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The Worst Teacher in Chicago September 12, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
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Roger’s note: sorry to inundate you with articles on the Chicago Teachers Strike, but here is one more I found interesting and insightful.

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For the OccupiedChicago Tribune
This is a true story. CHICAGO.   In a school with some of the poorest kids in Chicago, one English teacher–I won’t use her name–who’d been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn’t do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year.  Under Chicago’s new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.
In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire.  No teachers’ union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field – for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.
You’ve guessed it by now:  It’s the same teacher.I t’s Back to School Time!  Time for the editorialists and the Tea Party, the GOP and Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan to rip into the people who dare teach in public schools.
And in Arne’s old stomping grounds, Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is stomping on the teachers, pushing them into the street.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This is what Mitt Romney and Obama and Arne Duncan and Paul Ryan have in mind when they promote charter schools and the right to fire teachers with tenure:  slash teachers salaries and bust their unions.


Greg Palast is the author of the new Book Billionalres and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps.  For two decades, Palast was an investigator for Chicago-area unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union.


They’ve almost stopped pretending, too.  Both the Right Wing-nuts and the Obama Administration laud the “progress” of New Orleans’ schools–a deeply sick joke.  The poorest students, that struggle most with standardized tests, were drowned or washed away.
One thing Democrat Emanuel and Republican Romney both demand of Chicago teachers is that their pay, their jobs, depend on “standardized tests.” Yes, but whose standard?

Here is an actual question from the standardized test that were given third graders here in NYC by the nation’s biggest test-for-profit company:
“…Most young tennis stars learn the game from coaches at private clubs.  In this sentence a private club is….”   Then you have some choices in which the right answer is “Country Club – place where people meet.”
Now not many of the “people [who] meet” at country clubs are from the South Side of Chicago–unless their parents are caddies.  A teacher on the South Side whose students are puzzled by the question will lose their pay or job. Students on the lakefront Gold Coast all know that mommy plays tennis at the Country Club with Raul on Wednesdays. So their teacher gets a raise and their school has high marks.
And while Mayor Rahm promises kids in “bad” schools new teachers (the same ones at lower pay) at high-score schools, in fact, they are never actually allowed in.
But Rahm, after all, is just imposing Bush education law which should be called, No Child’s Behind Left.
You want to know what’s wrong with our schools?  Benno Schmidt, CEO of the big Edison Schools teach-for-profit business is a creepy, greedy privateer.  But he told me straight: that before Hurricane Katrina, his company would never go into New Orleans because Louisiana spent peanuts per child on education.  He made it clear: You get what you pay for.  Not what you test for.
So the charter carpetbaggers slither in, cherry-pick the easy students, declare success. The tough cases and special ed kids are left in the public system so they can claim the public system fails.
Here’s what the teacher who was terrible at $70,000 but brilliant at $41,000 told me:
“They’re not doing this in white neighborhoods.  And they want to get rid of the older, experienced teachers with seniority who cost more.  Get rid of the teachers and, ultimately get rid of the kids.  And the charter school gets to pick the kids who get in.”
It’s simple.  When you look at the drop-out rates in New York (41%) and Chicago (44%), the solution offered is to pay teachers less. They punish those who dare to work in poor schools where kids struggle and you can bet that “washing away” half the kids in our schools is, in fact, exactly what they’ve planned.
It’s notable that, when he lived in Chicago, Barack Obama played basketball with city school chief Arne Duncan, but Obama sure as hell didn’t send his kids to Arne’s crap public schools. Those are for po’ folk.
His kids went to the tony “Lab” School in Hyde Park.  Obama believes what Duncan believes and what Romney believes:  there’s no need for universal education and no need to spend money on it.  Yes, they like to say that “children are our future.”  But they mean the children of China are our future, the Chinese kids who will make the stuff we want and the children of India who will program it all for us. After all, how much education does some obese kid from Texas need to stack boxes from China in a Wal-Mart warehouse?
Education is no longer about information and learning skills.  It’s now about “triage.”  A few selected by standardized tests or privileged birth will be anointed and permitted into better and “gifted” schools.
The chosen elite are still very much needed:  to invest in India and Vietnam, to design new derivatives to circumvent the laughable new banking laws, and to maintain order among the restless hundred-million drop-outs squeezed out of the colon of our educational system.
Democrats’ Bantustans, Republicans’ Value-less Vouchers.
The Obama/Duncan/Emanuel plan is to create Bantustans of un-chartered, cheaply-run dumpster schools within a government system.  But Romney and the GOP would give every child a “choice” even outside government schools with “vouchers.”
Of course, the “vouchers” don’t vouch for much.  Romney’s old alma mater, Cranbrook Academy, runs at $34,025 a year, not counting the polo sticks and horse.  The most generous voucher program is Washington DC’s, beloved of the GOP, which pays about $7,500, or if the student’s “choice” is Cranbrook, about 2 months of school.  Hyde Park Day School Chicago is $35,900.  To give each kid a real choice, not just a coupon, means a massive increase in spending per pupil.  I didn’t see that in the Republican platform, did you?
The experienced teacher in Chicago who took the pay cut was offered one consolation.  She was told she could make up some of the pay loss by quitting the union and saving on union dues.
So that’s the program.  An educational Katrina: squeeze the teachers until they strike, demolish their unions and drown the students.Chicago’s classroom war is class war by another name.

Class dismissed.

 

http://www.gregpalast.com

Author of the New York Times and international bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse, Palast is Patron of the Trinity College Philosophical Society, an honor previously held by Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Palast (more…)

The People Behind the Lawmakers Out to Destroy Public Education: A Primer May 2, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Right Wing.
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Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 by Bridging the Difference Blog / Ed Week

 

What You Need To Know About ALEC

by Diane Ravitch

Since the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of many states, there has been an explosion of legislation advancing privatization of public schools and stripping teachers of job protections and collective bargaining rights. Even some Democratic governors, seeing the strong rightward drift of our politics, have jumped on the right-wing bandwagon, seeking to remove any protection for academic freedom from public school teachers.

This outburst of anti-public school, anti-teacher legislation is no accident. It is the work of a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Founded in 1973, ALEC is an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators. Its hallmark is promotion of privatization and corporate interests in every sphere, not only education, but healthcare, the environment, the economy, voting laws, public safety, etc. It drafts model legislation that conservative legislators take back to their states and introduce as their own “reform” ideas. ALEC is the guiding force behind state-level efforts to privatize public education and to turn teachers into at-will employees who may be fired for any reason. The ALEC agenda is today the “reform” agenda for education.

ALEC operated largely in the dark for years, but gained notoriety because of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. It turns out that ALEC crafted the “Stand Your Ground” legislation that empowered George Zimmerman to kill an unarmed teenager with the defense that he (the shooter) felt threatened. When the bright light of publicity was shone on ALEC, a number of corporate sponsors dropped out, including McDonald’s, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Mars, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kaplan, and PepsiCo. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said that it would not halt its current grant to ALEC, but pledged not to provide new funding. ALEC has some 300 corporate sponsors, including Walmart, the Koch Brothers, and AT&T, so there’s still quite a lot of corporate support for its free-market policies. ALEC claimed that it is the victim of a campaign of intimidation.

The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?

Groups like Common Cause and colorofchange.org have been putting ALEC’s model legislation online and printing the names of its sponsors. They have also published sharp criticism of ALEC’s ideas. This is hardly intimidation. It’s the democratic process at work. A website called alecexposed.org has published ALEC’s policy agenda. Common Cause posted the agenda for the meeting of ALEC on May 11 in Charlotte, N.C. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has dropped out of ALEC and also withdrawn from the May 11 conference, where it was originally going to be a presenter.

A recent article in the Newark Star-Ledger showed how closely New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “reform” legislation is modeled on ALEC’s work in education. Wherever you see states expanding vouchers, charters, and other forms of privatization, wherever you see states lowering standards for entry into the teaching profession, wherever you see states opening up new opportunities for profit-making entities, wherever you see the expansion of for-profit online charter schools, you are likely to find legislation that echoes the ALEC model.

ALEC has been leading the privatization movement for nearly 40 years, but the only thing new is the attention it is getting, and the fact that many of its ideas are now being enacted. Just last week, the Michigan House of Representatives expanded the number of cyber charters that may operate in the state, even though the academic results for such online schools are dismal.

