Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Testimony Before the NYC Panel for Educational Policy (PEP)
By:  Kemala Karmen, Deputy Director, Co-Founder NYCpublic.org

Ladies and gentlemen of the PEP, I thank you for calling a special session to consider passing a resolution against the nomination of Betsy DeVos. My suspicion is that you would not have called this session unless you were already inclined to pass the resolution because, as I am sure those who come before and after me today will note, Ms. DeVos completely and utterly lacks the qualifications to run a classroom--much less the education system of our entire country.
Since passing this resolution is a no-brainer, I would like to use my brief time in front of you to ask you to think about why you oppose DeVos and, further, to think about how New York State and New York City are guilty of some of the same crimes for which you would call out DeVos. And, as the parent of public school children myself, I would ask you PLEASE, on behalf of the children and families of our city, that you put your money where your mouth is, and no longer shore up those things, as you currently do, whether through direct action or passive inaction.
What am I talking about? In their home state of Michigan, the DeVos family has been working to undermine public education for at least 40 years. When their initial attempts to fund religious schools with public money failed, they jumped on charter schools as an answer, leveraging their billions in assets to buy pro-charter political clout. In NY, the mechanism may not be exactly analogous, but our politicians too, both Democrat and Republican, have bent under a cascade of donations from the Big Money pro-charter sector. In NY, as in Michigan and elsewhere, the means by which the denigration, defunding, and closure of public schools is justified is through test-based “accountability.” Though our governor has remarked that the state test scores are “meaningless” for students, that is in fact not true. The state receivership law sends the bottom 5% of schools into receivership based on test scores—i.e. open for charterization, something DeVos would applaud. If you keep doing away with the bottom 5% year after year, soon you will be left with no public schools. Also, test scores tend to correlate with income, so the vulnerable schools tend to be right here in our city, where there are many families living in poverty. I would hope that the mayor, the chancellor, and you on the PEP would be screaming to the rooftops about this injustice, but I don’t hear much about it. Instead, I have heard the Chancellor, in response to parents like me, who see the test refusal endorsed by the grassroots opt-out movement as a way to fight back—because without the test scores you can’t rank the schools for this indignity—endorse the tests with infuriating statements like “Our students are up for the challenge.” Really? Performing on a test whose purpose is to close down public schools is not the challenge I envision for my child. The challenges I want for my children are figuring out how to live in a pluralistic society, how to use their wits and their talents and their compassion to work alongside others for the betterment of the world.
One of the measures that DeVos supported in Michigan was Senate Bill 571, the so-called *gag order* law intended to keep public entities from talking to their constituents about local ballot measures—school millages, bonds to fund public services, etc.[1] Here in New York, we have our own gag order. No joke: Teachers are not allowed to READ the state tests they proctor. In other words, there is no official feedback/quality control for these high-stakes tests on which schools, and not withstanding Cuomo’s remarks, students, are judged (Specific to NYC, middle and high schools use state test scores in the admissions process. DOE, PEP, remove student test scores from the admissions process!)
I know the Chancellor has been asked to sign a parent-created petition making the small, reasonable demand that this loophole re not reading the tests be closed. To my knowledge, she has not signed. I am not surprised because the superintendent of the district in which I live is on record opposing teachers talking to parents about the educational merits, or lack thereof, of these tests.[2]
In closing, I would like to make a final point. The kinds of voucher and charter policies that DeVos espouses splinter a community. We are seeing what it means when the polity is so fractured, how positions calcify and government fails to do the will of the people. There needs to be more space for community voices in our city’s education policy. I am happy that today you are listening to what we think about Betsy DeVos. But…When thousands of people petition you about their disappointment in a principal (as happened at LaGuardia HS and Central Park East I—both places where the new principal’s stance on testing is part of parent dissatisfaction), I invite you to listen. When parents beg that their schools not be closed or co-located, please listen. We need strong, community-supported public schools now more than ever.

Farcical Senate Closer to Selling Education Secretary Position to Highest Bidder by Steven Singer

Originally posted at: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/farcical-senate-closer-to-selling-education-secretary-position-to-highest-bidder/

Unqualified billionaire Betsy DeVos is one step closer to becoming our next Education Secretary. 

In one of the most embarrassing displays of subservience, once-respected Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) pushed the nomination through committee this afternoon despite numerous objections from Democrats.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted along party lines 12-11 to bring DeVos before the full Senate. A final vote has not yet been scheduled.

DeVos has next to zero experience with public schools. She never attended one. He children never attended one. She never taught in one. Nor does she even have a degree in education.
Her entire experience is bribing policymakers to enact Common Core, push school choice measures and reduce transparency at charter schools – measures that have gutted public schools in her home state of Michigan.

At her confirmation hearing two weeks ago, DeVos’ ignorance of even the most basic education knowledge was laughably on display.
She wouldn’t commit to protecting students with special needs.
She wouldn’t commit to keeping guns out of school campuses.
She wouldn’t commit to holding charter and voucher schools to the same standards as traditional public schools.
She didn’t know the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was a federal law.
And she couldn’t explain the difference between proficiency and growth, two of the most common academic terms.
DeVos entire qualifications are that, along with her family, she has donated around $200 million to mostly Republican lawmakers.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – $70,200
Sen. Tim Scott (R–SC) – $49,200
Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) – $48,600
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) – $43,200
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – $43,200
Senators have been bombarded by calls from constituents not to confirm DeVos, but greenbacks apparently talk much louder than our fragile excuse-for-a-Democracy.
Sen. Susan Collins, (R-ME) and Sen. Murkowski said they were approving DeVos out of deference to Donald Trump. In effect, the President can nominate whomever he likes, and the Senate should vote on it.
Both Collins and Murkowski said they’re still concerned about DeVos’ seeming lack of commitment to enforce laws protecting disabled students and other policies.

“I would advise she not yet count on my vote,” Murkowski said.

The Senate, just like the HELP Committee, is controlled by Republicans. DeVos is only another party line vote away from becoming Secretary of Education.

It is a position that she has apparently already bought and paid for.

Along with her deep ignorance and antipathy toward public schools, Democrats object to DeVos’ financial entanglements. She has already agreed to divest herself from more than 100 investments at the urging of the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics. However, it is difficult to gauge how deeply she is committed to enterprises that could benefit her financially through her position, if confirmed. It is hard to imagine any other candidate for the position with as many ties to for-profit enterprises potentially biasing decisions that should be made for the benefit of the nation’s children and not personal gain.

Meanwhile, the ranking Democrat in the HELP committee, Sen. Patty Murray, (D-WA), claims that DeVos may have plagiarized her written answers to questions asked by her committee.

DeVos seems to have nearly quoted a Justice Department press release, a magazine article, federal statutes, and Education Department materials without attribution, seemingly passing them off as her own responses, Murrays said.
These are mistakes that would earn a public school student a failing grade. Apparently standards are much lower for government office.
Teachers must have advanced degrees just to preside over a classroom. DeVos will be presiding over the nations schools.
It is next to impossible to claim that her nomination is moving forward based in merit.
Our children will be left vulnerable to the whims of a woman who has no idea what she’s doing and has demonstrated a desire to destroy their schools.
If Republicans (and Democrats) have any spine at all, the time has come to show it. Or else just take your dirty money and shut up.

