Parents have rights.

In their efforts to promote charter schools, some education reform activists couch their advocacy in language describing “choice,” parent rights and even sometimes suggest that traditional schools and teachers pose a danger to students while going virtually unaccountable. This skewed and theatrical view of reality may be a reason many parents have been resistant to the testing obsession forced upon them by policy-makers with limited or zero experience in true public schools.  Some parents may not be eager to exercise the rights to education managed by non-educators, to more significant, deterministic and difficult tests for their children, and to more easily fired teachers. For them, it may be about a greater purpose and potential they see in their children above and beyond compliance with the free-market status quo.

Parents have the right to be concerned with misguided and dishonest reform. In fact, they should be.

When trying to legitimize their anti-teacher campaign reformers may even refer to constitutional rights- and have, as is the case with Campbell Brown-former CNN anchor now representing the cause of other privileged and wealthy people who mess with the schools other people’s children attend. Brown became a torch-bearer for the attack on teacher tenure, one marked by the Vergara (2014) lawsuit. Vergara plaintiffs were charging that California statutes regarding teacher tenure and seniority were unconstitutional because they potentially allowed for retention of ineffective teachers and thus those statutes denied equal protection to students assigned to these teachers. The court found in favor of the plaintiffs in June, 2014, but the decision was appealed. In April 2016, just earlier this year, the Vergara decision was overturned. The appeals decision states:

 Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach.

Parents have the right to be concerned with misguided and dishonest reform. In fact, they should be. Click To Tweet

It was my choice to bold “may” and “hypothetical alternative system” there. The appeals court realized the weakness in attempts at constitutionalizing the position that it undoubtedly is the failure to identify ineffective teachers that causes inequity in student outcomes, and that the hope for some imaginary better system that doesn’t even exist yet is enough reason to dismantle the one that already does. There is no way to know either supposition to the degree that it supports a ruling against existing language. I’m sorry about throwing around jargon like that, because I don’t really care for some the bullshit phraseology that gets thrown around the education debate (e.g.”poverty is an excuse”, “public charters”, “failing schools”, “don’t steal possible”, “prison pipeline”…). It ends up being a salad of empty catch-phrases used to sell you stinky stuff wrapped in either inciting rhetoric or unassailable verbiage. You know, we have to “shock and awe” but we shouldn’t “cut and run”. When crafted language replaces honest discussion, the truth is being hidden.

As an aside on B.S., Chris Stewart who is the Director of Outreach and External Affairs at Education Post writes powerfully on  matters related to education . I don’t always agree with him, but the man has passion and a point of view and delivers them both effectively (a reader has no doubt where he stands). Recently he wrote about bullshit addiction and included some scholarly research regarding the propensity of people to be drawn in by it. Education reform debates are certainly full of it from every angle, and the article Stewart links to, On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshitdescribes how people’s minds may or may not work as they sort through the smart-sounding B.S. they are confronted with:

…it is worthwhile to distinguish uncritical or reflexive open-mindedness from thoughtful or reflective open-mindedness. Whereas reflexive openmindedness results from an intuitive mindset that is very accepting of information without very much processing, re- flective open-mindedness (or active open-mindedness; e.g., Baron, Scott, Fincher & Metz, 2014) results from a mindset that searches for information as a means to facilitate critical analysis and reflection.

It’s about realizing a difference between being willing to accept as true just about anything that sounds plausible or agreeable without taking the time to think (reflexive), vs the willingness to agree if given the time to consider information and facts that will support agreement (reflective). The education reform narrative often appeals to the knee-jerk reflexive tendency as is the case in Vergara- posing that there are some undesirable teachers out there protected by tenure, so we should abolish tenure. The reflective appeals decision in the Vergara case verifies that it is a deeper issue that requires more thought.

But parents have the right to know what people are really trying to do to the schools their children attend.

So to deliver it B.S. free: the plaintiffs (and Campbell Brown) were attacking tenure for all teachers under the umbrella of a general understanding that there are some ineffective teachers out there. They were going at regulations they see as cumbersome in identifying ineffective teachers and letting them go, but had no workable alternative system to suggest-they just wanted it to be easier to get rid of teachers. More easily fired teachers is something some education reformers really, really want.

