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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

from Bill Ayers

Original here.

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

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



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

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

A little background.

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

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

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

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

With no fear she goes onto say,

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

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

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

But here is the most damning evidence of collusion.

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

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

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

Notice who is missing? Actual educators!

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

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

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

Come on now, Really?

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

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

Seriously? How fearless can one be?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rick Hess Recants Common Core...or does he?

By Ken Derstine @ Defend Public Education!
July 29, 2015 

Rick Hess, the resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the right-wing American Policy Institute, has an article in the Fall 2014 issue of National Affairs: “How the Common Core Went Wrong”. It has come to light because Diane Ravitch featured it in a post on her blog on July 28, 2015: Rick Hess: How the Common Core Went Wrong

This blogger has previously written about Rick Hess on June 22, 2015: Frederick Hess: Duplicity Personified

To have a supporter of corporate education reform like Rick Hess say, “At this point, however reasonable the rationale for the Common Core, it seems increasingly clear that American education would be better off if this unfortunate, quasi-national enterprise had never made it off the drawing board.” is quite amazing. To acknowledge that its implementation has been a “stealth strategy that bypassed a distracted public” is also quite amazing.

Hess gives a very good chronicle of what is wrong with Common Core. However, his main concern seems to be with how it was implemented saying it allowed critics on the right to label it “Obamacore”.

With Hess’ claim to be facing reality however, he never acknowledges that Common Core is part of the goal of corporate and financial interests to privatize public education. In his long article he never even mentions public education. He mentions charter schools as being hurt by Common Core saying:

Along the way, the Common Core has driven a wedge between education-reform allies. In recent years, left-leaning groups like Democrats for Education Reform worked closely with Republican governors on issues like charter schooling, teacher evaluation, digital learning, and much else. Such partnerships are increasingly unlikely as anti-Common Core sentiment pulls Republican officials toward their base and away from compromise on education.

To say Democrats for Education Reform is “left-leaning” is laughable disinformation. It is a neoliberal organization that is totally on board with privatizing public education through charters. They, along with the heads of the two teachers unions and a dozen old guard civil right organizations, are running interference for the Gates Foundation agenda in the current Congressional Conference Committee on the ESEA rewrite. They want a doubling down of the use of standardized testing for teacher and school evaluations. (On July 7th, almost two hundred civil rights and community organization have expressed opposition to standardized testing and expansion of charter schools in a letter to the Senate hearings on the ESEA rewrite.

Rick Hess wants to end Common Core’s federal role in education by raising the issue of states rights. States rights has a dark history in the U.S. beginning with the “Three-Fifths Compromise” which allowed slavery to continue in the U.S. as an issue of states rights until the Civil War. At the same time, this allowed the slavocracy to dominate American politics for a century.

The current promotion of states rights by Republicans in the Conference Committee is a grave danger to American education. It would make a smorgasbord of American education with fifty different state standards, including state versions of Common Core, and empower corporate education reform at the state level. Millions more would be spent on lobbying for it with even more intensity than now exists.

Incredibly, in his long essay, not once does Rick Hess mention teachers. Teachers are the biggest obstacles to the imposition of the corporate agenda. The voices of millions of critically thinking and questioning educators are seen as a threat rather than an asset by corporate reformers. Whether from the federal government or the states, Rick Hess, by his silence, is on board with those who vilify teachers as being the problem in education.

The current Congressional Conference Committee hearings are a grave danger to public education, whether it is the states rights agenda of the Republicans or the neoliberal agenda of the Democrats. Educators at all levels, whether K-12 or in the universities must pay attention to what is being proposed. We are going to be fighting this battle for years to come. It is only organizing from the grassroots that we are going to get a public school system that reflects the will of the people, not the will of corporate and financial interests.

Also see:

The Real Story Behind Mike Pence’s Charter School Speech

by Doug Martin at Hoosier School Heist Blog

In an address to a large crowd yesterday at the Westin Hotel, Mike Pence announced that 22 new charter schools will open in Indiana in the next three years.  Pence spoke at a conference sponsored by Charter Schools USA, a Florida-based company operated by longtime Bush family friend Jon Hage.

Charter Schools USA (which also gives money to Jeb Bush’s “school choice” Foundation for Excellence in Education) operates several Indiana takeover schools and will be opening up a “feeder” school in Indianapolis this August.  It will also be opening a new school in Clarksville.
In my book Hoosier School Heist, I dedicate an entire chapter to the Bush family’s influence on school privatization in Indiana, which includes Charter Schools USA.  Charter Schools USA has given at least $23,000 to politicians and others promoting school privatization in Indiana. 

Charter Schools USA funded former Indiana supt. of public ed. Tony Bennett’s campaign, and Tony's wife, Tina, once worked for the for-profit school company.  Charter Schools USA also gave money to the campaigns of Todd Huston, the Walmart/Amway sponsored Hoosiers for Quality Education PAC, and Mike Pence.
Mike Pence, in fact, has received $6,000 from Charter Schools USA since 2012. 

Charter Schools USA’s development branch, Red Apple Development, also hands money to Indiana politicians, to the tune of $17,000 so far.
As State Impact Indiana notes, at the conference “Pence also touted a new grant program that provides an additional $500 in per student funding for charter schools rated A-to-C and $50 million in construction loans.”

As I explain in Hoosier School Heist, Charter Schools USA has had its eyes on expanding in Indiana for quite some time, using its political connections.  It looks like Jon Hage and Charter Schools USA are liking the Hoosier state a lot more now.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hillary’s Bundlers: Anti-Public School and Pro-Private Prison

By Doug Martin at Hoosier School Heist Blog   

(This is Doug Martin’s 3rd article in a series on Hillary Clinton’s fundraising.  See article one here and article 2 here.)

Hillary Clinton has been busy this summer, working all of her wealthy connections to gather money for her campaign.  Two campaign bundlers are lobbyists Heather and Tony Podesta. 

Heather Podesta is married to Tony Podesta, the brother of John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former Chief of Staff, once-keynote speaker at a Jeb Bush school privatization conference, and leader of the Center for American Progress.

As I detail in my book Hoosier School Heist, the Center for American Progress is NOT the democracy-promoting group liberals believe it is.  Backed up by a right-wing mouth piece claiming public schools have too much nepotism, the Center for American Progress cooked up a plan to eliminate local school boards across America which would have made the Koch Brothers’ father’s John Birch Society envious.  

Heather Podesta was Edison School’s lobbyist in 2007. Her firm, Heather Podesta & Partners, has also lobbied for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Last year, Heather Podesta & Partners raked in $7 million by working for, among others, Eli Lilly, a big corporate school funder in Indiana, and Aramark Sports & Entertainment Services, which is part of the multi-national corporation Aramark whose Aramark Correctional Services profits from the private prison complex and has repeatedly given prisoners food laced with maggots

Aramark also operates custodial services for schools.  In Chicago in April, despite the promise to save money for CPS, Aramark over-budgeted for $20 million, as principals complained of Aramark’s services leading to filthy schools.  One Chicago school cafeteria was closed because of roaches and mice, although it is not clear whether this was under the watch of Aramark or SodexoMAGIC, the other company in contract with CPS

Heather Podesta & Partners' relationship with Aramark Corp. goes back to 2007.   

Last year, Heather Podesta sat on the DC Democratic Party’s Senate Majority PAC board.  Hillary’s supporters at the American Federation of Teachers donated at least $1.95 million to this super PAC last year.

And then there’s Tony, Heather’s husband, who is also raising campaign funding for Hillary.  
Dubbed as one of DC’s “biggest players” by the New York Times, Tony Podesta runs the lobbying firm Podesta Group.  In 2013, one of the Podesta Group’s largest clients was the Walmart Walton family’s WAL-PAC, which funds politicians across America.  It is no great secret that the Walton family is a major financial backer of school privatization in the United States.  At the time of writing my book, the Walton’s anti-public school funding had shattered the billion dollar mark.  

From this April to the end of June, the Podesta team of Heather and Tony bundled a little over $100,000 for Hillary. 

For more on the Podestas, Aramark, and Hillary, see Susan Ohanian’s notes here