Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

July 14, 2014

New York Times: Reading Wars Debated Once Again

Filed under: Reading — millerlf @ 1:10 pm

Following is an op-ed in from the New York Times followed by response letters.
The Fallacy of ‘Balanced Literacy’
THERE was the student who wanted to read Tolstoy, but abandoned “War and Peace” after a bewildering day with the Russian aristocracy. There were the students who had just come from Albania, to whom a Harry Potter novel was as inscrutable as Aramaic. There were the students who needed special attention, which I could barely offer. And then there were the ones who read quietly and would have welcomed a discussion about “The Chocolate War.” I couldn’t offer that, either.

So went “independent reading” in my seventh-grade classroom in Flatbush, Brooklyn, during the 2005-06 school year, a mostly futile exercise mandated by administrators. On bad days, independent reading devolved into chaos. That was partly a result of my first-year incompetence, but even on good days, it proved a confounding amalgam of free period and frustrating abyss.

This morass was never my students’ fault. A majority of them were poor, or immigrants, or both. The metropolis of marvelous libraries and bookstores was to them another country. To expect them to wade into a grade-appropriate text like “To Kill a Mockingbird” was unrealistic, even insulting.

Writing instruction didn’t go much better. My seventh graders were urged to write memoirs, under the same guise of individualism that engendered independent reading. But while recollections of beach trips or departed felines are surely worthwhile, they don’t quite have the pedagogical value of a deep dive into sentence structure or a plain old vocab quiz.

Now the approach that so frustrated me and my students is once again about to become the norm in New York City, as the new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, has announced plans to reinstate a “balanced literacy” approach in English classrooms. The concept’s most vociferous champion is probably Lucy Calkins, a Columbia University scholar. In her 1985 book, “The Art of Teaching Writing,” she complained that most English teachers “don’t know what it is to read favorite passages aloud to a friend or to swap ideas about an author.” She sought a reimagination of the English teacher’s role: “Teaching writing must become more like coaching a sport and less like presenting information,” a joyful exploration unhindered by despotic traffic cops.

Ms. Calkins’s approach was tried by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, but abandoned when studies showed that students learned better with more instruction. My own limited experience leads me to the same conclusion. But Ms. Fariña seems to be charting a course away from the data-driven Bloomberg years, perhaps as part of her stated plan to return “joy” to the city’s classrooms.

I take umbrage at the notion that muscular teaching is joyless. There was little joy in the seventh-grade classroom I ran under “balanced literacy,” and less purpose. My students craved instruction far more than freedom. Expecting children to independently discover the rules of written language is like expecting them to independently discover the rules of differential calculus.

Balanced literacy is an especially irresponsible approach, given that New York State has adopted the federal Common Core standards, which skew toward a narrowly prescribed list of texts, many of them nonfiction. Ms. Calkins is a detractor of Common Core; Ms. Fariña isn’t, thus far, but her support of balanced literacy sends a mixed signal.

I am somewhat prejudiced on this issue, for my acclimation to the English language had nothing balanced about it. Yanked out of the Soviet Union at 10, I landed in suburban Connecticut in the English-as-a-second-language classroom of Mrs. Cohen. She taught me the language in the most conventionally rigorous manner, acutely aware that I couldn’t do much until I knew the difference between a subject and a verb. Mrs. Cohen was unbalanced in the best possible way.

Two decades later, I became a teacher because it seemed a social good to transmit the valuable stuff I’d learned from Mrs. Cohen and other teachers to young people who were as clueless as I had been. After leaving the middle school in Flatbush, I went to a selective high school in Bushwick, where I taught Sophocles while rhapsodizing about semicolons and gleefully announcing vocab quizzes. My students were seeing the beams that support the language; they went on to write poems, papers, newspaper articles and personal essays that earned a number of them admission to the nation’s best colleges. If any of it was soul-crushing, I missed the cues.

The fatal flaw of balanced literacy is that it is least able to help students who most need it. It plays well in brownstone Brooklyn, where children have enrichment coming out of their noses, and may be more “ready” for balanced literacy than children without such advantages.

My concern is for the nearly 40 percent of New York City schoolchildren who won’t graduate from high school, the majority of whom are black and brown and indigent. Their educations should never be a joyless grind. But asking them to become subjects in an experiment in progressive education is an injustice they don’t deserve.

Alexander Nazaryan is a senior writer at Newsweek. He was the founding English teacher at the Brooklyn Latin School.



The Opinion Pages | Letters
How to Teach Reading and Writing
JULY 13, 2014
To the Editor:
Re “The Fallacy of ‘Balanced Literacy’ ” (Op-Ed, July 7):
Too often, educational debates become simple, reductive arguments against the imagined orthodoxy of the other side. We see this once again in Alexander Nazaryan’s critique of “balanced literacy” and his call for “muscular teaching.”
He sees balanced literacy as a complete abdication of any direct instruction. It isn’t. Classrooms will always need a balance between independence and direct instruction, and few “experts” claim otherwise. There is no simple recipe for success.
And Mr. Nazaryan’s assertion that “independent reading” doesn’t work because it failed in his classroom when he was a first-year teacher is tantamount to claiming that bicycles don’t work because you fall the first time you try to ride. In my years in the classroom, I was constantly shifting the amount of independence and direct instruction, as every teacher should.
Instead of silly arguments over which flavor of curriculum is best, our children would be much better served if we focused on a commitment to attract and train high-quality teachers whose judgment we can trust.
Stanford, Calif., July 7, 2014
The writer is a doctoral student at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

