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Tag: "education"

Standardized Tests are a Horrible Way to Evaluate Teachers

[ 179 ] July 18, 2017 |

Of all the facets of Rheeism, the one that always made the least sense to me is evaluating teachers based upon the standardized tests of students. Even if you believe that the teacher union busters sincerely want to improve education for children, all that basing employment on standardized test scores means is that any teacher who can get out of teaching poor children will get out of teaching poor children. Why risk your job teaching poor kids when you can teach middle class or wealthy kids who you know will do fine on standardized tests? But try telling that to the Rheeists. Luckily, there is finally some real pushback on this ridiculousness. Rachel Cohen:

The Houston teachers union scored a legal victory in May when a federal judge found that the Houston school district’s system of evaluating teachers violates due process rights. The lawsuit centered on the system’s use of value-added modeling (VAM), a controversial statistical method aimed at isolating a teacher’s effectiveness based on their students’ standardized test scores.

United States Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith concluded that the metric’s impenetrability rendered it unconstitutional. Because, he wrote, teachers have “no meaningful way to ensure” that their value-added ratings are accurate, they are “subject to mistaken deprivation of constitutionally protected property interests in their jobs.” More specifically, he continued, because the school district denies its teachers access to the computer algorithms and data that form the basis of each teacher’s VAM score, it “flunks the minimum procedural due process standard of providing the reason for termination ‘in sufficient detail to enable [the teacher] to show any error that may exist.’”

It’s unclear whether the Houston school district will now negotiate a settlement with the teachers union or end up back in court, but either way, the decision comes at a significant time for the test-based accountability movement, which has faced a number of legal and political challenges over the past several years. The outcomes of the court battles have so far been a mixed bag: Teachers challenging VAM have scored some wins, lost other big cases, and a few major suits are still pending. Outside the courtroom, states have begun implementing the new federal education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act—which imposes far less pressure on the states to use VAM or similar measures than what they faced during the Obama administration.
Donald Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos has also signaled she’s less interested in using test scores to define school performance.

Donald Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos has also signaled she’s less interested in using test scores to define school performance. (“I’m not a numbers person in the same way you are,” she said in March, in response to a question about measuring school success. “But to me, the policies around empowering parents and moving decision-making to the hands of parents on behalf of children is really the direction we need to go.”) Considering all this, some experts have gone so far as to say that regardless of what ends up happening in the judicial system, the political momentum for using test-based accountability measures is all but over.

Never forget that Barack Obama holds enormous responsibility for the neoliberalization of American education. Demand accountability from all Democratic candidates, from school board to president, to support teacher-friendly initiatives to improve education, such as fighting poverty and providing teachers more pay and resources.

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Rahm’s Chicago

[ 224 ] July 5, 2017 |

Rahm Emanuel’s new education policy is senseless on the face of it.

To graduate from a public high school in Chicago, students will soon have to meet a new and unusual requirement: They must show that they’ve secured a job or received a letter of acceptance to college, a trade apprenticeship, a gap year program or the military.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said he wants to make clear that the nation’s third-largest school system is not just responsible for shepherding teenagers to the end of their senior year, but also for setting them on a path to a productive future.

“We are going to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed,” he said. “You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”

How is this possibly workable? Are you going to require Chicago employers to hire recent high school graduates? Is everyone just going to have to pay the application fee to community college, even though many won’t go? I can see the military jumping all over this to get more recruits. I can also see people effectively paying a black market for job offers that don’t exist. The implementation of this seems like an utter disaster waiting to happen. You know damn well Rahm isn’t going to make sure Chicago schools are funded well enough to have meaningful guidance counseling for all its students, an issue brought up in the article linked above.

“It sounds good on paper, but the problem is that when you’ve cut the number of counselors in schools, when you’ve cut the kind of services that kids need, who is going to do this work?” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union and Emanuel’s longtime political opponent. “If you’ve done the work to earn a diploma, then you should get a diploma. Because if you don’t, you are forcing kids into more poverty.”

Right. The other option is that high school graduation rates in Chicago see a sharp decline. And won’t that just be great for everyone!

