Monday, August 31, 2015

How the Ruling Class Remade New Orleans and Its Schools

Much-touted education “reform” has proven unsuccessful
 Thomas Jessen Adams
Source:   Jacobin
Abrasion School children

It’s one of those ironies that New Orleanians tend to especially appreciate. Today, on the tenth anniversary of the failure of the federally maintained levees, the keynote speaker at the annual Rising Tide Conference on the Future of New Orleans will beDeRay Mckesson [1].
Presumably, Mckesson’s invite was the result of his impressive work publicizing Black Lives Matters issues and protests across the country in the past year. But before McKesson became an activist in that movement, he was a standard-bearer for Teach For America and the New Teacher Project — education “reform” organizations that played a crucial role in aiding and abetting the destruction of New Orleans’ black middle class and propagating a pedagogical philosophy [2] that apes the worst of culture of poverty [3] rhetoric.

Such seeming incongruities are rampant this month in New Orleans, as they have been for the last ten years. Developers, urban planners, corporations, nonprofits, self-proclaimed activists, politicians, education “reformers,” hip consumers, middlebrow magazines, anarchists, urban farmers, bicycle enthusiasts, authenticity seekers, and “change agents” continually celebrate the city’s supposed rebirth, resilience, reform, rebuilding, re-whatever.
But it’s worth stepping back to consider whether such ironies are truly ironic, or rather just symptomatic of a larger condition that has plagued New Orleans — and the rest of the nation — over the past decade.
Since the levee failures, New Orleans has been ground zero for what on its face looks like a diverse cohort seeking to use the Katrina-produced “blank slate [4]” as a canvass [5] on which to enact their vision of twenty-first century reform. Black and white, gay and straight, wealthy and riddled with student debt, seventh-generation New Orleanian and recent Brooklyn-migrant, Republican and anarchist — little to nothing at the level of what the cultural studies aficionados might call positionality unites them.
Dig deeper though, and they share certain commonalities, commonalities integral to the only positionality that matters in the context of Katrina’s devastation and the resulting ten years of dislocation and upward redistribution of wealth: their political commitments and actions.
Indeed, what appears to be a motley group with every conceivable background and ascriptive subjectivity is, upon closer inspection, a class. It is a class well past the point of consolidation and one whose prerogatives have indelibly shaped the city’s rebuilding — dictating for whom New Orleans has and has not been rebuilt, all the while postulating and profiting from an ahistorical construction of authenticity, organic community, and ascriptive affinity as the basis for representation.
Mckesson is a particularly interesting case because he crystallizes these issues so well. One may ask how a dogged determination to end police violence against African Americans can be reconciled with a vision of education reform that cares nothing for questions of structural political economy, school funding, or the control of teachers over their classrooms, and instead supposes that the problem is that not enough teachers come from elite Northeastern colleges and universities; too many of them are old, lethargic, and evidently devoid of that pinnacle of neoclassical economics, “human capital”; and that poor students need to be cured of their Moynihan [6]-style tangle of pathologies.
The answer of course, is that they are not incompatible at all.
A deep and abiding commitment to dismantling a heavily militarized criminal-justice infrastructure does not necessitate that the committed individual oppose a national attack on democratic control over schools, the devaluation of teachers and their labor, an emphasis on market choice as a solution to structural inequality and disinvestment, or a base-level assumption that poverty and inequality are the results of damaged psyches and behavioral traits supposedly endemic to poor communities.
Instead, Mckesson’s appearance in New Orleans is a perfect encapsulation of the city’s last ten years. The “grand experiment” perpetrated on New Orleans teachers, students, and schools has always been done in the language of social justice, antiracism, and multiculturalism.
So has the broader grand experiment of the “new” New Orleans. New Orleans has not just been reconceived and reimagined — it has been rebuilt to serve and further specific material and ideological interests. It is a city increasingly designed not to produce equality but to give opportunity to the “worthy” while driving out [7] as many “unworthy” as possible. (The exception of course being those needed to staff the low-wage hospitality [8] and service industry, along with those whose labors [9] produce the city’s appeal as something timeless and supposedly outside the market and the profit motive — an appeal that is one of market culture’s most valuable commodities in contemporary capitalism.)
Any serious reckoning with the last ten years must start with the following facts about post-Katrina New Orleans.
Approximately 100,000 people, mostly African American, have not returned to the city. Real-estate values have doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled in some neighborhoods; rents have more than doubled in many neighborhoods; and the city’s public housing, well-built and largely unaffected by the floodwaters, has been turned over to private developers [10] and razed in favor of mixed-income complexes designed to eliminate the supposed pathologies of the poor while making developers a handsome profit. Meanwhile, countless publicly owned properties have been gifted to high-end, well-connected developers for a song.
Wages have stagnated to the point where the city is the second most unequal in the nation. Public transportation [11] is even more nonexistent than before the flood (no small feat).
Much-touted education “reform” has proven unsuccessful [12] even when judged by its proponents’ favored metric, high-stakes standardized tests, and has both incentivized schools to give up on the city’s most disadvantaged children and produced a generation of New Orleanians educated with the sole purpose of passing a standardized test. Effected through the mass firing [13] of veteran African-American teachers, the decimation of the traditional public school system also eviscerated the city’s black middle class. And finally, the removal of education policy from democratic control placed it in the hands of a variety of corporate-backed organizations.
University of New Orleans — a once-proud public university that regularly educated between 15,000 and 17,000 largely working-class students a year and produced cutting-edge research across various fields of human inquiry — has been so hollowed out that the very question of its continued existence is a cruel parlor game played every year by faculty and a student body cut nearly in half.
Of the $6.4 billion that was to be distributed [14] by the private infrastructure consultancy firm ICF International to help homeowners rebuild, only $1.5 made it to residents. Meanwhile, ICF’s stock price has almost tripled. The money that did reach residents was doled out in a manner reminiscent of redlining, increasing capital in the hands of the wealthiest New Orleans property owners — disproportionately white — while decreasing it in the hands of the poorest —disproportionately black. Not a cent was allocated at any level for renters to return, nor were any rental market controls put in place to aid in their homecoming.
The Avondale Shipyards [15], which paid middle-income wages and was formerly the region’s largest private employer, unceremoniously closed its doors in 2013 after suffering a slow and hardly noticed death.
perfectly functional hospital [16] that was an important symbol of local identity and provided the city with a strong tradition of low-income and indigent care wasn’t reopened after the storm. Yet the city bulldozed a relatively unflooded, working-class neighborhood and spent $1.1 billion to build a shiny new hospital on the promise that it would attract high-income employees from out of state — whose income would, they insisted, trickle down.
The majority of the direct producers of New Orleans’ vaunted culture — its musicians, artists, culinary workers — make poverty wages. An even greater majority of their support staff — the dishwashers, bartenders, taxi drivers, maids, etc. who provide the labor infrastructure for New Orleans’ culture to be sustained — live on well below poverty wages.
Louisiana continues to lead the nation in incarcerated residents, the majority of who do their time in for-profit prisons. New Orleans has effectively criminalized [17] homelessness even while its percentage of homeless residents has risen to the second highest in the nation. The list could go on and on.
The political and social divisions that exist within the city are not simply red herrings that obscure the causes of this growing dislocation. The divisions themselves are the legitimating agents of this inequality.
To put it bluntly, New Orleans has become a tremendously profitable model city for global capital. Yet the lines of debate within the city virtually never break down along the question of who stands to make money and who stands to be further disenfranchised.
Equally as problematic, the grand experiment itself has furthered the ideological hegemony of this expropriation well beyond the confines of Orleans Parish. Countless self-identified liberals, progressives, and social justice advocates around the country and the world tout the city as the exemplar for education reform, film tax incentives, the development of a cultural economy, corporate-backed non-profit solutions to social problems, entrepreneurial culture, and such revolutionary developments as locally produced food, DIY art projects, and resistance through performance and consumer culture.
It is in this manner that New Orleans’ new ruling class has come to govern with absolute hegemony.
Homages to culture and culture-bearers; neighborhood and cultural preservation as end-goals; emphases on proportional racial representation, whether on the city council or in victimhood at the hands of terroristic police; social entrepreneurship, the notion of “doing well by doing good,” and “social justice” outsourced to corporate-backed nonprofits; advocation of urban amenities like bike lanes and locally sourced food markets; even taking down white supremacist monuments and renaming streets bearing the name of treasonous insurrectionists — all of this is perfectly compatible with the dislocations and expropriations of the last decade.
Indeed, these gestures are not simply compatible with the status quo, but serve to refract dissent and contentious politics into questions of subjectivity and identity that in fact provide a bulwark for the prerogatives of New Orleans as a city increasingly divided between those who it has been purposely rebuilt for and those who it has manifestly attempted to exclude.
More than anywhere else in the last ten years of American history, New Orleans exemplifies how equality and justice become functions of equitable distribution along lines of race, city nativity, gender, etc. — rather than evils to be defeated in and of themselves.
Charter school hucksters like Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White and millionaire businesswoman Leslie Jacobs; multi-millionaire developer and destroyer of public housing Pres Kabacoff and his legion of aspirants [18]; politicians ranging from former mayor Ray Nagin to current mayor Mitch Landrieu, along with the vast majority of the city council; former city councilman Oliver Thomas (who famously hoped to rid the city of “soap opera watchers” following the flooding); musical ambassador and public library embezzler [19] Irvin Mayfield; Teach for America and the New Teacher Project; actor, organic food provider-cum-profiteer, and would-be real-estate developer [20] Wendell Pierce; virtually every neighborhood association in the city; urban planning and revitalization groups from the local St Claude Main Street to the national Urban Planning Institute; elite interest groups like Tulane University, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, and Downtown Development District; countless more minor nonprofit hacks and wannabe power brokers.
All have played, and love to play, the game where justice and equality are defined along the lines of representationality, diversity, and multiculturalism.
It’s an easy and profitable game for them to play. Far too often, though, it’s also an easy game for the rest of us to play. We proclaim ourselves resilient. We speak of a rebirth. We glorify resistance through the market. We proclaim our culture and neighborhoods transhistoric and emphasize imagined forms of authenticity. Wecelebrate [21] groups disconnected from conceivable institutional power mechanisms demanding equitable representation.
Our politics — in New Orleans and all across nation — becomes about morality tales of injustice based on subject position, racial representation, or authentic embeddedness in some imagined organic community. It fails to recognize the cause of these injustices — the profit motive and a dire lack of institutional means to curtail it. And at the end of the day, it reinforces the rules of a game that at best allows for a more equitable distribution of inequality.

See footnotes on Jacobin Magazine site.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Teacher Shortage is No Accident

In These Times ·

BY Kevin Prosen

Like much else in the national education debate, panics about teacher shortages seem to be a perennial event. In a widely discussed article for the New York Times earlier this month, Motoko Rich called attention to sharp drops in enrollment in teacher training programs in California and documented that many districts are relaxing licensure requirements as a result, pushing more and more people into the classroom without full certification or proper training.

“It’s a sad, alarming state of affairs, and it proves that for all our lip service about improving the education of America’s children, we’ve failed to make teaching the draw that it should be, the honor that it must be,” mused Times columnist Frank Bruni.

That Bruni would bemoan such a state of affairs is ironic, as he has used his column over the years to repeatedly argue that teaching is too easy a profession to enter and too easy to keep, and amplified the voice of reformers who want to want to make the profession more precarious. But the reality is that speaking of a “shortage” at all is a kind of ideological dodge; the word calls to mind some accident of nature or the market, when what is actually happening is the logical (if not necessarily intended) result of education reform policies.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Group of Teachers Challenge Sanders to Change His Vote

Many of us, public school teachers and parents, have enthusiastically supported Senator Sanders for President. We were encouraged by his opposition to NCLB, but disappointed when he voted for the Murphy Amendment, which would have imposed many of the conditions we’ve consistently opposed. Our students have been through more than enough of this already. Therefore we’ve written the following:
Dear Senator Sanders,
We are educators and supporters of yours, from across the country. Many of your positions on the issues that are the most significant facing the American populace resonate with us, inclusive of but not limited to economic inequality and the plutocratic maldistribution of political power.
In addition to being supporters and organizers for your campaign and the issues above, we are also some of the educators who are fighting against the privatization of public education and the test and punish philosophy that has become pervasive with far too many politicians. We champion this fight because our students, our profession, and the future of this country depend upon our changing the conditions that exist today under the failed No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies.
We are disappointed with your recent votes in the senate that contain provisions which perpetuate quantitatively based measures of education. Your Tennessee senatorial colleague Lamar Alexander correctly stated that what you just recently voted for, “Instead of fixing No Child Left Behind, it keeps the worst parts of it.”

