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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

10 Years To Educate, Mobilize, and Change--Or Die

We have made the ultimate existential choice now immediate: choose life or choose death:
The Green New Deal (GND) is now part of the national conversation. But for decades, social movements have been doing the on-the-ground work to resist fossil capitalism and envision a different future. Such grassroots social mobilization — but at a massive scale — is vital to ensuring the GND catalyzes transformative social change.

Cooperation Jackson is at the forefront of eco-socialist organizing to create a new society and economy from the bottom up. Cooperation Jackson encompasses a network of worker cooperatives and supporting institutions fighting to build a solidarity economy in Mississippi and beyond. Jacobin’s Green New Deal editorial team spoke with Kali Akunothe cofounder and executive director of Cooperation Jackson, and coeditor of Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, MS.

In this wide-ranging interview, we discussed the links between local eco-socialist action, national movement-building, and an internationalist orientation; tactics and strategies for interacting with electoral politics to radicalize the GND — and much more. Throughout, Akuno draws on a long history of environmental justice activism in the United States and around the world, providing key lessons about how to move forward — and quickly — to generate a militant, mass movement for a just planet.
Read on.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ken Derstine on Randi Weingarten, Part 2

Originally published in 2015 by Ken Derstine:

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) is one of the oldest and most influential of the pro-business right-wing think tanks. It promotes the advancement of free enterprise capitalism, and has been extremely successful in placing its people in influential governmental positions, particularly in the Bush Administration. AEI has been described as one of the country's main bastions of neoconservatism.
  Right Wing Watch / People for the American Way
Part 1 of this article noted that at a conference of the American Enterprise Institute held on February 5th, 2015, Randi Weingarten was praised by researchers for corporate education reformers for her collaboration in developing a teacher evaluation system based on standardized tests as part of the Gates Foundation’s “teacher quality” agenda. Part 1 concluded by pointing out that Randi Weingarten’s public labor persona differs from what goes on behind the scenes in her collaboration with corporate education reformers.
A clear picture of Ms. Weingarten’s thinking behind her collaboration with AEI can be seen in a one-hour forum held with AEI researchers on June 18, 2014. For an hour she spoke on “Unions in public education: Problem or solution?” Her speech came three months after the AFT quietly announced that it would no longer take money from The Gates Foundation.
At this forum she spoke candidly to an AEI audience whose members want to abolish unions or turn them into company unions that are part of management. Weingarten’s sleight of hand method can be seen in her answer to a question by the AEI moderator Frederick Hess who asks Ms. Weingarten (42:07 minutes into the video):
"Early last month the New York Post reported that your successor at the UFT, Michael Mulgrew, had told a gathering of the UFT leadership, “We’re at war with the reformers. Their ideas will absolutely destroy, forget about public education, they will destroy education in our country.” He said of slow walking efforts on evaluation, “It was a strategy to gum up the works because we knew what their lawyers were trying to do.”  So curious, when these things get out, how does that speak to this the issue of cooperation, or trust or finding common ground?”

Ms. Weingarten’s reply:
"So I think, number one, let me just say that whatever Michael said was said in the middle of a private union meeting. Now, I know the UFT, you have 3000 people in the room, probably NSA is taping every other word, nothing is private, right? But if you have what is set as a union meeting, just like if you had a board meeting that is a confidential board meeting, you would not expect that anybody would actually use whatever was said in that meeting."

If it is not to curry favor with her corporate audience, why would the President of a national teachers union respond in such a way to an AEI audience about a statement from a union official warning that public education is under attack? And to top it off, she says no one would expect that “anyone would actually use what was said in that meeting.” In other words, what union leaders affiliated with Ms. Weingarten say at a union meeting should not really be taken seriously - it is just red meat to appease the huddled rank and file. This reveals her sleight of hand method – disrespect for the interests of teachers and public schools and respect for corporate education reform interests – or is her sleight of hand to say what she thinks the AEI audience will want to hear? It can’t be both!

