Phillips, Gates, Broad and Google Juice

by Steve, June 29th, 2007

Once in a while it’s fun to check the server logs and see the search terms that bring readers to a blog. On the one hand, it brings your not-so-humble blogger down a few pegs to see that his recipe for cholle or his review of Judy Park’s performance of Rach 3 with the Portland Youth Philharmonic is of much greater interest to the world than any of his views on hockey or politics.

That’s okay, because when it comes right down to it, I’m probably more passionate about food and music anyway (I just don’t have as much to say about them).

But when I noticed my piece about Vicki Phillips yesterday got at least one visit from someone at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I had to smile. (I extend a sincere welcome to the folks at Gates, and invite them to participate in the discussion if they care to refute anything written here.) They didn’t get here by way of Google, but I decided to check my Google juice on some key search terms, like “Vicki Phillips Gates”. Hey, not bad! I’m the fourth result, just after Gates, PPS and the Oregonian, well ahead of metblogs, the Portland Tribune and Willamette Week. Sweet!

But it’s even better when you search for “Vicki Phillips Gates Broad”: this blog is the first result.

It must drive the spin doctors absolutely bonkers that they can’t control their image any better than that.

They seem to be learning, though, at least on the local level. Witness comments here and on Terry Olson’s blog by the likes of PPS PR person Sarah Carlin Ames, PPS school board member David Wynde and Portland Schools Foundation executive director Connie Van Brunt. I personally welcome them to this exciting and new (to them) arena for democracy in action, and hope their friends at Gates will join in as well.

Vicki Phillips Can’t Resist Another Dig

by Steve, June 28th, 2007

Nothing probably makes me madder in this whole amount of work than the fact that a very small few can continue to destroy Jefferson’s image.

—Vicki Phillips in the Portland Tribune, June 26, 2007

Uh, Vicki, is that a dig at all the folks you excluded from your charade of community involvement in the Jefferson redesign? That’s like blaming Bush’s failure in Iraq on those who opposed the adventure in the first place. Vicki, your planning process for the Jefferson cluster was flawed. It’s no surprise the results were, too. The only people making Jefferson look bad lately have been Leon Dudley (and the people who hired him) and the people who foisted the “Jefferson Cluster Fuck” on the people of North Portland. That would include you, Vicki Phillips.

Somewhat ominously, Phillips said “Jefferson hasn’t seen the last of me yet.” I’ve heard the speculation that in her job at Gates, she will be assigned to Portland. That is a very frightening proposition. Is Portland to be the test bed for Gates’ policy of cramming millions of dollars down the throats of urban school districts, simultaneously dismantling our neighborhood schools in favor of charter schools and stifling the cries of protest?

What really irks me about Gates and Broad is that they push “reform” philosophy that is opposed by actual educators. Since they’ve got the dough, school districts are more than happy to fall in line as a condition of picking up some crumbs. But why should we listen to an uneducated scofflaw like Bill Gates, or anti-teacher businessman Eli Broad? Just because they got rich in the “free market” doesn’t mean the schools should operate like corporations.

A note of clarification: in my post about the PPS survey, I talked about “accountablity”, “achievement” and “performance” as if they were bad things. They are not, of course, but they have been co-opted by Gates, Broad and their ilk as code words to bash teachers and push standardized testing. They are also used to argue against stable and adequate school funding.

Portland Public Schools Push Poll: Have You Pushed Back?

by Steve, June 25th, 2007

Our School Board, in a rather dismal display of engaging its constituents, is using an unscientific Web-based “poll” to solicit input on community priorities for hiring a new superintendent. (To call this kind of thing a poll is an insult to researchers and statisticians who know something about scientific polling and sampling.) Of course, the ultimate poll in this matter was the recent school board election, in which Vicki Phillips supporters were thrashed (Doug Morgan) and brought down a peg (David Wynde) by community-based, neighborhood schools advocates Ruth Adkins and Michele Schultz, respectively.

