Sunday, August 21, 2011
corporate funders like Steven Jobs of Apple- whatever portion of the
political spectrum them may come from- is that TFA offers an enhanced
version of the Culture of Poverty thesis that was in vogue in the early
and middle Sixties.
In the world according to TFA, poor school performance is a product
of communities who lack a strong foundation of middle class values.
burned out teachers who have given up trying to instill those values,
and teachers unions which protect burned out teachers
What is needed, to transform failing schools and communities, is a
constant infusion of highly motivated teachers who will be ambassaors
for middle class values and will leave before they are burned out or
begin to adapt to the culture of the communities in which they are located!
The "two years and out" commitment is actually consistent with TFA's
world view and "theory of change. Because TFA teachers are moving in and out
of low perofrming schools at a rapid rate, children of the poor will constantly be
exposed toemissaries of mainstream American values who refuse to accept the
"culture of failure" that exists in poor communities.
The result- great improvement in school performance at little cost
The message to funders- Give money to Teach for America and you
will gradually change the culture of poor neighborhoods through its most impressionable and malleable representatives,its youth, and over time, poverty will diminish, or be drastically reduced
What makes this kind of thinking, from the corporate point of view,
so attractive is that it rejects any structural explanations of
poverty that might require a reditribution of wealth or higher tax
rates on corporations.
It suggests the problems of poverty and inequality can be solved
through private philanthropy and individual sacrifice by bright
middle class college graduates .devoting a few years to uplifting poor
children early in their
No evidence that such an approach will work is required. It
donors feel so good that evidence doesn't matter.
August 20, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
School Reform, Community Development and the Mal-Distribution of Wealth: The Road Not Taken
Reading Sarah Mosle’s review of Steven Brill’s new book on School Reform in the New York Times reminded me of the incredible expenditure of time, money and political capital this movement has engendered. I can think of no cause in recent American history which has brought together philanthropy, government and the media, along with a bi- partisan coalition encompassing elements of the Right and the Left, in behalf of an imperative to transform an important sector of American society . Using rhetoric which enlists egalitarian ideals ( No Child Left Behind) alongside the goal of improving the nation’s place in global capitalist competition ( Race to the Top) this movement has proven well nigh irresistible in shaping the way educational policy is being formed at the state, local and national level.
Unfortunately, in terms of either egalitarianism or competitiveness, this movement has failed miserably. Not only has the nation become far more unequal in terms of every important statistical indicator ( wealth distribution, youth poverty, minority unemployment, black/white wealth gap) since No Child Left behind was passed, but we have seen no change in the nation’s position in the global hierarchy in terms of performance on standardized tests.
Why has a movement which has inspired such elevated rhetoric ( “Education Reform is the Civil Rights Cause of the 21st Century), such bi-partisan political support, and such huge expenditures of money achieved so little?
Perhaps the most obvious answer is a simple one: there is no evidence schools alone, not matter how well funded they are, can lift people out of poverty when every other social policy drives them down.
But that answer doesn’t mean we should completely give up on transforming schools.
Schools and school reform can serve as instruments of community development if the resources put into them are deployed in ways which strengthen local economies immediately, not just in some distant future when the beneficiaries of school reform graduate from college and launch successful careers
Let’s use a little imagination. What if the hundreds of billions of dollars contributed by philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and hedge fund entrepreneurs to charter schools, Teach for America and local school districts who follow their model of “accountability” were used instead to hire local residents of poor communities to work in schools as school aids, recreation supervisors, and personnel in child care centers? Not only would such a policy help transform schools into dawn to dusk community centers for struggling neighborhoods, it would create tens, if not hundreds of thousands of new jobs in neighborhoods which are starved for employment and where families are under the severest economic stress.
Right now the vast majority of School Reform dollars go into the pockets of middle class and upper middle class professionals who live far from the neighborhoods in which “failing” schools are located- management consultants, employees of test companies, computer and information system managers, teachers and administrators in charter schools. They do nothing to develop local economies, strengthen families in need, provide employment to marginalized people, or redistribute income from the very wealthy to the very poor. If you wanted to by cynical, you can say that School Reform, in the name of helping the poor, has created a wonderful job program for the children of the middle class.
But that can only happen because most ( but not all) School Reformers divorce the goal of improving schools from the goal of lifting communities out of poverty.