In an age of constant verbal spin and obfuscation, the only way we can get at the truth of people's intentions is by observing and remembering their actions. In the case of Weingarten, she describes to the AEI audience the actions of the AFT leadership that show her allegiance lies with corporate education reform.
Immediately after the above exchange, Weingarten says the statements must be seen in the context of “the war” that was going on in New York City with relentless attacks on teachers by corporate education reformers. This is immediately followed by praise for the recent UFT contract that included agreeing to a career ladder program and state law waivers by schoolsalong with other concessions.
The first part of the AEI meeting shows Randi Weingarten speaking prepared remarks explaining the AFT to this conservative audience. She informed the audience of three programs that the AFT is involved with. (6:51) In introducing each one, she had a hand vote from the audience to see who knew about the program, and to scold the members of the audience who were not aware of the program. If this was Ms. Weingarten’s method of teaching during her short time as a teacher, this shaming the students is one of the worst methods of instruction. In this case, she was not so much interested in the audience being informed about the particular program as she was interested in demonstrating how the AFT is collaborating with corporate education reform.
The first program (6:58) Weingarten described was the public-private partnerships the AFT is creating in McDowell County, West Virginia, one of West Virginia’s poorest counties. Weingarten said this corporate/labor model is to be expanded to all counties in West Virginia and Mayor deBlasio wants to bring it to New York to forty schools. Not mentioned at this forum, is the collaboration with Teach for America to build a Teacher Village for low income housing for low-income teachers in McDowell County.
The second program (8:40) Weingarten mentions is “one of the fastest growing online education companies in the United States of America called Share My Lesson” created by the AFT. This has thousands of lessons, including “250,000 lessons created by the AFT” and (not mentioned at the forum) The Gates Foundation Innovation Fund, which “are aligned to the Common Core.” Since 2012, AFT’s Share My Lesson has been a collaboration with the United Kingdom digital education company TES Global.
The third program (10:21) is a partnership under the Clinton Global Initiative with other unions to invest $10 billion of public employee pension funds “in a sound fiduciary way to fix crumbling infrastructure, create jobs, and deliver solid returns.” She claims that this has created 30,000 jobs. No mention of wages, benefits, union rights, etc. Weingarten does not mention what gives her the authority to use the pension funds of her members in this risky way.
In her conversation with the AEI’s Frederick Hess, he asked (47:14) about the proposal at that time by 

The Gates Foundation of a two-year moratorium on the consequences of Common Core assessments. He noted this is what Weingarten had proposed in 2013. He also noted that Weingarten in June, 2010 said Common Core “is essential building blocks for a better educational system”, but in 2012 she said the implementation was far worse than the way Obamacare was implemented. He asked her position on the Common Core. After speaking of what she learned in her six years of teaching Weingarten replied (48:05):
"If you think about all those statements, they’re pretty consistent. I’m a big believer in it and I am for the following reasons. I was a lawyer before I was a teacher so I had the opportunity to learn and practice the Socratic method.  I was also a litigator. That tool actually helped me more than virtually any other tool that I had for teacher prep in teaching my kids Civics and the Bill of Rights. When I look at the original standards in the Common Core: the going for deeper knowledge and for applying facts, and not just knowing things, but trying to come up with problem solving and critical thinking, what it took me back to was my teaching at Clara Barton High School …"
After a long monologue about her teaching, Hess interrupted her and asked why in 2013 was she upset by the implementation of Common Core.  She then went on for ten minutes explaining how the Common Core could be better implemented.

She concluded that (54:08): “In some ways the Business Roundtable, The Gates Foundation, the Learning First Alliance; have all said a year later, “Wait a second, if you really want this to work, you got to do, not only the adjustments, but you have to give people the time to actually learn what we’re saying is an important new strategy for deeper learning for children.”

At the beginning of her remarks (4:40), Randi Weingarten told the AEI audience that she engages with AEI because she believes in vigorous debate. As an example (6:20) she said, “We will have a real share of vigorous debate at the our (AFT) Convention this summer. I have promised that we are going to have an hour debate on the Common Core on the floor of our Convention. In New York… we call debate conversation.” The AFT Convention was held one month after Weingarten’s conversation with AEI.

George Schmidt of Chicago’s Substance News documented the “conversation” that happened at the AFT Convention over Common Core
It became apparent that it wasn’t going to be a debate about what’s best for the students, but what UFT -- and more broadly the leadership, which has always been centered in New York -- wanted. These “thugs” were not teachers, delegates noted. As the days of struggle unfolded, more and more delegates noted that they were bullies sent to block any attempt by the CTU to have an honest open debate about issues including Common Core, high stakes testing and special education in the context of "education reform" in 2014. The Educational Issues committee managed to shove through every resolution, including one supporting common core state standards for early childhood -- which is Pre-K – 3rd. The only resolution they did not push forward was anti-testing special education which was sent back to the executive council after a maneuver. It appeared to this reporter that the UFT was more interested in knocking down CTU resolutions than listening to the arguments and applying that information to the students they serve.
Even Weingarten allies were outraged at how the AFT leadership stifled debate on the Common Core. After the Convention, Diane Ravitch commented:
Stephen Sawchuck did a good job reporting the heated debate about the Common Core standards at the AFT convention. The Chicago Teachers Union wanted to dump them. The head of the New York City United Federation of Teachers mocked the critics of the standards. One union official said that the critics represented the Tea Party. That’s pretty insulting to the Chicago Teachers Union and one-third of the AFT delegates, as well as people like Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, and me.
For a full description of the dispute over Common Core at the AFT Convention see Stephen Sawchuck’s column in Education Week AFT Common-Core Resolution Calls for Teacher Implementation.

To paraphrase Randi Weingarten’s questioning of her AEI audience about their knowledge of the collaboration of the AFT leadership with corporate education reform, who in the membership of the AFT and the general public knows about the depth of the collaboration of the AFT leadership with corporate education reform? Why don’t you know this?

Also see:
Randi Weingarten: Sleight of Hand Artist – Part 1
Schools Matter – April 19, 2015
Which Side Are You On?
Defend Public Education – July 14, 2014
Understanding Why the TURN Cancer Has to Be Cut Out of NEA and AFT
Schools Matter April 2014
Randi, Lily, and Their Common Core Fidelity
Mercedes Schneider @ deutch29 - April 27, 2015 
"Another gainful employment regulation opponent, the American Enterprise Institute, is listed as a Corinthian creditor. AEI scholars have repeatedly attacked rules, calling them as example of the Obama administration's "crusade against for-profit colleges." Last October Andrew Kelly, AEI's resident scholar on higher education education reform, specifically defended Corinthian and criticized the "Obama administration's bloodlust for such schools."

Ken Derstine on Randi Weingarten, Part 1

Randi Weingarten: Sleight of Hand Artist - Part 1
Ken Derstine
April 19, 2015
On April 13, 2015 American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten appeared on the Tavis Smiley show to have a conversation about the state of public education in the United States.

In the course of the conversation (14:20 minutes into the video), Tavis Smiley relates a meeting that he had with high school students in Detroit and how he was struck at how all of the students “do not buy into teaching to the test” and saw standardized tests as detrimental to their education.

Randi Weingarten responded (15:42) that schools need more hands on engagement such as happens at some Career/Tech Education schools. She said there should be multiple assessments for students to demonstrate learning.

However, embedded in her flowery talk about the need for multiple assessments, later in the interview, she supports the Senate version of the revised Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that calls for annual testing. The reason she gives that annual testing is needed (21:14) is that “civil rights leaders” say we need the tests so kids from low-income families “are not invisible”.

Weingarten also says the ESEA rewrite adopted by the Senate education committee and now going to debate in the full Senate says equity must be part of how schools are funded, but she is OK with leaving this up to the states, which is a guarantee of inequity because it depends on where you live. It may also be an attempt to defuse the Opt Out movement which will have to deal with each states different sets of standardized testing standards, which could splinter the national Opt Out movement into fifty pieces. This makes it all the more important that the Opt Out movement reject Weingarten’s endorsement of annual testing and unite around a policy of no standardized testing of any sort to rank students, teachers and schools.

Weingarten does not address Tavis Smiley’s question about students being opposed to standardized tests because they are of no benefit to their education. She does not mention in the conversation the burgeoning Opt Out movement. Nor does she disclose that she has been working for years with The Gates Foundation and The Broad Foundation to create a teacher evaluation system based on standardized test scores.

The depth of her involvement with corporate education reform was revealed on February 5th, 2015 at a conference of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. At the conference the paper “Singing from the Same Hymnbook”: Education Policy Advocacy at Gates and Broad” was discussed. The paper revealed (page 16 and 17) that between 2000-2012, Weingarten testified three times with corporate education reformers about their attempt to create a teacher evaluation system based on standardized tests.

As “Singing from the Same Hymnbook” stated of Weingarten’s testimony before Congress (Page 18 and 19):

Weingarten remained strongly committed to the collective bargaining process, but she also signaled a willingness to negotiate pay for performance systems. Weingarten’ s fellow panelists at the hearing were eager to note their alignment with the union leader. For example, Tim Daly of The New Teacher Project observed, “Secretary Duncan and some of my fellow panelists, including Randi Weingarten, are among those calling for more rigorous evaluation systems that recognize these differences.”

Shortly after Daly’s testimony, Professor Thomas Kane of Harvard University (and lead researcher on the Gates-funded Measures of Effective Teaching project), commented on Weingarten’ s cooperation with Measures of Effective Teaching: “Randi Weingarten deserves a lot of credit for supporting that effort, even when it was not easy.”

Citing the need for standardized tests to prevent “low-income kids from becoming invisible”, a perspective that many former civil rights leaders have been bought into. The standardized testing regime that Weingarten is supporting does make students from low income families visible, but it does the opposite of what is claimed. Standardized tests are being used to target schools and teachers in low-income communities for closure or turnaround from a public to a charter school for the profit of charter management companies. What the corporate reformers are creating is a two-tier education system segregating students by family income.

Weingarten was rewarded for her three appearances before Congress in support of teacher evaluation based on standardized tests. As stated in “Singing From the Same Hymnbook” (Page 17):

Overall, a pattern emerged wherein Gates and Broad increased advocacy grant
funding to groups that gave frequent testimony—defined as three or more appearances before Congress from 2000 to 2012. Advocacy grant dollars to these groups grew by more than $12 million from 2005 to 2010—well above the overall growth in funding for national advocacy groups.

As part of this group, up until 2013 (when an outcry from AFT members caused the AFT leadership to say they supposedly would no longer take money from The Gates Foundation), the AFT was given $11,343,925 by The Gates Foundation.

Earlier in the conversation on his show (10:15), Tavis Smiley asked Randi Weingarten about the involvement of hedge fund managers, Bill Gates, and Eli Broad in public education. Weingarten responded (11:20) that due to one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression, school-systems, especially urban and rural school-systems, were desperate for money and the “philanthropies” stepped in to help out.

Weingarten gives as a second reason for corporate “philanthropy”:

What Eli Broad, what Bill Gates, what others really believe, they really believe this, that the effort of a teacher is directly correlative to the success of the student. They really believe that, and that you can measure that by an English or Math test score.  So if all you do is shake the teacher up than that student will do better.

So once again, we have a sleight of hand. What she presents as benevolent “philanthropy” is an embedded apologia for corporate education reform, that they mean well but they just misunderstand teaching and tests.

What is actually happening to public education has all of the characteristics of a hostile takeover that are a constant churn in the corporate world. Even before the recession, the public schools were increasingly starved of resources to advance a corporate reform agenda of privatization of public education. The goal of privatization of public schools is to make taxpayer dollars available for corporate profit. Weingarten never acknowledges a hostile intent by corporate education reform, but presents them as well intentioned corporate entities looking out for the common good.

Perhaps Weingarten’s steering the viewers of The Tavis Smiley Show away from this understanding can be attributed to her more than ten year collaboration with the Gates Foundation and The Broad Foundation. Weingarten’s method is to say in public (within limits) - on talk shows, in speaking to the corporate media, and to her loyal supporters in the AFT - what a teachers’ union leader would be expected to say. The corporate media sees her as the go-to person for the teacher point of view. Behind the scenes, however, is another story hidden in plain sight, of the collaboration of the president of the AFT with corporate education reform.

Also see:

Which Side Are You On? | Defend Public Education!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Like Father . . .

In what may be Don Jr.'s last political speech before being indicted, he had this memorable line:

“Keep up that fight, bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth. You don’t have to do it.”

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Ken Derstine on Hillary Clinton

Will the Real Hillary Clinton Please Stand Up?

Hillary Clinton with Eli Broad at the pre-ball dinner hosted by Broad
at the Inauguration Ball of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009.

by Ken Derstine

December 23, 2015

Hillary Clinton has caused a major scramble by her supporters after she spoke at a small high school outside Des Moines, Iowa. In her remarks she told the students at Keota High School on Tuesday, December 22,

This school district and these schools throughout Iowa are doing a better than average job. Now I wouldn't keep any school open that wasn't doing a better than average job. If a school is not doing a good job then, you know, that may not be good for the kids, but when you have a district that is doing a good job it seems kind of counterproductive to impose financial burdens on it.

Her political opponents have seized on this, claiming that she is in favor of closing almost half the schools in the country.

U.S. News and World Report came to her defense Wednesday, December 23, saying her remarks “were taken out of context”. Education writer Diane Ravitch agreed. Sounding like a Clinton campaign manager, Ravitch echoed the paper, saying.

She mis-spoke. Hillary understands that the federal government doesn’t close schools. Period. A mistake. A slip of the tongue. An unthinking bow to corporatist ideology. She was wrong and she knows it. She has to walk back this careless statement. We don’t need any more school closings. Such closings have had a disproportionately harmful affect on communities of color.  Talk about school support, school helping, not closings. That’s yesterday.

So where does Clinton stand on the Broad method of closing “low-performing” public schools in low-income communities and turning them over to charters?

In a December 17th article in the Wall Street Journal, “Clinton Views on Charter Schools, Teacher Evaluations Upset Some Democrats” (You must do a Google search for the article title to get the full article.) it was reported that some neo-liberal Democrats are worried that Hillary Clinton isn’t fully committed to corporate education reform. Laura Meckler reported,

Their worries stem from skeptical comments she has made about charter schools and teacher evaluations, as well as her close relationship with teachers’ unions, who are critical of both.

There are a lot of deep-pocketed donors who are concerned, and they’re going to hang onto their checkbooks until there is more clarity,” said Whitney Tilson, managing partner of Kase Capital, who has given more than $150,000 to Democrats in recent years. He hasn’t donated any money to Mrs. Clinton or the super PAC supporting her this year “primarily because of this issue.”

Another major Democratic donor, Eli Broad, refused requests for contributions from another friendly super PAC, and only changed his mind after personal reassurances from former President Bill Clinton and campaign chairman John Podesta that Mrs. Clinton will support charter schools.

Besides the misleading statement that the leadership of the teachers’ unions are opposed to teacher evaluations based on standardized tests and charters, the article portrays Eli Broad and Bill Clinton as distant acquaintances.  On September 19, 2015, at the dedication of Eli Broad’s museum in Los Angeles, the LA Times Reported,

Of his friendship with the Broads, Clinton turned to them and asked,
“What year did you come and sit in the living room with me?” Edythe Broad noted that Clinton daughter Chelsea, now an active figure in the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, had been a baby at the time and that Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate and former secretary of State, had been Eli’s lawyer. After settling on 1983, Clinton said, “I looked up one day and Eli was in my living room, and my life has never been the same.” (Boldface added)

Far from being distant acquaintances, the Clinton’s have had a close relationship with Eli Broad for more than thirty years. [See my article “Eli Broad and the Clintons: Update of the Update” for the full details.]

It should also be pointed out that Mortimer Zuckerman, the chairman and editor-in-chief of the U.S. News and World Report (and publisher of the New York Daily News), was on the Broad Foundation Board of Directors for a number of years.

Also see:

Context Does Not Absolve Clinton
Curmudgucation – December 23, 2015

Hillary Clinton: Still on the Hook
Mercedes Schneider @ deutsch29 

Was Hillary misquoted? Taken out of context?
Mike Klonsky's Smalltalk Blog - December 23, 2015
Includes a report on Randi Weingarten's supporting role in the damage control.

Which Side Are You On, Hillary?
The New York Times - March 12, 2015

Ignored, Uninformed and for the GOP, Crazy for Charters: Presidential Candidates Get an F Grade on K-12 Public Education
Alternet - March 24, 2016


For more related links, see this article on Defend Public Education!

Friday, February 08, 2019

Remembering Ken Derstine

Ken Derstine contributed to this blog for a good long time before I finally had the opportunity to meet him in 2016 at the last United Opt Out Conference in Philadelphia.  

Ken's health was not the greatest at that time.  Beneath his kindness, generous spirit, and dedication, you could tell he didn't feel well.  That did not stop him, though.  He was on the go the entire weekend, and he introduced me to some of Philadelphia's most effective advocates for humane public schools, as well as some of Philly's most fearsome opponents of corporate education reform.

After the conference, Ken continued to contribute to Schools Matter, while running his own blog (linked below) and publishing every week the most important education news links.

In 2018, I took a hiatus from SM, and I noticed that Ken's posts grew more sparse at the same time. 

Just after New Year's, one of Ken's many friends in Philly wrote to let me know that Ken's health had deteriorated and that he had moved out west to live his sister.  I was able to chat with Ken only once after that, and I shared with him how much his contributions were missed.  Before I had the chance to send Ken the book I had promised, I found out that he was gone.  

During the coming days, I plan to post some of Ken's most widely read commentaries, which remain so relevant today.  Advocates for humane education will miss Ken's dedication and his service.   Thank you, Ken, for your relentless humanism and for your many years of dedicated service to the educational enterprise.  

Below is a fitting tribute by Dale Mezzacappa:

Ken Derstine, 70, a retired teacher and committed public school activist, died Saturday in Washington State, where he had gone to live with his sister after several months of declining health.

Derstine taught in the Philadelphia School District for 37 years. After retirement, he became part of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS), a watchdog group composed of former and current District employees. He was a fixture at nearly every meeting of the School Reform Commission, where he videotaped all the proceedings to maintain a careful public record.

“He was so passionate and so deeply knowledgeable,” said Eileen Duffey-Bernt, a school nurse who worked with Derstine at Meredith Elementary School, and then in APPS. “Whenever he would talk about education reform, he had a big-picture sense of history, democracy, and ideas that blew me away and made me realize how smart he was.”

Derstine joined up with APPS after participating in Occupy 440, a campaign organized by Duffey-Bernt and several others after the District cut all its school nurses after drastic cuts in state education aid. About 100 nurses were laid off, and for months, they and their supporters showed up every Wednesday afternoon to demonstrate at District headquarters, rain or shine.

“I learned who my friends were when I did the nurse rallies,” said Duffey-Bernt. “Before, he had been the nice guy in the next classroom, but for this, he showed up.”

A former teacher of technology and special education, Derstine designed and maintained the APPS website and did extensive research into myriad education issues.

“Ken told me he planned on spending his retirement researching the background story behind why big-money interests were investing in what he saw as an alarming plan to dismantle public education as we know it,” Duffey-Bernt said.

That he did. For years, he sent out a daily newsletter that scoured local, state, and national sources for relevant writings on the educational reform movement that advocated for more privatization, which he pilloried as destructive. His newsletter was called the “Pennsylvania Education Crisis Highlights.”

For all his passion, he was quiet, preferring to stay in the background. Unlike the other APPS members, he did not regularly address the SRC. Instead, he diligently manned his camera, did his meticulous research, and updated the group’s website without drawing attention to himself.

He made an exception in April 2018 to speak about the planned phaseout of Strawberry Mansion as a neighborhood comprehensive high school. His remarks ran on his website, called Defend Public Education!, and were adapted for a Notebook commentary piece.

Superintendent William Hite said the reason for the phaseout was the school’s precipitously declining enrollment, which then stood at fewer than 300 students. Derstine, who went to the neighborhood and talked to local residents, wasn’t buying that. His speech drew on his sense of history and erudition.

“What caused the decline in enrollment? An economic, social, and psychological war was waged against the school over many years,” he said, his low-key delivery belying the force of his words. “In the school’s lobby stands a knight in armor, the football team’s mascot. This is appropriate because in the last 10 years, the school has been under siege. In the Middle Ages, if a king wanted to take over a town, he would have his knights surround it and cut off all commerce into and out of the town. When the town was reduced to starvation, the knights could easily occupy it. This is what has happened to Strawberry Mansion. Now, the school’s own symbol is a grim reminder.

“For 10 years, like all public schools in this period, Strawberry Mansion was starved of classroom resources, lost counselors, had a part-time nurse for many years, and lost a library with a certified librarian. Instead of putting resources into the school to lower class sizes and bring back support staff, the school was pushed over the cliff.”

At a goodbye event organized for Derstine in November 2018 just before he moved west to be with his sister, a community member from Strawberry Mansion thanked him for his commitment in song. Organizers expected seven or eight people at the event, but more than 30 showed up.

“He really cared about people on the margins, particularly urban public school kids. That’s what motivated him,” said Duffey-Bernt.

Derstine grew up in an evangelical Mennonite family in northeastern Pennsylvania, said Lisa Haver, a founder of APPS. As a young man, he refused to participate in the draft for the Vietnam War.

“He didn’t believe in the war or in killing people he had no beef with,” Haver said. Although he didn’t leave the country like some other draft resisters, he “went off the grid” and spent years traveling while “relying on the goodness of people,” according to Duffey-Bernt. Starting then and lasting for much of his adult life, he was estranged from most of his family.

He made his way to Philadelphia and decided to become a teacher.

“It turned out to be a great career for him,” Haver said. “He knew a lot about education and was really good to the kids.”

He was a true intellectual, she added. “I learned something from him every day.”

He taught in several schools throughout his career, including Meredith and Bache-Martin Elementary, which is where Leah Jafir first met him. She worked in information technology and was taking courses at Temple University with thoughts of making the switch to teaching. She was sent to observe Derstine’s computer classroom.

“I thought it looked chaotic and crazy when I first observed him for a whole semester,” she said. “But I realized that he just had a way with the kids. He always seemed like he wanted to be there. He was a true teacher, and he deeply cared about every child he taught.”

Jafir said they became friends, especially after Derstine retired.

“He was someone I would always turn to just to discuss the struggles in the classroom and beyond,” said Jafir, who now teaches English language learners at G.W. Childs Elementary School in South Philadelphia. “Anything about human rights or social injustices, or the political environment, he always had a different insight than independent or mainstream media might offer. … He taught me a lot about how to support people and not be judgmental and be true to yourself as well.”

He donated bountifully and often anonymously to various causes and organizations, especially those that served the city’s most needy. Sometimes he helped Jafir pay for field trips and supplies for her students. “He was always generous to those in need,” Duffey-Bernt said.

Although he had worked assiduously for the demise of the SRC and the return of the District to local control, Derstine’s health began to fail right around the time that the new Board of Education took over in July, and he was not present for most of their meetings. But the practice of videotaping them continues.

His friends described him as “minimalist” in his personal life, but Derstine enjoyed hiking and the occasional trip to the Metropolitan Opera.

His Philadelphia friends are planning a memorial service at a later date.

“He truly believed in all children having the right to a great public education,” said Jafir. “That’s his legacy.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Cashing In on Happiness Training for Children of the Poor

The ever-vigilant and insightful Alison McDowell has an important piece at her blog on another branch of the vast and growing body of social impact investing.  This one, which will "treat" the youngest victims of poverty, links up a number of mutually-supportive groups: social efficiency zealots, paternalist social fixers, Wall Street investors, and some of the princes and princesses of academic hackdom, e. g. Seligman, Duckworth, and Heckman.

This clip focuses on links between Seligman and the "happiness" centers operating in poor urban districts in Britain.  Do read the entire piece, which represents a major addition to our understanding of this latest social control front.
The fiscal reasoning for the “pay for success” mental health outsourcing rests on research done by Sir Richard Layard, Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. Similar to James Heckman at the University of Chicago, Layard created an economic cost/benefit analysis that allowed the government to scale a vast expansion of mental health services through the NHS starting in 2006. By estimating the number of lost workdays associated with depression, anxiety, and addiction, the government was able to use the value of that labor as a cost off set to pay the impact investors.

As early as 2001, Layard developed the Wellbeing Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance where he sought to “establish happiness as a desirable and measurable goal of public policy in the UK and worldwide.” Early efforts included importing the Child Resilience Program that had been developed by Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Of course Seligman and his collaborator Angela “grit” Duckworth were the ones who developed the “character framework” used by the emotionally brutal KIPP “no excuses” charter franchise.

The Wellbeing Programme’s most significant contribution was launching Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT). Under this program drop-in “Happiness Centres” were placed in low-income neighborhoods where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was offered, according to one Guardian article, as an “Ikea of the mind” where “the feel good factor was flat-packed for you to take home.” As cloud based computing began to take over the health-care industry, the pressure to digitize therapy grew more intense. In recent years the NHS’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been investigating “evidence-based” digital therapies, delivered online or by app for depression and anxiety. The claim is that these platforms make therapy more accessible, but they also generate vast amounts of data as all the online interactions are captured in digital transcripts. As with “personalized” online learning, this transformation aligns closely with the needs of the “what-works” “data-driven” service delivery model.