Stop War Funding and Fund Workers' Rights
The budget deal recently passed by Congress secures major funds off the backs of federal workers and the unemployed. It did not include any funding for extending federal emergency unemployment benefits. This means more than 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers will loose benefits December 28, 2013. Another 1.9 million workers will lose them at the start of 2014. All unemployed will now generally get a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits at a time when at least 4.1 million are long-term unemployed and more are expected. This is a crime by Congress, which is being widely opposed by demonstrations, and other actions by the unemployed and other workers. Buffalo Forum demands full funding for all unemployed now at a level commensurate with U.S. living standards!
The budget deal also targets federal workers. Federal workers have already been forced to accept about $114 billion in concessions over the next ten years. This includes a three-year wage freeze, cuts to their pension, and forced days off without pay (furloughs). While the budget deal call for a 1 percent wage increase (not including new workers and those in the lowest pay grade) this does not even cover the current inflation rate of 1.2 percent. That is, it is another wage cut. With the new attacks in the budget deal, the funds secured off the backs of federal workers will amount to $120 billion over 10 years.
The budget deal sets up a three-tier pension system, serving not only to attack the workers but en effort to further divide them, newer workers from older ones. Those hired after January 1, 2014 will be forced to contribute 4.4 percent of their wages to the pension fund. Those hired in 2013 pay 3.1 percent. These increased payments amount to about $6 billion in lost wages. Both represent a major increase from the 0.8 percent contributed by those hired before 2013. It remains to be seen if the government will hold good on fully funding the pensions for federal workers.
Attacks on pensions are a main means for the government and monopolies to grab more of the wealth produced by the workers — whether it is Boeing workers, Detroit workers, or federal workers. The U.S. has abundant wealth produced by a highly socialized work force. Pensions belong to all workers by right and government is duty bound to guarantee these pensions. They must be held to account for these brutal attacks and for protecting the monopolies imposing these cuts to pensions.
Defend the Pensions We Have and Fight for Full Pensions for All!
Partial List of War Funding Passed in Defense Authorization Act
Below is a partial listing of war funding included in the recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 passed by Congress late on December 19. The bill is separate from the overall budget bill, which also includes a significant increase in Pentagon funding. The budget bill provides for general spending limits but still requires an additional bill to authorize actual funding. This appropriations bill is supposed to be passed before January 15. The NDAA, on the other hand, authorizes funding for the Pentagon and the national security programs of the Department of Energy. Thus Congress ensured that funding for the Pentagon war machine was secured first, while that for the long-term unemployed was eliminated and funding for social programs must still be passed.
According to a report released by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees the NDAA:
• Authorizes FY 2014 active-duty end strengths for the Army of 520,000; the Navy, 323,600; the Marine Corps, 190,200; and the Air Force, 327,600.
• Authorizes $6.2 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF), for the U.S. military to continue their presence and training in Afghanistan
• Authorizes $7.69 billion for U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in base budget funding and $2.25 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). It also adds $88.1 million in U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Operations and Maintenance (O&M).
• Adds $1.1 billion in Army “reset” funding. This is in response to complaints by the military that “readiness” has been threatened by some of the automatic cuts imposed by sequestration.
• Adds $959.8 million in Army operation and maintenance (O&M) to address readiness problems caused by sequestration.
• Adds $497.4 million in Navy O&M to address readiness problems caused by sequestration.
• Adds $477.1 million in Air Force O&M to address readiness problems caused by sequestration.
• Adds $112.2 million in Army Reserve O&M to address readiness problems caused by sequestration.
• Adds $100 million in Air Force overseas contingency operations (OCO) depot maintenance funding to restore readiness.
• Adds $74.2 million in Army National Guard O&M to address readiness problems caused by sequestration.
• Adds $56.0 million in Marine Corps O&M to address readiness problems caused by sequestration.
• Adds $28.2 million in Air National Guard O&M to address readiness problems caused by sequestration.
• Adds $15.8 million in Navy Reserve O&M to address readiness problems caused by sequestration.
• Adds $8.9 million in Air Force Reserve O&M to address readiness problems caused by sequestration.
The NDAA also increases U.S. military intervention in Africa by directing the “Secretary of Defense to develop a regional strategic framework for U.S. counterterrorism assistance and cooperation in North Africa.” It also “Enhances the capability of the U.S. armed forces and the security forces of allied and friendly nations to defeat al Qaeda, its affiliates, and other violent extremist -organizations.” This the hated war of terrorism is to be continued despite widespread opposition in the U.S. and worldwide.
In a significant development in terms of U.S. troops abroad, the NDAA “Authorizes the general purpose forces of the U.S. Armed Forces to train with the military forces and other security forces of a friendly foreign country if the Secretary of Defense determines that it is in the national security interests of the United States to do so.”
