Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On “So Much Reform, So Little Change”

“After spending more than thirty years working in urban education, I have finally found a lucid description of many of the things I experienced as a classroom teacher and administrator. Hopefully the education community will use Dr. Payne's observations and insights in their efforts to improve urban education.” (Amazon reviewer, T. Tenny on "So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools" by Charles Payne)

In an effort to promote this book, I offer you a few excerpts from the first chapter. The bolds are mine.

Chapter 1: Dimensions of Demoralization

If we take organizational morale to be “the enthusiasm and persistence with which a member of a group engages in the prescribed activities of that group” (Manning 1991), the fact that an institution needs to squelch and marginalize its most energetic, most enthusiastic, or best-prepared members tells us these are demoralized institutions…

All this stands behind clocks that don’t get fixed and broken windows that don’t get repaired. Failed institutions make the simplest things difficult. The problems manifest themselves in so many ways that they may obscure the fact that many of the discrete problems are either generated by or reinforced by the sheer lack of connectedness among people. Giving up on the institutional mission goes hand in glove with giving up on one’s colleagues. The denizens of demoralized social spaces do what they have to but without little heart or hope. (p. 23)

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Whenever we talk about the social climate in inner-city schools, we need to make a special effort to remember that what we are seeing has structural roots. It is all too easy to see grown people acting like fools and assume that’s all they are. Take a decently functioning suburban school, take away 40 percent of its funding, most of its better teachers, and the top-performing 50 percent of its students, and see how much fun faculty meetings would be after that. If we give people an enormously challenging task and only a fraction of the resources they need to accomplish it, sooner or later they start to turn on one another, making the job more difficult still. If we are not mindful of the inadequacy of the resource base, it always seems as if the problem is just those nutty people teaching in urban schools, as opposed to the conditions under which we expect them to teach. (p. 24)

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About the manifestation of weak social webbing and the Principle of Negative Interpretation:

Whatever other people do is interpreted in the most negative way possible. If parents don’t show up at school, what does it mean? That they don’t care. If a colleague fails to make hall duty, what does it mean? That she’s blowing off her responsibility. If a principal fails to observe classes? She doesn’t care about the kids. But if parents do show up? They’re just coming to stick their noses in our business. If the colleague shows up for hall duty? Sucking up to the principal. If the principal does start doing observations? She’s just trying to impress the people downtown—and why is she just starting now? If a teacher is really nice to students, they may take that as proof she thinks they’re dumb and won’t hold them to any standards. If she’s mean? Racist bitch. Ambiguous evidence is consistently interpreted in the most negative way possible; no one gets the benefit of the doubt. (p. 25)

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A negative climate is fertile ground for the development of factions—older teachers versus younger ones; primary-grade teachers versus upper grade; third-floor teachers against first-floor teachers; constructivist, inquiry-oriented teachers versus traditional ones; teachers in the annex against teachers in the main building; Spanish-speaking teachers against English-speaking ones; U.S.-born Spanish-speaking teachers against Spanish-speaking teachers born elsewhere. Race and ethnicity are powerfully implicated in these divisions—as well as in most aspects of school interpersonal dynamics—but rarely acknowledges the 800-pound gorilla that everyone pretends not to see. (p. 27)

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It bears repeating that climates of pervasive distrust mean that schools cannot make use of financial and technical resources even when they become available. Inner-city schools are criminally under-resourced; still, in demoralized schools, making resources available hardly means they will ever be brought to bear. Expensive teaching materials sit on a shelf because teachers don’t believe they will make any difference, or they wind up in the room of a teacher who has political pull but no notion of how to use them. Those conservatives who say urban school systems waste substantial resources are exactly right, however little they understand the context. (p. 30)

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The weak social webbing of bottom-tier schools makes it difficult for the schools to use resources from the outside, but is also degrades the human resources already there. In the toughest schools, change agents would be well advised to proceed as if operating in a place suffering from collective depression. (p. 31)

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An excerpt from a study done by the Consortium on Chicago School Research:

Social trust is a highly significant factor. In fact, it may well be that social trust is the key factor associated with improving schools. Teachers in the top 30 schools generally sense a great deal of respect from other teachers, indicating that they respect other teachers who take the lead in school improvement efforts and feel comfortable expressing their worries and concerns with colleagues. In contrast, in the bottom 30 schools, teachers explicitly state that they do not trust each other. They believe that only half of the teachers in the school really care about each other and they perceive limited respect from their colleagues.

