Thursday, April 30, 2009

The politics of fear

A world gone mad

The World Health Organization (WHO), bowing to pressure from meat industry producers and concerned governments, said on Thursday it would refer to a deadly new virus strain as influenza A (H1N1) not swine flu.--Reuters

"I would tell members of my family - and I have - that I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now"--Joe Biden

"U.S. stock futures fell sharply Monday as the outbreak of deadly swine flu stoked fears that a possible recovery in the global economy could be derailed."-- Wall Street Journal

"It's important not to let a crisis go to waste."-- Rahm Emanuel


I'm as worried about catching the flu as we all are. I get my flu shot every year and advise friends and family--especially teachers--to do the same. I hate when people sneeze on me or spread their colds on planes.

But I'm trying to make some sense out of the latest pandemic of fear politics sweeping the country and the world. Who benefits/who loses? Those are the first questions that usually come to mind when I'm confronted with official madness and panic mongering. The pharmaceutical companies? Grandstanding politicians trying to play the new post 9/11 Rudy Giuliani? The Office of Homeland Security pretending that the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on this massive Bush-era bureaucracy is really necessary because its leader appears on TV telling us to wash our hands? Someone please tell me.

Why am I suddenly harking back to duck tape, flashlights and Saran Wrap? Or to the 1976 swine-flu "epidemic" that took one life (that's how many fatalities we've lost so far in this pandemic) while dozens more died from the hastily cooked-up vaccine?

I can somewhat understand the motives of the Limbaugh, Buchanan racist wing-nut crowd, using the fear of influenza to personally attack Obama or to whip up anti-immigration hysteria while my own fear is that the current economic isolation of Mexico will kill thousands more than the flu ever could. But what about the "normal" people now running the show in Washington?

Other questions that don't answer:

Am I really hearing the vice-president of the United States telling us not to take public transportation--ride the subway? Am I really reading that entire school districts are being closed "until May 6th" because someone in the district may have the flu?

"Wash your hands"?

Don't they know that so many schools here in Chicago and in other urban districts have no soap or working sinks in their bathrooms? Did the Republicans really strip $900 million from for pandemic influenza preparedness from the economic stimulus package back in February? Why are many just recognizing the need for a public health system? Are we really going to keep millions of kids out of school and parents home from work for a week? A month? Has the world gone mad? I mean, it's the flu!

B. Jeffrey Madoff writes on Huffington:
As we reminisced about Hong Kong Flu, Mad Cow Disease, West Nile Virus, Ebola Virus, Avian Flu, Anthrax -- there seemed to be no shortage of health issues that scared us -- especially if we watched television. In the rush to report, a hailstorm of information is spewed out, often without reflection or context. Television does more to frighten than inform us. Variations of swine flu have been here before, in 1976 and 1988. According to the World Health Organization, common seasonal flu kills 250,000 to 500,000 people globally in a normal year. It's a good idea to wash your hands regularly and not sneeze in someone's face regardless of the flu. It's important to have some perspective when you're scared to inhale.

'Wing-nuts on crack'

I always thought this would be a great name for a punk band.

But my brother's rip on the wing-nuts over at far-right-wing Fordham Institute got a rise out of Finn/Petrilli & company. They not only deny they're on crack, they tell Fred, "Oh yeah. Well, Randi Weingarten likes us, so nah nah."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NCLB has failed to close the so-called "achievement gap"

NAEP Tests Show
The report also found little progress since 2004 in closing the achievement gaps that separate black and Hispanic students from their white peers. Washington Post
Some experts said the results proved that the No Child law had failed to make serious headway in lifting academic achievement. “We’re lifting the basic skills of young kids,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, “but this policy is not lifting 21st-century skills for the new economy.” (Sam Dillon, NYT)
U.S. high-school students haven't achieved any significant gains in reading or math for nearly four decades, according to a new federal report that underscores the challenges the Obama administration faces as it pressures schools to raise standards to produce a more competitive work force...The results suggest gains made by younger students are "washing out" as they get older, said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, which advocates for increasing high-school-graduation rates. (WSJ)
Scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, out Tuesday, find that the stubborn, decades-long achievement gap between white and minority students shrank between the 1970s and the first part of this decade, but has barely budged since 2002, when the federal government compelled public schools to address it through No Child Left Behind (NCLB). (USA TODAY)
More on this at Fred's Blog, FairTest

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Roots of the swine flu

Sorry bacon lovers

Mike Davis, writing in the British Guardian, vividly traces it to the power of the giant meat and pharmaceutical companies.

In 1965, for instance, there were 53m US hogs on more than 1m farms; today, 65m hogs are concentrated in 65,000 facilities. This has been a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates. Last year a commission convened by the Pew Research Center issued a report on "industrial farm animal production" that underscored the acute danger that "the continual cycling of viruses …

Monday, April 27, 2009

Weekend Reads

Look Ma, we're on a 'growth trajectory'

Daley/Duncan's Ren10 initiative has been portrayed as the "Chicago miracle." The graph on the left shows Ren 10 schools (mainly charters run by management companies) badly lagging behind so-called "failing" neighborhood schools they were supposed to replace in reading. But evidence be damned, that's not the way the Renaissance School Fund sees it.
Katheryn Hayes, communication director of RSF, said the report was affirming because it found that RSF-funded schools were “performing equally well to students in CPS schools” very early and serving students in the same income bracket and ethnicity. The Renaissance schools are following a growth trajectory similar to that of charter schools historically, Hayes said, which show charter schools increasingly outperform neighborhood schools the longer they are open. (Medill Reports)
Oakland's small schools movement

A new reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader examines the history and impact of an effort to create smaller schools in the 43,000-student Oakland, Calif., school district. The report concludes that small schools, created with the backing of advocacy groups in the city, have shown stronger academic performance, better school climate, and an improvement in how teachers view their schools’ professional culture, compared with larger schools studied over the same period. (Edweek)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Somebody help!

