Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Worse Off Today Than in the Sixties: Who Gives a Damn? By Rodolfo F. Acuña

 Worse Off Today Than in the Sixties
Who Gives a Damn?
Rodolfo F. Acuña

Teresa Wiltz in America’s Wire writes that despite claims of increased educational opportunities for minorities that the performance of black and Latino teenagers remains the same or lower than 30 years ago.  In fact, the math and reading performance of black and Latino high school seniors equal that of 13-year-old white students – so much for the post racial society.

Educators and liberal politicos point the finger at low expectations, inequality of resources, less qualified teachers, the income inequality, teacher bias, and inexperienced teachers. They throw in the tracking of black and brown students into remedial class while whites are put into university bound classes.

Further, minority students are more likely to be given "A’s" for work that would receive a "C" in a rich school giving the illusion that they are being educated.  Society would not tolerate this record in a football team at any level, or for that matter if we had fewer weapons of mass destruction than 30 years ago.

However, in my view, the major reason for the lack of progress of Mexican American and other minorities is society’s historical amnesia or more aptly its Alzheimer disorder that erases the memory of previous efforts or commitments to bridge the gap between black, brown and white – rich and poor. 

The truth be told, educators pay less attention today to Mexican Americans than it did 50 years ago. In the sixties educators and reporters at least talked about it.  The late Los Angeles Times’ columnist Ruben Salazar attacked the dropout problem and the failure of the schools to devise a relevant curriculum, as well as the failure to recruit and train effective Mexican American teachers.

In February 1963, Salazar began a series on Mexican American education. He titled his first article, “What Causes Jose's Trouble in School?: Mexican-Americans Problems Analyzed.”  Salazar begins,

Kicked out of school, Jose Mendez at 16 has been trapped in a peculiar twilight zone of American life. They tested him, graded him and pigeonholed him...say some educators, the fault may lie in the tests and the teachers –not in Jose. Educational policy and curriculum are oriented towards the education of the middle-class, monolingual, monocultural English-speaking student … [Jose] is at a great disadvantage…[he] is a hyphenated American, a Mexican-American … he is culturally confused.
Salazar interviewed educators, Drs. George I. Sánchez, Paul Sheldon, Julian Samora and high school teacher Marcos de Leon on why José was dropping out of school. They attributed the dropout problem to the Mexican American’s inferiority complex, which has intensified his marginalization.

Salazar blamed the schools for the Mexican Americans failure. Schools nurtured a negative self-image, which was reinforced by the movies and literature, and failed to correct the stereotyping of poor Mexicans.  It was a vicious cycle: the schools did think Mexicans could not learn, students developed a low esteem, they failed and dropped out.

The experts advocated bilingual-bicultural education, and initially there was a consensus for these programs, from President Lyndon B. Johnson to Republican St. Ronald Reagan. Yet, the Greek Chorus gained traction and labeled the programs separatist, un-American and racist. This nativist movement allied itself with right wing thinks tanks and foundations, and by the beginning of the 21st century, bilingual ed died a violent death.

By and large educators were mute as bilingual programs were wiped out and university based teacher training programs specializing on Mexican Americans were eliminated. At teacher training institutions grade point average was favored over knowledge of the child’s background. Although Latinos comprised 75 percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, student teachers were given minimal preparation on how to teach Latino students.

The dropout was one of the major reasons for the development of Chicano Studies in 1969. A solution was sought for the high dropout problem that was overexposing Latino students to a life of poverty and not incidentally to the Vietnam draft. One of my first books Cultures in Conflict: Case Studies of the Mexican American was written for fifth graders. The purpose was to build a positive image in order to facilitate the acquisition of skills. These skills would prepare students to enter which ever field they wanted.

The importance of self-image is common sense. I remember looking for engineering computer lab with my future wife at UCLA in the 1980s.  We asked several students if they knew where the computer lab was.  They all gave us blank looks. Finally, we asked a Latino student who told us to ask an Asian.  We did and she told us where it was. Talking to Asian fiends they told me that they exceled in math because the teachers expected them to.

Looking back at my own life, I was fortunate that I ended up in a Jesuit high school where I had to take four years of Latin. My relatives would notice my Latin book on the table, would ask my mother who it belonged to, and they would remark that Rudy must be smart.  In contrast, in the first grade, before I knew English, I was pushed out of public school as mentally retarded.

When I became smart, that is adhered to their rules, anytime a Mexican student would act up, other teachers would ask me why?  When I told them, they generally did not like the answer. They thought I was flip when I said that my solution for the marginalization of Mexicans was to rewrite the bible and substitute the word Mexican for Israeli. In a couple of decades, Mexicans would start looking at themselves as the “chosen people.”

This identity has helped Jews survive and endure over 2,000 years of persecution.  In my view it comes down to self-image.

This was the premise of the Tucson Unified School District’s program.  It was the repairing the damage done by marginalization – of being written out of history.  The thinking was that learning history, literature and the arts though their viewpoint would repair the image of the greaser, the loser and the numerous other stereotypes.  

From the beginning, the xenophobes tried to send the Mexican American Studies program down the same path as bilingual education. It was unpatriotic to learn any language other than English, it was un-American to learn history other than the American way. 

The reasoning ignored the past; it was as if the debates of the sixties and seventies never occurred. They disregarded pedagogical principles that even St. Ronald accepted.

One of the books banned in Tucson was Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  It was based on a highly successful literacy campaign conducted in Brazil. The xenophobes’ main argument is that Freire was a Marxist, which is ridiculous since the pedagogy goes back to Socrates. With that aside, would we cast aside a cure for cancer because the researcher was a Marxist?

The Cambium Learning Corp’s Curriculum Audit of the Tucson Mexican American Studies Department which was commissioned by Arizona Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal and cost the $177,000 concluded,

No observable evidence exists that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department promotes resentment towards a race or class of people. The auditors observed the opposite, as students are taught to be accepting of multiple ethnicities of people. MASD teachers are teaching Cesar Chavez alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, all as peaceful protesters who sacrificed for people and ideas they believed in. Additionally, all ethnicities are welcomed into the program and these very students of multiple backgrounds are being inspired and taught in the same manner as Mexican American students. All evidence points to peace as the essence for program teachings. Resentment does not exist in the context of these courses observable evidence exists that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department promotes resentment towards a race or class of people … No evidence as seen by the auditors exists to indicate that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department program classes advocates ethnic solidarity; rather it has been proven to treat student as individuals

There has not been any credible proof to refute claims that the program has improved chances of graduation, improved the students’ self-images, and motivated them to pursue a higher education.

A society that has historical dementia or Alzheimers cannot correct the defects of the present just like it cannot correct racism, sexism or homophobia.

Stupidity and fanaticism led to the destruction of the most transformative movement in Latin American, Liberation Theology. The forces of reaction in order to protect the large landowners redbaited Liberation Theology and substituted a reactionary evangelical Christian movement that promised that their reward would come in the next world. So it is in Arizona.

With the destruction of Mexican American Studies and the banning of the books, Mexican Americans are being put in their place. Vicariously, they are burning the infidels. The difference is that students are fighting back!  They are reading books and will remember that anybody can learn. It is their right.

SUNY Board supporting NY’s DREAM Act

SUNY Board supporting NY’s DREAM Act

January 30, 2012
Chances for passage of a New York DREAM Act may have improved last week, with the SUNY Board of Trustees passing a resolution that supports the concept.

The DREAM Act would provide an educational path for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country by their parents. Currently, these immigrants are allowed to enroll in New York's public higher education system and can pay in-state tuition rates as long as they graduated from a New York state high school. However, they are not allowed to receive state aid, including the Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP.

"All New Yorkers, regardless of legal status, should be eligible to receive state financial aid benefits and in-state tuition rates as they pursue a college education," said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. "The concept of the DREAM Act is a noble one and we will work with elected officials and our colleagues in higher education to ensure that that it is upheld in New York state."

This resolution, although not in support of a specific piece of legislation, comes amidst growing support for similar immigrant education reform around the country.

Read on.

Grissom: Bilingual education is the next step for the education system - Iowa State Daily: Opinion

Grissom: Bilingual education is the next step for the education system - Iowa State Daily: Opinion

At the beginning of my junior year of high school, I became acquainted with two foreign exchange students from Serbia through the drama program. For three months of after-school practice, I listened to them rehearse their lines with foreign accents and speak to each other in their native language and was, I hate to admit, fascinated. As a high schooler from the Midwest, I had very little experience with people from other countries. It was upon getting to know those people I began to realize how small my own personal world really was in comparison to the one I had yet to see.

The point of this little story is to show how many young people, not even just those from the Midwest, can grow up ignorant of the wide variety of people and cultures that exists beyond where they grew up. Of course, the United States has areas that are higher in diversity than others, but many still do not grow up to fully appreciate a culture other than their own. Sometimes it is difficult to find connections with other cultures, whether they live in the same city as you or not. But there is one link that can at the very least serve as a building block in connecting multiple cultures: language.

Schools in other countries recognize the importance of knowing more than one language and teach their students to be bilingual from a very young age. It is considered almost necessary to learn English, but it is also helpful, and normal, to learn other languages as well. One of my friends from Serbia spoke English, Serbian, French and picked up the basics of Spanish quickly when she studied it in the United States. She also told me she wanted the next language she learned to be German and that she would begin studying when she got home, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

In most schools in the United States, learning a language is considered upper level learning and not taught until late middle school, with the exception of Spanish numbers and letters that may be taught in elementary schools. This philosophy usually does not work. The "critical period hypothesis" says that there is a certain age range (somewhere between 3 and 7) where children are able to learn a language through mere exposure and the result is native-like fluency. But once the critical age range has been passed, this ability fades. Because of this reason, schools should begin to teach foreign language to their students through exposure in early elementary school. Learning a second language at a young age will be easier for the student and, therefore, less of a chore as they try to advance their knowledge of the language when they grow older.

Knowing a foreign language has many benefits. The curriculum of language learning typically involves lessons on culture as well, allowing the student to relate better to a person who is from another part of the world. Being able to create this cross-cultural connection is important later on in life as well when that student joins the workforce. As I mentioned previously, the rise in technology has created the ability to connect with people across the globe. By being able to speak a foreign language natively, not sparingly, Americans will be better equipped to compete in today’s global economy. Bilingual education is a characteristic that should be widespread in the United States’ education system. Learning a foreign language is no longer a hobby, but an essential building block for cross-cultural connections in today’s world. If taught early, children will not struggle with mastering a foreign language but will be able to confidently compete in a global economy.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Obama Proposes New Race to Top Aimed at Higher Education

Obama Proposes New Race to Top Aimed at Higher Ed.

By Michele McNeil on January 27, 2012 9:08 AM

The White House wants another Race to the Top competition for states, this time aimed at making higher education cheaper and better.

President Barack Obama's plan, which he is fleshed out in a speech at the University of Michigan this morning, would create a new, $1 billion version of his signature Race to the Top competition for states to improve their higher education systems.

To snag the grants, states would have to smooth the transition between K-12 and college education by aligning entrance and exit standards between the two systems. That proposal would appear to build on an incentive in the original, $4 billion Race to Top for K-12, which rewarded states for many things, including if they signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative—an effort by states to create more uniform, rigorous standards that prepare students for post-secondary education.