Changing the Narrative: What’s Missing from National School Choice Week

Originally published at Changing the Narrative on 1/31/2017

National School Choice began in 2011 with 150 events and concluded this week with 16,745 events to spread the word about school choice options.  According to the website, National School Choice Week is about giving parents the opportunity to select from an array of K-12 options that include, “traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.” Implied is the assumption that parents want and need a choice because the traditional system of children attending neighborhood schools is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of parents. Given that some school districts are under-resourced due to the unequal property tax system that funds public education, there are many challenges facing neighborhood schools. But instead of improving these schools, the current solution is to give parents a choice to go to another type of school. And when they go they take the funding allocated per child with them and bring it to the school of their choice. 
Proponents of school choice have always believed that competition and a free market is what is needed to fix America’s public schools. When parents and children become consumers of public education they can force schools to offer the best educational environments or risk losing customers and eventually closing.  Parental choice will drive the market and improve the offerings.  Well that sounds good in theory, but only if all choices are on the table. If the only choices parents and students have are the ones that make the most profit for shareholders how can we say they are getting the best of the market? What if parents want to choose something that is not being offered? How will a market based system serve those needs? Well if National School Choice Week wants me to join in the celebration next year, below are five choices I would like to see added to the program.
  1. The choice to opt out of all standardized testing and non-teacher made assessments. Opting out is the best choice a parent can make when they do not want their child to be used as a pawn in the standardized testing industrial complex. Assessment is an essential factor for good teaching and learning, but standardized testing is only one type of assessment and has grown into an insidious monster that wreaks havoc in schools. If National School Choice Week really cares about what is best for parents, then they will add opting out as a choice to be recognized and celebrated.
  2.  The choice for every child to have access to equitably resourced and diverse sustainable community schools. This might sound like a traditional public school that is supposedly included in National School Choice Week, but its more. To have this type of school some school choice options would not be allowed to drain resources and funding from public schools as they do now.  The commitment to high quality public schools needed to ensure they are sustainable would interfere with the need for some charter management operations to expand their profit margin at any cost. Additionally, current choice schools that filter children out who have special needs, are English Language Leaners, or simply make the application process so tough so they can select the students they want, would present a challenge to ensuring that parents can choose diverse schools.
  3. The choice for a school culture that strives for racial and gender equity. Equity is not the same as equality but for many supporters of choice it is easy to conflate the two. True equity means understanding what a group needs and giving it to them even if it means another group does not have it because they do not need it. If we are to have real racial and gender equity, then we must acknowledge that certain groups have been disadvantaged because of their race or gender and we commit to giving them what they need to succeed without questioning whether it is fair to the dominant group.  Will National School Choice Week recognize this choice and commit to helping parents get it?
  4. The choice for restorative practices instead of punitive discipline (i.e., detention, suspension, and expulsion). Every year we learn that schools punish black and brown boys and girls at higher rate than their white peers and that this disturbing trends begins in pre-school. We also know that when schools implement restorative practices the need for punitive discipline plummets. So why shouldn’t parents get to choose educational environments that implement restorative justice?
  5. The choice for ethnic studies and culturally relevant curriculum. Do parents have the right to choose a curriculum that values their children’s culture and uses it as an asset in the classroom? I believe they do and I think a true celebration of school choice would recognize that many children do not get this opportunity. Instead they are taught from a cultural deficiency perspective that blames their families and communities for their educational challenges.  True choice includes a choice in what gets taught and how it is taught to ensure that each child can see themselves and their culture in the curriculum as a positive contribution to society.

These are just some of the choices I noticed were missing in National School Choice Week celebration.  If the true intent is to provide parents with opportunities in education, then that would include the opportunity for these choices and many more.  If as I suspect, it is just a ploy to push charters and online schools then I will not hold my breath waiting for my choices to be added to next years celebration. The current system of choice is not about parents choosing good schools its about schools choosing good students and ensures that many families lose.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Being Muslim Is Not a Crime by Ferial Pearson

From her speech protesting the ban on Muslims. Omaha, Nebraska 1-29-17.