The NDAA also continues to increase funding for “Missile Defense” (read: aggressive placement of ballistic missiles worldwide). It authorizes $9.5 billion for the program, an increase of $358.0 million above the budget request, including $80 million for “enhanced kill vehicle and discrimination capabilities.”
The Missile Defense program has been widely condemned by the anti-war movement as a weapon of aggression. Russia and other countries it targets have also opposed it as provocative and unnecessary. This year the NDAA specifically targets the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and authorizes $30 million for initial costs toward deployment of a “missile defense” system aimed at the DPRK.
The NDAA also increases funding for the Navy’s newest nuclear aircraft carrier. The Gerald Ford class, known as the CVN-78 program. The NDAA “Amends cost cap legislation for the CVN-78 program to: increase the cost cap to $12.9 billion as requested; and exclude from the cost cap potential unforeseen cost increases in the shipboard testing program, subject to certain conditions. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is built by military monopoly Northrup Grunman. Northrup Grunman has long secured massive amounts of public dollars for war production, as it has built all Navy aircraft carriers since the 1960s at its Newport News, Virginia facilities.
The NDAA also includes numerous other measures, including those concerning Guantánamo and widespread problem of sexual assault in the military. Buffalo Forum will be examining the NDAA more fully in future issues.
Democracy Means We Decide, Not the King!
Teachers, parents and students from Buffalo and surrounding areas organized a public forum, outside the WNED station downtown, where New York Education Commissioner John King was speaking at an invitation-only event inside. Representing the public and its fight for the right to -education for all, people joined in rejecting King’s undemocratic meeting, where those attending were not allowed to speak. At the King’s meeting, questions had to be submitted in writing, were then screened, and then read by the WNED moderator. King then was given free reign to say whatever he wanted, including falsely accusing parents of wanting to “lower standards.”
At the public meeting organized outside by parents and teachers together, all were given a chance to speak. Despite the cold and snow, there were more people outside than inside, all determined to have their say and take their stand together. Several speakers brought out that it is teachers, staff, parents and students who are the authority on public education. They are the ones directly engaged in the work of education and must have a role in deciding how best to solve its problems. They echoed the content of signs, which read: Democracy Says, We Decide, Not the King!
One after the other speakers denounced the Common Core and its testing regime. They brought out that testing does not equal learning and that teachers must be given the conditions necessary to teach. Many members of the Buffalo Teachers Federation were present and participating. People spoke to the harm being done to children with the testing regime. Young students are contending both with the anxiety of the arbitrary tests that do not serve educational needs, and with the fact that their scores can be used against their teachers. It is an inhuman situation, especially for younger children.
Organizers also brought to the fore that the action showed that parents and teachers are united in defending public education and working to raise its quality. They are rejecting efforts by King to pit parents against teachers and brand children as “failures.” As has occurred at numerous public meetings in the area and statewide, speakers brought out that they are fighting for an all-sided curriculum, with music, art, physical education and content in all courses that defends the public and its interests. They want change in the public schools, but not the anti-education and anti-democracy content that is the Common Core. Their many signs brought this out: Education Yes! Common Core No! Testing ≠ Learning! Common Core Harms Children! Common Core Harms Education! We Want Decision Making Power!
Various people also spoke of the need to Refuse the Tests and organize in each school to encourage students and parents to refuse! As discussion ensued among participants, during and after the action, people talked about the need to keep matters in our own hands and continue building up organized resistance. The need for more public meetings large and small to further involve all concerned and assess resistance to the Core was raised.
Ideas about how to improve the quality of education and strengthen the fight for the equal right to education for all is on the minds of many. Problems confronting Buffalo students, like the high levels of poverty and inequality have to be addressed, something the Common Core is designed to prevent. Strengthening our own media, our own organizations by keeping matters in our own hands and organizing in public, for the public good is also being talked about.
What stood out at the action was recognition of the need for increasing the role of teachers, staff, students and parents in all matters of public education. The rally was organized in a way that was democratic and enabled the public to debate and strengthen its common thinking. It brought to the fore the need for decision making and building resistance. Parents are activated and engaged and this is vital to build on. There is consciousness about standing united and rejecting any effort by King to divide and conquer, whether it be urban schools against suburban schools or parents against teachers. Several times from the stage people emphasized, we are parents and teachers united!
There is also growing recognition that for the Common Core to be defeated everyone together must continue to rely on our own efforts and to organize broadly, at every school, in every district, and in the Buffalo-area as a whole.
