Saturday, December 8, 2018

Charter School Lobby Silent as Charter Teachers Continue Strike by Steven Singer


Charter school teachers in Chicago are in their fourth day of a strike.

Yet I wonder why the leaders of the charter movement are quiet.



Not a word from Campbell Brown or Michelle Rhee?


Not a peep from Betsy DeVos or Donald Trump?

This is a historic moment. Teachers at various charter schools have unionized before, but it has never come to an outright strike – not once since the federal charter school law was established in 1994.

You’d think the charter cheerleaders – the folks who lobby for this type of school above every other type – would have something to say.

But no.

They are conspicuously silent.

I wonder why.


Could it be that they never intended workers at these schools to have any rights?

Could it be that small class size – one of the main demands of teachers at the 15 Acero schools – was never something these policymakers intended?

It certainly seems so.

For decades we’ve been told that these types of schools were all about innovation. They were laboratories where teachers and administrators could be freed from the stifling regulations at traditional public schools.

Yet whenever wealthy operators stole money or cut services to maximize profits or engaged in shady real estate deals or collected money for ghost children or cherry picked the best students or fomented “no excuses” discipline policies or increased segregation or denied services to special education kids or a thousand other shady business practices – whenever any of that happened, we were told they were just unfortunate side effects. Malfeasance and fraud weren’t what charters were all about. They were about the children.

And now when charter teachers speak out and demand a better environment for themselves and their students, these ideologues have nothing to say.

Funny.

It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here.

The latest audit of Acero shows they have $10 million a year in additional revenue that they aren’t spending on the students. Yet they’re cutting the budget by 6 percent annually. Meanwhile, Acero’s CEO Richard Rodriguez is taking home more than $260,000 for overseeing 15 schools while Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson makes slightly less money for managing more than 500 schools.

If the school privatization lobby cared about kids, it shouldn’t be hard to come out against Acero and in favor of these teachers and students.

But nothing.

Silence.

It seems to prove what charter critics have been saying all along – and how full of crap the privatization lobby has always been.

In short, the charter movement is all about the rich getting richer. It has never been about helping students and families.

Well, maybe it was once upon a time when union leader Albert Shanker backed the plan. But even he turned against it when he saw how it enriched the moneymen and corporations while doing very little for children.


The fact of the matter is that the only people at charters on the side of teachers, parents and students are the people generally associated with opposing them.

I, myself, am a huge foe of school privatization in all its forms – and that includes school vouchers and charter schools.


I know many educators who’ve worked at charters. In most cases they are dedicated, caring professionals who’d rather work at a traditional public school but had to settle for employment where they could find it even if that meant less pay, longer hours, and fewer rights.

I know many parents who sent their kids to charter schools because of funding inequalities or rampant high stakes testing at traditional public schools. In every case, they are doing the best they can for their children – navigating a system they hate looking for the best opportunities.

I’ve taught many students who’ve gone to charter schools and then returned to my traditional public school classroom disillusioned from their subpar experience in privatized education. Without exception they are great kids who try their hardest to succeed despite huge deficits from the years lost at charters.

These people are not our enemy. We are their allies.

We are pushing for a better education system for all of us. And this strike is part of that.

If the operators of Acero charter schools in Chicago (formerly UNO’s charter schools) agree to a living wage for teachers and lower class sizes, it sets a standard for the industry. It helps push other charters to do the same. It pushes charter schools to become more like traditional public schools. And that’s a good thing.


Every school should have an elected school board. Every school should have public meetings, transparency and be accountable for how it spends tax dollars. Every school should have to accept the kids living in its borders and provide them the proper services and respect their rights. Every school should treat its employees like professionals and pay them a fair wage for a fair day’s work.

Ultimately, I think this means the end of the charter school concept. But that doesn’t have to mean the end of all these charter schools. Many of them that can operate effectively and efficiently should become traditional public schools. That may mean incorporation into existing districts or creations of new ones. It may mean additional funding from the state and federal government.

In the case of fly-by-night charters that do nothing but enrich their investors while cheating kids out of an education, they should be closed immediately and the persons responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law (whatever that is, if at all possible).

I don’t have all the answers, and what’s right in one neighborhood may be wrong in another. However, I am confident that there is a solution.

No matter how this strike is resolved, the fact that it exists – and is probably a precursor to more such strikes – points the way to a brighter future for everyone.

