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March 09, 2013

Interview with David Bollier: Viewing Education as a Commons

Economists and politicians have long assumed that there are really only two sectors for governing things and "adding value" -- the state and the market. Markets are seen as the vehicle for economic progress while the state deals with governance and everything else. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that there is another sector - the commons - that is at least as important to our lives and well being. The commons consists of those many resources that we share - the atmosphere, water, public spaces, the Internet, scientific knowledge, cultural works, and much more - as well as the social systems and rule-sets that we use to manage them in fair, sustainable ways. It bears emphasizing that the commons is not just the resource itself, but the resource plus the community and its self-organized rule-sets, norms and enforcement of rules. I

March 02, 2013

Georgia Religious Schools Skirt Constitution to Access Taxpayer Funds

To be clear, what is happening here is that individual taxpayers can direct the funds that are being diverted from the state tax coffers towards their own children's tuition, or that of their friends. Vouchers have proven to be highly unpopular with voters, as they divert scarce funds from public schools and unconstitutionally allow them to pay for religious instruction. This violates the state constitution's prohibition against tax moneys being spent "directly, or indirectly" on religious organizations. This law is an end run around the Constitutions of the State of Georgia, and the United States, and if Earl Ehrhart has his way, this week the state will toss another $30 million into the pot.

March 01, 2013

Who Will the Los Angeles School Board Represent?

This campaign is going to be fascinating to watch, because it shows the raw power of the wealthy supporters of corporate education reform, and their ability to bring that power to bear on a local school board race. The issues at stake are central to the direction of education reform. Will charter schools continue to expand at the expense of traditional public schools? Will teacher evaluations give more weight to test scores? Will seniority and due process protections be eliminated? The big question hanging over all of this is who will a locally elected school board represent? The interests of its constituents - or the billionaires who paid for their campaigns?

February 28, 2013

John Thompson: The Head vs the Heart: Which Should Rule in Our Schools?

The contemporary "reform" movement is based on the principle, however, that educators cannot be granted the autonomy of deciding whether they commit to building trusting relationships with students or whether "In Data We Trust." The immense body of social science that describes the emotional dynamics of schooling that was to be flushed down the toilet. Test-driven "reformers" demanded that we teach primarily to the narrow part of "the Head" that processes Big Data.

February 24, 2013

Yes, Virginia, There Really IS a Billionaire Boys Club

One does not need to be a "conspiracy theorist" to connect the dots here. We have a local school board race that has become the focus of a coordinated effort on the part of the wealthy advocates of corporate reform. This is no conspiracy. It is neither secret, nor is it illegal, thanks to rulings like Citizen's United. It is perfectly legal for billionaires to, in effect, buy up local school board races. And it is perfectly legal for them to hire "journalists" to write stories largely sympathetic to their point of view. Fortunately, it is also still legal for skeptics to point out all of the above, and suggest the voters of Los Angeles might want to think twice before they vote.

January 31, 2013

Interview with Joshua Starr: Excellence is Not a Zero Sum Game

I have become increasingly concerned that public education in the United States is seen as a private commodity rather than a public good. Too often, value is defined as something that I have and you don't, if we both have it, it can't possibly be valuable, regardless of what the "product" actually is. The current achievement disparity between different groups of students is not only a moral imperative, it's an economic one. If we don't better serve children that are poor, African-American, differently-abled, Latino, immigrant or English Language Learners, our economy will greatly suffer because the tax base will decline substantially. I believe that communities have to define what they want from their public schools, organize systems around their vision, and then make sure that all schools within the community have the capacity to achieve it. If we continue to think of excellence as a zero-sum game we will continue to allow too many schools to fail rather than build their capacities to improve.

December 18, 2012

NEA and AFT: Let's Apply the Lessons of NCLB to the Common Core

Our two major unions are one of the best vehicles teachers have for communicating with the public. Teachers have gotten on board with efforts to raise standards in the past, but we have to have our eyes wide open this time. There is going to be a major publicity campaign associated with the results we will get from the Common Core assessments. This will be yet another iteration of the wails we heard with the release of the Nation at Risk report in 1983. We have got to be prepared to mount a robust defense of the very institution of public education. Tests associated with the Common Core are going to be used to discredit our schools. We must be ready to respond.

November 21, 2012

Teachers and Parents: Natural Allies in Defending Our Schools

Wherever the "reformers" are working to divide us, we need counter campaigns aimed at strengthening our unity. We need to make sure less experienced teachers understand the value of due process, and the reasons we object to "data-driven" evaluations and pay systems. We need to develop social and educational activities that bring generations of teachers together, so they recognize how much they have to learn from one another, and how much better they can be when they support one another and work together. We need serious outreach efforts to communicate with parents, both urban and suburban. Our public schools are community treasures, and they must be guarded by all of us working together.

November 20, 2012

How do You Defeat an Army of Determined Educators? You Don't!

These schools are struggling - they are hamstrung by the relentless pressure to raise test scores, and the budget cuts that close libraries and cut essential student services. But we need a campaign to highlight the efforts being made every day by our determined army of educators. We are on the real front lines, in schools like Highland Academy in Oakland and the democratically controlled schools in Chicago, and a thousand other schools in communities across the country. The "reformers" have decided that we are the obstacles to their grand vision - the transformation of our schools using the miracle of the marketplace and the heavy club of high stakes tests. And we are, because we have an entirely different vision. We envision schools that are well-supported and connected to their communities. We envision schools where student learning is displayed and celebrated in all sorts of ways, not just through high stakes tests.

November 12, 2012

Bad Teaching Practice #1: "I am Only Going to Teach Those Who Are Ready To Learn"

Have you ever heard this one? A number of times in my career, I heard teachers, usually new ones, it must be said, announce in frustration that they were sick and tired of dealing with the kids who were disrupting class, and that from that point forward, they were going to forget about the "ones who...

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