Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Federal Court Defendants Joel Klein & Ray Kelly

Nat Hentoff in The Village Voice

Our Education Mayor remains silent about police abuses of students in public schools

By Nat Hentoff

published: December 31, 2008

While Joel Klein was among those being seriously considered by Barack Obama for Secretary of Education—Chicago Superintendent Arne Duncan won out—a civil rights complaint, demanding a jury trial, was filed in U.S. District Court here. The defendants include Chancellor Klein, Police Commissioner Kelly, the City of New York, and School Safety Agent Daniel O'Connell. The plaintiff is Carlos Cruz, father of Stephen Cruz, an 11th-grade student at Robert F. Kennedy Community High School in Flushing, Queens.

Klein is a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed by attorney Jeffrey Rothman, because he "is and was at all times, the Commissioner of Education . . . and is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation . . . and enforcement of the policies and practices . . . herein. He is sued individually and in his official capacity."

I have reported often here on the documented abuses of students, and even some teachers, by the School Safety Agents deployed in this city's schools under Kelly, Klein, and Michael Bloomberg (the latter two praised around the country as champions of "school reform"). Since the 1950s, I've written in columns and books on our schools—and their chancellors from the worst to the best. But not until the Bloomberg/Klein regime have I seen such flagrant dereliction of accountability at the very top of the school system for frequent abuse of students by police agents. This Stephen Cruz case will be followed in next week's column by the even more outrageous treatment of 16-year-old Rohan Morgan at Hillcrest High School in Queens.

Teaching fear of the police is part of the curriculum in the school system—of which Bloomberg is so proud that he is striving (with the help of the City Council) to control the schools permanently.

On September 19, 2008, Stephen Cruz entered one of the stalls in the second-floor bathroom of his school and, as he leaned over to unbuckle his pants, School Safety Agent Daniel O'Connell—known as "Robocop" by the students—smashed open the door without any warning, let alone justification, cutting Stephen's head below the hairline. Bleeding, dizzy, the lump on his head swelling, Cruz showed his blood to the attacker, who said, "That's life. It will stop bleeding"—and left to do his safety rounds. A fellow student in the bathroom helped Cruz to the principal's office to get medical help. Cruz's parents were called to the school and told by the principal that since "Robocop" was an employee of the NYPD, he had no power to discipline the SWAT man.

But why had O'Connell knocked down the door? Stephen's father kept trying to find out, but was told that the Safety Agent didn't even have to submit a report to school officials. His immediate boss was School Safety Agent Supervisor Anthony Pelosi at the 107th Precinct. The impotent principal did schedule a meeting at the precinct to discuss the violence, but Pelosi abruptly canceled it—with, of course, no explanation.

Rothman said (as reported by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has been trying to teach Klein and Bloomberg the Bill of Rights for years, concerning these cases): "It is appalling that the system is so broken that the only way for a parent to stand up for his son—and to prevent the same things from happening to other children—is to file a lawsuit and an Internal Affairs complaint." He added: "We shouldn't need attorneys to hold this man accountable for his shocking misconduct."

But not only Robocop should be held accountable. (Place your bets on whether he'll even be chided in an NYPD Internal Affairs "investigation.") Where was the chancellor of this city's public school students? Where was the Education Mayor? Not shocked—and not heard from.

If there are civics classes in our schools, then teachers—despite any fear of retaliation from the chancellor—should be reading to students from Rothman's suit during the testing-for-tests time of the No Child Left Behind Act: "School Safety Agent Daniel O'Connell, acting under color of law and without lawful justification, intentionally, maliciously, and with a deliberate indifference to—or a reckless disregard for the natural and probable consequences—caused injury and damage in violation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights . . ."

As for the creepy cover-up, the lawsuit continues: "By their conduct and actions in covering up the conduct and actions of the School Safety Agent," the other culpable defendants include "Raymond Kelly and Joel Klein," who also scorned the constitutional rights of Stephen Cruz. This lawsuit—and others are coming—also focuses on the failure "to properly train, screen, supervise, or discipline" O'Connell and others in that chain of command. Most clearly accountable for that failure is, of course, Police Commissioner Kelly. Aside from what your flack may conjure up, what say you directly, Commissioner?

Even more ultimately responsible for not bringing accountability and badly needed discipline to all of the potential defendants in this and other such lawsuits is the New York City Council leadership.

As I've detailed in previous columns, the Student Safety Act, which has long been before the council, would finally compel transparency and accountability for these and other police practices in the schools. Only 28 of the 51 council members support the Act, but there has yet to be even a hearing. Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, a co-sponsor of the Student Safety Act, emphasizes: "What happened to Stephen is a disturbing reminder of the deep flaws in our Student Safety model. Ensuring students' safety is not a controversial matter. We all want safe schools, and this bill helps us meet that goal."

Of all big school systems in the country, only in New York does student safety also have to be protected from agents of the police. Why is there no hearing on the bill by the City Council? In the past, I've blamed Speaker Christine Quinn, but I now know that blocking this peril to the safety of students, especially in mainly black and Hispanic schools, is Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., chairman of the Public Safety Committee, a majority of whose members support the Student Safety Act. Mr. Vallone has yet to respond to my calls to him and to his aides.

An assistant has told investigative reporter Vladic Ravich of the Queens Chronicle that there aren't enough funds for the Civilian Complaint Review Board to handle the additional casework of parent complaints about the Robocops among the Safety Agents. To hell with these parents and their children?! Vallone has two daughters in the public schools. I guess they're safe, too.

School Safety Agent O'Connell is now patrolling a middle school nearby.

Parent Empowerment Network, Year-End Update

Note: It’s not too late to make one last 2008 tax-deductible contribution to your favorite, outspoken nonprofit organization. Your help is needed, today! If you like what you read below and believe there is a need for PEN’s voice, please send your check of $10, $25, $100 or more to:

Parent Empowerment Network

PO Box 494

Spanaway, WA 98387

or contribute through PayPal at

Dear Members and Friends of PEN,

I hope you are enjoying this holiday season with family and friends and looking forward to the New Year, as I am.

I would like to take this time to thank many, many of you for your support throughout the past year-- support through time spent emailing and talking to public officials about WASL issues and helping parents in your areas and support through monetary contributions. It has been a good year in many ways and also a difficult year for many of our families, as they faced the WASL graduation requirement for the first time. Many students in the Class of 2008 are still struggling because of this “burden of proof” that was unfairly placed on them alone.

In the next few weeks, I will be putting together a more complete list of 2008 activities and accomplishments, but here are a few highlights of PEN services and activities of the past year:

· PEN has had the honor of working with brave and bold teacher Carl Chew, who not only refused to be part of the atrocity against children that is WASL, but also proved himself a willing and articulate spokesperson for our cause. Media coverage of Carl’s refusal to administer WASL was intense, to say the least. Through his calm, professional demeanor and profound empathy for and understanding of children and their needs, Carl played a significant role in awakening the public, particularly the voting public, to the harm and failures of WASL. Thank you, Mr. Chew, our “folk hero”! Carl and I presented a session on WASL activism at the Rethinking Schools Social Justice conference in Seattle, in October. Carl was one of the first teachers to endorse my campaign for State Superintendent, way back when... We hope to soon have some of Mr. Chew’s anti-WASL artwork on our Mothers Against WASL website.

· The Mothers Against WASL Yahoo listserv is available to the public and has 327 current members. Parents often join to ask questions regarding WASL or other education issues. The discussion gets quite lively, at times. Several of our PEN leaders keep themselves current on WASL issues, through careful study of state documents and communication with the State Superintendent’s Office, and generously give of their time responding to questions with the most up-to-date information and resources available.

· Our buttons have become quite popular, nationwide. In September, I was contacted by a teacher in Los Angeles who had just come across and read my book (Not With Our Kids You Don’t!). He was interested in the “Choose the Best Answer: Teach/Test” button and ended up ordering 500. The Los Angeles Teacher’s Union then ordered 5,000 more. Needless to say, this gave our expense fund a boost for a month or two. (The 5,000 were a rush order, which I completed in a week with my husband lending a hand putting the stickers on the backs.) Rachel DeBellis has been our faithful button maker since PEN began, and I want to thank her for her hundreds of hours and generous funding of button materials and postage for the past four years. Thank you, Rachel!

· PEN’s reputation as an independent voice for parents has brought invitations and opportunities to speak to a wide variety of groups and individuals. In the past few months, these have included the Legislative Youth Advisory Council, in Olympia, El Centro de la Raza, in Seattle, and, most recently, a teacher from Egypt and a principal from United Arab Emirates, through the US Dept. of State International Visitor Leadership Program.

Parent Empowerment Network remains alive, well and active. We continuously study (and offer input on) state and national developments, through the news media and also through many contacts and relationships with organizations, parents, educators, and researchers throughout the nation. Several parts of President Elect Obama’s education platform are promising. However, his recent decision to appoint Arne Duncan of Chicago as Secretary of Education is of concern and is being discussed thoroughly, throughout the education community. Our Chicago colleague George Schmidt, editor of Substance has written extensively, over the past several years, of Arne Duncan’s actions there.

