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

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Gatekeepers: Philadelphia Education Fund Adopts New Paid Access Policy

From Wrench in the Gears
December 16, 2017

Farah Jimenez is a member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission and current director of the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF), a nonprofit that hosts monthly conversations on topics related to public education in Philadelphia. These days, if you want to attend one of their Education First Compact meetings, you’re going to have to jump through a lot of hoops. That wasn’t previously the case. Advance registration for meetings is now required, a policy put in place after Ms. Jimenez was hired in April 2016. When registering via the website, attendees are strongly encouraged to financially support the organization as either a series subscriber or by purchasing individual tickets. Corporate and foundation subscribers pay $750, while individuals pay $100; though there is the option to donate more.

Until this month you could secure immediate admission to meetings via online registration without paying anything, as long as free tickets were available. However, a recent policy change states anyone who is not a paid subscriber is now automatically put on a waitlist. This policy will allow PEF to screen out people they deem undesirable, without requiring them to rescind tickets that have already been granted. PEF has done this to me twice, and not just to me, but to at least two other activists. There is a clear sense that Compact meetings are not meant to be truly “public” meetings, even though PEF’s mission revolves around public education. At the beginning of the December Compact meeting Jimenez stated that what was said in the room stays in the room; that nothing be shared via social media. I understood that to mean these are essentially closed-door discussions. So, moving forward if a person wants to have access to these discussions they have to 1) be willing to pay or 2) not voice any questions or opinions that might upset the people deciding if they get into the next meeting. That is a huge problem.

Betsy DeVos Is Undermining Students' Rights Under the Guise of Deregulation

Betsy DeVos Is Undermining Students' Rights Under the Guise of Deregulation: The Trump administration's 'troubling' zeal for deregulation could hurt marginalized students, caution David C. Bloomfield and Alan A. Aja.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Money for what Mr. Kuhn? A Big Data, Future Ready Superintendent promotes funding equity at NPE.

from Wrench in the Gears
December 14, 2017 
This week the Network for Public Education launched another video in their series on the privatization of public education. The video featured John Kuhn, superintendent of the Mineral Wells Independent School District in Mineral Wells, Texas. Kuhn, an admittedly charismatic speaker, discussed the important issue of funding inequities and how lack of funding hurts students in low-income school districts. I was curious where Mr. Kuhn’s school district was located, because I have been following the work of a number of intrepid parent activists in Texas who have been busy exposing the next wave of privatization in the state including: education savings accounts, social impact bonds for mathematics instruction, and districts of innovation. 
When I pulled up the Mineral Wells ISD website, I was surprised to see a link for “Future Ready” in the “Learn More About Us” footer of each page. I had shared my concerns regarding the “Future Ready” pledge last October. You can read about them here. If you want the short version, the program is affiliated with the reform outfit The Alliance for Excellent Education and funded by the Gates Foundation, Google, Apple, Pearson, Summit Learning and the Carnegie Corporation, among others. Those who sign the pledge commit to “implementing meaningful changes toward a digital learning transition.” The “About the Effort” page of the Future Ready website makes it clear pledge signers support the idea that “personalized” learning is about adoption of digital technologies: “We believe every student deserves a rigorous, personalized learning environment filled with caring adults and student agency. District leaders must recognize the potential of digital tools and align necessary technologies with instructional goals to support teaching and learning.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Sticks a Giant Fork in Steve Bannon @alternet

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Sticks a Giant Fork in Steve Bannon @alternet: The silverware is out for Trump's former adviser after Roy Moore's stunning defeat. The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page has knives out for former top Trump political strategist Steve Bannon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Elmo isn't Gramsci for kids and the mythical soft bigotry of low expectations

This short essay was originally published on The Daily Censored on August 11, 2011. It would seem that all of the old works on that site are gone. That's unfortunate because I published a lot of work there. I had a teaser here linking to it, a practice I stopped doing precisely because I've learned from harsh experience that websites die and all the content is lost (like my At The Chalkface works). I was able to track down a reprint on Susan Ohanian's site, but her site is having issues as well. Ultimately, I was able to retrieve a copy of the reprint from the Wayback Machine.

I want to reproduce this last sentence from Ohanian's introduction, since she had such insight into why the essay was important:

“The hardline right wing may well love the vacuous phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations,” but let’s remember that education deform democrats love it just as much. It is mostly used to put progressive activists on the defensive.” — Susan Ohanian

Elmo isn't Gramsci for kids and the mythical soft bigotry of low expectations

“We address the soft bigotry of low expectations so that we may ignore the hard racism of inequity.” — John Kuhn

Although this footage isn't new and commentators have already discussed it, it deserves reexamination since it illuminates one of the core false tenets of the corporate education reform canon.

Amidst the bizarre assertion that Sesame Street is indoctrinating children in some sort of insidious left wing plot, reactionary Ben Shapiro says that:

"I talked to one of the guys who's at Children's Television Workshop originally and he said the whole purpose of Sesame Street was cater to black and hispanic youths who, quote unquote, did not have reading literature in the house, there kind of this soft bigotry of low expectations that's automatically associated with Sesame Street."

Ahhh — the chimerical "soft bigotry of low expectations." As opposed to the hard bigotry of the pervasive institutional racism underpinning our economic system, which facilitates the division of workers and submerses a majority in abject poverty in order to make a small minority obscenely rich. The very same minority, by the way, that supports privatizing public education via charters and vouchers.

The dubious phrase is beloved by the hardline right. The Birchers at the Heartland Institute [1] use the phrase with reckless abandon. Cato, Manhattan, Hoover, and all the other reactionary right wing think tanks repeat the phrase "soft bigotry of low expectations" as if it's the mantra necessary to permanently bring back the gilded age they all pine for.

Of course the nonsensical phrase isn't limited to fringe right-wing kooks that also think John Galt and Howard Rourke are historical figures. Many supposed-liberals, or at the very least Democratic Leadership Council party operatives, use the phrase as often, if not more often than their teabagging counterparts.

The vile billionaire hedge fund shyster Whitney Tilson uses the phrase incessantly. Remember too that the ever obtuse Tilson helped form two of the most virulent corporate reform and privatization pushing organizations in existence: Teach for America (TFA) and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). The latter, DFER, uses the phrase in its privatization propaganda. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has used the phrase. TFA's Wendy Kopp has had a lucrative career peddling the phrase. The snarling queen of Erasuregate, Michelle Rhee, cherishes such phrases. Los Angeles' poverty pimping opportunist Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proudly plasters the phrase on twitter.

The unprincipled construction "soft bigotry of low expectations" is typically credited to the Council on Foreign Relations's arch-reactionary Michael Gerson, who was the speechwriter for fraudulent Rod Paige's Texas Education Miracle co-fraud, George W. Bush.

Like all the philosophically threadbare propaganda from the right, the expression is vapid and vacuous, without any real meaning whatsoever, putting it right along with "no excuses," and "working hard and being nice." Professor Noam Chomsky best addresses these types of phrases:

"It doesn't mean anything... That's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody's going to be against, and everybody's going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. Its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy?" [2]

The policy in question is to ignore poverty and demand a false accountability from all of poverty's victims. While there are countless works discussing this, a recent pair of essays by my Schools Matter colleague Professor P. L. Thomas, EdD, really get to the heart of this issue: Poverty and Testing in Education: "The Present Scientifico-legal Complex" part 1 and part 2.

Humane Expectations Devoid of any Bigotry

In my many years I've never come across an educator that had anything but "realistic expectations tempered with compassion and empathy" for their students, regardless of where they taught. Moreover, for right wing reactionaries to accuse hard working women and men that have dedicated their lives to educating inner city students of bigotry of any sort smacks of hypocrisy of the highest order. It's laughable on its face.

Of course compassion and empathy are foreign words to the rogues gallery discuss above, none of whom have ever taught in their lives. Well, with the exceptions of Wendy Kopp and Michelle Malkin — I mean, Michele Bachmann, er, — I mean Michelle Rhee (sorry it's so easy to confuse those three). Rhee is so devoid of empathy and compassion that one of the most enduring stories from her short stint as a TFA missionary is when she taped her students mouths shut with masking tape and then walked them to the lunchroom, bleeding lips and all. Kopp is seemingly less of a sociopath than Rhee, but it's clear her passion for fame and fortune outweigh any compassion she might have once had.

Access To Books

The other thing reactionary Shapiro gets entirely wrong before employing the hackneyed "soft bigotry of low expectations" nonsense, was to dismiss the Children's Television Workshop's catering to children that "did not have reading literature in the house." Access to books in the home is a major indicator of academic achievement and impoverished families have very limited access to books. This is a fact, and not something to be dismissed by a sniveling right winger threatening to "take them [Elmo and Big Bird] out back and cap them."

Another one of my Schools Matter colleagues, the distinguished Professor Stephen Krashen, PhD, has researched and written extensively on the subject of access to books. Here are a small sampling of his available short articles linking to longer works on the subject.

Given the staunch anti-intellectualism, lack of knowledge about all thing pedagogical, and academic aversion that whiny right wingers like Shapiro are known for, it's no wonder that he didn't get the whole importance of providing additional educational resources for children that "did not have reading literature in the house" like the prescient folks at Children's Television Workshop always have.

"True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity." [3]

Now that we're discussing these things, let's talk about the stark racism and classism stemming from the corporate education reform movement, which is orchestrated by the same plutocrats that aired Shapiro's television program. After all, those are the sort of things that vacuous phrases like "soft bigotry of low expectations" are supposed to distract us from.


[1] Heartland Institute is none other than Parent Revolution's sister organization. Word is that in addition to co-hosting school privatization forums that Ben Austin and Ben Boychuck formulate policy together.

[2] Chomsky, Noam. Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, Second Edition. New York: Seven Stories Press., 1991. pp. 25-26.

[3] Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc., 2009. p. 45.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Jay Mathews' Sisyphean Defense of KIPP

Even as the drumbeat grows louder each day against the dehumanizing "no excuses" charter reform schools, the Washington Post's Jay Mathews holds out in his cushioned cell of corporate reportage that is designed to intercept and deaden any protest against Jay's favorite billion dollar corporate welfare charity, the KIPP Foundation. 

For Jay's skinny-ties-and-white-socks generation of old privileged white guys, the allure of the KIPP Model has always been KIPP's false promise to dissolve the education problem of the disadvantaged without the need to implement expensive, unpopular (among whites) social and economic interventions that acknowledge poverty as a systemic cause for education deficits.  Following a long tradition of racist social policy, the KIPP Model treats the multitudinous manifestations of poverty as resulting from cultural and character deficiencies among the poor, which must be stringently treated with abrasive behavioral solvents that break down the nasty residues left by poverty.  In other words, cleanse the children's character/culture, rather than doing something about ending child poverty.

The KIPP Model's miseducative and racist whitewash is implemented by white-girl schoolteachers who are marginally prepared and tyrannically managed by white male overseers.  Whether employed by Success Academy or KIPP or Uncommon Schools one of the other KIPP knock-offs, the KIPP Model claims to wash away the cultural grime of the poor, thus leaving behind middle class versions of black and brown children whose character has been fortified by pipe dreams of Ivy League colleges that, unbeknownst to them, remain the inherited intellectual preserves of the elite.

When a new book appears that is critical of the KIPP Model's callous disregard for democratic values, humane treatment of children, and responsible public accountability for the billions of public dollars sent each year to the KIPP Model corporate hell schools, Jay is quick to spin, defend, and, otherwise, try to upend any such criticism, whether empirically based or logically argued.  He tried as much when my book came out last year (my responses here and here), and this week he has once again sprung to KIPP's defense following the publication this fall of another book that criticizes KIPP's dehumanizing and racist practices.

Try as he may, however, Jay has no way to refute the glaring fact that the KIPP Model embraces apartheid schooling for black and brown disadvantaged children.  In responding to the observation that KIPP is "segregated by design," Mathews whines this week that KIPPs are "mostly located in low income neighborhoods where children need better instruction." 

Indeed.  Schools using the KIPP Model are intent upon making the case that segregation and poverty don't matter, and that test scores can be wrung out of the poorest and most isolated communities, thus proving that working harder and being nicer are all that is required to upend generations of institutional racism.  KIPP, in fact, goes looking for these poorest communities when deciding upon new KIPP locations.  For in poor communities of color, KIPP encounters the least resistance to inhumane practices that middle class parents would never allow, and in the poorest communities KIPP managers encounter minimal amounts of oversight and accountability.  There they have free rein to impose their draconian and corrupt experiments.

It is in these poor communities that KIPP is free to exercise its extreme paternalism and zero tolerance programs that require total compliance among children and parents, where the goals of intellectual and ethical development are displaced by a rigid and isolating corporate character training that places blame for society's most egregious moral failures of the past or future at the feet of the most vulnerable children who are expected to blame themselves should they fail to live up to KIPP's expectations.

At some point, we may assume that Jay will stop pretending that his feigned stupidity will protect him from the culpability that he shares in KIPPs' crimes against children.  Or maybe not.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

This fundamentalist Christian group is being allowed into public schools to convert other people’s children

This fundamentalist Christian group is being allowed into public schools to convert other people’s children

Education News That the Ravitch Camp Ignores

With an army of AFT and NEA social media trolls and Basecamp bloggers at her disposal, Diane Ravitch never has to go searching for education stories to re-post at her blog, along with Ravitch's characteristically wooden introductions to them.  

The Ravitch machine maintains a daily steady stream of articles critical of charters schools, standardized testing, and corporate education reforms.  If you could discern Ravitch's actual policy positions from the articles she posts, you would think that she is resistant to corporate education reform, rather than functioning as corporate education's chief enabler and corporate union propagandist.

Diane's true colors, however, are easier to discern by the education news that she would rather we not see in the big stories that she does not report.

On December 2, Alternet published an important article by New York parent, Jake Jacobs, that lays bare Hillary Clinton's complicity in advancing the corporate education agenda during the 2016 presidential campaign.  

Ravitch's own support for Clinton is well-documented, and the Alternet article is the kind of news that Diane would rather keep in the dark, for it reminds us once more of the complicity by NPE, AFT, NEA, FairTest, and the other corporate union satellites whose tight orbits around big corporate donors are well-defined and entirely predictable.  Here is a clip:

. . . .Tying campaign donations to a singular issue like expanding charter schools might in days past been seen as a prohibited quid-pro-quo. But in this cycle, Podesta, O’Leary and Tanden all busily raised campaign money from the same billionaire education reformers with whom they were also talking policy specifics.
But they did more than talk. On June 20, 2015, O'Leary sent Podesta an email revealing the campaign adopted two of Powell Jobs' suggestions, including "infusing best ideas from charter schools into our traditional public schools.” When Clinton announced this policy in a speech to teachers, however, it was the one line that drew boos.

“Donors want to hear where she stands” John Petry, a founder of both Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Success Academy, New York’s largest network of charter schools, told the New York Times.  Petry was explicit, declaring that he and his billionaire associates would instead put money into congressional, state and local races, behind candidates who favored a “more businesslike approach” to education, and tying teacher tenure to standardized test scores.
Clinton’s advisors warned her that wealthy donors like Petry, Whitney Tilson, or Eli Broad could walk if she didn’t support charter schools. Broad would indeed threaten to withhold funding from Clinton when she criticized charter schools for excluding difficult students. John Podesta and Ann O’Leary would publicly correct Clinton, reaffirming her commitment to charters.
The revolving door was also in full swing, with top Clinton and Obama administration officials working for “non-profits” run by Powell Jobs and Tom Steyer. In the end, the influence of the various well-connected “experts” advising Clinton could be felt in an official education platform that endorsed a test-centric approach that was becoming unpopular with parents, students and educators. . . .