Sunday, February 23, 2014

Corporate Reformers: Architects of Apartheid Education


Corporate Reformers: Architects of Apartheid Education

Alfie Kohn, a leading author and lecturer on progressive education, spoke Thursday evening at Macalester college in St. Paul, MN as part of the Theodore Mitau Lecture Series.  The event was hosted by Macalester's political science department.  A regular speaker at education conferences, Kohn noted the unique setting and focused more on educational policy than pedagogy.  His speech was titled, "Many Children Left Behind: "School Reform" and Corporate-Style Education Policy."

Kohn highlighted a number of destructive features of the corporate education reforms.  Among these, he discussed the increasingly poor experience forced on children who have historically been the most underserved: children of color, low-income students, English language learners, and special education students..   He was visibly angered by what the corporate reformers are doing to the children they claim to be trying to help, such as depriving them of recess time and exposure to the arts and music.   He also highlighted the "reformers" obsession with competition as a strategy to improve schools, as they ignore the fact that competition means there must be "losers."

Corporate reformers have been using the "invisible hand" of the "free market" to actively destroy our system of universal public education for decades.  Blind faith in competition has resulted in each school "marketing" itself to earn "customers."  In Minneapolis, it means our school district (MPS) holds its annual School Fair Showcase in which representatives from each school are pitted against one another, encouraged to persuade confused parents and students that their school is best.  This process has been corrupted further as politicians and "reformers" have convinced much of the public that test scores are the best way to determine the quality of a school.



The School Fair Showcase coincides with the time of year when mailboxes have almost daily postcards from local charter schools also vying for "customers."  My family received a card from a local charter school chain that operates one of their schools just a few blocks from our home.  It is operated and supported by the First Family of corporate education reformers here in Minnesota - the Kramers.

We could play a game of Six Degrees of Separation with the Kramers and all the corporate reform groups in Minnesota, but that would be a little boring.  The Kramers are either part of every major corporate reform group in the state, or just one "degree" away.  Edushyster has also documented some of the family's connections, but here are the highlights.

The Kramers - Minnesota's First Family of Corporate Education.

The family patriarch is Joel Kramer.  Joel made his fortune in the newspaper business and is now the CEO and editor of an online newspaper called Minnpost.  His wife, Laurie, is the Chief Revenue Officer for Minnpost.

Beth Hawkins is Minnpost's education "reporter."  Hawkins, must hold a record for the most "news" stories with a disclaimer. Her numerous articles about charter schools and the various corporate reform groups inevitably have ties to the Kramers, which compels her to try and distance herself from them.  Hawkins appears concerned with being seen as an "unbiased reporter" results in dislaimers that commonly include the following, "none of the aforementioned Kramers has been associated with any of my reporting on CSP or Hiawatha, except for that whole check-signing bit."

While Minnpost is a mouthpiece for the local corporate reformers, Joel's sons, Matt and Eli, are the two main actors.  Both sons grew up in Minnesota, got their starts in corporate education reform in New York, and both are back in Minnesota pushing the corporate agenda.

Matt Kramer originally worked for McKinsey and Company, a company that has played a lead role in the attacks on public education.  In 2005, he went to work for Teach for America (TFA), and is now the Co-Chief Executive Officer for TFA.  Matt's wife, Katie Barrett Kramer, is the Director for Academic Excellence at Charter School Partners in Minnesota.  She had been a TFA corp member in New York and was also a founding board member of Hiawatha Leadership Academy, a charter school in Minneapolis, part of the same Hiawatha Academies that recently sent me a postcard.

Eli Kramer was a 2003 TFA corp member and later worked for the Uncommon Schools, a Charter Management Organization (CMO) in New York.  Eli is now the Executive Director of Hiawatha Academy, the same charter school organization for which his sister-in-law served as a founding board member.  Eli's wife, Jessica Cordova Kramer, also started as a TFA corp member (2005).  She is now the "Vice President, Strategy & Operations, Alumni Affairs at Teach For America."


Hiawatha Academies: Charter Schools for "Other People's Children"

Hiawatha Academies started in 2007 and consists of two elementary schools and a middle school.  Eli Kramer is the Executive Director for all three schools, but his wife, brother, and sister-in-law all have a stake in the schools.  Current and former TFA corp members make up 65% of the charter schools' staff.  Matt Kramer and Jessica Cordova Kramer's have positions in TFA, and Katie Barrett Kramer is connected to Hiawatha both as an original board member and her postition at Charter School Partners (CSP).  Hiawatha Academies are CPS "Partner School."

So when an entire family is invested the corporate reform movement, and three Minneapolis charter schools in particular, what kind of education do they provide for their mostly low-income students and students of color?

Hiawatha Academy charters are schools that value compliance and test scores over critical thinking.  They are schools that indoctrinate rather than inspire.  As Alfie Kohn would say, they are schools that confuse rigor with learning, and they are schools in which scholars (what most of us know as students) have to "earn" their desks and chairs

Beth Hawkins wrote a story about Adelante College Prep, in which she seems to celebrate this disturbing approach to education.  Praising the atmosphere of compliance at Hiawatha Academy, Hawkins wrote, "students are spending the [first] week [of school] on mats in the lunchroom “earning” their chairs, desks and school shirts by getting one thing after another right."  She also noted that the 5th and 6th graders spent 90 minutes walking the halls the day she was there.  They had to do it until they all walked "single-file, in silence."  What was the teachers' rationale for this boot camp approach?  Teachers told their students, "In college... people walk in ones and twos conversing in soft voices."  Really?  That must be how students behave at Harvard where Eli Kramer went to school because I did not notice that at the University of Minnesota.

