Archives for category: Support for public schools

Several members of the Democratic party’s platform committee sent me the draft of the platform. It is linked below so we can all reflect on what is being considered. This is a draft so it can be changed. Please read it and send your best ideas.

The section on education contains a lot of reformer lingo. Zip codes. Options. Accountability. The Democratic party favors “high academic standards.” Who favors “low academic standards?” The party opposes too much testing; who favors too much testing?

The rhetoric about “high academic standards” brings echoes of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Wouldn’t it have been refreshing to see a statement about meeting the needs of all children? Or ensuring that all schools have the staff and resources they need for the children they enroll?

And then there’s the section on charters. The party is against for-profit charters: so far, so good, but how about saying that a Clinton administration will stop federal funding of for-profit schools and colleges, because they are low-quality and predatory, with profit as their top priority?

The party favors “high quality charters.” Does that mean corporate charter chains like KIPP, Achievement First, and Success Academy? Probably. How about a statement opposing corporate replacements for neighborhood public schools? How about a statement insisting that charters accept English language learners and students with disabilities at the same rate as the neighborhood public school? How about a statement opposing draconian disciplinary policies and suspensions?

How about a clear statement that the Clinton administration will no longer permit school closings as academic punishment? How about a clear signal that the Clinton administration intends to protect and strengthen our nation’s essential traditional public schools, which serve all children. How about signaling a new direction for federal education policy, one that promises to support schools and educators, not to punish them.

Please read and share yours reactions. I will pass ideas along to platform committee members.

See the entire pdf here.

Jon Parker, a teacher in Pittsburgh, warns that the corporate reformers are trying to reverse the results of the school board election that they lost by attacking the board’s choice of a pro-public education superintendent. The reformers (Gates-funded and called “A+ Schools”) are abetted by the pro-privatization Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Reformers don’t like democracy unless they can buy it. The pro-public education board ended the Gates’ experiment with test-based evaluation and canceled a contract with Teach for America. That sort of thing makes reformers really angry. How dare they assert a vision different from the great Bill Gates! How dare they end his experiment in evaluating teachers! How dare they say no to TFA!

Parker outlines the scenario:

Chapter 1: Pittsburgh has a democratically elected school board.

Chapter 2: Pittsburgh’s citizens vote for pro-public education candidates.

Chapter 3: A+ Schools’ (a.k.a. Bill Gates’ employee) candidates lose.

Chapter 4: A+ Schools doesn’t know what it feels like to lose and becomes upset.

Chapter 5: Pittsburgh’s democratically elected school board selects a pro-public schools superintendent without allowing A+ Schools to railroad the process.

Chapter 6: A+ Schools becomes more upset and elicits the support of local media in a witch hunt against the new superintendent.

Barbara Madeloni, the firebrand insurgent who won the presidency of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, was re-elected last week on a platform of fighting high-stakes testing and charters.

 

Madeloni first rose to prominence in 2012 when she fought the EdTPA, the Pearson test required for certification. She refused to administer it to her students and lost her job (she later regained it, then took an unpaid leave, then lost it again, but may be rehire again, or maybe not.)

 

At that time, she said about teacher certification:

 

““This is something complex and we don’t like seeing it taken out of human hands,” said Barbara Madeloni, who runs the university’s high school teacher training program. “We are putting a stick in the gears.”

 

Last week, the MTA filed an amicus brief as part of a lawsuit to stop the legislature from lifting the cap on charter expansion.

 

Charter advocates filed a lawsuit last year claiming that the state’s cap on charter schools violates the civil rights of students who could then not have an opportunity to attend a charter. The state attorney general, Maura Healey, filed a motion to dismiss and the Massachusetts Teachers Association just filed an amicus brief in support of the AG’s motion to dismiss. The MTA brief confronts the lie behind the charter advocates’ ‘civil rights’ argument.

 

For her fight for public schools, students, teachers, education, and democracy, I am glad to place Barbara Madeloni on the honor roll.