Following the Vergara  appeals decision, the flaming Brown-torch of justice for the school children apparently fizzled. The once champion of the children then went kinda quiet on her plans to take the tenure attack nation-wide, according to Mercedes Schneider. Mercedes describes how the Vergera events rolled out in an April blog post.

 

In the end, regardless of any B.S., legal action, propaganda, or court decision-parents have a right to want better things for their children. 

Who can argue with that? Heck, I have my own past struggles with local up to state level pretenders in advocating for my child. But imagine the path for parents who are less capable of exercising their rights and chasing down the guardians and distributors of opportunity; less experienced with bureaucracies; busy working multiple jobs; incarcerated…Don’t bristle at the suggestion that some parents are less capable or even incarcerated. These are my understandings gained from the comments of front-line school choice, parent-advocate bloggers who write and post frequently on twitter regarding the rights and power of caring parents (as well as the far better test scores and graduation rates in selective charter schools sought by them). When I make observations that those powerful and involved parents who show up to “wait for Superman” or get their child into a lottery and/or into a selective school could be the driving force behind future success, not necessarily just the ability to tear up little girls’ papers, keep out students less prepared for success, or counsel out those who prove challenging: the responses vary. Few want to acknowledge that there are other types of parents out there-from those just too darn busy trying to help their family survive down to those who can be destructive influences.

Thankfully the destructive type are as rare as the “dangerous” type of teacher-but what if a parent is less available for, capable of, or prepared to make good choices for their children? If you are reading this, do you believe such parents exist and if so: what do we do about supporting them in advocating for their child and instituting real change in the democratically controlled institutions they have and in their own communities vs surrendering their children to the market? There is little talk among the reform crowd about the real dangers our children face. Imagine being children cast into this pit: lead in the walls and water; in the air they breathe; “food deserts” that put healthy meals out of reach for those living in decaying communities… Leaders rage against it when there’s a camera on them, but quietly undermine and de-fund the solutions, or even ignore the real dangers to children. Sad that we often only know these things because of comedians who honestly share news.

Parents definitely have the right to safe, non-toxic living conditions for their children…Where the hell is Campbell Brown on that?

The best education reformers can come up with is “poverty is an excuse”. “Poverty is an excuse”… Really? There has been no more reflexive, dangerous B.S. deflection than that. Things having serious science, research, and verification as hazards to child development are being perpetrated on the poor and perpetuated by the most looming, threatening status quo of all: the influence of wealth over policy. For those teary-eyed 1% folks who plead the cause of the iddy-biddy babies, who say that protecting children by attacking education is what they are all about…really???

Parents have a right to a nation that takes care of its children and its soul. It has done neither.

Time to end the well funded public relations campaign aimed at distracting citizens from the sickening sell-outs running this show and turning society against its own schools. If it’s better outcomes we want, step one is collaborate, step two is cooperate. Make no mistakes about where my loyalties lie, it really is with the kids and anyone else who is truly with them, not with the dollar signs protecting positions that allow others to pretend to be with the kids-whether you suck at the Gates teat or huddle in the union fold. If you don’t fight for gainful employment for mommies and daddies over the “gig economy”; if you aren’t into cleaning up urban neighborhoods and guaranteeing clean water and good food for families, if you aren’t trying to get books into homes and children into safe, warm beds…if you do not advocate for education that pushes the nation towards those conditions then you are not protecting children.

Children have the right to be truly protected, not charter school propaganda-protected.

Test scores? Believing you should get a merit badge fighting for those before all the other things needed to succeed is also B.S. Throwing shade on folks who defend the work done in schools that struggle against those previously mentioned destructive forces, while praising those who design a job and a school for themselves, avoiding the real job rather than taking the job on… that’s B.S. too. Come to the table, drop the agenda and the language it’s wrapped in, and lets do a better more honest conversation right.

Jake Miller, teacher, writer and all-around interesting sort, recently wrote this great article about ideals, discourse, and Mr. Rogers. Any time Fred Rogers can be woven into a discussion it gets my attention and I look forward to the “Six Degrees of Mr. Rogers” game that is surely coming (if not already here). If not-maybe I have my retirement plan! Jake wrote something great about discussion freed of the angry sledgehammer of ideals, and that’s where I want to end this.

“Discourse-true discussion on topics-is much more like a fine chisel. It takes much more time. It takes much more patience. It tinkers away at the rocks instead of leveling them.”

Parents have the right to this type of discussion when it comes to their children’s schools.

 

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