” is the latest government plan, introduced in Massachusetts, to spur sufficient innovation internally to keep “outsiders” away from “their” district money. TeachersProvide attended a roll-out at BU’s Education School that was intended to attract teacher innovators.
While we would expect that any bureaucratic plan for “innovation schools” would fail on many of the criteria we would use, it is instructive to look at the soul-crushing impact this plan would have on maverick teachers who tried to use it to create really innovative schools. As one panelist quipped, “Be really innovative … but be real”. This realpolitik plan protects the politically powerful by severely limiting innovation.
Most of the teachers who attended this information session seemed to earnestly desire creating new types of schools that would better serve various student segments. If their dreams of innovation are limited to minor incrementalism, “innovation schools” can be a vehicle for them, but if they see innovation as a major break with the status quo, this tool wastes their time and, worse, will dispirit them.
TeachersProvide talks to many frustrated teachers who believe that their ideas are squashed by school boards, administrators, academic departments, teacher committees, politicians, powerful parents, senior teachers, and/or unions. Perhaps some of their ideas are garbage, but we can never really know -- a priorily -- whether a particular innovation will work for a particular student segment unless the innovator can test her idea. Who gets to decide which ideas are tested determines the permissible scope of innovation.
The core problem for a real innovator is that this plan requires that a consensus of "current stakeholders” must approve the testing of any particular innovation. The vested interests -- the union, the administration, the school committee, current teachers, powerful parents -- all can limit what is tested.
That the government believes that a consensus of entrenched special interests is integral to innovation shows a shocking misunderstanding of the process and history of innovation!Kuhn
described the process of revolutionary innovation in an industry. “Normal” (i.e., non-revolutionary) industry chugs along making only minor, incremental progress. Revolution (large, non-continuous progress) must come from outside normal industry, because innovation requires breaking one or more of the cherished underlying assumptions. The vast majority of current practitioners often resist revolutionary innovation vigorously -- and, in some cases, physically -- not with evil intent, but simply because humans tend to protect their fundamental assumptions.
Few industries are more burdened by old, false assumptions than is schooling. In an era where industries rapidly completely reinvent themselves, schooling would still recognizable to a time traveler from 1900. What is worse is that Kuhn was focused on the extreme difficulty faced by scientific
innovators, a discipline which prides itself on free inquiry, love of truth, open investigation, and innovation. Imagine how much harder when we seek to promote innovation in a governmental, bureaucratic monopoly under the control of entrenched economic, ideological, and political interests.
So, for real innovation, we need an innovation process that, not only allows, but protects maverick education entrepreneurs.
From whom would we need to protect them? From the current stakeholders -- the exact interest groups that this plan empowers to rein in the innovations! Current stakeholders are most protective of the very assumptions that would need to be challenged.
Making this even harder, though, is that revolutionary innovation threatens many current ‘stakeholders’ economic interests. Imagine expecting innovations like the automobile being approved by a “transportation innovation committee” led by buggy whip manufacturers and horse breeders. Neither DEC minicomputer nor IBM mainframe “stakeholders” were in Wozniak’s garage to approve the components of the Apple I. Major advances require a break with the economic interests of the old guard.
Past innovators in schooling were shunned and squashed. When John Taylor Gatto
finally resigned in disgust, despite the amazing impact he had had on otherwise lost Harlem children, the administration announced over the loudspeakers, "We got him! He's gone!", and the teachers' lounge erupted in cheers. He was Teacher of the Year in NYC because of his innovations, and, because of his innovations, the “current stakeholders” chased him out of the ghetto.
Another inspirational school innovator who was chased out of a ghetto by the established powers was Jaimie Escalante
whose transformation of underclass ne'er-do-wells into AP calculus scholars was fictionalized in the movie Stand and Deliver
. The important lesson is not the movie fiction that one teacher's innovation can positively affect hundreds of children’s lives, but the political truth that entrenched, vested political interests will, if permitted, destroy school innovation.
Escalante was attacked by his union, by other teachers, and even by his own math department. While he was supported by the parents of the students whom he taught, politically powerful parents with interests outside AP calculus joined in the attack. Like Gatto, he was driven from the school that he had made an international symbol of school innovation. Within five years of his defeat, his AP calculus program was a shadow of its former self. What was the problem that destroyed such a promising innovation? According to the new principal, who had helped get rid of him, “Jaime didn't get along with some of the teachers at his school. He pretty much was a loner.”
