New School

New School

Excerpt from Chapter 3: “Field Trip”

“But Mr. Mack, what if they come for us next?” Sam said. “What will we do-will we have to be like that?” He nodded towards the length of glass pretending to be a wall between Sam and his teacher, and the New School “learning lab” they had just toured.

His teacher sighed, paused; shook his head. Then he seemed to gather himself, and Mr. Mack was back.

“We’re different, Sam. You can’t really say what’s good here, or what’s good for some people in some other place would be good for some other place- or good for us.” He looked at Sam for a moment and smiled just a little, but it was a smile that looked forced and didn’t make it to his eyes the way it did when he lit up-when he was just as excited to see that you were learning as you were to be learning yourself-the way he lit up when he said he was learning too. That’s what the kids all called it, “lit up”. “Mr. Mack’s ‘lit up’ again,” like they were picking on him-but only just a little. He went on in that way he did when kids knew that he might not get to the homework-the story would finish and the homework would be tomorrow’s classwork.

“Different places make different people, and that’s one of the things that make learning beautiful. Call it ‘education’ if you want to sound fancy, but you’re learning. And then, get all those different people from all those different places together- at the end of all that learning? All grown, all wide open and knowing that a great big world full of other places and other learners is just waiting for them…that’s when powerful things can happen! That’s what’s happening here, Sam. They are just different people, in a different place, that’s all. They’re still learning. But they’re not us, and we’re not them. They’re just learning .”

Mr. Mack’s gaze trailed slowly to take in the view into the room of “learners”. What his teacher was thinking about, Sam couldn’t tell. But when he looked through the expansive length of clear glass into the room he had just visited; when he saw the rows and rows of robot-children dutifully tapping at their continually flashing screen and the neutral gray proctors gliding on their predictable paths between the children…he couldn’t help but wonder at what might have been lost to make this kind of learning happen. What had these sterilized learners left behind?

Or, who had been left behind?

When he looked to the front wall of the room to that giant techno-screen that dominated it and saw again the huge, looming, somehow stern and serene at the same time face on the screen (still endlessly dictating to the little down-turned heads in that steady monotone cadence): Sam shuddered. What did Mr. Mack really think that he wasn’t saying? At this very moment the teacher looked lost; no longer lit-up and eager, but fallen into some empty space about three inches off or a million miles away, just staring.

Sam was suddenly frightened. He knew a handful of silent seconds had passed but it felt like so many heavy years. And he felt sad. Sad because he knew. He knew he had just seen the future and he knew he could watch it happening right now through the giant windows into that “learning lab” and he knew Mr. Mack knew it but would never say it. That made him more sad and more frightened than anything ever had. Until he turned to look at that giant looming face on the screen.

And saw that the face was looking right at him.


A Nation At Risk-Again (Part 1)

Originally posted  on my older blog just after this past Christmas, but I was reminded of it while catching up on @NewarkStudents

The once unchallenged moral authority of our nation is at risk. This source of pride and self-assuredness has, been an implicit endorsement of policies from arming violent, extremist rebels; to nation-building; to extraordinary rendition; to a financial crisis where people hiding trillions, and losing billions, were rewarded with millions. Those gleaming successes of our great nation have been undermined with the blaming of the public sector for recent destruction caused by insatiable greed and the ownership of policy by the free market and the private sector. Instead of efforts to halt this assault on common sense and educate citizens to reverse continued moral erosion, what followed was a coordinated effort from the nation’s leaders to drive public schools and their students to serve the same market that cripples the nation’s economy and world-standing. If allowed to continue unchecked, misguided education reforms and the absence of accountability for leaders in policy and finance threaten to condemn generations to come to lives of dis-empowered indentured servitude: not free themselves, but working merely to survive and serve the “free market”. The result would be the loss of the nation’s status as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to the rest of the world.

How Ronald Reagan inspired me. Thank you, sir.

Originally published a year ago, but it is campaign season! Where you read ‘Elizabeth Warren’, you could probably add ‘Bernie Sanders’.

February 6th was the birthday of Ronald Reagan, and I have found myself recalling the first time I became keenly aware of the man whose image in one form or another looms large in the lives and minds of those on the far right. Just as Charleton Heston is Moses, Reagan is the figure of epic proportions that brought the trickle-down tablets off the mountain of Ayn Rand to present their affirmations to the most wealthy-reassuring them that unfettered greed, low taxes, and self-love were as close to scripture as one could get. It was also around this time in my political-interest development that I realized that Capitalism and Christianity both started with the letter “C”.

Coincidence? I think not.

But back to Reagan and my political awakening.

It was about a week after my thirteenth birthday when Reagan said to the incumbent President Carter, during a debate:

“There you go again.”

This was after Reagan spent a few moments smirking and chuckling to himself at his podium as Carter described candidate Reagan’s campaign around the nation against Medicare. I remember the feeling of regret as I watched national politics fall ever farther into the pit of performance art as the former actor playing the part of a politician connected with his role: a dismissive, paternalistic front-man for what would become  a near religion of economics. What chance did a humble peanut farmer stand-even if he was evangelical and spoke from the heart?

