OK

Fresh off the election, we are all aware of how that craptastic Citizens United ruling allowed billionaires like Adelson and the Koch Duo to flood their GOP candidates with money. They ended up firing duds, but it still is a damaging thing to our democracy. Not that CU made everything so much worse. It's bad, but let's not kid ourselves - our elections were tainted by way too much private money before CU became law.

Yet, while many liberals bemoan CU, the billionaires fouling our public education nest, hurting teachers and teaching, seem to largely fly below their radar. It seems they also pay little attention, overall, to the buy-in by elected officials like Obama to Wall Street's new object of affection and attention: Education reform. And boy, has Obama ever delivered!  

I wonder how much has been spent on education reform deform by meddling billionaires, like The Waltons (of Walmart), Eli Broad, Bill Gates, et al. It wouldnt surprise me to know they'd spent billions. Whatever they've spent, they've gotten a big bang for their buck, given how successful they've been at getting Obama and the majority of political actors from both parties to achieve their desired results, in bipartisan harmony.

They got Obama's Race to the Top.

Much money and effort has been spent effectively by Wall Street hedge fund operatives (SEE: Democrats for Education Reform), toward winning Race to the Top for NY. They are happily harvesting the fruits, which include an expansion of the corporate takeover of education, a weakening of the public system, teachers' unions, and teachers ability to function in the classroom like human beings and not 21st Century Bots.

They have enjoyed a helluva win via reform's Trojan Horse, Race to the Top, in that it is much easier to fire teachers who dont deserve to be fired, who have spent years achieving a valuable level of expertise and experience due to a great investment of time, energy, preparing, helping and caring off the clock, not to mention the money and effort spent to advance and maintain their careers. All this can now turn to dust by the simple spin of a roulette wheel. I mean by the atrocious practice of using students' standardized test scores to determine if teachers have enough 'value' not to vanquish their hard-won careers.

Reading between the lines and doing simple math, it's easy to see something tempting for cash-strapped states in being able to get rid of higher paid, experienced teachers - paying far less for the newbies who replace them. And then being able to either push out the newer hires (under the mountain of duress they have to work under, courtesy of these reforms) or fire them early on, due to test scores, thus saving on salaries and pensions. Benefits, including seniority and tenure protections, are also getting whacked at and weakened.  

Craven union leaders, go-alongs with Democratic allies, do not get off the hook for allowing their Dem buddies to undermine their own union members jobs. Gee, what a novel idea - that someone else in this tangled mess should be held accountable besides the teachers! Say it can be said! Yes, it can! Look, I SAID it!

Before Obama, there was George W Bush and our "liberal lion," Senator Ted Kennedy, who greatly helped Bush and the GOP usher in No Child Left Behind, by getting Democrats on board. Then Obama took the baton and ran the party much closer to the education deform finish line. He had his own bipartisan haul of Republicans on board.

Obama's education policy, his Race to the Top, is NOT progressive, it is not education-friendly, nor is it educator-friendly. If Bush had been doing what Obama's done for the past 4 years, we would have seen much greater outcry from unions and Democrats.

My outcry greatly informed my vote for the Green candidate, Jill Stein - in 'safely' deep biue NY, I might add. So safe, we are hardly given a flicker of attention when our state's election results are called. The call for Obama passed by so quickly, I had to rewind my DVR to make sure it happened.

So bully for us, with this Democratic electoral victory! (Or, for teachers, is it more like 4 more years of bullying us?)

These reforms have made the workplace - already a place that can be quite challenging, depending on the schools - a nightmare for more than just teachers. Many principals, who must deal on the ground, abhor them.

Pushback.

New York principals have formed a rebel movement against teacher evaluations They have been fighting this "reform" for over a year. They have a PETITION. By now, over 1/3 of New York's principals have SIGNED it. (Non principals - teachers, parents, et al -  are welcomed to sign it too, as "friends" of the petition.)

APPR Paper

In May 2010, the New York State Legislature—in an effort to secure federal Race to the Top funds—approved an amendment to Educational Law 3012-c regarding the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) of teachers and principals. The new law states that beginning September 2011, all teachers and principals will receive a number from 0-100 to rate their performance. Part of that number (ranging from 20% to 40%) will be derived from how well students perform on standardized tests. At first glance, using test scores might seem like a reasonable approach to accountability. As designed, however, these regulations carry unintended negative consequences for our schools and students that simply cannot be ignored.

Our paper describes in clear detail why everyone should be concerned about these changes, and we provide recommendations for moving forward in a manner that is best for our students and schools.

NY's flim flam teacher evaluations were dumped on teachers courtesy of our politicians and Wall Street hedge fund operatives great zeal to get us a Race to the Top 'win.'

