About that school board race…..

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thZU3AI6V8Recently epaa/aape published a study called “National Affiliation or Local Representation: When TFA Alumni Run for School Board” (http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/1451/1311) that literally sent a chill down spine. The study was focused on Teach For America’s increased foray into school board races and what it meant as far as local issues being represented. Apparently over the past couple years TFA has developed a School Board Leadership Initiative, which encourages and supports alumni to run for school board positions. Taken alone this might not be a big deal but if you think about the possible underpinnings, this is terrifying and not just because its TFA, but that the blueprint could be set for any private group.

Over the past decade reformers have banged the drum that school boards are obsolete. They’ve blamed them for much of the perceived crisis in education. In their eyes school management would be better done with mayoral control and/or more state and federal oversight. How often have you seen newspaper commentators decrying the role of school boards in approving charters? School boards are just one more democratic institution that needs to go away.

The problem is, getting policy passed at the federal and state level is hard work. First you have to get your people elected in races that seldom go unnoticed. Second, being on a big stage means increased scrutiny plus greater checks and balances. Ask John White and Kevin Huffman how hard making meaningful change on a state level is, and you don’t even want to get Arne Duncan started. It takes a lot of money and a lot of grit.

Now take your local school board races. They often take place in the summer months. The majority of people who don’t have children instantly tune out these races. So you automatically have a smaller stage. It’s no where near as expensive to run a school board race as it is a state/national office. We may think 100k sounds like a lot but its a drop in the bucket compared to more high profile races. School board candidates also only have to appeal to one position, education. No losing a race because people disagreed with your health policy or tax policy.

The other upside is that once elected, there is not a ton of scrutiny on what you’re passing. Now I know that my friends serving on school boards feel like there are a million eyes on them but the truth is, if you don’t have kids…. The other blessing is you can always blame things on the state. Don’t like the way we are approving Charters’? Don’t like the pay scale for teachers? The states backing us into a corner, works almost every time. Get a majority on a school board and you can wreck a lot of havoc.

If this study is to believed, I’m not the only one starting to connect these dots.

While many focus on the problems local control has created for the U.S. educational system,

local school boards have a long tradition and continue to make important decisions that shape the

future of our schools. Even after decades of increased federal and state involvement in U.S.

education policy, local boards remain a venue for creating change. In fact, school board elections

appear to be growing in their visibility with donors pouring millions of dollars in donations into

some school board candidate coffers (e.g. Nichols, 2011). Like Teach For America, it seems that

many education reformers now recognize that school board members, whether everyone likes it or

not, remain key to shaping the future of our schools. Therefore, rather than debating whether school

boards have lost power, this research points to the need to better understand how local politics is

changing and expanding as new voices enter the arena. As this work demonstrates, national leaders

may see local school boards as a place to make significant investments. This renewed interest has the

potential to bring new resources and ideas to local school politics, but it also may fundamentally

reshape how local voices participate and whether their interests are represented

That’s huge and the evidence is there to support this assertion. One needs to look no further then the school board race right here in Nashville. Special interest groups have already poured over 150k into candidates in a race were the incumbents have barely raised 30k. People don’t spend that disproportionately if they are not looking to gain something. I also don’t mean to disparage anyone, but that amount of spending is rarely done for altruistic reasons either.

So play out this scenario. We spend months writing letters and fighting against a state charter authorizer and vouchers. This fight takes a tremendous amount of energy but we manage to beat those bills back. However, all the while we’re out fighting they’re out recruiting charter sympathetic candidates to run for school board. Session ends, we’re exhausted but feeling good, only we now have to try to beat back these selected candidates who’ve have the benefit of a head start and professional organization. If they win and the board gets a charter sympathetic majority, who needs a charter authorizer. What about a TFA sympathetic majority and that big TFA contract? Pick any issue and the same scenario could play out.

The challenges of fighting against the so-called reformers include the fact that they are always attacking on multi-levels. To the outside observer, vouchers, charters, TFA, tenure all seem like separate issues. In truth they are all connected. It’s like playing whack-a-mole. While we fight charters they’re attacking tenure and while we’re playing defense on the state and federal level, they’re running an end around on the local level. It becomes exhausting keeping track of it all.

Which brings in the second challenge. Deformers like to say that its all unions and special interest groups fighting to defend the status quo or as Dr Perry likes to say “Adults trying to protect adults employment.” That’s not entirely accurate. The majority of wins that have come over the last few years have been because of grass roots groups made up of parents and teachers. Staying in the fight when you are trying to hold a job, raise a family and keep a grasp on a string of sanity is awful damn hard, and that’s part of the strategy. Wear them down so you can run them out. Unfortunately for them we’ve got to much at stake in this fight.

This is why its so important that we pay attention to local school board races and the people who win them. We need to make sure that we don’t just help quality candidates get elected but that we also help them do their job. There is a direct correlation between how effective a board member is and how arduous a defense is required for them to retain their position. We need to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of underestimating the value of our local school board representatives. We need to make sure that this isn’t a thank less job.

The good news is that its been my observation that the more the public is exposed to these so-called reformers snake oil salesman’s shenanigans, the more they get turned off by them. That’s why we’ve got to continue to try and educate the public as much as possible. We need to take every chance to drag these shadow dwellers into the light and expose them for the self serving entities that they are. That tone may not be the proper tone but remember, we are not the ones who picked this fight.

 

 

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Preparing our Kids for War

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bosch-10Last week I attended an event on education sponsored by Charles Koch. As I sat and listened to the hyperbole it suddenly struck me, we’ve let ourselves think about education as akin to war preparation. Instead of an AK-47 I’m going to give you mastery of closed reading. I don’t have any hand grenades but here’s some advanced mathematic theory. Somehow we seem to have come to the conclusion that if we just keep Johnny and Janie focused and rigorous for 17 years they will be armed enough to beat back the dark forces of life and have nothing but a pathway of roses to the grave. We are brainwashing kids into perceiving life as a battle instead of an adventure.

At this  Koch event Dr.  Perry, a reformer out of Connecticut,  and others of his posse were present and waving their “its about the child” flag. This makes great rhetoric but what does that really mean? Are we really doing the child a service if we color life as a constant battle versus something to be embraced with both celebrations, challenges and times of inertia? Its disappointing enough that the window for children to commit mistakes without future consequences is already constantly shrinking, do we really need to completely rob from them the ability to enjoy the moment.

I understand that if you can’t read then life’s challenges really can be overwhelming, but why the constant need to celebrate the performing at above age level? Its wonderful that a child in third grade is reading on a fifth grade level but what has been sacrificed to get that child to that level? I may be wrong but it seems to me that the goal should be to have all children performing on the age appropriate level while being exposed to all the other things that make a well lived life special. If we have to sacrifice art, music, athletics and such in order to say we’re better then China are we really winning?

One of the things I constantly preach to my children is that as they move through life, at the very least, please continue to be interesting people. Live lives that push the envelope and make people want to know more about you. If our whole being is centered around preparing for and securing employment how interesting can we be? The mentality that we are creating is that life is all about acquiring weapons to battle life and somehow keep it challenges at bay.. We need to remember the quote by Vivian Komori, “Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.”

It also seems to get lost in the discussion that one day these “children” will become adults with responsibilities to society. So education is not just all about the child but about society and what shape it will take. Having an educated populace ensures that we can work together to retain the free society we’ve created.  As Jefferson stated, ““If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Jefferson wasn’t extolling the virtues of education so local merchants could ensure having enough qualified workers. In fact, I think it safe to say, the country was founded by a whole crew of folks who were under qualified for the roles they assumed. I love the stories about Washington becoming Commander-in-Chief because he was the tallest man in the room and because he always wore a self made uniform to meetings. After he convinced everyone that he was the man for the job he took to reading military history books. His ability to learn and an inbred curiosity served this country well.

I also don’t think Jefferson was talking about education as a means for a man to make himself wealthy at the expense of others. In everything I’ve ever read about Benjamin Franklin I’ve never seen his intellectual curiosity tied to a desire to improve himself over others but to a collective growth. When he was 21 he created Junto, a group that was for “like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.” Obviously community improvement was as important as self improvement.

Somehow we’ve lost sight of this though. We’ve allowed education to become a competition pitting one student against another in a perpetual battle with no finish line. Children are taught as if they are acquiring tools that will somehow elevate them above others and make them immune to the difficulties of life. Reading on an 8th grade level at age 7 will not protect you from a deliberating disease at age 29. Doing advanced trig in 4th grade will not ensure that you never have financial hardship. Yet that’s what we seem to preach with our endless chant of “career and college ready.” Its not that far removed from snake oil salesman who used to peddle their elixir with promises of “cure all”.

Dr. Perry went on about why does it matter what our schools look like as long as they are “good schools”. It seems to me “what our schools look like” should be part of the definition of what’s a “good school”. Dr. Perry proudly declared that his students would be in blue blazers with socks that matched their belt. Well why does that matter if they are “good students”? If they are in jeans and a t-shirt and mastering his prescribed reading and math are they not “good students”? If appearance matters in students, why does it not in schools?

It does matter and our schools should continue to be a reflection of our society. A society that earned the nick name the great melting pot. It should be a place where all students come together to learn who they are, skills we value, and the endless possibilities of who they can become. Our schools should be places where we learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes. They should be places where we learn that its not just about us, but about all of us.

Anybody who follows me on Facebook knows that my children are living up to that challenge of being interesting people everyday. They spend as much time watching Barbie and Avenger video’s on YouTube as they do reading books. They spend as much time running outside, playing with playdoh, going to the zoo, arguing with each other, playing dress up, and just goofing off in general as they do becoming kindergarten ready. I pray everyday that they retain this attitude, as will every child. I think collectively they’ll make society a lot more interesting then a 30 year old reading at a 45 year old level who perceives life as one big battle.

One of the questions asked of the panelists was what do feel is the biggest obstacle is to the accepting of your vision. The reply was, “educating parents.” That evoked a horse snort laugh from me. Its been my experience that the more parents see of the reformers vision the more they reject it. I hope they keep preaching their vision. We don’t need to do battle, we just need to keep talking.

 

 

 

My Thoughts on MNPS School Board Race

show-me-the-money-LAUSD-School-Board-RaceYesterday I realized that I’ve written 32 blog entries. That means, in my eyes, I’ve got a body of work. Therefore I think that I’m entitled to do an endorsement post. However. I don’t want to do a standard dry “these are the candidates who I  support” kind of piece. I’d like to actually have a little conversation, actually a frank conversation about this upcoming election. I may mention a few things that make people uncomfortable but I think these are the things we need to talk about when deciding where to cast our vote.

The biggest thing to keep in mind about these upcoming school board elections is voter turnout. An election in August with no mayoral vote or referendum vote usually equals a low turnout. Low turnout means its anybody’s game. The margin for error becomes so slim. So while its extremely nice of folks to put up a sign supporting their favorite candidate, in order to truly be effective they need to follow up with a trip to the polling place.

On the subject of signs, you’ll hear people often say, “signs don’t cast votes.” Which is true but I’ve been involved in enough elections to know that if one person has a large advantage in signage, they usually win. People just don’t get as informed as we’d like them to and subliminally they default to the person who’s sign they’ve seen the most. So if you got a candidate you like, put a sign up for them and then go vote.

So let’s run through these districts. We’ll start with District 2. This race has the incumbent Jo Ann Brannon squaring off against the challenger Bernie Driscoll. This is the district where my wife teaches and my child will start kindergarten. Its also adjacent to the district where I live. So I know a little about the demographics of it.

Jo Ann Brannon has been at this school board thing for a while. She’s solid in an understated way. Most importantly she knows the make up of these schools. She’s a former educator so her opinions are rooted in experience. Ms. Brannon was involved in the recent project based learning fair that took place this past spring, so she understands what innovation really looks like. She’s readily available to all constituents. Like I said, she’s solid.

Driscoll, I’m not sure has ever been in the classroom other then for parent teacher conferences. I may be wrong but that’s how it appears to me. He embraces plans like hiring more bi-lingual teachers and more parental involvement. Both sound great on paper but don’t hold up in practice. Tennessee is an English only state. That means teachers can only teach in English. Let me say that again, teachers can only teach in English. Also there are more then sixty languages represented in these schools, that’s a lot of hiring.

Parental involvement also sounds good but its usually more indicative of socio-economic status. This district has a huge refuge population. That’s refuge not immigrant population. They are different. They have different needs. Many of these parents might want to be involved but don’t have the time or means to. An EL teacher recently tried to survey other districts in the country for comparisons, due to our having both immigrant and refuge children there are no other district to compare to. We need people on the board who understand that uniqueness.

Much of Driscoll’s money, 35,440k so far, comes from Charter School supporters. Let me tell you what else they’ve been up to in this district. They’ve been aggressively recruiting refuge students to attend charter schools by telling them that the local schools are terrible, if they come to the charter school they’ll play sports for free and get a free I pad. They’ve actually scared many of these parents because they just don’t have the knowledge base to make a true evaluation. Now does that sound like people who want to be part of the public system or people that want their own system?

 I endorse: Jo Ann Brannon

On to District 4. This one has a three way race between Anna Shepherd, the incumbent and the challengers, Pam Swoner and Rhonda Dixon. Lets look at the money here and see if you can tell me who the charter school supported candidate is. Shepherd $2310, Swoner $3200 and Dixon $30600. Little obscene no? Stick around, you’ll see a trend.

The choice here is really between Swoner and Shepherd. In my eyes, it actually comes down to being able to see the flaws in the one you love. Shepherd has been a big supporter of superintendent Dr. Jesse Register and rightly so he’s done great worker. However, there are some fundamental flaws though that need to be corrected. MNPS is not as supportive to their teachers as they could be. They are terrible at communication both internal and external. Ms. Shepherd seems more concerned with the “tone” of the conversation then actually making the central office accountable. Ms. Swoner is not afraid to have hard conversations in order to improve.

Swoner has been a clear underdog from the beginning. Early on people tried to talk her into getting out of the race, out of fear that she would split the vote. I think its commendable that she ignored these voices and just went to work. She’s been tirelessly canvassing and based on her money report seems to be making headway. She is teacher centric and supports policies that are good for all, not just some. At a time when teachers could use a friend….

I endorse: Pam Swoner

District 6 is next on my list. This one has Tyrese Hunter challenging current board chair Cheryl Mayes. What’s interesting here is that Hunter has received the least of the charter supported candidates, $27,372, yet is outwardly the most supportive of charter schools. It’s baffling to me that the schools she supports are mostly of the longer days, more discipline ilk. They are made up of primarily minority students and are markedly different then the schools attended by more affluent students.

I asked John Little, who’s working doggedly on her campaign and who’s a friend, why she would support sending minority children to a school that teaches, eyes front, pay attention don’t talk out of turn while white children populate schools where they are encouraged to be creative and think outside of the box. What does he think the effect would be when the two demographics left school with two different skill sets? Who were going to be the worker bees and who were going to be the overseers? He didn’t have an answer, but I encourage you to ask that question when casting your vote.

Cheryl Mayes, again knows her district and is extremely accessible. She’s exhibited balanced leadership during a very tumultuous time. I don’t always agree with Ms. Mayes but I certainly respect her. She deserves another term.

I endorse: Cheryl Mayes

Lastly, but certainly not least, is district 8. The land of the big money. This district alone has raised over 100k between the two candidates. The incumbent in this district decided not to run, so we have two first timers. Mary Pierce has raised $66,620 while Becky Sharpe has raised $42,070. While its a little more difficult here, I think you can figure out who has the love of the reform crowd.

Watching this race is like watching a college football team compete against an NFL team. Ms. Pierce is personable, engaging, and energetic but Ms. Sharpe is just deeper and more concrete. The skills that she brings to the table are nothing short of jaw dropping. I once heard someone say that if you have to explain why someone is a hall of famer…they’re not. That axiom applies here. Ms Sharpe’s credentials require no explanation. On re-evaluation, this is like watching a Teach for America Corp member teach next to a seasoned teacher.

I endorse: Becky Sharpe

So there you have it. That certainly took a little longer then I anticipated, but hopefully was worth it. Keep in mind that even if you don’t have children in the school system this race is important. The children of today are the shapers of tomorrow. Your future quality of life is directly dependent on the quality of citizens developed. Parties fueled by self interests are obviously trying to buy the outcome.  I’d ask why? Push back. Do your due diligence and most importantly vote.

 

 

Expectations

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10347239_10204315963528155_7264854287909890683_nLast week we took a long deserved vacation to the beach. My wife and two young children piled into the car and headed to Destin for a week of sun and fun. When we got there the kids immediately clamored to head to the pool. This got me thinking about one  of the major tenets of the reform movement, expectations. This would be the perfect opportunity to put the practice of high expectations into play.

The kids had taken a few swim lessons and multiple trips to swimming pools but were not swimmers yet. Here we were at the beach with access to a pool daily for the next seven days, so I all had to do was expect them to become swimmers by weeks end and they would. I mean they had all the tools, all the access, all they needed was someone to just expect them to do it and they would. Kids their age were swimming all over the world. It was time for me to stop holding them back and let them fly.

Well that’s not exactly how it worked out. The more I pushed and tried to enforce a rigorous work ethic the less they wanted to be in the pool. The more I left them alone and just left them to play with their cousins, the more progress they made. My son, who is three, in order to keep up with his cousin developed this little kick along the bottom thing that when coupled with arm movements occasionally would lead to him swimming a foot or two. When I tried to get him to practice getting his butt up so he could actually swim, he’d suddenly lose interest. My insisting didn’t help.

My daughter, who’s five, couldn’t get enough of jumping to me or reaching out grabbing my hands and kicking to me. However, if I moved too far past her comfort zone or demanded she swim to me without grabbing my hands she’d furiously resist and start to shut down. I even said to her, “I expect you to do it.” Her answer, “I expect not.”

By the end of the week they did not learn to swim. They did have a good time and they did show signs of progress. Their love of the pool and water sports in general grew and they got a little more confident in their abilities. So if I look at it in a purely test related, pass or fail evaluation, the outcome was a failure. If I look at it from an overall perspective and in light of where it leaves them for the future, I’d say success.10489775_10204107807124375_3558414212735238736_n

Despite my expectations they are not at a point where they are ready to swim. That’s not underestimating them, its just fact based on observation. In fact we are kind of at a cross roads. I can force the issue and run the risk of having them associate swimming and high stress together for the rest of their lives or I can continue to expose them to the opportunities to learn and encourage them when they make progress. Its my humble opinion that the latter way will lead to a life time of water enjoyment while the other way will make swimming an endless chore. I have no doubt that they will eventually be swimmers but when they tell the story of how that came to be, it will be their accomplishment and not my demands that will be the focus.

That’s the thing about the core tenets of the reform movement. They seem to be formed without actually ever observing any children. It’s like a bunch of adults got together in a room and started deciding how children are supposed to learn and then went out and found evidence to support their theories. So I guess they did observe children, they just did it after the fact. Common Core standards are a prime example. How many child development specialists were consulted? How many classroom teachers? As the Public Educator outlines here (http://thepubliceducator.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/common-core-and-the-suspension-of-child-development/) expectation are not always enough.

The thing about children that adults seem to forget is that they are always learning. Learning is a natural state for them. They might not necessarily be learning the things you deem essential but they are never sitting in a state of not learning. The other thing to remember is that lessons are not isolated. That skills learned through one medium can be applied to other areas and lead to unpredictable places. We adults just need to provide an environment of safety and encouragement. I know that sounds over simplified but the evidence is out there if we just observe without our prejudice.

When I was a child and learning to read I was a comic book junkie. Comic books were not viewed as desirable reading, but I reaped several benefits from them. They stroked a desire to read more that has never left me even as I got older. They were usually rooted in some form of mythology which inspired me to look at the source material for my favorite stories. The characters in Xmen are named Ariel, Prospero and Caliban. All names of characters in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Through my love of comic books I developed a love of Shakespeare.

Comics helped me develop a larger vocabulary and understand the basic constructs of storytelling. The tales are usually moralistic and through them I received a reinforcement for the moral code instilled by my parents. All of this with no expectations and no great demand for rigor. My parents could have expected me to read nothing but short instructional pieces of writing but they recognized the power of reading and developing a lifelong reader. They gave me the freedom to explore and fall in love.

The evidence is not just my own either, look any adult practicing a life long calling. They didn’t get there through drill and kill. Take a look at Todd Marinovich vs Peyton Manning. Marinovich’s father drilled him to be a QB, Manning’s gave him the opportunity to exercise and grow his talents. Which one is going to the Hall of Fame? Look at any person who’s parents tried to mold them for success and you’ll discover a revolution in progress.

Bill Gates’ story itself is a contradiction on the expectations tenet . Nobody sat him down and said, “Learn this computer so you will be college and career ready.” He just happened to be a student at a very wealthy private school that had a computer that he had access to and was allowed to explore at his pace. Through this exposure and lack of enforced rigor he was able to develop a life long passion that has served him well. It seems to me that this is the model we should be attempting to replicate instead of the “no excuses” model.

As a parent I’ve quickly come to realize that we are constantly creating plans that attempt to manipulate who our children will become. Few, if any, of these plans work in the anticipated manner. The longer I go down this path of parenthood the more I start to realize that the only things that consistently seem to work is to model the desired behavior, provide an environment where they can safely explore and not be concerned with failure, and love them unconditionally. I know that competition is important as well but it seems to arrive naturally once they’ve reached a certain level of competency. I don’t need to impose it.

10494866_10204202721017163_3968156733732876474_nThere are nuances to each of those tenets but I think they hold up pretty strongly. I think most teachers know it too and are already practicing them in some form. They may not come with a great slogan or be presented by a bright shiny young person,  but when applied, I think their success rate is their best marketing tool. As John Dewey once said, “The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these. Thus the teacher becomes a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning within the subject area.” I believe that applies to all of us as well.

This Ain’t No Party, This Is No Fooling Around

th6T4B4UFQ“I think that most in the room will agree with me….enough is enough! This is not some sort of game where it’s OK to judge “winning or losing” by which press release or pithy statement gets printed in the newspaper or gets highlighted on the nightly news, or gets the most play on social media. This is not about a campaign to discredit one person or another because they may disagree with you; it should be about, and only be about, what’s best for our school system and developing and maintaining great schools for our children.” Dr. Jesse Register Director of MNPS Schools.

 

Those are among the words that Dr. Register delivered to the Metro Council Education Committee on Thursday in front of city charter operators. (http://onpubliceducation.com/2014/07/10/dr-register-calls-for-civility-formal-cooperation-in-the-education-community/) To say I find them disappointing is an understatement, but Dr. Register is under fire for heading an organization that has done tremendous work yet still fails at basic communication, a failing that has been pointed out to them by more then one entity. Right now, he needs allies and reaching out to charter heads, the Chamber of Commerce and a Mayor who is heavily in the privateer camp is as good a way as any to get it. I get it and take no issue with that. Dr. Register is a good man who has done good work and the job of Superintendent is extremely political. What I do take exception to is the reducing of those who fight for their children’s education as merely participating in “gamesmanship”.

Privateers love to play the “we just have to communicate openly” card. Coupled with, the “we all want the same thing” card they buy themselves time to continue the attack and don’t fool yourself, it is an attack. A well connected and well funded attack. While must prefer to operate in the shadows, there are a few privateers like Chris Barbic and Andy Smarick that have openly admitted that they don’t believe the modern public school system is functional and that it needs to be destroyed and replaced with a new modern choice system. As an example of what the new system would look like they point to NOLA and Denver.

This week the folks of New Orleans got a real close look at what their brand new all Charter system had to offer.(http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/07/hundreds_of_new_orleans_parent_1.html) It wasn’t pretty. Over 500 parents showed up to exercise their right to choice and discovered that just like everything else that privateers pitch it was an illusion. These parents waited for hours in the hot Louisiana sun to try and participate, only to be told come back another day. Another day to arrange transportation and child care. Another day of lost work. That’s their choice.

Take a look at Denver. (http://kaplanforkids.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/blog-launch-redux/) Denver is a city well on the way to looking like NOLA. The numbers show, fifty seven charter schools (57), seventy five percent (75%) housed in taxpayer owned or leased facilities. Fifty two percent (52%) of taxpayer approved new schools money going to two Charter Management Organizations (CMOs). Forty percent (40%) of schools non-union. Should be a resounding success right? Not so fast. Proficiencies across the district in 2013 are: reading 54%writing 42%, math 46%. growth figures over the last 10 years are 1.25% in reading, 1.5% in Math, 1% in writing. I’ll let you read the rest of statistics on your own but as Charlie Sheen would say, its not “winning”.

Privateers would counter with the argument that I’m just picking and choosing my arguments. That there are bound to be hiccups. Look at all the failings of the traditional system. Why hold charters more accountable then the traditional system? Fair enough, but my answer is that traditional schools are democratically run public institutions. Charters are nothing but sanctioned laboratories and unfortunately these are what the lab rats look like.10394768_10204040588803959_5886361813194689491_n

I’ve got two children that will be entering the public school system. A young man and a young woman who I’ve been charged with the task of ensuring that they become productive citizens. See in the traditional system, I get a say in what constitutes their school as being a successful school. If I don’t believe that they are getting the proper curriculum or that their school is focusing on what I feel is important, I can bond with fellow parents and we can lobby the board to change policies. This year MNPS’s board has already responded on questions of testing, recess and zoning. They’ve been extremely receptive. If they are not, I can help vote them out.

In a Charter system I don’t have that ability to decide what makes a successful school. I’m told what’s important. I’m told what my child needs to become a successful adult. Funny thing is, if you look at curriculums and disciplinary practices, apparently its different based on the level of my income and the color of my children’s skin. The majority of “No Excuses” schools focus on impoverished and EL students. Public schools are a mirror of our society, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that this stratification will not have an effect on our society. We can always tell ourselves that at least those we relegate to second class status will have the ability to read and add well, so we can call it a win.

Please don’t get fooled either by charter operators claims to more successfully serve a high poverty or minority population then traditional schools. First this argument makes the assumption that all poverty and minority children face exactly the same circumstances. It’s ludicrous but that’s the beauty of data, you can throw someone in a sub group and they cease to become human. My other favorite defense is a recent quote by a leading charter operator, “I think one of the biggest worries people have is that charter schools are going to become segregation academies. We are uniquely helpful in helping to address that concern because we are over 90 percent African-American. So we are the opposite of what people fear in the law.” (http://hechingerreport.org/content/q-charter-school-founder-ravi-gupta-opposite-people-fear_16621/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+HechingerReport+%28Hechinger+Report%29)  I presume he said it with a straight face.

I take my responsibility to my “lab rats” extremely serious and since I believe that we are all connected, I want all “lab rats” to have the same opportunities. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings or you feel my tone in not concilatory, but “tone” is the last of my concerns. My singular concern is that my children and their peers are truly prepared for entry into adulthood when its time to make that passage. Because while others are conducting their experiments, my children will be living with those results. That’s not a game to me. That’s not trying to participate in “political one man ship” and if that’s what you believe then you are sadly misinformed.

Recently two charter’s were closed in Nashville. That’s two populations that have had a tremendous amount of disruption entered into their life. Two populations that won’t get the time spent at those institutions back. The warning sign were there for both these schools, but due to the need to have a “civil conversation” their applications were allowed to proceed. There’s another charter that engages in questionable disciplinary tactics but because of the need to maintain the proper “tone” can’t be truly investigated. Perhaps we should worry more about the evidence and less the tone?

Another popular tactic for privateers is to reduce the discussion to singular communities’. As if the evidence from outside districts has no bearing on what will happen in our own community. I often hear, “yea but that’s New Orleans” or “That’s Philly. It’ll never happen here.” I can’t but think residents in those communities once heard the same commentary or do you believe they always envisioned their communities to end up where they have? That’s why a reset of the conversation is virtually impossible. The privateer movement never stops moving and churning. It never stops trying to open new markets.

Its a lot like the challenge of Iran and their continued attempt to secure nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders continue to call for more meetings, more diplomatic overtures, more civilized discourse. Meanwhile they keep on building and buying. Eventually they will reach a point where they possess nuclear weapons and then the conversation changes dramatically. Right now there are nuclear weapons aimed at our public school system being amassed. Eventually they will have the capacity to destroy the current system. That’s the reality. That’s why the continued need to push back. Sometimes very aggressively.

10462730_10204116879831187_6147990875454919710_nAgain, my argument is not with Dr. Register nor is it even limited to Nashville. I thank him for the tremendous work that he’s done. I’m also not opposed to continued dialog. However if we are truly going to have a productive “reset” then all parties need to be honest. Until that happens, well, I may just hurt some feelings again. I may not take the proper “tone” but don’t you dare for one minute suspect that its because of political games, preservation of the status quo, or just ill spirited. That would be a serious mistake.

 

 

 

If I Don’t Laugh I’ll Cry

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thTPUTENR3As you may or may not know, Kevin Huffman and John White are in a race to see who can reach Chiefs for Change Emeritus status first. After reading a series of posts by the respected Crazy Crawfish (http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/the-news-just-keeps-getting-worse-for-supt-of-ed-john-white-state-auditor-investigating-possible-payroll-fraud/) I thought John White had the clear advantage. I should not have underestimated the esteemed Kevin Huffman. He’s not going down with out a fight.

Its been a busy couple of weeks. We’ve covered the delayed test scores and the “post-equating”. About 2 week’s ago 15 State representatives sent a letter to Governor Haslam questioning the legality of the commissioners granting of waivers. After all a clause in the recently passed legislation clearly seemed to say he didn’t have that authority. Governor Haslam shrugged and said he hated cheap parlor tricks and that he hadn’t had time to even think about changes to his cabinet due to the upcoming election.

In case it wasn’t clear initially how unconcerned the governor was about the opposition to Mr. Huffman he repeated it to every reporter and TV station that would listen. He reiterated it at every personal appearance he made that week and he bemoaned the fact that these state representatives wrote a letter instead of coming to talk to him. Apparently it slipped his mind how much strong arming he did this past session and that people usually don’t like chatting with people who brow beat them, but it allowed him to play the wounded statesman to the hilt.

It was requested that the State Attorney General take a look at whether the waiver was legal or not. Think back if you will to the release of the quick scores, you’ll remember that they were released at 3 pm on the Friday before Memorial Day. Public Relations agencies like to release bad news late on a Friday or better yet, late on the day before a long weekend. The hope is that not a lot of people will see it or if they do they’ll forget it by Monday. Guess when the AG released the ruling on the legality of Commissioner Huffman’s waivers? The afternoon of July 3rd.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m proven right in a argument against people who have been very critical of me I don’t tell only a few people at 9 o’clock at night. I do it first thing in the morning and I tell everybody who will listen. Apparently the State Attorney General was so sure of his opinion that he slipped it out right before a three day weekend. “Mr. Huffman was perfectly legal in his actions and now I’ve got a BBQ to get to. Talk to you on Monday.” It makes absolutely no sense to not wait until Monday to share the opinion if its a solid opinion. Why not offer that voice of support when the most people will hear it and discuss it?

Lets make no mistake either, the man needs the support. There are numerous petitions out circulating with calls for his resignation. These petitions have garnered thousands of signatures, not that the governor is paying attention. There is a daily call for action from every corner of the education field in Tennessee, even though Mr.. Huffman is also taking things in stride, “Anytime you get critics like that, you have to take it seriously. My focus is on doing my job, and my focus is on trying to get ready for next school year. And I think things that are distractions from getting ready for next school year don’t really help anybody,”  Luckily he has friends that won’t sit by idly.

A petition has been created to show support for the Commissioner. In just a couple days it has garnered 336 signature. Almost reaching its stated goal of 500. Though, as the well established blogger Sean Braisted points out, “the petition suffers from low expectations. How can they achieve more if they only expect 500 signatures?” I’ve got to agree. Why not a goal of 5000. After all you’ve got all the folks at TFA, the Charter Incubator, SCORE, TEAM who’ve either directly or indirectly financially benefited from Mr. Huffman. They could at least do him a solid.

Lets take a look at that petition, pull some names, put them into google and see what comes up. There’s Justin Testerman, according to Goggle he’s Chief Operating Officer at Tennessee Charter School Center. How about Ben Schumacher? According to Linked In, Senior Managing Director of Strategy and Leadership Development at Teach for America. Derik Ohanian? He’s a Leadership Coaching Consultant for…Tennessee Department of Education. Meghan Koo? She’s a talent recruiter for Teach for America in Arizona. Derwin Sisnett? He’s the CEO for Gestalt Community Schools. I could go on all day and the results would be the same. A veritable who’s who of the privatization movement.

This would be comical if it wasn’t so damn serious. As I’ve mentioned before, my wife is a teacher. TVASS scores came out while we were on vacation. What happened in our house is similar to what happened in households all across the state of Tennessee. Phones rang and text notifications went off. Damn good teachers who had previously been fours and fives were now finding out that they were threes and two’s. Some even found out that they were ones.  These were good dedicated teachers that were being told that they weren’t doing their job based on some opaque junk science model pushed by the Tennessee Department of Education.

I expressed how much I despised the system to my wife and she bit my head off. “That’s fine, but this isn’t some mental exercise. This is mine and my friends lives. It’s the system we have and we have to live with the consequences. We don’t have the luxury of debating its merits or drawbacks. Right now the consequences aren’t good.” Talk about the cold slap back of reality. She’s right though and that’s what takes the humor out of this whole situation.

We all want what’s best for the children. We all want to prepare them the best we can for the future. We need to remember though, that all across Tennessee and the United States, there are people who have dedicated their lives to this task. They have made sacrifices to further their education to prepare for this calling. They’ve sacrificed time and luxuries for their families in order to meet the challenges. They can’t just walk away from things for awhile because they’re tired of all the rhetoric. They’ve got to show back up everyday with a cheerful face and put aside fears for the future and wounds from the present to make sure their charges receive the best they have to give.

They give like this over and over everyday while you and I debate tenure laws. They face children who suffer in crippling poverty while the debate of poverty as an excuse rages on twitter. They try to educate children who barely speak English and some who are actual refugees while critics push an ulterior agenda against the role of the union. It’s insane and its got to stop. We need to stop saying how important teachers are while we take a match to our best ones.

Mr. Huffman likes to say change ruffles feathers or to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs. Well our teachers are not birds or eggs. They are very real people. People who deserve the right to decent lives while sharing the gifts they’ve been blessed with. Don’t kid yourself. Teaching is a talent like athletics’, music, art or any other talent. Would you sing for an audience that continued to talk while you performed? I didn’t think so.

This is why the sooner people like John White and Kevin Huffman gain emeritus status the better. Their arrogance leads them to trample over the true dedicated professional. The one that is willing to work in the system with democratic controls to make it better. Instead of the ones whose hubris allows them to ignore elected officials and the will of the public to create their own system to serve those of their choosing instead of all. The ones that have so little respect for the general population that they think they can create petitions with their fellow carny’s and no one will notice. Well we’ve noticed and we want it to stop. 

It may initially appear that Kevin Huffman is in a strong position. Don’t believe it for one minute. If the Governor was truly not concerned, he would not feel compelled to offer an opinion. If petitions truly were not having an effect, supporters wouldn’t feel compelled to create their own. These actions speak of things getting a little desperate. We just need to keep up the pressure. Let’s make sure Mr. Huffman wins the race against Mr. White.carny2-738484