Archives for category: Supporting public schools

A few days back, I wrote a post about a freshman Democrat in North Carolina, Graig Meyer. Representative Meyer had written a column that seemed to accept the reality (finality?) of vouchers and that called for setting accountability standards for schools receiving voucher money. He noted that many such schools do not have certified teachers and do not take state tests.

Rep. Meyer contacted me and said the purpose of his article was to begin a dialogue about setting accountability standards for the voucher schools, so that children were protected, as well as taxpayer dollars. He emphasized that it was critical to run strong campaigns against legislators who passed the voucher law. I agreed with him.

He wrote:

“My goal in offering the column was to start building some groundwork for adding accountability and measurement standards to the voucher law. I believe that if a private entity takes public funds for education, it must accept public scrutiny in the use of those funds….

“I appreciate you and my other friends who have challenged me this week. I assure you that I have lost no energy for the fight to maintain strong public schools and policies that strengthen families and communities.”

I wrongly accused a good man of “throwing in the towel.” I apologize.

I invited Rep. Meyer to join the Network for Public Education’s third annual conference next April in Raleigh, and he graciously accepted. He will meet hundreds of activists fighting for public education across the nation.

You should join us too. April 15-17, 2016. Raleigh, North Carolina. Save the date.

Joanne Yatvin, veteran educator, now retired after a long career as teacher, principal, superintendent, and president of the National Council of Teachers of English, offers the following observations:

I recently read two articles about education in the New York Times. One recounted the shortage of teachers in many U.S states, while the other was about the shortage of students in rural areas of South Korea. Each article was fascinating in its own way; the first one for its lack of candor about why teachers are in such short supply, and the second for its many details about the range of services still offered in a public school that has only one student left. Let me explain.

The writer of the first article attributes the teacher shortage solely to economics, claiming that the massive teacher layoffs of the past few years were the natural result of the recession and that today’s lack of teacher applicants is due only to “fewer people training to be teachers.” At the same time she says nothing about the number of teachers who have left their jobs voluntarily. Thus she can also avoid mentioning the issues that have rocked the teaching profession and our public schools for the past several years, such as rating teachers by student test scores, the bad-mouthing of public schools in the media, and many governors’ preference for charter schools. She also fails to mention that the states hurting most for teachers offer low salaries and suppress teachers unions.

Admittedly, the second article is of a different genre altogether; it describes the culture in South Korea and explains the economic changes that have sent almost all young families and their children to the industrialized cities. But most interesting to me were the writer’s emphasis on the positive attitudes of local people toward education and his detailed description of the last student’s schooling. He shows readers the student’s positive attitude toward learning and the teacher’s close attention to both the academic and social growth of his student.

As evidence of the community’s continuing dedication to education the writer describes the almost empty school where there are still big screen TVs, computers, table tennis tables, telescopes, book-filled shelves, and musical instruments all the classrooms. In addition, he tells us that a painting teacher and a guitar teacher still come to the school twice a week to give lessons to the lone student. The local educational office delivers two lunches to the school every day.
In recounting all of this, my purpose was not to criticize one writer and praise the other, but to give you just a taste of the differences between the two countries in their treatment of public education. With all our wealth, power, and sense of “American Exceptionalism” we can surely give our schools, our teachers, and our children a better deal than what they have now.

Graig Meyer is a Democrat and a freshman representative in the North Carolina General Assembly. His wife is a teacher in a low-performing, high-poverty school. In this post, he concludes that the state court’s 4-3 decision to permit public funding of vouchers is decisive. He is throwing in the towel even though he knows that most of the students who use vouchers will attend schools that have unaccredited teachers and zero accountability. He knows that the voucher program will harm public education.

“Among my Democratic colleagues, there is broad agreement there are many problems with the current voucher program. There’s little to no accountability for the schools where vouchers are spent. The majority of voucher schools are unaccredited. Many use a curriculum that teaches that dinosaurs lived beside humans and that slaves were treated well. Some are home schools that were never before eligible to receive taxpayer funds. None of them have to participate in any type of testing or assessment that will tell us whether the voucher program is actually leading to better educational outcomes than the public schools.”

