Paging Mr. Jobs: TFA Turnoff

21 Aug

My husband and I are Mac fans.  We have a home full of Apple items–might as well be ihouse. So when I walked up to the Mac store today I was horrified to see the words “TEACH FOR AMERICA” emblazoned on the clear glass display beside the entrance.  It turns out, Mac is running a fundraiser for Teach for America with the tag line, “Your I-Pad is even more powerful in the hands of a teacher.”  The ad goes on to read: “Donate your I-Pad to Teach for America, and you’ll put a powerful tool into the hands of a teacher in a low-income community.”

link here: http://www.apple.com/retail/teachforamerica/

 

Does Apple know that they are making a political statement by supporting Teach For America–essentially aligning themselves with the conservative and neoliberal corporate ed reformers?  That the program puts fresh college grads in some of our poorest schools with little training?  That the two-year commitment they ask of their recruits does nothing to stem the revolving door of teachers coming in and out of hard-to-staff schools?  That their program employs a “no excuses” educational philosophy that dismisses poverty as a factor in educational achievement and encourages assimilatory pedagogy?

Is Apple really ready to put its considerable weight behind a corporate education endeavor that provides approximately 2% of the teaching force?  What we need is for technology powerhouses like Apple to support our public school system not by funding boutique corporate education programs that treat our inner city children’s education as some sort of character-building exercise on their way to Wall Street, but to help create stability and attract committed individuals who plan to make a lifetime career out of fighting to close the achievement gap.

Links to a study by an independent research organization regarding attrition rates and performance of TFA teachers:

Click to access Heilig_TeachForAmerica.pdf

 

 

Making Poverty Front and Center in the National Conversation

17 Aug
“Education Next: With a Math Proficiency Rate of 32 Percent, US Ranks Number 32”

http://educationnext.org/with-a-math-proficiency-rate-of-32-percent-u-s-ranks-number-32/comment-page-1/#comment-70531

Stories like this are misleading about the real state of our educational system because they do not highlight the real issue–as John Kuhn said at the SOS Rally: “IT’S THE POVERTY, STUPID!”  If the data they are citing–the 2009 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) data– were disaggregated according to poverty level, our schools with less than 10% free and reduced lunch (a proxy for poverty level) topped the charts internationally. Conversely, our schools with more than 75% poverty were second to last of all countries tested. Therefore, we can pretty confidently conclude that our POVERTY (and the deeply ingrained inequalities in our society that perpetuate that poverty) is the problem that must be addressed in order to make real educational change!

I find it interesting that in this article, although the data are disaggregated by race/ethnicity, the authors do not make a connection between those statistics and poverty statistics…because then it would become clear that the two are closely related.  We need to disseminate this information far and wide so that our leaders have no choice but to make it part of the national and local conversations!!

Analysis of 2009 PISA scores here–

Additionally, this data, from the National Center for Educational Statistics, show that the poverty gap is in full evidence–“In 2009, about 53 percent of 8th-graders from high-poverty schools performed at or above Basic, compared with 87 percent of 8th-graders from low-poverty schools. Similarly, 12 percent of 8th-graders at high-poverty schools scored at or above Proficient, compared with 47 percent of 8th-graders at low-poverty schools.”

Localizing, Equalizing, Collaborating, Liberating: A School Change Philosophy

13 Aug


In the United States, our government promises educational equity.  Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education has a division entitled the “Office for Civil Rights,” with a stated mission to “…ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights” (Office for Civil Rights, 2011).  Yet one has only to visit schools in neighborhoods along the income spectrum from poor to wealthy and compare physical environments and teacher quality to observe that educational equity is a myth.  Schools located in high-poverty areas, which often serve a student population largely comprised of cultural and linguistic minorities (Noguera, 2003), often provide an inferior education that only equips their students for low-wage, low skilled jobs (Lipman, 2004).   With the morphing to a primarily information economy and outsourcing of non-degree requiring jobs to countries with cheaper labor costs, the pool of working-class jobs is rapidly disappearing, leaving students who are products of inferior schooling without options.

The most recent wide-reaching educational reform movement, No Child Left Behind, certainly has not managed to close gaps in educational equity.  By requiring all students to take standardized tests for which many schools are not able to prepare them, labeling low-performing schools as “failing,” and forcing sanctions on failing schools, No Child Left Behind maintains and expands educational and social inequities (Darling-Hammond, 2007; Lipman, 2004).  Our current system of reform through accountability, whose very name promises equality, punishes rather than supports, fosters competition rather than collaboration, and standardizes rather than responds to unique needs.    As an alternative, I suggest a change philosophy that involves localizing change, equalizing relations, intra- and inter-institutional collaboration, and culture and pedagogy that emphasize education for the purpose of liberation and democratic citizenry.

Localizing change

 Schools differ greatly in terms of context and school population, and as a result vary greatly in terms of issues to be addressed (Elmore, 2009).   For this reason, one-size-fits-all reform strategies will not meet the needs of all schools, and most certainly will not meet the needs of poor and urban communities, since standardized solutions generally are normalized, reflecting the view of the dominant power group, which in the U.S. is the white middle class.  Instead, increasing local control afforded to parents, communities, teachers, and school leaders (Darling-Hammond, 2009; Noguera, 2003) can allow for tailoring reform strategies to meet the unique needs of the particular community and school population as well as local ownership of the reforms, which could be key in seeing the reforms actually implemented.

In addition, through localizing control, common vision can develop, and reform decisions may be more expedient.   While “the system is primarily designed to serve the interests of the actors and agencies that make it up” (Elmore, 2009, p. 232), communities are connected by common interests.  If the school, parents, teachers, students, and community can harness these common interests, they can adopt a common vision with a moral imperative (Hargreaves, 2009)—the improvement of the learning of their students.  At the system level, reforms can become bogged down in bureaucratic and structural impediments: “…gradually the discussion recedes into a morass of technicalities…into the chaos of institutional politics” (Elmore, 2009).  However, with a common vision underlined by the urgency of educational improvement, local actors can come to agreement and enact changes in the best interest of their students.

Equalizing Relations

To truly combat the deeply ingrained social and economic inequities throughout the nation will require addressing the fundamental capitalistic ideologies upon which America was founded (Giroux, 2005).  However, addressing inequities within schools by dissolving structures such as tracking can perhaps limit the social reproductive functions of schools (Bourdieu, 1973).  Tracking functions as a sorting system, where students are placed in classes according to perceived cognitive ability.  Because students who are from low-income households or cultural/linguistic minorities often do not possess the cultural capital, or cultural resources, that are valued in the school setting–such as academic language–these students are more likely to be labeled as cognitively deficient and placed in lower-track classes (Schleppegrell, 2004).  In these lower-track classes, students are more likely to receive low-quality education, which will in turn only prepare them for low-wage jobs (Lipman, 2004).  In this way, the current inequalities that exist in larger society are maintained.

However, there are several successful models of de-tracked schools.  The Preuss School at the University of California, San Diego, is one such school.  All students, who come from low-income families and the majority of whom are students of color, take the same rigorous, quality, college preparatory coursework, which is aligned with the university of California’s A-G requirements, and are all strongly encouraged to take Advanced Placement courses (Mehan & Alvarez, 2006).  The Preuss School provides a spectrum of academic supports to ensure that all students are successful, including college tutors in core academic classes, after-school and weekend tutoring, and a small-group advisory period (Preuss School, 2011).   After more than a decade, Preuss has been named one of the top ten US public schools by Newsweek and boasts nearly 100% college acceptance rates (Preuss School, 2011).

