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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wall of Separation between Education and Government/Corporations

Many of the foundational beliefs among Americans are driven by more mythology than fact. Americans have a contradictory attitude about the “wall of separation between Church and State” attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Just as many Americans speak fervently about a separation of church and state being a bedrock of democracy as make the claim that the Founders of the U.S. were all men of Christian faith, thus the U.S. is a Christian nation.

While the argument about the wall separating church and state has been with the U.S. as long as there has been a country, we have rarely debated or even confronted the need for a wall protecting one of our most important institutions—universal public education. The debates over public school quality and needed education reform—though not as old as the church and state debate—reach back more than a century in the U.S.

Yet, we have not considered fully the essential characteristic our public schools need in order for them to fulfill their potential as the lifeblood of a free people and humane democracy—a wall separating schools from government and corporate America.

Public education in the U.S. has suffered a contradictory mission—the claimed mission as the most important institution for a thriving democracy and the realized mission as a mechanism for creating well trained students that support the ruling elite and feed the corporate need for a stable but compliant work force.

At the core of universal public education is the need for education to be publicly funded and accessible by all children regardless of family circumstances or location. But throughout the history of the U.S. and its public school system, we have carelessly conflated publicly funded with government control. By and large, public schools are driven by political mandates at the local, state, and, increasingly, federal levels. The laws and regulations, including curriculum (state and the planned national standards) and assessment, have been under the purview of politicians—not academics, educators, or scholars in the fields of study.

As a result, schools have been and continue to be the tools of the ruling and corporate elite—not the institution that provides all children the opportunity to discover and develop their empowerment and agency as free individuals.

The current accountability era began under Ronald Reagan with the release of A Nation at Risk—a misleading political document presented as a scholarly report aimed at reforming schools. [1] The call for standards, testing, and accountability began as a movement among state political leaders, but signaled the purposes and directions for the accountability era. While politicians offered rhetoric aimed at the “achievement gap,” “drop-out rates,” and “plummeting test scores,” the policies, in fact, allowed the states to gain control of school curriculum and assessment—domains that rightfully should be in the hands of educators in order to honor the democratic purposes of schools.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, governors, notably Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, reaped huge political rewards by focusing on education—a political topic that was easy to manipulate. The turning point for this evolution in universal public education was when George W. Bush succeeded in leveraging bipartisan support for shape-shifting his Texas psuedo-miracle [2] into No Child Left Behind.

From about 1983 until 2001, the accountability era maintained it political focus on standards and testing, but political leaders and corporate America were not willing to rest on that success—although the refrain was time and again successful despite the evidence to the contrary (accountability has never produced the results advocates claim [3]). Under Obama, however, the tide has now turned against teachers—and this signals the last step for insuring that universal public education is destined to serve the ruling and corporate elite and not democracy.

Controlling curriculum and testing at the state levels has not been enough; now, education reformers are calling for national curriculum, national testing, reformed teacher certification and evaluation, and the end to teachers’ unions and tenure.

The push to move standards and testing from the state to the federal level is not surprising or as important as the new focus on teachers. The move to control how teachers are educated and certified, how teachers are evaluated, and if teachers can have tenure is where we should be focusing as we reject the broad reform platforms now facing the U.S.

Why? Because the professional autonomy of the teacher is the wall between education and government/corporate America that must be built and preserved if universal public education is to serve its mission for preserving (or creating) a democracy that pursues social justice and human agency.

Teachers must not be trained, they must be well educated—scholars and life-long learners free to hold and express beliefs and stances that drive who they are as people and teachers. Teachers must be insulated from political and corporate agendas; teachers must have academic freedom as students and as teachers.

Teachers must not be at-will workers, they must be tenured academics—the wall that separates students from indoctrination at the hands of the government or corporate America. Tenured teachers are not guaranteed a job for life (a strawman argument); they are guaranteed the pursuit of human knowledge, understanding, and dignity that feeds democracy and social justice.

The public in the U.S. must look behind the demonizing of teachers, unions, and tenure to see that empowered educators lead to empowered students—resulting in an empowered electorate and work force, the worst enemies of the privileged who seek above all else to secure their places of privilege at the expense of everyone else.

Teachers with professional autonomy are the wall between education and government/corporate America that must be central to education reform in the U.S. Everything else is mere distraction that insures the privileged their privilege.


[1] Holton, G. (2003, April 25). An insider’s view of “A Nation at Risk” and why it still matters. The Chronicle Review, 49(33), B13; Bracey, G. W. (2003). April foolishness: The 20th anniversary of A Nation at Risk. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(8), 616-621.

[2] Klein, S. P., Hamilton, L. S., McCaffrey, D. F. & Stecher, B. M. (2000) What do test scores in Texas tell us? Issue Paper, Rand Education. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation. Retrieved 20 August 2009 from http://www.rand.org/...

[3] Amrein, A.L., & Berliner, D.C. (2002, March 28). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(18). Retrieved 1 November 2009 from http://epaa.asu.edu/... Kincheloe, J. L, & Weil, D. (2001). Standards and schooling in the United States, vols. 1-3. Denver, CO: ABC-CLIO; Kohn, A. (2010, January 14). Debunking the case for national standards: One-size-fits-all mandates and their dangers. Education Week, 29(17), 28, 30. Expanded version retrieved 7 February 2011 from http://www.alfiekohn.org/... Mathis, W. J. (2010). The “Common Core” Standards Initiative: An Effective Reform Tool? Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved 10 November 2010 from http://epicpolicy.org/... Hout, M., & Elliott, S. W. (2011). Incentives and test-based accountability in education. Washington DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved 23 June 2011 from http://www.nap.edu/...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Power and Failure of Coercion

When my daughter Jessica entered the same school system where I had spent my career as a teacher—my hometown school system as well—I was faced with the challenge of how to balance my role as her father with being a colleague of the teachers she encountered over twelve years. One incident from her years in high school has remained with me and speaks directly to the accountability era that has overlapped with my teaching career begun in the early 1980s.

Jessica’s first high school English teacher had been a member of the high school English department when I was chair (I left teaching high school after 18 years and entered teacher education just before my daughter entered high school). Throughout my career as a high school English teacher, I had focused on teaching writing in authentic ways—emphasizing student choice, the writing process, and holistic approaches to literacy. My pedagogical commitments did not match most of my colleague’s traditional views of teaching literacy—practices that essentially followed this pattern:

• Assign a classic text to class, a text that was standard for all students in that grade.
• Teach the students the authoritative interpretation of that text.
• Test the students on the text and assign a critical essay on the text, an essay that repeated back to the teacher the authoritative interpretation the teacher had taught the students (who primarily never read the text).

This traditional approach to text and writing has remained standard in the teaching of English (especially during the accountability era), and it exposes the essential flaw with coercion in education—and when my daughter came against this in her high school experience, I chose to speak with the principal (also a former colleague as well as teacher of mine) instead of confronting the teacher herself.

My daughter and her classmates had submitted their first essays, a culmination of the process I outlined above, and the teacher had marked those essays, returned them, and then proceeded to walk the students through the essay on the overhead, directing the students to revise their pieces in a uniform way to produce the essay the teacher required. When I carefully explained that I found the practice to be doing far more harm than good for students, the principal responded with a comment that I consider central to what is wrong with the school reform movement we face today; she said, exasperated, “Paul, if the students can’t do what they are told, how are they supposed to make any decisions for themselves?”

This principal, an educator and person for whom I have tremendous respect, sat there trapped in an ideology that resonates with most people in authority: Humans must suffer compliance in order to earn their autonomy.

My university colleague Nita Schmidt and I examined a central element in the accountability era driven by standards and testing—scripted teaching and learning. [1] While our focus was on literacy at all levels of K-12 education, we found that much of education policy and calls for reform was grounded in the same ideology expressed by my daughter’s high school principal above: Education aimed at individual freedom and democracy was somehow supposed to spring from an education system in which teachers and students were mandated to follow tight scripts, were labeled by mechanistic tests, and were ultimately to be held accountable for their ability to be compliant.

Speaking within the current accountability era begun in the early 1980s, Freire (1998) warned well before No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the recent acceleration of accountability under President Obama:
"The freedom that moves us, that makes us take risks, is being subjugated to a process of standardization of formulas, models against which we are evaluated. We are speaking of that invisible power of alienating domestication, which attains a degree of extraordinary efficiency in what I have been calling the bureaucratizing of the mind." (p. 111) [2]
Education reformers—such as Secretary Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and Michelle Rhee—as well as administrators, such as my daughter’s principal, are trapped within authoritarian paradigms (as distinct from authoritative paradigms inherent in critical pedagogy [3]) that reflect, ultimately, a debased view of human nature and the teaching/learning dynamic within a commitment to social justice, human agency, and democracy.

Like the principal’s sincere question above, one of the most powerful themes in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale resonates with me each time I address the fatal flaw of coercion in schooling and the lives of children. In Atwood’s dystopian novel, the main character June/Offred speaks to the reader from beyond two distinct lives—one lived much as we view twentieth-century living as normal and one as an oppressed handmaid whose sole reason for living is to become pregnant in order to repopulate the dwindling Caucasian race within a theocracy sprung from a somewhat nebulous human-made apocalypse.

June appears to have been a compassionate and decent person in her normal life before the rise of Gilead; the reader has evidence that June loves deeply her daughter, leaves the necessary killing of the family pet to her husband, and clings to her love for her husband despite some undertones that fidelity between any couple is tenuous at best.

Well into her reduced life as Offred, however, the reader encounters a June who fantasizes about stabbing another human being with knitting needles and feeling the blood run warm over her hand. This chilling scene, narrated by June/Offred herself, is matter-of-fact and feels disturbingly reasonable in the context of her oppressed existence.

Atwood’s narrative, although speculative fiction [4], dramatizes for us the essential failure of coercion as a central element of education. As Kohn has warned, authoritarian discipline and self-discipline [5] produce compliance, not challenging students:
“The idea that we ought to help children become more challenging, more willing to stand up to authority, will seem both curious and objectionable to adults who view kids as too rude, loud, and rebellious already. The central mission of many books (and workshops) on the subject of classroom management is to create a more efficient environment for the teacher to pursue her agenda, and that generally entails heading off inconvenient challenges from students. Of course, this tells us more about the desire for compliance on the part of the people who write and read these books than it does about what children are like.” [6]
Further, we cannot discount what Atwood and Kohn suggest about assumptions concerning human nature at the center of our commitment to education for compliance: Gilead in Atwood’s novel is a Christian theocracy, a government grounded in a belief in Original Sin. As Kohn notes above, authoritarian and scripted approaches to children reveal a faith among those in authority that children (and all humans) are essentially flawed and must be corrected. And therein lies the ultimate paradox of the U.S. as a culture claiming to believe in individual freedom and democracy but institutionalizing its contradictory faith in debased human nature.

If humans are truly born with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then we as a people who embrace human agency and freedom must have faith that humans are essentially good, not slaves to Original Sin. To be a people committed to democracy and individual freedom, we must not embrace a public education system driven by coercion and compliance.

The accountability movement, then, is focusing on “fixing” the people while never considering the failure of the systems:

• When students drop out of our schools, instead of assuming there is something wrong with the children themselves, what are the conditions in our schools and our society that are compelling these children to drop out?
• When student test scores are low, instead of examining the students, what are the flaws in the tests themselves, in the process of testing itself?
• When educators cheat on standardized testing, instead of assuming those teachers to be self-serving and “bad apples,” what in our system of accountability is driving professionals to these behaviors?
• When poverty proves time and again to be the primary determining factor in student outcomes, instead of trying to remediate the children living in poverty, what are the social forces creating lives of poverty for those children and their families?

As Atwood’s novel shows us, to abdicate our faith in human agency to some authority is to abdicate our humanity. June as a free human is kind and loving—oppressed and coerced, she is debased and murderous.

The public discourse about education and education reform, then, must confront the contradictions being championed by the new reformers, all speaking from lives of privilege and authority:

• People in authority who promote coercion—“no excuses” charter schools, standards, testing, rubrics—are in fact stating that freedom and autonomy are for the elite only, not for those Others who must be compelled to comply. [The paradox of authoritarian ideology is that humans are flawed and must be corrected, but that begs the question, Who then can be the authority if all humans are flawed?] Human freedom, then, is not a basic right of all people, but something earned within the guidelines and purview of the ruling elite.
• If we are genuinely people committed to democracy and individual freedom, and if we genuinely believe universal public education is essential for that democracy and freedom to thrive, then we must reject education policy and practices that are committed to coercion and not human agency.
U.S. public education and current calls for education reform are committed to maintaining the authority of the elite—not ensuring a thriving democracy, not honoring human dignity and agency.

We are raising birds in cages and demanding that they earn the right to fly.

We are raising pit bulls to fight and putting them to sleep for their violence.

We are forcing children to sit down, shut up, do as they are told, and then wondering why they can’t think for themselves. . .

We need to look in the mirror of public education and see ourselves for who we are, not what we claim to be.


[1] Schmidt, R., & Thomas, P. L. (2009). 21st century literacy: If we are scripted, are we literate? Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.
[2] Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Trans. P. Clarke. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
[3] Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.
[4] Atwood, M. (2005). Writing with intent: Essays, reviews, personal prose: 1983-2005. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers.
[5] Kohn, A. (2008, November) Why self-discipline is overrated: The (troubling) theory and practice of control from within. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(3), 168-176. Retrieved 20 August 2009 from http://www.alfiekohn.org/...
[6] Kohn, A. (2004, November). Challenging students . . . And how to have more of them. Phi Delta Kappan. Retrieved 15 November 2008 from http://www.alfiekohn.org/...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cutting Education

If you thought the recession's impact on schools was swift and immediate, think again. Sure - revenues dipped, but stimulus funds made things less worse than they would have been otherwise. Now that those funds are nearly entirely gone...

From the Center on Budget and Policy and Priorities:
The cumulative effect of four consecutive years of lagging revenues has led to budget-cutting of historic proportions. An analysis of newly enacted state budgets shows that budget cuts will hit education, health care, and other state-funded services harder in the 2012 fiscal year – which started July 1, 2011 – than in any year since the recession began.
The full report, just released today, notes that "23 states have enacted identifiable, deep cuts in pre-kindergarten and/or K-12 spending." Ouch. Read their full report here.

The new tough FCAT writing test

The new, tougher FCAT writing test based on incorrect assumptions

Sent to the Orlando Sentinel, July 26, 2011

The new tougher version of the FCAT writing exam ("FCAT writing test about to get tougher," July 26) is supposed to improve writing, because it will stimulate more instruction in spelling and grammar, as well as more writing. A massive amount of research says that this assumption is not correct.

We have known for decades that increased instruction in spelling and grammar, and requiring more writing do not improve writing quality or writing accuracy. Rather, the research consistently shows that extensive reading, especially self-selected reading for pleasure, has a powerful impact on writing proficiency. Writing itself is an excellent tool for discovering new ideas and clarifying thinking, but our ability to write with an acceptable writing style and with accuracy comes from reading.

What all this means is that tougher writing tests will not improve writing. More access to interesting books will.

Stephen Krashen

original article: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-fcat-writing-tougher-grading-20110725,0,966982.story

Sunday, July 24, 2011

NOLA: Penal Pedagogy Exemplar

From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Security and Safety in New Orleans Public Schools

New Orleans students are supposed to be learning in one of the most advanced, innovative educational environments in the country. When it comes to school safety and security, however, many New Orleans schools employ ineffective discipline practices that were discredited by education policy researchers decades ago. School staff react to minor rule violations by forcibly handcuffing children to furniture, brutally slamming them, banishing them from their schools and cutting short their education. Far from keeping New Orleans schools safe, these policies actually reinforce a culture of violence and disengagement from schools and communities.

These practices have a devastating effect on New Orleans students. In fact, a Department of Justice study found that when children experience physically abusive punishment, they are five times more likely to live with post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lifetimes. 3 Further, school reform efforts have failed to address the alarming number of New Orleans public school students who are removed from the classroom as punishment for minor rule violations. An over-reliance on these disciplinary methods can lead to the loss of valuable learning time, while contributing significantly to dropout rates. The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that Louisiana loses more than $6.9 billion annually in wages as a result of policies that push students out of school before graduation.4

Out-of-School Suspensions
  • In the 2007-08 school year, approximately 28.8% of Recovery School District (RSD) students (3,537) were suspended out of school.5 The suspension rate in schools operated by the RSD is more than twice the state average and more than four times the national rate.6
  • In the 2008-09 school year, there were a total of 6,702 out-of-school suspensions issued in RSD-run schools with a total student population of 12,871.7 This breaks down to an average of 186 out-of-school suspensions each week from just 33 RSD public schools.8
  • Suspensions are often for minor misbehavior, such as dress code problems or being tardy to class or school.9
  • In RSD schools, 98% of students are African American and 79% of students are lowincome. RSD students are suspended at a rate that is more than three times the rate of suspension in neighboring, mostly white, affluent school districts.10
  • In St. Tammany Parish, where only 18.5% of students are African American and 42.5% are low-income, only 8% of students were suspended.
  • In St. Charles Parish, where only 36.4% of students are African American and 45.1% are low-income, only 4.1% of students were suspended from school.11
  • In the 2007-08 school year, the expulsion rate in the RSD was almost twice the statewide rate, and 10 times the national rate.12
  • In the same school year, 808 students were recommended for expulsion by school principals and 323 were upheld. Students were removed from their school pending an expulsion hearing, sometimes missing days, weeks or even months of school before their hearing is held.13
  • In the 2008-09 school year, 1,016 students were recommended for expulsion in the RSD and 396 expulsions were upheld.14
While these statistics illustrate the magnitude of New Orleans’ school discipline crisis, schools fail to track data regarding the number of students who are subject to abusive security practices such as handcuffing, shackling and physical assaults at the hands of untrained security officers. The experiences of students profiled in this report suggest that these abuses are widespread. In contrast, other profiles of students who have participated in restorative justice circles — where schools work to solve disputes as opposed to removing children from their schools — demonstrate the benefit of true innovations. These innovations include implementing research-based discipline practices, restorative justice and positive behavior interventions and supports.

John, 8th grade student:

One day, at my old school, I gave candy to another student and the security guard saw me, and told me real grumpy that I was going to be suspended. She snatched my book sack off me and tried to take me to the principal’s office. I was confused and asked why. I just asked for an explanation. But she said, “I’m going to put handcuffs on you if you refuse.”

The security guard grabbed me and tried to handcuff me. I got scared and ran away. I didn’t know what was going on, what was going to happen to me. I was so nervous. [Because] my hands are small, I slipped out of the handcuffs. I had bruises on my hands because I slipped them off when they were on tight. I ran into the back of the school and hid. The other security guard came and they were grabbing me. They scratched my neck and ripped my jacket down the middle. It was hard for my granny to buy me that jacket.

It really broke my heart when she told me she was going to put handcuffs on me. Knowing how my dad has been in and out of jail his whole life and always had handcuffs on … I promised myself it would never happen to me. I’m a kid, and kids shouldn’t have handcuffs on them. It disgusts me putting kids in handcuffs and jail.

Dana Alexander, 17 years old:

I’ve been going to school for 11 years and oh, Lord, did I used to get suspended a lot! I’ve been suspended for so many things: cursing, fighting and disrespecting teachers. Suspensions are so bad for students because you miss school, you miss your education and it’s impossible to catch up. Once you get behind you may as well give up. I haven’t given up because my school started doing [restorative justice] circles. Things changed for me. I haven’t been suspended for a long time.

Circles are like this: You sit around and talk about the root of the problems, the reasons why you do things that could get you suspended. You feel nervous, really nervous. One of the important rules is that you have to listen respectfully when the others are talking. You can’t talk when someone is telling their side of the story. When you listen, you find out sometimes people aren’t who you thought they were. So many times when you find out who people really are, you can avoid a fight or a conflict.

I had a circle with all of my teachers. I was having a really hard time with my behavior, with following the rules. The way the teachers talked to me set me off. We had a circle and I talked to them. I told them about where I come from, why things bother me. I told them who I was. My teachers learned about me and about how they can help me. In the end we signed a contract. I agreed to follow the rules. They agreed to talk to me respectfully. Together we developed a plan and it really worked.

People need to know these circles work. They help a lot of students, make us safer and make the school a better place. And fewer students get suspended. Circles can help a lot of the problems in schools and I hope every school starts to use them.

Steven*, 6th grade student:

This boy was intimidating me; he was always messing with me. One day he pushed me, then we got in a fight. Next thing you know, the security guards came and one hit me on the head with the billy club. I started running since I was scared. Another one took me by the arms and slammed me into the ground. It hurt my head real bad. The teacher put his knee in my back while I was on the ground, put handcuffs on me and then slammed me into the wall. Later, I went home with bruises, I had dirt on my face from the cement and my shirt was ripped. There were all kinds of teachers on the yard but they didn’t help. They just passed us right up. They left me in handcuffs for a long time — more than an hour. They were real tight. It hurt.

Another time, I went to class after I just got off suspension. My teacher said I wasn’t supposed to be in class and just told me to get out of her class and go to the principal’s office. The principal said he was sick of seeing my face and told me to go to [in-school suspension]. I said that wasn’t fair, so I wasn’t going. He told me either go to ISS or get handcuffed. Then he had the security guard handcuff me to the heater in the office. I sat there for like three or more hours ‘til the end of the day.

One teacher took my side and told the office they shouldn’t do that to me. No one listened to her. She even called my momma to come get me. My momma got real upset but they told her they were allowed to do that anytime they wanted. They just kept handcuffing me. Even other students got handcuffed. One kid was in special ed and he would holler and cry when they handcuffed him.

Kendall*, 9th grade student:

I like my school but we have a few problems — like getting to class late when there’s traffic in the hallway. You only got four minutes to get to the next class, even though it’s on the other side of school. So, you get to class late even if you rush.

If you’re tardy, you get detention. Five detentions add up to a suspension. Five more tardies, you get another suspension. If you get five more tardies, you get another suspension and you’re up for expulsion, just like that.

Then you get to where I’m at now — expelled from school in the 9th grade. Being one minute late to any of your classes 15 times gets you expelled. Now I’m at home. There’s nothing to learn. … I was used to waking up around 7 a.m. for school. Now I wake up at 7 a.m. with nothing to do. I can’t even go outside until after 4 p.m. because I’ll get arrested for truancy. Now I stay home, not learning. I really want to go back to school so I can go to college. I’m worried about how my life is going to end up. I don’t want to end up learning nothing on the street.

Virginia*, Mother of 9th grade student:

One day school hours were closed but they had band practice that day. My son thought he could go to the school early before band practice and wait in the library. My son went early, waited in the library and used the school computer until band practice started. He received a five-day suspension for this! They charged him with trespassing and criminal damage, even though there was no damage and he was on the grounds of his own school. Just because he went to band practice early!

I became so angry. I asked the school why. The principal said my son could have harmed the computer. Eventually they agreed to remove the criminal damage charge but they kept the trespassing charge and gave him a five-day suspension. It was a few incidents like this and now my son is expelled from school for the remainder of the year.

To see my son out of school has affected me and my family greatly. My son is low-spirited ever since he was expelled from school. He’s been sitting out of school for weeks. Before all this, he was a happy-go-lucky kid, laughing and talking. He loves to draw, but since he got expelled, he told me he doesn’t feel like drawing anymore.

Romalice May, 12th grade student:

I got in trouble because I was walking the hall when I was supposed to be in the cafeteria at lunch. They called me to the office and said I was going to be suspended for five days. I didn’t even know what I did wrong. They said it was for walking in the hallway during lunch. … I told the school “if you suspend me, I’m going to fail my classes.” But then they told me about the alternative: The circle that lets you and your teacher reach an alternative agreement that’s not a suspension. With the circles, you don’t have to get suspended. You can have second chances.

In the circle, they asked the teacher what she would want instead of suspension. The teacher explained that she had all this pressure, with people not coming to work. She felt frustrated and overwhelmed. She said she just wished that the students would give her a break. The teacher said I could come during the lunch hours and clean the ISS room instead of suspension. I said, “Cool, that’s a winner.” That circle stuff really works!

I never went back to the office and never got in trouble again. That’s the best thing that could’ve happened. If I had been suspended, I would have had to do the 11th grade all over again.

*Not their real name

3 Kilpatrick DG, Saunders BE, Smith DW. Youth Victimization: National Institute of Justice: Research in Brief, April 2003.

Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, at 10-11. Available at www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/194972.pdf.

4 Alliance for Excellent Education. The High Cost of Highschool Dropouts: What the Nation Pays for Inadequate Highschools, 4 (2007), available at www.all4ed.org/files/HighCost.pdf.

5 See Elizabeth Sullivan and Damekia Morgan, Pushed Out: Harsh Discipline in Louisiana Schools Denies the Right to Education, National Econ. and Social Rights Initiative and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, 2010, at iii (citing Louisiana State Department of Education, District Composite Report 2007-2008.) (Based on analysis of student participation school level data available for download in Excel file complied for the 33 RSD direct-run, non-charter schools in the 2007-2008 school year, www.doe.state.la.us/lde/pair/1613.aspx.) Suspension rates are based on total enrollment in schools reported as of February 2008.

6 Id. (Calculations based on data obtained from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights Data Collection, 2006, available at ocrdata.ed.gov).

7 Id., at iii (Data obtained from the Recovery School District, RSD District-Run Schools, 2008-2009).

8 Id. (Calculation based on a school year of 36 weeks).

9 Id. (Data obtained from the Recovery School District, Recommended Expulsions/Upheld Expulsions/Transferred Expulsions, 2007-2008).

10 Id. at 17.

11 Id.

12 Id.

13 Id. at iii-iv.

14 Id. at iv.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Parent" Trigger co-author Austin knew he was breaking laws while he lobbied the California State Board of Education

'[Skeels] believes that Austin is only pretending to show concern for students at underperforming schools, and that his primary concern is promoting the "privatization" of public schools.' I would restate that: Austin's primary concern is promoting whatever he's paid to promote, and pretending to show concern for whatever he's paid to pretend to show concern for. — Caroline Grannan (Journalist, Editor, Educator)

Defend Public Schools from Corporate Charter-Voucher Charlatans like the foppish millionaire from Benedict Canyon, parent trigger pusher Ben AustinOur recent expose of Ben Austin's criminal involvement in passage of the charter market share growing gambit cynically named the Parent Empowerment Act pointed out the possibility of a cover up by the California State Board of Education (SBE) itself. Surprisingly, just a few days after publication of Pots, Kettles, and Ben Austin's Unconscionable Hypocrisy, did the SBE send documentation that I had been requesting for months.

Here's the letter, chances are Austin never read it himself since he has never felt the law applies to foppish elites like him.

Letter notifying Parent Trigger Author Ben Austin of violating laws from California State Board of Education

In the letter, the SBE admonishes the avaricious Austin and tells him:

...please immediately discontinue any paid advocacy to the State Board of Education including advocacy on the Parent Empowerment regulations.

Of course, a stern letter — which knowing charter industry lackey Michael Kirst, was probably more of a nudge and a wink than anything else — did little to prevent the lawless Austin and his Walton Family Foundation funded minions from paid advocacy before, during, and after the entire process. No laws, regulations, rules, or ethics stood in the way of the entirely astroturf Parent Revolution ensuring their continued existence, since enabling school privatization is in fact their raison d'être. In a fair and just society, or even something resembling democracy, the law would be thrown out after such Machiavellian corporate manipulations.

The trigger law is pretty much universally despised by parents that have actually taken the time to look into who funded it, drew it up, and who it serves — those profiting from privatizing schools. However, some parents are liable to be bamboozled, browbeat, and bribed into supporting the measure, since they've been tricked by the corporate media and Arne Duncan into trusting deep pocketed corporations instead of their own agency. The only folks that like the law are extreme right wing groups like The Heartland Institute which has held forums with Parent Revolution extolling the trigger law and other free market fantasies.

I want to repost my initial description of the SBE letter here since it succinctly describes the letter and the circumstances:

Criminal mastermind Ben Austin, of the Walton, Broad, and Gates Foundation funded astroturf charter school proxy group Parent Revolution, illegally and unethically influenced the passage of the so-called Parent Empowerment Act (aka parent trigger) law. Although the State Board warned Austin that his actions were in violation, he and his group were able to circumvent democracy and get their charter school market share legislation pushed through the SBE. This letter vindicates my accusations of Austin's malfeasance in Pots, Kettles, and Ben Austin's Unconscionable Hypocrisy

Tomorrow morning I meet with a group of parents who requested that I help them combat Parent Revolution's paid right wing staffer Yuritzy Anaya, who is apparently already trying to privatize several schools in the San Gabriel Valley area with the tacit help of a neoliberal minded School District Board Member. Social justice activists and public education advocates must begin organizing struggle and grassroots resistance to the corporately sponsored Parent Revolution's onslaught before the entire pubic commons is turned over the rapacious charter school industry. ¡La lucha sigue y sigue!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Library rental fees take from the needy and give to the greedy

Library rental fees take from the needy and give to the greedy

Sent to the Atlantic, July 22

Barry Greenfield suggests that public libraries charge public library patrons a "rental fee." (July 21). Much of this would have to come from low-income patrons: Research in library services shows that members of high-poverty families are more likely to use the public library than members of higher-income families, a tendency that is more pronounced when times get hard. The library is often their primary source of books and the only way they can access the internet.

If we accept Greenfield's suggestion and charge 50 cents per item, this would raise about one billion dollars per year, less than 01 percent of what we pay in taxes annually. General Electric had pre-tax earnings of 10 billion and paid no tax in 2010 (NY Times, March 25, 2010). GE's fair share would greatly exceed the total raised through rental fees.