Some of you may be aware that I took a leave of absence from PEN to work on the campaign for State Superintendent, early in the year. This race was nothing if not eventful, and I believe we have had a very positive outcome in the election of Randy Dorn to this position. PEN leadership has maintained open communication with Mr. Dorn throughout his brief and successful campaign and during this post election transition period.

With PEN’s help, I am very hopeful that (at the least) the WASL system under which our children and families have been suffering will be transformed to a much more reasonable "accountability system." As we work to inform legislators, keep an eye on our brand new State Superintendent and provide him the best information available, and gather more support for true improvements for all students, I count on all of us to continue to help individual families with current WASL issues. PEN will continue, through Mothers Against WASL, to encourage and assist parents in opting their children out of the WASL as long as this harmful test is in existence.

On a personal note, I have just completed my bachelor’s degree in Business/Public Administration, through University of Phoenix. This has been an intense journey through online classes, since I began my first college class, in January 2005. My next personal education plan is to apply to Gonzaga University's Master’s in Leadership and Communication program, which is also an online program and will allow me to continue my full-time work as Director of PEN.

It is my great pleasure to work with all of you as we fight for educational justice and improvement for all young people. I end this update with a wish for a Happy New Year to all of you and an excerpt from a poem (translated from the Spanish), originally sent to me from teacher activists in Morelos, Mexico. Thank you, again, for your support of the children and families of our state.


Juanita Doyon, Director

Parent Empowerment Network

It is forbidden

It is forbidden to cry without learning,

to wake up one day not knowing what to do,


to be afraid of your memories.

It is forbidden not to smile at problems,

not to fight for what you want,

to abandon everything because of fear,


not to transform your dreams into reality.

It is forbidden not to try to understand people,

to think their lives are more valuable than yours,

not knowing that each one has his own pathway and destiny.

It is forbidden not to create your history,

not to have a moment for the people who need you,

not to understand that whatever life gives to you, it takes it away as well.

It is forbidden not to search for your happiness,

not to live your life with a positive attitude,

not to think that we can be better,

not to feel that without you, this world wouldn't be the same.

Pablo Neruda


Parent Empowerment Network is a nonprofit, public charity continuing to fight the good fight thanks to tax deductible contributions from good people like you. Please consider becoming a member or making a contribution today.
Parent Empowerment Network
PO Box 494
Spanaway, WA 98387

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Letter to Richard Mills on DOE Violations of Class Size

Commissioner Richard P. Mills

New York State Education Dept.

Education Building

Albany NY 12234

December 22, 2008

Dear Commissioner Mills:

On Friday, Dec. 12 the NYC Department of Education released class size figures nearly four weeks past the November 15 deadline. [1]

Instead of reducing class size, as required in its Contract for Excellence plan, the data reveals that class sizes increased at all levels this year – for the first time in ten years. (See Chart and data table A: Reductions in class size 1998-2008.)

Increases occurred in grades K-3, grades 4-8th, and grades 9-12th. (See Chart B: Class size averages and class size reduction targets 2006-8). As a result, the city failed to achieve its state-mandated class size targets, by a considerable margin.

DOE claims that class sizes will be lower by the end of January, by about 1.25%, because by then LTA (long term absent) students will have been discharged from the registers – and others will have dropped out. We object to the notion that the DOE would try to claim credit for reducing class size that results from high discharge or dropout rates. Moreover, in previous years, significant declines between Oct. 31 and January have occurred primarily in high school, where these rates remain unacceptably high – not in the early grades, where decreases are minimal.

Yet even if 1.25% is subtracted from averages in all grades, as the final column in Chart B shows, class sizes will have increased at all levels except grades 4/5, and average class sizes will remain far above the city’s class size reduction targets.

The increases in class size this year have occurred despite more than $378 million in additional state Contract for Excellence funds that could have been used to reduce class size, and DOE’s pledge to use $146.5 million for these purposes. [ii]

According to this data, increases in class size have been particularly large in grades K-3, where classes rose to an average of 21.4 students, instead of falling as promised to 20.3 students per class. In grades 6-8, average class sizes increased to 26.3, instead of declining to 24.3, as promised.

Moreover, the only grade in which non-special education classes appear to have been added compared to last year was Kindergarten, where there were fifteen new classes over last year’s figure. Overall, there were 143 fewer classes in grades K-3 and 183 fewer classes in grades 4-8th, despite the infusion of new funds supposed to form new classes so that class sizes could be lowered. [iii]

In September, the NY State Education Department admonished the city for failing to meet any of its class size targets for 2007-8, though citywide, class sizes did decline fractionally, from between one tenth and one half student per class.

Instead, as the Department noted, class size or pupil-to-teacher ratio increased in 53.9% of schools, 40% of elementary schools with the largest class sizes failed to lower class size, and for 70 schools that received over nearly $20 million in class size reduction funds, both class sizes and student/teacher ratio increased.[iv]

And yet, as the Department also pointed out, DOE’s enrollment targets and hiring decisions had been made before its Contract proposal was submitted in July 2007, and thus DOE’s “ability to fully implement the 2007-8 class size reduction plan was impacted.”

Accordingly, the Department warned, the city would be “required to improve implementation of the second year of its class size plan.”

Now we have seen the results, and the city’s record in the second year of its plan is far worse that last year’s– with no decline in class size at any of the grade levels.

Given these disturbing facts, it is critical that the state require DOE to improve its internal class size monitoring and ensure that the city has procedures in place to achieve its mandated targets. Currently, we do not believe that such a plan really exists.

We see several major flaws in the city’s current class size reduction proposal:

1. The city has failed to allocate specific funds towards class size reduction.

Instead, it has left it up to principals to decide whether they would like to use a portion of their share of the total C4E funds for these purposes. Even then, there is little or no oversight on the part of the DOE to see that schools have used the funds appropriately.

2. There are no specific class size targets that any school is supposed to achieve, making it unclear why any citywide declines should be expected.

This is true even for those limited number of schools in the DOE’s “class size coaching” program, causing more than half of these schools to remain in the top quartile of class size, according to the DOE’s own figures.

3. The city continues to communicate to principals in ways likely to discourage them from attempting to reduce class size.

Throughout the class size memo sent to NYC principals last spring, for example, there is an overwhelmingly negative tone: “Implementing reduced class size requires complex tradeoffs and decisions. The purpose of this memo is to help you to weigh these tradeoffs as your school conducts its comprehensive planning …. we hope that you find the following to be a useful framework for weighing the benefits and constraints associated with class size reduction as you develop your overall education plans and priorities.”[v]

Nowhere in this memo or in any other document provided by DOE to principals is class size reduction encouraged or stated to be as citywide goal, no less explained to principals as a legal mandate that the city is required to achieve.

4. The city is continuing to pursue policies that conflict with the goals of class size reduction.

For example, the administration continues to place new schools and charter schools in buildings where this decision interferes with the ability of the existing school or schools, already housed in these buildings, to reduce class size to the appropriate levels. In a recent survey, more than one quarter of all NYC principals said that overcrowding had increased because of new schools or programs moved into their buildings in recent years.[vi] Moreover, many principals reported that when they tried to reduce class size, DOE’s Office of Enrollment Planning and Operations simply sent them more students, undoing all their efforts

5. The city has mandated that CTT (collaborative team teaching) classes be increased to their maximum size.

While substantially increasing the number of inclusion classes, DOE has also issued a directive to principals, mandating that the size of these classes be increased to their maximum contractual level, or else funding for the unfilled seats will be subtracted from the principal’s budget.[vii] If enforced, this will likely prevent the city from meeting its class size targets in the future.

6. The city has failed to align its capital plan with its class size reduction goals.

According to state law, NYC is required to have a capital plan in place that would provide the space necessary to achieve its class size reduction goals. A few weeks ago, the city submitted a proposal for its next five-year capital plan for the years 2010-2014. This plan has only 25,000 new seats. The administration projects that another 33,000 seats will be carried over from the current plan, and completed by 2012.[viii]

Based on estimates made by adjusting the DOE’s own 2006-7 utilization figures, these seats will provide only about 35% necessary to eliminate overcrowding and reduce class size to the goals in its class size reduction plan.[ix]

7. The city has failed to align its formula for estimating school capacity and utilization or its reporting of new seats with its class size reduction goals.

In the DOE’s “Blue Book”, that contains estimates of school capacity and utilization for each school, the city continues to assume significantly larger “target” class sizes of 28 students per class in grades 4-8, and 34 in high school. The fact that the DOE refuses to align its school capacity estimates to the class size goals in its Contract for Excellence plan is yet another indication of a lack of commitment to follow through on its proposal to reduce class size. As pointed out in an October 29 letter from NYC Council Speaker Quinn and CM Robert Jackson, chair of the Council Education committee to the Mayor and Chancellor Klein:

“In determining the need for new capacity, it is a priority of the Council that the DOE address the class size reduction goals for K-12 as laid out in the contract for Excellence….The Council requests that the Blue book “target” methodology be immediately updated to reflect the Contract for Excellence target of 23 students per class for grades 3-12.”