Collaboration

Whole-school change efforts like de-tracking cannot happen without both inter- and intra-institutional collaboration.   Schools must seek active partnerships with universities, businesses, philanthropists, community members, and other schools to capitalize on outside resources and expertise.  University-school partnerships can provide useful content and theoretical knowledge, and inviting community members and parents to the table can be invaluable in terms of infusing community knowledge into classroom curriculum (Cochran-Smith, 2004).  Additionally, with the massive defunding of public education (Zeichner, 2010), partnerships with businesses and local philanthropists are essential for securing resources, especially technology.

However, internal expertise and resources are just as important, and teachers within the school must actively collaborate on developing curriculum, lesson study, and evaluating student work, in order to “become more thoughtful and reflective in their practice and hence more able to connect evidence of students learning to their planning and teaching” (Darling-Hammond, p. 51).  Gompers Preparatory Academy, sister school to Preuss UCSD, practices a professional learning model that encourages collaboration to deepen practice: each week, whole-faculty professional development is held during a shortened school day to address long-term professional development projects that include collective evaluation and reflection of commonly implemented practices such as efforts to build academic language scaffolds into lessons.  In addition, departments have common prep periods, and once a week each department meets to discuss department professional readings, collaborate on instructional design, or reflect on student work.  As a result of Gompers’s prioritization of collegial professional development, collaboration became the norm among teachers; professional development became part of the expected school week structure; and teachers learned from each other and from their students.

Education for Liberation and Democratic Citizenry

To sustain change, we must re-imagine and restructure both teacher education and K-12 education for the purposes of liberation of oppressed groups and building of the skills to help students become informed and active participants in our democracy.  Teachers must become conscientized about schools’ reproductive functions and become “transformative intellectuals” (Giroux, 2005, p.439) in order to structure experiences that will self-empower our students and help them gain critical agency (Giroux, 1988).  To do this, teachers must become critical scholars with deep understandings of the linkages between knowledge, power, culture, ideology, and socio-economic inequalities (Giroux, 2005).  The schools themselves must support this learning going forward into the teaching career by providing professional development with a critical and liberatory focus, supporting their teachers as they become “active community participants whose function is to establish public spaces where students can debate, appropriate, and learn the knowledge and skills necessary to live in a critical democracy” (Giroux, 2005, p.456).  Equally important, teachers must serve as models of civic action, embodying the spirit of democratic activism and social justice both inside and outside the classroom, providing a living example for their students of critical democracy in action.  As critical scholars and models of activism, teachers can begin utilizing their classrooms as transformative sites where their students can learn to problematize the injustices and inequalities of the world through a lens of their own experiences.  By becoming critical investigators of the world while simultaneously having their voices and experiences validated, students will gain critical agency and begin to prepare for action for responsible democracy.  Students will, in essence, become transformative intellectuals themselves, and carry forward the agenda of change toward a more equal society.

The change philosophy articulated here is but a starting point.  No single plan of reform is comprehensive enough to reverse the deeply ingrained inequalities that the American people seem to recognize as normal, and so have accepted.  To tackle the socioeconomic and political ideologies and structures that continue to maintain and expand stratified life opportunities in the United States, a revolution must occur.   Teachers, teacher educators, parents, community members, students, and others must mobilize under a common vision.  However, for this kind of movement to occur, we must first recognize ourselves as active agents who as a critical mass have the power to change oppressive societal structures and ideologies, instead of isolated and powerless individuals who see socially constructed inequalities as intractable and permanent. As the latter, we become complicit in the maintenance and expansion of oppression of marginalized groups in our society.  However, as the former, we can transform both our educational system and our entire society.

References

Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction.  In Knowledge, Education, and Cultural Change. (pp. 71-112).  London, UK: Harper & Row Publishers.

Cochran-Smith, M (2004). Walking the road: Race, diversity, and social justice in teacher education. New York: Teacher’s College Press.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2007). Race, inequality, and educational accountability: The irony of ‘No Child Left Behind.’ Race, Ethnicity, & Education, 10(3), 245-260.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2009).  Teaching and the change wars: The professionalism hypothesis. In A. Hargreaves & M. Fullan (Eds.), Change wars (pp. 45-70). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Elmore, R. (2009). Institutions, improvement, and practice. In A. Hargreaves & M. Fullan (Eds.), Change wars (pp. 221-236). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Giroux, H.  (1988).  Teachers as transformative intellectuals.  In Teachers as Intellectuals (pp. 121-128).  Boston, MA:  Bergin & Garvey Publishers.

