Lessons from NPE Philadelphia

11 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/11/2022

The Downtown Double Tree Hotel where the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference was held has great meeting facilities. Over the May Day weekend of learning and being inspired, it was an easy trek from the five joint sessions in the large room to the six smaller breakout sessions. The difficult part was picking which of the eight panels available in each breakout sessions to attend.

I presented in a Saturday afternoon panel called “The City Fund: Where they’ve Developed and Implemented the Portfolio Model and Where they Hope to Spread it Next.” At the same time there were seven other panels: “Fight against Vouchers in Tennessee”;  “The Constitutional and Policy Pushback against Vouchers and Charters”;  “Gerrymandering, Education and Unaccountable State Legislators” and four more. Even I was conflicted about being in my panel and not being able to attend one of the other offerings.

The conference opened with Diane Ravitch firing up the crowd at 8 AM Saturday morning. For those of us from the west coast that was equivalent to 5 AM. She proposed a new framing of the acronym WOKE as “Wide Open to Knowledge and Enlightenment.” Ravitch continued the theme demanding,

“Let’s reclaim the word WOKE as Public School Activists!”

“Wake UP to Inequity”

“Wake UP to Injustice”

“Wake up & bring LIGHT into our Public Schools”

Following Diane, NPE Director Carol Burris introduced an activist she met when he was in high school and she was a principal, Nikhil Goyal. Today he is education advisor for Senator Bernie Sanders. Goyal demanded a “New Deal for Public Education.” He called for:

  • “$100s of millions for school infrastructure
  • “End standardized testing
  • “End federal charter school investment
  • “Institute restorative justice
  • “Extend the child tax credited paid at 100%”

Goyal also made the point, “we cannot discuss public education without discussing poverty, gun violence, the opioid epidemic and safe housing.”

Privatization is Private Control over Public Goods.

Donald Cohen from In the Public Interest shared his definition of privatization as private control over public goods during his panel. The panel was moderated by NPE co-founder Anthony Cody and included Professor Maurice Cunningham, author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization and Professor Donald Reed co-author with Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. of Getting into Good Trouble at School: A Guide to Building an Antiracist School System.

Professor Cohen contended that what is labeled a public good should be decided democratically and claimed privatization is an assault on democracy. He noted that markets always exclude people.

Maurice Cunningham pointed out that the right has redefined liberty as selfishness. Donald Reed observed that shutting down the ability to learn with movements like anti-CRT is fundamentally an assault on democracy.

The panel presented strong evidence for why resisting the privatization of public schools is fighting to save democracy.

VanCedric Williams is an Impressive Leader from Oakland, California

For more than an hour, Oakland Public Schools Director VanCedric Williams explained the attack on his schools and answered questions. Williams teaches in San Francisco Unified but lives in Oakland. His performance was so impressive that I and others in the room felt we were witnessing the birth of a future star in the struggle to save public education from the looters.

He explained how in 2004 Oakland Unified Public School District had a $10 million deficit but was forced by the state of California to accept a $100 million dollar loan. After a series of four state appointed and Eli Broad trained administrators, Oakland still owes $100 million dollars not to the state but to JP Morgan-Chase their new creditor that they did not choose for a loan they did not choose.

A Surprise Lunch Time Visitor

At 12:30 PM we were all scheduled to eat and listen to a panel discussion moderated by Julian Vasquez Heilig, Dean of Education at the University of Kentucky. Heilig is also an NPE board member. Joining him on the panel was the first female of color to be elected president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, Cecelia Myart-Cruz. She is hated by billionaire privatizers and their propaganda organs The 74 and LA School Report. Also on the panel was Adelle Cothorne the former principal of Noyes elementary school in Washington DC who blew the whistle on the Michelle Rhee pushed cheating scandals.

However, before lunch was served the room became stimulated by the arrival of Bronx Congressman Jamaal Bowman. Bowman came to ask us to support his new bill to eliminate standardized testing. He also said, “You cannot have a democracy without having an exemplary public education system.”   