Who is on the education task force of ALEC? The members of the task force as of July 2011 are here. Several members represent for-profit online companies, including the co-chair from Connections Academy; many members come from for-profit higher education corporations. There is someone from Jeb Bush’s foundation, as well as right-wing think tank people. There are charter school representatives, as well as Scantron. And the task force includes a long list of state legislators, from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Quite a lineup. Common Cause has asked why ALEC is considered a “charity” by the Internal Revenue Service and holds tax-exempt status, when it devotes so much time to lobbying for changes in state laws. Common Cause has filed a “whistleblower” complaint with the IRS about ALEC’s status.

The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?

© 2012 Education Week
 
 

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. She is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. She has written many books and articles about American education, including: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch.

 
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  • michiganwoman 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Good question, Diane. How could such a focused organization operate so long and so damn effectively.. without the complicity of Democrats, that is, corporate Democrats? And where was the Democrat Party whose platform and primary interests suggest populist causes? Shame on them. And where are the professional organizations known as unions that should be protecting the interests of Michigan teachers?

    Bill Gates? Big of him. Obama? Race to the Bottom begun with Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) and carried forward as you point out by Gov. Slick Rick Snyder (Gateway to China). Persecution of the public working force (read females) and the public resources. Education means nothing to this new group- they are defunding and taxing while they can get away with it despite outcries. Sheer Disgust by the people.
    And they don’t care.

    Check out the R funded Mackinaw Center for PUBLIC Policy whose “plans” and ideas link to ALEC.

     

     
  • mtdon 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Nice article that goes only half way.

    The democrats are firmly behind the privatization of the schools.

    From Arne Duncan to Rahm the devils spahn – to The Oilybomber to Pelosi and Feinstein, etc

    The democrats are firmly Bought Off.

    If not they could easily stop this process.

    http://blackagendareport.com/c…
    ‘why isn’t closing 40 Philadelphia public schools national news’

    http://blackagendareport.com/c…
    ‘School closings come to atlanta this week – it’s time to dump Arne Duncan’

     

     
  • glennk 6 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    I don’t like ALEC’s agenda, but its gained ground because the popular perception of how most public institutions are run is very poor. People who are working 12 mos. a yr. for lousy wages with no benefits don’t understand why a teacher makes twice their wage and works 6 mos. and gets full health benefits and after 20 yrs. a nice cozy pension. Then they look at the people that run or “administer” these orgs. and they’re aghast. School admins. making 6 figs. is the norm everywhere. In NJ where property taxes are crushing the average homeowner all the above has alienated the average voter and sent them rightward. Is private charter schools the answer. NO, of course not , they just take the same public $$ and give it to a few investors and the kids get even worse educations. What’s the answer? It seems most of us are being crushed between the Public worker Unions and the Private Corps. Its a battle of the Dinos and all of us mice are being crushed by them as they fight.

     

     
  • mtdon 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Actually the reason people attack the teachers unions – besides of course the PR campaigns of the privatizers – is the fact that the teachers unions are Easy Targets.

    It’s always easier to blame teachers or some non-existent welfare queen than the corporations actually doing the dirty work.

    I’d also like to point out that the teaching profession used to be considered a low paying job and the private sector paid a much better wage and benefits.

    Teachers had a union that got them cola’s on a yearly basis – over the last 40 years the good paying private sector jobs disappeared while the teaching jobs continued to get their colas.

    We need to recognize that the true crime is the corporate killing of the private sector wages and benefits.

    If the private sector jobs would have kept pace with inflation then no one would care what the teachers make because it would still be chicken scratch.

    What the teacher pay issue should point out is the HUGE DROP in private sector wage growth to the point where the teachers have passed it up.

    That’s not the teachers fault -

    Blame the right people.

     

     
  • PlantTrees 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    “People who are working 12 mos. a yr. for lousy wages with no benefits don’t understand why a teacher makes twice their wage and works 6 mos. and gets full health benefits and after 20 yrs. a nice cozy pension.”

    Here in one sentence lies the only thing you need to know about why the workers in this country are doomed.

    There is the crock of shit about teachers working only half a year (oh, of course — we all PERSONALLY know such a teacher don’t we, glennk; just like we know that firefighter who makes $200,000 a year and has a vacation home in Florida).

    Then there are all those audacious benefits — stuff teachers bargained their wages away for and now are losing at disgraceful rates because people like glennk think since they’re taking it up the ass, so should the rest of the 99%.

    Fighting over the crumbs — that’s why you always see the Koch brothers with a smile on their face.

     

     
  • nellemason 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    You need to understand that the only way teachers’ working conditions (class size, job security, salary, benefits) improved over the years was through UNION action. No one suddenly just decided that it would be a nice thing to improve the conditons of teachers work. The poobahs at the School Board offices are bureaucrats who should NEVER be confused with teachers.

     

     
  • philtop 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Just to clarify public school teachers work 10 months a year not 6.

     

     
  • creativevisions 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    There is a lot of truth to glennk’s description of how people perceive the education and teacher issues. The real problem is that everyone needs to have a decent living with health care, vacations, retirement, etc., etc. People who pay taxes are often people without those benefits. It is not fair. Teachers get caught in the middle of all of this. It certainly is not the fault of the teacher if they have a union or have decent pay and benefits. What I really hate is how government and politics permeates education and I believe they try to stifle all teacher creativity. Their model is for teachers and the students to be human drones. Instead of working towards greatness we as a nation are rushing quickly to divided groups mired in inequality.

     

     
  • Tvedestrand 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    This problem–along with many others–will disappear in a few decades. As Bill Henderson points out in two recent postings on the www.bravenewworld.in web site, it’s likely that the world’s population will be reduced to about 10% of what it is now within 50 years because of global warming. This means that our society–along with all others, of course–will be disintegrating within a matter of decades, and today’s social problems will be a thing of the past. Those who do manage to survive will have only one problem: How do I continue to survive?

     

     
  • Jennifer Varnum 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Great article. I remember the education system took a real dive in the 70’s. I had move from New England to California where the educational system was so poor. Most of the public schools I attended were very substandard. I ended up taking the GED to get out of the toxic brainwashing and dumb down experiment called for by Caspar Weinberger who was appointed as Sec of Health, Education and Welfare by Ronny Reagan (Mr. War on Drugs), and later became Secretary of Defense. It was pure poison. I noticed that drugs started flowing into the schools at this time too.

    If I had children, I would home school them. The system is designed to prepare the young for collectivism. It discourages the individual and creates the slave mentality needed to train us as adults to not question authority, get a job and pay your dues.

    Instead of APEC, their acronym should be GPES of Globalist Psychopathic Eugenicists Society. Everyone of these corporations are demonic, and should be boycotted.

     

     
  • Siouxlouie 4 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    The problem the teachers face is that for many years they were the white hats. Good public relations, a laudable goal in educating America’s youth, standing up for literacy, the power to make the best of American opportunity.

    Juxtapose against that the conduct of the teachers’ unions, who are now perceived as selfish, grasping, unprincipled. The pension obligations that face many states (e.g., California, Illinois, New York, Ohio and others) are not the fault of the average Joe. They are now being perceived as the result of years and years of behind the scenes lobbying by the public “servants”, principally including the teachers. Is it any wonder Michelle Rhee’s logic captured so much attention and adulation and the UFT and the NEA so much opprobrium?

    FDR, often thought to be Labor’s champion, even its patron saint, had this to say about unions representing governmental employees:

    “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government. All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations … The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for … officials … to bind the employer … The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives …

    “Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people … This obligation is paramount … A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent … to prevent or obstruct … Government … Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government … is unthinkable and intolerable.”

    Which vision will carry the day? As cities begin to go bankrupt and states totter on the brink of insolvency, we will see.

     

     
  • Mike 3 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    Siouxlou, Consider for a minute the possibility that ALEC and its backers are not so much interested in driving down teacher benefits, pensions etc as creating a more compliant teacher work force that will better assist in the pacification of each new generation. As I say, at some length, elsewhere in this threat, all this “reform” manifests itself on the kid level as simply all multiple choice all the time. And there are essay and oral answer grading programs on the horizon that will serve the same function, i.e. teaching the young that authority has all the answers, punishments and rewards.

