Sunday, March 24, 2019

Educator's Touch More Lives Than We Realize by Vickie Lynn Harmon

This day during another recent surgery has to be the most profound for me as a teacher. When my assigned nurse anesthetist came to my room to discuss my previous history of anesthesia, (his badge was not on at the time), I looked into his eyes and immediately knew him. 

He continued to talk and was very polite, professional, and had a great personality. He did not recognize me. Well, you see, I taught this young man 27 years ago in Mississippi. My surgery was in Tennessee. As he continued to talk, I said, "Do you remember me"? He said, "No ma'am". I said, "Since your badge is missing, is your name Ryan -------"? He said, "Yes, how did you know"?. 

I said, "Ryan, I was your 5th grade science and social studies teacher 27 years ago in Mississippi. You always said, Ms. Harmon, I am going to be a doctor and an anesthesiologist". He burst out crying and I did too. He remembered me at that very moment, and pulled me up from my bed. He ran out of the room screaming, crying, and yelling to everyone to come to surgical waiting area #7 to see his 5th grade teacher, Ms. Harmon. 

I had no idea where he was--thinking that he was still in Mississippi, and he had no idea where I was--in Tennnessee. Well, after a few minutes, with Ryan now in the bed with me, doctors, nurses, etc..tried to all attempted to fit in tiny surgical waiting area #7. Everybody was crying by that time. The time was nearing for me to be taken to the operating room, and Ryan asked me, "Ms. Harmon, do you still want me to put you to sleep in surgery since we now have reunited"? 

I told him, yes, and that I would not have it any other way. Well, after a 3-hour surgery, Ryan, did put me to sleep, and later returned to my room to see me in recovery. 

He found his badge too! We exchanged numbers, and have gone out to dinner with his fiancee' and my fiancee' He has been to my home several times and vice-versa. He said, "Ms. Harmon, I loved the way that you taught us science, and that is why I kept saying that I wanted to be a doctor/anesthesiologist". We were both now 300 miles from where we originally met as teacher and student-- now living in the same city and state". This was profound for me. 

I knew that I had touched the lives of so many students during my career, but on this day..... I will never forget it as long as I live! It is amazing that after 27 years, I still remembered my student's eyes. He said, "Ms. Harmon, I know what your chart says, but you look like you are in your 30s". Lol.....

About the Author: My name is Vickie Lynn Harmon, and I am a retired teacher of Mississippi Schools. Currently, I teach CLUE (Gifted Education) elementary students in grades K-5 in Memphis, Tennessee. I genuinely love teaching because I know that I have made a difference in the lives of children during my 37 years as an educator.
I am a 3-time graduate of Mississippi State University. I earned my Bachelor's, Master's, and Educational Specialist degrees from there. I am nearing the completion of my Doctorate in Education--Ed.D from the same magnificent university.

The New Normal by Grumpy Old Teacher

Originally posted at:

One year later, while the Florida legislature meets to tweak the well-intentioned, yet hasty, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Act, districts and schools are still trying to figure out how to implement the full act. Schools have been hardened, guardians have been hired, threat assessment teams … well, read on.
GOT has previously reported that he was placed upon his school’s threat assessment team (TAT). He went to the mandatory training in youth mental health, and since then, well no one seems to know what to do.
While Tally (short for Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, and usually used to mean the politicians that gather there to pass laws and govern the state) debates what to do next and the governor received his wish fulfillment for the empaneling of a grand jury to investigate school districts regarding their implementation of the MSD act, which will be sited in Broward County, thus it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who the targets are, GOT has tried to move forward.
This is not a critique of anyone, but as guidance is not forthcoming, GOT has worked to find resources for school TATs and wants to share them with you.
These are only a few. But, as GOT told his administrator, if guidance is not forthcoming, we need to get on with the work anyway. We’ll do the best we can through research, discussion, and action.
If you are also a part of your school’s TAT and don’t know how to move forward, GOT hopes this has helped.

Shooting Fish in a Barrel by Grumpy Old Teacher

Originally posted at:

This post must come with a language warning. But the image is really funny.
Image result for fish in a barrel
Active-Shooter Training at Your Local Public School
Hmm, GOT wonders if he could try that with his next Geometry lesson when the students don’t want to bother. “Okay, kids, let me show you how you need to use the Pythagorean Theorem to work out the area of a hexagon. If you don’t want to bother, I’ll shoot plastic pellets at you.”
Fight back: that was the lesson for teachers.
GOT wonders what would have happened to the teacher who did. That hypothetical teacher probably would have been tasered and put into handcuffs.
Listen to that fish. If teachers would only fight back, the AR-15s, bump stocks, multiple magazines, and body armor would be no match for them. Killers would cry, throw down their weapons, and run away.
At least, that’s what the trainers say.
Sigh, there will have to be training. There will always be no end to “professional development,” especially that which is led by people who have no clue.
You know what? You know who I want to come and train my colleagues and me?
Teachers. Teachers from Marjory Stoneman-Douglas, teachers from Sandy Hook, and teachers from Columbine High School who actually went through it.
They are the ones who can tell me what they did on that day of apocalypse, when irrational hatred and murder arrived on their campus. They can tell me what to do because they have been in the situation and have had a chance to reflect on what saved lives and what did not.
As for abusive law enforcement, with no training–nay, no understanding of trauma and its destructive effects–they should not be trainers.
Aren’t they the ones telling us teachers need to carry guns because we cannot rely upon them?!
Postscript: GOT does not indict all or most law enforcement officers who do a difficult job everyday.
But just as GOT is not an expert in law enforcement, they are not experts in education and schools. GOT will not tell them how to do their jobs and asks respectfully that they do not assume they know what our jobs should be.

Atlanta’s Public School Board Voted for Privatization by Thomas Ultican

Originally posted at:

On March 4, the Atlanta Public School (APS) board voted 5 to 3 to begin adopting the “System of Excellent Schools.” That is Atlanta’s euphemistic name for the portfolio district model which systematically ends democratic governance of public schools. The portfolio model was a response to John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which claimed that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”
A Rand Corporation researcher named Paul Hill who founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) began working out the mechanics of ending democratic control of public education. His solution to ending demon democracy – which is extremely unpopular with many billionaires – was the portfolio model of school governance.
The portfolio model of school governance directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio. It is a plan that guarantees school churn in poor neighborhoods, venerates disruption and dismisses the value of stability and community history.

