War on Teachers and Education, Part 3: Prof. Ravitch’s response

June 10, 2013

At her blog again, Diane Ravitch responded to Ben Austin’s open letter to her at the Huffington Post.

Earlier today, Ben Austin wrote an open letter to me on Huffington Post. He expressed dismay about my characterization of him and his group Parent Revolution. Read his letter here. Here is my reply.

My Reply to Ben Austin’s Open Letter to Me

Dear Ben Austin,

Thank you for your invitation to engage in dialogue in your letter posted on Huffington Post.

You probably know that I have been writing a daily blog for the past fourteen months and during that time, I have written over 4,000 posts. I can’t remember any time when I have lost my temper other than when I wrote about your successful effort to oust an elementary school principal in Los Angeles named Irma Cobian.

I apologize for calling you “loathsome,” though I do think your campaign against a hardworking, dedicated principal working in an inner-city school was indeed loathsome. And it was wrong of me to say that there was a special place in hell reserved for anyone “who administers and funds this revolting organization that destroys schools and fine educators like Irma Cobian.”

As I said, I lost my temper, and I have to explain why.

I don’t like bullies. When I saw this woman targeted by your powerful organization, it looked like bullying. Your organization is funded by many millions of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. You have a politically powerful organization, and you used your power to single out this one woman and get her fired.

Your organization sent in paid staff to collect signatures from parents. The teachers in the school were not permitted to express their opinion to parents about your efforts to fire their principal. When you succeeded in getting her fired, 21 of the 22 teachers on staff requested a transfer. That suggests that Cobian has the loyalty of her staff and is a good leader.

Who is this woman that you ousted?

All I know about her is what I read in this article in the Los Angeles Times.

It said: “More than two decades ago, Cobian walked away from a high-powered law firm to teach. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she said she was inspired by a newspaper article about the low high school graduation rates of Latinos and wanted to make a difference.

“Her passion for social justice led her to Watts in 2009.”

Irma Cobain is now in her fourth year as principal of the school, and you decided that her time was up.

What did her teachers say about her?

“Third-grade teacher Kate Lewis said Irma Cobian is the best principal she’s had in nine years at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts.

“Joseph Shamel called Cobian a “godsend” who has used her mastery of special education to show him how to craft effective learning plans for his students.”

“Fourth-grade teacher Hector Hernandez said Cobian is the first principal he’s had who frequently pops into classrooms to model good teaching herself. Recently, he said, she demonstrated how to teach about different literary genres by engaging students in lively exercises using characters from the “Avengers” comic book and film.”

When Cobian arrived at the Weigand Avenue Elementary school four years ago, she found a school with low test scores, low parent involvement, and divisiveness over a dual-language program. “All the students come from low-income families, more than half are not fluent in English and a quarter turn over every year,” the Los Angeles Times story said.

Cobian decided to focus on improving literacy and raising morale. She certainly won over the faculty.

The day after Cobian learned about the vote removing her, she went to a second-grade classroom to give prizes to children who had read 25 books this year. She cheered those who met the goal and encouraged those who were trying. But she could not hide her sadness.

“I need happiness today,” Cobian told the bright-eyed students. “What do I do when I’m sad?”

“Come here!” the students sang out.

For a moment, her sadness gave way to smiles. But later, she said: “I am crushed.”

Ben, how did you feel when you read that? I felt sad. I felt this was a caring and dedicated person who had been singled out unfairly.

Ben, I hope you noticed in the article that Dr. John Deasy, the superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, praised the plan that Cobian and her staff developed for improving the school. He called it a “well-organized program for accelerated student achievement.” He thanked Cobian for her commitment and hard work.” But you decided she should be fired.

Ironically, the parent who worked with you to fire Cobian said she preferred Weigand to her own neighborhood school where she had concerns about bullying. Even stranger, the parents at Cobian’s school voted to endorse her plan. Your parent spokesperson said she did not like the plan because it focused on reading and writing, but she told the reporter from the Los Angeles Times that she actually never read the plan.

I understand from your letter, Ben, that you somehow feel you are a victim because of what I wrote about you. But, Ben, you are not a victim. Irma Cobian is the victim here. She lost her job because of your campaign to get rid of her. She is the one who was humiliated and suffered loss of income and loss of reputation. You didn’t. You still have your organization, your staff, and the millions that the big foundations have given you.

