can overcome and change through “reparative therapy,” more commonly known as conversion therapy .

Conversion therapy has been rejected as ineffective and harmful in the position statements of fifteen reputable education, medical, and mental health associations, and the Southern Poverty Law Center is working to expose the dangers of the practice and get it banned nationwide. The “research” literature that was distributed at the Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus table comes from the legitimate-sounding American College of Pediatricians (ACP), but this group is far from reputable or legitimate. In a May 2017 Psychology Today article profiling the ACP, Harvard Medical School child and adolescent psychiatrist Jack Turban outlines the three main viewpoints this group advances: 1) reparative therapy is good; 2) gay parents are bad; and 3) affirming transgender youth is bad. Turban also reports that the “ Southern Poverty Law Center has “ repeatedly labeled the ACP as an anti-LGBT hate group that promotes false claims and misleading scientific reports.”

When first time Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) NEA delegate and MTA board member Deborah McCarthy came upon this exhibit, she was outraged and immediately began taking action. Because Deb has a daughter who is both an NEA member and gay, her reaction was initially anger at the shaming nature of the Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus name and exhibit, but her anger soon turned to righteous indignation that free speech claims were being used as a cover for hate speech. And when she took on the Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus and their exhibit, Deb took a fierce and relentless stand against the hatred and discrimination directed at the LGBTQ community being put forth under the cover of free speech while hypocritically using language about tolerance, diversity, and anti-discrimination.

The first thing Deb did was to write an NBI demanding that the exhibit be removed. NBI is short for New Business Item, which any RA delegate may submit for consideration by the thousands of other state delegates in attendance. If the delegates approve an NBI in a democratic vote, it becomes mandated business for the NEA officers and staff to implement over the course of the coming year.
NBIs are given numbers based on when they are turned in; Deb’s was given number 86:

Be it moved that the NEA implement its own rules and regulations on “Becoming an Exhibitor” to NEA caucuses Ex-Gay Educator and immediately remove the exhibit entitled “NEA Ex-Gay Educators” from the exhibit hall on the grounds that this exhibit violates existing NEA exhibitor
standards. These standards state that exhibitors may not distribute materials that are offensive, distracting, or discriminatory.
NEA Expo Rules and Regulations: Management reserves the right to deny any and all applications. Applicants must adhere to policies on nondiscrimination and can be defined as obscene, distracting, and disruptive. This exhibit meets all the criteria for an outside exhibitor.

Deb first presented this NBI to our Massachusetts delegation in a morning state caucus meeting, asking that we support it and submit it as a state delegation on her behalf. Another one of our other first time delegates, Graziana Ramsden, spoke eloquently on behalf of voting in support of this NBI:

"Yesterday I was in the exhibit hall at the convention center and I happened onto an exhibit called Ex-Gay Educators Caucus, which I take to mean gay conversion therapy or some such homophobic and transphobic agenda. Now, I understand freedom of speech, and liberty of expression and religion. However, it seems to me that gay conversion therapy is discrimination, and it stands boldly against the principles of diversity and inclusion that this union, and our parent union stand for. We can shrug our shoulders and look away because we are in Massachusetts, and Massachusetts is a blue state and all those things we tell ourselves to not feel so disheartened about the status quo. However, we have a duty to our students to teach them about diversity and inclusion, and repeal discrimination. Having these bold dissidents amongst us at a national teachers’ union conference calling themselves educators while advocating for inhuman treatment to ‘chase the gay away’ is not doing our message of inclusion any favors. Thank you."

But despite the clear reasoning in Graziana’s statement, this NBI didn’t receive unanimous support from our liberal-minded Massachusetts delegation. One of our NEA director delegates stated that although she fully supported the spirit of the NBI, she believed that it would be ruled out of order because of free speech issues. When debate ended and the vote was called, however, a majority of the Massachusetts delegates did vote in favor of submitting it.