Atlanta’s Comprador Regime

Atlanta resident Ed Johnson compared what is happening in APS to a “comprador regime” serving today’s neocolonialists. In the 19th century, a comprador was a native servant doing the bidding of his European masters; the new compradors are doing the bidding of billionaires privatizing public education.
Chalkbeat reported that Atlanta is one of seven US cities The City Fund has targeted for implementation of the portfolio district governance model. The city fund was founded in 2018 by two billionaires, John Arnold the former Enron executive who did not go to prison and Reed Hastings the founder and CEO of Netflix. Neerav Kingsland, Executive Director of The City Fund, stated, “Along with the Hastings Fund and the Arnold Foundation, we’ve also received funds from the Dell Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Ballmer Group.”
City Fund has designated RedefinED as their representative in Atlanta. Ed Chang, the Executive Director of RedefinED, is an example of the billionaire created education “reform” leader recruited initially by Teach for America (TFA).
TFA is the billionaire financed destroy-public-education (DPE) army. TFA teachers are not qualified to be in a classroom. They are new college graduates with no legitimate teacher training nor any academic study of education theory. Originally, TFA was proposed as an emergency corps of teachers for states like West Virginia who were having trouble attracting qualified professional educators. Then billionaires started financing TFA. They pushed through laws defining TFA teachers as “highly qualified” and purchased spurious research claiming TFA teachers were effective. If your child is in a TFA teacher’s classroom, they are being cheated out of a professionally delivered education. However, TFA provides the DPE billionaires a group of young ambitious people who suffer from group think bordering on cult like indoctrination.
Chang is originally from Chicago where he trained to be a physical therapist. He came south as a TFA seventh grade science teacher. Chang helped found an Atlanta charter school and through that experience received a Building Excellent Schools (BES) fellowship. BES claims to train “high-capacity individuals to take on the demanding and urgent work of leading high-achieving, college preparatory urban charter schools.
After his subsequent charter school proposal was rejected, Chang started doing strategy work for the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). This led him to a yearlong Fisher Fellowship training to start and run a KIPP charter school. In 2009, he opened KIPP STRIVE Academy in Atlanta.
While complicit in stealing neighborhood public schools from Atlanta’s poorest communities, Chang says with a straight face, “Education is the civil rights movement of today.
Ed Chang on BES
Ed Chang’s Picture from his BES Board Member Biography
Chang now has more than a decade working in billionaire financed DPE organizations. He started in TFA, had two billionaire supported “fellowships” and now has millions of dollars to use as the Executive Director of RedefinED. It is quite common for TFA alums like Chang to end up on the boards of multiple education “reform” organizations.
Under Chang’s direction, RedefinED has provided monetary support for both the fake teacher program, TFA, and the fake graduate school, Relay. In addition, they have given funds to the Georgia Charter School Association, Purpose Built Schools, Kindezi School, KIPP and Resurgence Hall.
The other obvious “Comprador” in Atlanta is APS Superintendent Meria Castarphen. A product of the prestigious Harvard Graduate School of Education where she was shaped to lead the billionaire financed privatization agenda. Unlike TFA, Harvard’s graduates are highly qualified. However, large contributions from billionaires with an agenda have corrupted the school’s intellectual honesty. The most notorious three “fauxlanthropies” working to destroy-public-education (DPE) have given generously to Harvard.
Harvard Grants
Using Philanthropy to Control Harvard – Gates – Walton – Broad
The Post “A Rotten Peach Poisoning Atlanta Public Schools” documents Castarphen’s journey from Selma, Alabama to Harvard and finally to Atlanta. At Harvard, she became an expert in using high stakes testing to hold schools and teachers accountable. Unfortunately, as is widely known, standardized testing is completely useless for evaluating schools or teachers. The only thing measured with confidence is how nice the student’s homes are.
During her first stint as a school superintendent, the people in St. Paul, Minnesota saw her as a tyrant. Half the existing administrative staff quit during her three year tenure. Executive Director of Facilities, Patrick Quinn, stated, “Meria’s confrontational style has rendered the administrative work environment toxic.
She left St. Paul for the superintendent’s job in Austin, Texas. After five years, the Austin board did not offer her a contract renewal. She had alienated both the staff and the Hispanic community to such an extent several board members lost their seats and blamed her. In an article about Meria’s coming to Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) quoted Austin resident Vincent Tovar, “Her corporate-reform-backed agenda didn’t fly here because we fought it, and that’s why she’s leaving.
Castarphen’s first agenda in Atlanta was to rid the school system of its older more experienced educators and replace them with younger less expensive and more malleable teachers. She also introduced a turnaround strategy which turned APS into a charter district. It gave her more control and eliminated many teacher protections. A similar plan was rejected in Austin.
Two years ago, an announcement reminiscent of when the fox guarded the hen house appeared on the APS web-site. It reported,
“Today the Walton Family Foundation announced it will invest $2.1 million to support and evaluate the success of Atlanta Public Schools’ Turnaround Strategy. The grants will also help the district launch APS Insights, a first-of-its-kind data dashboard available this summer to share information about school options and quality with Atlanta parents.”
It is not clear that APS was in any real need of a turnaround strategy, but new data indicates the strategy has caused harm not improvement.
National Assessment of Education Progress 8th Grade Math, Reading and Change in Scale Scores

By March of 2016, the APS  board approved Castarphen’s turnaround strategyand several neighborhood schools were identified for  potential takeover. APS closed and merged several schools and turned five schools over to charter-related operators. Now, APS is examining all schools, not just struggling ones.
AJC reported on the new scheme,
“The result could bring autonomous ways of operating schools and possibly more closures or mergers. It could change the district’s mix of charter, partner-operated, and traditional, district-run neighborhood schools. Sixty-one of 89 APS schools now are neighborhood schools.”
“Helping APS with the planning work is Denver-based Foxhall Consulting Services, whose fees are being paid by RedefinED Atlanta, a local, charter-friendly nonprofit, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a public records request. RedefinED agreed to give $235,000 to Atlanta Partners for Education, a nonprofit that supports the work of the school district, to pay for Foxhall’s consulting services and travel costs on behalf of the district.”
When AJC says “autonomous ways of operating” it means that local taxpayers will no longer have a vote on operating those schools. They will still get the tax bill but private companies will get the vote. The privatization scheme was compared to managing a stock portfolio by CRPE leading many people call it the “portfolio model.” In Texas, they call it the “System of Great Schools Network” and in Atlanta it is called the “System of Excellent Schools.” Whatever Orwellian name it is given; the purpose is to move public assets into private profit-making-hands.

