Monday, November 30, 2009

What Your Money Can and Cannot Buy

Today the New York Times published an article on shared space and the charter school movement in New York City.

This article highlights the inequities of the charter school movement under the current administration and the tragedy of shared space and its negative impact on successful public schools, the community centers for our children. The article dims however, at taking to task the DOE and Bloomberg for their ridiculous shared space formula that disables the quality education our students deserve; it is a policy that forces students and teachers into closets, shared rooms, and treats their special education, intervention, social service, health, and enrichment services as "luxuries". The article also fails to note the budgetary impact; as we outsource public money and resources into the hands of private business running public schools, only by name only because of said outsourcing of funds, our true public school budgets have been drastically cut and the more than 90% of New York City students who attend these public schools go with less. This is a policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is inequitable. It is unjust. It is undemocratic. It is unethical.

What can money buy you in New York City? Apparently not your own real estate. Instead, these corporate backed, millionaire and billionaire donor driven private companies and organizations, use public money and public resources to fund their school experiments. They force our students out of classrooms and community space while also receiving public funded transportation, food services, and health services in addition to their per-pupil public funding which nearly matches public schools.

What they do not spend in real estate and resources, they make up for elsewhere: Their money buys the votes and voices of policymakers who bow to corporate interests that seek to reinforce the system of privilege and subordination we have in this country. Their money buys the custodial staff to privilege their school's needs first. Their money buys fancy computers, paint, and new furniture. It buys them glossy flyers, robo-calls, mailers, and t-shirts. It can buy them press coverage, even the final say in the New York Times!

What their money cannot buy them, not because they choose not to as in the case of real estate, but because of the nature of their movement, is integrity, truth and honor. Spencer Robertson, the founder of PAVE Academy proves once again that he is unqualified to run a school and undeserving of our respect with his comments in the NYT piece and he highlights the lack of integrity, truth, and honor behind the charter movement. He says he doesn't know "who the they is" in the fight to protect our public schools and resources... ummm... the 'the they' is You! He says they expect to get a two year extension in the PS 15 building because their plans for real estate fell through... and our children should suffer for your incompetence? He says PS 15 has been a mostly good neighbor... we are not neighbors, you are guests, the worst kind, who extend their stay without asking and are clueless (or at least pretend to be) as to the negative consequences you are having on the native residents... read the history of colonial expansion much? This movement, and the people who drive it and fund it, root themselves in an ideology that goes against everything our public education system was created to stand for and accomplish. Their movement takes us back to separate but equal, opens the door for privatization and it mirrors the devastating economic system, that we have seen repeated with the prison system and our military, of outsourcing public funds and public interests to private corporations and companies. They do all of this as the Orwellian language slides off their tongues and they claim it's all 'for the children' because... wait for it... 'education is a civil rights issue'. Damn right it is; that we can agree on.

Money can buy you power, and in NYC, money and power go a long way. What our neo-liberal and conservative friends fail to see however, because their money blinds them, is the ultimate consequence of their race to the top, their greed, their pestilence; the undermining of our society, the destruction of our democracy, the ruin of what it is that makes us great; an ideal that in this country all are created equal, that we have rights, and among them, we decided long ago, is the right to a free and fair public education that rejects separate but equal and seeks to prepare thoughtful citizens of the world.

Money can buy you a school in New York City. It can buy you stolen goods off the backs of our children and their schools and it can place you on the front lines of a movement to dismantle public education. Luckily for us, the parents of teachers of CAPE, we don't have money. All we have is our integrity, truth, and honor.  We have our voices and together we call for the protection and preservation of public education and our community public schools.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A small victory... a big step for democracy!

In the Gotham Schools article below you'll find an exciting surprise:  democracy still exists in New York City (shocking we know!).
The CEC15 has bravely forced the DOE to at least pretend to function within the realm of our republic and has agreed to have a public hearing and have the PEP vote on whether PAVE Academy should be able to extend their two year agreement, an agreement by which this charter was sold to the Red Hook Community who fought it.
Please join in our fight to protect and preserve public education, our children and our school!  Sign the online petition and circulate it.  Contact the NYC PEP and tell them to vote no in allowing PAVE to break their agreement and stay housed in PS 15's building past June 2010... further, we need to fight to expose the faulty DOE formula that is hurting schools and our children.  Bloomberg did not recieve a mandate in this last election, he only won by five points to a candidate that barely even campaigned, while he spent millions:  the public has had enough and we must demand not only due process, not only transparency, but excellent schools with protected resources for ALL children.  Bloomberg should be thinking legacy and unless he wants it to be remembered as a dictator who dismantled public schools in favor of corporate interests and his rich friends (in the case of PAVE, its founder Spencer Robertson's father, Julian Robertson, is a multi-billionare hedge fund guy and philanthropist, who has donated millions to Bloomberg's initiatives and is a funder and proponent of charter schools), he needs to change course and protect the citizens he was (unfortunately) elected to serve.

