Wednesday, August 31, 2011

They're Going Baaaaaack...

Mama and Papa Eyre were always very fond of the Staples commercial from back in the '90s, a screenshot of which is posted at left. It depicted a father joyously back-to-school shopping while two miserable-looking children trudged behind him, scored to Andy Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." And Miss Eyre can certainly hear the parents of her young charges counting the seconds until Miss Eyre and her colleagues have to put up with them endeavor to educate and inspire them.
All joking aside, though, I'm pretty ready to go back. In fact, I'm going in today to survey what kind of havoc summer school and custodial overhauling may have left in its wake in my classroom, so I can start organizing and decorating. I'm trying to take Friday off, so if I get a lot done today and tomorrow, I still have one more genuine vacation day all to myself.

I'm not sure if I've ever felt so excited and simultaneously so full of dread about going back to work. The pluses: I love my school; I've never worked for such reasonable, smart, supportive administrators as I do now; I'll get to see my old students again, most of whom I liked a lot; I like most of my colleagues and it'll be nice to see them again. All of which sound like solid reasons to be excited. The dread, though, is more nebulous. I feel like the political climate has never been worse (though you veterans feel free to correct me if this young whippersnapper lacks the proper hindsight). I know I'm not alone in this. I'm terribly worried about contract negotiations. I know my principal is really a whiz with the budget, wringing every last penny to make sure the teachers and students have what they really need, but the budget picture is scary nonetheless. I can't help but feel a little stressed.

Well, we'll be back to work officially by the time I next post, so enjoy the long weekend and have fun setting up your rooms. (It really can be fun.) And, I guess, do what I'm doing: focus on all the great things about getting back to work, and try not to worry about what's outwith your control anyway.

We're going baaaaaack...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'm a Lucky Duckie, Dude

Like, dude, I used to be all, like, let's hold the teachers accountable? And everyone, like, was mean to me just because I never actually passed the tests I said they all needed to pass or get fired? But like now, dude, I'm, like, giving up all my principles? That's right, dude, I take no responsibility for any of the stuff I wrote before, and I'm getting a fresh start while I, like, study education and stuff.

So, like, I don't think anyone will be mad at me anymore now. This is kewl, dude, because now everyone will forget about how I demanded they be fired. And dude, the best is they will forget that, based on the stuff I supported, that I should've been fired too, dude. Because now I don't support that stuff, so I'm all, like, I shouldn't be fired.

Now that doesn't mean I don't have standards. After all, dude, as soon as I get out of this program, I'll have to find a gig where I fire other people. So, like, even though I've publicly renounced all the stuff I've ever said, like, I think the reform folks will, like, read my New York Post piece, the one I complained about because they said pretty much what I wrote, and give me a gig.

But here's the thing. While I'm waiting, I still wanna, like, write for Gotham Schools. I figure, like, maybe if I say I don't believe the stuff I believe the commenters won't, like, be so mean to me. I mean, like, dude, why do they have to take it so personally just because I, like, say they should be fired for, like, doing the same stuff I did? All they have to do is, like, forget all the stuff I said, because I didn't mean it, or at least I'm, like, not meaning it now.

Now later, dude, when I get my high-paying admin gig, that's when I can, like, fire everyone, like Michelle Rhee does. But meanwhile, I'm hoping the readers at Gotham Schools believe I've changed and give me a break. One of the kewl things about Gotham is the folks who run it believe anything I say, and publish whatever no matter how inaccurate or questionable it might be.

Thank goodness, dude, they run with folks like me instead of real, highly experienced teachers. With folks like that, people might get a real idea of what's going on out there. Then, where would folks like me fit in?

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Everything but the Truth

Mike Winerip's column today gives us a pretty forceful rebuttal to Steven Brill's latest adventure in teacher-bashing. Specifically, he finds a pretty bald-faced falsehood. Did Brill even bother to check this stuff before publication? Hasn't he got an editor?

He notes that charters are criticized for having fewer children with learning challenges, but “none of the actual data supports this.” 

Actually, it does. According to the city, in 2010 P.S. 149 had more children poor enough to receive free lunch (76 percent vs. 67 percent for the charter); more children for whom English was a second language (13 percent vs. 1.5 for the charter); and more children with disabilities (22 percent vs. 16). 

This, in my view, is typical of what gets written about public schools--unchallenged nonsense presented as unvarnished fact. And even Winerip neglects to note the degree of disability. It's far more likely that more disabled students wind up in public schools. I can't imagine Eva Moskowitz picking up alternate assessment kids who will neither receive a traditional diploma nor embellish her statistics.

Brill sees career teachers as lazy slobs sitting around and waiting to collect pensions. That's the favorite stereotype of the "reformers," so why not toss it out yet again. No stats, no support, just tar working Americans as a bunch of lazy bastards. But what's the alternative? Charter school teachers are harried, overworked, and underpaid, and appear unable to sustain what's asked of them for any substantial length of time. This, of course, is the vision of the "reformers---"cheap, replaceable McTeachers for poor kids. (Brill sent his kids to private schools, so that won't be a problem for them.)

It's pathetic that at this point in our history Americans can be manipulated to believe that teachers and other working people are responsible for the excesses that have scuttled our economy. We should be thankful for the few prominent voices, like Winerip, that will speak the truth.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Apre Le Deluge

Man it's tough to come home and see the remnants of the four feet of water that's swept through your garage, your laundry room, and likely taken out your washer and dryer. Big question now is whether it's killed our gas furnace.

On the positive side, the flood didn't hit any of our living areas, and we have power everywhere in the house except my room. Seems the water is causing a short up here. Life is an adventure, but some days I'd like to just sit down and have a coffee instead.

Nothing truly catastrophic for us, but there are costs to living by the water. If only it would stop coming to visit without a formal invite. I hope you and yours are warm and safe.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In Exile

The NYC Educator family has left our little home for higher ground. Actually, we've been subject to mandatory evacuation. We're lucky enough to have family to stay with.

We wish all our readers a safe and easy time as this disaster hits. We prepare for the worst and hope for the best--but we wish all of you the best!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg Wants My Help

Over the last two days I've been besieged with calls to go in and assist NYC shelters. It's certainly a worthy cause. Still, it's hard to forget that the mayor unilaterally decided not to give teachers the raise all other city employees got. It's hard to forget the constant vilification and insults we've gotten from Tweed over the last few years.

Despite this, a lot of teachers will volunteer. Will Bloomberg acknowledge us? Will he thank us? Will he credit us for being role models? I doubt it. All he cares about is test scores, and in his view, only teachers are responsible for test scores. He can't wait to fire him some teachers because the test scores aren't high enough.

Personally, I live very near the water, and if Stormagedden comes tomorrow my concern will be moving my little family the hell out of here. So I can't help the mayor this weekend. But I have to say this--city teachers serve New York every single day of their lives. It's our job to help kids, not only with tests, but with everything and anything we can. That, in fact, is what we do, and that's why a lot of teachers will help, despite the abuse the city heaps on us. Were conditions different, I'd volunteer as well.

It's very sad how little this mayor appreciates us, not only this weekend, but every day of the year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Walcott's First Draft

It's absurd to suggest that cheating is prevalent in New York City. Here in NY, we take test scores very seriously. In fact, we close schools and dismiss principals based solely on test results. So what possible motivation would anyone in the system have to cheat? We encourage all episodes of cheating to be reported fully, and I've invited anyone who knows of any cheating to contact me personally. What more can people ask?

As for this nonsense about expensive erasure analysis, it's important to note we have limited funds. In these tough times, we need to pick and choose how we spend our money. Since we already know we have little or no cheating, why would we want to spend money testing it?

Now clearly there have been cheating scandals in other areas of the country. But here in NY we have standards in place that should make cheating more difficult. That's good enough for me. If in fact there were cheating going on, why hasn't anyone reported it to me? Sure, there are a few bad apples, but the good ones would pick up their telephones and immediately expose whatever malfeasance that may be occurring.

So I ask you, New York, to simply relax. Don't worry about cheating because it's not happening here. You can trust us here at Tweed. After all, have we ever misled you in the past?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cat Got Your Tongue?

In connection with NYC Educator's post on cheating yesterday, I wanted to share this gem with you in case you haven't caught it. Michelle Rhee, media darling of the education world, seems to have gone awfully quiet with respect to investigations into widespread cheating in the D.C. public schools during her tenure as chancellor. It would seem that the cat, perhaps an adorable furry one as pictured at left, has Ms. Rhee's tongue.

I hate to kick someone when she's down, I really do. If she has any sense of shame, disappointment, or confusion about these allegations, I can understand why she would find it difficult to share that. As well, if she feels confident that the allegations are untrue but finds out later that they are more well-substantiated than she thought, she would sound silly to comment. From a legal and humanistic perspective, I understand her reticence.

But at the same time, it's hard to feel sorry for someone who seemed to feel no compunction about using the media to draw attention to oneself when she seemed to really enjoy sharing the blame. There is the famous story in which Rhee invited reporters to witness and film her firing a principal. Not only are members of the media frustrated with her behavior now, but school stakeholders in D.C. are, I imagined, pretty steaming with her as well.

I think Rhee would better serve herself and her goals by being as open and frank with the media as she always has been. If she wants to burnish her tough, no-nonsense, no-excuses persona, I can't think of a better time to do it than now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cheat Proudly

There are allegations that cheating is up in NYC, and the only surprise is that anyone is surprised. When you place a gun to someone's head to encourage a certain sort of behavior, you are likely to elicit that target one way or another. If test scores don't go up, we close your school and the principal can go fish. The teachers become wandering subs, going from classroom to classroom in the hope we can discourage them enough to quit of their own volition.

So really, what can they expect? Maybe the next time we give a test, we allow the students to help one another. Maybe we leave a few highlighted review books around. Or maybe those decorations on the bulletin board just happen to contain the formulas or responses that they need. Maybe the teacher overlooks those little papers being passed around.

Of course, perhaps the teacher or administrator can simplify everything and simply erase the answers that aren't part of the program. This seems to have occurred en masse in DC under brilliant "reformer" Michelle Rhee. And it's human nature. If test scores are everything, if our jobs depend on them, they will be manipulated. In fact, it's not in City Hall's interest to challenge cheating. When our grades go down, theirs do too. Count on this--the cheating we hear about is the tip of the iceberg, and as long as we have this insane emphasis on test scores, it will grow exponentially worse.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I'm Shocked and Stunned

What else would I be, facing the revelation that charters serve fewer special needs kids than public schools? I mean, do they have some advantage when their kids actually understand English and have no learning disabilities? This shell game has been going on for years and the remarkable thing is how rarely we read about it in the papers.

And, in fact, it goes beyond the percentage game. Are the ESL students classified that way because they need a little help, or did they just get off a plane last week? If, in fact, they just set foot on American soil, the likelihood of their parents applying for a charter hover around nil.

And let's talk special education. While I'm no expert, I know there are degrees of special education. Some kids simply need resource room. Others, perhaps, require only testing modifications. However, that's not the same as kids who need self-contained classrooms with very small class sizes. How many kids like these are in charter schools? There are even more severe categories of kids who are non-diploma bound, and sure to damage the statistics of those schools that take them. How many of those kids are in charters?

It's not an even playing field, not by a longshot. We've known this for years. Charters, if they were worth a damn, would actively solicit the very most difficult kids and work their magic. The fact that they do the opposite speaks volumes.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Drawbacks of Top-Down Governance

It appears not everyone in Queens is supporting Mayor Bloomberg's directive to teach sex. ed. I don't feel strongly about it one way or another, though I can certainly see benefits of well-informed young people. Of course, I'm skeptical that Bloomberg could pull off anything as rudimentary as effective sex. ed., and wondering what his true motivation is. It seems perfectly plausible that this mayor would try to contain long-term school population via birth control, as both Cathie Black and Joel Klein suggested.

Yet by announcing this initiative without consulting with schools or community, the mayor did not inspire a whole lot of buy-in by those who will need to enact the directive. Sex. ed. was what took down Chancellor Joseph Fernandez. He made condoms available for high school students, and pushed a "Rainbow Curriculum" in which one of the first grade books turned out to be Heather Has Two Mommies. You'd think now that Heather's mommies can legally get married we'd be able to get over this sort of thing, but that would assume that the bigotry that took down Fernandez was dead and gone.

At this point I have no idea whether Mayor4Life has incorporated any such things into his program. I doubt it though. Sex ed. is pretty much whatever the mayor says it is. Considering that, if I had a kid bound for a city sex. ed class, I'd very much like to opt out. It wouldn't half surprise me to see a chapter on how union membership detracts from a healthy sex life, or how questioning the PEP could lead to venereal disease.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

PEP Rides Again

I continually wonder what the purpose is of the PEP. They simply pass everything. Verizon is bullying its employees into all sorts of givebacks, despite great profits, and PEP approves a huge contract with them anyway. Massive demonstrations to the contrary, PEP simply does whatever Mayor Bloomberg wishes. Then they went and approved a bunch of contracts for outside agencies to run schools.

“These contracts will be approved, but they will not be reviewed before hand,” said Paola de Kock, a member of the Citywide Council on High Schools, who spoke in between Communication Workers of America strikers. ”What you will be approving tonight is unethical for our children.”

Is that what "reform" is all about? Seems to me, yes. Let's improvise. Let's try this. Let's try that. If it doesn't work, we'll blame the teachers, the union, the schools, close them, fire them, whatever. So what's the point of a deliberative body that barely deliberates and simply says yes to everything? Well, maybe it makes people feel better to get up and complain for two minutes. I've done that. But I never really thought I'd persuade a Bloomberg appointee.

So--why waste money on these meetings? Why not simply issue the proposals, signed and approved by Mayor4Life, and notate, "In your face, students, parents, and teachers," at the end? Maybe a little skull and crossbones to show they mean business. But the fact is, appearances notwithstanding, that's pretty much what we're getting right now.

How many teachers could we hire with the money we saved canceling these kangaroo courts?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dropping Like Flies

It used to be that I didn't personally know anyone who was leaving teaching forever, believe it or not. My circle of friends, from the Fellows and from the schools in which I've worked, seemed to be an unusually persistent bunch of people. I'd check with the gang from the Fellows in particular, and we'd tote up all the members of our crew and confirm that each one was still hanging in there. This ritual took on new significance as we reached year 5, the time by which, many studies suggest, 50% of teachers have quit the profession. Each year we would be happy that we made it through without losing anyone.

I don't know what it's been about 2011, though, because it seems like every time I turn around, I'm hearing about someone else closing up shop. A friend of mine, a special ed teacher with great potential, is going back to school for a master's degree in political science. A colleague got hired by a nonprofit for what I'm assuming is better money and shorter hours. Another acquaintance is in the rubber room and prospects for a return to the profession look dim. Add in the colleagues of mine who are transferring to other schools and having babies and I feel like I won't know fully half of the people I'll be starting work with in a few weeks.

Turnover is a big problem in many urban schools, and the problem is not limited to so-called "failing" schools. My school is not failing by any official or unofficial measure, yet our hires for the new school year are now into the double digits, this in a small school. Turnover brings with it new blood, yes, but it also represents destabilization and a loss of institutional memory.

Then there is the larger problem of teachers leaving forever. Some may argue that those who leave are best lost, but I'm not always so sure. Some of these teachers, are know, are good teachers who simply become overwhelmed by the negativity and the pressure and find that they could do something else that won't be as damaging to their mental health. I can't really fault them for that. But not many people are talking about burnout as a factor in the teacher quality problem. Burned-out teachers quit and are, these days, invariably replaced with newbies, many nontraditionally certified and most of whom are struggling against inexperience and nerves.

