"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

. . .a pupil attitude factor, which appears to have a stronger relationship to achievement than do all the “school” factors together, is the extent to which an individual feels that he has some control over his own destiny. James Coleman, 1966

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

More Books, Better Libraries Can Fight 'Summer Loss'

Published in Education Week, Aug 5, 2015.  Vol. 34, Issue 37, Page 24

To the Editor:
In their recent Commentary, Bolgen Vargas and Sandra A. Parker argue that a longer school day will better prepare students for high-tech jobs and prevent summer learning loss.
Summer loss is mostly concentrated in students living in poverty. Studies going back to 1975 consistently show that the major cause of summer loss in literacy among students living in poverty is a lack of access to reading material.
The most obvious solution is to invest in public libraries filled with books and other kinds of material that students will read, as well as librarians who will help young readers find what is right for them.
We are living in a golden age of literature for young people. Let's take advantage of it.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

With Friends Like These...redux

 By Ken Derstine @ Defend Public Education!
August 4, 2015

Leaders of the U. S. Congress are beginning meetings of a Conference Committee with representatives from both chambers to reconcile differences in the Senate and House versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Committee will meet for a few days before Congress breaks for a five-week summer vacation. The goal is to revise the 1965 ESEA that was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind in 2001. If they can reconcile the drastically differing Senate and House versions the plan is to send it to President Obama for his signature, or a veto if he finds it unacceptable, by the fall. Who sits on the committee is a controversy in itself.

On July 28, 2015, the Network for Public Education issued an analysis of the two versions being debated in the ESEA Conference: ESEA Conference: Accountabilty vs. Title I Portability. While it contains some good description of the contrasts in the two versions, it does not explain what is behind the conflicts in Congress over federal education policy. This article will go into what is behind these disagreements and what they portend for the future of education, and the struggle for an equitable education for all, in the United States.

The House vs. Senate Version of the ESEA Rewrite

The House version of the bill, known as the Student Success Act, mainly focuses on reducing the role of the federal government in education, making education policy an issue of states rights. Being reintroduced in the Conference Committee, after being rejected in its original bill, is the allowance of the use of Title I funding to be used by parents from low-income families for vouchers to private and parochial schools.

The Senate version of the bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act, is a bipartisan piece of legislation that focuses on accountability. Neoliberal Democrats hope to restore a form of the amendment proposed by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) that would require states to establish state-designed goals based on standardized testing. It would require states to intervene in the lowest scoring 5 percent of schools and those that graduate less than 67 percent of their students. It was voted down in the Senate by 43-54. Only two Democrats rejected this corporate education reform measure that is being used to close public schools and reauthorized them as charters in low-income communities. It was voted down because a majority of Republicans saw it as a violation of their ultimate goal of reducing the federal role in education.

Teacher educator Deborah Duncan Owens of Elmira College in upstate New York, says this of the Senate version, that besides continuing standardized testing that “merely measure, sort, and label — they don’t educate”,

“Second, nearly 10% of the bill is devoted to the expansion of charter schools.  The entire bill is 601 pages. The first 11 + pages consist of a table of contents.  That leaves 590 pages of text. Fifty-five of those pages — nearly 10% — outline a plan to expand charter schools.  I think the record is clear that charter schools are problematic.  Remember — the charter school movement emerged from the voucher and choice movement. Milton Friedman’s own foundation — The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice — claims the charter school movement as a boon to the free market, competition driven ideology of neoliberals.  Charter schools = privatization.”

Both the Senate and the House versions of the ESEA rewrite continue annual standardized testing.

Teacher and education writer Mercedes Schneider has a detailed analysis of the two versions approach to opting-out: Both House and Senate ESES Bills Allow for Opt-out Without Penalty.

She finds her reading says both versions will allow opt-out without penalty with the Senate version leaving opt-out decisions up to the states and the House version saying all states must allow parents to opt-out their children from federal mandated testing.

The Positions of the Two Parties

The main focus of Republicans is the promotion of states rights in education. States rights have historically been used by reactionary and corporate interests, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), to prevent federal standards and regulations. States right was the central conflict in the establishment of the U.S. Constitution that superseded the Articles of Confederation. The “Three-fifths Compromise”, which continued slavery and counted slaves as three-fifths of a person in determining political representation in the U.S. House, gave the slavocracy dominance in American politics until the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War. States rights continued as the basis of racial segregation until this began to be overturned with Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 which desegregated public schools.