Destroy Public Education Movement Atlanta Style

Professor Jim Scheurich and his urban studies team at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) observed a pattern in the destruction of public education. Based on their observations, the team developed a DPE model which is described in “A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement.” The destruction of Atlanta’s public education system fits that model like a print to a wood block. A few examples from the DPE model follow.
“Institute a local-national collaboration between wealthy neoliberals and other conservatives to promote school privatization and the portfolio model of school management.”
In Atlanta besides the relationship between the City Fund and RedefinED there is the relationship between the Walton Family Foundation and Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, the billion dollar “Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta” contributed more than $14,000,000 toward school privatization including $271,000 to TFA. Falcon’s owner and Home Depot founder, Arthur M. Blank also kicked in more than a half million dollars to the privatization cause including $69,000 to TFA.
Two other big national privatization “fauxlanthropies” spent big on privatization in Atlanta. From 2014 to 2018, Bill Gates sent more than $52,000,000 “reform” dollars. Between 2015 and 2016, the Walton family chipped in more than$5,000,000 and that was before they partnered with APS in 2017.
“Direct large sums of money through advocacy organizations to recruit, train and finance pro-privatization school board candidates.”
Every year the Buckhead Coalition, a chamber-like, invitation-only organization of 100 CEOs, recommends and provides support for local school board candidates. At the beginning of the year, 8 of the 9 school board members had been promoted by the Coalition. In 2017, campaign contributions for school board races totaled to greater than $700,000 which is a staggering amount for a relatively modest district with just under 55,000 students.
The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta sent $220,000 to Michelle Rhee’s Students First Institute known for putting money into local school board elections. Jason Esteves, the former TFA corps member and current President of the APS board, had a war chest of $167,000 for his reelection run in 2017.  One of his maximum contribution came from Steuart Walton of Bentonville, Arkansas.
“Institute a portfolio system of school district management that includes public schools, charter schools and Innovation Schools.”
That is the whole point of the “System of Excellent Schools.”
“Hire minimally trained teachers from Teach for America (TFA) or other instant-teacher-certification programs.”
TFA claims“After 18 years in Metro Atlanta, we have a network of more than 1,500 corps members and alumni who are making an impact across the education ecosystem.”
“Use groups like Teach Plus and TNTP to provide teacher professional development.”
The charter industry created a fake education graduate school with no professors of education. The so called Relay Graduate School of Education reported last year, “Relay will offer the Relay Teaching Residency in Atlanta, which caters to college graduates and career changers who are seeking a path into the teaching profession.”
In densely populated areas, the DPE agenda invariably is coherent with an urban renewal effort often derisively labeled “gentrification.” That is certainly the case in Atlanta. For example, Purpose Built Schools advertise, “We are a philanthropically funded organization that grew out of the holistic neighborhood transformation efforts of the East Lake Foundation, Purpose Built Communities and Charles R. Drew Charter School.” Another example is the self-declared history of the Grove Park Foundation stating they “forged a series of new partnerships with Atlanta Public Schools, KIPP, the YMCA and several arts organizations to bring an A+ school, a new YMCA facility and new housing options for all income levels to the Grove Park neighborhood.

Final Observations

Shani Robinson’s book co-written with journalist Anna Simonton is called None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators. Shani was a first-grade TFA teacher when she became ensnared in this grossly unjust episode. It is not that some teachers did not deserve to lose their job, but none of them deserved a prison stay for making a bad choice when confronted with horrible education policy. Some of them got 20-year sentences.
In a Democracy Now interview, Shani shared that 35 educators either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial after being charged with racketeering under the RICO statutes created to bring down mobsters. Of the 35 charged, 34 were African-American and one was Filipino. At the time, the state estimated that 20% of the exams in the state of Georgia were fraudulent. There were other districts at least as guilty as APS. Furthermore, at the time, cheating was suspected in 40 US states while 15 of them were viewed as having pervasive cheating. The only teachers in America ever criminally charged and put in prison were in Atlanta.
Even more shocking, the state of Georgia knowingly used the fraudulent statewide testing results in its application for a Race To The Top grant. Georgia dishonorably won a $400,000,000 grant.
The Atlanta cheating event was used by black and white elites in Atlanta to fuel the current DPE movement and gentrification. When Robinson was asked where were Atlanta’s progressive black politicians at the time, she replied,
“Atlanta has always been known as “the city too busy to hate,” so it’s all about image. And historically, black and white elites have worked together to decrease any racial tension.”
Professionally run public education is being dismantled in Atlanta. The legacy of 200 years passed down by all our forefathers is being destroyed. Hate is not the correct response but neither is passivity. Democratically run public education is a pillar of Democracy and it is worth fighting for.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Pulling Back the Curtains on Privilege in Education

