Monday, February 28, 2011

The Battle in Wisconsin and rage among teachers

by Diane Ravitch.

Thousands of teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public sector workers have camped out at the Wisconsin Capitol, protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to reduce their take-home pay -- by increasing their contribution to their pension plans and health care benefits -- and restrict their collective bargaining rights.
Republicans control the state Legislature, and initially it seemed certain that Walker's proposal would pass easily. But then the Democrats in the Legislature went into hiding, leaving that body one vote shy of a quorum. As of this writing, the Legislature was at a standstill as state police searched high and low for the missing lawmakers.

Like other conservative Republican governors, including Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Rick Scott of Florida, the Wisconsin governor wants to sap the power of public employee unions, especially the teachers' union, since public education is the single biggest expenditure for every state.
Public schools in Madison and a dozen other districts in Wisconsin closed as teachers joined the protest. Although Walker claims he was forced to impose cutbacks because the state is broke, teachers noticed that he offered generous tax breaks to businesses that were equivalent to the value of their givebacks.
The uprising in Madison is symptomatic of a simmering rage among the nation's teachers. They have grown angry and demoralized over the past two years as attacks on their profession escalated.
The much-publicized film "Waiting for Superman" made the specious claim that "bad teachers" caused low student test scores. A Newsweek cover last year proposed that the key to saving American education was firing bad teachers.
Teachers across the nation reacted with alarm when the leaders of the Central Falls district in Rhode Island threatened to fire the entire staff of the small town's only high school. What got their attention was that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama thought this was a fine idea, even though no one at the high school had been evaluated.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thousands take stand in Sacramento for Wisconsin Workers' Rights

By Steve Smith, California Labor Federation
When Wisconsin’s new right-wing Governor decided to make it his personal mission to eliminate the rights of teachers, nurses, bus drivers and other public servants, he probably thought it would be a cakewalk. After all, Gov. Scott Walker has a Republican-controlled legislature that is on board with his radical plan to eliminate collective bargaining for public sector workers. What he didn’t count on was the extraordinary resolve of working people to stop his assault on our values. For more than a week, tens of thousands have protested at the Wisconsin Capitol. The fight back spread to Ohio, Indiana and other states where politicians are attempting to strip workers of their voice. And it didn’t stop there. All over the country, workers are standing in solidarity to beat back these attacks.

Last night, the spirit of solidarity was tangible in Sacramento, as more than 3,000 workers – teachers, Teamsters, nurses, ironworkers, janitors and many others – descended on the State Capitol to send a message loud and clear across California and the country: An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
Workers gathered on the West Steps of the Capitol for a candlelight vigil, but it turned into much more than that. Initial projections of 1,000 people turning out quickly dissolved as more and more folks poured onto the Capitol grounds.

California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski kicked off the vigil by putting the Wisconsin battle into context:
This protest is bigger than one bill. It is bigger than one state. This protest is not just about the public sector workers. It is not just about unions. This is about an assault on the working class values of this country. This is a fight for democracy that we cannot afford to lose. Not in Wisconsin, not in Sacramento and not anywhere in America.
Carrying signs with messages like “We Are ALL Wisconsin Workers” and “United We Bargain, Divided We Beg” the vigil attendees were energized and unified to fight back against any and all Wisconsin-style attacks on workers. Here in California, we’re fortunate to have a Governor who supports the rights of working people. In fact, Brown has been a staunch advocate for workers’ rights throughout his 40-year career. Brown, unlike Walker, has sought to bring people together to deal with our state’s challenges, rather than divide us. But if Meg Whitman would have won in November, it would be a whole other story.
California Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro:
We had our brush with Meg Whitman already. Now they have her in Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Michigan. You know where they’re not? California! We kicked their ass. We stood together, we stand together, and we will never stop standing in California. If you take on one of us, you take on all of us. We’re in this with workers around the country.
AFSCME member and University of California employee Katherine Barker reminded the crowd what’s at stake:
We are fighting for nothing less than basic freedom and democracy. We are fighting for the rights of working people to organizing and bargain for better working conditions. We are fighting for our rights. The bottom has fallen out for private sector workers. Now they are trying to drag the bottom out from under us. When you have your back against the wall, you stand together or you fall together. And you fight together. When the call is made, we have to answer the call.
Teachers have been among the most visible protesters in Wisconsin, and many California teachers turned out last night to show their support for all Wisconsin workers.
California Teachers Association President David Sanchez:
Organized labor did not create the financial crisis. Wall Street banks did. But public employees are being scapegoated. They are under attack. We will be with you today. We will be with you tomorrow. We will stand and fight together.
Sanchez later called on the crowd of thousands to raise candles in solidarity and joined labor musician Francisco Herrera in starting a rousing rendition of the song “Solidarity Forever.” Thousands joined in.
California workers are no strangers to being scapegoated for problems they didn’t create. Just ask state workers who had to live through seven years of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
SEIU 1000 President Yvonne Walker:
Governor Schwarzenegger thought he was going to break public employee unions here in California. We said: Hell No! We stood strong and beat back the attacks. We beat them back here in California. We will beat them back in Wisconsin. We will beat them back in Michigan. We will beat them back in Ohio and any damn place.
In the final analysis, the battle in Wisconsin comes down to one word: Freedom.
AFSCME’s Willie Pelote:
This is our country. We built it brick by brick from the bottom to the top. Their dollars cannot buy the labor movement. We need to create jobs not take away workers’ rights. It is time to let freedom ring for working people.
Dozens of elected officials -- including Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate President Darrell Steinberg, Senators Pavley, Liu, DeSaulnier, Hancock and Evans, Assembly Members Wieckowski, Mendoza, Alejo, V Manuel Perez, Solorio, Bradford, Torres, Buchanan, Lowenthal, Skinner and Yamada – all came out to show their solidarity and light a candle for the Wisconsin workers.
To show their solidarity, hundreds of California workers signed a special banner reading “We Stand with Wisconsin Workers” that will be delivered directly to the State House in Wisconsin as protests there continue. View photos here and here, and check out video from the vigil here and here
The show of support for Wisconsin workers wasn't limited to Sacramento, and it didn’t stop last night. More than 200 people gathered in downtown Oakland for a corresponding vigil, and last Friday, 150 came together for a rally in San Diego. More solidarity events are scheduled for this weekend. Click here to find an event in your area.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lessons from Labor History about the Wisconsin Struggle

Lessons for Wisconsin From the Flint Sit Down Strikes of 1936-37
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University
   With the state legislature in Wisconsion occupied and surrounded by thousands of state workers and their supporters, and with schools closed throughout the state because of teachers calling in sick, I cannot help but think of the greatest strike and building occupation in the history of the American labor movement- the Flint Sit Down Strikes of 1936-37.  Though the Wisconsin struggle is being led by government workers, and the Flint Strikes involved workers involved in automobile production, both movements took place during the worst economic crisis of their era and were fighting for the same goal- collective bargaining rights for working people through a union of their own choosing- and were much more about dignity and respect than about income.   
      The Flint Strike, which involved the occupation of 9 General Motors automobile plants over a  six week period, transformed the history of the industrial labor movement.  During December of 1936, when the first GM plant was seized and occupied, the entire automobile and steel industries in the United States were union free. When the strike was finally settled, both General Motors and United States Steel agreed to bargain collectively with the CIO ( Congress of Industrial Organizations) unions seeking to organize their industries.   
      The Flint Strike , though it was precipitated by local conditions- a fierce unrelenting speed up on the GM assembly line , the involvement of a Ku Klux Klan like organization called the Black Legion in suppressing labor unrest in GM plants- was part of a national movement to win bargaining rights for industrial workers. As a result, the Flint workers were supported by the national leadership of the CIO-led by the formidable John L Lewis- as well as their own national union, and numerous leftwing organizations including the Communist Party.  Though only GM workers actually occupied the factories, at key points in the strike, thousands of union workers  were mobilized to come down from other cities to make sure that right wing Citizens Committees were unable to storm the plants, and that food and medical supplies were delivered to the striking workers.  There were also doctors, nurses, lawyers, and journalists who came from all over the country to help the strikers.    By the second week of the sit-down strikes, it was clear to everyone involved that this had become a truly national movement
    The same dynamic must operate if the Wisconsin movement is to achieve its main goal- removal from the governor’s legislative program of any effort to weaken the bargaining rights of public workers in the state.  Unions around the nation who face similar initiatives ( in Ohio, Tennessee and New Jersey) must send delegations to join the occupation and the protests and give whatever financial and legal support is necessary to teachers who are keeping the local schools closed.  National union leaders who have a high public profile, people like Richard Trumka and Randy Weingarten, must not only come to Madison to offer their support of the movement, they must head straight to the White House to demand that President Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders come out aggressively in support of the Madison movement. Student social justice organizations must send delegations to Madison to join the thousands of students at the state’s public universities who have been a central part of this movement from the beginning.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Race to the Bottom: Obama school reform gone wrong

By Roger Bybee

Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.  
President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have
formed an alliance with billionaire "school reformers" whose agenda
is to downgrade U.S. public education and blame its shortcomings on
"bad teachers," warns educational historian Diane Ravitch.

Ravitch spoke Thursday night before a crowd of more than 1,000 education professors, students, public school teachers, and community activists at the
University of Wisconsin.

"These corporate reformers are pursuing a strategy based on ideology, not on evidence," she charged. "It is demoralizing teachers and setting up public schools to be de-legitimized, as they are called upon to meet impossible goals. This is not an improvement strategy, it is a privatization strategy."
Ravitch, once assistant secretary of education under George W.
Bush, has undergone a remarkable transformation after observing how
the education system became fixated on test results, the scapegoating of teachers and the promoting of a privatized approach to education.
She has now emerged as one of the leading critics of the Obama-Duncan approach to public education, which has been driven by funding from several huge foundations--the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edith Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family foundation.

The essence of this corporatized approach to public education is "choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making," as Joanne Barkan summarizes it an important Dissent article.
With progressive reforms for education generating little attention, the corporate model has managed to make surprising inroads among some  liberals who have become persuaded that a market-driven education system is key to America's future.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Save Our Schools March

The message we want to get out to as many people on Valentine’s Day is that everyone who cares about young people should also care about our public schools. Our best schools nurture our children and make them feel safe and able to take the risks they need to in order to learn. But our schools are in danger of becoming even more narrowly focused on test preparation while class sizes rise and teachers are blamed for the ravages poverty inflicts on their students.

We are responding. We love our schools. We declare the week of Valentine’s Day, 2011, to be
I  Love Public Education Blog Day. On this day we will write our hearts out, about why public education is so important to us, to our children, and to our democratic society. If you or your readers will join us and tell why you love public education too, send your comments and posts

Writing will be displayed at the website, and will be tweeted with the hashtag #LovePublicEd. We offer the march and events of July 28 to 31st in Washington, DC, as a focal point for this movement, and we ask participants to link to this event, so that we can build momentum for our efforts. If your readers wish to repeat this post on their own blog, we would welcome it. We would love if you could use our attached graphic to indicate that this is part of our campaign.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Obama Admin misleads on education reform - Krashen

The feds have spelled out their plans in detail, in their technology report, in the Blueprint, and in Duncan's speeches. It is a top-down, purely data-driven system with more testing than ever seen in history, with all tests, interim, summative, and maybe even pre-tests in the fall, closely linked to national standards. If the LEARN Act is ever part of this, we will also have a skills + test approach to everything in language arts, K-12. That's what in the documents.

In response, the professional organizations are eagerly supporting this brutal approach, or saying nothing. When challenged, they say they want a "seat at the table," which I suspect also means "a piece of the pie."

Instead of leading the way in education, they are doing what they can to allow the ignorant and uninformed to prescribe educational practice.

Don't take my word for it. Read the documents. A few samples: 

1. Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology (
Discussion of ongoing assessment during the school day, an unprecedented amount of control, even keeping track of how much time students take to solve parts of a problem:
"Learning science and technology combined with assessment theory can provide a foundation for new and better ways to assess students in the course of learning (xvii)"
There will be "technologies to “instrument” the classroom in an attempt to find out what students are thinking" while doing projects ("Assessing in the classroom" pp. 29-30)