Originally posted at http://unitedoptout.com/2015/03/06/and-the-threat-just-keep-on-coming-now-supporting-a-school-to-prison-pipeline-in-urban-schools/ keepcalm

Keep your child home. Your child will not be promoted. You’re preventing your child from being successful. The school will lose funding.

Yep, we’ve heard it all. But the threats to parents just keep getting worse. Here in Baltimore City, one parent received notification that his child would be threatened with suspension for not taking the test! Suspension records, which follow the child through their school career, will create a series of negative consequences for their school success. In desperate attempts to get creative with their scare tactics, the punishments are eerily beginning to contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline:

Out-of-school suspensions mean lost classroom time and, for some, disconnection from school. A recent landmark study of nearly a million Texas children showed that suspension increased the likelihood of repeating a grade that year and landing in the juvenile-justice system the next year. It also was linked to dropping out. 

At first this parent was told “his child would have to stay home during testing.” But he had done his homework and replied that in fact they could not force his child to be denied access to her right to attend her school. He told us in an email correspondence:

(The administrator) initially stated that the children couldn’t come to school until testing was done. I told her that I know that’s not the case and they can’t be denied their opportunity to an education (although we know this testing madness is doing that anyway). She then went into how it’s a Code of Conduct violation and she would treat it as such. The language is on the second page of the memo attached. It would be a Level 1 or Level 2 violation if she chose to take it there.

So they got creative. The  Baltimore City letter AOC on Opting out of Standardized testing.final now states:

Refusing to take the test could amount to a Defiance of Authority, more specifically a “failure to follow directions” or a “failure to follow school staff questions or requests.” Both are violation of the student code of conduct and may be classified at Level I or Level II offenses.

Although we know in Maryland from several letters from various counties, crafted at the behest of MSDE, articulate clearly that the decision to handle testing refusals ultimately rests with the local administration, many administrators would like us to believe that their hands are tied and that they are merely following the “policy” (which of course does not legally exist). Most curious though, we have seen many letters and administrative responses from around the state of MD, and have seen and heard a lot of county-level responses to testing refusals; some good, some bad, some ugly. But only in Baltimore City have we heard of schools threatening children with suspension. No suspension threats in Howard or Baltimore counties. Hmmmm. Given the horrific data that shows how children (often children of color) in urban schools are two or three times as likely to be punished with suspension as their county (White middle class peers) for the same exact “infractions”, this action on behalf of Baltimore City, should they enact this threat, perpetuates a racist and classist set of behaviors which could be addressed with a civil rights complaint. At least, a case could made against specific administrators since MSDE clearly indicates that such punitive measures are ultimately the decisions of the administrator to make! This is zero-tolerance behavior at its worst.

In the words of Matthew Prestbury, the Baltimore City parent who provided us with this letter:

In her (the school administrator’s)latest email to me she won’t admit that she is making this decision, only saying that she’s following the district’s guidelines (the memo clearly states that these actions are suggested in order to dissuade parents from “opting out”). Therefore I know that her hands aren’t tied as she’d like to have me believe. And that needs to get out there that they are working to strong arm parents into submission. Parents need to know that.

We’d like to see more comparison data nationally from testing refusals as well. Are there patterns of different disciplinary threats or actions for city children and parents versus their suburban and rural testing refusal counter parts? Is it suspension for city kids, and “Festivus for the rest of us”?

City parents: Tell us your story.

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Who will win? The corporations with the most real estate. Maryland public education is a land grab for the education technology industry and privately managed charter schools.

Meet Calvert Education and Camden Partners: Because They’re Coming to a District Near You!

What is Calvert Foundation?

The company was founded in 1906 and is based in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

As of October 7, 2013, Calvert Education Services, LLC operates as a subsidiary of VSCHOOLZ, Inc.

What is Vschoolz?

Vschoolz is located at 1999 N University Dr, Coral Springs, FL 33071. According to their website: “VSCHOOLZ, Inc. provides digital solutions to launch virtual programs to schools, districts, corporations, and other organizations. The company offers an integrated customizable platform that enables teachers to edit, change, remove, or adapt the content provided to fit the individualized classroom and school needs. Its courses are delivered in an online environment incorporating collaborative tools, such as message boards, digital drop boxes, chat rooms, and teacher to teacher file sharing.”

Calvert Education Services and VSCHOOLZ announced a merger to create the “premier provider” of virtual and blended learning solutions for K-12 Education

Enter Pearson. Are we surprised?

Baltimore-based Calvert Education Services has appointed education company executive Steven C. Gross as its new CEO. Gross had been senior vice president of marketing for the school business segment of Pearson Plc.

But Wait! There’s more!

Calvert Education Services is a portfolio company of Camden Partners.

Camden Partners is a Baltimore-based private equity firm that funds and participates in the growth of well-managed emerging public company businesses within the business services, health care and education industries. Current investments include: Infocrossing, Inc., Blue Rhino, Concorde Career Colleges, Superior Consultant Holdings and Pharmanetics.

