On Sunday, March 2, 2014, I participated in a much-publicized Common Core (CCSS) panel with four other individuals as part of the Network for Public Education (NPE) first annual conference in Austin, Texas. (A 40-minute video of the CCSS panel can be found here; a five-minute video excerpt of my seven-minute opener can be found here.)
One of the panel members was American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten. Weingarten was the only panel member in favor of CCSS. The rest of us, including moderator Anthony Cody, were against CCSS.
In this post, I would like to reflect upon my involvement on the CCSS panel, especially in connection with Weingarten. Much of what I have written is not available on video because the events and/or reflections occurred outside of the CCSS panel itself. Some of what I have written involves responding to Weingarten’s words here since there was neither time nor opportunity to do so during the panel session.
My Position on Weingarten
First, a clear word on where I stand in regard to Weingarten. I think she chooses to be involved with the likes of Bill Gates and Eli Broad because she likes them. I believe that the money they bring is a reason, but a lesser reason, for her sustained relationship with them. These two men bring with them power, and connections, and influence. Weingarten likes to be “at the table,”– their table. And their table is one that promotes the privatization of public education.
I believe that Weingarten’s continued involvement with Gates and Broad and their extensive network of moneyed, powerful cronies is destroying the union. The destruction shows itself in every pro-privatizing decision that Weingarten makes– and such decisions appear to be countless. It seems that every time I dig deeper in researching a Weingarten decision, privatization is the winner.
I believe that Weingarten is at least partly motivated to continue her Gates/Broad relationships because she always has an eye to the “where next” of her own career. She became a teacher temporarily in order to become a teachers union president; she was willing to jump into Hillary Clinton’s open senate seat in 2008 after having just been elected AFT president, and she continues to seek the next avenue in her career rise. The result is that Weingarten is willing to sacrifice the health and security of the union for her own career aspirations.
It is always my hope that Weingarten will forsake her allegiance to her corporate reform connections and focus on the well being of the union. However, with each new decision she makes, what I must face is the reality that Weingarten must be pushed into a political corner in order to eke out a couple of drops of concession that are for teachers (and, by extension, for the union) and against her beloved corporate reform connections. This reluctance showed itself in the CCSS panel regarding discontinuing Gates money for the AFT Innovation Fund (more to come on this) and it show itself in Weingarten’s dealings with New Jersey in the week prior to the NPE conference. (See this link for Weingarten’s letter to NJ Governor Chris Christie accompanied by my “deeper dig.”)
I have heard the excuse that being AFT president is a “difficult” job, insinuating that Weingarten should be excused for her reckless and repeated union-damaging decisions. I do not excuse her. She sought the job of teachers union president; based upon AFT’s 2012 990, she makes almost eight times my salary (W-2 and/or 1099 MISC have her compensation at $454,416), and she was elected to serve public school teachers.
If elected to serve us, then let her be accountable to us.
Schneider Has a Weingarten Vendetta (??)
I have actually had the term vendetta used to describe my interactions with Weingarten. First of all, a vendetta involves seeking revenge for a single wrong, perceived or actual. I am not seeking revenge. What I am doing is exposing Weingarten’s continued pro-privatizing dealings as I learn of them in the course of my research.
Yes, I am angry at Weingarten’s wrecking of my union and my profession. However, I am not cruel in my dealings with her.
Pointed, yes; cruel, no.
It’s called accountability. Perhaps she will begin to think about how her corporate-reform-friendly bent will come back to haunt her in my posts and elsewhere. (The education blogger network has become a force in its own right, and the press should provide a healthy pressure on those whose decisions impact the masses.)
Allow me to present some behind-the-scenes dealings to underscore my balanced motivations in interacting with Randi Weingarten.
When I agreed to participate on NPE’s CCSS panel, there was no mention of Weingarten as a panelist. So, I did not agree in an effort to have a “showdown” with Randi Weingarten. Anthony Cody invited me to participate because of my extensive writing on CCSS.
On December 30, 2013, I received an email from Cody telling me that Weingarten had accepted an invitation to appear as part of the NPE CCSS panel and that she did not yet know I also invited.
I phoned Cody to be sure that my appearance would be no surprise to Weingarten. I wanted her to experience no daytime-television-sensationalized shock at my being there. Cody assured me he had no such intention and that Weingarten would know that I was a panelist long before the event.
People with vendettas do not guard their opponents against shock.
On February 4, 2014, Cody asked my thoughts on the format for the CCSS panel. I asked him if Weingarten would be the only pro-CCSS panelist. He said yes; so, I proposed that she begin a structured seven-minute presentation time and be allowed three additional minutes at the end.
People with vendettas do not offer generous concessions.
One of my fellow bloggers told me that she assumed Weingarten demanded the extra time. Weingarten did not. I suggested we incorporate it since she was alone in her position; the remaining panel members agreed.
But there is another piece to this story. There was some email discussion over a conversational format for the panel. I did not believe this would work well with five people, and I noted as much. “Conversational hijacking” was too much of a possibility, and some panelists might be completely omitted from the discussion. However, my principal concern was for my own self control. I phoned Cody and told him as much: In an open format, I was much more likely to rip into Weingarten, and I did not want this panel to degenerate into the dregs of an ugly encounter. I asked Cody to “save me from myself” (my exact words). He assured me that he felt more comfortable with the structure originally proposed and to which Weingarten had initially agreed. (She later wanted the more open format.)
People with vendettas do not ask others to help them maintain control against potentially unruly, “vendetta-related” upset.
Prior to the NPE conference, I had not met Weingarten. I wanted to do so in a low-key manner. So, after serving a chauffeur on Saturday night (the first conference night and the night before the CCSS panel), I introduced myself to Weingarten, who was at the Mariott at a reception for NM Governor Howie Morales. The reception was ending– it was 10 p.m.– and I walked up to her, said my name, explained that I wanted to introduce myself before tomorrow, then excused myself and left. No fanfare. No showing off in front of a group of friends. Just a moment of ice breaking in an effort to make tomorrow’s introduction a smoother moment.
People with vendettas do not “break the ice” via low-key introductions.
So, yes, my intention was to confront Weingarten’ pro-CCSS position but to do so in a professional and controlled manner.
(An aside: Before I published my open exchange with Weingarten in November 2013, I not only informed her that I was writing an open letter to her; I sent the letter to her and gave her a full week to respond if she chose to prior to my posting the letter. Then I sent the finished post to her prior to publishing, including her response, and told her the exact time and locations of the posting. And let us not forget my December 2013 defense of AFT against the Center for Union Facts. No vendetta.)
Schneider Was Too Controlled (??)
Allow me to address the pendulum as it swings to the other side, namely, that I was too controlled. Some audience members expected me to rip into Weingarten. First of all, my intention was to destroy her logic for supporting CCSS– not her. I believe that this was accomplished not only by me but also by the other three anti-CCSS panel members.
There were some addiitonal Weingarten statements on which I would have liked to comment in real time. Nevertheless, time did not allow for all panelists to say all that they wanted during the panel. We had a schedule to keep.
That Sunday afternoon, I was able to elaborate on my position regarding the influence of philanthropy dependence (the money as well as the power and connections) as such concerns Weingarten and others receiving philanthropic “assistance” to a packed room as part of the philanthropy panel discussion. Plus, I am writing my candid “debriefing” as part of this post.
Should Randi Weingarten and I ever engage in a one-to-one discussion of AFT involvements with those known to actively promote the corporate reform agenda, my discussion will be much more direct– never cruel– and likely without much raising of my voice– but like the skilled and precise slicing of a surgeon’s scalpel.
The Weingarten-BAT Incident
In this post, I wish to respond to Weingarten’s words during the CCSS panel. First, allow me to sidestep to her auditorium entrance.
Her privatizer-friendly positions make Weingarten a polarizing figure. And she is very much the politician, seeking to be regarded as a member of whatever group whose opinions she is trying to sway.
(In planning for the NPE conference, fellow blogger Jon Pelto created a group for conference panelists. A number of bloggers were on this list and were trying to arrange a bloggers meeting. At one point Weingarten entered the conversation and asked, “So am I a blogger? Or just a participant?” I wanted a clear boundary. I responded, “Randi, you are a participant.”)
On the morning of the NPE CCSS panel, Weingarten wore a BAT (Bad Ass Teachers) t-shirt.
Apparently Weingarten passed the BAT table and asked for a t-shirt. A BAT took her photo and created a meme. The entire event disturbed blogger Kris Nielsen, who responded on March 3 with this post. The next day, March 4, blogger Denisha Jones answered Nielsen. I particularly like what Jones notes here:
…Taking a picture of Randi Weingarten in a BAT t-shirt did not make BAT’s suddenly reverse their stance on CCSS. And let’s be clear, Randi Weingarten put on the BATs t-shirt. BAT’s did not put on a Randi Weingarten t-shirt and allow themselves to be photographed. [Emphasis added.]
The BATs did not endorse Weingarten. One simply gave her a t-shirt.
I am careful about my associations. My education reform writings have made me popular with a variety of groups, some of which I would not otherwise choose to ally. Anyone may choose to reblog my work. However, I am careful where I choose to become actively involved, be it webpage, or magazine, or blog, or speaking engagement.
And I never don a logo in order to mimic belonging.
Weingarten’s Opener (And My Written Commentary)
In her opening remarks, Weingarten equates “national standards” with CCSS. She admits that she “believes in national standards.” However, the push for CCSS is that they are not “national”– they are “state-led.”
If the public were fine with “national” CCSS, there would be no push to “rebrand” in an effort to trick the public into believing the standards are unique to individual states.
In my opener, I state that “national standards” does not equal CCSS, and that “national standards” must be voluntary.
In her opener, Weingarten also acknowledges that AFT “was approached” to “review” CCSS.
Not “write.” Not “develop.” Only “review.”
Not to mention the passive voice, “was approached.” Top-down.
She adds, “There was a bunch of give and take, and they changed the standards in a lot of different ways.”
Note the top-down “they.” “They” have the power. “They” have the final word. And in the end, “they” decided to make CCSS rigid.
Weingarten admits that she believes CCSS is “inappropriate for K thru 2″ and that she knows this “because people have used them how inappropriate they are.”
No mention of the need to pilot before implementing. No mention of the damage to student, teachers and schools for forcing implementation of untested CCSS.
How about grades 3 thru 12?
Weingarten jumps to the “real problem is the testing, which comes from No Child Left Behind (NCLB).”
The real problem is that all of Race to the Top (RTTT) attempts to be a “standardized NCLB”– rigid standards so that curriculum and test makers can pattern their wares after the CCSS template. Testing is the offshoot of the CCSS hub.
Weingarten states that the “problem” is that “testing has conflated with everything else that happens in school.” She does not admit her contribution to the destruction brought about by testing dependence, not the least of which is her taking money from Gates for VAM and not declaring VAM problematic until the month following the expiration of the Gates grant. Neither does Weingarten acknowledge her contribution in tying Newark teachers into VAM (see Newark link above).
Weingarten maintains that it is the testing emphasis that makes “people feel like they have no voice whatsoever.”
It is not the testing alone. It is the entire spectrum of reforms intentionally and strategically pushed down the collective school and community throats by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the National Governors Association (NGA).
Weingarten focused her argument on “finding a way to break through on the fixation on testing and the fixation on test scores.”
The way to destroy the CCSS tests is to destroy CCSS. In my opener, I offered the advice for teachers to form committees and to start shuffling CCSS around. Doing so sabotages CCSS as a template for testing.
The through answer is to obliterate CCSS. No CCSS, no CCSS tests.
AFT and Gates Money
During Weingarten’s second time speaking (recorded at end of video), Weingarten attempted to defend AFT’s accepting Gates money by noting that it was one percent of the total AFT budget. (According to the AFT 2012 990, AFT spent $190 million from July 2011 to June 2012. About.com has AFT’s annual budget at “over $170 million.”) She offered the audience the concession that at the July convention,she would ask members to vote on a five-cent dues increase in order to continue the AFT Innovation Fund. She asked the audience if that would be okay. The audience applauded.
Weingarten implied that “so little” Gates money does not matter. However, it apparently does since not accepting “the next round” for the AFT Innovation Fund means a dues increase. The current Gates grant for the Innovation Fund and CCSS ($4.4 million) expires in May 2015.
Note: There was no mention of returning any Gates money. There was also no agreement to not accept Gates money in the future– just not for the Innovation Fund.
The Gates money matters to those who take it. However, the connection to Gates and the power that such connection brings matters to those benefiting from his circle of power more than does his money.
A five-cent annual annual dues increase for all 1.5 million AFT members yields $75,000 in additional revenue.
A two-dollar annual dues increase for all 1.5 million AFT members would yield an additional $3 million in AFT revenue.
I would like to challenge Weingarten to offer AFT members the total amount that AFT dues must rise in order for her to say no to all corporate-reform-associated philanthropic money given to AFT.
I would also like to challenge her to stop making contributions out of AFT money to those who openly advocate the corporate reform, corporation-benefiting, test-driven, teaching-profession-undermining agenda.
At the close of the NPE CCSS panel, Weingarten spoke last. She reiterated that she likes CCSS and added that her reason was “personal” and connected to her time “as a teacher.”
First, as the president of a national teachers union, the “bottom line” for continued support of CCSS cannot be “personal.” Weingarten is the leader of 1.5 million union members. Support for any program must put union membership ahead of personal preference.
Second, Weingarten concluded her time “as a teacher” in 1997. Thus, she has been away from the classroom for seventeen years. In a conversation over dinner, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis observed to me, “I have been away from the classroom for only three years, and I am out of touch with what is happening there now.”
I returned to the public school classroom in 2007 after teaching at the university level. My 2007 return is worlds away from what I know as a classroom teacher in 2014.
For me, CCSS is indeed “personal,” for it is very much associated with my daily classroom experience. But may I always offer a more detailed, factual, research-based reasoning for railing against corporate reform and its ardent supporters than to simply note, “It’s personal.”
I plan to write a reflection on my NPE Common Core panel experience. However, allow me to first post this 40-minute video, which, I am guessing, includes each panelists’ opening remarks prior to the 30-minute question and answer segment.
Each panelist was afforded seven minutes to speak, in the following order: AFT President Randi Weingarten speaks first; then, University of Chicago Lab Schools History Instructor Paul Horton. Third to speak is “Teacher-Turned-Activist” Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin; then me (Mercedes Schneider). Fifth is “Educator, Writer, Activist, and Father” Jose Luis Vilson. The segment ends with a five-minute speech by Randi Weingarten. (It was my suggestion that Weingarten be allowed a second opportunity to speak since no one else on the panel would be on her side regarding Common Core. Common Core Panel Moderator Anthony Cody and the remainder of the panel agreed that this would be fair.)
The purpose of this post is to provide a brief summary for Florida parents regarding the failure of the spectrum of so-called education “reforms” introduced and advanced by former Governor Jeb Bush (1999 – 2007).
I have written this brief, two-page “talking points” Word doc to complement the contents of this post. Thus, parents can use the “talking points” as a quick reference in school board meetings and legislative hearings and use the contents of this post for a more detailed explanation of the talking points (complete with links to references supporting each point).
In this post, I address the spectrum of Florida education “reform,” including school letter grades; graduation rates; charters, vouchers, and virtual schools; teacher evaluation; third-grade retention, and “declaring” Florida high school graduates as “college ready.”
A – F School Letter Grades
A major problem with the school letter grades is their susceptibility to manipulation. In fact, former Florida Superintendent Tony Bennett was forced to resign in August 2013 after emails implicated him in fixing a charter school letter grade during his time as superintendent in Indiana.
Letter grade formulas are also endlessly manipulated. Politico notes, “In Florida, for instance, the legislature has tinkered with the A-F school grading formula at least two dozen times in recent years. … Last year, alarmed that so many Florida students failed a new writing exam, the state board of education quickly lowered the passing score to boost more kids over the bar.”
A letter grade system that changes from year to year is useless. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) tries to promote school letter grade changes as good and also presents information on “improvement” based on their ever-changing letter grade calculations, but don’t let them fool you. Tell them that you know school letter grade comparisons are meaningless unless tests, and scoring, and all other parts of the formula (including student information) are kept exactly the same from year to year.
In 2012, FDOE botched its school letter grade calculations for 213 schools and had to correct them following publication.
Florida’s graduation rate has been among the lowest for years. In 2001-02, Florida’s graduation rate was among the bottom five states. In 2010-11, it was among the bottom seven (three states did not have rates calculated).
The 2010-11 calculation is a better measure for state-to-state comparison since the 2001-02 rate was not calculated uniformly for all states.
For 2012-13, Florida reports its overall graduation rate as 75.6%, up from 70.6% in 2010-11. This article attributes the rise in Florida school district graduation rates– which varies widely from district to district– to an emphasis on college preparedness–and the ACT test. Yet Florida was in the bottom six states for its average ACT score of 19.8 in 2012.
Based upon the unstable, ever-changing Florida school letter grade system, Bush-favored charters are not faring well. In 2012, more Florida charters scored A’s– and more scored F’s. (This article includes a caveat regarding FDOE’s having to correct 213 school grades that it incorrectly calculated. When calculation formulas are constantly changing, errors in calculation are much more likely.)
FDOE does not properly regulate Florida charter schools. The USDOE was informed of Florida’s lack of charter oversight in this September 2012 audit. One result of this lack of proper oversight is this story of a Florida charter school that paid its principal of only 180 students $519,000 after the school was slated to close and paid her husband $460,000.
Lack of charter accountability before the public coupled with the ability to manipulate school letter grades enabled Former Florida Superintendent Tony Bennett to change an Indiana charter school’s letter grade– a charter founded by someone who donated millions to Republicans– including $130,000 to Bennett.
As is true for Florida charters, Florida vouchers also lack proper oversight. One Florida voucher program, the McKay Scholarship Program, supposedly provides vouchers for special needs students. However, McKay schools have no curriculum requirements and no accreditation standards. Thus, there is zero accountability for those teaching Florida students receiving McKay Scholarship money.
Florida also has a tax credit voucher program known as the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program, in which businesses donate money to send lower-income students to private schools in exchange for tax credits. The use of tax credits is a “back door” means to paying public money for students to attend private schools.
There is a current legislative push for Florida sales tax revenue to bypass the state and to be sent directly to “scholarship organizations.” Again, this is an underhanded way to use public money to finance private school education in Florida.
The final flaw regarding Florida voucher “success” is that no means exists for evaluating the effectiveness of Florida vouchers. Florida legislators wish to expand the corporate tax credit voucher program. Only one– Florida Senate President Don Gaetz– is pushing for voucher school accountability.
Lack of proper oversight is the common theme for Bush-promoted “alternative learning” in the form of charters, vouchers, and now, virtual schools. One for-profit virtual learning company in Florida, K12, was investigated in 2012 for a cover-up regarding its using uncertified teachers and having certified teachers sign for uncertified teachers’ class rosters– which made it appear that some teachers had classes of up to 275 students.
The quality of education via virtual schools (also known as online schools or cyber charters) is highly suspect. Oversight is definitely needed.
Evaluating teachers using student test scores (known as “value added modeling,” or VAM) does not work. Directly attributing “pieces” of student learning to specific teachers in specific classrooms via student test scores is a mathematical impossibility– this shows up in huge “margins of error” for teacher scores. (The margins of error for many Florida teacher VAM scores is so large that it is like saying, “We think the bullet hit the bullseye; however, it could have completely missed the target.”)
Moreover, in 2012– the same year that FDOE botched school letter grade calculations– FDOE miscalculated its teacher evaluations. FDOE had to retract the information only hours following its release.
In 2014, FDOE “flunked” a number of its Teacher of the Year winners and finalists using VAM. This is what happens when professional contribution and quality human interaction are replaced by numbers input into a mathematical formula: Common-sense-defying foolishness.
Third Grade Retention
Jeb Bush tried to erase social promotion in the third grade by holding back number of third graders. It did not work. Instead, Florida ended up failing a disproportionate number of minority students. Having these students repeat third grade offered the illusion of testing gains for fourth graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). (Third graders do not take NAEP.) In short, if more lower-performing students are kept out of fourth grade, then the resulting fourth-grade NAEP score improvement is misleading.
Read here about parents’ rights to exempt children from mandatory retention in Florida. Unfortunately, some students must be retained for two years until retention is determined to be itself a failure.
Hiding Bush’s Failure: The “College Ready” Declaration
In 2013, the Florida legislature passed a bill that declares high school graduates as “college ready” and places all in for-credit college courses. In doing so, the legislature has decided that ignoring a problem will make it disappear. What such legislation allows Florida to do is to state publicly that all of its graduates are “college ready”– whether they really are or not.
The point of such “college ready” legislation is to absolve Florida policy makers (including former Governor Jeb Bush himself) from any responsibility associated with their numerous decisions regarding the ever-changing school letter grades– or lack of accountability for Florida charters, vouchers, and online schools– or inaccurate, damaging teacher evaluation policies– or arguably-abusive retention legislation. After all, it certainly would make the failure of the Jeb-Bush-promoted Florida education reform “miracle” obvious if Florida graduates required remedial coursework in order to enter college.
In Closing: Accountability Needed
Florida legislators and other officials in positions of authority need to be held accountable for their decisions regarding the education of Florida’s public school students. My intention in writing this post (and the attached talking-point Word doc) is to equip Florida parents to do just that.
The Jeb Bush Florida Education “Miracle” is a sham, Florida parents. Tell all who will listen that you know so. Hold Florida’s elected officials accountable for what they are inflicting upon your children.
The first annual Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference was this past weekend, on Saturday, March 1, and Sunday, March 2, 2014.
Below is a news brief on the conference:
I participated in the NPE conference as a member of three panel discussions, the topics being investigative journalism, philanthropy (as such is undermining the democratic process) and the Common Core (CCSS).
Click here for the published conference agenda.
Approximately 400 people attended, including but not limited to classroom teachers, university professors, parents, grandparents, retirees, journalists, bloggers, researchers, elected officials, students, administrators, and other advocates for the cause of public education.
I met scores of people. However, outside of my formal conference involvements, I spent most of my time enjoying the company of Jennifer Berkshire (Edushyster) and Gretchen Conley (her Edusister); Darcie Cimarusti (Mother Crusader); DC cheating whistleblower principal Adell Cothorne; Lee Barrios (Geaux Teacher), and, for her limited engagement (Saturday only, over my first dining experience with Ethiopian cuisine), Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis.
One of my favorite low-key moments was Sunday afternoon when several of us were hanging out in my room, chatting about the conference and laughing about life in the hour or so before dinner. In that rare and beautiful experience, I glimpsed the pleasant shadow of my college past, now almost thirty years ago.
I had a marvelous time.
I was hoping to publish a number of video clips from the conference. We had planned to live stream numerous sessions; however, NPE experienced technical difficulty. I believe that some sessions were filmed. And certainly, the abundance of iPhones in the audience will yield video footage of a number of sessions.
As such is made available to me, I will post it. (Anyone having such video documentation, please provide links in the comments section of this post.)
One view currently available is Texas Superintendent John Kuhn’s and CTU President Karen Lewis’ impassioned defense of public education.
They reminded me that being a traditional public school teacher is noble and good.
Also available is this 5-minute clip of my opener during the CCSS panel:
I plan to write a more detailed commentary on components of the CCSS panel discussion once a complete video is available. Stay tuned.
The state-run Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans is about appearance, not truth. It is about control, not choice.
I have written extensively on the “RSD success” illusion. It is an illusion that has come to the New Orleans community at great cost.
Below is a firsthand account of life in the RSD written by New Orleans parent advocate Ashana Bigard and originally posted on Edushyster’s blog.
Bigard’s account provides a sobering reminder that the state-run RSD exploits New Orleans families.
Is New Orleans-style school choice a model or a cautionary tale?
New Orleans parent advocate Ashana Bigard.
By Ashana Bigard
When I talk about *choice* in New Orleans I use quotations with both fingers and I wink too. Supposedly we have what’s called a *choice model for excellent education* but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of schools in New Orleans now operate the exact same way. They have rigid disciplinary codes that punish poor kids for being poor and are neither nurturing nor developmentally appropriate.
I’m an advocate for parents in New Orleans, which means that I work with them and represent them when their kids are suspended or expelled from school. Last year we had 54 school districts in New Orleans and all of those different districts make their own rules. For six years after the storm, the schools all set their own expulsion policies. As of last year we have a uniform expulsion policy but individual schools still make their own suspension rules.
Punished for being poor
Most of the cases I see involve kids who are being discriminated against and criminalized for being poor. Think about it. If I’m setting up a school where I know that the majority of students I’m serving are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch—to access free lunch in New Orleans your family has to earn less than $12,000 a year**—why would I punish kids for not being able to pay for things that are clearly out of the range of what their families can afford? It isn’t logical. Yet as an advocate I have to go and argue with the school that if this child doesn’t have a belt or his mother can’t afford a size 15 uniform shoe that costs $200, you don’t have the right to put them out of school and keep them from being educated. This is a child we’re talking about. Even if you’re saying *we’re going to teach this child a lesson,* what are you teaching him other than that *if your parents are poor, you can be hurt*? What is the lesson?
The case that still breaks my heart involved a 14-year-old who kept getting demerits because his uniform shirt was too small and came untucked basically every time he moved. His mother was a veteran, well-educated, and had sold real estate but got divorced and ended up losing her job, and became homeless. They were living with friends and really struggling. The school expelled the child because he’d had three suspensions—the last one for selling candy to try to raise enough money to buy a new shoes and a new uniform shirt. I felt that if the mother went and told her story that the school would understand and wouldn’t hold up the expulsion. She didn’t want the school to know how impoverished she was but I convinced her to do it, so she came and told all of these people what she was going through—about her struggles. I thought for sure the board would overturn the expulsion, not just because her story was so compelling, but because there wasn’t actually anything in the school’s discipline book about selling candy. But they upheld it and it broke my heart that this kid was being put out of school because he was poor.
The majority of schools in New Orleans have these overly rigid disciplinary codes—they’re run like little prisons. The schools aren’t nurturing and they aren’t developmentally appropriate. Children need social development time. They need recess, they need to be able to talk at lunch. You’ll hear the schools say *we’re providing structured social development*—but there’s no such thing! If you have to manage kids’ social development, it’s not social development. Typically you’ll hear from school leaders that they have to have this overly rigid school climate because the school has just opened and it’s chaotic. They’ll say something like *we need these rules in place until we get a structured, calm environment, then we can make it less rigid. But first we have to calm these children and get them to a place of orderliness.* But children will never be calm, orderly robots unless there’s something wrong with them. They’re never going to get to the place that you’ve decided is necessary before they can have more freedom. In order for children to know how to operate in freedom, they have to have freedom to operate in. We don’t teach kids to eat with a fork and spoon by not giving them a fork and spoon!
Recess and recourse
When parents ask me for advice about schools in New Orleans they never ask *what are the best schools*? They want to know what the least terrible schools are. I tell them to go for one of the Orleans Parish School Board schools because at least then they’ll have some recourse. I tell them to look for schools that have recess and try to find the good teachers. And if they end up at a school where the teachers are really young, look for developmentally appropriate material and bring it to the teacher—kind of like *educate the educator.* So many of the teachers in New Orleans are brand new—this isn’t their profession. They don’t know about child development or adolescent development. I also tell parents to document absolutely everything. If you have a problem with something that happens at the school, keep a record. Try to create an email trail and keep a log of everything that happens. At some point there is going to be a class-action suit because our children’s rights are being violated and we need as much documentation as possible.
The choice to leave
My daughter attended a kindergarten where the students spent most of the day doing worksheets. I didn’t feel that this was in any way developmentally appropriate. At six years old, my daughter should love math—I love math!—but the school was basically fostering a hatred of math. Their response was basically *if you don’t like our program, you have the choice to leave.* So I left. As of last year, though, parents in New Orleans no longer have the choice to leave schools they’re unhappy with after October 1st. In order to transfer, you have to get the approval of the school board to agree to release your child, and you have to get the other school to agree to take your child. Our children are prisoners—are kids are inmates—and in order to get them out, we have to beg for pardons, which may or may not be granted.
A sorting mechanism
OneApp (link added from deutsch29.wordpress.com), the centralized enrollment system for the New Orleans schools, is supposed to make it easy for parents in the city to have their choice of schools. But parents aren’t going to have real choice just because they filled out the OneApp application. For example, you can’t see a school’s discipline guide before you register your child. And if I want my child to go to a school that has recess, art or educates the whole child, I have very little choice at all. I can try for one of the high-performing charters—the magnet schools that existed before the storm—but which are now even harder to get into than they were before Katrina. Parents of special needs kids, by the way, have even less choice, because so few of the schools will accept their children at all. What OneApp does is ensure that the various charter operators get the enrollment that they were promised. No matter how bad the school is, or how terrible the climate, we’re going to make sure that you get those kids.
Fight harder than you’ve ever fought
If New Orleans is being held up as a model for the schools in your community, I have some advice for you. Fight harder than you’ve ever fought to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you. Because once you’re in it, it’s so hard to get out of. Fight tooth and nail. If people come to your community and try to sell you bull crap, come down here and talk to us first. Read anything you can get your hands on. They’ll tell you that your input matters, that your schools are going to be run according to a community model. Don’t believe it. At the end of the day, they could care less about what kind of schools you want. In fact, I’m pretty sure that we said that we wanted arts and music in our schools—that those were really important to us in a city like New Orleans that’s build on arts and music and culture. Instead we got prisons.
Ashana Bigard is a life-long resident of New Orleans and a long-time advocate for children and families. She helps lead the Community Education Project of New Orleans.
**Editorial correction: Unless a “family” consisted of only one student and no adults, the maximum family income that would still qualify the student for free meals is $20,163 for an adult and one student, not less than $12,000. The highest qualifying income for free meals is equal to 130% of the poverty line for that particular family size and 185% of the poverty line for reduced meal prices.
As I was researching and writing my post, The Gates Grant Addiction, a post in which I use the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) as an illustration of an addiction to Gates money garnered via installments, two pieces of information stood out to me like the final clicking of tumblers in unlocking a revelation.
The first involves information that I have read before but that struck me in a new way for its import as we approach the 2016 presidential election. It is the name of the AFT as it appears on its IRS 990s:
American Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO Parent Organization
It is the “AFL-CIO” piece that strikes me. Democratic presidential nominees must secure the AFL-CIO endorsement if they hope to move forward in the presidential run. AFL-CIO currently consists of 56 unions representing 12.5 million workers.
AFL-CIO unions are proportionally represented by delegates. AFT has 1.5 million members.
Given its membership numbers, AFT has a lot of pull in the AFL-CIO– which means that Randi Weingarten has a lot of pull.
The second bit of information that provided a “final clicking of the tumblers” concerns Weingarten’s continuing to serve as the New-York-based United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president for a full year after having been elected AFT president.
What an illustration of ueber-control– and a demonstration of the hold Weingarten has on the UFT.
These two bits of information– Weingarten’s AFL-CIO pull coupled with her hold on UFT– were the final components leading me to a major conclusion. But first, allow me to offer the pieces of this puzzle already in place in my own mind.
Let us consider New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo has called for the “death penalty” for New York schools labeled “failing.” Moreover, he will not properly fund New York’s public schools. He promoted a tax cap of no more than two percent unless overridden my 60% of a locale’s voters– except for NYC.
Cuomo’s tax break is business-friendly and will lower corporate taxes to 1968 rates.
Cuomo also takes the now-popular education privatizing view that the Common Core (CCSS) is good– just its implementation is bad– and he has the stacked panel to prove it. Plus, Cuomo is fine with grading teachers using student test scores.
Despite Cuomo’s ill treatment of New York public education, in December 2013, New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT) Vice President Andy Pallotta purchased a $10,000 table at Cuomo’s birthday party fundraiser– against the direction of the rest of NYSUT. NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi called Pallotta out for his renegade decision.
Iannuzzi had no plans to purchase a table– which Iannuzzi knew would send an attendant message of support for Cuomo– given “the sentiments of our members statewide.”
Here’s what one must know about renegade Pallotta: He is a member of the UFT (actually coming to NYSUT from UFT) and is part of a “pro-Cuomo” drive– a drive that has prompted a NYSUT “reseating” in the state union’s fast-approaching April election– to yield a more Cuomo-friendly NYSUT following.
This is where one must remember AFT’s influence in the AFL-CIO endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate. First, consider this excerpt concerning the NYSUT-UFT battle and Cuomo’s re-election:
…what this [attempt to unseat NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi] is really all about is an effort by the UFT to wrest control of its parent union once and for all. This theory is primarily being pushed by the pro-Iannuzzi faction, which thinks Mulgrew, who has a close relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is particularly miffed that Iannuzzi is apparently unwilling to even entertain the possibility of endorsing the governor for re-election this fall. [Emphasis added.]
UFT could support Cuomo for re-election.
UFT wants NYSUT to support Cuomo, as well.
Cuomo is terrible for public education in New York.
UFT is trying to take over NYSUT.
Another piece: Weingarten still exercises control in New York union issues– and Weingarten supports the privatizers. In the recent NYC mayoral election, Weingarten supported Bill Thompson– who was not only financially supported by NY State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch– pro-CCSS and pro-high-stakes-testing Merryl Tisch– but who had Tisch as his campaign chair.
Question: Why is a national teachers union president aligning herself with the likes of Merryl Tisch?
Consider also Weingarten’s cool words on Cuomo’s talk of downsizing NY state agencies– and especially her “conciliatory tone”:
There are two roads you can take,” said Randi Weingarten, who was previously head of the New York City teachers union.
One path, she said, is the “cut-cut-cut-cut of trickle-down economics. … Or you can take the road that even the pope has said, which is that we invest, we rebuild.”
Striking a conciliatory note, Weingarten added that she’s known Cuomo for a long time. “He and I grew up in politics together in New York state,” she said. “I always believe in redemption.” [Emphasis added.]
To those who can read between lines, Weingarten just gave a nod to Cuomo.
How big of a nod, exactly?
Time to bring it home.
Here is my major revelation:
AFT has a lot of sway regarding the AFL-CIO endorsement of the next Democratic presidential candidate. However, Weingarten cannot have this dissent among AFT ranks in the form of NYSUT delegates voting against the AFT “solidarity” (that word is actually a line item on AFT’s tax forms). So, using her influence through UFT, Weingarten plans to unseat NYSUT officers unfriendly to her “unity” cause and replace with UFT “solidarity” folk. If she can accomplish this, then she might sway that AFL-CIO Democratic presidential candidate endorsement– quite the power position to be in– and Weingarten is all about power and control.
And guess who she wants to give that Democratic presidential endorsement to?
Someone she “grew up in politics” with.
Why would she do this?
That part is simple: To climb her own career ladder. If she can get Cuomo into the White House, he will owe her.
(A great example of Weingarten’s career drive is her vying for Hillary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat in 2008. As she was pursuing the Senate appointment, Weingarten had recently been elected AFT president and was continuing to hold the position of UFT president.)
I think Weingarten is positioning AFT to be the key in the AFL-CIO endorsement of Cuomo for Democratic candidate for president. Sure, he’s playing coy with the press for now by ot openly declaring his candidacy, but stay tuned. I think it’s coming To A Theater Near You.
That said, if better coattails come along for Weingarten– like, say, Hillary Clinton’s– then Cuomo might be “Dear Johned” by Weingarten and her power-grabbing machinations.
Why, Mercedes, this entire post amounts to nothing more than a patchwork of speculation. You’re just a teacher. What do you know?
Fine. Just ask Weingarten to publicly deny the scenario I propose. When she does so with the same passion she devotes to supporting CCSS, I will consider the matter closed.
However, I wouldn’t dismiss the contents of this post too quickly, especially if you are in New York.
New York, pay close attention to your teachers unions.
My curiosity concerned the simple word, “term.”
Gradual Grant Disbursement (?)
On the Gates grants site, “term” definitely means the number of months expected to fulfill the grant agreement. The “term” may also be connected to monthly payment.
The Gates site does not clearly state that “term” means monthly disbursements; I inferred as much from reading this gates grant recipient progress report form‘s required reporting of “project duration” in months coupled with project “sustainability” “after the grant period has ended” (emphasis mine).
A comparison of Gates’ 2011 and 2012 990s to the information available on the Gates grants site is inconclusive regarding a definite monthly disbursement of grant monies. Based upon the 990-to-grant-search-engine comparison, it seems that some grant monies might be disbursed in one installment and others, definitely not.
In this post, I would like to examine the possibility that Gates pays his grant money in monthly installments. This makes sense for larger sums: It allows his foundation to continue earning interest on the bulk of the money while preventing “take the money and run” ripoffs.
Paying money in installments also would ensure that the Gates Mission (in the case of his education grants the Gates goal of test-driven, privatizing “reform”) continues via recipient dependence upon receiving that monthly payout from a larger grant sum.
However, even grant monies are not disbursed in monthly installments, examining the possibility is still a worthy exercise toward considering Gates grant money dependence. Even if an organization receives the Gates money in one lump sum, the recipient organization must somehow budget the money in order to last for the duration of the grant. Thus, the money is likely utilized in some type of incremental fashion.
Before I present my monthly disbursement scenarios, let us consider who approaches whom regarding the Gates Golden Goose.
Gates: Soliciting Prospective Grantees
One might assume that the typical Gates grant recipient has approached Gates for the money.
It is the Gates Foundation that primarily seeks grant recipients, not vice-versa:
Q. How do I apply for a grant from the foundation?
A. We do not make grants outside our funding priorities. In general, we directly invite proposals by directly contacting organizations. We do occasionally award grants through published RFPs or letters of inquiry. [Emphasis added.]
Gates grants are designed to implement Gates Plans:
We collaborate with organizations to develop proposals that align with our strategic priorities and the organization’s focus and capabilities. This is an interactive process, building on the strengths of both organizations to shape a well-crafted grant that will achieve the intended results. [Emphasis added.]
The Gates Foundation trolls for organizations willing to take its millions in exchange for doing Gates’ bidding.
Supporting organizations via trolling lends the illusion that education privatization is the offspring of our democratic society.
If there exist so many education privatizing nonprofits, it must mean that America wants education privatization.
However, the truth is that such nonprofits are all too willing to sell themselves to Gates for a fat monthly installment check. In doing so, they forfeit the ability (desire?) to objectively consider whether the so-called “reforms” that they support are actually working.
This is an important point, for it means that organizations accepting Gates grants cannot step back and objectively question the core assumptions of education privatization without risking the loss of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars on which they have likely become dependent.
The “reforms” must work since our organization is dependent upon a billionaire who has decided he wants education privatization to “work.” Never mind if it does.
It’s Gates’ call: If a “reform” does not work, Gates can simply shrug it off as an “oops” and move on to the next Big Idea at the Expense of the Once-democratic Institution of American Education.
Never mind the damage to educational communities, to schools, and to individual lives.
Gates’ trolling for organizations to carry out his version of education reform makes me wonder what Gates “strategic priorities” are served in his offering organizations grants “for general operating support.”
Perhaps Gates wants to be certain that organizations advocating his test-driven, education privatization are never in short supply.
Example One: Education Trust
Let us examine the idea of Gates’ funding organizations for “general operating support.” Consider No Child Left Behind (NCLB) founding promoter, Kati Haycock, and her education privatizing nonprofit, Education Trust. (I examine Ed Trust in this post.)
Gates obviously wants to keep Haycock’s Ed Trust in the education privatization business. (Though a nonprofit, Ed Trust is very much in the “business” of education privatization.) In November 2007, Gates agreed to give Ed Trust $10 million, possibly over 38 months:
Date: November 2007
Purpose: for general operating support
Assuming that the $10 million was disbursed in 38 equal payments, and assuming that the first such payment occurred in November 2007, this would mean that Ed Trust received a payment of $263,158 for each month until December 2010.
Ed Trust also received other “general operating support” Gates grants that overlapped in timing with the one above (e.g., $1 million in January 2010 for a term of 67 months, and $8.3 million in August 2010 for a term of 41 months).
The above underscores Ed Trust’s financial dependence upon Bill Gates.
Example Two: AFT
Let us now consider the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and its Gates money. From January 2009 to May 2013, AFT has received $11.3 million in Gates money. The January 2009 amount was for $1 million, possibly paid over 21 months. Its purpose: “to support teacher-and union-led reform efforts to improve public education and raise student achievement.”
