Time for Public Education Defenders to Go on Offense

20160421_athou_gm3_recap_loseI went to a demonstration a few days ago that ended with the popular chant, “I believe that we will win!”  The words pleasantly reverberated in my brain an hour later, as I turned on the TV to watch my Golden State Warriors face the Houston Rockets in the NBA playoffs. When your team recently set the all-time regular-season record with 73 victories (and just 9 losses), it’s easy to believe that we will win.

I’m too superstitious to predict how the Warriors will do in the playoffs, but I know this: If they refuse to play offense, they’ll lose.  Even the most skilled basketball defense cannot shut out an opponent. No team would think of handing the ball back to its rival each time it had a chance to take possession. No team would choose to play only at the other team’s end of the court.

But what’s unthinkable in any NBA arena seems to be the norm in the political arena, at least regarding public education.  Anti-privatization activists have fought hard to defend against school closures, the spread of charters, endless testing, teacher bashing, attacks on due process and seniority, and on and on.  The “on and on” part is the problem.  The privatizers are not going to stop. We can sometimes slow down the onslaught and even block some shots, but they will just keep coming from every direction.  As long as we play defense almost exclusively, we’re bound to lose.

Going on offense means fighting for conditions that public schools need to provide all students with a quality education. In Oakland, we could start by demanding that our school district reallocate to classrooms $50 million or more that it overspends on central administration and private contracts. That would pay for some badly needed improvements to dismal conditions.  To get the job done, we’ll need to build a movement to “find the money” for schools and public services, just as trillions were “found” to bail out banks and corporations in 2008.

Corporate “reformers” take and make easy shots at public schools by scapegoating them for racial and economic inequality and selling privatization as the solution.  We generally respond by defending against the lies and the fake solutions. But that doesn’t help much, if we don’t also fight for real solutions to the problems that cause many students, especially those who are black, brown, or poor, to “fall between the cracks.”  Public schools can’t independently end racism and poverty, but we can demand conditions far more conducive for teaching and learning: much smaller class sizes and caseloads; more time for teacher preparation, collaboration, and professional development; adequate facilities; and universal early childhood and adult education.  To fight for these demands is to go on the offensive.

But going on offense is scary. We haven’t practiced it much and we don’t know what we’ll be up against. True.

We’ll be told there’s no money for smaller class size and caseloads and for fair pay, that we’re demanding the impossible, that we’re fools. They’ll say anything to keep us from making “offensive” demands. We’d be fools to believe them.

We don’t need to get it all done at once. But we do need to start now by drawing up and practicing some offensive moves.  In Oakland, we can begin by considering ways to reallocate $50 million being overspent on central administrators and private contractors.

Next up: Oakland teachers begin discussing possibilities for winning class size and caseload reductions in our next contract.



Back from a Five-Year Break

From early 2010 until now, this website fell silent.  Even before then, full-time teaching and union work made it difficult to keep the writing up.  That year I became even more fully consumed with a (losing) fight against the closure of my high school, followed by a long period of upheaval and harassment, courtesy of Oakland Unified School District administration.

A massively documented grievance and Unfair Labor Practice charge eventually backed them off. I ended up at a middle school in the hills with a far more diverse student body–racially and economically–than I’d seen in nearly two decades in Oakland’s poorest Black and Latino neighborhoods. Not coincidentally, conditions in the hills school were much better than where I’d taught before, though far from adequate to meet the needs of every student.

I retired from full-time teaching in 2014 and now substitute occasionally, while remaining very active in OEA.  In 2016, Real School Reform will become a real website again, with regular posts and recorded interviews. Stay tuned.

Mike Davis and David Bacon on “The Decline of California”

My recent posts have focused on the California Teachers Association’s failure to fight the slash-and-burn cuts to  public schools and other services and on potential allies in a real fight back. At the Socialism 2009 conference in San Francisco, July 2-5, authors Mike Davis and David Bacon critiqued the overall paralysis of labor “leaders” tied to the Democrats and the politics of accommodation. Video of this panel is posted online under the title, “The Decline of California, Mike Davis and David Bacon” Part 1 and Part 2. Here is a transcription of excerpts from that video, beginning with an analogy that came to Davis while watching the recent remake of the movie, “The Taking of Pelham 123” about the hijacking of a New York City subway train.

Mike Davis: I kept thinking, “Is this set in Sacramento?” I mean, here you have the governor and his gang of Republicans, and they’re holding the people captive and threatening to shoot them one by one unless their demands for budget cuts and a new stage in the Republican fiscal revolution occurs. And on the other hand, you have the leadership of the Democratic Party in Sacramento, [Assembly Speaker] Karen Bass and [Senate President Pro Tem] Darrell Steinberg, saying, “Oh no, don’t shoot all the passengers, just shoot half the passengers…

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Finding Allies in a Fight Back

The economic crisis and rank-and-file pressure may be forcing a shift inside of the California Teachers Association leadership on the question of Proposition 13, split roll, or other tax and budget reforms. But given the history of timidity and false starts in 2004 and 2005, we can’t rely on CTA’s bureaucracy to rouse itself, let alone to mount an effective and sustained fight for progressive taxation.

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