Students at Hiawatha Charter schools start at 7:50 a.m. and go until 4:15 p.m. (except on Fridays when they finish at 2 p.m.).  They start their school year in the third week of August and finish the third week of June.  This allows the school to boast of 40% more instructional time than a "traditional public school."  However, this extra time is filled with test prep and testing--and the school's calendar list little more than which test happens which day.

All of this begs a question.  Would Matt and Katie, or Eli and Jessica send their own children to the schools they operate, support, and profit from?  I do not know the Kramers personally, but it seems  the answer is no.

But why?  Why would they not want their own children to be "scholars...empowered with the knowledge, character, and leadership skills to graduate from college and serve the common good," as it says in Hiawatha Academy's mission statement?  Why would they not want "high expectations" and "40% more learning time than a traditional public school" for their own children?  Why would they not want their children to take numerous "standardized tests and other objective academic measures" to assess their "readiness for college and leadership?"

Not knowing the Kramers personally, maybe their own children will get to experience Hiawatha Academy's approach to school.  However, it seems they attend a very different school.  A school that sits kitty-corner from one of the  Kramer's charter schools.

The Best Education Money Can Buy

Adelante College Prep charter is Hiawatha Academy's middle school.  Just blocks from my own house, it is kitty corner from Lake Country School (LCS).  Lake Country is a private Montessori school with a pre-school, elementary, and middle school program.  Annual tuition at LCS ranges from $8,920 to $16,100.  As of last year, Matt, Katie, Eli, and Jessica were all listed as parents of children at Lake Country.  Do the children at Lake Country School have the same "rigorous" experience as the "scholars" of Adelante College Prep?

Lake Country's mission statement make no mention of "scholars" or "college-readiness."
"Lake Country School is a Montessori learning environment that fosters independence, critical thinking, and creativity within each child. We are a community that promotes diversity and inclusion, as well as respect and responsibility to self, to others, and to the earth."
I could only find two references to testing on Lake Country's calendar for the whole school year, and these references were hard to spot among the numerous field trips, class overnights, farm stays, community service days, potlucks, French week, sports and theater events. 

Lake Country School's website boasts about their experienced teaching staff.  60% of their staff has been there for more than a decade.  Compare that to Hiawatha Academy's Adelante College Prep across the street.  They boast of having 65% of their teachers as being Teach for America corp members or alumni.  TFA corp members receive only five weeks of training before entering their own classroom and are notorious for leaving the career within five years.

The curriculum of LCS is rich and student centered.  Their core values emphasize a Montessori approach that "nurtures the intellectual, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual potential of the whole child."  LCS focuses on building a "peaceful community" and encourages students to be "model citizens of a global community."  With respect to the "work" of learning, LCS promotes a "love of work" in an environment in which "children learn through purposeful activity carried out in developmentally appropriate urban and rural environments where the choice of meaningful work is expected and respected.

Compare that to Hiawatha's Adelante College Prep.  At Adelante, students are encouraged to "embody determination and relentless pursuit in the face of the economic, social, and political obstacles."  Adelante focuses on superficial details, calling on students to "complete 100% of their class work and homework, with special care taken in neatness and homework turned in on time."  Hiawatha focuses on the completion of tasks rather than depth of knowledge, critical thinking, and the needs of the whole child. 


Educational Apartheid

Eli and Matt Kramer not only sent their children to Lake Country School, but they are alumni themselves.  Eli went on to the private and prestigious Breck School in Minnesota, and Matt went to the equally elite Saint Paul Academy and Summit School(SPA).  Tuition at both schools is currently around $25,000 a year, and these schools all have less instructional time than "traditional public schools.  I do not think Breck or SPA offer the ideal educational experiences, but they are far better than what charter schools like Hiawatha Leadership Academy peddle.  Open, progressive, democratic schools in the mold of Maria Montessori, John Dewey, and Pablo Freire present the best hope for our students and our public schools.  The charter schools pushed by the corporate reformers are actually eating away at the types of public schools these educators advocated.

We have examples across the nation of corporate education reformers who reserve one form of education for themselves and their children and create another for "other people's children."   We see it with Obama sending his own children to Sidwell Friends School, and Rahm Emanuel sending his children to the University of Chicago Lab School.  R.T. Rybak, our former mayor of Minneapolis, turned full time corporate deformer, has also followed this path.  Edushyster has explained how the corporate education reformers push to create a two-tiered system of schools.

Photo by Ken Fager: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfagerdotcom/6152990410/in/set-72157627545238445/

Jonathan Kozol was not using hyperbole when he said, "Apartheid Education rarely mentioned in the press or openly confronted even among once-progressive educators, is alive and well and rapidly increasing now in the United States."  Corporate reformers are not fighting the "Civil Rights issue of our time," they are building an apartheid education system.  True progressives cannot be complicit.  We cannot be silent.  We must demand for all children, the education we want for our own.



Posted by Rob Panning-Miller







Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Standardized - Lies, Money, & Civil Rights

Standardized - Lies, Money, & Civil Rights:
How Testing is Ruining Public Education


Monday, February 10th at 6:30 p.m.,  PEJAM is presenting a special screening of the documentary "Standardized." The screening will be immediately followed by a panel and audience discussion.   This will be held at South Senior High School in Minneapolis.

