Saturday, April 30, 2011

Parents group calls for reform of NCLB

Parents across America. Our proposals to reform NCLB
The US Congress is considering how to revise No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the most important federal law that governs our public schools.  NCLB has been extremely damaging in the eyes of most parents, and needs fundamental reform.  Unfortunately, the Obama administration plans to make it worse in many respects.
Parents Across America has developed our own blueprint, based upon less testing and privatization, more parent input, and a greater emphasis on evidenced-based reforms that have been proven to work to improve schools, such as class size reduction.  Our complete blueprint was featured on the Washington Post Answer Sheet, and is posted on our PAA website as a pdf here.
Please sign our petition in support of our proposals, and send a message to the President and the US Congress now!
Then  join us, as we fight for better schools!
Our children, our schools, our voices.

Monday, April 25, 2011

CTA's State of Emergency campaign

The “State of Emergency” campaign came to Main Street in Santa Clara today, drawing media attention to local impacts of the Legislature’s stalemate on the state budget crisis.
Silicon Valley teachers, parents and labor leaders held a news conference on Main Street to dramatize that their urgent demand for state lawmakers to extend some temporary taxes is really about “Main Street priorities” like protecting our schools, public safety and communities from devastating cuts.
Speakers were Don Dawson, CTA Board member and San Jose educator; teacher Tracy Pope, president of United Teachers of Santa Clara (UTSC); UTSC member, teacher and Santa Clara Unified School District parent Viola Smith; teacher Dave Villafana, president of Cupertino Education Association; Santa Clara Unified parent Stephen McMahon, president of the San Jose Teachers Association; San Jose firefighter Jeff Welch, president of San Jose Firefighters Local 230; and Anna Schlotz, lead organizer for the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council.
With tax deadline day looming on Monday, April 18, speakers thanked the public for paying the taxes that fund our services, but reminded them of the consequences of massive cuts if some temporary taxes are not extended. The governor is seeking the tax extensions as part of his balanced approach to ending the state’s crisis. Lawmakers have made $12 billion in cuts already, and must extend the taxes to close the remaining $15 billion deficit, said Don Dawson, a teacher in the East Side Union High School District and a member of the CTA board of directors.

Superintendents? Leaders? Why School Reform often fails

Stop Waiting for a Savior

DID Cathleen P. Black, the former publishing executive who was removed last week after just three months as New York City’s schools chancellor, fail because she lacked a background in education?
In this respect, she has had quite a bit of company over the decades. In 1996, Washington hired a former three-star Army general, Julius W. Becton Jr., to take over its low-performing schools; he left, exhausted, after less than two years. For most of the last decade, the Los Angeles Unified School District was run by non-educators: a former governor of Colorado, Roy Romer, and then a retired vice admiral, David L. Brewer III. They got mixed reviews. Raj Manhas, who had a background in banking and utilities, ran Seattle’s schools from 2003 to 2007, balancing the budget but facing fierce opposition over his plans to close schools.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who had hired Ms. Black without public discussion, quickly replaced her with a deputy mayor steeped in education policy. But the real issue is not the superintendent’s or chancellor’s background, but the excessive emphasis that politicians, educators and parents place on the notion of leadership rather than on empirical evidence about what improves education.
Even as the specific fixes advocated for schools have changed, the role of school-district leaders has gotten greater attention — and the selection process has become more political.
It doesn’t always take actual success to be lauded and promoted, nor does an education background guarantee anything. Roderick R. Paigebecame superintendent of Houston schools in 1994 and in 2001 parlayed his “Houston miracle” to become President George W. Bush’s secretary of education, and the point man for the No Child Left Behind law. That Houston’s test-score increases and low dropout rates were mirages did not impede Mr. Paige’s ascent or the emphasis on testing as a magic bullet.
Perhaps the best-known school leader today is Michelle A. Rhee, who was schools chancellor in Washington from 2007 to 2010. She aggressively took on the teachers’ union, but made more headlines than lasting reforms.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bill Gates and the Soap of Education

                                 Bill Gates and Soap of Education

     Bill Gates recently claimed class-size doesn’t matter.
     Mr. Gates, I need to talk to you about soap.
    I teach fifth grade in Castroville, California, and a former fifth-grade student, Rojelio (Ro for short), sends me powerful and disturbing gifts. He is twenty-seven now and freshly released from prison.  His gifts, although welcomed because they represent an ongoing seventeen year teacher-student bond, also unnerve me. Ro says they are for “hanging with him all these years.” His gifts have included a newspaper belonging to Charles Manson (A Christian Science Monitor – go figure), and four Sudoku puzzles completed by Sirhan Sirhan. Today he gave me a bar of soap. Inscribed on it are three letters, PIA -- Prison Industries Authority.
     My student has been incarcerated for thirteen-plus years - since he was an eighth-grader. He got the newspaper and the Sudoku puzzles when he was on the same tier as Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. He played chess--a game I taught him in fifth-grade-- with both men. 
   Rojelio’s mom called me, “Mr. Karrer, Ro is coming home on Sunday. Can you straighten his ass out? We’re having a party for him. You wanna’ come?”
     Can I straighten him out? Probably not.  Will I keep on trying to help him? Yes.
So, today right after class, we met at Starbucks. He spotted me and walked to my car, big grin under his nose. He had put on lots of weight. Last time I saw him was in Salinas Valley State Prison, over two years ago. He was in ankle chains, waist chains, then chained from his waist to his ankles, and handcuffed.
      But today, we hugged and he passed me a paper cup with the soap in it.  He said, “Got a present for you, pretty rare. I’m surprised the correction officers let me take it out. It’s worth a couple bucks on E-bay.” He laughed and added, ”Plus, with the cutbacks we only get half a bar now.”
        He didn’t get an education in prison. I have sincere worries that he was in no way rehabilitated. He has little to show for thirteen years of incarceration. Basically he walked out of prison with one thing and he gave that to me - a prison issue bar of soap.
       Mr. Gates, you don’t get it. Those of us teaching in the urban areas see communities and children wallowing in pitiful, desperate poverty. You have no idea how distressed my students are. Nor how slim their margin of survival is.  Last year, fifty percent of my students had set foot in a jail or a prison to visit a family member. The many staggering deficiencies which accompany that reality are overwhelming and swirl around in a negative critical mass, pulling down students’ academics, motivation, and life’s bright shine. Rojelio is the end product of that wretched poverty. And unfortunately he’s not alone. Armies of kids are in line behind him waiting to join gangs.
     You say good teachers are the most important variable in a classroom. Well, you are wrong. It is home life or lack thereof. All teachers can do is assist. I’d like to think I do.  If you think we are so important, then aid us – by helping these kids who need the most. So many of my kids end up in jail or prison. Actually, in communities of raw despondence, smaller class size does matter. It’s one of the very few things that can impact the despondence of their daily lives.  But you think it doesn’t and you are a billionaire. I’m just a front line teacher.  What do I know?
   As for Ro, the odds are stacked against him. He’s never been in a plane, never held a meaningful job, didn’t finish school past eighth-grade. He’s a validated gang member and a felon with one strike. There’s a sixty percent recidivism rate waiting for him.
   As for me, I missed Ro’s coming back party, but I’m going over for dinner. I also hope I won’t be receiving any more presents from him.
   Class size matters Bill Gates, it matters big time. You need to clean up your thinking. And if you want to borrow some soap to do it I have some… unfortunately. 

Paul Karrer

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Save Our Schools March

Save Our Schools March.
Exon Mobil, $156 million. Bank of America, $1.9 billion. General Electric, $4.1 billion. Chevron, $19 million. These highly profitable companies, and many others like them, received these extraordinarily large amounts of money back as tax refunds. Yes that’s right, Republican lawmakers at the state and federal levels are trying to convince the American public that we need to decimate critical services like Medicare and public education so that we can hand over our money to these companies.

In the most intense ideological battle since Newt Gingrich was in office, Republicans at state and federal levels are holding fast to plans to extend tax breaks and implement drastic cuts to a variety of social services, including education. In California, the health care community, K-12 public schools and public institutions of higher education are steeling themselves for unknown levels of losses.
But for public school supporters the challenge is doubly difficult. Not only do we need to fight more forcefully than ever for the minimal, insufficient funding that schools currently receive, we must also fight for a totally revamped approach to education. Education activists across the nation have made the painful realization that President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are no friends to the project of providing a quality education to all children. If anything, the programs and proposals of this administration have set schools back even further than under the Bush regime. Certainly they have only reinforced the approaches established by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and their destructiveness has been extended through the outrageous Race To The Top (RTTT) competition, that attempts to pass for policy.

We have no choice but to face facts--public education is under attack from all sectors of elected leadership, regardless of party. There is no one now to turn to other than ourselves, which may in fact be the best position to be in. Asking to be invited to the conversation about improving our schools for all kids has only resulted in a controlled pacification of parents, a grinding down of educators, and more sophisticated means of covering up where are schools are failing our students.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Who is Bashing Teachers?

By Stan Karp
The short answer to this question is that far too many people are bashing teachers and public schools, and we need to give them more homework, because very few of them know what they’re talking about. And a few need some serious detention.
But the longer answer is that the bashing is coming from different places for different reasons. And to respond effectively to the very real attacks that our schools, our profession, and our communities face, it’s important to pay attention to these differences.
The parent who’s angry at the public school system because it’s not successfully educating his/her children is not the same as the billionaire with no education experience who couldn’t survive in a classroom for two days, but who has made privatizing education policy a hobby, and who has the resources to do so because the country’s financial and tax systems are broken.
The educators who start a community-based charter school so they can create a collaborative school culture are not the same as the hedge fund managers who invest in charter schools because they see an opportunity to turn a profit or because they want to privatize one of the last public institutions we have left.
The well-meaning college grad who joins a Teach for America program out of an altruistic impulse is not the same as the corporate managers who want to use market reforms to create a less expensive, less secure, and less experienced teaching force.