Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Classroom management?

School officials at Carver Elementary the city’s far South Side are accused of authorizing campus cops to remove "disruptive" first-graders in handcuffs. In a suit filed by the child's parents, it's alleged that security cops removed the students from class and held them in another office on campus where there were no other adults present. One child's attorney, Michael Carin, claims that students accused of talking in class, were handcuffed for hours and told that “they were going to prison and would never see their parents again.”

“There appears to be no reason for an officer to isolate 6- and 7-year-old children, place them in handcuffs and threaten them for hours during a school day, or any other day,” said Carin. -- Chicago Tribune.

Rahm's longer-school-day argument is full of holes

The mayor says he "can't wait for a high-class" debate on a longer school day. I'm not sure what he means by "high-class." I hope it means he won't spice up his arguments with his usual F-bombs. I hope it doesn't mean that only his billionaire advisers like Vitale, Pritzker, Stains, and Koldyke will be heard on this important issue.

In any event, Rahm would have a tough time making his case in any real debate. His singling out of a longer school day and school year as the key variables determining improved learning outcomes, has no basis in ed research. His argument that Houston's longer school day (soon to be the target of budget cuts) produces better results, is full of holes, as I have pointed out several times in this blog. It's clear that Houston, where nearly 70% of  children grow up in dire poverty, doesn't fare any better than Chicago in measurable learning outcomes, and that the gap between that city's wealthy and impoverished children is even greater than in Chi-town.

First, let me say that I am not necessarily for or against a longer school day and year. It all depends on what happens to teachers and kids during that extra time. I don't like the idea of students packed into hot, airless classrooms in the summer. And I am disgusted by Rahm's latest offer to CPS teachers -- work the equivalent of  hundreds of hours more at the rate of $4.10/hour. How demeaning.

Yesterday I spent some time on the phone with the good folks over at the University of Chicago's Lab School. It's the elite, expensive private school (founded by John Dewey) where the mayor sends his own children. What I found out was that Lab has a school day comparable to CPS. Its school year is actually a week shorter than CPS', and Lab kids and families enjoy longer vacations and spring and winter breaks together. Not only that, Lab dismisses kids an hour early two days a week so that teachers have time to meet, plan and collaborate. Not only that, the Lab school day is packed with arts, music and phys ed, rather than Rahm's favorite subject -- test prep. Not only that, but Lab teachers have an hour for lunch. Wow!

By the way, all these policies and schedules are hatched out in negotiations between administration and the union representing the teachers at Lab, rather than on a politician's whim. BTW, those negotiations aren't carried out in the press, Rahm.

Now I think it's reasonable for people to ask, why would Rahm abuse his own children by depriving them of a longer school day and year? Obviously, his panacea of more seat time is only for other people's children. It might also be reasonable to ask why so many of  Dewey's ideas about education are only made available to the children of the wealthy and powerful.

Yes, Rahm. Let's debate.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Aw shucks, Rhee First. T'wern't nothin'...

I got credit today for coining the term RheeFirst by the authors of the blog by the same name.
 Turns out Mike Klonsky thought of the name RheeFirst way before anyone else. So kudos to him. Read the entire article here.
[Rhee has] named her new group, Students First, but a look at her website will tell you that it should have been called Rhee First. The kick-off is largely the work of her clout-heavy, tres expensive PR firm headed by former Obama white house staffer Anita Dunn working with former N.Y. Chancellor Joel Klein and Rhee’s fiancĂ©, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. -- Klonsky blog
If there's some kind of monetary award, I will accept it proudly and use it to buy the next round over at the Heartland Cafe's Buffalo Bar. Instead, somehow, all it's done is put me in the middle of dust-up between the broom lady, Rhee, Politico and the AFT. Until today, I haven't been a regular reader of RF and was never that concerned about the anonymity of its author(s).  So I was taken by surprise when Huffington's excellent ed writer, Joy Resmovits called to ask me if I was aware of the mention.

She told me that Rhee's front group, Students First (have you noticed that the corporate reformers always put students or kids in the names of their front groups?) is going after the RF blog, calling it an "attack blog" and pinning it to the union.

Politico's Ben Smith reported last week, "that an anti-Michele Rhee website had been set up from an IP address registered to the American Federation of Teachers." Today, Smith quotes Rhee's SFers who are "disturbed" at the lack of civility around the whole debate.
"There are a number of disagreements between teacher-union advocates and student advocates about the future of the our schools that deserve serious consideration, but there's no room for these kinds of personal and duplicitous attacks."
I guess Rhee's acolytes have forgotten how uncivil she was when she fired hundreds of D.C. teachers and offered the media this explanation:
"I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?" (Fast Company)
As far as I'm concerned, that statement alone make Rhee fair game for the bloggers -- so long as they tell it straight. Smith, to his credit, also carried the union's response to SF:
It's revealing that StudentsFirst's spokesperson calls an attack site—yet doesn't challenge any of the facts on the site. That's because aggregates articles raising fair and legitimate questions about Michelle Rhee's agenda. Much of this information can't be found on Michelle Rhee's official website, such as her work with Republican governors to promote vouchers and to dismantle public education, her failure to acknowledge the seriousness of the cheating that occurred on her watch in Washington, D.C., or countless other examples you can find on
Now I've got media folks calling me up and asking for my take on all this. OK. I don't mind. Here it is. I prefer bloggers to be open and above board, especially when it comes to directing (well deserved) fire at individuals. I speak here as someone who has faced the slings and arrows, as well as lies and distortions of my political past from Anonymous on many occasions, especially during the 2008 election campaign. I hate duck-and-runners.

