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

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Teachers Reject Grant from Exxon-, Gates-backed Nonprofit

     The Leominster Teachers Association voted 305-47 to reject a grant from the National Math and Science Initiative  (NMSI) intended to improve AP classes.  A number of ed reformers have used this as an example of unions putting adults before kids, but they consistently refuse to show the union's point of view nor do they investigate the funding sources or motivations for so-called improvement programs.
     The NMSI is a relatively young nonprofit.  They were started after a report from the National Academies came out in 2005.  The report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," was critiqued by Gerald Bracey in the Washington Post, a must-read article about the statistics cited by the authors.  The so-called "gathering storm," which Bracey reminds us is an allusion to Churchill's recount of the events leading up to WWII, is the tremendous number of engineers and scientists produced by Indian and Chinese colleges (sound familiar?) combined with a more competitive global economy.  Outsourcing and liberalization, according to the authors, is merely a logical consequence of globalization: multinationals will relocate for cheap labor, no apologies made.  The new global world will require a top-notch military establishment, technological innovators, and an army of scientists.  America's dominance in the global economy can only be achieved through more tax breaks for corporations (the "race to the bottom" for cheap labor, tax breaks, and lax regulation - i.e. the fundamental tenants of NAFTA and the WTO), a more rigorous math and science curriculum for our students, and various other neoliberal reforms (patent law, eliminating trade barriers, privatization).  Remarkably absent from the document looking at the future of America - which focuses explicitly on competition rather than cooperation - is any mention of global climate change aside from a few miniscule footnotes.
     The NMSI is funded  primarily by ExxonMobil, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.  Exxon made a record $125 million donation to get the organization started before Gates ($10 million) and Dell ($5 million) chipped in  (Exxon also provided seed money for TFA in the early 1990s).  NMSI distributes funds in a variety of ways to further teaching in math and science.  Here was the proposal rejected by the Leominster Teachers Association:
     The grant would have offered financial rewards for teachers (up to $3000), students ($100), and administrators (up to $3,000) for high AP test scores.  Most of the grant money would have gone to teachers who could teach AP classes  - which excludes anyone teaching elementary or middle school.  Bernadette Marso, president of the union, said they were open to the additional funding if it contributed to the general fund and could be used to enhance  extracurricular activities for a variety of K-12 students (jazz band camp instead of - as Duncan and NMSI would want - more test prep during the summer).  The union also objected to the grant because it would have involved signing contracts with outside organizations, running against the strength of collective bargaining.  In other words, teachers are saying putting all kids first, not just the AP kids and teachers.  That's what a union is about.  

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