Friday, July 18, 2014

Russ on Reading: I Blog; Therefore, I Am

Russ on Reading: I Blog; Therefore, I Am:        Descartes said, “I think; therefore, I am.” I want our students to say, “I read and write; therefore, I can think.” Rene Descar...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

All Things Education: A DCPS Teacher Resigns

All Things Education: A DCPS Teacher Resigns: A few summers ago at the  SOS March & National Call to Action , I met a young and enthusiastic, but independent-minded and healthily-sk...

Friday, July 4, 2014

CURMUDGUCATION: Dancing into the Apocalypse

CURMUDGUCATION: Dancing into the Apocalypse: I'm writing this now so that I can read it to myself when the first day of school rolls around. Sometimes you have to be your own moti...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Teacher Unions - California Tenure Law - The Vultures 

By  Rodolfo F. Acuña,

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu's decision in Vergara v. California blames teachers, for the failure of poor and minority students to close the education gap between them and their affluent peers.

Treu argues that California laws allow public school teachers to secure tenure after 18 months shielding "grossly ineffective teachers," and concludes that minority and poor students are disproportionately impacted by bad teaching.

The judge draws parallels between his opinion and the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that supposedly ended "separate but equal" laws. However, sixty years after Brown the Los Angeles Unified School District is still one of the most segregated districts in the country.

While I agree that incompetent and perverse teachers should immediately be terminated, the finger waving has to be put into context, and the penalties of crooked and perverse corporate executives and politicians must also be addressed and how they disproportionately affect the poor and the minorities’ opportunity to get an equal education. After all teachers did not create the income gap.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, says "[The decision] doesn't change the fundamental problem, which is who in the world is hiring these people who are not qualified?"

I hate hypocrisy and I am offended by the pious 'students matter' pretensions of the plaintiffs' attorneys. I am offended by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy's scapegoating teacher unions for the district's abuse scandal. Deasy said he wanted one thing from the Legislature: the ability to quickly fire offending teachers inferring that bad teachers were being shielded by tenure.

Deasy's claim to fame is that he worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a foundation that has gained access and the Gates the reputation of reformers largely based on its distributing huge amounts of money to cash starved school districts. Deasy has never been a classroom teacher and knows little about pedagogy.

AGREED: layoffs should not be based solely on seniority. However, after 60 years of teaching I know the system and can say that teacher assignments are more often based on favoritism. Wealthy schools generally have more fully certified and experienced teachers than poor schools. Moreover, rewards such as merit pay are based on the preferences of administrators rather than the needs of students.

Race is a factor, but it is rarely considered in teacher training programs. Student needs should not solely be at the discretion of an administrator; a greater voice has to be given to the community.

Ok, schools are failing, but what is the CONTEXT as to why? For example, teacher training institutions fail to adequately prepare teachers. Has teaching improved in the past ten years? Surely this failure is not because we don't give enough tests.

FOLLOW THE MONEY. Students did not initiate the suit. It was pushed and financed by a Silicon Valley millionaire. It is part of a well-financed campaign promoted by billionaires that include Bill Gates, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. They want public schools to be run like businesses, i.e., WALL STREET? They promote charter schools and privatization.

The Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partner who represented the students, said that an estimated 3 percent of public school teachers in California are 'highly ineffective', estimating a loss of $11.6 billion in lifetime earnings for students with a poor education. Demographer Donald Bogue has tied student achievement to father's income. Moreover, even with an education, has the vaunted private sector created well-paying jobs? CONTEXT!

Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres (Tell me who you hang with and I'll tell you who you are). Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., the lead attorney, is a hired gun for right wing interests. He served on the legal team that worked to overturn California's Proposition 8 (banning same-sex marriage). Boutrous hypocritically says "This system is harming students every day. When students are denied this lifeline when they are told that they are incapable of success or when they are denied the basic building blocks of an education the effect is catastrophic."

HYPOCRISY? Who created the separate but unequal society?

Los Angeles public institutions are for sale. Billionaire and philanthropist Eli Broad has gained unprecedented power. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg told CBS, "Eli Broad sets the standard..." Broad is a feared and admired dictator, spreading around a half-billion dollars worth of cultural improvements.

Sounds good but he and his billionaire cohorts now control the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Intent on privatizing the public schools they have suppressed investigative reporting. PBS once the voice of reform has been silenced by the Walton family (Walmart), Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, and Rupert Murdoch.

The cabal has donated big bucks to right wing advocacy groups, think tanks, and elected school board members and local, state and national politicians.

PBS has blacked out critics such as Historian Diane Ravitch, whose book is title is "Public Schools for Sale?"

The privatizers push for charter schools, vouchers (frequently called "opportunity scholarships"), business-style management, high-stakes testing to evaluate students and teachers, weakened teachers unions, and "parent trigger" law to allow disgruntled parents to turn public schools into privately-run charter schools.

The billionaires supply the cash, they hire guns such Michelle Rhee (former Washington, D.C. school chief who now runs Schools First, a corporate-funded lobby group), Wendy Kopp (founder of Teach for America), Geoffrey Canada (founder of Harlem Children's Zone), and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The innocuous Gates has donated billions to privatize public schools. No wonder Gates pushed the film "Waiting for Superman" that was shown at the national PTA convention. Some have wondered if the PTA's decision to promote the film has anything to do with its receipt of a $1 million donation from the Gates Foundation. Gates' solution to the budget crisis is for school districts to cut pension payments for retired teachers.

Make no mistake the Broad and Gates cabal seeks to privatize public education; it is no less greedy than the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that attempted to seize political control of Arizona, Wisconsin and Ohio with the goal of privatizing education, the prisons, and the state governments. The cabal's goal is to destroy trade unions, seize control of pension funds and pay no taxes.

BLAME: Teacher unions have allowed the corporate raiders to control the narrative. Free and independent trade unions are the only force strong enough to take on the corporate raiders. They cannot match the billionaires' club money power, but they can slow them down. Unions are an important check on the greed of the Kochs, ALEC and the Broad cabal.

History shows that the Russian and Mexican Revolutions were subverted by the absence of independent trade union movements. True democracy depends on them.

However, trade unions must clean up contradictions if they want public support. In order for tenure to survive union members must get rid of bad teachers and promote the interests of communities they serve. Teachers must serve poor schools with the same intensity and vigor that they do more affluent schools. They are also going to have to demand better teacher preparation.

Today the Latino student population is a majority in many school districts, and teachers are not only going to have to adapt to this new reality but also advocate for the interests of the new majority.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Thorny Path of the Non-compliant Xeriscapist (in San Antonio, Texas)

It’s been almost 25 years of xeriscapery, though passive at first…lazily letting whatever would grow flourish. I had finally stopped paying rent and moved into my own little house with plenty of yard space in front and back.  I took pictures of the lush growth in my enclosed back yard. My green reverie was soon desiccated -- I received a citation from the city! My verdant grasses and tall plants were in violation of the city code. If I didn’t comply within a certain time limit there would be a hefty fine to pay.
For several years I would wait for the notice and then retreat over the city code line that my natural vegetation had again criminally crossed and trim the luscious growths back to a code-acceptable height and width.
It seemed that someone in my neighborhood didn’t like my yard style and would regularly make complaints. I don’t think there is enough staff to patrol all our streets in search of weedophiles (it would be runcophile if I used the Latin word or hierbaphile if I used the Spanish) – there had to be some self-appointed monitors who would call in the official weed-killers.
About ten years ago I decided to become an active xeriscapist. I researched catalogues and other online sources and found Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas -- exactly what I was searching for: offering seed mixes for this region and also for special purposes, e.g., attracting butterflies. I bought seeds by the pound and randomly strewed them in my front yard.

I was getting mixed results but every year I would have more beautiful flowers that were natural to the region and needed very little care and watering. I am not a dedicated gardener – my hobbies lie elsewhere.
I continued getting periodic visits from our code compliance friends from the Development Services Department – Field Services Division – Code Enforcement Section of our venerable City of San Antonio.
One winter friends helped clear my front yard, turn the soil and plant about $200.00 of Texas native wildflowers. I had included a variety of sunflowers that grew to be huge golden borders. I was very new to all this so I had many smaller flowering plants that were hidden by the large sunflower plants.

After that I increased the varieties of seeds and was more organized where I scattered them. I made sure to cover with a bit of topsoil so that the birds wouldn’t have a feast at my expense.  I no longer planted the big sunflowers with the edible seeds: birds, bugs and ants just love them and I won’t use pesticides. The wild sunflowers, quite common to this region do quite well on our roadsides, empty lots and my front yard.
And still I would get the code-enforcer visits. One year I was actually at home (I usually got the message from a form tacked to my front door). I tried dialoguing with the lady about my garden which was in full bloom that early summer day. She was adamant that I had to chop every green thing down to a height of one foot regardless of what the plant was because everything in my front yard was considered a weed or noxious plant.
I contacted my city council office and talked to some young intern who seemed perplexed by my situation. I emailed pictures of my yard and a kind civil note. (Which took some effort because diplomacy is not my strong suit.) A week later I got a note from a supervisor from the city department that has taken such an interest in my yard. He had driven by and saw the flowers and told me to chop them down when the yard was finally dry and flowerless.

The last two years had been uneventful until I got a Notice of Violation tacked to my door on this June 25, 2014.

This year I planted my seeds very late and so everything didn’t start coming up until late April. It wasn’t until late May and early June that I had a decent variety of flowers but no Bluebonnets and few Indian Blankets. Right now, aided by some rainy days, there’s a color riot dominated by the Zinnias and wild sunflowers (not the edible kind). A thick growth of a plant with a tiny yellow flower (a weed I didn’t plant) covered some sections of the yard and actually choked out some of my seeds. I assumed that was the noxious plant referred to. I had put fertilizer in the soil because I was planting so late and so I have a lush growth, mostly of plants I like and want.
What I didn’t do was trim the ‘weeds’ (plants I didn’t want) because I didn’t want to cut the flowers that are now blooming profusely.  

Several years ago I started encouraging plants that die in the winter but become nice bushes in the spring and that had just appeared in my yard with no formal invitation or planting.

One is a reed-like plant that spreads easily and blooms with pleasant (to me) wheat-like spikes. Another is a dark green leafy plant with daily purple blossoms that die in the evening. The reed-like plant, located at the intersection of the public sidewalk and the one leading to my front door, this year is huge! I love it but I think it is one of the main code-criminals. We trimmed it and left a few tall spikes.

So -- We went out there and trimmed more of the edges (from 1 foot wide to 2). We lawn-mowered through some of the thicker sections of the unwanted plants but there were too many floral casualties with that approach.  Because the soil was moist from a recent shower I was able to pull out almost each unwanted plant (weed to the City of San Antonio). 
I hope I made my horticultural design intentions clear: the plants that remain are “… cultivated flowers and gardens, or native grasses, perennials and annual plants installed as part of a landscaping design.” 

Maybe I should give the whole subsection as given in the
San Antonio Property Maintenance Code – Notice of Violation – In Person/Posted.

302.4 Weeds All improved premises and exterior property shall be maintained free from weed or plant growth in excess of 12 inches in height. All noxious weeds shall be prohibited. Weeds shall be defined as all grasses, annual plants and vegetation, other than trees and shrubs provided; however this term shall not include cultivated flowers and gardens, or native grasses, perennials and annual plants installed as part of a landscaping design.

I’m old enough to remember my youthful appreciation of Lady Bird Johnson’s campaign for the bountiful natural variety of things that grow natively to Texas.  I fully induct myself in that horticultural order, culture and practice.

Maybe I have neighbors with time to spare and go around as amateur code-enforcement cops. I assume their concern is ‘property value’ and what is deemed proper for a middle-class neighborhood. They seem to prefer the ugly, un-ecological water-gorging regularly-trimmed lawns -- they need to see an order and design that fits within very narrow perimeters.  Some of my neighbors were stopped from erecting some really elegant iron fences. We are now a historical area and the codes are even stricter. (Forget that many ugly cyclone fences were left in place and grandfathered when the new codes were established.)

The only thorns along my xeriscaped floral path are the San Antonio Property Maintenance Codes! But in the Lady Bird Johnson tradition I will continue to let my Texas wildflowers grow.

The Devil Never Sleeps EI Diablo Nunca Duerme So Play On! By Rodolfo F. Acuña

The Devil Never Sleeps EI Diablo Nunca Duerme So Play On! By Rodolfo F. Acuña B
ugsy: The devil never sleeps, so I'll sleep when I die
When I lay down I feel him watchin',
I'll sleep when I die
The devil never sleeps, so I'll sleep when I die
When I lay down I feel him watchin',
I'll sleep when I die

The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City left an indelible impression on me. When John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fist in the black power salute it changed me and others view of history. It seemed as if it was the perfect eulogy to the martyrs of the Tlatelolco massacre who on the night of October 2, 1968 the Mexican army in collusion with the United States killed an estimated 300. Carlos and Smith’s fists primarily paid tribute to the historic Civil Rights Movement but for many of us Tlatelolco was fresh on our memories. After this point sporting events took on a new meaning, and the old yay team seemed less important and hollowed. The black power salute took on broader meanings, and I looked behind the sports industry and its role as an opiate of the masses.

In recent years, events such as the Olympics and the World Cup have become irritants not so much because of the competition and the sport events but because of the reaction of the fans. It is as if Tlatelolco and Carlos and Smith’s fist had never happened. An editorial by Francisco Goldman this week titled “Fooling Mexican Fans” brought this to mind. Goldman quoted a SinEmbargo article that wrote, “Ready for your Clamato and Gatorade?” which he pointed out were common hangover remedies. SinEmbargo went on “In about three weeks, when you wake from your World Cup dreams, remember that when the soccer fest began, the country was on the verge of monumental decisions. If upon waking, you realize that the country’s energy reserves have been cheaply sold off or whatever else, don’t bother protesting because this is a chronicle foretold.”

The SinEmbargo editor pointed out that Mexican politicos were debating and passing laws “that could open Pemex, the nationalized oil company, to foreign investment, the Mexican Congress scheduled legislative sessions from June 10 to 23, dates precisely coinciding with you know what. Final passage might be pushed back, but it originally looked like it was supposed to happen on Monday, when Mexico plays Croatia to decide which country advances to the elimination rounds.” Goldman recounted that in 1998, also under the leadership of PRI the Mexican Congress passed a $67 billion rescue of Mexican banks, which like the U.S. bailout ten years later was paid by taxpayers. It happened on December 12, which as all good Mexicans know, is the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the start the Christmas holiday season. Again on Dec. 12, 2003 PRI legislators teamed up with conservative allies to “fast track” the constitutional assault and the privatization of Pemex that is being accomplished as we read.

The dictator Porfirio Díaz once said “Pobre México tan lejos de Díos y tan cerca a los estados unidos” (Poor Mexico so far away from God and so close to the United States). The truth be told, what he said about the devil to the north has become a reality in the guise of the police, corrupt functionaries, greedy elites and university administrators within Mexico. There is nothing wrong with talking about soccer teams as long as they don’t encourage a national amnesia or hide the fact that “the devil never sleeps.” The victories of the Mexican team should be celebrated but not hide the memories of the Tlatelolco massacre or the raising of the black power fists that happened in 1968 while others were celebrating. We should not need Clamato and Gatorade to wake up to what is left behind.

The devil takes the form of the greedy Mexican capitalists who will benefit from the so-called reforms, and the opiate of the World Cup. They benefit from the economic integration brought about by trade treaties and other accords that accelerate the process of economic modernization. Remember free trade is not fair trade. However, we delude ourselves into thinking that the devil is not at work in our country. One of my favorite people recently posted on Facebook that he would root for the American team because it would be unpatriotic to root against the U.S. This was while flying a picture of Zapata. I don’t say this to criticize him but I only say that he should stay awake and remember that the devil never sleeps.

A commentator on Goldman’s piece wrote: “How is the situation you describe in Mexico any different than what occurs in the US? Does anyone remember a debate on bills that 1) gave $15 billion to oil companies, 2) immunized gun companies against those horrible frivolous law-suits, 3) made it impossible for the CDC to conduct research on the health costs of gun violence, and 4) attempt to bankrupt the Postal Service; most passed in the middle of the night.” Of course, the devil is a fictional character who too many Americans believe exists. The devil was manufactured to keep us in line. Americans delude themselves into thinking that they are on the side of the angels. They are under the illusion that they are safe, and forget that the “devil never sleeps.” The saying is a metaphor for events and people we should beware of instead of “When I lay down I feel him watchin', I'll sleep when I die…”

Unfortunately, some never learn this lesson. I don’t remember how many times I have warned student activists and faculty to beware of vacations –Thanksgiving, Christmas, between semesters and the long hot summers especially. The devil in the form of administrators and the Trustees who divert our attention from pressing issues, and use then to lessen faculty governance. In this case, the devils are not the critics, but those who benefit -- administrators earning six figure salaries. They hide the fact that tuition is driven by their salaries and by the proliferation of administrators and their minions. Indeed, their teams are padded with assistants, most of who do not have doctorates and earn more than full professors. I live in dread of the summers because they are a time when faculty takeoff to conferences, vacations and indulge themselves watching events such as the world cup and debate who is better Lebrón or Kobe. They take on a devil-may-care attitude, which means that they seem relaxed and do not seem worried about the consequences of what is happening at the university or to their democracy.

  The game becomes all-consuming and they forget the “the martyrs of the Tlatelolco massacre who on the night of October 2, 1968 the Mexican army in collusion with the United States killed an estimated 300. Carlos and Smith’s fists paid tribute to the historic Civil Rights Movement but for many of us Tlatelolco was fresh on our memories

So Play On! I am awake knowing that “The devil never sleeps, so I'll sleep when I die.”

Monday, June 23, 2014

Witnessing a PTA Comunitario Meeting - Josie D. Cortez - Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA)

April 15, 2014 The instructions were clear: meet at Cesar Chavez Elementary School at 5:30 on Wednesday for the ARISE-Las Milpas PTA Comunitario meeting. I google-mapped the location and found it was only 10 minutes from my McAllen hotel. The drive took me through a number of twists and turns, starting with expensive neighborhoods surrounding the McAllen country club, then winding through more moderate and modest homes. In ten minutes, I had driven from the McAllen Independent School District to the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD. PSJA ISD has consistently been in the news for its extraordinary transformation from low-performing schools to a national model of Early College High Schools, among other accomplishments. What makes this even more extraordinary is what you can’t see on the map—the fact that these schools are in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, with traditionally underserved border communities and colonias, many lacking basic infrastructure. What is also not visible on the map is the abundance of hard-working families, their communities, and grassroots organizations that serve them. ARISE-Las Milpas is one such a grassroots community-based organization made up of women and men who dedicate their lives to lifting their communities. Arriving at the school by 5:15, I expected it to be what most schools look like at 5:15 on a Wednesday—quiet, with perhaps an administrator, a few school staff, and the custodians. I double-checked my watch—the time had to be wrong. At 5:15, the school was bustling with students, teachers, parents, and administrators. I met the principal, Mr. Roel Faz, who explained there was afterschool tutoring, and a number of extracurricular activities going on such as dance and chess clubs. Entering the cafeteria for the PTA Comunitario meeting were about 25 families, parents and little ones, some in strollers, some with their brothers and sisters, all representing their Las Milpas neighborhood. All interested in finding out more about their children’s school, and how they could support their children’s education. As a parent, I can’t remember how many PTA meetings I attended but I do remember “support” always took the form of fundraising; baking cookies and cupcakes, selling everything from chicks to cotton candy at the school fairs, and despite my keen interest in my child’s academic progress, academics was never part of the PTA meetings. My concerns and opinions about such matters were never welcomed. This PTA Comunitario meeting was different from anything I had experienced. While this was taking place at a school, this was clearly community-led. At 5:35, the PTA Comunitario president, Ms. Nasaria Garcia, asked IDRA’s Aurelio Montemayor if they should start the meeting. Aurelio (the “father” of the PTA Comunitario concept), quickly told her she should decide, not him. This was their meeting. He (and we from IDRA) were there to support them. Ms. Garcia took the microphone on the stage and confidently called the meeting to order. Another PTA Comunitario member, Ms. Esperanza Berrones, read the previous meeting’s minutes. Then the deputy superintendent was introduced. I had just met Mr. Garcia and both he and Principal Faz seemed quiet and unassuming, professional and welcoming. He began to speak in Spanish first mentioning that the superintendent, Dr. Daniel King, had planned on speaking to the families but like many parents juggling commitments and priorities, his daughter’s recital scheduled at the same time called him away. He asked his deputy superintendent, Mr. Narciso Garcia, if he would address the gathering. Mr. Garcia began speaking about his son, now 17 years old. As Mr. Garcia’s career choices took him to different schools, so did his son’s schooling. His son followed him to PSJA ISD when his father was an administrator, then on to a charter school where his father served as principal for two years, on to La Villa ISD as a superintendent, and back to PSJA ISD where his father became deputy superintendent. Mr. Garcia recalled the charter school experience, in particular, as a personally difficult one. Noticing his son was unhappy, bored, and despondent; he knew that he needed to make a change. He admitted what all parents hate to admit: that sometimes, parents make mistakes. The charter school had been just that—a mistake. He had believed the charter school would prepare his son for college and career. He told from an insider’s view what his experience had been. His son wasn’t being prepared for college, college courses weren’t even being offered. He found out that, unlike public schools, charter schools systematically cull their enrollment if students are “different.” If they don’t behave a certain way or keep their grades up or if they need special support such as English Learners often do, parents are told that “their child’s uniform doesn’t fit.” They are told to leave. That didn’t sit well with Mr. Garcia, particularly because he had been one of those “different” students years ago. He spoke of a photograph that he hangs in his office. It’s a picture of him standing with his parents, and younger brother. They are standing with some baskets of tomatoes they had picked as migrant workers. He keeps it in his Deputy Superintendent’s office and told us that “where you start isn’t where you have to end up.” With his voice breaking with emotion, he said that as parents, we have to say, “Aquí es donde se rompe la cadena, [Here is where the chain breaks].” And the way to break that chain is through education. You could hear a pin drop as he spoke. Even the youngest child was quiet, somehow sensing that something important was being said. Mr. Garcia composed himself, and went on to say that PSJA ISD educates all children, and their early college high schools give students a leg up on college hours. As an example, Mr. Garcia’s 17-year old son is a junior at PSJA now and has already earned about 72 college hours. At $600 a college credit hour, that has already saved his family about $43,000. When his son goes to college, he’ll begin as a junior. There were gasps heard, followed by applause. Mr. Garcia then asked Mr. Faz to share some highlights of Cesar Chavez Elementary. The principal spoke of the robotics class now being offered, along with the chess club that was headed to Corpus Christi for the regional competition, and how every child is supported with tutoring so they don’t fall behind. In the three years as principal, Cesar Chavez has improved in student academic achievement ratings, going from unacceptable to recognized status, and is aiming for more. Quoting his school’s namesake, Mr. Faz’ final words to the families were “Sí se puede.” As Mr. Garcia thanked the families and the PTA Comunitario, he left them with a profound and heartfelt commitment. He told everyone that while he had one son, and Dr. King had several children, in truth, they both had 32,000 children. They know that they are entrusted with all of PSJA’s children; what they want for their own children is what they want for all children. To cap off the meeting, the Cesar Chavez Dance Team took to the stage. About a dozen little girls and two (very brave and perhaps very wise) little boys danced into the hearts of everyone gathered. As the meeting drew to an end, Ms. Garcia asked for another round of applause for Mr. Garcia and Mr. Faz. People lined up to have their picture taken with them, thanking them for their words and actions. As we left the school building, I turned to see a picture of Cesar Chavez and thought he would be proud, Sí se puede.