Category Archives: DisasterCapitalism

2020 Medley #9: Hunkered Down at Home Edition

Dumping the tests, Some things don’t matter, Social Distancing, Focusing on students,
Beating Coronavirus Capitalism, Disasters


Why Scrapping School Testing This Year Is a Good Idea

Before I retired, I had the difficult task of serving as one of my school’s co-test coordinators. It was my job to count, secure, distribute, secure, package up, secure, and prepare our state’s Big Standardized Test (h/t Curmudgucation) for shipping. Sadly, I have been trained in tests and measurements so I understood why, for so many years, the Big Standardized Tests were being overused and misused.

Now that the overuse and misuse of testing pendulum is, hopefully, swinging the other way, my fervent hope is that perhaps we can limit the damage done by the tests.

In the meantime, this year’s Big Standardized Tests are being canceled. Jersey Jazzman explains why that’s a good idea and in the process, also explains why the tests aren’t so good for students anyway. They are extremely accurate in assessing the economic status of students, but that’s about all.

Start with the obvious: a “standardized” test has to be administered in a standard way. If some students receive the test in different platforms, or in different environments, the test is no longer standardized. Of course, there were already huge differences between students in these factors… but Covid-19 has made things far worse. There’s just no way to even come close to standardizing the conditions for testing in the current environment. Will the students be at home, in school but “social distancing,” in regular school, somewhere else… we just can’t say.

Next, we have always had big differences in students’ opportunity to learn — but now the differences are greater than ever. Again, there are huge variations among students in their access to qualified educators, high-quality facilities, adequate instructional materials, well-designed curricula, and so on. The best use of test results was to make the case that the variation in these things was creating unequal educational opportunities, and that public policy should focus on getting resources where they were needed the most.

But in a quarantine, we now have to add all sorts of other inequalities into the mix: access to broadband, parents who have the ability to oversee students’ instruction, schools’ ability to implement distance learning, etc. Why implement these tests when inequities within the same classroom — let alone between schools — have grown so large?


Dear Teachers: There Are Many Things That No Longer Matter

A pandemic puts things in perspective. The health and safety of our students, and their families, are more important than the tests.

If you are attempting virtual learning with your students, now is the time to teach what you have always recognized are the crucial topics in your curriculum. Throw out the state requirements and embrace your professional decision-making skills. The state requirements do not matter. There will be no formal observations. No one will give you some annual professional performance review (APPR). We have known all along that those measures are bullshit. I am continuing to cover the most important content, but I am also asking my students to act as historians through recording a daily diary of this extraordinary time. This time will shape them forever, and we are their guardians.


Top 10 Things I Want My Students to do During the Coronavirus Quarantine

Steven Singer, who blogs at Gadfly on the Wall Blog, lets his students know that there are things to do during “social distancing.” The first is to read a book. For those without access to books, there are the library apps Libby and Hoopla to get digital books.

He wisely includes writing, immediately after reading. Reading and writing are reciprocal. “Reading is the inhale; writing is the exhale.”

2) Read a Book

I ask all of my students to have a self-selected book handy for sustained silent reading in class. Hopefully, you brought it home. If not, take a look around the house. Maybe you’ve got a dusty tome hanging out in some corner. Or – hey – if you have Internet access, you probably have the ability to get an ebook.

Read something – anything you want.

It will while away the hours, relax you and maybe get your mind to thinking about things above and beyond how much mac and cheese you’ve got stored in the cupboard.

3) Keep a Journal

Do you realize you’re living through a moment of history? People will look back on this and wonder how people got through it. You could fill in the blanks for some future researcher. Just a description of your everyday activities, what you’re thinking and feeling, your hopes and dreams – all of it has historical value. Plus, you’ll get some practice expressing yourself in writing. And just think – a simple story about how you survived the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 could end up being taught in the classrooms of the future!

Make it a good one!


Our Students Need Us Now More Than Ever

Are you keeping in touch with your students during this extended coronviracation? You should.

If anything, we teachers and support personnel are needed now more than ever.

Close a school for a while and the community instantly feels the effects. Shut them down across the state and everybody has to adjust.

Our students look to us for guidance, direction, assistance, validation, answers, and the ability to use voice. Nothing has changed in that respect.

Educators advocate for students and schools. Nothing has changed in that respect.

We collaborate with each other and remove obstacles for our students. Nothing has changed in that respect.

We will adapt. We will overcome this obstacle. No one adapts to situations and change like we do.

Because it’s all about the students.


Coronavirus Capitalism — and How to Beat It

Last week, in my post, Public Education, Disaster Capitalism, and COVID-19 (expanded into an op-ed in our local paper here), I discussed how “edupreneurs” will be likely to swoop in and take advantage of public education to further their dreams of privatization. I quoted author Naomi Klein from her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Today, I saw this post by Ms. Klein talking about the exact same thing.

The COVID-19 disaster is exactly the sort of disaster that disaster capitalists exploit. Klein wrote…

This crisis — like earlier ones — could well be the catalyst to shower aid on the wealthiest interests in society, including those most responsible for our current vulnerabilities, while offering next to nothing to the most workers, wiping out small family savings and shuttering small businesses. But as this video shows, many are already pushing back — and that story hasn’t been written yet.


Midwest Girds for Floods While under Corona Lockdown

While we’re worrying about COVID-19, we can’t forget that the Earth is still reacting to human-induced climate change.

As an upsurge in coronavirus infections stretches thin the capacity of health care workers and emergency managers nationwide, the Midwest is bracing for another battle: a potentially devastating flood season.


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Filed under Article Medleys, climate change, DisasterCapitalism, environment, Medicine, reading, Testing, writing

2020 Medley #8: Public Education, Disaster Capitalism, and COVID-19

UPDATE: A version of this blog entry appears in the Friday, March 20 edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, titled: Coping in the time of COVID


Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, described how natural and man-made disasters open the door to privatization. During the COVID-19 disaster, we must ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen to public education.

Schools have been starved over the last few decades. The lack of funding for public education, and other public institutions and public infrastructure, have opened up schools to vulnerability under the Shock Doctrine. Klein wrote…

When it comes to paying contractors, the sky is the limit; when it comes to financing the basic functions of the state, the coffers are empty.


The American Society of Civil Engineers said in 2007 that the U.S. had fallen so far behind in maintaining its public infrastructure — roads, bridges, schools, dams — that it would take more than a trillion and half dollars over five years to bring it back up to standard. Instead, these types of expenditures are being cut back. At the same time, public infrastructure around the world is facing unprecedented stress, with hurricanes, cyclones, floods and forest fires all increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s easy to imagine a future in which growing numbers of cities have their frail and long-neglected infrastructures knocked out by disasters and then are left to rot, their core services never repaired or rehabilitated. The well-off, meanwhile, will withdraw into gated communities, their needs met by privatized providers.


As of this writing, schools are closed for more than half of America’s children. But, as we’ve discussed in these blogs over the last fourteen years, public schools, and public school teachers, are about more than academics.

Teachers care about their students. Friends of Betsy DeVos may think that we’re only in it for the money, but public school teachers care about the whole child…and as Nancy Flanagan writes below, teachers are First Responders when it comes to taking care of the nation’s children.

The following articles describe what public school teachers and public schools are doing to help children and their parents thrive during this stressful time. I recommend that you read all of them in their entirety…


HEWN (Hack Education Weekly Newsletter), No. 344

Ed-tech is ready to dump their items on schools (for a price, of course)…especially now when those schools that have closed are using technology to connect with their students. Remember that computers, phones, iPads, and similar digital devices are tools, not ends in themselves.

…an assertion that rests on the assumption that ed-tech is good, that it can replicate at home what happens in the classroom. “This may be our moment,” ed-tech folks exclaim, giddily sharing lists of their favorite digital learning tools (with little concern, it seems for questions of accessibility, privacy, or security) and tips for quickly moving “to the cloud.” Of course, education technology — as a field, an industry, a discipline, a solution, what have you — has had decades and decades and decades to get this right. It still hasn’t. So when you hear “this is our moment,” you should recall perhaps the thesis of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. What we’re poised to see in response to the coronavirus — and not just in education, to be fair — is more disaster capitalism, and “disaster capitalists share this same inability to distinguish between creation and destruction, between hurting and healing.”


