Journal of Educational Controversy


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Money, Education and Democratic Voice

I read two articles today that stood in such stark contrast that I had to share them with our readers on this blog. Both describe their efforts as “grassroots.” The first was an article in the N.Y. Times entitled, “Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy,  Bill Gates,” by Sam Dillon (NY Times, May 20, 2011). The article talks about the staggering amount of money that is going into education by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to the tax forms filed for 2009 alone, the Bill Gates's foundation spent $373 million on education efforts of which $78 million was dedicated to its new form of education advocacy.   According to Allan C. Golston, the president of the foundation’s United States program, the foundation plans to spend $3.5 billion more in education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy, over the next five or six years. Attached to the article are “Annotated Excerpts of the Gates Foundation 990 Form 2009,” a tax form required for nonprofits that runs for 263 pages and includes more than 3,000 items and 360 education grants.

The approach marks a new strategy for the foundation that previously used its philanthropy to creating small schools . The new strategy is described in the article as much more ambitious. It is an attempt to work more systemically by reforming the nation’s educational policies. To achieve this end, the foundation “is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.” But it is also “creating new advocacy groups.” Some of the examples the article reveals include:

The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations…..

Last year, Mr. Gates spent $2 million on a “social action” campaign focused on the film “Waiting for ‘Superman".....

There are the more traditional and publicly celebrated programmatic initiatives, like financing charter school operators and early-college high schools. Then there are the less well-known advocacy grants to civil rights groups like the Education Equality Project and Education Trust that try to influence policy, to research institutes that study the policies’ effectiveness, and to Education Week and public radio and television stations that cover education policies.…..

Its latest annual report…. highlights its role — often overlooked — in the development and promotion of the common core academic standards that some 45 states have adopted in recent months. ….The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which developed the standards, and Achieve Inc., a nonprofit organization coordinating the writing of tests aligned with the standards, have each received millions of dollars.....

In 2009, a Gates-financed group, the New Teacher Project, issued an influential report detailing how existing evaluation systems tended to give high ratings to nearly all teachers. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited it repeatedly and wrote rules into the federal Race to the Top grant competition encouraging states to overhaul those systems. Then a string of Gates-backed nonprofit groups worked to promote legislation across the country: at least 20 states, including New York, are now designing new evaluation……

Two other Gates-financed groups, Educators for Excellence and Teach Plus, have helped amplify the voices of newer teachers as an alternative to the official views of the unions. Last summer, members of several such groups had a meeting at the foundation’s offices in Washington....

The Times article actually starts with a story of some out spoken local teachers who testified before the Indiana State Legislature and who had written policy briefs and op-ed pieces about layoffs based on seniority. Said one state legislator, ““They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” Indeed, they may very well have been genuine, as the article points out, but ´”they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” ….. a group that is later revealed in the article to have received awards totaling $4 million dollars.

And that brings us to the crux of the Times article. Writes reporter Sam Dillon:

Given the scale and scope of the largess, some worry that the foundation’s assertive philanthropy is squelching independent thought, while others express concerns about transparency. Few policy makers, reporters or members of the public who encounter advocates like Teach Plus or pundits like Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute realize they are underwritten by the foundation.

Perhaps, the concern was best put by Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who was quoted as saying: “It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education.”

The other article I read at the same time this week was sent out on a grassroots listserv called the Education Liberation Network. The group also has a website called the Education for Liberation Network. In the post, the author, Tara Mack, announces an event that is to take place in two months in Providence, RI, where hundreds of educators, activists and students will come together for a grassroots gathering called, “Free Minds, Free People.” The organizers want to make the event a catalyst for continued action rather than a solitary event.

They write on their listserv:

The Education for Liberation Network has an important contribution to make to that effort. One of the ways we aim to capitalize on that energy is to begin developing regional networks that will strengthen the connection between local work and national movement building. We want to bring the network closer to you.

