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Conference of anti-reformers brings the noise

Imagine me at a conference hosted by the good folks at Socialist Alternative. Thoughts of a pastor at the Mustang ranch or a fish on a bicycle  should come to mind.

Well, this past Saturday I continued my self-education process by attending a panel discussion sponsored by Public Education Justice.

I’m dedicated to consuming world views that run counter to mine, and nothing could be further from me than a forum totally against school reform.

That said,  I’m completely freaked out by what I heard. I know there is a gulf of opinion in the big debate about schools, but I’m sometimes shocked at how off-the-rails the anti-reform cult has gone. As I saw last Saturday, they have erected an alternative reality where fighting for the intolerable public education status quo is the new noble movement of oppressed peoples.

First up, Glenn Ford from the Black Agenda Report.

He started the session with a blistering critique of neo-liberal politics that featured an unrelenting sketch of Barack Obama that placed the President at the center of a plot to support empire. From there Ford walked the crowd of mostly uncolored Seward Cafe types through the common anti-reform narrative: super-rich foundations have hired black faces like Corey Booker – or started “astroturf” organizations like Black Alliance for Educational Options – to target a doltish black community for support of school choice, vouchers, and charter schools. Speaking in a dramatic stuccato he connected the dots between national players involved in idealogical effort to privatize all things public; to create markets where there should be none; and to undermine working people. It was Diane Ravitch with a tan.

The big applause line is when Ford call for the replacing our leaders, “starting with President Barack Obama,” followed by “our union leaders” who have been complicit in the reform movement. As an Obama voter I hope half of Ford’s call comes true.

Scanning the room I could see the danger of Ford is his utility as an ornament for folks seeking a black opinion they can assert is authentically against attempts to improve public education with remedies that are unpopular to unions (hey, his blog is called “Black Commentator” after all). The unshaven Left needs a black voice to say the things that would draw charges of racism if they said it, much like the white Right needs Herman Cain. The irony in Ford accusing BAEO of pushing views that do not enjoy broad-based support in the black community is that his own views on the President and Corey Booker are shared by virtually no portion of the black community. In short, Ford is afro-turf that blackwashes the white leftist fringe so they can discount the valid black voices that are simmering for change.

Did anyone notice that the room was roughly as black as a Pearl Jam concert?

Next up, Michael Brunson, the recording secretary from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

Brunson gave details of how the CTU had become more radical in the face of a “war” on the public schools of Chicago. It started with an internal teachers’ group called Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) that started as a book club amongst front line educators. They were seeking a more grassroots vision of what unionism could be, and to be supported even as their union leaders had lost touch with them. They quickly trained their sights on taking over the CTU leadership – and they won. We they took power they agreed the call was “to be more militant” than their predecessors.” And, when preparing for contract negotiations they “doubled down on PR,” hired “skilled labor attorneys,” and sent union officials to meet with front line teachers to talk about the contract. At the same time they encouraged their teachers to talk to parents and students about their cause.

The socialists in the room loved this story. It seemed to inspire a mist in the room. Of course, I was not misty, I was thrown. That students in one of America’s worst performing school districts – where social conditions for city youth is coming undone – teachers walking out on students for several days was seen as a success because it reaped material benefits for adults.

How is it that the super-rich school reform funders are to be feared for their motives when the “socialists” see lost learning time for students as a leverage point to gain air conditioning?

How are charter schools the enemy when their students in Chicago didn’t spend days in the unsafe streets while their teachers wore red shirts and blogged slogans stolen from bigger revolutions of underclass people around the globe?

I’m not sure.

Finally, Rob Panning-Miller gave a peevish accounting of unpopular activities including a host of “astroturf” groups that have infiltrated the education landscape in Minnesota. This included school districts – and even the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers – becoming charter school authorizers; and sin of all sins, hiring Teach for America Teachers.

“I asked the local former leader of TFA why they’re even here in Minnesota” he snipped. “He told me it’s now about leadership.”

The crowed laughed. It would have been kinda of cute if it weren’t for the academic catastrophe happening in the schools where TFA teachers are willing teach.

Although this was a forum on education there was one striking omission. Amongst the talk about public education workers, their rights, and the need to fight the big business cabal attempting to Walmart-ify schools, there was no direct discussion about the racialized predictability of student achievement that assigns millions of black and brown youngsters to diminished lives. That is, except when Ford said “I’m going to say something provocative,” then relieved the crowd with the assertion that “there will be no measurable improvement in test scores for black and brown students” until the American system of capitalism equalizes conditions for everyone.

And that’s what they wanted to hear. A black man that will let them off the hook for the expectation that black and brown children will learn while in their care. Again, the irony embedded in his words is that there is an effort to “de-professionalize” teaching, even as he says that teachers can make no difference. We should value teachers because they are workers, not because their work can produce a desired effect.

The truth is I love an underdog, and for that reason I could easily be a socialist. But rooms like this one are not the underdogs. These people are not oppressed. All of the “worker” histrionics are the political equivalent of dressing in drag for people with college educations, middle-class benefits, and overblown self-concepts that they see as aligned with words like “revolution” and “solidarity.”

As a final note, I was tracked down by a teacher before I left. She wanted to talk to me about TFA and how they have a plot to take over Minneapolis Public Schools. In the middle of her pitch I told her that I represent a community that is a third party to these discussions. Unionists and school reformers are in a massive battle over public education, and the black community is not very present in either group’s leadership. That makes us consumers of the debate. One group continually tells us that our kids can’t learn because we’re poor, our parents are jacked up, and our kids are deficient in too many ways.

The other group tells us that our kids – as they are right now – can learn.

Which group do you think wins?

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.

And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.

“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.

Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.

The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.

And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.

And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.


In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.


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