Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bill Gates Knows Best

According to the Huffington Post, Bill Gates told the National Urban League in Boston on Thursday that there is a myth out there that says poverty must be eliminated before education can be reformed.

I don't know about you, but not once in my career have I ever heard anyone claim that poverty must be eliminated before education can be reformed. I would love to know who told Bill Gates that.

My guess, however, would be that he's never heard anyone say it either.

Instead, I suspect Gates is using this talking point as a means of attacking anti-corporate reform advocates for attempting to explain the devastating effects of poverty on student achievement, and particularly on standardized test scores, which are being inappropriately used to judge the quality of teaching in learning public schools across the country.

In issuing this statement, Gates demonstrates an unwillingness to really listen to those on the other side of the debate, a significant misunderstanding of their point of view, or a myopic commitment to his version of reform at the expense of engaging other important stakeholders in the conversation.

Poverty is more than a mere variable to be toyed with in an effort to institute corporate reform on public schools. It is often an utterly incapacitating condition accompanied by violence, chronic disease and illness, addiction, abuse, and despair. As John Kuhn intimated this past weekend at the Save Our School Conference, a well-crafted algebra lesson is unlikely to have any great effect on these conditions.

While I agree with Bill Gates that excellent education should be part of the solution to poverty, schools alone cannot make up for poverty's effects on standardized test scores.

Education can and should be improved. But the notion that schools alone can close the achievement gap as a means of battling social inequality, a myth perpetuated by educational opportunists like Michelle Rhee, is utter nonsense.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

SOS March 2011 in DC

Today was the Save Our Schools March on Washington.
I arrived early and listened to people read powerful passages about the negative impacts of the attempted standardization of schools. Then came the big time speakers. Linda Darling-Hammond spoke first, but I missed her because I was explaining to tourists near the Washington Monument why the march was happening. Mark Naison did an incredible rap on corporate reform. John Kuhn gave a riveting speech that I heard many people identify as their favorite. Kuhn reminded people that public schools take ALL students, not just the ones who are easy to educate. He said he was proud to be unacceptable (the label bestowed on Texas schools when they don't meet annual yearly progress). Bob Schaeffer (the director of FairTest and author of this excellent piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in the wake of Atlanta's cheating scandal) spoke. Phoebe Ferguson and Karran Harper Royal spoke together. Jose Vilson prepared what I thought was an excellent poem on testing. Nathan Saunders (president of the Washington Teachers Union) welcomed participants to DC, but he did not tell everyone he's in the midst of a serious leadership crisis at the WTU. Jonathan Kozol gave a similar speech to the one he gave on the first day of the conference. Diane Ravitch said education should not be made into a race, where only one or two people win. John Stewart provided some comic relief from the set of the Daily Show (he wasn't able to make it because, he claimed, a dog ate his car). Matt Damon related a story from his childhood. Apparently Damon's mother refused to let teachers administer standardized tests to him because, she said, they were stupid, wouldn't tell them anything, and would only make him nervous (read Damon's full speech here).

While the speeches were going on, I was lucky enough to run into some great people. I got a chance to catch up with Peter Gwynn and discuss some of the ridiculousness surrounding his being fired for his Mr Teachbad blog. I chatted with a few teachers I'd met at the conference the day before. I engaged a few interested tourists in some conversations. And most surprisingly to me, I ran into my favorite DC journalist, Pete Tucker (who was recently arrested for trying to do his job.) We ran into Candi Peterson together (WTU vice president) and asked about the conflict she's been having with Nathan Saunders. After that, Pete told me about Filipino teachers recruited by Prince George's County and the District of Columbia (officials apparently traveled to Manila in a desperate search for qualified teachers) and are now at risk of losing their jobs. We met one of these teachers who's been teaching in DC. She told us that they're still fighting and that she thought the situation was horrible. The US Government has fined Prince George's County $4.2 million and found them to be a willful violator of federal labor law.

I thought the encounter with the Filipina teacher and her story were particularly interesting because just a few months ago I was discussing with a fellow teacher the stages of union busting. First skilled labor becomes unskilled, standardized, scripted, and robotic (and often replaced with machines - think online learning or learning software). Experienced people who'd previously made careers out of such labor are replaced. Short term temps fill the slots (TFA), and eventually people from different countries whose rights are more easily abused are often imported (and then deported in a sick cycle), or the work is sent to their poorer countries where labor laws make it less expensive. It was at that moment the final step in the union busting of the American teaching profession was completed for me. Filipino teachers recruited to the US, hustled through highly qualified certification, and then denied their visas and proper pay. It seems like this should be a bigger story.

After Matt Damon spoke and the march was ready to move on, the SOS planners anticipated that there would be enough time as people left the Ellipse and began traveling toward the White House for some people to read a few more words from teachers around the country. However, participants moved off the Ellipse very quickly and there didn't seem to be a need to fill time. I had been given two teachers' letters to read. Instead of reading them at the march, I thought it would be just as appropriate to share them here.

The first letter comes from David Cohen, a national board certified teacher from California who blogs at InterACT (one of my favorite education blogs). David says:

"Would you force reforms on the military and ignore the opinions of career officers? Would you try to change practices in hospitals but ignore the input of nurses and doctors? Isn't it time you put the brakes on the Ract to the Top and explain exactly why this needs to be a race, figure out who the losers will be in your race, and consider what exactly is at the top?

"I am proud to be part of a profession of hard-working, dedicated people who are committed to changing the world for the better. Just by choosing this profession, we have expressed optimism for the future. We believe in change. We cling to hope. We are ready to be partners in reform. Are you willing to send us the help we ask for, instead of politically favored so-called reforms that really don't help us teach?"

Another letter from Jolie Lindley of Henryville Junior/Senior High School in Henryville, IN reads:

WTU President Nathan Saunders with fellow SOS March attendee
"I'll be damned if I teach to a test anymore. While merit pay on the surface is very attractive to someone like me - someone who could be making much more money working in a business environment that would probably be less stressful than my teaching job, I firmly believe it should not be tied to test scores. Pay me more because I stay after school for hours each week grading papers, tutoring students, working with yearbook editors, directing plays, planning lessons, doing research, and improving my teaching. Pay me more because I'm willing to serve on district committees to improve teaching system-wide. Pay me more because I travel at my own expense each year to conferences and workshops to gain fresh ideas and training to be a better teacher. Pay me more because I call and email parents to update them on their child's progress. Pay me more because I care enough about the kid whose parents are very suddenly and unexpectedly divorcing that I make sure to cut him a little slack in class and ask him how he is doing. Pay me more because I have made my classroom a safe haven, one where students drop in to tell me about their day or to ask for advice on how to deal with a problem in another class. Pay me more because I put my life and soul into this profession to the detriment of my personal life because I believe in the teenagers of America."

It's Mike Klonsky
After all the talk, the march finally began.

They say cut backs; we say fight back!

Whose schools? Our schools! Whose children? Our children!

Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!

Marchers were loud, had enough people to look formidable, and had some great signs. The only strange part came as we walked through another protest over Syria. For a moment, schools, Damascus, teachers, Bashar al-Assad, and corporate reform blended together in something of a weird aural mishmash.

Although there were a few more events scheduled after the march, participants all but disappeared after the march was over. Anthony Cody estimated about 5,000 people turned up and hoped for 50,000 next year. Education Week suggested the turnout was closer to 3,000.

Amidst all this, pundits, citing the participation of union members in this march, claimed the march was secretly funded by unions. (Hmmm - a lot of people were wearing shirts that said, "Union Thug.") This claim, were so many people not deluded into thinking unions are tantamount to pure evil, would/should not be so insidious. That people involved in teachers unions would also resist corporate reform shouldn't exactly catch anyone by surprise. Their presence certainly cannot be taken as evidence that unions funded the march under the guise of a grassroots movement. And even if they did, I'm not sure anyone should really care. Unions should be doing more to resist corporate reform.

Word on the street suggested that people would be gathering around DC this evening to continue the conversations they'd been having all week. Exhausted from travel and a little educationed out, I hung out with a few friends not involved in education and prepared for my flight out of DC tomorrow.

Tomorrow, SOS March participants will meet back at American University to continue to discuss strategies for moving our voice forward. I have to catch a flight and will not be able to attend.

In ending my blogging on the march, I'd like to say thank you so much to all the people that put so much time into organizing this and all the people who've dedicated their livelihoods to the cause of improving public education. I've resisted the idea of having a hero nearly all of my life (I don't know why - maybe some weird ego thing), but after having worked with the kinds of people I've seen push so persistently for quality education in their communities, I can confidently and proudly say that I know exactly who my heroes and heroines are. And they're not famous.

Goodnight DC.

Friday, July 29, 2011

SOS Conference 2011, Day Two

Taylor Mali began the day with a poem that cracked everyone up. He reminded us all with his fantastic use of words what it really meant to be a teacher. Education is the miracle; teachers are the workers, he said (or something to that effect).

Diane Ravitch came next. She deftly explained (in a self interview in which she allowed herself to call herself Diane) exactly what's wrong with corporate reform's position on charters, vouchers, NCLB, standardized tests, merit pay and teachers. When you listen to her speak, you wonder why anyone who has spent time thinking about these things would ever endorse them the way corporate reform has.

The highlight of my day conference came during today's first session. I watched a film by Curtis Acosta of Tucson High and Eren Isabel called Precious Knowledge. It was about the dreadful actions of Arizona state in its attempt to silence an incredible ethnic studies program at Tucson High. Saying the movie was powerful would be my understatement of the year. I wiped tears from my eyes about every five minutes and was ready to donate as much money as I could muster by the time the movie and presentation were over. If it's not clear already, I HIGHLY recommend everyone get their hands on a copy of this film when it comes out. Show it in your communities and raise money for their cause.

At lunch I ate with a teacher from Seattle, a recent Brown graduate working at a non-profit in DC, and two former TFA members. The former TFA members (not the ones I ate lunch with yesterday) both quit their assignment prior to completing their first year. They related their awful experiences with the program. John Williamson was assigned to a variety of different schools in Detroit before realizing TFA was using poor minority children as his "guinea pigs." He's since begun a blog and takes George Will to task for supporting TFA here. I noticed a degree of incredulity in his voice as he talked about Will's piece that I used to have - back before my experiences with schools and the media (particularly the Washington Post) jaded me. The other former TFAer was a guy named John Bilby, whose youtube video I featured on my blog back in April. They were both applauded at the end of the day for telling their stories.

After lunch I went to a session moderated by editors from Rethinking Schools. The session involved knowledgeable people discussing unions, testing, charters, teaching, small schools, and co-locations. These people included Mark Naison, Brian Jones, Jonathan Kozol, Rachel Levy, Deborah Meier, Mike Klonsky, Ken Bernstein, Michelle Fine, Leonie Haimson, Leo Casey, Bob Peterson, Stan Karp, and Helen Gym. Helen Gym talked a lot about EMOs and the Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook (Gym is one of the editors). It made me wonder why more cities don't have similar education media sources.

When everyone came back for the afternoon plenary we heard from Las Vegas Teacher Ernie Rambo, who ran 125 miles from the public high school she attended in Philadelphia to attend the conference. We then heard from Phoebe Ferguson of the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation. The foundation spent $11,000 bringing a new group of freedom riders to the conference to march for educational justice. These freedom riders were students from the New Orleans school district. Some were members of a group of students called the rethinkers. They read poetry, rapped, told their stories, and explained what change they were hoping to cause in New Orleans.

After the afternoon plenary, we headed to the reception. I talked to a lot of interesting people. I first talked with one of the students from the plenary. I asked her what she thought the biggest problem in New Orleans was. "Violence," she said. I then asked what the biggest problem with New Orleans schools was. Same answer. She told me there was a heavy police presence in all of the schools, and she felt that any student misbehavior was met with a jail sentence. She was disappointed with a lack of after school programs, sports, tutoring, and alternative means of behavior modification. I told her I appreciated her and that I thought she'd done a great job.

Later I met a teacher from Chicago, Adam Heenan, who's been part of CORE since it took over the Chicago teachers union with Karen Lewis as president. He keeps a blog at The Classroom Sooth. Then I spoke with "Maria" of Failing Schools. We talked about the perils of pseudonymous blogging. I caught up with Rachel and Mary Levy (mother and daughter activists/writers in the DC area). I spoke with Norm Scott and finally got a chance to meet Susan Ohanian, one of my favorite education writers. (I learned she began her career in education as a New York City school teacher.) I then spoke with Leo Casey about possibly returning to New York City. And I lastly spoke with Luciano D'Orazio (or Mr D on his blog), a teacher/blogger from the Bronx. I learned that Luciano used to work on Capitol Hill for a very conservative member of congress. Indeed, Mr D himself used to be an ardent proponent of charters, vouchers, and the like. His experience teaching has since changed his opinions on educational policy. We traded stories/information and both left agreeing to work with each other in the future to create a space where people like us (people who believed in corporate reform until we experienced it) might share our stories with those who've never worked in education. We both felt we knew so many people who could contribute that it seemed like an opportunity not to be passed up.

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman was set to screen at 730pm, but I'd seen it three times in New York, so I decided to head out a little early. However, I recommend the movie to all interested, and suggest you donate. Norm Scott tells me they've almost collected enough donations to break even.

On my way out of the conference I finally got a chance to meet Mark Friedman (also of Failing Schools), a guy who's done so much work in the name of public education up in Rochester, NY. We'd been to four other conferences together, but this was the first one where we finally found a chance to meet face to face. I told him I might be out of a job this coming year, and he told me that he might be in a similar situation after being fired in retaliation for his outspoken nature. The team of excellent bloggers from Failing Schools ("Maria," Mark, and Sabrina) and I all lamented the retaliatory nature of school districts before we parted ways.

Overall, the conference was great, especially for the price. The opportunity to meet so many genuine people from all over the county committed to public education was indeed humbling. I choked up on more occasions than I'd like to admit. Read Teacher Ken's take on the conference here.

Tomorrow is the march, and I just found out Linda Darling-Hammond will be the first speaker. As if I needed another reason to be excited.

Mr Teachbad Fired

This morning, Valerie Strauss posted Peter Gwynn's explanation (Gwynn is better known to the blogging community as Mr Teachbad) of why he believes he was fired from DCPS on The Answer Sheet.

Gwynn and I worked together briefly at Columbia Heights Educational Campus, and I can vouch for the strategic vindictiveness he describes among the administration. (I wrote a lot about it here and here.)

I remember one day in the fall of 2009 when our social studies department met during one of our many relatively useless morning meetings. On this particular day, Mr Gwynn had been asked by our department head to share a lesson plan that he used in his American Government class. I remember being inspired by the creativity and quality of his lesson. He'd used Randy Newman's song Short People to introduce a lesson on Federalist 10 and Madison's take on factions in a republic. Our assistant principal used the next thirty minutes to break down Mr Gwynn's lesson, finding flaw with virtually every aspect of it. The teachers looked at each other awkwardly. We had all been impressed.

Every student I ever talked to who had Mr Gwynn (both when I was at the school and since I've left through emails with my former students), related to me their high regard for Mr Gwynn's teaching style and his concern for their achievement.

I am in no way surprised that Mr Gwynn was fired. He would not have been, however, if our country made keeping quality teachers a priority.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

SOS Conference 2011, Day One

Today, the first day of the SOS Conference in DC, I had the privilege of being around some phenomenal people and having some very interesting conversations.

The day began with a talk by Jonathan Kozol. Although he's always been one of the people I've looked up to most in the education world (and I learned today just how many others have too), I was even further impressed by his ability to address a crowd. He gave a riveting talk (Norm Scott has a few notes on it here). He demonstrated an ability to be sensitive and genuine in his description of his time in the classroom and, at the same time, intensely passionate about his anger and frustration with the ongoing catastrophic inequities that continue to plague public education. For me, his compassion, tenderness, and commitment to this cause came through even more clearly than when I read his books.

I moved on to a lecture by Texas Superintendant John Kuhn. Kuhn has written and spoken out widely on destructive state and federal policies that have hurt him and his students. He's even published an ebook that you can access for free.

Kuhn was equally impressive. He compared teachers to an American military outpost that was ambushed by the Taliban in 2009 in the Battle of Kamdesh. He noted that although the military personel did not succeed in defending their outpost because of poor planning and administration on behalf of the US military, they were nevertheless recognized for their efforts by the government. He noted the irony in the fact that many teachers are put in situations in which they cannot succeed on a daily basis, but rather than being recognized for their herculean efforts in impossible circumstances, they are lambasted for not trying hard enough to cure the effects of poverty.

Kuhn also noted that he thought it important for every teacher to read Joanne Barken's recent article in Dissent, "Firing Line: The Grand Coalition Against Teachers." He said that while efforts at improving education in impoverished communities should involve improving parenting, he noted that the government has leverage only to act against teachers and not against parents. He also said that he thinks that when teachers cry out that children have been neglected and are accused of creating "excuses," they are actually making "diagnoses" of problems. "You can't fix poverty through carefully crafted algebra lessons," he said. Lastly, Kuhn said that we will move closer to solutions when we realize (as Michael Marder pointed out in the Texas Tribune back in May) that many of our educational problems are tied closely with problems associated with poverty.

After Kuhn's lecture, I ate lunch with a woman running in a school board election in Louisiana and two Teach for America graduates (from 2000-2002) who are still working in schools in the Houston area. The woman from Louisiana lamented to me just how disgraceful she thought it was that Louisiana recently passed a senate bill that would allow corporations to sponsor charter schools. The two TFA alums told me that they'd lost faith in the mission of TFA. One said that when she went through the program, she was told that TFA intended to work itself out of existence, by making it fashionable for talented people to go into and stay in education. She seemed frustrated when she said she didn't hear that anymore. Both alums said they thought Wendy Kopp was arrogant and were generally disappointed in the direction education policy in the country has been headed.

After lunch, I attended a session led by Mike Klonsky. In it, bloggers, teachers, writers, policy analysts, and activists brainstormed ideas on how teachers might come together to fight corporate reform with a single united voice.

All day long, I was privileged to be working, talking, and listening around so many amazing people I admire. They include Karran Harper Royal (my hero from New Orleans), John KuhnJonathan Kozol, Deborah Meier, Rachel Levy, Mary Levy, Ken Bernstein, Anthony Cody, Nancy Flanagan, Sabrina Stevens Shupe, Martha Infante, the author of JD2718, Norm Scott, Julie Cavanagh, Lisa Donlan, Brian Jones, and many more amazing people who I'm just beginning to meet.

The challenge that we all face, as I've heard all day long (and agree with wholeheartedly), is how we make this conference and march in DC the beginning of a movement. How can we continue to support each other and make use of each other's talents and capital to make this movement effective?

Tomorrow, we start with Diane Ravitch.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why I'm Marching in DC This Weekend

As I wait in the airport for my flight to Washington, it strikes me that it might be worth taking the time to flesh out some of the reasons I decided to blow nearly $600 on a weekend in DC.

At first I thought I would create a list, but then I realized that no matter how many different points I came up with, they essentially all boiled down to one reason.

Public education is worth fighting for.

Few people seem understand the importance of public education. Most people would agree that education is important, but public education almost has a negative connotation for some. Public education means public employees, government involvement, and bureaucracy. For many, that means inefficiency, waste, abuse, and mediocre standards for students. But it is also a test of our ability to act responsibly toward the needs of our communities.

The degree to which we commit ourselves to ensuring a quality public education for all students is ultimately a test of our commitment to democracy and social equality. On their face, offering choice and competition may seem like a worthwhile means of improving school quality, but all too often they relieve us of the collective responsibility of providing excellent schools for all students. To be sure, handing our commitment to democracy and social equality over to the forces of some educational market would be easier than providing public education, but I sincerely doubt it would be our best interest.

I don't believe any society is capable of realizing true democracy without a commitment to quality public education. And that, I suppose is why this debate is so fierce. Not all of us agree on the importance of democracy. And I guess that's why I'm going to DC this weekend. I want to be around the many wonderful people across the country who agree with me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Politics and Honest Sport: I Wish They Were More Similar

Most of my life I've appreciated healthy competition. In my youth my parents taught me to play tennis. In high school and college I played soccer. In college I took up basketball and racquetball. Today, I'll play just about anything that involves something of a cardio workout. The golf and fishing just are not for me.

But it's not just sport that I can appreciate competition in. Every now and then, I like to indulge in a video game or two, usually of the real-time strategy variety (e.g. Starcraft, the original Warcraft games - NOT World of Warcraft -, or the Command and Conquer Series). These are games in which you raise resources and a military in an effort to obliterate an opponent occupying the same territory. You have to be sly about how you allocate your many resources (time, units, gold, etc.) and how you both build and use your military. It requires a great deal of strategy, and even the best gamer in the world is likely to run into an opponent who can detect their weaknesses and find a way to defeat them.

In both of these types of competition, you have to think on your feet (in one case literally) and react to your opponent if you want to succeed. You can't stay still, bid your time, or attack all out. The intelligent player balances their moves against their opponents and always tries to stay one step ahead.

What I think is most interesting about both sport and video game competition, however, is that I derive the most pleasure from reflecting on the complexities of the game. In racquetball (my sport of choice for the last three years or so), hitting a good ball doesn't just come when you know how to swing a racquet. The game often moves so fast that you have to watch your opponent hit the ball so have an inkling for where it might go, position yourself so that you have a decent chance of actually getting to the ball, know where your opponent is before you hit the ball so you have an idea of where not to put it, know the best angle to shoot the ball at so that it goes where you want, and, ON TOP OF ALL THAT, you need enough technique to execute. When a player is able to do all of those things and hit a nice ball, it doesn't really matter to me whether I did it or my opponent. I can still enjoy the moment. And that's true of the people I play with as well.

This can happen in video games too. The incredible number of variables that go into them help you enjoy a well-planned attack or an unexpected defense. There's something gorgeous about the intertwining of competition with collaboration in these situations. In one sense you are competing with someone else, but in a larger sense, you're collaborating in an effort to experience and learn about the game in new ways. The ultimate purpose is not to win, but to find new appreciation for the game, learn new and better ways to play it, and (in the case of sport) to get a good workout.

But when I compare the gorgeous nature of competition in sport and video games with the competition I see in politics, I notice something falls short.

If politics were sport (at least if it was racquetball with the people I play with), claims about the nature of reality that obviously have an element of truth to them would not be meet with resistance. If politics were my racquetball game, then claiming that placing completely inexperienced teachers in our most disadvantaged schools (the kinds of which the vast majority of them did not attend while they were in school) while expecting them to take night classes is not an effective way of closing the achievement gap would not be ignored by the other side. The other side, moreover, would not point to studies (produced by the organization that created those inexperienced teachers) that say that inexperienced teachers are just as effective at increasing test scores as experienced teachers.

I think that this political type of competition is different for two reasons. For one, claims on abstracter forms of truth will naturally be more debatable than whether the Orc Horde destroyed my base and rendered the Race of Men helpless to defend its homeland. But I think a commitment to winning rather than finding truth makes the competition of political talking points equally (if not more) frustrating to deal with.

In racquetball, the aforementioned argument regarding inexperienced teachers in tough schools might be a well-placed serve. The response that it has no merit would be a complete swing and a miss, followed by the resolute and undeniably inaccurate assertion by the returning player that he returned the serve beautifully and won the point while the ball died behind his feet.

The political arena perhaps doesn't astonish viewers as much when participants play the sore loser because seeing the ball die behind their feet sometimes requires that the viewer be a well-educated and critical thinker who's interested in the subject at hand. It's this pesky last part that seems to allow pundits to act like dufuses and get away with it while the people in the know can do little more than shake their heads in frustration.

Politics, unfortunately, is one form of competition I just can't get into for its beauty.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Driving Mr Boutin

I'm awakened by a bump in the road. My head lifted ever so slightly off that part of the passenger door just below the window, landing uncomfortably on that other part of the door that lets you know the door's unlocked. It's locked now.

The car drives smoothly down a near empty road surrounded by picturesque green hills and a blue sky on what could not be a more gorgeous day.

I couldn't have been out for too long. I've done this trip a few times before, and it always begins like this. Gorgeous countryside and perfect weather.

The first time I made the trip I had no directions and didn't know my destination. They just gave me the keys and wished me good luck. I remember taking a lot of scenic detours, trying to avoid bad weather, and making a lot of tourist stops. You know, try to keep it interesting. Where I ended up - well, it wasn't exceptional, but neither was I. After all, I was just starting out.

But I've gotten better as time has gone on, or at least I tell myself I have. When I upgraded, they even gave me a driver. Instead of making all of the decions on my own, they told me, I could rely on my driver.

I look over at him, my driver. His name's Data. He doesn't have the sleek Brent Spiner look. He's not that sophisticated. My Data looks like a poorly drawn cartoon character, and it can be a little surreal the first time you get in the car with him. He's very boxy. Square head, square eyes. Square almost everything, really. White on the inside with black lines outlining his figure.

The first time I rode with Data I was excited. He was supposed to help me avoid those scenic detours and tourist stops. Make the route more direct. After I got over his weird appearance, things seemed to get easier for a while. I could take a nap here and there, play some Sudoku, or read a book. And he's not bad company, if a tad overly logical.

But Data and I don't get along perfectly. A lot of times he likes to take routes I'd rather not, through bad weather or over unpaved roads. Sometimes I'll beg for the opportunity to stop and take a look at a scenic overlook only for Data to say it would be imprudent. It makes me enjoy the drive a little less.

There are other times when his driving just doesn't make sense. "Data, it'd be faster if we took this exit. Remember what the attendant at that last gas station told us?"

"I'm sorry James, the GPS does not indicate that would be a prudent choice."

I can see where Data is coming from. He's not all bad. I just wish I could get a better version of him, one that could think things through and wonder about the reasoning behind our decisions. After all, we still haven't quite agreed on where or why we're going wherever it is that we're going.

I shake off my daydreaming and realize we might be pulling up on our destination.

"Is this it, Data?"

"I think this is it, James."

I've started this trip five different times, but I finish in a different place every time. The town we're approaching could not look more normal. Nothing flashy or glamorous. The people don't smile, but they also don't frown. Everyone seems content enough.

"Data, this town looks nice enough, but don't you think it'd be fun, just for once, to see if we could go somewhere more exciting? Maybe somewhere with more majesty, more creativity? Maybe next time?"

"No James, this place seems just right. I couldn't be more pleased."

I turn away from Data and gaze back out the window.

I don't care what they tell me. Next time I will try the trip on my own again, or at least with a different version of Data. This one has shown me all that he can.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Save Our Schools March

In just a little over a week, teachers and grassroots educational activists will converge on Washington, DC to make their voice heard in response to the overwhelming barrage of attacks they've been dealt by the corporate reform movement.

The Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action has been coordinated by a committed group of educators committed to real democracy and quality public education - ideals that cannot exist independent of one another. As John Dewey said, "Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife."

I am utterly in awe of the people who have worked to put this event together. They include parents, students, teachers, activists, and celebrities from across the country. They deserve an enormous thank you from all of us concerned with the direction education policy has been headed for quite some time now, but particularly since No Child Left Behind and the global financial meltdown (which has done wonders for the privatization efforts of neoliberal school reform advocates).

In an effort to help our voices be heard among the cacophony of the corporate reform drumbeats that hit everything from ABC Nightly News to Amtrak seatback magazines to Barnes and Noble summer reading lists to the editorial pages of your local newspaper on a daily basis, I strongly support donating to the SOS cause, which you do on their website.

I've recently heard from a few teachers hoping to attend but not sure if they want to put up the money for a hotel room. If you're in that boat, send me an email. I may know of a few places to stay.

Here's to getting geared up for DC, the amazing people who've organized the event, and what will hopefully be a powerful energizer for public education's advocates in continuing the thankless work required in fighting the dangerous forces of privatization and high-stakes testing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Atlanta Scandal: Teaching in “A Culture of Fear, Intimidation and Retaliation”

by Erich Martel
Social Studies Teacher
Washington, DC Public Schools

The 800-page Investigation Report on the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) cheating scandal involving 178 named school-based principals, teachers and other staff is a riveting and chilling anthology of the “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that teachers face in schools around the country when they report mismanagement and abusive administrative behavior. The Report repeatedly and concretely ties the years-long continuation of this scandal to this culture. Although it exists in many private and charter schools, in our public schools, it has been encouraged by No Child Left Behind and fueled by the top-down, privately-funded, “turn-around” “reforms” that blame teachers, tenure rights and union protections as the causes of educational malaise.

Until reform truly engages teachers as part of the solution, we can expect more Atlantas in our nation’s public schools. The Atlanta Investigation Report shows what happens when educational policy makers and governance bodies delegate broad areas of authority to celebrity or savior superintendents and then, believing that school improvement means giving their “reform leader” free rein, abdicate their oversight responsibilities.

In many Atlanta schools, teachers were disempowered and left vulnerable in the face of arbitrary and often abusive authority, including threats to their livelihoods. Teachers who cheated under great duress should not face the further injustice of being treated as if their decisions were free and wanton.

In fact, the Investigation Report holds principals to a higher standard of responsibility, including responsibility for the actions of their teachers, if evidence confirms they knew about the cheating OR would have known, had they followed mandatory protocols. The enormity and scope of the scandal is shocking. In 44 of the 56 schools, the principal was held responsible.

A typical “Analysis of the Evidence” following each individual school Report reads:

“It is our conclusion, from the statistical data and the other evidence secured in this investigation, that Principal X failed to properly monitor the 2009 CRCT [Georgia’s Criterion Referenced Competency Test] and adequately supervise testing activities and testing security. This resulted in, and she is responsible for, falsifying, misrepresenting or erroneously reporting the results of the 2009 CRCT to the Georgia Department of Education.”

In fact, 90 (86%) of the 107 teachers named in the Report (see Appendix A) were in schools where the principal was also named. The Report documents that some teachers did report cheating as well as the pressure to cheat. While the oversight bodies capable of intervening were asleep or in thrall to their celebrity superintendent, teachers who took the risk to perform their civic responsibilities were ignored as principals and assistant superintendents responded with threats and termination (see Appendix B):

“Throughout this investigation numerous teachers told us they raised concerns about cheating and other misconduct to their principal or SRT [School Reform Team] Exec Director (Assistant Superintendent) only to end up disciplined or terminated.
“In sum, a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation permeated the APS system from the highest ranks down.” 
“Almost without exception, teachers and principals said that the single most important factor to this administration is ‘data.’ They said that ‘data is [sic] the driver,’ ‘data drives [sic] instruction,’ and ‘the data controls [sic] everything.’” 
“But data can also be used as an abusive and cruel weapon to embarrass and punish classroom teachers and principals or as a pretext to termination. After hundreds of interviews, it has become clear that [APS Supt] Dr. Hall and her staff used data as a way to exert oppressive pressure to meet targets.” 
“As a result of the APS failure to temper its drive for success with ethical guidelines, the message was: ‘Get the scores up by any means necessary;’ in Dr. Hall's words, ‘No exceptions and no excuses.’"

For many public school teachers, the treatment of teachers in Atlanta is disturbingly familiar (see, for example, Appendix C): Fear, abuse, threats, retaliation, cover-up, nepotism, misappropriated funds, being asked, “Are you a member of my team?” discovering that your grades were arbitrarily changed, and, in each case, facing the anguishing choice that was really no choice at all: “Should I report it and risk retaliation or go along and keep quiet – while it eats away at me?”

For readers who question these experiences, just ask a public school teacher.

Where were Atlanta’s oversight bodies to which teachers should have been able to turn (feel free to substitute your city or town for “Atlanta”)?

- The Atlanta School Board Members?
- The Atlanta Mayor?
- The Atlanta city Council?
- The Georgia State Superintendent and State Education Agency?
- The U.S. Department of Education?
- The Atlanta media – before 2009?

Those who think our public schools can be improved by weakening teacher tenure and gutting union contracts, so principals can get rid of the bad teachers, need only read about the toxic environments created by unprincipled principals in Atlanta - and which teachers they terminated.

Education policy makers and school governance bodies would be wise to take some advice from James Madison and stop empowering superintendents as if they were angels and begin putting effective checks and remedies in place that are safely accessible to teachers (Federalist 51).

Erich Martel teaches social studies in the District of Columbia Public School System. He can be reached for comment or question at ehmartel@starpower.net. The links in this post were inserted by me, James Boutin. Click here to access the article in full, including citations and appendices. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Conversation Around Teacher Tenure

For the past few years, teacher tenure has come under increasing attack. Advocates claim tenure provides a valuable counterweight to arbitrary firings of competent professionals. Detractors argue that tenure stalls effective personel decisions and keeps ineffective teachers in classrooms.

Many people participating in the debate are surprisingly unaware of exactly what tenure is, why it was implemented, and what value it has (or was intended to have).

Tenure, in most districts, is normally granted to teachers after three years of adequate service, following a series of administrative evaluations. Within the first three years of their career, teachers are subject to the possibility of much swifter termination. Once tenure has been granted, the school district is required to submit evidence that the teacher should no longer be in the classroom. There is usually a hearing and an arbitrator to help decide whether the teacher is, in fact, unfit to teach children. In other words, tenure grants teachers due process rights - the right have their side of the story heard and dispute charges brought against them.

Opponents often claim that tenure is equivalent to granting a teacher a job for life. They speak out of the understandable frustration that comes from witnessing and reading about the trouble many districts have had terminating teachers.

While granting an ineffective teacher tenure may have the effect of ensuring them a job for life, the problem is not with tenure as a concept, but with the bureaucracy the termination process is forced to follow in many districts. A recent episode of Lawline provides significant insight into this process in New York City. If you're at all interested in this subject, watch the show below.

The most salient moments of the show include former New York City Department of Education Prosecutor Michael Mazzariello's conviction that he never found firing a tenured teacher difficult if the administrator had done their job. He suggests that the 3020a process (which is the hearing process for a tenured teacher accused of being ineffective) is held up because there are a lot of people making money off the extension of the process. In New York City, the law states the 3020a process is to be finished in 6 months, but it often goes much longer because, Mazzariello claims, arbitrators making $1100 a day have everything to gain by extending the process.

Bryan Glass, a lawyer representing teachers, says that tenure has been emasculated in New York. He notes that it's becoming easier and easier for the Department of Education to terminate teachers who've earned satisfactory ratings for decades in only a short amount of time. Additionally, many arbitrators in the City, Glass says, are new to the position, have no idea what they're doing, and are terminating teachers for "the most ridiculous things."

David Schnurman, the show's host, is reminiscent of many members of the public who've never worked in education but find themselves concerned with its state due to the recent media attention given to it. Armed with information he's gleaned from The Cartel, a polemic inappropriately billed as a documentary about New Jersey's education system (similar to Waiting for Superman), Schnurman asks leading questions and attempts to counter the views expressed by the panelists. In one instance, Schnurman incredulously asks, "Is the fear really though if there's no tenure that all of the sudden principals are gonna start arbitrarily firing people?" To his apparent surprise, his three panelists answer with a resounding affirmative.

Schnurman's views are understandable. Those who've not worked in a school with incompetent administrators or dealt with the bloated educational bureaucracy often do not understand the working environment many teachers are forced to endure. Fighting the effects of poverty and student apathy is one thing. Fighting vindictive incompetence in your leadership is quite another.

As Bryan Glass points out, the way the New York City Department of Education is moving in regard to tenure is creating an increasingly young, increasingly less expensive, increasingly inexperienced teaching force. Superintendents are requiring enormous amount of evidence from teachers and principals before granting tenure (see a teacher's letter to his/her superintendent). The DOE (in addition to the state of New York, and many other states across the country) is also requiring the use of student test scores in determining tenure, despite warnings from test companies and a wide community of education and testing experts concerning tests' inability to accurately determine teacher effectiveness (this is not happenstance). It's even been mentioned that teachers who work at failing schools might be automatically ineligible for tenure.

There is no question that the NYC DOE is acting in an effort to spend less money on teachers and less money on an obviously flawed process for removing tenured teachers. The result, however, will be that students will end up with less and less experienced educators, which should make one pause.

Many who participate in the education conversation seem to be confused as to the nature of the conversation they're participating in. E4E is a prime example. They seem to believe they're participating in a discussion in which the goal of all parties is to ensure the best teacher in every classroom. Financial hardships, committed ideologies, and no-bid contracts to private tech companies will not, in reality, allow that discussion. The tenure discussion could be about amending it to practically ensure experienced educators with a track record of performance are protected from incompetent administrators (Mazzariello says he ran into hundreds or thousands of cases like that as a prosecutor). It will instead be about the degree to which it should be emasculated. Just so long as you know the conversation you're participating in...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Finding a Teaching Job Not So Easy

When I decided to leave New York City, I felt a completely unjustified sense of confidence that I would find a teaching job somewhere else (or maybe I was just too stressed out to think straight). Now that it's mid-July and I haven't been so much as contacted by any of the districts I've applied to, I'm starting to think I better consider alternative options for the coming year, which is too bad, because I was really hoping to do National Boards this year - also, I REALLY LOVE TEACHING!

Today Miss Eyre over at NYC Educator published a post on the same topic. She tells the story of a friend who's been trying to get a longterm teaching position in a small district for a few years and has been passed over time after time. Add that to the knowledge that gaining tenure is getting more and more difficult, which makes it easier and easier to create a system that takes in teachers, chews them up, and spits them out, and it makes for a pretty bleak picture. It's a picture in which real teachers who care about real learning and the importance of real education to a real democracy are substituted for data drones and number magicians. (Read the excellent piece by FairTest about Atlanta's cheating scandal here.)

So what should I do now?

I left New York because I was manifesting concerning physical symptoms of stress and I felt I needed to get out. I also came to understand that despite my desire to work with the kinds of families I had the pleasure of working with in the Bronx, my quality of life was severely suffering because I couldn't live in the neighborhood the school was in, and I HATE commuting. I refuse to live on anything but a human scale.

I want a school community I can be a part of, a neighborhood in which there are healthy options for food and safe places for children to play. I want an opportunity to grow professionally, work with a team of talented and committed educators to write a comprehensive school-wide curriculum and take advantage of leadership opportunities. I want to work in a community that works together to raise its youth and isn't content to simply play the blame game when things don't seem to be working. I want the opportunity to think about hard problems with my colleagues and come to acceptable consensus for how to move forward. I want to be respected for what I do. Ah yes - now that's what a teacher wants.

But it seems obvious I can forget about finding the ideal situation when merely finding a situation is looking near impossible.

I occasionally consider working at a private school (whoops, I mean independent school) and then rapidly bring myself back to reality - that is not what I want to do. Then I go back to NYC's open market, even if I can't really figure out how to use it. I ask friends across the country if they know of any openings. "Sorry - Good luck!" So what's left? As best I can tell: I can go abroad, try a different job, or devote myself to volunteer work for a year.

But what if...

What if I could find a school that's lost teachers, has expanding class sizes, has competent administrators in a neighborhood I wouldn't have to commute an hour into every day, and volunteer to teach there for a year? I wonder if anyone has done this already.  The situation could be used to bring media attention to the plight of so many schools in this recession. If it got enough media attention, I bet one could find enough anonymous donors to pay a salary. I wonder, if the government is refusing to fund education, if concerned Americans with a little extra cash in hard times might be willing to.

Is it doable?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In Pursuit of Hope

“..without an education, these undocumented children, ‘[a]lready disadvantaged as a result of poverty, lack of English-speaking ability, and undeniable racial prejudices,...will become permanently locked into the lowest socio-economic class.’”
          - The US Supreme court’s opinion in Plyler v. Doe (1981), quoting the District Court

This past year, my work in the company of recently arrived Latin American immigrants has turned my expectations on their head. Apathetic attitudes were surprisingly rare. Behavioral problems as well. Issues, concerns, academic problems - of course they existed. But given confident and meaningful instruction, my students often worked dutifully in class.

As is always the case in teaching, my students likely taught me more than I could have ever taught them. Their awe-worthy perseverance, their testament to the drive of the indefatigable human spirit makes one pause.

Trains, vans, desert treks, rafts, “coyotes.” They've pursued hope. Sin Nombre, El Norte, Entre Nos, and a recent NPR series shed light on some of their experiences.

And, of course, many of their immigration stories are not nearly as remarkable.

But in one way or another, they've all struggled for the opportunity to be here. And the struggle has not ceased upon arrival.

Work two days a week. Pay rent. Go to school the other three. Scrape for something as commonplace as a pair of glasses. Take care of siblings. And parents. Debate dropping out, getting a GED, or wager high school graduation will come soon enough.

Whether they have their papers or not, they are unshakable in their belief in the American Dream. Because of it, they fight for an education. They fight for a decent living space. They fight for a decent job. They fight.

The living conditions in much of Central America and Mexico grow increasingly untenable. Disparaged by lack of viable work and horrific violence, a great number of people have chosen to try to make their lives in the United States rather than continue to live on slave wages and under the influence of drug cartels. With the richest country in the world just to the north, the push and pull could not be more intense.

North of the border, nativist sentiment - which, allowed its druthers, would have prevented American greatness from coming to fruition decade after decade - has long prevented sensible immigration policy and reform. Americans remain ambivalent over their responsibility toward their southern neighbors. Is it fair for American tax dollars to go toward the education of undocumented immigrants?

South of the border, many live in a hell from which they cannot escape.

According to the Mexican government, 15,271 people lost their lives last year to homicide in Mexico, a 760% increase in murder since 2005. TIME Magazine recently noted that in terms of violent deaths, those statistics make Mexico more dangerous than Pakistan or Afghanistan. Mexico also claims the world's most dangerous city, Juárez, which reported 3,200 murders in 2010.

In his recent book, Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and The Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, Charles Bowden tells the story (one among many) of a journalist fleeing assassins (the Mexican army) angry about his writing. Seeking asylum in the US, he and his son were jailed upon arrival. After seven months in prison, his assassins began hunting his lawyer as well.

Americans toy with sensible policy in circles, then fumble with and nearly always drop our most pragmatic options. Fear mongering and “amnesty” scare enough Americans into killing something as sensible as the DREAM Act for a decade.

When pragmatism does make headway, it does so on the back of self-preservation.

The Economist wrote last November:
“It is a testament to just how nasty the immigration debate has become that a measure that would bring the fearful out of the shadows, encourage tertiary education in a section of the workforce that needs more of it and supply the undermanned army with recruits has gone nowhere.”
Arne Duncan told Michel Martin of NPR this month:
“...we have about two million high-wage, high-skill jobs that are unfilled today because we don’t have the talent to fill those jobs.
“And when we have all these smart, talented, young people, who has [sic] the potential to fill those and then be productive citizens and to pay taxes and to contribute to society, to deny that opportunity doesn’t make sense.
“The final point I’ll make on this is that the Congressional Budget Office, which is, you know, nonpartisan, has estimated that over the next 10 years, if we educate these young people, if we allow them to go to college, this will actually reduce the deficit by a billion dollars because of their increased productivity.”
We might consider sensible policy if it will benefit our economy. We will certainly consider nonsensical policy if it might benefit the powerful.

