Archives for the month of: October, 2019

Teresa Hanafin, who writes the daily Fast Forward for the Boston Globe, describes a new whistleblower and the GOP-FOX effort to smear him.

There’s a major development in the House’s impeachment inquiry today:The first deposition from someone who listened in on that infamous July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — the one in which Trump pushed Zelensky to investigate Trump’s domestic political rivals.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran (Purple Heart) who is the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, is expected to tell the impeachment committees that he was so disturbed by Trump’s arm-twisting that he twice registered his concerns with his superiors.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the US government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman says in his opening statement, copies of which were obtained by several news organizations. “This would all undermine US national security.”

Vindman’s testimony is remarkable because he still is employed in the White House, on the National Security Council.

He’ll tell lawmakers that he’s not the whistleblower. But he will confirm details already outlined by other witnesses, including his former boss, Fiona Hill, who stepped down in August as the NSC’s senior director for European and Russian Affairs, and William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine.

Vindman twice registered his concerns with John Eisenberg, the top lawyer at the NSC: The first time was on July 10 after a meeting between senior US and Ukrainian officials where EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland urged Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals. That angered Hill and John Bolton, then Trump’s national security adviser, who told Sondland that efforts to politicize the relationship with Ukraine were inappropriate. His second approach to Eisenberg was after the Trump-Zelensky phone call.

But the campaign to dirty up Vindman has already started, a cooperative effort between the GOP and Fox News to cast doubt on his loyalty and patriotism. They are peddling the narrative that because Vindman was born in Ukraine, he must be engaged in espionage, working against Trump’s interests.



Robin Lithgow, retired director of arts education in the Los Angeles, blogs about the history of arts education. In this post, she reflects on the questions she wished she had asked her parents when they were alive, and her reflections lead her to learning and telling the history of arts education in settlement houses, the social service centers in densely crowded urban neighborhoods. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the billionaires who now pour vast amounts of money into creating competitive structures of schooling were instead to fund vibrant arts education programs?

She writes:

The Settlement Movement began in the late 19th century as a social experiment, to address the cultural needs of impoverished communities. It was modeled after Toynbee Hall, established in London in 1884 “as a practical tool for remedying the cruelty, exploitation, and  bleakness found in city life.” The first settlement house in the United States was University Settlement in New York City, but the most famous was Hull House, established by Jane Addams in Chicago. Eventually there were over 400 settlement houses in cities and towns across the country.

Here’s an interesting fact: the reason they were called “settlement houses” is because a variety of caring groups “settled in” to neighborhoods with wretched living conditions, to learn as well as to help. They lived in the communities and shared the stresses endemic to neighborhoods of poverty. They did not approach their jobs as teachers, but as students: students of the huge diversity of cultures pouring into our nation at the time.

Music lesson at a Philadelphia settlement house

Social dance class at The Memory Project in a Cleveland settlement house

My best source so far, in searching for the answers to questions I never got to ask my  mother, is a monograph written in 2011 by Nick Rabkin: “Teaching Artists and the Future of Education.” In it he makes the assertion that, “Artists have worked in community-based arts education for more than a century, and the roots of their work in schools are found in arts programs at the settlement houses at the turn of the last century.” To quote Margaret Berry, “In the settlement house there were always activities which brought fun and fulfillment to life—music, art, theater, sociability and play.” But Rabkin points out that the settlement houses cast out the old conservatory model of arts training in favor of a much more socially conscious, all inclusive model, in which art making and art exploration was “for everyone and essential to the fabric of a democratic society.” The iconic example is that instead of art students standing in smocks at easels, painting vases, a drawing lesson at Hull House might be a class of scruffy youngsters sketching the unsanitary conditions in the alley behind the settlement. Teachers at the settlement houses taught aesthetics and technical skills but were also “attentive to the arts as tools for critical exploration of the world, celebration of community values and traditions, weaving the arts into daily life, cultivation of imagination and creativity, and appreciation of the world’s many cultures.” We see in this philosophy the derivation of the strands of our national instructional standards in the arts.

Hull House is where the great swing era clarinetist, Benny Goodman, learned music, and the Home for Colored Waifs in New Orleans gave us Louis Armstrong. Social dance, modern dance, and creative movement were regular offerings, as were culturally embedded crafts.


In her education plan, Elizabeth Warren proposed eliminating the federal Charter Schools Program. This program was started in 1994 to help jumpstart new charter schools at a time when there were fewer than 100 charter schools in the nation. Now there are 7,000.

Today, the CSP has a budget of $440 million a year (which BETSY DeVos proposes to increase to $500 million a year). DeVos uses CSP as her personal slush fund to expand corporate charter chains. This past year, she gave $89 million to KIPP, $67 million to IDEA, and $10 million to Success Academy. None of these charter chains are struggling financially. All receive huge grants from the Waltons and other billionaires.

The Network for Public Education studied the expenditure of $4 billion by CSP from 2006-2014, predating the DeVos era. It’s report “Asleep at the Wheel,” determined that at least $1 billion of the funds spent by CSP during that period were wasted on charter schools that either never opened or closed soon after opening. Warren cited this report in her education plan, to justify eliminating the wasteful CSP.

The empire strikes back:

The CEO of KIPP (and husband of Wendy Kopp) sent this email to his mailing list:


We can’t let Senator Warren’s plan of cutting charter school funding become reality. Join us today and help all kids achieve their dreams.

Richard Barth

KIPP Foundation


A friend received this email from the founder of IDEA, which has received $225 million from CSP in the last two years. Bote that it was sent during the workday.

From: Tom Torkelson <>

Sent: Thu, Oct 24, 2019 2:26 pm
Subject: FW: Warren Proposes to Stop Federal Funding for Charter Schools


I hope you saw Nina’s note below. Senator Warren has proposed to cut the entire charter schools federal program. We need your help today; don’t wait to support our efforts.


Tom Torkelson
Former Classroom Teacher and Charter School Founder

* title used for identification purposes only

From: Nina Rees <>
Sent: Monday, October 21, 2019 7:18 PM
To: Tom Torkelson <>
Subject: Warren Proposes to Stop Federal Funding for Charter Schools

Dear Friends —

Today Presidential candidate and Senator Elizabeth Warren called to end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools.

But we know that 5 million more families would choose a charter school if one could open near them. Senator Warren’s plan to starve charter schools of funding would destroy the dreams of a quality education for the families who need it most. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools respondedsharply.

However, to protect as well as grow the Charter Schools Program, we must deploy all the tools available to us. Please contribute to the Charter Schools Action PAC today. A strong Charter Schools PAC helps reinforce our mission to candidates that need to know the impact of Senator Warren’s plan.

I’m writing today to ask for your help. Give today and share with 5 of your friends who support charter schools.  

It is not surprising that charter chains that enjoy many millions  of dollars from the CSP would fight to keep the federal spigot of cash flowing.


No philanthropy has spent more money to undermine and privatize public schools than the Waltons. The Waltons are the richest family in the U.S., possibly in the world, with a net worth in excess of $200 billion.

The Walton Family Foundation claims credit for launching at least one of every four charter schools in the nation. The foundation aims to eliminate public education, crush teachers’ unions, and destroy the teaching profession. The foundation has given nearly $100 million to Teach for America to supply inexperienced, ill-trained teachers to public and charter schools.

It is hard to understand the Waltons’ animus towards public schools, since the patriarch Sam Walton, his wife Helen, and all of his children were graduates of small-town public schools.

Sam graduated from David H. Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri. His wife Helen was the valedictorian of her public high school in Claremont, Oklahoma.

John Walton (who died in a plane crash in 2005) graduated from the Bentonville High School in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Alice Walton, the richest woman in the world, graduated from Bentonville High School in 1966.

Jim Walton, net worth exceeding $40 billion, graduated from Bentonville High School in 1965.

Rob Walton’s wikipedia entry does not say where he attended school, but very likely it was the Bentonville public schools, like his siblings.

Why do the Waltons hate public education? Why do they feel no gratitude towards the free and democratically controlled public schools that educated them? Why no gratitude towards the experienced public school teachers at Bentonville public schools?

When a Walton store moves into a small community, it destroys Main Street by undercutting the prices that mom-and-pop stores need to survive. Mom and pop may get hired to be Walmart greeters or stocking clerks. Main Street dies as Walmart thrives. If the Walmart doesn’t show a profit, it closes, leaving the region without commerce.

On the website of the Walton Family Foundation, this saying by the matriarch is posted:

“It’s not what you gather but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived.”

