Churn, Churn, Churn

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Churn, Churn, Churn

[With sincere apologies to the late Pete Seeger…]

 

For charter schools– churn, churn, churn

There is one purpose– earn, earn, earn

And no time for equity in education

 

A time to recruit, a time to hire

A time for ads, a time to conspire

A time to fib, a time to conceal

A time to invest, a time to make the deal

 

For charter schools– churn, churn, churn

There is one purpose– earn, earn, earn

And no time for equity in education

 

No time for doubt, no time to think

No time to reflect, more bucks for machines

No time to inhale money’s stink

No time to heed the voice of learners

 

For charter schools– churn, churn, churn

There is one purpose– earn, earn, earn

And no time for equity in education

 

Get rid of real pros, the TFA plan

Get only the young, they don’t have a clue

Get rid of the educators who squawk

Get rid of all who are not the true believers

 

For charter schools– churn, churn, churn

There is one purpose– earn, earn, earn

And no time for equity in education

 

A time to open, a time to close

A time to arrive, a time to flee town

A non-profit gig that pays owners well

The public’s been conned, I hope it’s not too late!

 

 

Charter schools are for the Byrds.

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Coercion—the Post-democratic Tradition?

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Gates Menace

”Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature.”            Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

When Jefferson wrote those words, he was emphasizing the need a democratic society has for tolerance of minority viewpoints. Today, even majority viewpoints may be subjected to coercion—by those whose pocketbooks enable them to purchase tremendous political power and who use that power to undermine democratic process in the public realm. The Gates Foundation subverts democracy by determining the “correct” path for public education, funding secret meetings and promoting private decisions—and misrepresenting those decisions as legitimate public policy. These actions fly in the face of American tradition and violate any sense of legitimacy.

Today, we hear people talk about the “Founding Fathers” as if they were some monolithic bloc of unanimous assent to the policies enacted by our national government. In reality, they were a bag of cats, arguing, conniving (and drinking) to create a constitution that might satisfy the needs of a diverse population. At least three delegates did not sign the final document. The Founding Fathers did, in fact, work secretly—a choice made to alleviate public outcry that might prevent full and uninhibited exploration of possible answers to the young nation’s problems. But while the meetings were held in secret, the attendees at the Constitutional Convention were legitimate representatives, granted authority by their respective states to make decisions on their behalf. The final document was then open to public debate and ratification—a heated contest, to be sure, and one that took nearly a year to complete. The Founding Fathers, lacking the hubris of corporate oligarchs, anticipated that changes to the Constitution might be desired, and provided a clear means to do so.

It was a model of democratic decision-making.

How well does the creation story of the Common Core State Standards measure up to that model? Not very.

The committee members for the CCSS were chosen by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). None of the NGA Educational Division staff had K-12 experience. You might expect that the members of the CCSS Math and English Language Arts Work Groups would have had extensive classroom teaching experience, but you’d be disappointed. Out of the 24 members, less than half had any classroom experience at all, and several of those were experienced in a content area other than that of their committee work. 14 members had direct ties to testing companies. That tells me that people were not primarily selected for professional qualifications, but that ties to the less-than-edifying testing industry counted at least as much. It also suggests to me that the purpose of the group was not to compose a document primarily for student benefit, but was instead to build a system that would be mined for profit. The fox was building the henhouse and designing the security system, so to speak. No wonder NGA and the CCSSO resisted releasing the names of committee members— obvious conflicts of interest between the common good and commercial interests were the rule.

These conflicts of interest alone ought to have caused queries of corruption; add to them the secrecy concerning membership and the process by which the committee worked and there is no reason left to grant legitimacy. Anyone believing that the CCSS is a document that has earned the right to be enforceable public policy has little understanding of democratic process.

Beyond all of this is the omission from the document of any method for ratification or amendment. CCSS was a fait d’accompli on arrival, since state officials were asked to commit themselves before the working committees ever met. In fact, the CCSS is not exactly a “public document” in any real sense, since ownership remains in the hands of the NGA and the CCSSO. This group got Arne Duncan and the federal Department of Education to act as their enforcers, making adherence to the CCSS part of the requirements states must meet for taking federal dollars. No state or individual has any legal power to demand reconsideration of the CCSS in whole or part, and probably never will.

