Monday, December 31, 2007

Hu's in Charge Here?

Modern Wonders

I think I've seen this before, maybe at Instructivist. But Joanne Jacobs just pointed to it, and she found it at Kitchen Table Math.

It's the fabulous Educational Jargon Generator. Do you have to make a presentation at the next meeting? Dazzle your administration with phrases like "empower proactive units" or "engineer mission-critical pedagogy." Who needs an expensive and time-consuming administration degree when you've got a simple tool like this one?

If this sort of talk simply makes you nauseous, and why wouldn't it, you can inflict your pain on others (perhaps even the supervisors who make you listen to that sort of talk) with the handy-dandy "Annoy-a-tron." It's simple to use:

    3 simple steps.
  • Turn on.*
  • Hide it.
  • Muahahaha...
They're only $9.99, folks, and a great way to kick off the new year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Bob Rosner at writes that Japanese workers are some of the hardest working in the world. They total 1,842 work hours a year.

In fact, the Japanese are so renowned for work that the culture has a word for the condition known as death from overwork - it's called "karoshi."

The Japanese government has admitted 147 cases of karoshi in the last year for workers who regularly put in 70-80 hours of work a week and suffered heart attacks, strokes or other fatal health conditions as a result of overwork.

Now we "lazy" Americans don't have a term in our culture for the condition of death from overwork, but perhaps we should. It turns out that Americans actually work longer hours than even the Japanese. We work 1,979 hours a year.

That's right, Americans are now the hardest working people on the planet, having passed the Japanese in annual work hours back in the 1990's.

We are also some of the most productive workers on the planet. Productivity has grown steadily since 2000. According to the BBC

During the five years from 2000 to 2005, the US economy grew in size from $9.8 trillion to $11.2 trillion, an increase in real terms of 14%. Productivity - the measure of the output of the economy per worker employed - grew even more strongly, by 16.6%.

Americans are working longer and harder than any other people in any other industrialized country on the planet and are more productive than ever, yet the overwhelming majority have seen little economic gain from all this work and all this productivity.

According to Paul Waldman at The American Prospect, real wages in 2007 are actually lower now than they were before the recession in 2001 and barely higher than they were 35 years ago.

Millions of people lack health coverage, manufacturing and service jobs continue to be moved overseas, further undercutting any real wages gains for many Americans.

Many Americans have made up for the slim gains in real wages by taking on debt to maintain their standards of living.

Personal credit card debt in America is equal to 100% of GDP. Total credit market debt, including mortgage debt, is nearly equal to 325% of GDP.

For awhile, increases in home values helped people borrow enough money to maintain their standards of living even as inflation increased and their wages didn't keep pace. But now home values across the country are tanking and many people are suddenly finding that they own homes that are worth less than their mortgages.

Nouriel Roubini writes on his blog that we are in the midst of the worst housing recession since the Great Depression and home values are likely to fall 20% overall around the country while some of the more bubblicious real estate markets like California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, etc.) could see value declines of 40%.

While most Americans can no longer tap the equity in their homes for money, credit cards aren't much of an option either.

Credit card debt is near an all-time high and the Associated Press reported on Christmas Eve that delinquencies and defaults on credit card payments have sky-rocketed in the latter part of 2007. The worst-hit areas have been the South and the Midwest where real estate market problems and job losses have exacerbated economic problems for people. Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's, said he expects delinquencies and defaults to get much worse in 2008.

With energy and food costs at or near all-time highs (oil is above $97 a barrel; wheat, soybeans and other commodities are at highs for the year), with health care costs increasing far above the annual inflation rate, with real wage gains stagnant and with many Americans carrying astronomical debt loads, I wonder just why we are working so long and so hard with such productivity.

And it turns out that we're doing it so that the top 10% of the country - and especially the top 1% - can do better than they have at any time since before the Great Depression:

Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans — those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 — receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released tax data shows.

The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.

While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent.

The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent.

The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.

As for the really, really rich - the Mayor Bloombergs of the country - they've done the best of any other group in the last 30 years. Since the 1970's, Forbes has been tracking what it calls the CLEWI - the Cost Of Living Extremely Well index. While the Consumer Price Index (CPI) - which tracks the increase in the cost of living for average Americans - has doubled since 1982, the CLEWI - which tracks the cost of living for the really, really wealthy - has quadrupled in the last 25 years. But the amount of money the extremely wealthy have made during that time has increased ten-fold. So these days, the extremely wealthy are spending a lot less money to live as well as they did 25-30 years ago.

And you, my fellow Americans, with your hard work and your long hours and your increased productivity and your unused vacation time and your weekend work days, have brought this to pass.

Mayor Moneybags and Steve Forbes and the really, really wealthy thank you from the bottom of their greedy little souls. And the people just under them on the economic ladder, the investment bankers and the hedge fund managers and the corporate CEO's, also thank you as they hand themselves huge bonuses this Christmas and begrudge you, the average American worker, any increase in wages or health benefits.

Happy New Year everybody and take solace in one thing - at least it's not as bad for you as it is for the Little Tramp in that picture at the top of this post.

Not yet, at any rate.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

No Vacation For You

The NY Daily News reported this week that PS 15 in Springfield Gardens brought students back to school the day after Christmas for standardized test preparation.

While the test prep was optional, 175 students took part in the sessions. The Winter Holiday Test Prep ran from Wednesday, the day after to Christmas, through the weekend. The test prep sessions were 5 hours for most students, though some students stayed as long as 9 and 1/2 hours for additional test preparation.

As motivation, Principal Antonio K'Tori offered prizes for students who get the highest grades on the state's English standardized test. One of the top prizes was an Xbox 360.

The Daily News article says K'Tori believes holding Winter Holiday Test Prep "keeps pupils fresh" during their "long winter break":

"We want to make sure they stay in the fold," K'Tori said. "Having this many days off is just bad."

It sure is.

As we know from education reform groups like Whitney Tilson's "Democrats For The Return Of Feudalism," or the KIPP charter school program, inner city kids with low standardized test scores are not eligible for vacations or time away from the standardized test prep practice mills. They must be socialized to expect a future where 9 and 1/2 hour work days, little-to-no vacation time, and weekend work days are the norm. In addition, they must be socialized to expect that much of their compensation will come in the form of "performance bonuses" - thus the education reformers dangle a few prizes like the Xbox360 to help motivate students and keep them toiling long hours to raise those standardized test scores.