One of the main reasons that billionaires like the Waltons fund charters is to cripple the teachers’ unions. Ninety percent of charter schools are non-union. The teachers are often unlicensed and lack certification. A large number are Teach for America and have no intention of making teaching their career. Charter teachers serve at-will and may be fired for any reason.

 

The American Federation of Teachers announced that charter teachers in Cleveland have joined their union.

 
Educators Win Historic Union Charter School Organizing Victory in Cleveland

 

Teachers and Support Staff at University of Cleveland Preparatory School Join the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers to Address High Turnover and Improve Education for Their Students

 

CLEVELAND—In a historic first for Cleveland, teachers and support staff at University of Cleveland Preparatory School voted overwhelmingly today to join the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, hoping to improve conditions for students and teachers. UCP is part of the network of charter schools operated by Cleveland-based I CAN SCHOOLS.

 

The successful vote represents the first union charter school organizing victory in Cleveland, adding to a growing national movement of charter school educators demanding a voice for their profession.

 

Educators across the I CAN SCHOOLS chain are organizing to form a union to challenge the conditions that lead to high teacher turnover. Teachers and support staff say lack of job security has a chilling effect on raising concerns or suggestions to better support students’ individual needs. Teachers have had no voice in professional development or their evaluation process.

 

Today’s win was hard-earned. In 2014, in response to teachers’ organizing efforts, I CAN SCHOOLS undertook a brazen anti-educator campaign. Seven teachers who were instrumental in union organizing were fired as punishment.

 

In spite of this, teachers did not back down. They continued their organizing efforts and remained committed to a shared vision of real partnership among families, the administration and teachers; transparency in school policy, procedures and decision-making; a strong voice for educators to promote student achievement; reasonable expectations and workload; adequate staffing; protected planning time; educational support; and accountability. Families of I CAN students joined the effort by issuing an open letter to the administration demanding turnover be addressed, demanding meetings with members of the administration and circulating an online petition to support teachers.

 

“This takes us one giant step closer to our goal of a contract for educators and support staff that improves school accountability, respects our professionalism and gives us a strong voice to advocate for students,” said Abi Haren, a second-grade assistant teacher at UCP.

 

Haren was among the fired I CAN teachers. All seven were reinstated with full back pay after the National Labor Relations Board found I CAN had violated their rights by wrongfully terminating them based on their union activity. In total, 17 unfair labor practice charges were filed against I CAN SCHOOLS in 2014. Currently the National Labor Relations Board is investigating additional unfair labor practice charges involving illegal surveillance and retaliation against pro-union teachers at UCP and Northeast Ohio College Preparatory School.

 

“These hardworking educators deserve a seat at the table, and the students and families served by UCP deserve teachers and staff who are empowered to deliver the best education possible—that’s what forming a union is all about. We’re proud to welcome our new union sisters and brothers at UCP,” said Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke, who is an AFT vice president. “Those closest to the education process must have a voice in education policy and practice.”

 

“We welcome the teachers and support staff of UCP into our union. We know we share many common challenges and a common vision of professionalism and high-quality, student-centered education,” said Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper, also an AFT vice president.

 

“This vote to have a voice through a union is a historic move for the charter educators in Cleveland. There is now a growing movement of teachers at charter schools across the country who are committed to raising their voices so they can better advocate for the students they serve,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

 

“I CAN teachers and staff have overcome serious anti-union tactics, and they have stuck together and united with I CAN families to speak out for their students. They want the same things all educators want: a voice in decisions that affect their students, fair evaluations that help them grow professionally, due process protections, and transparency and accountability from their employers.”

I have often written that high school students have the power to stop the bad policies that are ruining their education. When they realize they are being cheated, when they organize to fight for equitable funding and against the misuse of testing, it’s game over for the corporate reformers.

Two high school students in Texas have written a brief to demand adequate funding for their schools, in a case now in the courts.

Valerie Strauss writes:

“Two Texas teenagers representing a group of students in the Houston Independent School District have taken an unusual action: They wrote and submitted to the Texas Supreme Court a 35-page brief siding with more than 600 school districts suing the state for underfunding public education in violation of the Texas constitution.