    If you have the stamina to look through the excellent links Diane Ravitch provides, you can sort through a mass of ALEC-designed “educational reform” bills and significantly one is designed to downgrade teacher certification requirements. (This fits in well with a spate of recent articles attacking the admittedly poor quality education programs in many universities) The goal is, I think, not so much to get cheaper teachers but to get teachers who will simply hand out and collect test and test prep materials that will then be fed into automated grading systems made by Scantron, Inc. and othe ALEC backers. Not only would highly educated teachers want more money – they also might make problems by questioning the kind of mindless “teaching” designed to even further dumb down the populace. ALEC and its backers want teachers who will function much the same as McDonald employees, purveying a readymade product.

    You may well question why ALEC and its backer need an even more dumbed down populace, since this is the same American electorate who can be convinced of almost anything, even the need to send its sons and daughters off to wars generation after generation. Well. Siouxlou, the wealthy and powerful never think they have enough control over the hooples, any more than they ever think they have enough money.

    LINK to ALEC model bill designed to lower teacher certification standards:
    http://alecexposed.org/w/image…

     

     
  • philtop 2 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    Mike-

     

    I wouldn’t underestimate the desire of these organizations
    to use Charter Schools as way of driving down teacher’s wages. Most regular
    public school jobs in California start at the entry level in the 40K range. Many
    charter schools start at the entry level around 35K. Furthermore,
    regular public schools have a pay scale that is based on years of teaching
    experience and education attainment.
    While most charter schools list pay as “commensurate with experience,”
    which essentially they will pay you what ever they want, or as little as possible.

     

    Furthermore, charter schools usually require much more after
    schoolwork, or a longer teaching day. Many make this clear in their job
    postings. This equals more work time for less pay. Whatever side you stand on
    this issue this undoubtedly drives down wages. Finally, on the benefits side I’ve
    actually seen charter in their job postings advertise, “Social Security only,
    no pension benefits.”

     

     
  • philtop 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Sorry about the formatting… Don’t know what caused that??

     

     
  • Mike 2 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    Interesting that the oldtime multiple choice test company, Scantron, Inc. is on the ALEC taskforce. For all the big talk about learning and accountability, the current so-called educational reform means one thing on the level of kids’ experience: multiple choice tests every day. The vaunted standardized tests are always multiple choice and the prep for such tests consists of model tests,. i.e. multiple choice practice tests. And what classroom instruction occurs consists of going over questions on such model tests. Hence, every day becomes a multiple choice day.

    And the dirty little secret of all this multiple choice is that it teaches kids a very simple lesson, no matter what the subject: Those in authority have all the answers – and your job is only to figure out what they want you to say.
    So-called experts can quibble about test construction, eliminating cultural biases from tests, core curriculum etc but for kids it all amounts to bowing down to authority that gives you the grades that guarantee everything from keeping your mom off your back to getting into Harvard. Immersion in the multiple choice universe means that your opinion, as expressed in a classroom discussion, an essay or a research paper, has no value.

    It’s bad now but will get worse unless stopped, and I think I’ve seen exactly what the model school of the future will look like.

    I recently was asked by a former student to consult at a private school that he and his parents had set up a couple years ago: a weekend and evening cram school run by and targeted at one particular Asian immigrant group.

    “Reformers” would love this place: It was all multiple choice, all the time, even more than I had imagined possible. Teachers did no more than hand out and collect scantron sheets. Video cameras in each classroom allowed constant monitoring from the office. Teachers were well paid but could be fired without notice if they did not follow prescribed multiple choice scripts.(They wanted me to advise them how student writing could be improved – I told them it was not possible in such an environment)

    And this school is, according to my former student, very successful in terms of pushing its students into top high schools and ivy league colleges. The only moment of doubt the owners or parent/clients have experienced is that the school’s grads find it very hard to express any opinion in either speech or writing. But I suppose that won’t matter once even the best colleges switch over to all multiple choice all the time.

     

     
  • Mike 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Having ranted on about multiple choice, I then came across an article in Education Week referencing a study on automated essay grading programs which may be a new cost-efficient way to replace teachers in that form of assesssment as well. And if text can be graded, so can oral answers or discussion. But the end result is the same: Kids will be taught that authority has the answers, whether you bubble them in on scan sheets, say them aloud or write them in a sentence or paragraph.

    Link to the study:

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/444162…

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How to Destroy Education While Making a Trillion Dollars April 29, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Published on Sunday, April 29, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

by Robert Freeman

The Vietnam War produced more than its share of iconic idiocies. Perhaps the most revelatory was the psychotic assertion of an army major explaining the U.S. bombing of the provincial hamlet of Ben Tre: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” If only such self-extinguishing claims for intelligence were confined to military war.

The U.S is ratcheting up a societal-level war on public education. At issue is whether we are going to make it better — build it into something estimable, a social asset that undergirds a noble and prosperous society — or whether we’re going to tear it down so that private investors can get their hands on the almost $1 trillion we spend on it every year. The tear-it-down option is the civilian equivalent of Ben Tre, but on a vastly larger scale and with incomparably greater stakes: we must destroy public education in order to save it. It’s still early in the game, but right now the momentum is with the wreckers because that’s where the money is. Whether they succeed or not will be up to you.

Here’s a three-step recipe for how to destroy education. It maps perfectly to how to make a prodigious profit by privatizing it. It is the essential game plan of the big money boys.

First, lower the costs so you can jack up the profits. Since the overwhelming cost in education is the salaries of the teachers, this means firing the experienced teachers, for they are the most expensive. Replace them with “teachers” who are young, inexperienced, and inexpensive. Better yet, waive requirements that they have to have any training, that is to say, that they be credentialed. That way, you can get the absolute cheapest workers available. Roll them over frequently so they don’t develop any expectation that they’ll ever make a career out of it.

Second, make the curriculum as narrow, rote, and regimented as you can. This makes it possible for low-skilled “teachers” to “teach.” All they need do is maintain order while drilling students in mindless memorization and robotic repetition. By all means avoid messy things like context, nuance, values, complexity, reflection, depth, ambiguity—all the things that actually make for true intelligence. It’s too hard to teach those things and, besides, you need intelligent, experienced people to be able to do it. Stick with the model: Profitable equals simplistic and formulaic. Go with it.

Finally, rinse and repeat five thousand times. Proliferate franchised, chartered McSchools with each classroom in each McSchool teaching the same thing on the same day in exactly the same way. So, for the math lesson on the formula of a line, you only need develop it once. But you download it in Power Point on the assigned day so the room monitors, i.e., the “teachers,” know what bullets to read. Now repeat this for every lesson in every course in every school, every day. In biology, chemistry, geometry, history, English, Spanish, indeed, all of a K-12 curriculum. Develop the lesson literally once, but distribute and reuse it thousands of times with low-cost proctors doing the supervision. The cost is infinitesimal making the profit potential astronomical.

This is the essential charter school model and the money is all the rationale its promoters need. Think about it. There’s a trillion dollars a year spent on public education in the U.S. and enterprising investors want to get their meat hooks on it. Where else in the world can you find a $1 trillion opportunity that is essentially untouched? Not in automobiles. Not in health care. Not in weapons, computers, banking, telecommunications, agriculture, entertainment, retail, manufacturing, housing. Nowhere.

Oh, to be sure, you have to soften up the public with a decades-long PR campaign bashing teachers, vilifying their unions, trashing schools, and condemning public education in general, all the while promising the sun, moon, and stars for privatization, which is the ultimate charter goal. Voila! You’ve got your chance.

But to really make a killing, you need not just revenues, but profits. That’s why the low cost delivery and “build it once but resell it millions of times” model is so key. It was that very model that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. It is what earned Microsoft 13 TIMES the rate of profit of the average Fortune 500 company in the 1990s and persuaded the Justice Department to declare it a “felony monopolist”. Gates recognizes the model very well, which is why his foundation is pouring tens of millions of dollars into charters. And you thought it was his altruism.

Of course, anybody who actually knows education, indeed, anybody who is simply intelligent, knows that intelligence does not come from rote repetition or parroting Power Point slides at the regimented direction of a room monitor, no matter how perky or well intended. It comes from an agonizingly complex, intricate, sustained set of challenges to the mind that are exquisitely choreographed over the better part of two decades, all intimately tailored to the specific needs of an individual, inquisitive, aspiring student.

That is what real teachers do. And it is precisely what a cookie-cutter, low-content, low-cost, high-turnover, high-profit money mill cannot do. Because it’s not intended to do that. It’s intended to produce profits. Real education, real intelligence, real character are agonizingly slow, dazzlingly complex, maddening difficult things to create. You can’t make a profit off of it, unless you destroy it in the process. That is why not one of the nations of the world that surpass the U.S. in education performance operate charter-based or privatized educational systems.

