Monday, February 28, 2011

NY Post Sue Edelman in Biased Article

1,500 teachers paid to do union business and miss class

Last Updated: 9:15 PM, February 27, 2011
Posted: 12:40 AM, February 27, 2011

In the city's funny math, you get only one teacher for the price of two.
The Department of Education pays about 1,500 teachers for time they spend on union activities -- and pays other teachers to replace them in the classroom.
It's a sweetheart deal that costs taxpayers an extra $9 million a year to pay fill-ins for instructors who are sprung -- at full pay -- to carry out responsibilities for the United Federation of Teachers.
With Mayor Bloomberg calling for thousands of teacher layoffs to balance the 2012 budget, critics say it's time to halt the extravagant benefit.
Tom Dromgoole: Manhattan high schools
Alex Rud
Tom Dromgoole: Manhattan high schools
DOE Salary: $100,049
UTF Salary: $50,461
"In these tight fiscal times, it defies common sense to pay two different people to do one job," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government watchdog. "It's a waste of money."
That $9 million would cover the salaries of 198 new teachers at the current annual $45,530 starting pay
The DOE lets 40 experienced teachers collect top pay and fringe benefits, but work just one class period a day.
Under a longstanding contract agreement, the DOE excuses these veterans to work for the UFT -- currently 38 as district representatives and two as union vice presidents. The UFT pays them another salary, plus expenses.
English teacher Tom Dromgoole, for instance, collects top teacher pay, $100,049 a year, from the DOE for his slot at Leadership and Public Service HS in downtown Manhattan. But he is relieved for most of the day to serve as a UFT high school rep. The UFT supplements his salary by $50,461, records show.
Dromgoole is outspoken on state budget cuts, which he blasted at a boisterous protest last March with UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Reached Friday outside his Brooklyn townhouse, Dromgoole brushed past a reporter who asked about his UFT work, saying, "No comment."
Another veteran teacher said of the lucrative gigs, "It's a plum because you're not teaching. Some principals give them little or nothing to do" because the UFT reps are powerful.
The rest of the 1,500 teachers paid for time away from students are UFT "chapter leaders," who represent faculty at each school. They get at least one class period a day "for investigation of grievances" and other union-related duties, the contract says.
The UFT reimburses the DOE only about $900,000 of nearly $10 million it spends to replace the teachers, officials said.
One principal said his school's chapter leader is helpful as a staff liaison, but he questioned why the UFT -- which collects $126 million in member dues -- doesn't cover the cost: "They have a lot of money to run TV ads. Should DOE be paying for this?"
UFT spokesman Dick Riley said such arrangements are common among city unions "and were instituted with the agreement of NYC government."
A spokeswoman for Mayor Bloomberg declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Farrah Weinstein

DOE Threatens Teacher Layoffs While Wasting Money

UFT offers ideas to stave off teacher cuts

Published: Sunday, February 27, 2011, 8:22 AM     Updated: Sunday, February 27, 2011, 8:26 AM
Tom WrobleskiBy Tom Wrobleski
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27Schools.jpgAssociated Press Photo"We always want to be recruiting teachers. We have to fill the pipeline." says Schools Chancellor Cathie Black.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Who needs a $5 million teacher recruitment drive when you're looking to lay off teachers?

That's what the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) wants to know.

The union said the city is still spending $5 million this year to recruit new teachers even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed eliminating 6,600 teacher positions.

"That's a real mind-boggler," said Emil Pietromonaco, Staten Island rep for the UFT. It's one of the things that the union says Bloomberg should look to cut out of the Department of Education (DOE) budget before taking the ax to teachers.

"Many other things can go," said Pietromonaco. "We have to protect the classroom. There are other avenues that they can look at."

In an effort to close a $600 million budget gap, Bloomberg said that 6,600 teacher positions could be eliminated through layoff and attrition.

Critics, including UFT president Michael Mulgrew, have questioned the eliminators given the fact that the city's tax revenues are coming in $2 billion better than projections.

Pietromonaco warned that with fewer teachers, class sizes will increase at already overcrowded schools; high school students could lose their Advanced Placement (AP) programs, and that there could be further cutbacks in arts and music programs.

The DOE budget, he said, is ripe with places to cut outright or trim, including:

*The $1.6 billion the DOE will spend on tuition to private schools for special education students.

*$125 million on outside vendors for information technology.

*$91 million on outside vendors to do professional development.

Speaking to the Advance, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black said the DOE's budget woes stem from the $1.4 billion cut in state aid the agency had taken.

"It's a huge state problem for us," she said.

Like the mayor, Ms. Black is looking for more state aid to help close the city's budget gap and help preserve teacher jobs.

As for the $5 million recruitment program, Ms. Black said, "We always want to be recruiting teachers We have to fill the pipeline."

Pietromonaco said City Hall "plays the same game every year," with January deficits followed by balanced budgets in June and then November surpluses.

Bloomberg is also trying to change the "last in, first out" law, which mandates that teacher layoffs be done by seniority. Bloomberg wants more flexibility to fire poorly performing teachers, regardless of their experience.

Pietromonaco said that for City Hall, "it's not about retaining the best teachers. It's about retaining the cheapest teachers."

Said Pietromonaco, "We don't want to go back to the Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall days."

Ms. Black said the DOE "wants the most effective teachers."

She said that when a teacher is removed from a school, that principal's budget gets a $75,000 slot, representing the average systemwide teacher salary, no matter how much the removed teacher was earning.

"It really doesn't matter if it's a more senior teacher making more money," said Ms. Black, "or a younger teacher. It doesn't change the equation. I think the UFT has really distorted that."

Pietromonaco pointed to teacher unions under fire in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

"It's a political agenda," Pietromonaco said. "Teachers seem to be the soup du jour."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Al Jazeera on Egypt’s Revolt Against Neoliberalism

Al Jazeera on Egypt’s Revolt Against Neoliberalism

An article by ‘Abu Atris’ on Al Jazeera (hat tip Richard Kline) confirms an argument made by Matt Stoller in recent post, namely, that the rebellion in Egypt is not merely political but economic, and specifically in opposition to neoliberal policies. This so-called “Washington Consensus” reached its apex of influence in the 1990s

The article focuses on the individuals and groups that profited handsomely during the implementation of “reforms” that syphoned money to the top of that society at the expense of the rest, and how the one beneficiary that remains in a position of influence, the military, might play its cards. In addition to providing a window in some of the dynamics at work in Egypt, it also provides a vivid description of the nature and destructive impact of a neoliberal economic program. It is not hard to see that America has already gone a long way down that dark path.