After Deb submitted NBI 86 during the RA later that day, the fight to keep it moving forward began to intensify. As predicted by our Massachusetts NEA director, Deb was called to several meetings where NEA directors or other staff members tried to convince her to withdraw the NBI, saying it would be ruled out of order. Yet whenever someone tried to talk Deb out of pursuing the NBI using workers’ rights to free speech or other rationales, she came back with even stronger countering arguments, often using NEA’s own official documents.

On the final day of RA, I was with another delegate from Massachusetts waiting to talk with an NEA director about a different NBI. We were right behind Deb in line, so we sat with her and listened in on the conversation. The director said again and again that he completely agreed with her that the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus shouldn’t be there, but that there was really nothing he or others could do about it. But Deb refused to take that for an answer and just go away. We saw all the paperwork and NEA documents she had pulled together, all her notes, and all her determination up close. As she was

leaving that meeting, she was also confirming a lunchtime appointment with Alice O’Brien, head of the NEA Office of the General Counsel.

Deb took the issue all the way to three separate meetings with Alice O’Brien. As Deb reports: “The first discussion centered on violations to the NEA exhibitors booth area being different for outside exhibitors and recognized NEA caucuses because of a federal law that protects a worker’s rights to free speech. The second conversation involved my NBI being ruled out of order and steps I would take to challenge the Chair ruling my NBI out of order, and the final conversation centered on my stance that Ex-Gay is not recognized as a protected group of citizens, that it was hate speech, and I intended to pursue avenues available for NEA members to file a lawsuit in regards to accepted hate speech in our work space.”

In addition to the work she was doing engaging with NEA counsel, staff, and directors around her NBI, Deb connected with the NEA’s LGBT and Science Educators’ caucuses. Both of these caucuses have been concerned for a number of years about the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus exhibit, and the Science Caucus was formed in 2014 specifically to push back against two other exhibits that promote teaching creationism. Toby Spencer, the Science Caucus chair, had also submitted an NBI this year that targeted the creationist exhibits:

NBI 154
The NEA will enforce its Sanding Rules 12.B.(d) as related to creationist exhibitors,specifically the Creation Truth Outreach and Creation Science Educators booths, which violate the offense clause and external vendor clause.
Creationism in public schools is illegal and unconstitutional. Evolution is the foundation of biology and such curricular attacks are truly offensive and in bad taste. Their message is unfit for an education exposition.

Ultimately, the discussions Deb had with Alice O’Brien, allies in other caucuses, and several progressive NEA directors resulted in a completely amended NBI 86 , which consolidated the original intent of NBIs 86 and 154. Deb and Toby presented the new version of NBI 86 on the last day of RA:

NBI 86 (consolidated version):
For the 2018 RA, NEA will thoroughly review and evaluate RA exhibitors’ materials for information that is offensive, obscene, or in bad taste. Based on the findings of the review the NEA will enforce its standing rules 12.B (b) and 12.B (d) as they relate to exhibitors found in violation of the aforementioned rules. Because of concerns brought by 2017 RA delegates, special scrutiny will be made to the following exhibitors:
  • ●  NEA Ex-Gay Educators
  • ●  Creation Truth Outreach
  • ●  Creation Science Educators

After Deb and Toby presented their consolidated NBI, there was very little floor debate. One delegate spoke against targeting the creationist exhibits, but no one spoke up for the ex-gay exhibit. When it came time to vote, the delegates overwhelmingly approved NBI 86. NEA president Lily Ekelson gave her word from the dais that she would personally make sure that this review takes place. This means that these exhibits will be scrutinized carefully in the coming year and will hopefully not be approved next year.

The successful adoption of NBI 86 at 2017’s NEA RA is a testament to what someone with passion and determination, driven by a sense of justice and love, can accomplish in concert with allies. People have been trying for years to get both of these exhibits removed, but free speech has always been brought up as a reason nothing could be done. However, as both Deb and others have shown, these groups were being allowed to exhibit despite the fact that they contradicted many of NEA’s own policies, resolutions, and core values.
This was Deb's first NEA RA, and some of our own MTA members advised her that taking this issue on was too difficult and should not be pursued because of her lack of experience writing NBIs and the issue of free speech. So good that Deb McCarthy and people such as her newest allies do not give up or listen to the naysayers!

