Posted in ALEC, Article Medleys, DeVos, Public Ed, reform, Teaching Career

2017 Medley #7

Side Effects, Doing Things Right, 
Teachers as Scapegoats, The Founding Fathers, DeVos Watch, ALEC’s Tool in Indiana

SIDE EFFECT WARNING

What Works Can Hurt: Side Effects in Education

Teachers have been encouraged to individualize instruction…to differentiate. Teachers have been encouraged to group by achievement through Guided Reading, yet an Indiana standardized test requires all third graders be able to read at third grade level or remain in third grade. Another Indiana standardized test is used to rank schools and teachers. Either we accept that not all students will be at the same place at the same time…or we don’t. Either all students are to be standardized, or they’re not.

Those same standardized tests focus almost exclusively on reading and math, and schools have been pressured to follow suit – focus on reading and math. What has happened to science, health, civics and the arts?

The state of Indiana spends a large part of its budget on education. But how much of that isn’t spent on public education? How much of it is being ‘nickel and dimed’ away on charter schools, vouchers, and more, more, and more tests?

Yong Zhao reminds us of the “unintended consequences” of bandwagon-based education.

First, time is a constant. When you spend time on one task, you cannot spend the same amount on another. When a child is given extra instruction in reading, he/she cannot spend the same time on arts or music. When a school focuses only on two or three subjects, its students would not have the time to learn something else. When a school system only focuses on a few subjects such as reading and math, students won’t have time to do other and perhaps more important things.

Second, recourses are limited. When it is put into one activity, it cannot be spent on other. When school resources are devoted to the common core, other subjects become peripheral. When schools are forced to only focus on raising test scores, activities that may promote students’ long-term growth are sidelined.

Third, some educational outcomes are inherently contradictory. It is difficult for an educational system that wishes to cultivate a homogenous workforce to also expect a diverse population of individuals who are creative and entrepreneurial. Research has also shown that test scores and knowledge acquisition can come at the expense of curiosity and confidence.

Fourth, the same products may work differently for different individuals, in different contexts. Some people are allergic to penicillin. Some drugs have negative consequences when taken with alcohol. Likewise, some practices, such as direct instruction may work better for knowledge transmission, but not for long term exploration. Charter schools may favor those who have a choice (can make a choice) at the costs of those who are not able to take advantage of it.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE DOING THINGS RIGHT

Three global indexes show that U.S. public schools must be doing something right

One of my goals for this year is to help dispel the myth that public schools are failing. One of the biggest tools in the pocket of the public school deniers are international test scores. Ours are skewed by the high poverty rate in the U.S., but there’s more. We also educate everyone, and test everyone, even students with special needs.

The latest international PISA … showed that the United States is below average of 65 countries but this is not even an apple-to-apple comparison:

• The key correlation for academic success is family income.
• The USA is one of the only countries that educates EVERYONE. Most countries only educate their most affluent class.
• We do well on the PISA math comparison [and other PISA subjects] if you control for free-and reduced-price lunch, making it a better apple-to-apple comparison.

BLAMING TEACHERS FOR DYSFUNCTIONAL SOCIETY

Stop Humiliating Teachers

Here is another teacher who is tired of being the scapegoat for all the ills of society.

There’s an element of this rage at bad teachers that’s hard to talk about, and so it’s often avoided: the dismaying truth that we don’t know how to educate poor inner-city and rural kids in this country. In particular, we don’t know how to educate African-American boys, who, according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education, graduate high school at rates no better than fifty-nine per cent. Yet if students from poor families persistently fail to score well, if they fail to finish high school in sufficient numbers, and if those who graduate are unable, in many cases, to finish college, teachers alone can hardly be at fault. Neither the schools nor the teachers created the children or the society around them: the schools and the teachers must do their best with the kids they are given.

…We also have to face the real problem, which, again, is persistent poverty. If we really want to improve scores and high-school-graduation rates and college readiness and the rest, we have to commit resources to helping poor parents raise their children by providing nutrition and health services, parenting support, a supply of books, and so on. We have to commit to universal pre-K and much more. And we have to stop blaming teachers for all of the ills and injustices of American society.

THE FOUNDERS SUPPORTED PUBLIC SCHOOLS

America’s Founding Fathers Were Against School Choice

The right-wing in the US has trouble with the constitution. More than half of the voters who voted for the current president would agree to give him power to overrule judges whose rulings he didn’t like. A similar number of the President’s voters don’t think that California’s tally in the last election should count. The president himself has said things which indicate he doesn’t really understand or agree with the constitutional separation of powers or the first amendment. They praise the constitution, but don’t really know what it says – with the obvious exception of the second amendment.

Many of the founders, who are routinely praised, along with their constitution, by the American “ignoranti”, were supporters of universal education.

That’s why we have public schools – so that an educated citizenry will lead to a good government.

Our founders didn’t want a system of private schools each teaching students various things about the world coloring their minds with religious dogma. They didn’t want a system of schools run like businesses that were only concerned with pumping out students to be good cogs in the machinery of the marketplace.

No. They wanted one public system created for the good of all, paid for at public expense, and democratically governed by the taxpayers, themselves.

DEVOS WATCH

Secretary Betsy DeVos on first school visit: ‘Teachers are waiting to be told what they have to do’

Forgive Betsy DeVos her foolish comment that teachers are waiting to “be told what to do.” She doesn’t understand that public school teachers actually have some training in their field, unlike her.

I do have a question for her, however. How would you define “facilitate great teaching”?

I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more success[ful] from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.

New era of education passion, protest and politics will follow DeVos confirmation

Vouchers don’t work and drain public education systems of needed funds for services which are available to all children for the benefit of everyone.

During her contentious hearing, DeVos made clear her preference for an education system that favors choice – including virtual charter schools with dismal track records. The Obama administration also invested federal dollars in charter schools, but the $20 billion level Trump has proposed for promoting school choice is unprecedented.

Much of that money would go toward the private sector, and DeVos has also been challenged repeatedly for supporting vouchers that allow parents to use government dollars to pay for private, for-profit and religious schools, a cornerstone of Trump’s stated plan. Results for voucher programs have been questionable, according to several studies.

DeVos confirmation triggered outpouring of support for public education system

Are we better off now that DeVos has unleashed the support of the American people for real public education?

On both sides of the aisle, he said, “there has been a commitment to improvement of public education. It is only on the extreme fringes that you have had a push for whole hog privatization.”

The public outpouring of support for the nation’s public school system, if not for individual public schools, may have been one of the silver linings to emerge from the DeVos nomination.

But it is far too soon to know whether her confirmation ordeal will have any impact on DeVos’ views, and more importantly, the policies she promotes during the next four years.

Feuer, for one, is skeptical that expressions of support for public schools, expressed in such a highly politicized context, will have much positive impact. “Education in America has been subjected to so much gloom and doom rhetoric, followed by irrational exuberance,” he said. “What we need is a sustained and rational debate about what is working and what is not.”

How to Protest Against Betsy DeVos

Earlier this month I had lunch with three former colleagues, two of whom are social conservatives and probably vote that way. My guess is that they vote for the conservative option at least 90% of the time – in federal, state, and local elections. The third is an enigma who has rarely expressed a political opinion to me, unless it was specifically tied to education.

We talked about politics, since it is on everyone’s mind, and their big takeaway, to which they all agreed, was that they are against public demonstrations because of “violence.”

It’s true that some demonstrations after the election and the day of the inauguration were marred by violence, but for the most part, the demonstrations for or against (mostly the latter) the current administration have been peaceful. The consuming public has a tendency to remember violence and rioting, while forgetting the “no news” of a peaceful march. Therefore, people can remember the dozens of people who were violent during the inauguration, but quickly forget the half million women, men, and children who marched peacefully the next day, accompanied by other millions around the country…and around the world.

But don’t blame the protest for the violence. Protest, peaceable assembly, is protected in the first amendment. It’s human misbehavior that causes violence. That is not to say that violence and riots are never justified. Indeed, Martin Luther King Jr., who preached non-violence throughout the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, said, “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Is violence called for right now? I don’t think so, but there are obviously some people who disagree with me. But the right of the people peaceably to assemble must not be prohibited.

I have protested in the past and I will not shrink away from protesting in the future. I see my writing as protesting.

I applaud those who rally at the local, state and national levels on the issues that matter most to their schools and to America.

A silver-lining to the DeVos appointment is that more people than ever before are paying attention to the possible loss of public education.

I also know that protesting isn’t always pretty. But I think we need to better plan how to be strategically tough without giving the other side the moral high ground that can be used against us.

In addition, as drowning professionals, trying to come up for air, it might help to grab onto each other to form a buoy that takes us to the top.

Organizing and pulling together in large numbers to peacefully protest can be very effective.

ALEC’S TOOL IN INDIANA

Who’s who in Indiana education: Rep. Bob Behning

Bob Behning, the chair of the Indiana General Assembly’s House Committee on Education has been at the forefront of the war against public schools. His actions show that he hates public education, hates public school teachers, hates teachers unions, and will stop at nothing to privatize public education.

Behning came in to the House as a florist from an area near Indianapolis. His ties to education privatizers has given him more career opportunities, however. He became a lobbyist for a testing company, and now works for his privatizer friends at Marion University…in the “educators college” no less. Qualifications anyone?

Vitals: Republican representing District 91, covering parts of Marion and Hendricks counties. So far, has served 25 years in the legislature. Formerly the owner of a local florist, Behning now is the director of external affairs for the educators college at the private Marian University.

…Behning has held leadership positions with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative not-for-profit lobby group that pairs legislators and business owners together to write model legislation. ALEC’s education legislation tends to advocate for vouchers, charter schools and other methods of school choice. Because Behning has worked closely with ALEC, as well as other school reform groups, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Behning an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Behning has supported the new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, particularly because of her advocacy for increasing access to charter schools and vouchers.

Who supports him: Over the course of the past few elections, Behning has received campaign contributions from Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; Students First, another pro-reform lobbying group created by former head of D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee; Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country; and Bennett’s campaign.

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Posted in Choice, DeVos, IN Gen.Assembly, Michigan, poverty, Public Ed, vouchers

2017 Medley #6

Poverty, Privatization: Vouchers and Choice, Public Education 101 for Betsy DeVos

POVERTY

The Real Crisis in Education:An Open Letter to the Department of Education

Public education in America is not failing. What is failing is our inability or unwillingness to relieve poverty. Children who live in poverty have lower achievement. This isn’t new information. Jonathan Kozol has been sounding the alarm since 1967. We should be ashamed that so many American children live in poverty.

It’s time for politicians to focus on reducing poverty and let the teachers who work with actual students help decide what is best for their students.

We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis.

Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it.

We must not go further down this rabbit hole. The future of our educational system, and the future of our children, is at stake. No one who has not worked in the sector of public education should be making decisions about our school system without careful consideration of the insights of those who will be directly impacted by those decisions.

When we adjust for poverty, American students score high on international tests. Here we see how American students who are educated in schools with less than 10% students in poverty, compare to countries with less than 10% of their students who live in poverty.

Report: School Funding Increases Lag For Low-Income Students

Somehow we have forgotten that children who come to school from high poverty homes need more resources to help them learn, not fewer. They need counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists. They need well trained teachers, and support staff trained in remediation techniques. They need health care and an environment free from toxins like lead. They need pre-schools and summer programs.

It’s time we stop providing more for wealthy students than poor students. All our children need a fully funded, well staffed, and well resourced school.

Recent changes to Indiana’s school funding formula increased per-pupil funding across the state. At the same time it slashed special funding formerly given to students deemed at-risk, including students living in poverty, English-language learners and those who qualified for textbook assistance.

So, in certain districts with low populations of at-risk students, Sugimoto found, that although enrollment declined, the districts received an overall bump in funding per student. He says, in some cases, districts with fewer students saw their overall still increase.

“Those would have been districts that had very modest enrollment declines,” says Suigimoto, in an interview. “The increase in funding would have certainly made up for that.

Yet, overall funding across the state still lags behind pre-2009 rates, when adjusted for inflation.

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

Voucher programs currently in force in the U.S. have not helped children’s achievement, but they have reduced funds for an already cash strapped (not “flush with cash”) public schools. The “status quo” in 2117 America is the reduction of funds for public schools, increased test and punish policies, and a growing trend towards charter schools and vouchers for religious and private schools.

Instead of letting “the money follow the child” we ought to be “following the money” to see who is benefiting from the expansion of privatization schemes.

Study confirms voucher programs discriminate

Research led by an Indiana University professor confirms what school voucher critics have long argued: Voucher programs receive public funding yet discriminate on the basis of religion, disability status, sexual orientation and possibly other factors.

The finding is especially timely as President Donald Trump and his designee to serve as secretary of education, Michigan school-choice activist Betsy DeVos, have indicated they will use federal clout and money to push states to expand voucher programs.

Voucher programs go beyond what court approved

[Voucher programs] arguably run afoul of the establishment clause – what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the wall of separation between church and state. If not that, the widespread religious discrimination should raise concerns about the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. And some voucher schools appear to discriminate against special-needs students, which could raise issues with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS–INDIANA

The Indiana General Assembly, not satisfied with one of the largest voucher programs in the nation, continues to come up with new ways to divert funds from public education to private pockets.

Note that Indiana’s voucher plan has not helped Indiana’s school achievement. Competition hasn’t resulted in better education for everyone…just inadequately funded public schools which still seem to out-perform privatized education options.