Giroux, H. (2005). Teacher education and democratic schooling. In A. Darder, M. Torres, & R. Baltodano, (eds.), The Critical Pedagogy Reader (2nd ed) (pp. 439-459). New York: Routledge.

Hargreaves, A. (2009). The fourth way of change: Toward an age of inspiration and sustainability. In A. Hargreaves & M. Fullan (Eds.), Change wars (pp. 11-44). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Lipman, P. (2004). Beyond accountability. In A. Darder, M. Torres, & R. Baltodano, (eds.), The Critical Pedagogy Reader (2nd ed) (pp. 364-383). New York: Routledge.

Mehan, B. & Alvarez, D. (2006). Whole school detracking: A strategy for equity and excellence. Theory into Practice, 45(1), 82-89.

Noguera, P. (2009). The trouble with Black boys: And other reflections on race, equity,and the future of public education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Preuss school UCSD (2011). http://preuss.ucsd.edu/about/accomplishments.php. Retrieved June 23, 2011.

Schleppegrell, M. J. (2004). The language of schooling: A functional linguistics perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (2011).  http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.  Retrieved June 23, 2011.

Zeichner, K. (2010). Competition, economic rationalization, increased surveillance, and attacks on diversity: Neo-liberalism and the transformation of teacher education in the U.S.  Teaching and Teacher Education. 26(4), 1544-1552.


Politicizing (and Politicized) Teachers

7 Aug

On Thursday, I hooked up with my friend and compatriot in teacher organizing, Brian (visit his blog at teacherevolution.wordpress.com) and we made the trek from Montclair into New York City to meet Bree, a researcher on educational activism and a decade-long member of the New York Collaborative of Radical Educators (NYCoRE). As I have intimated elsewhere on this blog, we (a small group of educators and activists in New Jersey) are interested in starting a teacher activism organization in our area, and we wanted to speak to an expert about how to get started. Over lattes in a crowded cafe on Orchard Street, Bree shared the story of the conception, organization, and growth of NYCoRE.

The organization began with a small group of local politicized teachers who were brought together by a mutual commitment to enacting social justice in schools and with the common vision of organizing teacher activists throughout the city, creating social-justice oriented curriculum, and collaborating with parent, community, and student groups.  Over the years, the organization grew to include a much larger membership, began hosting an annual conference, run yearly ITAGs (Inquiry to Action Groups), and drafted 9 points of unity that serve as guiding principles for the organization:

Points of Unity

1. Racism and economic inequality in the school system reflect and perpetuate the systematic and historical oppression of people of color and working class communities. As educators in the New York City public school system we have a responsibility to address and challenge these forms of oppression.

2. In order to combat economic, social, and political systems that actively silence women and people of color, we are committed to maintaining majority women and people of color representation in our group.

3. We oppose the current policy of high stakes standardized testing because it reflects the standards and norms of dominant groups in society, it is an inaccurate and incomplete assessment of learning, and it stifles pedagogical innovation and active learning.

4. Punitive disciplinary measures such as “Zero Tolerance” further criminalize youth and are not an answer to crime and other social problems. We believe economic and social priorities should be toward education of young people and not incarceration.

5. We oppose the increased efforts of military recruitment in New York City public schools. These efforts unfairly target the recruitment of low-income communities and make false promises about educational and career opportunities. We believe that these efforts are an extension of an imperialistic strategy to maintain a powerful military force in order to protect and promote US world dominance.

6. New school funding policies must be adopted in order to ensure equitable resources for all. Current policies based upon property taxes discriminate against low-income communities and urban areas, which disproportionately affect people of color.