I am sorry you had a tough childhood. We all have our stories about growing up. I am one of eight children. My father was a high-school dropout. My mother immigrated from Bessarabia and was very proud of her high school diploma from the Houston public schools. She was proud that she learned to speak English “like a real American.” My parents were grateful for the free public schools of Houston, where I too graduated from high school. We had our share of problems and setbacks but I won’t go on about myself or my siblings because my story and yours are really beside the point. What troubles me is what you are doing with the millions you raise. You use it to sow dissension, to set parents against parents, parents against teachers, parents against principals. I don’t see this as productive or helpful. Schools function best when there is collaboration among teachers, parents, administrators, and students. Schools have a better chance of success for the children when they have a strong community and culture of respect.

Your “parent trigger” destroys school communities. True to its name, the “trigger” blasts them apart. It causes deep wounds. It decimates the spirit of respect and comity that is necessary to build a strong community. Frankly, after the school shootings of recent years, your use of the metaphor of a “parent trigger” is itself offensive. We need fewer triggers pointed at schools and educators. Please find a different metaphor, one that does not suggest violence and bloodshed.

It must be very frustrating to you and your funders that–three years after passage of the “parent trigger” law– you can’t point to a single success story. I am aware that you persuaded the parents at the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California, to turn their public school over to a privately operated charter. I recall that when parents at the school tried to remove their signatures from your petition, your organization went to court and won a ruling that they were not allowed to rescind their signatures. Ultimately only 53 parents in a school of more than 600 children chose the charter operator. Since the charter has not yet opened, it is too soon to call that battle a success for Parent Revolution. Only the year before, the Adelanto Charter Academy lost its charter because the operators were accused of financial self-dealing.

But, Ben, let me assure you that I bear you no personal ill will. I just don’t approve of what you are doing. I think it is wrong to organize parents to seize control of their public school so they can fire the staff or privatize it. If the principal is doing a bad job, it is Dr. Deasy’s job to remove her or him. I assume that veteran principals and teachers get some kind of due process, where charges are filed and there is a hearing. If Cobain was as incompetent as you say, why didn’t Dr. Deasy bring her up on charges and replace her?

I also have a problem with the idea that parents can sign a petition and hand their public school off to a private charter corporation. The school doesn’t belong to the parents whose children are enrolled this year. It belongs to the public whose taxes built it and maintains it. As the L.A. Times story pointed out, one-quarter of the children at Weigand Avenue Elementary School are gone every year. The parents who sign a petition this year may not even be parents in the school next year. Why should they have the power to privatize the school? Should the patrons of a public library have the power to sign a petition and privatize the management? Should the people using a public park have the right to take a vote and turn the park over to private management?

We both care about children. I care passionately about improving education for all children. I assume you do as well. You think that your organized raids on public schools and professionals will lead to improvement. I disagree. Schools need adequate resources to succeed. They also need experienced professionals, a climate of caring, and stability. I don’t see anything in the “trigger” concept that creates the conditions necessary for improvement. Our teachers and principals are already working under too much stress, given that schools have become targets for federal mandates and endless reforms.

I suggest that educators need respect and thanks for their daily work on behalf of children. If they do a bad job, the leadership of the school system is responsible to take action. What educators don’t need is to have a super-rich, super-powerful organization threatening to pull the trigger on their career and their good name.

Ben, thanks for the open letter and the chance to engage in dialogue. If you don’t mind, I want to apologize to Irma Cobain on your behalf. She was doing her best. She built a strong staff that believes in her. She wrote a turnaround plan that Dr. Deasy liked and the parents approved. Ms. Cobain, if you read this, I hope you can forgive Ben. Maybe next time, he will think twice, get better information, and consider the consequences before he decides to take down another principal.

Diane Ravitch

If Dr. Ravitch is correct in her claims, and her fears for future results, the biggest problem with this parent-trigger farce is that it costs a lot of money, and does only damage to schools, and to students, therefore.

Please continue to Part 4.

This series, on the dustup between Prof. Diane Ravitch and Ben Austin in California:

More:


War on Teachers and Education, Part 2: Ben Austin of Parent Revolution attacked Prof. Ravitch

June 10, 2013

Ben Austin is the head of Parent Revolution, the group trying to push teachers out of management of schools in California.  After Prof. Diane Ravitch noted problems with his group’s actions at Weigand Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles, on her blog, he responded with an “open-letter” carried by Huffington Post.

