Why the Term ‘Implicit Bias’ Has to Go

junkscience

by Christopher Paslay

It’s negative, hypocritical, and does nothing to open minds and solve problems.

Earlier this week, Texas high school English teacher Melissa Garcia wrote an article for Education Week headlined, “Why Teachers Must Fight Their Own Implicit Biases.” In it she cautions teachers not to judge a book by its cover when dealing with new pupils, which is good advice; as educators, we should be proactive instead of reactive, and remain fully present with our students by staying in the moment without labeling or judging them.

Only Garcia doesn’t use the words don’t judge a book by its cover, or be proactive rather than reactive, or be fully present without labeling or judging. She chooses the phrase implicit bias, which not only carries a negative connotation (I don’t know a single person who is proud of having a so-called “implicit bias”), but is also inherently political and dualistic, and in my experience tends to make teachers defensive, causing them to close their minds rather than open them.

Still, Garcia seems genuinely interested in helping improve education, and goes on to write about the importance of first impressions at the beginning of a new school year. She states:

In these moments, as students mingle and shyly interact with one another, we the teachers begin to make the very crucial observations that will affect our perceptions, and thus inform our expectations, of each student that school year.

Research has shown that before teachers even have a conversation with a student, they have already formulated a number of opinions based on that student’s race, appearance, and other factors—and begun to form a certain set of expectations. . . .

Regardless of how much we may like to think of ourselves as progressive educators, the reality is that our subconscious is at work. . . . These subconscious thoughts and feelings are known as implicit biases. Whether our perceptions are positive or negative, they have an impact; they determine expectations, and these expectations dictate how we teach. Studies show that teacher expectations are closely linked to student achievement and success.

In a nutshell, Garcia isn’t saying anything we haven’t known for decades: teachers make observations about their new students, which lead to expectations that have an impact on student achievement.

What is relatively new, however, is the term “implicit bias,” and the idea that an educator can filter out these so-called negative subconscious prejudices by learning to be more aware of them. Also new are the implicit bias training sessions that are popping up everywhere—from Starbucks to the Philadelphia School District—which are being run by lawyers, CEO’s, and activists with little to no training in clinical counseling or psychology; amazingly, input on the Starbucks training came solely from lawyers, CEO’s, and activists, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

From a clinical standpoint, the new phenomenon known as “implicit bias” is junk science. Especially the notion that the extraordinarily popular Implicit Association Test (IAT) can measure either real bias or predict human behavior with any accuracy.

Last year, New York magazine published a lengthy article debunking the IAT, stating:

A pile of scholarly work, some of it published in top psychology journals and most of it ignored by the media, suggests that the IAT falls far short of the quality-control standards normally expected of psychological instruments. The IAT, this research suggests, is a noisy, unreliable measure that correlates far too weakly with any real-world outcomes to be used to predict individuals’ behavior — even the test’s creators have now admitted as such.

The notion of “implicit bias” is clearly more about politics than it is about counseling. Ask any psychiatrist if you can suddenly become aware of the complex language of your subconscious simply by deciding to notice your “implicit biases” and they will laugh you out of the building; traditionally, analyzing the subconscious is done through psychotherapy, hypnosis, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), among other approaches.

From a clinical standpoint, an educator’s tendency to make a snap judgement of a student is much more related to that teacher’s conditioning, not the complexities of his or her subconscious. The root of conditioning is something called learning. According to B.F. Skinner, Learning is an adaptive function by which our nervous system changes in relation to stimuli in the environment, thus changing our behavioral responses and permitting us to function in our environment. And those of us who have any clinical training (I’m a certified secondary school counselor in PA and my wife is a licensed clinical social worker in three states) know that there are three main types of learning: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning.

So it’s conditioning that causes an educator to make a rash judgement of a new student, not technically “subconscious thoughts and feelings,” but I digress.

The point is this: the whole “implicit bias” theory is oversimplified gobbledygook, and although some educators have adopted it with good intentions, the fact remains it’s inherently political. Specifically, it can be used to set policy and control the narrative on race, among other things.

Take the 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that showed Black students were more than three times as likely as their White peers to be suspended or expelled. Why was this the case? Because America’s teachers, which were 84 percent White, were racist. Were there any documented cases of discrimination in the classroom? No, but the teachers were institutionally racist. Or, according to today’s buzz phrase, they had an “implicit bias”; the fact that Black students were three times as poor as their White peers didn’t seem to factor into the equation.

So President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan chastised American teachers for being racist and implemented a bunch of strangling regulations that made it harder to suspend students of certain races (robbing many children of their right to an education in the process), and guess what happened? Nothing; in 2018, Black students are still more than three times as likely as their White peers to be suspended or expelled.

But at least politically, you can absolve certain races of responsibility and blame others.

Which is why the notion of “implicit bias” has to go. It’s negative, hypocritical, and does nothing to open minds and solve problems. If we as teachers want to remain fully present with our students and stay free of judgements, why don’t we keep things simple and say instead: Be proactive, not reactive. And never judge a book by its cover.

