Thursday, July 13, 2017

When social media meets the academy

After I started my PhD program, I gave up much of my social media and blogging activity (though not all). This was for reasons of time, energy, but also voice and skills. I read and write so much for school that it's not exactly what I feel like doing when I have free time. In addition, the skills and voice I use for blogging and education writing are different from those needed for scholarly education writing. And, I needed to take some time to learn the later. I have started writing more again recently--more on this here.

This dichotomy came up during a seminar (David L. Clark seminar) for doctoral students I was a participant in at the Annual AERA Meeting this past spring in San Antonio, during a panel discussion entitled "The Role of Education Research Outside of the Academy." On the panel was Morgan Polikoff, a professor of education policy at University of Southern California, who happens to be one of my pre-PhD program #edutwitter pals.

Morgan addressed the confluence of social media and academia. In a nutshell, he said that while it's important to still hold your work to high standards and to make certain stipulations before agreeing to work on non-academic enterprises, activity on social media and doing non-academic writing strengthens, and doesn't supplant, academic writing. It can also help academics to share, articulate, and get feedback/push back on their work and ideas, especially from those in education but outside of academia.

I was glad to see Morgan advocate for academics having a place and presence on social media. I agree: Activity on social media and informal writing can be part of being a public intellectual and is a way for scholars to communicate with other academics and with non-academics in the same field.

But for me, I had a reverse path in that I was active and had a presence on social media before going into academia. While, as afore-mentioned, I took a break, there was no way I was going to walk that back or dismantle the web of connections and relationships I had made via social media and blogging, nor did I want to just discount all of the work and non-academic education writing I had done.

What's been especially tricky is the clashing of diminished power hierarchies on social media (not eliminated, mind you, because I think those hierarchies do reassert themselves) with the rigid hierarchies that exist in academia. Before my PhD program, I was on equal footing on twitter with academics and any other #edutwitter folks. What mattered is what I had to say, not what my status was. When  I started grad school, all of a sudden I wasn't on equal footing.  Previously, I could just speak my mind and now it was kind of like, what do I know, I'm just a grad student.

Now, there is some reason for this that I respect and understand. Expertise in educational research is expertise in educational research and I didn't really have much, which is why I went to grad school, so that I could fully feel like I knew of what I spoke and so that I would gain knowledge about educational research. But it's also been frustrating: Even as the academy is more open socially and in terms of critique and debate of ideas, if you are in it, you are supposed to, you know, Know. Your. Place. Which means you are expected to refrain from critiquing or challenging the ideas of those above you. I luckily have found an adviser who balances addressing my novice expertise with encouraging me that not always knowing my place is one my strengths. (She might change her mind when no one will hire me or when I get fired from my first job out of grad school.) In addition, I have heard from far too many established academics that non-academic writing and social media activity are frowned upon, until you get tenure in which case it will simply be ignored.

Getting back to the seminar and Morgan, this was interesting because, as I said, I was in touch with Morgan before I was a PhD student. Though we like one another, we do not always agree on educational policy and practice, so I probably tweeted at him that I thought he was wrong about something. But all of a sudden at the conference, I was nervous. Am I supposed to call him Dr. Polikoff now? After all, he was on a higher plane that I was. What if he thinks my work stinks? After all, he does have expertise that I don't.

Ultimately, while we should respect our elders and all, many of the students coming to the academy will already have a social media presence that they shouldn't be asked to renounce or give up. The academy is going to have open itself up to social media as a valid place for academics to exchange and debate ideas, and to engage in professional activity. And while that happens, the academy is also going to have to let some of those rigid hierarchies loosen up a bit. Because for people like me, that cat is already out of the bag and we're not putting it back in.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

In Virginia primary, Democrats get a lesson: Being progressive means supporting public schools

When I started my PhD program three years ago, I thought I would go on blogging and writing as I had been.  However, I found it was not easy to continue the role of education blogger and activist while learning a new role as an apprentice education scholar, so for a while I didn't even try.

More recently, I have felt comfortable enough with both roles that I have returned to doing some more non-academic education writing and blogging again. I am now much more cautious about the claims I make in my non-academic writing but I also am able to write the non-academic pieces much more easily than I used to, meaning when I blog or do non-academic writing, I care more about the claims I am making but less about the style I am employing, especially since academic writing is so . . . formulaic.

Speaking of which, a recent piece of mine about the role of the issue of public education in the Virginia gubernatorial Democratic primary was published in The Progressive Magazine. Here's a piece of it but please read the whole thing:
Perhaps like so many Democrats, Perriello hasn’t spent much time getting to know the issue. I doubt he understood the damage the neo-liberal reform policies of the last decade have done to public schools or how anti-populist and anti-labor they were. His loss reflects a disconnect between public education defenders and otherwise-progressive politicians who have not yet gotten the memo that defending public schools is a key value for progressive voters. 
Public education got so burned during the Obama administration that far from being an asset, Obama crew’s coming out for Perriello made public school supporters recoil. We haven’t spent the past several years working to preserve public education in Virginia only to have some Democrat who didn’t know any better waltz in with his out-of-state hedge fund manager buddies and undo it.

Not only did Northam win, but a strong network of and support for public schools in Virginia combined with wariness of market-based education reforms meant that both Democratic candidates labored to distance themselves from any perceived support for charter schools.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

UPDATED: Perriello's ties to problematic education reformers

As I wrote a month ago, I am supporting Ralph Northam in the Democratic primary for the Virginia gubernatorial race. I agree with much of Tom Perriello's policy agenda and he is saying a lot things that resonate with me. If he wins the primary, I will work hard to get him elected. In the meantime, I am encouraging everyone to vote for Northam this Tuesday, June 13th.

I am concerned about Perriello's lack of leadership and political experience at the local and state levels. His connections to Wall Street and Silicon Valley Obama-era market-based, pro-privatization, neo-liberal education reformers trouble me. In general, I am not concerned that he is too liberal or too much of a populist; rather, my concern is that he is not the real deal, that he will not turn out to be a true progressive, especially on education. One of the main tenets of his platform is that he will stand up to Trump. Lots of folks are standing up to Trump right now. That's not so hard to do. What was hard is rolling up your sleeves and standing up to the Virginia GOP, as Northam did, year after year, before there was a Trump figure to rally against. It is both telling and concerning that most of Perriello's support comes from out of the state. As for public education, I was reassured by his statements about it in this recent Washington Post interview (scroll down to close to the end). But I can not ignore his ties to the DFER crowd (again, out of state) which I pointed out in my original post. More recently, Virginia public school parent and activist Michele Boyd found some further connections to the DFER crowd. Perriello supporters who would dismiss these ties maybe don't understand that for public education supporters, outfits like DFER and the Emerson Collective are like Dominion is for environmentalists.

Below is Michele's post.

(As a side note, I am told that Blue Virginia would not post this. I am a loyal subscriber to and occasional contributor to Blue Virginia. I find it it problematic that they would not run this post. I understand that they have endorsed Tom Perriello, but especially given the blog's collective nature, I believe that they should provide a space for Perriello and Northam supporters, and as they usually do, allow for skepticism, criticism, and independent thought.

UPDATE 6/12/2017:
1. Blue Virginia did post Michele Boyd's piece, a day after this post went up. See here. Thank you, Blue Virginia!)

2. Blue Virginia recently featured a post from a Virginia special education teacher about why she is supporting Perriello and with some claims about Northam's voting record on charter school legislation and ties to privatizers. I have not confirmed her claims and can do without the tone and the accusations of "attacks" (I do not believe I and others have "attacked" Perriello but have diplomatically explained our skepticism), but even so, her piece is certainly worth reading and finding out more about.

For example, Northam did vote for the "compromise" legislation (HB 1173 & SB 440) on charter schools that Meredyth Hall referred to and while it's not a great bill and Northam's vote is concerning, she rather mis-states what the final legislation actually dictated. To see what it did say, see the March 2012 Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute General Assembly Update:

Charter Schools: Legislators agreed to a compromise on two charter school bills, HB 1173 and SB 440. The approved measures provide the following: 1) The local school board may allow a charter school to use vacant or unused properties or real estate owned by the school board. 2) Following a local school board decision to deny a public charter school application or to revoke or fail to renew a charter agreement, the local school board shall submit documentation to the Board of Education (BOE) as to the rationale for the denial or revocation; however, the BOE shall have no authority to grant or deny a public charter school application or to revoke or fail to renew a charter agreement. 3) Local school boards may elect whether charter school personnel are employees of the charter school or of the local school division. 4) Per pupil funding provided to the charter school by the local school board shall be negotiated in the charter agreement and be commensurate with the average school-based costs of educating the students in the division’s existing schools.



Why Has a Corporate Education Reform Group Affiliated with Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, Donated $25,000 to Tom Perriello’s Campaign?

by Michele Boyd, a parent to two children and a public education activist

          For those of us who care deeply about K-12 public education - whether we are students, parents, educators, or concerned citizens -  the stakes are high in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.  In the current anti-Trump environment, the odds are in our favor that who we nominate on June 13th will become the next Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  It is therefore paramount that we choose wisely.  The 1,253,482 children who are currently enrolled in Virginia’s K-12 public schools and slightly over 100,000 teachers who teach them are depending on us to get it right.    

            The media narrative that has emerged in this race is Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello are both progressives and the policy differences between them are insignificant, including K-12 education.  On the surface, this appears to be true.  (Read here for Northam’s education platform and here for Perriello’s.) 

There’s more to this story, however.  The candidates differ significantly in one aspect that, in my opinion, overrides everything else: Tom Perriello has deep ties to the corporate education reform movement and Ralph Northam does not.  

            As a busy mom who works full-time, I was hoping that The Washington Post or other media outlets would scoop this story.  It’s telling that Mr. Perriello chose not to disclose these ties at an education roundtable that myself and 15-20 others attended on January 31st in Manassas.  With two children in public schools who have endured a learning environment of high-stakes testing that creates stress and anxiety, I cannot remain silent.  Democratic primary voters deserve to know the facts before casting ballots on Tuesday.

There are many unanswered questions about Mr. Perriello’s past and current affiliations to the corporate education reformers - a select group largely financed by millionaires and billionaires  - but the most pressing one is this:  Why has an education reform group, the Emerson Collective, located in Palo Alto, California, donated $25,000 to Mr. Perriello's campaign?  What interests could this Silicon Valley Limited Liability Company (LLC) have in Virginia’s public schools?

I’ll start by saying this much, when Mr. Perriello boasts that he has the support of Obama Administration officials, we should believe him.  As it turns out, former U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) Secretary, Arne Duncan, is Managing Partner at the Emerson Collective.

Former Secretary Duncan’s seven years of service from 2008-2015 can best be described as contentious.  He once apologized for saying that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,” viewing the disaster as an opportunity to usher in a market-based approach, which led to the firings of 7,500 unionized teachers (who sued for wrongful termination) and the establishment of America's first all-charter district.  Oddly, when he left USDOE and returned to Chicago, a public school system where he was once superintendent, he enrolled his children in private schoolHe later joined the Emerson Collective in March 2016, to work on issues regarding unemployed youth and education. 

What is the Emerson Collective?  Founded by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs (wife of Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs), the Emerson Collective makes investments and grants in education and other areas.  The New York Times described it as one of several "top tier technology investors" in AltSchool, a network of small private schools that “use a proprietary learning management system that tracks students’ activities and helps teachers personalize their learning.”  Ms. Powell Jobs is also a board member of several education reform organizations, including Teach for America and the NewSchools Venture Fund.  You can learn more about the Emerson Collective, its $100 million high school redesign contest, and Ms. Powell Jobs in this October 2016 New York Magazine article. 

In choosing the Emerson Collective, Mr. Duncan joined one of his former top aides at USDOE, Ms. Russlyn Ali.  Mr. Duncan worked together with Ms. Ali at USDOE on the $4.35 billion Race to the Top (RTTT), which offered stimulus money to states as an incentive to adopt the Common Core standards and assessments, expand charter schools, and use test scores to evaluate teachers – all ideas promoted by the corporate education reformers.  Here is a video of Mr. Perriello sharing his thoughts on RTTT in March 2012 as President and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. 

Thankfully, in 2011 Virginia withdrew its RTTT application and became one of only five states to not adopt the Common Core, avoiding the acrimony and backlash experienced in many other states.  We were also fortunate to preserve the integrity of our system of traditional public schools and limit the growth of charters.  Given that at least two studies from 2009 and 2010 found that charter schools performed no better and often worse than traditional public schools, this was a wise decision.  By maintaining our independence, our state sent a bipartisan message to Mr. Duncan and the privitizers that Virginia’s public schools were not for sale. 

There is reason to believe that Mr. Perriello and Mr. Duncan are personal friends and political allies.  Mr. Perriello once described Mr. Duncan as a “visionary”, urging President Obama to “find the Arne Duncan of economic development” for Treasury Secretary.  Press accounts show that Mr. Perriello hosted Mr. Duncan in Charlottesville for his "A Call to Teach" speech at the Curry School of Education at UVa on October 14, 2009.  Mr. Perriello also paid a visit to former Secretary Duncan’s office with constituents to discuss education issues, including merit pay incentive programs.  In 2010, Mr. Perriello secured a grant from USDOE’s Public Charter Schools Program to establish a rural charter school  in the Fifth District.  A few years later, the project was cancelled and the school never opened.  Press reports also describe them as campaigning together in Mr. Perriello’s bid for reelection in 2010.  

How did Mr. Perriello and Mr. Duncan become allies?  Most likely it was through the political arm of a PAC formed by Wall Street hedge fund managers in 2005 called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).  DFER seeks to change federal, state, and local education policy to fit its agenda of choice, competition, and accountability through “supporting reform-minded candidates for public office.”  DFER co-founder Whitney Tilson is quoted as saying that “hedge funds are always looking for ways to turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital.” 

 DFER lobbied President Obama upon his election in 2008 to select its top choice for Secretary of Education, Mr. Duncan.  DFER also donated to Mr. Perriello’s 2008 and 2010 campaigns, in addition to holding fundraisers for him both online (see page 7) and in private residences.  Mr. Perriello co-sponsored charter school legislation with another DFER-affiliated politician, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO).  In June 2010, Mr. Perriello was recognized by Whitney Tilson as DFER’s "Ed Reformer of the Month," and featured in an online fundraiser for those who couldn’t attend a “reception in his honor” later that month.

DFER’s embrace of “accountability” and “choice” often aligned with that of conservatives, including many rightwing ideologues.  Mercedes Schneider, an educator, author, and blogger has documented DFER's receipt of $80,000 in donations in 2010 and 2014 from a group founded by Betsy DeVos, the American Federation for Children, and $65,000 in those same years from a nonprofit that Mrs. DeVos chaired, the Alliance for School Choice.  The education historian, Diane Ravitch, argued recently in The New Republic that Democratic politicians who supported the corporate education agenda “paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.”  

On April 14th, myself and a friend attended a town hall meeting in Montclair to clarify Mr. Perriello’s current position on charter schools, standardized testing, and DFER.  Mr. Perriello recognized that some reformers wanted to destroy public education.  Mr. Perriello’s interest, however, was that he was willing to try anything to improve public schools.  He explained that since the evidence has led him to conclude that charter schools don’t work, he no longer supports them.  He also expressed support for Governor Terri McAuliffe's veto of legislation which would have shifted charter school decision-making authority from local school boards to Richmond.  This is good news.  If Mr. Perriello should win the Governorship, we will hold him to his word.

Mr. Perriello's vigorous support for “data-driven education” was more troubling, as well as his explanation of his past DFER ties.  He distanced himself from the group, claiming that he wasn’t a “member.”  He also stated that he hasn’t received any campaign donations from DFER in his current race, but that he “couldn’t know if anybody who is affiliated with them” has donated.  (See here for the video starting at 32:46.)

This is interesting.  At the time of the town hall, Mr. Perriello’s first quarter campaign disclosure report had been filed.  My friend and I were unaware at the time, and in all fairness maybe he was, too, but Mr. Perriello’s former Congressional colleague and DFER, Mr. Jared Polis, with whom he worked on charter school legislation, donated $3,500 to his campaign.  A quick check of DFER’s website indicates that Mr. Polis remains a “featured” DFER.  I find it doubtful that Mr. Perriello wouldn’t remember his former colleague and friend. 

Although at town halls and in debates, Mr. Perriello has disavowed certain aspects of his past record on public education, in particular his support for charter schools, there remains cause for concern.  In addition to the worrisome donations from the Emerson Collective and Mr. Polis, his campaign disclosure reports reveal that he has also received donations from other individuals associated with corporate education reform.  One example is venture capitalist Nicolas Hanauer, who donated $1 million to a 2012 Washington State referendum to allow charter schools and $15,000 to Mr. Perriello.  It’s reported that Mr. Hanauer is well-known in Washington State political circles as having a combative personality, especially when confronting the teachers union.  I recognize that Mr. Perriello and Mr. Hanauer may be aligned on other issues besides education, but until I hear otherwise, I’m worried.

I believe that Mr. Perriello owes an explanation to the public about the donations he has received from entities or individuals who have ties to corporate education reform.  Students, parents, educators, and concerned citizens deserve no less.  Virginia is one of the few states remaining whose public education system hasn’t been corrupted by the privatization movement and it’s important that we keep it this way.  This issue will be on the ballot in November with Betsy DeVos’s surrogate, Ed Gillespie, and as Democrats it’s imperative that we make sure our candidate has clean hands. 

Ralph Northam has a public education record that demonstrates his allegiance lies with children, parents, and educators – not with corporate education reformers whether they are from Silicon Valley, Colorado, or Washington State.  Dr. Northam has promised to follow in the footsteps of Governor McAuliffe who has vetoed all charter school legislation, made important strides in SOL reform by reducing the number of tests from 34 to 29, and recently signed into law a bipartisan bill which sets policy to raise Virginia’s teacher salaries at or above the national level.  Much more remains to be done and I believe that Dr. Northam is up to the job.  

I’ve had the opportunity to meet Dr. Northam three times, including once at an education town hall, and I was impressed with his knowledge of the issues, compassion, and unique understanding as a pediatric neurologist of children and how they learn best.  Having a wife who is a K-5 science teacher only enhances his credentials.  

Dr. Northam has also received the endorsement of the Virginia Education Association, representing more than 50,000 teachers.  I feel it’s important as Democrats that we return to our roots and stand up for our educators, giving them the respect and support they deserve.  Dr. Northam has pledged to give them a seat at the table.
 

The questions we need to ask ourselves before Tuesday’s primary is who do we trust more with the awesome responsibility of leading our public schools and looking out for the best interests of our children?  Which candidate will appoint individuals who represent Virginian values as Secretary of Education and the nine members of the Board of Education?  Who can we count on to ensure that K-12 education spending - which is more than one-third of the general fund - supports priorities that will have the most impact?  I have my answer and he is Dr. Ralph Northam. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why I support Ralph Northam for Governor of Virginia

Let me just state two things right off the bat. First, the "moderate" Northam versus a "leftist" Perriello (a la Hillary vs. Bernie) narrative is silly, un-helpful, and not applicable. Second, despite my endorsement, should Tom Perriello win the Virginia gubernatorial primary, I will be among the first people to sign up to help get him elected in the general election. He's not a bad guy or a terrible candidate. I voted for Bernie but hit the pavement for Hillary when it came time. I knew then and I know now what is at stake.

For now, here are are my thoughts as to why I support the current Lt. Governor, Ralph Northam:

Ralph Northam has state-level experience both legislating and governing. He has a voting record, a record of getting things done, and a network of relationships. Tom Perriello does not. He has no state-level experience or record. People criticize Tom Perriello for having been a pro-NRA and anti-reproductive rights member of Congress. Others criticize Northam for voting for George W. Bush. Neither of those matter to me right now. I believe both of them when they say they are in much different places now and, frankly, I am somewhat sympathetic to Tom Perriello's explanation of why he did what he did at that time. In fact, what concerns me more about Tom Perriello is his lack of voting record or platform on most of the other issues. Again, Ralph Northam has a solid, favorable voting record.