That may be a tall order in the current cloudy economic forecast, in which nearly every state has squeezed funding for post-secondary education in recent years.

"We're telling the states, if you can find new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we'll help you do it," Obama said in his speech. "We will give you additional federal support if you are doing a good job of making sure that all of you aren't loaded up with debt when you graduate from college. And states would have to maintain adequate levels of funding for higher education."

Obama is also calling on Congress to rework federal, school-based financial aid programs, including the Perkins Loan program. Right now, that aid is distributed under a formula that rewards schools in part for longevity. Under the change, colleges that keep tuition low and graduate a relatively large share of Pell Grant-eligible students would be rewarded with a larger share of the grants.

"We are putting colleges on can't assume that you'll just jack up tuition every single year," Obama said. "If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down. We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don't."

And Obama is proposing a new $55 millon competition that would dole out money to colleges and universities to scale up promising practices in areas including technology and early college preparation. At first blush, that program appears modeled on the Investing in Innovation grant program, which offered similar rewards to schools and non-profits.

The administration is also planning to create a "College Scorecard" to make it easier for students and parents to choose a college they can afford, and that will help advance their career goals. The so-called "shopping sheet" would include post-graduate earnings and employment information, according to published reports.

The proposals would all require congressional approval.

Teacher Unionism Reborn

Excellent piece on teacher unionism by Dr. Lois Weiner. Angela New Politics Published on New Politics ( New Politics Vol. XIII No. 4, Whole Number 52 > Teacher Unionism Reborn Teacher Unionism Reborn by Lois Weiner In the past five years, we have witnessed a demonization of teachers unions that is close to achieving its goal: destruction of the most stable and potentially powerful defender of mass public education. Teacher unionism’s continued existence is imperiled — if what we define as "existence" is organizations having the legal capacity to bargain over any meaningful economic benefits and defend teachers’ rights to exercise professional judgment about what to teach and how to do it. As I explain elsewhere,[1] financial and political elites began this project forty years ago when they imposed school reform on Latin America, Africa, and Asia as a quid pro quo for economic aid. Though specifics of this global social engineering differ from one country to another, reforms have the same footprint: School funding is cut and school systems are broken up to promote privatization under the banner of "choice"; teachers and curriculum are controlled by tying pay to standardized test scores and eliminating tenure; standardized testing measures what is taught to most students, reducing content to basic math, reading, and writing. Teachers unions have been singled out for attack because throughout the world they are the most significant barriers to this project’s implementation. Rhetoric about equalizing school outcomes for groups long denied access to adequate, let alone quality education, masks the real aim of the last twenty years of reform, creating a docile workforce that receives no more than the 8th grade education needed to compete with workers elsewhere for jobs that can be moved easily from one city, state, or country. World Bank materials lay out the assumptions seldom articulated in this country: Money educating workers beyond the level most will need wastes scarce public funding; and minimally educated workers require minimally educated teachers, whose performance can be monitored through use of standardized testing. The newest World Bank report, "Making Schools Work" takes the reasoning (and policy) even further, insisting that "contract teachers" who work for one-quarter of what civil service employees receive, have no benefits, no job protection, and no rights produce good enough outcomes.[2] The attack has been fueled by right-wing foundations and advanced by Democrats and Republicans alike. The corporate media, including traditionally liberal elements, like Hollywood, The New Yorker and The New York Times, have blanketed TV, radio, and the press with bogus premises about education’s relationship to the economy and the role of teachers unions in blocking much-needed change. The Obama Administration substitutes educational reforms straight out of the playbook of right-wing foundations as the panacea to unemployment and poverty. When Secretary of Education Arne Duncan avers that education is the "one true path out of poverty" he displays the administration’s intention to divert attention away from unemployment, health care, child hunger, and homelessness. School improvement supplants all the economic and social reforms that have, historically, been used to ameliorate poverty. Defenders of public education frequently answer these inflated claims for education with protestations that schools can do nothing to alter the fate of poor children. Unfortunately, their response serves to heighten public perceptions that school people — teachers — refuse to take responsibility for what occurs under their watch. The more accurate and politically effective response is that schools can do more and better if we have well-prepared and well-supported teachers at work in well-resourced schools, and yet, even with these conditions, schools are hostage to powerful forces that depress achievement — factors that are beyond their control. This more nuanced defense of public education and teachers undercuts one of the most difficult problems we face in defending public education, neoliberalism’s exploitation of historic inequalities in education. This is especially true in the United States, where the rhetoric of the civil rights movement has been totally hijacked in defense of charter schools and improving "teacher quality" by eliminating seniority and tenure. Even The Nation has bought the reification of individual teacher performance as the sine qua non of school improvement.[3] Teachers unions globally have experienced an astoundingly well-orchestrated, well-financed attack, and resistance elsewhere in the world has been forceful and persistent.[4] In contrast, U.S. teachers unions have been easy targets. Most teachers belong to a local affiliate of the NEA or the AFT. Both the NEA and AFT are national unions with state-level organizations. In general, teachers in the largest cities are in the AFT, which is a member of the AFL-CIO. The NEA functions as a union and collaborates with labor on legislation and in politics but is not in the AFL-CIO. In the NEA, state organizations are the most powerful component. In the AFT, the local affiliate is key. Staff generally control the NEA, officers the AFT. In most school systems, the union apparatus is intact, but the organizations are shells, weakened by their embrace of the "business union" or "service model" that characterizes most U.S. unions. The synergy of business unionism’s hierarchical ethos and the legal framework giving unions the right to bargain on behalf of teachers, namely exclusive representation as bargaining agent, the right to collect "agency fee" (payment to the union of what is generally the equivalent of dues, to cover expenses the union expends in negotiating and enforcing the contract), and dues check-off (automatic deduction of dues from the member’s paycheck) has encouraged a totally bureaucratic approach to contract enforcement, member passivity, and erosion of the union’s school-site presence. Local union officers and activists have often been clueless about how to respond to the blitzkrieg of vitriol, and the national unions have been little help. They have been unwilling to "rock the boat," desiring above all to stay politically moored to Obama, a president who has pressed for a thoroughly anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public education agenda. Another factor is, of course, the personal power and privilege national officers and staff enjoy as a result of their cozy relationship with powerful elites. From the start of mass public education, teachers unions, like most of organized labor, turned a blind eye to racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.[5] Teachers unions’ failure to acknowledge this history has facilitated their being cast — incredibly, by billionaires who have plundered the nation’s resources — as a special interest group, more interested in protecting teachers’ jobs than in helping poor children succeed in school. Many parents and citizens, even some teachers, have been persuaded that tenure and seniority protect "dead wood," not realizing that when tenure and seniority are lost, so is democratic space in classrooms. The unions’ unwillingness to acknowledge schooling’s past and current role in reproducing social inequality, their reluctance to work as partners with activists to take on racism, sexism, militarization, and anti-immigrant prejudice, have weakened their credibility with groups who should be teacher unionists’ strongest allies. This problem is exemplified by Diane Ravitch’s defense of teacher unions. Unlike Chester Finn, a former ally who brags about his desire to destroy public education, Ravitch understands that once public education is destroyed, like Humpty Dumpty, it won’t be put back together again — and when public education goes, so will a powerful force for democracy. Another explanation for Ravitch’s about-face on the neoliberal reforms she advocated as part of the Bush Administration is that she is an intellectual and unlike her former neo-conservative allies is genuinely interested in education. She is, rightly, horrified by the anti-intellectualism that is writ large in neoliberalism’s successful efforts to vocationalize education. Most of what she writes is eloquent, passionate, and accurate. Unlike the disoriented bureaucrats who run the unions, Ravitch understands that a fight needs to be made and she is willing to wage it. Ravitch criticized mayoral control of the New York City schools as undemocratic when the president of the union representing New York City teachers supported the measure. Ravitch has come out against linking teacher pay to test scores while the national unions have caved. Ravitch has shown the union bureaucrats how they could, if they wished, defend the union and public education more effectively. She is Albert Shanker’s doppelganger, that is, while he still acted like union president rather than a labor statesman. However, as was the case with Shanker and is true of NEA and AFT officials today, Ravitch’s defense of teacher unionism and public education is constrained by an ideological commitment to defending U.S. capitalism at any cost. Because she can’t or won’t acknowledge what has been wrong with U.S. society and public education, she can’t devise a compelling alternative to the neoliberal reforms. She embeds, subtly, in her current defense of public education the claim that there was no crisis in U.S. public education before the neoliberal reforms were imposed. But there was. The Left historians she blasted in the 1960s and 70s in her defense of the status quo had it right. The schools did — and do — reproduce social inequality. In her recent essay in the New York Review of Books (September 29, 2011) she reduces current educational inequality between Whites and minorities to yet another in a series of over-blown crises U.S. schools have endured since their creation. She argues that "poverty matters," which it does, of course. So does racism, which she does not mention. So do other forms of discrimination which she ignores. Elsewhere, Ravitch states her desire for public education to be what she experienced in high school, in Houston, Texas.[6] (In the PBS history of U.S. public education, Ravitch fondly recalls her days as a high school cheerleader.) But how many Black and Hispanic parents will fight for a return to the status quo that barred their children from schools that served Whites? An Emerging Resistance The nation’s largest cities were home to teacher unionism’s original birth and its rebirth in the 1960s. Today opposition caucuses have emerged once again in cities, where conditions have deteriorated to an extent unimaginable even a decade ago. Charter schools, as their proponents freely admit, are one of the main weapons to make school systems free of union influence. A charter school is essentially its own school district, free of district regulations — and union involvement. In most large cities, teachers unions gave up seniority in transfer when the first wave of school closings began. Now, when schools are closed because of poor test scores and replaced by charter schools, experienced teachers are often thrown into pools of "displaced teachers." They must compete for jobs with new hires who earn one-half the salary. Teacher pay now comes out of a school’s budget, so many principals, especially those with little or no teaching experience themselves, prefer hiring two new teachers for the price of one more-experienced teacher. A fact little publicized by the unions is that older minority teachers face intense racism when they interview for jobs, especially with young, white principals. Readers familiar with labor history will see the dismaying parallels to "shape up" on the docks and fields, before unionization brought hiring halls and protections for older workers. Although tenure has been dismissed as irrelevant in K-12 teaching, its importance is greater today than ever before. As principals’ pay is increasingly tied to improving test scores, and the noose between teacher pay and student test scores is tightened, teachers who want to give their students a richer diet than test prep are facing the prospect of losing their jobs if they follow their moral and professional principles. Even more chilling is schools’ use of corporate propaganda, obtained through seemingly trustworthy vendors, as occurred with Scholastic Books promoting a fourth-grade curriculum written by the coal industry with its perspective.[7] Even where it still exists in state law, tenure has been greatly weakened because administrators can easily give teachers spurious unsatisfactory ratings due to weakened enforcement of evaluation procedures. In many city schools, principals can and do function without any check on their power, other than what is exercised by distant officials whose only concern is test scores. Over and over one hears of teachers who have bought the anti-union propaganda that is so prevalent in the media, or are too overworked and demoralized to do anything other than what they are told, or are too afraid of retribution to voice a contrary opinion. The union’s presence has been so eroded and its credibility so damaged that "transforming the union" in many districts probably means building it from scratch. At the same time, some teachers have become politicized by the vicious, unfair political attacks on their ability, character, professional authority, and economic well-being. Still, they often cling to the "service model" of unionism and expect "the union" to somehow, magically, intervene. The idea that they ARE the union is slowly percolating through the ranks, and increasingly, a new generation of teacher union activists is emerging. Union renewal is taking many forms, but the most important developments from a strategic perspective are occurring in the nation’s cities. Not all major cities are experiencing the kind of change that’s needed. For example, in Washington D.C., a protracted, ultimately successful court challenge by a former union official who vied for the presidency did little to mobilize teachers and community. On the other hand, in the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), a vibrant leadership, mostly new to union office, has brought their commitment to mobilize the membership, explicitly rejecting business unionism. In Milwaukee, long-time education activist Bob Peterson, a founder of the magazine Rethinking Schools, now heads Milwaukee’s teachers union. Radical teachers who previously shunned the union now understand that they need it to protect teachers’ economic rights, and like Peterson, see the union capable of fighting on a "tripod" of concerns: "bread and butter unionism… professional unionism… and social justice unionism." Peterson points to the need for truly mutual alliances, building strong relations with parents and community groups "not just to ensure adequate support for public education, but so that we as a union are also involved in improving the community." [8] Though "Rethinking Schools" and others use the term "social justice" union, I think the idea of a "social movement" union is more useful because it addresses the need for transformation of the unions internally, especially the need for union democracy. Union democracy is a thorny issue for radicals, especially those who assume leadership of moribund organizations. "Social justice" unionism addresses the positions the union takes on various political, social, and economic issues. One temptation for radicals who take office without a mobilized base to support them is that union democracy becomes a hindrance to the union acting on a "social justice" program. On the other hand, "social movement" unionism gets at the need for empowering members, building the union from the bottom-up, making the union itself a social movement. A social movement union not only endorses social justice demands in education and the society, working with social movements to further these aims, it also exists as a social movement itself, pressing as much as it can against the constraints of its being a membership organization — with the responsibility to protect its members. The CTU is probably the most important testing ground for social movement unionism. The union is now led by activists from CORE ( Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators ).[9] Using new-fangled social media and old-fashioned face-to-face meetings and organizing, CORE defeated the older guard leadership loyal to the national AFT office. With scarcely a second to catch their breath, CTU’s new leaders were confronted with ferocious attacks by the state and city on the contract and teachers’ pensions. In gaining their political footing, the inexperienced leadership made mistakes that were both natural and damaging, for instance, trusting that state union officials would be more expert about policy decisions and allowing the local president to participate in meetings with high-ranking state officials by herself. The CTU leadership faces a stunning phalanx of opponents, ranging from Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who flaunts the prestige and support he has in the White House and from powerful "friends of labor" in the Democratic Party, to Republican and Democratic state politicians, eager to destroy all public employees unions, mostly especially those representing city teachers. CTU leaders must simultaneously take from the state and national union resources that are needed while simultaneously doing all that is necessary to oust these officials who impede the movement’s objectives. In my opinion, CORE activists are an inspiration, heroic and wise. Like teachers in other cities, Los Angeles teachers face a viciously anti-teachers union mayor. But what differentiates LA’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is that he parlayed his position as a staffer for the teachers union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), and his close relationship with two of UTLA’s highest ranking officers — well-known leftists — to become a labor bigwig and then mayor. UTLA was the first teachers union in a major U.S. city in which a reform caucus succeeded in sweeping the old guard out of office. However, only a small fraction of the membership voted in the election (and in the most recent election as well). The reformers have been in the unenviable position of responding to horrific attacks while also managing the union’s bureaucratic operations, without being able to count on much support from the membership. Unfortunately, the reformers, who took office in a coalition that did not permit accountability among the factions, maintained many of the bureaucratic practices of the previous administration. The leadership’s disastrous decision to support mayoral control — because their buddy was the Mayor — was a function of an emphasis on playing power politics rather than addressing the union’s bureaucratic functioning. In the most recent elections, a long-time activist running as an independent but aligning himself with a more conservative caucus won the presidency. At the same time, a progressive caucus, PEAC, took a majority of seats on the union’s board of directors. What needs to be done now — and quickly — is for leaders and activists to focus financial and human resources on reviving the union at the school site. Probably one-third of the schools, campuses as they’re called, lack functioning chapters. This admittedly painstaking work of educating members that they "own" the union, to help them in organizing themselves, is inescapable. One bright spot from the reformers’ victory is that UTLA’s Human Rights Committee has embraced international work with Canadian and Mexican teachers unions, under the umbrella of the Trinational Coalition to Defend Public Education.[10] Of all the teachers unions in major cities, it appears at first glance that New York’s union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), has done the best job in protecting teachers and public schools. Many of the worst abuses teachers have suffered elsewhere have been forestalled by the union’s political clout in Albany. Charter schools have not mushroomed as fast as they have elsewhere, for instance California. Schools being closed due to low test scores are not being auctioned off to the highest bidder, as is occurring in Los Angeles. But appearances are deceiving because while the UFT has indeed been able to protect many of the vestiges of the old system by calling in its political chips, it has done so at the expense of alienating its natural allies, insulating the bureaucracy and allowing the union to all but disappear at the school, and seriously erode at the district level, where union staff may decline to provide chapter chairs with the most minimal forms of support, like meeting with principals about grievances. One estimate I’ve heard from a loyalist to the current leadership puts the number of schools with no functioning union chapters at far more than one-third, probably closer to three-fifths. Many teachers are too frightened to attend union meetings or even meet privately with union staff at the school site. What they may consent to do, when pressed, is to put union materials in teachers’ mailboxes, but they will do so only in secret. One fine young teacher in a selective Manhattan high school touted to be "progressive" and favored by leftish parents was given "unsatisfactory" ratings by the principal for "harassing" colleagues. He put a notice in their mailboxes informing them of a get-together to discuss the school’s admission policies. The chapter chair refused to help because she wanted to stay in the principal’s good graces, and union staff were unwilling to be involved. Their job as they see it is to file grievances that they are sure will succeed. The UFT clearly lacks the capacity — and will — to defend its members and the schools. Some activists theorize that the union is morphing, perhaps through conscious intent, from a "service model" of unionism into a membership organization that wears the mantle of union but in fact is a provider of consumer services, like low cost auto insurance. Still, the UFT bosses have not yet seen a serious challenge. In the last change of rule, the crown was passed to Michael Mulgrew, who actually taught in the city schools, unlike Randi Weingarten, a lawyer who served as UFT President and is currently AFT national President. Mulgrew’s face is new, but the apparatus remains impenetrably bureaucratic and the union’s politics are essentially as they were under Shanker. There is little sense from the way the union leadership presents itself or acts that teacher unionism has experienced an assault that challenges its existence. The union newspaper’s coverage of school struggles — or rather lack of it — shows how little engaged the UFT is in protecting the contract, schools or teachers, as well as how remote it is from community-based groups fighting on social justice. In the October 27, 2001 issue of the union newspaper, Michael Mulgrew’s picture appeared 9 times in the first 11 pages. An article applauded the success of Junior ROTC at one of the city’s many racially segregated city high schools. No mention was made of the anti-militarization campaigns that are occurring elsewhere in the nation, for instance in Los Angeles, with UTLA’s support. Another story informed teachers about their rights — in handling disruptive students. No mention was made of advocacy groups’ work about racial discrimination in school disciplinary policies, of activists working to alter school organization and culture so that "disruptive" students are less so. Stories on charter school organizing painted a glowing picture — another victory! There was one nod to the fact that Occupy Wall Street was a few blocks away from union headquarters, a story (with a picture of Michael Mulgrew) described the union’s participation in a coalition demanding no tax breaks for millionaires. But mostly the newspaper contained sentimental snapshots of teachers doing charity work. In light of the real conditions in the school system, including thousands of teachers who are paid (for now) but jobless, draconian cuts in funding felt in loss of money for supplies and class sizes that often exceed the contractual norms (not enforced), and the absence of union chapters in at least one-third of the schools, the paper’s contents are almost surreal. Clearly, this is a union leadership that doesn’t understand that publicity about teachers walking in support of breast cancer awareness will not suffice to defend their schools, their jobs, or their right to have a real union represent them. The UFT’s one victory in recent memory was organizing family day care workers, that is, making them union members. The UFT, in alliance with ACORN, used its political muscle to win the right to have family day care workers have union representation and have their dues deducted from their wages, which are paid by the state. An election for the bargaining agent occurred, a small fraction of the workers in the unit voted, and the UFT won the vote. While this seems to be a win-win, strengthening the union and giving exploited workers union representation, in fact the "top-down" process fails to build the resiliency union members will need to win or defend gains. Often what occurs in this kind of organizing is that shortly after the election for representation, the new members are forgotten. In this familiar scenario not limited to the UFT, union officials use the new members to strengthen their bureaucratic hold on the union apparatus. Union membership gives workers access to some protections, much needed and deserved to be sure; but especially when members are not in the majority constituency (teachers in the case of the UFT), they are trapped in a union that does little to represent them. The case of the family daycare workers is especially poignant because the UFT/ACORN alliance muscled out what had been the authentic community-based organizing of family daycare workers, by a Brooklyn group, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality.[11] One bright spot in the New York City teachers union’s political horizon is Teachers Unite, which is trying to bring activists on social justice in schooling together with teachers who want to see the UFT transformed.[12] Teachers Unite is small but growing. One of its most successful activities has been providing workshops on building the union at the school site, taught by teachers who are themselves chapter leaders. Teachers Unite’s activity demonstrates what could be done to build the union if the UFT bureaucracy really wanted to do so. Teachers from other activist groups, including Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), which produced a splendid video countering the misinformation in Waiting for Superman, are collaborating with Teachers Unite on social justice campaigns in the city schools, including helping to organize against school closings.[13] Another hopeful development is that Teachers Unite is part of a still-emerging national network of reform groups. Occupy the Unions! If teachers unions are to continue to exist as a meaningful form of workers’ representation, members need to transform them — and fast. The future of the movement depends on activists realizing that they, not staff or officers on the state and national levels, have to be the catalysts for change. Just as there is no escape from building the union at the base, there is no getting around the hard work of developing authentic alliances with parents and community activists, coalitions that acknowledge historic inequalities and support communities in their needs, rather than being paper organizations that are dusted off when the union wants to display community support. Elected officials, from school boards to governors, are violating union contracts with impunity. Lawsuits, by themselves, the favored method of dealing with law-breaking officials, can’t stop this. What can is direct action undertaken with parents and community, as the CTU has done in combating school closings in Chicago. In contrast, the AFT and NEA national leadership pursue a strategy of cozying up to their "friends" in the Democratic Party, including President Obama. This undercuts the brave activity of many teachers battling in their schools against the policies Obama and Duncan are pushing. For instance, both national unions have accepted use of standardized tests to judge student performance and teachers’ pay, in order, they say, to stay "credible." But "credible" to whom? Certainly not teachers who risk their livelihoods by speaking out against the harm done by education having been reduced to teaching to/for the test. The president of the AFT chapter in his charter school shared with me his outrage and dismay at what occurred when he called the state union for help in dealing with the principal’s demand for pay increases linked to student test scores. He was told the changes the principal demanded were official AFT policy. In July 2011, the NEA officially endorsed Obama for President. The AFT will undoubtedly follow suit, once organized labor decides the time is right to make this commitment. Although the AFT and NEA nationally are in the Democrats’ hip pocket, a different scenario might occur in local school board elections. Teachers unions are beginning to run candidates for school boards. Often local unions support candidates with the same "lesser evil" rationale the national and state unions use in endorsing Democrats. But in some places, this strategy is being challenged. Instead of electing someone, anyone, who is marginally better, teachers unions are thinking of how they might use the races as an opportunity to build support from the ground up. Campaigns for school board elections can be testing grounds for building new electoral alliances, alliances that are wholly independent of both parties, speak truth to corporate power, and advance a vision of public education that supports collaboration among schooling’s constituencies. As Occupy Wall Street has demonstrated, the country is hungry for leaders who will speak out against capitalism’s excesses. Neither the NEA nor AFT can provide that leadership, nor be partners in a movement that challenges Wall Street, as long as its top officials want the unions to be included as collaborators in maintaining U.S. capitalism’s domination of U.S. society and the globe. As labor researchers Mayssoun Sukarieh and Stuart Tannock explain, though the AFT supports its far-flung global operations with "high-minded rhetoric of global labor solidarity, philanthropic goodwill, and democracy promotion," the union wants most of all to further U.S. hegemony. The AFT’s international operations are vast, ranging from "Bolivia to Burma and Kenya to Kazakhstan."[14] Ironically, the AFT aims to educate teacher unionists elsewhere in the world to desert the traditions of social movement unionism that we in the United States should be learning — and imitating — here at home. Given claims by some progressives that the AFT changed with the end of the Cold War and Shanker’s death, it’s important to note Sukarieh and Tannock contend that the AFT "continues with its cold war legacy largely uninterrupted. Its current director of international affairs, David Dorn, was also director during the Shanker era. Rather than question, apologize for, or distance itself from any of its past international work, the AFT celebrates and explicitly claims to be continuing with this exact same line of activity…The AFT continues to expand its international programs.. from its 1990s base in Eastern Europe to the current focus on the Middle East." (p. 186). AFT and NEA rely on their size, wealth, and connections with the U.S. government to dominate politics of the Education International (EI), the global federation of teachers unions. There used to be significant foreign policy differences between the NEA and AFT, with the NEA being more liberal. However, those distinctions, even ephemeral, seem to have been lost. Both joined in squashing democracy at the EI conference in Capetown this past summer, where they used their control of the EI’s administrative apparatus to push through a palatable (to them) resolution on Palestine and Israel. According to a conference participant with whom I spoke, AFT and NEA shocked Western European delegates with their brazen (and successful) effort to control debate and force an outcome that was more in line with U.S. foreign policy. Three different resolutions on Palestine and Israel were presented to the conference. One came from the EI board, another from the UK higher education union, Universities and Colleges Union, and the third from the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Operating much as the AFT leadership does at its own conventions, the AFT and NEA maneuvered to suppress the NUT resolution, which was a forthright condemnation of Israel’s actions towards Palestine. They first tried to persuade the presiding NUT officer to withdraw the resolution. This effort at intimidation failed, so they warned NUT delegates that should they persist in presenting their resolution, the AFT delegation would bolt from the conference. An NEA staffer being groomed for leadership in the EI’s administrative office handled negotiations on behalf of the AFT and NEA, and ultimately, a "compromise" resolution was approved, one that dropped sharp criticism of Israeli policy. Delegates from the Middle East were enraged at the resolution and by their having been silenced in the debate. With all of the political struggles going on in the world, with the concerted attacks against teachers unions, why did the AFT and NEA make the NUT’s resolution on Palestine the main focus of their political intervention at the EI? Why would the leadership of NEA and AFT jeopardize their political legitimacy by flaunting their control over the EI’s administrative apparatus? The answer is in the lopsided nature of the AFT and NEA’s political compass, permanently stuck in the direction of the U.S. government’s desires. Nothing counts as much for the NEA and AFT leadership as the prerogatives of U.S. capitalism and the government that protects it. Their political loyalties to U.S. imperialism are seen in almost every political decision. For example, the NEA and AFT ban membership by the Chinese and Cuban unions in the EI because they are not free of government control. Fair enough, but why then permit participation of the Egyptian union — entirely controlled by the Mubarak dictatorship — until the union fell in arrears on its dues, shortly before Mubarak was overthrown? Teacher union leaders from the global south object to the contradiction between EI’s professed support for free trade unions throughout the world and its, that is, the NEA and AFT’s, one-sided application of criteria that coincide with the desires of the U.S. government. Under life-and-death pressure from their own governments and fearful of further attacks by international agencies that answer to Washington, teacher unionists in Asia and Africa are understandably reluctant to challenge the AFT and NEA. Given this imbalance of power between unions in the global south and the AFT and NEA, the Western European unions have a special responsibility to fight for democracy in the EI and for consistent application of the ruler measuring whether unions are indeed "free" of government control. When Naomi Klein spoke at Occupy Wall Street she noted that the rest of the world had been waiting for this challenge at capitalism’s heart. The same is true of U.S. teacher unionism’s renaissance. Teachers and students around the globe need teachers in this country to occupy their unions. At this writing, the eyes of the world are on the courageous activists who are facing down the world’s most powerful elite in downtown Manhattan. Our eyes should also be on the heroic activity of teachers moving to occupy their unions. The future of public education globally depends in great measure on them.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Arizona's Precious Knowledge: Blockbuster New Film Chronicles Ethnic Studies Battle

