This is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning.
To be a Progressive means to believe and advocate for
Progress. What defines Progress? Progress is defined as moving forward and
onward. As we discuss people of the
Progressive movement, we should be asking one important question; "Who are
they advocating for?"
Let's review how some self-proclaimed Progressives are moving public
education forward. Rahm Emmanuel, Mayor of Chicago, supports the closure of
over 50 schools in predominantly communities of color. He allows
the opening of close to 30 charters and a contract for over 300 Teach
for America recruits to go into schools, replacing veteran teachers and teachers of
color. Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New
York, is an ardent supporter of the privatization movement. His continuous support of charter schools continue
to hyper-segregate communities.
He continues to be an ally to Wall Street hedge funders who finance and
support the privatization of public education.
Governor Cuomo has even stated
emphatically that he would "break" New York state's public school
Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education USDOE, continues to push
out policies that harm children in our public schools. He continues to push his agenda of high
stakes testing that has led to the false identification of our children,
schools, and teachers as "failures."
He has insulted mothers and grandmothers who work hard to support their
children and public schools. Arne Duncan
falsely uses IDEA (Individuals with Disability Act) to support an agenda that
seeks to put curriculum and graduation out of reach for our children with
disabilities. He continues to ignore
the undeniable fact that the Common Core Standards and the testing that will
accompany it will not address the issues of poverty and inequality that
continue to exist in our public school system.
President Obama's Race to the Top program has done little
except support the privatization of our public education system. Race to the Top requirements attempted to
establish statewide longitudinal student data tracking systems. Race to the Top would not allow a state to
receive money if they put a cap on charters, did not support Common Core and
the testing consortia that went hand in hand with it. Race to the Top money would also not be
available to the state if they did not evaluate their teachers based on student
test scores. This “progressive” agenda quickly
led to the closing of schools, the push-out of teachers of color, and the push out
of veteran teachers. This “progressive” agenda
led to charters taking the place of closed public schools and Teach For America
recruits with 5 weeks of training taking the place of fired veteran teachers
and many teachers of color.
Another self-proclaimed progressive group is Democrats for
Education Reform, a front for Republicans and corporate interests. In 2014, DFER financed candidates in
elections that sought to close public schools.
DFER supports the agenda of punishing children with High Stakes Testing,
blaming teachers for "failing" schools, attacks teachers right to due
process, and doesn’t seem to support providing equitable educational funding to
help children. They are secretly
funded by billionaire Eli Broad and many other hedge funders. It is clear that the education agenda of the self-proclaimed Progressives has been, as Diane Ravitch writes,
"to transfer public funds to
private management and the creation of thousands of deregulated, unsupervised,
and unaccountable schools that have opened the public coffers to profiteering,
fraud, and exploitation by large and small entrepreneurs." This doesn't seem to be forward movement for
children or education. It sure seems
like forward movement for the self-proclaimed progressives to make more
money off the backs of our children and their public education.
What do real Progressives look like and what are they
saying? Diane Ravitch continues to
write and tour the country exposing the false narrative of the self-proclaimed
progressives. Her latest quote, "I
want schools for the poor that the wealthy are giving their
children." Her most powerful quote is, “closing schools is not
reform." She challenges the
undemocratic nature of corporate education reform, “There is something fundamentally
antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy
agenda to private foundations run by society's wealthiest people; when the
wealthiest of these foundations are joined in common purpose, they represent an
unusually powerful force that is beyond the reach of democratic
institutions." (Ravitch - The Death and Life of the Great American Public
School System, 2011).
Mayor of Newark Ras Baraka, another strong and true
Progressive, says of public schools, "We need our schools to be reformed, but we should be
involved in that reform. We are smart
enough to reform our schools. We don't
need to give them away." Bernie
Sanders, Senator from Vermont, states
"Forty years ago, some of our great public universities, as well as many
state colleges, were virtually tuition free. Today, the cost of college is
unaffordable for many. In 1990, the U.S. led the world in the percentage of
25-34-year-olds with college degrees. Today we are in 12th place. Things need
to change. Higher education must become affordable for all." Finally, Pedro Noguera, a professor of
sociology at New York University, and the author of City Schools and the
American Dream and co-editor of Unfinished Business: Closing the Racial
Achievement Gap in Our Schools, points out in The
Nation, "Canadian policy analyst Michael Fullan has argued that the
United States will not make progress in improving its schools because it relies
on what he calls the "wrong drivers"—‘using test results and teacher
appraisals to reward or punish teachers and schools,' and ‘promoting individual
versus group solutions'—instead of focusing on developing the capacity of
schools and educators to meet the educational and social needs of students and
improving the culture of under performing schools." Do you see the difference in the narrative?
Look at the distinct difference in the actions and words of
our true Progressives versus our self-proclaimed Progressives. The self-proclaimed Progressives talk about
"failing" schools, punishing children and teachers with testing,
Common Core, school closures, the financing of the privatization agenda, and
increased charters. What are our real
Progressives saying? Stop inequality,
address the achievement and wealth gap, and address the needs of our children
who are in under performing schools, support teachers, and fund public
education equitably. We would like to
end this piece with a request. We would
like any group that seeks to ignore how poverty and inequality influence
children and their education to stop calling themselves Progressive. You are not Progressive; you are regressive;
we know it and the nation knows it.
About Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson
Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson
Marla Kilfoyle is the General Manager of the Badass Teachers Association and Melissa Tomlinson is the Assistant General Manager of the Badass Teachers Association.
Marla Kilfoyle began her adventure into the Badass Teacher Association by way of being a parent advocate on Long Island in such groups as Parents and Teachers Against Common Core and LI Opt-Out. Marla has been a teacher in the Social Studies Department at Oceanside High School (NY) for 27 years. She is also an NBCT. In addition, Marla coached the Oceanside Girl’s Track and Field team for 15 years and runs her district’s social science research program. Marla is the mother of a 12-year-old son and wife of Allan, a retired NYPD Detective. She also works as an education advocate in LI Opt-Out and NYSAPE .
Melissa Tomlinson: A teacher of students with special needs at the middle school level, realized that she was not alone in questioning the role of standardized testing in schools when she found the Badass Teachers Association. She was first pushed into the spotlight of fighting the methods of corporate educational reform when she faced Governor Chris Christie to ask about his public degradation of NJ Schools when they were rated one of the top three in the nation. Along with teaching and advocacy, Melissa runs the after school program in her school building, providing a place for students to receive extra educational assistance, exposure to career possibilities, and a safe place to be after school hours.
Melissa is the mother of two teenage sons and she fights for equitable education for all students, now and in the future.