Send this letter to Cuomo

Courtesy of Indivisible Nation BK ( indivisiblenationbk.org,) I wanted to share this open letter to Andrew Cuomo about his executive budget and public education. Spoiler alert: Budget is not great. Read on for more info and please share! The budget will be finalized in the next few weeks. If you want to take a stand for public schools, you need to get this message to Albany. 

(If you’d like to print and send your own, you can find it here)

Dear Governor Cuomo,

The Trump administration poses a grave threat to our communities, our democracy, the environment, and our public education system. Now, more than ever, we need you to take a stand for public schools in New York State. You cannot claim to be a progressive leader if you continue to underfund our public schools while promoting the unchecked expansion of the charter school industry at the expense of district schools, low-income communities, and students with special needs.

I am writing to you today to demand that you revise the 2017-2018 executive budget in order to meet the needs of public schools statewide.

First, I ask that you increase the amount of Foundation Aid allocated to New York State public schools by $2 billion over the next two years. As you know, In 2006, the New York Court of Appeals found that the state was violating students’ constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by underfunding low-income schools. Known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) ruling, the decision required the state to commit $5.5 billion in Foundation Aid to public schools across the state by 2011. However, the full distribution of this Foundation Aid has been delayed again and again and NYS schools are still owed $4.3 billion.  Meanwhile, your budget proposal includes an increase of only $428 million in Foundation Aid for schools and eliminates the use of the Foundation Aid formula altogether, while freezing Foundation Aid to school districts at  2017-2018’s meager level. This is unacceptable. Given the likelihood of the federal DOE eliminating Title 1 funding, it is critically important that you take your responsibility seriously and ensure that New York’s public schools will receive the aid they are owed. You must revise the budget and commit to fully funding public schools in New York state.

Second, I ask that you remove the special education waiver proposal from the executive budget. This proposal would allow school districts, approved private schools, and boards of cooperative educational services to seek waivers that would exempt them from providing important protections for students with disabilities. Specifically, this waiver would allow districts and schools to ignore provisions regarding IEPs, functional behavior assessments, behavior intervention plans, class sizes, and finally, provisions requiring schools to notify families before changes in placement. This waiver would dramatically erode students’ rights and harm children with disabilities, particularly those from low-income families who lack the resources to navigate IEPs and state law. It must be removed.

Finally, I ask that you not increase the number of new charter schools that can open in New York City and maintain the current “cap” which allows up to 30 new charter schools to open in NYC. The NAACP recently joined a growing chorus of civil rights groups calling for a nationwide moratorium on charter schools in light of research demonstrating that 1) unchecked charter school expansion has fueled resegregation in urban school districts and 2) charter schools suspend more black students and children with disabilities than their public school counterparts. Meanwhile, charter schools lack the financial and instructional oversight of district public schools and are consequently more prone to fraud and profit-driven corporate corruption. Some prominent growing charter chains, like Success Academy, have even been accused of abusive instructional and employment practices.

Additionally, there is growing evidence that many rapidly expanding charter school networks intentionally exclude and fail to meet the needs of students with disabilities. In fact, charter schools in NYC “lose” an average of 6%-11% of their students annually, whereas public schools tend to gain students as children get older. These “lost” students are usually struggling high-need children who wind up in their district public schools after being expelled or counseled out of charters.  In New York State, some charter schools have been accused of intentionally weeding out lower-performing students and then leaving seats empty to maintain the illusion of high achievement.

Moreover, although there are certainly some excellent charter schools in NYC (which will be unhindered by keeping the current cap), there is no evidence that charter schools, on the whole, perform better than neighborhood public schools, or that shutting down community schools and replacing them with privately-run charters is the best way to help our underserved communities.  Most important, increasing the number of charter schools permitted to open in NYC means increasing the number of public schools that will be starved of resources and ultimately shut down.

This is not what we want for our children. We demand that you fully fund our public schools, remove the special education waiver and keep the current reasonable limits on charter school expansion in New York City.

 

Sincerely,

Indivisible Nation BK and Yours Truly (of PedagogyoftheReformed fame)

 

Step It Up, UFT

Today was Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing. But for some reason, today was a day like any other day at school. There was a science experiment. There were math stations. Everyone smiled. No one talked about the hearing. No one marched out of the building. No email from the UFT came to my inbox.

Meanwhile, I haven’t had time to write for weeks because I have been too consumed with calling my Senators and getting every human I interact with to call their Senators every single day to vote against the supremely unqualified billionaire Betsy DeVos.

With DeVos in power, we are looking at a future where not all children can even go to school. Where private schools are funded by taxpayers and can then exclude minorities and students with disabilities with impunity. Where more and more children go to schools that are not evaluated, non-accredited, that indoctrinate students in intolerance, that don’t teach science, that exploit children for the sake of a profit.Where public schools are shuttered after being deliberately underfunded  again and again. Where for-profit schools funnel our taxpayer dollars into private pockets with no oversight. Where the few high- quality independent charters are pushed out by for-profit corporations that spend money on advertising and recruiting students. Apparently, even where people are free to bring their guns. (If you missed it, Betsy DeVos doesn’t think schools need to be “gun free zones.”)  Public schools have been privatized elsewhere and it always, always fails. We know what a DeVos future holds, and it is millions of children left behind.

DeVos has all but destroyed public education in Michigan, and she has less experience in public education than my 4 year old pre-school students.  This is no joke. This is life or death- not just for  education but for a democratic future.  Without public schools that accept and strive to educate all students, that meet standards, are evaluated regularly and cultivate research based pedagogy, we will lose the only remaining tool we have to “level the playing field.”  Hello oligarchy.

And what I’m wondering is… where the hell is the UFT? Why have I not been called to action? Why aren’t NYC teachers walking out in droves? Why aren’t we in the streets? Why isn’t the UFT holding press conferences, staging protests, mass mailing letters? Why aren’t they raising money for a strike fund? Why is it that all I heard about was a “twitter storm?”

If the UFT won’t step it up and fight hard for NYC public schools, who will?

Guys, this is no time for twitter storms. This is a real life, serious, all out, long term fight. We need to be in the streets. NYC teachers and the UFT- we need to be ready. The vote is next Tuesday. What’s the plan? 

Read This if DeVos Doesn’t Scare You-Yet

 

 

Gifts That Fight Back: Holiday Gifts for the Activist

It feels frivolous to even go holiday shopping with the seeds of destruction of public education, democracy, social welfare and civil rights being sown at every turn by the Pres. elect and his slew of corrupt appointees. But I think my family will be less than pleased if all I give them this year are donations in their name to the ACLU, so I made an activist  gift giving plan. Here it is:

Gifts that Fight Back

To fight for civil rights:

To support a free and creditable press:

To support women’s reproductive health:

To support public education:

To fight climate change and stand for science:

Support public institutions:

If you have more ideas, organizations or links- please share via comments! I will keep adding as I find more. Spread the word: Give gifts that fight back this holiday season!

 

Betsy Devos: New but Same Old Disaster for Public Ed

Betsy Devos, a right wing billionaire from Michigan who has no experience as an educator or even as a parent of public school children, may very well be our new secretary of education. Her platform?  Increasing unregulated, for-profit charters and school voucher programs to send America’s children to private christian schools. AKA: Destroying public education.

Let’s get a few things straight.

Unregulated, for-profit charters should be illegal. They take taxpayer money, provide sub-par education, cherry pick kids leaving the hardest cases for public schools and make money for people who are already rich. How is this ok with anyone?

Children are not commodities.

Quality public education is a right and a service- not a for-profit opportunity.

Teachers are public servants, who work very hard for very little. Without the security provided by unions and retirement benefits teaching is a completely unsustainable career. Hence the insane turnover at charter schools.

There is no evidence that charter schools are better than public schools. There is definitely no evidence that dubious for-profit charters and online schools are better than public schools. But there is evidence that adequately funded public schools and unionized teachers DO provide quality education.

The federal government has no business funding private, unregulated christian schools.

In Michigan, Devos’ home state, public schools have been so neglected that buildings are rotting, students are drinking poisoned water and teachers are making do without any supplies at all. Meanwhile, Betsy Devos gets to be the new Ed Secretary.

But this is nothing new. Amidst all the outrage about Devos’ appointment there is a group of people, mostly teachers and parents, who have been fighting these very same battles for years. John King and Arne Duncan also steered education policy around billionaire interests and the false promise of “choice” all while sending their own children to progressive private schools.  Unqualified, often right-wing billionaires- the Waltons, Gates and Devos families among them- have been calling the shots in education for a very long time and teachers and parents have been sounding the alarm for just as long. We have been protesting school closures, organizing strikes, opting out of test and punish and voting to keep caps on charter schools around the country while Republicans and Democrats alike champion the decimation of public schools and organized labor.

