Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More questions for J.C. Brizard

Sorry I can't make it to UIC at noon today for J.C. Brizard's speech. If there were time at the end, I would ask him the questions I posted below. But if you are attending, you might also ask him about this story in today's Trib: "Report finds charters struggling like other CPS schools."

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city leaders have long heralded charter schools' innovative approach to education, but new research suggests many charters in Chicago are         performing no better than traditional neighborhood schools and some are actually doing much worse...At Shabazz International's DuSable Leadership high school on the South Side, just 7 percent of students met state standards on the PSAE. A few miles south, nine out of every 10 students at CICS' Hawkins high school missed the state benchmark.

For example, you might ask: Mr. CEO, doesn't this report make it clear that standardized test scores are more a measure of poverty than they are a measure of school quality or teaching skill? Doesn't this suggest that your strategy of closing (rather than supporting) low-scoring schools and replacing them with privately-managed charters only diverts us from the real issues facing schools and students?

Uncapping and de-regulating charter schools

Spurred on by Race To The Top

While public education budgets are being slashed, federal support for privately-managed charter schools has increased to new heights including a $52 million increase in charter school funding last year. Since 2009, with $100 billion in stimulus funding for education, including $4.35 billion in the competitive Race to the Top fund behind him, Arne Duncan has offered a stern warning to states: "Embrace charters or risk losing stimulus dollars."

But while Duncan claims it's all about "quality, not quantity" when it comes to charter school expansion and while he tells us that "charters are not inherently anti-union," the administration's Race To The Top policies have opened the door wide for anything-goes charter schools. The current trend is increasingly towards unlimited charter school expansion with fewer regulations, less transparency, more racial re-segregation, and definitely no unions allowed. This despite growing evidence that charter schools on average, fail to outperform traditional public schools despite discriminatory enrollment and expulsion practices.

States currently dominated by right-wing politicians and T-Party governors, like Michigan, are moving quickly to take advantage of the current political environment to uncap and deregulate charter expansion.

Case in point: Fulton County, Ga. which has applied to the state to become a "charter district" and where charters like the  Fulton Science Academy are asking legislators for blanket waivers of state and local provisions and 10 year contracts limiting the community's oversight over the charter schools finances, procurement practices and overall governance.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Questions for Jean-Claude Brizard

“We have to take immediate action this year. . . . Too many of our students are in what I call an educational emergency room.’’ -- J.C. Brizard
With today's announcement by Brizard, that 10 more Chicago schools were being "turned around," complete with mass firings of faculty and staff and the contracting of new management groups to take them over, a few questions come to mind.

1. In your telephone interview with reporters you say: “We can no longer defend a Chicago Public School system that fails our students year after year.’’ If that's true, exactly how many years-after-years has the system been failing its students? Is that an assessment of the Daley/Duncan years? Does it include Arne Duncan's "Chicago Miracle" tenure? Mayor Daley's Renaissance 2010 reform years? The more recent Huberman period marked by previous turn-arounds, teacher firings and mass school closings? The entire Daley era of mayoral control and top-down reform? Has it all been a bust?

2. Why do you think that more of the same, more turn-arounds, more teacher firings and more school closings  will produce different results? Any evidence in the research or from your previous experience in Rochester that firing entire school faculties improves student learning outcomes? Where can we find it?

3. Why are you and the mayor going it alone again on top-down reform? Doing it to teachers and communities rather than with them? Any evidence in the research or from your previous experience with your bungled longer-school-day initiative that the war on teachers and their union is an effective reform strategy?

4. Where are all these great replacement teachers going to come from? Do you have a thousand of them stashed away someplace we don't know about? Or is this just a ploy to get rid of veteran teachers and bring in TFA 5-week wonders who will be more compliant and take home smaller pay checks?

You have my number. I await your answers.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Principals revolt against the testing madness

NYT's Mike Winerip gives credit to Obama along with John B. King Jr., the New York State commissioner of education, for spurring what is believed to be the first principals’ revolt in history.

As of last night, 658 principals around the state had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.  
It is hard to overstate how angry the principals who signed are. Mario Fernandez, principal of Stillwater High School near Saratoga, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking.” 
Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County. said the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.” 
“I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”


Students from Cleveland High visit the Occupy L.A. site at City Hall to ask questions for their civics class.
Occupy L.A.
"It fits in with everything we're doing," said Rebecca Williams, an English literature teacher at the Reseda school. "It's a real-life movement — history in the making." --L.A. Times
Education lagging for Mexican students in N.Y.
“We are stanching an educational hemorrhage, but only partially,” said Robert C. Smith, a sociology professor at the City University of New York who studies the local Mexican population. “The worst outcomes are still possible." -- New York Times
Call him 'Grover'
"...has Bill Gates become the liberals' Grover Norquist? Just as Norquist, elected by and accountable to no one, tied the hands of the "supercommittee" with his no-new-taxes pledge, Gates undermines the authority of school boards with his pro-charter, pro-privatization contract."
Condi Rice on Racism
"It is a birth defect with which this country was born out of slavery; we're never really going to be race blind.." -- Face the Nation
Emma Sullivan (quoting Gandhi)
"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Student, refuses to apologize to Kan. Gov. after tweet

Friday, November 25, 2011

Resistance building to Rahm's school closings.

