Tag Archives: California

California: Meet the Billionaires Who Are Financing the Spread of School Privatization

ctaThe California Teachers Association created a useful graphic of the billionaires who are supporting charter schools and privatization of public schools. (There are many more billionaires supporting privatization, but this is a good start.)

Here are a few things you should know about the people on this site.

The Waltons are probably the richest family in America. Forbes estimates their family fortune at $130 billion. Privatizing public education is a family hobby or passion. Wherever there is a critical election, whether in Washington State or Georgia, you are likely to find that a Walton has put in big money to help those who want to replace public schools with private management. They don’t like unions. They boast that they have funded one of every four charters in the nation. I don’t know if any of them have a union, but I doubt it. Walmart is non-union, and it has thrived–for the Waltons, if not for its workers. Workers at Walmart had to fight to get minimum wages. Many qualify for food stamps. If the Waltons wanted to reduce poverty, they could do it by raising the wages of their workers to $15 an hour. They have 1 million low-wage workers. Imagine the good the Waltons could do if they gave their workers a living wage.

Arthur Rock not only gives generously to charters, he is a major contributor to Teach for America. He personally pays for its Washington, D.C., interns who work as Congressional staff and diligently protect TFA’s financial and political interests.

Reed Hastings owns Netflix. He told a meeting of the California Charter Schools Association that he looks forward to the day when there are no local school boards. Think of it. You would get to pick your charter but have no voice whatever in its decision making. Democracy is such a nuisance. Hastings contributed to a fund to oust the chief judge of Washington State this fall because she wrote the opinion saying that charter schools are not public schools. He established a $100 million fund to promote charter schools headed by the guy who ran New Schools for New Orleans.

Doris Fisher is the matriarch of the Fisher Family that owns the Gap and Old Navy. The family has heavily supported KIPP and TFA. The three Fisher children went to Phillips Exeter Academy.

Eli Broad pushes to eliminate public schools everywhere. His Broad superintendents have been strategically placed in key positions in school districts across the country after being carefully indoctrinated in his view that the best way to improve public schools is to replace them with charters. He likes to work with school districts where there is minimal public participation, preferably where the mayor has total control. He wants to put half the children in Los Angeles in privately managed charter schools. He is another reformer who doesn’t like democracy. The more autocratic control, the better the environment for his top-down management plans.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation of Houston has made its mark beyond supporting charter schools in California. John Arnold tried, but failed, to turn Dallas into an all-charter district. He has a passion for eliminating defined-benefit public pensions and replacing them with 401Ks, which fluctuate with the market. When investigative reporter David Sirota discovered that Arnold was financing a PBS program on the “crisis” in public pensions, PBS was shamed into returning Arnold’s donation of $3.5 million.

What about in Maryland, who are the drivers behind charter schools Financing  and the Spread of School Privatization? The union members needs to pause a challenge to Maryland State education Association to make a similar list.

Know your reformers!

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Why veteran teachers aren’t surprised young people are shunning the profession

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L.A. teachers rally in Grand Park in February 2015. In the last decade, there has been a 70% drop in people preparing to be California teachers. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

By George Skelton

Judging from my email, a lot of California public school teachers are demoralized and questioning their career choices.

They’re not at all surprised that fewer and fewer college students are going into teaching.

My column last week about a growing teacher shortage triggered a barrage of responses. Most of it came from current or retired teachers.

The volume and intensity matched what would be expected from a column about such contentious topics as guns, abortion or taxes.

The former Los Angeles Unified teacher asked for anonymity because “I still have exhausted, discouraged but dedicated family members teaching.”

The retiree, now a classroom volunteer, wrote about one 8-year-old who is “confused, bored and frequently unaware of the need to use the bathroom,” yet is not in special education. That’s probably because there’s a particular shortage of special ed teachers.

A 7-year-old, she continued, is the daughter of a woman “in and out of rehab [who] has taught her child that she should never obey the rules. So the student refuses to work, lies on the floor and screams, bullies classmates and uses profanity that would make a truck driver blush.”

The retiree cited “teacher bashing, general disrespect for the profession … out of touch politicians and parents who either neglect their children or who set an example of disrespect and entitlement.”

She concluded: “Young people are well advised to look elsewhere until society takes a good, hard and honest look at what they have done to the profession.”

Scores of emails echoed her sentiments. Only a handful hailed the profession.

“Teaching is a hidden gem of a career that only needs a slight nudge to get young people into,” wrote Bob, a retired high school teacher from the San Fernando Valley. He recommended “a modest advertising program and not so many hoops to get a teaching credential.”

As for being burdened with nighttime paper grading, he said, “I did it for years until I noticed that most teachers were car key teachers. That’s the only thing being carried to the parking lot.”

My late wife never achieved “car key” status.

She loved the kids and teaching. But she was frustrated with timid administrators, decrepit facilities and a new “reform” seemingly every year.

There also was the depressing fact that few parents ever showed up for “back to school” night to hear how their kids were doing. And when she called parents to caution them about their teens failing or ditching class, she’d get an earful about being an awful teacher.

I read similar stuff in the emails.

A decline in classroom discipline was the dominant complaint.

“No one is going into teaching after hearing the horror stories emanating from the lack of discipline,” wrote Dave, whose late wife taught. One day she came home and proclaimed “it isn’t fun anymore.”

“The straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said, was a boy who stubbornly refused to stop playing games on his smartphone in class. The teacher sent the student to the principal’s office, but he returned shortly with a readmission note and a sneer. “She retired.”

It can get worse. My wife had her purse stolen by a student after class while another kid distracted her by ostensibly seeking academic advice.

Gary, who taught in a country school near Modesto, wrote: “Poor discipline was reinforced by the administration. If a child of someone politically important in the community got in trouble, the administration looked the other way. Students knew it was a game.”

Pay didn’t seem to be the top priority for my emailers.

Annual starting salaries average from $40,000 to $44,000, depending on the district, according to the state education department. They top out at $89,000 to $92,000.

That’s the fifth-highest pay in the nation. But the cost of living in California is high too.

Teachers get summers off. “College students don’t understand that four to six weeks of time off in the summer is PRICELESS,” wrote Gale, a nurse, who has tried to talk her children into becoming teachers. “They laugh at me.”

In the last decade, there has been a 70% drop in people preparing to be California teachers. Last year, 15,000 new credentials were issued, but 22,000 were needed, says state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

“It’s a serious problem,” he says, “and we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg.”

Fewer young people are entering the field. Baby boomers are leaving.

Torlakson and legislators are pushing some proposals: Earlier teacher training, even in high school. More mentoring. Student loan forgiveness.

But mainly, more teachers and retirees need to feel proud of their profession again. Then they can sell it to young people.

george.skelton@latimes.com

via Los Angeles times

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When it Comes to the Teacher Shortage, The New York Times Got it Wrong

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by Carol Burris

New Mexico’s Rio Rancho School District lies just north of Albuquerque. When school opened, the district was still in desperate need of teachers. Students in 33 classrooms were met by a permanent substitute who in some cases had a bachelor’s degree, but no teaching certification of any kind.

Shortly before schools opened in Arizona, at least 1000 teaching positions had yet to be filled. Some positions did not have even one applicant—choosing among the best candidates was not an option.

Nevada does not have enough teachers. If every graduate from Nevada’s teacher preparation programs were hired on the spot, the state still expected to be short. Clarke County alone anticipated having fewer than the whopping 2,600 teachers it needed to open school.

In Oklahoma, the shortage has reached emergency proportions as teachers flee like refugees across state lines to get jobs in better paying states. School officials have traveled to Puerto Ricoand Spain to fill slots, especially in bi-lingual education.

The state of California has not been spared. Students in the Bay Area of San Francisco may find their teacher is a central office staffer, as schools scramble to put an adult in the classroom. Although the California shortage is most acute in the northern part of the state, some lawmakers are concerned that it is spreading from north to south.

These are a few of the recent stories that have appeared in local newspapers across the country. There are many more. Too many of our nation’s children do not have the qualified permanent teacher they deserve. There is no indication that the problem will be solved anytime soon, and every indication that it will get worse.

A recent story in The New York Times by Motoko Rich brought national attention to the problem. Rich described the extraordinary efforts districts are taking to put someone in the front of the classroom—ready and credentialed or not. She attributes the shortage to an improving economy—teachers were laid off during the recession and now when new positions are opening, there are job opportunities that are just more attractive to college graduates. There is some truth to the argument she makes.

But the economic upturn is only a part of the story.

Earlier this year, NPR also reported on the national teacher shortage. Correspondent Eric Westervelt’s identification of the cause went beyond the usual suspect—the economy. Noting the dramatic drop in enrollment in teacher education programs (a 74% drop in less than 10 years in California), he astutely attributed at least part of the problem to the way corporate reforms have impacted the profession.

Westervelt reported that the Common Core and its battles; high-stakes testing, the erosion of tenure, and the evaluation of teachers by test scores, have all contributed to the crisis.

This comes as no surprise to those inside the profession.

David Gamberg is the superintendent of the Greenport and Southold districts on Long Island’s east end. He has long worried that the politically hostile environment for teachers is contributing to the shortage we are seeing today. “I suspect that a range of issues conspire to exacerbate the problem. Certainly the ongoing, nationwide attack on teachers and unions is near or at the very top of the list of factors driving people away.”

What Gamberg suspects has evidence. There are frequent stories about public school teachers who are leaving the profession or taking early retirement because of the toll of working in a ‘test and punish’ environment. A November NEA survey reported that nearly 50% of all teachers are considering leaving due to standardized testing. Of equal concern is how frequently educators are cautioning young adults about entering the profession.

Renowned author and teacher of literacy, Nancie Attwell, recently won the first annual $1 million Global Teacher Prize awarded by the Varkey Foundation. When she was asked by CNN whether she would advise others to become a public school teacher, her response was she would not. She said she would tell them to find a job in the private sector, or in an independent school instead. She spoke about how constricting both the Common Core and testing have made the profession. “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.” she said.

EdWeek reported on the story, which was followed by a poll. By nearly a 5 to 1 margin, respondents said that they would not recommend teaching as a profession. Considering that EdWeek readers are by and large educational professionals, that response, combined with the NEA data, is a clear indicator of the stress felt within the profession from outside reforms.

If we are to turn this trend around, we need to act now to not only stop the attacks on teachers and tenure, but to stop evaluation systems designed to fire teachers based on metrics that no one understands. And we cannot forget that pay and working conditions matter. It should also come as no surprise that in states that pay teachers relatively well like New York State, the shortage does not yet exist. Even so, enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the Empire State dropped 22% in two years time. Many factors are contributing to the decline.

It is time for policymakers to step back and chart a different course. It makes no sense to cling to failed reforms. As school begins, students across the country are paying a hefty price.

How ironic it would be if the reforms based on the belief that three great teachers in a row are the key to student success, result in students not having certified teachers at all.

Are Unions An ‘Us’ Or A ‘Them’?

unionDivide and conquer works. When you face a strong enemy it’s always a good strategy to find ways to break them apart into smaller units that can be fought separately. A state initiative to gut California’s public-employee pension and healthcare benefits is trying to do just that.

A well-funded campaign is underway (again) to take advantage of the state’s constitutional amendment initiative process, this time to place a proposition called the “Voter Empowerment Act of 2016” on the 2016 ballot. The initiative would require that voters approve any pension and health benefits in contracts for new teachers, nurses, police and other government employees as well as any pension enhancements for existing employees.

This initiative follows a pattern well-known to California public-interest advocates. Ballot initiatives must receive 585,407 signatures to qualify, and corporate/billionaire-funded initiatives hire paid signature gatherers to get this done. Then they launch a well-funded, deceit-filled campaign to scare voters.

Similar anti-pension campaign have been, are and will be underway in states and municipalities across the country.

Divide And Conquer

Public-employee pension-gutting initiatives and other anti-union efforts typically use divide-and-conquer strategies to accomplish this mission. Here are a few classic divide-and-conquer techniques used by Unions in Maryland and other places:

  • Make people suspicious of each other.
  • Make people question their leadership and mission.
  • Divide attention with distraction and diversion – get the other side to “take their eye off the ball.”
  • Make people fight on different fronts.
  • Prevent alliances and promote infighting.
  • Maginalize and dehumanize groups so others look down on and ignore them.

