Civil Disobedience – The Next Reform?

[Video at the link now because it was auto-playing]
This is Anibel Soler, principal of East High School, an urban Rochester school that’s been told by the state of New York that it needs to shut down or take on new management. Soler is addressing the school board, advocating that they ignore the state:

East has 1,700 students in grades 7 through 12. Seventy-seven percent are low-income. Fifteen percent speak English as a second language. Twenty percent have disabilities. The graduation rate is the same as the district average – 43 percent.

“You cannot find another urban school district in the country that is performing without some kind of filter, without some kind of way to pick kids, pick staff, do something different,” Soler told the board. “The beautiful thing about East High, we don’t do that. We take what we get. We do the best we can. We work hard every day and we’re proud of it.”

Soler implored the school board to ask the state a simple question about urban school transformations, “Show me where it’s worked.”

This is a district where kids entering kindergarten have a vocabulary that’s an order of magnitude smaller than kids entering in suburban districts. We’ve tried chocolate Jesus superintendents, stretching the school day and school year, and teaching to the test until hell wouldn’t have it any more. And still the schools are “failing”. Now the state wants to re-arrange the deck chairs on this Titanic one more time to avoid facing the fact that the performance of the schools here are little more than an honest measurement of the deep structural issues of the society in which they’re placed. As Soler himself points out, there’s no way the school board will engage in civil disobedience, but it would be pretty goddam interesting to see some school board somewhere say “enough” to the reformers. Instead, we’re going to bring on the next set of dancing horses.






64 replies
  1. 1

    Please can you turn off the auto-play?

  2. 2
    c u n d gulag says:

    “Instead, we’re going to bring on the next set of dancing horses.”

    More like drive another car full of clowns into the tent- unfunny clowns.

  3. 3
    Baud says:

    As Soler himself points out, there’s no way the school board will engage in civil disobedience, but it would be pretty goddam interesting to see some school board somewhere say “enough” to the reformers.

    As sympathetic as I am to this issue, that sounds a little too much like nullification to me.

  4. 4

    @c u n d gulag: Clowns are not funny they are scary.

  5. 5
    Biscuits says:

    Smaller class sizes, longer school year. Has that been tried yet? No, because of our priorities and $.

  6. 6
    c u n d gulag says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    True, that!

  7. 7
    evolved beyond the fist mistermix says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: It wasn’t auto-playing for me but I changed it.

  8. 8
    gene108 says:

    Think of the tax savings that could be had, if we shut down all the under preforming schools, because the locals were not taking full advantage of them anyway.

    Sure you’ll have a class of illiterate poor people, stuck in grinding poverty with no means to get out of it, but the rest of us will save money on taxes, which will even things out in the long run.

  9. 9
    Bob says:

    Having spent my entire working life in education, I can attest to the fact that there is no other area so quick to embrace the next cure. Which is to say, “dancing horses.”

  10. 10
    bemused says:

    I recently saw a rescue the wretched restaurant show and the dining room had a green hologram clown picture on the wall that was definitely creepy and freaked out customers. Yet the owners didn’t remove it.

  11. 11
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    I’ve got it! Let’s not blame underfunding,or the fact that because it’s necessary for both parents to work the children are raising themselves, let’s blame the schools. That should fix things up tout de suite.

    If the children of East High School are “failing” it might just be because society is failing them.

  12. 12
    Baud says:

    @gene108:

    , but the rest of us will save money on taxes

    Doubt it.

  13. 13
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    I have survived an L-shaped ambush at less than twenty meters. Clowns are still frightening to me.

  14. 14

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: I hated going to the circus because of the clowns. I have never found them funny.

  15. 15
  16. 16
    semperfi123 says:

    Snowden groupie muckymux posting latest NSA clickbait story in 3…2….1

  17. 17
    NotMax says:

    @schrodinger’s cat

    Do not watch this video. :·)

  18. 18
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @semperfi123:
    Apropos of nothing. Troll.

  19. 19
    cckids says:

    @gene108:

    Sure you’ll have a class of illiterate poor people, stuck in grinding poverty with no means to get out of it, but the rest of us will save money on taxes, which will even things out in the long run.