Janice Jackson, the school system’s chief education officer, said that is how the new requirement is supposed to work — pushing principals to improve efforts to help students prepare for the future. About 60 percent of district students have postsecondary plans when they graduate, she said, and she doesn’t think the schools should wait for more money to set an expectation that the remaining 40 percent follow suit.

Would Chicago really withhold diplomas from students who meet every requirement except the new one? Jackson says it won’t come to that, because principals, counselors and teachers won’t let it. They’ll go to students in that situation and press them to make sure they have a plan.

Well, Rahm has respected teachers so well during his tenure that it’s hard to see how these overworked, underpaid, downsized workers won’t devote all their free time to their students. Oh wait, many already do.

To put it another way:

But you know Rahm has the kids’ education in mind. After all, his shuttering of hundreds of schools has paid off in what counts: more upper class housing.

The Uptown controversy has to do with a sign posted outside 4525 N. Kenmore, the building that was formerly Graeme Stewart School. Chicago Public Schools closed the school and sold it to a private developer who’s turning it into the Stewart School Lofts, which are being marketed shamelessly on a placard over the school’s abandoned playground as “best in the class” rentals.

CPS officials hailed the Stewart sale as a win-win. “This is the fifth former school site we have sold in the past three months,” CEO Forrest Claypool said in a press release. “While we still have work to do, I am encouraged that the engagement process is working and expect this positive trend to continue.”

Not everyone sees it that way, especially Wozniak, who lives in Uptown. “To me, this is Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago,” she says. “We’re closing schools and turning them into private projects and disinvesting in neighborhood kids.”

What really galled her was that damn sign. “I find that insulting to all the kids who went to Stewart and all the people who worked there,” Wozniak says.

More maddening still is that Emanuel earmarked $16.1 million in TIF dollars to subsidize the development of a high-rise apartment complex at Clarendon and Montrose—not far from Stewart.

So once again there’s no money for our dead-broke schools, but millions for upscale housing.

Forcing kids to an acceptance letter to graduate will truly make Chicago great again.

Public-Private Partnerships and Free Market Mythologies

[ 54 ] June 1, 2017 |

Given the post-apocalyptic hellscape that is the Trump administration, any of us would gladly take the Obama administration, even with its weaknesses on some issues. However, if there’s one area where the two administrations overlap, it’s in the privatization of education. Rachel Cohen has a typically excellent report on so-called “Pay for Success” programs that encourage private investment in social programs that, if successful, the government pays back with interest. Pushed by the Obama administration, much of this was in education and there are plenty of connections already with Trump officials.

Chicago’s Pay for Success project launched in 2014, and aims to improve students’ kindergarten readiness, boost third grade literacy and reduce special education services. Goldman Sachs, Northern Trust and the Pritzker Family Foundation invested $16.9 million into the program, with the potential to roughly double their investment over the next 18 years. The bulk of those returns would come from reducing special education services for the 2,600 program participants—about $9,100 per child.

Undergirded by narratives of wasteful government spending and market-driven accountability, a small group of philanthropists, financiers, and policy leaders have helped elevate the Pay for Success model quickly over the past few years. State and local governments have launched 16 such projects across the U.S since 2012, tackling a range of issues from foster care and education, to criminal justice and public health. Dozens more wait in the pipeline.

At its best, advocates say that Pay for Success could foster greater government accountability, fund needed programs in cash-strapped political climates and potentially save the public money down the line. “Innovative models like Pay for Success … shift the risk of achieving targeted outcomes away from the taxpayer and enabl[e] governments to pay only for what works,” said Andrea Phillips, the Vice President of Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group.

But at its worst, Pay for Success can leave taxpayers paying substantially more than if their governments had just funded programs directly, cement narratives of fiscal austerity and incentivize misguided social outcomes.

Free market mythology plopped on our kids! Great! What about Trumpers?

Federal support for Pay for Success continued to mount steadily under the Obama administration. In 2015, Congress passed the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the successor to No Child Left Behind—and changed the law to allow states and school districts to use federal dollars to fund Pay for Success projects. The move was applauded by groups excited about leveraging public money with private partners, and criticized by others for the same reason. Senator Orrin Hatch, (R-UT), largely responsible for the inclusion of Pay for Success in ESSA, said “rather than being limited by what federal bureaucrats at the Department of Education think best, funding should be more connected to local innovation and successful outcomes.”

Lexi Barrett, a former policy advisor in Obama’s DOE who also served on his Domestic Policy Council, left the executive branch in 2014 to work as the policy director for America Forward, where she pushed for Pay for Success’s inclusion in ESSA. Now she works as the director of National Education Policy at Jobs for the Future, which was recently awarded $2 million in Department of Education grants to spearhead Pay for Success projects in career and technical education.

“The fact is you have very senior level officials leave the federal government and then turn around to lobby and influence their former agencies,” says Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, which advocates for tougher restrictions on former federal employees.

The Obama administration laid the groundwork for Pay for Success, paving the way for its potential expansion under Trump—who has declared his intent to expand public-private partnerships across all sectors of government.

A bipartisan commission established last March by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will be issuing formal recommendations later this fall on how to grow the evidence-based policy movement. America Forward lobbied for this federal commission, and Jeffrey Liebman serves on it. And a bipartisan bill—the Social Impact Partnership to Pay for Results Act—was reintroduced this past January, which would direct at least $100 million to states and local communities to expand Pay for Success projects.

Meanwhile, in March, Trump announced the creation of the White House Office of American Innovation, charged with improving government and society in collaboration with the “private sector and other thought leaders.” With its stated plans to tackle areas like workforce development and the opioid crisis, PFS supporters have been eyeing the Office of American Innovation as a potential new base of federal support. Senior White House advisers, including Goldman Sachs alumni Gary Cohn and Dina Powell, were even tapped to help guide the new agency. Before joining the Trump administration Powell herself had led Goldman’s “impact investing” initiatives, a portfolio that includes Pay for Success.

Truth of the matter is that Obama has an awful lot to answer for with his terrible education policies, not to mention his fundamental faith in free market mythologies.

Charter Myth Busting

[ 71 ] April 27, 2017 |

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Rachel Cohen has an outstanding article in Democracy Journal on the real evolution of charter schools. There’s a pervasive myth that American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker started the idea, and this myth has been powerful for charter advocates because it sounds like it comes from the unions that are now fighting it. Shanker did comment on charters and he said some unfortunate things that can be contextualized by what was happening with education at the time. But it is damaging. Where do charter schools really originate?

In the 1970s, deregulation was the name of the game.
Efforts to deregulate major sectors of government took root under Ford and Carter, and continued to escalate throughout the 1980s under Reagan. From banking and energy to airlines and transportation, liberals and conservatives both worked to promote deregulatory initiatives spanning vast sectors of public policy.

Schools were not immune. Since at least the late 1970s, political leaders in Minnesota had been discussing ways to reduce direct public control of schools. A private school voucher bill died in the Minnesota legislature in 1977, and Minnesota’s Republican governor Al Quie, elected in 1979, was a vocal advocate for school choice.

Two prominent organizations were critical in advancing school deregulation in the state. One was the Minnesota Business Partnership, comprised of CEOs from the state’s largest private corporations; another was the Citizens League, a powerful, centrist Twin Cities policy group. When the League spoke, the legislature listened—and often enacted its proposals into law. In 1982 the Citizens League issued a report endorsing private school vouchers on the grounds that consumer choice could foster competition and improvement without increasing state spending, and backed a voucher bill in the legislature in 1983. The Business Partnership published its own report in 1984 calling for “profound structural change” in schooling, with recommendations for increased choice, deregulation, statewide testing, and accountability. The organized CEOs would play a major role throughout the 1980s lobbying for K-12 reform, as part of a broader agenda to limit taxes and state spending.

Efforts to tinker with public schooling took on greater urgency in 1983, when Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education released its report, A Nation At Risk. This influential (though empirically flawed) document panicked political leaders across the country. Among other things, the report concluded that American public schools were failing—“eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity”—with ill-prepared teachers and low-quality standards. Its authors tied the country’s economy and national security to the supposedly poor performance of U.S. public schools, and Reagan capitalized on the alarm. His narrative fit snugly within the larger Cold War panic, and as in Minnesota, national business leaders were happy to promote this new movement.