It’s a victory for workers over wealth.

And that is a victory for students, too.


Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Holiday Season Brings Fear and Resentment for Many Students by Steven Singer


“I hate Christmas.”


I hate Christmas. I hate Thanksgiving. I hate every holiday.

America’s public school students are living under tremendous pressure.

The social safety net is full of holes. And our children are left to fall through the ripped and torn fabric.


So if your classroom is typical, 25% of your students have witnessed violence or been subject to a deeply distressing experience.

That could be drug or alcohol abuse, food insecurity, severe beatings, absent caregivers or neglect.

These figures, provided by Neena McConnico, Director of Boston Medical Center’s Child Witness to Violence Project, are indicative of a truth about this country that we don’t want to see.

Our Darwinian public policies leave many children to suffer the effects of poverty – and our society doesn’t want to deal with it.


The Center for Disease Control’s comprehensive Adverse Childhood Experiences study links the toxic stress of unaddressed trauma to heart disease, liver disease, and mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

Young children exposed to more than five adverse experiences in the first three years of life face a 75 percent likelihood of having delays in language, emotional, or brain development, according to McConnico.

This translates directly to negative behaviors in the classroom.

Children who witness violence often have trouble in school because they suffer from post-traumatic stress, which can manifest as inattention, distractibility, hyperactivity, insomnia, aggression, and emotional outbursts.

Or, alternately, these children can sometimes withdraw and appear to be unfazed by their experiences. In some ways, that’s even more dangerous because while they avoid negative attention, they often get no attention at all.

It’s bad enough in the everyday. But it gets worse around the holidays.

Some of it is due to the structure and safety of school being removed. During holiday breaks, children are left to the mercy of sometimes chaotic and uncertain home lives.

Some of it is due to unrealistic expectations inevitably conjured up by the holiday season, itself. Even grown adults have trouble with depression around this time of year. But when you’re a troubled child, the unrealistic expectations and disappointments can be doubly impactful.

Loved ones are missing due to incarceration, divorce, abandonment, health issues, or death. Talk of family gatherings or a special meal can trigger hurt feelings for children who know their caregivers can’t or won’t provide them.

And it’s not always neglect. Sometimes there just isn’t the money for these things. We live in a gig economy where many people work multiple jobs just to survive. All it takes is missing one paycheck or one illness to disrupt holiday celebrations.

Even when parents have enough money, some just don’t bother to buy their kids anything. Sometimes families get to a better financial point but children have had to live through a period of food insecurity and are haunted by it. So even though the household is stable now, kids eat all their treats on the way to school because they always are fearful that the food will run out.

When kids have these sorts of fears, the ubiquitous holiday movies, TV shows, Christmas songs and commercials can set them off further.

It’s the most wonderful time of year for some, but not for all. For many students, the holidays are a time of dread and resentment.


For the quarter of American children who experience trauma at home, school may be their only safe harbor in a world of storms. Teachers may be the only people they see all day who offer a safe place, a stable environment and a friendly word.

For some kids, teachers are the only adults in their lives who make them feel valuable and supported.

We offer our students so much more than reading, writing and math. We’re allies, mentors, protectors and role models.

I wish we could save them from all the terrors of this world, but we can’t.

Let me be clear – I am in no way a super teacher.

But here are a few things I do in my classroom to help alleviate some of the stressesof the season – and often year round.

1)  Prioritize Relationships


Let your kids know you care. The student-teacher relationship is sacred. Nourish it. Be reliable, honest, and dependable.

As Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

2)  Listen to Them

 
Sometimes the best thing a teacher can do is just listen to students’ problems. You don’t always have to offer a solution. Our kids are dealing with so many adult pressures. Offering them the ability to get it all out in the presence of a caring adult can be a treasured gift.

“It’s really that simple,” McConnico says. “Listen, reflect back to them that they have been heard, validate the child’s feelings without judgment, and thank the child for sharing with you.”

3)  Create Opportunities to be Successful

Some people see teaching as essentially an act of evaluation and assessment. We observe students and then tell them what they did wrong.
This is extremely narrow-minded. When you get to know your students, you can offer them tasks in which you expect they’ll succeed. It’s the kind of thing we do all the time – differentiating instruction and offering choice so that students can achieve the goal in the manner best suited to them.
Sometimes you really have to work at it. If a child has extreme behavior issues, you can observe closely to find the one thing he or she does right and then praise them for it. This doesn’t always work, but when it does, it pays off tremendously!
Positive experiences lead to more positive experiences. It’s like putting training wheels on a bike. It scaffolds learning by supporting kids emotional needs before their academic ones.