As progressives, our job is to insist that the School/Community linkage be foremost in all Reform efforts, and that the vast majority of the funds to improve schools in poor communities be used to create jobs and programs for people who live in those communities. No more consultants, no more tests, no more computer systems, no more hot shot teachers who spend two years in low performing schools then leave. Let’s give bonuses for teachers and principals who live in the communities they teach in, stay in schools in poverty areas for ten or more years, and lets hire tens of thousands of local residents for useful and necessary work that turn schools into places where everyone in the neighborhood wants to be
If you do that, you might not only contribute to the goal of greater equality, you will help put a dent in what all experts agree is the major hindrance to America’s global competitiveness in educational performance- our extraordinarily high rate of child poverty.
Friday, August 19, 2011
“Surveillance State” in the New York Public Schools
Last spring, a former Bronx teacher named Janet Mayer published a
wonderful book about her experiences called As Bad As They Say: Three
Decades of Teaching in Bronx Schools. Most of the book was a tribute
to the heroic students she had taught at Grace Dodge High School in the
Bronx, who overcame incredible obstacles to achieve their goals; the
last chapter was a devastating critique of “No Child Left Behind”,
“Race to the Top” and Mayoral Control of Schools in New York City.
Teachers at Grace Dodge High School, whose unsung labors were
honored, along with Dodge students, in Mayer’s book, tried to organize
a book party for As Bad as They Say. . Their efforts were vetoed by the
principal, who was afraid that she and the school, would face
retaliation from DOE officials if the Dodge community gave public
recognition to a book which was critical of DOE policies
Such is the state of Free Speech in the era of Mayor Control of New
York’s public schools.
But wait as minute you say. Isn’t the principal a member of a union?
Aren’t the teachers? Won’t their unions support them if they hold a
public event which takes a position critical of DOE policies,
especially if it is done in a way that allow for expression of
The answer, unfortunately is “No!”
In the last six years, an atmosphere of intimidation has been created
in the New York City public schools, as the Department of Education, in
the name of “accountability,” has created what amounts to a
Surveillance State, if not an actual Police State, in which every
teacher, school and principal, are being rated, and evaluated on the
basis of student test scores.
Instead of spies and informers, the DOE has spent hundreds of millions
of dollars on information systems and consultants, which track student
performance on the growing number of standardized tests the schools are
being deluged with.
And these evaluations are not just informational, Based on the
information accumulated, scores of schools have been closed,
principals removed, and thousands of teachers reassigned, often against
the protests of students, parents and community members in the schools
targeted for such action.
These actions, and the arrogant, dictatorial spirit with which they
have been enforced, have placed teachers and administrators under
incredible stress, especially those working in schools which serve
immigrants and children of the poor. With the threat of school
closings and reassignment-- if not actual loss of employment-- hanging
over their head, and with Big Brother Style Data systems quantifying
every minute variation on every test they administer, few teachers or
principals dare to question the overall policies which have swept
creativity, initiative, and critical thinking out of their classrooms.
The result is that the Department of Education, having smothered all
internal opposition, has had carte blanche to spend expend
extraordinary sums of money on consultants, data systems, and hiring of
new administrators, that could have been used to reduce class size
throughout the system
Now, after six years of Mayoral Control, the public is finally
waking up to how democracy has been smothered in the nation’s largest
public school system, and how favored groups ( charter school
administrators, test companies, information system providers) have been
allowed to cash in during the creation of the DOE’s Surveillance State.
The gloves are off. All important stakeholders- teachers,
students, parents, community leaders- must fight to insure that the
free exchange of ideas, inside the classroom and out, is encouraged in
the New York City public schools, and that a Police State atmosphere
imposed in the name of “accountability” is an unacceptable violation of
our liberties, and a terrible example to provide to our youth
August 18, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
The 2 most powerful people shaping public education in NY State,
Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, and Merryl Tisch, chair of
the New York State Board of Regents, are both billionaires! On their
watch, private interests- test publishers, software companies, and
educational consulting firms- have gained a huge foothold in the
state's public schools. This is the logical consequence of Plutocratic
Rule. Once they leave office, public vigilance should keep people of
great wealth out of any positions of control in our educational system.
To quote the old adage: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice,
shame on me!”
Thursday, August 11, 2011
First of all, I would state, for the record, that there is no quick or instant way to make our schools perform better unless we have a major initiative to reduce poverty that encompasses employment, health care, nutrition and housing as well as education.
Then, I would end Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, deemphazie standardized testing and make schools places where young people, especially those from poor and working class backgrounds want to spend time in and where they get skills that lead to useful employment. Here would be the keystones of my program.
