Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lily Eskelsen García Poised to Set Stronger Face, Representing U.S. Teachers, in Leading the NEA This Fall

*Eskelsen García is no Weingarten, and that's great *Great keynote at Netroots Nation, Video: "I cannot exaggerate the social justice crisis in schools today"
*The real progressive, in contrast to Weingarten
Lily Eskelsen García was elected president of the National Education Association this July. She takes office in September, and so far she appears to be setting herself apart from current national teacher union leaders, Dennis Van Roekel and Randi Weingarten (president of the American Federation of Teachers). A bona fide veteran teacher, and a union leader that is pledged to support the call for Arne Duncan's resignation, she is certainly setting a different tone from the AFT leader.

Compared to Weingarten she's had real experience, teaching ten years, full-time, in high poverty schools, indeed, for a period, teaching homeless students. And she was validly elected, not cherry-picked, in the iustitutional virtual dynasty, as happens in the American Federation of Teachers with New York City's United of Federation of Teachers so happening to provided every president (and readers national need to know of the virtual dynasty --as opposed to democratic presidential succession in the UFT: presidents hand-picked by institutional elders Weingarten by Sandra Feldman, Michael Mulgrew by Weingarten -read herehere here and here at Ed Notes --and it is not well known that Weingarten only taught full-time for six months). No, not every NEA president is from suburban Salt Lake City, Utah either. In fact, Eskelsen García is not only the first Latina-American to head a teachers federation, she is the first teachers federation president from Utah. Rotation of NEA leadership from one particularly powerful local is a tradition, in contrast to the almost perennially NYC UFT-dominated AFT. In the AFT Edward McElroy, hailing from Warwick, Rhode Island, was the rare exception of an AFT president from outside of the Unity caucus-dominated UFT, serving for the short term of 2004 to 2008. The NEA has term limits on its presidents. The AFT does not. However, term limits can remove the electoral success incentive that leaders have, in order remain effective and loyal to members' interests. Yet, when we see Weingarten's advantage from the UFT's control over the AFT, we see that it is perhaps futile to expect any successful challenge to Weingarten's leadership.

Eskelsen García, by contrast, is critical of high stakes tests, and to that end, she is backing up the NEA's call this summer for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's resignation. (Read also, the immediate report from Ed Week on the NEA's Duncan resolution. As proposed by the California Teachers Assocation (CTA), the resolution noted "the Department's failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores".) Note, by contrast, that the AFT's resignation call has some qualifications. She has adopted Finnish educator and activist Pasi Sahlberg's term, Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), in a perspective that criticizes the movement, for months before her election.
And she has excoriated the role that the Koch Brothers play through the American Legislative Exchange Council in affecting politics. So, while the Weingarten-AFT "Progressive Caucus" --the national extension of the UFT-dominating Unity Caucus (& patronage mill) adopts the "progressive" moniker, yet, endorses accomodation with education reformers, in the name of being people that can "work with" business, Eskelsen García looks poised --by her rhetoric and her topical focal points-- to be the real deal progressive union leader, advocating for the rank and file teachers toiling under the most arduous, hostile, unconscionable climate and conditions in decades.

Would a Weingarten or Mulgrew ever say something as defiantly oppositional as this? (The statement is from Eskelsen Garcia's conversation with Daily Kos' Laura Clawson at the Netroots Nation.)
What we have to do is to say there is no federal law that says we have to obsess over this test score. You give it as little credence as possible, you stop worrying about the punishments that come with that, you let the chips fall where they may, and you let nothing get in the way of giving these kids everything they need to make their lives what they want them to be.

Yet, she has supported the Common Core and the role that Bill Gates has played in promoting the Common Core.
According to the NEA's site:
When asked about the Gates Foundation, whose influence on education policy is a constant source of debate among educators, Garcia said she applauds the work they've done to promote the Common Core State Standards. "I read those standards, and I love them," she said.
To her credit, she is aiming to better pitch the union cause to the public. In the past, and in too many places, currently, teacher union leaders have not bothered to make the teachers' case to the public.

At Netroots Nation in Detroit, on July 17, she said in her keynote speech (12:36):
"I cannot exaggerate the social justice crisis in schools today. Privateers and profiteers and corporate factory school reformers have corrupted what it means to teach and what it means to learn and we see it every day."

She then told of El Paso's Bowie High School where one administrator in made almost $60,000 from testing bonuses. The administrator devised a list of students that did poorly on standardized tests, most of them English Language Learners. He bullied, humiliated and threatened the students with stories that La Migra (ICE) would maybe visit their parents, encouraging students to drop out of school, then student scores shot up sky high. Read of the 2012 scandal in "Victims of EPISD cheating: Students were removed, says Bowie High School administrator" by Zahira Torres, in El Paso Times.

Aptly, she says that the drivers behind the corporate school reform are "zombies who will not die and they are eating our children's brains. They are well-funded and they are motivated. ALEC loves this model. They love the absurdity of No Child Left Untested. They got a critical mass of politicians to believe it was possible for 100 percent of our students to be above average. Because all things are possible [then she shifts to early elementary teacher tone] to people who don't know what they're talking about."

As Ned Resnikoff at MSNBC noted, her stances put her in direct conflict with president Obama's Arne Duncan-led Education Department and the bi-partisan political alignment to evaluate teachers on the basis of test scores.
“This year [the NEA] had a critical mass of people that said enough is enough.”
Although he did not note that Eskelsen García is regularly drawing attention to the deep poverty that exists in many schools and that there is unequal access to resources among the nation's schoolrooms.

At Politico:
Next NEA leader's first task: Win back public
Salon's portrait, "'Stupid, absurd, non-defensible': New NEA president Lily Eskelsen García on the problem with Arne Duncan, standardized tests and the war on teachers," says,

Arne Duncan has met his worst nightmare -- an NEA president armed with facts and guts. She tells Salon what's next

But we know there are politics involved. Right now U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a sore spot for both your union and the AFT. Both NEA and AFT have asked for Duncan’s resignation. Your demand was unconditional, and AFT’s had some very interesting conditions …
Yes, The Arne Duncan Improvement Program. I love it.
 . . . 
What’s wrong with basing teacher evaluations on test scores?
The years I taught at the homeless shelter, I had different kinds of students than the year I taught at Orchard Elementary. Also, there was the year I had 24 kids and the year I had 39 kids. You can’t put that in a value added formula. It doesn’t work. Then there was the year I had three special ed kids with reading disabilities, and I did a bang-up job with them. So the next year they gave me 12. I had all of the special ed kids that year. No other teachers had any. Just me. So in a class of 35 kids, 12 had reading disabilities. Now I’m guessing if we had just used test scores back then to evaluate me, you maybe would have thought that I had suddenly become a really crappy teacher that year. Test scores alone wouldn’t have told you what happened. They wouldn’t have given you an analysis of why.
Other than being unfair to individual teachers, does basing evaluations and school ratings on test scores hurt students too?
Using test scores is basically saying to educators, “Hit your number or you get punished.” Or even worse, “Hit your number in El Paso, if you’re an administrator, and we’ll give you a bunch of money.” That would encourage the administrator to use a push-out program for low-scoring students like those who don’t speak English. That’s what Lorenzo Garcia did as district superintendent in El Paso, and he is in jail now. He was the first person to go to jail for lining his pocket with bonus dollars because he could hit his numbers. And he made presentations about how you can “light a fire under lazy teachers to get those numbers up.” But what really happened is he would call individual students into his office to threaten and humiliate them with deportation if they wouldn’t drop out or transfer. He pushed out over 400 students in his high school. It was the El Paso Teachers Association that got the community together to talk about what was happening and to make sure that never happened again. That NEA chapter just won a national human and civil rights award for establishing a way for parents and teachers to alert the community when they see district administration engaging in unfair practices to students.
What does Arne Duncan think about this? Why does he still insist on basing his policies on test scores?
I spoke with Secretary Duncan yesterday [July 16]. He’s very upset with the NEA Representative Assembly’s decision to call for his resignation. We had a hard conversation. He was very straightforward with me. He felt he wasn’t being given enough credit from NEA for advocating for expanded early childhood education and greater access to affordable college. And it’s true there is no light between us on those issues. So he asked why we didn’t explain to people all the good things he has advocated for. I said I would send him copies of speeches I give where I’ve been supportive of the good things the Obama administration has done, and I’d give him position papers from the NEA addressing the need to work closely with his department.
So what’s the frustration for teachers?
Here’s the frustration – and I’m not blaming the delegates; I will own this; I share in their anger. The Department of Education has become an evidence-free zone when it comes to high stakes decisions being made on the basis of cut scores on standardized tests. We can go back and forth about interpretations of the department’s policies, like, for instance, the situation in Florida where teachers are being evaluated on the basis of test scores of students they don’t even teach. He, in fact, admitted that was totally stupid. But he needs to understand that Florida did that because they were encouraged in their applications for grant money and regulation waivers to do so. When his department requires that state departments of education have to make sure all their teachers are being judged by students’ standardized test scores, then the state departments just start making stuff up. And it’s stupid. It’s absurd. It’s non-defensible. And his department didn’t reject applications based on their absurd requirements for testing. It made the requirement that all teachers be evaluated on the basis of tests a threshold that every application had to cross over. That’s indefensible.
So any good the Obama administration has tried to accomplish for education has been offset by the bad?
Yes. Sure, we get pre-K dollars and Head Start, but it’s being used to teach little kids to bubble in tests so their teachers can be evaluated. And we get policies to promote affordable college, but no one graduating from high school gets an education that has supported critical and creative thinking that is essential to succeeding in college because their education has consisted of test-prep from Rupert Murdoch. The testing is corrupting what it means to teach. I don’t celebrate when test scores go up. I think of El Paso. Those test scores went up overnight. But they cheated kids out of their futures. Sure, you can “light a fire” and “find a way” for scores to go up, but it’s a way through the kids that narrows their curriculum and strips their education of things like art and recess.
Doesn’t Duncan understand that?
No. That reality hasn’t entered the culture of the Department of Education. They still don’t get that when you do a whole lot of things on the periphery, but you’re still judging success by a cut score on a standardized test and judging “effective” teachers on a standardized test, then you will corrupt anything good that you try to accomplish.
So are the tests the problem?
I told him I personally don’t like standardized tests. I think they’re a waste of time and money. I agree with Finland that when something tells you so little you have to question why you are doing it. But the problem is not the standardized test itself. I gave the Standards of Achievement Test to my fifth graders in Utah. When the district used the scores to look at big picture reading achievement data over time, they realized, “Oh look, our reading achievement scores are going down.” So they analyzed the data for probable causes and realized that they were getting many more English language learners in their schools. So their response was to pump up the English language learner training for teachers. In other words, they used the test score results to analyze what’s going on and use the scores as information to guide what to do better to serve students. But now the test scores are being used to print teachers’ names in the L.A. Times with an “Effecto-Meter” next to them, so, “Boys and girls, look up your teacher’s name to see if they suck.”
With Al Jazeera America's Ray Suarez (broadcast on 8/23/14):

Esekelsen Garcia (l.) and Suarez (r.) on Al Jazeera
If you missed Lily Eskelsen García' lengthy interview on Al Jazeera, you can read an edited and condensed version at their site. Here are key excerpts from "Lily Eskelsen Garcia talks to Al Jazeera - Eskelsen Garcia is the president-elect of the National Education Association, a union of 3 million educators":

She defends tenure, straight-on:

Ray Suarez: Recently in Vergara v. California the teachers' unions defending the notion of tenure were handed a big defeat in a California court. What's more interesting is who was lined up on the side of Vergara, a young California schoolgirl who was the petitioner: Arne Duncan, the secretary of education. If you believe what you read, the Democrats are in lockstep with the NEA, but here's the secretary of education saying, "No, no, taking down teacher tenure in California, the largest single state-administered system in the country — that's a good thing."
Lily Eskelsen Garcia: Tenure is making sure that a good teacher cannot be fired. Tenure is due process. Most states like mine, in Utah, we don't even use the word "tenure." After a probationary period, after you've met your performance expectations and you've had good evaluations, when you get to that level that says now you have tenure, it simply means if you are going to be fired, you get two things. You get to know why you're being fired, and if you believe you're being fired unfairly, you get a chance to defend yourself in front of a hearing officer.
Every state has different timelines of exactly how those two things play out. Every state should always be looking at are those timelines fair? Are you protecting someone who's incompetent while you're trying to protect the people who are doing their job well and being treated unfairly? So you always have to weigh that.
She adamantly opposes high-stakes tests as measures of teacher effectiveness:
One of the hottest ideas in American education right now is that if a teacher is effective, I should be able to test his or her children, and their effectiveness as a teacher will show because the kids know math, science, English. Does the NEA support performance-based compensation that's judged by testing children?
No, absolutely not. I mean, it makes no sense whatsoever, not just on a practical level but on any study it shows wild fluctuations of things like test scores. That's what it usually comes down to when someone says performance or merit pay, when you go, "And how would you judge Ray against Lily, these two teachers? Oh, well, we would just look at their kids' standardized tests because …"

She has recognized that the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have created incentives against taking teaching positions in high poverty areas:

If we go to this testing-based performance assessment, will you choose Wilmette instead of Chicago, Alamo Heights instead of San Antonio, Scarsdale instead of the South Bronx — just by, almost by a rigid law of averages, better-off kids are going to do better, you're going to look better, you'll get your raise, and you'll go on and be able to put together a career as a teacher instead of taking on some of the heaviest lifting in American education?
Let me tell you why I got into teaching. I get excited about seeing kids get excited about learning. It's just this wonderful virtuous circle for me. The more they do, the more I want to do for them. And I taught in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, not a wealthy district — working-class neighborhood — with moms and dads that worked for very modest paychecks. I enjoyed that. But I wanted something different after a while. I wanted a different challenge after I had been teacher of the year. And I asked to have the assignment at the homeless shelter school in Salt Lake City. I wanted to work with those kids.
But would every teacher make that request if their future job security and pay were based on whether or not they pulled those kids up?
That was pre–No Child Left Behind for me. I didn't have to face what you just described. For me it was, where am I needed? Where do I want to really make a difference? And that was all I looked at when I asked to go to the shelter school kids. Today it's a very different situation. It is more what you just described. People are being asked to make these incredibly tough choices about where they want to put their talents.
And when you start saying we may actually be threatening your very livelihood if you choose to teach the most challenging kids, I know that a lot of folks who believe there's a simple — a good teacher, kids always have good test scores, bad teacher, the kids will have bad test scores, and they really believe that it's wrong, but they really believe it in their hearts — they're going to say, "Well, if you're a good-enough teacher, move from that AP chemistry class over here" with the hover parents where no kid has ever gone hungry at night, where they've got technology and they have very educated families that help guide them through, here's what you should be doing and taking, how do to your homework, because they had someone guide them through.
And they're saying if we just took all of those teachers and put them in the schools with the least-prepared kids, with the kids who have the greatest challenge, they'll be able to do the very same. Will they? Will they be able to do the very same? 

She has criticized schools' zero tolerance policies and their impacts on students' futures:

We've also instituted zero tolerance so kids who get in trouble are expelled or suspended. And that in a lot of cases ends their education at a time when it's pretty critical to keep them school involved if they're ever going to finish a credential.
There are some dangerous situations, and you can't just let that continue. But whatever happens, if you just tell that child goodbye at the door, you're expelled, and you don't have someplace for them to go, some help for them to get, then what have you done to the rest of that community? You haven't solved any problems. Again, all of those simple answers, well, you just get rid of those children. They don't disappear. 
For the full interview, go to Al Jazeera.

This lead from Eskelsen Garcia's blog, Lily's Blackboard:

From New American Media, last Wednesday she publicly called high-stakes tests "toxic:"
Eskelsen Garcia at right, in Los Angeles, with
UTLA's Alex Caputo-Pearl and CTA's Mikki Cichoki

Speaking at a briefing for ethnic media in Los Angeles Wednesday, Eskelsen García acknowledged the challenges ahead of her. “What we’re up against,” she said, “are people who use good words like reform, and accountability, and progress.” But their real meaning will be to “narrow what it means to teach a child to fit on a standardized test.” 

Eskelsen García believes the push toward high stakes testing and efforts to measure teacher performance on how well students do on these tests is "poisoning what it means to teach and learn in this country." She points to Texas, where she says teacher salaries have been determined by test results, leading many to artificially inflate scores. In Oklahoma, some 8000 third graders were held back because they failed to “hit a cut score that some politician decided meant something.”

Eskelsen García described such practices as “toxic.”
She has raised attention to the difficulty many students, particularly, minority students, have in paying for their higher education:
The child of immigrants, Eskelsen García also acknowledged the challenge around serving an increasingly diverse student population even as teacher ranks remain predominantly white. She noted part of the problem stems from the high costs for college that “block out a lot of minorities,” an issue the NEA is looking to tackle through its new Degrees Not Debt campaign.

“We want to work to identify not just problems, but solutions,” she said. “A huge part of the solution will involve reaching out to minority communities.” 
Eskelsen García on the Stephanie Miller Show (15:08) --show's listening link, Miller's great-- she recognizes the war on teachers. Eskelsen García responded with humor, "If you don't like the weather today -- blame a teacher":

As covered by Univision, July 9: "Prometo no más "exámenes tóxicos" where she pointedly noted that research shows that charter schools do not perform better than public schools.

From her interview with Laura Clawson of Daily Kos during Netroots Nation 2014,
On testing and where she wants to take the NEA:
It is to me the epitome of wrongheaded corporate solutions to things like boys and girls and it is a factory model of quality control that is all wrapped around hitting a cut score on a commercial standardized test and what's being lost is the whole happy child. [...]
I got involved in my union because I had 39 kids in my classroom in Utah, where we stack 'em deep and teach 'em cheap. ... I said I want somebody who's going to fight for what I need to do my job as a good, creative, caring, competent teacher, and I got more and more involved as I saw the forces from outside education coming in and telling us that teaching and learning was reduced to multiple choice tests, because that what not what made me the teacher of the year ...
As much as I want to move a very positive agenda, if we can't move this incredible boulder out of the road and that boulder is you hit your cut score or you fail, we're never going to be able to move toward whole child reform. Whole child means the arts. It means kids who don't speak English or special ed kids or gifted and talented or gifted and talented special ed kids who don't speak English, you know, in all of their wonderful variety. I never met a kid that came in a standardized box. Not one! So what we want to do is to say how do you open that public school to all of the opportunities that that kid should have, and while we obsess over hitting a cut score on a standardized test, that's never going to happen.
We've got to approach it on two fronts. First of all, legislatively, we have to change No Child Left Untested, we've got to stop racing to chasing our tails around a cut score on a test. We have to get rid of those policies, change them dramatically, but I am not one who would tell my teachers "and we can't do anything until that happens." I have no faith in Congress all of a sudden getting smart, all of a sudden learning to look at the evidence and go "oh, this is actually hurting kids." So you have to proceed until apprehended. You have to say there's a whole lot of things you, your building principal, your school board, your superintendent—we're all sick of it. We're not always on the same side of issues, a union and the administration, but we're on the same side of this. What we have to do is to say there is no federal law that says we have to obsess over this test score. You give it as little credence as possible, you stop worrying about the punishments that come with that, you let the chips fall where they may, and you let nothing get in the way of giving these kids everything they need to make their lives what they want them to be.
Valerie Strauss' portrait in the Answer Sheet in the Washington Post: "New NEA leader to nation’s educators: Revolt, ignore ‘stupid’ reforms."

Diane Ravitch's post, "I Think I Love Lily Eskelsen."

At CBS WINS radio of New York City: "Many Teachers Paying Out Of Pocket For School Supplies," August 25.

                        *      *     *
Will Eskelsen García be Duncan's worst nightmare, or will she continue to be another union leader cheerleader for the Common Core? Or both?
Yet, remember that the NEA is unconditionally asking for Duncan's resignation. The AFT's resignation call has some qualifications: it is just asking for Duncan to follow an "improvement plan." (-Like he will willingly improve. Great, AFT-- given Arne an out.) Eskelsen García is defending tenure and addressing the challenges more directly and articulately, without reform-accomodating hedging than Weingarten has.
Whereas Weingarten sometimes shocks by saying or doing the right thing, you see that she's still preaching the gospel of accomodation (more like Petainesque collaboration) with the corporate ed reformers --which Eskelsen García properly calls part of GERM), the new NEA president's rhetoric here at Netroots Nation 2014 or here on Al Jazeera, is speaking from the heart, from someone with ten years of full-time classroom experience --six years of her time with students in the deep poverty she speaks of --not someone who was parachuted into a cushy token (six month) plum teaching assignment.
Watch out, Weingarten, perhaps some AFT locals, enamored of Eskelsen García, might want to switch to the NEA.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Seven Things Teachers are Sick of Hearing from School Reformers & 11 Lies About Teachers That People Need to Stop Saying

*Seven Things Teachers are Sick of Hearing from School Reformers *11 Lies About Teachers That People Need to Stop Saying

Note the real crux of the problem that David Berliner (cited under point 1. below). As noted at the California Federation of Teachers website, "Researcher Berliner describes how the education “crisis” is manufactured," April-May 2013
There are two things preventing public schools from presenting better scores, Berliner said. The first is the disappearance of a broad middle class and the other is a system that ignores the evidence. He linked the war on education and the war on the poor. “We lost a strong middle class through legislation and we can regain it through political action.”
Berliner has written,
The evidence shows that public schools serving the middle class and the wealthy are doing very well, suggesting that an unequal economy, not bad teachers, create the problem.
The bracketed comments in Altman's text are mine. On the collapse of the U.S. middle class, read here and here.

Seven Things Teachers are Sick of Hearing from School Reformers, by Ian Altman, as presented by Valerie Strauss, at the Answer Sheet in the Washington Post, August 14

Teachers have long been accustomed to “going along to get along” but increasingly are raising their voices to protest standardized test-based education reforms of the last decade that they see as harmful to students. In this post, Georgia teacher Ian Altman explains what he and his colleagues are really sick of hearing from reformers. Altman is an award-winning high school English teacher in Athens, where he has lived since 1993, as well as an advocate for teachers and students.  He has presented at several national conferences and published in the Journal of Language and Literacy Education. He won the 2014 University of Georgia College of Education Distinguished Alumni Crystal Apple Award as well as the 2012 University of Chicago Outstanding Educator award.
Altman’s list of seven things that reformers should stop saying to teachers comes from conversations he has had with educators across the country and speaks to the fury felt by many teachers who see their expertise being devalued and their profession denigrated.
By Ian Altman
recent psychological study concludes that polite people are far more likely than ornery and contrarian people to harm others because they are more likely to follow orders — bad ones as well as good. Teachers, acting from their socialization into the profession but also as a result of fear and intimidation, are far too likely to stay quiet about harmful practices school reformers are imposing on classrooms. It’s past time for teachers to stand up for themselves and their profession. In that spirit, here’s a list of things reformers should quit saying to teachers because they are wrong-headed. This list is not exhaustive, but it is a start.

1. Don’t tell us that you know more about good instruction than we do. 
This tells us there is an institutionalized disregard for our professional judgment. Some teachers get scripted curriculum that is often sub-par and that gets in the way of real teaching and learning. Others work under policies that are so broad that they are essentially meaningless.
The purpose of the policies is the same in both cases: to serve a top-down structure that is in place not to help students but to serve a kind of aesthetic of educational toughness, which itself is in place to combat a “crisis” in education that scholars such as David Berliner have thoroughly exposed as a sham. [e.g., see his new book, 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America's Public Schools which Strauss reviewed this May] Most instructional policies are unnecessary and empty at best, roadblocks to real learning at worst, and either way merely devices to make the whole top-down structure appear justifiable.
How about leaving instructional policies to us, the instructional experts?  Good teachers are good because we know what we’re doing, not because we blindly follow instructional policies.
Good teachers are good because we know what we’re doing, not because we blindly follow instructional policies that make little or no sense.

2. Don’t talk to us about the importance and rigor of the standards.
I teach high school English, and I can tell you that language arts standards, whether the current Common Core Standards or some other set of standards, are neither rigorous nor non-rigorous. Everything depends on what individual teachers actually do with them.
Furthermore, language arts standards simply describe an assumed, conventional set of behaviors that competent readers and writers are expected to display.  But though a competent and hardworking student may incidentally do what the standards describe, displaying certain literate behaviors is not the same as seriously and conscientiously engaging texts and writing.
I work very hard to ensure that students do not simply go through the motions of studying literature and writing, even though going through the motions is usually enough to ensure good test scores. I require that they take the texts and assignments seriously and learn something important from them beyond what the standards specify. All of it is standards-based, not because I try to make it so, but because the Common Core language arts standards are so general that just about any assignment can be interpreted and defended in terms of the standards. Two teachers can teach the same standard using different texts, different methods, and with different purposes, giving students radically different experiences.In essence, that means the standard, ostensibly the same in both cases, is internally incoherent, and in that sense non-standard. “Standards-based” is a meaningless criterion for high school language arts lessons.
3. Don’t tell us about testing data.
I do not believe that standardized tests (End of Course Tests, PARCC exams, Graduation Tests, Georgia Milestones, AP Exams, the SAT, the ACT, IQ tests, or any other [e.g., SBAC]) have any value whatsoever, for anybody except those who make money from them.  In fact, I believe the use of those tests is inherently and necessarily damaging to all of us, including to those students who do very well on them.
Educators talk about and analyze test score data, and supposedly let that data “drive instruction,” but the truth is that numbers and measurements gleaned from those tests are not data.
They are a flat, bleached replacement of data, because they replace the substance of learning with an abstraction, a false image of learning, much the way Descartes replaced the idea of physical things with the concept of graphable spatial extension.  The acts of thinking, learning, and knowing, are not objects that can be replaced with abstractions about thinking, learning, and knowing. In that specific but crucial sense, all school test data are fake.

4. Don’t tell us “The research says…” unless you’re willing to talk about what it really says.
It’s not that we don’t care about research, but that most often when research is mentioned in a school context, it is used to end legitimate conversation rather than to begin it, as a cudgel to silence us rather than an opening to engage us constructively. Very often when confronted with a “research says” claim that I find dubious or irrelevant, I ask for a citation and get a blank or vaguely menacing stare, or some invented claim about the demands of the Common Core, or a single name, “Marzano,” as though he completed all instructional research.

Research is also of varying quality. Peer-reviewed journals are to be taken seriously; ideological think tanks not so.

Don’t talk to me about “the research” as though I’m a student in need of guidance.

Instead, cite the article, explain the argument and evidence, and most importantly, tell exactly how you think it might apply to my classroom. Then, let’s talk about it. Because research is not some giant, single edifice of settled conclusions; it is multifaceted and full of endless debates.

5. Stop with the advice about teaching critical thinking skills.          
Be careful what you wish for. Our current education “reform” leaders like to preach about the importance of critical thinking.  Of course critical thinking is important what exactly does that mean? For many reformers, critical thinking usually means problem-solving skills, and they say the phrase with technical and technological innovations – the STEM disciplines – in mind.
For me, critical thinking means analyzing ideas to understand them completely and find ways to improve them or dismiss them, including ideas about the value and purpose of technical and technological innovation.  That is why it’s important to know and teach about the nature and history of ideas themselves in English classes. Here are some of the questions for critical thought that my American literature students engage through both fiction and nonfiction sources:
* In the wake of the Citizens United decision, may we still claim to live in a democracy? [No, some Princeton researchers concluded this April.] And what then are we to make of the notion of “free speech”? In what exact sense is it free? (The Common Core says to study major court decisions.)
* How may we ethically defend or condemn our wealth gap? (See Frank Norris, “A Deal in Wheat,” and many other titles especially from the naturalist period.)
* What constitutes an American identity? What is a “real” American and what does that look like? Who gets to decide that, and how? (Along with hundreds of articles, novels, plays, and stories, we can do a rhetorical analysis of the Common Core standards themselves to engage those questions. )
6. Stop using education reform clichés.
Here is a compendium of common education reform clichés:
“After consulting the research and assessment data, and involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process, we have determined that a relentless pursuit of excellence and laser-like focus on the standards, synergistically with our accountability measures, action-oriented and forward-leaning intervention strategies, and enhanced observation guidelines for classroom look-fors, will close the achievement gap and raise the bar for all children.”
You can’t talk like that and expect to be taken seriously by educated adults.
7. Don’t tell us to leave politics out of the classroom. 
Don’t be naïve.  Learning always has some kind of political efficacy. Some opinions are more sensible than others, some arguments stronger than others, some interpretations and theories better supported than others. It is okay to say so out loud.  One need not disparage another to do so, and good teachers do not shy away from it.
For example, the theory of intelligent design made a big splash a few years ago among creationists who insist that evolution is merely an unproven theory on equal footing with other theories in the “marketplace of ideas.” It is very easy to show two vitiating things: there is no contravening scientific evidence against evolution, and intelligent design derives from Aristotle’s teleological argument which was soundly critiqued by David Hume and Immanuel Kant in the 18th Century.
Explaining these things to students will harm one side of the political spectrum more than the other. As far as I’m concerned, that is the fault of the politicians themselves for getting involved in classroom issues that are beyond their legitimate concern as politicians. They can say whatever they want, of course, but it is acceptable academic practice to teach why and how their arguments are strong or weak, and it’s not our fault if that involves politics, too.
Verbal logic and argumentation are the province of English teachers, especially now that under Common Core, we are told we have to teach more non-fiction texts. I expect all my students to learn how to argue sensibly and with decency, seeking the truth rather than just defeating the opposition, and I expect them to push those arguments with each other and with me.  The vitality of my classes depends on it.
Too many people never learn how to discuss and debate sensibly and with decency. Too many people are trained to shy away from controversial ideas for the sake of being polite because confrontation might be considered embarrassing or impolitic. My students will not fall to those trappings if I can help it. I will continue to do everything I can, as a teacher and as a citizen, to disrupt everybody’s settled thoughts.
Teachers didn’t choose this fight. It has been imposed on us by a misguided and deeply conservative “reform” movement. It’s time for reformers  to back off because I, and my colleagues, will do a better job if you just get out of the way.
I welcome you to disrupt my thoughts with real argument if you can. But don’t insult me and my profession by telling me just to believe what I’m told and accept the way things are.
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From Answers.com: 11 Lies About Teachers That People Need to Stop Saying 
[click each Lie to link to response at Answers.com --OK, I have some problems with #7, but I haven't omitted it]
#1: Teachers used to be better
#2: Teachers are paid too much money
#3: Anyone can teach
#4: The school day ends when students leave
#5: Those who can't do, teach
#6: Teachers determine whether students learn
#7: Paying teachers more will create more effective teachers
#8: Teachers unions detract from students' learning
#9: Preschool and Kindergarten are baby-sitting programs
#10: Teachers must give a lot of homework
#11: Teachers don't care about their students

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Teacher Sounds Off vs. Campbell Brown "No, I Am Not Going to Destroy Society"; Brown's Caginess on her "Education Reform" Funders & Obama Associates' Vergara Links

UPDATE: The big money behind Vergara suit: David Welch & his Students Matters connections with Obama administration associates and Pearson
*Teacher sounds off on Campbell Brown *Cites Brown's disaster appearance on Colbert's show *Picks up and lambastes media's meme with title, "Yes, I am a teacher. No, I am not going to destroy society and your children." Subtitle: "The anti-union celebrities (and their secret backers) have taken the war on teachers public. But educators shouldn’t have to defend doing our jobs" /// *Writers are asking why won't Brown divulge her funders? /// Michelle Rhee leaves StudentsFirst to perform miracles at Miracle-Gro

AQE & NYCC revealed Brown to be a Republican,
and that she was "caught in a lie" in her Twitter denials of being a Republican
The Alliance for Quality Education and New York Communities for Change said that the New York City Board of Elections reported that Campbell Brown is indeed a Republican, in spite of her denials on Twitter and her spokesperson's claim that she is a “lifelong independent” who has registered as a Democrat and a Republican. But as we see below, she has plenty of help from Democrats.

Teacher Valerie Braman told off Campbell Brown and perennially warrior against public school teachers in a piece published in the UK Guardian.

Valerie Braman, English teacher and AFT staff rep
Key excerpts of Braman's opinion piece:
In the “real world”, I’ve been informed, the singular solution to the problems with education in America is to get rid of the teachers’ unions and even to just fire and replace all teachers, which would magically transport us all to this vaunted real world in which no educator should be entitled to pensions, affordable health benefits or due process. (In it, I’m certain I’d be wealthy enough to start using phrases like “job creators” and attending Chamber of Commerce events, instead of just standing outside of them to protest corporate tax breaks and cuts in education funding.) 
Take journalist-cum-teachers’-union-warmonger Campbell Brown, who has been busy on the talk-show circuit this summer ["Who the f*** is Campbell Brown," in "Esquire"] spewing false research about “bad teachers” and bemoaning how impossible it is to fire them while refusing to disclose her funders or links to special interest groups hell-bent on privatizing public education and de-professionalizing educators [a Buzzfeed contributor laid out all the ways that Brown dodged all the questions on the Stephen Colbert show]. 
Or there’s Whoopi Goldberg feeding into misconceptions about teacher tenure, telling us she is all about teachers – but only the great ones [LA Progressive]
And let us not neglect Alec, the group that with backing from the omnipresent Koch Brothers creates model legislation that’s serving as a how-to manual for dismantling and privatizing public school districts by using school closures, mass firings and vouchers – all in the name of “accountability” [See expose "Educational Accountability Act" at "ALEC exposed"]. 
Closer to home (for me), the governor of Pennsylvania cut over $1bn in education funding
[Axis Philly] – then watched as districts crumbled, schools closed, budgets got slashed, staff got laid off, and woefully inadequate educational programs popped up in their place ...  and then Governor Tom Corbett dared to tell Philadelphia educators that by not taking pay cuts we haven’t “stepped up” to solve the crisis he created [Philadelphia Inquirer].
          . . . .

She closed, advising educators to counter the media-propagating of myths, the scape-goating of teachers. Once that is done, we can get back to discussions of what works and what doesn't in teaching.
When Brown went on Colbert the other day [video archive at Colbert], they saw her evasions and realized that her inability to cite accurate research was less because she’s bad at her job and more because such research simply does not exist [Answer Sheet at Washington Post].
When Whoopi talked about tenure and bad teachers having the gift of a job for life, we got this gem of a video breaking down the truth about tenure and why it is crucial for educators and students [at Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog].
When Corbett took direction from a secret poll suggesting the path to re-election lies in attacking the teachers’ union and using the school crisis in Philadelphia for political leverage, the electorate saw behind the curtain – and he made it easier for people to cast their votes for his opponent ["Secret poll: Corbett should exploit Philly school crisis, attack teachers union for political gain" in Philadelphia City Paper]. 
The more these myths – and the people paying to propagate them – are exposed, the more professional educators and our unions can do the real work of having tough conversations about what works and what doesn’t (rather than who shouldn’t) in education. We can stop defending our right to have jobs at all, and get back to partnering with families and communities to ensure equal, excellent educational opportunities to all children. There’s no spin in the world that can touch that.
                                                                        * * *
Campbell Brown’s transparency problem: Why won’t she say who funds her “ed. reform” group?

Negative attention to ex-journalist Campbell Brown has grown against Brown: Salon.com ran two negative stories on her in the  last month. Yet, her front profile position in her suits against teacher tenure in New York State, comes right as her mentor is moving on (to help the image-beleaguered Scotts Miracle-Gro fertilizer company -thanks to NYC Educator for breaking this one). First came, "Tenure haters’ big delusion: Why Campbell Brown and co. are wrong about teaching."
This article made several cogent points.
It noted the argument that teachers can only contribute so much to a child's education: Audrey Beardsley, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, started her career as a teacher. “I fell into such a utopian ideology, believing that schools and teachers can change and inspire everything,” Beardsley says. “But current research suggests, unfortunately, that teachers only truly impact about 10-20 percent of student achievement.” Other factors with a larger impact include parental income and education, which account for about 60 percent of the variation in student outcomes.
But we must ask, as the second article in Salon asks, if Brown is so confident in her arguments, why is she needing to hire a public relations firm to help her in her lawsuit? The firm, Incite Agency, indicates one more expression on how Democrats have joined in the war on teachers. It is headed, as Salon's Gabriel Arana notes, by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. "Robert Gibbs will lead the national public relations campaign along with Ben LaBolt" is the caption in Politico's story on Gibbs' and LaBolt's role in assisting Brown's suit against teacher tenure.

Andy Kroll in Mother Jones reported last year in "Who's Really Behind Campbell Brown's Sneaky Education Outfit?" that in the 2012 election cycle, Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst, a "'bipartisan grassroots organization' backed 105 candidates in state races, 88 percent of them Republicans."

{POSTSCRIPT: Why won't Brown say who funds her? After all, Silicon Valley multi-millionaire David Welch (Co-Founder, President, Director and Member of Technology & Acquisition Committee, Infinera Corporation) let it be known that he was the Astroturf benefactor behind Strudents Matter which brought the anti-teacher tenure Vergara suit in California. Read "The Big Money Behind California's Tenure Lawsuit" at Truth-Out.org. It tells of Welch's active role in negative "reform" groups. The millionaire, whose $10 million-dollar home, on a 1.53 acre lot, sits in Atherton, one of Silicon Valley's most expensive zip codes, is an investment partner with the NewSchools Venture Fund. Futhermore, the NSVF funds several charter schools and charter school management organizations. So, the more public district schools he disrupts and replaces with charter schools, the more he financially benefits.
The article goes on to connect Welch's creation, Students Matter with StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee's organization (until this week). Students Matter files its IRS statements under the name of the StudentsFirst Foundation. Welch's philanthropic operation, the David and Heidi Welch Foundation also gave $550,000 to Rhee's StudentsFirst lobby.

For more on Welch and Students Matter's spending, see the excellent article, "A Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, A Billionaire And A USDOE Assistant Secretary Walk Into A Courtroom...," by the blogger, New Jersey mother and public school supporter at the blog, "Mother Crusader." She points out that money for Vergara poured in not only from Welch, but from other wealthy opponents of public schools-- the Broad Foundation, William H. Crown, one to the heirs to the fortune of billionaire Lester Crown and from Students Matter CFO Ted Schlein, #67 on Fortune's list of Top 100 Venture Capitalists.

Democratic connections to Welch's Students Matters board
The Students Matter board has had people associated with the Obama administration, including Russlynn Ali and Ted Mitchell; also, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) were early supporters of Students Matter.

[Russlynn Ali (left, at the USDOE, with Duncan), who began her government work with the Gov. Schwarzenegger administration, a member of the advisory board of Students Matter. According to Inside Philanthropy,  she has researched for the Broad Foundation, and more recently had been the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in Arne Duncan's Education Department. She is the Managing Director of the Education Fund at the Emerson Collective LLC, a project started a decade ago by Steve Jobs' widow Laurene Powell Jobs. Frying Pan News reports that the Emerson Collective gave $1.2 million to Parent Revolution (Remember the Parent Trigger "movement"?)  Emerson Collective has given at least $240,000 to other California pro-charter school organizations.
To be fair, heading the legal team at Students Matter is Republican Theodore "Ted" Olsen, George W. Bush's first solictor general, and assistant attorney general at the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice during president Ronald Reagan's first term.  He argued on the Republican side in the pivotal Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential election.
The ed entrepreneur that heads U.S. higher education policy: Back to the Democrat-connected: The Nation magazine revealed in an article, "Oppose the Nomination of Ted Mitchell to the Department of Education," noted that the Obama administration nominated him for Education Secretary in October. Mitchell, until recently, sat on the advisory board of Welch's Students Matter. The magazine contended that his nomination represented the further privatization of education in the United States. Mitchell has connections with for-profit colleges and until May was the chief executive of the NewSchools Venture Fund. Mitchell is also connected with Pearson PLC (NSVF is a "limited partner" with Pearson) and with the venture capital Salmon River Fund, which launched the for-profit Capella University. The Nation's valiant opposition did not succeed: the Senate confirmed Mitchell as under secretary, on post-secondary issues, for USDOE secretary Arne Duncan.
"Who's Investing in Ed-Tech?: Tech Investors and Their Education Portfolios" in EdTech is valuable for understanding the ramifications of education entrepreneurs' investments. EdTech cross-references: For more information on education technology investments (plug their name into the database) at Crunchbase.]

The Truth-Out article notes that Students Matter is looking into launching anti-tenure campaigns, not only in New York, but also Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico and Oregon. It also cites George Washington University Law School professor Eric Kerr, who, though supporting the Vergara decision, conceded in a Washington Post op-ed piece, "I Like the Result, But the Opinion Has Problems," that there is no evidence that tenure laws create bad teachers.

Big money ramifications for ed entrepreneurship
An article in TheDeal.com, giddy over venture capital opportunities in education, notes, (emphasis below, mine)
... VC investors continue to pour money into the education space at an ever-increasing clip, and have nearly tripled the amount over the past decade. Investments in edtech companies nationwide rose to $429 million in 2011, the latest year with available data, from $146 million in 2002, according to statistics from the National Venture Capital Association.
TheDeal then asked,
Why the rush? And why now? Education industry banker Peter Yoon, managing director at New York's Berkery, Noyes & Co., rattles off a few reasons. "First, the size of the sector. In terms of percentage of [gross domestic product], it's No. 2 behind healthcare," he said. "In the K-12 space alone it's about $700 billion. I think investors at venture capital firms have seen that education and training has outperformed other sectors and GDP in general during the Great Recession."
Students in the U.S. educational system are increasingly acclimated to digital communication and content delivery in several other aspects of their lives, and technology proponents believe the school system must adapt both to more effectively disseminate information and cut costs, particularly when the value of a traditional education program is being seriously questioned.
"Education is going through a period of tremendous transition, transformation, disruption," said Yoon, adding that entrepreneurs and investors in edtech see opportunity amid all the technological dislocation.
So, there you have it, the education reformers/entrepreneurs are aggressively challenging the traditional institutional format of education (public schools with a competitive market-place for school products, and a low level of commercialization to increasingly privatized schools, with a market dominated by limited players, notably Pearson PLC, all amidst an environment that is increasingly commercialized). They seek to disrupt. In the chaos, they seek to transform education according to the prerogatives of the privatizers.

Back to the interesting Truth-Out article, for followers of Alex Caputo-Pearl, the new progressive caucus president of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), it tells of some of his travails, including how he was forcibly transferred from Crenshaw High School to a middle school after he lobbied for more resources for his students. We wish him well in this increasingly hostile environment that he and other California union activists are working in.}

Meanwhile: Michelle Rhee, founder of the Sacramento-based StudentsFirst (Brown's husband, Dan Senor, sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY), is now leaving her CEO post there, moving over to Scotts Miracle-Gro. She'll remain on the board.
Her StudentsFirst success was "underwhelming," in the words of one blogger. She raised  a tenth of the $ billion that she pledged to raise. Staff turnover was high, and StudentsFirst closed five of their eighteen state franchises.
The fertilizer company needs help for their sheen, as they have been hit by a suit over birdseed that appears to have been toxic to birds, killing them. Two chemicals, Storcide II and Actellic 5E, have been added to Miracle-Gro's products, even though the company's own doctors warned them over the danger they posed to birds. Finally, the U.S. Justice Department hit Miracle-Gro with a $12.5 fine. An EPA press release stated,
The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, a producer of pesticides for commercial and consumer lawn and garden uses, was sentenced today in federal district court in Columbus, Ohio, to pay a $4 million fine and perform community service for eleven criminal violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which governs the manufacture, distribution, and sale of pesticides. Scotts pleaded guilty in February 2012 to illegally applying insecticides to its wild bird food products that are toxic to birds, falsifying pesticide registration documents, distributing pesticides with misleading and unapproved labels, and distributing unregistered pesticides. This is the largest criminal penalty under FIFRA to date.
In a separate civil agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scotts agreed to pay more than $6 million in penalties and spend $2 million on environmental projects to resolves additional civil pesticide violations. The violations include distributing or selling unregistered, canceled, or misbranded pesticides, including products with inadequate warnings or cautions. This is the largest civil settlement under FIFRA to date.
Will Rhee be a drag on Scotts Miracle-Gro? Already three days ago there was this report that some teachers will boycott Scotts Miracle-Gro. Teachers have been leaving comments to this sentiment on Columbus Business First's news page on Rhee's move to Scotts' board of directors, and will serve on the innovation/marketing and the compensation/organization committees. But the company won't stand down their decision. But, hey, she had no school administrative experience before becoming Washington, D.C. schools chancellor, so why not hire someone with no agricultural or chemical background to be a leader at Scotts Miracle-Gro?

Well, Michelle Rhee performed Miracles in Baltimore, Miracles in Washington, D.C., and Miracles across the media, dodging negative news about her true track education track record (except on PBS' Frontline). Surely, her miracles performance record can help Miracle-Gro.
The Sacarmento Bee is reporting that her husband, Sacramento mayor, Kevin Johnson (Dem.), is setting his sights on higher office. This could be a problem if the press gives attention to his penchant for his using the mayor's office and the St. HOPE charter schools (which he founded) as patronage mills, as the Sacramento News and Review reports. Last month, the charter chain's board so happened to appoint her to be board chairwoman.

Live Blog: MO Gov.; Pres. Obama -- Outcry over Militarizing Police in Ferguson, MO

Go to Blue Republic for story. Live Blog: MO Gov.; Pres. Obama -- Outcry over Militarizing Police in Ferguson, MO

*Press arrested by police in McDonald's restaurant *CNN reporters on militarization of the police, something out of East Germany *Gaza Palestinians advise Ferguson on coping with tear gas *Wooden bullets, tear gas *Anonymous reports on shooting officer *Assailee Michael Brown two days from beginning college (Vatterott College, a local trade college) *Eyewitness Tiffany Mitchell video of shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri *Police wield stun guns and tear gas [report by Al Jazeera, by MSNBC]
*Governor Nixon in second Thursday press conference transferred police authority to State Highway patrol
*Fire Dog Lake blog: Local Police Will Be Militarized as Long as Federal Government is

Go to Blue Republic for full blogpost: Live Blog: MO Gov.; Pres. Obama -- Outcry over Militarizing Police in Ferguson, MO