Archives for category: Teachers

Marla Kilfoyle is a teacher on Long Island and executive director of the BATS.

In this post, she describes the well-funded effort to privatize public education in New York State.

We have lived with it for so many years that it seems to be just one more issue, although it is an issue that the mainstream media completely ignores. It is the “Sound of Silence,” as she says.

She writes:

“Election season is always a difficult time for many educators and education activist. We begin to look at all the campaign donations that fly to politicians from people, and organizations, that seek to destroy public education. It is the same old players emerging here in N.Y.

“The Waltons, The Koch Brothers, StudentsFirstNY funded by Wall Street Hedge Funders like Paul Singer, Dan Loeb, and John Paul Tudor.

“The NYS Senate Republican Committee are HUGE cheerleaders for the charter movement and have received millions for this election cycle from the folks listed above. For the sake of transparency, our Governor, and a smattering of Democrats, are also cheerleaders for charter expansion and the privatization movement.

“I will have to say that NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, is a bigger cheerleader for privatization than John Flanagan, the Republican majority leader in our Senate. He is also a member of ALEC

“The ALEC education agenda is model legislation that travels around the nation when they need to defund schools, close them, and open up unaccountable charters. They support ending public education for a competitive model of education. The problem with a competitive model is that there are always winners and losers. We should have NO losers when it comes to education in this country….

“Republican Carl Marcellino, who is running against Democrat Jim Gaughran, got not one but two, yes two, $142,590 independent expenditure from StudentsFirstNY (A20133) for media. Republican Elaine Phillips, who is running against Democrat Adam Haber, got a $271,950 independent expenditure from StudentsFirstNY (A20133). Anyone who follows the fight to save public education KNOWS that StudentsFirst has been on the frontlines of the attack on public education and public school teachers. They have been the cheerleaders for Common Core, High-Stakes Testing, School Closures, vouchers, choice, and charter expansion. The sad thing is that Marcellino is on the NYS Education Committee. Call me crazy but shouldn’t that mean he should fight for public education NOT privatization? The larger question is – who will Marcellino and Phillips be accountable to when it comes to education policy? We all know the answer to that question. The Money!

“The PAC that is distributing all this money to StudentsFirstNY – New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany is funded by anti-public education billionaires. The other PAC, New Yorkers for Independent Action, is also supported by billionaires who are anti-public education. This money is being distributed to politicians who will support their destructive agenda for public education in NY.
Bottom line is – we must get to the polls and vote anyone out who takes this money – Republican or Democrat.

“As a public educator, education activist, and mother I will NOT be voting for anyone who takes money from StudentsFirstNY, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany or New Yorkers for Independent Action. Public education is for the public good and we should be funding that equitably, not defunding and destroying it. Public education should not be competitive where you have winners and losers. Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy and is the great equalizer.

“So, why did I title this piece the sound of silence?

“While the NYS Senate Republican Committee is raking in all this cash from anti-public education billionaires, NOT many of them have said a word about Donald Trump’s behavior. To me, silence means acceptance.

“It’s OK to malign immigrants and it’s OK to malign women….

“Oh, and by the way, the NYS Senate Republican Committee thinks it is OK to pay for and distribute anti-semitic flyers. This is a flyer that the Senate Republican Committee distributed about Adam Haber, who is Jewish and running against Republican Elaine Phillips.

“To add insult to injury this was distributed during the week of Yom Kippur.”

Open the link to see the anti-Semitic image that the New York State Republican Committee distributed about Adam Haber. This is the same committee that received millions in contributions from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Our friend Peter Greene is now writing for the Progressive, as well as writing prolifically for his blog. He never runs out of material, because the madness that he lacerates never seems to end.

This is a different kind of Peter Greene essay, one that reflects on his feelings about returning to school on the first day. All of us, or nearly all of us, are familiar with the Unprepared Student Dream. Late in life, it recurs. You find yourself going into a classroom in high school or college and you realize that you never read the assigned books and are completely unprepared for the crucial test that you will take that day. You wake up and shake yourself, happy that it was only a dream. Peter tells you what a teacher dreams.

