Race to the Top Round Three: Can We Avoid the Implementation Troubles of the First Two Rounds?

Race to the Top Round Three:
Can We Avoid the Implementation
Troubles of the First Two Rounds?

In a few months, applications for the third round of Race to the Top will be due to the U.S. Department of Education. This round will reward districts that move past a “one-size-fits-all” model of schooling to provide personalized instruction to meet the needs of every child. Additionally, the third round provides an opportunity to put a stop to the punitive rhetoric that has categorized union/district relations. Instead of trying to circumvent the unions, districts should see Race to the Top as an opportunity to learn from those who are knowledgeable about instruction. Likewise, unions should capitalize on the administration’s open-minded proposal to put forth new ideas for differentiating instruction. Combined with community partnerships, Race to the Top can provide a model for how stakeholder collaboration can improve educational outcomes.

Pundits who criticize Race to the Top as federal overreach are right to be skeptical. Almost all previous winners pushed back their timelines for implementation, and many states, such as Hawaii, changed important aspects of their plans in response to stakeholder concerns. In particular, unions have objected to the administration’s emphasis on growth in student test scores as a significant factor in teacher evaluation, a condition that will again be included in the third round application.

In previous rounds, states responded to this condition by passing laws to create new teacher evaluation systems. Interestingly, while the traditional politics of education suggests that states with strong unions would be able to block these reforms, in my own research I found that states with strong unions (as measured by the percentage of teachers unionized and the state’s collective bargaining laws) were actually more likely to pass these laws, suggesting that many states passed laws in order to circumvent union power.

However, case studies of Race to the Top winners suggest that states had trouble implementing their proposals. For example, in Delaware, the state legislature passed regulations to reform their teacher evaluation system. However, the evaluation specifics would be determined after receiving the grant. Therefore, the union was able to prevent student test scores from informing staffing decisions in the first year. Most notably, Hawaii’s ambitious teacher evaluation system was subject to interest-based bargaining with the state’s teachers union. When contract negotiations broke down, the state was unable to follow through and now risks losing its Race to the Top grant.

Based on these experiences, stakeholders should consider three lessons learned:

Districts should engage “teacher voice” in all aspects of the application process: Teachers should be at the table in creating and negotiating the district’s application through their unions, as well as through “teacher voice” organizations such as Teach Plus, VIVA project, and Educators 4 Excellence. Teachers can provide important classroom-level input on strategies and challenges for engaging all students. Ideally, the district and the union should agree to all aspects of the proposal before submitting the application.

Districts should consider partnering with community organizations: The Department of Education has offered competitive preference priority to districts that partner with community organizations to deliver comprehensive academic and social support services. The most successful proposals will acknowledge that education is a community-wide issue, and will take advantage of the opportunity to create and develop these partnerships. Partnerships will also provide accountability for districts to ensure that plans are implemented.

The Department of Education should be cautious of stipulations in districts’ applications: As seen in the aforementioned cases, many states left key aspects of their Race to the Top proposals to the collective bargaining process. Therefore, strong unions signed on to proposals knowing they would have input into evaluation systems specifics after receiving the grants. The Department should encourage districts to provide concrete plans in their applications, and not to leave important aspects to collective bargaining.

Districts and unions can agree that personalizing learning is integral to improving our education system. Therefore, districts should not try to circumvent union power, but instead should include unions in the planning and application processes. Districts will not only benefit from engaging teacher voice, but will also avoid problems in implementation. If districts take the lead in engaging stakeholders, the Department can prevent the difficulties that plagued the first two rounds.

An Enemy of the State

     An Enemy of the State

         by Kevin P. Chavous

A good man died this month in Ohio, but during the last three years of his life, he was treated like an enemy of the state. Edward L. Williams died in jail after serving 11 months of a 12 month sentence for illegally receiving disability payments. There was no question that he was disabled; he suffered from a host of maladies including: hypertension, gout, diabetes, heart disease and several strokes. Mr. Williams was in jail because he had allegedly received far too much money from the government than he was entitled.

But that is not why he was charged and prosecuted.

Edward L. Williams was considered an enemy of the state because he let his daughter, Kelley Williams-Bolar, use his address so that she could place her kids in a better school district — one far better than the Akron school district where Williams-Bolar resides.  For that, Mr. Williams and his daughter were charged, prosecuted and faced a jury trial. Eventually, Ms. Williams-Bolar was convicted of a felony and, in effect, told by the judge that she should be ashamed of herself for stealing an education from the state.

In handing down the sentence, the judge further indicated that she wanted Ms. Williams-Bolar’s case to serve as a deterrent to others who may be considering ‘stealing an education’. Since Mr. Williams was not convicted in that case, within weeks he was charged with receiving too much in disability payments. And, curiously enough, his new case ended up in front of the same judge who presided over the residency trial involving both Mr. Williams and his daughter. Not surprisingly, that judge sentenced the ailing Mr. Williams to a year in jail, once he was convicted in the disability case.

In the movie version of Enemy of the State starring Will Smith, Gene Hackman’s character, upon witnessing the government’s wrath being dispensed on Smith’s character, said, “Boy, you must have made somebody in the government really mad!”. In the Williams case, the state of Ohio got mad because the Williams family “stole an education.” It doesn’t matter that cases involving individuals who use someone else’s address to put their kid in a better school are selectively prosecuted. Nor does it matter that the recent target of these prosecutions around the country are typically low-income women of color.  Most significantly, it doesn’t matter that the folks who are being charged are generally concerned parents attempting to escape schools that are failing on all levels.

It is telling that during the entire Williams-Bolar prosecution, neither the judge, nor the prosecutor, made any mention of how terrible the schools were in Akron, one of the worst school districts in the state. Indeed, some judge should hold the Akron school district in contempt for the miseducation of Ohio kids and countless other judges from countless other states should do the same.

Instead, more and more school districts are asking for budget increases to hire investigators and detectives to follow around low-income mothers and their kids to ensure that they aren’t ‘stealing an education’ from the state. Really???

Let me be clear. I do not condone illegal activity. But the Williams’ prosecution came as a result of a determined, driven effort where the government dedicated its energy, focus and resources toward getting those convictions. Which begs the question: Why can’t these same powerful local governments dedicate the same energy, focus and resources toward fixing bad schools like the ones in Akron, Ohio?

Although Edward L. Williams died in an Ohio jail as an enemy of the state, he was a good man trying to do the best for his daughter and grandchildren. Despite the fact that this information was not mentioned in his newspaper obituary, this legacy should be known.

And the real enemies of the state are the ones who continue to allow bad schools to exist, thereby forcing desperate parents and grandparents to do desperate things.