If America wants better education, it needs to fix the greatest force undermining education, which is poverty. The single most powerful predictor of student performance is the average income of the zip code in which they live. But one out of four American students now live in poverty, and the numbers are growing. One out of two will live in poverty sometime during their lives. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. Is it any wonder American school performance is faltering?

But poverty is a hard and expensive problem to fix. We prefer easy, painless fixes, or even better, vapid clichés about the “magic of the market” and such. Why, look what we got from the deregulation of the banking system: the greatest economic collapse of the last 80 years and the greatest plunder of the public treasury in the history of the world.

This is the essential neo-liberal agenda which Obama enthusiastically supports: privatize and deregulate everything, especially public services, so that the money spent on them can be transferred to private hands. This is how Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, earned his bureaucratic bonafides: he converted more than 100 of Chicago’s public schools to charters while the city’s school superintendent. It’s unbelievable how credulous we are but obviously, propaganda works. That’s why the likes of the Gates Foundation keep pouring money into the cause.

The problem with charter schools is that they simply don’t work, at least not for delivering high quality education. Of course, given their formula, how could they? The most thorough research on charter schools, by Stanford University, shows that while charters do better than public schools in 17% of cases, they actually do worse in 37%, a more than 2-to-1 bad-to-good ratio!

If your doctor injured two patients for every one he cured, would you go to him? If your mechanic wrecked two cars for every one he fixed, would you go to him? Yet that is literally the proposition that charter school operators are peddling. And that 2-to-1 failure rate is after charters have skimmed off the better students and run what can only be called ethnically cleansed schools, counseling out poor performers, special needs cases, and “undesirable” minorities, leaving them for the public schools to deal with. For the data show they do that as well.

The irony of all this, indeed, the hypocrisy, is that America is at least nominally a capitalist county. You would think it would be ok to be honest about your intentions to make money by pillaging children’s futures while looting the public purse. God knows the weapons makers, the banks, the oil companies, the pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness and others aren’t bashful about it. But that doesn’t seem to be true here, in education.

Here, it’s all about “the children,” about “streamlining” education, boosting scores, uplifting minorities, making America competitive, and just about every other infantile fairy tale they can invoke to convince the country to hand over the loot. For that’s what it’s really about. The trillion dollars a year to be made by turning “the children” into intellectually impotent dullards but profit producing zombies? Well, that’s just a lavishly fortunate coincidence. Right?

Remember, you can’t save something by destroying it. Which isn’t to say that swashbuckling entrepreneurs aren’t willing to try. All they need is the liberating impetus of that essential American ethic: “I’m getting mine, screw you.” But the cost of this plunder will be incalculable, for it will ripple through the economy for decades. And the damage will be irreversible for, while public education is the most powerful democratizing institution in the world, it only works when the schools work. When they cease to work, it’s over.

So watch out. A destroyed educational system, a desiccated economy, and a debauched democracy are coming soon to a school district near you.

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Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman teaches history and economics at a public high school in northern California. He is the founder of One Dollar For Life, a national non-profit that helps American schools build schools in the developing world with donations of one dollar. He can be reached at robertfreeman10@yahoo.com.

Matt Damon: Stop the War on Teachers July 31, 2011

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Matt Damon with Howard Zinn

Sunday 31 July 2011
by: Zaid Jilani, ThinkProgress                 | Report

Actor and activist Matt Damon spoke at the Save Our Schools rally today. Before he spoke, Damon granted ThinkProgress an exclusive interview. We asked him about how teachers unions are being demonized in much of the media and teachers are being blamed as the root of all problems in public education. Damon told us that the attacks on teachers unions are part of a larger “war on unions over the last decade” and condemned “punitive policies” that punish teachers without looking at the social factors that lead to student achievement.

Towards the end of his statements, Damon joked about the right-wing meme that unionized teachers are overpaid, noting that he grew up as the son of a unionized teacher: “Granted, I did spend my summers in the Hamptons on her teacher salary and we did live on a yacht for a long time.”

Damon also told us earlier that he supports the recall of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI).

Obama Backs Rewarding Districts That Police Failing Schools March 2, 2010

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(Roger’s note: I could support the idea of mass firings if it included the presidency, congresss and supreme court.  One becomes more disgusted with Obama each day.  His support for union busting, privitazation, and militarization in our school system makes him a neocon if I ever saw one.  The lunatic right might call him a socialist, but in a real sense, he is one of them.)
Published on Tuesday, March 2, 2010 by The New York Timesby Jeff Zeleny

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Monday that he favored federal rewards for local school districts that fire underperforming teachers and close failing schools, saying educators needed to be held accountable when they failed to fix chronically troubled classrooms and curb the student dropout rate.The president outlined his proposal to offer $900 million in federal grants, which would be made available to states and school districts willing to take aggressive steps to turn around struggling institutions or close them.

The president’s proposal, which was included in his 2011 budget request to Congress, is his latest criticism of America’s failing public schools. In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Obama said federal aid would be available for the districts that are home to the 2,000 schools that produce more than half of the nation’s dropouts.

He spoke alongside former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma, who lead America’s Promise Alliance, an advocacy group dedicated to combating the school dropout rate.

“We know that the success of every American will be tied more closely than ever before to the level of education that they achieve,” Mr. Obama said. “The jobs will go to the people with the knowledge and the skills to do them. It’s that simple.”

He singled out Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, where last week the school board voted to dismiss the entire faculty as part of a turnaround plan for the school, which has a 48 percent graduation rate.

At Central Falls High, he said, just 7 percent of 11th graders passed state math tests. Mr. Obama said he supported the school board’s decision to dismiss the faculty and staff members. “Our kids get only one chance at an education and we need to get it right,” he said.

The president’s comments incensed the leadership of the American Federation of Teachers, which criticized Mr. Obama for “condoning the mass firing” of teachers at the Rhode Island school.

“We know it is tempting for people in Washington to score political points by scapegoating teachers, but it does nothing to give our students and teachers the tools they need to succeed,” the president of the union, Randi Weingarten, said in a statement.

In their efforts to overhaul failing public schools, Mr. Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, have frequently drawn the ire of teachers’ unions.

In his speech on Monday, Mr. Obama said states would be asked to identify schools that perform at persistently low levels, with graduation rates of 60 percent or less.

To qualify for the federal money, known as School Turnaround Grants, he said, the school districts must agree to take at least one of the steps: firing the principal and at least half the staff of a troubled school; reopening it as a charter school; or closing the school altogether and transferring students to better schools in the district.

“If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year,” Mr. Obama said, “if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.”

The $900 million grant program, which would be subject to Congressional approval, follows $3.5 billion included in last year’s economic stimulus plan that also was aimed at improving school performance and lowering the dropout rate. The program would support interventions at 5,000 of the nation’s lowest-performing schools over the next five years.

Mr. Obama is seeking to use federal money as an incentive for local schools to improve their standards. The initiatives his administration is pursuing are similar to those of the Bush administration. At the event on Monday, Mr. Obama recognized Margaret Spellings, a secretary of education under President George W. Bush, who was seated in the front row.

Mr. Obama said he was particularly troubled by the dropout rate. He said 1.2 million students left school each year before graduating from high school, at a cost to the nation of $319 billion annually in potential earning losses.

“Now it’s true that not long ago you could drop out of high school and reasonably expect to find a blue-collar job that would pay the bills and help support your family,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s just not the case anymore.”

The Powells, who founded America’s Promise Alliance in 1997, announced on Monday a 10-year campaign called “Grad Nation” directed at the lowest performing high schools in the country and focusing on improving graduation rates and preparations for college.

“We’ve got to catch our kids long before they drop out,” Mr. Powell said.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Obama’s Idea of Education Reform? Fire All the Teachers February 25, 2010

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(Roger’s note: one of the hallmarks of  a good leader is the ability to delegate authority, but there always remains the question: to whom?  Obama has made some disastrous choices, including Bush’s man Gates at Defence and  super hawk Clinton at State.  He has given the education portfolio to his Chicago political and hoop shooting crony, Arne Duncan, who wouldn’t recognize a class room if one fell on his head.  Duncan’s idea of education reform is to convert the public school system into quasi-militarized profit-making corportations, this from a supposedly progressive presidency.  Expect union-busting and turning our children into well-honed corporate serving robots.)
Published on Thursday, February 25, 2010 by The Providence Journal (Rhode Island)

Central Falls Thurst into School Reform Forefront

by Jennifer D. Jordan

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. – “You’re a coward!”