Sue Doherty is a middle school library media teacher in the Needham Public Schools and NEA delegate.
Deb McCarthy is a fifth grade teacher in the Hull Public Schools, MA BAT, President of the local MTA Hull Association, Chair of MTA Government Relations Committee, MTA LGBTQ Committee member and NEA delegate.
Graziana Ramsden is Professor of Modern Languages at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams and NEA delegate. 

School Voucher Industry Strikes Back: We’re Segregated!? No, You’re Segregated! by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:

In what must count as another new low in American discourse, the school voucher industry is striking back against claims that their products lead to greater segregation of students.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), had the audacity to voice the truth:

“Make no mistake: This use of privatization, coupled with disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation,” she said a week ago during a speech at the AFT’s yearly convention.

To which school privatization mouthpieces quickly countered with the truth:

“If vouchers are the polite cousins of segregation, then most urban school districts are segregation’s direct descendants. The vast majority of our urban public school districts are segregated because of white flight and neighborhood neglect.”

This was from a statement by Kevin Chavous, founding board member of the American Federation for Children, the school privatization advocacy group that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos used to lead.

So there you have it.

A nation of more than 325 million people, with a more than 241-year history reduced to – I Know You Are But What Am I?

The sad fact is that they’re both right.

School vouchers do lead to increased segregation (and so do charter schools, by the way, the method preferred by corporate Democrats). But many traditional public schools are, in fact, deeply segregated both racially and economically.

Does that mean that both systems – privatized and public – are equally at fault? Does it mean that both somehow get a pass for reprehensible behavior?

No and no.

First, we must explain why segregation is bad.

Peter Cunningham, former assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the Education Department under Obama, wagged his finger at Weingarten on the privatization propaganda Website, the 74.

He called out Weingarten’s hypocrisy, which takes some cojones for a man who only last year pondered aloud and in public whether segregation was really such a bad thing.

“Maybe the fight’s not worth it. It’s a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it’s been a long fight, we’ve had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. It’s a good question.”

Funny, isn’t it?

He calls out Weingarten because of public school segregation but defends charter schools because their segregation is somehow just swell.

Keep in mind. Cunningham is the executive director of the Education Post, a well-funded charter school public relations firm that packages its advertisements, propaganda and apologias as journalism. And he’s not about to poop where he eats.

So, yes, Mr. Cunningham, segregation is worth fighting.

When you have schools made up mostly of minority and/or economically disadvantaged students, it makes it easier to provide fewer resources and less funding to those children while sending the lion’s share to the white and wealthy.

That’s why in Brown v. Board the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “Separate but Equal” – because when races are kept separate, their schools are rarely equal.

This game of excusing one system based on the deficiencies of the other is pure sophistry.

You can’t defend voucher and charter schools from being segregated by reference to public school segregation. Nor can you ignore public school segregation by reference to the same at privatized schools.

They’re both bad, and they both need fixing.

To be fair, Weingarten seems to tacitly admit this about public schools.

She acknowledges the disinvestment in public education, how public schools have been systemically undermined by politicians and lobbyists, many of them advocating for privatized schools, so that they could use this disinvestment as an excuse for their own for-profit education schemes.

“…no amount of facts or evidence will sway voucher proponents from their agenda to starve public schools to the breaking point, then criticize their deficiencies and let the market handle the rest, all in the name of choice,” she said in a statement.

These policies could be changed. The system could be fixed. All it would take is the will to do it.

Charter and vouchers schools, on the other hand, will never solve the problem of segregation, because they have turned that problem into a “solution.”

