Archives for category: Supporting public schools

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”

Kyle Renard, MD for School Board DISD 1
http://www.kylerenardfordistrict1.com
Find Me On Facebook
PO Box 670041
Dallas TX 75367
Pat Cotton, Treasurer
214-714-2707

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.

The PTA of the Hastings-on-Hudson, Néw York, school district sent the following open letter to Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter schools. They shared it with me and asked me to post it.

 

Eva Moskowitz
Success Academy Charter Schools,
Chief Executive Officer

Dear Ms. Moskowitz:

We write in response to your recent comment to WNYC, explaining why Success Academy schools don’t accept new students after fourth grade: “It’s not really fair for the student in seventh grade or a high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/04/10/new-york-city-charters-leave-thousands-of-seats-unfilled-despite-exploding-demand-study-finds/.

As advocates for children, we are deeply troubled by your and Success Academy’s view. Many seventh graders who read at a second or third grade level are children with learning differences. These children already face huge obstacles and prejudices, even as research clearly supports that including these children in general education settings benefits all.

Inclusive classrooms, which comprise special education students and their general education peers, are academically, socially and emotionally beneficial to both groups. In fact, the advantages of such classrooms are so powerful and the outcomes often so successful that federal law requires that these children be placed with their non-disabled peers whenever possible (i.e., in the “least restrictive environment”). At a recent PTA meeting here in Hastings-on-Hudson, parents of general education students specifically asked for their children to be placed in inclusion classes, with their special education peers, once they learned more about the benefits to all that those classrooms produce, including more attention to differentiated learning, as well as additional teaching staff.

In addition, dismissing a child who is reading below-grade level puts too much emphasis on reading and ignores the myriad of other measures of achievement. A child who reads below grade level may excel in math or biology or be an exceptional artist, athlete, or musician.

We live in a diverse world, and it is our job and our duty to create environments that engender respect, support, and, possibly most important, empathy. The direction you advocate
— separating and rewarding just the highest achievers in selected subjects — does a disservice to all.

So while you state that including struggling readers is “not really fair” to your current Success Academy scholars, what saddens us – and feels truly unfair – is this layer of unnecessary and painful exclusion and hardship, in the name of protecting your high-achieving scholars, that you find appropriate and necessary.

We are happy to meet with you and explain these issues more deeply, if that would be helpful. And in any event, we ask that you issue an apology, and also that your schools make a concerted effort to include children with special needs or learning differences. It’s not only best practice, ethical, and fair, but it is the law.

Very truly yours,

Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, Lisa Eggert Litvin and Jacqueline Weitzman, Co Presidents

Hastings-on-Hudson SEPTA (Special Education PTA) Executive Board, Nina Segal and Jennifer Cunningham, Co Presidents

(Note that we are sending this to the general information email for Success Academies, because after extensive online searches, as well as numerous phone calls to individual Success Academy Schools and to the State’s offices governing charters, we have been unable to obtain an accurate email address for you. We left a message at Success Academy’s business office (as it was called by a receptionist at one of the academies) explaining the gist of the letter and asking for your email. If we receive a response, we will forward to that address.)

Yong Zhao spoke to a general session at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education. His speech was spectacular! He was witty, informative, actually hilarious. The audience loved him.

 

I will not try to summarize what he said. You must watch yourself. Julian Vasquez Heilig introduces Yong Zhao.

This is one of the best presentations I have ever seen about education today. Don’t take my word for it. Judge for yourself.

 

Sit back and prepare to laugh out loud. If you don’t have time now, save it for when you have 45 minutes for sheer fun and intellectual pleasure. Then show it to your friends and colleagues. Show it to your local school board, your state board, your legislators. Share it with all who care about our kids and our society.

Thanks to videographer Vincent Precht.

Tom Wolf, the newly elected Governor of Pennsylvania, may turn out to be true friend of public education. In a landscape crowded with foes of public education, like Scott Walker, John Kasich, Doug Ducey, Rick Scott, and Andrew Cuoo, this is quite a distinction for Governor Wolf.

After years of devastating cuts by Governor Tom Corbett, Wolf has vowed to fund public schools. He appointed a one-time rival, John Hanger, as secretary of policy and planning (Hanger is strongly pro-public schools).

Governor Wolf recently visited a public school in Philadelphia. At a time when so many governors have sworn their fealty to charter schools, it is refreshing to read about a governor who recognizes public responsibility for public schools.

John Hanger told the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the Wolf administration would focus on public education and economic development in its spending plan.

Governor Tom Wolf could build a national reputation if he reverses the school privatization and defusing of public schools that Corbett encouraged .

As the state legislature considers vouchers for religious schools, a new poll of voters in Tennessee shows that they don’t want more school choice. They want charters to be reformed, meaning more transparency and accountability and stronger protections against financial fraud.

Voters ranked school choice dead last among their concerns.

“Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) Leaders say a recent survey of local voters shows that Tennesseans overwhelmingly favor reforms for local charter schools to protect students and taxpayers.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected charter expansion as a priority, the survey found. Instead, voters favored charter reforms to strengthen:

• Transparency and accountability

• Teacher training and qualifications

• Anti-fraud measures

• Equity policies for high-need students

“It’s clear our communities support quality public schools, not an expansion of charter schools,” said MNEA President Stephen Henry. “We need to make sure ALL Nashville schools are held to the same accountability and transparency standards that taxpayers expect.”
The survey also found voters rated the need for more parental involvement and the reduction of excessive student testing as bigger priorities than expanding charters.

“Specifically, voters favored by greater than 80% approval reforms that would:

*provide rigorous, independent audits of charter school finances

*require charter schools to publish how they spend taxpayer dollars, including all budgets and contracts

*ensure that teachers in any publicly-funded school meet the same training and qualification requirements”

Steve Matthews, superintendent of the Novi school district, here explains how the education profession has been attacked and demonized, with premeditation.

 

He begins:

 

So you want to kill a profession.

 

It’s easy.

 

First you demonize the profession. To do this you will need a well-organized, broad-based public relations campaign that casts everyone associated with the profession as incompetent and doing harm. As an example, a well-orchestrated public relations campaign could get the front cover of a historically influential magazine to invoke an image that those associated with the profession are “rotten apples.”

 

Then you remove revenue control from the budget responsibilities of those at the local level. Then you tell the organization to run like a business which they clearly cannot do because they no longer have control of the revenue. As an example, you could create a system that places the control for revenue in the hands of the state legislature instead of with the local school board or local community.

 

Then you provide revenue that gives a local agency two choices: Give raises and go into deficit or don’t give raises so that you can maintain a fund balance but in the process demoralize employees. As an example, in Michigan there are school districts that have little to no fund balance who have continued to give raises to employees and you have school districts that have relatively healthy fund balances that have not given employees raises for several years.

 

Then have the state tell the local agency that it must tighten its belt to balance revenue and expenses. The underlying, unspoken assumption being that the employees will take up the slack and pay for needed supplies out of their own pockets.

 

Additionally , introduce “independent” charters so that “competition” and “market-forces” will “drive” the industry. However, many of these charters, when examined, give the illusion of a better environment but when examined show no improvement in service. The charters also offer no comprehensive benefits or significantly fewer benefits for employees. So the charters offer no better quality for “customers” and no security for employees but they ravage the local environment.

 

Then create a state-mandated evaluation system in an effort to improve quality…..

 

That is how it begins.

 

For his willingness to speak out honestly and courageously, I add Steve Matthews to the blog’s honor roll as a hero of public education.

 

 

 

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