[Central Falls High graduates gather in support of the teaching staff during Tuesday’s meeting in which all 93 teachers were fired. (The Providence Journal / Connie Grosch)]
Central Falls High graduates gather in support of the teaching staff during Tuesday’s meeting in which all 93 teachers were fired. (The Providence Journal / Connie Grosch)

“You should be ashamed!” 

Shouts broke through the heavy silence that had fallen in the auditorium of Central Falls High School.

Supt. Frances Gallo had just recommended that the district’s Board of Trustees fire the entire teaching staff of the city’s only high school, effective at the end of the school year.

Then, as the board’s vice chairwoman, Sonia Rodrigues, read each name aloud, a teacher stood. Some stood in silence, others held back tears.

“Look up, Gallo! Look at us!”

Gallo was sitting on the stage with the seven trustees and a small group of administrators. She rose and looked out at the audience in the packed high school auditorium. She remained standing until the last of 93 names – a history teacher, a reading specialist, physical education, music and art teachers, a social worker, a nurse, the school psychologist, even the principal – was called.

A few minutes earlier, a resolved Gallo had opened her remarks by lashing out at teachers union leaders who she said had contrived stories “that misinform and twist the truth.” The union, the superintendent said, has distorted what went on in negotiations in “a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the issue of meaningful reform.”

Once again, Gallo described what had led to Tuesday night’s showdown.

She reiterated the conditions essential to transform the chronically troubled high school, plagued for years with dreadful test scores and a graduation rate of just 48 percent. She wanted the teachers to spend more time with their students and also more time improving their own skills.

Union leaders said at first they were on board with Gallo’s vision for improving the high school. But the two sides couldn’t agree on how much extra pay teachers should receive for the additional work.

Gallo said that if the teachers had gone along with her transformation plan, they would have had “100-percent job security.”

Shouts broke out again.

“Boo!”

“Liar!”

The superintendent looked out and repeated: “100-percent job security. And still, the answer was no.”

Gallo ended by recognizing the emotional toll the battle has taken. She acknowledged that many of the high school’s 800 students love their teachers and have voiced support for the faculty in several public meetings. She asked the audience to also “remember those souls who make up the 52 percent of the student body we no longer see before us.”

At a crowded outdoor rally held before the meeting, union leaders painted a very different picture.

“We think it’s an outrage,” Jane Sessums, president of the Central Falls Teachers Union, said, as hundreds of union supporters from across the state began flowing into Jenks Park. “Our members are feeling awful, devastated. How would you feel, being terminated?”

“If they can do this here, they can do this anywhere,” said Marie Zaminer, a speech pathologist in Woonsocket schools. “I’m worried it will happen where I am.”

Union officials said Gallo refused to negotiate with them and instead demanded they take on extra tasks. In some cases, teachers objected because they would not be paid for duties such as eating lunch with students once a week, or formalizing a tutoring schedule. In other cases, teachers said they already freely did those things, and resented being ordered to do so.

A dozen people – parents, students, union leaders – took turns at the microphone to decry the unfairness, to pledge solidarity and to vow to fight.

Jim Parisi, field representative for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, said Gallo was punishing teachers. “It is never acceptable to threaten anyone’s job as a bargaining tactic. Not in this state,” he shouted.

“This is not about time and money,” Parisi said, as the crowd cheered. “It’s about our right to negotiate time and money.”

A few days before the showdown Gallo acknowledged the uncertainty that accompanies being at the forefront of radical change.

“I feel great trepidation,” Gallo said in an interview in her office. “I have never been any kind of political entity. I do my job. I love my kids. This has thrown me into a new realm I am very uncomfortable with. But I can’t wish it away. It is what it is. I have to promise to do my best, and see this through.”

Gallo knows she has an ally in Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, who is aggressively adopting many of the changes outlined in new federal mandates to fix troubled schools.

From the day that Gist identified Central Falls High School as one of the state’s worst performing schools, Gallo finally had the means – and the authority – to re-create the high school as a place entirely focused on the needs of students.

In her Jan. 11 order, Gist instructed the district to select one of four methods to fix the ailing school and gave Gallo just 45 days to decide. Transformation was one option; turnaround another. Gallo had already decided the two other approaches – closing the school or turning it over to a charter-management organization – weren’t viable.

With their swift actions, Gist and Gallo have placed Rhode Island at the vanguard of the latest wave of school reform. And no one – not federal or state officials, not education experts, not union leaders – is sure how it will all work out.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has taken notice.

“I applaud Commissioner Gist and Superintendent Gallo for showing courage and doing the right thing for kids,” Duncan said Tuesday night.

Governor Carcieri also praised Gallo and the trustees for their “action to reform Central Falls High School.”

As both Gallo and Gist fielded calls from the national media Wednesday, the commissioner of education said she recognized the gravity of their actions.

“These are the lives of young people – more than 50 percent of whom are not finishing high school, which completely changes the course of their lives,” Gist said.

“And this choice that Dr. Gallo made, and that we support, also affects the lives of people who have chosen to be teachers and have dedicated their lives to education. So this is an extremely serious situation,” she said. “But we have to do the right thing, and I do commend Dr. Gallo for her courageous steps.”

It is unclear what will happen next.

Union president Sessums says she is pursuing all legal options to fight the across-the-board firings.

Gallo has 120 days to develop a detailed plan explaining how she will turn around the high school, starting in the fall.

Some of the fired teachers – up to half – could be rehired, as allowed in the federal turnaround model.

As of Wednesday morning, 88 teachers, along with the high school’s administrative team, faced their own uncertainty. All 93 were sent letters of termination.

© 2010 The Providence Journal

The Duncan Doctrine: The Military-Corporate Legacy of the New Secretary of Education January 19, 2009

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duncan-and-obama-2
Photo: Ralf-finn Hestoft/Pool
18 January 2009

by: Andy Kroll, TomDispatch.com

Note that an audio interview with Kroll on Duncan can be found at http://tomdispatch.blogspot.com/.

    On December 16th, a friendship forged nearly two decades ago on the hardwood of the basketball court culminated in a press conference at the Dodge Renaissance Academy, an elementary school located on the west side of Chicago. In a glowing introduction to the media, President-elect Barack Obama named Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools system (CPS), as his nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. “When it comes to school reform,” the President-elect said, “Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners. For Arne, school reform isn’t just a theory in a book – it’s the cause of his life. And the results aren’t just about test scores or statistics, but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job.”

    Though the announcement came amidst a deluge of other Obama nominations – he had unveiled key members of his energy and environment teams the day before and would add his picks for the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior the next day – Duncan’s selection was eagerly anticipated, and garnered mostly favorable reactions in education circles and in the media. He was described as the compromise candidate between powerful teachers’ unions and the advocates of charter schools and merit pay. He was also regularly hailed as a “reformer,” fearless when it came to challenging the educational status quo and more than willing to shake up hidebound, moribund public school systems.

    Yet a closer investigation of Duncan’s record in Chicago casts doubt on that label. As he packs up for Washington, Duncan leaves behind a Windy City legacy that’s hardly cause for optimism, emphasizing as it does a business-minded, market-driven model for education. If he is a “reformer,” his style of management is distinctly top-down, corporate, and privatizing. It views teachers as expendable, unions as unnecessary, and students as customers.

    Disturbing as well is the prominence of Duncan’s belief in offering a key role in public education to the military. Chicago’s school system is currently the most militarized in the country, boasting five military academies, nearly three dozen smaller Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs within existing high schools, and numerous middle school Junior ROTC programs. More troubling yet, the military academies he’s started are nearly all located in low-income, minority neighborhoods. This merging of military training and education naturally raises concerns about whether such academies will be not just education centers, but recruitment centers as well.

    Rather than handing Duncan a free pass on his way into office, as lawmakers did during Duncan’s breezy confirmation hearings last week, a closer examination of the Chicago native’s record is in order. Only then can we begin to imagine where public education might be heading under Arne Duncan, and whether his vision represents the kind of “change” that will bring our students meaningfully in line with the rest of the world.