Peace be upon you
Bismillah ar rahman ar rahim
I would like to begin by paying my respects to the indigenous people whose land we are on right now. In particular, I pay my respects to the Umoⁿhoⁿ people for whom this city is named.
Unless you belong to the indigenous tribes of this land, you are an immigrant, as well. Chances are, some of your ancestors were refugees too.
My name is Ferial Pearson and I am a Muslim immigrant from Kenya. I came to this country nineteen years ago on a student visa to fulfill my dream of becoming a teacher, and I have dedicated my career to educating children in Nebraska. Most of my students have been immigrants, children of immigrants, refugees, and asylees. They have been the hardest and smartest workers I have ever met. They have gone on to do great things and are creating positive change in communities around the world, including here in these United States of America.
I am here to tell you that being Muslim is not a crime. Being a refugee is not a crime.
I would like to lift up the voice of Warsan Shire, a British-Somali poet, who wrote this poem entitled Home. I hope you listen with an open heart as she is not here to speak these words herself today.
Home, by Warsan Shire
no one leaves home
unless home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.
your neighbours running faster than you,
the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home when home won’t let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home chased you,
fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought about doing,
and so when you did — you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back.
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days and nights in the stomach of a truck unless the miles travelled meant something more than journey.
no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
then drowned,
forced to the bottom of the boat because you are darker,
be sold, starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family, make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched,
find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side with
go home blacks, refugees dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk, dark,
with their hands out smell strange, savage — look what they’ve done to their own countries, what will they do to ours?
the dirty looks in the street softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who look like your father, between your legs,
insults easier to swallow than rubble,
than your child’s body in pieces — for now, forget about pride your survival is more important.
i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore unless home tells you to leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.
no one leaves home
until home is a damp voice in your ear saying leave,
run now,
i don’t know what i’ve become.
Muslims, asylees, refugees, and immigrants are teachers, we are lawyers, we are activists, we are doctors, we are business owners, we are students, we are poets, we are musicians, we are artists, we are inventors, we are parents, we are siblings, we are friends, and we are your co-workers and we are your neighbors. We contribute to this community just as much as anyone. We have intersectional identities and we ask that you understand that we are a part of every single facet of this society and have been for hundreds of years.
So when you march for women’s rights, know that we are women too.
When you march at Pride, know that we are LGBTQIA too.
When you march for education, know that we are teachers and students too.
When you march for science, know that we are scientists too.
When you march for disability rights, now that we are of mixed ability too.
I could go on; we are everyone too.
We are you.
The irony is that people come here to escape tyranny and religious, political, and ideological persecution. But what we have seen in the past few days is that America is becoming a place where it is no longer safe to come for freedom.
Mandy Faripour, a refugee from Iran who, like me, has spent her entire career educating and advocating for children in this state, said:
“What this administration did not count on is the prior experience of the many immigrants who have made the United States their home. We’ve witnessed, first hand, the embers of totalitarianism in our countries of origin and easily see it now. The canary in the coal mine is dead and we will not be silenced.”
I seek guidance from my faith as a Muslim. In my faith, I am required to stand witness to justice, fairness, equality, not just in words, but in practice. In the Qur’an it says “be just, that is closest to Godliness.”
Social justice in Islam extends to everyone in my community, whether or not they are related to me or share my faith. I must pay Zakat where a portion of my income must be given to those who need it. The Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, once said, “he is not a Muslim who sleeps with his stomach full while his neighbor stays hungry.”
My faith stands firmly against inequality and encourages me to be involved with initiatives that would eradicate the root causes of inequality.
My Imam, the Aga Khan, says “Diversity itself can be seen as a gift. Diversity is not a reason to put up walls, but rather to open windows. It is not a burden; it is a blessing.
I end with a quote from Lilla Watson, an indigenous Australian woman, who echoes my feelings about how we advocate for the people most affected by this recent Executive Order: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Peace be upon you.
Thank you.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Frank Edelblut Is Wrong For New Hampshire Education Commissioner by Dr. Michael Flanagan

Those of us who live outside of New Hampshire have probably never heard of Frank Edelblut, the former rival of New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu during last year’s gubernatorial race. Sununu has since tapped Edelblut to be the next Commissioner of Education for New Hampshire. In the world of alternative facts, Edelblut is as good a nominee as Betsy DeVos. For the students, parents and teachers of New Hampshire, who prefer to look at actual facts, he would be a terrible choice. First off, Edelblut has no professional experience in public education.

Edelblut is a venture capitalist with degrees in Accounting and Theology. He is a major supporter of school choice and he homeschooled his seven children. He strongly supports the use of vouchers and the use of public school tax dollars to send children to private schools. The Koch brothers’ funded education reform organization Americans For Prosperity  have already voiced their approval, and their vast financial resources, to support his confirmation. After all there is $1.29 billion dollars in public school money controlled by the Commissioner of Education.

The Republicans on the Executive Council  point to Edelblut’s opposition of Common Core as justification for his selection as Commissioner of Education. The problem is that he has supported every other attack on public schools and teacher’s rights throughout his political career. It is because of his strong opposition to actual public education that he is often compared with Betsy DeVos, another wealthy vulture capitalist out to privatize taxpayer money that should be going to New Hampshire Public school children.

Teachers’ unions such as the NEA have come out strongly against Edelblut’s nomination. The AFL-CIO, in addition to being against his drive to privatize public schools and use school choice as a means to further segregate our communities, see his support of Right To Work laws as a means to further attack union rights.

To all New Hampshire public school teachers and parents who do not want to see our public schools run by a commissioner who would not even send any of his own children to public schools, and will create further inequity by using public funds to subsidize private schools, please contact the members of the Governor’s Executive Council. Stop the confirmation of Frank Edelblut as Commissioner of Education in New Hampshire, he is wrong for our children.

  • The individual phone numbers and Email addresses of the Council members can be found in this link.  
  • The Executive Council includes three Republicans and two Democrats, and it votes on Tuesday, January 31st. You can also write an online  letter directly to the council at this link.

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World by Steven Singer

Everyone knows U.S. public schools are failing.
Just like everyone knows you should never wake sleepwalkers, bulls hate red and Napoleon was short.
Wrong on all counts. Waking sleepwalkers will cause them no harm – in fact, they’re more likely to harm themselves while sleepwalking. Bulls are colorblind; they’re attracted to movement. And Napoleon was 5’7”, which was above average height for Frenchman during his lifetime.
So why do we believe that American public schools are doing such a terrible job?
Because far right policymakers have convinced us all that it’s true.
It’s not.
Let me repeat that in no uncertain terms – America’s public schools are NOT failing. They are among the best in the world. Really!
We have made a commitment to every single child regardless of what their parents can afford to pay, regardless of their access to transportation, regardless of whether they can afford uniforms, lunch or even if they have a home. Heck! We even provide education to children who are here illegally.
That can’t be said of many countries with which we’re often compared – especially countries comparable to the U.S. in size or diversity. So from the get-go, we have an advantage over most of the world.
We define education differently. Though our laws are woefully backward, in practice we look at it as a right, not a privilege. And for a full 13 years (counting kindergarten) it’s a right for every child, not just some.
But that’s not all! We also provide some of the highest quality education you can get in the world! We teach more, help more, achieve more and yet we are criticized more than any system in any country in the world.


Critics argue that our scores on international tests don’t justify such a claim. But they’re wrong before you even look at the numbers. They’re comparing apples to pears. You simply can’t compare the United States to countries that leave hundreds of thousands of rural and poor children without any education whatsoever. The Bates Motel may have the softest pillows in town, but it’s immediately disqualified because of the high chance of being murdered in the shower.
No school system of this size anywhere in the world exceeds the United States in providing free access to education for everyone. And that, alone, makes us one of the best.
It doesn’t mean our system is problem free. There are plenty of ways we could improve. We’re still incredibly segregated by race and class. Our funding formulas are often regressive and inadequate. Schools serving mostly poor students don’t have nearly the resources of those serving rich students. But at least at the very outset what we’re trying to do is better than what most of the world takes on. You can’t achieve equity if it isn’t even on the menu.
However, for some people, this will not be enough. They’ll say that despite our high ideals, the quality of what we actually provide our students is low. After all, those international test scores are so low.
First point: it depends on the scores you’re looking at. American elementary and middle school students have improved on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study every four years since the tests began in 1995. They are above the international average in all categories and within a few percentage points of the global leaders (something rarely mentioned on the nightly news).
Even on the PISA test administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to 15-year-olds in about 60 countries, US children are far from the bottom of the scale. We’re somewhere in the middle. We’ve always been in the middle for all the decades since they’ve been making these comparisons. Our schools have not gotten worse. They have stayed the same.


To some this just demonstrates that our schools have always been mediocre. But again you’re overlooking the consequences of our ideals.
The broader the spectrum of children who take a test, the lower the average score will be. In other words, if only your top students take the test, your average score will be very high. If only your top and middle students take the test, your average score will still be quite high. But if ALL of your students take the test, your average score will be lower.
Now add in poverty. Living in poverty reduces your access to health care, books, early childhood education and many other factors that increase learning throughout your lifeChildren from poor families are already more than a year behind those of rich parents on the first day of kindergarten. If you only test the wealthiest students, the average test score will probably be quite high. The average score will drop dramatically if you test all of your students.
That’s why many of these countries where the poorest children do not have access to education have higher test scores than the United States. You’re not comparing equals. The United States has the highest child poverty rate in the Western World. And we don’t hide them away. We include them on our tests. That has a major impact on our scores. But talking heads on TV almost always ignore it. They pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s the only way they can use these test scores to “prove” to a gullible audience that America’s schools are failing.
But if you fairly compare education systems and factor in the equal access we provide for all children to an education, our system comes out way on top. We have one of the best systems in the world.
But wait! There’s more!