To the Editor:
I wholeheartedly agree with Alexander Nazaryan’s conclusions regarding the introduction of balanced literacy into the New York State English curriculum. As a middle school English teacher in New York City, I find that few pedagogical constructs anger me more than the notion that reading and writing should not be taught through direct instruction.
It is ridiculous to believe that English is learned through some sort of experimental, progressive approach in which students “discover” how to read and write critically. As Mr. Nazaryan points out, we don’t teach calculus that way.
All students crave structure, no matter the subject being taught. In my classroom, I teach writing through direct instruction. The students learn about thesis statements, topic sentences, evidence and analysis in order to write deeply and clearly.
Mr. Nazaryan is right; balanced literacy is a fallacious cop-out. Students learn to read and write by being taught directly how to read and write. Only then will they discover the power and joy of the English language.
Astoria, Queens, July 7, 2014

To the Editor:
Balanced literacy as an instructional model is not inherently problematic. All it means is that as a teacher you provide your students with an instructional diet that balances all aspects of literacy, including foundational skills and higher order thinking and problem solving. This is no easy feat, and it takes good teacher training, reflective practice and experience to do this well, especially in a high-poverty school with a broad range of learners.
So for the writer to condemn the model because he wasn’t able to make it happen within his scant year of classroom experience is misleading to all those unfamiliar with balanced literacy. More than anything else, this Op-Ed essay underscores the critical need for smart, well-trained, committed and reflective teachers and principals.
Charlottesville, Va., July 8, 2014
The writer is a reading specialist.

To the Editor:
Kudos to Alexander Nazaryan for his eloquent defense of “conventionally rigorous” teaching techniques.
The decision by the New York City schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, to reinstate balanced literacy despite the unfavorable results of studies done during the Bloomberg administration reflects, in my opinion, a general aversion to empirical evidence within the educational establishment in favor of ideology and faddish group think.
I very much appreciate the excellent K-12 teaching I received in Brooklyn public schools during the 1940s and ’50s, when a “conventionally rigorous” approach was the norm.
My more recent experience as a volunteer tutor in Wisconsin elementary schools during the past 12 years mirrors that of Mr. Nazaryan in Brooklyn in 2005-06. Again, an approach appropriate for the Midwestern equivalent of “brownstone Brooklyn” kids was employed in classrooms where half the kids were poor or minorities or both. The results of this approach are what the local press has described as a notoriously high racial achievement gap.
Madison, Wis., July 7, 2014

To the Editor:
While Alexander Nazaryan makes some valid points, the problem with his thesis is that he equates independent reading with chaos. When my students did independent reading it was guided.
For each book they chose I devised a set of questions, chapter by chapter, they were required to answer. They read at their own pace, and if they didn’t like the book, they could turn it in for another. But they read, and they wrote, and they understood.
Granted, this is hard work for the teacher, for it requires him or her to read every book on the list, but no one ever said teaching was supposed to be easy. The result, for my students, was that, according to their own feedback, they read more books than they ever had before.
New York, July 7, 2014


July 12, 2014

Wisconsin Gazette Endorses Marina Dimitrijevic for 19th Assembly District

Filed under: Elections — millerlf @ 2:51 pm

Amid stront field, Marina Dimitrijevic, is best choice to represent Milwaukee’s 19th Assembly District
July 10 Wisconsin

On June 6, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced to a cheering crowd at PrideFest that he was keeping the courthouse open that evening for same-sex couples to get married. Abele didn’t want lesbian and gay couples who’d been waiting for years to have to wait any longer after a federal judge overturned Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban earlier that day.
Among the first to arrive at the courthouse to lend a helping hand was Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. She stationed herself at the doors leading to the clerk’s office to hand out numbers for couples seeking a position in the growing line and to answer questions about required documentation and so on.
It was not surprising to find Dimitrijevic at the forefront of the activity that night. LGBT equality is one of the issues she’s championed in the decade since she became the youngest woman elected to public office in Milwaukee. Her long list of accomplishments includes spearheading the effort to extend domestic partner benefits for county workers.
Now Dimitrijevic is a candidate in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary to choose a successor for state Rep. Jon Richards in the 19th Assembly District. Richards is stepping down to run for attorney general.
The district includes the East Side, downtown, the Third Ward, Bay View and parts of Riverwest, making it not only one of the state’s most heavily progressive districts but also one that has among the highest concentrations of LGBT constituents.
Dimitrijevic faces three other challengers in the primary — each of them promising in his or her own way. All three have compelling narratives to support their candidacies, and all three hold the progressive, pro-equality values supported by a majority of the district’s residents.
But Dimitrijevic is by far the most experienced candidate in the race, and experience counts more than ever for progressives in Madison. The tea party majority rules the Assembly with an iron fist, and progressives need representatives who know the system well enough to recognize and exploit opportunities to work it.
Moreover, Dimitrijevic has a proven track record of advocating for the issues of most concern to progressives, including environmental sustainability, public transportation, public education and rights for workers and immigrants (Dimitrijevic is fluent in Spanish). She’s the strongest candidate to replace Richards. We endorse her and expect a great future for her as a progressive leader.
Dimitrijevic’s other endorsements come from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Clean Wisconsin Action and more. To learn more about Dimitrijevic, go to
The other candidates in the race also have drawn prominent endorsements and have promising futures. They’re worth getting to know (in alphabetical order):
Dan Adams, 31, a former Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney, is the candidate backed by Abele. Adams is unique in that he expresses a willingness to work with Republicans to ensure that Milwaukee gets its fair share of revenue and attention from Madison. He stresses pragmatism over knee-jerk partisanship.
Adams believes Milwaukee has great potential for developing a knowledge-based economy, and he says he’d work on bringing capital together with the city’s educational institutions to make that happen.
Philosophically, Adams casts himself politically in Abele’s mold: “We have the same outlook on public service — it’s not about the servant. It’s really about carrying the water for the community and not just the very vocal or the very powerful,” Adams says.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Adams signs have become increasingly visible in the district.
For more, go to
Jonathan Brostoff, 30, is also running a strong campaign. He took leave from his current position as district director for Senate Democratic Leader Chris Larson in order to run for the Assembly. In that position, as well as through involvement in managing other campaigns, Brostoff likely knows Wisconsin politics better than any other candidate except Dimitrijevic.
Together with Larson, Brostoff co-founded DemTEAM, which has trained more than 110 progressive Milwaukeeans interested in elected office. Among DemTeam’s success stories are current state Reps. Daniel Reimer, Nikiya Harris and Mandela Barnes.
Brostoff has run a robust campaign that has focused increasingly on education. Like the other candidates in this race, Brostoff says he’ll fight to get better resources for Milwaukee’s public school system. He sees the growing voucher movement as part of the problem.
“I strongly believe that we need to not only not expand vouchers but sunset them here and now,” Brostoff says. “The experiment has played out and it failed. The heart of it is to siphon off public resources into private hands.”
Brostoff, who has a gay older brother, is an ardent equality supporter. The first of many volunteer positions he’s held was with Pathfinders, which provides services to homeless youth. Brostoff began volunteering with the agency at age 14. Among Pathfinders’ clients are relatively large numbers of gay and lesbian youth who are kicked out of their homes by disapproving parents.
Brostoff also has volunteered for many other nonprofits. He says running for office is taking his commitment to his community to the next level. He cites retiring state Rep. Sandy Pasch as the type of leader he hopes to become, and she has endorsed him.
For more, go to
Sara Geenen, 32, has run the most low-key campaign of the four contenders, primarily because she’s the mother of a 4-year-old and a toddler, as well as a labor union attorney. But she says being a working mother gives her a unique perspective to take with her to Madison.
“It’s important to have people from every walk of life representing the state, because the state has people from every walk of life,” she says.
Strongly pro-union, Geenan grew up in a union family “with headstrong beliefs in progressive values,” she says. Her endorsements include chapters of the United Steel Workers, the Teamsters and the International Association of Machinists.
Growing income inequality spurred Geenan to run for office, she says, and her campaign has focused on “jobs, education and investing in community.” Geenan sees herself as an advocate for the working poor, people who are unable to move out of poverty because all the rules are stacked against them. As examples, she offers the case of a woman three months’ pregnant who’s already distressed about finding day care for her child or the family forced to live in substandard housing because of their credit score, even though they can afford better housing.
Like the others in the race, Geenan is a deeply committed supporter of equality, quality public schools and the creation of family-supporting jobs.
“I think it’s important that you start to work incrementally to make change,” Geenan says. “It’s important to keep advocating.”
For more, visit
Primary day is Aug. 12.