  "CPS policies have destabilized schools in our community," said Jeanette Taylor, a parent leader with the Kenwood group whose children attend Mollison and Robinson schools, both of which have been on academic probation for several years. "We're all fighting together. They aren't closing any more schools until they do right by us." -- Chicago Tribune
Resistance is building to Rahm Emanuel's latest school-closing plan. The plan -- which in effect is a school privatization plan -- calls for the closing of neighborhood schools and replacing many of them with privately-managed, non-union, charter schools. Many of Chicago's community-based organizations are organizing and rallying their supporters, in a united front with the Chicago Teachers Union, to stop the closures. Nine community groups from Albany Park to Roseland Tuesday presented a “Neighborhoods Agenda for Schools,” a wide-ranging plan that calls for significant investment in struggling neighborhood schools rather than school closures. Last Tuesday, about 40 people jammed into the lobby of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s headquarters and held a press conference to announce their opposition.

Closing down under-performing public schools in Chicago "has historically been a traumatic process, with battle lines drawn between affected communities and district leaders," writes Chicago News Cooperative's Rebecca Vevea.
"Last week at a community hearing on school closings, audience members questioned  Sicat’s decision-making power and demanded that the district invest in existing schools rather than replace them."

CTU Teach-In on School Closings Sat, Dec 03, 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM 
King College Prep H.S. 4445 s. Drexel Blvd.

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which has developed its own blueprint to improve failing schools in Bronzeville, is quoted in the Tribune saying the he and members of other local organizations met with schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and other officials this week. They tried to get him to agree to a one-year moratorium on closing schools in Bronzeville, Brown said.

Catalyst's Sara Karp writes: 

The organizations representing groups from the far North Side of the city to the far South Side issued what they called “A Neighborhood Agenda for Schools.” They want CPS to work more closely with organizations to make all neighborhood schools community schools, an effort supported by former CEO Arne Duncan to bring services from after school programs to GED classes onto campuses. They also want CPS to officially embrace Grow Your Own Teachers, which encourages people from low-income communities to go into teaching, and VOYCE, an initiative that empowers teenagers to come up with solutions to problems in schools.
"On the positive side, they are reaching out to us. But it's more about them telling us what to do as opposed to listening and exchanging ideas," Brown said. "What they want is a buy into what they want to do."
Sicat is Rahm's fall guy on school closings
The mayor has put the school closing/privatization crusade in the hands of Oliver Sicat, a 32-year-old rising star bureaucrat and former charter school principal. Emanuel actually created the new position of chief portfolio officer specifically for Sicat.

The Chicago Teachers Union will kick things off tomorrow from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. with a teach-in on preventing school closings. The teach-in is co-sponsored by Teachers For Social Justice, Action Now, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Grassroots Collaborative and Albany Park Neighborhood Council and supported by SOS Chicago and other groups of education activists.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Will test-cheating students become America's new prison population?

Schooling in the Ownership Society

If they are going to start jailing students for cheating on standardized tests, our prison system will soon swell well beyond its world-leading 2-million inmate population. Since they've made the standardized test score the single most important gateway to college and hoped for financial success, a.k.a the American dream, cheating scandals and become pandemic across the country.

Previous scandals have been reported primarily in urban districts like New York, Atlanta and D.C. The school leaders who have been found at least largely responsible for systemic cheating in their schools have certainly not been arrested. Atlanta former superintendent, Beverly Hall was fired and I have no idea what happened to the 58 principals implicated in the scandal, but none that I know off are in prison. The same could be said about N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg and his crony former chancellor Joel Klein (now working for perhaps the world's greatest cheater, Rupert Murdoch) or of former D.C. school boss, Michelle "Erasurehead" Rhee.

But yesterday it was reported that at least 20 students and former students in upscale Great Neck, N.Y. have been arrested in a SAT/ACT test-taking for hire scandal. Forty students are also being investigated. Makes you wonder how many rich kids have been taking college spots away from students who couldn't afford to hire proxy test takers? And how about those wealthy suburban schools that have no trouble making AYP?

The Sun-Times reports another suburban cheating arrest in Antioch, IL where a special-ed teacher and wife of the high school’s head football coach, charged with computer tampering for allegedly changing the grades of several students, most of whom where athletes.

And on and on it goes. So far the response has been to tighten security around the tests. This sounds like a job for the marines returning from Iraq. They could be put to work either as security guards at test-taking centers or hired as prison guards for hundreds of new student prisoners.

Or we could consider getting rid of the testing madness that turns schools into sorting and tracking machines and  precipitates cheating, and start moving towards more authentic ways of assessing how kids are learning.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The White Party

Columbia prof, Thomas Edsall writing in today's NY Times, points out that the GOP has become the "white party," armed strategically with a racist, anti-Latino, anti-immigrant election strategy. It's a strategy that worked successfully in the mid-term elections. In the current Republican primary, says Edsall, any Republican candidate that, even momentarily stumbles on this, will pay for it in the polls. Case in point was Rick Perry.
The once-ascendant Perry torpedoed his own bid during a Sept. 22 debate in Orlando, Fla., when he endorsed using taxpayer dollars to educate the children of illegal immigrants. A single sentence started him on a downward slide:
If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.
Edsall thinks that the major threat to the Republican “white” strategy is a revival of the high turnout among minorities that carried Democrats to victory in 2008. Republicans, however, are taking advantage of their newly won control of state governments across the country to enact laws designed to suppress minority turnout .

I would add an even greater threat is the reticence of Democrats to mobilize their own base and forcefully push for immigration reform. Now that Rahm Emanuel is no longer chief of staff, maybe there's a shot.

Birmingham Mayor William Bell told Democratic members of Congress at a hearing on Alabama's new immigration law that the legislation smacks of apartheid and Jim Crow laws. Bell told the lawmakers at an ad hoc hearing on Monday that the law passed this year by Alabama's Republican-controlled legislature places financial burdens on cities and could force police officers to employ racial profiling.

In an attempt to invoke the memory and passion of the civil rights movement, a group of Democratic lawmakers will stand today in a historic church in Birmingham to help rally opposition to the state's new law that seeks to get tough on illegal immigrants.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are there really too many 'mediocre' charter schools?

Right-wing think-tankers at the Fordham Institute are looking for answers and I'm sure they'll find them. You see, it's all in how you pose the question.

Their latest quest has to do with charter schools. Fordham, which doubles as a charter school lobbying and support group in Ohio, and their business-minded partners, Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust), are getting together to ponder whether or not so-called charter incubators can "can solve the problem of too many mediocre charter schools."

Right away, just by the way the question is asked, you can assume that the answer is yes. Otherwise why would they go to all the trouble to dredge up that old incubator thing from back in the early '90s? I mean, isn't this what the old charter authorizers were all about? I figure that there must be some Walton or Gates money coming on line to fund charter incubators; thus a convening of the clan is definitely in order, including a panel of the usual entrepreneurial types lining up at the trough.

But what got me most interested was the other part of the question. I mean, are there really too many "mediocre" charter schools? Let me ask this another way: Can there be too many mediocre schools, students, or teachers? Not, I would argue, if you're speaking the language of corporate school reform or Race To The Top, which has schools, teachers and even nations, competing with each other to see who's better, worse or somewhere in between. Within that paradigm, a large dose of mediocrity is required. If the middle became the top, re-norming would certainly be in order.

Many companies are built on a model which rewards a small percentage of top performers, encourages a large majority in the middle to improve, and lays off the bottom performers. If you're at all interested in the theoretical side of this business model, see "Punishing by Rewards:  When the Performance Bell-curve Stops Working For You", by a group of MIT researchers who argue that this model often actually decreases performance.

On a standard curve, most schools, whether charter or public, group around the middle or mean.  No matter what miracles the corporate reformers work, no matter how many schools they turn around or close, there will always be "too many" in the middle, with fewer at the top and bottom (or ends of the curve). This applies to teachers, schools and test-takers as well.

When Arne Duncan and Pres. Obama announced, more than two years ago, that they would solve the problem of high school "dropout factories" by closing 5,000 of the schools at the bottom, they failed to take into account that now there would still be 5,000 more schools at the bottom. What they did instead was demoralize lots of struggling schools and their dedicated, hard working teaching staffs. Even if every charter school was run by top-feeders like KIPP or even by Fordham themselves, there would still be "too many" mediocre  charters--especially if they would be pitted against one another in a Race To The Top for a shrinking pool of resources, teachers, and high-scoring students (no special-ed or ELLs, please).