Other than the link to Dr. Ravitch’s post (“now infamous blog post,” as Austin calls it), all links are added here.

Dear Professor Diane Ravitch:

Parents, educators, and education advocates have a lot in common when it comes to a kids-first first agenda. But we can never seize that common ground if those with whom we disagree are deemed to be “evil” and sentenced to Hell, as you did last week in your now infamous blog post.

If we can’t start from that basic premise, then we are no more mature than the children we endeavor to serve. We cannot purport to encourage tolerance and discourage bullying on the schoolyard if the adults in charge of the schoolyard can’t adhere to those same basic principles.

For the past year, the organization for which I serve as executive director – Parent Revolution – has been working with parents from the Watts neighborhood community school Weigand Avenue Elementary to help turnaround their failing school. Although there appear to be some areas of improvement at the school, Weigand is currently ranked 15th worst of nearly 500 elementary schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and has been on a continual overall downward slide for the past 3-4 years under its current school leadership.

Four years is a long time for parents to wait for improvements in a failing school, despite even the best of intentions from dedicated professionals like Weigand’s current principal. Unfortunately, the current principal was unable to make the progress needed to turnaround the school.

In 2011 many of these same parents petitioned along with Weigand’s teachers to oust their failed principal, but had no real power to force change, and the principal retained her job. Every teacher who signed that 2011 petition is now gone, and the school has gotten even worse since then.

Many of the kids have now “graduated” without having learned basic skills. Currently, more than half of kids at Weigand cannot read, write, or do math at grade level.

So this year, the parents organized again – but this time using California’s landmark Parent Trigger law, which gives parents trapped in a failing school the power to force leadership or staffing changes at the school, or convert it to a non-profit charter school.

After the parents submitted petitions representing a majority of parents at the school demanding a leadership change, the district complied with the law, verified the parents’ legal majority, and in August Weigand will open up as a newly transformed school with new leadership.

Recently, in a debate about whether these parents should have the power to demand a new principal for their failing public school, you labeled me “loathsome” for siding with the parents. You declared that everyone who supports these parents “deserves a special place in Hell.”

Let me tell you about Hell.

I grew up in Greenwich Village and Venice Beach, the son of two writers. My parents published a number of books, but our family struggled financially.

In many ways, I grew up lucky. I grew up with parents who valued education and loved me. They helped me get a scholarship to a private high school in Los Angeles. That scholarship may have saved my life.

My dad was an alcoholic. A few weeks before my junior year in high school, he committed suicide. I vividly remember going to the first day of school after my dad’s death, soon after his funeral. As a kid, my overriding emotion that day was embarrassment. I (wrongly) assumed that all the wealthy kids at my school had near perfect home lives, and I was embarrassed about mine. I didn’t want them to know about my dad, but it was such a small school that I knew that everyone would.

That’s what I remember as a boy. But looking back as an adult, I see that same day through a different lens. I can see the role that educators and others played to get me through this Hell.

I see how my teachers and my principal sat down with me that first day of school to talk. They told me they believed in me. They told me they would help me. Some even told me they loved me.

They told me I could make it. And I did. I graduated from high school, then Berkeley, then Georgetown Law School. I worked in the Clinton White House as well as on five Democratic presidential campaigns. I served as deputy mayor in Los Angeles, and sat as a member of the California State Board of Education.

I was lucky. But my younger brother wasn’t so lucky.

He went to a different school. His principal told him that he would never amount to anything. So he dropped out of school in 9th Grade. He fell down, and with no one at his school to help pick him up (and no dad), he lost a decade of his life.

Astonishingly, he did end up getting back up. Years later, he earned his GED, went to college, then business school and now is an awesome dad with a wonderful family. But his story is not the typical story of a 9th grade drop out.

When I see kids attending schools like Weigand, I see kids who are going through a whole lot more at home than I could have ever imagined as a boy, but who don’t have a safe place where somebody believes in them, supports them and loves them. Many kids drop out like my brother, but rarely share his happy ending.

So forgive me if I take it personally when parents trapped in a failing school ask for the same kind of support for their children that saved me as a child, and that I now expect from my daughters’ neighborhood public school as a father.

