Friday, June 7, 2019

Charter School Teacher Introduces Elizabeth Warren at Rally by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:



In the first draft of this article, I called Sonya Mehta a “Charter School Lobbyist” in the title. On further examination of the facts, I realize this is unfair. She was a charter school TEACHER. I apologize to Ms. Mehta and truly regret any harm I have done her. I have changed the title to better reflect the facts. However, be advised that the text of the article, itself, has remained almost completely unchanged. Everything in the article is true to the best of my knowledge and backed up with sources that the reader can see by following the links in the text. My concern remains centered on Warren and what exactly her intentions are via education policy.

The biggest news from Elizabeth Warren’s rally in Oakland, California, on Friday wasn’t what she said.
It was who introduced her and what that says about Warren and her 2020 Presidential campaign.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Warren was introduced by Sonya Mehta, a former Oakland schoolteacher.”
However, this characterization is inaccurate.
Mehta was not an authentic public school teacher. She taught in a non-union charter school called “Learning Without Limits.” She also was a policy fellow at GO Public Schools Oakland, which is a toxic charter promoter focused around that city.

In her introduction, Mehta didn’t explicitly advocate for school privatization. She promoted Warren’s early education and free college policies (Her speech can be seen here beginning at 57:30). But why would Warren, one of the smartest and most knowledgeable candidates in the race for the White House, let herself be associated with such a divisive and toxic legacy?

Only 6% of all U.S. students attend charter schools, yet with little accountability, selective enrollment, and the ability to pocket taxpayer money as profit, they cannibalize the funding necessary for the 90% that attend authentic public schools.
Warren should know better than this. Along with Bernie Sanders, Warren sits on the Senate Education Committee (HELP – Health, Education, Labor, Pensions).

So the question is this: was this a mistake made by her campaign staff or is this indicative of where Warren is on education policy?

She has said some very positive things in this campaign, not the least of which is that if elected, she would nominate someone with teaching experience as Secretary of Education.
We don’t need another Betsy Devos or Arne Duncan clone who just so happens to have taught at a regressive charter school. In fact, we already had that, too, in John King.
Sadly, that’s not even where the story ends.

Warren’s senior education policy advisor is Josh Delaney, a Teach for America temp who turned a 5-week crash course in education into two years in the classroom and then a career as an “expert” on our schools.
This is simply not acceptable for anyone courting education voters.
You can’t go to Oakland, a city which just experienced a massive teacher strike caused by school privatization, and then let yourself be introduced by someone with ties to school privatization!
Who knows if Warren was intending to take sides on this issue, but she certainly seems to be signaling that if she did, it might not be with parents, teachers and students. It could be with the hedge fund billionaires backing school privatization.
How can she be so strong against these same people when it comes to Wall Street and economic inequality but appear completely ignorant (at best) or disingenuous (at worst) when it comes to school policy?
A look at Warren’s stated education policies over her history in public life doesn’t exactly calm the waters, either.

According to the Network for Public Education, Warren holds some regressive views when it comes to our schools.

The non-profit gives her a C on charter schools.

She has spoken out against some of the worst excesses of the industry, but supports the concept of schools that are publicly financed but privately operated.

In 2016 Warren strongly opposed lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. In 2017, Senator Warren expressed deep concern regarding the “waste, fraud, and abuse of federal money” at the hands of for-profit charter schools and charter school management organizations.

“Many charter schools in Massachusetts are producing extraordinary results for our students, and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools.”
Warren earned a B for her stance on school vouchers.
She had the courage to criticize DeVos, but her history with the concept of using public money to finance private education is complicated.
In a 2017 letter to DeVos, prior to her confirmation as Secretary of education, Senator Warren said the evidence on private school vouchers is “mixed at best” and called them “expensive and dangerous failures that cost taxpayers billions of dollars while destroying public education systems.”

However, back in 2003, she seems to have thought differently. She wrote a book with her daughter called “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke.” In it, she makes a case for a universal school voucher program. She strongly supported giving parents taxpayer-funded vouchers they could use at any school – public, private or parochial. This would “relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.”

Later she said she never meant those vouchers to be used at private schools, but that is  unclear from the text.

However, as spotty as Warren’s history is on school privatization, it is much worse when it comes to high stakes testing.

The Network for Public Education gives her a F on this issue.

