Search results for: "commonweal"

When Arne Duncan visited Boston recently, he lamented the sorry state of public education in Massachusetts–the highest scoring state in the nation on NAEP, a state whose students have been ranked at the top of international tests—and he praised privately managed charter schools for their excellence. For reasons he has never publicly explained, he wants to see more public dollars and students turned over to unaccountable corporations. He is a cheerleader for privately managed charters and the nation’s chief critic of public education. He aids and abets the movement to privatize public education. As public policy, this is irresponsible. To call this bizarre is an understatement.

When Duncan spoke with a columnist from the Boston Globe, he alleged that 40% of the high school graduates in the state require remediation when they get to college.

In this post, Carol Burris demonstrates that Duncan was confused, misinformed, or worse.

Duncan told the columnist that 40%–a”staggering” number of students—need college remediation.

Burris writes:

” What is “staggering” is the gross inaccuracy of the claim. Here are the facts:

“Twenty-two percent of the students who attend four-year state universities in Massachusetts and 10 percent of the students who attend the University of Massachusetts take at least one remedial course. That group (students who attend four-year public colleges) comprises 28 percent of all high school graduates in the Commonwealth.

“Thirty percent of all Massachusetts graduates attend private four-year colleges. Although I could not find remediation rates for such students, we know that nationally 15 percent of students who attend not-for-profit four-year colleges or universities take remedial courses.

“Using the above, I estimate that the percentage of students in Massachusetts who attend four-year colleges and take remedial courses is roughly 17 percent, not the 40 percent that Duncan claimed.”

It is also staggering that the U.S. Secretary of Education does not have accurate data about our nation’s highest-performing state.

And it is staggering that the columnist feels no need to fact-check the data.

And most staggering of all is that Duncan wants to harm our nation’s public education system, which is part of the fabric of our democracy.

What is his goal?

Paul Horton, teacher of history at the University of Chicago Lab School, wrote the following after participating in the first conference of the Network for Public Education:

Attending the NPE inaugural conference was an exhilarating experience! As Diane said in her keynote, we cannot afford to exclude anyone. We all met hundreds of amazing and dedicated folks in Austin.

I had a conversation with Jason Sanford at Scholtz’s that I would like to share. He encouraged me to share it with everyone: Texas was the birthplace of the Populist Party, the most successful grassroots third party movement in American History. The Party was born outside of Lampasas, Texas and spread to the entire country. The Party sought to unite urban workers, miners, and farmers, black and white, who were being squeezed by economic forces beyond their control.

We would all do well to read the Omaha Platform of the Populist Party,

Populists, above all, wanted to do something about corporate dominance of politics and economic decisions. We face many of the same issues today in the second Gilded Age.

The late Larry Goodwyn, who wrote the best book on Populism, Democratic Promise, a University of Texas dissertation originally, wrote that the success that the movement had was based on the construction of a movement culture. Populists organized cooperative stores, newspapers, a lecturer network, raised money to form a national movement, and conventions at every level. Their platforms endorsed candidates who would support their platforms, not political parties. The Populists forced the major parties to listen because they controlled so many votes and candidates who supported their platforms were elected to government at all levels.

Above all, the Populist Party was a grassroots movement. As historian Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, many individuals have ridden populist rhetoric to the White House. Populist rhetoric is a useful political tool for politicians seeking office. Politicians abandon populist rhetoric when they raise money and solicit support from plutocrats.

The history of Populism is instructive for many reasons. Most importantly, the lesson that we need to learn is that grassroots movements are easily coopted by politicians who make promises about support for cosmetic issues and meaningful legislation is too easily watered down in the political process.

Another lesson is that coalitions that seek to unite disparate elements of the working class come under attack. What Joel Williamson has called “racial radicalism” that motivated a resurgence of the Klan in the 1890s was motivated by the political threat of a united Populist Party to the racist white power structure in the South and nationwide.

A third lesson to learn is that political movements that sustain themselves in this country must have the cooperation of the middle class. Because Populists were successfully branded by the corporate media as illiterate and stupid, corporate leaders were successful in marginalizing the Populist movement.

As Jim Hightower would say, we need to dance with the ones we came with. But I say, because teachers, firemen, police officers, doctors, lawyers, and teachers are threatened with downward mobility because corporate honchos using Computer Based Systems are trying to squeeze productivity gains out of us without paying us more, we need to make every effort to bring these groups into a broader coalition that believes in the idea of the public, the nation as a commonwealth that invests in people, not wars, and not privatization.

Back in 1964 when Milton Friedman was Barry Goldwater’s economic advisor, the country laughed at the idea of neoliberalism because most Americans were motivated to serve broader causes. Altruism was cool, and the Civil Rights movement was ascendant. Kennedy had inspired us to think big. Now the ideas of Friedman and Hayek dominate public discourse and the Ayn Rand cult has returned with a vengeance.

The idea that Corporate Education Reform is the Civil Rights Movement of our time is the pinnacle of absurdity. Ella Baker, Septima Clark, and my relative, Myles Horton, are turning over in their graves! There were no students turned out of Freedom Schools! Freedom Schools did not operate with military discipline and focus on preparing students for standardized tests. At Highlander, participants sat in a circle. There were no corporate sponsors or foundations involved. At Highlander, Ziphlia (who rewrote “We Shall Overcome”) and Myles prepared meals and washed the dishes to show their profound respect for Civil Rights leaders. Do we see Bill Gates doing this?

The NPE represents what Larry Goodwyn, who also studied the Poland’s Solidarity Movement, “Democratic Promise.” We are facing a long fight. As Diane told us, “we have to cast a wide net, but we must remain a grassroots movement.” We must insist on inclusivity in all respects. We need to be visible but our platform must speak more loudly than any segmented “talking heads.”

Thank you, NPE Executive Board for an absolutely exhilarating experience! “We Shall Overcome.”

A reader offers this perspicacious view of Pennsylvania’s cybercharter industry. There are 16 of them in the state. The founders of two of the major cybercharters are currently under indictment for siphoning millions of dollars of public funds:

The reader writes:

“Running a cyber-charter in PA is as good as printing money. No oversight and a system that completely ignores the actual costs of the system. If the Commonwealth of PA went shopping for used cars the same way, it would walk onto the lot and tell the salesman, “Here’s twenty grand. Pick out any car for me that you want, and keep the change.”

I just finished reading the review of Reign of Error in Commonweal, a magazine edited by independent lay Catholics, and I am speechless (almost). Written by Jackson Lears, a cultural historian at Rutgers University, the review brilliantly explains the underlying effort to transform public education through “creative disruption” and turn it into a commodity.

Why have our society’s leaders fallen in love with the idea of “creative destruction” or “creative disruption,” he asks.

Like journalists praising war from the safety of their keyboards, economists celebrate the insecurities of entrepreneurship from a comfortable distance. The prototype was the Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter. In the bucolic solitude of his Connecticut estate, he coined the term “creative destruction” to refer to the role of entrepreneurial innovation in capitalist development: the inevitable mass firings and factory closings that accompanied the adoption of labor-saving technology.

Yes, indeed, it is “creative,” because it is not their jobs that are lost, not their sons and daughters who are suddenly unemployed.

Ah, but forget the job losses and the human devastation. Just focus on the “creative” aspect.

Lears writes:

Everyone wants to be creative, especially our destroyers. Free-market ideologues celebrate the freewheeling entrepreneur and dismiss any concern about the social ravages of unregulated capital. Worried about the catastrophic impact of plant closings? It can’t be helped—protracted joblessness, ruined families, and abandoned communities are the necessary price of progress. Capital must be free to flow where the investment opportunities are; any constraints on it obstruct the creative entrepreneurship that drags us, despite our doubts, into a better future.

“Creative destruction” is often awkwardly allied with techno-determinism—the belief that “technology” is reshaping our society and there is nothing human beings can do about it. Hence the headline in InformationWeek reporting the takeover of the Washington Post by’s CEO, Jeff Bezos: “Creative Destruction of Internet Age: Unstoppable.” Somehow this bleak vision is conveyed in a rhetoric of dizzying personal possibilities. It remains to be seen how creative anyone can be in a world where fundamental changes are engineered by (allegedly) impersonal forces. The entrepreneurial notion of creativity is confined to half a dozen techno-visionaries (such as Bezos and Steve Jobs) and defined in narrowly monetary terms, while the destruction that so often accompanies it is wide, deep, and real. “Creative destruction” is the perfect euphemism for our neo-liberal moment. Schumpeter must be smiling, somewhere.

Having read many reviews of Reign of Error, I must say that this was the one that startled me by its deep understanding of the underlying forces that are destroying the public sector. This review nailed the banner of neoliberalism to the so-called “school reform” movement. Critics of the book like to say that I painted with too broad a brush. They say that some of those pushing the agenda of school closings, mass firings, charters, vouchers, and incessant disruption really do have good intentions.