If the AFT is behind RheeFirst, they -- or whoever is the individual blogger -- should proclaim themselves proudly and stand behind their accurately-aimed and obviously effective Rhee-barbs. Of course there are times when anonymous blogging is appropriate and when being open can lead to being fired or other forms of retribution. But Randi and the union don't have to worry about that. They should be able to dish it out and take it.

It bothers me that Weingarten at times speaks out of both sides of her mouth re. Rhee. As I pointed out in the post cited above, 
"Money-magnet Rhee claims the group will raise $1 billion from patrons Gates, Broad and other private corporate sources. That perked up the ears of ever-willing AFT prez Randi Weingarten who invited Rhee to “work with us.” 

The union can't have it both ways. If they are really going after union-busting corporate reformers like Rhee, they can't turn around and then ask them for a seat at their table.

Keep at it, RheeFirst, whoever you are. And thanks for the name recognition and the Rhee-post. Get it?


Area activists, including teachers, principals, and parents, gathered at Jane Addams Hull House Saturday to launch SOS/Chicago as a follow-up to the July 30th Save Our Schools March and Rally in D.C. The symbolic significance of Hull House wasn't lost on the group. It was here, at the turn of the last century, that social-reform and community organizing in this country really began.

Miguel del Valle (Catalyst)
Retired State Senator and former mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle welcomed the organizers, including one from Rockford and another from Denver,  pointing to the dire straits public education was in, particularly under the current administration's NCLB and Race To The Top policies, and the urgent need to have teachers' voices heard in the movement for reform.

Del Valle described his anger and disgust at witnessing current Mayor Rahm Emanuel "attempting to pit the ministers and church members against the teachers," under the guise of fighting for a longer school day. "It's hard to believe, but I think as a city we've really hit bottom" in this instance, he said.

Oswego, IL schools activist Roger Sanders listens intently at SOS/Chicago meeting. (Cassandra West photo)
The meeting generated a list of activities members could work on, including teach-ins and protests, research, messaging and media work, alliances with other groups in Chicago and around the midwest, and support for classroom teachers in areas of professional development. A teacher at one of Chicago's public preschools reported that testing madness has made its way into pre-K. This year her students will be subjected to an official "Kindergarten Readiness Test," and she and her colleagues will be evaluated based upon the performance of their 4-year-old students on this test.

In this environment, the most critical issues identified by participants included:
  • Overuse of standardized testing, including use of student scores to sort kids and evaluate teachers.
  • Budget cuts and their attendant teacher firings, school closings, and soaring class sizes. 
  • Growth of inequities in funding of public schools, widening gap between affluent and low-income districts
  • Current assault on teachers' collectiving bargaining rights.
  • Corporatizing and privatization of public schools.
  • Debasement and silencing of teachers and their unions.
A second SOS/Chicago meeting is tentatively planned for Sept. 27th. Stay tuned.

Side story:  I raised the possibility of an SOS counter-action as a response to a planned move on Chicago by corporate reformers who call themselves Democrats For Education Reform (DFER). While calling themselves "Democrats," their program is right out of the Republican playbook, including support for school vouchers and more privately-run charter schools. The group is heavily financed by a gaggle of short-selling hedge-funders, including the infamous Whitney Tilson, who  sees dollar signs floating around the ed business and whose market manipulations tiptoe along the fringes of legality ("There's a very fine line between what we do and fraud...").

Tilson's group had posted a notice of a rally demanding more privately-run charter schools,  planned for Chicago's UIC Pavilion on September 24th. I had spoken with SOSers and members of other school and community groups about the possibility of a protest at the rally, including some street theater actions.

Catalyst reporter Cassandra West mentioned the DFER rally and possible protest activities in her coverage of the SOS/Chicago meeting. Her piece was published online late Saturday afternoon (nice going, Catalyst). Within two hours after West's story appeared on line, DFER pulled the plug. Its post about the Sept. 24th rally disappeared from the website without comment.

I'm not claiming any cause and effect -- just saying. One possibility is that with the 2012 elections fast approaching, the last thing rgR Chicago Democrats need is Wisconsin-style protests (or a strike).  A phone call from Rahm's people to Tilson's people may have been in order. 


1st SOS/Chicago Meeting
“I’m still waiting to see a group that is able to ensure teachers have a real voice. I’m looking around and listening and not hearing the voices of teachers.” -- Former Chicago mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle. 
N.Y. Education Reform Summit
"We need more resources financially, we need to stop vilifying [teachers] and we need to change the tone on how we've been approaching education divisiveness that this administration has added between charter and public schools." -- Bronx Borough Pres. Ruben Diaz, Jr. 
Diane Ravitch
"People are beginning to look ahead and say, 'Now what?'" Ravitch said in an interview with the Daily News. "We're moving toward a new post-Bloomberg era, and it's time for some fresh thinking." --  Daily News
Maureen Dowd
"He acts like he is America. But America didn’t like Dick Cheney. It’s easier for someone who believes that he is America incarnate to permit himself to do things that hurt America — like torture, domestic spying, pushing America into endless wars, and flouting the Geneva Conventions." -- NYT

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Arne Duncan's new job at the D.O.E.? Celebrity catcher

The ed secretary now appears to be in charge of silencing the administration's Hollywood critics.WaPo's Valerie Strauss broke the story with a leak from inside Duncan's department.
According to two people familiar with the efforts, the administration tried to arrange a meeting with Damon and government officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, before the July 30 march. The sources declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Duncan went so far as to offer Matt a ride from the airport if only he would agree not to appear with his teacher mom at the SOS rally. Matt of course, declined. 

