Archives for the month of: December, 2018

ProPublica has created a valuable database identifying the individuals appointed by the Trump administration, with their history and ties to conservative groups.

Go to the Education section and you can view the bios and financial history of every important appointee.

I learned about this an hour after Trump named Patrick Shanahan to become Secretary of Defense. I put in his name and learned that he was a Senior Vice President of Boeing, a major contractor for the Defense Department. Apparently he never served in the military. Will he award contracts to Boeing? Stay tuned.

Jill Lepore, a professor of history at Harvard and a staff writer for the New Yorker, wrote this interesting essay, which appeared in the New Yorker on September 10, 2018. The essay explains the history of the Plyler v. Doe decision, which defined the rights of undocumented children to an education. This required the U.S. Supreme Court to weave its way through other decisions, because the Constitution does not include the word “education,” but other contemporaneous documents (the Northwest Ordinance) stress the importance of education.

The case is about to become a notable precedent, she writes, because it bears on important decisions today.

Some Supreme Court decisions are famous. Some are infamous. Brown v. Board, Roe v. Wade. But Plyler v. Doe? It’s not any kind of famous. Outside the legal academy, where it is generally deemed to be of limited significance, the case is little known. (Earlier this year, during testimony before Congress, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, appeared not to have heard of it.) The obscurity of the case might end soon, though, not least because the Court’s opinion in Plyler v. Doe addressed questions that are central to ongoing debates about both education and immigration and that get to the heart of what schoolchildren and undocumented migrants have in common: vulnerability.

Plyler is arguably a controlling case in Gary B. v. Snyder, a lawsuit filed against the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, by seven Detroit schoolchildren, for violating their constitutional right to an education. According to the complaint, “illiteracy is the norm” in the Detroit public schools; they are the most economically and racially segregated schools in the country and, in formal assessments of student proficiency, have been rated close to zero. In Brown, the Court had described an education as “a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” But the Detroit plaintiffs also cite Plyler, in which the majority deemed illiteracy to be “an enduring disability,” identified the absolute denial of education as a violation of the equal-protection clause, and ruled that no state can “deny a discrete group of innocent children the free public education that it offers to other children residing within its borders.” Dismissed by a district court in June, the case is now headed to the Sixth Circuit on appeal.

Plyler’s reach extends, too, to lawsuits filed this summer on behalf of immigrant children who were separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. In June, the Texas State Teachers Association called on the governor of the state to make provisions for the education of the detained children, before the beginning of the school year, but has so far received no reply. Thousands of children are being held in more than a hundred detention centers around the country, many run by for-profit contractors. Conditions vary, but, on the whole, instruction is limited and supplies are few. “The kids barely learn anything,” a former social worker reported from Arizona.

The federal district judge who ruled in their case was named Justice.

She writes:

[Justice] Justice skirted the questions of whether education is a fundamental right and whether undocumented immigrants are a suspect class. Instead of applying the standard of “strict scrutiny” to the Texas law, he applied the lowest level of scrutiny to the law, which is known as the “rational basis test.” He decided that the Texas law failed this test. The State of Texas had argued that the law was rational because undocumented children are expensive to educate—they often require bilingual education, free meals, and even free clothing. But, Justice noted, so are other children, including native-born children, and children who have immigrated legally, and their families are not asked to bear the cost of their special education. As to why Texas had even passed such a law, he had two explanations, both cynical: “Children of illegal aliens had never been explicitly afforded any judicial protection, and little political uproar was likely to be raised in their behalf.

In 1978, Justice Justice ruled in favor of the children. The state of Texas appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

As she explains in her review of important Supreme Court decisions defining the rights of students, the Supreme Court ultimately crafted a decision in Plyler v. Doe that assured the right of the children of undocumented immigrants to education while avoiding any commitment to education as a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.

And yet its interpretation remains limited. “Powell wanted the case to be about the education of children, not the equal protection rights of immigrants, and so the decision was,” Linda Greenhouse remarked in a careful study of the Court’s deliberations, published a decade ago. For many legal scholars, Plyler looks like a dead end. It didn’t cut through any constitutional thickets; it opened no new road to equal rights for undocumented immigrants, and no new road to the right to an education. It simply meant that no state could pass a law barring undocumented children from public schools. But that is exactly why Driver thinks that Plyler was so significant: without it, states would have passed those laws, and millions of children would have been saddled with the disability of illiteracy.

The children who received an education because of this decision are now gainfully employed and are citizens.

This is an article you should read and a decision that you should be aware of.

Peter Greene believes that Arizona’s proposed gag law is part of a national reaction to teacher activism. If you can’t beat ’em, silence them, is the mantra.

He traces the trend towards silencing teachers to legislators in Pennsylvania and Virgina, and then back to fringe-right agitator David Horowitz and rightwing corporate bill-mill ALEC.