Never mind that human beings are more than the sum of their test scores. Never mind that spending so much time on test prep for English and math while ignoring other subjects like art, dance, music, history, science and geography harms children and creates nothing but narrowly educated students who know how to fill in bubbles and little else. Never mind that for the longest time progress in America meant Americans could make more while working less while now the billionaire businessmen/multi-national corporation CEO's/hedge fund managers/education reformers want kids socialized to believe they have to lower themselves to Third World working standards in order to compete in an era of global free trade.

We ought to be educating children to be able to think for themselves, to be smart enough, savvy enough and knowledgeable enough to know when they're being fed a bunch of jive by the people who run this country (i.e., the billionaire businessmen/multi-national corporation CEO's/hedge fund managers) and do something to fight for their own interests rather than work to make the top 5% even wealthier.

But the billionaire businessmen/multi-national corporation CEO's/hedge fund managers don't want truly educated people in America. They want people educated just enough to be able to run the offices and the services but stupid enough to continue to prop up the status quo by borrowing themselves into massive debt in order to purchase the inflated garbage the billionaire businessmen/multi-national corporation CEO's/hedge fund managers want to sell them.

In other words, they want people to be stupid enough to believe Little Tommy Friedman's "The World is Flat" theory of economics - that Americans can no longer control their own destinies and must instead lower their standards of living to those of India, China, and Sri Lanka in order to compete in this magnificent era of global free trade.

Meanwhile the billionaire businessmen/multi-national corporation CEO's/hedge fund managers get wealthier (so wealthy, in fact, that they can still collect a salary after they're dead) while the rest of us, the majority 95%, have to work longer and harder to make less than the generation before us did.

So stop wasting time reading this blog and get back to work! Don't you realize there are workers in Sri Lanka being productive while you're sitting on your butt surfing the Internets!

And as for the students, they ought to put away those lead-encrusted toys imported from China they received for the holidays and get back to standardized test prep.

The NY Sun reports that students in the Bloomberg LP Public School System here in New York are taking a standardized test as often as once every three weeks this year.

That means there's no time to waste! Get bubbling!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Arakansas Travelers

If you live in New York, you may not know much about Arkansas. You may think people there just sit around and watch the grass grow. But it's actually sophisticated New Yorkers like me spending all day in dilapidated trailers.

In Arkansas, where kids may spend a great deal of time traveling on school buses, they've converted some of them into computer labs, and kids are actually taking courses on their way back and forth.

Ethan Clement, an 11th-grader at Sheridan High School who wants to become a microbiologist, said that, until she became involved in the Aspirnaut Initiative, it didn't dawn on her how much time she was losing.

"I've been riding the bus since I was in kindergarten, up to one-and-a-half hours each way," Ethan said. "Until this program, I never really thought about it. It was the daily routine.

"But we were wasting time sitting here. This could be an opportunity for everyone. Why waste your time on the bus, looking out on the same road you've looked out at every day?"

Meanwhile, here in the big city, we're closing schools, sending neighborhood kids all over the city, building new schools on toxic waste sites, dumping kids into windowless, unventilated little hellholes, converting school properties into condos, making no progress whatsoever on test scores we can't manipulate, devoting our very best facilities to pet projects of billionaires, and literally running away from concerned parents.

Maybe the real hicks are farther east than we'd imagined.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mayor Bloomberg to Make Even More Money

For those of you who were preoccupied with whether or not Mayor Bloomberg was yielding enough income from mutual funds, your worries are over. He's going to diversify, so he'll have investments in hedge funds and real estate, among other things.

As you know, managing Mayor Bloomberg's money is a big job. That's why highly-placed public employees need to help out:

Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff is set to become second in charge of Bloomberg LP next month. And Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris and Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden have been doing free consulting for the charitable foundation.

But Mayor Bloomberg says that's OK, and with all that money, he must be telling the truth. In any case, it's not like mayors get suspended without pay on unsubstantiated allegations.

That privilege is strictly reserved for unionized teachers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Carnival of Education... up and running at History is Elementary. Go check it out right now.

Step One: Read the Paper

Should teachers follow scripts? Over at Joanne Jacobs' joint, she cites the Fordham Foundation folks, who think it's a good idea. The foundation blogger suggests doctors can use scripted formulas, so it ought to be good enough for us.

Will scripts make teachers just get in and out and get the job done? Or are teachers supposed to be "creative?" There are some interesting comments, and I was struck by that of teacher-union critic/ weirdo spy-character/ Intercepts writer Mike Antonucci:

Truly creative people in any profession are those who have mastered the fundamentals and so know what they are “departing” from.

Maybe architecture or engineering is a better analogy than medicine. Architects can be astoundingly creative, but the structure still has to stand.

I agree completely with that, and it reminded me of a quote from jazz great Charlie Parker:

You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.

While our goals may be different from Charlie's, he and Mike make the point that mastery of one's field is, or at least should be, a given. Great musicians are not necessarily great teachers, as teachers must not only know the subject, but be able to share their understanding with others. And great teachers don't require the depths of creativity of geniuses like Parker. Still, no one wants to hear musicians who can't play, and no one wants teachers who don't understand their own subjects.

Then we get to the point of "creativity," which Right-Wing Prof more or less wiped the floor with yesterday. As an ESL teacher, I'm often assigned to teach grammar to beginners. My classes heavily emphasize basic written and oral communication skills. It's relatively rare that kids resist acquiring such necessary skills, but you do see kids like that now and then. I'm often amazed to find the reading/ writing teacher (my co-teacher) giving 90s to kids who can't express themselves verbally, and who've failed every test I've given (with grades in the teens or lower).

When I approach the co-teacher, the responses I get are things like, "Oh, she drew such a beautiful picture," or "He was a big help with the bulletin board."

Now here's where I may (or may not) diverge from the prof--I don't consider the pictures and bulletin boards to constitute "creativity," but something altogether different. While it may be nice to have a bunch of teenagers draw pictures, and it may impress administrators to see them hanging on the wall, I don't see how such practices help them to learn English. On the back of my trailer are a bunch of pictures representing To Kill a Mockingbird, accompanied by descriptions that are quite obviously plagiarized. They look good, but reflect neither comprehension of the novel nor evidence that any kid involved actually read it. Don't even think about critical thought or love of literature.

Now if our goals are strictly to raise test scores, real creativity is probably of little importance. When I teach my poor ESL kids how to pass the English Regents exam, I just make things as simple as possible and then drill them to death. I haven't been able to imagine, or "create," if you will, a better way.

But if I'm teaching literature, there's more to it, and I don't really trust scripts I haven't written myself. I'm trying to share my love of literature, not that of some anonymous hack writer from Baron's prep books. Here's what I wrote in Joanne Jacobs' comment section:

I’ve followed pre-written lessons to teach math, and I did better with them, as I’m totally unqualified to teach math. But I’ve also seen pre-written lessons for novels that were total crap, and I’m fairly convinced the teacher I found using them hadn’t actually bothered to read the books he was teaching.

Scripts can vary in quality just as much as teachers. If administrators get good teachers, and stop making people like me teach math, we may not need scripts at all.

Hence, my lack of enthusiasm about scripts. If you're trying to inspire kids to love reading, there's an element of seduction, of pulling them away from the television, the PSP, the Wii, the cellphone, the Ipod, and countless other diversions. I think you have to be tricky, unscrupulous, and yes, creative, to accomplish a goal like that.

Second graders can read scripts. Teachers ought to be held to a higher standard than that. There are, in fact, some people who think teachers ought to be untrained replaceable cogs. I'm not one of them.

I want people who know their subjects to teach. I also want people who are smart, people with quick minds and good judgment teaching my kid and yours. Let the organ grinder's monkey follow a script.

Good teachers can do better.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas to All

and to all a great year.

From the entire staff here at
NYC Educator!

And if you're not yet in the spirit, here's a heart-warming holiday story for y'all.

Monday, December 24, 2007

"You Can Clap for Teachers, That's Good"

You don't hear a lot of talk like that nowadays, unless you're paying attention to John Edwards. Here are a few more quotes:

"It's a fact that having a good teacher is the single most effective way to improve a classroom."

"We give (teachers) too little control over their classrooms."

"Teachers are heroes for dedicating their lives to our children, but heroes have to pay the bills too. Instead of helping teachers overcome problems, some people talk like teachers are the problem."

And here's the speech it came from. It's well worth a view:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

NCLB Could Be Left Behind

Or so says the New York Times today. Democratic candidates are not showing a lot of enthusiasm for the law, and here's a reason likely to surprise no one:

...polls show that it is unpopular — especially among teachers, who vote in disproportionate numbers in Democratic primary elections, and their unions, which provide Democrats with critical campaign support.

Now that's teachers nationwide, of course (We're not talking about the United Federation of Teachers, in which fewer than 25% of teachers even bother to vote in union elections). Even Obama, who's cozied up with faux-Democrat Cory Booker and "reformer" Michael Bloomberg is saying there need to be changes.

For those of you feeling nostalgic over the imperiled NCLB, here's a brief quiz:
1. In the No Child Left Behind Act, Congress authorized a $5.6 billion spending increase for low-income children. However, President Bush budgeted only $1 billion for Title One. If Title One calls for $2,800 per poverty-level student, how many children are left behind?

a. 0

b. 1

c. 7

d. 1,643, 857

2. Teddy threw his support behind the No Child Left Behind Act because George had promised to fully _____________ it. When George presented his budget, Teddy felt _____________.

a. undermine, excited

b. comprehend, appreciative

c. transcribe, Betty

d. fund, betrayed

3. Correct the punctuation in the following sentence: "George W. Bush is the President who, in God's name, will protect our children."

a. The sentence is correct

b. George W. Bush is the President who in God's name will protect our children.

c. George W. Bush is the President. Who, in God's name, will protect our children?

d. George W. Bush is the President. Who, in God's name, will protect our children?!

Extra credit to anyone who can identify the author of this quiz, a current candidate for office.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Another Song and Dance...

...featuring the inimitable talents of Jimmy, Randi, Leo and Mike.

Click here, and be patient (it takes time to load).

Thanks to David Belell

State Fails City Schools That Received "A's" and "B's" On Kleinberg Report Cards

The NY Daily News reports this morning that the state is failing 61 high-poverty and 4 low-poverty city elementary and middle schools.

The state hasn't released the list of failing city high schools yet. That list will come next year.

When the failing high schools are added to the failing elementary and middle schools, the total is expected to outnumber the 421 city schools listed as failing by the state last year (out of 1,348 evaluated schools.)

To be fair, the state did expand the testing criteria that was used for judging schools and offered that as an excuse for why more city schools were added to the failing list this year.

Nonetheless, here is how the Daily News characterized the story:

The report is a sting to Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who have trumpeted improvements in test scores and graduation rates as proof that their sweeping school reforms are working.

Many of the schools the state judged to be failing did well on the city's new and controversial school grading system.

Of the 65 schools added to the list, nine earned an A from the city, 21 earned B's and only four earned an F.

Anybody notice a trend when it comes to these statistics?

When Bloomberg and Klein control the lists, the stats, the report cards and/or the testing methodologies, the city does wonderfully and Bloomberg's education reforms are helping kids make progress.

Yet when the state judges the same schools that Bloomberg and Klein handed "A's" and "B's" to, many of them are listed as failing.

And when the feds released the NAEP tests, the results show the city has made little-to-no progress on test scores since Bloomberg took office (as opposed to the state tests which show "great progress" for city students according to Bloomberg and Klein.)

And then there are the graduation rate accounting methods Bloomberg and Klein use - simply don't count the kids who don't graduate and the city graduation rates skyrocket!

Hmmm- looks like Bloomberg and Klein brought their own Houston Miracle to New York City.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another Proud Achievement for Mr. Klein

Halfway through the school year, NYC School Chancellor Joel Klein has managed to reduce the number of oversize classes from 4300 to a more manageable 1000+. Imagine, just a little over a thousand classes where kids don't have seats. Perhaps they should produce a TV commercial proclaiming yet another victory for the "reformers."

Now this is based on DoE data, which is completely reliable. That's the same data they use to tell us that test scores have improved since Mayor Bloomberg took over. Never mind that NAEP data indicates otherwise. In any case, there are good reasons for those oversized classes and overcrowded schools.

First of all, there are always sports stadiums in need of building and expansion. Second, it's important to take buildings owned by the school system and convert them into condos. Finally, it's vital to devote prime school space toward charter schools, and as charters need small class sizes, they need more space than public schools. In any case, there are various toxic waste sites around the city which will eventually be transformed into public schools.

So remember, everyone, it's sports stadiums first, condominiums second, charter schools third, and then it's check out the toxic waste sites for the children, because in Mr. Klein's New York, it's always "Children First."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

UFT Defends Liebman

Edwize, to its everlasting disgrace, has become an apologist for James Liebman, running two articles in one short week which defend him. Amazingly, this comes right on the heels of Samuel Freedman's devastating column.

