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In the rush to beat Trump, we can’t let Biden cave on ed policy

In a rush to find any presidential candidate that isn’t Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, I may have been too quick to drop my commitment to important education policies and to jump on the Joe Biden express. Since it has been clear he would become the Democratic nominee I’ve assumed the role of tentative supporter as a matter of pragmatism.

But, as much as I am a voting citizen desperate for a “normal” president who Tweets less than I do and can speak in complete sentences that don’t include “tremendous,” “Fabulous,” “never seen before,” or “the previous administration,” I am also something else that puts me in conflict with Biden nearly as much as Trump.

I am an education voter determined to shut down every education desert in America.

Biden’s education platform vaguely sings some of my favorite songs and some evergreen tunes I don’t mind.

His campaign site says “[a]s president, Biden will”:

  • Support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve.
  • Invest in resources for our schools so students grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults, and educators can focus on teaching.
  • Ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.
  • Provide every middle and high school student a path to a successful career.
  • Start investing in our children at birth.

Yet, last December when asked by a teachers’ union activist about standardized testing he gave an unforgivably unscientific and pandering response. She asked: “Given that standardized testing is rooted in a history of racism and eugenics, if you are elected president, will you commit to ending the use of standardized testing in public schools?”

Biden responded simply: “yes…you’re preaching to the choir kid.”

“I’m not saying every teacher’s a great teacher. What I am saying is, you know what it takes to communicate to a child what in fact they need to know.”

He could have just as easily said: “research tells us teachers are poorly prepared, don’t know how to teach reading, hold impactful biases against nonwhite students, often overlook gifted children of color while also overcommitting them to low-tracks or discipline rooms.

He also could have said “well, if it’s important to point out the tenuous relationship between today’s educational testing and yesterday’s racism, then it’s also important to point out the same connection between today’s teachers’ unions, teachers, and school boards to yesterday’s racist versions of the same.

I doubt the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers could override the wishes of their rank-and-file members and rig their endorsement for him if he told that much truth.

I understand if you see that as short sighted and say “damnit Chris, there are more important things in the world than winning the ed wars! Don’t be so myopic!”

Educated people with good salaries, operable vehicles, and an above average number of bedrooms like to say dumb shit like that.

(full disclosure: I’m happy to say that I fit that description, so, glass houses noted).

I won’t apologize for sticking to my values. I truly believe that when large groups of the public leave K-12 without all the need to earn a living it becomes the fountainhead of expensive and cruel societal problems. So many of the big economic issues we fight downstream grow because educational injustice is real. That tells me a candidate for president who wants my vote as much as she or he wants campaign donations from public employees should have a well-considered vision for advancing education.

Unfortunately, Biden appears to have traded his years presumably supporting Clinton-Bush-Obama school reforms for a pandering and muddled retreat courtesy of national teachers unions who in recent years have done a bang up job of becoming education’s Tea Party within the DNC.

Here’s what I see he’s promising: attacks on school choice, charters, accountability, and testing; a shower of cash on public employees and their unions; and, abso-fricken-lutely ZERO focus on improving teacher preparation or induction, classroom instruction, evidence-based practice, or expectation of for better outcomes – especially for the most marginalized populations in schools.

Is there anything good in there? Sure, I admit he offers a laudable lifeline to HBCUs that I support, yet, putting caramel on a turd doesn’t make it a sundae.

Now, don’t let me make too much of this point. Maybe I’m misreading him. Perhaps he’s planning a Machiavellian reversal once in office and school choice will rain from the heavens like a justice hurricane. But, I doubt it.

Look at this chart comparing Biden’s and Sanders’ education proposals created by Brooke LePage at FutureEd, and find the lie.

I’m afraid to say that when it comes to voting for Biden I have buyers remorse already and I haven’t even paid yet. That can’t be good.

Charter Schools

Why aren’t teachers freaking out about Biden and Bernie’s education task force?

New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, put together an advisory council to help his state “reimagine” public education. Fearing Cuomo and his partner, the Gates Foundation, will produce a plan that creates accountability and expectations in their public school pension farm, the NYC teacher types pounced.

“There’s no current classroom teacher on this list of advisors” they whined.