School choice was not specifically mentioned in A Nation at Risk, though Governor Quie, who was then serving as a member on the National Commission, tried to get such recommendations included. But reformers didn’t have to wait long for a national endorsement. In 1986, the National Governors Association, chaired by Tennessee’s Republican governor Lamar Alexander, backed school choice in its Time for Results report.

Back in Minnesota, Rudy Perpich, a member of the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, was elected as governor for his second non-consecutive term in 1983. (He had first served from 1976-1979.) During the four years that Quie governed Minnesota, Perpich worked on a global business committee for a supercomputer firm, and returned to government deeply shaped by his corporate experience.

Ember Reichgott Junge, the state senator who would author Minnesota’s—and the nation’s—first charter school bill, described Perpich’s role bluntly: “According to the history books, Minnesota DFL governor Rudy Perpich had nothing to do with passage of chartering legislation. In reality, he had everything to do with it.”

I guess Minnesota has brought us more than just horrible food.

Anyway, the power of the Shanker myth is an important one and Cohen elaborates on it.

The mythological origin story of charter schools—the Shanker myth—has served an important role in keeping the charter coalition together. The idea that charters come from unions lends a certain weight-of-history inevitability to school reform. It suggests that everyone has agreed that change must come, and the only question is from who, and what it’ll look like in the end.

Besides, on some level, the dramatically compelling nature of the story—unions creating their own greatest antagonist—keeps people from digging deeper. As a writer, it’s easy to want to believe it. This author would know, having once subscribed to it herself.

But the Shanker tale may have also helped undermine progressive school choice advocates, who find themselves chasing a vision that has never played a major role in the inner circles of school reform. Most charters are more segregated than traditional public schools, are non-union, and when charter educators do mount union campaigns, they almost always face tremendous opposition. If the promise of unionized, integrated, teacher-centered charters has proven devilishly difficult to fulfill, it may be, in part, because the movement’s leaders never took it very seriously to begin with.

The Shanker myth also leaves those who support traditional public schooling, in its original form, stranded in a political no man’s land. And right now, those people are in the fight of their lives, looking for firmer footing. More broadly, the Democratic Party has grown wary of the Third Way policies of the 1990s, suspecting they provide little defense against a resurgent right. As the charter coalition enters a new, treacherous era, the consensus history of charter schools may at last meet some resistance.

Opting Out

[ 38 ] March 11, 2017 |

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Good news out of Minnesota, where the number of high school juniors opting out of the bogus standardized testing that has significantly hurt American education has jumped significantly.

In 2016, 2,227 high school juniors opted out of the MCA tests statewide. That’s just a drop in the bucket, compared to the 55,975 students who did take it. But it is more than three times the number of eleventh grade students–694–who opted out of the MCAs in 2015.

This is a startling jump, taking place in schools and cities as diverse as suburban St. Louis Park, rural Pine City and Minneapolis. (The examples below pertain only to the Math MCA tests for high school juniors.)

In 2016, ten Pine City juniors refused the MCA tests, while 102 students took the test; that’s a small but significant bump up from the three students who refused the tests in 2015. At St. Louis Park High School in 2016, 87 juniors sat for the MCA tests while 66 students opted out. But in 2015, just one student refused the MCAs.

An eye-popping 209 juniors at Minneapolis’s Henry High School opted out of the math MCAs in 2016. That’s a huge leap from 2015, when just eleven students refused the tests. Only seven percent of Henry’s 1,100 students identify as white and eighty-percent live in poverty, according to federal standards. This might help poke holes in the story that only “suburban moms” and white, wealthier kids are pushing the opt out movement. And, across town at Roosevelt High School, 66 juniors took the math MCAs in 2016 while 98 opted not to. Like Henry, Roosevelt is not a majority white school and almost seventy percent of its students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Over at South High School–Minneapolis’s largest and most diverse–so few students took the MCAs in 2016 that there are simply blank spaces on the Department of Education’s spreadsheet for the school. That’s because, when fewer than ten students take the tests, the data has to be blocked out for privacy reasons. In 2015, 306 students–or nearly ninety percent of eligible juniors–at South did not take the tests.

Let’s hope this movement for quality education instead of test prep continues and grows. Taking back our schools means actually learning and helping students’ minds and curiosity grow instead of sitting for bogus exams.

Jim Crow as School Choice!

[ 115 ] February 28, 2017 |

Betsy DeVos, reminding everyone that the “saying the quiet parts loud” remark we used to make about the Republican Party’s racist statements is completely antiquated in an era of open racism.

I have some other images of freedom-loving choice here:

Here’s someone who is choosing to oppress white choice in Birmingham.

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Here’s some people choosing to live in poverty.

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Here’s people who chose to be sent across the Atlantic as slaves.

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You’d like to think that openly racist statements promoting Jim Crow America as a model for the present would get DeVos fired, but who I am kidding. It all just makes Rand Paul’s dream to overturn the Civil Rights Act more likely.

DeVos

[ 69 ] February 7, 2017 |

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Betsy DeVos confirmed.

It’s a loss and I think it’s pretty clear that McConnell gave permission to Murkowski and Collins to vote no while knowing that he wouldn’t lose anyone else in the caucus. But it’s an expected loss and it has severely discredited her and the fascist administration that she represents so well. What we need to do is to keep up the pressure on all the remaining nominees, especially that of Nathan Bedford Forrest for Attorney General, while also continuing to publicize and embarrass the administration on the policies coming out of these clown-run departments. I also think this helps to define the fight on public education. Whereas Obama was woefully terrible on public education, his worst policy position by far, Democrats can now stand up with full-throated support for public schools. Congressman Mark Takano has taken a leadership position on this issue and his program is excellent. I would watch people like Cory Booker on this. Booker of course has also been horrible on this issue. If he switches from that, it’s a sign of the pressure working. The Washington consensus on education is dead. Let Republicans own the disaster to follow. Attack, attack, attack. And support good public schools.

Government by Friedman

[ 87 ] January 17, 2017 |

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Betsy DeVos is a devotee of Milton Friedman and will be bringing his ideas about education into the Department of Education.

Milton Friedman, patron saint of the free market, died in 2006, but his ideas about public education live on in the thought and deeds of Betsy DeVos, likely the next U.S. Secretary of Education. The two are ideological soulmates—a fact that justifiably panics supporters of public education.

In a 1955 essay called “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman laid out his plan for K-12 schooling, which boils down to this: taxpayer funded but privately run. The government would provide each child, through parents or guardians, funds in the form of a voucher to pay for what the government considers the minimum adequate education. Parents and guardians would then choose what education services to purchase on the free market. For Friedman the choices included private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, religious schools, and “some even” run by the government. Today Betsy DeVos and other free-market education reformers add home schooling and private online schooling to the mix. They also support privately run charter schools, financed directly by the government, not by student voucher money.

It’s a wealth of privatized choices meant to squeeze out, as much as possible, the least appealing alternative for free-market ed reformers: neighborhood public schools.

Taxpayer funded but privately run is how “privatization” of the public sector works in the United States. In countries where the government owns major companies or industries—for example, Aeroflot in Russia or the UK’s National Health Service—privatization means selling off enterprises to new owners in the private sector. In the United States, the government hands over control to private entities, but the taxpayers keep on paying. The most familiar U.S. example is the privatization of federal prisons.

In 1996 Milton Friedman and his wife Rose (also an economist) launched the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice as “the nation’s only organization solely dedicated to promoting their concept of educational choice.” “Choice” is the ed-reform movement’s euphemism for privatization. All the tools used to create choice—vouchers, charter schools, tax credits for private school tuition, tax credits for individuals and businesses that create private school scholarships, “education savings accounts” (usually government-funded debit cards used for various private-school expenses, not just tuition)—siphon tax dollars out of the public school system and into private hands. DeVos has worked with and donated to the Friedman Foundation, recently renamed EdChoice.* Their visions for the future of K-12 education coincide.

There are massive problems with all of this course, including the neoliberal privatization of public goods, the looting it includes, and the anti-democratic tendencies. But the resistance to this faces another big problems–that the neoliberalization of education has been so embraced by Democratic Party elites, including Barack Obama and Cory Booker.