Turn off the tap: Privatization effort too big a drain on schools

Broad and costly expansions of the so-called Choice Scholarship program are found in multiple bills, including Senate Bill 534, which will be heard by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee this afternoon.

SB 534 carries a price tag of as much as $206 million a year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Repackaged from last year’s unsuccessful “Educational Savings Accounts” to “Special Education Scholarship Accounts,” the intent is the same: Give parents an allotment of tax dollars to spend however they might choose. A companion bill in the House, HB 1591, carries an even more audacious price tag of as much as $366 million a year.

Latest voucher gimmick: Education Savings Accounts

Give Indiana Republican legislators points for resourcefulness. They keep finding new ways to undermine public schools by expanding the state’s school voucher program. The latest, and arguably the most egregious, is the creation of Education Savings Accounts, state-funded accounts to pay for private schooling and other expenses.

Senate Bill 534, scheduled to be considered today by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, would create ESAs for the families of special-needs students who choose not to attend public school and don’t receive a private-school voucher.

The state would fund the ESAs with money that would otherwise go to the public schools where the students would be eligible to enroll — typically about $6,000 per student but potentially quite a bit more for some special-needs students. Then the students’ families could decide where to spend the money: private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, and other services from providers approved by the State Board of Education.

How Can Schools Be Voucherized? Let Us Count the Ways… and the Consequences

Here is Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, in a recent column commenting on what vouchers do to public school funding. This time the example is Mike Pence’s home state, Indiana: “Vouchers drain state tax dollars, creating deficits, or the need for tax increases. When Indiana started its voucher program, it claimed it would save taxpayers money. Not only did that not happen, the state’s education budget is now in deficit, and the millions shelled out for vouchers grows each year. Last year, vouchers cost the taxpayers of Indiana $131.5 million as caps and income levels were raised. Indiana now gives vouchers to families with incomes as high as $90,000 and to students who never attended a public school.” Burris adds that while the program was passed, “promising that it would help poor and lower-middle class families find schools they like for their children… as it turned out, five years after it began, more than half of the state’s voucher recipients have never attended Indiana public schools and many vouchers are going to wealthier families, those earning up to $90,000 for a household of four.”

PRIVATIZATION: CHOICE

School Choice: A Visit to the For-Profit Edu-Mall

PUBLIC EDUCATION 101 FOR BETSY DEVOS

Betsy DeVos, the newly confirmed Secretary of Education for the United States, has assumed control over the office charged with overseeing America’s system of public education. She has no experience in public schools: not as a teacher or educator, parent, or even a student. She is arguably the least qualified person to ever hold the office, with the possible exception of Bill Bennett (who also had minimal encounters with public education, but he at least earned his Ph.D. in political philosophy from a public university).

As a public service, here are a couple of things which could serve to educate Secretary DeVos about public schools…including an excerpt from the Michigan Constitution about public education.

Educating Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos does not understand what it is like to teach in any school let alone poor public schools. She does not understand what the lives of real teachers and students are like…

Here’s what’s hard. I have added a few new points:

  • Watching your school district throw money at unproven technology when basic needs are your students not met.
  • Being dismissed as a teacher, when you are the only professional in the room who understands children and how they learn.
  • Being dismissed as a parent, when you understand your child best.
  • Being an over tested kindergartner, not getting any recess, and being made to feel you are a failure before you get started in your schooling.
  • Coming to school hungry and/or sick, or having an untreated toothache.
  • Sending your child to a school that has no school nurse.
  • Working on a day-to-day basis with students who come from abject poverty, who face all the terrible problems that come with that.
  • Not having a home.
  • Being a child with disabilities and being afraid of a high-stakes test (or several) you don’t understand and feeling like a failure!
  • Having such a large class with so many diverse students you know it will be difficult to teach.
  • Not having enough resources and materials to teach effectively.

Why We Still Need Public Schools

We still need public schools…

The mission of public education is sixfold.

1. To provide universal access to free education
2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children
3. To unify a diverse population
4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society
5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient
6. To improve social conditions

That mission has been accepted by the states and most have provisions for public schools in their constitutions. The constitution of Michigan, for example, provides for free, universal, public education.

§ 2 Free public elementary and secondary schools; discrimination.
Sec. 2. The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.

The constitution also provides for universities, public libraries, and a popularly elected state board of education. In 1970 the state decided to prohibit private schools and private school students from using public tax money.

No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students.

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Posted in Article Medleys, Holcomb, Lead, Pence

2017 Medley #5: Lead – Just a Few IQ Points

Poisoned Futures

FLINT, MICHIGAN, Part 1

Flint Weighs Scope of Harm to Children Caused by Lead in Water

Emails released by the office of Gov. Rick Snyder last week referred to a resident who said she was told by a state nurse in January 2015, regarding her son’s elevated blood lead level, “It is just a few IQ points. … It is not the end of the world.” Dr. Hanna-Attisha and others who have studied lead poisoning have a sharply different view of lead exposure, for which there is no cure. “If you were going to put something in a population to keep them down for generations to come, it would be lead,” Dr. Hanna-Attisha said. [emphasis added]

OVERCOMING THE EFFECTS OF LEAD POISONING

My last post, The Common Knowledge is Wrong, was my attempt to defend public education in America. I maintain that public education is not failing. What is failing is our inability and/or unwillingness to take on the problems facing our children and their schools: a high rate of child poverty, inequitable resources in schools serving high-poverty students, and policy makers who choose to deflect their responsibility thereby dumping the problem on public schools. I wrote,

We don’t exclude economically disadvantaged students from our schools. We don’t exclude students with special needs from our schools. We don’t exclude students with behavioral challenges. America’s public schools, unlike private and privately run schools, must accept everyone.

Instead of blaming schools for societal problems…instead of privatizing…we ought to spend our time, energy, and resources on improving the schools we have. All of us, politicians included, should accept responsibility for the national shame that is our high child poverty rate.

It’s well known that poverty has an impact on student achievement. My contention in the above referenced post is that teachers and schools can’t overcome the affects of poverty in their students without additional help. What is the impact of poverty on students? In We Have a Poverty Crisis in Education on the Science of Learning Blog, Kristina Birdsong explains…

Students living in poverty struggle in ways most others do not. They face a plethora of issues, including but not limited to the following:

  • Increased risk for behavioral, socioemotional, and physical health problems
  • Decreased concentration and memory
  • Chaotic home environment
  • Higher rates of suspension, expulsion, absenteeism, and drop out
  • Poor hygiene and malnutrition
  • Lack of preparedness for school

Out-of-school factors like those listed by David C Berliner in his research study, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, have a definite and powerful impact on student achievement. One of the out-of-school factors Berliner discusses is that of environmental pollutants. Of the six issues listed above in Birdsong’s article, the first two can be directly caused by lead poisoning. The other four can be indirect results of lead poisoning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that there is no safe blood lead level and the effects of lead poisoning are permanent.

…there is no safe blood lead level and the effects of lead poisoning are permanent.

NO SAFE LEVEL

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Lead

No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.

Educational Interventions for Children Affected by Lead (CDC)

Lead is a developmental neurotoxicant, and high blood lead levels (HBLLs) in young children can impair intellectual functioning and cause behavioral problems that last a lifetime. Primary prevention of HBLLs remains a national priority and is the only effective way to prevent the neurodevelopmental and behavioral abnormalities associated with lead exposure. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of children already have experienced blood lead levels known to impair academic performance.

Lead can cause brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, hearing and speech problems, and thus, lowered school achievement. Dealing with children who have lowered ability, behavioral difficulties, or attention problems caused by lead is something schools have some experience with, but interventions can be expensive. The costs must be shared by the communities, states, and the federal government.

EAST CHICAGO, INDIANA

I’m not going to reproduce the entire history of the rise and fall of East Chicago’s industry and the subsequent discovery that the land in some areas of the city were contaminated. You can see an excellent timeline with details at Timeline: Timeline: History of the USS Lead Superfund site in E.C.

The election of Mike Pence as Vice-President of the United States has had an unintended benefit for the residents of East Chicago. When lead and arsenic contamination was found in the soil in areas around East Chicago, Pence did as little as he could to help the residents. Perhaps he thought because the contamination was in a high poverty area no one would notice. Perhaps he didn’t care because East Chicago and the surrounding urban area (the second largest metro area in the state) usually votes Democratic. In any case, once Pence left office, the new governor, Eric Holcomb, lost little time in getting help for the people.

Thank you, Governor Holcomb

Holcomb grants East Chicago disaster request Pence denied

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Thursday he will grant a disaster declaration for East Chicago to help address issues at the U.S.S. Lead Superfund site – a request Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor, denied.

Mayor Anthony Copeland had previously requested a disaster declaration from Pence, but it was denied in December. Holcomb agreed to increase state assistance to the city, according to the governor’s office, and help residents of the Calumet neighborhood affected by lead and arsenic contamination.

Whether the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency will be of any assistance isn’t yet known. The point is, however, that the children of East Chicago, like those in Flint, Michigan, have already been damaged.

FLINT, MICHIGAN, Part 2

State of Michigan to stop subsidizing Flint water bills for water they cannot drink

The state attorney says that the water in Flint is safe now, but people shouldn’t drink it. What gall!

Governor Snyder and his cronies who have punished the citizens of Flint for the last two years ought to be punished themselves. Here’s an idea. Move the Governor’s Mansion, and the State Offices to Flint so they will have to live under the same conditions as the residents.

The state has decided that it will no longer help its people by subsidizing water bills…

“Unfiltered Flint water is safe, just don’t drink it, says state attorney”. That was the headline for a recent MLive.com article. In the article, the state attorney says Flint’s drinking water is “safe” but, “We are still recommending residents don’t drink unfiltered water.”

Despite this fact, the state of Michigan announced this week that it will no longer be subsidizing the water bills for Flint residents who cannot drink the water they are paying for…

…in the city with the highest water rates, and arguably the worst water quality, in the country.

Flint water rates highest in country, study claims

A study released Tuesday, Feb. 16, by Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch showed Flint residents were being charged more for water than any other customers in the nation’s 500 largest community water systems.

HERE, THERE, AND EVERYWHERE

New York Changes How It Tests for Lead in Schools’ Water, and Finds More Metal

And it continues…

When experts said last year that New York City’s method of testing water in public schools for lead could hide dangerously high levels of the metal, officials at first dismissed the concerns. They insisted that the city’s practice of running the water for two hours the night before taking samples would not distort results.

Still, the city changed its protocol, and the results from a new round of tests indicate that the experts were right.

So far, the latest tests have found nine times as many water outlets — kitchen sinks, water fountains, classroom faucets or other sources — with lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion as last year’s tests found, according to a report released by the state health department last week.

Fort Worth ISD still finding high levels of lead in school drinking water

Three months after Fort Worth ISD announced it would be replacing hundreds of old drinking fountains due to high levels of lead found in school drinking water, a FOX 4 Investigation has uncovered that the problem is more widespread and will cost more money to fix than first believed.

There is no federal, state or local mandate requiring schools to test their drinking water. Fort Worth ISD voluntarily began testing a few schools in June after the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan made national headlines.

Schools around the country find lead in water, with no easy answers

In Portland, Ore., furious parents are demanding the superintendent’s resignation after the state’s largest public school district failed to notify them promptly about elevated lead levels detected at taps and fountains.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) has ordered lead testing at every public school in the state after dozens of schools in Newark and elsewhere were found to have lead-contaminated water supplies.

TEACHER EVALUATION

Will policy makers continue to blame teachers, teachers unions, or lazy students for low student achievement?

Ask your legislator…

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Posted in DeVos, Duncan, Politicians, poverty

The Common Knowledge is Wrong

NATIONAL “REFORM” IS BIPARTISAN

Here in Indiana we’re used to blaming Republicans for the “reformist” changes to public education – changes which are ongoing! Changes which are the not-so-new status quo.

It is the Republicans who, over the last decade, have authored and expanded the voucher and charter programs which divert funds from public schools to private pockets. It is the Republicans who still push to continue the test and punish policies of the Bush II and Obama administrations. It is the Republicans who worked hard to deprofessionalize the teaching profession by reducing collective bargaining options, evaluating teachers using student test scores, allowing off-the-street college grads to start teaching with no pedagogical training, and eliminating the option to pay higher salaries to teachers with more experience and training (In what other profession is experience a detriment to salary increases?).

Lest we forget, however, the Democrats nationwide have not necessarily been friends to public education. Arne Duncan did his best to coerce states into expanding charter schools while no research existed to suggest any advantage. He was not above threatening states who didn’t accept the Common Core, expand charters, or continue test and punish policies.

So, nationally, the “reforms” have come from bipartisan sources. Sometimes Republicans. Sometimes Democrats. What is it about public education that makes it a target of political tampering, obstruction, and destruction? The answer is power…and most importantly, money.

Control over public education is, by definition, political. Public education is funded with public money which needs public oversight – a political activity. There is also the lure of billions of dollars of taxpayer money spent on public education every year. Privatizers of all political stripes want to get their hands on that money and they are using political means to get it. One important way has been to promote the myth that America’s public education system is “broken” and schools are “failing.”

TALKATHON

From noon on February 6th to noon on February 7th the Democrats in the U.S. Senate staged a “talkathon” against the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education – with the occasional interruption by a Republican Senator to speak in her favor. The event was, of course, unsuccessful, and we’re now faced with the least prepared U.S. Secretary of Education since the department was created in 1980, and possibly since the creation of the Office of Education in 1867.

I listened to the “talkathon” for several hours on February 6th, and I heard Democrats decrying the inexperience, conflicts of interest, and general unpreparedness of DeVos…along with lofty and passionate calls to unite to save our public schools.

I agreed with most of what they said, but there were some who used the same arguments from the Bush/Cheney and Duncan/Obama privatization agenda. It isn’t clear from their speeches (Full Disclosure: I have not listened to or read all of them) whether they are against closing schools and replacing them with charters or not. Still, there were examples of disinformation which perpetuated the myth of “failing” schools.

One example came from Colorado Senator Michael F. Bennet who quoted these statistics…

Congressional Record – Senate, February 6, 2017, p.S725

As a nation, we are falling behind the rest of the world…American 15-year-olds score lower than their peers in 14 countries in reading, 36 countries in math, and 18 in science.

Those who have studied the PISA scores, which is the “score” he is referring to, should understand that it’s America’s greater number of students who live in poverty that has skewed our international scores lower than those of other OECD nations.

This isn’t anything new, by the way, so we’re not “falling behind.” American students’ test scores have always been middling, since the international tests were begun in the 1960s.

The U.S. child poverty rate of over 20% compares unfavorably to most other advanced nations in the world (Finland, for example, has a child poverty rate of 5%). The fact that children in poverty don’t achieve as high as their wealthier peers puts the U.S. at a disadvantage when comparing test scores. Our average test scores are lower because within that average is a larger number of scores from students who live in poverty.

Steven Krashen explains [with my emphasis]…

The secretary of education’s first priority

Research consistently confirms that low academic achievement is the result of poverty. In some urban areas, the child poverty level is 80% (the national average is an unacceptable 21%; in high-scoring Finland it is 5%).

When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American students’ performance on international tests is near the top of the world. This shows that low achievement is not due to poor teaching, low standards, or unions. The major cause is poverty.

Poverty means food deprivation, insufficient medical care, and little access to reading material; each of these has a strong negative impact on school performance. The best teaching in the world will not help if children are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read.

Krashen kindly cites research for his statements – See here. Check out his blog for dozens of other posts with similar conclusions and loads of research citations.

The test scores of our wealthier students show that American schools are not failing and that high rates of child poverty are causing our scores to be unremarkable. Of course there are some teachers, administrators, and schools who could do a better job of reaching their students, but on the whole, our schools do well. However, politicians, including Democrats, have a hard time assuming their share of the responsibility for the shamefully high child poverty in our nation. It’s easier to talk about “failing” schools and “bad” teachers…it’s easier to blame the teachers unions and even college teacher preparation programs…than to face the fact that our lowest performing schools are often under-resourced and under-supported. It’s easier to blame schools and teachers than share any responsibility for schools filled with our most economically challenged children who come to school with significant disadvantages.

THE COMMON KNOWLEDGE IS WRONG

Senator Bennet is not the only one, of course, and it’s even possible that his reference to test scores was only to make a political point and he actually understands that poverty plays a significant role in student achievement. But his quote reinforces the idea that American schools are “failing.” It’s common knowledge.

Well, the common knowledge is wrong.

Steven Singer, blogger at gadflyonthewallblog, recently posted an article about this subject (I used a quote from his article in a previous post) which also ran on the Huffington Post.

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

Let me repeat that in no uncertain terms – America’s public schools are NOT failing. They are among the best in the world. Really!

Here’s why: the United States educates everyone. Most other countries do not.

We have made a commitment to every single child regardless of what their parents can afford to pay, regardless of their access to transportation, regardless of whether they can afford uniforms, lunch or even if they have a home. Heck! We even provide education to children who are here illegally.

That can’t be said of many countries with which we’re often compared – especially countries comparable to the U.S. in size or diversity. So from the get-go, we have an advantage over most of the world.

We define education differently. Though our laws are woefully backward, in practice we look at it as a right, not a privilege. And for a full 13 years (counting kindergarten) it’s a right for every child, not just some.

But that’s not all! We also provide some of the highest quality education you can get in the world! We teach more, help more, achieve more and yet we are criticized more than any system in any country in the world.

We don’t exclude economically disadvantaged students from our schools. We don’t exclude students with special needs from our schools. We don’t exclude students with behavioral challenges [added later, h/t Joe V]. America’s public schools, unlike private and privately run schools, must accept everyone.

Instead of blaming schools for societal problems…instead of privatizing…we ought to spend our time, energy, and resources on improving the schools we have. All of us, politicians included, should accept responsibility for the national shame that is our high child poverty rate.

The challenge that faces us is to teach our fellow citizens the truth. The truth is that our schools have not failed, our teachers are not incompetent, teachers unions are not responsible for low achievement, and test scores should not define the success or failure of a child or a school.

With the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education, that challenge just got a lot harder.

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Posted in Choice, DeVos, Privatization, Public Ed, Quotes, reform, Science, US DOE, vouchers

Random Quotes – February 2017

ON DEVOS

A More Qualified Secretary of Education

DeVos is just the latest, most extreme example at the end of a long line of woefully ignorant Secretaries of Education.

From me at Live Long and Prosper

…knowing anything about K-12 public education has rarely, if ever, been a requirement for the job of U.S. Secretary of Education.

Why then, is it a surprise that President-elect Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, knows nothing about K-12 public education?

Don’t Confirm Betsy DeVos

From John Merrow at The Merrow Report

I have concluded that Ms. DeVos is stunningly unqualified to serve as United States Secretary of Education. In her testimony and her subsequent letter, she demonstrated her unfamiliarity with IDEA and the federal commitment to special needs children. Moreover, both her testimony and her track record demonstrate an ideologue’s zeal for a single-minded approach to education. Neither her words nor her deeds show a commitment to the concept of public education for all children or any understanding of the importance of well-educated citizenry to our economic security and our democratic society.

Two former Secretaries of Education. They didn’t know anything either.

THE STATUS QUO

Don’t Fall For The “Status Quo” Fallacy Concerning Public Education

“Reformers” have been denouncing the “status quo” for years, but at least since NCLB, and probably earlier, the “status quo” has been the reformist strategy of test and punish.

From Stu Egan at Caffeinated Rage

What I would consider the “status quo” is the commitment to flux and change to the variables that measure student achievement and school success by people outside of the actual education process. And in that regard, I do agree that the status quo should change.

“FAILING” SCHOOLS

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

American public schools are not failing.

From Steven Singer at GadflyonthewallBlog

As ever, far right politicians on both sides of the aisle, whether they be Democratic Neoliberals or Republican Tea Partiers, are using falsehoods about our public schools to sell an alternative. They say our public schools are beyond saving and that we need to privatize. They call it school choice but it’s really just an attempt to destroy the system that has so much going for it.

We should strengthen public education not undermine it. We should roll up our sleeves and fix the real problems we have, not invent fake ones.

IGNORANCE IS DANGEROUS

Are the Ignorant too Ignorant to know they’re Ignorant?

