Learning from Cases

As you’re working your way through the dissertations, remember why you’re reading them:  It’s not just to learn about their topics.  Rather, It’s to begin to get a sense of how dissertations can be put together — how they’re written, how ‘theory’ is used; how “literatures” are reviewed, how methods are described, and so forth.  Although schools try to standardize things into formulas and procedures, this learning from others’ work – and trying to do your own with help from others – is really the way you learn to do things.

But how and what do you learn from reading a dissertation – or from articles and books (not textbooks, which are generally worthless, but real texts)? Continue reading

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Activist Teacher’s Handbook and CTU

The journal Jacobin (I subscribe) has assembled an interesting book Class Action: An Activist Teacher’s Handbook, as a joint project with the Chicago Teachers Union’s CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators).  If you click on the title above you can download a free pdf of the book.

To briefly review what this refers to (for those of you who follow the news on public education), the CTU is a progressive, social justice/community-organizing union (that is, it became one once CORE assumed leadership). It staged a successful strike against the city’s neoliberal test-centric school policies (the mayor took revenge by closing a number of schools).  The Union represents a powerful model — and its not the only one in the country by any means — of progressive teacher organization and action. One feature of particular interest is its long-term collaboration with university academics (perhaps the most prominent being Pauline Lipman), doing its own research– see the “Quest Center” link at the top of the webpage — and maintaining an outward-looking, progressive orientation.  The webpage is worth a look — http://www.ctunet.com/ as is the blog

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Resisting Teach for America – The Internet & Democracy

Students United for Public Education has a “Students Resisting Teach For America” campaign going, arguing that

as numerous TFA alums and professionals have made it increasingly clear, rather than fighting inequality, TFA actually promotes it. Despite its image as a social justice organization, TFA not only does a disservice to the students and schools it purports to serve, but also acts as a political force in its own right to push a vision of public schooling that further damages an already broken education system.

Some of the campaign involves soliciting first-person accounts of experiences with TFA, there’s also a twitter has tag – #ResistTFA .  The campaign in turn gets written up in blogs that provide links to reports on particular instances — such as this one in Newark that draws on Broad Foundation emails to argue the linkages between charterization & TFA (the state-appointed school superintendent there is a TFA Alumus).

I draw attention to this not only because of TFAs uses here in Ohio (there is an Ohio State “Chapter” of SUPE listed) — and my agreement with critics that it’s a bad approach to reform, basically a method to facilitate the introduction of charter schools and the destruction of teachers’ unions — but because it raises questions about  the role of the internet in educational activism and protest.

In a general way this has been an issue since 2011 and the Egyptian revolution.  The specific relevance in this case is the problem of right-wing movements that have found ways to mobilize privatization agendas across state (and national) boundaries (through Foundations, the Common Core, federal policy, ALEC, and so on — when in many respects schooling and teacher organization remains “localized” to particular school districts, and anchored in states.  There are some exemplary experiments to re-scale opposition — for example, the Teacher Solidarity web portal — but the questions remain.  One skeptic Evgeny Morozov’s RSA Animate on “The internet in society:  Empowering or censoring citizens?” —  You can also find a longer audio podcast of a London School of Economics lecture  .  The point he’s making is that for many people internet participation in movements is substituting for the necessary embodied work on the ground.  In a contrasting view, another podcast, this by Francesca Polletta — the article she’s referring to, “Is the Internet Creating New Reasons to Protest” (can be found and downloaded from the OSU library if you have access) — argues that the internet’s key use is in generating a ‘demand’ for activism — making people aware of what’s going on and rousing them to engagement.   There’s  also Jodi Dean’s work  on ‘communicative capitalism‘ which suggests that the internet provides a kind of pseudo-voice– a means of shouting out in a medium in which no one has to pay attention (get the power first, Alinskians would say, then expect people to listen to you).