We already know that, when compared with traditional schools, only about one-third of the nation's charter schools score higher. On most lists of top-performing schools, you will rarely find a charter school. So since the reformers already knew that mediocrity is a necessity in this market-driven game they are playing, and since they already knew before they posed the question, that incubators are the answer-- why then are they continuing this charade?

The early charter schools were largely experimental attempts by teachers and community-based organizations to re-think schooling and to provide a critical force for systemic change. Once the charter movement was taken over by school-reform entrepreneurs called CMOs, market forces went into full play. Starbucks-style replications, going to scale, leveraging real-estate, and vertical integration became the new lingo of charter reform. Huge charter school chains sprung up with lots of backing from powerful philanthropists, squeezing out the smaller innovative, teacher-run (mediocre?) charters. The consolidation continues. Thus, too many "mediocre" schools. The think-tankers obviously have an interest in how this question is answered.

Rahm funnels millions more away from public schools to charter operators

Autocrat Rahm is determined to teach Chicago teachers and their union a lesson. Dropping the F-bomb on CTU president Karen Lewis obviously wasn't satisfying enough for Emanuel. So now he's figured out a way to funnel $2.7 million in badly needed school funds to the operators of 36 privately managed charter schools in exchange for them jumping on his politically-driven longer-school-day band wagon.  As for the public schools -- let them eat cake.

Charter operators can each spend the $75,000 bribe from Rahm as they wish. The only string is -- you guessed it -- it can’t be used to give raises to existing teachers.

Time to Occupy the Board of Education?


University of California, Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters while blocking their exit from the school's quad Friday
Charles J. Kelly
A former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department's use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a "compliance tool" that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters "When you start picking up human bodies you risk hurting them... What I'm looking at is fairly standard police procedure..." -- Daily Kos
Newt Gingrich tells jobless at OWS
'Go get a job right after you take a bath,'" continued Gingrich, to loud applause from the audience. -- At Family Forum in Iowa
Best Practices aren't...
"There is no such thing as best practices... One of the most common reasons for pursuing best practices in a given area is to avoid having to 'reinvent the wheel.' Think about it like this – if nobody ever reinvented the wheel, we’d still be riding around on wooden rims." -- Mike Myatt at Forbes
UFW co-founder, Delores Huerta 
“Yes we have got to occupy Wall Street. We’ve go to do that, but we’ve also got to occupy the school board, right? And we’ve got to occupy the city council, right? And we’ve got occupy the Congress, right? Because this is where the decisions are made; where our money is going to go... Sí se puede — we can do it.” -- Democracy Now!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Believing the reformers

140 Chicago schools targeted 

Columnist Gene Lyons, posting at, warns us: "Don’t believe the education “reformers.”  Public schools, he says, are better than we think and efforts to quantify teacher performance are typically destructive. Writes Lyons:
All educational Miracle Cures and panaceas are wrong, and many who push them are charlatans—starting with the ubiquitous Michelle Rhee. Schools get better when communities get richer, rarely the other way around. Remember when charter schools and vouchers were going to save the world? There’s no evidence they’ve out-performed public schools. For all the attacks on public school teachers as indolent dolts who are also somehow cunning and effective political operatives, in my experience most work harder and take their responsibilities more seriously than their presumed betters in the editorial suites and CNN talk shows.
Oh, brave new world that has such noble reformers in it.
Case in Point

Last month world renown cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed for the school community at Telpochcalli Elementary School in Chicago's Little Village Neighborhood. Ma, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's creative consultant, and Damian Woetzel, a ballet star/director/producer who serves with the virtuoso cellist on Pres. Obama's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, gathered a diverse collection of performing artists at the Telpochcalli Elementary School in the predominantly Mexican-American Little Village neighborhood to illustrate the benefits of arts-based education programs.

After the performance, Ma raved about Telpochcalli. 
"The school is spreading a fabulous message," he said, noting that teaching two languages helps students see the world from multiple perspectives. "Plus you add the senses, whether it's music, it's dance, collaboration — all these things are the ingredients that stimulate the imagination. Imagination and empathy are the key ingredients to creating an innovative workforce, a student population that is absolutely curious and passionate about learning, and this school is doing it the right way."
"This is the type of thing that could really make a difference in people's lives," he said, "not just enriching but giving the fundamental values of what builds a great society."
But while Ma was looking at a wonderful, small neighborhood  school, J.C. Brizard (who attended Ma's performance) and the mayor were gazing over a list of confusing and unreliable standardized test scores. The result -- Telpochcalli has now been added to the board's list of 140 schools supposedly meeting the criteria for closing.

What a tragic loss to the community that would be.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What? Attacks on Occupiers were coordinated by Obama's people?

