Monday, August 13, 2012

Crisis in Context: The Role of the Student in the Battle for CCSF (by Stephan Georgiou)

“He who counts heads always silences facts and voices.”
- Michel-Rolph Trouillot

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”
- Walter Benjamin

“There is not enough time.” Many have used these words since the CCSF accrediting report was released – in Facebook threads, Board meetings and organizing spaces – in response to challenging the legitimacy of the private body that will decide our school’s fate. We have until October 15 to address the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges’ (ACCJC, or WASC) problems; “not enough time,” they say, so we react. We scramble to form committees. We cut and reform. If we submit to the crisis, and work hard enough, perhaps two months will be enough time to save our school. But while our heads are spinning, plans are already being made for further changes. We do not have time to seek out, absorb or reflect on this information. And then the next crisis will fall.

On October 15, the Board of Trustees must submit a plan addressing CCSF’s “problems” or risk losing accreditation, public funding and being shut down. Groups have been formed to deal with each of the 14 “problem” areas in the report. Perhaps students are being solicited for input. For the last six years, however, since the last commission report highlighted eight areas the Board of Trustees needed to address, students were not informed or invited to help. Conversations took place among those in positions of power, and in the face of massive public education defunding, the leadership structures that exist did not address the commission’s demands. And now there is not enough time.

The leaders, the specialists, the policymakers have enough time. They work ahead of us, above us, with the arrogance that they know best. They deal the changes, and we play to keep up. They are the subjects; we are the objects. At a Board of Trustees presentation last month, President of the ACCJC Barbara Beno described the accrediting process. In three hours and twenty PowerPoint slides, she nearly eliminated students from the equation. Our sole factor in accreditation is our product: test scores. They are analyzed, and our outcomes are plotted on graphs. We are data. Opinions about our learning environment are not related to accreditation. “We don’t want to hear stories,” said Beno’s co-presenter Bill McGinnis. With numbers, the accreditors can wrap their small minds around us. It excuses them from taking the time to ask us; it gives them the excuse to transform our existing structure into something they feel more comfortable with. Certain things must go: the shared governance model, the low number of administrators, the percentage spent on teacher and worker pay. A top-down business model would be more efficient. Meanwhile, the students – of which there are 90,000 at CCSF – move to and from class, sharing, learning; transformations occur around us. We study, work; they study us. But not our stories, for which there isn’t enough time; they study the quality of test scores we produce. We do not know what’s best for us. There is not enough time.


We need not look far back for the last crisis. In 2010, the California Community College Board of Governors created a twenty-member Student Success Task Force to address issues of completion among – predominantly – students of color.1 One student was invited to sit on the body of mostly administrators and specialists – the Student Trustee of the 112-college system. His task was to speak for more than two million students across the state. When the Task Force recommendations came to the Board of Governors for approval last January – a sweeping overhaul that included taking autonomy away from individual campuses and consolidating power with the Board of Governors in Sacramento – many spoke out against the recommendations. CCSF students, faculty and workers were among the most represented. But it was too late. The Task Force had been at work for a year, and aside from a few ill-publicized town halls, the time for voicing opinions had been taken from us. The Board voted unanimously, with two abstentions, to endorse the recommendations. Now, a series of bills and regulation changes move through the legislature to transform our schools without our input.

Here, power and time reinforce each other to silence student voices. We cannot speak if we are not asked; we cannot influence if our voices do not bear the weight of titles. During the week following the accrediting commission’s report, one CCSF student leader advised me that the conversations I was having jeopardized his position. These “conversations” dealt with the formation of a student union on campus. I was referring not to the building that houses the campus café and student government offices, but the potential for a united body of students capable of mass action. He could not have these conversations because his position prevented him from thinking or acting outside of that position. There are limits in speech and action, in scope and functionality, which accompany positions of power. Our student representatives – hardworking as they may be – are not exempt.

If the Board of Trustees and the Interim Chancellor – those powerbrokers currently possessing clout – are successful at saving CCSF (and their willingness to do anything necessary to satisfy the accreditors indicates they will be), the real battle for CCSF will begin. Problems facing CCSF students, after all, hardly began last month. Most of us, for example, do not remember that our college was free 25 years ago. We do not remember because we were not here, and because we do not have a plaque at CCSF to commemorate each time our tuition was raised. The 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education outlawed tuition at California schools – hence the term “enrollment fees” – so publicly enshrining our costs might provoke distress. Most of us were not even here 10 years ago when fees were a quarter what they are now. Years of austerity and a global financial crisis have turned public education into a commodity we must work long hours for, go into debt for, and struggle through a jobless market to repay. Our classes are overcrowded, or eliminated – sometimes mid-semester, as happened in the spring. At Santa Monica City College, a two-tier tuition system would have forced students to pay four times as much for popular classes, crystallizing class-based access to education. When students attempted to speak out against the plan at a Board of Trustees meeting, they were pepper-sprayed. Violence is used to silence us when less visible means fail – say, when we are simply not invited to the conversation. Money, economics – these are things above us we are not thought capable of dealing with. Nevermind that according to the 1960 Master Plan, we shouldn’t be paying any fees. These issues, along with the Student Success Task Force recommendations, preceded the accrediting crisis. If the administrators are successful at saving CCSF, we can expect more.