A useful model for DeVos comes from the outgoing ed-reformer-in-chief, Barack Obama. He allocated $4.3 billion from the 2009 “stimulus package” to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who used it to create the controversial Race to the Top program. More than thirty states competed for RTTT grants by committing to a detailed list of K-12 reforms—reforms that often required changing state laws. In exchange for money, resource-strapped states agreed to evaluate teachers, at least in part, according to student scores on standardized tests; raise or eliminate any caps on the number of charter schools; and “turn around” low-achieving schools by turning them into charters, replacing the teachers and principals, or closing them. Many states found that implementing the reforms cost more than they received in grant money. Much worse, the reforms undermined public school teachers, robbed many neighborhoods of their most stable institution, and introduced into the public system less accountable, often poorly performing schools and financial malfeasance by private operators. But the free-market ed reformers were thrilled. By opening the way for rapid charter school expansion, the Obama administration made the nation’s first significant progress toward privatization.

I have long said that education policy was Obama’s worst policy arena and the impacts of this and his henchman Arne Duncan are enormous. Cory Booker of course went down this road in Newark, bringing in Mark Zuckerberg, whose expertise on education consists solely of his wealth. How did this happen? How did we get to a bipartisan agreement on the neoliberalization of education? That’s a key question for us to figure out.

When did Americans stop talking about public K-12 education as the keystone of a strong democracy, as the incubator for citizenship, shared values, and social cohesion in a diverse nation, as the only educational institution obligated to serve every child who appears on the doorstep? Conservatives don’t bear sole responsibility for changing the conversation. The Clinton and Obama administrations reduced K-12 education to little more than the required stepping stone to a college degree that leads to successful competition in the global economy. That’s a meager sales pitch, making it all too easy for K-12 schooling to be chopped up into products sold on the market.

The only counterweight to “choice” is excellent public schools, and so the only way to save public education (which is largely very good in the United States) is to improve it where it needs improvement. Hundreds of thousands of public school teachers and administrators commit themselves to the task everyday. The job also belongs to everyone who sees the need to rebuild American democracy. In the face of privatization, we are all stakeholders in the public good that is public education.

The answer is rooted in the deregulation craze that began in the 1970s, the rise of the modern corporate lobby that began in the same decade, the concomitant reduction and erasure of American unions, the rise of the DLC and Clintonism as the central tenet of the Democratic Party that it is only just now recovering from, and the long-time American deification of the wealthy. But maybe it’s also rooted in white backlash and the desegregation of schools (even if actual integrated public schools rarely happened without busing). Like other public services, once the government was seen as working for black interests, white people turned on them with a fury with the self-privatization of the religious school or private school as a response to keep white children away from black kids. Combined with suburbanization, the withdrawal of tax dollars from urban districts, and media stories of the horrors of inner cities, it became all too easy to decide that public education was a problem that only corporations could solve.

This Day in Labor History: November 17, 1968

[ 62 ] November 17, 2016 |

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On November 17, 1968, the New York State Education Commissioner reasserted control over the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school district in Brooklyn, ending the strike by teachers that started when African-American activists fired white teachers in their schools in violation of the union contract. This fraught incident represented the difficult relationship between organized labor and other social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, demonstrated the increased militancy of teachers unions during this period, and suggested the complexity of labor’s responses to social groups making new demands upon society.

In 1967, African-Americans in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville neighborhood, working with a pretty wide variety of white allies, demanded community control over their schools. More than 95 percent of the students were African-American or Latino and about 2/3 of the teachers were white. Such demands were increasingly common among communities of color during this era, especially among Chicano activists in the Southwest. They believed their schools were failing because of their inherent racism of the educational system. They believed the teachers were racist too. They wanted the students to learn about their history, read literature written by black writers, and be part of the revolutionary change demanded by Black Power activists nationwide. The city allowed Ocean Hill-Brownsville and a couple of other districts to experiment in community control beginning in 1967. Much of this community control movement nationwide had a strong anti-union element to it, especially among whites who supported it. One architect of the idea wanted to “destroy the professional education bureaucracy,” i.e., the unions.