Mayor Quan with peace dove in hand.
Yes they were. The simultaneous and unprovoked, often violent attacks on the anti-Wall St. protesters these past three weeks, were the product of a well-coordinated plan, originating inside the Obama administration. I had suspected as much when I learned that Mayor Jean Quan was at the White House the morning of the violent police assault on peaceful protesters in Oakland which resulted in the wounding of an Iraq Marine veteran.

Rick Ellis, at the Minneapolis Top News Examiner, quotes a Justice Dept. official:
According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.
Quan admitted in a BBC interview, that her raid on the Oakland Occupy encampment, came after a conference call with leaders in 18 cities. Quan, who at first was apologetic about the violent raids, now claims she ordered them because "anarchists" had taken over leadership of the movement.

Quan's actions have now been repudiated by long-time adviser and friend Dan Siegel, who has resigned in protest.

One interesting sidebar: It appears that Justice Dept. and White House PR team waited until Obama was out of D.C. and traveling abroad before moving against the 99 percenters. Was this to shield him from the fallout once the story broke?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Asking Arne

Arne Duncan kicks off American Education Week today with a live #AskArne Q&A session on Twitter. I'm anticipating Arne's usual repetitive speed-rapping (speed tweeting?) evasive answers to any difficult questions. I'm sure his com guys will have him fully prepped with the party line and have plenty of their own crew tweeting in with puffy questions, ie. "Don't you think your Race To The Top reforms and your NCLB waivers ares the civil rights issues of our era?"

Instead, I hope someone will ask him about the recent report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, showing "no real progress in reading scores" for the city's public school students during his tenure as schools CEO.

A good Arne question might focus on another piece of Consortium report which found that racial gaps in achievement steadily increased, and Latino students, and African American students fell further behind all other groups while Duncan was in charge. Civil rights issue, indeed. (For more on this, see Julie Woestehoff's latest piece in the Chicago K-12 Examiner, "Arne Duncan "reforms" increased black-white achievement gap.")

Here's a possible #AskArne question:
You rode "Chicago Miracle" myth all the way to Washington. What do you have to say about your "reform" plan now, in light of CCSR report?
It fits perfectly. Only 137 characters.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Fred Shavies
"That’s our Birmingham. So, twenty years from now this movement could be the turning point, the tipping point, right. It’s about time your generation stood up for something. It’s about time young people are in the streets. [...] Ya’ll don’t need to throw gas canisters into a group of people occupying an intersection."  -- Undercover Cop At Occupy Oakland Condemns Police Brutality
Mitt Romney
“Sometimes you wonder, would there be someway to introduce some private sector competition, somebody else that could come in and say, you know, each soldier gets X thousand dollars attributed to them and then they can choose whether they want to go on the government system or the private system and then it follows them, like what happens with schools in Florida where they have a voucher that follows them.” -- TPM
How He made his millions
“Millions for me, a pink slip for thee,” is the playbook of many private equity firms, and Romney was one of their savviest players. -- Columnist Robyn Blumner
Rick Perry
“I will defend waterboarding until I die.” -- At Republican debate
Michelle Bachmann
"America Should Be Less Socialist… Like China." -- TPM

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chicago principals say no to Rahm's "merit pay" scheme

The mayor and his Broad Academy-trained CEO, J.C. Brizard, are trying to take a page from the  Broad  play book -- merit pay for principals.

But Rahm's divide-and-conquer strategies seem to be backfiring. I give him credit for one thing. He appears to have succeeded in doing what I thought couldn't be done -- uniting the city's teachers and principals against him and his top-down, corporate-style reform model.

First his attempted bribery of the city's elementary school teachers to g et them to abandon their union and surrender their own collective bargaining rights, was a dismal failure. Only 13 out of some 470 schools took the longer-school-day bait and that was before the threat of legal action forced the mayor to back down.

Now, his attempt to pay principals one-time bonuses on the basis of student test scores and their willingness to fire teachers, has been rejected, loudly and clearly by the Chicago Principals Assoc. Apart from the basic unfairness of such a plan, the sources of its funding are problematic. Like many of Rahm's reform schemes, this one is to be funded by private donations from a group of the mayor's wealthy pals, for whom the few million in pay bonuses is like tip-money that can be withdrawn or denied on a whim.

Another problem with test-based merit-pay is its tendency to widen racial-pay gaps. A recent report from the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office for Civil Rights has already shown a growing racial salary-gap between educators teaching in so-called "higher-minority" schools. Bonus-pay schemes like this one can only widen the gap.
“Many principals are uncomfortable with a bonus structure only given to them, when raising student achievement is a team effort,” says Principals Assoc. prez Clarice Berry
She says, there's no research to support merit pay, and she's absolutely right. Previous attempts in Chicago, under Arne Duncan, failed miserably and were scrapped by his successor, Ron Huberman. New York's $75 million merit pay experiment not only failed to boost student scores, student achievement actually declined.

