Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Is Love Enough to Fight Today’s White, Male Terrorists? by Steven Singer

When I was growing up, I was told that love is all you need.
But now in the face of such hatred toward people of color, I’m not so sure.
Three brave people put their lives on the line to stop a knife-wielding white supremacist on a bus in Portland, Oregon, yesterday. Two of them – Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche – lost their lives defending two young women being menaced with anti-Muslim slurs. The other – Micah Fletcher – was viciously wounded but survived.
As Meche was bleeding out on the floor of the bus, a witness recorded his last words: “Tell everyone on this bus that I love them.”
It’s heartbreaking.
What are we to do with such knowledge? Three people filled with love and one maniac filled with hate.
Was love enough?
It saved the would-be targets this time. The attacker is behind bars. But two precious lives have been snuffed out.
Why? So one scared little man can vent his xenophobia and intolerance?
The America I grew up in seemed to have learned the lessons of the Civil Rights movement. I was born after the murders of Dr. King, Malcolm X and the Kennedys. I was born after the church bombings, bus boycotts, freedom rides and marches.
I grew up in a time when we could look back on all that and wonder what we would have done had we been faced with the same challenges. And now
Marx said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” What better term to define the age of Trump and the Alt-Right than farce?
Capitalism is dying and the one percent are so ignorant they’re only fueling the fires of their own demise. They ship jobs overseas and then wonder why no one has any money to buy their products. Meanwhile the frightened and forgotten white American men who used to sit atop the social ladder are once again looking for someone to blame. And the same convenient scapegoats present themselves.
I find myself asking what so many generations have asked before: will we survive this time?
It is not just racism and prejudice. It is not just economic uncertainty and systemic inequality. It’s climate change and nuclear proliferation. It’s a world on the brink of collapse and civilization-ending war.
And the only thing we have to fight all these enemies at the gates, the only thing we have is love.
Will it be enough?
Do we have enough love to overcome all the fear and hate?
I don’t know.
I love my daughter. That I can say with absolute certainty.
I look at her innocent enthusiastic face as she draws a crayon portrait of Ruby Bridges, the first black girl to desegregate a historic New Orleans public school in 1960. I smile and try to hope.
I love my wife.
I watch her look of triumph as she beats me again at Jeopardy. She can read the answers faster than I can voice the questions.
I love my students.
I smile as they furiously write their final 8th grade projects connecting The Outsiders, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, and To Kill a Mockingbird in one glorious essay. How much more confident they are now completing a project that would have seemed impossible 8 months before!
But do I love the stranger, too?
Will I look across the aisle at the black and brown boys and girls riding with me on the bus and have the courage to love them as much?
When a man who looks just like me stands and threatens them, will I love them enough to stand in his way? Will I suspend the love of all those I know to protect those I don’t?
Do I have enough love?
I hope so. Because in writing this article one thing has become clear to me about myself that I didn’t realize when I began.
I don’t know if love can save the world. I don’t know if it can heal the environment, stop global war, provide an equitable economy and irradiate racism.
But I still believe in spite of everything that it’s the only way to live.
We may not survive today. But we’ll love each other.
And maybe that matters the most.

How Do We Continue to Counteract Hate and Violence? by Liz Caravaca

We are sad and outraged and ever more afraid for our children, youth, and families of color in light of the vicious murders of Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and the brutal stabbing of survivor Micah Fletcher.

These three people risked their lives - and two of them died- defending youth from a person (a known white supremacist) threatening them with anti-Muslim hatred.
What would have happened to these youth if these three people didn't stand between them and this racist, violent hater?

How do we continue to counteract hate and violence?
How will we continue to (try and) protect children and youth of color? How will we actually and successfully protect them?
What do parents say to their children? What do teachers say to their students? How does our own race impact what we say and how we say it in these conversations?

What are we DOING about it?

When we say to stand up for what's right, to speak out against injustice - and - we tell our children and youth to be safe - how do we explain what happened in any way that makes sense ?
Do we tell them to 'look for the helpers', when this time the helpers - the heroes - were brutally murdered in the act of helping? (And so often 'the helpers' don't seem to be there to 'help' POC). How do we equip youth to be and behave in the world as up-standers?

How do we help parents and teachers who are white understand how conversations about this and about 'safety' are SO different for POC?

Do we explain this as the horrendous actions of one mentally unstable person? Or do we tell our children the truth about how afraid we are for our families and friends who are targeted because they are (or are perceived to be) brown, black, Muslim, immigrant and the reality is that they are being targeted more every day?

Do we say that we are more afraid every day - every minute of every day - for our own children of color and for our students of color? Do we admit we are scared for them to use public transportation because hateful, racist people will target them?

