Archive | June, 2014

“What you guys are doing is a great thing!”

30 Jun

The BATs (Bad Ass Teachers) of Washington organized their first public event on June 26 – it was a smashing success! Beginning at the iconic Westgate Park, home of political expression and protest for five decades, it was the perfect spot for a gathering of BATs. By 4:30 PM teachers were arriving, making signs and setting up a stage. Music and speeches started at five and about 5:45 police closed off 5th Avenue and hundreds of us marched off to Seattle Center and the Bill Gates Foundation. Included in those ranks besides me from San Diego were teachers from Oregon, Arizona and Oklahoma.

Teachers can do anything well, make signs, speak and sing. The crowd was initially uplifted by the impassioned singing voices of adults who actually care about children. Of course, a group of teachers knew to provide everyone in the crowd a copy of the song lyrics plus the words for the chants planned for along the parade route.

I was particularly pleased to hear one of the hero teachers from Seattle’s Garfield High school speak. Last year they made national news by refusing as a staff to give the state’s standardized tests. This year, like the rest of us, they are facing CC$$ testing, which is extreme and disruptive. She is not sure what the staff will decide to do. The pressure will be even greater – after all this is Bill Gates home.

Shortly after five a park worker started gathering up equipment including the chairs some of us were using. When asking for my chair he said, “What you guys are doing is a great thing!”

By the time we headed out onto 5th avenue, it looked like an old fashion union parade from the Samuel Gompers era. There were hundreds of teachers marching. Our ranks covered more than a city block in length. Most of us were carrying signs.

The teacher chorus and guitar player continued to lead us in the songs we had just practiced in Westgate Park. Here’s an example of some of the wonderful lyrics:

“I’m gonna lay down my bubble sheets
Outside the Board of Ed
Outside the Board of Ed
Outside the Board of Ed
I’m gonna lay down my bubble sheets
Outside the Board of Ed
Ain’t gonna teach to the test no more”

We also regaled the locals on the streets with chants like:

“Hey, hey, ho ho.
School closings gotta go!
Hey, hey, ho ho.
Privitization’s gotta go.
Hey, hey, ho ho.
Standardized tests gotta go.
Hey hey ho ho.
Charter schools have gotta go.
Hey hey ho ho.
Arne Duncan has gotta go.”

As we marched along people came out of their stores and businesses to observe. Most of them were smiling, giving us thumbs up, clapping and shouting encouragement. It was clear that at least in downtown Seattle, that teachers and public schools are more popular than those attacking us. At one point cars were traveling down the opposite side of the street and many of them were honking their horns in support. The public is clearly on our side.

Upon arriving at the Gates headquarters, there were more speeches, more songs and more chants. It was a good day for public education.

Review of A Chronicle of Echoes

23 Jun

Chronicle’s author Mercedes K. Schneider will not be confused with Margret Mitchell or Leon Uris but she just might receive mention alongside Upton Sinclair and Izzy Stone. The book is plagued by poor editing and several passages are difficult or impossible to decode. However, Chronicle is a masterpiece of research that illuminates the unbelievable world of power, money and incestuous relations that are perverting public education in America.

In the introduction Schneider tells us “In writing this book, my purpose is to dismantle the dismantlers. As such, my words are not kind. My words expose, and that exposure is harsh. The individuals and organizations profiled in this book have declared war on my profession, and I take that personally.” As if proving these words, she calls chapter one “Joel Klein: The Man from Whom Nothing Good Comes.”

The subject is vast and this book is almost 500 pages of narrative and documentation of claims. In these pages Schneider demonstrates her extraordinary skill as a researcher. Even the most informed person about the politics and power behind what passes as education reform in America, will learn many things from this trove of information. I learned that ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) was opposed to the Common Core until Jeb Bush intervened in 2012.

I was amazed to learn that two TFA (Teach For America) alums with no academic background in education, 6-weeks of TFA institute training and three years teaching experience were able to not only start the KIPP schools but immediately received huge donations for their enterprise. We are talking millions of dollars given by foundations to untrained, inexperienced youths to start a charter school chain. I was absolutely stunned to find that Obama and Duncan gave a $50,000,000 “Investing in Innovation” grant to KIPP.

$50,000,000 appears to be the amount of money given to the top preferred “reform” organizations. The Fisher Foundation (GAP) was the first supporter of KIPP and has given them fifty million dollars. Today, Wendy Kopp (the founder of TFA who amongst her many grants got fifty million dollars from the Walton foundation) is married to KIPP CEO, Richard Barth. With Wendy’s cheap untrained teacher force and all the philanthropic gifts, KIPP is awash in money. They have nearly twice the dollars to spend per student than the local public schools with whom they are “competing.”

Most of all what I learned from this book is that the big money being used to privatize public education in America is Republican money. It is true that there are groups like Democrats for Education Reform and even our current Democrat President who are facilitating the demise of public education and the teaching profession. But these self-proclaimed Democrat groups must create sub-groups with names like “Education Reform Now” that do not have Democrat in their name in order to get the big donations.

Schneider makes a good case that the biggest enemy of public education in America is Jeb Bush. She devotes three chapters to the shenanigans Jeb and his organizations have done. Jeb Bush comes off as a cynical elite using education as his ticket to political power. And like cynical elites everywhere, he does not appear to give a damn about the students of the poor and middle-class.

This tale of eleven million dollars here and fifty million dollars there to support the untested and inexperienced is mind boggling. What is the purpose of people like Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, spending time and money on KIPP, TFA, Rocket Ship, etc. while undermining public schools in communities of poverty and degradation? It must be to destroy the current public education system in America and replace it with a privatized system.

Mercedes Schneider has created a community asset of great value with this book. It is a must read for anyone concerned about public education and the forces arrayed to steal public school funding.

Another Destructive Tenure Meme

14 Jun

(Promoted by “Reasonable” Liberals)

Bad enough that Judge Rolf’s decision in the Vergara show trial appeared to be based on political talking points instead of evidence. Now, tamed liberals are appearing in all types of media claiming the truth is that the California tenure law was bad. “It needed reform.” They make specious claims like the 18 months time is too short for a proper evaluation and the muscular protection is unreasonable. It is all foolish rhetoric that supports the diminishment of professionalism in education.

The 18 month claim must be based on California’s school year consisting of 182 days. If you add legal holidays and divide by 5, you arrive at enough weeks to equal 9 months. There is no credit for teaching summer school, attending seminars or anything else. So even based on this formula, the very fastest a probationary teacher can complete the required time is 21 months.

But, a teacher cannot get a probationary contract until they have a California teaching credential and 1 year of either student teaching or teaching under an intern contract (for master of education students). So, the minimum time is really 33 months.

Using Harvard University style economics analysis, I can say that only 23.47% of newly minted teachers with their year of student teaching done receive a probationary contract. The rest who don’t happen to be in their 20’s and also are not a product of a preferred teacher education program get temporary contracts. Temporary contracts provide no protections and do not count towards a permanent position.

Using the Cornell University education research methodology, I have found that it takes the average teacher 2.3 years working under temporary contracts before they are offered a probationary contract. So the fact is that it takes most teachers nearly 5 years to achieve a full time position with guaranteed job protections. I am being a little facetious here but the 5 year number is probably pretty close to the time the average California teacher takes attain full time status as a teacher.

During my first year teaching five teachers at my school were fired and all of them had tenure. As far as I could tell they were all competent teachers who were doing their job. In fact, the principal made a big deal about the outstanding winter music festival organized by the music teacher she fired. For some reason, the “powerful” teachers’ union could not save their jobs. So, the job protections for California educators is not that muscular.

The Vergara trial results and fallout along with the material in Mercedes K. Schneider’s book, “A Chronicle of Echoes,” which documents the destruction of public education by rich powerful business men and politicians, called to mind a portion of the dialogue between four Buddhist philosophers published in 2000. They started discussing modern civilization being out of control.

Ikeda: “We are driving at a reckless speed on a winding road. We are like a fearless child infatuated with the excitement of speed, stepping harder and harder on the accelerator of the automobile. We are risking catastrophe at any moment.”

Endo: “Knowing neither where we are headed nor in what direction we ought to go, we continue to careen recklessly into impenetrable darkness without a sure path. That is the state of humankind today.”

Ikeda: “Since my dialogue with Dr. Peccei in the 1980s, this situation has not improved in the least. And I am deeply perplexed by the sense that recently even the energy to try to improve things seems in increasingly short supply.”

Saito: “It seems to me that the cause may lie in the fact that people have, in some sense, been ‘left behind.’ Machines have advanced in both power and speed. And although the ‘automobile ‘ of a civilized society that brings together the fruits of this progress has been created, the people who must sit in the driver’s seat have not themselves matured to the point where they can properly fulfill that role. As a result, it is as though CHILDREN ARE CAUSING THE AUTOMOBILE OF SOCIETY TO CAREEN OUT OF CONTROL AND ARE THRILLING AT THE SPEED.
(From: The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra – A Discussion, Vol. II Page 119)

It is teachers across this country who are uniting to bring maturity and reason to the progress of education and therefore the progress of our civilization.