Greenfield's plan takes from the needy and gives to the greedy, a bad idea especially when public libraries clearly help the needy become less needy.

Stephen Krashen

Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California

Sources: .01 percent. Total library circulation in 2008 about 2 billion items: http://www.ala.org/ala/professionalresources/libfactsheets/alalibraryfactsheet06.cfm

US total income tax revenue = 1.5 trillion: http://www.usgovernmentrevenue.com/

Library use and poverty: Becker, Samantha, Michael D. Crandall, Karen E. Fisher, Bo Kinney, Carol Landry, and Anita Rocha. (2010). Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries. (IMLS-2010-RES-01). Institute of Museum and Library Services. Washington, D.C.

Original article: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/07/rethinking-government-library-rental-fees/242266/

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cheating? How about the Cheated

The drum beat for more challenging national standards, increased teacher quality, and greater accountability for U.S. public schools has one element running through every aspect of education reform—testing. For months and months, reform turned the debate to teacher accountability that includes some element of standardized and high-stakes tests. But more recently, the national discourse about schools has been consumed by cheating on those sacred tests, data often used to claim "turn around," "miracle," and "no excuses"—claims that nearly always are revealed to be misleading at best and false at worst.

Cheating on tests is the topic of the day, now, including powerful arguments against the value of standardized tests and disturbing unwavering support for continuing our faith in and use of standardized tests.

When we were mired in arguments about and policies addressing teacher accountability linked to testing, we were wasting precious time and energy on a debate that missed the point. Now, we are once again wasting time and failing students, education, and society by focusing on cheating—a symptom, but not the disease—instead of looking at and addressing the cheated, where we can expose the disease—tests and the culture of testing and high-stakes accountability.

Standardized tests, high-stakes testing, and accountability are cheating students, universal public education, and democracy. From the moment education became enamored with objectivity and measurement in the early decades of the twentieth century, the possibility of education for democracy, human agency, and social equity began to erode, worn away year after year by placing goals and ideology grounded in positivism and empiricism above human dignity and complexity.

As a result, continuing a culture of testing in the U.S. has resulted in creating the cheated—students, teachers, and the majority of the American public not among the privileged class. Instead of debating how to increase test security or continuing the folly of chasing after better tests, education in the U.S. must stop standardized testing as a mechanism for labeling students, for gate-keeping, for evaluating teachers, for ranking the quality of schools and entire state's education, and for comparing the U.S. against the rest of the world.

Why does a commitment to standardized and high-stakes testing guarantee only the cheated?

• Standardized testing remains biased in terms of race (Santelices & Wilson, 2010), gender (Spelke, 2005), and out-of-school factors (2005 college-bound seniors, 2005; 2010 college-bound seniors, 2010). To call for education reform that addresses the achievement gap while ignoring that achievement gap is a reflection of the equity gap in society and while calling for continuing to use as a primary mechanism the exact system, standardized testing, known to perpetuate inequity is both illogical and unethical. A commitment to and continued use of standardized and high-stakes testing in education reform is a commitment to inequity.

• Calls for standardized testing is a indirect admission that we do not trust teachers as ethical people or as professionals. But this distrust must be based in something other than evidence because claims that objective data must be used in college entrance decisions, graduation, and scholarships, for example, because without those objective measures, teachers would just give away high grades doesn't match the evidence on standardized tests coming from the College Board itself:
The correlation of HSGPA and FYGPA is 0.36 (Adj. r = 0.54), which is slightly higher than the multiple correlation of the SAT (critical reading, math, and writing combined) with FYGPA (r = 0.35, Adj. r = 0.53). (Kobrin, et al., 2008)
And consider this, also from Kobrin, et al. (2008):
Table 5
Unadjusted and Adjusted Correlations of Predictors with FYGPA Predictor(s)/ Raw R/ Adj. R
1. HSGPA/ 0.36/ 0.54
2. SAT-CR/ 0.29/ 0.48
3. SAT-M/ 0.26/ 0.47
4. SAT-W/ 0.33/ 0.51
5. SAT-M, SAT-CR/ 0.32/ 0.51
6. HSGPA, SAT-M, SAT-CR/ 0.44/ 0.61
7. SAT-CR, SAT-M, SAT-W/ 0.35/ 0.53
8. HSGPA, SAT-CR, SAT-M, SAT-W/ 0.46/ 0.62
Note: N for all correlations = 151,316. Pooled within-institution
GPA remains slightly better than the SAT at doing the single purpose the SAT is designed to do—predict freshman college success—despite GPA being entirely the product of teacher assessments. As the chart above shows, the so-called objective SAT does add to the use of data (see 6, 7, and 8 above), but the sacred test is less predictive than teacher assessment.

• Testing creates a culture of isolation, a central component of cheating in fact. Learning and teaching, however, are best and necessarily communal and collaborative. In an authentic assessment environment, student work is collaborative and communal, thus cheating is eradicated without the wasted time and energy spent on dehumanizing practices such as test security.

• Testing reinforces a premium placed on completing tasks quickly and not well. Almost all standardized testing is timed, and thus sends the message that quality comes from compressing time spent on a task instead of honoring the value of care and revision in completing tasks that are authentic (especially consider the reduction of the writing process and products as a result of the testing culture [Ball, et al., 2005]).

• Testing drains a tremendous amount of time and money spent on test design, test preparation, test scoring, and test data analysis. As I have detailed above, that time and money are essentially wasted time and money that could be better spent on hundreds of other elements of teaching and learning that would benefit children and authentically address the equity gap in our schools and our society.

Cheating on tests can be easily eliminated by removing the conditions that breed the need to cheat. As a public school teacher for 18 years myself, I created a classroom where student products of learning were communal, collaborative, and authentic. We created an atmosphere where student grades were less important than learning and growing. Cheating in my classes was nearly non-existent, and when it occurred, the reason for the cheating tended to lie in old habits students had learned from the oppressive testing dynamics that had dominated their lives as students.

Because of a decades-long obsession with testing, U.S. public education, students, and teachers are the cheated, and if we genuinely want to reform education in ways that address social and academic inequities, tests—as mechanisms of inequity—must be eliminated along with high-stakes accountability.


2005 college-bound seniors: Total group profile report. (2005). Princeton, NJ: College Board. Retrieved 27 August 2009 from http://www.collegeboard.com/...

2010 college-bound seniors: Total group profile report. (2010). Princeton, NJ: College Board. Retrieved 21 July 2011 from http://professionals.collegeboard.com/...

Ball, A., Christensen, L., Fleischer, C., Haswell, R., Ketter, J., Yageldski, R., & Yancey, K. (2005, April 16). The impact of the SAT and ACT timed writing tests. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Kobrin, J. L., Patterson, B. F., Shaw, E. J., Mattern, K. D., & Barbuti, S. M. (2008). Valididty of the SAT for predicting first-year college grade point average. College Board Research Report No. 2008-5. New York: The College Board. Retrieved 12 August 2008 from http://professionals.collegeboard.com/...

Santelices, M. V., & Wilson, M. (2010, Spring). Unfair treatment? The case of Freedle, the SAT, and the standardization approach to differential item functioning. Harvard Educational Review, 80(1), 106-133.

Spelke, E. S. (2005, December). Sex differences in intrinsic aptitude for mathematics and science? American Psychologist, 60(9), 950-958.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Report Explores Links in School-to-Prison Pipeline

From Council of State Governments Justice Center:
Executive Summary:
This report describes the results of an extraordinary analysis of millions of school and juvenile justice records in Texas. It was conducted to improve policymakers’ understanding of who is suspended and expelled from public secondary schools, and the impact of those removals on students’ academic performance and juvenile justice system involvement.

Like other states, school suspensions—and, to a lesser degree, expulsions—have become relatively common in Texas. For this reason and because Texas has the second largest public school system in the nation (where nonwhite children make up nearly two-thirds of the student population), this study’s findings have significance for—and relevance to—states across the country.

Several aspects of the study make it groundbreaking. First, the research team did not rely on a sample of students, but instead examined individual school records and school campus data pertaining to all seventh-grade public school students in Texas in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Second, the analysis of each grade’s student records covered at least a six-year period, creating a statewide longitudinal study.  Third, access to the state juvenile justice database allowed the researchers to learn about the school disciplinary history of youth who had juvenile records. Fourth, the study group size and rich datasets from the education and juvenile justice systems made it possible to conduct multivariate analyses. Using this approach, the researchers could control for more than 80 variables, effectively isolating the impact that independent factors had on the likelihood of a student’s being suspended and expelled, and on the relationship between these disciplinary actions and a student’s academic performance or juvenile justice involvement.

Key findings in the report include the following:
1. Nearly six in ten public school students studied were suspended or expelled at least once between their seventh- and twelfth-grade school years.

  • About 54 percent of students experienced in-school suspension, which could be as brief as one period or as long as several consecutive days. Thirty-one percent of students experienced out-of-school suspension, which averaged two days per incident.
  • Of the nearly 1 million students studied, about 15 percent were assigned at least once to disciplinary alternative education programs (27 days, on average) between seventh and twelfth grade; about 8 percent were placed at least once in juvenile justice alternative education programs (73 days on average).
  • Only 3 percent of the disciplinary actions were for conduct for which state law mandates suspensions and expulsions; the remainder of disciplinary actions was made at the discretion of school officials, primarily in response to violations of local schools’ conduct codes.
  • Students who were involved in the school disciplinary system averaged eight suspensions and/or expulsions during their middle or high school years; among this group, the median number of suspensions and expulsions was four. Fifteen percent of students studied were disciplined 11 or more separate times.
2. African-American students and those with particular educational disabilities were disproportionately likely to be removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons.
  • The great majority of African-American male students had at least one discretionary violation (83 percent), compared to 74 percent for Hispanic male students, and 59 percent for white male students. The same pattern was found, though at lower levels of involvement, for females—with 70 percent of African-American female pupils having at least one discretionary violation, compared to 58 percent of Hispanic female pupils and 37 percent of white female pupils.
  • Whereas white, Hispanic, and African-American students experienced discretionary actions at significantly different rates, students in these racial groups were removed from school for mandatory violations at comparable rates.
  • Multivariate analyses, which enabled researchers to control for 83 different variables in isolating the effect of race alone on disciplinary actions, found that African-American students had a 31 percent higher likelihood of a school discretionary action, compared to otherwise identical white and Hispanic students.
  • Nearly three-quarters of the students who qualified for special education services during the study period were suspended or expelled at least once. The level of school disciplinary involvement, however, varied significantly according to the specific type of disability. For example, students coded as having an “emotional disturbance” were especially likely to be suspended or expelled. In contrast, students with autism or mental retardation—where a host of other factors was controlled for—were considerably less likely than otherwise identical students without disabilities to experience a discretionary or mandatory school disciplinary action.
3. Students who were suspended and/or expelled, particularly those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grade or to drop out than were students not involved in the disciplinary system.
  • Of all students who were suspended or expelled 31 percent repeated their grade at least once. In contrast, only 5 percent of students with no disciplinary involvement were held back.
  • About 10 percent of students suspended or expelled between seventh and twelfth grade dropped out. About 59 percent of those students disciplined 11 times or more did not graduate from high school during the study period.1
  • A student who was suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation was twice as likely to repeat his or her grade compared to a student with the same characteristics, attending a similar school, who had not been suspended or expelled.
4. When a student was suspended or expelled, his or her likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system the subsequent year increased significantly.
  • More than one in seven students was in contact with the juvenile justice system (i.e., contact with a county’s juvenile probation department) at least once between seventh and twelfth grade.2
  • Nearly half of those students who were disciplined 11 or more times were in contact with the juvenile justice system. In contrast, 2 percent of the students who had no school disciplinary actions were in contact with the juvenile justice system.
  • When controlling for campus and individual student characteristics, the data revealed that a student who was suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation was nearly three times as likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year.
5. Suspension and expulsion rates among schools—even those schools with similar student compositions and campus characteristics—varied significantly.
  • Half of the 1,504 high schools analyzed had disciplinary rates consistent with what researchers had projected, based on the characteristics/risk factors of the student population and the school campus.3 The other half of the high schools, however, had actual disciplinary rates that varied greatly from what was projected: 339 (or 22.5 percent) had disciplinary rates that were significantly higher than what researchers had projected, and 409 of the schools (or 27.2 percent) had disciplinary rates that were significantly lower than what had been projected.
The findings summarized above demonstrate why it is important for policymakers everywhere to examine the school disciplinary systems in their jurisdictions. This will not be without challenges for many states and will likely include significant investments in state-of-the-art information systems. Having quality data available is only the first step. To produce the unprecedented level of analyses found in this report, policymakers will need to follow the example set by Texas leaders across the political spectrum that showed courage and commitment by digging deep into an issue that has received relatively little public scrutiny.

An important take-away from this study is that individual schools within a state, working with the same resources and within the same statutory framework, have the power to affect their school disciplinary rates. In communities across the country, educators, juvenile justice system officials, service providers, students and parents, and advocates are also taking steps to implement innovative approaches that yield different disciplinary results. Nationally, a growing number of advocacy organizations and membership associations are drawing increased attention for their efforts to come up with more effective and fair approaches to school discipline. And a growing body of research is supporting and expanding upon these efforts. An essential next step is to convene experts, policymakers and advocates from education, juvenile justice, health, and child welfare systems to build on the important work of these stakeholders and to begin developing a consensus around approaches that will improve outcomes for students and teachers.
  Download the full report in PDF:  "Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement"

Monday, July 18, 2011

USA Today gets it wrong

Heavy testing: NOT the solution to improving achievement

Sent to USA Today, July 18 Re: Today's Debate, July 18

USA Today thinks that the heavy testing required by NCLB was necessary because of poor student achievement, which in turn was due to inept teachers protected by unions and failing schools that were allowed to stay open.

Not so.

Studies show that American students in well-funded schools who come from middle-class families outscore students in nearly all other countries on international tests. Our average scores are unspectacular because the US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (over 20%; in contrast, high-scoring Finland has less than 4%). The major problem is poverty, not teachers and not unions.

Poverty means inadequate nutrition, inadequate health care, exposure to environmental toxins, and little access to books, all strongly associated with lower school performance.

The US Department of Education is planning the most expensive and extensive testing program ever seen on the planet, far beyond the already excessive amount required by NCLB. Increasing testing does not lead to increased achievement, and the money should be spent protecting children from the effects of poverty. When all our children have adequate health care and access to books, and no child is left unfed, American academic achievement will satisfy the harshest critic.

Stephen Krashen

USA Today editorial: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2011-07-17-test-school-cheating-scandals_n.htm


American students in well-funded schools …

Berliner, D. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. In press.

Bracey, G. 2009. Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality. Educational Research Service

Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13.

Poverty and hunger, health and access to books:

Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential

Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership 55(4): 18-22.

Martin, M. 2004. A strange ignorance: The role of lead poisoning in “failing schools.” http://www.azsba.org/lead.htm.

Increasing testing does not increase achievement:

Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v14n1/.

Pots, Kettles, and Ben Austin's Unconscionable Hypocrisy

There's nothing the matter with teachers that a little less unionization and more COMPETITION couldn't cure. — Ann Coulter (racist reactionary right wing pundit)

It would force the district to learn how to run great schools by forcing them to COMPETE. — Ben Austin (Executive Director LAPU/Parent Revolution)

The foppish millionaire from Benedict Canyon, school privatization pusher and poverty pimp Ben AustinFew people are more despicable than Ben Austin, Executive Director of the so-called Parent Revolution (née Los Angeles Parents Union - LAPU) school privatization junta. After all, anyone mendacious enough to claim they're a parent with children enrolled in school when they have no school age children is lacking of any scruples. [1] Moreover, a man who can walk into impoverished neighborhoods like Boyle Heights or Compton and tell parents "I'm just like you" when he has chosen to live in a community that's "87.5% white and has a median household income is $169,282" goes beyond being amoral, he's downright immoral.

Of course Austin's ongoing campaign of dishonesty and pressing scorched earth policies for public education have made him more than just a pariah in Los Angeles. He and profiteering organization recently joined the ranks of fellow reactionaries like Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Glen Beck, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter on the world famous "Crooks and Liars" website.

Public education advocates like myself have been following the Green Dot Public [sic] Schools' LAPU/Parent Revolution spinoff since its inception, and have beem following the vile Ben Austin since he first took [2] the helm of the privatization pushing organization. We've seen them do cynical things like having their well to do white male Deputy Director Gabe Rose pose as a Compton parent in order to deceive real Compton parents. We've heard parents from Garfield High School tell us paid organizer Mary Najera used to go monolingual Spanish church services with English only petitions and tell unwitting parents to sign the petition if they wanted their children to go to college — those petitions were actually to turn Garfield over to the Green Dot corporate charter chain. The list of Austin and his organization's lies, deceit, and duplicity goes on and on, and one would think that there's no lower depths that they could plumb.

They've found a way to sink lower.

A couple weeks ago, in preparation for last week, when the California State Board of Education (SBE) was about to vote on revisions to the deceptively named "Parent Empowerment Act," right wing reactionary "parents" Lydia Grant, Bruce Wasson, Monica Jones, and Carolynn Martin, with pro-bono legal support from the "Parent Revolution's" deep pocketed plutocrat backers, filed an ethics complaint against SBE member Patricia Rucker. Their claim? They stated that Rucker's employment with the California Teachers Association constituted a conflict of interest and that they would only drop their charges if Rucker would recuse herself on voting on the privatization regulations.

One wonders where these parents were when Parent Revolution's foppish millionaire leader was sitting on the selfsame board, voting on the very same regulations, but the hypocrisy of these "parents" and their "revolution" goes much deeper than that.

Kettles and Caldrons

Let's look at the first "parent" on the list of privatization plaintiffs against Ms. Rucker, the loathsome and imposing [3] Lydia Grant. The one thing all the mainstream (read corporate) media left out regarding Grant is that she is a long time board member of the so-called Parent Revolution. Yet she can speak about conflicts of interest. Aside from being nearly as detestable, Grant shares another quality with Ben Austin — she too has no children currently enrolled in the school she is attacking. Libertarian Grant is also a follower of right wing libertarian Ron Kaye and is a member of his "SLAP" project.

The loathsome and imposing Lydia Grant, volunteer poverty pimp and privatization pusher.Grant's claim to fame is that she turned a personal beef with Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) Mount Gleason Middle School's principal into a festering vindictive campaign to oust them. She began signature gathering with Austin's blessings to have the principal removed. Of all the Sunland/Tujunga area parents I spoke with that knew of Grant, only one sympathized with her, and the rest described her as a pariah that browbeat many parents into signing petitions with her overbearing and abrasive personality.

My one encounter with the snarling, mean spirited Grant was outside the Beaudry Building at a LAUSD meeting where she was accosting and haranguing hardworking teachers. The woman's seemingly sociopathic resentments run deep, and I was somewhat taken aback listening to her bark at anyone not wearing the blue t-shirts identifying themselves as members of the reactionary school privatization groups Families That Can and Parent Revolution. I took these photos of her at that event, and even at that proximity I couldn't believe the vitriol spilling out of her mouth. Grant will be the subject of an upcoming article when time permits.

Parent activist Scott M. Folsom, whose popular 4LAKids blogs chronicle all things LAUSD, had the following to say about Grant being on the list of plaintiffs at the behest of her puppet-master Austin:

smf: One of the "four California parents", Lydia Grant, was the Parent Revolution Community Organizer of the Month for Oct 2010.

Parent Revolutionary-in-chief, PR Executive Director, Parent Trigger author, former Green Dot and Mayor Riordan staffer Ben Austin (whose 'day job' is Assistant LA City Attorney @ $119K per year) was removed from the State Board of Ed (Can you say 'Conflict of Interest?') in Brown's ascendency. Austin lobbied for the Parent Trigger Law in the State Board of Ed and also in the legislature.

But, hey - it's not personal!

Pots, Kettles, and Brewing Free Market Fantasies

Next, let's consider that when the reactionary Milton Friedman worshiping former Governor of California wanted a way to help his good friend and fellow charlatan Jed Wallace, of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), increase market share with as little resistance as possible, he brought in two well known neoliberal opponents of public education: former State Senator and current Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) California Director Gloria Romero, and Ben Austin of Green Dot's LAPU/Parent Revolution. In what was a perfect storm of Rand/Friedman ideologies, neoliberal principles, naked opportunism, greed, Heartland Institute and Hoover Institution fantasies, and lucrative charter market share grabs, Schwarzenegger, Austin, and Romero crafted a vile piece of legislation that became colloquially known as the "parent trigger." The law allows for well financed charter-voucher advocacy groups, like say, Parent Revolution, to drop into impoverished neighborhoods to bamboozle, browbeat, and bribe a bare majority (ie. fifty percent, plus one) of parents from the school in question, and/or the feeder schools [5] into "triggering" one of the four punitive provisions from Rod Paige and arch-reactionary George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Of course the only provision Schwarzenegger, Austin, and Romero were ever interested in is the charter conversion clause, in which publicly financed schools are handed over to privately run corporations. The law could be most appropriately referred to as the corporate charter trigger, as it has nothing to do with empowering parents.

For his enthusiastic participation in co-authoring the charter market share growing law, Austin was granted a seat on Schwarzenegger's hand picked SBE, which was already stacked with charter school executives, vendors, and other profiteers. Austin, as a highly paid spokesperson for the charter-voucher industry, was a perfect fit, and his job was to insure that the so-called Parent Empower Act be implemented without a hitch, and that both market share and profitable side enterprises of the lucrative charter sector grew to satisfy their investors. Austin was all at once, the bill's author, biggest advocate on the SBE, and the sole stewart of how the regulations were being written, and rest assured he was making them as friendly to charter advocacy groups like his own as he could. There were no cries of conflict of interest then. No astroturf "parents" lodging complaints. No accusations in the mainstream press of ethics violations. No cacophony calling for Austin to recuse himself from the proceedings.

Austin knows a quite a bit about conflicts of interest and ethics violations, he was under investigation by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission (Case # 2010-36) when he was collecting a check at the City Attorney Office while being a full time charter school advocate (and part time Green Dot Employee) at Los Angeles Parents Union (aka Parent Revolution). He was also using his connections to host closed meetings with his political connections garnered from his City job, like with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

But Austin's own myriad conflicts of interest and ethics violations while on the SBE pale in comparison to his recent transgression. His hypocritical and self serving attacks on Patrica Rucker will look at the more reprehensible in the following section.

Pots Calling the Kettle Black, Austin Illegally Lobbied the SBE

In early March of 2011 an activist showed me footage of Ben Austin speaking at the SBE on behalf of the charter trigger legislation. Bear in mind that by March, Austin and several other of Schwarzenegger's fringe right wing appointees had been swept from the Board by the incoming Governor, and while many charter-voucher industry profiteers remain — like the reprehensible Yvonne Chan — a few of the most egregious members are gone. I knew that former Board members were barred from lobbying at the Board for a period of time, although I thought the span was twenty four months. Astonished that Austin would be so brazen to flout the law and regulations in such a high profile forum, I immediately contacted the State Board of Education and spoke with then employee Regina Wilson.

Wilson confirmed that Austin had indeed spoken and lobbied at the SBE after he had been officially removed from the board. She also informed me that the period they weren't allowed to appear at the Board to lobby was twelve months, rather than what I thought, and that Austin had certainly violated the rules. I told Ms. Wilson I was working on a story, and asked her to get back to me on a few other questions I had, including: "were the other Board members aware of the regulations regarding former Board members lobbying?"

I waited a week for Wilson and called her again, she said she gathering information and would get back to me. I then went on holiday with my wife to visit her family in Korea. When I returned from Daegu, I called Wilson, but was greeted with an answering machine informing me that she was no longer with the SBE [6] and to contact a Ms. Carol Gorman. I called Gorman, discussed the situation with her and was told to expect a call back. There was no call back. After leaving several voicemails, I grew wary of carrying out my investigation verbally and sent Gorman an email on June 10, 2011. Following is her response that contains my original email:

Dear Mr. Skeels:

I am in receipt of your email of this date, and have forwarded it to the attention of our Deputy Executive Director, Patricia de Cos, for her review. Thank you for your patience in this matter.


Carol K. Gorman
Executive Assistant
California State Board of Education
1430 N Street, Suite 5111
Sacramento, CA 95814
916-319-0705 Direct
916-319-0175 Fax

-----Original Message-----
From: Robert D. Skeels [mailto:rdsathene@sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Friday, June 10, 2011 3:54 PM
To: Carol Gorman
Cc: Superintendent ; Rebecca MacLaren
Subject: Ben Austin at SBE meetings before 12 months completed
Importance: High

Ms. Gorman:

I've spoken with you on the phone and left multiple voice mails about this issue. I was in contact with former SBE employee Regina Wilson prior to that.

I am a freelance education writer in Los Angeles. I have seen video footage of former SBE member Ben Austin speaking at the board in February or March of this year. I am aware of the rule prohibiting former SBE members from lobbying at the SBE for 12 months.

My questions still remain. Are the SBE members aware that Mr. Austin has broken these rules. Will there be disciplinary measure brought against Mr. Austin.

I am about to publish my article about the incident and have expended due diligence trying to obtain answers from the State board of Education. At this point, and I hate to say this, it seem like a cover up. I was hoping a Governor Brown appointed board with be less opaque than that of our reactionary former Governor. Sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case.

Mr. Austin has violated ethics, and perhaps even the law in what he did. He should be held accountable for his vile actions.

Advocating public education and social justice

Robert D. Skeels

Note she uses the phrase "email of this date," as if that was our first communication, despite having spoken on the phone with me. There's still been no word from Ms. Gorman although I wrote her again on July 8, 2011 requesting a status on the above email.

Ms. Gorman:

Now that Mr. Austin and company have attacked SBE Board Member Rucker, it's imperative that his and his own organization's clear conflicts of interest and violation of SBE rules be brought to light.

It's unfortunate that the SBE is seemingly stonewalling my efforts to expose Austin's malfeasance, and I am somewhat taken aback by the intransigence of the board regarding this matter. Does Mr. Austin still have this much influence that this entire affair is being swept under the rug? I'm of of the mind to publish all of our correspondence publicly if there is no response on this.

Robert D. Skeels

Clearly a cover up is taking place. The Board is not only well aware that Ben Austin has violated the rules, but seem oblivious that his connections to the well financed charter voucher industry and their plutocrat backers provide him with immunity to consequences for his actions. Meanwhile he sicks his dogs on current SBE members like Patrica Rucker with impunity. Moreover the SBE members are still clearly pawns of the deep pocket charter school sector as evidenced by SBE President Michael Kirst's disgusting pro-privatization comments during last week's vote to ratify the clean up of the corporate charter trigger law deceptively named Parent Empowerment Act.

The hypocrisy of Ben Austin and his school privation organization claiming Rucker has a conflict of interest is staggering. I like to fancy myself an aspiring wordsmith, but lack the vocabulary to describe the scope of this reprehensible, repugnant, and revolting incident in the light of Austin's ongoing unconscionable behavior. The charter industry has a real gem in Austin, since no lie is unspeakable and no scruples are necessary in his orbit. Like I said in my email above "Mr. Austin has violated ethics, and perhaps even the law in what he did. He should be held accountable for his vile actions."

The only way we can stop these crooks and charlatans is to continue real, grass roots parent and community organizing. They have dozens of paid charter drive "organizers" in the field preying on parents looking for answers to systemic problems. We need to expose the Ben Austins, Gabe Roses, and Pat DeTemples for the reactionary agents of privatization they are. We need to point out that the narrative of parents versus teachers has been forced on us by the same Wall Street hucksters who just swindled us all, and are now tricking us into blaming each other. The real battle is communities versus corporations, but as long as charlatans like Ben Austin and Scott Walker push working people into blaming other working people, the longer the corporations will continue to win.

[1] Austin's eldest child, already a preschooler, will probably be starting Kindergarden this fall. Listening to Austin's perfidious rhetoric would lead one to think that she's been enrolled for over decade.

[2] By all accounts Austin first took a consulting position (paying $94,475) with LAPU quite unwillingly, and only after persistent persuasion by his close friend the businessman Marco Petruzzi. Once Austin recognized how lucrative and politically expedient it was to be working for the Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate did he, ever the opportunist, agree to take the Executive Director position. Petruzzi is still on the Parent Revolution Board, having ousted Steve Barr from both the organizations Barr founded.

[3] One Tujunga/Sunland area parent I spoke with called Grant "girthsome" and made several other rotund references, but I felt it more appropriate to use the word imposing despite the chance to use my favorite literary devices to follow loathsome.

[4] Green Dot Charter Corporation and Parent Revolution didn't break ties until the Summer of 2010. Until then Green Dot paid LAPU/Parent Revolution's rent and many other expenses. They were still receiving money from the Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate, but not nearly as much as they do now. To wit, the bigots comprising the Walton Family Foundation dumped a half a million into Austin's school privatization efforts last year.

[5] "Feeder" schools comprise the school from which the next classes of students at a school will potentially come from. In the example of a middle school, all the attendance boundary elementary schools would be considered its feeder schools. Never mind the fact that those families may move, choose to send their kids to parochial, charter or other private schools, their signatures are as good as gold under the so-called Parent Empowerment Act. Inequitable and unfair that a community's public school could be turned over to a private corporation with only a tiny minority of the community making the decisions? Sure, but the law was to build charter school market share, not empower parents or communities in any way.

[6] So that the rest of the press can reluctantly (given their aversion to public schools and love affair with the profiteers in the charter sector) verify my story, the number I was using to contact Regina Wilson (916) 319-0693. Now that number has a message that says "I'm no longer with the State Board of Education, if you need assistance please call Carol Gorman at (916) 319-0705.