Demonizing teachers in the name of children

The headline blasted on the face of The Detroit News belched out today that Michigan has lost its second bid for Race to the Top monies.  The paper, which is favorable to the privatization policies promoted by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in his ill conceived plan to implement No Child Left Behind, re-branded by the savory marketeers as Race to the Top, subtitled its article ‘Critics blame unions, but no reason given for $400 million dollar snub’. 

The Detroit News would like to have their readers believe that unions are the cause of educational malaise and economic and public decimation in Detroit.  They would like the public to fixate on the Hollywood version of the powerful teacher’s union out to covet its own self interests and in doing so, destroy any chance for Detroit children, their parents and community.  No surprise here, they did the same when attacking unions at their own failed paper.

Don’t be beguiled by Arne Duncan and his corporate media pals.  It is not the unions that are responsible for 140 school closures in Detroit; it is not the union that is responsible for the fiscal derangement that plagues and wolfs on Detroit citizens, mostly poor, working class and people of color; it is not the teacher’s union that is responsible for the bloated management salaries of the Detroit Public School system or the salaried politicians willing and ready to scoop up cash from their corporate backers who want to see education privatized.

In fact, it is the union that is the only dividing line between the sordid plans for Detroit schools, which I have written about extensively at Dailycensored.  Union activists and leaders like Steve Conn and his wife Heather Miller are, with other union members, at the forefront of trying to keep schools open, maintain arts, music, and science for kids (all being cut), fight for decent working conditions for teachers, local decision-making and conscious authentic teaching and assessment. 

Those demonizing the unions are the same racketeers that foster division among working people so they can profit from disaster economics that has left cities weeping for funds.  Teachers are hardly overpaid CEO’s with bloated bonuses; nor did they enter the profession to become Wall Street traders or billionaires like Bill Gates and his pals, like Eli Broad paid Emergency Manager Robert Bobb who are hungrily looking at Detroit for economic profit.  They are public servants, which is why they are staring down the barrel of a privately held rifle, for the attack on anything public, be they prisons, education, health care parks, public investment, libraries and the like, is now booted up by the silk stockinged boys out to steal what is left of public education. 

Interestingly, I happened to see the phantom Arne Duncan on MSNBC on July 26th speaking with Allan Greenspan’s wife, stenographer Andrea Mitchell about his plans for “core standards” he says are needed in order for Americans to compete in the capitalist market.  Duncan was heralding the fact that 29 states have signed on to Race to the Top, lauded what he called “the courage of local politicians” and made no bones about this respect and support for local neo-liberal henchmen like Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Schools in Washington, D.C. (who could be see at the side of the TV handing out new backpacks to school children, no doubt paid for by the largess of the pseudo-philanthropists who helped force the D.C. teacher’s union into accepting the wholesale giveaway of their union).  Duncan knows he is at war now.  He understands that his policies are going down the gullets of states poorly.

As the Detroit News reported on July 28, 2010:

“The state enacted in January education reform laws, hoping to win nearly $400 million to implement the reforms. The laws lay out a plan to turn around low-performing schools, expand charter schools, establish common standards, and revamp teacher and administrator certification and evaluation rules.” (The Detroit News, July 28, 2010  Mich. loses final bid for Race to Top cash KAREN BOUFFARD AND NATHAN HURST).

Senator Wayne Kuipers, Republican and chairman of the Senate Education Committee who works for and chairs for the billionaire’s boyz club, made up of the likes of Bill Gates, The Fischer Family (the Gap), The Walton Family (Wal-Mart) and Eli Broad (Robert Bobb’s paymaster), whined that:

“I think (the U.S. Department of Education) is concerned we didn’t adequately define what portion of teachers’ evaluations would be based on student performance. The MEA did block previous attempts to get a more clear definition of teacher evaluations (and) … certainly hasn’t been helpful in our meeting the requirements of the application. School districts wanted flexibility in how to evaluate their teachers” (ibid).

The corporate representative was surely defining ‘not helpful’ as not signing off on the decrepit plans the privatizers like Robert Bobb, The Skillman Foundation, and Wall Street have for Detroit, its city and children.  Kuipers is a republican but under neo-liberal rule, rule by the government in partnership with corporations, the coin operated politician is not alone in his criticism of the unions for not selling out their teachers to the inauthentic, corporate funded testing regime.  Democratic Governor, Jennifer Granholm who had students arrested in her office for sitting in on the controversy over getting rid of the Eli Borad gunslinger, Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, and the Michigan Department of Education released a statement expressing similar disappointment, saying the state had support from districts and labor unions. 

The alliance between Republic Senator Kuipers and Democratic Governor, Granholm could not better represent the bi-courtesanship that is the cornerstone of the extortion racket called Race to the Top.

Doug Pratt, spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association was right on when he pointed out that the:

“union is once again being used as a “scapegoat” in the state’s failure to be chosen by the U.S. Department of Education.  We were fully engaged in a collaborative process where labor and the administration were all in collaboration.  We’re disappointed just like everybody else is” (ibid).

The fact of the matter is that the union has not been doing a very good job of staving off the privatizers.  They have capitulated to more testing than they should have and more than often sat in silence as teachers are fired, programs for students shut down and schools shuttered.  Michigan was graded down in the first round because the MEA and many union locals refused to back the state’s Race to the Top application due to its reliance on testing, charter schools, an end to seniority and tenure and other ruthless plans laid forth in the ‘four assurances’ that have to be met by states in order to get their hands on the ‘cash’.  Unfortunately, due to mounting pressure from the ruling class, their astro-turf groups and their telephone banks, corporate media and well financed propaganda campaigns, the second application had union support.

Not all agreed that the Detroit Teachers Union (DFT) was to balme for not receiving funding.  Don Wotruba, deputy director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, said he wouldn’t blame the MEA.

Debt, bonds and peonage

But there is more.  There is the issue of gentrification that is at stake as well, as I write about at (Build America Bonds: What is at stake in Detroit,  Detroit is prime pickings for the bond underwriters who seek to sell Build American Bonds with an enthusiasm that reeks of their expensive cologne.  The commissions are high selling debt to greedy investors and debt is about all Detroit has now that the economic crisis on Wall Street has left the city cash strapped.

The city is already reeling in debt peonage, Bobb and his cohorts having mortgaged the failing city for years to come.  As noted in another article on Detroit’s debt filled balloon:

“Former Detroit Public Schools CEO Kenneth Burnley, Jr. and current Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb have enslaved the Detroit Public Schools by borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars.

This year alone, DPS debt service amounted to $438.8 million by June, according to district documents. That amount equals 71.2 cents of every dollar of state per-pupil aid.

However, to service that debt in a year, by June 2011, the district will need $523.8 million. That amount is 90.7 percent of state per-pupil aid for that year.

“In other words, whatever’s coming to Detroit from the state, stays with the state,” commented CPA Greg Frazier, former deputy auditor for the City of Detroit and an advocate for financial transparency in DPS, who waged a two-year legal battle to win a Freedom of Information Lawsuit for the district’s spending information.

“Under state takeovers the debt has ballooned. It’s like a plan, [run up DPS debt] and we get out of paying Detroit anything.”

DPS debt information is hidden in plain sight on the Detroit Public Schools website. (See (Diane Bukowski, Michigan Citizen, July 18, 2010.

Want to blame all this on the teacher’s union too, Mssr. Kuipers and Madam Granholm?  Who do they think they’re kidding?

The Four Assurances: Essential understanding to capture the essence of Race to the Top

In a four part article I penned for back on January 6th, 2010 of this year entitled: Arne Duncan’s History Lesson to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT): Elevating the Teaching Profession? (, the four part article goes deeply into the four assurances codified into Race to the Top that states must comply with to receive any of the $4.3 billion Duncan has been given by taxpayers as walk-around money to be used to extort states.  These ‘four assurances’ are the legs of the poker table that Duncan is selling to the public.

In general they include such things as allowing for market fundamentalism in the form of privatization and charter schools, tethering teachers to inauthentic forms of assessment known as ‘tests’ and thus inauthentic teaching in accordance with these privatized instruments; they have also included forcing states to lift their caps on how many charter schools can be open, as well as forcing unions to accept merit pay, become at-will employees, and abandon seniority rights.

In an effort to educate readers as to what the four assurances are and what they mean in order for a state to qualify for Race to the Top monies, I am going to reprint part of what was in part four of my series for Dissidentvoice.  It is important, especially in an era of disinformation which is shoveled out by the Detroit News, Andrea Mitchell (who groveled all over Duncan in her July 26th ‘interview’) and other corporate media bulletins, that we do not lose sight of what Race to the Top specifically means in small print. 

To accomplish this, I leave you with a segment of part four of the article written back in the beginning of this year at and encourage you to go to the site to read more.  We begin with what Arne Duncan and his cohorts call ‘assurance number’ one:

“A new generation of assessments”: assurance number one

From ( Any and all references made below can be found in the original article.

“Although Duncan states in American Educator:

“Student growth and gain, not absolute test scores, are what we are most interested in – how much students are improving each year, and what are teachers, schools, school districts and states doing the most to accelerate student achievement? ((Duncan, A., Elevating the Teaching profession. American Educator. 33:4, Winter 2009-2010.))

The fact of the matter is Secretary Duncan has set aside $350 million of this $4.35 billion federal venture fund to develop a national test tied to the new national standards which would then be translated into state tests. But he never mentions this in his piece in the American Educator. Why? As I noted in and elsewhere, the reason is simple: Obama/Duncan’s Race to the Top forces teachers to teach directly to the test and encourages students to learn only the material covered on these crude pieces of inauthentic assessment. This form of functionalism in “learning” neglects to respect the varied skills and qualities of our children, and instead evaluates them and their teachers based on a child’s performance on one test. With Arne’s plan, we can kiss local control, parent involvement, and participatory democracy good-bye in favor of a highly-centralized form of “knowledge,” which the Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce have been pushing for decades. A Democratic President will deliver on these promises; not even the despised George W. Bush could implement this kind of plan.1

Not so, says Duncan, suiting up in a language that the union and its members might stomach:

“The Race to the Top competition also recognizes that teacher effectiveness cannot be assessed solely on student test scores. Instead, teacher effectiveness should be evaluated based on multiple measures, provided that student academic growth over the course of the year is a significant factor. I am pleased that both Dennis Van Roekel and Randi Weingarten recognized and applauded a number of these elements in the final Race to the Top guidelines.”2

To be frank, Duncan is lying. As I and Kenneth Libby from Schools Matter ( wrote earlier this year:

“Race to the Top will assure that the any intellectual digestion by the mind promoted through critical thinking will be confronted by an anorexic-bulimic learning model of memorization and regurgitation for test taking purposes. The test results then become “chits” able to be cashed in at the federal or state “cage” for more tax monies. But the tests have an even more insidious purpose: by hitching student and teacher achievement to the “enhanced standards and assessments” the scores can then be used to “evaluate and rate” the new private and non-profit providers (outsourced schools), the burgeoning charter school retail chains designed to replace public schools, which is the real plan for “turning around struggling schools”. Therefore, the necessity and institutionalization of a toxic testing regime is of paramount importance to the new ‘turnaround artists’ and charter school hucksters. They will rely on the tests as a rating agency for their own performance allowing them to bid for ever more private contracts to run and manage the new charter schools. This will serve to turn the lights out on public education while placing a hammer lock on pedagogical practices. Individual test scores are to “knowledge” what private profits are to social good – there’s little, if any, connection, but these test scores provide a basis for expanding privatized education schemes and impoverished, uncreative pedagogical approaches.3

Certainly charter chains would prefer national standards; that is why they look to the government to assure they have a highly profitable landscape to scrape up the contracts. This would allow them to use prepackaged curricula across their charter outlets no matter the location – it’s highly conducive to expanding their “market share”, for dummied down standardized curriculum keeps costs down and the dispensation is formulaic and repetitive. This is the Wal-mart model of education.1

Arne Duncan, it needs to be pointed out, is simply part of a long legacy of prevaricators when it comes to educational reform policy and it is interesting to see him work the teacher’s union on stage with collaborative rhetoric when in fact super-functionalism and ending collective bargaining is his true reform goal. Duncan is the teacher union dragon slayer and if his work in Chicago is any indication of his competency, we should all be worried.

Duncan closed 75 public schools in Chicago causing the countless loss of jobs and pensions to teachers in Chicago. The fact that this was done without participation of the communities affected is reminiscent of the awful yet similar policies promoted by Paul Pastorek in New Orleans, the model from which the whole sordid mess is drawn from and the person whom he replaced in Chicago. These managers are carpetbaggers and exclusion and control are the benchmarks of their neo-liberal educational policy which is why you see Duncan supporting mayoral control in major cities. Autocracy is far preferable to democracy, for things get done faster; it is less messy and involves fewer people.

Using Data Systems to Support “Instruction”: Assurance number two

One of the problems with teaching, Duncan assures us, is that teachers just don’t have their hands on the timely information they need about the progress of their students; if only they could track their students’ progress then they could become good engineers of learning. Thankfully, this is all about to end, says Duncan:

“Through the State Longitudinal Data Systems program and Race to the Top, we’re providing hundreds of millions of dollars to states and districts to develop data systems that deliver this information in a timely and useful format. When teachers get better data on student growth, including results from interim assessments, they have the chance to tailor classroom instruction to the needs of their students and drive a cycle of continuous improvement.

Not all teachers have experience using data to improve instruction. But the department is asking states that apply for Race to the Top grants to develop plans for professional development to help teachers and principals get training in how to use data to inform instruction.”3

Anyone who works with children in the classroom knows how to collect and use performance data on their students. What does Duncan think teachers are, imbeciles? From portfolio assessment to writing journals; from performance examination to mentor teachers; from state test scores to instructional design programs; teachers who work with students understand if they can read, if they can write, if they can think critically, collaborate with their peers, understand how to problem solve and make decisions. And if they do not then this is testimony to the horrid teacher preparation programs that carve out education from lager social concerns and treat would-be teachers as children. Duncan is right on this point: we do need change in how teachers are prepared to teach, but not change we can’t believe in and not reform posturing as change, when in fact it is hi-tech factory reform with more virulent vigilance. Duncan wants a new generation of skill driven teachers, the same factory model he bemoans. Don’t be fooled.

So just what data systems is Duncan talking about and why do we need them? It would be tantamount to trying to kill a fly with a hatchet, wouldn’t it? Using “longitudinal data systems” – which track student test scores over many years will only allow federal, state, and local authorities to conduct surveillance on teachers — a virtual panopticon that will only further narrow a curriculum hacked to pieces by the bi-partisan No Child Left Behind.

Testing companies and software developers are salivating over the possibility of these new data systems and the federal money that accompanies their production and training, particularly when they consider the national standards that will allow their products to be used across the entire nation. The for-profit making opportunities are enormous; the for-public opportunities are decimating.

Sadly, the results of the new national and state testing regime will be fed into an expanded data system which will then be used to evaluate teachers to see if they are meeting the ‘measured outcomes’, the free-market ‘targets’ they have been hired to accomplish. Reduced to ‘clerks in the classroom’, teachers can expect to devote themselves to ‘professional development’ days, where they are being told by corporate spokespeople how to use data kits, computer generated graphs, tables and the like to figure out if their students are meeting the mandatory measured outcomes under No Child Left Behind. Metrics of human actions through pedagogical testing will now accompany the rational incentives held out to teachers while boredom, hovering on the edge of disillusionment, will pock mark both teaching and learning in the new cybernetic authoritarian establishment. This will all be part of the self-directing automatic system we are told is needed to restore liberty, prosperity and freedom – but now it will be accomplished by using the government as a partner.

Merit pay: tying teaching to material incentives: Assurance Number three

Part of the Race to the Top attempts to mandate that teachers be paid for their “performance”. However, in Duncan’s world teacher performance is tied to how well students do on the state mandated standardized tests tethered to No Child Left Behind. Now, with No Child Left Behind not only are students tested in-authentically, but teachers will be rewarded for lacing their imperatives to the inauthentic tests. This is where the data systems come in; they will hijack education and force teachers into docile hostages. The whole idea is tied together based on competition –competition among and between students on tests, competition among and between teachers for tests, competition for vendors selling privatized materials – none of this magnifies what is needed in education. Collaboration, solidarity, an appreciation for diversity, equitable opportunities and participation in the day to day operations by teachers and educational workers is what is needed; this and a commitment to public education, not for-profit education. Not so, says Duncan. Teachers need to compete, just like their students – but in a monopolized economy.

Performance pay for teachers has not fared very well. State by state you can see it and I chronicle this in my book.4 In the 2005-06 school-year, just to take an example, Texas introduced a merit pay plan for teachers. It offered $100 million in bonuses at 1,150 schools if teachers raised their students’ test scores. But in May 2009, the Texas Educator Excellence Grant was quietly retired after getting lackluster results, even though payments to teachers were based overwhelmingly on the test scores of their students.

These examples reinforce the overall finding of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University. It reported no conclusive data on the power of financial awards to promote more effective teaching and elevate student performance; nor did merit pay have any long-term effects of performance awards on the supply of effective teachers. The study was statistical but from a moral standpoint the whole idea is repugnant and antithetical to learning and teaching. Teachers are not motivated by the same factors that shape the behavior of those in business and to corporatize the profession is truly betrayal of critical thinking and public citizenry. In Texas, to take the example, more than three-fourths of teachers eligible for performance pay said the bonuses had no effect on the way they taught.5

Moreover, nearly half of new teachers who leave the profession within the first five years consistently have reported that salaries were not the No. 1 factor in their departure. They quit because of frustration over not being able to teach the way they wanted or the way they had learned to teach. They were being managed and held hostage to managerial doublespeak and classroom tyranny – by the same personnel who either never have taught in a classroom or sought to flee one as soon as they could to join the coffers of upper management.

Sign-up incentives and so-called combat pay have not proved effective in inducing a critical mass of teachers to teach and remain in the inner cities and rural areas where they are needed the most. Despite the headlines of a bump in teachers due to the job market, those who have sought shelter from the current recession by teaching, and there are not many of them as cutbacks bar the school house door, are likely to leave the profession once the economy recovers. Teacher retention and commitment will be born by collaboration and as said earlier, participation in curriculum development and power, not by inducements and by-offs. These are the same corrupt ideas that encourage teachers to pay students to do well in school, tying learning to the sordid mess of materialism and servile self interests. How insipid, how disdainful for what it means to be a human being and educated.

Competition and Public School Choice: A rising Tide lifts all boats?: Assurance number four

It is important to understand that Arne Duncan and the Obama administration have bought the notion of public school choice, corporate education, as a panacea for what ails public education hook line and sinker. Like his predecessor, Margaret Spellings, Arne Duncan holds the common rationale given for the neo-liberal educational reforms: competition provides the best or most efficient motor for change and reform. The premise of the contention is similar to the private voucher argument, that traditional public schools (TPS) can be best improved by competitive market mechanisms. Like private choice, the public choice rationale maintains that all public schools as well as all student-learning, improve when the public schools have to compete for students and students and their parents have the right to choose. This ideology then all gets translated into then the psyche of teachers – they come to believe that they too need to compete like their students and what this means is that values such as solidarity, diversity appreciation, collaboration, equity and equal opportunity as well as participatory democracy all go out the window.

Neither the teachers or the students are valued in the new “scheme of things”. Race to the Top is “business language”, the language of competition not the language of collaboration and it means the creation of a scarcity environment: one with winners and losers, no in betweens. How insidious, how un-thoughtful a policy to advance when America is experiencing a crisis of graft and virulent competition and corruption and besides, does one really think that these state capitalist, pro-neo-liberal government enterprises and businesses that stand perched to take-over public schools really want to compete? Of course not, they want monopoly and with it, market share; the last thing they want is to slug it out in the market; they are simply hypocritical and mendacious. Just look at Bill Gates and Walmart, the so-called philanthropists that bankroll the policy. They are unscrupulous hypocrites promoting unfair trade practices, monopoly and price control. Will we let them get away with it?

This marketplace ideology, by its own logic, must treat teachers as producers or workers in a rigid system of competitive educational control — education as a “product” or commodity must be engineered and produced by people, and as we have seen under this ideological framework of neo-liberalism, people are only interested in the self-serving competitive and monetary advantages they can gain under the capitalist system. Therefore the need to create a lucrative labyrinth that reflects this philosophy for both students and teachers is paramount for the system itself. Duncan knows this, he carries water for the corporations.

Super-functionalism seeks to define the parameters of the debate over education for anything less would be a betrayal of the ‘free-market’ and the ruling elite who maintain and run it. We are told as teachers if we do not support ‘their’ reform we are hurting children, when in fact their policies are the real child molesters. Educational policymakers have for decades argued that competition through choice, whether it is public or private, undermines a shared citizenship in U.S. society and is little more than a cleverly designed slippery slope to individualized, privatized education. The lack of a common educational leadership, opponents to Race to the Top (The Obama No Child Left Behind), maintain, helps to ensure that the argument for say charter schools, part and parcel of the new formula, is dominated not by educational ideas, but by economic necessity.6

Protesting against competition and in favor of cooperation, we as progressive educators claim that the concept of choice threatens a community and shared citizenship necessary for the realization of democracy and democratic citizenship; these are ideas that go back to John Dewey, they are certainly not new.7 Asserting that competitive, individual choice supplants shared decision making, even educational policy groups such as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching reason that the Darwinian market mechanism of choice used to weed out the weakest schools in fact exacerbates inequities among districts (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching 1992).

You can read more at  I hope this allows readers to see the cornerstone that supports the Obama privatization of education policy and how the neo-liberal corporate state is reeking havoc on communities and their children.

Duncan won’t give details on the ‘Race’, but Yvette Felarca from ‘By Any Means Necessary’ ( summed it up best

Duncan wouldn’t say what factors figured into the selections for Race to the Top monies this time around, and he noted that losing states would be eligible for other money.   but you can bet the states that didn’t meet the ‘four assurances’ figured low on the list.  There is $3.4 billion left in this fiscal year’s Race to the Top funding; an additional $1.35 billion has been requested by the White House for the 2011 budget.  What we do know is that extortion is the liquid center of the putrid public policy and in her speech to the American Federation of Teachers in early July, Yvette Felarca, candidate from BAMN who ran against the rancid Randi Weingarten summed it up best:

“We are facing a historic period where our nation’s greatest achievement, public education, is under an insidious and full-scale attack. We are at war, and instead of working with the enemy—inviting charter school promoters like Bill Gates to our convention, or touring the country with Arne Duncan to promote the most anti-teacher, anti-public education policies called Race to the Top, we need to stand squarely for teachers, for our students, and for the right to public education.

The achievement gap is really an Opportunity Gap—poverty, isolation, and segregation are the number one causes of that gap. We need educational reforms that address that gap—massive infusion of federal funding to our schools based on need, not competition; integration programs like magnet schools in our cities with state of the art programs that draw students of all races to learn and develop together, inter-district and metropolitan – wide school desegregation programs where students are provided with transportation and accepting schools get the resources to provide the best quality education to every student; affirmative action protections to ensure that black and Latino students have full access and support in AP and college preparatory programs, and to hire more minority educators so that the students see themselves in the leaders that they see leading their classrooms.

Electing me, Steve, Tania, and our entire EON/BAMN slate will send the clearest message to Washington that the days of company unionism, capitulation and collaboration between the AFT and Arne Duncan are over. When elected, the first thing I would do is hold a press conference right here in Seattle and announce that the AFT was done running in Arne’s race—we’re not playing his game of winners and losers, that there truly is a new AFT, that we demand that Arne Duncan step down as the Secretary of Education, and that we call for an END to Race to the Top. I would issue a declaration hailing the decisions of states and state locals like Indiana and Vermont that refused to apply for Race to the Top, and encourage other states and locals to do the same.  We don’t have to go along with Race to the Top, we can defeat it. And I would call on President Obama to tax the corporations rather than bailing out the banks, and demand that they pay their fair share not as a tax right off, but with democratic, public accountability” (‘By any Means Necessary’ ( and the AFT election results: A message from Yvette Felarca,

That, and ending two illegal wars that are now costing trillions of dollars thousands of US and civlian lives, while our citizens live in tents, children go to bed hungry, racism is being nourished like a cancer, unemployment is skyrocketing beyond imagination, foreclosures are at an all time high, and Wall Street continues to post gains and pay out bonuses to banks they deem ‘too big to fail’.

Detroit citizens should be both proud and thankful that they stood up to Arne Duncan and his wrecking crew for the second time.  The teacher’s union in Detroit (DFT) and the MEA need to continue to fight the privatizers and their neo-liberal state policies.  State by state we can win!