From Al Jazeera:
Now that the Mubarak regime has fallen, an urge to account for its crimes and to identify its accomplices has come to the fore. The chants, songs, and poetry performed in Midan al-Tahrir always contained an element of anger against haramiyya (thieves) who benefited from regime corruption. Now lists of regime supporters are circulating in the press and blogosphere. Mubarak and his closest relatives (sons Gamal and ‘Ala’) are always at the head of these lists. Articles on their personal wealth give figures as low as $3 billion to as high as $70 billion (the higher number was repeated on many protesters’ signs)….
To describe blatant exploitation of the political system for personal gain as corruption misses the forest for the trees. Such exploitation is surely an outrage against Egyptian citizens, but calling it corruption suggests that the problem is aberrations from a system that would otherwise function smoothly. If this were the case then the crimes of the Mubarak regime could be attributed simply to bad character: change the people and the problems go away. But the real problem with the regime was not necessarily that high-ranking members of the government were thieves in an ordinary sense. They did not necessarily steal directly from the treasury. Rather they were enriched through a conflation of politics and business under the guise of privatization. This was less a violation of the system than business as usual. Mubarak’s Egypt, in a nutshell, was a quintessential neoliberal state.
What is neoliberalism? In his Brief History of Neoliberalism, the eminent social geographer David Harvey outlined “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.” Neoliberal states guarantee, by force if necessary, the “proper functioning” of markets; where markets do not exist (for example, in the use of land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution), then the state should create them.
Guaranteeing the sanctity of markets is supposed to be the limit of legitimate state functions, and state interventions should always be subordinate to markets. All human behavior, and not just the production of goods and services, can be reduced to market transactions.
And the application of utopian neoliberalism in the real world leads to deformed societies as surely as the application of utopian communism did…..
The only people for whom Egyptian neoliberalism worked “by the book” were the most vulnerable members of society, and their experience with neoliberalism was not a pretty picture. Organised labor was fiercely suppressed. The public education and the health care systems were gutted by a combination of neglect and privatization. Much of the population suffered stagnant or falling wages relative to inflation. Official unemployment was estimated at approximately 9.4% last year (and much higher for the youth who spearheaded the January 25th Revolution), and about 20% of the population is said to live below a poverty line defined as $2 per day per person.
For the wealthy, the rules were very different. Egypt did not so much shrink its public sector, as neoliberal doctrine would have it, as it reallocated public resources for the benefit of a small and already affluent elite. Privatization provided windfalls for politically well-connected individuals who could purchase state-owned assets for much less than their market value, or monopolise rents from such diverse sources as tourism and foreign aid. Huge proportions of the profits made by companies that supplied basic construction materials like steel and cement came from government contracts, a proportion of which in turn were related to aid from foreign governments.
Most importantly, the very limited function for the state recommended by neoliberal doctrine in the abstract was turned on its head in reality. In Mubarak’s Egypt business and government were so tightly intertwined that it was often difficult for an outside observer to tease them apart….
Everywhere neoliberalism has been tried, the results are similar: living up to the utopian ideal is impossible; formal measures of economic activity mask huge disparities in the fortunes of the rich and poor; elites become “masters of the universe,” using force to defend their prerogatives, and manipulating the economy to their advantage, but never living in anything resembling the heavily marketised worlds that are imposed on the poor.
You can read the article in full here.

Really Bad Reporting in Wisconsin: Who 'Contributes' to Public Workers' Pensions?

David Cay Johnston | Feb. 24, 2011 12:16 PM EST
When it comes to improving public understanding of tax policy, nothing has been more troubling than the deeply flawed coverage of the Wisconsin state employees' fight over collective bargaining.

Economic nonsense is being reported as fact in most of the news reports on the Wisconsin dispute, the product of a breakdown of skepticism among journalists multiplied by their lack of understanding of basic economic principles.

Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to "contribute more" to their pension and health insurance plans.

Accepting Gov. Walker' s assertions as fact, and failing to check, created the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not.

Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services.

Thus, state workers are not being asked to simply "contribute more" to Wisconsin' s retirement system (or as the argument goes, "pay their fair share" of retirement costs as do employees in Wisconsin' s private sector who still have pensions and health insurance). They are being asked to accept a cut in their salaries so that the state of Wisconsin can use the money to fill the hole left by tax cuts and reduced audits of corporations in Wisconsin.

The labor agreements show that the pension plan money is part of the total negotiated compensation. The key phrase, in those agreements I read (emphasis added), is: "The Employer shall contribute on behalf of the employee." This shows that this is just divvying up the total compensation package, so much for cash wages, so much for paid vacations, so much for retirement, etc.

The collective bargaining agreements for prosecutors, cops and scientists are all on-line.

Reporters should sit down, get a cup of coffee and read them. And then they could take what they learn, and what the state website says about fringe benefits, to Gov. Walker and challenge his assumptions.

And they should point out the very first words the state has posted at a web page on careers as a state employee (emphasis added):

      The fringe benefits offered to State of Wisconsin employees are significant, and are a valuable part of an individual's compensation package.
Coverage of the controversy in Wisconsin over unions collective bargaining, and in particular pension plan contributions, contains repeated references to the phrase "contribute more."

The key problem is that journalists are assuming that statements by Gov. Scott Walker have basis in fact. Journalists should never accept the premise of a political statement, but often they do, which explains why so much of our public policy is at odds with well-established principles.

The question journalists should be asking is "who contributes" to the state of Wisconsin' s pension and health care plans.

The fact is that all of the money going into these plans belongs to the workers because it is part of the compensation of the state workers. The fact is that the state workers negotiate their total compensation, which they then divvy up between cash wages, paid vacations, health insurance and, yes, pensions. Since the Wisconsin government workers collectively bargained for their compensation, all of the compensation they have bargained for is part of their pay and thus only the workers contribute to the pension plan. This is an indisputable fact.

Not every news report gets it wrong, but the narrative of the journalistic herd has now been set and is slowly hardening into a concrete falsehood that will distort public understanding of the issue for years to come unless journalists en masse correct their mistakes. From the Associated Press and The New York Times to Wisconsin's biggest newspaper, and every broadcast report I have heard, reporters again and again and again have written as fact what is nonsense.

Compared to tax, this economic issue that reporters have been mishandling is simple. But if journalists cannot grasp the economics of this issue, then how can we hope to have an intelligent debate about tax policy?

Dedicated tax journalists like my colleagues Lee Sheppard and Martin Sullivan at Tax Analysts have exposed, and explained in laymen terms, the arcane rules underlying the important tax debates and controversies that affect corporate and individual taxpayers. But the mainstream press is not even getting basic labor economics right, a much simpler matter.

Among the reports that failed to scrutinize Gov. Walker' s assertions about state workers' contributions and thus got it wrong is one by A.G. Sulzberger, the presumed future publisher of The New York Times, who is now a national correspondent. He wrote that the Governor "would raise the amount government workers pay into their pension to 5.8 percent of their pay, from less than 1 percent now."

Wrong. The workers currently pay 100 percent from their compensation package, but a portion of it is deducted from their paychecks and a portion of it goes directly to the pension plan.

One correct way to describe this is that the governor "wants to further reduce the cash wages that state workers currently take home in their paychecks." Most state workers already divert 5 percent of their cash wages to the pension plan, an official state website shows.

Gov. Walker says that he wants them to "contribute more" via deductions from their paychecks. But since the workers already contribute 100 percent of the money going to the pension plan the real issue is changing the accounting for this to reduce cash wages.

Once the state has settled on the compensation package for its workers then how the cash flows is merely accounting for how the costs are divvied up. If the workers got higher cash pay and diverted all of the pension contributions from their pay it would be the same amount compared to having the state pay directly into the pension funds.