The recent Varsity Blues college admission scandal is merely a glimpse into the inequities of a rigged system that marginalizes millions of our youth and perpetuates the destruction of what was once known as “The American Dream.” We are living in an era of a dwindling middle class and growing class of poverty that both cling to increasingly obsolete ideals: that pathways to opportunity are open to them. Instead, selfish elites with privilege and power take advantage of the system by using loopholes, some of which are actually legal. 
As a public high school teacher, I am pulled in two different directions. One is to convince students that if they work hard in school and achieve good grades and high test scores, they will have multiple opportunities to “succeed” in life. This is the mantra of the system: to be “college and career” ready. If I were to be completely compliant as a Department of Education employee, I am to lie to my students that they must strive for college admission because that will lead to a sustainable income, home ownership, and a relatively stress-free life. However, I have followed that path myself and am saddled with student loan debt, exorbitant credit card debt, and little hope to own a home. 
The second direction is to tell students the truth: that they need to weigh the cost of a college education with the potential income they might receive after researching the job outlook and factoring in the geographical location where they intend to live as an adult. 
Another way to guide students that is highly neglected is to teach them about entrepreneurship and ways to start non-profit organizations that aim to better the world. Instead, students participate in community service activities to pad their college brag sheet rather than to improve their world. 
This obsession with “college and career ready” perpetuated by the neoliberal agenda is leading students to aim low. If I ask any class of students the purpose of education, the overwhelmingly popular response is “to go to college and get a good job,” just what the shrinking number of large corporations want to hear. The elites do not welcome competition for their positions of power, rather they want a workforce they can control.
More frightening is the reduced quality of leadership we are experiencing which is a direct result of a privileged class buying their way into power and then leading with a blind eye to the plight of those who are struggling. A perfect example is the suggestion that federal government workers work odd jobs and borrow against their retirement to survive during the government shutdown earlier this year.
The trend to neglect funding for public education is being felt firsthand by veteran teachers like me. Students in schools with a lack of funding often do not know anything else but to deal with the scant resources. 
Newer teachers may not remember how school used to be before the obsession with testing and the empty promises of canned curricula, but there are those of us who resist. We do what is right for kids, despite the obstacles. We cry out for a long overdue debate about the inequity in the education system. We do not merely shake our heads in disgust over the rich people cheating. We reject the tests and test prep materials that are simply a cash cow for “investors.” We continue to fight for social justice and do not comply when it is damaging to kids. That is what makes us badass.
Submitted by: Mireille Ellsworth, Hawai’i BAT

Monday, March 18, 2019

The College Admission Scandal from a Public School Educator’s Perspective

A particular news that otherwise would be of interest only to a small percent of Americans, carried too much drama for the media not to cover it widely— the largest college admission cheating scandal in history! Chiefly, the interest was triggered by the famous, wealthy, and well connected characters in this show. According to ABC Nightline, the operation “Varsity Blues” exposed a massive admission cheating scheme that included well known TV stars, Silicone Valley tycoons, a hedge fund CEO Manager, and a head of a prestigious law firm among others. All of them wealthy enough to pay generously a consultant company that guaranteed them to get their children into elite colleges. 

If learning about the existence of private consultant companies dedicated to help candidates to enter elite universities was not interesting enough, the fact that this particular company showed no scruples whatsoever to achieve its client’s wishes definitely provided intriguing angles. For one, it is alarming to realize the wealthy clients’ disposition to pay up to hundreds of thousands of dollars on what it was clearly an illegal scheme. In addition, it amazes the extent of this company’s corruptive activities to guarantee success -- falsifying documents, altering SAT scores, doctoring photographs, bribing SAT proctors, coaches, and athletic directors, and even fabricating sports qualifications. 

However, what tops it all is the win-win profitable financial scam for the clients. Cleverly, the head of that company, Rick Singer, created one fake college counseling non-profit to allow his deep pocketed customers to mask the potentially embarrassing nature of the payment, while allowing them to report the expense as a write off from their taxes. That information alone would be enough to hook, entertain, and inform the general audience. After all, as taxpayers we partially ended up footing the bill in this scheme. However, as an educator the scandal exposes the much larger issue of meritocracy and how it affects public education and millions of college students as well. 