    No we won’t, the tax money will just shift from schools to more prisons. Like J. Kozol said in “Savage Inequalities”: “Even if you don’t mind the ethical implications of essentially throwing away 25% of kids, think about the economic & social aspects”.

    We won’t all be invited to live in the walled & gated enclaves.

    ETA: that is a paraphrase, not exact quote

  20. 20
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @cckids:
    “Penny wise and pound foolish,” seems to have taken over.

  21. 21
    FlyingToaster says:

    @Baud: Not quite.

    Right now, State BoE’s use the state funding whip to force compliance with these “directives”.

    A school district who gets directed grants for specific programs (special needs, ESL, etc) may depend almost entirely on the state funding. Given the statistics, that is probably the case for Rochester’s East High.

    The district board can’t make up that $ shortfall, unless they can force some accountability on the state directive, as the principal is asking.

    In suburban schools, there are already kids who are filling in their name on the bubble tests, and then writing “I decline to take this test” and handing it in and walking out — aka the Bartleby maneuver.

    As far as I’m concerned, we need to repeal NCLB and RTTT. It’s all effing bullshit. If you want outcomes from public schools to compare to those of private schools, you need to emulate the private schools’ methods, assholes.

    Note: yes, I send my daughter to private school. Because my towns’ schools suck, and the local teachers I know were pretty clear that she’d be classified a “discipline problem” and I’d be classified a “problem parent”. I could spend money on lawyers, or on teachers, and I chose the latter.

  22. 22
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @cckids:

    Even if you don’t mind the ethical implications of essentially throwing away 25% of kids, think about the economic & social aspects”.

    The economic and social aspects aren’t bugs, they’re features. The tendency is to turn everything into a positional good – so that what makes it good is not its goodness, but that it exists at all. Then you can get people to fight like wolverines for less, and less, and pocket the savings. A never-ending-experiment in how little can you give them and not get lynched. Winner gets to live in Gstad.

    My access to quality education is a fiction, but your access is a farce.
    My health ‘insurance’ is based on fee-for-no-service, premiums without product. But you don’t have anything.
    My job sucks, but you have no job at all.

    This works best when the contrasts are strongest.

    The goal is a slightly-less-crowded version of India.

  23. 23
    gelfling545 says:

    @Bob: Well you are lucky it was only the “next” cure. In my district we always jumped on the bandwagon just as the wheels were falling off.

  24. 24
    Josie says:

    I almost hesitate to suggest it, since school boards will just add it to the list of things for teachers to do, but the educational systems need to have enough money to add social services type people who reach out to the communities and homes of the students. The home lives and neighborhoods of students need to be improved for the performance of the children to be affected. True, there are always a few children who excel despite poverty and poor neighborhoods, but they are exceptions, not the rule.

  25. 25
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @gelfling545:
    @Bob:
    Thirty years here — I started public-school teaching the year A Nation at Risk came out. Since then, Four different school models. Three major legislative initiatives. (Remember Porter-Obey? That was before NCLB, which was before the mishegas we have now.)

    And as a poorish, largely rural state, these things come late here and we embrace them, just as everyone else is jumping on a new bandwagon.

    Going to the annual national clambake for what is clearly Last Year’s Model is something I’ve done twice already — fewer publishers’ tables, less and tattier bling in the gimme bag…

  26. 26
    Marc says:

    @Baud:

    As sympathetic as I am to this issue, that sounds a little too much like nullification to me.

    Civil disobedience is by definition disobedient. Somebody’s disobeying a lawful order to disperse, marching without a permit, refusing to pay the poll tax, or violating city transit policy.

    The difference is that nullifiers are generally people in positions of authority who resist any attempts to limit their authority. And when confronted about it they tend to whine and claim victimization instead of facing the consequences with grace and adding to their moral authority, which is how civil disobedience is supposed to work. Of course, that distinction also depends on having the moral authority to begin with.

  27. 27
    RSA says:

    Soler implored the school board to ask the state a simple question about urban school transformations, “Show me where it’s worked.”

    There’s some irony in Soler’s asking for accountability from the people (at the state level) who emphasize accountability.

  28. 28
    Ruckus says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    If the children of East High School are “failing” it might just be because society is failing them.

    This. Ten thousand times this.
    I’m nominating this for understatement of the year.