They then make a plea for donations to carry out this work:

To start that work we need to have the resources in place before the conference. That's why we are coming to you now. Grassroots work takes grassroots investment. Today we are kicking off our One Great Reason campaign, a week-long drive …. that will help us keep the momentum of Free Minds, Free People going by moving straight from the conference into the development of our regional networks.

Each of us has a reason for being part of this community, a reason why this work matters to you. Each day this week a member of the Education for Liberation Network will share via this listserv his/her reason for being part of our community. If their stories resonate with you, I hope you will take moment to contribute to our efforts to strengthen and expand.
The amount that this grassroots network of educators is attempting to raise this week -- $1000.

With such disparities in money and access to media and seats of power, how does a society engage in a true democratic dialogue. How is a public being created for public education? Here are two very different efforts that lie at the heart of the contradictions in democratic power and voice.

Cross-posted on Social Issues Blog

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ten Commitments of a Multicultural Educator

Editor:  After posting a number of articles on this blog about the external forces against various multicultural movements in the schools, we want to share an article today about the dangers of internal forces and misunderstandings.  In the post below, Paul Gorski shares his thoughts about the kinds of concerns and commitments that progressive educators in multicultural education need to rethink. We thank the author for his permission to reprint his article here and invite our readership to respond.

Equity and social justice from the inside-out: Ten commitments of a multicultural educator

Paul C. Gorski
George Mason University

Reprinted with permission of the author from the FEDCAN Blog
of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences -- May 20, 2011

History teaches us that many progressive initiatives, if not nurtured carefully, risk growing to reflect the very ideologies against which they were formed. This is a risk faced by multicultural education. So certainly we need to organize ourselves against attempts to discredit the value of multicultural education by those who are most invested in maintaining the status quo. To dismiss multicultural education is, after all, to dismiss ideals of equity and social justice.

To be sure, discrediting voices always will exist. And they will crescendo as we make advances toward greater equity and justice in schools and society. As a long-time board member of the National Association for Multicultural Education, I found cause for celebration when I learned that conservative organizations were infiltrating our conferences. The threat of progress inspires organizations hostile to multicultural education to unleash the shouters and naysayers. We must be at the ready to respond.

Troubling the Multicultural Education Choir

There is, however, an even more insidious threat to multicultural education and the ideals of educational equity and justice. I often hear people who care about equity concerns say, “We’re preaching to the choir.” In my experience, when it comes to multicultural education and advancing equity and social justice, the most dangerous threat comes from within the so-called “choir.”

Allow me to explain: Even those of us who fancy ourselves as ‘progressives,’ somewhere on a continuum between liberal and radical, are subject to the influence of dominant ideologies. How conscious we are of this influence, and how we respond to it, matters. There are, for example, a number of my multicultural education colleagues in the United States who criticize high-stakes testing regimens as “culturally biased” or “unjust” and then proceed to comply with the neoliberal thrust behind these regimens by obsessing in their scholarship or practice over a so-called “achievement gap.” Paradoxically, they tend to describe this gap exclusively in terms of standardized test scores.

I have observed, as well, that, although many of us who would reject the notion that we can assume anything about a student’s needs or aspirations or challenges or talents based on a single identity dimension, many buy into grossly simplified paradigms, like the “culture of poverty” myth or models that suggest there are “female” and “male” learning styles. The “culture of poverty” approach was dismissed in the social sciences forty years ago. Nonetheless, this form of deficit thinking still seems to drive conversations about class, poverty, and education in the United States and, increasingly, in Canada.

Celebrating Diversity Is Not Enough

So when I consider the future of multicultural education, my fear is hastened less by resistance from naysayers than by misdirection by multiculturalists. My worst fear is that a vast majority of the initiatives, practices, and policies enacted in the name of diversity or multiculturalism appear, at closer look, to resemble, at best, cultural fluffery and, at worst, cultural imperialism.