1 Create first rate vocational and technical education programs like the kind they have in Germany and like they used to have in NYC in the 1950's. Help train the technicians needed to build a new energy efficient economy for the 21St Century.
2. Create after school progarms and night centers in the public schools which featues sports, the arts, and modern information technology, all led by first rate teacher mentors, helped by teachers in training. Young people in NY City also had programs like this when I was growing up. They were elminated in the 1970's fiscal crisis
3. Vastly expand the hours and resources of public libraries so they not only create safe zones where young people can do their homework free of harassment and noise, but are places where they can have access to computer and information technology they might not have in their home.
4. Create CCC and WPA type jobs program for out of work out of school teens and young adults, paying them to help rebuild our rotting infastructure and mentor young people in their neighborhoods.
I can assure you that these programs would be much more effective engaging young people than our current strategy of deluging them with standarized tests to make them competitive with young people in other countries.
Monday, August 8, 2011
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Notorious PhD. " The Achievement Rap" - YouTube
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Exposing the Man Behind the Curtain: What's Behind "Education Reform"? Part 3 of 3
In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was instructed to follow the yellow brick road. In L. Frank Baum's political satire this represented the gold standard, measured in ounces...or Oz. Along the way she found the scarecrow, representing the farmers, who was hurt as he stumbled on the yellow bricks. She also found the rusted tin man, representing industrial workers who were suffering from the depression of the 1890s. It was the wicked witch of the east, or the big business interests of the east, who had cursed him. These same big business interests have been financing groups like the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), who in 2010 are definitely cursing teachers. And a careful read of their analysis of the Boston Public Schools tells us in the end, it's still about the yellow brick road.
The 3rd part of the NCTQ analysis addresses the issue of working conditions and compensation. It's here we get the real purpose behind their report and why the business community and pro business foundations like The Boston Foundation bankroll their "studies". More unpaid hours, less compensation, less sick time, lower pensions, and merit pay. Everything the business community values (or devalues as the case may be).
Of course their report is filled with multi colored graphs to "prove" their assertion that teachers do not need or deserve the benefits we have fought for throughout the years. lifting the teaching profession to a point where teachers only occasionally have to work a 2nd job to live. They show us in graphs that Boston has the highest salary structure in the state, but fail to talk about the high cost of living in the Boston area or the cost of commuting if one can't afford to live in the city. They cynically compare with long bar graphs how we have a shorter contractual day than SOME communities, but fail to even estimate the number of unpaid hours every teacher puts in after school or at home. They deride any compensation without acknowledging the thousands of dollars that teachers spend out of their own pockets to teach in underfunded schools every year.
To "prove" they are right they insert anonymous quotes from Boston teachers. Find ONE teacher who agrees with you and use this as evidence that NCTQ must be right. A particular quote that sticks in my craw has a teacher saying, “I find it really hard to be a professional when I am paid only on years of service and coursework.” They use this quote to justify the business demand that we institute merit pay and have teachers compete with each other for additional salary. Is this the type of teacher they want? Ones who cannot feel like a professional unless they have a chance to get more than the other guy?
Years ago I took a business course in college. The invited speaker that day was from the New York Stock Exchange who informed us that the only way to get ahead in business was to knock down the guy in front of you, kick him, and then step over them. Organizations like NCTQ, financed by the business community, want us to institute this type of behavior into public education. But good teachers do not base their status on the size of their wallets, but on the knowledge that every day they come to the profession and work hard educating the next generation. Sure we want fair compensation. But we also want sharing communities in our schools. That is what motivates us, not competing with each other in a dog eat dog world.
As I read through the NCTQ report on improving teacher quality I kept asking myself what does this have to do with education? Is this education reform? Where is this coming from? Of course it's not about reform, it's about exploitation and squeezing more out of an already overworked teaching force. It's coming at us hard now because of the economic conditions in this country after the business community bankrupted it. There is a squeeze on profits and public education cannot exist without a portion of these profits.
But this country is still a wealthy country. The problem is that too much of the wealth is in the hands of the elite, the business elite that finances NCTQ. In 1928 before the Great Depression 24% of the wealth was controlled by 1% of the population. But as working people fought for social security, unemployment compensation, the GI Bill after WWII, civil rights, and equal pay for women this percentage was drastically reduced. In 1970 the richest 1% only controlled 9% of the wealth.