Not only does the United States serve all children regardless of academic achievement or poverty. We also serve far more students with disabilities.
Why are there so many special education children in the USA? Because we have a higher standard of living.
A standard pregnancy lasts about 280 days or 40 weeks. However, some mothers give birth to children after only 28 weeks. Two decades ago, these babies would not have survived. Today, they often do. Five years later that child will enter kindergarten and our school system will be responsible for teaching that student to read, write and learn math. In other countries, premature babies have a much lower chance of survival. They don’t survive to become the special education population. So things as diverse as the live-birth rate actually affect average test scores.
Another counterintuitive factor is the suicide rate. In many countries where pressure to perform at the highest levels on standardized tests is extreme, many children are actually driven to suicide. This is especially true in numerous Asian countries with a record of high scores on these international tests. So a higher suicide rate actually increases test scores.
Would you say this makes other countries superior to the United States? Heck no! In fact, just the opposite. I certainly wouldn’t wish more underperforming U.S. students were ending their lives so we could do better on international tests. Nor would I wish that more premature babies died to improve our international standing.
We have developed a special education system to help children at the edges that many other countries just can’t touch. In some countries these students are simply excluded. In others they are institutionalized. In some countries it’s up to parents to find ways to pay for special services. The United States is one of the only countries where these children are not only included and offered full and free access, but the schools go above and beyond to teach these children well beyond their 12th academic year.
In every public school in the United States these students are included. In math, reading, science and social studies, they are there benefiting from instruction with the rest of the class. And this, in turn, benefits even our non-special education students who gain lessons in empathy and experience the full range of human abilities.
Of course, most of our special education students are also included in our test scores. Yes, other countries that ignore these children and exclude them from testing get higher scores. But so what? Do you mean to tell me this makes them better? No, it makes them worse.
In many ways, we are the gold standard, not them. They should be emulating us, not the other way around. They should be jealous of the way we prize each other’s humanity. We shouldn’t be salivating at test scores achieved through shunning certain students in favor of others.


But it’s not just who we teach, it’s also what we teach.
Compared to many other countries, U.S. school curriculum is often much wider and varied. Countries that focus only on testing often leave out sciences, arts, literature and humanities.
Unfortunately, the push from policymakers even in the U.S. has been to narrow curriculum to imitate some of the worst practices of our competitors. But in many districts we still strive to create well-rounded graduates and not just good test-takers.
The bottom line: the curriculum at most American schools is more inclusive than that found internationally. We even include societal issues like alcohol and drug abuse prevention, stress reduction and relaxation, and physical fitness programs.
In addition we don’t stratify our children based on academic ability to nearly the same degree as many international schools. We don’t weed out our worst students through middle and high school until only our most capable are left in 12th grade. Nor is college only open to our best and brightest. We make a much greater effort than many other countries to keep this option open to as many students as possible regardless of whether they can afford it or not. The number of Americans with at least some college education has soared over the past 70 years, from 10 percent in 1940 to 56 percent today, even as the population has tripled and the nation has grown vastly more diverse. Meanwhile, Graduation rates are at an all-time high of 83.2 percent, and for the first time minority students are catching up with their white counterparts.
It’s not easy. But it’s something we’re committed to as a nation. And that’s not true around the world.


Finally, there’s the issue of size. The United States is a big country – the third most populous in the world. We have 324,450,000 people and growing. That’s about 50 million students in public schools.
It’s much easier to educate less children. Even excellent education systems would struggle with our sheer numbers. Small systems often outshine bigger ones. For instance, I might be able to make dinner for my immediate family, but I’d find it much more challenging to prepare a meal for a banquet hall of hundreds. Similarly, it remains to be seen whether smaller nations could handle educating a population as big and diverse as ours without collapsing.
By any fair measure, America’s public education system is simply stunning. But the media perpetuates the myth that we’re failing.