Strauss at the Answer Sheet:
I’ve said before that it is fair to wonder if the sudden interest was akin to the administration’s efforts last summer to blunt criticism of Obama policies when a coalition of civil rights groups released a framework for education reform. In the few days before the framework was released, administration officials met with some of the coalition leaders, and a few of them backed off their criticism. Why was the administration so keen on meeting with Damon and march leaders just before the event?
Brother Fred asks: "Shouldn’t the guy be in his office studying his beloved data instead of pretending to be part of a plot from the Bourne Identity??


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rahm pulls that old seat-at-the-table"gambit. It worked on SB7.

CTU prez says "no thanks" this time

The table is set. The menu, already decided. The guest list includes corporate reformers, charter school operators, private schoolers, some priests and an heiress. The agenda is a political one for the mayor. His PR guys tell him he has a winner in a longer school day and school year. They're probably right. They tell Rahm and CEO Brizard that they should negotiate it the press rather than in secret negotiations with the union.

The only hitch is he has to pay for it -- or does he? There's no way he's going to use his own slush fund (TIF) to pay teachers and staff for an hour and a half each day and two weeks more work each year. So he will use the media and political clout and savvy (offering to give back 2% of the 4% pay raise that was due teachers this year) to circumvent union contract negotiations -- the real venue for such discussions.

This is basically the same table and guest list that Stand For Children's Jonah Edelman described when he bragged about how he had snookered the CTU, IFT, and IEA into supporting anti-union legislation (SB7) in the past.

But this time the union said, no. They are already at a table. It's called collective bargaining.
CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said in a statement union President Karen Lewis does not want to be part of a publicity stunt.
"CPS has loaded its advisory council with charter school proponents, parochial school leaders, administration-connected clergy, politicians and union-busting advocacy groups. This news has nothing to do with helping our children and everything to do with politicizing a really serious problem. Our children deserve better.” -- Chicagoist

Following up on the Save Our Schools March/Rally in D.C., SOS Chicago will hold it's first meeting, Saturday, Aug. 27th at 10 a.m. at Jane Addams Hull House, 800 S. Halsted. St. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reported test cheating tripled under Bloomberg

Annual allegations of test-tampering and grade-changing by educators have more than tripled since Mayor Bloomberg took control of New York City’s school system. Top bureaucrats, Wolcott and Polakow-Suransky go into spin mode.
“People are reporting things, that’s fine; we want people to report things,” Mr. Walcott said. But, he added, “people could be reporting for real and not necessarily real reasons.” -- N.Y. Times
That doesn't sound like it's "fine." Does it?

Loyola Law School prof, Kimberly West-Faulcon has written a strong piece on The Real Cheating Scandal of Standardized Tests, at Miller-McCune.
The truth is that the greater the stakes imposed on standardized test scores, the greater the pressure on educators to do whatever it takes to juice up the scores even if it degrades educational quality. By expressing his dismay and urging schools to increase test scores, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is evading the very important elephant-in-the-room question: “Are American public schools moving in the wrong direction by increasing emphasis on standardized test scores?”

Monday, August 22, 2011


Steven Brill tells Ravitch
"I don't have an agenda." -- C-SPAN
Marian Wright Edelman
"When Dr. King died calling for a Poor People's Campaign, there were 11 million poor children in America. Today, with 15.5 million poor children, millions living in extreme poverty, I've no doubt he'd be calling for a new Poor People's Campaign with a sense of urgency. He's not coming back. It's up to us to pick up the mantle of justice." -- Children's Defense Fund
Larry Ferlazzo
"Brizard announced his home visit plan within days of the Chicago School Board retracting its promise to increase the salaries of teachers while increasing the salaries of its Central Office staff... Again, without any teacher consultation. That’s a picture perfect model of how not to initiate a teacher home visit plan." -- Larry Ferlazzo
Ben Joravsky
"In other words, the do-not-hire designation intended to protect students from "bad" teachers is effectively protecting them from "good" teachers as well." -- Laid off from teaching--forever

Friday, August 19, 2011

Just what Perry needed to save his crumbling campaign


T-bagger Gov.Perry's "Texas miracle" has been a disaster for public education. He's cut $8B from the public ed budget and fired 50,000 teachers despite a glob of state oil revenues and lots of federal military dollars to spend.

Arne Duncan rode the myth of the  "Chicago miracle" all the way to Washington. Now Duncan has jumped into the 2012 campaign with a weak jab at Perry and Texas schooling. The problem with the Duncan/Perry dust-up is --they're both worse.
But what about the fact, I responded, that on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Texas' fourth- and eighth-graders substantially outperformed their peers in Chicago in reading and math? "I would have to look at all the details, but there are real challenges in Texas. And like every other state, they should be addressed openly and honestly as in Illinois, as in Chicago, and everywhere else." -- Rotherham at Time
"Texas," writes Rotherham, "may be slightly below the national average, but it's doing a lot better than Chicago, which only graduates about 56% of its students."

Irony: Duncan ought to sync with his buddy Rahm in Chicago. Sinking high school test scores there have prompted Emanuel to once again, hold up Texas, with it's supposedly longer school day, as his ideal.

The real reason for Duncan's ire -- Perry is openly calling, not only for an end to NCLB/Race to the Top and for abolishing the D.O.E., he's even raised the possibility of Texas' secession from the U.S. How Duncan's boss would love to run against that!

But Arne's recent history as a political campaigner is pretty grim. Remember how he jumped into the Fenty for Mayor campaign last year to try and save Michelle Rhee's job and helped snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.Now Duncan has T-Party Republicans across the land begging: "Attack me, attack me!"