Stuart Egan, NBCT high school teacher in North Carolina, wrote a sharp rebuke to Phil Kirk, chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education, for defending the Republican efforts to defund public schools, demoralize teachers, and cut spending. Kirk claims that all the criticism is based on myths; the Tea Party majority in the General Assembly really do care about public schools, as does Governor McCrory.

Egan goes through each “myth” to demonstrate that the Kirk is cherrypicking data to defend the Republican leadership of the state.

This article, an open letter, demonstrates why teachers need tenure.

This is a powerful, deeply moving article by Kristina Riga about the loss of black teachers in the school districts that have embraced “reform.” It appears in Mother Jones, where Rizga has been a staff writer for many years.

Rizga focuses on the story of one teacher, Darlene Lomax. But the story she tells is about the widespread shedding of black teachers, women and men who were the backbones of their communities. In Philadelphia, almost 20% of black teachers are gone; in New Orleans, 62%; in Chicago, 40%; in Cleveland, 34%. School closings have been concentrated in historically black communities. Black teachers have been disproportionately displaced by “reform.”

She begins:

One spring morning this year, Darlene Lomax was driving to her father’s house in northwest Philadelphia. She took a right onto Germantown Avenue, one of the city’s oldest streets, and pulled up to Germantown High School, a stately brick-and-stone building. Empty whiskey bottles and candy cartons were piled around the benches in the school’s front yard. Posters of the mascot, a green and white bear, had browned and curled. In what was once the teachers’ parking lot, spindly weeds shot up through the concrete. Across the street, above the front door of the also-shuttered Robert Fulton Elementary School, a banner read, “Welcome, President Barack Obama, October 10, 2010.”

It had been almost three years since the Philadelphia school district closed Germantown High, and 35 years since Lomax was a student there. But the sight of the dead building, stretching over an entire city block, still pained her. She looked at her old classroom windows, tinted in greasy brown dust, and thought about Dr. Grabert, the philosophy teacher who pushed her to think critically and consider becoming the first in her family to go to college. She thought of Ms. Stoeckle, the English teacher, whose red-pen corrections and encouraging comments convinced her to enroll in a program for gifted students. Lomax remembers the predominantly black school—she had only one white and one Asian American classmate—as a rigorous place, with college preparatory honors courses and arts and sports programs. Ten years after taking Ms. Stoeckle’s class, Lomax had dropped by Germantown High to tell her that she was planning to become a teacher herself.

A historic Georgian Revival building, Germantown High opened its doors in 1915 as a vocational training ground for the industrial era, with the children of blue-collar European immigrants populating its classrooms. In the late 1950s, the district added a wing to provide capacity for the growing population of a rapidly integrating neighborhood.

By 1972, Lomax’s father, a factory worker, had saved up enough to move his family of eight from a two-bedroom apartment in one of the poorest parts of Philadelphia into a four-bedroom brick house in Germantown. Each month, Darlene and her younger sister would walk 15 blocks to the mortgage company’s gray stucco building, climb up to the second floor, and press a big envelope with money orders into the receptionist’s hand. The new house had a dining room and a living room, sparkling glass doorknobs, French doors that opened into a large sunroom, an herb garden, and a backyard with soft grass and big trees. Darlene and her father planted tomatoes and made salads with the sweet, juicy fruit every Friday, all summer long.

To the Lomax children, the fenceless backyard was ripe for exploration, and it funneled them right to the yards of their neighbors. One yard belonged to two sisters who worked as special-education teachers—the first black people Darlene had met who had college degrees. As Lomax got to know these sisters, she began to think that perhaps her philosophy teacher was right: She, too, could go to college and someday buy a house of her own with glass doorknobs and a garden. She graduated from Rosemont College in 1985, and after a stint as a social worker, she enrolled at Temple University and got her teaching credential.

On February 19, 2013, Lomax was in the weekly faculty leadership meeting at Fairhill Elementary, a 126-year-old school in a historic Puerto Rican neighborhood of Philadelphia where she served as principal. A counselor was giving his report, but Lomax couldn’t hear what he said. She just stared at her computer screen, frozen, as she read a letter from the school superintendent. She read it again and again to make sure she understood what it said.