This is an extraordinary film that ALL should see. It'll show you exactly how ridiculous and racially and ethnically motivated the attack against Ethnic Studies in TUSD is. -Angela Posted: 6/13/11 08:34 PM ET As ethnic studies defenders in Arizona prepare for the latest showdown in the state's controversial ban this week, a blockbuster new film chronicling the unknown back story behind the crisis is gearing up for national release. Rarely has a film been so timely and downright revelatory. Casting aside the inflammatory rhetoric and national headlines of the anti-ethnic-studies instigators, Precious Knowledge provides a clear-eyed portrait of students, teachers and their community struggling to deal with the nation's most unnerving campus witch hunt in recent memory. Tracing the political roots of the legislative ban -- and the program's own mandate and success to alleviate the long-time achievement gaps among Latino students -- Precious Knowledge's riveting pacing and compelling portraits will astonish, infuriate and inspire viewers. In truth, Precious Knowledge is the type of unique and powerful film that could ultimately shift public perception and policy on one of the most misunderstood education programs in the country. In a balanced but unabashedly passionate film directed by Ari Luis Palos and produced by Eren Isabel McGinnis, Precious Knowledge serves as a remarkable and seemingly more honest counter argument to last year's widely acclaimed Waiting for Superman, the documentary film on charter schools and the failure of public instruction. The stakes in Precious Knowledge are somehow even higher: We meet students who emerge as their own advocates to not only defend their right to a decent education, but their very existence and cultural heritage. The film celebrated its premiere with a sold-out crowd in Tucson in March. With over 50 percent of Latino students failing to graduate nationwide, Precious Knowledge walks the viewers through the relentless battle over several years by headstrong anti-ethnic-studies extremists in Arizona to outlaw Tucson's Mexican American Studies (MAS) program. Based in six Tucson high schools, the MAS program graduates 93 percent of its college-bound students. In the process, Precious Knowledge reveals the ideological and political fervor afoot in Arizona and underscoring the anti-ethnic-studies ban and anti-immigrant measures, which claims the MAS courses promote the "overthrow of the government" and ethnic resentment. At the same time, the film places the founding of the ethnic studies program in the larger historical context of Tucson's long-time struggles by the Mexican-American community for better education and an end to discriminatory policies. A sign from the famed 1969 walkouts, led by Chicano activists, resonates today: "We dare to care about education." No one is more attuned to the political hijinks and hypocrisy than the young students featured in the film -- Pricila Rodriguez, Crystal Terriquez, Gilbert Esparza and Mariah Harvey, among others -- who transform over the course of the film from shy, uncertain kids "in the back of the room" to become engaged and academically-grounded defenders of their program and confident public speakers and organizers in their communities, and ultimately at the Arizona state capitol in Phoenix. For Gilbert, who has grown up in a neighborhood where so many of his peers are "locked up or dead," the MAS program galvanizes his one-time dismal studies. For the first time in his life, he says, "I would go home and read articles over and over again... and started getting A's and B's." For Pricila, whose father has been incarcerated as an undocumented worker, the MAS course rescues her from a freshman drop-out status and sets her onto a college-bound future. Along with the brilliant Jose Gonzales, Curtis Acosta is featured as one of the embattled literature teachers in the Mexican American Studies program at Tucson High School. Engaging and often comic, Acosta appears at first like a Latino version of Robin Williams' portrait of the inspiring poetry teacher in the film classic, Dead Poets Society. By the end of the movie, Acosta's ability to handle the unthinkably stressful task of teaching, defending his class to extremist legislators and the media, and the subsequent tidal wave of hate mail and public hounding, demonstrates his own resiliency and transformation as an extraordinary catalyst for change. His role ranks as one of the best documentary film portraits of a successful public educator ever made. With unprecedented access to the classroom, Precious Knowledge allows the viewer to understand the role of culturally-relevant material and critical pedagogy that challenge the student to read the word, and the world. "The freedom to ask questions," says Acosta, "that are the most pertinent in the way they view the world." But in the capable hands of director Palos, the film doesn't permit the teachers to dodge any element of perceived radicalism, such as the teaching of famed Brazilian educator Paulo Freire's text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, but places the principles of a culturally-relevant curriculum and its Chicano viewpoint into context. Freire's widely used theories of critical pedagogy have been translated into numerous languages, and are taught at universities around the United States; he received 16 honorary doctorates, including a 1996 honor from the University of Nebraska. Far from any radical agenda, as Tucson Unified School District administrator Dr. Augustine Romero notes, the human portraits unfolding in Precious Knowledge deftly show the MAS program's emphasis on the "idea of love, and not only love for myself, but love for those around me." As one of the most convincing parts of the film, Precious Knowledge also provides plenty of time for anti-Ethnic Studies officials, including former Arizona superintendent of education Tom Horne and and current state superintendent John Huppenthal. A Canadian immigrant who has often invoked his own Jewish cultural legacy as vital to guiding his views on education and historical instruction, Horne tells the filmmakers that the cultural-relevancy-focused curriculum of the Mexican American Studies Program is based on a "primitive part that is tribal." Whether or not one agrees with Horne, who has openly lied in the past about his history of bankruptcy and has the unique distinction of being banned forever from the Securities and Exchanges Commission after he "willfully aided and abetted" securities law violations, no viewer will doubt that Horne's spiraling obsession with the Ethnic Studies Program almost borders on the maniacal and risks statements that are outright falsehoods. Two examples, among many, leap out at the viewer: While first denying at a Senate hearing he has ever been invited to a MAS classroom, Horne backsteps when challenged by a legislator and then admits that he has been invited. Horne's accusation that the Mexican American Studies Program is "dividing students by ethnicity" and preaching ethnic resentment is soundly rebuked by the sheer number of non-Latino students who take the classes, testify at various hearings and protest and eloquently describe to visiting lawmakers and TV reporters about their experience. The blond-haired MAS student Erin Cain-Hodge calmly tells one news report at a Tucson protest on the need to "make a stand" against "this racist bill." At a charged Senate hearing, African-American student Mariah Harvey poignantly explains how the classes engender a sense of "understanding and forgiveness." After being presented with evidence of the MAS program's dramatically increased graduation rates, Horne responds that the program is "not doing any thing right," and "should be abolished." When students exercise their First Amendment rights to protest outside a Horne press conference, he quickly refers to the "rudeness they teach to their kids." Throughout the documentary, Huppenthal and Horne exhibit a hyper-aversion to anyone addressing past social injustices in the United States, especially among the founding fathers. And this is a fundamental difference so profoundly explored in the film: Instead of viewing historic campaigns for civil rights, women's suffrage or child labor laws, for example, as inspiring lessons of change and transformation in the American democratic process, Huppenthal and Horne effectively demand that a censored presentation of American history be taught to Arizona children that casts modern society as colorblind and flawless -- and our founders as infallible. Perhaps this makes sense for Huppenthal, who was educated at a private parochial Catholic school, and refused to send his children to regular public schools, and once lectured university scholars that his own educational principles for children were based on corporate management schemes of the Fortune 500. During the same period as the making of the film, Huppenthal actually served as a featured speaker with the notorious state senate president Russell Pearce at an extremist Tea Party rally in 2009, but never repudiated widespread charges of his own President Obama as a "Nazi." Nor has Huppenthal ever denounced Pearce and his fellow radical Arizona state legislators' aborted efforts to "nullify" federal laws. In the film, Huppenthal, who ran on a 2010 campaign to "stop la raza," takes to the Senate floor and declares "parts of our neighborhoods" have been "nuclear-bombed by the effects of illegal immigration." After visiting Acosta's class at Tucson High School in the film, Huppenthal reports back to a Senate hearing that an ethnic studies administrator has "trashed Benjamin Franklin." In truth, the adviser had only repeated Franklin's very famous "Observation" in 1753 of his concern of too many "tawny" people. (One little footnote: Franklin also disparaged Huppenthal's German ancestors as "the most ignorant stupid sort" who were unable to learn English in that same document.) Such duplicity never seems to bother Horne or Huppenthal, who soon ramp up the power-keg rhetoric of their obsessive campaign with the help of the infamous Russell Pearce, who has openly associated with neo-Nazi activists. After hearing student Mariah Harvey's compelling description of a program that "doesn't teach us to be anti-American," but "embrace America, all of it, flaws and all," Pearce simply charges the program preaches "hate speech, sedition, anti-Americanism." In the gripping build up to the final passage of the HB221 law in 2010 that bans Ethnic Studies, and remains in litigation, Precious Knowledge follows the emerging students leaders and teachers in their unrelenting battle to keep their acclaimed program alive. In the end, Acosta tells community members at a rally, "we have taught you to love." As the inspiring MAS students walk across the graduation stage in their caps and gowns, no one will have any doubts these extraordinary young people have just begun their journey to change their communities and Arizona -- and the nation. Here's the trailer:

“Don’t Get Angry, Get Even” When Do You Start Counting By Rodolfo F. Acuña

Rough Draft “Don’t Get Angry, Get Even” When Do You Start Counting By Rodolfo F. Acuña When the great Muhammad Ali was asked how many sit ups he did, he responded, “I don’t count my sit-ups, I only start counting when it starts hurting, that is when I start counting, because then it really counts, that’s what makes you a champion.” These words resonate in Tucson where Latina/o students are fighting for an education by sitting-in in the office of Tucson Unified School District Superintendent of Schools John Pedicone, walking out of classes, demonstrating, and taking to the streets. Students are dispelling the myth that Mexican Americans do not care about education; they have started counting because it hurts. They know the difference between being warehoused, sitting through classes where teachers go through the motions. They know when the subject matter is relevant; and the teachers believe in what they are teaching. At my own campus at California State University Northridge students are mobilizing. Up until now, a small minority protested the rising cost of tuition, which now tops $5,550 a year, promising to climb another 30 percent next year. Because of the lack of accessibility to education, they are growing disillusioned with our system of government. They don’t believe the promises of President Barack Obama State of the Union. Desperate, many students are dropping out of school. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back occurred this week. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed issued a threat to all state campuses that any institution that exceeded its target enrollment by more than three percent would be docked $7 million. The CSUN administration panicked and froze classes, not allowing needy students to enroll in classes, even when professors agreed to take them as an overload. The result has been pandemonium. Many students are unable to get the requisite 12 units for financial and other scholarship aid. This action takes money out needy students’ pockets; the tuition for 12 units and 19 units is the same. Graduation will be deferred by a couple of years. For administrators earning $120,000 - $350,000 annually it is no big deal. But for poor and middle-class students it is a big deal. The freeze has forced many students to start counting. It has dawned on them that they are being shut out of what the Tucson students are fighting for, a college education. Conservatives have always maintained that everyone has an equal opportunity; tragically many poor people believed that the myth. However, this fairytale is being debunked by what is happening in California’s community colleges. Once a safety net where students could attend college almost tuition free and could live close to home and work, this is no longer the case. Although the fees are still affordable at the two year colleges, the campuses have been flooded consequent to the pushdown of students who qualify for the University of California and the California State University systems but can’t afford it. Consequently, the problem for community colleges is not so much tuition but the flood of students that have drowned them. Filled beyond capacity their infra-structures have been inundated, and even when students are matriculated they face the impossible task of getting classes. This situation promises to worsen as the UC resorts to the vigorous recruiting of wealthy foreign and out of state students who are displacing residents. If by this time, we are not counting, we should be because the hurt will worsen. The challenge for students is to develop a strategy. It is not going to do us any good to say I told you so or to get angry. We have to get even. The reason the system will continue as if the crash never happened is because we did not get even. Very few people have gone to jail, and the gaggle of thieves on Wall Street and government were not stigmatized. Talk about class warfare, society differentiates between white and blue collar crime. Pure and simple, we are complicit and let the big ones get away. In Tucson, the rich benefit directly from the destruction of the Mexican American Studies program. Brutalizing immigrants and Latino students is part of the grand strategy to keep Mexicans in their place. The assassination of nine-year old Brisenia Flores in her home sent a chilling to other Mexicans. Shawna Forde, who had ties with the Minutemen and FAIR, the Federation For American Immigration Reform, led the assassins, but the truth be told, the Tucson white elite were complicit, they benefited. Let me be clear, the purpose for the destruction of the MAS program was to intimidate other minorities. African, Native and other Americans were put on notice that they will suffer a similar fate if they protest too loudly. They heard about Mexican American students being forced to stand by while the banned books were boxed and carted away. Students watched in silence, they sobbed. Books had become important to them. In the past I have spoken about Adolph Hitler’s “The Big Lie.” In that instance, the Jews and the gypsies were scapegoated. Hitler used hate to rally the German people. In a similar way, the anti-Mexican and anti-foreign hysteria helps conceal the criminality of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) that owns the Arizona state legislature and SALC (the Southern Arizona Leadership Council) that controls public and private institutions in southern Arizona. Superintendent Pedicone rose through SALC’s ranks and was its vice-president. Republican politicians have exploited the hatred of Mexicans, using it to their economic and political advantage. The same goes for the Koch Brothers, the Tea Party, the minutemen, and the prison and gun industries, not to mention the bankers who launder money made from selling arms to the Mexican cartels. Politicos such as Attorney General Tom Horn and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal have built their careers by spreading lies and bashing Mexicans. Tolerating them is like speaking respectfully of Hitler. ALEC and SALC leaders are criminals and child abusers. We should not abet their malfeasance by being respectful. Some readers will say, “Rudy, you are going too far!” But am I going too far? Have they ever seen a 14 year old strung out on drugs, or a teenager that has a difficult time in explaining his or her thoughts? Who has created these conditions? Who is to blame? I once told my wife when she was getting frustrated tutoring a second grader, “if Jorge does not learn to read, he will end up in jail.” She started to cry. Have you ever met a second grader who was bad? Because of my early parochial education, I have a strong sense of right and wrong. For me, “sometimes there is no other side.” I have a mind, and as my teachers would tell me, “use it.” It is idiotic to say we are all equal in this country, it is a myth. In my vernacular, the word exploitation is the willful taking advantage of the poor. It is an abomination and cannot be tolerated The wonderful quality about students is that many have retained the sense to be outraged at injustice. Reasoned moral outrage corrects the imperfections of society and achieves justice for all. And, that is precisely why the TUSD cabal is banning books. ALEC, SALC, the Tea Party and their gaggle can’t handle the truth, it is subversive. William Shakespeare’s The Tempest was banned. Why? It is threatening because it talks about colonialism. It is about the Earls of Southampton, investors in the Virginia Company. At court they support a Protestant-expansionist foreign policy. King James opposes it because he does not want trouble with Spain. Eventually this leads James to executed Sir Walter Raleigh. The Tempest is told through the eyes of Caliban, a native of a colonized island. It is about his accusations against the colonial governor, Prospero. Prospero is the colonizer; Caliban, the colonized. Prospero looks at Caliban as being genetically inferior. The story betrays Prospero’s colonial mentality; he has little respect for the natives or the environment. His demeanor resembles that of Superintendent Pedicone and the white establishment of Tucson who regard Mexicans, whether born on this side or the other side of the border as aliens. Rather than use history or literature to correct the imperfections of society, Huppenthal and the majority of the TUSD board chose to censor books. The Tucson cabal believes that it can hide the truth, and thus keep Mexicans in their place. It is similar to the efforts of many former confederate states to erase any mention of slavery as if it had never existed. According to them, African Americans were happy under slavery. It is similar to the efforts of neo-Nazis to deny the holocaust or the Turks’ denial of the Armenian genocide. Their view is if people don’t know about it, it did not happen. Consequently, Mexicans can continue to drop out of school, go to prison, work at minimum wage jobs, and believe in fairy tales. If they learn, they may start counting.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interactive: Projections for Texas Occupations in 2018

by Becca Aaronson and Reeve Hamilton | Texas Tribune
January 19, 2012

When Tom Pauken was appointed chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission in 2008, he said, one thing particularly surprised him: “this notion that everybody needs to go to a four-year university and blue-collar jobs are not as good as ‘knowledge industry’ jobs.”

According to the workforce commission, the occupation expected to add the most jobs in Texas between 2008 and 2018 is fast-food services.

The availability of jobs in Texas has been a point of state pride and was — at least, at one time — a cornerstone of Gov. Rick Perry’s pitch to voters. And as Pauken has eagerly pointed out in public speeches, a significant portion of the state’s job offerings don’t require four years’ worth of tuition, which at Texas’ public universities can set you back an average of more than $26,000.

Pauken is calling for a greater emphasis on the skilled trades - many of which only require up to two years of post-secondary work - throughout the education pipeline.

He made this case at a recent higher-education panel discussion held by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank, where he was joined by Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes.

Paredes argued against the de-emphasis on four-year programs. He said that the state’s problem was not of having too many of one type of degree over another, but of needing comprehensive reform. “We need to improve our productivity in all of these areas,” he said of all levels of higher education.