July 10, 2014

The Truth About the Crisis at the Border (La Frontera)

Filed under: Immigration — millerlf @ 1:29 pm

By David Bacon In These Times, web edition, July 8, 2014

In front of Oakland’s Federal Building young people from immigrant youth groups protest against the detention and deportation of young migrants and families on the U.S. border, and especially against President Obama’s decision to increase border enforcement and deport them more quickly.
The mass migration of children from Central America has been at the center of a political firestorm over the past few weeks. The mainstream media has run dozens of stories blaming families, especially mothers, for sending or bringing their children north from Central America. The president himself lectured them, as though they were simply bad parents. “Do not send your children to the borders,” Obama said last week. “If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”

Meanwhile, the story is being manipulated by the Tea Party and conservative Republicans to attack Obama’s executive action deferring the deportation of young people, along with any possibility he might expand it╤the demand of many immigrant rights advocates. More broadly, the Right wants to shut down any immigration reform that includes legalization, and instead is gunning for harsher enforcement measures. Even Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, has sought to frame migration as a national security threat, calling it a “crime-terror convergence,” and describing it as “an incredibly efficient network along which anything – hundreds of tons of drugs, people, terrorists, potentially weapons of mass destruction or children – can travel, so long as they can pay the fare.”

This push for greater enforcement ignores the real reasons families take the desperate measure of leaving home and trying to cross the border. Media coverage focuses on gang violence in Central America, as though it was spontaneous and unrelated to a history of U.S.-promoted wars and a policy of mass deportations.

U.S. foreign and immigration policy is responsible for much of the pressure causing this flow of people from Central America. These eight facts, ignored by the mainstream press and the president, document that culpability, and point out the need for change.

1. There is no “lax enforcement” on the U.S./Mexico border. There are over 20,000 members of the Border Patrol, the largest number in history. We have walls and a system of detention centers that didn’t exist just 15 years ago. Now more than 350,000 people spend some time in an immigrant detention center every year. The U.S. spends more on immigration enforcement than all other enforcement activities of the federal government combined, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The growing numbers of people in detention╤young people as well as families and adults╤ is being used as a pretext by the anti-immigrant lobby in Washington, including the Tea Party and the Border Patrol itself, for demanding increases in the budget for enforcement. The Obama administration has given way before this pressure.

2. The migration of children and families didn╒t just start recently. It has been going on for a long time, although the numbers are increasing. The tide of migration from Central America goes back to wars that the U.S. promoted in the 1980s, in which we armed the forces, governments or contras, who were most opposed to progressive social change. Two million Salvadorans alone came to the U.S. during the late 1970s and 80s, to say nothing of Guatemalans and Nicaraguans. Whole families migrated, but so did parts of families, leaving loved ones behind with the hope that some day they’d be reunited.

3. The recent increase in the numbers of migrants is not just a response to gang violence, although this is virtually the only reason given in U.S. media coverage. Growing migration is as much or more a consequence of the increasing economic crisis for rural people in Central America and Mexico, as well as the failure of those economies to produce jobs. People are leaving because they can’t survive where they are.

4. The failure of Central America’s economies is mostly due to the North American and Central American Free Trade Agreements and their accompanying economic changes, including privatization of businesses, the displacement of communities by foreign mining projects and cuts in the social budget. The treaties allowed huge U.S. corporations to dump corn and other agricultural products in Mexico and Central America, forcing rural families off their lands when they could not compete.

