Posts Tagged 'testing'

Susana’s Trojan Horse

Here we go again, more of the relentless pursuit of public education, public school teachers, and the future of New Mexico’s children. The Governor’s empty meme about ending social promotion is intended to appeal to an audience that knows nothing about teaching and learning. Holding kids back is not educating them — it is humiliating them and nothing more. Public humiliation of children is not and never was, a proper or true pedagogical method. Although devoid of valid educational content third grade retention is a useful Trojan Horse. And, like that legendary ruse it is hollow and full of danger. Grade retention creates more resentment than any positive educational outcome, it is simply antedeluvian, so why do it? If reading by third grade is some sort of holy grail, and there is no objective proof that it is, then the proper response is to determine why a kid isn’t learning and deal with that. Grade levels are arbitrary, they are merely inventions for administrative convenience. Everyone, including the Governor and her nominee for Secretary of Education, learns at her own rate – obviously a bit slowly in some cases perhaps but with proper pedagogy she can learn.

This war on education that has nothing to do with improving public schools. It has only one objective – privatization. No Child Left Behind, Common Core, charter schools, one Trojan Horse after another. Test this, test that, tests and more tests to no end but to prove public schools are failing. Failing what? Failing to put money in the pockets of the so-called reformers like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch boys. It is nothing less than creating a crisis and offering a solution to it; exactly like starting a fire, pretending to be putting it out, and attracting a lot of public attention. What better way to put wannabe presidential hopefuls into the public eye than to label them education reformers?

While it is true public education could stand thorough and thoughtful discussion, that doesn’t justify the perfidy expressed by today’s self-identifying Republican reformers. The motives, as separate from objectives, are first and foremost profit and secondly – self-promotion. The desired objective – social control by way of dumbing down the public. If you can create a population with few or weak critical thinking skills, they become easy to manipulate. How better to achieve this than by controlling public education and turning it into an assembly line producing the compliant “good” citizens you need. Does this seem totally paranoid to you? Think again. Fox “News” is a good example of this manipulation.

Certainly a well educated thoughtful citizenry would not be willing to go along easily with destroying social security, health care, public safety, safe food, and safe consumer products. A thoughtful activist population is anathema to the relentless quest for profit and accumulated wealth. Consider that the richest of the rich already pay little or no taxes while the middle-class bears the burden. Wealthy individuals and corporations can stash their wealth off-shore because they are “smarter” than the general public and they have the best tax advisors money can buy. In their view, only suckers pay taxes. And, if you can really dumb people down they won’t even notice they are being used as lackeys. Make sure they can buy (on credit) snowmobiles, motor homes, huge screen TVs, one new gadget after another that no one needs – keep them distracted, keep them entertained and they will be willing happy campers. Temporarily lower gasoline prices and people will run out to buy large gas-guzzling pick-up trucks. Stimulus and response. The drones will keep making their installment payments and the cash will flow into offshore accounts. If people can’t make their payments repossess the goodies and sell them to someone else. It’s all good.

Once the “reformers” have their tentacles wrapped firmly around whatever it is they want, the chances of the public regaining it are slim to none. That includes public education because the ultimate objective is privatization and nothing to do with educating children. While billionaires are drooling behind the curtains providing campaign funds, their shameless lackeys are out beating the drums and promoting themselves as educational reformers on the backs of children. It doesn’t take much really, a little vigorish here and there, a thousand here a thousand there, and soon it’s real money – but peanuts actually compared to the possible return-on-investment. Schools, teachers, national education organizations have been forced into a rear guard war against a monster machine that intends to roll over them in the endless quest for profit on the one hand and self-promotion on the other. Never mind the consequences for the American social contract. (Or what’s left of it.)

Public education is vulnerable. Governors and other politicians with presidential ambitions have put schools in a free-fire zone where nothing is logical or sacred. Politicians with no background or experience as educators use issues like third grade retention to draw attention to themselves. The Trojan Horses are being rolled through the gates. Stop them now or lose public education.

Looping Ms Skandera

In computer programming loops are repetitive iterations of the same operation used to carry out specific tasks. The computer having no brain and no sense of monotony simply repeats the script ad infinitum until a particular condition is satisfied. The New Mexico legislature seems to be in some kind of incarnation of the loop phenomenon. We have been running the Skandera loop for going on five years now, over and over again and with the same result. It’s an interesting question to ask about people who keep repeating the same action, using the same information, producing the same result, but thinking the next time the result will be different.