Schools serving poor and minority students aren’t getting the proper resources. So they propose further segregating them.

That’s a terrible idea. It’s like escaping from a leaky cruise ship by jumping into a leaky lifeboat. You’ll sink in both, but the lifeboat will sink quicker.

Yes, our public schools are segregated by race and class and therefore poor and minority students receive inequitable funding and resources. Charters and vouchers cannot possibly remedy thatThey will always make it worse. Only a robust and integrated public school system can be truly equitable. A system that deifies choice cannot combat racism if it is freely chosen.

What Weingarten is getting at is this: if we want to help the nation’s children – all of the nation’s children – we must support and reform public schools.

We have let the wolf write our education policy. It should be no shock that his solution isn’t to build more houses of bricks but to process our little piggies into bacon.

Full disclosure: I am no fan of Weingarten.

I recently called for both her and National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia to voluntarily step down because of undemocratic practices and mismanagement in both teachers unions.

However, I’ll stand up for her when she’s right, and in this instance, she is.

If anything, maybe she should have included charter schools in her criticism. I laid into her in June for writing an op-ed with Jonah Edelman, an anti-union activist, specifically praising charter schools over vouchers.

But I get it. Now that some charter school teachers have unionized and joined the AFT, she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Frankly, it makes her ineffective in speaking out on this matter. I have nothing against charter school teachers. I know, personally, several very good educators who work at charter schools. In this job market, sometimes you have to take what you can get. However, the sad fact of the matter is that by their very structure, charter schools are inferior to public schools. They are less democratic, less transparent, less accountable and more easily subject to fraud and abuse of children. That’s not to say all charters are guilty of this, but just by being a charter school and being subject to the deregulated rules governing them, they are more susceptible to these errors than their traditional public school brethren.

But, of course, the same can be said of voucher schools. It’s just that you can’t criticize one privatization scheme without also criticizing the other.

Perhaps the biggest mistake Weingarten made was in glossing over the worst abuses of public schools. If she was going to call out the segregation at voucher schools, she also should have explicitly called it out at public schools.

But that’s something even our first black President Barack Obama refused to doYou’d think he’d make that a priority for his administration, but instead he favored the same school privatization schemes that just made it worse.

Currently, you’ll find no political party that actively champions integration. Democrats will give it more lip service than Republicans, but both parties either ignore it in practice or actively work against it.

The only use they have for it is as a club with which to hit the other side when issues like this come up.

You’re segregated!

No, YOU’RE segregated!

And so we are all lead over the cliff by partisans and fools.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Public Schools In Cooperation With Community Leaders And Parents Are The Answer, NOT Charter Schools by Shannon Ergun

I have opposed charter schools for many years now. It started with it just feeling wrong to create a separate system touting to incubate innovation to better meet the needs of students when that was possible in the public school system. Tacoma has done a great job of finding ways to innovate. They still need to develop better systems to make the innovations broadly and easily accessible to all our students. However, I feel like we have people in leadership (through the union, the board, and administration) working to address this problem.

As I have read more and more on charter schools and their impact on local communities and on students, I have come to realize that my initial feeling is proving true over and over again. While initially the NAACP supported the idea of charter schools as incubators of innovation, they have since come out strongly against charter schools. You can read their resolution for a moratorium on charter schools and the reasons for it here:

The National Education Association came out against charter schools years ago as educators watched the impact they had on public schools. At the national representative assembly this month, the 9,000 delegates approved a policy statement regarding charter schools outlining under what circumstances they should be supported and when they should not be. Because states define charter schools in different ways, it was important to create a national policy that outlined what constitutes a charter school that when funded through taxpayer funds is then overseen by elected public leaders. To read more on this statement, check here:

Finally, UCLA has done extensive research on the charter school movement over the last 14 years and has found that they increase segregation and do not provide improved educational outcomes for students. You can find a summary of their report here:

What I see currently happening across the nation is that schools for generations have been starved of funding while being asked to do more and more. Educators and public schools are then blamed for failing based on a system of tests originally designed to prove that black and brown people are intellectually inferior (side note, do some research on the history of standardized testing and we can talk further on this issue). I will not even begin to argue about the fact that schools need to do better to serve our racially and culturally diverse students. We truly have a system that favors upper/middle income white students. We have millions of pages of research and data to prove it. Yet, we continue to argue for billions of dollars in standardized tests, scripted curricula, and online programs that have been shown again and again not to meet the needs of the vast majority of our children. What we truly need is to work on the social issues (homelessness, hunger, mental illness, addiction, joblessness, etc.) through our national, state, and local governments.

Then we need to fund our schools so that all our children have what the wealthy buy for their kids through private schools - smaller classes, plenty of arts and extracurricular opportunities, hands-on and experiential learning through field trips and outreach programs, and opportunities for students to explore their interests in various subject areas so that they can make an informed decision about post-secondary pathways. Any student who wants to attend college should. All students should be guided to make post-secondary choices based on their passions and talents and interests and goals NOT on their family income, race, gender, or standardized tests determined aptitude. All students should be encouraged to take advanced courses especially in their particular area(s) of interest.

While we focus on guiding students to the post-secondary success that meets their interests and needs, we need to stop focusing so heavily on numerical data and begin a shift to exploring in what ways our schools are meeting the needs of diverse cultures and races to expand those practices more broadly across schools. We must also examine how we are obstructing student success and shift those practices to culturally responsive ones. Our educators need professional development through their university education programs and continuing through their career on culturally responsive methodology. We need support in implementing restorative justice practices. Districts in cooperation with teachers' unions must develop cadres for educators of color to serve as leaders in creating diversity teams and early career educator mentorship opportunities. We need to repair our public schools from within.

I truly feel that those who promote local charter schools, not the corporate for-profit ones but those developed by local leaders and parents frustrated by the system that ignores their needs, are trying to find a solution to a huge problem. My hope is that we can develop ways for their concerns, feedback, and ideas to be used in the public schools to improve outcomes for more than just the few who could be served in a separate system. When asked once by a colleague if I didn't just want to create a school where "these kids" could do well, I responded, "Yes, but rather than create a new and separate school, I want to work to repair and improve the ones we have so that all students benefit not just a select few."

I hope that after looking more deeply at this issue and reading some of the links above that you too will shift to wanting to find ways to incorporate the amazing ideas that our community members have into our current schools rather than continue to suggest that we need to have a separate system. We know from decades of evidence that separate is never equal.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Test-Based Accountability – Smokescreen for Cowardly Politicians and Unscrupulous Corporations by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:

There is no single education policy more harmful than test-based accountability.

The idea goes like this: We need to make sure public schools actually teach children, and the best way to do that is with high stakes standardized testing.

It starts from the assumption that the problems with our school system are all service-based. Individual schools or districts are not providing quality services. Teachers and administrators are either screwing up or don’t care enough to do the job.

What is in question is its importance.

However, any lack of intention or ability on the part of schools to actually teach is, in fact, pure conjecture. It is a presumption, an excuse by those responsible for allocating resources (i.e. lawmakers) from doing their jobs.

Any time you hear senators or representatives at the state or federal level talking about test-based accountability, they are ignoring their own duties to properly provide for our public school children and pushing everything onto the schools, themselves.

That is the foundation of the concept. It’s hard to imagine more unstable ground from which to base national education policy.

But it gets worse.

With our eyes closed and this assumption swallowed like a poison pill, we are asked to accept further toxic premises.

Next comes the concept of trustworthiness.

We are being asked to question the trustworthiness of teachers. Instead, we are pushed to trust corporations – corporations that manufacture standardized tests.

I have no idea why anyone would think that big business is inherently moral or ethical. The history of the world demonstrates this lie. Nor do I understand why anyone would start from the proposition that teachers are inherently untrustworthy. Like any other group of human beings, educators include individuals that are more or less honest, but the profession is not motivated by a creed that specifically prescribes lying if it maximizes profit.

