Friday, October 28, 2011

Vouchers: The inappropriate, unethical and perhaps illegal

In the run up to Senate Bill 1 (Voucher Bill) various citizens decided to make their opinions heard. Supporters and detractors called their Senators or emailed them. According to some insiders the volume was unprecedented. Awesome. Citizens doing their job. Regardless of your position, the idea that the citizens were active is something worth applauding. Right?

No. According Senator Eichelberger, the detractors of SB1 should have had their ability to express their concerns limited to an appropriate time and place and carried out with the appropriate hardware. As you can see from his blog post below, the Senator found it offensive that public school employees would take time during their break, or lunch, or on their way to work, or while on the commode to contact his office. According to the Senator if your working for the state you have no right to address your government. Interesting. However, what if these calls were from teachers during the school day and from a district phone? Is this really "unethical" or "illegal?" The state hired these teachers to advocate and do right by their students. It would seem to me that advocating for children during the hours of school is perfectly legal, maybe even mandatory.

However, what about the Senator? What was he doing during work hours at the expense of the taxpayers using taxpayer facilities? He was advocating breaking the law by passing an unconstitutional bill that would take resources from children, teachers, and schools. Seems a little unethical too. Hypocritical?

"I got some very interesting calls and emails today from public school folks. It is worth noting that many of the calls and emails came from school employees while on taxpayers time and using taxpayer funded equipment. Certainly, any citizen has the right to address their elected officials, but using public resources to advance their personal agenda is inappropriate, unethical and perhaps illegal. Many of the people who pay their salaries and bought that equipment do not share their views." Senator John Eichelberger

If you have time during "appropriate, ethical and legal" times maybe you can let the Senator know how much you appreciate his advocacy for the corporate education reformers and his disdain for public school employees.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pennsylvania and Vouchers: Now What?

FYI. Senate Bill 1 passed yesterday. Pennsylvania is a step closer to implementing a school voucher program. What? Everybody else is doing it. Shouldn't we?

No we should not. The facts are simple. Vouchers don't help kids in poor schools. Vouchers don't make neighboring schools better. Vouchers cost taxpayers more money.

However, all of this doesn't matter when you understand this fact. Proponents of vouchers don't really care if they "work." Voucher supporters' real motivation is to dismantle the public school system and replace it with a totally privatized system of education. PERIOD!

Now what? Time to write or call your local representative in the House. What should you say? That's up to you but here is what I said in an email to my local representative. Copy, paste, modify and send.

Dear Representative Stern,

I am sure you know that I am disappointed by your colleagues in the Senate. However, I hope that your position on the constitutionality of a voucher program remains strong. The rhetoric coming out of Senator Eichelberger is absolutely disgraceful and his disdain for teachers speaks volumes about his priorities to the children of Pennsylvania.

If there is anything I can do to help please let me know. I am not a politician but I do know a little bit about the "facts" and public education. And the facts about vouchers point out that they don't help anyone and in the end (when public education is gone) they will destroy "our" local communities.

Go and ask the people of Bellwood if they support a movement that will eventually suck the soul (the public school) from their community.

This is not a Republican vs Democrat issue. This is a values issue. Do we value our local public schools that support the cultural life of their respective communities? If we do, then we cannot create a voucher program that has all intentions of expanding into the entire system of public education. This is not about helping children. This is about dismantling the public schools of Pennsylvania. This is about giving up on the ideal that all children in Pennsylvania deserve a free, well rounded, and powerful education.

Your Friend,


Thursday, October 13, 2011

School Board Candidate: My Responses to the Press.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am actively trying to get elected to my local school board. Somehow I managed to get my name on the ballot in the May primary (by 1 vote). This was quite an accomplishment considering my community's suspicions about my motivation to be on the school board.

Quickly. Last year, according to "some people," my sole motivation was ending the annual Christmas concert. Funny, but a true story.

Well now that it is officially election season, the local newspaper sent me a few questions concerning my desire to be a member of the Bellwood-Antis School Board. The news director is compiling the responses of the candidates for a future print issue.

But why wait? Below are the questions and my responses. Christmas aside, I actually would like to win a seat so I worked pretty hard on my responses.

1. What is the biggest issue facing the Bellwood Antis school board and what can be done to resolve it.

There are two major issues facing the Bellwood-Antis SD that are deeply connected. First, our elected officials are pushing for more charter schools and a voucher plan that will allow any child to attend a private school at the expense of the taxpayers (you). The other related issue—The current Bellwood Antis school board consists of members that have no idea that the privatization of our school system is at stake. To make matters worse, there are other members of the board that actively support the same elected officials that believe public schools should be “selectively dismantled.” If elected I would first alert all the residents of the Bellwood-Antis School district of the threat to our community and our public schools. I will also do what ever it takes to make sure that the Bellwood Antis school board is responsive to the educational needs of the community and I will never support any legislation that weakens or threatens the existence of the Bellwood-Antis public schools.

Citizens need to realize that our public schools are the hearts of our local communities and that if they are dismantled the souls of our communities will be compromised.

2. Do you think school boards should have the ability to use exceptions to the Taxpayer Relief Act, or should any proposed taxes over the limit be up to a voter referendum?

The easiest way to get votes is to say no. However, this simple answer takes away the civic responsibility of the school district’s stakeholders (children, parents, teachers, and community members) to address the school board on important financial decisions. The Tax Payer Relief Act or any law that takes away the ability of local stake holders to make their own decisions seems condescending and a violation of the basic principles of self government. If the community of Bellwood, through discussions with the school board, wants to make financial adjustments to the school budget then why would anybody be in favor of limiting the ability of the citizens to make these decisions?

3. How would you help improve or maintain proficient academic standards while dealing with tight budgets in this economy?

Once you get rid of the PSSA (NCLB) system, PVAS, and Keystone Exams (Exit exams) a magical thing will happen—tight budgets disappear. We spend millions of dollars on standardized testing and managing data systems that have no academic benefit. Teachers are forced to prepare kids to pass meaningless tests that take away time from learning history, science, art, music, and physical education. Since the implementation of NCLB and PSSAs our students’ academic abilities have actually decreased. Over 50% of freshmen entering college need remedial math and writing even though they scored “proficient” on their PSSAs. National research on NCLB has even concluded that the amount of money spent on tests, testing, data systems, and the government bureaucrats paid to oversee the testing systems would have been better spent on school personnel and real resources (not test prep materials and coaches). Excellent teachers and staff, knowledgeable administrators, a strong curriculum, and engaged parents will better prepare our children academically and cost less than the meaningless PSSA system and the future Keystone exams.

4. What do you think about approaching vendors and businesses to sponsor school activities as a way to produce additional revenue for the district?

5. What do you think about approaching businesses for naming rights to district facilities as another way to raise revenues?

Questions four and five are too related to answer separately. A better question would be, why do public schools need to approach businesses as sponsors and for naming rights to generate “revenue?” If there is a revenue problem then the state is not living up to its constitutional obligation to, “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” However, if local businesses and vendors want to support their community public schools financially then that should be negotiated. I will say that when a community (people and businesses) supports their local public schools both the children and the community benefit.

What do you think? Do I have a chance?

Corbett, Rhee and Astroturf


The reforms aim to foster competition among schools and motivate improved student performance.

"We can't guarantee their success, but we owe all students a fighting chance," Corbett said in a statement Tuesday. "We're talking about our children and we owe it to them to reform the system."

Can someone please tell Governor Corbett that vouchers will "guarantee" mass failure and potentially collapse our public education system? He is right that we need to "reform" the system. However, why not use reforms that are supported by research instead of the corporate reforms that have been demonstrated repeatedly to fail children, parents, teachers and communities?

"The bipartisan support this proposal has received speaks to the need for the kind of transparent, rigorous and fair accountability system this would create in Pennsylvania," Rhee said in the statement. "Similarly, our grassroots members support the measure in that it expands educational opportunities for all children regardless of family income by allowing great charter schools to thrive and expand."
Also, can someone tell Michelle Rhee that StudentsFirst is an astroturf organization?

Friday, October 7, 2011

How to privatize public education in 12 easy steps.

Morna McDermott McNulty

Associate Professor

College of Education

Towson University

1) Manufacture a crisis and instill public fear. Waiting for Superman. (LINK:

2) Create a rallying cry for the need for ACTION to save citizens from some danger- which involves eliminating those posing a threat. In this case, public educators. Bring in your own “private” troops (Blackwater? No. Teach for America and people trained at new “innovative leadership centers”)

3) Create a system which becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. High stakes testing policies which will doom schools and children to failure. A convenient way to “prove” the grounds for #’s 1 and 2.


4) Use of “savior” language-sound bite messages which co opt terms that average people identify as favorable such as “innovation,” “reform,” and “choice.”

5) Deflect the FACTS with spectacular dog and pony show media blasts and hide the truth under glossy presentations of the agenda. Disguise this ideology of greed under the umbrella of “freedom” and “saving children.”

6) Create legislation that politically and financially benefits the stakeholders of those same policies by forging under the table alliances between big business and state legislators. See ALEC exposed (LINK:

7) Launder these policies through seemingly beneficial non-profit agencies and corporate philanthropy where the origins cannot be traced easily.

8) These same corporations now open for profit charter schools and online schools and other “options” in lieu of “failing public education.” When children attend these “schools” the per pupil funding that would have gone to support the local public schools is now funneled into the new for profit alternative. (LINK:

9) Make inside deals with the textbook and testing companies that these schools will use. Billions of dollars of profits to these companies while public schools languish from lack of resources. Mandated testing forces schools to redirect monies to testing that could have otherwise been spent on hiring teachers to reduce class size or provide needed learning materials. (LINK:

10) Hide and twist the data that shows that charter alternatives perform NO BETTER than their public counterparts (see step 5). LINK:

11) Manipulate legislation in ways that benefit “choice” alternatives so that certain populations of students who would make their schools “look bad” can be denied access to those schools and can be provided with ample resources that could have also improved public schools if only THEY had the funds. See “model” bills proposed by ALEC at,_Higher_Ed_Policy,_and_Teachers

12) Public schools, as result of steps 1-10, would now in fact be failing and as a result, the free market ideology prevails and can feel justified in their actions. The cycle back to step #1 is now complete. Public education now becomes Education Incorporated.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Journalism Please!

Letter to the Editor to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that was ignored.

"The competition that charter schools create for traditional public school systems is good and should help to improve educational quality, according to state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis."

There is not a shred of educational, economic, or social science research to support Tomalis' claim that competition between charter schools and traditional public schools improves educational quality. However, there is a significant amount of research that essentially suggests that Tomalis has absolutely no idea what he is talking about and is really just peddling propaganda.

There is a time to point out the things our public officials say when they are untrue. I have done this consistently over the years. However, it might be nice if just once, the "press" actually did their job and stopped telling us what officials have said and actually challenged our officials on the stupid things they say. As an example, the quote above comes from a "story" (Education chief: Variety is important) that is nothing more than a PR piece for the Corbett administration's plans to dismantle the public school system. The entire article is devoted to informing the public what Tomalis is saying. Not once does the Post Gazette actually challenge Tomalis.

Examples: "The secretary said charter schools are becoming such a popular choice that if all of the students were in one district, it would be the second-largest in the state." He said school districts should create more innovative programs to keep or bring back students. That's competition. That's exactly the way you want it to work...."

And interviewing Thomas Gentzel, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, does not help because he opposes Tomalis. Gentzel might be pitching his own propaganda. We in the public don't need to know what the Hatfields and the McCoys are saying. We need to know who's statements are supported by research and empirical evidence—we need journalism.