    The Militarization of Secondary Education

    Today, the flagship projects in CPS’s militarization are its five military academies, affiliated with either the Army, Navy, or Marines. All students – or cadets, as they’re known – attending one of these schools are required to enroll as well in the academy’s Junior ROTC program. That means cadets must wear full military uniforms to school everyday, and undergo daily uniform inspections. As part of the academy’s curriculum, they must also take a daily ROTC course focusing on military history, map reading and navigation, drug prevention, and the branches of the Department of Defense.

    Cadets can practice marching on an academy’s drill team, learn the proper way to fire a weapon on the rifle team, and choose to attend extracurricular spring or summer military training sessions. At the Phoenix Military Academy, cadets are even organized into an academy battalion, modeled on an Army infantry division battalion, in which upper-class cadets fill the leading roles of commander, executive officer, and sergeant major.

    In addition, military personnel from the U.S. armed services teach alongside regular teachers in each academy, and also fill administrative roles such as academy “commandants.” Three of these military academies were created in part with Department of Defense appropriations – funds secured by Illinois lawmakers – and when the proposed Air Force Academy High School opens this fall, CPS will be the only public school system in the country with Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps high school academies.

    CPS also boasts almost three dozen smaller Junior ROTC programs within existing high schools that students can opt to join, and over 20 voluntary middle school Junior ROTC programs. All told, between the academies and the voluntary Junior ROTC programs, more than 10,000 students are enrolled in a military education program of some sort in the CPS system. Officials like Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley justify the need for the military academies by claiming they do a superlative job teaching students discipline and providing them with character-building opportunities. “These are positive learning environments,” Duncan said in 2007. “I love the sense of leadership. I love the sense of discipline.”

    Without a doubt, teaching students about discipline and leadership is an important aspect of being an educator. But is the full-scale uniformed culture of the military actually necessary to impart these values? A student who learns to play the cello, who studies how to read music, will learn discipline too, without a military-themed learning environment. In addition, encouraging students to be critical thinkers, to question accepted beliefs and norms, remains key to a teacher’s role at any grade level. The military’s culture of uniformity and discipline, important as it may be for an army, hardly aligns with these pedagogical values.

    Of no less concern are the types of students Chicago’s military academies are trying to attract. All of CPS’s military academies (except the Rickover Naval Academy) are located in low-income neighborhoods with primarily black and/or Hispanic residents. As a result, student enrollment in the academies consists almost entirely of minorities. Whites, who already represent a mere 9% of the students in the Chicago system, make up only 4% of the students enrolled in the military academies.

    There is obviously a correlation between these low-income, minority communities, the military academies being established in them, and the long-term recruitment needs of the U.S. military. The schools essentially functional as recruiting tools, despite the expectable military disclaimers. The Chicago Tribune typically reported in 1999 that the creation of the system’s first military school in the historically black community of Bronzeville grew, in part, out of “a desire for the military to increase the pool of minority candidates for its academies.” And before the House Armed Services Committee in 2000, the armed services chiefs of staff testified that 30%-50% of all Junior ROTC cadets later enlist in the military. Organizations opposing the military’s growing presence in public schools insist that it’s no mistake the number of military academies in Chicago is on the rise at a time when the U.S. military has had difficulty meeting its recruitment targets while fighting two unpopular wars.

    It seems clear enough that, when it comes to the militarization of the Chicago school system, whatever Duncan’s goals, the results are likely to be only partly “educational.”

    Merging the Market and the Classroom

    While discussing his nomination, President-elect Obama praised the fact that Duncan isn’t “beholden to any one ideology.” A closer examination of his career in education, however, suggests otherwise. As Chicago’s chief executive officer (not to be confused with CPS’s chief education officer), Duncan ran his district in a most businesslike manner. As he put it in a 2003 profile in Catalyst Chicago, an independent magazine that covers education reform, “We’re in the business of education.” And indeed, managing the country’s third-largest school system does require sharp business acumen. But what’s evident from Duncan’s seven years in charge is his belief that the business of education should, first and foremost, embrace the logic of the free market and privatization.

    Duncan’s belief in privatizing public education can be most clearly seen in Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 plan, the centerpiece of his time in that city. Designed by corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney and backed by the Commercial Club of Chicago, an organization representing some of the city’s largest businesses, Renaissance 2010 has pushed hard for the closing of underperforming schools – to be replaced by multiple new, smaller, “entrepreneurial” schools. Under the plan, many of the new institutions established have been privatized charter or “contract” schools run by independent nonprofit outfits. They, then, turn out to have the option of contracting school management out to for-profit education management organizations. In addition, Renaissance 2010 charter schools, not being subject to state laws and district initiatives, can – as many have – eliminate the teachers’ union altogether.

    Under Duncan’s leadership, CPS and Renaissance 2010 schools have adopted a performance-driven style of governance in which well-run schools and their teachers and administrators are rewarded, and low-performing schools are penalized. As Catalyst Chicago reported, “Star schools and principals have been granted more flexibility and autonomy, and often financial freedom and bonus pay.” Low-performing schools put on probation, on the other hand, “have little say over how they can spend poverty funding, an area otherwise controlled by elected local school councils [Local school councils] at struggling schools have also lost the right to hire or fire principals – restrictions that have outraged some parent activists.”

    Students as well as teachers and principals are experiencing firsthand the impact of Duncan’s belief in competition and incentive-based learning. This fall, the Chicago Public Schools rolled out a Green for Grade$ program in which the district will pay freshmen at 20 selected high schools for good grades – $50 in cash for an A, $35 for a B, and even $20 for a C. Though students not surprisingly say they support the program – what student wouldn’t want to get paid for grades? – critics contend that cash-for-grades incentives, which stir interest in learning for all the wrong reasons, turn being educated into a job.

    Duncan’s rhetoric offers a good sense of what his business-minded approach and support for bringing free-market ideologies into public education means. At a May 2008 symposium hosted by the Renaissance Schools Fund, the nonprofit financial arm of Renaissance 2010, entitled “Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market of Public Education,” Duncan typically compared his job running a school district to that of a stock portfolio manager. As he explained, “I am not a manager of 600 schools. I’m a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I’m trying to improve the portfolio.” He would later add, “We’re trying to blur the lines between the public and the private.”

    A Top-Down Leadership Style

    Barack Obama built his campaign on impressive grassroots support and the democratic nature of his candidacy. Judging by his continued outreach to supporters, he seems intent on leading, at least in part, with the same bottom-up style. Duncan’s style couldn’t be more different.

    Under Duncan, the critical voices of parents, community leaders, students, and teachers regularly fell on deaf ears. As described by University of Illinois at Chicago professor and education activist Pauline Lipman in the journal Educational Policy in 2007, Renaissance 2010 provoked striking resistance within affected communities and neighborhoods. There were heated community hearings and similarly angry testimony at Board of Education meetings, as well as door-to-door organizing, picketing, and even, at one point, a student walk-out.

    “The opposition,” Lipman wrote, “brought together unions, teachers, students, school reformers, community leaders and organizations, parents in African American South and West Side communities, and some Latino community activists and teachers.” Yet, as she pointed out recently, mounting neighborhood opposition had little effect. “I’m pretty in tune with the grassroots activism in education in Chicago,” she said, “and people are uniformly opposed to these policies, and uniformly feel that they have no voice.”

    During Duncan’s tenure, decision-making responsibilities that once belonged to elected officials shifted into the hands of unelected individuals handpicked by the city’s corporate or political elite. For instance, elected local school councils, made up mostly of parents and community leaders, are to be scaled back or eliminated altogether as part of Renaissance 2010. Now, many new schools can simply opt out of such councils.

    Then there’s the Renaissance Schools Fund. It oversees the selection and evaluation of new schools and subsequent investment in them. Made up of unelected business leaders, the CEO of the system, and the Chicago Board of Education president, the Fund takes the money it raises and makes schools compete against each other for limited private funding. It has typically been criticized by community leaders and activists for being an opaque, unaccountable body indifferent to the will of Chicago’s citizens.

    Making the Grade?

    Despite his controversial educational policies, Duncan’s supporters ultimately contend that, as the CEO of Chicago’s schools, he’s gotten results where it matters – test scores. An objective, easily quantifiable yet imperfect measure of student learning, test scores have indeed improved in several areas under Duncan (though many attribute this to lowered statewide testing standards and more lenient testing guidelines). Between 2001 and 2008, for instance, the percentage of elementary school students meeting or exceeding standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test increased from 39.5% to 65%. The number of CPS students meeting or exceeding the Illinois Learning Standards, another statewide secondary education achievement assessment, also increased from 38% in 2002 to 60% in 2008.