Diane Ravitch, Jamaal Bowman and Carol Burris

The joint lunch session ended with three NPE awards. Dr. Annika Whitfield voice of the resistance in Little Rock who challenges the Walton family in a daily struggle to save that city’s public schools received the first ever Diane Ravitch David award. This year the Phyllis Bush Grass Roots award went to Charles Foster and the organization of pastors in Texas and Tennessee working to save public education. They were preaching to the choir in Philadelphia. Also receiving the Grass Roots award was Stand for Schools Nebraska which has succeeded in protecting that state from privatization including no charter schools or vouchers.

Panel on The City Fund

As the moderator of the panel, I presented an outline of the oligarch game plan for privatizing public education. This outline which was first suggested by Dr. Jim Scheurich and his team came from my article The City Fund uses Oligarch Money to Privatize Public Schools.

  1. Convince the public that business is the best model for running schools.
  2. Develop a huge infusion of new dollars for school board elections. (Dark Money)
  3. Establish unified enrollment for public schools and charter schools.
  4. Undermine teacher professionalism with Teach for America (TFA) or any instant-teacher-certification program and take control of teacher professional development.
  5. Implement Innovation Schools which are an ALEC sponsored method for removing schools from elected school board control.
  6. Develop a funding conduit for national and local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local privatization initiatives.
  7. Co-locate charter schools with public schools using rules that favor charter schools.
  8. Develop a network of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda.
  9. Support gentrification.

The three other panel members were Keith E. Benson, President of the Camden Education Association and adjunct professor at Rutgers University; Gloria Nolan, Interim Parent Liaison for St. Louis Public Schools and a new NPE board member; plus Sarah Sorensen, public school parent and Board Trustee in San Antonio ISD. Each of these panelists told the story of how City Fund is financing the attack on their public schools and running the playbook outlined above.

To date, The City Fund is operating in 14 cities with plans to expand to 40 cities.

Wrapping up Saturday

Session 4 began at 3:40 PM and featured 8 stimulating panels. I attended “The Federal Charter Schools Program: Decades of Damage and Mismanagement.” Among those other panels I would have liked to attend were “The Nebraska Miracle”, “Astroturf Parents Groups” and “Getting the Data Straight: Understanding Public Education’s Great Success.”

The last joint presentation of the day was delivered by Professor Noliwe Rooks who gave a moving presentation about the democratically ignored citizens of Detroit. At least three different times – from 1995 to 2010 – the governor of Michigan overrode public votes for the state not to take over their schools; twice countered by a Republican and once by a Democrat.

The day concluded with a book signing and a mixer.

Steven Van Zandt and the Ashbury Jukes

Sunday morning began with eight more informative panels followed by morning brunch at 9:25 AM. Suddenly there was a stir in the room and a teacher at the table in front of me was absolutely thrilled to see that Diane Ravitch was sitting down on the stage to interview Little Steven.

Steven Van Zandt co-founded the band South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes who subsequently took his writing and musical producing abilities to the E-Street band where he and Bruce Springsteen collaborated on many big hits. He also is well known for his role on the Sopranos, but his social activism and support of public education is much less known.  

On twitter Diane Ravitch afterwards posted, “I wish you had been in Philly to hear the wonderful “Little Stevie” (formerly the EST band and “The Sopranos”) talk about his love for music, kids, teachers, and arts in the schools at #npe2022philly. Everyone loved his enthusiasm and candor.”

These two fighters for justice, Diane and Steven, met at a Los Angeles teachers’ rally during the last strike.

Steven made two remarks that particularly resonated with me: “Teach rock not war” and “teachers are on the front-lines of a war against ignorance.”