At the rotten core of this perversion of democratic process is the Gates Foundation. Over $170 million dollars has been provided by Bill Gates to fund the creation and implementation of CCSS. These donations are not benevolent grants provided without strings to further a common good. They are at first bribes offered to public officials who, starved for ongoing revenue sources for any educational initiative, jumped on board without due diligence. They are at last the basis for coercion of the states, which must adhere to requirements for testing by companies that created the tests corresponding to the CCSS… and the (at least) equal coercion of teachers, for states must use those test results as a means for evaluating educators.

The power of law has been granted to CCSS without the necessary process to assure public input and debate. Coercion, rather than professional debate, has taken precedence as the source of educational policy.

That coercion is geared to turn math and English language arts classrooms into production venues of standardized, homogenized instruction. “All children can learn” becomes “All children will learn what, how, and when we want them to, and for as long as we make money from it…”

Thomas Jefferson warned against people like Bill Gates over 230 years ago. Bill Gates is that fallible man who is governed by a bad passion for privatized, monetized, and standardized education. He seeks uniformity because it provides a sense of certainty in a field which ought to reject anything of the sort. Corporations can’t adequately predict needs and outcomes if educators creatively expand horizons of learning as they work alongside students. As Gates said, back when the CCSS committees were just getting started, “When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.”

Mr. Gates, the common good is not compatible with coercion. When your “donations” are offered to grateful educators so that they can do meaningful professional work in a democratic setting, you’ll be welcome to join in at the appropriate moment for public input. You are not welcome to pre-determine the topics for discussion, nor the outcomes of those discussions. You are not welcome to disregard the voices of professionals or to fund the coercion of educators.

We intend to close the door on Mr. Gates.

Join the Washington State BATs on June 26, 2014, at the door of the Gates Foundation, Seattle, WA!

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Data—Dada—Dodo?

DataDataDodoPic2

 

“Speak roughly to your little boy


and beat him when he sneezes

he only does it to annoy


because he knows it teases.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The word “data” has invaded my teaching environment in new and un-intriguing ways over the past few years. To my mind, data is verifiable quantification of some variable over a period of time or space. Data sources I like to use in my history classes include maps—which are almost magical in packing both time and space together—and charts, which permit analysis of varied combinations of data. New on my living room wall is a map of the original Jamestown Colony, which constantly provokes new questions of relationships and consequences. Struggling with the questions that data suggests is some of the most rewarding work I do along with students. We don’t usually find the answers, but we expand our understanding and sure rack up a list of good queries to pursue!

I like data.

That side of data is not what I hear much about. Instead, teachers are asked to collect “data” on student achievement in their classroom in order to “improve instruction.” Districts need data! Are students up to standard? Did you use the Common Formative Assessment that your district Committee to Forestall Creativity and Professional Judgment created to go along with the Uncommonly Boring State Standards that were produced by a Secret Committee for Undemocratic Mandates? Since teachers must provide “data” to prove that students who don’t care about standards are mastering standards teachers did not choose to create or abide by, a “smart teacher” creates goals that are almost impossible not to achieve, or simply alters the data to suit. Data is no longer a tool of informed judgment, but a means of quantifiable coercion. Data “speaks roughly” to us in the tones of Duchess Michelle Rhee rather than conversing with us as Socrates might.

The surreal feeling of participation in a system that corrupts the meaning and use of data not only prompts alienation of teachers from their occupation, but also incites self-loathing. Somehow, teachers know that collecting data for an end of the year summary evaluation meeting has limited relevance to the development of student ability to participate effectively as an individual in a democracy. If you are compiling a stack of “evidence,” you sure aren’t talking with students, or working alongside them as meaningful, productive data is pored over. Data can lead us to greater interaction and thoughtful engagement in the process of learning, or it can limit our scope to one or two measurements, chosen a priori. Data becomes dada, because the natural and dynamic quality of data has become an obstacle to education.

I love the absurd and participate in it daily with gusto, but a system that is supposed to have serious merit should not be based on a preposterous notion. It is definitely absurd to think that persons drawn to a humanistic endeavor like teaching would value the reductionist quantification of learning this notion of data represents. Absurdity ought to make me laugh. This absurdity makes me wince, and every administrator doing their final evaluation meetings ought to cringe with embarrassment if they are focusing on numbers rather than the professional judgments that stem from them.

The true purpose of this system is to transfer students to a system where achievement can be thoroughly quantified and “individualized,” with those poor learners all becoming perfect replicas without blemish—of a systematically neutered blandishment. Machines do this sort of thing better and better, and do it without internal conflict. Computers collect data faster and more accurately than any human, and apply it without concern for irrelevant factors like, say, whether the learner had breakfast or a parental hug before school.

Data—Dada—Dodo. The extinction of teachers as a species is inevitable if we do not contest the perception of data as the final arbiter of educational excellence. I believe teachers will speak up to demand attention to the un-quantified and undervalued professional judgments that are necessary to a rounded educational experience and which do not exist without human interaction.

I may be a dinosaur, but nobody’s diggin’ my bones yet.

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

 

Are You Laughing or Crying?

Market Forces Joke

I’m a big fan of comedians who can put me in stitches while remaining apparently oblivious to their own jokes. I don’t need tickets to a comedy club to have my funny bone tickled, though. All I have to do is listen to what Bill Gates and other assorted dilettantes have to say about public education.

Gates broke out of the education comedy pack with his gig at the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2009, where he said that a common set of standards in education would “…unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching.” His frank and edgy humor surprised people who didn’t understand that what he says to get laughs out of an audience he himself takes perfectly seriously.

Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” This is Bill at his most sophisticated; after all, he knows full well that teachers are his tools. Technology is the means by which they will be pushed aside, so that students—instead of working together—will work separately, each facing their own glowing screen. Just another example of Bill’s subtle humor.

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” This quip always makes me chuckle. Bill’s a magnificently successful businessman who just can’t imagine that educators might not share his views, and that’s why I enjoy watching him set himself up for a fall. I’d love to have a handful of bananas to toss in his path. Better yet, I think I’ll sell bananas to educators outside the Gates Foundation headquarters here in Seattle. I’ll be as rich as Mr. Gates in no time.

If you think that Bill kills with his one-liners, you ought to listen to the slick yarns the Koch Bros. like to promote.

Koch Industries leads with the statement, “…all forms of energy—whether oil, gas, wind, solar or biofuels—should be allowed to succeed or fail on their own in the free market, without the assistance (or hindrance) of government subsidies or mandates.” The punch line? The Kochs buy and sell about a tenth of all ethanol produced in the US, picking up plenty of cash from government subsidies. What a hoot!

And how about this “well-Koched” nugget: “We always strive to act with integrity, even if it’s politically unpopular.” Hey, maybe that’s why they spend so much on political campaigns! By winning, they can act without integrity and blame voters for the popularity of their ideas…Kinda makes me think that the boys have confused integrity with consistency, because their unethical actions certainly have established a pattern. Maybe they share a learning disorder and need 504 plans?

Their ideas for higher education are even funnier. The Kochs, paragons of virtue that they claim to be, recently handed Florida State 1.5 million dollars, asking that the university establish a course called “Market Ethics: The Vices, Virtues, and Values of Capitalism.” Suggested textbooks? (Wait, wait…) The books of Ayn Rand! (Cue groans from audience.)

The Kochs are equal-opportunity jokesters, and have no compunction about playing pranks on religious as well as secular educators. For instance, the funny fellas dangled a cool million in front of the staff at Catholic University of America in DC, with the requirement that the institution teach “principled entrepreneurship.” When the faculty identified the consistent principles of the Kochs as greed and duplicity, they demanded that the money be rejected. The Kochs seem to have had the last laugh, however. University officials pointed out that parochial colleges have been accepting Koch Koin for some time, and they saw no reason to demonstrate fidelity to ridiculous ideals like truth or social conscience at this late date. I got a pretty good laugh out of the idea that people might expect otherwise.

You know, you can choose to cry about the damage done to society by these purveyors of falsehood, but their claims deserve belly laughs, and that’s no joke.

Let’s just make sure we have the last laugh.

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

One Step at a Time

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DeaconSarcophagusBats

I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”                         Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Hope is an aspiration in itself. I’ve grown in hope as well as in despair for our public school system for some time. I’ve learned that hope and despair are necessary partners, not oppositional forces. If you are working for recognition of a fundamental truth in conflict with the interests of the wealthy, history says that you will learn this lesson. A few examples:

  • Thomas Clarkson, worked from 1787 to 1846 to eradicate slavery as a part of the British Empire and the United States. He did not live to see America in upheaval over bondage, and probably doubted it would ever occur, despite the demise of slavery in British colonies.
  • David Walker wrote aggressive abolitionist literature to contrast the lives of slaves with the values of democracy. He saw the Nat Turner rebellion crushed.
  • And finally there is Abigail Adams, whose entreaty to her husband, “remember the ladies,” went largely unheeded. Her suggestion that women’s rights existed absent a law to protect them only brought forth fruit in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. There is no indication that Mrs. Adams felt her words had no effect on her husband, or lost hope for women’s rights. Still, she must have been galled by the revocation of suffrage for women in New Jersey in 1807.

