Tell Cuomo: Keep DeVos Out of NY State

cuomo devosGovernor Cuomo has called the State Senate and Assembly back into session in order to extend mayoral control for NYC schools for the coming year. Most members of the legislature support mayoral control.

However, Republicans in the State Senate, led by Majority Leader Flanagan, are trying to force through a bill that would extend mayoral control only if NYC accepted a dramatic increase in the number of new charter schools permitted to open in the city. Their legislation would also remove all caps placed on charter school expansion in areas outside the city and introduce tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools.

This is right out of the Betsy DeVos playbook and would be devastating for public schools and public school students in the city.

Here’s why:

  • Research demonstrates that unchecked charter school expansion has fueled resegregation in urban school districts. Charter schools also suspend more black students and children with disabilities than their public school counterparts. As a result, the NAACP recently joined a growing chorus of civil rights groups calling for a nationwide moratorium on charter schools.

 

  • Charter schools lack the financial and instructional oversight of district public schools and are consequently more prone to fraud and profit-driven corporate corruption.

 

  • 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 children who wind up in their district public schools after being expelled or counseled out of charters.  

 

  • Although there are 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 via a loss of per-pupil funding and will ultimately be shut down.

Concerned?

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Call your state senator: https://www.nysenate.gov/find-my-senator

*Note: If your state senator is a member of the IDC (Independent Democratic Conference), he/ she voted yes on Flanagan’s bill to increase the charter cap.

2. Call your assembly member: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/search/

3. Call Governor Cuomo: 518-474-8390

Script: Hi, my name is… and I’m a constituent from… (zip). [Insert personal details: I am a public school parent, teacher, graduate etc.] I am calling because I believe we should renew mayoral control for NYC schools without lifting the charter school cap. We need well-funded public schools with qualified teachers not more chain charter schools. [Feel free to include more reasons from above]

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/senate-leader-bill-ties-mayoral-control-charter-schools-article-1.2239324

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/28/separating-fact-from-fiction-in-21-claims-about-charter-schools/?utm_term=.c31fdb9517c7

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/08/when-public-goes-private-as-trump-wants-what-happens/

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/08/black-lives-matter-naacp-moratorium-charter-schools

 

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When Cuomo Pretends He Cares

17353378_10100395925024913_884817314304257965_nLast night I attended Central Synagogues “action” to raise the age of criminal accountability in NY State, featuring several inspiring speakers, and the night’s big draw, Governor Cuomo.  Of course, no questions (and no boos) were allowed during the presentation even though Cuomo shamelessly used the pulpit to veer off topic and champion shutting down “sub-par” public schools.

He also weirdly equated quality of education with how many devices are used in a given classroom and talked about the poor, failing public schools in which first graders don’t have access to “any electronics.” (Definitely an issue adequate funding from HIS OFFICE might address. Also, I’d prefer my first graders use less electronics in schools, not more.)

Since I didn’t get to ask my question, here it is, ready for Cuomo when he decides to actually face his constituents and host a real town hall.

Thank you for appearing in this forum and providing the space to discuss the urgency of raising the age in NY State. Unfortunately, if we really want to address the tragedy of teens and young adults traumatized by the criminal justice system we must face the fact of the school to prison pipeline.

Yet, your record and your proposed executive budget will perpetuate the school to prison pipeline by  failing to allocate the recommended amount of foundation aid due to NYS state schools, thereby continuing to underfund schools in low-income communities, depriving those schools of the resources they need to support all of their students academically and emotionally.  Your budget also aims to do away with the foundation aid formula all together, meaning NYS public schools will never get the 3 billion dollars they are owed to meet the NYS constitutional requirement for equity in education as determined by the 2006 ruling. As a teacher, I know all to well that overcrowded classrooms, lack of supplies and support and a high needs population is a nearly impossible challenge even for the most qualified and experience educators. Funding matters. 

Your proposed budget also lifts the current cap on charter schools in NYC, despite evidence that many charters intentionally weed out students with disabilities and behavioral challenges through suspensions, expulsions and “counseling” at a much higher rate than their public school counterparts. Your proposal also ignores evidence that charter schools are more segregated than public schools and more likely to promote “no-excuses” disciplinary approaches that disproportionately result in expulsions and suspensions of students of color and students with disabilities. For these reasons, both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a “moratorium” on charter schools. 

Raising the age is essential and I ask that you support Senator Montgomery’s comprehensive plan to do so. But if you want to truly help NYC teenagers stay out of our already over crowded jails, you MUST fully fund public schools and keep the existing cap and funding rates for charter schools in NYC.  Will you commit to doing this? 

I called and left my question as a voicemail today. I encourage you to leave your own message. Tell him to be a real progressive and stand up for public schools. Meanwhile, I’ll keep that question in my pocket for his next appearance.

 

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