Friday, May 11, 2012

Have Mercy - Norm in the Wave This Week

Published in print edition May 11, 2012

Have Mercy
By Norm Scott

Next week will mark a year since the premiere of “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman” which we at the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) produced as a response to the anti-union, anti-public school, pro charter “Waiting for Superman.” So far we estimate 10,000 copies are in circulation world-wide. I’ve been surprised at the amount of interest from college teachers of education and their students and we have been asked to speak at numerous venues. (Sorry I couldn’t make the ones in Hawaii or Turkey.)

The other day I went up to Mercy College in Yorktown Heights in Yonkers to speak to an interesting group of students. I had met the instructor, Alexandra Miletta, in Washington DC last summer at the Save Our Schools (SOS) 4-day event protesting Obama’s education, pro-privatization, pro charter policies, an event that attracted 8000 educators from around the nation, including Nancy Carlson-Paige, Matt Damon’s mom who brought her famous son to the party.

There was a mix of undergrads and grads in the class at Mercy, some student teachers, some current teachers going for a Masters and even some freshman and sophomores. As Alexandra went over the materials for the class I was impressed with the degree of rigor required in the training of teachers. I should point out that I never went through a standard teacher training program myself. I was one of those 6-week wonders trained in the summer of 1967 by a school system desperate for raw recruits. What I learned about teaching came on the job, mostly from more experienced colleagues. Sound familiar? That is pretty much what Teach for America is about. Both then and now an important question to raise is, “Why should children be guinea pigs in the training of new teachers?” We’ll deal with this another time, but let’s get back to the Mercy College class and to the point I want to make.

Until recently, most of the attacks in the privatization-driven agenda of the ed deformers have been against K-12 teachers and public schools. The idea is to destroy public confidence in publicly managed institutions. There is no little irony that the very people running the NYC public schools are totally lined up with the gang looking to destroy public education – the enemy within. After all, there is easily one trillion dollars up for grabs and more to come once they manage to lower the average salary of teachers nationwide (by undermining the unions) so they can shift the funds into profits. Now how do you do that? By de-skilling the profession, by making it easier to become a teacher, and by lowering standards and requirements. Call it the “anyone can be a teacher with little or no training” mantra. The lower the skill level, the less you have to pay. And if you can get most teachers to leave within five years, you never have to pay higher salaries or pensions. Really a win-win for the profiteers, a lose-lose for everyone else, especially the children.

Now we are beginning to see the early stages of an extension of the attack on teachers to the college level, especially as there are billions to be made by degrading the work of colleges that train future teachers. I’ll agree that there are some legitimate criticisms about some of the training, mostly about how it talks about methods of teaching without addressing the reality of so many classrooms. But that could be fixed. Instead the privatizers, as they are doing with K-12, want to throw out the baby with the bath water to maximize their profits.

As I listened to Alexandra talk about the extensive training her students were engaged in, including, horrors, student teaching, I was thinking about a NY Times article the day before by Michael Winerip on the outsourcing of the teacher licensing process by an increasing number of states to Pearson and Stanford University. Remember Pearson, a mega-giant raking in billions from every area of the education spectrum, from some of my recent columns? They are now famous for the pineapplegate story I wrote about in my last column about the confusing pineapple and the hare story on the 8th grade test. Pearson received a $32 million 5-year contract to create tests for the corrupt NY State Education Department (ask our own NY State Regent Geraldine Chapey who is supposed to have some oversight over NYSED about that scam). Since then every day there are more reports on exam errors, exams whose inaccurate results are used to rate teachers and schools with severe consequences like closing schools and firing teachers.

So now the tentacles of Pearson (which recently bought the entire GED program with increasing charges for test takers) reaching into the teacher licensing process. Pearson uses its lobbying clout to get states, including NY, to sign on. Winerip points out that people studying to be teachers will be evaluated by people being paid $75 per assessment with Pearson advertising work is “available seven days a week” for current or retired licensed teachers or administrators.

Will these people be visiting prospective teachers in a classroom? Not. Instead, prospective teachers will send in “two 10-minute videos of themselves teaching, as well as a 40-page take-home test, requirements of an assessment that will soon be necessary for licensure in several states” – judging your ability to be a teacher by remote control. And here an important point. Teachers will be required to pay $300 to engage in this farce, giving Pearson even more profits.

Winerip points out that, “In New York, Pearson will be able to test a teacher’s worth from start to finish. The company currently administers the test students must pass to be admitted to a teaching program and is developing the testing system that will be used to calculate each teacher’s annual performance score.” And Pearson also creates the tests students take that will end up judging the teachers. The circle closes.

Where oh where is the union in all this? Really, don’t ask. Well, actually you can ask. For a sign I’ll close with this quote from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on Joel Klein: “He’s always had a reputation for integrity.”

Klein as Chancellor pushed contract after contract for on-line learning to an obscure Brooklyn-based ed tech company named “Wireless Generation” before leaving for a $4 million a year job working for that phone hacking criminal Rupert Murdoch, who a month after hiring Klein bought Wireless Generation. Integrity indeed. That’s like saying another Murdoch creation, FOX Faux Facts, has a reputation for being fair and balanced.

Hey, it’s teacher appreciation week. A good week to publish teacher data reports in the newspapers, rate them as unqualified, close their schools and fire them.
Norm blogs at


  1. Pearson now controls the coming and going of a teacher's career. And we have to pay them for the privilege. 2 10-minute videos decide the fate of future teachers while a flawed 60-minute test decides the fate of a teacher's job. Really amazing. NCLB and RTTT have made people with no background in education millionaires and billionaires just on testing and charters alone. Teachers and students just get screwed.


  2. And I'll come back to the issue I always raise: Where is the UFT/AFT on all this? With a national bully pulpit that can get attention they are basically silent. The AFT should be calling on a total boycott of Pearson but I bet there are financial ties somewhere.

  3. I will gladly speak on your behalf in Hawaii.

  4. I mentioned the Klein/Murdoch/Wireless connection during a conflict of interest board presentation at my school. I was told that this and other similar situations are legal, in spite of what it may appear to be.

    Hmmmmm, I guess it is only in the UK that Murdoch has conducted illegal business transactions.


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