What if creating an innovative school requires
unusual ideas which might cause the innovator to not “get along” with current stakeholders? Michelle Rhee
, an alum of Teach for America which hosted this event, was ousted from the DC school system by politically powerful defenders of the status quo. Rhee complained, “There is this unbelievable willingness to turn a blind eye to the injustices that are happening to kids every single day in our schools in the name of harmony amongst adults.” No innovation process can claim to be in the interests of the children if it favors harmony of the self-interested powerful.
One of Peter Drucker
's greatest life regrets was an implication in his book Innovation and Entrepreneurship
that young ‘intrapreneurs’ should innovate from within
large, staid corporations. He believed that he had unwittingly inspired hundreds of brilliant, motivated entrepreneurs to dash their spirits, and their careers, on the unmoving rocks of bureaucratic institutions that were never capable of major innovation in the first place. After witnessing the destruction of so many careers, he came to agree with Joseph Schumpeter
that most large, old corporations couldn’t innovate and simply needed to be killed off by new companies that had fewer obstacles to revolutionary innovations.
If allowed, many teachers would produce exciting, new types of schools for underserved student segments, but we allow the current stakeholders to keep their potential bottled up, in part, by tricking them with the impossible – to innovate while under the complete control of the powerful who in actuality desire to limit innovation to not threaten their money and their power. “Don’t scare them,” one panelist warned the teachers who were there to consider opening “innovation schools”. And yet, innovations that scare the bejesus out of the entrenched status quo can be the most transformative.
We need to encourage, and to vigorously protect, our innovators – not homogenize their ideas into safe “innovations” that never disturb any of the "current stakeholders". Let's create a real innovation school process, and not doom our most valuable teacher entrepreneurs.
At our conference, one of the schooling options we will review is virtual schooling -- the ability to get the greatest courses directly from the best teachers to your child wherever she is learning. This is relevant whether you are afterschooling, homeschooling, or setting up a new type of school for parents.12 Dozen Places to Educate Yourself
Waiting for Superman is an important film, not because it clarifies the systemic problem with the current government school monopoly, but because it convinces mainstream people that there is a systemic problem. Its solutions likely exacerbate the problem, but at least it allows some people to discuss a change to the system.
The title comes from the childish hope that a superman would arise with “enough power” and knowledge to save our kids from the ruination of the current school system. This superman is a metaphor for the director’s childish belief in an omniscient, omnipotent, and altruistic government, which, if we only supported, voted, campaigned, contributed, and lobbied hard enough, would certainly save us all. But decades after decades of politicians’ promises (illustrated in a great montage of each President in succession claiming the mantle of “The Education President”) should have shattered this childish hope by now. Yet, most parents continue to put their child into a decades failed system, while still “Waiting for Superman”.
The feeling of being trapped in a school that destroys her child is voiced by one mother “Why are my kids here? Why? Why do I have to go through this? There’s a lot of whys to the point where I get upset and wishing I could do better for my kids. .. We’re stuck. It’s not fair, but this is where we live.” She waits the entire movie for a return phone call from her child's teacher -- a call that never comes.
The film, written by the liberal-lauded director of “An Inconvenient Truth”, dismisses some liberal myths. One is that “society needs to be fixed” before government monopoly school will work. But unfortunately the film considers only centralized government solutions.
Its primary solution pits two monopolies against each other – the school monopoly versus the teacher union monopoly – with the film coming down hard on the side of the school monopoly. As Newsweek reporter Alter distinguishes, “It’s very, very important to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time: Teachers are great – a national treasure. [but] teachers unions are, generally speaking, a menace and an impediment to reform”
The film reminds us that the teacher unions are the largest campaign contributors in the country, with 90% of their money going to Democratic law makers who run the local school systems. The film ignores many of the ills of this undue, enormous political power, focusing primarily on the strict union rules that stifle any change.
Michelle Rhee, ex Superintendent of DC Schools, opines “There is a complete and utter lack of responsibility for the job that we’re supposed to be doing which is producing results for kids.” Another reformer shared his conclusion, “I don’t think we can do anything until we deal with the unions [rules],” but he found that any discussion of changing union rules to allow reform was “off the table". “The mayor didn’t wanna talk about it. The folks at the state houses, the governor, no one wanted to bring this up.”
The reason? Well, between you and me, the unions had bought and paid for those politicians, with money that was coercively taken out of your, the parent’s, pocket.
The key union rule impediment, according to the film, is tenure. School districts cannot fire teachers. Geoffery Canada, an education activist, explains: “You can get tenure if you continue to breathe for two years. Whether or not you can help children is totally irrelevant. And once you get tenure, we cannot get rid of you, almost no matter what you do. You are there for life. Even if it’s proven you’re a lousy teacher.”