Why Teachers’ Unions Are Losing Membership (And Dues)

Teachers Unions

by Christopher Paslay

Surveys show that many teachers see their unions as too leftist.

America needs organized labor, especially when it comes to our country’s educators. For decades, teachers (most of whom were women with no political rights) were offered low pay and had no control over their working conditions or the direction of their profession.

In 1857, forty-three educators came together in Philadelphia to change all of that. Forming what would become the National Education Association (NEA), the new union focused on raising teacher salaries, reforming child labor laws, and educating emancipated slaves.

A half-century later, a sixth-grade schoolteacher from Chicago named Margaret Haley came along. Frustrated by her low wage and the treatment she was receiving from her principal, Haley joined a group of elementary schoolteachers from Chicago in 1916 and went on to form the American Federation of Teachers, whose goal was to unify educators across the country.

Throughout the 20thCentury, the NEA and AFT would go on to fight for the rights of teachers, women, and minorities—not only revolutionizing the education profession by securing fair wages and safe working conditions—but also helping to bring equality to America’s marginalized groups along the way.

But in 2018, America’s two biggest teachers’ unions find themselves in a challenging situation. According to Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy organization, teachers’ unions may be losing power. She writes:

Make no bones about it. Teachers unions are reeling from a game-changing decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. . . . The public may not have much noticed, but unions feel they are standing at a precipice, not at all certain they can maintain the power they’re long accustomed to wielding.

After the high court sided with Janus in Janus vs. AFSCME, public-sector workers will no longer be required to contribute to their unions, something nearly half of all states — including Minnesota — require regardless of whether teachers choose to belong to the union. The nation’s largest union, the National Education Association (NEA), having just held its annual convention in Minneapolis, expects to be hard hit. It’s anyone’s best guess how many of the 78,000 active teachers who currently contribute to the Education Minnesota union will opt out in the years ahead, but the initial hit will almost certainly include some 7,000 teachers who have already registered their discontent over having been forced to contribute.

Internal documents from the NEA predict the union could lose up to 300,000 members nationwide. The AFT, which has 15 of its 22 largest state affiliates in former agency-fee states, will be affected even more by Janus.

So why are teachers’ unions having such an issue with dues and membership? Union officials will undoubtedly point the finger at the Janus ruling, but this is by no means an adequate answer. The recent Supreme Court decision doesn’t bar educators from joining unions or paying dues, it simply gives them a choice. The real question that must be addressed is this: Why, if given the choice of joining a union and paying dues, are so many teachers opting out?

One major reason, other than simple finances, is that teachers’ unions have become far too political as of late. More specifically, they’ve veered too far left. According to Walsh, independent surveys consistently report that only half of all teachers see their union as “essential” and that many see “political activity as too leftist.”

Incredibly, only half of all teachers voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. This is quite concerning, given the fact that the NEA and AFT combined to donate $33 million to political campaigns in 2016—over 93 percent to Democrats. But the fact that the Democrats lost the Presidency in 2016 (and over 1,000 total seats, including the House and the Senate, during the Obama years), doesn’t seem to register with union officials. Instead of taking stock of the diverse political affiliations and interests of their members, the NEA and AFT have done the complete opposite: they’ve doubled-down on their polarizing agendas, becoming even more political and even more leftist than ever before.

At the NEA’s annual convention in Minneapolis early this month, the union presented former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick with their highest honor—the NEA’s President’s Award. Perhaps awarding Kaepernick, a man whom many see as disrespectful to law enforcement and the military, wasn’t the best choice when trying to increase union membership? That wasn’t the only thing that could be seen as polarizing by new teachers trying to decide if they want to become NEA members. According to the National Review:

The NEA adopted 122 total New Business Items, including commitments to promote the Black Lives Matter Week of Action (including supporting BLM’s demand that “ethnic studies be taught in pre-K-12 schools”), to support “a strategy postponing confirmation of a Supreme Court justice until after the mid-term election,” and to encourage teachers to assign readings that “describe and deconstruct the systemic proliferation of a White supremacy culture and its constituent elements of White privilege and institutional racism.” The NEA also promised to respond “in support of and in solidarity with immigrant families who are separated, incarcerated, or refused their legal right to request asylum due to the heartless, racist, and discriminatory zero-tolerance policies of the Trump administration.”

Basically, the NEA is saying screw you to any current or future member who supports the President, which is quite mind-boggling, being that nearly 63 million Americans voted for Trump in 2016—over 105,000 of them from Philadelphia alone.

The AFT went hard left as well. They unanimously endorsed a “public investment strategy for health care and education infrastructure,” which includes free tuition at all public colleges and universities, and “taxation of the rich to fully fund” a raft of education programs.

Again, doubling-down on a socialist agenda might not be the best approach when trying to court future dues-paying union members, especially if the AFT is interested in any political diversity whatsoever (which clearly they’re not).

Remember: The Janus decision merely provides America’s teachers with a choice: To join/pay dues, or not to join/pay dues. The fact that more and more teachers are opting for the latter might be a wakeup call to union officials to become a little more politically diverse, or at least soften some of their left-leaning political agendas.

Starbucks and the Hogwash Known as Implicit Bias

Starbucks

by Christopher Paslay

The supposed implicit bias seen at a Philadelphia Starbucks is similar to the ‘spectral evidence’ seen during the Salem Witch Trials.

By now we know the story.  Two black men went into a Philadelphia coffee shop last Thursday in Rittenhouse Square, planning to meet-up with a friend.  One or both of the men asked to use the bathroom (amazingly, the story still lacks key details at this point), and were told by a Starbucks manager that the restrooms were for paying customers only, and were asked to leave.

The two men didn’t leave.  Or buy anything.  They sat down at a table, ignoring the manager.  The manager, a white female, called the police.  “Hi, I have two gentlemen in my café that are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” the manager said, according the the 911 call. “I’m at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce.”

The 911 dispatcher responded: “Alright, police will be out as soon as possible.”

The police came and respectfully tried to explain to the men, for nearly 15 minutes, that they needed to leave or be charged with trespassing.  According to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, the police gave the men three chances to leave, but they didn’t move.  Finally, the two men were escorted out in handcuffs.

Why?

Not because the two men ignored the store policy and the authority of the manager (they could have simply purchased a cookie for a few dollars), and not because they ignored the polite requests by police to exit the store.  No; the two men were arrested because the police officers (one of whom is black) are racist.

Because the Starbucks manager is racist.

Not consciously racist, mind you, but unconsciously.  That’s the kicker.  The conscious intent of the store manager and police doesn’t matter here, even if they didn’t mean any harm.  Even if the manager was simply following store policy (the facilities are for paying customers only) and the police were simply following the law (it’s trespassing when you refuse to leave private property).

The verdict being rendered by social justice warriors across America is that the police and the Starbucks manager have an implicit bias.  How do we know?  Because people like Melissa DePino, an upper-middle-class white woman who does marketing for nonprofits, say so.  She took the video of the two men getting arrested.  In an article published on CNN.com, she stated:

. . . none of this attention I’m getting for tweeting the video that showed the horrific treatment of two young black men in Philadelphia just doing what we all do at Starbucks—sitting and talking quietly—should be about me or any other person who does not experience these kinds of indignities, threats of violence and discrimination every day. . . . How did these two men feel as they were arrested? Why did this incident happen? What can we do to make sure that incidents like these—and worse—stop happening?

Well, one way to stop this from happening is to respect store policy.  When a manager explains that you must make a purchase in order to remain in the store, you make a purchase or leave; this is guaranteed to keep the peace in any coffee shop in America.  As for the matter of getting handcuffed by police?  Perhaps you might want to respect their authority as well, and not completely ignore them when they tell you to exit the building.

But according to people like DePino, the two black men experienced “horrific treatment” not because of their refusal to comply with a very reasonable store policy, but because of the implicit bias of the store manager and the police (one of whom was black).  That’s their verdict—implicit racial bias.  Case closed.  The proof?  Because people like DePino say so.  Are the people who cry implicit racial bias experts in psychology, psychiatry, or applied behavioral science?  No.  Do they have any clinical training whatsoever?  Not at all.

Were the arresting officers and the Starbucks manager psychoanalyzed by a professional, or put under hypnosis?  Were anecdotal records kept of their interactions with other customers in and around the store?  Do we have any documented evidence that the Starbuck’s manger treated these two black men any differently than any other people?  (When I say evidence, I mean real, empirical data showing that the behavior of the police and store manager was biased, not speculation from latte-drinking folks like DePino, who possibly suffer from white-guilt and project their own unresolved prejudices on the world around them.)

Do we have anything like this?

Of course not.

But this doesn’t stop DePino and the social justice folk from calling the Starbucks manager and members of the Philadelphia Police Department racists, and completely destroying their reputations (and in the case of the Starbucks manager, her career).  This doesn’t stop them from claiming they have, get this—an unconscious bias—not one that the manager or police can see, but only they can see.

How do you know the Starbucks manager has an implicit bias, Ms. DePino?  How are you able to get inside her unconscious and know her racial prejudices?  Seriously?  How do you do it?  If the manager were to say she called the police because she was simply following store policy, and insisted it had nothing to do with skin color, how could you prove otherwise?  How do you know, really know, this isn’t true?  The police have already stated that they didn’t act on skin color, so are you calling them liars?  Are you a mind reader, is that it?  You know their intentions better than they do themselves?

Witch TrialsThis so-called “implicit bias” is very similar to the “spectral evidence” that was used to
convict people of being witches during the Salem Witch Trials in the 17th century.  Townspeople who had a gripe with a neighbor could claim that they were attacked by the neighbor’s spirit, and the only proof was the testimony of the victim.  Many, many people were killed until folks started to realize the absurdity of the situation—the fact that there was absolutely no conclusive way to prove such crimes.

