And beware of Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and one of the biggest backers of charter schools and privatization of schools
Leading Black Democrats Love School Privatization Too March 8, 2017Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Race, Uncategorized.
Tags: betsy devos, bruce a. dixon, charter schools, education, georgia legislature, privatization, public education, roger hollander, stacy abrams
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Roger’s note: public education is not only the backbone of democracy but also to some degree a social equalizer, one of the few mitagators of social and economic inequality in our class society. To my mind the politicians of both parties who are selling out this legacy are doing no less than committing a kind of treason. This is happening at the national level and state by state as private school money continues to purchase one legislator after another. And this was happening long before Trump.
Since voters nearly always reject privatization initiatives on the ballot, Republicans and Democrats, both in the pay of charter school sugar daddies, are obliged to make it happen without them. In the maze of double dealing we call legislative processes, leading Democrats in most state legislatures have thrown their bipartisan weight behind school privatization bills. Georgia and its leading black Democrats are no exception.
A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by Bruce A. Dixon
As voters wise up across the country, they have rejected almost every school privatization proposal put before them. Last November Georgia’s governor Nathan “let’s make a” Deal threw a constitutional amendment at voters that would have closed 120 mostly black public schools and given them to a statewide charter school district which in turn would be privatized in 2018. Deal’s rotten deal on education was thrown back, thanks in part to many Georgia Democrats who enthusiastically support handing public education over to private profiteers, just not Republican ones.
But if privatization is not the will of the people, it IS the will of the one percenters and their stooges in both parties. Both Obama Secretaries of Education were enthusiastic privatizers. A Democrat, the First Black President came into office vowing to close 5,000 public schools in his first term. He used $4 billion in one-time stimulus money to do just that, dispersing more qualified black teachers, disempowering more parents, and delivering more children into the profitable hands of charter school crooks – I mean entrepreneurs, than any president before him, and shattering the cohesion of thousands of neighborhoods where the public school had been a kind of anchor.
Donald Trump gave us Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, the sister of Blackwater founder Eric Prince and a militant Christian billionaire who has championed religious and charter schools in Michigan and resisted laws that would oversee or regulate them. DeVos is so ignorant she imagined that historically black colleges and universities were the result of black choices, rather than white philanthropy and black self-help in an era when institutions of higher learning would not admit black students. DeVos sponsored multiple voucher and charter school referenda, and they all failed.
But again, privatizing education is an elite bipartisan project, much too important to allow voters to get in the way. Since Georgia voters rejected the privatization amendment on the ballot, state legislators in their infinite wisdom have decided to put high heels and lipstick on the pig and grease it through that state’s brief legislative session this year. Georgia has a Republican governor and Republican majorities in both houses of its legislature, but many rural Republicans have begun to see that the privatizations will hit them next after black and brown communities.
So it fell to the state’s leading black legislator, House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams of Atlanta to go to the well of the state house, point to the pig’s pretty lipstick and heels, and endorse the privatization bill HB 338, and encourage those in her caucus to vote for it.
To be fair, there are Democrats in Georgia and elsewhere who say they oppose school privatization. But they’re members of a party that takes big money from the privatizers and because of careertacy or other considerations they will not, they cannot break with the privatizers.
There’s another party in Georgia, the only political party that doesn’t take money from the privatizers, and the only party that stands explicitly against school privatization as nothing more or less than a new kind of grand theft. It’s the Green party, and unless the state legislature finds a way to keep us off the ballot, the Georgia Green party will have its first seats in that body in 2018.
For Black Agenda Radio, and for the Georgia Green Party I’m Bruce Dixon.
Dangerous Court Rulling Is Latest Attempt to Blame Teachers and Weaken Public Education June 11, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in California, Education, Los Angeles.
Tags: diane ravitch, educatiion, job tenure, mandatory testing, no child left behind, privatization, public education, rolf m. treu, teacher tenure, vergara lawsuit
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Roger’s note: I read about this decision as reported in the New York Times. Although it did contain quotes from the teachers’ unions, one came away with the impression that the issue is one of student rights, that is, the right to good teachers, thereby ignoring all the socio-economic reasons for poor educational results. The judge shamelessly compared his decision to the civil rights iconic decision in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which overturned public school segregation legality. Of course, the decision was heartily endorsed by Arne Duncan, Obama’s Chicago basketball buddy and Secretary of Education, who never met a privatization he didn’t like.
It is a sign of our times that civil rights logic is invoked to justify the destructive corporatization and privatization of public education, the thrust of which is being funded, tea party-like, by those very same corporate private billionaires.
Published on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 by DianeRavitch.net
Judge Rolf M. Treu, who decided the Vergara case, declared that he was shocked — shocked! — to learn from Professor Raj Chetty and Professor Thomas Kane of Harvard about the enormous harm that one “grossly ineffective” teacher can do to a child’s lifetime earnings or to their academic gains.
