Thursday, December 29, 2011

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success

The Atlantic

ANU PARTANEN     - Anu Partanen, a Finnish journalist based in New York City, is writing a book about what America can learn from the successes of Nordic societies, told through her personal experiences as a young woman living between Brooklyn and Helsinki.

DEC 29 2011, 3:00 PM ET 58
The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

Sergey Ivanov/Flickr
Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West's reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.
The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known -- if it was known for anything at all -- as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life -- Newsweek ranked it number one last year -- and Finland's national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.

Finland's schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model -- long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization -- Finland's success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play. All this has led to a continuous stream of foreign delegations making the pilgrimage to Finland to visit schools and talk with the nation's education experts, and constant coverage in the worldwide media marveling at the Finnish miracle.

So there was considerable interest in a recent visit to the U.S. by one of the leading Finnish authorities on education reform, Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Earlier this month, Sahlberg stopped by the Dwight School in New York City to speak with educators and students, and his visit received national media attention and generated much discussion.

And yet it wasn't clear that Sahlberg's message was actually getting through. As Sahlberg put it to me later, there are certain things nobody in America really wants to talk about.

* * *

During the afternoon that Sahlberg spent at the Dwight School, a photographer from the New York Times jockeyed for position with Dan Rather's TV crew as Sahlberg participated in a roundtable chat with students. The subsequent article in the Times about the event would focus on Finland as an "intriguing school-reform model."

Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. "Oh," he mentioned at one point, "and there are no private schools in Finland."

This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it's true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

The irony of Sahlberg's making this comment during a talk at the Dwight School seemed obvious. Like many of America's best schools, Dwight is a private institution that costs high-school students upward of $35,000 a year to attend -- not to mention that Dwight, in particular, is run for profit, an increasing trend in the U.S. Yet no one in the room commented on Sahlberg's statement. I found this surprising. Sahlberg himself did not.

Sahlberg knows what Americans like to talk about when it comes to education, because he's become their go-to guy in Finland. The son of two teachers, he grew up in a Finnish school. He taught mathematics and physics in a junior high school in Helsinki, worked his way through a variety of positions in the Finnish Ministry of Education, and spent years as an education expert at the OECD, the World Bank, and other international organizations.

Now, in addition to his other duties, Sahlberg hosts about a hundred visits a year by foreign educators, including many Americans, who want to know the secret of Finland's success. Sahlberg's new book is partly an attempt to help answer the questions he always gets asked.

From his point of view, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students' performance if you don't test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America's school reformers are trying to do.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what's called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. "There's no word for accountability in Finnish," he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted."

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it.

And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Puronen: "Real winners do not compete." It's hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland's success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg's comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don't exist in Finland.

"Here in America," Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, "parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It's the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same."

Herein lay the real shocker. As Sahlberg continued, his core message emerged, whether or not anyone in his American audience heard it.

Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

* * *

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

In fact, since academic excellence wasn't a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland's students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland -- unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway -- was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford $35,000 in tuition per child per year -- or even just the price of a house in a good public school district -- and the other "99 percent" is painfully plain to see.

* * *

Pasi Sahlberg goes out of his way to emphasize that his book Finnish Lessons is not meant as a how-to guide for fixing the education systems of other countries. All countries are different, and as many Americans point out, Finland is a small nation with a much more homogeneous population than the United States.

Yet Sahlberg doesn't think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country -- as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn't lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University's Teachers College, has addressed the effects of size and homogeneity on a nation's education performance by comparing Finland with another Nordic country: Norway. Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country's school system than the nation's size or ethnic makeup.

Indeed, Finland's population of 5.4 million can be compared to many an American state -- after all, most American education is managed at the state level. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a research organization in Washington, there were 18 states in the U.S. in 2010 with an identical or significantly smaller percentage of foreign-born residents than Finland.

What's more, despite their many differences, Finland and the U.S. have an educational goal in common. When Finnish policymakers decided to reform the country's education system in the 1970s, they did so because they realized that to be competitive, Finland couldn't rely on manufacturing or its scant natural resources and instead had to invest in a knowledge-based economy.

With America's manufacturing industries now in decline, the goal of educational policy in the U.S. -- as articulated by most everyone from President Obama on down -- is to preserve American competitiveness by doing the same thing. Finland's experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Is that an impossible goal? Sahlberg says that while his book isn't meant to be a how-to manual, it is meant to be a "pamphlet of hope."

"When President Kennedy was making his appeal for advancing American science and technology by putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960's, many said it couldn't be done," Sahlberg said during his visit to New York. "But he had a dream. Just like Martin Luther King a few years later had a dream. Those dreams came true. Finland's dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn't be done."

Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important -- as a challenge to the American way of thinking about education reform -- Finland's experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

The problem facing education in America isn't the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How the feds are tracking your kid

Even if the feds won't link these state databases the Gates Foundation will...

How the feds are tracking your kid

Last Updated: 12:13 AM, December 28, 2011
Posted: 11:01 PM, December 27, 2011

Would it bother you to know that the federal Centers for Disease Control had been shown your daughter’s health records to see how she responded to an STD/teen-pregnancy-prevention program? How about if the federal Department of Education and Department of Labor scrutinized your son’s academic performance to see if he should be “encouraged” to leave high school early to learn a trade? Would you think the government was intruding on your territory as a parent?

Under regulations the Obama Department of Education released this month, these scenarios could become reality. The department has taken a giant step toward creating a de facto national student database that will track students by their personal information from preschool through career. Although current federal law prohibits this, the department decided to ignore Congress and, in effect, rewrite the law. Student privacy and parental authority will suffer.

How did it happen? Buried within the enormous 2009 stimulus bill were provisions encouraging states to develop data systems for collecting copious information on public-school kids. To qualify for stimulus money, states had to agree to build such systems according to federally dictated standards. So all 50 states either now maintain or are capable of maintaining extensive databases on public-school students.

The administration wants this data to include much more than name, address and test scores. According to the National Data Collection Model, the government should collect information on health-care history, family income and family voting status. In its view, public schools offer a golden opportunity to mine reams of data from a captive audience.

The department’s eagerness to get control of all this information is almost palpable. But current federal law prohibits a nationwide student database and strictly limits disclosure of a student’s personal information. So the department has determined that it can overcome the legal obstacles by simply bypassing Congress and essentially rewriting the federal privacy statute.

Last April, the department proposed regulations that would allow it and other agencies to share a student’s personal information with practically any government agency or even private company, as long as the disclosure could be said to support an evaluation of an “education program,” broadly defined. That’s how the CDC might end up with your daughter’s health records or the Department of Labor with your son’s test scores.

And you’d have no right to object — in fact, you’d probably never even know about the disclosure.
Not surprisingly, these proposed regulations provoked a firestorm of criticism. But on Dec. 2, the Department of Education rejected almost all the criticisms and released the regulations. As of Jan. 3, 2012, interstate and intergovernmental access to your child’s personal information will be practically unlimited. The federal government will have a de facto nationwide database of supposedly confidential student information.

The department says this won’t happen. If the states choose to link their data systems, it says, that’s their business, but “the federal government would not play a role” in operating the resulting megadatabase.

This denial is, to say the least, disingenuous. The department would have access to the data systems of each of the 50 states and would be allowed to share that data with anyone it chooses, as long as it uses the right language to justify the disclosure.

And just as the department used the promise of federal money to coerce the states into developing these systems, it would almost certainly do the same to make them link their systems. The result would be a nationwide student database, whether or not it’s “operated” from an office in Washington.

The loosening of student-privacy protection would greatly increase the risks of unauthorized disclosure of personal data. Even the authorized disclosure would be limited only by the imaginations of federal bureaucrats.

Unless Congress steps in and reclaims its authority, student privacy and parental control over education will be relics of the past.

Emmett McGroarty is executive director of the Preserve Innocence Initiative of the American Principles Project. Jane Robbins is a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.

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Chicago: The Poverty of School Reform

John Marshall Metropolitan High School is one of Chicago's highly touted "turnaround" schools. (Photo from the Public Building Commission of Chicago)

The Poverty of School Reform

In Chicago’s African-American neighborhoods, schools change quickly—regardless of what families want.
BY Joel Handley
Poor black students are still not benefiting from CPS's sweeping reforms. Only half graduate, and a fifth drop out each year. The achievement gap between black and white students has also grown, counter to national trends.
This story continues "The Other Chicago," an In These Times investigation into the lives of those African-American youth who have borne the brunt of the Great Recession. The five-part series focuses on the struggle of young African-American men, whose rate of unemployment dwarfs that of their white counterparts. In de-industrializing Chicago, a highly segregated city that is one-third black, their plight is particularly acute. Other stories in the series include:
"Black Chicago Divided: Class and Generational Conflicts Intensify, as 
African Americans Cope with the Great Recession"
"Black and Blue Chicago: A Spate of Police Shootings of African Americans Underscores Longstanding Mutual Distrust"
—The Editors
John Marshall Metropolitan High School, located in Chicago’s mostly black East Garfield Park neighborhood, underwent a highly touted transformation last year when it became one of Chicago’s “turnaround” schools. Started under former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the turnaround program picks low-performing schools to receive millions of federal, city and private dollars. CPS gives the school buildings a makeover and fires the entire staff, from principals to janitors. Axed employees can re-apply for positions in the school system, but according to CPS, only 70 percent are rehired.
Reactions from the students are expectedly mixed. Marshall junior Darrell Jackson said he lost a lot of good teachers, but got more out of the new 90-minute periods. Johnnie Fort, a senior, isn’t a fan of the security cameras in the hallways and classrooms. Shaking his head, he says, “It’s like we was dogs.”
Students at Orr Academy High School, another turnaround school, are also upset by the focus on security–which includes a police processing center on school grounds to immediately book arrested students. “They waste so much money on the metal detectors,” says Orr junior Kathleen Jenkins, “and you can still get a knife in, if you put it in your shoe. But they’ll take away your drinks, thinking it’s liquor.”
Jenkins and senior Eric Haden are part of Blocks Together, a student-led group that builds relationships between students and staff. They push for restorative justice projects, such as peer juries, to bring empathy into the harsh penal atmosphere of the school. What’s lacking, according to them, are the resources needed to hire counselors and fund peer mediation.
For 20 years, CPS officials have instituted sweeping reforms. A September report by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research shows some significant victories, like the citywide graduation rate rising from 46 percent in 1996 to 66 percent in 2009. But largely, poor black students are still not benefiting. Only half graduate, and a fifth drop out each year; reading comprehension has remained consistently low; and the achievement gap between black and white students has grown, counter to national trends.
As Duncan now pushes his turnaround model on the nation, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, who took office in May, are doubling down on the approach of their predecessors. On November 29, they announced that 10 schools would become turnaround schools next year, bringing the total number to 27.
‘The children have lost hope’
To longtime education organizers like Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), the program is just another in a long line of failures. “Reconstitution, reorganization, charter schools–all these initiatives have failed miserably,” Brown says. “They’re window dressings. You have to address poverty before the problems of education.”
Surrounded by shuttered businesses, rampant violence and the faraway world of the global city’s skyline, many of Chicago’s black youth have been living “in a permanent state of recession,” Brown says. “There’s always been a consistent disinvestment in youth, period. There’s no structure for real development. Now, with new [city and state] budget priorities, it’s made a bad situation worse.”
Since the housing foreclosure crisis began, Brown has seen more transient young people and displaced families living with relatives or in shelters. Whereas a family used to scrape by on minimum wage jobs at gas stations and grocery stores, they’re now losing even those low-paying positions. Students, who in the 1980s could rely on summer employment, can’t find seasonal work. According to Brown, 39,000 students applied for 11,000 summer jobs in Chicago this year.
What greets students after graduating–or dropping out–is equally dire. According to a 2009 study by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 50.3 percent of Chicago’s black males are jobless. And according to a February Chicago Reporter article, 32 percent of black Chicagoans live in poverty, the highest poverty rate for African Americans in any American city. With white Chicagoans facing a 10 percent poverty rate, the city boasts the largest racial disparity among its poorest citizens. Endemic poverty among black students can be inferred from school lunch program data. An analysis of Illinois State Board of Education numbers shows that in 188 CPS schools in predominately black neighborhoods, 95 percent or more of the students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, including 14 schools that have 100 percent eligibility. It adds up to create an overwhelming sense of instability.
“The children have lost hope,” says Phillip Jackson, director of the Black Star Project, a community education hub in Bronzeville. “I see them now as two groups–those who have actively given up and those that have subconsciously given up.” When President Obama was elected, he says he could see the pride “even in crackheads’ eyes” amid the spontaneous celebrations along Martin Luther King Drive. Now those eyes are empty and despondent.
The former CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority and a former CPS official, Jackson now devotes his time and energy to fight this hopelessness. His far-reaching projects–from after-school mentoring to the Deborah Movement, which organizes women to mentor, protest and patrol neighborhood streets–bring parents, teachers, volunteers and students together.
But as to how Chicago got to this point, where only three out of 100 black males earn a college degree, where, in the last three years, 263 young Chicagoans have been killed and 4,000 have survived a shooting, Jackson casts blame widely. “Schools, communities, churches and the government have all failed young black children.”
In the year following 16-year-old Derrion Albert’s fatal beating in a melee near Fenger High School in September 2009, 78 Chicago children were killed. Jackson keeps a list of their names, ages, dates of assault and causes of death. He runs his fingers across the names and says, “These didn’t happen in a vacuum.” The children saw them or heard about them, but “didn’t process these deaths. They weren’t given treatment for PTSD, though they are living with post-traumatic stress. Now they’re operating under a siege mentality–they don’t know if they’re going to be alive tomorrow.”
“If you go to a fourth-grade classroom,” says Brown, “and ask who’s seen someone get shot, ninety percent of the class will raise their hands. If you ask who lives near a liquor store, who’s seen a drug deal, who’s seen the police beat someone up, you’ll get the same response.” To Brown and Jackson, the crushing poverty and the violence that it breeds is the root cause of low-performing students and schools. “Oppression is a culture that has taught kids this is what they deserve,” Brown says.
Making change, from the top and bottom
When any school on probation is liable to be overhauled–and 289, half of all city schools, are on probation–what good can turning around 20, 30 or even 100 schools accomplish? The problems run deeper than individual schools.
The way out, according to both Brown and Jackson, is through organizing and horizontal leadership. No top-down program hatched by school system administrators, however well-intentioned, is going to fix these problems.
The Black Star Project’s Saturday University teaches a curriculum drafted by parents and community members that expands upon CPS curricula, to include such topics as African-American history, personal development and financial literacy. What started as four classrooms has grown into a network of 16 active sites on the city’s South and West Sides. Jami Garton, Black Star’s director of program development, says, “Parents don’t feel qualified to teach their own kids. We’re reversing that myth, saying, in fact, you’re the best ones to do it.”
Brown and KOCO created a model for sustainable success with their Bronzeville Global Achievement Village. They asked parents to forget about budget constraints and imagine the type of education they want for their children. Months of cooperative labor birthed a program that would partner with Dyett High School and its neighborhood feeder schools to streamline curricula between grades and bring much-needed focus to laboratory sciences and leadership.
But CPS has other plans. On November 30, it announced that Dyett, along with three other schools, would be closing next year.
This story continues “The Other Chicago,” a five-part series supported by the Local Reporting Initiative of Community News Matters, underwritten by The Chicago Community Trust with help from the McCormick, MacArthur, Knight and Driehaus Foundations, and administered by The Community Media Workshop and The Chicago Reporter.
Joel Handley, a former In These Times editorial intern, is the assistant editor of the magazine. He graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2009.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chicago Teachers Union Builds Strength fto Battle Mayor

Chicago Teachers Battle Mayor 1%

Howard Ryan
    |  December 26, 2011
Rahm Emanuel, whom Occupy Chicago has dubbed Mayor 1%, fired another shot at the city’s public schools this month. He's proposed to close schools, fire teachers and staff, and hand over space to private charter school operators. Photo: Chicago Teachers Union.

Rahm Emanuel, whom Occupy Chicago has dubbed Mayor 1%, fired another shot at the city’s public schools December 1. He proposed seven school closings and phase-outs, 10 “turnarounds” in which all the teachers and staff get fired, and six “co-locations,” where private charter school operators grab portions of existing public schools.
Two days later, the Chicago Teachers Union and community groups responded with a teach-in that brought 500 to a high school in South Chicago. CTU and allies pledged to fight through grassroots organizing, street mobilization, maybe even occupying schools.
Chicago communities have fought school closings for years, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. About 100 public schools have been shuttered since 2004, when the city’s Commercial Club unveiled its Renaissance 2010 school privatization plan.
In their place are 85 publicly funded, privately operated charter schools, which practice selective enrollment and often reject kids who have special needs or struggle academically. A recent report indicates that Chicago charters are doing no better than traditional public schools on standardized tests.
Still, former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan, now U.S. secretary of education, hails Renaissance 2010 as a miracle. It is now the national model.
Chicago’s school closures have been “train wrecks” in the neighborhoods, said community organizer Jitu Brown, who noted that many schools now targeted for closure because of poor test scores were destabilized when they started receiving students ousted from other closing schools.
All 23 targeted schools are in Chicago’s predominantly Black and Latino South and West sides. The transition from open-access neighborhood schools to selective-enrollment charters is tied to the goals of real estate developers, who seek to displace low-income communities of color to sell condos to more affluent, predominantly white buyers.
CTU President Karen Lewis observed that Chicago is entering an “era of educational apartheid.”


The teach-in speakers and audience nevertheless exuded power and confidence. Angela Surney, who helped fight off the shuttering of her eight-year-old son’s Marconi Elementary, got a standing ovation when she explained how to be a “victOR” rather than a “victIM.”
The prominent role of parents and community members gave the teach-in unusual depth.
Labor events designed to help save members’ jobs often bring community allies to the podium. But here CTU is part of an authentic partnership. The union has built a community board where teachers map joint strategies with neighborhood partners. It was this board that organized the teach-in.
Professor and education activist Rico Gutstein noted a second factor: Teachers not directly threatened are getting involved. “We’re beginning to understand that it might not be you today, but it might be you tomorrow,” he said. CTU says 90 schools were represented at the teach-in.
At a closing session, CTU organizer Norine Gutekanst asked for reports: “We’re bringing a busload to the school board vigil.” “We’re planning a meeting next week with parents.” “I have been through four—count them, four—closings and turnarounds. And I want you to know that I have beat them each and every time.”
A representative from the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council pledged her group’s turnout at school board actions, and offered Brighton Park’s community schools—which stay open late providing a range of services—as a positive example. (One of the teach-in’s topics was genuine, community-based school transformation.)
A retired school paraprofessional, 84 years old, led the chant: “I’m fired up!”


This enhanced unity—between union and community, and between teachers across the city—owes much to the union’s transformation. For years, neighborhood groups fought school closures on their own and one at a time.
CTU leaders opposed closures at school board meetings, but did little else to resist—even while membership dwindled from 40,000 to 30,000 amidst the rise of non-union charters.
A new course began when the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators was formed. Snubbed by CTU officials, CORE members struck out on their own in 2008, getting teachers to join with community organizations leading the anti-privatization fight.
The CORE slate swept CTU elections last year. Three of the new leaders were teachers who’d cut their organizing teeth fighting closures.
The December teach-in was no flash in the pan. Two days later, the “Midway Network” met, 60 teachers and community members from 16 schools across a swath of South Chicago. Their goal was to save Marquette Elementary, a 1,400-student K-8 school.
They planned a Martin Luther King Day march. CTU is scheduling more such network meetings around the city.
For perhaps the first time, teachers and community are working on a regional level to save their schools.

A Chicago-based writer and organizer, Howard Ryan is writing an organizing book for teachers.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The decline of labour unions in the US

For decades, labour unions in the US have been on the decline. While they are widely credited with boosting safety standards and worker pay, many have received blame for wanting too much in times of a struggling economy.

Unemployment is at nine per cent and people are clamouring for jobs, unionised or not. And their greatest political ally, the Democratic party, has taken its support for granted, weakening its pull on the strings of power in Washington, DC.
A new battle has emerged in 2011 as Republican governors have taken on public sector unions, in some cases stripping them of rights that have been in place for 50 years. It is part of a trend that is happening in key swing states and may weaken democratic voting strength in next year's presidential election.

But organised labour has fought back hard. In Wisconsin, unions occupied the state capitol as 100,000 protesters took to the streets. In Ohio, voters overturned a law that was intended to greatly reduce the right that unions have in that state to bargain collectively.
Now as Occupy Wall Street galvanises Americans to take action against financial institutions and big corporations, labour unions have a new ally. But can organised labour harness the anger that everyday Americans are emitting or will this opportunity pass it by? Do labour unions still have the strength to organise or has their power waned to the point that they will no longer be a major player in American politics?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Stopped (Often) By NYPD

Why Is the N.Y.P.D. After Me?

WHEN I was 14, my mother told me not to panic if a police officer stopped me. And she cautioned me to carry ID and never run away from the police or I could be shot. In the nine years since my mother gave me this advice, I have had numerous occasions to consider her wisdom.
Ashley Gilbertson/VII, for The New York Times
Nicholas K. Peart, 23, has been stopped and frisked by New York City police officers at least five times.

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
One evening in August of 2006, I was celebrating my 18th birthday with my cousin and a friend. We were staying at my sister’s house on 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan and decided to walk to a nearby place and get some burgers. It was closed so we sat on benches in the median strip that runs down the middle of Broadway. We were talking, watching the night go by, enjoying the evening when suddenly, and out of nowhere, squad cars surrounded us. A policeman yelled from the window, “Get on the ground!”
I was stunned. And I was scared. Then I was on the ground — with a gun pointed at me. I couldn’t see what was happening but I could feel a policeman’s hand reach into my pocket and remove my wallet. Apparently he looked through and found the ID I kept there. “Happy Birthday,” he said sarcastically. The officers questioned my cousin and friend, asked what they were doing in town, and then said goodnight and left us on the sidewalk.
Less than two years later, in the spring of 2008, N.Y.P.D. officers stopped and frisked me, again. And for no apparent reason. This time I was leaving my grandmother’s home in Flatbush, Brooklyn; a squad car passed me as I walked down East 49th Street to the bus stop. The car backed up. Three officers jumped out. Not again. The officers ordered me to stand, hands against a garage door, fished my wallet out of my pocket and looked at my ID. Then they let me go.
I was stopped again in September of 2010. This time I was just walking home from the gym. It was the same routine: I was stopped, frisked, searched, ID’d and let go.
These experiences changed the way I felt about the police. After the third incident I worried when police cars drove by; I was afraid I would be stopped and searched or that something worse would happen. I dress better if I go downtown. I don’t hang out with friends outside my neighborhood in Harlem as much as I used to. Essentially, I incorporated into my daily life the sense that I might find myself up against a wall or on the ground with an officer’s gun at my head. For a black man in his 20s like me, it’s just a fact of life in New York.
Here are a few other facts: last year, the N.Y.P.D. recorded more than 600,000 stops; 84 percent of those stopped were blacks or Latinos. Police are far more likely to use force when stopping blacks or Latinos than whites. In half the stops police cite the vague “furtive movements” as the reason for the stop. Maybe black and brown people just look more furtive, whatever that means. These stops are part of a larger, more widespread problem — a racially discriminatory system of stop-and-frisk in the N.Y.P.D. The police use the excuse that they’re fighting crime to continue the practice, but no one has ever actually proved that it reduces crime or makes the city safer. Those of us who live in the neighborhoods where stop-and-frisks are a basic fact of daily life don’t feel safer as a result.
We need change. When I was young I thought cops were cool. They had a respectable and honorable job to keep people safe and fight crime. Now, I think their tactics are unfair and they abuse their authority. The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them — distrust, alienation and more crime.
Last May, I was outside my apartment building on my way to the store when two police officers jumped out of an unmarked car and told me to stop and put my hands up against the wall. I complied. Without my permission, they removed my cellphone from my hand, and one of the officers reached into my pockets, and removed my wallet and keys. He looked through my wallet, then handcuffed me. The officers wanted to know if I had just come out of a particular building. No, I told them, I lived next door.
One of the officers asked which of the keys they had removed from my pocket opened my apartment door. Then he entered my building and tried to get into my apartment with my key. My 18-year-old sister was inside with two of our younger siblings; later she told me she had no idea why the police were trying to get into our apartment and was terrified. She tried to call me, but because they had confiscated my phone, I couldn’t answer.
Meanwhile, a white officer put me in the back of the police car. I was still handcuffed. The officer asked if I had any marijuana, and I said no. He removed and searched my shoes and patted down my socks. I asked why they were searching me, and he told me someone in my building complained that a person they believed fit my description had been ringing their bell. After the other officer returned from inside my apartment building, they opened the door to the police car, told me to get out, removed the handcuffs and simply drove off. I was deeply shaken.
For young people in my neighborhood, getting stopped and frisked is a rite of passage. We expect the police to jump us at any moment. We know the rules: don’t run and don’t try to explain, because speaking up for yourself might get you arrested or worse. And we all feel the same way — degraded, harassed, violated and criminalized because we’re black or Latino. Have I been stopped more than the average young black person? I don’t know, but I look like a zillion other people on the street. And we’re all just trying to live our lives.
As a teenager, I was quiet and kept to myself. I’m about to graduate from the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and I have a stronger sense of myself after getting involved with the Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a neighborhood organization in Harlem. We educate young people about their rights when they’re stopped by the police and how to stay safe in those interactions. I have talked to dozens of young people who have had experiences like mine. And I know firsthand how much it messes with you. Because of them, I’m doing what I can to help change things and am acting as a witness in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights to stop the police from racially profiling and harassing black and brown people in New York.
It feels like an important thing to be part of a community of hundreds of thousands of people who are wrongfully stopped on their way to work, school, church or shopping, and are patted down or worse by the police though they carry no weapon; and searched for no reason other than the color of their skin. I hope police practices will change and that when I have children I won’t need to pass along my mother’s advice.