Each of these people not only did not live to see their fight “won,” but also witnessed setback after setback in their attempts to promote the idea of equal rights as inherent to a functioning democracy. We should expect no less. As our voices rise in volume to proclaim public schools off limits to corporate exploitation, we will be subject to political attack and professional harassment. Corporations can purchase loud amplifiers for their messages, assuming that if they drown us out, we’ll shut up.

Let’s not.

Instead, when we feel beaten up in the press, or when corporate dollars do prevail in a given political campaign, let’s take it as a sign that our voices have had an effect on public debate. It’s going to be a long, hard slog to make our message connect with the lives of persons who send their children to us for an education.

Right now, there is something each of us can do in the fight to protect public education.

Remember, corporatists value the bottom line more than anything. Now, individually, we can’t make much of an impression by refusing them our patronage. As a group, however, we can have a real impact. Why give your consumer dollars to corporations who work to violate the right of citizens to have an education free of corporate influence? Martin Luther King, Jr. said as much in his “Mountaintop” speech when he encouraged people not to purchase Wonder Bread. And that’s a great place to begin.

Flowers Foods: These guys produce Wonder Bread, Tastykakes, and Nature’s Own brands, among many, many others. They also give a greater percentage of their political donations to Republican organizations that sponsor attacks on public education than any other corporation. Surely you can find another bakery—perhaps in your own neighborhood—that bakes bread, but doesn’t scorch basic rights in the process?

I challenge you to identify and publish the names of other products peddled by corporate pirates who target the democratic values of a free and public education. Put them in a reply to this blog—and provide at least one link to substantiate each of your claims.

Help us compile a list that all soldiers in the fight against corporatism can consult. Then, we will post the list wherever those soldiers may be.

Just another step. It’s one step we can all take, whether we individually ever see the “Promised Land” ourselves.

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Academic Football with No Pads

batsfootball2

 

I’ve got to admit a level of hypocrisy when it comes to the subject of football. I’m against it. I’m also a Seattleite who went as nuts as anyone when the Seahawks took all the marbles. Still, those are two different subjects, really. Putting children in a situation where concussions are likely, not just possible, is unconscionable in my book. The risk an adult athlete wants to take in order to earn a significant salary is, short of outright murder in the ring, an appropriate decision to leave up to the individual.

The children in our care in the public schools are subjected involuntarily to a daily game of academic football, minus pads. The “concussions” are emerging even now; Louis C.K. speaks eloquently on that subject, and I expect many, many similar stories to emerge in coming days. When abusive standardized testing is forced upon students, the curriculum narrows, the educational experience is diminished, and the need for more testing is justified…and the circle goes ‘round and ‘round.

It’s time to admit the damage done due to institutionalized underfunding that has led school districts everywhere to become dependent on federal or corporate dollars. That need for funding has opened the door to coercion of state and district leaders by federal officials who have no constitutional authority to demand anything of them. When dollars, politics, and educational philosophy intersect, it ain’t a pretty sight, though…stuff happens.

The damage is evident when students—regardless of developmental disability, emotional instability, academic background or language understanding—are required to take a test, lest the school be penalized for being unwilling to test everyone. When a decision for kindness, for reason and humanity is declared inappropriate in order that corporations may more easily calculate “academic goals” in winning educational contracts, the system tosses children without reasonable protection into a game they do not comprehend. These students gain nothing from participating in the process, but are mined for information of value to a corporate entity.

The damage is evident in the diminished commitment to the process of education I see in student eyes year by year. As demands for “rigor” have grown, alongside the institution of “safety net” classes to improve test scores, the academic breadth of experience has diminished for students who give up “electives” to double up on a purely academic subject. Increasingly, we will see these remedial courses placed on-line, and if any specific connection is necessary between student and teacher…best of luck. Students who experience learning as a deeply personal collaboration will resent the constraints of “standards” as much as they do standardized testing now.

The damage is evident in the time students lose for further enrichment and guidance in the classroom due to excessive standardized testing. The amount of time varies widely from state to state, but it has increased dramatically for all during the past two decades. A lost week? Is that justified? How about places where yearly testing takes up even more time? Are their teachers able to use the time while students are testing to do productive work, or are they misused as very expensive proctors? How much do students lose when school administrators, office staff, and instructional support personnel are entirely focused on the organization of test materials, staff training, and test administration rather than the real and present needs of children? I think the public at large would be outraged to know the true costs of standardized testing, including hours spent on proctoring, organization and administration.

