Archives for the month of: September, 2012

In response to an earlier post about the lack of accountability for charters, a teacher wrote to describe her experience in a charter school in Pennsylvania. Most important in her story is the last line:

From 2009-2011 I worked for a Philadelphia charter school that exemplifies the problems Bill White is talking about, a problem leaders like Ackerman were enforcing before Corbett assumed his role. When I entered the Philadelphia school system in 2009, the district’s messaging under Arlene Ackerman seemed to be: if public schools are the problem, charter schools are the answer.

Although my school’s Chief Operating Officer’s business cards proclaimed “Best middle school (grades 6-8) in Philadelphia helping students to become scholars and preparing them for life-long learning!” in reality we were on the brink of disaster: for a month a veteran teacher with a principal certification served as our principal (to legally cover us since ours had quit) although she remained in the classroom fulltime; school was cancelled because we did not pay our power bill on time; we delayed our scheduled PSSA testing date one year because a cafeteria riot before 8 am involved the police and several students suffering minor injuries.

Our Renewal Site Visit (RSV) Evaluation confirmed the shortcomings that teachers had complained about for weeks. Their report stated: “The RSV team did not find significant strengths… that rise to the level of a finding” for four of the six categories under “student achievement.” The four failures were in curriculum, instruction and student engagement, classroom management, and services for ELL students and students with special needs; our passing marks were in the categories of ongoing assessments and common planning and professional development.

We were subsequently granted a full five-year renewal.

In answering the question “Is the educational program a success?” the answer to my school was no for four of six categories. However, when the question was “Is the school a financially and operationally viable organization?” we passed all four categories. How can we continue to support schools that are not successful educational programs despite being viable financial and operational organizations? That’s a business, not a school. We have once again forgotten what we are here to do.

Diana Senechal wrote an important book about the world we live in now, a world of buzz and noise, with no time to think, reflect, day dream.

This is a review in a magazine for Canadian teachers.

Teachers and parents will enjoy this book.

Paul Karrer teaches fifth grade in Castroville, California.

He is doing his best to educate parents and the public about the destructive farce called “reform” that is ruining education for his students.

A student returned to his classroom and asked him why he was no longer teaching as he had when she was a student.

He explained to her that a federal law called No Child Left Behind had changed the way he is allowed to teach.

Last year, he wrote a letter to President Obama that went viral. I am reprinting it here.

A Letter to My President — The One I Voted for…
Paul Karrer | Education Week | 02.02.2011
Dear President Obama:

I mean this with all respect. I’m on my knees here, and there’s a knife in my back, and the prints on it kinda match yours. I think you don’t get it.

Your Race to the Top is killing the wrong guys. You’re hitting the good guys with friendly fire. I’m teaching in a barrio in California. I had 32 kids in my class last year. I love them to tears. They’re 5th graders. That means they’re 10 years old, mostly. Six of them were 11 because they were retained. Five more were in special education, and two more should have been. I stopped using the word “parents” with my kids because so many of them don’t have them. Amanda’s mom died in October. She lives with her 30-year-old brother. (A thousand blessings on him.) Seven kids live with their “Grams,” six with their dads. A few rotate between parents. So “parents” is out as a descriptor.

Here’s the kicker: Fifty percent of my students have set foot in a jail or prison to visit a family member.

Do you and your secretary of education, Arne Duncan, understand the significance of that? I’m afraid not. It’s not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It’s pure, raw poverty. We don’t teach in failing schools. We teach in failing communities. It’s called the ZIP Code Quandary. If the kids live in a wealthy ZIP code, they have high scores; if they live in a ZIP code that’s entombed with poverty, guess how they do?

We also have massive teacher turnover at my school. Now, we have no money. We haven’t had an art or music teacher in 10 years. We have a nurse twice a week. And because of the No Child Left Behind Act, struggling public schools like mine are held to impossible standards and punished brutally when they don’t meet them. Did you know that 100 percent of our students have to be on grade level, or else we could face oversight by an outside agency? That’s like saying you have to achieve 100 percent of your policy objectives every year.

It’s not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It’s pure, raw poverty.
You lived in Indonesia, so you know what conditions are like in the rest of the world. President Obama, I swear that conditions in my school are akin to those in the third world. We had a test when I taught in the Peace Corps. We had to describe a glass filled to the middle. (We were supposed to say it was half full.) Too many of my kids don’t even have the glass!

Next, gangs. Gangs eat my kids, their parents, and the neighborhood. One of my former students stuffed an AK47 down his pants at a local bank and was shot dead by the police. Another one of my favorites has been incarcerated since he was 13. He’ll be 27 in November. I’ve been writing to him for 10 years and visiting him in the maximum-security section of Salinas Valley State Prison.

Do you get that it’s tough here? Charter schools and voucher schools aren’t the solution. They are an excuse not to fix the real issues. You promised us so much. And you want to give us merit pay? Anyway, I think we really need to talk. Oh, and can you pull the knife out while you’re standing behind me? It really hurts.

Sincerely yours,

Paul Karrer

A reader in Los Altos, California, comments on an earlier post:

The REAL carrot here is allowing middle-class parents to engage in segregation. This is the “dirty little secret” of charter schools and of education reform in general: that they are a sustained political force ONLY because rich or semi-rich parents want their children in schools without “undesirables”.

Hence Obama is making a calculated political move here by saying he supports charters. That statement alone is probably worth a million or two votes in terms of direct votes, activism on his behalf, and donations. Parents in segregated schools (segregated, these days, more along socioeconomic lines than racial lines) will do anything to keep their scam going.

This will change as charters dig deeper into suburban America and disrupt and divide more communities like our own has been divided in Los Altos, CA. The community filled with the executives who run companies like Google and Facebook are now rapidly (forcibly) becoming education policy experts and we’re not happy with what we’re seeing at all.

Please keep fighting the good fight, Ms. Ravitch–your students are learning.

A reader wrote to say that he went to see “that movie,” and there were only eight other people in the theater.

The Hollywood media says that his family’s experience was not unusual.

Despite a huge publicity campaign involving promotion by NBC’s Education Nation and full-page ads in major newspapers, the film opened to weak sales at the box office.

Here is another report:

Hotel Transylvania’ Tops Box Office on Friday

After a month of consistently awful box office, audiences came back to the movies on Friday for Hotel Transylvania and Looper. Pitch Perfect also did great business in limited release, though not everything was sunshine and rainbows: Won’t Back Down performed terribly, and is on track for one of the worst openings of the year. Hotel Transylvania debuted to an estimated $11 million yesterday, which tops Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ($8.1 million) for best opening day ever for a fully-animated Sony Pictures Animation movie (though it does lag a bit behind The Smurfs’ $13.3 million). Using Cloudy as a comparison (since it opened around the same time), Hotel Transylvania could be in line for over $40 million this weekend; Sony is being a bit more modest with a $38 million projection. Regardless, the movie is well-positioned to top Sweet Home Alabama’s $35.6 million to claim a new record for a September opening weekend.In second place, See more »
– Ray Subers

Darcie Cimarusti blogs under the name “Mother Crusader.”

She is a parent activist in New Jersey who joined the battle to save her community’s public schools from privatizers.

She was one of the parents who protested outside the opening of “Won’t Back Down” in New York City.

In interviews and articles, the film’s director Daniel Barnz made condescending comments about the parents. He said that they didn’t know what they were protesting against. He claimed they were misinformed.

Mother Crusader calls out Barnz for slandering her and her fellow parents. She knew why she was protesting. She saw the movie. She was not ignorant, misled or misinformed.

The parent protesters are in fact, as Darcie shows, very well informed about the film and its political message, even if its director is not. He comes across as a political naif.

Was Barnz unaware that the “parent trigger” is heavily promoted by rightwing groups like ALEC? Was Barnz ignorant of the political agenda of his billionaire producer, Philip Anschutz, owner of Walden Media? Did he know nothing of Anschutz’s political activism, his funding of anti-gay initiatives in Colorado and California, his hostility to unions, his antagonism to public education, his anti-environmental hydro-fracking business, his contributions to rightwing think tanks? Five minutes on the Internet would have informed Barnz.

Who is misinformed? Not Mother Crusader, and not the other parents who picketed Barnz’s movie. The best one can say about Daniel Barnz is that he is misinformed.