Obama should have walked over to the Whaling Church last night

I wish I could have been there. I wish Pres. Obama and Michelle would have made it over to the 1787 Old Whaling Church in Martha's Vineyard last night as well. The Post's coverage makes last night's  panel sound simply like a well-deserved verbal spanking of  test-and-punish Michelle Rhee by Diane Ravitch. Rhee's singular focus on bad teachers always pales in comparison to Ravitch's broader social critique.

Harvard prof Lawrence Bobo
Unfortunately, you have to scan this morning's skimpy media coverage of the event to find out that Rhee and Ravitch were not the only ones on this panel. According to The Root, Harvard sociologist Lawrence Bobo also lit into to Rhee. 
Bobo took Rhee to task for her hard line on ineffective teachers, arguing that students came to school with overwhelming social problems like poverty that teachers could not be expected to solve alone.  -- The Root
The Massachusetts forum is an annual event organized by The Root's editor-in-chief, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and took place just miles from where President Obama and his family were vacationing.  Other panelists included Yale professor James Comer, who said that teachers were not being taught enough about child development; and Angel Harris, who teaches at Princeton University and has used quantitative analysis to debunk many assumptions about a successful education.

One audience member is quoted in the WaPo story, cutting right to the chase:
“Public education here in Martha’s Vineyard is terrific,” one woman told the sold-out crowd of about 500 during the question and answer period. “We have really good early childhood [education], really good health care, and we have rich people who come here in the summer, so thank you very much.”

More Shame of a Nation

On the heels of the Annie E. Casey report (below) comes another devastating report from the Children's Defense Fund on the State of America's Children. Here's the high lowlights

How America Ranks Among Industrialized Countries in
Investing in and Protecting Children

1st in gross domestic product
1st in number of billionaires
1st in number of persons incarcerated
1st in health expenditures
1st in military technology
1st in defense expenditures
1st in military weapons exports
21st in 15-year-olds’ science scores
21st in low birthweight rates
25th in 15-year-olds’ math scores
28th in infant mortality rates
Last in relative child poverty
Last in the gap between the rich and the poor
Last in adolescent birth rates (ages 15 to 19)
Last in protecting our children against gun violence

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shame of a nation

Millions of children growing up in poverty

A couple of new reports caught my eye yesterday. The first was a new study on child well-being put out by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It  found that child poverty is on the rise in the U.S. with as many as 1 in 5 children living in poverty. Of course, that figure represents a nationwide average, with most of that poverty concentrated in inner cities and rural areas where poverty rates can range up to 90 percent. Child poverty, in turn, has a powerful negative impact on measurable student learning outcomes. Reports like Casey's help explain the ever-widening, so-called "achievement gap."

In the foundation's first examination of the impact of the recession on the nation's children, the researchers concluded that low-income children will likely suffer academically, economically and socially long after their parents have recovered.
"People who grew up in a financially secure situation find it easier to succeed in life, they are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to graduate from college and these are things that will lead to greater success in life," said Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "What we are looking at is a cohort of kids who as they become adults may be less able to contribute to the growth of the economy. It could go on for multiple generations." -- AP Wire
On top of that, according to “The State of America’s Children 2011,” a report issued last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, the impact of the recession on children’s well-being has been catastrophic.

As you could probably guess, Mississippi once again lags behind all other 49 states when it comes to child welfare. They're on the bottom of the scale for the 10th straight year.

Why is Mass first & Miss last?
Which brings me to the second report of interest. Thirty-two percent of U.S. students in the class of 2011 were proficient in mathematics on the PISA exams, according to the official U. S. report card on student achievement. That places the United States in 32nd place among the 65 nations of the world that participated in the math test administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The lagging position of the U.S. has the neo-cons at the Hoover Institute jumping for joy. To Paul Peterson, Eric Hanuchek and their gang, this confirms everything they've been saying about the "crisis" in union-fettered public education  when it comes to preparing U.S. kids for competition in the global marketplace -- you know, the international Race To The Top.

Problem is, the PISA scores show quite the opposite.

In the top-scoring places, such as Shanghai, Korea, and Finland, well over 50 percent of students were proficient in math. But the proficiency rate in Massachusetts on PISA was 51 percent. At the bottom end, with less than 20 percent of students proficient, were countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, along with Mississippi and the District of Columbia.

In other words, national averages once again tell us very little about what's really taking place. When you break out U.S. math scores by state, the wealthiest states, the states with the lowest child poverty rates do as well as or better than any country in the world. The poorest states, like Mississippi, with the worst concentrations of child misery, score among the lowest in the world. This shows once again that child poverty is not "an excuse" for low test scores, as corporate reformers (including Arne Duncan) maintain; but rather it's the driving force when it comes to comparing student and school scores on high-stakes standardized tests.

Massachusetts, a state with strong teacher unions and relatively low child poverty rates, is number one when it comes to math scores. Mississippi, with no teacher unions and the highest child poverty rates, is among the worst. And, Mr. Gates, it's not because all the great math teachers have moved to Boston.

Yes, we need well-resourced schools with great, well-regarded, well-trained and well-compensated teachers. But if we are serious about school reform, we've got to close the child poverty gap.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Obama's in Illinois today

It "not a campaign tour" but Obama's in Illinois today, holding some town hall meetings downstate. But he won't be in Chicago, correctly figuring that the city vote is already in the bag for 2012. And with the T-Party loonies and corporate GOP assaulting him, it would have been near impossible to raise any of our school issues to him directly. 
"It's telling that the Republican Party, which believes corporations are people, would attack the president for meeting with Americans in their communities," said a spokeswoman, referencing a recent quip by GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. -- Crain's Chicago Business
Another reason why we need to build post-march SOS in order to confront both parties on school policy, here in Chicago and nationally. We will hold our first post-march SOS meeting in Chicago on Saturday, August 27th.

