The Election Year epiphany syndrome

Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States….

President Obama will fly to Connecticut today as part of his campaign to promote a $10.10 minimum wage.  Glued to his side will be Governor Dannel Malloy, whom the President will call a champion in the effort to promote a fairer minimum wage.

This is the same Governor Malloy who failed to support a modest increase in the minimum wage just two years ago.

In January 2012, key Democratic members of the Connecticut Legislature, with strong support from Connecticut’s unions, proposed raising the minimum wage from $8.25 to $9.00 an hour on July 1, 2013 and then to a rate of $9.75 on July 1, 2014.

Governor Malloy was quick to throw cold water on the plan telling reporters,  “I’m not slamming any doors. I’m not saying ‘No’ but I’ll watch the debate and perhaps reach a conclusion subsequently.”

Malloy’s pronouncement that he would “reach a  conclusion subsequently” was a death sentence for the legislation and without the Governor’s support the business community, with the help of the Republicans and some Democrats, easily killed the proposal.

A year later, in February 2013, Legislators tried again to push legislation increasing the minimum wage and again Governor Malloy failed to step forward to support the proposal.  However this time, late in the legislative session when it was clear that Democrats would pass the bill away, Malloy did a 180 and announced that he would support a “compromise” on a minimum wage increase.

With the 2014 election year in sight, Malloy’s transformation on the issue was nearly complete.

On the last day of December 2013,  Malloy held a State Capitol press conference to brag about the extraordinarily positive impact Connecticut’s new minimum wage law would  have when it takes effect at midnight that night.

Malloy said,

“As the clock strikes 12 in this state, many people … will actually lift themselves out of poverty,” Malloy said during a press event and rally.

Malloy was referring to the mandated .45 cent an hour increase in the State’s minimum wage that will be taking effect.

However, as some may know, the federal poverty level for a family of three in Connecticut is about $18,400.  For the 70,000 to 90,000 Connecticut residents living on minimum wage, a full-time job only brings in $17,160 per year.

Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman joined Malloy in “celebrating” the raise in the minimum wage.  It would, according to Wyman, mean Connecticut’s minimum wage workers would make an extra $18 hours a week as long as they don’t miss a single hour of work.

That increase translates into an extra $936 a year — leaving most minimum wage families still living below the poverty line.

But many politicians believe that electoral success can be achieved through rhetoric and hyperbole…

And the President of the United States is coming to Connecticut to try to bolster Malloy’s political re-election dreams.

You can read more about Malloy’s transformation on the minimum wage in these two Wait, What? blog posts,

It’s an election year and Governor Malloy is now for raising the minimum wage

Governor Malloy: Blessed are the Poor

October 17th – National Letter Writing Campaign To the President for Our Public Schools

Those who read Diane Ravitch’s blog already know that Diane, and some of her readers, are organizing a letter writing campaign to President Obama.  The goal is to get as many letters to the President as possible on October 17th and October 18th.

The letters are a way to push back on the “education reform” changes that are being pushed at the national level and in states across the nation.

They can specifically address a particular “reform,” such as the absurd standardized testing frenzy or you can take a broader perspective on the need to promote positive developments in public education in the United States.

At the end of this email is a very thoughtful example that one teacher wrote it.  Other examples can be found on Diane’s website or click http://dianeravitch.net/?s=October+17

Anthony Cody, another pro-public education blogger has offered to help coordinate the campaign.  As you’ll see from the instructions, letters can be sent to Diane, Anthony or directly to the White House.  Wait, What? readers are also welcome to send the letters to me or paste them into the comment section and I will format them and send them on to Diane. My email is [email protected]

Here is Diane’s latest blog post on the October 17th effort.

Our campaign is meant to include everyone who cares about public education: students, parents, teachers, principals, school board members, and concerned citizens. We want everyone to write the President and tell him what needs to change in his education policies.

Tell your friends about the Campaign. Ask them to join us. If you have a blog, write about it. Wherever you are, spread the news. Join us.

Here are the instructions:

You can send your letter to Anthony Cody or to this blog.

Or you can send it directly to the White House, with a copy to me or Anthony.

Anthony will gather all the emails sent to him and me and forward them to the White House.

1. Email your letters to [email protected]

2. Or submit them as comments to this blog. You can respond to this post or to any other post on this blog about the October 17 Campaign for Our Public Schools.

All letters collected through these two channels will be compiled into a single document, which will be sent to the White House on Oct. 18.

In ADDITION to this,

3. You can mail copies of your letters through US mail to The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 20500

4. You can send them by email from this page: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

If you choose to write or email the White House, please send us a copy so we can keep track of how many letters were sent to the President.

One more thought: when you write to the President, also write to your Senators and Congressman or -woman and to your state legislator and Governor. Send the same letter to them all.

Let’s raise our voices NOW against privatization, against high-stakes testing, against teacher bashing, against profiteering.

Let’s advocate for policies that are good for students, that truly improve education, that respect the education profession, and that strengthen our democratic system of public education.

Let’s act. Start here. Start now.

Join our campaign. Speak out. Enough is enough.

Diane

Here is a great example of a letter that one teacher wrote

Dear President Obama,

I am teacher and a lifelong Democrat. I have voted in every presidential election since I was old enough to vote. I’m certainly not going to vote for Mr. Romney but for the first time in my adult life I am considering not voting at all. I can not in good conscience support the educational policies espoused by you and your Secretary of education, Arne Duncan. I know many teachers who are facing the same crisis of conscience. When you ran for president four years ago, I like many of my colleagues, were full of hope that you might take measures to address the negative outcomes that were the result of the No Child Left Behind mandates. Instead, The Race to the Top, standardization, and privatization are destroying our public schools.

Although I agree that teachers should not be evaluated by test scores, this is not my principle concern. Inside the school building, there are three stakeholders. The students, the teachers and the administrators. A wise middle school principal of my acquaintance has pointed out that the students should always be considered first, the teachers second and the administrators third. When so much time is being spent on teaching the student how to do well on standardized tests, can it truly be argued that we are putting the student first? Bloom’s revised taxonomy suggests that there are six levels of learning. The bottom of the pyramid starts with remembering and then moves upwards to understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and finally creating. At best, standardized testing might measure the bottom two skills. The united States has always been recognized for its innovation and creativity. Do we really want our teachers to ignore the top four learning skills in order to conform to a “one size fits all” concept that doesn’t recognize student abilities, interests and needs. The other major stakeholder in education is our students’ parents. We are seeing more and more of them who are expressing dismay at what we have to do to keep from becoming a school in need of improvement. Many are seeking alternatives such as Waldorf Schools where students are treated as creative human beings rather than as fodder for data. I come from a long tradition of teachers and even my own grandchildren are all going to a Waldorf School. My daughters’ families are willing to make personal financial sacrifices so that their sons and daughters will not be exposed to the standardization that was mandated by the Bush Administration and now yours.

I have been fortunate to witness the outcomes of student based learning. Students who are engaged in an environment where they may pursue some of their own interests blossom into true learners. Standardized testing is alienating not only our teachers but also, more importantly, our students. NECAP test prep is about the worst possible way I can think of to engage potential learners at the start of a new school year. I actually had a student suggest to me that we should find a way to fill a bucket with what is on the tests. Then we should bore a hole in the students’ heads and pour the contents of the bucket into the hole. Is this how we want our students to see education?

The Common Core Standards may very well be useful guidelines but they do not teach the students to infer. Interpreted literally, they are fostering a mentality coming from the top down that each teacher must cover the same material at exactly the same pace and during the same time period. Most teachers don’t believe in this methodology but they are afraid to speak up in fear of losing their jobs. The top levels of the taxonomy are being lost to what appears to be an effort to make everyone be the same. 21st Century learners need to be creative problem solvers, not mindless automatons. Studies have shown that formative assessment is much more effective than summative assessment and yet we spend an inordinate amount of time on cumulative assessments that address only the lower levels of learning. As one educator has said,”Rigor is not giving the students difficult stuff, it is the quality of the feedback.” The feedback from standardized tests is not high quality. Noam Chomsky from MIT has pointed out that it is not what is covered that is important, it is what the student discovers that matters.

Mr. President and Mr. Duncan please realize that your present policies are not only demoralizing teachers, these policies are also doing our students a great disservice. Those of us who choose to teach do it not for monetary reward. it is however not unreasonable to assume that we should be able to earn a respectable professional income. We don’t work to win monetary recognition for high test scores. Doing so does not set a good example for our students. Bribing our students to do well on the tests is also not a good model for future adult behavior.

I want to support you on November 6 but I don’t know if I can. Do we really want a society where only the students who go to private schools will be the creative thinkers of the future? Education is not a basketball game. The Race To The Top only creates a few winners and many losers. The losers are also the future of our country. Please listen to those of us who have devoted our lives to helping our students become lifelong learners and thoughtful productive citizens in a free society. Diversity, not standardization is what has brought out the best in the United States of America.

Unemployment: The Art of Political Spin

On Thursday, Connecticut’s Department of Labor released their monthly report on the state of the economy.  The data revealed that the percent of unemployed had risen from 8.1 percent in June to 8.5 percent in July.  In response, Governor Malloy said he was “skeptical” of the report’s accuracy.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the Obama Administration released a report showing that at least 300,000 teaching jobs have been lost in the last three years. Obama called for new investment in education spending.

The nation’s “official” unemployment rate stands at about 8.3 percent.  That means that the true unemployment rate in the United States is at least 15 percent.

Although the media traditionally reports on what is called the “U-3” unemployment rate, a far better measure is one called the “U-6” rate.  The “U-6” unemployment rate, which is released at the same time as the lower number, includes the traditional definition of the “unemployed,” but also adds-in those people who are employed in part-time jobs, despite the fact that they are actively looking for full-time work.

While having a part-time job helps some families make ends meet, an honest definition of being unemployed must include those who can’t find the full-time job they need and, instead, are forced to fall back on some type of part-time employment.

Since Connecticut’s numbers are similar to the national numbers, we can safely assume that at least 15% of Connecticut residents continue to find themselves without the work they want and need.

If the truth be told, the notion that the “official” unemployment rate is 8.1 percent or 8.5 percent is, quite frankly, irrelevant.

The very real impact federal, state and local budget cuts have on the economy and our education system becomes clear when we understand that since President Obama took office, the number of Connecticut residents employed in federal, state and local government jobs has dropped from 251,200 to 235,000.

This means that in just the last four years, there are 16,000 few jobs in schools and other government positions around the state.

Of that number, the overwhelming majority, 10,000 jobs, have been lost just since Malloy became Connecticut’s governor.

Last month, President Obama said, “think about what that means for our country. At a time when the rest of the world is racing to out-educate America, these cuts force our kids into crowded classrooms, cancel programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners, and shorten the school week and the school year. That’s the opposite of what we should be doing as a country.”

Today, the President used his weekly address to talk about the loss of teaching jobs, while reiterating his pledge to invest an additional $25 billion to prevent layoffs and strengthen public education around the country.

The sad truth is that regardless of whether the President is calling for more of an investment in education or the Governor is skeptical that the unemployment is going up when “feels” it should be going down, the fact is, Connecticut’s children are returning to school in a couple of weeks with far few teachers and support staff.

That is bad news for unemployed teachers, our children and our entire society.