Archives for category: Hope

Mercedes Schneider is a high school teacher in Louisiana. She has been blogging since 2013 about the state and federal government’s determined efforts to force bad ideas on teachers like her. Too often, she writes, she has had to share bad news. But when she read SLAYING GOLIATH, she understood that she was part of a national movement to resist bad policies.

She writes:

It has been an uphill battle, and I know that my words, though informative, are also often overwhelming and disheartening for those who care about the community school and who seek an encouraging word.

I have had fellow supporters of American public education tell me they appreciate my work but wish I had some good news to share.

Well, then. Today is that day.

Education historian, Diane Ravitch, has published a book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.

It is a book about parents, teachers, students, administrators, and other public school advocates across the nation whose grass roots efforts to engage in the fight save America’s schools have created a movement, a book that allows public school advocates the opportunity to step back and see a more complete picture of their combined efforts across cities, states, situations, and years.

It is a book about us.

As I turned the pages and read of so many advocates contributing individual moments of advocacy– writing, speaking, organizing, protesting, striking, lobbying, voting, running for office– I felt wonderfully encouraged to realize on a deeper level that I am not one of few but one of many contributing to a remarkable, undeniable, and powerful effort to combat an ed-reform effort chiefly fueled by a handful of billionaires.

 

Today is “pub day,” as they say in the trade.

I started writing SLAYING GOLIATH in February 2018 as I watched and read news reports about the teachers’ strike in West Virginia.

I watched in awe as every school in the state was closed by every superintendent so that teachers were technically not breaking the law that prevents them from striking.

I watched in amazement as teachers and support staff assembled in the state capitol, decked in red T-shirts, carrying homemade signs, and declaring their allegiance to #55Strong, a reference to the 55 school districts in the state.

I saw them stand together proudly and defiantly, insisting on fair wages and decent working conditions.

I realized as #Red4Ed spread from state to state that something fundamental had changed in the national narrative about education.

The media were no longer talking about “bad teachers” and “failing schools,” but were actually listening to the voices of those who worked in the schools.

In January 2019, I marched in the rain with teachers of the UTLA in Los Angeles.

And I saw the national narrative change.

I read stories about how poorly teachers were paid instead of blaming them for low test scores.

Suddenly the press woke up to the massive neglect and underinvestment in education that was creating a teacher shortage.

Demoralization was replaced by jubilation as teachers realized that they were not merely passive bystanders but could take charge of their destiny.

Many teachers ran for office. Some won and joined their state legislature.

I began to see the world in a different light.

I looked at the latest NAEP scores and read the lamentations about flat scores for a decade (that was before the release of the 2019 scores, which confirmed that the needle had not moved on test scores despite billions spent on testing).

So many changes were happening, and suddenly I realized that the so-called reformers were on the defensive. They knew that none of their promises had come through. They were on a power trip with no expectation anymore of “closing the achievement gap” (which is a built-in feature of standardized tests, which are normed on a bell curve that never closes). No more expectation that charter schools were miraculous. I began checking and realized that the number of new charter schools was almost equaled by the number of charter schools that were closing.

Something new and different was in the air: Hope!

Arne Duncan wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying that “some people claim that reform is failing, don’t believe them.” Then I knew it was all over.

I knew that the “reform” project was nothing more than a Disruption movement. It had succeeded at nothing.

Yet it was the Status Quo.

And this behemoth had the nerve to claim it was opposed to the “status quo.”

The behemoth–Goliath– controls all the levers of power. It controls federal policy, it is steered by billionaires, it has the allegiance of hedge fund managers, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and a long list of foundations. One of my sons, a writer, read an early version of the manuscript, and he said there were too many names in the chapter about the Disruption Movement. I explained the importance and necessity of naming names. Every one of them was documented.

Arrayed against this daunting assemblage of the rich and powerful were parents, educators, students, people who wanted to protect what belongs to the public and keep it out of the hands of corporations and entrepreneurs.

I decided to tell the story of the Resistance and to zoom in on some of the heroes. There was Jitu Brown in Chicago, who led a hunger strike of a dozen people on lawn chairs and forced Rahm Emanuel to capitulate. There were Leonie Haimson Rachael Stickland, who organized other parents and defeated Bill Gates and his $100 million project called inBloom, which was all set to gather personally identifiable student data and store it in a cloud managed by Amazon. There were the valiant and creative members of the Providence Student Union, who employed political theater to stop the state from using a standardized test as a graduation requirement. There was Jesse Hagopian and the brave teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, who refused to administer a useless test, risking their jobs. There were the parents, students, and activists in Douglass County, Colorado, who fought year after year until they ousted a far-right board that wanted to be first in the nation to offer vouchers for religious schools. There are individuals, like Ed Johnson in Atlanta, who keeps telling the school board how to approach reform as a system rather than as an opportunity to punish people. There were many more, and many that I did not have space to include.

Goliath is not dead yet. But he is propped up solely by the power of money. Goliath has no ideas, no strategies, no plans that have not already been tried and failed.

I loved writing the book. I wrote it to give hope and encouragement to all the Davids still fighting to preserve and improve public schools and the teaching profession.

Goliath will always have more money. But take heart: Goliath may be standing but he will not be there forever. Every act of resistance adds up. Goliath stumbled. He will fall.

Even billionaires and oligarch tire of pouring millions and millions into failure after failure after failure.

Please give a copy of SLAYING GOLIATH to school board members and legislators. Give a copy to your local editorial writer.

On my book tour, I will be in Charleston, West Virginia, on February 22 to celebrate the second anniversary of the historic West Virginia teachers’ strike.

And I will personally thank them for changing the national narrative!

 

 

Jim Hood lost the race for governor in Mississippi but he gave it all he has.

He gives hope that Mississippi might one day not be a taken-for-granted good-ole-white-boy state.

He gives hope that people will one day vote for their own best interest, for the common good, not just thoughtlessly vote for those who don’t care about them or anyone else.

This is the letter he sent to supporters (I made a small contribution):

Diane,

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. To the people of Mississippi who voted for me, the thousands of volunteers and contributors who supported and worked so hard for this campaign, my campaign staff, and most of all, my wife Debbie and our three children.

The last year on the campaign trail has meant the world to our family — traveling across Mississippi talking to working folks about the issues that matter most and building a campaign that reflects the rich diversity of our state. I am so grateful.

While last night’s outcome was not what we wanted, our effort to build a better Mississippi will continue. Together, we built a campaign to put the interests of Mississippi families first. The effort to expand pre-K, raise teacher pay, keep rural hospitals open, make healthcare more affordable, fix our roads and bridges, and provide tax relief to working families does not end with this campaign.

As your attorney general for 16 years, it has been my privilege and honor to serve the people of Mississippi. During my entire time as a public servant, I have been guided by the teachings of the Bible to help the least among us. I’m proud to have built a campaign for governor on those values, and I thank you for believing in our vision for Mississippi.

Sometimes progress does not happen as quickly as we like, but if history teaches us anything, change can happen if we keep at it and don’t give up. Please keep voting, keep caring, keep fighting for what you believe in, and keep fighting for a better Mississippi. I know I will.

Sincerely,

Jim

 

Steven Singer was excited to read Elizabeth Warren’s plan for K-12 education. 

There was just one thing he was troubled by.

He begins:

My daughter had bad news for me yesterday at dinner.

She turned to me with all the seriousness her 10-year-old self could muster and said, “Daddy, I know you love Bernie but I’m voting for Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth Warren?” I said choking back a laugh.

Her pronouncement had come out of nowhere. We had just been discussing how disgusting the pierogies were in the cafeteria for lunch.

And she nodded with the kind of earnestness you can only have in middle school.

So I tried to match the sobriety on her face and remarked, “That’s okay, Honey. You support whomever you want. You could certainly do worse than Elizabeth Warren.”

And you know what? She’s right.

Warren has a lot of things to offer – especially now that her education plan has dropped.

In the 15 years or so that I’ve been a public school teacher, there have been few candidates who even understand the issues we are facing less than any who actually promote positive education policy.

But then Bernie Sanders came out with his amazing Thurgood Marshall planand I thought, “This is it! The policy platform I’ve been waiting for!”

I knew Warren was progressive on certain issues but I never expected her to in some ways match and even surpass Bernie on education.

What times we live in! There are two major political candidates for the Democratic nomination for President who don’t want to privatize every public school in sight! There are two candidates who are against standardized testing!

It’s beyond amazing!

Before we gripe and pick at loose ends in both platforms, we should pause and acknowledge this.

Woo-hoo!

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke at Harvard’s commencement ceremonies. She was eloquent and spoke to our dearest values and ideals, exactly what we hope to hear from the leader of the West, which we called “the Free World.” That used to be the President of the United States. No longer. Our president is an isolationist who treats our allies with contempt and showers love on dictators.

Angela Merkel is now the leader of the West.

She offers important lessons.

Most important for all of us right now to hear: Nothing terrible lasts forever.

It is up to us to restore our path towards a better world.

This is an inspiring, moving speech. Please watch and listen.

 

 

Last Saturday, I attended a forum on public schools organized by Jackson Heights Parents for Public Schools. Thanks to the appearance of superstar Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, the event drew some of the city’s leading education stars, such as State Senator Robert Jackson, who has been leading the fight for increased state funding for the city’s public schools for many years. There were other elected officials and representatives of advocacy groups, including Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education and Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters. There were also eloquent advocates for bilingual education, a popular issue in this largely Hispanic neighborhood.

AOC is the member of Congress for Jackson Heights. She was there to listen and learn.

I arrived about an hour early with my son-in-Law and grandson. We went to the nearby heavily trafficked Roosevelt Avenue but quickly realized that there was nowhere to get a slice of pizza, our usual fast food, but many places to buy tacos. My 12-year-old grandson showed off his excellent Spanish, while Grandma could barely remember her high school Spanish. What was most striking about Roosevelt Avenue was that it was thoroughly representative of the new multicultural America that frightens Trump. Side by side are Spanish, Asian, and Arabic shops, peaceably coexisting. I suddenly thought of Reagan in Berlin, standing in front of the Berlin Wall, saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” I wanted to say, “Mr. Trump, come to Roosevelt Avenue in the borough where you were born and see the new America.”

Before the event started, I had about ten quiet minutes with AOC. She is warm, comfortable in her skin, somewhat taken aback by her sudden fame, and unpretentious. When I walked in, she jumped up and hugged me as though we were old friends. Or her grandmother.

When the event got underway, the mood in the room was one of unity and purpose. The 400 or so who crowded into the meeting hall were there to support public schools.

There were cheers for more funding, smaller class sizes, less emphasis on testing, and more bilingual education.

Liza Featherstone and Jessica Blatt offer a good summary of the meeting here. 

There was much talk about the importance of parents taking action by opting out of state tests. NYC has one of the lowest opt-out rates in the state, in some part because parents are warned that they won’t be admitted to the middle school or high school of their choice without test scores. It was a bit jarring to hear AOC say that she was treatedin the Yorktown schools as in need of remedial education because she was Hispanic, not mainstream, but, she said, “a-high-stakes standardized Test” revealed she was in the 99th percentile. No one stopped to point out that she could not be referring to any high-stakes test used for accountability purposes because they don’t rank by percentile. They classify students as 1, 2, 3, or 4. Her teacher must have given her a no-stakes individual test that produces a percentile ranking for diagnostic purposes. Well, she can’t know everything about everything. None of us do.

The only controversy occurred during the Q and A session.

Someone asked AOC what she thought about Mayor deBlasio’s interest in changing the entrance exams for admission to the city’s most select high schools. Almost on cue, a group of protesters stood up and held signs saying that any effort to change the entrance exams would be “anti-Asian bias.” It was a tense few moments, and AOC wisely responded that the issue was one that dividedpeople who should be in the same camp, fighting for better schools, and that the issue was the inevitable consequence of a “scarcity mentality.” Why aren’t there good high schoolsfor everyone?

Several members of the panel told their stories. One was Jessica Ramos, the newly elected State Senator, who said she passed the single high-stakes exam that is the sole requirement for the top high schools but chose a local high school and received an excellent education. Ramos was very impressive. A parent, Kemala Karmen, said that her own child likely could have passed the exams but choseto go to a nonselective high school, is being well educated there, and has been accepted by good colleges.

All in all, it was a very satisfying day. The enthusiasm for local public schools was very strong. The eagerness to join together to make them better was palpable. All of the electeds turned out and spoke up, pledging to support public schools.

The people of Jackson Heights felt happy that they have so many top-notch elected officials working for them.

This is democracy at work.

 

 

 

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address on January 11, 1944.

Seventy-five years ago today.

He included what was then called the “Economic Bill of Rights.”

It’s good to remember a time long ago when we had a national leader with a vision of a just and fair society, a vision that we remain very far from achieving. It’s good to remember a time when we had a national leader who was intelligent and articulate, surrounded by others who cared deeply about social and economic progress. It’s good to remember a time long ago when America meant something other than rampant individualism, greed, me-first, me-only, competition, and gun violence. It’s good to remember when America was motivated by ideals of the common good and the just and decent society. That was the America of my childhood. I miss it. I hope it can be recaptured.

FDR said:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.”[3] People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

If I had magical powers, I would bless you all with happiness and good health.

May you find answers to your problems, may all your days have time for laughter, may you set aside time to read and reflect.

May art and humor conquer the darkness that we inevitably encounter.

May you find hope, joy, and love in your life.

May the good guys win and the bad guys lose, just like in all the wonderful movies of olden times.

May all of us, working together, repair this world we live in so it will be better for those live in it now and for those who follow us.

Diane

Given the national news, this is not a happy time. We are veering close to a constitutional crisis, with a totally unqualified and unhinged man in the presidency. It is hard to be cheerful.

Yet Phyllis Bush reminds us about hope and love, even in the direst of circumstances.

Now I know why her email begins with QBG. I have always wondered. The BFD, I assume, is a reference to her best friend (and spice) Donna.

She is surrounded by love, and she shares the Christmas spirit with all who read her words.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Madeline Franklin
209-210-8950

THURMOND WINS HISTORIC RACE FOR CA SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION

Pledges to be a champion of public schools and a Superintendent for all California students

California – Saturday, November 17, 2018 – Assemblymember Tony Thurmond is the projected winner of the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction election. More than a week after Election Day, Thurmond has overcome an 86,000 vote deficit on Election Day to win the election. On Saturday, his opponent Marshall Tuck conceded.

“I want to thank the voters of California for electing me to serve the 6 million students of California, I intend to be a champion of public schools and a Superintendent for all California students,” said Superintendent-elect Thurmond. “I ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction to deliver to all Californians the promise that public education delivered to me – that all students, no matter their background and no matter their challenges, can succeed with a great public education.”

Thurmond was born in Fort Ord, California, and overcame humble beginnings. His mother was an immigrant from Panama who came to San Jose, California to become a teacher. Thurmond’s father was a Vietnam veteran who Tony met when he was almost 40 years old. After Thurmond’s mother died when he was 6 years old, Thurmond moved to Philadelphia with his sibling and was raised by a cousin whom he had never met before. With the help of the public education system and public assistance, Thurmond went on to attend Temple University, where he became student body president.

Thurmond has devoted his career to public service, specifically to at-risk young people. As a social worker, Thurmond spent 20 years working directly with families and youth in education, running school-based mental health services and teaching civics, life skills, and career training.

Thurmond later served on his local city council, school board, and was elected to the California State Assembly in 2014. In the State Assembly, Thurmond authored legislation that expanded the free lunch program and moved funding directly from the criminal justice system to school districts. He served as Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education.

In his campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Thurmond was supported by Senator Kamala Harris, the California Democratic Party, and California’s teachers.

“We talked to voters across the state, and told them what this election means for each of us: It means giving every kid the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century, not just the ones that show the most potential. It means funding our public schools at the levels they deserve, not pouring money into our jails and prisons. It means providing mental health treatment for kids, not arming them with guns. It means supporting our teachers, not demonizing them. It means ensuring every child starts school on the same foot, and providing universal preschool to California’s children. And it means stopping Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’s anti-education agenda from coming anywhere near California’s public schools.”

Thurmond went on to promise, “As Superintendent of Public Instruction, I’ll fight for these values every day. Because these are the values that will create a better life for all through the power of public education in the great state of California.”

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