Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Biggest Ed Win of 2014

As the battle for the heart, soul, and future of US public education has heated up this year, there have been wins for the Resistance this year. Because it's the time of year in which we all Make Lists and Declare Winners, I'm going to go ahead and sort through public education victories this year and declare the greatest.


It's now quaint to remember a time when education was the easy choice for pols who wanted a win. Coming out for better schools was like announcing your support of cute puppies and apple pie, a political stance with only an up side and no possible downside.

No longer. No longer can politicians just say, "Let's make schools better" and not have to explain what they mean and not suffer consequences for those specifics. Sure, the new opposition to Common Core from guys like Bobby Jindal is strictly political, but then, the support was strictly political in the first place. The good news is that politicians must now do some sort of homework instead of just making platitudinous mouth noises about education.

And while the fall elections left reformster politicians largely untouched, the brutal shellacking of incumbent PA governor Tom Corbett is a clear signal that voters will put up with only so much gutting of public education.


I hope Leonie Haimson is having a great New Year's celebration tonight, because this year she was the most visible face of a movement that took down inBloom, the data collecting giant. It would be a mistake to thing our Data Overlords have given up their dreams of hoovering up every speck of data on every sentient being on the planet (it is still fundamental to Pearson's world domination business plan). But their flagship corporate initiative got its ass handed to it in 2014.


This was the year for reformsters to talk about the Conversation. Changing the Conversation. Renewing the Conversation. Improving the Conversation. Reformsters talk about the Conversation uniformly ignored one uncomfortable truth-- the Conversation they were talking about changing was the same one they had refused to have. Common Core was rolled out quickly and in a manner deliberately designed to keep national standards, test, and (let's be honest) curriculum from being derailed by any conversation about how (or even if) these things should be done.

So 2014 was the year that reformsters, mostly, acknowledged that simply rolling over the entire country was no longer working as a strategy. Some, like Peter Cunningham at Education Post, still worked on the theory that the public just needed to be rolled over more artfully, but even that was a backhanded acknowledgement that people who disagree with the reform agenda exist and have voices and can't just be ignored. That means there's a possibility that in 2015 we might actually begin the national conversation we should have had in 2009.

The Biggest Public Education Win of 2014

None of these victories, or the many other victories for public ed this year, were the biggest win. Because the biggest win was also the quietest one. Let me tell you what it was, in case you missed it.

In the midst of a staggering assault on public education, with their integrity, judgment, reputation, and ability under attack by everyone from corporate stooges to the US Secretary of Education, and, in many areas, with their job security under direct assault by people who don't know what the hell they're talking about, while powerful forces worked to dismantle the very institutions and ideals that they have devoted their lives to-- in the middle of all that, millions of teachers went to work and did their jobs.

In environments ranging from openly hostile to merely unsupportive, teachers went into their classrooms and did their best to meet the needs of their students. Teachers helped millions of young human become smarter, wiser, more capable, more confident, and better educated. Millions of teachers went to school, met students where they were, and helped those students move forward, helped them grasp what it meant to be fully human, to be the most that they could be. Teachers helped millions of students learn to read and write and figure and draw and make music and play games and know history and understand science and a list of things so varied and rich that I have no room here for them all.

When so many groups were slandering us and our own political leaders were giving us a giant middle finger, we squared our shoulders and said, "Well, dammit, I've got a job to do, and if even if I've got to go in there and do it with my bare hands in a hailstorm, I'm going to do it." And we did.

Yes, some of us finally ran out of fight this year. There's no shame in that; despite what our detractors say, this is not a job that just anybody can do for a lifetime, particularly not under today's conditions. The people who had to leave the classroom are just our measure of how hard it is to stay these days.

And yet, this year, millions of us stayed and fought and taught and did our best this year. While powerful forces lined up to make us fail, or at least make us look as if we were failing, we went into our classrooms armed with professional skills and knowledge and experience and judgment and hours of outside preparation and work, and we didn't fail. We stood up for our students, stood up for the education, their future, their value as human beings. We didn't fail.

So, if you want the biggest public education win of 2014, there it is. Millions of teachers, caught in a storm not of their own making, under fire, under pressure, under the thumb of people with far more money and power still stood up and did their job. The powers that be tried to make us fail, and we got the job done anyway. Celebrate that.


  1. I agree that teachers play an invaluable role in the lives of our kids. I do not want to sound like I'm bashing them - as throwing questions out there in this heated climate can sometimes win you an ass-kicking - but why have they gone along to get along with all these ed reform agendas when they probably know better than anyone that they don't serve their students well? As a parent coming into the system after homeschooling my boys up through 6th and 7th grades, I was faced with eye-opening resistance, double-talk and made to realize that "they" - NOT "we" - were all in it together, when I brought up concerns about Common Core (and other things). I found dealing with teachers and their superiors to be a far less than desirable experience. I'm not alone in this perception as parents fighting this Common Core fight (when most teachers are remaining silent for fear of losing their jobs) are made to feel like the pot stirring trouble makers that need to be put in their place. I want to feel all mushy about teachers. Many parents who send their kids to these places five days a week are not feeling the love. Help me out here.....

    1. You said it right there: we are afraid of losing our jobs...the jobs we love, the jobs that feed and house our families.

  2. It's hard to know how to respond with so little information. You may be a parent who's dealing with a particularly shell-shocked and beaten-down teaching staff, or you may, in fact be a raging helicopter parent who expects the school to provide services exactly as you detail them. Since you are wise enough to read this blog, I'll assume it's the former, but there are so many things that play into the parent-school dynamic, it's hard to know what exactly is going on in your case. So I'll keep this short.

    Depending on the situation, you may well be dealing with a shell-shocked non-combative staff. I have many things that I would say to them, but I'm talking to you, so that's where my words are aimed.

    The staff does not know you. Particularly because your children were homeschooled, they don't know what your agenda is, what your patterns are, what your temper tends to, how knowledgeable you are. When any parent is dealing with a teacher or school, we are looking to see who you are, because we deal with everything from parents who are just as knowledgeable as we are to parents who are get their education information from talk radio to parents who make great partners to parents who are bat-shit crazy. Think about all the students in your school-- your school deals with all of those parents. All of them.

    Schools don't know who you are until you show them, and until they know, they will tend to be cautious and conservative because that tends to be schools' nature. Whatever you think should be obvious about you as a parent (of course I want to be a helpful partner, or of course, I've done responsible study of the issues) is not automatically obvious to the school. Communication is key. trust-building and relationship-building is key.

    As I said above, this is not all on you-- but you're the one who asked.

  3. Conversations are great, but they can also be very tricky. Two people can be talking to each other, speaking literally the same language and yet not speaking the same language at all. At the core (and not the CC) of this Conversation is the hard, cold reality of the expanding chasm between the haves and have-nots. This topic is what ignites most of the education arguments. If you look at it closely, both sides of this debate, the main concern of educators is the prospect of a decent quality of life for all graduating students. The public school advocates are heartsick that lack of funding and resources along with the lack of freedom to address the students' needs are preventing the students from being prepared to enter adulthood with a foundation sturdy enough to prevent them from staying in or slipping into poverty.

    The "reformy" people maintain the same point: we do not want students to be unprepared for the job world, so they talk explicitly about job preparedness as the ultimate goal. They think of corporate skill sets are the goal because they want students to be prepared to get jobs. Job preparedness is the goal of education. It doesn't sound like the same goal to public education people who have a more nuanced meaning of the concept, but to many people, they hear "we want our students to not be in poverty and be able to get a job."

    Both arguments are about prospective life security for students. Less time is spent on the most important part of this system: parents.

    Parents put their children in school according to law. What do they expect from school? Is it the parents' responsibility to contribute to teaching main content areas, or is it sufficient to get the child to school well fed, etc.? Is it necessary for parents to supplement what is going on in the classroom to reinforce what is being taught, or are they helicopter parents? Do some teachers feel that they have to un-do a lot of negative attitudes in students that were nurtured by their parents, either intentionally or through neglect? Do parents feel they have to un-do a lot of negative attitudes their children get from the teachers who are trying to grind out a high stakes testing classroom experience?

    When corporate types talk about education in base numbers many voices think these people are crass to the core.

    When pubic school educators talk about requiring all students to go to public schools so that they can give a fair shake to all students, the business people say, "You've had your chance, and the reason we are stepping in is that you have failed."

    Wrestling with Common Core takes a lot of energy, but without parents and teachers finding real common ground, corporate money is going to continue to persuade, dissuade, entice, schmooze, and impact teachers, administrators, parents and most importantly, students alike.

    Educators want their students to thrive. What does thriving look like? That is the question that has not been answered. We know what corporate types think. How to talk about the have and have-not without being crass is the challenge of public school advocates.

    Congratulations to Peter Greene and others who take the time to create a space for the Conversation to take place. Thank you!

  4. I don't tHink it is coincidence that Minnesota was the only state to withstand the republican victorIes and actively fight against deformed. Dayton vetoed millions for TFA vetoed tenure reform passed all day kindergarten. The rest of the country lost teachers. Minnesota kept teachers and win every single statewide office and the state Senate

  5. Toni, it's commendable that you are fighting for the best education for your kids. Unfortunately, teachers have no power over anything. About the only recourse we have is strikes. Our unions are not standing up for us or the students because of the political bashing from politicians listening to the corporate profiteers. Teachers never have enough time to do all they feel they need to do, and now more of their time is taken up by testing and pointless mounds of paperwork to generate useless data.