    When measured on a national scale, however, Duncan’s record looks a lot less impressive. In comparison to other major urban school districts (including Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.) in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or “The Nation’s Report Card,” Chicago fourth and eighth graders ranked, with only one exception, in the bottom half of all districts in math, reading, and science in 2003, 2005 and 2007. In addition, from 2004 to 2008, the Chicago Public Schools district failed to make “adequate yearly progress” as mandated by the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act.

    Even if Duncan’s policies do continue to boost test scores in coming years, the question must be asked: At whose expense? In a competition-driven educational system, some schools will, of course, succeed, receiving more funding and so hiring the most talented teachers. At the same time, schools that aren’t “performing” will be put on probation, stripped of their autonomy, and possibly closed, only to be reopened as privately-run outfits – or even handed over to the military. The highest achieving students (that is, the best test-takers) will have access to the most up-to-date facilities, advanced equipment, and academic support programs; struggling students will likely be left behind, separate and unequal, stuck in decrepit classrooms and underfunded schools.

    Public education is not meant to be a win-lose, us-versus-them system, nor is it meant to be a recruitment system for the military – and yet this, it seems, is at the heart of Duncan’s legacy in Chicago, and so a reasonable indication of the kind of “reform” he’s likely to bring to the country as education secretary.

    ——–

    Andy Kroll is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a student at the University of Michigan. His writing has appeared at the Nation Online, Alternet, CNN, CBS News, CampusProgress.org, and Wiretap Magazine, among other publications. He welcomes feedback, and can be reached at his website. To listen to a TomDispatch audio interview with Kroll on the new Secretary of Education, click here.

Obama’s Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Education.
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duncan-and-obamaPresident-elect Barack Obama with his nominee for secretary of education, Arne Duncan. (Photo: Reuters) MORE “PLUS CA CHANGE …” YOU CAN BELIEVE IN (RH)www.truthout.org 17 December 2008

 

 

 Since the 1980s, but particularly under the Bush administration, certain elements of the religious right, corporate culture and Republican right wing have argued that free public education represents either a massive fraud or a contemptuous failure. Far from a genuine call for reform, these attacks largely stem from an attempt to transform schools from a public investment to a private good, answerable not to the demands and values of a democratic society but to the imperatives of the marketplace. As the educational historian David Labaree rightly argues, public schools have been under attack in the last decade “not just because they are deemed ineffective but because they are public.”[1] Right-wing efforts to disinvest in public schools as critical sites of teaching and learning and govern them according to corporate interests is obvious in the emphasis on standardized testing, the use of top-down curricular mandates, the influx of advertising in schools, the use of profit motives to “encourage” student performance, the attack on teacher unions and modes of pedagogy that stress rote learning and memorization. For the Bush administration, testing has become the ultimate accountability measure, belying the complex mechanisms of teaching and learning.

The hidden curriculum is that testing be used as a ploy to de-skill teachers by reducing them to mere technicians, that students be similarly reduced to customers in the marketplace rather than as engaged, critical learners and that always underfunded public schools fail so that they can eventually be privatized. But there is an even darker side to the reforms initiated under the Bush administration and now used in a number of school systems throughout the country. As the logic of the market and “the crime complex”[2] frame the field of social relations in schools, students are subjected to three particularly offensive policies, defended by school authorities and politicians under the rubric of school safety. First, students are increasingly subjected to zero-tolerance policies that are used primarily to punish, repress and exclude them. Second, they are increasingly absorbed into a “crime complex” in which security staff, using harsh disciplinary practices, now displace the normative functions teachers once provided both in and outside of the classroom.[3] Third, more and more schools are breaking down the space between education and juvenile delinquency, substituting penal pedagogies for critical learning and replacing a school culture that fosters a discourse of possibility with a culture of fear and social control. Consequently, many youth of color in urban school systems, because of harsh zero-tolerance polices, are not just being suspended or expelled from school. They are being ushered into the dark precincts of juvenile detention centers, adult courts and prison. Surely, the dismantling of this corporatized and militarized model of schooling should be a top priority under the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Obama has appointed as his secretary of education someone who actually embodies this utterly punitive, anti-intellectual, corporatized and test-driven model of schooling.

    Barack Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan for secretary of education does not bode well either for the political direction of his administration nor for the future of public education. Obama’s call for change falls flat with this appointment, not only because Duncan largely defines schools within a market-based and penal model of pedagogy, but also because he does not have the slightest understanding of schools as something other than adjuncts of the corporation at best or the prison at worse. The first casualty in this scenario is a language of social and political responsibility capable of defending those vital institutions that expand the rights, public goods and services central to a meaningful democracy. This is especially true with respect to the issue of public schooling and the ensuing debate over the purpose of education, the role of teachers as critical intellectuals, the politics of the curriculum and the centrality of pedagogy as a moral and political practice.

    Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, presided over the implementation and expansion of an agenda that militarized and corporatized the third largest school system in the nation, one that is about 90 percent poor and nonwhite. Under Duncan, Chicago took the lead in creating public schools run as military academies, vastly expanded draconian student expulsions, instituted sweeping surveillance practices, advocated a growing police presence in the schools, arbitrarily shut down entire schools and fired entire school staffs. A recent report, “Education on Lockdown,” claimed that partly under Duncan’s leadership “Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has become infamous for its harsh zero tolerance policies. Although there is no verified positive impact on safety, these policies have resulted in tens of thousands of student suspensions and an exorbitant number of expulsions.”[4] Duncan’s neoliberal ideology is on full display in the various connections he has established with the ruling political and business elite in Chicago.[5] He led the Renaissance 2010 plan, which was created for Mayor Daley by the Commercial Club of Chicago – an organization representing the largest businesses in the city. The purpose of Renaissance 2010 was to increase the number of high quality schools that would be subject to new standards of accountability – a code word for legitimating more charter schools and high stakes testing in the guise of hard-nosed empiricism. Chicago’s 2010 plan targets 15 percent of the city district’s alleged underachieving schools in order to dismantle them and open 100 new experimental schools in areas slated for gentrification.

Most of the new experimental schools have eliminated the teacher union. The Commercial Club hired corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney to write Ren2010, which called for the closing of 100 public schools and the reopening of privatized charter schools, contract schools (more charters to circumvent state limits) and “performance” schools. Kearney’s web site is unapologetic about its business-oriented notion of leadership, one that John Dewey thought should be avoided at all costs. It states, “Drawing on our program-management skills and our knowledge of best practices used across industries, we provided a private-sector perspective on how to address many of the complex issues that challenge other large urban education transformations.”[6]

    Duncan’s advocacy of the Renaissance 2010 plan alone should have immediately disqualified him for the Obama appointment. At the heart of this plan is a privatization scheme for creating a “market” in public education by urging public schools to compete against each other for scarce resources and by introducing “choice” initiatives so that parents and students will think of themselves as private consumers of educational services.[7] As a result of his support of the plan, Duncan came under attack by community organizations, parents, education scholars and students. These diverse critics have denounced it as a scheme less designed to improve the quality of schooling than as a plan for privatization, union busting and the dismantling of democratically-elected local school councils. They also describe it as part of neighborhood gentrification schemes involving the privatization of public housing projects through mixed finance developments.[8] (Tony Rezko, an Obama and Blagojevich campaign supporter, made a fortune from these developments along with many corporate investors.) Some of the dimensions of public school privatization involve Renaissance schools being run by subcontracted for-profit companies – a shift in school governance from teachers and elected community councils to appointed administrators coming disproportionately from the ranks of business. It also establishes corporate control over the selection and model of new schools, giving the business elite and their foundations increasing influence over educational policy. No wonder that Duncan had the support of David Brooks, the conservative op-ed writer for The New York Times.

    One particularly egregious example of Duncan’s vision of education can be seen in the conference he organized with the Renaissance Schools Fund. In May 2008, the Renaissance Schools Fund, the financial wing of the Renaissance 2010 plan operating under the auspices of the Commercial Club, held a symposium, “Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market in Public Education,” at the exclusive private club atop the Aon Center. The event was held largely by and for the business sector, school privatization advocates, and others already involved in Renaissance 2010, such as corporate foundations and conservative think tanks. Significantly, no education scholars were invited to participate in the proceedings, although it was heavily attended by fellows from the pro-privatization Fordham Foundation and featured speakers from various school choice organizations and the leadership of corporations. Speakers clearly assumed the audience shared their views.