The teachers were members of the United Federation of Teachers. They were largely Jewish and many considered themselves liberals or leftists. Other teachers were indeed pretty racist. This was a tricky issue. African-American parents had real concerns. On the other hand, the teachers had a collectively bargained contract. The head of the UFT was Albert Shanker. The contract he had negotiated with the city allowed teachers to advance through a serious of standardized tests that could allow them to move ahead depending on how they did on them. This merit-based system Shanker and the rank and file believed represented teachers effectively. It did indeed serve the white teachers well. But as standardized teachers often go, African-American teachers tended not to score as highly. So the tests and the contract did institutionalize racism.

Responding to this, the community activists fired several white teachers, violating the contract. Black teachers and whites who were not union members but committed to community control of the schools replaced them. Shanker and the UFT when ballistic and 350 teachers in the district went on strike on May 22. The community fired them all. Technically this meant that they were returned to the New York central school district office, where they would have to show up and hang out all day rather than actual firing, but it was effectively firing the teachers. This strike was a foretaste of the broader response once the new school year started in the fall. The activists behind community control wanted to ensure the fired teachers would never work again. Said the head of the community board who fired the teachers, “Not one of these teachers will be allowed to teach anywhere in this city. The black community will see to that.”

Shanker himself and the UFT as an institution had worked for civil rights. They had actively supported Freedom Summer in 1964. The UFT’s field rep in Ocean Hill-Brownsville was Sandra Feldman, a member of Harlem CORE and a volunteer during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But this was a bigger principle for the union. No union can survive if they can’t defend members’ jobs from arbitrary dismissal. Said Feldman, “From the point of view of the union, it was a totally basic issue. You’re talking about nineteen people who were told in effect: ‘You haven’t got jobs anymore.’ The Union really had no choice.”

The strike shattered the long alliance between Jews and African-Americans in New York politics. The UFT’s official stance on ethnicity was a melting pot idea that promoted teaching about ethnicity in the context of a Cold War nationalism that promoted individual achievement and consensus politics. The black activists in Ocean Hill-Brownsville rejected this liberal pluralism, especially the teaching of black history as equivalent to the European ethnic groups who had assimilated into American society. Of course black history is very different than European ethnic history, with systemic discrimination not only defining African-American life in 1968, but today. And many of the activists were openly anti-Semitic. One black teacher wrote a poem about Shanker that read “Hey Jew boy, with that yarmulke on your head, you pale faced Jew boy, I wish you were dead.” Most of the New York left sided with the black activists, arguing the UFT was not acting in good faith. Others, including A. Philip Randolph and Michael Harrington, spoke out in favor of the UFT. Said Randolph, “If due process is not won in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, what will prevent white community groups from firing black teachers or white teachers with liberal views. What will prevent local Birchites and Wallaceites from taking over?” The AFL-CIO also supported their UFT brethren.

Mayor John Lindsey was initially supportive of the community control plan. But Shanker was frankly much more powerful than the people promoting this idea. The school year started with the entire school system going on strike for 36 days. 54,000 of the city’s 57,000 teachers walked out. The strike quickly forced Lindsay to backtrack. The Ocean Hill-Brownsville schools still operated despite the strike, although with the teachers striking outside, the education was not exactly effective. Over one million students had no school. Finally, on November 17, the state took direct control over Ocean Hill-Brownsville, ending the community control. The fired teachers were reinstated and the new teachers let go. Conflict at the school and in the community remained high. Albert Shanker became nationally famous over the strike.

Woody Allen would later portray Albert Shanker as the man who blew up the world in Sleeper. He would be posthumously granted the Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. Sadly, I don’t have to say which President Clinton.

I borrowed from Andrew Hartman, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, Peter Levy, The New Left and Labor in the 1960s , and Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession to write this post.

This is the 200th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

ITT Is No More

[ 52 ] September 6, 2016 |

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One of the Obama’s administration’s signature late achievements is going after for-profit colleges.

Embattled for-profit college company ITT Educational Services, Inc. is officially shutting down its academic services, the company announced on Tuesday. Most of the 8,000 employees working for the company’s for-profit college, ITT Technical Institutes — which has about 40,000 students attending around 130 campuses in 38 states — will lose their jobs.

The shuttering of the college comes as no surprise. Last week, ITT Tech stopped enrolling students at all of its campuses after the U.S. Department of Education prohibited the company from enrolling students who rely on federal student aid. And although this was the final nail in the coffin, ITT has been dealing with increasing scrutiny of its operations for years.