By falsely describing the situation the governor has sought to create the issue as one of the workers getting a favor. The Club for Growth, in broadcast ads, blatantly lies by saying "state workers haven't had to sacrifice. They pay next to nothing for their pensions."

We expect ideological marketing organizations to shade the truth and even outright lie, as the Club for Growth has done. But journalists are supposed to check the facts, not adopt lies as truths.

Having had the good fortune long ago to train the presumed future publisher of the Los Angeles Times I focused on making sure he understood why careful checking of facts and questioning assumptions was a commercial, as well as journalistic value, for which reporters should be properly compensated because it made the paper reliable and thus more valuable to its owners. (Sadly my trainee later died and the paper was sold.)

Having worked at The New York Times I can tell you how editors might try to excuse this error. They call it "shorthand." But shorthand that is wrong is, in short, still wrong. So, Mr. Sulzberger, take the initiative and correct your error. Doing so, you would set an example that will become newsroom lore long after you retire.

Here are some other examples of inaccurate reporting of the issue, followed by a critique and a simple solution.
  • Todd Richmond of the Associated Press reported on Feb. 20 that the governor wants state workers "to contribute more to health care and pension costs." Richmond has repeatedly used variations of that phrase.
  • On Feb. 18, Michael Cooper and Katherine Q. Seelye of The New York Times reported that the legislation sponsored by Gov. Walker would "require workers to contribute more to their pension and health care plans."
  • Jane Ford-Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel' s on-line community news service reported Feb. 22 on "an effort by Gov. Scott Walker to get state employees to contribute more toward their health insurance and pensions so that the costs are more in line with contributions by workers in the private sector."
  • has a Wisconsin operation and it was also among those that got it wrong – 100 percent dead wrong -- because it assumed the facts as stated by Gov. Walker and failed to question the underlying premise. Further, contrived assumptions make it is easy for the perpetrators of the misrepresentation to point to data that support a false claim, something Politifact missed entirely, on at least two occasions, in proclaiming false statements to be true.

Given how many journalists rely on Politifact to check political assertions, instead of doing their own research, this is, by far, the inaccuracy likely to have the greatest (or most damaging effect) on subsequent reporting. (Examples of Politifact' s inaccurate assessments can be found here and also here.)

Again, the money the state "contributes" is actually part of the compensation that has been negotiated with state workers in advance so it is their money that they choose to take as pension payments in the future rather than cash wages or other benefits today.

Next, journalists should ask how elected officials are treated by the pension system. The pay of elected leaders is set by the legislature without collective bargaining. Here it is also true that any money withheld from paychecks to fund the pension plans comes from the employee (the elected leaders) but this is not the result of a negotiated compensation package so there is a colorable argument that pension benefits that are received by elected leaders beyond the wages deducted from those employees' compensation package are a gift from taxpayers.

The payroll deduction –- again, a mere accounting measure - - was 5 percent last year for "general participants," official state documents show, a rate that is 56 percent higher than the 3.2 percent rate for "elected leaders."

The rates were adjusted for 2011 and now the elected leaders pay 3.9 percent, still well below what the "general participants" collectively bargained to divert from their cash wages through this accounting device.

The rest of the money going into the plan is also wages the workers diverted, it just does not show up in paychecks as a line item, the same way that half of Social Security and Medicare taxes do not show up on paychecks, but are still part of total compensation to each worker in those plans.

I am being repetitive on purpose – experience supervising others has taught me you usually have to teach something three to seven times before it sinks in. Some management texts also make this point.

That is not to say that the state workers make too much or too little. It is to say that journalists as a class are fundamentally getting the facts wrong by not understanding compensation.

Simplistic coverage has also resulted in numerous reports that Wisconsin state workers make more than workers in Wisconsin' s private business sector. This is true only if you compare walnuts to tuna fish.

State governments (indeed almost all governments) tend to hire people with college educations, including advanced degrees. Overall, private employers in all states tend to hire people with less education. More education means more pay because there is more skill required.

America has roughly the same number of food preparers, who can be high school dropouts, as registered nurses, who require a college education. But the nurses make on average $66,500, compared to just $18,100 for the food service workers. The food service workers collectively made less than $50 billion, while the registered nurses made almost $172 billion in 2009, my analysis of the official data shows.

Business and government hire both food service workers and registered nurses, but you are much more likely to work for the government as a registered nurse than as a food preparation worker.

When you control for the education required to be a prosecutor or nurse, government workers get total compensation that is less than those in the corporate sector. This may reflect the fact that fewer and fewer private sector workers are in unions, about 7 percent at last count. As economic theory predicts, as fewer workers can bargain collectively the overall wage level falls. Effectively wiping out public employee unions would only add to downward pressure on wages, standard economic theory shows.

On the other hand, unionized state workers run a much smaller risk of going through bouts of joblessness, an economic benefit. Numerous studies indicate that public workers, including those in Wisconsin, make about 5 percent less than private sector workers when you control for education. But what is the lifetime cost, and risk, of episodic joblessness among comparable private sector workers? Is that cost equal to 5 percent or so of lifetime earnings, which would even out the differential? I have yet to read an analysis of that issue by an academic economist, much less a journalist, so I do not know the truth of that question.

What Gov. Walker has achieved in selling a false assumption as fact occurs because journalists failed to follow what I call the first and second rules of journalism. This problem is pervasive in coverage of tax and budget issues, where so much nonsense gets reported as fact by the Washington Press corps that I have stopped filing away all but the most egregious errors – and still I copy a story or three every day to use in lectures on getting it right and not writing nonsense.

And what are these two rules for journalists?
    Rule One: Check it out. Be so skeptical that if your mother says she loves you, check it out. Rule Two: Cross check again and again until you not only know the facts, but can put them in proper context and understand all sides so well that their perspective gets proper weight and lecture, or as I like to say, everyone recognizes their oar in the water.

Deadlines may make Rule Two difficult, and often impossible, in writing the first rough draft of history. We are now in the umpteenth draft and the initial mistake keeps getting repeated, as so often happens when a big story brings a herd, until it becomes accepted as unassailable truth.

The reason that falsehoods are transformed into the public' s common knowledge via inaccurate reporting is simple. When editors or producers back home get an account that differs from what the news herd says they raise questions and often delete unique and accurate insights. But if a reporter just repeats what everyone else is saying it usually sails unchallenged to print or airtime even when it is untrue.

Then there is this: How the compensation packages of state workers get divided up is not a matter of tax burdens. Only how much the state workers get paid is a matter of tax burdens.

There are two other important aspects to this, which go to the heart of tax policy and why our country is in for a long stay in the economic doldrums.

Traditional or defined benefit pension plans, properly administered, increase economic efficiency, while the newer defined contribution plans have high costs whether done one at a time through Individual Retirement Accounts or in group plans like 401(k)s.

Efficiency means that more of the money workers contribute to their pensions - - money that could have been taken as cash wages today - - ends up in the pockets of retirees, not securities dealers, trustees and others who administer and invest the money. Compared to defined benefit pension plans, 401(k) plans are vastly more expensive in investing, administration and other costs.

Individually managed accounts like 401(k)s violate a basic tenet of economics – specialization increases economic gains. That is why the average investor makes much less than the market return, studies by Morningstar show.

This goes to Adam Smith's famous insight in 1776 about specialization increasing wealth: when pins were made in full by each worker each could make only a few each day, but when one person draws the wire, another cuts, another fashions the point, etc., the output rises to tens of thousands of pins and their price falls from dear to cheap.

Expecting individuals to be experts at investing their retirement money in defined contribution plans -- instead of pooling the money so professional investors can manage the money as is done in defined benefit plans -- is not sound economics.

The concept, at its most basic, is buying wholesale instead of retail. Wholesale is cheaper for the buyers. That is, it saves taxpayers money.

The Wisconsin State Investment Board manages about $74.5 billion for an all-in cost of $224 million.

That is a cost of about 30-cents per $100, which is good but not great. However it is far less than many defined contribution plans, where costs are often $1 or more per $100.

So, I hope that Mr. Sulzberger in particular will take the initiative to correct the inaccurate reporting and show the way to other reporters, for the betterment of both America and his family' s investment And I hope that all reporters will start questioning the assumption in the governor' s position instead of assuming his statements are infallible.

My larger hope is that reporters, editors and producers will apply this thinking when covering taxes and taxation, the system by which we distribute the burdens of living in and sustaining this, the Second American Republic.

Your thoughts? E-mail me at

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chris Cerf Continues Lies Over Conflict of Interests (Time and Again)

More shifting stories from Chris Cerf about the involvement of his consulting firm in the hostile takeover of Newark public schools.  Turns out the funding of his “audit” was provided by – guess who?  The Broad foundation.

The acting commissioner gave a revised account of his ties to the firm — acknowledging he had been more involved than he first indicated earlier this week. Cerf had first maintained he had done little more than lend his address for the incorporation papers.
State campaign finance records also show Cerf gave a $1,000 contribution to the re-election campaign of Booker just a month before Global Education Advisors was incorporated by Cerf.
Cerf says his motives have been mischaracterized. "This was entirely driven by an impulse and my desire to support Newark public schools as they move toward reform." Cerf also did a long interview Wednesday with Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun. It appears in today’s Op-Ed section…. The company founded by Cerf the reformer makes proposals that are then approved by Cerf the commissioner.
This is much the same as happened in NYC; Chris Cerf first hired as a consultant to devise their cockamamie reorganization scheme, in which the districts/regions were dissolved to set up the SSO’s and PSO’s, and then he came in and did it—all while also having a consultant’s contract w/ Edison schools and Edison stock holdings.

Acting N.J. education chief Cerf revises account of ties to mysterious firm
“The acting commissioner gave a revised account of his ties to the firm — acknowledging he had been more involved than he first indicated earlier this week. Cerf had first maintained he had done little more than lend his address for the incorporation papers.”

N.J. education chief Cerf: 'My very short involvement occurred when I was a civilian'

“A story in The Star-Ledger Wednesday revealed that Newark Mayor Cory Booker hired a consulting company founded by acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf to help overhaul Newark public schools. The company, Global Education Advisors, used Cerf’s home address as its New Jersey address. Cerf gave an extended e-mail interview yesterday to Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun.”

A valuable lesson: Newark shouldn't leave the public out of the school reform process

Newark schools need improvements, and the $100 million pledge from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg can help. But the way this proposal was drawn up only raises local suspicion that this vital reform process is about political agendas fueled by private money….
What was promised here was public engagement, and it should start with transparency in major decisions about the use of that funding. The public should be informed of every step in the process.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ravitch on Why America's teachers are enraged

Why America's teachers are enraged

By Diane Ravitch, Special to CNN
February 20, 2011 6:05 p.m. EST
Teacher Terry Grogan of Milwaukee takes part in protest at Wisconsin State Capitol on February 16.
  • Diane Ravitch: Teachers are rallying against Wisconsin plan to cut their benefits, union rights
  • She says teachers have been singled out for blame on America's education problems
  • Ravitch: How can we improve schools while cutting funding and demoralizing teachers?
Editor's note: Diane Ravitch is a historian of education and the author of the best seller "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education."
(CNN) -- Thousands of teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public sector workers have camped out at the Wisconsin Capitol, protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to reduce their take-home pay -- by increasing their contribution to their pension plans and health care benefits -- and restrict their collective bargaining rights.
Republicans control the state Legislature, and initially it seemed certain that Walker's proposal would pass easily. But then the Democrats in the Legislature went into hiding, leaving that body one vote shy of a quorum. As of this writing, the Legislature was at a standstill as state police searched high and low for the missing lawmakers.
Like other conservative Republican governors, including Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Rick Scott of Florida, the Wisconsin governor wants to sap the power of public employee unions, especially the teachers' union, since public education is the single biggest expenditure for every state.
Public schools in Madison and a dozen other districts in Wisconsin closed as teachers joined the protest. Although Walker claims he was forced to impose cutbacks because the state is broke, teachers noticed that he offered generous tax breaks to businesses that were equivalent to the value of their givebacks.
The uprising in Madison is symptomatic of a simmering rage among the nation's teachers. They have grown angry and demoralized over the past two years as attacks on their profession escalated.
The much-publicized film "Waiting for Superman" made the specious claim that "bad teachers" caused low student test scores. A Newsweek cover last year proposed that the key to saving American education was firing bad teachers.
Teachers across the nation reacted with alarm when the leaders of the Central Falls district in Rhode Island threatened to fire the entire staff of the small town's only high school. What got their attention was that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama thought this was a fine idea, even though no one at the high school had been evaluated.
The Obama administration's Race to the Top program intensified the demonizing of teachers, because it encouraged states to evaluate teachers in relation to student scores. There are many reasons why students do well or poorly on tests, and teachers felt they were being unfairly blamed when students got low scores, while the crucial role of families and the students themselves was overlooked.
Teachers' despair deepened last August when The Los Angeles Times rated 6,000 teachers in Los Angeles as effective or ineffective, based on their students' test scores, and posted these ratings online. Testing experts warn that such ratings are likely to be both inaccurate and unstable, but the Times stood by its analysis.
Now conservative governors and mayors want to abolish teachers' right to due process, their seniority, and -- in some states -- their collective bargaining rights. Right-to-work states do not have higher scores than states with strong unions. Actually, the states with the highest performance on national tests are Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, and New Hampshire, where teachers belong to unions that bargain collectively for their members.
Unions actively lobby to increase education funding and reduce class size, so conservative governors who want to slash education spending feel the need to reduce their clout. This silences the best organized opposition to education cuts.
There has recently been a national furor about school reform. One must wonder how it is possible to talk of improving schools while cutting funding, demoralizing teachers, cutting scholarships to college, and increasing class sizes.
The real story in Madison is not just about unions trying to protect their members' hard-won rights. It is about teachers who are fed up with attacks on their profession. A large group of National Board Certified teachers -- teachers from many states who have passed rigorous examinations by an independent national board -- is organizing a march on Washington in July. The events in Madison are sure to multiply their numbers.
As the attacks on teachers increase and as layoffs grow, there are likely to be more protests like the one that has mobilized teachers and their allies and immobilized the Wisconsin Legislature.
Teacher Terry Grogan of Milwaukee takes part in protest at Wisconsin State Capitol on February 16.The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Ravitch.

New York's school testing con: Commentary on Sue Adelman NY Post

Excerpts from the NYC Education News Listserve:

And how can the Mayor and his NYC DoE keep getting away with their fair share of blame in this scheme, including the ultimate "social promotion" plan?

By pegging grade-to-grade promotion to these unreliable and doctored test score bars, Bloomberg actually perpetrated  worse social promotion than he accused the system of prior to his arrival.

 He used those claims  of rampant social promotion to condemn the system and its teachers and administrators, and then proceeded to 
ratchet up the ante.

I attended the PEP "hearing" where dozens of experts spoke out against the policy, yet the Mayor arranged to fire any PEP members that would have voted against him prior to the vote.

This is what accountability looks like?
Lisa Donlan

It may have been primarily Mills’ fault but certainly others are partly responsible for years of fraudulent claims and data manipulation: “Mills and other officials argued that the questions had become more difficult, thus justifying the lower cutoff scores. Smith found the items getting easier each year.”

Who were those other officials?  And why haven’t they been held accountable?  David Abrams is still there as head of testing, and CTB-McGraw are still the contractors.  Certainly they are equally responsible for this mess.

Where's the accountability?  If the Regents didn't know this was going on (since most everyone else in the State certainly did), they should be removed for sheer incompetence.  If they knew, they should be removed for gross misconduct.  Either way you parse it, the question is: Why are these people still the Board of Directors for the NYS Ed. Dept.?  There is no good answer.

As for why did they allow the fellow who heads the NYSED assessment program, Dave Abrams, to remain in his position ... perhaps Abrams would go public with the fact that the Regents indeed knew all about the testing scams.

Try looking into the fortune of the Tisch Family, i.e., family of Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
Dee Alpert

Who would have believed that it would be the New York Post that blew the lid off the New York State Regents testing scam? What I do know is that Dr. Betty A. Rosa, former Senior Superintendent from District 8 in the Bronx, was the whistleblower.

Betty has been a stalwart and lonely critic of the Regents testing scam since she was named to the Regents in 2008, the only Latino/a on the Board of 17. Merryl Tisch may take credit; but, Betty was the one who asked the tough questions and persevered.

The truth about "New York’s school testing con" may hurt; but, we deserve nothing less.

Give credit where credit is due.  As they say in Arabic, Mabrook! مبروك! Congratulations!

Luis O. Reyes


<“We were clearly misrepresenting student achievement,” said [Dr.] Betty Rosa, a former Bronx superintendent on the state Board of Regents, which oversees education statewide. “We were not giving the public the truth.”
“I basically asked, ‘Who sets the cut scores? How is this determined?’ ” said Rosa, who joined the board in 2008. “There was no real explanation. I never got a straight answer.”>

On 2/20/2011 8:53 PM, Leonie Haimson wrote:
Best thing in the article….

New York PostUpdated: Sun., Feb. 20, 2011, 1:36 PM

New York's school testing con

Last Updated: 1:36 PM, February 20, 2011
Posted: 10:22 PM, February 19, 2011
In a stunningly short time, from 2006 to 2009, New York schools celebrated what was presented as a tremendous turnaround. The number of city students passing statewide math tests in the third through eighth grades surged from 58% to 82%. At the same time, the Big Apple graduation rate rose from 49% to an all-time high of 63% last year.
The figures were miraculous.
They were also, for the most part, a lie.
While the scores have risen, real achievement has lagged. Behind the curtain, an erosion of standards has led to a generation of New Yorkers who have been handed high school diplomas but can’t handle the rigors of college or careers.
A new state report finds just 23% of city grads leave high school ready to succeed in college or the work world. About 75% who enrolled at CUNY community colleges flunked the entrance exam, and must take one or more remedial classes in math, reading and writing.
How did the state testing system, meant to closely gauge how well students and their schools were doing, create such a grand illusion?
Insiders and critics interviewed by The Post largely blame Richard Mills, the state’s education commissioner for 14 years until he resigned in 2009.
The standardized tests approved by Mills and his team measured a limited number of skills and repeated similar questions year after year. At the same time, Mills instructed the company hired to administer the tests, CTB/McGraw-Hill, to gradually lower “cut scores,” the minimal points kids needed to pass or demonstrate proficiency.
In 2006, for example, sixth-graders taking the English language arts test had to answer 16 of 39 questions correctly, or 41%, to achieve Level 2, which is below proficient but enough to advance to the next grade. But by 2009, the sixth-graders needed just 7 of 39 points — a paltry 18%.
“We were clearly misrepresenting student achievement,” said Betty Rosa, a former Bronx superintendent on the state Board of Regents, which oversees education statewide. “We were not giving the public the truth.”
When Mills was appointed commissioner in 1995 by the Board of Regents, New York had two types of high school diplomas — one more challenging and prestigious.
Students could strive for a “Regents diploma,” which required more demanding courses and passing eight Regents high school exams, a path that typically led to a four-year college. Or they could simply pass the “State competency tests,” and settle for a “local diploma” from their school district.
A year on the job, Mills prodded the board to vote for tougher rules requiring all public high-school students to pass Regents exams to graduate. To ease fears of higher failure and dropout rates, the rules were phased in slowly starting in 2000, to give schools time to meet the higher expectations. The passing score was set first at 55 for a “local diploma,” and 65 for a “Regents diploma.”
Next year, all graduating seniors who entered the ninth grade in 2008, except some special-education kids, will be the first class that must earn a 65 or higher on five required Regents exams. Everyone who graduates will get a Regents diploma.
The pressure increased at lower grades as well. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, passed by President George W. Bush, mandated states to measure student achievement annually in every grade from three through eight starting in 2006.
The state has awarded $48.2 million in contracts to CTB/McGraw-Hill to devise the math and reading test. The city Department of Education gave the same California-based company an $80 million contract to develop practice tests.
The company’s psychometricians, or measurement scientists, determined the difficulty of questions and converted raw test scores to a scale. A panel of experts appointed by Mills recommended cutoff points for students to reach each of four levels: 1. Not meeting standards 2. Partially meeting standards, 3. Proficient and 4. Advanced.
But Mills set the bar — and how high or low would control the results.
“Ultimately, it’s the commissioner’s decision,” said state Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn.
While leading the public to believe students were making great strides, Mills’ team was quietly reducing the number and percentage of points needed to pass or demonstrate proficiency each year.
Third-graders taking the math exam in 2006, for instance, had to score 17 out of 38 points, or 45%, to make a passing Level 2. In 2009, they needed just 11 points out of 39, or 28%. In 2006, they needed to correctly answer 64.4% of questions to score a proficient Level 3. By 2009, that had dropped to 53.8%.
Teachers found themselves “teaching to the test” by using old exams as practice, because many questions were strikingly similar to those asked the year before.
“The kids knew what to expect, and they naturally did better,” a third-grade teacher from Brooklyn said of the 2009 tests. “I had kids that truly had no business passing, despite my best efforts. I was shocked when they passed. It was really a disservice.”
Skepticism mounted. Fred Smith, a former testing analyst for city schools, independently studied the “p-value,” or difficulty level of the test questions. Mills and other officials argued that the questions had become more difficult, thus justifying the lower cutoff scores. Smith found the items getting easier each year.
“It confirmed what principals and teachers believed — that the state had dumbed down the tests,” he said.
Then came even more spectacular, and suspicious, 2009 results. “Why are we celebrating these scores as a miracle, when there is no miracle?” Rosa said she asked.
Another insider said Big Apple officials were urged not to “exaggerate” the results. But Mayor Bloomberg hailed the increase in 2009 as an “enormous victory.” At the time, he had a lot riding on the scores — he was seeking a third term and pushing for legislation to extend mayoral control of the schools.
City officials “got very angry,” the insider said, when Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch publicly downplayed the results, citing “troubling gaps” between the stellar state scores and lackluster outcomes on national exams.
Mills has maintained the scoring was backed by his panel of experts. But Rosa and other members of the Board of Regents say he kept them in the dark.
“I basically asked, ‘Who sets the cut scores? How is this determined?’ ” said Rosa, who joined the board in 2008. “There was no real explanation. I never got a straight answer.”
Mills and his testing chief, David Abrams, had rebuffed requests in 2008 to investigate the inflation. Faced with a lack of confidence, Mills was “encouraged” to leave in June 2009, insiders said. He declined to comment last week, saying, “I have nothing to add.”
Many city students soon discovered their Big Apple diploma was little more than a piece of paper.
Jasmine Gary, 18, a graduate of Port Richmond HS on Staten Island, was surprised when she scored a 70 on the Regents math exam.
“I don’t know how I passed, because I failed a lot of math classes,” she said.
She applied to CUNY but bombed on the entrance exam. Now she’s required to take a no-credit, $75 remedial class at Borough of Manhattan Community College, but is catching up. “I learn more here,” she said.
Rossie and Angely Torres, 18-year-old twins from The Bronx, earned 76 and 75 respectively on the math Regents at Philip Randolph HS in Harlem. They, too, take remedial classes at BMCC.
“In high school it was just people talking and the teacher would just give us an assignment. It was just to graduate. But here, people work hard and the teacher is more serious,” Rossie said.
Former Chancellor Joel Klein, who left office several months ago to join News Corp, which owns The Post, declined to be interviewed. But he defended his eight-year record via e-mail sent by a city DOE spokesman.
“We’ve long called for higher standards and . . . we still made real gains,” Klein said.
For instance, city fourth-graders have boosted their scores on national reading tests since 2003, though eighth-grade scores have remained flat.
And NYC has outpaced the state’s other big cities, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, the DOE says. In 2002, New York City’s fourth-grade math results were 27% lower than the statewide average, while the other four cities showed a 31% gap. In 2008, New York City was just 8% behind the rest of the state, while the “big four” were 25% behind.
But the more spectacular results have vanished.
The Board of Regents commissioned a study, led by Harvard professor Daniel Koretz, which concluded in 2009 that the statewide grades three-eight tests had become too easy. Mills’ successor, David Steiner, recruited for his experience in teacher development as dean of Hunter College of Education, was charged with making the 2010 tests more comprehensive and less predictable. He also hoisted the cutoff points, requiring students to do more to pass.
Scores plunged. Just 54% of all city students in grades three-eight showed proficiency in math tests last year, compared with 82% in 2009. Reading proficiency citywide fell from 69% to a dismal 42%.
Even so, the tougher tests continued the practice of giving “partial credit” for wrong answers — or no answer at all — if they kids showed some understanding of the concept or did one step right.
On the fourth-grade test, for instance, a kid who answered that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48 inches got half-credit for adding 24 and 24 instead of the correct 12 plus 12. “They were giving credit for blatantly wrong things,” said a teacher hired to score the tests.
A state report released this month delivered a new blow. It found that most kids who earn less than 75 on the state Regents English test or 80 on the math exam — 65 is passing for both — must take remedial classes before starting college.
That 65 score is misleading as well. It’s based on an adjustable scale — and the state has whittled down the points needed to pass. Back in 2003, students had to get 61.2% of math questions right for a 65 score, the minimum required for a Regents diploma, and 50.5% of questions right for a 55 score, enough for a “local diploma.” Today, students need just 30 points out of a maximum 87 — or 34.5% — to get a 65 score.
“When Johnny or Jenny comes home with a 65 or 70, their parents might think they’ve mastered about two-thirds of the material. In fact, it’s slightly more than a third,” said Steve Koss, a retired city math teacher who has railed against the bloated test scores. “Sadly, most parents don’t understand how the scoring works. If they knew the truth, many would be outraged at what amounts to a fraud perpetrated against them by state and local education officials.”
This month, the state launched a shorter English Regents exam, cutting it from two days to one, six hours to three, and four essays to one. Instead of three other essays, kids have to write two “well-developed paragraphs.”
Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city’s chief academic officer under Chancellor Cathie Black, thinks the slimmed-down version is a step backwards.
“If the goal is to get students college-ready, we need them to do a lot more writing, not less writing,” he said.
The state, meanwhile, said it is now studying ways to revamp the Regents and toughen standards again. Tisch called awarding diplomas with lax standards “social promotion at its worst.”
“You shouldn’t be a graduate in this state if high school hasn’t prepared you for higher education or a career,” she said. “If you’re not prepared, you’re locked into a life with no choices.”
Susan Edelman covers education for The Post. Kathianne Boniello contributed to this report.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Teachers Speak Out on LIFO at WNYC

Roundtable: Teachers' Take on the City's Education Debate

Thursday, February 17, 2011

By Beth Fertig
Teacher roundtable (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)
WNYC recently hosted a roundtable of six teachers at our studio to talk about the last in, first out rule that requires principals to layoff new teachers first. The teachers who took part in our discussion have between two and 18 years experience and range in age from 25 to 43. They teach elementary, middle and high school levels in four of the city’s five boroughs.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to propose eliminating more than 6100 teaching positions in his preliminary budget Thursday, most of which would come through layoffs. He's also been pushing Albany to eliminate the last in, first out policy. He argues this will help principals keep their best teachers at a time of layoffs instead of simply letting go of their newest teachers.
"I support the current seniority system," said Safia Jama Cross, 33, who works at Townsend Harris High School at Queens College. "I really believe that teachers with a lot of experience have earned that privilege."
Cross, who has eight years experience, spent four years in public schools and has been called into meetings and told, "You may be laid off."
"It’s scary. It’s stressful. It makes it harder to do your job," Cross said. "So yeah, it is kind of strange that I’m taking a position that perhaps doesn’t benefit me in the short term but I think that it will benefit me in long term."
Margrit Pittman Polletta, a second-year teacher at PS 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, said most of her students are low-income and about half are still learning English. She said having experience is a valuable tool in the classroom. (PHOTO RIGHT)
"I think I'm a good teacher, but I'm a really inexperienced teacher and I feel it," Polletta said. "I think I’ve heard people say, 'You know, five years, eight years, 10 years in, you’ll really get it.' And I don’t think you ever stop learning as a teacher, and I think that is why it’s incredibly valuable for students to have access to really experienced teachers."
Teacher Dan Abramoski, who teaches government at Mott Haven Village Prep high school in the Bronx, has six years of experience. He said length of career does not always translate to quality.
"If we do see layoffs we need to put the needs of the kids first," Abramoski said. "I think what the kids need is the best possible teacher and I don’t think that just experience is how you measure teaching quality."
Cross, the teacher from Townsend Harris High School at Queens College with eight years experience, said Bloomberg is "muddying the waters" by conflating budget cuts and teacher quality.
"I think the issue of budget cuts and laying off teachers because there isn’t enough money to pay everyone is separate issue," she said.
New York City is among many districts using test scores in part to figure out which teachers are most effective, a practice that's drawn much criticism from teachers.
Third-year elementary school teacher Juhyung Harold Lee, who now teaches in Manhattan, said he lost his position at a Queens school last year because his principal had to trim the budget. He was rated an above-average math teacher based on his students' test scores.
"Using standardized test scores as measure of good teaching, I think any sound teacher will tell you is absolutely wrong," Lee said. "There’s no really comprehensive system for accountability that has been proposed by either the union or the chancellor’s office to replace last in, first out. So if we were to just get rid of that measure it does open door for principals to used flawed methods of teacher accountability to push out certain teachers that they want to push out."
Abramoski, the six-year vet who teaches government in the Bronx, said example's like Lee's are why the system needs to change. Policies such as last in, first out, he said, aer "too blunt an instrument."
"It would be a shame for someone like you to lose your job if you’re a better teacher than someone who has two more years experience," he said.
Sean, who teaches high school in the Bronx, didn't want to give his full name. A teacher for 18 years, Sean said seniority protections exist for a reason.
"I think in a budget crunch the temptation is there to get rid of the expensive teacher," Sean said. "The mood of the country is moving that way, and Bloomberg with his business model, that’s what they want."
Abramoski disagreed: "I don’t think you should be guaranteed a job for life just because you made it into the pool and you stayed long enough for seniority."
"Seniority or tenure is not a job for life," Sean said. "It’s just due process. They can’t arbitrarily fire you."
In the debate over last in first out and teacher tenure, it’s easy to miss the little moments that add up to real learning.
Emma Groetzinger, a second-year special ed teacher at a Brooklyn middle school, said class size can make a world of difference.
"I pulled out a small group of students for extra help in math today," she said. "And afterwards the teacher came up to me and he said you know that student you pulled out today, she hasn’t done anything in class for two weeks. And she spent the second half of class working totally engaged. When students get the support and attention that they need they are, they’re different children."
Cross said she has about 170 students for five high school English classes. (Safia Jama Cross PHOTO LEFT)
"If I could have one wish it would be give me smaller classes," Cross said. "The power players in this whole debate about educational reform probably send their children to private schools, and their children are in small classes. And I know that in class of 34 the quiet girl sitting in the back row is not going to get the attention that she needs. I’m sorry, it’s just not possible no matter how great a teacher I am. And I think the class size is sort of an issue that’s being drowned out."
With the mayor planning to cut 6166 teaching positions, most of them through layoffs, teachers fear the mayor’s budget plan will lead to bigger classes – regardless of which teachers are the first to go.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No Wonder I Can Never Find a Banana at the Delegate Assembly

Teachers union bigs tossed from Albany eatery as rep Paul Egan wonders: Where's the beef?

Wednesday, February 16th 2011, 4:00 AM
Paul Egan, the teachers union's political and legislative director, caused a stir at a restaurant in Albany, refusing to pay $40 for his prix fixe meal because he claimed the entree was too small.
Paul Egan, the teachers union's political and legislative director, caused a stir at a restaurant in Albany, refusing to pay $40 for his prix fixe meal because he claimed the entree was too small.
ALBANY - Cops booted an unruly group of city teachers union officials from a posh Albany eatery after they caused a ruckus over their dinner tab, the Daily News has learned.
Paul Egan, the union's political and legislative director, set off the fracas - claiming the quail he was served, and finished, wasn't large enough - sources said.
Egan and about two dozen other members of the United Federation of Teachers spread over three tables at the swank bistro Marché inside 74 State, a boutique hotel down the block from the state Capitol.
And with Egan apparently worked into a froth over the size of his quail in the $40 prix fixe meal, union members looked on without paying the group's bill.
Egan began shouting and demanded to see the manager. The restaurant's owner soon appeared, and pleaded with Egan to calm down, sources said.
When he didn't, restaurant staffers called the cops.
Two officers were dispatched to handle a man who was "yelling and refusing to leave," Albany Detective James Miller said.
"There was a dispute over the bill," Miller said. "They were refusing to pay."
Miller said members of the party-hearty crew identified themselves to cops as union reps, and he noted Egan "was pretty irate and agitated."
To hustle the scene-makers out of the dining room, restaurant managers reduced the bill for the group's prix fixe dinners, Miller said.
Officers told Egan the dispute was a civil matter and ordered him to pay the bill - to which he followed up by asking if he was required to leave a tip, sources said.
"It was explained he needed to pay the bill and leave because he and the group were causing a disturbance," Miller said.
With the tab finally tallied, cops told the union honchos to hit the road.
"They all had to stand up and walk out the door with the cops behind them," one source said. "It was mortifying. It was like they had to slink out the door."
Police made no arrests, nor did they file an official report about the incident.
Egan could not be reached yesterday and a union spokesman said they are looking into the matter. The restaurant also stayed mum about the fireworks.
Union officials and district leaders were in Albany to testify yesterday before a legislative budget committee - and to lobby lawmakers.
UFT boss Michael Mulgrew told The News he was not at the dinner and said he was unaware of the incident.
"I have to go look into it, because I have no idea what you're presenting me with here," he said.
A source with ties to the union said it's not the first time Egan has been kicked out of a restaurant after making a scene.
"He's done this more than once, though he never got escorted out by the police before that I know of," the source said.
The source recounted Egan loudly complaining during a Christmas-time lunch that he didn't get enough meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
In the end, Egan was bounced from the city eatery but not before the owner tore up his check, the source said.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stan Karp on Teacher Bashing

Why teacher bashing is dangerous

By Valerie Strauss
This is an edited version of a commentary by Stan Karp, a teacher of English and journalism in Paterson, N.J., for 30 years. He is now the director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey’s Education Law Center and an editor of Rethinking Schools magazine. The full version of the commentary, which Karp delivered last December before about 250 people at a Portland high school, can be found here, at the website called and the audio can be heard here.

By Stan Karp
Far too many people are bashing teachers and public schools. The attacks are coming from different places for different reasons, and we need to pay attention to the differences.
The parent who’s angry at the public school system because it’s not successfully educating his/her children is not the same as the billionaire with no education experience, who couldn’t survive in a classroom for two days, but who has made privatizing education policy a hobby, and who has the resources to do so because the country’s financial and tax systems serve the rich.
The educators who start a community-based charter school to create a collaborative school culture are not the same as the hedge fund managers who invest in charter schools to turn a profit, or who want to privatize our most important civic institution.
The well-meaning college grad who joins a Teach For America program is not the same as the corporate managers who want to use market reforms to create a less expensive, less secure and less experienced teaching force.
And the hard-pressed taxpayer who directs frustration at teachers struggling to hang on to their health insurance or pensions—which far too few people have at all—is not coming from the same place as those responsible for the obscene economic inequality that is squeezing both.
I’ve spent a large part of my adult life criticizing the flawed policies of public education as a teacher, an education activist and a policy advocate. But now I find myself spending a lot of time defending the very idea of public education against those who say, it should be blown up.
The increasingly polarized education policy debate is not just about whether teachers feel the sting of public criticism or whether school budgets suffer another round of cuts. It’s not even about the hot-button issues getting all the attention like merit pay or charter schools.
What’s at stake is more basic: Whether the right to a free public education for all children will survive as a fundamental democratic promise in our society, and whether the schools and districts needed to provide it are going to survive as public institutions.
Will they be collectively owned and democratically managed, however imperfectly, by all of us as citizens, or will they be privatized and commercialized by corporate interests that increasingly dominate our society?
The larger goal, to borrow a phrase from the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a political lobby financed by hedge fund millionaires that is a chief architect of the current campaign, is to “burst the dam” that has historically protected public education and its $600 billion annual expenditures from unchecked commercial exploitation and privatization.
What is new and alarming are the large strides those promoting business models and market reforms have made in attaching their agenda to the urgent need of poor communities who have, in too many cases, been badly served by the current system.
The narrative of public education as a systematic failure has been fed in recent years by shifting federal policy. It’s moved away from its historic role as a promoter of access and equity through support for things such as school integration, extra funding for high-poverty schools and services for students with special needs, and embraced a much less equitable set of mandates around testing, closing schools, firing school staff and distributing federal funds through “competitive grants” to “winners” at the expense of “losers.”
First with No Child Left Behind, and then with Race to the Top, Democrats have been playing tag team with Republicans building on the test and punish approach. Just how much this bipartisan consensus has solidified came home when I picked up my local paper one morning and saw Gov. Chris Christie, the most anti-public education governor New Jersey has ever had, quoted as saying “This is an incredibly special moment in American history, where you have Republicans in New Jersey agreeing with a Democratic president on how to get reform.”
Unless we change direction, the combined impact of these proposals will do for public schooling what market reform has done for housing, health care and the economy: produce fabulous profits for a few and unequal access and outcomes for the many.
The corporate/foundation crowd has successfully captured the media label as “education reformers.” If you support charters, merit pay, and control of school policy by corporate managers you’re a reformer. If you support increased school funding, collective bargaining and control of school policy by educators, you’re a defender of the status quo.
This is particularly true when it comes to the way the issue of poverty is being framed.
Of course poverty is no excuse for bad teaching, poor curriculum, massive dropout rates or year after year of lousy school outcomes. We need accountability systems that put pressure on schools to respond effectively to the communities they serve. And in my experience, parents are the key to creating that pressure and teachers are the key to implementing the changes needed to address it. Finding ways to promote a collaborative tension and partnership between these groups is a key to school improvement.
But the reformers’ notion that schools alone can make up for the inequality and poverty that exists all around them has become part of the “No Excuses” drumbeat used to impose reforms that have no record of success as school improvement strategies.
Instead they’re political strategies designed to bring market reform to public education.
Today we hear absurd claims about how super-teachers can eliminate achievement gaps with scripted curricula handed down from above, and how the real problem is not the country’s shameful 23% child poverty rate or underfunded schools. Instead it’s bad teachers.
Now it’s true that effective teachers and good schools can make an enormous difference in the life chances of children. And it’s also true that struggling teachers who don’t improve after they’ve been given support need to find other work.
But when it comes to student achievement—and especially the narrow, culturally-slanted, pseudo-achievement captured by standardized test scores—there is no evidence that the test score gaps you hear about constantly can be traced to bad teaching. And there is overwhelming evidence that they closely reflect the inequalities of race, class, and opportunity that follow students to school.
Teachers count a lot. But reality counts too. Reformers who discount the impact of poverty are actually the ones making excuses for their failure to make poverty reduction, and adequate and equitable school funding, a central part of school improvement efforts.
The federal government has put more effort into tying individual teacher compensation to test scores and pressing states to eliminate caps on charter schools than encouraging them to distribute more fairly the $600 billion they spend annually on K-12 education.
At the same time they want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create more tests based on the new common core standards and use those tests to implement merit pay plans.
Spending more money on standardized tests is like passing out thermometers in a malaria epidemic. People need better health care, more hospitals, and better-trained doctors, they don’t need more thermometers.
These test-based evaluation systems have the potential to seriously damage the teaching profession. Their basic assumptions are at odds with the way real schools actually work, and bending school practices to accommodate them could negatively affect everything from the way students are assigned to classes, to the willingness of teachers to serve high needs populations to the collaborative professional culture that good schools depend on for success. They’ll also require another massive increase in standardized testing.
The last issue I want to mention is charters. Today there are about 5,000 charter schools that enroll about 4% of all students. Few justify the hype they receive in "Waiting for Superman,” and those that do, like the schools featured in the film, are highly selective, privately subsidized schools that have very limited relevance for the public system. It’s like looking for models of public housing by studying luxury condo developments.
In the past 10 years, the character of the charter school movement has gone from community-based, educator-initiated local efforts to spur alternative approaches for a small number of students, to nationally funded efforts by foundations, investors and educational management companies to create a parallel, more privatized system.
This does not deny the reform impulse that is a real part of the charter movement. Many times during my 30 years of teaching at a large dysfunctional high school, I wanted to start my own school. And many of the issues that public school advocates like myself criticize in charters, like creaming, and unequal resources exist within the public system too.
But public schools have federal, state and district obligations that can be brought to bear. There are school boards, public budgets, public policies and public officials that can be held accountable in ways that privatized charters don’t allow. In post-Katrina New Orleans, where more than 60% of all students now attend unequal tiers of charter schools, there are students and parents who cannot find any schools to take them.
No one questions the desire of parents to find the best options they can for their children. But any strategy that promotes charter expansion at the expense of system-wide improvement and equity for the all schools is a plan for privatization not reform.
It took well over a hundred years to create a public school system that, for all its flaws, provides a free education for all children as a legal right. And public schools are one of the last places where an increasingly diverse and divided population still comes together for a common civic purpose in this country.
In some respects public education is our most successful democratic institution, doing more to reduce inequality, offer hope, and provide opportunity than the country’s financial, economic, political, and media institutions.
Those who believe that business models and market reforms hold the key to solving educational problems have a [reform] agenda, but:
It does not include all children and all families.
It does not include adequate, equitable and sustainable funding.
It does not include transparent public accountability.
It does not include the supports and reforms that educators need to do their jobs well.
It doesn’t address the legacy or the current realities of race and class inequality that surround our schools every day.
Where we go from here, as advocates and activists for social justice, depends in part on our ability to re-invent and articulate this missing equity agenda and to build a reform movement that can provide effective, credible alternatives to the strategies that are currently being imposed from above.
We need to reclaim not just our schools, but our political process and our public policy-making machinery, and control over our economic and social future. We don’t only need to fix our schools, we need to fix our democracy.