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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
Number of posts: 46,179

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I was trying to figure out why the "trash"

function wasn't working with this thread, since "snowden" was the key word I exercised this nifty perk on. Then I realized that it's spelled wrong. So this is the first "snowden" thread I've had to see for several days.

Without diving back into the "snowden" mess, I'll say this:

DU has always been a place of tension, with opposing agendas. From the beginning, DU identified itself as "a left-wing discussion board," AND as a board supportive of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is not left-wing. Therefore, those with a left-wing viewpoint and agenda on issues were naturally going to conflict with partisans. It's a partisan board, so partisan support has always taken precedence, at least, when it comes to advocating for parties or for candidates.

The election of Obama caused a shift for DU. First of all, the partisan agenda became, not to speak out or act on issues, but to support the elected Democratic President. Regardless of his stance on issues. Those of us who were left-wing first, and Democrats second, learned to censor ourselves in '08 and '09, or to expect a stoning from the DU mob. Also, since the '08 election season, we have gained more "centrists," and lost quite a few actual left-wing DUers; some left in disgust, some were tombstoned because they didn't censor themselves enough when it came to discussing Obama and his not-so-left-wing policies.

Finally, since the transition to DU 3, DU no longer self-identifies as "left-wing." That term has been dropped in favor of "liberal." For Obama's first term, the majority of DU was very supportive. He came in for some criticism, which was blitzed with heavy attacks. Towards the end of his first term, there was a little more criticism, and his defenders, while still hard at work, did not blanket every issue quite as thoroughly. DU got in line to support him during the '12 campaign season. Then all hell broke loose. You see, many supporters expected that, as a lame duck, he would do a better job fighting for left-of-center positions. The months since November 2012, though, have seen him increase his growing efforts to give Republicans what they want, and step all over various Democratic sacred cows. The blinders have been painfully ripped from many eyes, and more and more DUers not only stand in opposition to many of his policies, but they are angry. His defenders, while dwindling, have had to get louder and louder and louder in their efforts to make everything he says and does "right."

The Snowden war is not really about Snowden. It's about supporting and defending this Democratic administration against critics, and, especially now, against criticism from within the party itself. For one side, it's about cleaning house, and maintaining some integrity. For the other, it's about the legacy of this administration, and the damage done to the party's image going into the next campaign season.

That's why I "trashed" Snowden, so threads about him don't show up for me anymore. I know where I stand, and I've spent enough time reading and responding to the hard-core defenders that I know they will not change their position. Engaging them simply urges them to further defense, since that's their primary goal.

As has been repeated so often recently, even for those still fighting about it, snowden isn't the issue. For one side, it's about privacy, the constitution, and civil liberties. For the other, it's about defending the administration, and their favorite way to do that is attack the messenger and distract from the message. It's also about the identity of the board, and it mirrors the upheaval in the identity of the Democratic Party as a whole: old Dem, or "New" Dem? DLC, or not? "Centrist," "progressive," "3rd way," all of those terms which basically mean the same: neo-liberal. Will the neo-liberals cement their ascendancy, or will "old" Democratic principles, and Democrats, wake up, rise up, and take the party back?

To be honest, the hottest debates and battles at DU all come down to that same question.

My 2 cents,

although there are already some great responses:

Has the quality of public education really gone downhill since I was a kid, or is that a myth?

Yes. The quality of public education has gone downhill, at least since I was a kid. I'm a product of public education in California, pre-proposition 13. That said, there are teachers working just as hard, teaching what we are told to teach. It's the content that has gone downhill, not the teaching.

Have kids gotten harder to teach?

From my perspective, yes. We have generations of kids who spend too much time as passive consumers of electronic stimulation at earlier and earlier ages, when we know that, from the standpoint of brain development, kids need to be, not in front of screens, but moving and doing and directly interacting with their world in the early years from birth - kindergarten; that, and direct interaction with other people, direct conversations, singing, reading, etc., are what build the neural connections necessary for academic learning, and are what build language development.

That, and the widening economic gaps which mean that more kids are growing up in poverty, make this generation harder to teach.

Are parents working too hard to help their kids, or to notice if they're failing, let alone get involved with the PTA or pay attention to school board elections?

Some are. Parent involvement has always been a function of socio-economic gaps; the more prosperous, the more involvement as a whole. Since we have more and more families not prospering, that stands to reason. In cases of generational poverty and/or illiteracy, parents never were all that involved. Generally, though, regardless of income or education levels, many of them could be counted on to support teachers' efforts. In the current generation of teacher as scapegoat, they are more likely to blame schools and teachers for problems rather than support us. Don't mistake me; I still have plenty of parents that are supportive, that work as a team with their kids and teachers. There are more and more every year, though, that target teachers whenever something goes wrong.

Are class sizes too big?

Yes. We've known since before I left college to teach that, according to research, the optimal class size for learning was 15. I've taught class sizes ranging from 20 (during CA's class size reduction experiment) to 42. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.

Are populations more diverse?

In many places. Diverse socio-economic strata, diverse languages, cultures, ethnicity.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, are we spending less per child than we were 50 years ago?

Not if you get your information from right-wing privatizers, we're not. I can't really answer this question with any confidence. What I can say is that we spend whatever it is we are spending differently. We have cut in many areas, and now spend a literal fortune on tests, testing, test scoring, and outside consultants to manage our data. We spend a fortune on programs promising to prepare students for those tests. We spend and spend and spend on teaching to the test, on everything related to "data." That money has to come from somewhere.

Private enterprise has wanted to get their grubby corporate mitts on all that lovely public money expended on education for decades. Their successes are growing at an alarming rate.

What factors are actually different now from when they were back when public education was strong (at least, it was strong at my school when I was growing up)?

We provide a less-well-rounded education; if it is not tested, it's not taught, or the time and focus to teach it effectively is not there. We spend our time in staff meetings, in team meetings, in class with students, in meetings with parents, talking about test scores.

We go on fewer field trips, students are provided with less in the way of fine and performing arts, and, tragically, LESS CRITICAL THINKING. Students are more passive, less active, in the process of learning because that is the way their classes have been structured; it's all about the test.

There is less enjoyment; learning, reading, writing, thinking because it's fun, or interesting, is a foreign concept to many of today's students. It's all about taking your medicine so you can pass your academic physicals.

What are the causes of those changes, if any?

Ronald Reagan. A Nation At Risk. Corporate desire to profit from the tax dollars spent on education. The neoliberal economic movement that requires large pools of cheap labor and cannon fodder infests the public education system from the top down. The standards and accountability movement. They act like we never had "standards" or taught anyone anything before they whipped out their endless list of isolated "standards," long enough to, according to Marzano, require that students attend grade 22 to be adequately taught all the standards on the books before graduating. The attached high-stakes testing. The authoritarian regime that has systematically demonized teachers an education, eroding public confidence.

How does the current system actually work?

Teachers get a Master's degree, plus pass some standardized tests to get a teaching license; requirements are different in every state. They continue taking classes so that they can renew that license every few years. They are responsible, once hired, for regular assessments, for tracking each students' assessment data and making sure that lessons target the weaknesses revealed. They are evaluated on things like: whether or not their standards and objectives are posted and students know them; whether or not all students are engaged; how they manage all that assessment data; how their students do on standardized tests.

I think the system is more stressful for students than it used to be. I know teachers are more stressed, and it's hard to create a stress-free environment working under that kind of stress. High-stakes = high stress. These days, for older students, those tests are high-stakes for them, as well. In my state, they are part of high school grad requirements for everyone, including special ed.

How are the administrators selected?

That hasn't really changed, at least, not in the districts I've worked in. Of course, I've only worked in the system 30, not 50, years, lol. The Superintendent is selected by the school board. The Supe selects assistant admins at the district level, and they select and assign admins at the site level.

Where is the union, what role has it played?

At the national level, the union has been pandering to neoliberal Democrats that are working against our best interests. For example, my union, the NEA's, endorsement of Barack Obama. I'm sure it's because they don't want to be left out of the conversation. That strategy hasn't worked, obviously. Example: the appointment of non-educator corporate stooge Arne Duncan as Sec of Ed.

Some local unions have been active, on-fire, and effective. Look at Chigaco and Wisconsin for examples. Others are like Obama himself, steadily "compromising" away our value as educators.

How are union leaders selected?

Elected by members. To be honest, the only candidates I ever know anything about are the locals; in state and national elections, I usually can't find enough information to make a sound choice.

An interesting, and I don't mean that in a positive way, development locally is in doing away with regular union officers; apparently, next year we will be governed by committee.

