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Veteran journalist John Merrow attended the Public Education Forum in Pittsburgh.

In this post, he reports his views about the candidates.

Which ones did best, which ones were disappointing.

And which one was the biggest surprise of the day and, in his estimation, “the biggest winner of the day.”

Carol Burris led the delegation from the Network for Public Education at the Public Education Forum in Pittsburgh. Here are her reflections on the candidates;

 

 

There were roughly 1000 attendees at yesterday’s Public Education Forum 2020.  The group was diverse in both race and age. Students accompanied by parents sat side by side with senior citizens. It was a captivated audience, the vast majority of whom stayed until the end at around 4:00 pm. 

 

Outside the forum there was a small protest. When I entered the building in the morning, I counted 35 people. One news report said that the protest grew to 100. Michael Bennet was the only candidate who engaged with the protestors—that encounter can be viewed here.

 

Support was voiced by the candidates for community schools, increased school funding for Title I schools, increased pay for teachers, support for unions, fully-funded pre-schools, increasing the number of teachers of color, student loan forgiveness, and other equity issues which have commonly appeared in candidates’ platforms. In short, it was a positive agenda that acknowledged that resources do matter and recognized the complex difficulties that our schools and our teachers face.

 

It is not my intent to influence anyone’s vote with this account. What follows is my review of the candidates’ performance by giving each the award I believe they most deserve based on what I heard during the forum as well as with speaking with others afterwards. 

 

My award for Best Performance is shared by Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. I thought their answers were the sharpest, but I am willing to acknowledge I may see the world through my gender lens. 

 

Upon entering the stage, Elizabeth Warren received cheers. Many stood and applauded. Warren stood her ground when the interviewer claimed she wanted to defund charter schools (she does not). She logically argued her platform on charter schools and ended by saying, “Public school money needs to stay in public schools,” which earned loud applause. She argued throughout for increased funding for public education, funded by her proposed wealth tax.

 

Klobuchar won hearts with the story of her mom who taught elementary school until she was 70 years old. Her mom would dress up as a Monarch butterfly every year when teaching a unit on butterflies. Klobuchar recounted how a former student with a disability came to her mother’s funeral due to the kindness mom had extended to him long after he left her class. She was warm and encouraging when a nervous student came to the microphone to ask a question. Many in the audience who were not familiar with the candidate were impressed. 

 

The You Still Don’t Get it Award goes to Michael Bennet. 

 

The first audience question came from a New Orleans student, Maria Harmon, who expressed concerns about charter schools, which she said are “targeting black and brown children without delivering on their promise of equity.” Maria referred to the Washington Post’s story on our Network for Public Education report, Still Asleep at the Wheel. Her question on charter school accountability received loud applause. 

 

Bennet claimed that in Denver only the Denver School Board can authorize a charter school. What he did not mention is that the Denver Board’s decision to not authorize a charter school can be overturned by the state board. From the Colorado State Board of Education website—

 

“The State Board may also, upon its own motion, decide to review any charter decision of a local board of education. Under the act, the State Board has the authority to direct the local board to grant, deny, or revoke the charter.”

So much for local control. Like other pro-charter Democrats, Bennet tried to create a false distinction between “private” and “public” charter schools, saying there are only public charter schools in Denver. “We don’t have private charters,” he said. Denver’s charters are managed by private boards. In addition, Denver allows charter schools to be managed by for-profit CMOs. For example, Life Skills Denver Charter School, was operated by the notorious for-profit White Hat Management Corporation. It was open throughout Bennet’s term as superintendent and was finally shut down by his successor, Tom Boasberg. I have no idea how Bennet’s defines a “private” charter school.

 

During the interview he defended his merit pay program, which has been largely abandoned, as well as the evaluation of schools by growth scores. 

 

Bennet’s suggestion that the school year be longer and that students attend school six days a week was not well received by students and teachers in the audience. 

 

Bennet told us he was “against privatization” and then left to meet with the charter school parents who were protesting the event. 

 

The Most Loved Award goes to Bernie Sanders

 

When Bernie came on the stage, nearly everyone was on their feet applauding. He made a vigorous case against high-stakes testing (it was noted by the moderators that he had voted against NCLB) as well for increased funding for public schools. Bernie was Bernie, and the crowd loved it.  His refusal to sit down resulted in the moderators getting up from their chairs to ask their questions. 

 

The award for Best DFER in Disguise goes to Pete Buttigieg 

 

Mayor Pete’s melodious even-toned voice was soothing, but no one I spoke with seemed impressed. He received polite applause. When he told the audience that a guy on his policy team (I assume Raj Chetty with whom he attended college) had done a study that showed the positive impact of “great teachers” on students’ economic futures, eyebrows went up. That study was often used by Arne Duncan to justify the evaluation of teachers by test scores.  His teacher training plan sounded an awful lot like Teach for America to me. Rachel Cohen recently reported that prominent charter schools supporters have been doing fundraisers for Mayor Pete.  With Booker and Bennet tanking, it is likely DFERs are looking to Buttigieg as their candidate. 

 

The James Joyce Award goes to Joe Biden 

 

Biden was animated and immersed in his usual stream of consciousness style. Listening to Biden is rather like reading Joyce’s Ulysses. You are just not quite sure where his inner Molly Bloom is going next. 

 

While he did not distance himself from Race to the Top, which I believe was not mentioned at all throughout the forum, I think he said he was against high-stakes testing (sometimes it is hard to tell with Joe). He got a smile from me with his line, “If I’m president, Betsy DeVos’ whole thing from charter schools to ignoring sexual harassment is done.” He was warmly received and frequently applauded. Afterwards many I spoke with said that although he is not their first choice, they would support him if he were the candidate or seemed to have the best chance of beating Trump. 

 

The Nice Guys Finish Last Award goes to Tom Steyer

 

Those I spoke with characterized the billionaire activist as a well-meaning guy whose funds would be better spent supporting a candidate with progressive ideas. My assessment is that he cares and wants to make a difference. He demonstrates none of the know-it-all arrogance of Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg. I hope he will remain on the side of public schools when the campaign is over. 

 

All in all, the forum was a day well spent. 

 

Steven Singer participated in the Public Education Forum in Pittsburgh, where the leading Democratic candidates (and a few not-leading candidates) spoke to an audience of teachers, members of civil rights groups, and teacher unionists.

These are his ten take-aways from the day. 

A few highlights:

 

The fact that it happened at all is almost miraculous.

 

Who would have thought Presidential hopefuls would care enough about public schools to address education issues and answer our questions?

 

Who would have thought it would be broadcast live on TV and the Internet?

 

And – come to think of it – who would have EVER thought it would happen in my hometown of Pittsburgh!?
But it did.

 

I was there – along with about 1,500 other education activists, stakeholders and public school warriors from around the country.

 

It was an amazing day which I will never forget.

 

Perhaps the best part was getting to see so many amazing people in one place – and I’m not talking about the candidates.

 

There were members of the Badass Teachers Association, the Network for Public Education, Journey for Justice, One Pennsylvania, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and so many more!

 

I wish I could bottle up that feeling of commitment to our children and hope in the future…

 

Here’s my top 10 most important lessons:

 

1) Charter School Support is Weak

 

When the forum was announced, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform wrote a blistering memoabout how the charter school community would not put up with politicians listening to constituents critical of their industry. Allen is a far right Republican with close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) who even used Donald Trump’s public relations firm to publicize her protest. But when we got to the forum, all it amounted to were a dozen folks with matching yellow signs trudging through the rainwho didn’t even stay for the duration of the forum. YAWN! Silly school privatizers, that’s not how you protest!

 

2) Michael Bennet Doesn’t Understand Much About Public Education

 

The Colorado Senator and former school superintendent really doesn’t get a lot of the important issues – even when they intersect his life. As superintendent, he enacted a merit pay initiative for teachers that resulted in a teachers strike. He still doesn’t comprehend why this was a bad idea – that tying teachers salaries to student test scores makes for educators who only teach to the test, that it demands teachers be responsible for things beyond their control, etc. Moreover, he thinks there’s a difference between public and private charter schools – there isn’t. They’re all bankrolled by tax dollars and can be privately operated.

 

But I suppose that doesn’t matter so much because few people know who Michael Bennet is anyway.

 

3) Pete Buttigeig is Too Smart Not to Understand Education – Unless He’s Paid Not to Understand

 

Mayor Pete came off as a very well spoken and intelligent guy. But he also seemed about as credible as wet tissue. He said a bunch of wrongheaded things. For instance, he said that “separate has never, ever been equal,” but he supports charter schools. Separate but equal is their business model.

 

It’s the kind of misunderstanding that only happens on purpose, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s taken so much money from anti-education billionaires like Netflix Founder Reed Hastings, no one else can trust him. How are we supposed to think he works for us when his salary comes from the super rich? You never recover from ignorance when it’s your job to be ignorant.

 

Read the rest of his post to see what he wrote about Warren, Sanders, Steyer, Klobuchar, and Biden.

 

 

 

Arthur Goldstein, veteran NYC teacher, traveled to Pittsburgh for the Public Education Forum, which will be live-streamed by MSNBC.

Outside he sees a group of protestors from the charter industry, complaining that public schools get any notice at all. Six percent of America’s children are in charters. Almost 90% attend public schools.

Goldstein remembers the many events where the charter industry monopolized Oprah, NBC’s Education Nation, “Waiting for Superman,” etc. and no public supporters were invited as the speakers sneered about them.

Now the charter industry has Betsy DeVos, the nation’s top education official, singing their praises. So why protest a gathering where they have two spokesmen (Booker and Bennett) but are not the sole focus of attention?

 

Prominent groups that support public schools–not charter schools or religious schools–are meeting on Saturday in Pittsburgh to discuss the future of public education with Democratic presidential candidates.

The billionaire-funded charter industry is angry that they can’t control the event and they have released their plans to disrupt the event.

Contrary to the claims of the charter industry, charter schools are not public schools. They are private contractors that receive public money and are typically unregulated and fail to meet basic standards of accountability and transparency.

Unfortunately, their leaders insist on minimal or non-regulation, assuring that grifters and entrepreneurs will be able to receive public dollars without any accountability.

The industry resolutely refuses to acknowledge, let alone curb, the waste, fraud, and abuse that has created a backlash against charter schools.

The Center for Education Reform, led by former Heritage Foundation education analyst Jeanne Allen, sent out this email:

 

 Charter Schools in Pittsburgh & Leaders

 throughout Pennsylvania Unite

 

Issue strong message to special interest sponsors of “Public Education Forum 2020” and the Democratic candidates ignoring parental demands

 

 

WASHINGTON – Charter school leaders in Pittsburgh, joined by others throughout Pennsylvania, and by key state democratic officials issued strong statements today challenging the Democratic candidates for president who will be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this Saturday, December 14, 2019, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for the “Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All.” Sponsored by unions and other interest groups, the Forum has sparked strong responses from the Pennsylvania charter school community, with its unfounded attacks upon the substantive work being carried out throughout the state and right in the city where the forum will be held.

 

“We call on the candidates to remember those who won’t be there: the thousands of parents from underserved communities tragically forced to watch their children suffer academically because of a failed system that refuses any real reform,” said representatives of 5 of the city’s charter schools in a statement, speaking on behalf of the state’s 143,000 charter school students and their parents.

 

“The Democratic Presidential candidates have been summoned to demonstrate their allegiance to the unions and special interests who they believe hold the key to their nomination,” said CER Founder & CEO Jeanne Allen. “Not invited were any charter or reform minded voices to participate in this nationally televised forum where Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is expected to attend and criticize the very charter schools he has tried to keep from operating.”

 

Many charter educators will be on the ground in Pittsburgh to make their voices heard, including Dara Ware Allen, PhD, CEO and Principal, City Charter High School; Dr. Tina Chekan, CEO/Superintendent, Propel Schools; Jon McCann, CEO, Environmental Charter School; Vasilios Scoumis, CEO, Manchester Academic Charter School; Brian Smith, Founder & CEO, Catalyst Academy Charter School; William C. Wade, Ed.S., CEO, Urban Pathways K5 College Charter School; and David Zeiler, CEO, Provident Charter School. They have issued the following statement in response to the Public Education Forum this Saturday.

 

“As eight potential future presidents gather here in Pittsburgh this Saturday and are hosted by some of the nation’s most powerful special interests, we call on the candidates to remember those who won’t be there: the thousands of parents from underserved communities tragically forced to watch their children suffer academically because of a failed system that refuses any real reform. It is a cruel irony that the tagline of this weekend’s forum is ‘equity and justice for all’ when all the candidates being celebrated each oppose the very policies that help our schools give such words real meaning. Thanks to school choice, our public charter schools prevail at giving life-altering opportunity to children for whom educational success – and the more hopeful and secure future that comes with it – would likely be denied.

 

Tune in!

PUBLIC EDUCATION GROUPS WILL HOST TOP DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES AT 2020 PUBLIC EDUCATION FORUM

MSNBC Will MODERATE AND LIVESTREAM PITTSBURGH FORUM
ON DEC. 14

 

 

PITTSBURGH—The Network for Public Education Action will join with other public education groups, unions, civil rights organizations and community groups to host a forum for Democratic presidential candidates on Saturday December 14 in Pittsburgh. 

The “Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All” will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. MSNBC will moderate and exclusively livestream the forum on public education issues.

