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?


  1. I just stumbled upon your blog...I will add it to my education blog list...I have a thing I keep hearing about educators is they tend to be some of the weakest college schools have lower admission standards...teachers come from the bottom third of students and bottom third of graduates...the best and brightest (women and minorities in particular) now have so many better options for pay, professionalism, advancement, respect in better working conditions, etc that they flee the field of was in the 19502 and 1960s when education was the only field (other than nursing) truly open to women and minorities that the best and brightest were in the classroom...if this is true how do you raise the quality of teachers to what we supposedly had in the 1950s and 1960s (based on who I know that taught then I would say this is true) and get the best and brightest in the classroom...

    How do you undo the welfare state that has all but destroyed the black family and reinstate personal and family responsibility to rebuild the family and the importance of education...

    all i hear from educators are complaints about who they teach...why not use your voice to drive changes in society that are needed to build a strong foundation for education?

  2. I (a teacher from CAPE who is responding to this) don't know that I would agree with your assessment concerning education majors being the bottom of the barrel... in fact, my experience has been that the best teachers are the teachers that received their undergrad in education. I have never heard any school of education (and I know a few deans and professors) make this claim nor have I ever heard from teachers themselves, that choosing education was easy in college or after. I will agree with you however, that we do need to attract more of our best and brightest to the teaching profession. My suggestions would include:
    1. More time and professional development for teachers: those who avoid becoming teachers often do so because they know teachers are overworked
    2. Pay that matches the level of education required and/or housing incentives that make teaching, especially in more difficult areas, worth while
    3. More autonomy, less testing, and the professionalization of the profession
    4. Peer Review within the profession for evaluations, tenure, and (if there is going to be) bonuses or other pay incentives
    5. More opportunities for teacher collaboration, curriculum writing, and scholarly work
    6. A career ladder that is accessible and incentivized
    7. The teaching profession needs to be rebranded to convey: A service profession for transformative intellectuals

    The Welfare State and black families....
    I think we need to be careful here... I would agree with you that there is some part neo-colonial/paternal policy decisions that have had a negative effect on those living in poverty, and largely because of the system of privilege and subordination we have in this country, those living in poverty are predominantly minorities. I think the key here is looking all the way back to the policy foundations that make this so, as I mentioned the system of privilege and subordination. This is not a task solely for education, but we certainly have our place. Many things are at play here: the media, economic opportunity, the prison industrial complex, food justice, and really the overall subjectivity of our citizens who are living in poverty. The area of subjectivity is where I think educators can play a vital role. We need to influence and change the possibilities these students see for themselves, I was one of them. What I feel worked for me, and for countless other now grown-ups who came from less than ideal circumstances was experiences and opportunities in their schools. The ability to explore and nurture talents, the opportunity to participate in service learning, and a caring, supportive group (or even one) of educators that follows through and can be depended upon.

    If all you hear from educators are complaints... you are not talking to the right ones and you are talking to the minority. I am not sure if your comment at the end was directed at us (in terms of using our voice to drive changes), but that is certainly what we are doing (or at least trying to do). One of the monumental challenges for educators crossing over into advocacy is time. Most educators I know are drowning in a sea of external pressures that are literally driving them out of the classroom, so the thought of adding more to the plate seems unrealistic and overwhelming. In addition, organizing a grassroots movement to fight for public education while it is being attacked and dismantled by those with all the money and power seems like a winless battle. I will say this though, I have been teaching for ten years, and this last year I have begun to feel something different in the air... I feel educators and parents are beginning to join together and are finding their voice and it is my greatest hope that it is only a matter a time before we reach the tipping point where we will see parents and educators actively involved in policy; I think all that has kept us back is that we haven't been asked (and in fact have been pushed out)... now we are beginning to see, we not only have to push back, we have to demand to be heard.

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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!