Monday, March 31, 2014

Common Core Good

Common Core a Good Thing
By Jim Vail

The more people look into the Common Core national curriculum standards for the schools, the more people are beginning to question it.

The Common Core comes from the top, a corporate template the schools are to follow so that students are given more rigorous academic instruction.

While it appeared the standards were simply the law and had to be followed because 45 states have adopted them, there are questions and even bills in state legislatures to put the new standards on hold.

As a result, people like billionaire Bill Gates who has funded it, and the American Federation of Teachers AFT (received Gates money) who are cheerleading it, have been put on the defensive to plead their case why Common Core is necessary.

The following is entitled "10 Myths about the Common Core Standards" put out by the AFT to state why these standards are necessary.

Tomorrow, Second City Teachers will reprint a Chicago Teachers Union paper that disputes this, and points out why Common Core is wrong.

10 Myths about the Common Core State Standards

1.   "The standards tell us what to teach." FACT: The Common Core State Standards define what students need to know. How to achieve that is up to teachers, principals, school districts and states. Teachers will have as much control over how they teach as they ever have.

2.  "They amount to a national curriculum." FACT: The standards are shared goals, voluntarily adopted. They outline what knowledge and skills will help students succeed. Curricula vary from state to state and district to district.

3. "The standards intrude on student privacy." FACT: Long before CC, some states already had data systems allowing educators and parents to measure student achievement and growth; those states remain responsible for students' private information, whether or not they've adopted the CC.

4. "The English standards emphasize nonfiction and informational text so much that students will be reading how-to manuals instead of great literature." FACT: The standards require students to analyze literature and informational texts, with the goal of preparing them for college and work.

5. "Key math concepts are missing or appear in the wrong grade." FACT: Moving from 50 state standards to one means some states will to shifting what students learn when. Educators and experts alike have verified that the CC progression is mathematically coherent and internationally benchmarked. And now, students who move across state lines can pick up where they left off.

6. "Common Core is a federal takeover." FACT: The federal government had no role in developing the standards. They were created by state education chiefs and governors, and voluntarily adopted by states. States, not the fed govern., are implementing them.

7. "Teachers weren't included." FACT: Lots of teachers were involved in developing the standards over several years, including hundreds of teachers nationwide who served on state review teams. Many teachers are pleased to report seeing their feedback added verbatim to the final standards.

8. "The standards make inappropriate demands on preschoolers." FACT: They were written for grades K-12. Several states added their own guidance for preschool.

9. "Common Core accelerates overtesting." FACT: The standards say nothing about testing. Some states are falling into the trap of too much assessment - by testing before implementing or rushing to impose high stakes. Others, however, are taking a more sensible approach. Before administering new tests, states must get implementation right.

10. "Rank and file teachers don't support it - and their unions sold them out." FACT: At least four national polls, conducted by the AFT, the NEA, Education Week, and Scholastic, show that teachers overwhelmingly support the standards, though some haven't had the time or tools to implement them correctly. Unions support the Common Core because their members do.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

British Schools

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) -  The philosopher Adam Smith seemed implacably opposed to boarding school. In his largely ignored work 'The Theory of Moral sentiments.'' Smith strongly condemned attempts by parents to send their children to boarding schools. He declares 'The education of boys at distant great schools, of young ladies in distant nurseries and boarding-schools, seems, in the higher ranks of life, to have hurt most essentially the domestic morals, and consequently the domestic happiness, both of France and England. Do you wish to educate your children to be dutiful to their parents, to be kind, and affectionate to their brothers and sisters? Put them under the necessity of being dutiful children, of being kind and affectionate brothers and sisters: educate them in your own house. From the parent's house they may, with propriety and advantage, go out every day to attend public schools: but let their dwelling always be at home.' 

He argued that no education, whether state, private or overseas, could substitute the domestic education of parents who, by nature, were seen as being better qualified to bring up children. The implication is that sending children to Boarding schools weakens warm and strong family ties that need nourished not weakened. The children may feel rejected and abandoned by their parents who 'want rid of them' or really want a rest from them! Those arguments don't seem to alter the ambitions of some pushy Russian parents. In many way, they are determined to send their children to British boarding schools come what may.

            Over the past few years, I and other English teachers have been asked to teach Russian children who are set to be sent to Boarding schools in Britain. When we spoke to them, they didn't seem very happy.

            'I am Russian, speak Russian and from Russia and they want to send me to another country. All my friends are in Russia. I don't want to go to England to a strange school'. Another girl I was teaching was becoming more rebellious about the prospect.

            Why are some Russian parents eager about sending their children to Boarding schools in Britain? Is it just the image, a prestige factor, rumored reputations of the schools or a strain of Anglophilia? Is it the reputed quality of the British Boarding schools? I asked one Russian English teacher, Oksana Chebotareva, 'Why are some Russian parents pushy, persistent and enthusiastic about sending their children to British Boarding schools?'

            'Well, first of all parents want their children to learn English. That is the chief reason. It is also because parents believe that the Russian Education system is in crisis and can't provide them with a good education. The British boarding schools are also seen as providing a high quality education which they believe they can't get in Russia.'

            There is another notion which is widespread throughout the world and Russia is no exception. Some Russians really believe that Britain provides the best education system in the world. When local British people hear this they can respond with being bemused, confused and baffled. Some think the German education system is better and that the British education system is in crisis. The British are right to feel confounded. Although the Russian education system is in crisis (due to underpaid teachers, a chronic shortage of teaching staff, corruption, cheating and the impending introduction of fees in state schools for studying many subjects), the Russian teaching of mathematics and physics is way ahead of the British and American. Russian students who enter British and American schools at 14 or 15 are shocked at how easy the mathematic equations are. For them, it is like being put back in primary school! Russian     students also can receive a good grounding in Russian language, grammar and literature. In most British schools they don't even teach English Grammar and many Russian school students know more English grammar than hapless native teachers sent abroad to teach the language! So the idea that the British education is the best appears absurd if not ridiculous.
             There may well be other not so explicit reasons for sending children to British Boarding schools. Parents are often so busy working that they don't have the time or feel they can devote spare time to bringing them up. In many families, both the mother and father are working. Leaving nannies or grandparents to bring up the children doesn't always work. Following a divorce, a lot of children are being being brought up by single mothers who find the task  daunting. They feel that at least Boarding schools will offer some kind of alternative positive role models for children to aspire to. A lot of English literature extols the values and virtues practised at Boarding schools which are reputed to turn boys into 'ideal gentlemen'.

            It is suffice to mention Thomas Hughe's novel 'Tom Brown's schooldays'(1857).

            For some Russian school children, the results of being sent to Boarding schools are traumatic. In those schools they are forbidden from speaking Russian, others grow homesick and resentful of their parents. The teacher Oksana told me she had heard that one school student had experienced a nervous breakdown. Unfortunately, school children don't always have much choice in the matter. If parents say they must go, they go. In other cases, some children find the Boarding school a wonderful escape. One girl told me her friend, a Russian orphan adored her boarding school 'Dwight'. Dwight has schools in Europe and Canada and she chose Canada! Not all the stories of children being sent to Boarding schools end badly. However, are not some Russian parents being too presumptuous that some Russian schools are incapable of offering just as excellent if not better education? Over the past 20 years I have been invited to a wide range of Russian schools and have found many brilliant schools which would be the envy of Britain! For instance, I could mention the great track record of a Classical gymnasium in Prospect Mir, Moscow ,which teaches Latin, Greek and English! Its pupils often
enter and teach at university!  That is just one of the schools. I could mention many more!

            Adam Smith was on to something when he warned that boarding schools might ruin the health and happiness of your children.

            No amount of knowledge can compensate for weakening what should remain strong family ties. For we are first and foremost members of families and communities not just school students. Our children are not 'advantageous investments' or 'disposable property.' In the final analysis, love and affection from families is much more important than knowledge or money. 

             Even the father of economics acknowledged this simple truth!

Book Review: Teaching the Invisibles

A Person-Oriented View of the Challenges of Working in An Urban School 

This review is from: Teaching the Invisibles (Kindle Edition)

The author details his personal experiences working in a Chicago high school. There were students and there were students. There were principals and there were principals. And so on. As an experienced urban teacher myself, I found his presentation very much in touch with the realities of the teaching profession.

Seeker's vocabulary is frank, and he is quite candid about the challenges facing a Caucasian teacher in attempting to relate to African-American students. Most of the themes of this book are familiar: Insufficient staff and equipment, racial tensions, gang violence, unsupportive administrators, a few good teachers amidst many mediocre ones, etc. Students come to school burdened with formidable issues, lacking prior knowledge, and are typically years behind in their learning levels.

The challenges of teaching today's urban students can be summarized by a question that Jack Seeker asked about the much-emphasized drive to improve standardized test scores, "How does one substantially raise test scores of children who do no learning outside of school, who lack some kind of motivation to actually learn, and who have yawning gaps in ordinary, commonplace knowledge let alone in their education?" (p. 149).

Jack Seeker emphasizes that the abolition of tracking has actually hindered student progress. It is very difficult, even for an experienced teacher, to teach students of widely divergent levels within the same class. In addition, school curriculum is still too rote oriented, and magnet schools for the more successful students are few and far between.

The author notes that many teachers have been laid off, and young adults are the ones hired because they are cheaper. Not rarely, more qualified teachers are overlooked in favor of less-capable ones. New teachers are usually unprepared for the realities of the classroom. The author, a mid-life career switcher, compares it with watching a carpenter for a while and then being expected to jump in and do the work of a carpenter.

Teaching is never easy. Good teachers go unrewarded. In addition, there is an adversarial "out to get you" atmosphere in many schools. The reader desiring a book with a happy ending will not find it here. However, he or she will find a lucid, personalized analysis of what ails our urban schools.

Friday, March 28, 2014

CPS Board Meeting

The CPS Board Meeting of Wednesday, March 26, 2014

By Mr. Jan Peczkis, 16-Year CPS Teaching Veteran

The meeting began with a group of school students playing music. The Board then honored a Chicago Public School that had won the chess championship. The Board also honored individual students who had won the spelling bee.

CEO Byrd Bennett spoke first. She tried to put a positive spin on the massive school closings by asserting that none of the fears of crime done to distant-walking kids had come true. She also claimed that some new study had vindicated the position that closing the schools was a good money-saver. She defended the school closings as a well thought-out strategy for maximizing the use of scarce resources. Finally, on another subject, she claimed that 99% of teachers dutifully had administered the ISAT tests, and that administering the ISAT was a matter required by law, as set forth by the Illinois Board of Education.

CTU President Karen Lewis attended part of the public meeting, and took the podium. She spoke of useless laws. She compared the law forcing ISAT administration to the onetime laws banning interracial marriage. She also noted that the ISAT is far from the only test, and repeated the complaint about the endless series of standardized tests at Chicago Public Schools.

The meeting itself was quite raucous. Parents, notably from Drummond (the school where many did not want to take the ISAT), were livid about their kids being questioned by CPS officials without their consent. Imagine the intimidation of individual children removed from the classroom, taken to a room with adults that they do not know, and pressured to answer questions such as, “Who told you to opt out of the ISAT?” However, some of the speakers said that the Drummond kids showed their independent-thinking skills when they handled the intrusive questions from the adults strangers quite well.  

Parents have a right to opt their children out of ISAT. Some parents complained about not being respected in their decision to opt their kids out of ISAT. Others spoke of the ISAT tests as useless educationally, and ones that stigmatize children and schools as failures. What’s more, they lead to decisions to close certain schools. One speaker mentioned that, in the school where Mayor Rahm Emmanuel sends his children, there is only one standardized test all year!

A number of speakers were from Dvorak School, a proposed turnaround school. One speaker disputed Byrd Bennett’s contention that there was no significant crime near the receiving schools.  Complaints about the turnaround schools included the fact that they would eliminate even more African-American teachers. 

Several scheduled speakers were no shows. A few speakers spoke on a myriad of less popular issues. For instance, one pacifistic oriented war veteran complained that Chicago Public Schools are too militarized.

Mr. Jan Peczkis, the teacher fired over an allegation of falling asleep in class , addressed the Board. ( Coincidentally or not, he was scheduled near the very end. Earlier, he had greeted CTU President Karen Lewis, and said, “I am going straight to the top.” Lewis responded, “Good for you!”

Peczkis recounted that the alleged incident occurred while he was sitting off to the side, not engaged with the children, while the assistants were doing all the work. He noted that he was a conscientious worker and would never deliberately sleep on the job, and would never even think of doing so. He reiterated the fact that his doctor, a world-class sleep specialist, had later diagnosed him with sleep apnea, treated it, and authoritatively declared that he was safe to return to work, and that no workplace accommodation was needed. He stated that the Maintenance of Wakefulness test, the same one given to pilots and professional drivers, had shown his daytime sleepiness to be eliminated. Peczkis then dramatized the fact that, “If it is good enough to trust a professional driver, where falling asleep could cause an accident and kill someone, then it certainly is good enough to verify the safety of a teacher in the classroom.” He pointed out that a teacher who had committed a crime should never be allowed to work for CPS again, but that his case was entirely different—a fully- and demonstrably-corrected medical condition. He concluded, “For goodness sake, please take the Do-Not-Hire designation off my file!”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Public School RIP

American Public Schools, RIP


A feature of the Obama presidency has been his campaign against the American public school system, eating way at the foundations of elementary education.  That means the erosion of an institution that has been one of the keystones of the Republic.  The project to remake it as a mixed public/private hybrid is inspired by a discredited dogma that charter schools perform better.  This article of faith serves an alliance of interests – ideological and commercial – for whom the White House has been point man.  A President whose tenure in office is best known for indecision, temporizing and vacillation has been relentless since day one in using the powers of his office to advance the cause.  Such conviction and sustained dedication is observable in only one other area of public policy: the project to expand the powers and scope of the intelligence agencies that spy on, and monitor the behavior of persons and organizations at home as well as abroad.

The audacity of the project is matched by the passive deference that it is accorded.  There is no organized opposition – in civil society or politics.  Only a few outgunned elements fight a rearguard action against a juggernaut that includes Republicans and Democrats, reactionaries and liberals – from Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York to the nativist Christian Right of the Bible Belt.  All of this without the national “conversation” otherwise so dear to the hearts of the Obama people, without corroboration of its key premises, without serious review of its consequences, without focused media attention.

This past week, as the deadline approached for states to make their submissions to Arne Duncan’s Department of Education requesting monies appropriated under the Race to the Top initiative, we were reminded that the DOE has decreed that no proposal will be considered where the state government has put a cap on charter schools.  In other words, the federal government has put its thumb heavily on the scales of local deliberations as to what approach toward charter schools best serves their communities’ interests.  Penalties are being imposed on those who choose to limit, in any quantitative way, the charter school movement.
This heavy-handed use of federal leverage by the Obama administration should not come as a surprise.  After all, Obama himself has been a consistent, highly vocal advocate of “privatization.”  He has travelled the country from coast to coast, like Johnny Appleseed, sowing distrust of public schools and – especially – public school teachers.  They have been blamed for what ails America – the young unprepared for the 21st century globalized economy; the shortage of engineers; high drop-out rates; school districts’ financial woes, whatever.
To hear Mr. Obama explain it, one would think that full employment in 2007 turned into the lowest rate of employment among working age adults in 40 years in 2013 because of America’s teachers falling down on the job – the failure of public schools to prepare students for radical structural changes in the job market.  He downplays the Wall Street/Fed created financial crisis or his administration’s mishandling of the recovery effort.  Nor does it have anything to do with downsizing, outsourcing, and the business world’s discovery that productivity can rise by paying workers less and resorting to temps.  As for the financial squeeze on school districts, this too was laid at the door of greedy teachers unions who resisted having their salaries cut or their contracted pensions slashed.*  They became scapegoats for a condition stemming from the protracted Great Recession and the austerity mania that his rhetoric and actions helped to promote.

Let us recall some highlights of this presidential campaign.  In 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan castigated public school teachers in Rhode Island for going on strike to protest arbitrary changes in working conditions and wages while encouraging authorities to fire them if necessary.  He “applauded” the move to fire every teacher at Central Falls High School (as reported in the Providence Journal).  This is from an administration that never asked anyone to resign from AIG, Bank of America, CITI, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Fannie Mae or Ginny Mae.

Similarly, in 2012-2013, Obama lent the tacit backing of the White House to Rahm Emanuel’s strategy for busting the Chicago teachers union and for a mass closing of public schools.  Secretary Duncan has been given free rein to use the powers of his department to cajole and pressure states into the unqualified promotion of charter schools – whatever the record shows about their mediocre record.

Duncan’s office has been the moving force behind a concerted effort to conceal the reality of what charter schools have, and have not, accomplished.  The truth is not very pretty.  Overall, the performance of their students on standardized tests, and graduation rates, are marginally worse on than those of the country’s public schools.  The drop-out rate among minorities is actually higher.**  This dismal record is despite the preferential treatment that charter schools’ receive: subsidies above and beyond the budgets of counterpart public schools; the cherry-picking of students that excludes many of those with chronic learning and/or discipline problems and/or from non-English speaking families; etc.

Other results are more favorable – for investors.  A number of start-up companies have jumped onto the charter school bandwagon with little experience in education and with their eyes fixed on the bottom line.  They hire a disproportionately large percentage of young teachers who may be highly motivated but who lack the essential seasoning that makes for quality teaching.  These youngsters of course are given lower salaries that veteran teachers would receive.  This exploitation is encouraged by Arne Duncan who makes much of the opportunities thereby created to tap the market of unemployed recent college graduates.  It supposedly is a good and virtuous thing that they may spend only a few years in the classroom before moving on to other career “experiences” – to be replaced by yet another batch of enthusiastic, underpaid novices.  Several states, e.g. Texas, do not even require charter schools to hire certified teachers – easy come, easy go.  Presumably, the senior teachers who are laid off as their public schools are shuttered are expected to retrain as greeters at COSTCO and Target.  Their expectations of being solidly middle class then will be fulfilled by their children who avail themselves of Obama’s shaky ladders of opportunity to acquire the skills needed to entrepreneur their own charter school companies.

Shouldn’t we ponder this question: what reasonable, qualified, person would be inclined to pursue teaching as a career under these circumstances?  In fact, the voluntary drop-out rate of school teachers is at historical highs.  Nationally, 16% leave after the first year; approximately 45% leave within five years.***  This is significantly higher than the student fail rate.  Of Florida’s 2,280 public elementary and middle schools, only 17 scored an “F” on the FCAT.  Of the state’s 270 Charter elementary and middle schools, 15 flunked.  In Ohio, in one year the state’s school report card gave more than half of Ohio’s 328 charter schools a D or an F. Many charter schools themselves fail under their own weight; 15% of those established since 1995 have gone bust.  In Florida, which does no significant monitoring of charter schools, the failure rate is double that. 17 charter schools in Columbus closed in one year – 2013….Nine of the 17 schools that closed lasted only a few months this past fall. When they closed, more than 250 students had to find new schools. The state spent more than $1.6 million in taxpayer money to keep the nine schools open only from August through October or November.

Where are the students thereby abandoned shunted to – with what disruption in theirs studies?
To round out this picture, the White House hypes opening pre-college education to the money and influence of business.  President Obama in recent months has been touring the country to tout these partnerships wherein curriculum, teaching methods, and materials are designed in part by the businesses who may hire these vocationally trained graduates.  Vocational training does have a long history in the United States at the secondary level and it is not entirely a bad thing; we need highly skilled machinists.  What we do not need are students siphoned away from a liberal education to be molded into drones to serve the corporate machine.  Can we trust business interests with the main responsibility for structuring, and partly financing such programs – at a time when austerity policies continue to cut back public spending and local school boards are under immense pressure to privatize?

The distressing truth of the matter is that, in most states, any group of guys able to present what looks like a “sound business plan” can obtain a certificate to set up a charter school.  The most worrying phenomenon is the manipulation of charter school curriculum to serve the ideological interests of the groups that run them.  In Texas, Indiana, Ohio and other states, “creationism” and related Bible based ‘science’ has replaced standard approaches.  (Slate Jan 16) A Right- wing interpretation of American history that, among other things, casts the New Deal as the workings of “un-American” spirit in the land is becoming commonplace.  The businessman’s view as to government’s role in regulation also is gaining authority and prominence.  In short, the charter school way is entrenching the ideas and attitudes of a sectarian element in American society whose ascendance already has wrought enormous damage.  That a Democratic president should be the agent of this transformation is a telling commentary on where this White House and those who back him to the bitter end have gone wrong.

Of all the institutions that made the United States into a coherent society, none made a greater contribution than our public schools.  It was they that fashioned a loyal citizenry bound by a core of civic values and a collective identity – regardless of creed, national origin, religion or political preference.  It was they that molded a disparate population into a unified nation. That may not be the case in the future.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
*In Texas, state funding for schools was cut by 10.8 billion between 2011 and 2013. The shock waves caused severe destruction in districts across the state.  Many school kids in rural areas had to walk up to two miles to school when bus service was eliminated.  Governor Perry proclaimed that performance should not be hurt since schools misallocate the money they receive anyway.  The predicted strengthening in the “moral fiber” of Texas children from dealing with this adversity is not yet discernible.

**The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found in a 2009 report that 17% of charter schools outperformed their public school equivalents, while 37% of charter schools performed worse than regular local schools, and the rest were about the same. A 2010 study by Mathematica Policy Research found that, on average, charter middle schools that held lotteries were neither more nor less successful than regular middle schools in improving student achievement, behavior, or school progress. Among the charter schools considered in the study, more had statistically significant negative effects on student achievement than statistically significant positive effects. These findings are echoed in a number of other studies.

Charter schools also are likely to benefit from enrolling an easier-to-educate group of students than public schools. On average, charter schools enroll fewer foreign-born, fewer students with disabilities, and fewer homeless students in comparison with public schools. Some of the highest-performing charter schools also lose many students, most likely their lowest performers, who often return to local public schools.

*** The relatively poor performance of students in the United States on standardized tests compared to students in other developed countries is misleading.  When allowance is made for those from non-English speaking homes and disadvantaged racial communities, American students score close to the top of the table. (Education Law Center)

Why No Outcry?

Why There’s No Outcry

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

eople ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.
Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?
The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.
First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.
In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. The labor movement led the charge for a minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.
No longer. Working people don’t dare. The share of working-age Americans holding jobs is now lower than at any time in the last three decades and 76 percent of them are living paycheck to paycheck.
No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.
Besides, their major means of organizing and protecting themselves — labor unions — have been decimated. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.
Second, students don’t dare rock the boat.
In prior decades students were a major force for social change. They played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement, and against the Vietnam War.
But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt. Since 1999, student debt has increased more than 500 percent, yet the average starting salary for graduates has dropped 10 percent, adjusted for inflation. Student debts can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy. A default brings penalties and ruins a credit rating.
To make matters worse, the job market for new graduates remains lousy. Which is why record numbers are still living at home.
Reformers and revolutionaries don’t look forward to living with mom and dad or worrying about credit ratings and job recommendations.
Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible.
When asked if they believe government will do the right thing most of the time, fewer than 20 percentof Americans agree. Fifty years ago, when that question was first asked on standard surveys, more than 75 percent agreed.
It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.
You’d have to posit a giant conspiracy in order to believe all this was the doing of the forces in America most resistant to positive social change.
It’s possible. of course, that rightwing Republicans, corporate executives, and Wall Street moguls intentionally cut jobs and wages in order to cow average workers, buried students under so much debt they’d never take to the streets, and made most Americans so cynical about government they wouldn’t even try for change. 
But it’s more likely they merely allowed all this to unfold, like a giant wet blanket over the outrage and indignation most Americans feel but don’t express. 
Change is coming anyway. We cannot abide an ever-greater share of the nation’s income and wealth going to the top while median household incomes continue too drop, one out of five of our children living in dire poverty, and big money taking over our democracy.
At some point, working people, students, and the broad public will have had enough. They will reclaim our economy and our democracy. This has been the central lesson of American history.
Reform is less risky than revolution, but the longer we wait the more likely it will be the latter.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Common Core Woes

Indiana First State to Back Out of Common Core
By Jim Vail

A revolt against the corporate takeover of education is currently underway - with conservatives leading the way.