Gotham Schools has an update about the shared space issue at P.S.15K!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Traveling Trio on Meet the Press this morning

Public education was called for and created because our citizens, many of them first generation immigrants, in the late 1800's, realized that if we did not provide a system where all of our future citizens could share in access to a free and fair education, we would not be able to build a great society. It was realized then, that we are only as strong as our weakest members, that we are judged ultimately by how we treat our children, and that our success as a nation lies in our ability to teach each child to become thoughtful, educated citizens of the world. "Race to the Top" does not even begin to represent the earliest and most important ideals of public education:  if this is a race, then there are winners and losers- who will the losers be? Inherent in the components of current reform, is a belief that teachers fail, schools fail, that choice and competition will bring about equality. This is a fundamental flaw because it is rooted in a capitalist ideology.

There is a reason that we have guarded certain aspects of our public policy from capitalist ideology, these social aspects need a more socialist approach (a dirty word, but it is true). Let's look at areas of social policy that have been infiltrated by capitalist ideology and the impact it has had: 1. Prisons: after prisons were partially privatized we saw the numbers of those incarcerated sky rocket, and in particular the disproportionate number of black men incarcerated has increased. 2. Health Care: dominated by private interest, 50,000 or more Americans die needlessly each year. 3. The military: Blackwater (a private military force) has done extreme harm to the national security of this country- their leader will soon be found guilty of heinous crimes, this organization has raped and murdered hundreds and they think they should not be held accountable for it because the public laws should not apply to them. These are three very simple and vitally crucial areas that go to the heart of the security and prosperity of our nation. Choice and competition, and private interest and money, the capitalist ideology now driving education reform, has weakened and harmed these important and vital aspects of our country and our social policies. This is not the solution for education. The unwavering belief in a free market ideology in a time of great economic turmoil that has been propagated by these very beliefs is unbelievable to me... how can we be so blind?

At the foundation of education reform is standardized testing; these tests are the centerpiece of all that reform is to be measured by, all we should be accountable to and for, this is not only a fundamental flaw, but it is outrageous. The current reform movement suggests that, we, and specifically teachers, should accept yearly test-based standards for their students/children, should stop whining about testing because it does no good, that if teachers teach, it will show up on the tests we give... this is a very narrow view not only of what teaching is, but of who our students are. We teach students who are hungry, whose parents did drugs and alcohol while they were pregnant. We teach students with disabilities, language delays, and medical issues. We teach students who are being abused and neglected. We teach students who don't know where they will sleep tonight. We teach students who trust no one, who are afraid, who seek love, who need love. We teach students who have had little to no rich experiences, whose prior knowledge is limited. We teach students without parent advocates, without family, without the safety and security that is a fundamental requirement for learning. These students do not necessarily represent the vast majority of students; but should we ignore their reality?  We all know who the losers will be in Race to the Top and in the new Education Reform agenda, it will be these children.

What tests alone do not measure is who ate last night and this morning, who is worried, tired, or scared. Tests do not measure the tremendous strength it took to overcome the overwhelming despair many of our students, our children, experience, the strength it took to even show up in the morning. This week, fifth grade  students in New York City will take a state social studies test on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday is for make-ups and then they will take the reading city-wide test on Thursday and the math on Friday (I should not the alternative was to take the reading and math last Thursday and Friday which would have resulted in four consecutive school days of testing and the last two days of preperation for the social studies test would have been lost)... how is this teaching? How is this what is good for children? This is the measure of our children's achievement and worth? Of our teachers' success and worth?

We as educators and parents should be outraged at the reform agenda being presented to us, correction, being shoved down our throats: Charter schools and the privatization movement, the heavy focus on standardized testing, an undefined push for teacher quality and accountability, the significant inclusion and privilege of private corporations' view and influence at the exclusion of parents, educators, and students, slashed budgets, lost services, the narrowing of curriculum, the loss of democracy in our education system (especially here in NYC and other big cities across the country), which is ironic since one of education's most important roles is to protect, preserve and maintain our democracy through the preparation of its citizens.

This morning on Meet the Press, our trio and the host, began with 'defiing the problem', they said we need to stop lying to our children that we need to reward innovation. Standardized testing as the centerpiece of reform does this? Additionally, how do a group of four men who have never taught a day in their lives feel they have all that is needed to define the problem- it is insulting and intellectually disingenuous. They said they are saying to schools, 'show us something for the money we are giving you, go out and compete, lead our country in the way we want to go'. First of all, they are not giving anyone any money, it is OUR money. Secondly, the race is fixed. Go out an compete? We are all running from hugely different starting points. If money is tied to results, how do those at the bottom have the resources they need to get to the top? One of our oldest tales teaches us, slow and steady wins the race. Thoughtful reform rooted in meeting the needs of a very diverse body of students is what will ensure that all students win the race; reform based on money, competition, and tests will not. Finally, in leading our country where we want to go... we need to question whether there is a shared vision of where this is. Do policymakers and the corporations who own them really want all children to succeed and go to college and access the middle and upper classes? Let's be honest, no. As we head toward globalization, the world cannot sustain the level of the US middle class as other middle classes grow around the world... this requires one of two things- our middle class must shrink, or the disproportionate distribution of wealth in this country (the 1% that owns 90%) must redistribute- since these are the very people who run and own corporations and make policy, a good guess would be they are gunning for the first option.

