Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Toll of the Great Recession

The Pew Hispanic Center reports that more Latino children are living in poverty—6.1 million in 2010—than children of any other racial or ethnic group. This marks the first time in U.S. history that the single largest group of poor children is not white. In 2010, 37.3% of poor children were Latino, 30.5% were white and 26.6% were black.

Christie just another teacher-bashing corporate reformer

N.J. teacher writes
My parents, both public school teachers, along with the many great teachers who shaped my life, were my inspiration when I changed careers and became a teacher in 2003. As I return to school this year, the calls for “reform” and the negative atmosphere created by the vociferous “blame the teacher” brigade make me question my career change.

The largest piece of the governor’s proposals focuses on improving teacher quality. The plan purports to value teachers and claims their effectiveness is the most important variable in how children learn; however, the “top-down” dictatorial approach asks for no input from teachers, the same stakeholders the governor claims to value so highly. In fact, teachers would be stripped of the right to collectively bargain compensation policies and work rules. During a stop at my school to advance his plan, the governor took no questions from teachers. The governor’s proposals appear to focus less on quality and more on reducing cost, undermining the quality teaching staffs successful districts have recruited and developed. -- Andrew Romanelli is a special-education teacher at Hopewell Valley Central High School. (NJ.Com)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Teachers teaching children of color are paid less

Teachers in schools that serve the top quintile of African-American and Latino students are paid significantly less—approximately $2,500 per year—than the average teacher in such districts, according to an analysis  by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.

Steven Sawchuck, posting on Edweek, writes:
Fifty-nine percent of the districts studied showed these spending disparities. And because teacher salaries make up about 60 percent or so of the typical district's budget, these data demonstrate some fairly hefty gaps in spending between schools that serve more students of color and those that serve fewer such students. 
Arne Duncan calls it, "a civil rights issue, an economic security issue, and a moral issue." But Duncan's own Race To The Top policies have reinforced these disparities by punishing schools and districts with high percentages of poor, black and Latino students. Current "performance pay" schemes, which tie teacher evaluations and pay bonuses to student test scores are also widening the pay gap.


On top of this, The Chicago Teachers Union charges that African-American teachers have been unfairly targeted by CPS layoffs. According to the union, while fewer than 30 percent of teachers in CPS are African-American, they represent more than 40 percent of those getting pink slips this year, either for budgetary reasons or because of enrollment declines.

CTU prez Karen Lewis, quoted in the Tribune, says the disparity of teachers being laid off from low-income neighborhoods represents a "disturbing trend" that has consequences for students who look to their teachers as "role models for achievement and success."

"With unemployment soaring in the black community, why is CPS exacerbating this crisis by getting rid of experienced and valuable educators in the first place?" Lewis asked.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Looking back on Obama's pick

In December, 2008 President-elect Obama named Arne Duncan to be his new secretary of education.  Obama's choice of Duncan over the much more highly qualified Linda Darling-Hammond should have been a tip-off as to what would transpire the next two-and-a-half years.

At the time, many of us were still optimistic in the wake of Obama's historic election victory. Based on his campaign promises, educators were anticipating an end to Bush-ism and to nearly a decade of testing madness under NCLB. Those looking at the glass as half-full (myself included) were cautiously hopeful. After all, Obama had also rejected hard-core anti-teachert extremists Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee for the job. Having worked with and battled against Duncan's regime in Chicago, I expressed hope that, once out from under the thumb of Mayor Daley and the Chicago machine, Duncan might be able to represent a more progressive and humane ed politics than the previous regime. But this was not to be.

This morning, while reading a Huffington piece by Joy Resmovitz, "Will Arne Duncan's Education Reforms Get Left Behind?" I linked to a Dec. 2008 assessment of the Duncan appointment in the Economist,: "B+ for the new boy: Barack Obama’s education secretary is a diplomatic reformer."
Chester Finn of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute calls Mr Duncan “a terrific pick”, and Margaret Spellings, George Bush’s education secretary, calls him “a kindred spirit”. But Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, declared herself “pleased” by the choice. The worry is that the effort to reach consensus may hinder bold change. But at least Mr Duncan may restore the spirit of co-operation that helped pass NCLB in 2001. Mr Obama, in his announcement, criticised advocates who fail to realise that “both sides have good ideas and good intentions”. The president-elect is a master at charting the middle road. Time will tell whether that path leads to meaningful reform or to messy drift.
Well, time certainly has told. There were no "good intentions." There was no "spirit of cooperation" and NCLB was dead in the water (thank goodness). Duncan's attempt to coalesce with Newt Gingrich and the  neocons fell flat on its face. Conciliation soon turned into outright adoption of the corporate reform agenda and the plight of teachers and their collective bargaining rights have have gotten worse than ever.

Now NCLB has essentially been re-branded as Race To The Top and the Dept. of Education has lost whatever juice it had in trying to re-authorize a national education law. Duncan's attempt to grab power with his waiver initiative is bound to fall on its face.