The tea party folks are upset with mainstream republicans who are backing the corporate agenda to impose standards tied to punitive testing measures.

Indiana just became, according to media reports, the first state to back out of the Common Core straight jacket, and is instead writing their own academic standards.

They believe in local control of education, a democracy kind of thing.

So far 45 states have adopted Common Core, mostly being bribed to implement the standards.

This is what the republican Indiana governor had to say about education in his state:

"I believe our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the local and state level."

The AP reports that 36 states will begin field tests of new assessments on the Common Core standards, although the real tests won't be given until another year.

This has led to a bill in New York to suspend Common Core after recent tests showed only 30 percent passed in NY. 

So far the teachers unions have backed the Common Core, with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten calling it "revolutionary."

However, rumblings within the teacher ranks are starting up.

Word has it the teachers caucus Core just passed a resolution denouncing the Common Core and plans to bring it up to the delegates meeting next week for a vote.

Before that happens it may go to the Chicago Teachers Union executive board first to approve the resolution before it would come up for a vote at the meeting.

The other option would be for any delegates to propose the resolution at the delegates meeting next week and then the delegates would vote on approval.

Educational heavy weight Diane Ravitch, who has written extensively in support of public education, has denounced the Common Core and it's unproven methodology.

Stay tuned!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Crimea Crisis

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia)It undoubtedly represents a watershed. It is not only a landmark but an earthquake.
            Maybe a moment of destiny. Predictable or not,it has still sent many people reeling back aghast, if not always euphoric.

            For Crimea has become part of Russia again. On the 16th of March a referendum voted to become part of the Russian federation. The Russian government reacted with no objections.

              When I asked Russians if they know when Crimea was last part of Russia, most of them don't know or can't recall. Some know that it was once annexed by Catherine the Great, but very few are aware that it was given as a gift to the Ukraine by Krushchev in 1954! It is an event which embarrasses Russians, just as much as the sale of Alaska! 

              No wonder they can't or don't want to remember it. The moral might be 'Beware of presidents bearing gifts' as     they can turn out to be a future stressful headache. The terrible hangover from this event is yet to come.

            Governments around the world quickly condemned the referendum as 'illegitimate ' and a sly enchroachment on the sovereignty of Ukraine. It has been perceived as tantamount to an invasion.

            They suspect that the Russian state organised this. Some Russian politicians hold up their hands helplessly and declare 'What could we do? It all happened

            Accidents do happen! 'Cynics shake their heads at this. Was the referendum fair? Did most people really vote to become part of Russia? While representatives of the Crimean government issued public statements saying people were welcome to observe the referendum, most observers were turned back at the border by guards. This raises the question of who is in charge in Crimea! 'You are welcome to come, but you are also not welcome to come' seems an ambiguous and confused attitude. In Moscow, I attained the same impression. Some politician wanted         international observers from Moscow to visit the Crimea. 

            Some were ready to go when at the last moment the politician abandoned the idea or sent a token delegation. According to hearsay, the only observer was a Greek communist! So the Crimean referendum was observed and deemed fair by a Greek! 

            Since there were originally Greek colonies in Crimea hundreds of years go this might seem quite just! At least       some of the Greeks might be happy with this! So why did the Russians see little point of international observers? 

           They possibly thought that they would not be make any difference to whether the referendum was recognized as legitimate. Why go to all the bother when the European Union is deaf!

            How fair is all this ? What percentage of Russians has Crimea actually got? When I asked some Russians, in Moscow they answered 'It must be 70 to 80%'. When I informed them that official statistics suggest 58.5%,while Ukrainians are 24.3% ,Crimean Tatars are 2.1%,Belorussians 1.4% ,Armenians 1.1% and others 2.6%, they are surprised. One middle-aged accountant stated 'But you have to remember a lot of those Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians are half Russian, as they have intermarried.'

            Point taken. What is certain is that we will never know how many people in Crimea don't agree with the results of the referendum and some Tatars stated they would not even vote!

            The opinion polls indicate that the past events have boosted Putin's popularity. It is comparable to the 'Falkland's
factor'. In the early 1980's, the prime-minister of Britain had become very unpopular. When she fought and defeated Argentinians who had invaded the Falkland's Islands, she won the next election. The British became 'jingoistic' about the war.' 