Your opposition to the Weigand parents is especially puzzling given the logic of your prior critique of Parent Trigger as a conspiracy to trick parents into converting their school into a charter school. The Weigand parents did not want a charter school, or new teachers, or even a new union contract. They wanted a change in leadership after 4 years of failure.

Weigand has exposed you as being opposed not just to charter schools, but to pure parent power.

To be clear, the reason that we have never personally attacked you, the principal, or any other opponent of parent power, is because our goal isn’t a political victory. It is a victory for our kids, and we can’t achieve that goal without ultimately working together.

Just last year, I wrote about you in the Huffington Post: “Diane Ravitch is a talented academic who has devoted her life to this issue. She clearly cares about kids and the future of public education in America.” I believed it then and still believe it now, despite your mean-spirited attacks against me and the committed parents and staff with whom I work. Instead of puerile name-calling and ugly personal attacks, let’s commit to a debate about a kids-first agenda and the future of public education that is worthy of our children.

Your intelligence and unique perspective have the potential to enrich this debate. But we must stipulate that this debate will not occur in Hell, Heaven, or in some imaginary world where one side has all the answers and holds all the moral authority.

Let us debate about the future of American public education on Planet Earth, where ideas and civility matter.

Sincerely,

Ben Austin
Executive Director
Parent Revolution

Why didn’t he respond on Ravitch’s blog?  I don’t know for sure, but as deliverd on HuffPo, this letter is a poison-the-well tactic:  Austin didn’t respond to Ravitch’s criticism directly.  Instead, he attacked Ravitch’s tone, making Ravitch out to be a rude person — but he did so to a different audience, one that had no background in the controversy.  Had he responded at her blog, he wouldn’t have the chance to introduce the audience of not-closely-watching-this-issue people to his biases first.  So this letter increases my skepticism of the good faith claims of Parent Revolution and Ben Austin.

Ben Austin’s group, Parent Revolution’s website lists a string of successes.  Each of those successes is a political victory over teachers and educators.  So far, there is not a single school turnaround success Ben Austin’s group can point out for us.  They claim they worked for a year with parents to turn around Weigand Avenue elementary.  As a political organizer, education administrator, civics wonk and teacher, I wonder why Austin’s group didn’t work with the teachers, too or instead.  The work described was not to turn around Weigand, but rather to wrest control from people who, by all accounts I’ve seen, were making solid progress in a tough situation.  I have not found evidence of a working PTA, which suggests the parents could not and would not organize a toss-the-principal campaign on their own. (If you have information on a working PTA, please note it in comments.)

Austin’s group is no fly-by-night neighborhood parents’ group.  Austin has no children at Weigand, nor do any of the other full-time staffers on the group’s payroll.  The Hechinger Report notes:

Parent Revolution, whose backers include the Gates, Walton Family and Wasserman foundations, now has a budget that has climbed close to $5.5 million and a staff of about 45, including its California and national teams, Phelps said.

I’m mystified by Austin’s story of his family life.  It explains some of his drive, perhaps, but it’s totally at odds with his group’s continuing attacks on the teachers and principals who, he claims, were heroes in his own life.  He also calls out the principal of his brother’s school as a villain.  But he offers not a hint of any rational way to tell who are the heroes and who are the villains in these dramas.

Plus, he almost completely brushes off the concerns raised by Ravitch and the Los Angeles Times.  The woman fired by Austin’s outside agitator-style actions looks a heroine in every portrait I’ve seen. The Parent Revolution targeting of Irma Cobian is covered in a smokescreen for no apparent reason.  Austin managed to can the one person who could save the life of a kid like Ben Austin.

Is there an explanation?

Please continue to Part 3.

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War on Teachers and Education, Part 1: Prof. Ravitch’s emotion-touching call for a cease-fire on teachers

June 10, 2013

This is the first of five parts needed to document and lay the background for what unfortunately promises to be a pitched public relations battle, if not a serious battle to rescue a California school from being crushed by a corporation making a hostile takeover of a school using California’s “parent trigger” law.  Follow-ups may be needed.

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 - Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell (you may use freely, with attribution)

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 – Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell (you may use freely, with attribution)

If you’ve followed education issues, you know Dr. Diane Ravitch is a professor of education at Columbia, one of the most respected schools of education in the world.  Her work on education reform was popular with the Reagan administration in the period after the Report of the Commission on Excellence in Education in 1983, and particularly with education reformers at the time I was tapped to work at the Department of Education, in the old Office of Educational Research and Improvement.  Dr. Ravitch was appointed to head that arm of Education in the administration of George H. W. Bush, but after I had left government for the private sector.

More recently, Dr. Ravitch has looked hard to find evidence that the testing regimes imposed by the “No Child Left Behind” Act (NCLB) actually produce benefits to the education of students.

Finding no such evidence, Dr. Ravitch has called for an end to unproven methods of destruction of schools and school systems in pursuit of foggy, unattainable goals.

Recently, big-dollar guys have backed efforts to kick out teachers and trained educators from schools, and in particular with “parent-trigger” laws, which allow a group of parents to petition for the removal of professionals at a school, and for a group of parents to then take over the management of that school.

Oddly, the first places these laws have been applied is against teachers in schools where parental involvement has been historically abysmal.  A closer look shows that in these cases professional organizers, well-financed by businessmen who fancy themselves education reformers, did the load-carrying to get the petitions signed, and to get the educators ousted.

One of the schools where this process is moving is Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts, that troubled, poverty-ridden section of Los Angeles more famous for riots and gangs than educational attainment.

Dr. Ravitch wrote on her blog on May 25:

Parent Revolution Force Out Excellent Principal

The billionaire-funded Parent Revolution flexed its muscle and got enough parent signatures to force the resignation of a highly effective principal.

Please read the story.

This is the principal who was ousted by Parent Revolution:

“Third-grade teacher Kate Lewis said Irma Cobian is the best principal she’s had in nine years at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts.

“Joseph Shamel called Cobian a “godsend” who has used her mastery of special education to show him how to craft effective learning plans for his students.

“Los Angeles Unified Supt. John Deasy praised a plan developed by Cobian and her team to turn around the struggling campus — where most students test below grade level in reading and math — calling it a “well-organized program for accelerated student achievement.” He thanked Cobian for her commitment and hard work.”

21 of the school’s 22 teachers have requested transfers because of Cobian’s ouster.

Parent Revolution is a malevolent organization funded by Walton, Gates, and Broad.

There is a special place in hell reserved for everyone who administers and funds this revolting organization that destroys schools and fine educators like Irma Cobian.

Dr. Ravitch has a good sense of justice, and injustice in my opinion.  This situation got her thinking, and she had more comments later.

Wondering About Ben Austin

Earlier today, I posted an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times about Parent Revolution forcing the ouster of an excellent principal, Irma Cobian.

I keep thinking about it. I think about the way her staff admired and respected her, how 21 of 22 teachers requested a transfer when she was targeted by the phony Parent Revolution.

Ben Austin is loathsome. He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator. She was devoted to the children, he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization–Walton, Gates, and Broad. His biggest funder is the reactionary Walton Family Foundation [line added here], which spends $160 million every year to advance privatization.

Ben Austin is Walton’s useful idiot. He prattles on about his liberal credentials, but actions speak louder than words.

Here is my lifelong wish for him.

Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian.

Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Never forget her. She should be on your conscience–if you have one–forever.

W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming,Wikipedia image. Oddly, few, if any, education reform efforts work to incorporate any of Deming’s rules for running high-efficiency, highly-productive, championship-quality organizations; its as if there is a different agenda being pursued.

Ravitch makes a good point.  Organizational turnarounds rarely work when they start with mass firings.  It didn’t work in the French Revolution, it didn’t work in Russian in 1917.  Management experts like W. Edwards Deming, the most famous of the tough-reorganization management consultants in the drive for high quality organizations, bluntly warn that such efforts generally are destructive — the people fired are not the problem, nor do they have the authority to fix the problems, most often.  People on the front line know the problems better than anyone else, and can provide the leadership to turn organizations around, however — and for those reasons, you don’t get rid of them, if your goal is to effect an organizational turnaround.

Mr. Austin should have a framed photo of Mrs. Cobian on his desk so he must see her, every day.

Mr. Austin disagrees.

See part 2.

This series, on the dustup between Prof. Diane Ravitch and Ben Austin in California:

More, different views, and resources:


Powerful teacher unions make good schools

October 12, 2012

From a column by Washington Post writer Matt Miller, “Romney vs. teachers unions:  The inconvenient truth”:

That reality is this: The top performing school systems in the world have strong teachers unions at the heart of their education establishment. This fact is rarely discussed (or even noted) in reform circles. Yet anyone who’s intellectually honest and cares about improving our schools has to acknowledge it. The United States is an outlier in having such deeply adversarial, dysfunctional labor-management relations in schooling.

