This Friday, the film Won’t Back Down will premiere in theaters nationwide. Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, the movie is about a group of parents who feud with what are portrayed as uncaring unionized teachers. The parents, led by Gyllenhaal, succeed in enacting a “parent trigger,” a policy tool advocated for by corporate front group ALEC, that allows for a public school to be turned into to a privately-managed charter school.
But the movie is already being blasted in early reviews and many education advocates are questioning its unfair portrayal of teachers unions and dogmatic advocacy for charter schools.
But the film was never meant to be an honest portrayal of America’s education system. It is being produced and promoted by Walden Media, an entertainment company owned by right-wing billionaire Phil Anschutz. Here are a few facts you should know about Anschutz and his long history of advocacy for the far-right.
- He’s Anti-Gay:Anschutz spent $10,000 in 1992 to promote Colorado’s Proposition 2, which let private property owners discriminate against gays and lesbians. He also gave $150,000 to the Mission America Foundation, which condemns homosexuality as “deviance.”
- He’s Anti-Science: In 2003, Anschutz’s foundation gave $70,000 to the Discovery Institute, which attacks evolutionary theory and proclaims that “Darwinism is false.”
- He’s Anti-Union: His foundation has donated at least $210,000 to the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, which works to undermine labor rights.
- He Owns Some Of The Most Influential Right-Wing Media Outlets: Anschutz owns both The Washington Examiner and The Weekly Standard, two of the most prominent right-wing tabloids and magazines that regularly demonize progressives and their beliefs.
When Americans see advertisements and other promotional material for Won’t Back Down, they should know that this isn’t just another feel-good Maggie Gyllenhaal movie. It’s a highly ideological film that has been produced and promoted by one of America’s most powerful right-wing billionaires.
UPDATE: The film is getting bashed by critics, so Michelle Rhee’s organization StudentsFirst is writing astroturf reviews. Click here to read our story about this astroturf pushback.
As charter schools expand, are children getting the short end of the stick?
Last week, we reported on a new study released by UCLA that found that American schools are being quietly re-segregated, partly due to the rapid expansion of charter schools.
In Georgia, a coalition of for-profit education companies is pushing for a new ballot amendment that would let the state expand these segregation-friendly charter schools over the objection of local school boards.
Now, a coalition of civil rights groups in the state has come together to oppose the ballot amendment:
Black lawmakers, civil rights groups and several associations of educators have formed a coalition against a proposed constitutional amendment on charter schools.
The amendment would allow a new state body to select private operators to run taxpayer financed schools. Backed by Gov. Nathan Deal, the measure is on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The opposition coalition announced Tuesday includes associations of teachers, parents, superintendents and local school board members, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP and other civil rights organizations.
This coalition of groups represent a significant challenge to the prevailing wisdom that the rapid expansion of poorly regulated and untested charter schools are essential to closing the racial education gap.
A new report finds that American schools are slowly re-segregating
In the 1950′s, 60′s, and 70′s, the U.S. government pursued a program of integration designed on ending the racial separation that existing in school systems across the country. This intense period of de-segregation advanced race relations and is fondly remembered as an important part of the American civil rights struggle.
But as income inequality continues to pull Americans apart, it is also having a toll on racial integration in schools. A new report just put out by Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles finds that schools are being quietly re-segregated. Here’s a summation of some of the data from The New York Times:
Across the country, 43 percent of Latinos and 38 percent of blacks attend schools where fewer than 10 percent of their classmates are white, according to the report, released on Wednesday by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.
And more than one in seven black and Latino students attend schools where fewer than 1 percent of their classmates are white, according to the group’s analysis of enrollment data from 2009-2010, the latest year for which federal statistics are available.
One part of the report that the Times fails to mention is the role that Obama administration policies are playing in this re-segregation. The report faults the administration for not taking action promotion school integration while at the same time strongly pushing for charter schools that often segregate student communities:
The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration, has taken no significant action to increase school integration or to help stabilize diverse schools as racial change occurs in urban and suburban housing markets and schools. Small positive steps in civil rights enforcement have been undermined by the Obama Administration’s strong pressure on states to expand charter schools – the most segregated sector of schools for black students. Though segregation is powerfully related to many dimensions of unequal education, neither candidate has discussed it in the current presidential race.
Read the full report here.
In Tennessee, Metro Nashville public schools board recently denied an application by a single charter school, a branch of Great Hearts Academies. The board was concerned that this charter school would mostly cater to wealthier families and would not serve a more racially diverse population.
The state of Tennessee reacted harshly to this show of independence by the local school board. Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman decided to withhold $3.4 million in education funding to the city. ”I can’t believe they would punish our teachers and students because a political debate didn’t go their way,” Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle said. “We teach our kids not to be bullies, and our state leaders need to heed that lesson.”
What makes the state’s move against the local district even more outrageous is the mixed performance charter schools and other independently managed schools have had. For example, the massive for-profit chain K-12 Inc. that runs virtual education schools across the state, “is in the bottom 11 percent of schools.”
“We to need to slow down, take stock of the changes we’ve made to education in Tennessee over the past couple years, and stop pushing for charter just for the sake of charters,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “At some point we need to support the public schools we have.”
It’s telling that Republicans who vocally espouse the benefits of local control and small government are willing to intimidate and step on a local governing body that refused to go along with the state’s plans of moving towards privatizing the education system.