Bowden writes of Mexican violence in the afterword for the paperback edition of Murder City:
"The killing contains within it all the elements of the terror that thrives beneath our national talk of a U.S. war on drugs - the crackdown on illegal immigration, Plan Merida, the Mexican war on the cartels, and NAFTA bootstrapping poor Mexicans up into the bounties of free trade and globalization. Beneath these policies, death lives and terror lives and poverty lives in a vast silence.
"A family is deported from the United States because the father is illegal, although five of the six children are U.S. citizens. They move into a working-class neighborhood in Juárez, a place where parents congregate to keep their kids out of gangs. There is no hope that such people will get political asylum in the United States, because people are not eligible for that status unless they can prove they belong to a group the Mexican government cannot protect. It is unlikely that the United States will recognize being a poor Mexican citizen as a qualification for political asylum."
He goes on,
"Wages in maquiladoras peaked around 1983 and in real pesos have steadily declined since then. Workers in Juárez earn forty to sixty dollars a week, a slave wage. Since NAFTA's passage, the largest migration on earth has streamed out of Mexico as the treaty crushed peasant agriculture and small industry...
"The wall stops nothing but wildlife. There are no terrorists trudging north with prayer rugs. The drugs cross through our ports of entry, thanks to corruption. And the poor continue to come as best they can, propelled by our drug policies that have made their world a killing zone and our economic policies that have destroyed their ability to survive." 
NPR's Jason Beaubien reports:
"Parts of Guatemala have been abandoned by the state. There's no work, no schools, no future. Poor Guatemalans will risk and endure almost anything....for a chance to get a job in the United States."
We have a hard time imagining a responsibility to be had toward the Mexican and Central American populace beyond the myopic improvement of our own economy. What would it take for policy to be driven by something other than ego inflation, profit, job creation, or political power? Are we capable of embracing solutions that disrupt causes rather than effects? (Firing bad teachers, health sick care, the war on for drugs, bailing out banks.) Are we willing to pay for them? Do we avoid such an approach because deep down we know disrupting the causes would disrupt our lifestyle, our comfortable worldview? Or do we overlook sensible solutions because we're ill-informed?

Due to Mexican violence, researchers estimate that less than half the number of immigrants are coming today as did five years ago.

A Honduran immigrant tells Beaubien,
"I wouldn't recommend this trip to anyone. You don't know who will rob you - who is good, who is bad. But unfortunately in our country, we aren't left with any other option except to emigrate."
Speaking of immigrants, a Guatemalan priest tells Beaubien, "They're not risking their lives...because there is no life for them here."

I think of my students, and I am sure that some will fall short of that American Dream. There are, after all, enormous obstacles. But I am confident that many of them will capture their dream, in their way, despite our political disabilities and regardless of whether we approve. And that is what makes this country so extraordinary.

The liberal ideals we've long professed and often acted in spite of sometimes lie quietly beneath the obnoxious, extraneous, and loud political talking points; the antiliberal foreign policies; and the ignorant xenophobia. None of that has been able to extinguish the promise of those ideals and their tangible benefits.

It is not everyone's land of opportunity. Circumstances will deny that. But the hope the United States transmits like a radar pulse across much of the third world is not an illusion. And though the immigrant fight for success here won't be fair, it won't matter. When you've uprooted your life and left your home, discrimination and barriers to college admittance are just a few more substantial obstacles.

They will succeed not because it will be easy, but because they want to, and it will not be impossible.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Last Day of the Year

Last Monday (one last day of school for students after a week and a half of Regents exams), my school took our students to Van Cortlandt park for a field day. We organized soccer, volleyball, tug of war, badmitten, baseball, hiking, etc...  While I'd guess only a little more than half of our student body chose to show up (which is probably not that much less than show up on a regular school day), it was a nice way to end the year.

Until the train ride back.

We dismissed students from the park at the end of the school day. At that point, staff were no longer legally responsible for them, but we did offer to help them manage the subway system so they could make it back to their stop without getting lost. But getting something like 200 students on a train without a plan for organization (like the one we'd created for getting to the park) doesn't often go smoothly.

The 1 train waiting at 242 street filled with rambunctious teenagers pleased to be done with school for the year (despite the fact that the vast majority of them have been asked to attend summer school). Three cars specifically filled with our students.

By the time we got to 225 street, the students on the car I was on were nearly all yelling and beating different parts of the subway car. Knowing I was no longer legally responsible, and knowing that there was little I could do to stop the pandemonium, I stayed seated, covered my ears, and considered changing cars.

However, two other teachers took it upon themselves to attempt to change our students' outrageously inappropriate behavior.

First, they tried asking nicely. Then, teachers tried pointing out how embarrassing the student behavior was. Then teachers tried raising their voices. Then they tried asking nicely again. And then some more voice raising. And then some more comments about embarrassing behavior.

The students' responses weren't exactly what the teachers were hoping for. Students began arguing with teachers, telling them they should lighten up. It was, after all, the last day of school. As the yelling increased, students began mocking staff, some making threatening remarks.

This was exactly what I'd expected would happen. I'd been in this situation before. Some of our students, especially among the most rowdy, are unlikely to change their behavior for an authority figure they have no personal relationship with, especially in an environment outside of school.

I eventually went over (after being asked by one of the teachers trying to help the students see the error in their ways) and tried to reason with a few of my students who were participating, but it wasn't very helpful. There were lots of students and only a handful of teachers. And the most disrespectful students empowered many of the others to act inappropriately. As the trip went on, more and more students were emboldened to disrespect teachers and other passengers as a means of impressing their peers.

The other teachers and I eventually gave up our efforts, realizing, in that moment, we were in a tough situation with no appropriate solutions.

It was a sad way to end the school year. I feel like it also reminded me about some things I've long known about attempting behavior modification with students, I just can't put my finger on exactly what those things are - but I'm pretty sure I wrote about some of them here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Georgia Charter Schools Association says Charter Schools ARE Public Schools

In the Atlanta airport yesterday, I caught myself lingering at the ad below, posted by the Georgia Charter Schools Association:

GCSA claims that all charter schools are public schools. If we define public institutions as institutions that thrive on public money, then yes, charter schools are public schools. In the same way, I suppose, major league baseball stadiums are public stadiums. And AIG, Bank of America and General Motors are public corporations. But the use of the term "public" here is far different than it's meant to be understood when it's used in combination with the word "schools," the latter conveying a sense of social equity and equality of opportunity.

What GCSA fails to mention is that some charter schools are run by for-profit organizations, some have corporate sponsorships, many refuse or council out underachieving students or students with special needs, many are run by boards with corporate members who have no experience in education, and their effect is competition among schools rather than collaboration.

Charter schools are not public schools in the sense that most people think of public schools. They are not equally accessible by all students, and the end goal of many of them is not to empower students through education, but to make a profit or boost standardized test scores.

The last line on the ad betrays its real intention, though. GCSA's purpose here is to target parents who might conflate charter schools with private/independent schools - i.e. those parents active enough in their children's lives to pursue a quality education.

While I am ambivalent over the role of charter schools in public education, I am decidedly against campaigns of misinformation and the privatization of education.