Let us slow time down for a moment, take back those moments of inquiry that have been stolen from us. In this liberated space, let us give ourselves space to question our roles as students and our functions within present operational structures. Can we begin to ask ourselves the kind of college we would like to see in the future, even once we have left the terrain of buildings and knowledge exchange? Can we witness ourselves as imperative subjects, who have the power to expand the possibilities for not only ourselves, but for future students?

Perhaps we should begin by questioning the legitimacy of power structures and leadership bodies that exclude us from the processes that will shape our futures in profound ways. These are political questions, and they require care and patience from those most affected: students. Will the changes desired by the commission improve CCSF for us, and for the teachers and workers who sustain it, or will they benefit an increasingly hierarchical, data-driven public education bureaucracy that places the needs of the state and global competition above those of the people utilizing and maintaining the system? While there may not be enough time before October 15 to challenge the legitimacy of the ACCJC (there is not meant to be enough time, after all), this will expand our conceptions of the possible, and begin to shift the balance of power.

Many have already questioned the ACCJC’s legitimacy. In 2010, in response to the large number of California community colleges placed on sanction between 2003 and 2008, California Community College leaders, including representatives from the Board of Governors and the Academic Senate, formed a task force to investigate the ACCJC.2 Chancellor Jack Scott wrote to the U.S. Department of Education claiming that the ACCJC was not following its own bylaws in selecting commissioners. In a KQED Forum segment last month, College of Marin Instructor Patrick Kelly voiced outrage at the high percentage of WASC-overseen colleges given “warning” status or worse, compared to the low percentage in the rest of the U.S. “Is it really that the colleges in California and the Western U.S. are that much worse?,” he asked.3 In a 2008 letter to Barbara Beno from Marty Hittelman, President of the California Federation of Teachers, Hittelman accused the ACCJC of violating state law in its push for Student Learning Outcomes in teacher evaluation.4 And the Chair of the accrediting commission, Sherrill Amador, was involved in a prolonged labor dispute during her tenure as President of Palomar College in San Diego County. She received two votes of no confidence from faculty and staff and resigned in 2003; the following year, she began her tenure as ACCJC Chair.5 Let us build upon these facts by continuing to research and ask questions.


CCSF is a place with a depth of human experience unmatched at most colleges and universities. It is not a school solely for those directly out of high school; it is more complex than that. It is a school of immigrants, workers, adult learners, the formerly incarcerated, those with few spaces left that offer the possibility of transformation. If the ACCJC and the forces above them – like the U.S. Department of Education, which many seem unwilling to recognize as connected – have their way, CCSF will be a more streamlined place, where one comes not for possibility, but for the certainty of a life pre-planned, a social identity pre-constructed. The populations who most need City College will be forced to look elsewhere, and when there is no public place to turn, perhaps they will find the for-profit education engine. A recent Business Insider article described a meeting of investors eager to capitalize on a gutted public education sector. “You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up,” said one consultant.6

When we, a rich and diverse body of students, place our trust in single leaders – in the case of the one student representing millions on the Student Success Task Force, for example, or the leader who warned me about “dangerous” conversations – we are diverted from acting ourselves to create change. We have voted, so we can sit back. Even if we did have the time to organize, which many of us at CCSF do not, because of work, family, and other commitments, we trust that others are acting in our place. Elected leaders, restricted by their positions and structures, are powerless to create the change we need, or they act in accord with the power structures against our interests. We resign ourselves to the idea that “there is nothing we can do;” we feel helpless. We become displaced from the political, alienated from the decisions that most directly impact our lives, and we relinquish our power – as individuals first, and then even more disastrously as a collective of voices and bodies.

What is our role as students? What is our function? During a 1968 student-worker uprising in France, individuals experienced a crisis of functionalism, ceasing to function along rigid social lines. Identities that had been taken for granted – student, worker, farmer – were challenged as individuals looked outside of their own places in society and recognized the Other within themselves. Universities and factories were occupied, transformed into organizing spaces, and the streets became sites of information exchange and identity complication. The individual recognized her full power as part of the collective.

At CCSF, the crisis of functionalism is built in to our structure: community college. Learners at City College are not only students – their identities have already been complicated. They are workers, adult learners, undocumented immigrants, members of oppressed communities of color. What is missing is our recognition of ourselves as imperative subjects, recognition of the Others within each of us as an untapped energy reserve. With 90,000 students, the potential for CCSF student power is enormous. The first step is subjectivation – the recognition of this power – and then its seizure.

When the present crisis subsides and the administrators and leaders congratulate themselves for “saving” CCSF, it is the students who will inherit a radically different college. There will be limits on the types of futures we can have; the least socially and economically advantaged of us will be shut out altogether. What type of school do we want? What kinds of things would we like to preserve, and what would we like to change? These are questions existing powers do not want us to be asking. They certainly have not asked us themselves. It is the students who are paying tuition and community members who contribute taxes, and it is us who have the ability to imagine new possibilities for City College, new relationships among students, and between students and administrators. Will we continue to go to Sacramento to beg for an accessible college, only to be congratulated for exercising our rights to free speech and then ignored, or will we call into question the very legitimacy of bodies like the Board of Governors and the ACCJC? Will we accept rapidly rising and discriminatory tuition costs? If the positions of our elected student leaders limit their abilities to speak and act on behalf of the student population, will they abandon these positions and join the students in the streets? Will we continue to accept our positions as objects to be studied and measured, plotted out on the graphs of “experts” and used to justify the failure of our school, or will we claim something more? Will we recognize our position as subjects, deserving a direct role in the operation of our college, committed to meeting our own needs and realizing our own ideas?

Because whether it is the Board of Governors-appointed Student Success Task Force or the WASC accrediting commission or another body enforcing its own code of operations on our college, setting boundaries, limiting access, deciding what is best for us, our future possibilities are diminishing at the hands of our “leaders.” The only people who can challenge this assault on our futures is a united body of students, aware, connected; a new body in recognition of its power and its subjectivity, a body capable of wielding that power through action.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Privatizing Public Schools: Big Firms Eyeing Profits from U.S. K-12 Markets (link to Huffington Post article by Stephanie Simon)

In a recent Huffington Post article, author Stephanie Simon describes investors' strategies to defund and dismantle public K-12 schools in order to then reap massive profits by privatizing kids' education. In a related article, Kevin Welner raises concerns that such steps are part of a larger corporate agenda to commoditize students--a process in which both dominant political parties have been complicit.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

For-Profit College Recruiters Taught to Use "Pain," "Fear" Internal Documents Show (link to Huffington Post article by Chris Kirkham)

This article illustrates fairly succinctly the depths to which many for-profit colleges will go in order to ciphon some cash away from folks who are already broke. This story has everything to do with the University of California system, where UC Regent Richard Blum's investment firm Blum Capital is the largest shareholder of one of the for-profit schools mentioned in this piece, ITT Technical Institute. Read on and get enlightened.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Our Public Education System: Cornerstone of American Democracy (by Mark Shalius)

Wide-spread publicly funded education in the United States began in the mid 1800s as a response to economic inequality. Horace Mann, the so-called "father of the Common Schools movement" worried that his state of Massachusetts was, "exposed, far beyond any other State in the Union, to the fatal extremes of overgrown wealth and desperate poverty." He advocated public education because "it gives each man the independence and the means by which he can resist the selfishness of other men . . . it prevents being poor." Henry Barnard, another 19th century American responsible for the adoption of public education throughout the US, described it as, "The cause of true education, of the complete education of every human being without regard to the accidents of birth or fortune."

Although our publicly controlled system has not functioned perfectly and has sometimes been subject to abuse, Americans have supported it in principle because it preserves and protects fundamental American values of equality, democracy, freedom and individuality. By preventing poverty, it mitigates the extremes of inequality that can destroy a society. It is fundamentally democratic (controlled by everyone together). It creates an informed citizenry that is the bedrock of our democracy. It keeps us free by emphasizing the well-being and rights of individual citizens, not large organizations. Public colleges, in particular, keep us free by monitoring and limiting undue influence of large powerful entities in society: corporations, government, etc. Americans recognize that education is a fundamental right - the basis for many other human rights. And public schools are the major American institution where people from all walks of life come together to imagine and create a shared future that works for everyone.

A healthy public education system also provides the best quality education. Finland's well-funded public school system is widely regarded as the best in the world right now. And the American public education system used to be much better. But as is discussed in detail in the companion essays, during the past several decades, corporations in America have mounted a systematic, organized attack to destroy our public education system and replace it with a privatized one. As a result, we now have an unhealthy public school system, choked by massive funding cuts that finance corporate tax breaks and subverted by corporate-influenced management that ignores our fundamental American values. Ironically, corporate education privatizers claim that these very shortcomings they have forced upon our public system justify its replacement by a corporate/private system of education - a system that will deny public control to the citizens who are paying for it. This is an attempt to impose taxation without representation, which is as unAmerican today as it was when Americans first revolted against it during the Revolutionary War that created this nation. Privatized corporate education is also unAmerican because it replaces our fundamental American values of equality, freedom, democracy and individuality with the single corporate value of profit. Most studies do not support corporate privatizers' claims of providing "better quality" education than a public system.

19th century Americans originally created a publicly funded, publicly controlled education system to reduce economic inequalities. They saw this as a patriotic action to preserve our values and protect our nation from the threat of "fatal extremes of overgrown wealth and desperate poverty." So as public funding and control of education have declined under corporate attack in the 21st century, the corresponding increase in economic inequality should come as no surprise to us. Undoing our 150 year-old tradition of strong public education risks returning us to the economic misery and chaotic social conditions of the early 1800s. Americans understand that we are headed toward these "fatal extremes" as economic conditions continue to worsen for most of us while the top one percent becomes increasingly wealthy. Americans have a long tradition of reducing this threat of "fatal extremes" through public education. To reverse this trend, we must return to our American roots of public education. We MUST strengthen public funding and public control of education to re-create a healthy and robust public education system. Our American predecessors had it right: a healthy public education system is one of the fundamental cornerstones of our nation. Removing it will destroy this country.

The following compilation contains pieces by concerned American students, parents, and faculty. Some explain in detail how corporate privatization attacks on our public education system are subverting our basic American values. Others suggest strategies for thwarting these attacks and re-creating a healthy, vigorous public education system that is genuinely of the people, by the people and for the people.

On Higher Education (by Charlie Schwartz)

Higher education in America has always been formed with two contradictory faces: one provides the exclusive pathway for children of the elite; the other opens the door to select children from all (or almost all) walks of life. Thus our colleges and universities serve both the aristocracy of a capitalist system while also providing some openings to diversity that a true democracy requires.

The Morrill Act of 1862 provided new college opportunities, especially aimed at distributing technical talent to independent citizens as farmers and mechanics; but by the end of the 19th century there was already a shift toward more “scientific” training of workers needed for the new technological industries (see David Noble, “America By Design”, 1977, the story of M.I.T.).

The GI Bill, enacted at the close of World War II, opened college opportunities to a huge new class of citizens who had fought in the war for democracy over fascism; but that time also brought forward a huge increase in military funding for university research aimed to enlarge and improve the technologies of war. (The University of California came out as the permanent patron of the nuclear weapons laboratories at Los Alamos and Livermore.)

The 1960’s saw student-led uprisings on many campuses, in support of the Civil Rights movement, against the war in Vietnam, and for advancing many calls for diversity on the campuses themselves.

In California there was the Master Plan for Higher Education, creating three segments: the University of California (UC), accepting the top 1/8 of high school graduates (now with 10 campuses and total enrollment of around 234,000); the California State University System (CSU), open to the top 1/3 (now 23 campuses and enrollment of about 427,000); and the California Community College system (CCC), open to all high school graduates (now 112 campuses and enrolling about 2.6 million students). On the one hand, this arrangement made for a stratification that largely reproduced the existing economic orders in the service of large scale capitalism. On the other hand, it provided for large numbers of students, from almost all walks of life to get onto an upward economic escalator.

California’s system of higher education, from 1960 through the end of the century, has been generally hailed as the world’s most admired system of public education. And it paid off for California as an engine for economic and cultural growth.

But things have been changing lately, changing fast and furious. We call it Privatization. This takes many forms and we need to look at them in some detail to understand how they come about, who wins and who loses; and what forces are engaged in this great political struggle.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Before the Fall: Possible Futures for Anti-Austerity Movements (link to article by Amanda Armstrong)

Please check out this article by Amanda Armstrong about the pitfalls of electoral politics in the struggle to support public education and the workers that enable it.

Mission Statement for Occupy Education Northern California*

The attack on public education is one aspect of a larger attack on the public sector and on democracy more generally, where corporate interests now dominate political, social, and economic decisions. Occupy Wall Street has reshaped the debate over this country’s direction with the demand that the destruction of our communities and our earth resulting from corporatization must end: we seek something entirely different.

