Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Another Meetup Report 

I attended the Edwards Meetup last night. Karen (another blogger who has yet to post) went along!

I'll be honest - at first, it was not such a good experience. In fact, we almost left. But...I'm not one to give in so easily and I had carved time out of my busy schedule - so I insisted on staying AND on being heard!

I did stay until the end. This was the right decision. We had a great conversation about education, linking the importance of education to all voters. We're looking into planning a debate watch event and do letter writing to voters in states with upcoming elections.

If your interested in learning more, email me or check out the Edwards Meetup.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Assessment-Industrial Complex 

My friend from another blog and fellow teacher sheba reminds us today about the connections between the Bush administration and the makers of standardized tests. Specifically, she points to this startling article from The Nation from January 2002, the month George W. Bush signed ESEA 2001 (aka NCLB, IYKWIM). Just some highlights:
[T]he Bush legislation has ardent supporters in the testing and textbook publishing industries. Only days after the 2000 election, an executive for publishing giant NCS Pearson addressed a Waldorf ballroom filled with Wall Street analysts. According to Education Week, the executive displayed a quote from President-elect Bush calling for state testing and school-by-school report cards, and announced, "This almost reads like our business plan." The bill has allotted $387 million to get states up to speed; the National Association of State Boards of Education estimates that properly funding the testing mandate could cost anywhere from $2.7 billion to $7 billion. The bottom line? "This promises to be a bonanza for the testing companies," says Monte Neill of FairTest, a Boston-based nonprofit. "Fifteen states now test in all the grades Bush wants. All the rest are going to have to increase the amount of testing they do." [. . .]

The big educational testing companies have thus dispatched lobbyists to Capitol Hill. Bruce Hunter, who represents the American Association of School Administrators, says, "I've been lobbying on education issues since 1982, but the test publishers have been active at a level I've never seen before. At every hearing, every discussion, the big test publishers are always present with at least one lobbyist, sometimes more." Both standardized testing and textbook publishing are dominated by the so-called Big Three--McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin and Harcourt General--all identified as "Bush stocks" by Wall Street analysts in the wake of the 2000 election.

While critics of the Bush Administration's energy policies have pointed repeatedly to its intimacy with the oil and gas industry--specifically the now-imploding Enron--few education critics have noted the Administration's cozy relationship with McGraw-Hill. At its heart lies the three-generation social mingling between the McGraw and Bush families. The McGraws are old Bush friends, dating back to the 1930s, when Joseph and Permelia Pryor Reed began to establish Jupiter Island, a barrier island off the coast of Florida, as a haven for the Northeast wealthy. The island's original roster of socialite vacationers reads like a who's who of American industry, finance and government: the Meads, the Mellons, the Paysons, the Whitneys, the Lovetts, the Harrimans--and Prescott Bush and James McGraw Jr. The generations of the two families parallel each other closely in age: the patriarchs Prescott and James Jr., son George and nephew Harold Jr., and grandson George W. and grandnephew Harold III, who now runs the family publishing empire.

The amount of cross-pollination and mutual admiration between the Administration and that empire is striking: Harold McGraw Jr. sits on the national grant advisory and founding board of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. McGraw in turn received the highest literacy award from President Bush in the early 1990s, for his contributions to the cause of literacy. The McGraw Foundation awarded current Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige its highest educator's award while Paige was Houston's school chief; Paige, in turn, was the keynote speaker at McGraw-Hill's "government initiatives" conference last spring. Harold McGraw III was selected as a member of President George W. Bush's transition advisory team, along with McGraw-Hill board member Edward Rust Jr., the CEO of State Farm and an active member of the Business Roundtable on educational issues. An ex-chief of staff for Barbara Bush is returning to work for Laura Bush in the White House--after a stint with McGraw-Hill as a media relations executive. John Negroponte left his position as McGraw-Hill's executive vice president for global markets to become Bush's ambassador to the United Nations.
Again, NCLB is not our main thrust here, but it's so hard to avoid talking about all the other Things We Are Up Against. One of these days, I'll turn it into a real list. It will not be pleasant.

In the meantime, don't forget to Speak Out. Email us or click on "Speak Out!" below. Maybe take this time to talk about how NCLB has changed your classroom . . .

Monday, February 23, 2004

From the Shepherd Express 

Just a month ago a good friend, and fellow MPS teacher, called me up and asked what I knew about the possible changes in our healthcare package. "If this plan (the initial final offer) goes through," she said, "next year we'll all be living in cardboard boxes."

In the recent publication of the Shepherd Express, there are two articles that highlight issues of recruiting and retention facing MTEA and the board. These are issues that are right now effecting teachers' decisions to come into the district or remain with the district.

The first, "Fenced In: Could the end be near for MPS residency Requirements?" tells the story of an MPS guidance counselor who has been forced to resign because she resides outside of the district.

The district's $25,000 a year budget for teacher residency investigations is referred to, along with the numbers. Since residency became the rule for MPS employees in 1978, 72 teachers and 33 educational assistants have been forced to quit the district.

Other numbers given: teacher salaries in Milwaukee Public Schools is 248 out of 425 districts in Wisconsin and benefits are 264 offf 425.

Clearly, we're getting the short end of the stick.

The Shepherd didn't stop here.

""Sheer Heart Attack: MPS health proposal a shock" brings out the truth about the health care plan - the "initial final offer."

MTEA's struggle to get Andrekopoulos to the bargaining table and Andrekopoulos's public negotiation tactics are highlighted before going into the debate between board members as to which luxury car best describes our current benefits packace.

Former board member John Gardner referred to the plan as a Cadillac, while Barbara Horton upgraded the package to a Rolls-Royce. Michael McNett, director of collective bargaining and research for WEAC says it best when he describes the MPS benefits package as a "BUICK."

Well, this teacher is not going to start collecting cardboard boxes - Join me and SPEAK OUT!

Easier than I thought 

Every once in a while, I would get a little jealous that I would probably never be on that list of suspected insurgents who always get stopped at the airports and the Canadian border, that list of people so dangerous to the government that we must be stopped before we do irreparable harm to society or the world.

You know, terrorists.

I guess it was easier than I thought: Turns out I've been a terrorist since the day I became a teacher and joined the National Education Association. At least according to U.S. Education secretary Rod Paige:
Education Secretary Rod Paige called the nation's largest teachers union a "terrorist organization" during a private White House meeting with governors on Monday. [. . .] "These were the words, 'The NEA is a terrorist organization,'" said Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin. [. . .] Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, said of Paige's comments: "Somebody asked him about the NEA's role and he offered his perspective on it." Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, a Democrat, said the comments were made in the context of "we can't be supportive of the status quo and they're the status quo. But whatever the context, it is inappropriate — I know he wasn't calling teachers terrorists — but to ever suggest that the organization they belong to was a terrorist organization is uncalled for."
I'm not really sure what else needs to be added, except perhaps that this off-the-cuff remark really demonstrates three things about the current (Republican) leadership in this country: They hate teachers, they hate public schools, and they really, really hate unions.

At the very least, Rod Paige should be out. At best, this may open up dialog about why we need teachers' unions in the first place, and how messed up public education would be with no or weak unions to protect our rights and support our colleagues.

And we can add this to that ever-growing list of Things We're Up Against.

UPDATE: Some other versions of the AP story cite NEA president Reg Weaver: "The education secretary's words were 'pathetic and they are not a laughing matter,'" despite Paige's insistence "that his comment was 'a bad joke; it was an inappropriate choice of words.'"

Sunday, February 22, 2004

How to add your voice 

Why are we speaking out? Who can speak out? What are we speaking out about? What is this "blog" thing anyway?

These are all reasonable questions my fellow MPS teachers may have after hearing about Teachers Speak Out or dropping by this site for the first time. Well, I'll try to add some answers.

TSO is an organization designed to help teachers get their own message out. We want you, the teachers, to have a voice, to be an active, informed, and engaged part of the debate. What debate? Well, any debate--as you can see by tooling around this site a little bit, the range of issues that we discuss is broad. Sure, we formed initially in response to the media's and the superintendent's attacks on us and the benefits that we have earned, but we know that there is more to you than just that.

Perhaps the most powerful thing you can do as a teacher is tell your own story--speak out about your successes, your failures, your classroom, your life and how it is affected by these issues in education. That's what this "blog" is all about. "Blogs"--short for "web logs"--started as journals of a sort, on-line diaries that people could share with their friends. It didn't take long for "bloggers" to venture outside of themselves, though, and now you can find blogs dedicated to news, politics, sports, the arts, writing, and more. This blog is dedicated to us, the teachers in MPS who need a place to begin to speak out.

So, this is our call to you: Tell us your stories. Speak out. Get involved. There are three ways to speak out here at the blog:
  • Click on the "Speak Out!" links at the bottom of the stories to add your comments on whatever is being discussed. You can even write your story in the comments section, and, if you'd like, we can "promote" it to the main page.

  • Email your story to teachersspeakout@hotmail.com, and we will post it here for you.

  • Become a regular member of the Teachers Speak Out blog team. Send an email teachersspeakout@hotmail.com, telling us who you are, where you teach, and what your focus will be as a poster here on the blog, and we'll set you up with access so you can start speaking out.

  • Thanks for coming by; don't forget to check back often for updates, calls to action, and stories of your colleagues speaking out!

    Saturday, February 21, 2004

    How are they going to blame us for this? 

    The headline is provocative: No. 1 in birth rate for black teens

    Teachers have been saying this anecdotally in the staff room for as long as I have been teaching in Milwaukee, but here it is in the voice of Pat McManus, executive director of the Black Health Coalition: "We've got 30-year-old grandmothers, mothers of teen parents who have teen parents. That cycle is going to continue if it isn't broken somehow."

    Again, the evidence is clear and mounting that what we are facing in Milwaukee is not a breakdown in education but a breakdown in economic and societal structures necessary to make quality education happen. I don't have a lot of time tonight to blog about this, but I did want to make sure that this is added to the collection of articles I've been posting here about what's afoot outside of the classroom in Milwaukee to make it difficult to do our jobs inside it.

    Friday, February 20, 2004

    Vouchers Back in the News 

    Good news, bad news, and interesting news on the Milwaukee voucher front this week. Well, not exactly: No good news.

    Let's start, though, with something that I did not know: Apparently, according to a new study by the Public Policy Forum (for more on the Public Policy Forum, see the January 22 post, "What We're Up Against"), most Milwaukee voucher schools actually do administer standardized tests to their students. Why didn't I know that? Well, in the words of a recent Washington Post editorial (log in: teachersspeakout@hotmail.com password: teachersspeakout):
    In theory, the Milwaukee program [. . .] was supposed to empower parents, allowing them to leave poor schools--which would shut down or be spurred to improve--and join good ones, which would benefit from the increased public money. In practice, so little information is made available to Milwaukee parents that the market mechanism has never worked. By the Public Policy Forum's reckoning, only one school in the city has been shut down because too many parents abandoned it. (my emphasis)
    That's right: The information gathered by standardized tests used by these voucher schools--some 92% of them--seldom make it out the school door. From the first article linked to above: "But the Forum's report also advises that school administrators and policy makers develop a means to publicly report test results, which are often used solely for internal use by the schools."

    Why are test results such a big deal? They should not be. In the same way that I do not feel that public schools should be under the gun of high-stakes testing, I do not think that testing is the be-all and end-all of the accountability argument. It's just that the media--particularly right-wing radio babblers and our oh-so supportive local paper--spend so much time examining every single implication of every single datum revealed by the public schools' test results. Why are not these voucher schools, which also use public funds, subjected to the same scrutiny?

    The Public Policy Forum, in recommendations echoed by the Washington Post, agrees that tests are not at all the best measure.
    What is needed, they argue, is not necessarily a system of special standardized tests or inspections, which might compromise the independence of the private schools in the program, but rules that require schools to publish and regularly update relevant information. For example, participating schools might be asked to publish the qualifications of teachers and administrators; the results of an annual financial audit; the curriculum; attendance, suspension and graduation rates; teacher turnover rates; class size; and the results of standardized tests, just for a start. In addition, officials have to make sure the market mechanism works: that both public and private schools failing to attract students suffer some financial consequences.
    This week in Milwaukee we were treated to a lesson in exactly what can happen when there is not transparency within voucher schools. News broke early this week about trouble at the Mandella School of Science and Math, starting with "inappropriately" cashed voucher checks and two Mercedes Benz--one a convertible--bought for the principal and his wife with voucher proceeds. We also learned that the school has failed to pay teachers or its landlord since at least November.

    Finally, Thursday a Milwaukee judge ordered that the school be closed. The 100 or so students at the school will now need to find their way in Milwaukee Public Schools--schools which, this late in the year, will receive no funds for their attendance. The parents are now concerned about their children's ability to catch up now that they are a half-year behind.

    You might be thinking, great! This is the market system at work! But education is something that should never, ever be left to the market. In a market system, there are always winners and there are always losers. In the Mandella school incident, we see what happens to losers. The real losers here are not the officials at the school. The losers are the students and parents, who have seen more than half a year of educational opportunity squandered.

    This is also a concern because it seems like there will be a surge in voucher students this fall. There have been almost fifty more schools this year clamoring to get added to the program than last year. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle thankfully vetoed an expansion of the program last November, but the potential expansion of vouchers just underscores the point I started with: We need accountability. As more schools join up, the more Mandellas there will be, and the more students who could be the losers in this market.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2004

    Democratic Meetup 

    I attended my first meetup tonight. It was the Democratic Meetup, which was a small gathering - we blame this on the exhaustion of those who worked their hearts out on campaigning these last weeks.

    Of the 6 attendees tonight, 2 of us were teachers. One was a student who heard me talking about the event and begged to go. She sat back and listened, but is looking forward to attending in the future - what a teaching and learning experience!

