Archive for July, 2013

July 30, 2013

Call For UN Intervention Against Human Rights Disaster Facing Chicago Schools

Chicago groups demand inquiry into discrimination, violence, and erosion of education and democracy

By Sarah Lazare, Published July 29, 2013 by commondreams.org

Chicago human rights advocates are demanding a United Nations investigation into the human rights abuses stemming from the closure of 49 public schools throughout the city.

The Midwest Coalition for Human Rights—a coalition of over 50 social justice organizations, service providers, and university centers, sent a “letter of allegation” to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Switzerland, written by University of Chicago law professor Sital Kalantry with wide community input.

The letter charges that the mass school shutdown stands in direct violation of multiple human rights treaties of which the US is a signatory, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The closing of 49 public schools in Chicago implicates the human rights of children, their parents and guardians to non-discrimination and equality, to be free from violence, to education, and to participate in public policy decisions,” the letter reads.

The closures violate prohibition of discrimination, because “African American children make up 42% of the students in Chicago’s public schools, but 80% of the children impacted by the school closures are African American,” the letter declares.

Read more: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/07/29-5

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July 27, 2013

How much time do school districts spend on standardized testing? This much.

By Valerie Strauss |Published July 25 2013 by The Answer Sheet

Exactly how much standardized testing are school districts subjecting students to these days? A nearly staggering amount, according to a new analysis.

Testing More, Teaching Less: What America’s Obsession with Student Testing Costs in Money and Lost Instructional Time,” released by the American Federation of Teachers, looks closely at two unnamed medium-sized school districts — one in the Midwest and one in the East — through the prism of their standardized testing calendars.

Standardized testing has become the focus of modern school reform since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind law in 2002, and continuing through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education initiative. Over the years, the time taken up by test prep and testing has risen, as have the costs and the lost instructional time.

The grade-by-grade analysis of time and money invested in standardized testing found that test prep and testing absorbed 19 full school days in one district and a month and a half in the other in heavily tested grades. The Midwestern district spent $600 or more for standardized testing per pupil in grades 3-8;  about $200 per student for grades K-2; from $400 to $600 per student for grades 9-11. The Eastern district spent more than $1,100 annually on testing per student in grades 6-11; around $400 per student in grades 1-2; between $700 and $800 per student for grades 3-5.

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/07/25/how-much-time-do-school-districts-spend-on-standardized-testing-this-much/

July 25, 2013

Public School Teachers: New Unions, New Alliances, New Politics

By Michael D. Yates | Published 24 July 2013 by truth-out.org

The U.S. working class was slow to respond to the hard times it faced during and after the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Finally, however, in February, 2011, workers in Wisconsin began the famous uprising that electrified the country, revolting in large numbers against Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to destroy the state’s public employee labor unions.  A few months later, the Occupy Wall Street movement, which supported many working class efforts, spread from New York City to the rest of the nation and the world. Then, in September 2012, Chicago’s public school teachers struck, in defiance of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s attempt to destroy the teachers’ union and put the city’s schools firmly on the path of neoliberal austerity and privatization.

These three rebellions shared the growing awareness that economic and political power in the United States are firmly in the hands of a tiny minority of fantastically wealthy individuals whose avarice knows no bounds. These titans of finance want to eviscerate working men and women, making them as insecure as possible and wholly dependent on the dog-eat-dog logic of the marketplace, while at the same time converting any and all aspects of life into opportunities for capital accumulation.

The public sector is still, despite the effort of capital to dismantle it, the one sanctuary people have against the depredations of the 1 percent. Through struggle, working men and women have succeeded in winning a modicum of health care and retirement security, as well as some guarantee that their children will be educated, all irrespective of the ability to pay for these essential services. They have also found decent employment opportunities in government, especially women and minorities. The public sector, then, is a partial barrier to the expansion of capital in that it both denies large sums of money to capitalists (social security funds, for example) and protects the workers in it from the vagaries of the labor market.

Read more: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/17756-public-school-teachers-new-unions-new-alliances-new-politics

July 24, 2013

‘Crack baby’ study ends with unexpected but clear result

By Susan FitzGerald | Published July 22, 2013 by The Philadelphia Inquirer

Excerpt:

The team has kept tabs on 110 of the 224 children originally in the study. Of the 110, two are dead – one shot in a bar and another in a drive-by shooting – three are in prison, six graduated from college, and six more are on track to graduate. There have been 60 children born to the 110 participants.

The years of tracking kids have led Hurt to a conclusion she didn’t see coming.

“Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine,” Hurt said at her May lecture.

Read more: http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-22/news/40709969_1_hallam-hurt-so-called-crack-babies-funded-study

July 22, 2013

Indiana’s Anti-Howard Zinn Witch-hunt

By Bill Bigelow | Published July 18, 2013 by The Zinn Education Project

Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, one of the country’s most widely read history books, died on January 27, 2010. Shortly after, then-Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels got on his computer and fired off an email to the state’s top education officials: “This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away.”

But Gov. Daniels, now president of Purdue University, was not content merely to celebrate Howard Zinn’s passing. He demanded that Zinn’s work be hunted down in Indiana schools and suppressed: “The obits and commentaries mentioned his book ‘A People’s History of the United States’ is the ‘textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.’ It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”

We know about Gov. Daniels’ email tantrum thanks to the Associated Press, which obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Scott Jenkins, Daniels’ education advisor, wrote back quickly to tell the governor that A People’s History of the United States was used in a class for prospective teachers on social movements at Indiana University.

Daniels fired back: “This crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state. No student will be better taught because someone sat through this session. Which board has jurisdiction over what counts and what doesn’t?”

After more back and forth, Daniels approved a statewide “cleanup” of what earns credit for professional development: “Go for it. Disqualify propaganda and highlight (if there is any) the more useful offerings.”

Daniels recently defended his attack on Zinn’s work, telling the Associated Press, “We must not falsely teach American history in our schools.” In a letter posted on his Purdue University webpage, Daniels claimed that, “the question I asked on one day in 2010 had nothing to do with higher education at all.” Daniels should go back and read his own emails.

There are so many disturbing aspects to this story, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Read more: http://zinnedproject.org/2013/07/indianas-anti-howard-zinn-witch-hunt/

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July 21, 2013

Video: Study Links High Stakes Testing to Higher Incarceration Rates

Published July 19 2013 by The Real News Network

July 20, 2013

How Mass Civil Disobedience at a Seattle High School Catalyzed the ‘Education Spring’

By | Published July 1 2013 by Good.is

Excerpt:

This victory against a standardized test represents a high stakes test for corporate education reformers who have attempted to reduce the intellectual process of teaching and learning to selecting answer choices, A, B, C, or D. Their entire project of denying students graduation, firing teachers, closing schools, and privatizing education through the proliferation of charter schools rests on their ability to reduce teachers and students to a single score. Our ability in Seattle to unite students, parents, and teachers in a movement for a more meaningful and empowering education is a threat to their whole project.

In an effort to demonstrate what authentic assessment could be, educators in Seattle established a Teacher Work Group on Assessment, which engaged in months of research resulting in the “Markers of Quality Assessment” (PDF)—recommended guidelines for developing assessments. The guidelines promote assessments that reflect actual student knowledge and learning, not just test-taking skills; are educational in and of themselves; are free of gender, class and racial bias; are differentiated to meet students’ needs; allow opportunities to go back and improve; undergo regular evaluation and revision by educators.

Read more: http://www.good.is/posts/how-mass-civil-disobedience-at-a-seattle-high-school-catalyzed-the-education-spring

July 4, 2013

Beating the Neoliberal Blame Game: Teacher and Parent Solidarity and the 2012 Chicago Teachers’ Strike

By | Published in of the Monthly Review

It was Monday afternoon on the first day of the historic Chicago teachers’ strike. The streets surrounding the downtown headquarters of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were quickly filling up. Red-shirted teachers, paraprofessionals, students, parents, and community groups arrived in waves smiling, hugging, and chanting, some arm-in-arm, while others held up the now-familiar Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) signs that read, “On Strike, for Better Schools,” as well as witty homemade posters such as, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

This was the first massive demonstration of the strike. I arrived downtown a little early to meet other parents eager to show support for the incoming teachers and school workers. We certainly were not alone. Numerous parents, students, and community members turned out to stand with more than 26,000 teachers and paraprofessionals (many of whom are also parents of CPS students) who were taking a courageous stand not only for their dignity and rights, but also for a just and equitable education for their students. My sign was hastily made that morning on the sidewalk in front of my children’s school where my family and I picketed with our teachers. All it said was “Parents Support Teachers,” but the reaction from incoming strikers to this simple show of solidarity was incredible. Many shouted, “Thank you parents,” “that means so much to us,” and “way to go parents.” Others snapped pictures, clapped, or held their fists in the air.

Soon the streets were jam-packed, overflowing with red as thousands of people continued to march toward CPS headquarters. It was at this point that I felt the power of this historic moment. Chicago teachers and paraprofessionals in solidarity with communities across the city were posing one of the most formidable challenges to neoliberal education policies that are privatizing public education, undermining the teaching profession, intensifying racial and economic inequities across the district, and dehumanizing the children in our public schools. These damaging policies have gained traction in part because of the neoliberal blame game in education, where corporate and political elites are writing the rules and faulting teachers and parents for the complex problems facing public schools. The power of solidarity exemplified in the Chicago Teachers Union strike has changed the rules in this neoliberal blame game.

Read more: http://monthlyreview.org/2013/06/01/beating-the-neoliberal-blame-game

July 2, 2013

When “Teachers Want What Children Need”: Reconciling Tensions in Teachers’ Work and Teacher Unionism

By | Published in of the Monthly Review

“Teachers want what children need—or do they?” Questioning—and rejecting—the slogan used by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to fight for collective bargaining in the 1960s, David K. Cohen, a contributor to Socialist Revolution, in 1969 dismissed the progressive potential of teachers’ unions.1 This article revisits the AFT’s slogan and Cohen’s question, examining tensions between “what teachers want” and “what children need.” The history of U.S. teacher unionism supports the argument that when teachers’ unions adopt a “social movement” orientation and press against the confines of the scope of bargaining embedded in collective-bargaining agreements, the unions minimize tensions between teachers’ rights to organize as workers in defense of their material interests and the unique political and social responsibilities of their work.

Though not apparent from either the capitalist mass media or many critiques of what has come to be called “corporate school reform,” the fate of the world’s children depends in great part on resistance from teachers and their unions. We in the United States are experiencing a version of a global project that financial and political elites began forty years ago when they imposed school reform on Latin America, Africa, and Asia, first under brutal military dictatorships supported by U.S. imperialism and then as a quid pro quo for economic aid. Though well-documented by scholars and activists in the global South, the project (and resistance to it) is still not well-known in this country.2 Specifics differ from one country to another, yet its program has the same footprint and purpose of making schools fit neoliberalism’s vision of what the world needs: vocationalization of schooling, privatization of the educational sector, and deprofessionalization of teaching. All of this is tied to reliance on standardized tests as the exclusive measure of students, teachers, and schools.3

The powerful elites who share information and policies across international borders understand (unfortunately, better than do most teachers) that despite their all-too-glaring problems, teachers’ unions are the main impediment to the full realization of the neoliberal project. As is true for labor unions generally, teacher unionism’s principles of collective action and solidarity contradict neoliberalism’s key premises—individual initiative and competition. Neoliberalism pushes a “survival of the fittest” mentality. Labor unions presume people have to work together to protect their common interests. Another reason unions are a threat is that they can exercise institutional power: as organizations they have legal rights; because of their institutional roots, they are a stable force; and they are able to draw on membership dues, giving them a regular source of income. These characteristics give teachers’ unions an organizational capacity seldom acquired by advocacy groups or parents, who generally graduate from activity in schools along with their children. Yet, the very factors that make unions stable and potentially powerful also induce hierarchy and conservatism. Neither unions as organizations nor union members as individuals are immune to prejudices that infect a society, even when these prejudices contradict the union’s premises of equality in the workplace.

Read more: http://monthlyreview.org/2013/06/01/when-teachers-want-what-children-need

July 2, 2013

The solution to US public schools is not corporate America

We’re slashing K-12 funding and teachers and then turning our schools over to private operators. This is hardly good ‘reform’

By | Published 24 June 2013 by guardian.co.uk

Excerpt:

This crisis, which has persisted as disparate local debates, may soon coalesce into a national conflict. The schools hurt the most are those that have long been underfunded, segregated institutions struggling to educate poor black and Latino students. But today’s cuts are reaching into working- and middle-class towns and suburbs, and turning schools across the country into dreary, boring, arts and creativity bereft boot camps for standardized test preparation.

In Seattle, hundreds of students and teachers refused to take or administer high-stakes standardized tests. This after Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others were indicted as part of a investigation that concluded a culture that accepted “no exceptions and no excuses for failure to meet targets” was at the root of widespread test cheating.

In New York, mayoral candidates have made the criticism of Michael Bloomberg’s school reform agenda a centerpiece of their campaign. In Philadelphia, mass student walkouts have protested the “doomsday” budget and hunger strikers are pledging to refuse food until more than 1,200 aides critical to school safety are rehired.

Most importantly, striking Chicago teachers created a new model for defending public schools in 2012. Educators received widespread public support after building strong community coalitions, and making it clear they fought not only for parochial job interests but also for fair funding, rich curricula and for schools as community institutions.

The reform movement perceives economic crisis as an opportunity to exploit for political gain. But the movement may have overplayed its hand, as increasing numbers of students, parents and teachers identify education austerity with the bipartisan prophets of “school choice”.

Read more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/24/us-public-schools-budget-crisis