Saturday, December 14, 2019

Cameras and Everything

That's what I saw today here in Pittsburgh. Every single candidate loves teachers. They all want us to make more money. Everyone is going to triple Title One, except Elizabeth Warren. (She's going to quadruple it.) Cory Booker was supposed to show up, but didn't. He was sick. He did not send a medical note, so I marked him cutting.

Too bad. I wanted to know if he still  supported vouchers. I wanted to know if he regretted teaming up with Betsy DeVos. I wanted to know why if he loved public school teacher so much, that Broad, Gates, and the Walmart family gave him money. I don't think anyone would have asked him though. There weren't a whole lot of tough questions on charters. There were some very interesting moments, though.

I was happy to meet a few people I'd only encountered on the internet. One was Peter Green, who writes great stuff on a pretty regular basis at Curmudgucation. Another was Steven Singer, who writes Gadfly on the Wall blog. I was very happy to run into Carol Burris, who runs NPE. I was happily surprised to see my friend Adriana O'Hagen, who used to work for UFT but seems to have gotten promoted to AFT.

Michael Bennet boasted of some program he started that resulted in a huge teacher strike. I believe he's the guy who's hugely into privatization, and he announced he didn't favor privatization. I guess he's been out with the charter protestors drinking the Kool-Aid. Charter schools are public schools. Yes, they are, but only in terms of taking our money. Once that's over, they do any golly gosh darn thing they feel like. Rules? Not for Eva Moskowitz. She'll take you to court until she gets her way, and whatever Eva wants, Eva gets.

After Bennet was Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose last name we'd all need to learn how to spell if he attains higher office. Mayor Pete was not altogether forthcoming on where his money came from, but in fairness, no one bothered to ask him. So what if he's taken a crapload of cash from pro-charter folk? The good folks at MSNBC didn't see fit to bother him about it, so why should I? After all, there are more important things to consider.

He's right. And why should anyone go deeper once we know that? Still, these people are professional newspeople. Maybe they don't know about the charter cash. Maybe they don't care. Maybe they're concerned with the pro-charter folk outside in the rain criticizing them. Who knows what goes on in the minds of highly-compensated TV personalities?

One of Mayor Pete's really low points from me was when he said that good teachers could result in 300K income over the life of a student. This is from a debunked and discredited Raj Chetty paper that generated a lot of conversation. Did Mayor Pete know that? If not, does he accept reforminess without question? If so, why's he repeating it?

Next was Elizabeth Warren, who came in like a whirlwind of sheer energy. I hung on her every word. The moderators, though, seemed to think now it's time to challenge someone. Warren was not bothered by it at all. At one point, she got in the face of the female reporter and said something like stop giving me that look. This notwithstanding, she answered every question with precision and clarity. She was much loved by the crowd.

It was striking that the moderators were so dead-set on rattling her. Where are you going to get the money for this? Can we really afford that? They couldn't shake her at all, and it's pretty easy to see that her mind is more accurate and quick than those of the hosts. In short, she's a hell of a lot smarter than they are. There was a lot of love in the room for her, and some of it was mine.

All day long I was lobbying to ask a question of Joe Biden. I have no idea how people got to do that, but I had my mind set on asking him this:

I recall Arne Duncan, who famously said Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans. This resulted, of course, in the charterization of the entire city, the loss of many union jobs, and the displacement of a large number of teachers. Fifteen years after Katrina, most New Orleans charters are graded D or F. Duncan also pushed test-centric initiatives, such as Race to the Top and Common Core; even so, NAEP scores remain flat. What was your position on Duncan's education initiatives? Has it changed? Why or why not?

I bugged a whole lot of people, everyone I could think of, and was waiting for an answer. My friend Adriana, who seems to know everyone I don't, was lobbying for me.

Meanwhile, we went to lunch. When we got back, Bernie Sanders came on, and the room erupted in thunderous applause. The moderators tried to challenge him. He said, at some point, "I have to stand up to answer this question." Then he kept standing, and one by one, the moderators joined him. One of the moderators tried to corral him. She said he did not support No Child Left Behind. He said no, I didn't and the audience broke into applause. The moderator started talking about the importance of testing, something she harped on throughout, and Bernie said the problem with testing was it makes us all teach to the test. I was thrilled to see Bernie Sanders live, as was much of the crowd. He's got a rock star aura, which must not be easy at his age.

Then came billionaire Tom Steyer. His mom was a teacher. Mayor Pete's husband is a teacher, though I hear at a private school. Biden's wife is a college teacher. I taught college for 20 years, and I'd argue it's a different job than what I do now. I'd also argue that what I do now is more important. It's a lot more challenging to teach teenagers than it is to teach students who actually pay to be in your class. As for Joe Biden teaching Saturdays, I'm sorry. A US Senator teaching one day a week hasn't got a clue what my job is.

I wondered why Steyer, if he was so passionate about education, didn't just spend a billion on an education association like NPE. Perhaps he could simply give a billion to everyone in the crowd today, you know, like the giveaways Oprah used to do. That would've increased his likeability tenfold, though I'm not sure it would have garnered him votes. But alas.

And that was the end of that. Amy Klobucher came on. Although I'm not at all fond of her "centrist" policies, e.g. no Medicare for All and no free college, she was quite intelligent and quite charming. Rather than simply recite that her mom was a teacher, she told a story about how her mom had touched a disabled student, who even as an adult remembered how she'd taught him about monarch butterflies.

Then there was big news about my question, and I got dragged out of the hall. I was in some little room, where everyone really loved my question but couldn't I say something about ELLs? After all, no one had mentioned them for the whole conference and there was already a question about New Orleans. Perish forbid we should get the perspective of the man who was Vice-President while this was all happening. So little by little my question evolved until it became this:

I teach English Language learners in a trailer behind the largest school in Queens, the most overcrowded school in New York City. I wear a suit and tie every day to show them the respect the city never seems to.

The effects of Race to the Top and Common Core are still around, and my students are still feeling them. I’m frequently prepping my kids to take irrelevant standardized tests they need to graduate rather than providing them with the fundamental English they so desperately need, or teaching them what writer voice and real writing actually is.

What can you do to improve conditions for my students to make sure they’re able to not only learn English, but also love it? 

Now, all I had to do was sit by mike three and wait to be called. Biden answered one question from an audience member, and went on for a long time. He loves teachers, he's our best friend, he will get us high pay and triple Title One. He was passionate about many things, he told us.

His second question was about whether he'd support standardized testing. "You're preaching to the choir," he said. I found that quite curious because he'd sat by while Arne Duncan mandated it, and neither said nor did anything to stop it. Then he went on. And he went on. At one point he said there are lousy teachers out there but you know what students need.

Biden was the only candidate who took only two questions, and that's because after a life of politics he can go on and on about anything. It doesn't matter what the question is, and I'm sure were I to ask him the second question he'd have told me he loved ELLs, they're wonderful, and he'd buy us all houses in Beverly Hills.

I really regret not having asked him the first, though. But the moderators said someone had already mentioned New Orleans, so who cares about 7,000 jobs lost, an entire city privatized, and demonstrably miserable results?

Not MSNBC, that's for sure.
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