Who Will Push Back? Without Strong Democratic Teachers’ Unions, We’re All Screwed

by David Kaib

Flickr Creative Commons Cybrarian77

Flickr Creative Commons Cybrarian77

Kindergartner students in the deep blue state of Massachusetts are being shamed by publicly posting their test scores. Here’s Sarah Jaffe reporting on “data walls”:

Last year, K-12 teachers in the Holyoke, Massachusetts school district were told to try a new tactic to improve test scores: posting “data walls” in their classrooms. The walls list students by name and rank them by their scores on standardized tests. This, they say administrators told them, would motivate children to try harder on those tests.

Teachers did so, many unwillingly. Agustin Morales, an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke felt pressure to comply, but finds the data walls cruel. One of his top students did poorly on a standardized test in November and found her name at the bottom of the data wall. Afterward, in a writing assignment for class, she “wrote about how sad she was, how depressed she was because she’d scored negatively on it, she felt stupid.”

“So why do I hate data walls?” he continued. “Because of how she felt that day. She felt worthless. She felt like she wasn’t as good as other people.”

Morales isn’t alone in opposing the data walls. They’re widely seen as just the latest front in a war being fought by educators, parents and students nationwide against what teacher educator Barbara Madeloni calls “predatory education reform.”

Earlier, Jaffe wrote about the difficulties of kindergartners given standardized tests  in New York , which “pit children against one another instead of teaching them to share, which can turn even a kindergarten classroom into a den of hyper-individualistic bootstrappers.”  And indeed, like the data wall and the shaming it facilities, “This is a feature, not a bug, of the testing regime.” Continue reading

Reign of Error: Diane Ravitch’s Important New Book on Eduction

by Deborah Meier

Dear readers,

reign of errorDefinitely go out and buy Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to Americas Public Schools by Diane Ravitch, which just been launched with proper publicity. She is a phenomenal woman—sending out a half-dozen e-mails a day, two books in the last decade, and traveling to speak throughout the USA. And…while she’s younger than me, she’s old enough to have rested on her laurels. Maybe it helps to change your mind, because my exhaustion comes (in part) from feeling it’s all been said before (including by me).

Reign of Error lays out step by step the relentless thirty year drive to either centralize the education of the young—on one hand—or divest it entirely into privatized hands on the other. Finally, the two sides have joined forces on a strategy that simultaneously does both. While this coalition has many old roots, in its current form it began with the fanfare around the publication of A Nation at Risk (1983). Ravitch was, at that time, a supporter of this bold statement that more or less accused America’s teachers and school boards of a plot to undermine American health and welfare of the international scene. We were, said the signers, at risk of becoming a second rate nation if we didn’t take this crisis seriously. I asked my colleague on the NBPTS, AFT leader Al Shanker, why he had signed on. He said it was a good strategy because only in a crisis is the nation willing to put the money into schooling needed to make it really first-rate. He said—as I recall (paraphrased), ‘It’s true our schools are not as bad as the report suggests, but we are entering a new period and they either have to change dramatically or what the report accuses them of will become true. We need a smarter citizenry.’ Continue reading

House of Cards Episode 2 – “Rheesons to Investigate”

In this episode Michelle Rhee’s lies are exposed. We must insist that she be held accountable for the cheating that occurred under her direction. She is NOT above the law!! Continue reading

House of Cards–Education Reform–trailer

House of Cards is a series of short videos created by the Badass Teachers Association to bring to the forefront the key players in the corporate education reform movement. Each week a new player will be featured along with information concerning their words and actions that have been aimed at the destruction of our public schools. The video created by Terri Michal. Talking Union will be presenting the episodes on an ongoing basis.

Teach for America’s Mission in Chicago

Teach for America wanted to help stem a teacher shortage. Why then are thousands of experienced educators being replaced by hundreds of new college graduates?

teach4america1

Teach for America has come under heavy scrutiny in recent months. The organization was imagined over twenty years ago by Princeton undergraduate Wendy Kopp to combat the teacher shortage in urban and rural communities. TFA was to bring recent graduates from elite universities to teach in needy schools.

The idea was pretty simple. TFA was not better for students; it was better than nothing. Providing staff in these schools alleviated overcrowding and research shows that class size does matter in a child’s education.

Twenty years later, school districts are firing huge swaths of educators due to budget cuts. These dedicated teachers lose their jobs through no fault of their own, but find themselves competing for a dwindling number of open teaching slots. One would think that at this point, TFA is no longer necessary. We have a surplus of teachers and until politicians make education a priority and fund more teaching positions, this trend will continue.

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How Teachers Unions Lead the Way to Better Schools

Amy B. Dean

Amy B. Dean

by Amy Dean

Diane Ravitch upends the “bad teachers” narrative.

Part of what I object to is the assumption that somehow the problems in American education are all tied up with teachers. The teachers are causing low performance, and if we could just find the ideal teacher evaluation system, we would be the highest performing nation in the world. I think that’s a false narrative.

I have a concern: Teachers are getting pummeled. Too often, they are being demonized in the media and blamed by politicians for being the cause of bad schools. Right-wing governors, power-hungry mayors and corporate “reformers”—all ignoring root issues such as poverty and inequality—have scapegoated the people who have devoted their lives to educating our children. Moreover, these forces are seeking to destroy the collective organizations formed by educators: teachers unions.

The stakes for our country could not be more profound. The labor movement and the public education system are two critical institutions of American democracy. And they are two that go hand in hand. Teachers unions have played a critical role in advocating for public education, but you’d never know it from mainstream media coverage. Therefore, there is a great need to lift up this tradition and highlight the efforts of teachers to collectively push for top-notch public schools.

To figure out how we can push forward on this issue, I talked with Diane Ravitch, one of the country’s leading education historians and public school advocates. A professor at New York University, Ravitch is a former Assistant Secretary of Education and the author of several books, including 2010’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

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Lesson From Chicago: We Need Resources and Accountability to Avoid a Two-Tiered Education System

by Amy B. Dean

Amy B. Dean

The Chicago teachers’ strike may be over, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have replaced the Chicago schools CEO, but the underlying issues that caused the rift between teachers and public schools officials haven’t gone away. Because our education system is such a vital public asset, we cannot resolve these issues in the context of a crisis. In the strike’s aftermath, though, we have an opportunity to begin tackling them.

There are two key issues that need to be addressed going forward: resources and accountability.

If we’re serious about fixing the long-term problems in the schools, we should take a careful look at each of these, determining how they should shape the roles of all players in the system — be they administrators, teachers, parents, or politicians.

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Why Do People Hate Teachers Unions? Because They Hate Teachers.

by Corey Robin

Like Doug Henwood, I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out why people—particularly liberals and pseudo-liberals in the chattering classes—hate teachers unions. One could of course take these people at their word—they care about the kids, they worry that strikes hurt the kids, and so on—but since we never hear a peep out of them about the fact that students have to swelter through 98-degree weather in jam-packed classes without air conditioning, I’m not so inclined.

Forgive me then if I essay an admittedly more impressionistic analysis drawn from my own experience.
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Rahm’s Wedge

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Put aside for a moment the particulars of the Chicago teachers’ strike and look at the broader picture. Rahm Emanuel is only one of a number of Democratic mayors and governors who are going after public-employee unions. In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is also at loggerheads with the city’s teacher union. In San Jose, a Democratic mayor and city council scaled back the city employees’ pensions (and so did city voters when they were asked to ratify that decision). In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has tangled with a number of public-sector unions. The battle between management and labor seems to have spread to the very center of the Democratic Party.

To some degree, this is a predictable response to the fiscal crisis states have faced during a severe recession—something’s got to give, and a number of chief executives have said it’s union benefits. Nonetheless, a number of the chief executives who’ve taken on unions are from jurisdictions with lots of rich folks on whom they’ve declined to raise taxes—Cuomo most conspicuously. More worrisome, a number of these chief executives—Emanuel and, again, Cuomo—took office plainly spoiling to take the unions on. In this, they were surely channeling the views of financial and media elites, who consider unions an impediment to efficiency in education and government, and some of whom see union-smashing as the key to reducing the size of government generally.

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“The Corporate Vision for American Education”

By Jack Rasmus

Jack Rasmus

Both K-12 and college education systems in America were once the envy of the world. But that system is now in a state of continuing decline, with a halt to the decline nowhere in sight.

At the college level, the central problem is runaway costs. College administrators have become intent on acting as corporate CEOs, spending more and more money on providing CEO level pay and benefit packages for themselves and their growing management bureaucracies; expanding physical assets (buildings, facilities, programs); recruiting more and more wealthy foreign ‘customers’ (students) to cover rising costs; and raising the price of higher education services for US students at an annual rate of more than 12% despite four years of economic crisis and absent economic recovery.

The short term solution to accelerating higher education costs by policymakers thus far has been to burden college students with ever-escalating student loans; and for K-12 education, it has been to raise property taxes and to require more out of pocket payments by families of students for what was once fully publicly provided services.

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