For the record, here is Cuomo’s list of advisors:

  • Kaweeda Adams, Superintendent, Albany City School District
  • Jaime Alicea, Superintendent, Syracuse City School District
  • Jody Gottfried Arnhold, Founder, Dance Educator Laboratory (DEL) 92Y
  • Melodie Baker, Director of Education, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County
  • Kyle Belokopitsky, Executive Director, New York State PTA
  • Meg Benke, Provost, SUNY Empire State College
  • Jackie Burbridge, Parent, Suffolk County
  • Katie Campos, Partner, Strategic Collective
  • Anthony Collins, President, Clarkson University
  • Stephanie Conklin, Master Teacher, South Colonie Central School District
  • George Dermody, CEO, The Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference
  • Karol Mason, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Austin Ostro, President, SUNY Student Assembly
  • Martin Palermo, Master Teacher, William Floyd School District
  • Roger Ramsammy, President, Hudson Valley Community College
  • Seema Rivera, President, Guilderland Central School District School Board
  • Shannon Tahoe, Interim Commissioner, New York State Education Department
  • Dennis Walcott, Former Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

As you can see, teachers, parents, students, higher education, nonprofits, superintendents, and other education officials are represented.

Now, contrast that with the farcical “unity” education task force assembled by current and failed presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Per Vox Media, here’s their list:

Sanders’s picks:

Biden’s picks:

  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), task force co-chair and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association
  • Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
  • Maggie Thompson, executive director of Generation Progress
  • Christie Vilsack, literacy advocate

Hmmm. This feels a little paltry.

Let’s start with the fact that Sanders seems to continue his trend of giving zero effs about honest Black representation or truly addressing K-12 education’s pedagogical and social issues beyond what political neosocialist agenda setters tell him works best.

Looking at his picks tells me his post-racial disaster socialism once again proves him an unserious candidate for any post responsible for educational progress.

Now, Mr. Biden, what gives?

Two national teachers’ union bosses, a political consultant, and the former first lady of Iowa?

Together, these picks reveal why the Democrats’ education agenda is useless to America’s most marginalized students:

Their list includes:

  • No school leaders who are successfully educating children deemed “hard-to-teach” by an out-of-touch education establishment;
  • No classroom teachers with a track record of success;
  • No parents of color desperate for improved educational options;
  • No one with direct pedagogical insights into what will improve education for those who are poorly served in today’s public schools;

In short, both Biden and Bernie, when given the chance to show how genuine their interest is in educational improvement, fail the test by stacking the deck with political advisors in place of accomplished educators.

The funny thing is, none of the Badass Miseducators so abundant in social media grievance groups have come for Biden and Bernie, even as they have indignant seizures about the fact that Cuomo dare work with Bill Gates for his “reimagine” counsel in New York.

I guess that’s the surest sigh it’s all politics folks.

If you care about fixing education so it works equally well for everyone, there’s nothing to see here.

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Teachers Unions

Don’t expect teachers to reimagine public education

School reform gets teachers hot

If you listen to the ceaselessly grieving employees of public schools, education is just fine and needs few changes.

Teachers are beyond effective, the technology they use is on the vanguard, schools can divine student achievement without assessments, and that student achievement is so high there is no need for objective academic standards.

They want you, the reformers or reformsters or deformers or disrupters or political busybodies, to know it’s all good homie. Keep it moving.

They tell a single simple story about the supposedly baseless push for rethinking schooling: it’s that technocrats and facile politicians lack a heart and mind for the glorious pure purpose of education, which is clearly to accept uncritically whatever public employees and their unions tell us that purpose is.

Today, they say that purpose is to raise money, fund teachers, reduce class sizes, and hire increasing numbers of non-teaching staff to support teachers in their quest to do whatever they please behind classroom doors.

Your job as a citizen, taxpayer, parent, and capable thinker is to sit down, shut up, speak when spoken to, provide baked goods for fundraisers, and squeeze any elected official you come into contact with for greater levels of funding.

If you don’t do that you’re a bad person. You hate teachers and children, and you can’t be trusted with an opinion about education. Heretics be warned. Their mobs are deep and their torches hot.