“The court justices recently held a hearing about the suit, which the state is seeking to have dropped. The school districts — about two-thirds of the total in Texas — are arguing that state authorities rely on an outdated funding mechanism that does not provide schools with enough resources to meet the needs of the growing number of high-needs students in the state and provide an adequate education as required by the constitution.

“The suit was originally filed in 2011 after the state legislature cut nearly $5.5 billion from public education, and though most of it has since been restored, the districts still say they are being underfunded. A year ago, a Texas district judge agreed and threw out the state school funding system as unconstitutional.

“The two students who filed the brief (see below) on behalf of the HISD Student Congress, an organization that represents about 215,000 students in the district, are Zaakir Tameez, a member of the 2015 class of Carnegie Vanguard High School, and Amy Fan, a member of the 2016 class of Bellaire High School.”

Here is their 35-page brief.

The students write:

“School districts lack the necessary resources to correct the deficiencies in education that we face. With more funding, our schools would be able to provide their students with adequate resources, decrease class sizes, enhance enrichment programs, improve teacher quality, and innovate college and career readiness programs. Many consider these educational inputs “extras”, but we argue that these five objectives are vitally necessary in Texas, especially for our classmates who are English Language Learners or in poverty. In the following pages, we demonstrate why….

“Robert E. Lee High School is located at the cross streets of Richmond Ave. and Beverly Hill Blvd. in Southwest Houston. The surrounding neighborhood consists of dense enclaves of low income apartments, convenience stores, Mexican and Halal groceries, food trucks, and bus stops. The service industry dominates this part of Houston. There is high demand for unskilled labor and high availability of low cost apartments. Combined with Houston’s position as a primary destination for immigrants to the United States, this neighborhood and many others attract large numbers of immigrants and their families who often speak solely their native language.

“A. As students, we know that class sizes matter.

“In the 2013-14 school year, Lee was about 75% Hispanic and nearly 100% economically disadvantaged. One-third of the approximately 1,400 students were English Language Learners[3]. Many students were recent immigrants and did not speak English at all. Presented with these extra challenges, Lee did not receive the funding it needed to provide its students the chance they need to succeed in America. We spoke with Principal Jonathan Trinh about the struggles Lee High School faces as a consequence of the Texas formula funding that does not provide ELL students with sufficient resources:

“Our ELL students need more support in term of smaller class size to have more interaction and face time with their teachers. They need even more time in English classes with double and triple blocks requiring additional ESL trained English Language Arts, Reading, and Intervention teachers. [All of this requires funding.]”

“Decreasing class sizes is especially important for our ELL peers, because language classes require much more individualized attention, and for ELL students, every class feels like a language class.

“B. As Texans, our naïve lack of appreciation for enrichment programs is both morally wrong and economically impractical.

“In order to provide students extra assistance in English, Principal Trinh has had to cut language, art, and extracurricular programs at Lee. The school only offers Spanish because a large proportion of their students can test out, meaning he can hire fewer teachers. The principal would love to offer Mandarin, Hindi, or French, but there simply isn’t enough money for these languages, increasingly important in the 21st century economy to be part of the curriculum. Lee doesn’t have a band, orchestra or any sort of other musical outlet for students. Many students at Lee in fact have a passion for music yet have no way to express this passion, as the school can’t afford the instruments or the extra teacher. Others would love to become a mathlete or chess aficionado, but again, the money isn’t there. As a result, many funnel their boredom, frustration, and stress into alcohol, drugs, and gangs.

“All high school students possess ambition, optimism, creativity, and grit. But at Lee, their aspirations are stunted due to lack of funding. ELL students not only lack the opportunity to participate in enrichment programs but also often a serious chance at learning English and avoiding exploitation in the workforce after graduation. While Lee is working hard and concentrating its limited budget on providing what it can for its ELL students, these same students still have difficulty overcoming the language barrier because of large class sizes, a lack of enrichment programs, and a limited teacher hiring pool. Committed to providing ESL assistance to ELL students in all subjects, in 2014 Lee began hiring only ESL certified teachers. Unfortunately, these teachers are hard to find even right here in Texas.

“C. Many teachers in Texas are alternatively certified in their subject, and lack the academic experience necessary to be truly qualified to teach us.

“Mr. Edgardo Figueroa teaches English for Newcomers at Lee. All of Mr. Figueroa’s students come to him having never spoken English, and some unable to read or write in their native language. He accommodates them as much as he can, but with 220 students and about 32 per class, there’s only so much he can do. What has helped, he says, is the training he received through his ESL certification program. ESL trained teachers employ strategies such as the use of pictures to help students connect key words or concepts in English to their native language, in addition to many others. Teacher certification, however, is expensive and grossly underfunded in Texas.

“D. All students should have the opportunity to succeed via higher education or vocational schooling.

“Students’ struggles are not for lack of trying. In our conversation with Mr. Edgardo Figueroa, we learned a story of his to illustrate this point:

“In one class I had a Mexican student and a Chinese student who became very good friends. In order to communicate with each other they had to use the little English they had learned, always practicing the skills they learned in class. When they didn’t know English words for what they had to say, they used Google Translate.”

“These students deserve to dream big and have a fighting chance. Although some may not be the best academically, often due to English skills and difficult home lives, all should have access to vocational and technical schooling. Those who are capable of college-level work should be encouraged to apply and be assisted in the application process by college readiness programs. Many of our peers, who did not grow up in stable family environments and lacked access to quality counseling, were never introduced to four year residential colleges, two year associates degree programs, or even summer internships and academic camps. Texas children are being deprived of this information because of the State’s dismal effort in providing school districts the funding to build quality college and career readiness programs. These programs are essential in building an educated citizenry for the preservation of freedom and democracy as the Texas constitution prescribes[4].

4 “Sec. 1. SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE OF SYSTEM OF PUBLIC FREE SCHOOLS. A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

Anthony Cody is looking for a candidate who will support public education. He discounts Hillary Clinton, believing she is too close to Bill Gates.

The only other Democratic candidate as of this moment is Bernie Sanders. Cody wonders what his K-12 agenda will be. He offers some ideas and hopes that Sanders will become the spokesperson for the resistance to corporate reform.

Read his seven big ideas. Do you agree?

I am not ready to write off Clinton. Since she is the likely candidate, I want to get a chance to talk to her and try to educate her about the education issues. I have met her several times over the past 30 years, I supported her in 2008, and I will do my best to persuade her to oppose the ongoing demolition and privatization of public education.

In the Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel describes an emerging populist agenda for the nation–and the 2016 election. She is the editor and publisher of The Nation.

It is encouraging to see that the centerpiece of this agenda is a focus on reducing inequality by increasing jobs. Anything that reduces poverty will help children, families, and communities.

It is discouraging, however, to see that the putative progressive agenda offers so little hope to beleaguered public schools, students, and teachers.

This is the purported progressive agenda for education:

“The Basics in Education: Most challenge the limits of our punitive education debate, focusing instead on basic investments in education: universal pre-K, investments in public education and various roads to debt-free public college.”

Not a word about the privatization steam-roller, nor about the attacks on the teaching profession and unions. Nothing about the NCLB-RTTT debacle. Nothing about reversing the federal demands to close schools, to fire teachers, to facilitate data-mining, to promote charters, to accept schools and colleges that operate for profit.

Vanden Heuvel knows better. Her magazine has published some of the most hard-hitting exposes of the corporate assault on public education, such as those by Lee Fang.

We will have to write our own agenda to support public education from the rapacious hands of the profiteers and privateers.

And we will. Starting now. Send me your agenda, one or several, and I will combine them as our platform.

Peter Greene writes here about the 16 superintendents of Lorain County who are fighting the bad policies that will hurt students, demoralize teachers, and destroy public schools.