With elections on the horizon, Obama would do well to clean house at the DOE and hope for a fresh start.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Where's the Zuckerberg $$?

"We don’t know what the foundation is doing or how they intend to spend the other money. With that money comes a responsibility to the public to be clear about its use." -- Newark Teachers Union President Joe Del Grosso

From Education Nation
"This (teacher salary issue) really strikes home for me because when I know passionate, excellent teachers who've left the classroom, it's not because of lack of dollars, it's lack of voice. We want a chance to be the decision makers. We're on the ground, we know what need to be done and we want the chance to do it." -- Melanie Allen, a Boston teacher.
Monty Neill
"The Obama-Duncan plan for ―flexibility‖ in the administration of the ―No Child Left Behind‖ (NCLB) federal education law offers little more than a leap from the frying pan to the fire – and even adds gasoline to the fire." -- FairTest
"Cheating scandals have been rolling up the East Coast like a hurricane this year, from Atlanta to Washington, Pennsylvania and New Jersey." -- Sharon Otterman, New York Times
John Kass
Perry makes No Child Left Behind seem like a fairy tale with a happy ending. And if he loves government muscle so much, shouldn't he have run for mayor of Chicago? -- Tribune

Friday, September 23, 2011

Defender gets it right on Rahm's longer school day scam

An editorial in the Chicago Defender, "Breaking the Teachers Union" blasts the mayor's longer-school-day campaign.
Though the district is trying to close a $200 million budget deficit, and has reneged on a negotiated 4 percent raise for the teachers, that is not the rallying cry for the district. Instead, CPS sends out notices trumpeting the fact that teachers at individual schools are voting for longer school hours, succumbing to the siren call of 2 percent bonuses offered by the district. If all of the schools voted that way, it would cost $100 million ... which would pay for the raises. So far, nine schools (out of 650) have taken the bait, even though it undermines the only weapon a union has to advocate for its members - solidarity.
The Defender editorial sees the assault on the CTU being partially connected with race and gender issues.
Why target CTU? Hopefully it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that 76.6 percent of CPS teachers are female. Hopefully it has nothing to do with the fact that 29.6 percent of CPS teachers are African American (down from 40 percent in 2002).
Seeing members of the Pastors United for Change cozying up with Ald. Richard Mell (one of the [racist faction that opposed Chicago's first black mayor, Harold Washington--M.K.] Vdrolyak 29) was particularly disheartening. Even some of the city’s labor union heads - most of whom don’t send their kids to Chicago Public Schools - came out in support of a longer school day.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Dear Mike,

At 11:08 pm, the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis. Just before he was executed, Troy maintained his innocence, urged people to dig deeper into the case to find the truth, and said "For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls." It's a tragic day for Troy, for his family, and for equality, fairness, and justice.

It's hard to know what to say at a time like this. In this moment, and in the days and weeks before Troy's execution, we've felt all kinds of things — anger, sadness, inspiration, hope and hopelessness. This is a time to mourn and remember Troy, to contemplate the profound loss we're facing, to send love and support to Troy's family and friends. It's incredibly important to take the time to spiritually and emotionally care for Troy's family and the amazing community that has arisen to support Troy — and it feels hard to muster the energy to do much more than that.

But before he died, Troy told us that this was about more than him — and he called on those of us who have fought against his execution to continue fighting for justice, even if we weren't successful in saving his life. Now is also an important moment to take stock of what's brought us to this point — the criminal justice system that allowed this to happen, and the movement we've built to fight for Troy and others facing injustice and oppression at the hands of that system.

Race, the criminal justice system, and the death penalty

At every stage of the criminal justice system, Black people and other minorities face inequality and discrimination. We all know about people who've been treated unfairly by police or by the courts. When the entire system treats Black people unequally, it means that the death penalty is applied unequally too. Troy Davis' case underscores the way in which this systemic inequality can lead to a tragic miscarriage of justice.

In most cases, people who've been treated unfairly or wrongly convicted have some chance to correct the injustice. People who have been mistreated by the police can sue them. People who are wrongly serving time can be granted new trials, can be released from prison, and are sometimes entitled to compensation. As we all know, the safeguards that can correct abuse by the criminal justice system often fail, and rampant inequality persists. Usually, people can at least keep trying.

But there's no way to correct a death sentence. If Troy Davis were serving a sentence of life in prison without parole, he could continue to press the legal system to grant him a fair trial — but because the death penalty exists, he will not have that opportunity.

Troy Davis' case has sparked a national conversation about the death penalty. In the past, much of the debate around the death penalty has focused on the morality of killing people as a legal punishment — a very important question that brings out a lot of strong opinions. But even if we completely leave aside the question whether or not it can ever be right for the government to punish a murderer by killing them, there's an entirely different debate to be had — whether or not we can have the death penalty and actually avoid the possibility of killing innocent people. In a criminal justice system that routinely misidentifies Black suspects and disproportionately punishes Black people, Black folks are more likely to be wrongfully executed.