The constituents of the School Board spoke loudly and clearly against the corporatist reform style of Vicki Phillips, her supporters on the board, and her patrons at the Broad and Gates foundations. Yet the board still floats a scientifically meaningless “survey” in which market-based school reform buzzwords are dangled tantalizingly before the unwary public. And the results, meaningless as they are, become very useful to these folks when they show that we want “accountability”, “achievement”, “school choice”, “tough decisions” and “performance”. These words and phrases come up repeatedly in the survey, mixed in with a few nods to “neighborhood schools”, “funding” and “diversity”. Art and music get lumped in with P.E. and technology in one item.

If it turns out the survey doesn’t show what they want, who cares! It’s unscientific anyway, and all us loud mouth critics probably stuffed the ballot box anyway. Hint: it’s trivial to “vote” numerous times, hence the absurdity of using such a piece of marketing quackery (what’s next? focus groups?) for such a serious issue. And again: we already voted, and the results were overwhelming: no more of this Gates/Broad reform crap. Give us strong neighborhood schools and adequate, stable, and equitable funding.

Most of the “survey” asks the respondent to rate issues on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Not at all important”, 3 being “Neutral or don’t know” and 5 being “Extremely important”. (They start out with a couple throw-away short answer questions basically asking you to list three strengths and three concerns about PPS. I listed “teachers, students, families” and “Gates, Broad and school closings”. As if they’re even going to read those!)

Then it’s on with the 1-to-5 push polling. Buzzword number one is “achievement”. It comes up in the first question, then comes up six more times. “Accountability” only gets one, but there’s also one on teacher “effectiveness”. (These have always been a code words used to attack the teachers’ professional autonomy — and collective bargaining agreements.) “Performance” or some variant comes up twice. “School choice” comes up three times.

“Neighborhood schools” only comes up twice, but the second mention is a trap: in order to rate it as important, you have to also rate “school choice” the same! Seriously, I’m not making this shit up. Here’s the actual survey question: “Maintaining student enrollment through a variety of approaches including school choice, full-day kindergarten, and strong neighborhood schools.” This is also the only time full-day kindergarten is mentioned. Funding gets two mentions, but there is nothing about “equity” or “equality”.

Finally, the survey ends with the somewhat ominously worded question: “Are you affiliated with any particular community group you would like to name?” I ain’t namin’ names! *Cough*NSA*cough*cough*

Of course this is just another sign of Portland Public Schools, through its board, trying to behave like a corporation. This is not community involvement, folks, this is marketing. With the Portland School Board behaving like a startup corporation at the outset of the superintendent search, what do you think we should expect at the end of the search? Insulting though it is, please take a few minutes to fill out their survey. And don’t forget my little hint earlier. Heh heh heh.

Did He Really Say That?!?

by Steve, June 21st, 2007

Did President George W. Bush really invite New Orleans musicians Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers to play at the White House, call them mediocre and then ask them to pick up the trash?

Yep, it’s true, and it’s in the official transcript. Sure, he was just being his frat-boy self, ribbing the boys. But isn’t that a bit much after, uh, that hurricane thing that happened a couple years back?

THE PRESIDENT: …I thank Tony Snow and his bunch of, well, mediocre musicians — (laughter) — no, great musicians. Beats Workin, thanks for coming. (Applause.) Kermit, come up here. Kermit, we’re proud to have you.

MR. RUFFINS: Well, thanks for having us.

THE PRESIDENT: Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers, right out of New Orleans, Louisiana. (Applause.)

MR. RUFFINS: Thank you. Thanks for having us. We’re glad to be here.

THE PRESIDENT: Proud you’re here. Thanks for coming. You all enjoy yourself. Make sure you pick up all the trash after it’s over. (Laughter.)

(Via Dan Froomkin via Wonkette)

Thirteen Garments I Once Prized

by Steve, June 20th, 2007

Taking a cue from Wacky Mommy (whom I mostly love out of her clothes), I give you thirteen garments and accessories I have loved throughout the years.

1. striped Osh Kosh overalls when I was a preschooler

2. my Chicago Black Hawks pajamas from the grade school years

3. a puka shell necklace when I was in 6th grade

4. a t-shirt that said “Brass Power” when I was in 7th grade (I played trumpet)

5. a whole string of black concert Ts, starting with Cheap Trick

6. then there was Heart,

7. AC/DC,

8. and Alice Cooper (and probably one or two I can’t remember from when I was a budding rocker in my early teens)

9. my pocket Ts, blue jeans, work boots, tool belt and safety glasses from the summer I worked in the scene shop for summer rep in college

10. my Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax t-shirt from when I was a young adult (which I still have)

11. my work boots from when I worked produce in the 90s

12. my “More Hockey Less War” shirt from the Left Coast Hockey League

13. my stripedy pajamas I stole from my wife and wear when I snuggle with my kids

New Merch

by Steve, June 20th, 2007

Come see what’s new at the Left Coast Hockey League.

Raspberries for Fathers’ Day

by Steve, June 17th, 2007

berries.jpgHappy fathers’ day; our raspberries are ripe!

Vicki Phillips Sighting

by Steve, June 15th, 2007

Speaking of Vicki Phillips, she showed up at my children’s school today, NPR reporter in tow. You probably know how we feel about Vicki in my wacky household. (If not, you might want to look here.)

Ain’t it grand? Like she hasn’t pissed me off enough, she’s going to use my children, on the last school day of the year, as a backdrop for an NPR puff piece before she vanishes in a cloud of smoke and fire. I’m sure they’ll be extolling the virtues of the Gates and Broad foundations and all the great work they’re going to be doing promoting charter schools and other means of school privatization. Or maybe — just maybe — they’ll actually do a little background and talk to people who know something about education and are a bit concerned about Gates and Broad pushing their neoliberal education agenda nation-wide.

One can only hope. Then again, it might have been for a story on the local NPR affiliate, OPB. (The principal said NPR, but lots of people get confused about this type of thing.) Should be airing some time in the next couple weeks.

What the Fuck is Wrong With Portland Public Schools, Pt. 2

by Steve, June 12th, 2007

Or Neoliberalism, Portland Public Schools, and the Commodification of Human Life

It’s been nearly four months since I wrote Part 1 of this essay, so I figured it’s time to let Part 2 out of my brain.

In Part 1 I focussed on Oregon’s revenue crisis, the result of a libertarian assault on the state’s ability to raise revenue in the ’90s. When discussing the state of education in Portland, one cannot overemphasize the dire effect revenue loss has had on our schools. Portland went from 15th in the nation in spending per pupil in the early ’90s to 31st in ’04-’05. We now have the fourth-worst student-teacher ratio in the nation.

In 1997, as Oregon education funding circled the drain, Jack Bierwirth departed as Portland Public Schools superintendent. What followed was a patchwork of interim leaders and failed replacements, starting with Diana Snowden who served from 1997-98. Snowden stepped down when a national search turned up Ben Canada, who turned out to be a major disappointment. Canada left in 2001, and was replaced by another interim leader, Jim Scherzinger, who ended up serving until Vicki Phillips was hired in 2004. With Phillips’ departure this year, the school board has announced the hiring of Ed Schmitt as interim superintendent while they conduct another nation-wide search. That’s six superintendents in 15 years, the same 15 years in which Portland went from top-tier school funding to bottom-tier. That’s a one-two punch we’re still reeling from.

I have detailed many of Vicki Phillips’ failures in a previous blog post. In a nutshell, Phillips brought a neoliberal philosophy of public education to Portland. This model, strongly propounded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, received strong support from the Portland Schools Foundation and the Portland business community, not to mention the school board members who hired her. (It should be no surprise to anybody who’s been paying attention that she is leaving for a job with Gates.)

So just what the hell is a neoliberal philosophy of public education? Neoliberalism is a term used by the left to criticize economic liberalism, also known globalism. The term came into wide use in the ’70s and ’80s in critiquing the way the World Bank and International Monetary Fund doled out money in the developing world, particularly Latin America. In order to qualify for aid, nations had to privatize state-owned industry and utilities and cut budget deficits, often at the expense of much-needed social programs. The US used these institutions as tools to undermine populist governments in the western hemisphere as a hedge against Soviet influence, and at the same time made them ripe for exploitation by transnational US corporations.

Neoliberalism crept into US economic policy (some would say it came home to roost) beginning with President Carter, as a response to the “stagflation” crisis. No president since, Democratic or Republican, has strayed from the neoliberal monetarist path. The Federal Reserve Bank has manipulated interest rates to favor capital exclusively, with a goal of maintaining a certain level of unemployment (with “inflation” being the code word for unemployment dipping too low). President Clinton’s sweeping “ending welfare as we know it” was perhaps the final psychological blow to Keynsianism in the US.

So “neoliberalism” has a very specific meaning with regard to macroeconomics and the regulation (or, more accurately, deregulation) of global capital. I’ve been reluctant to categorize the work of Broad and Gates as neoliberal, but there are parallels. And simply criticizing them as “right-wing” or “conservative” misses the mark.

Broadly speaking, neoliberal education policy can be thought of as creeping privatization. This comes in the form of charter and alternative schools, sometimes run by religious or for-profit organizations. It also comes in the form of setting up traditional neighborhood-based schools for failure through hard-ball labor tactics, one-size-fits-all curriculum decisions and punishment of schools that don’t meet testing standards. Market-oriented solutions are emphasized across the board. In the end, it all boils down to the commodification of human life.

The application of market theory to education is a stunningly dangerous experiment with the lives of our children, and Portland Public Schools have fallen victim to to it at the hands of Vicki Phillips, the board who hired and defended her, her friends at the Portland Schools Foundation, and her benefactors at Broad and Gates.

Portland schools are in a shambles. Many neighborhood schools have capture rates under 50%. The Jefferson Cluster is especially bleak. Obviously, something had to be done. But the neoliberal approach is to throw the baby out with the bath water. There is a cynical reading of this policy mindset that it is intended to lead to failure and ultimately to vouchers. I don’t buy into that theory, but the effect is the same: Our schools and our children are worse for the wear as Vicki Phillips rides off into the sunset.

I have some hope that with the board members who supported Phillips now in the minority, we can have an honest examination of the way forward. New board member Ruth Adkins is a founder of the Neighborhood Schools Alliance, a group founded in response to the closing of neighborhood schools.

I sincerely believe that the model that worked for generations — kids going to school with their neighbors in small-to-medium schools within walking distance of their homes — can still work today. We have the infrastructure in place, we just need leaders who can visualize it and see it through. Of course, stable and adequate funding wouldn’t hurt, either. See Part 1. Sigh.

Power Glitch

by Steve, June 9th, 2007

We were without power in my part of North Portland, and it turns out Web servers don’t work without electricity. And it turns out that when you run your own servers, you’re vulnerable to things like power outages (I don’t have UPS, not that that would have helped for the three-hour outage). The good news is that everything seems to have come back up. And that’s a wonder, because right after the power went out, there were two massive surges that blew a few light bulbs in our house and fried a couple GFCI outlets. I mean fried hard. Thanks for your patience, and hopefully that’ll be the last glitch for a while.

Edited 6/10/07: One more little power outage today, as I powered down to replace the GFCI outlets. I also took the opportunity to move the Web server out of our bedroom, which I’ve been meaning to do for some time. Dang, it’s got a noisy fan! Hopefully that’s it for moving things for a while. Blog on.