Last year, the department put ITT on the heightened cash monitoring list for filing its financial information late and the Securities and Exchange Commission announced fraud charges against two ITT executives. The SEC’s director of its division of enforcement, Andrew Ceresney, claimed that the executives “made numerous material misstatements and omissions in its disclosures to cover up the subpar performance of student loans programs that ITT created and guaranteed.”

In 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued ITT for predatory student lending, arguing that the college encouraged students to take out expensive private loans that they would most likely default on. And this year, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ITT for misleading job placement rates.

Good riddance. I feel terrible for all the people without the cultural capital to know better think that this was a good option for them and took out loans to do so.

NAACP and Charter Schools

[ 17 ] August 30, 2016 |

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Above: Charter school hacks

Glad to see the NAACP come out against charter schools and the fraud that they offer African-Americans a better education.

With charter schools educating as many as half the students in some American cities, they have been championed as a lifeline for poor black children stuck in failing traditional public schools.

But now the nation’s oldest and newest black civil rights organizations are calling for a moratorium on charter schools.

Their demands, and the outcry that has ensued, expose a divide among blacks that goes well beyond the now-familiar complaints about charters’ diverting money and attention from traditional public schools.

In separate conventions over the past month, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Movement for Black Lives, a group of 50 organizations assembled by Black Lives Matter, passed resolutions declaring that charter schools have exacerbated segregation, especially in the way they select and discipline students.

They portray charters as the pet project of foundations financed by white billionaires, and argue that the closing of traditional schools as students migrate to charters has disproportionately disrupted black communities.

There’s also the many problems with how charter schools operate:

Although charters are supposed to admit students by lottery, some effectively skim the best students from the pool, with enrollment procedures that discourage all but the most motivated parents to apply. Some charters have been known to nudge out their most troubled students.

That, the groups supporting a moratorium say, concentrates the poorest students in public schools that are struggling for resources.

Charter schools “are allowed to get away with a lot more,” said Hiram Rivera, an author of the Black Lives platform and the executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union.

Charters are slightly more likely to suspend students than traditional public schools, according to an analysis of federal data this year. And black students in charter schools are four times as likely to be suspended as their white peers, according to the data analysis, putting them in what Mr. Brooks calls the “preschool to prison pipeline.”

Another platform author, Jonathan Stith, the national coordinator for the Alliance for Educational Justice, chose a charter school in Washington for one of his children because it promised an Afrocentric curriculum. But he began to see the school driving out students. It was difficult, he said, for parents to push back against the private boards that run the schools.

“Where you see the charters providing an avenue of escape for some, it hasn’t been for the majority,” he said.

Mr. Stith came to think the money would be better spent on fixing the traditional public school system.

Once again, the problem of education is the problems of poverty and inequality. If you want to improve public education, you don’t give over public monies and responsibility to private entities. You work to fix poverty. But where’s the money for that? Plus if you fixed poverty there might be room for teachers’ unions and we couldn’t have that now, could we. After all, who is more concerned about a child’s education, a Silicon Valley investor or a teacher trying to reach out to a children and pay her mortgage at the same time?

The Senate Will Really Miss Its Modern Cato

[ 92 ] August 20, 2016 |

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Ron Johnson has some ideas about history education.

JOHNSON: We’ve got the internet ― you have so much information available. Why do you have to keep paying differently lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online and have everybody available to that knowledge for a whole lot cheaper? But that doesn’t play very well to tenured professors in the higher education cartel. So again, we need destructive technology for our higher education system.

WISPOLITICS: But online education is missing some facet of a good ―

JOHNSON: Of course, it’s a combination, but prior to my doing this crazy thing [of being in the Senate] … I was really involved on a volunteer basis in an education system in Oshkosh. And one of things we did in the Catholic school system was we had something called the “academic excellence initiative.” How do you teach more, better, easier?

One of the examples I always used ― if you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas.

We shouldn’t have art in schools anyway because that’s for queers and communists, but if we do, let’s just show Bob Ross shows.

The Senate is really going to go downhill when Russ Feingold replaces Johnson.

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