Archive | August, 2016

A Nation at Risk

29 Aug

All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to become happy creative people who can manage their own lives freely and not be coerced into an unwarranted servitude. Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by profiteers from throughout the world lusting after our public education expenditures. This report is concerned with the unwise education policies that are being proffered by the enemies of prosperity, cultural advancement and the democratic spirit of America’s citizens. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of greed fueled by antidemocratic hubris that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur—the world’s greatest school system is being destroyed by a worm in the lion’s bowels.

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the sundering of democratic school governance and the purloining of taxpayer dollars that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have allowed wealthy amateurs to drown out the voice of experienced educators and let them impose their disruptive uninformed ideology on America’s children. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make America’s education system the bedrock of democracy and enlightened citizenry throughout the world. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral self-destruction.

Our society and its governing institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined efforts needed to attain them. This report, the result of 200 years of experience, seeks to end the misguided reform of our educational system and save this fundamental foundation of America; our public education system. We seek to renew the Nation’s commitment to schools and colleges of high quality governed democratically throughout the length and breadth of our land.

That we have compromised this commitment is, upon reflection, hardly surprising, given the unprecedented amounts of money being spent by profiteers for control at the cost our children’s future. Schools are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve. We must understand that these demands on our schools are being met in heroic ways. Unfortunately, many political elites call our best ever prepared schools and educators failures; even forcing them to write letters to parents confirming that failure.

President Reagan noted the central importance of education in American life when he said: “Certainly there are few areas of American life as important to our society, to our people, and to our families as our schools and colleges.” This report, therefore, is as much an open letter to the American people as it is a report to the Secretary of Education. We are confident that the American people, properly informed, will do what is right for their children and for the generations to come.

The Risk

 History is not kind to those who idly ignore evil. When America’s democratic ideals are under attack by titans of industry and wealth managers both at home and abroad, the time has come to stand and be counted. The world is indeed one global village. We live among determined, wealthy, and arrogant individuals and corporations with no concern other than profits. They have become the enemies of common people, their communities and democratically governed education. We must compete with them to save free, non-usurious universal education. America’s democratic processes may once have been reasonably secure with honest dialog and sincere ideals. It is no longer.

The genius of America’s diverse decentralized education with few high stakes exams has shown through in the amazing production of its creative citizens. When standardized education and high stakes testing was embraced in Asia and the Indian sub-continent, America offered free universal education to all with multiple opportunities to re-enter a path to higher education. Our goal is creative students who can innovate and lead happy lives. Towards that end our system is clearly a humanistic approach, leading the way internationally.

One measuring stick demonstrating the success of our system might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America had 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. Of the 8 Chinese, the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo who won peace prizes both are considered criminals – Xiaobo is still in a Chinese prison; four are scientists who earned their degrees in the United States or Great Britain; and the two literature recipients were educated in China at international schools. It brings to mind Professor Yong Zhao’s statement at the 2015 NPE conference, “If you want results like the Chinese, follow their example.” The US has never won at standardized testing but leads the world in creative thinkers.

Our concern, however, goes well beyond matters of educational theory and social justice. It also includes the intellectual, moral, and spiritual strengths of our people which knit together the very fabric of our society. The people of the United States need to know that greedy people are trying to create a new era that will effectively disenfranchise them, not simply from having their voice heard in the education of their children, but also from the chance to participate fully in our national life. A high level of shared education is essential to a free, democratic society and to the fostering of a common culture, especially in a country that prides itself on pluralism and individual freedom.

For our country to function, citizens must be able to reach some common understandings on complex issues, often on short notice and on the basis of conflicting or incomplete evidence. Education helps form these common understandings, a point Thomas Jefferson made long ago in his justly famous dictum:

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.”

Part of what is at risk is the promise first made on this continent: All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to chart their own path, and through no manipulation by the state or industrial powers manifest their own interests fruitfully which will naturally enhance society itself.

Indicators of the Risk

Three key players in the assault on California’s public schools are Walmart heiress, Carrie Walton Penner, Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings and nativist republican politician, Steve Poizner. In 2001, they started EdVoice an organization that claims California schools are broken and must be reformed. In 2003 Poizner founded the CCSA, which funds school privatization. Walton Penner and Hastings remain as board members of both EdVoice and CCSA.