Although this illegal episode involves only wealthy and privileged characters in elite institutions, it has significant implications for students in public education. Mainly, it forces to reconsider the American notion of a meritocratic system so regularly invoked by politicians . So how important is it for some to enter an elite university? Evidently, it matters a lot. Consider that a successful Ivy League application is not the result of a little effort at application time. It is the culmination of years of hard work. So, after these cheating revelations, the alleged meritocratic system has been exposed as an empty catchphrase, meaningless for those wealthy and entitled who can get away defrauding the system. 

Evidently, these underachieving wealthy students received the best opportunities in private schools and available additional support, while the remarkable students in public schools simply did not. If those extreme differences do not disqualify this meritocratic system, the learning about the effects of inequalities on students will. What about living and studying in poor or violent environments? Some studies have shown that underprivileged students are instinctively aware of these differences and are affected by an unfair and arguably discriminatory system. So, what are the fair parameters for this meritocracy? And ultimately, what are the rewards from complying with the rules? 

Regardless of the relative small scope of the scandalous event, the meritocratic system showed intolerable discriminatory flaws that deserve a serious debate. Indeed, judging by the growing inequalities in the past decades, one can conclude that public education in America has not become the great equalizer it was supposed to be. A revision of this biased practice is long overdue --If a flawed meritocracy is detrimental to achieve societal goals; a corrupt meritocratic system would be devastating. 

The consequences of a corrupted meritocratic system affect not only those who are accepted or rejected unfairly. For instance, witnessing the unfairness has the potential to demoralize and even depress those who had faith in the system. Also, unconscionably, a rigged meritocratic system could become a tool to deceive and control the population. Indeed, it is disturbing to infer that wealthy and unscrupulous cheaters with an inflated sense of entitlement enjoy an undeserved reputation and harvest the privileges and advantages it offers. 

By the same token, it is frightening to realize that these despicable behaviors and unethical lessons learned by these young people had been taught in words and deeds by their own parents. For these teenagers, these appalling life lessons are clear and certain; they are rules to live by. What makes it even more troubling is realizing that from this tainted group that has got away cheating the system may emerge business and political leaders. For that reason alone, educators should consider starting debates about the nature and effects of the alleged meritocratic system. Evidently, this event is much more than a trivial scandal. 

As an educator is hard to reconcile that in America some parents paid astronomical figures to dishonestly get their children into an elite college, while millions of college students had to borrow money to pay for their education. An odd and eye-opening finding by the Operation Varsity Blues was that some of these parents spent the same or more money on bribes to get their children in college than on the whole four-year tuition. In America some privileged ones have spent obscene amounts of money to illegally gain access to universities of their choice, while millions of unprivileged honest students have graduated with debt. 

Some years ago the collective college student debt in the US surpassed one trillion dollars. The news raise some eyebrows, but nothing serious has been done about it. In the class of 2018 , 69% of college students graduated owning $29,800 on average, while the parents of 14% took out loans averaging $35,600. Incredibly, 45 million borrowers owe a staggering $1.56 trillion dollars in student loans. Why is this not a scandal?

How can we talk about a meritocracy when public education is not properly funded? Since NCLB was imposed back in 2002, the perception of public education has slowly changed from being a public good to becoming a commodity. In an unprecedented move, federal public funds were taken from public schools and given to individuals or corporations to manage charter schools. Arbitrarily, corporate reformers imported free-market policies and started privatizing schemes to allegedly improve public schools. Districts were told to allocate money to hire consultants to provide professional development in order to improve their scores. At this time, the federal administration has already proposed significant cuts in education and other social programs. 

This neoliberal experiment included unyielding demand for compliance in a competitive system with unwarranted high stakes testing, and arbitrary high standards. In this area, testing and publishing companies started to profit handsomely offering materials, consultants, and training. To complement the reforms, corporate reformers instituted punitive mechanisms that included publishing the yearly scores of students, teachers, and schools. Ultimately, many public schools were unfairly closed and later reopened as charter schools. As feared, rather than tools for improving public education, the neoliberal policies became means of privatization. Unsurprisingly, the new meritocracy in the neoliberal reforms showed a stressful side. 

What is more important? At the moment two law suits have been filed by parents and students. Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney explains that “This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions to the steady application of wealth combined with fraud.” I agree with Mr. Lelling. Good luck to them!

However, it seems to me that despite Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities book describing how disparities in funding schools have affected minority students for decades; or Noam Chomsky denouncing the attacks on public education and teachers; or Diane Ravitch’s efforts to expose the manipulations of the reforms among many others, public school educators have been deceived by the corporate reformers so effectively that we have not been able to question the neoliberal mantra of an arguably false meritocracy. 