Why is this?

My hypothesis runs as follows: The chief educational strategy of top-performing nations such as Finland, Singapore and South Korea is to recruit talent from the top third of the academic cohort into the teaching profession and to train them in selective, prestigious institutions to succeed on the job. In the United States, by contrast, we recruit teachers mostly from the middle and (especially for poor schools) bottom third and train them mostly in open-enrollment institutions that by all accounts do shoddy work.

As a result, American reformers and superintendents have developed a fetish for evaluating teachers and dismissing poor performers, because there are, in fact, too many. Unions dig in to protect their members because . . . that’s what unions do.

When you talk to senior officials in Finland, Singapore and South Korea, it’s as if they’re on another planet. The question of how they deal with low-performing teachers is basically a non-issue, because they just don’t have many of them. Why would they when their whole system is set up to recruit, train and retain outstanding talent for the profession? [emphasis added here]

Whose approach sounds more effective to you?

Miller suggests, among other things, raising starting pay for teachers — $65,000 to $150,000 — and greatly boosting the rigor of training for teachers.

Any such hopes for effective reform could not occur under the “austerity budgets” proposed in Utah, Wisconsin, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and the U.S. Congress.

More:


Box office slaps Hollywood: ‘Don’t talk jive smack against teachers’

October 3, 2012

Teacher and education blogs were all atwitter — and Twitter was all ablog, I suppose you could say — about the opening this past weekend of the movie “Won’t Back Down.”

“Parent trigger” laws bubble up in discussion a lot recently — laws that allow a group of parents to petition a school district, or the state, and say that they want to take over a local school.  Conservatives and other anti-teacher groups promote these laws as a means of education reform.  Generally, in the few cases in which a school is taken over by parents, teachers and local administrators are fired, and the school operates much like a charter school.

“Won’t Back Down” professes to be “based on a true story.”  I am reminded that both “Psycho” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” also professed to be based on a true story — the same story, in fact.  I’ve written about this before — based on a true story, except not in Texas, no chainsaw, no massacre, nor was there a hotel and a shower.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is more carefully based on a true story — there is a Mississippi River; or The Bald Soprano — there are bald people, and there are sopranos.  But I digress.

The film has a cast of some great star power — Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter.  It was produced by the documentary group that also produced Al Gore‘s “Inconvenient Truth,” and then moved to the popular but wildly polemical “Waiting for Superman,” another hit on teachers.  They should have stopped with that one, instead of raising the ante (raising the “anti?”).

Audiences don’t like films that cast teachers as villains, it would appear.

Stephanie Simon of Reuters wrote:

(Reuters) – Education reform film “Won’t Back Down” opened Friday to terrible reviews – and high hopes from activists who expect the movie to inspire parents everywhere to demand big changes in public schools.

The drama stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a spirited mother who teams up with a passionate teacher to seize control of their failing neighborhood school, over the opposition of a self-serving teachers union.

Reviewers called it trite and dull, but education reformers on both the left and right have hailed the film as a potential game-changer that could aid their fight to weaken teachers’ unions and inject more competition into public education.

Yahoo!’s Movie Talk got to the point:

Even an Oscar-caliber leading cast couldn’t save this one. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s latest film “Won’t Back Down,” also starring Viola Davis and Holly Hunter, set the record this past weekend for the worst opening of a film that appeared in more than 2,500 theaters, making a mere $2.6 million [via Box Office Mojo].

Yes, all three of these former Oscar nominees — Hunter having won a golden statuette in 1994 for “The Piano” — now have a pretty bad blemish on their resume. But they aren’t to blame, say industry watchers, who are reacting to the film with a resounding face palm. “‘Won’t Back Down’ wore the dunce cap last weekend, mostly because its marketing was almost non-existent,” says Jeff Bock, box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.

“Record for the worst opening?”  Ouch.