How did he define “grossly ineffective” teacher? He didn’t. How did these dreadful teachers get tenure? Clearly, some grossly incompetent principal must have granted it to them. What was the basis — factual or theoretical — that the students would have had high scores if their teachers did not have the right to due process? He didn’t say.
The theory behind the case — as I see it — is that low test scores are caused by bad teachers. Get rid of the bad teachers, replace them with average teachers, and all students will get high test scores. You might call it the judicial version of No Child Left Behind — that is, pull the right policy levers — say, testing and accountability, or eliminate tenure — and every single child in America will be proficient by 2014. Congress should hang its collective head in shame for having passed that ridiculous law, yet it still sits on the books as the scorned, ineffective, toxic law of the land.
Judge Treu was also regurgitating the unproven claims behind Race to the Top, specifically that using test scores to evaluate teachers will make it possible to weed out “bad teachers,” recruit and reward top teachers, and test scores will rise to the top. Given this theory, a concept like tenure (due process) slows down the effort to fire those “grossly ineffective” teachers and delays the day when every student is proficient.
Relying on Chetty and Kane, Judge Treu is quite certain that the theory of universal proficiency is correct. Thus, in his thinking, it becomes a matter of urgency — a civil rights issue — to eliminate tenure and any other legal protection for teachers, leaving principals free to fire them promptly, without delay or hindrance.
Set aside for the moment that this decision lacks any evidentiary basis. Another judge might have heard the same parade of witnesses and reached a different conclusion.
Bear in mind that the case will be appealed to a higher court, and will continue to be appealed until there is no higher court.
It is not unreasonable to believe that the California Teachers Association might negotiate a different tenure process with the legislature, perhaps a requirement of three years probationary status instead of two.
The one thing that does seem certain is that, contrary to the victory claims of hedge fund managers and right-wing editorial writers, no student will gain anything as a result of this decision. Millions more dollars will be spent to litigate the issues in California and elsewhere, but what will students gain? Nothing. The poorest, neediest students will still be in schools that lack the resources to meet their needs. They will still be in schools where classes are too large. They will still be in buildings that need repairs. They will still be in schools where the arts program and nurses and counselors were eliminated by budget cuts.
If their principals fire all or most or some of their teachers, who will take their places? There is no long line of superb teachers waiting for a chance to teach in inner-city schools. Chetty and Kane blithely assume that those who are fired will be replaced by better teachers. How do they know that?
Let’s be clear. No “grossly ineffective” teacher should ever get tenure. Only a “grossly ineffective” principal would give tenure to a “grossly ineffective” teacher. Teachers do not give tenure to themselves.
Unfortunately, the Vergara decision is the latest example of the blame-shifting strategy of the privatization movement. Instead of acknowledging that test scores are highly correlated with family income, they prefer to blame teachers and the very idea of public education. If they were truly interested in supporting the needs of the children, the backers of this case would be advocating for smaller classes, for arts programs, for well-equipped and up-to-date schools, for after-school programs, for health clinics, for librarians and counselors, and for inducements to attract and retain a stable corps of experienced teachers in the schools attended by Beatriz Vergara and her co-plaintiffs.
Let us hope that a wiser judicial panel speedily overturns this bad decision and seeks a path of school reform that actually helps the plaintiffs without inflicting harm on their teachers.
© 2014 Diane Ravitch
Tags: charter schools, chris christie, jacob chamberlain, newark, newark students, privatization, public education, public schools, roger hollander, student activism
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Tags: charter schools, chris christie, jacob chamberlain, newark, newark students, privatization, public education, public schools, roger hollander, student activism
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Roger’s note: The Tea Party agenda to destroy (privatize) public education is alive and well in the hands of Arne Duncan, Obama’s Chicago basketball buddy and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan (and various state governors and legislatures), via the strategy of charter schools, standardized testing, attacks on teachers and their unions and education for profit. The reason for this, apart from the base economic motive, has to do with undoing the leveling and democratizing function of public education. In its all-out war of the wealthy (the owners of managers of capital) against the rest of us, destroying what is left (after defunding and segregation) of public education will have tremendous negative impact on racial minorities, the poor and lower middle class. At the university level, we are already seeing more and more that only the children of the upper economic brackets are able to afford a college education. A strong public education system and democracy are inseparable entities. It is heartening to see, not only in Newark, but around the nation, students, their families and their teachers are fighting to reject the Tea Party/Koch Brother/Obama attacks on public education.
Published on Friday, April 4, 2014 by Common Dreams
Hundreds of students walk out in march demanding public schools over charters
Following moves by the state of New Jersey to defund public schools in exchange for a flood of privately run charter schools, hundreds of students in Newark walked out of classes in protest on Thursday.
According to the Newark’s Star Ledger, almost 1,000 students from about nine schools gathered in front of City Hall around 1 p.m. with microphones and signs.
The protest was organized by the Newark Students Union, calling the protest the “March of Shame,” specifically targeting Superintendent Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” reorganization plan. The plan is set to close or downsize several public schools, fire a range of teachers, and move privately run charter schools into public buildings.
“Holding bullhorns and signs – some with the word ‘liar’ in bold letters above the silhouettes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and state-appointed Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson – hundreds of middle and high school students walked out of schools and into the streets of this economically struggling city,” Al Jazeera America reports.
“Newark students: stand up, fight back!” the students chanted throughout the rally.
“The Anderson administration is not afraid to take quality schools away but is scared of students engaging in their right,” Newark Students Union president Kristin Towkaniek, told the crowd. “It’s your right to be here.”
“I’m walking out because the voices of the students need to be heard, and they will be heard,” said Towkaniuk ahead of the march.
“They said (the plan) will make Newark schools better,” Jose Leonard, a 16-year-old at Arts High School, told Al Jazeera America. “They’ve been saying that for 20 years and we haven’t seen anything. It’s like they don’t care about the students.”
The protest follows a growing trend in students putting their foot down in opposition to a countrywide trend of defunding public education.
As Al Jazeera America reports:
In February, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett canceled his appearance at a Philadelphia public school after students and teachers at the school planned a protest over his budget cuts, which forced many of the city’s schools to cut all extracurricular activities. In Oklahoma, an estimated 25,000 converged on the capitol earlier this week to protest low school funding. Protests have also been held in Oregon and in Camden, N.J.
The protests in Newark aren’t new, either. Last year, high schools students formed the Newark Students Union and held a protest in the city’s downtown area, followed by another in March of this year.
“What’s happening in Newark follows a national pattern as we see states fund schools less than they did before the (2008) recession started,” said Jeff Bryant, a fellow the Campaign for America’s Future.
American Federation of Teachers New Jersey has video of the protest:
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America’s Education Whistleblower: Diane Ravitch and the Reign of Error September 25, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Poverty, Race.
Tags: charter schools, corporate education, diane ravitch, education, educational policy, jim horn, privatization, privatization of education, public education, reign of error, roger hollander, standardized testing
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Roger’s note: If you have not been following the attempts to privatize and, in effect, destroy public education in the United States, Diane Ravitch is a prominent and respected educator who has taken a 180 degree turn from a supporter to its major critic. Backed by mega corporations such as Microsoft and spearheaded by Obama’s basketball playmate and Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, the initiative involves making a fetish of standardized testing, the increased funding of elite charter schools, the marginalization of children from non-white and lower economic families, and a drastic reduction of dependence upon the skills, talents, and experience of teachers. The comments posted after the article fill in some of the details of how this works in practice. If genuine public education is to survive in the U.S., then serious resistance to this typical capitalistic attempt to make money at the expense of children, is essential.
Published on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 by Common Dreams
Author’s note: On September 18, Joe Bowers listed 33 reviews of Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Since then, many other reviews have appeared, including a very substantial one by George Schmidt at Substance News. Please see Bowers’ list for some very good play-by-play reviews. That is not what I am offering here.
In 2007 when Diane Ravitch descended from her 20,000-foot view of the education reform landscape to examine what was going on at ground level, she did not like what she saw: children suffering nose-bleeds and vomiting from test anxiety, school personnel and parents humiliated by test results designed to satisfy the failure quotas imposed by cynical and self-serving corporate privateers and political ideologues; educators being blamed for the effects of poverty that no amount of good teaching could fix alone; untrained beginners replacing education professionals in schools that needed the most caring and experienced teachers; schools that had functioned as community centers of identity and activity being closed; a pathological fixation of quantifiable data that had displaced attention to the human needs of growing children; an educational governance structure increasingly controlled by autocratic and arrogant billionaires; and an incredibly shrinking and brittle collection of desiccated facts having replaced the curriculum for the lower caste of segregated untouchable children incarcerated in more and more urban corporate reform schools.
Seeing all this, Ravitch did what was unthinkable among the delusional and arrogant group of efficiency-worshipping zealots with whom she had spent much time during the prior twenty years: she admitted the entire antiquated system of back to basics on steroids 1) was not improving teaching and learning, 2) was not closing the achievement gaps, 3) was not making public schools stronger, and 4) was not being held accountable for the previous decades of more of the same failed policies built upon the same racist and classist standardized testing foundation, made harder still with each subsequent repackaged iteration.