Maybe it’s time for everyone on the left and above all- for educators- whether you work in a public, private or charter school, to wake up and realize that privatization is at best ineffective and at worst perpetuating the plutocracy we are rapidly becoming. It’s time to think critically about an unregulated “reform” movement funded by hedge fund managers, tech billionaires and fundamentalist christian “philanthropists” like Devos. It’s time for a unified Democratic platform that stands up for public schools and public school teachers.

Teachers and leaders like Carol Burris and Diane Ravitch have been speaking out for years. It’s time to listen.

 

 

Don’t Know Much About History

Is anyone else thinking that we should get over our obsession with job readiness and coding and start teaching civics, history and critical thinking again?

It is ironic that in an election year full to the brim with historical myth, deceit, ignorance and intolerance all anyone can say about education is “coding! More coding!” Remember when education used to be viewed as essential to democracy?

In the most elite private schools and liberal arts colleges students do more than math drills, ELA exercises and an hour of code. They learn how to think. They are empowered to express informed opinions. They are empowered to see themselves as agents of change, to think critically and engage in democracy.  But we continue to manage public schools like factories- with economic rather than human, democratic goals. Beneath this reality is an insidious assumption that only our elites should learn how to think and engage critically in the democratic process, and that all everyone else needs is vocational training.

But education should be about more than job readiness for everyone, not just the already privileged. If I’ve gained anything from watching this circus of an election cycle, its a powerful reminder of the importance of history, critical thinking and empowerment in education.

The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think — rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.- John Dewey

A democratic form of government, a democratic way of life, presupposes free public education over the long period; it presupposes also an education for personal responsibility that too often is neglected. -Eleanor Roosevelt

The Stories We Tell

As an educator, as a white person, as a New Yorker, I need to say again, black lives matter. We all do. Because the voices of educators shape the stories we tell ourselves about race, about our history and about how our fractured, violent society came to be.

There is  much to say and do within ourselves and in our communities. What educators need to say is this: until we address segregation in schools and adopt curricula that teaches truth about our history, there will always be people convinced that they are not privileged by their whiteness and that we can in fact “make america great again.” (Let’s translate that: Make white people great again- America was never great for anyone else)

In schools all across the country, we continue to teach American history through the lens of great white men, too often in monocultural classrooms. The narrative has widened slightly to acknowledge the existence of slavery, but it remains an aside- an regrettable afterthought that is often not really addressed until college level history courses or not even then. In my own elementary school, we adhere to the New York state scope and sequence and teach about New Amsterdam, the Colonial period, the Revolutionary war, and industrialization with only cursory attention to the enslaved and then oppressed peoples who enriched the white men who founded and ran this country.  I have written about this before but in this moment- with so many shootings, with Trumps’s blatant empowerment of white supremacy, with tragedy and protests flooding the news I want to say it one more time.

This is what we should be teaching our children.

New York was founded on slavery. America was founded on slavery. America is a nation that owes its wealth and power directly to the brutal oppression of African peoples. Slavery drove colonization, it built Wall Street and paved the way for American independence and wealth.   For 400  years,  America exploited, murdered, abused and silenced black people to make itself great.  And now it is clear how deeply we are still broken- how many systems and institutions continue  to segregate and oppress- from police to prisons to our increasingly segregated schools. We cannot pretend to anything else- to any greatness, to any innocence.  American history can never be undone.

And if as an educator, I tell the same old story to my students, if I don’t fight for equity and integration, if I don’t add my voice and say black lives matter, we will remain mired in the consequences of our history without insight or compassion. Black lives matter. Black children matter. Black history matters. Its time to bring truth to our curriculum in every state and to desegregate our schools. It’s time to stand up as educators, fight for our students and change the stories we tell. Especially now.

 

 

 

 

What We Leave out: The Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

There are major issues with the way we teach African American history in NY state elementary and middle schools.

  1. We don’t really teach it.
  2. Slavery- It was and is really, really important. More than just a lamentable moment from our past, it should be central to any understanding of America past and present.
  3. The Civil rights movement- it happened! It’s still happening! But for some reason we don’t teach about it.