Interestingly, there’s no conclusive way to prove implicit bias.  Project Implicit, which was founded by Harvard professors and describes itself as “a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition—thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control,” is a recognized expert on the subject.  You can even go on their website and take a test to see if you have an implicit racial bias.  However, the organization has posted a disclaimer.  It states, “these Universities, as well as the individual researchers who have contributed to this site, make no claim for the validity of these suggested interpretations.”

Incredibly, even the experts on implicit bias admit there is no validity for the results of their tests.  Loose translation: implicit bias is hogwash.

Granted, people are subject to conditioning and often use life experiences to make important decisions.  In addition, the way we interpret the world is based on physiological, psychological, and sociological factors.  But no one has the right to tell another person what they were thinking at the time they made a choice, nor do they have the right to claim to know a person’s intent better than that person themselves, whether conscious or unconscious.

Any attempts to do so is outrageous, and dangerously close to 17th century Salem.

Planned Student Walkout Against Guns is Honorable, Though Misguided

Walkout

Although fighting for school safety is honorable, Philadelphia school students should be in class during the instructional day, not engaging in walkouts organized by adults with underlying political agendas.  

by Christopher Paslay

Outraged by the recent shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, students at Philadelphia area schools have decided to take a stand—or at least they’ve been encouraged by adult activists to do so.  At exactly 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14th, they plan on walking out of class for 17 minutes in an effort to change current gun laws.  The walkout is being organized by the Women’s March Network, the same activist group behind the Women’s March that protested President Trump’s inauguration.

The group states on its website that its aim is “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.  We need action.”

By “action” the group means baiting teenagers to ditch instruction.

How does William Hite, Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, feel about the walkout during school hours?

“I’ll probably participate,” he said, explaining that students who decide to get up and leave class in the middle of the lesson will not be penalized.

With all due respect to Dr. Hite, his unofficial endorsement of the walkout, although well-intentioned, is misguided.

School safety is a priority, and a holistic plan to protect our students and communities—one that involves social, psychological, and mental health components—is needed.  Improved gun laws may be part of this equation, too; we need to better enforce the laws that already exist, for starters.

But the school day is no time for a protest, especially one being organized by adults—not students.  I’ve been teaching in Philadelphia for over 20 years, and during that time, there have been dozens of protests.  A massive movement opposing the takeover of the School District by the for-profit Edison Schools, in conjunction with Mayor Street, comes to mind.  But even at its most contentious, students were not permitted to walk out of the building during school hours; the protests were officially held after the school day was over.

In fact, the School District’s policy has been to strictly forbid walkouts during instructional hours.  In 2011, Hope Moffett, a schoolteacher at Audenried High School, was suspended by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman for supposedly organizing a protest during school hours.  Although Moffett was later cleared, the School District argued such protests were a danger to student safety, and put an undue burden on police to keep order on city streets.

Even when 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs was gunned down outside Peirce Elementary School in North Philadelphia in 2004 by a drug dealer’s bullet, students did not walk out of class; a march was organized, but not involving teenagers during instructional time.

The protest planned for March 14 is not without safety concerns.  Keeping track of students once they exit the building is going to be difficult, as is enforcing the 17 minute time limit.  No doubt truancy rates will rise during this time, opening up the possibility of mischief and further rule breaking.

Academics will also suffer.  Lessons will be interrupted, and the learning environment before and after the walkout will be compromised.

This doesn’t even begin to address the political side of the protest, and the fact that it’s clearly indoctrinating students to one-side of the gun control debate.  Is it really the School District’s place to take a side on an issue as sensitive as gun control?  What will parents of students who are gun-supporters think when they learn their child’s education has been interrupted for a gun control protest?

Sure, the walkout’s not being directly labeled as such, but the gun reform narrative is clear enough.  Which begs the question: why now?  Where’s the outrage been for all the gun homicides in our own neighborhoods for the past 10 years?  For the hundreds of Philadelphians murdered each year, not by a lawfully purchased assault rifle, but by an urban felon’s weapon of choice—an illegal handgun?

And why a walkout?  Perhaps a more respectful way to make a statement and remember victims of the Florida school shooting would be to have a vigil, not a protest.  Why not have students and staff come in 17 minutes early before the school day starts, and light candles or read poems?  Have an informational picket to make the community aware of concerns?

Interestingly, the students I’ve spoken with don’t even know why they’re walking out.  Some have told me it’s to protest Trump.  Others have said it’s to stand in solidarity with Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.  My response to this is, To stand in solidarity to what end?  The answer to this question is obvious: To stand in solidarity for gun reform.  Words like “solidarity” and “walkout” have clear political connotations, which reveal the true underlying agenda of the supposed altruistic event—to politic for gun control.

Those schools who genuinely want to show support for the victims of the Florida school shooting may want to drop the politically charged “walkout” for “solidarity,” and have a memorial or extended moment of silence.  This could be done during an advisory period or special assembly schedule, one that includes all students, not just those who stand on the liberal side of the gun reform debate.

Interestingly, many students don’t have an opinion on the matter either way.  All they know is that they get to walk out of class, and the chaotic nature of the protest is troubling, especially since it’s being directed from the Women’s March Network from afar.

Philadelphia school students should be in class during the instructional day, not engaging in walkouts organized by adults with underlying political agendas.

White Flight Makes ‘In the Margins’ 2018 Top 10 Award List

White Flight.JPGBoy

From the School Library Journal:

Now in its sixth year, the In the Margins Book Awards has revealed the top picks in the Fiction, Nonfiction, and Social Justice/Advocacy Award categories, from books published in 2016 and 2017 that appeal to the reading needs and wants of marginalized young adults.

The committee is comprised of librarians who currently work or have recently worked with youth in these challenging circumstances. Not only do we read and discuss the multitude of books that we consider, but have the unique experience of having young adults assisting us in selecting the books by reading and sharing their opinions with us. With all of the enthusiasm that these young people make, we have created a reading list that is unlike many others.

The fall of 2016 and 2017 brought an abundance of quality books appealing to the reading needs and wants of marginalized young adults along with books addressing the myriad of social issues faced by these youth.  While this complicated our task of selecting the best books to recommend, it did lead to many passionate discussions, and all of us were thrilled by the number of meaningful books that filled our reading boxes.

We used our mission statement as our guide when deciding which books we would honor as our Top Ten.  Mission Statement: To seek out and highlight fiction and nonfiction titles (Pre-K through adult) of high-interest appeal to youth, ages 9–21, that reflect marginalized and/or street culture with a preference for marginalized books (books that are self-published or from small independent publishers).

Our Top Ten List recognizes books that appeal to and reflect the marginalized youths’ daily lives and many are either self-published or small press books often overlooked by book awards.  Our list of fifty-two additional books contains books with the same focus, but also includes titles from major publishers.

Click here to review In the Margins 2018 Top 10 Titles.

In the Margins

White Flight: Preview Free Ebook on Amazon

White Flight.JPGBoy

Amazon is offering White Flight for free today.  Any teacher interested in previewing the high interest novel for reluctant readers can download the ebook free of charge on Amazon (today only). 

When 16-year-old Daryl Kerns (black) witnesses a shooting on the basketball courts one summer evening in Philadelphia, he vows to keep silent. It isn’t until Daryl’s best friend Alex Murphy (white) persuades him to cooperate with authorities does Daryl come forward and agree to testify. But when Daryl is killed in front of Alex several weeks later in retaliation for talking to police, the tables quickly turn: Now Alex must decide if he will be strong enough to take his own advice and speak to detectives about Daryl’s murder.

White Flight is young adult novel in verse. Through 82 interconnected open form poems, Alex tells the story of his slowly deteriorating neighborhood, and of his struggle with his crushing secret: the brutal shooting death of his best friend, Daryl. Alex also reflects on the issues of white flight, urban police, sexual harassment, and the no-snitch culture.

Purchase the ebook free of charge on Amazon below:

Applauding the Philadelphia School District’s Gutsy Leadership

by Jeff Rosenberg

The School District’s recent attempt to void the teachers’ contract has brought out the best in our leaders.

Earlier this month the Philadelphia Daily News reported, “The education advocacy group Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools has taken legal steps to challenge the School Reform Commission’s decision last month to cancel the teacher contract.” Local rabble-rousers need to take a step back and a deep breath. This is my 38th year teaching for the School District of Philadelphia. My colleagues are teachers. Some of my closest friends are teachers. I married a teacher. I am now risking becoming a pariah, but after reflecting, let’s give our leadership their due. (I was able to do this by attempting to stand in the shoes of Philadelphia School District spokesman Fernando Gallard and anticipating how he likely would have responded.)

The leadership was gutsy and cunning and showed ingenuity by conducting the meeting to void the contract in a manner that was antithetical to our democratic principles and practices, and then exerted superhero willpower by turning a deaf ear to the public criticism and reaffirming their dogma right or wrong.

SRC Chairman Bill Green exhibited innovative leadership when he initially responded to the public outcry of the stealthily arranged meeting as happenstance, “We were planning to have the meeting next Thursday, and it just didn’t work out for us. And so Monday was not a targeted date. It was simply the date that we could get it done.” Later he referred to it as a “legal matter.”

Mayor Nutter attempted to calm the furor by dismissively saying, “I don’t know if any of the folks who are upset about this would be happy if the meeting was conducted in the middle of Broad Street at noon.” (When city council scrapped his proposal to sell PGW without a public hearing, he disappointedly said, “It is the opposite of transparency,” and referred to it as the “biggest copout.” This revealed the Mayor’s uncanny discretion on when to apply “transparency” and identify and quantify a “copout.”)

Chairman Green, Superintendent Hite, Mayor Nutter, and Governor Corbett, demonstrated their solidarity and compulsion for fairness when they fearlessly stood up to the teachers, and in virtual unison professed to anyone who was breathing that everyone else but the teachers has “stepped up” with concessions for the children, including the district blue collar workers and principals. Straight-shooter SRC Commissioner Sylvia Simms got to the crux, “We need to stop playing games on the backs of our children.” (She maintained her tell-it-like-it-is authority when she berated protesting children that they were “probably in failing schools.”) Mayor Nutter referred to it as a “sharing environment.”

They deserve the credit for bringing about that altruistic environment when the other unions were first “stepped on” before they “stepped up.” The “concessions” were more like strong-arm tactics of coercion, as the other unions were threatened with inventive and resourceful alternatives, including layoffs, private-contractors, and the unilateral imposition of work rules with even more severe cutbacks. Faced with fear and mounting pressure, they acquiesced. When things get tough, the tough get going. It required strong, unyielding, and adroit leadership.

So how does this creative out-of-the-pocket and daring shakedown shakeout? It will cost beginning teachers opting for family coverage with a surcharge and “Buy Up” $7,537, 17.39 percent of their lavish $43,358 salary; it will cost teachers with six years of experience and a required bachelor’s or equivalent $8139, 14.40 percent of their affluent $56,531 salary; and it will be 11.31 percent of the purported $72,000 average teacher salary. (Their unlimited personal expense accounts for classroom spending will go untouched.)

These unprecedented and burdensome cost initiatives imposed by the leadership are the equivalent of pay-cuts that will bring millions for the children. When teachers get raises, they generally do not exceed 2 to 4 percent cost of living rates. The higher end percentages of the health care contributions easily exceed the salary raises for an entire 3 to 4-year contract.

This should allow the district to maintain and even increase the already colossal teacher turnover, keeping those aggravating, tertiary labor costs down. The PFT reports that 60 percent of teachers have five years or less tenure. Our leadership is on top of this national cutting-edge trend to create a transient, unstable teacher corps by taking away any incentive to stay, along with any school-based security and stability.

When Superintendent Hite was asked about his own cabinet making comparable health care contributions, he politely responded after you, giving teachers an opportunity to lead.

At the same time, our leadership has expressed compassion for the teachers’ plight and acknowledged how tirelessly they worked with their students. A tolerant Superintendent Hite has even invited them back to the bargaining table, full well knowing that they might lack the trust required in good faith negotiations because of the ongoing violations by the district and SRC. It takes incredible chutzpa for that kind of consideration and perseverance.

Amazingly, there is still enough of that self-assurance leftover, along with the foresight and resolve, to begin spending 14 million dollars they do not yet possess. Directing his principals to confer with their teachers on how to spend their own money, shows his unshaken belief in cooperation and shared decision-making.

Best of all, by their actions and unwavering example, the charismatic SRC, district, and government leadership earned our gratitude for inspiring and motivating the Philadelphia community in general and the rank and file in particular to come together and take a stand (albeit contrary to their own) in a show of solidarity the city hasn’t seen in years. The familiar chants of “Shame on you” were especially passionate and tight. (And to Mayor Nutter, I think the attendees were generally satisfied with this meeting on Broad Street in broad daylight.)

This past episode to void the contract and its aftermath has brought out the best of our leaders. Sadly, our leaders are not getting the credit they think they deserve, which is something every teacher can relate to.

In the meantime, after expressing my unstinting admiration for our SDP leadership, I’m hoping that I might be able to at least get back into the good graces of my dog with a belly rub or two, as I will certainly be sharing his house.

Jeff Rosenberg is an education writer and longtime Philadelphia public schoolteacher.

Philly Schools Brought Financial Crisis on Themselves

by Christopher Paslay

State auditors have been warning the Philadelphia School District of accounting problems for decades. 

There was a very interesting and informative article published in today’s Inquirer by Eric Boehm of the Pennsylvania Independent:

State auditors warned of financial accountability problems at the Philadelphia School District in periodic audits since at least 1987, foreshadowing some of the issues that underpin the crisis in the district as it opens its doors to students Monday.

The district is running a $300 million deficit this year and was only able to ensure it would open its doors on time thanks to an emergency loan secured by the city of Philadelphia in August. The district is receiving more than $1.3 billion in state and federal aid this year.

But the district has had problems tracking students, accounting for state dollars and keeping accurate finances for much of the past two decades, according to audits conducted by the state auditor general’s office. The auditor general is required to audit all 500 school districts in Pennsylvania at least once every four years.

“The district was unable to provide us with the documentation necessary to verify that it correctly reported its membership and attendance data to the Department of Education,” wrote auditors in the most recent review of the Philadelphia School District, which took place in 2011. “A district’s failure to accurately maintain and report this data calls into question the legitimacy and appropriateness of the bulk of its state taxpayer funding.”

The auditors said they reported similar problems in each of the five previous audits of the Philadelphia School District. It was impossible to determine if the district received appropriate state subsidies for more than decade, they wrote. “These findings are particularly disturbing because in those ten years the district has received approximately $9.1 billion of state of state dollars,” they wrote.

Interestingly, these facts have been ignored by most of the Philadelphia education establishment.  Advocates continue to rally for more money from the state, but this only addresses the short-term symptoms and not the long-term problem.

Boehm’s article continues:

Repeated phone calls and emails to the school district and the state-run School Reform Commission, which was created to address some of the problems in the district, went unreturned over the past week.

But in 2011, in an official response to the state audit, district officials wrote that the district would pursue steps to address the problems identified in the report.

The district said it had new procedures in place to better track student attendance and state spending, beginning in the 2010-11 school year. Officials also tried to downplay the effect of student enrollment on state subsidies, claiming the inaccurate counts affected only 3 percent of state spending in the district.

In a second response, the auditors expressed skepticism that the district would get its fiscal house in order.

“It is imperative for us to emphasize that we have been citing the district since 1987 for inaccurate collection and reporting of child accounting data,” the auditors wrote. “The commonwealth’s taxpayers deserve to know that every dollar is accurately accounted for, and, to that end, no error rate is acceptable.”

Federal auditors encountered some of the same problems.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Inspector General recommended that the Philadelphia School District be labeled a “high risk grantee” after a federal audit found the district did not maintain documentation for training and professional development expenditures.

State auditors said that finding highlighted the “pervasiveness of the district’s recordkeeping issues.”

But the district has continued to get more state funding, even while the financial situation at the district has spiraled downward in recent years.

The accountability problems at the school district were compounded by the state’s decision to cut education funding in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 state budgets, using federal stimulus funds to fill the gap. When the stimulus dollars expired in 2011, the state did not increasing funding to make up the difference.

In trying to deal with the funding mess, the school district laid off about 3,800 employees during the summer and closed 24 school buildings at the recommendation of the School Reform Commission, which cited the district’s declining student enrollment for the decision.

“By not taking action now, we would continue the deterioration of our public schools to the point where they become obsolete to the children that we have sworn to serve,” said Pedro Ramos, chairman of the School Reform Commission, in statement at the time.

Enrollment in the district totals about 190,000 this year, but overall enrollment is down 11 percent since 2008 and 29 percent since 2001.

This year, Philadelphia is slated to receive nearly $984 million in basic education subsidies.

That’s a significant increase in only the past few years. As recently as the 2008-09 budget year, the district received $932 million.

The district is counting on the $50 million loan from the city and another $45 million grant from the state to allow it to continue operating through the end of the year.

But the $50 million loan is tied up in a political struggle between the mayor and the city council, while the $45 million state grant also is on hold for now.

Negotiations, meanwhile, continue between the district and its main teachers union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. State officials have said they will not provide additional financial assistance to the school district unless the teachers’ union agrees to about $133 million in concessions.

But things will only get worse, according to two reports that eye the future of the district.

A district report from August 2012 projects a cumulative deficit of $1.1 billion through 2017, and a study of the district’s pension obligations indicates the total cost of retiree payments will climb from $73 million this year to $349 million by 2020.

Tragically, these financial issues go well beyond something as simple as a “fair funding formula.”

On Corbett Bashing and the Common Core

by Christopher Paslay

Common Core texts indoctrinate young children and teach them to manipulate facts for social advocacy.  Sound familiar, Philadelphia? 

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

This is the philosophy I use when I teach students in my high school English classes how to write.  There is no substitute for the right word—no true synonym—and until a writer figures this out, he won’t be able to fully articulate his thoughts.  This is the case whether you are writing a narrative, informational, or persuasive essay (the Common Core’s preferred term for “persuasive” is now “argumentative”).

Good writing, especially in today’s culture of limited attention spans, is focused, clear, and accurate.  Good writers can say more in less space—and they can back their writing with examples, details, and evidence.

This philosophy has worked well with my own students at Swenson Arts and Technology High School.  On the 2012 PSSA Writing Test, 74% of my 11th graders scored proficient or advanced—a whopping 28.1% percent higher than the Philadelphia School District average, which was only 45.9%.

Unfortunately, some English Language Arts texts being promoted by the Common Core are no longer focused on teaching students succinct, accurate writing that avoids the use of flimsy persuasive techniques (such as red herrings, overgeneralizing, circular arguments, name calling, etc.), but on writing that actually encourages the use of emotionally charged propaganda for social advocacy.  In short, some ELA texts supported by the Common Core are not making young children free thinkers, but politically indoctrinating them (type the phrase “Common Core indoctrination” on YouTube and see the results).

One interesting case of indoctrinating students and promoting the use of propagandistic writing for social advocacy is the state of Utah’s first grade ELA primer Voices: Writing and Literature, recommended by, and aligned with, the Common Core.  On the surface it appears the text is about literature and writing, but a closer look reveals a major theme is social justice and social advocacy.  This, amazingly, is being introduced not to college undergraduates in Community Organizing 101, but to first graders!