But since 1970 these numbers have been reversed. Through manipulation of the public with rhetoric around taxes as well as shifting the tax burden onto working people we find ourselves again in 1929. The richest 1% again control 24% of the nation's wealth. So instead of accepting NCTQ rhetoric around the "overpaid" school teacher let's start demanding a fairer distribution of the wealth in this society and adequate funding for public education.
Dorothy's life in Kansas was a hard life, made harder from the profiteers of her day. In Oz she met someone else on the yellow brick road. She met the cowardly lion. In Baum's allegory he represented the fiery orator William Jennings Bryan, a hero to the populist movement of the time. His critics often called him cowardly for opposing the Spanish-American War.
Today, critics of teacher unions often portray us as cowardly for opposing them. Our courage can be found standing up for all the Dorothy's who sit in our classrooms every day and exposing the great and powerful Oz standing behind the curtain of what THEY call "education reform". We can't do this as individuals. Our power is in our union. Dorothy always had the power to go home by clicking together her ruby slippers. So as we fight for real education reform let's click OUR heels together and chant - There's no place like our union!
Exposing the Man Behind the Curtain: What's Behind "Education Reform"? Part 2 of 3
In the Wizard of Oz, the Great and Powerful Oz would huff and puff and go to great lengths to demean Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. He did this to hide the fact that he was an ineffective wizard. The current wave of "education reformers" are no different. They continuously blame the teachers for the problems in public education, blame our unions, and pronounce themselves all powerful so that we bend to their will. Not so fast. Let's look behind the curtain.
Last month we looked at the recommendations for teacher assignment proposed in the recent document published by the National Council on Teacher Quality after their "analysis" of the Boston Public Schools. This month let's take a look at how they see building an effective teaching corps.
One good thing the NCTQ does find in the Boston Public Schools is the mentoring program. According to their survey over 70% of new teachers attribute at least part of their success to their mentor. Boston has a highly educated teaching force from which these mentors are recruited.
What the document does not tell us is that it took years of struggle and ultimately a lawsuit to force the district into developing a year round mentoring program. That would not have happened without our union.
Teacher evaluation gets prominent play within this document, as it should. It is important that we have an effective method for evaluating teachers. The document of course misses the boat. Evaluations should be a collaborative process in which the goal should be improvement of a teacher's practice. Teaching is a complex art. None of us are ever perfect and all of us can improve. But the document focuses little on how to make this process collaborative. Rather it calls for more top-down authoritative outcomes.
The document is adamant. Boston principals do not appear to be evaluating teachers as required by state law. More central office staff should be brought in to evaluate teachers. Use standardized tests as a measure of teacher performance. And oh yes, let's also use evaluations to separate out the best teachers from their peers.
If the goal is to improve the teaching force then these recommendations fall far short. Fear, intimidation, and rankings may be a corporate approach to improvement (and of course I would argue a poor approach in any realm), but in schools it will do nothing to build the type of learning community where people feel safe to talk about their practice. We will learn very little about our practice through drive-by evaluations from central administrators who know very little about our particular schools, or the particular children we teach, or the particularities of what we do every day in the classroom. The goal seems to be to compartmentalize education, rather than empowering those who do the day to day work every day to make rationale, thoughtful change.
Most of what is being proposed is based on standardized test scores, with very little analysis as to whether or not this is right. But the prescription is clear. Replace teacher after teacher that fails to meet these arbitrary goals. And make it easy to do so. NCTQ has the audacity to state that a firing rate is too low...since after all...the test scores are too low. AFT President Randi Weingarten hit the nail on the head when she said that this type of thinking places, "100% of the responsibility on teachers with 0% authority."
When Dorothy finally saw the wizard for who he truly was she realized that she had the power all along. As a union we need to stand up to this corporate top down approach to education being proposed by those behind the curtain. The answers for how to improve public education must come from the teachers and staff in a true professional collaboration with the administrators in our buildings. Our power is in our union, but too few schools have active faculty senates. We need to change this. If the union is our home, then let's click are heels together and keep repeating...There's no place like home.
Exposing The Man Behind The Curtain Part One- Award Winning Article by Garrett Virchick of the Boston Teachers Union
Exposing the Man Behind the Curtain: What's Behind "Education Reform"? Part 1 of 3
Boston Teachers Union
In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy learned that behind all the smoke and mirrors, fire and thunder of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz there was nothing more than a con artist. But she only learned that after Toto pulled back the curtain and exposed the man pulling all the levers. To author L. Frank Baum the wizard represented the politicians of his day. The wizards today are the so called education reformers who promise people better schools. But behind their smoke and mirrors are empty promises to the majority of people who want a better life for their children, and real attacks on public school employees and their unions. We need to pull back the curtain.
A good place to start pulling back the curtain is on the recently released study performed by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). This organization claims to be non-partisan and only committed to improving teaching. Yet it was commissioned by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and a close read of the 62 page document shows that much of its prescription for what ails the Boston Public Schools has little to do with creating democratic schools and a whole lot to do with creating top-down businesses with all the power concentrated in the hands of the administration.
The document, entitled "Human Capital in Boston Public Schools" is broken into 3 sections and contains 10 goals. The sections are I) Hiring, Transfer and Assignment, II) Developing an Effective Teaching Corps, and III) Working Conditions and Compensation. This month we will look at their goals and recommendations for Hiring, Transfer and Assignment.
Over the years adherence to strict seniority rules in the placement of teachers have largely been eliminated in our contracts. No longer do the most senior teachers get to pick the school where they want to teach. Teachers do have the right to apply for transfers, but principals are under no obligation to accept the teacher with the most seniority. Seniority only comes into play in the excess pool, where the most senior teacher is guaranteed one of their top 3 choices of vacant positions in other buildings. This insures that when budget cuts and layoffs occur the school system cannot simply look to save money by letting go more expensive veteran teachers. No teacher, and certainly no union likes layoffs, but when they do occur determining it based on seniority is the only fair way for this to happen.
NCTQ is recommending that this minimal protection be eliminated in favor of giving principals complete control in the hiring process. If you lose your position due to budget cuts...well...tough. You would be "free" to compete for a position. But if you don't find (or can't find) a position after one year you would be terminated.
The smoke and mirrors NCTQ throws up to confuse the issue is their claim that this is the only way to insure that every child gets the best teacher. And what parent doesn't want the best teacher for their child? They claim that union seniority rules, however minimal they may be, puts the interests of adults before the interests of children. They play on people's emotions and sincere desires to get the best possible education for their children. But in reality this "market" model of education reform that would have teachers competing with each other in the marketplace has little to do with putting the best teacher in front of children, and a whole lot to do with union busting.
What would the school system do without union protections? Let's look to the past, before teacher unions, and then ask a few questions. Before teacher unions it was often political connections that got you the job in the public sector. You would have to curry favor to get and keep your job. If you had enough connections you got placed in better schools. If you spoke out about the injustices you saw in your school? You didn't last long. Just ask Jonathan Kozol, author of Death at An Early Age and other books about the inequalities that exist in public schools, who lost his teaching job in Boston for giving his students a Langston Hughes poem to read.
But that was the past. What would happen today? Would a principal hire a pregnant woman with 10 years experience over a fresh young teacher unburdened by family? Would a teacher with 15 years experience who stood up to an autocratic administrator have a fair shot in this brave new educational marketplace they would like to create? What would stop the school system from eliminating more expensive teachers if given the chance? Is creating competition between teachers the way to build collaborative communities in our schools? Is the real issue union busting?
The corporate interests that bankroll these so-called education reform wizards never liked unions. It cuts into their profits. The union movement of the past created the middle class in this country. The response of business was to ship union manufacturing jobs first to the non-union south and then across the border in search of low wages. High priced lobbyists bought politicians to change labor laws to make it more difficult to organize. Today, most union membership is concentrated in the public sector. I guess we can't be shipped overseas. As the economic crisis gets deeper, smoke and mirrors are being used and public worker unions are targeted as the problem.
NCTQ goes further and criticizes the union contract for the failure to attract the best candidates to open positions in our schools. The timely staffing of schools is important if Boston is to attract the best candidates for openings that exist in our schools. NCTQ does point to practices that do hurt this ability. But it's principals they point to who often "hide" positions by not posting them during the transfer process. This lengthens the process and keeps perspective candidates waiting. NCTQ then makes the disingenuous claim that the only way to solve this problem is to get rid of the transfer process and minimal seniority rights. It's principals who need to change this practice and should be compelled to stop if this is the reason that positions take so long to be filled.
There are many ways to improve the teaching force and create good schools. Meaningful professional development throughout one's career, the time to work with and discuss your practice with colleagues, and creating schools that are real communities with shared decision making are just a few. This is where our energies should go. This is REAL education reform. It's not to be found with the man behind the curtain.