7. Schools must be safe spaces for females and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals. Verbal and physical abuse targeting these groups is extremely prevalent in most schools, and cannot be tolerated and must be challenged by all faculty, staff, and administrators.

8. Schools should be places of questioning and critical thinking that encourage students to see themselves as active agents of change. The present educational system is derived from an assembly line model that stifles critical thinking by focusing on the regurgitation of facts and information.

9. Schools should provide a neighborhood space through which community voices are heard. Teachers are an integral part of this space and must be held accountable to the community by being involved in addressing community needs.

In terms of our own organizing, Bree offered the following advice: Whatever we do, it must be organic–that is, everything must originate from within the group.  For example, it wouldn’t work if Brian and I recruited a group of teachers and told them we had decided to adopt NYCoRE’s points of unity as our own platform; the teachers themselves must generate and own the ideas.  In addition, Bree shared that from her own research organizing preservice and beginning teachers (the group that I personally am interested in organizing), she found that activism occurred in stages. First, unless teachers are already politicized, we must raise consciousness about inequalities that are inherent in our society and reproduced by the school setting.  Without this step, teachers do not realize why they must become activists.  After become conscientized to educational inequalities and the need for educating for social justice, teachers may move to the second level, which means they will implement social justice oriented curriculum in their classrooms–but not necessarily take steps outside the classroom to act against the societal structures that support racism (and various other -isms); in Bree’s words, “They lack a deeper analysis of how inequality operates and how change happens.”  Once teachers are able to conduct that deeper analysis and come to the conclusion that addressing poverty and the structures that maintain and expand inequalities and the range of -isms is the only way to impact schooling inequality, they are then driven to act and advocate both inside and outside the classroom.  In a sense, these teachers become not only politicized, but radicalized.

It was rare, Bree conceded, to see politicized and radicalized preservice and beginning teachers.  However, after our meeting Bree led us across across the street to the basement of Lolita Bar, where she introduced us to that rarity–several beginning teachers who were very active and very committed to not just educating and acting themselves, but helping other new teachers become aware of current issues affecting them in their new positions.  This sub-group of NYCoRE (one of several specialized “breakout” groups within the organization), which included new and “alternately certified teachers, called itself the “New Teacher Underground” and had organized an impressive series of weekly discussions throughout the summer.  Speakers from all public arenas were slated to speak on topics including tenure and contracts, high-stakes testing, anti-racist classrooms and curriculum, unionism, and unpacking educational jargon like “the achievement gap,” “privatization,” and “accountability.”  The discussion I attended addressed “top-down policies” like mayoral control, and I was delighted to see that one of the speakers was no other than  “The Notorious PhD” (Mark Naison),  a professor from Fordham University and long-time community organizer in both the Bronx and Brooklyn, who offered practical advice on mobilizing community organizations in one’s school community for maximum organizing impact.  (I was delighted because I had been treated to his “Achievement Rap” at the Save our Schools March last weekend–see video below).

The experience of the New Teacher Underground was profound.  One of my main research interests–and my dissertation topic– includes novice teacher development, and the research shows that the first one or two years is a sink-or-swim time when teachers go into “survival mode” because they are overwhelmed with the newness of all the day-to-day responsibilities of teaching, largely isolated from other teachers, struggling with being socialized into an institution and culture with which they are unfamiliar, and dealing with the increasing demands of our fanatically data-driven accountability system–and despite the assertions by the research community that districts should be providing induction programs to help teachers with the transition to teaching, it often is not provided or ineffective when it is.  This factors into a shocking statistic–50% of new teachers will leave the teaching profession within the first few years.  However, these new teachers that I met in that low-lit underground space had taken their learning into their own hands, reaching out to the community at large, drawing on the resources of NYCoRE, and then inviting other new teachers to learn, discuss, and collaborate with them–all while fostering the spirit of activism and social justice in the teaching profession.  It was a revelation…and in these often dark times of increasing corporate/market-driven reform and teacher-blaming, the experience uplifted my spirits and fueled my hope for a new generation of teacher activists.