Skandera, after five years has yet to be confirmed by the Legislature as New Mexico’s Secretary of Education. What’s up with this? Who is getting what out of it? Five years ago this individual was presented to fill a crucial position for which she has no professional credentials. Here we are entering her fifth year holding the job of Secretary of Education without legislative confirmation but being paid on the order of $125,000.00 a year. How do things like this happen? Well, how about political ambition and political agendas? Skandera came to New Mexico following the first Gubernatorial election of Susana Martinez. It was noted at the time that Skandera was suggested by out-of-state donors to the Martinez campaign.

A professional political appointee and foot-soldier in the anti-public education movement, Skandera previously served former Florida governor Jeb Bush who fancied himself as a school reformer but who failed miserably at that task and only succeeded in alienating teachers. Skandera is a gift that keeps on giving who came to us courtesy of the current Governor’s billionaire campaign contributors including, in her first run, $10,000.00 directly from the Koch boys and $1.3 million from the Republican Governors Association which itself was gifted with $1 million also from the Kochs.

Isn’t it ironic that Skandera could not be hired as a classroom teacher in a New Mexico public school? The New Mexico requirements for a teaching certificate at the elementary level are:

1.  A Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university.

2.  30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching.

3.  6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01.

4.  A minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics, language arts, reading, history, and so forth.

A starting teacher, having met the qualifications above makes on average $32,000.00. Skandera has not met these minimum qualifications and yet is paid 4 times what a qualified starting teacher is paid. Consider for a moment the inversion of values expressed in this distortion. Consider also how insulting and demoralizing it is to be evaluated by a political operative who is less qualified and less experienced than you are.

When I first wrote about this nomination nearly five years ago the issues were the same as today except that we now have a record of the disastrous consequences of Skandera’s tenure. That first article was in March 2011 and here we are in January 2015 with no resolution of this continuing travesty. Skandera’s damage to New Mexico’s public education from Gestapo-like raids on elementary schools to brazenly over-riding the PEC, validating charter schools championed by rent-seeking political hacks, and a lot of time on the public stage around the country, indeed even internationally, are her only achievements. Her beating the drums for privatizing public education are all a matter of record. I said then and I’ll say again, “Approving Ms. Skandera’s appointment will be a step backward.” Since then Ms. Skandera and the Governor have been thumbing their noses at the children, the public, educators, and legislators. What’s behind this?

For openers, public education is a soft target and there’s lots of money to made privatizing. Witness the many Republican governors across the country who are pursuing this same agenda.  And, that isn’t the only issue, 3rd grade retention is also merely a convenient non-issue a cudgel to pound on the public’s consciousness. The most important aspect of the entire 3rd grade retention business is to realize it has absolutely nothing to do with authentic teaching and learning. The ultimate pay-back is  privatizing public education. Privatization is the holy grail of the relentless Right-Wing jihad against teachers and public schools nationally.  Rupert Murdoch expresses his interest in public education by describing it as a $500 billion “opportunity”. The public needs to not forget it’s their tax money that created the public education system these sharks are salivating for.

Also in this equation and not to be discounted is Ms. Martinez having set her ambitions on national prominence and maybe even a place on the Republican presidential ticket, a fantasy that beggars the imagination. In this she is much like other deluded Republican wannabes who will do whatever it takes to be chosen. Since she has little else to brag about she has to win this Secretary of Education battle else she’ll be riding off into a sunset of well deserved irrelevance like Rick Santorum. The stakes are high in this game and the children be damned.

The NM Senate has an obligation to the public, to teachers, and to school children to not punt this time but to act bravely, with integrity, and regard for the people and children of New Mexico. The New Mexico State Constitution is on their side as it clearly and unequivocally states, the Secretary of Education must be a, “qualified, experienced educator.” Skandera is neither – case closed.

End of loop.