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Teachers Pensions

There’s an good critique of one right-wing canard regarding the pensions of public sector workers — in this case teachers — by Felix Salmon at Reuters:  Felix Salmon smackdown watch:  Pensions edition The target is John Arnold, billionaire hedge-fund trader (and Enron alumnus) who’s attacking pensions (though his foundation — another example of the rich using foundations for political ends).  Salmon’s argument about pensions is well-worth reading, and the article is also interesting for its charts showing the temporal structures of pension accumulation in different systems, in New York, Las Vegas, and Miami.  What they show is that teachers accrue relatively little early on — perhaps for the first decade, then pensions gently rise, then rise abruptly as a teacher approaches 3 decades in the job.  Critics see this as an unfair increment.  Salmon responds:

So here’s the question. Put yourself in the position of someone who’s been teaching in Las Vegas for 29 years. The way that John Arnold sees things, over that time, you’ve managed to earn pension benefits worth roughly $200,000. If you teach for one more year, then the value of your pension benefits soars to more than $500,000: effectively, between salary and increased pension benefits, you’re being pad about $400,000 for that one year of teaching. Arnold wants school systems to “be able to negotiate retirement compensation for work that is not yet performed” — which is to say, to be able to pay you much less than $400,000 for that 30th year of teaching.

But that’s a very self-serving view of what’s going on in this pension scheme. Las Vegas teachers get their $500,000 package in return for 30 years of teaching, not in return for the 30th year of teaching. There’s a big difference.

The real problem is that this system seems to be designed to allow the funding polity to put off making the necessary and appropriate investment in the teachers’ pension funds.

Note, too, that the average years of teaching for the teaching workforce is under 14 years (and not all at one school), and that fewer than 40% have 15 or more years experience.

Starting teacher pay, needless to say, is well below average pay. The NEA has a useful webpage on “myths” about teacher pay that compares it to other, similarly trained professional fields.

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Dog Whistle Politics

The legal scholar Ian F. Haney-Lopez has recently published what looks like a useful explication of what I think many people recognize already:  Dog Whistle Politics:  How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class — describes how racist discourse has been reconstructed in public political speech over the past 50 years, but he also shows how the same discursive devices have been used to racial social programs in general and undermine essential elements of the state.  I haven’t read the book yet — just out — but there’s an extended podcast of a lecture last fall available at


Also, his website at Berkeley has links to pdfs of a number of works that might be of interest to anyone interested in education policy, critical race studies, or racism and its consequences.: http://www.law.berkeley.edu/php-programs/faculty/facultyPubsList.php?facID=301

“Dog whistle politics” is a term that’s been around — from a brief bit of google-searching it looks as though it may have originated in Australia — but the meaning should be clear:  It refers to the use of ‘coded’ language to signal race (or religion, class, ethnicity — though in the American context racist dog whistles seem most effective in calling up the hounds).  Terms like “states rights,” “welfare queen,” “illegal aliens,” as well as images, or certain descriptions applied to prominent people of color like President Obama — are used by politicians to invoke race without actually using the term.  In the podcast Haney-López traces this back to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign (or perhaps to George Wallace’s 1958 campaign) and provides what I found to be a convincing narrative of the ways implied racist discourses have worked their ways into basic political discourse in the country (actually, I think Haney-López may gloss over some of these issues in New Deal politics as well — Ira Katznelson’s recent book shows how Roosevelt bent over backwards to accommodate the racists in the Democratic party in order to get the new deal legislation passed).  AsI note above, what’s particularly interesting about Haney-López’s work is that he also shows how social programs in general – the basic elements of the social safety net — have been racialized.  Thus, it turns out (you can also find a related discussion in Skocpol & Williamson’s  recent national study of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism) that the main members of the Tea Party are in fact older whites, who, like a number of people nowadays, are being supported by the very welfare programs they’re trying to destroy:  why?  In large part, their belief that such programs are being exploited by ‘illegal immigrants’ and other undeserving minorities  (if you don’t have time to read Skockpol & Williamson’s — it’s worth a read — here’s another podcast link, of Skocpol speaking at Oxford: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/tea-party-and-remaking-republican-conservatism-audio)

These books are not explicitly about schooling — but I think they have obvious implications, as the school population rapidly becomes ‘majority minority’ (as it already is in some states and many large cities), attacks on the very idea of ‘public’ free education will become more open, and gain support.

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State Impact’s Top 10 Ohio Education Stories of 2012

A nice little countdown of Ohio policy events of this year. Whether you agree or not, it’s worth a look if you want to know what’s going on the Buckeye State. 

Worth thinking about: what isn’t listed here? What hasn’t made it to the discourse?

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Sequestration & Budget Cuts

Some helpful “Infographs” — whatever you call them, they provide a quick visual idea of ideological frames driving budget negotiations.

From the Center for America Progress report on “Tax Loopholes” – graph link (at the Nation’s blog on “This week in poverty”) and the link for the Report

The one comes from the Congressional Progressive Caucus “Back to Work Budget”


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