During a press conference tonight the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) announced that it will be going on strike, its first action of the sort in 25 years.
Why are these 29,000 teachers and school workers going on strike in the nation’s third-largest public school district?
Because they want what all workers want: fair pay and decent working conditions. They also want what all teachers want — to serve their students to their best of their abilities.
Here’s a few things you need to know about the strike, and why the CTU is right and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who has failed to fairly bargain with the union — is wrong:
- Powerful Outside Interests Worked With Rahm To Cripple CTU’s Ability To Strike (They Failed): Last year, outside education privatization groups like Stand for Children worked with the city council and mayor to raise the strike threshold limit to 75 percent — meaning that 3/4 of teachers had to vote to strike. Jonah Edelman, who works for the group, bragged during the Aspen Ideas Festival that they had essentially eliminated teachers’ ability to strike. But in June, nearly 90 percent of CTU members voted to authorize a strike, easily surpassing the barrier that the city and education privatization groups had placed on them. But outside groups haven’t stopped taking aim at union rights. They’ve even paid protesters to demonstrate against CTU.
- Rahm Refuses To Pay Teachers What They Were Promised: Being a teacher takes hard work, and it’s one of the most poorly-paid professions relative to the work load. The leadership of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had agreed to offer teachers a four percent raise last year, but Mayor Emanuel canceled this agreement. The district has refused to address this raise in negotiations. While gutting teachers’ pay increases, CPS is calling for longer school days. Would you want to work more hours without being fairly compensated for it?
- The City Won’t Agree To Limit The Number Of Kids In Classrooms In The Contract: Over-crowded classrooms are bad for students, teachers, and parents. That’s why 32 states have limits on classroom size. Illinois does not. CTU wants to see limits on class sizes in its contract (there are limits in CPS guidelines, but not in the teachers’ contract) but the city refuses to discuss it. CTU analysis shows that Chicago class sizes for kindergarten and first grade are larger than 95 percent of school districts in the state.
- Rahm Is Intent On Shifting Funds To Untested And Unproven Charter Schools: Rahm has been laying the groundwork for a rapid expansion of charter schools, and wants to create nearly 250 more within five to ten years (this would amount to half the system). This massive diversion of funds from the public system is not based on the facts of what actually works for students. The most comprehensive study of charter schools in the United States found that most deliver results similar to those of public schools. Not surprisingly, Chicago’s charter schools are largely devoid of unions and the benefits they provide for students and teachers alike. Charter school teachers tend to earn 8 percent less than normal public school teachers — which makes them an attractive tool for austerity-prone conservatives. CTU wants a more fair distribution of funds.
If you’re a bold progressive who wants to side with these teachers who are fighting for their students and communities, here’s a few ways to do it:
- Contribute to the CTU Solidarity Fund: The CTU has set up a Solidarity Fund to allow the union to do educational outreach and activism. Click here to donate to it.
- Spread The Word On Social Media: Use the hashtags #FairContractNow and #CTUStrike to spread the word about the strike. Use the social media buttons on this post (Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit) to explain to your friends and family about why it’s important to stand with Chicago’s teachers. A number of Twitter users have already changed their Twitpics to the logo of the Chicago Teachers Union. Doing so on Twitter or Facebook will help spread the word.
- Join The Fight With The PCCC: Sign up to stay in the loop with our bold progressive activism at the top of this page.
We’ll keep you updated on the CTU strike and everything you can do to help the city’s teachers.
UPDATE: The Nation’s Dave Zirin has another way to help: order a pizza for striking teachers. You can call “Gus or Daisy at Primo’s Pizza at (312) 243-1052.”
UPDATE II: Read the story of why one teacher is striking here.
As for-profit virtual schools expand, are children getting the short end of the stick? (Photo credit: Flickr user Elizabeth Albert)
One of the biggest scams Corporate America is trying to foist on the nation is the privatization of our schools, often by promoting online education. The Nation’s Lee Fang documented last year how online learning companies are flooding state legislatures with lobbyists to win funding and mandates for online, for-profit charter schools and educational software.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) used his budget last year to quietly remove the cap on student enrollment his state’s virtual charter schools, opening up a flood of taxpayer dollars for online education companies. The “Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families,” a group promoting these companies, named Walker a “Rock Star of Education Reform” for this move.
But a new analysis shows that these online schools aren’t living up to lobbyists’ hype:
Enrollment in Wisconsin’s online schools has doubled in the last five years, but students who have chosen class without a classroom often struggle to complete their degrees and repeat grades four times as often as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, according to a Gannett Wisconsin Media analysis. [...] In the 2011-12 Wisconsin Student Assessment System testing,virtual students fared slightly better in reading than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, with 83.1 percent scoring proficient or advanced, compared with 81.9 percent statewide. But virtual students fell short in other subjects, with 5 percent to 12 percent fewer virtual students scoring proficient or advanced in math, social studies, language arts and science compared with the statewide average.
Promoting huge subsidies for private school education takes well-connected lobbying. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been promoting virtual schools since 2005, and unsurprisingly the group’s education task force is co-chaired by for-profit education companies like K12 Inc. and Connections Academy. This new data shows that while these schools may offer some benefits to some kids, their overall promise of improving the education system is not being kept.