Diane Ravitch and Steven Van Zandt

What is going on at TFA

The last breakout session I attend was presented by Julian Vasquez Heilig, Jameson Brewer and Gary Rubinstein. In 2015, Teach For America (TFA) had it largest corps class ever and was enjoying almost uninterrupted good press. That year Heilig moderated a panel discussion on TFA in which then doctoral candidate Jameson Brewer presented his observations of being a 2008 corps member. Since then he and Heilig have published a string of peer reviewed research articles that undermined the propaganda from TFA. It may not be a direct cause and affect relationship but since then the size of the TFA corps classes have continued to be reduced.

Their newest article is Planting Toxic Seeds in Fertile Soil: The Knowledge Acquisition, Achievement, and Behavioral Beliefs Inculcated Into Teach For America Corps Members of Color.” The last five years, TFA has been focused on recruiting teachers of color; however they still inculcate these teachers with “top-down, authoritative, and militaristic in the delivery of curriculum, pedagogy, and classroom management.” The paper states,

“This ideology is wrought with deficit ideologies about the culture of Black and Brown communities, who, drawing from their White Saviors or White ideology, are understood as lacking the appropriate cultural characteristics to end poverty. So, while TFA recruits in the past few years (a small portion of the organization’s overall history) have increasingly been non-White, corps members are still inculcated with these White cultural assumptions and the myth of meritocracy, which are infused into the organization and its vast education reform and policy network.”

The Best For Last

Jitu Brown is a freedom fighter from Chicago and the director of the civil rights organization Journey for Justice (J4J). He will always be remembered as the man who organized the Dyett High School hunger strike which after 34 days led to the end of Rahm Emanuel’s reign of terror for Chicago’s Black community.

In his more than one hour address, he cried from the depths of his life for justice. Jitu told us about setting off firecrackers when he was 10-years-old and having a Chicago cop stick a gun in his mouth. He asked, “Why did we have good neighborhood schools when I went to school but our kids don’t have them anymore?” He noted with disdain, “They want to give kids a laptop and call it education.”

Jitu is not a fan of school choice which he presciently observed was born to maintain segregation. He claimed, “Charter schools have been weaponized to move Black people out of our cities” and also noted that young people of color look to Ella Baker as their model of fighting for justice.

Jitu and J4J are always inspirational at NPE conferences.

Jitu Brown Speaking at NPE Philadelphia

For almost 4-years since our last gathering in Indianapolis, we have been isolated and watching as billionaires got richer while funding the privatization of the commons. Following NPE Philadelphia, I came home happily exhausted knowing that after a rest I would be ready to fight on for public education the foundation of American democracy.

I am inspired by what a diverse group NPE is. It stretches from Charles Foster and a group of Baptist preachers to Jitu Brown and J4J. We have Muslims and Mexicans, Jews and Asians and Buddhists all working harmoniously to save our public schools. This is a model for America.

Happily, I was once again able to take a picture with the great Diane Ravitch. She has not always been on the right side of all things but what makes her great is that she is capable of changing her mind if the evidence demands it. Like her and every other human, I have been wrong on occasion but fighting to save public education is far from an error. We must stop the looters and save democracy.

All picture by Thomas Ultican

5 Responses to “Lessons from NPE Philadelphia”

  1. Jeannie Kaplan May 13, 2022 at 7:49 pm #

    Such a good recap. Thanks, Tom! I go a real sense of the conference from your description.

    Hope to be there next year.

    Like

    • tultican May 13, 2022 at 8:26 pm #

      I really liked your last post. I was very concerned when I saw that City Fund dumped $21 million into Denver. These ungodly amounts of money are very difficult to counter.

      Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tom Ultican Reports on the Highlights of the #NPE2022 Conference in Philly | Diane Ravitch's blog - May 13, 2022

    […] Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in California, is now a significant chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement. He attended the recent national conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia and recapitulates the excitement we shared at being in person after a 2-year hiatus. […]

    Like

  2. Tom Ultican Reports on the Highlights of the #NPE2022 Conference in Philly - May 13, 2022

    […] Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in California, is now a significant chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement. He attended the recent national conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia and recapitulates the excitement we shared at being in person after a 2-year hiatus. […]

    Like

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    […] By Thomas Ultican / Tultican […]

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