Democracy Means We Decide, Not the King! [TOP]
Commissioner King Again Insists Common Core “Right Thing for Students”
Despite continuing and repeated demands by parents, teachers, staff and students to reject the Common Core and find alternatives that will improve the quality of public education, New York State Education Commissioner John King again emphasized that the state will continue to impose the Common Core. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he said, “It’s the right thing for students.” Speaking at a recent forum in Buffalo at WNED — that was closed to the public and by invitation-only — King also continued his disinformation about concerns of parents and teachers.
He said, “To the extent that people are saying we should ask students to read less, they’re wrong.” He added, “To the extent that people are saying we should ask students to write less, they’re wrong.” He concluded, “To me the folks who are making the argument that it’s too much, it’s too hard — essentially an argument for lower standards — they’re just ignoring the reality.”
He then made clear that regardless of the stand being taken by the public against the Common Core, King will go ahead: “I think we have to distinguish between listening and agreement.” He added, “We listen carefully to their concerns, but we also have a strong view that we’ve got to ensure that our students are prepared for college and career success.”
The King’s comments make clear he is not hearing what is being said, as he, and the private interests he serves, have already decided Common Core must go forward. And rather than respond to the facts and concerns raised by parents, he presents them as the ones wanting to lower standards and the general quality of education. The opposite is the case.
Any review of comments made by parents, teachers and students in numerous public meetings of various kinds, in the Buffalo area and across the state, make clear that they are not saying the problem is “too much reading” or “too much writing.” That is an entirely fabricated argument made by King to make it appear he is defending children while parents and teachers are not. What parents are saying is that there is too much testing, that the tests are not being used for educational purposes but rather to brand public teachers and students as failures, that the tests are arbitrary, not designed by educators, and are being kept secret, the property of private testing monopolies like Pearson. King consistently refuses to address these real and widespread concerns.
Parents, teachers and students alike want to improve the quality of the curriculum, make it more all-sided, ensure it provides students with the full and factual information and context they need to actually be informed and educated. And they have given various proposals along these lines. They are the ones fighting for higher quality libraries, fully staffed in every school. They are the ones fighting for music, art, physical education, foreign languages and more generally to raise standards in the public schools. They are the ones rightly saying that it is teachers, staff, students and parents who are the authorities on public education. They are the ones fighting for democracy and demanding to increase the role of teachers, staff, students and parents in deciding matters of public education. The Common Core, as widely evidenced, is eliminating standards, curriculum and is anti-democratic. The King has systematically blocked the role of the public in deciding, including by organizing an invitation-only meeting. Further, no one attending the meeting was allowed to speak. Rather questions had to be submitted in advance, were screened and then read by the forum moderator.
Students Are Not Products
What the King calls standards are not. That can better be described as product specifications. Students are to be considered products that meet a list of specifications. The Core provides specifications for each stage along the production line. And that “line” is now being extended to kindergarteners, who are also being tested. At minimum, the specifications are to be produced and tested for all 3-8 graders, with high school added in the coming year. Teachers are to be assessed based on how well their students achieve the specifications and principals are essentially production managers held accountable for the productivity of their unit in the production process.
Developmentally appropriate educational practice is not needed for this. There is not a curriculum, only the assembly line, the series of steps of the manufacturing process, guided by scripted “teaching modules” and tests to show the specifications have been met.
The “curriculum” with its modules and the testing and evaluation regime show that the Common Core is premised on eliminating the human factor from the education of human beings. Eliminating the role of teachers and parents, eliminating the role of those actually engaged in education, eliminating students as students and turning them into products. It is anti-education and anti-human. So it is little wonder that the King insists on going ahead while parents make clear their children are being abused and harmed, educationally and physically, and teachers join in refusing to do harm. King refused to speak to the reality that pediatricians are reporting several cases a week of students sick from the anxiety and inhumane character of the testing regime. Indeed, the doctors have designated the “Common Core” syndrome as an illness.
While King and the private interests behind him have agreed the Common Core must go forward, parents, teachers, staff and students are also agreed that they will not stand for it. As their many and continuing actions show, they are determined and united in advancing their organizing to Ban the Common Core!
Critiques of the Common Core Standards have noted that the process for creating the new K-12 standards involved too little research, public dialogue, or input from educators.
Nowhere was this more startlingly true than in the case of the early childhood standards — those imposed on kindergarten through grade 3. We reviewed the makeup of the committees that wrote and reviewed the Common Core Standards. In all, there were 135 people on those panels. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.
It appears that early childhood teachers and child development experts were excluded from the K-3 standards-writing process.
When the standards were first revealed in March 2010, many early childhood educators and researchers were shocked. “The people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education,” wrote Stephanie Feeney of the University of Hawaii, chair of the Advocacy Committee of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.
The promoters of the standards claim they are based in research. They are not. There is no convincing research, for example, showing that certain skills or bits of knowledge (such as counting to 100 or being able to read a certain number of words) if mastered in kindergarten will lead to later success in school. Two recent studies show that direct instruction can actually limit young children’s learning. At best, the standards reflect guesswork, not cognitive or developmental science.