Despite all this, he seems ready to throw in the towel. After all, it is now “settled law,” by 4-3. Racial segregation was once settled law. But Graig has no fight in him.

Come on, Graig, stand up to the privatizers. Fight for the public good. Take back the towel. Don’t be a quitter.

Time to trash our nation’s public schools! Campbell Brown, joined with the pro-voucher American Federation for Children, is sponsoring a debate on education among the GOP candidates in New Hampshire today. Don’t expect to hear anyone say anything positive about the public schools, which educate nearly 90% of the nation’s children.

Expect to hear how terrible our teachers are, how many need to be fired at once, how dismal our public schools are. You might conclude that we live in an impoverished third-world country from this kind of negativity.

You can be sure no one will acknowledge that NAEP test scores are the highest in the history of NAEP (since the early 1970s) for white, black, Hispanic, and Asian students.

You can be sure no one will note that graduation rates are at an all-time high and dropout rates are at an all-time low.

This is the first time ever, at least in my memory, that a highly partisan group (or two) have sponsored a primary debate. This is not the League of Women Voters, after all.

Why don’t supporters of public education sponsor a debate for the candidates? Why not ask them to explain their K-12 education plans? Ask them about high-stakes testing? What about privatization? Will they continue to send federal funds to for-profit colleges and charter schools? Will they continue to close schools because of their test scores?

There are many such questions. They need to be asked. They should be asked not by those who despise public education, but by those who understand that public education is a basic democratic institution that educates ALL children, not just those it chooses.

Do not be discouraged as you struggle to restore common sense and rationality to education policy. The corporate reformers have money and the political power that money buys, but it has no popular support. It misleads the public by calling its program “reform,” when its true program is privatization. It uses catchy and misleading names like “students first,” “children first,” “education reform now,” “Democrats for education reform.” But the truth will eventually prevail. They want to divert public money to unaccountable, privately managed schools and replace professional teachers with computers and low-wage temps.

All they have is money. We, the defenders of democracy and public education, have numbers. They could not fill a high school auditorium with their hard-core supporters if their paid underlings were excluded.

We, on the other hand, speak for tens of millions of parents and teachers who value public education and value their community’s public schools.

None of their “reform” strategies works: not high-stakes testing, not test-based teacher evaluation, not merit pay, not charters, not vouchers. Axiom: you can’t fail your way to success.

We will prevail. Not just because of our numbers, but because of our fundamental belief in equal opportunity for ALL children. Not SOME children. Not the strivers. ALL children.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has consistently complained that public schools cost too much. So one of his first actions when he was elected was to persuade the legislature to pass a 2% cap on budget increases. That would save the taxpayers money but it handicapped the schools that saw inflation in their costs. To make matters worse, Cuomo inserted into the law a provision that it would take a 60% majority to raise school taxes more than 2%. A simple majority–the democratic way of deciding elections–was not enough. He insisted that any tax increase to benefit the schools (anything beyond 2%) required a super-majority.

In the recent election, 99% of districts passed their school budgets, with the typical increase being 1.9%, thus avoiding Cuomo’s cap. Eighteen districts sought an increase larger than 2%. The increase was approved in 12 of the 18 districts.

So, here is where Andrew Cuomo will meet his Waterloo. The public cares about their public schools. The schools belong to them. They teach the children of the community. The parents and local merchants know the teachers and the staff and the principal. Unlike Andrew Cuomo, they don’t see the local public schools as their enemy.

This just in from Pittsburgh, where common sense triumphs!



Kathy M. Newman, an English professor and education activist in Pittsburgh, sent this message about yesterday’s school board election:



In Pittsburgh yesterday voters delivered a resounding message that they support the broad platform of education justice for the Pittsburgh Public schools.



This platform includes: Community Schools—schools which provide wrap-around, nutrition and psychological services to needy children during the school day and beyond, restorative justice rather than discipline and punish, more resources for nurses, librarians and counselors, a push back against over-testing, and a district budget that is determined by what students need to succeed rather than austerity, closing schools, and right-sizing. This platform was developed by Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, a coalition of labor organizations, faith based organizations, community organizations, and parent groups, all of whom were involved in grassroots campaign efforts—door-knocking, phone-banking, fundraising, and poll watching, in each of these school board races.



