Archive for August, 2013

Metaphors have Meaning: Andrew Cuomo (And Others) and the Not So Hidden Cruelty of Corporate Education Reform

August 31, 2013
Cuomo contemplating the electric chair

Cuomo contemplating the electric chair

Governor Mario Cuomo was no saint but he was and remains a decent, eloquent and principled man. In fact, it was Cuomo’s steadfast adherence to one of those principles –his belief that the death penalty is not only racist but outright barbaric – that was largely responsible for his defeat in 1994 by George Pataki, who wore his pro-death penalty politics like a solid gold crucifix.
For this reason and more it is, therefore, jarring and even repulsive to hear his son, Governor Andrew
Cuomo, make declarations such as, “There is going to have to be a death penalty for failing schools.”
It would be a mistake to dismiss this savage statement as simply indicating a generational shift in politics between a father and a son who both happen to have been elected governor of what historically has been one of the most progressive states in the union. (By the way, could you imagine Governor Al Smith or Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt or, in fact, anyone other than Andrew Cuomo employing such a sadistic metaphor for anything, never mind a vital public trust like a school?)

It would also be a mistake to dismiss it as a mere slip of the tongue or a mere metaphor, not to be taken literally or given more weight than it deserves. What Cuomo is doing is displaying the language of power, specifically that of the state to exercise power of the most brutal kind: the power to kill something that lives. Knowingly. Consciously. Legally.

That such language, coming out of the mouth of the highest official in NY State while speaking on the subject of education, is considered acceptable is an indication of how savage we have become as a people. Or, maybe truer still, how savage our leaders have become and how passive many of us have become under their leadership — even when it comes to education. Indeed, perhaps especially when it comes to education.

Bear Cuomo’s remarkable statement in mind along side equally brutal statements by other majors figures in New York educational politics.
Consider NYC Chancellor of Education Dennis Walcott’s cavalier statement that, in terms of education it is “time to rip off the band-aide. ”

Extremely skilled at appearing to be thoughtful.

Extremely skilled at appearing to be thoughtful.

Note: If I as a teacher ripped off the band aide of a student, I could easily be cited for corporal punishment.

Or NYS Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch’s reckless statement that, whether they can swim or not, it is time for students to “ jump into the deep end of the pool.”

Note: If I as a teacher advised a student to jump into the deep end of the pool without first insuring that said student could, in fact, swim, I would likely and deservingly be fired.

"Everybody in the pool!"

“Everybody in the pool!”

Ponder New York State Commissioner John King’s insane metaphor of “building an airplane in the air “ to describe how New York state was improving education.

Note: If a as I teacher were instructing my students to build an airplane in the air I would likely be removed for psychological counseling and deservingly so.

We are now flying at an altitude of 5000 feet

We are now flying at an altitude of 5000 feet

And now here’s Cuomo, the highest official of the state, calling for nothing less than a “death penalty” for “failing schools.”

Hard to square all this sadistic verbiage with all the same speakers’ constant emoting about “putting kids first” and all of that stuff.
Indeed, it is hard to square such sadistic verbiage with anything that is healthy and sane regarding children.
What to make of people who make such statements?
While it is a mistake to take metaphors literally — think of fundamentalists of any religion – it is also a mistake to dismiss them as nothing more than meaningless images meant to make a point.

Metaphors have meaning.

Metaphors, wrote Giambattista Vico, are myths is miniature. And myths are very, very powerful.

We are our language. It is what separates us from the animal. To use phrases like ripping off Band-Aids, or jumping into deep ends of pools, or building airplanes in the air, or needing a death penalty for schools is revealing of many things, none of them healthy.

At best, such language shows a fundamental disconnection between the speakers of such language and the parents and children of the schools such speakers are busy transforming. But I would say that it shows something more: I say such language reveals the savage mentality of people who are psychologically unfit to be anywhere near kids, never mind running vast school systems.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want my kid anywhere near people who speak and thus think this way.

Addendum: For those who can stand it, here’s a video of Governor Cuomo performing an aria on falling schools, teacher evaluations, taxes and death penalties. Enjoy!