“College is still worth it,” Paredes said. As evidence, he pointed out that people with advanced degrees have lower unemployment rates and most jobs that pay well require some form of post-secondary credential.

But comparing certain jobs may leave some wondering what they got in return for taking on all that student debt.

In 2009, according to workforce commission data, rotary drill operators — a job that primarily requires on-the-job training — could make an average annual wage of more than $72,000 in the Texas oil and gas industry. That’s more than the average wage of a number of professions requiring master’s and doctoral degrees.

“It’s costing us more to educate people,” Pauken told the Tribune. “At the same time, are we educating them for the right fields where the demand is?”

To provide a better sense of what opportunities are out there for present and future job seekers in Texas, we’ve put together the following graphs and database of the workforce commission’s projections.

In the top graphs, you can see the projections for the total jobs by category in 2018, which professions are adding the most jobs and which will experience the most rapid growth.

Below, you can search different professions based on average annual wages, preferred level of education, anticipated growth rate, expected annual job openings and more.

Check out the Graphs on All Occupation Groups in 2018, Occupations Adding Most Jobs, Fastest Growing Occupations

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

Great piece by Chris Hedges. -Angela

Posted on Apr 11, 2011

By Chris Hedges

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system—whose primary concern is certainly not with education—are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside.

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

The demonizing of teachers is another public relations feint, a way for corporations to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers and a landscape where one in six workers is without employment. The speculators on Wall Street looted the U.S. Treasury. They stymied any kind of regulation. They have avoided criminal charges. They are stripping basic social services. And now they are demanding to run our schools and universities.

“Not only have the reformers removed poverty as a factor, they’ve removed students’ aptitude and motivation as factors,” said this teacher, who is in a teachers union. “They seem to believe that students are something like plants where you just add water and place them in the sun of your teaching and everything blooms. This is a fantasy that insults both student and teacher. The reformers have come up with a variety of insidious schemes pushed as steps to professionalize the profession of teaching. As they are all businessmen who know nothing of the field, it goes without saying that you do not do this by giving teachers autonomy and respect. They use merit pay in which teachers whose students do well on bubble tests will receive more money and teachers whose students do not do so well on bubble tests will receive less money. Of course, the only way this could conceivably be fair is to have an identical group of students in each class—an impossibility. The real purposes of merit pay are to divide teachers against themselves as they scramble for the brighter and more motivated students and to further institutionalize the idiot notion of standardized tests. There is a certain diabolical intelligence at work in both of these.”

“If the Bloomberg administration can be said to have succeeded in anything,” he said, “they have succeeded in turning schools into stress factories where teachers are running around wondering if it’s possible to please their principals and if their school will be open a year from now, if their union will still be there to offer some kind of protection, if they will still have jobs next year. This is not how you run a school system. It’s how you destroy one. The reformers and their friends in the media have created a Manichean world of bad teachers and effective teachers. In this alternative universe there are no other factors. Or, all other factors—poverty, depraved parents, mental illness and malnutrition—are all excuses of the Bad Teacher that can be overcome by hard work and the Effective Teacher.”

The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business. Thought is a dialogue with one’s inner self. Those who think ask questions, questions those in authority do not want asked. They remember who we are, where we come from and where we should go. They remain eternally skeptical and distrustful of power. And they know that this moral independence is the only protection from the radical evil that results from collective unconsciousness. The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with criminals—themselves.

“It is better to be at odds with the whole world than, being one, to be at odds with myself,” Socrates said.

Those who can ask the right questions are armed with the capacity to make a moral choice, to defend the good in the face of outside pressure. And this is why the philosopher Immanuel Kant puts the duties we have to ourselves before the duties we have to others. The standard for Kant is not the biblical idea of self-love—love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you—but self-respect. What brings us meaning and worth as human beings is our ability to stand up and pit ourselves against injustice and the vast, moral indifference of the universe. Once justice perishes, as Kant knew, life loses all meaning. Those who meekly obey laws and rules imposed from the outside—including religious laws—are not moral human beings. The fulfillment of an imposed law is morally neutral. The truly educated make their own wills serve the higher call of justice, empathy and reason. Socrates made the same argument when he said it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.

“The greatest evil perpetrated,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

As Arendt pointed out, we must trust only those who have this self-awareness. This self-awareness comes only through consciousness. It comes with the ability to look at a crime being committed and say “I can’t.” We must fear, Arendt warned, those whose moral system is built around the flimsy structure of blind obedience. We must fear those who cannot think. Unconscious civilizations become totalitarian wastelands.

“The greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back,” Arendt writes. “For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur—the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.”

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” Surprise, Fear and Fanaticism in Tucson By Rodolfo F. Acuña

Rough Draft
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”
Surprise, Fear and Fanaticism in Tucson
Rodolfo F. Acuña

One of the little pleasures I have in life is waiting for the Saturday mail to bring The New Yorker to my door. Reading the magazine gives me a couple hours of escape; it is well-written and I can never predict the direction its conversations will take.

For instance, this week (Jan 16, 2012) the Inquiring Minds section reviews “The Spanish Inquisition.” The article is introduced by a Monty Python sketch where one of the members of the group, Michael Palin, announces “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

The author Adam Gopnik explores the history of the institution, relating the lessons to today; taking it from “Torquemada[i] to Dick Cheney, and from Guantánamo to Rome,” asking where were the others “when Giordano Bruno is burned to death…”[ii]

The theme of the Gopnik piece is that society always looks to the past for symbols of cruelty which inevitably are based on “surprise, fear…and fanatical devotion.” The gestapo, the K.G.B., the Stasi share similar profiles. Gopnik includes Guantánamo and the “more than twelve hundred government organizations [in the U.S. that] focus on national-security concerns…they have a forebear in Torquemada and the men in the red hats.” Like in the past, today’s torturers always act with surprise, fear and fanaticism, covering their actions with excuses of regret and necessity.

Gopnik is not an apologist for the Inquisition, commenting on the work of a revisionist historian, he writes, “his mordant point is not so much that the Inquisition doesn’t deserve its reputation for cruelty as that its victims don’t deserve theirs for moral courage.” There is always complicity with cruelty in the name orthodoxy such as in the case of Arizona.

Anti-Semitism, racism, and fanatical nationalism are imbedded in the oppressors’ culture. “The Spanish Inquisition didn’t have any real interest in saving the Jews’ soul; they just wantfirsted their houses and their money.” Thus, the purpose of the Inquisition was not to erase Jewish identity (or that of the Moslems) but to remove them as competitors.

This treachery can be compared to the abolishment of the Mexican Studies program in Tucson – civic leaders really don’t care if Mexicans go to school, just as long as they keep on making money off them and they learn what they want them to learn. Anti-Mexican feelings, racism and fanatical nationalism are imbedded in Tucson’s Torquemada culture. The truth be told, Latino identity a barrier to the inquisitors ends.

Acts of surprise, fear and fanaticism are hidden under the cover of regret and necessity. “The point of an inquisition is to reduce its victims to abstractions, and abandoning the effort to call their pain back to particular life…” Bruno’s sin was that he included a plurality of worlds with equal weight.

Even to this day the Pope says he is sorry that the Inquisition occurred. That is not acceptable to critics who want the Pope to say he is ashamed. Likewise it is not enough for society to say that it is sorry for slavery, and the lynching of blacks, browns and Asians. It is not enough to be sorry for keeping blacks and browns uneducated, society should be ashamed of it, just the same as Americans should be ashamed of Abu Ghraib, the pissing on the bodies of dead soldiers, the abolishment of the Tucson Mexican American Studies program, and the censorship of books.

In typical Torquemada fashion Tucson Unified School District inquisitors, Mark Stegeman, Michael Hicks, Miguel Cuevas and Alexandre Borges Sugiyama abolished the district’s highly successful Mexican American Studies program at the direction of the lord inquisitors in Phoenix. Now they are banning books.

Among the censored books are Leslie Marmon Silko, Rethinking Columbus, William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rodolfo Acuña, Occupied America, Arturo Rosales, Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement and Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, in addition to a dozen other books.

Thus far, there has been no comment from the American Civil Liberties Union or progressives in the United States. Apparently they do not see the parallel in what is happening in Tucson, and what happened in South Africa under apartheid, the burning of the books by the Spaniards in Middle America, or, for that matter, Germany in the1920s and 30s.

Censorship is criminal. We live in a world of knowledge; books and education give us access to that knowledge; if we are deprived of it, the inquisitors deny us the right to make rational choices.

Arizona schools have abandoned its mission to educate students; they have intentionally denied Mexican American students access to knowledge. Consequently the Arizona bureaucracy has deliberately kept them in the fields, the mines and the prisons, hoping to deny them alternatives.

The purpose of critical thinking is to give students alternatives and to dispel myths and repel blind allegiance to those who deny them alternatives.

According to the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “Censorship reflects society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”

The motivation of the TUSD Trustees cannot be explained in terms of greed alone. It cannot be rationalized by culture alone. Money and personal gain play a role. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” but it’s there.

Of the Tucson gaggle the only honest one is Hicks, who is openly a racist and limited intelligence. The failed scholar Stegeman is stuck on the promotion ladder. He’ll never make it to full professor without support of politicos. Sugiyama is a bad scholar and a worse teacher; his only chance for a full time position is to sell his posterior. The pitiful Cuevas just wants acceptance from rich white people in the city.

Monty Python and others can laugh at the fanaticism of the past; however, it is hard to laugh at today’s inquisitors. It is easier to turn the other way, La zorra nunca se ve la cola (The Skunk Doesn’t See Its Tail).

So, what can we do? We have no choice but to “Fight Back!”

[i] Tomás de Torquemada was the first Grand Inquisitor of Spain, appointed by the pope in 1483.
[ii] Giordano Bruno was an Italian 16th century Dominican friar who the Roman Inquisition found guilty of heresy for writing that the sun was not only the center of the universe but a star in a universe of other inhabited planets. Bruno was burnt at the stake.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools

A must read. What a rip off for parents that buy into these online schools offered by Education, Inc., Pearson, and others. "The pupils work from their homes, in some cases hundreds of miles from their teachers. There is no cafeteria, no gym and no playground. Teachers communicate with students by phone or in simulated classrooms on the Web. But while the notion of an online school evokes cutting-edge methods, much of the work is completed the old-fashioned way, with a pencil and paper while seated at a desk." All part of the larger plan to decimate the public sector. Corporate sector profits on the backs of mostly poor, minority children and their families. The system of testing is moreover the handmaiden to this very conservative, neoliberal agenda. Very sad and very offensive.


The New York Times
December 12, 2011

Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools

By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing.

Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.

By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.

Agora is one of the largest in a portfolio of similar public schools across the country run by K12. Eight other for-profit companies also run online public elementary and high schools, enrolling a large chunk of the more than 200,000 full-time cyberpupils in the United States.

The pupils work from their homes, in some cases hundreds of miles from their teachers. There is no cafeteria, no gym and no playground. Teachers communicate with students by phone or in simulated classrooms on the Web. But while the notion of an online school evokes cutting-edge methods, much of the work is completed the old-fashioned way, with a pencil and paper while seated at a desk.

Kids mean money. Agora is expecting income of $72 million this school year, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total anticipated revenues of K12, the biggest player in the online-school business. The second-largest, Connections Education, with revenues estimated at $190 million, was bought this year by the education and publishing giant Pearson for $400 million.

