Obama Administration Appears To Change Tune On Endless Testing

October 24, 2015

So after seven years of reckless and ignorant force feeding tests to millions of American school children at the cost of billons to American taxpayers;
seven years of increasingly emaciated education, stressed out students, outraged parents, and the systemic degradation of teaching and teachers from coast to coast, the Obama administration arrive at the same conclusion that sane and sensitive people instinctively knew must occur the moment they grasped the intentions behind Race to the Top: this is a mistake.

That is to put it very diplomatically.

Yet even as I am happy to read that the Obama administration seems to be beginning to come to grips with reality in terms of its radical neo-liberal education policy, I cannot help but take a serious wait and see attitude toward today’s surprise announcement. The historical disconnect between what Obama has said he would do and what Obama has done is too consistent to give the man’s words any credence. Even assuming the Obama administration means what it says — an assumption, I, for one am not prepared to make — the potential billions to be made by testing companies will insure that their servants in Congress and state houses across the country will fight to keep this gravy train going as long as they possibly can.

That said, I must hope that this marks the beginning of the end for this sorrowful and sick period in American education which has produced almost nothing for students but suffering and a cheap facsimile of an education at the same time it has demonized teachers, exculpated a predatory economic system and provided endless distraction from a political system in an advanced stage of complete moral and intellectual degeneracy.

Of course, given this state of degeneracy, this announcement could also be nothing more than a ruse intending to deceive a battered public while allowing those who forced this madness on this nation to appear responsive and reasonable as they plan their next move in the privatization of the public school system.

Glimpses of Cincinnati

October 11, 2015

I love wandering around cities I’ve never been to before, seeing what can I see, trying to get some sense of the place, of it’s history, of it’s beauty, of it’s struggles, past and present. A few days ago, I was one of a group who flew to Cincinnati to get a first hand look at the extraordinary Oyler Community Learning Center, in the hope of replicating something of the same in our schools in New York. Like all business trips, the excursion was a whiz bang affair: arriving Wednesday evening, meeting for a long dinner with our hosts, leaving our hotel at 8:30 Thursday morning for an almost crazily crammed day, flying back to New York that evening.
The schedule left precious little wriggle room to see much of anything at all but I was determined. After dinner, as my friends M. and A. searched for a place to sample the famous Cincinnati chili, I set out to see the Ohio River, and to explore as much of down town as time allowed and as remains in an increasingly corporatized America. As it happened I walked in exactly the opposite direction of the river , but my ignorance proved fortuitous as I wandered straight into a main thoroughfare where I saw the beautiful and historic Plum Street Synagogue of Rabbi Isaac Wise, once the center of American Jewry. Near there, on a very pleasant concourse named Garfield Place, I was met by the outstretched stone arms of Ohio born President James Garfield, he who was considered brilliant but who was fated to become the second of our four assassinated presidents, just four months after taking office. Beneath Garfield’s image were perhaps twenty of the homeless men I saw and was approached by, every one of them exceedingly civil. Indeed, during the entire length of that avenue and almost the entire length of my lengthy stroll, the homeless were the only people to be seen.


A few blocks down the same street stood an image of yet another child of Ohio and barely remembered president, William Henry Harrison, astride a stone horse. One of the wonderful things about travel is that it can make the abstract concrete. Until I saw their statues, I had no idea what part of the country these two presidents, obscure though they may be, were from.
When at length I finally figured out the way to the river, I came across the site of the Burnet House, once a prominent hotel. On a plaque marking the site of the hotel, I came across a revealing reminder of the inner journey taken by the greatest American president, facing the greatest of American sins, which led to the most horrific of American wars. The plaque read, in part, as follows:
When it opened May 30, 1850, the 340-room hotel located on this site
was considered one of the finest hotels in the world. Abraham Lincoln
stayed here on September 17-18, 1859, while campaigning for the Ohio
Republican Party. Lincoln also stayed at this hotel on February 12, 1861,
during his inaugural journey to Washington, D.C. to be sworn in as
the 16th president. His speech from the hotel balcony expressed his
desire to abide by the Constitution on the issue of slavery.


It was the last line that, even as I was aware of Lincoln’s initial position on slavery, sent a chill down my spine. It was nonetheless still jarring to read it, as it served as a reminder of both the gross contradictions in the original constitution as well as the spiritual degeneracy and slaughter that, in 1861, directly resulted from those contradictions. It was a reminder too of the political starting point of the inner journey of our most complex and transformative president, of whom Frederick Douglass wrote:
“Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined… taking him for all in all, measuring the tremendous magnitude of the work before him, considering the necessary means to ends, and surveying the end from the beginning, infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln.”