After decades of hearing these falsehoods, the American public is strikingly divided. On a 2011 Gallup poll, parents were asked their opinion of their local school and the public was asked its opinion of schools in general. The results are enlightening. Parents who gave their local school an A grade were at the highest percentage ever (37%) whereas only 1% of respondents rated the nations schools that way. Why the difference? Respondents said it was mostly because people knew about their local schools through direct experience. They only learned about the state of education nationally through the news media.
Why is education reporting so biased? Part of it is monetary. Huge corporations make hundreds of millions of dollars off of the failing schools narrative. They sell new standardized tests, new test prep materials, new Common Core books, trainings for teachers, materials, etc. If they can’t demonstrate that our schools are failing, their market shrinks. And who do you think owns the shrinking media conglomerates? That’s right, many of these same corporations.
But even when journalists want to be fair, it’s difficult for them to get the inside story of how our public schools work. They are rarely permitted inside our schools to see the day-to-day classroom experience. Legal issues about which students may be photographed, filmed or interviewed, the difficulty of getting parental permissions and the possibility of embarrassment to principals and administrators often keeps the doors closed. In many districts, teachers aren’t even allowed to speak on the record to the media or doing so can make them a political target. So reporters are often in the position of being unable to directly experience the very thing they’re reporting on. Imagine if sportswriters never got to see athletes play or political reporters never attended a campaign rally. Of course there would be a disconnect!
So we’re left with a public education system that should be the envy of the world being portrayed as a loser.


As ever, far right politicians on both sides of the aisle, whether they be Democratic Neoliberals or Republican Tea Partiers, are using falsehoods about our public schools to sell an alternative. They say our public schools are beyond saving and that we need to privatize. They call it school choice but it’s really just an attempt to destroy the system that has so much going for it.
We should strengthen public education not undermine it. We should roll up our sleeves and fix the real problems we have, not invent fake ones.
People act as if “alternative facts” were invented by the Trump administration. Our policymakers have been using them for decades in a libelous and dishonest campaign against our public schools.

They are some of the best in the world – if only people knew it.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Tale Of Two Marches by Dr. Michael Flanagan

On Thursday night I went with some of my colleagues to Washington DC in order to meet with the staffs of Senator Sanders and Senator Hassan and advocate for public education. It is important in this time of upheaval in American politics to advocate for public school students. The DeVos confirmation vote is scheduled for Monday and my fellow members of BATs and I wanted to make sure the voices of real teachers and parents were heard by at least two of the key members of the Health Education Pensions and Labor committee.

Our meetings with both staffs went well, in addition to pushing back on DeVos, we spoke about the threats to IDEA, the concerns of ESSA, a call for a Congressional conference in which real teachers and actual experts could show that the public schools are not “failing”, but that we are intentionally being failed in order for astroturf organizations like Students First, corporations like Pearson Publishing and Charter schools like Success Academy to siphon off public school tax dollars. We brought up the dilapidated working conditions of so many public schools, especially for those students and teachers in Detroit, the home of Betsy DeVos. We also brought up the fact that BATs has created an action group with a large social media reach that we could use to push progressive issues and target specific concerns of the HELP Committee members. BATs may not have the millions of dollars of the Eli Broad, Walton and Fordham foundations, but we have networks of intelligent, concerned and dedicated public school activists who are mobilized and ready to support actions. The meetings went well, and we will continue to cultivate those connections while making more appointments with politicians.

However, the reason I write this piece is not to discuss our efforts to advocate on the behalf of our teachers and their students. It is to describe a rather ironic circumstance. My friends in BATs and I usually stay at the Holiday Inn when we are in DC. It is right across the street from the Department of Education and we have organized several protests from that hotel. When we arrived there Thursday night, we were focused on our meetings with the Senators. So much so that we did not realize how many people, especially young high school aged kids, were walking around the hotel hallways and lobby. As we were in the elevator going down to dinner, three of us looked at each other, questioningly as we noticed the people riding down with us in the elevator carrying Bibles and wearing Christian themed T-Shirts. When we got to the lobby it became clear that the hotel was filled with students, chaperones and families who had been bussed in for Friday’s “March For Life” rally.