What makes Diane Ravitch even more unique is that she did not sit behind a screen to offer her insider testimony on these issues to the court of public opinion and then go into an educational witness protection program but, rather, she made the continuing public condemnation of the Billionaire Boys Club her raison d’être, even as the plutocrats’ high-testosterone testocrats have challenged her unassailable facts and as the academic mercenaries from the corporate think tanks have resorted to pretzel logic in attempts to refute her wisdom. Since 2010 when she published The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch has been on a non-stop one-woman road show, crisscrossing the country, speaking to the growing and rumbling army of educators of the nation’s PS Hope.
In her new book, Ravitch has brought a megaphone to the long-ignored message that resistance, indeed, is not futile but, rather, resistance is demanded and that resistance will prevail.
Somehow she has found time between her face-to-face engagements and her online presence as both tweeter and blogger, to write a new book with a cover title in two inch orange Day-Glo letters: Reign of Error. Unlike with Death and Life, which Ravitch shopped to numerous publishers before landing with Basic Books, this time New York’s premier publishing house, Knopf, was eager to snap up Reign or Error, along with generous provisions for promotion, advertising, and touring.
The new book picks up where the last one left off, this time mixing sharp punctures of the ‘Corporate Education’ gas bags with lists of positive strategies that are sure to rankle the proto-fascist sensibilities of the corporate Borg’s swarm of propagandists, e.g., the Wall Street Journal. In this new volume, in fact, Ravitch has brought a megaphone to the long-ignored message that resistance, indeed, is not futile but, rather, resistance is demanded and that resistance will prevail. Her logic to reaching that conclusion is as simple and clear as her deliberate prose, and the directness of her indignant optimism bespeaks an historian who is enjoying her moment and looking forward to a future that she is determined to make livable and learnable for her grandchildren, and ours.
The first half of Reign of Error takes up for discussion a series of reformist claims that are repeated so often by the post-partisan CorpEd think tanks that they would have to be accurate if repetition were sole criterion for establishing truth. Reformist bromides are refuted with clear statements from evidence-based reality that are accompanied with enough documented examples to send any self-serving edupreneur scrambling back to his corporate teaching manual in hopes of salvaging some semblance of pedagogical respectability.
The second half of the book is comprised of Ravitch’s Top Ten educational policy interventions that may, once taken seriously by Washington, again restore sanity to an education policy world gone wild with what Harold Rugg called an “orgy of tabulation,” whose corrupting and abusive practices have spread into kindergarten and pre-K. Each point is discussed with clarity, determination, and evidence that Ravitch has been listening to the most important professionals not included in policy discussions—teachers.
It took a long time for Dr. Ravitch to break clear of the corporatist influence that has controlled the increasingly antiquarian version of education reform since the coming of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Whether her conversion in 2007 resulted from the gentle persuasion of researchers like Richard Rothstein or from the fierce prodding of researcher-advocates like Gerald Bracey and Susan Ohanian, Diane has made up for lost time since regaining her sight after being struck blind on the road out of DC. Whatever happens over the next ten or twenty years in education policy, her place is secure, just after six years of battle, as the single individual who most influenced the eventual outcome if parents and teachers and students continue to heed the call for the restoration and renewal of public schools free of high stakes tests for all children who choose a high quality and free education. Ravitch has brought the word—now it is time to act.
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Should Taxpayers Be Funding Private Schools That Teach Creationism? February 1, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
Tags: Arizona, bobby jindal, Christianity, colorado, cory booker, creationism, education, evolution, louisiana, natural selection, privitization, public education, religion, religious right, roger hollander, school vouchers, science, texas, zack kopplin
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Roger’s note: What is at issue here is not only the question of publicly funding the idiotic notion of creationism, but the very substance of public education. Public education (advocated by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto) is a sine qua non of democracy. The massive effort by the extreme right to privatize public education, aided and abetted by Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is aimed at replacing what is left of democracy in the United States with theocratic tinged militarized corporatism.
|John Scalzi (CC BY 2.0)|
|Part of an exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.|
By Zack Kopplin
According to so-called education reform advocates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education, school vouchers, which allow parents to direct state money to private schools of their choice, are essential because “families need the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.” From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, to Newark, N.J.’s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, these programs are backed by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they enjoy the support of powerful interest groups such as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the American Federation for Children.
Voucher programs have been established in 12 states and the District of Columbia, and they are spreading as Texas and Tennessee attempt to create ones of their own. As the use of vouchers has expanded across the country in recent years, new questions have arisen that extend beyond concerns about their appropriateness and legality. We’ve pushed standards, testing and accountability for public schools, so why shouldn’t private institutions receiving vouchers have to meet those same requirements? Should private institutions be allowed to ignore state science standards and teach their students creationism while receiving taxpayer money? Does learning about biblical creation, rather than evolution, really help to meet students’ needs?