With Emanuel and Brizard in charge of the schools, all pretense of research-based reform has been dropped in favor of the mayor's budget-slashing, union-busting, political agenda.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ohio leads the way: Pay attention Obama

"Ohio voters just gave public school teachers something they haven’t received in a while — respect," writes Valerie Strauss at the Answer Sheet.  
Across the country, several other Republican-backed measures were also dealt setbacks, including a crackdown on voting rights in Maine. In Wake County, N.C., voters dealt a blow to the racist Republican clique that had taken over the school board by electing a progressive Democrat and educator, Kevin Hill. In Mississippi, voters rejected an amendment to the State Constitution that would have banned virtually all abortions and some forms of birth control by declaring a fertilized human egg to be a legal person. Michigan voters recalled Rep. Paul Scott who was a front man for T-Party gov, Rick Snyder and a pal of Michelle Rhee. The new law repealed in Ohio would have severely limited the bargaining rights of more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees.

Lots of credit for its defeat goes to the Occupy Movement and the unions for re-framing the current national political debate and turning out the troops. Big losers were the Koch Bros. and other corporate interests who spent millions to pass the union-busting bill.

While the movement is non-partisan and crosses party lines, especially in Ohio, the trend is becoming clearer. The victory in Ohio, like those in Wisconsin, is energizing the labor movement and should help Democrats in 2012. But today's Democratic Party, especially its big-city mayors, appears to be as nervous about the movement as are Republicans. In Chicago, for example, Mayor Emanuel has a similar approach towards unions, teachers and other public employees as Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey. Until last night, Obama was silent on the events in Ohio.  His achilles heel is his failed education policies which amount to little more than a Bush re-hash of austerity, privatization and mass teacher firings, while using the rhetoric of reform. There needs to be a shake up in the Dept. of Education and a rethinking of anti-teacher and anti-union Race To The Top.

This morning, in what one AP journalist called, "a signal of the issue's national resonance", White House spokesman Jay Carney issued a statement saying President Barack Obama "congratulates the people of Ohio for standing up for workers and defeating efforts to strip away collective bargaining rights, and commends the teachers, firefighters, nurses, police officers and other workers who took a stand to defend those rights."

Remember Mitt Romney visited Ohio recently and said he was not sure where he stood on the issue. A day later, he said he stood against the labor unions and collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees. After yesterday's shellacking, Ohio's T-Party Gov. Kasich was contrite and is now claims he will throw his support the state's workers. Here's hoping Pres. Obama is watching all this closely and drawing the appropriate lessons. His road to victory in 2012 should be apparent by now.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Occupy Movement: Reframing the school reform debate

Taking it to the DOE

The Occupy Movement in NY has refocused the whole school reform narrative and has transformed power relationships. Where only a few months ago Mayor Bloomberg and his hand-picked administrators were able to exercise control over "public" meetings, silencing opposition from teachers, parents and community members, and dominating the mainstream media, the new movement has changed things.

Yesterday, Occupy the DOE forces made their voices heard. NY1 reports [Video]:
 A couple hundred activists belonging to a group called "Occupy the DOE," including many teachers, spent Monday night on the steps of the Department of Education headquarters in Lower Manhattan to shout demands for improving the schools. Other DOE employees, public school students and their parents also took part in the protest.
This morning's  N.Y.Times quotes Occupy organizer Leia Petty who says the grass-roots group started as a grade-in last month in Zuccotti Park to address a growing list of issues with the Education Department that included overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and school closings. Yet after the Oct. 25 meeting, it was clear that Occupy the DOE struck a chord with the public, and a nerve with the city’s top education officials.
"We want to create an agenda for the 99 percent, to strategize actions,” said Ms. Petty, 30, a high school guidance counselor from Bushwick, Brooklyn. “We came together today to realize that agenda.”
The Washington Post Business Section and Bloomberg News are also keeping a close watch on the Occupy Movement.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Rep. Maddox and Tenn. Gov. Bredesen celebrated their $500 million Race To The Top grant in March, 2010.  But now...
Race To The Top a flop in Tenn.
"I’ve never known so little about what’s going on in my own building.” -- Will Shelton, principal of Blackman Middle School
New York, New York...
"In another age, revelations that school reforms are little more than a series of phony claims that cost an extra $100 billion in taxpayer money would have resulted in some sort of political retribution. There would be cries for repealing the mayor’s dictatorial control of the schools, or cries for an investigation. Today, this is a one-horse political town." -- Marc Epstein taught history in Queens, N.Y
New white flight fears in Memphis
“I hope people can see that this is an opportunity to reflect on our history and not make the same mistakes. If people are leaving for reasons that they don’t want their children to be around children of color or children who are poor, then I say to them, ‘I bid you farewell.’ ” -- Kenya Bradshaw, advocate for educational equity
Clinton on Obama
“I’m really trying to help him,” the white-haired former president said, shaking his head, “but he seems to have lost his narrative.” --  NY Times
Paul Krugman
"That is, the protesters who portray themselves as representing the interests of the 99 percent have it basically right, and the pundits solemnly assuring them that  s really about education, not the gains of a small elite, have it completely wrong." --  NY Times

