Month: <span>July 2015</span>

Playing politics – and worse — with history


I read a media report that said some of the protesters waving Confederate battle flags at President Obama in Oklahoma earlier this week arrived in vehicles with Texas license plates. Why am I not surprised?

The border crossers hail from a state where political leaders have made Obama-bashing a daily litany. The governor, when he was attorney general, built a political resume suing the president and still brags about it. Texas also is a state where the State Board of Education tried to rewrite history by claiming “states’ rights” as a more significant cause of the Civil War than the real reason – slavery.

The board fictionalized some social study curriculum standards more than four years ago, but the standards are receiving media attention again because they are now showing up in new textbooks. Thank goodness that schoolteachers who know better will have the final say in classrooms.

The Confederate flag wavers, of course, were exercising their constitutional right to cross the Red River and demean themselves. But would they have done so if President Obama were not the first African American to occupy the White House?

Not every defender of the Confederate flag is motivated simply by a sense of “heritage,” folks.



A dangerous anti-educator enters the presidential race


In a field littered with bad candidates, presidential hopeful Scott Walker may be the worst choice for educators and other public employees.

The Wisconsin governor, who announced today that he is running for the White House, made a national name for himself attacking teachers and other public workers – and their unions – and, in so doing, he trashed his own state. Now, he wants to trash the rest of the country, and his campaign already is attracting some big anti-government, anti-union, privatization bucks to give him a fighting start toward the Republican nomination.

Although Walker will continue to try to spin his Wisconsin record into a fairy tale, here are some of the real nightmare lowlights, as gleaned from various media sources, including the Associated Press:

# Wisconsin’s middle class has shrunk at a rate faster than any other state, according to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

# Weakened employment rights for teachers, bus drivers, school nurses, cafeteria workers and thousands of other government workers, many of whom have lost jobs. Those who are still working have to pay more for their pensions and health care benefits. Remember, these are the real people he is taking about when he brags about attacking unions, which likely will be the overriding theme of his campaign.

# Removed tenure protections for higher education faculty and slashed higher education funding by $250 million. The cuts were to help close a $2.2 billion shortfall created by previous Walker policies, including ill-advised and counterproductive tax cuts.

# Expanded Wisconsin’s private school voucher program, while claiming credit for educational improvements that predated his administration.

# Wisconsin’s job growth trails the national average as well as other Midwestern states.

# The state’s chief economic development agency has been plagued by problems, including the granting of millions of dollars in business loans without properly vetting the recipients.

These are only some of Walker’s bad policies. He is a career politician who has made a career of bashing the public employees who make government work. He has been a disaster for Wisconsin and would be a disaster for the country.





Beware of superintendents calling themselves “reformers”


I was on vacation when Mike Miles finally quit his reign of dictatorial mediocrity at Dallas ISD, but I notice now that the Dallas school board paid the former superintendent $275,000 in a separation deal.

That money could have been spent paying five teachers for a whole year of work, but if that is what it took to get rid of Miles, I doubt that too many teachers are complaining. You may recall that TSTA’s local affiliate, NEA-Dallas, had been urging the board for months to fire him.

With Miles gone, it also seems that Tonya Sadler Grayson, the scandal-ridden human resources executive whom Miles refused to fire, will soon follow.

Now what for Texas’ second largest school district?

The board has rehired former Superintendent Michael Hinojosa as an interim replacement at $25,000 per month while it decides what to do long-term. Hinojosa is a former DISD teacher and coach with deep roots in the district. He saw the district make some academic improvements under his previous tenure as superintendent from 2005 to 2011, when he resigned to head the Cobb County School District near Atlanta.

But hundreds of DISD teachers lost their jobs during a 2008 budgetary crisis while Hinojosa was superintendent. And, according to The Dallas Morning News, he plans to continue, at least for now, Miles’ programs, including a performance-pay plan for teachers that will do nothing to improve educational quality in DISD. The plan, as long as it ties teacher evaluations and pay to student test scores, will discourage the best teachers from taking jobs at the low-performing campuses where they are needed the most.

The departure of Miles, who drove away hundreds of good teachers with his top-down, dictatorial style, is in itself an improvement for DISD, but it will be only a temporary one.

In picking a long-term, new superintendent, board members need to be leery of anyone promising “reform,” at least until they are sure the applicant actually understands what the word means.

Miles was an alleged “reformer” who unveiled high-sounding programs. But mainly he messed with teachers, played musical chairs with principals, defied the school board and infuriated a lot of parents while doing little to improve educational opportunities for the vast majority of DISD students.

Reform is not simply change, not simply doing something because it upsets the status quo. Real reform is change that makes things better. For a school district, real reform is improving educational opportunities for all of its students. And, real reform for DISD, in the wake of the Miles era, can begin only if the new superintendent makes a priority of listening to the real education experts – the district’s teachers – giving them the resources they need to succeed and building a program from there.









How do you wipe slavery from school buildings?


I am all for burying the Confederate battle flag in the back room of a museum and requiring remedial education for politicians who persist in denying – or downplaying — the historical fact that the South’s shameful passion to preserve slavery was what caused the Civil War.

Following the recent, racially motivated murders in South Carolina, I also understand why some people in the Old South, including Texas, want to consider renaming schools that bear famous (or infamous) Confederate names. But that task may be more complicated than it seems.

Renaming schools may or may not be easier than, say, removing the Confederate monument on the state Capitol grounds. But where do you start – or stop?

Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and General Robert E. Lee may be among the first targets of people trying to wipe Confederate names from schools and other public entities. But Texas also has a Jeff Davis County and a town named Robert Lee. Do we also rename them?

Other Confederate names are lesser known but still widespread.

The Reagan state office building that sits a stone’s throw from the state Capitol is not named for President Ronald Reagan, but for John H. Reagan, a former U.S. senator from Texas and the first chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. John Reagan also was postmaster general of the Confederacy, and high schools in Austin and Houston also are named for him.

And, if we are going to wipe the names of armed defenders of slavery – which is what the Confederacy and Civil War were all about – from schools and other public buildings, what about the names of prominent slaveholders?

Eight early U.S. presidents – including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – held slaves while they were in office. But no one, including me, is proposing the removal of their names from innumerable buildings and monuments or changing the name of the nation’s capital.

Closer to home, early Texas hero Sam Houston opposed secession and resigned as governor when Texas left the Union, but he owned slaves. Stephen F. Austin recruited slave owners to move to Texas and, according to at least one author, once owned a slave himself. But their names will remain fixed on the Texas landscape.

Two of my children graduated from James Bowie High School in Austin. Bowie, as we all know, secured a place in Texas history by dying at the Alamo. Lesser known, however, is the fact that before he made his way to the Alamo, Bowie was a slave trader. He and his brother bought captive slaves from the pirate Jean Laffite and made thousands of dollars selling their fellow human beings to southern buyers.

Is Robert E. Lee – who as a young officer in the U.S. Army played an important role in the U.S. victory in the Mexican War – any less deserving to have his name on the side of a school building than James Bowie?

I don’t think Texas is going to see an extensive renaming of schools and other public institutions. But what Texas policymakers can – and should — do is quit playing politics by downplaying the role of slavery in our past and instead help educators prepare our school children to thrive in a racially diverse future.