Sharing information and reporting on all that reeks in American education, especially corporate reform in K12 education, the agenda to privatize the right to a free public education for every child, and general corruption in K12-higher education. Calling out and exposing rather than cowering.

AND eager for your help. Have a story of power, manipulation, self-interest or injustice which needs attention? Let me know and we'll let the world discover "what's that smell."

"If you're a profession of sheep, then you'll be run by wolves." -- David C. Berliner

"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: Everything else is public relations." -- George Orwell

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." -- Paulo Freire

*A slideshow of Ed Reform-Critical Boxer's "Greatest Hits" memes runs at the bottom of this page.*



Monday, September 29, 2014

Report Suggests Which States are Best, Worst for Teacher

WalletHub has released a study ranking the states and the national's capital in terms of teacher-friendliness. My originating state of North Carolina checks in at 51, not surprising at all. Washington ranks highly in several categories but does not break the top 25, w hich I'm sure will shock many in the Evergreen State. Here's a list of states in which I've taught and their rankings from the study, just for fun.

North Carolina: 51
Tennessee: 41
Virginia: 05
Mississippi: 50
Texas: 29
Washington: 30

Whee! How exhilarating, right? I'm not surprised to Virginia so high on the list. I wonder if it is worth noting neither Texas nor Virginia are Common Core states?

Click this link for an interactive map and more details. All studies are limited by their criteria, of course, but if you're fascinated by rankings (no matter how arbitrary) like me, this might interest you.


Reconsidering TFA a New Trend? Break Out the GNR!

News out of Massachusetts says an activist group at Harvard University is encouraging campus leaders to oust Teach For America from the Ivy League campus. The Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) instead wants the university to focus on students who truly want lifelong careers as teachers. Read more of the story from The Harvard Crimson's Mariel A. Klein here.

Klein suggests SLAM's efforts are part of a nationwide push from United Students Against Sweatshops

I've long thought of TFA as "Welcome to the Jungle" teaching, given TFA-ers typically serve only 2 years in a classroom and with the desire for a high-profile payout in terms of resume padding for law school or other end-goals beyond teaching. Indeed, the best reality-based article I've ever read on TFA actually comes from The Onion. TFA takes "elite" students from "elite" universities, gives them 5 weeks of pedagogical training, and then places them in under-served schools for a couple of years. Most leave and never return to education. The whole operation comes off, to me, like an "expedition into the wild" where privileged (and not rarely) white "saviors" get to spend some time cleaning up the dirty animals and seeing how the savages live. Then leave to return to their cushy upper-middle class lives and pursue whiter-collared work.

At least, that's how it used to me. The new trend is to fast track TFA members into education leadership positions. "Welcome to the (Corporate?) Jungle?"

Surely a rational person can see how either end result is insulting to children and to those who actually want to be teachers so badly they majored in education in college, spending at least four years to learn the basics of a craft requiring lifelong efforts at mastering, maybe even earning advanced degrees in curriculum and instruction of educational leadership to help them face the challenges of years of service in public education.

 But there's the rub: The new TFA is part of the corporate education reform effort to remove public schools as a right of every American. No one in the right mind wants to place a teacher fresh off two years of classroom experience in an administrative position. No one except those who can gain from such novice and self-served experience.  Most teachers will state it takes at least three years to actually figure out what they're doing. There's simply no humane reason for TFA's motives. Perhaps the motives were pure, or purer, anyway,once. But either the program has been perverted or was always perverse. Putting young people in positions of power might be great for those young people, but part of the strategy for strangling public education does seem to be proving incompetent leadership. Hmm...

Thankfully, SLAM isn't the only group saying "adios" to the insidiousness.  A school board in Durham, North Carolina, voted to oust TFA from its schools recently. Pittsburgh has taken serious actions against TFA as well. Melissa Katz, a student activist at the  College of New Jersey, has criticized TFA's recruiting and end goals.

While TFA may never be stopped completely given how it has embraced corporate-modeled education reform,  a well-financed operation, opposition can now be considered a constant. As a professor at Washington State University, where TFA also had a presence, I was firm in letting students know I would not write letters of recommendation for acceptance into TFA, and I know of teacher education colleagues who also have that stance. Teach For America probably needs to evolve to avoid growing criticism, but I'm not an advocate of the current iteration.

