The Unequal United States — Which State is the best to teach in?

Divide and conquer.

This piece was originally published in the Bad Ass Teachers Association Blog.

In one of the Facebook groups that I follow, a member posed this question: “Just out of curiosity: what’s the best state to teach in, and why?” A flurry of comments came in — 347 comments were generated from that one question! I found the responses to be both enlightening and disturbing.

Some of the comments were humorous:

“A state of bliss.”

“A state of denial.”

“A state of sobriety.”

“A state of intoxication.”

Some comments looked outside of the United States:

“Finland” (This country was written many times.)

“International schools.”

“On-line.”

While a few teachers commented:

“No state.”

“None, get out of teaching.”

“Don’t go into any state of teaching.”

Most respondents answered very strongly concerning the state they taught in. The “best” states characteristics tended to be geographically north-eastern, union-supported, secure in teacher tenure rights and included average to above-average teacher pay, including pensions.

The top state responses: Massachusetts, New York (but not always NYC), New Jersey (but there was much discussion over Governor Christie), Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, and northern Virginia (not southern), Minnesota, and California.

The meh states included Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The characteristics of states to avoid included: hostile governors, anti-union sentiment, right-to-work laws, lacked teacher tenure rights, lacked pension benefits, and paid teachers unlivable wages. These “bad” states were listed as: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.

I was happy to see New York (my home state) cited favorably frequently among the comments. Although Governor Cuomo and the Board of Regents have caused havoc to the teacher evaluation process and continue to over-test our children, it was a bit encouraging to hear from NY teachers that they still believed in our public schools. I am sure all the New York teachers posting could easily point out huge issues in New York schools, but the negative comments are nothing close to what teachers from the “bad” states were saying.

Florida was touted as the worst of the worst.

Why is this stark inequality so significant? Because inequity is the fuel for the fire of corporate education reform. Inequity ignites the narrative of “those failing public schools” and the “need” for more choices. Inequity attracts residents and teachers to flock to certain “good” schools in certain “desirable” areas. Inequity promotes corporation’s profits recruits corporate charter school investment. Inequity increases segregation along both racial and socio-economic divides.

The “state” of public education is so disparate and the inequity in funding is so varied that we can no longer define “American Education.” Instead, each state’s education has its own meaning — creating savage inequalities in the United States.

So which schools has Betsy DeVos visited in her short tenure as the United States Secretary of Education?

  • Jefferson Middle School Academy, Washington, D.C. on February 10, 2017.
  • St. Andrew Catholic School, Orlando, Florida, on March 3, 2017 (accompanied by Trump).
  • Carderock Springs Elementary School, Bethesda, Maryland on March 23, 2017, where she read from Dr. Suess’ Oh The Places You Will Go.
  • Kimberly Hampton Primary School, Fort Bragg, North Carolina on April 3, 2017 — a school run by the Department of Defense.
  • Excel Academy Public Charter School, Washington, D.C., on April 5, 2017, (accompanied by the First Lady and the Queen of Jordan).
  • Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE) Elementary School, Miami Florida on April 6, 2017.
  • SLAM Charter School, Miami, Florida on April 6, 2017 (the school is supported by the rapper, Pitbull).
  • Royal Palm Elementary School, Miami, Florida on April 7, 2017 (this is a traditional public school).
  • Van Wert Elementary and Van Wert High School, Van Wert, Ohio on April 20, 2017 (accompanied by Randi Weingarten, the president of the AFT).
  • Ashland Elementary School, Manassas, Virginia, on April 25, 2017 (student population is largely from military families).
  • North Park Elementary School, Los Angelos, California, on April 28, 2017 (after a teacher and her student were killed by a gunman).
  • Cornerstone Christian School, Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2017 (as the name suggests, this school is Christian school).
  • Center City Charter School, Washington, D.C., on May 5, 2017 (first Catholic-to-charter school conversion).
  • Granite Technical Institute, Salt Lake City, Utah on May 9, 2017.

Source: Education Week: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2017/04/weingarten_devos_van_wert_hold.html

Overwhelmingly Betsy DeVos has visited schools that fit her perspective of “good” schools. These schools tend to be located in regions of the United States where funding for public education is abysmal and where school vouchers, educational scholarships, and white flight from public schools is typical. And, with the exception of a few schools listed above, most of these schools are located in states where professionals are urging their fellow teachers to avoid.

In war, a great strategy is divide and conquer. Public schools in the United States are already horribly divided — divided by curriculum, funding, facilities, teacher preparation, race, and socio-economic factors. The public’s opinion of schools is at all time low. Make no mistake, the war on public education is raging. Betsy DeVos and the forces of privatization and corporatization are closing in. Their victory would be a tremendous loss for the children of the United States.

It is time for battle. It is time for public school advocates to lead. It is time for teachers to find their voices, collectively. How does the resistance begin? The first step comes in sensible shoes during the upcoming March For Public Education in our nation’s capital on July 22, 2017, or in sister-city marches across the country.

The July 22, 2017, March for Public Education is critical. Please consider clicking the heart ❤️ icon above, following the March For Education Blog Publication, following on Twitter, liking the page on Facebook, participating in the march, and donating to the march. You can also buy a t-shirt to support public education by clicking here.

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Finish this: “Public Education is…”



“Public Education is DEMOCRACY!”

That is how I finished the prompt on the March for Public Education’s Facebook Group query. (Please join this group of over 13,000 people by clicking the underlined link.)