I will keep you updated on our progress in starting our teacher activism group–for details on our first meeing, please email me at kate_strom@yahoo.com.  For the time being, if you would like to find out more about NYCoRE, visit their website at http://www.nycore.org–the link for information about the New Teacher Underground is on the home page.  For more information about the New Teacher Underground, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NewTeacherUnderground?ref=ts&sk=wall.

Notorious PhD–“The Achievement Rap” (Save our Schools March, July 30, 2011)

Ted Nugent’s Commentary in the Washington Times, Revised

4 Aug

Good morning!  I woke up and read this gem of an op-ed by educational expert raging gun enthusiast and aging rocker, Ted Nugent.  I decided it needed some revising and a dose of reality. My additions are in underlined italics. Link to the original article: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jul/28/nea-master-of-disaster/

Ted Nugent, writing for the Washington Times:

If the disturbing documentary “Waiting for Superman” which was funded by some of America’s wealthiest supporters of the education privatization movement and created by a man who sent his children to private schooldidn’t convince you that a massive overhaul of the public education system by male hedge fund managers and a broom-wielding Michelle Rhee is necessary, maybe the massive cheating scandal erupting in the Atlanta public school system will, although with the kind of pressure put on schools by high-stakes testing fanaticism, the threat to label a school as “failing” and the fear of sanctions from loss of funding to school closing, resorting to cheating isn’t surprising.  Additionally, a longitudinal study of Texas test scores by Linda Darling-Hammond, former advisor to Obama, showed that many districts had been indirectly cheating by not testing special needs students and encouraging “at-risk” and ELL students to drop out.

First off, there is no argument that public education in Americas schools that serve high poverty, minority, and culturally/linguistically diverse populations is a complete and total disaster. Our children who attend schools where more than 75% of the children receive free and reduced lunch (a proxy for poverty) routinely score at the bottom of the barrel in math, science and geography, while more than 50 percent of other children drop out of high school in some of the poorest and most diverse districts.

It’s not that our poor, minority and English language learning children are dumb, but rather that they are tossed into schools that reproduce the deeply ingrained inequalities in American society by providing them with lower-quality educational opportunities–in high-poverty schools, students are more likely to have brand-new, ineffective, and/or uncredentialed teachers, fewer and more dated resources, and less access to the kind of teaching that fosters critical thinking and conceptual problem solving.  Consequently, the only way that we can ever “fix” the system is by addressing underlying inequalities that lead to poverty and stratified educational opportunities. Unfortunately, a large segment of America agrees with conservative deregulationists that the American school system is a dumb, antiquated system that is controlled by one of the largest and most powerful unions in the nation, the National Education Association(NEA).

Instead of using their bully pulpit to demand educational upgrades across the board–because, just like the idea of everyone having access to good healthcare, the notion of all children having access to quality educational experiences is absolutely preposterous, the NEA works hard to ensure that teachers get tenure, more sick days, pensions supported by taxpayers and more and more benefitswhich doesn’t quite make up for the fact that teachers get paid approximately 30% less than similarly-degreed professionals in other fields and the fundamental lack of respect afforded the teaching profession. The NEA couldn’t give a damn about children, and the test scores prove it–because of course, the NEA is responsible for creating tests that reflect middle class, white norms and so guarantees that a significant percentage of the population is set up for failure. Oh, and aren’t they also responsible for the government not providing funding to schools to ensure they have the same resources to ensure that students are prepared for the test?  Shame on the NEA.

Regardless the reasons for the cheating, but we’re sure it happened because high-stakes testing creates intense competition among schools and an atmosphere of fear, especially for high poverty schoolsalmost 200 teachers and administrators in the Atlanta public school system cheated by inflating the test scores of children taking the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. The cheaters probably were all NEA members, although I’m only saying that because unions make me froth at the mouth. They should all be fired immediately and have their teaching certificates burned because we need to blame the teachers rather than addressing the root of the problem–the fear, competition, and failure-labeling caused by making high-stakes testing the primary focus of schooling.  

Of course, Democrats will rally to the NEA’s aid, as the teachers union is their largest cash contributor, but not really, it’s the Service Employees National Union, but whatever, it’s a still a union. If the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful pro-gun organization that I appear in ads and make speeches for, though not a union, was found to be complicit in a gun-running operation for Mexican drug cartels instead of the brain-dead dimwits at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, you can bet President Obama would rain down fire on the NRA and demand their demise...because absolutely, one district cheating on a test that may not even be a valid representation of student learning is the equivalent of an American gun organization/lobby abetting murderous criminal activities for foreign drug operations.

But there are no such powerful or condemning words from the president, because his educational agenda is essentially NCLB the Sequel, or any other Democrat who benefits from NEA dollars. Their silence tells you where their allegiance is, to the same people I have an allegiance to, and it’s not to ensure our children get a solid education.

It’s more of the same Liberalism 101 curse.

The systematic cheating scandal in Atlanta will be swept under the rug by Democrats and the NEAnevermind all those national headlines it made, whereas many conservative scandals (like the Ohio 2004 presidential election lawsuit) never make it to the mainstream media. You won’t hear a word about it in the next couple weeks, just like you won’t hear about the inordinate amount of erasures found on tests in DC from the Rhee administration, because Rhee is the deregulationists’ darling. In fact, the story is already old news, even though it’s more hurtful than President Nixon’s Watergate scandal–cheating on a school test that measures rote basic skills is so much more dangerous than presidential espionage and government corruption.

If we truly cared about providing our children with a quality, world-class, proper education as we once did, we would start by busting up the NEA and then completely dismantling the public-education system, which, like the U.S. Postal Service and the penny, has outlived its usefulness.  Of course, doing so will cause the further exclusion and segregation of marginalized groups in the United States.

Instead of having our tax dollars confiscated and funneled to a union-controlled system that produces unclean, slovenly, fat dunces and dropouts, educating our children should be left up to the free market, which always chooses the middle class and affluent kids–the ones who can afford to be part of the free market–to benefit. Parents of middle and upper classes could then decide which school their child would attend. Bad Underperforming schools in our nation’s poorest areas, serving mainly children of color,  would close, and good ones, almost all of which happen to be located in middle class and affluent areas, would prosper. Middle class and affluent whites won’t put up with black and brown children, who speak other languages or “non-mainstream” English, in their schools, and people of lower socioeconomic means won’t be able to attend schools that cost more than allotted by their voucher program, ensuring they will still end up in schools with lower quality educational opportunities.  The country will become even more stratified and segregated, and poor children of color will lose what is left of their civil right to a free education.  Perfect.

Under the current system, bad teachers, bad administrators and bad schools continue producing children who are largely illiterate and unable to compete in an ever-changing, technical and global marketplace because they are being taught an increasingly narrow curriculum that reflects the rote, basic skills content of the standardized tests required by No Child Left Behind. Something must change, and it must change now.

Let’s use the Atlanta cheating scandal as the impetus to bust up the NEA. No organization, system or union that impacts the public should be rewarded for consistently producing dismal results.  Additionally, let’s bust up the legislative and executive branch of government–after all, they passed the sweeping reform that started the high-stakes-testing frenzy in the first place.  Oh, and because their results lately have been dismal too.

Our children deserve better, and parents should demand better, as long as they speak English and are part of “mainstream” society.

Hey dropout, pull up your pants. Because in white mainstream society, that doesn’t look neat, and I can’t validate any subordinated cultural norms–if I did, we’d be having a completely different conversation, because perhaps you wouldn’t be excluded from mainstream educational opportunities.

 

This is What Democracy Looks Like: The Save Our Schools Rally and March in Washington, D.C. 7/30/11

31 Jul


As I write, I can feel the dull sting of the sunburn on the back of my neck, the lone spot where I forgot to apply and re-apply sunblock during the Save our Schools rally and march in DC yesterday.  It was a blisteringly hot day, and I spent the majority of the warmest hours in direct sunlight on the National Mall, my sea-green “CHANGE AGENT” t-shirt becoming un-becomingly soaked in sweat and grime as the day wore on.  Yet the energy and excitement from the day still buzzes through my body, the sounds of the impassioned crowd chanting, “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” still ringing in my ears.

The event was attended by thousands of teachers, although I wish there had been more, and perhaps next year there will be.  Diane Ravitch declared it to be a “historic day,” the first time such a large-scale grassroots event had taken place to protest the status quo of US education.  Teachers and supporters came from all over the United States, with an especially remarkable turnout from Wisconsin.  At the ellipse, where the speeches were held, colorful signs dotted the crowd, condemning high-stakes testing, Arne Duncan, market-driven education, and teacher and union bashing; and pleading for full and equitable school funding, quality teacher education, and inclusion of the voices of parents, communities, and educators in educational policy.

The agenda for the rally and march called for an end to high stakes testing and evaluation for students, teachers, and schools; equitable funding for all schools; and localization of policy and curricular decisions.  And these points were certainly stressed throughout the day, not just in the printed words on protest signs, but in the powerful speeches of educational leaders who took the stage.  Linda Darling-Hammond said, “It is unacceptable that the major emphasis of educational reform in this country is bubbling in on scantron tests, the results of which will be used to rank and sort schools and teachers so that those at the bottom can be fired or closed, not so that we will invest resources needed to actually provide good education in these schools.”   Diane Ravitch cried, “Education is a RIGHT, not a RACE! Races have one or two winners and everyone else loses!” And Jonathan Kozol remarked, “Dr. King, my friends, did not say…’I have a dream that someday…we will have more efficient, test-driven and anxiety-ridden, separate but not equal schools!'”

However, the most powerful message of the day was not included explicitly in the agenda and was most succinctly put by Texas superintendent John Kuhn: “IT’S THE POVERTY, STUPID!”  Ravitch reiterated the point that the real issue that must be addressed is poverty, holding up as evidence the recently released scores of the PISA, the international student assessment: schools with less than ten percent free and reduced lunch had scores higher than Finland and South Korea, the countries often touted as having the best education systems in the world; however, our poorest category of schools spared being dead last by our neighbor to the south. Ravitch went on to suggest concrete solutions, such as pre-natal care for poor pregnant women, contending, “that alone would reduce learning disabilities by a third, at least.”  Others also called on our political leaders to address what Ravich termed the “shame of our nation,” the fact that we lead the industrialized world in poverty. Darling Hammond argued passionately that we must “…challenge the aggressive neglect of our children, with one out of four living in poverty–far more than any other industrialized nation,” and adding that successful countries “ensure their children have housing, health care, and food security.”

This feels like a movement.  We MUST carry the momentum of this incredible day forward.  As Debbie Meiers said, “This is a crisis of DEMOCRACY.”  Our future and the future of public schoolchildren is at stake, and to paraphrase Jonathan Kozol, nothing can be merely fixed–we must ABOLISH the system of fanatic accountability and work on the one thing that WILL raise achievement: alleviating poverty.  We must mobilize and stand together under a common vision to address the underlying inequalities that are accepted as commonplace in our society in order to achieve educational equity.  THIS IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS EDUCATORS.

If you are in the New Jersey area and want to get involved in local teacher activism to save public education and reduce educational inequalities, please email me at kate_strom@yahoo.com.  If not, find your local educational activism group at http://teacheractivistgroups.org or http://www.democraticeducation.org/. If there isn’t one near you–start one.

Links to speeches quoted here:

 

Diane Ravitch:

John Kuhn:

 

Linda Darling-Hammond

 

Jonathan Kozol: