Soft credibility vs real reform

It has to be a challenge for our elected officials and/or those benefiting from infusions of donor/investor money. The real conversation is finally beginning to happen, but only after several years of intentional destruction fueled by the pride, greed, and clueless-ness of those groups, and protected to some degree by the perceived helplessness of the victims. The realities that

  1. education reform is not as simple as a narrow focus on punishing teachers and schools with test scores and bad policies; and 
  2. students lose (and we all lose with them) when so-called reformers are tossing about slogans like “all students deserve” and “school choice”

are realities finally coming under scrutiny. That those driving what is being called reform lack the credibility to define what the job is and what it should be are the reason why much of what they push stands in direct opposition of the things real reform should include.

The growing opposition to such bad practices started quietly and reasonably by parents who knew better and professionals that expressed misgivings gently-they are bound by a need to stay employed, after all. But there are common sense and moral obligations that caused misgivings to grow-as evidenced in part by the “opt out” movement. So called leaders in education were empowered to and supported in their disrespect of concerned parents and professionals, and attempted to dismiss them as tools of teacher unions.

I personally find that interesting, because from my perspective: union leaders have done a lot of leading from the rear-waiting until the ranks of concerned parents and abused professionals reached critical mass.

Parents refused to let their children participate in the kids-are-no-better-than-data charade, or “opted out” in such numbers that the ranks of the reformers became alarmed. Alarmed to the point where their influence over policy has recently been seen in subtle protective shifts. Shifts in policy (loosening the testing noose slightly) and shifts in the attack through social media and traditional press. Backing off on specious but well-crafted attacks on traditional schools is called “backsliding” by reform proponents, and leaders are heaped with praise as they either step down from or are promoted to positions of prominence. Charter school leaders and practices are protected in ways traditional schools never would be.

Peggy Robertson, in speaking at the recent United Opt Out National Conference, describes the goals of the opt out movement as:

“Demanding, and getting all, for all children,” and

“To tear down the test and punish system.”

She notes that “We must halt the harm, before we can rebuild” and that what we look to rebuild should be an

Equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, de-segregated public school system, for all Americans, that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue.

During her opening statements, she notes that there won’t be change until the pain for private interests (“corporate regime”) and politicians, through risk of loss in profits and political status, is so great that change is forced upon them.

Would the defensive and offensive movement we have been seeing amount to that? Are the protectors of the true “status-quo” feeling some pain?

It’s clear that the campaign for dismantling public schools includes a main ingredient of using standardized testing to prove to communities and  parents that their schools are failing them-or that their charters are spectacularly successful.

The second ingredient is “school choice”. If we allow  resources and obligations to be turned into market choices, we all lose.

 

The legend of King.

A concise, accurate, and non-inflammatory letter opposing the nomination of John King for the position of Secretary of Education was written by the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District.

I think it’s important to consider the facts and opinions from (and coming from) every angle, and especially when it comes from the public education angle-if we are talking about education policy. Within the last two weeks, the legend of King has begun to be spun by the wide-web of school privatization/pro “choice” reformers for whom King is an ally with experience in the charter school business. It feels like a page was stolen from the script of that movie  “The Natural” and King himself is some against-all odds, uber-talented lifelong educator with a magical education bat in his hands.

Communicate with people who have sat in meetings with him and ask about his response to critiques  regarding his more exclusive school experiences (and the ones he chooses for his children): it is suddenly about his children being “attacked”.

Ask why parents, students and professionals who know better are called “special interests” as if it is an insult, but policy being promoted and sold through the private investment-to public policy process is given a silent “pass”.

I would not wish the loss of both parents on any 12 year old, or dismiss the emotional impact that it might have, but ask why the blogo-twittosphere has lit up with the legend of King: a boy born into a well educated household, blessed with incredible educational opportunities who chose charter school leadership and policy, and who against all odds made connections with school reform leaders and got an opportunity to do their bidding at the national level.

It should be a movie.

Let’s talk “choice”

“Choice”.

If you feel taking a test is the most important thing your child can do to demonstrate progress, choose to have them take it. If the test is well designed it will tell you what you need to know.

No reason to compel or chastise those who make a different choice (or who just know better).

No reason to initiate some false civil rights battle to force other people’s children to take a test.

No reason to start the slow boil on the campaign to convince suburban and rural communities that their local schools and teachers are the cause of all their social and economic strife just like they are in the big city.

The same way a parent can execute “choice” to choose to pull their kids out of a mixed ability traditional school that hosts any student regardless of their home-supports and aptitude, and try to choose a different one that offers a more homogenized cohort providing a greater likelihood of test proficiency…another parent can choose to believe that policy makers and investors can do better than a weak market-style test/stack/eliminate approach to improving outcomes. Pundits can do better than shrug, look hopeless and say “Well if not high stakes tests, how else can we judge the value of people we want to control?”

“Choice”, right? I see that word foisted like the banner of freedom and justice over and over again.

Until the choice made doesn’t serve the true agenda.

Eva’s Video: Can you really “dismantle” a position against this video?

REFORMPIC

It appears that even though the young woman was teaching in a public school and performing her public school job with public school students in the video, Eva came to her defense because, she says, that teacher is not a public figure. Not only that, the tentacles of the reform machine immediately began to reach out to lay themselves all over this story in an attempt to put their own special brand of justification on it. Traditional public schools, on the other hand, would never get the sort of sympathetic PR-assist. In fact, the defense is more of a juvenile “Well…systemic cruelty is okay in our special schools because every once in a while a weirdo worms their way into your schools too!” This contradiction-the willingness to support and defend only some unfit educators doesn’t generally come up- in the same way that the willingness to support and keep only some students in the test score academies doesn’t come up.

So when I get into exchanges about charters in an attempt to clarify the semi-exclusive product actually being sold, I come prepared for a couple of things:

  1. A well-rehearsed response that schools like this are not exclusive-type charters,they are public -type charters: a “choice”, brought to us by the caring investors and political activists for the benefit of all (imagine the benevolent, smiling and open armed welcoming posture). Funny, though, how that line between public and private gets selectively blurry. You just have to know that with sharks who circle within policy-making at state and national levels, hungrily swimming up into the public money feeding frenzy: some of the narrative is going to be crafted by those who know exactly what they are saying and how to carefully put those words together. “Public just like you- but waaaayy better than you (when there’s test score bragging to be done, parents and students to pull out of school for a matching t-shirts “civics field trip” photo-op, or gobs of money to be fought for)!”  “Privately managed”, though, when there’s scrutiny, public money contract signing demands, or students that don’t fit the charter model because they might muddy test score numbers. Now while the sharks know it, get it, and play it smooth-some of the more vocal and elevated remoras latched on for the ride to important places are not so skilled (or just not that bright) slinging vitriol over dialogue.Thank god for the reasonable folks who realize that Moskowitz’s “academy” collects certain kids and turn others away-creating a pliable and cooperative standardized cohort.
  2. A resistance to and denial of the very real issues holding back a growing population, and weighing most heavily on black and brown children living and learning in poverty and in impoverished communities.

Make no mistake, regardless of what is shown in Eva’s Video-her schools offer vital opportunities to many children who would not otherwise have them. But unions and tenure, one of the primary targets for criticism of the reform-through-segregation crowd, are not the main reasons communities and classes of people have been abandoned.  Unions are a firewall against further erosion of security and stability in the middle and lower classes, and it is this very type of union-ish collective that has sparked the demands for and creation of choice schools-as well as the demands for more than tests as the end-all target and measure.

Unions are not the reason parents struggle in multiple part time jobs, or why children and parents wait for Superman while navigating a gauntlet of crime, drugs, food deserts and young violent students disrupting their classrooms and their learning. Parents are not looking to get away from unions, bad teachers and failing schools-they are escaping to a carefully homogenized and tightly controlled setting where disruptions are eliminated. These enrollment engineering options are not choices that the public servants in traditional schools have, but operating under traditional school mandates  can certainly make them easy targets for institutions that operate with their own rules-including practices that filter away more challenging students.

But don’t just take my word for it when wondering who would actually advocate for sending students away and putting them on that school-to-prison pipeline. Ask Eva!

  • But Moskowitz defends her school’s harsh discipline by saying it’s integral to the success of the kids who don’t get kicked out
  • Ms. Moskowitz has said that suspensions can make parents recognize the seriousness of their children’s misbehavior and that removing students who are acting dangerously from the classroom protects teachers and allows them to do their jobs more effectively.

It’s becoming clear that the organized and most forceful attackers of traditional schools and the teachers in them, despite their sanctimony, have designed a very similar system for themselves. They have found their niche,funding sources, a promotional/ political action machine capable of influencing policy…Now these folks are finding the need to defend what they do the same way teachers have had to since “school reform” became the modern day soylent green: eat it because we tell you to; believe it’s good for you because we say so. But I am more understanding now of their narrow vision and the need to mount a defense of S.A., of high stakes tests, of “parent choice” (unless it’s a choice the reformers don’t like, like parents choosing to not swallow the importance of high-stakes testing over the importance of equitable resources and opportunities).

That’s because as a pragmatist I get it. Not only is there good work being done-it’s the reform bread-n-butter. And really: like an amputation, or like being blinded by some acid throwing psychopath –there are benefits to what the reformers do. Through their destruction and out of what and who is ignored or intentionally cast aside during their self-described heroics: what remains and what is gained becomes stronger.

So, to get to it:

When I started this writing, I had not yet even watched Eva’s Video. I’m getting ready to. Right now. I don’t even really care what it shows because I already pretty much know. I just hope this video could finally spark some mature and more honest conversation between the two sides:

1) the whiners against reform injustices and every standardized wrong ever committed, and

2) the self-proclaimed Moses-style saviors of the children: the ones parting the Red Sea of failing public schools and delivering poor black and brown children from the clutches of the godless white unionized teachers-straight into the promise land of Eva and her academies…as long as they win a lottery and behave, that is.

*VIDEO BEGINS*

Okay, real time. I stopped the video immediately after the paper tear. The first thing I want to say is “wow”. That was a violent tear-n-chuck.

*RESUME*

“Go to the calm down chair and sit” (from a young teacher clearly needing the calm down chair herself)

“There is nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper” This is an admission to the students that while being the supposed adult leader, you have weak emotional control and are willing to personalize student challenges in a way that frames them as if they harm you. That’s weak emotional control and character- and is likely to promote insecurity, not independence, in the students.

The fact that she speaks at a child (not to a child) in this manner says one thing-that another adult in the room was ready for it to happen says even more. Anger, humiliation, hostility and aggression are far different than high expectations-even different than “no excuses” (although that little gem is one is loaded with all sorts of innuendo). What I saw was nearly an assault.

Don’t roll your eyes at the suggestion, know the law. I don’t think that there was realistically a threat, but imagine seeing this and feeling this as the victim-and that’s what the child was. Where is the outrage for that child or any of the other children in the room? Ask what their perception at that moment was. Ask why the adult recording that video was ready to do so, and if the rumors that more clips like that exist are true. Ask if it’s true that this person is a leader/model.

Then ask if advice to Eva to circle her wagons within the ranks and work on how to protect themselves from whistle-blowers by working on “culture” from within would be the advice you would give to a traditional public school finding themselves starring in a similar video. It’s not a bad idea, but I thought this was a better idea (posted as a comment here on 2/16):

Eva approaches the mike:

“I am really nothing special, and certainly no teacher. My school is not one that dares take on the more serious behaviors and challenges that traditional schools and experienced professionals take on every day, and I know that. What I do have is access to a market and some promotional mechanisms that will provide some of the more capable and willing parents and students an escape hatch to greater achievement and opportunity than they might have otherwise realized in schools and classrooms failed by our economy, society, and policymakers. True, we don’t want them all. True, we can’t really just come in and work the same type of magic in a regular classroom, because not all students are so easily trained to comply. But by me simplifying the job for us, we can help some kids get great test scores. Not all, I know, so I promise not to keep comparing S.A.’s results with traditional schools and I ask the press to cooperate in helping keep me humble. What my schools choose to do and how we do it is far different than what other schools are obligated to do. I just want to help those with potential that could otherwise risk getting lost. Thank you.”

Described as a mea culpa, but that’s not it at all. No apology in there, just a theft of the high horse. Maybe more like the beginning of honest recognition of and conversation regarding the “choices” being created in the growing education market. Success Academy is a great idea, it’s the invalid comparisons and unwillingness to discuss them and why they continue that concern me. Among the defenders of Success Academy are some of the writers at Education Post.  I do have to say that Executive Director Peter Cunningham has always been willing to engage in a thoughtful and reflective way. That is good, because I come to that table with a reflexive suspicion of those that go from the policy maker/communications world to one that influences the real world I live in. He has always been willing to participate in thoughtful sharing. And J. Gordon Wright  once had some nice things to say about a quick little blurb I wrote about my youngest daughter’s teacher. I might be in a network of some kind now,and I’m not sure what that means or if I get into that special room in airports where the stewardesses party…I’m not even sure if my pic and bio are listed or if I am on some other sort of “list” now and need to alter my appearance and go into hiding. It could be more dangerous for them than me, though. I’m a real teacher, and you’ve heard how dangerous we can be.