5. When governments or people have resisted NAFTA and CAFTA, the United States has threatened reprisals. Right-wing Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) put forward a measure in 2004 to cut off the flow of remittances (money sent back to Salvadoran families from family members working in the U.S.) if people voted for a leftwing party, the FMLN, in El Salvador’s national elections. Otto Reich, a violently anti-communist Cuban who was Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said the U.S. government was “concerned about the impact that an FMLN victory could have on the commercial, economic, and migration-related relations of the U.S. with El Salvador.” Salvadoran papers were full of the threat, especially those on the right, and the FMLN lost. In 2009 a tiny wealthy elite in Honduras overthrew President Manuel Zelaya because he raised the minimum wage, gave subsidies to small farmers, cut interest rates and instituted free education. The Obama administration gave a de facto approval to the coup regime that followed. If social and political change had taken place in Honduras, we would see far fewer Hondurans trying to come to the U.S.

6. Gang violence in Central America has a U.S. origin. Over the past two decades, young people from Central America have arrived in L.A. and big U.S. cities, where many were recruited into gangs, a story eloquently told by photographer Donna De Cesare in the recent book Unsettled/Desasociego. The Maratrucha Salvadoreña gang, which today’s newspaper stories hold responsible for the violence driving people from El Salvador, was organized in Los Angeles, not in Central America. U.S. law enforcement and immigration authorities responded to the rise of gang activity here with a huge program of deportations. Most of the kids in gangs in Central America were originally deportees from the U.S. The U.S. has been deporting 400,000 people per year, more than any other period since the Cold War.

7. And in Central America, U.S. policy has led to the growth of gang violence. In El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, U.S. law enforcement assistance pressured local law enforcement to adopt a “mano dura” or hardline approach to gang members, leading to the incarceration of many young people deported from the U.S. almost as soon as they arrived. Prisons became schools for gang recruitment. El Salvador, with a leftwing FMLN government, at least has a commitment to a policy of jobs and economic development to take young people off the street, and to providing an alternative to migration. Even there, conservative police and military forces continue to support heavy enforcement. In Guatemala and Honduras, the U.S. is supporting very rightwing governments who only use a heavy enforcement approach. While punishing deportees and condemning migration, these two governments actually use the migration of people to the U.S. as a source of remittances to keep their economies afloat.

8. Kids looking for families here are looking for those who were already displaced by war and economic crisis. The separation of families is a cause of much of the current migration of young people. Young people fleeing the violence are reacting to the consequences of policies for which the U.S. government is largely responsible, in the only way open to them.

Two and three years ago we were hearing from the Pew Hispanic Trust and other sources that migration had “leveled off.” No one is bothering to claim that anymore. Migration hasn’t stopped because the forces causing it are more powerful than ever.

More enforcement will not deal with the causes of the migration from Central America. In fact, the deportation of more people back to their countries of origin will increase joblessness and economic desperation. This is the largest factor causing people to leave. Violence, which feeds on that desperation, will increase as well.

President Obama has proposed increasing the enforcement budget by $3.7 billion. He has called for suspending a law passed in 2008, which requires minors to be transferred out of detention to centers where they can locate family members to care for them. He instead proposes to deport them more rapidly. Both ideas will cause more pain, violate basic rights and moral principles, and fail completely to stop migration.

NY Times writer Carl Hulse writes that the law transferring minors out of detention centers “is at the root of the potentially calamitous flow of unaccompanied minors to the nation╒s southern border.” This report and others like it not only ignore history and paint a false picture of the reasons for migration, but provide the rationale for increased enforcement.

New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez picked up the cue, declaring “we must attack this problem from a foreign policy perspective, a humanitarian perspective, a criminal perspective, immigration perspective, and a national security perspective.” He called for increasing funding for the U.S. military’s Southern Command and the State Department’s Central American Regional Security Initiative. Giving millions of dollars to some of the most violent and rightwing militaries in the western hemisphere, however, is a step back towards the military intervention policy that set the wave of forced migration into motion to begin with.

Instead, we need to help families reunite, treat immigrants with respect, and change the policies the U.S. has implemented in Central America, Mexico and elsewhere that have led to massive, forced migration. The two most effective measures would be ending the administration’s mass detention and deportation program, and ending the free trade economic and interventionist military policies that are causing such desperation in the countries these children and families are fleeing.

Young people in Oakland protest the detention of children and families from Central America.

Articles win Awards of Excellence

“Standoff in the Strawberry Fields,” which was run by Al Jazeera last fall, and “US-Style School Reform Goes South”, which ran in The Nation in last spring, won 2014 Awards of Excellence in Freelance Journalism given by the Guild Freelancers of the Pacific Media Workers Guild in San Francisco. David Bacon was also given the Raul Ramirez Journalist of the Year Award.
David Bacon radio review of the movie, Cesar Chavez

Interviews with David Bacon about his new book, The Right to Stay Home:

Book TV: A presentation of the ideas in The Right to Stay Home at the CUNY Graduate Center

KPFK – Uprisings with Sonali Kohatkar

KPFA – Upfront with Brian Edwards Tiekert

Photoessay: My Studio is the Street

Photoessay: Mexico City marches against NAFTA and to protect its oil and electricity

Nativo Lopez dialogues with David Bacon on Radio Hermandad

The Real News: Immigration Reform Requires Dismantling NAFTA and Respecting Migrants’ Rights/ Immigrant Communities Resist Deportations


Books by David Bacon

The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration (Beacon Press, 2013)

Illegal People — How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008)
Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008

Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)

The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)

For more articles and images, see



July 9, 2014

Letter on Vouchers in Steven Point Journal

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 3:49 pm

 State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, along with other Republican lawmakers and pro-voucher lobbyists, recently attacked those who seek basic data from private voucher schools. The state’s Department of Public Instruction made the data request, which originated from the U.S. Department of Justice as it investigates a complaint filed on behalf of families who have experienced discrimination in Wisconsin’s private voucher schools.

As Shakespeare would say, “The lady doth protest too much.”

If Republican lawmakers are this upset now, imagine their indignation the next time lawmakers try to draft a bill that will make voucher schools accountable to taxpayers.

This spring’s Republican-backed effort self-destructed because the bill was more about expanding the voucher program and closing public schools than it was about holding anyone accountable. Voucher schools were asked to respond to the DPI’s request by June 30; however, the DPI cannot require their compliance because private schools are, well, private.

The reaction by Republican lawmakers to the DPI request should worry every taxpayer in Wisconsin. Instead of politicians and lobbyists endlessly reciting rhetoric on the virtues of vouchers, let’s let the facts speak for themselves.

Jeri McGinley,

Stevens Point

July 4, 2014

Emergency! Please Send an Email Protesting Injustice to Children

Filed under: American Injustice,Immigration — millerlf @ 2:35 pm

Emergency!! Minutemen and other right-wing groups are mobilizing to stop more busses of children in Murrieta, California.
Please send an emergency protest email to Murrieta, California at:

Tell the citizens of Murrieta to stop blocking busses filled with children and women who have risked their lives to try and make a better life.

  • Tell them to stop disrespecting immigrants and to stop calling the children “diseased.”
  • Tell them to oppose suffering and inequality everywhere it exists.
  • Tell the citizens of Murrieta to welcome these children with open arms and to stand up for justice!

To see the NBC report of events in Murrieta go to:



June 24, 2014

President of the California School Board Association: Its time to revisit charter school legislation

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 10:24 am

President of the California School Board Association (CSBA) Josephine Lucey
June 1, 2014

I’ve been extremely fortunate in my role as CSBA President to preside
in a year in which we are not talking about cuts in public education
funding, but rather about funding distribution methodology,
accountability and curriculum changes that are aimed at closing the
achievement gap. We’ve been talking about, and pushing for, continued
investment in the Local Control Funding Formula, development of the
associated Local Control and Accountability Plans, and implementation
of Common Core State Standards, which, if done well—with time and money
allocated and spent, and deliberate attention given to staff
development—have the potential to infuse our educational system with
academic rigor and provide our students with the critical thinking
skills they’ll need in this information- and technology-based economy.
It’s the right conversation to be having—and it’s about time.

So, as we enter the second half of this legislative year, I’d like to
focus on a topic that has been less prominent, but which I believe
should move to the forefront of our attention: charter schools and the
current statewide and national trends surrounding them.

It is time for educational and political leaders to revisit charter
school legislation and charter school law. As a state, and as a nation,
we have strayed far from the original intent of charter schools.
Originally designed to experiment with new ideas and approaches in
search of better academic outcomes for students, charter schools are
frequently being founded and directed by corporations and corporate
interests—which are not about improving academic outcomes for
students, but about maximizing profits for the benefit of management’s
or shareholders’ personal wealth.

I’m reading the research, I’m talking with school board members in
other states at National School Boards Association meetings, and I’m
more and more concerned by this privatization of public education. Yes,
corporate America is moving with increasing speed into the charter
school arena. According to an April 2014 Economic Policy Institute
Report (Lafer, Gordon; Briefing Paper #375), “the last few years have
witnessed a pattern of corporate consolidation [of charter schools]. By
2011, less than 17 percent of charter school students were in schools
run by companies that operated three or fewer schools. The majority
were overseen by corporations operating 10 or more schools.” And although
many charter corporations claim to be, or are required to be,
nonprofits, in fact, they are not. The nonprofit charter itself is
often nothing more than a shell corporation integrally aligned with other
for-profit business entities.

Here’s one example: the Rocketship chain of schools—“a low-budget
operation that relies on young and inexperienced teachers rather than
more veteran and expensive faculty . . . and replaces teachers with
online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of
the day” (Lafer, 2014). While Rocketship itself is a nonprofit, it is
closely aligned with two for-profit software companies, DreamBox and
Zeal. These schools, which use the blended learning model, put students
in computer labs for a quarter of the day, at minimum, every day and
the software used in the labs is purchased from DreamBox and Zeal. This
aggressive push for expansion of Rocketship schools is critical to
their business model. More schools equals more students, which equals more
software sold and more profits.

It goes further. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, and John Doerr, a
partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins
Caufield & Byers, are both on the Board of Directors of Rocketship. And
they are two of the primary investors in DreamBox. John Danner,
Rocketship’s co-founder, is Zeal’s primary investor. This type of
conflict-of-interest is illegal in public schools.

Additionally, Rocketship has a partnership with the for-profit real
estate holding company, LaunchPad. LaunchPad purchases school property,
then rents it to Rocketship. Their business model specifically states
“LaunchPad will charge relatively high facilities fees” and “the
profit margin will be used to finance new facilities” (Lafer, 2014).
Your tax dollars are being used by real estate trusts to purchase
property that is privately held and owned.

When a public school district wants to build or renovate a school, the
local community has a say. The community votes on whether to pass a
bond. The community pays for its local school, and the school remains a
community asset. Not so with corporate charters—the community has no
vote. And the local tax dollars are not purchasing a local asset; they
are helping shareholders purchase a private asset.

So why do we have charter schools? They have gained traction because
the public and many politicians believe, wrongly, that charters are the
magic bullet to academic excellence and that choice automatically leads
to better academic outcomes. But the data does not support this
perception. The National Charter School Study 2013, by The Center for
Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, shows
that charter schools on average do no better than public schools
serving the same student demographics. Even the subgroups on whom charters
appeared to have the most impact showed very modest differences from
their public school peers. And the latest Public Policy Institute study
of the Rocketship chain shows that student achievement in Rocketship
schools has declined steadily year over year. In 2012-13, all seven
Rocketship schools failed to make adequate yearly progress, with four
of seven schools found to be in “need of program improvement.”

Circling back to the original intent of charter schools, there are, of
course, examples across our state of charters that, when freed from the
oversight and regulation that each of you and your districts are bound
to, are focused on providing better academic outcomes for students.
Typically, these are stand-alone charters that were founded by the very
districts in which they reside. They are usually successful because of
strong working relationships with and support from the local districts,
and they generally rely on the local districts for management
infrastructure. For example, when I visited Kings County this year, I
toured Lemoore Middle College Charter High School. It has a strong
working relationship with its sponsoring district as well as excellent
academic outcomes for its students. The school is located on the
community college campus, which enables students to take community
college classes while in high school. This arrangement works well for
all involved.

But we need to be careful, for corporate interests are governing an
increasing number of charter schools and the quality of our children’s
education is at stake. So what do we do? Here are three actions that
you and I and CSBA can take to refocus the discussion:

* We need to stop calling charter schools public schools. They are
privately managed publicly funded schools. They are an experiment in
moving tax dollars from the public sector to the private sector.
* Talk to your legislators and push back on the notion that charter
schools are the magic bullet. Talk about the successes in your
Remember, your constituents are their constituents, and you have
influence with your local voters.
* Be thoughtful and diligent in your decision making when a charter
petition comes before you. Don’t assume that a charter school is
synonymous with higher academic achievement. Do your research and base
your decisions on data, not ideology. This due diligence is especially
important for county board members reviewing charter petitions denied
by a local district.

It’s time for all in the education community to review the intent of
charter school legislation and to take a hard look at what exists in
the field today. Our public school system is one of our greatest assets.
It is the foundation of our American democracy and the door to
opportunity for all who live in our country. As educators and school
board members elected by our local communities to represent them, we
have an obligation to push hard for meaningful conversation that aims
to put charter schools’ focus back where it belongs—on achieving better
academic outcomes for students.

June 12, 2014

St Marcus’ Numbers Don’t Add Up

Filed under: St. Marcus,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:05 pm

Once again, last night, St Marcus Lutheran School put on a show for all to see. Alderperson Russell Stamper II held a hearing on the proposal by St Marcus to buy the Lee Elementary school site.

St Marcus Lutheran School Superintendent, Henry Tyson, once again gave his slide show. Some of the slides can be seen on the St Marcus report card website at: (The report card is not a product of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction but something St Marcus created.)

Reading Scores
The first graph on the report card compares MPS in blue to St Marcus voucher students in red to all St Marcus students in yellow. The MPS bar says 15% reading proficiency. This should actually say 15.5%. But it should also say that this number is for all MPS students, in over 160 schools, including high school.

If you compare MPS K8 grades to the K8 grades offered by St. Marcus, you get a different picture. The 116 K8 schools in MPS have a 16.8% proficiency rate average, compared to St. Marcus’ is 19%.

The second graph on their report card, referred to as “Value – Added ”, depicts significant gains in reading for students who stay enrolled at St. Marcus. They go on to say that the student rate of return for St. Marcus is 91%.

This does not add up. This should mean, as St. Marcus students move to eighth grade, the schools proficiency levels should increase. But in fact the eighth grade proficiency level falls to 15%, four percentage points below the school’s average, representing a decline in attainment of proficiency.

17% of MPS eighth-graders test at proficiency. This means that by the Fall of eighth grade, MPS eighth-graders, on the average for 116 schools, are outperforming St. Marcus eighth graders.

Special Education
Previously Henry Tyson had said that St Marcus serves 6% special education students. Last night the number changed to 9%.

Tyson also presented that St Marcus has 730 students and 60 of them are special education students. Actually 60 is not 9% of 730. It is 8.2%. I hope that the math instruction at St Marcus is better than what was presented last night.

The question is: How many students with IEP’s attend St Marcus?

Regressive Teachings
On his blog, Henry Tyson states that St Marcus Lutheran School “… follows the teachings of the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Evangelical Luther Synod.(WELS)” Once again, last night, Mr. Tyson refused to answer questions from speakers on the Synod’s teachings. (See quotes below.) It is obvious that the teachings of this church are so regressive that they cannot be defended. And that it would cause embarrassment throughout the Milwaukee community if they engaged in a defense of their teachings.

They have obviously agreed to take the approach that, no defense is the best defense.

If you go to their official monthly publication, Forward in Christ, you can witness their teachings, unrestrained and unapologetic, at:


On “the Menace of Islam” “The greatest menace of Islam is the deadly threat that it poses to the eternal life of every one of its adherents.”

On Jews Going to Heaven “If your question is about unbelieving Jews (or unbelievers from any other ethnic group) or followers of Judaism who have rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Savior of mankind, then we must sadly answer that they did not and do not go to heaven.”

On Suicide “Suicide is murder; ‘and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him’(John 3:15).


On Marriage: Joining a Christian and a Non-Christian “Experience demonstrates that all too many of these marriages, almost predictably, become heartaches followed by divorce.”

On Equality of Women “In order to avoid exercising leadership over men contrary to “the order of creation,” WELS women do not vote in church meetings.”

On the Catholic Pope “We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy.”

On Evolution “It appears that American citizens don’t have the privilege of stating that the evolutionary explanation of the origin of this universe, the earth, and man is not only questionable, but also unscientific, and irrational, and just plain wrong.” The earth is only 6000 years old and “…was created with the appearance of age. On the first day everything looked older than it was.”

On Homosexuality “Scripture declares that homosexuality is a sin, which is contrary to God’s intention in creating man and woman. Sinful resistance to the revealed will of God is a factor in this sin.”

On Civil Rights “Anything goes. When the civil-rights bills were passed in the mid ’60s, their principal sponsor, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, promised in one melodramatic session that he would “physically eat” the bill he was promoting if ever anyone attempted to use his bill in order to prefer a member of one race at the expense of a member of another race. Senator Humphrey died from other causes than the food poisoning to which he’d have been subjected after the Supreme Court OK’d affirmative action.
A fortnight ago, we had the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which now extends to the federal government the right to inquire into the racial or sexual composition of a school’s basketball team if its medical school is receiving federal subsidies. And last week, Georgetown University, the oldest Jesuit College in America, capitulated on the lawsuit demanding that it make room within Georgetown for gay and lesbian student federations. Somebody, somewhere, somehow, has got to stop the civil-rights thing. It is making a joke out of one after another of our Bill of Rights.” (These comments are a reprint from Forward In Christ by William F. Buckley Jr.)

