April 24, 2014
By Sally Ross, Christopher Balchin, Alan Shapiro, Barbara McClung
Recently New Yorkers were subjected to a media blitz of deceptive TV ads touting the “excellence” of charter schools. These costly commercials, along with the support of some state government officials, resulted in the passage of the 2014-2015 New York State budget which:
would require the city to find space for charter schools inside public school buildings or pay much of the cost to house them in private space. The legislation would also prohibit the city from charging rent to charter schools….Under the budget agreement, charter schools would receive more money per student. The schools, previously barred from operating early education programs, would also be eligible for grants for prekindergarten….Charter schools in New York City will now enjoy some of the greatest protections in the country.
Parent activist Leonie Haimsondescribed this new measure as “the most onerous charter school law in the nation.”
In the TV ads, charter schools were represented as an alternative to public education. Meanwhile, what these ads failed to disclose is that despite their “not-for-profit” status, charter schools are run by CEOs who are getting paid huge salaries, some as much as $485,000/year. In an article on the online journal, Portside, Alan Singer wrote: “These charter schools are operated by both profit-making companies and “not for profit” organizations….However, operating non-profit charter schools can be very profitable for charter school executives.”
Further, most charter schools are non-union, so their teachers have no collective bargaining, no say about their work rules, no job security. This is what the backers of the TV ads are aiming for—to privatize education and enrich the companies running these schools. To achieve this, they are shutting out unions and paying teachers as little as possible in compensation and benefits.
The stakes are very high, and go beyond New York. Recently, the Kansas legislature, in a midnight vote with little discussion, passed a bill that robs members of the Kansas Teachers Union of their rights to tenure and job protection, allowing teachers to be fired at will. If unions can be whittled down so much that they are virtually ineffective, then those individuals profiting from education will pay teachers as little as they can get away with. It’s vitally important for educators, parents, everyone interested in safeguarding education for America’s children to be clear about the relentless zeal to privatize education and bust unions. So we publish statements by New York City teachers about what they’ve seen. Each is a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT); each has seen and documented the success of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method in their own classrooms (more about this later). And each adamantly opposes the privatization of public education because they are so much for the education of all children.
Who Paid for the TV Commercials and What Do They Leave out?
Sally Ross, retired NYC science teacher, writes that the TV ads were:
sponsored by Families for Excellent Schools—a pro-charter group of hedge fund managers and wealthy financiers, like the Walton Family Foundation (read Walmart) and cost $3.6 million dollars to run. This pro-charter group is furious because Mayor de Blasio initially blocked the charters of three schools in the Success Academy network. What the ads don’t tell you is that these schools are trying to expand into space already occupied by existing public schools, including one elementary school for students with severe disabilities. With this co-location plan in effect, the school will be operating at 130% capacity—forcing students to have their speech and physical therapy sessions in overcrowded classrooms and hallways. Further, there is a selective admission process, and there are fewer ELL students—English Language Learners—and special needs students in NYC’s charter schools. I feel passionately that EVERY child deserves a quality public education.
Why the Big Push for Charter Schools Now?
In an issue of the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, wrote:
There’s a huge effort now to privatize public education in America—the public education that Horace Mann and others rightly saw as inseparable from a nation’s being ethical and civilized. It’s a phase of the effort to privatize everything in America. And Eli Siegel explained the reason behind it when he showed, in the 1970s, that economics based on profit—on seeing people and the world in terms of how much money you can get out of them—had failed and would never recover. Today, the profit system can stagger on only by turning everything people need, everything children need, into a means of lining some individuals’ pockets.
However disguised, the viewpoint of the school privatizers is the following: “The chief purpose of schools is not for children to learn—it’s to supply us with money!” And of course we have to break the teachers union, so we can pay teachers very little and treat them any way we please. Why should educators be respected—why should anyone who works? They, like the children, are just profit-fodder for us!
This purpose is one of contempt: “the addition to self through the lessening of something else,” which is the most hurtful thing in every person. We’ve learned it is the basis of our profit-driven economy, and therefore behind the new surge in the efforts to privatize education, including through charter schools.
What Happens to the Children Who are Notin the Charter Schools?
Christopher Balchin, Chapter Leader at Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment writes:
Eli Siegel saw unions as one of the greatest forces on behalf of respect for people, and I’ve seen this is true. I thank my union, the UFT, that we teachers have health care, pensions, work rules that limit the hours in the classroom – things every person has a right to, and which charter schools would like to do away with in the name of “increased flexibility.” Teachers’ unions are also vital safeguards against the abuse of power by administrators.
We teachers have a mission to educate, but also to protect our students, and we need the freedom and the security to be able to speak up without fear of being fired for doing our professional and moral duty. This is what a union guarantees. One of the things you lose when you don’t have a union—and most charter school teachers don’t—is the power to stand up against ill-advised policies and decisions that affect the most vulnerable members of our society—the children who can’t defend themselves. Who should be trusted with the welfare of children: ‘experts,’ some of whom never spent a day in front of a class and stand to reap vast financial benefits from the success of this or that pilot program, or teachers with literally thousands of hours of experience in the classroom?
The Attack on Unions by Corporate Special Interests
Alan Shapiro, a NYC high school teacher for over 26 years, writes:
The school I teach at, one of the largest high schools in the city, has at least 30% more students enrolled than the building was designed for, and has seen our annual budget cut 25% in the last 6 years. These are numbers, but what they represent affects real children who are forced to attend understaffed, overcrowded schools in buildings sorely in need of repair.
By design, charter school teachers are not covered by a union contract, and that is exactly how the various groups who are behind the push for charters would like to keep it. They want to undo decades of hard-fought labor victories so they can pay teachers less and have them work longer hours without job security. That way, more public money can go into the pockets of private investors in charter school companies and those supplying non-union support services for these schools—such as cafeteria, custodial, and accounting services that once were supplied by unionized, public-sector employees.
What Do We Owe Allthe Children of New York?
Barbara McClung, Chapter Leader and science teacher in a NYC elementary school on the Lower East Side, writes:
For years, teachers and administrators have been required to meet standards that made relentless testing and data collection a priority over student welfare.
Charter schools can pick and choose the students they want, and let students go who aren’t making the grade. Public schools can’t—they serve every child that walks through the doors. Every student has the right to the best possible education!
Education Is Completely Opposed to Profit Economics
The teachers quoted in this blog represent many others who have seen that even with the intolerable conditions under which many children are forced to live, the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method succeeds as nothing else has. They have documented this and have spoken at numerous education conferences over the years. What Barbara McClung writes about is needed in education today—not charter schools, not new pilot programs that enrich the designers at the expense of educating children, nor new batteries of testing. She writes:
I’m so grateful that for almost 30 years I have taught in NYC classrooms—from the Lower East Side to East Harlem—knowing the great principle about education, stated by Eli Siegel: ‘The purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it.’ The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method enables students in every grade and from every background to see through the subjects in the curriculum—science, math, history, reading, and more—how the structure of the world makes sense and is well made. As a result I’ve had the pleasure of watching my students learn successfully, and as they see their relation to other things and people, they become kinder. This is the true, democratic purpose of education that every educator, administrator, legislator needs to know!
We’ve learned from Aesthetic Realism that we have reached a point in history when we will either have economics and education fair to every person in America, or have profit economics maintained a little longer, with increased suffering for most Americans, including our school children. We feel it is crucial for people across our nation to be clear about this choice.
For further reading about this teaching method, you may go to: