Friday, May 22, 2015

BATs and Progressive Education Reform
By:  Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson

On May 14th Diane Ravitch put out a call for agendas to support public education. BATs has been working hard for the past two years to become a vehicle in which teachers can find their own voice as well as a mechanism for calling out the fallacy of the corporate reform movement and exposing what it is really doing to our schools and communities.

For close to 2 years the Badass Teachers Association have advocated for progressive education reform.  What we have seen over the 2 years of our existence is the dismantling of public education by entities that claim to be progressive but whose actions are far from progressive thought. 
The definition of progressive education reform is rooted in two fundamental concepts – equality for all and democracy.  The basis and ideals of progressive education reform are rooted in making schools effective institutions that promote a democratic society.  Progressive education reform believes that all people participate in this democracy and that there be shared ideals of equality for all in the social, economic, educational, and economic decisions of society.  Progressive educators fight for diversity in society and actively promote it in all facets of the social construct.  In fact, progressive educators encourage strongly the ideas of collaboration and base their philosophical roots in programs that are child centered and based on evidence and research. 

Based on the above definition  let’s look at the education agenda of  what a progressive education organization looks like.    Perhaps one of the most powerful statements made by the BAT organization came in a letter to the USDOE Civil Rights Bureau where it was demanded that certain civil rights issues be addressed by the department.   In this piece BATs outlined:
We urgently request that the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights convene a national committee to make recommendations to alleviate these unacceptable conditions after conducting an extensive fact finding campaign. The committee should start with New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago and Newark, and should include all constituencies (parents, teachers, students, as well as race, social and educational scholars). Areas of investigation should include:
 - the closings of schools in predominantly urban areas made up of communities of color and those living in poverty;
 - the conditions of schools attended by children of color and children living in poverty (large class sizes, crumbling buildings);
 - the starvation of resources of our public schools in the major urban areas which cause children to attend school without nurses, social workers, fewer teachers, and without proper educational materials;
 - the pushing out of our teachers of color;
 - the pushing out of our veteran teachers;
It is our belief that the path to reversal of these crimes against the institution of public education lie with a renewal of the realization of the true purpose of public education and its role within the community.

Dr. Denisha Jones, a member of the Badass Teachers Association Leadership Team and head researcher published a powerful essay on racism which is also one of our blogs most popular pieces  - “The Death of Michael Brown, Teachers, and Racism: 10 Things Every Badass Teacher Needs To Understand” in which Dr. Jones wrote:
When it comes to the responsibilities teachers have for fighting racism I think teachers fall into three categories: 1) they accept the responsibility; 2) they are unsure if this is their responsibility and 3) they refuse to accept that this is their responsibility. When we decided to be teachers I doubt many of us thought we would become activists for racial equality. I sure didn’t and I’m black! In fact when I decided to become a teacher I was probably just like some of you. See I used to believe in a colorblind approach for dealing with racism (more on this later). I thought that if I ignored the fact that I am black others would also ignore it. But what I learned growing up in White America is that no one can ignore the fact that I am black. And I don’t want them to. But it took me a long time to get to where I am today. So I understand why you might not see this daunting responsibility as yours but it truly is.

Dr.  Yohuru Williams, a member of the BAT Leadership Team, made a moving speech at the BATs D.C. Rally held at the United States Department of Education in July of 2014.  At that rally he strongly proclaimed
Mr. Duncan, you pledged that you would help root out racial disparity and inequality in the allocation of resources in our schools but your privileging of charters over true investment in our urban schools has been disastrous and the segregation of Latino youth in particular is appalling. For many of us who labor in schools deeply impacted by the maintenance of a two tiered system of education that mirrors the two America’s separate and unequal identified by the 1967 Kerner Commission, we struggle to reconcile our reality with your rhetoric. Mr. Duncan, this is not innovation its re-segregation—shameful, immoral and illegal. And we are not buying it. 

BAT General Manager Marla Kilfoyle and Asst. General Manager Melissa Tomlinson teamed up to discuss that teachers teach to give all children opportunity.  They stated
Every child should have an opportunity to attend a school that caters to their community. When the school takes pride in its community the community in turn takes pride in its school. DL Hughley said it perfectly on Real Time with Bill Maher, “Why do I have to leave where I come from to go to a school that is NOT in my neighborhood? It says everything about where I come from is horrible. Why is everything better where I am NOT?” Perhaps the most egregious act that corporate market reformers thrust onto communities is closing their schools and calling them failures. Instead of focusing on closing schools and working so hard to label them failures, how about an examination of models that work to close the opportunity gap and replicate them? One needs to only examine the Schools of Opportunity project for ideas that seek to close the opportunity gaps and implement researched best practices. We have to examine models that seek to truly close the opportunity gap and that show they do in practice. We must move away from corporate market reform that relies NOT one bit on research. We know of NO valid research that says high sakes testing, Common Core, and closing schools will close the opportunity gap.

Steven Singer, another valued member of the BATs Leadership team writes in his piece “Public School Takeovers – When Local Control is Marked ‘White Only’ “
American public schools serving large populations of impoverished and minority children are increasingly being taken over by their respective states. People of color and people living in poverty are losing their right to govern their own schools. They are losing a say in how their own children are educated. They are losing elective governance. Why? No other reason than that they are poor and brown skinned.

An examination of these few articles show what progressive education reform should look like.  It certainly should NOT be about closing schools in an attack on our urban centers of color, opening more charters which do not take in children with disabilities or English Language Learners, stripping middle class teachers of their due process rights, exposing our children to education standards that have not been researched, using test scores to shutter the schools of our most high needs communities forcing them into charters ripe with fraud and mismanagement, and wage an all-out assault on our urban school districts which has resulted in job loss for high numbers of  teachers of color.

Instead, what a true progressive reform agenda for our schools should resembles involves a concentrated effort in analyzing the needs of the community members in which the school resides, planning how to meet those needs, and working with partner community organizations to work towards the goal of meeting those needs. It is only by raising the strength of the individual members of a community that the strength of the community as a whole will grow and be strong enough to establish a supportive base that will become the village that is needed to raise our future generations.

When we look at the foundations of corporate education reform and many of the players who proclaim to push a progressive agenda we see that they don’t follow the basic roots of what progressive education is really about.   Progressive education is rooted in equality and corporate education reform is rooted in profit  that is being gained off the backs of our students. They sell the promise of quick solutions brought on by shiny charter schools with elusive transparency that are no more effective than public schools, brand-new textbooks with a repurposed curriculum that neglects age-appropriate learning, and standardized tests that  have little value in guiding instruction. All of these items neglect the true stakeholders of education, the students, the parents, and the teachers.

Marla Kilfoyle is the General Manager of The Badass Teachers Association.  You can follow her on twitter @marla_kilfoyle

Melissa Tomlinson is the Asst. General Manager of The Badass Teachers Association.  You can follow her on twitter @NJBATsA

Both are current practicing public school teachers

1 comment:

  1. We cannot continue to divorce education policy from economic policy. The corporate powers are tying them ever closer together, yet we continue to pretend school funding is not related to class war and a broken campaign finance system. We base our defenses on the academic needs of children, rather than the basic needs of the whole family. Education rheeform is just another page in the playbook of oligarchs, aiming to weaken teacher unions who support progressive candidates.