In closing:
I feel sad for those honest and deserving students who despite doing everything right saw their place taken in a rigged game, and for those taken their places. Everybody lost!

I feel appalled seeing the disparities between the privileged few who were given every advantage in life, and dishonestly snatched an unearned place in college; and for the millions of college graduates who played by the rules and even incur in debt to pursue higher education. 

I fear for a society whose elite universities enable the privileged and corrupt to snatch some of the few places that may have been awarded to more qualified and worthy candidates.

And I hope that public school educators and stakeholders take this opportunity to question a system that promotes corruption and abuse from the powerful few at the expense of the rest. 

Who wins, who loses, who cares?

In solidarity,
Sergio Flores, BAT Board of Directors

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Pam Harbin Wants to Go From Pittsburgh School Board Watchdog to School Board Member by Steven Singer

My friend Pam Harbin is trying to undergo a startling metamorphosis.

She wants to transform from an education activist into a Pittsburgh School Director.

Now that Board President Lynda Wrenn is stepping down after 4 years, city voters in District 4 will have to decide whether Harbin can make the change. The election is on May 21.

Residents in parts of Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, Shadyside and North Oakland already know Harbin as a fierce warrior for children’s civil rights, the plight of disabled kids and authentic public schools.
I’ve known Pam, personally, for years in my own role as an education activist. Though I don’t live in the city, I’ve participated in numerous collective actions to fight for the schools all our children deserve. And right beside me in every case – often in front of me – was Pam.

I may not live in the district, but I wish I could vote for her. Harbin is an amazing leader with boundless energy, piercing intelligence, a deep knowledge of education policy, an advanced degree in finance and marketing, and an impressive track record of education justice achievements.
“I am deeply concerned for our system of public education,” she says. “The status quo isn’t working for all children. Thankfully, there are many people here in Pittsburgh and across the country who are fighting for investment in, and transformation of, our public schools. Unfortunately, their efforts are hindered by the well-funded organizations who fight for public school disinvestment, privatization, and for the elimination of teachers’ right to unionize.”

For the past 12 years, Harbin has been at the forefront of every major battle for the future of Pittsburgh’s public schools and the rights of its students.
Harbin was instrumental in pushing city school board directors to enact a suspension ban from Pk-2nd grade for minor non-violent conduct. She successfully fought to stop the district from implementing a physical restraint protocol that wasn’t trauma informed. She successfully fought against a policy that would have allowed school police officers to carry guns. She supported a successful Sanctuary Schools Policy for immigrant students. She also supported changes to the districts policies that would better welcome and include Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ students, including a change that allows students to use the bathroom that best fits their own gender identity.
Harbin and her coalition of local activists even made national news when they stopped the district from contracting with Teach for America, stopped the closing of 10 schools (after 23 were previously closed), pushed the board to hire a new Superintendent using an inclusive process that relied heavily on community input, and led the fight for a Community School Policy and the creation of 8 Community Schools.
Harbin has two challengers in the election: Anna Batista, a corporate consultant at Highstreet Consulting and Ashley Priore, a 19-year-old first year student at the University of Pittsburgh studying Business and English, who started a successful after school chess program for girls.
But despite facing a crowded field, Harbin has earned every organizational endorsement she has sought thus far, including the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, the Young Democrats of Allegheny County, the Stonewall Democrats and the Network for Public Education—an organization that frequently reposts my own writing as an education blogger and which is on the frontlines of education justice nationwide.


Harbin is one of the most experienced education leaders ever to run for school board in the city. She co-founded the Education Rights Network (ERN), a parent-led organization working for fully resourced, inclusive and quality education for students throughout Pennsylvania. The ERN is part of One Pennsylvania, an organization that unites low income and working class activists to tackle the fundamental economic justice and political problems of local communities.
“Our members are workers, students, parents, seniors, people with disabilities, and retirees who are excited to learn, collaborate, and build power,” she says. “We follow the money, confront the power, and make the change.”

