2011-09-30 / Columnists

School Scope

‘Mis-Education Nation’ On NBC
Commentary By Norman Scott


Norman Scott Norman Scott I spent some time last Sunday and Monday covering NBC’s Education Nation, which last year was a showcase for the education deformers when rank and file teacher and parent voices were mostly shut out.

Apparently NBC was embarrassed enough to offer a wider variety of opinions this year but stopped far short of succeeding in a balanced presentation. (Note: in my lexicon, I label the counter group to the Ed deformers who call themselves “reformers” as “Real Reformers.” Pretty much you can tell an Ed deformer from a real reformer by how they view class size. The former disparage it while the latter put it front and center.)

There was a counter event to Education Nation dubbed Mis-Education Nation on September 27 with Real Reformers Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matters), 4th grade teacher Brian Jones (one of the narrators of the film I did with the Grassroots Education Movement, “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman”) and Pedro Noguera (SUNY charter authorizer committee chair, who tries to have a foot in both the Ed deform and Real Reform camps). I’ll write about this another time.

A new star rose in the firmament at Education Nation as PS 261K teacher Jamie Fidler, one of the stars of the film “American Teacher” which premiered on Sunday, September 25 at EN, went head to head with major ed deformer Jonathan Alter at the post-screening panel. She was joined on the panel, moderated by Al Roker, by the three other teachers from the film and Parents Across America parent leader Helen Gym from Philadelphia.

The only logic for having Alter on this panel was that NBC had to make its sponsors happy by having a voice for Ed deform to counter what real teachers who are real reformers might say. The sponsors didn’t get their money’s worth as Jamie and fellow teacher Rhena Jasey slammed the concept of Teach for America’s short-term and shortsighted solutions to upgrading education after Alter brought it up.

Alter was put on the defensive and then went on to talk about the importance of extending the school day in Chicago, the current darling of ed deformers, where Mayor Rhambo Emanuel has made a longer school day (where kids can spend even more time doing test prep) out to be the most important innovation to education since the basal reader was implemented a century ago. Naturally, Rhambo wants to do this on the backs of the teachers by paying them less than the minimum wage for the extra time. The Chicago Teachers Union is being slammed for resisting.

Jamie jumped in to question the value of a longer day where children would have even less time to do the things that children should be doing that would turn them into well-rounded human beings. The Chicago Teaches Union has said it would be willing to talk about the longer day if the kids in Chicago were offered the same type of activities Rhambo’s own kids were getting at the exclusive Lab School at the U of Chicago where Obama’s kids also went. Ed deformers like Rhambo and Obama (and his education chief Arne Duncan, who ran the Chicago schools for seven years and never pushed for a longer day as the golden solution) love to tell everyone else what is good for kids while their own kids get a very different kind of education than they are foisting on everyone else.

An offshoot group of Chicago teachers called “SaveOurSchools: Chicago” is running a campaign where teachers conduct Teach-Ins in public spaces with the slogan: “Teachers: come show Chicago how much work you really do! Bring Lessons to Plan, Essays to Grade, Teams to Coach, Students to Tutor, Clubs to Sponsor, and Parents to Conference.”

Why am I writing so much about Chicago? Because they are the precursor of what has been coming down on the rest of the nation since former mayor Daley was handed control of the schools in 1994. Bloomberg has had a decade of control over the schools and it has been a disaster – Arne Duncan ran those schools for seven years. Mayoral control in NYC is coming up for renewal in four years and the battle to put a stake into its heart is already beginning.

I went back to Education Nation on Monday for a panel on teacher evaluation and accountability featuring Michelle Rhee, the former Washington DC superintendent who was run out on a rail and now is trying to raise a billion dollars to use to undermine the nation’s public school systems. Rhee calls her organization, ahem, “Students First.” After Rhee left DC, a large cheating scandal emerged but much of it has been pushed under the rug. Another panel member had been on the school board in Atlanta, which has had a massive cheating scandal that was exposed when the state put a major team of investigators on the case. Beverly Hall, the Atlanta Superintendent, had pulled down somewhere around 600 grand in bonuses for “raising” the scores. And she won’t have to give it back since she resigned while the teachers who were pressured into cheating will be fired.

NBC’s Rehema Eliis, who was chairing the panel, raised the Atlanta cheating issue twice with a sense of outrage while sitting right next to Rhee without bringing up her cheating scandal. So when I got to the microphone I asked why not bring up DC? Rhee, on the defensive, claimed it was only a few places (sure, without any real kind of Atlanta-like investigation) and said she welcomed an investigation, knowing full well that will never happen. The former Atlanta school board member challenged her by saying, “even if one child is affected it is an outrage” and pointed to all the good things in Atlanta being overwhelmed by the scandal, putting Rhee, glory be, further on the defensive. I’m glad I played my part.

How about cheating in NYC? Of course, there’s mucho cheating here, but a cover up continues as Bloomberg stopped erasure analysis, a major way to uncover cheating, when he took over, claiming it was “too expensive.” Take a moment to have a good laugh. Recently the state revealed they have been doing some selected erasure analysis behind the scenes, but the NY State Ed Department has been an unindicted co-conspirator on test inflation, by hook or crook.

I had a chance to do a Wave one on one with NBC News chief Steve Capus, the major domo of Education Nation. I’ll let Huffington Post education reporter Joy Resmovits describe the encounter:

While some lauded the increased balance and depth at this year’s Education Nation, retired New York City teacher and Grassroots Education Movement member Norm Scott gave Capus an earful on Tuesday. “People see an absence of the word ‘class size’ in these debates,” he told Capus. “This notion that somehow we’re skewed too close to the reformers, I just don’t buy it and completely disagree,” Capus responded. “How did a guy like Jonathan Alter end up as an expert on Sunday night’s panel?” Scott asked. He was referring to the Bloomberg columnist and MSNBC contributor who has taken hard-line stances on charter schools and teacher evaluations. “We had Jonathan Alter and 300 teachers,” Capus countered.

I have a funny feeling The Wave will not be invited back next year.

Norm gives everyone an earful every day at: http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com

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