Emanuele Corso’s essays on politics, education, and the social contract have been published at  NMPolitics, Light of New Mexico, Grassroots Press, World News Trust, Nation of Change, New Mexico Mercury and his own – siteseven.net. He taught Schools and Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he took his PhD. His BS was in Mathematics. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force’s – Strategic Air Command where he served as a Combat Crew Officer. He has been a member of both the Carpenters and Joiners and IATSE (theatrical) labor unions and is retired from IATSE. He is presently working on a book: Belief Systems and the Social Contract. He can be reached at ecorso@earthlink.net

The Is and Isn’tness of Public Education

It Isn’t About Children

It’s not about children, people and it’s not about education. It’s about profit. Don’t let anyone, including Arne Duncan, tell you otherwise. The Rupert Murdochs, the Koch boys, the Michael Moes and other billionaires wouldn’t be stuffing vast sums of money into political campaign coffers unless they expected a commensurate ROI. There’s a public money jugular out there and investors are salivating. As Moe himself recently explained, “We see the education industry [my emphasis] today as the healthcare industry of 30 years ago.” He is referring to the American healthcare industry which can’t climb beyond 26th place out of 30 countries, and where the cost of an MRI can range anywhere from $335 to $2844.

The Oxford dictionary definition of industry is “economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories.” Schools as factories, children as raw materials to be manufactured into goods as a form of economic or commercial activity? Does that fit your definition of education?

In the US, monied interests have always exerted influence on public education, but much more directly now that investors are salivating for access to an “industry” of government-enabled testing and corporatized alternative schools. Billionaires are financing political campaigns and candidates, placing operatives in key administrative positions in state education departments. Listen to Rupert Murdoch: “When it comes to K-through-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Who is desperate?

Education reform is now the big target after healthcare. In both cases, equating education and healthcare with industry, humanity is displaced by venality. Education is being drowned in an alphabet soup of meaningless, cleverly contrived names depicting cleverly contrived meaningless programs. No Child Left Behind and Common Core are about business models, not about children. The case of Washington State recently losing its federal carrot for not conforming to Duncan’s Dictates gives lie to any pretense that this is about children learning. Kids in Washington are learning alright, but without the onerous evaluation regimens and pointless methodologies, such as the “counting up” method of subtraction taught in Common Core schools. To their credit, many more states than Washington are pushing back and putting children first.

This IS About Children

Because there are no easy procedural, political, or curricular solutions, public education has been an easy sell for simplistic solutions since colonial times. There are, however, at least three non-simplistic, fundamental reforms which could be implemented to good effect given the courage and determination to carry them out. The first involves innate learning ability, the matter of recognizing basic intelligence. Politicians won’t talk about differences in innate ability because parents vote, and all their children are wonderful and above average. Also because of social and political taboos, educators will not risk alienating parents.

It is just common sense to acknowledge that some children learn faster than others. Some will learn math, reading, or science faster than their classmates. This is no different from a child being a better first baseman than his or her classmates. Schools do talk candidly about athletic skills and, more importantly, they discriminate on that basis without reprisal. It’s a different story altogether, however, when it comes to intellectual ability. No matter what cleverly marketed standard academic achievement tests are applied to children across the board, holding teachers to the charade is fundamentally dishonest. It is unfair to teachers and, even more so, to students who are thus denied appropriate individualized approaches to learning.

The artifices of grade levels from first to twelfth could be done away with and replaced by individualized growth levels and programs allowing for the cognitive and motivational differences between children. This would be true “no child left behind”- every child could ascend at his or her own rate and motivation – there would be no contrived “behind”. Children should not have to suffer the indignity of being held back simply because the system could not do better at serving them. It’s adults who are failing not children.

Second, we seldom hear discussions about how public schools are organized even though school organization is a key factor in their lack of success. Simply put, the wrong people are running schools, and it’s an inverted hierarchy that has crippled education for years. Schools need to be organized around teachers and students, not overpaid and over-empowered bureaucrats. Teachers should determine, according to set standards, curriculum, the evaluation of learners and faculty, and school policy. Administrators should exist to serve the teaching staff – serve being the operative word.

The third reform involves parents. Parents must be held to account for their children’s interest and motivation in the process of schooling. Teachers with classrooms full of students cannot be held responsible for matters essentially parental. It does indeed take a community to fully and truly educate children, and the process starts at home.

The process of schooling cannot be replaced by testing, nor by demonizing teachers or allowing parents to transfer their responsibilities to schools. Thanks, but no thanks, Arne, you are wrong, tragically wrong about all of this. Kids in too many schools are spending their time learning to take tests with real education taking the hind seat, if any seat at all.  When education is drained of its humanizing values and reduced to meaningless rote Pavlovian response, we are creating a nation of sheep.