Jackson Lears sees something else. He sees what I see.

Please read this brilliant review.

A high school student wrote this letter to Mark NAISON of the BATS, who sent it to me:

Mr Naison:

Hello, my name is Madeline Clapier. I am a senior at Constitution High School which is a school in Philadelphia that focuses on law and history. Currently, we as a school are facing massive budget cuts and our student government is attempting to rally against the cuts. We have put together seven points that we believe are necessary to the “efficient education” due to us by the state constitution. I’m reaching out to you because you have been apart of working for the restoration of schools. I would like to know how to effectively rally for the education we believe is necessary for the future of our city. So, if you have any tips on how we should go forward with our mission that would be greatly appreciated.

Our seven expectations for our city’s schools are attached.

Thank you,
Madeline Clapier

Expectations for Philadelphia Public Schools

“The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” -PA Constitution

A counselor should be a reality for all Philadelphia School District students. The counselors should be around for all school days, not just once or twice a month. They are necessary for not only emotional support, but a plethora of other things including (but not limited to) college help, peer mediation, working papers, SAT/ACT waivers, and college recommendations.

We should not be dealing with class sizes where students have to share desks or bring in chairs. It should not be a daily dilemma to find a seat in any classroom. Each and every classroom should be able to fit the expected amount of students and that number should not exceed 33 students.

If a school is a college prep school then students should be able to choose SAT prep classes or other college prep classes to help prepare the student body for their future. Likewise if the school is advertised as a science, history, or art school they should be able to afford their equipment.

After school activities are something that each college looks for on any application. They teach students to critically think, work together and much more.

There is something sickening about the fact that there is not a nurse in every school. It is very clear that students are only expected to get sick on certain days. What about the other days of the week?

Electives are an essential piece of every high school experience. Students should be given the opportunity to pick and choose some things that interest them. This way students have the classes like Spanish and Art History that colleges expect them to have learned.

Most of all we believe the state of Pennsylvania and the School District of Philadelphia need to follow their social responsibility of creating a proper learning environment for Philadelphia students.

This was written by Raniel Guzman, who is a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia and an adjunct professor at Esperanza College of Eastern University:

May 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014.            

An attributed Chinese proverb is often wished upon one’s enemies by asserting, may you live in interesting times… This understated “curse” levied upon one’s enemies has a restrained Buddhist sensibility even as one wishes ill toward others. Educators today are indeed living in interesting times. Students and parents are certainly living in interesting times as well. However, the curse placed upon us all is not restrained but rather overt.

The curse is well known to educators and asserts the following, may 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014. So then, who has placed this “curse” upon us all? I am certain we can think of obvious enemies. Nonetheless, I am not certain many of us are thinking about the less obvious and thus more lethal enemies. They give politically correct speeches, and radiate a fatherly presence. Their threat resides precisely in the proximity to their victims, namely us. We often develop a blind spot for such figures and hope that they will protect us from sorcerers and things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, simple examination of deeds, rather than speech, proves otherwise.

Their “curse” is characterized by dilution and diminution. Teachers, students, administrators and parents are diluted in endless paper chases disguised as tests, assessments and reports. Conversely, the edification of concepts and individual free will are systematically diminished. The combined effects may elicit the maddening image of a hamster running endlessly in a caged wheel. However, a more accurate image of these effects is more akin to desperate victims racing to the top of an inextinguishable inferno.

May 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014 is particularly stressful when father figures emphasize the deadline, by 2014. This has been the curse that has dominated the bulk of my teaching career. A curse so powerful it has decimated all attempts to render it inoperative. This “super curse” has brought forward other conjurers, who with wands in hand have temporarily waved away some provisions yet, have not been able or willing to undo this “super curse”. What would motivate someone to place such a curse?  Let’s entertain some thoughts.

Many profess that a goal as noble as ensuring that all students score proficient at the same time and place is beyond reproach. Well, it is simply reprehensible. This cynical goal suffers from a pernicious pathology, which advocates forgive as a delusion for perfection. Shamefully, these apologists hide the correct diagnosis. It is not a delusion of perfection that motivates the jinxers, but rather a pathology of exclusion. We all know the consequences of not scoring proficient and obtaining AYP, -they close your (our) school. However, 2014 can’t seem to arrive soon enough for some hexers. Hence, the rush by officials –this year-, to close as many public schools throughout our country under the convenient excuses of “austerity” and “scores” is well afoot. The unprecedented shuttering of dozens of public schools particularly in largely African American communities, as in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. etc. are justified under the rationale of budgetary challenges.

