Defend Public Education

Tom Stephens: Assault on Detroit

Posted in education, politics by Nicole Conaway on June 26, 2011

via Tom Stephens: Assault on Detroit (

Weekend Edition
June 24 – 26, 2011

An Open Letter to Arne Duncan

Assault on Detroit


US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan labeled Detroit “ground zero” in education reform by video conference. He pointed out that Detroit students have posted the worst scores in the nation in math, reading and science, levels that shocked local and national education officials. Duncan said those results, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment, caused some to view the city as having “no viable future if the status quo is allowed to stand.” (From The Detroit News, June 21, 2011)

Hon. Secretary Duncan:

Your labeling of Detroit and its People, including our Children, in a five-minute video conference address on June 21, 2011, is much more than an egregious display of bad manners, arrogance and racism.

The education “reform” movement whose standard you bear may have reached a new low – especially in your extraordinarily narrow and myopic, even obsessive focus on high-stakes testing of children and phony standards for “accountability” (standards that you apply to children, but never to the politicians and corporate interests who are pushing them). In short, you must have gone completely insane.

Permit me to explain this harsh judgment.

Many studies and competent professional educators have by now concluded that the infamous “No Child Left Behind” Act model of education has failed our children. Indeed, longstanding opponents of these “reforms” have been amply justified by experience in our original assessment of this model: it was designed to punish public school systems and children in low-income communities, predominantly of color, while generating enormous profits for corporate testing and turnaround ventures.

Even advocates of these failed “reforms” (most notably former Bush administration education official Diane Ravitch, in her bestselling book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education”), have evaluated the evidence generated by a decade of such “reform,” and exposed its failure to promote effective education, and its success at enriching and empowering unqualified political operatives like yourself, who are nevertheless pressing ahead amidst wars and recession with a second decade of this failed model.

However, until now as far as I know no one has been so bold, mindless or irresponsible as to claim that the results of a single standardized test battery condemn an entire community to non-viability. Standardized tests have often been shown to be scientifically unreliable for assessing and intervening in educational programs. When used as overly prescriptive guides to policy, they produce wildly divergent results, condemning successful programs working under the most difficult conditions to the label of “failure,” while rewarding far less effective educational systems in better-resourced communities. Perhaps even worse, the corporate “reform” mania for testing reinforces an anti-intellectual, reductionist and counter-productive praxis of “teaching to the test,” instead of real, dynamic education in the modes of critical thought, agency and empowerment through intellectual growth. All this is more than enough to condemn the high-stakes testing regime for which you stand as the federal government’s top bureaucrat. But until now no one has publicly claimed that a community could be condemned to “no viable future” by poor test results. Shame on you!

Your five-minute video conference assessment of Detroit’s community was in support of the third state takeover proposal for Detroit Public Schools since 1999. The first two state takeovers are now widely acknowledged to have inflicted nearly catastrophic damage on this system and the children it seeks to serve, amounting to a peculiar form of institutionalized and politicized corporate child abuse. Now you support yet another ill-planned experiment with the intellectual and cultural welfare of Detroit’s children.

What do you even know about Detroit or its people?

What evidence do you have that Governor Rick Snyder’s new, and vaguely defined “Educational Achievement Authority” and “”Educational Achievement System” will actually improve educational outcomes for Detroit’s children, as opposed to institutionalizing the school-to-prison pipeline in “underperforming” schools for children labeled as “failures,” underwritten by the biased, partisan agenda of the Broad Foundation and other members of what Ms. Ravitch appropriately calls “the billionaire boys’ club,” i.e., the Gates and Walton Foundations?

Will you apologize to Detroit, its people and children for your abusive statements, delivered in the most thoughtless and insulting way?

School “failure” results from the failure of your “reform” agenda to create a new paradigm for education – not a “race to the top,” but a race to regain our humanity and become well-educated, effective citizens in a democracy. Of necessity, Detroit is learning faster than most places how real education can address the challenges of our community, and how these challenges are opportunities to engage children and people of all ages in educational programs that grow our souls.

I respectfully suggest that Detroiters and others with actual knowledge of our community, and especially Detroit’s children, many of whom are thriving in excellent schools, should write Secretary Duncan and inform him, in your own words, why we are a distinctly viable, creative, flourishing and beloved community:

Honorable Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Tom Stephens is a lawyer in Detroit. He can be reached at:


Catherine Ferguson Acdemy Student statement says it best

Posted in Catherine Ferguson articles, education, politics by Nicole Conaway on June 9, 2011

A student wrote this today and asked me to use it to, in her words, ” gain support for our cause”