Then, slowly, she turned to Robert Harris, Fairhill’s special-education teacher for 20 years, and his wife, the counselor and gym teacher. “They are closing our school,” she said quietly. They all broke down weeping. Then they walked to the front of the building in silence and unlocked the doors to open the school for the day.

Five miles away, as Germantown High School prepared for its 100th anniversary, its principal was digesting the same letter. In all, 24 Philadelphia schools would be closed that year. These days, when Lomax visits her father in the house with the glass doorknobs, she drives by four shuttered school buildings, each with a “Property Available for Sale” sign.

Back when Lomax was a student in Philadelphia in the 1970s, local, state, and federal governments poured extra resources into these racially isolated schools—grand, elegant buildings that might look like palaces or city halls—to compensate for a long history of segregation. And they invested in the staff inside those schools, pushing to expand the teaching workforce and bring in more black and Latino teachers with roots in the community. Teaching was an essential path into the middle class, especially for African American women; it was also a nexus of organizing. During the civil rights movement, black educators were leaders in fighting for increased opportunity, including more equitable school funding and a greater voice for communities in running schools and districts.

Watch the teachers of Bayshore on Long Island in New York at their conference day as they create a flash mob that satirizes Common Core, stats, and Governor Cuomo!

In recent years, there has been a new genre of writing from teachers who are fed up and explain why they are leaving.

But fortunately most teachers rise every day to do what they love, and they refuse to be intimidated by mandates, administrative nonsense, or tough kids.

Steven Singer says he teaches the toughest kids in his school, and he loves it. He loves the kids, he loves the challenge, he loves meeting them as adults when they come up to hug him and thank him.

Do you want to know what keeps this teacher inspired and motivated?

He begins like this:

It was rarely a good thing when LaRon smiled in school.

It usually meant he was up to something.

He was late to class and wanted to see if I’d notice. He just copied another student’s homework and wondered if he’d get away with it. He was talking crap and hoped someone would take it to the next level.

As his teacher, I became rather familiar with that smile, and it sent shivers down my spine.

But on the last day of school, I couldn’t help but give him a smile back.

A few minutes before the last bell of the year, I stood before my class of 8th graders and gave them each a shout out.

“I just want to say what an honor it’s been to be your teacher,” I said.

They shifted in their seats, immediately silent. They wanted to hear this.

“Some of you have been a huge pain in my butt,” I conceded.

And almost all heads in the room turned to LaRon.

And he smiled.

Not a mischievous smile. Not a warning of wrongdoing yet to come.

He was slightly embarrassed.

So I went on:

“But I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished this year. Each and every one of you. It has been my privilege to be here for you,” and I nodded at LaRon to make sure he knew I included him in what I was saying.

Because I do mean him.

Students like LaRon keep an old man like me on my toes. No doubt. But look at all he did – all he overcame this year.

His writing improved exponentially.

Back in September, he thought a paragraph was a sentence or two loosely connected, badly spelled full of double negatives and verbs badly conjugated. Now he could write a full five-paragraph essay that completely explained his position with a minimum of grammatical errors.

Back in September, the most complex book he had read was “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Now he had read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” How did I know? Because I had read it with him. We had all read these books together and stopped frequently to talk about them.

Back in September, if he raised his hand to ask a question, it was usually no more complex than “Can I go to the bathroom?” Now he was asking questions about where the Nazis came from, what happened to Mr. Frank after the war, did Harper Lee ever write any other books, and is the fight for civil rights over.

The last day of school is one of the hardest for me, because my classes are doubled. I don’t just have my students – I also have the ghosts of who they were at the beginning of the year.

They all change so much. They’re like different people at the end, people I helped guide into being.

Read and be inspired.

Steven Singer writes here about the corporate reformers’ war against teachers’ unions. In the comfortable, well-heeled world of hedge fund managers, they have every right to lead the fight to reform the public schools, but the unions do not. The unions don’t care about kids; teachers don’t care about kids. Only hedge fund managers really truly care about kids. Why should teachers or their unions have anything to say about their working conditions or their pay? Are they just greedy and selfish. So what if teachers earn less that the hedge funders’ secretaries?