Valerie Strauss reports, “Hastings’ slap at elected boards, while offensive, wasn’t unique. Gates said the same thing when he extolled “mayoral control” of urban schools. “Instead of having a committee of people, you have that one person,” Gates said, “where we’ve seen the willingness to take on some of the older practices and try new things.” The problem, as Strauss noted, is that many of these “pet projects” have yet to deliver on their hype as a pathway out of poverty for poor kids. The darker reality is that these schools are in fact doubling as product development centers for the fabulously rich and their well-connected associates.”

From noted historian and education authority, Diane Ravitch, “For the past three decades, critics of public education in the United States have assailed it and used its flaws to promote publicly funded privatization. Corporate and political interests have attacked the very concept of public education, claiming that the private sector is invariably superior to the public sector.”

From Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, “The hundreds of millions of dollars spent to promote privately managed schools is coming from the non-democratic foundations of billionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Smaller organizations including the Black Alliance for Education Options and the Libre initiative and the Democrats for Education Reform have accepted tens of millions of dollars over the years from billionaires and their foundations to press for market-based school choice.”

Jonathan Palto, Connecticut’s leading education writer, “The colossal and disastrous effort to privatize public education in the United States is alive and well thanks to a plethora of billionaires who, although they’d never send their own children to a public school, have decided that individually and collectively, they know what is best for the nation’s students, parents, teachers and public schools.”

Peter Greene, education writer and teacher, “At this point, from its rejection by assessment and education professionals, to its defeat in court, VAM [Value Added Measures – based on standardized testing] has shed any possible pretense of being a legitimate means of evaluating teachers and stands revealed for what it always was– a way to destabilize the profession and get rid of public school teachers. It remains one of the big threats to public education.”

Carol Burris, Director of NPE and former New York Principal of the Year, “Charters, regardless of their original intent, have become a threat to democratically governed, neighborhood public schools, and questions about their practices, opacity and lack of accountability are increasing as their numbers grow.”

Dale Russakoff reported in the New Yorker, that Corey Booker, Chris Christy and Mark Zuckerberg decided to take over the Newark Public Schools, “Early in the summer of 2010, Booker presented Christie with a proposal, stamped ‘Confidential Draft,’ titled ‘Newark Public Schools—A Reform Plan.’ It called for imposing reform from the top down; a more open political process could be taken captive by unions and machine politicians. ‘Real change has casualties and those who prospered under the pre-existing order will fight loudly and viciously,’ the proposal said. Seeking consensus would undercut real reform. One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.”’

For Secretary of Education, Obama passed over former teacher and education expert Linda Darling-Hammond in favor of Arne Duncan, his basketball buddy, who’d aligned himself with the corporate reform movement as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. As Secretary, Duncan “continued and carried the torch for pushing educational policies that don’t have basis in research, such as value-added measurements, using high-stakes testing to evaluate teachers, or continuing to promote charters schools as a silver bullet to solve inequality,” said Wayne Au, who teaches in the education program at the University of Washington.

Emily Talmage, an educator in Maine, warns about the threat of Competency Base Education (CBE), “according to the U.S. Department of Education, students will ‘no longer [be] tethered to school buildings or schedules.’ Instead, the system will require students to earn ‘digital badges’  that they will display in individual competency-profiles accessible to potential employers and investors.”

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio recently wrote to Secretary of Education, John King about the waste, fraud and abuse in Ohio that has grown with the charter school movement: “Ohio’s current lack of oversight wastes taxpayer’s money and undermines the ostensible goal of charters: providing more high-quality educational opportunities for children. There exists a pattern of waste, fraud, and abuse that is far too common and requires extra scrutiny.” This is a scandal occurring nationwide.

Conclusion

Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. The educational attainment of the last few decades far surpass that of their parents, however for the first time their opportunities are diminished.

What lies behind this emerging national belief that our schools are failing? It is the amateuristic or maybe cynical belief that standardized testing was a valid measure of educational quality which supported greed exacerbated by lust.

On a broader scale, we sense that this push for billionaire supported education reform has significant political implications, for it pits the interests of common community members against corporate interest and the super wealthy. These reforms have already destroyed many schools and harmed many communities by eliminating community schools and promoting segregation. These outcomes are readily apparent in places like Detroit, Los Angeles and Oakland.

As Jefferson said, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, …” The power of any society ultimately resides with the people. If we and our neighbors demand our democratic rights, then our wonderful community schools will continue their legacy of victory for the people.

Ciedie Aech’s Wonderful Book

20 Aug

There are few public school systems in America that have been more harmed by what Diane Ravich aptly dubbed “corporate education reform” than those in Denver, Colorado. Ciedie Aech tells the story of a professional educator working in the horrific and unstable environment that developed with the extra-legal federal take-over of public schools. In reality, this is a heart wrenching story, but Aech’s sarcastic humor turns it into a delight. Any teacher in America’s public k-12 system who reads “Why is you always got to be trippin” will immediately recognize many scenes Ciedie delightfully paints while telling this dreadful story.

About the Title

 “One day when noise from unsupervised students caught my attention, I stepped into the hallway to find a group of boys throwing friendly punches outside a neighboring classroom.

 “‘Gentlemen!’ I stated reactively, clearing my throat. Happy to ignore extraneous interference, the boys continued their game. ‘Gentlemen!’ I said again, this time a little more loudly. Straightening, the boys stopped to look my way. ‘Okay, let’s go,’ I directed. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in class?’ ‘Aw, Miss,’ two or three grumbled as the small group broke up and began to move away. Pulling at chronically sagging pants while smoothing intricately braided hair, a tall, thin young man hung back.

 “As a student who had attended one of my afternoon classes for more than six months, he knew me well. Watching his friends now amble unhurriedly down the hall, he turned to look at me in plaintive wonder. ‘Aw, Miss,’ he protested. ‘Why is you always got to be trippin’?’

 ‘“Why is I always got to be trippin’? …

 “If you don’t take pains to hold them together? If you don’t step in, over and over (and then over again) to pull them circuitously inward towards success – sometimes with no other help than the full power of your will? They struggle, they flounder; they deflate and fall apart. Desperately they count upon the people in their lives who make the effort to ‘trip.’”

 Background for the Story

If you are a fan of privatizing public schools and corporate education reform, Denver is your cup of tea. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute (one of those “think-tanks” that like the New York Times reports is more like a tax free lobbying firm than an honest evaluator of education policy) rated Denver Public Schools (DPS) the third best school choice system in the United States behind only New Orleans and Washington DC.

In the summer of 2005, Michael Bennet, who had spent the previous 2 years with his fellow Wesleyan alum, John Hickenlooper as chief of the mayor’s staff was appointed Superintendent of DPS. He previously earned a law degree at Yale and was editor of the Yale Law Journal. Prior to working for the mayor and future governor of Colorado, Bennet spent six years as the managing director of the Anschutz Investment Company. However, he had no training or experience as an educator or in education administration.

Two years before Bennet departed to become Colorado’s junior United States Senator, he hired another lawyer with no education background (other than tutoring English in Hong Kong) to be chief operating officer of DPS, Tom Boasberg. Before coming to Denver, Boasberg did a stint at the FCC, then went into the corporate world. When Bennet departed Boasberg who is now a member of Jeb Bush’s Chief for Change was elevated to Superintendent of DPS. Boasberg did obtain an administration credential from the unaccredited Broad Academy in 2009.

Then there is State Senator Michael Johnston another instant education expert from TFA. He is credited with writing the law that requires Colorado teachers to be evaluated by the discredited value added method based on standardized testing. He seems to be yet another elitist from Yale out to destroy public schools (Bennet, Booker, Malloy, King, etc.). The following from Mercedes Schneider paints a clear picture of the modern education privatizing tool:

“In his NCTQ bio, Johnston presents himself as, ‘the founder and former principal of MESA (Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts), a 7-12 Gates funded small high school in north Denver.’  It is increasingly common practice for former TFAers to become instant leaders and entrepreneurs, opening and leading schools without a solid educational foundation but with funding (in the case of Johnston’s school, Gates money). Johnston is a TFAer from Yale, and TFA really likes Yale. His Yale bachelors degree is in a generic major (philosophy); so, like many former TFAers ‘on the climb,’ Johnston made a quick stop to the Broad-financed Harvard Graduate School of Education for one of those educational policy masters degrees TFAers are increasingly fond of brandishing.  And make no mistake: Harvard educational policy is all about data driven assessment of supposed “teacher effectiveness.”  The Harvard Center for Educational Policy Research is funded by a cadre of now-all-too-familiar reformer foundations, including Broad, Gates, Joyce, and Rodel.”