View the trailer here:




 As described on the website for Rockfish Productions:

"For decades, standardized testing has been a part of public education. Within the last ten years, however, the testing has taken on a more important, and possibly more damaging, role. Test scores, mistakenly viewed as effective assessments of student ability and teacher/school effectiveness, are anything but. This film sheds light on the invalid nature of these tests, the terrible consequences of high-stakes testing, and the big money that's involved."

Come learn about the truth behind the standardized testing, and what you can do about it. Information will be available about the "Opt Out" movement.  If you are on Facebook, following this link and click "join" on our event page.

Because we are a non-profit community organization, we are asking for donations of $5.00 - $10.00 to cover our costs. However, no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rob Panning-Miller at Drinking Liberally's Education Forum and Teacher Appreciation Night


On October 17th PEJAM co-hosted an education forum with Drinking Liberally - Minneapolis. Here are 10 minutes of Rob Panning-Miller highlighting some of the damage done to public education by the corporate education reformers in Minnesota. He shared the stage with two other PEJAM colleagues, Pia Payne-Shannon and Sarah Lahm. Their speeches can also be found on the LeftMN website.

Click on the picture to watch the video.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"We Don't Need Missionaries"

Last Thursday, October 17, 2013, PEJAM co-hosted a forum with Drinking Liberally - Minneapolis featuring two teachers and a parent, discussing public education and the struggle against the corporate reformers.  Steve Timmer, the host of Drinking Liberally, posted the following video of Pia Payne-Shannon, a member of PEJAM and a teacher at Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary in North Minneapolis.

Click on the picture to watch the video
Pia Payne-Shannon, PEJAM Member, Minneapolis Teacher

At 10:56, she speaks directly to Teach for America members:

“We don’t need missionaries.  We don’t need missionaries.  Our kids don’t need saving.  They need to be educated in a well-rounded setting, because the same thing that you want for your kid, is the same thing I want for mine…The same thing they want for their kids, are the same thing we want for ours.  So we need to get away from the missionary complex.”


Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Friday, October 18, 2013

Media, Public Education, and U.S. Democracy



I had another opportunity this morning to be part of KFAI's Catalyst program with host Lydia Howell.  On the show, Jeff Nygaard, a local media analyst, and I discussed public education in relation to the media.  While the conversation covered a number of related topics, I think a key point was raised for education activists.  In our day-to-day struggles against charter schools, standardized tests, Teach for America, the Common Core and the rest of the corporate reforms, we need to also challenge the underlying assumptions that drive them.


You can listen to the program here: Catalyst: October 18, 2013

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Citizen Stewart Says...Nonsense

 Citizen Stewart Says…Nonsense

Temple of Confucius by Vincent Poulissen
There are individuals who want to argue, but are not worth your time and energy.  Here in Minnesota Chris Stewart comes to mind.  Unfortunately, I have wasted many hours in debate with him, time I could have spent banging my head on a wall.  While I have managed to keep my distance for some time now, he continues to enjoy throwing rocks and picking a fight with anyone who disagrees with him.

Although he should be ignored, he should also be exposed for the poser that he is.  Rather than critiquing his incoherent, and non sequitur arguments, I present some of “Citizen Stewart’s” own choice words as the clearest argument against his corporate reform agenda for education.  Feel free to read them in full rant on his blog (Citizen Stewart) if you can stomach it.

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me use “pro-union plantation management rhetoric.” 

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are “childless Twitter hipters” 

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are “empty nesters, the Ph.d candidates, the ivory tower administrators, the unionist re-Tweeters,… childless urban hipsters slumming… 

Citizen Stewart says, Diane Ravitch, is “a salty axe against school choice"

Citizen Stewart says, of Matt Damon, “Isn’t he precious”

Citizen Stewart says, Julian Helig Vasquez, is “a Ravichian academic…Now he sides with white progressives, even to the point of attacking elders in the black community like Howard Fuller”

Citizen Stewart says, “if we’re not clear on the need to occupy the Occupy types, then we haven’t been watching.”

Citizen Stewart says, of Chicago Public Schools, ““veteran” teachers are set up for life in careers that require neither ability nor results.”

Citizen Stewart says, of public school teachers, “people unable to comprehend how the world has changed and left them on the curb before their untenable pension plans kicked in.”

Citizen Stewart says, of  public school teachers, “They create a completely plausible denial of the bleak, chaotic, inhumane public entities that monopolists use as profitable traps for other people’s children.

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me live on “Planet Ravitch, led by the polemicist Diane Ravitch, is the most rigid, caustic, and resistant to an alternative future.”

Citizen Stewart says, Diane Ravitch is “the Rush Limbaugh of education commentary”

Citizen Stewart says, teacher unionists are part of the “old guard” which also includes the “Westboro Baptist Church [who] carry hateful signs to intimidate marriage equality advocates” Afghan fundamentalists who leave “girls in Afghanistan […] victims of beatings or acid attacks,” and “War profiteers [who] lobby against peace”

Citizen Stewart says, “standard educational measurements” (the new testing regime) use the science of student achievement to defeat the witch doctoring that took place before” and it is, “further advanced by No Child Left Behind law, and funded by educational venture pioneers”

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are “A motley crew of local teachers […] poking the education reform voodoo doll”

Citizen Stewart says, Diane Ravitch is the “patron saint to poor performing educators everywhere”

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me don’t want “money spent on anything other than teacher pampering” 

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me “are part of an emerging ecosystem of intolerance”

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are “sharply focused on money and defending the system”

Citizen Stewart says, Gates, Broad, and the Waltons are “Much like the abolitionists who came to “save” us from slavery, or the Northern teachers that came to “save” us in post-slavery schools”

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me “see the “reformers” in the way southern planters saw the northerners that were “invading” their lands, bringing their industries, and changing the social order" 

Citizen Stewart says, teachers “talk incessantly about themselves, their needs, their wants, their job, their martyrdom, and the eternal wrongness of everyone but themselves” 

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are "#teacherbullies" 


Citizen Stewart’s greatest lesson for us comes in the way his comments reinforce the wisdom of an actual philosopher.  Confucius says, “Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

E4E: The Sheep Clothing for Corporate Education Reformers


The neoliberals, corporate foundations, billionaires, and others looking to privatize our public schools work hard to sell their actions as that of local grassroots organizations whose only concerns are for the children, especially poor, urban, and minority children.  These astroturf groups have worked their way into every state, including Minnesota.  We have the well-financed MinnCAN and Students First among others, but in their efforts the corporate reformers keep running into the public school teachers and their unions who actually do care about ALL children.

These corporate "reformers" have long realized that if they are going to privatize the public schools, they must eliminate the the voice of the teachers, and the unions that protect their right to speak in defense of their students.  The "reformers" have had a great deal of success, convincing both Republican and Democratic politicians to pass legislation that weakens teacher unions and public education.  The push-back, however, has been growing steadily.  Led by rank-and-file members who have demanded more action from their own union leadership or have taken over the leadership as C.O.R.E. did in Chicago, teachers are calling out the corporate reformers for what they are - privatizers and union-busters.

The corporate reformers are feeling the heat, but they will not go away quietly.  A new strategy has evolved in recent years with the help of the "happy-face" of the corporate reformers - Teach for America (TFA).

The new strategy is to convince the public that teachers really do want the corporate reforms, but that it is actually their own unions that are keeping them silent.  It is a devious approach that can pit new teachers against veteran teachers.  These newer groups receiving money from Gates, the Waltons, and other corporate foundations are started and led, by mostly TFA alumni, and recruit heavily among TFA corp members and other younger teachers.

In many cities, it is Teach Plus that has taken on this role.  It's stated goal is "to engage early career teachers in rebuilding their profession to better meet the needs of students and the incoming generation of teachers."  Here in Minnesota, Educators for Excellence (E4E) is the group leading the effort to hide the union-busting/privatization agenda behind "real teachers."  This past week, E4E officially launched in Minnesota, following a typical corporate product launch strategy.

MythPost
Beth Hawkins, the "education reporter" for MinnPost and one of the Twin Cities biggest cheerleaders for the corporate take-over of public education, is now trumpeting Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) and their claim to offer teachers "a bigger voice in education policy."  Hawkins presents E4E and its members empathetically, as idealistic teachers who have been marginalized in education policy decisions and ignored by unresponsive teachers unions.

Hawkins and MinnPost are helping Madaline Edison, now the full-time Executive Director of Minnesota's E4E, with the corporate style rollout of the "new" reform group.  They are selling a movement that is not only not needed, but in fact is detrimental to public education.  MinnPost published three "news" stories about E4E in four days (See here, here, and here).  MinnPost is an on-line "newspaper" run by Joel Kramer, father of Minnesota's first family of corporate education reform and the former owner of the daily newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The Star Tribune probably would have covered the E4E "news" itself, had it not been so busy shilling for E4E's older sibling of corporate education reform - Teach for America (TFA) - (see here, here, and here).

Launch of a Corporate Product
Launching a new product, or in this case an organization, is not done with a single press release, or event.  "Reform" groups like E4E use the same marketing strategies of their financiers.  David Lavenda, a product strategy and marketing executive offers some advice for a successful product launch on FastCompany.com, including the following:

Start early. Don’t expect reporters to write about you when you want. Get a head start and begin preparing long before you plan to launch. A rolling launch is a great way to keep the conversation going.

Get partners involved. Channel and marketing partners who have a financial stake in the success of the launch are natural allies. The more people that are talking about the release, the better chances it will get pickup.  

E4E-Minnesota has been rolling out its launch for well over a year.  It had its origins in a group with another combination of letters and numbers - E3MN, which stood for Empowering Educators for Equity MN.  E3MN began in early 2012, and its first Facebook Event was a meeting with the co-founders of Educators 4 Excellence.



The groups E3MN identity appears to have been a place-holder as the group built it's E4E brand.  They focused on connecting with "marketing partners" by building alliances with other corporate reformers.  The second Facebook Event they hosted in June of 2012 was a happy hour meet-and-greet with MinnCAN.



In addition to building a core group with mostly TFA teachers and partnering with other corporate reformers, the group needed to build a local financial base and Minnesota has its share of corporate philanthropists.  In September of 2012, The Robins, Kaplan, Miller, and Ciresi Foundation for Children awarded E3MN a grant of $17,500.  The foundation's website explains that the grant was to 
"support the expansion of Empowering Educators for Equity (E3MN) to impact student success through teacher organizing and leadership for systemic legislative and contractual changes."
Michael Ciresi, is a famous local lawyer who ran twice for the DFL nomination for U.S. Senate, but lost.  The Foundation that bears his name, and he leads, has become the major supporter of local corporate education reforms.  E4E received the grant from his foundation because they promote an agenda that helps to dismantle teachers' unions, thereby opening the door to the free market...and closing the door on public schools.

