Bus tour with teacherken: Education in Pennsylvania


Ken Bernstein is a recently retired National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher who was a 2010 Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher. Nationally known for his blogging as teacherken at Daily Kos and elsewhere, he served until his retirement as the lead building representative (NEA) at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD.

I will be discussing how the Greed Agenda and related things are affecting public education in Pennsylvania, but allow me to share some photos of our Sunday.

There was nothing scheduled for today, but somehow we managed to find two ways of getting our message, Stop the Greed Agenda, out.

First we made a stop at a radio station in Youngstown,


where Mariah was interviewed


Then we continued our journey to Cleveland, where we traveled to Market Square and the West Side Market:


Older cities in the Eastern United States often had markets like this:



There was also an outdoor festival at adjacent Market Square. The performances there were over by the time we arrived, but there was still a lot of outdoor activity:



which presented those on the bus trip a large pool of people to whom we could offer our literature, which included not only our standard brochure, but fliers for a rally on Monday, to which a number of people committed. And although the bus was parked several blocks away, we had someone knock on the door and ask for literature.

So our “free” day still presented the opportunity to further present information about our attempts to “Stop the Greed Agenda.”

Education is very much a part of the Greed Agenda. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been very much the mechanism through which that Greed Agenda is being imposed upon public schools. Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead of Phi Delta Kappan, an important publication among educational professional, offered an important piece in Education Week titled “A Smart ALEC Threatens Public Education.” Among the aspects of the ALEC agenda for education which they identify are:

  • Introduce market factors into schools, particularly the teaching profession
  • Privatize education through vouchers, charters, and tax incentives
  • Increase student testing and reporting
  • Reduce the influence of or eliminate local school districts and school boards

ALEC clearly wants to privatize public education (as well as other public services). It will claim that its intent is to “foster educational freedom and quality” but its privatizing agenda will include vouchers, tax incentives for sending children to private schools, and charter schools operated by for-profit entities.

You should read the cited piece. It will give you a good sense of the ALEC educational agenda, and help you understand the real threats to American public schools as we have known them.

ALEC is hostile to local control by democratically elected school boards. It will seek to override that through multiple measure, including parent triggers to turn schools into charters, and establishment of statewide chartering mechanisms that can override a local board’s refusal to accept charters in its jurisdiction. When this is combined with the push towards direct mayoral control of urban public school systems – something pioneered under Democratic mayors such as Richard Daley Jr. in Chicago – ultimately this means removing the last vestiges of local democracy in public education.

The Koch Brothers Greed Agenda includes absolute hostility to unions of any kind. Given that the two teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, contain over 3 million members, it is very important that their power both in education and in politics be crushed. When Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio went after teachers’ unions, they were following the script of the Koch Brothers.

We see attacks on “tenure” as an obstacle to “reform.” Let’s be clear. What is called tenure in K-12 education is not the same as it is in a university. For a public school teacher, until you have tenure you are not entitled to due process in dismissal – you can be discharged without proper cause having to be shown. Achievement of tenure merely guarantees that an administrator or school board cannot fire you because of your politics, your religion, or your salary. Note the last, and remember the Greed Agenda is not only the province of the Koch Brothers. Many billionaires have argued in a fashion that would depress the salaries of teachers. Bill Gates is on record as saying teachers don’t really improve after their third year and masters degrees do not make a difference, so we should not pay based on experience or for more education (here it is worth noting that most states REQUIRE ongoing education – which is a cash cow for many universities – but that the teachers must pay for that out of their own pockets). Teach for America has changed from an organization that originally was going to supply novice but bright teachers in places underserved by properly trained and certified teachers to being used to replace fully certified teachers with those who will be their temporarily before moving on to other things.

One thing we have seen – a consistent approach to starving public institutions, especially public schools, of funds, then complaining that their performance is lacking and moving to privatize their functions. Thus we have seen some Governors and legislatures slash state funding for public schools at the same time as they tie teacher performance to student test scores, which when they do not improve – perhaps because the cuts lead to layoffs of teachers and explosion of class sizes – use that as an excuse to push through the next round of privatization and implementation of the Greed Agenda.

Let’s take a brief look at what is happening in Pennsylvania. We have already seen the Governor and legislature move to cut more than $1 billion from state aid to education, putting great economic pressure upon local districts at a time when their revenue has fallen because of the declining value of real estate. They are trying to get through legislation like that passed in Louisiana. On this allow me to refer to ALEC Triumphant in Louisiana, a recent blog post by Diane Ravitch, in which she writes

I wrote a post about radical legislation in Pennsylvania that will authorize the Governor to create a charter commission with power to overturn local decisions. This legislation was written by the corporate-funded organization ALEC

The Louisiana legislature passed the radical ALEC agenda last spring. Teachers lost tenure; unqualified people can become teachers. Test scores determine teachers’ careers. More than half the state’s students are eligible for vouchers, with some going to fundamentalist schools. Charters will pop up everywhere. Students can take their tuition money to online schools that get poor results, or to any snake-oil salesman that hangs out a shingle and pretends to be an educator.

Everything comes out of the minimum foundation funding for public schools, which is supposedly illegal, but who cares? Lots of new opportunities to make a buck in Louisiana or any other state that passes ALEC model legislation.

I have been informed by well-placed sources in Pennsylvania that the Governor strongly wants to pursue the legislation in question, it is unlikely to come up before next year. Still, it is possible that the legislature MIGHT attempt to take it up in the forthcoming lame-duck sessions. Thus it is important for those concerned to organize now to oppose this legislation. One purpose of the Stop the Greed Agenda Bus Tour is to raise awareness of the impacts of the Greed Agenda so that people will rise up and take back the control of the government that should rightfully be in their hands and not those of the Koch Brothers and their fellow billionaires whose primary if not sole concern is increasing their profits.

Charters are the preferred method of implementing the Greed Agenda in public schools. Thus it is worth remembering that the most comprehensive study of charters, let by Margaret Raymond of the Hoover Institute at Stanford, the CREDO study, found that only 17% of charters performed better on the favored metric of standardized test scores of students than the schools from which they drew their students, while 38% performed worse.

Related to that is how some states try to manipulate the information. Thus I point you at State changed PSSA testing rules for charter schools without federal approval, a story in the Allentown Morning Call , which begins

Gov.Tom Corbett’s education chief changed the PSSA testing rules in a way that makes it easier for charter schools to meet federal benchmarks than traditional public schools.

Education Secretary Ron Tomalis’ change, made without federal approval, might have skewed the results of the 2011-12 PSSA scores to make it appear charter schools were outperforming traditional public schools, according to a Morning Call review of publicly available test score data.

Let me remind readers why people like the Koch Brothers and their allies like charter schools:

  • the ability to lock out unions
  • no tenure or job security for teachers
  • ability to make teachers work ridiculous hours
  • ability to offer low compensation for teachers
  • ability to profit off the real estate of the properties in which charters are located.

Four of the states which have been seeing aspects of the Greed Agenda applied to public schools have a strong tradition of unions: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Those behind the Greed Agenda clearly believe if they can impose that agenda upon public schools in unionized states, it will be easy to spread their Greed Agenda across the rest of the country.

I joined the Stop the Greed Agenda Bus Tour in Columbus OH. We traveled to Pittsburgh, have come back to Ohio (Cleveland) and will be traveling as well to Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri.

We are trying to raise awareness of the impact of the Greed Agenda upon this nation.

That agenda is particularly devastating to public education.

That is why as a recently retired public educator I agreed to join the bus tour.

Yes, my expenses are being picked up and I am being paid for my efforts by the NEA. That is because the NEA treats me like a professional worthy of his hire, unlike those behind the Greed Agenda who view most of us as interchangeable parts that can easily be replaced by those willing to work for less as a result of the economic desperation the Greed Agenda is helping to create for so many Americans.

Take a stand.

Commit to stopping the Greed Agenda.

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