Trouble in paradise, too, as corporate 'school reform' increases push... Pressure building on teachers, unions as Duncan and Obama policies scapegoat teachers' rights

Pressure is building on teachers and teacher unions from Honolulu to Boston and beyond as the policies of the Obama administration's 'Race to the Top' become supplemented by local and state pressures, often supported by what are being called "Astro Turf" (i.e., phony grass roots) local groups that claim to speak for parents, community leaders and children.

Basketball courts at Jefferson Elementary School in Honolulu (above) lack baskets and nets, so children can play imaginary basketball. Photo January 2011 by John Kugler.In continued demands from parents and outside groups, teachers are being faced with pressure to increase their work days and have their performance tied to student test scores even as local and state dollars for such basic things as supplies and lower class size are being cut. The "longer school day" solution was pushed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan in his Race to the Top grant requirements. These saw a large number of states change legislation to lure more federal money into strapped local education agencies. In a classic case of bait-and-switch, the Duncan Education Department forced a growing number of states to radically change their education laws, while dangling federal dollars that ultimately went to only a handful.

The changes demanded by the Obama administration included increasing privatization (through the mandatory increase in the number of charter schools), increasing testing (under several guises, including one that claims to be reducing reliance on so-called "standardized" tests while actually increasing reliance on testing), the measurement of teacher effectiveness by narrow "performance" measures (always based solely of mostly on standardized tests), and the expansion of the school day and school year (under the claim that more is always better). Usually, the attacks include heavy doses of union busting, either directly (as in New Orleans) or through the gutting of collective bargaining rights for teachers (and, often, other public workers).

Despite mixed or contradictory research results — and in some cases proposals that simply fly in the face of common sense — on all of the proposals being pushed by the administration, the combination of federal pressure and the promise of a little more in federal funding has succeeded in forcing some of the most radical changes in history on state and local education governments. The moves by the federal government are seen by many as a classic example of what investigative reporter Naomi Klein called "The Shock Doctrine" in her book by that title. In the Shock Doctrine, resources are taken from local and state entities, both foreign and domestic, and then conditions are imposed on the distribution of what would in the past have been "relief" resources.

Five thousand miles from Honolulu, the basketball backboards at Wadsworth Elementary School in Chicago were without hoops or nets in 2006, before the Chicago Public Schools began giving the school away, piece by piece, to the University of Chicago charter schools. Once the charter children begin attending school inside the Wadsworth building, broken play equipment and basketball equipment saw repairs for the first time in a decade. Chicago has followed the same pattern whenever its regular public schools have been privatized and turned over to exclusive charters. Millions of dollars in deferred repairs are suddenly done — just in time for the arrival of the "new" school but not to benefit the regular children who attend the regular traditional public schools Substance photo by George Schmidt.The best known example in so-called "school reform" is the imposition of charter schools on New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, the destruction of the majority of the public schools by the federal government, and the complete destruction of the United Teachers of New Orleans, the largest and most powerful mostly African American union in the Deep South. Within four years, the "reforms" in New Orleans have been recognized as excluding the children most in need of public schools from the complex semi-privatized system that includes the largest percentage of charter schools of any city in the USA. As usual, many of the changes have Chicago roots and have been engineered by the 21st Century version of the "Chicago Boys." Paul Vallas, the former Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools, has been chief of the New Orleans schools for four years. One of the most significant consultants in the establishment of New Orleans charter schools was UNO (United Neighborhood Organizations), the Chicago groups closely tied to major corporate privatization interests. As with the fight that is now under way in Illinois between teacher unions and proposed legislative "reforms" that are attempting to weaken the bargaining position of the unions and their members, teachers in Hawaii, where this writer has recently spent some time with family, are also being pressured to increase their working hours and change their evaluation procedures. The Department of Education, following cutbacks that put Hawaii schools on a four-day week through furloughs, said they need savings, but there is no funding to pay for these "reforms." Across the islands in Hawsii, in this year of contract talks, there may need to be concessions made by the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the media and so-called reform groups are saying.


Parents urge increase in class time... The DOE cites funding in seeking exemptions to a law requiring more hours of instruction, By Mary Vorsino, POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 08, 2011

Parent groups are urging the Department of Education not to seek exemptions to a new law that mandates sizable increases in instructional time in the upcoming school year, and say meeting the requirements of the law is possible with some creative solutions and compromise.

"I'm really concerned that this is going to be shoveled under the 'lack of funding' banner," said Jo Curran, co-founder of Hawaii Education Matters, an advocacy group formed in the wake of teacher furloughs last school year. "We appreciate it's a logistical nightmare, but we must begin it."

The Department of Education says it will be tough to comply with the mandate, and has also said it will seek an exemption to the law for four multitrack schools on Oahu. Students at multitracks have fewer school days to ease overcrowding. Meeting the law would mean giving up Christmas holidays and wreak havoc on family schedules, the DOE says.

The new law, signed in June, requires elementary schools to have a minimum of 915 hours of instruction (about five hours per day) in the 2011-12 school year, while middle and high schools are required to have 990 hours of instruction (5 1/2 -hour average).

In 2013-14 those minimums are to increase across the board to 1,080 hours.

Currently, Hawaii elementary school teachers have to spend at least 849 hours each school year on instructional time. Complying with the mandate would require as much as 66 additional hours per year, or 22 more minutes per day.

Secondary school teachers spend at least 771 hours yearly on instruction, and so they could add as many as 219 hours of instructional time each year.

The new law also mandates a minimum of 180 instructional days per school year.

Melanie Bailey, a public school parent who helped draft the classroom time bill, said all Hawaii schools should meet the requirements of the new law, including multitrack campuses. "They're going to have to decide what their priorities are," she said, adding the increased instructional time can be worked into the existing school day.

"We know we're not asking for anything unreasonable," she said.

The department and the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which are meeting now to work out a new teachers contract, are not so sure the school day will not have to be lengthened to comply with the new measure.

Wil Okabe, HSTA president, said time for teachers spent outside instruction is essential for planning, collaborating with colleagues and things like lunch, bathroom breaks and "passing time" for high school students to get from one class to another.

He said he does not see how it is feasible to shave away at any of that miscellaneous time. "I wouldn't say it's impossible, but I would like to know how or where they intend to take" more time for instruction, Okabe said.

He added if the school day is lengthened, teachers need to be compensated. He said keeping a school open longer will increase costs from electricity to buses to after-school care.

The DOE has also raised some concerns about the law, saying boosting instructional time will almost certainly require more money at a time when the state is addressing a budget shortfall.

"We are trying. We're trying to look at options," said schools Superintendent Kathy Matayoshi, adding if the DOE has to pay for all of the added instructional time — rather than gain some classroom time by taking minutes from planning or other activities — "it would be pretty significant."

The instructional time law is just one of a host of issues, including new evaluations for teachers based in part on the growth seen in their students, that the DOE and HSTA are taking up in contract negotiations going on now.

Matayoshi said the early problems with the school day law do not signal trouble with other planned reforms, including the new evaluation process.

The existing HSTA contract expires June 30.


January 12, 2011 at 9:55 PM

By: Allowed this?

How have we

Increases in class size? Who are we kidding? The poorer students will get warehoused while more affluent students will be cherry picked for charters...How have we let this happen?

January 13, 2011 at 12:55 AM

By: CPS observer

run by business

Chicago-the worst public school system run by business in the nation!

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

4 + 3 =