Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Obama Administration- and the Democratic Party's- War On Teachers:

One of the most disturbing legacies of the Obama Administration's 7 years in office, which it shows every sign of continuing through its nomination of John King to be Secretary of Education, has been its war on the nation's public school teachers and on public education generally.

The President hit the ground running with this attack by appointing Arne Duncan, someone with no teaching experience, as Secretary of Education and set the tone for his Administration, shortly after his election, by praising the mass firing of teachers in Central Falls Rhode Island who refused to agree to dramatic modifications of their contract to lengthen the school day.

The attack escalated with the unveiling of Race to the Top, which gave huge grants to states who rated teachers on the basis of student test schools, closed schools designated as "failing"- also on the basis of test scores- and gave preference to charter schools over public schools. It was reaffirmed in subsequent years by the enthusiastic support given by the US Department of Education for the Common Core Standards- which were created with little teacher input, by the Admistration's grants to Teach for America and celebration of "National Charter School Week," and by the systematic exclusion of teachers by education policy bodies created by the administration

Worse yet, Administration's spokesperson in this area, Arne Duncan, took every possible opportunity to attack the nation's public school teachers as poorly trained, poorly qualified and in dire need of replacement by higher achieving students from the nation's top universities.

In the face of this attack, which was echoed throughout the country and turned into policy by Democratic politicians like Rahm Emmanuel, Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy, teacher morale plunged to its lowest levels in recorded history and teacher activism in defense of public education exploded in the form of groups like Save Our Schools, United Opt Out, BATS and Network for Public Education.

But the Obama Administration was, and still is, tone def to these protests. The best sign of this is its current effort to have John King, the most hated education commissioner in the history of New York State, and one who helped generate an Opt Out movement than included well over 200,000 families, as Secretary of Education.

So if anyone wonders why Bernie Sanders is giving Hillary Clinton such a formidable challenge for the Democratic nomination, and why Donald Trump may be elected President, look at how the Obama Administration and the Democratic leadership throughout the country has treated public school teachers, one of the largest groups in the nation's fast shrinking middle class

This shameful story has to be part of the explanation of why insurgent candidates have spoiled the party for Democratic and Republican Party elites.

How Charter School Ads in NYC Have Backfired

Driving home from work today, I heard the latest approval ratings for Mayor DeBlasio on 1010 Wins. His approval ratings are now 58 percent, more than 10 points higher than they were in September. His highest approval ratings were among Black New Yorkers. Over 70 percent approved of his performance; only 12 percent disapproved

Funny, weren't those Black voters the targets of those Hedge Fund financed charter school ads accusing the Mayor of being racist for not supporting a huge expansion of charters in New York City.
Guess that campaign didn't work very well

And I guess that Eva Moskowitz won't be running against him for Mayor in the next election, either in the Democratic primary, or the general election.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Elite Academia's Dirty Little Secret

One of the ironies of my life in the academy is that virtually none of the practices that have made me most successful as a teacher- particularly the intensive individual attention I give my students both when I have them and after they have graduated- have been used to develop institutional practices at my own university or any where else. I have been treated extremely well at Fordham, and given much respect for my scholarship and teaching, but faculty here are NOT encouraged to spend as much time with their students as I do, much less their alumni, out of fear that it might get in the way of their scholarship. And if that is true at Fordham, you can imagine what it is at Yale or the other Ivies. I have received many horror stories from graduate students at these august institutions whose professors hold on to their work for months, never answer their emails, and give them only the most perfunctory attention even after they have been awarded prestigious fellowships to attend these institutions. In a million years i would never treat one of my students, with that kind of disrespect. Yes disrespect, neglect, unanswered emails, papers returned without real comments, are par for the course in many of our high prestige institutions.

I would never exchange my life for one of those professors, even though their salary may be higher than mine and my workload higher. But they, rather than me, are being held up as models of how a successful academic is supposed to comport themselves

That is one of the dirty little secrets of academia. The deep investment in my students careers and academic performance that I pride myself on is perceived as an eccentricity or an anachronism

And maybe that helps explain why so many graduates of elite colleges have so little respect for professors. and the teaching profession generally.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Presidential Prediction That May Upset Many People

I am going to make a prediction that may upset many people, but since it may force people to think outside the box, here goes
If the Republicans confirm President Obama's Supreme Court nominee during the remainder of his term in office, the Republican candidate, probably Donald Trump, will be elected president
If the Republicans obstruct his nominee, Hillary Clinton will be elected President because independent voters and those who will regard Republican obstructionism as a sign of disrespect for the President will mobilize to assure her election even though she is not their preferred candidate.
If you think this is far fetched, please consider this- Because of my teaching philosophy and approach to social media, I have friends and former students all over the country from every point of the political spectrum, who i encourage to express their viewpoints freely. Plus I talk to everyone I meet about politics- neighbors,repair people, people I meet playing tennis and golf, people I run into in stores or when travelling. Because if this, I have a pretty good sense of the mood of the country; As a a result
I predicted both Obama elections
I was telling all my friends as early as New Year's that Donald Trump was likely to be the Republican nonminee even though they all thought I was crazy
So here it is. If Obama's Supreme Court nominee is confimed, Donald Trump will be President. If his nominee blocked, it will be Hillary Clinton
Personally, I am a Bernie Sanders Supporter, but first, I think he will be denied the nomination, and second, if he is nominated, Michael Bloomberg will come in as a 3rd Party candidate.
So that my prediction. I am ready to take side bets on this with those who disagree to supplement my retirement income

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The "Best and the Brightest" Who Have Brought us "School Reform"

In the 1960's journalist David Halberstam wrote a devastating book, entitled "The Best and the Brightest," about the intellectuals and policy makers who developed the strategic rationale for the Vietnam War. Someone could do the same today for the architects of Common Core and Test Based School Reform. So many of the key figures in this initiative- Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, Michelle Rhee, David Coleman of Common Core, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Arne Duncan- attended Ivy League schools. All of them seem to have a couple of things in common- a contempt for the large majority of teachers who attended public universities and received their teacher training in those institutions; and a belief that all policy initiatives to must be heavily "data based."
The goals they set for themselves were ambitious- reducing gaps in educational achievement by race and class and improving the US position in global educational ranking. But they have been no more successful in achieving those goals than their Vietnam Era counterparts were in transforming South Vietnam into a successful independent nation.
And in both cases, the costs to the nation have been immense- a nation divided and a generation of young people traumatized by war in the first instance; a generation of teachers humiliated and a generation of students demoralized in the second.
The lesson: intellectual arrogance and elitism can extract a very high price.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Privatizing What Should Be Public; The True Face of Inequality in Parks and Schools in NYC

During the late 1970's, under pressure from a banker led Emergency Financial Control Board, two important public agencies- the Department of Parks and the Department ( then the Board) of Education made draconian budget cuts that would dramatically change the face of New York City for the next 40 years.
The Parks Department, forced to slash its budget in half, dramatically pared down its staff for maintaining trees, meadows and ball fields and eliminated the position of recreation supervisor ( "parkie) from the thousands of vest pocket parks around the city
The Department of Education eliminated its great after school programs and night centers and shut down the music programs in its middle schools and high schools which served hundreds of thousands of youngsters a year, produced thousands of professional musicians and were the pride of city schools.
These cutbacks had immediate and tragic consequences. Parks and ball fields around the city began to deteriorate, with weeds growing on diamonds and grass rarely cut. And young people were suddenly and shockingly derived of the mentoring and arts and sports instruction they once received in parks and schools. The city became a meaner place, with young people all over set adrift and lacking opportunities they once had.
But not in all neighborhoods. In the city's wealthier communities, especially those adjoining Central Park, private funding stepped into the breach, replacing the services that were cut in parks through the creation of private maintenance organizations, and swelling the coffers of PTA's in schools in wealthy neighborhoods with the funds to support first rate arts and music programs.
Over time, the city ended up with what amounted to a dual park system- on rendered beautiful by the infusion of tens of millions of dollars of private donations- and one doing bare minimum maintenance with a draconian park budget. It also ended up with a dual school system, with some schools, whose PTA's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, having arts programs as good as those which existed before the fiscal crisis, and others having none at all or programs which depended on renewable grants.
If you want to see the difference, just walk around Central Park or Prospect Park and then visit St Mary's or Crotona Parks in the Bronx, or Canarsie Park in Brooklyn, and then visit schools on the East Side of Manhattan and the West Side of Prospect Park before heading off to the Bronx or Southeast Queens.
Today, people take these differences in maintenance and programming for granted, but they did not exist when I was growing up, when children in all public schools had access to great music, sports and after school programs and all parks had comparable maintenance

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Who's Going to Honor Them?

When you praise Teach for America, as President Obama did at TFA's 25th anniversary celebration, for bringing "high quality teachers" into schools in high needs communities, it is an implicit insult to teachers already there who have made this work their lifetime commitment. I wonder how many TFA Corps members assigned to the Bronx are still there, in the same schools, after 5 years have passed?
What about all the great teachers such as Aixa Rodriguez, Alietta Gordon,Carla Cherry and Theresa Massaro who started in the Bronx and have stayed in the Bronx, sometimes under the most adverse conditions
Who is going to honor them? Who is going to recognize their contribution to the children and families of the Bronx?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hamilton: Hip Hop and History- A Magical Combination

When you come back from a show that makes everyone who saw it laugh, cry and want to run to read the history books upon it was based, how can you not love it?
This show takes a figure in American history often seen as secondary to Washington, Jefferson and Madison and pushes him to the forefront as a revolutionary leader, political thinker and nation builder, all while highlighting his character as an immigrant and an orphan in a way that allows the immigrants and orphans of our day to identify more powerfully with the country and its possibilities.
Doing this is nothing less than re-imagining the social contract through art. Think of it as an arts based " People's History of the United States", an affirmation of the United States as a country for ALL its people, dramatized by a cast of brilliant actors and singers in which people of color predominate
And by choosing hip hop as the major art form to do this with-while highlighting key conflicts and crises of the revolutionary era with startling accuracy, it validates every one of us who has used hiphop in our classrooms as a tool to help young people understand the world around them.
For what is hip hop after all- it is poetry and spoken word over a beat, an art form which,at its best, puts the voice of the disfranchised at the forefront and is the ultimate vehicle of the "striver" demanding recognition.
And Hamilton was the ultimate striver. Someone who came from "nothing" to become someone. And what someone he was. Utterly relentless in his ambition, brutally direct and incredibly brilliant., As he rose so did a nation- the nation we inhabit now
And if Hamilton is hip hop in the imagination of this show's creator, so is the terrible ritual that took his life and the life of his son-- the duel,
In this brilliant show, striking analogies between dueling and hip hop battles and "beefs" are a subtext, none more dramatically displayed than in a incredible number "The Ten Dueling Commandments" based on Biggie Smalls "Ten Crack Commandments."
That the machismo and pride that deformed the revolutionary era still live is one of many haunting images you take away from this show.
You cannot see Hamilton without thinking about how the nation in the making shaped the nation we live in now.
And when you add to this conversations about slavery, a haunting love story, friendships formed and friendships betrayed, plus the most incredible singing, dancing, and verbal artistry, you have a show for the ages
And you don't have to know hip hop to love it. I was with seven people aged 67-nearly 90, and they all came away from it filled with joy and wonder, even if none of them "got" the references to Biggie, Lauryn Hill and Grandmaster Flash
What a triumph of imagination, and art, but underlying it all is incredible historical research.
\ Which made this historian very happy.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Why "Competency Based Education' May Be a Greater Danger Than Common Core

There are many things frightening about the latest Big Thing the Feds are pushing - "Competency Based Education" which will have school children as young as kindergarten sitting in front of computers most of their school day and have their skills evaluated on line.

Among the important issues critics have raised are privacy concerns regarding the centralized data collection the system requires; the de-professionalization of teaching as teachers main role is reduced to monitoring students computer usage rather than actually teaching them; the reduction of human interaction with other students and teachers in such away that possibilities for social and emotional learning are destroyed

All of those critiques are powerful- but given the environmental damage in the wake of the Flint water crisis, I have to bring up the issue of the health impact of this kind of pedagogy. Can young children's eyesight be undermined by sitting in front of a computer 6 hours a day when much of their time out of school is spent doing the same thing? Are there dangers of children acquiring carpel tunnel syndrome? Are there skeletal and back injuries that can be acquired by sitting in one place for such a large period of time?

It is really frightening to see how quickly this is being implemented without serious consideration of the Collateral Damage of this pedagogical strategy. It reminds me of the way Common Core was implemented. Especially since huge profits stand to be made by computer manufacturers and software companies- and the cost savings to governments as a result of de-skilling the teaching profession.

So parents need to wake up. Competency Based Education may be a greater danger to their children than Common Core.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Some Criteria for a Model School

1. Children are loved and walk around the school with smiles on their faces
2, Teachers are respected and stay in their jobs for a long time
3. Parents are welcome in the school and are made to feel an integral part of the culture of the school
4. The culture and history of the community the school is located is honored in displays and in what is taught in classes.
5. Arts, physical education, recess and sports are NEVER sacrificed for higher test scores.
6. ELL and Special Needs students are treated with respect and are given the counseling and special attention they need to thrive
7. Students have such a positive experience at the school that they return on a regular basis after they have graduated,
If you think that these features are only found in private schools or schools in affluent middle schools, you need to visit the CASA Middle School in the Bronx where Jamaal Bowman is the principal.
This is not only something that CAN be done in all communities, it is something that MUST be done so that ALL our children can grow up with confidence in their abilities