Steering Murdoch in Scandal, Klein Put School Goals Aside

Steering Murdoch in Scandal, Klein Put School Goals Aside

By Amy Chozick

Last week, after a British parliamentary report declared that Rupert Murdoch was “not a fit person” to lead a major corporation, several senior News Corporation executives huddled in tense discussion on the eighth floor of the company’s New York headquarters.

Some initially wanted to take off the gloves and issue an equally damning condemnation of the report’s criticism of their chairman and chief executive.

Joel I. Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor who has become Mr. Murdoch’s trusted adviser, was more restrained, arguing that the company’s statement needed a balanced tone, according to a person close to the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The executives eventually agreed.

The response, drafted by Mr. Klein and the company’s general counsel, Gerson A. Zweifach, dismissed the personal jabs at Mr. Murdoch as “unjustified and highly partisan,” but also acknowledged that the company’s response to wrongdoing in Britain had been “too slow and too defensive.”

The statement reflected the measure and care of a man who has spent decades in politics.

“Joel likes to fight, but he’s also incredibly politically astute,” said a person close to Mr. Klein.

Mr. Klein’s political instincts may have helped News Corporation, but his involvement has delayed his own ambitions within the company. He was hired by Mr. Murdoch to lead his company’s aggressive push into the education market. But just over six months into his tenure, the news broke that the company’s News of the World tabloid in Britain had hacked into the phone of a murdered 13-year-old, Milly Dowler, and suddenly, Mr. Klein became Mr. Murdoch’s legal compass in the ensuing British firestorm.

Mr. Klein, who declined to comment for this article, has slowly returned his attention to parts of his education portfolio, but prospects for success may have been damaged by the investigation. In 2010, News Corporation paid $360 million for a 90 percent stake in Wireless Generation, a company based in Brooklyn that specializes in education software, data systems and assessment tools to help teachers analyze student performance and customize lessons.

Last year, New York State rejected a $27 million contract with Wireless Generation, citing “the significant ongoing investigations and continuing revelations with respect to News Corporation.”

More recently, there has been criticism of Mr. Klein’s seemingly contradictory roles within News Corporation, both investigating wrongdoing inside the company and advising Mr. Murdoch on handling public relations and his appearances before the British Parliament.

While Mr. Klein still worked for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Klein became close friends. They talked frequently about the state of public schools and Mr. Klein was lured to News Corporation with the promise that he could use the company’s deep coffers to put in place his vision of revolutionizing K-12 education. Mr. Murdoch has said he would be “thrilled” if education were to account for 10 percent of News Corporation’s $34 billion in annual revenue in the next five years.

“Joel has a huge amount of respect and admiration for Mr. Murdoch and what he’s accomplished in his life,” said Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, which oversees New York State’s Education Department.

Mr. Klein’s résumé — he previously served as head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, helped the Clinton White House respond to the Whitewater inquiries and prepared Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her Supreme Court nomination hearings — made him an obvious candidate to help Mr. Murdoch through the phone-hacking scandal. He agreed, with the hope that News Corporation would provide him with the resources to realize his longtime goal of getting technology into schools, according to people close to both men.

“It wasn’t just ‘Oh, by the way, let’s get into schools.’ This is something that’s very important to Murdoch, or Joel wouldn’t have done it,” said a longtime friend of Mr. Klein’s, Barbara Walters. She said the scandal in Britain had “sidetracked” Mr. Klein.

He emerged as one of Mr. Murdoch’s most trusted advisers, along with Chase Carey, president and chief operating officer of News Corporation; and David F. DeVoe, the chief financial officer. Mr. Murdoch put Mr. Klein in charge of the internal investigation into the hacking case, reporting to Viet D. Dinh, an independent director on News Corporation’s board. But Mr. Klein also advised on handling the scandal, sitting behind Mr. Murdoch during his first testimony before a parliamentary panel in summer 2011 and spending hours in London helping Mr. Murdoch prepare for a second round of questions last month.

Shareholder groups have expressed concerns about Mr. Klein’s independence in leading the investigation. His compensation package at News Corporation was more than $4.5 million last year, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“His salary was a huge bump, so he’s clearly beholden to Murdoch and should not be running an internal investigation,” said Michael Pryce-Jones, a spokesman for the CtW Investment Group, a shareholder advocacy group based in Washington that works with pension funds for large labor unions. (British investigators have said they believe the internal review led by Mr. Klein was independent.)

In December, Mr. Klein championed the hiring of Mr. Zweifach, a Washington lawyer from Williams & Connolly, as News Corporation’s new general counsel. The hiring of Mr. Zweifach, who has represented The Star tabloid in a libel lawsuit filed by the parents of JonBenet Ramsey, and The National Enquirer in an invasion of privacy lawsuit filed by Clint Eastwood, has helped Mr. Klein return his focus almost entirely to education, something friends said he had been impatient to do.

He now spends about two-thirds of his time on education and the rest on issues related to the fallout in Britain, according to people with knowledge of Mr. Klein’s schedule.

Mr. Klein’s education unit is now one of the few areas within the company that is currently growing, both through investment in Wireless Generation and potential acquisitions. The company is looking at several small education-related companies, though no deals are imminent, according to a person knowledgeable about News Corporation’s preliminary strategy.

Wireless Generation had come under fire before the dropped New York bid. The company had been a key Education Department partner on two efforts that Mr. Klein had championed as chancellor. The timing of News Corporation’s acquisition, two weeks after Mr. Klein said he would join the company, prompted accusations that he had violated the city’s conflict-of-interest rules. At the time, a News Corporation spokeswoman said the deal had been developing for several months and Mr. Klein had no involvement in it. A spokeswoman for the Education Department said Mr. Klein recused himself from all business between the city and Wireless Generation as soon as he knew News Corporation had acquired it.

Unions representing teachers remain steadfastly opposed to News Corporation’s move into education. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who has clashed with Mr. Klein in the past, called the company’s education push in the midst of the hacking scandal “the definition of chutzpah.”

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City teachers, asked, “What parent would want personal information about themselves and their children in the hands of Rupert Murdoch, given the current circumstances?”

Wireless Generation said more than 2,500 United States school districts, 200,000 teachers and three million schoolchildren currently use its products, and many of those contracts were won after the rejected New York bid.

“Joel is a big thinker,” said John White, superintendent of Louisiana’s Education Department, who was deputy chancellor in New York under Mr. Klein. “Among those of us in the field, we’re anxiously awaiting what News Corporation will offer.”

Mr. Klein has hired some of the biggest names in education. Kristen Kane, a former chief operating officer for New York City’s Department of Education; Peter Gorman, former superintendent at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina; and Diana Rhoten, co-founder of the nonprofit Startl, which helps develop digital learning tools, have all joined News Corporation.

