Organizing and Action

Posted: July 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

I have created (see link at here chart3 and at end of blog) a chart that may help folks in thinking through how to organize effective resistance to ed reform and crafting meaningful and effective alternatives to current education policies. My motivation to create this came from my own frustrations with a few things:

1) Where to begin? Sometimes parents, teachers and other community members will stop before they even get started because the whole mess just feels so damn overwhelming!

2) To better understand how we are all connected. Its a Catch 22 really. Politicians and legislators are the ones with the power to write bills that end bad policy and initiate good ones. But politicians are motivated by voters. Parents, teachers and community members must put weight on politicians to get them to do anything! Most of them are either woefully uninformed or bought out by corporate interests. So they need educating and serious pressure from us, and;

3) Focusing not only on what we are against but what we are FOR. Effective strategy includes a vision of what we want! And taking steps to manifest it.

The chart itself is rather simple. Here are some suggestions for things to insert into the chart (or to consider):

Who are the People in Your Neighborhood? (sung to a jaunty tune):  Now, what “we” want depends on the “we.” Generally speaking its the real stakeholders: Children in public schools, parents, and members of the local communities most affected by the changes to their public school systems. For example, in your state or district are parents, teachers and communities of color being silenced, sold out, or colonized? (note: this is most likely “yes” where ever you throw a dart at the US map…) Who must have a voice and input for change to be meaningful and effective? Do you have a strong teachers union? Parent organizations? Involvement from social organizations or clubs?

What organizing “looks” like is a local issue. For some communities the greatest concern right now might be school closures. For others it might be intrusion of online edu-tech companies inserting themselves in the public system. We are, all of us, affected in some way by all these things…but each community must focus on the specific battles it wishes to fight. Be specific and take concrete actions, issue by issue. One month you might focus on testing refusal and a few months later work on legislation that demands state tax payer dollars in public ed NOT go to testing but to some other school-based need like hiring more teachers, improving infrastructure, or preserving the school library.

Community organizing does not only include parents and teachers, but other groups/issues within the community. Again, advocacy and organizing directly bubble up from the needs of that community. It will most likely be slightly different in every location. But beyond our school walls, children in many rural and urban communities are affected by the effects of poverty. Therefore, effective education change must include members of social, medical, and business communities that could help create wrap around services and other needs.

Also locate one or more individuals who have necessary areas of expertise, time, or connections. You need somone who can negotiate legislative language and time to attend sessions. You need folks informed about corporate interests and can “dig” for non-transparent associations (i.e any of the 50Can groups disguised as grass roots weeding their way into your school? How can you find out?).  You need folks who can negotiate the ins and out of policies and practices of school boards, unions, and other influential organizations. And these folks need to coordinate THEIR efforts for maximun effect.

Where are You At? Different communities are in different phases of education reform and their resistance to it. Some communities are far more versed in what’s happening than others. Phillie has been levelled by charter schools, but where I live in Baltimore they’re just getting warmed up. Determine what “stage” your district or state is at. Do you need to focus on educating others by holding information sessions (step 1 in the chart)? Having an informed community is necessary before any solid actions can take place. People need to understand why they are fighting against and what they are fighting for. If your community is clear about both, then organizing revolves around steps 2-3 in the chart.

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Finally, organizing and action must be grounded in facts. The mainstream media and reformers can have a field day alluding to resistance as little more than “pissed off White soccer moms” or “tin foil hat” wearing fringe groups. We can easily be discredited by leading with assumptions or misinformation…or hijacked (manipulated) by ideological or political motives of others without realizing it. Predatory ed reform is not recent, nor conjured by a single political ideology. It’s roots goes back decades, and spans across the political aisles.

When engaging in steps 1-3 (on the chart chart3) and when working with legislators, make sure you have groups or individuals who have a solid working knowledge of the research and the facts, and lead with information over emotion or supposition. Ending bad policy must be led by proof. For example, when fighting charter school colonization, use data such as the UCLA study that documented that 37% of charter schools underperform their public school counterparts, and that charter school retention rates are a farce.

There are scores of educational researchers in higher education dedicated to changing this corporate-run landscape of education. Find us! Please! We are here and ready to help if anyone needs assistance with “academic language” or research to support your initiatives. Solutions must be grounded in evidence as well. Want more art in your child’s curriculum and less testing? Bring the studies that show how PE and music improve reading skills, and increase graduation rates. Demonstrate how nutrition, hands-on activities and after-school programs reduce behavioral concerns.