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The Triumph of Plutocracy: How Bill Gates Dictates American Educational Policy

August 28, 2013

Randi and Bill: Weingarten personally invited Bill Gates to be the keynote speaker at a national AFT Convention in an effort to promote “dialogue.” Bill. however, had come to co-opt the union. He did.

Gates and Randi

In a brilliant post that hopefully will be read from coast to coast, Mercedes Schneider provides evidence to what many suspected or even knew but could not prove: to wit, that the deceitfully named Common Core States Standards Initiative has been almost entirely funded by Bill Gates, including its promotion and implementation. In doing so, Schneider revels much more.

All of it is appalling and extremely disturbing in what it reveals about who is running our school system.

By exposing the role Gate’s money played in virtually every aspect of the immense project, Schneider exposes the two institutionalized lies at the heart of Common Core promotion: the first is that the Common Core is “state led ” rather than “Gates led” ( as Ms. Schneider put it) : the second is that the Common Core was created by teachers rather than education industrialists and entrepreneurs like David Coleman. (Revealingly, despite being considered ” the architect” of the project, Coleman’s name is absent from the CCSI website. )

Schneider’s post is an astounding and chilling document in so far as it shows how the cooperation of virtually every educational organization of note and influence in America has been co-opted by money from Gates’s limitless bank account. It shows, that is, a betrayal of trust of an astounding depth. How many parents across America know, for example, that the National Congress of Parents and Teachers were given a gift of $499,962 by the Gates’ Foundation? How many believe that a person like Gates “gives” anything without demanding much more in return ?
For teachers, the cruelest blows are the $5,400,000 accepted by American Federation of Teachers and the $3.9 million accepted by the National Education Association. This is beyond grotesque. Such “gifts” expose for all to see the moral rot at the leadership levels of our unions. It shows us that we have been, at best, orphaned if not out right betrayed by the very institutions that exist to protect us – that we pay to protect us. It shows us how desperately we need new leadership.

Common Core State Standards and the intrinsically connected high stakes testing and the intrinsically connected Value Added Measures are now the central nervous system of our public schools. That this is almost entirely the work of a private citizen who is rich enough and ruthless enough to impose his will on an entire nation wholly outside of the legislative apparatus in which we base our democracy should send chills down the spine of every American who believes in political freedom. Gates and his enablers — who are just as culpable — mock our democracy with the smiling acceptance of every dime and the spouting of every lie.
Such an attack on basic democratic principles is ignored or accepted at grave risk.

Nation at Risk, the Ur-document of education reform was published in 1983. It’ most often repeated line was the following: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. “
The “mediocre educational performance “ was bombast then and is bombast now and has been proven to be ideologically based.
But allow me to paraphrase the sentence in light of Schneider’s information: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the plutocracy that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. “

It is an act of war: class war. And it should be viewed as such and reacted to as such.

Schneider’s post is potentially explosive. It is a document that should be read and studied by every teacher, every parent, every concerned citizen and every high school student in America. We have the right to know who is undermining our democratic processes and who is helping them to do so. We have the obligation to expose them and stop them before it is too late.

Thank you, Mercedes Schneider, for your noble and brilliant work.

Danielson Condemns Using Test Scores to Assess Teachers: A Potential Chip in the Reformer Armor

August 26, 2013

char

Diane Ravitch posted a blog this morning stating that Charlotte Danielson, creator of the infamous Daniel Framework for teacher effectiveness that has been implemented into practice and written into law in New York, publicly condemned using standardized test scores to assess teachers in the strongest term possible. “Using standardized test scores to assess teachers is indefensible, ” said Danielson. This is not the first time I’ve heard Danielson make such a declaration – there is a clip of her saying something of the kind floating around You Tube – but it is the most forceful and unambiguous.
As such, it is also something that all teachers effected by Danielson’s system should know and make sure as many parents of school children as possible know. We would do well, too, to contact Danielson, thank her for her courageous statement and urge her to repeat it as publicly and widely as possible. Her statement is potentially a serious chip in the reformer armor but will only be if we make it so. If not it will die on the vine. Moreover, we need to bring Danielson’s statement to the attention of Andrew Cuomo, Commissioner John King, Meryl Tisch, Dennis Walcott, Michael Mulgrew, and ask them, in light of Danielson’s statement to defend the system they have all agreed upon. This need be public knowledge. Above all the parents must know. You can be sure the reformers are attempting damage control and to muzzle Danielson as I write. The importance of such action on our part cannot be overstated. The evaluation system as it stands is a monument to reckless and cavilier thinking and, in effects, is rolling dice with the livelihoods, reputations and lives of teachers. It is unconscionable. As written it will unquestionably lead to the unjust termination of countless fine teachers. The politicians do not care and have hid behind Danielson’s reputation. Her statement can be used as a spotlight and should be. The public, by and large, does not know and this is an opportunity to inform them.

There is contact information for Charlotte Danielson at her website at http://www.danielsongroup.org/article.aspx?page=contactus

Following is Dr. Ravitch’s entire post.

Charlotte Danielson speak about how to use her rubric: “At the
NJAFPA Conference on May 29, Charlotte Danielson (creator of the
Danielson Frameworks for Teaching evaluation system that so many
states and districts have adopted) said in her keynote: “Very
strong words, considering her audience included members of the
NJDOE. Danielson went on to say: “What counts as evidence? How will
we use it? People are calling me for information on this; I don’t
know; NO ONE KNOWS! Rather than standardized tests, we need to look
at classroom/teacher’s learning evidence.”

The New York Times Publishes Yet Another Rubbish Based Editorial Praising Common Core State Standards

August 22, 2013
Sez "Common Core is Good For You !"

Sez “Common Core is Good For You !”

Not to get conspiratorial about it but exactly what is happening over at the New York Times? Has there been an outbreak of Common-Core-itis, some strange new virus that somehow destroys the reasoning power and critical thinking of brilliant people reducing them to dummies for corporate ventriloquists? Even as the paper has never had anything even remotely “left leaning” or even as “liberal “ as its conservative critics incessantly claim, even though the writing of columnists like Thomas Friedman and David Brooks would make Pollyanna herself blush, even though it is as corporate as corporate can be, the Times has usually offered at least one columnist who observed reality from outside the comfortable hermetically sealed world of corporate bubble-dum, and have, after their fashion, even challenged it.

In happier times there might even be two.

Paul Krugman and Charles Blow, in fact, are two such writers. And yet, within the span of a few days, on top of yet another wildly effusive column by Bill Keller, both Krugman and Blow, far and away the most thoughtful of NY Times columnists, have each written articles praising the Common Core State Standards based on the same stale cream-puff quality of research habitually favored by Friedman and Brooks or, far that matter, Keller.

The decline in the quality of both articles is extraordinary.
Whereas Krugman seems to simply take as gospel Bill Keller’s biased and ignorant rant, Blow partially bases his conclusion about the CCSS on information from the Broad Foundation, which is analogous to basing research on the links between smoking and lung cancer from information from Joe Camel of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Still, I want to make it clear here that I am not writing here about their opinions or even so much rather the information (or lack there of) oh what their opinions are based on but rather their impetus and motivations for writing about the subject at all.

Joe Camel sez, "Smoking is good for you!"

Joe Camel sez, “Smoking is good for you!”

(By the way, can someone somewhere please explain to me how it is possible that “graduates” of a completely unaccredited, transparently ideologically driven private organization such as the Broad Foundation’s Superintendent Academies can legally be running a public trust as vital as the public school system in city after city in America ? How is this possible? Why is this not a scandal? Like any teacher, I had to spend six years in college, earn two degrees, take a battery of tests, be fingered printed certified by the state before I could legally even step into a classroom of children unaccompanied by a certified professional.)

For more on Blow’s sources and rational see posts by Diane Ravitch and Arthur Goldstein.
Nor am I not speaking of Krugman and Blow’s political bent. Democracy is, by definition, a messy, loud, inefficient system that cannot function without equal measure of confrontation and consensus. The clash of opinions is what makes a democracy function. Informed opinions, however, are what make a democracy thrive, and it is the quality of information in all three articles appearing in this most influential publication which is particularly disturbing.

Above all I am trying to understand how, on this one particular subject – a subject, mind you, championed by the unelected, unaccountable, unconscionable plutocrats who have completely overtaken our public school system — two people as intelligent and thoughtful as Blow and Krugman could produce such propagandistic drivel?

Why?

How is this to be explained? Is this simply a coincidence? Or, is it something more aligned with FDR’s quip that there is no such things as either an accident or a coincidence in politics.
I will go further: based on what I’ve read of both men’s works in the past on virtually every other subject, I find it impossible to believe that, faced with the facts concerning the genesis, political machinations, unknowable results and billions to be made from unwitting American taxpayers on what is nothing more than a wholly untested experiment of American students and teachers, I find it extremely difficult to believe that either Krugman or Blow would be stating anything near the positions they have stated.

I do not wish to impugn the integrity of either of these men. But I, like many people whose livelihood is directly and imminently threatened by the imposition of the CCSS and the policies surrounding it, and whose child will be faced with a battery of tests like none that has ever before been seen, am deeply disturbed, by the confluence of the Common Core chorus among the elite and only the elite, with little or nor consideration whatsoever to anyone else effected by it. And I speak here not merely of the corporate elite. Consider that American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and the National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel are both tireless proponents of the CCSS, even as the hundreds of thousands of their due paying members are not. Indeed, out of the many perverse realities made manifest in its saga, the advent of the Common Core may have occasioned the first time in the history of American labor where plutocrats, corporate chieftains and union presidents are united in their desire to keep a labor force – in this case teachers — as utterly powerless in the creation of their working conditions as possible.

The decline in quality of both Krugman’s and Blow’s work on this particular subject makes no sense to me at all, any more than does the suicidal enthusiasm of the AFT and NEA. All of the above are but terrible signs of something in America that grows increasingly powerful in direct proportion to American citizens growing increasingly powerless.
Something is wrong here. Very wrong. Something does not add up. This is not the country I was born in, problematic as that nation was, nor is not the country I want to raise my child in. There is something the American citizenry is not being told and that something is aimed straight at the remains of our already enfeebled, anemic, perhaps terminally ill democracy.

New York Times Editorials Reveal A Complete Ignorance of Common Core

August 20, 2013

DownloadedFile

But two days after a sizable anti-Common Core rally in suburban Port Jefferson, Long Island, the venerable New York Times saw fit to publish not one but two editorials in two days, not merely praising the Common Core State Standards, but attempting to reduce almost all criticism of it to right wing nut jobs like Glenn Beck and the Tea Party. To make matters worse, the editorials were written by Times heavy hitters Bill Keller and, sadly, Paul Krugman. Both articles reveal Keller and Krugman to be completely ignorant of both the Common Core Standards themselves, their genesis, as well as to the ever widening and deepening political opposition to the entire billion-dollar Common Core campaign.
Nonetheless both articles are a massive public relations gift to corporate education reformers nation wide – and you can rest assured they will make use of them. Moreover, by insinuating that most opposition to the CCSS derives from the far right, the articles are simultaneously an insult to the hundreds of thousands of educators from coast to coast who distrust or even loathe the Common Core and all that it stands for — particularly the very real fear that intrinsically related high stakes testing combined with junk science testing will lead to their termination — as well as to leading education scholars and activists such as Diane Ravitch, Lois Wiener, Gary Rubinstein, Leonie Haimson, Arthur Goldstein, Carol Burris, Anthony Cody, and Susan O’Hanian, to name but a few. Both Keller and Krugman seem oblivious to them all.
Neither seems to be aware of the fact that the Common Core has never even been field tested.
Neither writer seems to be aware that states were pressured if not coerced into “adopting” the Common Core because they were bankrupt.
Neither writer seems aware of the fact that, so great are the potential corporate profits, states were pressured into signing on to the Common Core before it was even finished.
Neither writer seems to be aware than prominent educators ( as opposed to politicians and billionaires) and have very serious issues with how developmentally appropriate the Common Core actually is and some are nothing less than appalled.
Neither writer, that is, seems to have a clue.

Whereas Keller’s piece reads as if it were cribbed from Arne Duncan press releases with political slants provided by Thomas Friedman and David Brooks, Krugman’s piece reads like a dashed off afterthought, seemingly composed solely to support Keller’s would-be -arguments, and, highly uncharacteristic of Krugman’s work, contains not a single original thought. For his sake, I hope Krugman, always the most prescient and intrepid of the Times scribes, was drunk when he wrote it so that he might be excused for employing such extravagant or even silly language such as “ entirely praiseworthy” to describe a subject he clearly knows absolutely nothing about.

Note: I have read the Times consistently my entire adult life and I do not recall a single instance in which two writers wrote essentially the same article two days in a row on the same subject.

Given the prestige and national reach of the Times, the tag team approach is an immense gift to corporate reformers and, to that end, the timing of the articles could not have been better. There has been evidence of ever growing parental dissatisfaction over the CCSS since the 30% drop in test scores that were bizarrely celebrated by virtually the entire New York City and New York State education hierarchy. Such dissatisfaction culminated in Saturday’s rally on Long Island.
I lost respect for both Bill Keller in particular and the New York Times in general years ago when they both reduced themselves to mindless cheerleaders for the butchery of Iraq (it was not a war), which has been proven to have been exactly what many of it critics predicted it would be: a pointless, needless and grotesque slaughter based on deliberately falsified evidence, rank ideology and colossal hubris.

Structurally, minis the bloodshed and the bombs, something similar is afoot with the plutocrats and corporate America’s ceaseless and insidious campaign for the Common Core. So here we are a decade later with that debacle having receded from American consciousness altogether, and here is the same Bill Keller pontificating about yet another war ( “The War on the Core” ) based on falsified data, widely exaggerated threats with equal ignorance and hubris.

Oh! And let us not forget Condi Rice and Joel Klein declaring American education to be a threat to national security!

(Note: in the same way public relation firms tricked Americans into referring to McDonald’s as the almost familial “Mickey D’s”, adherents of the Common Core State Standards seem to refer to the thing, as does Keller, as the much cozier “the Core.”)
Whereas in Iraq there was falsified evidence, with the Core there simply is no evidence at all: the Common Core, like much of corporate education reform, is entirely faith based. It troubles Keller not at all that the deceptively named Common Core State Standards are yet another extra-legislative imposition created and engendered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has become the de facto US Department of Education with Bill, in the words of Diane Ravitch, “the nation’s Superintendent of schools. “

Keller essentially repeats a more conversational version of Common Core press releases including the outright lies that “ the Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable.”
Virtually noting of the above sentence is true. If there were any educators present in the creation of “ The Core “ they were tokens, there to give cover for its corporate genesis. Keller seems utterly unaware of the fact that “The Core” is, at best, a vast taxpayer funded experiment on American school children based on nothing but rhetoric. Everything that can be said about it is pure speculation.
To this, Keller and Krugman are oblivious or unconcerned. For Keller and Krugman, to be against “The Core” is to be aligned with right wing nut jobs like Glenn Beck or more sinister and shadowy Tea Party associates.
“But overwhelmingly,” writes Keller, “ the animus against the standards comes from the right.”
Wrong.
Curiously, Keller mocks as fantasy Beck’s fear of “bio wristbands, ” gizmos that sound incredibly similar to Bill Gates fascistic idea of students and teachers wearing “galvanic bracelets “ to somehow measure student engagement. “ Beck,” writes Keller, “ also appears to believe that the plan calls for children to be fitted with bio-wristbands and little cameras so they can be monitored at all times for corporate exploitation.”
That said, I have no illusions as to the continued power of the Times to influence middle class America, to convince them, even with the intellectual shabbiness of these articles, that to be against the sacred Common Core is to be with Glen Beck and his paranoid yokels. This is bad. It is so bad that it behooves every parent and educator in America to write the Times and speak his or her truth to power. Who knows, if enough do and do so with clarity, a man like Krugman could even become a powerful ally.