    Of course we as a society can’t do anything positive to help the poors and minorities, like decent paying jobs or giving a shit about them being even minimally successful. What must life be like that people will risk what ever little bit they have to come here poor and try to work themselves to the bone for not even table scraps?
    Give us your tired, your poor, your hungry and we will beat the life right out of them.

  29. 29
    Cervantes says:

    @Davis X. Machina: I wish I could say you’re too cynical.

    I wish it were crazy to think you aren’t cynical enough.

    Thank you for your work in the public schools.

  30. 30
    dr. bloor says:

    @Biscuits: “Longer school year” pretty much falls into the category of magical sparkle ponies given the current state of affairs–in most cases, it will just keep kids in the building longer for more substandard education, including harried teachers, overcrowded classes, kids that are so far behind by the middle/high school level that you’re just doing damage control, two-minute passing times, twenty minute lunches (as early as 10:00 am), no study halls/library time, minimal physical education, and little if any exposure to the arts. And that would be super fabulous in in July, in most of those obsolete school buildings that don’t have air conditioning.

    You’re right about the smaller class sizes and $, of course. Much cheaper to bring in yet another team of MBAs to reinvent the square wheel than it is to introduce real structural reform.

  31. 31
    Mnemosyne says:

    East has 1,700 students in grades 7 through 12. Seventy-seven percent are low-income. Fifteen percent speak English as a second language. Twenty percent have disabilities. The graduation rate is the same as the district average – 43 percent.

    I realize several other people have said this before me, but these sure sound like the kind of problems that would benefit from having money thrown at them for things like smaller class sizes, extra tutors, additional enrichment programs, vocational training, etc. But we can’t have the poors getting above themselves and thinking they can actually do better than their parents.

  32. 32

    @Davis X. Machina:

    The goal is a slightly-less-crowded version of India.

    What do you mean?

  33. 33
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Ruckus:

    The spooky part is that people will find a way to make it through the world.

  34. 34
    Mnemosyne says:

    @dr. bloor:

    I sometimes wonder if a longer school day would be helpful, but I think it would only work if the later part of the day were reserved for things like enrichment classes (art and music) or study hall with homework help on-site. Plus it would have to extend downwards to the lower grades, because a lot of the junior high and high school kids need to be at home to babysit their younger siblings until their parents get home.

  35. 35
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Gross disparity of income.
    Next-to-zero social provision.
    Next-to-zero environmental regulation.
    Pedal-to-the-metal capitalism.
    Debt slavery, and debt suicide.
    Caste de facto if not de jure..
    (Fundamentalist) state religion, ditto.
    Looking over its shoulder at China all day long.

    The whole thing spackled over with a thin layer of parliamentary democracy, and protected by a powerful and expensive military.

  36. 36

    @Davis X. Machina:

    (Fundamentalist) state religion, ditto.

    India does not have a state religion. In what is India’s parliamentary democracy not real?

  37. 37
    Cervantes says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Savage (income) inequality.

  38. 38
    Mike in NC says:

    @bemused: The season premier of “Kitchen Nightmares”. They did get rid of the creepy clown after the restaurant redesign. The owner probably took it home.

  39. 39
    Cervantes says:

    @dr. bloor: Can you say more about this?

    twenty minute lunches (as early as 10:00 am)

    Thanks.

  40. 40
    Violet says:

    Is there a way to get someone to do a pilot program of “throw more money at it”? Take a substandard school in a poor area. Spend money fixing up the building. Add arts classes, enrichment classes, tutors, pay the teachers there a lot more money–maybe advertise the higher salaries and attract great teachers, add classroom assistants, the best technology, etc. Give it a go for a year or two years and see how it works. Are the kids performing better? What’s the return on investment? Pilot the program and report results in “ROI” language that the MBAs-who-fuck-up-everything can understand.

  41. 41
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: De jure, no. But de facto? BJP is a thing. Saffron Terror is a thing.

    Like the GOP.

  42. 42
    Mike G says:

    @Violet:

    Spend more money? They’d never let it happen. Because if it worked it would increase the pressure to spend more money elsewhere.

    The only “solutions” that will be considered involve spending less money and/or increasing the power and status of the management caste.

  43. 43
    Chris says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    I defer to people who know more, but my impression of India is that it’s a democracy in the same way Gilded Age America was a democracy. E.G, between the gross corruption and the gross inequality, pretty much In Name Only.