Indeed, regarding TFA, I'd like to keep singing that Guns N' Roses song: "You're in the Jungle, Baby/You're Gonna Die." America's students don't need TFA in its current iteration which seems more intent on bringing K12 public education to its "kn-kn-kn-kn-knees" than serving students and communities.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Introducing the Stankies: Inaugural "Winners" Show University Professors Yanked Around By Powered Parties

September has not been a pleasant month for the reputation of the American university. One might consider the university a bastion of free speech and open discourse, but as the business model continues to pervade every aspect of schooling in the United States and Big $ talks louder than Big Minds, many are seeing that's not the case. And even when discourse is open, disagreeing with the Big Bosses means about as much in academia as it does in any other sector of employment. 

For harassing Walter Stroup, higher ups at UT-Austin win one of three inaugural Stankies, an award measuring truly exceptional hanky-panky politics. Feel free to share with Pearson, Bevo. For completely bungling the hiring/not-hiring of Steven Salaita, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees and President Phyllis M. Wise share Stanky as well. Finally, for putting Patricia A. Tully in such a position that she felt it best to be fired from her post as a librarian at Wesleyan University, Ruth S. Weissman brings home the brass for that university. 

"Congrats" to all our first-ever Stanky winners, and may intellectual discourse eventually return to the American university, private or public. Something tells  me, though, the Stanky could have a long life.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Pearson Is Fearsome. Just ask the Tenured UT-Austin Professor Who Called'em Out, All of a Sudden Facing Pressures from "Above"

You'll just have to trust me when I tell you being a college professor who speaks out against Common Core, Teach for America, Students First, and corporate education in general is a brave stance, especially if you're not tenured.

Tenure, unlike in K12 education, generally amounts to a lifetime of job security, though some colleges do have intermittent reviews which, theoretically, could lead to one's dismissal or demotion. However, the politics of higher education are such that if you've earned tenure in the first place, you've probably polished enough brass and kissed enough ass to have your colleagues happy to keep you around.

But what about when your research grates against Big Corporate Education (BCE), which has its claws in virtually every facet of schooling in America, from Kindergarten through college? And what happens when  BCE pulls the strings of the upper administration?

Walter Stroup, a tenured professor of education at the University of Texas at Austin whose research suggests standardized tests like the ones Pearson offers for pay do not measure learning but only measure -- you guessed it -- how well the test taker takes tests, is having an experience to help you find out. It ain't pretty, folks.

Stand strong, Dr. Stroup, and let EduStank know if there's anything we can do to help. EduStank readers, you can also see via his case how brave are other teacher educators who are willing to speak out against contemporary education reform.

Must-Read Excerpt on Neoliberalism and Education's Possible Evolution

Stop what you're doing and read this excerpt from the new book Neoliberalism, Terrorism, and Dialogue. Entitled "Twelve Theses on Education's Future in the Age of Neoliberalism and Terrorism," the chapter might be the best thing you read all day regarding the contemporary American education exigency. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Has CCSS Turned Us Into a Nation of Abusers? Possible Connections Among Child Abuse, Neglect, and Education Reform; & Who Needs to Step Up

Recently I posed an interrogative to a 52,000-member-strong group of ed reform resisters. The query was and is a question weighing heavily upon me as I navigate what it means to be involved in American education in the early 21st Century:

 “Is implementation of Common Core State Standards child abuse?”

Posed as a likert scale-styled poll with options of Yes, Probably, Unsure, Probably Not, and No, the question was such a hot-button topic the group’s moderators swarmed to delete the post. Their general worry seemed to be the question implied teachers were guilty of child abuse. As if teachers are the only parties responsible for CCSS implementation.

But if implementation of CCSS is child abuse, aren’t they guilty of it every time they use a CCSS-aligned text or approved, pre-purchased curricular device? Every time they administer a CCSS-mandated standardized test? And not just teachers, but administrators, governors, presidents, parents, teacher educators, and financiers?

Aren’t all of us not actively fighting for the removal of CCSS and other corporate-style ed reforms, or doing so while we also have to use them, guilty as well?

Though I’m not a classroom teacher in K12 schools anymore and am a few weeks removed from being a teacher educator who once did have to help pre-service teachers know how to navigate the new standards and the hullaballoo associated with them, I’m still a parent of two children in public schools, the husband of a public school teacher, a member of the local PTO, and an American citizen who is informed, experienced, and educated regarding most things teaching.

 I worry I’m accomplice to the crime. My livelihood, at the moment, though, does not depend on denying this possible truth, as might be the case for most employees in public schools.

I’m not alone in considering the worrisome possibility. A Boolean Google search returns 315,000 results for terms “common core” and “child abuse.” Top links appear from The Daily Mail, Diane Ravitch’s blog, The Blaze, RightWingNews, and New York Daily News.

If common core is child abuse, though, under what definition?

“The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (42 U.S.C.A. § 5106g), as amended by the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010, defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:

‘Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation’;


‘An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.’

This definition of child abuse and neglect refers specifically to parents and other caregivers.

 A "child" under this definition generally means a person who is younger than age 18 or who is not an emancipated minor.”

With that definition in mind, I draw from my understanding of literacy to answer the question.

Kylene Beers and others suggest there are three major levels of reading development, all along a continuum and stages to which a reader can return depending on text, situation, and ability.

The three levels of readership are: the independent reading level, the dependent reading level, and the frustration reading level, which I call the failure reading level.

Students need little instruction when they read at their independent level. Teachers help access what Vygotsky calls students’ zones of proximal development when they offer adequate assistance (scaffolds) at the instructional level. This is the level where reading growth might best and most easily be studied and measured. The teaching/learning level.

 At the frustration level, though, texts are simply too difficult for students to comprehend, with or without effective scaffolding. Anyone at any time can find themselves at frustration level. Consider how poorly you might read and understand tax documents, for example,  despite an advanced degree in Literature, or how many well-educated teacher educators say they can’t understand comics texts because of lack of familiarity with form, language, etc.

Students without teachers who know how to access and grow kids’ zones of proximal development may find themselves stuck in the frustration level, unable to successfully expand their literacy because they are asked constantly to do that which, developmentally, they’re just not ready and able to do yet.

And that is why the frustration level is synonymous, to me, with the “failure level.”

 Students consistently asked to do what they are not yet capable of doing feel like failures, like they are not good at reading, at school, at thinking or living, even, and may decide to inhabit the outskirts of classrooms or schools. Many, understandably tired of being asked year in, year out to fail, essentially, stop coming to school all together.

I believe with all my heart that failure level teaching is child abuse and neglect. Abuse and neglect I’ve probably propagated as a K12 teacher. Maybe even at the college level. Again, while I’m suggesting a broad-brush level of complicity, I do not remove myself from the list of offenders.

Do you think students who dropped out due to repeated requests to define themselves as failures were neglected or experienced long-term harm when they dropped out? But, isn’t it possible they dropped out because of the repeated harm and neglect by those unable to – or worse, unwilling to -- access their zones of proximal development too? Because the harm was imminent?

Perhaps they were exploited by pre-packaged programs like Accelerated Reader, or at least by those who bought the programs and bought in to  narrow notions of literacy. Perhaps their self-esteem, and, worse, self worth dropped to points where they could not handle the emotional harm. Maybe the harm wasn't imminent tangibly, but, and forgive me for waxing poetic, that which can’t be touched can still be felt.

I carry my understanding of independent, dependent, and frustration/failure reading with me when I consider the Common Core State Standards. It may be true the math standards are less rigorous than what some states had before; it may be true ELA standards for middle and high school grades, while not elegant, are workable, at least. But I also note CCSS were backwards designed “from the top down,” with creators thinking first of what would make a senior “college or career ready” rather than simultaneously considering early grades students’ developmental abilities and proclivities.

Indeed, it is well known no early childhood educators were part of CCSS development and many within the early childhood community have expressed concerns about the inappropriateness of those standards. See here, here, here, and here.

They might have drawn a line at calling the early grades CCSS abuse, but clearly they feel harm is imminent and appropriate expectations neglected.

I believe CCSS does constitute abuse and neglect. Even if one only cares to admit the K-3 standards are harmful, currently CCSS is a package deal. Not fighting against all of them while knowing they’re aligned does not excuse one’s guilt. Nor does being a middle school English teacher who can’t be guilty of the abuses forced upon second grade teacher because s/he teaches seventh grade.

I think most K12 teachers who are forced to implement CCSS believe it is abusive, too, though I admit not having statistical data to back up the claim (hey, I tried). I think that’s why the poll question was acerbic to the batty men and women moderating on behalf of the 52,000. They know every day they work to offer students the best they can, but they do so while also asked to implement abusive, exploitative policies they feel powerless to correct.

I’m reminded many abuse situations are rooted in cycles yet unbroken.

As well, there are dangerous implications to admitting to this kind of abuse, of course.

Could parental stakeholders sue, bring charges against, or encourage the arrest of individual teachers or principals or districts or companies or think-tanks or Secretaries of Education or POTUSes who all play a part on the cycle, the trickle-down circle of this kind of abuse and neglect?

Is that what it will take to turn the tide against Common Core, even if a few teachers or superintendents get thrown behind bars or otherwise have their careers destroyed so the rest can finally work to the absolutely best interests of students, something CCSS surely does not do?

Goodness knows veteran teachers and those seeking less abusive environments are having a terrible go of finding new work. Is it just a matter of deciding for which cause we need the sacrificial lambs?

Enough questions. Let’s turn to answers. Possible solutions:

 I believe parents are the ones, ultimately, who will bring down CCSS, if it is defeated. Parents armed with knowledge of the CCSS, knowledge of definitions of abuse, and knowledge of early childhood development could become the most powerful force in the nation against CCSS by simply doing what parents are supposed to do: Protect their children from harm.

I see real change in American education if parents accept a definition of abuse and neglect that allows acknowledging CCSS as abusive and harmful, if they demand of their districts they not abuse their children.

 If some of those parent warriors are capable of sustaining legal action, I see instant national attention to the matter of education once they take it.

I do hope, though, these new Uber-advocate parents might be sympathetic but not all-forgiving of those who know better than to accept what they have to accept to earn money to take care of their own families.

Furthermore, I see teacher educators as central to the mission of eradicating CCSS-imposed abuses, manipulations, exploitations, and neglecting of that which is actually helpful and appropriate for all students.

I suggest teacher educators organize a moratorium on the regular wars they battle – those of earning tenure or full professor status, scratching and clawing to get into the top-tier journals and conferences, one-upping one another and sycophanting the deans and granting agencies and the fields’ various power players  – and instead work wholly and completely on removing CCSS standards and accouterments in two years’ time.

Besides for teaching, of course, I suggest teacher educators make eradication of Common Core State Standards their singular goal, helping their leaders see why it is their most important task and having the gumption to expose or call out those leaders when they resist.

K12 teachers are in a more precarious position.  I hope they join ed reform resistance movements when and wherever they can, batty-based or otherwise. But I encourage K12 teachers not to shy away from truths which hurt their souls. Change can’t come by denying them or ignoring them.

The truth is, as I’ve come to see it, abusive, manipulative, monied enablers have turned the majority of America’s school teachers into co-abusers, co-enablers. Perhaps principals and central office personnel too. Teacher educators are not doing nearly enough to advocate for and empower these less privileged stakeholders, and those with the most power to enact real change are likely the people best positioned to gain from CCSS’s survival. I want to make clear that I am not  teacher bashing. I wish with all my heart teachers had job security and national respect enough to feel they could end the trickle-down audacity known as today's national curriculum, standards, and assessments.

 I don’t ask anyone to admit being complicit without admitting I’m guilty too. But I’m not going to fight that truth.  So long as I allow CCSS to touch my children, I’m an abuser, an enabler at the very least. Even if I were to get CCSS removed from my kids’ school, I’d still be guilty of neglecting your kids. So long as Arne Duncan pads Bill Gates’ pockets, they are abusers. As long as the President continues to support his extension of Bush era education policies…. 

So, stake holders, now what?