Occupy Education Northern California shares these broad goals and believes that we need more than simply increased funding for public education. The problems with education are deeply linked to and cannot be treated separately from racism; privatization; global economic competition rather than cooperation; and lack of access to food, housing, and healthcare. In order to address these issues, we must change the conditions in which students live and learn and provide them with tools to reimagine and reclaim their futures. Furthermore, education must prepare students to be empowered participants in a democratic community and to take respectful care of each other and of the planet.

To these ends, this is our vision:
  • Public education, from birth to life-long learning, is to be government-funded and free of charge for all individuals.
  • End the privatization of education, which includes funding cuts and fee hikes, top-down control, outsourced labor, standardized test-driven curricula, competition for access to schools, internet-based classes without human interaction, and the militarization of our campuses. 
  • Education must be shaped by the needs of students, teachers, workers, and community members with their full, democratic participation in decision-making.
  • In the interests of education and all other public services, end corporate personhood and revoke the charter of any corporation that acts against the public’s political, financial, social, or environmental wellbeing.
  • Focus the goals of education on supporting the ethical and democratic interests of all the world’s inhabitants. 

We will no longer plead with politicians who act in the economic interests of the 1%, and we will no longer buy into the false notion of “shared sacrifice.” We intend to stop the corporate program to privatize education by carrying out actions that positively embody the above principles.
Occupy Education Northern California believes that the 99% has the untapped political power necessary to realize this vision, and it is our mission to take part in a democratically led transformation of education. We invite you to join us!

*Note: The Mission Statement for Occupy Education Northern California is a living document, and we believe that it should be revised regularly to reflect the changing ideas of our participants, old and new. 

Connecting University Privatization and Police Repression (by Beezer de Martelly)

Question: I’ve heard people mention that there is a link between university privatization and increased police repression of campus protesters, but I don’t really understand. How are they connected?

Answer: While they are definitely linked, this connection can be difficult to trace. It involves some knowledge about how public university administrators profit at the expense of students and what it takes to maintain this system.

The public money that supports institutions like state colleges and universities is “restricted,” meaning it comes with a host of stipulations about how it can and cannot be spent. A certain portion of the state funds must be used towards resources that directly benefit classroom instruction, such as learning materials and increasing the teacher-to-student ratio. Under state law, these funds cannot be used entirely towards things like increased administrative salaries and non-essential construction projects.

However, since the 1990s, public schools have shifted towards a corporate business model and have become deeply networked with banking institutions and financial investment through Wall Street. In addition, regents, trustees, and other individuals responsible for making critical decisions about the university’s resources often own, among much else, major stock options and firms for real estate development (for a compelling example, see this 2010 article on the UC Regents).  As a result, university administrators see huge personal profit potential in lucrative university construction projects, which cannot be legally financed principally through public funds.

In order to pay for these projects, top administrators have shunned restricted state money, relying increasingly on unrestricted tuition to finance the growth of the institution as well as their pocketbooks. In other words, in the form of tuition, students are now fronting the cash required to back the university’s bank loans for major construction projects. And because these same administrators make the decisions about tuition increases, the university is virtually guaranteed a nearly endless and rapidly growing cash flow as well as an impeccable credit rating.

Of course, as tuition skyrockets out of control, students must take out huge loans from the banks—the average college student in the U.S. now graduates into a dismal job market with around $26,000 in debt. Like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, these loans are being chopped up and sold off to thousands of creditors seeking to make a profit off of the interest--not coincidentally, the UC Regents also sit on the boards of many of these lending institutions. This year, student loan debt topped $1 trillion, and through the strange logic of late capitalism, speculators estimate the collective worth of this debt to be around $2.67 trillion. Furthermore, unlike other forms of debt, college loans can never be absolved, even in the case of bankruptcy. In sum, students are paying an enormous, often life-long price for an education that no longer guarantees a job while college and university administrators privatize their schools and profit from their debt.

However, as more students refuse to go into debt to pay for their educations and begin to question the logic upon which university growth rests, university administrators are finding themselves in a very precarious position. As such, many administrators, like the University of California’s Regents, have come to view their own students as barriers to economic growth, and they believe that these students must be disciplined into continuing to finance the expansion of the university. This discipline takes many forms, from student conduct policies that limit or eliminate First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly, legal repression through law suits and so-called “stay away” orders, to campus and local municipal police brutalizing protesters. The program of privatization depends upon these methods of silencing voices and crushing dissenting bodies. And as administrators increase the surveillance of and militarization against their own students, literally forcing them into taking on more debt, college campuses are starting to look and feel more and more like embattled war zones.


Brown, Nathan. 2011. “Five Theses on Privatization and the University Struggle.” 
Reclaim UC Blog, November 17. Accessed June 21, 2012.
Byrne, Peter. 2010. “Investor’s Club: How the UC Regents Spin Public Funds into
Gould-Wartofsky, Michael. 2012. “Homeland Security Goes to College: How College
Campuses Became a Homeland Security Battleground.” Mother Jones, March. Accessed June 21, 2012.
Harris, Malcolm. 2011. “Rising Tuition + Student Loans = Education Bubble.” The
Nance-Nash, Sheryl. 2012. “Student Loan Debt: $1 Trillion and Counting.” Forbes,
Rodriguez, Dylan. 2011. “De-Provincializing Police Violence: On the Recent Events at
UC Davis.” Reclaim UC Blog, December 9. Accessed June 21, 2012.

What's Wrong With Standardized Tests? (by Mike Jones)

Are standardized tests fair and helpful evaluation tools?  Not really. They are very limited in what they reveal about a student. They reward the ability to quickly answer superficial questions that do not require much thought. They do not measure the ability to think or create or to see and understand  nuances in writing whether literary, historical or scientific. These tests can encourage a narrowed curriculum resulting in the famous line “teach to the test”. They are also class and race biased based on the language and syntax used  in the test questions themselves.

Are standardized tests objective?  They are objective in terms of how they are scored but the wording and choice of questions, the determination of the correct answer and the ways that the tests are administered are not.  They can, however, provide some comparative analysis of students and schools from different parts of a given state or city.

Do tests reflect what we know about how students learn?  Not really. Standardized tests are based in behaviorist theories from the nineteenth century. While our understanding of the brain and how people learn and think has progressed enormously, tests have remained the same.  Knowledge cannot be compartmentalized and people don’t learn by passively absorbing  bits of information. If they cannot actively make meaning out of what they are doing or reading, they do not learn or remember. But most standardized tests are still based on recall of isolated facts and narrow skills. 

Do multiple-choice tests measure important student achievement?  They do not measure the ability to write, to use math in a real deep sense, to make meaning from text when reading, to understand scientific methods or reasoning, or to grasp social science concepts. Nor do these tests adequately measure thinking skills or assess what people can do on real-world tasks. They mostly reflect a regurgitation of knowledge that has been “poured” in from the teachers.  

What can multiple-choice items be used for? Multiple-choice items are best used for checking whether students have learned facts and routine procedures that have one, clearly correct answer. If, on a reading test, a student selected a somewhat plausible answer, does it mean that she cannot read, or that she does not see things exactly the way the testmaker does?   Carefully written multiple-choice items can fairly accurately tell if a student can grasp a basic concept or not.

Are test scores helpful to teachers?  For a variety of  reasons, NO.  Teachers generally do not find scores from standardized tests very helpful, so they rarely use them. Not only is the timing of test results problematic (tests administered in the spring of the previous year don’t come out until late summer or early fall of the following year), but also the data is generally not presented in a useful way.  For instance a teacher could use test score data from previous years to improve instruction for future students in particular areas of study (say the Great Depression, for instance, in U.S. History).  If a history teacher had properly disaggregated data that showed his or her students generally did not “score” well in this particular strand (the GD), then she/he could work on changing instruction.  Obviously the delay time that exists between test administration and the results are of  no use for a teacher dealing with their current students.

Should standardized tests be abolished?  No, but they should definitely be deemphasized.  The states and federal government need to develop accountability systems that are based on multiple forms of assessment, which include, but are not limited or overly-reliant on standardized  tests.  Multiple assessments could include portfolios, projects, performance-based evaluations, reports and experiments among other evaluative tools.

Questions and parts of these answers are based on information provided by Fair Test.  As a high school teacher who has administered these tests for the past 9 or 10 years and who has actively opposed NCLB and high stakes testing for the same basic  period of time, I have a pretty strong understanding of the  faults of high stakes testing.

Is Occupy Education saying I was wrong to send my child to a charter or private school if that’s what seemed best for my child? (by Peter Brown)

NO.  It’s not wrong to do the best you can for your child.  However, if we can agree that Public Schools have been badly damaged (that’s why some parents send their kids elsewhere, right?), and that it’s part of a much larger crisis, then we all need to look at a couple of things. 

1. Lots of folks right now are just seeing and dealing with what’s right in front of them: “how can I get my child in the best school?”  In a crisis, it’s far better to have a strategy than to just follow our noses, dealing with what’s right in front of us.  Any firefighter will tell you that just following your nose in a burning house can kill you.  We have to go beyond that now, to defend our children’s future

2.  Any strategy needs to be based on the current situation, not some situation from past periods.  We’ve been told for decades that if we send our kids to the right schools, and if they work really hard, and if they go to college, they will have a good job and a secure life doing productive work.  That’s no longer true.
Students who did all the right things are graduating from college deeply in debt, unable to find work other than temp jobs, and moving back in with their parents or worse.  It’s no longer possible to guarantee a good future for our children separately from a good future for all people.  We need new strategies to build a new and better future. 
No matter how we’ve made the difficult decisions we’ve had to make in the past, we can all help defend public education now, if we come together with a clear view of  what’s being done to it.  Occupy Education Northern California is committed to defending the future of education for all. (For more information, see our Mission Statement.)

Why is our government saying education is so important, but doing things that make no sense for education? (by Peter Brown)

Plain old street crime is pretty straightforward; the guy with the gun says "gimme your money now!"  

It's not so clear with high-finance corporate crime, when corporations have taken over the government -- they get politicians, or nice foundation people, to smile and say "We want to help the children! Public education isn't working! Americans need better education to compete with foreign labor! Unions are the problem! Close schools that aren't working, & fire the lazy union teachers!"  They hire PR firms to put out slick advertising and "documentaries", showing how their plans will help your child get an education and get a good job.  Remember how Proposition 13 got sold to us back in the late '70's?  "It will help the elderly keep their homes!"  That's when school budgets started getting the shaft.

The problem is that their charter schools, and their private, for-profit universities like Phoenix and Kaplan, don't educate better, or even as well as public schools.  What they do very well is make money & put students into debt slavery, along with the companies that make up the high-stakes tests.

It’s true that education in our country, including public education, has serious problems beyond lack of funds, and vast numbers of public school educators are deeply involved in transforming how education is practiced in America.  However, the actions of “reformers” such as the Gates Foundation and the Broad Institute speak louder than their words: if they truly wanted education to improve, they would not still be funding and promoting proven failures such as corporate charter schools and for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix. 

The truth is, they don't intend to educate your child.  Corporations originally pushed for public education so they'd have lots of workers who could read, write, & do math to work in their factories back when they needed millions of workers to run machinery and create goods & services.  Now the factories, the phone switchboards, and even the science labs are run largely by robotic automation.  Corporations don't need very many of us to run the factories, to make things or move information, so they don't need lots of education and they don't intend to pay for it.  They won't educate workers who they will never hire, but they will pay to keep them under control.

On charter Schools (by Peter Brown)

Why is the charter school trend bad for education?  Aren't charter schools just independent people trying out adventurous new ideas to educate their children?

Many charter schools began as innovative, small-scale, locally based attempts to offer better education.  A very few still are.  However, the charter movement has been mostly taken over by a few large charter corporations (Green Dot, Aspire, etc.) that make a profit by turning education into something that can be invested in at a profit.

The charter movement as a whole has been used as a wedge to split communities away from the ideals of public education and turn ordinary people against public schools and public school teachers.

Our public schools have never been perfect, but they did actually function before corporate forces began campaigns such as Proposition 13 (1978). These were engineered to de-fund the public schools, and to manipulate us against everything public, including education. 

For more information, see:
Tough Choices or Tough Times
Death & Life of Great American School System by Dianne Ravitch

What does “the 99%” and “the 1%” mean? (by Peter Brown)

This is a poetic way of talking about class power and privilege in our country.  If we look at it as just “numbers” or as simply the highest 1% of income, we can miss the point.  

“The 99%” is about the vast majority of us who have almost no security or property (oh, do you actually own your house, or do you share it with some hedge fund?), actually 99.999% of the population.  

We have to work to survive; they call us “the middle class” to keep us from seeing our connection to people just like us who are already dispossessed, but we are the working class because we have to work to survive, regardless of our income.  Highly paid executives are being fired, and often plunging into poverty within a couple of years because their savings are exhausted due to debt, medical crises, etc.

The "1%”, actually the .001%, or 1 of every 100,000 people, speaks about not just the richest, but about those who actually control our economy and government, the billionaire CEOs and Directors and major stockholders of the giant investment banks such as Morgan Stanley, J.P.Morgan Chase, UBS, etc.

But I thought private enterprise was more efficient and more innovative than government control... (by Peter Brown)

Yes, and who’s been telling us that for the last hundred years?  The truth is that corporations, or private enterprise, are very efficient at doing what is most important to their shareholders.  They are not at all efficient at doing what’s good for families and communities if it doesn’t fit in with their prime mission: maximum profit (it’s the Law!).  