  44. 44
    Ruckus says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:
    Survive, yes.
    How about more than that?
    What is the ideal of this country? Or is there one anymore other than, America! Fuck Yeah! Guns, Kill, Die! ?

  45. 45
    themann1086 says:

    Now the state wants to re-arrange the deck chairs on this Titanic

    What a horrible metaphor; school reform is not sinking, it is soaring! If anything it’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.

    [with apologies to Colbert]

  46. 46
    Gene108 says:

    @cckids:

    You guys do realize I was being sarcastic?

    I just sometimes feel that is what conservatives are thinking. Especially those who feel our nation’s great experiment” with public education has somehow hurt us, by making us less god fearing for example.

    @Chris:

    The amount of economic uplift and socio-economic progress in India over the past 67 years, especially the last 20 years, is far from a Gilded Age.

    Income disparity is huge, but poverty rates have also been cut in half. You do not have rags-to-riches stories, but you do have poor people moving up to lower middle class, lower middle class moving up to middle class, etc.

    India’s fertility rate is 2.6 kids per family, though this is not even throughout the country. The South rivals European fertility rates, while the Western parts of the country rival the USA. The eastern Hindi belt area has higher rates of 3 to 4 kids per family, which is the big driver in population growth. Literacy rates are also up.

    The biggest difference between India and the USA, from a cultural stand point, is optimism. Indians are optimistic about the future because of all the progress made in the past generation. Americans are pessimistic about the future because of what is seen as economic decline over the past generation.

    Whatever flaws India has it is the most ethnically diverse country on the planet and has managed to forge a national identity and have a functioning democracy, when so many other nations have failed to stay together.

  47. 47

    @Davis X. Machina: Congress’ ineptitude has been responsible for the rise of BJP, they have been around in one form or the other since the 1920s but gained traction only in the 90s. People used to point and laugh at the Sanghis (members of the RSS) before.

  48. 48

    @Chris: The elections are free and fair. The poor in India vote in large numbers. Politics is not just a preserve of the wealthy and the upper caste.
    Affirmative action is much more muscular and robust. That is not to say that there are no problems.

  49. 49

    @Cervantes: That is indeed a huge problem. Although some states are better than the others on this front.

  50. 50
    Cervantes says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Yes.

    What is your take on Arundhati Roy’s critiques of Indian politics?

  51. 51

    @Cervantes: I think she is an Indian version of a firebagger. She also likes to make herself the story. I do like her as a writer. God of Small Things was brilliant.

  52. 52
    Barbara says:

    @Gene108: I admit I don’t know much about India but it seems to me the optimism is not completely shared: those farmers committing suicide are not high on the future.

    This thread reminds me of an ongoing discussion an old friend and I periodically take up: India or Mexico, what is the US’s future?

    It also reminds me how glad I am my kid’s in high school. It’s a very good bet he’ll graduate before the cancer of school reform metastasizes to suburbia. Because it will. The destruction of the American public school continues on…

  53. 53
    Cervantes says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: I agree: she’s a good writer and that first novel was exquisite.

    If you have time to expand on your statements 1 and 2, I would appreciate it. (I have no idea precisely what you mean by “firebagger,” for example, or how the term might apply to her. It can’t just be that her critique is too radical for your taste, can it?)

  54. 54
    gene108 says:

    @Violet:

    Sometime in the 1970’s or 1980’s a lot of states passed laws to even out school spending, so you did not have massive disparities between wealthy and poorer districts in terms of per pupil spending.

    Per this Rochester City schools spend about 18k per pupil, which seems to be in-line with the rest of New York state.

    The real issue is addressing the underlying economic problems in poor areas that impact schools or making a dedicated effort to spend well above the state average in poorer school districts to try and lift people out of poverty.

  55. 55

    @Cervantes: She is like a pretty version of Michael Moore, her critiques are over the top and she makes herself the story. That detracts from the people she is trying to help and in many cases alienates her allies. She is not as effective a political activist as she is a writer.

    ETA: Her America bashing is ridiculous and over the top as well.

  56. 56

    @Barbara: Globalization has not benefited everyone in India uniformly. The debt ridden farmers are certainly on the losing side.