No one knows for sure when Stand for Children abandoned its original mission of advocating for public schools and seeking more equitable funding.

But by 2011, Stand for Children had become a handmaiden of the hedge fund managers and super-rich, promoting their agenda of privatization. Its founder, Jonah Edelman, boasted at the Aspen Ideas Festival of how he had outsmarted the teachers’ unions and had bought up the best lobbyists. He worked with like-minded legislators in Illinois to pass legislation to take away teachers’ job protections. The legislation said that the Chicago Teachers Union would need a 75% approval to strike, and Edelman was certain this would never happen.

He sat side by side with an equity investor from Chicago as he boasted of his triumph in crushing the teachers of Illinois, especially those in Chicago.

It cost millions to achieve this “victory,” and he had no trouble raising the millions.

Stand for Children, with no roots in Massachusetts, went there to bully the teachers’ union with the threat of a ballot initiative to strip them of hard-won rights, so the union conceded to avoid an expensive election battle.

Flush with cash from equity investors, Stand is now operating in many states. It still pretends to be “for the children,” but it uses its money to attack their teachers. It still pretends to be a supporter of better education, but cannot explain how to get better education if teachers are treated as at-will employees, lacking any academic freedom or collective voice.

Many of its former supporters now refer to Stand for Children with a different name: They call it Stand On Children.

There is always hope for redemption. Jonah was embarrassed when the Aspen video went public (http://preaprez.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/jonah-edelman-apologizes-to-my-blog-readers/). He even recanted in a public letter. But he has not stopped trying to crush teachers and their unions.

Jonah, come home.

Jonah, think of the great legacy of your parents, Marian Wright Edelman and Peter Edelman.

Jonah, the civil rights movement of the 1960s fought so that workers could join a union to protect themselves.

Jonah, remember that Martin Luther King, Jr., died when he went to Memphis to defend the sanitation workers who wanted to join a union.

Jonah, leave the hedge fund managers and the equity investors and return to your roots. Fight for real education reform, not privatization. Respect those who teach our nation’s children.

It is never too late.

An earlier post asked which was harder: Teaching or Rocket Science. It received some great responses. Here is one of them:

I’ll add my vote here. Former engineer, now a teacher for 17 years. Teaching is much harder work. It takes a really long time to get very good at it (which TFA and other organizations like it don’t seem to grasp). It also takes a unique blend of patience, thick-skinned tolerance of minor (and sometimes major) injustices, humility and hopefulness that might be thought of as love.
I work with teenagers and I think the hardest thing I do is walk that constant, minute-by-minute tightrope walk of trusting in the goodness of kids while maintaining the integrity of everything you and every other adult in the school has worked so long and hard to build. You have to believe in the kids, or you might as well not even be there. But then again, they will often let you down.
I think the only people who think teaching is easier than working a “real” job are those who have never taught. I have watched a half-dozen smart, confident people come from highly successful careers outside teaching and get chewed up and spit out in less than a semester. I wonder, if the deformers get their way and we end up with a teaching profession that makes 40-50% less than it does now, where they are ever going to find people to do this very difficult job.
Just today, I got an email from a former student who I convinced to try my AP Chemistry class when he thought he wasn’t “smart enough”. I worked my tail off helping him convince himself he could succeed at that level and he gained enough confidence that he changed his future plans and enrolled in college. He earned his engineering degree and was proudly informing me that he had just taken his first job. He is just one in a thousand kids that have passed through my classroom, and I hadn’t thought about him since he graduated and the next batch of diamonds in the rough came through my door and began consuming my time and energy. But he said in his email, “There have been four distinct times when I have consciously made a decision that has forever changed the course of my life and you were involved in one of them . . . Your class changed my life . . . I can definitely say I would not be where I am today if you had not been my teacher.” That’s what keeps us going, right? But in this brave new world of VAM we’re entering, what teacher will ever have time to waste on changing someone’s life?

As Edushyster calls it, Wendy is miffed that Jon didn’t mention TFA.

Another hilarious article from one of our best satirists.

Jersey Jazzman has written a brilliant screenplay that tells what happened after the characters in the movie opened their charter school.

This is hilarious!

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