 Just a few miles up highway 36 from Denver is Broomfield, Colorado home of the Walton family established and supervised, Charter School Growth Fund.  Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the foundation and Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director of this non-profit venture capital fund that invests in charter schools. Annie Walton Proietti, niece of Carrie, works for a KIPP school in Denver. KIPP is a system to which the Walton family has donated millions of dollars.

How Ciedie Viewed the Beginning of the Harm

 “Proffered up by an unmistakably concerned and oft-professed-liberal activist, this emphatic assertion was accorded an immediate defense through an even yet more logical rationale: ‘I wouldn’t send my children there.’

“Progressive declarations like this one, coming as they did from privileged-class and generally non-minority but avowed open-minded citizens, oh, they just made so much sense – to other privileged-class and generally non-minority but compassionately troubled advocates. Holding test scores high, progressive thinkers waved what they argued to be incontrovertible truth. What had to be done? What was undoubtedly required? Was the immediate “non-negotiable” reformation of our nation’s lowest-income, lowest-scoring schools.”

 Ciedie points out:

 “When, in the name of a ‘benevolent’ intervention, you assertively malign, label, invade and destabilize those schools where, due to the wide array of issues attached to poverty and cultural disconnect, only around 40 percent of students graduate and move on to find success at a college – ultimately what you are doing in the name of your unprecedented ‘compassion?’ Is making sure that even this small but steady percent of minority students cannot progress and successfully integrate into society.”

 Soon after the reform invasion, she noticed:

 “With great determination, good educators closed their eyes. Industriously, good teachers taught themselves in an imitation of financially motivated “fixer” administrators; with great tenacity, good teachers refused a direct look at the deregulated chaos now dancing with impunity around an ever realigning array of testing and penalty practices. Hearing, and subsequently spouting, only a cautious reflection of the shallow district, state and federal dogma, good teachers offered up only a passively guarded support for the belligerent doctrine of accountability – a progressively more retaliatory doctrine which, year after year, continued to hold to the incontrovertible fact that: All of those unacceptable test scores?

“Were forevermore, always and only, the product of bad teachers.”

 About all the money for reform, Ciedie perceived:

 “So. When big money gets thrown around under the socially responsible guise of helping less powerful and politically disenfranchised citizens – benevolently offering that helpful leg up, so to speak; well, it’s a funny but historical trend that quite often this particular kind of money?

“Somehow, sort of, gets redirected.”

In one vignette Ciedie is chatting with a fellow educator. It really hit home with me, because I too teach in a “failing school” with 70% free and reduced lunch and 20% language learners. It was like my personal experience:

“One year, a few days into my Thanksgiving Break, I met up with a friend – a teaching peer who, for the past twenty years, had been employed inside a high-scoring, long-term-stably-administrated secondary school located in the suburbs of a neighboring district. When our conversation predictably turned to issues of education, it immediately became clear that, in the modern age of a low-income school accountability, what we, as public school educators, had each experienced? Diverged dramatically.

“It felt, in fact, a little like discussing educational practices as they existed here on Earth… and somewhere way out in the far reaches of the universe. On Jupiter, maybe. At one point, we paused to count up the non-teaching/nonstudent-contact days we had each had so far that fall.

“She counted two.

“I counted seventeen.”

 I loved the following observation because I have been living it for fifteen years:

“Well, now: here’s a little secret. I suppose this could be confidential. I apologize if I’m letting the cat out of the bag.

“But: More inner-city, low-income-school teachers actually, with a full intention, chose to walk into those complicated buildings; chose to work, day after day, inside those low-income, culturally-complex schools; chose to spend year upon year standing right there in front of those so many assertively labeled “difficult” children because they wanted to – than you might think.

“Oh, man. Crazy, huh?”

 Ciedie asked the obvious question:

“Why was it, the question kept rising up over the years. Well, why was it that those schools most quickly and aggressively labeled as “drop-out factories” – schools slated for closure or an endless chain of reforms, schools forced through the fatal destabilization of restructure and redesign, schools branded publicly as being underused failures, schools negatively marked with the highly publicized letter grade of an F – well, why was it that such a large percent of these schools (shoot, pretty much all of them) had traditionally served as a home to non-dominant-culture, non-privileged-class, minority students?”

