Monthly Archives: August 2013

When will the civil rights community wake up to your propaganda?

My message to Bill Gates re: civil rights… (optional)

Teachers' Letters to Bill Gates

Racism Wordle

Dear Bill,

I’d like to believe that everyone who’s interested in education has a common goal: to ensure that each child in America, regardless of race, creed, or circumstance, has access to great public schools. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the education reform policies you promote—which you claim help civil rights causes—actually accomplish the exact opposite goal: they cripple the institution of public education and segregate, divide, and stratify our society—beginning with our children.

The biggest and most central problem with the education reform movement is one that anyone who advocates for civil rights will find uncomfortably familiar: its agenda is driven singularly by generalizations and stereotypes, starting with blanket claims that public schools are failing, teachers are failing, and, most upsetting, that our children are failing. While few people would doubt that there are schools, teachers, and children who could be performing better, it is inappropriate, demoralizing, and…

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“College and career ready”: super important–unless you go to college for education and choose teaching as your career

Children all over the country, even small ones, are suddenly finding themselves fretting about whether or not they’re “college and career ready.” The reform community throws this buzzphrase around recklessly and carelessly, primarily to scare the general public into thinking that public schools are not preparing children for their futures—and secondarily to promote the privatization agenda that’s a logical outgrowth of such a claim.

Yet there’s little talk about the ultimate irony of the issue of “college and career readiness”: at the very same time reformers insist that “college and career readiness” is of supreme importance, they diminish and devalue the educations and careers of the teachers who are tasked with edifying our children–and promote the idea that one doesn’t need to be an expert in anything related to education in order to run a school district.

At the forefront of the reform debate is the issue of teacher preparedness, and polluting the public’s perception of what qualifies one to be a teacher are reformers like Jeb Bush, who suggest that traditional university teacher-training programs are ineffective.  Teach for America, an organization that trains college graduates who did not pursue coursework in the education field in an intensive five-week summer “institute”—and then places these newly-identified “teachers” in inner-city classrooms—are taking advantage of attacks on traditional credential programs and finding favor with districts looking to reduce costs by laying off career educators and hiring novices.  Most Teach for America corps members, as they’re called, teach for a couple of years and then move on to bigger and better careers in finance, law, or even educational administration—as if five weeks of study and two years in the classroom make one an expert in the field.  The message TFA sends is simple: anyone can be a teacher, regardless of whether or not he devoted his higher-education experience to studying how children learn, and there is no value in a person’s experience or commitment to the education profession.  Further, the fact that TFA corps members land in schools that serve a disproportionate percentage of minority, special education, or ELL students advances the belief that untrained temps are the most equipped people to teach students who need the most help–and that experienced teachers who have spent their adult lives working with such populations are no longer needed.

Reformers who rally behind programs like Teach for America are the same ones who believe that continuing education isn’t important for professionals who seek to improve their craft. Lawmakers in North Carolina, for example, just passed legislation that eliminates pay increases for teachers who earn advanced degrees after they begin teaching.  So traditionally-trained teachers aren’t good enough, but they shouldn’t bother trying to get better.  How hypocritical must one be to insist that teachers aren’t preparing students for college and career readiness—and simultaneously disrespect one of the nation’s most important professions and the role continuing education plays in teacher improvement?

And in New Jersey, Chris Christie just appointed Paymon Rouhanifard, a 32-year-old former Goldman Sachs investor with virtually no experience in education, as the State Superintendent of the Camden school district.  Not surprisingly, Rouhanifard is a Teach for America alum—so he only has two years of experience teaching children.  Yet Rouhanifard, who holds undergraduate degrees in economics and political science (no doubt part of what makes him appealing to reformers, who see our children as means for profit and political gain), will earn $210,000 per year at a job for which he isn’t qualified; he’ll operate under a provisional certificate while he participates in a two-year program that will teach him how to be the superintendent of a school district.  In the meantime, it seems, Christie and Cerf are confident in Rouhanifard’s ability to politick and number-crunch the district to success.  Again, the message is clear: traditionally-trained, credentialed, career educators are the problem—and politicians and non-teachers know better the needs of children and academic communities.

It’s clear that reformers themselves have a very specific definition of what constitutes “college and career readiness,” yet their definition is unclear to the rest of us.  For what college does standardized testing prepare students?  for what career? From virtually the moment children enter school, they learn that only people who possess a very specific set of skills will ever be “college and career ready.”  A child who’s a musical genius but who performs poorly on standardized testing, for example, is not “college and career ready” if he can’t pass standardized tests in English and math–even if he wants to pursue an education and career in music. But instead of helping such students to develop their talents, public schools will be forced to focus their efforts on making sure those students learn how to take tests in order to earn the “college and career ready” stamp.

In such a climate, students have very little reason to even believe that “college and career readiness” is important, particularly when the people who use that phrase consistently devalue and undermine career educators and their profession in general–and particularly when the people who use that phrase determine for children which colleges, subject areas, and careers are important and which are not.

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Arne Duncan: YOU take the tests and publish your scores

According to Arne Duncan and his friends in the reform movement, America’s public schools are failing their children. And the best way to fix this problem and instill a real love of learning in America’s kids, Duncan and his friends say, is to require districts—many of which are already financially strapped because of billions of dollars in funding cuts—to spend millions of dollars to test, test, and test their kids.

Duncan, who has forced the nation’s public schools into a testing frenzy without determining whether or not doing so is even a good idea, is a tireless cheerleader for the clinical culture he pushes—even as recently-released test scores sent the message that about 70% of NYC children and their teachers are failures. Duncan has ignored the concerns of millions of educators who say that overtesting kills students’ love of learning, narrows schools’ programs of studies, and results in canned curricula– and he does not care that despite claims that testing helps teachers drive instruction, teachers cannot learn from tests or student responses they’re not allowed to see (and which aren’t available until the summer after the tests are administered—when students are no longer in the same teacher’s class).

In a recent effort to help adults understand the ridiculousness of the testing culture Duncan promotes, Rhode Island’s Providence Student Union invited lawmakers, engineers, reporters, scientists, and other professionals to take a shortened version of the state’s NECAP exam. Once the tests were scored, the Providence Student Union released a statement revealing that 60% of the test-takers would have been deemed “substantially below proficient” and at risk of not being eligible for a high school diploma.

Even Charlotte Danielson, whose “Framework for Teaching” is now being used all over the country to evaluate teachers, says that the current testing movement is a “train wreck” waiting to happen:

“The test items I’ve seen that have been released so far are extremely challenging. If I had to take a test that was entirely comprised of items like that, I’m not sure that I would pass it—and I’ve got a bunch of degrees.”

So, Mr. Duncan, how about you (and Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, John King, and anyone else who advocates for the same misuse of standardized testing that you do) take the tests you claim are so good for kids—and then release your results?

Here are the rules:

  • You are not to bring smartphones, electronic devices, dictionaries, study aides, food, or drinks into the testing room.
  • If you need to erase an answer, make sure you do so thoroughly, because they machine scoring your test may pick up on erasures.
  • If you record your answers in the wrong section of your answer booklet, you must alert your proctor—who must then alert the testing coordinator.
  • If you feel ill and need to leave the room—or otherwise cause a disturbance—your testing coordinator will be required to fill out an incident report.
  • You may not look at any section of the exam other than the one on which you are instructed to work. Doing so will invalidate your test.
  • You may not ask questions about the content of the exam.
  • After each section of the test, you may stand up and stretch for approximately one minute, but you may not talk.
  • When you are finished the exam, you may not discuss it with your peers, your teachers, or your parents. All information about the exam must be kept confidential.
  • Once your test is scored—typically within a few months—you will receive notification of your score in the mail. If your score doesn’t seem right to you, especially if your test was created and scored by Pearson or McGraw Hill, have have someone question company—and fast.
  • You will never see this exam again, and your teachers will not see it, so none of you will know how or why you earned the score you did.

We will wait anxiously to learn of your results. Maybe once your scores are released you’ll finally understand what educators and parents all over the country have been telling you:

STOP. You have reached the end of the testing movement that is destroying public education in America. Please put down your pencil and close your booklet.

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Rush Limbaugh: Ashton Kutcher teaches kids about hard work when teachers don’t!

Because of a brief, apolitical speech he gave at the Teen Choice Awards on August 11th, Ashton Kutcher—who spent much energy endorsing President Obama during both of his presidential campaigns—is being praised and courted by conservatives for what they insist is an anti-liberal message about the value of hard work.  The speech itself was fairly generic—yet at the same time personal–and was certainly an admirable message for Kutcher to convey as he accepted the Ultimate Choice award.

Enter the ever-excitable Rush Limbaugh, who pounced on the opportunity of Kutcher’s speech (even acknowledging Kutcher’s history of left-leaning political persuasion) to blame everyone he could think of–including teachers–for what he perceives is the prevailing message children in America hear: that hard work isn’t worth it and that capitalists are evil.

“This is a message that young kids today are not hearing except maybe in their homes from their parents, but they’re not hearing this. They’re not hearing this from Obama. They’re not hearing this from presidential or political leadership.  This kind of message of hard work, the traditional American route to success and happiness is what’s being made fun of, it’s what’s being said is not possible anymore.  The reason why there is a malaise, this fog of depression that has rolled in over this whole country, is because young people particularly don’t think there’s any opportunity for them.  They don’t think there’s any left.  They don’t believe there’s any prosperity out there for them.

They have been told that evil corporations and evil Republicans and the rich have taken it all from them.  Do not laugh.  The vast majority of even college graduates are taught this.  So when Kutcher, at the Teen Choice Awards, stands up and offers a traditional, uplifting, motivational, and inspirational speech on how he became successful, it’s remarkable.  I say remarkable because the low-information crowd watching it is hearing it. They ended up cheering it, and they’re not hearing it, except perhaps in their homes.  We don’t know of course what goes on with their parents, but we know that everywhere else they go, we know that the songs they listen to, we know that the movies they watch, we know that the classrooms that they attend, do not give them this message.” (Emphasis mine.)

Where to start…

So in Rush’s estimation, our country’s children are a “low-information crowd,” and they suffer from “malaise,” a “fog of depression,” and a sense of hopelessness stemming from the fact that they “don’t believe there’s any prosperity out there for them”—because politicians, the media, professors, and teachers teach them as much.

This claim is, of course, consistent with Rush’s insistence that teachers “have found an easy way to a good living” and are motivated solely by money, even though they claim “they’re motivated by good intentions, by their big hearts.”  Why wouldn’t teachers, then, encourage their students to be freeloaders too?  teach them that nobody needs to work hard in America–and they themselves are proof? Because, according to Rush, teachers are “freeloaders” who, along with their unions, “don’t want to give up the gravy train.”

Now Rush is thanking goodness for Ashton, because in a world in which Democrats and freeloading teachers driven solely by money (what was that you said about capitalism, Rush?) are teaching our kids not to work hard, Ashton stands (in Rush’s clear-thinking mind, of course) with Rush Limbaugh as an example of and advocate for hard work and determination–when no such other examples exist in America.

(I’m sure that being celebrated and praised by Rush Limbaugh was way up on Ashton Kutcher’s bucket list, so he can check that one off. )

To advance his case even further (and to make himself even happier), Rush concludes that the reason for Kutcher’s political revelation must be Kutcher’s role as Steve Jobs in the newly-released biopic, Jobs.  Limbaugh points out similarities between the content of Kutcher’s speech and the Jobs’s 2005 commencement address at Stanford—both of which were largely apolitical—and draws the implicit conclusion that Kutcher, inspired by his research about and portrayal of Jobs  (who told Obama in 2010 that busting teachers unions was the only way to achieve real “education reform”) simply MUST have seen the conservative light that Rush has been shining for so long.

It couldn’t be that Kutcher just admires Jobs for his hard work and accomplishments.

And it’s definitely not possible for someone to be a Democrat (or a teacher, for that matter–but they’re all Democrats anyway) and value hard work.

It’s really too bad Rush hates teachers so much—because otherwise, he could get into a classroom and teach kids the morals and values that he himself obviously possesses but of which our nation’s “low-information” children are obviously bereft.

Until then, I suppose he’ll just rely on Ashton Kutcher to convey that message to America’s kids.

 

 

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Twittery Jeb Bush: trying to kill #PublicEducation in 140 characters or less

If there’s anyone left who’s not convinced that Jeb Bush is one of the biggest enemies of public education in the United States, a quick glance at his twitter page should confirm what the rest of us already know.

One clue is this August 9th tweet, which came on the heels of his attendance at the annual ALEC conference in Chicago:

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At the ALEC convention, Bush, the consummate Common Core cheerleader, spoke in defense of the much-debated implementation of the standards—even when it meant making his ALEC pals, who aren’t all happy about the reach of the CCSS, shift uncomfortably in their seats. In the grand scheme of things, though, Jeb and ALEC hold hands when it comes to education reform: “The mission of ALEC’s Education Task Force is to promote excellence in the nation’s educational system, to advance reforms through parental choice, to support efficiency, accountability, and transparency in all educational institutions, and to ensure America’s youth are given the opportunity to succeed.”

While this statement is troublingly misleading as a whole, the most deceitful claim is that ALEC advocates for “transparency in all educational institutions”—especially given the fact that Jeb Bush, along with all of his friends in the reform community, promote reliance on high-stakes tests that nobody is allowed to see and refuse to fault Tony Bennett for his underhanded and covert attempts to misrepresent the success (failure) of the Christel House Academy charter school.

Here, Bush sings the praises of the now-disgraced Bennett: (Perhaps this tweet inspired Bennet to find the words for his now-publicized pre-resignation email in which he professed his love for Bush and Mitch Daniels.)

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Then there’s the ridiculous attack on Matt Damon’s decision to enroll his children in LA private schools, no doubt to keep them out of the very schools that are underfunded, overtested, and plagued by Bush’s own damaging reforms. In a gross perversion of the real issue, Jeb Bush attempts to claim that public school advocates who believe strongly in the institution itself are elitists if they choose to pay to send their children to private schools and are NOT the supporters of public education they claim to be if they identify–and wish to avoid–problems in those schools.

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A little further down on the twitter page, Bush shows his coziness with the folks at Parent Revolution, posting a link to a PoloticalPro article entitled “First public school seized by parents set to open.”  How anyone can think that a school “seized by parents” will function as well as one operated by career educators is mind-boggling, yet Jeb is insistent that parent trigger laws are the way to go.

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Then there’s the 6/28 love-fest exchange between Jeb and public education enemy Scott Walker in which Walker thanks Bush for joining a “conference call to talk about education reform,” and Bush responds by thanking Walker for “being a bold advocate for student-centered education reform.”  (If “student-centered” is code for “teacher-bashing,” “union-busting,” “standardized,” “punitive,” or “for-profit,” then I get what he’s trying to say.)

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But my favorite is a 5/31 tweet that links followers with a “Must read for those who want the facts.”  The article, posted by Foundations for Excellence in Education (“Founded by Jeb Bush, the Foundation for Excellence in Education is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering excellence in education across America”) addresses claims about the Common Core and then “corrects” those claims with “facts.”  Here’s the best:

Claim: “It’s not only public schools that must obey the fed’s dictates. Common Core will control the curriculum of charter schools, private schools, religious schools, Catholic schools and homeschooling.”

Fact: While the Common Core Standards are internationally benchmarked, rigorous, clear and straightforward enough to lend themselves easily to voluntary adoption by charter schools, private and faith-based schools and home schools, these entities will continue to have maximum flexibility on how and what they teach their kids.

So don’t worry!  If you don’t like the CCSS, home school your kids or enroll your kids in a charter, private, or faith-based school–because those schools “will continue to have maximum flexibility on how and what they teach their kids”!

Right.

I haven’t been able to bring myself to push the “follow” button and receive Jeb-y updates on my home screen, but I did find checking on Jeb’s twitter page to be a good exercise in determining whether deep breathing really is an effective means for controlling blood pressure.  The page is also sprinkled with shout-outs to Peter Flanigan, Rich Crandall, Lebron James, and the “World’s greatest dad!”, some thinly-veiled self-promotion (while FL grad rates increased 23% over a decade, the nation only averaged a 7.9% increase”–6/6) and it even shows Jeb’s interest in international education relations through his 5/13 tweet (and attached link) that “Mexico will flourish if the teacher union is reformed.”

Truly revolutionary!

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An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear President Obama,

In the spirit of Racing to the Top, I thought it would be appropriate to send my concerns, which are immediate and urgent, directly to you.

As a public school teacher, I can say with confidence that the institution of public education in the United States is not failing–but the policies of those who promote damaging educational “reforms” are.

The immediate crises in so many of our nation’s school districts—particularly those in our major cities—are so shocking that I often wonder how such horrors can occur in what we all know to be the greatest country in the world. Chicago, New York, D.C., and Philadelphia have laid off thousands of teachers and staff and closed dozens of schools, and a disproportionate percentage of minority students have been affected by these cuts and closures.  Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said on August 8th that without $50 million in emergency funding, he would not be able to open the district’s schools for the 2013-2014 academic year on time. New York’s students and teachers were, in essence, set up to fail new, untested, and developmentally-inappropriate assessments by our own Department of Education—and then their failure was broadcast for the world to see.  Workers’ rights are being taken away—and our unions, which helped build America and which are so important for the strong middle class of which you so often speak, are being systematically and deliberately destroyed by profiteering millionaires in favor of cheap, inexperienced, temporary teaching labor.

Is this really America?

It is with great sadness—and even more fear—that I realize that yes, it is.

And so, amidst what I believe to be a crisis caused by damaging corporate-driven reforms, I find myself asking these questions each day:

  • How can anyone, in good conscience, advocate for reforms that are so fundamentally against what career educators know to be good for children?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that millionaires and lawmakers are better equipped to dictate educational policy than people who devote their life’s work to education?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, strip public schools of teachers, support staff, programs, and funding—and then expect the children in those public schools to thrive?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, close the neighborhood schools that should be the cultural and unifying centers of their communities?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, create tests that are developmentally inappropriate for the children who will take them—and then broadcast children’s abysmal scores on a national stage?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that subjecting children to weeks of high-stakes testing instills the love of learning we try so hard to foster in our children?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, ignore the opportunity gap that’s created by poverty and other social circumstances before children even enter kindergarten?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, promote—either implicitly or explicitly—people and corporations who profit from our children’s educations?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, promote programs—like inBloom—which jeopardize children’s and families’ rights to confidentiality?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that schools stripped of the arts, elective courses, extracurricular programs, athletics, teachers, support staff, counselors, and other personnel can serve even the very basic needs or our children?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, support spending tens of millions on testing when public schools are closing or operating without being able to provide basic necessities for students?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, malign the teaching profession as a whole—and then expect our nation’s teachers to function to their capabilities with the mountain of obstacles they face each day?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, label teachers as greedy—and at the same time promote reforms that line the pockets of millionaires and profiteering corporations?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that evaluating teachers based on students’ test scores can replace the personalized feedback that results from face-to-face observations and the resulting dialogues?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that teachers who are intrinsically motivated by their students’ successes would be “improved” by a monetary reward system of merit pay—which has been shown many times to be ineffective?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, advocate the use of taxpayer money for “school choice,” since doing so inherently suggests that the way to deal with struggling schools is to abandon them?
  • And how can anyone, in good conscience, fail to recognize that the more we take away from public school children, the more we will destroy one of the most important democratic institutions in our country?

If the current state of affairs continues on this dangerous trajectory, public education WILL fail—and the “reformers” who seek to privatize education and profit from our children will prevail.

I subscribe to John Dewey’s declaration that “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”  Yet I cannot imagine that those promoting education “reforms” would want for their own children the conditions—the testing, the program-cutting, the staff-firing, the large class sizes, the canned curricula— that they themselves are creating in America’s public schools.

I am just one teacher, yet I write to you with the inspiration from and on behalf of educators around the country who share my concerns. I will do everything in my power to help preserve the educational system in which I believe so strongly, and because I know you care about our children as much as I do, I hope you will help me.

Respectfully,

Ani McHugh

English Teacher, Delran High School

Delran, New Jersey

 

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Learn from Othello: the folly in failing to question the validity of manufactured “proof”

“Be sure of it. Give me the ocular proof.”

–Othello in Othello, 3.3.360

Summary of Shakespeare’s Othello:

1. Iago hates Othello and wants to destroy him.

2. Iago creates fake “proof” that Othello’s wife, Desdemona, is cheating on Othello.

3.Othello fails to question the validity of the “proof” and accepts it to be true.

4. The “proof” facilitates Othello’s downfall and ultimate destruction.

Mission accomplished for Iago. How tragic.

The much-anticipated release of New York students’ assessment results was at once anti-climactic and utterly shocking.

Department of Education officials, both at the federal and state levels, warned for months that students would perform poorly on the new tests, which were redesigned to reflect Common Core Learning Standards and measure students’ “progress toward college and career readiness.”

(What “college”? What “career”?)

We all heard these warnings, so the revelation that two thirds of NYC’s students failed both the math and ELA sections of the exam should not come as a surprise. Yet sometimes even news that one knows is inevitable is shocking when it is finally announced.

And now, many people are finding themselves saying, “they actually did it.”

They purposely humiliated and demoralized the children who were unfortunate enough to be New York’s 3rd-8th grade sacrificial lambs last spring–and they did so unapologetically. They created developmentally-inappropriate assessments, implemented them haphazardly, told families that children would fail, and then had the nerve to insist that that would be okay. Mayor Michael Bloomberg even called the horrific test scores “very good news.”

They purposely set children and teachers up for failure, and the NYC assessment results are “proof” that the majority of NY’s 3rd-8th grade children are not on the path to becoming “college and career ready”–and that our public schools are failing.

And now this “proof” will be used as justification for more testing mandates in public schools, more test score-based teacher evaluations, more “rigor,” more cuts to art/music/extracurricular/athletic programs, more school closings, more union-busting, more taxpayer dollars for “school choice,” and more opportunities for people to profit from our children.

Not surprising–yet still, somehow, utterly shocking.

Setting children up for failure to advance a political agenda—while at the same time pretending to have children’s best interests in mind—is one of the most deceitful, perverse, and despicable forms of manipulation that exists. And unless people realize that even “ocular proof” can be manipulated to support an overall plan to destroy public education, public education in this country will be doomed.

How tragic.

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Cory Booker and Oprah–so happy (promoting reform) together

Once upon a time, Oprah Winfrey’s support for and praise of teachers was unwavering.  She consistently recognized the teaching profession as one of the most important—and most difficult—in the world, and she showed her appreciation for teachers frequently on her show.  She even claimed that teaching was her “calling.”

Unfortunately, the world learned in 2010 that even staunch supporters of educators can fall under the spell of so-called education reformers who claim that public schools and their teachers are failing.

On the day that she covered Waiting for Superman, Oprah invited Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and director Davis Guggenheim to discuss the “shocking state of our school system”—but nowhere on the panel were advocates of public education or seasoned educators.  Viewers watched as Oprah’s guests painted vivid pictures of a failing American public school system–one that was rife with ineffective teachers and children who were “trapped” in figuratively-deplorable academic conditions.

It was as if the teachers Oprah had spent decades praising never existed at all.

On the same episode, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced his Startup Education $100 million pledge to Newark’s schools, and although the funds were reportedly donated to help “public” education, much of the money went toward the expansion of the city’s charter schools.  This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s DFER policies, as shortly after the grant announcement, Zuckerberg and Booker toured a KIPP charter school during what was undoubtedly a strategic PR opportunity. (Today, US News published a piece which details accusations that Booker mismanaged these funds.)

Oprah ended and qualified her hour-long public-education-bashing segment with a fleeting, 10-second remark: “Everybody knows I love good teachers, and there are so many thousands of you great ones in this country. So we’re not talking about you, if you’re a good teacher. So save your time getting upset.” And not to be outdone by any reformers, she announced the following day that she had chosen six charter schools to receive $1 million each in grants from her Angel Network.

And that was that.

Fast forward to 2013: on August 1st, Oprah hosted a fundraiser for Cory Booker on the very same night that the NAACP hosted a US Senate candidates’ forum, during which all the Democratic candidates (Booker, Pallone, Holt, and Oliver) for the party’s nomination were invited to discuss their positions on issues.

Given the choice between the two events, Booker chose the fundraiser:

One seat was empty, its bottle of spring water untouched.

Its placard said “Cory Booker.

Booker’s absence was glaring, and his opponents welcomed the opportunity to point it out.  Even the President of the Newark NAACP quipped, “You know what would be nice? If he brought Oprah over here.”

No such luck.  In true reformer style, Booker and Winfrey sent the message that making money is more important than substance and true, meaningful discussions of the issues.

In supporting Booker, Winfrey supports his reform agenda—one that favors vouchers and the expansion of charters, seeks to end teacher tenure, and advocates high stakes testing and teacher evaluation that depends on it.  And though Oprah apparently claimed at the Booker fundraiser that she doesn’t typically support political candidates, she’s evidently so taken with his political persona that she was unable to keep her opinions—and money—out of the mix.

In the end, Booker’s policies will destroy public education as we know it and exaggerate the “educational apartheid” that he claims he wants to fix–and that Oprah, who grew up in extreme poverty–knows all too well.

photo from USAToday.com

photo from USAToday.com

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Shining examples of moral bankruptcy: Tony Bennett and Michelle Rhee

Just hours after Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett resigned because of allegations that he manipulated Indiana’s grading system to ensure a friend’s charter school would get an “A” rating, queen of the education reform movement Michelle Rhee tweeted the following:

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It should be no surprise that Michelle Rhee is so quick to praise Bennett–even as his own emails expose his politically- and financially-motivated corruption and absence of ethics and judgment.  After all, Rhee herself has been the subject of investigations for what the Office of the State Superintendent of DC described as a host of test security violations, many labeled as “critical,” during Rhee’s tenure as Chancellor of the DC schools.

According to John Merrow, Rhee was “fully aware of the extent of the problem when she glossed over what appeared to be widespread cheating during her first year as Schools Chancellor in Washington, DC. A long-buried confidential memo from her outside data consultant suggests that the problem was far more serious than kids copying off other kids’ answer sheets.”

Yet Rhee, to whom Adrian Fenty gave supreme power when he appointed her as chancellor of DC schools, remains unfazed and unapologetic for security breaches that occurred on her watch.  As chancellor, she fired teachers and administrators arbitrarily and without hesitation, and her determination to “clean house” earned her praise from union busters and others who sought to blame all of problems in public education on educators.  (Rhee’s willingness to fire school staff without hesitation is especially curious, given that she herself spend very few years in the classroom; her first year was disastrous by her own account, and she had so little control of her students that she taped their mouths shut with masking tape so they would be quiet during the trek to the lunchroom.)

Reformers like Bennett share Rhee’s no-nonsense (actually, all nonsense) philosophies, and their aggressive and sweeping attacks on public schools have drawn attention and favor from people on both sides of the political spectrum. In today’s depersonalized, clinical, hostile reformy dream-world–where test scores rule, teachers are largely ineffective, things that can’t be measured aren’t worth learning, and privatization and profit are the answers–people like Michelle Rhee and Tony Bennett are shining examples that substance is not important–but that appearance is.  The illusion of success is what matters, and numbers and data can easily be manipulated to mean whatever one wants them to mean.  The financial and political favors one can gain from holding children’s educations hostage are more important than the children themselves, and by systematically dismantling public education, those participating in the destruction can profit immeasurably.

And apparently, “fewer failing schools” is something to brag about–even if it’s clear that the data to support such an assertion has been manipulated.

This, everyone, is the morally bankrupt face of education reform.

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