Almost every state-level office holder, Virginia's senators, and most if not all of Virginia's Democratic members of the U.S. House have endorsed Ralph Northam. The Perriello campaign tries to dismiss this as "back room establishment." First of all, that's dismissive of individual voters like me who support Northam and implies that we can't think for ourselves. Second, um, those members of the "back room establishment" are the people who have actually done the nitty gritty (and super important) local- and state-level work that Perriello hasn't and who are closest to constituents. You know who's even more establishment and even more distant from Virginia voters? The Obama officials who all endorsed Perriello. It doesn't get much more centrist establishment than John Podesta.

So, yes, Tom Perriello is running as an Obama Democrat. I would give almost anything to have Obama back as president right now. But Obama was a centrist, not a Bernie Sanders populist. Furthermore, I am a strong supporter of public education and a student of education policy and President Obama's education policies were, for the most part, awful. Northam has a record of supporting public education in Virginia. If Perriello is running as an Obama Democrat, that means I have to assume he is running on Obama's education policies. In fact, the only inkling I have of Tom Perriello's position on public education and education policy is his affiliation with Democrats for Education Reform: He was their "Reformer of the Month" in June 2010. Yuck. That is a big fat red flag as far as I am concerned. DFER, or Democrats for Emulating Republicans, as I like to call them, are neo-liberal, hedge-fundy, anti-union, and pro-privatization and apparently somewhat sweet on Betsy DeVos. That's not to say that Perriello feels the same way, but he hasn't exactly walked back his DFER affiliation, either.

I grudgingly respect what Tom Perriello is trying to do, but I'd respect him a lot more if he had returned home to run for Board of Supervisors or House of Delegates first.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Podcast: Racial Disproportionality in Disciplinary Practices

A big topic in educational policy and practice right now is disparate disciplinary practices. Essentially, black students, especially males, and students with disabilities are subject to disproportionally high rates of exclusionary discipline practices (suspensions and expulsions) and what they are being disciplined for is often subjective behaviors, such as disrespect, versus objective behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes on school grounds. This is an especially big topic in the state of Virginia and in the region of Virginia--central Virginia--where I live and study. See this recent article about it in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
A congressman has called for a federal investigation of disparities in student treatment within the Richmond region’s schools.

U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-4th, requested an investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on Monday, the same day that a Richmond Times-Dispatch article detailed higher suspension rates and over-identification of African-American students with disabilities.

The Virginia Department of Education cited Henrico and Chesterfield counties for suspending black students with disabilities at a disproportionately high rate over several years. The department cited Richmond because the city’s African-American students with disabilities have been more likely to be identified as having an “other health impairment” than other students with disabilities.

Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond are among seven Virginia school districts mandated to set aside federal money received under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act this year to combat the pattern.
This problem is not new at all, for example, see this article from 2012. And, there's lots more where that came from.

How do I know so much about this? How is it that I have read almost every single report, news and journal article about this? Well, I am part of a MERC research team studying the issue in the Richmond, Virginia, area. The Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC) comprises "a partnership between seven Richmond-area school divisions and the VCU School of Education" that "plans, conducts, and disseminates community-engaged action and applied research."

A few months ago, I took part with other team members in a MERC podcast about the study. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to take a listen.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why DeVos Might Lose

So far, Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, seems to be one of the most, if not the most, unpopular of all of the cabinet nominees. That's not to say that she won't be confirmed. But as of my writing this, she has not been confirmed and only one more vote from the Republicans is needed to deny her the appointment.

Why is this? Well, just as there was bi-partisan unpopularity (aside from GOP establishment types) of Eric Cantor in Virginia's 7th district (my old district) during the 2014 elections, there is bi-partisan unpopularity of Betsy DeVos.

1. She is a blatant pay-to-play actor. She bought the Michigan legislature. She has given tens of thousands of dollars to several Senate Education Committee members. The way Cantor thought he was above members of the public, she operates in a way that shows she believes she is above members of public. On this point, this ad by End Citizens United is particularly devastating:


2. Besides purchasing pet education policies, Betsy Devos has no experience in education at all. Proposing someone to be U.S. Secretary of Education who has no experience in education at all is a slap in the face to all educators. Public school teachers and educators are tiring of getting crapped on and they are tired of people with little to no experience in education telling them what to do. Teachers got crapped on by the Bush administration and then the Obama administration and they are tired of it. Kind of like no one outside of the GOP establishment liked Cantor, hardly anyone who actually worked in public schools or had children in them liked Obama's education policies. Mostly insulated centrist Democratic and moderate Republican DC wonks and education reform-types liked Obama's education policies. Many of the policies that DeVos advocates for, including the Common Core, are part of the bi-partisan education reform regime that we have all been suffering through.


3. I live in a very conservative area of Virginia where public schools are very popular. In fact, public schools are very popular in many conservative areas in Virginia. 53% of white women voted for Trump. Public school teachers are 82% white and 76% female. Of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) members who voted, roughly one in five of them voted for Trump.  Among National Education Association (NEA) member voters, more than one in three likely voted for Trump.

Basically, there is bi-partisan support of public schools. A small majority of white women voted for Trump. A large majority of teachers are white women.  They might have voted for Trump (and I don't have time right now to get into how messed up that is) but that doesn't mean they take kindly to being insulted by the nomination of someone who has no experience in education and who doesn't support the work they do anyway.


4.  Parents of students with disabilities are Republicans and they are Democrats and they are Independents. Disabilities do not manifest themselves in children according to the political party of their parents. These parents are very organized and they are very big advocates for their children and their groups are very powerful. I see this where I live, too. I also have a child with a (medical) disability. Except in extreme cases, because of IDEA, a child with disabilities has a better chance of being accommodated, served, and better educated in public schools than in private schools, let alone religious schools. The idea that a child with disabilities is to be protected and equitably educated is largely a mainstream, assumed one that is part of the fabric of public schooling. I have rights as a parent of a student with a disability, my child has rights as a student with a disability, it's on paper, and everybody knows it. Everybody, that is, except for Betsy DeVos. She has shown an ignorance of IDEA and a callousness towards students with disabilities. That is a big bi-partisan, political no-no.


5. In her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos came across as robotic, fumbling, clueless, lacking in leadership skills, and bland. I have yet to meet a bland educational leader who serves in a public position. Her answer to every question was a smile and  "choice." She knew nothing beyond her own ideology.

Q: What would you do to serve students with disabilities?
A: Choice.

Q: What is your plan to stem bullying?
A: Choice.

Q: How are you going to enforce civil rights laws in our public schools?
A: Choice.

Q: What are you going to do about sexual assault on college campuses?
A: Choice.

Q: What are going to do when we give you follow-up questions to answer?
A: Plagiarize.

Plagiarizing may be part of the Trump administration modus operandi and education reform ideologues might be able to overlook it, but it does not go over well with parents and educators.


6. Betsy DeVos is a woman. She is completely unqualified but she is a woman. I don't doubt that Democrats (except for Eva Moskowitz) would oppose her nomination even if she were a man. But I wonder if a completely unqualified man would get put through the same thing.



Monday, January 23, 2017

#WomensMarch 2017


I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the Women's March on Washington this past weekend. I went with my husband, parents, and my three children. My mom's sister was also there and so were my husband's parents. And countless friends and family friends were there. It was incredible. Like nothing I have ever seen or been a part of. Amazing. I have participated in many marches and demonstrations over the years, but it's not my favorite thing; I am more comfortable with writing and making phone calls and public meetings and with direct advocacy and activism, but I know showing up for marches and protests important, too.

Here are some things that I have been puzzling over regarding the march and that various friends and folks I follow on social media have brought up (thanks if you were one of them):

1. The march was not about any one thing or one issue. It did not mean the same thing to each participant. We should not try to dictate to people how they were supposed to experience it or what they were marching for. You can't give people prerequisites for marching. You can't screen them for participation according to life story, history of activism, or issues of importance (if any). A march is public event, this one with millions of people. And anyway, that's what diversity and pluralism and democracy looks like. Really, really messy. 