As a private equity firm they have a long history of “significant investments in the education space.” Their current portfolio companies include companies such as:

David Warnock is a managing member of Camden Partners. He is also  co-founder of the Green Street Academy and co-chair of the board of trustees.

According to Warnock:

“What’s coming fast and what we should aspire to is why shouldn’t every kid in a Baltimore City high school have access to Mandarin or access to advanced astronomy or access to science or remedial this or remedial that? … It’s all about giving regular kids access to great educational outcomes.”

And giving access to millions of dollars to private equity firms. Ignore the data that reveals that charter schools are NOT a solution to what ails urban communties and causes schools to “fail”: poverty and racial/economic inequities on a systemic scale. A report reblogged by Bonastia sites:

“A 2010 report by the UCLA-based Civil Rights Project, “Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards,” uncovers some troublesome facts in this regard. “While segregation for blacks among all public schools has been increasing for nearly two decades, black students in charter schools are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings. At the national level, 70 percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100 percent of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools.”

In January 2014, Warnock and Camden Partners sponsored an event in Baltimore and invited all the education “colonizers” where they all learned how to profit from education reform policies.

The event was called:

Private Equity Investing In For-Profit Education Companies: How Affordability Is the Game-Changer For New Business Models.

Here are some of the headlines in the promotional flyer they used to promote interest:

  • The Schools and Institutions sector alone has over $400 billion in annual revenue, while venture capital investments in the Education Technology sector have ballooned to over $1.2 billion.”
  • Learn how to benefit from today’s huge industry shift, with so many education companies revising their business models.
  • Facts like these are what make the for-profit education sector so appealing to investors.

Here are 7 important reasons you should register to attend this encore conference, “Private Equity Investing in For-Profit Education Companies” —

  • Learn how to benefit from today’s huge industry shift, with so many education companies revising their business models.
  • Understand why much of the industry is pursuing certification training for its huge cost benefit over degree programs.
  • Discover which skill-based training programs are becoming commodities and which have pent-up demand.
  • Recognize the ramifications of commercial textbook publishers and educational software vendors being eclipsed by new online players.
  • Hear why companies providing resources and technical support for MOOCs are flourishing, and why the MOOC trend shows no sign of abating.
  • Realize how game-based learning is finding its way into more and more K-12 classrooms, and why game designers are becoming part of the educational team.

THIS LAST ONE IS THE MOST COMPELLING TO POLICIES BEING DISCUSSED BY OUR OWN GOVERNOR HOGAN:

Gain insight into whether privately managed charter schools will continue to take market share from public schools.”

A study released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked Maryland’s charter school laws the so-called “lowest” in the nation for the second year in a row. Well of course they did! NCPCS funded by the billionaire’s boys club (Walton Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Eli Broad Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation of New York) making Baltimore their home.

Charter schools with no accountability but lots of profit:

According to one report dated Jan 29th, 2015: “The first and only bill the legislature has seen thus far on the topic this year calls for the establishment of a public charter school program in Frederick County governed by an independent charter school board, with members elected by the county council. Charter school teachers in Frederick County would also be exempt from performance evaluation criteria determined by the state.

According to Warnock back in 2007: “We invest in fast-growing companies where the combination of our money and input can help them build shareholder value and increase their size. Our portfolio includes business and financial services, health care and education.”

So naturally there’s an interest in increasing the number of for profit privately managed charter schools, with no accountability and their own independent board to avoid any accountability to the public tax payer and the children they pretend to serve. But the problem is that “Maryland charter school law effectively prohibits online charter schools.”

Not to worry!  With Larry Hogan at the helm opening the flood gates, Warnock stands to profit handsomely.

And walking down the red carpet with the edutech industry is Teach for America:

“During the last decade, the local Fund for Educational Excellence led a 12 foundation consortium supporting high school reform. That work continues under the direction of former TFA Director Roger Schulman with support for 14 Secondary Transformation Schools which are operated under contract by outside groups Friendship Public Charter Schools (2 elementary and 2 secondary) and Diploma Plus (2 high schools).” Additionally, Urban Teacher Center was launched by Jennifer Green, a TFA teacher who went on to senior leadership positions in Baltimore. TFA Baltimore has 340 corp members in 107 schools with 600 alumni in the area. Executive Director Courtney Cass says, “We are embarking on an ambitious four-year strategy to recruit 1,000 corps members to Maryland.”

The constellation of corporate interests in spreading rapidly in Baltimore. And privatization of public schools and the teaching profession won’t be far behind.

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Taking a deep examination of the premises, facts, and outcomes of current education policies which are built on the corner stones of the Common Core, high stakes testing, and school closures/charters, one can see that in their development, implementation and results, what we are left with is “policy apartheid.” A strong accusation I admit, but perhaps not so far off as we wish. An honest examination of the evidence is warranted.

What does policy apartheid mean? In terms of implementation it suggests that those crafting the policies who are largely politicians and CEO’s from the “billionaire’s boys club”—wealthy and influential organizations or people (whether themselves White or male, or not)– embrace the development of policies steeped in a narrative born of White privilege. A definition of “failing school” framed by Whiteness, privilege, and social class as the defining characteristics for “success” results in further disenfranchisement of people from black and brown communities. Reform policies driven by high stakes testing is the most glaring example of this. The policy itself assumes a number of things that could only be embraced as logical within an APARTHEID mentality: 1) that poverty does not matter, 2) that meritocracy exists unfettered, 3) that any separation is merely an outgrowth of natural consequences, 4) that all children of color need is grit, and 5) that knowledge evidenced in a standardized test has any value. Number 5 warrants deeper examination since numerous studies spanning decades have proven them to be culturally, and racial and class biased. Standardized testing has its roots in the Eugenics movement. 

So why else would we allow a practice such as a system of rewards and punishments dictated by test scores be the cornerstone of reform unless we wished to continue to expand segregationist outcomes? This practice essentially tells already historically underserved students that: they must endure meaningless testing at the expense of meaningful learning, and funnel monies to Pearson that could go to real and meaningful resources, in order to receive an equitable and humane educational experience so freely given to their suburban peers. Why should some students be forced to test in order to prove they are equal to their middle class White peers and worthy of the same opportunities? So long as we buy into the narrative that tests can prove anything of value we will continue to then justify segregationist policies and practices while excusing this under the guise of “reliable science.” We must reject the myth that tests can offer scientific validity that perpetuate harmful and inequitable educational practices and then deny any responsibility for this.

And what of policy apartheid outcomes?

In order to understand how we arrive at increasingly segregationist outcomes we must carefully examine language and ask the question: Who is it that owns the narrative promulgating current reforms?  Sure, dujour (official) segregation largely went out with Brown v. Board and other Civil Rights legislation. So the system merely became more creative in achieving its aims. Systems that call for “accountability”, “grit narratives”, and “testing “ as a means of reward or punishment might not have the words “apartheid” printed on paper, but the results are just the same.

Reform language now is all about “disruption” innovation and breaking traditional systems. The claim is that in order to provide more “choice” and freedom” (using underserved communities as the target audience) policies must include vouchers and charters. The narrative insists we must “disrupt” the status quo which is code for unionized teachers and public schools. But ironically enough, the folks creating this narrative are themselves driving “top down” policies. It is scripted from the top and designed, not liberate people at the grass roots level or to empower those parents, teachers and students in those communities, but to re-inscribe a new ruling class and an oppressive system. Top-down mandated disruption disorients and disempowers communities who might otherwise push back. This new disruptive system intends on replacing the old so-called “monopoly” of public schools with a new “master”—the corporate owned schools. These masters of the new narrative challenge power merely to reclaim power for themselves. The outcomes of these policies are painfully clear: no accountability to the people they serve; children redefined as human capital; zero-tolerance policies aimed at submission, control, and obedience; and increasingly segregated schools. These polices use language to equate “public” (as in public schools) as itself the “problem” (outdated and monopolistic) and that “innovation” can only be performed by our new corporate and privately owned systems.

Why have we never tried to allow public school teachers the freedom to be innovative? Why have we never allowed public schools to tackle the problems of inequity, or respond to the demands of those communities that have for too long gone ignored? Yes, systems of inequity and lack of quality have pervaded our public institutions for too long. There exists a history of baised “interpretations” on the part of some as to what qualifies as student success, and thus has resulted in unequal opportunities. It is understandable that many civil rights advocates would seek to tighten up consistency in our evaluation systems to deter baised teaching practices. But do we really believe that corporations have the solution? Do we really believe that testing will rectify decades of harmful and biased practices?

A truly innovative disruptive system that flattens the power structure would empower the possibilities and freedoms of teachers and students themselves to reimagine what education can be; not corporations, testing companies, politicians and lobbyists deciding this for them. Rather than funding more testing, we should apply our resources toward a more meaningful preparation of educators to practice culturally-relevant and critically-minded teaching. The former reninscribes aparthied policies and the latter dismantles them.

We can compare the outcomes of two versions of “innovation” and see what each has yielded in terms of outcomes–the first includes innovations led by teachers and, and the second includes innovations led by those who own the “innovation” narrative launching “policy missiles” (to quote Brian Jones) into urban neighborhoods. So which one delivers on its promises to the communities they claim to serve?

Innovations and disruptions led by public school teachers/communities. Two examples:

  • The Ethnic Studies program in Tucson, AZ
  • The Youth Dreamers program in Baltimore City

These programs disrupted the status quo. These programs innovated and broke free of the yoke of system which were not working. The measure the success of a system is based on its outcomes.  So lets’ measure and compare.  By all forms of evaluation these programs were a success: Increased school attendance, graduation rates, school grades/performance, achievement of long range professional and college goals, reduction in “problem behaviors” of students. So what happened? These programs were closed by apartheid policies that refused to support the successes of individuals or groups themselves who were creating solutions that work. The Ethnic Studies program did not work for the racist policy- makers. They endured a long legal battle to reclaim a small ounce of their program, and face continuous attack. And the Youth Dreamer’s school apparently did not produce the “right” test scores according to policy makers, and subsequently was dismantled. Their success did not serve the needs or interests of those in power. These innovative programs disrupted apartheid policies.

The Policy-missile approach:

Conversely, Wall Street wants to disrupt “public” education and innovate it into a private system that continues to serve elite interests at the top. In order to ensure their own market success, they must design outcomes that result in an American apartheid—an education for “us”… and a system for “them”.

As P.L. Thomas states, “America’s public schools and prisons are stark images of the fact of racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequity in our society—inequity that is both perpetuated by and necessary for the ruling elite to maintain their artificial status as that elite.”

Disrupting public schools with current top-down charter school policies lead to disrupted communities where gentrification is planned to occur.

“Innovation” is merely code for a creative way to re-segregate urban communities without calling it what it is: Policy apartheid. Disruption and innovation as tools for liberation aren’t intended for those suffering at the hands of an unequal system. Public schools are closed and chopped up into charters. These charters reveal: high attrition rates, corruption, abusive and neglectful practices, and rejection of the neediest children. Black and brown children become a form of capital serving hedge fund companies. Promising that children will no longer be conscripted to a poor education opportunity “defined by their zip code”, they re-inscribe children to a system of poor education defined by the companies now owning their means of education. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Explain to me how this isn’t an apartheid mentality.

You decide. Is current reform developed by and reproducing apartheid policies? Simply examine the results of current outcomes and decide for yourself if they promote an apartheid mentality. Are these reforms growing, or reducing, inequities? Forget what the policy narrators say. What do they do? Who profits? At whose expense? Whom do the policies actually serve? How much better off are children as a result of these policies and practices? How much better off are the corporations and politicians who promoted them? Are we closing the income and equity gaps as a result of these policies? And if there exists programs that actually evidence success for children, why do policy makers work so hard to shut them down instead of supporting them?

These are tough but necessary questions to address. And the answers might require we hold a mirror up to ourselves as a society a little more closely.

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Journalist John Merrow just published his analysis of the “refusal- versus- reform” battle for public education entitled What a Difference a Dash Makes. There are many amazing responses to his report well worth reading!

Here is my response:

Thank you, John for your coverage of this movement. Your report is indeed a vital starting point for a necessary conversation. I’d like to expand upon the report if I might.

You write, “As for the other side, the ‘Pro-Test’ camp has the appearance of substance.” Well, if by “substance” you mean MONEY, yes they do. Reform policy-makers have money to buy a multimedia campaign advertising their agenda…advertising. Selling. Fruit Loops might say “Part of a nutritious breakfast” on the front of the box but we all know to read the ingredients, and when we are being marketed claims rather than facts.

To that point, the media, placating their corporate sponsors offer little more than “repetitive stories and blogs that merely ask lame questions”–this is “hardly evidence of a full-blown” legitimate reform policy. Uttering the phrase “career and college ready” thousands of time in every media outlet money can buy does not make the claim any more true. Especially when there is no research or evidence to show that more or “better” tests can deliver on such an ambiguous promise. But never mind the facts. There’s volumes of research that demonstrates how these policies are failing. But keep calm and ignore the research seems to be their mantra I suppose. Any deep examination of policy “reform” in the name of research journalism cannot evade the profit motive of corporate “sponsorship” and lobbying efforts of testing and curriculum delivery systems that spent millions lobbying for the reforms from which they are profiting handsomely. It’s a shame that information was excluded from the report.  That’s kind of ignoring the giant elephant in the room isn’t it? Gates, Pearson and the “billionaire’s boys club” cannot be excluded from this conversation. I appreciate the nod you give the notion of money and power. But this warrants a more detailed examination to fully appreciate why our outrage exists.

Who is pro-test? Let’s take a look. It’s the politicians, non-profits and corporations who have political and monetary motives. Where are the pro-test teachers and parents? Crickets….

Well, except for the mention of Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, and the statement,  “If you don’t take the test, you won’t be counted–and you won’t matter”  which compels some such advocates representing marginalized groups, ie. special needs children, or children of color in underserved communities to buy the testing- our- way- into- mattering or proving ourselves narrative. What does it say about our democratic society and the promise of equitable education that we are basically telling these same groups and these same children (and their communities) that in order to “matter” or to receive programs and services on par with their White middle class peers they must subject themselves to costly and time-consuming tests (tests born of a testing history designed with the intention to sort and track people by their social class and race or ethnicity-yet we ask them to play the testing to prove yourself game when the rules of the game are rigged against them). We rob their schools of monies for greatly needed resources and meaningful curriculum in the name of “accountability” and avoid confronting the sad reality that without standardized tests these children will go underserved. Nice way to avoid dealing with the undercurrent of racism, classism, and bias all of which are reinforced by the same system which claims to be serving them: test driven policies. A must read on this by Ceresta Smith here.

Who are the protestors? The people (from across all political, geographical socioeconomic and racial spectrums) who live this stuff every day and see the implications of its effects of corporate driven test- based reforms. They don’t make a dime for their efforts either. No one gets paid. No one is making millions of dollars by refusing. I think that says a lot about the validity of the movement. There is no power or profit motive. A deeper investigation would reveal copious studies spanning decades that show how high stakes testing, and standardized testing in general has been harmful to children, teachers, and schools. You write “I haven’t found overwhelming evidence that hundreds of thousands of students are going to boycott the Common Core tests.”

We don’t receive millions of dollars to create a centralized data bank of opt outers across fifty states. You won’t find “evidence” by looking in any one place or event. Scores of parents refusing the tests and teachers supporting this movement go unknown (sometimes by choice to protect their jobs or their kids). Or, thanks to our corporate sponsored media, when protesters DO come out in large numbers, the public does not hear about it because well, then people might really know that push back and that real solutions/alternatives do exist. Are we as protestors marginalized because really we are so small in numbers? Or is it because the media manufactures the movement as such?  One thing is for sure about test driven reform: It certainly does an excellent job of blending and bending the lines between fact and fiction.

The first time I met Ben (when I drove an hour up to Frederick the day his mother Cindy spoke in front of the local politicians about her testing refusal) I was immediately brought back to my teaching roots. Back in 1990 (a time when phones were attached to walls and we walked to school up hill in the snow…both ways) I was a special education teacher. For many years I worked in early childhood and elementary education classrooms with children with moderate to severe multiple special needs.

Spending time with Ben (albeit briefly) I was reminded of Bubba who loved to paint when we attached a paintbrush to his shoes and he’d make the most amazing murals. I was reminded of Antoine who adored rhythm and colorful patterns. He was a heck of a drummer. I remembered Monica who loved her apple sauce more than anything. I was reminded of how many gifts students like Monica, Antoine, Bubba and Ben have to offer the people around them. I learned more about life, love, and being human than I could ever teach them.

But I never was forced to stick a pencil in their hand to test them.

We had assessments galore; determining the progress they were making on objectives catered to meet THEIR needs, and the needs of their families. I was taught (and practiced) listening to parents and families above “policy”, because what was important to them became important to me. My students were learning how to use pictures to communicate when they could not speak. They were sharing their imaginative capacities though they could not write. They were learning how to develop life skills and how to make friends. None of this would ever, could ever, be measured on a standardized test. But these were the days before No Child Left Behind, or Race to the Top.  I cannot even fathom now being in a position to force any of my former students to take a test that was not in their genuine best interest simply because some policy says “I must”.

Forcing any, and all, children to endure the harmful effects of high stakes standardized testing because some state or federal mandate requires all children be tested, ironically in the name of providing equitable and quality education, is the greatest insult ever hurled upon public education and children. To force a child like Ben, whose educational needs are so far removed from that which such a test can provide simply for “compliance sake,” is just heart breaking. It reveals how deeply flawed the system of accountability is, how failed our policies are, and how compliant in the face of insanity we have become … and most of all, how enmeshed we are as a society with a turn- a- blind- eye- faith in the testing mentality. How outraged do we need to be before we put an end to corporate-driven reform?

To see just how flawed, false, and harmful it is all you need to do is read stories like these:

http://www.alternet.org/child-life-threatening-epilepsy-asked-take-standardized-test-hospital 

http://www.flstopcccoalition.org/blog/out-control-florida-bureaucracy-demands-testing-paperwork-dying-boy/

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/04/19/11289662-missouri-mom-kindergartner-humiliated-after-being-denied-bathroom-break

And we must now add Ben’s story  to growing list of horrifying tales of compliance, asburdity, and harm. Here it is (as written by his mother Cindy):

“January 29, around 4:00 p.m. I learned without a doubt the ‘Administrators’ of Frederick County Public Schools value “testing” over children.  Our children are seen as ATMs to the billions in education dollars.  It turns out, they really are just test scores.

You don’t think so?

Rock Creek School has been on notice since September 2014 that I was refusing to allow my severely developmentally delayed son to participate in the Alt-MSA.  They allowed my daughter (after I sued) to refuse the test; other children were also recognized as “refusing” the test. 

The only difference I see in those who are allowed to refuse and my other child: they are normal healthy children with the ability to speak up and fight back.

Rock Creek School went behind my back and ignored my order not to test him.   

No notice came home informing me he was being tested.  They didn’t want me to know until it was too late for me to stop them.  How’s that for professionalism and trust?

Thursday a notice came home with my son saying I needed to come in and review and sign his test portfolio.  If I didn’t have to sign off would they have notified me?  Did they seriously think I wasn’t going to get angry?

They used a severely mentally and physically disabled child who cannot speak, communicate or read, who is for the most part confined to a wheel chair.  They took him from his classroom and forced him to perform like a trained monkey to prove to Pearson Publishing, he can master their test.  It doesn’t measure his “abilities”.  The test only exists so that schools can be accountable to the federal government in measuring success of special education children.  The goals are so ridiculous it’s obvious no research went into creating this test.

My son who struggles to follow the simplest of commands, like “’and me that cup’; is expected to ‘interpret a bar graph’ or ‘define the meaning of words within a text’. 

Rock Creek School would rather put my son through the humiliating act of taking a test he was destined to fail, or be manipulated into succeeding, than respect his humanity.   They used him because they could.

They used him because they wanted to make sure all their boxes were checked and they could pat themselves on the back for having been ‘accountable’.   It’s OK it was at the expense of my son’s dignity.  He won’t know any better….

To Parents in Frederick County Public Schools and elsewhere, stop kidding yourselves; public education like we grew up in is gone.  When a school is emboldened enough to sneak behind a parents back and manipulate a handicapped child to obtain a test score…….

Is this what we’ve come to? 

Our schools are accountable to the creators of the standards and the tests – parents be damned.  

Nothing, NOTHING will change until we, the parents and teachers make it happen.  Administrators are rolling in the power and the money; or they lack the spine necessary to reclaim education.

It’s time for county wide civil disobedience.

Will you remain silent and sitting until it happens to your child?    

Unless we do something that matters to them, they will refuse to listen to us. 

Refuse the assessments – Demand to be heard!”

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Reblogged: Neoliberalism Privatization Impact on Professors and We the People – By Rodolfo F. Acuña rudy.acuna@csun.edu #EdBlogNet

Neoliberalism Privatization Impact on Professors and We the People –

Stanley Fish, “Neoliberalism and Higher Education”, wrote that few of his colleagues had ever come across the term “neoliberalism” or knew what it meant.

According to Fish, neoliberal principles are embedded “in culture’s way of thinking [and its] institutions.” While the term neoliberal is not frequently used, its supporters “mime and extend neoliberal principles on every opportunity.”

On university campuses in a relatively brief time this ideology has changed the mission of academy from an institution searching for the truth to a marketplace.

Privatization is the cornerstone of neoliberalism. Privatization is touted as the silver bullet that will solve the funding woes of “social security, health care, and K-12 education, the maintenance of toll–roads, railways, airlines, energy production, and communication systems.” According to them, the private sector can run them cheaper and more efficiently.

Americans, puzzled as to why Europeans tolerate being taxed so heavily, ask why do Europeans support such an expensive welfare state? The answer is that much of Europe is based on communitarianism, a philosophy that emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community rather than like the U.S. where individualism is taken to an extreme.

Critics of neoliberalism such as Noam Chomsky argue that neoliberalism benefits the rich and increases inequalities “both within and between states.”

Cash strapped public universities, after years of resistance, have succumbed to the failed philosophy of the Reagan Revolution and reproduced a new narrative that claims that the “withdrawal of the percentage of a state’s contribution to a college’s operating expenses” actually increases demand for the “product” of higher education which will lower the cost of delivering it without the need to raise taxes.

Meanwhile, in order to offset the lack of public funding, administrators have raised tuition with students becoming the primary consumers and debt-holders. Iinstitutions have entered into research partnerships with industry shifting the pursuit of truth to the pursuit of profits. To accelerate this “molting,” they have “hired a larger and larger number of short-term, part-time adjuncts.” This has created large armies of transient and disposable workers who “are in no position to challenge the university’s practices or agitate for “democratic rather than monetary goals.”

The problem is aggravated by the fact that most administrators do not know what neoliberalism is. Many come out of the humanities and the arts and those coming out of the social sciences have a rudimentary knowledge of economics.

Neoliberalism in order to grow must build a justification. Take the case of Shirley V. Svorny, a Professor of Economics and former chair of the department. In a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece titled, “Make College Cost More” (November 22, 2010), Svorny argued that “Artificially low fees attract some students to higher education who simply aren’t suited to the academic rigors of a university.”  Svorny blamed unqualified students for tuition increases.

As insulting as her premise is the controversy was ignored by the administration and the faculty who increasingly retire to their “professional enclaves…” concentrating on their specialties that lack “a clear connection to the public interest.”

Most public colleges and universities are nonprofit institutions in name only. They are marketplaces pursuing neoliberal agendas.  “Forty years of privatization, stagnant wages, a weak economy, a lack of jobs, and budget cuts have forced college administrators to find alternative forms of funding.”

The market logic is omnipotent. It guides faculty, academic managers and managerial professionals seeking commercial gain related to academic and nonacademic products. Faculty and students are rewarded, and programs are developed whose purpose it is to generate revenue with little attention paid to “pedagogical or knowledge-related outcomes.”

Few studies are available on the effects of neoliberal discourse on the behavior of students. Research on the motivation, scope, and how they shift institutional priorities are rare. Even Alexander W. Astin’s (1998) study fails “to connect [the theme] to the rise of academic capitalism or the power of neoliberalism.”

Essential to understanding students’ motivations is knowing the pressures of conformity. The Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci called it the hegemonic project, i.e., the process where the ruling class’s ideas and beliefs become the common sense values of society. Through this process, neoliberalism becomes internalized and unequivocally accepted.

From my experience, the hegemonic process has had a profound impact on administrators, professors and students in making their choices. Students select majors and research topics in terms of marketability.

In my opinion, this mindset spells doom for students at the lower margins as well as ethnic studies programs. Since the 1990s, this has become very noticeable with many new faculty lacking communitarian values common to those in the 1970s.

The importance of the common good has given way to what is good for me, which overemphasizes personal autonomy and individual rights. Asking what promotes the common good is less common.

Neoliberalism also interferes with understanding or dealing with community needs. This is very noticeable among recently hired faculty members. They participate less in student events and faculty governance.

According to Gramsci, the bourgeoisie establishes and maintains its control through a cultural hegemony, Therefore, it is natural that new professors who have spent most of their lives in the academy adopt the culture of the university. For them, bourgeois values represent the “natural” or “normal” values of society.

Forty years ago, these bourgeois ideas were countered by a few ideological members who  sought to construct an academic community. These dissidents heavily influenced intellectual discourse. This potential for political or ideological resistance has weakened, however.

In today’s academy, ideology is passé. There is noticeably less concern for the common good and more with the individual product. New faculty spends less time in the department and more time visiting  colleagues in their discipline than meeting with students or Chicana/os studies faculty.

The first thing some new faculty complain about is the size of their offices. When it is explained that we have small offices by choice – the students have a reception area in exchange for a reduction in the size of our faculty offices – they ask who made this decision? The conversation is about their product and its value.

Other faculty members spend more time in departments of their discipline, although many of these departments have refused to accept them as permanent members. It is the product that is important and they  believe it is enhanced by associating with scholars outside the Chicana/o community.

Part timers often do not want to do anything to damage their product. Take the UNAM (National University of Mexico) controversy: they ignored the political ramifications of neoliberalism. It did not matter to them. Neither did the human rights atrocities in Mexico, i.e., the disappearance of the 43 normalistas.

They are not sellouts in the popular sense of the word. They care about the issues as long as they do not affect the value of their product. Economics for them is an ideology and supply and demand are the only important factors in their decisions, Ultimately what is important is sustaining the value of the product they are selling.

Why Is This So Hard?

Posted: January 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

what if

The push to reject standardized high stakes testing and all facets of corporate reform is on the rise. Let me begin with that hopeful note. The movement is growing and the scales are tipping!

Yet, I can’t help but ask myself: Why is this so hard? Why is it so hard to grow this movement? This should have been a done deal by now. The fight to protect children against harmful policies should be a no brainer. It’s like a campaign to “not kick puppies”—I mean, who would want to promote policies on kicking puppies? No one.

Why is this so hard? It’s hard because our political, schooling and media institutions continue to attack parents and educators who have the courage to defend children from harm.  Parents refusing these harmful policies are painted as “disgrnuntled White soccer mommies” while resistance from and within communities of color go ignored. Teachers refusing to comply with harmful policies are “agitators” and “out of compliance.” Our collective obsession that standardized tests are anything but junk science goes unchallenged by the media despite real research that has resoundly disproved it’s so called merits.

Ending corporate reform should be a “gimme” like in golf. So why is it, when we get to fighting to protect children (and their teachers and their communities), we often hear the response, “It’s complicated.” No. it’s really not. Strife in the Middle East is complicated. Quantum physics is complicated. Defending children is not complicated. We know the problem. And we know the solutions.

Problem: We have decades and volumes of research (both qualitative and quantitative) showing the detriment that high stakes standardized testing has on children, schools, teacher efficacy, and community building.

Solution: We have the answers. We have decades and volumes of research (both qualitative and quantitative) showing us what enables children to become successful learners (hint: Common Core and more tests are not on the list). Remediating the effects of poverty, creating quality rich curricula, small class sizes, learning with purpose and value, caring for children, and providing schools the resources to provide all of the above are on the list. We have the ability and the resources as the wealthiest nation on the planet to provide what all children deserve ….if we actually wanted to make that happen.

“It’s complicated” is code for “I’m afraid,” “I’m not equipped to deal with this,” “I’ve got another agenda I’m pedaling along the way” or simply, “I don’t really care to deal with it.” Paraphrasing Jonathan Kozol from the film Children in America’s Schools, “It makes us wonder if we, as a society, even like children. Sure we like our own. But do we like other people’s children?”

Why is this so hard? Because as adults other things at stake somehow become more important. They say “it’s complicated.” Here are a few examples.

Security: Why is it so hard to get administrators to support teachers defending children from the harm of HST by teaching parents how to opt out or refusing to give the tests? See story about Phillie teachers here.

Instead of punishing teachers and firing them, administrators should be protecting their teachers. It’s no longer sufficient to say, “I’m just doing my job.” So are the folks at Pearson, the U.S. Dept. of Education and Achieve. They’re just doing their jobs too.  If this applies to you Mr. or Mrs. Administrator, please stop saying you care about children and then throw those same people who are actually doing something about it under the bus for having the courage you lack.

Power: Why is it so hard to get union leadership to reflect the real concerns and needs of their union members who are standing up and speaking out against the destruction of their profession and the genuine desire to perform their job which is helping (not harming) children? Yes, there are clear deviations from this such as MTA and CTU. But why isn’t every local, state or national union leader rallying around the facts and the data that show this system does not work, instead of vying for power or a “seat at the big people table.” Like the proverbial Thanksgiving dinner, you should be asking to remain seated at the KIDS table. Or, maybe you’re making back room negotiations with powerful players trying to “get a little of this … willing to give up a little of that.” I have friends in unions afraid to speak out because their jobs are on the line for speaking truth. I have other friends who get icy stares from their union peers who wish they would just “shut up.” If you’re a union leader (or peer) silencing the voices of your members, listening to big money rather than to your members, at least have the courage to be honest about it. Stop saying you care about children (or even your colleagues) first. You don’t.

Politics: Why is it so hard to just be honest? Children’s lives are not political footballs. Politicians and ideologically-driven think tanks or non-profits use sound bites to manipulate public sentiment, while caring less about whether or not their selling points are grounded in fact, much less reality. These groups or politicians pretend to care about kids. Arne Duncan claims that his reforms are about “equity” and “civil rights,” while other groups who might appear to be allies in our fight use anti Common Core or even anti testing as an ideological or political weapon to serve their own ends, with the outcomes for children a distant runner-up. Politicians, CEO’s and their pet organizations see policies affecting children as something they can wield, negotiate, or use to some other purpose. Any ALEC model legislation is a clear example of this: “Let’s call it freedom or choice (because people eat that shit up) to increase our voter base, blame the liberals for everything wrong in our society, and then sell children to the highest corporate bidder.”

Media: Why is it so hard to find a mainstream media outlet with a moral compass? As “Deflategate” makes CNN headline news for days in a row, major events like 60,000 testing refusals in NY last fall went ignored. No offense to foot ball fans out there but while about half of America’s children are living in poverty the media is reporting about a deflated football in a game played (and managed) by men who make millions of dollars. Whether it’s NPR’s corporate ties to Bill Gates or FOX News ties with the Koch Brothers, the media perpetuates false narratives about “failing schools”, “bad teachers,” or the “wonders of charters”. They’re not reporting. They’re advertising. We have to pose the question, as Anthony Cody does, “Is mainstream media fair and balanced”?

Paradigms: This by far is the biggest reason why this is so hard. Despite the fact that volumes and scores of research spanning decades have failed completely in proving that standardized testing has any benefit for children, as a society we still cling to the belief that standardized testing has something of value. Can we get over it, please? There was also a time when societies believed that burning women as “witches” at the stake would fend off evil, or at least control women’s power and influence.  There was a time when societies believed that leeches were a cure for all sorts of ailments. Will there come a time in history when people can look back at us (convincing ourselves that using standardized tests was ever a way to improve the quality, equality, and worth of a child’s learning) and say “What the fuck?”

Why do we convince ourselves of foolish nonsense like, “Well, children need to learn to take tests! Tests are part of life when they become adults.” So is cooking. Why are aren’t there more cooking classes in the elementary schools then? (Actually I wish there were!) Likewise, most children will grow up and learn how to drive a car. Why don’t we invest millions in vehicle simulators and give them to kindergarten classrooms? Many people argue, “We need to test because all the industrialized countries of Europe and Asia are testing their kids, and we need to stay in tandem with them.” Industrialized nations of Europe and Asia also use the metric system and have universal single payer healthcare systems. I don’t see any U.S. legislation heating up to push either of those.

There are some civil rights organizations and leaders who advocate that standardized testing is necessary to ensure that equitable services are provided to historically underserved children and/or to demonstrate they are as good as their Caucasian suburban peers. I stand with those leaders and organizations in support of their fight for these things. But I cannot wrap my head around how any system of standardized testing, which was designed during the Eugenics movement to sort and track people according to race, class, and gender can possibly offer the solution to the persons and groups it was intended to harm the most. Why play a game when you know the rules are rigged against you?

Do we really need tests to show us which schools and communities are being underserved? Have you ever seen a failing school in a wealthy community … ever???? Zip codes are more accurate than test scores.  The tests have become a distraction from putting the money and effort into the providing the resources and programs in place that we know damn well would (could) make a difference. We don’t need any more tests to show us what works. And what doesn’t.

And, as Ira Shor pointed out in a brilliant keynote (see min 37) at the United Opt Out January event, it was during the 1970’s that schools showed the greatest increase in test scores for Black children; we were markedly closing the achievement gap (with the help of supportive family, community, and curricular programs). So what did the Reagan administration do? They ignored that data and put forward the Nation at Risk report ushering in a new generation of “back to basics” and “accountability” tactics that widened the achievement gap all over again. In other words, you’ve gotta have a lot more faith in policy makers than I do to even trust they’ll use a moral compass to do anything beneficial with the test scores to begin with.

To truly tip the scaled our society must arrive at a point where we can wholly and fully let go of the notion that standardized testing provides any meaningful or valuable benefit for any child, any group, any school or community.

And so long as we trudge along in denial, fear, or self-interest, looking at everything but children, fighting for anything other than the obvious solutions, convincing ourselves that the problem is anything other than our love affair with the money, power and political influence folded neatly into this test-faith paradigm, this struggle to defend children will continue to be hard.

But let’s stop pretending it’s complicated.