A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

The Ranking Mania

Many of us have come to believe that if one can attach a number to something, it is of a higher order reality. We see this in the growing mania to rank people and institutions, often in ways that mislead rather than educate. Public schools have suffered significantly by these mismeasurements, many very willingly supplying the data that is then used to undermine their legitimacy. It is absolutely foolhardy to rate a high school on the basis of how many AP courses it students are enrolled in. A school in which every child takes an AP class every period may be a good school. It’s just as likely, if not more so, to be a places of cut-throat competition where test scores are subordinated to learning and the goal of educating citizens has evaporated.

This mindless ranking having had my attention for some time, I was interested to read Frank Bruni’s column in Sunday’s Times about the spread of this insanity to colleges. Bruni reviews some of the rating indices, properly concluding that each makes its evaluations on completely different criteria. Read them all, and one may find what they are looking for in a college. Read just one, and you might just as well have picked a name out of a hat.

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The Latest Ed-Tech Innovation

My readers are well aware of my growing concerns about the infiltration of technological learning appliances and their debasement of what it has meant to be educated. Thus, I was not at all surprised to read that the latest “learning innovation” to be touted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a biosensor attached to students’ wrists and able to gauge their attentiveness to lesson before them. It won’t be long I suspect before some jackass of a superintendent of schools, spouting the empty rhetoric of 21st century learners and digital citizens, offers this up as the latest improvement in education. What it is in fact is the latest from a tech industry that has provided the tools of the surveillance society we have become. If we were interested in an educated citizenry we would be spending time at all levels of education discussing the increasing threat to our freedom these devices pose. We would also be wise to take seriously teaching students how to be intelligent consumers of media that are increasingly personalized to the point that we share less and less of a common reality and the concept of a fact appears to mean less and less with each passing day.

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Teachers for Trump?

Off and on this weekend, I found myself in a Facebook discussion with some Trump supporters, two of whom are members of the union I used to lead, one retired and one active. It didn’t take long for one of their friends to chime in to accuse me of being a communist. When I responded that although I have been long accustomed to being red-baited the fact is I’m not a communist but a democratic socialist, this chap’s angry response was that they are both the same thing and that his grandfather fought against both of them during World War II. It mattered not to him when I pointed out that his grandfather fought Nazis or national socialists.

The experience got me thinking about how many Trump supporters there might be in the ranks of teacher unions. How many are either unaware of the threat that Trumpism poses to public education and unionized workers in general or have soaked up the white nationalist poison he spews that they are willing to chance the consequences of electing a man who unequivocally supports charter schools, government vouchers for students to attend private and religious schools, home schooling and the dismantling of the U. S. Department of Education? There’s no way to know for sure. While the ones I engaged on Facebook are bold enough to be public about their support, most aren’t, knowing deep down I suspect that there is something fundamentally wrong about supporting a man whose campaign has attracted the Alt-right, the Klan and assorted other bigots. But, we know that about 25 percent of our membership is Republican and that about 80 percent of Republicans support Trump. Why would we believe that our members are different?

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Teaching About Elections

Despite there not being a shred of evidence to support Trumps allegation that attempts are being made to steal the election, he continues twist the intestines of his supporters with statements s about dead people voting, inner-city people (He means blacks and Latinos) poised to commit massive voter fraud and an alliance between the Clinton campaign and the news media.

We know that if a lie gets repeated often enough and is uncontested, it has the distinct potential to become the truth. Were this lie to become the truth of the American people, it could destroy our unique democratic experiment and effectively make our country ungovernable democratically. Every responsible politician of every party need to forthrightly assure their constituents that Donald Trump’s allegations are completely without evidence. As importantly, the teachers in the classrooms of our public schools must engage the nation’s children in discussions of the election, guiding them to factual information about allegations of voter fraud. Public schools are vital to our democracy. They must prepare children to become responsible participants of our democracy. To do that they must help children understand both the falsity of these allegations and the threat they pose to our society.

Were I still in the classroom, I would additionally talk about the real election fraud in the United States – the adoption in far too many states of laws that make voting more difficult and which impact disproportionately minorities. I would be talking about how the Republican Party has made a very determined effort to exclude constituencies which tend to support Democrats from the electoral process. I would be talking about the calamity of the Supreme Court’s striking down central planks of the Voting Rights Act. I would be explaining how these efforts are the modern face of Jim Crow.

Some will say, “You can’t do such things anymore, Morty.” If you can’t, then we’re not teachers anymore. Our students may get ever higher and higher test scores, but we will have failed both them and ourselves.

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Time For Progressives to Get Practical

I hope you missed me that last week or so. We had some server issues that prevented me from posting. I’m assured, however, that we are now back to normal.

Some of my readers live in states that Hillary Clinton will easily win. They therefore figure they have the luxury of casting a more purely motivated ballot for either Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. When pressed, most will acknowledge that they hope and believe Hillary will win, but they dislike her nevertheless and feel a compulsion to let her know it. In normal times, while I would still disagree with this approach to the president election, I might be able to accept it. But, Donald Trump poses such a palpable threat whether he wins or not. The fact is that he has the darkest strains of political thought in America to coalesce into a movement that threatens the very foundations of our democracy, with only a third of Republican voters believing that the election will be counted fairly.

This is no time for protest votes. Our only hope for a competent president, our only hope for any semblance of a progressive agenda is electing Hillary Clinton with a large enough mandate to allow her to govern. A Hillary presidency gives us a real shot making college more affordable, providing paid family leave, trying to complete the war on poverty, addressing the infrastructure need of the nation, ending the radical right hold on the Supreme Court, taking additional steps in the battle against climate change and taking the next step forward in the struggle to provide health care to all our people. The extent to which she can accomplish any of this is directly related to the margin of her victory. An overwhelming victory increases her leverage with the Congress, whether the Democrats control either house. Progressives have a real opportunity for the kind of change they have been seeking. Progressives have a shot at achieving much of Bernie’s agenda.

As a life-long democratic socialist, I naturally supported Bernie Sanders. But Bernie lost. I believe fairly. You may not. You may even think Hillary is corrupt. No matter. It’s time to get practical and recognize that the only chance to move a progressive agenda forward is by electing Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly. We simply have to demonstrate that there remains an overwhelming small d democratic majority that will not entertain the messianic call of the strong man who alone possesses the powers to cure all the nation’s ills, making it great again. Our nation has heard that call before. It has always rejected it. It must do so again.

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Real Patriots

With the presidential election looming, it’s been hard to think about public education, except for the fear of what the election of Donald Trump would mean for America’s public schools. What I can’t get out of my mind is the idea that the very possibility of his election is in and of itself an indictment of our schools. What kind of twisted patriotism is it that longs for an America in which minorities knew their place, gays were in the closet, women were subservient to men and America was the unrivaled super-power? If the purpose of public schools is the education of citizens to participate meaningfully in our democratic society, let’s acknowledge that we could be doing better.

On the bright side, however, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that here appears to be a growing movement among high school football players to emulate Colin Kaepernick and to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. A piece in the October 3rd New York Times reports that kids on a number of high school teams from coast to coast teams have followed Kaepernick’s lead. It’s encouraging to see young people standing up for their beliefs, expressing a finer patriotism that yearns for a country that lives up to its ideals and seeks an ever more perfect union. I’m encourages too that these kids appear to have the support of their coaches and school districts. It tells me that that they are leaning important lessons that are not reflected in the way we have come to evaluate schools. Bravo to the school leaders who have supported these kid’s efforts.

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Realism Time

I fear the next person who laments the fact that we have only Donald trump and Hillary Clinton to choose from better duck as I am likely to be overtaken by an irresistible urge to vomit. It’s surely time to face the fact that one of these two people is going to be the next President of the United States. It’s time to put all the bullshit aside and face the fact that it matters greatly which one wins. If you watched the debate last night with the slightest openness of mind, you saw one candidate who was articulate, poised, prepared and completely conversant with the issues of the day. You saw another who was often incapable of putting together two coherent sentences, opting instead for incessant bursts self-puffery and invective.

Going into the debate, the pundits speculated as to which Donald Trump would show up. How would Hillary deal with him? What crap! There is and always was only one Donald Trump, a self-aggrandizing con-artist who when his swindle is revealed unleashes bursts of lies, innuendo and insult like squid ink, hoping to scoot away in the darkened water. I never really doubted that a woman as smart as Hillary is would have any trouble baiting the Donald into revealing just how pathetically unfit he is.

I’m sorry friends. She’s not warm and fuzzy. She’s very precise and lawyerly in her answers to questions. She’s reluctant to wear her emotions on her sleeve. She’s all business. You may, like Donald, not like the way she looks. You may not feel an emotional connection to her. You may think it unseemly for a woman to manifest the drive and ambition she has. You may think that like many politicians she has played loose with the truth on occasion. You may resent that she chose to stay in a marriage with a philandering husband. But here’s the deal that is before you. You can either entrust your welfare and that of our nation to this brilliant, knowledgeable, experienced woman, or you can be overcome by things that rub you the wrong way about her and be conned into making a man who has no experience of governing, is ill-tempered and who years for a return to an America that was nowhere near as great as it is today. That’s the choice. It’s realism time.

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The Revised English Standards

The New York State Education Department has issues a draft of the revised English and mathematics standards, revisions that are said to have involved educators and parents. I spent an hour or so with the English standards, English being my field. I expected nothing from the revisions, and I am not in any way disappointed. As I read, I found myself imagining frustrated teachers trying to fathom exactly what some of this gibberish means. I imagined too how inherently boring for young students much pseudo-sophisticated baloney is.

I found myself remembering some of the Canadian provincial academic standards that I long ago suggested we could simply adopt, thereby saving ourselves money, time and teachers’ faith in our schools. I challenge my readers to look at the Ontario standards and then New York’s. Then ask yourself if you had a child and had the choice of which curriculum she should be exposed to, which one would you pick? I doubt that anyone would pick New York’s. A clear educational philosophy under-girds the Ontario standards, one that is anchored in an understanding of how children learn, one that respects children. New York’s is by and large words, words, words.

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The Neglect of Language Study

I’m just back from a week in Iceland. One of my lasting memories will be of the extraordinary nice people we met whose command of English is astonishing to Americans whose language proficiency is matched only by their inability to accept criticism of their country. When I asked a cab driver who had just explained the intricacies of the Icelandic health care system how it is that everyone speaks such fluent English, he explained how all Icelandic children begin their study of English in third grade and continue it throughout their schooling.

I’ve noted before how there are some places in the United States that take teaching foreign languages seriously and capitalize on the long established fact that childhood is the best time to learn languages. Yet so-call high performing school districts like mine essentially make a pretense of teaching other languages until our kids are in the latter years of middle school. While we have spent fortunes of money over the years on the latest educational fads, the leadership of our district has never expressed even the slightest interest in recognizing the centrality of language study to any reasonable concept of being educated. This is just one of the many weaknesses of our academic program that goes unrecognized by decision makers who are themselves often poorly educated and who fall victim to the latest education snake-oil.

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Not a Happy Day

Although retired, I went to my local’s contract ratification meeting yesterday. I wanted to be on hand to help our new president Nina Melzer, as I led our union during most of the negotiations that leading to the contracts that were before the membership. While I was please to see our contracts ratified, I was deeply disturbed b y some of what I heard from those who felt our negotiating committee did not do a good enough job.

In the context of a property tax cap that limited the increase in our district’s budget to a small fraction of one percent, in a bargaining environment in which almost every settlement on Long Island has been financed by modifying the increment structure of the salary schedule – taking from the newer staff to give to those who already make more, we were able to get raises compounding to 6.3 percent over a four year period and completely preserved our increments. We cut six hours from our staff development requirement, ended disruptive parent classroom visitations, improved our sick leave buy-out upon retirement, improved our leave and bereavement clauses and got $150 per member more over the course of the contract for our welfare fund. Yes, we will work two extra days, and we will introduce extra help in our elementary schools and increase extra help in our middle schools, all within the existing school hours. I am completely confident that there has not been a better contract negotiated on the Island in recent years.

For quite a few of our members, you would have thought the district rolled over us. Quite a few speakers spoke about the unfairness of the deal, unfairness being generally defined as being obligated to do some things differently, albeit in the identical amount of time. Others expressed their belief that the district doesn’t respect us, as if that had the slightest thing to do with negotiations essentially about time and money. The lack of understanding of the realities of bargaining in the current context left me concerned for the future and a little guilty that I had somehow failed to educate so many to the realities of public sector collective bargaining at the current time. I’m saddened too by what that lack of understanding means for my successor who begins her tenure with so much anger. There was so little appreciation for the extraordinary job she did at the meeting, explaining the contract, answering difficult emotionally charged questions with pin-point accurate answers and a self-control that I doubt I could have mustered. What should have been a unifying, happy day was anything but.

When we entered the tax cap era of collective bargaining, I predicted that memberships would turn in on themselves and ultimately blame their union for conditions no one local union can overcome. As the era has unfolded, I’ve seen local leaders defeated, successive leaderships of our state union challenged, all of which makes our position more difficult, makes putting the political coalitions necessary to improve our situation more problematical to create. I keep hoping locals in our area will finally get together and develop a common bargaining strategy, but I frankly see no signs that that will happen. Districts effectively continue to coordinate their bargaining through the work of the two major law firms that represent most of the Island’s districts. We continue at our peril to maintain that negotiations is a local matter. When will we learn?
I will be doing a little travelling for the next week. Please look for me again the week of the 19th.

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Great Happens Here?

Put aside the bad grammar, the Plainview superintendent’s welcoming message for the start of the new school year puts forward a theme – Great Happens Here. The message then goes on to report progress on construction projects financed by the recently enacted bond referendum. Greatness?

Then, ever so curiously, in the context of advancing the notion of the district’s greatness, we are told of a plethora of administrative changes due to the departures of numbers of administrative staff. While the message doesn’t say so, the fact is that administrative departures have been so common place that teachers joke about not bothering to learn the names of new ones, their tenure often lasting so briefly.

Of real concern is the lack of any public discussion of why it is that there is so little administrative continuity in our school district. One would think that at least some members of the Board of Education would demand an investigation of why it is that we appear to be unable to attract more leaders who form any loyalty to our district. Yet that doesn’t seem to happen here.

To be sure many great things happen in our schools, but I believe that happen despite an atmosphere that motivates staff with options to go elsewhere as soon as they can. Sustained greatness doesn’t happen in such an atmosphere.

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Stronger From the Ground Up

My last post addressed what I believe to be the confusion of many NYSUT local leaders over their support for PSA, the NYSUT staff union, in its current round of collective bargaining. I maintain that they appropriately owe their support not to PSA but to NYSUT leadership who are trying to address an existential, structural deficit.

Many local leaders are moved to answer staff calls for support and solidarity owing to their dependence on these employees for too much of the work of their locals. Over the years a service model has developed in which locals call upon their NYSUT labor relations specialist (LRS) to do what would be better done by the officers and members of the local. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame them for doing so. They have been encouraged by state leaders and staff to do so. If a problem arises, call your LRS, the implication being that you put yourself and your local at risk if you deal with the matter yourself. The problem, however, is we build no local capacity when we operate this way. Local leaders miss opportunities for hands-on learning. Dependence on “experts” yields only ever-increasing dependence. Powerful movements are not created this way. They are created by empowering people to use their own talents in furthering their cause. To the extent that they call upon experts, those calls are opportunities to learn new information and skills; they should obviate the need to make the same call in the future. Those calls build self-reliance and increase the respect of adversaries.

One of the major roles of a state union ought to be to provide the assistance necessary to make their member locals essentially self-reliant for day to day operations. Negotiations, grievances, personnel issues etc. are all thing that are ultimately more effectively done by local leaders who have been encouraged to build the reservoir of knowledge and skill necessary for these tasks. Not only would such a state union model yield better organized , significantly strengthened local unions, it would control the costs of the state union and allow more financial resources to remain locally where they could be used to further enhance local capacity. When I stepped down as the president of my local, we were sending in excess of $325,000 to NYSUT while we were prevented from implementing scores of ideas that would have enhanced our operation for lack of financial resources.

We surely need a state union, but we need one that believes and promotes the growing power and capacity of locals – one that understands that its own strength is best enhanced from the ground up. Even our smallest locals can be made more self-sufficient and thereby more effective. I don’t claim to have all of the answers as to how to bring this about, but I know that this is a discussion we should be having and aren’t. Over my years of service, I attended far too many meetings at which local leaders called for more state staff and resources. Where have those calls gotten us?

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Which Side Are We On?

Labor unions have a notoriously hard time bargaining with their own employees. New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has been no exception. Don’t take my comment the wrong way. I believe unions have a responsibility to treat their employees as they would have their members treated in their workplaces – good salaries, good benefits and good working conditions. My local has always tied the salaries and benefits of its employees to the contract of the people we represent in similar work categories. That said, the fact of the matter is the conditions of many union staff are often much better than the people they represent. That’s certainly true in NYSUT.

Currently, the unions representing NYSUT staff are bargaining new contracts for ones expiring at the end of the month. For years, through several administrations, NYSUT leadership has been aware of a looming structural deficit that threatens the future financial health of the organization. Part of the reason for that deficit has been labor contracts beyond the capacity of the organization to finance. Both the current and past leadership of NYSUT have taken some steps to rectify this looming problem but nowhere near enough to ensure the health of the organization. The current leadership is apparently looking to tackle the underfunding of the pension system in its current round of negotiations, a thoroughly appropriate thing for them to do. The staff counters with a tried and true ploy – organize the local leaders against the demands of state leadership.

In recent days, as the expiration date of the NYSUT contracts approaches, some local leaders have spoken out in support of the staff – arguing that the pension issue should be dealt with outside of the negotiations process, when management’s ability to leverage change will be diminished… Rather than recognizing that as local leaders their interests and responsibilities lie in supporting the management bargaining team, they have allowed themselves to lose track of the interest of their membership in solving the long range financial problems of their state organization.

Although it is detrimental to the interests of their members, it is easy to understand how these things happen. The personal relationships of local leaders with the field staff are often strong ones. Much of the work of too many locals is basically done by the labor relations specialists, not the local leaders. It’s real hard to tell someone you’re close to and on whom you depend that you can’t support their demand in their negotiations. Yet, I suspect, these same local leaders will groan loudly about the ever increasing dues of the state union and the failure of the state leaders to control costs.

I have no idea as to whether the NUSUT’s leadership’s demands of the staff are real proposals required to solve what I know to be very real financial problems of our state organization. I do know that they understand the problem, and I’m pleased to know that they are seeking to fix it. I wish all of my union colleagues could locate their own self-interest and that of their local members in standing behind their management’s attempts to solve our existential, financial problems.

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Black Lives Matter and Public Education

In the racially charged Trump campaign, licensed surrogates like former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and other like him have accused the Black Lives Matter movement as essentially racist. Very interestingly, even the more liberally oriented press has done a very poor job of elucidating what the movement stands for other than fair treatment by the police forces of our nation. It turns out they have interests other than the U. S. criminal injustice system They have ideas about public education, many of which are shared by the more progressive elements of our teacher unions and the Democratic Party. Their platform calls for increased and equitable funding of public schools, and end to charter schools, general opposition to the corporate school reform agenda, community control of schools, the removal of police from schools and an end to out of school suspensions which they see as contributing to the school to prison pipeline. While teacher unionists will have some differences with some planks in their platform, there is certainly a basis for a coalition around much of what we share with Black Lives Matter.

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Platforms Matter

My mind has been on the implosion of Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations, not on public education. It’s fascinating to read Republic stalwarts like David Brooks, Peggy Noonan and Charles Krauthammer all questioning the mental health of their party’s nominee. How wonderfully encouraging! But many of us knew that Nixon was crazy too. While more secretive about his psychic wounds, he managed to fool the nation, all the while appealing to many of the same dark emotions as Trump. Have we forgotten the Southern strategy, his code for the appeal to racism? Let’s not be too confident that this race is over.
There hasn’t been much talk in this campaign about public education. People committed to the centrality of public education to our democracy ought to take a look at the platform of the two parties in this regard. Let me not editorialize. Here are the two platforms. Bernie or Bust friends, think about which party is more clearly supportive of public education as you conceive of it?

Here is the Democratic education plank.

Democrats believe we must have the best-educated population and workforce in the world. That means making early childhood education and universal preschool a priority, especially in light of new research showing how much early learning can impact life-long success. Democrats will invest in early childhood programs like Early Head Start and provide every family in America with access to high-quality childcare and high-quality preschool programs. We support efforts to raise wages for childcare workers, and to ensure that early childhood educators are experienced and high-quality.

We will ensure there are great schools for every child no matter where they live. Democrats know the federal government must play a critical role in making sure every child has access to a world-class education. We believe that a strong public education system is an anchor of our democracy, a propeller of the economy, and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams. Public education must engage students to be critical thinkers and civic participants while addressing the wellbeing of the whole child.

We also support increased investments in afterschool and summer learning programs, which help working families, keep kids safe, and inspire learning at a time when many students are left unsupervised. We must find ways to encourage mentoring programs that support students in reaching their full potential. Mentoring is a strategy to ensure that children living in poverty have the encouragement and support to aim high and enter the middle class. We will focus on group mentoring, which is a low-cost, high-yield investment that offers the benefit of building a supportive network of peers who push one another towards success.

Democrats believe all students should be taught to high academic standards. Schools should have adequate resources to provide programs and support to help meet the needs of every child. We will hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students—particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.

We must fulfill our national commitment to provide a meaningful education to students with disabilities, and work towards full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act so that students with disabilities can receive the extra resources and services they need. With an 33 appropriate educational foundation, children with disabilities can thrive and become adults with greater opportunities and more meaningful life experiences.

We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction. To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment, and we believe that standardized tests must be reliable and valid. We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing; the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools; and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school.

Democrats recognize and honor all the professionals who work in public schools to support students’ education—teachers, education support professionals, and specialized staff. We know that good teachers are essential to improving student learning and helping all students to meet high academic standards. Democrats will launch a national campaign to recruit and retain high quality teachers. We will ensure that teachers receive the tools and ongoing professional development they need to succeed in the classroom and provide our children with a world-class education. We also must lift up and trust our educators, continually build their capacity, and ensure that our schools are safe, welcoming, collaborative, and well-resourced places for our students, educators, and communities.

We will invest in high-quality STEAM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand link learning models and career pathways. We will end the school-to-prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos, Native Americans and Alaska Natives, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as LGBT. We will support the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds.

The Democratic Party is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps—particularly those that lead to students from low-income communities arriving on day one of kindergarten several years behind their peers. This means advocating for labor and public assistance laws that ensure poor parents can spend time with their children. This means raising household incomes in poor communities. It means ensuring children have health care, stable housing free of contaminants, and a community free of violence in order to minimize the likelihood of cognitive delays. It means enriching early childhood programming to prepare children in areas such as literacy, numeracy, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence. It means supporting equitable and adequate state funding for public education, and expanding Title I funding for schools that serve a large number or high concentration of children in poverty. It means ending curriculum gaps that maintain and exacerbate achievement gaps.

We support policies that motivate rather than demoralize our educators. We are committed to ensuring that schools that educate children in poverty are not treated unfairly, which is why we 34 will end the test-and-punish version of accountability that does no more than reveal the many opportunity gaps facing students from low-income communities.

Democrats are committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support democratically governed, great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high-quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

Contrast this conception of public education to that of the Republicans.

Education: A Chance for Every Child Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a cultural identity. That is why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces from outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have done immense damage. The federal government should not be a partner in that effort, as the Constitution gives it no role in education. At the heart of the American Experiment lies the greatest political expression of human dignity: The self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That truth rejects the dark view of the individual as human capital — a possession for the creation of another’s wealth.

Parents are a child’s first and foremost educators, and have primary responsibility for the education of their children. Parents have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing. We support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations. We reject a onesize-fits-all approach to education and support a broad range of choices for parents and children at the state and local level. We likewise repeat our longstanding opposition to the imposition of national standards and assessments, encourage the parents and educators who are implementing alternatives to Common Core, and congratulate the states which have successfully repealed it. Their education reform movement calls for choice-based, parent-driven accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of local control of our schools and it wisely sees consumer rights in education — choice — as the most important driving force for renewing education. It rejects excessive testing and “teaching to the test” and supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs.

We applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. Administrators need flexibility to innovate and to hold accountable all those responsible for student performance. A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high schools. We urge school districts to make use of teaching talent in the business community, STEM fields, and the military, especially among our returning veterans. Rigid tenure systems should be replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.

Academic Excellence for All Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education in which all students can reach their potential. Republicans are leading the effort to create it. Since 1965, the federal government, through more than 100 programs in 34 the Department of Education, has spent $2 trillion on elementary and secondary education with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates. The United States spends an average of more than $12,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $620 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K-12 education in 2011-2012. Of that amount, federal spending amounted to more than $57 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free.

More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance. After years of trial and error, we know the policies and methods that have actually made a difference in student advancement: Choice in education; building on the basics; STEM subjects and phonics; career and technical education; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, it must be a key element in our efforts to provide every child equal access and opportunity. We strongly encourage instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers.

Choice in Education: We support options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools. We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits. Empowering families to access the learning environments that will best help their children to realize their full potential is one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time. A young person’s ability to succeed in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, ZIP code, or economic status. We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them.

In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending level. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. In Congress and in the states, Republicans are bridging the gap between those two realities. Congressional Republicans are leading the way forward with major reform legislation advancing the concept of block grants and repealing numerous federal regulations which have interfered with state and local control of public schools. Their Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act — modernizing workforce programs, repealing mandates, and advancing employment for persons with disabilities — is now law. Their legislation to require transparency in unfunded mandates imposed upon our schools is advancing. Their D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. We deplore the efforts of Congressional Democrats and the current President to eliminate this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions.

To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society. We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. That approach — the only one always effective against premarital pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease — empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception and believe that federal funds should not be used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs. The federal government has pushed states to collect and share vast amounts of personal student and family data, including the collection of social and emotional data. Much of this data is collected without parental consent or notice. This is wholly incompatible with the American Experiment and our inalienable rights.

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Let’s Start Looking at What’s at Stake

To my Bernie or Bust friends, I believe it important to look more deeply at what Bernie Sanders said last night when he talked about the contribution of his campaign to the Democratic Party Platform. To my friends who are unionists and who understand in their bones how the decline of the American labor movement parallels the decline of America’s middle class, take a look at this passage from the platform on workers’ rights.

“Protecting Workers’ Fundamental Rights The Democratic Party believes that when workers are strong, America is strong. Democrats will make it easier for workers, public and private, to exercise their right to organize and join unions. We will fight to pass laws that direct the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if a simple majority of eligible workers sign valid authorization cards, as well as laws that bring companies to the negotiating table. We support binding arbitration to help workers who have voted to join a union reach a first contract. A major factor in the 40-year decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits have been under attack at all levels. Donald Trump would make matters worse by creating a race to the bottom where the middle class is fighting over fewer and fewer good-paying jobs. In fact, Trump rejected some attempts by his own employees to unionize and has personally hired union-busting firms to undermine workers’ rights. Democrats believe so-called “right to work” laws are wrong for workers—such as teachers and other public employees who serve our communities every day—and wrong for America. We will continue to vigorously oppose those laws and other efforts that would eliminate dues check-off procedures, roll-back prevailing wage standards, abolish fair share requirements, restrict the use of voluntary membership payments for political purposes, attack seniority, restrict due process protections, and require annual recertification efforts. We oppose legislation and lawsuits that would strike down laws protecting the rights of teachers and other public employees. We will defend President Obama’s overtime rule, which protects of millions of workers by paying them fairly for their hard work.”

You will search in vain for anything to do with workers’ rights in the Republican Party Platform. Contrast this passage with the one above. Then tell me how any union member can flirt with the idea of supporting Donald Trump. Tell me how any union member could be so preoccupied with the flaws in Hillary Clinton that they can overlook what Trump and the Republican Part have in mind for the American worker.

“The greatest asset of the American economy is the hard-working American. That is why our first priority is getting people back to work by fostering the kind of growth that creates jobs. That overarching goal unites all the sections of this platform. It runs through our commitments on education and workforce development. It underlies our approach to welfare reform, regulatory reform, and our determination to advance the kind of trade agreements that multiply opportunities for workers here at home. It also impels us to challenge the anachronistic labor laws that limit workers’ freedom and lock them into the workplace rules of their great-grandfathers. Instead of facilitating change, the current Administration and its agents at the National Labor Relations Board are determined to reverse it. They are attacking the franchise model of business development, which is essential to the flexibility and creativity of the new economy. They are wielding provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act from the 1930s, designed to fit a manufacturing workplace, to deny flexibility to both employers and employees. They have repealed union transparency rules that allowed members to discover what was being done with their dues. They have outlawed alternatives to unions even when they were favored by the workers. Their Project Labor Agreements discriminate against the overwhelming majority of workers by barring them from jobs on taxpayer-funded projects. Their patronizing and controlling approach leaves workers in a form of peonage to the NLRB. We intend to restore fairness and common sense to that agency.”

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Trump Junior

While it may be for naught, I will continue to try to reason with those teacher union members considering voting for Donald Trump or the Libertarian or Green Party candidates. Thos e familiar with my political positions know that I’m not a great fan of Hillary’s, but if we are interested in public education, we have to put our energy into stopping Donald Trump from becoming President of the United States. That means voting for Hillary.

If you watched Donald Junior’s speech last night you hear enough to frighten you into the reality of what we must do. If you missed it, be sure you watch it here. After you do, think about the anti-intellectual theme running throughout – the suggestion that educated, credentialed people somehow know nothing about the world. Listen to the appeal to the uneducated. More importantly, at 16 minutes and 48 seconds into the speech, listen to the indictment of public education, its teachers and administrators and the due process protections of tenure. Although plagiarized in part, the speech echoes those who have wages a well-financed, coordinated campaign to discredit the public schools of our nation in order to privatize them.

Why would any public school employee vote for a candidate who obviously places no value on the work that we do and who poses an existential threat to the institution we cherish – public schools?

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A Good Day for Public Education

It seems at least probable that my criticism of our union leaders for their failure to win concessions from Hillary Clinton that she would end the tenure of Education Secretary John King was premature. The final democratic platform plank on education is excellent on the uses of testing and the right of parents to opt their children out of high stakes tests. It’s even better than it might have been on charter schools, coming out against for profit charters and, more importantly, taking a reasonably strong stand on preventing charters from negatively influencing neighborhood public schools. I was very glad to see that AFT President Randi Weingarten was influential in winning significant changes from some of the original language proposals. To be sure, Hillary is not bound to govern by the language of the platform, but, realistically, she can’t very well continue the Obama administration’s testing oriented education policies. Neither is there going to be a place for a John King to implement policy derived from this platform.

I won’t be too surprised if Hillary has to tip-toe around this plank in her speeches and debates. Her strongest support is the African American community, many of whose leaders are strongly in favor of high stakes testing. Many in this community believe that absent test based school and teacher accountability systems, the schools their children attend, schools that are too often seriously under-resourced, will languish. She needs to find a way to show how the schools in all communities are negatively impacted by the uses of standardized tests that were never designed to rate schools, teachers or kids for that matter.

I hope news of the Democratic platform on education gives heart to some of my teacher union friends who are still grieving for the defeat of Bernie Sanders. It ought to go a long way to have them understand that the choice between Hillary and Trump is not at all between two evils. Hillary and the Dems are clearly recognizing the failure of the Obama education policy and committing to rolling back some of its essential features. That’s progress! It’s not perfection, but it moves us forward.

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Will King Ever Be Gone?

Why are none of our nation education union leaders publically demanding that Hillary respond to Secretary John King’s decree that school with more than 5 percent opt-out rate be treated as failing schools and be sanctioned by the feds? Many of us knew this would happen when President Obama poked his finger in the eyes of America’s teachers by naming King to be his Secretary of Education succeeding Arne Duncan who did more to diminish the stature of the teaching profession than I can remember. We desperately need to hear from Hillary that she will rid us of this anti-public education secretary.

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Why Bother to Meet?

I’ve taken a few days to think about late week’s NEA convention before writing about it. I found myself unsure of whether it was the most boring and inconsequential NEA convention I had ever attended did I see it that way for some reason owing to my recent retirement. The more I think about it, the more I’m sure it’s the former.

For an organization under attack from many quarters, for a union that has bled substantial membership in recent years, there was surprisingly little in the way of calls to action. If this had been one’s first national meeting, one would think that all is so well that all we have to talk about are the rules by which we run our conventions. It was truly alarming to listen to speaker after speaker offer some suggestion about how we might change our rules to facilitate our meeting, speakers who ironically clearly had nothing on their minds of substance to talk about.

NEA Executive Director John Stocks offered up an impassioned speech the theme of which was that we have to listen to the needs of our newest members of the profession. While his manner bespoke serious business, the content of his remarks were almost humorous by comparison. Is our teacher union movement in such bad shape that the activists of the organization have to be reminded to listen to the members? What a missed opportunity to send people home from the convention with a serious mission.

I would hazard a guess that a majority of the delegates came from local unions that do not have one hundred percent membership. Imagine if someone in leadership had worked the crowd up to have each one go home and recruit one new member this year, one new member. What if the 10,000 or so activists were asked to go home and make an immediate visit to the office of their Congressperson to demand that the recent ESSA legislation be implemented as written and not as Secretary King has interpreted it? I’m always amazed that we gather our union activists at great cost to meetings and send them home with nothing specific to do, all the while talking about the need to organize.

Hillary spoke to a wildly enthusiastic crowd. While some in the press suggest that she signaled a pronounced break from the education policies of the Obama administration, I found her comments so nuanced as to be unsure of exactly what her positions are other than we will have a seat at the table and that she has our backs. Clearly no one in NEA leadership pressed her before hand to explicitly repudiate the corporate education reform movement. If they warned her about saying anything positive about charter schools, she certainly paid them no heed, drawing some loud boos from the audience when she alluded to them positively. Our organizations demand so little in exchange for our support.

I continue to be bitterly disappointed by the performance of Lily Eskelsen Garcia, our NEA president. With personality traits that at once make people like her, this person of enormous political talent has essentially frittered away her time in office. She is ideally suited to be the face of the anti-corporate reformers. Yet she and the NEA she leads always appear to be reluctant to take them on, often opting instead for engagement with them in the hope of convincing them of the errors of their ways. I’m all for keeping hope alive, but……

If big, expensive meetings like the national conventions of the NEAand AFT are not to be about inspiring and motivating the unions’ activists to build the organization in some way, enlarging its power and prestige, if after we have met there is nothing specific for the attendees to do to build and energize our movement, must we not consider some better use for the resources put into organizing these meetings?

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