Monday, December 12, 2011

More Blood and Guts

Public education has been nothing but blood and guts the last few years, but the gore spread across the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has been particularly copious of late. Let’s start with the latest. December 15 is the deadline for California’s Department of Finance to announce its final revenue numbers for the year. For those of you with short attention spans, you may not remember how Governor Brown and the State Legislature reached a budget agreement earlier this year: through magic. One day it was announced the State’s economy, much to the surprise of everyone, was doing really well and billions of dollars in unexpected revenue would show up by December. This week, also much to the surprise of everyone, it will be announced there is no such thing as magic.

As we speak, LAUSD is facing the loss of $38 million in transportation funds. That means 35,000 magnet school students and 13,000 special education students may no longer have a way to get to school. What happens to a school or program when everyone attending has no way to get there? What happens to the students? What happens to the teachers? On December 15, an additional $113 million may have to be cut from, well, everything else. For the last few years, Superintendent Deasy has been giving away public schools to any and all for-profit charter operators that had the decency to register a heartbeat. It’s hard to know where he will find $113 million without selling real estate.

Then there was the “Tentative Agreement” (TA) signed by Deasy and UTLA leadership a week or so ago. Sorry all for the acronyms. Educators love nothing more than a good acronym. It appears that UTLA leadership has grown so desperate, it has signed on with Deasy to an agreement that is possibly its own death warrant. This is no surprise in an environment already drowning in desperation after a decade of NCLB policy.

In the current context of economic fear, there is little wonder why people like Eli Broad and Bill Gates can get away with encouraging a commercialized education package replacing curriculum with products and concepts courtesy of big business interest. The atmosphere is already toxic with years of propaganda demonizing teachers, tests replacing teaching, and relentless bashing of the profession by corporate-supported news media (the LA Times).

UTLA has provided teachers with virtually no information regarding the matter (other than how wonderful it is), given them no time think about the issues (let alone discuss them), and are asking teachers to vote for the agreement starting, well, they already started. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say I have not read the fine print. But that is only because the large print is so despicable.

On the surface, the agreement looks like a good one for LA teachers. Charter giveaways, supposedly, receive a three-year moratorium. Limits will be placed on school reconstitution (where all teachers are basically summarily fired, then forced to reapply) as well. Schools will be granted “unprecedented” autonomy in school governance including waiving certain school board policies such as selecting a principal, creating alternative assessments, reorganizing the school, modifying instructional time, selecting grade-level and department chairs, coordinators, deans, etc. The fact all of these waivers are basically balderdash seems beside the point.

Using a standardized test score to evaluate teachers is specifically not among the waivers.

In fact, the agreement cuts UTLA and teachers off at the knees, if not the waist and neck as well. By granting false autonomy, teachers will in fact be isolated from each other and have to fight for their rights individually. Deasy, of course, knows this and relishes the opportunity. Any and all school reforms plans can be vetoed by the principal. Under the totalitarian regime of Deasy, all principals are interviewed and can be fired by him. In effect, the voices of teachers, parents, and students critical of his agenda can be ignored or in some cases removed.

The “no reconstitution clause” is also a farce. In fact, no school can be reconstituted/restructured only if it demonstrates “reasonable progress toward overall improvement.” Anyone who knows Deasy (to say nothing of Broad, Gates, and the LA Times), knows this means standardized test scores. These people mean nothing but standardized test scores. “Data must drive instruction,” Deasy says over and over and over and over. He means standardized test data, that is. Never mind that standardized test data is dismantling public education and creating a generation of poor, minority intellectual cripples as inner-city teachers desperate to hang on to their jobs abandon things like divergent thinking and creativity, to say nothing of trivial concerns such as science, social studies, and the arts.

Teachers displaced by Deasy will provide “intervention services” (test prep, of course), tutoring (more test prep), CAHSEE support (another acronym, the California High School Exit Exam, did I mention test prep?), and class coverage support. In effect, they will become substitutes and test prep teachers’ aides. That is until Deasy fires them too.

Between November 15 and March 1 of each year, schools interested in “autonomy” will be required to develop school proposals, including their Single School Plan, a voluminous, ungainly document schools usually develop every several years, they take so much work, then routinely ignore because they do little to improve instruction. There must be a petition which must be signed on by a majority of the school faculty, but only with the principal’s concurrence, of course (a principal approved by Deasy), followed by more meetings and discussion. Teaching, evaluating student work, communicating with parents, apparently, will be conducted in our spare time. Waiver packages come with secret ballots, and only then with the concurrence of the principal.

PSC’s (Public School Choice) schools (sorry, another acronym, read “charter schools”) have their own dictums. Principals may be chosen by a “Personnel Team,” but of course Deasy must approve the choice. Teachers must sign onto the “The Plan” (whatever that means) or may leave “without harm” (again, whatever that means) after one year. The Deasy-approved principal retains the right to transfer any teacher with a voice. If Deasy does not like their plan, the process becomes so convoluted, I’m pretty sure no one understands it. But it involves hours and hours and hours of teacher time unrelated to teaching. Teaching is extra.
UTLA withdraws all its grievances on public school choice. They are now totally irrelevant according to the agreement. UTLA withdraws its two Public Employee Relation Board ( PERB) cases (acronym, sorry) at Jordan and Clay High Schools, though the case against Clay/Jordan giveaways remain in play. In perhaps the most grievous abdication of its duty, UTLA agrees to abandon its PERB lawsuit against the district regarding the use of a standardized, value-added test score to evaluate teachers.


Without getting into a whole “thing” regarding value-added, VAM (sorry) has a number of shortcomings including a failure to take into account school factors such as class sizes, curriculum materials, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, and more). VAM entirely misses the level of home and community supports or challenges, individual student needs and abilities, health, and attendance, peer culture and achievement, prior teachers and schooling, as well as other current teachers. VAM does not account for differential summer learning loss (which especially affects low-income children) and varies greatly depending upon the specific tests used. It does not account for students who have moved or changed classes. These tests and VAM’s emphasize some kinds of learning and not others, and rarely measure achievement that is well above or below grade level. 

Oh, hell with it. Here is my “thing” on value-added: VAM was invented by Dr. William Sanders, a statistician working in the field of agricultural genetics at the University of Tennessee in the 1980's. He was, quite literally, a bean counter. He believed he could use his statistical models used to produce plump, ripe tomatoes (and probably beans) to evaluate teaching. Governor Lamar Alexander told him, basically, "Go for it." Unfortunately, children are neither tomatoes nor beans and teaching is not agriculture.

The broader UTLA leadership was not brought into the negotiations leading up to the “agreement”, to say nothing of the teachers themselves. They have created no “alternative vision” and thus this agreement is almost totally on Deasy’s terms using his definition of reform and progress. UTLA is not structured for, nor does it have the capacity to support individual schools –support they will badly need in moving forward with this TA. The other side (Deasy, Broad, Gates, et. al.) are very well organized and extremely well funded. One does not freely waive collective bargaining or contractual rights to such opposition.
The voices of parents will be fragmented as well.
 
Meanwhile, charter schools hang over us like Damocles’ sword as teachers face this Faustian bargain. If we approve, we lose much, if not all of what we have fought for as long as teachers have been organized. If we reject the agreement, we embarrass UTLA’s new leadership and face further demonization from the press, public, and “billionaire boys club” as being “anti-reform” –to say nothing of accelerating of the process of dismantling public education to private, for-profit corporations (few of which have proven superior to public education).

But reject the agreement we must. This was shoved down our throats in the dead of night and we have been told without warning to vote one way or the other the week before the Winter Break. Why? Shouldn’t teachers, of all people, have the opportunity to study the issue?

And the tide is beginning to turn. The public is waking up to the myth of charter schools and the for-profit fraud perpetrated by Corporate America in education and elsewhere. The same is true for standardized testing. We gain nothing by maintaining that single hair from the horse’s tail which holds the sword of Damocles over our head for a few more years. With Deasy in charge, the sword will fall sooner or later. I say we go down fighting. We go back to the negotiating table. We create a clear, united vision for the future. We reject the “Tentative Agreement.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Magnet Bullets"


With charter schools being universally hailed as a magic bullet to all our public education woes despite all the evidence, critics of the charter movement often counter with magnet schools. Magnet schools have been hailed as THE resounding success in urban education. Why have we forgotten about magnet schools? If magnet schools are so great, why not make all schools magnet schools? Could magnet schools be the "magic bullet"?

Unfortunately, there are no “magnet bullets” for problems in urban public education. Magnet schools enjoy success only in so far as many of them are even more elitist and discriminatory than charter schools. I taught for many years at a “Gifted/High Achieving” magnet. Federal integration funds were designed to give poor minorities the same choices as more affluent suburban students who had access to private schools. It didn’t exactly work out that way. I ended up teaching the richest of the poor and the poorest of the rich. Acceptance into the magnet program in LAUSD is all about amassing enough magnet points, an insanely complicated system requiring many years of persistence which at the get-go often eliminates all but the most indefatigable of gifted parents. You’d be surprised, or maybe you wouldn’t, how many of my students were children of LAUSD teachers and administrators.

My only real problem there was the three or four students who were in the class each year because they had been misidentified, being labeled as “gifted” in something like the First grade by some unbelievably unreliable non-verbal test like the RAVEN. Some of these children were labeled “gifted” despite all evidence to the contrary for six years. Once you are “gifted”, you can never be “ungifted’. The RAVEN was the bane of my existence because it put all these average or below average kids in a class with a bunch of geniuses or near-geniuses and these kids quickly gave up because there was no way for them to keep up. Even when they tried, they ended up feeling stupid. Heartbreaking! 

How would you feel if you were a normal eleven year old born in the year 2000 and the teacher mentions on the first day of school he wants you to carry a library book at all times in case you finish early and it should be a “fun” book, not one your mom is “making you read”, and the teacher also mentions he is reading Don Quixote which is actually a really famous book, the kind your mom might actually “make you read” if you were much older, but that’s not why he is reading it, that he is reading it because it is one of the funniest books he has ever read, and as he is tilting you with windmills and regaling you with wonderful tales of wayward wenches to promote an interest in reading, the kid next to you raises her hand and interjects, “Excuse me, Mr. K., but isn’t The Man from La Mancha a musical adaptation of that book?” and the teacher says, “Why yes it is, as a matter of fact, and how does an eleven year old born in the year 2000 happen to know that?” and the kid replies casually, “Oh, I don’t know, I’ve just always been interested in musical theater.” I was fifty and I felt stupid. Fill up a number of schools with eleven year old Man from La Mancha fans and you’re more than going to make up for the other magnet schools with no discriminatory admission policies outside the Faustian point system.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved teaching those kids. We need magnet schools, especially for high-achieving kids. I once had a Sixth grader who was so far ahead of all the other ninety-nineth percentile students, I just gave him the fattest algebra book I could find. And not just any fat algebra book, mind you, but one of those “newfangled” jobs that taught algebra strictly through the use of application problems and abstract analysis. It had been rejected by the algebra teachers for just that reason. It was too difficult! I told him to get started, that I would try to get back to him every once in a while, and to let me know if he ever had any questions which of course he never did until sometime in the middle of March. We sat down together and the book said something like, “You’ve got a 1,400 square foot house with a 500 foot facade topped by a 15 foot roof pitched at 37 degrees. How much material do you need for a new roof?” 

Well I lived in a house, so I knew something about houses. I had been on my roof and had learned what “facade” meant thirty years previously in a college course I once took on Pre-Soviet Russian Culture. So I drew a fa├žade and I pitched a pitch and quickly began to realize I had pretty much exhausted my expertise with the experience. I did have a vague recollection of these things called trigonometric functions which I seemed for some reason to have learned how to pronounce in my Tenth grade math class in 1974, something about opposite over adjacent or adjacent over opposite, and if I could only remember the difference between an opposite and an adjacent I might possibly have a shot at saying something pithy like, “I think this has something to do with trigonometry.”

Unfortunately, before I could impart my wisdom, the kid looked at my scribbling and blurted out something like, “Oh my god! You said the roof was 15 feet high, so all I have to do is use the tangent (or was it the sine? co-sine? arc-something-or-other?) of 37 degrees to get the width of the roof, multiply by 500, double it, and oh my god Mr. K, you are a genius! Thanks!”

“No problem,” I said getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible so I could go back to teaching eleven year old HUMAN BEINGS. “Be sure and let me know if you have any more questions,” which of course he never did because fractals were easy.

Magnet schools, some of them anyway, are great!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Blood Money

Dear Teachers,

We are being asked (key word “asked”) to be trained (key word “trained”, like dogs,) by Pearson “Learning” August 29th and 30th. Pearson is going to pay us. Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, the money they are going to pay us is blood money. And the blood money they are going to pay us with is our own blood. It is the blood we bled when LAUSD cut our pay. It is the blood we will bleed every day when we struggle with larger and larger class sizes. It is the blood Jenny, Isabel, Jared, River, Susan, Summer and all the rest are bleeding right now as they sit home BLEEDING because they no longer have jobs.

It is blood money.

Pearson “Learning” was once a nice publishing house. They printed books under names like Penguin and a number of textbooks primarily in England. They made a tidy profit in the millions of dollars each year. In 2000, as NCLB was being written and discussed, they bought their first testing company. That may or may not have been a coincidence. After passage of NCLB, they bought another testing company. Then they bought another and another and another and another. That was no coincidence. Today they are a conglomerate of testing companies, seven by my count. They have created a vast, powerful TESTING INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. Their profits are not a few million each year, but a few billion each year and they are growing exponentially.


They employ legions of well-paid lobbyists who infest Washington, D.C., every state capitol, and many local school boards. I would love to know how much they contribute to reelection campaigns. They have infested LAUSD which I will explain in a minute. They have one agenda: Profits. Until recently, they had one means to their agenda: Testing. More standardized testing means more profits for Pearson. NCLB is Pearson's business model. Teachers are laid off, their salaries cut, class size increased, and curriculum narrowed as Pearson lines its pockets with gold.

Consider this regarding standardized testing:
  • high scores often signify relatively superficial thinking
  • many of the leading tests were never intended to measure teaching or learning
  • a school that improves its test results may well have lowered its standards to do so
  • far from helping to “close the gap,” the use of standardized testing is most damaging for low-income and minority students
  • as much as 90 percent of the variations in test scores among schools or states have nothing to do with the quality of instruction
  • far more meaningful measures of student learning – or school quality – are available.
-Alfie Kohn’s  The Case Against Standardized Testing

Standardized tests are DEMONIZING all of us in the inner city, demonizing our union, and being used by almost infinitely powerful economic and political forces in this country to dismantle public education.

And the situation is only going to get worse. [LAUSD Superintendent John] Deasy and [Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan both are pushing value-added standardized testing measures to evaluate teachers. The LA Times slanders all of us on a daily basis with its value-added measure on its website. Deasy calls his AGT.

Slander is slander. This year he is bribing teachers with $1,250 (after cutting their pay) to “volunteer” in a pilot project for AGT. “If you volunteer, we will pay you (after cutting your pay.)” To measure “improvement” you need baseline scores (pretests), probably at least one or two interim assessments, and a post test. These tests will be maximally time consuming and VERY expensive. All teachers need to be evaluated, so multiple tests will be given in every subject of every grade multiple times every year. You can bet that Pearson is using its vast influence to get to the front of the line to write (and sell) those tests. As far as I know, they may well have already elbowed out the competition. Their profits will be enormous. And guess where those profits will come from. They will come from you and our students. Your job, if you have one left, will rely on these tests, so you can be damn sure you are going to teach to them and probably teach little, if anything else.

Read this: The Test Generation.

Pearson “Learning” has now figured out a way to “double down” its billions in annual profits, its rape of public education. They are using their publishing arm to sell “Teaching Guides”, “Lesson Books”, etc. so teachers can “better” teach its own tests. Genius. They have created a mobius strip of profit production. We are pawns in their game and they are going to move you two spaces ahead August 29th and 30th.  Don’t think you are getting paid very much for being a pawn. Pawns, if you don’t play chess, are the first things sacrificed.

I reject Pearson and their blood money. I reject everything that they stand for. I reject their endless bubbling. I reject their process of elimination universe. I refuse to be trained like a dog to teach my students how to bark like seals. So should you.

I am drawing my own line in the sand. Public education is going up in flames in this country because of profiteers like Pearson and teachers are going down. I intend at least to have a say in my own demise.

I may show up on August 29th. I will not sign in. I will not touch their food. I will go nowhere near their blood money. If I do show up, it will only be to stand up before everyone and publicly denounce Pearson in much the same way I am doing now. My fantasy is to walk out and have everyone follow, but alas that will never happen. It would be nice if some of you would follow, though.

If I do not show up, it will be because I chickened out. Fear is something I understand. In an age of perpetual layoffs and teacher transfers, fear is not without merit. We are surrounded by fear. We are immersed in it. You all will make your own decision regarding the Pearson “training”. You all have your own lives, your own families, your own personal situations. You have to decide what is right for you. I will respect whatever decision you make. Count on that. But consider what is being done to you and our profession by Pearson, companies like it, and politicians who exploit their malevolence. Consider. Consider Jared, Jenny, Isabel, River, Susan, Summer and all the rest. Consider that you are next. We are next.

Joseph K. is a 24-year veteran of LAUSD, a former mentor teacher twice named a Johns Hopkins University Teaching Fellow, who now teaches poor, inner-city children who wake up every morning in their gang-ridden, drug-infested neighborhoods at five a.m. to catch the bus by six. He teaches the old-fashioned way – by ignoring standardized test scores. Instead of teaching bubbling, he tries to instill a love of knowledge and learning in his students and for this reason will probably be allowed to continue teaching for fifteen more minutes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who Is Joseph K?

There has been some confusion regarding Joseph K. Who is Joseph K? Is he any relation to Josef K? I assure you, he is not. Josef K is fictitious. Josef K is a surreal character in a real but surrealistic novel called The Trial, by a real surreal novelist named Franz Kafka. Franz Kafka died in 1924, but used absurd humor to portrait surreal situations so absurdly surreal, they eventually led to the ultimate surreal absurdity, Nazi Germany. He played with multiple meanings of words, virtually all of which are lost in translation. 
Joseph K is and did none of these things.
Joseph K is a real teacher living in a surreal world created by an even more surreal (and absurd) piece of legislation called No Child Left Behind, a world where all children are above average by legal mandate, a world where teachers and their unions are persecuted when it turns out much to the surprise of everyone that all children are not, in fact, above average, a world where as many as eighty percent of our public schools will be labeled failures (officially “in need of improvement”) as early as this month, a world where the wondrous, quixotic journey we once called a rich, well-rounded education has been reduced to four bubbles on a standardized test, four bubbles indistinguishable and/or irrelevant to many students (especially poor, minority students), a world where standardized tests are now being used bubble by bubble to dismantle public education brick by brick.
None of Joseph K’s multiple meanings are lost in translation because almost no one reads Joseph K in the first place and certainly no one translates him.
Joseph K lives in a REAL world where Michele Bachmann is now a serious candidate, is in fact leading in the polls in a world where the “shots heard round the world” in Lexington and Concord were heard not in Massachusetts but in New Hampshire, a world where the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery while simultaneously owning and sleeping tirelessly with their slaves,  a world where John Quincy Adams was a Founding Father working even more tirelessly to end slavery though “just a small boy at the time,” a world where “The System” ended slavery (not  a bloody Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation), a world where the Federal Government should not infringe upon States’ rights to determine the legality of gay marriage but simultaneously have a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman, a Bachmannesque world bursting with Intelligent Design but utterly void of fossils.
Joseph K, ladies and gentlemen, is all too real.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Class Warfare

Welcome back to Dicken’s “Victorian Age”, Twain’s “Gilded Age”, and to the return of Social Darwinism.

Consider:

  • The top 1% of Americans now earn 24% of all income.
  • The top 1% now own 40% of America's wealth.
  • The top 1% now have a greater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90%.
  • 80% of the nation’s income growth has gone to the top 1% over the last quarter century.
  • Income for the top 1% has risen 18% in the last decade.
  • Median family income has declined by more than $2,500 in the last decade.
  • CEO salaries of America’s largest corporations were 531 times greater than the average employee in 2001. They were 42 times greater in 1980.
  • The median income of S&P 500 CFO’s increased by $2.9 million last year alone.
  • Hedge fund manager John Paulson made $4.9 billion last year, as much as 184,000 average Americans. Most of his income is considered “carried interest” and therefore taxed (after considerable deductions) at 15% instead of 35%.
  • Corporations’ share of federal tax revenue has fallen from 30% in the mid-1950’s to 6.5% today.

The proposed repeal of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans has been repeatedly called “class warfare”.

Huh??

Four years ago, Warrren Buffet compared how much he pays in taxes in terms of a percentage of his salary to what his employees pay. The results? Buffett said he pays 18 percent of his salary to the IRS while the rest of his staff pays nearly twice that — 33 percent... "Frankly, an economy where my receptionist pays a lot higher tax rate than I do does not strike me as a just economy," he told lawmakers.

This is from 2007. Still…

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Where Is The Media?

Where is the media? Evaluating teaching is currently all about standardized tests. Standardized tests purport to measure writing yet the computerized bubble sheets don’t even require students to write their names. Where is the media? Standardized tests purport to measure a student’s ability to comprehend and analyze literature. But literary analysis has more than one correct answer. Where is the media?

This was a real CST question I will probably go to jail for telling you. “Which French derived word best fills in the blank? Well excuse me, but when I was teaching my below grade level, limited English speaking 6th grade students to read, it did not occur to me to teach French!

You can test math. Math, at least, is objective. But standardized math tests are as much about language as math. Give kids a data table. According to the data, how many Americans have access to health care? They know tables, data analysis, percents, multiplication, everything, but no one happened to teach the meaning of “access.” And my students certainly don’t have access themselves. Give a simple word problem with various fruits and nuts. What is the total number of nuts? Unfortunately, many students (especially poor, inner-city students) never eat pecans, have never heard of pecans and pecans, if you’ve never had them, sound a little like peaches. Students are judged “below proficient” and their teachers “ineffective” because in their heads students categorize pecans with peaches. (I mean, really. These students can’t even add! Next time I teach addition, I will be sure to feed my students pecans!) This happens over and over and over with standardized tests. Where is the media? Teachers are now going to be evaluated and even fired because they cannot demonstrate growth using standardized tests which largely do not even address what they purport to measure. Where is the media?

Districts like Los Angeles will soon evaluate teachers by measuring “value-added” growth in these standardized tests by using sophisticated computer algorithms. An ever-growing number of states and districts around the country are already there, thanks largely to Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top. There never has been and never will be a computer algorithm that can defy a fundamental law of computer science. Garbage in, garbage out. Where is the media?

Now before I go on, there are some good standardized test questions out there:

  • In 2000, just as No Child Left Behind was being debated in Congress, publishing company Pearson (remember Penguin Classics?) entered the testing business in the United States by purchasing National Computer Systems. How many testing companies have they purchased since then?  (C. Six)
  • In 2002, the year No Child Left Behind was adopted, Pearson posted profits of $293 million. In 2009, Pearson (now largely a conglomerate of testing companies, the largest in the U.S., and increasingly publishing textbooks and test preparation materials in order to teach to its own tests) earned $1.64 billion. How much is the difference? (E. All of the above added together –and then some!)
  • Pearson’s after-tax revenue increased by 45.5 percent in 2009. In what direction are we heading? (D. South)
  • What is the only thing a truly valid standardized test can measure? (I’ll give you the last one too. It’s “B. The Lowest Common Denominator.” Everything is subterfuge, though, because “A” would also be a good answer: “Profits”. That’s the beauty of these tests. You often don’t choose the correct answer. You choose the best answer. So you tell me. Which answer is best?

(No Child Left Behind is not so much a piece of Federal legislation as it is Pearson’s business model. And they are by no means alone! Educational Testing Service (E.T.S.), the largest nonprofit testing organization in the world, enjoys a tax exempt status which allows it to amass vast federal and state tax revenue (tax free, of course) and totally ignore SEC income reporting requirements while paying its executives and governing board immense salaries, to say nothing of its enormous army of lobbyists which (like Pearson) lobby the heck out of federal and state government officials and legislators. Their CEO once stated that E.T.S. “will never be the low bidder on a contract.” E.T.S. now, too, boosts its “nonprofit” profit margins by selling test preparation materials so teachers can better teach its own tests. E.T.S. has virtual monopolies in California, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia and who knows where else? The media certainly doesn’t know or, if they do, they’re not telling.)

The LA Times rates teachers and schools using a garbage in, garbage out algorithm on its website. My students are all poor minorities who have to get up every morning at 5 a.m. to catch the bus. The LA Times categorizes my school as “least effective” and justifies this by listing a supposed six of our twenty teachers using data supposedly going back to 2004. Of those six, one left our school seven years ago. Another attended our school for only a few months four years ago, but never set foot in a classroom. She was a coordinator. A third is a wonderful long term substitute teacher who began just this year and teaches PE.  She has not administered a single test to any of our students (unless you count laps and pushups) and was not even at our school when the LA Times collected its data. A fourth, the only one of the six listed who has been at our school during all these years, is categorized as “less than effective” based on an unspecified sample of just 14 students. A fifth split her time between two schools, so we don’t know which students came from where. Sixteen of our twenty teachers are not listed at all, yet the LA Times rates us anyway through the magic of its algorithms. Where is the media?