Thus, assuming equal disbursement (which I will do for the remainder of this post), in January 2009, AFT began receiving monthly payments of $47,619 from Gates until September 2011.
The next Gates grant to AFT overlaps with the first: In June 2009, Gates granted $250,000 ”to support the work of a teacher evaluation task force,” possibly paid over 14 months. Thus, in addition to the monthly $47,619 noted above, from June 2009 to July 2010, add another $17,857.
The third Gates-AFT grant overlaps by two months with the two above; it was for $217,200 for “conference support” in June 2010, possibly paid over 7 months. That’s an additional $31,029 per month from June through December 2010.
Following my monthly disbursement scenario, on June and July 2010, AFT would have received $96,505 from Gates given the overlap of the three grants mentioned above.
However July 2010 brought AFT yet another Gates grant– a whopper compared to the previous three: just over $4 million, possibly payable over 42 months, “to support the American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund and the union’s teacher development and evaluation programs.”
Thus, the previously-noted July 2010 potential receipt of $96,505 from the three previous Gates grants almost doubled with the fourth grant’s potential monthly disbursement of $95,755– a monthly payment that AFT would count on from July 2010 to December 2013.
(There was yet another Gates-to-AFT, “teacher evaluation” grant, in February 2011 for $230,000 possibly paid over 14 months ”to provide conference support for the conference on teacher development and evaluation systems.” However, this grant’s $16,428 potential monthly payment would have ended in March 2012.)
Consider the two dates bolded above: July 2010 and December 2013.
In July 2010, AFT President Randi Weingarten invited Gates to speak at the AFT convention.
A recap: In July 2010, AFT receives a possible $96,505 + $95,755 in Gates monthly disbursement– with the $95,755 the possible first payment of a $4 million grant payable over three and a half years.
July 2010: AFT is now potentially receiving four Gates grant payments.
July 2010: Bill speaks at AFT.
On to December 2013:
In December 2013, Gates makes the final AFT payment on the teacher evaluation grant. (At any rate, the grant term expires whether monthly disbursement or no.)
In January 2014, Weingarten opposes value-added modeling (VAM).
Coincidence, or “market driven epiphany”?
Sure looks like, “I need to push VAM until the free money runs out.”
And then there’s the Gates-to-AFT Common Core (CCSS) money:
In April 2011, Gates granted AFT $1 million ”to assist teachers in understanding and implementing the Common Core State Standards” (emphasis added), potentially payable over 27 months– which would equal a monthly disbursement of $37,037 from April 2011 to June 2013.
Mind you, in April 2011, if the money had not already been disbursed in larger sums, AFT was also still potentially receiving $16,428 + $95,755 per month from two previous Gates grants.
Pile it on.
The big Gates-AFT CCSS money was yet to come, in June 2012: $4.4 million over a possible 36 months “to support the AFT Innovation Fund and work on teacher development and Common Core State Standards.”
So, from June 2012 to May 2015, AFT could have received $122,222 per month, in part to push CCSS.
I suppose Weingarten is scheduled to have her “CCSS is bad epiphany” in June 2015– the month after this CCSS grant term ends– assuming no more Gates money comes AFT’s way for the selling of the CCSS product.
For now, she continues to push CCSS implementation.
AFT also received two more Gates grants– one in May 2012 for $75,000 possibly payable over 8 months “to provide AFT conference support.” Thus, another $9,375 per month from May to December 2012.
The last Gates-AFT grant is such a surprise that I just have to print the Gates report:
American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation
Date: May 2013
Purpose: to enable the American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation to support the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools to become a self-sustaining organization [Bolding added.]
If not already disbursed in larger sums, AFT could be receiving $8,824 per month from May 2013 to September 2014 to assist a floundering effort to have union-run (??) charter schools in Minnesota.
Is AFT addicted to Gates grant money?
It seems so.
Until yesterday, I believed that Gates grant money was disbursed on the date of grant approval. I thought that if AFT received a Gates grant in 2010 for $4 million, then AFT received that $4 million in 2010. Could be, but not necessarily so. The money may be coming in “monthly dependency installments.”
At any rate, on average, AFT has been receiving over $100,000 per month from Gates for years.
On its 2011 990, the AFT Education Foundation reported its total end-of-year assets at $8.8 million– up from $4.5 million at the beginning of the year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012).
Thus, the Gates money is a notable contribution to the AFT Education Foundation. (Note: It is the AFT Educational Foundation that is the 501(c)3 set up to receive grant money.)
Now, on AFT’s 2012 990 (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012) (different from the AFT Ed Foundation 990), total assets equaled $104 million. However, the beginning-of-year assets were $106 million– and this $106 million was down from the $114.7 million listed as beginning-of -year assets on the 2011 990.
On its 2010 990, AFT had a notable increase in total assets from beginning-of-year ($104.4 million) to end-of-year ($114.7 million).
Thus, AFT’s end-of-year assets in 2012 were less than its beginning-of-year assets two years prior, in 2010.
Does this fiscal slump justify an AFT alignment with Bill Gates or any other pro-education-privatizing philanthropist willing to write checks to AFT in the name of “trying to make” privatizing reforms “work”?
It does not.
By the Month, or in Lump Sums?
The information regarding grant disbursement on Gates’ grant search engine does not exactly match grant information provided on his IRS 990s. This discrepancy leads me to believe that at least in some cases, Gates grant monies are not paid in a single lump sum.
Gradual disbursement can lead to a “lullabye” dependence in which a recipient organization grows accustomed to having a certain percentage of its expenses covered by that regular Gates check.
The “lullabye” is not necessarily in the amount, but in the regularity.
Simply put, the recipient becomes accustomed to having Gates cash. This is complicated by the likelihood of receiving more Gates money if one proves to be a “good” recipient, following through on the Gates-approved agenda.
The man has billions, and he is willing to seek out organizations to do his bidding.
Free, regular money– lots of money– and likely repeat money.
Education privatization grant addiction.
Just say no.