So, when the governor of New York proclaims an attempt to “reimagine” public education it can’t be good.

Annie Abrams, a NYC teacher writing for the New Republic says it’s yet another misguided “privatization” conspiracy (which is her profession’s code for “any agenda teachers’ unions did not create”), and basically one more attempt of plutocrats to destroy public education their money and ignorance.

She says:

[New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo’s question about whether we need physical classrooms anymore indicates an impulse to redefine not only the shape but the purpose of education. Historically, for the Gates Foundation, notions like growth, agency, and connection have come second to producing data.

This is Gates Foundation that invested big time in smaller, more personalized schools that were panned after not returning immediate results, but were vindicated later by studies showing these schools boosted college enrollment and persistence, high school graduation, and English test scores.

(this is also the evil Gates Foundation that has ponied up $250 million to fast track science trials in search of a vaccine to address COVID-19 pandemic Bill Gates predicted five years ago).

She continues:

The Gates Foundation’s role [Cuomo’s state council to “reimagine” public education], while still ambiguously defined, raised alarm among many public school teachers because of the organization’s aggressive, mechanical approach to reform, especially its history of pushing Common Core standards, developed for use in every public school classroom across the nation. The goal for these standards is purportedly college and career readiness, but it’s really test prep.

That characterization should worry us about who teaches our children. Not that its points are closed for fair debate, but because its points are too reductionist and facile to enable fair debate. A factual accounting of Gates’s support for Common Core would say it started with educators and democratically elected state officials, not in some remote philanthropic laboratory where capitalists cook up bewitching spells to kill public institutions.

Here’s how the common orginators describe their efforts to develop coherent standards and address the issue of states gaming the system by lowering standards to hide low proficiency levels:

The state-led effort to develop the Common Core State Standards was launched in 2009 by state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, through their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). State school chiefs and governors recognized the value of consistent, real-world learning goals and launched this effort to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life.

I think any real educator would want to point your attention to original sources so that you might think critically, and they would ask you to look at the actual framework of the standards (click here).

Yet, like many “educators,” Abrams sails past thoughtful reason and plain dealing on her way to self-satisfying proselytism. There is one way to see the issue and your worth hangs on a pass/fail system of whether you agree or not.

And, she continues:

…just as implementing these standards risks turning students into mechanical recipients of knowledge, the Gates Foundation model seeks to turn teachers into much the same thing: The organization has supported linking teacher evaluation to standardized test scores, a practice since debunked as a misuse of the data. (Cuomo was an ardent supporter.)

Abrams is accurate in saying research hasn’t been kind to test-driven teacher evaluation, but what’s the counterfactual?

That classroom teaching is unrelated to student achievement?

That when students don’t meet academic goals the only explanations exist outside of schools?

Isn’t it better to study, try, fail, and repeat until workable solutions come into view?

As long as teachers like Abrams are experts on what non-teachers get wrong about teaching, but novices in explaining what teachers get wrong in the classroom every day, reform, reformers, and their funders will be essential to forward progress, even when their efforts, reputations, and motives are slimed by those in the education establishment who profit most from keeping everything as it is.

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Teachers Unions

Goodbye friends, here is my resignation from the so-called “education reform movement”

To all my disrupter friends, please accept this letter as my resignation from the so-called “education reform movement.”

For more than 20 years I’ve been lost in the reform forest, but no more. For too long I’ve relied on false prophets who have filled me with false consciousness and bribed me with bank statements. 

I have new advisors now. Many of them. They stay in touch with me daily, contact my family members, inquire about my personal life, and offer constant feedback about my career. They have taken a lot of care to educate me and I appreciate it.

While there are too many of them to count, here’s an incomplete picture to give you an idea:

A small sampling of the people who have called me names, used stereotypes against me, and assigned my activism and ideas to wealthy white masters.

These are people who have dedicated themselves to tirelessly rescuing lost fools and returning them to their forever families in government schools. What amazing grace.

They want me to tell you a few things, so here goes.

I renounce every critique I’ve ever made about the American public education system. Our public schools are the best in the world if you remove the children who aren’t white. The test scores don’t lie when white kids pass them. Unfortunately, the tests don’t tell us anything meaningful about nonwhite people.