On Economic Inequality “It is egregiously impossible if you mean that the state can and should guarantee equality of education, income, or wealth. The only way that there could be equality of wealth is if the state seized all private assets and redistributed them. The only way there could be equality of income is if the state seized control of all businesses and arbitrarily set all salary levels the same, determined by some central committee. Unless you are pining to live under Stalinistic Communism, you wouldn’t favor that approach, and so I conclude that you are prepared to live with inequality of income and wealth.
But people can still envy, of course. The last presidential election season featured quite a bit of attention on Mitt Romney’s personal wealth, and that campaign was quickly followed by the “Occupy” and “99%” mini-movements that sought to arouse envy and hostility from the have-lesses against the have-mores. My personal prediction is that you ain’t seen nothing yet. The coming political season will bring back plenty of chatter about income and wealth inequality in the U.S.
Those efforts will be led by people who have given up on the belief that you can better your life by hard work, discipline, self-control, deferred gratification, and saving. They believe that everyone with wealth either stole it or cheated people to get it.” (From Pastor’s Blog, St. Marcus Pastor Mark Jeske.)


June 5, 2014

Henry Tyson and St Marcus’ Leadership Have No Shame!

Filed under: St. Marcus,Vouchers — millerlf @ 4:11 pm

Once again St Marcus leadership wants to turn their demand for public property into a circus. During their quest for the Malcolm X site they opportunistically used children from their school  by marching them to the Malcolm X site during school hours.

Mr Tyson has sent out the following call-to-action for next week’s meeting. This is now about “misrepresentations” and the “right” to attend private schools, paid for with public dollars.

Dear Friends of St. Marcus,You are making a difference. Thank you to those who attended the first Town Hall meeting this past  Monday.  St. Marcus had strong representation and moving stories that made the case for why St. Marcus seeks to establish a second campus at the former Lee School site.Alderman Stamper II appreciated hearing from St. Marcus families and residents of the 15th district. He is providing another opportunity to hear from the community.  

SECOND Town Hall Meeting
Hosted by Alderman Russell Stamper II
Topic: Potential Sale of the Lee School Property to St. Marcus WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 2014 (6:30 pm – 7:30 pm)
Northside YMCA – Cafeteria, 1350 W. North Ave, Milwaukee 53205We need an even bigger crowd at next week’s meeting to strongly show that there is an URGENT need for St. Marcus to expand NOW.  St. Marcus is currently at capacity with hundreds of children on a waiting list. 

Bring your friends, family and colleagues.

Your firsthand experiences are the most effective way to counter those who have misimpressions of St. Marcus. Express your support for the right of all children to have access to high quality schools.

The MPS Board and the Common Council still need to vote on the sale of the site.  St. Marcus and committed supporters are working diligently to resolve outstanding issues and dissolve the barriers to educating 200 new students in K3-1st grade this fall and up to 850 students when at full capacity.

Please join us next week Wednesday!  Your Voice Matters! 

Thank you for your continued prayers.


Henry_2 Henry Tyson
Henry Tyson, Superintendent

2215 North Palmer Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53212. | Tel: 414-562-3163 | Website:

MPS Board President on District Successes

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 12:23 pm

Board President Michael Bonds on MPS in Transition
The ‘hidden miracle’ happening in Milwaukee’s public schools
By Lisa Kaiser Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Gregory Thornton, who led the district during the tumult over Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 and his slashing of aid to K-12 public schools by $800 million in his first budget, is leaving June 30 for Baltimore. The board of directors hopes to name an interim superintendent this week while launching a national search for a superintendent who can handle the demands of an urban school in a city struggling with poverty.

MPS Board President Michael Bonds said he supported Thornton’s leadership, especially his creation of district-wide reading and math curricula and his willingness to be a cheerleader for MPS during a very trying time.

Bonds said he’s confident that MPS’s future is much brighter as a result of Thornton’s efforts and the board’s budget-tightening measures that have resulted in cutting unfunded liabilities by more than half, from $2.8 billion to just over $1.3 billion, and turning a $100 million projected deficit into a $44 million surplus.

Those cuts and a shift in priorities have allowed MPS to put art, music and physical education teachers in every school, at least on a part-time basis; make renewed attempts to raise academic performance; offer universal breakfast; lead the nation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programming; upgrade computers, labs and playfields; restore social work, counseling and nursing positions; and revive driver’s ed and extracurricular activities.

The result is what Bonds calls MPS’s “hidden miracle.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that it takes at least 11 years to turn around a struggling school district. Bonds, a seven-year veteran of the board, said MPS is on its way to making that happen despite massive political opposition.

“We’re in a place now where we’re seeing the benefits of the work that’s been done, and it’s been significant,” Bonds said last week at MPS’s district offices on Vliet Street. “I’ve always called it a hidden miracle. People were trying to put the nail in the coffin with the effort to drain the budget, but it didn’t kill us. We survived the mayor and the governor’s attempted takeover. But while all of this was going on we were making these changes. The foundation is set. We have a lot of work to do but when you look at where we were at, in the context of an expanding school voucher program and budget cuts, I think it’s phenomenal.”

MPS’s Open Books
Bonds was eager to talk about MPS’s improved finances, a mix of measures taken before Act 10 and some that were enabled by it. The district has ended full-time benefits for part-time workers, asked teachers to contribute to their health care and pension, reorganized its health plan, and has frozen pay and step increases for staff. It’s closed more than two dozen schools in the past few years, some of them for underperformance.

Perhaps as important, however, are the district’s efforts to clean up its books. “When I joined the board seven years ago, I was shocked that you had a billion-dollar budget and zero checks and balances on it,” Bonds said. “We went through the records and there were horror stories.” No-bid contracts have ended and sole-source contracts are greatly reduced, Bonds said, putting a stop to wasteful contracts for unneeded services. “This region was a gravy train for too many people,” Bonds said. “Including MPS critics.”

In addition, MPS has opened an Office of Accountability and used part of its $20.4 million GE grant to help central office staffers learn Lean Six Sigma principles. More than 40 employees have undergone Six Sigma training and have completed more than 20 projects. That’s helped, for example, MPS change the way it bids out contracts and take control over its vast textbook holdings. “GE took us to their facilities and trained us with their trainers,” said Robert DelGhingaro, MPS’s chief accountability officer. “Last Friday, they took another group, another 20 people, around the GE plant, showing them how they implement things and do things. They’ve been a big partner all the way along.” MPS has become so committed to transparency that every contract is posted on its website and its efforts have earned it an A+ rating from the national Sunshine Review, the only school district in Wisconsin to win this award.

Student Achievement Is Rising
MPS’s finances are only part of its story, however. Bonds acknowledges that MPS needs to raise its academic performance, especially among its minority students.

“The gains are incremental, but they are headed in the right direction,” Bonds said. “They are not at the pace we want them to go.”
But he said that programs are in place to provide kids with better academic opportunities, which has resulted in recognition from the Council of the Great City Schools. More charter and specialty schools are opening up. Centralizing the curriculum will help students who switch schools during the academic year or transfer in from voucher schools. College prep programs and entrance exams are emphasized, and MPS has won a national award for the number of female and minority students in STEM programs.

Bonds also said that the racial achievement gap is being addressed. He pointed to a 2012 Schott Foundation report on the graduation rates of black male students in which MPS ranked fairly low. But that study compared the city-only MPS to school districts that include wealthier suburbs, as well as urban schools. When compared to other city-only districts MPS is performing pretty well.
“When you look at some of these places that have had so-called miracles, like Detroit, Atlanta or Washington, we are actually doing better than them,” Bonds said.


The Quarter Century Con of Vouchers

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 12:17 pm

By Joel McNally Wednesday, June 4, 2014 Express Milwaukee

It’s taken a quarter of a century, but Republican taxpayers around the state and some of their representatives are finally starting to realize they’ve been hoodwinked by their own party’s flimflam advocacy of private school vouchers.

You have to hand it to the voucher movement, though. One of the biggest complaints about modern-day politics is that political leaders rarely look any further into the future than the next election.

The voucher movement has been one of the longest running cons in Wisconsin political history.

Private school vouchers began in 1990 with 300 Milwaukee students in seven schools at a cost of $700,000. Like that classic ’50s horror movie monster in The Blob, it has grown inexorably ever since into a statewide program with nearly 30,000 students and a cost approaching $230 million a year.
The shocking thing is that this wasn’t one of those big government programs by tax-and-spend Democrats. It was conservative Republicans gleefully feeding the beast. But anyone who looked closely at the Republicans’ rationale for their enormous spending increases knew from the start something was fishy.

Republicans claimed vouchers were a program to improve racial and economic equality by providing the same private school educational opportunities to poor, black children in Milwaukee’s inner city that were available to wealthy, white suburban children.
It’s not an overstatement to say the next Wisconsin Republican legislative proposal to improve the lives of poor African Americans in Milwaukee’s central city will be their first.

Many Republicans wouldn’t even deny it. Since they don’t want to think of themselves as nasty, mean-spirited people, they’ve created an entire political philosophy to justify cutting government assistance to poor families, no matter how badly in need those people are.
It’s based on the total fantasy that poverty is a choice. When government provides minimal means of survival—food assistance for hungry children, unemployment benefits when there are no jobs, health care for those who can’t afford it—Republicans say it encourages people to live a cushy life of poverty.
No one who has ever been poor could possibly believe that. Poverty isn’t just hard. It can be life threatening day after day after day.


Private School Students Get Taxpayer Funds
But if Republican leaders don’t really care about providing equal educational opportunities for the poor, what’s their real reason to continually expand taxpayer funding of private schools?

After the program went statewide, it suddenly became obvious. It turns out that vouchers have very little to do with giving public school students access to private schools.

Quite the contrary: It’s to stick taxpayers statewide with the bills for parents whose children already are attending private schools.
More than 3,400 students applied for a limited number of 1,000 private school vouchers for this fall. Only 22% of eligible students were from public schools. A whopping 71% of those applicants already are attending private schools.

And why not? Families who decide not to enroll their children in free, taxpayer-paid public schools used to have to pay for their own expensive, private school educations.

If taxpayers are suckers enough to pay for privileged children’s private school educations, parents would have to be fools not to let them. It’s particularly generous of state taxpayers, since one of the reasons many parents put their children into private schools is they don’t want them associating with the sort of riff raff who attend public schools. You know, the children of the majority of taxpayers.

Since those applications became public, even some outstate Republican leaders on education seem to realize for the first time what they’ve been doing for more than two decades as they’ve shifted money from public schools into private school vouchers.

“The question is, what is this purpose of this program?” said Ripon Republican state Sen. Luther Olsen, chair of the Senate Education Committee. “Is it a program to help poor kids get out of public schools or is it a program to pay for the tuition of kids who are already in private schools?

“It’s pretty obvious from the last two go-rounds”—with a majority of applications coming from students already in private schools—“that it’s the latter.” The tragedy, of course, is that while Republicans continue to increase taxpayer spending for a relatively small number of privileged private school students, Wisconsin public schools, which the overwhelming majority of taxpayers’ children attend, are being devastated by the largest educational cuts in state history.

To add insult to injury, research, which private schools resisted for many years, now shows students from comparable backgrounds perform just as well or better in public schools than they do in private schools.

Now that taxpayers statewide, including Republicans, are starting to realize they’ve been had by a long political con, it’s time to send those hundreds of millions for vouchers back to Wisconsin public schools where they will benefit the majority of our children instead of just a privileged few.


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