Facing hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs, a few in the media have recently addressed seniority, last hired/first fired. An anecdotal Teach for America teacher is great. A twenty-year veteran is incompetent. End of story. No one in the profession believes they were a great teacher during their first few years. We had a lot of training, several degrees perhaps, and tried out best, but we were new and didn’t really know what we were doing. It takes at least several years’ experience to develop the art of teaching. The very best are still honing their craft after twenty years of experience. Some are teaching the Teach for America neophytes. There isn’t a study in the world demonstrating new teachers, including Teach for America’s, are more effective than veteran teachers except those studies paid for by Teach for America. Quite the opposite, in fact. Where is the media? Forty percent of Teach for America candidates quit at the end or before the end of their second year. Eighty percent quit after three years just when they are beginning to figure out what they are doing. We are going to lay off our twenty-year veterans in order to keep a small group of well-intentioned rookies who, for better or worse, are going to quit in a year? Where is the media?

Charter schools are the answer. We are dismantling public schools and replacing them with more effective, less expensive charter schools. But 37 percent of charter schools are demonstrably worse than their public school counterparts and 46 percent are no different and certainly no less expensive. The few that are better, like nearly all charter schools, supplement their tax revenue significantly with the generous support of well-meaning billionaire philanthropists using dollars insufficient to extend everywhere, dollars which will disappear when the charter school euphoria evaporates. Charter schools often ignore children with special needs or who speak limited English. They frequently expel low achieving children with discipline problems or simply discourage low performers from attending in the first place. They need not consider children whose parents are too apathetic to fill out an application, sign homework pledges, or are too poor to “volunteer” in the classroom. They largely serve children with the richest, most motivated parents in their communities and still, 83 percent are either no better or worse than public schools. There are only two explanations for the expansion of such an ineffective, inefficient, and elitist system: Ignorance or a political agenda. Billionaire philanthropists for the most part are not ignorant.

The poster boy for charter schools is Geoffrey Canada and his Children’s Zone project in Harlem. Think Waiting for Superman. Geoffrey Canada is a great, great man and I mean that sincerely. He is doing exactly what we need to do to address poverty and the achievement gap in this country. He spends many, many fortunes (one of which he pays to himself) starting at conception to do it.  His “Baby College” provides pre- and post-natal care and more importantly teaches poor parents how to parent. His schools spend $16,000 per student, PLUS the cost of a 4-6 p.m. after-school program, PLUS a full-time chef to provide healthy meals, PLUS the cost of free health and dental care, PLUS most central administrative AND building expenses. All told, he spends between $20,000 and $30,000, if not more, per student per year and he starts at conception. He is able to do an absolutely wonderful job only with majority help from those well-meaning philanthropists as well as corporations like Goldman Sachs. (Ring a bell, anyone? Goldman Sachs?) Because of Geoffrey Canada, everyone says, “Charter schools work.” Ladies and gentlemen, the only way to do what Geoffrey Canada does Nation-wide is to turn the Department of Defense into the Department of Education! Where is the media?

We turn on the TV news in this country and watch a warehouse on fire. We then cut to a live police stakeout. The reporters tell us they have absolutely no idea what is going on. No, wait a minute, they do. The police now have their guns out. Then we see a gorgeous, buxom debutante in a skin-tight miniskirt who spends ten minutes standing in front of a weather map. She smiles adorably at the camera and predicts the sun is going to shine tomorrow in Los Angeles. She explains in depth how it will be 79 degrees in Alhambra but 80 degrees in Arcadia. The beach, we are surprised to learn, will be cooler. We cut to a commercial. We come back, get an in-depth update of Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen (or now Casey Anthony), then go back to the weathergirl who tells us that yes, sure enough, the sun is still shining in LA. After another commercial, we get a sneak peak at Dancing With The Stars and then close with a cute dog that just got its ear pierced. Where is the media?

Cable TV and the Internet increasingly rant as they preach to their choirs. Newspapers and news magazines increasingly look like television. Where is the media?

Meanwhile, public education is being dismantled wholesale in this country. No Child Left Behind has labeled virtually all our inner-city schools as failures and demonized our most courageous teachers, demonized our unions. This summer, NCLB may well label as many as 80 percent of our public schools “in need of improvement.” By 2014 every school in America will be labeled a failure because someone everywhere will not read or do math at grade level on a standardized test. Failure only takes one in 2014. Meanwhile, democracy relies on an effective public education system FOR ALL. Americans need to wake up to the dismantling of public education in this country. But for America to wake up, the media first has to show up. So I ask again: Where is the media?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No Crime Left Behind


On January 8, 2002 President George Bush signed NCLB, The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. He was flanked by cosponsors Ted Kennedy and John Boehner, among others, all wearing ear-to-ear grins because they knew their legislation, which had received nearly unanimous bipartisan support in Congress, would solve all our education problems with the stroke of a pen.

Wasn’t that a wonderful day! By 2014, illiteracy would end (or else). One hundred percent of our students would read and solve math problems at grade level. Children who had never received pre or post-natal care, children who had been malnourished since birth, children who had never been read to, children whose parents had never purchased a book nor bothered to take them to the library, children with significant emotional disturbance, even children with such severe dyslexia that The Catcher in the Rye looks like nothing more than a tangled plateful of spaghetti, would suddenly read like magic (or else). Children living in this country for less than a week, who can barely say “hello” in English, would miraculously achieve proficiency on what would become standardized tests by 2014. That, my friends, was one powerful pen.

It occurs to me we can solve all kinds of seemingly intractable problems in this country with the same powerful pen. Isn’t crime a major issue in this country? Isn’t crime as important as illiteracy? Why don’t we solve it with NCLB, No Crime Left Behind? With a simple act of Congress, we will mandate a reduction in crime by one hundred percent by 2021. Think of it! In ten years, there will not be a single criminal act in the entire county. And we will do it the same way the original NCLB did it, by setting annual benchmarks and inflicting severe consequences for failure to meet those objectives. (Or else.)

According to this new NCLB, police departments will be required to reduce crime by ten percent per year. Just ten percent! What could be easier? In ten years, our job will be done. If not, there will be consequences. We will start by going after the unions. Oh those evil police unions who stand in the way of the kinds of simple, meaningful reforms we need to reduce crime by just ten percent. They protect all those idle police officers by making it impossible to fire the incompetents who sit in their police cars all day devouring endless boxes of doughnuts while criminals outside continue to ravage their communities. We will obliterate collective bargaining and pensions. Police officers, like teachers, pay into public pensions instead of social security. By eliminating their pensions, we will see to it that these malfeasants starve to death after thirty years of service. We will publicly humiliate inner-city officers by publishing their names and crime data on websites and in local newspapers. We will take the very bravest of them all, those who risk their lives every day to patrol our most dangerous, blighted neighborhoods, round them up and fire them, because statistics will prove, as do standardized test scores, that they are all incompetent, abysmal failures. That will teach them to reduce crime!

Then we will dismantle the departments themselves. We will create “charter” police departments. The beauty of charter police is that usually no one holds them accountable. And even when they do, no one pays any attention. A 2009 national study by Stanford University concluded only seventeen percent of charter schools performed significantly better than public schools. They often do this by advantageous geography and/or selective admission policies. But despite their discriminatory practices, more than twice as many charter schools, 37 percent, were demonstratively worse than their public school counterparts and 46 percent were absolutely no different. No one pays any attention. Everyone from Education Secretary Arne Duncan (who should know better) to John Boehner (remember him?) to Bill Gates and Eli Broad continue to laud, advocate and fund the expansion of charter schools at the expense of public schools. Let’s eliminate crime by doing the same for law enforcement. We can gloat over the impressive accomplishments of the Beverly Hills Charter Police while ignoring the deficiencies of their counterparts in Watts, Compton, and nearly everywhere else.

In the end, we will solve the crime problem by getting rid of the police entirely. Providence, Rhode Island sent pink slips to every single one of its teachers. Layoff notices went out to nearly five thousand L.A. teachers. Ditto New York. California anticipates thirty thousand, Texas a staggering one hundred thousand. Michigan ordered Detroit to close half its public schools. By demonizing people the way we have teachers and teacher unions, we can now utilize a new NCLB to do the exact same thing to the police.

And to doctors. How many doctors routinely kill their cancer patients every year? What we need is NCLB, No Cancer Left Behind. Let’s end terminal cancer in this country once and for all ten years from now by passing a law that includes annual benchmarks and merciless consequences for doctors. With widespread bipartisan support, we will eradicate these unnecessary fatalities in a decade with a stroke of that powerful pen (or else). It’s just that simple.

Or is it? Perhaps medicine, law enforcement, and education are more complex than NCLB.