    The next Democratic Meetup is Wednesday, March 17th. Yes, that's St. Patrick's Day - and Parent Conferences for me. However, I am planning to catch the end of the meetup (I'd like to be able to be there from the start) and look forward to seeing other teachers there.

    If you'd like more information, please visit the Democratic Meetup site and sign up. The more of us who get involved, the more our voice will be heard.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2004

    Opportunities to SPEAK OUT 

    The following is the list of Meetings & Events that was distributed at the Teachers Speak Out meeting Thursday, February 12th.

    Pick an event to attend and let your voice be heard!

    Tuesday, February 17th
    * Election Day - VOTE!
    * School Board Committee on Finance and Personnel, 6:30 pm, MPS Central Office, 5225 W. Vliet St.

    Wednesday, February 18th
    * Democratic Party Meet-Up, 7:00 pm, Pizza Shuttle, 1827 N. Farwell Avenue

    Monday, February 23rd
    * Good Jobs, Livable Neighborhoods, Common Council Steering and Rules Committee, 1:30 pm, City Hall, Room 301B
    * Regular School Board meeting, 6:30 pm, MPS Central Office Auditorium
    * Assemblyman, Jon Richards (D-19) is holding a town hall meeting on health care at the Bay View Public Library, 6:30-8:00 pm

    Wednesday, February 25th
    * Wisconsin Women = Prosperity - A speak out and listening session with Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, 5:00-7:00 pm, Gordon Park Pavilion, 2828 N. Humboldt Ave.
    * Assemblyman, Jon Richards (D-19) is holding a town hall meeting on health care at the North Avenue Library (across from Beans and Barley), 6:30-8:00 pm

    Saturday, March 6th
    * MTEA Legislative Breakfast, ICC, 9:00-1:00 am (See February 11th Sharpener for details)

    What Can You Do? 

    While we face the current trend of jobs leaving our communities for other countries, we have the ability to voice our opinions. We can speak out, share our ideas with everyone we meet, write letters to the media and our representatives, and most importantly VOTE!

    I had the opportunity to talk about today's elections with some colleagues over the weekend. What was most interesting to me was not who everyone was voting for - and there were differences of opinion on this - but that everyone was voting. We had even discussed our personal voting records - 2 of us having voted in every election, no matter how "small" the race, except in one instance where severe illness and hospitalization limited our ability to get to the polls.

    Teachers are voting, as are young people. We have a voice - we must use it.

    See you at the polls!

    Friday, February 13, 2004


    And the gutting of Milwaukee's working class continues.

    Multinational corporation DaimlerChrysler is moving its Dodge Ram frame production line to Mexico in 2005. Those frames are currently made by Tower Automotive, in a plant on Milwaukee's economically depressed north side. The writing was on the wall last year when the unions there ratified a six-year contract and were told the next day, basically, that six years was unlikely to really happen.

    Between last November and this coming June, the plant was expected to pink-slip nearly 300; this new news of the plant's closing means nearly 500 more families will be without a good, union job in the household.

    In 1997, Milwaukee had more than 170,000 manufacturing jobs; in the off-shoring and automation bonanza over the last six years, though, 20%--35,000--of those jobs have disappeared, in a city of fewer than 600,000 residents. These workers, soon to be joined by the Tower employees, do not have the skillset to fit into the growing medical or technology fields. Even if they did, or if better federal or state job-training programs were in place, they would be competing in an ecomomy saddled by a jobless recovery with few new jobs anywhere.

    Earlier this week, Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, said that off-shoring was a normal product of trade (and the Washington Post agrees) and "probably a plus" for the economy over the long haul. Later, he began to back off from those comments, likely under heavy political pressure.

    It just plain makes me ill to think of the moms and dads of the students in my classroom as commodities, the jobs of whom are somehow "normal" to trade around the world like truck frames or computer chips or grain. When a computer chip flies around the world, it doesn'ty leave behind crumbling central city infrastructure, a family without access to health care, and a child who can't afford pencils anymore.

    It just plain makes me ill to think about how empty the heart of our city--metaphorically and geographically--is becoming, and how hopeless it must seem to the families living near idled factories and forced to subsist on Wal-Mart wages.

    This is all I can do--speak out for change when I can and work for change with the generation that, when they come of age, will be facing a city that provides no opportunity, no support system, and no hope.

    Please join me.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2004

    This Month's Meeting 

    TSO is meeting this Thursday, at 5 PM. Unfortunately, the Bean Head Cafe, which is a great teacher-friendly venue, was unable to accomodate us, so we'll be meeting instead at the MTEA, 5130 W. Vliet St., in Milwaukee.

    See you there!

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