Ginia Bellafante has a dynamite article in The Néw York Times about a new protest organization called the “Hedge Clippers.”

The Hedge Clippers picket, demonstrate, and call attention to the political activities of the 1%. In addition to promoting the proliferation of charter schools, they lobby for low taxes–on the rich.

“Two weeks ago, several busloads of New Yorkers made a pilgrimage to Greenwich, Conn., to visit the waterfront estate of the hedge fund titan Paul Tudor Jones II, where, suffice it to say, they were not invited in to see the china. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and the protesters, many of them ordinary working people who have felt cheated by the inequities of a tax system that favors the rarefied few, were there to call attention to Mr. Jones’s educational agenda, built on the premise that the extravagantly rich know better how to teach reading, and to his support of Republican candidates and causes in the New York State Legislature that disadvantage the poor and working class.”

Mr. Jones was one of the funders last year of the multi-million dollar TV campaign to stop Mayor de Blasio’s effort to deny public space to charter schools and to charge rent to those that could afford to pay. Not only was that campaign to stop the mayor successful, but Governor Cuomo persuaded the legislature that all charters in Néw York City were entitled to free public space, regardless of their assets, and the city had to pay their rent if they were located in private space.

While fighting to protect and expand charter schools, the hedge funders supported a group called Néw Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which helped Republicans retain control of the State Senate. That is their guarantee that there will be no new taxes on the 1% and minimal new funding for traditional public schools.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo received millions from Wall Street for his re-election campaign, and he spoke at a charter school rally last year where he declared his fealty to charters. Only 3% of the students in Néw York state are enrolled in charter schools. In 2012, Cuomo said he would be the “students’ lobbyist.” Now we know that what he meant was that he would be the charter students’ lobbyist.

I have not read this book yet, but it looks like a must read. People are always asking, “What can I do to save our public schools? What can I do to stop the hideous explosion of testing?” This book offers answers.

An Activist Handbook for the Education Revolution

United Opt Out’s Test of Courage

Edited by:
Morna M. McDermott, United Opt Out National
Peggy Robertson, United Opt Out National
Rosemarie Jensen, United Opt Out National
Ceresta Smith, United Opt Out National

Published 2014

Contributions by: Rosemarie Jensen, Shaun Johnson, Morna McDermott, Laurie Murphy, Peggy Robertson, Ruth Rodriguez, Tim Slekar, Ceresta Smith, United Opt Out National

Forward by Ricardo Rosa, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

This book is intended for educators, parents and community activists interested in reclaiming our public schools and reclaiming the public narrative around education policy. The book infuses research about the recent history of education policy reform, the strategies United Opt Out uses for fighting back against these policies, and proposes solutions that work to create sustainable, equitable, anti-racist, democratic and meaningful public education. This book is for anyone interested in an “insider’s look” behind the scene of forming an organization, or leading a resistance. Simultaneously the book provides scholarly-based research about the broader issues, policies and data around education reform, and the opt out movement.

Education policy has been heating up ever since NCLB but especially since the roll out of Race to The Top and the Common Core State Standards. Nationally publicized debates and discord over these policies are garnering public attention of teachers, parents, and whole communities. We hope this book will add to the library of other recent books such as Mercedes Schneider’s A Chronicle of Echoes (2014), Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error (2013) and Bowers & Thomas (eds) Detesting and Degrading Schools (2012), that have exposed the complex corporate interest in shaping education policies and the destructive influence such policies will have on our children and on our democracy. This book uses first person narratives infused with research and scholarship, to create personalized accounts into the life of education activism. Each chapter includes an Activists Handbook section to provide support for our activist/readers in their own efforts. We hope that our experiences will inspire others to take this charge upon themselves as well.

CONTENTS

Acknowledgements. Forward by Ricardo Rosa. Introduction- by Peg Robertson. CH 1: Predators, Colonizers, and Corporate-Model Reform- By Morna McDermott. CH 2: Who We Are- By Morna McDermott. CH 3: Changing the Narrative- By Ceresta Smith. CH 4: Occupy This- By Peg Robertson. CH 5: Taking Action- By Shaun Johnson, Ceresta Smith, and Morna McDermott. CH 6: Every Narrative Has a Lens: The Value of Social Justice- By Ceresta Smith and Morna McDermott. Ch 7: A Case Study in Reform Failure: The Inconvenient Truth- By Ruth Rodriguez. Ch 8: Strategizing 101- By Laurie Murphy. CH 9: Where Do We Go From Here -By Tim Slekar. Conclusion- By Rosemarie Jensen. APPENDIX.

Bonnie Margolin, a teacher in Florida, remembers a time before No Child Left Behind. She remembers when politicians did not tell teachers how to teach. She remembers when teaching was far more and different from preparing to take tests.

We are now trapped in The Testing Games. Like The Hunger Games, the odds are never in your favor.

“The obvious comparison is the idea that education is some form of competition. We know this concept is a popular one, just based upon the fact that our own US President named his education reform, The Race to the Top. In this race, states are encouraged to create education policies based on test scores. Student promotion, teacher evaluations, and school grades are all based on test scores. Funding is then tied to the student achievement. In simple terms, how well the students race decides how much money the schools get in funding.

“Talk about pressure on children. Walking into school on these test days is eerily as overwhelming to students as the anxiety felt by the young warriors headed out to fight in The Hunger Games. While our students “test for funding”, the warriors in the film had to fight to win food for their district. Just as our students know low test scores can cause them to be retained or to drop out, often ending their academic lives, the young warriors in the movie knew they were also in a fight for their lives.”

She volunteers to take the tests in place of her students. No dice. How about in place of her daughter? She awaits an answer from President Obama. Please, sir?

No answer. She writes that teaching is akin to The Hunger Games. Take the test. Race to the Top. Compete. Win or lose. If you lose, your school loses funding. if you lose, you are damaged goods.

The Southern Education Foundation has created an excellent info graphic about the dangers of vouchers and ta mx credits—public funding of private schools. It is worth your while to watch it.

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.

 

 

 

WOW.

This is a remarkable and candid story of Jorge Cabrera, who joined the reform movement as a believer. He wanted to help the children of Bridgeport, where he grew up. He wanted better schools. He was a community organizer for Excel Schools.

And then he learned the truth.

“As I began my work in the “education reform movement” in Bridgeport, I noticed a plethora of ivy league educated “consultants” and “transformational leaders” that littered the often loose coalition of funders, new organizations and executive directors. From the beginning, it was clear that many of these new “leaders” that were emerging were well credentialed. They had graduated from prestigious universities and, it was presumed (though not by me), that alone qualified them to lead. Many were very young (recent graduates), energetic, unmarried with no children and little life experience. They often exhibited a cultish commitment to “the movement.” Their zeal for “education reform” and “saving the children” often resulted in a bizarre abdication of critical thinking that made a mockery of their high priced “education.” For instance, in many meetings I attended, many of these acolytes extolled the virtues of charter schools as the only solution to closing the achievement gap in Bridgeport but never once did anyone bother to discuss the ample research (i.e. “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” ) available regarding the negative impact of poverty on academic achievement or that Bridgeport had several public magnet schools that outperformed (as measured by standardized test scores) many charter schools. These magnet schools had long track records (20 plus years) of success and I assumed we should advocate for what we know, firmly, works. Despite this evidence, there was never any serious discussion regarding expanding magnet school options or advocating for high quality, universal preschool programs (research shows the achievement gap begins at this level). The entire approach to “education reform” lacked any serious understanding of the many variables (i.e., social-emotional issues, poverty, funding, English language learners) that clearly effect a child’s ability to learn. Anytime a more dynamic and multifaceted approach to closing the achievement gap was raised it was quickly dismissed as “making excuses.” The atmosphere vacillated between a callous indifference to the real challenges Bridgeport children faced and arrogant dismissiveness. Permeated throughout these various organizations that formed a loose network of power was a culture that prized blind dedication to the “mission” and socially affirmed and promoted those who obeyed and exhibited “urgency” in “reforming” the “failing schools.” The people in “the movement” made it clear that it was up to the “best and brightest” of minds to “transform” the “system” as “outside influencers.” By “best and brightest” they almost exclusively meant people who would do their bidding without question and certainly not anyone that would exhibit any degree of independent or critical thought. On more than one occasion, when the argument was made that the solutions to the multilayered challenge of public education needed to come from the people and required an authentic, engaging process with the Bridgeport community the response was often glib at best. I recall in one strategic planning meeting when I advocated for authentic engagement and patience to allow parents the time to become informed on the various issues and was told to, “just use language to convince” the parents and impress upon them a sense of “urgency.” Another person told me, “It’s all about how you say it…..”

“I began to sense that someone or something I was not fully aware of was calling the shots behind the scenes and many of these young ivy leaguers were the mercenaries on the front lines tasked with implementing the agenda. This whole enterprise was quickly becoming astroturfing and I was in the middle of it. Worse, I was starting to feel like I was hired to put lipstick on a pig and it was beginning to burn me on the inside. Nevertheless, through it all, I never gave up hope and tried to create spaces for honest, authentic and fact based discussions inside “the movement” with limited success.”

The reformers decided that Bridgeport needed mayoral control, so the mayor could open more charters faster. In the run-up to the election, high-priced media consultants arrived to take charge.

“Immediately, the focus was on marketing and sloganeering. Worse, we were trying to build the plane while it was in the air! The whole thing was rushed and disorganized. We were told to make sure we communicated to the public that voting in favor of the city charter change was good for parents, students and would lead to better academic outcomes. The insinuation was that anyone who was against the charter revision changes was anti-child or anti-education. When parents or community leaders asked questions that required more substantive, fact based responses we were coached to respond to everything in soundbites and with shallow arguments that lacked any grounding in reality. It was the worse kind of insult to the community’s intelligence and pandered to the worse aspects of human nature and—it almost worked.”

” My nearly three years in the “movement” in Bridgeport revealed to me the incredible lengths that private, often unseen and unaccountable power will go to in order to create and capitalize on a crisis. In Bridgeport, that crisis in our public education system was created by powerful forces at the local and state level who systematically starved the school system by withholding necessary school funding (Shock #1) which then created a crisis that set the stage for a takeover (Shock #2) of the Bridgeport board of education on the eve of the fourth of July in 2011. Essentially, these forces were engaged in a form of social engineering under the guise of “urgency” and “reform.” To be clear, in this “movement” there are people who have good intentions and sincerly want to improve the conditions of Bridgeport’s public schools but they do not sit at the tables of power when strategic decisions are made and their voices are often silenced. Their talents, skills and knowledge are often used to serve a larger, opaque agenda that is dictated by a radical ideology of deregulation and privatization. Shot throughout most, if not all, of the education reform “movement” you will find the radical ideology of economist Milton Friedman. Looking back, there were moments when this mindset (disaster capitalism) was revealed to me in meetings. On one occassion, a very influential operator in the “education reform” community was discussing the “amazing opportunity” that revealed itself after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans desimated the population and led to the “charterization” of the public school system. He expounded that sometimes you have to, “…burn the village to save it…” and that what we (the “reform community”) are essentially involved in is, “creative destruction.” Worse, he argued that we needed a “clean slate” in order for real “change” to happen in the school system in Bridgeport. But this was my home. This was the city I grew up in and where most of my family lived and worked. You want to burn down their city!? You want to destroy it so you can be creative!? For whom? It was all surreal. I was done.”

It’s an incredible story that confirms your darkest suspicions.

This is very puzzling. Standardized tests usually arrive with seals or stickers so that no one can read them without authorization. In the case of the PARCC test administered in Louisiana, there were no seals or stickers. Students could flip ahead to the next day’s tests.

 

That has raised concerns among some critics of the test, and the related Common Core national academic standards, that the partnership test made it easier for students to get a head start the content of the next unit — or even for administrators to get a look and prepare a study guide for students.

 

Those concerns are only the latest to be aired in the most controversial and politicized public school testing period that Louisiana has seen in years. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s opposition to Common Core and the national tests, and a vocal but small test-boycott movement, put extra pressure on educators. Low test scores may mean that charter schools close, voucher schools get cut off and conventional schools get taken over by the state.

 

State Education Department officials said the new booklet didn’t cause problems. But at least three New Orleans schools ran into trouble. And some educators expressed fear that the new test format will give their critics, and opponents of Common Core, yet more reason to doubt.

 

If scores unexpectedly go up, will it have something to do with the lack of security?

Joanne Yatvin has been a teacher, a principal, and a superintendent. She wrote these reflections on what constitutes a good school.

 

A few weeks ago, a New Hampshire teacher, Shawna Coppola, shared her ideas about what makes a good school, in contrast to the schools that are celebrated because of high student test scores. Although I agree with much that Shawna says, I want to take the challenge she voices at the end of her piece to describe my own view of what a good school is.

 

I first put my own definition and description of a good school into words a long time ago when I was asked to write a review of a book about a disintegrating school that was rescued by a new principal. I repeat it below with only a few word changes to reflect contemporary terminology and my own growth.

 

In my view a good school mirrors the realities of life in an ordered society; it is rational and safe, a practice ground for the things adults do in the outside world. A good school creates a sense of community that permits personal expression within a framework of social responsibility. It focuses on learnings that grow through use–with or without more schooling–such as clear communication, independent thinking, thoughtful decision-making, craftsmanship, and group collaboration. It makes children think of themselves as powerful citizens in their own world.

 

In contrast, an effective school, as defined by today’ standards, looks at learning in terms of test scores in a limited number of academic areas. It does not take into consideration students’ ability to solve real life problems, their social skills, or even their practicality. It does not differentiate between dynamic and inert knowledge; it ignores motivation. When we hear of a school heralded because of its high test scores, should we not ask what that school does to prepare students to live the next several decades of their lives?

 

A good school has a broad-based and realistic curriculum with subject matter chosen not only for its relevance to higher education and jobs, but also to family and community membership and personal enrichment. It uses teaching practices that simulate the way people function in the outside world. Children are actively involved in productive tasks that combine and expand their knowledge and competence. They initiate projects, make their own decisions, enjoy using their skills, show off their accomplishments, and look for harder, more exciting work to do.

 

The effective school asks much less. Children who put all their efforts into “covering” a traditional curriculum in order to “master” as much of it as possible are not seekers, initiators, or builders. They are at best reactors. The knowledge they dutifully soak up is not necessarily broad based or useful. It is taught because it is likely to appear on tests. It is quickly and easily forgotten.

 

Any school can become a good school when its principal and teachers have made the connections to life in the outside world that I have been talking about. It operates as an organic entity—not a machine—moving always to expand its basic nature rather than to tack on artificial appendages. A good school is like a healthy tree. As it grows, it sinks its roots deep into its native soil: it adapts to the surrounding climate and vegetation; its branches thicken for support and spread for maximum exposure to the sun: it makes its own food; it heals its own wounds; and, in its season, it puts forth fresh leaves, blossoms, and fruit.

 

Jeannie Kaplan was an elected member of the Denver school board for two terms. She is a steadfast critic of the “reforms” in Denver in recent years. She says they have failed. but reformers never think twice or admit failure. At each school board election, “reformers” spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to win a seat. The current board is tilted 6-1 for “reform.” She expects that this faction will take total control in Noovember, leaving no one to ask questions about their failed agenda.

A reader saw the earlier post about the ruin caused by privatization in Chile and wrote this post about Colombia:

 

 

I live and work in Colombia. The same was tried here. Perhaps Colombia drank the “Chilean miracle” koolaid, or perhaps it’s simply that Colombians tend to think anything that comes from abroad (particularly if its roots are in the US) must be golden. The private system insisted it could and would provide better education than the public schools, so the government provided funding for what we would call charters, but here are really just private schools. Among the results: lots of fraud, lots of tiny primary schools opening and closing in garages, often leaving kids with no chance to get into other schools until the next term…if they were lucky, since private schools don’t have to let them in, and there aren’t enough seats in the public schools any more. Inequality is very high, even though the government includes some aspects of social democracy, like nearly universal health care and a progressive tax policy. (The pension system was privatized too, and that’s been a disaster for most people, but I digress.) I can’t speak to whether inequality is actually greater than before the education reforms, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. Certainly the public schools lost funds, as anyone who had enough money to pay tuition (yes, not only did these schools get government funds, but they were allowed to charge tuition), enrolled and still enroll their kids in “private” schools on the assumption that public schools are the worst possible option, even though public school kids regularly win scholarships to attend public universities of excellent quality.

 

Since I moved here in 2006, scores on international tests like the PISA, have dropped. The sorely underfunded public schools have continued to produce most of the top scorers on the ICFES, a national exam required for university entrance, similar to the SAT or ACT. That wasn’t enough to open the government’s eyes. It was the drop in scores on international tests that finally did it. As a result (YAY!), recently, the government stopped funding the private/charter schools. I don’t know if this means the public system will get more funding – I hope it does, because they need a big infusion. Since I’ve been here, there aren’t enough public schools to provide an education for all the children whose families can’t afford a private one. Now, finally, the push is on to build enough to solve that problem. It’s not like our education policy leaders would have to go far to see what NOT to do: Colombia’s a mere four hour flight from Miami. There are none so blind as those who will not look, much less see.

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