It's teacher hunting season!

Friday, August 31, 2012

DREAMers Chide StudentsFirst for Endorsement of Anti-Immigrant ALEC Treas. Ga. Senator


DREAM Act activists have protested against Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst for its Educator Reformer of the Year endorsement of a Georgia politician that plays the blame the victim game. He actually blames immigrants for prejudice. Note the insensitive blame the victim spin that he puts on prejudice and immigration. Republican Chip Rogers is Senate Majority Leader in the Georgia State Senate, and is Treasurer on the Board of the American Legislative Exchange Council. He also sits on the Senate Education Committee. His north Georgia district is in the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Posted yesterday at Daily Kos:
Laura Clawson, August 30, 2012, for Daily Kos Labor
StudentsFirst faces protest for naming anti-immigrant bigot 'education reformer of the year'
DREAMers protest StudentsFirst's anti-immigrant endorsement.

While Michelle Rhee has been in Tampa, accompanied by former Florida governor and presidential son and little brother Jeb Bush, to flog the "parent trigger"-themed movie Won't Back Down at the Republican National Convention, the New York outpost of her StudentsFirst organization has been facing protests from immigrant groups over the national StudentsFirst endorsement of Georgia state Sen. Chip Rogers as its "education reformer of the year."

Graphic from Better Check

StudentsFirst has circulated petitions supporting the DREAM Act, with people who signed the petitions being counted as StudentsFirst members. But the choice of Chip Rogers, among all the legislators around the country pushing corporate education policies, as the top "reformer" of the year shows just how false that interest is. In 2004, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that:
[Ed.: The SPLC article is "Xenophobic Hatred Grows with Latino Population in Georgia: In Georgia, where nearly 1 million Hispanic immigrants have arrived since 1990, xenophobic hatred and violence are on the rise" from the Winter 2004 issue. The SPLC article noted: "Rogers admires King's efforts with American Resistance, which he believes produces 'great research.' But he keeps a distance, he says, because, 'some of his associates are on the radical side.'" American Resistance has posted on the anti-immigrant website VDARE.]
In the Georgia General Assembly, State Rep. Chip Rogers of Cherokee County has sponsored three anti-immigration bills, one of which would cut off all state services to illegal immigrants. "I don't think these folks are coming to America so they can make use of our social services, our schools and hospitals," Rogers says.

"They're coming for work. But we can't fail to recognize what it's doing to our health-care system, our prisons and our schools. One study showed that the state of Georgia spent $260 million to educate illegal immigrants last year."

Rogers acknowledges that "some people are beginning to target people for hatred," but he lays the blame largely on the immigrants themselves. "I truly believe that if it weren't for the high levels of illegal immigration, we wouldn't have the targeting, the prejudice, even if there were still high numbers of Hispanic people in Georgia."

Rogers continues to tout his anti-immigrant work on his website today. So the supposedly pro-DREAM Act, supposedly pro-student StudentsFirst's favorite legislator authored a law to keep DREAMers and other undocumented immigrant kids from going to school. That's just perfect. StudentsFirstNY's super compelling response was to try to paint the protesting DREAMers as puppets of teachers unions.

Closing the circle nicely, the Rhee-Bush event during the RNC was moderated by Campbell Brown, who recently wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed attacking teachers unions without disclosing that her husband, Dan Senor, is on the board of StudentsFirstNY. Florida defeated a parent trigger bill just this year, in a fight in which "Not a single major Florida parent organization supported the bill, including the PTA," with parents' groups opposed to the bill believing it "would lead to the takeover of public schools by for-profit charter management companies and other corporate interests," but with such emphasis from people like Rhee and Bush, it's likely to reappear on the agenda.
Parent activist Rita Solnet's review of "Won't Back Down," as posted at Valerie Strauss (Washington Post - The Answer Sheet) -"‘Won’t Back Down’: Realities the movie ignores" and cross-posted at MadFloridian at
By Rita Solnet

"Change a school, change the neighborhood.”

That's a line from the controversial, star-studded movie, "Won't Back Down," scheduled to be released on September 28th.

I attended a Washington D.C. screening of this compelling movie over the weekend. I carried a small notebook and a long list of preconceived notions about what I expected to see in this film. I walked out with a long list of of questions as to what I didn't see portrayed in the film.

The synopsis describes this movie as: "Two determined mothers, one a teacher, who look to transform their children's failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education of their children.”