Education Next: Assessing NY's Commissioner of Education

[NY's former Commissioner of Education - NYCee] Steiner called Richard Iannuzzi, head of the powerful New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), and invited NYSUT to begin discussions about “how we could get to an agreement on the teacher evaluations.” The union accepted.
[... ]
Most of the sessions, which went on for several months, focused on teacher evaluations, with the big concern being the “firewall” between the evaluations and student performance on state tests, a barrier that the union had always insisted was necessary. Steiner and King proved credible negotiators.

They were helped by a lobbying blitzkrieg led by Joe Williams [Head of Democrats for Education Reform/DfER - NYCee] and former Bloomberg campaign manager Bradley Tusk, who put together, with ample funds from Wall Street, Education Reform Now (ERN), a group with a single purpose: to bring the state legislature into the RttT reform fold.

One aspect of the RTTT con job is that the money helps schools help kids. NYC's own reform-crazy former chancellor, Joel Klein, who was Bloomberg's sidekick in controlling the schools, said the RTTT grant is "a drop in the ocean" of NYC's school budget. Nevertheless, he was ALL on board for it! And what little money there is doesnt go to help the kids. It largely goes to help the flood of consultants and corporate interests, who now have a load of skin in the education game (See: Murdoch & Klein, making a killing on reform, so happy together!), thanks to these reforms. And it goes to making principals and teachers lives miserable, not to mention the test-saturated kids.

I am wary of another Obama push, that of the Common Core Curriculum, which has been touted by him and many others as a much needed aspect of the 'cure' for what ails our students' test performance. I guess it goes like this: Teach according to CC objectives and to this test and that test and if students dont made the required amount of gain on the tests, fire the teacher. You see, the students' performance is impacted solely by teacher's performance, once youve got the reformers' utopian environment running on all cylinders.

Let's just take a pause here.

There's this propaganda that pseudo-edu expert journalists and pundits love to throw around - that we MUST address the SHAME of OUR NATION'S AWFUL PUBLIC SCHOOLS where TEACHERS MAKE our 100% potentially high achieving STUDENTS FAIL!!! Hold on. When US public school students' test performance is measured internationally (PISA), against their peers from developed nations, but the US sample is controlled by taking scores from disadvantaged communities OUT of the mix, they rank right up there with their similarly advantaged peers.

So much for how low test scores are all the teachers fault. So much for measuring apples and oranges (throw in some kumquats, too!) as if they are all apples. So much for the phony message that this hideous practice of firing teachers over students' scores will bring all kids up to a level playing field. So much for this load of bull being sold as "The Civil Rights Issue of Our Time" (by Sharpton and Gingrich, out on the road hawking reforms together, along with way too many other hacks, including idiots in the corporate media who barked up a storm of teacher bashing, most intensely during Obama's unleashing of RTTT). So much for how it has been oh-so-cleverly framed as The Solution, to pull the hoodwinked mob toward a teacher witch hunt and more charter school expansion (to the detriment of the public school system).

I have seen data from various sources that exposes this rarely mentioned truth. Here's an interesting link I just found from a Kurdish-Swedish American immigrant, in which he slashes thru the aforementioned myth/lie, The amazing truth about PISA scores: USA beats Western Europe, ties with Asia..

Common Core has been taken up by just about every state now, in part to get waivers from NCLB. I have seen how regimented education has become in NYC, and fear CC will just serve to make it even more so. Below is a taste of an exchange in which the current NY Education Commissioner King (big charter school entrepreneur/owner) is challenged by Professor Yong Zhao on his high flown claims for Common Core as cure. King gives a very feeble response.

Is There Evidence to Support the Common Core: My Questions to New York Education Commissioner King

[... ] I am skeptical of his faith in the Common Core and test-score based teacher and principal evaluation as a way to bring equal opportunities to all students and make all young people globally competitive. [... ]

I had read these claims and in many places (my 2010 article with Chris Tienken, 2009 article in the J. of Scholarship and Practice, and my recent blog post) pointed out that these claimed benefits are not supported by evidence while the damages (or side-effects) have been.

About a month ago, when MSNBC held its annual week-long teacher/union bashfest, called Education Nation, I caught Melissa Harris Perry's show. Surprisingly, she was allowed to break with MSNBC tradition and have balanced panels (pro and anti reform), albeit ones that got very limited air time. It was there that I saw Julian Vasquez Heilig (professor of educational policy and planning, University of Texas), duke it out with clueless reform nutnik and big Obama supporter, Jonathan Alter.

Alter quickly got his hackles up over Heilig's "diss" (Alter's word, spit out with an arrogant "I wont let you!") aimed at his beloved charter entity, KIPP. This was because Heilig had claimed that KIPP is not such the wonder-school Alter touts it as being, due to the high minority drop out rate. I think Alter's system went into shock when he was actually challenged on his education "facts" on MSNBC (I, too, was shocked!), causing additional dyspeptic bile. (See it here.)