There were similar patterns in terms of parent-teacher trust: “In the bottom 30 schools… teachers perceive much less respect from parents and report that only about half of their colleagues really care about the local community and feel supported by parents.” (p. 34)

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It goes without saying that the schools with the weakest social webbing are likely to be concentrated in the neighborhood with the weakest social capital… neighborhoods with strong social capital are four or five times as likely to have high-functioning schools as neighborhoods where the residents feel disconnected from one another. At the neighborhood level and at the school level, our most vulnerable students are vulnerable precisely because they are surrounded by adults who cannot cooperate with one another. (p. 38)

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The theme of the next two chapters is that demoralized environments lead to people being invested in the failure of those around them. My failure gives me reason to hope for yours. The more plausibly parents can point the finger at teachers, the less they need to worry about how good a job they are doing as parents. The more teachers can point to the inadequacies of principals, the less reason for scrutinizing their own behavior. At the same time, principals have to answer to the people downtown, and as chapter 5 will argue, that has meant answering to people who are collectively incompetent and technically irresponsible. There has not been much connection between the things that animate them and the lives of children and parent and teachers. Yet if principals want to keep their jobs, they have to keep these people happy. This, then, is the terrain against which inner-city principals must lead, with the legitimacy of their position up for questioning from the very beginning, with the people around them predisposed to being critical and carping and the people above them capable of doing little more than posing new problems. Small wonder that the micropolitics of many failing schools becomes particularly contentious or that many principals can’t find a better way to negotiate their situation than by becoming petty autocrats. (p. 41)

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I suspect that one of the reasons we have such persistent difficulty appreciating how damnably hard it is to change urban schools is the lack of respect we have for the people who work in them, which then predisposes us to simplistic answers. It is useful to be reminded that it is not, fundamentally, a problem that can be reduced to just the people in schools. The people in inner-city schools are reacting to sustained failure much as people in other failed institutions do. (p. 45)

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The fundamentally ahistorical, nonsociological, and decontextualized thinking that dominated this discourse makes it hard to appreciate the overdetermined nature of failure in the inner city. If we did appreciate it, we wouldn’t have so many proposals that assume that if we just had more accountability, if we just had better teachers, if the teachers just cared more about children, if we just paid them more, if we could just operate schools under free-market principles, if we could just operate them more democratically, if we just put a computer on every desk, if we could just get schools to make decisions based on data, if we could just make lifelong learners of teachers, if we just put teachers in professional learning communities, if we just guaranteed every child a college education, everything wourd be all right. There is a mammoth disconnect between what we know about the complex, self-reinforcing character of failure in bottom-tier schools and the ultimately simplistic thinking behind many of the most popular reform proposals. What this seems to imply is not an argument for this or that program, but rather, for a style of work, a more intensive and robust way of intervening. (p. 45)

The PP says:

One of the things that bugs me the most is the cruel and insulting speech that accompanies the current reform movement. It is usually spoken by people who have never personally experienced these schools, and, therefore, it comes from a place that has no understanding of the dynamics. This harmful speech is the exact opposite of what those schools need, because it only produces more demoralization. That is just one reason why I don't trust the reformers or their motives.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A very important collection of other-statistics

There’s too much talk about the academic attainment of places like Finland and Singapore in education babble these days. Americans would be wise to stop dwelling on the international comparisons of student test scores.

Instead, we need to take a serious look at other indicators, such as the ones below. Then, we should begin the conversation about how much the figures are a reflection of our deeper attitudes about families and children. And that is not a pretty picture.

Mostly, we need to stop getting distracted by comparing ourselves to the Joneses and start to deal with our own enormous flaws. And we especially need to put an end to that fixation on supposed inadequacies of public school teachers. The failures of our children aren't the teachers' fault.

The figures are from the well-reviewed site NationMaster which draws from international studies and always cites the source. Note: "=" means a tie with other countries.

So read up. "Thar’s gold in them thar hills."


Soft drink consumption (Litres per person per year)

# 1 United States: 216 litres

# 2 Ireland: 126 litres

= 3 Canada: 119.8 litres

# 15 Finland: 52 litres

# 17 France: 37.2 litres

Households with television (Households with television are the share of households with a television set. Some countries report only the number of households with a color television set, and therefore the true number may be higher than reported.)

# 2 Norway: 99.97 % 2002

= 9 Canada: 99 % 2003

= 9 Japan: 99 % 2004

# 23 United States: 97.84 % 2002

# 25 United Kingdom: 97.5 % 2001

# 48 Finland: 94.1 % 2005

Television viewing (hours per person per week)

= 1 United Kingdom: 28 hours

= 1 United States: 28 hours

= 11 Finland: 18 hours

= 11 Norway: 18 hours

= 11 Sweden: 18 hours

Infant mortality rate

# 1 Angola: 182.31 deaths/1,000 live births

# 3 Afghanistan: 154.67 deaths/1,000 live births

= 111 Mexico: 19.01 deaths/1,000 live births

# 185 United States: 6.3 deaths/1,000 live births

# 194 Canada: 5.08 deaths/1,000 live births

# 219 Finland: 3.5 deaths/1,000 live births

Abortions (per capita)

# 1 Russia: 19.2885 per 1,000 people

# 6 United States: 4.0945 per 1,000 people

# 15 Finland: 1.8924 per 1,000 people

Teenage birth rate (The number of births to women aged below 20 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19.)

# 1 United States: 52.1

# 2 United Kingdom: 30.8

# 8 Canada: 20.2

# 20 Finland: 9.2

# 27 Japan: 4.6

Age of women at first childbirth

# 1 New Zealand: 29.9 years old

# 8 Finland: 27.4 years old

= 14 United States: 24.9 years old

Marriage rate (Number of marriages per 1,000 people per year)

# 1 United States: 9.8

# 2 Russia: 8.9

# 10 United Kingdom: 6.8

# 26 Finland: 4.8

Divorce rate (Number of divorces per 1,000 people per year)

# 1 United States: 4.95

# 3 Russia: 3.36

# 4 United Kingdom: 3.08

# 9 Finland: 1.85

Lone parent families

# 1 Canada: 11%

# 2 United Kingdom: 10%

= 3 United States: 9%

= 3 Finland: 9%

= 18 Japan: 5%

= 18 Germany: 5%

# 23 Sweden: 3%

Paid maternity leave

Brazil - 120 days

Canada - 55% up to $413/week for 50 weeks (15 weeks maternity + 35 weeks parental leave shared with father)

Costa Rica - 4 months

Finland - 105 days

Japan - 14 weeks

Singapore - 12 weeks

United Kingdom - 6 weeks (90%) 20 weeks at a fixed amount (as of March 2006 = £108.85)

United States - 0 weeks

Working mothers (Working proportion of mothers with children under 6 years old 2001)

# 1 Sweden: 76

# 8 United States: 61

= 9 Finland: 59

# 12 United Kingdom: 55

Trade union membership

# 1 Sweden: 82%

= 2 Finland: 76%

# 9 Canada: 30%

# 10 United Kingdom: 29%

# 11 Germany: 26%

= 14 New Zealand: 22%

= 14 Japan: 22%

# 17 United States: 13%


Child poverty (Child poverty index is defined as the share of the children living in the households with income below 50% of the national median.)

# 1 Mexico: 26.2

# 2 United States: 22.4

#7 Canada: 15.5

#13 Germany: 10.7

# 21 Finland: 4.3

Population below median income (Percentage of population living below 50% of median income.)

# 1 Mexico: 22.1

# 2 Russia: 20.1

# 3 United States: 17

# 24 Sweden: 6.6

# 25 Finland: 5.4

Income distribution: Poorest 10% [The share of income or consumption (%) held by the poorest 10%]

= 1 Belarus: 5.1%

= 1 Slovakia: 5.1%

# 3 Japan: 4.8%

= 7 Finland: 4.2%

= 7 Rwanda: 4.2%

= 84 Burundi: 1.8%

= 84 Mali: 1.8%

= 84 United States: 1.8%

Income distribution: Richest 10% [The share of income or consumption (%) held by the richest 10%]

# 1 Swaziland: 50.2%

# 2 Nicaragua: 48.8%

# 3 Brazil: 48%

# 54 United States: 30.5%

# 108 Japan: 21.7%

# 109 Finland: 21.6%


Child maltreatment deaths

= 1 Mexico: 2.2 per 100,000 children

= 1 United States: 2.2 per 100,000 children

= 7 Canada: 0.7 per 100,000 children

= 7 Finland: 0.7 per 100,000 children

= 24 Italy: 0.2 per 100,000 children

= 24 Ireland: 0.2 per 100,000 children

# 27 Spain: 0.1 per 100,000 children

Cannabis use (Percentage share of people who have used cannabis, generally including people 15 and above. Different nations have, however, focussed their studies on different age groups.)

# 1 New Zealand: 22.23%

# 2 Australia: 17.93%

# 3 United States: 12.3%

# 4 United Kingdom: 9%

# 21 Finland: 2.49%

# 25 Sweden: 0.98%

# 26 Japan: 0.05%

Amphetamine use (Percentage of people who have used amphetamines, generally for ages 15 and over.)

# 1 Australia: 3.6%

# 2 United Kingdom: 3%

# 6 United States: 0.7%

= 20 Sweden: 0.19%

= 20 Finland: 0.19%

# 22 Canada: 0.15%

Happiness level: Not very or not at all happy (Proportion of people who answered the survey question "Taking all things together, would you say you are: very happy, quite happy, not very happy, or not at all happy?" by stating that they were "not very" happy or "not at all" happy.)

# 1 Bulgaria: 62%

= 31 Japan: 14%

# 34 Canada: 12%

= 36 Finland: 8%

= 36 United States: 8%

= 39 United Kingdom: 7%

= 44 Australia: 5%

Happiness level: Very happy (Proportion of people who answered the survey question: "Taking all things together, would you say you are: very happy, quite happy, not very happy, or not at all happy?" by stating that they were "Very happy".)

# 1 Venezuela: 55%

# 2 Nigeria: 45%

= 7 United States: 39%

# 28 Uruguay: 21%

= 29 Finland: 20%

# 31 Bangladesh: 18%

Suicide rates in ages 15-24

# 1 New Zealand: 26.7 per 100,000 people

# 2 Finland: 22.8 per 100,000 people

= 4 Canada: 15 per 100,000 people

= 4 Austria: 15 per 100,000 people

# 7 United States: 13.7 per 100,000 people


Average years of schooling of adults

# 1 United States: 12

# 4 Canada: 11.6

# 6 Australia: 10.9

# 8 Germany: 10.2

# 9 Finland: 10

= 35 Mexico: 7.2

= 35 Italy: 7.2

= 83 Haiti: 2.8

Duration of compulsory education

= 1 Germany: 13 years

= 1 Netherlands: 13 years

= 7 New Zealand: 12 years

= 7 United Kingdom: 12 years

= 7 United States: 12 years

= 34 Finland: 10 years

= 34 Mexico: 10 years

= 34 Japan: 10 years

= 34 Russia: 10 years

Adults at high literacy level

# 1 Sweden: 35.5%

# 2 Norway: 29.4%

= 4 Finland: 25.1%

= 4 Canada: 25.1%

# 8 United Kingdom: 19.1%

# 9 United States: 19%

# 10 Germany: 18.9%

# 11 New Zealand: 17.6%

Adults at low literacy level

# 1 Portugal: 80.1%

# 5 New Zealand: 50.6%

# 6 United Kingdom: 50.4%

# 7 United States: 49.6%

# 10 Canada: 42.9%

# 13 Finland: 36.8%

Public spending on education: % of GDP

# 1 Kiribati: 16.53 % 2002

# 6 Cuba: 9.77 % 2005

# 19 Sweden: 7.53 % 2003

# 31 Finland: 6.53 % 2003

# 45 United States: 5.85 % 2003

# 48 Mexico: 5.79 % 2003

= 64 Canada: 5.23 % 2002

Public spending on education: % of government expenditure

# 1 Yemen: 32.78 % 2000

# 5 Saudi Arabia: 27.57 % 2004

# 70 United States: 15.25 % 2003

# 71 Denmark: 15.08 % 2003

# 101 Finland: 12.82 % 2003

Student attitude: Dislike of school

# 1 Belgium: 42%

# 2 Italy: 38%

# 5 United States: 35%

# 12 Finland: 26%

= 13 Japan: 25%

= 13 Germany: 25%

Student attitude: Find school boring

# 1 Ireland: 67%

# 2 United States: 61%

= 3 Finland: 60%

= 16 France: 32%

= 16 Japan: 32%


Prisoners (per capita)

# 1 United States: 715 per 100,000 people

# 2 Russia: 584 per 100,000 people

# 3 Belarus: 554 per 100,000 people

= 113 Finland: 71 per 100,000 people

Adults prosecuted (per capita)

# 1 United States: 48.029 per 1,000 people

# 2 Finland: 31.6349 per 1,000 people

# 3 New Zealand: 31.059 per 1,000 people

Murders (per capita)

# 1 Colombia: 0.617847 per 1,000 people

# 2 South Africa: 0.496008 per 1,000 people

# 5 Russia: 0.201534 per 1,000 people

# 6 Mexico: 0.130213 per 1,000 people

# 24 United States: 0.042802 per 1,000 people

# 30 Finland: 0.0283362 per 1,000 people

% homicides with firearms

# 1 Thailand: 79.5805

# 3 Colombia: 45.2092

# 7 United States: 39.5604

# 17 Mexico: 20.6051

# 21 Australia: 16.3435

# 32 Singapore: 2.6316

Additional information

Re single parent trends, from the Census Bureau:

The growth rate of single parents was nearly 4 percent a year in the first half of the 1990s, but that growth rate, which establishes a trend for the remainder of the present decade, was not significantly different from that of the 1980s, the Commerce Department's Census Bureau reported today.

And, according to the report titled, "Household and Family Characteristics: March 1994," P20-483, the numerical decline in 2-parent families that began in the 1970s and stabilized in the 1980s appears to have reversed during the first half of the 1990s. There were about 25.1 million married-couple families with children in the United States in 1994, an increase of about 521,000 since 1990, the report said.

There were an estimated 11.4 million single-parents in 1994. Of that number, 9.0 million owned or rented their own home, 1.8 million lived in a relative's home (related subfamilies), and 650,000 lived in the home of a non-relative (unrelated subfamilies).

In 1994, there were about 9.9 million single mothers versus 1.6 million single fathers. About 38 percent of single parents in 1994 had never been married, and roughly the same proportion were divorced at the time.

Single parents accounted for almost two-thirds (65 percent) of all African American family groups with children present, compared with 35 percent among Hispanics and 25 percent among Whites.

Re childhood obesity trends, from the CDE:

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0% to 18.1%.

Re the dramatic rise in daily media use among children and teens, from the Kaiser Family Foundation:

With technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth, according to a study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More interpersonal nastiness than usual

More interpersonal nastiness than usual, and the increased burden of expensive and time-consuming marketing tasks, are the human costs that school choice and competition have brought to real people in communities. This business-model practice helps to disintegrate intact, positive, community relationships which have been built up over time. I have yet to see how the milieu of increased competition between parents and schools is helping any children.

For families and their kids who have been in elementary school together and have established themselves as a community, the looming decision about middle school pits them against one another and breaks them up into factions. This happens in as early as the fourth and fifth grades, and again a few years later when middle-school families are under pressure to make their high school decision.

During the process, an unspoken-about tension builds up between parents and kids. People who once were collaborators on the same “team” increasingly find themselves judging each other. They repeatedly justify and emotionally defend their decisions, to both themselves and to each other. Parents and kids start to break their ties and actually become opponents who start sniffing each other out.

Carrying through with the harsh judging they’ve learned at home, students might even insult the schools their classmates have chosen. For instance, one day my 10-year-old daughter came home from school and worriedly reported to me that one of her classmates (who knew he would be going to a private middle school) had told her that she was "going to get beat up" at the public middle school we had chosen. The subtle and not-so-subtle judging of one another happens again in the seventh and eighth grade.

Another nasty side effect of school choice is that schools now have to "sell" themselves. School choice appeared in my district, but the already resource-poor traditional public schools weren't provided with any extra resources to meet the added demands of increased promotion and marketing. I'm talking about things like Web site management, brochures, newspaper ads, school tours, information nights and other events.

In the fall hunting season, prospective parents and kids visit the school for a tour during the school day. A set of teachers and administrators now have to take time away from their work to do "the sell." There is a heightened expectation for staff to work extra hours in the evening so they can pitch their school at parent meetings at feeder schools for multiple times. And the pressure is even on for school staff and parent representatives to make visits to potential smaller feeders during the school day.

All of this activity adds up to a lot of time and energy exclusively spent on the sell, sell, sell, sell, sell. Of course, this is the business model, where what is sold is less important that how much of it can be sold. And in order to survive, some public schools have essentially been forced into hiring marketing firms!

Schools do the best they can knowing that how they present themselves during this time means everything to the future well-being of the school. Some schools have parents who pick up the pieces with much of the marketing, only because they want to make their school attractive to other strong parents in the community. So the schools with the most skilled and hard-marketing parents are able to generate a greater amount of interest.

In the urban setting where there is a dearth of middle class parents, many of the schools want to acquire as many of the middle class and more-discriminating low income parents as possible. They know that the higher caliber parents usually produce children of a higher academic and behavioral caliber, so acquiring those families will affect the school in a positive way for many years.

And always present, when parents encounter other parents at the grocery store with whom they once had a relaxed relationship with in elementary school, is that silent sizing up of one another. "How's Bret Harte going for you?" "How does Johnny like Tech?" Both the questions and responses, verbal and non-verbal, are emotionally loaded.

People don't openly talk about the schadenfreude they feel when something negative about someone else's school has appeared in the news, or when they learn that some kid isn't doing so well at one of the competitor schools. People don’t openly talk about how their feelings of insecurity and envy get triggered when they hear something exceptionally positive going on at a school they hadn’t chosen. No one talks much about the grieving and sadness caused by all this competition-produced divisiveness.

You can bet that the people pushing this disruptive business model on families in fragile communities wouldn't permit their own families and kids to be subjected to it.

PS: Here's a sad article about two schools in the same building: Inside a Divided Upper East Side Public School: Whites in the front door, blacks in the back door, Steven Thrasher, The Village Voice (2/23/2010).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bullying or witch hunt?