THIS is what is happening in our world.
This is not about the actions of one mentally unstable individual. 

This is another evil manifestation of white supremacy.

Monday, May 29, 2017

What are the Working Conditions in your school or university?


This survey is an anonymous survey created by BATs in partnership with the AFT.

Some History

In October 2014 NY BAT Jamy Brice Hyde brought it to the attention of AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten that teachers were suffering.  Randi and Jamy worked together to form the BAT/AFT partnership to address teacher workplace stress and working conditions.  Out of that partnership came the BATs/AFT Quality of Work Life Survey.  The Survey launched in May of 2015 exposed that America’s teachers were suffering.

Taking the results of the May 2015 survey the BATs Quality of Work Life team and AFT worked to create an survey that would allow this work to be scientific and therefore become a powerful tool to expose teacher workplace conditions.  That survey is now live and ready for your input.

Speak up and Speak out.

10-15 minutes of your time to show the nation what our classrooms look like and how our working conditions impact student learning is the most important 10-15 minutes you can use to make a difference!  Take this survey and report your workplace conditions.  Make a difference!

Our Future
BATs  believe “ A teacher's work environment is a student's learning environment.” It is the mission of the Quality of Work Life team to use the data gathered from this survey  to  propose National Healthy Workplace Legislation. We will be completing a comprehensive scientific study as well as identify areas in a teacher's work life that have the most negative and positive impacts.  We will use this to help to create contract language to positively impact teachers. We intend to impact policy making for public education across the country! THANK YOU FOR BEING A PART OF OUR HISTORY!


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Break-Facts Club by Dr. Michael Flanagan

Does our current government remind anyone of a dysfunctional classroom from the movies, complete with a stereotypical cast of characters? Sort of like the Breakfast Club, but with fear, hate and lies. More like:

The Break-facts Club.

We have classic archetypes that make up this Trumptopian class: the Bully, the Liar, the Thug, the Mean Girl, the Cowboy and the Lackeys. A room full of bullies and wannabe class clowns, who think they are above the rules and can get away with any bad behavior by saying they were only “joking”.

The Bully: Donald Trump

He is the leader of the the class, yet no one really likes or respects him. The prototypical loudmouth who makes fun of the weakest and most vulnerable kids, but his excuse is always that he is joking -- except when he is not joking. Ironically, the Bully can’t take a joke and whines that classmates and teachers (or comedians and news media)  have been “very unfair” to him. He thinks it is wrong when people boo him or his representatives at plays and rallies, or turn their backs at graduation ceremonies. In our Break-facts Club classroom, he may go on to be a used car salesman or a con man. In real life, he becomes the President.

The Liar: Jeff Sessions

This is the kid who, when you catch him talking, claims “no I wasn’t”, even though you were watching him the whole time. This is the guy that makes fun of people’s religions, ethnicities and sexual orientations, but swears he is not a racist even as he goes on to be an avowed white supremacist. He who commits perjury, and gets away with it while laughing it off. Similar to the Bully, the Liar is thin-skinned, and will use his power against those he perceives as making fun of him. Such as having a woman arrested and convicted for laughing at him. In a classroom, he is a sneaky cheater. In Trumptopia, he is the Attorney General.

The Mean Girl: Betsy DeVos

Humiliates anyone “beneath her” -- or who just gets free lunch. She is entitled, and profoundly ignorant, but is popular because of her wealth and connections. She would never be caught dead hanging out with the low-class Bully but uses his power to get what she wants. She lives in a privileged world where discrimination is not only acceptable, it is celebrated. She gets voted “Most Likely to Buy Herself A Cabinet Position”.

The Thug: Greg Gianaforte

A supporter of the Bully, he physically assaults the weaker kids in class, yet still gets elected to the student council. Unchecked, he will simply grow up to be a campaigning congressman that body slams a reporter, then blames that reporter for what happened -- witnesses, facts and audio recording be damned. And then still wins the election.  

The Cowboy: Jeff Abbott

The hyperactive kid who runs around the class constantly talking about guns and shooting people. The kind of student who prompts concerned calls to the guidance counselor. He will grow up to be the Governor of Texas, making terrorist threats against journalists. At a shooting range. Stating (on camera) that he should carry a gun around in case he sees any reporters.

The Lackeys: Paul Ryan, Jared Kushner, and Kevin McCarthy

These kids are weasels, too sniveling to be bullies in their own right.  But they back up the Bully, laugh at his stupid jokes and kick the vulnerable kids when they are down, in order to remain in the Bully’s favor.

Like Paul Ryan smiling after passing a health care bill that leaves 23 million without health insurance in order to enrich the Bully and his friends. Or Jared Kushner, always self-servingly whispering in the Bully’s ear, egging him on. Or Congressman Kevin McCarthy claiming he was “joking” when he said the Bully was paid by Putin.

The Gang: Putin, Erdogan and Duterte

These are the neighborhood gang members. The dropouts, who are already pursuing a hardcore life of crime. The wannabe-tough guy Bully desperately craves their approval.  

The gang is lead by Putin who terrorizes journalists and citizens through good old-fashion fascism. Then there’s the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan who sics his attack dogs on peaceful protesters across from the Turkish Embassy. And the Philippine leader Rodrigio Duterte, who encourages his soldiers to commit rapes during the martial law that he instituted in order to kill drug dealers and users without benefit of trial.

Unfortunately, this type of behavior is not contained to a movie, or a metaphorical classroom. It is reality. We would not tolerate these characters or behaviors running amok in our schools, so how long can we continue to allow them to run amok in our government?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Tonight I Saw America. by Mamma Brown's Blog

Originally posted at:

Colleagues huddle over white sheets, names neatly typed, organized in order of appearance. We, the teachers, wearing our “better” clothes, with makeup freshly applied, smile. We are happy tonight as we celebrate both the foreign and the familiar names. These names belong to students who have excelled in subjects like Business, Science, History, Foreign Language, English, Geometry, and Algebra — the subjects in which we attempt to breathe life into every academic day. These names represent our collective efforts and fulfill our aspirations we hold every September — that our students will learn, grow, and flourish.

The audience is filled with parents who proudly rushed home from work, prepared dinner, and helped sons with their ties and daughters with their outfits. One son on the stage was born in Nepal, and now awaits his certificate of excellence in his freshly pressed suit. As I gaze out at the audience I see smiling faces of parents supporting their children. Some are holding flowers. Many families include parents, siblings, and grandparents. The applause is constant and sincere.

On the stage are many white kids born and raised in suburbia who have utilized the available resources to the best of their abilities. Many of these white suburban students have overcome obstacles and have benefitted from a standardized, stable system. Many of these white kid’s names include Italian, German, and Irish surnames — descendants from the immigrants who came to Syracuse to work in the salt works and dig the Erie Canal. I see black kids, some of whom transferred from local city schools, one of which will be graduating in three years — one year short of the norm. 

She will attend Spelman College. I see brown kids, some wearing hijabs and one donning Sikh headwear. Many of their parents are immigrants and have instilled in them a work ethic that strives for excellence. I see Latino students (often a mixture of white, brown, and black), with names like Gonzales, proudly receiving their awards. These Latino students are part of the fastest-growing population in the country. That stage contained every race and creed — the embodiment of the American dream.

I saw America tonight on a stage in an auditorium housed in a PUBLIC SCHOOL, which is located north of a city that is rusted and worn out but not defeated. It is a city, and a region, that has weathered economic blight and has suffered its children fleeing to other states for job opportunities. It is an area, however, that has remained committed to funding public education. As I look out on the diversity and the collective achievements of the crowd, I am so astonished and proud to be a public school teacher. I am so honored to see America at its best.

Report: Charter School Vampires Drain Traditional PA Districts Dry by Steven Singer