All of these divide people from each other and weaken whatever organizational structures people have or might wish to form. That is exactly what is happening as billionaires and giant corporations work to turn the regular working public against unions and break unions up.  The same goes for Unions which are being sued in Maryland.  The polics has become very dirty. As private employers squeeze their employees more and more by reducing pay and benefits, getting rid of pension plans, and so on, people feel they are falling further and further behind. If they can get people to believe that unions are about some separate, distant “them” instead of “we” and “us,” they can turn some working people against other working people, and keep them from realizing this is why everyone’s wages and living standards are under such stress.

In the case of public-employee pensions, they tell people that this “other” – public-employee union members – are getting more money than regular workers, or hogging tax resources that could go to roads and other public needs. They say “lavish” pensions are “eating up government budgets” or “causing massive borrowing.”

How often do you hear that public employees are paid more than the rest of us, and have “lavish” benefits? How about the term “union bosses?” How much do union bosses make?

This is part of that process of dehumanizing and dividing – get people to think there is this “other” who is their enemy and who doesn’t deserve what the rest of us deserve, so people don’t see what’s being done to them behind the screen.

Unions Are An ‘Us’

A labor union is the very definition of “us” and “we.” It is employees banding together to ask for decent pay, benefits and better working conditions for themselves and others. By banding together they are stronger than if each employee went to the manager alone, by themselves, with no one backing them up to ask, please, for a raise or, please, can you stop calling me names and shouting? This is how things are supposed to work for unions with proper accountability and transparency. However, union corruption if left unchecked might end up destroying the unions.

Dividing working people is one of the oldest strategies in the book. First, if a high level of unemployment can be maintained people are divided by necessity. If you are hungry you are not likely to say, “no you shouldn’t ask me to take his or her place, they need that job.” Another way to divide is to help keep workers elsewhere poorly paid so your own employees have nowhere to go and you don’t face wage competition when you hire. Or the better wages and conditions that unionized employees get can be used against them by arguing that “they are getting paid so well and you are not; you should resent them.” Yet another is to divide the union leadership from the membership by claiming they are “bosses” who tell you what to do and then keep all the dues for themselves.

Don’t let yourself be divided by “us vs. them” arguments. The reality is that when unions are strong, everyone benefits — union member or not. Here are a couple of charts that illustrate the difference unions make in everyone’s pay.

Not just union members benefit when unions are strong; the whole middle class benefits.


When unions are weak, most of the gains of an economy go to a few at the top, which increases inequality.

Meanwhile take a look at these websites:

UNIONS WORK:

Unions create an economy that works for all of us. Over the past few decades, union membership has declined, contributing to increased income inequality. When we take away Americans’ freedom to form a union and negotiate with their employers, we are stacking the deck in favor of big corporations and the 1%. Strong unions fight against inequality and help every American get a fair shot at success.

AFSCME STRONG:

For too many years, public service workers (and actually most Americans) have seen their job security, wages and benefits, and retirement security erode — even though for the top 1 percent things have been great. Now, when it’s our turn to make things better for our families, they’re trying to cripple our union. We’re not going to let that happen.

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This is part of the campaign for Americas Future.

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What’s going on with Mr. O’Malley’s money?

image FORMER MARYLAND governor Martin O’Malley is a small-timer when it comes to the fees he demands for speaking engagements, at least compared with Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. Nonetheless, Mr. O’Malley has been stepping up his game, specifically by striking a deal with a tech company that benefited from a sizeable no-bid state contract when he was governor — and which then paid him nearly $148,000 for speeches and consulting in the months after he left office in January.

The appearance of a quid pro quo is not the biggest problem facing Mr. O’Malley, who remains stuck near zero in the polls among Democratic primary voters. Still, the payment — his single largest chunk of current income — while not illegal, is troubling.

In response to our questions, Mr. O’Malley’s campaign said he has given four speeches since January to the company, Environmental Systems Research Institute, known as Esri, which is based in California. A spokesman said Esri had approached Mr. O’Malley to propose the arrangement near the end of his term as governor last fall and that a contract to give speeches, provide consulting and “review policy documents” for the firm was signed in January, almost immediately after he left office. The speeches to date were delivered in Washington, California and Lisbon.

