Archive for June, 2013

June 29, 2013

Why America’s Teachers Are Going Badass and Why Canada’s Need to Consider Doing the Same

By Robert Green

This article appears in the Fall 2013 edition of ‘Our Schools / Our Selves’ published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Following in the tradition of the Arab Spring and ‘Idle No More’, the latest political movement to come to life through the internet’s social networks features a growing number of America’s teachers. Calling itself the Badass Teachers Association (or BAT for Bad Ass Teachers) this Facebook group has shot up to over 17,000 members in a little over a week. It also organized its first mass action: a phone-in campaign calling for the removal of Arne Duncan as federal secretary of education.

Created by Priscilla Sanstead, a parent activist in Oklahoma, Dr. Mark Naisson, an African American Studies professor at Fordham University in New York and Marla 1002816_4381114426306_418079495_nKilfoye, a teacher and parent activist from Long Island, BAT’s mission is:

To give voice to every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality. BAT members refuse to accept assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for real teaching and learning

On his blog, Dr Mark Naisson begins his description of what it means to be a badass teacher as follows:

Badass Teachers teach, love and nurture children everyone has given up on, in good times and bad, children with disabilities, children who have been kicked out of their families, children who can’t sit still, children who have seen unimaginable horrors, children who are homeless, children who are under constant stress, along with children who have happy lives, and happy families. They teach and love them all, and protect and defend them from physical threats and the threat of tests and assessments which humiliate them and destroy their love of learning.

While some may be surprised to see so many teachers speaking out in such a direct fashion, for those that have been following the horror show of corporate education reform that has transformed the US education system over the last decade, such action seems long overdue. This corporate education reform agenda was first introduced on a national scale by George Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ and has since been accelerated by Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ legislation. It has been promoted vigorously by various foundations financed by millionaires and billionaires like Bill Gates and through slick high budget documentaries like ‘Waiting for Superman’. Though its particular manifestations vary from state to state it tends to feature the following three elements:

  1. attacks on the collective bargaining rights of teachers
  2. use of standardized test results (‘performance indicators’) to determine school funding and/or teacher pay (‘merit pay’)
  3. promotion of semi-private charter schools with non-unionized teachers, usually via a discourse focused on the notion of ‘school choice’

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June 25, 2013

Creating a New Model of a Social Union: CORE and the Chicago Teachers Union

By | Published in of the Monthly Review

The success of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike in September 2012 was a stunning rebuke to the forces of privatization and corporate education reform. The defeat of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ambitions to deal a decisive blow against the largest union in Chicago took on national implications precisely due to continued implementation of the school reform model of closing public schools and replacing them with publicly funded but privately run charter schools. Chicago teachers and a majority of the parents of Chicago students fought back against the national basis of this campaign, fronted by Arne Duncan, the former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Obama’s current Secretary of Education, through national programs like Race to the Top.

Three years ago when the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) ran for leadership of the CTU, few would have predicted their ability to turn the union around from six years of do-little leadership into a force capable of taking on a nationally funded, bipartisan “education reform” movement that seemed likely to achieve its goal of weakening and possibly destroying the largest remaining union sector in the United States—public education unions. CORE and the CTU’s success was not due to replacing a weak leadership with a militant one willing to strike, but rather to the creation of a layer of union members in the CTU who saw the struggle as one for what CTU president Karen Lewis calls “the soul of public education.”

I would like to trace the evolution of CORE as a coherent and fundamentally different union leadership that transcended traditional trade-union politics and became the inspiration for a new vision of social unionism. This new model is needed if the union movement is to survive the corporate onslaught, much less expand to champion the needs of the increasingly impoverished working class. Secondly, the articulation of a new type of unionism capable of both mobilizing teachers and reaching out to a community that is underserved by underfunded schools had to be carried out both within the CTU and in the community of parents and students who make up public education in Chicago. There were significant barriers to achieving this melding of trade union demands and the needs of Chicago’s students that had to be overcome during the course of organizing for the strike. A key part of how this was accomplished was by building alliances between the union and the community that involved developing a shared vision of what education should be, and pointing out where it falls short.

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June 24, 2013

School Data Profiteering

by Dan Schneider | Published  June 21, 2013 by Dollars & Sense

When you were a kid and got in trouble at school, did they ever threaten to “put it in your permanent record?” That’s a scary prospect, knowing that the information could be seen forever by anyone with access to it. But what if that record had more in it than just grades and disciplinary problems? What if it included things like when your parents got divorced, or that you had been homeless for a while?

Starting at the end of last year, a nonprofit organization called inBloom began to test new cloud-based software to collect information from student records and use it to individualize the education a student receives. Much of this individualized instruction will come from third-party for-profit companies that will be granted access to students’ data, effectively giving corporations that deal with inBloom free rein to mine student data as they see fit.

A joint venture of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, inBloom has a long list of corporate partners, including Amazon, Dell, and Scholastic (maker of The Magic School Bus and The Magic Treehouse children’s book series). Originally, inBloom was known as the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC), a Gates Foundation- and NewsCorp-backed organization that had been quietly developing a “set of shared technology services” for several years, in order to “connect student data and instructional materials.”

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June 20, 2013

CJAD Teachers Panel Discusses Problems with Provincial Exams, Upcoming School Board Elections and Tips for Summer School

Teachers Catharine Hogan and Robert Green discuss problems with provincial exams, upcoming school board elections and tips for summer school:

Click here to listen

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June 17, 2013

Fighting for Our Classrooms, and for the Human Beings Inside Them

By Richard Eskow | Published 16 June 2013 by

It seems as if the same battle is being fought in every aspect of American society. On one side are the forces of egalitarianism, economic opportunity and self-determination. On the other is a well-funded and entrenched elite bent on hijacking our media, our political process and our institutions for their selfish ends.

Sadly, the classrooms of this country haven’t been spared.

Means and Ends

The Wall Street crowd wants us to think of education in terms of means – which usually means finding ways to spend less – rather than ends.  But when it comes to education, the “ends” are our children. And the means we choose for them, either consciously or through indifference, reveal who we really are as a people.

Perhaps that’s why a new ‘education declaration’ has attracted signatories as diverse as author Dave Eggers; Prof. Robert Reich; education reformer Diane Ravitch; Larry Groce, host of NPR’s Mountain Stage; economist Lawrence Mishel; Prof. Theda Skocpol; and a number of other prominent political, academic, cultural, religious, and educational leaders. (You can sign it too.)

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June 15, 2013

How test scores can be deceiving

By Valerie Strauss | Published June 13, 2013 by The Answer Sheet

Consider this: On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the test that is commonly referred to as “the nation’s report card,” Massachusetts students performed so well that the state ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Sounds good, right? Then consider this:

Massachusetts ranks in the bottom tier of states in progress toward closing the achievement gap for black, Hispanic, and low-income students, and, in fact, has some of the widest gaps in the nation between white and Hispanic students.

This is explained in a new report called “Twenty Years After Education Reform,” just released by Citizens for Public Schools in Massachusetts, a 31-year-old nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. The report looks back on the effects of the 1993 Education Reform Act, passed 20 years ago this month in the state, asking this central question: “Are we closer to our goal of equitable access to a high-quality education for every student?”

The authors conclude that two of the three major reforms launched since the law was passed have “failed to deliver on their promises.” What are they? High-stakes testing and Commonwealth charter schools. The third, a school funding formula designed to further the cause of equity in education, brought in more than $2 billion in state funding to public schools, but is now outdated and needs to be revamped. (It, for example, understates special education costs by $1 billion and has not adjusted for the growth of health insurance costs, the report says.)

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June 13, 2013

The Rebirth of the Chicago Teachers Union and Possibilities for a Counter-Hegemonic Education Movement

By and | Published in of the Monthly Review


For nine days in September, Chicago belonged to the teachers, school paraprofessionals, and clinicians. On September 10, 2012, 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike. It was the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in twenty-five years. While public and private sector unions have taken concessions and capitulated to cuts in wages, benefits, seniority rights, job protections, and much of what was won by the labor movement in the twentieth century, the CTU stood up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Commercial Club of Chicago, and the billionaire hedge-fund managers who have set out to break teachers’ unions and dismantle public education. Chicago was a sea of CTU red. Teachers—and their parent, student, and community supporters—picketed at schools across the city, marched through neighborhood streets, and brought downtown Chicago to a standstill with mass rallies of thousands, day after day. There was no need to defend school entrances against scabs—there were none!

For nine days, the city was a carnival of resistance—subway cars were an opportunity to show off your CTU red. Truck and bus drivers and motorists honked incessantly, not just at teachers massed at schools and on corners, but at anyone walking down the street wearing a teacher solidarity T-shirt. After seventeen years of absorbing the punishing effects of high-stakes tests and top-down accountability that have come to dominate public schools, and are destroying teaching and learning, teachers had had enough—and so had parents and students. After seventeen years of being abused and blamed for everything that is wrong with public education, Chicago teachers were the heroes. Their courage, militancy, and power electrified the country. They were standing up for all of us against the destruction of the public sector and the arrogant concentration of power and wealth that has defined neoliberalism in the United States. Contrary to predictions of both Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials and the mayor, people backed the strike and the union across race, class, and neighborhood boundaries. Polls showed that two-thirds of CPS parents supported the union, despite the hardships the strike caused.

But Chicago has a specific history, and the strike was one battle in a complex and protracted war to defend and transform public education and to rebuild unions on new grounds, as part of a larger battle against neoliberalism. How then do we understand the broader significance of the strike and the potential for a broad social movement in education?

