Tag Archive: Schools

Keith Eric Benson: Pride in Being a Skeptic

What you’ll read below was originally a comment by Keith Eric Benson at Steve Danley’s Local Knowledge Blog, replying to a comment he found odious in a Courier Post editorial. Hat tip to Steve for throwing light on Keith’s words, and to Camden NAACP, which sent the link to their list. Keith is a Camden resident, teacher at Camden High, frequent contributor to Steve’s blog, and a doctoral candidate in the Education, Culture and Society program at Rutgers Graduate School of Education. He is also an activist on behalf of his students. Promoted by Rosi.

The last comment [in this Courier Post editorial -ed] directed at “skeptics” to “shut up and get out of the way”, in my eyes, was so out of line. I think the labeling of people who have legitimate concerns and issues with this contemporary neoliberal directed Camden, and where its headed, as “skeptics” is demeaning and dismissive.

After all, people who being referred to as “skeptics” are the people who live here, and fundamentally are simply asking for the same civic rights and democratic respect that are afforded those in neighboring municipalities.

As a “skeptic” myself, I have a problem when the beneficiaries of good public and private jobs within this 8 square mile city of 97% percent minorities don’t remotely look like the people who reside here. Am skeptical for pointing that out? Am I skeptical when I point out that I can go WEEKS without seeing a black police officer on this newly created County Police Department? Or that I don’t recognize anyone of them as current Camden residents? Am I a “skeptic” when I point out research shows charters schools largely do NO better than traditional public schools? Am I skeptical that every time Gov. Christie comes here to say how much he cares about Camden he has a perimeter set up so that NO resident who is NOT connected to the Norcross machine goes anywhere near him to voice out concerns? Am I skeptic when I get upset that our local reporters ask NO follow-up questions and are not themselves the skeptical gatekeepers of public knowledge they are supposed to be but instead prefer to be the echo chamber for those with power?

UPDATE: The real story behind Lily’s trip to Camden

Cross-posted with Marie Corfield.

Promoted by Rosi.

LilyCamden1Two weeks ago NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia visited New Jersey as part of her 50-state Back to School Tour. I wrote about her visit and meeting with NJ ed bloggers here, here and here.

One of her stops was Pyne Poynt Middle School in Camden which is also home to the co-located Mastery Charter School. While the NJ state assembly passed an amendment to the Urban Hope Act today which gives charter schools greater ability to expand in take over public education in Camden, I had a conversation with someone who was in close proximity to Lily’s visit. This person asked not to be identified. Here is their story (my comments are in red):

The entire time Lily was visiting Pyne Poynt she was followed around by two of Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard’s “people”.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has no time to be patient – Part III

Cross-posted with Marie Corfield blog. Promoted by Rosi.

3T2A7823‘Absurd’ ‘Idiotic’ ‘Toxic’ ‘Voodoo’ ‘Abusive’

These are all words NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia used to describe education ‘reform’-particularly standardized testing-in her recent 90-minute meeting with NJ ed bloggers, and quite frankly, they were music to my ears. I’ve been waiting for the NEA leadership to draw a hard line in the sand.

Part I of this series focused on the devastating effects of high-stakes testing on special needs children, and how edu-preneurs-21st century carpetbaggers-are profiting from the testing boom. Part II focused on the ways billionaires and their ‘charities’ are controlling the media to push out their messaging to an uninformed public. Part III’s focus is on Lily’s visits to two very different New Jersey schools, and how NEA-and all its members-must fight back against destructive education ‘reform’.

As with the two previous posts, unless otherwise indicated, Lily’s quotes are in red.

A tale of two cities

REUTERS_Kevin LamarqueIn her tour of New Jersey, Lily stopped at two schools: Pyne Poynt Middle School in Camden, which shares a building with the co-located Mastery Charter School, and West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional High School. The median household income in West Windsor is $147,234, with only 2.5% of its residents living below the poverty level, while Camden’s median household income is $25,681 (no, that’s not a typo), and affluent_home45% of its residents live below the poverty level. Two years ago the state swooped in, took over the school district, and appointed as superintendent in the ‘Most Dangerous City in America’ Paymon Rouhanifard, a 32-year-old former New York City school system bureaucrat/former Wall Street analyst/Teach for America alumnus who spent a grand total of two years and one month in front of a classroom. Makes perfect sense, right?

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García has no time to be diplomatic – Part I

Promoted by Rosi. It was a privilege to be included in the meeting Marie describes below. Lily has always reached out to bloggers to talk about education, and in fact I spoke with her last at Netroots Nation in Detroit this July.

Cross-posted with Marie Corfield.

“This is a test. This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency…” Yea, you know the drill. More on this later…

n-ETHAN-large570This is Ethan Rediske and his parents. Ethan is an 11-year old Florida boy who was born with cerebral palsy. He is also blind and brain damaged. He is perhaps the poster child for all that is toxic and outright dangerous in education ‘reform’-especially standardized testing. More on him later…


This is Lily Eskelsen García, newly elected President of the National Education Association.

What do all three have in common? Keep reading…

#npsboycott4freedom: Today’s Newark School Boycott

Below the fold, two videos to explain went on in Newark today.

Cami Anderson represents Gov. Christie’s goal of privatizing and corporatizing public education. Her personal conduct, if that’s not enough, is also questionable; she refuses to attend school board meetings and other forums where she might be met with opposition. And community complaints that she ignores parents and cuts community out of her process are well-documented. And insidious: The U.S. Dept. of Education is investigating claims her plan violates the civil rights of black students.

Today, Day One of ‘One Newark,’ she toured half-empty schools, as families boycotted. NJ Communities United is reporting that she locked school board members and parents out of her press conference.

Below the fold, two videos. In the first, parents talk about why they’re boycotting. The second is smartphone vid; wobbly, amateur, interrupted by traffic noise. But that’s the way things are right now in Newark. This boycott isn’t being run by some slick operation with corporate media skills – like Team Cami can count on. It was launched by busy parents and grandparents, by cell phone and leaflet, with supplies for Freedom Schools arriving by car from allies. All, as Anderson tells the press ‘One Newark’ is a success. When clearly it is not.

In Vid #2, she explains away the boycott by babbling about wanting to “work through any disagreements … that are not about hurting kids and putting them behind”. As though it’s the parents doing damage to the kids. And brings up time on task (a well-known edu-term about reducing wasted time in the classroom) as though boycotting parents are denying their children education. But I’m going to suggest that Newark kids learned a great deal today: They learned what their parents, grandparents and community will do for them, how to tell truth from spin, and that they’re never too young to know what’s really going on.

Marie Corfield to Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran

promoted by Rosi

In case you missed it, earlier this week fellow educators and bloggers, Ani McHugh (teacherbiz), Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman) and I wrote a joint open letter to Star Ledger editorial director Tom Moran, regarding his continuous support of the racist policies of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan. In addition to posting on all three of our blogs, it also ran at Blue Jersey Diane Ravitch’s site.

Tom was not happy, and posted a response here at Blue Jersey. To which Jazzman responded here and here. 
Here’s my response:

Dear Tom,

You missed our point so I’ll say it again in my best teacher voice: One Newark has been proven to be a racist policy toward students and education professionals. You refuse to research and report the facts surrounding it (Journalism 101), reporting instead on your opinions and pre-conceived notions, therefore you support a racist policy. 

More below.

An answer from Moran

Well, Tom Moran just hung up on me after asking me to return his call for a technical snag he had in posting, and after calling me a bunch of not-nice things. He thinks we’ve called him racist, which we have not, so I imagine he thinks we have some insults coming to us. More on that later. The post he so strongly objects to is An Open Letter to Star-Ledger Editorial Board Director Tom Moran by Marie Corfield, Ani McHugh & Jersey Jazzman and posted here, and at their 3 sites and at Diane Ravitch’s. Meanwhile, no matter what he says, we’re glad he posted what he has to say here. He’s always invited back. – Rosi

I was struck by the open letter to me as Star-Ledger editorial page editor after my recent column on Cami Anderson. The letter is below. My column is here.

I don’t have time to answer every one of these criticisms. Times are tough in my industry these days. But a few thoughts:

What’s with the Rush Limbaugh tone of this site? Can we have an honest disagreement with the personal insults? “ill-informed” “reckless” “shame on you” “ridicuous” “shredded your integrity” and so on. I was not the least bit to see the go-to attack of people who have weak arguments: I’m a racist.

Geez. All that’s from the first few paragraphs of a long-winded diatribe. I’m surprised my dog can even stand me.

Maybe you folks should take a pill, and engage people who disagree with you in a civil manner. You might find that I’m not as evil as you think. Who knows.

As for my alleged refusal to consider these arguments, please. I have spoken at length about these issues with Diane Ravitch, and Ras Baraka, and a ton of other Cami critics to hear them out. I have visited several schools, attended board meetings, read extensively. So give me a break. I engage with a lot of smart people who disagree with me on this. I never call them racist or rely on personal insults to make my point. It’s amateur.

And by the way, I included a sharp critique of Cami’s failure to consult the community sufficiently. Did you guys even read the damn column? Did you read Bob Curvin’s quote?

As for the substance, let’s start with charters. Newark parents want charters. Thousands are on wait lists, and when given the choice this year, charters were picked overwhelmingly. You suggest these parents have been tricked. And I’m condescending? Please.

As for the dark profit motive, that is just ideological blather. Yes, companies make money selling products and services to schools. But they make that money selling to charters or conventional districts. The hedge fund philanthropists who gave money to Team Academy are not making money. Dave Tepper, a  hedge fund guy who spends a lot on ed reform, made $2 billion in a single year on Wall Street. What is the logic of his trying to find a way to siphon money from the public schools? How would that work? That’s crazy talk.

More below…

The Education Reform Tsunami Has Left Destruction in its Wake

It’s been about five years now, more or less. Five years of this so-called “Educational Reform Movement,” spearheaded by self-proclaimed “mavericks” like former D.C. School Superintendent Michelle Rhee and now embraced by a host of her destructive admirers like Newark’s Cami Anderson, entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and others. These ‘reformists’ eagerly tore up decades – even centuries – of bedrock educational values and practices to embrace new ones. The promise was no less of a revolution, a ‘total transformation’ if you like. If we followed their advice and were willing to absorb the painful changes they recommended, our public schools, regardless of geographical or socio-economic setting, would be transformed. Gone would be the tired school model of old, with its emphasis on teacher-centered learning, student accountability and lecture. Replacing it would be a dynamic new model, consumer-driven, student centered, administratively powered…and it would produce the equivalent to an educational Heaven on earth. From it would emerge brilliant, creative, confident students, eager to engage in debate and Socratic dialogue, ready for day one at the best colleges and universities in the world.

It didn’t happen.

The reformers’ call for change varied by region, but their core beliefs were wrapped up in a few common concepts. Teacher tenure or any related form of institutional job security was to go. New evaluative tools for teachers would no longer take their content knowledge, style or experience into consideration; now the focus would be on how students responded to them. Every moment of every day was to be documented, quantified, reviewed and revised in a torrent of new paperwork floating between teachers and their administrators. And in the end, from teacher jobs to the very existence of any particular school as an institution, high stakes testing would determine all. Community building, intellectual curiosity, and the love for learning were out; fear, disruption, testing and constant contention were in. Again, reformers said that it would be messy, and it was, but as time marched on America’s students would emerge sharp, competitive, ready to work in today’s global knowledge-based economy.

Not happening.

And what is most curious are the studies. Educators, reformists and their opponents, love to point out studies. Studies come to all sorts of conclusions, and to be fair, it’s not difficult to find one or two that seemed almost predestined to back a specific design or approach. But what studies have not shown, what there is no evidence of, is this massive shift, this dramatic change in temperature, which was promised. Not one. In some districts test scores are a bit higher; in others, lower. But nothing revolutionary. Zilch. This reformist tsunami, like its real-world equivalent, produced a dramatic wave but left only destruction in its wake.

