Sunday, May 20, 2012

Issu #63 May 20, 2012- Recall Updates and Defending Public Education Through Recalls

What This Is…
Issue #63- May 20, 2012
In this issue: Recall Updates, Volunteer Opportunities and GOP Education Policies- Another Reason to Recall

Recall Updates…
Recent polling has caused a lot of angst for supporters of the recall efforts.  What shouldn't be forgotten is that the only poll that matters is the one held on June 5th.  We need to make sure every eligible person gets out to vote.  Worrying about polling numbers now is counterproductive and distracts from what needs to be done.

The attack ads that will run 24/7 until election day will attempt to mislead and divide the electorate.  Honest information needs to be delivered to the voting public. 

While it would be great to have the all-out support of the national Democratic Party, this has and always will be a Wisconsin effort.  We have done the groundwork so far and it will be our efforts to reach voters that will turn the tide here.

Walker can continue to tout his "record of success", but we know better.  Keep spreading the word about the reality behind his glossy ads.

Don't forget that there are recall races going on in 4 senate districts.  Winning at least one of these gives us control of one part of our government. 

Get Involved…
It's pretty obvious, but still needs to be repeated…this election will be decided by the ability of one side to get supporters to the polls.  The Republican base consists of groups that are, for the most part, consistent voters.  The Democrats don't enjoy that level of dependable support.  Each of us needs to find a way to get people out to vote.  That may mean canvassing, phone banking, writing postcards or some other activity, but every action counts and every voter matters.  There is something happening every day of the week, so find a way to participate in democracy!!

One way to help is to vote early so that you can spend time on June 5th focusing on helping others get out to vote.  Encourage friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to vote early or absentee so they can help too.  Early voting starts Monday 5/21.  Here are links to pages to get an absentee ballot in Madison as well as to contact information for county clerks in Wisconsin. 

Why Recall- A Recap…
As we get closer to June 5th I will continue to share more information about why a recall is necessary and merited.  Here's a recap of issues covered previously along with any new information that has come to light recently.    

Political Extremism
Issue #61 started the discussion by looking at how political extremism harms our democratic institutions and values.  The loss of the political center forces our politics to one extreme or the other and turns the democratic process into a quagmire. 

Attacking the "Other"
Issue #62 talked about how the GOP has worked to marginalize different groups in our society.  Their efforts to "divide and conquer" the electorate rely on creating a sense of fear and envy between groups in Wisconsin.  Our state has never been more divided and this impacts our economic recovery, and also reduces our ability to work together to solve challenges of any type. 

Cuts to Safety Nets
Issue #62 raised concerns about the cuts to different programs that many Wisconsin residents rely on for their survival.  Real citizens in Wisconsin are being harmed by this administration's policies. 

The Economy
Issue #62 also discussed the failing Wisconsin economy and the failed economic policy of "Trickle-down Economics".  The simple fact that Wisconsin's economy is at, or near the bottom of virtually every economic indicator should give voters a reason to question Walker's message. 

The Republican view of how a good economy works is based on the rich getting richer while the rest of us scramble to make ends meet.  They ignore the fact that small businesses drive our economy and that all businesses rely on a solid infrastructure and draw on other public sector resources.  By cutting regulations and reducing public services the small entrepreneurs of Wisconsin are hurt while the large corporations make more profits.    

More Reasons to Recall…

As an educator working in the Madison public schools it should be obvious that education is an issue that I have strong feelings about.  It is a topic that I've written quite a bit about and I believe that I've made a reasonably strong case against the "reforms" and cuts that conservatives feel will "fix" our public education system.  That conservatives continue to pursue their "reforms" and continue to advocate cuts to public education troubles me.  It seems that a good education for all of our citizens would be something that everyone could agree should be a high priority for our state. 

Conservatives in Wisconsin (and across the U.S.) have decided that our public education system is failing and needs to be "fixed".  While their rhetoric says that they are doing this to provide opportunity for all students, their actions say something totally different.  The policy and legislation pushed by the GOP has pushed the debate on education in the wrong direction.  There has been a deliberate and systematic effort by conservatives to undermine our public schools for the last half century or so.

The GOP's attacks on public education have some of their roots in the party's shift to the right during the late 1950's and 60's.  It was during this time that some in the GOP decided that they couldn't break the Democrat's hold on groups like labor and African-Americans.  While moderates in the party worked to promote worker's rights and supported the Civil Rights Movement, others chose to take the party in a new direction.  The result was a shift in power in the south from Democratic to Republican and the rise of the far right's influence in the Republican Party. 