    As a parent, I also found the schools, the administration more than the teachers, could be unresponsive. Sometimes it was even worse being a teacher. I was appalled when I found out there were 29 kids in my son's kindergarten class. When the state required that kids just one year younger have a teacher/child ratio of 1:12 just for daycare, not to teach them anything, that made no sense. After 2 months of unreturned phone calls and unacknowledged letters to the board of education, I wrote a letter to the local newspaper, complaining about the situation and what I saw as bureaucracy. The very next day I got a phone call from the superintendent himself - lambasting me because they had figured out I was a teacher and considered me a traitor because they were putting a levy up in 6 months. Later my son had trouble with bullying on the playground, but I talked to the principal and he took care of it right away. In Jr. High my son was hit in the back of the head by a battery thrown the length of the overcrowded bus. The principal refused to meet with me but I finally got a dean to change his bus. Then he had problems with bullying in the locker room and the gym teacher was unresponsive, but the music teacher realized something was wrong, talked to me, talked to the gym teacher, and the problem was resolved. My kids went to the same high school I taught at, but when my daughter had problems with a teacher who was verbally abusive, the only thing they would let me do was transfer her to another class, but the justification had to be switching her from Honors to regular class. (They did eventually get rid of the teacher.)

    I do think schools need to be more responsive to parents and it would help if schools were smaller and less bureaucratic. My school tried to get in on the Gates small school initiative, but there were so many constraints put on the money and what they came up with made no sense and wouldn't have made anything better, so the teachers voted it down. However, most of my kids' teachers were good, and some were very good. Both my daughters graduated summa cum laude from college. One has a doctorate in physical therapy, the other is licensed in teaching social studies and Spanish and has a master's degree in political science. My son was never as academically inclined, but he has a bachelor's in sociology with a minor in psychology, which, though he isn't using it career-wise right now, has made him able to understand himself, other people, and the world.

    Even though it doesn't seem like it, administrators do listen to parents more than to teachers. If enough parents complain, changes do happen. Keep up the fight.

  6. Thanks for your replies. I am not a helicopter parent. I am not difficult. After teaching my own two sons I had more respect for teachers than ever before and knew exactly what they were getting with my kids. (They are smart, nice kids - but they are kids like any other) So I always gave the teachers and the system the benefit of the doubt, always reassuring staff that I was on their side and would support them with whatever the issue they might have with either of them. When my oldest had a genuine issue with an English teacher who was not going to let them move past it and was punishing him with grades we had to speak to her and made an appointment. There had also been an issue that I can't get into that embarrassed my son immensely that had to be discussed. When we showed up there were four other teachers, the principal AND the school counselor. Seriously? That is a control tactic to disarm parents and it was not necessary. We let that slide and eventually were able to change classes. We moved and they go to a school where everyone knows everyone. As I was learning about CC I brought it up in a parent/teacher setting - just inquiring where our school was at with it. I got non-answers but chalked it up to the fact that they may not even know what was going on. But they did and were being evasive, as CC was being implemented there like everywhere else. That was off-putting. We were completely bullied by our local school board when we petitioned them to follow the rules when firing a coach, making up lies to justify their firing. We were sent a threatening letter by their expensive law firm in St. Louis. All this to say --- it has proven to be a closed system and getting more so all the time. Sitting on one of those "workgroups" in our state to "create Missouri standards instead of using CC" I was once again faced with the bully tactics of our Department of Elementary and Secondary Ed. WOW! It continues to be an eye-opening experience. Heavy-handed; inside baseball; crony; hostile - especially to anyone who disagrees with them. I am not hopeful that things are going to change very soon....

  7. Peter -
    Your humor and wordsmithing has brought many a smile and several belly laughs on days when the news in the foxhole has been unendingly dreary. Good stuff! Thanks!

    As we say to the kids:

    Pick yourself up,
    Dust yourself off
    And start all over again.

  8. The question why teachers bow their heads and teach common core and allow tests determine the future for themselves and their students is a very good question. Teachers are for the most part rule makers and rule followers and that is a well known fact. However in Chicago where teachers have a strong union and community support teachers have fought and fought hard for their students, their Public Schools and their communities. Chicago though is the exception for the most part the unions have failed to encourage teachers to fight the reforms. The message from the unions has been collaboration so teachers who try and fight get slapped down threatened with loss of their jobs and never getting another job. The failure of the biggest most powerful unions in this country has allowed the destruction of Public Education and the raid on education funding by Wall St. investors.