Each of the four school board candidates who ran on this platform won the Democratic primary nomination, and they are all but assured to win in the fall, and to begin serving on the school board in late 2015.



The first winning candidate, Dr. Regina Holley, is from Pittsburgh’s School Board district 2, a district that includes the rapidly developing neighborhoods of East Liberty and Lawrenceville. Holley is a retired African American Pittsburgh Public School principal and teacher with a distinguished record as an educator, has served on the board since 2011. She ran uncontested.


The most hotly contested race was in Pittsburgh’s affluent East End, where a revered long-time school board member, Bill Isler, was stepping down. The education justice movement coalesced around school board candidate Lynda Wrenn, a Pittsburgh Public School parent with 4 children who are attending or who have graduated from Pittsburgh Public schools. Wrenn also holds an MA in education and has served on several district task forces over the last 10 years. Wrenn won by a wide margin against Kirk Burkley, a bankruptcy and real-estate lawyer who promised to be a strong advocate for charter schools and to keep a tight lid on the district’s budget on behalf of tax payers.


In the South Hills area of Pittsburgh a young woman, Moira Kaleida, mother of two and married to a school teacher, won against her opponent, a public school parent, Tracy Link. Moira has been active in Great Public Schools, and will be a strong voice for increasing equity and education justice on the new school board.


On Pittsburgh’s North Side a young African American, Kevin Carter, only 26 years old, defeated his opponents, Rosemary Moriarty, a retired school principal and, Patricia Rogers, a legislative aid and former Juvenile substance abuse supervisor. Carter is the founder and CEO of the Adonai Center for Black Males, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth move from high school to college or trade school, and from higher education to the workplace. Carter, like each of the other winning school board candidates, ran a grassroots campaign on the platform of equity and education justice.


We are smiling and celebrating today in Pittsburgh! Maybe the education reformers thought that Pittsburgh was so full of Gates money and Broad graduates that we were a “safe city” for them. No longer!!!! The progressives have helped to elect a school board that sees poverty and inequality as the biggest challenges faced by our schools, and who see education justice as the solution!

As I was writing the post above about the Dallas election, I became so incensed that I sent contributions to the candidates who support public education. A few hours later, I found this email in my inbox:

“Hi Diane,

I will send you a written note as well, but I wanted to reply quickly in response to your donation.

I am humbled and overwhelmed to receive such a kind and generous donation from you. You have no idea how much this has encouraged me in this last week before the election!

Your writings have inspired me in so many ways in our fight to preserve and improve public education in Dallas. I used some of your ideas from Reign of Error in my platform, specifically calling for a rich and balanced curriculum, a decrease in the overtesting of our children, and support and training for our teachers.

Events are at a frightening stage in Dallas, and “reformers” across the country are no doubt following what is happening as a possible model for other cities. There can be no doubt that the end game is to turn the public education system over to charter operators, just as was done in New Orleans. There can be no other explanation for the wanton destruction of our good schools while the struggling schools are ignored and left to flounder. The difference is that in Dallas this is being accomplished through human maneuvering and not through a natural disaster such as provided by Hurricane Katrina.

My campaign is doing all that we can, despite being outspent and lacking any support from the mainstream media. We have lots of support from the grassroots; now it will be a matter of whether people will get out and vote. I will have no regrets when this is over, no matter the outcome. We have fought the good fight and have held nothing back to try to save our public education system. We have used every avenue available to us to try to get the word out. We will continue these efforts all the way through Election Day on Saturday, May 9, and we will pray for God’s intervention for good in our city.

Thank you SO much again- you have given us the shot of encouragement that we need for the final stretch!

