Archive for July, 2015

Recently I have received numerous emails from friends across the country with links to corruption and co optation in education reform (and resistance), asking me if I’d be willing to dig a little deeper into some of these issues, or share my thoughts. Honestly, I have been mentally fried lately and found it difficult to process much of anything serious. So instead I put on an episode of Game of Thrones: Season One. Anyone who has followed this series knows how unbelievably complicated the intersecting plot lines are. The show is filled with back rooms deals, bribes, threats, and brutal violence…all in the quest for the “Iron Throne” –the ruler who will rule all of the seven kingdoms. And it occurred to me how much the ongoing reauthorization of ESEA reminds me of Game of Thrones. Unless you’ve followed it from the beginning it’s nearly impossible to tell who allies with whom, who is betraying whom, and who is going to get killed off.

The inside deals and violence being imposed on public education via ESEA is similar to the plots of Game of Thrones … so for those who feel confused by what is really happening with ESEA (for a quick snapshot) see: http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/senate-esea-rewrite

And I thought I’d try this as an analogy.

Game of Thrones is far too complex to analyze in detail here, but for a simple comparison let’s say for a moment that the corporate reformers are the Lannisters, a household that rules Kings Landing, and is the wealthiest, most powerful family in the realm. They are known for bribery and back-room treachery. They are full of lies and deceit. In Season One the Iron Throne king has died and his wife (a treacherous Lannister) has conspired to place her young son Geoffry (born of willing incest) to become the new king. The Lannisters are the Broads, The Gates, the Waltons and the other billionaires buying and conniving their way to seats of power in public education (aka the Iron Throne).

This post from Ohio BATS illustrates this complexity nicely:

“As I wrote this, I realized it is nearly impossible to determine who are our friends and who are our enemies. The (mostly) polite listening is done to appease us. Meanwhile, we’re weeks away from a new school year, with no meaningful change in ESEA/NCLB. We will face the same broken mandates that continue to test, label, and punish our children, their educators, and their schools. This is not a game. We are not playing. Our children and our public schools are not given the full and complete attention they deserve. Until it is clear that what is done is right for children and their education, I will be gathering pitchforks!”

Oh…. but it IS a game (of thrones) to the corporate masters!

The resistance to corporate reform might be compared to the Stark family (rulers of the North) led in Season One by Ned Stark who was the loyal right hand of and close friend to the king who died (by treachery of course) . We find the Starks likeable empathetic characters, and yet they keep screwing up with bad choices. Ned is honest, with integrity and a sense of loyalty. But the Starks cannot compete against the Lannisters. For example, in the episode I just watched, Ned Stark agrees to a compromise of silence (of what he knows to be true) in order to save his daughters from the Lannister’s clutches. Of course following his compromise Geoffrey Lannister beheads him anyway, having gotten he wanted from Ned’s compromise.

Currently in ESEA some of the items considered positive by some include a return of standardized testing into the hands of the state, and a repeal of AYP at the hands of the feds.  Some members of the resistance might feel as Ned did; that real resistance is futile and compromise is necessary. A seek to compromise on anything in ESEA hoping that by doing so we might save our schools will lead us to the same end as Ned. What those in power want they will get, and they will promise us anything that sounds good to yield a compromise. And then they will cut our heads off anyway.

Sansa Stark, Ned’s daughter, is in love with Geoffry (now king) and works very hard to gain his affections. Sansa represents the union leaders and organizational leaders who pay lip service to a defense of equity, justice and democracy but cozy right up to Broad, Walton and Gates for their financial affections. How else can we explain numerous talking points by such groups/persons agreeing that testing is “obsolete” or “toxic” or “harmful” … and yet stop just short of calling for actions to wholly end it? For example Randi Weingarten has political and financial associations with Hillary Clinton, Eli Broad and the Gates Foundation. What does this mean?

One blog points out: “Randi Weingarten responded that schools need more hands on engagement such as happens at some Career/Tech Education schools. She said there should be multiple assessments for students to demonstrate learning. However, embedded in her flowery talk about the need for multiple assessments, later in the interview, she supports the Senate version of the revised Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that calls for annual testing. The reason she gives that annual testing is needed is that “civil rights leaders” say we need the tests so kids from low-income families “are not invisible”.’

This gives new meaning to the phrase “silence is golden.” Why remain silent on calling for action against standardized testing when you know it is harmful AND the cornerstone of reforms that are destroying your very own kingdom and people? The money of the Lannister’s and promise of power is as persuasive way of buying allegiance of leaders as is Geoffry’s promise to make Sansa his queen.  And if you watch the show, you know how that turned out for her.

A group of civil rights organizations came out with a letter in support of standardized testing as well. Like Ned Stark, do they naively hope that by publicly proclaiming that which is not true is a compromise which will spare them? Not coincidentally these groups have also received money from “the Lannister’s” in hopes that their fealty will ensure their own survival perhaps. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/05/09/just-whose-rights-do-these-civil-rights-groups-think-they-are-protecting/ for details.

So many organizations demanding many of the right things for children, teachers and schools and  taking many vital actions carefully avoid calling for mass actions that would lead to total testing boycott’s or refusals. Why? Why stop just short of REALLY changing the rules of the game? As Wayne Au states, “Anytime I see ‘grassroots’ groups promoting the agenda of the corporate education reformers, like what happened here in Washington State with charter school reform in 2012, I’m always compelled to follow the money.”

As another example of union leadership co-optation, Andy Stern, formerly SEIU president, sits on the board of the Broad Foundation.  There are a number of troubling things about SEIU, Broad, and Charters in the Los Angeles School District, including astro-turf parent organizations. It was linked to a “small schools” initiative in the mid 2000’s. Looking now at Phillie (the site of the United Opt Out 2016 event) I wonder about the direction of the Community Schools model being put out in that community. Will “community schools” (which themselves sound hopeful on the surface) really be a back room way to outsource school services to the private sector? See:

http://thebroadreport.blogspot.com/2010/02/connections-between-eli-broad-parent.html

http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/13608/is_andy_stern_selling_out_by_working_for_school_reform_group_private_equity

http://sternburgerwithfries.blogspot.com/2012/02/andy-sterns-sugar-daddy.html

Again, while these members of the family Stark claim allegiance to their own kingdom, behind closed doors they pledge their true allegiance to the Lannisters.  For example, “SEIU President Mary Kay Henry can get arrested at Occupy events, and her union can put out press releases and give speeches about targeting millionaires, but when the rubber hit the road in California, SEIU sided with the political and corporate elite against the grassroots groups mobilizing for the 99%. Labor had a great opportunity to make common cause with grassroots activists in California, and instead chose the more politically safe course.

Speaking of UOO action in Philly 2016, as Pennsylvania gears up to create new exit exams to begin in 2017 (which we may rightly assume large percentages will fail and thus not graduate because that’s what they’re designed to do)  we hope that PA student groups will build mass refusals to these tests. It’s becoming evident that have little to lose by taking mass action and organizing test boycotts or walkouts. We wonder, who will support them? And who will try to deter them from taking such action?

The Lannister’s meanwhile are conspiring for many self-serving claims to power and profit as ESEA reauthorization makes many promises to them. One of the things included in the current bill relates to school vouchers.

With ESEA in their back pocket they can charge ahead with their true agenda:

“Wisconsin is well on its way towards limitless voucher schools, and last month, Nevada signed into law a universal ‘education savings account’ allowing parents to send their kids to private or religious schools, or even to homeschool them—all on the taxpayers’ dime. On the federal level, a proposed amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would have created a multi-billion-dollar-a-year voucher program was only narrowly defeated in the U.S. Senate.”

The Iron Throne (public education) will be handed to them in a short order with ALEC leading the charge to privatization…while the Starks compromise, cozy up, or remain silent. In the words (in a personal email correspondence) of Don Bunger A WA BAT with a notable ear to the ground:

“Here may be a workable thesis that can focus the reader on a possible end result of the 2016 Presidential Election Cycle that may the first national effort to alter public education delivery systems permanently. Jeb Bush has laid the groundwork for a subtle shift of tax dollars to be spread to public and private sector schools through the vector of vouchers. Yes Charters are in the mix but the secret sauce will be Vouchers.”

The new ESEA will also be a boon for charter schools. According to Peter Green:

States can go to the head of the line for Title V funding if

  • they let an entity other than a local school district authorize charters
  • they give charters equitable financing, compared to public schools (so we’re done pretending that charters save taxpayers money)
  • they help provide facilities through either funding or co-location
  • they let charters handle budget and operations as they wish, including personnel decision (so, hire, fire and pay at will)
  • they use best practices from charters to improve public schools (a toughie, since so far this has happened exactly nowhere)

Yes, the “progressives” like Hillary might pretend to be a member of the family Stark but it’s the Lannisters that they really serve. According to Ken Derstein, “Bill Clinton’s all night White House meeting with Eli Broad, occurred as Clinton, under the guise of a progressive agenda, was advancing a neoliberal agenda during and after his presidency.”

The promises of reduced testing or state driven testing as positive things are promises given by Goeffry Lannister, and we will likely wind up beheaded as reward for our compromise not to engage in full scale refusal. The Lannisters still remain the rulers and writers of ESEA. Anything in there is designed for their purpose.

This brings me to one more major character I need to discuss here: Daenerys Targayren, the mother of dragons. Daenerys is the true heir to the Iron Throne. She represents the parents, teachers and children in all of our communities, the rightful heirs to public education. In summary: “she becomes determined to bring justice as a conqueror as she leads a military campaign to bring an end to slavery in Slaver’s Bay, liberating the occupied cities … with an army of Unsullied. Despite her strong moral compass, she is capable of dealing ruthlessly with her enemies, particularly the slave masters.” While the royal kingdoms of the Starks and the Lannisters fight with and for one another in self- serving fashion Daenerys fights for those who matter most.

In other words, she…does…not …compromise. She is not motivated by gold nor by power. And she’s got those cool dragons. This is her true power. Her dragons represent our collective power of REFUSAL. Like Daenerys we are being told to “chain our dragons” because they are too dangerous. But they are also the source of our power. Of course the “royalty” want them chained. With it we can lay waste to the corrupt kingdoms of the Lannisters and chase away those that compromise, sell-out, and co opt our voices and our schools. Let’s use our power and claim the Iron Throne…we are the rightful heirs.

Bring on the dragons.

Why the long winded and cryptic title? It summarizes my feelings about the state of education reform including the recent revisions of ESEA/ECAA and the current state of the resistance movement. In a nut shell I find myself halfway between hope and skepticism. But….as Chris Hedges states in Wages of Rebellion, “half measures” will not suffice to accomplish the changes we wish to see in public education.

I believe the authorizers of the recent ESEA took their ideas from the conceptual playbook of MC Escher. Reading the new legislation, and reading it again (and again) I am left with the feeling that the staircases to new policy lead everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. I see dead ends and endless unknown exits or trapdoors. Will this bring promise or peril to our movement? The answer lies in how we address the central issue of hegemony.

Hegemony is that ten dollar word academics like to use to confuse their undergraduate students. So let’s put this in laymen’s terms:

Hegemony is a system of power that gets people to think and act against their own self-interest. Webster calls it “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group.” It uses invisible codes of oppression that are sometimes difficult to pinpoint or to recognize our own participation or complicity with it.

So, what invisible codes of oppression are used to deceive people into perpetuating their own oppression? There are many of course but for today let’s focus on standardized testing as one of those codes. It affects us ideologically, socially, culturally and economically. The volumes of research to its destructive, racist, biased and classist nature are too many to mention here. But you all know…and if you need more fuel for the fight please read the amazing piece by UOO admins Ruth Rodriguez, Denisha Jones and Ceresta Smith at the United opt Out website.

Our societal blind and erroneous faith that standardized testing is necessary to ensure equity and accountability is first and foremost, IRONIC…and secondly, the means by which the hegemony of global corporate colonization keeps itself firmly planted. Our society is deeply conditioned to rely on this false system of evaluation which measures the wrong things and redirects our attention and our resources from the things that really matter. In simple terms, if standardized testing creates equity then Fruit Loops is part of a nutritious breakfast. Some might argue this is quite intentional and not merely the result of stupidity in leadership. Standardized testing is the problem that disguises itself as the solution. Without it, the straw man of corporate and global control loses its weapon of mass destruction. Until we reject the very legitimacy of standardized testing itself and the profiteers who pedal them, the cornerstone of corporate and political self-servitude will remain intact. Hegemony must be ripped out root and branch. It cannot be negotiated with.

So while I remain very disappointed with the changes to existing ESEA legislation, I WANT to be that “half glass full” person. I promise to try because pragmatically it’s what we’ve got to work with whether we like it or not. But if we do not place the systemic hegemony perpetuated by corporate powers who remain comfortably entrenched (opt out clauses or not) as the corner stone of policy, at the fore front of our efforts, we will accomplish little.

The skeptic in me says that even IF we get fewer tests now in the hands of states and out of the hands of the feds, and even IF opting out permitted without punishment to schools…. these are not the end goals we wanted. The hopeful in me reminds me that THEY ARE however THE MEANS toward a much bigger set of goals. It’s what we do with them now that matters–we can we use them to attain the goals we wish to create. I choose hope over skepticism because as Howard Zinn wrote in a statement which begins “To be hopeful in bad times …” that “what we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives” and concludes that “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory”

I see any legislation crafted at the hands of predatory reformers as little better than the treaties offered to the indigenous nations at the hands of the US government. They were treaties made and they were treaties were broken over and over again. When the mighty and powerful want something, they will promise anything for appeasement…and still take what they want.  We must reject the legitimacy of power brokers, stock brokers, and thieves cashing in on your children. How? REFUSE IT ALL.

REFUSE to give them legitimacy. REFUSE to concede your power to them. REFUSE their shady promises and empty rhetoric. REFUSE the myths we have been spoon fed for generations that standardized testing will protect our children from the ravages of poverty and racism. REFUSE to play THEIR game. REFUSE a seat at their table. Let’s flip their table over and build our own.

It’s your right to revolt by your refusal, and it is, as Hedges suggests, “our moral imperative” to do so- do we have the collective will to grab the brass ring? Are we ready to stop asking “mother may I?” Are we ready to end our dependency on those in so-called power to make changes that would demand they operate counter to their own self interest?  THAT will never happen because as Chomsky suggests, “such ideals as democracy and the market are well and good, as long as the tilt of the playing field guarantees the right folks win.”

Are we ready to take actions that will dismantle the entire system of corruption and claim it for ourselves, our teachers and our children? We have the knowledge. We have the means. We have the resources. We don’t NEED to wait until we are comfortably placed into positions of power bending the ears of so called powerful people. WE are in the position of power. WE are the powerful people. The only thing we still need now is the undeniable belief in ourselves that we can and will take it from them.

Are you ready for the revolution?

(A special thinks to the BATS for inviting me to the BATS Congress July 24th where i presented this keynote address).

jesse2

A guest blog from Walking Man Jesse Turner:

Some walking man news for my friends. It messy, not well edited, but it is great news.
Let me start with we should not expect mainstream media to cover anything we do in my opinion. We should understand they work for the reformers not us. Any notice we get from them is big news in my humble opinion, it’s kind of like the Yankees broadcasting good news about the Red Sox…. On the ground news In 2010 I spent a great deal of my time convincing people something was wrong with Ed Reform. In 2015 everyone gets it, and many people are fighting back. Again don’t expect CNN to broadcast it, but it’s real, and politicians are starting to worry. We even have some who are right in the thick of the fighting. I hope Michael Elliot puts up NY Councilmen Daniel Drumm remarks at our Press Conference at City Hall. We could have all gone home, because he said it all…the man was perfect. Of course he is a retired teacher. Rosalie got him for us. Bravo Rosalie.  Michael Elliot covered the whole NYC Walking press conference, Michael Rosalie, and Change the Stakes person spoke as well.  He also the Bronx event as well. You are going to love what he puts together from the press conference. He also covered Newark, and NJ was powerful people. I am still catching up to all the great news from Jersey in my Walking Blog, (almost there Terry). Terry was brilliant, and made things happen in Jersey.  I’ll get coverage for Baltimore and DC as well. Trust me we are breaking through, soon mainstream media won’t have a choice if they want viewers.
Bronx news 12 also did an excellent story as well see the link below. I need links to spread it on social media everywhere, share the Phillie newspaper pieces as well. Remember don’t just post the link, say something about it. Make it sound important.
Also since the begging Thomas Bird DC “Education Town Hall has cover the wall, and takes weekly updates every Thursday. They are covering the mock trial people—this is big!
The Philadelphia Morn Feed has done two 90 minute-shows about the walk as well, see the link below for the latest one. They have also agreed to have every local leader involved in the Philly walking events be quests on their show…THIS IS BIG!
The online radio show the War Report also does weekly updates, and kick off the walk with a show and will also do a post DC show about the walk. My blog has 5000 views for July alone already, and I am behind in my shouts outs to people. Also I have not even reached Baltimore or DC.
Although Gov Christie bumped me on NJTV’s Radio show David Cruz anchor had me call into his radio show with Newark’s Mayor Baraka about high-stakes testing on Friday night. I’ll be back on the air with him again. I haven’t given up on going on NJTV News either, and I’ll get to meet with Mayor Baraka before the fall. Philly went well, the walk continues to get good coverage.
Michael Elloit documented key points on my NY and NJ walk, and will edit them, and place it online soon. I do plug SOS as I walk everywhere. Big difference between my 2010 and 2015 walks…in 2010 no one knew the issues, or who I was, this time around they know the issues and who I am, and who SOS is. What a BIG difference people!
Delaware is a quiet state as I knew it would be, because the legislature just passed a parent right to opt out law. I did meet with some parents of special needs children there, but like in 2010 Delaware is fighting their own battles, and just won the Opt Out battle. Trust me I needed a quiet state, walking goes well most days, but every day events are connected to the walk it complicates things and takes it toll on my blogging. Events also impact my sleep Trust me I rather be busy and tired than bored and restful. 12 days to go. If you can plug the go fund me campaign for me. The motels bill are growing.

The next big events are coming in Maryland. I am convinced more press with come in Baltimore, but again CNN, MNBC and Fox don’t work for us-they work for the Ed Reformers. I don’t expect them, or their affiliates to come knocking. We must pound the social media circuits every day in my humble opinion, and not just our pages, but post on everyone pages. I am getting a strong feeling that the political winds are shifting on testing and Education Reform. It is going to be hard to run as an Ed Reformer in 2016. Trust me we are winning, and SOS, Opt OUT, NPE, BATs and everyone fighting back is increasing their reputations as honest brokers. No one views the United State Department of Education, or any Ed Reformer as honest at this point.  Anthony Cody’s piece on my walk helped, and so did Diane Ravitch’s shout-outs as well.
We are winning, and I am 120 miles from DC.

Bronx News 12 Story

Daily News Philadelphia

CBS Philly
Morning Feed Talk show Philadelphia

At every step of the way SOSer and Opt Outers have played significant roles in the walk. Michael, Rosalie and Terry were wonderful. Bess is working hard on making Maryland work. Alison Hawver McDowell Philly Opt Out and Morna McDermott (Maryland) have been incredible. There are literally dozens of new players/organizations who are superstars in the own right.

Visit FB at Alison Hawver McDowell

SOSers have contributed to my Go Fund Me campaign as well. In 2010 I had no support for the walk, this time people have contributed 2500 to the walk. That money pays for motels, gas, tolls, cab rides, and blister band aids. My goal was 3500, but 2500 is not bad, and there still is 12 days to go.
Thank you,
Jesse