"Liberal" Sleight of Hand
Ciresi is similar to many Democratic (DFL in Minnesota) politicians and party activists, in that he claims to favor a liberal or progressive political agenda, but more often follows a corporate agenda.  E4E leaders, and presumably many of its members follow this same approach, at least in regard to education.  E4E, like the "reformers" who claim the Civil Rights mantle, does not just focus on dismantling teachers' unions, but also claims to promote a "progressive" agenda.  This is "reformer" slight of hand, a distraction from the real work of E4E.

In Beth Hawkins propaganda piece published last Tuesday, she helps E4E's new Executive Director, Madaline Edison, sell the idea that focusing on "hot button" contractual/union issues "misses the point."  Sydney Morris, the national co-founder and co-CEO of E4E, claims the aim of the organization is "to give teachers a greater voice in making policy on many issues."

Following another element of launching a new product E4E and MinnPost "put the focus on the people not the product."  Hawkins introduces us to a number of E4E teachers who want to speak up for their students on issues beyond the classroom.  They mistakenly believe, however, that E4E will empower them to do that.  Members quoted in the article speak about the fight for immigrations issues and need for early childhood education.  Edison, who has never been a member of the teachers' union, suggested that the unions weren't dealing with these issues and that's why they needed to create E3MN (E4E).

With this claim, E4E accepts and perpetuates the neoliberal myth of unions as greedy and self-interested.  Social justice has long been a part of union work.  Teachers' unions have certainly made mistakes and at times have been on the wrong side of social justice issues, but unions have actively worked for social and racial justice through most of there history.

Another E4E member in Hawkins article talks about her strong family union background and how she wanted to "wear red" in solidarity when union teachers in Chicago went on strike.  Despite her union upbringing, she describes the union contact as "that’s where all the power just goes away."  Beth Hawkins supports this twisted statement by describing the Minneapolis teachers' union contract as "notoriously complicated."

The third E4E story in MinnPost last week was written by James Kindle.   He was a part of the first group of TFA corp members in Minnesota in 2009.  To his credit, he has remained in the classroom.  However, he also portrays the teachers' contract as a barrier to his "autonomy" as a teacher and his ability to speak out for social justice.

Kindle lets us know that he is the son and grandson of teachers, and like his mother, he wants to be able to look back on his teaching career and say, "Oh, yeah. I enjoyed every day."  Unfortunately, if Kindle and E4E (and TFA) are successful in their corporate reform efforts, most teachers will not have much of a career on which to reflect.  Without committed teachers organized in strong unions, the profession will be filled with under-trained temporary workers.

This is how the conservatives have taken the upper hand with regard to education policy.  Many self-proclaimed liberals/progressives, who were once the ardent defenders of a strong, democratic system of public schools, have accepted the argument that the "free market" actually serves the public good and does so in an equitable way.  Making matters even worse, these so called liberals have accepted the idea that unions and collective bargaining protections are relics of the past. 

The Corporate Reformers and their Agenda
Focusing on "hot-button" issues such as tenure, seniority rights, and teacher evaluations, "misses the mark" according to Madaline Edison.  E4E wants teachers and the public to see these issues as part of a larger "progressive" agenda.  Edison, Kindle, and the other E4E leaders fail to see, or refuse to admit that this is a front for the neoliberal agenda.  Their work will weaken the unions they claim to value and strip teachers of their voices they claim to be empowering.  They are helping to privatize our public schools.

To become a member of E4E, teachers must sign the organization's "Declaration of Teacher's Principles and Beliefs."  A third of this declaration is dedicated to "Restore[ing] Professionalism to Education."  According to the document this is done through teacher evaluations that include "value-added student achievement data" (value-added measure - VAM), weakening tenure, and eliminating "last-in-first-out" (seniority rights).  The document also contends that we can recruit, retain, and support "the highest quality teachers" by implementing "performance-based pay" (merit pay).

These are the positions of the corporate reformers.  To argue these "reforms" will empower teachers, "give them a voice," and/or "autonomy" is naive at best.  Merit pay is not a new idea as educational historian, Diane Ravitch, has pointed out.  It is professionally insulting, divisive, and it does not work, especially in a profession that thrives on collaboration.  Not only has merit pay not worked, Daniel Pink demonstrates that merit pay, in fact, produces worse results!

Value-added is another failed experiment.  Despite repeated research demonstrating the inability of VAM to measure a teacher's performance, corporate reformers continue to argue it will separate bad teachers from good, and good teachers from great.  What VAM actually does is promote more teaching to tests, and penalizes teachers who are willing to take risks.

Attacks on tenure and seniority are at the heart of the "reformer's" efforts and central to organizations like E4E.  Tenure is depicted as "lifetime job security," something that makes it "impossible" to fire under-performing teachers.  Tenure does not guarantee a job.  It guarantees due process, if you are threatened with disciplinary action, including termination.  It requires that administrators demonstrate "just cause" for disciplinary action or termination, and in Minnesota, state statue identifies five areas that can lead to termination at the end of a contract year (see Subdivision 9).  Minnesota state statute also lays out reasons for immediate termination of a teacher (see Subdivision 13)

Tenure in Minnesota is only achieved after a three-year probationary period.  During this time, the district can terminate a teacher contract without cause.  What tenure grants is relatively small, but important power.  It enables teachers to disagree with administration and express that disagreement with less fear of repercussions.  This is one of the few things that does in fact "give teachers voice," and this is what E4E wants to weaken or eliminate.

Seniority works in concert with tenure to protect teachers from arbitrary loss of employment.  In addition to termination due to reasons listed in statute, a teacher can also find themselves unemployed if the school district needs to layoff teachers due to declining enrollment and/or a decline in funds.  Requiring layoffs be done in reverse seniority order or "last-in-first-out" (LIFO), prevents administrators from discriminating with regard to layoffs.  In other words, they cannot layoff a teacher as a way around the due process guaranteed with tenure.  Again, E4E want to eliminate seniority (some argue for making it "one of a number of factors" in determining layoffs), but any weakening of seniority creates a way around the due process guaranteed with tenure.

Losing tenure and/or seniority protections would silence teachers.  This is the exact opposite of what E4E claims as its main goal.  All of these attacks on teachers and our unions are empowered by a misguided faith in meritocracy.  Young teachers are told they are being hurt by more senior teachers being "protected" even when they are "less competent."  They are led to believe that administrators, with standardized test scores, can objectively distinguish between teachers who are competent and teachers who excel.

Those who are truly concerned with ensuring that teachers have a voice and are able to speak up for their students, should stand with the teachers' unions.  Work to get rid of testing and "accountability" regimes that are really about dismantling public education, and defend tenure and seniority.  Then we can work together on behalf of all students, for racial and social justice.

Teachers and the public need to understand the real agenda of Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) and expose this group for what they really are - the sheep's clothing for the corporate education reform wolves.


Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Additional information on the origins of E4E's national organization can be found here:

http://raginghorse.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/educators4excellencebrought-to-you-by-the-insidious-arm-of-the-disgustingly-rich/

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Strong and Sustainable Teacher Preparation

I originally posted the following comment on MN2020's Tuesday Talk.  The topic was TFA

"It seems to me there are two main reasons to join TFA. One is as a resume builder. There are some variations to this line of thinking such as using it as a backup to finding permanent employment, but there are clearly a large number of TFA corp members who don’t want to be career teachers, and they should not be playing teacher. Teaching takes commitment.

On the other hand, it is clear there are people who are choosing TFA because they do want teaching as a career. While I welcome them, it does a disservice to our students for them to take a shortcut to the classroom. This is why the U of MN should not be partnering with TFA.

If you were a college senior or junior and you wanted to go into teaching which route would you take—Option 1: A two year program that will take two years and cost you thousands of dollar, or Option 2: a five (maybe eight?) week summer training that has you teaching and getting paid for those same two years?

After paying for four years of college already, I know I would find option 2 very appealing. The problem, of course, is option two is good for the adult, not for the students they will serve. Dean Jean Quam of the U of M’s CEHD told me the University’s two year program is far superior to any TFA model. Which begs the question: why create a shortcut?

In the spirit of solutions, we should be talking about how we can make it affordable and even financially rewarding for college students to take the best route to the profession of teaching and not a short cut that short changes our students."


TFA is by design a shortcut to the classroom and it is a union-busting temp agency.  Those of us who are serious about education need to get TFA out of the picture and look at sustainable ways to prepare future teachers and, especially in the Twin Cities, diversify our teacher ranks.

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Friday, August 2, 2013

Exposing the Agenda of TFA in Minnesota and the Larger Corporate Education Reform Movement



The U of MN is considering a partnership with TEACH FOR AMERICA---and a coalition of graduate students, K-12 teachers and education professors OPPOSE this idea. Hear from Rob Panning-Miller, history teacher at South High/former head of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, co-founder of PEJAM (Progressive Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota) and U of MN graduate student in the College of Education and Human Development, Rachel Smith.  

Rachel and I were interviewed this morning on KFAI's Catalyst program with host Lydia Howell.  You can listen to the archived version of the show at KFAI.  Click on the Catalyst logo to go right to the page.




 


 
 
 
Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Thursday, July 25, 2013

PEJAM Stands with the North Carolina Association of Educators


Stand with the North Carolina Association of Educators!


North Carolina's legislature and governor are in full ALEC mode.  They are busy passing laws that range from the ridiculous (sentencing a woman to up to thirty days in jail if her nipples are exposed) to the outrageous (allow people to carry their loaded guns on playgrounds).  However, voter suppression and the privatization of public education are the items that are truly dominating their legislative agenda.

Voter suppression legislation has been empowered by the recent damage done to the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court.  For details of this "nightmarish set of anti-voting measures," see Brendan Fischer article in PR Watch.

The assault on public education also includes a long list of bills.  North Carolina Association of Educators and other advocates of public education are trying to raise awareness and build support to defeat this legislation.  They posted the following summary on their Facebook page:

TOP 10 Things Every Educator Should Know About the Budget

1. Eliminates 9,306.5 education positions -- 5,184.5 teachers, 3,850 teacher assistants, and 272 Support Personnel (guidance counselors, psychologist, etc.).

2. Provides NO pay increases for educators, continuing North Carolina’s race to the bottom of national salaries. In 2007-08 North Carolina was ranked 25th in the nation in teacher pay, last year our state was 46th. With no additional pay, next year North Carolina undoubtedly will be at the bottom.

3. While gutting public schools and educators, the legislature adopted a $50 million school voucher program ($10 million 2013-14, $40 million in 2014-15).


4. The North Carolina Budget eliminates career status for all teachers. Senate legislation, that received no public hearings in the House, was placed in the budget to eliminate career status for teachers. The new standard requires each school district to identify the top 25% of effective teachers without providing any criteria on how to accomplish this ranking of professionals. Teachers will be placed on a 1, 2, or 4 year contract. The top 25% will be given the option of receiving $500 to compensate them for the loss of due process rights. NOTE: the new system will be phased in over the course of the next five years.

5.
North Carolina no longer values educators who work on their continuing education through masters degrees. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, educators will receive no additional pay for a masters degrees unless their job requires it, such as counselors, school psychologists, etc. Those currently paid for their master’s degrees (or will be paid for a master’s degree in 2013-14) will be grandfathered in, according to the way the bill is currently written.

6. Grades Schools (A-F), 80% based on standardized test scores, 20% based on growth. No other variables will be considered in this grading.

7. Eliminates the Teaching Fellows Program, once viewed as a national model for recruiting teachers into the classroom, the program is no longer funded.


8. Reduces targeted education funding:
• Cuts Textbook funding by $77.4 million dollars;
• Cuts Classroom supply funding by $45.7 million dollars;
• Cuts Limited English Proficiency funding by $6 million dollars.

9. Retired educators will receive NO Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA).

10. The General Assembly will be back next year.



Please go to their page and support them in any way you can.
https://www.facebook.com/wearencae

PEJAM stands in solidarity with the NCAE and other defenders of public education.



Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Teach for America: What do you mean were not exceptional?!


What do You Mean We are Not Exceptional?

June 14, 2013 was a dark day for Teach for America-Twin Cities and its neo-liberal backers.  It marked the second time in three weeks in Minnesota that TFA was rejected after having demanded that it be treated as the exceptional organization it pretends to be.


On Friday, May 24th, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a higher education bill only after he line-item vetoed $1.5 million earmarked for TFA.  Crystal Brakke, the Executive Director of TFA-Twin Cities, claimed they needed the funding to train additional TFA corps members in the next two years.  Those corps members would have attended a five-week training before being put in front of classrooms full of students with the highest needs.  Of course that same $1.5 million dollars could have provided full two-year scholarships for those same college graduates to get a master's degree in education, including their student teaching, at the University of Minnesota.  I guess a two-year master's degree in education does not produce the same exceptional, transformational teachers that a five-week TFA summer training does?

On June14th, three weeks after the Governor's line-item veto of TFA's request for state money, the Minnesota Board of Teaching voted to discontinue a group license variance to TFA.  They had been granted this group variance for the past four years, but now TFA will actually have to play by the same rules as anyone else seeking a teaching license variance in Minnesota.  Corps members will now have to apply for a variance on an individual basis.  TFA and its supporters cannot believe they are being denied special treatment.  Surely their exceptional, transformational corps members deserve exceptional treatment, right?

Having effectively been told twice that they are not special, TFA leaders and supporters have been left completely dumbfounded and outraged. A number of tweets and quotes show how truly dismayed they are.

The somewhat low key Director of Teach for America - Twin Cities, Crystal Brakke at first responded to a Star Tribune reporter that the outcome was "disheartening."  By the end of the day, however, she was quoting an unknown philosopher and tweeted that "people will always shit on the things they're scared of."

The former Director of TFA - Twin Cities and now Director of MinnCAN, Daniel Sellers, did not hold back or hesitate in showing his contempt for those who failed to recognize the exceptional, transformational abilities he believes all TFA corps members possess.  He was quoted in the Star Tribune saying, "it’s unconscionable that many Board of Teaching members allowed politics and their allegiances to the teachers union to keep highly effective teachers from teaching in high-needs communities."

Brian Sweeney, director of external affairs for Charter School Partners (CSP) was quoted in Minnpost saying, “this is a 'Minnesota Nice' version of union thuggery.”  An MPR reporter quoted him saying, "There was little about what the classroom needs today and a lot about union politics. I think we've seen a coup d'etat today by the unions on Minnesota education policy." 

Minneapolis City Council member, mayoral candidate, and infamous opponent of public schools, Don Samuels said in a press release: "This is just the latest in a series of power-plays in the education debate that has no regard for its effect on students, schools, or the learning environment for our kids."

Finally summarizing the frustration and hurt feelings of the corporate reformers is the editorial board of our local corporate newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  On June 20th, a week after the decision, a Star Tribune's editorial echoed all the claims of TFA greatness, disparaged most teachers, chided the Board of Teaching for being influenced by the "all-powerful Education Minnesota teachers union," and declared colleges of education worthless.  This, as usual, was done by citing no evidence other than one "study" produced by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).  A "study" funded by the usual foundations like Broad and Dell, and locally by MinnCAN.

These are not the comments of bold reformers, but the simple arrogance of corporate reformers.  These comments come from people who use the "fierce urgency of now" as a cover for the fierce recklessness of neoliberalism.  These individuals argue for the use of data, but comfortably and brashly ignore the overwhelming data that exposes their hypocrisy and the destruction they bring to public schools.

Like Teach for America, the NCTQ has actually worked to deprofessionalize teaching and create short cuts to the classroom.  They don't blink at their own hypocrisy.  NCTQ created the "first national alternative to traditional teacher certification" called the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.  Any state that accepted this would grant a teaching license to any applicant that has a "bachelor's degree, complete[s] a background check...pay[s] a $500 fee" and passes a computerized exam.  Wayne Au, a professor of education at the University of Washington - Bothell, describes the history NCTQ's "alternative certification" program and its board in the summer 2013 edition of Rethinking Schools.   The organization is a collection of "voucher proponents and advocates for privatizing schools."

The Star Tribune discredits colleges of education, claiming their students are not adequately prepared to face the challenges of the classroom.  They do this using a study that was paid for with money from foundations aimed at privatizing public schools and that recognize a strong teacher voice is their last major hurdle.  It is also a study done by an organization that argues teachers will be ready for the challenges of teaching with just a B.A. degree, passing scores on a standardized test, and $500.00.  This is even worse than TFA.

Daniel Sellers is typical of the neoliberal reformers as he declares completely inexperienced college graduates with five weeks of summer training "highly effective teachers."  Sellers, Sweeney, and Samuels argue our classrooms (students) will suffer because they may not have access to poorly trained and inexperienced TFA corps members.  Charter schools and the public school administrative sellouts may actually have to hire teachers who are actually licensed...maybe even with experience!

The local collection of corporate education deformers will continue to shed their crocodile tears for Minnesota students, while continuing their efforts to weaken teaching programs and dismantle our public schools.  TFA is not only not needed in Minnesota, it has become toxic for our students and students throughout the nation.

This past month has not been a victory for the status quo as the neoliberals would have us believe.  It has been quite the opposite.  There is no "all-powerful" teachers union, but there are true grassroots efforts that include union members working to liberate public schools from the corporate stranglehold.  We must continue to expose the hypocrisies and the true agenda of the neoliberal "reformers," and create truly democratic and socially just public schools.  Let's hope these small victories for public education are the beginning of the end of the corporate dominance of public education.

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Colleges of Education Fail When They Join with TFA

University of Minnesota, Do NOT Partner with Teach for America


On the surface, Teach for America is one of the greatest ironies of the neo-liberal education reform movement.  These so-called reformers yell and scream about the poor state of teaching in our public schools, and their greatest solution is to put the most inadequately trained, and inexperienced 22 year-olds in front of the students with the greatest needs.

The truth of course is TFA and their billionaire financiers are not here to save public schools, they're here to privatize them.  While it is somewhat understandable that idealistic young college students might believe joining Teach for America is a way to help, it is inexcusable that the administrators in charge of our Colleges of Education would share this naivete.

Teach for America's dysfunctional existence is enabled every time a politician hands them money, and even more so, when colleges of education accept some of that money in exchange for offering false credibility to TFA.

Here in Minnesota, Hamline University, a private liberal arts college, was the first to sellout to the neo-liberal reforms and work with TFA recruits.  Now the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities is looking to get in on the money. 

We are fortunate here in Minnesota to have a governor who does not subscribe to the neo-liberal agenda and who believes in public education.  He recently took the bold step of line-item vetoing a section of a bill that would have given state funding to TFA.  However, TFA is flush with cash from the federal government and wealthy foundations and they are asking the University of Minnesota to "partner" with them.

Jean Quam, the Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota appears ready to accept this "partnership" and all the funding that comes with it.  Recently, the college held a couple of meetings to discuss working with TFA.  Reports from PEJAM members who attended the meetings suggest that Dean Quam has made up her mind, and wants the College to accept the partnership with TFA.

Just as PEJAM helped in the grassroots effort to call on Governor Dayton to veto the TFA funding, we must now build the grassroots effort to call on the University of Minnesota to reject any support or relationship with TFA.

Here is our petition statement:
We call on the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities to NOT partner with Teach for America (TFA).  With greater focus on the teaching profession and greater calls for thoroughly trained teachers in every classroom, it is unconscionable to have one of Minnesota's premiere universities facilitating a short cut to the classroom.  TFA was originally said to be a stop-gap for schools and districts with chronic teacher shortages.  There is no teacher shortage in Minnesota, and TFA will never be a means to improve public education.  Minnesota deserves fully-trained and licensed teachers in every classroom, not band-aids. 

TFA recruits are inexperienced and most lack a commitment to classroom teaching as a career. Not only are these young TFA members unprepared to be effective teachers, 70% to 80% leave the classroom within the first three years, creating a revolving door of inexperienced teachers for children who need the best teachers.  TFA also infringes on students’ civil rights, and does not increase academic achievement. TFA places the most inexperienced recruits in front of students who have historically been the most underserved in schools - minority, poor, and special education students.  They mislead the public by conflating learning and academic success with a test score. While test scores may or may not be indicative of the achievement of any individual student at a given point in time; education is much more than a test score and test prep.

A University of Minnesota Partnership would only help Teach for America displace career educators. TFA destroys school and community cohesion by replacing experienced, career educators with inexperienced, ineffective recruits. TFA requires partnering districts to contractually guarantee teaching spots for its recruits, thus forcing cash strapped districts to layoff experienced, career educators.

The University's ultimate responsibility in training Pre-K - 12 educators is to the students those teachers will face each day.  To that end, we call on the University of Minnesota to reject any partnership with Teach for America and maintain its commitment to develop in-depth knowledge and teaching skills through its graduate-level program.



Please click on this link and sign our petition.  Teachers here in Minneapolis are telling Dean Quam they will not accept student teacher from the U of MN if that agree to work with TFA.  Please add any additional reasons the University of Minnesota should reject this relationship.


Posted by: Robert Panning-Miller