I first investigated the relationship between creationism and voucher programs after reading an AlterNet article in June about Eternity Christian Academy in Louisiana. Now removed from the state’s voucher program, the school was using the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum to teach students that the mythical Loch Ness Monster existed and somehow disproved evolution. As I looked further into Louisiana’s program, I found that there wasn’t just one school but at least 20 private ones getting vouchers and thus receiving millions of taxpayer dollars. After reviewing my research, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist James Gill wrote that “vouchers have turned out to be the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”
This isn’t just a Louisiana problem. It seems clear that the U.S. is facing a national creationism epidemic. In an exposé I wrote posted by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, I identified hundreds of additional voucher schools in nine states and the District of Columbia using dozens of different creationist curriculums. These schools are receiving tens of millions of dollars, and maybe even hundreds of millions, to teach religious beliefs in violation of state science standards. With 164 such campuses, Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program contained the highest concentration of creationist voucher schools I was able to uncover. Indiana, which has been marketed as the “gold standard” for voucher accountability, has at least 37 such schools teaching creationism. A couple of its campuses proudly advertise that their students are taken to the Creation Museum on field trips. So far, I’ve discovered 311 creationist voucher schools across the country.
Those 311 schools are not the only taxpayer funded institutions teaching creationism. There are likely hundreds more. Although many are difficult to find, either because they don’t have websites or don’t advertise their creationist curriculum, lots of voucher schools fit the profile of creationist campuses that are already known. On top of this, two states, Arizona and Mississippi, have voucher programs but don’t release the names of participating schools. Officials with the Arizona Department of Education confirmed to me that every private school in the state is eligible to participate in the program, and since I’ve identified private creationist schools there that could be involved, there is little doubt that Arizona is funding some of them. I believe it’s a safe bet that every school voucher program in the country is financing creationism.
These campuses would be shut if they were subject to the same standards as public institutions. The courts have shot down the teaching of creationism and intelligent design with public money over and over again, so why are we letting taxpayer funded private voucher schools teach them? The scientists and educators who devised both state science standards and the national common core standards knew creationism was pseudo-science that would not help American students get the education they need to succeed in a global, 21st century economy. That’s why we don’t teach creationism in public schools. Taxpayers should be outraged that their hard-earned dollars are enabling the mis-education of private school students.
Aside from not meeting these basic academic standards, many voucher schools suffer from other significant problems. Louisiana bloggers have exposed profiteering prophets who sought to capitalize on taxpayer funding for private schools. The Miami New Times reports that voucher schools in Florida are being run by administrators who “include criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.” A school in Louisiana’s program was slated to receive millions of dollars from vouchers but lacked the facilities needed to house new students.
Proponents of vouchers argue that diverting money from public to private schools will help students learn by increasing inter-campus competition. But when voucher programs contain institutions that teach creationism instead of science, it’s easy to see that damage is being done to students whose futures are jeopardized by poor education.
Although a judge recently ruled that the way Louisiana funds its school voucher program is unconstitutional, it continues to operate as the state appeals the decision. Similarly, the voucher program in Colorado has been halted by a court injunction. But given the aggressive activity of taxpayer funded voucher programs across the country, we need to fight to make sure that no additional ones are created. And we need to stop politicians in states such as Indiana and Wisconsin from following through on plans to expand already existing programs. Today’s students and our nation’s future demand it.
Zack Kopplin is a science education advocate and winner of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in Education and the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of Darwin Award.
Boycott of Standardized Tests Spreads as Seattle Teachers Revolt January 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Labor.
Tags: academic progress, arne duncan, ballard high, education, garfield high, map, public education, roger hollander, school boycott, school reform, seattle schools, standardized tests
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Roger’s note: Here is a conspiracy theory “you can believe in.” Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, are complicit with those whose objective is to destroy democratic public education in the United States. Schools whose students do well on standardized tests will be the recipients of greater funding, while those who score low will lose out. And guess whose white upper middle class children, well-fed and beneficiaries of economic and emotional security, will ace the tests and receive the benefits.
Published on Saturday, January 12, 2013 by Common Dreams
Teachers in Seattle schools refuse to administer ‘specious’ standardized tests. Will others follow their lead?
– Jon Queally, staff writer
Opponents of the nation’s relentless push for standardized testing in public schools have new champions in Seattle this week as teachers at one high school and now another have refused to issue such exams to their students, calling them a waste of “time and money” amid “dwindling school resources.”
The entire teaching faculty at Garfield High School (with only three abstentions) voted to support a boycott against administering the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) this week or ever again. Garfield is the largest of thirteen high schools in the Seattle Public School (SPS) system.
In a press release, Kris McBride, Garfield’s academic dean and testing coordinator, said the test “produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources” during the weeks the test is administered.
On Friday, teachers at Ballard High School said they would join the boycott as well. National support for the teachers was also growing online, as a petition circulated and a facebook page for the teachers materialized.
Following some fear that the Garfield teachers could face disciplinary action, well-known education policy expert Diane Ravitch was among those using social media to garner additional support for their cause on Saturday:
In an interview with Seattle’s KUOW Radio, Ravitch said, “This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the entire staff of a school has said ‘no, we will not do this. It’s not good for the students, and it’s a waste of time and money.’”
A letter issued by the Garfield teachers said they would all “respectfully decline to give the MAP test” to any of their students this year.
“I’m teaching by example. If I don’t step up now, who will?” –Mario Shauvette, Garfield High math teacher
“We have had different levels of experiences with MAP in our varied careers, have read about it, and discussed it with our colleagues,” they said. “After this thorough review, we have all come to the conclusion that we cannot in good conscience subject our students to this test again.”
The Christian Science Monitor recounts the teachers’ press event in dramatic fashion:
Forty-five minutes after school let out Thursday afternoon, 19 teachers… at Seattle’s Garfield High School worked their way to the front of an already-crowded classroom, then turned, leaned their backs against the wall of whiteboards, and fired the first salvo of open defiance against high-stakes standardized testing in America’s public schools.
To a room full of TV cameras, reporters, students, and colleagues, the teachers announced their refusal to administer a standardized test that ninth-graders across the district are mandated to take in the first part of January. Known as the MAP test – for Measures of Academic Progress – it is intended to evaluate student progress and skill in reading and math.
First one teacher, then another, and then more stepped forward to charge that the test wastes time, money, and dwindling school resources.
“Our teachers have come together and agreed that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” McBride told the crowded room. “Additionally, students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.”History teacher Jesse Hagopian discusses Garfield High School teachers’ decision to refuse to the give the MAP test to their students during a press conference in Seattle on Thursday. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
In addition to the detrimental impact on students, teachers also pushed back against the test as a way to evaluate teacher performance.
“To use this (MAP) as a tool to evaluate our teaching makes no sense,” said Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High. “They’re setting us up for failure. And Garfield High School is not a failure. We’re the home of (former students) Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee and Quincy Jones.”
Hagopian told Common Dreams that Garfield has a proud tradition of teaching to the “whole student” and that its faculty came together because they understand that test results do no adequately tell the story of who students are or will go on to be. “No one cares how Jimi Hendrix scored on a high school math test,” he said. “And no one should.”
“We really think our teachers are making the right decision,” said Garfield student body president Obadiah Stephens-Terry. “I know when I took the test, it didn’t seem relevant to what we were studying in class – and we have great classes here at Garfield. I know students who just go through the motions when taking the test, just did it as quickly as possible so they could do something more useful with their time.”
Asked if teachers were worried about what lessons students might take away from their defiant boycott chairman of the math department Mario Shauvette, stepped forward and said: “I’m teaching by example. If I don’t step up now, who will? I’m taking charge of what I do here.”
For his part, Wayne Au, former Garfield student and now assistant professor of education at the University of Washington, says teachers at his alma mater are offering their students—and others involved in the fight against corporate school reform—many valuable lessons.
Writing at ReThinking Schools, where he is assistant editor, Au explains:
At the most basic level, the national corporate school reform agenda requires teachers’ compliance. So regardless of individual motives, when a group of teachers collectively and publicly says NO, that represents a fundamental challenge to those pushing that elite agenda. The growing support for Garfield teachers’ resistance to the MAP test is a testament to just how much the collective action of teachers at one school means to the rest of the world.
Having all of the teachers at a school decide to support a boycott of a high-stakes, standardized test is a rare and beautiful thing, one that hasn’t happened since some Chicago teachers did it over a decade ago. That is powerful and inspirational stuff, and as far as I’m concerned, because we don’t yet know the district’s response, the teachers at Garfield are showing a level courage and heroism that I love and admire.
When nearby Ballard High School joined the boycott, teachers there cited numerous and various reasons for aligning with their colleagues at Garfield.
The test—teachers at Ballard said in a letter explaining their decision—has “been re-purposed by district administration to form part of a teacher’s evaluation, which is contrary to the purposes it was designed for, as stated by its purveyor, making it part of junk science.”
The Ballard High teachers, who spoke as one unit, said they were in full agreement with and would stand in support of those at Garfield. “Specifically,” they said, “the MAP test program throughout Seattle Public Schools ought to be shut down immediately. It has been and continues to be an embarrassing mistake. Continuing it even another day, let alone another month or year or decade, will not turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.”
As Reuters points out: “The revolt… comes at a time of fierce political battles over teacher evaluations that has played out in cities from Chicago to Los Angeles.” And continues:
The MAP test that has become a point of contention at Garfield is given at schools around the country but is not required by Washington state.
Unlike the tests required by the state, which are the High School Proficiency Exam and the End-of-Course exams, it has no bearing on students’ grades or their ability to graduate.
Education journalist Valerie Strauss, writing at her Answer Sheet blog, adds:
The boycotts are part of a growing grass-roots revolt against the excessive use of standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers, schools, districts and states. The high-stakes testing era began a decade under No Child Left Behind, and critics say that the exams are being inappropriately used and don’t measure a big part of what students learn.
Parents have started to opt out of having their children take the exams; school boards have approved resolutions calling for an end to test-based accountability systems; thousands of people have signed a national resolution protesting high-stakes tests; superintendents have spoken out, and so have teachers. It has been building momentum in the last year, since Robert Scott, then the commissioner of education in Texas, said publicly that the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.
Mayor’s Kids Private School is What Public Schools Should Be September 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
Tags: arne duncan, chicago, chicago strike, ctu, education, karen lewis, labor, labour, mike elk, private schools, public education, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, standarized tests, teacher evaluations, teacher's strike, unions
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Roger’s note: here are some more articles analyzing the Chicago teachers’ strike and issues of public education:
Published on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 by In These Times
Director of Private School Where Rahm Sends His Kids Opposes Using Testing for Teacher Evaluations
CTU President Karen Lewis says she would love to use University of Chicago Lab School as model for public schools
by Mike Elk
Unlike occasional teacher union opponent Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not send his kids to public schools. Instead, Emanuel’s children attend one of the most elite prep schools in Chicago, the University of Chicago Lab School, where the annual tuition is more than $20,000. (Emanuel has repeatedly refused to answer questions about why he eschews public schools for his children, telling reporters that it is a private family decision.)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel eschews the city’s public schools in favor of the University of Chicago Lab School, who director eschews Emanuel’s idea of “reform.” (Zol87/Flickr/Creative Commons)
The conditions at the University of Chicago Lab Schools are dramatically different than those at Chicago Public Schools, which are currently closed with teachers engaged in a high-profile strike. The Lab School has seven full-time art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700. By contrast, only 25% of Chicago’s “neighborhood elementary schools” have both a full-time art and music instructor. The Lab School has three different libraries, while 160 Chicago public elementary schools do not have a library.
“Physical education, world languages, libraries and the arts are not frills. They are an essential piece of a well-rounded education,” wrote University of Chicago Lab School Director David Magill on the school’s website in February 2009.
Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis agrees with Magill, and believes what works for Mayor Emanuel’s kids should be a prescription for the rest of the city.
“I’m actually glad that he did [send his kids to Lab School] because it gave me an opportunity to look at how the Lab school functions,” Lewis told Chicago magazine in November 2011. “I thought he gave us a wonderful pathway to seeing what a good education looks like, and I think he’s absolutely right, and so we love that model. We would love to see that model throughout.”
One of the key sticking points in union negotiations is that Emanuel wants to use standardized tests scores to count for 40 percent of the basis of teacher evaluations. Earlier this year, more than 80 researchers from 16 Chicago-area universities signed an open letter to Emanuel, criticizing the use of standardized test scores for this purpose. “The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children,” they wrote.
CTU claims that nearly 30% of its members could be dismissed within one to two years if the proposed evaluation process is put into effect and has opposed using tests scores as the basis of evaluation. They’re joined in their opposition to using testing in evaulations by Magill.
Writing on the University of Chicago’s Lab School website two years ago, Magill noted, “Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current [Obama] administration.”
While Magill could not be reached for direct comment on the specifics of the Chicago Teachers’ strike, his past writings on the school’s site suggest he might be supportive.
“I shudder to think of who would be attracted to teach in our public schools without unions,” Magill wrote on the school’s website in February 2009, adding that, even with unions, many teachers “have had no choice but to take on second jobs to make ends meet.“
But Magill’s writings also note just how fine a line CTU will have to walk to keep public sentiment, which currently supports the strike 47% to 39%, on its side according to one recent poll. Acknowledging the “distressing…generational change in the public’s attitude toward teachers,” Magill writes, “Some would say that teachers are responsible for this change by publicly participating in actions designed to bring attention to sub-standard working conditions and compensation. These actions often cause unintended collateral damage to students. Parents and the public at large have long memories when the education of their children is interrupted. We must find a way to conclude collective bargaining without raising doubts about the professionalism of those whose work should be valued the most.”
© 2012 In These Times
Education, Right Wing.
