The AFT and the NEA are fed up with Arne Duncan

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Both teacher’s unions are locked in a pitched battle with the corporitiziation of education crowd which features Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as its high priest. The main focus of their opposition to Duncan et al. appears to be their fixation on teaching to the test.

NEA President-elect Lily Eskelsen-Garcia is on board, too. She told her convention delegates the week before that “no commercial, mass-produced, industrial-strength standardized factory test should ever be used as the determining factor for any student or adult.” Duncan is an outspoken backer of using test results to rate, hire and fire teachers.

When you think with a corporate mentality testing provides an easy metric. But it doesn’t tell you how well students are really doing, especially if you’re teaching to the test.

The first public school ever created happened last month

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We are in dark times when it comes to public education. Both conservative, corporate Democrats and Republicans want to destroy the public school system as we know it. These hucksters fail to see the truth in that what ails some public schools is not bad teaching, but is truly more about bad economics. These corporatists push their charter schools on poverty-stricken neighborhoods and never ask the question as to why parents in affluent areas shun the corporatized charter school movement.

With that being said, I thought it would be interesting to learn the history of why public schools were created in America in the first place.

Take this article from People’s World.:

On May 20, 1639, the first American public elementary school was established in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The original Mather School was a single one-room schoolhouse building located on what was called “Settlers’ Street.” In 1645 the town declared that the Mather building’s schoolmaster “shall equally and impartially receive, and instruct such as shall be sent and committed to him for that end whither their parents be poor or rich, not refusing any who have right or interest in the school.” This was arguably the beginning of the idea of free public education for all.

A good public education is not some new or even unpopular idea. Conservatives in both political parties have hated this idea since time immemorial. But we cannot let the few impose their will on the many. People must remain vigilant and learn about all the ways that the corporatists have attempted to corporatize education.

We must be weary of anything that will allow for conformity and standardization. The corporate class relies on standardization to better quantify and turn education into a commodity that can be bought and sold. Their aim is to turn teachers and students into nothing more than objects. The teachers are there to teach to a test and the students are there to be “filled.” They take the banking model of education and put it on steroids. Critical thinking is in short supply in this model.

Rockland County, NY why we need separation of church and state

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These are the things that people who believe in a separation of church and state worry about.

Said one Rabbi:

“It’s a , a desecration of God’s name,” said Rabbi Ari Hart, Uri L’Tzedek’s co-founder, who began circulating the petition Saturday night. As of Tuesday evening, 605 people had signed.

The East Ramapo School District board has a majority that is controlled by those who practice an ultra-Orthodox form of Judaism. They are being accused of diverting funds to benefit local yeshivas over the school district in general. If true, then this would pose a serious problem for families in that school district who are of different faiths or simply do not practice religion whatsoever.

The article continues:

“Classes are being cut in the middle of the year, teachers are being fired in the middle of the year,” Rabbi Hart said. “I met with a young African-American woman who was hoping to go to college. She was on the volleyball team, but all equipment was in tatters, and then the junior varsity team was cut,” he said. “The computer club was cut, clubs, extracurricular, classes. It’s very demoralizing, very dispiriting and it makes people angry.”

There are people who are now calling on the State of New York to intervene and take control of the school district as was done in Yonkers, NY. Sadly, education is one area where we will continue to see struggles like this erupt. I will say that this is the reason why private schools are created and one would hope that a public school district would remain neutral in matters of religion.

Photo by Tony Fischer Photography

Why Teach for America better check itself before it wrecks itself

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I’ve read both sides of the argument both for and against the Teach for America model. Many have said they are union busters because they supply fresh new batches of teachers at a low, low price. This allows schools to fire their more experienced faculty. Then I’ve read some of the rebuttals by former TFA staffers who say that this isn’t how things are. They’ll tell you that TFA is actually helping to strengthen public schools and etc.

But now I’m reading a report by the Economic Policy Institute and what they’re saying about TFA’s alliance with a charter school child-mill like Rocketship Education scares me.