Moreover, the Common Core Standards do not provide for ongoing research or review of the outcomes of their adoption—a bedrock principle of any truly research-based endeavor.
It’s bad enough to set up committees to make policy on matters they know little or nothing about. But it’s worse to conceal and distort the public reaction to those policies. And that’s exactly what happened.
Take a look at the summary of “public feedback” posted on the Core Standards website. It is grossly misleading. First of all, calling the feedback “public” is wrong: the organizers of the standards would not make public the nearly 10,000 comments they say they received from citizens. The summary quotes 24 respondents–less than 1/4 of 1 percent of the total–selectively chosen to back up their interpretation of the results.
Reading this summary, one gets the clear impression that the reactions to the standards were overwhelmingly positive. “At least three-fourths of educators, from pre-kindergarten through higher education, reacted positively or very positively to each of the general topics,” reports the section on the math standards. The summary concludes: “The feedback is, overall, very good news for the standards developers.”
Early childhood gets few mentions in this summary. The first one, on page 3, quotes an anonymous respondent: “Add pre-k standards.” In other words, not only do educators supposedly like the K-3 standards, they want them pushed down to even younger children. (In fact, that’s what’s happening now in many states.)
The authors of the summary do say that a “group of respondents believe the [K-3] standards are developmentally inappropriate.” They characterize that group as being mainly parents who are concerned that “children are being pushed too hard.”
But they do not even mention a critically important statement opposing the K-3 standards, signed by more than 500 early childhood professionals. The Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative was signed by educators, pediatricians, developmental psychologists, and researchers, including many of the most prominent members of those fields.
Their statement reads in part:
“We have grave concerns about the core standards for young children…. The proposed standards conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades…”
The statement’s four main arguments, below, are grounded in what we know about child development — facts that all education policymakers need to be aware of:
1. The K-3 standards will lead to long hours of direct instruction in literacy and math. This kind of “drill and grill” teaching has already pushed active, play-based learning out of many kindergartens.
2. The standards will intensify the push for more standardized testing, which is highly unreliable for children under age eight.
3. Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other crucial areas of young children’s learning: active, hands-on exploration, and developing social, emotional, problem-solving, and self-regulation skills — all of which are difficult to standardize or measure but are the essential building blocks for academic and social accomplishment and responsible citizenship.
4. There is little evidence that standards for young children lead to later success. The research is inconclusive; many countries with top-performing high-school students provide rich play-based, nonacademic experiences — not standardized instruction — until age six or seven.
The National Association for the Education of Young -Children is the foremost professional organization for early education in the U.S. Yet it had no role in the creation of the K-3 Core Standards. The Joint Statement opposing the standards was signed by three past presidents of the NAEYC — David Elkind, Ellen Galinsky, and Lilian Katz — and by Marcy Guddemi, the executive director of the Gesell Institute of Human Development; Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld of Harvard Medical School; Dorothy and Jerome Singer of the Yale University Child Study Center; Dr. Marilyn Benoit, past president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; Professor Howard Gardner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and many others.
We know that the instigators of the standards at the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers were aware of the Joint Statement well before their summary of public feedback was written. Copies of it were hand-delivered to eleven officials at those two organizations, including Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the CCSSO, and Dane Linn, director of the Education Division of the NGA, who were primarily responsible for the creation of the standards.
We called Mr. Wilhoit and Mr. Linn (who is now vice president of the Business Roundtable), along with several other people involved in the process, to ask them to comment for this article on the way the public feedback summary and the K-3 standards themselves were written. None of them returned our calls.
Why were early childhood professionals excluded from the Common Core Standards project? Why were the grave doubts of our most knowledgeable education and health experts missing from the official record of this undertaking? Would including them have forced the people driving this juggernaut to face serious criticism and questions about the legitimacy of the entire project?
The Common Core Standards are now the law in 46 states. But it is not too late to unearth the facts about how and why they were created, and to raise an alarm about the threat they represent.
The stakes are enormous. Dr. Carla Horwitz of the Yale Child Study Center notes that many of our most experienced and gifted teachers of young children are giving up in despair. “They are leaving the profession,” says Horwitz, “because they can no longer do what they know will ensure learning and growth in the broadest, deepest way. The Core Standards will cause suffering, not learning, for many, many young children.”
Our first task as a society is to protect our children. The imposition of these standards endangers them. To learn more about how early childhood educators are working to defend young children, see Defending the Early Years, http://deyproject.org.
Edward Miller is a writer and teacher who lives in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He is the co-author of “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.” Nancy Carlsson-Paige is professor emeritus of early childhood education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of “Taking Back Childhood.”