Alabama's assault on immigrant students

In Alabama, they are virtually deputizing school bus drivers to identify undocumented immigrant students based on a new state law. But federal law, The McKinney-Vento Act, mandates schools to teach all students, regardless of legal status.

According to immigration attorney, Michael Wildes,
“The law has effectively caused states to deputize school bus drivers as an enforcement measure, because of lack of guidance on immigration. Because of federal inaction on comprehensive immigration reform, states are taking things into their own hands and enacting potentially unconstitutional laws in backlash."
To speak with Michael, please contact Rena Resnick at 212-584-4323.

More victories in Wisconsin. Gov. Walker next?

Both Democratic senators up for recall Tuesday won double-digit victories in spite of millions of right-wing  dollars that flowed into the state to support the Republicans . Sen. Jim Holperin (D) defeated Kim Simac, a tea party organizer, 55 to 45 percent. In the District 22 race, Sen. Bob Wirch (D) defeated Jonathan Steitz, a corporate attorney, 58 percent to 42 percent. The two senators were among the 14 who fled to Illinois to boycott the vote on Gov. Walker's union-busting bill.

Walker is barely hanging on to a one-vote majority in the senate. Now the movement can focus on recalling him next year.
For their part, Democrats claimed they succeeded in creating a Senate that will be less of a rubber stamp for Walker's policies. They also said the closer margin will help to give Democrats their voices back just in time for the 2012 national election cycle. -CSM

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

'Merit pay' for principals -- really, Rahm?

I imagine J.C. Brizard telling the mayor, "Rahm, there's no research to support 'merit pay' for teachers, principals, students, or anyone else who isn't doing piece work. It's been a failure in New York and everywhere else it's been tried." I see the  mayor looking back at Brizard with that inimitable f#@k-you grin and telling his hand-picked CEO, "Great, just do it."

You see, Rahm doesn't give a rat's ass about ed research. He knows that with a mere $5 million in private funds in his pocket (tip money for billionaire pals like Penny Pritzker and Bruce Rauner) he can dictate school policy without having to negotiate anything with anyone -- including the teachers union or the principals' association.
The announcement blind-sided Chicago Principals Association president Clarice Berry, who was not given advance notice of the plan, and won outright rejection from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. Both pointed to research — and past Chicago experience — indicating merit pay in education hasn’t proven effective. However, Emanuel said his principal merit pay program will be unique in that it will include training principals to a set of expectations outlined in a new “principal performance contract’’ that is still being drafted. -- Sun-Times
The Sun-Times names the four "merit" pay funding families:
Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner and his wife, Diana, contributed $2 million to the pot. Rauner encouraged Stand for Children to come to Illinois, where it pushed through a new school reform bill that makes it more difficult for Chicago teachers to strike and allows CPS to unilaterally impose a longer school day and year.
Putting in $1 million each were Groupon co-founder and executive chairman Eric Lefkofsky and his wife, Liz; Chicago School Board member Penny Pritzker and her husband, Chicago Park Board President Bryan Traubert; and Paul Finnegan, co-founder of Madison Dearborn Partners, and his wife, Mary.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Maureen Dowd on Mitt Romney
"Of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation. We the corporation. Corporations who need corporations are the luckiest corporations in the world. Power to the corporation!" -- NYT
CTU President Karen Lewis
“Our voices are really not heard. They are tolerated.”-- Chicago News Cooperative
Valerie Strauss on Duncan's waivers
"Using the waivers as a way to strong-arm states to do what you want — when what you want has never been shown by research to be effective or — is hardly the way to set a good policy precedent, or help kids in schools, which is, after all, what this is supposed to be all about." -- The Answer Sheet
Sen. Bernie Sanders
"In my view, there are crooks on Wall Street, and I use that word advisedly, whose illegal behavior and greed and recklessness put us into this terrible recession. Now they are doing just great. Do you think the average American thinks the president has stood up to Wall Street in the way that he should have?"  -- CSPAN

Friday, August 12, 2011

No Child Left Behind "Waivers": A View from the Classroom

Good piece at Gapers Block by SOSer Adam Heenan, a public school teacher in Chicago. 
When Duncan announced that he will allow states to "waive" their No Child Left Behind requirements, I held my breath for the ball to drop. Could it be? The end of high-stakes testing? The end of labeling our children and public schools as "failures?" -- Read the rest here
Adam blogs at Classroom Sooth and tweets from @classroomsooth.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

More on Duncan's Law

"But to maintain a law [NCLB] that is so fundamentally broken that teachers and principals and students reject and are rebelling against because it doesn't make sense, to just sit here passively in Washington and do nothing, to me, would be the height of arrogance or the height of tone-deafness." -- Interview with John Hockenberry

Arne's right of course. The problem is, he wants to replace the "fundamentally broken" NCLB with something even worse -- a Race To The Top that maintains the worse features of No Child's reliance on standardized testing, basing teacher evaluation on student test scores, and using scores to punish (close)  neighborhood schools in order to replace them with privatized charter schools.

But in the current political climate, the administration has no chance getting their new version of the federal education bill through congress, since Republicans are committed to nothing less than the elimination of education as a public enterprise. So rather than fight to defend and reform public education with a supportive base at it's back, including most of the nation's 6 million teachers, Duncan is trying to rule the schools by fiat, personally issuing wavers from NCLB sanctions providing that states accept his prescribed RTTT reforms.