Greene has a special interest in Lorain because his first teaching job was at Lorain High School. Where the school was stood is now an empty lot.

The superintendents “have come together to call for big changes, particularly targeting “excessive student testing, overly strict teacher evaluations, loss of state funding to charter and online schools, and other cuts in funding.”

“Funding formulas are a special kind of bizarre in Ohio. According to the superintendents, the state actually pays more to send students to charters and cybers than to send them to public school. They offered some specific examples but the overall average is striking by itself– the state average per pupil payment to traditional public schools is $3,540 per student, but the average payment to an Ohio charter is $7,189.”

When the superintendents conducted a survey of the community, this is what they learned from the public:

“* their school districts are doing an excellent or good job,

* high quality teachers are the most important indicator of a high quality education

* earning high marks on the state report card isn’t that important

* increased state testing has not helped students

* decisions are best made at the local level,

* preschool education– especially for those students from poverty– should be expanded (and they said they would increase their taxes to support it)

* school finance is the biggest challenge facing our schools,

* and their local tax dollars should not be going to support private schools and for-profit and online charter schools”

Greene concludes:

“Ohio has been hammered hard by the reformsters, and the political leaders of the state have made no secret of their love for charters and privatization. It’s nice to see an entire county’s worth of school leaders standing up to fight back for public education.”

Here is Mercedes Schneider with a brilliant post about the Obama U.S. Department of Education. She writes brief sketches of eight key appointees, each of whom is tied to the privatization movement.

 

When the President wonders why his party was so badly beaten at the polls earlier this month, he might think about the millions of educators who work in public schools and the millions of parents whose children attend good public schools; they are disgusted by Race to the Top, non-stop testing, test-based teacher evaluation, the Department’s preference for charter schools over public schools, and the millions of public dollars directed to TFA and charter schools. Educators were at one time a key part of the base of the Democratic party. As states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee lashed out at teachers, no protest was heard from Arne Duncan. As billions were cut from school budgets in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Obama administration was silent (Duncan wrote a letter to Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania about the defunding of Philadelphia, but it was a faint protest, not like actually showing up). At present, educators and parents feel abandoned by both parties.

Matthew Tully of the Indianapolis Star calls on Republicans to stop their war against state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Ritz was elected in 2012, handiy beating incumbent Tony Bennett despite his 10-1 spending advantage. Since her election, the Republican Governor Mike Pence and Legislature and state board have done everything possible to undercut Ritz. Pence even created a rival education agency to bypass Ritz and the state education department.

Now the Governor and Legislature want to abolish her office, nullify the election, and turn the position into a gubernatorial appointment.

Matthew Tully says this is ill-advised. He favors an appointed office but thinks it would be wrong to do it in the current climate. She was elected fair and square. She got more votes than Governor Pence.

“Such a move would infuriate educators and others across the state and worsen what has been a toxic period in state education policy. It would be a slap in the face to voters who elected a Democratic superintendent in 2012, one who many GOP bosses, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s leaders, do not like….

“If you think the debate has been ugly of late — with state Board of Education meetings topping anything you’d find in a room full of sugared-up preschoolers — imagine what would happen if already frustrated educators and their supporters statewide see their votes steamrolled by a Republican legislative supermajority.

“Any benefit would be greatly overwhelmed by the ill will the move would inspire, and by the message it would send. In a state where no leaders are calling for the appointment of currently elected (and Republican-held) offices like treasurer and auditor, this would be a straight-up bully move. And it would backfire in a bad way on Republicans by giving the same voters who worked so hard against Bennett in 2012 a reason to get motivated for 2016.

“Yes, the change would likely guarantee fewer of the fights we’ve seen between Gov. Pence’s education appointees and Ritz’s office. And, yes, it would allow the state to have greater alignment at the top when it comes to setting an education vision. But that’s all worthless if the people on the ground — Indiana’s teachers — feel abused, and if voters feel betrayed”

“Anyone who thinks Indiana’s schools can be improved in any real way without the buy-in of its educators is living in a policy bubble and not a classroom.”

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