In 2015, as Congress debated rolling back high stakes testing requirements that have unfairly assessed students for decades and used test scores as an excuse to deny poor and minority students the resources they need to succeed, Warren demanded testing stay in place. Along with three Democratic senators endorsed by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)a lobbyist organization for the testing and school privatization industry, she insisted on stronger accountability measures based on testing to gain their support for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Let me be clear: none of this is intended to be a purity test.

If the only candidate we can support is a perfect one, we will never find any politician to support.

But Warren has to make a decision whose side she is on.

At very least, she needs to come out and make a public statement clarifying her views here. She needs to say that she does not support charter schools or vouchers. Shouldn’t every Democratic candidate who wants the votes of educators do that?

Watch the whole rally here. Mehta’s introduction begins at 57:30.

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 theBadass Teachers Association. Check it out!

A Wise and Witty Review of The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch by Thomas Ultican

By T. Ultican 5/27/2019
Maybe not as witty and wise as I had hoped but definitely positive and impressed. I admit; I am a Diane Ravitch fan-boy and this latest release from Garn Press reinforces that posture. Diane is a warrior of ideas who has stood courageously against lavishly financed purveyors of reactionary ideologies. Billionaires are calling for the privatization of democratically run public schools in America and she won’t have it. This book is a compilation of a decade of her winning arguments that have gone far toward stemming the tide of the theft of America’s public schools. Billionaires call that “reform”.
Wisdom and Wit

The Fundamental Argument

America’s super-wealthy espouse a position echoing the antebellum south. The scholar Johann N. Neem’s book Democracy’s Schools; The Rise of Public Education in America notes, “Because of their political power and the way the tax burden fell largely upon them, slaveholding elites spread an antitax gospel to convince ordinary whites that taxes were a bad thing.” That same gospel is embedded in the Tea Party and other Libertarian movements.
Franklin Roosevelt became President at the height of the Great Depression. In 1935, Roosevelt signed the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance law more commonly known as Social Security. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare extension. In the Social Security administration’s history of Social Security it describes the major challenges to the free market capitalistic system that Roosevelt faced. It claims Social Security Insurance was the least disruptive alternative available to him. The history states,
Social insurance, as conceived by President Roosevelt, would address the permanent problem of economic security for the elderly by creating a work-related, contributory system in which workers would provide for their own future economic security through taxes paid while employed. Thus it was an alternative both to reliance on welfare and to radical changes in our capitalist system. In the context of its time, it can be seen as a moderately conservative, yet activist, response to the challenges of the Depression. (emphasis added)
1936 Dorothea Lange Photo
1936 Photo by Dorothea Lange
Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek who believed in classical liberalism especially the concept that it is in the common interest that all individuals must be able to secure their own economic self-interest, without government direction. In September 1944, the University of Chicago Press published Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom. It was squarely against government programs like social security and Roosevelt’s “new deal.” Hayek was opposed to Keynesian economics which posited “that government intervention can stabilize the economy.”
In 1950, Hayek left the London School of Economics for the University of Chicago. It was there that Milton Friedman and a host of young scholars met their sole mate, Hayek. They saw government social programs as seeds for tyranny and public education was no exception.
Ravitch picks up this story in the article “Big Money Rules.” The article begins with a quote from her blog,
“Americans for Prosperity opposes all government programs. Its primary purpose is to protect the Koch billions from taxation to pay for any programs that benefit others. If it was up to the Koch Brothers, they would eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and every other social program. They are rabid libertarians who oppose taxation and government. Their interest is protecting the Koch billions, not anyone else.”
She uses data from two books, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean and Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.
MacLean’s book tells the story of economist James M. Buchanan who is associated with the doctrine of economic libertarianism and the “public choice” model of economics. His basic argument is that bureaucrats and public officials serve their own interests. MacLean viewed Buchanan as having “a formative role” in establishing the anti-democratic “stand of the radical right.
While researching, MacLean discovered personal correspondence between Buchanan and the billionaire Republican donor Charles Koch. She found a plan “to train a new generation of thinkers to push back against Brown v. Board of Education and the changes in constitutional thought and federal policy that had enabled it.
Until the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, far right economists like Hayek, Friedman and Buchanan, were viewed as part of a small fringe minority. Three of Buchanan’s first doctoral students went to work in Reagan’s administration. Buchanan and his acolytes were responding to the threats democratic institutions posed to the preservation of individual wealth.
Attacking Social Security was a big part of their agenda. Buchanan declared that Social Security was a “Ponzi scheme.” In a paper for the Cato Institute he explained if “people can be led to think that they personally have no legitimate claim against the system on retirement” it will “make abandonment of the system look more attractive.” Ravitch observed, “The genius of their strategy was in describing their efforts to change government programs as ‘reforms,’ when in fact they were intended from the outset to result in their destruction.”
Gordon Lafer’s book documents the efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to advance the Koch-Buchanan agenda. Ravitch writes, “In the first decade of this century, ALEC’s leading corporate backers contributed more than $370 million to state elections, and over one hundred laws each year based on ALEC’s model bills were enacted.” Lafer stated, “For the first time ever in 2012 more than half of all income in America went to the richest 10 percent of the population.
Public education is a significant target of the super wealthy. During the first almost two decades of the twenty-first century billionaires like David and Charles Koch (Koch Industries), Bill Gates (Microsoft), the Walton family (Walmart), the DeVos family (Amway), Eli Broad (KB Homes and Sun America), John Arnold (Enron), Reed Hastings (Netflix), Doris Fisher (The Gap), Michael Dell (Dell Computers) and others have savaged public schools while labeling themselves “reformers.” Ravitch counters, “It is perfectly clear that they have no desire to “reform” our public schools but to privatize and monetize them.
Ravitch goes on to state,
“I have nothing against the wealthy. I don’t care that some people have more worldly goods than others. I understand that life’s not fair. I just harbor this feeling that a person ought to be able to get by on $100 million or so and not keep piling up riches while so many others don’t know how they will feed their children tonight.”