This rationale anchors itself on the operational premise of right sizing. Irrespective of the fact that we are talking about children and their development -this thinking may have legitimate administrative basis in the private sector. However, the current juxtaposition of private sector practices and public sector commitments, such as providing an adequate and free education as stipulated in the constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, have dissimilar agendas and unequal strengths. Why then the rush if the “super curse” will effectively close thousands of public schools all across our country within a year? We will surely have the right size and number of schools soon enough. Could it be that the proponents’ zeal for the “super curse” is waning? Hardly.

In fact the “super curse” is going very well. The political party, pardon, -the political parties, both of them, have put away their “profound pedagogical partitions” to unite in this effort. Likewise, the industrial testing complex continues to redact tests, assessments, practice workbooks, study programs, while hiring consultants, garnering ever greater budget allocations, and accumulating data all aimed to ensure that scores comply with targets of soon to be imposed common core standards. But above all of these machinations, one supersedes them all, the president’s silence on these matters is the best indicator that all is truly going well among the jinxers and hexers. Conversely, hope for a change is sequestered. So again I ask, why the rush? Could it be that the “super curse” itself is waning? Hardly.

In fact, the jinxers are emboldened by their powers and lack of meaningful restraints, -why wait? “Let’s exclude NOW!” they demand. What we have in front of us now is a turn to Kronos, but an inverted Kronos. We have all seen the depictions of Kronos devouring his children. His filicides are motivated out of fear, a fear of competition from his children. Thus, he eats them. In our case, our Kronos is not committing filicide, but rather devouring the children of others. One can imagine a repented titan with a renewed paternal instinct and displaced fear of competition in the presence of other children asking another titan, “How do we devour the potential competitors of our children?” The other titan may respond, “Well, one way is to be proactive. For example, you offer your children greater pedagogical and assertive experiences and opportunities. In addition, you enroll your children in a school that is free of stigma, for example, one that does not administer standardized tests, say a private school or a divinity school. In other words, enroll your child in a school that does not partake in omens or curses.”

Nonetheless, there is still another way, a more reactive way, to devour your children’s potential competitors, -you close their schools and in doing so -eliminate the competition. Once shuttered, you place stigma upon the displaced children and adults. Moreover, you place a scarlet tattoo on both and you never lift the curse. The calculation is the following; the failure of some children will ensure that mine will thrive. This charter is an open collusion devoid of formalities.

I am well aware that we live in highly secular times, which are dominated by facts and figures. But for some of us who recognize the evil that lurk in men’s hearts, we cannot ignore the immutable. Those who conspire against children are devoid of judgment. Consequently, their motivations are drawn from an irredeemable well. They practice technical numerology, model apparitions, and consult conjurers. Some of them believe in curses. Others still are weary of omens. Some even fear children, often their own. I believe in God. Evil may cause great pain and destruction, but evil never prevails. Evil’s harvest never mature and eventually in its rage devours its own seed.

I had a wonderful inaugural event in my book tour in Pittsburgh. It was organized by parent activist Jessie Ramey, who writes the blog Yinzercation, and union activist Kipp Dawson. It was co-sponsored by seven local universities, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, and a galaxy of educational justice groups, including GPS (Great Pittsburgh Schools).

The audience included many elected officials, including the newly elected mayor, school board members, and Superintendent Linda Lane.

The event began with a long and fabulous set played on African drums by about 20 students, who seemed to range in age from 9-13 or so. They were great!

I spoke, then was followed by the Westinghouse high school marching band. They arrived with great vivacity, but their story was heartbreaking. This school, which produced a number of legendary jazz greats, has been decimated by budget cuts. The school’s jazz program was shut down years ago. Now the marching band has no instruments, and their uniforms are hand-md-downs. A speaker, Reverend Thornton, pleaded with the crowd, to make donations to help the band that has neither instruments nor uniforms nor a stable band director.

Anyone want to see the “crisis in American education”? Come see how the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is denying a thorough and efficient education to the children of Pittsburgh. Especially the children of color.

The public schools of Philadelphia are being slowly, surely strangled by Governor Tom Corbett and the Legislature of Pennsylvania.

Or, maybe, not so slowly.

The state has a constitutional responsibility to maintain a public school system in every district but the state leaders don’t believe in what the state constitution says.

Let it not be forgotten that the state has been in charge of the public schools of Philadelphia since 2001. Along the way, Paul Vallas was superintendent and tried the nation’s most sweeping privatization plan; it failed.

And now the governor has decided to let the district die.

Aaron Kase, writing in Salon, asks:

Want to see a public school system in its death throes? Look no further than Philadelphia. There, the school district is facing end times, with teachers, parents and students staring into the abyss created by a state intent on destroying public education.

On Thursday the city of Philadelphia announced that it would be borrowing $50 million to give the district, just so it can open schools as planned on Sept. 9, after Superintendent William Hite threatened to keep the doors closed without a cash infusion. The schools may open without counselors, administrative staff, noon aids, nurses, librarians or even pens and paper, but hey, kids will have a place to go and sit.

The $50 million fix is just the latest band-aid for a district that is beginning to resemble a rotting bike tube, covered in old patches applied to keep it functioning just a little while longer. At some point, the entire system fails.

Things have gotten so bad that at least one school has asked parents to chip in $613 per student just so they can open with adequate services, which, if it becomes the norm, effectively defeats the purpose of equitable public education, and is entirely unreasonable to expect from the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

The needs of children are secondary, however, to a right-wing governor in Tom Corbett who remains fixated on breaking the district in order to crush the teachers union and divert money to unproven experiments like vouchers and privately run charters. If the city’s children are left uneducated and impoverished among the smoldering wreckage of a broken school system, so be it.

To be clear, the schools are in crisis because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania refuses to fund them adequately. The state Constitution mandates that the Legislature “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education,” but that language appears to be considered some kind of sick joke at the state capital in Harrisburg.

What is happening is outrageous.

Where is President Obama? Why hasn’t he spoken out?

Where is Secretary Arne Duncan?

Why is the federal government standing by in silence as the children of one of the nation’s premier cities are deprived of the education they need?

Oh, wait, they will get the Common Core!

Pennsylvania has more cyber charters than any other state (16 at last count). It also has a large charter sector that performs no better than public schools. The Governor took $1 billion out of the public schools’ budget, and he is allowing the public schools of Philadelphia to die.

Here is a good explanation:

“We cannot afford four separate school systems

“Pennsylvanians must decide if we want to continue to support public education or if we will allow those who want to privatize education to prevail. Pennsylvania taxpayers are now supporting four separate school systems – our traditional community-based public schools, bricks and mortar charter schools, cyber-charter schools and private schools. We simply cannot afford it. The funding being diverted from our community-based public schools to charters and private schools is killing public education.

“Pennsylvania taxpayers are spending $946 million on bricks and mortar charter schools, 71 percent of which did not meet the federal Adequate Yearly Progress standard (AYP), $366 million on cyber-charters, none of which met AYP. The Education Improvement Tax Credit program is diverting another $200 million from public schools to support private schools.

“The Philadelphia public school crisis shows us the future for many public schools around the Commonwealth if we do not recommit to adequate funding for our school districts.””

Here, Arthur Goldstein explains why Matt is a hero of public education, and why those who send their kids to tony elite schools while they close public schools are not.

The corporate reform PR machine has trained its big guns on him because he put his kids in a private school. First, they wreck public schools by turning them into testing factories, then they ridicule those who don’t like what they have done to the public schools. They say, yah, yah, yah, you have no credibility to support public schools. They send their own kids to private schools, but they say he should not because he supports public schools.

They are wrong, because everyone should support public schools, even if they send their children to private schools and EVEN IF THEY HAVE NO CHILDREN AT ALL. Public schools are a public responsibility, like public parks, public roads, public libraries, fire protection, and police protection. Even if you never call the police, you pay for them. Even if you never go to a public library, you should pay to support it. It is a community asset. Even if you never have a fire in your own house, you pay to provide fire protection for the community. Even if you don’t send your children to public schools, you should support them because they are a necessary institution in a democratic society.

Matt Damon is a true American hero because he supports the commonweal.

When he spoke to the SOS rally in 2011, Matt was harassed by a TV crew who insisted that he only works because he gets bonuses. He told them off, and this video went viral.

And for that reason, and because he is willing to stand up for all of those who are voiceless, I am adding him to the honor roll. He is not only a hero on the big screen, he is a hero to millions of parents and teachers who need him.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 95,281 other followers