Our nation’s teachers are faultless heroes. Their unions are freedom fighters. If there are racialized outcomes it is because children are too poor to learn, their parents too irresponsible to teach them, and their politicians refuse to provide schools more money to deal with them.

If we really want better outcomes we will split them into small cohorts and send them with extra funds to white schools where they can learn how to be fully human.

I regret having promoted the idea that there was more to the story than that. 

Also, can we acknowledge there is only one way to do school? It has to be state-delivered through local school districts with board members selected through low-turnout elections that are dominated by public employee unions. That worked so well before the anti-democratic reformsters started pushing the idea that parents should “vote with their feet” and that their “money follows the child.”

Let’s get back to good. Back to the time when public schools worked for everyone.

To be clear, there is no such thing as elitism or racism or white privilege among liberals. I need to stop saying there is. To accuse them of that is a wasted use of the race card, especially when they are the only people who truly know what’s best for us. I should thank my advisors above for being relentless resisters to reformsters, champions against charters and choice, and total titans of teacherphilia.

More than anything, I must thank them for providing the thoughtful and persuasive language to help me understand my errant ways.

When one of them called me a “paid whore,” it was a just and measured correction intended to make me a better person. I want to be better, right? Thankfully, she was there to help with an abundance of cultural competence.

When another one of them called me “Uncle Tom,” it was to force a teachable moment meant for me – through his skillful instruction – to awaken and learn my place.

When several of them call me a “shill” for “dark money,” I should realize anything starting with “dark” is bad. There’s no history of psychology behind that, it just is what it is.

Nearly all of my new advisors have helped me understand that I shouldn’t be paid for my nonprofit. Especially as much as I earn. My level is reserved only for pro-union nonprofit leaders and the consultants they hire. People of color need to do the work the way we’ve always always done it – on our own time, with few resources, and without griping about being treated equal to whites.

Duh.

And, if I think for one hot minute that our great public schools do poorly with children of color it’s not because I have experienced it – or have seen family and friends experience it – no, it’s only because plutocrats give me grants and a script to speak.

Truly, this privatizing thing is taking over my life. Just because I have a handful of kids in low-rated traditional public schools with a majority of kids of color who are majority low-income; I shouldn’t point it out when public education defenders are graduates of private schools, or when they send their own kids to private schools (or to tony public schools) that are whiter and more affluent than mine.

True public education supporters know that only colored folks need to put their kids in bad district schools to be considered true public education supporters.

How dare I think I have the capacity to understand such complicated things?

I should repent. Shut my mouth. Take whatever the district system gives me. Accept it that some kids will succeed and others will occupy the hidden corners of our amazing system. 

If I want to truly be a good citizen I would show up when teachers tell me to show up, wear the t-shirt they tell me to wear, berate the politicians they tell me to berate, hate the people who look like me that they tell me to hate, and remember to bring the signs and bullhorns when there is a rally for money or a better teacher’s contract.

I should not ask questions about teaching, learning, or academic growth. That’s just a bunch of voodoo cooked up by public education haters.

I must stop obsessing about poor families being on a predictable path to economic exile, and remember that the white middle-class college-educated people working public school jobs with full benefits are the real victims of the system. We must stop bashing them and pretending students who aren’t learning have it half as bad as their teachers.

If I ever I catch myself dreaming about new opportunities for my kids to learn, excel, go to college, and earn a living in defiance of the damning statistics or their zip code or their race or their family structure or their economic advantages, I should find the closest well-served white family to educate me about my errors in logic. Or, just ask my Twitter advisors. They have all the answers.

Wait. This doesn’t feel right. [wakes up from bad dream]

The truth is, I resigned from education reform years ago. Prescribing “reform” to fix the traditional education is like taking melatonin to cure shingles. You don’t reform injustice, you abolish it and replace it with something fairer and more effective.

I’m an abolitionist.

The system is rigged and it doesn’t believe in the potential of our children or see the worth of our parents or respect the depth of our history or honor our historic right to be as free as we want to be. That’s our problem.

If telling you all that is a crime then send me all your tone police and all your Twitter pensionistas so that I can offer them all the folding chairs ensuring they take all the seats.

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