Battling the Wealthy and Their Talking Points with Reason and Knowledge

When I came to education in 2001, like most Americans, I was convinced that public education was in decline and that the teaching corps was poor quality and lazy. I had heard a little about a “Nation at Risk” and George Bush’s goals 2000. I remember Bill Clinton pushing charter schools and standards. I heard that the failing school system in Milwaukee was going to allow children to attend private voucher schools. But like most people, I only had a vague conception of the reality of public education and having grown up with a school teacher mom, I still believed in public education.  
By 2005, I was convinced that most of what I previously thought about education was wrong. I quickly learned that almost all of the experienced teachers I met were way better than me and really cared about their students, their schools and their profession. In graduate school, I discovered that the Reagan administration’s “A Nation at Risk” was not a peer reviewed professional article of the kind that normally came from government offices. Rather it was a polemic filled with errors promoting a particular agenda of standards and accountability.
In 2010, when I read Diane Ravitch’s “The Death and Life of the Great American School System; How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, I was thrilled. A powerful voice was speaking up for public education and against the propagandistic attack. However, the veteran teacher in the classroom next door was underwhelmed. Unlike me, he had been teaching and paying close attention to education politics since 1978. He knew Ravitch as a conservative purveyor of top down standards and testing.
Ravitch admits that my colleague was right. She writes,
“By the time I left government service in January 1993, I was an advocate not only for standards but for school choice. I had come to believe that standards and choice could co-exist as they do in the private sector. With my friends Chester Finn Jr. and Joseph Viteritti, I wrote and edited books and articles making the case for charter schools and accountability.”
When Death and Life was published, Ravitch had become completely disenchanted by what she started referring to as “Corporate Education Reform.” She saw hundreds of millions invested in test-preparation while arts, science, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign language and physical education became the sad stepchildren of the tested math and English. She says, “Accountability turned into a nightmare for American schools, producing graduates who were drilled regularly on the basic skills but were often ignorant about almost everything else.
At the same time, she started to see how destructive of public education – especially to neighborhood schools – the choice movement had become. And worse yet, choice schools had eschewed innovation in pursuit of profits. Ravitch began refuting the conservative agenda. The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch is a compilation of those arguments.

American Students Don’t Test Well

Americans have never done well on international testing. Ravitch highlights Yong Zhao’s book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao says East Asian nations have top scores because of their heavy test preparations. Ravitch reports,
“Our students have never had high scores on international tests, not since the first international test of math was administered in 1964, and our seniors scored last among 12 nations. We went on over the half-century since then to out compete the other 11 nations who had higher test scores.”
She argues that standardized testing identifies poverty; not teaching. Ravitch points out the obvious, “No nation in the world has eliminated poverty by firing teachers or by handing its public schools over to private managers, nor does research support either strategy.” She pithily says, “When it comes to child poverty, we are number 1.
US Rankings reported in Wit and Wisdom:
  • Quality Pre-school #24
  • Good Pre-natal care #131
  • Industrial Nations Child Poverty #1
George Bush, George Miller and Ted Kennedy gave us the No Child Left Behind law. Barack Obama and Arne Duncan gave us the Race to the Top law. Both laws employed the same test based accountability and punish strategies. Ravitch notes we are nowhere near whatever the top is supposed to be and the same children who were left behind in 2001-2 are still being left behind. In 2014, she declared, “Now that we have endured more than a dozen long years of No Child Left Behind and five fruitless, punitive years of Race to the Top, it is clear that they both failed.

Democrats Embraced the Conservative Agenda

When Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education, Democrats were outraged. Michael Bennet who introduced the portfolio model of education management into Denver’s schools and Corey Booker who tried to charterize all of the schools in Newark, New Jersey spoke passionately against the appointment. Ravitch pointed out, “But the resistance of DeVos obscured an inconvenient truth – Democrats have been promoting a conservative ‘school reform’ agenda for the past three decades.” She also wrote,
“Democratic charter advocates – whose ranks include the outraged Booker and Bennet – have increasingly imported ‘school choice’ into the party’s rhetoric. Booker likes to equate ‘choice’ with ‘freedom’ – even though the entire idea of ‘choice’ was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.”
“As Democrats learned years ago, support for mandatory testing and charter schools opens fat wallets on Wall Street. Money guys love deregulation, testing and Big Data, and union busting. In 2005, Obama served as the featured speaker at the inaugural gathering of Democrats for Education Reform, which bundles contributions to Democrats who back charter schools.”
Ravitch says that evidenced-based Democrats ought to acknowledge that school choice doesn’t work. Charter schools are a failed experiment that increase segregation and do not increase performance. Students in vouchers schools lose ground compared to their peers in public school.
As Ravitch continued to attack “school reform” nonsense, she also used her blog to elevate the voices of others. Ravitch and friends have dominated social media for a decade. At the Network for Public Education conference in Indiana this October she could boldly open the proceedings with, “We are the resistance and we are winning!”
Diane and Tom

Ravitch States the Elements of Good Education

“Every school should be staffed with credentialed and well qualified teachers. Class sizes should be no larger than 20 in elementary schools, no larger than 24 in middle and high schools. Every school should offer a full curriculum, including the arts, civics, history and foreign languages. Every school should have a library and media center staffed by a qualified librarian. Every school should have fully equipped laboratories for science. Every school should have a nurse and a social worker. Every school should be in tip-top physical condition.”
Wisdom and Wit recounts the arguments about education for the past 20 years. In an open letter to her old boss at the Department of Education, Lamar Alexander, she wrote,
“In closing, may I remind you of something you wrote in your book of advice?
“No. 84: Read anything Diane Ravitch writes about education.”
That seems like excellent advice. Her next book, Slaying Goliath, comes out in January.