The extreme amount of hatred and venom being hurled at public school teachers these days has got to be some sort of misdirected expression of the deluded people who still think that all things are possible for all people in this country. Or, is it the result of manipulation by those who are fully aware of what is going on and decided to toss in a red herring?

This country’s social mobility has pretty much hit the wall and we are entering uncharted territory. The empire is in decline. The citizenry knows that things aren’t right, but still haven't completely computed it. They don’t know what else to do other than to join in the fun of blaming a whole class of workers.

Mind you, I am not a teacher and I don't belong to a union. I am a longtime urban public school parent observer who is monitoring events and sensing that something evil is afoot.

Diane Ravitch recently wrote:

Did you see Newsweek last week? What a stunning and uninformed attack on teachers and teachers' unions. The cover of the magazine told the story: The Key to Saving American Education, by Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert. It was printed on a classroom blackboard. In the background, on the same blackboard, was the handwritten phrase, repeated again and again, "We must fire bad teachers."

The story itself is a parody of a right-wing rant. It seems that the nation's classrooms are overrun with "bad teachers," pedophiles, "weak" teachers, ineffective teachers, dumb teachers, and others who remain in the classroom only because they have "lifetime tenure." Evil teachers' unions protect these people who are harming our nation's children. Researchers now know, the writers say, that if we could fire all these malingerers, the notorious achievement gap between the races would soon close and America would once again lead the world in education.

I submit to you that teachers have been targeted because their work symbolizes our nation’s uncertain future. It is easy to attack the nurturers and caregivers of our children because they are fairly ineffective with defending themselves and with retaliating against the attacks. Stressed public school teachers are too busy working on the daily tasks of trying to make 25-35 kids focus on class work and behave right, and at the end of the school day, their energy is drained. Add to that the fact that, these days, the teachers are increasingly demoralized. I believe this demoralization is one of the primary goals because it produces emotional breakdown and powerlessness.

It would be much harder for people to go after the higher status entities that function with an aggressive, masculine nature, like the business, legal, or warrior classes. What else explains why the nation’s response to what Goldman Sachs did (and is still doing) to us has been so muted?

So why go after the teachers? Because they’re easy targets and bullying is an adrenaline rush. It's also easier to bully and blame than to deal with the deeper, societal issues that eat away at this country.

The nasty scapegoating mentality is best revealed by the “no excuses” rhetoric. But the fact is that we will never be a society where everyone gets a college degree, where people at higher positions on the social ladder willingly sacrifice their spot to someone else, and where the poor and the less fortunate don’t exist.

As for the scene in urban areas, Michelle Alexander (author of “The New Jim Crow”) is telling the difficult-to-hear-truth: America now has a permanent under-caste. She writes:

Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste -- not class, caste -- permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

Think any of this might impact the academic achievement of the children born into this caste? Of course, you will never hear anything significant about this theme acknowledged or uttered by the people now setting education policy and pushing for "reform." That such a stark admission is missing is either by intentional neglect, or because their heads are buried in the sand.

Either way, this country's approach is very dangerous stuff. It's a bit difficult to bring this up out loud, but is anyone else getting that slight sense that fascism and/or thoughts of genocide are lurking in the wings?

Of related interest is the commentary by James Boyd White (link found in this post). See also, A Real Crisis.

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Added 3/18/2010

Watch this interview with Michelle Alexander here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Bob Herbert (3/12/2010) wrote about Bloomberg's NYC "stop and frisk" policy:
...Blacks and Hispanics, and especially those who are young and those who are poor, are disproportionately singled-out for this peculiar form of police harassment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly and other top leaders in this town would never tolerate this kind of systematic abuse of middle-class or wealthy, white New Yorkers.

The overwhelming majority of the stops yield no law-enforcement benefit whatsoever. An analysis of the stops in the first three quarters of 2009 showed that contraband, which usually means drugs, was found on just 1.6 percent of the blacks who were stopped, 1.5 percent of the Hispanics, and 2.2 percent of the whites (who are stopped far less often than the other groups).