Back to the “based on a true story” issue:  We may understand why the screenwriter and director of the first Texas Chainsaw movie, Tobe Hooper took the liberties he did to add elements to the story.  He knew the original story of a disturbed man in Wisconsin who was jailed for corpse mutilation.  He knew that was the foundation for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”  How to update it, to make the story bankable from the box office?  Move it to Texas, add a chainsaw with all its terrifying whine, and add in the standard teenager murder story elements; maybe put a mask on the villain/evil beast, to make it more terrifying — there is great terror in being pursued by nameless, faceless folk as Orwell showed us.  Both Hitchcock and Hooper fully understood that the real, dull story, wasn’t something people would pay to sit through while eating grossly-overpriced popcorn.

“Won’t Back Down” suffered from sticking too close to the facts.  If you’re going to claim the antagonist is psycho, you have to give them a big butcher’s knife or a chainsaw, and a costume, in order to make really, really scary.

Teachers just are not that scary in real life.  Teachers are not the villains, in real life.

More (from various viewpoints):


Junk science in education: Testing doesn’t work, can’t evaluate teachers

July 29, 2012

Diane Ravitch, who once had the ear of education officials in Washington and would again, if they have a heart, brains, and a love for the U.S. defended teachers and teaching in a way that is guaranteed to make conservatives and education critics squirm

Cordial relations with Randi Weingarten may not rest well with our teacher friends in New York — but listen to what Dr. Diane Ravitch said at this meeting of the American Federation of Teachers.

  • “Teachers are under attack.”
  • “The public schools are under attack.”
  • “Teachers unions are under attack.”
  • “Public schools are not shoe stores.  They don’t open and close on a dime.”
  • “‘Value-added assessment,’ used as it is today, is junk science.”

If you care about education, if you care about your children and grandchildren, if you care about the future of our nation, you need to listen to this.


458

AFT HQ description:

Diane Ravitch, education activist and historian, rallied an enthusiastic audience at the AFT 2012 Convention with her sharp criticism of education “reform” that threatens public schools.

It’s all true.

More Resources and News:


School reform: 250,000 teachers fired?

June 11, 2012

Is this any way to run education reform?

Plugging his own jobs creation bill, President Obama said that 250,000 teachers lost jobs in state budget cuts in the last few months.  NEA’s news line reported:

Obama Cites Teacher Layoffs In Push For Jobs Bill.

The AP (6/9) reports President Obama “wants Congress to help states rehire teachers and act on a key part of last year’s jobs bill.” In his weekly address, the President said “many states have been squeezed by the economic recession and have been forced to lay off teachers — about 250,000 across the nation.”

The Los Angeles Times (6/10, Reston) reports the President “renewed his push for his stalled jobs bill in his weekly address Saturday, arguing that the legislation could play a critical role in preventing teachers around the country from being pink-slipped in cash-strapped states.” He said, “It should concern everyone that right now — all across America — tens of thousands of teachers are getting laid off. … When there are fewer teachers in our schools, class sizes start climbing up. Our students start falling behind. And our economy takes a hit.” The Times notes that he cited “the shrinking pool of teachers in the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.”

Politico (6/9, Boak) says the President “told voters to send Republicans to the principal’s office,” calling on Congress “to pass a measure to stop teacher layoffs that he first proposed last September. The $30 billion package to fill in the gaps left by slashed state education budgets failed to get a passing grade from Capitol Hill.” The President said, “In Pennsylvania alone, there are 9,000 fewer educators in our schools today than just a year ago. In Ohio, the number is close to 7,000. And nationwide, over the past three years, school districts have lost over 250,000 educators.”

The Hill (6/9, Sink) says his “messaging largely echoed his remarks at an unplanned press conference Friday at the White House. But that effort was overshadowed” by his “remark that ‘the private sector is doing fine’ in terms of job growth, drawing immediate criticism from Republicans.” The Hill (6/9, Sink) also reports the Obama campaign also released a new web video criticizing Mitt Romney “for saying Friday that the federal government shouldn’t move forward with legislation that would give cash-strapped states money for teachers and emergency responders.”

Meanwhile, The Hill (6/9, Pecquet) reports in the Republican address, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) criticized the Affordable Care Act, saying, “The President’s policies are standing in the way of a stronger economy. His healthcare law well may be the worst offender, driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire workers. It’s making things worse in our economy, and it needs to be fully repealed.”

It’s difficult to find an analogy about just how contrary to wisdom is the idea of laying off teachers in a national economic recession.  Imagine Mitt Romney saying, “We need to keep Americans safe, so I propose we lay off policemen and firefighters.”   It wouldn’t make any sense.  Surely Americans would rise up in protest.

What’s that?


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