In its reporting on how many seats will be created in new schools, the DOE assumes even larger “historical” class sizes of 25 in Kindergarten-3rd grades, 29-31 in 4th and 5th grades, 28-30 per class in middle schools, and 34 in high schools. Thus, even in new schools, it is evident that the DOE does not intend to reduce class size to the targets in its plan.

9- The city has failed to adopt a C4E complaint process.

As part of the Contract for Excellence requirements, approved by the Legislature in the spring of 2007, all school districts were supposed to adopt specific grievance procedures, so that parents and other stakeholder groups could complain to district administrators and/or the Chancellor, with an appeal to the State Commissioner of Education, if their school had not properly implemented smaller classes or other approved programs. Not only has DOE failed to adopt any such process, more than a year following the law’s passage; we have yet to see a draft proposal that parents and others might comment upon.

10 -The city continues to report inaccurate class size data.

For the purpose of this analysis, we have assumed that DOE’s class size data as reported to be accurate, although there still appear to be numerous errors, especially in the reporting of high school classes which would tend to make the data for these classes smaller than they really are.

In many high schools, each CTT class is still reported as two separate classes, one composed solely of general education students and another of special education students. This approximately halves the actual size of these classes. The DOE claims to have adjusted these figures by subtracting a certain number of general education and CTT classes, and adding back half the number, but it is unclear to us as to whether this adjustment yields accurate figures. To a lesser extent, there also continue to be serious errors in the elementary school data, in cases where mixed age groupings are reported as separate classes. Finally, according to DOE officials, class size data is missing from as many of one third of all middle schools.

The NYC Department of Education has placed great emphasis on accountability in the form of test results and other outcome data, and is intent on closing schools that do not perform up to its standards. Accountability also means abiding by its legal obligations, particularly when it comes to reducing class size, one of the primary determinants of student achievement.

Conclusion: What the state should require

We urge you to require that the city improve its performance and immediately develop a real plan to reduce class size in all grades, and see that this plan is followed.

Specific class size goals by school should be adopted, sufficient to achieve the citywide targets. Enough funding should be allocated to carry out this plan, and careful oversight employed, to ensure that the funds are spent appropriately and new classes are formed. DOE policies that conflict with class size reduction, such as mandating maximum class sizes for CTT classes and/or placing new schools in buildings should cease, where the existing school will be prevented from reducing class size to the citywide goals.

The city should be obligated to adopt a capital plan that creates the necessary space to achieve its class size targets and it must also be required to align its capacity estimates and reporting of new seats with the targets as well.

And finally, the city should be required to improve the accuracy and the breadth of its class size reporting so that all public schools are included.

Until and unless this occurs, the Department of Education will continue to fail in its legal and moral obligations to provide NYC children with an equitable chance to learn.

Yours sincerely,

Leonie Haimson

Executive Director, Class Size Matters

Randi Weingarten

President, United Federation of Teachers

Lillian Rodriguez Lopez

President, Hispanic Federation

CC: Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier, the Board of Regents, Speaker Sheldon Silver, AM Cathy Nolan, Senator Malcolm Smith; Speaker Christine Quinn, NYC Education Chair Robert Jackson, Chancellor Joel Klein and Garth Harries, Chief Portfolio Officer, NYC DOE.


[1] The excel files showing class size averages by school, district and citywide are posted on the DOE website are here:

The City Council approved legislation in December 2005, requiring the Department of Education to report on average class sizes per school, district , and citywide, twice annually, on or before November 15 and February 15 of each year. This legislation was signed into law by the Mayor on December 29, 2005, and is now is contained in § 522. c of the city’s consolidated laws. The DOE’s November 15 class size report is supposed to contain data on class sizes as of the audited October 31 register.

[ii] More specifically, $46.3 million of these funds was allocated by principals for class size reduction proper, $37.9 million was allocated by principals for team-teaching, and $62.3 million was allocated centrally by DOE to create more CTT classes; the latter two programs do not actually reduce class size. See NYC’s 2008-9 Citywide Proposed C4E Plan., Approved NYCDOE 5-Year Class Size Reduction Plan, (November 8, 2007) posted at

[iii] We have not tried to calculate the overall number of classes in high school, since the data is presented in too confusing a manner. More specifically, the DOE has attempted to adjust for overcounting of actual CTT classes by subtracting a portion of them and readjusting the class size figures, more on this on p. x.

[iv] See NY State Education Department, “State Education Department Complete Contracts for Excellence Monitoring; Vast Majority of Districts Implemented Contract Provisions, but Exceptions Must be Corrected,” Sept. 15, 2008; also NYSED, “Contracts for Excellence–Monitoring Report,” Sept. 8, 2008, and In April of 2008, the UFT released a report with many of the same findings, showing that nearly half of the elementary and middle schools that received state class size reduction funds did not lower class sizes, and in 34% of these schools, class sizes increased. See “Class Size and the Contract for Excellence: Are we making progress in NYC’s public schools?” The United Federation of Teachers, at

[v] NYC DOE, “2008-09 Class Size Reduction Guidance Memo”, memo to all NYC principals from Garth Harries, dated May 28, 2008.

[vii] See NYC DOE, "Resource Guide to School Budgets," pp.42- 44 at;

[viii] NYC DOE, “PROPOSED 2010 – 2014 FIVE-YEAR CAPITAL PLAN,” November 2008; at

[ix] “A Better Capital Plan”, October 2008; a report from A Campaign for a Better Capital Plan, the Manhattan Taskforce on School Overcrowding, Class Size Matters, the United Federation of Teachers, and The Center for Arts Education;

Chart and data table A: Reductions in class size 1998-2008

Chart B: Class size averages and class size reduction targets 2006-8.

Class Size Averages citywide

Click to Enlarge

in bold are class sizes which increased or remained constant

*as of 01/23/08

**as of 10/31/08

Data sources: Class size averages 2008-2009 from NYC DOE, 2008-9 Preliminary Class Size Report, Dec. 2008; and NYC DOE City Level Detail Report at

Class size averages 2007-2008 from NYC DOE 2007-2008 Summary Report, Feb. 2008;

Baseline and annual class size targets from NYC DOE, Approved NYCDOE 5-Year Class Size Reduction Plan, (November 8, 2007) posted at

Did Barack Obama Just Appoint an Underqualified Political Hack & Privatizer to be Secretary of Education?

Audio Version:

Did Barack Obama Just Appoint an Underqualified Political Hack & Privatizer to be Secretary of Education?

By: bruce.dixon Tuesday December 23, 2008 6:38 pm (This is a transcript of a 24 minute interview broadcast on WRFG Atlanta 89.3 December 22, 2008)

BD: Our next guest George Schmidt was a Chicago Public School teacher for 28 years. A longtime union activist, he was once a candidate for presidency of the 28,000 member Chicago Teachers Union, one of the largest union locals of any kind in the nation. He is a founding member of Substance and Substance News, an organization and a newspaper originally founded to represent the views of Chicago's substitute teachers. Substance News, which you can find online at is still required reading for anybody who wants an unfiltered view of the road public education has taken in Chicago and nationwide over the last two decades. How you doin' Mr. Schmidt?
GS: It's been a fun week, to be sure.
BD: We've got a lot to cover. Can you tell us about your own background for the first minute or so of this?
GS: Well, I spent almost all my public school teaching career in the inner city high schools of Chicago, starting at Dusable in the upper grade center, and teaching at schools like Manley, Marshall, Collins and Tilden. My last years of teaching were at Bowen High School on the city's far south side near the Indiana border where I taught English and where I also served as union delegate and what we called the school security coordinator. During those years I was also very active in the union, as you pointed out. At one point I got over 40% of the vote in a race for president of the Chicago Teachers Union, but I didn't win.
BD: Yeah, it takes a little more than 40%. Well, we're talking to Mr. Schmidt because last week president-elect Barack Obama tapped Arne Duncan, who heads the Chicago Public Schools to be his Secretary of Education. Now Chicago has the third largest school system in the nation, so if you can make it work for the citizens of Chicago maybe you ought to get a chance to do it nationwide. So how's it workin' in Chicago, man?
GS: Basically, it's not. It's not working for the majority of children in the city and it's certainly not working for the majority of teachers. In order to understand how that particular sentence can be nuanced, you have to understand two things. The first is the dominance of the corporate narrative of “school reform”. In 1995 democratic control of the Chicago Public Schools was taken out of the hands of parents, teachers and citizens and put into the hands of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley. A new law which was passed by the all-Republican state government at the time gave Mayor Daley the power to appoint a seven member school board eventually --- at first he appointed a five member thing that was called the School Reform Board of Trustees --- and the power to appoint a newly created chief executive officer based on the corporate model to run the Chicago Public Schools. Daley was also given power over the entire school system's budget, and for the first time in 17 years, the school system was freed from the oversight of an outside entity called the School Finance Authority.
What Daley did since then was basically massively increase the public relations spin that was put on every activity performed in Chicago, to the point where the gap between the reality of the public schools we have in our city and the claims that have been made about them is as great as any between fact and fiction anywhere on the planet.
BD: We hear a lot about “reforming education.” I'm from Chicago, and back in the 80s when I was involved in school reform, school reform meant giving more power to parents and to rank and file teachers, power to determine curriculum, even to let parents evaluate the performance of teachers and programs and principals. You talked about the corporate narrative of school reform. Just what is that?
GS: The corporate narrative is the dictatorial model that you get in any corporation under a chief executive officer or CEO. And just as it's failed now miserably in corporate America, with the collapse of Wall Street and the finance industry, it's failed in the public schools as well. But just as a year ago you would find very few dissenters on the private sector analogy so today we still find not a loud enough voice for those who dissent against the claims that the corporate model (of education reform) has succeeded. Basically what you're talking about by the late 1980s we had one of the most democratic models – with a small d – of school improvement anywhere in the United States. In 1988 Illinois passed a law which gave an elected Local School council of ten or eleven members the power at every school to hire and fire the principal to set curriculum and to have an enormous say over the budget. The majority of those Local School Council members were parents. Those of us who were active at the time participated in those elections and those processes.
BD: So that was school reform in the eighties.
GS: That was school reform in the eighties, and that grew primarily out of the work of Harold Washington who we elected mayor of the city of Chicago in 1983 in a mass movement that locally rivaled the mass movement which just elected Barack Obama president of the United States.
BD: So now we've replaced democratic school reform that gave parents the power with what exactly? I understand one of Arne's pet things is giving public high schools over to the US military.
GS: Yeah, that's one example of several and it's a very good one. Beginning in the first days of the 21st century, literally Chicago instituted military high schools. And we're not talking about high schools that have ROTC programs, we're talking about high schools that are run by and for the military. The first of those was established in the heart of Bronzeville, the south side community at 35th and Giles, in the old armory there. It's now the Chicago Military Academy. Since then they've set up two more army high schools. Carver and Phoenix, a Marine high school and a naval academy which is named the Hyman Rickover Naval Academy inside Senn High School.
BD: Except for the naval academy operation inside Senn High School all of these are in African American communities, are they not?
GS: Yes they are.
HG: George this is Heather Gray. Is this a model that's in other parts of the country as well? Are other cities doing this?
GS: No.
HG: So this is unique to Chicago.
GS: This is unique to Chicago.
GS: Most places where you have more democracy, even where you have this CEO type dictatorship now, the citizens are better positioned to resist it than we are here in Chicago.
BD: In chicago, for the benefit of our audience, we're in Atlanta GA now, the mayor is Richard Daley. 2009 marks his 20th year in office. His father was the mayor too for almost as long, from about 1956 if I remember right to 1975, I think, eighteen or ninetten years. So out of the last fifty or so years, for forty of them the city of Chicago has been run by the Daley clicque, the Daley Regime, or as we call it in Chicago, the Machine. Arne Duncan, is he a product of the Machine.
GS: Exactly, Daley as I pointed out, in 1995 was given dictatorial power over the ChicagoPublic School system. It was based upon the lie that the system as a whole had failed, and the repetition of that lie from the eighties on. Daley has appointed two CEOs and roughly two school boards since then. Both of the CEOs have been white non-educators who replaced African American educators. Both of the CEOs had no experience in education or in corporate America. This is an important point since it's supposedly a corporate model. They were funamentally political puppets who would do his bidding.
BD: The predecessor to Mr. Duncan (in Chicago) he's a guy named Paul Vallas, isn't he?
GS: That's true. Mr. Vallas came to the chief education job in Chicago through his position as budget director at City Hall under Mayor Daley.
HG: George, just going back to the military model (of education) again. What have been Barack Obama's comments about this, if any at all.
GS: I haven't heard comment from Barack Obama himself, and I've known him since he was in the Illinois State Senate, and I was working for the Chicago Teachers Union. Never to my knowledge, and that may be contradicted by something on the record did he comment on this assault on the openness of Chicago high schools. But his newly incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuael has been a proud proponent of the military academies and even bragged on one occasion I was covering a press conference and he was with Mayor Daley that he got a million dollar earmakr speicifically for the military academies while he was in the US House of Representatives as my congressman.
BD: So it does say something that out of all the superintendents of school systems, CEOs or whatever nationwide, Barack Obama reached around and found one that not only liked the corporate model but liked the military model too. Since we're talking about Chicago's unique contribution to education on the national stage, let's stick with Paul Vallas. You said Paul Vallas got his start just an average guy on the budget team on the City Hall budget team, where did Mr. Vallas go after leaving the Chicago Public Schools”
GS: After Daley dumped Vallas in 2001, he was picked up by Tom Ridge, the governor of Pennsylvania who was trying to privatize the Philadelphia school system. Vallas was made head of the Philadelphia school system in mid 2002 after a failed attempt to get himself elected governor of Illinois. He ran Philadelphia for four years I believe, the chronology may be a little off. Presently he's been sent to New Orleans where the public school system has been obliterated after Hurricane Katrina and replaced by a system of primarily charter schools, many of which have been modeled on the charter school privatization plans originally hatched here in Chicago.
BD: Arne Duncan is going to be the nation's number one guy on education. Surely this guy must have years and years of classroom and administrative experience,
GS: Wrong. He has none.
BD: So he's never been in a classroom?
GS: No.
BD: Except as a student, perhaps.
GS: He talks now, as he tries to brush over his resume, about how when he was a student at the very privileged University of Chicago Lab School where his father was a professor at the University of Chicago, that after school he would go to a tutoring program his mother ran in that area north of the University of Chicago called Kenwood, where he apparently, according to Arne's narrative helped poor black children with their homework. That's the extent of Arne Duncan's actual educational experience or praxis. His career after Harvard, where he supposedly got a BA in Sociology, I've never got to see a resume, was in professional basketball...
HG: What do you mean you haven't been allowed to see a resume? Why do you say that? You've asked for a resume and you've never seen one?
GS: For the past 14 years we've asked for the curriculum vitaes and resumes of top officials of the Chicago Public Schools under the Freedom of Information Act. And the answer we get every time we repeat this request is that this is classified privileged personnel information.
BD: Of course the new Obama administration is pledged to openess and transparency everywhere, so I'm sure that Arne's resumes and cv's and all that will surface really soon.
GS: If that's the case, people are going to find out that he spent most of his adult life either playing basketball or working with some very wealthy financiers from his old neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago.
BD: Since we are talking about applying this Chicago model of public education nationwide, what has the regime of high stakes testing and closing schools that don't meet testing goals which is now national policy thanks to No Child Left Behind meant to Chicago – oh, and one other thing I'd like to see if I can get your comment on is that Hillary Clinton at one point said let's repeal No Child Left Behind while Barack was saying, well, he didn't quite say mend it but don't end it, but something like that. So what has the regime of high stakes testing done for African Americans in Chicago and public education in Chicago?
GS: Basically the vast majority of the schools that have been closed for supposed academic failure, which means low test scores, have been those schools which served a populaiton of 100% poor black children via a staff that was almost always majority black teachers and usually a black principal. Since Arne Duncan took over in 2001, he has closed over 20 elementary schools. Most of them have been privatized into charter schools, and he's closed six high schools. In all the cases I know of, the majority of the staffs of those schools who were then kicked out of union jobs and forced on the rooad to try to get new jobs, were majority black teachers and principals, many of which I knew personally. The six high schools he closed, Austin HS, Calumet HS, Collins HS, Englewood HS, Orr HS, and Harper HS, were either all black, in the case of five of them, or majority black and Latino in the case of Orr. That's the active record of what Arne Duncan has done in his school closings for which Barack Obama has praised him. .
BD: We're not seeing much of any criticism of Barack Obama's nominations, especially not this nomination...I understand there was a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education soon after the nomination was announced, and some people who were at that meeting took issue with the nomination. Can you tell us about that?
GS: If you don't mind I'll give you a six day backup of that. The teaser stories began on December 11. On that day, Margaret Spelling, who's George Bush's Secretary of Education came to Chicago to stand on stage with Arne Duncan and Mayor Daley and praise the (teacher) merit pay plan that they'd introduced jointly, and to say that Arne Duncan was the same type of educational leader that she and George Bush favored. By Monday the 15th, word was out around Chicago that Duncan was probably the front runner for the Secretary of Education...
BD: He plays ball with the president-elect
GS: Exactly. On the night of the 15th it was made official. Barack Obama held a press conference with Joe Biden at Dodge School on the 16th. On the 17th, the Board of Education had its regular monthly meeting scheduled for downtown Chicago. Even though they apparently, expected it to be a love fest for Arne Duncan, what happened was that more than a dozen teachers and community activists from seven schools got up and exposed Duncan's public record of sabotaging public education, of privatizing schools, of union busting, and of fraudulently cooking the educational statistics books. By the middle of the meeting Duncan had walked out for an hour and these testimonies continued to go on. By the end of the meeting members of the board were heatedly arguing with the teachers, and after the meeting two of the teachers were threatened. Members of Duncan's staff called their principals demanding to know why they had been allowed to take the day off work to talk about Arne Duncan's crimes (against public education) before a school board meeting.
BD: Now I haven't been to a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education in a long time, but it's hard to believe that the day after Duncan had been tapped to be Secretary of Education, it's hard to believe that room wasn't full of corporate media. We haven't seen or heard anything about this. Have we? Or did I miss it?
GS: No, the dog and pony shows were on the 16th, at Dodge School where Barack Obama made the announcement with Duncan sitting there. At the Board of Education (meeting), one of the most interesting things that happened... was that not one of the TV stations was there to film or video any of this activity during the board meeting. The only photographer there besides me, because I cover every board meeting for Substance, was a woman from the Chicago Tribune and the only photograph the Tribune did was of Barbara Easton Watkins, who according to speculation here is in line to succeed Duncan here in Chicago. The TV stations boycotted the meeting completely, the story in the Tribune was a wacky one that ignored most of what happened in the meeting. The Sun-Times which is our other major daily newspaper covered the meeting slightly accurately, and NPR had a reporter there who missed 98% of what was actually going on, typical for the way Chicago Public Radio has been covering this type of story.
BD: The regime of high stakes testing and closing schools that came into national prominence which became national policy with No Child Left Behind, then is going to be with us for a while. What does that do to public education? Does it work?
GS: First of all, it has gradients. As soon as I say this you'll know what I am talking about. Public education in the United States is not a unified system of equal access for all children. It's a highly stratified system of at least four or five components. In the wealthy suburbs of any major city you'll find some of the best public schools anywhere on the planet. In Chicago we're talking about Wilmette, Winetka, the north shore, Glen Ellyn in the western suburbs, where the high schools are just everything you could want for your children if you could only afford a home in those areas.
GS: You move from there and you have rural schools in some of the most challenging schools in some of the most desolate parts of rural North Dakota or Montana. When you get to our cities and the immediate suburbs which have declined industrially too, right now what we have is a three part system, Chicago is the exemplar of that. We have a magnet school system which selects kids on the basis of IQ scores and test scores in kindergarten or the first grade, and keeps them in that magnet school system for twelve years, and that's one of the best school systems you'll find anywhere. Michelle Obama is a graduate of Whitney Young High School which is a part of that system, the magnet and elite schools in Chicago...
BD: We're down to our last minute and a half...
GS: Well then, basically... the place where the impact of high stakes testing has been most devastating has been in those schools which serve the poorest children with the fewest resources and in the most challenging environments. In that area, the schools have not been improved, but instead the teachers and schools have been under attack for failing at things the society has never taken responsibility for.
BD: Last question, if you can do this in ten or twenty seconds or so, people in their millions or tens of millions voted for change. Insofar as education goes, are we gonna get it?
GS: If this the kind of change we needed, then I am still glad I voted for Barack Obama. I'm proud I was able to publish pictures of him and our colleagues. But this is not the kind of change we needed or we hoped for here in Chicago, we the people who supported that man, and who've known him and his wife for years and years.

Monday, December 15, 2008

More Speculation on Ed Secretary

Posted on ICE-mail by John Lawhead:

Though she was silent at the November DA while one of her supporters pleaded (in opposition to Lisa) that he'd never heard of the dude. The NEA is apparently pushing for a governor.

Reports below from the AP and NY Times and comments from George Schmidt and Susan O. on ARN.
Debate simmers over Obama's pending education pick
December 8, 2008 12:58 PM ET
Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - President-elect Barack Obama has not signaled what he will do to fix the country's failing schools, but his choice of education secretary will say a lot about the policies he may pursue.
Debate is simmering among Democrats over whom Obama should name.
Teachers' unions, an influential segment of the party base, want an advocate for their members, someone like Obama adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor, or Inez Tenenbaum, the former state schools chief in South Carolina.
Reform advocates want someone like New York schools chancellor Joel Klein, who wants teachers and schools held accountable for the performance of students.
Thus far Obama has avoided taking sides, saying things that reassure the competing factions. Obama has said, for instance, that teacher pay should be tied to student achievement, which reformers like, but not solely based on test scores, which teachers like.
Unions, by the way, dislike the "reformer" label, pointing out they want reform, too. And the reform group says it cares about good teachers; it just wants bad ones out of the classroom.
"He's a wise man," said Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, chuckling. "He left himself some room to maneuver."
Bayh, a Democratic centrist who backed the No Child Left Behind law, thinks Obama will find a way to straddle the competing factions. "My strong impression of the president-elect is he is pragmatic. He won't pick an ideologue. He won't pick a side in this fight."
Even so, Bayh expects Obama to choose someone the unions can live with to carry out his education goals.
"You probably don't get there by having an overt, in-your-face fight with classroom teachers," Bayh said. "That's going to take a lot of political capital and divert energy from other things."
Can Obama make both sides happy? Not likely, said Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.
"I think it's almost an impossible pick to make and somebody not be upset," Burr said. "I'm not sure there's a candidate that bridges both divides."
One candidate might fit the bill — Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan, who has spent seven years running the country's third-largest school district.
Duncan is friendly with the president-elect, playing pickup basketball as well as touring schools with the former Illinois senator and fellow Harvard alumnus. Duncan visited Washington last week, stopping for coffee with outgoing Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, but he said the visit was purely social and had nothing to do with the Obama transition.
Like Obama, Duncan has straddled both education factions, signing manifestos from each side earlier this year.
The reform group likes Duncan's work in Chicago, where he has focused on improving struggling schools, closing those that fail and getting better teachers.
And unlike Klein or Washington schools chief Michelle Rhee, Duncan has managed to avoid alienating the teachers' unions.
"Arne Duncan actually reaches out and tries to do things in a collaborative way," said Randi Weingarten, head of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers.
Weingarten also heads the New York teachers union, whose members felt demonized in their contract battles with Klein. The 3.2 million-member National Education Association shares their view.
"Joel Klein is not someone we would be happy with as secretary of education," NEA lobbyist Joel Packer said. "I don't think Obama is going to pick someone who's going to be really divisive."
Darling-Hammond, the Obama adviser who is heading his education transition team, is equally controversial. The reform group doesn't like her because of her criticism of No Child Left Behind and her early critique of Teach for America, which pairs college graduates with a school-in-need for two years, although she has since given the program credit for attracting talented teachers.
Both unions have said they like the idea of Obama choosing a governor or former governor. There are many to choose from, including former Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia. Kansas' Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, whose name had been floated for several Cabinet posts, announced over the weekend that she had removed herself from consideration from a Cabinet job in the Obama administration, citing Kansas' budget problems that need her attention.
The names of former Mississippi Govs. Ray Mabus and Ronnie Musgrove have also surfaced; several people said Musgrove has talked to Democratic senators about the job, but he did not return a call from The Associated Press.
AFT backed Obama's rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the primary, and NEA held off on an endorsement, but in the general election both endorsed Obama and spent millions of dollars supporting him.
In the education debate, the competing sides break down over the degree to which teachers and schools should be held accountable for how kids are learning, and the role test scores should play in making that determination.
At the heart of the dispute: No Child Left Behind, the law that has grown as unpopular as George W. Bush, the lame-duck president who championed it.
The reform group agrees with the law's general principle of penalties for schools if test scores fail to improve. Although nearly everyone agrees the law has problems that need fixing.
The union coalition says test scores aren't the only measure, and that factors far beyond the classroom affect how well kids learn.
(This version CORRECTS that NEA held off on primary endorsement.)
© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

December 14, 2008
Uncertainty on Obama Education Plans
As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to announce his choice for education secretary, there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation’s schools that his selection will reflect.
Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education.
Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers’ unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified?
The debate has sometimes been nasty.
“People are saying things now that they may regret saying in a couple of months,” said Jack Jennings, a Democrat who is president and chief executive of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. “Unfortunately, they’re all friends of mine, which makes it awkward.”
Some of the toughest criticism has been aimed at the person Mr. Obama appointed to lead his education policy working group, the most important education post of the transition: Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University.
Dr. Darling-Hammond is liked by the teachers’ unions, and partly for that reason has been portrayed as an enemy of school reform by detractors. These have included people who have urged Mr. Obama to appoint Joel I. Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, or Michelle Rhee, the schools chancellor in Washington, as education secretary. Both of them have clashed with teachers’ unions.
Editorials and opinion articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times have described the debate as pitting education reformers against those representing the educational establishment or the status quo. But who the reformers are depends on who is talking.
Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, used different terms in discussing the debate.
Dr. Fuller said it pitted “professionalization advocates such as Darling-Hammond,” who believe the policy emphasis should be on raising student achievement by helping teachers improve their instruction, against “efficiency hawks like Klein and Rhee.” The efficiency hawks, he said, emphasize standardized testing, cracking down on poor school management and purging bad teachers.
“It’s tough love without any love,” he said.
Dr. Darling-Hammond has become a controversial figure partly because of her longtime criticism of Teach for America, the nonprofit group that recruits college graduates to teach for two years in hard-to-staff schools. She says the group loses too many recruits at the end of their two-year commitments, just when they are learning to teach.
Teach for America has no official preference for or opposition to any candidate, said Kevin Huffman, a spokesman for the group.
But an organization called Leadership for Educational Equity, which was founded to help former members of the Teach for America corps become involved in politics, has photographs of Dr. Darling-Hammond, Mr. Obama and Mr. Klein alongside an article on its Web site with the headline, “Education Secretary Fight Could Affect Teach for America’s Mission.”
The article notes that Dr. Darling-Hammond “has long been a vocal critic of Teach For America,” and it urges the group’s alumni to make their views on the candidates known.
Mr. Obama has given no hint of his own leanings.
Arne Duncan, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, may have an edge. Mr. Duncan is a longtime friend of the president-elect and has closed failing schools and improved achievement without alienating the teachers’ union. The superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Michael Bennet, who has enacted a plan to reward effective teachers with higher pay, has also attracted the transition team’s interest.
Mr. Klein and Ms. Rhee, as well as former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and several current and former governors, have also been considered, a member of the transition team said. Mr. Powell has said publicly that he is not interested.
One former Teach for America official who has been outspoken is Whitney Tilson, a New York mutual fund manager.
In a recent blog entry, Mr. Tilson said of Dr. Darling-Hammond, “She’s influential, clever and (while she does her best to hide it) an enemy of genuine reform.”
Mr. Tilson is on the board of Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee based in New York.
The group sent the Obama transition team a 43-page memorandum shortly after the election with policy advice and a “wish list” of candidates for secretary that included Mr. Duncan; Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America; and Jon Schnur, who started a nonprofit group, New Leaders for New Schools, that trains principals for urban schools, said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform.
Mr. Williams said his group also liked Mr. Klein and Ms. Rhee. “We’d be thrilled,” he said, “if either one were named secretary.”
The two national teachers unions have also been active. The National Education Association has not formally endorsed anyone but has discussed candidates with the Obama transition team, indicating some candidates who would have the union’s support, said John Wilson, the executive director.
The American Federation of Teachers presented the Obama team with written evaluations of a string of candidates without endorsing any of them, said Randi Weingarten, the union’s president. “We have no candidate in the race,” Ms. Weingarten said. But last week she publicly praised Mr. Duncan in an interview with The Associated Press. “Arne Duncan,” she said, “actually reaches out and tries to do things in a collaborative way.”


Arne Duncan's career has been in crony capitalism, Chicago style. Since he was appointed "CEO" of Chicago's public schools by Mayor Richard M. Daley in
July 2001, he has been responsible for the greatest expansion of patronage hiring (generally, but not exclusively, at the central and "area" offices, but often
as well in the schools) on the CPS payroll since the Great Depression (when the school system was controlled by politicians, leading to its near-demise in
1945). Duncan has also presided over more "no bid" contracts from contractors (for everything from buildings and computer hardward and software to charter
schools) in the history of the City of Chicago abd its public schools.

Finally, and equally important, Arne Duncan has closed "failing schools" (dubiously defined by low test scores for one or two years, often because of
special circumstances at the schools) in Chicago's African American community.

Since Duncan became CEO, he has eliminated 2,000 black teachers from Chicago's teaching force, undoing decades of desegregation and affirmative action in the name of "school reform."

Last year (2007-2008) Duncan began a program he called "Turnaround" (based on the corporate models) that was actually reconstitution. He fired most of the teachers and principals in six public schools (four elementary schools; two high schools). At each of those six schools, the majority of the teachers and
principals were black.

Were Arne Duncan living and working in Mississippi in 1952, it would be easy for the USA to see what he is and has been up to in the service of corporate
Chicago. Because he plays ball not only with Barack Obama but with Richard M. Daley and corporate Chicago, Chicago's white blindspot has ignored the fact
that Duncan has gotten rid of more African American educators than most Mississippi and other southern governments during those dark days just before Brown v.
Board of Education in 1954.

The reason why the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) can promote Duncan's candidacy is that seven years of turmoil within Chicago's union has left the
union badly split (and weakened). Arne Duncan does not have the support of Chicago's teachers. He has the support of the president of the Chicago Teachers
Union, Marilyn Stewart, who is in the midst of a purge of her own staff and elected administration. Stewart, a lame duck officer with no more chance of
re-election than George W. Bush, is viewed by the majority of Chicago Teachers Union members as a traitor to her union and the teaching profession.

George N. Schmidt
Editor, Substance

Thank you for this analysis, George. Since Mastery Learning, Chicago offers the education model for the sheep to follow. This crony capitalism is very similar to NEA's Joel Packer, whose site banner reads that he "has all the answers," telling Philip Kovacs and me in PDK that the NEA couldn't advocate ending NCLB because they need to keep a seat at the table AND IRA lobbyist telling me that IRA's position on NCLB was "we never tell Congress anything they don't want to hear."

It doesn't have to be this way. Note the BC teachers federation, which is on the edge of leading teachers into a ethical/professional strike against standardized testing.

Susan Ohanian

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Optimistic Take on Darling-Hammond Chances

I don't expect Darling-Hammond to get the Ed Secty job and I'll leave my reasons at Ed Notes. But here's someone who has hope.

From: "James Crawford"
Subject: An optimistic take
Date: December 14, 2008 9:16:55 PM EST

With only three cabinet positions yet to be filled, Obama seems likely to name his secretary of education this week. Let's hope that the piece below offers an accurate indication of his thinking. So far, he hasn't named a single progressive to a big job in his administration -- apparently trying to avoid static from the Right. In this case, though, it's groups like Democrats for Education Reform that are engaging in Karl Rove-style smear tactics. If Linda Darling-Hammond does get the job, it will say a great deal about where Obama is heading on education.

Huffington Post -- December 13, 2008
By John Affeldt

A slickly-coordinated string of editorials and columns in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Republic, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere has poured forth recently, all decrying the possible appointment of Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond as Secretary of Education. Obviously responding to the same talking points, the pieces paint Darling-Hammond a status quo, incrementalist and anoint a new group of pro-merit pay/pro-testing/pro-charter school advocates as the hard-charging "reformers."

Darling-Hammond has spent 30 years pushing for a radical restructuring of public schools and the systems that serve them so that all students will have high-quality teachers and rich learning opportunities, not just well-off, predominantly white kids. To call her a defender of the status quo is like calling Lincoln a defender of slavery because he wasn't as absolute in opposition as were some on his team of rivals. The provocative rhetoric would also miss the fact that Lincoln, at the end of the day, alone possessed the unifying wisdom and skills to steer the nation to its most radical of reforms.

The partisans may be congratulating themselves on a well-choreographed crusade, but one has to wonder: what campaign were they watching win the Presidency? From the kick-off in Springfield, Barack Obama styled himself not just a little on Lincoln: rising above old school divisive politics; exchanging thoughts in respectful debate; taking the best ideas and humbly but boldly moving forward, building consensus along the way. By drawing so heavily from the old playbook, the hard-chargers may have just charged off the cliff--virtually ensuring Obama will be less receptive to their pleas.

Beyond the discordant tactics, much of the substance of their agenda similarly misapprehends the Obama style and vision. The partisans' founding precept is apparently that true reformers must be anti-union. Obama's campaign, in contrast, espoused the folly of such simplistic, polarizing politics. With teachers, he has consistently recognized that major reforms will best be achieved by winning the unions over. He supports basing pay on performance, he told the NEA last summer, but in a process that is done with teachers, not to them.

The education partisans also draw a hard line in the sand around accountability. They frame as anti-reform any major tinkering with No Child Left Behind's punitive accountability system--which relies on an annual standardized test to identify "failing" schools and intervenes with increasing sanctions. Some researchers say NCLB has resulted in no objective improvements in learning above pre-NCLB trends; others claim that some positive increases have occurred. Either way, the fact is that the law, as it stands, simply has not produced the radical reductions in the achievement gap we'd all like to see. This arguably makes the NCLB-style accountability proponents defenders of the status quo and the real incrementalists.

Obama's education plan, on the other hand, calls for a bolder law that provides "more reform and accountability, coupled with the resources to carry out that reform," and "supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them." To ensure that students--particularly in low-income schools--are taught demanding, higher-order problem-solving skills, Obama intends to use more complex assessments in his accountability scheme. In decrying NCLB's over-reliance on "fill-in-the-bubble" standardized tests--sacred territory for the partisans--Obama has clearly signaled he is not interested in narrow measures or ideological fights over testing philosophy. He wants more challenging expectations, the best ideas on how to ensure they're met, and he's willing to invest the resources for big returns.

Lastly, the partisans falsely divide the world: you're either against traditional teacher education or you're against reform. Again, Obama is unlikely to take the bait. Both traditional teacher preparation and innovative alternative routes like Teach For America have a role in reform and both, as Darling-Hammond points out, can be significantly improved.

Darling-Hammond's vision and style is to a great extent the bolder reform approach Obama has espoused. She has supported performance pay and easing dismissal of truly incompetent teachers but has maintained respectful relations with the unions. She has founded and advocated for charter schools but she doesn't see them as the whole solution. She has supported holding schools accountable for higher order thinking but also providing them the resources they need to succeed. She has advocated for high quality alternative programs and for stronger accountability for traditional teacher education.

Each year, roughly 25 percent of U.S. students fail to graduate from high school. Of those that do, large portions are unprepared for college or meaningful work. The losers in this annual drama are disproportionately low-income students of color. The hard-chargers have some good ideas to contribute; but if public education can ever put us on a path to a Second Emancipation, it will only be because we've put aside the in-fighting and the backstabbing and tapped the best from us all. And that's why we elected Barack Obama.

Bill Ayers Redux

Ed Notes did some stuff on Bill Ayres about a week before the election, which led to howls of protest over our irresponsibility in piling on Ayres, as if this could somehow affect the election. We were more focused on the role Ayres played in the Chicago school reform movement which has so much anti unionism underlying it.

Feeling it's now ok to come out of the deep water, here is some of the latest criticism of Ayers from the left. (I'll be putting up some links on Ed Notes to this and to the previous postings along with the comments.)

Here's an interesting thread on Ayres, Klonsky, Obama and Schmidt on his role in Chicago from the mid 90's.

Michael Fiorillo chipped in with this.

Katha Pollit has an excellent piece on Ayers on The Nation's web site. Although she doesn't discuss his educational work , where his naivete and efforts to redeem himself in public have led to the small school's movement being used as a cat's paw for corporate ed reform, she nails him on his many, and continuing, shortcomings.

Which triggered a response from George Schmidt based on this quote:

Colleagues and friends:

Katha Pollet's piece is as good as anything about Bill Ayers and his privileged petit bourgeois self-indulgent version of "progressive" politics. As many of us know, there were many many prodcutive ways to stop that war, one of the most productive of which was to organize the people -- the working class people-- who were producing that war at the "point of production." Hence, the "GI Movement." And the majority of those of us who were in the GI Movemnet despised
Weatherman and its antics, because we knew what real state violence was and how the monopoly of violence looks at ground level when real people were being cleaned up after one of John McCain's "missions." One conscientious objector in the Air Force (and I helped one guy who was a B-52 pilot become an in-service CO) was worth more than a hundred Weather tantrums. That's the reality of history, and why Weather is now prominent and the ruling class has tried desperately to wipe out from historical memory the general strike of the men and
women in the military (1970 - 1973) that actually helped the Vietnamese end that war.

During those same years that Bill Ayers and his crazed "underground" groupies were planning their pathetic tantrums (including locally here, "Days of Rage") I worked with soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors who stopped the war by actually stopping the war machine.

The best expression of that movement is now found in the movie "Sir No Sir!"-- David Zeiger's 26 years in the making story of the "G.I. Movement." Everyone should see that video for a side of the "anti-war" movement that has been virtually written out of the history books.

The counter narrative to the GI Movement (as outlined best in "The Spitting Image") was beginning with "Rambo" (by that coward Sylvester Stallone, who spent the Vietnam years at a private school in Switzerland) and the massive propaganda that followed from Rambo and in the Rambo model. By 1972, there was not a
major U.S. military installation that didn't have an organized resistance to
the Vietnam War. But the resistance was broader than that. I personally (as a
conscientious objector and legal counselor) spent nights at military bases,
housed by men (and women) who had been in uniform in some cases -- patriots,
totally committed to ending that was -- risked their entire careers against that
war. Fort Carson, Colorado and Iron Mountain. Offut AFT Omaha (SAC Hq.). Fort
Leonard Wood, Missouri. Fort Riley, Kansas. By the early 1970s, we could get
on any military base in the U.S. Empire with the help of our brothers and
sisters in uniform who were organizing to end that war. And the support "we" had
(as part of the "GI Movement") extended all the way "up" in chain of command.

But to us, the Weather people were on the other side -- provacateurs.

The men and women I worked with who renounced the violence that they had been
trained to do (and in many cases had done, sometimes for years, very "successfully") despised those privileged punks who proclaimed that their nail bombs and tantrums and orgies were a part of the same movement we had built.

That's enough for now.

Please, if you want to know the stories of the real heroes of the movement
that ended the Vietnam War, watched "Sir No Sir!" Then read any of the dozen
books that tell the truth about what we did to end that war.

Then, if you want, go back and watch the "Rambo" movies and think about how
Bill Ayers was more in the tradition of Sylverster Stallone and "Rambo" than in
the ranks of the hundreds of thousands of men and women -- risking courts
martial and worse -- who stood up against that imperialist war from inside what Billy and his boys and girls called "the belly of the beast." It was from within the belly of the beast that the movement to end the war emerged and won. Not from privileged poseurs and provacateurs, who later set their sights against the working class from their privileged posts (now) in the universities.

George N. Schmidt
Editor, Substance

Joan Heymont wrote:

And, we in Progressive Labor still think that’s a really, really good idea. I remember how much the Weathermen/Weather Underground disgusted me when I was in SDS. I hadn’t joined PL yet, but I worked with others to broaden the forces fighting against the war. The Weathermen thought it was a good idea to run the streets trashing people’s cars, ostracizing the very people who we sought to bring into activity against the war and capitalism. What self-focused, childish behavior—and they still defend themselves as leaders of a movement? Certainly not the kind of mass movement needed to change society. Certainly not the broad base needed to build that movement. And, yes, George, their petty anti-working class terror was used by the ruling class to discredit our movement.

Thanks for a good analysis, and thanks, Lisa, for posting the original article.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

B.C. teachers vote to boycott standardized tests unless changes are made

By Janet Steffenhagen
December 11, 2008

B.C. teachers signalled Thursday they're ready for a showdown with the Liberal government over annual standardized tests in reading, writing and math.

A solid majority of B.C. Teachers' Federation members voted this week in favour of a controversial plan for a province-wide boycott of the tests - known as the Foundation Skills Assessment and delivered in Grades 4 and 7 - unless the government agrees to stop testing every student and introduces random sampling instead.

"It's clear that teachers are ready to take a strong stance," BCTF president Irene Lanzinger said in an interview as her union announced that 85 per cent of teachers who voted were in favour of the boycott plan. Slightly more than half of the 41,000 members cast ballots.

Education Minister Shirley Bond also took a tough position, calling the decision "irresponsible" and saying she is prepared to consider concerns about the test itself, but has no intention of reverting to random sampling at a time when parents are seeking more information - not less - about their children's learning.

"I find it, frankly, quite unbelievable that we're looking at ultimatums instead of concentrating on every single child's achievement in this province," she said in an interview. "It's extremely disappointing."

Conducting the FSA tests is part of a teacher's job, Bond said, but she refused to comment on what she might do if BCTF members throughout the province refuse to take participate in the 2009 tests in February.

Lanzinger said teachers may be employees, but they are also professionals. "We are not going to do something that's bad for students and bad for public education."

Bond suggested the real driver is politics, given that the BCTF would like to see the Liberal government defeated in the May election. The FSA has been around for more than a decade and it was the former NDP government that changed it from a random-sample test to one that includes every student, except for small numbers excused under strict rules.

"The BCTF has made it clear that they are going to fight this government in the next election," the minister said. "This is not an acceptable way to do that."

The union has criticized the FSA for many years, saying it is too blunt an instrument to measure the achievement of an individual student or school but it can provide a picture of how well Grade 4 and 7 students are learning overall. For that, only a random-sample test is needed.

But the criticism has become more intense in recent years since the Fraser Institute began using the FSA results to rank schools. School rankings are loathed by teachers, principals, superintendents and trustees, but parents have mixed views.

NDP education critic Norm Macdonald, a former principal, refused to state his position on the tests, but said it's incumbent on the minister to meet with BCTF leaders to find a solution.
Both sides say they're willing to meet, but also noted they did so in recent weeks and weren't able to reach a solution.

The FSA results are important to parents, first nations leaders and everyone who wants to see improved achievement in B.C., Bond said, adding: "At the end of the day, this is about teachers doing their job."

Ken Thornicroft, an employment relations professor at the University of Victoria, agreed, saying a refusal to administer government tests amounts to insubordination and is grounds for discipline.

He noted a Sooke teacher who refused to deliver a test was given a letter of discipline for insubordination last year. The union filed a grievance but the issue has not yet been resolved.
"Ultimately, decisions around curriculum and so forth are for the minister of education," Thornicroft said. If there is no discipline for teachers who refuse to deliver tests, the government will have surrendered its managerial rights, he added.

The BCTF has proven to be a tough opponent, even in the face of potential penalties. In 2005, it staged an illegal strike that lasted 10 days and won a surprising level of public support.

The union is again asking members to take action that is highly likely to be illegal, and the outcome will depend on how much support it has from its membership, Thornicroft said, adding that the vote gives the union "a pretty strong mandate."

Now that it has its members' approval, the union plans to begin a public relations campaign to win parent backing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beware School 'Reformers'

By Alfie Kohn

This article appeared in the December 29, 2008 edition of The Nation.

Progressives are in short supply on the president-elect's list of cabinet nominees. When he turns his attention to the Education Department, what are the chances he'll choose someone who is educationally progressive?

In fact, just such a person is said to be in the running and, perhaps for that very reason, has been singled out for scorn in Washington Post and Chicago Tribune editorials, a New York Times column by David Brooks and a New Republic article, all published almost simultaneously this month. The thrust of the articles, using eerily similar language, is that we must reject the "forces of the status quo" which are "allied with the teachers' unions" and choose someone who represents "serious education reform."

To decode how that last word is being used here, recall its meaning in the context of welfare (under Clinton) or environmental laws (under Reagan and Bush). For Republicans education "reform" typically includes support for vouchers and other forms of privatization. But groups with names like Democrats for Education Reform--along with many mainstream publications--are disconcertingly allied with conservatives in just about every other respect. To be a school "reformer" is to support:

§ a heavy reliance on fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests to evaluate students and schools, generally in place of more authentic forms of assessment;

§ the imposition of prescriptive, top-down teaching stand-ards and curriculum mandates;

§ a disproportionate emphasis on rote learning--memorizing facts and practicing skills--particularly for poor kids;

§ a behaviorist model of motivation in which rewards (notably money) and punishments are used on teachers and students to compel compliance or raise test scores;

§ a corporate sensibility and an economic rationale for schooling, the point being to prepare children to "compete" as future employees; and

§ charter schools, many run by for-profit companies.

Notice that these features are already pervasive, which means "reform" actually signals more of the same--or, perhaps, intensification of the status quo with variations like one-size-fits-all national curriculum standards or longer school days (or years). Almost never questioned, meanwhile, are the core elements of traditional schooling, such as lectures, worksheets, quizzes, grades, homework, punitive discipline and competition. That would require real reform, which of course is off the table.

Sadly, all but one of the people reportedly being considered for Education secretary are reformers only in this Orwellian sense of the word. The exception is Linda Darling-Hammond, a former teacher, expert on teacher quality and professor of education at Stanford. The favored contenders include assorted governors and two corporate-style school chiefs: Arne Duncan, whose all-too-apt title is "chief executive officer" of Chicago Public Schools, and his counterpart in New York City, former CEO and high-powered lawyer Joel Klein.

Duncan, a basketball buddy of Obama's, has been called a "budding hero in the education business" by Bush's former Education secretary, Rod Paige. Just as the test-crazy nightmare of Paige's Houston served as a national model (when it should have been a cautionary tale) in 2001, so Duncan would bring to Washington an agenda based on Renaissance 2010, which Chicago education activist Michael Klonsky describes as a blend of "more standardized testing, closing neighborhood schools, militarization, and the privatization of school management."

Duncan's philosophy is shared by Klein, who is despised by educators and parents in his district perhaps more than any superintendent in the nation [see Lynnell Hancock, "School's Out," July 9, 2007]. In a survey of 62,000 New York City teachers this past summer, roughly 80 percent disapproved of his approach. Indeed, talk of his candidacy has prompted three separate anti-Klein petitions that rapidly collected thousands of signatures. One, at, describes his administration as "a public relations exercise camouflaging the systematic elimination of parental involvement; an obsessively test-driven culture; a growing atmosphere of fear, disillusionment, and intimidation experienced by professionals; and a flagrant manipulation of school data." (The only petition I know of to promote an Education secretary candidate is one for Darling-Hammond, at

Duncan and Klein pride themselves on new programs that pay students for higher grades or scores. Both champion the practice of forcing low-scoring students to repeat a grade--a strategy that research overwhelmingly finds counterproductive. Coincidentally, Darling-Hammond wrote in 2001 about just such campaigns against "social promotion" in New York and Chicago, pointing out that politicians keep trotting out the same failed get-tough strategies "with no sense of irony or institutional memory." In that same essay, she also showed how earlier experiments with high-stakes testing have mostly served to increase the dropout rate.

Duncan and Klein, along with virulently antiprogressive DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, are celebrated by politicians and pundits. Darling-Hammond, meanwhile, tends to be the choice of people who understand how children learn. Consider her wry comment that introduces this article: it's impossible to imagine a comparable insight coming from any of the spreadsheet-oriented, pump-up-the-scores "reformers" (or, for that matter, from any previous Education secretary). Darling-Hammond knows how all the talk of "rigor" and "raising the bar" has produced sterile, scripted curriculums that have been imposed disproportionately on children of color. Her viewpoint is that of an educator, not a corporate manager.

Imagine--an educator running the Education Department.

Is Obama Getting Bad Advice on His Appointments?

By Greg Palast, Huffington Post. Posted December 11, 2008.

Joel Klein is being considered for secretary of education, which would make as much sense for our schools as Michael Brown did for disaster relief.

Has Barack Obama forgotten, Michael "Way to go, Brownie" Brown? Brown was that guy from the Arabian Horse Association appointed by President George W. Bush to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brownie, not knowing the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain from the south end of a horse, let New Orleans drown. Bush's response was to give his buddy Brownie a thumbs up.

We thought Obama would go a very different way. You'd think the studious senator from Illinois would avoid repeating the Bush regime's horror show of unqualified appointments, of picking politicos over professionals. But here we go again. Trial balloons lofted in the Washington Post suggest President-elect Obama is about to select Joel Klein as secretary of education. If not Klein, then draft choice No. 2 is Arne Duncan, Obama's backyard basketball buddy in Chicago.

Say it ain't so, President O.

Let's begin with Joel Klein. Klein is a top-notch antitrust lawyer. What he isn't is an educator. Klein is as qualified to run the Department of Education as Vice President Dick Cheney is to dance in "Swan Lake." While I've never seen Cheney in a tutu, I have seen Klein fumble about the stage as chancellor of the New York City school system.

Klein, who lacks even six minutes experience in the field, was handed management of New York's schools by that political Jack-in-the-Box, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire mayor is one of those businessmen-turned-politicians who think lawyers and speculators can make school districts operate like businesses. Klein has indeed run city schools like a business -- if the business is General Motors. Klein has flopped. Half the city's kids don't graduate.

Klein is out of control. Not knowing a damn thing about education, rather than rely on those who actually work in the field (only two of his two dozen deputies have degrees in education), Klein pays high-priced consultants to tell him what to do. He has blown a third-of-a-billion dollars on consultant "accountability" projects, plus $80 million for an IBM computer data-storage system that doesn't work.

What the heck was the $80 million junk computer software for? Testing. Klein is test crazy. He has swallowed hook, line and sinker Bush's idea that testing students can replace teaching them. The madly expensive testing program and consultant-fee spree are paid for by yanking teachers from the classroom.

Ironically, though not surprisingly, test scores under Klein have flat-lined. Scores would have fallen lower, notes author Jane Hirschmann, but Klein "moved the cut line." That is, he lowered the level required to pass. In other words, Klein cheats on the tests.

Nevertheless, media poobahs have fallen in love with Klein, especially Republican pundits. The New York Times' David Brooks is championing Klein, hoping that media hype for Klein will push Obama to keep Bush schools policies in place, trumping the electorate's choice for change.

Brooks and other Republicans (hey, didn't those guys lose?) are pushing Klein as a way for Obama to prove he can reach across the aisle to Republicans like Bloomberg. (Oh yes, Bloomberg's no longer in the GOP, having jumped from the party this year when the brand name went sour.)

Choosing Klein, says Brooks, would display Obama's independence from the teacher's union. But after years of Bush kicking teachers in the teeth, appointing a Bush acolyte like Klein would not indicate independence from teachers but their betrayal.

Hoops versus Hope

The anti-union establishment has a second-stringer on the bench waiting in case Klein is nixed: Arne Duncan. Duncan, another lawyer playing at education, was appointed by Chicago's Richard M. Daley to head that city's train-wreck of a school system. Think of Duncan as "Klein Lite."

What is Duncan's connection to the president-elect? Duncan was once captain of Harvard's basketball team and still plays backyard roundball with his Hyde Park neighbor Obama.

But Michelle Obama put a limit on their friendship: Barack Obama was one of the only state senators from Chicago to refuse to send his children into Duncan's public schools. My information is the Obamas sent their daughters to the elite Laboratory School where Klein-Duncan teach-to-the-test pedagogy is dismissed as damaging and nutty.

Mr. Obama, if you can't trust your kids to Arne Duncan, why hand him ours?

Duncan is proud to have raised test scores by firing every teacher in low-scoring schools. Which schools? There's Collins High in the Lawndale ghetto, with children from homeless shelters and drug-poisoned 'hoods. They don't do well on tests. So Chicago fired all the teachers. They brought in new ones -- then fired all of them, too: The teachers' reward for volunteering to work in a poor neighborhood.

It's no coincidence that the nation's worst school systems are run by non-experts like Klein and Duncan.

Obama certainly knows this. I know he knows, because he has chosen, as head of his education department transition team, one of the most highly respected educators in the United States: Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University.

So here we have the ludicrous scene of the president-elect asking this recognized authority, Darling-Hammond, to vet the qualifications of amateurs Klein and Duncan. It's as if Obama were to ask Michael Jordan, "Say, you wouldn't happen to know anyone who can play basketball, would you?"

Classroom Class War

It's not just Klein's and Duncan's empty credentials that scare me: It's the ill philosophy behind the Bush-brand education theories they promote. "Teach-to-the-test" (which goes under such prepackaged teaching brands as "Success for All") forces teachers to limit classroom time to pounding in rote, low-end skills, easily measured on standardized tests. The transparent purpose is to create the future class of worker-drones. Add in some computer training and -- voila! -- millions trained on the cheap to function, not think. Analytical thinking skills, creative skills, questioning skills will be left to the privileged at the Laboratory School and Phillips Andover Academy.

We hope for better from the daddy of Sasha and Malia.

Educationally, the world is swamping us. The economic and social levees are bursting. We cannot afford another Way-To-Go Brownie in charge of rescuing our children.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.