Can anybody out there interpret this for me? It's in Duncan-speak.

Also, here's a thank-you to the courageous unnamed superintendent in the audience.

And while you're at it...

How about doing the same for this piece of Sharpton psycho-babble? Is he really calling Obama (of course he worked against him in the election), and the so-called liberal protectors of education, "racist bigots" (like George Wallace) while stroking Newt Gingrich? I guess that $500,000 back-door check went a long way.

A victory for N.Y. charter teachers

Charter school teachers in N.Y. have won and important battle in their efforts to unionize. Leo Casey at Edwize reports that the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has voted to certify the teachers at KIPP’s AMP Academy as a recognized collective bargaining unit of the United Federation of Teachers. The decision was made during PERB’s monthly meeting in Albany, and clears the way for the teachers and their union to collectively bargain with KIPP.
“On behalf of our union, we are excited about this step forward for our KIPP AMP team and family. It will allow us to find even better ways to educate our KIPPsters,” said Luisa Bonifacio and Leila Chakravarty, two members of the union organizing committee.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A balanced approach to charter schools

As readers of this blog well know, I am and have long been an advocate of small, alternative, and charter schools and our Small Schools Workshop has played a role nationally, in designing and creating some of the better ones. But the current push by Arne Duncan to portray all charters as superior to all traditional schools, to play off charters against neighborhood schools, and to leverage stimulus funds to try and force states and districts to shift their dwindling resources to charters is a great example of misleadership.

A pro-charter Wall Street Journal article, "Demand for Charter Schools is High," mainly quoting conservative charter advocates, can't help but reveal the weaknesses in Duncan's strategy and the superficiality of thinking behind it. According to the article:
A 2006 study by the Department of Education found that charter school fourth graders had lower scores in reading and math on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a federal achievement test, than their counterparts in regular public schools.
Collapses and alleged improprieties by charter-school operators continue to raise questions about oversight. The Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter group, estimates that 657, or 12.5%, of the 5,250 charter schools opened since 1992 have been closed, mostly for financial and mismanagement reasons.
In Ohio, where about two-thirds of charter high schools fail to graduate at least half of their seniors, the state auditor says the financial records of 17 charter schools are so bad as to be "unauditable."
Even some charter school advocates say charter sponsors, or "authorizers," aren't doing enough to oversee existing charters and weed out bad operators. "There are too many lousy charters out there," says Todd Ziebarth, a vice president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a pro-charter group.
The topper was Catalyst's report this week showing that the new charters started under Duncan's own Renaissance 2010 initiative in Chicago were lagging behind even poorly-funded neighborhood schools in areas of measurable learning outcomes.

Duncan would do better to use stimulus dollars to support and transform existing public schools, especially large urban high schools and to project a more balanced and nuanced perspective on charters rather than his current arm-twisting approach--which is bound to meet resistance.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The Teach for America Cult
As she [Wendy Kopp] continues to talk I realise that TFA is—in the best possible sense—a cult. It has its own language (“corps members”, “alums”), recruits are indoctrinated (“We tell them that it can be done, that we know of hundreds, thousands, of teachers attaining tremendous success”), go through an ordeal (“Everyone hits the wall in week three in the classroom”), emerge transformed by privileged knowledge (“Once you know what we know—that kids in poor urban areas can excel—you can accomplish different things”) and can never leave... (Education correspondent for The Economist)
Tom Friedman, McKinsey & TFA
Friedman has been wrong on so many issues. He is mighty lucky the NY Times doesn’t use a pay-for-performance model. Poor Tom would be eating at a food kitchen tonight. Big example: It was Friedman who was an early cheerleader for the war in Iraq. Today he claims he knows what to do about public schools: Get rid of them. He wants us to hand them over to the likes of Teach for America. He is wowed by the TFA model where urban schools are staffed by young kids for a couple of years before they move on to their real career. (Fred Klonsky's blog)
"Scared shitless"
Speaking to an affectionate crowd of Log Cabin Republicans on Saturday evening, Meghan McCain ridiculed the party her father headed this past election, declaring that "old school Republicans" were "scared shitless" of the changing landscape.... I think we're seeing a war brewing in the Republican Party (Sam Stein, Huffington)

Another report shows Renaissance 2010 scores lag

No miracles yet in Chicago

John Myers reports in Catalyst Notebook blog:

After keeping it under wraps for months, Renaissance Schools Fund has quietly released new research that paints a picture—one that is flattering in some respects, unflattering in others—of the first two batches of schools underwritten by the group as part of the Mayor’s new schools initiative.The report shows that test scores in the Renaissance schools slightly lagged those of students with similar backgrounds who attended neighborhood schools—though not to a statistically significant degree.