ERN is a member of Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, a coalition of community, faith, and labor organizations working together to create sustainable public schools in Pittsburgh—an alliance which Harbin also helped to found in 2013. Great Public Schools is affiliated on the national level with the Journey for Justice Alliance, the Dignity in Schools Campaign, and the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools.
Harbin is also a member and past Co-Chair of the Pittsburgh Local Task Force on the Right to Education (LTF), a parent-majority organization that works with administrators of Pittsburgh Public Schools and community agencies to improve services for students with disabilities.
And she serves on the board of directors and was past President of Evolve Coaching(formerly Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh), supporting individuals with disabilities and their communities through education, employment, and the arts.
No one else in the race—and maybe in the whole city—has a resume like Harbin’s.
Harbin believes her years of leadership for and service to Pittsburgh students and families have provided her with the needed foundation for a transition from community leader to school board member. She has attended or streamed more than 2,000 hours of school board meetings. She has served on Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) district-wide advisory committees, including the Community Schools Steering Committee, Envisioning Educational Excellence Advisory Committee, Parental Involvement Policy Committee, Excellence for All Steering Committee, and the Special Education Delivery Model Advisory Committee. And through these many committees and organizations Harbin has helped more than 100 individual families secure an IEP or a 504 plan for their children—in part because she understands better than most the byzantine world of public school special education services.
No one is better suited to this position than Harbin. I literally wish we could clone her and have her fill every vacancy on the board. She is that qualified, that experienced, and that effective.
If this sounds a bit like a love letter, it kind of is.

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I have many fond memories of fighting the power alongside Pam Harbin. I remember organizing events through Yinzercation with Pam, even canvasing local candidates door-to-door with her and my (then) 9-year-old daughter. No matter what, you could always count on Pam to be there for children.
“When our public schools are strong, our children and community thrive,” she says. “We have many great Pittsburgh Public Schools, teachers, and programs. But, in each school, there are children who can’t excel because their individual needs have not been met. We must do better.”

“We must remove the barriers that keep all of our children from fulfilling their dreams. This requires transformational, sustainable change in policy and practice at the local, state, and national level.”

If anyone can make that change happen, it’s Harbin. As someone who has a degree in finance, who is an experienced negotiator and a proven coalition builder, she is uniquely qualified to do so from within the board as she has been successful doing so from outside of it.

She has an ambitious set of goals and priorities if elected:

-Strengthening relationships between all stake-holders with an emphasis on child wellness.

-Defining success beyond standardized test scores to include authentic education practices, addressing trauma, disengagement, hunger, the quality of school food programs, the condition of our buildings and bathrooms, and children’s need for exercise and play.

-Achieving smaller class sizes and a smaller ratio of kids to adults in each building with more teachers, counselors, social workers, paraprofessionals, nurses, librarians, and other staff that keeps the building functioning at its best.

-Restoring funding to art, music, physical education, and other programming that keep kids wanting to come to school.

-Stopping criminalization and over-policing of students, and stopping the use of ineffective punishments that keep children away from their learning and put them on the track to drop out, to jail, and to poverty.

-Intentionally recruiting, retaining, and supporting educators of color and those who identify as LGBTQ.

-Working to make teacher mentoring, new teacher induction, and professional development better to make the very best use of teachers’ time and address key gaps in preparation to teach the wide spectrum of students in the district.

-Making teacher evaluation fair and consistent, not based solely on test scores or value added models.

-Ensuring teachers (and all school staff) are well paid, treated fairly, and valued for the critical work they do for children every day.

-Protecting collective bargaining rights so teachers (and all staff) have a voice to improve their schools – because teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions.

-Investing in the proven Community Schools model and work collaboratively with community partners to bring resources to each school.

-Working at the state level to force our legislators to finally provide adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding for public education and stop efforts to dismantle public education through vouchers and other privatization schemes.

-Building coalitions to improve the flawed state Charter School Law – Charter Schools must have more accountability for the delivery of education to all students, including disabled children, English Language Learners, and kids who are homeless or who are in foster care.

angel and pam

I could literally go on about Pam for another 10,000 words. Easy.

But let me close with this.

Harbin began her journey as an education leader when she started advocating for her own children at their first elementary school—Liberty elementary in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. She found that she could make a difference for a few children at a time by throwing herself into volunteer work at the school.

But then she realized that if she wanted to make a difference for more than just a few children that she needed to work with others. Indeed, to do this work effectively Pam has had to work with people of different backgrounds, races, opinions and ideologies. She has had to listen to others, to compromise, to build bridges, and to prioritize common goals in each of her coalitions. In short, she gets things done.

And she’s been doing that for more than a dozen years.

Not because she has no choice. Not because anyone is paying her to do so. Not because doing so is bringing her any riches or fame.

But because it has been the right thing to do.

And that’s the best endorsement I can imagine.

NOTE: Special thanks to Professor Kathleen M. Newman who helped edit this article.

Click HERE to join Pam’s campaign!

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!