What are the large and small, direct and indirect causes of the problems?

1. Funding
2. Anti-public school, anti-teacher propanda
3. Privatization and corporatization efforts

What are the real solutions?

First of all, the solutions need to be in the hands of educators, not political or corporate powers that be.

We've got plenty of solutions, but people have to listen, and have to be willing to implement them. I can offer up a page full, and they will represent only a tiny fraction of what my colleagues can do should you turn us loose to implement our ideas.

Here are just a few, in no particular order:

1.Stop standardizing everything. We recognize that students are people, that people are not standardized, and that not every strategy, system, or program is right for every person. Allow us to truly differentiate at all levels. That means that every school in a district doesn't have to use the same materials and lessons and pacing schedule.

2. Stop privatizing. We don't need outside for-profit people to run our schools. We don't need charters. We can have a variety of different schools, with different philosophies, schedules, methodologies, etc.. within every district. The union needs to be on board with that.

3. Get rid of high-stakes testing in its entirety. Assessments to inform instruction? Yes. We don't need as many, we don't need them to be the main focus, and we especially don't need the high-stakes.

I notice that my first 3 propositions are all about what NOT to do. I'll focus from here on out on what TO do, with the understanding that, without halting harmful policies, the rest won't be effective.

4. Reduce the size. Smaller districts, smaller schools, smaller class sizes...stronger, more connected community where it is much harder for students to "slip through cracks," and much easier to form positive working relationships with parents. More adult staff on campus, as well as a better student-teacher ratio in the classroom. K-8s instead of institutional-sized middle schools at the hardest age people experience. Enough Counselors, Nurses, PE teachers, Art teachers, Music teachers, playground and bathroom supervisors, and people, time and places for extra help for anyone who needs it.

5. Fully funded special ed, plus enough staff, resources, and time to help anyone else who needs it, as already mentioned.

6. Real kitchens, cooks, and fresh, healthy food served instead of junk food.

7. Before and after school programs and services for those who want or need them: health, tutoring, enrichment, parent ed, etc.. In addition, some organization like the Family Access Network for every school site to help families with whatever they need.

8. A well-stocked library and certified school librarian in every school.

9. Local empowerment: give school sites more autonomy, within safety and other regulations to protect student and teacher rights. Empowering people at the site level creates a strong, vibrant team whose motivation to succeed exceeds those struggling under authoritarian rule.

10. Treat teachers like professionals; fully fund all services rather than depending on teachers to put in hours beyond a contractual day, paid and unpaid, that lead to exhaustion and burn-out.

11. Single-track, year-round school: having taught several year-round calendars, I can attest to the fact that they increase student achievement and reduce burnout with shorter, more frequent breaks.

12. Looping: students and teachers spending more than one year together builds a stronger working relationship, and the second year always sees more growth.

I could go on and on, with the large and the small; you've got both in the above list.

The resources to create a positive, supportive environment that can offer a world-class education to every student that walks through the doors, and enough autonomy to decide how to do just that, with enough regulation to protect the rights of all.

Should Health Insurance Premiums cost as much or more as one's mortgage or rent?

With deductibles and copays still needing to be paid?

Mine does. I am lower middle class, with an income that has gotten smaller the last 4 years in a row.

Way too many people,

citizens and elected Congresspeople, allowed fear and anger to rule.

That's how we got the patriot acts.

That's how we got the war on terror.

That's how we bankrupted the nation. That's how we caved and regressed economically, politically, socially, and on civil liberties.

Some of us who knew it was a con said so. Many didn't, because "9/11 changed everything."

Too many people never saw, or refused to see, the way 9/11 was used to push emotional buttons, move people past rationality, and manipulate politics in favor of an administration that, until then, had no legitimacy and wasn't getting anywhere.

Too many people allowed themselves to be used.

In all fairness, even those who saw, who knew, never believed it could be taken as far as it was; as far as it still is.

The writing was on the wall with the 2000 Selection. 9/11 and the bogus "war on terror" distracted too many from that. Too many ALLOWED it, and allowed those who stood up, who spoke out, who tried to act, to be marginalized and ignored. AND THEY ARE STILL ALLOWING IT.

Some of that is very good:

"...a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play."

Will he embrace fair trade based on strong environmental and labor standards?

"For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class."

Will he abandon the neoliberal economic policies that have widened the economic gap and embrace economic policies that will shrink it?

"We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war."

I believe that, anyway. If that's what he believed, he might have taken more decisive action to end the perpetual war on terror sooner.

"We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. "

I assume this means that he will embrace fighting for single-payer, not-for-profit health care, which is what is required to make that care actually affordable; that he will never allow SS or medicare or medicaid on the table for cuts or for changes that reduce benefits in anyway, and that he will champion beefing up the protections they offer.

"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

How will we respond? Will we revamp our tax structure to include carbon taxes, and deductions for those that reduce the carbon footprint they leave?

"For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall. "

How does this work in practice? Does it mean that DUers, listening to his urging, will stop calling each other and every non-Democrat names? That he will stand up for, and fight for, principles and ideas that may take many years to become part of policy? Or does it mean that standing on principle is "absolutism," and that we continue to allow our principles to be eroded in the name of "compromise?"

What makes it good, though, is the action he takes. Will he walk the talk, or continue to speak eloquently while walking a neoliberal path?

Some of it is, frankly, the reason why I have never been a fan:

"We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American."

To me, "outworn programs" is a phrase engineered to continue eroding public education, social security, and other important PUBLIC programs. "Reform our schools" is not even code; after 4 years, his neoliberal policies for privatization and public education destruction are blatant, and the effects have been harmful. "Work harder?" Really? Like we aren't already working harder and harder for less and less? That has the unpleasant taste of conservative bigotry, that those on the bottom rungs of society are there because they chose to be there, because they are too lazy to work hard enough. As a teacher, I've learned that I'm to blame for every social ill, that I "suck," as does the public system I work in, that I'm lazy, and that I need to work more than the 10-12 hours I already put in on a paid 8 hour contract, and that I need to do it for less money. "Means will change" means, to me, more privatization.

"We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom."

This smacks of empire to me. "Our interests" = corporate interests.

All in all a mixed bag. Time will tell how much is sincere, and how much propaganda.

Public education reflects the public.

When the public supports the kinds of deforms currently destroying the system, then it's going to suck.

Unfortunately, the public keeps electing education deformers to office, so the public is getting exactly what it has asked for.

There are still plenty of good things happening in public education. The vast majority of those good things happen in spite of education policy and reform, not because of it. They happen because teachers work to find ways around, over, under, and through the obstacles that the public, through their votes, have thrown in the way of a vibrant, healthy system.

Just this last week, I reminded one of my classes that THEY are the reason I show up, that everything we do is supposed to be about them, and that, when I see them smile, see their faces light up, it makes me glad to be in the classroom. That was the morning after another demoralizing, depressing, divisive staff meeting about teacher evaluations, test scores, and VAM. Demoralizing, depressing, and divisive, even though our fucking test scores were the best in our district.

It being a term deadline, another class wished me a good 3-day weekend as they left yesterday. I pointed to the 600 papers stacked to take home, that must be done so that I can get their report cards done, and said, "that's my weekend." One student responded: "That's why I'll never be a teacher."

I haven't procrastinated. That over-large stack of work all came in this week; our "proficiency-based" system says that they keep trying until they meet benchmarks. Right before the reporting period, a bunch of procrastinators decided that they wanted to produce work that would meet benchmarks. Fancy that.

Another student asked me, as we were on our way to lunch, "Do you like being a teacher?" My answer? I love students. I love teaching students. I love sharing my love of literacy, of thinking, of learning, with students. If I'd known how much of what we do to foster that love would be limited, if I'd known that I'd be forced to narrow learning down to teaching to standardized tests, if I'd known that I would be forced to worship at the testing altar, if I'd known that I would be forced to treat my students like products on an assembly line in a factory, I would have run far, far away from the profession.

I am so grateful for students who, in spite of everything, show up with those smiles, with eagerness to learn. They keep me finding ways to sneak some fun, some variety, some interest into the day. I am grateful to parents and students who return from high school to thank me for helping them be ready, and who return to ask me to attend their graduations when it's time.

Does public education suck? The bipartisan authoritarian system evolving right now does, indeed, suck. Educators who resist, who know better, are holding the line. When we retire, leaving the field to those younger teachers who've never known any different, the final nail will be hammered into the coffin.

Unless the public decides to step up to the plate and SUPPORT public education, instead of attacking it by word and deed. As this article points out, it can be done.

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