Open Letter To Educators Supporting President Trump by Laurie McGuire

The Trump administration is a symptom of substantial problems in our country and as such I generally prefer not to devote my energy into simply fighting against the President and his rhetoric. However, I noticed several South Jersey educators over the past couple years showing their support for President Trump and his policies in online spaces in various ways. Although the conflict between nurturing and protecting students and supporting this President seems obvious to many, some South Jersey educators continue to support this administration. Recently, I had an online encounter with a teacher who posted a photo of someone holding a Trump 2020 flag at a public gathering of some type. The teacher explained that the person pictured was a member of her family and it was posted to show pride in supporting the President. Other educators made positive comments echoing approval of Trump. This was not an isolated incident. As a result, I wrote this letter to educators who support President Trump.
In the letter below, I ask that you consider the term “educator” in the broadest possible terms. In my perspective, educators are all of the folks who work in a school and interact with students in some way. Educators include bus drivers, custodians, school secretaries, social workers, guidance counsellors, psychologists, administrators, paraprofessionals, and teachers.
Open Letter to Educators Supporting President Trump:
As an educator you have an immeasurable impact on students throughout the school day and beyond. Your philosophy of education will certainly guide your interactions and decisions. Many educators are required to write a philosophy of education during their teacher preparation courses. Can you recall your philosophy of education? If you did not write a formal philosophy, can you remember how you felt as a preservice teacher? Your philosophy may have included some thoughts similar to these, “create a haven for students,” “ensure ALL students feel safe and ready to learn,” “cultivate a rapport of mutual respect,” “advocate for the needs of students,” “demonstrate integrity,” “build student confidence,” or “encourage acceptance among peers.”
Educators want the best for their students and strive to create a positive school experience. Your students depend upon you not only for instruction; but for emotional support, to build their self-confidence, and to have a sense of safety and security throughout their school day. Students deserve to feel valued and respected. Students also deserve adult examples of integrity, respect, and honesty. Please consider for a moment how your support of President Trump impacts your students and public education. If you are feeling uncomfortable, please stay with this because discomfort is part of growth. As educators we are continually growing and learning.
President Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working to destroy public education. She is slowly taking away protections from students, shifting funding to charter schools, creating allowances for for-profit colleges to take advantage of students, and taking no action to protect children from gun violence at school. She is making it more difficult for victims of sexual assault to report the assault. Would you want it to be more difficult for your student to report their sexual assault at college? Are you comfortable with the threat of gun violence we are facing in schools? Do you endorse the continued transfer of funding from public schools to charter schools and voucher programs that lack public oversight?
President Trump has publicly mocked people with disabilities demonstrating his disrespect and lack of compassion. Can you consider the impact his negative actions directed towards folks with disabilities have on your students with disabilities? Do you want students with disabilities to feel supported and respected?
President Trump has made repeated racist and xenophobic demands to “build a wall.” Is it possible to imagine the fear of students whose parents are undocumented? They may come home one day from school and their parents will be gone. This is not an irrational fear. This is actually happening in towns and cities all over our country as a result of the Trump administration’s policies. Can you image how this may impact your English Language Learners’ feelings of safety and security?  
Your female students have heard Trump describe sexually assaulting women, rating women based on their physical appearance, and showing complete disregard for women in general. Do you want young women and girls to believe their worth is based upon their looks? Do you want them to think that sexual assault is to be expected and accepted? Would you want them to expect respect from the President and others in power?
Your Black students and their parents saw Trump’s response to Charlottesville, which upheld white supremacy. They saw that he refused to meet the Teacher of the Year who is a Black man. They heard his comments about primarily Black countries. Are you willing to support this emotional damage to your students? How can you expect someone who shows his overt racism to implement policies without a negative impact on Black students?
Your students with healthcare needs saw this administration repeatedly attempt to permanently remove their health care coverage. Those students and their families feared for their future in the wake of such revocation. Were you not concerned, because you have health insurance and dismantling the Affordable Care Act would not impact your future? Do you have concern for the health and well-being of your students?
Your LGBTQ students and their families watched this administration repeatedly attack transgender Americans and saw his opposition to the Equality Act. Have you considered the shame created when students see politicians saying they are a burden? Or a leader who believes that LGBTQ folks do not deserve equality?
Your non-Christian students (e.g. Jewish, Muslim, atheist) watched this administration support white nationalists in Charlottesville who chanted anti-semitic propaganda. They saw this administration support more Christian schools and “protections” that negate the freedom of religion and separation of Church and State. They watched the President call for a Muslim ban in our country. Do you recognize the impact these actions have on students who are not Christian?
All of your students have witnessed the President lie repeatedly about a variety of issues from the most trivial to more serious issues. According to The Washington Post, Trump has lied over 10,000 times since he took office. It works out to about 22-23 lies each day. Do you want your students to believe that lying is acceptable? How would you feel if your student lied 22 times each school day? What consequences would they face?
By supporting this administration, you have chosen to align yourself with a powerful adversary of your students. Your politics represents your overall philosophy toward education and life. Politics has serious implications on the daily lives of our students and their families. You are fortunate and probably will not have to stay in this place of discomfort or fear, but unfortunately many of your students are afraid, do not feel safe, and cannot escape the fear and real danger that faces them and their families. Can you turn toward empathy and compassion and consider how your decisions and support of President Trump impacts your students?
Laurie McGuire