Yes, all caps are needed. Yes, it warrants an exclamation point. Yes, public education is not just a part of the American democratic system, it the engine of democracy. To further explain, the following are five reasons public education is democracy:

1.Public education is democracy because schools are like the statue of liberty.

Public schools take all kinds of students — black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jew, poor, rich, special needs, or gifted. Public schools face poverty, mental illness, addiction, neglect, and hunger with warm classrooms led by smiling adults. Like Emma Lazarus’ poem, schools take the tired, the poor, and the wretched refuse, because public schools are open to every resident of the United States of America. Public schools are safe havens for our most vulnerable citizens.


2.Public education is democracy because students learn a standardized education, which promotes equal access to opportunities.

Students in central New York, where I have lived my entire life, are offered a standard curriculum, taught by teachers who hold master’s degrees, earn tenure, and who are allowed to collectively bargain and unionize. The New York State public education system, although not perfect, truly attempts to create a foundation for its residents. I attended four different public school districts, and although the frequent moving was often disruptive socially, the standard curriculum and high quality of learning offered by every one of the school districts enabled me to mature positively despite my often disruptive childhood.

Standardized learning and highly qualified teachers help to even out privilege and counteract disparity. Rigorous content, dynamic pedagogy, and equitable funding are all components of effective public schools.


3. Public education is democracy because all teachers are civics teachers.

Although many people complain about students’ lack of knowledge about civics and history, as institutions, public schools go a long way to civilize the huddled masses. Schools teach rules, expectations, deadlines and collaboration.

Students in public education recite the pledge of allegiance every day, participate in moments of silence when tragedy arises, and collectively learn about American government and values.


4.Public education is democracy because parents invest in their communities and have a voice in the budget every spring.

On May 16, 2017, hundreds of school district across the state of New York will offer spaghetti dinners while holding their breaths in the hope that the community will continue to support their district’s financial needs for another year.

When budgets are rejected it is often due to financial constraints, disagreements over spending, or political issues. However, in my twenty-two years of teaching, I have never taught in a school where the budget was not passed. Every budget is tense, but ultimately in Central New York, anyway, taxpayers see the value in an educated citizenry.


5. Public education is democracy because schools, like American democracy, are messy.

I have a respected colleague that often repeats the line: democracy is messy. No truer words have been spoken. Democracy is horribly untidy — riddled with disagreements, power struggles, and self-centered greed. Schools are microcosms of society, and schools represent both the best and the worst of American values and deficiencies.

Out of the mess, however, comes creativity, athletics, clubs, activities, growth, individuality, and success for millions of students. I don’t always like what happens in America, or in public schools, but I would not want to live or teach in any other type of system.


How would you finish: Public Education is…? Comment below, and consider writing a piece for this publication.

Please follow the publication, click the heart 💚 icon, bookmark the website by clicking here, follow on Twitter and join the Facebook group.

#educationmarch — join the march on July 22, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Why the title: Teaching in Trump’s America?

Place, time, and history.

After recently asking a colleague to write about a wonderful teaching technique he employs, he told me that Teaching in Trump’s America was too political for him to be involved with during this time in his career.

I respect this person’s views. I can understand why many teachers are historically reluctant to raise their voices. I can even appreciate colleagues who support President Trump. Although I comprehend many reasons why educators might shy away from supporting Teaching in Trump’s America, I am troubled if the only excuse is politics, because teaching is political.

The name of the publication is provocative. Maybe some day, it can simply be called Teaching in America. For now, however, the inclusion of Trump’s name is significant because it clarifies place, time, and historical details.

Place: America

The United States has been viewed as a grand experiment by many. Experiments have variables and constants. Experiments can fail. Public schools are the great equalizer — children from diverse backgrounds can learn collectively, with many overcoming socio-economic differences. Education, especially public education, is the embodiment of democracy. American schools are microcosms of society. By analyzing American education, we learn more about our country as a whole.

Time: Post 9/11 World

Since the horrible events of September 11, 2001, many Americans have felt vulnerable. Unlike the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was no clear enemy. The kamikaze hijackers flew no country’s flag — instead, America’s enemies were radicalized and trained in many countries, including in the United States. Unease and anxiety, coupled with true economic stagnation, have increased the creation of “other.” This creation of “other” has made scapegoating possible. Unfortunately, teachers have been victims as well. Whether it be the teacher benefit of summer vacations, systemic school failure, or “liberal” intellectualism, teachers have often been cast as prosperous in a worldview of the haves versus have-nots.

Historical Details: From A Nation At Risk to Race to the Top

In 1983, the Reagan administration published A Nation At Risk. In 2002, the Bush Administration supported the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2010, the Obama Administration promoted the Race to the Top and later (2015) The Every Child Succeeds Act (reauthorizing the 50-year old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which No Child Left Behind also reauthorized). For the last fifty years (most of the post-world war two era), politicians have used funding as a tool to mold American education — in a feeble attempt to make America competitive with other nations. These educational politics have promoted a narrative of school failure.

Therefore, Teaching in Trump’s America is an apt title for a publication that aims to shine a light on the realities of public school teaching. Minus the noise of politicians, publishing companies, and non-teaching “experts,” teacher’s authentic voices can be collectively raised. The story of education can change, one post at a time. Furthermore, true democracy can only survive with loud individuals speaking their truth to power.

https://medium.com/teaching-in-trumps-america