Reform's faulty assumptions

Ron Wolk is the founder and retired editor of EDWEEK and currently chairs the board of the Big Picture Co. in Providence. He has long been a school reform visionary and critic of standardization and test-driven education. In the current issue, Wolk calls on Obama to discard the five faulty assumptions upon which current education policy rests, including the idea that standards and testing can "fix our ailing public schools."

But Wolk, who should know better, then calls on Arne Duncan to "support an effort patterned after Renaissance 2010, the program he launched in Chicago to replace failing schools with new, diverse models different from conventional schools and from each other."

What a prettification of the Civic Committee's disastrous school-closing assault on Chicago's most resource-starved communities. The reason I say Wolk should know better is, all three of his own innovative Big Picture Schools were among Ren10's main victims, at first offering three struggling communities real alternatives to failed factory-model schools and then being forced to close by Duncan himself. Why? Because even with their relatively high graduation rates and personalized teaching approach, they didn't fit the Ren10/NCLB mold. In other words, they and the communities they were in, were punished for doing exactly what Wolk wants all schools to do.

Wolk holds up as a model, the very system that most embodies the faulty assumptions he is attacking.

P.S.--For fear of beating a dead horse, let me once again point our that Wolk's commentary, in line with EDWEEK's standard practice, is underwritten by the Broad Foundation, one of the main purveyors of the Wolk's "five faulty assumptions."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

'Freedom'--KIPP style

There's not much there there in Jennifer Medina's NYT piece today, "Charter Schools Weigh Freedom Against the Protection of a Union," about the struggle of teachers to gain union representation at the KIPP AMP school in New York. Medina repeats the tired old line of the charter school managers, represented in the headline above, that the struggle is all about unions vs. freedom. Readers will remember D.C. Mayor Fenty's recent quote about "freeing" teachers from the "burden of contracts."

Medina gives us a brief glimpse into what "freedom" means in privately-managed charters like KIPP.
...teachers: suddenly, for example...were required to attend staff development days but they were not allowed to ask questions; they had to submit daily lesson plans but did not get any feedback. Such practices have long raised eyebrows among union supporters worried that charter schools take advantage of young rookies, whose boundless energy fuels them for a couple of years of long hours at low pay but quickly turns into bitter burnout.
I suppose that's one version of "freedom." Maybe Medina means the freedom of KIPP management to fire teachers at will, without due process or to impose 16-hour work days, or to push low-scoring students out in record numbers. Medina never tells us exactly what objectionable rules collective bargaining would impose on KIPP teachers or charter schools in general. She also ignores the relentless, well-financed anti-union campaign being waged by KIPP management and makes it seem like it's just a matter of a few teachers changing their minds about unions, one way or another.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The hidden curriculum

Students in my Sociology of Ed course are reading Jean Anyon's compelling research on "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of work." Anyon, who chairs the Dept. of Ed at Rutgers, finds that curriculum varies depending on the social class of the students and of their community. She finds, in other words, that classroom work in predominately working-class schools differs from those with mainly middle-class, upper middle-class, or those from executive elite families.

I'm thinking about Anyon's work while reading Terry Savage's piece, "Chicago kids learning to earn"in the business section of Monday's Chicago Sun-Times. It's all about a Chicago school winning the statewide Economics Challenge competition sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank and the Goldman Sachs Foundation. I'm glad a city school has won.

But it should be no surprise that the top finishers were an elite selective-enrollment Chicago school, Northside College Prep and an executive elite suburban school, Adlai Stevenson in upscale Lincolnshire. Economic theory is rarely taught in neighborhood inner-city Chicago high schools and these schools are seldom found in competitions such as this one.

The hidden curriculum is also embedded in the kinds of questions kids are asked during the competition. For example:

What's the most efficient way to solve the problem of pollution?

Correct answer: Tradeable pollution permits. (Among the wrong choices: environmental standards or outright bans.)

Gee, that was easy. To win, all you have to do is spit back this "correct answer." It's a win-win for the students and the corporations and the pollution problem is solved--efficiently.

'The last refuge of a scoundrel...'

The Fordham Institute's Checker Finn shows just how low the wing-nut school "reformers" can go. His sideline harangues this week are aimed at the Obama family's patriotism, proving once again the soundness of Samuel Johnson's dictum regarding false patriotism. Writes Finn:
In no way do I suggest that he's unpatriotic. But that's not the same thing as signaling to one and all that he loves and is proud of his country and wants his kids and our kids and grandkids to feel that way, too...Nobody expects him to be the national K-12 curriculum director, too. But he and his wife are inevitable role models. (Education Gadfly)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Weekend Reads

State of Black America

The 2009 report from the Urban League finds that:
Blacks remain twice as likely as to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be imprisoned, according to the group's annual State of Black America issued Wednesday. (CNN)
Policing the tests

What's the role of police on testing day in D.C.? Crime fighting? Uh uh., not under Michelle Rhee's brand of school "reform."
D.C. police will be deployed to pick up truants and deliver them to classrooms. Administrators are urged to schedule testing in the morning when students tend to do better. But not too early for high school kids, not generally known as morning people. (Washington Post)
Mission Accomplished?