Our nation had crossed a threshold where a washed up charming cowboy-actor with boot-black in his hair could win the stage without having to win minds. At thirteen years old I knew that part of my duty as a future citizen would be to try and prevent those who would replace the political stage with theater.

I registered Independent Conservative the day I turned 18. Carter was gone, of course, but I am happy every time I see that man. Dude’s like 90 and he is travelling the world, curing diseases, showing up on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. By the time I was voting age, Reagan and the Republican agenda had revealed themselves (trickle down that really didn’t), but I had little faith in Democrats of the time and I really considered my self to be fiscally conservative in a moral way. You know, no money for drugs and guns to supply and/or ply foreign governments or rebels (no “plausible deniability or scapegoating honorable military men allowed)…but also no bleeding tax dollars for abusers of welfare and social services. I was cast to the winds, party-wise, it seemed.

Wrapping it up, let me say I am still saddened by Democrats. From the White House down to the State House-true Democrats in the classic form are lacking. There is one exception: Elizabeth Warren. I love this woman and her fire, I love it that she speaks truth to power, and I love it that the “powers that be” seem to be doing their best to keep her off the radar.

I have Ronald Reagan to thank for inspiring my clear vision, and my ability to know when people are just putting on a show and speaking lines, as opposed to speaking from their heart and speaking the truth. For those trying to avoid Warren and her message, that is what scares them the most: people are beginning to recognize the truth and those who are willing to speak it.

“I grew up in an America that was investing in kids” (Elizabeth Warren on The Colbert Report)

We need to get our America back.

Mr. Malatras: Is “Massachusetts model” too friendly for Cuomo?

Jim Malatras, Operations Director and letter-writer for Governor Andrew Cuomo, has contacted Education Chancellor Merryl Tisch once again with more ideas for public schools in the state of New York. Having been disrespected, dismissed, and undermined by years of Cuomo and the under-fund and over-mandate model, the actual professionals in the field of education aren’t always eager to hear more from the oracle at Albany. This recent letter, though, could indicate that New York leaders may be at least considering a different approach-a kinder, gentler one that acknowledges educators and what they could contribute-if finally allowed to. But then again, this is Malatras, whose December 18th letter to Tisch was a call to hunt down and find a bad teacher around every corner.

This new letter calls for Tisch and the State Education Department to research the Massachusetts model of “receivership” and the academic gains achieved with it. While at it’s core this model hands over public commons to private management, which always comes with risk of profits for the minority and diminishing returns to the majority, there appears to be a hybrid approach happening in these Massachusetts schools- a combination of community goals, professional collaboration and private approach efficiency. Most importantly: an inclusion of people who actually know education, as opposed to only those politically motivated and criticizing from afar. The result has been an increase of resources available for targeting student needs.

Lawrence is a better school system than it was three of four years ago, but … that’s for multiple reasons: We eliminated the corrupt government that was running the city, and we have more resources that are getting to the children. (Frank McLaughlin, president of the Lawrence teachers’ union)

Is this a signal that Cuomo might start considering the needs of communities, parents, educators and above all-the students (as he lobbies for them)? Are we seeing an end to the attack on teachers and their unions, which previously was the theme (or “gist” in ELA module-speak) of Cuomo’s narrative? The fact that Malatras calls for investigation into the Massachusetts model approach suggests this could be the case- unless Mr. Malatras and/or Governor Cuomo understand it differently than I do. It sure looks to be a philosophical 180 for the governor, and what I am reading of how Massachusetts handled “turnaround” in the example Malatras cites himself (Lawrence schools)-it doesn’t seem to mesh with the politics of resentful revenge and bad teacher bashing that rolled out of the governor’s office post-reelection.

Teachers here say that they can explain exactly why the turnaround efforts have been so successful. “This is true reform,” says Mary Therese Linnehan. “Our administrators start with the assumption that we’re the true experts in the classroom. They have faith in us and respect us and that belief has enabled us to transform the way we work and really reach the students.

But I am reluctant to be a true believer quite yet. That Cuomo wants to trade an obligation to the public for a potential cash-cow and status builder for a campaign contributor? Yeah, I can see that.Get more resources into schools and encourage more collaboration between unions and administrators? Not so sure. Haven’t really felt the collaboration vibe coming from him.

At the end of his second letter to Tisch, Malatras includes American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten, as one among a “broad section of education stakeholders” supporting this potential model of turnaround. Is Malatras indicating enthusiastic interest in the spirit of that Massachusetts turnaround quote, or is he throwing out Weingarten’s name as de-facto union support? Or is this knee-jerk interest in/advocacy for selling of “failing schools” to the highest bidder; turning an obligation to use tax payer dollars to properly fund and support public education to instead allowing more private/non-governmental control?

I need to look at the Massachusetts model more, and see what part of this option is Cuomo really interested in. Is it the part about respecting and empowering educators who have always served, continue to serve, and wait willing to serve despite his arrogance and disrespect, or is he looking to duck his own responsibility and sell off public schools to private management?

A Template for Cuomo

Dear Governor Cuomo,

From the perspective of someone who hasn’t had the benefit of position, privilege, private jets to campaign war-chest fundraisers, or input from charter school lobbyists:

1) Holding schools and their funding hostage to your unreasonable demands is not in the spirit of the collaboration that your own ed reform commission called for.

2) Being a “lobbyist for the students” is not exemplified by attacking their teachers first. It would be exemplified by supporting equity in funding and opportunity for all students.

3) An abrupt reversal in your campaign season concern over the flawed implementation of new common core standards and the high-stakes tests that came with them, to suddenly insisting that they are worthy of coin-flip power over an educator’s career is beyond foolish.

4) Your praise of kitchen tables and parents as the most important tools a student can have is not matched by a willingness to admit that many, many teachers are the surrogate kitchen tables and parents for a growing number of students.

It’s understandable that the reluctance of the Working Families Party to endorse you, and the virtual silence of teachers unions might make you angry. Since you put a capital “D” after your name on the ballot-you’d think those endorsements would be a given. Also, the isolated pockets you managed to amass votes in and win with, while losing the vote in a stunning  majority of the state area-wise…well, that can sting.

But this is about kids. Not just the few that will be admitted to and allowed to stay in charters-but also about those who depend on equitable funding and opportunities to achieve-not just words in regulations, but real economic, educational, and employment opportunities. So lobbying for students starts in the home and involves community schools and educators. Dedicated, trained, professional educators who serve all students. Not just those lucky enough to still have parents and kitchen tables. You should join the team.


Do educators resist “change”, or dishonesty (the true “status quo”)?

In this article, TU Editorial Board suggests that Cuomo’s approach to school funding, withholding the numbers or “runs” until he gets significant reform concessions from educators, could do more harm than good. Blame for the current situation, though, seems focused on what is being called the “education establishment” (also commonly referred to as the “status quo”).

Cuomo’s efforts to get his way with demands and threats is described as “negotiating”.

Educators, schools, communities, families, students…all knowing the growing challenges faced as a result of growing inequities in wealth and opportunities? Well now, their patience in waiting for some honest and progressive policy-making is being called “resistance”.

Let’s be clear.

Change has not been resisted by the “establishment”, scapegoating has. So yes: the governor’s calls for changes might meet resistance, but that’s because he cautiously frames his “calls” in a way that denies any responsibility for what is being done to communities, families, children and schools in an economy where so few enjoy wealth you can’t imagine- while so many see the “American Dream” rising farther away and out of reach. Given honest discussions about what market based policies have done to drive inequity in resources and opportunities, and the obstacles presented to educators knowing the bar has been raised, a collaborative approach to preparing capable young citizens might be realized. But the governor is the consummate campaigner with his eyes on the future, and when it takes hundreds of thousands of teachers to raise the money he can get from a short list of school reformers-the needs of the many get crushed by the desires of the few.

A letter to copy/paste/mail/send to legislators.

Date:  _________________________________

Dear  ___________________________________________,

The direction leaders in New York take regarding public education policy is something that concerns me greatly. Educating future citizens and giving them the tools they need to succeed is an obligation-not a “choice” to be provided to only those who can afford opportunity, or provided only by those who purchase favor through campaign contributions. The governor, while claiming to be a “lobbyist for the students”, has focused the bulk of his efforts on attacking schools and teachers while promoting the cause of a questionable charter “choice” approach-one sure to drive disparities in resources and opportunities (and one that appears driven by his campaign donors list). His criticisms are focused on the lump sum cost of educating a state full of children, but he willfully ignores the funding inequities undeniably correlated with opportunities, achievement and outcomes for students. The Governor’s agenda is not one to support. It is time for a new direction, and a new agenda. You should be helping to make this happen. Following are a list of things to do:

1) Ask the governor to release state aid numbers without conditions. Schools already have to cope with the impact of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, school tax caps, and the burdens of ever-increasing mandates. Funding numbers are essential in allowing schools to plan for the year to come.

2) End the Gap Elimination Adjustment. Combined with property tax caps, it has cost schools in staffing and opportunities provided for students.

3) Make school “choice” more about fully funding and allowing public schools choices to innovate, as opposed to creating more exclusive options that will further segregate students and opportunities, as well as redirect more public funds into private hands.

4) Drop the unreasonable push to weigh standardized state test scores as 50% of teacher effectiveness ratings, and the plan to withhold funding until schools and educators submit themselves to that insanity. The Governor may be upset that teachers haven’t given full-throated support to his plans, but he has failed to bring issues to the people most involved for an honest discussion.

5) Hold Governor Cuomo accountable for his campaign season admissions regarding the failures of common core standards/high-stakes testing implementation, and the importance of parents and kitchen tables. There are many, many students struggling with the former and without the latter. Further punishing a generation of learners and their communities, and disrespecting hundreds of thousands of educators is not a collaborative path forward.

I look forward to your cooperative efforts in empowering students, teachers, schools and communities.