There's nothing new or illegal about issuing waivers. The D.O.E.'s authority to do so was written into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 and, as recently as 2009, the department granted 351 waivers to states seeking leniency on federal requirements, many of them related to NCLB. But what is probably illegal and certainly a violation of democratic reform is the forced implementation of  Duncan's Law in return for those waivers. It amounts to a back-door coup d'etat as opposed to leading a popular revolt.

In his interview with Duncan, Hockenberry asks the ed secretary to respond to this comment from Diane Ravitch:
"Does the secretary have the right to nullify the law? And, personally, I don't think he does. I don't think a secretary, a cabinet member, can say, 'I don't like this law.' He's saying, 'If you don't like the law, I will give you a waiver, but you have to do what I say, and what I say is you must evaluate teachers by their student test scores,' and virtually every testing expert in the country has said you cannot do that with individual teachers. It doesn't work." 
Duncan blows off the question and acts as if Ravitch doesn't exist. This, even though we now hear that he has a team that meets to plan anti-Ravitch media strategies.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New images of Britain

Oppression breeds resistance
But the riots also reflect the alienation and resentment of many young people in Britain, where one million people from the ages of 16 to 24 are officially unemployed, the most since the deep recession of the mid-1980s.-- New York Times
Whether it's London, Cairo, or Chicago, sooner or later oppression produces resistance. The current "riots" in London are, in large part, a response to the obscene widening British (world) gap between rich and poor, black, brown and white. For months, all we saw coming out of Britain were the images of the $60 million dollar wedding of a parasitic royal couple, living in extravagant splendor at the expense of British taxpayers. It was an image that the corporate media wanted to project as the 2012 London Olympics draw near.

That image was only temporarily shattered by November's youth and student protests. The privatization and accompanying prohibitive cost of education is making a college degree inaccessible to all but the children of the rich and cutting off the few areas of class mobility for millions of young Brits.

Then came the Murdoch scandal, projecting an image of a multi-billionaire media monarch who used wealth and power to buy off and corrupt the police, and other illegal means to build his global empire -- and it appears he will face no criminal charges.. What clearer message could be sent to a new generation, locked in poverty, but obviously unwilling to simply roll over and die or disappear in the back streets of Brixton?

The global financial collapse and following recession has further widened that gap and is creating and expanding a permanent underclass of mainly urban, black, brown and largely immigrant youth in cities around the world. The so-called London "riots" have replaced the images Kate Middleton's $100,000 designer dresses. Police shootings of local youth may have provided the spark, but the reasons for the current urban youth revolt and "riots" go much deeper.

Despite all the talk about a "post-racial" era, conditions in urban communities here in the U.S. in many ways mirror those in London. The massive redistribution of wealth from bottom to top in the past decade, an expanding two-tier school system that increasingly excludes the poor from college and the job market, the growth an underclass of millions permanently unemployed (unemployable) youth -- the chickens inevitably come home to roost.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

SOS follow up -- More protests, boycotts needed

Fair Test's Monty Neill offers some suggestions to states trying to deal with Duncan's Law. In a column posted today at WaPo's Answer Sheet, Neill calls on states to refuse Arne Duncan's self-legislated waivers.
If they accept the deal, states will lock in ever more counter-productive educational practices based on the misuse of test scores, including linking teacher evaluation to student scores. Those policies could be hard to dislodge should Congress decide not to endorse Duncan’s “Blueprint” when it eventually does reauthorize the federal law.
Monty also calls for more protests against the testing madness in the wake of the July 30th Save Our Schools march and rally by thousands of teachers in D.C.
Last month’s Save Our Schools march, coupled with widespread anger across the nation, was a good start. But it will take a lot more. Organizing town meetings to clearly express opposition and build effective resistance is one valuable tool. (For others, see Boycotts have brought down testing regimes in Japan and England. Unions also will have to step up to support more effective forms of resistance, forms that can lead to cutting back on testing, helping instead of punishing schools, and installing educationally beneficial forms of accountability (see 
Monty's call should stoke some fires within the post-march SOS' new interim leadership team. With elections on the horizon, how is the time to begin organizing the next round of protests.  It's also the best way to begin local organizing for this newly-seeded organization.

Duncan's Law

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced that he will unilaterally override the centerpiece requirement of the No Child Left Behind school accountability law, that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. -- NYT
All of Duncan's Race-To-The-Top stimulus money handouts, his speaking tours with Newt Gingrich, his embrace of T-Party govs like Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels, none of that could buy him the credibility with Congress he needed for re-authorization of No Child Left Behind.

Duncan & Spellings
NCLB is a law that even he now calls a “slow-motion train wreck.” But Duncan has been a vocal supporter of the test-and-punish law since the Bush days, when he, as Chicago schools CEO, journeyed to D.C. to buddy up with then Ed Sec. Spellings. Remember, it was Spellings who declared the law, "99.9% pure" while Duncan cheered her on.

Now embarrassed by the 2014 proficiency mandate and his own projected 82%  national school failure rate, Duncan is taking the law into his own hands. About 38,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools fell short of their test-score targets under the federal law last year, and Duncan has predicted that number would rise to 80,000 this year. That doesn't provide Obama with much of a record to run on in 2012 -- does it?

While maintaining the worst aspects of the law's of test-and-punish provisions and using them to promote massive school closings, teacher firings, and conversion to privately-run charter schools, Duncan is offering waivers to the states based on Jeb Bush's Florida model, which even brother George wouldn't tolerate. While Jeb was governor, many of the state's A or B schools were considered "failing" by NCLB standards. 

Now, instead of junking the Bush-era law Duncan is encouraging every state to apply for a waiver which he personally could approve-- or not. The Duncan waivers would come only if he deemed that a state was following the "reform" guidelines prescribed under Race To The Top, ie. school closings, mass teacher firings, and more charter schools.

The problem for Duncan is that without any more stim money in his pocket and with massive cuts in the education budget anticipated in the wake of the Obama/Boehner debt deal, he has no juice. NCLB is a dead law walking and Duncan's own future is very much in doubt. He has already lost most of his base of support on the left and now the right is opening up on him.

From the Times:
“It sounds like they’re trying to do a backdoor Round 3 of Race to the Top, and that’s astonishing,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. He called Duncan’s plan “a dramatically broad reading of executive authority.”  
Unfortunately, the real victims of all this top-down educational tyranny will be the cash-starved schools themselves operating under confusing federal mandates and a rudderless Dept. of Education.

Pres. Obama, it's time to dump both NCLB and Arne Duncan. 2012 is drawing near.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Charles Blow
"We risk the creation of an engorged generational underclass born of a culture that has less income equality and fewer prospects for mobility than the previous generation." -- The Decade of Lost Children
Susan Klonsky
Perhaps Mayor Emanuel should go out for a few nights with the city workers who know where to look — up in the deep recesses beyond the chain link fences under bridges, along the banks of the North Branch, in storm drains, in the voids behind city parking lots, under city trucks, under loading docks, any place with a semblance of a roof to keep the rain off — and see what he is cutting, and whose lives are deemed throwaways. --Chicago Sun-Times
Gates bankrolling corporate reform groups
"Nobody elected Bill Gates to run our schools, and yet his money is driving so many policies and so many of these reforms," said Sue Peters, a parent and co-founder of the local chapter of Parents Across America, which has about 50 members and tracks the foundation's connections in this state. -- Seattle Times
Chester Finn (Fordham Institute) on Duncan's waivers 
“Even if one agrees with [Duncan] on the merits, as I do, the law doesn’t say he can unilaterally impose new conditions that aren’t in the law,” said Finn, a Republican. “There’s a separation of powers issue involved here. To what extent does the executive branch get to decide what’s in the law?” -- Washington Post
Diane Ravitch
"In some respects, this has been a tough year for me. It has been a year of brickbats and insults: I have been called a hypocrite, insincere, dishonest, pathological liar, and a cherry-picker, but best of all: Bill Gates Chief Adversary; and Whittaker Chambers of School Reform. I would much rather be Whittaker Chambers than Alger Hiss! But if you are a teacher or parent, you have had to take many more insults and real hits than I have. -- But if you are a teacher or parent, you have had to take many more insults and real hits than I have."-- Teacher Ken at Daily Kos

Friday, August 5, 2011

More on the DOE's anti-Ravitch strategy

Following up on yesterday's post re. the DOE's anti-Ravitch strategy, one need look no further than this disgusting piece ( "Double-Agent Diane") by willing anti-Ravitch think-tanker Jay Greene. Greene is a long-time hack fellow at the far right-wing Manhattan Institute where he shares a home with racist Bell Curve theorist Charles Murray. Not surprisingly, Greene and the Institute currently find common ground with Duncan and the D.O.E in their crusade against Ravitch, teacher unions, and support for privatization. If Greene's diatribe is any indication, they also share worries about last week's Save Our Schools March.

In an exchange of tweets yesterday, Duncan PR guy Justin Hamilton responded to a reporter's question about a secret anti-Ravitch group within the D.O.E. this way:
EDPressSec Justin Hamilton
File under black helicopter RT @DianeRavitch: Reporter asked if I knew of secret DOE group working to intimidate/silence me.
You will notice that snarky Hamilton doesn't confirm or deny the group's existance and given current adminstation's black-ops and the recent DOE early-morning raid on the Wright family home in Stockton, his helicoptor crack is inappropriate, to say the least.

Thanks to that unnamed reporter, whoever he or she was, for asking the question. I'm sure you won't be the last.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Secret Ravitch Group at Duncan's DOE?

Bush media whore, Williams was
paid to defend NCLB.
 Suggestion for journalists, especially ed writers: Ask Secretary Duncan or his press guys Cunningham or Hamilton about DOE staffers assigned to the secret Ravitch Group. Word from dept. insiders is that such a group has been meeting regularly.

Is Duncan really spending badly-needed  (especially after the Obama/Boehner debt deal) funds to have this relatively large group of DOE staffers strategize how to undercut criticism from Diane Ravitch?

 Are they really so worried about DR's criticisms of DOE policy that they're spending their time trying to dig up personal dirt on Diane to feed Ravitch debators and detractors like Michelle Rhee, David Brooks and Jonathan Alter their lines? Maybe even ask some of the folks over there at Politico or Dropout Nation. They might know something.

Ask which friendly columnists and talk-show hosts have been receiving DOE anti-Ravitch memos and debating tips and running with them. Ask if any of these embedded columnists are taking DOE money for their services the way it was done during the Bush years with media whores like Armstrong Williams.

Finally, ask why the Ravitch group (if it exists of course) is dong such a poor job. Diane is chewing up and spitting out embedded journalists on the issues, while they just parrot the same old b.s. about her being "paid by the unions" or being for the "status quo."