This debate is being framed as (and our trio said this this morning), "taking on the education establishment". The only direct voice of a student in the whole piece, was of a young black boy saying, 'they[teachers] can't just give us textbooks and then put their heads down or go and answer their emails'. Then, the trio proceeds to talk about us all [teachers,parents,community members] coming together to reform education. When you begin your campaign by attacking, minimizing, and out right lying about and to the very people who have dedicated their lives to the children at the subject of this debate, coming together is not very likely and it is clear that the voices of those teachers in not what you seek. The Orwellian nature of saying, we want to include you, but we are going to minimize you, attack you, and generalize all of you as failing, even when we know any data will show you that the overwhelming majority of schools and teachers are NOT failing, is simply disgusting and it highlights the truth behind their lies... unfortunately, as the old Washington adage goes, 'the truth runs at 20 mph, lies run at 500 mph'.

Are their failing schools? Yes? Are their bad teachers? Yes. Are these two groups even a third of what we are talking about? No. Do we need to continue moving forward and making changes in striving for no failing schools and no horrible teachers... of course. The methods in which to do this, the ways in which we can achieve this are what is at question. The debate is not about failing schools and failing teachers, it is about the policies that can create and sustain the best educational system for ALL children. The policies currently being propagated will not achieve this goal because they do not address the needs of all children, plain and simple.

Should we have yearly tests, sure. Should we also have counseling services, food services, arts programs, family wrap-around services, portfolios, technology, new and renovated schools with equal supplies and staffing, multiple measures of achievement and progress, professional development, parent involvement, etc., yes. We cannot allow education to become Enron: make the numbers say it is so. We do not simply need numbers, we need real, authentic reform.

In the end, it is up to us. We must take our outrage, take our knowledge of what is not working and what we know does work and we must push forth. It is daunting, educators and parents do not have the organization and mobilization that Gingrich and Sharpton, for example, have... but if we do not fight to protect and preserve public education, we sit back at our own peril. So often in this country, we take the short view, we cannot afford to have our voices minimized at this time. The current education reform agenda will reinforce the systems of privilege and subordination we have in this country. All of its components will marginalize those already most marginalized in our society... those behind the current movement repeat (ad nausium) 'education is a civil rights issue'; what is so disingenuous, orwellian and cynical about the current debate is the very people who use this phrase are not fighting for policies that would actually better education for those the phrase refers to. We must lead the fight. We must define the problem and offer the solutions. They say they want to take on the establishment of education, well, we need to take on the establishment of corporations and Washington-male-insiders that have created the policies and reform we already function under and the new polcies that they are suggesting that will continue an unequal system, a sytem based on lies. If there is failure, which certainly there is, the overwhelming responsibility does not fall on the teachers who are forced to implement these policies or on the students who are the subjects of them, the faillure lies in the policies themselves. Educators and parents should be the loudest voice in policy reform, we should be driving it. If we are now going to call education 'a race to the top', we must consider that running a race takes preparation, training, vison, stamina, patience, hard work, and perseverance, and we must also take a forward look at the finish line: do we want winners and losers or do we want to stand united and cross the finish line togehter?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Let the PEP know what you think about shared space!

Oral and written comments on the regulations and proposals for significant changes in school utilization listed below will be accepted from September 25, 2009 to November 9, 2009.

The following Regulations have been posted for the 45-day public review period. The Panel will vote on the regulations listed below at the November 12, 2009 Panel meeting. The meeting will take place at 6:00 PM at PS 128 in Queens, located at 69-10 65th Drive, Queens, NY 11379. 

3.      Public Notice: A-190 Regulation on Significant changes in School Utilization.
·         To submit written or oral comment on Regulation A-190, please email or call (212) 374-0498.  
·         To review full text of Regulation A-190, please click: Amended A-190  Regulation on Significant Changes in School Utilization.

June 4th City-Wide School-Community Based Protests: No School-Based Budget Cuts or School Layoffs

June 4th City-Wide School-Community Based Protests:  No School-Based Budget Cuts or School Layoffs
Parents, Students, and School Workers at PS 15 Demand Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein Prioritize Spending for Public Education!

Public Education in NYC has faced over 500 million in cuts since 2009. The Mayor must seek other revenues instead of cutting our schools and other important services that are the lifeblood of our communities!