Mr. O’Malley, justly recognized for his use of data-driven policy analysis, helped deepen Maryland’s business with Esri, which specializes in interactive mapping software. In 2011, the state Board of Public Works, on which Mr. O’Malley was one of three members, approved a $2.1 million sole-source contract for Esri; the contract was expanded to $3 million last year, also with Mr. O’Malley’s backing. (The board, on which Mr. O’Malley no longer sits, will consider an additional contract expansion worth $832,000 in August.)

There’s no reason to doubt that Esri’s work for Maryland, as well as for other states and municipalities, is worthwhile. And we don’t question Mr. O’Malley’s track record, as governor and, before that, mayor of Baltimore, of using data-driven analysis and mapping to enhance public services and programs.

What’s concerning is how he pivoted almost immediately on leaving office to accepting a large income from a firm whose ongoing business with the state was sustained in no small part because of Mr. O’Malley’s influence. Notwithstanding the governor’s sincere interest in the subject matter, there’s the appearance of a payback.

There is no law prohibiting that sort of arrangement; the public’s only safeguard is the conscience of the public servant himself.

It’s also fair to wonder how Mr. O’Malley and his wife, Catherine Curran O’Malley, a state district court judge, ran up such large personal debts. Together, the couple had a combined annual income of nearly $300,000 for most of the eight years he served as governor, as well as free housing in the governor’s mansion in Annapolis. Yet they have taken loans of $339,000 to put their two eldest children through college, plus a line of credit of at least $100,000 and a mortgage of $500,000 for a home in Baltimore.

The question of how presidential candidates handle their finances is related to character, personal responsibility and maturity. By his means of earning income and the debt he has incurred, Mr. O’Malley has raised questions.

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Transforming Education: How Children Learn

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Like every other public institution in the United States, our education system is simultaneously under attack and flailing in its attempt to defend itself. Politicians and pundits jump into the fray as No Child Left Behind morphs into Race To The Top. Schools are forced to comply with high stakes testing in order to get funding. Budgets are cut to the bone and teachers, struggling to make ends meet, are forced to teach to tests that seem to be designed to ensure that many schools, teachers and children will fail. The vaunted Common Core, for example, that will replace the STAR tests in California and most other states in 2015, is not developmentally appropriate, particularly in the younger grades. It was not designed by teachers who know what children can actually do at different ages. When it was previewed this year in New York schools, the testers had a new problem to solve: what to do with tests that stressed children had vomited on. Really.

Public schools, once seen as the keystone of democracy and the agent of an informed and responsible citizenry, are now facing takeovers by for-profit charter schools that cut teacher salaries and spending per pupil while pocketing profit from federal funding. How did we come to such a pass? When I was growing up, California boasted the world’s best educational system. My four years at U.C. Berkeley were essentially free. With health care included, I paid the Regents $150 a year in student fees. I did not have to take standardized tests or honors courses to be admitted. U.C. accepted my application with a transcript of courses and GPA. My ability to attend this prestigious university was considered an earned right, supported by the citizens of California through their taxes.

A student entering UCB next year will pay $13,200 in tuition. If her parents are not wealthy, she will most probably be indentured for decades to a usurious student loan scam. According to a recent article in Education Week, California now ranks 49th among the states in per pupil spending. Last year at the school where I was Education Director, the administration decided to take a 5% cut in salary and our teachers gave up five days of instruction in order to maintain our bare bones program. This, in one of the richest states in the richest country in the world.

The reasons for this devolution are complex, reflecting the values of our late stage neoliberal free market economic system that seems unable to correct its trajectory towards catastrophe. That said, corporate influence in public education has been pernicious for many years. A passionately engaged English and Drama teacher, I was horrified in the mid 1980′s that my new local public school required teachers to be on the same page on the same day in the same text throughout the district. That a school district would have so little respect for its teachers to force them into a scripted straightjacket violated everything I understood about creativity and learning. The idea that teachers did not know how to teach and needed to be guided by “experts” had taken hold. Textbook companies and corporate testing “services” increasingly determined how and what should be “taught” to children. I am not surprised that schools with a history of such rigid curricular mandates are floundering.

>>> Read more Popular Resistance

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