Nicholas K. Peart is a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

Great Analyis of Teach for America

Art by Loki Muthu
he job of the American public school teacher has never been so thankless. In states across America, cutting teacher salaries and pensions has become the most popular method for fixing budget deficits. New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie’s deep cuts, for instance, force teachers to contribute a much higher percentage of their salaries to their pensions, while doubling or even tripling their health care contributions and eliminating cost-of-living adjustments. Republican Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio took their austerity measures a step further by abolishing collective bargaining rights for teachers. Such legislation is possible because the image of teachers has never been so degraded, especially of unionized teachers, whom Christie routinely refers to as “thugs” and “bullies.”
The liberals of the education reform movement, often more surreptitiously than the overstated former Washington D.C. Chancellor of Schools during Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty’s term in office Michelle Rhee, have for decades advanced negative assumptions about public school teachers that now power the attacks by Christie, Walker, Kasich and their ilk. This is particularly true of Teach for America (TFA), the prototypical liberal education reform organization, where Rhee first made her mark. The history of TFA reveals the ironies of contemporary education reform. In its mission to deliver justice to underprivileged children, TFA and the liberal education reform movement have advanced an agenda that advances conservative attempts to undercut teacher’s unions. More broadly, TFA has been in the vanguard in forming a neoliberal consensus about the role of public education—and the role of public school teachers—in a deeply unequal society.
In 1988, Princeton student Wendy Kopp wrote a thesis arguing for a national teacher corps, modeled on the Peace Corps— the archetype of liberal volunteerism—that “would mobilize some of the most passionate, dedicated members of my generation to change the fact that where a child is born in the United States largely determines his or her chances in life.”  Kopp launched TFA in 1990 as a not-for-profit charged with selecting the brightest, most idealistic recent college graduates as corps members who would commit to teach for two years in some of the nation’s toughest schools. From its inception, the media anointed TFA the savior of American education. Prior to a single corps member stepping foot in a classroom, The New York Times and Newsweek lavished Kopp’s new organization with cover stories full of insipid praise. Adulation has remained the norm. Its recent twenty-year anniversary summit, held in Washington, D.C., featured fawning video remarks by President Obama and a glitzy “who’s who” roster of liberal cheerleaders, including John Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, Gloria Steinem, and TFA board member John Legend. The organs of middlebrow centrist opinion—Time Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic—glorify TFA at every opportunity. The Washington Post heralds the nation’s education reform movement as the “TFA insurgency”—a perplexing linguistic choice given so-called “insurgency” methods have informed national education policies from Reagan to Obama. TFA is, at best, another chimerical attempt in a long history of chimerical attempts to sell educational reform as a solution to class inequality. At worst, it’s a Trojan horse for all that is unseemly about the contemporary education reform movement.
The original TFA mission was based on a set of four somewhat noble if paternalistic rationales. First, by bringing the elite into the teaching profession, even if temporarily, TFA would burnish it with a much-needed “aura of status and selectivity.” Second, by supplying its recruits to impoverished school districts, both urban and rural, TFA would compensate for the lack of quality teachers willing to work in such challenging settings. And third, although Kopp recognized that most corps members would not remain classroom teachers beyond their two-year commitments, she believed that TFA alums would form the nucleus of a new movement of educational leaders—that their transformative experiences teaching poor children would mold their ambitious career trajectories. Above these three foundational principles loomed a fourth: the mission to relegate educational inequality to the ash heap of history.
TFA goals derive, in theory, from laudable—if misguided—impulses. But each, in practice, has demonstrated to be deeply problematic. TFA, suitably representative of the liberal education reform more generally, underwrites, intentionally or not, the conservative assumptions of the education reform movement: that teacher’s unions serve as barriers to quality education; that testing is the best way to assess quality education; that educating poor children is best done by institutionalizing them; that meritocracy is an end-in-itself; that social class is an unimportant variable in education reform; that education policy is best made by evading politics proper; and that faith in public school teachers is misplaced.
Take the first rationale: that TFA would enhance the image of the teaching profession. On the contrary, the only brand TFA endows with an “aura of status and selectivity” is its own. As reported in the New York Times, eighteen percent of Harvard seniors applied to TFA in 2010, a rate only surpassed by the twenty-two percent of Yale seniors who sought to join the national teacher corps that year. All told, TFA selected 4,500 lucky recruits from a pool of 46,359 applicants in 2010. Although many applicants are no doubt motivated to join out of altruism, the two-year TFA experience has become a highly desirable notch on the resumes of the nation’s most diligent strivers. The more exclusive TFA becomes, the more ordinary regular teachers seem. TFA corps members typically come from prestigious institutions of higher education, while most regular teachers are trained at the second- and third-tier state universities that house the nation’s largest colleges of education. Whereas TFA corps members leverage the elite TFA brand to launch careers in law or finance—or, if they remain in education, to bypass the typical career path on their way to principalships and other positions of leadership—most regular teachers must plod along, negotiating their way through traditional career ladders. These distinctions are lost on nobody. They are what make regular teachers and their unions such low-hanging political fruit for the likes of Christie, Walker, and Kasich.
The second justification for TFA—that it exists to supply good teachers to schools where few venture to work—has also proven questionable. Though the assertion made some sense in 1990, when many impoverished school districts did in fact suffer from a dearth of teachers, the same is not so easily argued now. Following the economic collapse of 2008, which contributed to school revenue problems nationwide, massive teacher layoffs became the new norm, including in districts where teacher shortages had provided an entry to TFA in the past. Thousands of Chicago teachers, for instance, have felt the sting of layoffs and furloughs in the past two years, even as the massive Chicago Public School system, bound by contract, continues to annually hire a specified number of TFA corps members. In the face of these altered conditions, the TFA public relations machine now deemphasizes teacher shortages and instead accentuates one crucial adjective: “quality.” In other words, schools in poor urban and rural areas of the country might not suffer from a shortage of teachers in general, but they lack for the quality teachers that Kopp’s organization provides.
After twenty years of sending academically gifted but untrained college graduates into the nation’s toughest schools, the evidence regarding TFA corps member effectiveness is in, and it is decidedly mixed. Professors of education Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez, in the most thorough survey of such research yet, found that TFA corps members tend to perform equal to teachers in similar situations—that is, they do as well as new teachers lacking formal training assigned to impoverished schools. Sometimes they do better, particularly in math instruction. Yet “the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well,” Vasquez Heilig and Jin Jez discovered, “than those of credentialed beginning teachers.” It seems clear that TFA’s vaunted thirty-day summer institute—TFA “boot camp”—is no replacement for the preparation given future teachers at traditional colleges of education.
Putting TFA forward to solve the problems of the teaching profession has turned out poorly. But the third premise for Kopp’s national teacher corps—that it would “create a leadership force for long-term change” in how the nation’s least privileged students are schooled—has been the most destructive. Such destructiveness is directly related to Kopp’s success in attaching TFA to the education reform movement. In this, Kopp’s timing could not have been more fortuitous. When TFA was founded, the education reform movement was beginning to make serious headway in policy-making circles. This movement had been in the works since as far back as the notorious Coleman Report, a massive 1966 government study written by sociologist James Coleman, officially titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity.” Coleman contended that school funding had little bearing on educational achievement and, thus, efforts to achieve resource “equity” were wasteful. The Coleman Report became a touchstone for those who argued that pushing for educational “excellence,” measurable by standardized tests, was the best method to improve schools and hold teachers accountable. Chester Finn, an influential conservative policy analyst who worked in the Reagan Department of Education, put his finger on the educational pulse of our age when he wrote that “holding schools”—and teachers—“to account for their students’ academic achievement” was the only educational policy that made sense in a “post-Coleman” world.
With unwavering support from powerful economic and political actors, who almost uniformly understood the state of American public education through the lens of “A Nation at Risk,” a widely publicized 1983 study that argued the failure of American schools was undermining the nation’s ability to compete in an increasingly global economy, education reformers set out to ensure that schools and teachers were held accountable for the achievement of their students, privileged or not. George H. W. Bush, dubbed the “Education President,” filled his department of education with advocates of “outcome-based education,” which emphasized “excellence” in contrast to “equity.” Educational progress was to be measured by what students produced (outputs) rather than by what resources were invested in schools (inputs). The TFA mantra—“we don’t need to wait to fix poverty in order to ensure that all children receive an excellent education”—meshed perfectly with this “post-Coleman” zeitgeist. One of the more salient aspects of the so-called “TFA insurgency” was that it operated from the assumption that more resources were not a prerequisite for improving schools. “Schools that transform their students’ trajectories aspire not to equality of inputs,” Kopp declared, “but rather to equality of outputs.” Instead of more resources, underprivileged students needed better teachers. Reformers thus set out to devise a system that hired and retained effective teachers while also driving ineffective ones from the classroom.
The TFA network has been crucial in shaping efforts to improve the nation’s teacher force. Kopp’s second book, A Chance to Make History (2011), reads like a primer for such reform measures. Kopp is particularly enamored by high-performing charter schools, which succeed because they do whatever it takes to hire and retain good teachers, a zero-sum game that most schools cannot win without more resources—those dreaded “inputs.” But successful charter schools, Kopp maintains, also stop at nothing to remove bad teachers from the classroom. This is why charter schools are the preferred mechanism for delivery of education reform: as defined by Kopp, charter schools are “public schools empowered with flexibility over decision making in exchange for accountability for results.” And yet, “results,” or rather, academic improvement, act more like a fig leaf, especially in light of numerous recent studies that show charter schools, taken on the whole, actually do a worse job of educating students than regular public schools. Rather, crushing teacher’s unions—the real meaning behind Kopp’s “flexibility” euphemism—has become the ultimate end of the education reform movement. This cannot be emphasized enough: the precipitous growth of charter schools and the TFA insurgency are part and parcel precisely because both cohere with the larger push to marginalize teacher’s unions.
The TFA insurgency has, from its inception, sold education reform as above politics. The idea is to support ideas that work, plain and simple, no matter their source. But the biography of Michelle Rhee, the prototypical TFA corps member-turned-reformer and the most divisive person in the education reform movement, defies such anti-political posturing. After serving a two-year stint in the Baltimore Public Schools as one of the earliest TFA corps members, she earned a Master’s Degree from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. From there Kopp tapped Rhee to be the founding CEO of The New Teacher Project, a TFA spin-off that sought to revolutionize the teacher accreditation process by helping school districts evade colleges of education. The notoriety she gained in her work with The New Teacher Project enabled her appointment as Chancellor of Schools in Washington, D.C.
Rhee is adored in elite circles. Regularly feted by Oprah, Kopp touts her as a “transformational leader.” During her short tenure leading the infamously bad D.C. schools, Rhee gained national acclaim for applying, in Kopp’s admiring words, the corporate “principles of management and accountability.” In contrast to such devotion, teacher’s unions loathe Rhee. Rhee’s heavy-handedness in dealing with the Washington Teacher’s Union conveyed her attitude that a non-unionized teacher force would better serve justice for children, as if children would benefit from their teachers lacking the few remaining benefits accrued by collective bargaining, such as nominal job security and shrinking pensions. Rhee is also disliked by a large percentage of black D.C. citizens, who voted out former Mayor Adrian Fenty in part because of his unqualified support for Rhee’s actions. This included firing four percent of district teachers, mostly black, and replacing them largely with TFA-style teachers, mostly white, whom one astute black Washingtonian labeled “cultural tourists.”
TFA’s complicity in education reform insanity does not stop there. From its origins, the TFA-led movement to improve the teacher force has aligned itself with efforts to expand the role of high-stakes standardized testing in education. TFA insurgents, including Kopp and Rhee, maintain that, even if imperfect, standardized tests are the best means by which to quantify accountability. Prior to the enactment of Bush’s bipartisan No Child Left Behind in 2001, high-stakes standardized testing was mostly limited to college-entrance exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). But since then, the high-stakes testing movement has blown up: with increasing frequency, student scores on standardized exams are tied to teacher, school, and district evaluations, upon which rewards and punishments are meted out. Obama’s “Race to the Top” policy—the brainchild of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the former “CEO” of Chicago Public Schools—further codifies high-stakes testing by allocating scarce federal resources to those states most aggressively implementing these so-called accountability measures. The multi-billion dollar testing industry—dominated by a few large corporations that specialize in the making and scoring of standardized tests—has become an entrenched interest, a powerful component of a growing education-industrial complex.
TFA insurgents support standardized testing not only because they believe it ensures accountability. They also herald testing because it provides evidence that their efforts are working. The schools and districts that achieved celebrity as the reform movement’s success stories did so by vastly improving standardized test scores. In emphasizing testing, though, reformers tend to overlook the obvious incentives that ambitious educators have to manipulate statistics. President Bush appointed Houston Superintendent of Schools Rod Paige as Secretary of Education in 2001 because Paige’s reform measures seemingly led to skyrocketing graduation rates. Not surprisingly, this so-called “Texas miracle,” predicated on falsified numbers, was too good to be true.
More recently, cheating scandals have likewise discredited several celebrated reform projects. In Atlanta, a TFA hotbed, former superintendent and education reform darling Beverly Hall is implicated in a cheating scandal of unparalleled proportions, involving dozens of Atlanta principals and hundreds of teachers, including TFA corps members. Cheating was so brazen in Atlanta that principals hosted pizza parties where teachers and administrators systematically corrected student exams. Following a series of investigative reports in USA Today, a new cheating scandal seems to break every week. Cheating has now been confirmed not only in Atlanta, but also in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, Dallas, Houston, Dayton, and Memphis, education reform cities all. Rhee’s D.C. “miracle” has also been clouded by suspicion: impossibly high wrong-to-right erasure rates indicate that several of Rhee’s “blue ribbon” schools might have cheated their way to higher test scores. Such accusations are nothing new to Rhee. The legend of how she transformed her Baltimore students—a fable resembling the Hollywood drama Stand and Deliver, based on East Los Angeles math teacher Jaime Escalante’s work in helping several of his underprivileged students pass the Advanced Placement Calculus exam—has been called into question by investigative reports that suggest fraud.
That education reformers have long argued that “incentives” are necessary to improve the teaching profession underscores another in a series of ironies that mark the movement. Reformers believe that if teachers are subjected to “market forces,” such as merit pay and job insecurity, they will work harder to improve the education they provide for their students. The need to incentivize the teaching profession is the most popular argument against teacher’s unions, since unions supposedly protect bad teachers. But, in a predictable paradox, by attaching their incentives agenda to standardized testing, the reform movement has induced cheating on a never-before-seen scale, proving the maxim known as Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” In sum, the TFA insurgency’s singular success has been to empower those best at gaming the system.
In contrast to such “success,” the TFA insurgency has failed to dent educational inequality. This comes as no surprise to anyone with the faintest grasp of the tight correlation between economic and educational inequality: TFA does nothing to address the former while spinning its wheels on the latter. In her writings, nowhere does Kopp reflect upon the patent ridiculousness of her expectation that loads of cash donated by corporations that exploit inequalities across the world—such as Union Carbide and Mobil, two of TFA’s earliest contributors—will help her solve some of the gravest injustices endemic to American society. Kopp shows some awareness of the absurdities of her own experiences—including a “fundraising schedule [that] shuttled me between two strikingly different economic spheres: our undersourced classrooms and the plush world of American philanthropy”—but she fails to grasp that this very gap is what makes her stated goal of equality unachievable. In short, Kopp, like education reformers more generally, is an innocent when it comes to political economy. She spouts platitudes about justice for American children, but rarely pauses to ask whether rapidly growing inequality might be a barrier to such justice. She celebrates twenty years of reform movement success, but never tempers such self-congratulatory narcissism with unpleasant questions about why those who have no interest in disrupting the American class structure—such as Bill Gates and the heirs to Sam Walton’s fortunes, by far the most generous education reform philanthropists—are so keen to support the TFA insurgency. Kopp is a parody of the liberal do-gooder.
Of course, liberal notions about the potential of education to serve the ends of justice are nothing new to American social thought. Progressive educators since John Dewey have sold their wares as instruments of justice. And yet, education reform has almost always propped up the social order: just as current reform success is calculated by how well students score on standardized tests, the progressive education movement’s most longstanding success story was its pedagogical program for “Americanization.”  Educational progress as measured by how well students stack up against conventional standards will always and inevitably reinforce the status quo. Most of the time, schools are little more than engines of social reproduction.
TFA exists for nothing if not for adjusting poor children to the regime otherwise known as the American meritocracy. Kopp’s model for how teachers should help poor students acclimate to the American meritocracy is the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a nationwide network of charter schools. Founded by TFA alums Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, and currently lead by CEO Richard Barth, a former TFA staff member who also happens to be Kopp’s husband, KIPP now runs over 100 schools, typically in cities that staff a multitude of TFA corps members, such as Houston, New Orleans, and New York City. Many KIPP teachers began their careers in education as TFA corps members, and an even higher percentage of KIPP administrators are TFA alums. KIPP schools are in such high demand that students must win lotteries for the opportunity to attend. The pièce de résistance of Waiting for Superman chronicles one such dramatic lottery drawing.
Slots in KIPP schools are in short supply because, unlike most charter schools, they have a track record of actually improving student performance and of helping poor children gain acceptance into college. Their methodology consists of nothing novel: teachers and students work very hard. But more than that, KIPP students and their families must sign contracts committing to a rigorous program of surveillance—the only way to ensure that underprivileged students overcome lives that otherwise drag them down. As one KIPP administrator described the philosophy: “At every moment, we asked ourselves, what about this moment of the day is or is not fostering college readiness in our students?” While visiting a KIPP school in New York City early one morning, where fifth graders were busy with drills at 7:00 a.m., Kopp quietly lamented, without a touch of irony, that her own child of the same age was still in bed. Thus, in the KIPP model, we are presented with the solution to the nation’s educational inequalities: for poor children to succeed, they must willingly submit to Taylorist institutionalization. This is made starkly evident in the concluding scene of Waiting for Superman, when young “Anthony,” one of the lucky few, arrives at his charter school with suitcase in hand, since his particular school boards its students. Anthony is rightly ambivalent about giving up his life with his grandparents and friends in order to attend a SEED Foundation school—the prototype in education reform—where 24-hour supervision is the only way to ensure that poor children have a chance at success.
In working to perfect their approach to education, TFA insurgents miss the forest for the trees. They fail to ask big-picture questions. Will their pedagogy of surveillance make for a more humane society? Having spent their formative years in a classroom learning test-taking skills, will their students become good people? Will they know more history? Will they be more empathetic? Will they be better citizens? Will they be more inclined to challenge the meritocracy? Or, as its newest converts, will they be its most fervent disciples? What does it mean that for children born in the Bronx to go to college they must give up their childhoods, however bleak?
I teach at a second-tier state university in the Midwest that houses a large college of education, not exactly TFA’s prime recruiting territory. And yet, every year a TFA representative briefly stops by our campus to sell our students on TFA and encourage them to apply. Three of my best former students have, to my surprise, been chosen TFA corps members. Although I would never begrudge such hard-won personal victories for my students—well-meaning individuals who hail from decidedly non-privileged backgrounds—in the future I am determined to strongly encourage those students interested in becoming TFA corps members to read Paul Goodman’s  Compulsory Mis-Education (1964), in my opinion the single-best critique of the kind of education that the TFA insurgency seeks to perfect.
Goodman’s disdain for what the corporate-organized society did to young people was first made apparent in his 1959 bestseller, Growing Up Absurd, a response to the “curious” fact that two of the most analyzed phenomena of the 1950s—the “disgrace of the Organized System” and the problem of disaffected youth—were given mutually exclusive treatment. Goodman combined these two popular strands of social commentary—a critique of the bureaucratic society with an analysis of juvenile delinquency—and argued that the former caused the latter. In Compulsory Mis-Education, Goodman extended this general critique of the “organized society” to a more specific attack on its socialization method: compulsory schooling. Schooling as socialization, which he described as “‘vocational guidance’ to fit people wherever they are needed in the productive system,” troubled Goodman in means and ends. He both loathed the practice of adjusting children to society and despised the social regime in which children were being adjusted to—“our highly organized system of machine production and its corresponding social relations.” For Goodman, compulsory schooling thus prepared “kids to take some part in a democratic society that does not need them.”
Goodman was not against education in the strict sense of the word. For him, the question of education was always of kind. In Goodman’s world, which I imagine as a sort of utopia, those who seek to institutionalize the poor are the enemies of the good. And teachers—real teachers, those who commit their lives (not two years) to expanding their students’ imaginative universes—they are the heroes. I can hardly imagine a better inoculation against the hidden curriculum of liberal do-gooders.
Andrew Hartman teaches history at Illinois State University. He is the author ofEducation and the Cold War: The Battle for the American School.