Know Where the Power Lies: Know who has the power to influence what. It does not all come down to legislation of course.  Remember, while it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the power of Emperor Bill Gates and a giant octopus of federal “mandates”…most school funding comes from the state and local level. Most decisions to push back against federal mandates must come from local and state voices. Using research to publicly CALL OUT local politicians and adminsitrators who have sold out to corporate or political interests. Shine a light on corruption.

So we have more power than we realize. And the most powerful changes come from strong and coordinated actions by local communities (see Chicago, New York, and Seattle as a few examples for proof it’s possible). Some changes can happen by appealing to your school board. Some issues might begin more closely with a PTA or school administrator. Identify what changes you wish to see, and then determine who is the group or person who can most likely effect that change, and which individuals or groups can most likely help.

Don’t Get Bogged Down: It’s easy to get lost in the mire: The mire of “across the aisles” collaborations (when can they work and when they can’t), the mire of a sense of powerlessness (what can I do as one person?), the mire of rapid fire changes cloaked in an opacity so thick that we don’t know what coming until we’ve been run over by it, the mire of distrust, infighting, and distractions (human vices we all possess of fear and ego…will…never..go…away), better to just ignore them. Be forgiving in spirit, open in mind, and humble in heart. Remember who the enemy is…and is not. We need to focus, to organize (however that is determined by individual communities), and we need…to…act.

A final excellent suggestion offered by Michelle Gunderson, “We also need to define our wins – not by their standards.” In other words, as Tim Slekar says, “We OWN the narrative now.”

Now. Each day is a day we can ALL do SOMETHING.

Hope this chart is helpful to you all. Use if for strategy, communication, and action.

100_0600Just completed an amazing journey through the streets of Seattle with the Washington BATS and other amazing teachers, students, and activists. We marched, a few hundred strong, to the steps of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The organizers were kind enough to invite me to speak. 

Here is a link to what I said at the rally: http://vimeo.com/99333421 

But a full, more complete version of what I said and (having run out of time and wanted to) but was unabale to say is here:

I came out here to the Emerald City to tell you a fairy tale. A fractured fairy tale. About the magical delusion Bill Gates and other reformers are trying to sell us …to sell us out.

Once upon a time three powerful and mighty corporate kings journeyed to the Emerald City in search of the great and powerful Oz-the most mighty and wealthy of them all. The first corporate king, Jean Wilhoit, Director of the CCSSO, was the scarecrow…who had no brains. He was just doing what he was told as delivery boy for Bill Gates.

The second corporate king was Lou Gerstner, the cowardly lion who was co-founder of Achieve, CEO of IBM, member of secretive societies like Council on Foreign Relations, Bilderberg, and American Legislative Exchange Council. He was afraid that not enough profits were being made off of public education.

The third corporate king, tin man David Coleman (chief architect of the common core and now pr3edient of the College Board) had no heart. He wanted everyone in the kingdom to know that “no one gives a shit” what they think or feel.

Two of these three corporate moguls hail from the kingdom of Big Data, called McKinsey and Co., and they all came to the Emerald City to ask for billions of dollars from the might Oz, to cast a spell of education reform over the citizens.

Sir Michael Barber of Pearson also from the kingdom of McKinsey and CEO of Pearson stayed behind, wielding his power behind the scenes, using lobbyists to do his dirty work ensuring that Pearson’s finger prints and profits would be connected with every facet of education reform.

The great Oz and the corporate kings understood the power of big data to control the citizens of the kingdom. Using media, advertisements and other unproven promotional gimmicks, these mighty corporate kings cast a spell over the people, lulling them into the belief that they alone could “save” the kingdom’s children.

But as the great Oz, who fancied himself an emperor, paraded through the streets the parents teachers and students all realized the emperor had no clothes.

They cried out:

Why don’t these billionaires build more schools instead of spending 2.2 million into the private prison company the GEO Group?

Why don’t these billionaires use their money to equitably fun schools instead of trying to close them?

Why don’t they support paying real teachers a professional mage instead of replacing them with TFA scabs?

Why don’t they fund school libraries instead of testing companies?

Why don’t they fund nurses, artists, and social workers instead of common Core “trainers”?

Why don’t they?

The people of the kingdom took off their emerald glasses and they saw the truth.

This fairy kingdom was built on lies. But like all fairy tales, the ed reform story is built on an archetype…a predictable script. The same script these corporate kings to privatize other public goods, services and basic human needs.

Gates funds millions to support Monsanto and genetically modified food production. Never mind the health concerns with GMO’s. Never mind they are banned in all of Europe. Gates is treating our children like GMO seeds, to be modified, engineered, and owned by corporate interests.

Gates supports fracking, investing millions in BP oil. He is fracking public education, poisoning the waters of our democracy, mining our children as his personal natural resource.