Greene writes:

All of the rules make sense when one considers the source– a racist authoritarian xenophobic alt-right wingnut. This is not just about shutting down teachers (it really is bigger than being anti-#RedforEd) but about making sure that teachers cannot interfere with the imposition of a white supremacist alt-right dreamland.

The second thing we can say with certainty about this proposal is that Rep. Finchem [of Arizona] did not whip it up himself after some conversations with concerned parents. HB 2002 is part of a wider attempt to shut teachers up so that they can’t exercise First Amendment rights– particularly not in ways that would contradict white nationalists .

It’s a bill that deserves to die. And Rep. Finchem is a man who deserves some extra attention, to see just who feeds him these kinds of anti-American anti-freedom ideas for bills.

It is a fascinating and ugly trail and worth your while to follow it to see where it leads.

Don’t forget the First Amendment. It is not fake. It is real.

Linda Lyon writes a blog called “Restore Reason.” She lives in Arizona, after a successful career in the military, and she just stepped down as President of the Arizona School Boards Association.

In this post, she describes legislators prefer revenge to reason. They are furious about the success of the RedForEs movement, and they are lashing out at teachers.

Revenge Over Reason

“I don’t believe Arizona’s teachers walked out because they were tired of being paid at a rate ranked 48th in the nation. I believe they walked out because we had some 2,000 classrooms without a certified teacher and class sizes that are 5th highest in the U.S. They walked out, because they know that the number one in-school factor to student achievement is a highly qualified teacher. They walked out because it was way beyond time for someone to take a significant stand. It took 75,000 of them, but their stand significantly moved the needle for Arizona’s one million public school students. To be clear though, even with the additional funding garnered this year, our public schools are still short over $600 million from 2008 levels (yes, a decade ago.)

“Progress though, evidently scares lawmakers like Finchem and Townsend (or gives them a tool with which to scare others) and they are out for revenge. They don’t want teachers who stand up for their students, they want teachers who do what they are told. Unfortunately for them, teachers are citizens first and still do enjoy certain Constitutional protections for protected speech.”

A great post.

Teachers who stand up for their students terrify small-minded legislators.

China is perfecting a system of digitized observation that will track every person every day and monitor every movement they make. Citizens will get “social credit” for good behavior and preferential treatment.

There is no dark corner in which to hide.

This is frightening.

The system is supposed to be ready by 2020.

The death of privacy.

You better be good because they are always watching.

Steven Singer writes his summary of 2018 here. He concludes with a list of his best posts, along with links.

He wrote:

I’m not going to mince words.

This year, 2018, has been a monster.

We’ve been fighting the dumbest and most corrupt President of our lives – Donald Trump. And we’ve been making progress.

Thanks to the midterm election blue wave in the U.S. House, Trump will finally have a check on his power.

We have more black and brown representatives, more women, more nationalities, ethnicities and faiths in the halls of power than ever before.

Charter schools and vouchers are more unpopular today than at any other point in history. High stakes testing is on the decline. And everywhere you look educators and education activists are being heard and making a difference.

But it’s taken an incredible toll on the activist community.

We have had to be out there fighting this ridiculous crap day-in-day-out 365 days a year.

And even then, we’ve suffered devastating losses – family separations at the border, children dying in detention, an increase in hate crimes and gun deaths, all while climate change runs rapidly out of control.

I wish I felt more hopeful. But as I cast my eyes back on the year that was, I’m struck with a sense of bone-deep despair.

I am confident Trump will go down and he will take so many with him.

But the forces of regression, prejudice and stupidity that forced him upon us don’t appear to be going anywhere.

Behind Donald is another Trump waiting to take his place. And behind him another one – like an infinite set of Russian Matryoshka dolls.

Oh, many of them look more appealing than Donald. They dress better, are more articulate and can remember all the words to the National Anthem. But they are just as committed to serving themselves at our expense.

So with that in mind, I invite you to join me on a brief look back at the year that was.

First, let me thank everyone who bought my book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform” from Garn Press. It was amazing to have finally achieved the dream of being published (in paper with a binding and everything)! I never made anyone’s best seller list, but it was gratifying to have hundreds of copies make it into readers’ hands. I hope people found it helpful (and still do because it’s still out there where better books are sold).

Also, I got to check another item off my bucket list with the invitation to film a TED Talk at Central Connecticut State University. My topic was “The Plot to Destroy Public Education.” It’s been viewed almost 1,000 times. I invite you to watch it here.

As to the blog, itself, I’ve been writing now for four and a half years. This year, I’ve had more than 211,000 hits. To be honest, that’s quite a drop. In 2017, I had 366,000 hits. But I’m hearing about similar dips all over the blogosphere. Facebook changed its algorithm this year making it much harder for people to see the work of amateurs like me. Zuckerberg’s multi-billion dollar corporation doesn’t refuse to spread the written word – it just charges a fee that I can’t afford. Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed Net Neutrality at about this time last year making things even more dodgy.

However, on the plus side, the blog is up to more than 1,429,000 hits total! That’s pretty good for a publication that’s only been around since July 2014. And it doesn’t count all the readers I get from articles reposted on the Badass Teachers Association Blog, Huffington Post, Commondreams.org, the LA Progressive, Alternet, BillMoyers.com or other sites.

In addition, about 500 more people followed me this year for a total of 13,361.

That should do it for an overview.

One final item before I get to the look back. I’m making a slight change this year to how I do things. Instead of publishing two separate articles – a Top 10 list and a List of Honorable Mentions – I’m combing the two into this one.

I’ll begin with three pieces that didn’t necessarily get the number of hits I thought they were worth. Then I’ll count down my 10 most popular pieces of 2018.

And then you will find some truly wonderful posts, which I urge you to open and read.

All over the nation, Walton money is flowing into state and local elections to help candidates who will privatize public schools.

Now, as I reported previously, and as Mercedes Schneider writes about here, the Waltons are spreading their wings and buying “grassroots” support (doesn’t the purchase of support mean it is not grassroots?). As Mercedes puts it, just “sell the idea” and “leave the funding to us.”

But the Waltons are not merely funding advocates and research and media. They are actively intervening and interfering into the democratic process (as Putin did in 2016 in our presidential election), sinking the hopes of home-grown candidates who can’t match their funding. Putin did it by stealth and social media, the Waltons do their dirty work in the open, using the sheer force of money.

The Waltons as a family are hereby enrolled on this blog’s Wall of Shame, for their persistent attack on democracy and the electoral process, which should be determined by the voters, uninfluenced by billionaires from out of state.

They are meddling with elections in hopes of electing state and local school boards, mayors, governors, and members of Congress who will share their dream of opening more charter schools and eliminating teachers’ unions. They have poured millions into charter referenda in Massachusetts and Washington State, as well as statewide elections in California.

The latest example: Chicago, where none of the Waltons live.

With major financial help from the billionaire heirs of the Arkansas-based Walmart fortune, the PACs related to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools are aiming to become a political force in the upcoming Chicago mayoral and aldermanic campaigns.

The children and grandchildren of Helen and Sam Walton, founders of the Walton Family Foundation and Walmart, are donors to the nonprofit Illinois Network of Charter Schools and its two allied political action committees, either from the family foundation or individual contributions, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis revealed…

Members of the Walton family, one of the wealthiest in the U.S., are active nationally in bankrolling pro-charter organizations, causes and candidates supporting school choice.

Chicago is home to 122 charter schools with about 60,000 students, Broy said.

The publicly funded, privately operated charter school movement in Chicago may be at a crossroads, fighting to not lose political ground and retain enrollments in a period of slowing growth.

A charter school champion, the anti-public union Gov. Bruce Rauner lost his re-election bid; another supporter, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is stepping down, and the race to replace him is wide open, with the powerful Chicago Teachers Union backing Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Let us celebrate every time a Walton-funded candidate loses, because democracy should not be for sale to the highest bidder.

Fortune magazine notes that teachers quitting their jobs at a record rate.

What kind of an education system will we have without teachers who are devoted to their profession, without teachers who are professionals?

What kind of a nation will we be?

Are the billionaires hoping to fill classrooms with computers that don’t expect pay or healthcare or pensions?

Frustrated by little pay and better opportunities elsewhere, public school teachers and education employees in the United States are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate on record.

During the first 10 months of the year, public educators, including teachers, community college faculty members, and school psychologists, quit their positions at a rate of 83 per 10,000, Labor Department figures obtained by The Wall Street Journal show. That’s the highest rate since the government started collecting the data in 2001. It’s also nearly double the 48 per 10,000 educators who quit their positions in 2009, the year with the lowest number of departures.

According to the report, teachers are leaving for a variety of reasons. Unemployment is low, which means there are other, potentially more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. Better pay, coupled with tight budgets and, in some cases, little support from communities could also push educators to other positions.

In third quarter, public education workers saw their pay rise 2.2% compared to the prior year. However, that was still below the 3.1% pay hike those who work in the private sector earned, according to the Journal report.

But despite the challenges teachers and other education employees face, they’re still more dedicated to their positions and their students than most. So far this year, American workers left their positions at a rate of 231 per 10,000, or nearly four-times the rate at which teachers left their positions.

Oh, well, there is some consolation in knowing that American workers are leaving their jobs too. This is the sound of a very unhappy nation with a depressed and unhappy workforce.

Phyllis Bush claims to be a retired teacher. But as she proves in this post, she never stopped teaching.

She is teaching us lessons about life and death. How to live, how to face death, how to laugh in the seemingly worst of circumstances, how to love, how to live life to the fullest, how to be an example for all of us.

