Calling It As It Is

It is refreshing to see more balanced reporting about education in The New York Times. For years, the paper has portrayed an infatuation with charter schools and has incorporated the rhetoric of misnamed education “reformers” in its reporting. Several recent articles in The New York Times demonstrate a more open approach and a recognition that those “reformers” are actually privatizers and profiteers. An example is this piece by the highly esteemed writer, Gail Collins. In it, she is critical of those privatizers and profiteers as she writes about how unqualified Betsy DeVos is to head the U.S. Department of Education.

The March: Six Days In

The DC Women’s March and the Sister Marches are over.

Some critics, such as David Brooks, tell us that the marches were sweet but will be ineffective. Let’s prove him wrong.

First, let’s get fired up by listening here to Carole King’s “One Small Voice”. Carole King re-recorded the song and made it available to everyone after marching in a Sister March in Stanley, Idaho (population: 63) with 28 other people, half the town. She said she re-recorded the song because she “never stopped believing that one small voice plus millions of other small voices is exactly how we change the world”.

Second, let’s each decide how we will use our voice for political action.

Here’s what I will do:

I will give my voice, my time, and my energy to two projects, one local and one national:

  • I will oppose the Trump intention to destroy public schools by working to save Connecticut’s public schools. The forthcoming Connecticut state budget threatens public education. I will write to inform the 10,000 people who marched in Hartford on January 21st, the thousands of Connecticut residents who marched in Washington that day, and all Connecticut citizens about how funding for education in Connecticut lines up with Donald Trump’s intentions. I will advocate for a state budget that does not embody the Trump agenda.
  •  I will call Democratic Senators and Representatives on a weekly basis to urge them to oppose Donald Trump’s inadequately reasoned, self-aggrandizing, harmful-to-the-republic proposals and his attempts to undermine the democratic process, such as by controlling the press. There is no reasoning with a demagogue. There is no trust to be had in Democrats compromising on what they know is best, such as when Senator Warren and Senator Brown voted to confirm Ben Carson about whom they expressed deep reservations. It is not the time for establishment politics. The threat of fascism is real. I will push all elected Democrats to be radical in opposing that danger.

What will you do?

Demagogue Alert

This is the sign I carried at the Sister March in Hartford, Connecticut on January 21, 2017.

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The events of the first days of the Trump administration reinforced for me that, indeed, we do need to be on alert.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and current professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley in this 2 minute 41 second video explains how Donald Trump’s treatment of the media gives us reason to fear for the loss of our democracy.

Everything we deeply care about- equity, civil rights, the environment, health care, education, the economy, national security, and, most of all, our children- depends on us maintaining a democracy.

End the oligarchy we have had. Don’t let a demagogue take hold.

Let’s get busy. Let’s get political.

Required For Ed Secretary: Integrity

In addition to showing incredible lack of knowledge about the basics of K-12 education at her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos lied about her involvement in the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation that gives million of dollars to anti-gay organizations and to causes of the extreme religious right.

At that confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos stated that it was “a clerical error” that she was listed as a Vice President of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education reports that her statement about a clerical error is not plausible. The 990PF forms of the Foundation from 1998 until the latest filing, which is 2014, list Elizabeth (Betsy) DeVos as Vice President.

According to Michigan law, any foundation, including private foundations, must undergo an independent financial audit during a year that the foundation receives in excess of $500,000 in contributions. In 2012, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation received nearly $19 million in contributions and was audited.

Information about board officers must be provided for an audit. There is a review of all board members’ names and contact information. If Betsy DeVos’s name had been “inadvertently listed” by error for fourteen years, it would have been discovered in that independent audit. The audited tax returns are posted on the Network for Public Education website.

Betsy DeVos didn’t tell the truth to the Senate committee. The Secretary of Education should have unquestioned integrity.

If Senators vote to confirm Betsy DeVos, it will tell a sad story to America’s children. Unfortunately, it will be only one of several sad stories since the election of Donald Trump.

Mr. President: Language Matters.

Of all the sadnesses I have about the current state of our great nation, a key one is that our incoming President uses language to destroy not build, to hurt not heal, to divide not unite. Tom Friedman gives examples of Donald Trump’s use of language and suggests alternatives. 

I once taught English to 7th grade boys. The most immature and insecure of those boys used language as Donald Trump does. They insulted others and insisted on their own greatness. I worked hard to help my students to be aware of their language and, more importantly, to think more broadly and deeply. My goal was to help them to be less self-absorbed and to be open to new ways of seeing the world as they gained confidence in themselves as part of that larger world. I have similar wishes for Donald Trump. I hope that he ceases to see himself as the center of his own world and, instead, sees himself as part of a larger world in which he has tremendous responsibilities.

Language matters. Language both expresses our existing thoughts and creates our new thoughts. We need a President who thinks more broadly and deeply and speaks and writes out of that deeper, broader thinking. We need a President who uses language to dialogue with others and explore diverse ideas in order to create new thinking for himself. Only by using language in both of those ways can he call us, the American people, to envision a country in which we can all take pride.

Clear And Present Danger

What I learned from watching three hours of the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education:

1. Betsy DeVos demonstrated a lack of any understanding about student assessment.

2. Betsy DeVos said that permitting guns in schools is a decision that should be left up to individual schools.

3. Betsy DeVos did not commit to preschool for all children.

4. Betsy DeVos said that educating children with special needs and disabilities is up to individual schools and districts, and she did not commit to upholding existing federal mandates regarding the education of special needs children and children with disabilities.

5. Betsy DeVos said that she does not support equal accountability for all schools that receive taxpayer funds. Charter schools, funded with taxes, will not have the same accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.

6. Betsy DeVos said that charter schools, funded with public taxes, do not have to adhere to the same policies as traditional public schools in regard to regulations about student bullying and student suspensions.

7. Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in for-profit colleges.

8. Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws which address sexual assault on college campuses.

9. Betsy DeVos will take money from traditional public schools to privatize public education.

10. Betsy DeVos, although questioned directly about the civil rights of LGBT students, gave no statement in direct support of LGBT students.

11. Lamar Alexander, the chair of the committee, did not allow appropriate questioning of Betsy DeVos. He did not honor the requests of his Senate colleagues for more time for additional questions. There is a precedent for that courtesy being extended to Senate colleagues who request additional time for questions. 

What I didn’t learn from what was said at the three hours of testimony but could tell from the obsequiousness of the Republican senators and by the restriction on the questioning of Betsy DeVos by the Republican chair of the committee:

According to Education Week, Betsy DeVos and her family have given nearly $1 million directly to 21 Republican senators over past election cycles. In addition, the analysis found ten senators on the Senate education committee have received donations from a political action committee controlled by the DeVos family, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the committee chairman.

Where do we go from here?

  1. Recognize that what Bernie Sanders has pointed out about our political system as a whole is true about education in particular as well: We are an oligarchy. Money talks. Money wins. Citizens lose. Children lose. 

      2. That oligarchy in education is not new. It has existed during the past two presidencies with the privatization of public education through the public funding of charter schools, the dominance of the standardized testing industry, and education standards determined by the man with the most money,  but that oligarchy was hidden under the misnomer of “education reform”. No reform happened. All that happened was the very rich gained control of the agenda, and those aspiring-to-be-rich-through-privatizing-a-public-institution became rich. Now the oligarchy is crystal clear. Now the danger to our republic is clear. Now the danger to our kids is right before us. 

         3. Be grateful for the clarity.

         4. Fight like crazy.

Answers Without Questions

When you ask the wrong questions, you can’t possibly get the right answers.

The Mastery Examination Task Force, whose report about student assessment in our public schools is due to come out soon, has asked all the wrong questions. We, therefore, can’t have any confidence in the findings of the Task Force.

Questions that the Task Force never asked are:

1. Are the tests that we now use, the SBAC and the SAT, reliable, valid, and fair?

2. What kind of learning do we want to measure and why?

3. How can we assess students so that the assessment itself is a learning experience for them?

The first question is a meat-and-potatoes no brainer. If the SBAC and the SAT lack reliability, validity, or fairness, we shouldn’t keep spending time and money on junk.

The second and third questions tell us about the quality of the  education we are giving to our students here in Connecticut.

A fourth question is :Why didn’t the Mastery Examination Task Force ask Questions 1, 2, and 3?

For an answer to that question, see  this article, written by veteran Connecticut educator, Jack Bestor, and published in CT Mirror.

The Role Of The Artist in Trump-time

The result of the 2016 Presidential election silenced me. Listening to Meryl Streep’s speech when she accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes Award gave me back my voice.

Since November 9, 2016, I have questioned the point of writing about public education anymore. Why should I continue to criticize the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts when what I find harmful in them for students is now being normalized by the President-elect? How could  I continue to criticize standards that limit the amount of literature students read when we have a President-elect who boasts of the fact that he doesn’t read?  How could I criticize standards that recognize only predetermined right answers instead of critical or creative thinking  when we have a President-elect who says he has all the answers and doesn’t need dialogue with others to explore possibilities or revise his thinking? How could I continue to advocate for excellent public schools for all children as the bedrock of a democracy when that President-elect nominates for U.S. Secretary of Education someone who wants to destroy public education?  It all seemed futile.

Then I heard what Meryl Streep said about artists and journalists and knew that it applied to educators as well.  You can listen to her speech here:   https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=tightropetb&p=video+of+meryl+streep+speech+at+golden+globes+on+january+9%2C+2016#id=59&vid=c81a5c9dd5861ac45c2c81b50d1964b9&. Or you can read it below.

I love you all, but you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend, and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read. Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press, just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we? And what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in — no — in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this. So an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account –  to call them on the carpet for every outrage.

That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedom in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists because we are going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart. Make it into art.” 

And that is what I will do. I will stop being defeated. I will end my two-month silence. I will let my broken heart energize my art as a teacher and as a  teacher of teachers.

I will go back to speaking my truth. I know what good education is and will advocate for it. I know what the art of teaching entails. I am passionate about children having the best possible education because I know first-hand how education that privileges diversity, independent thinking, and social responsibility can transform lives. I will not stop because of the disrespect, violence, and bullying that now surround us. I will not stop empathizing with the children in this country who so need us educators – especially now.

I will ask of myself what Meryl Streep asked of journalists: How can I hold power accountable and safeguard the truth. The truth I want to safeguard is that the purpose of public education is to build the minds and hearts of all students by developing their potential as engaged learners and increasingly independent thinkers in every way imaginable. To do that, I must go back to opposing the Common Core Standards, designed by entrepreneurs and testing company personnel instead of educators. I must also go back to opposing the evaluation of students by standardized tests because that kind of assessment reduces learning for all students, especially those who need engagement and stimulation the most. I must go back to opposing charter schools because they take  money away from the vast majority of children without notable results, and they encourage segregation. As Meryl Streep urged journalists, I must hold precious my responsibility to play a part in taking this democracy to its highest ground.

Meryl Streep is right. The oligarch-in-chief and the oligarchs with whom he has surrounded himself have incredible power and have the privilege of wealth. But we educators, like the actors and journalists, have our art. We can teach. We can speak the truth about kids, about learning, about diversity, about excellence.  With that art and with one another we can fight back.

Let’s get busy.