I'm not suggesting that my anecdotal evidence amounts to a trend. I don't have to; studies confirm that turnover and burnout are problems for schools and kids. And I'm not saying I have an answer (well, I have twenty answers, more like). I feel like I'm going to be in education forever, and that thought makes me pretty happy; I just wonder how much company I'll have when I retire.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Another Advantage of Mayoral Control

It's kind of incredible when we read of legislators voting on bills like the Patriot Act, which it's pretty much inconceivable they've read. You'd hope they'd vote no on the basis of not knowing what the hell the bills contain, but no one wants to be unpatriotic.

Closer to home, our Panel for Educational Policy often votes on contracts they haven't seen. There is a distinction here, though. It doesn't much matter whether or not PEP members see contracts, read them, understand them, or agree with them. We've known for years that when 8 of 13 members are chosen by the mayor, they vote the way they're instructed. In fact, early in Bloomberg's term, he simply fired a couple of members who were planning to vote against him.

So the primary difference between the federal and city legislators is that members of Congress, while beholden to whomever, need not necessarily vote a certain way 100% of the time. Bloomberg's appointees, however, have no choice whatsoever, and will lose their jobs if they exercise their consciences. Bloomberg is fine with that--he said something like mayoral control is just that. It's a little more than that, though. What it is, actually, is an end run against democracy. None of that stuff here in Fun City.

What we have is a billionaire mayor doing pretty much whatever the hell he sees fit. Sure, you can get up and talk for two minutes. You can express whatever POV you see fit. After you do that, the majority on the PEP will do whatever Bloomberg tells them to do. You see, democracy is messy. There are all these gray areas. Who knows what's really right or wrong?

But in Mayor Bloomberg's New York, there's none of that. He does what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants to do it. And if there are inconvenient laws saying he can't, say, run for a third term, directly affirmed by voters, he simply writes a few checks, twists a few arms, and gets what he wants anyway. No muss, no fuss.

And all the no-bid contracts a billionaire could salivate over.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gates Finds His Area of Expertise

For years we've read about how Bill Gates has planted his two cents, and billions more, into education. Largely it's pro-corporate nonsense, anything that disrupts unions, and anything that hurts working people. The small schools experiment didn't work, but Bloomberg had embraced it and so it goes on. The preposterous statements he'd make in public---principals cannot observe teachers due to contracts. The assumptions that all that mattered was test scores, or that DVDs of excellent teachers were just as good as giving every kid an excellent teacher.

I could go on, but essentially Gates has filled America with crap ideas, spending millions to push a propaganda film, and generally infecting all of us up to and including the White House. Arne Duncan seems nothing more than an echo chamber for Gates druthers, spreading the crap ideas farther and wider.  The question, then, becomes this--how do we get rid of all this crap?

It's a tough task. But the NY Times reports that Gates himself is now involved in rethinking and reinventing toilet technology. It's important, for health reasons, to get the rest of the world a system that works. This could help prevent disease and save lives. If the article is to be believed, Mr. Gates seems not to have simply invented a problem and pulled a proposed solution out of his hind quarters. In fact he's eliciting solutions that work.

So my question is this--if Mr. Gates can perform this service for our neighbors, why can't he get to work extracting the crap with which he's infected the American consciousness? It wouldn't be nearly as rough as creating a new technology. A simple admission of failure, of ignorance, of self-appointed expertise amounting to no expertise whatsoever would go a long way.

Thanks to Reality-Based Educator

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Audacity of Corporate Nonsense

I'm struck by the recent revelation that E4E shill/ Gotham Schools mouthpiece Ruben Brosbe is leaving for the greener pastures of an educational leadership program. E4E, as you know, is a Gates-sponsored shill organization designed to destroy union from within. Its leaders are not even teachers anymore, but rather employees of the organization who work in schools every now and then.

E4E exists primarily to support demagogues like Bloomberg in their efforts to fire teachers, and particularly to eviscerate the reverse seniority-based dismissals that would occur if ever he decided to fire teachers, with or without reason. In recent bills supported by E4E, Bloomberg's layoffs were not actually layoffs but dismissals, since there was no right of return. And one of the categories to be dismissed would have been teachers who were unable to get tenure. Brosbe's now had two extensions of tenure, and surely would have been cut under this scenario.

Personally, I've seen extensions of tenure for various reasons, some better than others. I don't always agree they're necessary. However, E4E is all about this stuff being valid, all about the quality of teaching, and does not much question the methodology of its corporate sponsors. By their logic, Brosbe does not qualify as an exclusion to the next layoff list.

So my question is this--how hypocritical is it that someone who does not meet the standards for teacher tenure would move toward educational leadership? Ought not our leaders be able to master the most basic and important job in education--teaching? Should someone like Brosbe, unable to meet the standard his group feels is so important, be placed in a position to evaluate others?

I'd love to take a year off and go study at Harvard. Regrettably, like most of my colleagues, I actually have to support myself. This is a problem that affects a lot of us, and our children. It's a problem folks like E4E don't have, what with the corporate sponsors, and who knows who else, that take care of them.

We don't need educational leaders, particularly of Brosbe's ilk, all that much. We need real teachers. And real teachers need real protection from those who'd fire us for our opinions, most of which are eons away from those of Brosbe and company. Those of us who'd advocate for children (and for the working people our children will grow up to be) need support.

Folks like Brosbe and E4E make sure they're in a good place and don't appear to give a damn about anyone else.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Forgotten, but Not Gone

Cathie Black has finally made her stamp on NYC schools. Ms. Black famously asked, when presented with evidence of chronic and systematic overcrowding, why we couldn't have just a little more birth control. Now, it appears, Mayor4Life is making her idea a matter of law. We must have sex education classes in city schools, and that's pretty much it.

After all, with class sizes the highest in the state already, years of failure to reduce class sizes, and a history of taking hundreds of millions for class size reduction yet achieving the opposite, it's a tough row to hoe. So Mayor Blooomberg is taking the long-term view, from hoe to eternity if you will, and hoping that eventually this results in fewer students.

And if it does not, well, what's the dif? By the time our kids have kids, Mayor Mike will perhaps have abdicated and there'll be some other poor fool to take the rap. Even better, Mayor Mike could look at the whole situation and say, "It's those darn teachers. We asked them to teach kids not to have sex, and look, kids are having sex anyway." It's a win-win, in Tweedspeak.

So sure, Cathie Black didn't last. She was even more preposterous a figure than most of Mayor Mike's education people, and after a while not even the New York Post could pretend to take her seriously. Still, who would've thunk, all these months later, that her single most offensive piece of advice would be the one that drove the mayor, even all these months later?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The "Well Balanced Teacher" and Other Admirable Goals

Sometimes it's pretty difficult to conceive of life-work balance for teachers. Our jobs, more so than many others, tend to follow us home in unexpected, inconvenient, joyful, and painful ways. One of my goals for the coming year is to continue to improve as a professional educator while also maintaining a better sense of that balance. To that end, I recently read the book pictured at left, The Well-Balanced Teacher by Mike Anderson.

One of Anderson's best pieces of advice in the book is to take what happens in the classroom less personally. He uses the example of homework: He can try to make the homework engaging and helpful; he can provide meaningful feedback; he can offer students assistance and make-ups after school; but, if they're still not doing their homework, ultimately, that's on them, not him. I hope one day that I can be mentally healthy enough to practice such loving detachment.

Anderson's larger point in the book is that the best teachers he knows are also the happiest, the teachers who enjoy time with friends and families, the teachers who take care of their physical and spiritual health, the teachers who still have hobbies. If you want to be a great teacher, he suggests, the time you spend engaging with parts of your life other than school will actually give you more energy and insight than you might have had otherwise, making you a better practitioner in the classroom.

To that end, I'm going to try to draw some brighter lines between my work life and my outside life. I've already thought of two things I will say "no" to this year if asked to take them on.

How do you maintain a healthy sense of balance in this profession?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Children First

Mayor Michael "Accountability" Bloomberg is very big on insisting people do what they're responsible for, whether or not they're actually responsible for it. This applies, of course, to teachers, who are responsible for absolutely everything. Factors that occur outside of school are meaningless, excuses, and in Mr. Bloomberg's New York, there are no excuses.

However, there's a different standard when it's not quite so easy to point to a teacher and assign blame. For example, in a Bronx school, a clear toxic chemical contamination was not enough to provoke action from the Tweedies. Rather, it was an opportunity to run another test, examine all the mitigating factors, sit down and think about things, and allow the students and staff of Bronx New School to enjoy continued exposure to carcinogenic toxins.

Because putting "Children First" is not actually about protecting children. (Poison? City kids are tough, so let's hope for the best.) "Children First" really means let's screw all the adults, to the adulation of editorial boards all over the city. "Yeah!" cry readers of the NY Post, without the remotest awareness that crappy working conditions for adults now means much the same for their children tomorrow.

The city's depraved indifference to the health of our children (not to mention adults working at such locations) ought to be enough to dispel the preposterous claims of putting children first. This is not, by far, an isolated incident, and Mayor Bloomberg has no problem using toxic waste sites for public schools.

Monday, August 08, 2011


It looks like NYC will be using the highly-important Race to the Top funds to create more managers and educrats, just what the city needs. It's amazing that we jumped through hoops to get this money, agreed to all sorts of "reforms" to get this money, and made such a big deal out of it when it turns out kids are the last to actually benefit from it.

It's not just that they won't benefit from the data collectors or whatever the city is creating, but actually they had no chance of benefiting from it under any circumstance. The money was never to reduce class sizes, to promote innovation, to improve instruction, but rather a chance to utilize a wishing well of Gates Foundation ideas hoisted upon the country. Here's a country that adores innovation in education, and no one cares whether or not it works as long as teachers can be held accountable for whatever ends up happening.

The important thing, apparently is to figure out what to do with the data. My guess is it will need to be examined ever so carefully, and interpreted in favor of Mayor Bloomberg one way or the other. Because the Race is not about how well children do. It is, rather, about making clueless billionaires appear to be taking positive action on education.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

A Way Forward

There is a Bob Dylan song on one of his 80's albums (Oh, Mercy) that is called "Everything is Broken."

It goes something like this:

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken

Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin'
Everything is broken

Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face

Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken

Boy, that sums up how everything feels to me this morning.

Part of London was on fire last night after a 29-year old father of four was killed by police and angry citizens rioted in response.

The newspaper headlines this morning are full of portending doom, with the S&P downgrade of the nation's credit rating from AAA+ to AA+ expected to harm an already weakening economy.

The nation's debt, fed by two rounds of Bush tax cuts and two overseas wars put on the nation's credit card, is forcing politicians to slash domestic spending, lay off government workers, and look to the social safety net for more budget cuts.

Meanwhile Tea Party Republicans refuse to discuss any revenue increases despite tax levels being at the lowest level since the 50's.

"Progressive" Barack Obama brags about bringing domestic government spending down to Eisenhower-era levels even as he ratchets up the spending on the wars in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The nation's unemployment rate stands officially at 9.1% but nobody really believes that number. The government is jiving us, the underemployment rate stands closer to 20%, the prospects for people long out of work are not good, especially if they are over 45 years of age.

Even as the job prospects for middle-aged and older Americans diminish, Barack Obama gets ready to raise the eligibility age and cut benefits on Social Security and Medicare.

The debt ceiling fight has left people feeling that the American political system is dysfunctional beyond fixing, that the extreme partisanship that has seen Tea Party Republicans actually claim they would rather see default by the nation on its debts than compromise with Democrats and raise any taxes whatsoever leaves you feeling that nothing of note or promise will ever be accomplished in Washington again.

Given what comes from Washington these days, from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top in education to the draconian food laws and regulations that are written by Monsanto lobbyists and benefit Big Ag over small farmers, maybe it's not so bad that Washington can't get anything of note through anymore.

Do we really want another Obama health care plan that mandates Americans buy crappy insurance or face tax penalties from the IRS?

Do we want the Obama No Child Left Behind II blueprint that calls for batteries of additional standardized testing in every grade at every level in every state and ties teacher pay and evaluations to those scores?

Do we want another Obama stimulus plan that spends billions on garbage like Race to the Top but fails to really create jobs, fails to put together some FDR kind of jobs programs that helps the country rebuild its Third World infrastructure?

I say no, we do not.

It may be time that we look away from Washington and government, indeed, look away from electoral politics in particular.

The American Empire is broken and cannot be fixed.

Electing somebody who runs on the "Audacity of Hope" will not makes things better.

Electing somebody who talks about "Change We Can All Believe In" will not change things for the better.

There is too much corporate money, too much corruption, too much poison in the system for there to be any meaningful progress to come from Washington.

Everybody's on the take, everyone's on the make, everything is broken - from the government to Wall Street to the banking system to the media.

The free market fetishists sell us on "market-based solutions" even as it has become quite clear that market-based solutions bring profits for the Elite and pain for everybody else.

Chris Hedges has written that:

The refusal by all of our liberal institutions, including the press, universities, labor and the Democratic Party, to challenge the utopian assumptions that the marketplace should determine human behavior permits corporations and investment firms to continue their assault, including speculating on commodities to drive up food prices. It permits coal, oil and natural gas corporations to stymie alternative energy and emit deadly levels of greenhouse gases. It permits agribusinesses to divert corn and soybeans to ethanol production and crush systems of local, sustainable agriculture. It permits the war industry to drain half of all state expenditures, generate trillions in deficits, and profit from conflicts in the Middle East we have no chance of winning. It permits corporations to evade the most basic controls and regulations to cement into place a global neo-feudalism. The last people who should be in charge of our food supply or our social and political life, not to mention the welfare of sick children, are corporate capitalists and Wall Street speculators.

Hedges proposes a solution, a solution that so far many of us who are still invested in the American economic and political systems have been unwilling to comply with:

None of this is going to change until we turn our backs on the Democratic Party, denounce the orthodoxies peddled in our universities and in the press by corporate apologists and construct our opposition to the corporate state from the ground up. It will not be easy. It will take time. And it will require us to accept the status of social and political pariahs, especially as the lunatic fringe of our political establishment steadily gains power. The corporate state has nothing to offer the left or the right but fear. It uses fear—fear of secular humanism or fear of Christian fascists—to turn the population into passive accomplices. As long as we remain afraid nothing will change.


We must embrace, and embrace rapidly, a radical new ethic of simplicity and rigorous protection of our ecosystem—especially the climate—or we will all be holding on to life by our fingertips. We must rebuild radical socialist movements that demand that the resources of the state and the nation provide for the welfare of all citizens and the heavy hand of state power be employed to prohibit the plunder by the corporate power elite. We must view the corporate capitalists who have seized control of our money, our food, our energy, our education, our press, our health care system and our governance as mortal enemies to be vanquished.

As we face another looming recession, the second recession in four years, as Europe reels from a sovereign debt crisis, as the world faces its second banking crisis in four years this weekend, as the stock market gives away all its gains for the year and looks to be heading for a 20% fall in the near future, as poverty rates soar across the world and here in the United States, as austerity measures are pushed that will ultimately dismantle what little is left of the American social safety network, as our water and air and soil is poisoned from corporate malfeasance and human greed, we have incontrovertible evidence that the current system is broken and cannot be fixed.

There is a saying that we cannot fix any problem if we approach it with the same mindset that created the problem in the first place.

All of these market-based solutions to fix the economy, to fix education, to fix our environmental problems, have caused more problems than they have fixed.

We are quite literally at the end of something here.

You can feel it, every day, on the street, on the road, in cities and towns and suburbs, in shops and stores (in the ones that haven't closed, at any rate.)

Our market-based system tells us that the highest good is consumption, that our purpose in life is to accumulate as much wealth as possible, consume as much as we can during our lifetimes and leave what is left to our kids (but just our kids.)

This system is unsustainable and not particularly good for either the earth or humans.

Even people who have all the material wealth they could ever want and more are not happy with what they have.

You can see it in the increase of eating disorders, alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, shopping addiction, and debt addiction.

The American Dream, the idea that material wealth will solve all your existential problems and bring you happiness and contentment, has been found hollow.

In addiction, one must have to hit bottom before any radical shift in behavior can occur.

Drunks don't stop drinking while the booze is still working, sort of, for them.

They stop when the booze stops working, the job is gone, the wife is gone, the house is gone, the self-respect and self-esteem is gone, the money is gone, the hope for the future is gone.

Mostly they stop when they get sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I don't know about you, but I think the nation is at this moment today.

We are at bottom.

We can choose help or we can make things worse by wallowing in our despair and doubling down on what no longer works.

There are a lot of shrill, violent voices that are angling to sell the public on the second angle.

I am hoping to see us choose the first option - the help.

I have a deep respect for Chris Hedges and believe him to be one of the most astute political writers of our age, but I am not sure that seeing the elites who are gobbling up all the wealth and sticking us with the austerity "as mortal enemies to be vanquished" will solve our problems.

I don't have ready answers for you, or a system to sell you on, but I do know that some have pointed a way forward for us out of this chaos and despair.

I have been reading this book by Charles Eisenstein called the Ascent of Humanity and this section of the Introduction particularly spoke to me:

The dashed Utopian dreams of the last few centuries leave little hope. Despite the miracles we have produced, people across the ideological spectrum, from Christian fundamentalists to environmental activists, share a foreboding that the world is in grave and growing peril. Temporary, localized improvements cannot hide the ambient wrongness that pervades the warp and woof of modern society, and often our personal lives as well. We might manage each immediate problem and control every foreseeable risk, but an underlying disquiet remains. I am referring simply to the feeling, "Something is wrong around here." Something so fundamentally wrong that centuries of our best and brightest efforts to create a better world have failed or even backfired. As this realization sinks in, we respond with despair, cynicism, numbness, or detachment.

Yet no matter how complete the despair, no matter how bitter the cynicism, a possibility beckons of a world more beautiful and a life more magnificent than what we know today. Though we may rationalize it, it is not rational. We become aware of it in moments, gaps in the rush and press of modern life. These moments come to us alone in nature, or with a baby, making love, playing with children, caring for a dying person, making music for the sake of music or beauty for the sake of beauty. At such times, a simple and easy joy shows us the futility of the vast, life-consuming program of management and control.

We intuit also that something similar is possible collectively. Some of may have experienced it when we find ourselves cooperating naturally and effortlessly, instruments of a purpose greater than ourselves that, paradoxically, makes us individually more and not less when we abandon ourselves to it. It is what musicians are referring to when they say, "The music played the band."

Another way of being is possible, and it is right in front of us, closer than close; that much is transparently certain. Yet it slips away so easily that we hardly believe it could be the foundation of life; so we relegate it to an afterlife and call it Heaven, or we relegate it to the future and call it Utopia. (When nanotechnology solves all our problems. . . when we all learn to be nice to each other. . . when finally I'm not so busy. . .) Either way, we set it apart from this world and this life, and thereby deny its practicality and its reality in the here-and-now. Yet the knowledge that life is more than Just This cannot be suppressed, not forever.

Another way of living is possible, we have the opportunity now to search out that way of life, to find it in the brief moments when we can let go of fear and despair and see the glory of life.

The way forward is in each of us, in our hearts, our souls, ourselves.

I see it when I spend my lunch period talking to a freshman about her anger at her father for abandoning her and watch as she works through that anger over the course of the year and comes to understand that she does have worth, that she is a loveable, valuable person no matter how her birth father has treated her, but holding onto the anger toward him isn't helping her in her life, in fact is holding her back from growing into the person she can be.

I have quite literally seen this transformation in a student.

It won't be counted in the Bloomberg data, Chancellor Walcott won't hold a press conference over it and Michelle Rhee will not add this kind of thing to her Students First agenda, but this is the kind of work that can and will change the world, one person at a time.

I believe this in my heart.

I am not naive enough to think I will see a noticeable world shift in my lifetime.

I am not naive enough to think that shift will occur even in the next few generations.

I don't know, maybe it will never occur.

But I do know that if I take actions to change myself, to grow emotionally and spiritually, to let go of fear and anger, to shift my perceptions from "What Can I Take And Keep From Others?" to "How Can I Give?", I know that the despair I sometimes feel watching the world these days will diminish and even disappear.

I could easily be one of those people in London rioting over injustice, setting fire to buses and looking for blood from the Establishment.

There are a few folks at Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan Chase that I think the world would be better without.

Same goes for the Bloomberg administration and at Microsoft.

But if I give in to those angry thoughts, those impulses, I add violence and anger and discord to the world.

I become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

That doesn't mean that I don't do my best to protect myself from those folks, it just means that I work hard not to hate them.

I heard somebody say once that even the greedy elites who are stealing you blind are still people too.

I think this will be the way forward for me today.

Think of it as a 12 Step Program for World Recovery.

And it starts with me and me alone.

Take the next right action.

Be part of something bigger than myself.

Let go of anger, replace it with love.

These actions may seem small and they may not be for everybody.

And they can be really, really difficult.

It's a day-to-day thing, sometimes a moment-to-moment thing.

I mean, ask me how well I am letting go of my anger when Bloomberg comes for my job or Gates wants to film me in my classroom.

But honestly, I can see no other way forward for me these days.

As I say, I know I could help push a bus over and set it on fire.

But that won't solve this.

So instead, I look to find a new way forward.

POSTSCRIPT: My time here at is done. I want to thank NYC Educator for giving me the platform to air my views and comment upon the extraordinary events taking place this summer in the world. We indeed live in interesting times.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Murdoch's Education Ventures Go Forward With The Help Of Politicians On His Payroll

The Independent reports today that Rupert Murdoch is going ahead with his plans to create a News International-sponsored academy school near his newspaper headquarters in east London despite the hacking and political corruption scandal that is embroiling his company, News Corporation.

The hacking scandal has seen 11 former News International employees arrested on a variety of charges, from phone hacking to conspiracy, including the former News of the World editor and News International chief Rebekah Brooks and one of British Prime Minister's David Cameron's former top aides and former editor at News of the World, Andy Coulson.

News International is the British subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

News International employees have been accused of hacking into the phones of murder victims, murder victims' family members, 7/7 terrorism victims and their families, celebrities, politicians and members of the Royal Family, bribing the police for information, and conspiring with police and political officials to cover-up the scandal and sidetrack any official investigations into the matter.

The scandal has led to the shuttering of the newspaper at the center of the hacking allegations, the 168-year old News of the World, as well as the withdrawal of News Corporation's bid to take over shares of the British satellite network BSkyB that are not already owned by News Corp.

The nexus between News International criminal activity, News International employees, politicians and police in this scandal has been getting special scrutiny since former News International employee Andy Coulson was forced to resign from his government position earlier in the year as a result of the scandal and since allegations came to light that current or former Murdoch employees hired by the police may have helped quell past investigations into the hacking scandal.

Top officials at Scotland Yard have resigned in the wake of these allegations.

But neither Murdoch nor the political establishment seem disturbed enough by the scandal to put a temporary halt on Murdoch's education moves.

The news about the Murdoch-sponsored academy in Britain is just the latest example of a Murdoch move into the education sphere and he is doing these moves with the help of politicians either currently on his payroll or formerly on it.

For example, former News International employee and now British Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has met with News Corp. executives at least 21 times since the last election, more than any other member of the British government, including six times with Rupert Murdoch himself.

Gove, a corporate education reform advocate with close ties to another Murdoch employee, former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, has called for a radical overhaul of education in Britain, comparing his reform efforts to Chairman Mao's Long March.

Gove's plans include starting networks of "free schools," which will be similar to charter schools here in the U.S., that will be free from many of the rules schools in Britain have to abide by as well as a radical shift in the school curriculum and an increased emphasis on testing. Gove has also pushed for a ten hour school day and half day school on Saturdays, though the extended hours would not be compulsory.

Gove had a three day series of meetings with Joel Klein on the free schools issue earlier this year. Like Klein, Gove is also a proponent of technology education and hopes to digitize many of Britain's classrooms in the near future for online instruction and education.

Rupert Murdoch himself said he sees online education and instruction as a $500 billion dollar profit sector in the near future and has bought a U.S. company that provides the kind of software and technology that is used for online education, Wireless Generation.

Former New York City Schools Chancellor Klein signed a no-bid contract with Wireless Generation for a few million dollars when he was running the NYC school system.

Klein went to work for Rupert Murdoch after he resigned his chancellorship. Two weeks later, Murdoch purchased Wireless Generation and put Klein in charge of running the News Corporation K-12 online education division, which includes Wireless Generation.

Wireless Generation has since been given a no-bid contract by the NY State Education Department worth $27 million dollars.

That contract is under scrutiny, as 16 other companies tried to bid for the contract but NYSED officials claimed there was no time to bid out the contract competitively, as they were under a deadline for Race to the Top funds.

The Daily News has reported this was not so, that the timeline would have allowed for competitive bidding but that the NYSED decided not to take any competitive bids for the contract

This week the United Federation of Teachers and the New York State Union of Teachers called for the Wireless Generation contract to be voided, citing concerns over the News International hacking scandal in Britain.

Which brings me back full circle to the Independent article about the Murdoch-sponsored free school in Britain that will focus on technology education.

It is apparent that Murdoch, with the help of former political operatives now on his payroll, like Joel Klein or former Murdoch employees now working in the public sector, like Michael Gove, is intent on creating a public/private education system with an emphasis on technology and online instruction, then carving out a substantial part of that sector for News Corp profit-taking.

As he said himself, he expects to make billions off such a partnership even as his own media outlets like the NY Post and the Wall Street Journal call for more technology-friendly reforms from their editorial pages that will ultimately make News Corporation more profitable.

That Murdoch and his minions like Gove and Klein are getting away with this even as the News International hacking scandal continues to grow is disturbing.

An official British inquiry team into the scandal led by Justice Brian Leveson has begun an investigation that is expected to take a year to look into the matters.

Here in the United States, the FBI has opened an investigation into whether News Corporation employees or their British counterparts at News International hacked into the phones of 9/11 victims and their families.

Murdoch announced his own internal News Corp. investigation led by Joel Klein, the man who prepped Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, for their July appearance before a Parliament committee.

Klein reports to another Murdoch employee and News Corporation board member, Viet Dinh, for this investigation, but the internal News Corp. probe has been widely criticized as compromised since men very close to Rupert Murdoch are leading it.

Questions of a continued Murdoch cover-up surfaced when news broke that Murdoch has given employees fired as a result of the News of the World closure raises and bonuses, a move that sounds very much like bribery to keep possibly disgruntled employees quiet about the hacking scandal.

In addition, James Murdoch has been accused of lying before Parliament about his knowledge of the phone hacking scandal and News International payoffs to victims of the hacking by two former high level News International employees, lawyer Tom Crone and former News of the World editor Colin Myler.

Murdoch paid out a 700,000 GBP payment to News International hacking victim Gordon Taylor, but claimed he was only doing so on the advice of Crone and Myler and did not know the reason for the payout.

The statement seems absurd on the face of it (who hands out $1.2 million as a payout without knowing why?) and Crone and Myler are now stating that openly.

So the Murdoch hacking scandal, while at a low level now with Parliament on recess, is not even close to being over.

Many more allegations and disclosures are to come and the scandal may still bring down both James Murdoch and his father, Rupert.

For governments in either the United States or Britain to do education business with News Corp. or News International while this scandal continues to break is disgusting and hypocritical.

But given that so many in the governments of both Britain and the United States are either on the Murdoch payroll, used to be on the Murdoch payroll, or want to be on the Murdoch payroll in the future, I suppose it is not a surprise that Murdoch is continuing with his education ventures unimpeded.

Men like Joel Klein and Michael Gove have shown their allegiance is to Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation, not to children or the public or public education, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised when many other people in the political establishment feel the same way.

In Britain, that means the Cameron government.

In America, that means the Bloomberg administration, the Cuomo administration, the New York State Education Department and the Regents, and even the Obama administration's USDOE.

It seems that short of murder itself, there is nothing that Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch or News Corporation employees can do that would get the political establishment to bar them from doing business in the public education system.

But who knows?

Given the severity of the hacking scandal already, with News International employees hacking into a murdered teenager's phone and erasing messages, with News International employees hacking into the phone of the mother of another girl murdered - a phone that News International gave her - and with allegations that News International employees hacked into the phones of 7/7 and 9/11 terrorism victims, the investigation may just yet turn up a body or two as well.

Arne Duncan's Dirty Tricks

Mike Klonksy posted about rumors from USDOE insiders that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has convened a "Ravitch Group" to dig up dirt on Duncan critic Diane Ravitch and feed it to the press to undercut her credibility and damage her public standing.

Klonsky has no smoking gun on the existence of a Ravitch Group other than "word" from DOE insiders, but notes how Duncan-friendly journalists like Jonathan Alter and David Brooks seem to get their anti-Ravitch talking points simultaneously and run with their anti-Ravitch stories in synchronicity.

He wonders if any journalists are on the Duncan payroll, the way "journalist" Armstrong Williams was paid by the Bush DOE to write nice things (i.e., propaganda) about Bush education policy.

Finally he suggests journalists not on the Duncan payroll start asking questions about the "Ravitch Group" and see if it indeed exists and, if so, ask why Duncan and the DOE are spending money on it in a time of budgetary austerity.

Now I don't have any inside knowledge of whether the "Ravitch Group" exists or not.

I do know this.

Arne Duncan doesn't have to pay journalists like Jonathan Alter to carry his anti-Ravitch water for him when "philanthropists" like Michael Bloomberg will.

Arne Duncan doesn't have to fund or engage in pushback efforts against Diane Ravitch and other critics of corporate education policy when Bill Gates will.

Arne Duncan doesn't have to push to have anti-Ravitch stories published when corporate media like the Comcast-owned NBC/MSNBC or the Murdoch-owned New York Post and Wall Street Journal will be happy to do the work for him.

And yet, Secretary Duncan still seems to need to go after Diane Ravitch personally even when he has all these well-funded allies to do the work for him.

Why is that?

It seems at once a mix of Nixonian arrogance and paranoia on Duncan's part.

Duncan, who is feted regularly on shows like MSNBC's Morning Joe, is not used to somebody in public life calling him on his b.s.

He is used to getting his way on policy, however - from Race to the Top to the jobs bills that saw cuts to food stamps rather than cuts to RttT, Duncan has pretty much gotten his way on everything since he got to Washington.

At least until now.

He hasn't been getting his way on the No Child Left Behind re-authorization timetable he wants, nor on getting the Congress to pass the Obama blueprint for it.

And Duncan doesn't like not getting his way.

Not at all.

As Valerie Strauss noted in this post about the Obama administration's treatment of the Save Our Schools leadership last week, the people in the Obama White House and the Duncan Department of Education suffer from an "arrogance of certainty" that they are right about education policy and anybody who isn't on board is to be marginalized, disempowered, or, if the person is somebody with power and a platform like Diane Ravitch, to be attacked and discredited.

They have decided that failed policies like tying teacher evaluations to test scores and merit pay based upon those same tests are the right policy, research be damned (see here, here, and here.)

They have decided that a national standardized curriculum with national standardized tests that will be used to evaluate schools, administrators, and teachers is the right policy, federalism and local control of schools not withstanding.

They have decided that they will promote these reforms through NCLB waivers whether they are allowed to by law or not, they will continue down this BLAME THE TEACHERS road even when it is pretty clear that the problems in the public education system are NOT the fault of teachers.

When Ravitch calls Duncan on this stuff, he doesn't like it.

So he attacks or has his allies in the corporate reform movement attack in concert with him.

Whether Arne Duncan has actually convened an "official" Ravitch Group or not, whether he has hired some modern versions of Chuck Colson and Donald Segretti to engage in acts of political sabotage and dirty tricks against Diane Ravitch and other critics of the Obama/Duncan policies, or circulated an actual "Enemies List" within the USDOE, the effect is the same as if he had.

This is a White House and a USDOE engaged in promoting its top-down, corporate-friendly education agenda, bent on marginalizing or destroying anybody not on board with it and willing to lie, cheat and deceive in order to get their agenda across, as Duncan has been doing with his threats about AYP.

They're not interested in hearing from anybody on the other side of the issues, they are not interested in honest debate or actual scientific research - they have already concluded that the education reform policies promoted by Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg and the Walton Family are the ones that will be the law and practice of the land and they intend to destroy anybody who threatens that outcome.

Diane Ravitch happens to be the most public, most erudite and most vocal critic, so she gets the brunt of the Duncan/Gates/Ed Deform attacks.

But make no mistake, what they are doing to her, they are doing to all their critics and opponents.

And in that, they are very Nixonian indeed.

UPDATE: Mike posts that Duncan p.r. official Justin Hamilton issued a snarky non-denial tweet, saying the rumors of the "Ravitch Group" ought to be filed with rumors of "Black Helicopters."

Why not just emphatically say "No, there is no Ravitch Group at the Department of Education"?

Whenever politicians or their flacks issue hyperbolic dismissals of things, my b.s. meter starts to go off.

Friday, August 05, 2011

And Good Morning to You, Too

I run hot and cold on Gotham Schools, but I can't deny that the headlines they link to every morning are what the public sees, assuming the public reads the local rags.  The ones from the Post are largely surreal, and show few signs of relenting. Today's link, by a young genius who gets paid to write this stuff, suggests we should hope for a cheating scandal. This, apparently, will show teachers stink, and will be a great victory for Mayor Bloomberg's "reforms."

Because, you see yet again, the only factor that has any relevance whatsoever in test scores is the teacher. It's you me, or that other lowlife down the hall. Home life is of no importance whatsoever. Unemployment, underemployment, homelessness, learning disabilities, lack of English ability, lack of medical treatment, or even glasses--these are all excuses, and we're in the era of "no excuses."

Bridgeport, Ct, gave up control of its schools, relinquishing its school board to a hedge fund manager who promises to finance "reforms." That's kind of horrifying. Yet right here in NYC, a bunch of billionaires just financed the January Regents, not because of the low cost and high benefit, but because Mayor Bloomberg wants what he wants, and he wants it now. That's a chilling precedent, and we've undoubtedly seen much more of it, expressed somewhat more subtly, for years now.

In DC, they've passed an extension. But GE still pays way less than a secretary who actually works for it, and now they're using the money that paying zero dollars in US taxes netted them to invest in China. It doesn't benefit America to allow those who'd reap benefits write the tax laws. Nor does it benefit us to allow those who patronize private schools decide what's good for public schools. Nor does it benefit us to allow slimeball publishers like Murdoch trash teachers for no reason.

Because there's a big problem in this country. And teachers ain't it, no matter how badly some would wish to dump it on us.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

How's That Austerity Thing Working Out?

The headline this evening at the Washington Post reads "DOW PLUMMETS MORE THAN 500 POINTS AMID FEARS OF NEW GLOBAL RECESSION."

The Dow closed down for the ninth time in the last ten sessions, erasing all gains for 2011.

The stock market turmoil comes after all that debt ceiling nonsense in Washington in which each party tried to outdo the other in pushing austerity measures for the country.

The American public was told that if the austerity measures were not passed and signed into law, there would be economic hell to pay.

But even as the debt ceiling fight was going on in Washington, Europe was wrestling with its own debt and insolvency problems, economic data has been coming in on the decidedly weak side, unemployment remains at elevated levels, and GDP growth has been anemic.

Now all of a sudden its occurring to people that worrying about the debt ten years down the road might not be as important as worrying about GDP for the third quarter.

The Federal Reserve has been printing money 24/7 and handing it to the banksters at 0% to spur growth, but that doesn't seem to be helping the economy turn around - the banks are just sitting on all that cash instead.

All of this means that the economy is actually going to get a lot worse in the short term at the very least, as you cannot cut billions in spending at a time when neither consumers nor businesses are willing or able to pick up the slack and expect the economy to shake off the damage.

Somehow the clowns in Washington in both parties missed that lesson while they were outdoing themselves with the austerity measures.

Former Obama adviser Jared Bernstein acknowledged just that today:

“If this economy were a bicycle, it would be about to topple over,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and formerly the top economic advisor to Vice President Biden. “We need to put pressure on those pedals, but the political system is pushing us in the other direction. The economy is crying out for help and the political system is deaf to those cries.”

But even as all of this carnage is going on in the markets and on Main Street, the NY Times reports today that luxury retail sales are skyrocketing:

Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with a $9,010 price. Neiman Marcus has sold out in almost every size of Christian Louboutin “Bianca” platform pumps, at $775 a pair. Mercedes-Benz said it sold more cars last month in the United States than it had in any July in five years.

Even with the economy in a funk and many Americans pulling back on spending, the rich are again buying designer clothing, luxury cars and about anything that catches their fancy. Luxury goods stores, which fared much worse than other retailers in the recession, are more than recovering — they are zooming. Many high-end businesses are even able to mark up, rather than discount, items to attract customers who equate quality with price.

“If a designer shoe goes up from $800 to $860, who notices?” said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at the consulting firm Kurt Salmon, and the former chairman and chief executive of Saks.

The rich do not spend quite as they did in the free-wheeling period before the recession, but they are closer to that level.

The luxury category has posted 10 consecutive months of sales increases compared with the year earlier, even as overall consumer spending on categories like furniture and electronics has been tepid, according to the research service MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse. In July, the luxury segment had an 11.6 percent increase, the biggest monthly gain in more than a year.

The Times article says the increase in luxury sales is tied to the market, so I wouldn't expect there to be a whole lot of purchases at Nordstrom this evening after today's market bloodbath, but it sure is interesting how there is a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with a $9,010 price tag even as the rest of the country is being force-fed austerity sandwiches and Obama peas, layoffs and furloughs, pension and salary cuts.

I guess Scott Fitzgerald was right about the rich being different than the rest of us - they have a lot more money and when the political class in Washington and elsewhere are shoving austerity measures and budget cuts onto the country, the rich are never asked to pay their share with something like, you know, taxes.

You can be sure that if the markets continue to tank, we will be sold even more austerity measures that will make the economy even worse and life for middle and working class people even harder as the elite continue to enjoy tax cuts and purchase those $9,010 coats at Nordstrom.

There seems to be two things you can count on as a certainty in the 21st Century United States - death and tax cuts for rich people.

To that, I would add austerity measures for the rest of us.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Private Funding For Public Testing

Earlier this year, the New York State Regents canceled the January 2012 Regents exams.

You see, there was no money in the state piggy bank for the January Regents exams.

Not after the Regents needed to implement all those other state tests as part of the Race to the Top program that requires students be tested in all subjects at every grade level and teachers be evaluated using these scores.

Not after the austerity budget Tea Party Democrat Andrew Cuomo had passed in New York State.