If you ever needed proof that charter schools harm traditional public school districts, look no further.
new report by Pennsylvania’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee concludes that these privately run but publicly financed schools often drain traditional public districts of funding.
The report conducted at the behest of the state House and Senate found that charter schools have attached themselves in some way to almost every district in the Commonwealth, but not equally. Half of the state’s traditional public schools suffer from 80% of the state’s charter parasites.
Moreover, 40% of traditional districts with “significant” charter enrollment are struggling to make ends meet. The reason: unfair state mandates about how traditional districts must pay their charter school hangers-on.
The report is based on interviews with 36 superintendents. A total of 29 of these leaders said charter schools hurt their districts. Only four superintendents mentioned any positive impacts at all.
Much of the damage comes from Pennsylvania’s insistence on funding charter schools out of traditional public school budgets. Instead of charter school money coming directly from the state, much of it comes from the traditional district where it has set up shop.
In effect, it’s like a leach sucking away money that could be going to traditional public school students. We’re one of only 13 states that does this.
It leads to many problems.
Chief among them are the state’s special education laws. Local districts are required to pay their charters extra money for special education students. But this additional funding isn’t based on the number of special needs students actually present in the charter school. It’s based on an arbitrary 16%. Local districts pay charters as if these schools had 16% special education students whether they do or not. This incentivizes charters to enroll less than 16% and pocket the difference.
It’s a system so corrupt that only one other state – Massachusetts – uses it.
We’ve always known the system allows for fraud. We just couldn’t prove it was actually taking place – until now. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), in the 2014-2015 school year alone, local districts gave roughly $294.8 million in special ed supplements to charter schools. However, actual charter expenditures on special ed were only $193.1 million.
That’s $101.7 million in profit for charter operators! Ca-ching!
But that’s not the only way charter schools are sucking out local districts’ finances.
Times are tough. Money is hard to come by. If a district struggles to pay its charter schools, the state steps in and withholds the amount of money due to the charter schools from the state funding it would normally send the district – and sends that money directly to the charters instead.
In effect, the state ensures charters are fully funded, while local districts are left to struggle.
And to make matters worse, when charters file a complaint, the state doesn’t even verify if it’s true. The state doesn’t check to see if the district actually did pay its charters or not. It just withholds whatever money charter operators say they’re owed.
Local districts can appeal overpayments to charters. Right now there are 317 general appeals pending for a total of nearly $30 million in disputed funding – half of which is from Philadelphia, alone!
Nor is this the only area where charters are given preferential treatment. When a charter school attaches itself to a traditional public school, that traditional district must pay to transport kids to the charter school – but it is not required to provide transportation to its own students.
Pennsylvania is one of only 11 states to require transportation to charter schools.
But that’s not the worst of it.
PA charter report
Now we come to cyber charter schools – the Count Draculas of the charter world.
The report estimates an additional $100 million in overpayments to cyber charters because of state law that overestimates their expenses. They are collecting much more money than they need to operate. They don’t have the same costs as brick-and-mortar institutions.
Cyber charter school students are given a computer and internet access. That’s about it. No costly building to run. Students usually do their lessons at home. Even when taking into account cyber charter staff, expenses are much lower than at other kinds of schools yet they are calculated without consideration of these differences.
Once again, state tax dollars that could be used to educate students become pure profit for charter operators. It is businessmen who win and students who lose.
The legislature used to acknowledge the burden charter schools put on local districts. The state budget used to include a line item reimbursing local districts for a percentage of their payments to charters. In 2010-11, that was $225 million. However, this money disappeared during the Gov. Tom Corbett administration when Republicans gained control of the legislature and prioritized tax cuts over charter school relief.
Though Corbett was defeated by Democrat Tom Wolf for the governorship, the legislature is still controlled by Republicans and the charter school reimbursement remains a distant memory.
But perhaps this new report signals a change in policy.
It contains several suggestions to fix Pennsylvania’s broken charter school laws. These include:
  • Permitting school districts to negotiate charter per pupil payment rates and methods.
  • Eliminating mandates for transportation that are inconsistent with services offered for district-operated schools.
  • Requiring the state to check with local districts when charter schools complain of underpayment.
  • Requiring greater transparency and fiscal accountability addressing problems like shell ownership, leasing, state payments, and conflict of interest policies.
  • Allowing audits of charter school funds.
  • Prohibiting the guaranteeing of loans where there is no direct school involvement.
  • Requiring charters to submit financial records for the district to review.
  • Requiring parents who place students in charters to first register with the local school district and then notify the district of changes in status.
  • Eliminating public school districts’ responsibility for charter school compliance with compulsory attendance requirements.
However, perhaps the biggest game changer is how charters set up shop in the first place.
Right now when charter operators want to open a school in a local district, the local school board gets to say yea or nay. However, school directors aren’t allowed to consider how this will financially impact the district. The report suggests this be changed; Districts should be allowed to approve or deny charters based on dollars and cents.
Currently local school directors are forced to approve charters that they know will hurt their students. This change would require charters to be equal partners with traditional districts or else be blocked. In effect, it would transform them from parasites to symbiotic organisms.
And as luck would have it, there are already two separate but similar bills that have been introduced that propose many of these changes.
One (Senate Bill 670) was introduced by Sen. Jim Brewster (D-McKeesport). The other (Senate Bill 198) was introduced by Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia). Brewster’s bill would “realign and redefine how local school districts, charter schools, students and taxpayers interact.” Hughes’ legislation would “provide local school boards with the tools to better oversee charter schools in their school districts.”
Charter school reform is something that members of both parties have expressed interest in. However, until recently Republican efforts at it have been light on reform and heavy on destructive means to further deregulate an already dangerously unregulated industry, thus worsening the problem.
Charter support has been strongly bipartisan. Champions of this new report claim that these suggested reforms aren’t anti-charter. They’re an effort to make both charters and traditional public schools work together instead of against each other.
Time will tell whether lawmakers are willing to do so.
But at least we now have a state-sanctioned report to point to when referencing the multitude of problems associated with the industry.
Charters have been officially recognized by the state as parasites.
Will lawmakers do something to stop that unending sucking sound?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Governance by the Perpetually Clueless, Politics as a Comedy of Classes by Cheryl Binkley