 Bell the Cat

A wonderful allegory, that illustrates the folly of corporate education reform:

“Opening our scene, we move in upon a small group of administratively enterprising mice; a group of mice who have had it up to here with the never-ending litany of mouse citizen complaints about a Big Bad Cat: an omnipresent feline willing to wreak ongoing havoc upon poor, defenseless mice. Mouse-world constituents have made it more than clear: They will no longer tolerate such an unremitting harassment. Hence, the intentional meeting of mousey governmental minds.

‘“If only we knew when the cat was coming,’ sighs one contemplative legislator.

“‘A bell,’ offers another: ‘What if a bell was placed around the neck of the cat?’

‘“Yes, yes, a bell!’ A multitude of voices now loudly and animatedly agrees. Ah, the cheers; oh the excitement; and then, my, oh my, the adamantly mandated and heavily earmarked rodent legislation. A bell it shall be. An imperatively necessary warning bell to be placed preemptively around the neck of the cat. What a small, helpless rodent’s dream come true!

 “Oh – but then.

“Even with so many well-meaning and supportively exuberant legislators behind this exceptional plan; despite the brashly exacting orders which have been written into massively inflexible laws – well, gosh, as it turns out? Once these proudly enthusiastic little mice have calmed down; once each mouse has taken the time to get a direct look at reality – well, each legislator realizes that not one politician has thought of, nor painstakingly offered up, a true-life proposal for getting that excitingly legislated bell onto the neck of the cat.”

 Then Ciedie goes on to make many statements like this:

“However, in modern days; in magically modern days dedicated to the pursuit and procurement of suddenly available and minimally regulated bell-the-cat funding disbursals? Complicatedly diverse school boards comprised of multiple, non-political, equity-minded citizens – citizens who found it necessary to not only listen to, but act upon, the concerns voiced by frustrated educators, students, parents and old-school administrators:

“Well, school boards like these? Really got in the way.”

 Which leads to another observation:

“In truly compassionate days bent to the no-waiting miracles of a test-based accountability, it was not simply the mayor, now, but the mayor’s self-proclaimed Superhero Superintendent (two imperial monarchs willing to work side-by-side as an incontrovertible royalty) who both said so. Laboring hand-in-hand; uttering statements as a team – mutually these two powerful leaders could make it unambiguously clear: Both, they now claimed? Were unquestionably on board; both were ready to do whatever was necessary; both were willing, even, to spend an unparalleled amount of that governmental and/or philanthropic funding in their effort to prove just how bad the so many low-income schools placed under their royal jurisdiction: Really were.”

“In days of a statistical liability, it has become increasingly possible to find “public” school districts where the children of not only the superintendent but every member of the school board attend private schools.”

 Ciedie enlightens us to what good teacher are;

“Good teachers; well, good teachers, and oh surely this was obvious – even glaringly self-apparent in the fast pace of magical days devoted to a truer national compassion: Good teachers?

“Were young. Oh, very, very young.”

 About the TFA influx:

“Despite their designated unreliability; despite, even, their surely ungrateful lack of loyalty for stoically sticking around and “taking” the abuses created by an ever-shifting, funding-lucrative reform – huge numbers of these oft-labeled undependable Teach-For-A-Minute girls (and oh, yes, a lesser number of surely just as undependable Teach-For-A-Minute boys) were now being ever more massively produced.”

 A Very Sad Ending for Ciedie and Denver

“I was very assertively and unceremoniously sent home.

“Having no useful case against me save my age, my too often and too liberally expressed opinions, and, most annoyingly, my unhelpful ability to see directly through our district’s more than-a-decade-long loyalty to the implementation of community confusing smoke screens – taking advantage of a union-allowed option for a preemptive and, in days of a faster-and-faster-no-due-process-necessary modern-day evaluation, no concrete evidence required perp-walking/keys-confiscated/no-school-contact-allowed administrative leave – the district commandeered an abruptly unanticipated and overwhelmingly painful mid-year separation from my students, offering neither them nor any of my teaching peers an explanation as, strategically, they installed a brand-new never-taught-before replacement.”