4)  Routines

I am a huge fan of routine. Kids know exactly what we’re going to do in my class everyday – or at least they have a clear conception of the normal outline of what happens there.
I try to have very clear expectations, timelines and consequences. For kids who live in chaotic homes, this is especially comforting. It’s just another way of creating a safe place where all can learn.

5)  There’s Nothing Wrong With Downtime

I know. Teachers are under enormous pressure from administrators to fill every second of the day. But sometimes the best use of class time is giving students a break.

Let students finish assignments in class, read for pleasure, draw, even just daydream and relax. You can overdo it, but everyone can benefit from a little R & R.

This is especially true for traumatized children. Give them time to regroup from the mental and emotional stress. I find that it actually helps motivate kids to work harder when assignments are given.

The holidays can be a stressful time in school.

Kids get overexcited, they can’t concentrate, they’re torn left and right by the various emotions of the season.

As teachers, it’s our job to understand the full scope of what’s going on with our kids and make our classes as nourishing and safe as possible.


Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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Billionaire Heiress Lashes Out at Unions Because Her Fortune Didn’t Buy Election by Steven Singer


Betsy DeVos is furious!

She and her family spent boatloads of money this election cycle and few of their candidates won.

Instead, lawmakers were largely selected by these things called… ew… voters.

She was so enraged that she used her platform as Secretary of Education – another prudent purchase by her family – to lash out at teachers unions for – get this – having too much influence!!!!!


“The teachers union has a stranglehold on many of the politicians in this country, both at the federal level and at the state-level.”

That’s rich coming from her, but one can see where she’s coming from.

In the midterms 23 states had double-digit percentage-point increases in turnout compared with 1982-2014. That resulted in a blue wave in the U.S. House – one of the largest and most diverse groups of freshman Congresspeople ever.

This is the third-highest turnover since 1974. We showed 104 incumbents the door.

DeVos didn’t pay for THAT!

How dare those Joe and Jane Sixpacks come out to the polls and upset the plans the billionaire class had plunked down their hard-inherited wealth to ensure!

How dare teachers and school employees pool their nickles and dimes to have a say about their own professions!

The only people who should have a voice in public policy are the… uh, public?

No.

Parents and students?

No!

Plutocrats like DeVos and family?

Yeah! That’s right!


We can’t let our schools be run by parents or students  or the people who work there. Decisions can’t be made by just anyone. It has to be by the BEST people. And who better than the rich?

That’s why this election cycle has DeVos so irate.

She spent $1 million through her affiliated Students First PAC to elect Scott Wagner Governor of Pennsylvania – but those darn VOTERS spoiled everything by re-electing Gov. Tom Wolf instead!

The DeVos family spent more than $635,000 to keep Scott Walker as Governor of Wisconsin, but those naysaying nellies who pay taxes decided to go with Democratic challenger Tony Evers, instead.

I mean, come on, people! That’s just not fair!

We’re making her waste her enormous fortune without getting any return on the investment!

And she DOES expect tit-for-tat.

She famously wrote:

“I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

Her boss – and philosophical soul mate – Donald Trump feels the same way. He once bragged at a rally:

 “I’ve given to everybody because that was my job. I gotta give it to them, because when I want something I get it. When I call, they kiss my ass.”

DeVos doesn’t just talk the talk. She walks the walk.

One of the most infamous examples of quid pro quo was when the DeVos family gave Michigan Republicans $1.45 million over a seven-week period as an apparent reward for passing a no-accountability charter school law in 2016. That’s $25,000 per day! The editors of the Detroit Free Press’ described it as a “filthy, moneyed kiss.”

Yet somehow it’s unions that have a “stranglehold” on politicians and policy!?

Let’s get one thing straight – money should not be able to buy political influence. Period.

That’s union money. That’s billionaire money. That’s anyone’s money.

But that requires major reforms to how we finance political campaigns. It requires several Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United to be overturned. It requires additional regulations and transparency from our legislature.

Until that happens, no one can afford to stop making these campaign contributions.

In Buckley v. Valeo and several additional rulings that built on it, The Supreme Court wrongly ruled that money equals speech and thus any limitation on political spending would violate the First Amendment.

Therefore, no one can afford to limit their voice by voluntarily closing their pocketbook.

People with truckloads of cash – like DeVos – cry wolf when the unwashed masses pool their resources to the point where they can come close to matching the wealthy.

But make no mistake – with the rampant economic inequality in this country, the rich can outspend the poor. And they often do.

It doesn’t take a political genius to see that our national policies invariably favor the wealthy and ignore the poor. That’s no accident. It’s the rich getting what they’ve paid for.

If anyone has a “stranglehold” on politicians it’s silver spooned magnates like DeVos who can transform the whims of winning a lottery of birth into political appointments and massive influence on policy.

But DeVos wasn’t done whining to a sympathetic audience on Fox Business Channel.

She continued:

“…they [i.e. teachers unions] are very resistant to the kind of changes that need to happen. They are very protective of what they know, and there are protective, really protective of adult jobs and not really focused on what is right for individual students.”

Really? How would you know? You never sent your kids to public school. You never went to public school, yourself. You’ve only ever visited a handful of public schools after purchasing your position in Trump’s cabinet (Check the receipts to the Senators who confirmed her!).

Moreover, it takes a certain level of ignorance to claim that teachers get into the classroom because they DON’T care about children. That’s like saying firemen don’t want to protect people from fires or lawyers don’t want to serve their clients legal needs.

Having a well-educated, experienced, caring teacher in the classroom IS what’s in the best interests of students. That means having a teacher with collective bargaining rights so she can grade her students fairly without fear of political ramifications if someone complains to the school board. That means being able to blow the whistle if classroom conditions are unsafe or policies handed down by functionaries (like DeVos) aren’t helping kids learn.

Teachers want change. They’re begging for change – just not the kinds of change DeVos is pushing.

But she went on:

 “One of the most fundamental things again is focusing on individual children and knowing that all students are different, they learn differently. I have four children, they were all very different, very different learners.”

This is not exactly a news flash to any teacher anywhere. We’re constantly differentiating our instruction to help students with different learning styles, kids in special education, kids who are gifted, kids on the autistic spectrum, kids with dyslexia, etc. It’s just too bad that policy mavens like DeVos keep pushing more standardized tests and Common Core. Sure today she’s saying all kids learn differently. Tomorrow she’ll be pushing us to assess them the same way.

But she went on:

 “We have to allow for more kinds of schools, more kinds of educational experiences, and to do that we need to empower more families to make those decisions on behalf of their students.”

And there it is! Her obsession with school privatization – charter and voucher schools! She’s selling them because her portfolio is heavily invested in them. She is not a philosophical believer in a certain kind of pedagogy. She’s a privatization pimp, pushing schools without transparency, accountability or regulations so that public tax dollars can flow into private pockets – and to Hell with what that does to the students enrolled there!

To enable her scheme, she needs to attack teachers:

“We have a lot of forces that are protecting what is and what is known, a lot of forces protecting the status quo. We need to combat those, break them, and again empower and allow parents to make decisions on behalf of their individual children because they know their children best.”

Betsy, charter and voucher schools are not reform. They ARE the status quo. They’re the same crap championed by Obama and the Bushes and the Clintons.

Republicans are famous for their privatization advocacy. But most Democrats are in favor of it, too.

Sure most career Democrats will argue against school vouchers while quietly approving Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits (OSTC), Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) and a host of other Trojan horse programs that do the same thing under a different name.

We’ve been increasing school privatization and standardized testing for decades. It hasn’t helped anyone except investors.

More than 90% of parents throughout the country send their children to public schools. That’s not because they have no other choices. Every time – literally every time – there is a referendum on school vouchers, voters turn it down. Civil rights organizations from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to Black Lives Matter and Journey for Justice are calling for a moratorium on charter schools. In fact, for the last three years, charter school growth has stalled. It’s  dropped each year – from 7 to 5 to 2 percent.

That’s because people are sick of these far right and neoliberal policies. If we listen to what parents and students really want, it’s not the garbage DeVos is selling.

This whole unseemly tantrum from our Education Secretary is just sour grapes.

Her stranglehold is loosening. And she doesn’t know how to regain her grip.



Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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