From the site of the Burnet House I could at last see the Ohio River and as I came closer I encountered a sight that surprised as much as it delighted me: the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge.

To my mind there is no more iconic symbol of New York City and no more majestic a structure in the city than the Brooklyn Bridge. It was therefore startling to come across a bridge in Cincinnati that, for all the world, appeared to be the Brooklyn Bridge’s smaller if older brother. And no wonder. John A. Roebling created them both, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge in 1866 and the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883.


I sat beneath Roebling’s Cincinnati creation for a while, taking it in as riverboats sailed by. I knew that on the other side of that river lay Kentucky was once a slave state while Ohio was a free state. And I knew that for “travelers” on the Underground Railroad the earth on which I sat held a meaning that was beyond my powers of empathy to truly appreciate. I knew that for them the water that flowed before me might as well have been the River Jordan, and the grass on which I sat might as well have been the Promised Land. I tried my best to take that in as well.

I awoke early the following morning and lit out again to look at the river and the bridge at dawn and both were just as beautiful as they were at night. I would have loved to stroll over that bridge and look down on that water that carried so much of American history but alas, alas, it was time to go. Still, I felt grateful for those little glimpses of the vast canvas that is America.

School Children Again Used as Props as Taxpayers Pay for the Opening Salvo in Moskowitz’s Mayoral Campaign

October 7, 2015


As I write thousands of New York City charter school students and their parents are unwittingly preparing to play their vital roles in what is being billed as a Rally for School Equality. In actuality, the event is not merely a massive, insidious and grossly unfair attack on Mayor Bill de Blasio, but the publicly funded opening volley in education entrepreneur Eva Moskowitz’s mayoral campaign. Moskowitz, the founder and virtual queen of Success Academy Charter Schools which have received unconscionably preferential treatment from both the Bloomberg administration and Governor Cuomo, has made no secret of both her outright contempt for de Blasio and her lust for political power. The rally will consist of students drawn solely from publically funded privately managed charter schools. Accompanying the charter school students will be hundreds of charter schoolteachers, charter school administrators and charter school staff. All will be on the clock and paid by public funds provided by NYC taxpayers.

Those wondering why not a single public school teacher, administrator or staff will be present at a rally ostensibly for school equality are advised to ponder NYC Department of education Chancellor’s Regulation D-130, which states: “Personnel may not be involved in any activities, including fundraising, on behalf of any political organization during working hours.”
Rest assured, any public school student who participated in this rally would be marked absent and the school held accountable. More to the point any public school teacher who participated in such a stunt would, at the very least, have their pay docked for thief of services and be brought up on disciplinary charges. Any principal would be seriously reprimanded and may well find his or her job in jeopardy.

Somehow this inconvenient fact, like so many inconvenient facts, has escaped the attention of Eva Moskowitz and Families for Excellence Schools in their heroic efforts to create equality in schools.
To circumvent the unseemly, if not out right reprehensible reality of using school kids as political pawns and public funds for a political rally, Moskowitz and her allies have done what Moskowitz and her allies do: they abuse the language and call it something else.
(See the use of “scholar” for “student.” ) In this case, the transparent political nature of the rally is deemed irrelevant by calling the event “a civics lesson.” The public are meant to perceive it as a kind of gigantic field trip, if one in which the hedge fund managers and billionaires who bankroll Families for Excellent Schools just happen to fund buses, lunches, and entertainment (in the form of Jennifer Hudson ), as well as tee shirts, hats, balloons, and posters. The entire latter items are branded with the slogan – “Don’t Steal Possible” – that is of itself a political accusation, if one that is highly ungrammatical.
By its name alone The Rally for School Equality should be seen by people who respect language as a transparently political event. At any rate, any conceivable room for debate was rendered absurd by the FES’s shockingly cynical and massively aired video in which a voice oozing concern and outrage tells of a white child is said to be going off to college while a black child, condemned to a “failing school”, is headed to hell. The ad ends by blaming such a situation, itself a lie, not on Mayor Mike Bloomberg who ruled NYC schools like a deranged king for twelve long years, but on de Blasio who has had do deal with the deliberately destructive policies of his predecessor.

Other than allow people like Eva Moskowitz and Families for Excellence Schools to privatize the public school system, it is unclear what the protesters want de Blasio to do. Close schools certainly and fire mass numbers of teachers to be sure but they can’t come right out and say that. They seem to suggest that all de Blasio need do is wave his magic wand and make “equal” what people like Eva Moskowitz and organizations like Families for Excellent Schools have done everything in their power to systemically make unequal for years now. What else can result from cheery picking students, booting out all who threaten to fail the sacred tests, commandeering any and all public school space they can get their hands on; above all, swathing their students in the ill-gotten largess of their hedge fund backers so as to make public schools children feel like decidedly second class citizens.

em images

Their cynicism is as is breathtaking as their stated goal is irreproachable. After all, what decent person can be against school equality?

That Moskowitz and her confederates would use children as political pawns and public funds for political rallies should only shock those who have not been paying attention for the past five years or so. That she is has been allowed to do so again and again and again should enrage and disgust us as it reveals the rank cowardice of our elected officials, Danny Drum being a very notable and courageous exception. Despite all this, we expect favorable coverage from all local TV networks. Expect glowing editorial praising Moskowitz and FES in tomorrow’s New York Post and Daily News.

This is the place we have fallen to in what was once the most sophisticated of American cities.

Addendum: This concerning Ms. Moskowitz from the ever watchful Perdido Street School: http://perdidostreetschool.blogspot.com/2015/10/eva-moskowitzs-city-hall-steps.html

Thoughts on Friedrichs Vs. California, Eva Moskowitz, and Human Dignity

October 4, 2015


Some time within the next few months the U.S. Supreme Court will make a decision on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. If the justices decide in favor of Friedrichs, all public employee unions across America will be decimated and all public employees would immediately become “at will” employees laboring under the Right to Work model.
For anyone wondering what a Right to Work model would mean for a teacher in New York City one could do worse than take a long hard look at what lays within the recently leaked five page internal document addressed to the staff of Eva Moskowitz’s non-union Success Academy.

From what one can gather from the leaked SA doc, outside of having zero job security, no say whatsoever in working conditions and working endless hours, the “at will” teachers at Success Academy are apparently obliged to do whatever it is their leader orders them to do or else. According to the document, this would include (but not be limited to) debasing their language, creating a false sense of crisis and conning the parents of their students into attending whatever it is master Moskowitz desires them to attend regardless of whether they could afford it or not.

The document was written by something called Success Academy’s “advocacy team,” whose job apparently is to supply “messaging assistance” to staff. In this case the “messaging assistance” consists of not only helping teachers convince SA families to attend a rally but to help teachers convince these families that the transparently political event is somehow not political by supplying the language they are to use with the parents. (The rally, organized by the sleazy and cynical Families For Excellent schools, yet another billionaire created front for school privatization, was meant to take place on Sept 30 but was postponed because of rain.)
“This is not a political event,” employees are being asked to tell parents who may be hesitant about participating in a rally with political implications, reported Politico. “This is an event in support of your scholar, our school, and the right for families to have access to equal schools.”


Of course, for anyone who has been unfortunate enough to “co-locate “ with a Success Academy, the fact that Moskowitz forces her teachers to debase the English language is evident on a daily basis. Take, for instance, the word “scholar .’’ Here is a word you will hear SA teachers saying in passing 10, 20, 30 times a day. You will here it drop incessantly from the lips of administrators in meetings between your school and Success Academy. Once I heard it while waiting to see the nurse when a teacher from SA called a mother on his cell phone to inform her that “your scholar fell down in the playground and hurt her elbow. “ In every other part of the English speaking world the word scholar is commonly understood to mean a distinguished academic, a specialist in a particular discipline or, at the very least, 
a person who is highly educated.

Not in Moskowitz land. There the word “scholar” means every student in Success Academy, excepting of course those kids with lousy test scores who are booted out and into the land of non-scholars as quickly as possible. In Success Academy “scholars “ are children as young as five.

Now I understand the rationale behind this misuse of language – somehow addressing them as “scholars” inspires them to great heights and all that — but as I do not support forcing teachers to debase their language, never mind to practice magical thinking on other people’s children, I whole heartedly reject it. And I do not find it harmless. It is to use language in the same manner and for the same reason as an ad company: to sell a product. Misuse of language is never harmless. As even one of Moskowitz’s five year old “scholars” knows, calling an acorn an oak tree does not magically make it into one, even if Eva Moskowitz demands you say it does.

Then there is Moskowitz’s singular use of the word “civics, ” as if taking 9000 school kids up to Albany or marching them across the Brooklyn Bridge during school time is actually engaging them in a “civics lesson. ” This too one assumes must also be echoed ad infinitum by the teachers in her employ. Of course, if this outrageous behavior is indeed presented to SA students as a civics lesson, you can rest assured that there would be no mention of the fact that the exact same actions are strictly forbidden for a public school, that any public school teacher involved in such a stunt would be sighted for theft of services and any principal who allowed it would have his or her job on the line.

One can also safely assume that SA teachers would be careful not to mention the extremely un-civic demand given by their “advocacy team” that their memorandum be carefully kept away from parents less they see how completely they are held in contempt.

To my way of thinking, to oblige teachers to debase their language, act against their conscience, and betray their intelligence while insulting that of their students’ parents or risk losing their livelihood is morally, intellectually and spiritually grotesque. Simply put, a person who has been stripped of their language by being forced to speak another’s has been stripped of their personhood. And yet, as “at will” employees, even if such a teacher wishes to grieve such degradation, they have nowhere to grieve it.

That said, I have no doubt whatsoever that, even if Moskowitz is extreme, these kinds of demands and worse will begin to be made in schools across the board and across the United States should the Friedrichs decision be made against public unions. Should that nightmare scenario come to pass, all of those who remain public school teachers will find themselves working to one degree or another for some one like Eva Moskowitz. Those who have been trying to recreate American schools in their image will have removed the last barrier to complete and utter domination. They will flood American schools with their corporate apparachiks who, like Moskowitz, will delight in making humiliating demands and in destroying the careers of seasoned teachers — all for the good of the children, of course. Should that nightmare scenario come to pass, the war against public school teachers which has been raging for over a decade, fueled by the richest individuals on earth in cahoots with the most powerful politicians in the United States, may at last end with the both American children and their parents on the losing side. At the very least, it will be an enormous step backward and, if the Moskowitz model is any guide, a massive and insidious assault not only on the dignity of teachers but on all Americans from coast to coast.

King To Replace Duncan in DC Insuring that the Campaign to Privatize Public Schools Will Continue Unabated

October 2, 2015


Today it was announced that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, he who has used the awesome power of the federal Government to wreak layered and relentless havoc on the entire public school system, will resign in December.

Duncan said he was resigning to spend more time with his family and stated, in what appeared to be complete seriousness, that he expected to find work “expanding opportunity for children.”

Duncan was the longest serving education secretary in U.S. history and easily the most appalling.

Even as candidate Obama campaigned with Linda Darling-Hammond, in a bait and switch maneuver that can now be seen as characteristic of his presidency,
President–elect Obama named non-educator Duncan Secretary of Education. The appointment, made at the insistence of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a group made up almost entirely of hedge fund managers, signaled that under Duncan the Department of Education would serve in essence as a conduit to the whims and wishes of private foundations, most prominently and disastrously, the Gates Foundation. These private interests,it must be said, Duncan has served with complete fidelity.

Tragically, Duncan will be replaced by former New York State Commissioner John King, whose obsequiousness in the face of wealth and power is equal to Duncan’s, likewise their shocking arrogance if not outright disdain for the public they nominally serve. Having taught three years in a classroom, two in a charter school, King has infinitely more teaching experience than Duncan who has zero. Not that this will make an iota of difference.

In essence, in terms of policy, Duncan will be replaced by Duncan or perhaps Duncan on steroids.

King was last seen on tour in New York condescending or dissembling to parents on stages in Poughkeepsie and New York City in a failed attempt to sell them the miserable and increasingly loathed Common Core. I caught his act in Manhattan where even shills from Students First and Educators For Excellence could not rescue King from his well-earned pathos.

Soon thereafter King resigned as Commissioner in New York only to emerge as an extremely well paid something-or-other in Duncan’s Department of Education where he has hung out ever since.
King’s appointment insures that the Obama administration’s signature education policies of high stakes testing linked to insane and immoral teacher evaluations, mandated charter schools, union busting and ultimate privatization of the public school system will continue until Obama leaves office. And that,in turn, insures not merely massive teacher shortages as teachers flee the profession, but student misery and parental outrage; above all it means billions of dollars in public money to testing companies and millions more to a multitude of other “education reform” parasites. Lastly, it also insures Barack Obama’s standing as the worst education president in the history of the public school system, far more effective in the destruction of public schools than Reagan, Clinton, and both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush combined.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,475 other followers