One section in Voices: Writing and Literature teaches young children how to play fast and loose with facts by using emotionally charged propagandistic words to elicit emotions and bring about liberal social change.  It doesn’t teach children to use the right word, as Twain would have advocated (as well as any respectable writing teacher), but to use a word that will get folks stirred-up for social justice, whether or not that word is true, evidence-based, or accurate.

Click on the below YouTube video to see for yourself:

Because the Philadelphia School District is flat broke and has no money to invest in a new set of textbooks, such a primer may not be made available to our city’s school children.  However, the political indoctrination of School District students—and the teaching of how to play fast and loose with facts—is well underway.  Groups like Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union, who often partner with politically motivated adult organization such as the Education Law Center, are well schooled on the use of propaganda in writing.

All three of these groups frequently use “correlation to prove causation”—a logical fallacy and standard propaganda technique—to imply that Philadelphia public schoolteachers are discriminating against minority students because black students are three times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white peers (and these groups continue to claim this despite the fact that no documented cases of racial discrimination by a Philadelphia teacher against a students exists . . . except, of course, the discrimination against Sam Pawlucy by a black geometry teacher for wearing a Romney T-shirt in class).

The newly founded “Fund Philly Schools Now” does much of the same in terms of their blatant use of propaganda.  Launched to help raise money for struggling city schools, an admirable goal, their website states:

Since Gov. Corbett took office, it has become clear that when he must make the choice between tax breaks for corporations and much-needed investments in our children, he chooses corporations and wealthy donors every time. The crisis in Philadelphia public schools has been manufactured by Gov. Corbett. He is starving the city of resources and then using teachers as scapegoats and Philadelphia families as pawns.

Propagandistic?  No question.  With Federal stimulus money gone, Governor Corbett has been forced to make due with less, and this has no doubt adversely impacted Philadelphia public schools (as well as most public schools in PA).  But the crisis in city schools was not “manufactured by Gov. Corbett.”

During the Ackerman years, from July of 2008 to July of 2011, the School District blew through nearly $10 billion, spending so reckless it prompted the IRS to open a detailed audit of their financial practices.  The rapid expansion of charter schools—nearly 100 of them in 10 years—also greatly contributed to the School District’s financial crisis.  There is also the matter of Philadelphia residents owing over $500 million in delinquent property taxes.  And the fact that the School District loses millions of dollars in unreturned textbooks and stolen computer equipment each year.  And the reality that recently retired baby-boomers are overwhelming the pension system.  And all the cronyism/nepotism over the past five years from the usual suspects . . . Ackerman, Archie, Evans, Gamble, Fattah Jr., etc.

All Corbett?  Please.

Does the School District badly need money?  Absolutely.  Do I want to see our city’s children get the resources they need?  Most definitely.  But the theatrics and use of propaganda to get money is getting old.  People are growing tired of it.  Attacking public officials is becoming counterproductive (just ask Mayor Nutter).  Why does the rest of the state hate Philadelphia, think we are a cesspool?  Perhaps they are tired of Victimology 101.  It’s like with affirmative action: If groups in need simply took responsibility for their problems and said, I’m having some trouble keeping up, can you please lend a hand?, people would bend over backwards to help out.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Affirmative action in 21st century America goes more like this:  It’s YOUR fault I have problems, so give me what you owe me, now!

Not the best way to get the help you need, or to get at the true root of problems.

Neither is using propaganda to bring about reform (or to teach our students English Language Arts).

According to the mission statement of the Common Core:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.

Dr. Carole Hornsby Haynes, a noted curriculum specialist and former public school teacher, disagrees with the Common Core’s mission statement and feels they have an ulterior agenda.  She writes in a recent article:

Common Core is not about “core knowledge” but rather is the foundation for left-wing student indoctrination to create activists for the social justice agenda. Education is being nationalized, just like our healthcare, to eliminate local control over education, imposing a one-size-fits-all, top-down curriculum that will also affect private schools and homeschoolers.

I don’t know if Dr. Hornsby Haynes is totally correct about the Common Core, but I know this: ELA teachers should teach students how to make strong, factual arguments, not how to play loose with the facts to support their own political agendas.

Should Illegal Immigrants Get Tuition Breaks?

by Christopher Paslay

At Metropolitan State University of Denver, illegal immigrants will pay $8,000 less a year than what out-of-state students pay.

According to a story in The New York Times:

Monday is the first day of the school year for Metropolitan State University of Denver, a compact, urban campus in the heart of the city’s downtown.

It also signifies the dawn of a controversial new policy for this institution of 24,000. Among the crowd of students who will show up for class next week are dozens of illegal immigrants who, as part of a specially tailored tuition rate, can now qualify for a reduced fee if they live in Colorado.

The new rate, approved by the university’s board of trustees in June, has garnered praise from immigrant rights advocates here who have tried for years to get legislation passed that would allow state colleges to offer discounted tuition to local, illegal immigrant students.

What do you think?  Should illegals get tuition breaks at universities?  Take the poll below: