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Revenge of the Dullards

Glory, glory, the nation’s besieged teachers can rejoice now that Diane Ravitch, patron saint to poor performing educators everywhere, has started an education advocacy group called Network for Public Education (NOPE). Now there will be a force to face off with Michele Rhee’s StudentsFirst. Ravitch, the always-on-tour educational apologist says her new group aims to be “a sane voice for educational policy….not talking about kids first or students first but actually supporting policies that will improve public education.”

Amongst those policies….

Ms. Ravitch said the network was calling for broad-minded public school curriculums that included arts, sciences, foreign languages and physical education; better financing for schools; more respect for teachers; and the “appropriate use of testing to help students and teachers, not to punish or reward students, teachers, principals, or to close schools,” she wrote in an e-mail.

As agendas go that one is far less tart than Ravitch’s usual firehose of anti-reform sloganeering. Missing is deeper detail on what I suspect is the hidden curriculum of her movement. Sure, she has always been an advocate for richer curriculum (who isn’t) and national standards, but in recent years she is most known for what she opposes: testing as a means for evaluating teachers and schools, charter schools, school choice, philanthropy, and the existence of a cerebrum in non-white peoples. Her caustic defense of status quo unionism and her pandering to the hurt feelings of a preciously fragile nation of pre-feminism teachers have elevated her to a place where oxygen is rare, platitudes multiply, and invitations for speaking engagements before breathless rooms of desperate dullards are endless.

Maybe it’s just me, but all of our advocacy around public education should be for the betterment of children, not for the perputation of  a system or the payment of its workers. But, it seems that NOPE sees children as ancillary rather than primary in their mission:

The Network for Public Education is an advocacy group whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve and strengthen our public school system, an essential institution in a democratic society. Our mission is to protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools and the education of current and future generations of students. We will accomplish this by networking groups and organizations focused on similar goals in states and districts throughout the nation, share information about what works and what doesn’t work in public education, and endorse and rate candidates for office based on our principles and goals. More specifically, we will support candidates who oppose high-stakes testing, mass school closures, the privatization of our public schools and the outsourcing of its core functions to for-profit corporations, and we will support candidates who work for evidence-based reforms that will improve our schools and the education of our nation’s children.

Somehow that looks like a movement to preserve current structures and failed practices for the purpose of protecting paychecks rather than young people. I can’t see how the plan to “protect, preserve, [and] promote” what we already have will “strengthen….the education of curent and future generations of students.” If it isn’t working now, and it hasn’t worked before, why would we double down for the future?

Maybe I’m being harsh here. Can there really be an issue with teachers and unions having their own personal Jesus absolving their sins and promising eternal life (through contracts, blogging, and bad Facebook memes)? Teachers have taken a lot of heat from public “experts” who have “never spent a day in the classroom.” They are nearly as scrutinized in the media as the black people coming out of their schools.

I might consider myself wildly out of line if it weren’t for the fact that America’s public schools are a wellspring of historic social inequities. They generate incredible social, economic  and political troubles for real people, real families, and real communities. “You can’t blame the schools for all of societies ills,” the NOPErs will say. The problems are parents and poverty they will say. Expecting better outcomes for students and schools is punishment. We need to end all of the divisiveness by fighting evil corporatists and billionaire “boys.”

Really? Isn’t that just more teacher teflon?

Sometimes, talking with teachers is like the worst date ever. They talk incessantly about themselves, their needs, their wants, their job, their martyrdom, and the eternal wrongness of everyone but themselves. Meanwhile, children perish.

Imagine if we focused instead on this:

Over the last 25 years, the social, educational and economic outcomes for Black males have been more systemically devastating than the outcomes for any other racial or ethnic group or gender. Black males have consistently low educational attainment levels, are more chronically unemployed and underemployed, are less healthy and have access to fewer health care resources, die much younger, and are many times more likely to be sent to jail for periods significantly longer than males of other racial/ethnic groups. On average, Black males are more likely to attend the most segregated and least resourced public schools.

While I’m can be fascinated with intricate conspiracy theories, can we take 5 minutes off from the “Koch brothers are killing schools” script and focus on the danger of utter nothingness in the “save our schools” movement? Do we really believe life was great for students – especially students of color – before assessment, teacher evaluations, longer school days, chartered schools, school choice, and Teach For America?


Get straight on this: the school to prison pipeline is real and it won’t be solved by locating all of our empathy with middle  class “workers” who are pathological about maintaining vocational entitlements while going mum on the educational injustices from which they profit. While they fight for “better financing” we wait for them to speak up about how categorical aid generated by poor students of color is routinely misspent. While they fight to  end standardized testing we await their plan for ending racialized student outcomes that have been revealed nationally by disaggregated data resulting from testing. As they fight school closings, we await a plan for recouping the per pupil funding that evaporates when you keep needy students in under-populated and stupidly expensive buildings.

The best thing about NOPE will be the efficiency with which we will be able to identify which teachers have forgotten the reason they have jobs. For those that wish to join the massively narcissistic teachers-first movement, there will be an opportunity to be seen, heard, and counted.

And, the problem will be the same. Too many unseen and unheard lives will be diminished by our inability to focus.

Education has always been an unparalleled gateway of opportunity for black and brown folks. Many factors have conspired to prevent millions from  getting through that big gate, but Ravitch’s national teacher revolt is the most visible obstructionist effort today. Black Americans should be used to this schtick. Any time there has been a movement aimed at providing us with more options, more freedom, or more capital, there has been a counter movement. Typically the opponents feel they have something to lose; most often it’s money, status, and power. Often the language used to obstruct our freedom is bundled in universal principles like heritage, democracy, or the rights of oppressors over that of the oppressed. Today the battle seems to be for right of inefficacious educators to maintain personal income that is placed over the right of their students to expect great instruction.

We keep asking if teachers and their unions will ever join the real movement for real educational justice.

They keep saying NOPE.

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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