Favorite saying of Helen Walton
The Waltons have exemplified greed, hostility to the common good, ingratitude, selfishness. What a legacy.

State Senator Sam Bell has been concerned about the punitive discipline in the no-excuses Achievement First charter schools, which is primed for a major expansion in Providence.

He toured an Achievement First charter school, and his worst fears were confirmed.

Please read the entire post, which I condensed.

Senator Bell writes:

On Friday, October 18, I toured Achievement First. It was a chilling experience, an experience I’m still processing.

They wouldn’t let me take any pictures or video.

The start time was 7am. I got there at 6:59. I expected a mob of kids rushing to class, but they must have all already gotten there early. I only saw one or two kids, each of them sprinting. Kids, apparently, fear being late so much that they really aren’t late, despite being forced to wake up at what is an ungodly hour for a middle schooler. My guide, though, was late.

As we started the tour, I noticed black and yellow lines taped on the floor of the hallway. The children, my guide informed me, are all required to walk only on these lines. Several times, I saw adults chastising students for not walking on the lines. Quite literally, students were not allowed to set a toe out of line.

The bathroom doors, I noticed, were all propped open. I asked if it was for cleaning. No, I was told, it was so that the kids in the bathrooms could be watched. They didn’t prop open the toilet stalls, but it still struck me as intensely creepy, a twisted invasion of privacy.

In the classrooms, it was constant discipline. The teachers spewed a stream of punishments, and I often couldn’t even see what the students were doing wrong. The students kept losing points or getting yelled at for things like not looking attentive enough. I can’t imagine what it would be like as a child to be berated constantly, to be forced to never even think of challenging authority. It was, of course, overwhelmingly white teachers berating students of color. (The walls, of course, were plastered with slogans of racial justice.)

The education, if you can call it that, was the most shameless teaching to the test. I was shown what I think was a social studies class, where the children were being drilled to respond to a passage about Rosa Parks like it was a passage on a RICAS ELA test. They were being asked to interpret the passage, not to think critically about what Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott meant for American history and what we can still learn from that act of heroism today.

I was shown another class, where the students were just straight-up practicing to respond to what looked to me exactly like a RICAS short answer question. The teacher went around looking over the kids’ shoulders, basically praising them for checking the boxes of a RICAS grading rubric. (The RICAS grading rubric primarily emphasizes a rigid organizational structure with a single central idea and lots of specific pieces of evidence to support it.) This was far and away the best of the classrooms I saw. It was teaching to the test, yes, but with a teacher who at least showed compassion to the students and focused on building them up instead of tearing them down.

I also saw something they call “IR.” I think it stands for “individual reading,” but I’m not sure. Basically, it was kids sitting quietly and working through exercises in a book. It was the kind of rigid, formulaic make-work that drills kids for taking tests well but does not teach creativity, critical thinking, or passion for learning. It also looked miserable.

Not once did I see a lecture, a group discussion, or a seminar…

And this was what they chose to show me, this was what they showed a critic, this was a hand-picked tour to promote what they do. Although I asked to see one of the computerized teaching classrooms, my guide was unwilling to show me one. I did see posters telling kids to put on their noise-cancelling headphones, open their computer, be quiet, and work through their exercises. To her credit, my guide did basically admit to me that the computerized teaching system was kind of a mess. She said that kids are allowed to opt out of it to do book exercises instead and are no longer forced to wear noise-cancelling headphones if they don’t want to.

I did see several classrooms where the students were taking quizzes on laptops. This of course would be great preparation for taking a computerized standardized test. It struck me how often I saw this, and I wondered how much of the time must have been taken up by practicing taking tests.

Despite the policing of facial expressions, I saw some of the most jarringly sad faces I have seen in a very long time. I remember the look on one young woman’s face. She had been sent out of the classroom. I’m not sure why. I think she was a rebel. She was one of the very few I ever saw not walk on the lines taped into the floor. Her face was contorted into a shockingly intense frown. It almost looked like a caricature of a frown, the sort of frown one might see on an overly dramatic actor on TV but not in real life. My guide saw something different, raving about “faces of joy.”

At one point, rounding a corner, I heard a child scream. I don’t know what was happening, and my guide quickly rushed me away.

What was most missing was social interaction. When were the students supposed to talk to each other? To form meaningful friendships? To flirt and begin exploring romance? And it wasn’t just the lack of small group discussion in the classes or the strict discipline that stopped the students from talking in class. Even in the pep rally I witnessed, the kids weren’t talking to each other. If they tried to, a teacher would appear immediately to discipline them. I saw one kid quickly whisper to another and get away with it once. That was it. Even in the hallway, they weren’t talking. They just marched through the halls on the lines taped into the floor, enduring a stream of rebukes for minor offenses like leaving too large a gap between students.

On a human level, it was hard for me to take. When people tell stories about Providence school tours so bad they are moved to tears, I usually think they’re exaggerating. But I couldn’t stop tearing up at Achievement First, and I had to keep dabbing my eyes with a tissue. Now, I did have the ducts that drain my tears plugged to treat dry eye, so I do cry quite easily. But still….

After what I saw, I can easily see how this approach is great at producing amazing test scores. If you focus solely on test-prep and brutal discipline, yes you will boost test scores. Learning how to do well on a RICAS ELA test is learning how to think the way the test wants you to think. It’s learning not to think different. It’s learning to take the least challenging answer. It’s learning to sit still and robotically churn through boring and pointless questions.

But the human cost is so high. At what point is it worth subjecting kids to such misery? Even if the “achievement” were real learning, would it be worth the misery it takes to achieve it? Putting kids under that kind of stress dramatically increases the risk of lasting mental health damage.

Achievement should not come first. Children should come first.

Achievement First is planning on expanding. They’re asking to open a high school, and now they’re asking for a new elementary school, too. Some politicians, parents, student advocates, teachers, and unions have timidly objected to the funding Achievement First rips away from the already suffering public schools. But for me, the money pales in comparison to the raw human pain. Cruelty towards children is just plain wrong. It’s about people, not numbers in a spreadsheet.

Sometimes, overly mild rhetoric is irresponsible. We have to think carefully about the language we use. Words matter. If we water down Achievement First to a budgetary issue, then the Mayor of Providence will feel justified in letting them expand as long as better charter schools are prevented from opening or expanding in Providence. Instead, we must condemn Achievement First as a fundamentally immoral institution.

Half measures are not enough. No expansion is acceptable. Instead, we must talk about a turnaround plan to revamp and fundamentally reform these schools, returning actual learning to the classrooms, ending cruel discipline, and respecting the human rights of the students. And no turnaround plan will be real, no reforms will be lasting, without replacing the toxic administrators currently in charge with turnaround leaders who have true compassion for the students.



Trump’s defenders say that he committed no actual crime. Professor Frank O. Bowman III it the University of Missouri Law School says that the Founding Fathers debated the issue of impeachment and purposely chose language that does not require an ordinary crime (like shooting someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue, the sort of crime that Trump’s lawyers now say he can’t be prosecuted for).

Bowman analyzes the meaning of the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” to demonstrate that the Founders has a much broader concept than ordinary criminal actions.

He writes:

There are two strong arguments against the idea that the phrase requires criminal behavior: a historical one and a practical one. The history of the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” and of how it entered our Constitution establishes beyond serious dispute that it extends far beyond mere criminal conduct. The practical reasoning is in some ways more important: A standard that permitted the removal of presidents only for indictable crimes would leave the nation defenseless against the most dangerous kinds of presidential behavior.

Read his essay to understand the history and meaning of this crucial term.



Jitu Brown is a son of Chicago. He is National director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, which has affiliates in 30 cities, where they work for social justice.

Jitu was the driving force behind the community effort to save Dyett High school  in Chicago, the last open admission high school in Bronzeville. Mayor Rahm Emanuel had decided to close Dyett, and Jitu organized a campaign to save Dyett. He led a 34-day hunger strike, and eventually Rahm gave up and instead of closing Dyett, he invested $16 million into renovating it as a school for the arts.

Listen to Jitu here, where he is videotaped by videographer Bob Greenberg. Greenberg has created an archive of hundreds of interviews with educators. He is a retired teacher.

In this video, Jitu Brown describes the two teachers who had a profound impact on him and helped him discover his strengths.

In this video, Jitu Brown recites Claude Mckay’s “If We Must Die.”

Jitu belongs on the Honor Roll of this blog.

Jitu Brown is a hero of the Resistance. He is also a member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

He is featured in my new book SLAYING GOLIATH.

Suppose you are trying to decide who to vote for in your local school board election. You get a flyer in the mail from a group called “Public School Allies.” It lists three candidates. You vote for them.

Surprise! You were hoaxed!

“Public School Allies” is a billionaire-funded front that intervenes in local elections to support charter schools! 

Matt Barnum reports in Chalkbeat:

The political arm of The City Fund, the organization with ambitions to spread charter schools and the “portfolio model” of school reform across the country, plans to spend $15 million to influence state and local elections over the next three years.

That political group, known as Public School Allies, has already directed money toward to school board races in Atlanta, Camden, Newark, and St. Louis, and  state elections in Louisiana, Georgia, and New Jersey. Donations have ranged from $1 million to as little as $1,500.

The information was shared by Public School Allies and, in a number of cases, confirmed by campaign finance records. The $15 million comes from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and former hedge-fund manager John Arnold, the organization said.

In other word, this is a fraudulent organization that selected a name intended to deceive voters. They advocate for closing schools with low test scores and giving them to charters.

They are not “allies” of public schools. They are allies of privatization.

Their use of deceptive language is an open admission that they know the public wants real public schools, not privately managed charters.

Why are they ashamed to call themselves “Friends of Charter Schools?”

Cathy Frye is a veteran journalist who joined the staff of the Arkansas Public Schools Resource Center as communications director for three years. She learned that APSRC was a shell organization funded by the billionaire Waltons to trick rural schools into joining the Walton crusade to eliminate public schools.

In this post, Frye names names.

She begins:

Tonight, I am sharing a Who’s Who in the Arkansas education “reform” movement.

First – a reminder: The end game is not charterization. It is privatization. Charter schools are merely a bridge. Look at them as place-holders.

The Arkansas Public School Resource Center, where I worked for three years as the communications director, purports to support both open-enrollment charter schools and rural traditional school districts. In actuality, APSRC is one of many Arkansas-based and Walton-funded lobbying entities.  Some of these organizations specialize in charters. Others exist to promote private schools and vouchers. One seeks to convince teachers that they don’t need to belong to unions. A couple others promote the alleged glories of school “choice.”

Here’s a list of such organizations:

Remember, Arkansas is not the only state being targeted by American billionaires who seek to do away with public education and those pesky teachers’ unions. The Waltons are among those leading the charge. Curious, isn’t it, that the Waltons and other billionaires who are supposedly concerned about education haven’t donated a dime to public schools. Instead, they’re focused on supporting charters and private schools. 



Chicago Teachers Union

For Immediate Release|

CONTACT: Chris Geovanis, 312-329-6250, 312-446-4939 (m),

Half of 1% of CPS budget stands between CTU, CPS and tentative agreement

CHICAGO, Oct. 27, 2019—CTU President Jesse Sharkey issued the following statement this evening, as CPS CEO Janice Jackson made her first appearance at the bargaining table.

Right now at the bargaining table, CPS is refusing to invest barely half of one percent of its annual budget to give our students the equity and educational justice they were promised. Amazon was set to get billions of dollars in public subsidies from the city. Lincoln Yards and the 78 got billions of public dollars to bankroll their new neighborhoods for rich people—dollars that should have gone to our schools. But CPS has yet to yield to provide a paltry fraction of those funds to support what our students need.

CPS has $38 million to settle a contract in one of the richest cities in the richest countries in the world. Yet today, their misplaced priorities will put us on the picket lines again tomorrow.

We have been attempting to bargain with CPS for ten months for the equity and educational justice our students were promised. It took a strike to get the mayor and CPS to just to trade proposals to bring down exploding class sizes and alleviate desperate shortages of school nurses, social workers, counselors, librarians and more. We shouldn’t have to work this hard—and we shouldn’t have to strike—to get our students what they deserve.

In 1995, the Illinois legislature gave total power and control of CPS to the mayor of Chicago, forcing us to jump through insane obstacles to get to an agreement, from super majorities to authorize a strike to constant obstacles just to bargain to get a nurse in school every day. No other teacher or school worker in any other school district in the state confronts this kind of obstruction.

We’re not yielding on our demands for equity and educational justice—and CPS has a path on the table right now to make a real downpayment on those promises. Let’s get it done.

# # #

The Chicago Teachers Union represents nearly 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in schools funded by City of Chicago School District 299, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information, please visit the CTU website at