Eli Broad is counting his chickens before they're hatched. In a Detroit Free Press op-ed, he counts Washington, DC among urban school districts that "have successfully turned around after producing abysmal student outcomes." (Public School Insights)

Broad sounds a little like Bush on the carrier. But this is how they measured success over at AIG where Broad used to rule the roost.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mayor control vs. public engagement

Mayor control has been Arne Duncan's battle cry as he goes from city to town, urging mayors to take over their school districts and run them with an iron fist. He's even staked his reputation on this one issue:
"At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed," Duncan said. (Teacher Magazine)
In Chicago, many of us originally thought putting the mayor in charge would lead to greater accountability and mean more money for schools. We were wrong on both counts. School reform has gone downhill under Mayor Daley's Renaissance 2010 initiative and the system is bankrupt.

The up and down sides of mayoral control are laid out by Hunter College prof and member of New York's Commission on School Governance, Joseph Viteritti in the April 8th issue of Edweek, "Should Mayors Run Schools?". He writes:
Business leaders favor a strong managerial model that puts a single executive in charge, who can be held accountable for the efficient coordination of resources and the effective delivery of services. And whenever it has been implemented, mayoral control has provoked anxiety among poor and minority populations, who fear that the centralization of authority will remove decisionmaking from community-based institutions and put it beyond their political reach... More importantly, it can disrupt the safe balance of power among officials, school constituents, and the general public that is needed in a democratic system.
Viteritti adds:

...for a school system to be responsive to the needs of students, it must provide meaningful channels for public and parental input on a regular basis. Big-city school systems need some form of administrative decentralization so that decisions concerning particular schools are made at the community level.


In the same issue, planner/architect Prakash Nair emplores us, "Don't Just Rebuild Schools--Reinvent them." The reinvention includes the very things we've been talking about for the past 20 years including: personalized learning communities, ubiquitous technology, schools connected with the outdoors, integrated arts, treating teachers like professionals, an engaged community, etc...

Is America post-racial?

The house at Columbia College's Front Row Cinema, was packed last night for Rap Session: Is America Really Post-Racial? A dynamic, engaging mix of speakers came at the question from several cultural and political directions. Of course, all agreed--it isn't--we aren't.

Panelists included: author, hip-hop activist Bakari Kitwana, Lisa Fager Bediako, President and Co-founder of Industry Ears, Inc., an advocacy/activist think tank focused on hip-hop media, Jabari Asim, Editor -in-chief of Crisis magazine and author of The N-Word: Who Can Say it, Who Shouldn’t and Why, Tricia Rose, Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, and author of the first scholarly text on hip-hop culture Hip-Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip-Hop--And Why It Matters, Timuel Black, educator, historian, author of Bridges of Memory, and veteran Chicago civil rights activist, and Detroit-based Hip-Hop Artist, Invincible.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chicago charter school teachers organize

AFT president Randi Weingarten flew into Chicago to voice the national union's support for teachers trying to unionize three Chicago International Charter Schools. If recognized by the state, they'll be the first unionized charter school teachers in Chicago. (Chi-Town Daily) (WBEZ) (Russo)


Neocon Jay Greene from the Manhattan Institute, writes in today's WSJ, "The Union War on Charter Schools," that he's panicked at the very thought of collective-bargaining rights for charter teachers:
Unions are also seeking to strangle charter schools with red tape. New York already has the "card check" unionization procedure for teachers that replaces secret ballots with public arm-twisting. And the teachers unions appear to have collected enough cards to unionize the teachers at two highly successful charter schools in New York City. If unions force charters to enter into collective bargaining, one can only imagine how those schools will be able to maintain the flexible work rules that allow them to succeed.
And he bashes Obama/Duncan for not helping:
President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have given speeches promoting charter schools. Despite their talk, charter spending constituted less than one-quarter of 1% of education spending in the stimulus package. And the Obama administration has done union bidding by killing the D.C. voucher program.

Recession marketing

Taking it on the road

First there was free marketeer Milton Friedman who looked at Hurricane Katrina as "an opportunity" to bust unions and privatize public schools. Then there was Arne Duncan telling us that the global economic collapse offered us a "magical opportunity to invest in best practices." Now school bosses/consultants Paul Vallas, Joel Klein and others are turning disaster politics into a road show about making the most of the depression. Sponsor Edweek calls it Powering Through the Recession, with stops in Jersey City and Newport Beach (can I go to that one?).

"Recession Buster" workshops include:
  • Walk The Line: Maximizing Human Capital
  • Leveraging the Stimulus: How to Turn Federal Stimulus Dollars Into Lasting Benefits
  • The Fierce Urgency of Recession: How and What to Cut
Translation: human capital is what they call teachers these days; "maximizing" means firing teachers and closing schools; "leveraging the stimulus" means supplanting state funding with federal dollars; "lasting benefits" means boosting your outside consulting business, I suppose.

You got to love the "fierce urgency" of cutting. Hmmm, I wonder where they got that? Sounds a lot like McDonald's new Appetite Stimulus Package to me.

And where's Michelle Rhee? Shouldn't she be the keynoter?

Battle heating up over NCLB

Sam Dillon in Tuesday's NYT, "Education Standards Likely to See Toughening" gives us some clues about the coming battle over NCLB re-authorization. It's clear that the new law will look a lot different from that of the past eight years, belying Diane Ravitch's repeated, but empty claim that Obama=Bush on education.

For one thing, the education stimulus will end years of conscious under-funded, so-called "reform" policies under NCLB, and could help save thousands of teachers jobs and keep many inner-city schools open in the midst of this financial crisis, provided that the money is actually used locally to support schools by cash-strapped states. For another, Obama has been a critic of the past single-minded focus on standardized testing.

The focus on improved teacher quality sounds good, but the devil is in the details. It can't just mean so-called "data-driven merit pay." Standardized testing will still be with us. But how will it be enforced and will the punitive measures such as starving low-scoring schools, punishing schools for teaching low-income kids, transfer policies, etc... be tempered?

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that her union also had concerns about the president’s enthusiasm for data systems, which she said could be misused, but that she would give the new administration the benefit of the doubt.“They have been consistent,” Ms. Weingarten said. “They’re trying to do reform with teachers, not to them.”

All these and more are questions that are going to heat up the emerging war within the Democratic Party as conservative, pro-voucher, privatization, and union-busting factions like DFER, make their move.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The media campaign against EFCA continues

Wal-Mart "associates" don't need a union, says CEO

A wounded, wimpy Matt Lauer softballs new Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke on this morning's TODAY show. As they stroll down the aisles of the big-box giant discussing which time of the month customers can afford diapers for their kids, the subject of unions comes up. Striking a similar tone to D.C. Mayor Fenty's call for freeing teachers from "the burden" of collective bargaining, Duke won't even call Wal-Mart's largest workforce in the U.S. "workers."
Lauer: With 1.4 million associate employees who earn an average of $10.83 an hour [managers make as much as $11.89, cashiers make between $6.55 and $8.43--mk] Wal-Mart now faces a threat to it's corporate model. There's proposed legislation on Capitol Hill that would make it easier for unions to organize employees--the Employee Free Choice Act...

Duke: Well of course we're opposed to that. We have a unique relationship with our associates.
Duke, who earns a hefty $13 million annually, including stock options, of course, never tells us what it is that's "unique" about his relationship with his minimum-wage "associates" or why their earning a living wage would, in the words of a Home Depot exec, "destroy the American economy."

The Walton Family Foundation is also the biggest funder of privately-managed, non-union charter schools. Maybe we should start calling teachers, "associates" as well.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The politics of disaster

Memo to Arne Duncan's PR guy and speechwriter, Peter Cunningham. Please tell Arne to stop calling this, possibly the worst global economic crisis ever, "this magical opportunity." It sounds too much like the late free-marketeer Milton Friedman calling Hurricane Katrina, "an opportunity to radically reform the educational system," while the bodies were still being dragged out of the flood waters.

Who's playing with numbers
in N.O.?

While Louisiana's laughing-stock Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to say he will refuse to take any stimulus money, New Orleans Recovery District schools boss, Paul Vallas is debating the numbers in hopes of grabbing more federal dollars. Before Katrina, New Orleans had about 65,000 public school students. For the 2007-08 school year, the data used by the Department of Education, enrollment was 32,000, increasing to about 36,000 for the 2008-09 school year. Vallas is claiming the DOE owes the district $39 million while the census count of poor kids in the District has only $673K coming their way. Quite a discrepancy!

Rick Ayers makes the case for small schools at Berkeley H.S.
While Berkeley has a proud tradition of progressive politics and social justice initiatives, our public high school continues to practice tracking, inequity, and an educational experience which is so much less than it could be. The recent spate of attacks hurled at a redesign proposal and at the small schools shows that some elements of our community will go to great lengths to prevent even modest reforms. (Berkeley Daily Planet).

Franklin Rosemont

I ran into old friends Franklin and Penelope Rosemont Saturday at the Heartland Cafe where I was doing the Live From the Heartland Radio Show. The two of them had come to hear a young community activist who followed me on the program, to talk about Franklin's book, The Rise and Fall of The Dil Pickle, the legendary Chicago jazz club and cultural/political hangout of the Jazz Age. Franklin and Penelope both seemed in great spirits seeing their work being taken up by the current generation.

Yesterday I was stunned to hear the sad news that Franklin had died the next day.

Franklin, 65, came from a working class family. He was a surrealist/poet/artist/revolutionary and a big part of the '60s Chicago cultural and political scene. I first met both of them in Chicago in '68 where they were SDS activists.

Inspired by Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Franklin had hitchhiked 20,000 miles around the USA and Mexico and wound up in San Francisco in 1960, the heyday of the beat generation poetry renaissance.

Franklin and Penelope went on to create the Chicago Surrealist Group in 1966 after traveling to Paris in 1965 to meet André Breton and attend meetings of the Paris Surrealist Group. The group played a major role in organizing the 1976 World Surrealist Exhibition in Chicago, and has published socially active newspapers and materials through the years. Franklin and Penelope also took over the old Kerr Publishing House and brought it back to life, reviving many classic works of labor history.

Many of their experiences together are documented in Penelope's wonderful book, Dreams & Everyday Life : Andre Breton, Surrealism, the IWW, Rebel Worker, Students for a Democratic Society and the Seven Cities of Cibola in Chicago, Paris & London.

For more on Franklin Rosemont: Encyclopedia of Road Culture, Bibliography

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jerks convention at Morning Joe

"Freeing teachers" from their collective bargaining rights...

It was D.C. Mayor Fenty exchanging banter and giggles with education "reformers" Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan .

Scarborough: "Is Congress standing in the way of some reform by getting in the way of charter schools?
Fenty: "Not yet...What we're hoping is that they will...incentivize public schools to do what charter schools have done. That is, to use privatization more. To free teachers from the burden of contracts."
Buchanan: "What you're saying in effect, we've got to bust the union."
Fenty: "You've got to do things differently."
Buchanan (laughing): "But why not be honest about it and just say, you can't have a union any more?"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Weekend Quotables

Fallout from the Ownership Society
In the bubble decade, making money as an end in itself boomed as a calling among students at elite universities like Harvard, siphoning off gifted undergraduates who might otherwise have been scientists, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, artists or inventors. (NYT columnist Frank Rich)
Then again...
“Community organizing has become cool,” said Marshall Ganz, who dropped out of Harvard in 1964 to join the civil rights movement in Mississippi and spent 16 years with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. Of course, a tough economy helps attract people to professions they might not have otherwise considered, as does a crusading time when Wall Street has become a symbol of greed, arrogance and irresponsibility. (NYT)

Afghanistan--the new quagmire

The danger for Mr. Obama is that a chorus of criticism could stir new public unease with the U.S.-led wars. A public backlash could be particularly problematic for Afghanistan. Mr. Obama's strategy envisions that the U.S. military could be engaged there for years to come... Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) said he fears Afghanistan could become a quagmire. "I just have this sinking feeling that we're getting deeper and deeper into a war that has no end," he said.

Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) dismissed Mr. Obama's plans as "embarrassingly naive," and suggested that the president is being led astray by those around him. "He's the smartest man in American politics today," Rep. Conyers said. "But he occasionally gets bad advice and makes mistakes. This is one of those instances." (Wall street Journal)

Friday, April 10, 2009

'It's all about symbolism'--Rotherham

Ed Sector's Andrew Rotherham is frustrated. He likes conservative-style, top-down, anti-teacher reforms including school vouchers, but is upset at the way they've been packaged. The symbolism of his favorite "reformer," D.C.'s Michelle Rhee, on the cover of Time Magazine with boom in hand, has him pulling his hair out. Writing in U.S. News, Rotherham decries the use of poorly chosen symbols projected in the media.

He blames reform movement leaders for allowing themselves, "to be defined as a cloistered group of white dilettantes from Ivy League schools—counterproductive symbolism and off the mark."

He's right of course. Not ALL of them are Ivy Leaguers. I think Rotherham went to the Univ. of Virgina.


What Kids Can Do: Speech Contest 2009

As Graduation Day approaches, What Kids Can Do invites students to raise their voice and let others know what matters most to them in this moment and in the years ahead. This year's theme: "Crisis and Hope in These Trying Times." Maximum award: $100 gift certificate from Eligibility: anyone from age 12 to 19, writing in English. Deadline: May 18, 2009.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Blowing smoke on school reform

This NYT editorial "Hold the line on school reform," harks back to the days when they were calling for the invasion of Iraq to get rid of those "weapons of mass destruction." In other words, the Times board has a history of blowing smoke out of their rear end.

In this morning's mail, Fair Test's Monty Neill offers a good critique:
This Times editorial is vitriolic and often bizarre. It blames states for mis-assigning teachers - is there a state in the country in charge of teacher assignment? It calls for testing in-service teachers, a program that has been tried briefly in a few states and failed abysmally. There is no evidence of any sort that a standardized test can sort out great from good from adequate from marginal from bad teachers.

It moans that the stimulus funds are being dispersed too quickly to enforce "reform" -- better, I guess, to lay off even more teachers than will be even with the stimulus - then the Times can complain that the wrong teachers were laid off.
We will leave aside the fact that the evidence is that test-and-punish "reform" lacks evidence of success beyond inflated state test scores.

Duncan watching, a non-participatory sport

Stares say it all

From AP wire story:

"Go ahead and boo me," Duncan told about 400 middle and high school students at a public school in northeast Denver. "I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short.""You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year," he said. Instead of boos, Duncan's remark drew an unsurprising response from the teenage assembly: bored stares.

No more fun and games

Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky tells the I.O.C. why Chicago is not their kind of town.
Here’s the fundamental problem: We can’t afford the games. We’re broke—and I mean damn near destitute. The public school system is about $475 million in the red and the city’s facing its own deficit of at least $200 million. Just a few months ago Mayor Daley said he’d balanced the budget by raising fees and fines and slashing the city payroll, but already expenses have risen and revenues have dropped faster than anticipated. His aides have warned that more cuts could be on the way.
The Beachwood Reporter has more.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

D.O.E. culture

The Post explains why it's taken so long to staff the new DOE? I'm more concerned with the kind of culture being created there.

At the Department of Education, spokesman John McGrath said only a small number of young people have been hired, because higher-ranking slots have yet to be filled. "Those senior people will want to be involved in the hiring decisions" for the lower jobs, McGrath said. "Most of the young people hired so far are people either from the campaign or Capitol Hill. We're giving special attention to people who have an education background -- we've had a lot from Teach for America."

Questions: By "lower jobs" does McGrath mean staff working more with school districts? By "education background," does McGrath mean mainly TFA types? Uh oh!


While the Limbaugh Party continues to call Obama's ed policies "socialist," Diane Ravitch, from her perch at the Fordham Institute, comes at them from behind, still feeding her Obama=Bush nonsense to Edweek ("Obama echoes Bush on education ideas") and making it seem as though charter schools had somehow become the biggest dividing issue in education.

There's no doubt plenty of voucher/privatization/testing/DFER types gathered around Duncan's DOE. Some are even worse than Spellings' crew in their hunger to cash in on DOE contracts. But Ravitch intentionally ignores Obama's openly critical view of Bush testing policies. Why? And at a time when Bush economic policies threaten the very existence of public education, Obama's school funding looks a lot different than the previous administration's and could be the only thing that saves hundreds of schools and thousands of teaching positions in the most depressed communities.

The struggle continues.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Poverty's fallout

New study confirms damaging effects on brain development

Yesterday's WaPo reports on the latest research showing the damaging effects of poverty on childrens' cognitive development and especially on "working memory." The new studies provide more and deeper understanding of why poor kids tend to lag behind on standardized tests and why conditions in the community may have a greater impact on measurable learning outcomes than anything that happens in the classroom.

The findings indicate that education standards and other government policies that aim to improve poor children's performance in school should consider the stress they are experiencing at home, Evans said. "It's not just 'Read to our kids and take them to the library,' " he said. "We need to take into account that chronic stress takes a toll not only on their health, but it may take a toll on their cognitive functioning."

American Prospect and Matt Yglesias picked up the story. Dana Goldstein at Prospect writes:
All this suggests that the coalition of education experts that calls itself the Broader, Bolder Approach was barking up the right tree during election season, when it formed to discuss how poverty and inequality deplete student academic achievement. It was another education reform effort, however -- the Education Equality Project -- that created the bigger media splash.
But Goldstein doesn't quite get why BBA and EEP just can't get along.
There is no reason, of course, why a societal approach to alleviating poverty can't go hand in hand with support for charter schools and greater innovation in how to recruit, train, and pay teachers.
That systhesis between school improvement and improving the lives of children at home is exactly what BBA's Richard Rothstein, Pedro Noguera and others have been arguing for. But EEP leaders continue to play the one-note of testing madness begun under NCLB and won't move from their "no excuses" "work harder" arguments.

Limbaugh: Obama's a 'Maoist'

Republican Party boss says ed plan is "Bolshevik, Maoist, Klonsky-ist, Ayers-ist"

For those of you are concerned that Obama's education policies may be drifting rightward, Limbaugh will straighten you out.
A March 12 entry (subscription required) on Limbaugh's website, he stated that Obama's policies are "about 'social justice.' " It continued: "His education plan is Maoist (no surprise given the Ayers/Klonsky influence), and he is otherwise a Bolshevik. I'm also quite sure, given his character traits, that he would be a Stalinist if he thought he could get away with it ... and he's working on that, too. I wonder what the country will look like in his 10th or 15th year as president?" (Media Matters)

Monday, April 6, 2009

High school seniors won't cross picket line

Prom committee does the right thing

After school at Chicago’s Northside College Preparatory High, senior Sam Hamer leads his Jewish student club in a song for Passover.

HAMER: OK, ready? Dayenu. Dayenu. Dayenu....

Hamer says his faith came to mind when he saw a notice for his senior prom in June. The dance’s location was the Congress Plaza Hotel. Workers there have been striking almost six years for wages on par with what other downtown hotels pay. Hamer says he found out about the strike from a Jewish social-justice group that’s helped picket the hotel. He points to Torah and Talmud teachings against defrauding workers. (Chicago Public Radio)

Detroit or Destroit?

It was a great victory for Michigan State over UConn in the Final 4 in front of a huge hometown Detroit crowd and the game's heroes were two Motown kids. Hopefully, they'll beat the Tarheels tonight.

Detroit can use a lift now that their new state-appointed emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, facing a huge deficit and falling enrollment, wants to close 50 more schools and lay-off thousands more teachers. Public education in the Motor City could well go the way of the auto industry. Seeing the writing on the wall, some teachers want the union to support a group of Green Dot-type, in-district charter schools, staffed with union teachers. The DFT, which has always opposed charters, now has plans to organize some existing charter schools. But can (will) they really do it? Something's got to change.


George Bush had his Ownership Society bumper-sticker slogan. But count on GM, with their bottom falling out, to launch a new ad campaign titled, Reinventing the Ownership Experience.

Weekend quotables

Obama: "That's not the world we live in..."

“If there’s just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy, that’s an easier negotiation. But that’s not the world we live in, and it shouldn’t be the world that we live in.” (ANI)

Al Sharpton at the National Action Project conference
"We formed this group before mayoral control was even on the landscape," Sharpton said. "I'm not for mayoral control." (Joanna Malloy, Daily News).
Do you believe in magic?
“We have this magical opportunity to invest significantly in these best practices and scale up what works,” says Arne Duncan of aid under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (Edweek)
AFT prez Randi Weingarten at UFT breakfast

What binds all AFT affiliates, she said, is "a dedication to the belief that we make a difference in the lives of people who need us most. "That includes confronting the lie that teacher unions block needed reform - a lie proclaimed by those "more interested in making educators and [their] unions … pariahs, not partners," she said. (NYSUT)
Review of Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine"

Next “right-wing think tanks descended like a storm” and Bush “backed up their plans with tens of millions of dollars to convert (its) schools into ‘charter schools,’ publicly funded institutions run by private entities according to their own rules.” (Sylvia Mayuga,
Typo, or Freudian slip?