Singer says the battle over the future of public schools has reached a critical juncture. The corporate reformers have lost control of the narrative. They want to hide behind benign names, like “Families for Excellent Schools,” hoping to hoodwink the public into thinking they are the families of children who want charter schools, when in fact, they are billionaires who live in places like Greenwich or Darien, Connecticut, and have never actually seen a public school, other than driving past it.

They don’t want the public to know that they want to divert money from public schools to the privately managed charters, but they can’t admit it so they say that are “improving public schools.” Which they are not.

To understand reform-talk, you have to recognize that words mean the opposite of what they usually mean.

Helping public schools means taking resources away until they collapse.

Improving academic achievement means testing kids until they cry and the test scores have lost any meaning.

Singer writes:

Their story goes like this – yes, there is a battle going on over public education. But the two sides fighting aren’t who you think they are.

The fight for public schools isn’t between grassroots communities and well-funded AstroTurf organizations, they say. Despite the evidence of your eyes, the fight isn’t between charter school sycophants and standardized test companies, on the one hand, and parents, students and teachers on the other.

No. It’s actually between people who really care about children and those nasty, yucky unions.

It’s nonsense, of course. Pure spin….

When corporate education reformers sneeringly deprecate their opponents as mere unions, they’re glossing over an important distinction. Opposition to privatization and standardization policies doesn’t come from the leadership of the NEA and AFT. It comes from the grassroots. This is not a top down initiative. It is bottom up.

This is how it’s always been. There is no political organization directing the fight to save public education. The Democrats certainly aren’t overly concerned with reigning in charter schools. It was grassroots Democrats – some of whom are also union members – who worked to rewrite the party platform to do so. The Clinton campaign is not directing anyone to opt out of standardized testing. However, voters are demanding that Clinton be receptive to their needs – and some of them are union members.

There is no great union conspiracy to fight these policies. It’s called public opinion, and it’s changing.

That’s what scares the standardizers and privatizers. They’ve had free run of the store for almost two decades and now the public is waking up.

They’re desperately trying to paint this as a union movement when it’s not. Unions are involved, but they aren’t alone. And moreover, their involvement is not necessarily an impediment.

The needs of the community and the needs of teachers are the same.

Both want excellent public schools.

Both want the best for our students.

Both want academic policies that will help students learn – not help corporations cash in.

And both groups want good teachers in the classroom – not bad ones!

The biggest lie to have resonated with the public is this notion that teachers unions are only concerned with shielding bad teachers from justice. This is demonstrably untrue.

Unions fight to make sure teachers get due process, but they also fight to make sure bad teachers are shown the door….

Unions stand in direct opposition to the efforts of corporate vultures trying to swoop in and profit off of public education. Teachers provide a valuable service to students. If your goal is to reduce the cost of that service no matter how much that reduces its value to students, you need a weak labor force. You need the ability to reduce salary so you can claim the savings as profit.

THAT’S why corporate education reformers hate teachers and their unions. We make it nearly impossible to swipe school budgets into their own pockets.

Andy Goldstein addressed the school board of Palm Beach County, where he teaches, at a recent meeting:

Why My Wife and I Are Opting Out Our Daughter From Third-Grade High-Stakes Testing

Transcript of the original text:

Good evening. My name is Andy Goldstein. I’m a teacher at Omni Middle School and the proud parent of an eight-year-old daughter who attends one of our public elementary schools.

It seems like it was just yesterday when my daughter entered kindergarten. At that time, I talked about her at our August School Board meeting in 2013.

I said that my hopes and dreams for my daughter were that she would develop a lifelong love for learning that would serve her well as she learned to construct a life that would serve her and serve others as well.

I told this board that my wife and I were not particularly interested in having her be seen as a data point for others to make money from.

Now, three short years later, which seem to have gone by in the blink of an eye, she is entering third grade.

Tonight, I’m speaking as a parent, who also is a teacher.

In Florida, third grade is the beginning of high-stakes, standardized testing for our children.

What are the high-stakes?

• Our children, on the basis of one test, will receive a number, a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, which, will serve to define them.

Some students, may do well learning throughout the year, but do not test well and may receive a 1, a one being the lowest possible score.

Some may come from disadvantaged backgrounds and will receive a 1.

Some may be special needs students, who receive a 1.

These numbers work to define our students as to whom they are. “I’m a one. I’m a Failure.”

This high-stakes testing policy, mandated by state law, works to stigmatize our students and they grow up with a limiting self-concept of who they are and what they are capable of doing and becoming.

• On the basis of this one high-stakes test, some schools—those comprised of the poorest students, who need the most help—are labeled with an “F.” Failures. This stigmatizes these schools, whose faculty and staff may be working hard to meet the high needs of the surrounding neighborhood they serve. It also serves to increase the segregation at these already segregated schools. What parents, given the means to choose what community they will move into, will choose a neighborhood with a school labeled “F.”

• There is a lot of money being made on the part of testing companies, publishers, and vendors, based on this annual imposition of this high-stakes testing.

• This high-stakes testing is part of a corporate agenda, an agenda by the rich and powerful to demonize our public schools and privatize them through the rise of publicly funded, privately managed schools called charters. Our state legislature, bought and paid for by corporate interests, is cheating our children by defunding our public schools.

• “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital,” says Noam Chomsky, an MIT professor.

• Our third graders are still babies, really. Do they really need the pressures of this high-stakes testing?

Recently, I read one account from a parent recounting the experience of her son when he was a third grader taking the FCAT. He was a good kid. He worked all year to learn. But he missed passing the FCAT by one point. He went to summer school to do more work and took it again. And again, he missed passing the test by one point. His mother was afraid to tell him, but he could tell by her reaction that he had not passed. He was crushed by the sense of failure. His mother, working on making dinner in the kitchen, called him to come down to eat. He did not respond. She had a premonition that something was the matter. She rushed up to his bedroom and found him hanging by a bedsheet. She got him down.

• Is there anyone who thinks this high-stakes testing is worth such a price?

• As a parent, I can answer with a resounding NO!

• My wife and I believe that our public schools should work to develop the whole, creative child in all of our schools, and in all of our communities of all colors and all socio-economic backgrounds.

• For these reasons, I’m announcing to you, our school board, that my wife and I do not support high-stakes testing in Florida, and will be opting out our daughter. Evidence for her learning will be through a portfolio.

• Thank you.

The Parkway School District in Missouri posted this beautiful video about the first day of school. It asked students what they hoped for. It asked teachers what they hoped for.

Please notice that no one mentioned higher test scores.

They spoke of hopes and dreams. Being better. Making new friends. Having school feel like home. Caring. Feeling wanted. Belonging.

Michael Hansen of the Brookings Institution lists the five questions he thinks that the candidates should be asked about education. They are not the questions I would ask. (Hansen, by the way, has defended VAM, pooh-poohed parent concerns about overtesting, and defended the effectiveness of Teach for America.)

They are not bad questions (what kind of person would you choose for Secretary of Education? how can Title I be improved? Have the Obama administration policies for higher education helped students? Which federal education programs would you expand, which would you shrink? How much would you increase funding for education research?). I actually would like to see these questions asked, since I am willing to bet that Donald Trump has no idea what Title I is, what No Child Behind was, what the Obama administration policies in higher education are, or which federal education programs are worth expanding or eliminating. He is for charters. He is against Common Core. Other than that, there is no indication that he knows anything about education issues.

Here are questions I would ask:

1. Do you think the federal government should continue to support the privatization of public education? Does the federal government have a role in strengthening and protecting public schools that have democratic governance?

2. Would you expand or shrink the funds now dedicated to privately managed charter schools?

3. What is your view of vouchers that allow public dollars to be spent in religious schools?

4. How would you define the federal role in education?

5. What do you see as the federal role in increasing equitable resources among districts and schools?

6. Would you be willing to persuade Congress to reduce the burden of standardized testing? Specifically, how would you change the federal law to ease the federal pressure to test students annually, a practice unknown in high-performing countries?

7. Do you think that every child should be instructed by a professionally prepared and certified teacher? How can the federal government verify that states are hiring fully qualified teachers?

I am sure you have many more good questions. Please suggest them.