A recent report by The Progressive Policy Institute (another of those tax-free lobbying firms masquerading as a “think-tank”) extols these reforms and brushes over the fact that their own data shows that the racial gaps in Denver’s schools have widened over the last decade.

In a rebuttal, Terrenda White of the University of Colorado, Boulder stated that the report utilized unreliable methods to establish cause and effect relationships. White also pointed out “widening gaps in achievement should have (but did not) temper the report’s call for aggressively expanding school choice as the best strategy for equalizing opportunity.”

Better Together Corporate Teacher’s Summit

2 Aug

My wonderful friend, Dr. Larry Lawrence, sent me a message last March alerting me to a free teacher’s conference that he was going to attend. He had attended the first Better Together conference in 2015 and was sure I would love to see the common core love fest in action.

On Friday, July 29, National University hosted the San Diego “Better Together California Teacher’s Summit.” I like National University and have nothing but praise for the wonderful job Dr. Judy Mantel and her excellent staff did. However, the conference underwriter was the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. That gave the proceedings a darker hue.

During the 2016 NPE conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, Diane Ravitch mentioned how much easier it would be if we got a deep pocket sponsor for our movement, but she jokingly lamented that Anthony Cody would not stand for it. When I arrived at the Town and Country Convention Center in San Diego’s hotel circle, I saw what she meant. They had breakfast prepared for all 700 of us. The ballroom was plushly appointed and there appeared to be hotel staff everywhere. Twenty event staff were already on duty when I arrived.

Unfortunately, I had not read the agenda closely enough and had already eaten. I was only hoping for free coffee.

The following graphic was periodically displayed while we were awaiting the proceedings.

Better TogetherVideo link connected us with a simultaneous event being held at California State University, Fullerton. Three massive screens projected keynote speaker, Ernie Hudson who was in Fullerton. Besides being a popular actor, Hudson is a wonderful speaker. His speech was moving and entertaining.

However, I wondered if an accomplished professional educator speaking would have been more appropriate. For example, I will never forget the address Professor Yong Zhao gave at NPE Chicago but then he didn’t blame teachers for his son’s problems and he doesn’t support standards based testing. Hard to imagine Gates’ money being spent on a speaker that does not support Gates’ ideology.

The Sponsors

The money came mainly from the Gates Foundation, however, the official sponsors were AICCU, the California State University and the New Teacher Center. The sponsors page of the Better Together California web presence lists many corporate supports including: TFA, The S.D. Bechtel Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the California Charter Schools Association, Chevron….

The New Teachers Center seemed to be the key organization overall in charge. Their funders page lists the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as $10,000,000 plus patrons. Thirty listed entities are credited with donating between $1,000,000 and $9,999,999 including: Carnegie Corporation of New York; The Joyce Foundation; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation; SeaChange Capital Partners; The Goldman Sachs Foundation; Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; National Education Association; and NewSchools Venture Fund.

In addition to New Teacher’s Foundation, Edcamp was another major force present at the summit. Started by the George Lucas Foundation Edcamp has a small presence in communities across the country. There are two Edcamp groups in San Diego County according to the Edcamp representative from Baltimore.

On his Edutopia internet page Lucas is quoted, “When I was in high school, I felt like I was in a vacuum, biding time. I was curious, but bored. It was not an atmosphere conducive to learning. Once I had the means to effect change in this arena, it became my passion to do so.” Sounds like another rich guy education “expert” with no training or experience, but he has a boat load of money so his opinion is important.

On the good side, Edutopia and George Lucas do not appear to have a pecuniary interests in privatizing public education.

I realize many people may wonder why I am not pleased that all of these rich people love kids so much. There is an insidious side. For example, instead of questioning the idea of adding engineering standards to basic science education, the conversation is shaped so all we discuss is how to best implement engineering principles into science education.

Before students reach approximately their junior year in college, they are not ready to study engineering. I am for shop class, cooking and pottery projects, but these are not engineering. There is no useful purpose in confusing teachers and students by larding a bunch of inappropriate engineering standers onto seventh graders. Unfortunately, there appears to be no room for dialog that does not support the philosophy of the wealthy CEO that demanded engineering standards.

We know that the Common Core was written hastily – in secret – by a group of 21 people, 19 of whom worked in the testing industry. As Peter Greene writes, “The Core were rushed together by a bunch of educational amateurs, who were sure we couldn’t wait another second to implement them because they would improve education immediately. They didn’t, and there’s no reason to believe that there will ever be actual improvement to come from the standards– only the illusion of improvement if teachers continue to come up with newer, better techniques and give the Core credit for them.” I think that is exactly the purpose of this corporate supported conference. It is for teachers to create the illusion.

I am annoyed every time I hear the phrase “common core math”. There is no such thing and mostly what people are calling “common core math” are the cooperative learning and constructivist ideas that John Dewey proposed in the early twentieth century.

Two Presentations of Note

Shortly after I arrived, the head of the science department in my district introduced me to a fairly new teacher from the middle school that feeds my high school. The conference used the Ted talk format calling them Edtalks. I was quite surprised that the first Edtalk was by this teacher, Alicia Johal.

Alicia is obviously bright and poised. Her talk featuring the underwater robotics team she is coaching was well presented and her PowerPoint slides made things look as amazing as possible.

Unfortunately, while Alicia was speaking Ciedie Aech’s book Why Is You Always Got To Be Trippin’ possessed my mind. Ciedie is from Denver, Colorado home some of our nation’s most pernicious and destructive education reform. In her book, she reported on a conversation she overheard about the kind of teachers we need. Ciedie tends to sarcasm.

 “’Wouldn’t you,’ he stated, leering suggestively at the five other males seated around his educational table. ‘Well, wouldn’t you rather have had young teachers; teachers who were young, perky and vivacious?’

“My.

“Not just young, but perky.

“And vivacious.

“Golly.”

The main afternoon presentation was by Kelly Galiagher from Magnolia High School in the Anaheim School District. He spoke about the importance of writing. He is a gifted speaker and even though the subject area is not new – he gave it life. However, one of his five points supporting the importance of writing was discordant.  His point four was that writing prepared students for common core testing. This obviously well considered individual cannot believe that test preparation is a worthy justification for his main point.

If this had not been a Gates funded event would Kelly have actually mentioned common core and testing as reasons for writing? I don’t think so.

Charter Schools

Charter school teachers were among the conference goers. They seemed like any other teachers; some impressive and some not. All of the charter school teachers I met were from schools that were locally formed and led. There were no teachers from KIPP, Magnolia (Gulen) or Aspire. I also did not meet a charter school teacher from a school run by a charter management organization.

The story I heard repeated was “I used to teach in public schools but when NCLB came along I was no longer able to do the right thing in the classroom. I have taken a pay cut but I love my school because I can teach the way I know it should be done.” From my personal experience, I found that to be a powerful argument.

I hope that a way is found to bring some of these schools under an umbrella of democratic control. The charter industry has developed into a demonic tool used to purloin public education dollars and destroy the public education system. As this trend continues to worsen, quality charter schools like Einstein Academy will be crushed right along with public schools. It is becoming clear that the market competition that would make schools improve is not a competition to better educate; it’s a competition to better market. Mom and pop charter schools will never survive that battle.

Personalized Learning

On every table in the conference ballroom was an invitation to a CUE Tech Fair. CUE’s web presence says, “CUE inspires innovative learners by fostering community, personalizing learning, infusing technology, developing leadership, and advocating educational opportunities for all.”

CUE, originally a sincere organization, has been corrupted. The personalized learnSDCCU Tech Fair Partnersing they call for is competency based education (CBE) delivered by computers and scored by a corporations. Instead of credits, students will earn badges from testing giants like Pearson Corporation. This graphic is from their web page.

Emily Talmage’s warnings about the CBE threat to the teaching profession, America’s culture and good education is well founded. From her latest post on this subject:

“Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an ‘ecosystem,’ in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

“With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for ‘personalized,’ competency-based policies and “innovative” assessment systems.

 “(The American Legislative Exchange Council and the major teacher’s unions and their associated networks are encouraging states join the innovative assessment pilot program designed by the International Association of K-12 Online Learning and the Gates-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation and now allowed by the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.)”

 This is a real and present danger to the teaching profession, quality public education and democracy in America. As enjoyable as lunch paid for by Bill Gates and conversations with fellow educators was, I feel the hidden purpose behind the Better Together California Teacher’s Summit was the end of the teaching profession and public education as we know it. That is not a good thing!