Thursday, August 20, 2015



6 Back-to-School Tips for 
Social Justice Educators


Start your school year off by inviting students' lives into the classroom through poetry. Download this free lesson from our newest book,  Rhythm and Resistance

Where I'm From

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Like Trump: Seven Republican Candidates Want to Re...

antiracismdsa: Like Trump: Seven Republican Candidates Want to Re...: A Good Chunk Of GOP Field Wants To Repeal The 14th Amendment Seven candidates now support re-examining birthright citizenship. Sam S...

Another Republican Candidate Attacks Public Education and Teachers

Jeff Bryant
Some Very Serious People have decided Governor John Kasich of Ohio is the latest personality to emerge from the field of presidential candidates in the Republican Party as a genuine bona fide consideration.
According to a round up of political pundits and campaign strategists compiled by Politico, Kasich – along with Hewlett-Packard ex-CEO Carly Fiorina – put in a superior performance in the recent televised Republican presidential debate on Fox News. Folks at The Hill have christened Kasich a “sleeper candidate” who is “getting buzz because his message resonates more with the beltway crowd.” And analysts at Real Clear Politics, as of this writing, have Kasich edging ever so close to Jeb Bush who trails only Donald Trump in polling for the New Hampshire Republican primary.
Yet in all this horse-race analysis there is very little scrutiny of what Kasich’s track record actually is in the state he governed for the past four years – a consideration that should matter a lot in order to be recognized as a candidate in the first rank.
On the economic policy front, Kasich has very little to brag about. According to a recent op ed by Dale Butland of Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank in that state, Kasich makes a case for his economic prowess based on an increase in jobs in his state since the Great Recession. But compared to other states, Ohio has “led the nation in lost jobs” and “is still about 140,000 jobs short of where we were in 2007 before the downturn began.” Job creation in the Buckeye state has “lagged the national average for 20 straight months” and kept its rank mired at 41st.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Julian Bond- A Life Well Lived

Julian Bond

In a companion feature to its obituary, The Washington Post on Monday August 17, shared a story from Pamela Horowtiz, Julian Bond's widow. As she was  leaving the intensive care unit where her husband had died, a nurse stopped to offer condolences, the first person to extend sympathy:
“She told me, ‘I want you to know it was a privilege to take care of him,’ ” recalls Horowitz, voice wavering. “She said, ‘As a gay American, I thought he was a hero.’ And for her to say that, for her to be the last person who was with him, I thought it was a nice way to end."

For many of us in the struggles for social justice, Julian Bond was a hero and a role model.
Known first for his civil rights activism, Bond won national attention in 1966 when the Georgia state legislature voted to deny him the seat to which he was elected.  The rationale was that he was a disloyal American for opposing the war in Vietnam.  The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the legislature had denied Bond his free speech rights and ordered that he be seated. 
Throughout his life, Julian Bond remained a champion for racial justice, and he personified the effort to broaden the social justice struggle to include everyone. Besides the  lesbian nurse who  saw him as a hero, there were  workers who welcomed him to their picket lines and rallies and peace activists who could always count him among their ranks.

Monday, August 17, 2015

antiracismdsa: Saying Goodbye to Julian Bond

Saying Goodbye to Julian Bond: I did not expect to awaken this morning ...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why I Can No Longer Teach in Michigan Public Education

What happens to teachers and teaching  when Republican austerity extremists gain control of a state ?

Stephanie Keiles

 I am sitting here in my lovely little backyard on a beautiful Michigan summer day, drinking a Fat Tire Amber Ale, and crying. I am in tears because today I made one of the hardest decisions of my life: I resigned from my job as a public school teacher. A job I didn't want to leave -- but I had to.
A little background. I didn't figure out that I wanted to be a math teacher until I was 28. As a kid I was always told I was "too smart" to be a teacher, so I went to business school instead. I lasted one year in the financial world before I knew it was not for me. I read a quote from Millicent Fenwick, the (moderate) Republican Congresswoman from my home state of New Jersey, where she said that the secret to happiness was doing something you enjoyed so much that what was in your pay envelope was incidental.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Initiative to Restrict Teacher Retirement is Filed

Seth Sandronsky 
On Tuesday California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris released the full title and summary text for the Public Employees Pension and Retiree Healthcare Benefits Initiative Constitutional Amendment. The title is a mouthful, but the initiative’s wording is just six sentences long.
Its first two lines read: “Eliminates constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree healthcare benefits for current public employees, including those working in K-12 schools, higher education, hospitals and police protection, for future work performed. Adds initiative/referendum powers to Constitution, for determining public employee compensation and retirement benefits.” 

Monday, August 10, 2015

28,000 Greet Bernie in Portland

SACRAMENTO PROGRESSIVE ALLIANCE: 28,000 Greet Bernie in Portland: PORTLAND, Ore. – Shattering a day-old record, 28,000 backers of Bernie Sanders on Sunday filled all the seats and crowded into overflow are...

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Republican Candidate Christie Attacks Teachers

What was the most surprising thing about New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie’s recent remark that the “national teachers union” deserves a “punch in the face?”
Certainly not that he made the remark. As multiple news outlets reporting on the comment note, Christie “has had several public confrontations with individual teachers.”
No, what was most surprising was how tepid the response has been from anyone but members of the teachers’ unions themselves.
In contrast to the “firestorm,” according to The Washington Post, that Jeb Bush, also a Republican presidential candidate, ignited after he said he was “not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” Christie’s remark doesn’t appear to have received a strong rebuke from prominent commentators or representatives of the Democratic Party. Although Bush’s comment has been called a “gaffe” by Beltway pundits, Christie’s comment has not been similarly labeled.
In fact, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal said Christie’s insult is proof of “the growing consensus that teachers unions are the main obstacle to improvement in American public schools.”
What motivated Christie to make the remark, as an Education Weekreporter surmised, was a need to get “an upper hand in a crowded GOP presidential election field.”
If that supposition is true, Christie likely failed. There is nothing unique about Republican candidates attacking public school teachers.
As education journalist Valerie Strauss points out on her blog at The Washington Post, Christie “is hardly the only candidate antagonistic toward teachers and their unions.” Strauss explains that at least three other Republican presidential candidates – Bush and Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio – have been more “damaging” to teachers and their unions.
There are also a number of political leaders in the Democratic Party who have histories of making unkind remarks about teachers in public. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has often been accused of being “insulting” to educators in his high-handed governance of the city’s public schools. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also been accused of waging “attacks” on public school educators.
So political candidates of all stripes seem to have very few inhibitions to attack public schools teachers – or inclinations to defend them when they are viciously singled out.
There are reasons for this tendency that go beyond political gamesmanship. Certainly politicians want teachers to vote for them and give them campaign contributions. And when weighing that benefit against the potential votes and money that could come in from people who resent being taxed to pay for teacher salaries and benefits, there will always be politicians who opt to go for the anti-tax message.
But the antipathy, or apathy, many politicians tend to have toward teachers derives from the reality that politicians tend to have unreal expectations about teachers and what they do.
Teachers And Their Unions
But first, let’s be clear that an attack on teachers’ unions, like the one Christie’s remark exemplified, is an attack on teachers, or at least a very large representation of them.
If you don’t agree with that, then you’ve simply never been to a teachers’ union meeting of any kind. If you ever make it to a national assembly of one of these organizations, what you’ll confront in the convention hall is a massive showing of literally hundreds and hundreds of teachers. Seriously, if teachers’ unions aren’t made up of teachers, who on earth are they made of?
Teachers take any attack on their unions as something personal. As at least one teacher wrote on his personal blog, Christie’s remark strikes at teachers personally: “Christie wants to punch me in the face … After all, I am a public school teacher. I do belong to one of those nefarious teachers unions.”
Now does that mean that teachers’ unions always represent the majority of their members? Of course not. Can any representative body claim that?
But teachers’ unions are, well, teachers, and political leaders who openly disrespect these organizations are in essence disrespecting teachers. Why do politicians so often disrespect teachers?
The Teacher Wars
Dana Goldstein in her tremendous book The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession plunges into that question with great depth and insight this short piece of writing won’t attempt to summarize.
In her detailed account of the complex history of the teaching profession in America, Goldstein grapples with understanding why, in her words, “powerful people seemed to feel indignant about the incompetence and job security of public school teachers.”
Goldstein vividly describes the current regard political leaders have for teachers as a “confusing dichotomy” in which teachers are worshipped in the abstract and ridiculed when they, in the flesh, publically represent their needs and interests. She likens the current obsession with education “reform” to a “moral panic” that by and large has “nothing to do” with the quality of teachers’ work. And she draws on copious evidence from the historical record to today’s news accounts to illustrate how public school administrators working with their local teachers’ unions have developed successful education policies that serve both the interests of teachers and the taxpayers’ needs to know their money is being well spent.
Goldstein’s remarkably nuanced narrative culminates with a brief “lessons from history” that should guide politicians in how they talk about teachers, including the importance of their salaries, their needs for collaborative space and time, and the undue expectations being put on teachers, and the education system as a whole.
But too few politicians do nuance.
“Results” Teachers Can’t Give
What politician do, mostly, is speak in the language of “results.” And in today’s economically minded culture, results are framed in the language of business.
Teaching, we’re so often told, “produces learning” like a sausage machine spits out pods of ground meat wrapped in pig gut. When it comes time for politicians to prove their worthiness to the public, they assume it’s the teachers’ job to show an increase in some sort of measurable output, such as a rise in standardized test scores or a positive swing in graduation rates. When those magic numbers aren’t available, there’s hell to pay, and teachers have to be made “accountable” – never mind that the financial support for education programs is less than it was seven years ago, more students are plagued with the trauma of poverty, teacher salaries are not equivalent to what other professionals make, and higher stress levels in schools have caused teacher morale to plummet.
However, it has never been, and never will be, teachers’ jobs to “produce” learning. Students are the ones who do the learning. And “learning isn’t even a “product.”
As retired teacher and popular blogger Walt Gardner explains for Education Week, teaching isn’t about production as much as it is about relationships. “Teaching by its very nature is a person-to-person undertaking,” he writes. “The trouble is that everything going on today undermines the teacher-student relationship … What good does it do to teach a subject well (high standardized test scores) but to teach students to hate the subject in the process?”
What politicians don’t get is that teachers will generally put up with all the negative conditions of too little money to do a complicated, stress-filled job if people who hold public office would show at least a clue they get this.
Very few politicians do, so their short term interests rarely align with the perspectives of teachers whose very jobs demand they think long term and developmentally. Until one of those two parties adjusts their attitudes, we’ll continue to see teachers openly disparaged, or disregarded, in the public sphere. For the sake of our children, let’s hope the politicians are the ones who make the adjustment.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

We Won't Get Great Teachers By Treating Them Badly

By Jeff Bryant. Educational Opportunity Network
An article by Alia Wong for The Atlantic this week caused quite a stir by pointing to a recent survey of teachers that found one of the main stresses they have during their busy days is getting a potty break.
Wong looked at results from a poll about the work conditions of teachers conducted by the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association, a grassroots teacher-led movement resisting current education policies.
She found lots of interesting findings on the “everyday stressors” teachers face in the workplace, including time pressure, student discipline problems, and mandated curricula. But “the biggest takeaway” Wong got from the data was that “of the various everyday workplace stressors educators could check off, one of the most popular was, ‘Lack of opportunity to use restroom.’” Wong noted bathroom breaks were “in third place” on the list of work-related stressors with about one in two teachers “having inadequate bathroom breaks.”
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