Friday, September 30, 2011

Jamie Fidler of American Teacher on Democracy Now

I am writing to you because I thought you would be interested in a recent Democracy Now! report on the documentary "American Teacher" which opens in select theaters today.

Democracy Now! spoke with Vanessa Roth, the film?s Academy Award-winning director, and with Brooklyn first-grade public school teacher, Jamie Fidler, who is featured in the film. Roth discussed how the film aims to accurately represent the hardships faced by public school teachers. She also criticized the media for maligning teachers despite the great difficulties they face in their profession which are otherwise absent from the discussion about educational reform in mainstream discourse.

When you have a chance, please take a moment to watch the interview and read the transcript. A link for the interview is provided below. I have also provided the embed code if you would like to post the video of the interview on your website or social networking sites today.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

My Best,

Anton Woronczuk
Social Media and Online Outreach Intern
Democracy Now!


?American Teacher": New Film Rebuts Vilification of Underpaid, Dedicated Public School Teachers



Unions Begin to Wake Up to Wall Street Protests

NYC Transit Union Joins Occupy Wall Street

First Posted: 9/29/11 12:39 PM ET Updated: 9/29/11 04:56 PM ET

New York City labor unions are preparing to back the unwieldy grassroots band occupying a park in Lower Manhattan, in a move that could mark a significant shift in the tenor of the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street protests and send thousands more people into the streets.
The Transit Workers Union Local 100's executive committee, which oversees the organization of subway and bus workers, voted unanimously Wednesday night to support the protesters. The union claims 38,000 members. A union-backed organizing coalition, which orchestrated a large May 12 march on Wall Street before the protests, is planning a rally on Oct. 5 in explicit support. And SEIU 32BJ, which represents doormen, security guards and maintenance workers, is using its Oct. 12 rally to express solidarity with the Zuccotti Park protesters.
"The call went out over a month ago, before actually the occupancy of Wall Street took place," said 32BJ spokesman Kwame Patterson. Now, he added, "we're all coming under one cause, even though we have our different initiatives."
The protests found their genesis not in any of the established New York social action groups but with a call put out by a Canadian magazine. While other major unions beyond the TWU have yet to officially endorse Occupy Wall Street, more backing could come as early as this week. Both the New York Metro Area Postal Union and SEIU 1199 are considering such moves.
Jackie DiSalvo, an Occupy Wall Street organizer, says a series of public actions aimed at expressing support for labor -- from disrupting a Sotheby's auction on Sept. 22 to attending a postal workers' rally on Tuesday -- have convinced unions that the two groups' struggles are one.
"Labor is up against the wall and they're begging us to help them," said DiSalvo, a retired professor at Baruch College in her late 60s who has emerged as a driving force in the effort to link up labor and the protests. DiSalvo is herself a member of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents teachers at the City University of New York.
Recent anti-labor actions like Scott Walker's in Wisconsin "really shocked the unions and moved them into militant action," DiSalvo said, and the inflammatory video of a NYPD deputy inspector pepper-spraying several protesters on Saturday also generated union sympathy.
"There's a lot of good feeling. They've made a lot of friends," said Chuck Zlatkin of the postal union.
When a band of about 100 protesters showed up at a postal workers' rally featuring Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday, complete with purple hair and big drums, "they went a long way towards touching people and making connections," Zlatkin observed.
If unions move to support the protests in a major way, that could mean thousands more people marching in Lower Manhattan. Thus far the protesters have not managed to come near the 10,000 or so who attended the unrelated May 12 march on Wall Street. The Strong Economy for All Coalition, which receives support from the United Federation of Teachers, the Working Families Party, plus SEIU 32BJ and 1199, previously helped put together that demonstration. Now they will be rallying for the grassroots group.
"Their fight is our fight," director Michael Kink said. "They've chosen the right targets. We also want to see a society where folks other than the top 1 percent have a chance to say how things go."
Asked if the union support could dilute the message of the Occupy Wall Street protesters -- which has itself been dismissed as incoherent -- organizer DiSalvo said the rag tag group's stance would remain unchanged.
"Occupy Wall Street will not negotiate watering down its own message," she said, union support or not.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Corporate Assault on Public Ed

Corporate Media and Larry Summers Team Up to Gut Public Education: Beyond Education for Illiteracy, Vulgarity and a Culture of Cruelty

Publication Date: 2011-09-29
This is from Truthout, Sept. 27, 2011.

NOTE: This article is based on the preface of Henry A. Giroux's latest book, Education and the Crisis of Public Values: Challenging the Assault on Teachers, Students and Public Education (Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education), published by Peter Lang Publishing; First printing edition (July 30, 2011).

Also NOTE: When Brownsville won the Broad prize for best urban district, jurors included Lou Gerstner of IBM, Lawrence Summers, who's done such a good job with advice on the economy, and Rod Paige. On the same day the District won the Broad award, Texas authorities announced that the district had failed to meet achievement targets for two years under the federal No Child Left Behind law. More recently, NBC chose Summers to give the keynote address at its Education Nation event.

Maybe Giroux uses the word "conservative" a tad bit too often. Neo-liberals are our curse.
by Henry A. Giroux

Since the early 1970s, the rich, corporate power brokers and right-wing cultural warriors realized that education was central to creating a viable populist movement that served their interests. Over the last 40 years, the financial elites and their wealthy accomplices have not only mobilized an educational anti-reform movement in the name of "reform" to dismantle public education and turn it over to hedge-fund managers and billionaires; they have also taken a lesson from the muckrakers, critical public intellectuals, left-wing journals, progressive newspapers and educational institutions of the mid-20th century and developed their own cultural apparatuses, talk shows, anti-public intellectuals, think tanks and grassroots organizations. As the left slid into organizing around mostly single-issue movements since the 1980s, the right moved in a different direction, mobilizing a range of educational forces and wider cultural apparatus as a way of addressing broader ideas that appealed to a wider public and issues that resonated with their everyday lives. Tax reform, the role of government, the crisis of education, family values and the economy, to name a few issues, were wrenched out of their progressive legacy and inserted into a context defined by the values of the free market, an unbridled notion of freedom and individualism and a growing hatred for the social contract.

At the heart of this movement was a culture of cruelty and vulgarity that used education to produce a new form of political illiteracy in which there was no difference between opinions and arguments, reason and emotion and evidence and false statements. In this culture of illiteracy, science became a liability, thinking became an act of stupidity, anti-intellectualism became a virtue, social protections were described as a pathology and the social contract was dismissed as socialism. While social critic Michael Kazin does not mention the notions of education or public pedagogy in a recent New York Times article, he is right in stressing the centrality of education to the current right-wing-Christian-extremists takeover of almost every aspect of political and economic life in America - extending from the Supreme Court to the federal government to the dominant media-cultural educational apparatus. He writes: "Like the left in the early 20th century, conservatives built an impressive set of institutions to develop and disseminate their ideas. Their think tanks, legal societies, lobbyists, talk radio and best selling manifestos have trained, educated and financed two generations of writers and organizers. Conservative Christian colleges both Protestant and Catholic, provide students with a more coherent worldview than do the more prestigious schools led by liberals. More recently, conservatives marshaled media outlets like Fox News and the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal to their cause."(1)

Education has become the political weapon of choice for conservatives, and they have had astounding success in using the mainstream and new media to drown out the voices of more progressive critics. The evidence is everywhere. For instance, The New York Times is currently advertising its Watch Education Take Center Stage initiative and the keynote address is being given by the politically and morally discredited champion of neoliberal education, Lawrence Summers. Given his failed presidency at Harvard, his utterly shameful role in contributing to the financial crisis of 2008 and the failure of Obama's economic policies and his crude instrumental view of education, why would The New York Times select him as an educational leader and beacon of hope for any kind of educational vision designed to address future generations? Other speakers include the likes of Chester Finn, whose views on public education are as politically reactionary as they are theoretically bogus. Another example can be found in the ongoing Education Nation series sponsored on a number of platforms by NBC. Its endorsement of market-driven anti-public education policies are evident in its parading of the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates and their utterly anti-public, charter school, privatized and technocratic vision of education. Also included are the usual list of charter school, corporate funded anti-union, public school cheerleaders for defunding and privatizing American education. Of course, missing from these dog-and-pony shows are progressive public school reformers such as David Berliner, Stanley Aronowitz, Jonathan Kozol, Marian Wright Edelman, Donaldo Macedo, and others who have been fighting for real educational reform for the last few decades. Nor is there any mention of the many local struggling social movements fighting for public education and the ever-dissolving protections of social contract inherited from the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society programs. Education at all levels is firmly in the hands of the rich, reactionary and the powerful. Is it any wonder given how invisible progressive forces are in this country that young people are not in the streets as they were in the sixties, refusing the future being offered to them by Wall Street and the moralizing Christian fundamentalists?

Of course, this is not merely a debate about education; it is really about the emergence of an anti-reform movement that wants to create armies of low-skilled workers and consumers for the privatized, deregulated and commodified world of the 21st century where a survival of the fittest ethic has been elevated to the status of commonsense. This is a world in which the culture of cruelty is now so commonplace that audiences clap when right-wing politicians insist that people who are terminally ill should die rather than receive government support; it is a world in which the legacies and injustice of slavery and the Jim Crow era now shape a criminal justice system in which capital punishment is largely used to kill black men while, at the same time, used by crass politicians to provoke political support and cheers from audiences who could have once sat in the seats of Roman coliseums watching people eaten by wild animals; the culture of cruelty is now matched by the culture of vulgarity - reality TV shows mimic the worst values of American life; celebrity culture is now so crude that it is worse than illiterate, and celebrities such as Kim Kardashian become role models for legitimating a lethal combination of vulgarity and stupidity. The combination of vulgarity and illiteracy permeates American culture, particularly its political class. What is one to make of the current crop of Republic presidential candidates who claim, without irony, that climate change is not the result of human behavior; evolution is bad science; and in the case of the queen of idiocy, Michele Bachmann, ignore the most obvious scientific evidence about the HPV vaccine in order to make false claims about the value of this particular drug in saving the lives of young girls. In all of these examples, education becomes another way of making the larger public and young people either stupid or mindless consumers - even worse, both.

The American public needs access to a new political and educational vocabulary in order to fashion democratically vibrant educational institutions; social movements; community educational centers; bookstores; and a lively, independent press. Young people, educators, activists, artists, parents, and others need alternative media such as Truthout, AlterNet and CounterPunch as popular civic outlets to make education central to building the formative culture that would create new generations of real public intellectuals, youth activists, social movements and a vibrant range of public spheres. I have taken up this issue in my newest book, "Education and the Crisis of Public Values." The book points to how educators and others can meet the current attack on education, young people and democracy itself. It offers a new vocabulary for better understanding the crisis of education as a crisis of democracy and public life, and provides a number of suggestions for what new beginnings are necessary, all of which is outlined in more detail throughout the book. Below is an excerpt from the preface that forecasts both the swindle of education offered by conservatives, the billionaires and corporate power brokers and why it needs to be resisted with as much urgency and collective power as possible.

With all due respect to Charles Dickens, it appears to be the worst of times for public and higher education in America; public schools are increasingly viewed as a business and are prized above all for "customer satisfaction," and efficiency while largely judged through the narrow lens of empirical accountability measures. When not functioning as a business or a potentially lucrative for-profit investment, public schools are reduced to containment centers, holding institutions designed to largely punish young people marginalized by race and class. No longer merely tracked into low-achieving classes, poor white, brown and black youth are now tracked out of school into what is often called the school-to-prison pipeline. Schools have now become stress centers for the privileged and zones of abandonment for the poor. Public school teachers are now viewed as the new "welfare-queens," while academics are defined less as critical intellectuals and engaged scholars than as a new class or professional entrepreneurs. Under strict policies imposed in a number of states by right-wing politicians wrapping themselves in the rhetoric of austerity, higher education at all levels is being radically defunded while simultaneously being transformed into a credentializing factory restructured according to the values, social relations and governing practices of large corporations. In both public and higher education, ignorance is not merely fostered, but embraced through the course content whose value is almost exclusively defined through a metaphysics in which anything that can't be quantified is defined as useless. Corporate pedagogy has no use for critical thinking, autonomous subjects, the stretching of the imagination, or developing a sense of civic responsibility among students. Teachers who think and act reflectively, ask uncomfortable questions, challenge the scripts of official power and promote a search for the truth while encouraging pedagogy as the practice of freedom are now viewed as suspect, if not un-American.

At the same time, amid all of the despair and foolishness on the part of right-wing politicians and conservative and corporate interests, it is not entirely clear that a spring of hope is beyond reach. As I wrote this preface, workers and young people were marching and demonstrating all over the globe against the dictates, values and policies of a market-driven economy that has corrupted politics, pushed democracy to its vanishing point and undermined public values. Unions, public school teachers, higher education, and all of those public spheres necessary to keep civic values alive are being challenged in a way that both baffles and shocks anyone who believes in the ideals and promises of a substantive democracy. In the United States, union-busting politicians such as Govs. Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and Chris Christie (New Jersey) not only want to gut social services and sell them off to the highest bidder, they are also symptomatic of a political fringe movement that wants to destroy the critical culture, dedicated public servants and institutions that give any sense of vitality, substance and hope to public and higher education in the United States.

As the meaning of democracy is betrayed by its transformation into a market society, corporate power and money appear unchecked in their ability to privatize, deregulate and destroy all vestiges of public life. America's military wars abroad are now matched by the war at home; that is, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have found their counterpart in the war against the poor, immigrants, young people, unions, public-sector workers, the welfare state and schoolteachers. The call for shared sacrifices on the part of conservatives and Tea Party extremists becomes code for destroying the social state, preserving and increasing the power of mega-rich corporations and securing the wealth of the top one percent of the population with massive tax breaks while placing the burden of the current global economic meltdown on the shoulders of working people and the poor. Deficit reductions and austerity policies that allegedly address the global economic meltdown caused by the financial hawks running Wall Street now do the real work of stripping teachers of their collective bargaining rights, dismantling programs long associated with social services and relegating young people to mind-deadening schools and a debt-ridden future. David Harvey's notion of "accumulation through dispossession" has become a basic policy of casino capitalism. How else to interpret the right-wing call to tax the poor to subsidize tax breaks for billionaires and mega corporations? Despair, disposability and unnecessary human suffering now engulf large swaths of the American people, often pushing them into situations that are not merely tragic, but life threatening. A survival-of-the-fittest ethic has replaced any reasonable notion of solidarity, social responsibility and compassion for the other. Ideology does not seem to matter any longer as right-wing Republicans have less interest in argument and persuasion than in bullying their alleged enemies with the use of heavy-handed legislation and, when necessary, dire threats, as when Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker threatened to mobilize the National Guard to prevent teachers' unions from protesting their possible loss of bargaining rights and a host of anti-worker proposals.

Obama has joined the Republican Party, leaving us with a Republican Party lite [sic; I think he means Democratic Party lite] and a Republican Party of extremists. We have become a culture of forgetting, obliterating both the legacy of authoritarianism that characterized the Bush-Cheney years, while supporting a new group of Republican politicians who resemble Bush and Cheney on steroids. We are more than a nation in decline; we are a nation moving toward the bittersweet simplisms, policies and values of a new form of authoritarianism. With any viable leadership lacking at the national level, both young people and workers are watching the movements for democracy that are taking place all over the globe, but especially in the volatile Arab nations and in Western European countries such as France, England and Germany. Struggles abroad give Americans a glimpse of what happens when individual solutions to collective problems lose their legitimacy as a central tenet of neoliberal ideology. Massive demonstrations, pitched street battles, nonviolent gatherings, the impressive use of the new media as an alternative political and educational tool and an outburst of long-repressed anger eager for collective action are engulfing many countries across the globe. In smaller numbers, such protests are also taking place in a number of cities around the United States. Many Americans are, once again, invoking democracy, rejecting its association with the empty formality of voting and its disingenuous use to legitimate and justify political systems that produce massive wealth and income inequality. Democracy's promises are laying bare the sordid realities that now speak in its name. Its energy is becoming infectious, and one can only hope that those who believe that education is the foundation of critical agency, politics and democracy itself will be drawn to the task of fighting America's move in the last 30 years to a politically and economically authoritarian system.

At issue here is the need for a new vocabulary, vision and politics that will unleash new democratic movements, institutions and a formative culture capable of imagining a life and society free of the dictates of endless military wars, boundless material waste, extreme inequality, disposable populations and unfounded human suffering. Central to "Education and the Crisis of Public Values" is the belief that no change will come unless education both within and outside of formal schooling is viewed as central to any viable notion of politics. If real reform is going to happen, it has to put in place a viable, critical, formative culture that supports notions of engaged citizenship, civic courage, public values, dissent, democratic modes of governing and a genuine belief in freedom, equality and justice. Ideas matter as do the human beings and institutions that make them count and that includes those intellectuals both in and out of schools who bear the responsibility of providing the conditions for Americans of all ages to be able to think critically so they can act imaginatively - so they can embrace a vision of the good life as a just life, one that extends the values, practices and vision of democracy to everyone.

1. Michael Kazin, "Whatever Happened to the American Left?" New York Times (September 25, 2011), p. SR4.

Dana Goldstein Review "American Teacher" of American Teacher Raises Important Questions

Brian Jones and I sat in the blogger peanut gallery with Dana during the screening at Education Nation on Sept. 25. Brian gave her a copy of "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman." Too bad she didn't compare all 3 films. I think ours has the most consistent logic.

Still Waiting for Superman

Dave Eggers and Matt Damon’s American Teacher is almost as flawed as last year’s big school reform movie.

By Dana Goldstein|Posted Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, at 4:56 PM ET
124002451NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: Actor Matt Damon attends the 'Contagion' premiere at the Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center on September 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
What is it with documentaries offering silver bullet solutions for the woes of the American public education system?
Last September, the big school reform movie was Waiting for Superman, which posited that the proliferation of nonunionized charter schools could close the achievement gap between poor and middle-class students—even though research shows that nationally, only 17 percent of charters are consistently better than traditional public schools at raising students’ math and reading scores.
This fall, there’s another school reform film making the rounds: American Teacher, which opens in New York and Los Angeles Friday and is screening sporadically at festivals, college campuses, and community centers across the country. The documentary argues that paying teachers more—say, $125,000 annually—would, by attracting more talented college graduates to the classroom and encouraging them to stay there, be the single best way to better prepare American students for the global economy.
Like Waiting for Superman, which was produced and directed by the team behind An Inconvenient Truth, American Teacher has impressive credentials: It is narrated by Matt Damon, who has lately emerged as a critic of President Obama’s “standards and accountability” school reform agenda, and co-produced by Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari, a former teacher who, also with Eggers, launched 826 National, the network of urban, nonprofit writing tutoring centers.
Though the film is based on a book, Teachers Have It Easy, co-authored by Eggers, Calegari, and Daniel Moulthrop in 2006, its appearance almost a year to the day after Superman’s massive public relations onslaught sets American Teacher up as sort of a rejoinder to the earlier movie. While Superman portrayed American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten as a villain, American Teacher is a movie the unions can generally applaud. At the premiere in New York last Sunday, both Weingarten and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel spoke, introducing the documentary glowingly. These labor leaders are delighted with the film’s look inside the professional and personal lives of four excellent teachers, each of whom is struggling to get by on a mid-five-figure salary.
In Brooklyn, Jamie Fidler spent $3,000 of her own money on classroom supplies. In the Dallas exurbs, Erik Benner works the night shift at a home improvement store to make ends meet. New Jersey elementary school teacher and Harvard grad Rhena Jasey can’t afford takeout when she gets home too late and exhausted to cook dinner. And Jonathan Dearman, a beloved San Francisco charter school teacher, quits his job because he can earn twice as much annually selling real estate—even in a “slow” year.
These stories are engagingly told, and the movie effectively fights back against stereotypes that teachers are lazy and undereducated, with short, easy work days. Who wouldn’t want good folks like these four educators to earn more money for doing incredibly difficult work?
The problem is that American Teacher elides almost all of the pressing and controversial questions animating the teacher pay debate. Absurdly, the film never mentions the word union. Viewers without prior knowledge will be left totally unaware of the role teachers’ unions have historically played in all this—first, by ensuring teachers (the vast majority of them female) fair pay and due process, and second, by resisting, until very recently, efforts to pay teachers at least in part based on how well they do their jobs.
Although “merit pay” has a decidedly thin record when it comes to actual student achievement gains, it is a policy idea the filmmakers appear to support, judging from the fact that they approvingly cite performance pay schemes enacted in Denver and Washington, D.C. What American Teacher doesn’t explain is why such programs can be hugely controversial: Most American merit pay plans rely in part on student test scores to judge how “effective” teachers are at their jobs, while teacher performance pay plans in the nations that academically out-perform the United States, such as Finland and Canada, tend to downplay the importance of test scores and instead pay educators more for taking on other duties, such as mentoring peers or developing curricula.
One problem with the American approach of evaluating teachers based on student testing data is that it can lead to an increase in the number of standardized tests students take, an increase generally unpopular with both teachers and parents. The push to more accurately evaluate teachers has even led some school districts to institute testing in art, music, and physical education. It is exactly this sort of thing that American Teacher narrator Matt Damon protested in August when he attended the Save Our Schools march on the Washington mall, where he declared that the high-stakes testing since No Child Left Behind has led to a demoralizing and “horrible decade for teachers.”
Yet testing, like unions, is never discussed in American Teacher. Two researchers with widely divergent views on the roles of tests and merit pay—Linda Darling Hammond and Eric Hanushek, both of Stanford University—are presented as if they are in complete agreement with one another. Nor does the film explain that at the Equity Project Charter School, the Manhattan middle school celebrated in the film for paying all teachers a $125,000 base salary, reading and math scores have been disappointing. (Of course, low test scores don’t necessarily mean a school is horrible; they could indicate an especially challenging student body or a dogged refusal to “teach to the test.” Nevertheless, American Teacher, like almost every piece of education journalism—including this one—does rely upon test scores as a measure of academic success.)
Indeed, the real-world relationship between student achievement and teacher pay remains unclear. In raw numbers, a veteran American elementary school teacher earns about $44,000 annually, more than veteran elementary school teachers earn in Finland and France, whose school systems are higher-ranked than ours. But while a Finnish teacher makes only 14 percent less than a typical Finnish college graduate, an American teacher makes 40 percent less than a typical American college graduate. So maybe the problem is less that teaching pays incredibly poorly than that teachers’ salaries seem less attractive compared with those of American corporate lawyers, management consultants, and investment bankers, who earn so damn sinfully much.
All that said, there is little doubt the quality of the teacher corps would improve if the job paid a six-figure salary. I love that idea! But any such increase in teacher pay would require either that we drastically raise taxes or rearrange spending priorities—exceedingly unlikely—or that we cut other major expenses in school budgets. Should class sizes be much larger? Should sports programs be canceled? Will administrators agree to take a pay cut?
American Teacher doesn’t raise these questions, but as any longtime observer of the education wars will tell you, meaningful school reform requires hard choices—lots of them—not silver bullets. If it’s possible for a two-hour movie to present these choices in all their complexity, it hasn’t happened yet.

Eric Hanushek Mistates Facts - Again

When parents and school districts go to court trying to win fair funding for under-resourced schools and the opportunity to learn for all children, Dr. Rick Hanushek, an economist at the conservative Hoover Institution, usually gets a phone call. All across the country, State defendants pay him to testify as an expert witness in lawsuits seeking educational opportunity for urban and rural kids.
For perhaps the 19th time---he's lost track---Hanushek showed up to testify a few weeks ago, this time in Colorado's Lobato case. He claimed he could find "no correlation" between funding and student achievement. That's not surprising since he didn't look at achievement. He looked, instead, at Colorado's MGPs, or median growth percentiles,* which do not measure student achievement.
When a plaintiff witness used the same Colorado dataset that Hanushek had used, she found a strong correlation between Colorado spending and student test scores. The key was that she looked at the actual student scores.
In the days before Hanushek took the stand, several Colorado school district superintendents testified about the needs of their students; how state cuts forced them to cut essential, real-world programs; and how they would use increased funding to help more of their students reach the state's learning standards
On cross examination, Hanushek admitted knowing almost nothing about Colorado education. But he was sure of his decades-long theory that improved funding does not lead to better student achievement. Never mind strong evidence to the contrary.
He also testified that urban school districts in New Jersey can spend whatever they want. Laugh Out Loud.
But Hanushek got one number right. He said he's being paid $50,000 for his analysis (the MGP stuff) and testimony. Too bad the State of Colorado didn't spend that money on educating its kids.
Hanushek sometimes testifies that per-pupil U.S. education spending has increased four-fold since 1960, and that student achievement is at about the same level as in 1970.
He's wrong on both points.
In fact, spending has increased about two-fold, and that increase has helped fuel the dramatic increases in test scores and narrowing of test score gaps that public school students have achieved since 1970. Oh, you hadn't heard? Well, the media doesn't report it.
Importantly, over half of the spending increase was needed to fund the major improvements we have made in schooling for students with disabilities. Many of these children, especially those with the most severe disabilities, were not even in schools before and during the 1960s.
To make his point on flat achievement, Hanushek misrepresents NAEP** results to claim that test scores are flat. In fact, on these exams U.S. "students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally. In general, the improvements have been greatest for African-American students, and among those, for the most disadvantaged." (Rothstein, Fact-Challenged Policy) See, also, NAEP Scores Are Up and Minority Scores Are Up, Media Blind to Gains.
Note that Hanushek's "four-fold" testimony was in South Dakota in 2008, while he was accurate in Colorado in saying "two-fold." He testified that U.S. scores were flat in both cases.
For more information about the Lobato case, see Great Education Colorado.
 *MGPs are explained briefly in the trial transcript at pages 5714-5751, especially 5722-5727.
**NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of exams taken by a nationwide sample of students.

New York State Blocks "Victory" Charter on LI

Alan's Latest Huffington Post -- New York State Blocks "Victory" Charter on Long Island

 Please share with friends, colleagues, and students, and encourage them to reply online.

 Maybe the politicians finally understand. Last week the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which makes recommendations to the New York State Department of Education, decided not to support a charter school proposed by Victory Education Partners in Brentwood. According to a report in Newsday (, the superintendent of Brentwood schools "applauded the state's decision." The district is already financially hard pressed.  It lost $40 million in state aid during the last two years and was forced to lay-off off about 100 teachers.

 SUNY officials told "Victory" that it was not satisfied with proposals for the school's "governing structure, academic program and accountability platform." Unfortunately "Victory," a profit making business, is not good at accepting defeat and plans to revise and resubmit its proposal, for Brentwood or perhaps for another Suffolk County community. Victory Education Partners advertises itself as an educational management company. For ten percent of state and local funding for a school, it group provides teacher recruitment, administrative coaches, accounting work and other services. The company would have made about $2.2 million over five years for its services to a Suffolk County Prep Charter School.

 Not only should New York State cease to approve future school management contracts for Victory Education Partners, it need to shut the company down. Since 1999, Victory has managed 13 New York charter schools and it continues to run seven of them. Most of them began when community or church groups discovered the charter management company and signed five-year contracts for their services (

 The secret to "Victory" approach is its CEO, James Stovall (, a personable African American lawyer who is primarily a salesman. He uses his own success story to sell private charter management to poor minority communities. His supposed educational experience was an Eli Broad foundation residency but what he actually did was act as a lawyer for Victory Partnership (|residents/alumni|residents/alumni.html <> ).

 The reality is that Victory Education Partners has been associated with a series of education failures. The New York State Regents shut down Victory's New Covenant Charter School in Albany in 2010 ( Two of the high schools it provides management services for in New York City, Lehman in the Bronx and August Martin in Queens are on the Restart List ( Its show place charter school, Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem, received the 15th-lowest score on the 2010 city progress report cards, ranking in the bottom one percent of all schools. It received "F' grades in the school environment and progress categories.  Most of the school's teachers reported problems with order and discipline and they recently voted to unionize (

 Stovall now wants his company involved in turning around failing New York City schools in the RESTART program ( This plan only spells VICTORY for Stovall. It spells FAILURE for students trapped in schools his company manages.

 Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies
 Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership
 128 Hagedorn Hall / 119 Hofstra University / Hempstead, NY 1154

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rothstein Loses Bet to Ravitch

A bet on No Child Left Behind

This was written by Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit organization created in 1986 to broaden the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers. This appeared on the institute’s website.
By Richard Rothstein
Diane Ravitch is a glass half-empty kind of gal, while I suffer from excessive Panglossian tendencies. In the spring of 2007, we made a bet. The payoff is dinner at the River Café, at the foot of Brooklyn Heights, overlooking New York harbor and the Manhattan skyline, tucked neatly under the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Four and a half years ago, we surveyed the damage being done to American education by NCLB, the No Child Left Behind iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act:
* conversion of struggling elementary schools into test-prep factories;
* narrowing of curriculum so that disadvantaged children who most need enrichment would be denied lessons in social studies, the sciences, the arts and music, even recess and exercise, so that every available minute of the school day could be devoted to drill for tests of basic skills in math and reading;
* demoralization of the best teachers, now prohibited from engaging children in discovery and instead required to follow pre-set instructional scripts aligned with low-quality tests;
* and the boredom and terror of young children who no longer looked forward to school but instead anticipated another day of rote exercises and practice testing designed to increase scores by a point or two.
Diane morosely predicted that, despite this evident disaster, NCLB would certainly be reauthorized with its destructive testing and accountability provisions intact. After all, she moaned, it had the support of elites from both parties, the Washington think tanks, the big foundations, and the editorial boards of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other influential media outlets. No serious opposition was visible. How could the law not be continued? Indeed, she worried, its supporters were so removed from the reality of classrooms, so impervious to evidence, they could well decide to intensify requirements that schools chase phony test score gains to the exclusion of all else.
I smugly responded, “not a chance.” The NCLB accountability system is so self-evidently calamitous that its principles will never survive congressional reauthorization. Don’t pay attention to elite opinion, I said. The internal contradictions of a law that orders all children nationwide to perform above-average are so explosive that any attempts to “fix” them (as policymakers were then vowing to do) would never be able to claim a congressional majority, no matter how obstinate NCLB’s supporters might be.
For example, I said to Diane, consider the law’s absurd demand to prohibit the normal variability of human ability so that all children, from the unusually gifted to the mentally retarded, must achieve above the same “challenging” level of proficiency by 2014. The only way states could fulfill this requirement would be to define “challenging proficiency” at such a low level that even the least talented of students could meet it. NCLB enthusiasts would then cry “foul” and insist that a reauthorized law allow Congress to dictate a national proficiency standard.
But this, in turn, would make the law unacceptable to supporters who had gone along in 2002 only because they felt assured that federal intrusion into state control of education would be limited. Or if, instead, NCLB proponents attempted to mollify critics by giving schools more flexibility — for example, by permitting them to escape condemnation for not meeting impossible academic benchmarks by citing other measures, like attendance rates or parent satisfaction — the NCLB enthusiasts would balk at this backdoor way of “leaving children behind.”
There is no way out of this impasse, I assured Diane. NCLB will limp along past its 2007 expiration date, with no possible map for reauthorization, with temporary annual continuing resolutions while proponents fruitlessly attempt to conceive of ways to climb out of the holes into which they had dug themselves.
Eventually, I told Diane, by 2016, we’ll still be requiring all children to be proficient by 2014, and declaring virtually every school in the country to be failing. At some point, I predicted, some secretary of education would have no choice but to issue waivers from the law’s requirements to every state in the country while the law itself remained on the books, an embarrassing monument to policy foolishness.
Everything I predicted has now come to pass, and I should be able to call Diane’s hand and collect my dinner at the River Café. But I’m afraid I must concede. I won the bet on technical points, but Diane won on the merits. The glass really is half-empty, maybe more so.
What I had not anticipated was that a secretary of education (Arne Duncan, it turned out to be) would use his authority to grant waivers to states (now all of them) unable to meet NCLB’s requirements, conditioning the waivers on states’ agreements to adopt accountability conditions that are even more absurd, more unworkable, more fanciful than those in the law itself. Mr. Duncan’s philosophy has been revealed: if a policy fails, the solution should be to do more of it.
So the secretary is now kicking the ball down the road. States will be excused from making all children proficient by 2014 if they agree instead to make all children “college-ready” by 2020. If NCLB’s testing obsession didn’t suffice to distinguish good schools from failing ones, states can be excused from loss of funds if they instead use student test scores to distinguish good teachers from bad ones. Without any reauthorization of NCLB, Mr. Duncan will now use his waiver authority to demand, in effect, even more test-prep, more drill, more unbalanced curricula, more misidentification of success and failure, more demoralization of good teachers, and more needless stress for young children.
The Obama administration is presenting its waiver proposal as the grant of new “flexibility” to states. Yes, perhaps. If states agree to implement Mr. Duncan’s favored reforms of evaluating teachers by student test scores and expanding charter schools, and if states promise to meet even more impossible “college ready” standards established by the federal government, the secretary will let them figure out on their own how to do it.
Some Republicans have complained. The secretary, they say, cannot do an end run around Congress by implementing his own more extreme version of No Child Left Behind, when he has been unsuccessful in getting Congress to enact these very same proposals into the law itself.
But these critics, most of whom supported NCLB in 2002, have only themselves to blame. They initially wrote into the law the right of a secretary to issue waivers based only on his or her own personal fantasies about what constitutes a state pledge to increase (sic) the quality of instruction and improve academic achievement – to be precise, in NCLB’s Title IX, Part D, Sections 9401(b)(1)(i) and (ii).
And Arne Duncan has gotten away with this before. Here, Democrats should be ashamed. In February 2009, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the ARRA, or “stimulus” bill) was enacted, Republicans charged that the law had little to do with job creation or economic growth, but was only a subterfuge for the Obama administration to make social policy without congressional debate.
Mostly, the Republican charge had no merit but in the case of education policy, it hits the mark. The secretary has been distributing more than $4 billion in ARRA grants only to states that entered and won his Race to the Top competition by promising to raise standards even higher than those unachievable under NCLB.
These so-called stimulus funds are not distributed to states with the highest unemployment rates but to those that outbid others by promising to establish data systems to evaluate teachers based on students’ math and reading scores, be most ruthless in firing teachers and principals in schools with low scores, and replace them with the most rapid expansion of charter schools.
The Duncan policies, like NCLB, will eventually implode. But the damage being done to American public education has now gone on for so long that it will have enduring effects. Schools will not soon be able to implement a holistic education to disadvantaged children. Disillusioned and demoralized teachers who have abandoned the profession or have retired are now being rapidly replaced by a new generation of drill sergeants, well-trained in the techniques of “data-driven instruction.” This cannot easily be undone.
Some state education officials have murmured intents to refuse the Duncan waiver conditions, and dare him then to withhold federal education dollars. But there is little indication that these officials will follow through, or that others will join the resistance. Most states will meekly apply for the Duncan waivers. Courage is in short supply among education and policy leaders.
So Diane, start perusing the menu. My victory on points is to no avail. I owe you dinner.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


About Us    |   More News
When parents and school districts go to court trying to win fair funding for under-resourced schools and the opportunity to learn for all children, Dr. Rick Hanushek, an economist at the conservative Hoover Institution, usually gets a phone call. All across the country, State defendants pay him to testify as an expert witness in lawsuits seeking educational opportunity for urban and rural kids.
For perhaps the 19th time---he's lost track---Hanushek showed up to testify a few weeks ago, this time in Colorado's Lobato case. He claimed he could find "no correlation" between funding and student achievement. That's not surprising since he didn't look at achievement. He looked, instead, at Colorado's MGPs, or median growth percentiles,* which do not measure student achievement.
When a plaintiff witness used the same Colorado dataset that Hanushek had used, she found a strong correlation between Colorado spending and student test scores. The key was that she looked at the actual student scores.
In the days before Hanushek took the stand, several Colorado school distr ict superintendents testified about the needs of their students; how state cuts forced them to cut essential, real-world programs; and how they would use increased funding to help more of their students reach the state's learning standards
On cross examination, Hanushek admitted knowing almost nothing about Colorado education. But he was sure of his decades-long theory that improved funding does not lead to better student achievement. Never mind strong evidence to the contrary.
He also testified that urban school districts in New Jersey can spend whatever they want. Laugh Out Loud.
But Hanushek got one number right. He said he's being paid $50,000 for his analysis (the MGP stuff) and testimony. Too bad the State of Colorado didn't spend that money on educating its kids.
Hanushek sometimes testifies that per-pupil U.S. education spending has increased four-fold since 1960, and that student achievement is at about the same level as in 1970.
He's wrong on both points.
In fact, spending has increased about two-fold, and that increase has helped fuel the dramatic increases in test scores and narrowing of test score gaps that public school students have achieved since 1970. Oh, you hadn't heard? Well, the media doesn't report it.
Importantly, over half of the spending increase was needed to fund the major improvements we have made in schooling for students with disabilities. Many of these children, especially those with the most severe disabilities, were not even in schools before and during the 1960s.
To make his point on flat achievement, Hanushek misrepresents NAEP** results to claim that test scores are flat. In fact, on these exams U.S. "students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally. In general, the improvements have been greatest for African-American students, and among those, for the most disadvantaged." (Rothstein, Fact-Challenged Policy) See, also, NAEP Scores Are Up and Minority Scores Are Up, Media Blind to Gains.
Note that Hanushek's "four-fold" testimony was in South Dakota in 2008, while he was accurate in Colorado in saying "two-fold." He testified that U.S. scores were flat in both cases.
For more information about the Lobato case, see Great Education Colorado.
 *MGPs are explained briefly in the trial transcript at pages 5714-5751, especially 5722-5727.
**NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of exams taken by a nationwide sample of students.
Education Just ice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

Friday, September 23, 2011

Articles Pumping Life Into E4E and Other Groups

 Here are a few articles over the summer worth checking out.

New Groups Giving Teachers Alternative Voice

In times of great uncertainty for U.S. teachers, who speaks for them? The question is almost axiomatic in its simplicity, but the answer is far less clear-cut.
The teachers’ unions remain the most visible, powerful, and probably the most important advocates for teachers. But over the past few years, a number of new efforts have sprung up purporting to give teachers a say in policy, and their emergence is extending discussions about “teacher voice” in unexpected ways.
In general, the groups’ origins, goals, and purposes remain diverse, and their work continues to evolve. Where the groups seem to converge, though, is that their members are gradually becoming involved in conversations about policy, ranging from teacher evaluation to seniority to professional development.
Groups include the Los Angeles-based NewTLA, which operates as a caucus within the city teachers’ union, and the Educators 4 Excellence group in New York City, which has purposely worked outside the teachers’ union.
Two other efforts, one begun by the Boston-based Teach Plus nonprofit organization and the other by the Carrboro, N.C.-based Center for Teaching Quality, have gathered together teachers in multiple cities. Their approaches are similar: providing those teachers with research on issues of interest and avenues for interacting with policymakers.
“There are so many teachers out there who want change and have great ideas, but they’ve had so few venues and vehicles to be heard, understood, and embraced,” said Barnett Berry, the president of the center. “They’re itching for the research knowledge to help them articulate the connections between policy and practice.”

New Majority

It is hard to point to just one factor that has led to the surge in such groups.
Advocacy Groups
Caucus within United Teachers
Los Angeles
No. of Teachers: N/A
Location: Los Angeles
Nonprofit organization
No. of teachers: 2,000
(current fellows and alumni)
Locations: Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, Tenn.
(Center for Teaching Quality)

Nonprofit organization
No. of Teachers: 85
Locations: Denver; Hillsborough County, Fla.; Illinois; San Francisco Bay Area; Seattle
Nonprofit organization
No. of Teachers: 2,500
Location: New York City
One important influence, though, could be demographic changes. According to an analysis of federal data conducted by Teach Plus, 52 percent of teachers now have 10 or fewer years in the teaching profession, a phenomenon the group refers to as “the new majority.”
Teach Plus’ founder, Celine Coggins, began the organization in 2007 to give such teachers leadership opportunities and, ultimately, to help retain them in the profession.
“Having a say in how our schools look and function will play a role in their decisionmaking about whether they’re going to stay for another 10 years, or two, or five,” Ms. Coggins said.
The Center for Teaching Quality’s efforts date to 2003, when it began an initiative to assemble a cadre of accomplished teachers to discuss the broad issues facing the profession. Gradually, the idea has evolved into the New Millennium Initiative, in which local networks of teachers work to make their voices heard on topics of local interest, such as the implementation of new state laws.
Support from a variety of private national and local foundations, including the Joyce Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Denver-based Rose Community Foundation, have helped in the transition. (The Joyce Foundation underwrites coverage of improvements to the teaching profession in Education Week, and the Gates Foundation provides grant support to Editorial Projects in Education, the newspaper’s parent company.)
Jessica Keigan, a high school language arts teacher in Denver participating in the initiative there, said she was excited not just about having her voice heard, but also in learning the details of how education policy is made.
“I’d never immersed myself in policy before,” she said, “and it’s been a great way to see how decisions get made and to feel I had some awareness and also some say.”
The Educators 4 Excellence group was formed by Evan Stone and Sydney Morris, who were frustrated by a lack of control over district policy decisions while teaching in a traditional public school in New York City. Their decision to form a group for like-minded colleagues, in 2010, quickly attracted other teachers.
“There are all these new changes created at the 30,000-foot level pushed down to you,” Ms. Morris said. “It’s our mission to include teachers in creation of those changes.”

Whither Unions?

The traditional teachers’ unions have had a variety of reactions to the emergent organizations, ranging from respectful to uneasy.
NewTLA, for instance, began as a group of Los Angeles teachers who were frustrated with the local union’s failure to put forth proposals on teacher evaluation and professional development.
In the union’s recent internal election, NewTLA-affiliated members won a significant number of seats on the United Teachers Los Angeles’ governing body.
NewTLA co-founder Jordan Henry turned down several interview requests, saying that the caucus would be putting together a more specific agenda and set of initiatives this fall. The group’s website says that its priorities will be “determined and decided solely by dues-paying UTLA members,” and that it “improves union governance through greater representation of the many voices.“
The Educators 4 Excellence group, by contrast, is unabashedly working outside New York City’s United Federation of Teachers. Its founders say they didn’t feel their interactions with the union were productive.
“It became very clear in those conversations that the union needs to have one stance on every issue,” Mr. Stone said. “We didn’t feel that on the issues where we disagreed there was room for debate, or discussion, or dialogue. We felt the opportunity to have buy-in needed to be outside the established organization.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Coggins of Teach Plus underscored that her group’s theory of action is that improved engagement for teachers in the issues that affect them will result in improved student achievement. Often, that means more participation in teachers’ unions, and the organization encourages such work.
Alex Seeskin, a policy fellow with Teach Plus’ Chicago cohort, was initially skeptical of becoming more deeply involved with the Chicago Teachers Union. But after joining a union committee on teacher evaluations, he found diverse opinions among rank-and-file teachers, rather than hard and fast dogma.
“The more I’ve read, the more discussions I’ve had, the more I’m able to see not only a teacher’s point of view, but also a union delegate’s point of view and administrator’s point of view, and realize most of the time, these issues are more complex than one- or two-line sound bites,” Mr. Seeskin said of his participation with Teach Plus and the CTU.
“The education debate we have, both local and national, has become hyperpartisan, and there isn’t much room for moderates,” he continued. “Teach Plus has helped me figure out how we can help find middle ground, especially locally.”

Affecting Policy

Each of the groups has made its mark on local policies, and many of them explicitly describe their work as “solutions-oriented.”
The Center for Teaching Quality’s Denver teachers, for example, are providing input into the implementation of a Colorado bill that passed last year that overhauls teacher-evaluation and -tenure provisions. They’ve submitted early comments for rulemaking on that bill. The state education department, state lawmakers, and the Colorado Education Association have all invited the group’s input.
“There’s been so much frustration and mistrust among the different groups,” Ms. Keigan, the high school teacher, said. “I hope we can find that common page to be on.”
In New York, the E4E group pushed to base layoffs in the city on three criteria, rather than the reverse-seniority provisions in state law. Those changes were included in a state Senate bill. (The measure passed the Senate but was not introduced in the Assembly.)
Teach Plus’ policy fellows have selected a variety of hot topics for study, such as the unequal distribution of talent and the difficult nuances of teacher-evaluation systems. Its Boston fellows helped craft a model to encourage highly effective teachers to transfer to, and stay in, challenging schools, a venture now in its second year. ("Teacher Teams Help Schools Turn Around," April 20, 2011.)
In Indianapolis, Teach Plus members proposed changes in layoff policies to the Indianapolis Federation of Teachers, which were ultimately codified in a new collective bargaining agreement in 2010. And in Chicago, the policy fellows have called for a peer-assistance and -review program, in which experienced teachers help coach novices. They have also weighed in on teacher evaluations, an area in which the city is currently in limbo, having scrapped a pilot program in favor of a new framework.


The policy issues tackled, as well as the groups’ goals and origins, have made several of them fodder for criticism.
Some observers have referred to the new groups as “astroturf,” a pejorative term for a grassroots organization that is actually a front for a vested interest. E4E, in particular, has fought against that claim.
To become a member of the E4E group, which received some $160,000 in start-up funding from the Gates Foundation, individuals must sign a declaration asserting, among other beliefs, that teachers should be evaluated based on student progress and that tenure policies should be rethought. Those positions are generally consistent with the teacher-effectiveness philosophy expounded by Gates.
Related Blog
E4E’s members “have a thin grasp of education policy” outside of hot-button issues favored by self-styled reformers, contended Leo Casey, the vice president of academic issues for the United Federation of Teachers. “They don’t really have to a lot to say about instruction.”
But Ms. Morris said the group is not anti-union, and further, that its declaration is merely a starting point for conversations. “Some of the items are newer ideas, I think, but there is a lot of room to discuss and debate the details,” she said. Its board of directors, she added, is entirely staffed by teachers.
In 2009, Teach Plus received a $4 million grant over several years from the Gates Foundation. But Ms. Coggins says the foundation has merely helped increase the number of policy-fellow teams and has in no way influenced their work.
Ms. Coggins attributes criticism of Teach Plus to the sensitive problems the teachers have chosen to address.
“Frankly, the process [the teacher teams] experience in generating new ideas, helping to see them through to a point of viability, figuring out the funding for them and the conditions of success is always tricky and different,” she said. “There’s not exactly a formula, and sometimes we’re looked upon with suspicion” by outside organizations and pundits.
Policy fellows sometimes choose not to endorse high-profile policy efforts championed by philanthropies, Ms. Coggins noted. For instance, the Chicago fellows didn’t support a recent bill overhauling teacher tenure and evaluation rules in Illinois, over concerns about a provision curbing the right of Chicago teachers to strike.
The Gates Foundation has in the past also donated to both national teachers’ unions, though in proportionally smaller amounts.

Staying Power

The test of the new groups’ ability to help reshape the teaching profession will come in part from their staying power, as well as what their teacher members go on to do.
“I think our influence is just starting now,” said Noah Zeichner, a high school social studies teacher in Seattle who works with the New Millennium Initiative team there. “Teachers are invested in the classroom, and they are always engaged in the complexity of teaching, which I think is easy to forget and difficult to understand, if you don’t experience that reality every day.”
For now, Mr. Seeskin says participating in Teach Plus has given him a new outlook on the profession.
“I was in Southeast Asia and spent a beautiful afternoon inside writing a long essay for the Teach Plus message board, and my wife was like, ‘Please stop, we’re on vacation,’ ” Mr. Seeskin recalled. “It was the first time that I really felt about policy, ‘This is so cool. I love this.’ ”

Mike Antonucci at EIA:
Posted: 11 Aug 2011 08:36 AM PDT
On the pages of Time, Andrew Rotherham examines the various reform-minded groups that have sprung up within the ranks of the big-city teachers’ unions. Sarah Rosenberg at The Quick and the Ed follows suit. Rotherham calls them “insurgents” while Rosenberg refers to “a revolution.” While I applaud any publicly stated diversity of thought within NEA and AFT, I am considerably less sanguine about the prospects of major internal reform.

There are two problems. One is that in any corporate culture radical changes in direction are frowned upon, if not suppressed. In unions, whose very hallmark is solidarity, this reluctance to entertain unorthodox thought is ratcheted up several levels. The relative electoral success of NewTLA is remarkable, but such victories don’t usually result in further gains in subsequent elections. I admit we are operating in extraordinary times, so maybe things will be different and I’ll be surprised.

Second, everyone is an insurgent until he or she achieves power. If you think this is an easy transition, ask Karen Lewis in Chicago. Or ask Bob Chase how that new unionism thing worked out for him. The teacher union reform field is littered with the bodies of those who sought to alter the union’s primary mission – protecting teachers – and found themselves ousted in favor of challengers who promised to get tough with administrators.

You say you want a revolution? Well, you know…

A Revolution from Within
by Sarah Rosenberg on August 10, 2011
The 40,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles is not known as a leader in education reform.  In fact, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former teachers union employee, characterized UTLA leaders as standing as, “one unwavering roadblock to reform.” But reform is brewing within the UTLA.

NewTLA, a progressive caucus within UTLA, currently holds 90 of the 350 elected leadership seats in UTLA’s official governing body.  With over 25% of the seats, NewTLA holds considerable power to shift UTLA policy towards NewTLA’s priorities which include: comprehensive teacher evaluation, meaningful professional development, and quality-based criteria for determining layoffs and dismissals.  Earlier this year during a hotly contested runoff election for union president, NewTLA endorsed underdog and self-described change agent Warren Fletcher over UTLA vice-president and front-runner Julie Washington.  Fletcher won the election, cementing NewTLA’s reputation as a player in UTLA politics.

Many believe that teachers unions, designed to safeguard jobs and pay, will not play a role in reform or will only engage in the face of  significant outside pressure.  NewTLA, however, demonstrates that being reform-minded and union may not be mutually exclusive.  According to Jordan Henry, cofounder of NewTLA, many members of NewTLA are experienced teachers with strong union ties.  Henry believes that, “the fact that many [active union members] have chosen to throw down with NewTLA as a political caucus now gives [NewTLA] a lot of credibility within the union.”

Henry, a Teach For America alum, is profiled in the current issue of the Teach For America alumni magazine.  In an article conspicuously titled “A More Perfect Union”, Henry describes the role of unions: “Unions should be protectors of not just employees but the institutions in which they work.  A teachers union needs to protect public education as well.”

Teach For America’s choice to profile Jordan Henry is not surprising.  In the wake of the NEA vote accusing TFA of placing corps members in districts with no teacher shortages, TFA wrote to corps members and alumni that the vote was “a signal that we must strive harder to build positive relationships and partner with our valued colleagues in the teaching profession.”  Of course, the article also makes a subtler point: As more TFA alums stay in the classroom and become active members in local unions, NewTLA may be a sign of what’s to come.


Quiet Riot: Insurgents Take On Teachers' Unions

By Andrew J. Rotherham

Quick: Which group consistently tops the list of U.S. political donors — bankers? Oil barons? The Koch brothers? Nope. Try schoolteachers. The two major teachers' unions, despite all the rhetoric about how teachers have no influence on policy, collectively spent more than $67 million directly on political races from 1989 to 2010. And that figure doesn't include millions more spent by their state and local affiliates and all kinds of support for favored (read: reform-averse) candidates.
For years, union leaders have lambasted as antiteacher pretty much every proposal to expand charter schools, improve teacher evaluation and turn around low-performing schools. Yet these reform issues have moved to the mainstream as even the Democrats, traditionally labor's biggest allies, have gotten fed up with union intransigence to structural changes to improve America's schools. Meanwhile, states as diverse as Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio and — you guessed it — Wisconsin are attacking union prerogatives such as valuing seniority over on-the-job performance and collectively bargaining for benefits. At the same time, black and Latino parents are growing increasingly impatient with lousy schools and are organizing in an effort to provide a counterweight to the unions. Just last week, the nation's second biggest teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers, was embarrassed when a PowerPoint presentation surfaced on the Web outlining strategies for undercutting parent groups. Sample quote: "What helped us? Absence of charter school and parent groups from the table."
But perhaps the biggest strategic pressure for reform is starting to come from teachers themselves, many of whom are trying to change their unions and, by extension, their profession. These renegade groups, composed generally of younger teachers, are trying to accomplish what a generation of education reformers, activists and think tanks have not: forcing the unions to genuinely mend their ways. Here are the three most-talked-about initiatives:
The takeover artists. The Los Angeles teachers' union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), has long been regarded as one of the nation's most hidebound. But Jordan Henry, a 12-year veteran teacher, wants to change that, so last year he co-founded NewTLA. (Get it? Rhymes with UTLA? C'mon, this is education reform — we must find little bright spots wherever we can.) Henry has managed in short order to build a large dissident faction within the union. After the last union election, NewTLA holds 90 of the 350 seats in the union's house of representatives, an impressive feat of organizing given how challenging it is for nonmainstream candidates to get much traction within the union. And although Henry is trying to change the union from within, he is not shy about criticizing it publicly, recently telling the Teach For America alumni magazine that, "I don't think my local affiliate is a leader in reform, as much as it says it might be." NewTLA is already taking on tough issues like seniority and urging UTLA to move from its narrow focus on the teachers' contract to a broader one about how to improve schools. (See what makes a school great.)
The outsiders. Educators for Excellence (E4E) is a group of more than 3,500 New York City teachers that is to trying to change laws and policies by going straight to policymakers. For instance, when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed doing away with the current system of laying off the most recent hires first, the union attacked any notion of letting principals unilaterally pick which teachers get booted. But the newly formed E4E forced its way into the conversation and sought a middle ground, proposing an alternative that took into account such things as how often teachers had been absent, whether they were actually in front of students or in nonteaching "reserve" roles and also factoring in performance ratings. The union wasn't enthusiastic about this approach either, but the idea got traction in Albany. And although the city and the teachers' union cut a deal on layoffs, the episode established E4E as a voice in education policymaking. E4E's leaders say they don't want to create a parallel organization to the unions; their goal is to "generate an elevated profession of teachers who want to be accountable," according to Sydney Morris, one of two New York City teachers who founded the group last year. Still, given the divergence between its positions and ethos and those of the teachers' unions, E4E seems destined to be an outside agitator for a while. Look for it to expand to other cities to "demonstrate that there are teachers across the country who feel this way," says co-founder Evan Stone. "It's not isolated bubbles."
The hybrid. Teach Plus is a network of teachers with chapters in Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis and, starting this fall, Washington. The group recruits accomplished teachers who want to take on leadership roles within their schools or to advocate for public policy changes without leaving their classrooms. More than 4,500 teachers are involved so far, and about 250 have gone through selective 12- and 18-month fellowships. Teach Plus says it wants to partner with unions — albeit by bringing reformers inside the tent. Celine Coggins, a former middle-school science teacher in Massachusetts who founded the group in 2007, says many teachers often tell her that the unions "seem like my grandfather's union, not necessarily mine." That's why Teach Plus is offering a home for teachers interested in an organization, as Coggins puts it, "with a bias toward high performers" — eduspeak for wanting to support and reward the best rather than focus on defending the worst. Teach Plus is starting to make a dent: its members are now serving in leadership roles within the Boston Teachers Union.
It's too early to tell whether any of these groups — or even all of them working in tandem — will succeed in changing the teachers' unions. Will the uprisings bring about a transformative revolution like in Tahrir Square or a deadlock like in Libya? And while ridiculous seniority policies provide easy targets, more complicated issues such as teacher evaluation and creating a genuinely professional culture within schools lie ahead for them. Union leaders, meanwhile, bristle at the upstarts and so far seem less inclined to help them than to co-opt or marginalize them. And there is an obvious structural hurdle facing the insurgents: like all unions, teachers' unions exist to protect their members, creating a natural conflict between, say, maintaining job security for everyone and implementing measures that differentiate based on performance or create real accountability for results. (See "Back-to-School Special: 5 Tips on Picking a Good School.")
But when you talk to progressive union leaders and the teachers at the vanguard of this new movement, it's striking how much they have in common — even accounting for disagreements around specific policies. Most notably, they share a frustration with the education conversation today and a desire for actual change.
Over the past two decades, the demand for reform has caused the teachers' unions to do little more than budge on a few issues. AFT President Randi Weingarten admitted to CBS News earlier this year that in some places teacher tenure does amount to a job for life, and her union has put forward its own teacher-evaluation proposals. Still, it's not yet the kind of dramatic change needed to create genuinely high-performing schools. So although significant reforms in education have traditionally come from outside the education field, perhaps with these budding alternaunions, the best hope for change is now coming from within.
Disclosure: Two of my partners at Bellwether have done executive search and strategy work for Teach Plus, and I have advised the organization informally.
Andrew J. Rotherham, who writes the blog Eduwonk, is a co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, a nonprofit working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. School of Thought, his education column for, appears every Thursday.