No matter how you slice it, this present “reform” movement is not about children. It’s about money and most importantly, that is what has to change.

The Betrayal of New Mexico Public Education

Betrayal is an interesting word with many connotations. Generally the word is taken to mean the violation of some form of contract, trust, or confidence – a breech of faith. In my opinion, the children, parents, and teachers of New Mexico were betrayed by the passing on of Hanna Skandera to continue her odious mission in the office of Secretary of Education.

Skandera is a gift that keeps on giving who came to us courtesy of the current Governor’s billionaire campaign contributors including $10,000.00 directly from the Koch boys and $1.3 million from the Republican Governors Association which was gifted with $1 million also from the Kochs.

Skandera, lacks even the most basic of qualifications for the position she holds, the authority she wields and she is paid $125,000.00 a year – more than any classroom teacher could ever dream of earning. Is it ironic that Skandera could not be hired as a classroom teacher in a New Mexico public school? The New Mexico requirements for a teaching certificate at the elementary level are:

1.  A Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university.

2.  30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching.

3.  6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01.

4.  A minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics,language arts,reading, history and so forth.

A starting teacher, having met the qualifications above makes on average $32,000.00. Skandera has not met these minimum qualifications and yet is paid 4 times what a qualified starting teacher is paid. Consider for a moment the inversion of values expressed in this distortion. Consider also how insulting and demoralizing it is to be evaluated by a political operative who is less qualified and less experienced than you are.

Skandera was a foot-soldier for one of the major proponents of for-profit public education, Jeb Bush and his coterie of “reformers”, coming as she did from Florida where teachers have been harassed and made miserable to the point of resignation. Many well qualified and dedicated Florida public school teachers quit rather than endure the harassment. Of course Bush doesn’t know anything more about education than do his minions – what they do know is that public education is a soft target and there’s lots of money to made privatizing it.

School teachers are not known to be hard line activists and teaching results are not linear with regard to children’s ages and individual abilities across a school population thus making teachers held to so-called “objective standards” vulnerable. There is, of course, no such thing as a “standard” child but standardized tests are rationalized as ammunition to attack teachers. Also, teacher unions are not famous for weeding out their weak and incompetent colleagues. A quick look at New York City’s infamous  “rubber rooms” confirms that, so there is plenty of blame to go around. Teachers unions desperately need, as do unions such as carpenters and plumbers and electricians do,  to weed out incompetence. This would require in-union testing and rating just as journey-men carpenters have to pass their union’s internal testing regimes. The resulting ratings are unassailable.

However, no matter how you calculate the situation, destruction of public education and replacing it with for-profit assembly lines is clearly not the answer to the question of school reform nor are major initiatives with clever propaganda-like, dissembling names such as  “No Child Left Behind” which have been exposed for the scams they are. Our current President and his hoops playing buddy  are just as dangerous and have been as harmful to public education as Republicans. Neoliberals are like Trojan Horses welcomed within the gates of civility but containing barbarians.

While Republican Senator Mark Moores of Albuquerque considers the day a victory for Skandera it is, at the same time, a terrible and tragic loss for the children and their families, our dedicated teachers, and the schools and communities of New Mexico. They have all been betrayed and at great cost to the embattled social contract which requires children to be educated by and for the community — not by corporations. The future of public education in New Mexico has been betrayed as well and the only apparent solution is an unrelenting effort to unseat Martinez and her gang and send the carpet-baggers packing in the next election. It can be done – it must be done.

The Skandera Scam

Time is of the essence in addressing education and the machinations of the New Mexico Public Education Department and its conservative allies such as the Rio Grande Foundation to undermine and replace public education with privatized for-profit schools. Nowhere is the devolution of the American social contract more evident and more tragic in its consequences than the attack on public education. Public schooling has become a target for every know-nothing politician, up-and-coming right–wing operative and demagogue with an agenda and looking for attention across the country – not to mention campaign contributors from special interest groups. Political campaigns against public education are being fueled and funded by right-wing foundations, alliances, institutions and so forth with one objective – to privatize public education. To turn public schools into profit centers.