Coronavirus Has Shown Us the Vital Role Schools Play, But Will America Listen?

Schools feed and house (and sometimes clothe) students every day. Those students who have little or no home resources will suffer most from the lack of open school buildings.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare something that educators have always known. Schools, side by side with hospitals, are the most important institutions in our country’s social safety net. Of course, we’ve said this since the era of school shootings, where teachers have placed their bodies (literally) in front of students to keep them safe.

But the coronavirus pandemic has put this into even sharper focus, as we grapple with the domino effects of closing entire school districts for prolonged periods at a time. Some public schools will be closed anywhere from a day to a month. Yet, others, such as the New York City system, are still, at this writing, open.

Thus far, dealing with the coronavirus has highlighted four important things about our nation’s schools:

Schools are key to keeping the economy running…
Schools provide respite housing for homeless students during daytime hours…
Schools help to prevent large-scale child hunger every day…
Schools are the primary source of public health information for many families.

Once Again Teachers are First Responders

Schools and teachers have stepped up to help their students.

…Teachers are like those firefighters in Kirkland, Washington who came to transport extremely ill nursing home residents to the hospital, without gloves and masks. Just doing our jobs, just following directions.

Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of teachers who organized take-home packets and figured out how to get coursework online, even if they didn’t have a clue about how to do it before last week. And thank you to those who pointed out, with considerable asperity, how incredibly inequitable virtual instruction will be, but went ahead and made plans to do it anyway. Thanks to all who sent home food or arranged for food pickup—or even made a single call to a single household, to make sure an adult was home.

Nobody knows how to do this well. Nobody. But schools and teachers are still trying.

Disaster Capitalism, Online Instruction, and What Covid-19 Is Teaching Us About Public Schools and Teachers

Nancy Bailey’s blog entry was the catalyst for this post.

We’re reminded of disaster capitalism, a concept highlighted by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, how Katrina was used in New Orleans to convert traditional public schools to charter schools. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. (p. 5-6). Who thought that could happen?

The transitioning of technology into public schools, not simply as a supplemental tool for teachers to use at their discretion, but as a transformative means to remove teachers from the equation, has been highlighted with groups like Digital Promise and KnowledgeWorks. Both promote online learning and it’s difficult to find teachers in the mix.

Combining this with the intentional defunding of public schools, shoddy treatment of teachers including the unwillingness to pay them appropriate salaries, inadequate resources and support staff, crumbling buildings, and the destruction of public schooling in America, should we not question what placing students online at this strange time will mean in the future to our schools?


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Campbell Brown Hearts NOLA Charters

Campbell Brown was on C-SPAN yesterday (August 18, 2015) talking up her new school “reform” web site, The Seventy Four. Her discussion focused on the usual “reformer” talking points…choice, failing schools, and most of all, how much better New Orleans schools are now, compared to what they were pre-Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina

Before I get to some of her comments, though, it’s important to note that this month marks the tenth anniversary of the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

In 2010, Arne Duncan famously commented

“…I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better.’ And the progress that they’ve made in four years since the hurricane is unbelievable.

Just last week, Chicago Tribune writer Kristen McQueary echoed Duncan’s sentiment when she wrote,

I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops…That’s what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.

The backlash against Duncan forced his boss to make him “not-apologize” for his remarks. Likewise, the backlash against McQueary forced her to write a “not-apology” a few days later (see here and here for two responses to McQueary’s article).

School reform vastly expanded in New Orleans after the hurricane. Dozens of schools were added to the Recovery School District. Whether you approve of charter schools or not, it was a revolutionary change in education, and it would not have happened without Hurricane Katrina.

Many readers thought my premise — through my use of metaphor and hyperbole — was out of line. I certainly hear you. I am reading your tweets and emails. And I am horrified and sickened at how that column was read to mean I would be gunning for actual death and destruction.

She said she didn’t actually want hurricane-level damage to hit Chicago. Her point was that Chicago needed a “disaster capitalist” excuse to tear things down and rebuild from scratch because nothing would have gotten accomplished otherwise.

Is it true that nothing was done to improve the New Orleans public schools till they were wiped out by Katrina? How hard did individual teachers work to help their students in the struggling, likely underfunded, New Orleans public schools before Katrina? How much time was spent by administrators in lobbying for more funding, better facilities, and up-to-date materials for their schools?

The plight of public schools in high poverty areas are easily ignored by politicians because the parents of the community are often too busy working two or three jobs, or are unfamiliar with the hoops they must jump through get full, equitable funding for their children. Sometimes there are educational and language barriers that parents can’t overcome. Sometimes there are racial barriers as well. Note the number of schools on the south side of Chicago which have been or are targeted to be closed and replaced with charters while schools on the north side are well stocked and successful.

I’m not going to reproduce all the information which shows how the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans has failed to improve the education of New Orleans children. There are others who have done that…Mercedes Schneider, for example has discussed it in great detail in dozens of posts which you can find here…and especially here, here, here and here. It would take hours to go through it all…so here’s a taste

…the term “school choice” could well mean that it is the school that exercises greater leverage when it comes to choosing, not the parents.

One-third (10 of 30) of schools selected or excluded students by, for example, counseling students who were not thought to be a good fit to transfer to another school, holding invitation only events to advertise the school, or not reporting open seats. This number included five OPSB schools and five RSD schools. [Emphasis added.]

And another taste

New Orleans charters opened longer did not show better 2014 AP outcomes.

What is clear is that with only a couple of exceptions, the results are not impressive.

My spreadsheet of the data can be found here:

New Orleans Charter High School May 2014 AP Results

Once again, there is no miracle here.

To the districts nationwide that are watching the New Orleans Charter Circus with wide eyes, know that any reported New Orleans charter *miracle* patently contradicts its consistently unimpressive outcomes.

For another look at New Orleans RSD schools read these posts by Crazy Crawfish. Check out the post, The RSD and New Orleans miracle (of cheating), for some information about test scores in New Orleans.

New Orleans Schools

Let’s now turn to Campbell Brown and her appearance on C-Span, August 18, 2015, Education Policy.

Studying the material at the two blogs I mentioned above ought to be enough to rebut the following…

At 7:25 in the program she said…

It’s such an incredible story of the progress that’s been made in New Orleans since Katrina when they have revamped public schools…


At about 33:55 she announced in a Chris Christie sort of way about how America’s public schools today are no different than the public schools that her grandparents and great-grandparents went to.

Just think over the last century how our lives have changed in so many ways because of technology. I mean…for a hundred years we’re living vastly different lives except in how we educate our kids. We are educating our kids today — and our grandkids — exactly the same way we educated my grandparents…my great-grandparents. We have not had innovation or advancement in the same way in education. And it’s…you know…we’ve failed to see real gains because of that.

First, she’s wrong because achievement has improved. Diane Ravitch, in Reign of Error, documented the increase in NAEP math and reading scores from 1973 through 2008. The trend is upward.

Second, anyone who has spent time in classrooms recently knows that they are fundamentally different than classrooms of the past in a variety of ways. Can we improve classroom education? Of course. But we need research based innovations. As we have learned from schools’ experiences around the country, integrating technology like Smart Boards or iPads into the curriculum doesn’t change anything unless teachers are trained in their use.

Finally, innovation just for innovation’s sake, like technology for technology’s sake, doesn’t help children learn. Research into new teaching methods and best practices ought to drive innovation…not bells and whistles.

At about 41:40 she responding to a caller who said we ought to reward kids with money for learning. After acknowledging that “good idea,” Brown said,

…because we haven’t been able to innovate as quickly as we need to…one of the things that happens in our schools is that the kids in the middle…you know a teacher can’t teach everybody…right? There’s just…she doesn’t have the tools or he doesn’t have the tools to have the flexibility to let those kids who are learning more quickly continue to be challenged, or the kids who need extra help…you know, how does one person take the time to give those kids the extra help they may need…and then deal with everybody else. There are lots of cool, really interesting technologies that are trying to…you know…individualize lesson plans. So that these kids can move forward at their own pace…and…and we’re giving them more of the kind of individual attention that they need to progress so that the kids on the higher end can be more challenged and the kids on the lower end can take their time and get the extra help that they need and hopefully free up time for that teacher to be able to help those kids more and spend a little more time with them.

Her points seem to be that 1) teachers can’t teach everyone in their classrooms because the ranges of achievement and abilities are too wide, 2) high achieving kids are held back while low achieving kids aren’t getting their needs met and 3) innovation with “cool” technology is the way to solve that problem.

This is a perfect example of why actual real life, currently practicing educators ought to be included when education policy is discussed and made. It’s obvious that Brown has never heard of “differentiation” (or if she’s heard of it she doesn’t understand what it is). Good teachers understand and use differentiated instruction…and those who are adept at it can gear instruction to children at the level they need. Understanding and using differentiation is not something you can do with just 5 weeks of training (after graduating from a high-status college with a degree in business administration). Like other pedagogical tools, it takes study, practice, and a long term commitment to a career in education.

Fully staffing schools with specialists who have advanced certification or degrees in reading (like me!), special education, and gifted education, can also help teachers deal with the wide range of achievement levels in a general education classroom.

Finally, as long as standards, and standardized tests based on those standards, have high-stakes attached to them, students will not be allowed to progress at their own rates. Requiring all students, except those with the most severe academic disabilities, to pass the same test at the same time, and then using those test scores to label schools and teachers, is educational malpractice. Brown said that children should be allowed to “move forward at their own pace.” On that point, she is right.

The Chartering of New Orleans

Beginning at about 43:50 Brown extolled the wonderfulness of New Orleans’ charter schools.

…[In New Orleans] after Katrina…they were trying to figure out how to rebuild that school system…they made a choice to basically take almost all the schools in New Orleans and make them charter schools. You know, take the handcuffs off, and put the union contracts aside, and give the schools the flexibility to be innovative, and to do different things than they had been doing before.

Now the real truth comes out. Disaster capitalism depends on a catastrophe to make it successful. The catastrophe of Katrina had to destroy everything so that the vultures edupreneurs could swoop in and start all over. And one thing which had to be destroyed was the teachers union.

“…take the handcuffs off, and put the union contracts aside…” The goal of charters in the “reform” movement is to get public dollars for educating students in the cheapest way possible. Teachers unions stand in the way of that.

Politicians and education “reformers” will tell you over and over again about how much they love teachers…but how much they hate teachers unions (except, of course, Chris Christie who makes no bones about how much he hates teachers and their unions). The fact is, however, that teachers unions are made up of teachers…millions of them. All over the country average, dedicated classroom teachers negotiate contracts with duly elected school boards. Those contracts protect children as well as teachers. The conditions under which teachers work…class size, availability of special services, preparation time…are the conditions under which students learn. Individual teachers unions can sometimes pressure school boards to do things that they wouldn’t normally do, but on the whole states with strong teachers unions achieve at higher levels than states with weak or non-existent teachers unions. Charter school takeovers of public schools, like in New Orleans, will not change the conditions of children’s lives. The poverty level of children in America and the refusal of those who run our nation, states, and cities to acknowledge poverty as a factor in student achievement is the number one problem facing public education today. It’s not “bad teachers,” teachers unions, or teacher contracts that are damaging public education…it’s elected officials like Mike Pence, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and Rahm Emanuel…it’s political appointees like Arne Duncan and his predecessor Margaret Spellings…and it’s people who don’t know anything about education acting like they do…like Campbell Brown.

Campbell Brown ought to throw her support to the teachers who struggle in public schools every day, not hedge fund managers, politicians, or other “reformers.” If she truly wants to help the children she claims to care so much about, then she needs to change her tune and fight for more equitable funding of public schools, wrap-around services for children in need, more and better training for teachers, and the end to test and punish policies. Here’s a good place for her to start


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


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