A Teachable Moment

PCT President Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Basics Before Deeper Understanding

I have long though that the goal those who seek the math magic bullet that will enable every child to think like a mathematician is illusory. While it’s worth striving for, the search for universal mathematical mastery has often had undesirable consequences that have made matters much worse.

Key to most of the magical approaches to math education is the notion that we need to get children thinking more deeply about mathematics, that such deep thinking is much more important than knowing how to do basic mathematical manipulations. Some years back, an assistant superintendent in our district confronted by an angry group of parents who claimed that the Investigations math program we were using had kids counting on their fingers and ignorant of basic mathematical facts said, “The children don’t need to add, subtract, multiply and divide. They have calculators for that.” It wasn’t long before she and the program were gone from our district.

I’ve been thinking about this subject as the math wars are again breaking out in my town, with numbers of parents calling into question the credibility of the Common Core math we are trying to teach. In my attempt to understand what is going on, I came across this article by Barry Garelick that posits that deeper mathematical understanding flows from mastery of the basics. By all means search for deeper understanding, but at least attempt to leave those who may not get there the basics they will need.

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Teach Strong

The other day, a colleague drew my attention to Teach Strong, a coalition of organizations interested in public education who want to work to make teaching a more attractive career. Both the AFT and NEA are participants in this venture, a venture premised on the belief that the quality of America’s teachers is poor and that changing the way we recruit, train, support and pay teachers is key to having a great teacher in every public school classroom.

Why the hell members are paying dues to the NEA and AFT to have their leadership run down their abilities is beyond me. Much of the bullshit that passes for serious discussion of teacher quality references SAT scores of ed-school students and draws conclusions about their intellect and teaching abilities on the basis of a standardized test that is increasingly coming to be understood to essentially be a fraud. Are there some dumb teachers? Sure! Just as there are some incredibly dumb physicians, dentists, lawyers etc. Here’s the interesting thing from my experience, however. I’ve met numbers of teachers over the years who are not intellectual giants, don’t see themselves as belonging to an intellectual elite, but who are, nevertheless, fantastic teachers, teachers who any sane person would want their children exposed to.

Even the name Teach Strong is offensive, the implication being that we have been teaching weakly. Why is it that we can’t face the fact that talent in any field is unequally distributed so that to expect there to be a “great teacher” in every classroom (whatever that means) is ludicrous. Beyond any reasonable doubt, we could staff every classroom with honors Ivy League graduates, and we wouldn’t have a great teacher in every classroom. We might even be surprised to find that we had made matters worse. The real problems facing America’s public schools have little to nothing to do with the quality of the teacher workforce. We would gain much more from halting the denigration of America’s teachers than we will from raising the bar for entry into the job.

America’s teachers are teaching strong. Many work in places where salaries are so low they must work multiple jobs to maintain themselves and their families. Even in our best schools, places where teachers make considerably more than the median American salary, teachers meet the challenges of working in an hostile environment, one in which they are essentially isolated from other teachers, asked to individualize instruction to over 120 students, evaluated in part on the test results of student scores on high stakes tests, required to respond to the most outrageous complaints with complete equanimity, infantilized by administrators who increasingly have had little teaching experience and where they talk increasingly about career change. Hardly a week goes by that one of our members doesn’t tell me about a conversation she has had with her child who has express interest in becoming a teacher. With guilty looks on their faces, these members tell me how they discouraged their kids from following them into teaching. Like all good parents, they want better than they have for their kids.

We’re already teaching strong. What we need is for people to notice, especially our national union leaders.

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Preparing for the Challenge of the Taskforce

In Friday’s post, I suggested that it is entirely likely that that in creating his Common Core Taskforce, Governor Cuomo may be cleverly creating the illusion of meaningful change his position of Common Core and the high stakes tests integrally aligned to the standards only to lure the building coalition of parents and teacher who oppose his policies into letting up on their pressure for change.

Having suggested that we must act as though we know for a fact that the intention behind the taskforce is the disarming of our movement for a return to sane education policies, what shall we do to defeat Andrew Cuomo?

To begin, we must work tirelessly to increase the opt-out rate in our state significantly. We had approximately 240,000 this year. 500,000 is a reasonable target for this year. And we need to promote the need for parents to get their opt-out letters in early, certainly before the legislature reconvenes in January.

We need to organize a lobby effort of our assembly representatives and state senators that demand to know what each individual intends to do to stop the scourge of high stake testing, the debilitating effects of the Common Core and the statistically foolhardy linkage of test results with the evaluations of our teachers. We need tom make it clear that we will be casting our votes next year looking at their performance through this lens.

There are already some statewide efforts underway to recruit candidates from both parties who are schooled in our issues and prepared to air them out in both primaries and the general election. There are clearly some opportunities to take some supporters of the status quo out, thereby speaking to the political class in the only language they are sometimes capable of understanding. We demand that you fix these outrageously stupid laws that are ruining our schools.
We need to start now to organize to turn out our votes next November. We need to talk to our friends and neighbors about the threat to our public schools and try to convince others to join us. Our unions must undertake publicity campaigns to both build the opt-out movement and tie it to the political process. We need some videos of highly respected teachers talking about the effects of current education policy on their student and their profession. We need children talking about their perceptions. A few viral videos of children talking candidly about their frustrations are infinitely more evaluable to furthering the cause than reams of data.

We need to make it clear that we are not interested in a moratorium on testing and a rebooting of the implementation of the Common Core. We demand real change and won’t be lured from that goal by some facsimile.

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In Search of Mathematics Nirvana

All my life, educators have been in search of the perfect way to make mathematics more accessible and meaningful to students. From “new math” to Common Core math, with a dogleg towards constructivist math, we can never seem to come to terms what a public school k-12 education should provide students. My impression is that despite the methodology in vogue at any moment, there has been a spectrum of math achievement that hasn’t varied very much. Some kids are drawn to mathematical thinking and thrive on ever increasing levels of abstraction. Most do satisfactorily, although they don’t often “see” the same things that the gifted math kids do. Then there are those who mechanically learn to solve problem and who are never comfortable with what they are doing, relying on formulaic problem solving approaches rather than deep understanding. Lastly, there are those who at best never get beyond the ability to do simple arithmetic, which they do haltingly. The search for the method to mathematics nirvana is fraught, analogized by many to warfare. At this very moment, my own district is on the verge of reigniting the math wars, as kids, parents and teachers struggle with what’s dubbed Common Core math.

That said, I think we could do better at math, a least around the margins. Rather than searching for new instructional methodologies or curriculum adjustments, we would be much better off improving the mathematics knowledge base of the people teaching math in our elementary schools. It’s not that elementary teachers are stupid. They are anything but. It’s not that they are lazy. They are the hardest working people in the k-12 system. It’s simply that they have been historically trained to be generalists, with little required course work in mathematics. Most of them dread the idea of being observed teaching math, feeling much more comfortable in language arts or social studies. Were we serious about deepening the mathematical knowledge of our students, we would do a couple of things. We would offer serious continuing education in mathematics to existing staff, perhaps even offering cash incentives to entice those who worry that might not be up to it. We would additionally, require aspiring elementary teachers to have substantially more college math than they currently get. Over time, I think we would see some improvement, but the goal of having our graduates capable of deep mathematical thinking will remain largely elusive.

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Behind The Common Core Taskforce

Talking to an long-time colleague the other day about the Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Taskforce and what to expect from it. While it’s clear that the Governor created the taskforce in response to the mounting criticism of the implementation of the Common Core in New York and the high stakes tests aligned with the standards, what is not so apparent is what Cuomo is looking to achieve. My friend and I agreed that it would be totally unlike him to retreat, having very publically and stridently paced himself on the side of the school reformers and their demands for data driven student and teacher accountability. So, what’s he up to with the taskforce?

My friend advanced the thesis that the task force will probably recommend some sort of do-over in the implementation of the Common Core. During that reboot, a term Cuomo has used, there would be a moratorium on counting the results of the grade three through eight tests for both students and teachers, a moratorium that will last at least through the legislative elections next year. NYSUT can be expected to declare the moratorium a big union victory. More importantly, leadership in the opt-out movement while they will be more wary of Cuomo’s ultimate intentions, will nevertheless find it more difficult to grow their movement in an environment of a moratorium that leads the public to expect a significant roll-back of the testing regime. With the public’s focus off testing and the Common Core, Cuomo advances a new iteration of test driven accountability, claiming it corrects the deficiencies of the original roll-out of the Common Core and the testing regime but which really entails cosmetic changes. In this way, the thesis goes, the opposition to Cuomo’s reforms is weakened and our politically savvy governor gets what he always wanted, the test driven accountability systems demanded by his corporate reformer friends.

While we can’t know for sure that this is Cuomo’s plan, we must act as though it is. Once the movement of parents and teachers stops growing, it will inevitably lose its drive and intensity. Once that happens, it’s much harder to re-energize it than it was to begin it. We need a strategy to prevent our wily governor from out-foxing us again.

More on this next time.

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No Doubt Left About Elia

If we had any doubts about who Commissioner Elia is and where she stands on the scourge of high stakes testing and the incalculable damage it is doing to even our very best public schools, her release of a tool kit for superintendents makes it clear to teachers and parents that she wants New York’s students taking the 3 through 8 ELA and math tests and expects her superintendents get both groups to toe her line. Were I a superintendent, I would be outraged by the insult of thinking that I was too lazy and or stupid to write my own letters to parents and teachers if I wanted to, requiring Dr. Elia to give me a form letter into which I simply have to fill in the name of my district. What chutzpah! But what a jerk. The superintendents’ organization should blast her for this outrage, but I bet they don’t. If she had not smelled their fear, she never would have had the nerve to put this demeaning crap out to them in the first place.

Before most superintendents have even examined the tool kit, its publication has further inflamed those parents and teachers who have come together to defend our public schools from a testing regime that has been designed to discredit the institution of public education so that it may be privatized into an even bigger profit center than it already is. Jeanette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt Out, immediately took to social media to warn superintendents that our movement is watching them and is poised to pounce should they turn their backs on the their communities. My guess is that Elia has given our movement a gift, one that will help us achieve our goal of doubling our opt-out numbers this year.

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Driving Our Kid Nuts

Vicki Abeles is the maker of the film Race to Nowhere, a powerful documentary on the psychic toll America has been inflicting on its children in the name of competition and achievement. In the years since my union showed the film to several audiences in my community, hoping to wake it up to the realities of what we were doing to their children, the situation it graphically depicts has only gotten worse with the adoption of the developmentally inappropriate Common Core State Standards and the high stakes testing aligned to the Standards with the testing connected ever more tightly to the evaluation of teachers. Going to our schools today is more like having a job than being educated. In fact, the working conditions at most work place are superior. Little children are spending hours at home after a seven hour school day doing homework and studying for tests. High school kids are taking more college classes than many will take in college without the unscheduled time to do the work associated with them. Whatever time school work does not absorb is often scheduled into resume building activities in a fretful drive for conspicuous achievement that just might give one an edge on a college application. You have to look good to the colleges, the good ones at least. Forget about who you are. Abeles has written an essay that explores the hollowing out of childhood from the perspective of a parent who has the fortitude to honestly look at what she has allowed to happen to her children. Everyone with a child in school needs to read it and think deeply about it. If they do, they will hopefully immunize themselves against the almost virulent belief that our children are all underachievers if they do not have all As in Advanced Placement courses and are no guaranteed admission to Harvard.

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The Dystopian Paradigm Shift

We’re making significant progress in the battle to save public education from those who have fostered a culture of test and punish with the aim of discrediting public schools with the goal of enticing the public to embrace private and semi-private education models. The corporate sponsors of this pseudo-scientific data driven school reform must be apoplectic as they watch the politicians they bought and paid for retreat from their agenda as the elections near. Where we haven’t been as successful is in exposing the myth that technology is about usher in a golden age, one in which equipped with tablets students will receive an individualized, technology mediated education, free at last from the limitations of a single teacher attempting to educate a group of students with differing needs and abilities.

I’m drawn to this topic this morning by a post on the Long Island Opt Out Facebook page that invites our attention to a piece on the Questar website, Questar being the company that recently got the testing contract for New York State. There we are asked to abandon the “one –to- many teaching approach” in favor of a tablet with links to software in the cloud that will free students to have a customized education, one that provides learning and assessment all in one package. Like many 21st century snake-oil salespeople, this pitch seeks to distract our attention away from the reality that at best such systems are designed to inculcate skills and information rather than offering what we used to recognize as education. It does so by employing a favorite device of the 21st century snake-oil salesperson. It invites us to engage in a paradigm shift. Have you noticed how all paradigm shifts are presumed good and how those who oppose them are mired in the past? Have you noticed too that after a decade or more of huge expenditures on school related technology few, if any of the promises of wired education have been achieved? Maybe we need to shift a different paradigm.

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We’re Not Underdeveloped

I find myself increasingly offended by the term staff development. Most of what is subsumed under that term is intellectually stultifying drivel springing from the false premise that the teachers on whom this “development” is inflicted are somehow underdeveloped. In my district, these sessions usually come at the end of the workday when most of them crave a beer or a glass of wine more than some exposition of the latest fad in the teaching of reading. Hasn’t anyone noticed that we’ve had fad after fad without much change.

The education world uses the term staff development where other professions talk about continuing education, a phrase with clearly better connotations. What might continuing education look like for teachers? Perhaps if we took elementary teachers, most of whom have very little background in mathematics, and actually gave them an opportunity to extend their math knowledge, it just might have a more significant effect than the endless blather about teaching methodology. What if school districts brought in a historian to talk about her latest research or even historiography, might that not enrich what teachers do in their classrooms infinitely more than the “shifts” social studies teachers must make with the advent of the Common Core State Standards? In upper middle-class communities like mine, citizens know how to negotiate their way through bureaucracies like public school systems. Teachers, on the other hand, are more often than not unskilled in defending their turf. Often, they allow themselves to be put on defense from the beginning of their engagement with a parent. They could learn to handle those situations better. Offer teacher an opportunity to learn, and they are usually open to it. Tell them you are going to develop them, and they feel they have been insulted.

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When Does Test Based School Reform Pay Off?

My readers are more than familiar with my view that there is almost nothing to be gained from high stakes testing, the results of these tests essentially serving to rank winners and losers. Millions of dollars have been spent, a nation’s teacher workforce has been demoralized, the public’s confidence in its schools has been damaged, the education of our children has been narrowed – all in the name of test based school reform. This morning’s news reports on the latest NAEP scores which show a slight decrease and which have put the reformers on the defensive. In following the discussion of the NAEP results, I came across this piece from the National Education Policy Center that is the best indictment of the test based reform agenda that I’ve read.

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Test Scores That Illuminate

Part of the problem of using test scores to evaluate schools, school systems and teachers is the inherent presumption in the reporting of test scores that all children arrive at school with the same readiness to learn. Yet, we know beyond any doubt that children come to schools with markedly different capacities to learn. We know that the so-called achievement gap begins long before children enter school. It is in no way surprising that kids who start way behind continue to lag. A child raised in a home where for a myriad of reasons he heard thousands fewer words, spent many fewer hours engaged in interactions with adults comes to school significantly behind average children in linguistic skill. This morning’s news of a new way of reporting test scores, in this case NAPE scores, holds out the hope that we may be entering a period in which test scores are understood in their appropriate context. The new approach comes in a study by the Urban Institute, a think tank formed in the 60s to study the effects of the War on Poverty of the Johnson administration. This study the NAPE scores state by state taking into account criteria like race, poverty, first language and special education issues. The result of looking at scores through this lens supports the view of many that the so-called education crisis has been largely manufactured by people for whom concern for the welfare of the nation’s children is non-existent. While this study will not stop the scourge of high stake testing, the commitment of the Urban Institute to continue to publish scores adjusted for the social factors known to influence them will clearly be helpful in helping Americans to better understand what is really happening in their schools.

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The Shifting Political Winds

Those that doubt that the political winds are changing for the corporate education reform movement need only think about this weekend when President Obama acknowledged that we have gone overboard on high stakes testing and Andrew Cuomo, not to be outdone, announced that he recognized the evils of high stakes testing first and took steps to ameliorate it. Both men, each having consciously and aggressively used high stake testing to bludgeon public schools, now sense that there is a political reckoning coming as a nation-wide opt-out movement grows, the Common Core Standards are challenged by both left and right and parents increasingly recognize the negative stresses these reforms have placed on their children.

Neither Obama nor Cuomo has yet proposed fundamental changes. Less time devoted to testing is a small step in the right direction. Unless and until there is a recognition that annual standardized testing is at best an inaccurate measure of student accomplishment, unless and until the notion that these tests are a valid way to measure the effectiveness of teachers, unless and until there is an understanding that academic achievement is dependent on myriad variables most of which are beyond the control of public schools, the battle to reclaim public education from the corporate reformers who seek its demise will continue. While the statements of both men are welcomed, we await the real change we seek.

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Fredrichs Might Just get Us Back to Organizing

There is justifiable fear in public sector labor ranks of an adverse decision by the United States Supreme Court in the Friedrichs Case to be decided by the end of the court’s current term. The case turns on the claim of a California teacher that that her constitutional rights are being violated by having to pay an agency fee to her union, a union she does not belong to and which she does not support. Until now, the Supreme Court has held that while public sector workers have a right not to belong to the union in their workplace, they nevertheless have an obligation to pay for benefits they enjoy as a result of the union’s work. They do not, however, have to pay for the political or ideological work the union does. Fredrichs claims that she should not have to pay anything to an organization to which she does not belong and that doing so violates her constitutional rights. Should she prevail, our teacher unions project a severe loss of revenue, the belief being that many members will opt out of membership if they do not have to pay an agency fee instead.

Frightening though a union loss in this case will be, the shock just might be what’s necessary to breathe some energy into a movement that for too long subordinated organizing to political action. Local unions like mine, that have tried to maintain their organizing capacity while many around us disarmed, are already planning for an adverse decision. We will prepare for the worst possible decision, one that does away with agency fee and requires us to sign up our membership each year by signing them up in advance for next year. In doing so, we will have a twofold purpose. Most of our members will have no problem signing, thereby ensuring that the flow of dues necessary to support the essential work of our union will be uninterrupted. We have staff and bills that must be paid. Those who balk, and there may be some, will self-identify as the people we have to talk more to and win over to our cause. In those conversations we will no doubt learn of grievances these people have with our union and its leaders, grievances that often could be fixed if we only knew about them. While we always try to engage the members in the importance of our union, we are doing so now with a new sense of urgency. Those unions that don’t will not survive an adverse Supreme Court decision. Yesterday, I attended a meeting at which some local leaders expressed the opinion that their local unions would lose forty percent of their membership. If that’s true, they have not a second to lose.

While I’m on the subject of organizing, I came across a very interesting interview with Jane McAlevey a noted labor organizer. Her thoughts, particularly those related to the centrality of our education unions to a revitalized labor movement will be of interest to many of my readers in our movement.

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A Month of Atonement?

A member called this morning and asked me to explain the calculation of the local portion of her Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). Although I played a major role in negotiating the plan, I couldn’t recall the answer to her question. It’s hard enough to remember things that make sense. Senseless things like APPR plans have nothing to attach themselves to in one’s rational mind. I told her I would look it up and get back to her which I did.

The answer to her question hinged on the results of our district’s students on a state assessment relative to the average state performance of similar students statewide. Our students are expected to do better than the state average, and our plan awards point toward a teacher’s final score based on how much better than the average our students do. I emailed her back my answer complete with an explanatory chart only to be met with yet another question. “Why does it have to be so complicated and hard to understand?”

The answer to that question, of course, is even harder to understand. How could responsible adults devise a system of teacher evaluation that is largely incomprehensible to the teachers being evaluated? 99.9% of those being evaluated don’t understand how the state arrives at their growth score. A significant number don’t get 20% of the local score. All they really get is the 60% that is essentially tied to observations of their actual teaching (which was the system before the reformers took over).

Now before most teachers fully understand their current APPR plans, a law gets passed last year requiring us to negotiate new and in some ways even more obscure plans. When do the leaders of our school district say, ENOUGH! When will they give their full- throated support to the opt-out movement and return some level of sanity to our public schools? I’ve been hearing from some of our members that maybe we should refuse to participate – simply tell the state we prefer not to. Thank you, but no thank you. Thinking about all of this gave me the idea that our national unions ought to designate November as a month of atonement for what we have allowed the reformers to do to public ed

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Take Your Appeals Process and…

According to the New York State Department of Education, some two thousand teachers are potentially eligible to appeal their ineffective “growth score” on the state test portion of the teacher annual professional performance review (APPR). To my very pleasant surprise, only eighty-six have applied.

The small number of appeals suggests that most of the members of the pool of eligible teachers recognize the absurdity of the so-call growth scores and so long as their jobs are not threatened by the APPR process could care less whether they receive a highly effective or an effective rating. Their response to the appeal process is a small but healthy expression of contempt for an evaluation system that is seen by most teachers as denigrating their hard work.

The appeals process appears to be part of a public relations campaign by the Regents and Commissioner Elia to rehabilitate the State’s disastrous education reform efforts with cosmetic changes. Look for the State to re-introduce the Common Core as the New New York Standards which will change some of the words but little of the substance of the Standards. Regrettably, real change is probably only going to happen when a majority of the children in all of the public schools in our state are opted out of the high stakes examinations and when we defeat a least a few of our elected leaders who have inflicted this scourge on us.

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Accountability or Surveillance?

Much of what gets talked about today under the heading of teacher accountability should be more appropriately referred to as surveillance. Accountability implies responsibility and an obligation to explain or account for one’s actions. Surveillance denotes watching for wrongdoing, catching malefactors in the act. It’s root is the word from which we get vigil. True teacher accountability tends to be embedded in the culture of an institution. It’s internalized by all staff regardless of rank to the point where an outlier gets the attention and sanction of all. It takes thoughtful leadership to build true accountability. It’s ultimately built on a deep respect for the work and the institution.

Teacher accountability today is increasingly a surveillance system. Neither the teacher observation systems currently employed nor the linkage of student test results to teacher evaluations promotes real accountability. Those are systems to which we devote huge resources of time and money to ferret out information that would be self-evident in an accountability approach built on a belief and trust in individuals to do the right thing. Those are systems that promote gaming. They do nothing to nurture institutional loyalty. The dirty little secret behind all the accountability palaver is that we could put an end to all of the surveillance we do of teachers, all the formal observations, all their growth scores, all the spying on them, all the questioning of children in their classes and the educational outcomes would be totally unchanged. Were we instead to put the money we spend on surveillance into reducing class size or other educationally enhancing measures, we would accomplish something real.

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Ya Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Just when I think I’m familiar with every teacher degrading aspect of public education today, I find that there is yet more to learn. In my Twitter feed this morning was, “Sign the petition: Help us end #McTeacher Nights!” What? McTeacher Nights? Go to learn that there are resource starved public schools in our rich country that get money from McDonald’s for having their teachers serve hamburgers and fries to students who are lured to the restaurant by the “pleasure” of being served by their teachers. Can you imagine? Teacher readers will intuitively understand that in most of these places teachers are coerced into volunteering for this degrading work. I’m not sure what good it will do, but I signed the NEA petition. Perhaps you will also.

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The Debate

A few post-debate thoughts. If one had believed that the early endorsement of Hillary Clinton by the NEA and AFT would have motivated Hillary to say even some innocuous words about k-12 public education, he would have been sorely disappointed. Her failure to say anything about the abject failure of current education policy does not bode well for her working to stop the damage of yearly high stake testing and the evaluation of teachers based on so-called growth measures. Why is it so hard for our national leaders to realize that if you promise political support to a candidate who has not expressed public support for at least some of your agenda, the likelihood of getting the candidate’s cooperation upon election is almost nil? Unless there is a ground swell of grassroots outrage, we’re likely to get little more than platitudes from Hillary. Why would she give more and run the risk of alienating other constituencies?

Putting her slight of public education, Hillary certainly did a good job last night. While I don’t agree with the New York Times that she was a clear winner of the debate, at the very least Bernie Sanders having clearly held his own, she demonstrated a command of the issues and credible positions on them. In fact all of the Dems demonstrated knowledge and thoughtfulness almost completely absent from the Republican debates. There were no climate change deniers, no evolution skeptics, no believers that but for the Nazi confiscation of people’s guns the Holocaust would never have happened, no gun fetishists, no appeals to bigotry, xenophobia and vainglorious patriotism and mercifully no appeals to superiority of any religion. The debate was mostly about ideas, serious ideas and a more elevated political discussion than we usually get.

It will be interest to see the effect if any of the debate on the polls. I’m particularly interested to see if Bernie Sanders managed to broaden his appeal to people who may not have known him very well before. The best line of the night had to belong to Bernie Sanders who said, “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”

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Tonight’s Debate

I’m looking forward to the Democratic debate tonight. I’m hoping that unlike what we have seen thus far from the Republicans, education policy will figure significantly. A lot depends, of course, on the questions the moderator asks, but with Hillary having gotten the endorsement of the NEA and AFT and Bernie likely to try to minimize its impact, the subject is likely to come up one way or another.

Look for signs tonight that the candidates understand that there is a grassroots rebellion surging against the corporate driven education policy of the Obama administration. If the candidates understand this phenomenon and its huge potential electoral power, especially in low turnout primary elections, we should hear them competing for the votes Americans who oppose yearly high stake testing and the connection of these tests to the evaluation of teachers. I’ll be looking for recognition that poverty is the central factor prejudicing the achievement of America’s children and specific recommendations for hoe to confront the fact that so many American children begin school substantially behind their wealthier peers.

All of the Democratic candidates claim to be strong supporters of public education. We need more than their claims. We need to hear definitive plans for how they are going to do this, plans for ceasing the war on teachers and public education.

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Support for Hillary

I’ve been clear that I opposed the early endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National education Association (NEA). I’m a proud supporter of Bernie Sanders because he offers a vision of a more decent and humane society in which the rights of working people trump the endless greed of the gang of plutocrats currently calling the shots. I’m pleased that so many young people are flocking to his cause. It says to me that they aspire to live in a more equal and just society in which they have obligations to others as well as themselves. Some recent polling by Pew Research suggests that a majority of young people support government interventions in our economy that promote economic justice. It’s similarly pleasing in that it suggests that our public schools may be doing a better job of inculcating notions of good citizenship than I thought despite the ed reform movement.

Yet, Should Hillary be the nominee of the Democratic Party, I will do whatever I can to see to it that she is elected, it being unimaginably horrifying to think of any of the Republican candidates winning. What I’m having real trouble accepting is the banal blither the leaders of our two great education unions are bombarding me with, ostensibly aimed at giving me reasons to enthusiastically support Hillary but which elicit far more anger than excitement. Just this morning, Randi Weingarten, a Facebook friend, posted a piece pushing the incredibly stupid notion that Hillary is actually more progressive than Bernie. Here’s the link if you have a need to have your intelligence assaulted.

I know I may have to vote for Hillary in the end, but please let me do that out of sheer pragmatism. I won’t have buyer’s remorse when she wins. I know exactly what I’m getting. Better than any Republican to be sure, but not Bernie.

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