In addition, feminism is not one thing and no one person gets to define it or decide who does and doesn't practice it. In that vein, this commentary was illuminating and illogical:  The author makes some good points--about the Women's March not advocating enough for policies, though I think that's what's supposed to happen when you go home. Otherwise, she talks talks a big game about unity and big tent feminism but then says, for example, that a Muslim woman wearing a veil can't be feminist and implies that religious faith is disqualifying. Huh? Maybe her "inclusive liberal feminism" isn't so inclusive after all. And maybe she is exemplifying the problem. Keep in mind that inclusive means to include and respect, not necessarily to accept as your own beliefs.

2. That being said, although the Womens March (not just in DC) was intended to be intersectional, it may not have been for all participants. We should not deny people accounts of their own experiences even if they make us uncomfortable. Collectively, women have a lot of work to do internally, as a group.

For example, I thought the DC Metropolitan Police did a great job and I personally thanked several officers along the route. That was very encouraging and a good sign. However, the DC police are well-trained in handling protests (though so far I am hearing the police in other cities were also supportive and professional). And, while the March had a diverse set of participants, it also had a lot of white people. It might be uncomfortable, but we must ask ourselves if that might have been different, according to history, if there weren't so many white people in the march. Black Lives Matter and NoDPL protesters have been peaceful, too.

3. Do not confuse critique (yes, even of the march) with lack of support. Critique is usually a sign of engagement and care. You can go to the march and be critical at the same time. We can have a big, inclusive Women's March and still talk about the role, for example, of white supremacy within women's movements. The two aren't mutually exclusive. Talking about racism and other biases and differing views among groups of women does not cause division. It helps to heal them, in my opinion. And anyway . . . The divisions. Were. Already. There.  The airing of those divisions is healthy and what the march was partly about.

On the flip side, however, I don't have a lot of tolerance for people who get hung up on the critiques only, without learning the story and without doing anything to change them. I like to earn my right to complain first. I find that when I contribute to an effort, many of my criticisms are cured because I gain insights and empathies  I didn't have before. If you are criticizing, ask yourself: Did you, in two months time, help to organize the biggest march in U.S. History? Did you contribute in even a small way? No? Then your criticisms should include what you're going to do to fix them and how you are planning to contribute.

4. If you didn't go to the march because, for example, you're offended that a black woman pointed out that racism exists among womens rights activists and even among progressives, then you probably weren't that committed to going in the first place. 54% of white women voted for Trump. It's a fact. Look, I don't feel like those women are my people, either, and there are a lot of white people in the country. Given what we know now, I'm actually surprised the numbers weren't more of an overwhelming majority. But it's there, it's real, and get used to hearing about it.

If you didn't go because privileged white women were excited about going, then you are not being very savvy about growing your movement and gaining their support. If you didn't go because one or a few other people going or talking about going said something that made you uncomfortable or said something that exhibited racism or bias, well, there were around 4,000,000 people marching in this country and you let a handful keep you away. 

Of course, there have been accounts of white women objectifying women of color at the marches or becoming defensive upon seeing their signs. Not okay.

That all being said, it's important listen to why people didn't go or if they did why they didn't have a good experience. We will learn something.

5. There are a lot of parallels to the world of education (my world) here, especially since the K-12 teaching force is dominated by white women. We can all show up to a pro-public education march and still have critiques and work to do. 

There are also implications for our two-party system. The Republicans get everyone to show up and then they sort it out later. That's why they win. (Okay, they also actively work to suppress votes of people in the other party.) As the head of my local Democratic Committee told me the other day when I asked how the conservatives in our state senate district could justify voting for some inexperienced libertarian whom they knew nothing about instead of the highly experienced and broadly respected state legislator running for the Democrats in a recent special election. "Well," she said, "they just vote for the option they have with the plan to work on them once they're in office."

At this point, that sounds like a plan.