I’ve traveled around the world studying this phenomenon: a “multiculturalism” which has been whittled down so far that its equity and social justice roots no longer are evident in practice. Particularly in the colonized lands of the Americas, multiculturalism seems to be heavy, and getting heavier, on Taco Nights, intercultural dialogues, and multicultural festivals, and light, and getting lighter, on economic justice, racial equity, anti-sexism, and queer rights. And to whose benefit? Who or what are we protecting?

Don’t get me wrong. Festivals and dialogues have their places in multicultural initiatives. But when efforts for racial harmony replace movements for racial justice; when we find ourselves learning about stereotyped class “cultures” rather than examining economic injustice (or at least inequities in access to quality schooling); when we come to believe that cross-group dialogue is transformative in and of itself rather than what prepares us to be transformative: this is when we, as multiculturalists, turn our backs on inequity and injustice and do the bidding of the powerful in the name of “multiculturalism.”

•Listen to Paul C. Gorski, “Celebrating Diversity in not Enough: Finding Authentic Pathways to Equity.”

•Read: Paul C. Gorski’s “What we’re teaching our teachers.”

How, then, might we work to ensure that we are not undermining our own commitments to multicultural education? How might we ensure that we are working against oppressive ideologies rather than replicating them in the name of multiculturalism?

Ten Commitments of a Multicultural Educator

I propose the following “Ten Commitments of a Multicultural Educator” as a place to start. I offer these commitments not in a spirit of judgment nor with any illusion that I have reached any appreciable level of proficiency with them. Rather, I offer them as somebody who struggles each day to embody them. I offer this challenge to my colleagues, but no more so than I offer it to myself.

(1) I commit to working at intersections. Too often, those of us doing equity and justice work become so focused on a single identity or oppression – I have been focused largely on class and economic justice lately – that we fail to consider how identities and oppressions are intersectional. I cannot do anti-racism if I am not doing anti-heterosexism, anti-sexism, and so on. I commit to understanding more fully how issue-specific organizations are forced, even if implicitly, to compete for whatever little piece of pie (e.g., financial resources, media attention) we are afforded, perhaps in order to ensure that we do not organize ourselves and insist, instead, on a bigger piece of pie.

(2) I commit to understanding the “sociopolitical context” of schooling. What Sonia Nieto calls the “sociopolitical context” of schooling requires me to see the bigger picture, to understand multicultural work in the context of neoliberalism, corporatization, consumer culture, the other conditions which inform dominant ideologies regarding social and educational access and opportunity.

(3) I commit to refusing the master’s paradigms. I will not endorse neoliberal or corporate-centric principles by incorporating them, even if implicitly, into my multicultural work. I will not minimize educational inequity to test scores; refer to people as “at-risk” or families as “broken”; or discuss multicultural competencies as essential to “preparing us to compete in the global marketplace.” I will not call something an achievement gap when it more precisely can be described as an opportunity gap.

(4) I commit to never reducing multiculturalism to cultural activities or celebrations. I will transcend the “4 Ds” (dress, dance, diet and dialect). Although multicultural festivals and food fairs can be part of a bigger initiative toward multiculturalism, they do not, in and of themselves, make any school or organization or community more equitable and just. In fact, they more likely will strengthen stereotypes than unravel them.

(5) I commit to never confusing multiculturalism with universal validation. Multiculturalism is not about valuing every perspective equally. For example, multiculturalism does not value heteronormativity or male supremacy even when one explains that these views are grounded in her or his religion. A multicultural space – a school or classroom, for instance – cannot be both multicultural and hegemonic.

(6) I commit to resisting simple solutions to complex problems. While simple and practical solutions may be tempting they are a distraction from what needs to be done to resolve complex social problems and conditions. I commit to resisting the temptation to buy into models and paradigms that over-simplify complexities, regardless of how popular they are. That the town or school district next door endorses a person or an approach to multiculturalism is not enough; in fact, it might be the best evidence that the person or approach fits snugly into the status quo.

(7) I commit to being informed. I will do the work to find strategies for bolstering equity and social justice which are based on evidence of what works. I will look at this evidence in light of what I know about my own community. Moreover, I will not limit “evidence” to quantitative studies; I will seek the voices of local communities and stakeholders in the sorts of deep and narrative ways that cannot be captured in a quantitative survey.

(8) I commit to working with and in service to disenfranchised communities. I must practice the ethic of ‘working with’ rather than working on disenfranchised communities or on their behalf, particularly when I am in a position of privilege relative to them. I will apply my commitment to equity and social justice, not just in the content of my multicultural work, but also in my processes for doing that work.

(9) I commit to rejecting deficit ideology. I will refuse to identify the source of social problems and conditions by looking down rather than up power hierarchies. I reject the notion that people are disenfranchised due to their own “deficiencies.” I commit to challenging any suggestion that the way to fix an inequity is to fix the people most disenfranchised by it rather than by redressing the conditions which disenfranchise them.

(10) I commit to putting justice ahead of peace. Although conflict resolution and peer mediation programs can be useful in the face of some forms of conflict, they should not replace efforts to redress an injustice. Never, under any circumstance, should equity concerns be handled through processes which assume that parties occupy similar spaces along the privilege-oppression continuum. And in the end, peace without justice renders the privileged more privileged and the oppressed further oppressed; a condition which might be understood as the exact opposite of authentic multiculturalism.

At the heart of the ‘Ten Commitments of a Multicultural Educator,” is a commitment to self-reflexivity, and to asking myself – to never stop asking myself – how the work I do in the name of multicultural education is making a school or community or society more just. When I find that I am unable to answer that question, or that I have become so comfortable with what is that I fail to consider, in as deep a way as possible, what could be, and then I commit to doing something else.

Paul C. Gorski is an assistant professor in Integrative Studies at George Mason University in Washington, DC, and the founder of EdChange and Multicultural Pavilion.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Breaking News on Our Coverage of Arizona's Efforts to Ban Ethnic Studies: Chained Ethnic Studies Students Take Over School Board in Tucson

Editor: I found this latest information from two other blogs and thought our readers would be interested.  They give an account of the latest happenings on a story that our blog has been following.  Both talk about some of the actions by students in their attempt to find their own voice in the controversy. The second also provides interviews with teachers.

BREAKING: Wisconsin Comes to Arizona? Chained Ethnic Studies Students Take Over School Board in Tucson
From Alternet

Posted by jeffbiggers

Has Wisconsin finally come to Arizona?
In an extraordinary uprising at the Tucson Unified School District board meeting tonight, Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies (MAS) students chained themselves to the board members chairs and derailed the introduction of a controversial resolution that would have terminated their acclaimed program’s core curriculum accreditation.

Popular Tucson blogger and activist David Abie Morales calls it a “field trip for civics and democracy in action.”

“Nobody was listening to us, especially the board,” said MAS high school student and UNIDOS activist Lisette Cota. “We were fed up. It may have been drastic but the only way was to chain ourselves to the boards’ chairs.”...............

To read the complete post on Alternet, go to:

From Huffpost Politics:

Nation Watches Arizona Witch Hunt Showdown: Exclusive Interviews With Ethnic Studies Teachers

Posted: by Jeff Biggers 04/26/11 11:35 AM ET
UPDATE April 27th: In an extraordinary uprising at the Tucson Unified School District board meeting last night, Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies (MAS) students chained themselves to the board members chairs and derailed the introduction of a controversial resolution that would have terminated their acclaimed program's core curriculum accreditation.

An increasingly baffled nation will watch as the long and twisted witch hunt of Tucson's Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies program takes a hasty Orwellian turn.

Despite the fact that a costly state-commissioned audit has been delayed and largely discredited, and a new federal suit has recently been filed by the affected Mexican-American Studies teachers, the once defiant Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) governing board could buckle under the state's bullying and consider a resolution that effectively castrates one of their district's most acclaimed programs. ....................

To read the complete article, go to Huffpost Politics: