Sunday, July 31, 2011

Murdoch And Klein Game The System

The NY Daily News reports that News Corporation, the media and news conglomerate owned and run by Rupert Murdoch, has gamed the political system to get a no-bid contract for its educational division:

More than a dozen private firms wanted to work on a project like the one the state Education Department is set to award to a Rupert Murdoch-owned company in a $27 million no-bid contract.

Agency officials have cited "an extremely challenging time line" in their decision to partner with News Corp. subsidiary Wireless Generation to build a data system of student test scores and other information.

The Daily News has learned that the agency has explored the project for at least two years - proof, critics say, state officials had ample time to competitively bid out the contract and still meet a fall 2012 deadline for a federal Race to the Top grant.

"It raises all kinds of questions," said Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause New York. "There appears to be time in this process to go through a much more open-bidding process to ensure that the public is getting the best vendor at the best price."

The News has also learned that Wireless Generation paid as much as $5,000 a month to lobbying firms to advocate for the contract and Race to the Top funds with state officials.

The biggest lobbying Murdoch could have done for this business was to hire Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City schools and a big proponent of Wireless Generation, to run the education division of News Corp. that now owns Wireless Generation.

In 2009, Klein had handed Wireless Generation a contract for School of One, a computerized education program that Klein said would help create "a school system where instruction was individualized by cutting down on the number of teachers and relying more on technology."

This contract was extended in October 2010 by the DOE, just one month before Klein resigned from his chancellorship of the NYCDOE and announced his hiring by News Corporation and a month and a half before Murdoch's News Corp. bought Wireless Generation.

Rupert Murdoch has been a wizard at greasing the wheels for much more lucrative deals in the past then this one (after all, $27 million is just chump change to Murdoch), but don't kid yourself, Murdoch and Klein envision a very profitable future for their for-profit online education division.

In a speech he gave in June, Murdoch said he expects News Corporation's education division to become "a leading provider of educational materials within five years, aiming for about 10% of total revenue to come from this source."

Now that Murdoch has dropped his bid for BSkyB, the British satellite broadcasting company that would have added billions to News Corporation's profits, Murdoch may need the extra revenue from his education division even more.

The loss of the BSkyB deal came as fall-out from the phone hacking scandal that is embroiling Murdoch's News International company in Britain.

Allegations that Murdoch's employees at his British newspapers hacked into the phones of murder victims, victims' families, politicians, celebrities and others, bribed the London Metro police for hacking information, and subverted justice by paying off cops charged to investigate News International and politicians have Murdoch's empire in Britain reeling.

Murdoch has already shut the newspaper at the center of the scandal, News of the World, and may be forced to sell his remaining British newspapers in addition to losing the BSkyB deal.

Ten people have been arrested in the scandal, including the former editor of News of the World and one of Rupert Murdoch's closest allies in News International, Rebekah Brooks.

Murdoch named Joel Klein to head an internal News Corporation investigation into the hacking scandal. Klein can be seen at the photo at the top left seated behind Rupert Murdoch's son, James, as he testified to Parliament back on July 19 that he knew nothing about a cover-up of the phone hacking scandal.

James Murdoch's testimony has since been disputed by former News International employees.

The scandal, seemingly isolated to Murdoch's British News Empire, has crossed to the United States in the last few weeks when allegations surfaced that News International employees may have hacked into the phones of 9/11 victims.

Representative Peter King (R-NY) asked for the FBI to investigate the allegations and the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the matter. In addition, Murdoch's Wall Street Journal reported that the SEC may be opening an investigation into News Corporations' business practices and the Daily News has reported that employees at the NY Post have been advised by the editor to save any information related to the hacking case for an internal News Corp. investigation.

Les Hinton, the former chairman of News International during the period the phone hacking scandal was alleged to have taken place and the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, was forced to resign from the paper over the scandal earlier this month.

All of this brings me back to just how Murdoch and Klein, still engulfed in a phone hacking scandal that has seen new allegations that News International employees hacked into the phone of a murdered girl's mother News International itself had given her, can be winning the $27 million no-bid contract from the New York State Department of Education when the rest of the News Corporation Empire is so scandal-ridden.

And the answer is of course the same as how Murdoch got away with so much criminal activity in Britain for all these years.

He's got politicians like Andrew Cuomo in his pocket as allies to do his bidding for him, he's manipulated the political process by using his media empire as a bludgeon over the heads of politicians who don't give him what he wants, and paid off the right people either with campaign contributions or jobs.

As John Nichols wrote about Murdoch's political influence in The Nation:

As in England, Murdoch and his managers have for many years had their way with the American regulators and political players who should have been holding the mogul and the multinational to account. Sometimes Murdoch has succeeded through aggressive personal lobbying, sometimes with generous campaign contributions (with Democrats and Republicans among the favored recipients), sometimes by hiring the likes of Newt Gingrich (who as the Speaker of the House consulted with Murdoch in the 1990s) and Rick Santorum (who as a senator from Pennsylvania was a frequent defender of big media companies), sometimes by making stars of previously marginal figures such as Michele Bachmann.

Former White House political czar Karl Rove, who prodded Fox News to declare George Bush the winner of the disputed 2000 presidential election and who remains a key player in Republican politics to this day, still works for Murdoch, as does former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a prospective GOP vice presidential candidate.

But Murdoch is not the rigid partisan some of his more casual critics imagines. He often discovers unexpected political heroes or heroines—such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a former target whose 2000 US Senate run in New York and whose 2008 presidential run earned surprisingly generous coverage from the New York Post and Fox after Murdoch determined that she was on the rise politically. The Clinton embrace was classic Murdoch. He plays both sides of every political divide. But when he is not aiding and abetting the party of the right he looks for conservative and centrist figures (Britain’s Blair, America’s Clinton) within traditional parties of the left. The point, always, is to assure that those with power are pro-business in general and pro-Murdoch (or, at the least, indebted to Murdoch) in particular.

The strategy has been so successful that, even now, there is some debate about the extent to which Murdoch’s influence will diminish in the United States.

Murdoch has taken that strategy into public education by hiring former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, by using his Americans news outlets like the NY Post, the Wall Street Journal and FOX NEWS to promote the meme that public education is a failure that can only be saved by radical reform of the system, and aggressively lobbying behind the scenes for business deals and radical education reforms like tenure changes that will help his for-profit online K-12 education division grow into the moneymaker he envisions.

So far, it's still working in education even as Murdoch sees his news divisions here in the U.S. come under scrutiny for the hacking case and his British division come close to collapse.

In fact, News Corporation is sponsoring an education conference that will promote online K-12 education as well as give Republican 2012 presidential hopefuls a platform to air their views on the issue:

NEW YORK - Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and not-for-profit the College Board said Tuesday that they will work together to make education reform a top issue in the 2012 presidential campaign with an event that will give Republican candidates the opportunity to outline their vision for improving the U.S. education system.


To help set the agenda, the two organizations said they will co-host The Future of American Education: A Presidential Primary Forum here on Oct. 27, which will be televised and streamed online. It is timed to coincide with the College Board’s annual national forum, which attracts representatives from educational institutions across the country.

All Republican primary candidates "who meet a threshold level of support in national polls" will be invited to participate in the event, the companies said.

“Whoever is elected President in 2012 will need to take dramatic steps to improve the way we prepare our students for college and ensure our nation’s ability to better compete in the global economy,” said News Corp. chairman and CEO Murdoch. "This forum will provide a great opportunity for candidates for the Republican nomination to articulate their plans to achieve these goals."

Klein and the Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot will host the forum.

This conference was announced before the phone hacking scandal broke wide open, so we'll see if News Corporation remains a public sponsor of the event or if Klein remains one of the hosts now that he has become a very prominent face in the Murdoch damage control team.

But the point of all of this remains whether this education conference comes off or not.

Murdoch is creating a very profitable environment for his online education business by denigrating public schools in his media, buying off the politicians to get them to change labor laws and regulations to help promote this business (just as he has done with the media enterprises in the past in both Britain and the U.S.) and hiring the right people with the right connections to promote his education business as an alternative to the public school system.

The Wireless Genration/ARIS contract is just a little glimpse into that very corrupt process and Murdoch and Klein should NOT be allowed to get away with this, NOT after the phone hacking, NOT after the bribery of the London Metro police, NOT after the conspiracy to subvert justice in Britain, NOT after all the political manipulation and chicanery.

The Murdoch phone hacking scandal points us toward the future.

It is not only time for a Murdoch-free news media in Britain.

It is time for a Murdoch-free education system here in America.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Obama Fails The Value-Added Evaluation Test On The Economy

I don't know if President Obama is smoking cigarettes again, but given the dismal performance he has turned in as president so far, I wouldn't be surprised.

But before I get to his performance as president, let me give you a little background on how the president views career performance as it relates to education.

President Obama is a big proponent in "accountability."

As president, he has championed education reforms that "hold teachers and schools accountable," that use hard data (i.e., test scores and graduation rates) to evaluate which teachers and schools are effective and which aren't - or, in the phrasing of the current crop of education reformers, which teachers and schools are "adding value" to their students and which aren't.

Those teachers who aren't deemed "effective" by a value-added evaluation system based upon test score and graduation rate data Obama wants fired. Doesn't matter if there are mitigating circumstances like poverty or social or emotional issues that make educating some students a difficult proposition - in Obama's view, either perform or move on. And if teachers won't move on themselves, then they will be fired and their firings will be cheered by Obama himself.

So that's where the president stands on education and teachers and schools - he is squarely in the "No Excuses" camp of reform. Raise test scores or be fired. See graduation rates rise every year or be closed. No excuses for not "adding value" to students.

Applying these same standards to the president's performance in the White House, I wonder if the president thinks he has "added value" to the country as president.

Obama was elected while the United States was on the brink of a financial collapse brought about by the bursting of the housing bubble.

The economy was in recession, investment banks were going out of business, there was a credit crisis on Wall Street as the markets seized up, millions of people across the country were facing foreclosure, and the unemployment rate was increasing at a rapid rate.

The IMF at the time called the crisis the worst since the Great Depression.

The unemployment rate at the time of the election was 6.8%. The Obama administration pushed for a $787 billion stimulus package in the early months after the inauguration, claiming that if the stimulus was enacted, unemployment would stay below 8%, the country would emerge from recession and the economy would recover a modicum of stability and growth.

How has that worked out?

Well, the country did emerge from recession and the stimulus did help increase GDP for a brief time - but the key word here is "brief."

GDP data released yesterday showed an alarming trend:

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — A new government report on the nation’s output showed the economy in much weaker shape than anticipated, casting doubt on the strength of the expected recovery in the final six months of the year.

Gross domestic product expanded at a paltry 1.3% annual rate in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday, below the 1.6% growth rate that economists anticipated.

But it was a drastic downward revision to first-quarter GDP growth that stole the show — and set economists on edge.

The new data on the inflation- and seasonally-adjusted value of all goods and services produced in the United States showed the economy barely grew at all in the January-through-March quarter, rising just 0.4% as opposed to the initially reported 1.9% improvement. At the same time, the government said the recession proved to be deeper than initially projected.

Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo, called the GDP report a “game-changer.”

Congress might have to temper its zeal to slash government spending as part of any increase in the debt ceiling, he said.

“It does raise some legitimate questions how quickly we can rein in government spending without doing more harm than good,” Vitner said.

The GDP data may have been a game-changer at Wells Fargo, but it hasn't been a game-changer in Washington.

Indeed, President Obama is still calling for a big debt deal that will cuts trillions of dollars in government spending and raise Social Security and Medicare eligibility rates while cutting benefits, moves guaranteed to decrease GDP growth even more in the coming months.

Unemployment, which Obama said would never go above 8% if his stimulus package was enacted, stands at 9.2%. The unemployment rate hit as high as 10.1% in October 2009, trended downward for a while (but never below 8.8%) and then spiked up again (see this chart for the trend.)

Given the amount of dollars the federal government is going to have cut from expenditures and given the number of government layoffs happening at the state and city levels, I think we can safely say that the unemployment rate isn't going to improve anytime soon.

In fact, it could get a lot worse - there are some indications that even as governments at the city, state and federal levels lay workers off, cut salaries and force unpaid furloughs onto employees, the private sector is beginning to cut the workforce too.

What we have happening here is alarming - the economy is veering closer to recession once again, governments are cutting expenditures, consumers continue to cut back on spending because they don't have any money and the private sector is not only NOT hiring, they are beginning to shed jobs again.

And what is President Obama - the Teacher Accountability President who lives by the value-added data and claims there are "No Excuses!" for failure in the public education system - doing about all of this failure in the economy?

He plans to make things worse.

He's trying to compromise with Tea Party Republicans to cut trillions more from the government and pushing to have Social Security and Medicare benefits cut and eligibility ages increase at a time when many unemployed or underemployed people really need these programs.

He has cut hundreds of millions from food stamps so that he can put money into his signature pro-public school privatization Race to the Top policy at a time when many more people need food stamps.

And he champions the Republican Party economic theme that the worst problem the country faces is its debt, that if the debt is cut the economy will improve both for the nation and for its citizens.

Paul Krugman shows how short-sighted and damaging that view is:

The GDP estimates for second quarter are out, and they’re ugly. Basically, very weak growth for the first half of 2011 — indeed, growth well below the economy’s potential, so we’re actually losing ground in the effort to reduce the gap between what we should be producing and what we’re actually producing. This is a recipe for rising, not falling, unemployment.

What’s causing the stagnation? A big factor is falling government spending: “government consumption and investment spending” has been falling sharply as the stimulus runs out and state and local governments slash. Anyone talking about fiscal austerity should know that in practice we’re already doing it, with the usual results.

So given a stagnant economy suffering from falling government spending, what is all our political debate about? Spending cuts! After all, we have to appease those invisible bond vigilantes, who are suckering us in by cutting long-term rates to 2.87% as of right now.

Obama has brought us stagnant (and now falling) GDP growth, unemployment much higher than that under George W. Bush (and much higher than he said would occur if his stimulus was passed), an unemployment rate that will increase in coming months as governments across the country cut spending and employees, trillions in austerity measures that will make the lives of many of the most vulnerable much worse even as he has extended the Bush tax cuts for the richest in the country, and, worst of all, is trying to do lasting damage to Social Security and Medicare that Bush could only dream about doing.

While the president works to push these austerity measures through, he continues to spend trillions on three separate wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

I wonder if we stopped dropping "Freedom Bombs" on Libya and pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq, there would be extra money in the budget for, you know, stuff here in America like infrastructure?

Well, we'll never know because Emperor Obama intends to continue with his Endless Wars policy ad infinitum.

By all value-added measures I can see that we can use to evaluate this president, he has been a miserable failure.

After the president and the Congress come to some compromise on austerity measures this week, you can bet things are going to get financially worse for most Americans before they get better.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the country fall back into recession (though no economist has yet warned of that - rather they talk about long-term stagnation a la Japan.)

If Obama was a teacher in Central Fall, Rhode Island with these kind of "value-added numbers," he'd call for himself to be fired.

Instead, he's running for re-election.

So much for Obama using "value-added accountability measures" on himself.

I guess only teachers are really accountable for outcomes and data these days.

Friday, July 29, 2011

It's Buddy Day

So hooray for me and screw you, buddy. My father brought that saying back from WWII. I was stuck watching quite a bit more CNN than any human should this week, and after watching the virtual circus of the US Congress unable to muster enough adults to come together and form an agreement to save the credit of the country, I'm amazed that we put up with their nonsense. I haven't heard it mentioned, but I'm certain that they will all get paid as the country goes down the tubes.

How can we accept this? Has Fox News managed to seduce enough of us to believe that we need not pay our debts as long as the very wealthy get tax breaks during good times, bad times, war times, and now, in crisis? Why on earth would an economic policy that applied no matter what the circumstance have any validity? Are we really that credulous?

The big question, of course, is will we make these people pay come next year? Does Obama deserve another chance to waste his and our time trying in vain to come to an agreement? Did any of us really vote to put Social Security and Medicare "on the table?"  It's tough to imagine an alternative in this two party system, but we surely need one. We need grownups in charge, and they're becoming increasingly hard to locate.

(On another note, special thanks to Miss Eyre and Reality-Based Educator, two of the best bloggers and smartest people I know, for covering while I was unavailable.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

There Is Power In A Union

I went to see Billy Bragg last night at Lincoln Center's Big Busk.

The show, courtesy of corporate sponsors Bloomberg and Pepsico, was quite good, with lots of people playing their own guitars and singing along to great busking material like "Tracks Of My Tears" and "Cecilia".

In the middle of all the busking music, Billy threw in his own "There Is Power In A Union," a song with the following lyrics:

There is power in a democracy, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is a power in a Union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers' blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities to the farmlands in the trenches full of mud
Cuz war has always been the bosses' way sir

The Union forever defending our rights
Let's fight the Right Wing, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a Union

I couldn't help but think of the irony of Bragg singing a song about the power of union members sticking together to fight the bosses at a show sponsored by ace union-buster and NYC Boss, Michael Bloomberg.

I also couldn't help thinking about the irony of all those union-busting Educators4Excellence members who were denied tenure at the end of the school year because the NYCDOE and the man who runs it, ace union-buster and NYC Boss Michael Bloomberg, made a political decision to deny tenure to as many young teachers as possible to make a strong political statement about the tenure system.

The NY Times reports that Bloomberg bragged at a press conference at Tweed yesterday about how 42% of teachers who were up for tenure were not given it.

Most of those teachers were not denied tenure outright, but they were extended for another year.

The mayor says this is because these teachers "are not up to our standards yet," but the Times reports some teachers denied tenure this year say the process was flawed and unfair:

Some teachers complained that the evaluation standards were unclear. At one middle school in Manhattan, for example, teachers were given two weeks to prepare portfolios of students’ work, with little guidance.

One math teacher who has a business background said she had rushed to put together a three-inch binder of student work to submit along with other data, including a number of satisfactory evaluations. But she may have been penalized, she said, because her students’ standardized test scores dropped in her second year. Speaking anonymously because she feared retribution, she said that a decision on tenure for her had been deferred. Only about 15 percent of those who qualified for tenure at her school got it.

The Times also reports that Michael Mendel, the secretary of the UFT, stated that principals were told to deny tenure to teachers if they did not get a chance to observe them enough or if the principals were new to the school.

In addition, Teacher Data Reports were used for tenure decisions for teachers of math or ELA in 4th-8th grade.

Gotham Schools reports that if a teacher was not rated effective or higher on this report, they were not granted tenure no matter how glowing an evaluation they were given by their principal.

The value-added methodology used to create the evaluations for these reports, btw, has a large margin of error, perhaps as high as 36%, so it is quite possible that lots of teachers who received glowing reports from their principals were denied tenure because a flawed test score data system was unfairly used to evaluate them.

And that's how I would term a system with a 36% MOE being used to evaluate people for high stakes career decisions - "unfair" and "flawed".

In addition, many excellent young teachers may have been denied tenure because word came down from Tweed that Boss Bloomberg wants low tenure numbers this year so he can give a big speech about how he has transformed tenure into an Ironman competition that only truly "excellent" teachers can pass and pontificate about the same on Meet The Press the next time Fluffy invites him on the show.

It seems to me that a political decision was made to screw lots of teachers out of tenure this year and then the data and paperwork were manufactured to back that decision up.

Which brings me back to the Billy Bragg performance of "There Is Power In A Union" I saw tonight.

As he was singing it, with the logo Bloomberg emblazoned all over the stage, I couldn't help but think of all those Educators4Excellence members who may have been denied tenure not because they are bad teachers, not because they don't deserve tenure, but rather because the mayor made a political decision to screw them and then the DOE minions in the TDR department and the principals in the schools created the numbers and "data" to back that decision up.

I remember back during the layoff battle how many of those E4E members argued in the media that "objective data" like Teacher Data Reports should be used to decide who gets laid off and who gets to stay.

I remember saying then that there is no such thing as "objective data" in the hands of dishonest people like Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, or Cathie Black, that they will manufacture data and make it fit whatever political or economic decisions they have already made and screw the teachers they feel like screwing.

During the layoff battle, when Bloomberg wanted to lay off expensive veteran teachers, especially ATRs, the data would have been fiddled with to make that point (and help out the E4E's.)

But with tenure, the mayor wants to screw younger teachers, so the data is skewered in such a way to back that story up (and hurt the E4E's.)

Now if all teachers stuck together - young, old, veterans, newbies - and fought Boss Bloomberg as one big entity rather than turned on each other like the Educators4Excellence have (with the help of lots of funding from the hedge fund criminal class and the Gates Foundation), maybe the mayor would have a harder time justifying these jive-ass political decisions that have nothing to do with reality but simply help him make his political points (in this case, that teachers suck.)

I do hope some of the Educators4Excellence and other young teachers denied tenure this year come around to see that there is indeed power in a union and that if workers don't stand together and fight the bosses, they will continue to be exploited and screwed and beaten down, as Bloomberg is doing with the tenure process, as he does ever year with the layoff threats.

After the show last night, I bought a couple of cds and had Billy Bragg sign them for me. I told him I was a member of a teachers union and was heartened to hear him sing "There Is Power In A Union," especially since it been such a bad few years for union members.

He nodded and said "You've got to stick together and you've got to keep the faith, mate!"

And that's what I would say to my young teacher friends who were denied tenure this year for no other reason than that the oligarch who runs things wanted it that way.

We teachers have got to stick together and we've got to keep the faith.

It's a powerful message and there is history to prove that it works when it's followed.

It's a powerful song too and here's part of the performance of "There Is Power In A Union" by Billy Bragg last night from Lincoln Center:

If you listen carefully, right at the end, that's me yelling "Screw Bloomberg! Screw Bloomberg!"

The rest of what I said, though it is cut off on the tape, is this:

"He's a unionbuster! He's a unionbuster!"

That's a powerful message too and there's history behind that as well.

In fact, more of that was made during Bloomberg's tenure speech at Tweed yesterday.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bedbugs, Roaches, Etc., Better Yourselves

So some of the city schools have bedbugs. Not bad enough that we have mice, rats, and roaches; no, we have to have bedbugs too, now. I'll be fair and state that most of the bedbug cases are not what you would call "infestations," but rather incidents of one or two bugs that schools by law must report. Still, though, schools do need to be better about pest control in general, particularly during these warm months when the bugs tend to be worse.

Schools in particular that are not vigilant about food and drink stand at worse risk for pest problems. It bothers me a lot that not all teachers in my school, for example, disallow food and drink in the classroom. Yes, I know children come to school hungry sometimes, but no moral imperative says students should be allowed to eat in the classroom. Sure, give the kid breakfast--in the cafeteria. Keeping food in a controlled and frequently cleaned area helps to keep the bugs away.

Also, we have to discourage kids from bringing in sugared and flavored beverages. Not only are most of them full of empty calories, but the sugar also attracts bugs if the drink is spilled and not cleaned up properly. I allow water bottles in my room, and that's it--plain water. Students don't seem to see the connection between the bugs they complain and scream about and the food wrappers and sticky spills they create when they're allowed to drag their bags of snacks everywhere. Pest control in schools is everyone's business.

Now, if the bug is sitting there quietly with a notebook and a pen, ready to take notes, I suppose I won't throw a dictionary at it. But otherwise...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Back To Black

The news that R&B singer Amy Winehouse died this week came as no surprise to anybody familiar with her from the news.

Tabloid stories of Winehouse's drug and alcohol abuse, her abusive relationship with her ex-husband, and an alleged eating disorder had many sadly expecting to hear of her demise.

A video of her smoking crack surfaced on one of the Rupert Murdoch owned sleaze sites and recently she was forced to cancel a tour when she was booed off the stage for slurring and staggering her way through a performance.

She was just 27 when she died.

She didn't leave much work behind - just two albums, one live album, an EP, and a smattering of b-sides and remixes that have found their way onto reconstituted deluxe editions of her albums.

I'm embarrassed to say that until a few days ago, I didn't know that work at all.

I know, I know, where have I been?

I guess I need to get out more.

Or at least listen to something recorded after 1980.

I think I've just hit that stage in life where I tend to listen to what I listen to and explore particular periods of music from the long-gone past and leave the rest of the stuff to the "kids".

Very middle-aged of me.

Lately I have been listening to a lot of R&B from the late 60's and early 70's - particularly stuff released on the Stax record label.

So Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, Sam & Dave, William Bell, and Booker T. and the MG's have been on the heavy rotation list.

I have also been listening to lots of stuff recorded at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals in the late 60's and early 70's - records by people like Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and those first demos by Lynyrd Skynyrd that were recorded there. And stuff by the guys who worked there, like Eddie Hinton.

Very Extremely Dangerously.

I dunno, this stuff passed me by when I was a kid growing up in the early 80's in Rockaway, Queens and I feel like I owe it to myself to delve into some really great music and some really great history.

So I'm reading this book about Stax records by Rob Bowman called Soulsville U.S.A. while I listen to all this great music.

I have a habit of doing this kind of thing with music every summer I've been a teacher.

I tend to build my summer music listening and reading around a particular period and genre of music.

I've done this in the past with reggae (Marley, Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Burning Spear, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Junior Murvin, the Congos and younger bands like Black Uhuru and Third World, et al.), 60's psychedelic Brit-pop (The Beatles, The Pink Floyd, the first few Bee Gee's albums, the Move, et al.), 70's 2-Tone Ska (The Specials, Madness, the Selecter, the English Beat and their later offshoots, General Public and Fine Young Cannibals, et al.), Motown (especially Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, but also more "minor" Motown acts like the Marvelettes, the Velvelettes and the Supremes post-Diana Ross) - the genres I've spent my summers on go on and on.

One summer I listened to every Beach Boys album from Surfin' Safari to The Beach Boys Love You over and over, with special attention to (of course) Pet Sounds and my personal favorite, Holland. Side projects by Brian Wilson and Wilson collaborators were also on tap that summer, people like Jan and Dean, Gary Usher, the Rip Chords, Bruce and Terry and the Sunrays. I read the Peter Ames Carlin biography of Brian Wilson that year and also read (very slowly) the musical study of Brian Wilson by Philip Lambert. That was a summer's summer, if you know what I mean!

Another year I focused on Arthur Lee and Love after falling heavy for Forever Changes. I allowed lots of Doors music that summer too, since they shared a record label and a city with Love. No drugs for me, but plenty of weird scenes inside the goldmine that summer.

Another year after a rather horrific romantic break-up, I decided the Bakersfield sound was "it" - lots of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Tommy Collins, Wynn Stewart and Dwight Yoakam for me. Oh, and Wanda Jackson too. I was a "lonesome fugitive" that summer, pushing through those "swinging doors" and hitting "skid row." Lemme tell you, the music got me through and even now, whenever I hear Buck or Haggard I get this bittersweet feeling that puts a smile on my face and makes me sad at the same time.

I love my summers when I get to dig into some music and just really hear it. Not once, not twice, but over and over until it enters the core of my being, the very fiber of my soul.


But I guess looking back at the music I have listed, I spend so much time exploring the past, trying to inhabit a particular period and hearing the music like I was back "there" that I miss out on what is "now."

I must admit, I don't have much music in my collection by anybody under the age of 50.

I used to think that the Drive By Truckers were in that category until I found Patterson Hood was older than me (and has a bigger gut too!)

So they don't count.

And really, the rest of my collection of music is by people even older than that.

So I never heard Amy Winehouse's music until just this week.

Not once, not even in a store or somewhere else in public.

I knew her name from the newspaper headlines but just associated it with the tabloid stories and assumed that she was some soulless pop confection created in a corporate office, part Lindsay Lohan, part Paris Hilton, part Blah Blah Kardashian.

Not the kind of person I'm going to listen to or look for in the (gulp!) record stores I inhabit in my spare time.

But after hearing her work all I can say is, boy was I wrong about her and her music.

I have had her album Back to Black on about a dozen times the last two days.

The breadth of the music, the lyrical references to Donny Hathaway and Ray Charles, the horn arrangements that recall Stax and Motown, the vocal arrangements that sound as if Phil Spector or Brian Wilson could have devised them - wow, Ms. Winehouse and her producer Mark Ronson really knew how to put together a record that sounds simultaneously contemporary and yet rooted to the past too.

And the ska EP she released, with the stylized black and white label that pays homage to 2-Tone Records and the Specials - whew!!!

I wish I had heard these records when they were first were released rather than now that she is gone.

I know that I have become enamored of her work because of its ties to the past - the echoes from Stax, Motown, the 60's girl groups and 70's ska bands - that sound familiar and comfortable to me, so I guess in a way, listening to Amy Winehouse isn't all that much of stretch from listening to the Staple Singers or the Carla Thomas.

But what the hell, it's really terrific to hear somebody under the age of 30 knowledgeably dig into music made by people 50, 60, 70, 80 and beyond and reconstitute it into something contemporary while still paying tribute to it too.

I wish she hadn't died so young, but I guess dying at age 27 ties her to the rock n' roll past as much as her music does.

After all, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain all died at that age.

Pigpen from the Grateful Dead too.

I do know that I'll be listening to her two albums for the rest of this summer, as well as that ska EP, and enjoying them right alongside all that music from Stax and Muscle Shoals.

Her music is really that good.

If you're like me and you've been under a rock for the last decade, you should listen to her too.

Here, I'll start you out:

Monday, July 25, 2011

It's July 25...Do You Know Where All the Stuff in Your Classroom Is?

A few days ago, I was chatting with a new manicurist at the beauty salon about my job. (This is a Miss Eyre post, by the way. I'm sure NYC Educator's nails are always very nice, though, too.) I said that I wasn't teaching summer school, though summer school is going on back at my school, and I had taken every possible precaution against summer "borrowing"/relocating/disapparating of my classroom stuff. I described the steps I had taken and she, perhaps slightly taken aback, responded that my efforts seemed quite thorough.

I'm a bit of a pack rat, and the lack of Teacher's Choice this year makes me ever more so. Not to brag, but I have what is probably the best classroom library in my school, accumulated now over the course of 4+ years, much of it with my own money, sweat, and time that was NOT reimbursed. And that's really fine. I love it when kids have a wide variety of books from which to choose; I even secretly love it when a few of those books walk away every year, never to be returned, because a kid liked a book so much that s/he wanted to keep it. But will I have some slightly unscrupulous colleague, or a summer school student that I don't know, wandering off with my books? Call me selfish, but no.

Still, I can't help but worry. I refuse to set foot in my school for a couple more weeks yet, but I continue to be concerned about what is going on there in my absence. My old school was much stricter with the folks who used our facilities in the summer than my current school seems to be, not to mention the fact that my classroom could still be relocated entirely by the time the first day rolls around.

At least there's air conditioning in there, though. If there wasn't, I imagine I could expect to have half the stuff stolen from my room out of sheer heat-related frustration and rage.

Have you ever come back from summer vacation to find that some of your classroom supplies have taken their own (permanent) vacation?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bloomberg Saves Us All

It looks like a judge has looked into his soul and determined that separate and unequal treatment is not so bad after all. The UFT and the NAACP sought to block charters from invading and debasing public schools, but no dice, so Bloomberg and Walcott will move ahead with their plans.

Feinman ruled that the UFT and NAACP had not proven that schools facing closure would have performed significantly better if the city had fulfilled all of the promises set out in an agreement that followed a similar lawsuit last year.

You gotta love a judge who can definitively decide what would've happened if other things in the past happened. I don't know anyone who can do that. Furthermore, it's heartening to see yet another affirmation that Mayor Bloomberg need not follow the law, since there are no consequences whatsoever when he breaks them. After all, though the closings were blocked last year, he went ahead and dumped new schools in their buildings anyway. Oops. But hindsight is blind in this case (except for the utterly baseless speculation on which the decision was based), so it's all good.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott applauded the decision, which he said validated the Bloomberg administration’s approach to fixing low-performing schools.

That's one of the most remarkable things I've ever heard. In fact, he's not fixing the schools, even assuming they are broken. He's closing them. And when he does that, troubled kids end up attending neighboring schools, which are also closed.

By Walcott's logic, Katrina saved New Orleans, and an atom bomb saved Hiroshima. And now, a judge has cleared the way for Michael Bloomberg to continue saving New York City public schools.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Penny Wise, Pound Criminal

Mayor Bloomberg has to prioritize, of course, as he applies his financial genius to the ruinous 3.2 billion dollar surplus this year. He's brilliantly managed to avoid firing 4,000 teachers, but has managed to lose a good 8,000 over the last three years. This is an important achievement as it saves a bundle for no-bid deal to give personal info about 1.1 million school kids to Rupert Murdoch, who's recently purchased ex-chancellor Joel Klein. Klein, as you may recall, presided over the DOE as it took a billion dollars to reduce class sizes and magically made them go up.

In yet another innovative coup, Mayor Bloomberg is replacing the filthy no. 6 oil that his people say costs lives with marginally less filthy no. 4 oil. So perhaps it will cost fewer lives. After all, one must prioritize. It's cheaper to convert 6 to 4, and then they can say that at least they did something.

This, in fact, is the MO of Bloomberg and his "reformers." Just last week Bloomberg declared his merit pay plan was an abject failure, but patted himself on the back for his willingness to try something new. In fact, a more intelligent approach would be to try something already tested and proven effective, like smaller class sizes, which parents repeatedly call their no. 1 preference on the surveys he repeatedly ignores.

There's really no defensible rationale for doing public health on the cheap while tossing out millions for ineffectual computer systems and no-bid contracts with disgraced media moguls. If episodes like these don't make Mayor4Life's priorities crystal-clear, I don't know what does.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The World's Worst Summer Reading List

I went to Barnes and Noble the other day; not my usual source for books, but I needed something obvious and wanted it quickly if possible. (I wish I could say I was desperate for my copy of Madame Bovary or A Brief History of Time, but, to be honest, I'm pretty sure I gave my copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to a student and never got it back.) Anyway, I direct your attention to the photo at left for a glimpse at the horror I encountered while in the store.

The title of this display is "For the Teacher." All right, fine. The first book I wish to point out is the companion volume for Waiting for Superman in the upper right. As if that wasn't bad enough, you can probably see easily for yourself the two(!) shelves of the Michelle Rhee biography The Bee Eater. Then, just to destroy the spirit of your local public school teacher even more, you have a shelf of DIY U, a book about how students can just bypass all that silly school and college stuff and teach themselves instead. All of that is so bad that I probably don't even need to mention the "Star Student Reward Coupon Book," the little orange thing, which is not even geared towards teachers at all, but rather towards parents of school-age children. (Unless the book is suggesting that teachers regularly have their students at their homes for movies and pizza...? Squick.)

Well, Barnes and Noble, I'll assume that no one in your corporation has a nefarious agenda, and that some sales lackey put this display together by tossing out a few copies of some bestsellers that seemed "teacher-ish." But you should really think before putting out material that is pretty dispiriting to real live teachers under the title "For the Teacher." I'm not being dramatic when I say that I saw this display, thought about it for a minute or two, went back, took this photo, and left without buying anything, not so much as a coffee or a magazine. It really put me off. I'm not joking. Rarely have I felt so misunderstood by a business I usually found to be, if not actively excellent, at least not actively offensive.

This was a temporary downer in my summer vacation, which has so far been wonderful. I'm not enjoying the weather, but I am going away soon, which makes me happy. I've actually been out of town quite a bit this month. And staying at home in the air conditioning and reading books is actually, in my opinion, quite a fine way to spend one's vacation.

As long as those books didn't come from Barnes and Noble, at least.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Like, Thanks, Gotham Schools!

So, like, I didn't get tenure this year? But, like, I thought I should? So, I was all, like, hey dude, I want it, I want it all, and I want it now, dude. But like, I don't want to say that, because my peeps are always like, ya know, saying that other people shouldn't get it?

But hey, like, even though maybe I don't know enough stuff to get tenure, I have, like, no problem telling everyone else how they should get it. Like, even though my principal says I'm not ready? I still think that I'm the one who should decide how everyone else should get fired and that's why, like, my group supports whatever Mayor Bloomberg says we should support? So like, if someone is accused of something, they ought to be fired whether it's true or not, because let's get real dude, all this innocent until proven guilty stuff is not gonna get me that big money gig with Michelle Rhee!

So, anyway, I want to thank Gotham Schools, because, dude, they are like the kewlest? Like, how would I have gotten into the NY Post if they didn't, like, see me there? So, like, when I say I shouldn't get tenure it's like, hey, maybe no one else should get it either? And that way, like, when Michelle Rhee is hiring for like, some ex-teacher dude, like, it won't matter if I have tenure because I'll be all, like, dude, I didn't get it so you shouldn't either? And, like, if they lose their jobs I'll still have mine so it will be, like, all kewl and stuff?

So, like, the really kewl thing is even though I don't have tenure, Gotham Schools is gonna, like, let me tell everyone else what they ought to do? And that's like, the kewlest thing, because if they weren't so kewl, letting me write whatever I want whether it's accurate or distasteful or whatever, like, who would even know about us? And, like, even though the people who fund my organization say no one gets better after the third year I'm all, like, dude, that doesn't apply to me!

And even if it does, I'm gonna keep working anyway, even if I, like, suck and stuff? Because the thing is, while maybe the kids may not, be, like, getting good education and stuff, folks like me only need to be teachers until something better comes along, so, it's like, all good dude!

Monday, July 18, 2011

We Sell Out (and Still Get Nothing)

I'm amazed that we've actually accepted the State's unproven and invalid rating system, even for a limited number of schools. In case anyone hasn't noticed, post-Rhee DC just fired 5% of its teachers, despite a highly questionable rating system. Is there any remotely defensible reason to bring such a system to NY?

Apparently, a large factor is money. The state, in its infinite wisdom, saw fit to withhold up to 65 million dollars if these schools did not accept its brilliant new evaluation system. You know, the one with the rubric that says you need to call on absolutely every kid in your classroom no matter what. Aside from the obvious problems with such a system, the irony of its imposition by a city that doesn't give a damn what teachers or parents think is incredible.

I'll take it a step further, though. I do not believe that good teaching can be encapsulated in a rubric. First of all, it's inconceivable to me that those who regularly administer flawed tests, who think that tests are the only measure of good education, could even conceive of what is and is not good teaching. More importantly, even if they could, it's the height of hubris to imagine that we've even conceived of all manner of good teaching. I mean, sure, these are the same people who come to us each year saying you must do this, that, or the other, and the things they said must be done last year were an utter mistake, so it's unlikely they'd know. These are the same people who rename old ideas and present them as not only new, but compulsory.

In spite of the people who write the laws, there are still great teachers who get ideas of their own on a fairly regular basis. It's more than plausible to me that such teachers can come up with great lessons that will grab kids, and yet not fit the rubric. Though they may reach and inspire kids, they'll need to be rated "ineffective" or whatever the new "U" may be.

Bill Gates says there has to be a rubric, and he has all that money, so Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo can't jump high enough to show their agreement. So much for democracy. Most Americans, unlike Cuomo and Obama, think that rich people ought to pay enough in taxes so as to preclude our perpetual financial crisis.

And while we're on the topic of money, how much of this goes to teachers? Absolutely nothing. Here in fun city, for years we've been restricted to how much of a salary increase we could get by a strict and unvarying pattern. The only way we've been able to improve on that has been through increases, and often draconian ones. Yet all city employees have receive double 4% increases except teachers.

How much of this 65 million bucks goes to teachers, without a raise for years? Not one red cent. Likely the money will go to enforce "reforms" like the new evaluation system, which will benefit absolutely no one.

So where's the upside? If anyone can answer, inquiring minds need to know.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What if Rupert Murdoch Were Never Born?

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie show us:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Holy Grail of the "Reformers"

Gotham Schools was down for some time this morning, but it's back up again. This posed a potential inconvenience for busy bloggers looking to see what education articles are up, as well as whatever crap the NY Post wishes to masquerade as news.

Still, last night's wrap-up held some doozies. There was a link to an education booklist, headed up by anti-teacher propagandist Steve Brill. A piece on the further adventures of TFA. Also, there was a link to yet another piece by Ruben Brosbe. Clearly it isn't enough for Gotham to publish whatever nonsense Mr. Brosbe posts on their page, but it's also necessary to direct us to more of it elsewhere. (On behalf of teachers everywhere, thank you Gotham Schools.)

The most striking of the links yesterday was one about a teacher offering to work for free. This, no doubt, constitutes the virtual wet dream of "reformers." What more could they ask for? Were this to become a trend, they could give up all their political manipulation, save billions in "charitable" contributions, and let schools be. What's the point in attacking unions if their ever-decreasing tax burden isn't actually supporting public schools?

Anyway, I suggest Gates, Broad and Walmart get together and start an organization to encourage teachers to work for free. They could set them up with a downtown office and give their leaders salaries even as they encourage others to forgo them. Then one of them, with an eye on a big-time "reform" job, could get a column at Gotham Schools and write any damn thing without regard to accuracy or logic.

If it works out, maybe Jay Matthews could write a column on how erudite that person is. A win-win.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Because They Know Everything

That's why the state has designed an observation rubric that sounds like it comes directly from the Gates Foundation. For teachers to be highly effective, every student must participate. That's every one of your 34 students, or if you teach gym or music, 50 students.

I'm a great believer in an active classroom, and I work really hard to make kids participate. Yet sometimes it's not possible. Life sometimes differs from rubrics in ways a casual observer cannot perceive. For example, if I have a kid grieving over a lost family member, I may decide it's best not to call on that kid. In fact, there are all sorts of other personal tragedies a kid could be going through. Sometimes kids are not programmed properly, and no matter what I do I cannot correct the problem. I do what I can, but I often end up giving such kids grades of NC, so they don't have failures on their records.

I've had kids who were suicidal in my classes. I'm not an expert on handling these kids in particular, but knowing that, I'm not likely to push such kids any further than they appear willing to go. So, will an observer to my class see the kid in the third row didn't raise his hand, Mr. Educator didn't call on him,  and determine I am negligent? Judging from the article, yes.

It's great when kids participate. I'd be bored out of my mind with a class that didn't. Nonetheless, there is no one way to do things. Sometimes my kids write in class. In my opinion, that's not an optimal use of class time, but I'm so bone-weary of receiving things printed off the internet, copied from sample compositions I myself have distributed, or clearly not written by students whose writing I know ("My cousin helped me.") that it's simpler to preclude such nonsense by whatever means necessary. I need genuine writing samples and I need every kid to write, particularly when my task is preparing kids for a writing test like the English Regents.

The underlying problem with any rubric is the absolutely false assumption that there's only one way to teach. It's like saying there's only one way to write--I like Agatha Christie and therefore everyone on God's green earth must use the same style. Great teachers I've known and seen have their own voices, and the tone-deaf purveyors of one-size-fits-all rubrics wouldn't know good teachers if they were being beaten over the head by them.

Now I'm not saying rubric-pushers ought to be beaten over the head. I'm just saying if they were, I'd understand why.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Teacher Job Searches: Nice Work If You Can Get It?

This week, I'm spending some time with a teacher friend who doesn't teach in New York. She's been a long-term substitute for the past two years in a small district where it is commonly accepted that full-time teaching positions are filled via nepotism and cronyism. She's been on obviously faux interviews that are conducted to achieve the appearance of a job search for any interested parties; she's been passed over for jobs that are filled by folks younger, less experienced, and less educated than herself because the folks in questions are someone's nieces or cousins. She's saddened, but hardly surprised; this kind of thing has been going on there for generations.

Meanwhile, many New York City teachers are facing internal work searches as well because of excessing that is already widespread and may become more so by the time we get to the beginning of the 2011-12 school year. Even teachers who once thought that their subject areas would guarantee them some security, like ESL, are finding themselves on the chopping block. We need, as a group of professionals, to continue to speak with one united voice that these are not the so-called "bad" teachers; these are teachers who, through no fault of their own, are looking for work now. This while enrollment in the city schools continues to rise, year after year, and schools become ever more crowded with expansion and construction plans that are anemic at best.

As we try to enjoy our summers, many teachers, as well as millions of Americans in other professions, continue to look for work that just doesn't seem to be out there. The education job market may seem more dysfunctional than others, whether via budgeting or via insider hiring policies, because of our intense familiarity with it, but probably other markets are just as asinine. This goes on while Congressional leaders continue to drag their heels on budget issues and while our President appears more impotent on the matter every day, while economists say with a straight face that we could be hovering around ten percent unemployment for the next decade. The discouraged unemployed may mean that the unemployment numbers are much worse than they actually look.

You may have known much of that already, but I guess I'm still surprised that teaching in urban schools, a profession that once looked to me as a young teacher as one that would simply expand exponentially forever, is inexplicably contracting even as the need continues to grow. I'm surprised that people would base hiring decisions on friendship or kinship so blatantly in this day and age.

I suppose I'm thankful that I'm not looking for a job right now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gee Mister, Can I Have My Ball Back?

You hear the most remarkable things about the "Children First" crowd. For the last few days the blogosphere has be abuzz with news of Jonah Edelman's smarmy boasts about  how he tricked unions into making ridiculous deals. Edelman simply forgot to mention those dear children he cared about so much. Sure.

Now Keith Olberman tweets about uber-"reformer" Joel Klein stealing a foul ball from a kid at Yankee stadium in 2009. Can you believe that? I can. There's something about demagogues like Klein and Edelman--it's not really the alleged missions they're carrying out. That's why Edelman forgets his. It's really all about them, and how clever they are. In fact, it doesn't really matter whether Klein stole the ball from that kid or not. He's committing far more serious offenses against children each and every day.

By attacking and demeaning union, the only real way working people can have a say in the workplace, he's screwing with the lives of children in a far more serious fashion. How can teachers have pensions? Why should they have health care? How come they get sick days, and why on earth can't we fire them whenever we feel like it? That's what Klein asks, over and over, in print, on camera, and everywhere.

The oddest thing is, here in America, that message resonates, with the aid of propaganda outlets like Fox and the NY Post. Yet by attacking these few things teachers have held onto, after years of working for lower salaries than their peers, Klein and his ilk seek to deprive our children of something far more serious than a baseball--by attacking working teachers, he sentences our children to lives without security, lives as wage-slaves, lives ripped out of Orwell's visions. He'd sentence our children to lives, essentially, without much of a future.

Klein can have the damn ball, if he wants it that badly. But we've got to keep him far away from our kids.

Thanks to Reality Based Educator

Monday, July 11, 2011

Fool Me Twice

Jonah Edelman, taped giving a candid assessment of his dealings with unions, has apologized, in his fashion, to readers of Fred Klonsky's blog. I'm one of them, and I found it elegant that it was presented without comment. Perhaps it's more accurate to call it prescient, since dozens of comments made it unnecessary for Klonsky to say a thing. Here's a little taste of Edelman's mea culpa:

It left children mostly out of the equation when helping children succeed is my mission in life...

This is very telling. Does anyone really forget their "mission in life," even for a moment? Do I forget that I need to stand up for the middle class, so my daughter can be part of it one day? Never ever.

It could cause viewers to wrongly conclude that I’m against unions...

Which, of course, he is not. He simply wants to extract every ounce of power they have, and render them powerless and irrelevant, as evidenced in his joyous conclusion that he's deprived them of the ability to strike.

Senate Bill 7 will make performance rather than seniority the basis for granting tenure...

And we are to trust Edelman and his ilk to make such determinations, I suppose. No more teachers like me, who speak up, will be tolerated in Chicago. Doing so would likely render them "ineffective." Having fewer teachers speak out against the nonsense Edelman and his buddies advocate, incidentally, would certainly not help the kids he claims to care so much for. (You know, the ones who are his "mission in life," that he somehow forgot to mention.)

Before the dismissal process can proceed, based on advocacy by teachers’ unions, with which I again wholeheartedly agreed, a second evaluator must corroborate that dismissal is warranted. 

I'm thinking Edelman's girlfriend, mother, or possibly Bill Gates.

I was wrong to state that the teachers’ unions “gave” on teacher effectiveness provisions when the reality is that, indeed, there were long, productive negotiations that led to a better outcome than would have occurred without them.

Here, Edelman admits to making statements that have no basis in objective reality. Was he doing so then, is he doing so now, or is that simply what he does all the time?

Third, I was wrong to make assumptions or comments about the unions’ political strategy. In future presentations, whether on video or not, I will refrain from supposing why a particular party made a particular decision.

Having put my foot in my mouth once, I will try very hard not to do so again.

I deeply regret what I perceived in watching myself as an arrogance in my tone.

The truth hurts.

I was raised to be humble and respectful and reared on stories of my grandfather and grandmother’s service within the African-American community in their small South Carolina town, 

I honestly can't say what motivated Edelman to throw that in, or what he was trying to sell to whom. But here's the thing. We got to view a "reformer" raw and unedited. The denial only serves to one conclusion, which Klonsky provides in a nutshell:

It is not unusual for an immature young man, brought up in a world of privilege and means, to behave this way. It happens.

After all, once you strip away all the self-important nonsense in his Aspen presentation, everything Edelman says in the tape is repeated in the apology. It was all true.

Those of us who've been watching closely know precisely what "reformers" have to offer. There is now hard evidence of this, in the form of Edelman's widely available video. Let's keep up our vigilance.

 And for goodness sake, let's tell our leaders to do the same, and stop putting things "on the table" for demagogues like Edelman to joyously rip to shreds.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Reformers" One, Union Zero

There's not a whole lot to add to the video below. Jonah Edelman smugly discusses how he managed to snooker the teacher unions into accepting deals clearly not in their interest. It shows, yet again, how Obama's people, specifically Rahm Emannuel and Arne Duncan, are not friends of people who need to work for a living.

Most importantly, it shows "reformers" are not to be trusted. Edelman boasts of how his people were able to write the "fine print" on this deal, and how union reps dropped the ball and failed to exert due diligence. The best we can hope from a hard lesson like this is that union leadership wake up and pay close attention.  

See more on this at Schools Matter and much more at Fred Klonsky's Blog.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Bernie Sanders on Social Security

It's refreshing to see someone who will stand up for our middle class. As President Obama places Social Security and Medicare "on the table," we really need someone to champion us. As Sanders points out, candidate Obama ran promising not to cut it, and now appears to be reversing several key promises he made to us in his campaign.

I've heard Republicans say that everything is on the table except taxes. That's insane. We are in trouble because GW cut off our tax base to make things easier for billionaires. It's time they started paying their fair share. It's time we stopped cutting seniors, working people, and our children so that we could ease the all-important tax bill of Steve Forbes. And it's time we started voting in candidates like Bernie Sanders, who speak the truth and work for us.

Thanks to RP.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Tenuous Tenure in NYC

NY Daily News reveals that tenure is being withheld more than it used to be. I believe tenure ought to mean something, so on the face of it, that's not a bad thing. However, it appears the city is not doing its job. I know, for example, that Long Island City High School simply denied tenure to all applicants, and they're not alone.

I've also spoken with teachers who tell me they are not regularly observed, and that tenure decisions are based on a single unannounced observation that took place 8 months into the year. The News story tells similar tales.

It's remarkable that teachers are so regularly and viciously trashed in the media while virtually no attention is given to negligent supervisors. It's their job, in fact, to observe and mentor new teachers. New teachers should also be mentored by colleagues, and I know of many cases where that is ignored. I rarely got any meaningful assistance when I was starting out, and I'm certain many of my colleagues have similar experiences.

There's also the nonsense of test scores being used to evaluate new teachers. Given the idiotic but time-honored tradition of giving new teachers the least desirable and most difficult classes, this will hurt a lot of them.

Despite a statement from some DOE rep in the News, public school tenure certainly does not mean employment for life. It simply means the DOE must show just cause for termination. In a culture where giving prizes to kids, bringing plants to school, using school fax machines or photographing school clocks can be used to charge teachers, we need protection. If the city persists in bringing charges for idiotic reasons, failure is precisely what they deserve, and I wouldn't have it otherwise. In a culture full of administrative corruption, we need to be able to speak out--tenure allows us to be a check on Mayor4Life's nearly limitless power.

Not everyone should receive tenure. If, in fact, people can't do the job, they ought not to be doing it. But it behooves administrators to provide training and support. If they don't do it (and I've personally seen many who don't, or simply go through the motions of pretending), then they, not teachers, ought to be denied tenure, brought up on charges, or sent to do jobs more appropriate to their talents, or lack thereof.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

His Area of Expertise

Joel Klein, who blithely observed scandal upon scandal for Mayor Bloomberg, has been tapped by Rupert Murdoch to oversee his own scandal. It's about time we saw Klein utilized for something he actually knows about. Wasn't it Klein who oversaw his no-bid contracts result in children freezing on street corners, while waiting for buses that never came? And didn't Klein tirelessly plug the achievements on state tests that proved to be nothing whatsoever after revelations in 2010 that they'd been dumbed down?

Joel Klein brought accountability to students, making sure they could pass tests before graduation. Diana Senechal took one of these tests, marked A, B, C, D in a pattern without reading the questions, and passed.  Klein bravely fought to fire teachers, as nothing that occurred under his tenure was ever his fault. He presided over the closure of almost every high school in the Bronx, contending they were failures. None, of course, were failures on his part. That's what Klein called "accountability."

Klein spent years at the job, dispensing favored treatment to people like Eva Moskowitz, and setting up a two-tier system that ensured Eva's students were better treated than the overwhelming majority of kids attending city schools. He took almost a billion dollars to reduce class sizes, and through innovative management techniques, managed to make them go up just about everywhere.

So, if a scandal's brewing, Klein's your guy, Rupert. He's seen scandal from just about every angle there is. Only one thing, though--making things better for Rupert Murdoch is not necessarily the same as problem-solving. Klein's image was in the toilet when he resigned. I'm not remotely certain he's the guy to rehabilitate the image of a propaganda king.

Guilty Pleasures

This summer is very odd for me, in that I've actually got more time than I know what to do with. I turned on the History Channel, which I never do, and came across this very cool show called, of all things, Pawn Stars. Then I found three seasons of it on Netflix, and I've watched maybe eight episodes.

It's really interesting seeing the things people bring in, what they are worth, and then watching people haggle over it. The haggling makes it more interesting than the staid Antiques Roadshow on PBS.

So if you're stuck home, as I am, on call to drive family members around, NYC Educator gives two thumbs up to Pawn Stars.

Have you got any guilty summer pleasures? Please share them in the comments!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

In School Budget News...

Probably the last thing you want to think about right now, especially if you're not a principal (or maybe if you are a principal, actually), is your school's budget for the upcoming year. Pretty much all the budgets are going to be ugly. Your school may see excessing, attrition, copying limits (OH GOD, ANYTHING BUT THAT), and more. Nevertheless, there's two pieces of budgeting news of which you may want to be aware, if you like to be aware of this kind of thing.

I'm not sure whether this first one constitutes good news, but if your principal kept squirreling money away even though the DOE said that it would be dashed away, the savers may be getting the last laugh. As long as your school gets a C or above on its progress report, you can keep your rainy day fund. While this is good news for those schools, tying school budgets to "performance" on standardized tests has always mystified me somewhat. Schools with less money have less to offer students who are clearly already struggling. It may feel like the DOE is "punishing" incompetent or apathetic adults, but at the end of the day, it's the kids who suffer more than the adults do.

Well, enjoy your rainy day fund, if you have one. Between you and me, my principal spent like a drunken sailor there for a while, I assume because s/he thought that the money would be yanked away if it wasn't spent. It'll be interesting to see what the budget picture looks like at my school next year.

The other piece of news is that schools with lower proportions of poorer students will be facing even steeper budget cuts due to the loss of federal Title I dollars. Although this may come as no surprise in these tight financial times, it sure does suck to be a school in which 59%, rather than 60%, the magic Title I number, of your students receive free lunch.

Money is a funny thing in schools. Budget hawks like to say that you can't solve a problem just by throwing money at it, and while that might be true, I'm not sure that the converse of that statement is true; that is, I'm not sure you can solve a problem in education without throwing money at it, either. Whether it's money in terms of materials, personnel, facilities, or student support, the bottom line is that schools won't have as much money, sometimes by a lot, to throw at problems. Some of those problems are going to go unsolved for the short term; some of those problems have remained unsolved for a long time.

Just remember, it's all your fault, teachers.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Everything Is on the Table

I've heard quite a bit of talk about getting a "seat at the table," most of it from the UFT. For example, we decided to partner with Bill Gates to study teacher evaluation via testing, and now "value-added" is all the rage. Gates endorses it, it was widely placed into practice before this study concluded, and teachers have lost jobs based on various flawed iterations of this system.

I recall the NEA speaking out against the nonsense propagated by Gates and Duncan, and was therefore shocked that they've apparently decided to not only endorse the Obama/ Duncan team, but also to support some undefined teacher evaluation program that appears not to even exist.

Apparently, the allure of Obama has something to do with GOP candidates being even worse. I'll acknowledge that's a strong possibility, but it provides slim justification for an endorsement. In fact, at this point, an endorsement is a wink, a nod, and an ironclad agreement that no matter how his administration ignores, disrespects, slanders and vilifies us, he has our vote. That's an egregious error. UFT withheld endorsement of faux-Democrat Cuomo, and I hope AFT will do the same for President Hopey-Changey.

As for judging teachers via student achievement, the NEA's decision is a decidedly mixed bag.

...the union also made clear that it continued to oppose the use of existing standardized test scores to judge teachers, a core part of the federally backed teacher evaluation overhauls already under way in at least 15 states. 

This is a good decision. Everything I read suggests that there is no validity to any form of "value-added" currently being utilized. There is, then, the problem of how the hell to use it without any apparent system that's remotely effective. When and if they find one, though, the NEA has come to a very peculiar determination of how it should be used:

Some teachers also balked at another section of the policy — the proposal that failing teachers be given only one year to improve, instead of the standard two. But in the end a clear majority voted yes. 

How on earth can they come to that conclusion based on tests that do not, by their own admission, even exist?  And why do we need a union to help us get rid of so-called "failing" teachers? We know, for example, that "failing" schools simply means schools full of high-needs students, like Jamaica High School. On a smaller scale, couldn't teachers have more high-needs kids and consequently be determined failing, through no fault of their own?

It's time we stopped accepting baseless and unfounded labels. Having a "seat at the table" is absurd if not only no one is listening, but we ourselves also buy into unfounded assumptions. I'm reminded of Michael Moore's assertion that it's absurd to put "everything on the table," in the video below.

We need to deal in objective reality, even if it eludes the billionaires and hedge-funders who've taken over the education of our children. As Moore so ably points out, things that make no sense whatsoever do not even merit discussion (let alone endorsement).