There's plenty of evidence to suggest that the death penalty has been used to kill innocent people many times. Since 1973, more than 130 people have been released from death row because of evidence that they were wrongly convicted. Troy Davis is one of many people who were executed despite serious questions about their guilt, and he's called on his supporters to continue working to end the death penalty.

A group of NAACP organizers went to visit Troy in prison yesterday, and NAACP's Robert Rooks said this about the visit:

For someone that was facing death the very next day, he was just full of life and wanted to spend time talking to the younger staff, the interns, giving them direction and hope and asking them to hold onto God. And he challenged them. He challenged them by saying, "You have a choice. You can either fold up your bags after tomorrow and go home, or you can stand and continue this fight." He said it doesn’t—it didn’t begin with Troy Davis, and this won’t end if he is executed today. He just asked us all just to continue to fight to end the death penalty, if in fact he’s executed.

A powerful movement

For years, ColorOfChange members have been an important part of a growing movement to stop Troy Davis' execution. Hundreds of phone calls from ColorOfChange members to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole helped delay Davis' execution twice. Over the past year, there's been a huge outpouring of support for Davis from ColorOfChange members — more than 100,000 of us have signed petitions, and we raised more than $30,000 to run radio ads in Georgia calling for justice for Troy.

And we've been part of an even bigger movement — NAACP, Amnesty International, National Action Network,, and others have all been a major part of the fight for Troy Davis, and there are now over close to a million petition signatures overall. Prominent people from all across the political spectrum have spoken out: members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, former FBI Director William Sessions, former Georgia Republican congressman Bob Barr, and former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher.

This movement couldn't stop Davis' execution — but it's a movement that won't die with Troy Davis. There's no better way to honor Troy's memory than to keep fighting for justice.

Thanks and Peace,

-- Rashad, James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Matt, Natasha and the rest of the team
September 21st, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Low poverty rates = high scores on int'l tests

An email from a colleague in California caused me to reflect once again on the results of the 2009 PISA exams. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance, performed first in 2000 and repeated every three years. It is coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with a view to improving educational policies and outcomes. Another similar study is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which focuses on mathematics and science but not reading.

In reading, math, and science the U.S. was reported to be lagging far behind countries like Finland, Singapore, China and South Korea. Corporate reformers and Arne Duncan have used the results to in part, blame public schools for this country's declining power vis-a-vis it's perceived global competitors. It has also provided the rationale for the labeling of thousands of urban public schools as "failing" or calling them "dropout factories."

But as my colleague reminded me, there were several ways of looking at U.S. PISA data which show that US schools with 10% poverty would score #1 in the world in reading. Those with 25% in poverty would score #3 in the world. And those with 75% students in poverty would score 33rd in the world.  

She adds:
Other high-achieving countries like Finland and Singapore have very few kids in poverty and very equitable outcomes for schools that serve those kids, so it wouldn’t change their rankings much. OECD has documented all this in the PISA reports.
It makes it clear once again that the main difference in measurable learning outcomes between high and low-scoring schools in this country has more to do with parent income than anything going on in the classroom and that student scores can't be used as a reliable measure of schools or teachers. 

These figures caused many of my students to wonder, what exactly are our standardized tests really measuring?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tribune's Zorn calls for union surrender

Bad advice from Eric

The Trib's Eric Zorn is way off base in calling on the CTU to surrender and withdraw it's complaint to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board regarding Rahm's fraudulent longer-school-day waiver elections. He claims:
"Losing this legal battle would be better for the Chicago Teachers Union, though it would stand to weaken its position should similar fights erupt over other issues in years to come. Graciously surrendering now would be best."
Zorn is well aware of what's going on.
Administrators have been going school by school offering incentives to staffs that vote to work a longer day. It's analogous to the owner of a unionized factory going department by department and offering bonuses and other goodies to workers who agree to ignore major parts of their labor deals. Such an effort makes an end-run around contractual rights and takes the "collective" out of collective bargaining.
So why then does he call on the union to surrender? He's worried that in winning the legal battle and getting a court injunction against this latest City Hall election bribery scam, the union would lose the PR battle. Teachers will be falsely portrayed as wanting a shorter school day or defending the status quo.

In the short run, he may be right. The mayor currently owns the embedded press corps (save a few) and the media has continued to repeat his claim that too little seat time is what's ailing the city's schools. They have all but ignored the union's counter plan for a longer school day with an enriched curriculum (missing from Rahm's more seat-time plan). And they have portrayed his wins in only 9 schools as glorious victories with hardly a word about where the bribe money has come from. That scenario isn't likely to change if the union backs off.

While the CTU could certainly stand a better PR strategy, the push-back (in the courtroom and in the streets) on the mayor's contract-busting is a good struggle, one being fought on just grounds and deserving of community support.

Thanks, but no thanks, for the advice, Eric. Teachers are fed up with "graciously surrendering."