More from Heilig's research on charters is here, at his blog, such as: Why Do Hedge Funds Adore Charters?

Those who know about education (not opportunistic con artists like Michelle Rhee) know what education can and cannot do and what it should and should not do. They would all agree it should not treat students and teachers as bots, all always doing the same thing at the same time, spitting out uniform results in a hermetically sealed environment, much like cogs perform in a fabulous machine. And when it doesn't meet this insane standard, yank out the malfunctioning cogs (teachers).

Those who have expertise and experience in this field, on the ground, in public school classrooms (NOT Arne Duncan) overwhelmingly abhor these reforms. (Unlike the Heritage Foundation. Unlike Bill Bennett, who I heard with my very own ears call Arne Duncan the "most effective education secretary EVER," on Morning Joe, a couple of years ago.)

NYC public school teachers have started a movement, a new caucus called MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators).

The website, below, kinda says it all, in a nutshell:

Why We Need a New Caucus

Under UFT leader Randi Weingarten and the ruling caucus, Unity, the UFT constantly sold out to Bloomberg and the reform agenda. When Weingarten moved on to head the second largest national teachers' union, the AFT, just as RTTT was rolling out, she expanded upon this practice by pushing a lot of locals into the reform fold. Her resume also includes brokering Michelle Rhee's infamous DC contract (Rhee went on to write glowing praise of how useful Randi is to the cause and how she should be used liberally!)  

MORE has elected a slate (wont win an election, but it's a start), but more essentially, at present, it is attempting to build stronger ties with colleagues as well as with parents and other concerned community members, as was done in Chicago by CTU's CORE, the upstart caucus that gained control.

MORE has also begun circulating a petition that calls for a membership-wide referendum on the egregious teacher evaluations - a vote by the rank and file, rather than a vote of 1 in a back room by our union leader (Randi's protege, Michael Mulgrew) which is, essentially, what got us to our Race to the Top nightmare, although problems pre-dated it.

Our Democratic governor, Cuomo, like most other Democrats, has proven to be a good lieutenant in the reform army, pushing the evaluations off the page and into the classroom at this point. Richard Iannuzzi, the union president of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), threw in the towel with barely a fight. He was in those private meetings back in 2010, in the capital, Albany, as was UFT leader, Michael Mulgrew (Albany meetings linked earlier in this diary).

Both of them threw teachers under the bus regarding evaluations and charter school expansion, apparently not able to withstand having their arms twisted by Wall Street's Democratic allies, who had fallen into the patiently waiting arms of the Republicans. Unfortunately, they didnt involve us, didnt ask any of us to stand with them, violating one of the major tenets of unions: strength in numbers.

Education Next interviewed Wall Street's Education Reform Miracle Worker, Democrat Joe Williams, on how he got the unions, Democrats all on board for RTTT:

Link

EN:  Where did your best support come from?

JW:  We had a solid block of Republican votes. This was all about picking up Democratic votes to whatever extent we could. One of our television ads had Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, Andrew Cuomo, David Paterson all supporting the legislation [on teacher evaluations and charter caps], to imply that if you didn’t support it, you weren’t a good Democrat.  There was some edge to the ad. We were very critical of the unions. We wanted to blame them for gunking up the process in round one and urge the legislators to listen to their communities instead of to the unions.

And it worked! We won Race to the Top! Regretfully.

So here we find ourselves - at a place where school principals are more the teachers' friends than the heads of our teachers unions! By golly, these are strange times for those in public education.

And the beat goes on...

The Fight.

The one thing we have going for us is strength in numbers. If we can energize and mobilize those numbers (as the activist NY principals and MORE are trying to do), we have the chance to make this ill-begotten reform nightmare shrivel up and die a well-deserved death. But you cant win a fight until you start to fight. And you cant start to fight until you become aware you are in one.

I'm closing here with a not unrelated video segment (starts at about 3:35) from the Daily Show. I'm doing it because of Pobo Efekoro, an amazing chess-playing young man. He is from the Brooklyn high school featured in the movie Brooklyn Castle.

Pobo GETS what's going down in the reform movement and he's having none of it. His words are so wonderful! I hope he heard the standing ovation I gave him from my living room!

Kudos to John Stewart, too, for always being on the teachers' side in this fight (he showed up on a Jumbotron at a teachers' anti reform rally in DC, to lend support), for having on Diane Ravitch as a guest (none of the networks will), for bringing up the reform issue here, and for saying "Teaching is an ART form..."

Words like that allow the oppressed teacher's spirit to EXHALE!  

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Katie Dellamaggiore & Pobo Efekoro
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