Save Catherine Ferguson
By: Ikeeah Dozier
It is often said that Catherine Ferguson Academy is the school for pregnant girls. This is not true, I wouldn’t even say that this is a school for teenage mothers – it is much more than that. Catherine Ferguson is not only for the continuing education of young mothers, but for the beginning education of our children. We don’t have day care here, we have early education classrooms. We aren’t leaving our children with glorified babysitters, we are leaving them with teachers. It isn’t just that our children are learning educationally, they are also learning socially. By being in the classroom from such an early age, our children are learning how to interact. Whereas children that stay at home for three years then enter preschool don’t know what to do in a room full of children their age.
Catherine Ferguson isn’t telling girls that it’s ok to get pregnant. We are saying that if you do get pregnant, there are options. I say “we”, because Catherine Ferguson is a family. We all travel great distances to get here. Some of us take one bus, some of us three. Some of us live on this side of town, some of us live east. Then there are those, like me, that don’t live in Detroit at all, but in one of the outlying cities. There are even girls that moved here from different states.
Why try to break up this school when it has everything that we need? We are learning, our children are learning, and should something happen, only a flight of stairs, or a short walk down the hallway, separates us. The nurse’s station is only a few feet away, and they are trained to handle many difficult situations.
By closing Catherine Ferguson, you are not only closing us out, but our children. It’s as if you’re saying that because we made a mistake, neither we nor our children deserve an education. Who is anyone to deny the children of teenaged mothers an education? Children are the future, so why send them into the world with anything less than the best?

DFT Members: Vote Defend Public Education/Save Our Students Slate in Delegate Elections March 8,9,10

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on February 26, 2010

Detroit Teachers!

Vote in your Schools March 8, 9 & 10 for DFT Delegate to the AFT National and Michigan Conventions! 

           1. For video statements from our candidates, go to .  Watch, post comments, and forward the link to other teachers.
           2. See the attached pdf of our campiagn flyer.  Print it, copy it, and pass it out at school.
Vote for the Defend Public Education / Save Our Students Slate  in the Convention Delegate Elections !
Mark the dates—March 8, 9, 10 and 11—in your calendar, because what you do on those days will determine the character of public education for years to come.
On March 8, 9 and 10, DFT members will vote for slates of candidates to represent us at our union’s state and national conventions. On March 11 we will have our next union meeting. If we vote in defense of public education, in defense of our union and our students, this will be the first meeting in which we will break the spell of tyranny and repression that is making us weak and embattled when objectively, we are so strong.
Unlike any other convention delegate election, this election is a referendum on who we are, on who we aspire to be, on what is most important to us, and on our commitment to stand on the truth, on our most important principles and beliefs. This election is an opportunity to defeat the whole right-wing, pro-charter, anti-public school ideology being pushed by virtually every politician and the whole media.
for the complete text of this statement, see the attached pdf file

Detroit Teachers Demand removal of DFT President

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 16, 2010

Detroit teachers demand the removal of DFT president Keith Johnson at the January 14 general membership meeting

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Keith Johnson illegaly adjourns meeting

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 16, 2010

Keith Johnson illegaly adjourns meeting

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DFT Members to hold recall vote of President

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 15, 2010

Members of the Detroit Federation of  Teachers at the general membership meeting tonight participated in a historical moment for our union. Tonight we took back our union, held our meeting free from the dictatorial rule of Keith Johnson and passed the following three motions by an overwhelming majority.

Motion 1: that the DFT support the teachers in their lawsuit to stop the $250 per pay deduction which began this week.

Motion 2: that the vote for the recall of President Keith Johnson be taken at the next general membership meeting.

Motion 3: that Keith Johnson step down as President of the DFT pending the recall vote.

Here are the details. The meeting began as usual, actually a little quieter than usual despite the size of the crowd. Keith called the meeting to order and the motion was made by Brother Steve Conn to amend the agenda to add the special item including the 3 motions. A loud second rose up from the body. To which of course, Keith’s response was to rule the motion out of order, and swiftly try to get the agenda approved. He got it approved, got it seconded, and called the vote. Then he made a big mistake. Above the roar of members chanting ‘NO!NO!NO!”, “King Keith” proclaimed, “The ayes have it.” Now, people can only take so many lies. When you put it right in their faces like that, they tend to upset. Thanks Keith. You couldn’t have made it any easier.

From that point the meeting was ours.   Keith left the room to make an important phone call, likely to the police department or to tell someone to call the police, we continued our meeting.The chanting continued. He tried to regain control, but never did. Keith said sit down, more people stood up. As members felt the strength of taking back thier own power, the chanting became celebratory.  Keith threatened to have disruptors removed, asked the police to take us out, starting with the people standing on chairs. More of us got up on chairs. The police appeared to explain to Keith that they couldn’t do anything for him, again. I don’t know who the officer talking to him was, but I thank him for seeing the truth and setting Keith straight. Eventually Keith adjourned the meeting. They even turned the lights off on us. We didn’t move. We adopted the special item as the agenda, and passed all three motions by an overwhelming majority. 

What was supposed to happen, according to Keith’s agenda, was that his lawyer would explain to us that the charges on the recall petition were invalid.   Last night in an emergency executive meeting, Keith declared this so and ordered the petitions with the signatures of over 1300 members to be THROWN AWAY. Who does he think he is? He seems to thing he gets to be judge and jury of his own trial.  WE Determine the validity of those charges, not him, and not his lawyer. DFT Members will not stand for this usurpation of our democratic rights by a president who has threatened, bullied and lied to us!

A few words on the hearing in Lansing on the powers of the Emergency financial manager:

You know their not really interested in real educational reform when the want to give someone like Rob Bobb control over academics in addition to money. It doesn’t suprise me though.  Of course private interests like The Skillman Foundation who need that cash flow from DPS want it, so they have a more “stable” district to work with. Every DPS Board member presented evidence on Bobb’s failures. Some described the success of DPS just before the state take-over of the late 90’s and the devastating results of that take over. House Education Committee members raised the issue of Bobb’s lack of accountability. Right now he only answers to the Governor. The DFT website was conspicuously neutral, simply stating that the hearing was happening at the House of Reprasentatives in Lansing on the question of whether Bobb should have academic power and that a bus ws available for members who wanted to go to the hearing. Hmm…

Michigan House Education Committee hearing on giving Academic Power to Rob Bobb

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 14, 2010

10:30 AM TODAY Thursday Jan 14, House Education committee will hear testimony on “School financial managers and powers related to academic emergencies”

Click here for committee member contact information and email or call to tell them NO! Do Not give Rob Bobb academic control of DPS. Now you know it’s not about educating children when they want to appoint someone who has no expertise as an educator to oversee academic affairs. It’s just one more piece of the take over plan.

View or listen to the webcast o f the meeting on House TV

Johnson gets props from Weingarten as recall effort grows

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 13, 2010

While DFT President Keith Johnson faces a growing recall effort by DFT membership, the AFT is using him as the poster boy for their national campaign to undermine teachers and students rights.

From the DFT website:

DFT President Keith Johnson and the 2009 bargaining team are being honored at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Jan. 12 for the innovative contract that ushered in union-driven reforms and held the line on wages in a deficit-ridden school district. The 2009-2012 contract has been called the most progressive in Michigan history. For the first time, Detroit teachers will drive staff development, counsel and mentor their peers, and determine school bonuses. AFT President Randi Weingarten will honor Johnson and the team for the innovative negotiations that accomplished the package. Johnson will be in Washington to accept the award for his bargaining team: Mark O’Keefe, Patrick Falcusan, Felecia Clark, Mershira Oliver and Paula Trilety.  (For more analysis of Weingarten’s speech see Union to propose test scores figure into teacher ratings)



Meanwhile Back in Detroit,

The wage claim forms are stacking up on Attorney George Washington’s desk as teachers see the first deduction from their paychecks, and the organizing meetings for the recall of Johnson have grown to over 100 teachers representing dozens of schools across the city, and petition signatures number 1300+.

Innovative? Progressive? 

Rather than take wage cuts, thanks to the stellar negotiating skills of Johnson and his bargaining team, we got  $10,00 in payroll deductions from.  Only those who will profit from the taking over of public schools call this the most progressive contract in Michigan History for private profit. The school bonuses teachers will determine will be given “if the district secures funds”. 

The only people who call this outrageous deal progressive are those who stand to profit from the take over of pulic schools. As Weingarten honors Johson, she rejects a letter from the DFT election committee who voted UNANIMOUSLY to suspend this ratification vote due to many “iregularities”.

Teachers file lawsuit to protect wages

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 11, 2010

Lawyer George Washington  filed suit today on behalf of the first fourteen of the 7000 teachers, counselors, and other school employees whose rights were violated by the  contract negotiated between Robert Bobb and Keith Johnson.

Teachers will see the first of 40 $250 deductions on their paycheck  tomorrow.  This deduction amounts to an illegal loan to the district, violating the Michigan Payment of Wages Act of 1978.  The total deduction of $10,000 is part of the Termination Incentive Plan included in the recent agreement.

Also included is a provision to pay teachers back $1000 per year up to ten years only after they resign or retire. Teachers who are laid off will not get it back, and if the district files bankruptcy as it threatens, none of us will.  This is what AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten referred to as a “bonus” in her full-page ad in the NY Times, “Detroit Teaches America a Valuable Lesson” . This is no bonus, this is theft. But Weingarten is right, Detroit is teaching America a valuable lesson. We are teaching her, and Robert Bobb, and anyone who thinks we will quietly sit by and let them push their agenda through that DFT is not a bank and our students are not for sale.  We will not simply let Robert Bobb steal from our paychecks to hire more consultants and management firms and turn DPS into a two-tiered charterized system.

Teachers Oppose Tentative Agreement

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 10, 2010

As this video shows, teachers at the Cobo Hall meeting were ready to vote no. But when the motion was made Union President Keith Johson told us “There will be no vote here” denying our rights and violoating our union bylaws.

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