Friday, August 27, 2010

Parents Across America send letter to President Obama

Several of us have linked together and, today, our letter to President Obama was posted on Valerie Strauss' The Answer Sheet (a Washington Post education blog). If you agree with its sentiments you can send your own message to the President by going to the online form at

This letter is a follow-up to a one we sent in May about Obama's Blueprint for Reform, (re the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA) which you can find here. As you may or may not know, the decision about keeping, altering, or scrapping the current version of ESEA, aka NCLB, was supposed to be done in 2007, but Congress never attended to the task. So, as a result, this despised and damaging law was rolled over and has now been enforced for at least three years beyond its natural lifespan.

In late 2006, Washington insiders predicted a delay with reauthorization, but wrongly imagined it might be as late as 2009. Boy, oh boy, were they wrong!

Dear President Obama...Sincerely, Parents Across America

Dear President Obama:

Several weeks ago, we wrote to you about our concern that your proposed “Blueprint for Reform” did not acknowledge the critical role parents must play in any meaningful school improvement process. We also expressed our serious reservations about some of the Blueprint's strategies.

Our goal is simple – to ensure that our children receive the best possible education. As parents, we are the first to see the positive effects of good programs, and the first line of defense when our children's well-being is threatened. Our input is unique and essential.

Recently, Secretary Duncan announced that he would require districts that receive federal school improvement grants (SIG) to involve parents and the community in planning for schools identified for intervention. We appreciate this response as a first step; however, more needs to be done.

First, leadership must come from the top. We would like to see meaningful, broad-based parent participation not just in our local districts, but at the U.S. Department of Education, where critical decisions are being made about our children's education.

Second, we need more than rhetoric to feel confident that only educationally sound strategies will be used in our children's schools. The current emphasis on more charter schools, high-stakes testing, and privatization is simply not supported by research.

Disagreement on these matters is not a result of parents clinging to the “status quo,” as you have recently asserted. No one has more at stake in better schools than we do – but we disagree with you and Secretary Duncan about how to get them.

We need effective, proven, common-sense practices that will strengthen our existing schools, rather than undermine them. These include parent input into teacher evaluation systems, fairly-funded schools, smaller class sizes and experienced teachers who are respected as professionals, not seen as interchangeable cogs in a machine. We want our children to be treated as individuals, not data points. And we want a real, substantial role in all decisions that affect our children’s schools.

More specifically, and urgently, we insist on being active partners in the formulation of federal school improvement policies. The models proposed by the U.S. Department of Education are rigid and punitive, involving either closure, conversion to charters, or the firing of large portions of the teaching staff. All of these strategies disrupt children’s education and destabilize communities; none adequately addresses the challenges these schools face.

We also insist on being active partners in reforms at the school level, with the power to devise our own local solutions, using research-based methods, after a collaborative needs assessment at each individual school.

Our voices must count. If you listen, you will make real changes in your School Improvement Grant proposals as well as your “Blueprint” for education reform.

We look forward to your response and a brighter future for our children and our nation.

Sincerely, Parents Across America (signatories attached)

Natalie Beyer, Durham Allies for Responsive Education (DARE), NC

Caroline Grannan, San Francisco public school parent, volunteer and advocate, CA

Pamela Grundy, Mecklenburg Area Coming Together for Schools, NC

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters, New York, NY

Sharon Higgins, public school parent, Oakland, CA

Susan Magers, Parent Advocate, FL

Mark Mishler, active public school parent, former president, Albany City PTA*, NY

Bill Ring, TransParent®, Los Angeles, CA

Lisa Schiff, San Francisco public school parent, board member of Parents for Public Schools*, member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco*, "School Beat" columnist for BeyondChron, CA

Rita M. Solnet, President, CDS, Inc.; Director, Testing is Not Teaching, FL

Dora Taylor, Parent and co-editor of Seattle Education 2010, WA

Julie Woestehoff, Parents United for Responsible Education, Chicago, IL

*for identification purposes only

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reflections on one teacher's life work

I am positive that the profession of public school teaching -- and any remaining respect for that fine work -- is being destroyed right before my eyes. I simply do not understand the teachers’ passivity, nor that of everyone else.

What’s happening to public school teachers is breaking my heart, and I am so very, very grateful that my grandmother, Luella Robinson, did not live to see these times.

Mrs. Robinson graduated from Snow College in her hometown of Ephraim, Utah, and commenced to teach public school children for the rest of her life. She was an elementary school teacher for most of that time, finishing her years by teaching special ed.

This was a woman who absolutely loved children, and they loved her back. Dresser drawers in her home were filled with gifts from former students and their parents.

Since my sister and I ended up with a relatively unstable home life, we found refuge in the time we spent with our Grandma Robinson. Until we moved out-of-state, we would often spend Friday nights at her house. On the Saturday mornings, she would take us to the nearby train tracks and hold our hands as we walked up and down, balancing on the rails. Sometimes a slow train would come along and we would all wave to the operators and wait for the caboose.

Back at her little house in Sugarhouse (in Salt Lake City, Utah), she would encourage us make mud pies on her back steps and huge flour-water dough messes in her kitchen. We'd make blanket/furniture forts, swing on her willow tree’s branches, pick hollyhocks and use toothpicks to turn them into little dolls, draw and paint, read books, decorate cookies, and drink Dr. Pepper.

After she retired and we were older, if we all went shopping and there was a little child standing in line, Mrs. Robinson would approach that child and parent, say some kind words, and give the child a nickel. In those days, a nickel would buy something small that was tasty.

Luella Robinson was strongly against corporal punishment and shared her vision with other people in the world. To her, there was never (ever!) any reason to hit a child. “If a child is misbehaving," she explained, "all you need to do is get down to their eye level, place your hands on their shoulders, and look directly into their eyes as you are talking.”

I am certain that my grandmother put this same kind of love into daily practice in her classrooms during each and everyone of the years she worked. Her intelligence, grace, and skill are certain to have made a positive difference for hundreds and hundreds of children. Her life of teaching was not centered around test scores.

Maybe the ed deformers' next idea for "improving" the "effectiveness" of public school teachers will be to bring back the stocks. I expect U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would also cheer that on.

From Wikipedia: "Stocks are devices used in the medieval times for torture, public humiliation, and corporal punishment. The stocks partially immobilized its victims and they were often exposed in a public place such as the site of a market to the scorn of those who passed by. Since the purpose was to punish offenders against the standards of conduct of the time anybody could assault, revile or aim filth at the victim."

And by the way, Norm Scott is right.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Turkish charter school piece in USA Today

Greg Toppo’s USA Today article about the Gülen charter schools appeared online on the evening of August 16 and in print the following day: “Objectives of charter schools with Turkish ties questioned.” This is the first time the U.S. Turkish charter school network has been covered in the mainstream national press.
I look forward to continued national and local exposure of these charter schools’ connections to the Gülen Movement. It will be interesting to see if any of the revelations trigger the concern of citizens who are under the impression that their taxes are being spent on providing American kids with a strictly secular public education which is without hidden religious or foreign nationalistic agendas.
Further understanding of the motives and operation of the schools can be found in a paper posted on Fetullah Gülen’s website: “The Educational Philosophy of Fethullah Gülen and Its Application in South Africa." It was presented at a 2007 conference entitled "Muslim World in Transition: Contributions of the Gülen Movement."

Not by coincidence, the first South African school was opened in 1999, which is parallel to the timing of the first American Gulen charter schools. The primary difference is that the South African schools are private schools which subsist on tuition and private donations from Turkish merchants.
Anyone familiar with the U.S. Gulen charter schools will recognize the template.


  • Although the educational theory comes from Fethullah Gülen, the curriculum and management of the schools are left to the educators.
  • The teachers are carefully selected. Those who had a Gülen schooling are preferred as they are more likely to sacrifice their time and talent.
  • The teacher performs one of the highest duties in Islam, hizmet, which implies both religious and national service.
  • …there is no organic link between Gülen and the schools, only a spiritual connection.
  • …The Star International High School [first Turkish private High school, est. 1999, managed by Horizon Educational Trust], to provide a secular education based on the national curriculum, but with emphasis on moral values.*
  • The school also has a Turkish character: the Turkish national anthem is sung, the Turkish flag is in some classrooms, and the Turkish language is taught.
  • Turkish teachers teach scientific subjects, and South African teachers teach English, Afrikaans, Geography and History.
  • New teachers adapt easily to the school as they share in the vision and mission of their leader, Fethullah Gülen.
  • The teacher's duty is to emulate the Prophet's mission captured in the Prophetic Tradition (hadith): "Verily I have been sent to perfect character."
  • New schools require financial backing, usually from Turkish voluntary organizations made up of Turkish merchants.
  • While they [the teachers] are still improving their English, they are not effective communicators, and this is what undermines the efficacy of their teaching.
  • He [the principal] said: "Although not ethical, we have to adopt a strict admissions policy, otherwise we cannot ensure merit and distinction passes…”
  • The Gülen schools have a Turkish character: it is inspired by the educational philosophy of a Turkish religious thinker, Fethullah Gülen; the principal is a Turk, the science teachers are Turks, the foreign language taught is Turkish, the Turkish national anthem and Turkish songs are promoted at school functions.

And to match the many videos of American Gülen charter school students, here is a South African student performing a Turkish poem at a Turkish Olympiad.

From state-to-state, and from nation-to-nation, Gülen-inspired schools have been started by members of the Hizmet Movement (followers of Fethullah Gülen). They are rapidly expanding; for instance, 10 new schools are opening in the U.S. for the 2010-2011 school year. It's obvious to anyone that all these schools are related with many identical features, yet the U.S. charter school leaders seem to always deny a connection.

Why the deception?

*Tuition for Grade 8-12 at Star International Primary and High School in Cape Town is R17,600 (South African rands) = $2,427.71.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The arrogant ed reformers reject the wisdom of spiritual leaders, too.

This is a slightly-belated posting of excerpts from “An Alternative Vision for Public Education, A Pastoral Letter on Federal Policy in Public Education: An Ecumenical Call for Justice,” written by the leadership of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and submitted to President Obama and Members of Congress in May 2010. I hope you can take time to read this loving and beautifully-written, three-page letter.


We support democratic governance of public schools. Because public schools are responsible to the public, it is possible through elected school boards, open meetings, transparent record keeping and redress through the courts to ensure that traditional public schools provide access for all children. We believe that democratic operation of public schools is our best hope for ensuring that families can secure the services to which their children have a right. On balance, we believe that if government invests public funds in charter schools that report to private boards, government, not the vicissitudes of the marketplace, should be expected to provide oversight to protect the common good.

* * * * * *

We value democratic governance of public schools

We are concerned today when we hear the civil right to education being re-defined as the right to school choice, for we know that equitable access to opportunity is more difficult to ensure in a mass of privatized alternatives to traditional public schools or in school districts being carved apart into small schools of choice. Experimentation with small schools must not cause us to lose sight of society’s obligation to serve all children with appropriate services; we must continue to expect public school districts to provide a complete range of services accessible to children in every neighborhood of our cities.

* * * * * *

We reject the language of business for discussing public education.

Not only has the language of the marketplace entered discussions of school governance and management, but we also notice that the language of business accountability is used to talk about education, a human endeavor of caring. The primary mechanism of the No Child Left Behind Act has been annual standardized tests of reading and math for all children in grades 3-8, followed by punishments for the schools that cannot rapidly reach ever increasing test score production targets. We worry that our society has come to view what is good as what can be measured and compared. The relentless focus on testing basic skills has diminished our attention to the humanities, the social studies, the arts, and child and adolescent development. As people of faith we do not view our children as products to be tested and managed but instead as unique human beings, created in the image of God, to be nurtured and educated.

* * * * * *

We value public school educators.

Our biblical heritage and our theology teach us that we live in community, not solely in the marketplace. As we strive to move our imperfect world closer to the realm of God, we recognize that we are all responsible for making sure that public schools, as primary civic institutions, embody our love for one another. We are called to create institutions that serve families and children with hospitality. We are called to work as citizens for the resources that will support a climate of trust and community within each public school. We are also called to value those whose vocation is teaching. Lately we have been dismayed by federal policy that encourages states to change laws to eliminate due process, to devalue the credentials of excellent teachers, and to fire teachers and principals as though that were a tested recipe for school reform, when we know that no research supports the President’s proposed “turnaround” model that purports to improve a school by firing the principal and at least half the staff. We look for a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that honors the professionalism of teachers and treats these individuals with respect. Wholesale scapegoating of public school teachers is an ugly and unfortunate development in federal policy.

* * * * * *

Signed by The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary and The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President, On Behalf of the Governing Board of The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.

Members of the Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

  • Raul Alegria United Methodist Church Chair NCC Human Resources Committee
  • The Very Rev. Papken Anoushian Armenian Church of America
  • The Rev. Mark Arey Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian Diocese of the Armenian Church of America NCC Immediate Past President
  • The Rev. David P. Baak Reformed Church in America Chair NCC Ecumenical Networks Committee
  • Rev. Geoffrey Black General Minister & President, United Church of Christ
  • The Rev. Dr. Miriam Burnett African Methodist Episcopal Church Chair NCC Justice & Advocacy Commission
  • The Rev. Dr. Jose Luis Casal Presbyterian Church (USA) NCC Secretary
  • The Rev. Peg Chemberlin Moravian Church in America NCC President
  • Rev. Dr. Carmichael L. Crutchfield Christian Methodist Episcopal Church NCC Education Leadership Ministries Commission
  • Bishop Ronald M. Cunningham Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
  • The Very Rev. Archbishop Demetrios Head of Communion, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • Rev. Paula Clayton Dempsey Alliance of Baptists
  • Dr. Diana Eck Harvard University , The United Methodist Church Chair NCC Interfaith Relations Commission
  • Dennis W. Frado Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church World Service Board
  • The Rev. Thomas Ferguson Episcopal Church
  • The Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete The Swedenborgian Church in North America
  • The Rev. Douglas W. Fromm, Jr. Reformed Church in America
  • The Rev. Nicholas Genevieve-Tweed African Methodist Episcopal Church Chair NCC Inclusiveness & Justice Committee
  • The Rev. Wesley S. Granberg-Michaelson General Secretary, Reformed Church in America
  • Sylvia L. Graves General Secretary, Friends United Meeting
  • The Rev. Mark S. Hanson Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • The Rev. Herman Harmelink, III International Council of Community Churches
  • Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr. Christian Methodist Episcopal Church NCC Past President
  • Rev. Jimmie Hawkins Presbyterian Church, USA Church World Service Board
  • The Rev. Raymon Hunt African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church NCC Vice President
  • The Rev. Dr. Daryl B. Ingram African Methodist Episcopal Church Chair, Education, Leadership Ministries Commission
  • Bishop Johncy Itty Episcopal Church Church World Service President
  • His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah Primate, Orthodox Church in America
  • His Eminence Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim Patriarchal Vicar for the Eastern U.S. Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch
  • The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky Orthodox Church in America
  • Arpi Kouzouian Armenian Church of America
  • Christine Laitner President/Head of Communion, Swedenborgian Church in North America
  • Bishop Chuck Leigh Apostolic Catholic Church
  • Arthur Larrabee General Secretary, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
  • The Rev. Michael E. Livingston Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches NCC Past President
  • Kathryn Lohre Harvard University, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, NCC President-Elect
  • The Rev. Dr. Donald J. McCoid Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • The Rev. John McCullough Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
  • Subdeacon Bishoy M. Mikhail Coptic Orthodox Church in North America
  • The Rev. A. Roy Medley General Secretary,American Baptist Churches in the USA
  • The Rev. William Darin Moore African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
  • Stanley J. Noffsinger General Secretary, Church of the Brethren NCC Vice President
  • The Rev. Dr. Marcia Allen Owens African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Dr. Walter Parrish III General Secretary, Progressive National Baptists Convention, Inc.
  • The Rev. Gradye Parsons Presbyterian Church USA
  • John Paterakis Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Church World Service Board
  • Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader The United Methodist Church
  • The Rev. Jacob Se Jang General Secretary, Korean Presbyterian Church in America
  • Dr. Stephen J. Sidorak The United Methodist Church
  • Dr. T. Dewitt Smith President, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
  • Nikki Stephanopoulos Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • Thomas Swain Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
  • Rt. Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Mar Theodosius Diocesan Bishop Mar Thoma Church
  • Arlene Tyler Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
  • Linda Valentine Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • Jerry L. Van Marter Presbyterian Church (USA) Chair, NCC Communication Commission
  • The Rev. Lydia Veliko United Church of Christ
  • Dr. Anton C. Vrame Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Chair, NCC Faith & Order Commission
  • The Rev. Dr. Cheryl Wade American Baptist Churches in the USA NCC Vice President
  • Bishop George Walker Sr. Head of Communion, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
  • The Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
  • The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Alice R. Webley Episcopal Church
  • The Rev. Herman Weinlick Moravian Church in America
  • The Rev. Dr. Robert K. Welsh Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Bishop John F. White Sr. African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • The Rev. David L. Wickmann Moravian Church in America
  • The Rev. Robina Winbush Presbyterian Church USA

Monday, August 2, 2010

Grannan: With friends like President Obama, does Race to the Top need enemies? (+ extra feature)

[Guest post by Caroline Grannan, plus a video of George Carlin explaining things to us. – P.P.]

President Obama is wrong to slough off the growing concern and outrage and pigheadedly defend Race to the Top. If he can't come up with a better case than he made in his July 29 speech to the National Urban League, it's impossible to see how he can keep on speaking up for it.

This section of his speech calls for a sharp response.

"...there's a concern that Race to the Top doesn't do enough for minority kids..." No, that's not the concern. The concern is that Race to the Top will aggressively harm minority kids. "...because the argument is, well, if there's a competition, then somehow some states or some school districts will get more help than others...." Yes, that is the argument, or a watered-down version of it. More to the point, that a "competition" by definition has winners and losers. Which kids are we going to brand "losers" and give up on altogether? And while Obama states the argument with reasonable accuracy, he doesn't even attempt to rebut it. Instead, he insults us by veering off into irrelevancies. And insulting his listeners and his critics is nothing compared with shrugging off the damage RTTT will do to the "losers." " Let me tell you, what's not working for black kids and Hispanic kids and Native American kids across this country is the status quo. That's what's not working." And does that justify a "let's give whatever we can think of a shot, no matter what damage it may cause" attitude? Because that is what RTTT is. For a lawyer and a smart, eloquent man, Obama makes a pathetic case for his signature program. It's increasingly obvious that he's defending the indefensible.

From George Carlin’s “Life is Worth Losing,” broadcast live on HBO on November 5, 2005.