Think about it. Over 2 years ago, PG&E blew up San Bruno.  For the last two years, we have seen almost daily articles in the SF Chron revealing constant, ongoing mismanagement, corruption, sloppiness, and downright criminality by the same company that brought us the Hinckley disaster (remember “Erin Brockovitch”?), which, by the way, is still going on after 20 years!  

Yet, this company is still allowed to do business!  Where are the outraged stockholders, demanding that PG&E right its many wrongs and transform its management?  Why has our government not revoked PG&E’s corporate charter, seized its assets and made it a public utility for the sake of our safety?

Government is, in fact, very efficient at serving the needs of some people, but not all people in our country.  It’s a poorly kept secret that we have economic classes in the United States. Some people have a great deal of power because they own so much productive property (factories, banks, all kinds of corporations, but especially banks), while most of us own at most a home and a car, none of which brings us any measurable power over government.

Today, government, any government, serves the ruling class.  The “1%”, actually the “.001%” who control the biggest investment banks and hedge funds are the ruling class; they have their hands on the steering wheel of this country. 

We may have the illusion that, because Bill Gates or some other billionaire CEO wears blue jeans and behaves in an easygoing, informal manner that they are just like us, but it is simply that, an illusion.  It’s more relevant to ask what one of them can do with a signature (affect millions of lives), and what you or I can do with a signature (maybe pay our bills).  These folks do not act alone, or without plans.  They are in touch with others of their class and confer regularly to set or adjust their strategies to carry out their needs.  That’s what the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, the Group of Eight, etc. represent: they are the strategic bodies of the 1%.  They have nothing in common with our needs.

Government can be very efficient for us, the “99%” who actually make everything work, but only if we create a new kind of politics to reflect the real needs of people instead of needs of corporations. The 99% need to become the ruling class in this country.

Why Corporations Necessarily Reduce the Quality of Public Education (by Steven Miller)

Repeated polls show the American public feels that corporations certainly have no place in one area of the economy – public schools. People understand that corporations exist primarily to make a private profit. When public school budgets are cut, the profit comes by providing less and pocketing the difference. The result, across the board, is that the quality of education is systematically reduced by corporations.

There is abundant evidence for this. After Katrina, New Orleans established a massive system of charters to replace almost every public school. The state of Louisiana is hardly noted for defending public education, but this year it gave the charters an “F.”

In Oakland, the privatizers and corporatizers have decreed that kindergarten lasts all day. There is no longer any time for naps for the 5 year-olds. They must spend their afternoons developing their “test-taking skills.”

It is standard today in every industry to use various metrics to measure progress towards “outcomes” that corporations value. These measures are used to systematize performance and almost always lead to reducing the workforce. In nursing, such quantitative measures have been used to reduce the quality of care by prescribing exactly how nurses can “legitimately” interact with patients. 

What happens in public schools is no different. Standardized testing is used to shift the emphasis of education towards a drill-and-kill regime that focuses on test results. No serious educator would state that a single number, produced by a multiple choice test, is a complete measure of what a child can achieve. Yet these tests are used to close schools, get rid of experienced teachers and break up teaching teams that have long worked together to achieve authentic educational results. All of this reduces the quality of education.

Isn't education so much more than just getting a job? Education should be about developing the full and very different potentials of every human being. Education is the bedrock of democracy, teaching people to make critical and analytical choices. This is what real quality education should look like.

Corporations have penetrated public education in many ways. Charter schools are run by corporations that outsource their management to other corporations. Corporations provide the tests and the material that must be studied to pass the tests. Corporations provide training for teachers so that they can “deliver the program” that allows children to “pass” the tests.

All of these corporations are financed by loans and credit. This is determined by how well corporations do in the speculative investment market – the same financial industry that destroyed the economy for all of us in 2008. The investments, in turn, are based on data that ultimately come from test scores. This is a system that has been deformed to suit the profit-making needs of corporations, not reformed to meet the needs of parents and students.

In 1955, the Supreme Court decided that segregated schools could never be equal. Charter schools across the country today are more segregated that urban schools were 50 years ago. This was the result of the political failure of our system to guarantee equal, quality education for every student. Stanford University has estimated that public education in minority areas of California has been underfunded by $1 trillion dollars in this time.

Corporations and their political allies have played on the legitimate concern of families that public education in the central cities has never really been allowed to improve. But it is impossible to achieve quality education, not to mention equality, by making a social right into a commercial relationship. By definition, private corporations cannot guarantee our public rights.