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

Monday, March 31, 2014

Education is a Human Right: Stop the Human Rights Violations

A few relevant Articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 22.
         Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
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Article 23.
         (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
         (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
         (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
         (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
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Article 24.
         Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
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Article 25.
         (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
         (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
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Article 26.
         (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
         (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
         (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
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Article 27.
         (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
         (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
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Article 28.
         Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Misinformed about the common core

Too many people remain misinformed about the common core. Here is the latest distortion.

Alan Greenblatt just attacked the Opt-Out movement, saying that it is irresponsible and selfish.  There are over 300 comments on the website.  Greeenblatt and most of those who commented have no idea what is going on.
There is no way to respond to this on the NPR website, other than be one of the 300+ commenters.
The opt-out organizers posted an excellent response as a blog:  http://atthechalkface.com/2014/03/30/of-me-i-sing-really/
I said the same thing they did and posted it as a comment:

Mr. Greenblatt has not done his homework. Opting out of the common core tests is a rational, patriotic, socially responsible action. We all agree that students should be assessed, but the common core tests have zero research support, and are already bleeding our educational budget of every spare dollar, as well as converting teaching into narrow test-prep. The opposition to the common core testing program, as well as the common core itself, comes from well-known and respected educators and academic researchers, as well as parents who see the day-to-day damage caused by the testing program.
United Opt Out National is an extremely important movement that aims to save American education. It deserves our respect and full attention.

A Response to NPR's Corporate Socialist "Understanding" of United Opt Out

UOO Response to NPR's Total Misunderstanding of What United Opt Out:

Of Me I Sing?… Really?
(A response from the United Opt Out organizers: Morna McDermott, Tim Slekar, Ruth Rodriguez, Peggy Robertson, Ceresta Smith and Shaun Johnson)

In the effort to stay “current” in reporting about the rising tide of the Opt Out movement (aka high stakes standardized testing refusal), journalists are eager to tell the story…but do they do their homework?  Take for instance Greenblatt’s article for NPR see:

Greenblatt in his NPR article creates a narrow and limited reporting of the Opt Out movement both in regards to who is representative of this movement and why it matters.

To the first point: it’s clear in the subtext that Greenblatt presupposes that the movement consists entirely of conservative minded folks focused on Constitutional rights and what he perceives to be their concerns with “their own child.” Under the sound bite narrative-style of reporting Greenblatt translates the entire opt out movement to that of the interests of “individualism.” While that may be the focus for some members of the Opt Out movement, Greenblatt assumes as many erroneously do, that libertarians and other conservative “momma bears” and “soccer moms” alone drive the effort, and that the concerns of one ideology speaks for us all.  It is clear that Greenblatt is using the opt out story to discredit the Tea Party style initiatives including, as he so references, The Affordable Care Act. One wonders if his article’s purpose is to run defense for Obama’s policies by placing the Opt Out movement squarely in the arena of Tea Party-ism. While it is indeed true that push back against high stakes standardized testing does in many places around the country emanate from conservative fronts, the bigger movement to eliminate high stakes testing as the central driving force behind current education policy neither began with, nor ends, with a sole conservative “agenda.”

Case in point: Greenblatt identifies United Opt Out as a centerpiece organization in this movement, yet never contacted nor bothered to interview any of the six United Opt Out organizers.  Our emails are publicly accessible on our website. If he had, he would have found that none of the six are in any way affiliated with conservative, libertarian or Tea Party ideologies. Additionally, many scholars, teachers and activists who hail from progressive, liberal, radical-left and socialist beliefs have been highly critical of the high stakes testing, top-down standardization movement for decades. The voices from “the left” have consistently been marginalized from current reporting on the Opt Out movement, as Duncan tried to do in accusing the Opt Out movement of consisting of “extremists” and “pissed off white soccer moms.” 

Perhaps Greenblatt and other journalists like him are trying to create the false illusion that resistance to testing belongs to “those Tea Party folks” and thus deter movement building with more moderate individuals or groups. Such misconceptions help to further alienate people of color from finding allies in the Opt Out movement. It might be that the status quo Democrats who have been cheerleading corporate-driven reform refuse to admit that many progressives themselves realize they’ve been sold out, and millions of us refuse to be associated any longer with their bogus policies. Maybe they don’t want the public to know that their own progressive constituents have abandoned their reform policies and are fighting to take public education back from the grips of predatory reform.

This leads me to my second point: the Opt Out movement is not, and cannot, be simply reduced to a culture of parents concerned with the individual rights of “their” children. Sure there are many in this fight for that reason. But there’s more, Mr. Greenblatt.

If Greenblatt had done his homework, hell if he had ever even visited our website www.unitedoptout.com he would have received a fuller and more informed picture of why the testing resistance is growing. By the way, the movement is not “small”-- as indicated by the hundreds of teachers, parents, and students refusing the tests from Seattle to Chicago to New York, and every other city, town, and state in between. Maybe he needs to read the newspaper more.

The conservative voice is merely one voice in the resistance against high stakes testing. The voices and perspectives of testing resistance are far more many and varied than that. Who were the keynote speakers at the United Opt Out event in Denver? Glenn Beck? No. Our speakers included:

Dr. Sam Anderson, retired math professor and radical black education activist who sees education as a human right. Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator, scholar, and author of the book Finnish Lessons, who believes that equity must come before the promise of educational quality and that competition must be replaced with cooperation. Dr. Lois Wiener Professor at New Jersey City University, who was speaking about teachers unions and social justice.

The movement to refuse testing demands cooperation, collaboration, and a notion of the “we.” In the words of Dr. Ricardo Rosa an education and social justice professor at UMASS-Dartmouth, who was another Denver keynote speaker, “Diverse social struggles can coalesce around issues of high stakes testing.”  The Denver event was one of creating a sustainable and democratically/community-led movement for public education as a human right. Opposite to the notion of seeking our “individual rights” we convened to work with teachers, parents and students. We had leaders representing numerous national organizations including Chicago Teachers Union, Save Our Schools, Badass Teacher Association, Voices for Public Education, The Network for Public Education, Schools Matter, Coalition for Public Education, Fair Test, Substance News, and Uniting for Kids. Too bad Greenblatt didn’t do any actual investigative reporting about the things which he feels so privileged to judge.
Too bad he wasn’t there.

If anything screams “individualism” it’s a national policy called Race to the Top. Winners and losers. Of me I sing, Mr. Greenblatt. It’s a policy that pits child against child, comparing their data on humiliating “data walls” where they can be compared and tracked against one another.  Opt Out is the resistance to a national policy grounded on competition, driven by corporate profits and data mining through which billions of dollars are funneled from public schools and go into the pockets of corporations like Pearson and inBloom. High stakes testing is a policy of greed, fear, and control. The high stakes testing agenda also leads toward the privatizing of public education. The communities most greatly harmed by testing reform are communities of color where high stakes testing scores are used to fire teachers, close community schools, and fragment the fabric of the schools and the quality of learning for the students. 

That largely white middle class moms are the media’s chosen “face” of the Opt Out movement rather than voices from urban black and brown communities who have been most greatly harmed by testing policies, says more about the racist nature of our media narratives. Or it requires we examine the continuation of privilege in our society where race, economic means, and political clout enable some people more able to speak out than others. Greenblatt fails to mention that many of us are in this fight for other people’s children, not only our own.
What else did Greenblatt fail to report? Sound documented research shows:
  • Legitimate concerns over data mining by private corporations who are getting paid millions of dollars to gather, and hold, thousands of data points of private student information.
  • That meaningful instruction is being replaced with hours and hours of increased test prep and testing, nearly one-third of the school year in some places.
  • That testing reform initiatives have never been proven to improve student learning, school equity or “career and college readiness” in spite of its rhetoric.
  • The damage that these policies are having on students and communities of color where increasingly public schools are being closed or teachers are being fired because of test score results.
  • The billions of dollars spent building new testing infrastructures while schools languish, unable to provide basic resources, lose libraries, librarians, nurses, and qualified teachers.
  • How testing, as the center piece for market driven reform, monetizes children, treating them as nothing more than test scores; scores which are used to sell, buy, and trade our public schools and students like stocks on Wall Street.
  • That standardized testing is grounded in an ideology of eugenics; increasing oppressive, racist, and biased policies and outcomes. Standardized testing, by its content, reinforces a Eurocentric world view and styles of learning.

The facts speak for themselves. It’s a shame Greenblatt didn’t do his own homework first. But again… this is the narrative the mainstream media doesn’t want you to hear about. Because if you knew the facts, you just might join us.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Know any social justice oriented UCLA students? Get them to #resistTFA

I wrote the Op-Ed following this introduction for the Daily Bruin when I first returned to UCLA as an undergraduate last September. It was patently ignored by the editorial staff, as were my requests for modification guidelines to get it published. While I have a haunting suspicion that some of the editorial staff may have been protecting Teach for America (TFA), I got so busy with my course-load that I was unable to pursue it any further. When I contacted the UCLA Student Organizations Leadership and Engagement department before the winter break, they informed me that if I wanted to start an organization I needed two fellow students and had to apply during a one week window. Once more overwhelmed in the winter by my course-load, commute, and full time job, I missed that window entirely.

Students United for Public Education #ResistTFA CampaignIn the meantime a grassroots movement against TFA and neoliberal corporate education reform has grown around much of the work Students United for Public Education (SUPE) has initiated. In mid-February SUPE staged the #ResistTFA campaign on twitter, and it became the top trending item that day. The campaign received national attention, and forced TFA to issue a written response. Although in the middle of a researching for a paper, I was able to tweet a shot I took earlier that day in Powell Library, and dig out an old shot of when I served the empire to point out that even boot camp is longer than TFA's "training." The campaign continued well after the twitter storm. It was so successful, that within weeks the corporate bellwether was publicly discussing increasing the length of their training. While the goal is the abolishment of TFA altogether, getting them to discuss the harm they cause by foisting unprepared and untrained missionaries on low income children is quite a feat.

United Students Against Sweatshops TFA Truth TourSUPE's #resistTFA efforts have now been joined by United Students Against Sweatshops, another national group, that has launched a "'TFA Truth Tour' to Expose Dark Side of Corporate Education Reform". They embarked on a 15 campus tour to expose TFA's role in neoliberalism and privatization.

EmpowerED: Los Angeles Student Power 2014 conferenceHannah Nguyen, the student discussed in my original article below, has been organizing non-stop. She was one of the panelists for the Network for Public Education's 2014 National Conference, and is the executive director of the EmpowerED: Los Angeles Student Power 2014 conference being held this Saturday, March 29, 2014.

This brings us to the original piece. I'm still tasked with trying to launch a SUPE chapter at UCLA. However, I declared for Winter of 2014. As of now I am an unofficial graduate (it's not official until UCLA puts it on my transcript). The good news is now I finally have time to do things like mow my lawn and organize students groups. The bad news is that while I'm technically still a UCLA student for a few more weeks, we really need current students to step forward and take up this mantle. I'm making an appeal to any current Bruins, or anyone who knows one, to get in touch with us at SUPE and help make this a reality. The original article, rejected by the student newspaper, still contains the case for why UCLA, a public university, should be one of the main fronts of resistance against the corporate onslaught against public education as embodied by TFA.

The window for starting a new UCLA group this spring is from 9am on April 7, 2014 to at 5pm on April 11, 2014. The instructions for doing so are online. I'm still willing to mentor young activists doing this. I'm also willing to help hand out flyers and talk to students on the weekends. Jackie Goldberg teaches at UCLA, and would probably be willing to be one of the signatories if two students approached her. Let's work to make UCLA a campus willing to defend the public commons! Let's resistTFA!

Students United for Public Education recruiting Bruins

Robert D. Skeels is a Senior in Classical Civilization, he writes about education policy for Schools Matter

I'd like to introduce an exciting student organization that many of my fellow Bruins will want to get involved with. Last year a Rutgers student named Stephanie Rivera met with University of Wisconsin-Madison students named Michael Billeaux, René Espinoza Kissell, and Dan Suárez. The result of their meeting was the founding of an organization called Students United for Public Education (SUPE).

Advocating for public education, and establishing itself as a bulwark against corporate neoliberal education reforms, SUPE grew quickly and garnered support from progressive educators and activists everywhere. The distinguished Professor Diane Ravitch gave SUPE and Rivera her blessings. The renowned National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provided Rivera space to publicize SUPE. I promoted SUPE at various sites when I ran for the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education last winter. SUPE has established alliances with several widely recognized national education organizations including Parents Across America and the Network for Public Education.

You may have heard of Hannah Nguyen. She is the courageous student organizer who confronted controversial school privatization advocate Michelle Rhee at Rhee's recent local promotional event. The YouTube video of the exchange went viral, and several people, including Dr. Ravitch, wrote about the occurrence. Nguyen is much like Ravitch in that she started off supporting neoliberal education reforms, but later recognized their destructive effect on our schools and communities. She is now a powerful advocate for authentic reforms and for a student voice in all education policy discussions.

I first "met" Ms. Nguyen online in May as we were both critiquing the destructive activities of the Walton Family Foundation funded school privatization group, Parent Revolution. It was then I learned Nguyen was a national organizer for SUPE. I mentioned to her that I had just been readmitted to UCLA after a nineteen year hiatus. She told me that she was establishing a local SUPE chapter at USC, and asked me if I'd be interested in doing the same at UCLA. I contacted my friend and Schools Matter colleague Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus at USC, and we met with Nguyen to lay the foundation for Los Angeles based chapters. After organizing our respective universities, the goal is to reach out to the local California State Universities, Community Colleges, and high schools.

I've been tasked with establishing the UCLA chapter of SUPE. I need help. We're looking for students who care deeply about public education and want to change the discourse about our schools. SUPE's goals and beliefs can be found on their website and on the NEPC announcement page. They are founded on progressive principles that, among other things, reject school privatization, corporate control, teacher bashing, and the misuse of standardized tests. SUPE embraces equity, educating the whole student, use of culturally relevant curricula, and advocating pedagogical practices that are long proven to work.

As a middle aged 90026 commuter undergraduate with a full time job, mortgage, wife, sponsees, and already overcommitted with copious community activism and volunteer work, I'm best situated to serve an advisory role for students able to take on the lion's share of the organizing work. However, I know there are students who would be thrilled to establish a Bruin chapter of SUPE, and defend public education from forces that are wont to privatize the system from K-12 through the university.

SUPE's current project is their Students Resisting TFA Campaign. As a major component of the neoliberal reform project, Teach for America (TFA) enjoys both widespread hype in the corporate media and financial support from ideologically charged donors like the Walton Family Foundation. Numerous progressive education advocates including P.L. Thomas, Gary Rubinstein, Susan Ohanian, and others have shown that regardless of stated intentions, TFA serves as a reactionary force, exacerbating inequity and inequality in our schools, and often serving as a means of undermining organized labor. Some of the strongest testimony against TFA comes from their former corps members. Students Resisting TFA provides resources to help prospective TFA candidates reconsider their interest in the program.

SUPE is on facebook, twitter, and their website is currently being revamped. I hope you join us in the struggle to defend public education.

Right to left, Hannah Nguyen, Robert D. Skeels, and Dr. Stephen Krashen
Right to left, Hannah Nguyen, Robert D. Skeels, and Dr. Stephen Krashen

Thursday, March 27, 2014

NYTimes Editorial Board Goes Soft on 4 Year Olds

Maybe Brent Staples is getting sentimental in his middle age, but the Editorial Board is suddenly all misty-eyed about pre-K and kindergarten urban children being kicked out of school for any breach of the total compliance system perfected in the KIPP reform schools.

I, too, worry about these children, but I worry, too, about the ones who are left there, whose little human spirits that are not strong enough to cry out, NO.  And then there are those suffering in the 1-12 grades, who are subjected to a regimen that even adult teachers can't take for more than than a year or two, with large numbers of them left scarred by their experiences.  If the prison guards can't make it in these child prisons, what do you think the inmates are suffering?

Apparently, this question never crossed Brent Staples' mind, as he has been as loyal to the "No Excuses" mantra as our clueless President, who would call out the National Guard if his own children were treated like millions of poor kids in the segregated neo-eugenics industrial psychology camps that the U. S. government gives hundreds of millions of dollars each year.  Shame of the nation??  You have just touched the tip of the iceberg, Mr. Staples.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Best Reason Yet to Boycott Amazon

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David Coleman and Jeb Bush Don't "Give a Shit" about Your Child's Feelings, Thoughts, or Self-Esteem

In 2011, the über-prissy Architekt of the Common Core Standards, David Coleman, had this to say at a State gathering in New York, where Coleman explained why teenagers' written reactions to Cather in the Rye were about to be discontinued in favor of explicating Samsung installation manuals (my bolds):
Do people know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today?  Texting, someone said, but I don't think that's for credit though yet.  But I would say that as someone said, it is personal writing.  It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it the presentation of a personal matter.  The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think.
Now for teenagers about to take on the mantle of continuing the democratic republic we have been accustomed to, they may find David's cynical, jaded, and dismissive words a bit discouraging in some way, don't you think?  Especially as it is exactly what high schoolers feel and think that will determine the future course of what was once the most influential democracy on planet Earth.  That was April 2011.

Here is the poster boy for anger mismanagement, Jeb Bush, last week, carrying the message forward in Miami following a visit to Asia, where people under repressive regimes once looked to people like Bush for some sense of political hope.  Now what they get is admiration from him for the grinding, corrupt economic dictatorships they must suffer under:

Let me tell you something. In Asia today, they don’t care about children’s self esteem.  They care about math, whether they can read – in English – whether they understand why science is important, whether they have the grit and determination to be successful.
In short, it is not self-esteem that the Asian systems care about--it is the financial esteem of the fascist dictators that keep hundreds of millions of workers living under the boot heel of regimes best described as capitalist-corruption-gone-wild.

These two statements make great bookends for the end of the beginning of freshly-unpacked Common Core, and the beginning of the end for the rotted mess that we now know to be a poor corporate education design by a handful of self-serving elites with a deep hostility to democratic principles and practices.  

I end this post with a section of a letter written by 132 Catholic educators last Fall to denounce the Common Core. 
Promoters of Common Core say that it is designed to make America’s children “college and career ready.” We instead judge Common Core to be a recipe for standardized workforce preparation. Common Core shortchanges the central goals of all sound education and surely those of Catholic education: to grow in the virtues necessary to know, love, and serve the Lord, to mature into a responsible, flourishing adult, and to contribute as a citizen to the process of responsible democratic self-government.
Common Core adopts a bottom-line, pragmatic approach to education. The heart of its philosophy is, as far as we can see, that it is a waste of resources to “over-educate” people. The basic goal of K-12 schools is to provide everyone with a modest skill set; after that, people can specialize in college – if they end up there. Truck-drivers do not need to know Huck Finn. Physicians have no use for the humanities. Only those destined to major in literature need to worry about Ulysses.
Perhaps a truck-driver needs no acquaintance with Paradise Lost to do his or her day’s work. But everyone is better off knowing Shakespeare and Euclidean geometry, and everyone is capable of it. Everyone bears the responsibility of growing in wisdom and grace and in deliberating with fellow-citizens about how we should all live together. A sound education helps each of us to do so.