Business is.

Test manufacturers are motivated by profit. They will do that which maximizes the corporate bottom line. And student failure does just that.

Most of these companies don’t just manufacturer tests. They also provide the books, workbooks, software and other materials schools use to get students ready to take the tests. They produce the remediation materials for students who fail the tests. And they provide and grade the tests in the first place.

When students fail their tests, it means more money for the corporation. More money to give and grade the retests. More money to provide additional remediation materials. And it justifies the need for tests to begin with.

Is it any wonder then that so many kids fail? That’s what’s profitable.

There was a time when classroom teachers were not so motivated.

They were not paid based on how many of their students passed the test. Their evaluations were not based on student test scores. Their effectiveness used to be judged based on what they actually did in the classroom. If they could demonstrate to their administrators that they were actually making good faith efforts to teach kids, they were considered effective. If not, they were ineffective. It was a system that was both empirical and fair – and one to which we should return.

In fact, it was so fair that it demonstrated the partisanship of the corporations. Laws were changed to bring teacher motivation more in line with those of big business. Their evaluations became based on student test scores. Their salaries were increasingly tied to student success on these tests. And when some teachers inevitably felt the pressure to cheat on the tests, they were scapegoated and fired. There is no mechanism available to even determine if testing corporations cheat less than penalties for it.

Yet this is a major premise behind test-based accountability – the untrustworthiness of teachers compared to the dependable, credibility of corporations.

Next, come the scores, themselves.

Time-after-time, standardized test scores show a striking correspondence: poor and minority students often do badly while middle class and wealthy white students do well.

Why is that?

Well, it could mean, as we’ve already mentioned, that poor and minority students aren’t receiving the proper resources. Or it could mean that teachers are neglecting these children.

There is a mountain of evidence – undisputed evidence – to support the former. There is nothing to support the later.

I’m not saying that there aren’t individual teachers out there who may be doing a bad job educating poor and minority children. There certainly are some. But there is no evidence of a systemic conspiracy by teachers to educate the rich white kids and ignore all others. However, there IS an unquestionable, proven system of disinvestment in these exact same kids by lawmakers.

If we used standardized tests to shine a light on the funding inequalities of the system, perhaps they would be doing some good. But this is not how we interpret the data.

Finally comes the evidence of history.

Standardized testing is not new. It is a practice with a past that is entirely uncomplimentary.

These kinds of assessments are poor indicators of understanding complex processes. Answering multiple choice questions is not the best way to determine comprehension.

Moreover, this process is tainted by the eugenicist movement from which it originates. Standardized testing is a product of the belief that some races are better than others. It is a product of white supremacy. It was designed by racist psychologists who used it to justify the social structure of past generations and roundly praised and emulated by literal Nazis.

It is therefore not surprising that test scores show privileged white kids as superior to underprivileged students of color. That is how the system was designed.

Why any educated person would unquestionably accept these scores as valid assessments of student learning is beyond me.

Yet these are the assumptions and premises upon which the house of test-based accountability is built.

It is a smokescreen to protect politicians from having to provide adequate, equitable, sustainable resources for all children. It likewise protects unscrupulous business people so they can continue to cash in on the school system without providing any real value for students.

We must no longer allow policymakers to hide behind this blatant and immoral lie.

Not only should voters refrain from re-electing any lawmakers whose constituents children are receiving inequitable school resources, they should not be eligible for re-election.

Not only should corporations not be trusted more than teachers, they should be barred from determining success or failure while also profiting off of that same failure.

Schools can and should be held accountable. But it cannot be done with standardized tests.

Moreover, we must stop ignoring the role of policymakers and business in this system. They must also be responsible. We are allowing them to get away with murder.

It’s time to wake up and make them answer for what they’ve done to our nation’s children.