Believe me, I want to be proven wrong on this important point. I want to see some real, dramatic evidence that the disruptive changes implemented in our public schools did indeed produce revolutionary, seismic results. But there are none. Not a single ‘super school’ has emerged from this movement; in fact, what we’re seeing in places as different as the urban district of Newark to the rural districts of Central Florida is much of the same: careers wrecked, schools disrupted, students bewildered and institutions stripped of community spirit and memory. Insecurity, fear and fury now emanate from parents, teachers and students. Boards of education meetings have been transformed into shouting matches. Don’t take my word for it; even the ‘great reformer,” of Chris Christie, Cami Anderson, no longer bothers to attend any community-based meetings in Newark. Even she knows that her ideas are so absolutely bankrupt, so steeped in failure that she avoids any forum where she might face the very public she claims to serve.  

So why has this movement failed? Why has it wreaked complete havoc on our public schools with little indication of groundbreaking, progressive results? There are a great many reasons, but first and foremost is the flawed reformist belief that somehow schools can be magically separated from the communities that produce them. Reformists tell us that larger, complex issues such as poverty, unemployment, child neglect and abuse, crime, lack of technological access, child nutrition and student society can somehow be conveniently divorced from the day-to-day operations of any school and classroom. They stipulate that a single teacher can be held exclusively responsible for months and months of student academic outcomes, and that somehow the communities and families that produce them bear little or none.

Okay, so perhaps you’re thinking, if I’m so smart, if I’m so confident that the reformist approach to modern public education is so destructive, then what works? What is the magic formula that will indeed allow us to convert our students, every single one of them, whether they attend school in leafy Livingston or in the extremely mean streets of Camden into competitive Princeton applicants?  

I need time to ruminate on that one, but I think I have an idea. I’ll follow that up in my next blog.  

In Flemington tonight: School security plans leaked, Will there be more calls for resignation?

Tonight 7pm is the first meeting of the Flemington Borough Council since an explosive meeting – one week ago tonight – of the school board that serves the same town. We’ll know by tonight if there’s reverb from last week, and whether Republican members of the Borough Council, some of whom were leaked confidential info and apparently didn’t report it, have anything to say for themselves. Here’s what’s going on:

School security documents leaked: At last Monday’s Flemington-Raritan School Board meeting, we learned that Board member Alan Brewer (Flemington) sent details of the emergency security plan now being drafted for all the district schools to 10 Republicans active in Flemington politics. Board member Anna Fallon, who confirmed this leak via public records request, demanded Brewer’s resignation. Board member Robin Behn also demanded Brewer resign. And that was echoed during the meeting’s public comments, including from me. I am a Flemington resident and Brewer represents me on that Board.

Why is that a big deal? What Brewer leaked are plans that first responders need immediately in an emergency, like what hallway kids are told to run down to escape if there’s a shooter in the building, or where the hidden cameras are placed. Now that info has been leaked past the confidentiality of school officials. That plan was expensive and months in the making. But what is far worse is the risk to the safety of children and staff that Brewer might have caused.

Who did Al Brewer leak to: Erica Edwards (Flemington mayor), Brian Swingle, John Gorman, Phil Greiner and Phil Velella (the Republicans on Flemington Borough Council), Bill Reed (Republican Party municipal chair), Marcia Karrow (former state senator), Bob Hauck (former Flemington councilman), Mary Melfi (Hunterdon Clerk) and Elaine Gorman (Councilman Gorman’s wife, who represents her voting district to the Republican Party).

My question to the 10 Republican he leaked to: Why didn’t you immediately report this breach to the Board?

Public Education’s Berlin Wall Moment is Fast Approaching

As teachers and students begin to gear up for the return to school this September, most if not all of them are filled with something that, while sometimes present in life, is now completely dominating: dread. This dread is a direct result of the present “Corporatist Model” that is currently working its way through our public schools. For people who do not quite understand the basis of this dread, let me explain.