All of us will die. The question is how. Phyllis shows us how: with courage, humor, and spirit.

Studies like those by Gordon Lafer have demonstrated the high cost that charters impose on public schools, which are left with stranded costs when students leave. The history of school segregation in the South has demonstrated the wastefulness of maintains a dual school system with both receiving public funds. Now charters are an issue in Los Angeles, where the funders use them to eliminate the teachers’ union.

Howard Blume writes in the Los Angeles Times:

In its 69 pages of demands to the school district, the union representing Los Angeles teachers barely touches on charter schools. But as they prepare for an announced strike on Jan. 10, union leaders are making the growth of these schools a focus to rally members and raise public awareness of what they see as an existential threat.

On Friday union President Alex Caputo-Pearl called for a halt to new charter schools in the district. It’s the latest escalation in the union’s anti-charter rhetoric.

“It’s time to invest in our existing schools,” said Caputo-Pearl, who heads United Teachers Los Angeles. “This unregulated growth is something that affects the long-term sustainability of the district. … This is about protecting the civic institution of public education.”

Charter supporters take issue with the union’s targeting. They say charters have provided valuable educational choices and have proved popular with parents.

L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner on Friday said it was wrong to characterize the dispute “as a referendum on charter schools.”

In an interview on Spectrum News, a cable channel, Beutner said “all schools should be looked at with the same tough set of standards.” For the teachers union, he said, “the difference is charter schools don’t have UTLA members, traditional public schools do.”

About 1 in 5 Los Angeles public school students now attends a charter. L.A. has more charters and more charter students than any other school system in the country. This growth has been substantially fueled by federal grants and donors, who include conservative and anti-union forces as well as some independents and Democrats.

Charters are privately managed and while most are nonunion, Caputo-Pearl said that his union represents about 1,000 charter-school teachers and that existing charters that are struggling with enrollment also are being hurt by the “grow at any cost” strategy of some charter advocates.
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl calls for a cap on charter schools.

He also noted that because funding follows the student, charter expansion has drained funds from L.A. Unified, which also is losing enrollment based on unrelated demographic trends.

Fewer students means fewer teachers. And while a drop in enrollment should lower district expenses, the district has had a hard time shrinking and also is burdened with fixed costs for such things as school maintenance and retiree health benefits.

Union leaders “reason that the dramatic expansion of charter schools in Los Angeles over the last decade — an expansion fueled by funding from [Eli] Broad, the Walton Family Foundation and the Gates Foundation — has heightened instability and undermined the capacity of the system as a whole,” said UCLA education professor John Rogers. “UTLA leadership envisions creating a new reality on the ground that will change the dynamics of education in Los Angeles.”

The district also has a new reality in mind — a still mostly confidential plan to divide the nation’s second-largest school system into about 32 networks. The limited disclosure has exacerbated union fears about the goals of Beutner, a successful businessman without a background in working for or managing a school district.

While Beutner has called for a coming together with teachers, he’s also made comments that increase their anxiety.

“So [if] it’s the flexibility of charter schools that’s allowing them to excel, let’s bring that flexibility into the traditional school classroom,” he said in the TV interview on Friday.

But charter school growth and reorganization plans are not part of contract talks.

In its proposal to the district, the union devotes one page to charters — specifically to what happens when a charter shares a campus with a district-operated school.

These sharing arrangements, called colocations, are required by state law. But they frequently led to disputes over space as well as to protests against a charter’s presence.

The union proposal calls for notice by Nov. 15 of the preceding school year when a charter applies for space. UTLA also wants to establish a colocation coordinator who would get a $2,000 stipend and be involved in all discussions regarding logistics. In addition, the union wants an advisory panel at each affected campus that includes teachers, parents, the plant manager and the principal of the traditional school.

They are the union’s response to complaints from staff at traditional schools, which have had to surrender space set aside for computer rooms, tutoring and extracurricular programs.

L.A. Unified has opposed the union’s colocation proposals without much explanation. But there could be concerns about creating a new, potentially cumbersome bureaucratic layer or about letting the union interfere in district administrative decisions. That’s an issue the district has raised about many of the union demands.

Some district officials, notably school board member Nick Melvoin, have sought to ease tensions over campus sharing by sponsoring something very close to group therapy. Using donated funds, Melvoin organized a summer retreat at a local resort hotel that brought leaders of charters and district-operated schools together to get to know each other and talk.

To be sure, many union activists don’t particularly want to get along with charters. They see the charter incursion as too much of a threat.

A strike, if it happens, won’t be over a charter moratorium. But by bringing up the issue now, the union is taking advantage of the sudden spotlight turned on by the strike threat.

The strike “won’t directly settle any of the underlying issues,” said Charles Kerchner, a scholar on labor relations and a professor emeritus and the Claremont Graduate University. “Hence, the charter school wars will continue.”