Saturday, December 6, 2014

With Liberty and Charter Schools for All

Where can 12 billionaires turn if they want education laws changed?

That’s right, their checkbooks.

Between late September and Election Day, a dozen hedge funders donated a combined $4.4 million to New York State politics, mainly to ensure that Governor Andrew Cuomo and his slimy associates will help publicly-funded, privately-run charter schools seep deeper into the state.
Led by the likes Paul Tudor Jones II, who recently hosted an education “summit” featuring Cuomo and other corpses, the billionaires see charters as investment windfalls. After all, those pesky teachers unions and their due process rights won’t be around to challenge every test and technology tonic sold to New York’s taxpayers once the metastasis of charters quickens.     

With minimal overhead and oversight, charters and their plutocratic backers can finally corner an elusive market in New York State—public education. In words reminiscent of showman P.T. Barnum, “there’s a sucker born every minute”, and the billionaires see no bigger sucker than New York’s working families, with snake-oil salesmen peddling toxic Common Core tests and standards as the panacea for underfunded public schools.

The billionaires would rather subsume these schools than fix them, however, and their sycophantic public servants are lining up to comply. Cuomo has said he wants to “break” public schools in his second term, and lest we forget what Secretary of Education Arne Dunked-on said just last year:

“…he [Duncan] found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
In a recent interview, Jeremiah Kittredge, founder of Families for Excellent Charter Schools (an anti-labor, pro-douchebag super PAC which spent $9 million on the New York election) continued efforts to slime our schools. Kittredge’s organization is calling for an “epic infusion of excellent schools” to rescue 249,000 children supposedly “trapped” in public schools statewide. Kittredge wants parents to believe their local schools face a “crisis of epic proportions” for which charters apparently hold the cure. 

Kittredge says charters are “outperforming” public schools, but it doesn’t require a close-reading of Kittredge’s claims to reveal his simplistic and savage suggestion: charter school students are just better test-takers.

Yet even if their scores are higher—and study after study prove otherwise—most parents would rather raise compassionate, well-rounded human beings instead of test-taking cyborgs programmed by flawed standards. 

Look no further than Pink Floyd’s classic “Another Brick in the Wall” for an allegory of corporate charters and their subservient students. Note how the children in the video react after too many trips through the meat grinder of educational malfeasance: 

The rebellious students in the video throw their teacher on a bonfire, while the New York State Education Department (NYSED) throws teachers on the scrapheap in real life.

With allies like Kittredge doing their bidding—who in the same interview calls public school teachers the “worst servers” of special education and ESL students—
 Education Commissioner John King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch are paradoxically demanding more accountability for unionized teachers and less for charter chains, from the “board of trustees” down to the lowly teachers.

A glance at NYSED’s handy-dandy “Guide to Charter Schools in New York State”, for example, tells us that 30% of the teachers in a charter don’t need to be certified.
At least the important parts are in color

Meanwhile, Tisch seeks an “aggressive” proliferation of charters as her department makes it more difficult for those who would rather teach in unionized public schools to become certified—the majority of job seekers throughout the state. More and more of these applicants might soon find a home in New York’s charters, however, who will entice them with a logo only a hedge funder could love:

Sadly, the day when billionaires like Merryl Tisch control who gets to work in schools has finally arrived. Up-and-coming teachers are not far from signing contracts with corporate boards instead of boards of education, one bad test score away from working at Walmart.      

It was industrious journalism and not NYSED which exposed the fraudulent resume of “Dr.” Ted Morris, Jr., whose Greater Works Charter was revoked by the state after it was revealed Morris lacked both a doctorate and a high school diploma. Both Tisch and King disavowed responsibility for this gross oversight, with Tisch blaming her unnamed underlings and Director of Charter Schools Bill Clarke in hiding since the scandal broke.

With their schools tumbling toward insolvency and privatization, where can members of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) turn to preserve their profession?

From Manhattan to Massena, the state's teachers union is only as strong as its weakest links.

Though not yet an existential threat, non-urban locals should fight charters as much as urban locals should fight non-urban threats like the Tax Cap and Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).

No teacher outside of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), for instance, would be offended if UFT President Michael Mulgrew suddenly spoke out against the Tax Cap, just like Mulgrew should not take umbrage if a teacher in Westchester spoke out against New York City charter schools.

Things might be different for NYSUT if Mulgrew had threatened to punch someone other than teachers who opposed the Common Core, or if American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten’s next arrest is outside the offices of Cuomo or NYSED.   

The privatization of public education is a many-headed hydra, fed by a handful of plutocrats.

This should be no match, however, for an organization fed by 600,000 workers instead of 12 billionaires.

NYSUT must lead this fight before public education starves to death.   

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