To start with, you cannot teach about any moment in early America without an in-depth, fair look at slavery. This country was built on slavery, from New York down to the deep south and the Caribbean. Colonialism grew up on the backs of enslaved Africans, and New York City became the powerful economic center it is because of wealth garnered from the slave trade and slave produced commodities in the south. African American history should be central to any narratives about colonialism, industrialization, westward expansion or New York’s history. While slavery is featured in the 4th and 7th grade scope and sequence for social studies, it is again just a few bullet points amidst the traditional narrative of powerful white men making decisions. ( About 8 teaching points all together out of over 200 in all of elementary school)

Lest anyone protest that slavery is too scary or horrific to really teach to 10 or 11 year olds, I will point out the the 4th and 5th grade curriculum is entirely centered on wars. Even if that were not the case, I firmly believe that to teach about any moment in American history without teaching about injustice, violence, exploitation and resistance is to promote a lie with far reaching social and political consequences. Conversely, teaching  about inequality, oppression and resistance is empowering at any age.

However, every year on Martin Luther King day, I remember that in our k-8 social studies curriculum, there is nothing- that’s right, nothing – about the civil rights movement.

Moreover, in all of the k-5 curriculum- so that is all of elementary school – these are the sole teaching points drawn from African American History after the Civil War.

  • Migration of freed slaves following the Civil War
  • Reasons African Americans moved into northern cities and The Great Migration
  • The artists, writers, and musicians associated with the Harlem Renaissance
  • NAACP (in a laundry list of non-governmental organizations in the 5th grade study of American government)

That’s it. There are dozens of teaching points about the colonial period, about the “age of exploration” (age of exploitation anyone?), about industrialization and about democracy and freedom, but of course only as they relate to the American Revolution and the founding (all white, male, mostly slave owning) fathers. There is nothing about what followed the Civil War and nothing about Civil Rights or racial identities and oppression today.

Our social studies curriculum needs whole units devoted to African American history after the civil war. Black people did not disappear with the emancipation proclamation and neither did oppression. We should be starting with reconstruction and Jim Crow, travel through the roots of civil rights  at the turn of the century, into a full exploration of the Harlem Renaissance and finally into the post-war period. Then, when we get to Martin Luther King and the full fledged civil rights movement, we should do more than a sanitized read aloud one day out of the year. (Read this)

Instead, we should do meaningful service projects in our communities. We should learn about movements toward institutional desegregation, including Brown vs. the Board of Ed and the white flight and resegregation it precipitated. We should compare leaders of the civil rights movement and their philosophies (we should be teaching kids about Malcolm X too), and learn about them in context and in depth. We should learn about women in the civil rights movement beyond Rosa Parks. We should explore the legacy of civil rights today and make sure students come away with a sense that the civil rights movement is unfinished and unceasing.  We should deliberately and explicitly foster conversations about civil rights issues of the day, making connections between past and present, not reinforce the apocryphal narratives of consensus that still dominate the way we teach history in schools. We could even make connections to current education policy, “the civil rights issue of our time” – ironically one of the phrases reformers use to push standardization, charters and punitive accountability measures which disproportionately harm black students.

I strongly believe that African American history should be central to any social studies curriculum no matter where you live, but even more so in New York where our school going population is almost 30 % black, and African American communities have played an outsized role in shaping New York City’s history and culture. Instead, tragically, we pretend that slavery didn’t matter, that our schools are not still segregated and that Civil Rights is a thing from long ago. By not teaching about Civil Rights, we confirm the insidious perception that the emancipation proclamation and the march on Washington ended racial oppression in this country. It did not.

This gaping hole in our social studies curriculum is an injustice to all of our students. There are many other projects and topics I wish we could teach more of. But this issue demands attention in a time of renewed activism and renewed racism from presidential candidates to the Supreme Court, from the criminal justice system to the federal education department. Civil rights has the potential to inspire and empower, to affirm and to provoke questions about the status quo with the end goal of fuller participation in our democracy. That should be the goal of our social studies curriculum- not transmitting a meaningless litany of facts, nor confirming dominant narratives that perpetuate ignorance and racism. No one will grow up and be convinced that black lives really matter if they never learn about black lives, no matter their race.

We need to teach African American history thoughtfully and purposefully. That’s not a token reference here and there.  African American history should not be something we engage with once a year for a day or a month. It is inextricably part of every moment of American history, and should be substantially present in our curricula all year long, from early in elementary school all the way through high school.  There should be whole units devoted to the African American experience. Just one would be a good start.

It is time to rethink social studies in this state so that it reflects the complexity of our history, the imperfections of the present, and the possibilities for our future.