New Mexico does not have a legitimate Secretary of Education. We have an “acting” secretary, a secretary designate, and brother, is she ever “acting,” especially on behalf of her out-of-state sponsors and benefactors. She is also “acting” in that she has absolutely no credentials as an educator; she is, in truth, a Trojan horse for the school privatization cartel. Hannah Skandera came to New Mexico with an agenda, and she has pursued it relentlessly, with the help of the Rio Grande Foundation, enabling that organization to front for the online charter schools —New Mexico Connections Academy. In a moment of rare candor she once excused herself by saying that she perhaps needed to have learned more about New Mexico before introducing so many “reforms”. Yeah!  Right!

The governor, for her part, also a non-expert on childhood education, has beat her drums for retention in grade for third-grade students who fail to learn to read on someone else’s schedule. Anyone who drags this tired fossil out of its well-deserved mummification deserves banishment from any position where they might have contact with students and teachers. In Finland, where they boast one of the world’s most successful public education systems, they don’t even have grades between primary and secondary levels. In Union City, New Jersey the school system was in shambles and the state was poised to take over the system. Today, they have a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent, which is 10 percentage points above the national average. How did they do it? With third-grade retention? Absolutely not! No teachers were fired, parents were integrated into the programs; there are neither charter schools nor “Teach for America” operatives in the system either. They start pre-kindergarten with as many 3- and 4-year-olds as possible. What’s their “secret”?  Respecting good teachers, bringing parents into the process, setting high expectations, while at the same time working with children as individuals.

As I wrote some time ago, Skandera was hired as a pay-back to Gov. Martinez’s election contributors. Prior to moving to New Mexico, and after serving on Jeb Bush’s staff, the young lady was given a plum job in Texas running a private training school, Laying the Foundation. The mission of Laying The Foundation is to train individuals to replace real teachers on the cheap. Skandera has no education credentials whatsoever but she does have political credentials in abundance – she was and still is a trusted operative, a foot soldier, in the public school privatization movement led nominally by her former employer, Jeb Bush. Since her appointment here, Skandera has appeared at numerous conventions and conferences across the country organized around the idea of public school privatization, sharing the stage with such notable sharks as Rupert Murdoch, who once exclaimed his enthusiasm for the education business as a multi-million dollar opportunity.

The grade school non-scandal perpetrated by Skandera is a good example of her tactics and how little respect she has for public education and teachers. Officials from Skandera’s office conducted a Gestapo-style “raid” at Albuquerque’s Sierra Vista Elementary school on the pretext that teachers were gaming the testing system. The school’s teaching day was disrupted, substitute teachers had to be brought in, teachers were cross-examined, and in the end the PED issued a letter stating that while no crimes were found the school and teachers had better well be careful – or else. This raid, in the PED’s own words, was based on “circumstantial evidence” and “hearsay.” Brilliant! No! Disrespectful? Yes!

So, the question is: What is this all about?

The answer: Money!

Money for whom? Money for people like Rupert Murdoch and Jeb Bush and, of course, campaign contributions to the governor’s PAC.

There is no need here to enumerate more instances of Skandera’s disrespect for children, teachers, administrators, the New Mexico Public Education Commission and just about anyone else not signed on to her political agenda. Skandera has been engaged in a relentless campaign to privatize public education from her first day in New Mexico, and she is gaining on it every day. For delivering New Mexico into the hands of the privatizers Skandera will no doubt be handsomely rewarded with another public education department assignment in a vulnerable state or a comfortable sinecure at one of their numerous front foundations or propaganda think-tanks.

The matter once again rests in the hands of the New Mexico Senate Rules Committee. Will they punt Skandera’s nomination again or will they man-up and send her packing? The governor, for her part, needs to commission the PEC to conduct a thorough search for candidates with proper academic credentials and experience as opposed to canvasing donors for political hacks.

For the children, teachers, parents, communities, and for the future of New Mexico, the stakes are high.

The American Taliban – Part 4

Target – Public Education

The old Jesuit motto: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” is a bold statement, a boast in fact. Regardless of other considerations the statement expresses an absolute faith in education. And, is it not true that a child well schooled to the age of seven has probably developed habits of mind that make further education possible? All children with the help of responsible caring adults are capable of reaching or even exceeding their innate capacities. This process is the generally understood function of public education, its raison d’être. A population of capable citizens educated to the maximum of their abilities is the aim public education.

In practice, however, we find another story, one less optimistic, less idealistic, and becoming more Darwinian, venal, and draconian. The reasons for this have much to do with denial of the reality of unequal intellectual endowment and powerful forces seeking to privatize exploiting that inequality. It is very bad form to open a public discussion about unequal learning abilities and intellectual capacity. No parent wants to be or will tolerate being told – “ Your kid isn’t smart.” The reality of this denial results in diminished educational experiences for all students across the spectrum of natural abilities. Universal testing mania, deliberately ignoring this reality, pits all children across the intellectual spectrum against all others without regard for innate ability penalizing teachers and students alike.

Defensive teaching to a standardized test becomes inevitable and becomes teaching to the lowest common denominator. By definition no standardized test recognizes much less respects individual innate ability. It is about politics and money, nothing else. The cruelty of such facile schemes as “No Child Left Behind” leave all children behind because the premise of the program is false and empty of honest pedagogical reasoning. Standardized means just what it says, standard – a predetermined level of attainment across the spectrum of abilities. Just how is such a standard achieved by children who are not equal mentally and/or are from homes and neighborhoods where school learning is not a value? What is being compared to what is the question left unanswered.

None of the foregoing is intended to discredit the value of testing student achievement for pedagogical purposes but rather to point out its inappropriate application when used to assess and compare school populations locally, statewide, and nationally. The use of such testing is unquestionably unfair to the children as much as it is to teachers. In short there are no such creatures as “standard” children, “standard” classrooms, or “standard” teachers. To contend otherwise is an obvious sign of intellectual dishonesty at best or ulterior motives at worst. What if the NCLB, ABCDF and Race To The Top nonsense have strategic non-educational motives? But, let’s leave that question on the table for the moment and tackle a few related questions; we’ll come back to it shortly.

For the moment put yourself in the place of a classroom teacher with 20 perhaps 30 kids; a classroom of children with diverse intellectual capacity, attention spans, diet, and home life to mention only  a few of the variables. By the end of the semester you are expected to lead each child to a “standard” level of achievement regardless of those variables. You will be evaluated on the test scores these kids achieve. Your job and your pay are contingent upon good results. Does this sound like a good deal for you? For the kids? For the school? I don’t think so. In fact it is destructive as it stigmatizes and deprives children of their personal dignity and demonizes and punishes teachers for matters that are entirely out of their control. It puts teachers in the situation of a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest. Education is not a manufacturing production process and children are not products like refrigerators to be popped off the end of an assembly line. No one is standard.

Taking up the question posited earlier, why over the past several years have we witnessed this unrelenting assault on public education and public school teachers?

What’s up? –  Surprise!   –  It’s all about money, folks.

In the words of Rupert Murdoch: “When it comes to K–through–12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting to be transformed.” The American Taliban is on the march to privatize America’s public education (and everything else so far as that goes) by whatever means because they see it as a $500 billion market. It’s about money not children, it’s about profit not learning. It’s about private entities such as Wal-Mart, American Legislative Exchange Council, Laying The Foundation, Americans for Prosperity (read “Profit”). Murdoch, at another gathering of privatization crusaders, said, “ … we must approach education … willing to blow up what doesn’t work or gets in the way.” When the Bush administration foisted NCLB on the country, public schools became equivalent to Sadam Hussein’s WMD – manufactured facts and little if any truth. The assault continues today as children are being used as right-wing chew toys.  It is a war against the most cherished and valuable of public services and dedicated public servants – teachers and teaching the young. It is a clear and present thrteat to the American social contract of which public education is an essential part.

Sowing doubt and mistrust creates a sense that there are possibilities left untried or ignored. As Nicolas Sarkozy put it in another context: “This is how we create a gulf of incomprehension between the expert certain in his knowledge and the citizen whose experience of life is completely out of synch with the story told by the data. This gulf is dangerous because the citizens end up believing that they are being deceived. Nothing is more destructive of democracy.” Distrust and fear are the weapons the American Taliban are using against public education and truth.

The NYPS Blues

The NYPS Blues

Is the war against public education guerrilla class-warfare conducted through surrogates? It certainly looks like it. I have always believed that if something looks like “it,” behaves like “it,” and smells like “it,” odds are “it” is “it.”

The “it” in New York City came when the anti-teacher/anti-public education mayor and the ever-devolving New York Times published the results of a citywide teacher evaluation. The person who created the evaluation openly cautioned against publication of the results as they are not, in his opinion, a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness for a number of technical reasons, including that the evaluation system is new and interpreting it at this early date is an inaccurate and uncertain proposition. He ought to know. Yet, the billionaire crusader mayor of New York joined by the New York Times proceeded to do just what was warned against. In such a circumstance the first question that comes to mind is one of motives. In both cases the motives seem abundantly clear.

Teachers are an easy target for political hacks who have an unrelenting agenda to privatize public education and who are looking to make points with a misinformed public. In the case of the NYT, one must wonder why a national newspaper with what were once impeccable credentials is transforming itself into an over-priced upscale version of the National Inquirer or some sort of Murdoch sensationalist rag. You can’t tell me that the sophisticated editors at the Grey Lady are unaware that once something has been published, no amount of self-serving mea culpas and Public Editor penance will undo it. The damage was done and done willfully, and it cannot be undone. Period. The implications and consequences of what is going on in New York are clear for the rest of the country.

The “it” moment in New Mexico came when, in a case of NYPS Blues, Edunazis went after teachers and schools in an even more despicable manner. Last Thursday (01/02/12) morning, NM PED storm troopers conducted a raid at Albuquerque’s Sierra Vista Elementary School. The troopers removed teachers from classrooms for interrogation in response to an anonymous tip that irregularities had taken place amounting to cheating on tests. Substitutes had to be found for the teachers being questioned so there would be no interruption in the normal school routine. It should go without saying that a civilized inquiry could have been conducted after school hours or on a Saturday. No one’s life was in danger, the school wasn’t going to be blown up, children weren’t being abused, no one was selling drugs in the corridors; clearly there was no emergency to merit the SWAT team tactics. Taking into account the PED’s trouncing during the legislative session, this was a very deliberate publicity stunt. And to top it off, all of this well-publicized sensationalist melodrama was justified on the basis of an alleged anonymous “TIP”? I smell a rat.

The PED’s persistent hidden agenda would not have been as well served by a respectful and civilized inquiry, now would it? For the second consecutive year the Legislature didn’t hold a confirmation hearing for the PED’s Dear Leader, and her proposed antediluvian new school initiatives went down in defeat as well. Was the dramatic raid was a face-saving acting out? Of course it was.

I think it only fair to ask where New Mexico schools are heading with this police-state behavior by the PED. I can’t imagine a more humiliating and disgraceful treatment of teachers than what took place at Sierra Vista school. What’s next, re-education camps for teachers al la Chairman Mao or perhaps Siberian-type work camps – you know, gulags for those who won’t buy into the PED program? The PED program being to prove by whatever means that public schools are failing in order to justify privatizing them. The tactics appear to be: If you can’t get in the front door, break in the back way.

Remember that New York Mayor Bloomberg’s first Chancellor of the public school system, Joel Klein, took a meat-axe approach to the city’s vast school system. The charge then was that the schools and teachers were inefficient, failing and a budgetary drain on the city. The creation of charter schools would be the answer, the public was told, which prediction ultimately proved to be far from true. Klein moved on, not surprisingly, without any substantial or lasting achievement to become Rupert Murdoch’s main man. You will recall Murdoch as the bloke from Down Under who sees public education as a $500 billion opportunity for entrepreneurs like himself, with the help, no doubt, of Mr. Klein. Mayor Bloomberg next gave the Chancellor’s job to a woman business executive, Catherine Black, who had no background and no experience in education at all except her own schooling and that was likely not at P.S. 101. Thankfully, she lasted only a short time and was basically embarrassed out of office. In New Mexico we have Hanna Skandera who also is unqualified by any measure to be a Secretary of Education anywhere. We also have a Governor whose election campaign received substantial contributions from donors with school privatization agendas and who, no doubt, want their investments to pay off in the form of privatized schools.

While these and other Republicans have not been alone in their persecution of public education – I would include our neoliberal US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in this mob – there has been a notable transformation from the kind of Republican once represented by Dwight Eisenhower. We now have a new breed, Repugnicans – a group for whom profit in any endeavor reigns supreme and for whom shared social outcomes such as an educated public are but a quaint and dim memory of a more civilized and humane time.  Across the country they are spreading an epidemic of sociopathy and destruction of the American social contract, especially where it comes to public education – a very bad case of the NYPS Blues.

This post may also be viewed at: http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/

 

 

 


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