Meet the totalitarian capitalism.

Gates claims that GMO’s are safe and fracking is clean. He also claims that charter schools and common core with help our children. Remember—this is a fairy tale, taking place in the land of illusions.

But Gates forgot about something. He forgot about us. His fatal Shakespearean flaw (arrogance) is assuming that parents and teachers will behave like lobbyists, government, regulatory agencies and corporations. But we, unlike them, cannot be bought. WE will not sell our schools to the highest bidder. We will not sell our children to the highest bidder.

We cannot be bought.

And our children and our schools are not for sale.

We can break the spell cast over our society.

Our modern history tells the story of a world dominated by the powerful, by elite interests, by oppressive systems. But it is also a history transformed by refusal and resistance, by people rising up.

Today, it falls to us to rise up and take action. Education is the critical centerpiece in corporate totalitarianism to solidify its global dominance.

The same man who wants to take our land, drain it and destroy it and then sell it back to us crap…

The same man who wants to take our rights to food production, process our foods, and sell it back to us as crap…

Now wants to take our schools, poison and process them…and sell them back to us as crap.

The corporate kings need us to create their kingdom of Big Data and profits. But we don’t need them. All over this country parents, students and teachers are REFUSING the tests, denying them the data, rejecting their manufactured claims about failing schools and failing teachers, and their false advertising about “world class standards.”

We can break this spell. Say these words with me:

We will not consent.

We cannot be bought.

Our world, our schools, and our children are not for sale.

We will shut you down.

King Gates, the powerful Oz…YOU LOSE>

 

PRESS RELEASE: “A Rally to Educate Gates” – Seattle.

ginger2

Hi Bill,

This is my first letter to you, but ironically enough, we both know you’ll never read it. However, I hope my words here inspire my other readers to consider advocating for ideas similar to those I will propose here. Perhaps one of them will gain traction in the ranks of the billionaire’s boys club.

Full disclosure, Bill. I am not a billionaire. Not even close. I bet you make in one minute what I earn in a year. So naturally you might be skeptical of my qualifications for advice giving on this matter. Who am I to tell you how to spend your money?

But I can relate. Really. Once I received $500 back on my taxes and I debated: Do I put that in my kid’s college fund? Or…do I buy a pair of Frye boots? Of course, the former seems to reflect the moral high road. But, my kids only nine. College is a long way off. And, I don’t even know if he’ll choose to go to college. You know how that is. Conversely, the boots bring immediate satisfaction. The purchase benefits my family indirectly. You know adage when Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.  Sure kids, you can have a second dessert, I’m so happy! Hell, maybe I’ll even cut a slice off for my husband tonight, so long as I can keep the boots on.

Sure, how to spend 500$ isn’t a big deal to you. But I know you of all people can relate to the ways one might justify morally ambiguous expenditures, and how tempting it is to rationalize self-serving behaviors as somehow being to “the benefit of others.”

Many, myself included, feel this way about your overt and aggressive intrusion into education policies via your billions of dollars, in the name of providing “benefits to children.” Dude, admit it—it’s your version of Frye boots.

But…I do believe that philanthropic giving. It’s far better to give to others than keeping it all for yourself. Generosity is a good thing. And I can think of many better ways for you to spend your billions that really help children than crafting harmful education policies that are headed for a major train crash for children, teachers, and communities everywhere. Forget Common Core, charter schools, and online learning.

You know what children in economically challenged communities really need? Food security, health services, purposeful community activities, a place to go after school, libraries, and access to other social, emotional and economic resources.

So let’s take the first item as a prime example. What if you were to build a chain of quality grocery stores which would make available healthy and affordable food to families living in what are known as “food deserts”?

An area where the distance to a supermarket is more than ¼ mile, the median household income is at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, over 40% of households have no vehicle available, and the average Healthy Food Availability Index score for supermarkets, convenience and corner stores is low (measured using the Nutrition Environment Measurement Survey).

You claim to show interest in bridging racial gaps in opportunity by forcing all children to take the same tests and digesting the same curriculum … as if these will become the “great equalizers.” Forget that. Think: FOOD SECURITY! One study notes:

African-Americans are the most disadvantaged when it comes to balanced food choices, although other racial groups do suffer as well. African-Americans, on average, travel the farthest distance to any type of grocery store, and their low access communities cluster strikingly. Chicago’s food deserts, for the most part, are exclusively African-American.

In a free market system, a company cannot always sustain itself very well without a large amount of income to keep it going. Many grocery stores fail, or fear opening in lower income communities because they are not “profitable.” Of course, there are a myriad of other reasons gesturing to systemic racism, but for our purposes, let’s stick with the money theme since that’s what you’re best at. With billions of dollars, you don’t need to worry about sustaining profits. And with your billions, you could make sure that the food remains affordable. Think “Whole Foods” …but available to everyone.  Food deserts exist in both urban and rural areas. Here’s a map of food deserts across the United States to get you started.

Children benefit from access to nutritious foods—they perform better in school. It leads to a reduction in health concerns and illness that affect growth and learning. Students perform better in school when they receive adequate nutrition. Really. You don’t need McKinsey and Company to spin you volumes of research to prove this point. Hungry kids suffer. Healthy kids have a greater chance of success. Duh.

Good nutrition promotes not only physical growth and health, but also cognitive development, helping children learn from infancy through adolescence and beyond… A balanced diet helps children perform better academically. A hungry child may have problems paying attention and thinking. This is why breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. A healthy breakfast of whole grains, low-fat protein, low-fat dairy and fruits and vegetables improves children’s concentration, creative thinking, alertness, problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination. Meals provide brain fuel. A 1996 study by the Hebrew University found that children who ate breakfast at school performed better on standardized tests than children who ate earlier at home, or did not eat breakfast at all. (Live Strong)

Even better, in all of your grocery stores you could hire local people from the community, helping to reduce unemployment in those neighborhoods and growing their economy, and even set up apprenticeship programs for young adults. You could contract with local food growers and further help the local small business owners or farmers.

Please do not confuse my proposition here with your insane efforts to control the international food industry through technology. You’re messing everybody up with that shit with Monsanto.

I mean simply, a grocery store that provides healthy real food options to families, provided from local or sustainable growers, whenever possible.

Imagine the immediate and tangible benefits these grocery stores might yield for children and whole communities. The average business person might find the proposition financially risky. But you…YOU Bill, don’t need to worry about that. Imagine opening healthy food options all over the country to communities whose food choices for a 2 mile radius might often be limited to corner markets, fast food chains and liquor stores. And it would grow the local economy through employment and school children would be given the fundamental physiological tools for growth, development, and learning.

Why not Bill? Isn’t this better than funneling billions to other non-profits, corporations, charter schools, and lobbying efforts to wield a mighty “behind the scenes” hand, completely re-crafting the education of all of us all in your likeness?  Does that really serve OUR interests?

Or does it serve yours? Isn’t public education really little more your version of Frye boots? Is Common Core your educational version of Monsanto? Who really are you helping?

I double-dog-dare you— open some grocery stores instead of opening more charter schools. Help families feed their children healthy foods instead asking us to force feed them a dubious curriculum in school.

Call my bluff, Bill. Show me I am wrong. Open a chain of grocery stores. Please?

Lasix: Enough of the dog-and-pony shows http://www.paulickreport.com ...

This is how the charter movement sweeping across states and cities starts. Like this:

Last week I attended a dog and pony show being hosted at Towson University and sponsored by The Arthur Rupe Foundation and led by Maryland Public Policy Institute, Heritage Foundation, National Alliance for Charter Schools and the CEO of KIPP Schools. Dr. Dallas Dance, Supt of Baltimore County Schools; Dr. Nancy Grasmick, Presidential Scholar at TU; and Sean Johnson of MSEA gave the window dressing to give it the appearance of including a “public” voice. The event was touted as nonpartisan and open to the public. Both claims was about as true as claiming that Fruit Loops is part of a nutritious breakfast because it’s got “real fruit juice.” Well….soooorttt of….I guess. For more on each of the panelists and sponsors see my previous post about this.

Since reformers pushing charter school tsunamis washing over cities across the country have little real data or proof that their scheme works, they must rely of some tricks probably learned from the makers of Fruit Loops:

1)      Manufacture data that appears official and real –though evades any close scrutiny. Don’t read the actual ingredients in tiny print on the side of the box.

2)      Create the appearance of the event as being both “official” and “open.” Before the panel discussion there was wine and cheese! Ooohhh. And fruit. A policy making cocktail party! They had a huge red and shiny banner behind the panelist forum up on a big stage—great for photo ops so that the event looks “oh so important” and legitimate! And everyone there seemed to work for the non- profits being represented. I saw nary an educator, parent, or even professors from Towson University, where the event was held.  Why? Perhaps because the event was never really advertised…except in select places to select people. The people they wanted to have in the audience. Add to that the $35.00 registration fee. For what I wonder? Since the whole event had already been paid for/sponsored by Arthur Rupe. (So here was have a financially and geographically challenging event with little publicity…all to discuss the future of PUBLIC education.)

3)      Get the media to cover the event. The moderator was Mary Bubala of channel WJZ news. Woo hoo!

You see, the purpose of this event was never to garner REAL debate, discussion, or public inclusion. The purpose was to create the ILLUSION that public discussion and debate was had and that therefore the new charter reform initiatives we will be seeing in Maryland can appear to be legitimate. But I was there. Me and my two colleagues Bess Altwerger and Cole Reilly…and about 100 pro pro-charter reformers. Clearly….we did not fit in.

I saw a bunch of well-heeled folks who knew each other, and had been invited no doubt by their respective pro charter non-profit affiliates, to ensure that the audience were largely supporters of their agenda. They hob knobbed and chatted and drank wine. And then cheered one another on as the panelists, all of whom (with the exception of the one teacher-Shaun Johnson) to varying degrees advocated for more charter schools. Jason, CEO of KIPP and Lindsay Burke of Heritage Foundation, and Nina Reese of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools all claimed that Maryland MUST broaden its charter school policies –well, simply because, well…they must! (How else will these poor folks make their next million dollar bank rolls off of public school children?) Dr. Grasmick and Dr. Dance, though perhaps more cautious and skeptical, still appeared in support of such general initiatives. Not a single person on the panel had a REAL oppositional stance. Not a single person on the panel could address the real world issues and research which has revealed the serious and REAL flaws associated with charter school movements.  In other words: There was no real debate. The event was led largely by pro charter/privatization organizations, and funded by a pro charter/privatization foundation. Each of the foundations represented on the panel have direct or indirect connections with ALEC’s agenda to privatize public education.

But what do they really think of the poor children (aka the “unwashed masses”) they claim to wish to serve?

Founding creator of Heritage Foundation Paul Weyrich refers to public schools as “the enemy.” Hmmm. Maybe that’s why they love charter schools! Because it’s a means towards the elimination of public education? At least that much does appear to be true about charter schools.

The Maryland Public Policy Institute (MPPI) published a 2012 article stating that the reason poor people are poor is their lack of “founding virtues of marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity that the people in the upper class still follow.” I see. Poor people are dishonest lazy atheists. Oh, and the MPPI article mention something about “genetic superiority”. I swear to god I am not making this up.  Maybe that’s why poor black and bown kids need charter schools? To “civilize” them? Or perhaps to ensure that the new urbane white urbanites repopulating the metropolitan landscape will have a place to send little Bubsy. Either way, data across the country has shown over and over that charter schools have INCREASED segregation. That little tid bit was never mentioned at the panel event.

National Alliance of Public Charter schools is funded by Walton Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Eli Broad Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation of New York. Ok…this is like shooting fish in a barrel.  Their financial and ideological interests in colonizing entire cities with the spawn of KIPP is self-evident.

You see, reformers don’t need facts. They’ve got money. And money can make illusions appear real. With enough money you can host and populate your event under some thin veil of legitimacy, and pass it off as “official” and sell it out into the public narrative as “fact.”  They make star studded Hollywood tear jerkers like Won’t Back Down and Waiting for Superman. They know that most people are attracted to hype rather than reality. Can Maryland learn anything from New York, New Orleans, Philadlephia or Chicago?

If you really want to know what charter school expansion will REALLY do to our schools, put down the koolaid and cheese, stop allowing yourself to be duped, and see for yourself at these more credible sites:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/8-myths-about-charter-schools

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/myth-charter-schools/

http://dianeravitch.net/2014/03/05/iris-rotberg-charter-schools-exacerbate-segregation/

http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/k-12-education/integration-and-diversity/choice-without-equity-2009-report

http://www.serflo1.com/charter%20schools%20KIPP.html

http://cloakinginequity.com/2014/05/13/keep-calm-and-drink-charter-kool-aid/

towsonpanel

Head’s up. Or better, duck and cover. Reform is coming to Baltimore County. While I’ve been blogging for a while how reform policy is influencing Maryland in general and Baltimore City,  the tentacles are expanding, as many of us knew they would. The modus operandi du jour is charter school legislation and related reform policies. Why? Because Maryland’s charter law because it is one of the most restrictive in the nation.  For predatory reformers and corporate profiteers, this (of course) will not do. They’ve got to loosen those messy regulations that hold profiteers in check, and ensure that public education is not colonized by McCharters. But grow they must. And grow they will…unless the public school advocates, parents, teachers and students do something to stop it.

On May 15th, the charter-driven reform circus is coming to town, presenting at Towson University, where a host of panelists will discuss “topics including the hotly debated Common Core State Standards Initiative, universal pre-kindergarten, and the role of charter schools in Maryland.”

Let’s look at whose coming to dinner: A host of “experts” who hoist themselves up through a thin veneer of legitimacy via the non-profit organizations for whom they work. The Maryland Public Policy Institute, Jason Botel, founder of KIPP Baltimore and executive director of MarylandCAN, Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation.

First, let’s start with a brief review of what the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for readers who may be unfamiliar with this group, because they have everything to with everything here.

WHAT IS ALEC?

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a right-wing public policy organization with strong ties to major corporations, trade associations and right-wing politicians.

ALEC’s agenda includes rolling back civil rights, challenging government restrictions on polluters, infringing on workers’ rights, limiting government regulations of commerce, privatizing public services, and representing the interests of the corporations that make up its supporters. ALEC’s mission: “To promote the principles of federalism by developing and promoting policies…To enlist state legislators from all parties and members of the private sector who share ALEC’s mission…To conduct a policy-making program that unites members of the public and private sector in a dynamic partnership to support research, policy development, and dissemination activities.” ALEC is supported by many right-wing foundations and organizations, including, but not limited to: National Rifle Association, Family Research Council, Heritage Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, Milliken Foundation, DeVos Foundation, Bradley Foundation, and the Olin Foundation. ALEC has approximately three hundred corporate sponsors. Several well-known and closely-tied organizations include: American Nuclear Energy Council, American Petroleum Institute, Amoco, Chevron, Coors Brewing Company, Shell, Texaco, Union Pacific Railroad, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Phillip Morris, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. ALEC has proposed that many public services, such as schools, prisons, public transportation, and social and welfare services, be taken over by for-profit private businesses.

Back to Our Panelists:

1)       The Maryland Public Policy Institute (MPPI)

From Source Watch http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Maryland_Public_Policy_Institute:

Christopher B. Summers is founder and president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, Maryland’s “leading” public-policy think tank. Prior to launching the Maryland Public Policy Institute, Mr. Summers held positions on Capitol Hill and in the nonprofit sector, including the Capital Research Center, a Washington-based think tank that studies corporate philanthropy and funding of issue advocacy organizations, and in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

A brief word about Roe: The ROE Foundation–is a 501(c-3) private foundation that provides  financial support to free-market policy groups across the country. Roe was also an early funder of the Heritage FoundationThe Roe Foundation has granted $28,500 to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) between 2000 and 2011, according to a review of the foundation’s IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy

Bob Erlich is one of the directors for the MPPI.

In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute stated that it provided a grant of $40,000 to the Maryland Public Policy Institute (which is misnamed Center in the annual report).

MPPI adjunct staff member Wendell Cox was the director of public policy of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for three years. Both MPPI and ALEC have received grants from the JM Foundation ($25,000 each in 2009).

2)       Jason Botel, founder of KIPP Baltimore and executive director of MarylandCAN, formerly worked for Teach For America 

The MarylandCAN Board of Directors includes someone from TFA, one from Teach Plus, one from Sylvan Learning. They state “Our board is our most trusted advisors.”

MarylandCAN is funded by Fund for Education of the Baltimore Community Foundation among others. And 50CAN, the master organization that sponsors state-level groups, is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Foundation, and Google Inc. among others.

More about KIPP follows at the end of this blog.

3)       Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Alliance for Public Charter Schools partners with some of the most nefarious reformers on the educational landscape: StudentsFirst, Democrats for Education Reform, 50 Can, National Association of Charter School Authorizors (a member of ALEC’s Education Commitee) and Foundation for Excellence. Ms.Rees also also served as the senior education analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

4)       Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation

Heritage Foundation is opposed to Common Core. So are a lot of folks-both from the right and the left. But…they’re also anti-union and pro privatization.

Heritage was co-founded by Paul Weyrich,  who was an American religious conservative political activist and commentator, most notable as a figurehead of the New Right. He co-founded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). He coined the term “moral majority”, the name of the political action group Moral Majority that he co-founded in 1979 with Jerry Falwell.

How does the co-founder of The Heritage Foundation and ALEC feel about PUBLIC schools?

“Faced with public school systems that no longer educate but instead ‘condition’ students with the attitudes demanded by Political Correctness, they have seceded. They have separated themselves from public schools and have created new institutions, new schools, in their homes. I think that we have to look at a whole series of possibilities for bypassing the institutions that are controlled by the enemy. If we expend our energies on fighting on the “turf” they already control, we will probably not accomplish what we hope, and we may spend ourselves to the point of exhaustion.”

Funding for this event is provided by the Arthur Rupe Foundation. The foundation is expanding its reach into a variety of issues, including labor unions, K-12 education reform, and higher education reform.

Dr. Jeffrey Cain, president of Rupe Foundation has a record of advocating for pro charter expansion policies. The foundation provides institutional support for the Cato Institute and other right-wing advocacy groups which support the mission of Paul Weyrich and ALEC.

In their mission statement, founder Arthur Rupe states, “In founding and funding the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, I am endeavoring to employ our limited resources to perpetuate for posterity the guiding principles of our Founder’s libertarian philosophy: limited government, free market capitalism, individual responsibility, and the rule of law.”

So naturally Rupe would support charters and privatization.  While charter school proponents rely of free advertising, like tha offered by this event, and use of keen marketing to sell their products, they all but completely ignore research based on facts. For example, a Stanford study shows “that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.”

In reform-world, this would be grounds for a wholesale shut down of community schools. So … why would we actually EXPAND a policy in which nearly 40% of the new schools are in fact worse? What sane city or county would perceive that as a good idea?  They don’t. In fact there has been tremendous push back and outcry by communities from New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago who did NOT want this so called “choice” in their communities. Tear-jerking scenarios from Waiting for Superman do not suffice. Out there in the real world, urban communities around the county are fighting against these measures—because they harm the schools, children, and communities. Why would the effects in Baltimore be any different?

Additionally, KIPP (headlining this panel) is not exactly the wunderkind it promotes itself to be. Given its outrageous attrition rates, and so-called “radical” approach that enables them to cherry pick some and eliminate others,  “KIPP doesn’t seem to have an answer for those kids who won’t work hard or be nice. KIPP has the luxury of washing its hands of them.” Would we really want to replace more public schools that educate all of the children all of the time in favor of a privately run model that only educates some of the children some of the time?

Also on the panel are two of Maryland’s public servants to public education (Dr. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of Baltimore County and Dr. Nancy Grasmick, former MD State Superintendent). One can only hope they live up to their titles: working to serve ALL PUBLIC education and SUPPORT policies that protect ALL PUBLIC school children (from predatory reformers), and take a deeply critical examination of the research, rather than succumb to the false advertisements.

Regarding the other “expert” panelists: Their ideological, political and financial interests are far more apparent given the information I provided here. The issue on everyone’s minds in the audience on Thursday must be: That none of them have yet to provide solid evidence that shows how their reform initatives will actually benefit the children affected by their efforts. They don’t have it because …it doesn’t exist.

We need to ask them and ourselves the real question: Who do these policies really serve?

 

what if

Prologue: What if, following the end of slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation, formerly enslaved black and brown people created an amazing resurgence of economic, educational and political successes? (They did). Would the elite in power squelch that budding success with New Jim Crow laws? And, what if to counter the gross systemic and violent inequities created by Jim Crow, decades later people fought back and demanded Civil Rights bills which included non- discriminatory hiring practices and desegregation in public spaces including public schools?  What if those new Civil Rights policies led to a rising black and brown middle class, and opportunities for success?  What if, decades later, there were a powerful elite who wished to re-segregate society and roll back the clock to a time of profound inequality that served to the advantage of a privileged few? How would the elite in power find ways around those Civil Rights anti-discriminatory policies?

In what ways might they accomplish that?

Meet the era of standardized testing. As the era of Civil Rights rolled forward from the 1960’ into the 1980’s, so did the era of A Nation at Risk and the need for standardized tests to address the “education crisis.”    BUT…WHAT IF?

What if—standardized tests were predicated on a philosophy of eugenics?

Eugenics theory uses “scientific” measures to “prove” that some people are inherently (by race, culture or even gender) not as genetically advanced as other. What if tests were designed in such a way to “prove” that?

It would suggest that only that which is on the test is worthwhile knowledge. Tests would be deliberately consutcrcted on knowledge already held by upper middle class whites, and as having greater worth than knowledge (or experiences) of that (those) who identify with other groups.

What if– the tests were constructed to be culturally and racially biased?

Then it would be predetermined from the outset that certain students would inherently do better than others.

For example:  “In NYC 26 Teachers and Staff of International High School at Prospect Heights refuse to give NYC ELA Performance Assessment Test becausethe test was constructed and formatted without any thought for the 14% of New York City students for whom English is not their first language. The level of English used in the pre-test administered in the Fall was so far above the level of our beginner ELLs that it provided little to no information about our students’ language proficiency or the level of their academic skills. Furthermore, the test was a traumatic and demoralizing experience for students. Many students, after asking for help that teachers were not allowed to give, simply put their heads down for the duration.  Some students even cried.”

What if– policy makers pushed an enormous campaign lauding these test-driven reforms as promoting “civil rights” and social justice?

Then they could deflect any accusations to the contrary despite any mounting evidence that such rhetoric is false. If they say it enough, at least everyone else will simply believe it.

What if– those (racially and biased by design) tests were used to measure student progress?

Then we would conclude that lower income students of color, students with different learning styles or needs, and English language learners were not learning as well as their white middle class counterparts. Correlation: either they’re just not as bright, they lack motivation, or their teachers are not good enough.

What if –-test-driven reform was designed to place the blame on the teacher or the learner to evade a real examination of institutional racism, class disparities, or other economic inequities that influence schools and learning?

It would detract us from seeking other ways of appreciating how and what students learn, or valuing their individual (and culturally diverse) strengths and assets. As a society we would not need to address real or significant changes to the existing socio-economic structural disparities of wealth and income in this country. Students and teachers would stand trial while the broader free market system hides in the shadows unchallenged.

What if –we promoted a public narrative that those test scores could “evidence” a schools success or failure, and rank schools accordingly?

Then people would not move into those communities with “poor performing” schools, which would drive down the property taxes (which are used to fund schools) so that schools in those (largely black and brown) communities would become perpetually underfunded and unable to provide quality resources and materials which lead to improved test scores. The only people left in those communities would be people financially unable to leave further diminishing the employment and economic resources available to those schools and communities

For example: Nationwide, the average low-income student attends a school that scores at the 42nd percentile on state exams, while the average middle/high-income student attends a school that scores at the 61st percentile on state exams. This school test-score gap is even wider between black and Latino students and white students. There is increasingly strong evidence—from this report and other studies—that low-income students benefit from attending higher-scoring schools.

What if– we used those tests to measure school success?

We would determine that schools with lower-income students of color and their teachers were under-achieving and in need of “correction.” This would mean a serious re-examination of the power or influence of unions and policies around teacher tenure (job security).

What if– those tests were used to construct policies of corrective measures?

Such policies would conclude that the teachers too are performing poorly and would be fired on the grounds of low student test scores. Those schools would be deemed failing. We could blame unions and tenure and thus abolish both.

What if those tests were used to drive away meaningful curriculum in favor of test preparation?

Then students who perform poorly on the tests would receive even more skill drill and kill instead of meaningful education, leading to greater disinterest and poor instruction, less critical thinking, arts, music, PE and other content that keep student interest. The cycle of “failure” would be deepened. More test prep for students “failing” the tests is like using leeches to treat a blood disease.

What if– test scores were used to then close schools?

Meaningful, successful public schools would cease to be viable options for students in economically disenfranchised communities and would be forced to attend corporate run charter schools which are not accountable for their quality. Segregation in these communities increases.

It would mean that entire communities would lose their right to a public education and be shuffled into privately managed segregated and poorly managed private charters. It would mean the disruption to entire communities, many of which are in the sights of real estate developers seeking to gentrify those neighborhoods.

What if– those tests were necessary to rationalize a public narrative that “proved” that certain people, schools, or communities were in need of surveillance and management because same students who performed poorly on those tests were the same students who received unfair disciplinary practices?

It would mean that over 70% of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African-American. Additionally, students covered under IDEA are over twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions

What if– we then used these disciplinary measures, which are correlated to the testing practices, to justify racist and classist assumptions about certain learners to maintain a system of inequities?

In the words of Ceresta Smith in a personal correspondence: “I discovered that by using the ‘achievement gap’ and standardized test scores for black and brown children, businessmen and politicians were able to usher in a set of market-based reforms that had the underlying mission of destroying public education while maximizing the profits of a selective group.”

What if we knew the tests are WRONG… and still used them? What reasons could there be?  

                                             Let’s Recap

WHAT IF: 1) we knew we could create tests that would pre determine who the winners and losers are going to be (based on things like gender, race, or ethnicity), and 2)  use those test scores to perpetuate a deliberate system of inequities that was constructed to suit the self- serving interests of powerful elite and corporate –driven ideology, and 3) created a curriculum that was so dis-interesting and so inappropriate that students of color and students with special needs dropped out in droves and found themselves pushed into the school to prison pipeline, thus 4) reducing the number of people competing for high income jobs in the workforce, reducing the number of people with voting rights because of incarceration records, and reducing the number of people who were critically empowered, and 5) such test scores could be used to blame educational failure on the heads of those same persons whom the system has failed and 6) detract us from focusing on growing economic disparities between rich and poor, and 7) use items 1-6 to roll back all the efforts created by the Civil Rights movements of the last 30 years (which is about when high stakes testing became the “solution” to our “woes”?

What if none of this was a coincidence?

And what if this were precisely the system we currently had in place? Because it is.

For a thorough analysis of how this is happening see Paul Thomas Becoming Radical.