Students deserve a safe, healthy environment for learning. Excessive standardized testing is not conducive to that end. The information generated by those tests is unlikely to benefit students either directly, or through the creation of greater opportunities in their future. Rather, that information will be exploited to extract value in form of payment for increasing student adeptness in taking those same lousy tests that tell students nothing.

The only profit in public education should accrue to the learner, who should feel that they have gained by the opportunity to pursue happiness in a socially responsible way, and that they are ready to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. When that basic principle is met, students will find themselves in a safe and healthy environment , with pads firmly in place as they compete and cooperate in the supreme individual and team full-contact learning challenge!

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

AlbertHandsome

I used to live in a room full of mirrors

All I could see was me

I took my spirit and I smashed those mirrors

Now the whole world is here for me to see

Jimi Hendrix

 

It is maddening to be assaulted with the cacophony of demands on public schools today. Schools (and by that I mean teachers) are expected to “fix society” in any number of ways. Each of these goals has a degree of merit, and it is not surprising that non-educators might hope that they would be met within the K-12 years. These expectations cannot be met, however. Schools have never, and will never, “fix society.” Instead, schools reflect the society they exist within.

Anti-bullying programs will not rid us of people who want to push society in one direction or another. Ask the Koch Bros. and Bill Gates if this isn’t so. “Raising standards” will not cause children to escape the effects of poverty or emotional deprivation. Teaching Shakespeare in elementary school will not inoculate future generations against the Duck Dynasties of the future.

The purpose of public schools is to preserve a democratic society by assisting citizens in their pursuit of happiness and to prepare citizens to take an active role in public affairs. Corporatists instead insist that education is utilitarian; that it functions to provide a workforce that will maintain American dominance in world markets. They work toward ensuring that every reflection of corporatism remains permanent—toward a society that shapes itself to a corporate structure, paralyzed by a need for certainty.

Corporatists are determined folks. They can amplify their messages and the political consequences of their beliefs in proportion to their willingness to use their cash. They believe that their position in society is evidence of the equivalence of capitalism and democracy, and that their socioeconomic status therefore entitles them to dominate the political scene. It’s a circular argument that has the added advantage of perpetuating their power.

It does not serve corporatists to have an engaged citizenry. They would much rather that citizens be passive spectators, disaffected by political chicanery and alienated from a government they do not think they can affect. This leaves civic affairs firmly in the hands of the one percent who distort democracy by manipulating the language of debate and purchasing the loyalty of persons who possess political power.

Corporatists want us to change the “mirror” rather than change our society. They demand a school system that conforms to market-driven forces. The mirror they offer is a distorted one; one that reflects with limited focus and exaggerated promise the possibilities of an instrumentalized education. We who have great experience in keeping the mirror in focus have been excluded from decisions that only those anointed by corporatists or their lackeys are permitted to influence. These anointed ones possess little or no experience with the population of students we engage with daily, yet feel entitled to meet behind closed doors to undermine the curriculum and limit student opportunities.

Jimi Hendrix encouraged us to smash the mirrors surrounding us, but I believe that refocusing and a bit of polish may yet permit us to enlarge and expose the image of society those mirrors reflect. Truth exists in mirrors that are square and plumb, not those built with distorting curves. That refocusing can only begin when the warping curves of education deform are straightened by teachers who demand transparency in the processes leading to determination of curriculum and the goals of public education.

At the same time, we must not permit corporatist initiatives such as CCSS and excessive standardized testing to dishearten us. If we do, our dismay will breed the apathy that permits corporatists’ unfettered control of the one institution that exists to provide students with experiences likely to instill commitment to democracy rather than oligarchy.

No, mirrors don’t fix anything, but they do permit us to consider those aspects of ourselves that might deserve attention. The discussions that can result from honest self-reflection are the heart of democracy. But there is no honesty in the reflection I see from the corporatist’s mirror. Their vision is of a profit-driven and profit-producing educational system, for that is the sort of society they are committed to. It is a society as bereft of humane interest as it is ravenous for mammon.

And yet, the number of people who have encouraged me during these “dark times” heartens me. If we all will reach out to others with and for support, our schools and world–and we ourselves–will be better for it. If we connect, then we will be able to make a commitment to a society that we will be proud to be mirrors for. My commitment is to a society that is inclusive, supportive, and fundamentally democratic and to an educational system that reflects those values.

What do you want to see in the mirror? Let’s make the changes to our society needed to bring that vision into focus in our schools.

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014