First, "Maisie" wrote a piece about how Mr. Liebman was "smart and decent," and incredibly, defended him by explaining he was just following orders. I can recall cases where that defense proved ineffective. Most recently, they got a student to write for them, putting forth the preposterous suggestion that our supposed unwillingness to compromise was somehow setting back the issue of class size.

Actually, Mr. Liebman has blatantly tried to spin class size, the number one concern of parents (on his own survey) into a secondary issue. He has declared that reductions that do not reach 15 or less are ineffective. Anyone who has not seen him spar with Patrick Sullivan at PEP ought to. In fact, the consistent failure of this administration to act on class size more or less speaks for itself.

The student refers to the administration's "search for results." Perhaps that refers to the outright lies about class size on television. While the class size issue has certainly not been addressed, this administration takes a do-or-die view of test scores. And though NAEP results suggests they've been utterly ineffective, I've yet to notice Mr. Liebman or his bosses taking responsibility.

With all due respect to the student who wrote this, he’s sorely mistaken about the UFT’s willingness to compromise.We compromised when we supported mayoral control, and the results have been abysmal, despite expensive TV campaigns that declare otherwise.

We compromised when we allowed teachers to be placed in the absent teacher reserve rather than be assigned to new schools.We compromised when we agreed to support reorganization number three, the one that forces principals to consider salaries of incoming teachers, and almost certainly leaves even more senior teacher to languish in the absent teacher reserve. In fact, in 2005 we compromised so much that we earned the admiration of anti-union, anti-teacher zealots like Rod Paige

I'm afraid that any implication we are unwilling to compromise is sorely misplaced. If there's one thing the UFT knows, it's compromise. I realize students may be unfamiliar with our history, but I'd hope the publishers of Edwize would know something of it.

I suppose, though, I’d hope in vain.

Or maybe their priorities mirror those of Mr. Liebman.

It's hard to decide.

Mr. Bloomberg Gives an A

Spurred on by several astute commenters, I checked out the "On Education" column in today's Times. Inquiring minds want to know how a school NY State labeled as "persistently dangerous" could get an A from the great minds at Tweed. Jim Liebman, last seen running away from a group of concerned parents, had a ready explanation:

The A grade, though, may also have something to do with the fact that the progress reports weigh all safety factors as only 2.5 percent of a school’s total grade, said James S. Liebman, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer. He has said the department decided not to give safety more consideration because statistics on school violence rely on self-reporting and tend to be deceptive.

Interesting that the safety of NYC's 1.1 million public school children is only worth 2.5% to this administration. In fact, according to Mr. Liebman, being on the list of 52 persistently dangerous schools is actually a good thing:
Only a school that keeps track of its disciplinary incidents will compile enough examples to make the state list, he said. Ms. Ault, the principal, offered the same explanation. Some teachers, however, say they were dissuaded from reporting incidents.

Well, it's an imaginative theory, in any case, and it certainly sheds light on precisely what Mr. Bloomberg looks for in an "accountability officer."

This is one of the "academies" that's recently popped up as Mr. Bloomberg's panacea. Now the one in the commercial I keep seeing says it's passing almost all of the kids that go there, while the school it replaced passed almost none. And it has nothing to do, I have to suppose, with the fact that all the failing kids were replaced. At least that's the impression it gave me. But the school Freedman describes sounds like something from a Fellini film:

During the 2006-7 term, 13 of the 16 teachers were in their first year. The principal, Ms. Ault, had never led a school before founding Applied Media in 2005. She previously coordinated special education at a charter school in Harlem that was shut by the state for academic deficiency.

Still, Applied Media showed student progress on its standardized tests.

One reason for the improving scores, Ms. Ault said, was that during the period of test preparation in the late winter and early spring, she removed the “most disruptive” students from their regular classes. Dmitry Terekhov, a teacher, said: “The A we received is a testament to the teachers. We got the job done.”

That they did. But it appears when test prep is not in session, the approach to disruptive students is one of utter indifference.

“The administration would be telling you that it would all fall into place if you had a better lesson plan or more student engagement or arranged the desks in a U shape,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter how good your lesson plan is if the kids can’t even stay still long enough to write the ‘Aim’ and ‘Do Now’ off the board. There are no repercussions. There is no punishment fitting the infraction.”

While I've learned not to expect much, or indeed anything, from administration, the fact is it's their job to support teachers, particularly new teachers. As new teachers constituted almost the entire staff, that's a big job. I guess big jobs are easier when you don't do them, just like the rent is not so high when you don't pay it.

And that's today's lesson, apparently, in Mr. Bloomberg's New York.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Around the Blogs

The teacher who writes Syntactic Gymnastics is on a sinking ship. At school, the principal blames individual teachers for the systemic decline of school tone and atmosphere. The UFT district rep offers lip service but nothing else. If anyone has any advice for this smart but frustrated teacher, offer it here.

Ms. M. has a quandary--to give a "holiday packet, or not to give a holiday packet?

And Taylor the Teacher believes in the power of education blogging (Full disclosure--So do I).

The Grand Tradition

Preuss at UC San Diego is a nationally acclaimed charter school. Its grades are outstanding, its training of kids impeccable, and its leaders are miracle workers.

Its methods follow in the footsteps of great reformers, like Rod "The NEA is a terrorist organization" Paige, who oversaw the "Texas Miracle" (which helped GW Bush acquire the White House). Mr. Paige managed to sharply reduce the dropout rate by erasing dropouts from the record books. Mr. Paige, of course, with no background as an educator, is still recognized as an authority on education.

The Preuss School emulates the methods of the most prominent reformer in the country, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mr. Bloomberg has managed to close schools and shuffle kids all over the city. When he closes a school, he fills it with new kids, and voila! The new kids all speak English, and waddya know, they get higher scores than those kids who came from El Salvador six weeks ago! It's a miracle! But strangely, on tests he can't blatantly manipulate, Mr. Bloomberg makes no progress whatsoever. Mr. Bloomberg managed to sharply increase the graduation rate by excluding dropouts from the record books. Mr. Bloomberg, of course, with no background as an educator, is still recognized as an authority on education.

So, when the renowned Preuss Charter School was audited, one reason for its amazing progress became clear. In the grand tradition of Mr. Page and Mr. Bloomberg, its leaders had cooked the books:

About 420 grades at the Preuss School have been inaccurately recorded in the past six years, reflecting a system with insufficient internal controls and pressure on teachers to pass students, according to the audit, to be released today

The "pressure on teachers to pass students" is the same method uber-reformer Mr. Bloomberg's been using, and one of his principals was foolish enough to commit it to paper a few days back. One of Mr. Bloomberg's reforms is to give kids credit for "seat time." Apparently, if kids sat in the classroom, whether or not they paid attention or did work, they ought to do a project for a few days rather than actually take the class again (And given the unconscionable overcrowding that has typified Mr. Bloomberg's tenure, whether or not the kid actually had a seat was irrelevant).

The new paradigm for schools is that they must improve every year. Even if they do consistently well, they need to do consistently better. As Diane Ravitch noted yesterday, that's plainly absurd. We'd be better off asking our schools to do well consistently, and allowing passing rates to go up and down from time to time.

And until a more reasonable standard is established, schools will continue to get results the old fashioned way. They'll cheat.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Psstt...Check these Out!

ICE-UFT has a very interesting post about letters in your file. Check it out.

And here's a unique point of view about the lead teacher situation.

Thanks to Schoolgal.

Grading Mr. Bloomberg

The New York Sun features an op-ed piece by Diane Ravitch that confirms my worst suspicions about Mayor Bloomberg's short-sighted grading system. This is the same pattern the mayor used for his first reform, and he appears to have learned nothing from it.

The grading system itself is questionable because it awarded high grades to many schools on the state's and federal government's failing lists while stigmatizing some highly regarded schools with grades of D or F. More than half of the nearly 400 schools that the state or federal government has identified as academically weak received an A or a B. At the same time, 99 schools that are in good standing with the state and the federal government received a D or an F from the city.

The city's grading system produced some other odd results. For example, I.S. 289 in Tribeca, the only middle school in the city that was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its superior performance, received a D. And P.S. 35 in Staten Island, a school where more than 85% of students regularly pass the state tests, was labeled an F.

The reason for these strange outcomes is that the city gives greater weight to improvement than to performance. High-scoring schools are handicapped by what is known as the "ceiling effect." If their students score consistently well on the state tests, a one-year dip in the scores can get them branded with a D or an F.

What happens to a school in which 100% of the students pass these all-important tests? Well, if fewer than 100% pass the following year, under this absurd system, it could be "failing," just like the above-mentioned school in Staten Island.

A lot of local parents actually know which school are better and which are worse. That accounts for schools like mine, bursting at the seams and accepting additional students as though there were a place to put them. That accounts for the regular class size violations at schools like mine, and to a lesser extent, the little-known contractual loopholes that permit them.

But overcrowding and class size don't figure into this mayor's calculations. That's because you can't blame unionized workers for such ills, and under this mayor's grading system, they're the only souls accountable for anything. In fact, when Mayor Bloomberg's chief accountability officer has to deal with real parents, he picks up his briefcase and heads for the hills.

Mayor Bloomberg has devised an elaborate system of assigning blame that has little to do with accountability. It's his fault, entirely, that the dysfunction of this school system has yet to be addressed. Though he can continue to blame schools, even schools that are doing well, the fact is there's been no substantive improvement under his watch.

And expert though he may be at blaming others, the unconscionable overcrowding, the highest class sizes in the state, the wasteful hours spent at pointless meetings, the very worst school facilities in the area, and an unparalleled expertise at passing the buck will be his true legacy.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Now That's A Pep Talk!

Earlier this month, Late Night With David Letterman Musical Director Paul Shaffer showed up on the picket line to pump up striking members of the Writers Guild. Here's his pep talk, courtesy of the LateShowWritersOnStrike blog:

"I am happy to be here. I support you. You people are show business. And if I may, I have a personal message for the AMPTP: I can accept your unchecked avarice at the expense of the creative community. I can deal with your petty and juvenile half-truths and your dime store manipulations of the collective bargaining process. I can set my watch by your bullying, which comes with the frequency of a bodily function. But when you hold my daytime dramas, my stories, my soap operas if you will, hostage, when you f**k with The Young and the Restless, you f**k with Paul Shaffer. And that, my friends, is a fight you cannot win.

Thank you, and God Bless the Writers Guild of America."

I hope you're taking notes, Randi.

POSTSCRIPT: Word tonight is that David Letterman has negotiated a settlement with the Writers Guild that will allow him to go back on the air in early January with a full complement of writers.

Letterman, a strong supporter of the writers union, has been paying staff for both the Late Show and the Late Late Show as well as rent for the Ed Sullivan Theater and insurance for all of his employees while the strike has been ongoing.

Because he owns his own production company and is union-friendly, the Writers Guild is prepared to grant Letterman an interim agreement and allow him back on the air.

It's good to see David Letterman appreciates the contributions of his writing staff and understands the importance of unions and collective bargaining.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It Came from New Jersey

It lurked about, inconspicuous to the naked eye, anonymous, incognito, waiting for precisely the right time. It waited, like a crocodile, until it found the perfect moment to pounce. There is was, looking like every other car on the parkway, when suddenly it found its moment. It pulled out of the right lane, got ahead of me, and drove slowly. I mean really slowly, slower than its former companions in the right lane.

After a while, I realized what its plan was. It planned to keep right on driving slowly. I determined a course of action--I would speed up and pass it on the left. So I changed lanes, sped up, and lo and behold, it started going as fast as I was. I was trapped. What could I do? I got back behind it. Why not? It was keeping a reasonable pace. But then--ohmygosh--it slowed down again.

Fortunately, I was near my exit, so I decided to put up with it for a little while. But it took the same exit I did, went up the ramp, got to the green light, and stopped. Right there at the green light. I tried to pass it, but just as I did, it moved. It made a left turn, one that I was going to make, but I went straight, even though it took me out of my way.

I'm safe, for now. But beware. It's still out there.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Eliot Doesn't Get It

After having supported Eliot Spitzer for governor, the UFT proudly declared on Edwize, "Eliot Gets it." I voted for him enthusiastically, as he'd done a lot of talking about class size reduction, which I've always supported. However, when he actually got into office, he started talking about menus---class size reduction or a longer school day or a longer school year. The whole bait and switch approach didn't much appeal to me.

The UFT praised class size legislation as a major victory, though careful reading of its own article indicated there were no real consequences for failure to deliver, or reduction of less than one student per class. Now, months after this dubious accomplishment, the UFT is calling for class size reduction in schools that need improvement. This is a huge step backward, particularly in comparison with the "victory" it loudly declared all those months ago.

What else has our pal "Eliot" got in store for us? Well, the NY Sun reports the following:

The city's schools, which just received their first letter grades from Mayor Bloomberg, next year could receive a whole new set of judgments — this time courtesy of Governor Spitzer.

To be considered to have met federal No Child Left Behind benchmarks, New York schools now must only prove to the state that their students are scoring at a certain level. The new formula being developed in Albany — called a "growth model" — would require they also show improvement from one year to the next.

Now everyone wants improvement, and everyone wants their kids to do better in school. How many of us have not met the parent whose kid got a 99 and who wants to know why the hell she didn't get 100? And therein lies the problem.

In my school, 90% of the kids might pass the English or math Regents exams. But if we fall to 88% the next year, such a system might determine we are failing. In fact, under the first Bloomberg/Klein reorganization, and for just such a 2% drop, we were selected as a school in need of supervision. But other schools with much lower passing ratios were declared to be improving.

We might go up to 92% next year--who knows? But it's normal to have a little ebb and flow. I happen to think there are factors other than grades that speak to a school's quality (or lack thereof), but systems that rely on test scores need to recognize consistent excellence (or consistent mediocrity).

Certainly parents know. That's why my school is at over 250% capacity and growing by leaps and bounds, while some "improving" schools have plenty of space.

But where would you send your kid--the school that's gone from 90 to 88, or the one that's gone from 60 to 64? If you were basing you decision solely on test scores, the answer would be simple.

If you were looking for reasonable class size, you might want to check into a school labeled as failing, because they appear to be the only ones slated for attention right now. And even so, I wouldn't hold my breath while waiting.

More on the Wire

There's been some lively conversation about this post, and we've even got a genuine Baltimore teacher commenting on it. I've yet to see the show myself, but here's a short clip that may indicate why it resonates with NYC teachers. Here's another. After you watch them, you may want to see the whole thing.

I know I do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

7 Things About Me

Dr. Pezz asked me to write this. I tried to pawn it off on co-blogger reality-based educator, but he screamed at me, made vague allusions to committing violence against my person, and, most egregiously, demanded an immediate and substantial raise. As I'd pegged him for a communist, this was very disappointing indeed. So here goes:

1. I'm fanatical about bluegrass music.

2. As a result, I will go anywhere, do anything, to play fiddle with good bluegrass bands, and money (or abject lack of it) is no object.

3. As a result of that, I spend an awful lot of time hanging around with redneck banjo players, and studiously avoid any and all discussion of politics or education. In any case, many banjo players believe all education begins and ends with Earl Scruggs (and if you don't know who he is, shame on you).

4. I spent several months in Switzerland as a backup musician for the daughter of a very famous writer. Regrettably, she never became nearly as famous. She recorded a song I wrote, promised to pay me money for it, and never did. Perhaps she pegged me for a communist (There's a lot of that going around).

5. I started out licensed as a high school English teacher. But NYC, after one semester as an English teacher, assigned me to teach music, math, special education, and music again. Then they made me teach ESL, which I loved. I've since become certified to teach ESL and Spanish.

6. I'm good with classroom control. As a result, a former supervisor told me she was going to remove me from ESL and make me teach all Spanish 1 classes, since the Spanish teacher couldn't control them. If I refused, she promised she'd give me a schedule that would preclude my second job as a college instructor. I got a UFT transfer to another school (Sorry folks, but we gave them away in 05). When my next supervisor, who I adored, asked me to please teach a Spanish class because the other teacher couldn't control it, I said "Sure."

7. We adopted a little girl from Colombia. Although we stupidly did it ourselves, without lawyers, or help, or knowing what we were doing, it's turned out to have been the best thing we've ever done. I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone.

I will not assign anyone else to write this, as RBE now has me too frightened. But if anyone wishes to do so, please be my guest.

And if you've never heard Earl Scruggs, for goodness' sake, watch this:

Keep an Eye Out

The CDC and the FDA just recalled a million doses of the Hib vaccine for children.

Every year, 14 million doses of the Hib vaccine are given in the U.S.

The Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib vaccine) prevents serious bacterial infections, including:

  • Meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord
  • Pneumonia, a lung infection
Apparently, the vaccine itself may be contaminated with bacteria.

The federal government says there's no problem just yet, but can I recall one or two high-ranking feds making mistakes before. If you have young children who need this vaccine, be very careful about where it may have come from.

Ithaca Loves Teachers

That's good news, I think, particularly after reading all those NY Post editorials. And Ithaca wants you to spend the February break, where else, in Ithaca.

Get the details right here.

Pass More Students

The NY Daily News reports that a principal at an East Harlem high school sent a memo out to teachers telling them that they aren't passing enough students and need to dumb down their classes and pass more:

"If you are not passing more than 65% of your students in a class, then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities," Principal Bennett Lieberman wrote in a Nov. 28 memo to teachers at Central Park East High School. "You are setting your students up for failure, which in turn, limits your success as a professional."

The memo, obtained by the Daily News, urges teachers to review their homework and grading policies, and reminds them that "most of our students ... have difficult home lives, and struggle with life in general. They DO NOT have a similar upbringing nor a similar school experience to our experiences growing up."

One of the benchmarks the DOE uses to measure how well schools are doing is credit accumulation.

If students don't pass classes, they don't accumulate credits. And if they don't accumulate credits, the school does not do so well on the school report card. And if the school does not do well on the school report, the principal gets fired, the staff are dispersed and the school is closed.

So principals and assistant principals are putting pressure on teachers to pass more students.

In talking with friends of mine around the system, I know that Central Park East High School is not the only school in the system where teachers are being told to pass 90%+ of their students.

Homework, attendance, test scores - all of these benchmarks are out the window in the new "Pass More Students" movement coming from principals and assistant principals.

And yet, I'm not sure how dumbing down classes and pressuring teachers to pass students who don't deserve to pass their classes makes schools better or improves education.

But under the Bloombergian education reform movement, this is exactly what is happening.

As for Principal Bennett Lieberman, a graduate of the mayor's Leadership Academy, he apparently hasn't learned what many other principals and assistant principals have learned over the years - never put orders like "Pass More Students No Matter What!" in a memo which the Daily News can get its hands on.

POSTSCRIPT: Central Park East High School is one of 200 New York City public schools where teachers will receive merit pay if the school meets certain benchmarks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

See Jim Run

Run, Jim, Run.

Jim runs fast.

See Mommy chase Jim.

See Daddy chase Jim.

See all the 6,652 mommies and daddies chase Jim.


Run, Jim, run.

Thanks to David Bellel

Related: Over at Edwize, Maisie apologizes for Jim Liebman, calling him "smart and decent," and maintains the public school parents were "grandstanding." Does the UFT leadership agree the accountability officer is accountable to no one for anything? Is it really their job to defend those who blatantly try to bury the issue of class size?