Now the January Regents exams really don't cost all that much - just $1.4 million dollars.

Hell, that's less than half what NYCDOE computer consultant Willard Lanham stole from the City of New York as part of a technology upgrade to wire classrooms for computerized testing ($3.6 million.)

It's also a lot less than what Wireless Generation is going to see as part of the no-bid contract NY State has handed it's owner, scandal-plagued Rupert Murdoch, to track student test data using the extremely crappy and roundly despised ARIS system ($27 million).

And surely it's a whole lot less than Bloomberg is spending on technology upgrades to classrooms again this year after just upgrading the classroom wiring a few years ago with crooked consultants like Willard Lanham doing the job ($542 million) or the amount that he allowed the City Time crooks to steal as part of a city payroll project ($600 million as reported by the NY Times in June, 2011.)

Yet the state just couldn't find the $1.4 million for the January Regents and this made Mayor Moneybags here in New York City very, very sad.

Now what's a billionaire who has seen his personal net worth sky-rocket since he took office in NYC to do when he wants state tests in order to use the scores to grade teachers but the state cannot afford them?

Why, go to "private donors" for the money, of course!

Over the last several weeks, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made a series of unusual fund-raising calls to a handful of wealthy New Yorkers. Would they be willing, he asked, to chip in $250,000 each to save some standardized tests?

The state, he told them, had canceled the January administration of the high school Regents exams, endangering the graduation of thousands of city students. Principals were warning of disastrous consequences and more dropouts. To reinstate the exams for next year, the state needed $1.4 million the State Legislature did not provide.

He placed five calls, and all of the donors said yes. Mr. Bloomberg then pitched in $250,000 from his own private philanthropy. So now January exams are back on across the state in what may be the nation’s first private effort to pay for standardized testing.

Gee, how "generous" of these private donors to pony up the money for the January Regents exams.

But just who are these "private donors"?

Other than explaining that he contributed $250,000 himself, the mayor won't say who these wonderful "private donors" are except to say this:

“They are not trying to court favor with anybody,” he said on Wednesday, announcing the gift and explaining why all the donors, with the exception of the mayor, were anonymous. “They just understand that this is the future of our country, our kids, the future of our city.”

Oh, sure they're not trying to court favor with anybody, they have no agenda to promote and no business angle in this, they just happen to be on Moneybags' iPad 2 and they were all happy to pony up the dough.

Funny how Moneybags didn't make these calls when he was claiming he needed to lay thousands of teachers off to save millions in the city budget.

Maybe a few of them would have ponied up some money then too?

Well, we'll never know the answer to that now, but I guess we do know what the mayor's priorities are - tests over teachers.

Now I for one am glad the January Regents exams are back since it gives many students two chances to pass the tests they will need to pass in order to graduate.

I know that there were some seniors this year who failed to graduate in June because they failed the June U.S. History Regents exam after the January exam was canceled due to snow.

Had there been a January Regents exam, they perhaps would have gotten the wake-up call to prepare better for the June exam rather than now having to sit through summer school test prep classes to take the exam again.

And I know in my school that we test the overwhelming majority of juniors on the ELA Regents exam in January so that we can focus on just a few who need additional preparation and tutoring to pass the exam in June.

So having the January Regents exams back is very helpful.

Nonetheless I am disturbed that Moneybags himself, Oligarch Extraordinaire, has put the money up for these tests, along with some other nameless oligarchs who Bloomberg assures us are just in this because they love the kids.

More and more, you can see how the states and the country as a whole are abdicating their public responsibilities on things like public education and transportation and ceding them to private enterprise or philanthropists.

The United States is becoming a Third World country where the oligarchs get all the tax cuts and tax subsidies they want, the corporations pay nothing in taxes, the starved government has to cut all sorts of programs, and then "private donors" are found to fund the programs they want to fund.

You see, the Tea Party Republicans like Cantor and McConnell and Christie and the Tea Party Democrats like Obama and Cuomo all insist there is just no money to provide any domestic services anymore.

We're just that broke.

And that's where Bloomberg and his "private donors" step in.

Maybe they can make up the shortfall.

And of course, like Bloomberg says, these private donors won't have any agenda to push at all or receive anything in return for their "gifts."


Except for all those paper tests with the WALMART logo on 'em and all those computerized tests and test prep programs that can only be run on MICROSOFT products, of course...

Don't Say That it Can't Get Any Worse

You'll have to excuse Miss Eyre for being a bit of a Debbie Downer today. Yes, I'm just back from a vacation in more tropical parts and I'm continuing to enjoy summer break, and I'm even starting to get those happy back-to-school butterflies as I order a few new professional books and pick up my (NON-CITY-COUNCIL-SUBSIDIZED, THANKS GUYS) whiteboard markers and correcting pens. But I can't help but feel general dismay, malaise, and pessimism, mostly because of those clowns in Washington (and "clowns" is, believe me, the most family-friendly term I can use, or rather substitute for my usual terms, in this blog). "When I look at the world, I am pessimistic," admitted humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, "but when I look at human beings, I am optimistic." I'll be doing a lot of looking at human beings, it seems, as the school year inches closer, to try to stave off the encroaching waves of despair. And as far as my federal elected representatives go, I'd pull an Oedipus to avoid looking at them. (Except for Sen. Gillibrand. You go, girl.)

As I reflected on my (astronomical) grocery bill while cooking dinner this evening, I realized what I'd suspected for a while, but didn't exactly have concrete proof of until now: My government does not care about me. At all. The last nice thing they did for me was subsidize a student loan three years ago, and since then, they've been conspiring to screw me.

No really, I'm serious. I wish this was a work of satire, but it's not. I'm not so paranoid/narcissistic to think that they're out to get me personally, but I do believe that the government is going to collectively shrug its shoulders at the struggles of the working and middle classes (not the poor, though, they're straight-up giving the poor the finger). My tax bill has gone up and up and up with absolutely nothing to show for it--in fact, less than nothing, if the dire warnings about cuts for the rest of my natural life are to be believed, so if I should ever fall on hard times, well, they'll pray for me, I guess. I have a young relative continuing to fight, as we speak, today, in Afghanistan, for God only knows what at this point. I have another relative who despite a college degree and excellent qualifications is just a few weeks away from being a 99-weeker. Still, though, we can afford 1.5 trillion dollars--yes, trillion with a T!!!--in cuts that will not affect in the least the people who ruined the economy in the first place: the lawmakers who voted again and again for disastrous fiscal policy for the past eleven years and the billionaires who have them in their pockets. And yes, all of those italics were on purpose.

It's so bad that the kiss-offs to which public school teachers are now more or less accustomed have been forgotten for the moment. I suppose, if I think about it, NYC Educator and you and I are doubly screwed as middle-class public educators.

And do I hold President Obama accountable? You're damn right I do. I voted for him and I am becoming sorrier by the day. Not that I would have voted for McCain, but I should have voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary, who could have just had a quick chat with Bill to double-check the Go-Ahead-Shut-Down-the-Government-Make-My-Day strategy. Or I should have voted for anyone who would have stood up to the Republicans, anyone who wouldn't have blinked first, anyone who would have remembered for a second that he himself knew struggle as a young person and that he shouldn't leave today's strugglers behind. And I'm even angrier that I'll have no viable alternative in 2012. What am I going to do, vote for this clown? Or this one? Not likely.

Washington has, with yesterday's vote, made it absolutely, indisputably, crystal clear: They Do Not Care, President Obama's nice words today notwithstanding. If you've read the economist who thinks this plan is likely to work, please share a link in the comments, because everyone I've heard from so far thinks it's a disaster, and not just Paul Krugman.

But there's one thing you shouldn't say in the comments: Don't say that it can't get any worse. Because it always can. And I'm about to go to bed, as I write this on Tuesday evening to go live Wednesday morning, and I'd rather not have nightmares.