They’ll most likely carry out Mr. Klein’s vision without his full attention as long as News Corporation remains caught up in the hacking scandal. Mr. Klein’s office is just down the hall from Mr. Murdoch’s on News Corporation’s executive floor, and the two men occasionally have lunch together on weekends at an Italian restaurant near their homes on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

“We’ve had our history of battles,” Ms. Weingarten said of Mr. Klein. “But he’s always had a reputation for integrity, and I can’t imagine the last several months of being mired in this scandal have been fun for him.”

How Our Society Has Manifested the Bullying Epidemic

How Our Society Has Manifested the Bullying Epidemic

by Amy S. Weber

Even with bullying featured almost nightly in the news, on the big screen and as one of the most prominent topics facing school boards, these tragedies keep coming. There is a lot of talk but still, no tangible solutions. It is truly like this issue is too big to take on individually or within a community and it appears to be swallowing our youth whole, right before our very eyes.

Bullying is a multi-layered epidemic. It’s like a disease that cultivates and feeds off of the bloodline of social acceptance and like-minded opinion, fueled by fear and pain so deep, it is subconscious. But where exactly does bullying originate? Hatred is nothing new. But a reality that we may need to start facing if we are going to solve this issue is that hatred is not innate. Plain and simply, it is learned. It manifests from a single or multiple source where a child is listening and watching. At home, a babysitter’s house, preschool, TV, online, our public figures and leaders, and out in the world. Our children are little sponges, with no ability to filter for themselves what they should take in or throw out. Everything they see and hear has an impact and is teaching them how to relate to others in the world and more importantly, how to relate to themselves. And the mirror they are reflecting back to us reveals an ugly truth that can longer be denied; this epidemic is the result of our society’s relentless intolerance and cruelty toward each other over a period of decades, coupled with technology that has desensitized humans from one another.

Can we honestly expect our children to be kind, tolerant and respectful of each other when so much around them communicates exactly the opposite? Even if they’ve been lucky enough to have parents who taught by example to be kind and to celebrate differences in others, the influences outside of the parents are overwhelming. Negativity breeds in every aspect of our American culture. Judgment and hate are too familiar in our everyday lives, with public figures and leaders using divisive, discriminatory statements to gain popularity and acceptance from like-minded masses. Have they ever stopped to think that each and every negative or discriminatory statement they make has a direct, traumatizing affect on the life of a child? Any time an adult uses unkind words, takes violent action or justifies discrimination in the name of freedom of speech or family values, they send a message loud and clear; that bullying is acceptable as long as it is justified by a belief system. And if a child falls outside the safe borders of those beliefs, it’s open season.

As adults, we also must be conscious of our own biases. We often hear “oh, I was bullied, but it made me tougher” and “everyone gets bullied sometime, these kids are too soft”. The world today is not the same one that most of us grew up in. Getting chased home from school, after you’d taken a variety of routes to dodge a beating, at least delivered you to your door step and the safety of your home. School may have been hell, but you had a reprieve. Now, the advent of the Internet and social media has left children prey to a 24-hour cycle of abuse that is far more insidious. Bullying is not just what you see; it is the message and threat that surrounds your child continually, until eventually, yes, they can be overwhelmed to the point of believing death is the only escape. What a sad, wicked commentary on what we’ve become; hunting children until they break.

A friend asked me a simple question that I feel sums all of this up beautifully, “What ever happened to good manners?” We need to begin a candid dialog about how we as adults need to get back to this simple, yet very powerful way of life, even with all of the stresses in our lives, to lead our children toward a kinder and gentler world. For our kids living this nightmare each and every day, it’s truly become an-eat-or-be-eaten world. We can help them get back on track by being open about our own cruel habits and how we have failed them as a generation. This is the only way to begin the healing process. It begins with our lead…

Peace & Love,

Amy S. Weber

The Assault on Public Education

The Assault on Public Education

By Noam Chomsky

Public education is under attack around the world, and in response, student protests have recently been held in Britain, Canada, Chile, Taiwan and elsewhere.

California is also a battleground. The Los Angeles Times reports on another chapter in the campaign to destroy what had been the greatest public higher education system in the world: “California State University officials announced plans to freeze enrollment next spring at most campuses and to wait-list all applicants the following fall pending the outcome of a proposed tax initiative on the November ballot.”

Similar defunding is under way nationwide. “In most states,” The New York Times reports, “it is now tuition payments, not state appropriations, that cover most of the budget,” so that “the era of affordable four-year public universities, heavily subsidized by the state, may be over.”

Community colleges increasingly face similar prospects – and the shortfalls extend to grades K-12.

“There has been a shift from the belief that we as a nation benefit from higher education, to a belief that it’s the people receiving the education who primarily benefit and so they should foot the bill,” concludes Ronald G. Ehrenberg, a trustee of the State University system of New York and director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.

A more accurate description, I think, is “Failure by Design,” the title of a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, which has long been a major source of reliable information and analysis on the state of the economy.

The EPI study reviews the consequences of the transformation of the economy a generation ago from domestic production to financialization and offshoring. By design; there have always been alternatives.

One primary justification for the design is what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz called the “religion” that “markets lead to efficient outcomes,” which was recently dealt yet another crushing blow by the collapse of the housing bubble that was ignored on doctrinal grounds, triggering the current financial crisis.

Claims are also made about the alleged benefits of the radical expansion of financial institutions since the 1970s. A more convincing description was provided by Martin Wolf, senior economic correspondent for The Financial Times: “An out-of-control financial sector is eating out the modern market economy from inside, just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid.”

The EPI study observes that the “Failure of Design” is class-based. For the designers, it has been a stunning success, as revealed by the astonishing concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent, in fact the top 0.1 percent, while the majority has been reduced to virtual stagnation or decline.

In short, when they have the opportunity, “the Masters of Mankind” pursue their “vile maxim” [ all for ourselves and nothing for other people,” as Adam Smith explained long ago.

Mass public education is one of the great achievements of American society. It has had many dimensions. One purpose was to prepare independent farmers for life as wage laborers who would tolerate what they regarded as virtual slavery.

The coercive element did not pass without notice. Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that political leaders call for popular education because they fear that “This country is filling up with thousands and millions of voters, and you must educate them to keep them from our throats.” But educated the right way: Limit their perspectives and understanding, discourage free and independent thought, and train them for obedience.

The “vile maxim” and its implementation have regularly called forth resistance, which in turn evokes the same fears among the elite. Forty years ago there was deep concern that the population was breaking free of apathy and obedience.

At the liberal internationalist extreme, the Trilateral Commission – the nongovernmental policy group from which the Carter Administration was largely drawn – issued stern warnings in 1975 that there is too much democracy, in part due to the failures of the institutions responsible for “the indoctrination of the young.” On the right, an important 1971 memorandum by Lewis Powell, directed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the main business lobby, wailed that radicals were taking over everything – universities, media, government, etc. – and called on the business community to use its economic power to reverse the attack on our prized way of life – which he knew well. As a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, he was quite familiar with the workings of the nanny state for the rich that he called “the free market.”

Since then, many measures have been taken to restore discipline. One is the crusade for privatization – placing control in reliable hands.

Another is sharp increases in tuition, up nearly 600 percent since 1980. These produce a higher education system with “far more economic stratification than is true of any other country,” according to Jane Wellman, former director of the Delta Cost Project, which monitors these issues. Tuition increases trap students into long-term debt and hence subordination to private power.

Justifications are offered on economic grounds, but are singularly unconvincing. In countries rich to poor, including Mexico next-door, tuition remains free or nominal. That was true as well in the United States itself when it was a much poorer country after World War II and huge numbers of students were able to enter college under the GI bill – a factor in uniquely high economic growth, even putting aside the significance in improving lives.

Another device is the corporatization of the universities. That has led to a dramatic increase in layers of administration, often professional instead of drawn from the faculty as before; and to imposition of a business culture of “efficiency” – an ideological notion, not just an economic one.

One illustration is the decision of state colleges to eliminate programs in nursing, engineering and computer science, because they are costly – and happen to be the professions where there is a labor shortage, as The New York Times reports. The decision harms the society but conforms to the business ideology of short-term gain without regard for human consequences, in accord with the vile maxim.

Some of the most insidious effects are on teaching and monitoring. The Enlightenment ideal of education was captured in the image of education as laying down a string that students follow in their own ways, developing their creativity and independence of mind.

The alternative, to be rejected, is the image of pouring water into a vessel – and a very leaky one, as all of us know from experience. The latter approach includes teaching to test and other mechanisms that destroy students’ interest and seek to fit them into a mold, easily controlled. All too familiar today.

400,000 Canadians Launching the ‘Maple Spring’

400,000 Canadian Students Launching the ‘Maple Spring’

More than 400,000 Canadians—students and defenders of freedom of expression—filled the streets of Montreal this week to demonstrate against a 75 percent university tuition hike and emergency legislation that placed draconian penalties on people exercising their right to protest.

Almost 1,000 demonstrators were arrested as the protest passed its 100th day this week. Many times that number marched in defiance of Bill 78, passed May 18, which suspended the current academic term, laid out regulations that required protesters to notify police of demonstrations eight hours in advance and of any protest involving 50 or more people, and threatened to fine student associations $125,000 if they disobeyed or failed to stop others from protesting.

In light of the new law, the week’s protests appear to be the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. And they did not come without a price. In addition to the hundreds arrested, 11 people were hospitalized at the beginning of May when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd in Victoriaville. Two demonstrators suffered serious injuries: One lost an eye and another was critically wounded.

The government’s attempt to stem the protests with Bill 78 backfired. Anna Kruzynski, assistant professor at Concordia University in Montreal, said “there was an explosion of support for the student movement” when the bill was passed, “but also a real questioning of the legitimacy of this government, this government that is trying to push through austerity measures that the majority of the population do not want to see.” By Kruzynski’s assessment, a genuine, broad-based social movement, which includes families, children, the elderly and others, is mounting around concern for Canadian youth and affordable education.

Overreaches by the NYPD during the course of the Occupy movement drew people from across the country to New York City, Zuccotti Park and hundreds of local encampments. Similarly, Canadian leaders handed protesters an invaluable recruiting tool when they attempted to abridge the right to demonstrate. For answering the call to stand against the depredations of austerity hawks for the sake of themselves, others and future generations, we ask readers to honor and keep in their thoughts, hundreds of thousands of defiant Canadians

Good Teachers Create the Future

Good Teachers Create the Future

Today, and for each of the next several Saturdays, graduates at universities all over the country are donning hoods and updating their email auto-signatures with new letters like M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. In some cases, they are also sorting though big-ticket offers from fancy firms that are fighting among one another to hire them at exorbitant salaries.

These include the M.B.A.s, who will earn an average of $95,000 per year, the accountants who will earn upwards of $90,000, the engineers who will take home $100,000, the economists who will draw $101,000, and the pharmacists who will yield an average of $107,000. And we won’t even talk about the starting salaries for lawyers and “consultants.”

Then, of course, there is you. On the positive side of the ledger, unemployment rates for people with graduate degrees in education are less than 2 percent; in counseling psychology/social work, it’s around 3 percent — which is about half the unemployment rates in business and engineering. But the starting salaries your degrees net are about half of theirs, too.

Let me tell you, though, what those other graduates won’t get.

They won’t get the enormous satisfaction that comes when Jamal or Garrett makes that breakthrough in reading, or the sense of accomplishment that comes from watching Maria blossom from extremely limited English skills to a confident young girl with full command of two languages.

They won’t experience how good it feels to watch Josie explore a much broader world through books, even as she fights for space in a crammed, noisy, multi-family apartment. Nor will they understand the way you counselors and social workers feel when you watch the students you helped through family crisis after family crisis become the first in their families to graduate from high school.

Moreover, what they won’t ever stop to think about — on their way to pick up that fat paycheck or purchase that shiny new car, or that McMansion — is that if you were paid even a small fraction of the intellectual, moral and economic wealth you create, you would be far better compensated than they are.

Just across town, a couple of economists at Harvard put together some numbers calculating the contributions of top teachers. You were probably too busy studying to notice. The bottom line, however, was stunning. One year with a strong teacher produces about $700,000 in additional lifetime earnings per classroom. Even for those who don’t care a lot about earnings, though, there were significant impacts on other things that matter: those students were more likely to go to college and less likely to get pregnant as teenagers, too.

Now, even the economists know what you know: good teachers create the future. Good teachers — and counselors and social workers and school principals — matter. They matter a lot to kids of all sorts. But they especially matter to kids of color and kids who are growing up in poverty.

I want to talk with you especially about them. Because their dreams are in danger of imploding and you, frankly, are the only people who can help.

I certainly don’t need to tell anybody in this audience that for decades we’ve told each other — and the world — two stories about who we are as Americans. First, that we are the land of opportunity. Whether your parents were born in a village in India or a holler in Kentucky, if you work hard, you can become anything you want to be. And by working hard, each generation of American parents can assure a better education and a better life for their children.

These stories are powerful. They are pervasive. But, sadly, they are no longer true.

Over the past three decades, earnings among lower-income Americans have fallen while those at the top have seen their income grow exponentially. Instead of being the most equal nation on earth, we are now the third most unequal.