Ali Velshi, host of “MSNBC Live,” and Rehema Ellis, NBC News education correspondent, will serve as the forum’s moderators, together interviewing candidates on priority issues facing students, educators and parents in public education today. The event will be streamed live on NBC News Now, MSNBC.com and NBC News Learn, and will be featured across MSNBC programming.

Each candidate will provide opening remarks and then answer questions from Velshi and Ellis, forum attendees and others from across the country who submitted questions.

 

WHO:              

Alliance for Educational Justice

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

American Federation of Teachers

Center for Popular Democracy Action

Journey for Justice Alliance

NAACP

National Education Association

Network for Public Education Action

Schott Foundation for Public Education—Opportunity to Learn Action Fund

Service Employees International Union

Voto Latino

 

WHAT:            Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All

 

WHEN:            Dec. 14, 10 a.m.

 

WHERE:          David L. Lawrence Convention Center

1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd.

Pittsburgh, PA 15222

 

 

The elected School Board of Pittsburgh unanimously rejected a charter school called Catalyst Academy because of concern about its proposed disciplinary policy and its ability to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The School Board’s decision was overturned by the state’s Charter Appeals Board, which was appointed by the former Republican Governor. The members of the CAB have ties to the charter industry.

This is NOT how democracy should work.

Why should a highly conflicted board appointed by a former Governor have the authority to override the decision of a democratically elected community school board?

The Network for Public Education Action fund is happy to endorse Pam Harbin for Pittsburgh school board! She is running in District 4.

Pam has a long history of supporting public school students and public schools. She has been working on the ground for twelve years in the fight to improve and save public education in Pittsburgh as a parent, community organizer and a long-time disability rights advocate. She has served on numerous PPS district-wide advisory committees, and has been an unofficial school board watchdog, streaming and/or attending more than 2,000 hours of school board meetings.

Pam is the Co-Founder of the Education Rights Network (ERN), a parent-led organization working for fully resourced, inclusive and quality education for students in Pennsylvania. She is also the immediate past president and a board director for Evolve Coaching, an organization that supports individuals with disabilities and their communities through education, employment, and the arts.

Pam has a clear sense of what it takes to create a system that works for all kids. She told NPE Action that the district needs “smaller class sizes and a smaller ratio of kids to adults in each building with more teachers, counselors, social workers, paraprofessionals, nurses, librarians, and other staff that keeps the building functioning at its best.”

She is also keenly aware of the dangers posed by the privatization movement, and how it can grow in a city like Pittsburgh.

The primary election is on May 21, 2019. Please be sure to get out and vote for Pam Harbin, a powerhouse public education advocate.

 

Steven Singer reports that a Christian Academy in Pittsburgh has applied to become a charter school. That would permit the school to collect public money, which is not possible as a religious school.

Under Pennsylvania law, religious schools cannot be funded with public money.

What an idea to declare the school to be a charter school!

Singer writes:

It’s awfully convenient that a school whose mission statement currently includes “We share Christ with our children daily and seek to help them grow into mature Christians” would somehow magically become secular overnight.

 

If Imani’s charter is approved, it would be required to discontinue any religious component in its curriculum. The state school code requires even charter schools to be “nonsectarian in all operations.” The proposed academy would not be permitted to display any religious objects or symbols on the premises.

 

Yet one wonders who will check to make sure this actually happens.

Please consider signing this letter.

Add your name to the demands from Pittsburgh Jewish leaders to Trump

President Trump, your words, your policies, and your Party have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. The violence against Jews in Pittsburgh is the direct culmination of your influence.

We demand you and the Republican Party:

Fully denounce white nationalism,

Stop targeting and endangering all minorities,

Cease your assault on immigrants and refugees, and

Commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us.

—leaders of Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh

(To add your organization, synagogue, or group to this letter, please go here.)

The massacre of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue comes at a time when the Trump administration, the Republican Party and their enablers — at all levels — have fomented hate, fear, and white nationalism in our country.

They have targeted the Muslim community, immigrants and refugees, people of color, and LGBTQ people, and in recent weeks we have seen a marked escalation in their use of antisemitic images, rhetoric and conspiracy theories.

The Trump administration, the Republican Party and their enablers have provoked violence against our communities. Our blood is on their hands.

It is time to rise up together to demand our safety. We refuse to be divided. We refuse to be isolated from each other. We will outlive their hatred.

Now, we’re asking Jews and allies across the country to add your names to the demands of Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh who are rising up to demand the White House renounce white nationalism so we can all be safe.

Read the full open letter to Trump from Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh here.