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gov. Walker got one thing right in Chicago speech -- "Rahm is echoing me..."

Protesters disguised as Republicans lay in wait for Walker  inside Union League Club
Wisconsin's union-busting governor tried to slip quietly into Chicago yesterday, to talk with supporters at the stodgy, tie-only Union League Club. So protesters donned business attire and sneaked inside and greeted Walker with chants of, "Union busting -- it's disgusting!" before they were finally escorted out by security. 

According to Stand Up! Chicago, the 70 protesters who attended the breakfast comprised almost half the total number of attendees. Outside hundreds more marched in protest of Walker's appearance. 
"It is an outrage and a shame that we sit at this fancy breakfast to listen to someone who has wreaked havoc on the lives of working families," the group said, according to a statement from Stand Up! Chicago. "Governor Walker has vilified unions and insulted the 99% who depend on living wages and adequate benefits to support their families, while on the payroll of the right wing billionaire Koch brothers.” -- Huffington

After making a 1950's Dixiecrat-style case against the power of the federal gommn't and for "states' rights," the besieged Republican governor had the nerve to actually claim that he was supported and liked by Wisconsin's unions. He obviously hadn't bothered to look out his window where hundreds of thousands of union members have been rallying all year against his policies and calling for a speedy end to his and his colleagues' political careers. The massive anti-Walker protests have spread nationwide and were in many ways, a catalyst for the current dynamic Occupy Wall Street movement.

In the end, Gov. Walker may have gotten one thing right. He came out and said what we in Chicago have been thinking for months:
“I found it amusing to be referenced in the same vein as Rahm Emanuel, the mayor, but, really, some of the reforms he’s trying to do here echo the things we try to do in the state of Wisconsin and I give him credit for that despite the fact I’m a Republican and he’s a Democrat." -- Sun-Times

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cuts have been a disaster for public ed

Conservatives hail cuts as "an opportunity"

Huffington's Joy Resmovitz reports that a UFT survey of 900 New York City schools finds that three quarters of elementary schools, 61 percent of middle schools and 59 percent of high schools had increased class sizes
"What we know is what we feared was happening," [UFT Pres. Mike] Mulgrew says. "Now, all 1 million of our students are ... having their education negatively affected by what has happened between the federal, state and city budgets." In addition to budget cuts, all city agencies were recently warned that they would have to make a total of $2 billion cuts in aggregate for the next year. -- Huffington Post
The problem is that our political leaders, particularly our secretary of education, don't believe that exploding class sizes are a problem. Get rid of him, President Obama.

Even worse, Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey and Florida for example, are pushing for even deeper cuts and the privatization of public schools. Chester Finn and his cabal of right-wing think-tankers over at the Fordham Institute  are celebrating the massive cuts.
“If states look at this as a way to really look at how education is structured, it can be seen as an opportunity,” said Chris Tessone, director of finance at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s a chance to be innovative, to rethink their staffing model. We see this new normal as an opportunity.” -- Fiscal Times
The Daily News reports that almost half of the city's middle schools bought fewer textbooks. Over a third of high schools cut advanced placement classes, electives and gym. 
“We’re suffering from these budget cuts,” said Christine Wong, a special education teacher at Public School 1 in Chinatown. She said her classes have on average jumped from 17 to 25 students this year. If these cuts continue, it will be devastating,” she said. Wong said her classes suffer from a lack of basic supplies, including copy paper, workbooks and pens.
Over at Bridging Differences, Diane Ravitch describes a district (San Diego) which has been  recovering from years of top-down control by corporate reformers.
The district is now led by a dynamic school board chairman, Richard Barrera, and a low-key superintendent, Bill Kowba. Barrera has a background as a community organizer in the labor movement, and Kowba is a retired rear admiral with 30 years in the Navy and administrative experience in the San Diego public schools. Together, they are passionate and effective advocates for the San Diego public schools.
But whatever progress district schools are making is now threatened by budget cuts.
The state legislature has slashed $15 billion in funding from California's public schools in the past four years. San Diego alone has lost $450 million since 2007-2008 and has had to lay off teachers and other staff, increase class size, and eliminate programs for children. San Diego may be forced to declare bankruptcy, along with many other districts.
The latest NAEP scores are but one indicator that the combination of corporate-style reform and massive budget cuts are failing to improve things and are instead continuing to widen the so-called "achievement gap." WaPo's Valerie Strauss suggests a new T-shirt which would read:  “My nation spent billions on testing and all I got was a 1-point gain.”

Without mentioning the Occupy Wall Street movement, Merrill Goozner, writing at Fiscal Times, believes that a political backlash is building against education spending cuts which could have an impact in 2012.
Nearly all the top ten toss-up states in next year’s presidential election have sharply curtailed their education budgets since the recession began in 2008, a survey by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities shows. And with federal stimulus money evaporating, a new round of cuts to state and local budgets are in the offing. That could turn education into a major campaign issue next year, or at least one that roils the local waters where presidential politics will play out.
It's again worth mentioning one more time that after 10 years, we are continuing to spend upwards of $2 billion a week fighting a murderous, senseless, and unwinnable Afghan war. Can we do this and still maintain a public education system in this country? Uh uh.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Oakland's general strike -- Today's teachable moment

"We as fellow occupiers of Oscar Grant Plaza propose that on Wednesday November 2, 2011, we liberate Oakland and shut down the 1%." -- Occupy Oakland General Assembly votes to shut it down.

Teachers and students are playing a central role in today's general strike. Teachers are participating in teach-ins across the city and thousands of students are planning to take part in school walkouts. Lots of schools should be closed with lots of learning going on. No standardized tests but authentic, performance-based assessments. Curriculum includes values clarification, community leadership, economics, political science (this is what democracy looks like), mathematics (percentages -- the power of 99).

Students in Philly are walking out for 99 minutes at noon in solidarity with Occupy Oakland. In New York, the New York City All Student Assembly has called for students to gather in Washington Square to express their solidarity before joining other Occupy Wall Street activists in a larger solidarity demonstration.

I don't know why I'm surprised at the total black out of the general strike on morning news show. Of course, Democracy Now covered it extensively. But not a word on NBC's Today show --  I did learn a lot about Kim Kardashian's impending divorce from Kris whatshisname. 

Oakland cops are asking Mayor Quan, "are we part of the 99% or not."  The fact that they are even asking doesn't bode well for Wall Streeters.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why do wealthy suburban schools really score higher on tests?

The longer school day propaganda continues

Stupid ed journalism doesn't get any stupider than this. The Chicago Sun-Times annual story about wealthy suburban elementary schools outscoring inner city schools carried this headline: "Top schools have longer days."

I mean kissing the mayor's butt is one thing, but you're not going to sell his 90-minutes of extra seat time plan by claiming that kids at Highland Park’s Braeside School, the highest-scoring neighborhood elementary school in the state, score higher than kids on the west side of Chicago because of a few minutes more seat time?
“The more education time, the better,” said [Beth] Bernat, mother of a Braeside fourth- and first-grader. “At this age, they are all sponges.
Sponges indeed!

What the Sun-Times failed to report was that Highland Park actually has 5 fewer schools days each year (175) than does Chicago. Students do stay in school some 45 minutes longer in HP but much of that time is spent in recess or lunch (not a bad idea). Not one high-scoring suburban district uses Rahm's 90-minute longer school day model.

Most importantly, the Sun-Times doesn't tell us that Braeside School is a small school with only 270 students, with not one of them eligible for free lunch or Title I funding. Dist. 112 spends about $13,000 per elementary school student and has 13 students for every full-time teacher, well below the state average.  The median income in this exclusively white, north shore community is $115,000 with many earning ten times more than that annually.

Ironically, even the Sun-Times own editorial board had some problems swallowing Rahm's longer-school-day crap.  
While the instructional day in Chicago (which excludes recess and lunch) is undoubtedly shorter than in other cities, we aren’t convinced Chicago is as far behind as CPS contends. No independent analysis exists... There’s broad support for a longer day. But if it’s too long, CPS could easily find itself with a lot of unproductive or even counter-productive time on its hands.
Finally, all of the suburban districts mentioned in the S-T story have the length of their school day and school year negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement between the board and the teachers union. Rahm would do well to follow that approach rather than acting out his autocratic fantasies. 

So how about it, Sun-Times. How about ALL the news that's fit to print?