Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Only Slavery Can Save a School When Funding Dries Up?

Tilden Middle School in Philadelphia lost a number of teachers to budget cuts this year, as well as a secretary, noontime aides, and money for their before- and after-school programs. Despite the cuts, they managed to add a grief-counseling program, which may have helped kids deal with the loss of favorite teachers axed as a result of the cuts. The school also was able to maintain its extracurricular mentoring and truancy-prevention programs and tutors.

How is all this possible?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, it was due to “robust community partnerships . . . a dedicated staff . . . [and] a principal . . . who feels that he can't let a lack of money strip Tilden of needed resources.”

What the Inquirer neglects to mention is that much of this is supported by volunteer labor, particularly by teachers agreeing to work longer hours without compensation, sometimes “even walking students home.”

Compelling people to work for free is slavery. Sure, these people are “volunteering” and it is certainly generous and compassionate for them to do so, but it is still free labor and it is necessary only because funding has been stripped from public education. It takes advantage of teachers’ tendency to go over and beyond the call of duty for their students. In many cases, such extra work is called “voluntary,” but comes with so much pressure from administrators and sometimes even parents and peers that it is virtually coerced. No one wants to look like they don’t care about their students. So if others are jumping on the bandwagon, many teachers will feel like they have to, as well.

It is not just teachers who do this. Gloria Johnson, a school secretary who was laid off from Tilden in December, still shows up every day as a volunteer. Johnson referred to Tilden as her family and argued that she wouldn’t stop helping her sister just because she didn’t have money. A school police officer who was laid off, also volunteers at Tilden.

Of course children shouldn’t suffer just because funding has been cut, but the solution is not to make other people suffering (e.g., the adults who care for them), while allowing those responsible for the budget crises to continue enjoying historically low income, business, capital gains and inheritance tax rates.

It is absurd to argue that grownups should be slaves or have to volunteer free labor so that children don’t have overcrowded classrooms and support services aren’t cut. What happens when those adults can no longer pay their rent, mortgage or food bills? What about their children? And what happens to their students when they eventually find paid work elsewhere?

The only sane solution to the underfunding of education is to demand that it be generously funded. Buying politicians, as the unions like to do, as well as voting and demonstrating at state capitals, have proven to be ineffectual. Ultimately, those who work in public schools have to take a stand and refuse to participate, withhold their labor, and engage in other forms of direct action in the workplace. On the other hand, continuing to work, or working harder, for low or no pay sends the message to administrators and politicians that we are doormats and martyrs, ready and willing to accept greater burdens and exploitation, so long as it might help our students.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fox Guarding Hen House: Rhee Buddies Up to Duncan During Investigation of DC Cheating Scandal

Michelle Rhee was the chancellor of Washington, D.C. schools from 2007 to 2010, during the time D.C. school officials cheated to raise test scores. The Office of the Inspector General in Arne Duncan’s Education Department has been investigating the case for the past six months. Considering how much the outcome the investigation could influence her career, it would seem a no-brainer that Duncan should not be fraternizing with her.

Nevertheless, the two sat side by side last month, as two of four featured panelists at an education conference in Washington. The conference was about the use of educational data.

Supposedly they did not talk about how to exploit educational data to further one’s career, as both Duncan and Rhee have done, or how to massage the numbers and game the system, as Rhee and her underlings supposedly did. It is also unlikely that the panelists discussed how much of a cash cow the testing and accountability mania have become for test and textbook publishers or revealed how much of their personal portfolios are invested in these companies. They most certainly did not talk about how little the tests and their data reveal about the quality of teachers and schools or how they undermine the quality of education by focusing on memorization and multiple choice guessing, while taking away class time and resources from arts, music, science, critical thinking and inquiry.

As the New York Times correctly pointed out today, Rhee’s reputation as a national leader of the education reform movement is based on the inflated D.C. test scores.

In March, USA Today published the results of an investigation of the D.C. schools that found unusually large gains at 41 schools and a suspiciously high rate of erasures on tests. This was one-third of the elementary and middle schools in the district.

In a rather amateur attempt to redirect blame to the Times, Duncan’s spokesman Justin Hamilton said, “It’s irresponsible for a New York times columnist to presume guilt before we have all the facts,” as if by not appearing publicly with Rhee Duncan might be biasing the jury.

The problem is that there is no jury—at least not yet.

This is an investigation by Duncan’s office. By socializing with a suspect under investigation, it gives Duncan and the entire Department of Education the appearance of being in bed with her, biasing the investigation and destroying what little confidence the public may have had that they would get to the bottom of the scandal or prevent any further cheating.

Today in Labor History—February 28

February 28, 1921 – Shoemakers won their strike for higher wages, leading to a government crackdown. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 28, 1986 - The entire workforce of the 3M factory in Elandsfontein, South Africa, went on strike in support of the 450 members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union being laid off at a 3M plant in New Jersey. The South African worker, all of whom were black, were among the hundreds of thousands of union members whose militancy helped bring down the apartheid system. (From Workday Minnesota)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Today in Labor History—February 27

Guards' cannon dragged to Montmartre During Paris Commune (contemporary sketch)

February 27, 1871 – The Paris Commune began when regular soldiers, sent to confiscate cannon from the National Guard militia in Paris, were confronted by the crowd and then decided to fraternize with them. (From the Daily Bleed)
Cartoon showing US Socialist Presidential candidate, Eugen V. Debs, who ran from in prison in the 1920 election.
 February 27, 1875 – Eugene V. Debs became a charter member and secretary of the Vigo Lodge, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. By 1880, he had become grand secretary of the national Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and editor of the Locomotive Fireman's Magazine. He later led the bitter Pullman strike. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 27, 1902 – John Steinbeck was born on this date in Salinas, California. Steinbeck, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962, wrote numerous novels from the perspective of farmers and the working class, including The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Tortilla Flats, Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row & East of Eden. (1952). (From the Daily Bleed)

February 27, 1912 – “The Times" of London published a lead story about a "conspiracy" of unions to take over ownership of British coal mines. The piece was based on a pamphlet, "The Miner's Next Step," which had been printed in Tonypandy, a scene of recent bloodshed between strikers and police. The pamphlet, written by the South Wales Miner's Federation, called for direct action and industrial solidarity. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 27, 1933 – Berlin's Reichstag parliament building was torched. The Nazi's tried to blame it on communists as a ploy in their steady consolidation of total power. (From the Daily Bleed)

Jarama Valley, Woody Guthrie
February 27, 1937 – Lincoln Brigadiers attacked Pingarrón Hill ("Suicide Hill") in Jarama Valley, Spain. Of the 500 who fought in this infamous battle, over 300 were killed or wounded. The Lincoln Brigade was made up of Americans who went to Spain (in violation of U.S. law) to help fight Franco and the fascists. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 27, 1939 - Following a decade of sit-down strikes, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sit-down strikes were illegal. (From Workday Minnesota)

February 27, 1942 – The Seattle School Board accepted the forced resignation of Japanese-American teachers. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 27, 1943 – A mine disaster killed 74 workers at Red Lodge, Montana. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 27, 1973 – 300 Oglala Sioux American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) activists liberated and occupied Wounded Knee, South Dakota (the site of the 1890 massacre of Sioux by the U.S. cavalry), in response to a campaign of terror by tribal and FBI officials. From the Daily Bleed)

February 27, 2001 – Seattle ACORN workers went on strike. Their office shut was down after their employer refused to recognize Public Interest Workers IU 670 union of the IWW. From the Daily Bleed)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Today in Labor History—February 26

A Young Karl Marx
February 26, 1848 – 29 year-old Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto in London. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 26, 1912 – A coal strike began in Derbyshire England, developing into a nationwide General Strike on March 1. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 26, 1915 – Armaments workers went on strike for more pay in England. (From the
Daily Bleed)
Kronstadt Rebels Attacked by Red Army, March, 1921

February 26, 1921 – In the midst of the Kronstadt uprising, delegates were sent to Petrograd tofind out about strikes occurring there. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 26, 1941 – Workers struck at Bethlehem Steel plants. (From the Daily Bleed)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Today in Labor History—February 25

The Death Ship book cover (from Libcom)
February 25, 1882 – Ret Marut, also known as B. Traven, author of such novels as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Death Ship, The Rebellion of the Hanged, The White Rose, was born on this date. (From the Daily Bleed)

February 25, 1908 – The "Washington Post" proposed that ALL anarchists should be executed (whether or not they have been convicted of any crime or offense). (From the Daily Bleed)
Leaders of the Paterson silk strike: Patrick Quinlan, Carlo Tresca, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Adolph Lessig, and Bill Haywood
 February 25, 1913 – The Paterson, New Jersey silk strike began, with 25,000 immigrant textile workers walking out when mill owners doubled the size of the looms without increasing staffing or wages. The strike was organized by the Industrial Workers of the World, but collapsed when mill owners exploited divisions between skilled and unskilled workers, successfully getting the skilled workforce to agree to return to work. Five strikers were killed during the 208-day walkout.  (From Workday Minnesota and the Daily Bleed)

February 25, 1964 – 172,000 students boycotted Chicago schools to protest segregation. (From the Daily Bleed)