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The Scarlet Number and the Commodifying of Kids

January 3, 2012

According to the LA Times this is a teacher who "dresses up history," but we all know him as Chuck Olynyk who doesn't view kids as commodities and has paid the price.

“Perhaps our country has succeeded not because of test scores, but because we encouraged something more important than test scores- the freedom to create, innovate and imagine”

– Diane Ravitch

That scarlet number is  AGT in Deasy parlance.  For weeks I kept getting these annoying emails from some group called “Battelle for Kids” – get it – a homonym for “battle” as if teachers are not part of the battle and as if a statistical number with a new name will actually reveal anything about my teaching.  I refused at first to access my “AGT” because I know it is a fraud – yet those annoying emails kept on showing up in my LAUSD inbox, the last one a slightly sinister one announcing that my “principal now has access to my AGT.”

I’ve got news for Battelle for Kids- my principal was too damn busy planning about 8 field trips over two days for the kids to take on the two day break between quarters.  She was  too busy running meetings for parents of new students to let them know the expectations of the school.  So I’m not worried that she has access to my AGT

But I am concerned that the LA Times may soon have access to it – as an alarming letter authored by Superindent Deasy and sent  from Sharon Riley showed up about a month ago in my inbox and I’m sure every other teacher’s inbox  regarding the LA Times demand for all teacher’s AGT scores.  So this forced me to finally look at the dreaded “data.” What did it show and why did I have to complete a rigged survey before I was able to see my AGT?   More on that later      Part of the letter stated that the district had released school   AGT to the public but not individual teacher scores which are supposed to be  “confidential.”  Hmm I seem to harken back to a time when we were told our jobs at Fremont would depend on “confidential stuff.”  but I digress.

Most of my AGT showed “not enough information for a score” -most likely because last year I was a Community Day School where few kids test and they are cycling in and out all year and in the years prior to that my US History students who were technically 10th graders took the World History test -I did get some type of score- some grey bubble right in the middle of a line- I have no idea what it meant.

But now that I have taken a “beliefs” survey through Local District 7, suddenly the bogus survey asking about my views on AGT before I could access my scores seems part of a wider scenario to pinpoint which teachers won’t go along with the District’s mandates and privatization schemes.   I urge all teachers to decline to take any of these surveys for their own protection.

The most pernicious part of all of this is the labeling of kids into narrow categories of “below basic,” basic” etc as if no other skill or talent that they have can be utilized to demonstrate their mastery of history other than a multiple choice test score.  Because now our students have been commodified  to be used by companies  like Battelle for Kids which has even had a book published called the Value Added Book, a little text which purports to take the reader step by step in how to use value added to “improve student achievement.”   But where would the market be to make a profit off of such a book, since I doubt a principal on their own would buy this book- most likely districts would be forced  to purchase these as parts of the strings attached to Race to the Top funds- all part of a skimming of public money to enrich private companies and their subsidiaries, while bypassing teachers and students in the classroom.  The teachers meanwhile have to go begging on websites like Donor’s Choose or pony  up the money themselves  as teachers like Chuck do.

In fact, at the top of Battelle’s list of services they provide, Race to the Top is number 1, where they are listed as a “Race to the Top” partner.  This is followed closely by Teacher Effectiveness and Educator Compensation, seriously intoning that “districts must do all they can to select, reward and retain the best teachers.”  Translation: Use AGT which we know changes dramatically from year to year for no particular reason, to pay teachers, knowing that most teachers would stay toward the bottom of any pay scale since their AGT would not consistently rise over time. No longer would teachers be partners with a district through their union to create professional pay scales. How alarming is this?  I know from being a Registered Veterinary Technician that if I left one hospital I could take a huge pay cut, it didn’t matter what my skills were- the only thing that mattered was the philosophy of individual veterinary hospitals regarding RVT’s.  Some saw us as a necessary expense, others as needed professionals in the veterinary field to improve animal health. Guess which clinics paid better?

Why is all of this bugging me now?  Because I have been reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, a brilliant history of  how Friedman school of conservative economics is introduced in a society through the transfer of public money to private corporations, and while this can be accomplished partially through democratic elections, generally there is push back, a la Wisconsin and the recall efforts there.  For it to be most effectively and totally implemented requires a “shock” a disaster if you will, such as the coup in Chile that installed the dictator Pinochet, who then implemented Chicago School of Economic type reforms such as privatization of formerly public sectors such as education.  Two other examples cited by Klein are Hurricane Katrina and 911 in which politicians were ready to take advantage of each disaster to transfer public wealth to private corporations.  What might have looked like George Bush’s bumbling and incompetence was actually just the normal reaction of someone who had no intention of rebuilding New Orleans.  He planned to give it away.  All public school teachers were fired and charter schools replaced nearly all public schools. Only a few younger teachers were rehired at considerably less than their previous salaries.  The Shock Doctrine at work.  Public housing was bulldozed for million dollar condos.

It can happen here- another riot,  a major earthquake with Arne Duncan sitting in the Secretary of Education’s chair demanding certain “reforms” if schools are to be rebuilt with federal money- money that will go not to the Department of Public Works or LAUSD or the DWP, but to private companies.   Public tax dollars and reforms which will  include paying public workers, including teachers, less and demanding more.   This is accomplished while citizens are in the shock stage of a crisis.  Once they recover, as in New Orleans, it is too late- they find that housing,  public schools and hospitals are closed for good.     I don’t want to live in a society where everything is a commodity.  I want to live in a society where teachers like Chuck and countless others have the academic freedom to pursue what is best for each student.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Gary Jones permalink
    January 3, 2012 8:21 pm

    Great article. We are being
    sacrificed for profit.

  2. Skip permalink
    January 4, 2012 3:12 pm

    This makes perfect sense to me. It is time that we fight back against the hucksters that are selling us down the river and use data against them. UTLA needs to revamp it’s strategy to placate the superintendent and push hard to expose his own credentials and how he got them. The public needs to know that the Gates monopolistic approaches that led to his take-over of successful computer companies are the same ones being used by Deasy, The Gates Foundation and the Broadies. Naomi Klein also uses the analogy of electroshock to clean the collective memories of the afflicted and create a clean slate, which is never attainable. It is time to collect data and refresh the public’s consciousness about who we are and who they are.

  3. Fremontwatch permalink
    January 4, 2012 4:24 pm

    I haven’t gotten far enough in her book to see that analogy. Right now she is emphasizing how all of this is done while citizens are in a shocked state. If people are rebelling, then they are either tortured and killed (Chile) or in a quasi democratic country they are demonized, hence the LA Times, value added and Waiting for Superman

  4. January 4, 2012 8:08 pm

    Thanks for the kind words. I still haven’t looked at my AGT score. Probably won’t, as I don’t believe it it. Will I get stung? Most assuredly, but I have to walk thew walk. The funny thing is, I now work CST questions into my Powerpoints (not just 1oth Grade World, but also 7th, 8th, 11th and questions from AP World). The questions that are NOT asked are the truly eye-opening ones. The reporter Rick rpojas showed up for a lesson on Machiavelli and “The Prince”, but there is not ONE release question covering the man and his book… So, who is right? Should I just “teach to the standards,” as I heard so often in department meetings at Fremont, or should I try to teach the life lessons? Yes, I’m still bringing up the hallowed Standards (which will change soon), but when you as an educated adult know the Standards are not enough, do you cave in and worry about a test score–for yourself? I don’t think so.

    And maybe that’s what it comes down to. What are you willing to sacrifice for your kids?

  5. Fremontwatch permalink
    January 5, 2012 7:29 am

    Exactly. Since I had not taught world history in several years, I tried to “stick to the standards” at first but found it a convoluted mess. And in fact, there is no possible way to cover all the standards in any type of meaningful way, so on the Christmas break, I rededicated myself to teaching what is relevant from the standards and adding things in.
    For example, the Tulsa Race Riots are mentioned no where in the US History standards, probably because this was a white attack on a black community.
    The World History standards are very Eurocentric and focus on so called “documents of democracy” but fail to include a constitution from a non-while country such as South Africa.

  6. January 5, 2012 7:56 am

    There’s plenty of other examples (such as the nationalist revolutions in the 19th century, which doesn’t have it’s own standard, but is a third of the material in the 19th century and I’ll be damned if my kids get out of my class without knowing how this helps trigger WWI). How much space is devoted to 19th/20th century Latin America? One of the more glaring examples of bias (and I’d be sensitive to it because of my background) comes from “Patterns of Interaction”: “The kulaks in Ukraine… fiercely resisted collectivization. They murdered officials, torched the property of the collectives, and burned their own crops in protest…” Taken out of context, who are the “bad guys” here? I’m going to include that piece scanned in into my Powerpoint as an example of bias in a textbook, and why I want the kids to get the lesson of using multiple sources.


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