The Corporatist Model of Schooling goes by many names and has many promoters; most not being educators. It is the belief that our schools are wholly, totally and completely responsible for all personal, academic and ultimately professional results of the students that cycle through them. But it goes much deeper than that; in a quest for control, this model stipulates that every moment of every class, every interation, every day, must be accounted for. Every lesson must be planned with scientific precision, and documented thoroughly. Every assignment and interaction with students must be comprehensively rated, quantified, and analyzed. Each teacher really isn’t an educator or mentor; he or she is more or less of a document machine, creating funneling documents to mid-level administrators for comment, revision and evaluation. Teachers then keep detailed files on their students and their work and rate them according to statistical models, again to be processed by mid-level administrators and scrutinized, critiqued, redone. Teachers don’t really consult with one another except to engage in “common planning” or “statistical inquiry.” Their meetings with superiors are typically cold, stressful and filled with jargon while minutes are taken at gatherings to be held against educators later. There is no community anymore, because it has been destroyed and replaced by an atmosphere of fear, loathing and fatalism.

Of course, the end result is how the students will perform on high stakes tests, because again, teachers are ultimately held responsible for the results. Forget that many students come to school without breakfast, abused, furious, tired, high, sick or injured. It is all on the teachers.

Let me tell you how this all ends, because it won’t end well. We have a precedent, and it’s not a small one.

The Corporatist Model is perhaps misnamed, because though workers at Microsoft or General Motors might find this institutional/statistically-based model familiar, most who know it don’t live in America. They live in places like Vietnam, Russia, Bulgaria and Cuba. There, people were victimized by an equally controlling philosophy that sought to regulate every aspect of their lives, from daily regimens to national economic policy. It was called Communism. And it failed, miserably, everywhere.  

Like Communism before it, the Corporatist Model of Education embraces a completely false set of assumptions, all centering around control. But when it comes to managing the upbringing, educating and nurturing of human beings, while guides are helpful, massive bureaucratization, micromanaging and regulation does not produce the desired results; and typically produces negative ones. The skillset needed for a population to function well in a Democracy can never emerge out of such nonsensical regimentation. Critical thinking, creativity, and a genuine enthusiasm for learning, as well as an appreciation of the world around us, can’t be drilled into someone’s head. The skills to successfully survive at Microsoft? Perhaps those can.

People who have lived under Communist regimes will of course attest to the violence used by rulers, but they will also tell you of the drab, miserable day-to-day sterile mode of existence. Orwell writes of it in his masterpiece 1984. It is a world of number counting and counters, unwavering dehumanization through constant petty criticism, accompanied by fear and stale ideas. It is an atmosphere where anyone with any spark of creativity or passion is instantly identified and flushed out. It is a place where change and justice might be preached in theory but ruthlessly suppressed in practice.

Communism has largely run its destructive course through history, at least the Soviet brand. Few people take it seriously anymore, because as a value system it is so utterly soulless. It only produced results under great and intense duress, and those results were shabby at best. And when there were achievements (like Sputnik), they were never followed up. The system eventually caught up and arrested all forms of excellence.  

We are already seeing the same effects of failure in our Corporatist-minded schools. This model has been working its way through the system for almost a decade now, and its leaders, like Lenin and Stalin before them, are largely disdained and discredited. Michelle Rhee, once the darling of the movement, was chased out of Washington, D.C. Superintendent Cami Anderson, Newark’s-once highly regarded ‘reformer’ is universally despised except by New Jersey’s arrogant, equally disgraced governor Chris Christie. She rules a deteriorating regime in an atmosphere of terror that sees the same sort of purges and irrational leadership worthy of Stalin’s times. Even in the suburbs, school boards like Highland Park are going as far as to buy out Superintendents who preach the same nonsense.

It will collapse, this model. It won’t fade out. It will fall. It does real damage to all involved. The level of failure is emerging, and it is massive. It has reverberated all the way down to our teaching academies. Young, intelligent, ambitious people are running away from public education, and frankly, I don’t blame them. They’re dodging a bullet by entering professions and industries where merit and creativity are actually rewarded.

Years from now, perhaps as few as three or five, we will look back with remorse on this Corporatist Educational Model that declared war on our best and brightest educators and students – only to sputter and fail. We’re almost there.