In addition to the switch from human to digital instruction, Rocketship appears to rely on an educational model that functions with an inexperienced, high-turnover teaching staff. The Rocketship school in Milwaukee pays Teach for America (TFA) $52,000 per year to serve as a steady source of beginner teachers (Rocketship Education 2011, Attachment G), and nationwide 75 percent of the company’s teachers are either current fellows or recent graduates of TFA (Merrow 2012). TFA is not designed to produce career teachers. Indeed, part of its recruitment message to college graduates is that the program will make them competitive for graduate school or corporate employment after their two years in the classroom (Teach for America 2014).5 A company that relies on TFA to supply its teachers must plan on a high degree of turnover; that is part of how TFA is supposed to work. Unsurprisingly, then, on average almost 30 percent of Rocketship teachers leave every year, as shown in Table 1—a rate more than twice as high as in the Milwaukee school district (De La Rosa & Co. 2014, B-22; Richards and Crowe 2013).

Charter schools, especially the kind that Rocketship Education wants to run are blights on our society. Why would a parent ever want to send their child to something like this? They spend half their day being instructed by a computer and then they are taught by the least experienced people available. This is what you call the mass production model of education and it stinks. This would never fly in Montgomery County, MD or Edgemont, NY.

Photo by DC Illustrated by David Gaines

The school to prison pipeline is real and must end

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I must admit I haven’t thought much about this issue. I am aware that on the whole, there is something of an overarching prison industrial complex. The war on drugs started by Nixon and continued under other administrations has been one of the major forces behind putting bodies into prisons for decades now. The prison industrial complex has gotten so pervasive that rural communities begging that prisons be built to spur economic development is not uncommon.

Yet the issue of public schools joining hands with the prison industrial complex is new to me.

The result, according to the NYCLU, is that kids with criminal records consisting mostly of minor infractions that could have been resolved in school face further discrimination when applying for college, scholarships and jobs. This can also have an effect on whether their families are eligible to live in public housing, since people with criminal records are barred from many government assistance programs. And this doesn’t even take into account the psychological toll that coming into contact with the criminal justice system can have on students who are still wading through the thickets of childhood development. Whether in school or out, these children are being subjected to state use of a police force to address social issues that governments have failed to tackle. This practice is ruining lives, mostly of black children, before they even get a chance to start.

If this were in effect during my school days in New York City; I would’ve probably had a lot of friends caught up in this reality. You know things have gotten bad when police officers become school officials and teachers want to carry guns.

The ghost of Michelle Rhee

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Yesterday, I got this interesting email from Washington Teacher’s Union president, Michelle Davis talking about the legacy of former DC school’s chancellor Michelle Rhee. The email mentioned that thanks to Rhee, 600 DCPS teachers have been terminated over the years as the result of low IMPACT scores. The IMPACT evaluation system for teachers was first introduced in 2009 by Rhee.

Back in 2009, the Washington Post reported:

Rhee is investing $4 million in the system, called IMPACT, which will also assess teachers against an elaborate new framework of requirements and guidelines that cover a range of factors, including classroom presence and how carefully they check for student understanding of the material.

Fast forward to the last few days of 2013 and we’ve now learned that there were major flaws with the IMPACT system.

Davis continues:

DCPS is telling us there are two different errors in the way the District has calculated IMPACT scores: some teachers who got high scores weren’t that good, and some teachers who received low scores weren’t that bad. In other words, we now know that IMPACT’s flaws are even worse than we feared.

The irony of this story is the fact that Rhee and others wanted to implement a testing system that judged a teacher’s performance by tying it to students performance on standardized tests.

Another former Teach for America corps member dissents

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Over the past year I’ve seen a number of stories written in dissent about Teach for America hit the Internet. The think tank Demos had something to say about the organization. Then there was a piece on TFA and the Chicago teacher’s strike. Another interesting article was written by a former corps member, which then led to a rebuttal here.

Now we have one more dissent to had to the collection. This piece comes from another former corps member. The point he makes is similar to other arguments I’ve heard.

I have a number of friends who did incredible things in the classroom.  Many of them are still teaching and making a difference in the lives of their students.  I’m sure that these friends would love to point out that there is even some evidence to suggest that corps members outperform their non-TFA peers.  However, this debate cannot be reduced to the level of the individual or the single classroom.  Instead, it should focus on Teach for America’s broader role in the public policy debate.  If a large institutional force of left-leaning individuals is aiding in the right’s ongoing attempt to dismantle labor unions, will we ever really move towards a more equal society?

Like others before, this former corps member is questioning the displacement of full time teachers by TFA corp members in schools all over the country. Whether done intentionally or not this appears to be a reality that TFA’s leadership might want to reevaluate.

photo by: Cali4beach