  57. 57
    gene108 says:

    @Barbara:

    This thread reminds me of an ongoing discussion an old friend and I periodically take up: India or Mexico, what is the US’s future?

    I think trying to “Americanize” another country’s accomplishments and problems does not really lend much to understanding the issues a country faces. It’s hard to not draw analogies to one’s own situation, when looking at something foreign (in the sense of something that is not you, like another person – neighbor, co-worker, etc. – or country), but it is not the most effective tool we possess as people to expand our understanding.

    I do not think America will “become” India, Mexico, or any other country.

    The U.S. is unique in the world because of its giant, massive, gargantuan, ridiculously large, and epically huge economy that enables it to have its currency be the world’s reserve currency and serve as the backbone of the rest of the global economy.

    Americans really do not grasp how huge the U.S. economy is compared to the rest of the world.

    For example, the TARP bail out was $800 billion. Greece owes $325 billion in debt and had a major crisis. In short, we blew more than twice the value of Greece’s economy on a one time bailout and absorbed it without crapping the bed, with regards to paying our debts.

    The U.S. economy is still growing, despite not very robustly.

    Right now there is no other country that can unilaterally come close to challenging the U.S. as the global leader.

    If the U.S. were to become “India or Mexico” it would have to lose its place, not only as the global leader, but somehow far so behind the rest of the world that it would not be in the top 50 globally in per capita income and not in the top 10 in total income.

    That would be a economic crash that would take the rest of the world with us.

  58. 58
    James E. Powell says:

    @gene108:

    That would be a economic crash that would take the rest of the world with us.

    Are you ruling that out?

  59. 59
    Cervantes says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    She is like a pretty version of Michael Moore, her critiques are over the top and she makes herself the story.

    OK, I see again that you don’t like her critiques of Indian politics, but I still don’t see why. Taking both your responses together, there is still not one substantive criticism of what she has written. In what way are any of her conclusions wrong? You still have not said.

    (If you don’t have the time to get into it, that’s not a problem. But for what it’s worth, I don’t find Michael Moore’s critiques to be perfectly bad or perfectly good, and if he is a bit of a show-man then so much the better, as far as I’m concerned.)

    That detracts from the people she is trying to help and in many cases alienates her allies. She is not as effective a political activist as she is a writer. ETA: Her America bashing is ridiculous and over the top as well.

    You may be right — but without some detail I don’t know what you’re referring to.

    In any event, thanks.

  60. 60
    RSR says:

    “The beautiful thing about East High, we don’t do that. We take what we get. We do the best we can. We work hard every day and we’re proud of it.”

    blueberries – http://www.dailykos.com/story/.....ion-policy

  61. 61
    Fair Economist says:

    In a society which basically forces both parent to work, school should continue until 5. Add an hour of PE, an hour of art, and an hour of study hall, with daycare-style activities permitted. You’d have better rounded kids and much less stressed parents.

  62. 62
    Fair Economist says:

    Always a good time to remind people – the claims that all this testing nonsense improves things is based on fraud. Michelle Rhee should be in jail, not making an easy living as a consultant and writing op-eds in the media.

  63. 63

    @Cervantes: One specific example that I can think off the top of my head was her op-ed on Kashmir and the atrocities committed by Indian troops.
    First third of the op-ed is about the Kashmir issue, she has some points worth making though I don’t agree with her completely and then she shifts the focus to herself. She loves to create drama and the valid points she makes get lost in the drama.
    I agree with many of her criticisms, its her over the top style that I have problems with.

    Roy’s 2010 op-ed

  64. 64
    Cervantes says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Thanks.

    I remember the op-ed and re-read it just now. Yes, she does talk about her own experience. As a public intellectual, she takes positions on various matters and is criticized accordingly. If, for example, you think she is not in command of the facts, you should point that out at some point. All of this seems unexceptionable to me.

    And yes, in that op-ed, she uses her personal experience to tell the story of what’s going on, as she perceives it. I guess I don’t really have a problem with this, either. Would I prefer that she write about something without going to see it for herself? I don’t think so.

    Is she creating drama or conveying it? What valid points got lost in the drama? And what is “over the top” about the writing? I ask these questions not because I think you’re wrong but because I don’t have the same reactions.

    Anyhow, thanks for elaborating.

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