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June 12, 2013

Parents Present Pearson With $38 Million Invoice for Use of Child Labor for Field Tests

Published by Ed Notes Online
New York City – Concerned parents, who wonder why it should be assumed that their children would serve as uncompensated research subjects in a commercial R & D product development process, have drawn up a bill, payable to the people of New York State, for the creator of the stand-alone field tests, Pearson LLC.
To arrive at a “Balance Due” of $37,991,452, parents calculated the value of their children’s free labor, including the opportunity costs of lost instructional time and resources, and added these to the real costs to schools of administering the June tests. They unveiled the invoice at a press conference held in front of Tweed Courthouse on the morning of June 6th. At that time, they also announced that at least 37 New York City schools had parents opt their children out of the tests; on Long Island, more than 30 schools saw test refusals. Organizers were also aware of resistance at 4 schools in the Westchester and Hudson regions. [List of schools at end of this document.]
The design for the invoice, which originally enumerated only the services provided to Pearson by one child, emerged in the lead-up to 2012’s parent-coordinated campaign against the tests.  It encapsulated the resentment parents felt; their children were being inducted into a study without their parents’ informed consent, and without any direct benefit to the students or their schools. “If Pearson wants to use my daughter to ‘field test’ during the school day,” opined Brooklyn parent Johanna Henry, “they will have to pay us, and they need to get in touch with me in order to negotiate a fair price.  I will use the money to provide my child an enjoyable and relevant learning experience.’”
June 10, 2013

Faced with cuts, school boards trim student services

By Janet Bagnall, Published June 7, 2013 by the Montreal Gazette

MONTREAL —  Like a stern headmistress, Education Minister Marie Malavoy warned the province’s school boards last December that on no account should they reduce direct services to students — even though she knew they were struggling to cope with $500 million in budget cuts.

The boards faced a limited number of choices: raise school taxes, never a popular move; find other places to cut; or go ahead and cut services to students, Johanne Pomerleau, president of the Fédération des professionnelles et professionnels de l’éducation du Québec, said on Friday. Unfortunately, the least palatable of the choices — cutting direct services to students — is precisely what some school boards have chosen to do, Pomerleau said

The federation recently surveyed a number of school boards to see what their plans are for the coming school year. Nine of the province’s 69 boards have already made, or will have made, cuts to specialized staff by August, the start of the 2013-14 school year, Pomerleau said. Specialized staff includes psychologists, speech therapists, social workers and guidance counsellors.

June 6, 2013

New data shows school “reformers” are full of it

By | Published Jun 3, 2013 by

In the great American debate over education, the education and technology corporations, bankrolled politicians and activist-profiteers who collectively comprise the so-called “reform” movement base their arguments on one central premise: that America should expect public schools to produce world-class academic achievement regardless of the negative forces bearing down on a school’s particular students. In recent days, though, the faults in that premise are being exposed by unavoidable reality.

Before getting to the big news, let’s review the dominant fairy tale: As embodied by New York City’s major education announcement this weekend, the “reform” fantasy pretends that a lack of teacher “accountability” is the major education problem and somehow wholly writes family economics out of the story (amazingly, this fantasy persists even in a place like the Big Apple where economic inequality is particularly crushing). That key — and deliberate — omission serves myriad political interests.

For education, technology and charter school companies and the Wall Streeters who back them, it lets them cite troubled public schools to argue that the current public education system is flawed, and to then argue that education can be improved if taxpayer money is funneled away from the public school system’s priorities (hiring teachers, training teachers, reducing class size, etc.) and into the private sector (replacing teachers with computers, replacing public schools with privately run charter schools, etc.). Likewise, for conservative politicians and activistprofiteers disproportionately bankrolled by these and other monied interests, the “reform” argument gives them a way to both talk about fixing education and to bash organized labor, all without having to mention an economic status quo that monied interests benefit from and thus do not want changed.

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June 4, 2013

BC Teachers Federation scores landmark victory in academic freedom and freedom of expression

By | Published May 27, 2013 by The Institute for Critical Education Studies

Well, it turns out that Dr. Seuss’s initial impression during the war that you can’t achieve a substantial victory out of turtles turns out to be wrong! This past week, after 3 years or a decade, depending how its measured, the BC Teachers’ Federation scored one of the most substantial court victories in academic and intellectual freedom for teachers in the last thirty years. The victory provides a substantial defense of educators’ civil liberties and free expression, critical education methods of instruction. And what’s more, it is a significant victory for students’ rights to critical content in the schools.

On 21 May, the BC Court of Appeal released its decision on the BCTF v. BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) / Board of Education of School District No. 5.  The case concerned “the extent to which teachers’ expression of political views on education issues in public schools is protected freedom of expression under s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:”

The political expressions in issue were messages critical of specific government education policies, contained on posters posted on classroom doors and school bulletin boards, and on buttons worn by teachers. Pursuant to a directive from the school district that political posters and information should not be displayed in school hallways, classrooms, or on school grounds, some principals told teachers to stop displaying the posters and wearing the buttons.

This case dates specifically to January 2009, when campaign materials, such as posters and buttons, were circulated by the BCTF to teachers across the province. On 23 April 2009, the Director of Instruction and HR from School District No. 5 (Southeast Kootenay) forwarded a directive principals in the district advising them that the BCTF’s political materials had no place on school grounds other than the staff room. On 1 May 2009, the Cranbrook and Fernie Teachers’ Association forwarded a note to the Director advising that it disagreed with the 23 April directive.  Following a grievance filed by the BCTF, an arbitrator heard the case in March 2010 and denied the grievance, awarding in favour of the BCPSEA in October 2011.

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June 3, 2013

Do the Best Professors Get the Worst Ratings?

Do students give low ratings to teachers who instill deep learning?

by Nate Kornell Ph.D. | Published on May 31, 2013 by Psychology Today

My livelihood depends on what my students say about me in course evaluations. Good ratings increase my chances for raises and tenure. By contrast, there is no mechanism in place whatsoever to evaluate how much my students learn–other than student evaluations (and, here at Williams, peer evaluations). So is it safe to assume that good evaluations go hand in hand with good teaching?

Shana Carpenter, Miko Wilford, Nate Kornell (me!), and Kellie M. Mullaney recently published a paper that examined this question. Participants in the study watched a short (one minute) video of a speaker explaining the genetics of calico cats. There were two versions of the video. 

  • In the fluent speaker video, the speaker stood upright, maintained eye contact with the camera, and spoke fluidly without notes. 
  • In the disfluent speaker video, the speaker stood behind the desk and leaned forward to read the information from notes. She did not maintain eye contact and she read haltingly.

The participants rated the fluent lecturer as more effective. They also believed they had learned more from the fluent lecturer. But when it came time to take the test, the two groups did equally well.

As the study’s authors put it, ‘Appearances Can Be Deceiving: Instructor Fluency Increases Perceptions of Learning Without Increasing Actual Learning.” Or, as Inside Higher Ed put it, when it comes to lectures, Charisma Doesn’t Count, at least not for learning. Perhaps these findings help explain why people love TED talks.

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June 2, 2013

The debate over standardized testing in schools is as divisive as ever

By Rachel Giese and Caroline Alphonso | Published May 31 2013 by The Globe & Mail


Others remain unconvinced. Large-scale tests “are asked to assess too many things,” argues Daniel Laitsch, an associate professor of education at Simon Fraser University. He feels that, no matter what the stated purpose, they are meant to measure, along with student achievement, that of teachers, schools, curriculum and entire jurisdictions as well, which stretches their validity in appraising any of them.

In fact, Prof. Laitsch calls testing students “an atrocious way to evaluate teacher effectiveness, without any research to support the theory.”

Toronto resident Maxeen Paabo agrees and has decided that her son will not participate in this year’s Grade 3 tests. She researched the issue, and reached her conclusion even before the school year began.

“I think the way it is now and the way it’s being used politically is wrong, and it’s a misuse of resources,” she says.

“What the ministry [of education] said is that it is used on a student level, on a class level and on a school level to make improvements. But my understanding on the ground is that that isn’t really happening, that teachers’ regular classroom assessments are doing all that work.”


And does it really keep the system on track? In fact, the correlation between standardized testing and achievement appears to be fuzzy. With myriad factors affecting the education system – among them demographic and economic changes, fluctuation in education budgets, shifts in curriculum – it’s impossible to say unequivocally that where scores have gone up, it’s in any way because of standardized tests.

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June 1, 2013

Everything You’ve Heard About Failing Schools Is Wrong

By | September/October 2012 Issue of Mother Jones


The surprises began almost right away. Judging from what I’d read about “troubled” schools, I’d expected noisy classrooms, hallway fights, and disgruntled staff. Instead I found a welcoming place that many students and staff called “family.” After a few weeks of talking to students, I failed to find a single one who didn’t like the school, and most of the parents I met were happy too. Mission’s student and parent satisfaction surveys rank among the highest in San Francisco.

One of the most diverse high schools in the country, Mission has 925 students holding 47 different passports. The majority are Latino, African American, and Asian American, and 72 percent are poor. Yet even as the school was being placed on the list of lowest-performing schools, 84 percent of the graduating class went on to college, higher than the district average; this year, 88 percent were accepted. (Nationally, 32 percent of Latino and 38 percent of African American students go to college.) That same year, Mission improved Latinos’ test scores more than any other school in the district. And while suspensions are skyrocketing across the nation, they had gone down by 42 percent at Mission. Guthertz had seen dropout rates fall from 32 percent to 8 percent. Was this what a failing school looked like?