It was just five days ago that all of us taking part in this trip had marched in the “Women’s March”, in either DC or New York City. We were now woefully out of place, and both the irony and humor of our situation was not lost on us. Feigning panic I said; “good thing we are going to the hotel bar for dinner, as it will be like our 'sanctuary'". I had assumed correctly that the majority of these guests/marchers would not be spending time in a hotel bar aptly named the “21st Amendment”. I was correct in my thinking as the place was empty. As we had dinner and a few glasses of wine, we watched the packs of pro-life marchers walking back and forth, none even contemplating entering the bar. We made comparisons to the three of us, all supporters of a woman's right to control her own body, landing smack dab in the middle of a right to life event. It reminded me of the old Richard Pryor movie, “Bustin’ Loose”. That scene where he wanders into a KKK march accidentally. Or when the white college students from National Lampoon’s “Animal House” go to see Otis Day and the Nights play at the Black club, after they had recently performed at the frat house. “Mind if we dance with your dates?”. We sat in the restaurant, ate dinner and people watched from our sanctuary where, being the Irishman that I am, I postulated that it must be fear of the sin of alcohol that was preventing the incursion of the revelers on the night before the march. Occasionally someone would enter the bar, and ask us if we were there for the march, and we would reply something to the effect of “No, we marched last week.” There would be an inevitable awkward pause and in order to break the tension, I would ask them to take a picture of all of us. The next morning as we were heading to our meeting, and the pro lifers were all leaving for their rally, I was wearing my BAT Apple T-Shirt when a man who looked to be a pastor and was wearing a Christian themed T-Shirt said he liked my shirt. I replied thank you, but was glad that he did not ask me what the name BAT stood for. Suffice to say, it was a long elevator ride.

I know that the people in the hotel, and those attending the March For Life are not bad people. They were there, because they had been raised to believe the way they do. But to be honest, at one point I may have equated our situation to those of characters in a Walking Dead episode who were trapped in an abandoned building surrounded by the zombies that would eat our brains. After our meeting at the Capitol office buildings, we walked right into the end of the March for Life. They had marched from the Washington Monument to the Supreme court. As we were leaving and heading to the Union Station, which was packed, but strangely there were very few people on the train back to New York City, I tried to identify some similarities and difference between the two marches.

Of course it was easier to begin with the clear differences between the two events. The first was the age of so many March For Lifers. They were high school and college aged kids who had been given the day off and bussed in directly through their schools and churches. The Women’s Marchers had mostly saved and booked the travel themselves, they were not funded through outside organizations. The March For Lifers have been holding this same event for the past 44 years now, and this year the march was promoted by President Trump and Mike Pence was the keynote speaker. In contrast the Women’s March originated three months ago, born of the frustration of seeing a misogynist who bragged about sexual assault being elected President on a platform of repealing the ACA and appointing a Supreme Court Justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade. While there were plenty of celebrity speakers and some politicians who spoke at the Women’s March, it was a true grass roots event. The March For Lifers carried mass produced signs during their march, paid for with either tax free church money or through the deep pocketed funders of the Christian Right. The Women’s Marchers carried home made, often hysterical, signs speaking out on their issues. The March For Lifers grew up seeing pictures of aborted fetuses, and were taught at an early age to call people who support a woman’s right to chose, murderers and baby killers. The Women’s Marchers knitted pink pussy cat hats and demonstrated for women’s rights, and against the fascism of this fledgling administration. The one thing that was abundantly clear was that the people supporting the pro life march were well financed, compared to we who had marched in the Women’s March. The March For Life event had a good number of attendees, the Women’s March was the largest political demonstration in human history and was filled with people of all backgrounds and age groups,

The similarities were a bit more difficult to identify, but here is what I came up with: In both events, children played a key role. Both events drew entire families who are committed to their beliefs. Both protests were filled with passion, and people who sacrificed their time to peacefully advocate for their issues by exercising their Freedom of Speech. That is pretty much all I could come up with on the similarities part, and yes I know it sounds like I am reaching. But being a high school teacher I needed to include a counterclaim somewhere.  

I could say my point in writing this piece was to show that we as a people, even though we have drastically different opinions on the direction this country is heading, should all be able to protest, demonstrate and advocate for our beliefs. I could say that was my point, but alas, it is not. My point is that if you are planning to go to Washington DC, to march in the streets or just to speak to your politicians about education issues, you should research what event is going on there at the time, and try not to book a hotel filled with people who completely disagree with almost everything you stand for. And if you do accidentally find yourself surrounded by large groups of pro lifers in a crowded hotel, take shelter in the hotel bar. They will not follow you there. Also, if you attempt to blend in, in order to make it back to your room or something, just ask anyone who is standing next to you “are you here for the rally?”. Works every time.