The Democratic position on the ESEA rewrite is dominated, as can be seen by their near unanimous support for the Murphy amendment, by neoliberal Democrats who now dominate the party. They want the federal government to expand its role in education but with a doubling down of standardized testing. President Obama strongly supports this position. For an analysis of the neoliberal turn of the majority of Democrats see With Friends Like These … on the Defend Public Education! blog.

Positions of Leadership of Teachers Unions

On July 22, 2015, ten major education organizations, the leadership of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, and a dozen leaders of old guard civil rights organizations, sent a letter to the leadership of the House and the Senate urging swift passage of the reauthorization of ESEA. Pressure for “swift action” is the standard practice of right-wing forces when they want little democratic discussion because they fear such discussion will derail their rightwing agenda.

Both teacher union leaders have shown by their actions that they support annual standardized testing. In 2010, Randi Weingarten testified three times before Congress on behalf of the Gates Foundation in support of teacher evaluations based on standardized testing. The true objective of Bill Gates can be seen in the way he has rewritten the history curriculum in Seattle.

On a panel at the Network for Public Education conference on April 26, 2015, Randi Weingarten said (starting at 47:00 in the video),

“So, I will definitely get some boos in this room and I’m just going to be straight up about this. We are fighting for a reset to get rid of high stakes. The civil rights community and the President of the United States of America is fighting very hard to have annual tests for one purpose. They have seen in states for years, that if they didn’t have them that states would ignore children. They agree with us now that they have been misused. But they fought very hard in the last few months to actually have annual tests as opposed to grade span.”

On July 30, 2015, Education Week published the transcript of an interview with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan by Alyson Klein. Education Week is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and other corporate education reform “philanthropists”, thus the pro corporate education reform softball questions in the interview.

Asked how much he is willing to compromise on “accountability” (i.e. a doubling down of standardized testing), Duncan replied,

“I just think, again, this is really a civil rights law and the focus on equity has been part and parcel of what this thing has been about and we absolutely need to maintain that. As we go into conference we're expecting and hoping that people will take this seriously… And to be clear, I think, because words mean different things to different people, accountability to me is not simply transparency, it's not simply labeling an issue. While the transparency and the data is important, it's actually doing something about it. So ... when students are struggling, intervene, when you have the lowest performing schools, take action. So it's the action part here that I think that is important.”

For Duncan and corporate education reformers, “intervening” in low-performing schools, which are usually in communities with large numbers of low-come families, means closing them or doing a “turnaround” of a public schools into charter schools for charter management companies.

The Position of Old-Guard Civil Rights Organizations

At the forefront of promoting standardized testing as “a civil rights issue” are eleven old-guard civil rights organizations. On October 28, 2014, these groups had sent a letter to President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan urging them to drop the test-based accountability system. They said it ignores “critical supports and services” children need to succeed and discourages “schools from providing a rich curriculum for all students focused on the 21st century skills they need to acquire.” However, several months later, on May 5, 2015, many of the same organizations reversed their position, claiming standardized testing is a civil right and would promote equity in funding.

The claim that standardized testing would promote equity in funding is a bogus one. Standardized tests are not used to evaluate or remediate a student’s education. In fact, they have been used, year after year, to close or privatize the lowest 5%, usually in low-income communities, based on test scores. In the coming years more and more schools of the lowest 5% will be privatized. For equity in funding, federal officials need only look at the income of families in each school and direct funds to the neediest schools.

Washington Post columnist Wayne Au, in a May 9, 2015 column, “Just whose rights do these civil right groups think they are protecting?” says,

“We cannot, of course, say that these groups came to the defense of high-stakes, standardized testing at the behest of the Gates Foundation, but we should be clear that their politics align with that of the Gates Foundation, and so the fact that these particular civil rights organizations came out in force to support a central reform backed by the foundation should come as no surprise to anyone.”

Au then goes on in this article to detail the funding these old guard civil rights organizations have been receiving from the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation.

On July 31, 2015, presidential candidate Jeb Bush was given the platform at a conference of the National Urban League. In an Education Week article, Jeb Bush addresses National Urban League; Touts Black, Hispanic Test Scores, it says,

In his prepared remarks to the National Urban League, he contrasted Florida's record of school choice, including its largest-in-the-nation tax-credit scholarship program, with the fight federal lawmakers have about the District of Columbia voucher program. He also criticized "unions and politicians" for wanting to shut down D.C.'s voucher program because, "they don't like parental choice, period." 

Also speaking to the delegates were Arne Duncan, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.  Observers noted that while Hillary Clinton sharply criticized Jeb Bush’s political record, she did not criticize his education record.

Grass-roots Opposition to Both ESEA Versions

With the Congressional Conference on ESEA rewrite, supporters of public education are between a rock and a hard place. Between the ALEC-affiliated Republicans and the corporate education reform affiliated neoliberal Democrats, there are few supporters of public education in the 2015 U.S. Congress.

On July 17, 2015, Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of parents, students, teachers, and 175 national and local grassroots, youth, and civil rights organizations, sent a letter to the Senate leadership calling for standardized testing provisions be removed by the Senate in the ESEA rewrite and a moratorium called on new charters.

In their statement they say,

“We want balanced assessments, such as oral exams, portfolios, daily check-ins and teacher created assessment tools—all of which are used at the University of Chicago Lab School, where President Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have sent their children to be educated. For us, civil rights are about access to schools all our children deserve. Are our children less worthy?
High stakes standardized tests have been proven to harm Black and Brown children, adults, schools and communities. Curriculum is narrowed. Their results purport to show that our children are failures. They also claim to show that our schools are failures, leading to closures or wholesale dismissal of staff. Children in low income communities lose important relationships with caring adults when this happens. Other good schools are destabilized as they receive hundreds of children from closed schools. Large proportions of Black teachers lose their jobs in this process, because it is Black teachers who are often drawn to commit their skills and energies to Black children. Standardized testing, whether intentionally or not, has negatively impacted the Black middle class, because they are the teachers, lunchroom workers, teacher aides, counselors, security staff and custodians who are fired when schools close.
Standardized tests are used as the reason why voting rights are removed from Black and Brown voters—a civil right every bit as important as education. Our schools and school districts are regularly judged to be failures—and then stripped of local control through the appointment of state takeover authorities that eliminate democratic process and our local voice—and have yet so far largely failed to actually improve the quality of education our children receive.
Throughout the course of the debate on the reauthorization of ESEA, way too much attention has focused on testing and sanctions, and not on the much more critical solutions to educational inequality.”
The Senators considering the ESEA rewrite ignored the letter from the Journey for Justice Alliance.
The governing tribes of Washington State Tribal compact schools have also issued a letter to Randy Dorn, Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction, calling for an end to standardized testing.
The leader in the national Opt Out movement, United Opt Out, issued a statement during the Senate debate on the ESEA rewrite. In it they said,
“All standardized testing is HIGH STAKES. Why else would the profit driven corporate privatizers cling so dearly to its inclusion as the centerpiece of public education? With its emphasis on equal access, high standards, and state accountability in policy and practice; the original intent (of ESEA) was to facilitate an equitable, thriving, and successful public education for all children.  Instead, we have a test based accountability and inequitable system that ranks, sorts, segregates, invalidates, fosters cheating and systemic instability as it provides for corporate exploitation of tax dollars that requests and compromise will not fix. Most advocates for public education know that using standardized testing to influence decisions about school and teacher “quality” and grade retention or promotion violates the original intent because the measurements and methods used by the tests themselves are inaccurate, misleading, and harmful. If standardized tests were a valid and meaningful system of evaluating teachers, children, or schools, the stakes attached to such tests would not be an issue of contention. In fact, IF they were a TRUE measure of that which we value we would not fight them at all. But they are not meaningful nor effective to measure that which matters, so we wonder, why include them in a system of reasonable and meaningful accountability AT ALL?”


It is clear that no matter what Congress comes up with in a rewrite of ESEA, a broad grass-roots struggle must be waged against the privatization of public education. We cannot depend on Congress, either of the two parties, or even current union leaders to defend public education. All have been corrupted by the massive shift of wealth in the United States over the last twenty years.

Grass-roots organizations must organize to oppose the privatization of all public services including public education. Eventually there will have to be an independent political struggle against those who would reduce the majority of the population to servitude for the few oligarchs who are currently running the United States.

Also see:

If Every Child Achieves Student Success We’re Screwed
Bust•Ed Pencils – August 2, 2015

Where Do Education Progressives Go Politically?
Perdido Street School – August 3, 2015

Monday, August 03, 2015

TMoE Now Has "Look Inside" Feature

Why it took 2 years for this to happen, I have no idea.

Support EPATA

from Susan Ohanian:
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Saturday, August 01, 2015

National Journal's Rose Colored Reporting on Texas CREDO Study

by Jim Horn

When the mainstream Washington media finds news on low test scores among public schools, they love to accentuate the negative and to ignore the positive.  On the other hand, when new research about charter schools that can't be ignored comes to the corporate editorial offices, the spinners go to work to do just the opposite.  As in the latest coverage by National Journal of the recent CREDO study on Texas charter schools. The study's press release begins with this: 

"The results of CREDO's Texas report shows that on average, charter schools in Texas show less progress in both reading and mathematics compared to their district school peers."

Below are the study's main findings released July 22, 2015:

Now there is a star beside the second bullet point because this is the only possible good news in the CREDO report, and it is exactly the one that National Journal (NJ) embellishes to promote the kind of lockdown paternalist charters embraced by corporate and political elites.  NJ's headline reads, "Charter Schools Are Especially Good for ELL Students."

Not surprisingly, NJ's main source to spin their story to benefit segregated charter schools is Steve Mancini, the mouthpiece for KIPP, Inc.  Steve can always be counted on to offer an Orwellian response to any bad news about any of the chain gangs in the No Excuses charter system. Loss is victory, weakness is power, ignorance is knowledge, etc.

The problem with NJ's story about the "good news" for ELLs is that their turd polishing brings attention to another problem at Texas charters.  As Ed Fuller documented in 2014, high flying charter systems like KIPP and Harmony enroll a much smaller percentage of the ELLs, special needs, and low income students by 6th grade than do the public schools in the same districts. These findings are consistent with Miron's research from 2011:

A few Fuller charts below:

We may only imagine how bad Texas charters would look if they enrolled the enrolled the low test performers and problem students that they carefully screen and ditch along the way toward 8th grade.

The question then for the charter chain gang operators: Why are the KIPPs and Yes Preps saying "no" to enrolling more ELL students if, indeed, they are doing such a superior job in educating these children? 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

from Bill Ayers

Original here.

An appreciation of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

July 29, 2015
William Ayers
Last year my students—Chicago teachers and teachers-to-be, educators from a range of backgrounds and experiences and orientations—all read The Beautiful Struggle. I’d put Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir on the list of required readings because I thought it was a fitting and important educational book, a useful text for city teachers to explore and interrogate. Some students agreed; several did not. “What’s this got to do with teaching?”
I chose it because it moved me, frankly, and I thought it might move some of them as well. I chose it because in the details of this one life—the challenges and the obstacles, but especially the elements he assembled to build an architecture of survival—I saw human themes of love and beauty and the universal struggle to grow more fully into the light. I chose it because it took readers inside the life of one Black kid, this singular unruly spark of meaning-making energy negotiating and then mapping the territory between his home and the streets and the schools—necessary reading for city teachers I thought.
There was a lot to dig into, much to wrangle about, and a lot to send us off to other readings and further research. Soon students were diving into Crystal Laura’s Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School to Prison Pipeline, Jesmyn Ward’s The Men We Reap,  Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, and Rachel DeWoskin’s Big Girl Small. The book was doing work, as I’d hoped it would.
My students have all chosen to become teachers against a backdrop of corporate-driven school reform accompanied by unprecedented disrespect and hostility toward teachers and teaching. They know that teaching is devalued; they know they won’t earn either a lot of money or a fair share of respect; they’ve been told by family and friends that they could do much, much better. And still they come to teaching, most saying they want to make a difference in children’s lives. Some are motivated by memories of a wonderful teacher who’d reached and changed them, others by bitter experiences they hope to correct. They are mostly idealistic, and I admire them for that.
They bring to class a vague hope that they will do great things in spite of a system that they know to be corrupt and dysfunctional. But this knowledge is not yet deep enough, for they also accept—some with greater skepticism and some with hardly any doubts at all—the predatory system’s self-serving propaganda: test scores, achievement gaps, accountability, personal responsibility.
Into this contradiction steps Ta-Nehisi Coates with an assertion that shaped and marked the course: No matter what the professional talkers tell you, Coates wrote, I never met a black boy who wanted to fail. That simple observation—or was it an argument, a polemic, or an indictment?—led to hot debate on the evening we first opened the book, and those 18 words were still roiling the seminar as the term came to an end.
Coates never lets up, and he returns again and again: Fuck  what you have heard or what you have seen in your son. He may lie about homework and laugh when the teacher calls home. He may curse his teacher, propose arson for the whole public system. But inside is the same sense that was in me. None of us ever want to fail. None of us want to be unworthy, to not measure up.
Some claimed to have evidence to the contrary, while others answered that those contentions skated glibly on the surface of things and failed to go deep enough in search of root causes, accepting as fact the propaganda that locates failure everywhere but in the intentional design of the system itself. Some rejected the idea that they were agents of the state, bit players in a white colonial space, while others argued that teaching could never be even partially useful—let alone reach toward transcendence—until teachers fully faced the friction and gaping contradictions inherent in their teacher-roles. Truth and reconciliation, they argued, system-disruption and radical reconstruction; remediating the students is a ridiculous misdirection.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, Between the World and Me, takes us deeper into life in schools, and especially what the experience means to its captives. I was a curious boy, Coates writes, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance.
That nails it: the obsessions that characterize American classrooms today—especially urban classrooms and schools attended by the poor, recent immigrants from impoverished countries, First Nations peoples, and the descendants of formerly enslaved people—are simple: the goal is obedience and conformity, the watchword, control. These schools are characterized by passivity and fatalism and infused with anti-intellectualism, dishonesty, and irrelevance. They turn on the little technologies of constraint, the elaborate schemes for managing the fearsome, potentially unruly mob, the knotted system of rules, the exhaustive machinery of schedules and clocks and surveillance, the laborious programs of regulating, indoctrinating, inspecting and punishing, disciplining, censuring, correcting, counting, appraising, assessing and judging, testing and grading. The corporate reformers offer no relief, and simply create charter or alternative schools that enact this whole agenda on steroids. They are not concerned with curiosity or imagination, initiative or courage because their purpose is elsewhere: everyone more or less submissively accepting their proper place in the hierarchy of winners and losers.
One night I opened seminar by telling the class that less than two miles from where we were meeting almost 10, 000 Jewish women were housed in cages. It was an electrifying and terrifying image, and the class rose up, some convinced I was joking (though I wasn’t smiling) others that I was lying, all insisting that it couldn’t be true. I eventually relented—you’re right, I said, it’s not true. The truth is that 10,000 poor, mostly very young Black and Latino men are living in those cages. Everything calmed down; the normal world returned.
And we returned to Coates: the streets and the schools [were] arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the state [but] fear and violence were the weaponry of both.
We had worked earlier to name the system, a system built on theft and lies and plundering Black bodies, Coates said. It was surely a predatory system, a racist system, and we looked hard at that word: racism. In one common context it meant ignorance and prejudice, the off-hand comments of Cliven Bundy or Donald Sterling, but there was more: there was the system itself,the plunder, the laws and structures, the schools. Donald Sterling’s filthy mind and mouth is one thing; that he became rich as a swindling slum-lord something else.
“I’m no Donald Sterling,” people say, meaning I don’t utter the hateful words. But Coates won’t let anyone off the hook: the people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personal exoneration. Their privileges are earned—they are good and true folks all—or come from thin air; their comfortable lives as normal as noon coming around every 24 hours. James Baldwin decades ago accused his country and his countrymen of a monstrous crime against humanity, and added a further dimension to the indictment: it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.
Coates names the schools as central to the system: If the streets shackled my left leg, the schools shackled my right. The shackles were fear and violence, and also lies and denial.
In 2006 Florida passed a law stipulating that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable.” The law called for an emphasis on the “teaching of facts.” Facts and only facts, without frivolous and messy interpretation, would be permitted by the legislators to guide instruction, for example, about the “period of discovery.” I read that and did a neck-wrenching double-take: Huh? Whose facts, exactly, I wondered? The facts of a Genoan adventurer in the pay of  Spanish royalty, the facts of the First Nations residents overwhelmed, murdered, and enslaved, or possibly a range of other facts and angles-of-regard altogether? I’ll guess that the Florida lawmakers went with the first choice, legislating in effect a pep-rally for Christopher Columbus—yes, their own particular constructed explanation and analysis of events and circumstances passing as Fact.
In 2008 a group in the Arizona legislature passed a law stating that schools whose curriculum and teaching “encourage dissent” from “American values” risked losing their state funding. American history is bursting with stories of dissent from the first revolutionaries onward: Abolitionists, Suffragettes, anarchists and labor pioneers, civil rights and Black Power warriors, peace and environmental activists, feminists, heroes and sheroes and queeroes, Wounded Knee, Occupy, Black Lives Matter! Wherever you look and whatever period you examine, dissent is as American as cherry pie, an apple-core American value and the very engine of hope or possibility—except to the lawmakers of Arizona.
A history teacher in a Southside Chicago school was teaching a standard lesson on the legendary 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. Brown reversed Plessy v. Ferguson and ended racial segregation in US schools, and the lesson was pointedly directed toward illustrating our great upward path as a nation. A student who had appeared to be paying no attention at all spoke up suddenly, challenging the teacher: “So you’re saying this class here is against the law? We’re breaking the law here? Can I call the cops?” Everyone cracked up, but the disruptive student was highlighting the obvious: here was a segregated classroom in a segregated school in a country that had outlawed school segregation decades ago. 
It doesn’t take perceptive young people anytime at all to sniff out the duplicity and the dirty-dealing in the nothing-but-the-facts agenda, and to conclude that all schools lie. Teachers lie. Parents lie. In fact the whole edifice of adult society is a complete phony, a tangled and fiddly fraud sailing smoothly along on an enforced sea of silence. Some students submit to the empire of deception, concluding that the price of the ticket includes winking at the massive hoax and promising to keep quiet and go along—they’ll hopefully get rewarded by-and-by. Many other students go in the opposite direction: their insights lead them to insurgent actions and gestures and styles, all matter-of-fact performances of self-affirmation as well as hard-nosed refusals of complicity and rejections of a world that is determinedly disinterested in their aspirations and perceptions and insights.
There’s a genre of jokes that all end with the same punch-line: in one version, a man comes unannounced and unexpectedly upon his partner in the intimate embrace of another, and explodes in accusation. The accused looks up indignantly and says: “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own lying eyes?” Kids get it viscerally: schools are asking them to ignore their immediate experiences and their direct interpretations—their own lying eyes. Who you going to believe?
In The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing offers a compelling statement about modern education as a dominion of deception:
It may be that there is no other way of educating people.  Possibly, but I don’t believe it. In the meantime it would be a help at least to describe things properly, to call things by their right names. Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this:
“You are in the process of being indoctrinated…What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture…You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system…you…[must] find ways of educating yourself—educating your own judgment…”
Schools chug along on the rails of indoctrination and propaganda: everywhere you look and in every direction lies the hype of the curriculum and the disingenuous spin about young people. Students are routinely subjected to an alphabet soup of sticky, inaccurate labels, mistrusted and controlled, and defined as lacking the essential qualities that make one fully human. On a daily basis and as part of the normal routine, schools engage in the toxic habit of labelling students by their presumed deficits, and officially endorse failure—especially for children of the least powerful—in the name of responsibility and objectivity and consequences.
And everywhere you look and in spite of it all, youth are making their wobbly ways toward enlightenment and liberation, the twin pillars of an education of purpose. From Youth Speaks in Oakland to the Baltimore Algebra Project and the Chicago Freedom School, they are having their say and forging their unique pathways. And right next to them are wondrous teachers in countless spaces and places organizing small insurgencies and underground railroads, bursts of purpose and power growing through the cracks in the concrete. These are teachers whose faith in the young calls them to dive into the contradictions, to find ways through the mechanisms of control, to tell the truth when it must be told, and to take the side of the child.
Between the World and Me will be required reading for those teachers, and it will be on my syllabus in the Fall. Get ready.



These two groups, StudentsFirstNY and Families for Excellent Schools, have basically written Governor Cuomo’s policies, specifically tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, creating new hurdles to achieving tenure, and increasing the number of charter schools in the state. Although they would make it seem that these are “for the children” in fact they are right up Cuomo’s vengeance alley to get back at the unions who have not supported him and his election.

It is not surprising also that the same people who back StudentsFirstNY are major donors to the Cuomo campaign. Also not surprising is the huge amount of contact between StudentsFirstNY staff and leadership and the governor’s office since his reelection.

A little background.

“StudentsFirstNY was founded in 2012 by Joel I. Klein, who had been the schools chancellor for more than eight years under Mayor Mike Bloomberg; Michelle Rhee, a former Washington schools chancellor; and the billionaire hedge fund managers Daniel S. Loeb and Paul Tudor Jones. It receives some support from StudentsFirstNY, the national organization Ms. Rhee founded in 2010, but has its own board of directors and functions independently.” 

To quote Emily Litella of Saturday Night Live fame, “ That’s so funny I forgot to laugh.”

StudentsFirstNY ‘s goal as stated by executive director, Jenny Sedlis, is pretty clear.

The group’s goal was to create a permanent organization to advance important education changes and neutralize the influence of the teachers’ union.”

With no fear she goes onto say,

“With StudentsFirstNY, there’s a board with a war chest that’s always there.” “We’re there before the election and after. And that has to be reassuring for ed reformers who want to stick their necks out, and disconcerting for the other side.”

In fact things are so cozy for Sedlis that she has been a mini version of ALEC. She has been a go between among different government offices and having a great deal of influence on how education bills are written.

Lets follow “mo money”. Hedge fund manager and one of StudentsFirstNY’s founders and funders Daniel S. Loeb, hosted a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo, and has contributed approximately $140,000 to his campaigns over the past 5 years. Two other major players in StudentsFirstNY, hedge funders Paul Jones and Carl Icahn together have contributed another $125,000.

But here is the most damning evidence of collusion.

“Making teacher evaluations more dependent on test scores, reforming tenure and adding charter schools in the city were all priorities of StudentsFirstNY and became significant pieces of the governor’s agenda for the 2015 legislative session, which he announced in his State of the State speech on Jan. 21. Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Law, as well as interviews, show that Mr. Cuomo and his senior education advisers were in close touch, by email and telephone, with Ms. Sedlis and her board members in the weeks after the governor’s re-election last November.”

On December 9th  the governor met with Ms. Sedlis and several StudentsFirstNY board members. Following the meeting, the arrogance of director of state operations, Jim Malatras showed when he said,

“Improving the state’s education system has been one of the governor’s top priorities since taking office and throughout that process, he has always partnered with groups, stakeholders, experts and other allies willing to fight for better futures for New York’s students.”

Notice who is missing? Actual educators!

Now I am not a fan of UFT head Michael Mulgrew, but even he noticed something was wrong.

“If you look at the governor’s State of the State speech, it was almost taken word for word from their  [StudentsFirstNY] website.” “We’re going to just tell everyone the governor is basically for sale at this point, because that’s what it is,” Mr. Mulgrew added. “It’s not a belief system.”

StudentsFirstNY has also been very successful in buying both sides of the aisle. In the NY State Senate their donors raised and spent $4.2 million to help Republicans win a majority of seats.

Come on now, Really?

Sedlis even takes credit for getting the NYS Assembly to morph Ed laws to their liking.

“I think we were a major part in creating a climate where that could happen,” she said, “because I don’t think the governor could go out on a limb on his own if there weren’t policy and advocacy groups that could help make that case.”

Seriously? How fearless can one be?

And as for Families for Excellent Schools? This 501 ( c ) 3 spent more on lobbying ($9.6 million) than ANYONE in the state. Most of it was spent on Ads supporting the Governor and Charter Schools and demeaning anyone who stood against them.

Who are they?  By state law a 501 ( c ) 3 doesn’t have to disclose its donors, but scratch the surface and you find Eva Moskowitz, head of Success Academy, one of the largest charter systems in NYC. Oh and by the way… Ms. Sedlis used to be their Public Relations director.

“This month, a few days after the legislative session ended, Families for Excellent Schools began running an ad that featured shots of cheering families, and of Mr. Cuomo, over a hopeful, Morning-in-America-esque melody. The final screen read: “Thank you, Governor Cuomo, for championing education.”

These ads were everywhere. And as Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, a group devoted to curbing the influence of money in politics, said of Families for Excellent Schools,

“The danger is the public really doesn’t know from the advertising who is trying to push public policy and what their motivations might be.”

But we know, don’t we? Privatize. Corporatize. Destroy Teachers Unions. Control what they call the Education Industry!