    Without irony, Arne Duncan characterized the goal of Renaissance 2010 creating the new market in public education as a “movement for social justice.” He invoked corporate investment terms to describe reforms explaining that the 100 new schools would leverage influence on the other 500 schools in Chicago. Redefining schools as stock investments he said, “I am not a manager of 600 schools. I’m a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I’m trying to improve the portfolio.” He claimed that education can end poverty. He explained that having a sense of altruism is important, but that creating good workers is a prime goal of educational reform and that the business sector has to embrace public education. “We’re trying to blur the lines between the public and the private,” he said. He argued that a primary goal of educational reform is to get the private sector to play a huge role in school change in terms of both money and intellectual capital. He also attacked the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), positioning it as an obstacle to business-led reform. He also insisted that the CTU opposes charter schools (and, hence, change itself), despite the fact that the CTU runs ten such schools under Renaissance 2010. Despite the representation in the popular press of Duncan as conciliatory to the unions, his statements and those of others at the symposium belied a deep hostility to teachers unions and a desire to end them (all of the charters created under Ren2010 are deunionized). Thus, in Duncan’s attempts to close and transform low-performing schools, he not only reinvents them as entrepreneurial schools, but, in many cases, frees “them from union contracts and some state regulations.”[9] Duncan effusively praised one speaker, Michael Milkie, the founder of the Nobel Street charter schools, who openly called for the closing and reopening of every school in the district precisely to get rid of the unions. What became clear is that Duncan views Renaissance 2010 as a national blueprint for educational reform, but what is at stake in this vision is the end of schooling as a public good and a return to the discredited and tired neoliberal model of reform that conservatives love to embrace.

    In spite of the corporate rhetoric of accountability, efficiency and excellence, there is to date no evidence that the radical reforms under Duncan’s tenure as the “CEO” of Chicago Public Schools have created any significant improvement. In part, this is because the Chicago Public Schools and the Renaissance Schools Fund report data in obscurantist ways to make traditional comparisons difficult if not impossible.[10] And, in part, examples of educational claims to school improvement are being made about schools embedded in communities that suffered dislocation and removal through coordinated housing privatization and gentrification policies. For example, the city has decimated public housing in coveted real estate enclaves, dispossessing thousands of residents of their communities. Once the poor are removed, the urban cleansing provides an opportunity for Duncan to open a number of Renaissance Schools, catering to those socio-economically empowered families whose children would surely improve the city’s overall test scores. What are alleged to be school improvements under Ren2010, rest on an increase in the city’s overall test scores and other performance measures that parodies the financial shell game corporations used to inflate profit margins – and prospects for future catastrophes are as inevitable. In the end, all Duncan leaves us with is a Renaissance 2010 model of education that is celebrated as business designed “to save kids” from a failed public system. In fact, it condemns public schooling, administrators, teachers and students to a now outmoded and discredited economic model of reform that can only imagine education as a business, teachers as entrepreneurs and students as customers.[11]

    It is difficult to understand how Barack Obama can reconcile his vision of change with Duncan’s history of supporting a corporate vision for school reform and a penchant for extreme zero-tolerance polices – both of which are much closer to the retrograde policies hatched in conservative think tanks as Heritage Foundation, Cato Institution, Fordham Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, than to the values of the many millions who voted for the democratic change he promised. As is well known, these think tanks share an agenda not for strengthening public schooling, but for dismantling it and replacing it with a private market in consumable educational services. At the heart of Duncan’s vision of school reform is a corporatized model of education that cancels out the democratic impulses and practices of civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market or the prison. No longer a space for relating schools to the obligations of public life, social responsibility to the demands of critical and engaged citizenship, schools in this dystopian vision legitimate an all-encompassing horizon for producing market identities, values and those privatizing and penal pedagogies that both inflate the importance of individualized competition and punish those who do not fit into its logic of pedagogical Darwinism.[12]

    In spite of what Duncan argues, the greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures that offer the aura of accountability. On the contrary, it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, consigns 13 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services and defines rugged individualism through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools. Young people are under siege in American schools because, in the absence of funding, equal opportunity and real accountability, far too many of them have increasingly become institutional breeding grounds for racism, right-wing paramilitary cultures, social intolerance and sexism.[13] We live in a society in which a culture of testing, punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain for critical teaching and learning, it is easier to subject young people to a culture of faux accountability or put them in jail rather than to provide the education, services and care they need to face problems of a complex and demanding society.[14]

 What Duncan and other neoliberal economic advocates refuse to address is what it would mean for a viable educational policy to provide reasonable support services for all students and viable alternatives for the troubled ones. The notion that children should be viewed as a crucial social resource – one that represents, for any healthy society, important ethical and political considerations about the quality of public life, the allocation of social provisions and the role of the state as a guardian of public interests – appears to be lost in a society that refuses to invest in its youth as part of a broader commitment to a fully realized democracy. As the social order becomes more privatized and militarized, we increasingly face the problem of losing a generation of young people to a system of increasing intolerance, repression and moral indifference. It is difficult to understand why Obama would appoint as secretary of education someone who believes in a market-driven model that has not only failed young people, but given the current financial crisis has been thoroughly discredited. Unless Duncan is willing to reinvent himself, the national agenda he will develop for education embodies and exacerbates these problems and, as such, it will leave a lot more kids behind than it helps.

    ——–

    [1] Cited in Alfie Kohn, “The Real Threat to American Schools,” Tikkun (March-April 2001), p. 25. For an interesting commentary on Obama and his possible pick to head the education department and the struggle over school reform, see Alfie Kohn, “Beware School ‘Reformers’,” The Nation (December 29, 2008). Online: www.thenation.com/doc/20081229/kohn/print.

    [2] This term comes form: David Garland, “The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

    [3] For a brilliant analysis of the “governing through crime” complex, see Jonathan Simon, “Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear,” (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007).

    [4] Advancement Project in partnership with Padres and Jovenes Unidos, Southwest Youth Collaborative, “Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track,” (New York: Children & Family Justice Center of Northwestern University School of Law, March 24, 2005), p.31. On the broader issue of the effect of racialized zero tolerance policies on public education, see Christopher G. Robbins, “Expelling Hope: The Assault on Youth and the Militarization of Schooling” (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008). See also, Henry A. Giroux, “The Abandoned Generation” (New York: Palgrave, 2004).

    [5] David Hursh and Pauline Lipman, “Chapter 8: Renaissance 2010: The Reassertion of Ruling-Class Power through Neoliberal Policies in Chicago” in David Hursh, “High-Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning” (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

    [6] See: www.atkearney.com

    [7] “Creating a New Market of Public Education: The Renaissance Schools Fund 2008 Progress Report,” The Renaissance Schools Fund www.rsfchicago.org

    [8] Kenneth J. Saltman, “Chapter 3: Renaissance 2010 and No Child Left Behind Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2007).

    [9] Sarah Karp and Joyn Myers, “Duncan’s Track Record,” Catalyst Chicago (December 15, 2008). Online: www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/index.php?item=2514&cat=5&tr=y&auid=4336549

    [10] (See Chicago Public Schools Office of New Schools 2006/2007 Charter School Performance Report Executive Summary)

    [11] See Dorothy Shipps, “School Reform, Corporate Style: Chicago 1880-2000,” (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2006).

    [12] See, for example, Summary Report, “America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline,” Children’s Defense Fund. Online at: www.childrensdefense.org/site/DocServer/CPP_report_2007_summary.pdf?docID=6001; also see, Elora Mukherjee, “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” (New York: American Civil Liberties Union and New York Civil Liberties, March 2008), pp. 1-36.

    [13] Donna Gaines, “How Schools Teach Our Kids to Hate,” Newsday (Sunday, April 25, 1999), p. B5.

    [14] As has been widely, reported, the prison industry has become big business with many states spending more on prison construction than on university construction. Jennifer Warren, “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” (Washington, DC: The PEW Center on the States, 2007). Online at: www.pewcenteronthestates.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=35912

    ——–

    Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex,” (2007), and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed,” (2008). His newest book, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?,” will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2009.  

    Kenneth Saltman is associate professor in the department of Educational Policy Studies and Research at DePaul University in Chicago. He is the author, most recently, of “Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools,” (Paradigm Publishers 2007), and editor of Schooling and the Politics of Disaster (Routledge 2007).

 

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