Education policy plays a key role in the efforts of conservatives to seize power in our political system.  Many of the groups that vote progressive or Democrat rely on our public education system to provide their basic educational needs.  While the economic elite will always be able to afford exclusive private schools, the rest of our nation needs free public education and affordable higher education.

A quality education provides many opportunities for an individual.  There are the obvious economic benefits that an education makes available.  There are also more subtle, quality of life, benefits to education.  Exposure to new ideas and different ways of thinking can help break down barriers between different groups in our society.  Public education provides the potential for a venue where people from different backgrounds can learn together.  Educated people have information, skills and knowledge that they can use to learn about issues that affect them and don't need to rely on others to "tell them what to think".  An educated population is the cornerstone to a functional democracy. 


Conservatives have been working to redefine what being educated means and to shape the field of education to meet their own needs.  I won't revisit many of my previous comments on the conservative attacks on education as part of their political strategy (Issue #52 had more in depth information on this issue), however we can't ignore the fact that conservatives are actively trying to make being well educated something to be ashamed of.  In the conservative world, education is useful for improving your employment status and has little value beyond that narrow scope.  They also seem to believe that the quality of education is best measured by the costs of educating students.  Why else would Governor Walker be claiming that reducing state funding by $1.6 billion is making public education better?

The conservative attacks on public education rest on some key pillars, testing ("accountability") and privatization (controlling funding).  Legislation like No Child Left Behind is used to create opportunities for dismantling public education.  The overall results of these efforts to impose high stakes testing on our students and our schools have been devastating for our public schools.  What began as a supposed effort to "reform" and "improve" our "failing" school systems has turned many schools and districts into testing and data collecting machines.  Throw in an unreachable goal (100% of students proficient) and use the failure of schools to achieve this to undermine public support and educator morale.  Once public schools have been dragged through the mud, corporate interests and conservative foundations can step in and offer salvation in the form of a private, voucher or charter school.  Even better from the conservative standpoint is the ability of these private schools to tap into public funding, leaving public schools even more destitute and furthering the damage done.  

There are many reasons that conservatives want to dismantle our public school system, one of the primary ones is to destroy educator unions.  Educator unions are one of the last lines of defense for public education and also have taken stands on other issues of social justice.  Many educators recognize the fact that their unions provide job protections so that they can advocate for their students more forcefully.  Often educators take stands against the actions that conservatives are promoting and removing educator power will limit dissent for the "reforms" offered by the GOP.  

It is no secret that much of the reasoning behind the NCLB legislation was an effort to reduce the impact that educator unions have in shaping education policy.  By turning attention to testing and the struggles of different groups in our public schools conservatives have controlled the debate about education.  Educators have been scrambling to try and meet the ever increasing demands placed on them while still trying to advocate for their students.  Without the groundwork laid by NCLB and other similar legislation, Walker's attacks on educators wouldn't have gained the traction it did.    

The effort to destroy public education is another example of the efforts by the GOP to divide and conquer our society so that they can gain political and economic power.  Conservatives put their "reform" efforts in terms of looking out for the poor, minority and other groups who are struggling in our schools, their policies actually have a detrimental effect on these groups.  While the testing imposed by NCLB and similar legislation has highlighted the issues of Achievement Gaps, the sanctions imposed on schools have the effect of increasing these gaps.

Schools with a higher concentration of poor and "minority" students tend to test poorly for a variety of reasons.  This results in these schools facing penalties and means that testing results take on a higher priority for these schools.  Middle and upper class schools, which usually test well, don't face these same pressures.  With lower test scores come the penalties imposed under NCLB.  As the sanctions become more severe the pressure increases to improve the test scores and the curriculum and teaching methods used at these schools change.  The result is a divided system of education that serves poor and minority students in one way and higher class, mostly white students another.

Many experts have written and commented about the fact that our schools are more segregated now than ever.  The gains in desegregation made in the 1960's have been undone in the south and, because of the economic segregation of our neighborhoods, northern states have seen a rise in the segregation of public schools.  The most segregated states for black students are not New York, Michigan, Illinois and California. 

Jonathan Kozol in his book The Shame of the Nation makes an eloquent argument that this segregation results in separate and unequal educational opportunities for poor and mostly minority students in our public schools.  He quotes a Harvard study that says, "Desegregation did not fail.  In spite of a very brief period of serious enforcement…,the desegregation era was a period in which minority high school graduates increased sharply and the racial test score gaps narrowed substantially until they began to widen again in the 1990s….  In the two largest educational innovations of the past two decades--standards-based reform and school choice--the issue of racial segregation and its consequences have been ignored."     

African-American, Latino and poor families are told that the public schools have failed their children.  They are fed statistics that are based on the faulty premise that public schools have been given a real opportunity to serve their children.  Then they are told that conservatives will offer them a better educational system that will increase the success of these underachieving and underserved students.  Unfortunately for these families, once public education is dismantled and destroyed they are left with fewer opportunities and even worse conditions than they "enjoyed" previously. 

We can't overlook the role of money in the current wave of educational "reform" sweeping our nation.  Conservatives see an opportunity to make a profit by privatizing our education system.  High priced private schools offer one way to make a buck, but increasingly we are seeing private education companies look at the pool of public money as another source of income.  Whatever the source of money, the reality is that companies, foundations and individuals see a huge potential for profit in the field of education.  They just need to get rid of public educator unions, and dismantle the public education system to gain access to the profits. 

Here in Wisconsin we are seeing some extremely disturbing trends in our, traditionally well respected, public education system.
Budget Cuts-  $1.6 billion in cuts, enough said!?!  Schools are driven by a need for resources and cutting funding is not going to have a positive effect.  By turning the debate on public education into a funding issue, Scott Walker can undermine educator unions and doesn't have to address the impacts his budget will have on the services and opportunities students receive.

Privatization- Our largest city, Milwaukee, already essentially has at least 4 separate (and unequal in many ways) school systems.  Efforts are being made to expand these privatization programs to areas around Milwaukee.  We are also seeing attempts to increase privatization in Madison.  If the efforts in Madison succeed we will see privatization sweep across the state and the future of our public schools will be in jeopardy.

Segregation- Wisconsin is becoming a state with significant issues in racial segregation of our schools.  Almost 50% of our African-American students and nearly 20% of our Hispanic students  attend schools that are extremely segregated.  These numbers reflect an increased segregation in our larger districts and opens the doors for "reforms" like those we've seen in Chicago, New York and other larger districts.  "Reforms" that have failed in other places and will fail here too.  Thus creating a bigger crisis in education and giving more ammunition to the conservative "reformers". 

We are seeing the approaching "iceberg" here in Madison as our current wave of professional development focuses on more standardized practices and increased assessment.  Little by little educator autonomy and respect for educator's opinions is being eroded.  Without some interventions by educators, and/or for educators we will see the eventual "sinking" of our previously well regarded public education system. 

Negative Images of Public Education and Uncertainty for the Future- Public educators have become targets for conservative propaganda.  We are lazy, uncaring and incompetent.  We don't serve our talented students well, while at the same time we fail our struggling students.  The conservative answer is to cut funding, cut supports and essentially create a situation where schools will fail.  These are truly uncertain times for those of us who value public education.  I find the attacks on educators offensive, when I'm told that I only work 7 hours a day for 9 months a year it demeans my efforts and the level of commitment I have to educating the students I work with.  I see educators as a resource that improves our communities, not as dead weight. 

Educators are fighting back and making our voices heard in many ways.  Supporters of public education and the students served by our public schools are also rising up and speaking out against the anti-public education campaigns launched by conservatives.  We recognize that there are many difficult questions that face public education and the solutions are not simple.  However, the current conservative agenda isn't about improving our schools and offering opportunity to all.  It is all about seizing political, social and economic power, while creating a system that insures control remains in the hands of a privileged minority.     

Educators find themselves in a difficult position.  On one hand we are trying to insure the best possible outcomes for the students we serve.  On the other hand we find ourselves frequently at odds with the policy makers who set the criteria that measures student's success.  For too long educational policy has been shaped by people who are not directly involved in educating real students.  "Leadership" in agencies and other policy making bodies are more connected with politicians and other groups than they are with educators.  The knowledge and experience of educators is not heard loudly enough when educational policy is decided.  While there are many at the highest levels of government who want to silence our voices, educators can't allow that to happen.  In a state like Wisconsin (or anywhere else for that matter) there is no reason that any child should be denied access to the best education possible.    

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