Tags: alec, arne duncan, charter schools, chris christie, cyber charter, diane ravitch, education, gates foundation, jeb bush, koch brothers, privatization, public education, Rahm Emanuel, right wing, roger hollander, teachers, teachers' unions
Tags: alec, arne duncan, charter schools, chris christie, cyber charter, diane ravitch, education, gates foundation, jeb bush, koch brothers, privatization, public education, Rahm Emanuel, right wing, roger hollander, teachers, teachers' unions
Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 by Bridging the Difference Blog / Ed Week
What You Need To Know About ALEC
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
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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How to Destroy Education While Making a Trillion Dollars April 29, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: arne duncan, charter schools, education, privitazation, public education, robert freeman, roger hollander, teacher unions, teachers
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Published on Sunday, April 29, 2012 by Common Dreams
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The New Anti-Science Assault on US Schools February 14, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
Tags: anti-evolution, antui-science, creation science, creationism, darwin, dennis druse, discovery institute, education, evolution, heartland institute, intelligent design, katherine stewart, public education, religion, right wing, roger hollander, science, scopes, senator brecheen
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Published on Sunday, February 12, 2012 by The Guardian/UK
In a disturbing trend, anti-evolution campaigners are combining with climate change deniers to undermine public education
by Katherine Stewart
You might have thought it was all over after the 2005 decision by the US district court of Middle Pennsylvania (pdf), which ruled in the case of the Dover Area schools that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional. You might have guessed that they wouldn’t come back after the 1987 US supreme court decision in Edwards v Aguillard, which deemed the teaching of creationism in Louisiana schools unconstitutional. Or maybe you figured that the opponents of evolution had their Waterloo in the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial in Tennessee.
They are back. There are six bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution before state legislatures this year: two each in New Hampshire and Missouri, one each in Indiana and Oklahoma. And it’s only February.Charles Darwin, circa 1854: 12 February, his birthday, is marked by International Darwin Day. (photo: Corbis)
For the most part, the authors of these bills are singing a song we’ve heard before. Jerry Bergevin, the Republican sponsor of one of the New Hampshire bills, says of evolution that “It’s a worldview and it’s godless.” He blames the teaching of evolution for Nazism and Columbine. Josh Brecheen, the sponsor of the Oklahoma bill, wants to stop the teaching of “the religion of evolution.” These legislators, and their colleagues in Missouri and Indiana, trot out the hoary line that evolution is “just a theory” and that real science means saying that every point of view is just as good as any other.
Most of these bills aren’t likely to get anywhere. The Indiana bill, which specifically proposes the teaching of “creation science”, so obviously falls foul of the supreme court’s 1987 ruling that it’s hard to imagine it getting out of committee. The same could be said for the Missouri bill, which calls for the “equal treatment” of “biological evolution and biological intelligent design”.
Still, it’s worth asking: why is this happening now? Well, in part, it’s just that anti-evolution bills are an indicator of the theological temperature in state houses, and there is no question that the temperature has been rising. New Hampshire, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Missouri turned deeper shades of red in the 2010 elections, as did the US Congress.
But there are a couple of new twists that make this same-old story more interesting than usual. One has to do with the temperature in a less metaphorical sense. The Oklahoma bill isn’t properly speaking just an “anti-evolution” bill; it is just as opposed to the “theory” of “global warming”. A bill pending in Tennessee likewise targets “global warming” alongside “biological evolution”. These and other bills aim their rhetoric at “scientific controversies” in plural, and one of the New Hampshire bills does not even bother to specify which controversies it has in mind.
The convergence here is, to some degree, cultural. It just so happens that the people who don’t like evolution are often the same ones who don’t want to hear about climate change. It is also the case that the rhetoric of the two struggles is remarkably similar – everything is a “theory”, and we should “teach the controversy”. But we also cannot overlook the fact is that there is a lot more money at stake in the climate science debate than in the evolution wars. Match those resources with the passions aroused by evolution, and we may have a new force to be reckoned with in the classroom.
The other significant twist has to do with the fact that the new anti-evolution – make that anti-science – bills are emerging in the context of the most vigorous assault on public education in recent history. In Oklahoma, for example, while Senator Brecheen fights the forces of evolution and materialism, the funding for schools is being cut, educational attainments are falling, and conservative leaders are agitating for school voucher systems, which, in the name of “choice”, would divert money from public schools to private schools – many of them religious. The sponsor of Indiana’s anti-science bill, Dennis Kruse, who happens to be chairman of the Senate education committee, is also fighting the two battles at once.
The Heartland Institute – which has received funding in the past from oil companies and is a leading source of climate science skepticism – also lobbies strongly for school vouchers and other forms of “school transformation” that are broadly aimed at undermining the current public school system. The Discovery Institute – a leading voice for intelligent design – has indicated its support of exactly the same “school reform” initiatives.
If you can’t shut down the science, the new science-deniers appear to be saying, you should shut down the schools. It would be a shame if they succeeded in replacing the teaching of science with indoctrination. It would be worse if they were to close the public school house doors altogether.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2012
Katherine Stewart is a journalist and author. She has written for the New York Times, Reuters and Marie Claire, and her new book is The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children (2012)