Feds Look To Get Rid Of Bloomberg Manipulation Of NAEP Exam

The NY Sun reports that federal officials are looking to create a single standard for how to decide which students are excluded from testing for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam and which receive special accommodations, such as extra time or permission to take the test in a small group.

The revisions to the testing standards come as a result of Department of Education officials in New York City giving extra time and other modifications to 20%-25% of students who took the NAEP exam while just 5% of students received extra time and additional modifications nation-wide.

The NAEP exams are considered the "gold standard" of standardized tests for elementary and middle school students, but officials who oversee the examine say discrepancies undermine the test's purpose and the standards for the exam must be uniform across the nation:

One board member, James Lanich, said not having a reliable standard prevents states and researchers from drawing lessons from the NAEP results. Without knowing for sure which states are performing the best, lessons on which policies to pursue are harder to grasp, he said.

Studies have shown that excluding students can unfairly inflate test scores, though the effects of accommodations are unclear.

NAEP officials admit that trying to enforce one national standard for the NAEP exam may be impossible to do and probably could be overturned if states or municipalities challenged the standards in court.

Nonetheless the Sun article says a voluntary compact among states and municipalities to follow the same standards for the exam could be a workable solution. Such a voluntary compact
agreeing to measure high school graduation rates by a single standard was signed by 45 state governors in 2005.

The article concludes with an NAEP expert, Richard Innes, noting that some states or cities might not want to sign up for such a voluntary compact for fear of having to abandon generous accommodation policies that help inflate scores.

Mayor Michael Bloomerg's New York City is one such area.

Ironically, New York City's NAEP scores have actually stayed stagnant during the Bloomberg years despite huge gains in state test scores and despite Bloomberg's Education Department quadrupling the number of students receiving testing modifications compared to what other areas give.

Here's a chart from the NY Times showing the divergence between state scores and scores on the NAEP:

Notice how much better city students do on the state tests than the national tests?

Notice how little students have improved on the national tests during the Bloomberg years?

Anybody wonder what those national test scores would have looked like if Bloomberg didn't have the option to dole out extra time and other testing accommodations to 20%-25% of the students taking the test?

Anybody wonder how likely Bloomberg and the state pols are to agree to national standards that take away their testing accommodations options?

Anybody really believe Bloomberg and the state pols are going to allow accurate test scores to be reported when they can manipulate the testing standards and artificially inflate the scores?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Wire Season 4

by guest reviewer Schoolgal

When a TV show isn't afraid to show the reality of teaching, it gets my attention. A sub-plot of season four deals with a former Baltimore cop who becomes fast-tracked as a Junior High School math teacher in an inner-city school. The administration welcomes the fact he was a former cop and hires him right on the spot. Despite his background, he cannot control his class.

Along comes another character... an academic with a grant under his belt. He and his team are given permission to pull the most disruptive students, or "corner kids" out of classes and put them in a controlled environment. The result--the cop is finally able to teach. He is able to motivate his students as well as conduct workshop style lessons--that is until the whole school must put teaching on hold to prep their students for the upcoming assessments. Sound familiar?

Although he worked hard with his students, they score what is the equivalent of 1s and 2s. This teacher did everything right, but still his students could not pass. Why? The series delves into the home and street lives of these students. Those forces (drugs, poverty, abuse and of course crime) outweigh any progress he can make.

The "controlled class" does not follow any curriculum. Instead, the facilitators' objective is to socialize the students so they can function in the real world. Unfortunately the superintendent, who only wants to see immediate results, puts an end to the experiment. Now these students must also follow the test prep schedule. The superintendent fails to see this experiment as "valid teaching" because to her, test results are more important.

After the final episode, I watched the DVD's bonus features. The show's creator was both a former cop and teacher. The producers as well as the actors and some Baltimore politicians examine what is wrong with the education system. And guess what? They were all pro-teacher. They didn't place the blame for failure exclusively on the teachers. They expressed respect and gratitude for a very difficult job under difficult circumstances.

My question is, why close so many NYC schools and displace all those teachers? If the system needs revamping, include those teachers in the process. Not everything should be about scores. The overall development of the child should be our first objective.

It's sad when a TV drama understands the needs of teachers and students more than our own mayor and union president.

Running On Empty

The NY Daily News reports that a high-ranking DOE official, after repeatedly stating that the Department of Education is responsive to parents at a Monday City Council hearing, fled through a side door "with parents in hot pursuit."

The official - Jim Liebman, the DOE's chief accountability officer - ran down three flights of stairs and circled around and around a courtyard with parents and reporters following him.

The parents - part of a group called Time Out From Testing - said it had collected 6,652 signatures from parents upset about school report card grades and wanted to give the signed petition to him.

The Daily News reports that Liebman at first refused to comment on the issue "as he tried to slip through the gate that separates City Hall from the Tweed Courthouse."

Later Liebman said he thought another DOE staffer was going to collect the petition and that in any case the scene in the courtyard "was not a moment for a reasonable, calm exchange of information."

Lisa Donlen, an elected parent leader who was at the City Council meeting on the school report card program, said Liebman's flight from parents was "indicative" of the way the DOE treats parents:

"He wouldn't even stay to hear our questions ... after we sat for three hours and listened to his testimony," she said.

The News reports that during the hearing most Council members said parents in their districts were opposed to the school report card program but felt their views were ignored by the mayor, the chancellor and the Department of Education.

And then the DOE's chief accountability officer, who is apparently accountable to nobody for anything, crystallized the DOE's treatment of parents with his cowardly flight away from them.

I have two things to say here:

First, it's good to see the City Council and parent groups hammering the mayor's ridiculous school report card program that hands out "F's" to schools like PS 35 in Staten Island (where 86% of students passed the reading test and 98% passed the math test.) And it's good to see some in the news media reporting on the contemptuous way people in the mayor's administration and at the DOE treat anybody who doesn't wave the pom-poms for the mayor's reforms.

Second, none of this matters if City Council members and other politicians rubber stamp autocratic mayoral control when it comes up for renewal in '09.

If parents and politicians want the DOE and the mayor to be responsive to somebody other than themselves, they will have to write that into legislation by taking away some of the mayor's autocratic control of the school system.

Low Rent Swift Boat

Here's how rumors are created---First someone takes your message out of context, and misinterprets it completely. That's what Eduwonk did yesterday, when he suggested the aim of this post was to "begrudge KIPP teachers" of their five day trip to the Caribbean. Anyone who'd bothered to read the post could see that my criticism was directed toward KIPP's leaders.

To buttress his position, Eduwonk used this link to claim the trip was not taken with public money. Only problem is--that's not at all what the link says. What it says, exactly, is this:

Although officials at the charter school told auditors the trips in 2005 and 2006 were funded by surplus funds from private and not public sources, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said documentation was lacking to support those claims.

For a good rumor, you need others to extend the misinterpretation. Having read Eduwonk's post uncritically, his very first commenter managed to extrapolate that I was "profoundly anti-teacher." Perhaps this was because I suggested KIPP teachers work too hard and aren't paid enough. Perhaps it was because I bemoaned their complete and utter lack of job protection. Maybe it was because I thought they ought to be able to travel with their families rather than their supervisors.

Or maybe it was because he (like Eduwonk, perhaps) hadn't actually read the post very carefully. The commenter concludes thusly:
NYC educator, if your school produced results like KIPP, I'd want you to be given a trip to the Bahamas also. Until then, I'd prefer that you not assault the character of a group of outstanding educators, who deserve that trip and more.

Again, the very worst thing I suggested about KIPP teachers was that they were overworked and underpaid. Oh, and I called some of them "loyal." Still, it's quite a stretch to interpret that as "character assault."

As for my school, it's regrettable Eduwonk's commenter opts to speculate on topics about which he knows nothing. As it happens, my school is one of the very best regular high schools in the city, and our test results (a big factor for KIPP enthusiasts) are consistently excellent. Furthermore, individual kids don't need to be at our school from 7:30 to 5, and can have lives after school (just like their teachers).

Despite his apparent good wishes, I don't suppose that commenter will send me an airline ticket anytime soon.

By the way, as a direct result of the short-sighted policies of "reformer" Mayor Michael Bloomberg, our school's mushroomed to over 250% capacity. I can only hope that whoever replaces him puts an end to that trend, as our school is something well worth saving.

Related: PREA Prez weighs in here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

There's No Free Lunch...

...only there is, actually, in public schools. Every year my school district sends me a free lunch form for my daughter, and every year I duly toss it in the trash. I happen to know I make too much money to qualify, so why bother filling out an extra form? Anyway, my daughter refuses to eat the school lunch and prefers to bring her own.

But a lot of kids in my district qualify, and perhaps that's why they had representatives from tutoring programs stationed at the door of my daughter's school one day. Now on this day, my wife happened to be taking her home, and a guy from a tutoring company offered her free tutoring. She said we probably made too much money and wouldn't qualify, but eager sales guy said no, everyone qualifies. As the price was right, she signed up.

The next week, the company mailed us a two-dollar plastic headset to hook up to the family computer, and my daughter commenced her tutoring. She spent two hours talking with the folks who run the program and several kids from her class. She wrote one paragraph that no one checked, corrected or criticized (except me, after the class).

As it happened, I have a little experience with extra help programs. A few years ago, when my daughter was struggling, I put her in a program called SCORE, run by Kaplan. That was a good program, but this was crap. Still, she said she enjoyed it, and it didn't seem to hurt anything, so with great effort, I kept my big mouth shut.

Three days later, we got a call from the company. Apparently we didn't qualify after all, and would we please send them three hundred bucks so my daughter could continue this valuable program? My wife, who is much nicer than I am, politely declined.

The next week, my daughter's teacher suggested a program of some sort for my daughter. It cost money, but we could send her for free if we qualified for free lunch. My wife called me and I told her not to waste her time. But she figured we had nothing to lose and filled out the form anyway. The following week we were approved for free lunch, though my income is at least double what it ought to be to qualify.

The day after we were approved, the tutoring company called, and congratulations to us, we didn't have to pay the three hundred bucks after all. Unfortunately for them, I happened to pick up the phone, gave the gentleman a few choice words about leading my daughter on and disappointing her, and hung up. However, this was a question of money for the guy, so he kept calling back.

It was very important I hear his side of the story. He shouldn't have said everyone qualified, that was his fault, but this was a great opportunity. I told him I thought his program was a waste of time, my daughter was involved with school activities, sports, and other things, and I'd just as soon let her watch TV as chat with his employees. He asked what I knew about education. I hung up, and he called back (note to self--buy phone with caller ID for attic office).

I'm not sure whether or not these programs are an offshoot of NCLB. When I complained to my daughter's school, the principal characterized this particular company as "overly aggressive." I told her he was an opportunistic dirtbag with no business hawking his wares in a public school. She apologized, but said she had no control over who came in with tutoring programs.

It's a disgrace such lowlife companies are granted access to our kids. They aren't properly screened, if indeed they're screened at all. With a minimum of effort, we could do a lot better.

Freedom of Speech Is Slavery

The NY Sun reports that one of the city's oldest independent educational watchdog groups - the Educational Priorities Panel - is closing because Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have created an environment where criticism of their educational policies is not tolerated.

The city contracts out a huge number of services to community groups. Many of these groups will not criticize city policy for fear of losing city contracts or losing funds from other groups that receive city contracts.

According to the Sun, the closing of the EPP next month reflects both trends:

The longtime executive director of EPP, Noreen Connell, said one challenge was the number of members who stopped participating in advocacy efforts after the mayor took control of the schools. "A lot of the people who were contractors or very close to the Bloomberg administration were not participating in EPP any longer," she said.

A member of EPP who represented the Presbytery of New York City, Cecilia Blewer, said member groups' discomfort with taking a hard line against certain policies led the EPP to dampen some criticism — and, on some issues, such as mayoral control of the schools, to avoid speaking out altogether. "There was a timidity that didn't used to be there," Ms. Blewer said. At the same time, outside support also dissolved.

The president of the teachers union, Randi Weingarten, said EPP's dissolution is a punishment for speaking plainly. Reports from the group have objected to the Department of Education's new per-student funding formula, criticized its move to empower school principals as treating them too much like private contractors, and characterized claims that the city is pushing more money into classrooms as overstated.

"They actually spoke truth to power, and I think they got hurt for it," Ms. Weingarten, said.

Bloomberg supporters claim EPP's closing has more to do with the group "wrapping itself so tightly around the 'more money for schools issue'," that once that lawsuit was won and the state was forced to give more money to city schools, the group was no longer relevant.


Or perhaps the word is out that if you say anything bad about Big Brother Bloomberg and his education policies, the no-bid contracts the city loves to dole out to contractors and vendors will be at risk.

It's not exactly like Bloomberg is saying you can't criticize him or his policies.

He's simply saying you may not want to criticize him or his policies if you want to do business with the city or receive funds from other groups that do business with the city.