             The Crimean factor' may have restored Putin's falling popularity as well as distracting people from more important issues, such as widespread corruption, poverty, growing inequality and a growing authoritarian regime which is increasing suppressing all forms of dissidence. Just as Margaret Thatcher polarized Britain by calling her opponents 'The enemy within', so the government wants to label every dissident as a 'traitor' or 'enemy' serving foreign interests. Now if some of those people consider a charity group like the Salvation army as being comparable to a paramilitary group, such as the Irish Republican army, then you can imagine the problems reasonable intelligent people might run into.
            It is important to understand that not everyone in Moscow or Russia agrees with a war with Ukraine. On the contrary, many people I have spoken to are deeply troubled and saddened by events. One woman, (I will call Nadia), who is 39, and a teacher, attended a huge peace demonstration in Moscow last Sunday. She told me 'I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in war with our Slavonic brothers in the Ukraine. We have more in common. I have nothing against Ukrainians.'
            'I have a Ukrainian nanny who looks after our children and she has been reduced to tears. My local Orthodox church is praying for peace in the Ukraine and so are many other churches in Moscow!' I mentioned to her that the police had reported that only a few thousand had attended the peace demonstration! (3000 to 5000 were some of the estimates.)

             'That is untrue. You are joking! It was a gigantic demonstration. As many as 50,000 attended it. I found some of the slogans quite strange. One group of young people shouted, 'working class must organise itself and show its strength'.
            I don't think there is a working-class in Russia any more. Others chanted 'Hands off Ukraine' and 'Ukraine is not Alena.' (Putin's reputed girlfriend). The last was my favourite slogan!'

              (*Russians are also saying why are we getting involved in Ukraine, taking on Crimea, when food prices are going up, and the economy is not doing that well. How will the government pay for all this, my good Russian friend Lea told me via facebook.)

            So although the media may downplay the significance of the peace movement, it organised an impressive demonstration, if nothing else it shows that not all Russians unanimously endorse the Russian Government's foreign policy. It is doubtful whether the Russian government seriously wants a war. It would prefer to attain it objectives by other means. What can't be ruled out is that some extreme elements in Ukraine, whether Russian or Ukrainian, might just start fighting a war without any outside intervention! For a future war to erupt in Ukraine it does not require any invasion or intervention by NATO, America or Russia. If some local people believe that violence is a more effective way of empowering them, they will readily resort to this. Desperate and despondent people can act heedlessly.

*Jim Vail reported this


By Stephen Wilson

             Patriotism is often the last refuge of a scoundrel. For although the events in Ukraine have a complex cultural context which defies comprehension this axiom applies here. Behind many of the patriotic phrases, 'We will never abandon our brothers in Crimea ' or 'We are true defenders of the Russian language and culture', many nationalists, whether they are Russian, or Ukrainian, won't hesitate to send their children to be educated in British schools or buy real estate in Florida.

              What is more, many of those 'patriots abroad ' are not happy to see each other at holiday resorts. Whereas an Englishmen appears to be happy to see his compatriots, some Russians start cursing when they recognise another Russian at the resort. They shun each other! It is quite possible that a Russian nationalist might hate another Russian because he is not 'patriotic enough'. 

             Over the past few days many people in Moscow have been attempting to prove how patriotic they are by attending demonstrations of solidarity throughout cities in Russia for the Crimea. However, most Russians are apprehensive about any impending war and hope it can be quickly averted at the negotiating table.

             The true cost of all the street fighting has overwhelmed the Ukrainian medical services. Maria Koroleva, an academic who attended a conference in Kiev recently told me, 'My friend, who fainted in the street and is seriously ill, can't be treated in hospital because the hospital staff have been too busy dealing with the injured and wounded from constant battling in the streets. The results of all this are just terrible. All this fighting has meant many people who had nothing to do with all those demonstrations can't get proper treatment and the queues are long!'

             The events have been progessing rapidly and assumed horrific tones when snipers were ordered to almost casually and coolly pick off the demonstrators with shots. As many as 83 or more have died and that is not counting the injured. If the dim-witted Yanukvych believed that this brutal massacre would drive demonstrators from the square, he was mistaken. Instead, people who did not even support the Maiden, expressed horror and disgust and agreed to with draw their support for the Russian backed government. However, the new government or Rada, instead of offering a coherent vision or narrative which might unite a deeply divided country, failed to rise to the occasion. One of the first steps was to declare Russian an unofficial language again. This, along with a refusal to stop rioters taking down wartime monuments (220 monuments have been razed to the ground) seems an undisguised and blatant attempt to insult minorities. It fuels, rather than doses, the already paranoic mood of many suspicious Russians. So on the 23rd of February  20,000 people in Sebastopol rose up on to drive out the Ukrainian mayor and appoint a new Russian government. Following this uprising, soldiers quickly took over major bases, installations and border points to deter any Ukrainian soldiers from returning to restore order. A decision was then taken to hold a referendum on the 16th of March. Voters can decide to vote on two major questions;

             'Should Crimea become part  of the Russian Federation?' and 'Should it revive the Crimean Constitution of 1992?'