Just a suggestion.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Debt deal sucks: A killer for education

A start of something big? (M. Klonsky pic)
 Save our schools

The Obama/Boehner debt-ceiling deal is disaster capitalism at its worst. Republicans, with help from the White House, and using the manufactured default crisis as their rationale, dealt bunker-busting shock-and-awe to schools, teachers and the nation's children.

While a default would have made life miserable for public schools, few knowledgeable observers really believed that Wall Street would allow it to happen. The Deal deals nothing but more devastation for public education on top of already crippling budget cuts, swelling class sizes, elimination of reading, arts, and technology programs, as well as job losses for many of the nation's teachers (including the best ones). If ending job loss is the key to rebuilding the economy, this deal is a job-killer and an economy buster.

Naturally, the White House, Tim Geithner and even some teacher union leaders are touting the deal as a great example of "compromise" and "bipartisanship." (The NEA's Van Roekel called the Deal "flawed, yet bi-partisan", whatever the hell that means). But the deal represents neither a genuine compromise nor bipartisanship -- unless you call death-by-a-thousand-cuts instead of one a compromise. It was done exclusively on the backs of the poor, middle class and working people, and will further widen the gap in standard of living between blacks, Latinos and whites. As for the corporations and the wealthy, they were protected by their anti-tax T-Party faithful.

The deal may prove to be a 2012 election-saver for Obama  (many of the cuts are backloaded until after the election) and a political life-saver for  discredited Majority Leader Boehner. But congressional Democrats, who were left out of the deal-making process, are furious. They will have to go back to their districts and defend the indefensible to an angry base.

Some of my fellow school activists and progressive educators will take solace in the fact that the new debt bill all but kills any chance for an imminent reauthorization of No Child Left Behind and will likely deliver a death blow to Arne Duncan's Race To The Top. Duncan's only power over schools and resistant states was his ability to inflict punishment by means of the selective doling out of federal funds to bankrupt states and starving school districts. He was able to do this in the first round of RTTT because he had millions of stimulus dollars in his pocket. Now that money is gone. The T-Party was able to do, through forced budget cuts to Title I and IDEA, what conservatives have long dreamed of but couldn't accomplish politically:  to neuter or liquidate the Department of Education (especially with Democrats running it and in control of the federal trough).

But the problem is, the possible demise of Duncan power means even more power for corporate reformers funded by giant philanthropists like Gates, Broad and Walton, who are accountable to no public, who don't have to run for office or engage in legislative debates and still have Duncan around to run interference for them. A weakened DOE with fewer hammers in its toolbox won't mean less test-madness or more power for local schools or classroom teachers -- quite the opposite.

When you get right down to it, the Republicans won this important battle in their war on working people, because they were willing and able to mobilize their base in the face of a showdown. Obama and the Democrats, on the other hand, act as if they are more afraid of their own base than they are of the Republicans. They see the left as their main enemy and Boehner's GOP as their main partners.

Because they are afraid to organize and mobilize the very base that elected Obama in 2008, that organization will have to come from elsewhere. That's why the Save Our Schools march and movement, though still small, and currently without structure or stable leadership, is so important. At least it's a start.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Quotable: Linda Darling-Hammond

Linda was a featured speaker at Saturday SOS rally in D.C.

"We have produced a larger and more costly prison system than any country in the world — we have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its inmates — populated primarily by high school dropouts on whom we would not spend $10,000 a year when they were in school, but we will spend more than $40,000 a year when they are in prison – a prison system that is now directly devouring the money we should be spending on education."
The full text of her speech is available at the Washington Post's Answer Sheet.

Monday, August 1, 2011

How's this for a schools superintendent?

Superintendent of Perrin-Whitt School District in Texas speaks at SOS March

SOS Think/Do Tank

SOS Institure Workshop (R. Sanders pic)

One of the many good things that came out of the SOS conference was a committment from a significant group of attendees to move ahead with, what we're now calling, a Think/Do Tank. Diane Ravitch and I offered up an outline for an institute of some kind to emerge from this week's protest. The response was encouraging.

About 80 people attended a session I facilitated on Thursday and after a couple of hours of discussion, nearly all expressed an interest in taking part on some level. Some folks offered to blog, tweet or otherwise use their new-media skills to promote the ideas and positions voiced by Saturday's marchers. Others were interested in research, publishing, public speaking, cultural criticism, or being part of strategic discussions, nationally and/or regionally.

I will be notifying all those who took part, about upcoming meetings and follow-up discussions. For those who couldn't attend, feel free to let me know you are interested and we will keep you in the loop.


M. Klonsky pic
 SOS rally speaker Diane Ravitch

“We are here to stand up for basic American values,” she said. “The shame of our nation is that we lead the developed world in childhood poverty,” she said, then noting that our best schools, those with the fewest children who live in poverty, rank on international tests at least as high as any other nation. -- WaPO Answer Sheet

Education Takes a Beating

"These are extraordinarily inequitable cuts for low-income communities of color," said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based advocacy group. -- L.A. Times
Matt Damon at the SOS March

Damon, whose mother is an educator, said he achieved his successes in large part because teachers at the public schools he attended were not forced to focus on "silly test prep" and instead could work to educate.

"As I look at my life today, the things that I value about myself, my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity, came from the way that I was parented and taught," Damon told the teachers. "And none of these qualities that I just mentioned, none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, none of these qualities that have brought me so much joy, that have made me so successful professionally, none of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested," he said. -- CNN
The SOS Congress
"There needs to be more input by the local school community, including teachers, parents, and concerned citizens, and an end to top-down dictates by politicians and their campaign donors who have little understanding about the realities of classroom education." -- SOS organizer Bob Schaeffer, Edweek