“True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know” – Confucius

From Rob Miller at View from the Edge

…Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to us. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can all be confidently ignorant about a wide range of topics. Yet, it is often difficult to fathom just how close and how pervasive these unknowns are, precisely because they are invisible to us.

As Dunning writes:”People are destined not to know where the solid land of their knowledge ends and the slippery shores of their ignorance begins.”

PRIVATIZATION: CHOICE

School Choice Week’s Alternative Facts

Millions of public dollars are diverted from public schools to corporate and religious schools using vouchers creating a two-tiered education system.  Taxes are meant to be used for the public good…parks, libraries, roads, first-responder services, and public schools.

From Jersey Jazzman

…I’m willing to have a conversation about school vouchers. There might be some positive effects from private school enrollment that aren’t found in test scores. But we have to weigh those against the harm vouchers programs might do to public schools, particularly since there’s at least some evidence that voucher students would have attended private schools even without taxpayer funds — which means vouchers create an extra financial burden on the system. And that money’s got to come from somewhere…

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

Nevada’s Voucher Fail

The same is true for Indiana. The legislature and governor need to quit draining money from public education for corporate profit and religious advantage and return it to the system of “Common Schools” – public schools.

ARTICLE 8. Education Section 1. Common school system: Knowledge and learning, general diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it should be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual scientific, and agricultural improvement; and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall without charge, and equally open to all.” – Indiana Constitution

From Peter Greene at Curmudgucation

In the meantime, if Nevada really wants to get out of 51st place, their leaders might consider focusing on how to actually help schools be better instead of trying to figure out ways that education tax dollars can be used to enrich businesses and absolve the state of any responsibility for its school system.

THE GOOD THING ABOUT SCIENCE IS…

The Week in Quotes (Jan. 29 – Feb. 4)

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

From Kathy Miller, President of Texas Freedom Network

Teachers are practically begging the board to stop forcing them to waste classroom time on junk science standards that are based mostly on the personal agendas of board members themselves, not sound science. But these politicians just can’t seem to stop themselves from making teachers’ jobs harder.

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Posted in Achievement Gap, Article Medleys, Competition, DeVos, Equity, Jonathan Kozol, Lead, poverty, Privatization, Public Ed

2017 Medley #4

Privatization, DeVos,
Public Education: A Common Good,
Poverty, Inequity, Achievement Gaps,
Lead, Competition, Words Matter

PRIVATIZATION

The dangerous rise of privatization and corporate education reform

The passage below is from an excellent post about the “fundamental elements” of the privatization movement.

When we first started fighting the corporate “reformers” in Indiana we were told that, since public schools were “failing” (NOTE: they’re not…see below, U.S. Public Schools: Success), “reform” was necessary in order to help students achieve at a higher level. Providing money to send children to private schools would help those students “stuck” in “failing” schools and give them the opportunity to achieve more.

Once it became clear that privatized schools (charters or private schools) weren’t better at raising student achievement than real public schools, the achievement of children no longer was a legitimate argument for defunding and privatizing public education. Now, the Indiana “reformers” have switched their argument to “choice” for “choice’s” sake. The money should follow the child and parents have complete control of public funds used to send their children to whatever school they choose. This means, of course, that tax money is spent with no public oversight and is no more rational than a citizen “choosing” to use tax money to fund a trip to the bookstore instead of supporting funding of the public library.

It’s also true that in many cases, attendance at a particular privately run school is the school’s choice rather than the parent’s. “Is your child expensive to educate? Sorry we’re not equipped to handle his needs.” “Does your child need special education services? Sorry, we don’t have the facilities to deal with her.” “Are there unaddressed behavior problems getting in the way of your child’s education? You’ll have to take your child to another school until he can behave himself.”

The point of school “reform” has never been about student achievement. It’s about segregation and moving tax money into the hands of private corporations and religious organizations.

The charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform movement are making unprecedented gains in their effort to privatize public education in the United States.

With Betsy DeVos on the verge of becoming the United States Secretary of Education and President Donald Trump promising to divert $20 billion in federal funding from public schools to privatization through school choice programs, the movement to undermine public education must be deliriously excited about their prospects over the next four years.

Of course, the proponents of corporate education reform have been riding high for more than two decades thanks to the policies and politics of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of whom used their time in office to promote charter schools and the broader corporate reform agenda.

AS LONG AS WE’RE TALKING ABOUT DEVOS

Here’s How Much Betsy DeVos And Her Family Paid To Back GOP Senators Who Will Support Her

How much did Betsy DeVos spend to buy your senator’s vote?

THE COMMON GOOD

Universal Public Education and the Common Good

Jan Resseger, in her blog, quotes Jonathan Kozol about public education…

“Slice it any way you want. Argue, as we must, that every family ought to have the right to make whatever choice they like in the interests of their child, no matter what damage it may do to other people’s children. As an individual decision, it’s absolutely human; but setting up this kind of competition, in which parents with the greatest social capital are encouraged to abandon their most vulnerable neighbors, is rotten social policy. What this represents is a state supported shriveling of civic virtue, a narrowing of moral obligation to the smallest possible parameters. It isn’t good for Massachusetts, and it’s not good for democracy.”

…and William Barber

In the United States, expanding opportunity for marginalized populations of students in our so-called universal education system has involved two centuries of political struggle —securing admittance and equal opportunity for girls, for American Indians, for African American children of former slaves, for immigrant students, and for disabled students—many of them formerly institutionalized. In the words of the Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, “We’ve come too far to go back now.”

See also Vote ‘no’ on charter schools by Jonathan Kozol

POVERTY: NEEDED SUPPORT ABSENT

Priorities In a School System Where Nearly Half of Students Live in Poverty

Technology is an important part of public education, and children from high poverty backgrounds need the benefits of technology just as much as wealthy children, but they also need good teachers, small classes sizes, support services (nurses, social workers, etc), a well-rounded curriculum, quality facilities, well-stocked school libraries, and a host of other social and material benefits which the wealthy insist upon for their own children (See The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve).

We spend millions of dollars on education every year, but it’s still not a priority. States are scrambling to find the money to support their schools, but the political winds are blowing in the “no more taxes” direction. We don’t want to pay taxes to benefit someone else’s children. Our current plan is to move towards privatization, thinking that some private corporation will pay for educating our children not realizing that the price for privatization is too high.

In its massive diversion of funds towards technology, the proposed Operating Budget of Baltimore County Public Schools does not address the great need of all students for more support staff, and subjects the existing School support staff to ever more crushing workloads.

INEQUITY

Stopping a Disastrous Cycle

To be involved in public education is to be aware of the disparities and inequities in the nation’s schools. Instead of providing more resources where they are needed, American public schools too often provide fewer resources where more are needed. This is because the locations where more resources are needed are, by definition, those places where fewer resources exist. Until we change from a society which provides more for children of the wealthy than children of the poor, our “achievement gap” will remain.

There’s a telling question in this Kappa Delta Pi article. “…why do we send our children into schools every day with…unsafe surroundings, lack of necessary materials and resources, and a staff without the specialities needed…?”

The answer, of course, is that we, as a nation, don’t consider poor kids “ours.” Poor kids are “theirs.” “Ours” vs. “theirs” is why the US is one of three advanced nations to provide fewer resources to poor students than to wealthy students. Americans haven’t learned yet that there is a cost for providing less for some students than others – a cost of continued poverty and the need for welfare, higher rates of incarceration, and more social stratification.

“Ours” vs. “theirs” is the basis for the entire privatization movement. It’s reasonable for every parent to want what is best for their own child, but the “competition theory” which pits private and privately run schools against public schools guarantees that there will be winners and losers. The goal for Americans should be to emulate the Finns and make what is “best for my child” the same for all children. Eliminating “losers” by providing adequate resources won’t hurt the “winners” and it will provide society with a larger pool of productive and participating citizens.

Imagine going into the hospital to have your tonsils removed and the operating room is filthy, the doctor is using decades-old instruments, and there are no nurses available to assist.

Most of us would turn around and run.

So, why do we send our children into schools every day with the same conditions—unsafe surroundings, lack of necessary materials and resources, and a staff without the specialties needed to address critical social-emotional issues that stand in the way of academic success?

Sadly, these students can’t turn around and run away, or at least not until they get older and drop out.

POVERTY: ACHIEVEMENT GAP

FACT – Hunger is a major contributing factor to the Education Achievement Gap.

Instead of focusing on ways to deprive public schools of the resources they need and transfer tax dollars to private corporations, our leaders’ attention ought to be directed to ending the high rate of child poverty in the U.S.

The evidence is overwhelming that the lack of sufficient food undermines an individual’s ability to function and it has an especially devastating impact on children.

And hunger is a very real problem in this country, especially when it comes to a significant number of the nation’s children.

POVERTY: LEAD

House GOP quietly closes investigation into Flint water crisis

The governor’s policies have poisoned thousands of children. The children of Flint – and thousands of other children around the country – are being thrown away because we can’t afford to clean up our water and neighborhoods.

Here’s a plan for Bill Gates, the Walton Family, Eli Broad or any other billionaire who wants to spend money on education…invest your money in cleaning up lead poisoning instead of privatizing public education…you’ll get better results.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, senior Democrat on the oversight panel, said he wants Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to produce key Flint-related documents within 30 days. Cummings said Snyder and his administration have obstructed the committee’s investigation into the Flint crisis for a year, refusing to provide — or even search for — key documents.

Snyder’s intransigence has thwarted committee efforts to answer critical questions about what he knew as the crisis unfolded and why he didn’t act sooner to fix Flint’s water problem, Cummings said.

“Requiring Governor Snyder to finally comply with the committee’s request will allow us to complete our investigation and offer concrete findings and recommendations to help prevent a catastrophe like this from happening again,” Cummings wrote to Chaffetz. “In contrast, allowing Governor Snyder to flout the committee’s authority will deny the people of Flint the answers they deserve.”

U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS: SUCCESS

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

It’s common knowledge that America’s public schools are failing. Common knowledge is wrong.

As ever, far right politicians on both sides of the aisle, whether they be Democratic Neoliberals or Republican Tea Partiers, are using falsehoods about our public schools to sell an alternative. They say our public schools are beyond saving and that we need to privatize. They call it school choice but it’s really just an attempt to destroy the system that has so much going for it.

We should strengthen public education not undermine it. We should roll up our sleeves and fix the real problems we have, not invent fake ones.

COMPETITION

Competition vs. Quality

Peter Greene provides us with a beautiful metaphor for our national garden of children…

The goal of public education is excellence for everyone, but competition produces excellence for only a few, and sometimes not even that. It’s a lousy metaphorical framework for education. Better, say, to talk about a garden on which we focus the full resources of the community to plant and water and tend living things to grow and mature without worrying about which one is tallest, sweetest or most vibrantly colored, or how we could best deprive one flower of water so that another can win a greenery contest. Education is not a race, and competition will not improve it.

WORDS MATTER

Five Strategies for Motivating the Student Who was Retained Last Year

I very much want to believe that the author of this article didn’t mean for it to sound the way it did. I want to believe that she doesn’t consider a child with special needs (identified or not) a burden. I want to believe that she doesn’t consider children who struggle an onerous responsibility. I want to believe that she just made a poor choice of words when she said that a teacher is “saddled” with a child who is retained in grade.

Saddle, according to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, has as one of its meanings: to place under a burden or encumbrance.

No child, especially those who have special learning needs, should be made to feel like they are a burden to adults whose job it is to educate them.

For my comments on retention in grade as a method of remediation, see Retention.

Have you ever been saddled with a student who failed the previous year in your subject and found that they were either just as motivated or less motivated than the year before? Yeah. Me too. I took some time to research some strategies that will help us motivate those students who just didn’t make it the year before and got retained. These strategies are geared toward students who failed due to lack of work ethic, not lack of ability. That’s an article for another day!

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Posted in Immigrants, Newbery, Personal History, Racism, Trump

Inside Out & Back Again: We’re All Immigrants

A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS

We’re all immigrants to North America. If you go back through your ancestry far enough all of us originated in Africa. Early humans are entirely African. Humans living in the western hemisphere sprung from groups who migrated from Africa.

More recently, however, Europeans traveled west across the Atlantic and settled in the western hemisphere, bringing their families with them. The people who were already here, the Native Americans/First People, were in the way of the Europeans, and were moved, subjugated, or eliminated. The United States was founded by Europeans on a land they occupied as conquerers along with slaves brought from Africa. The first census, in 1790, claimed nearly 4 million including almost 700,000 slaves. First People weren’t counted.

Immigration to the United States of America started with its founding and continues to this day.

SOME FAMILY HISTORY: WRETCHED REFUSE

My family came to America from Eastern Europe…from what was then Czarist Russia (now Latvia and Lithuania). Three of my four grandparents arrived here in 1905-06 during a large migration of Jews from Russia. The fourth grandparent, my maternal grandmother, was born in the U.S. to parents who emigrated from the same area a few years earlier.

Ellis Island Immigration Museum, with the Statue of Liberty in the background

They came through Ellis Island, and were welcomed into New York harbor by the Statue of Liberty, dedicated in October of 1886 – her raised lamp lighting the way to freedom. At her base are the words of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

My grandparents left Russia because the economic, political, and social strain of a war with Japan had stirred a virulent nationalism resulting in renewed attacks against Jews. The anti-Jewish pogroms in 1905 resulted in thousands of deaths. Yet that same Czar who instigated the attacks on the Jewish people of Russia, conscripted Jewish men to fight his war on the eastern front; i.e. Siberia.

In a family history begun just a few weeks before his death in 1986, my father wrote,

Both of my parents were immigrants to the United States and both came in 1905 from the Baltic region of Czarist Russia. 1905 was a year of great emigration of Russian Jews probably because of the continuing pogroms in Russia as well as the Russo-Japanese war. The latter, in which Russia was badly beaten by the rising Japanese empire, sparked much unrest in Russia, increased drafting of young men into the czarist army, rising revolutionary disorder with subsequent government repression, etc.

My paternal grandfather, who died a year before I was born, was from the Russian province of Courland (aka Kurland and Kurzeme) which is now in western Latvia. According to my father’s history, he “fled to escape service in the czarist army.”

My mother’s father, who was born six months before the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, told me a story about the pogrom which resulted in the death of his grandfather. He recounted how he was hidden away and could hear the noises of the pogrom…the horses riding through the town and the shouts of people. He came out when it was over…and learned that his grandfather had been killed.

He was from the area around Daugavpils, then called Dvinsk, in the southeast of what is now Latvia. His story is interesting because, at the time of his emigration to America, he was already a soldier in the Czar’s army. My mother recounted his escape in a family history she left behind on her computer.

He had been in the Czar’s army in Dvinsk… When he learned that his unit was to be sent to Siberia, he told his father… A family plan was concocted; (1) his mother…bought him the passport of a dead man… (2) [He] told his captain that he had to go into town to mail a letter and to buy cigars (for the captain, to be sure). (3) Always agile, he raced to his parents’ home in Dvinsk where he was secretly sent to Estonia after spending a night in the hayloft of a friendly farmer.

…in the days of pogroms by the army of the Czar, it was not unusual for young men to disappear with the help of their families, emigrating to America…

From Estonia he traveled to western Europe and from there, to the U.S. The family he left behind likely didn’t survive the Nazi occupation which began 35 years later.

An image of a page from my grandfather’s
passport used to escape from Czarist Russia.

Both my grandfathers left their home and emigrated to America.

Like millions of others who came before and since, they came to the U.S. to escape religious oppression. In the U.S. they had the opportunity to raise their families in relative peace and freedom. The fact that anti-semitism was present in the U.S. didn’t dissuade them from coming here.

IMMIGRANTS AND THE “OTHER”

Nativism and discrimination against minorities and the “other” increases in times of war and economic hardship. The fascist rise in Europe prior to World War II was due, in part, to the economic difficulties of the Great Depression.

The current economic downturn is no different. Hate crimes in the U.S. have continued to increase over the last few years. Most hate crimes in the U.S. are based on race or ethnicity, however, religious-based hate crime has been on the rise with a steady increase of Muslim victims. The chart below, shows the comparison of hate crime victims based on their religion, either Jewish or Muslim. Note that for the last 15 years between 70% and 80% of religious based hate crimes have been against Jews and Muslims. After 9/11, the percentage of Muslim victims grew quickly and continues to increase. There is little doubt that, when data for 2016 is published, the rate of increase of Muslim victims will be even higher.(1)

This discrimination and hatred of the “other” isn’t new. Each new ethnic, religious, or racial group emigrating to America is subjected to similar types of hatred.

The restrictions recently placed on the immigration from seven Muslim majority nations is based on fear of the “other” – in this case, fear of possible terrorist infiltration. The United States has not experienced terrorist activities from citizens of the countries chosen for the restrictions. Other countries, where President Trump has investments, have no such restrictions even though terrorist activities based in those nations have had an impact on Americans. Furthermore, the restrictions will likely hurt Americans by disrupting the economic benefit of immigration.(2)

IRONY ALERT

Of course, the purveyors of the recent upsurge in hate, scapegoating, and discrimination, including the recent immigration policy, are descended from immigrants themselves. President Trump is descended from German and Scottish Europeans. All four of his grandparents (like three of mine) were from Europe and came here as immigrants. During and immediately after World War II, a number of German-Americans were interned in the same way that Japanese Americans were (though not to the same extent or under the same conditions). The last were released from where they were held on Ellis Island in 1948.

Steve Bannon, formerly of the white supremacist site, Breitbart, is descended from Irish-Catholics who were subjected to intense discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries (see here and here).

Another supporter of racists in the administration (if he’s confirmed) is Jeff Sessions, a mostly “pure” anglo-saxon with ancestry of English and Scots-Irish. His ancestors were possibly among those who were against Bannon’s ancestors (and mine). But even the most “pure” anglo-saxon bigot in America today, has a history which extends back to European immigrants.

In addition to racism, there is, it seems, a long American tradition of bullying newcomers, immigrants, and refugees.

The German transatlantic liner, St. Louis, carrying mostly Jewish passengers from Europe in 1939
was refused refuge in the U.S. The ship returned to Europe where many died in the Holocaust.
January 28, 2017: Demonstrators at JFK International Airport in New York in support of travelers being detained.

OTHER VOICES

The reaction to President Trump’s executive order restricting immigration was swift and clear. It’s unAmerican…unconstitutional…and shameful.

Inside Out and Back Again

This is a children’s book about immigration…because this is an education blog, after all. Inside Out and Back Again is a Newbery Honor Book (2012) about a child who emigrates to America.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.

President Trump, Meet My Family

Mr. President, please remember: This is a country built by refugees and immigrants, your ancestors and mine. When we bar them and vilify them, we shame our own roots.

Trump’s Shock-and-Awe Campaign—Stand Up and Speak Out

If Trump can do all this and face no opposition, he’ll do more. Silence will not protect you. If you think what is happening to Muslims will never happen to you, you’re mistaken. We will either survive together or perish separately. [emphasis added]

Holocaust Exploitation: When the Analogy Is Wrong

Let’s be clear: President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days and blocking entry to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days is both a moral outrage and strategically self-defeating. No refugee has committed an act of fatal terrorism in the United States—the specter of which this directive is allegedly intended to prevent—and while applying a higher level of scrutiny to citizens of anarchic or jihad-plagued nations is certainly appropriate, indiscriminately prohibiting those who already hold visas and green cards from entering our country is absurdly overreaching and vindictive.

Everything you need to know about Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’

See also

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(1) FBI 2015 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2014 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2010 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2005 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2000 Hate Crime Statistics

(2) Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis

Foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil is a low-probability event that imposes high costs on its victims despite relatively small risks and low costs on Americans as a whole. From 1975 through 2015, the average chance of dying in an attack by a foreign-born terrorist on U.S. soil was 1 in 3,609,709 a year. For 30 of those 41 years, no Americans were killed on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks caused by foreigners or immigrants. Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard to American life, liberty, and private property, but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism. The United States government should continue to devote resources to screening immigrants and foreigners for terrorism or other threats, but large policy changes like an immigration or tourist moratorium would impose far greater costs than benefits.

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