Most people are familiar with Jane Austen’s Emma, even if they don’t realize it. The often remade and modernized story shows up all the time either in new movie versions or thinly disguised TV shows, from a 2009 BBC series and the Miramax movie with Gwyneth Paltrow to the 80’s vehicle Clueless with Alicia Silverstone.  Most recently, Emma showed up for me in, of all places, a Today show Obama political ad.  

Yesterday morning I was watching the Today show waiting for the weather report as I have every morning for years when an Obama ad for Tom Perriello came on; a series of ads that can be credited with closing the numbers on the Virginia primary race for governor.

For those who don’t follow Virginia politics, Perriello is currently the younger and trendier candidate in a Democratic primary race for governor against Ralph Northam, the more staid but stable current lieutenant governor, in what has turned into a race between the the National party (Perriello is backed by Obama, Sanders and Warren) and the Virginia state party (Northam is endorsed by ranking Democratic Senator Dick Saslaw, and most Virginia based progressive organizations.)

On the Today ad Obama is smiling arm in arm with Tom telling us what a wonderful progressive Tom is, and how Obama hired him to head the progressive think tank Center for American Progress; but back to how that made me think of Jane Austen.

For those who don’t remember, Emma is a lovely, privileged and in many ways bright and capable young woman, who is constantly dabbling in the lives of her neighbors and friends. However, her narrow world and resulting lack of awareness of class differences blinds her to the destructive effects of her constant meddling.

You see, Emma’s friends, unlike her, live in the ordinary but wider world, dealing with daily survival and sometimes struggling to maintain the  human dignity that Emma’s wealth and station automatically affords her.

So, Today Show/Emma Voila! First thing on a Wednesday morning it came to me. The National Democratic Party is an unrelenting and completely clueless Emma!  

The tip off was Obama’s perception that everyone would see Perriello’s credentials with Center for American Progress (CAP) as progressive. No offense, but only a disconnected, aristocratic elite could think that. Center for American Progress was founded by John Podesta (Yes, the John Podesta of Clinton’s Whitehouse, and Wikileaks e-mail fame), and staffed by a mixture of Clinton pro-privatization Democrats and a collection of Reaganite economic neoliberals. It is mainline national party, but that is Not the same thing as progressive, even if they call themselves so.

That think tank Obama brags of Perriello heading for several years during the Obama administration was constantly behind the scenes dabbling in ordinary people’s lives, particularly  in the case of local communities trying to run their schools, with no clue as to how badly they were screwing up things for those actually living the reality of their policy recommendations. CAP has supported school privatization and the disastrous education policies that have destabilized the lives of children in even our best schools. Ala, Emma!

Given the continued close connections between prominent school reform billionaires and those in the National party and CAP,  I can only assume they are still wanting to “improve” public schools through similar but newly named policies in the ESSA bill. They still are like Emma, inviting poorer friends to the party so they set them up and can convince them to be more like the superior aristocracy.

The primary election in Virginia is coming up on June 13th, and the National is seriously wanting a statewide win, which sadly, was virtually assured before they injected themselves into the process.  The state party is looking to avoid an ALEC-DeVos hostile takeover from the radical right and get some solidly dependable governance: Same goal, sort of, but world's apart in stakes and possibly in outcome. Not all Democratic wins are equal, just as Emma and her friends were looking to get married, but what they each needed was very different. Obama, Sanders, and Warren would like Virginia to marry Tom.

In the end of the book Emma has an epiphany, and though she still doesn’t really understand, she’s learned enough to grant her friends and neighbors a little more autonomy and a little less condescension.  I'm pretty sure the National Democratic Party is not there yet. It seems they continue to believe the whole world would be great again if only everyone went to Harvard or Yale.

Tom Perriello says he no longer supports the testing-data-privatization movement Center for American Progress promoted under his leadership. It’s hard to argue with any of his currently pronounced positions. He says all the right things. But then, Ralph Northam actually cast his votes against charter schools expansion in Virginia in the last two state legislatures.  

But don’t get any ideas that Gillespie or the Republicans would be a better choice than either Northam or Perriello. In Austen terms, voting for Republicans these days is pretty much like running away with Wickham; an entirely more dangerous proposition.