All the best,


Kyle Renard, MD for School Board DISD 1
Find Me On Facebook
PO Box 670041
Dallas TX 75367
Pat Cotton, Treasurer

Dallas is holding a crucial election on May 9. There is both a mayoral election and an election that will shape the school board and the fate of public education in the city. Mayor Mike Rawlings has worked closely with the business community to promote charters and privatization. Houston billionaire John Arnold (ex-Enron) created a “reform” organization called “Save Our Public Schools,” whose purpose is to push for a “home rule” district in Dallas that will allow local leaders to turn the Dallas into an all-charter district (in typical reform fashion, the name of the organization is the opposite of its real purpose).

Rawlings’ opponent, Marcos Ronquillo, has been endorsed by labor groups and community organizations. Rawlings has raised over $750,000; Ronquillo has raised $98,000, with pledges of another $78,000.


Dallas public schools have been under siege for the past three years. Its school board is dominated by so-called “reformers” who are not representative of the children in the public schools, nearly 90% of whom are minorities; the board majority admires the top-down, autocratic management style of Superintendent Mike Miles. Miles is a military man who graduated from the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy. Since he came to Dallas, the school district has been in turmoil. Many teachers have quit, principals come and go, initiatives come and go, achievement is flat as measured by test scores. There is no sense of stability.


When three members of the board called for a vote on Miles’ continued tenure, they were voted down, 6-3. In addition to Miles’ disruptive strategies, he has harassed school board members who disagree with him. When school board member Bernadette Nutall visited a troubled school in her own district, Miles sent members of the Dallas police force to remove her from the school.


If you want to get a sense of the polarization, demoralization, and anger that Miles’ tactics have produced, watch this YouTube video of the last school board meeting. This is a powerful and informative video. Please watch.


Before the Board meeting to discuss Miles’ future, the Dallas power structure rallied around him and even produced an organization with a report on academic progress in the Dallas schools under Miles. But not even the Dallas Morning News–a strong supporter of “reform” could accept the report’s slanted presentation. Its story pointed out that the number of A-rated schools had increased, as claimed, but the number of F-rated schools had grown even more.


For those who care about preserving the democratic institution of public education in Dallas; for those who want to stop an attempted privatization of the entire district, here are the school board candidates who deserve your support.


Kyle Renard, M.D., in district 1, David Lewis in district 3, and Bernadette Nutall in district 9.


To donate to these candidates, go to their websites: Dr. Kyle Renard; David Lewis. I did. I can’t find a “donate” page for Bernadette Nutall, or I would have sent her a contribution too.


If you are a parent or a teacher or a principal in Dallas, if you are a citizen who understands the importance of a free public education system with doors open to all, get out and vote. Early voting has already started. Call your friends and neighbors and urge them to vote. Don’t let the privateers take over the public schools of Dallas.

Nancy Flanagan understands the power of joining forces for a common cause. She attended the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education and discovered a movement that is robust, alive, and growing to support high-quality public education.

“I don’t have the resources, as a retired teacher, to gather with like-minded compadres across the country on a regular basis. I have more time now, and more energy, and most definitely a clearer picture of what’s happening to America’s best (now endangered) idea: a completely free, high-quality, fully public education for every child. Assembling an umbrella gathering of voices and faces unified to the cause of reclaiming public education is a major challenge. I know this, in my bones, from lived experience.

“So it was gratifying and heartwarming (using those phrases in the deepest possible sense) to have seen firsthand that the movement is robustly alive, at the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Chicago, last weekend.

“And when I say “movement,” what I mean is this: People, like me, who have no particular resources or organizational funding/backing, who got on a plane to be in a room with those like-minded compadres–because they’re terrified that America might lose public education. People who think it’s not too late. People willing to stake their professional energy on doing right by all kids, keeping democratic equality as critical and central goal of the education system. People, in other words, who can’t be bought off–the go-to strategy of the corporatizers, privatizers, business-over-community leaders, self-aggrandizing ed-entrepreneurs and feckless policy-makers….,

“This “we have bigger fish to fry” perspective is so important–and I think that’s what drew so many parents, students and folks from non-union areas to Chicago. It’s no longer solely about testing, or teacher evaluation, or tenure, or the Common Core. It’s about the survival of a cherished public good.”

That’s the key takeaway. We stand together to defend what belongs to us all.


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