And it’s not just income inequality that’s getting worse, but social mobility, as well.

There have always been some Americans who didn’t get the same opportunities as everybody else. But for decades, we kept getting better — that is, until 1980, when things turned around radically. Since then, it has gotten harder and harder for young people from families of limited means to get a foothold on the ladder leading up. Sadly, among all developed countries worldwide, we are now tied with the United Kingdom as the country where it is least possible for young people to work their way to a better life than their parents.

At the macro level, better and more equal schools aren’t the only things we have to do to turn this pattern around. There are a lot of other things that enlightened public policy can do.

But at the individual level, quality education really is the only avenue up. As generations of African-American parents have taught their children: “Your education is literally the only thing that nobody can ever take away from you. They can foreclose on your house, but they can’t foreclose on your brain.”

So, what does this mean for you?

It means that what you have chosen to do matters. It matters hugely to the children you serve. But it also matters hugely to our nation’s future.

And that is truest for those of you who are choosing to work in schools serving poor children. They, more than anybody, need you. What you teach them — and the expectations you have for them — will literally make the difference between living lives on the margin or lives that soar into the mainstream. Good teaching, coupled with an unshakable belief in their capacity, is that powerful. Indeed, nobody is more important to our country’s future than those of you who will serve in our poorest communities.

Thank you for what you have chosen to do with your lives.

Thank you for not becoming bankers.

One Size After High School Does Not Fit All

One Size After High School Does Not Fit All

When did we decide that a four-year college education was a “must do” that had to start immediately after high school graduation? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 68.3% of 2011 high school seniors were enrolled in college the year they graduated. Yet national college persistence and graduation rates are shockingly low. Not only do students feel tremendous pressure to go to college immediately; their parents feel it and apply their own pressure.

Added to this pressure is the skyrocketing costs, and the debt burden many students accumulate to attain college degrees. Recent stories have new college grads talking about carrying this debt for the rest of their lives. No need to rush into that. Vocational training and military service are viewed in many communities (but far too few) as alternatives for those students who can’t afford, don’t have the aptitude or aren’t yet ready to pursue an undergraduate degree.

We know teenagers don’t all think alike, learn alike or mature at the same rates. We do our high school students a great disservice by suggesting they should immediately go to a four-year college upon graduation from high school — or they’ll be sentenced to a life of unskilled labor. Without introducing relevancy, rigor and career skills into high school, the college drop-out rates will continue to be unacceptable.

I’m suggesting we not pat ourselves on the back and declare “job well done” by measuring graduation and college acceptance rates. A better measure ought to include post-secondary persistence and an opportunity index — let’s be accountable to new graduates by assessing their competencies and skills and map those to the next steps they are ready to pursue.

One research report shows that for every 10 freshman seeking an Associate Degree, half need remediation and only 10% of those freshmen will achieve the degree in three years. Students pursuing a 4-year degree who do not need remediation and graduate college within six years: <60%. These two illustrations help make my point. Why do we expect students will achieve college degrees in two or four years when so many graduate from high school with unrealistic expectations that they can succeed in college (sometimes standardized tests do measure things that matter).

Let’s get real. Students need to graduate from high school with competencies and skills to succeed in college courses, and community colleges need to improve support systems for those students who arrive unprepared. We need to strengthen options for high school graduates given today’s economic realities: people need to work to pursue college.

A Manhattan Institute report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that 32% of students graduate high school prepared for college. That means almost 70% are not prepared to attend college because they lack the literacy and math competencies, critical thinking, collaboration, and communications skills needed for college work.

If that wasn’t disturbing enough, another recent report released by the Indiana Commission on Higher Education says that almost one-third of all Indiana high school graduates who attended public colleges and universities needed to take remedial courses in math and/or English before they could take college-level courses. This is a huge psychological de-motivator for students and it is costly for all concerned — students and their families as well as taxpayers.

This same report showed that achieving great high school grades does not equal college readiness. Students who had earned the college-prep “Core 40” degree, which requires three years of high school math and four years of high school English, still needed remediation. Many students graduating with the highest GPAs are still unable to perform basic college work.

Those reasons include the economic impact of attending a four-year college. The financial cost of education is monumental. The truth today is that financing a college degree means that many students have to proceed to college more slowly on a “work and learn” track. Or perhaps these students even need a “gap year or two” to be ready to do well in college because they need remediation or simply a break before being able to be fully present for serious college study. A “gap year” (to work or volunteer with organizations such as AmeriCorps) can provide the means for these students to gain maturity, self-direction and project management skills — all necessary to successfully complete university work.

So I ask again: is there really only one choice for our students? Isn’t it time we adults got “real” about options that combine sensible financial planning and realistic timeframes? Must we portray the American dream as monolithic, where we suggest students immediately attend a four-year college after high school? Not only are many students unprepared academically, but the entire high-stakes college admissions process has a significant impact on their developing psyche. The various ways that students react to this type of stress also affects their readiness for college.

It’s time we recognize that one size does not fit all. Students need to feel they have options — to attend a community college, to delay entering college to work, to volunteer or to travel. Attending a four-year university directly following high school is a choice that many students are ready to make, but it is not the right choice for everyone. Let’s stop trying to fit everyone into the same box. It’s time to prepare students for multiple pathways after high school.

Schools and the New Jim Crow • An Interview With Michelle Alexander

Schools and the New Jim Crow • An Interview With Michelle Alexander

By Jody Sokolower

As Rethinking Schools began to explore the school-to-prison pipeline, we searched for a construct that would help us understand how the criminalization of youth fits into the larger social picture. At just that moment, we discovered The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

Alexander poses a thought-provoking and insightful thesis: Mass incarceration, justified and organized around the war on drugs, has become the new face of racial discrimination in the United States. Since 1970, the number of people behind bars in this country has increased 600 percent.

What is most striking about these numbers is the racial dimension. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington, DC, for example, it is estimated that 75 percent of young black men can expect to serve time in prison.

Equally disturbing is Alexander’s description of the lifelong civil and human rights implications of being arrested and serving time in prison, and the implications for what many call our “post-racial” society. As she explains in her introduction:

What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

We asked Alexander to share her thoughts about the implications of her work when applied to education and the lives of children and youth. She spoke with Rethinking Schools editor Jody Sokolower on Sept. 1, 2011.

RS: What is the impact of mass incarceration on African American children and youth?

MA: There is an extraordinary impact. For African American children, in particular, the odds are extremely high that they will have a parent or loved one, a relative, who has either spent time behind bars or who has acquired a criminal record and thus is part of the under-caste—the group of people who can be legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives. For many African American children, their fathers, and increasingly their mothers, are behind bars. It is very difficult for them to visit. Many people are held hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home. There is a tremendous amount of shame with having a parent or other family member incarcerated. There can be fear of having it revealed to others at school.

But also, for these children, their life chances are greatly diminished. They are more likely to be raised in severe poverty; their parents are unlikely to be able to find work or housing and are often ineligible even for food stamps.

For children, the era of mass incarceration has meant a tremendous amount of family separation, broken homes, poverty, and a far, far greater level of hopelessness as they see so many of their loved ones cycling in and out of prison. Children who have incarcerated parents are far more likely themselves to be incarcerated.

When young black men reach a certain age—whether or not there is incarceration in their families—they themselves are the target of police stops, interrogations, frisks, often for no reason other than their race. And, of course, this level of harassment sends a message to them, often at an early age: No matter who you are or what you do, you’re going to find yourself behind bars one way or the other. This reinforces the sense that prison is part of their destiny, rather than a choice one makes.

A Birdcage as a Metaphor

RS: At one point in The New Jim Crow, you refer to the metaphor of a birdcage as a way to describe structural racism and apply that to mass incarceration. How does what is happening to African American youth in our schools fit into that picture?

MA: The idea of the metaphor is there can be many bars, wires that keep a person trapped. All of them don’t have to have been created for the purpose of harming or caging the bird, but they still serve that function. Certainly youth of color, particularly those in ghetto communities, find themselves born into the cage. They are born into a community in which the rules, laws, policies, structures of their lives virtually guarantee that they will remain trapped for life. It begins at a very early age when their parents themselves are either behind bars or locked in a permanent second-class status and cannot afford them the opportunities they otherwise could. For example, those with felony convictions are denied access to public housing, hundreds of professions that require certification, financial support for education, and often the right to vote. Thousands of people are unable even to get food stamps because they were once caught with drugs.

The cage itself is manifested by the ghetto, which is racially segregated, isolated, cut off from social and economic opportunities. The cage is the unequal educational opportunities these children are provided at a very early age coupled with the constant police surveillance they’re likely to encounter, making it very likely that they’re going to serve time and be caught for committing the various types of minor crimes—particularly drug crimes—that occur with roughly equal frequency in middle-class white communities but go largely ignored.

So, for many, whether they go to prison or not is far less about the choices they make and far more about what kind of cage they’re born into. Middle-class white children, children of privilege, are afforded the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes and still go on to college, still dream big dreams. But for kids who are born in the ghetto in the era of mass incarceration, the system is designed in such a way that it traps them, often for life.

RS: How do you define and analyze the school-to-prison pipeline?

MA: It’s really part of the large cage or caste that I was describing earlier. The school-to-prison pipeline is another metaphor—a good one for explaining how children are funneled directly from schools into prison. Instead of schools being a pipeline to opportunity, schools are feeding our prisons.

It’s important for us to understand how school discipline policies have been influenced by the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement. Many people imagine that zero tolerance rhetoric emerged within the school environment, but it’s not true. In fact, the Advancement Project published a report showing that one of the earliest examples of zero tolerance language in school discipline manuals was a cut-and-paste job from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration manual. The wave of punitiveness that washed over the United States with the rise of the drug war and the get tough movement really flooded our schools. Schools, caught up in this maelstrom, began viewing children as criminals or suspects, rather than as young people with an enormous amount of potential struggling in their own ways and their own difficult context to make it and hopefully thrive. We began viewing the youth in schools as potential violators rather than as children needing our guidance.

The Mythology of Colorblindness

RS: In your book, you explain that the policies of mass incarceration are technically “colorblind” but lead to starkly racialized results. How do you see this specifically affecting children and young people of color?

MA: The mythology around colorblindness leads people to imagine that if poor kids of color are failing or getting locked up in large numbers, it must be something wrong with them. It leads young kids of color to look around and say: “There must be something wrong with me, there must be something wrong with us. Is there something inherent, something different about me, about us as a people, that leads us to fail so often, that leads us to live in these miserable conditions, that leads us to go in and out of prison?”

The mythology of colorblindness takes the race question off the table. It makes it difficult for people to even formulate the question: Could this be about something more than individual choices? Maybe there is something going on that’s linked to the history of race in our country and the way race is reproducing itself in modern times.

I think this mythology—that of course we’re all beyond race, of course our police officers aren’t racist, of course our politicians don’t mean any harm to people of color—this idea that we’re beyond all that (so it must be something else) makes it difficult for young people as well as the grown-ups to be able to see clearly and honestly the truth of what’s going on. It makes it difficult to see that the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement manifested itself in the form of mass incarceration, in the form of defunding and devaluing schools serving kids of color and all the rest. We have avoided in recent years talking openly and honestly about race out of fear that it will alienate and polarize. In my own view, it’s our refusal to deal openly and honestly with race that leads us to keep repeating these cycles of exclusion and division, and rebirthing a caste-like system that we claim we’ve left behind.

RS: We are in the midst of a huge attack on public education—privatization through charters and vouchers; increased standardization, regimentation, and testing; and the destruction of teachers’ unions. Much of it is justified by what appears to be anti-racist rhetoric: Schools aren’t meeting the needs of inner-city children, so their parents need choices. How do you see this?

MA: People who focus solely on what do we do given the current context are avoiding the big why. Why is it that these schools aren’t meeting these kids’ needs? Why is it that such a large percentage of the African American population today is trapped in these ghettos? What is the bigger picture?

The bigger picture is that over the last 30 years, we have spent $1 trillion waging a drug war that has failed in any meaningful way to reduce drug addiction or abuse, and yet has siphoned an enormous amount of resources away from other public services, especially education. We are in a social and political context in which the norm is to punish poor folks of color rather than to educate and empower them with economic opportunity. It is that political context that leads some people to ask: Don’t children need to be able to escape poorly performing schools? Of course, no one should be trapped in bad schools or bad neighborhoods. No one. But I think we need to be asking a larger question: How do we change the norm, the larger context that people seem to accept as a given? Are we so thoroughly resigned to what “is” that we cannot even begin a serious conversation about how to create what ought to be?

The education justice movement and the prison justice movement have been operating separately in many places as though they’re in silos. But the reality is we’re not going to provide meaningful education opportunities to poor kids, kids of color, until and unless we recognize that we’re wasting trillions of dollars on a failed criminal justice system. Kids are growing up in communities in which they see their loved ones cycling in and out of prison and in which they are sent the message in countless ways that they, too, are going to prison one way or another. We cannot build healthy, functioning schools within a context where there is no funding available because it’s going to building prisons and police forces.

RS: And fighting wars?

MA: Yes, and fighting wars. And where there is so much hopelessness because of the prevalence of mass incarceration.

At the same time, we’re foolish if we think we’re going to end mass incarceration unless we are willing to deal with the reality that huge percentages of poor people are going to remain jobless, locked out of the mainstream economy, unless and until they have a quality education that prepares them well for the new economy. There has got to be much more collaboration between the two movements and a greater appreciation for the work of the advocates in each community. It’s got to be a movement that’s about education, not incarceration—about jobs, not jails. A movement that integrates the work in these various camps from, in my view, a human rights perspective.

Fighting Back

RS: What is the role of teachers in responding to this crisis? What should we be doing in our classrooms? What should we be doing as education activists?

MA: That is a wonderful question and one I’m wrestling with myself now. I am in the process of working with others trying to develop curriculum and materials that will make it easier to talk to young people about these issues in ways that won’t lead to paralysis, fear, or resignation, but instead will enlighten and inspire action and critical thinking in the future. It’s very difficult but it must be done.

We have to be willing to take some risks. In my experience, there is a lot of hesitancy to approach these issues in the classroom out of fear that students will become emotional or angry, or that the information will reinforce their sense of futility about their own lives and experience. It’s important to teach them about the reality of the system, that it is in fact the case that they are being targeted unfairly, that the rules have been set up in a way that authorize unfair treatment of them, and how difficult it is to challenge these laws in the courts. We need to teach them how our politics have changed in recent years, how there has been, in fact, a backlash. But we need to couple that information with stories of how people in the past have challenged these kinds of injustices, and the role that youth have played historically in those struggles.

I think it’s important to encourage young people to tell their own stories and to speak openly about their own experiences with the criminal justice system and the experiences of their family. We need to ensure that the classroom environment is a supportive one so that the shame and stigma can be dispelled. Then teachers can use those stories of what students have witnessed and experienced as the opportunity to begin asking questions: How did we get here? Why is this happening? How are things different in other communities? How is this linked to what has gone on in prior periods of our nation’s history? And what, then, can we do about it?

Just providing information about how bad things are, or the statistics and data on incarceration by themselves, does lead to more depression and resignation and is not empowering. The information has to be presented in a way that’s linked to the piece about encouraging students to think critically and creatively about how they might respond to injustice, and how young people have responded to injustice in the past.

RS: What specifically?

MA: There’s a range of possibilities. I was inspired by what students have done in some schools organizing walkouts protesting the lack of funding and that sort of thing. There are opportunities for students to engage in those types of protests—taking to the streets—but there is also writing poetry, writing music, beginning to express themselves, holding forums, educating each other, the whole range. For example, for a period of time the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, Calif., was focused on youth engagement and advocacy to challenge mass incarceration. They launched a number of youth campaigns to close youth incarceration facilities in northern California. They demonstrated that it is really possible to blend hip-hop culture with very creative and specific advocacy and to develop young leaders. Young people today are very creative in using social media and there is a wide range of ways that they can get involved.

The most important thing at this stage is inspiring an awakening. There is a tremendous amount of confusion and denial that exists about mass incarceration today, and that is the biggest barrier to movement building. As long as we remain in denial about this system, movement building will be impossible. Exposing youth in classrooms to the truth about this system and developing their critical capacities will, I believe, open the door to meaningful engagement and collective, inspired action.


The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America

 The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America

It’s no accident that America’s schools have slowly eroded and that the intelligence of the average American has become so debilitated. American learning has plummeted and public school performance has nose-dived ever since the middle of the twentieth century because that has been the plan all along.

Some thirty million adults in the U.S. do not have the skills to perform even the most basic tasks such as adding numbers on a bank slip, identifying a place on a map, or reading directions for taking a medication. Eleven million Americans are totally illiterate in English.

Only twenty-nine percent of Americans have basic reading and computing skills. One out of every twenty Americans lacks the ability to understand what is going on in the world or to develop an informed opinion for voting.

 Thinking American citizens must always be aware that what goes on in this society is the result of the planning of its rulers; they create precisely the social, psychological, economic, and ideological conditions which will realize their goal of obscene wealth for themselves and impoverishment, homelessness, and death for the working class. With an illiterate, uneducated American citizenry, unable to understand what’s happening in the world, it’s no wonder that a fascist corporate cabal has been able to take over the United States.

In every culture, the public meanings, ideas, and skills transmitted through educational institutions (schools, academies, monasteries, universities) and through the media (newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, Internet) have always been determined by 1% of the ruling elite (politicians, financiers, warriors, priests, scholars, scientists, corporations).

In most cultures, the “ruling ideas” have fostered violence and class warfare. In only a few instances throughout history have the “ruling ideas” fostered the betterment of common people and society at large. One example of such a benevolent era was the eighteenth century Enlightenment, which encouraged humans to develop broad understanding in all fields of knowledge. Highly educated, intelligent groups in Europe and America developed toward a democratic way of life, created constitutions, and founded institutions for public education.
Culture as a creation of humankind is a neutral element–it can be used for positive or negative ends. Through the process of acculturation, the process beginning at infancy by which human beings acquire the culture of their society, individuals are stamped with social norms.

Vested, moneyed interests have constantly sought to demolish the American traditions of democracy, plotting to destroy the enlightening “diffusion of knowledge and the free exercise of reason.” Their method of rule is not by “consent of the governed” or rational discourse, but by arbitrary dictate of a tyrant’s despotic tactics.

Predictably, the very people who place American presidents, senators, and representatives in power, through the use of their multi-billion dollar fortunes, are the same moneyed interests that have deliberately destroyed American education. The Rockefellers, Fords, Morgans, Browns, Harrimans, Du Ponts, and other ruling families want obedient, efficient workers, not thinkers.
As early as 1913, cabal leaders made it clear that they wanted American schools to produce compliant laborers, not “authors,” “poets,” or “men of letters.”

Clearly, the rulers not only did not want to make “philosophers” of the working class, they wanted them trained so they would not even think for themselves. So they have deliberately devastated the American mind through:

•             Funding universities and scholars that carry out the devastation of the
American public education system in particular and American intelligence in

•             Developing programming (brainwashing) strategies using all media types, but
especially television

•             Imposing miseducation and brainwashing to destroy American citizens’ ability
to think for themselves

•             Subjecting American public education to a series of failed experiments, from
“look see” reading to the “new math”

•             Redefining key concepts so that the public school students no longer
understand the fundamentals of a democratic society

•             Turning what is called “education” into nothing but training

•             Deluding Americans–especially the young people–into mistaking technological
savvy for intelligence

Democracy requires an electorate that understands what is actually happening in the world, beyond what the corporate media tell us is happening. If American citizens receive an effective education, they learn to inform themselves and can see through the propaganda, the dictatorial actions, and the outcomes of the non-constitutional acts of their rulers.

Beginning in the early part of the twentieth century, American ruling groups and their think tanks, began to create a pseudo-educational system which produced students who were no longer capable of understanding key concepts such as “freedom,” “government of the people,” “critical and analytical thinking,” etc.

America today is a combat zone where a War Against Intelligence is constantly being waged. Unfortunately, the ruling elite are currently winning: Americans are progressively losing their ability to understand what is happening in the world around them. Americans are unable to see that the ruling classes are using the pretext of the war against terrorism to destroy essential constitutional liberties. Billions of dollars have been stolen by the wealthy in a bailout scam, while the working class is devastated through unemployment and home foreclosures. A poor person is jailed for a $20 theft, but a plutocrat is allowed to steal the pension fund of thousands of workers without penalty.

The cabal attacked American learning through the Education Bill signed into law by President George Bush in January, 2002. The bill essentially equates education with training for high test scores. Those who benefit most from this law are not students or teachers but the publishers of textbooks and companies that carry out testing.

The US Supreme Court delivered the coup de grace to American education: on June 27, 2002, the Neanderthal majority in the court ruled that the government may give financial aid to parents so they can send their children to religious or private schools. Our tax dollars can be used to fund training in any religious or political ideology imaginable. Granted, public funds since the 1950s have been used exclusively to dumb down America, but tax dollars did not go to support ideologically-based schools that were totally inimical to American values.

The US Government and various private organizations are primarily funding Private Roman Catholic and Protestant fundamentalist schools that teach unthinking obedience to authoritarian leaders. This catastrophic blow to American education will enable a school voucher system which will siphon off public school funds into the coffers of the Catholic Church and other private schools.

Republican supporters of the voucher hide the fact from the public that the crisis in the schools is largely the product of decades of federal, state and local spending cuts, tax breaks to big business and attacks on teachers’ and other school employees’ wages and working conditions.

Privately-run schools will continue to screen applicants and reject any student they deem unacceptable. While the language of most voucher programs prohibits discrimination based on race or national origin, these schools can reject students based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, language, ability to pay, behavioral issues or academic or physical ability. They would be under no financial pressure to provide help for students with special needs, since it is more costly to provide care for special education children, and most private schools are not staffed to handle them.

The newly-sanctioned voucher system will intensify class and social distinctions. The top schools will be reserved for the wealthiest layers of society who can pay to send their children to elite private schools and academies. Next below on the totem pole will be the private and for-profit schools for middle-class and working class children, whose parents will have to work longer hours and go further into debt to scrape together thousands of dollars to pay tuition costs. At the very bottom will be the public schools, left for the poorest and most disadvantaged working class students. Unable to do little to help working class youth develop learning skills, the role of these schools will be little more than training lower-class students for low-paying jobs.

Beginning at the time of the American Revolution, part of the genius of the nation had been the right to public education, based on the idea that all children, regardless of economic or social status, race, religion or ethnic background, be guaranteed government-paid, quality education. Founding fathers such as Jefferson favored the establishment of government-funded “free schools” in opposition to the aristocratic system in Europe, where education was limited to the wealthiest layers of society and largely overseen by the Church.

In the nineteenth century these democratic principles were advanced by such reformers as Horace Mann, who wrote in 1848:

If one class possesses all the wealth and the education, while the residue of society is ignorant and poor, it matters not by what name the relation between them may be called; the latter, in fact and in truth, will be the servile dependents and subjects of the former.”

In the early part of the twentieth century, the working class took up the fight for public education, which was inseparable from the campaign against child labor. However it was only through the civil rights struggles, from the 1930s through 1960s, that universal access to the public schools was fully achieved.

Now, in the twenty-first century the right to sound public education for the working class has come into collision with the plans of the criminal elite for a society primarily for the benefit of the wealthy. The rampant growth of class inequality has produced a state of affairs that is fundamentally incompatible with democratic principles, which are based on the equal rights of all citizens.

The whole issue of public money for ideologically-based schools will prove extremely divisive throughout the nation. The Republicans, the majority of who support vouchers, will use the issue as a way to attack any Democrat who opposes vouchers as a tool of the teacher unions.

Americans are rapidly losing a sense of the traditional American values. Anti-intellectual, racist or right-wing multiculturalism has replaced education, bought-and-paid-for-politics has replaced democracy, funneling billions to the fat-cats has replaced statesmanship, and attacks on constitutional liberties has replaced political and judicial oversight.

The federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), which went into effect in 2002, and the ongoing “Race to the Top” campaign are both ploys by political pundits to reduce learning to mere memorization of inert content in books approved and published by Neoconservative plutocrats. NCLB and “Race to the Top” allows ignoramuses pretending to be teachers and scholars to create spurious content and evaluation instruments that indoctrinate students in reactionary principles. The pretence is that this policy makes schools “accountable.” What this actually means is focusing most of the teachers’ and students’ attention on state standardized testing and results: memorization.

The law requires all schools to test students in grades 2-12 in reading, math and science. Each state chooses its own test and standards of proficiency. Schools that don’t show that students are making “adequate yearly progress” toward achieving proficiency are subject to federal sanctions, including loss of federal funds, providing free tutoring, allowing students to transfer to another school, and if all else fails, a complete restructuring of the school.

Evaluation of teachers and students must be based on a clear understanding of what genuine education is:

  • Radical change in a teacher’s and a student’s thought and behavior
  • Ability in critical thinking: thinking for oneself based on understanding
    of evidence as opposed to mere authoritarian assertion
  • Self-awareness: cognizance of one’s beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Critical consciousness: awareness of the world

The ravages that the neoconservative establishment has wreaked on the public school system are so fundamental that we cannot rejuvenate it. We must create our own private “commonwealth schools” within a cooperative commonwealth community, to help us regain our sense, our ability to see what’s happening, and our intelligence. When our nation was founded, education was carried on primarily through just such private home schools where Americans learned the values of a democratic way of life.

As some are warning, any government system–public schools or voucher-based private schools–carries government control with it. Since the neoconservative establishment is using the voucher system to gain total ideological control of private schools, we must create private “commonwealth schools” within cooperative communities without resorting to vouchers.

Americans are currently in such a debilitated state of ignorance and egomania that our only hope is creating a small, experimental community in which to:

  1. Educate our young people in progressive awareness
  2. Work toward a commonwealth
  3. Develop a Saving Remnant

Education must become the transmission of true human understanding to future generations. This will require a group of people assisting others to see that current “politics” and “education” are actually counterfeits of real social values, and developing cooperative communities which will create genuine educational institutions that will provide students insight into what is actually occurring in the world.