LeBron’s School Should Be Every School — Public, Fully Funded, and with Arms Around the Community

By Ari Bloomekatz

There are few public schools receiving as much attention these days as LeBron James’ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio — and it’s because it’s just that: a public school.

The school opened this summer to 240 3rd and 4th graders who were randomly selected out of a pool of those in the district significantly behind in reading. They will add a grade each academic year and plan to be a 1–8 school by 2022.

“I cannot say how impressed I am that the school @kingjames is opening today to serve low-performing students is a traditional public school. Instead of taking resources from the Akron Public Schools, he is adding to them. This is doing the work. Bravo,” tweeted investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Because it’s a public school, it also means teachers will be unionized. But one defining aspect is its commitment to wraparound support that the school’s principal notes includes a family resource center on school grounds.

“We’re not only into nurturing and loving our students, but we are wrapping around — our arms around the entire family,” Brandi Davis, the school’s principal, told NPR.

Celebrities and millionaires and billionaires and tech giants and titans of industry and sports stars have a long and sordid history of thinking they know what’s best when it comes to education — and trying to profit off it.

>>> This article is from the new fall issue of Rethinking Schools. While it looks great online, it’s best in print. Subscribe now at http://www.rethinkingschools.org/subscribe <<<

They either try to remake the wheel or overwhelmingly invest in private enterprises and charters that often end up draining already scarce resources from the same public school districts they claim to be helping.

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“This Is Our Time, This is Our Moment”: Los Angeles Teachers Are Ready to Strike

An interview with Arlene Inouye, chair of UTLA’s bargaining committee
By Ari Bloomekatz

Mediation between the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles failed in mid-October, and now we’re closer than ever to seeing 33,000 educators walk off the job and strike for better pay, smaller class sizes, and substantive investments in student health among other services.

“The district thinks they can buy us off with a modest pay raise, but our fight has never been just about salary,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement. “What’s driving educators is the absolute need to fix what we see every day: too many overcrowded classrooms where kids have to share desks, schools with a nurse only one day a week, and overloaded psychologists and counselors doing their best to triage the socio-emotional needs of our students.”

UTLA members say they also want to reduce the number of mandated standardized tests, hold charter schools accountable, improve school safety, and ensure that public education in L.A. is sustained for the next generation.

Both the LAUSD and UTLA are of course claiming the other negotiated in bad faith. And the next step in the process after mediation is fact-finding — the Public Employment Relations Board will assemble a three-member panel (the board appoints the chair and both the union and the district get a seat) that will issue a report and recommendations. After this report is made public, the choice is to either accept the recommendations, or LAUSD can offer their last and best final offer, or the union will strike.

According to the Los Angeles Times, that process could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

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The two sides have been negotiating for around a year and a half and if there was ever any question if the 33,000-member UTLA was ready to strike, that notion was shattered right as the school year began when an unprecedented 83 percent of United Teachers Los Angeles — roughly 27,000 of 33,000 total members — voted almost unanimously (98 percent to be specific) to authorize a strike if negotiations ultimately proved futile.

“After 17 months of bargaining with LAUSD, educators are frustrated and angry,” Arlene Inouye, chair of the UTLA bargaining committee, said at the time. “We want a district that partners with us — not fights us — on critical issues like lower class sizes, fair pay, and bringing more staff to work with our students.”

I sat down with Inouye in September to talk about the prospects of a strike and how UTLA was preparing and able to get so many members on board.

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Despite National Outrage, Scholastic Defends Children’s Books Celebrating Trump

By Deborah Menkart

His buildings reached into the sky.
His businesses just grew and grew.
Then Trump became our president — people wanted something new.

Believe it or not, this poem is included in a picture book about President Trump, published by Scholastic Inc. for 5- to 7-year-olds — and sums up its message.

A companion version for 8- to 12-year-olds is no better. It dedicates 10 glowing pages to Trump’s business career, high-rises, and casinos, but does not include any reference to his outspoken racism, sexism, and xenophobia.

There is a page dedicated to New York City’s Central Park where Trump is credited with rebuilding the Wollman ice skating rink in 1986. No mention is made of another Central Park story, Trump’s crusade against the Central Park Five (all teenagers at the time), including spending $85,000 in 1989 for full-page ads in all four New York daily newspapers calling for a reinstatement of the death penalty. This is a crucial story for understanding Trump’s long history of using racism and law-and-order rhetoric to garner support.

>>> This Ed Alert is from the new fall issue of Rethinking Schools. While it looks great online, it’s best in print. Subscribe at http://www.rethinkingschools.org/subscribe <<<

By dedicating most of the book to Trump’s fancy buildings and TV shows, the implication is that his business experience and stardom led to his election. Although there are a couple of references to prejudice and discrimination, racism is not mentioned once.

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Nurturing Student Activists in the Time of Trump

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

The 2018–19 school year has begun at a time of terrifying climate disruption, seemingly endless war, spectacular inequality, xenophobic and fascist revival, police brutality — and a president fanning the flames of all of the above.

But the year also begins during a renaissance of student activism: around racism and police violence, climate justice, solidarity with immigrants, gun violence, sexual abuse and harassment, and fighting school closures.

So how do social justice educators deepen and support this activism, and seed future activism? How do we equip students to act thoughtfully and effectively? And where are the lines between education and manipulation?

The first way we support student activism is through our curricular choices. Throughout the K–12 curriculum, we want to highlight individuals and movements that challenged injustice, that were grounded in solidarity. We need to make activism common sense. Our curriculum should emphasize that the world becomes more just only when people organize and fight — in the abolition movement, the labor movement, the women’s movement, civil rights and anti-racist movements, antiwar movements.

>>> This editorial is from the new fall issue of Rethinking Schools. While it looks great online, it’s best in print. Subscribe at http://www.rethinkingschools.org/subscribe <<<

We should make special efforts to introduce students to young people who worked for justice through collective action — in SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, the Chicano student blowouts, the anti-Vietnam War movement, etc. Students should learn that these movements were not built by charismatic leaders but by young people like themselves.

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ED ALERT: Fighting Manufactured Chaos in Puerto Rico’s Public Schools

By Mercedes Martínez and Jia Lee

August 13 marked the first day of school for more than 319,000 students and 22,000 teachers in Puerto Rico. But instead of feeling prepared to start strong a year after Hurricane Maria, school communities across the island braced themselves for the manufactured mess to come.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló, in collaboration with the Puerto Rican legislature and Education Secretary Julia Keleher, signed Law 85 in March. It decreed a voucher system, charter schools, and that 252 schools would be closed (on top of the 190 that were closed in 2017 as part of a neoliberal agenda that aims to undermine public education).

The result is that an island fraught with uncertainty developed another level of chaos with school choice reforms all too familiar to those in post-Katrina New Orleans.

While schools in perfectly good condition in Puerto Rico were closed, others still in disrepair became receiver schools. Before the year even started, teachers in buildings with part of the roof missing reported that they were forced to teach outside in the heat or in ill-prepared rooms with no air conditioners and insufficient furniture and supplies. Overcrowding led to the Department of Education ordering FEMA trailers to accommodate the overflow of students.

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EDITORIAL: The Important Role Teachers Play in Resisting Trump’s War on Immigrant Families

“Aren’t Grown-Ups Supposed to Keep Kids Safe?”
By the editors of Rethinking Schools

Kina, the 6-year-old daughter of one of our editors, walked into her living room one day over the summer and saw children huddled under Mylar blankets on the TV. “What are those kids doing in there?” she asked. “Are they in jail?”

Our editor, her mom, explained that the kids had been separated from their parents, and that their parents were probably in a different jail.

“Aren’t grown-ups supposed to keep kids safe?” Kina asked.

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Credit Jess X. Snow

As children return to our classrooms this fall, after another summer of horrific events, they too have questions like Kina’s. As educators, we are responsible for thinking about how to respond.

Children — more than 2,500 — were torn away and separated from their parents since the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” (that all adults who crossed the southern border would be criminally prosecuted) went into effect in May. Though Trump halted the policy after immense public outcry a few weeks later, hundreds of children still remain separated and in government custody (497 as of Aug. 27).

>>> This editorial is from the new fall issue of Rethinking Schools. While it looks great online, it’s best in print. Subscribe at http://www.rethinkingschools.org/subscribe <<<

These children are living in child prisons, and their families have little way of finding them or learning of the conditions under which they are being held. Kids have been taken to at least 100 shelters in 17 states, some operated by private contractors who benefit financially from this manufactured crisis.

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Bill Ayers on Arne Duncan’s How Schools Work

By Bill Ayers

If you pick up Arne Duncan’s How Schools Work hoping to learn something about, well, unsurprisingly I suppose, about “how schools work,” you’ll be sorely disappointed. There’s no policy prescription here, no substantive analysis whatsoever, and no actual accounts or examples of how schools work. Instead we’re treated to random stories that circulate around several stuttering themes: Duncan’s dismay and then anger when poor kids are told they’re doing OK by school people when in reality they don’t have the skills to go to college; his encounters with enraged parents that happily end when they chill out after he shows them that his heart is true and his intentions pure; and his insistent defense of “big data” and high stakes standardized tests when promoting his preferred school “reform” goals.

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Bill Ayers

The subtitle isn’t especially helpful either: “An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education.” That might have proved useful, but the reader searches in vain for fresh perspectives or insights, for some discovery or surprise, contradiction or conflict, for an inquiring mind thinking out loud as it engages a conversation with itself — anything at all that might be generative. What’s on offer instead is untroubled categories and settled conclusions. Arne Duncan learns nothing at all — neither in his many years at the helm of Chicago’s and then the nation’s schools, nor in the process of writing this personal account. 

Failure and success? An inside account? A good memoir might fruitfully explore all of that, but it would have to be free from the brutality of dogma and self-righteousness, which Duncan can’t quite manage. He’s a dedicated corporate reformer, avidly endorsing the underlying thesis that education is a product to be sold at the market place rather than a fundamental human right and community responsibility, and embracing the entire triple threat: reducing the definition of school success (for other people’s children) to a single metric on a standardized test; marginalizing or crushing the collective voice of teachers; and auctioning off the public space to private managers and entrepreneurs. None of this is up for discussion or review, and that makes the entire account tedious and entirely predictable.
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