Looking at highly paid, highly trained professionals, 1 in 57 doctors will lose their license. 1 in 97 lawyers will be ‘fired’. However, because of union rules, only 1 in 2,500 teachers will ever lose their teaching credentials.
The NYC “rubber room” is detailed:
“In New York, tenured teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings on offenses ranging from excessive lateness to sexual abuse, along with those accused of incompetence are sent to the reassignment center, or what the rest of the world calls the “rubber room”. These 600 teachers collect their full salaries and accumulate benefits for spending seven hours a day reading or playing cards. They spend an average of three years in the Rubber Room. Their hearings last eight times longer than the average criminal case. The cost to the state of New York: $100M/year. And none of this deals with the larger pool of teachers who just aren’t good at their job.”
Hoover Institute’s Eric Hanushek explains that, despite the unions' demand that all government teachers be treated the same, teaching ability differs widely. “If we could eliminate the bottom 6-10% of our teachers and replace them with an average teacher, we could bring the average [performance of] US students up to the level of Finland’s, which is [the industrial country] at the top [of international test scores] in the world today.“
Rhee explains how the monopoly union control of the monopoly school has produced a failed system: “Now I see in a lot more coherent ways why things are they way they are. It all becomes about the adults. … The mentality is that they have a right to that job. I believe that that mindset has to be completely flipped on its head, and unless you can show that you’re bringing positive results for kids, then you cannot have the privilege of teaching in our schools and teaching our children. … There is this unbelievable willingness to turn a blind eye to the injustices that are happening to kids every single day in our schools in the name of harmony amongst adults.”
The film ends without clearly prescribed steps. Platitudes are flashed amongst the final credits, “The problems are complex but the steps are simple. It starts with teachers becoming the very best, leaders removing the barriers to change, neighbors committed to their schools,
you willing to act….” And we are left still wondering which superman will step forward and create a path forward for our children that doesn’t depend on my neighbor ignoring his grill and “committing” (whatever that means!) to my child’s school or on all 450,000 teachers magically each becoming the single best teacher.
It’s actually easy to see where the film goes horribly wrong. A cartoon teacher lifts the scalp of each student in succession and pours education in while the voice-over explains that educating our children “should be easy”.
Another part of the film bemoans that different states have different standards. The credits conclude: “We know what works: quality teachers; more classroom time; world class standards; high expectations; real accountability.”
There lies the problem – the film believes that a single definition of “educated” can be determined by the political elite and poured by teacher lackeys into every child. All that is required is more centralized power -- more control over teachers, students, families, classrooms, standards, and schools.
Never mind that each of the 50 million US students has a different personality and learning style, and different interests, passions, strengths, and goals. Never mind that each of the 20 million diverse US families has different values, goals, relationships, and preferences. Never mind that each of the 450,000 teachers has different strengths and abilities and interests. Centralizing power, by a Superman central government, over all these people will allow educational nirvana to be achieved in all 100,000 US schools! Or so the film promises.
The problem resulting from the government school monopoly is real; the education system is crippling the future of 10s of millions of children. That a film like “Superman” helps citizens to be open to discussing systemic problem is quite useful. It is sad, however, that the cause of the problem is seen as the solution. If people like this gain power, the problem will only exacerbate. When we talk to parents motivated by “Superman”, we need to be careful distinguishing cause and effect.
8/20/11 Note: Venue change to larger, more bucolic siteLink to here for the most up-to-date information
On September 17th, we will host a first-of-its-kind conference for Massachusetts parents to explore what type of school might best match their child. Several champions of expanding the options for Massachusetts parents will be speaking:Parents Decide: Matching Your Child to the Right School
Public? Charter? Parochial? Private? * Alternative? Homeschool? Unschool? Hybrid?
A school is "good" only when it matches your child. Mismatching children causes problems -- today, and continuing on into their future. You, the parent, are in the best position to better match your child to the expanding alternatives.
Would your child thrive at a different type of school? Explore your options with industry experts from charter, independent, alternative, and home schools, and maybe improve your child's future.
If you are reconsidering your schooling options, you can attend no better single conference. the conference is centrally located so that most Massachusetts parents can reach it within an hour's drive.Saturday, September 17, 2011
Information tables and refreshments open 5-6 PMSpeakers 5:45-9 PM
Hillside School Auditorium
404 Robin Hill Road
:The Gift of Matching Your Child to the Right School
ParentsDecide.ComExpanding Options for Massachusetts Parents
Jamie Gass, Director, Center for School Reform, Pioneer Institutehttp://www.pioneerinstitute.org/programs_csr.phpYour Charter School OptionsKara Brown, Dir Of Ops
, Massachusetts Charter Public School Associationhttp://www.masscharterschools.org/index.htmlYour Private and Parochial School Options
Bonnie Ricci, Assistant Director, The Association of Independent Schools in New Englandhttp://www.aisne.org/about/index.htmlYour Alternative School Options
Jerry Mintz, Director, Alternative Education Resource Organizationhttp://www.educationrevolution.org/about.htmlYour Homeschool Options
Bill Heuer, Director, Massachusetts Home Learners Associationhttp://www.mhla.org/information/aboutmhla/index.htm
The seminar is free. The impact on your child may be priceless.
Tell us you're coming: Registration
attended PorcFest, a liberty festival held every summer in New Hampshire, to find people who might help us reach more parents.
We met animators, legislators, podcasters, bloggers, cartoonists, concerned parents, and people who were passionate about educational freedom. (
Significantly, the Mercatus Center just announced that New Hampshire is ranked as the most free state
in the country.)
For us who are interested in educational freedom and parental empowerment, New Hampshire had very exciting news: SB67
just passed a major hurdle and is now targeted for a vote in the fall.
This bill may establish NH as the most parent-friendly state in the country; corporations would be allowed to contribute directly to school scholarship funds, and receive tax credits. More parents would be able to afford independent and alternative schools, and discussions are already around creating a homeschooling scholarship fund.
At a forum on education in New Hampshire, most parents asked questions about homeschooling, believing that homeschooling is their primary tool to lead their child's education. The forum was led by parent-activists who have led recent battles to fight back the NH legislature’s attempt to take away parental autonomy in homeschooling. (HSLDA to downgrade NH from a “Yellow” to a “Red” state in homeschooling freedom.) The dedication and tenacity of these parent-heroes will soon liberate NH HSing parents.
ParentsDecide was sad however that homeschooling seemed to be the only current escape. We hope that SB67 sparks a free market in schools that allows NH parents who do not choose either government-or to home- school to find, or even to create, entirely new types of schools that better match their families.
Methods to get the freedom message out were shared. Great podcasts broadcasted educational freedom (Free Talk Live and Prometheus Unchained). Significantly for ParentsDecide, we discussed with School Sucks its approach of exciting students about educational freedom.
Developments in video were shared, especially full-action animation by Silver Circle, 3D Studio Max by Liberation Animation, and documentaries by Libertopia. YouTube videographers who have produced excellent YouTube videos also supported ParentsDecide. (Dismantle Public Education and Philosophy of Liberty )
ParentsDecide left PorcFest with many new friends who are passionate about educational freedom and who have skills that might help us figure out how t take our message to a broader audience. It was a great four days!
The second animation deals with how different parents will want different relationships with their school.
Different types of parents, from "helicopter" parents to "hands-off" parents, will naturally want different relationships with their child's school. Some do not want to be involved at all, or may be willing to be involved only in non-academic activities. Other parents may want to provide closer mentoring to their child or may be highly involved at home. And a few parents might actually be more comfortable in a co-teaching or co-learning type of school.
No single, one-size fits-few school can meet this range of parent preference. Forcing all families into a one-size, fits-few arrangement will cause unnecessary battles as each type of parent fights for their preferred relationship with the school. The school will not be able to focus their resources to satisfy well one target customer, but instead will dissatisfy almost everyone.
Only different schools -- often utilizing quite different techniques and curricula to coherently satisfy a specific segment's need -- could provide the different relationships desired by different families.
Better matching the learning preferences of the home, and the interaction preferences of the teachers, is yet another reason that we should break up the government monopoly over schools.
Our money? Our children? Our decision! ParentsDecide.Com
This is the first Parents Decide video. It was a test of approach and technology. The hope is to create a satiric series that underline how a government, coercive monopoly on schooling undermines children, families, and parents.
This video examines who gets to choose the future to which they are teaching your child. Schools need to make assumptions about the future before they can decide what skills to teach children to succeed in that future. Their guesses might be wrong. A diversity of schools, with parents choosing their vision of the future, will give our society the best chance to withstand whatever future we will face.
Purportedly, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) rallied at the state capitol in Boston on Tuesday Feb 22 2011. For a history lesson, I took my daughter. I say “purportedly” because this wasn't a "teacher union" rally. To my daughter's disappointment, my daughter’s favorite teachers were not there. In fact, relatively few females were there at all, even though teachers are primarily women. And most certainly the hairy, pumped up, violent thugs who stormed across the street to shove, knockdown, and push the peaceful counter-protesters were not teachers. If they were, they would an excellent illustration of why parents must wrest control of their children from these violent union thugs.
Initially, my daughter enjoyed the event. When we first arrived, the counter-protestors were outnumbered 20-1, but we quietly occupied a small area across from the State House. The “teachers” blocked the steps, sidewalks, and street in front of the State House. Most of the counter protestors were Tea Party people. The “teachers’” were shouting for “workers’ rights” to monopoly control of our money and our children. The counter protestors were largely demanding an end to public sector unions, their point being that public sector unions were bankrupting taxpayers by having politicians coerce our tax dollars to give to union teachers who are coerced to "contribute" to the union who in turn take your money to buy off the politicians who then increased our taxes to give raises to the teachers who are coerced to give a proportion more to the unions who buy off even more politicians and so on ratcheting up their control and our children's demise.
So, ParentsDecide couldn't help but notice that, at a rally purportedly about the future of education, hardly anyone mentioned children, or parents’ wishes, or even education for that matter. One side argues for more government theft from taxpayers. The other side argues for more government control over the unions.
We were largely alone holding up our sign that said,
I’m grateful to say many drivers honked and gave us thumbs up as they fearfully weaved through the “teachers” flashing their “Workers UNITE!” signs. In fact, the audible support that our sign in particular received, with my daughter happily waving at the cars, could have helped trigger the teacher union attack on the counter-protesters. Union Enforcers swarmed across the street to push us away from the passing cars so that only their pre-fabricated “Workers UNITE” signs would be seen.
Some “teachers” did have signs that mentioned education. For example, “If your child can read this, thank your teacher.” Of course, the “teachers” holding these signs weren’t impressing us too much. I mean their illogic appeared to be, ‘If any child can read, then parents should be forced to hire teachers from my union to teach your child in a school that we control.” I think they hope that those who attended government schools can’t see the illogic in such fallacious syllogisms:
= union teachers
They can’t conceive that we could easily start up our schools, hire anyone we thought could teach best, and pay for them with our own money.
The media was there primarily to capture a of “Pro-Teacher” versus “Anti-Union” fight. I explained to one news reporter camera that I was there – as a parent – to say that education should be about how I want my child educated. He wanted to know whether I was pro- or anti- collective bargaining. I told him I was anti-monopoly, and so the reporter quickly fled to find the people who fed his bias.
My daughter got really scared when the hairy-armed thug “teachers” came over to rough up the tea partiers. We watched one “teacher” who had covered his face with an Al Qaeda type winter face mask and scarf, knocked down a tea partier and then jump on his bike and ride away (past the union police who watched him!!). We watched these “teachers” (all males who, from our observation, must teach primarily body building, insulting, and yelling?) push and shove old people, women, and children. They tore signs out of people's hands. A group of them assaulted one man holding the freedom (Gadsen) flag, tore it off its staff, broke the staff, and stole his flag. The man who had held the staff stood up and looked imploringly to the police, who, I guess, were too busy calculating their over-time union wages to protect citizens from battery?
When we got home, I showed my daughter how the press had covered the rally. The worse she got to see was from ABC who reported that a peaceful union rally of concerned teachers had been marred by taunting counter protestors, but that the Boston police reported that no arrests had been made.
The important point to note is that the conversation is not about how to allow parents to choose education that best matches their child. That, and not pro- or anti- union, should be the primary focus of this discussion.
The Child is a documentary put out by ParentsRights.Org to convince parents to support a parental rights Constitutional amendment. Although not scintillating, its points are important for parents who believe they, and not some bureaucrat, should be the ultimate guide of their child's education.
These are its points:
The right of parents to decide what is best for the child has been an implied “fundamental right” for most of US history. The Founding Fathers thought it was so obvious that they failed to enumerate it in the Bill of Rights. For decades the courts have ruled as though it was an enumerated "fundamental right".
Fundamental rights differ from non-fundamental rights on two important dimensions:
1) The government must prove it has “high compelling interest” that absolutely requires its interference with that fundamental right;
2) The government must prove that its means of interference is the least restrictive possible.
Most laws cannot survive this scrutiny. Usually, when a government tries to interfere with a fundamental right, the Supreme Court has sided with the citizen.
However, if parents' rights are not considered "fundamental", then the hurdle that protects the parent from government control is much lower. The government only needs a “legitimate interest” rather than a “compelling interest”. In addition, if not a "fundamental right, then the government may do a lot more to your child – it may use any “reasonable means” as opposed to the least restrictive means possible. Most laws aimed at non-fundamental rights have survived challenges.
Parents’ right to raise their children as they see fit (absent abuse and neglect) is increasingly being undermined:
1) Courts have begun to rule that parental rights are not “fundamental”. Conservative judges note that it is not explicitly written in the text of the Constitution. Activist judges have bolstered government's power to control our families.
2) States are passing more laws and school boards are passing more rules that assume that the government, not the (non-abusive) parent, has the final say-so of what is ‘best for the child’.
3) A UN treaty, The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), makes bureaucrats, not loving parents, the final arbiter of what is best for any child. The impact of US ratification of this treaty would be devastating. The American Constitution requires that all states follow ratified treaties, even though most other countries have no similar constitutional requirement to follow treaty provisions.
Governments in other countries have used the UNCRC to justify:
- outlawing home-schooling
- controlling private and parochial schools
- requiring children to learn specific government lessons, despite the parent believing it would be hurtful to their child and their family.
The government would win every disagreement with parents over how to educate their child.
We are witnessing the erosion of American parental rights. Recent American cases have ruled that parents “abandon their responsibility to the state” whenever they send their child to a government school, and that the “state’s duty to educate its citizens” -- in whatever fashion a government bureaucrat decides – supersedes any parental right to control the upbringing of your child.
The fight is between you and a politically powerful elite who believe that they know The One Right Way to raise your child. Many sincerely caring people want to construct a “better world” by controlling what and how (your) children think. They know that some parents might even dare actively disagree with their vision of a “better world”, and, if permitted by the government, could interfere with their indoctrination of your children. So, they increase government control over your children, insidiously, but always stealthily, because they know that, if they were to ever try to take your children's minds directly, American parents would strike them down.
These elite, who support forcibly taking your tax dollars in order to control your kids’ minds, believe that parents have no inherent rights – the only rights are those that are permitted to you by a government, which, they believe, they control. ParentsDecide believes that parents have a fundamental right that any good government should recognize, respect, and protect.
The Child presents a Constitutional amendment to textually define parental rights as fundamental as the only solution to prevent judges from negating, legislatures from encroaching, and international treaties from superseding American parents’ rights.
Is anything more important than the minds of our children? Should parents be assumed to love and ably care for their children and to be doing the best for them, unless the State can prove otherwise?
What do you think? Should parents have the constitutional right to make educational decisions for their children without government interference – absent proof of abuse or neglect?
The Lottery is an important film if you are concerned with “The Education Achievement Gap” between poor blacks&Latinos and suburban whites. Many educrats consider that to be “the civil rights issue of the century”. It is hard to find articles about educational reform that don’t decry the difference in educational outcomes across racial lines. Of course, there are two ways of narrowing gaps. One is you raise the bottom towards the top. The other, easier, way is to lower the top to the bottom. Given the lack of government accountability to parents, the government has repeatedly chosen second, easier path (e.g., gutting ‘gifted’ education in favor of programs for special needs) – sacrificing some children for the benefit of others the government deems more deserving politically.
Most people know that government schools do especially poorly for the very children for whom the government has purportedly designed their schools and the entire broken school system. The government monopolists have successfully redefined the problem from, “How can we get these kids into other schools that work better?”, to “How can we give more of our money to the same government monopoly schools, which are currently destroying these children.”
Against this backdrop, The Lottery shows us how poorly the government, controlled by political interests, innovates. The government is primarily in the business of enforcing its monopoly and keeping its monopoly profits for its friends, with little regard to how much it costs parents or how much it hurts our children's future. Education heroes have fought the government over this for decades, and the government, in certain districts, has allowed a small number of schools some freedom. They call these schools “charter schools” because they are run contractually by a ‘charter’ that promises the government to produce certain results in exchange for less of our tax dollars per student and for the right to offer their service to their captured clientel.
Some of these charter schools do much better than government schools. As the government monopolists like to point out, some charter schools do almost as badly as the government schools. What the government monopolists don’t explain to taxpayers is that, unlike government monopoly schools, charter schools that do well, can multiply, and those charter schools that don’t do well, can be killed off. “Creative destruction” enables the free market to provide consumers with better services at lower costs over time as new approaches are tested in competition with older approaches. With government schools though – no matter how badly they do – they cannot be killed off because the adults who run them have too much power over the purse strings and over the children who must attend.
Government monopolists don’t want competition. They don’t want parents to have a choice where your child gets educated or where your education dollars are spent. So they limit harshly the number of charter school, the number of students who can apply, the types that can apply, and the amount of money taxpayers can spend on those schools as opposed to the monopoly schools their cronies run.
The Lottery gives us a glimpse of a very successful charter school, Harlem Success Academy, which has been limited by the government to only 475 available seats. The cocktail elite will tell you that poor parents are just too stupid, or that they don’t really care enough about their children, to be able to wisely choose schools, and thus, (these self-appointed elite will paternalistically whisper to you) it is Good that government controls their money and their children.
But no one has explained this solemn White Man’s Burden to Harlem parents. 3,000 mostly poor, black applicants apply for the 475 allowed seats. Harlem Success Academy would have expanded by now, but politicians, government teachers, teachers union goons, and “community organizations” like ACORN, which the union hires to muscle parents and children away from such schools, have prevented the natural market process of good services replacing poor services.
As one of the mothers trying to get into a successful charter school states:
“If other people don’t like this school, I don’t care. I want my child to have the best education." But the parent is not allowed that option.
“Unions don’t want to be seen as preventing disadvantaged youths from getting better education via charter schools because people will see it for what it is - mostly white advantage elites trying to protect their own (monopoly profit) money. So what they will do is hire in outside organizations like ACORN to protest charter schools or disrupt public meetings.”
So in a part of a city where the average black 12th grader is performing as well as the average white 8th grader, where 58% of black 4th graders are functionally illiterate, and where 19 of the 23 government schools have fewer than 50% of their pupils reading at grade level, there is a ray of hope. The purportedly stupid, uncaring parents flock to this ray, trying to make the life of their child a little better. And we get to watch the politicians, the unions, the government teachers, and the ‘community organizations’ destroy that hope of these parents for their children.
We hear various government apologists explaining why these poor black kids can’t learn in the government schools. Betsy Gotbaum, an “elected Public Advocate” for New York City, explains that education can’t work for poor people until there is no poverty:
“I don’t believe charter schools are the answer to the problem in NYC. I think one of the reasons why African-Americans and Latinos drop out of high school (is) the poverty rates in this country. Poverty is a tremendous impediment to learning.
Does she not realize that our poor are richer than most people in the world and richer than most people in all history and yet people in history and in other parts of the world are often educated?
As Meredith Gotlin, the Principal of PS20 in the Bronx says:
“I don’t think poverty is the problem. If you speak to any parent they want their child to succeed. Any school has unique challenges – too poor, too rich, parents too involved, parents not involved enough – you’ll always have a challenge. The job of a school is to say, “Regardless of those challenges, what can we do to address it.””
Then we get to hear a refreshing attitude of “Yes, they can learn” from people like Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, NJ and a member of Democrats for Education Reform:
“The frustrating thing for me is that we have proven that every child can learn at the highest imaginable levels. We see kids come from the most challenging circumstances who are fortunate enough to get into a good school (and then) excel. There really can’t be any more excuses. So the real question is why can’t we have more of them?”
Viewers get to hear individual poor, black parents describe their hopes for a better education for their children. Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Harlem Success Academy, explains the fallacy of the White Man’s Burden
“There is a myth that parents in certain neighborhoods don’t care about education. I don’t believe that to be true and all my experience has indicated that that is not the case. The problem in less affluent communities is that parents don’t have the choices that middle and upper middle class parents have. They can’t buy an apartment in the PS 6 zone. They can’t move to Westchester. It doesn’t mean that because they don’t have those options, that they don’t want alternatives. The problem isn’t the parent and it’s not the children. The problem is the system that protects academic failure, and limits the choices that parents have. “
We get to see how teachers at Harlem Success Academy have a less government bureaucratic approach to the school and to their charges and to their parents even as we watch government teachers and union goons try to keep Harlem Success Academy from occupying a section of a school that is being closed for non-performance. “It’s our school and you’re not welcomed.”
As Eva explains:
“It’s amazing you can have this incredibly high performing schools on the one hand and on the other hand you can have this incredible opposition, even protests, You can boil it down to “excellent public education threatens the not-so-good, or even quite terrible, public education that is being offered up”. If charter schools can provide phenomenal education at equal or less cost than the per pupil funding, why can’t these other schools do it? The reason they can’t do it is they are saddled with the bureaucracy of management and the bureaucracy of the district and the union contracts and so forth. So (charter schools) are a huge threat to this institution that’s been around for a long time.”
A principal of a government school explains how her hands are tied with a two year, quarter of a million dollar process to fire a teacher:
“If you are not a successful employee in (non-government) business, I do not need to write you up and go through an entire process which I have to here if I see a teacher who is underperforming, not using best practices in their classroom, not providing a rigorous education. It is a challenge, and not one.that benefits our kids.”
Out of 55,000 NYC teachers, only 10 could be fired in one year.
As the “elected Public Advocate", Gotbaum, opined:
“I’m a unionist. My husband ran the largest union in NYC. I believe through collective bargaining through the union you get the best deal for everybody.”
Well, perhaps not for the kids or their parents, but certainly for "Public Advocates" and their husbands….
Eva Moskowitz explains that she has certain practices that she does at Harlem Success Academy that the unions would not allow her. She can enter any classroom to watch any teacher any time. If there’s a problem, she can fix it by the end of the day, rather than enter it in a multi-year collective bargaining agreement agenda. “It’s hard to run a school where everything is predetermined (by a union contract) because you need to constantly refine your school design and school schedule.”
The Newark mayor describes the Soviet style bread lines that poor parents are forced to stand in to get into the lottery and explains how “I don’t even go to these lotteries any more because they break my heart. A child’s destiny should not be determined by the pull of a (lottery) draw."
The brainwashing by the government teachers is scary. We see a public hearing where parents stand up and talk about “these people coming in here taking our building” when all that is happening is a different-from-union-controlled management is taking over a part of the school to give local kids a better education. “You are not welcome here. I will fight until my dying day. I refuse to see you in PS 194.”
A Harlem Success Academy parent explains: “Parents and children aren’t drafted into these charter schools. My wife and I are torn. We’re both union. We want union, but at the same time as parents we want our children to go to the best place that is possible.”
Paul Tough, author of Whatever It Takes and an editor of the NYTimes Magazine suggests:
“Successful charter schools are a threat to the status quo. They suggest that in order to educate poor kids we have to do things, not a little bit differently, not through some sort of small reform here and there, but by remaking our whole approach to education.”
So, why is the electorate so accepting of the status quo? My take is Regulatory Capture and Public Choice, but the film suggests other reasons
Geoffrey Canada, Pres CEO Harlem Children’s Zone suggest its because we think we achieved perfection and can't improve it.
“We have a culture we have created a system sometime between WW1 and WWII where we and that system has essentially not changed. It’s like we created a perfect system and have not touched it.”
Booker, the mayor of Newark, thinks it because we were educated like this, thus it must be okay.
“People are irrationally wed to an educational system – to how we deliver the education. It’s decades old. Hey, I went to schools like this. So we get very wed to that. In other sectors, we reinvent how we do things. We think creatively. We just haven’t been doing that in education. We’re stuck in these ruts that are ridiculous.”
And the union apologist explains:
“Any kind of change needs to be negotiated as part of the (union) contract, The contracts were negotiated throughout the years. You have to renegotiate contracts. You can’t just say I’m not going pay any attention to this contract.”
Regardless of the cost to parents and to the children!
Joel Klein, Chancellor, NYC Dept of Education, explains that the suppliers control the system:
“Controversy comes about because of adult politics and because adults are affected by it. When I close down a large high school, not every adult is going to find another job immediately and that causes concern. But we don’t view the school system as a job system, we view the school system as an education system for our children.”
Eva Moskovitch explains the thuggish power of the unions:
“I think it’s hard for an outsider to understand the influence of the teachers’ union on Democratic politics. You can’t get elected in NYC without the support of the teachers’ union. They spend more money lobbying Albany than any other industry. They also use tactics that are quite thuggish. They have told me (that) they will put me six feet under. It’s really Godfather-like tactics."
We visit a school board hearing where the school board is trying to keep more charters out. Moskowitz testifies
"We are facing a union political education complex that is trying to halt the progress and put the interest of adults above the interest of children . These (government) schools are destroying the lives of children.
“From local government, (we hear) let’s slow down this change (to charter schools). (but) every year we wait to offer parents the choices they deserve is another year in which children’s futures are destroyed. PS 194 was failing when I was a kid. If you have a kindergartener, you can’t wait five years. We cannot wait. We have waited too long. “
The school board’s reaction? To accuse Moskowitz of ‘demonizing’ teachers and of lying about living in Harlem.
The film discusses a few counter-arguments against the typical union answers – smaller class sizes and more money, but this film is really about the destruction of the hope of parents and children by the politically powerful suppliers who steal your tax dollars and coerce your children into their failed schools.
In the US, 365,000 children are on waitlists for charter schools.