             The new mayor states that International observers are welcome but it appears that some of them are having difficulty entering border check points and have even been turned back. However, some Russians would welcome the presence of observers to monitor the referendum in order to provide it with some kind of legitimacy. Your correspondent was even asked if he would like to act as a monitor.

             The results seem to be an almost foregone conclusion; Crimea will vote to join the Russian Federation. This is because demographically, the Russian population consists of 58%, Ukrainians 24%, Crimean Tatars 12% and others comprise a multitude of nationalities. However, the outcome of the election could well be a close thing as most Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars are not happy about joining the Russian Federation. There are also some       Russians who think they might lose some existing rights they enjoy in Europe. One Russian woman from Crimea stated, 'We don't have much to lose by not being part of Europe. What jobs do they offer us in Europe? We just work as low-paid barmaids, dishwashers and cleaners in Europe.' 

             There is in deed a deskilling process where you are dismayed to find highly educated Russians working as waiters in cafes because the European union refuses to recognise their Russian degrees and diplomas. It is hardly inspiring to risk your life for the right to sweep the streets of Europe or become a dishwasher.

             But the Crimean Tatars have understandable reasons for not wanting to become part of the Russian Federation.

             They have long been persecuted by the Soviet Regime. During the second world war, Stalin deported all 200,000 of the Tatars on the largely false grounds that they were fascist collaborators. Many of those deported died of thirst, hunger and disease. It is true that 20,000 Tatars served with German Self-defence units, but more of them were serving in the Red Army. In fact, 9000 Tatars who had been serving in the army were deported. This happened just when they were badly required at the front.

             You might also  wonder 'Why do many Ukrainians express a strong antipathy to Russians?' Why can't they be friends?

             After all they shared a common language, culture and heritage that can be traced back to Kiev Rus. Kiev is seen as the birthplace of old Russia! From the 10th to the 13th century Kiev Rus represented one of the most advanced civilisations in Europe which was far ahead of Europe in terms of having paved roads, a sewage system, a bathing system and welfare state which catered for the poor. Its law was also very sophisticated and advanced and it was one of the first kingdoms to outlaw the death penalty.

             Ask any Ukrainian nationalist and he can offer you a litany of complaints. The Bolshevik government promised self-determination in 1918 and then renegaded on the agreement. Stalin carried out a calculated policy of genocide against the Ukrainians by intentionally withholding vital food supplies from Ukraine. This genocide is called 'the Holodomor' and as many as 2-4 million people died. It is not just that. Some Ukrainians resent Russian jokes of 'stupid Ukrainians' much as the Irish are the subject of 'stupid Irishmen jokes'. Then some Russians dub Ukrainian nationalists as fascists.

             They don't acknowledge that not all Ukrainian nationalists admire Stepan Bandera,( a Nazis collaborator who cruelly massacred Russians, Jews and Poles (he destroyed more than 150 villages and killed more than 35,000 Poles in 1943.).

             It is fair to say that in the heated climate of tension, fascism is being used as an indiscriminate form of abuse.

             When Russians accuse some opposition members of being fascists,the Ukrainians call the Russian Government 'fascist'. This term has been too loosely and in deed, reckless applied. Fascism is a system which aims at imposing a totalitarian regime which has almost total control over the state, the media and suppresses all dissent. Neither most of the new Rada or the Putin Government comes close to falling into this category.

             One of the best ways to prevent tensions worsening would be to use less abuse and emotional language which dehumanizes the other. It would be better if Tatars, Ukrainians and Russians attempted to find a common language where both agreed to build a more caring and improved society where everyone serves rather than uses each other as a crude means to make money. Every person is an icon to be admired and awed at rather than derided and abused. It seems likely that the Crimea will break away from Ukraine and Russia will feel obliged to support and defend her application. Talk of sanctions or NATO strikes won't deter her. If the Ukrainians attempt to military seize the Crimea, she is likely to be cruelly repulsed and driven back by the overwhelming numeral superiority and better equipment of the Russian armed forces. It is doubtful whether Putin would stand idly back and let the Ukrainians seize Crimea. If he did this, he would lose face. In fact,a picture of Nicholas the First, the Tsar who lucklessly and haplessly lost the Crimean war hangs in the presidental office. Putin has been restoring the badly tarnished reputation of the Tsar who was once 'unfairly' derided as a cruel dictator.

             Putin admires this tsar for standing up to the West. By all accounts, Nicholas the First was a very sincere and honest Tsar who firmly believed he was fighting for the Holy cause of an Orthodox Brotherhood. Queen Victoria thought Nicholas the first was just too honest for this world. The tsar is thought to have died from a broken heart brought on by the horrific losses of this war.(1854-56)
             Unlike Nicholas the first, Putin has no intention of losing another Crimean war. In fact, he may be set on winning a war which poor Nicholas the First lost! This time the Russians don't want to be humiliated by NATO, America or The European community.