The wing-nuts at Olbermann Watch report that in 2006, "Rumsfeld was replaced by Bill Gates who continues to serve in the cabinet of the new administration." At first, I laughed--Robert Gates, you idiots. But on second thought...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

More big news

Soto's bill passes unanimously (Updated)

A watered-down version of a House bill calling for a one-year moratorium of school closings and transformations in Chicago Public Schools passed yesterday with a unanimous 118-0 vote. Championed by Rep. Cynthia Soto and numerous Chicago-area educators, parents and organizations, the Chicago School Facilities bill, better known as House Bill 363, will move on to the State Senate...For some the bill's passing is a huge victory in the on-going battle against Renaissance 2010, an initiative started by Major Daley in 2004 to increase the number of high-quality schools in Chicago by 2010 through a process of turn-arounds, closings and phase outs.

Soto had to remove some of the stronger components of the bill to get it passed, including a one-year moratorium on school closings that would have voided the school board's February 25 decision to close 16 schools. Valencia Rias, a spokeswoman for Designs for Change, said in a February press release they would fight to reintroduce those protections in the Senate.
Many protest the initiative's tactics, claiming it displaces children without fairly evaluating the school. (Chicagoist)
Also see: PURE Catalyst Chicago Public Radio Community Media Workshop

Big News

Chicago Sun-Times

Charter school teachers OK 1st union

April 4, 2009

Teachers at three charter schools operated by Chicago International Charter School on Friday moved to become the first unionized charter school teachers in the city.

Three-quarters of the teaching staffs at the Northtown Academy, Wrightwood and Ralph Ellison campuses have signed union authorization cards, saying they want to be represented by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, teachers told Chicago International officials Friday.

The union would be an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.

One Northtown teacher said teachers there start out at about the same pay as that of Chicago's unionized teachers but have to put in a longer school year and longer school day to get it.

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board has 30 days to certify the union results. Chicago International is "reviewing the petition and studying the next steps with our counsel,'' a spokeswoman said.

Rosalind Rossi

Also see Edwize

Friday, April 3, 2009


A "Calming influence"...

Seven months before the election, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s campaign is mounting an all-out push to win over New York City’s black elected leaders, clergy members and voters, seeking to land an early, and potentially crippling, blow against the mayor’s chief rival, City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr.... Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg heaped praise on the Rev. Al Sharpton on Thursday, calling him a “calming influence on the city,” as The Daily News reports. The mayor made his remarks before speaking at Mr. Sharpton’s annual National Action Network Convention. (Sewell Chan, NYT City Room blog)

Critics locked out...
Another News columnist, Juan Gonzalez, examined this week the peculiar alliance between Sharpton and NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, revealing a half-million-dollar donation to NAN from a hedge fund tied to a former chancellor. The big check was funneled through a pro-Bloomberg nonprofit. Klein and a top aide will appear on Sharpton panels so skewed in favor of the Bloomberg school reforms that minority critics have just about been locked out. (Wayne Barrett, Village Voice)
Did someone yell at Maisie?
Now Klein and the Rev have rounded up Education Secretary Arne Duncan, several big-city mayors and former Clinton nemesis Newt Gingrich to appear with them at a convention this week at the Sheraton in NYC, where they will surely move to create a national presence for themselves as the defenders of children against, oh, say, the teachers’ unions. (Maisie at Edwize, April 1st)
But Sharpton’s National Action Network conference this morning was a lesson in unity. And to clarify, UFT President Randi Weingarten has worked with Sharpton on educational equity and other issues for a long time. On Edwize, I speak for myself, not Randi or the union. (Thanks to her, Edwize is a space for diverse views.) (Maisie at Edwize, April 2nd)
Power & Influence...

We are witnessing a consolidation of power and influence that is rooted in new alliances among philanthropies, school leaders, and the business community. School leaders, starved for public resources, have allowed philanthropies such as the Gates Foundation to dictate school reform strategies in exchange for new private monies. (Aaron "Skoolboy" Pallas at Gotham Schools)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ivy Leaguers run it

This headline in the current issue of Forbes says a lot about the current state of American democracy: "Ivy Leaders: Members of America's ruling class get their start at eight elite schools."

'More than just performance pay...'

current issue of Edweek has another planted "research" piece, this time promoting billionaire businessman Lowell Milken's latest performance-pay model being pawned off on schools and teachers. According to Forbes, Lowell avoided fraud charges when his brother Michael Milken, the "junk-bond king," pled guilty to securities fraud in 1990.

This one is called TAP or Teacher Advancement Program, and if you read Stephen Sawchuck's
, "TAP: More Than Performance Pay," you will learn that TAP is the new panacea. It's kind of the Democrats' version of Reading First.

According to Sawchuck, TAP does everything from aligning systems for managing schools’ "human capital" (that what they call teachers nowadays) to shaping "new approaches to on-the-job training, career advancement, and evaluation in ways that yield insights about how such features can be arranged so teachers embrace them."

Trying to keep from laughing out loud halfway down the article, since I've been in schools using TAP, I already knew what I would find at the bottom of the page-- a note saying that this article was sponsored by the Joyce Foundation. As you might have guessed, TAP is also one of the Joyce Foundation's funded projects.

Of course Edweek is only underming its own credibility by running sponsored program evaluation pieces underwritten by the very agency sponsoring the program.