The business taps into a formidable coalition of private groups and officials promoting nontraditional forms of public education. The growth of for-profit online schools, one of the more overtly commercial segments of the school choice movement, is rooted in the theory that corporate efficiencies combined with the Internet can revolutionize public education, offering high quality at reduced cost.

The New York Times has spent several months examining this idea, focusing on K12 Inc. A look at the company’s operations, based on interviews and a review of school finances and performance records, raises serious questions about whether K12 schools — and full-time online schools in general — benefit children or taxpayers, particularly as state education budgets are being slashed.

Instead, a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.

Current and former staff members of K12 Inc. schools say problems begin with intense recruitment efforts that fail to filter out students who are not suited for the program, which requires strong parental commitment and self-motivated students. Online schools typically are characterized by high rates of withdrawal.

Teachers have had to take on more and more students, relaxing rigor and achievement along the way, according to interviews. While teachers do not have the burden of a full day of classes, they field questions from families, monitor students’ progress and review and grade schoolwork. Complaints about low pay and high class loads — with some high school teachers managing more than 250 students — have prompted a unionization battle at Agora, which has offices in Wayne, Pa.

A look at a forthcoming study by researchers at Western Michigan University and the National Education Policy Center shows that only a third of K12’s schools achieved adequate yearly progress, the measurement mandated by federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

Some teachers at K12 schools said they felt pressured to pass students who did little work. Teachers have also questioned why some students who did no class work were allowed to remain on school rosters, potentially allowing the company to continue receiving public money for them. State auditors found that the K12-run Colorado Virtual Academy counted about 120 students for state reimbursement whose enrollment could not be verified or who did not meet Colorado residency requirements. Some had never logged in.

“What we’re talking about here is the financialization of public education,” said Alex Molnar, a research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education who is affiliated with the education policy center. “These folks are fundamentally trying to do to public education what the banks did with home mortgages.”

The online companies can tailor their programs by reducing curriculum and teachers. During a presentation at the Virginia legislature this year, a representative of Connections explained that its services were available at three price points per student:

Option A: $7,500, a student-teacher ratio of 35-40 to 1, and an average teacher salary of $45,000.

Option B: $6,500, a student-teacher ratio of 50 to 1, with less experienced teachers paid $40,000.

Option C: $4,800 and a student-teacher ratio of 60 to 1, as well as a narrower curriculum.

Despite lower operating costs, the online companies collect nearly as much taxpayer money in some states as brick-and-mortar charter schools. In Pennsylvania, about 30,000 students are enrolled in online schools at an average cost of about $10,000 per student. The state auditor general, Jack Wagner, said that is double or more what it costs the companies to educate those children online.

“It’s extremely unfair for the taxpayer to be paying for additional expenses, such as advertising,” Mr. Wagner said. Much of the public money also goes toward lobbying state officials, an activity that Ronald J. Packard, chief executive of K12, has called a “core competency” of the company.

In all, for-profit educational management companies run 79 online schools around the country, according to the study by researchers at Western Michigan University.

Many educators believe there is a place for full-time virtual learning for children whose pace is extremely accelerated or those with behavioral or other issues, like teenage mothers who need to stay home with their babies. But for most children, particularly in the elementary grades, the school experience should not be replaced with online learning, they say.

“The early development of children requires lots of interaction with other children for purposes of socialization, developing collaboration and teamwork, and self-definition,” said Irving Hamer Jr., deputy superintendent of Memphis city schools.

In an interview at K12’s headquarters in Herndon, Va., Mr. Packard said, “We’re here to help children, and that is our overriding purpose and we want to do it as well and efficiently as possible.”

He acknowledged what he called a “degradation” in K12’s test scores, but he argued that they are an inaccurate measure because many students are already behind when they arrive. “The type of child now coming to an online school, 75 percent of those kids coming in are behind more than one grade level,” Mr. Packard said.

He said K12 continues to invest in its curriculum and has developed interventions, like a remedial math program, to help struggling students.

“Kids have been shackled to their brick-and-mortar school down the block for too long,” Mr. Packard has said repeatedly, adding that for the first time, every child, regardless of where he or she lives, has a choice.

Some educators are questioning its value. “It’s choice,” said Thomas L. Seidenberger, superintendent of the East Penn School District in Pennsylvania, which is outperforming Agora and other online schools its students attend. “What about a bad choice?’”

The Cost

The original pitchman for K12 was William J. Bennett, the former education secretary who helped found the company in 2000. At the time, Mr. Bennett said he viewed online schools as a haven for shy children, those worried about being exposed to drugs and even those with “terrible acne.”

The company planned to sell an education package directly to parents who wanted to home-school their children. But within months, K12 had decided to tap into public education dollars.

As the company’s product has become more popular, the cost has soared.

Mr. Bennett, who left the company in 2005, originally said a home-schooling package would cost about $1,000 per student per year. Parents who wanted teacher support would pay more.

Today, K12 receives an average of $5,500 to $6,000 per student from state and local governments. The schools also receive money for federal programs.

Because online schools do not collect every type of financing that goes to traditional public schools, Mr. Packard contends that his company’s schools, on a national average, cost taxpayers 40 percent less per student.

But online schools have negligible building costs and cheaper labor costs, partly because they pay teachers low wages, records and interviews show. Parents, called “learning coaches,” do much of the teaching, prompting critics to argue that states are essentially subsidizing home schooling.

“Any high school student taking economics could immediately recognize the fundamental flaws in their pricing structure,” said John E. Freund III, a Pennsylvania lawyer who represents a number of districts who are losing students to the online schools and the public financing that goes with them.

Because many states prohibit for-profit public education, the management companies for virtual schools run schools under contract with public districts or nonprofit charter schools, which also receive public money. But companies like K12 are almost fully in charge — devising curriculum, hiring teachers and principals and evaluating student performance.

Another way K12 maximizes its income is to establish schools in poor districts, which receive larger subsidies in some states. The company administers one of K12’s newest schools from Union County, Tenn., a mountainous Appalachian enclave where nearly a quarter of the residents live in poverty.

The Tennessee Virtual Academy is technically part of the local school district, which receives more per pupil from the state than most other districts in Tennessee. But of the school’s 1,800 pupils, few are actually from Union County.

Out of the state money, the Union County schools will get an administrative fee of about $400,000. K12 stands to collect almost $10 million to staff and manage the school. Dozens of other Tennessee counties, however, lost state financing when some of their students elected to go to the virtual school.

The online schools have enabled entrepreneurs like Michael R. Milken, whose company Knowledge Universe started K12 a decade ago and who remains an investor, to use education as a source of government-financed business, much as military contractors have capitalized on Pentagon spending.

Mr. Packard reports to investors every year with higher enrollment numbers and sales. On Nov. 15, he announced that the company’s online schools had enrolled more than 94,000 students. “I think online schools are becoming more mainstream,” said Mr. Packard, who was paid $5 million this year.

A sizable portion of the public money collected by K12 is rolled back into generating more business, a common practice by for-profit companies that nevertheless raises questions when the money is intended to educate schoolchildren. K12 spent $26.5 million on advertising in 2010, according to an analysis prepared for The New York Times by Kantar Media.

“Some of the cyber charter schools have fairly aggressive recruitment campaigns,” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. “They have vans, billboards, TV and radio ads. They set up recruitment meetings in area hotels and invite parents to come.”

K12 has run thousands of the sessions, where part of the pitch is supplying computers and subsidized Internet connections for qualifying families. Dr. Seidenberger said he was surprised to see ads for online schools in the outfield at Coca-Cola Park, the stadium of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs minor league baseball team.

The Churn

Parents who become interested in K12’s schools can follow up by calling 866 numbers, which connect them to a call center in Herndon.

School employees who have visited the center have described a high-pressured sales environment aimed at one thing: enrollment.

Some workers, called “enrollment pals,” are paid bonuses based on the number of students they sign up, according to former employees knowledgeable of the operations. Mr. Packard’s annual bonus is also partly tied to enrollment.

Because the online schools are public, students cannot legally be denied enrollment. But former K12 employees said the aggressive and impersonal enrollment process lures students who are not a good fit.

“When you have the television and the Xbox and no parental figure at home, sometimes it’s hard to do your schoolwork,” said one Agora teacher, who asked not to be identified because of concerns over job safety.

The constant cycle of enrollment and withdrawal, called the churn rate, appears to be a problem at many schools. Records Agora filed with Pennsylvania reveal that 2,688 students withdrew during the 2009-10 school year. At the same time, K12 continued to sign up new students. Enrollment at the end of the year — 4,890 — was 170 students more than at the beginning, obscuring the high number of withdrawals.

Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University who researches for-profit school management companies, called the turnover troubling. “The kids enroll. You get the money, the kids disappear,” he said.

A review of K12 management contracts reveals that the company may still benefit from students who end up leaving. Under its contracts with some charter schools, K12 charges “upfront” fees for books and other supplies.

According to an Agora price list for the 2009-10 school year, K12’s upfront billings for elementary and middle school students were $60 a course for online services, $75 a course for materials and $75 per student for computers. With students frequently enrolled in six courses, the fees could surpass $800.

Under some of K12’s contracts, only a portion of the fees would be returned if students withdrew quickly. Mr. Packard has said the company does not make money if students leave because of the cost of the materials and shipping.

The state audit of the Colorado Virtual Academy, which found that the state paid for students who were not attending the school, ordered the reimbursement of more than $800,000.

With retention a problem, some teachers said they were under pressure to pass students with marginal performance and attendance.

Students need simply to log in to be marked present for the day, according to Agora teachers and administrators.

For most students, attendance is recommended but not mandatory at what are called synchronous sessions — when they can interact online with the teacher. A new grading policy states that students who do not turn in work will be given a “50” rather than a zero. Several teachers said assignments were frequently open for unlimited retakes.

Agora records from last year show that failing students were told they could make up their work. “All students with a course average of 40 to 59 percent were called and told all assignments past due could be made up without penalty,” according to minutes from a school board meeting. Similar calls were going out to students with averages of 0 to 39 percent.

Theresa Henderson, an Agora teacher until June 2010 and the mother of four of its students, said she was among faculty members who requested a stronger policy to dismiss students who were not doing their work.

Several current and former staff members said that a lax policy had allowed students to remain on the rolls even when they failed to log in for days. Officials of the Elizabeth Forward School District in western Pennsylvania complained that Agora had billed the district for students who were not attending.

One of them was a girl who had missed 55 days but was still on the school’s roster, according to Margaret Boucher, assistant business manager at Elizabeth Forward.

The school has cracked down on disengaged students, according to a statement by its director, Sharon Williams, who said a policy adopted last December mandates attendance at online classes for those students who do not log in, repeatedly fail to complete lessons or are failing three courses. She said the school follows state law by removing students who are absent for 10 consecutive days.

Poor attendance and disengaged students have been such a problem that Agora dismissed 600 students last year for nonattendance, 149 of them just before state tests were administered, according to school board minutes.

The Students and Parents

With K12 estimating the market for its schools as high as $15 billion, the company’s manifest destiny is to expand across the United States. Its newest conquest is Tennessee, where the company got legislative approval last May and began holding information sessions in July.

By fall, 1,800 students had enrolled in the Tennessee Virtual Academy.

About 75 of them came from the struggling Memphis city school system, including the children of Denita Alhammadi.

In a neighborhood teetering on the edge of middle class, Ms. Alhammadi has converted her living room into a classroom. Two desks are for her children, Romeo, 13, and Yasmine, 8. Another is for Ms. Alhammadi, a former Army supply officer who is also studying online, through Kaplan University.

Within weeks of attending a K12 information session, Ms. Alhammadi had become parent and teacher, wrapped into one. She spends as much as six hours a day as the official “learning coach” for her children.

Like many parents who move their children to online schools, she had worried about violence. But no single reason leads families to make the switch. The students are a broadly diverse group, ranging from entertainers and athletes in training to children with cancer, seizure disorders, peanut allergies or behavioral problems. Some have been expelled from regular schools. In many cases their parents are simply dissatisfied.

Kathryn Ubiarco, whose son and daughter are also enrolled in Tennessee, said that her daughter’s school in Memphis had not been teaching her to read. “There’s no way to come up with the B that she got in reading last year,” Ms. Ubiarco said. “The child can’t read.” She believes the virtual school curriculum is more rigorous.

A lesson from a middle school world history class focuses on the history of the calendar and the recording of time. Intended to take one hour, the lesson opens online with an illustrated introduction. A video explains how time zones vary around the globe. After reading from a textbook, students define terms in a written journal. Then, the parent helps chart a timeline of the student’s own life.

The student can click on other online resources — flashcards, three timelines, two games and links to more than 20 other Web sites.

Students say the games are fun. They may encounter problems, though, when navigating the links. Of more than 20 links in the history lesson, five were not working on a recent day. Several linked to commercial sites including the History Channel and Yahoo Kids.

Students must score an 80 on an online assessment to move to the next lesson.

Some teachers have complained that it can be difficult to determine whether students are actually doing the work, or getting help from their parents or others. “Virtual schools offer much greater opportunity for students to obtain credit for work they did not do themselves,” said a report in October from the National Education Policy Center, which receives financing from the National Education Association.

Ms. Alhammadi, who runs her tiny school like boot camp, has hidden Romeo’s computer login so she has control. Otherwise, he would skip the lessons and move straight to the online test — a habit cited by critics of K12’s curriculum.

As two frisky cats run back and forth, Romeo raises his hand — a formality required by his mother — and asks to leave the room. He returns with headphones and plugs them into his computer. As he lip syncs Rihanna’s hit “Umbrella” it becomes clear that Romeo is not listening to any lesson. “I concentrate better with my music,” he says.

On his computer screen, a series of multiple choice questions ask him to select the correct answer to algebraic equations using negative numbers. Romeo scores a 67 percent.

When Romeo moves to science, he misses a question on the definition of matter.

“Romeo, Romeo,” his mother says. “If you had been studying appropriately, you would have found out that there are lots of properties of matter. And you got to take all those elements to build matter. Because elements are gas, solids, liquid.”

Romeo is scheduled for a virtual session with his assigned teacher and class at 1 p.m. But when he signs into the class, no one else is there. “Wow, the room is completely empty,” he says. He types, “Anyone here?” There is no response.

The Teachers

The monthly meeting of the Agora Cyber Charter School board of trustees is live on Blackboard, the same platform students and teachers use for class. During the November meeting, an elementary teacher, Jessica Long, placed a checkmark by her name, indicating she wanted to speak. Then she challenged school figures showing its student-to-teacher ratio is 49 to 1.

“I know on the elementary level we have anywhere from 70 to 100,” Ms. Long said. “I don’t know anyone who has 50 students.”

Some teachers said they were initially attracted to K12 by the flexibility of working from home, in some cases allowing them to take care of their own children while teaching.

Gwen Schwartz, an Indiana University graduate who teaches for the Tennessee Virtual Academy, works from her home in a remote area of eastern Tennessee while her children are next door with their grandparents. In addition to saving on child care, Ms. Schwartz can save on commuting costs and clothing.

But many teachers said the job had become less desirable as the company increased enrollment, particularly because pay at many K12 schools starts in the low 30s — low even for online schools. Some class sizes have become unwieldy, they said, requiring 60-hour weeks and compromising instruction.

At Agora, enrollment has reached 8,836, up from 6,323 in May, according to figures released by the school. As of late November, the total number of staff members — 408 — was lower than last year. Some high school teachers said they were managing as many as 270 students, even though they had been told they would have 150. Agora officials said last week that they hired 25 teachers in the past couple of weeks.

Some Agora teachers have been asked to take on extra students at the rate of $1 per student, per day, according to a newsletter from the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

In interviews, former teachers at Ohio Virtual Academy and Colorado Virtual Academy also complained of bigger class loads, with elementary teachers who once handled 40 to 50 pupils now supervising 75. A teacher with an elementary class that size and a 40-hour workweek could devote little more than 30 minutes a week to each student.

Mary Ravanelli, a former teacher at Ohio Virtual Academy, said she oversaw more than 70 students at a time, answering calls from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., updating parents on students’ progress and attending various school outings. “We’d actually meet our students several times a year,” she said.

With teacher salaries and benefits the biggest cost to K12, increasing student-to-teacher ratios is an easy way for the company to increase profits. Ms. Henderson, the former Agora teacher and mother of four students, said the ultimate losers are the children.

“What has happened now in honors literature courses, the teachers are not able to keep up with 300 students, so they’ll just cut curriculum. The kids are losing out,” she said. “This past week my son was exempted from ‘The Great Gatsby’ because of the workload of the teacher.”


“Choice” is a mantra of the charter school movement, which promotes competition as a way of compelling traditional public schools to improve. The for-profit companies that operate some charter and online schools take the idea a step further by arguing that private business models are more efficient than public school systems.

Together, the groups have formed a lobbying juggernaut in state capitals.

In Pennsylvania, where K12 Inc. collects about 10 percent of its revenues, the company has spent $681,000 on lobbying since 2007. The company also has friends in high places. Charles Zogby, the state’s budget secretary, had been senior vice president of education and policy for K12. In a statement, Mr. Zogby said he still owned a small number of K12 shares, but did not make decisions specifically affecting online schools.

An analysis by the National Institute on Money in State Politics concluded that K12 and its employees had also contributed nearly $500,000 to state political candidates across the country from 2004 to 2010.

One of the industry’s most persuasive promotional tools has been the young children who show up en masse at hearings to support online-school legislation. They are mobilized by groups tied to online schools. Records show that at least some receive industry funding.

When Karen Beyer, then a Pennsylvania state representative, sponsored a bill in 2007 to cut financing to online schools, about 700 people turned out for one hearing. Mr. Freund, the Pennsylvania education lawyer, said the room was “packed with kids.”

“They had on different colored T-shirts representing their cyber schools,” he added.

One of the organizers of such turnouts has been the Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber Schools. Records show that the group, which gets money both from K12 and Connections Education, has spent about $250,000 on lobbying in the past five years.

Similar family organizations have cropped up across the country.

Former State Representative Stephen Dyer became suspicious when members of the benignly named organization My School, My Choice paraded through his northeastern Ohio district carrying signs attacking him: “Why Won’t Rep. Stephen Dyer let parents choose the best education for their kids?”

The protest was prompted by questions Mr. Dyer had raised over the state’s financing formula for charter and online schools. The group describes itself as a coalition of parents, teachers and employees of the schools. But Mr. Dyer said that his wife questioned the people carrying the signs and found out they were paid temp agency workers.

A telephone call to a toll-free number on the Web site for My School, My Choice was returned by Mark Weaver, a Columbus lawyer and political consultant with Republican ties dating back to the Reagan administration.

Mr. Weaver said the group’s crowning achievement was a 2009 rally against legislation in Ohio that would limit school choice. “We put 4,500 people on the statehouse lawn,” he said. But he declined to answer questions about the group’s leadership and financing.

Documents incorporating the organization provide clues. The forms name one of the group’s founders as Tim Dirrim, a Huntington National Bank employee who serves as board president of the Ohio Virtual Academy, which is managed by K-12 and receives more than $60 million a year from the state. Mr. Dirrim said he knew little about My School, My Choice and was not aware of the campaign against Mr. Dyer.

Much of the Ohio Virtual Academy’s money goes through an account at Huntington National, according to the Ohio auditor’s office. Mr. Dirrim said the banking arrangement was made before he joined the board and that he did not make decisions relating to the bank’s account with the school.

The Results

Mr. Packard has repeatedly delivered upbeat assessments to Wall Street about the progress of K12 Inc. students, even as many schools were performing poorly on state tests.

In a conference in March sponsored by the investment firm Morgan Stanley, Mr. Packard said that “our kids are doing as well or better than the average child in a brick-and-mortar school.”

During an investment analysts call in October, Mr. Packard boasted about results at Agora, calling them “significantly higher than a typical school on state administered tests for growth.” Weeks earlier, data had been released showing that 42 percent of Agora students tested on grade level or better in math, compared with 75 percent of students statewide. And 52 percent of Agora students had hit the mark in reading, compared with 72 percent statewide. The school was losing ground, not gaining it.

Mr. Packard said in a recent interview that he was not aware of the data at the time he made the comments. A spokesman said Mr. Packard was relying on older data.

A Stanford University group, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, tracked students in eight virtual schools in Pennsylvania, including Agora, comparing them with similar students in regular schools. The study found that “in every subgroup, with significant effects, cyber charter performance is lower.”

Devora Davis, the center’s research manager, said the group’s analysis of Pennsylvania online schools showed that students were slipping. “If they were paired with a traditional public schools student, the public school student kept their place in line, and the cyberstudent moved back five spots,” she said.

An analysis by the Carroll County Public School District in Virginia shows that the 400 students in the virtual program there performed worse than the regular students in 19 of 26 categories on the state assessment test.

The Carroll County superintendent, James Greg Smith, said he was particularly concerned about scores in middle school math, history and social sciences. In seventh-grade math, for example, only 35 percent of the online students passed a state assessment; 68 percent of the traditional students did.

It will be a while before test results are available for students at the new virtual school in Tennessee. Back in Memphis, Ms. Alhammadi is worried that her daughter, Yasmine, is moving too quickly. A computerized analysis shows that, at the rate she is going, Yasmine will be finished with all but one of her classes by March.

Red flags go up if a student is “zapping through like a rocket, lesson by lesson,” according to Tom DiGiovanni, K12’s senior director of product planning. “The teachers are instructed to drop in (by phone) and do a little quiz to kind of test students” to make sure they understand the concepts.

Five miles from Ms. Alhammadi’s home, Ms. Ubiarco has also turned her living room into a classroom. Her daughter Sabrina, 10, is in the fifth grade and her son, K.C., 6, is in kindergarten at the Tennessee Virtual Academy.

Ms. Ubiarco is giving Sabrina a math lesson — about the distributive property — on a white board in the family’s living room.

While his mother focuses on his sister, K.C. is doing his own thing — lying on the carpet crashing cars into Spider-Man and Batman action figures.

For the most part, Mrs. Ubiarco said the switch to online had gone smoothly, although she was initially stumped when she first got the K12 curriculum.

“I called the teacher the other day to find out what a simple predicate is,” she said. “She said it’s the verb. I said why don’t they just say that?”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 14, 2011