Monday, November 14, 2016

What's the story on School Leadership Team meetings? A fact sheet for parents and members of the public

On October 25, 2016 the Appellate Court finally ruled on the lawsuit, originally filed in January 2015, by retired teacher Michael P. Thomas, Public Advocate Letitia James and Class Size Matters.  The Appellate Court unanimously ruled that School Leadership Team meetings must be open to the public. Here is our press release about this, and here are articles about the decision in the Daily News, the Village Voice and Chalkbeat. Here is a blog post with more background.

On November 10, the DOE informed principals via the Principal's Weekly that from now on, these meetings must be open to members of the public, and that parents and the public must be notified in advance of these meetings. Below is a fact sheet, explaining the composition and authority of School Leadership Teams, and what rights parents and members of the public have to attend these meetings.  You can also download the document as a pdf here.  In Spanish it is here.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

So what happened? And how we need to be ready for the fight to save our public schools

I've been hesitant about writing about the Presidential election for many reasons.  I am as shocked and appalled as many others, and have no special insights or expertise to explain what happened.  But one of the smartest guys I know, Tad Devine, a top adviser to Bernie Sanders, was on NPR and explained Trump's election this way: "most voters in the states that decided the election wanted change. He represented that change. She did not. And I think that was enough for him to win the election."

Clearly, many people, especially the Rust Belt voters who decided the election, wanted change desperately.  There was no way to argue that Hillary represents change.  The more that Obama tried to point to what a great job she did in his administration and her years of experience probably just underscored how she had been part of the system for 20 years or more. 

I remember that Bill Clinton’s convention speech was focused on the claim that Hillary represents change.  He was  smart to focus on that issue as he had correctly diagnosed the temperature of the electorate, but in the end his argument was unconvincing.

Does that mean Bernie Sanders would have won?  Who knows.  No matter how anti-establishment Sanders is, Trump could have argued that he’s been in Congress for 27 years.  On the other hand, Bernie beat Hillary in some of the primaries in the same states that went for Trump. Whether Trump will deliver the sort of change these voters yearn for or bring their factory jobs back seems unlikely, and how much damage he will do to marginalized groups of immigrants, Latinos, blacks and others in the process we will have to see.

The other reality is this: Because Hillary has been part of the system for so long, a lot of negative feelings and even hatred has accumulated towards her personally over the years.  This attitude is largely irrational and unfair, but it was not easy to dispel – especially when the email scandal erupted twice via FBI director Comey’s letters during the last two weeks of the campaign.   To witness just how intense the hatred is for Hillary among many women and men, you should watch this excellent CNN series with Van Jones interviewing Trump supporters in Gettysburg PA.  

The real tragedy is that Obama could have probably brought more real change into these communities if the GOP in Congress hadn’t blocked nearly everything he tried to do, whether it was increasing the minimum wage, infrastructure spending, tax reform etc.  The GOP in the House and the Senate had a highly partisan strategy to stand in the way of Obama accomplishing nearly anything since they took control -- including reforms that could have helped a lot of those people in the Rust belt  and throughout the country -- and their strategy won.

I also think we need to remember the stunning data that came out last year showing that for the first time in this nation’s history white death rates are increasing sharply – which seems to be the result of increased rates of addiction, alcoholism and suicide. Meanwhile, black and Latino mortality rates are falling significantly. I hope that some economists/political scientists analyze whether the addiction/mortality data correlate in specific communities with the Trump vote.

What’s also tragic is that if Obamacare is repealed or cut back this may cause mortality rates to grow – in most all communities and among all races.

I do want to point out some bright spots in the election results.   In Georgia and Massachusetts, multi-racial coalitions of unions, parents and school board members overwhelmingly defeated privatization efforts, proving that big money doesn’t always win.  Here is a must read by Jennifer Berkshire (Edushyster) about how this was accomplished in Massachusetts.

At the same time, the campaign by Bill Gates and other billionaires in the state of Washington to pack courts with pro-charter judges lost. 

We will need to replicate these grassroots campaigns throughout the country to keep our public schools safe and secure from being defunded and privatized by the Trump administration, Wall St. financiers and ed-tech interests.  At the same time, we'll have to form the same sort of coalitions to ensure that our public schools are sufficiently and equitably funded and provide all children with a real opportunity to learn.

In New York state, sadly, this didn't happen.  The state teachers union, NYSUT, gave most of their money to long-shot upstate candidates who lost.  Only 3 percent of the $3.9 million NYSUT spent was in support of candidates who won. Democratic challengers in the extremely close State Senate races on Long Island were left largely without state union funding and support -- according to the parents and rank and file teachers who worked hard as volunteers on these campaigns.  At the same time, millions in pro-charter PAC money was spent to defeat these same Long Island Democratic candidates, and to keep the State Senate in Republican hands, which paid for stealth attack ads that never mentioned the words "charter school" -- dirty words for most Long Island voters.

We will have a battle on our hands for sure to withstand the destructive impulses of a pro-privatization President, State Senate and Governor.  Public school parents, teachers, school boards, community activists and yes, unions, will need to band together, organize, be smart and ready for the fight.