However, the messages in this feel-good, underdog-winning movie go far beyond what this summary depicts.

Within the first few minutes, projected on the screen in large letters are the words, "Inspired By True Events.” That conveys the message that parents and teachers took over and ran a school somewhere in our nation. That never happened. I suppose that sells better than opening the film with, "This is Fictitious.”

Outstanding performances by star-studded and new young actors will put this movie on the Academy Award nomination list, I'm sure. The actors did a superb job of drawing you into the movie.

I cried several times despite knowing that this movie was funded by charter school privatizers seeking fistfuls of dwindling education dollars.

I cried despite knowing that the story behind the “failing” school was not told.

I knew that the divisive and unsuccessful “parent trigger” laws that have been passed in California and a few other states — and are being considered in about 20 others — was intentionally disguised in this movie as a fictitious law cleverly named "Fail-Safe," yet I still wept.

I wanted to jump into the movie and help these moms win. The audience audibly cheered for the underdogs every step of the way. Who wouldn't? Moms in the face of adversity knocking down barriers to help their kids chances for a better future. Of course, I'm on their side.

Unfortunately, this film depicts a story that is more about good vs. evil than about the truth behind public schools today and the movement to privatize them. Portraying a complex public education system as irretrievably broken — and blaming abusive, older teachers and their rabidly protective unions is much easier than illustrating the complicated truth, I suppose.

Realities that make true school reform so hard were left out of the film.

Despite many classroom scenes, you never once saw a child even taking a test — and we know that standardized tests take many weeks out of instructional time, with even more for test prep.

You never heard why the school was labeled "failing" or what the criteria was for receiving a “failing” grade. Instead you heard teachers in their unusually large break room complain about other teachers who had "the highest salary with the lowest performance.” You heard comments like, "We don't coach teachers here; we protect teachers.”

As a parent volunteer in public schools for 16 years, it startled me not to see anyone working on the problems together in this movie. I didn't see parents talking to teachers to help improve the school. No sign or talk of School Advisory Councils, of PTAs, not even parent friends talking to each other over coffee about how they could organize to speak to the principal or district or board to improve the school. Not all principals are underhanded and despicable as they are in this movie.

There were no scenes or discussions of parents at school board meetings to formally complain and formally request solutions be put in place. When you organize and speak as a group, you can be heard.

Why was this mom and teacher's first step to conduct a takeover? Because it is fiction.

Yet I worry about the dynamic a movie like this creates.

Will this movie launch open season by shrewd for-profit charter operators — including some with abysmal academic records — to stir a commotion and skip directly to the takeover step?

Disgruntled parents and guardians will see this film that is supposedly "Inspired by True Events” (but those events are never mentioned or referenced) and think it's appropriate to storm the school board to demand a school takeover.

But before our nation agrees that it is a neat idea for parents to demand takeovers, everybody has to know the real issues that caused the problems. People can choose to blame teachers unions, but they should remember that the problems people are trying to fix in public education are the same in states with unions and without unions.

Are there teachers who don’t belong in a classroom? Yes. They should be removed. But the difficulties that schools face are long and deep, and they start with the impoverished conditions in which many children live. That doesn’t mean kids can’t learn. It does mean that ignoring their issues will make it much harder for even a great teacher to reach them.

There is no question that children who need help should get it now. But the answer isn’t the parent trigger. In fact, in Florida earlier this year, an effort to pass a parent trigger law died after not a single major parent organization — including the PTA — endorsed it for fear it would lead to the takeover of public schools by for-profit charter management companies.

Of course we need parent involvement in improving schools. But that isn’t enough.

We need significant change at the state and federal level. The failed No Child Left Behind bill, which has been sucking the life force out of our public education system, must end once and for all, and many of the policies states adopted to win federal dollars in President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative must be reversed.

And parents, grandparents, retired educators, and local citizens can partner with schools to improve the quality of public education. That creates good will among citizens vs. divisiveness, turmoil, and uncertainty inherent in a parent takeover.

"Change a school; change a neighborhood.” I'd modify that to 'Change school reform rules; change a neighborhood.”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

UPDATED: Bloomberg Silent on Lopez Controversy; Jeffries Denounces Patron Lopez Without Saying His Name


From the Women Who Worked for Vito Lopez,
By Azi Paybarah of Capital New York, August 30, 2012.

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Assisted Vito Lopez In A Coverup By Giving Victims $103G Public Funds As Hush Money:
Silver hit by ‘hu$h’ probe,
By Erik Kriss and Josh Josh Margolin of the New York Post, August 29, 2012

Sheldon Silver welcomes a probe, John Catsimatidis delivers (Capital New York)

Assemblyman Vito Lopez's Pervy-ness Cost Taxpayers $103K -- Thanks To Shelly Silver (Village Voice)

Gloria Allred, NOW Have Shelly Silver In Sights Over Hush Money For Pervy Pal Vito Lopez (Village Voice)

Ladies, Assemblyman Vito Lopez Would Prefer You Not Wear A Bra To Work (Village Voice)
Former female staffers of shamed Assemblyman Vito Lopez are coming out of the woodwork to give accounts of what it's like working for the now former chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

Assemblyman Shelly Silver To Blame For Vito Lopez's Latest Pervy-ness? Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did the unthinkable yesterday: he admitted he screwed up.
But that was only after reports surfaced that he signed off on a plan to secretly payoff alleged victims of his now-former pal Vito Lopez's pervy-ness with $103,000 in taxpayer money.

2013 candidates, cautiously, on Silver's handling of the Lopez issue (Capital New York)

Post-Vito: Being rid of a boss is one thing, replacing him is another (Capital New York)

Two interesting pieces from Capital New York on the Vito Lopez controversy:
Todd Akin, Republican Congressman in Missouri has been the target of criticisms for his shocking comments that are insensitive to women, particularly to rape victims. Locally, State Assembly member Vito Lopez, a power-house in Brooklyn politics, has been criticized widely for allegations of on-going verbal and sexual harassment of two female employees.
The NYC Rubber Room Reporter blog has posted the August 29, 2012 NY Post story "New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Assisted Vito Lopez In A Coverup By Giving Victims $103G Public Funds As Hush Money".
Dana Rubinstein at the site raised important issues lurking in the background of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's relationship with State Assemblyman Vito Lopez and the mayor's mysterious silence during the Lopez firestorm.

Rubinstein led her article on Bloomberg's buck passing on the issue, odd, as he characteristically offers his opinion on a range of issues, often asserting a mantle of authority of wisdom on those issues. Here's the beginning of her story and analysis of Bloomberg's take, in "Amid the Chorus of Vito Criticism, Bloomberg Stays Quiet"
BY DANA RUBINSTEIN 2:17 pm Aug. 28, 2012 As other elected officials called for the head of Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stayed out of it. "You know, it's up to the Albany legislature to investigate and to decide what someone should do," said the mayor on Tuesday, when asked if he had any reaction to the allegations that Lopez sexually harassed young women in his office, and whether he thought Lopez should, as a consequence, resign. "I don't know. There's been allegations, but you'll have to talk to Albany." Lopez released a statement this afternoon announcing that he would step down as county chair but would keep his seat in the Assembly. Bloomberg and Lopez, the Assembly's housing chair, have a long history. Lopez supported Bloomberg's effort to overturn term limits, and the mayor has taken part in Lopez-sponsored events. But the city's Department of Investigations has also investigated Lopez's social services empire. The mayor wouldn't say whether he thought it was appropriate for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to have secretly used Assembly money to settle a prior sexual harassment claim against Lopez.. "I just don't know what the laws are in Albany, and what their procedures are," Bloomberg said, during a press conference at a revamped probation center in the Bronx. "In New York City, that would not be possible, because when we make a settlement, it has to be approved by the comptroller. When we write a check, it has to be approved by the comptroller. And I think, without taking a shot at anybody, the likelihood of that staying quiet is zero, ok? Does that answer your question?"
For the conclusion of her article, go to Amid the chorus of Vito criticism, Bloomberg stays quiet.

On another NY player's reaction to the controversy, Hakeem Jeffries, a pro-charter school candidate for U.S. Congress, has only obliquely criticized Lopez, that is without saying his name. Here is Capital New York's Pillifant's article on Jeffries' response to the controversy: "Hakeem Jeffries Denounces Patron Lopez Without Saying His Name"

10:55 am Aug. 28, 2012
After the governor, both United States senators, two members of Congress, and all five candidates for mayor had called for Assemblyman Vito Lopez to resign from his legislative and party positions, the assemblyman and presumptive congressman Hakeem Jeffries added his voice to the chorus, sort of.

"These allegations are deeply disturbing," said Jeffries spokeswoman Lupe Todd, in a statement this morning. "The workplace must be free of harassment and predatory behavior. If true, Assemblyman Jeffries believes the allegations should yield severe consequences beyond those already imposed, such as further investigation and removal."

The allegations against Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic leader, include verbal and sexual harassment against two female employees, and led to his formal censure on Friday by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who stripped Lopez of his chairmanship of the Housing Committee and all his seniority in the Assembly.

On Friday and again on Monday, as other elected officials were calling for Lopez to go, a spokeserson for Jeffries declined several requests for comment. Unlike some of the more strident calls for Lopez to resign, Jeffries' statement was attributed to a spokesperson and did not mention resignation. (Lopez has proclaimed his innocence and has said he will not resign.)

Jeffries, a cautious climber, has always navigated the Lopez dynamic delicately, balancing his broad calls for reform in the county party with specific praise for Lopez.

In June, Jeffries won a landslide victory in the congressional primary to replace retiring Rep. Ed Towns, in part by unifying support from the borough's anti-Lopez reform faction, and from the county organization controlled by Lopez.

"I’ve worked closely with Chairman Lopez in his capacity as the leading affordable-housing proponent in the legislature, and no one can deny that he has been the most effective voice on behalf of working families and senior citizens who are trying desperately to remain in gentrifying communities," Jeffries told me in October of last year, when he was just beginning an exploratory campaign to topple Rep. Ed Towns, a longtime incumbent and sworn enemy of Lopez.

Even before his censure last week, Jeffries' close ties to Lopez—who was reportedly under federal investigation—were one of the chief criticisms offered by Jeffries' primary opponent, City Councilman Charles Barron, who called Lopez one of Jeffries' "two daddies." (The other daddy in that formulation is Andrew Cuomo, with whom Jeffries has a notably good relationship.)

But Jeffries maintained good relations with the reformers, too.

He recently endorsed one of Lopez's most outspoken opponents, Lincoln Restler, for district leader, but Jeffries skipped Restler's big press conference, communicating his support after the fact, in a statement emailed to a lone reporter.

Jeffries' conditional, passively voiced call for Lopez to resign could turn out to be significant.

Jeffries' victory against Barron confirmed his potential as a rising star; it also made him the unquestioned leader of a certain bloc of young officials in central Brooklyn, most of whom have adopted a similar pro-reform, but not anti-Vito, line.

His call could give cover to those officials and district leaders to make similar calls, in much the same way that Rep. Jerrold Nadler's immediate call for Lopez's resignation (without so much as an "if") may have provided cover for the mayoral candidates.

Share on blogger Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on email More Sharing Services


Nebraska School: Change Pre-K Child's Sign Language Name Because Looks Like Gun

Now, doesn't this look like school authorities should be worrying about more serious issues, than how a deaf child wishes to sign his name?

Ron Recinto in The Lookout, also posted in Yahoo News:
School asks deaf preschooler to change his sign language name
By Ron Recinto | The Lookout – Tue, Aug 28, 2012

Three-and-a-half year old Hunter Spanjer, who is deaf, signs his name by crossing his forefinger and index finger and moving his hand up and down.

To his family, friends and those who know the Signing Exact English (S.E.E.) language that the Grand Island, Neb., boy uses, that gesture uniquely means "Hunter Spanjer."

But to Hunter's school district, it might mean something else. The district claims that it violates a rule that forbids anything in the school that looks like a weapon, reports KOLN-TV.

And Hunter's parents claim that Grand Island Public Schools administrators have asked them to change their son's sign language name.

"Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous," Hunter's grandmother Janet Logue told the TV station. "This is not threatening in any way."

Hunter's father Brian Spanjer said, "It's a symbol. It's an actual sign, a registered sign, through S.E.E."

The family told KOLN that lawyers from the National Association of the Deaf may push for Hunter's right to sign his name at the school.
Doesn't the child have enough difficulties already?

Read the conclusion of the story at School asks deaf preschooler to change his sign language name in Yahoo News.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BREAKING: Chicago Teachers Union Strike to Come: To File 10-Day Notice

BREAKING NEWS: Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) to file 10-day strike notice.
This will potentially set the strike to begin on the second week of school, occupying a difficult part on the news cycle, coming right on the heels of the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for the first week in September.
Chicago Teachers Union to file 10-day strike notice
BY ROSALIND ROSSI Education Reporter August 29, 2012 10:10AM

Updated: August 29, 2012 1:03PM

The Chicago Teachers Union plans to file a 10-day notice of intent to strike Wednesday, thrusting teachers closer to a walkout that could start as early as the second week of school, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Another step before a strike could disrupt classes in the nation’s third-largest school system would be the setting of a strike date by the union’s House of Delegates, a topic the body is likely to take up at its meeting on Thursday.

Delegates could set an exact date or give union leaders some leeway.

The union plans a news conference later Wednesday.

The planned filing Wednesday of a 10-day notice of intent to strike comes after CTU President Karen Lewis said late Tuesday that the two sides remain “very far apart” and have only recently resolved small issues, such as “ privacy for nursing mothers and workplace bullying.’’

“We are literally talking about crossing Ts and dotting Is,’’ Lewis said.

Any notice — which allows a strike anytime after 10 days — also would follow contentions by Lewis that an 11th-hour deal for a longer school day has been done “haphazardly” and “ridiculously” — an accusation that took some Chicago school officials by surprise. Under the interim agreement, kids still got the longer day promised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but teachers’ work day was not substantially lengthened.

Chicago schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard said Wednesday that if union leaders choose to file notice to strike, “We’ll be ready.”

The two sidea have been talking since November about a new contract. Teachers’ old contract expired in June.

Chicago School Board members last week OKed spending up to $25 million to keep students occupied, sheltered and fed in the event of a strike, an authorization that would be triggered upon notice of an intent to strike.

Asked whether a 10-day notice would put added pressure to resolve teacher contract talks that have lingered since November, Brizard said, “We’ve been very serious about negotiations” but a 10-day notice would “put pressure” on kids and parents.

Brizard spoke after meeting with principals at year-round schools, which started classes earlier this month. The principals raved about the extra time and recess that have come with the longer school day.

Several said the possibility of a strike hasn’t disrupted instruction so far.

“No one’s come to me and said they are down,” said Brunson Principal Carol Wilson. “I don’t see it impacting the instructional day.”
BY ROSALIND ROSSI Education Reporter August 29, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Carole Burris on the Three Education Reforms Parents Should Worry About Most

From Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post
Three ed reforms parents should worry about most
By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Carol Burris, the principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, New York. Carol is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student scores. Over 1,500 New York principals and more than 5,400 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens have signed the letter which can be found here.

By Carol Burris

As summer comes to a close, students are preparing to go back to school. I find that most of them enjoy returning. Certainly, our daughters did. There is something exciting about a new beginning. Kids look forward to seeing their friends and meeting their new teacher. Teachers matter a lot to kids. When I ask the students in my school to describe their teachers, they use adjectives like “great,” “caring,” “smart” and “patient.” It is upon the caring and trusting relationship between student and teacher that learning is built.

If you ask most Americans what they think of their child’s school, by and large, they think it is really pretty good. Although most parents see room for improvement, few think that the “sky is falling” on the roof of their neighborhood public school. When their son or daughter comes home with poor grades, most of the time they understand that their child’s effort had something to do with it. Parents, I find, are quite sensible in their perspective and do not automatically fault the teacher.

It is unfortunate, then, we are lambasted with sweeping condemnations of public schools and the teachers who work in them. It creates cognitive dissonance between our faith in what we know and experience, and our opinion of public schools in general. You can see that ‘belief gap’ in polling.

Although I agree that we should all make a serious commitment to improving education, I worry that reformers, many of whom have built careers and fame by constantly disparaging our schools, are successfully promoting changes that are not in the best interest of students. It may be that the “cures” they propose are far more harmful than the problems they seek to address. Here are the three reforms that I think parents should worry about the most.

(1) Excessive testing.

I strongly believe that the assessment of student learning is an important part of schooling. Assessment helps inform teachers, schools and parents about what students know and have yet to learn. Aggregate assessment information informs teachers and principals about the efficacy of their programs and their curriculum. What has occurred, however, in the past decade, is that standardized assessment has grown exponentially — especially in the younger grades. This year, New York State fourth graders, who are nine or ten years old, were subject to 675 minutes (over 11 hours) of state testing. And this did not include test prep and field testing. Both a NYSUT survey of teachers as well as an informal survey of teachers and parents by found that young students were breaking down in tears and suffering from anxiety due to testing.

Excessive testing is unhealthy. Students begin to identify with their scores. Last June, I was appalled when I heard a 7th grader tell his mom, “What do you want from me? I’m only “a two.”

(2) The use of test scores for purposes which are not student-centered.

Student test scores should be used to help parents and teachers determine what a student knows and does not know. They should not be used for other purposes, such as evaluating teachers in order to dismiss them or to give bonuses. They should not determine which school should be closed or be rewarded. When that happens, the relationship between the child and the teacher, and the child and the school changes. Some children become more desirable than others. Some children might be looked upon as getting in the way of achieving a goal. This is not because teachers and principals are bad people; it is because they are human. They may be overly concerned, but I know outstanding, thoughtful teachers who are worried that their relationship with students will change when they are evaluated by test scores. They want to educate students, not test prep them.

Now that all of the teacher, principal and school evaluations are based on growth models, yearly testing, I predict, will continue to expand. Each time that happens, precious learning time is lost.

(3) The amassing of individual student scores in national and state databases.

State and national databases are being created in order to analyze and house students’ test scores. No parental permission is required. I wonder why not. Students who take the SAT must sign off before we send their scores to colleges. Before my high school’s students could participate in the National Educational Longitudinal Study, they needed written permission from their parents. Yet, in New York, massive amounts of student data are now being collected and sent beyond the school without parental permission —end of year course grades, test scores, attendance, ethnicity, disabilities and the kinds of modifications that students receive. This data will be used to evaluate teachers, schools, schools of education and perhaps for other purposes yet unknown. Schools are no longer reporting collective data; we are now sending individual student data. Although the name remains in the district, what assurances do parents truly have that future databases will not be connected and used for other purposes? The more data that is sent, the easier it will be to identify the individual student.

Eleven states have agreed to give confidential teacher and student data for free to a shared learning collaborative funded by Bill Gates and run by Murdoch’s Wireless Corp. Wireless received $44 million for the project. With Common Core State Standards testing, such databases are expected to expand. Funding for data warehousing siphons taxpayer dollars from the classroom to corporations like Wireless and Pearson. Because Common Core testing will be computer-based, the purchase of hardware, software and upgrades will consume school budgets, while providing profits for the testing and computer industries.

Although all of the above is in motion, it can be modified or stopped. Parents should speak to their local PTAs and School Boards, as well as their legislators. They should ask questions regarding what data is being collected and to whom it is sent.

I think it is time to get Back to Basics. Let’s make sure that every test a student takes is used to measure and enhance her learning, not for adult, high-stakes purposes. Basic commonsense tells us that student test results belong to families, not databases. Remind politicians that the relationship between student and teacher, not student and test helps our young people get through life’s challenges. Finally, let’s return to the basic purpose of public schooling — to promote the academic, social and emotional growth of our children. It is the role of schools to develop healthy and productive citizens, not master test takers.

Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking

Sunday, August 26, 2012

How Education Policy Relates to "Compliance" and the Lack of Questioning Authority in Our Times

The film "Compliance" is the perfect film for those engaged in the debate on education policy in the United States.

It deals with blind unquestioning compliance with a manager responding to a supposed police officer's instructions, in dealing with an employee under suspicion.

The parallel for teachers and those engaged in education policy debates is that middle level policy-implementers are perennially following ludicrous, questionable mandates from governmental authorities. Take, for instance, the effect of laws or policy initiatives, such as No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top.

The Orwellian phrase of the decade, unfortunately, is "in compliance." This is the archetypal mantra of this era, to be in compliance. A flawed policy triggers a whole chain of side-reactions. Administrators stop at no lengths to be in compliance and to follow orders: to comply with dictates to make "Adequate Yearly Progress." So, you name the contentious policy treatment of judging or assessing teachers or students, and you find parallels with the notion of compliance.

People, speaking to themselves, to students, to underlings, when they cannot justify questionable, debatable policies, that they are "just following orders" or "complying with mandates." At what point are we going to draw the line, and declare free will and clear conscience and say, no, this is not right, this is just wrong?

When you speak with philosophical, well-read anarchists, you often find someone that will point out specific ways that governmental or work-place authority dehumanizes us and makes us cogs in a machine. You find someone making deep political connections in everyday human experiences and interactions. This deep impact of the political upon the personal is what could make this film the film of the era.

Education professionals will by thousands, in conversation or in their minds, say to certain scenes in this film, "that's just like when I . . . ."

The hurting of others' feelings, the debasing of others' humanity or the debasing of ones' own humanity, these are most tragic losses to democracy when we do not question authority, when we are not allowed to question or step into policy debates that the direct interpersonal level. We are feeling the price of being alienated from true direct democracy or participatory democracy. In just following orders or mandate, in being in compliance we are debasing our best selves and dignity when we inherently disrespect or mistreat others.

So, with director Craig Zobel's new film, "Compliance," we have a film which will trigger the concerns which I have noted above. When we have a film which engenders shouting arguments among audience members in after movie Q&A's we can bet that we have a good, meaningful movie. Interesting that people are drawing connections between the idea that this film's setting could be modeled on the politically controversial Chick-fil-A fast food chain. (The referral to this film was the blog Jersey Jazzman, which linked to this trailer.)

Here is what Movieline published about the film:

Compliance Director Craig Zobel On Courting Controversy And The Insidiousness Of Chick-Fil-A

Long before Chick-fil-A fried their way into the center of a gay rights firestorm, Compliance director Craig Zobel was searching for the right setting to tell his chilling tale of order and obedience gone terribly wrong at a fast food joint. “In the back of my head, I probably could have told you that they were on the wrong side of history,” said Zobel, who rocked Sundance with the drama, based on incredible true events, in which a telephone prankster manipulates the manager of a fictional chicken restaurant into the increasingly dehumanizing treatment of one of her employees. "I just didn’t want to look at it."

The natural impulse to obey authority, and the all too-human imperative to ignore our own wrong behavior, pulsate through every (often) cringe-inducing moment of Compliance. Veteran actress Ann Dowd is tragically relatable as Sandra, the middle-aged "Chick-Wich" restaurant manager conned by a caller claiming to be a cop (Pat Healy) into detaining young cashier Becky (Dreama Walker) on suspicion of stealing from a customer; interrogation by proxy devolves into humiliation and worse as other reasonable-seeming employees and colleagues get involved.

It's an escalation of events you'd think most people would never fall prey to if it hadn't happened in real life in over 70 reported incidents in 30 states. The subject matter touches such a raw nerve that Compliance's Sundance screenings prompted walkouts and shouting matches in the audience; as recently as this week the same thing happened in New York.

Zobel talked with Movieline about the highs and lows of sparking controversy at Sundance, how the Stanford Prison Experiment and the work of psychologist Stanley Milgram led him to Compliance's incredibly true inspiration, why Cops is a great resource for writing policeman dialogue, and how shades of Chick-fil-A unintentionally made its way into the most debated film of the year.

You made quite a splash at Sundance; were you always expecting this kind of divisive reaction from audiences? I knew that the movie would be challenging to certain types of people, and after having made the movie I thought because of the subject matter and decisions that we made, we’d be leaving some people on the table that wouldn’t like it. So I wasn’t 100 percent surprised. But I made the movie not because I knew the answer to something, but to explore — this stuff is weird, it’s not black and white, and none of it really makes a whole lot of sense to me. So I made it as this question. It was intentional to have a dialogue, and the fact that it happened as fast and as big as it did was kind of amazing. I was on the bus going to another screening at Sundance and heard two people who had no idea who I was talking about it. It was pretty great.

What did they say? They were talking about the real cases, but hearing people talking as you walked by – “Compliance!” – was exciting.

Isn't it scary as a filmmaker to ride the bus at Sundance? I could see how it could be, yeah. [Laughs] Mostly it’s just scary because if you’re riding the bus you’re probably late getting somewhere.

When you first heard about these real life fast food prank cases, had you been looking for this kind of crazy real life story for inspiration? I was really interested in the Stanford Prison Experiment, and because of that I started reading about Milgram’s obedience experiments, because at first I was thinking with the prison experiment, that’d be an amazing movie. Then I found out that people are making that movie, that’s happening. Fair enough. By then I was hooked, and it’s hard when you start reading about it; almost anything that’s newer points to real cases and real situations, like the Kitty Genovese case where a woman in the Bronx in the 1970s was attacked in the courtyard of her apartment building and screamed out for help — and it turns out that 24 people heard her and nobody did anything because they thought somebody else would. These kinds of cases just pop up. I heard about these prank phone call cases from that, and I was just reading them because I was fascinated, and I think what made me really consider this as a movie was that days after reading them my first instinct was “I wouldn’t be a guy who’d do that.”

Of course — everyone thinks they'd be the one person who would say no, who would feel such a strong sense of right and wrong that they'd stand up to the voice of authority. Right! And of course if it happens 70 times over a 10 year period, and if you look at the Milgram experiments which basically say two-thirds of us would do these kinds of things, how honest am I being? That every time I’ve encountered something I’ve disagreed with in an authority figure I’ve stood up immediately and said what I’ve needed to say? Is it true that you’ve always done that? And people’s relationship with authority, I was like, wow, I don’t see movies like that very much.

How close a connection do you feel there is between that sentiment and the ground you explored in Great World of Sound? I guess in my mind the other film is about rationalizing doing something that deep down you know you shouldn’t be doing, because you need to for one reason or another. In the movies, bad guys are really bad — like, Darth Vader comes out and is just bad as shit. But in real life, nobody thinks they’re a bad guy. Everyone rationalizes that they’re not a bad person, right? But bad things happen, so that can’t totally make sense.

In Compliance, you humanize every one of the characters — not just the victim. Watching the film, that eventually the perpetrators of these crimes would eventually pay for their complicity. And then I read about what really happened after the fact. The manager got a settlement out of it, too! It's hard not to become invested one way or another. The most interesting way to tell the story in my opinion was to be objective about it, and I think that has something to do with the people who reject the film or have conflict with the film who wish that the film was incredibly subjective to Dreama’s point of view, which is a way to do it. But I think that way would have had to have painted everyone else as bad people. And although I think they did something that I definitely disagree with, it was wrong, I guess I have some empathy with the decision making they get into. You start thinking in one direction, and then to back up and say that you made a mistake — for Ann’s character to say she should get out of there — would be to admit that you had done something really dumb. Nobody wants to do that, you know? It was all these human things; I tried to look at all the characters as if you were an alien from outer space. “Why is that happening?”

There was one particularly unsettling thing yelled out during the Sundance Q&A… The guy who said the thing about Dreama? I had some interaction with that guy, and — it’s weird, because I’m defending somebody who yelled at me — but I do think that he maybe just didn’t know what he was saying, or said something the wrong way. I think he was reacting to multiple things; the crowd, when the first one yelled “Rape’s not entertainment, this is the year of the woman at Sundance” people were standing up and saying to her, “Well, I want my grandchildren to see this movie!” And he was reacting to the hostility towards her in the room and trying to make her case for her in a weird way. I mean, I think the guy was an idiot and put his foot in his mouth. Do you know what he said after he said that? He said, “Well, your body sure is appealing.”

What was going through your head in that moment? I was just worried that Dreama was going to cry. I was like, if I put my arm around you will you just crumple? I was just there. And then [cast member]Ashlie Atkinson grabs the mic and her response is perfect, because she’s smart and has thought about this stuff. And he says, “No, I’m a faggot, I’m not even…” and I’m like, please be quiet. You’re making me uncomfortable not because of what you’re saying, but now I feel weird about you! [Pause] I know how that reads, but I don’t think a lot of people are lasciviously looking at this movie. I think it’d be hard to. We tried as hard as we could to make those scenes not feel comfortable. That was sort of the point; I felt it was important to have nudity in the film and go to a certain degree so the gravity of how insane it was would be there, but it was not meant to paint a picture that was sexy at all. It was actively attempting not to do that.

Do you feel like the controversy has been a benefit? The controversy has certainly helped in helping people know about the movie, and it’s helped kickstart discussions that have become really interesting. I’ve had more interesting discussions about gender politics than I’d even hoped people would go as far with. We’ve had super interesting conversations. So in the sense that it legitimized having questions about this movie, the controversy was great. Even if you totally reject the movie and felt like I did a bad job, it’s still interesting to talk about.

Was it hard to find Dreama, to find the right actress for this? It was. It was good in that Dreama was as interested in the root story as I was — all the actors were, honestly. Nobody was doing this movie because it was a great paycheck, they were doing it because they were fascinated by the questions that it raised. It wasn’t a super long process; in some ways a lot of people would be uncomfortable with this type of movie. But immediately Dreama and I clicked and she seemed to be picking up what I was putting down.

The press notes emphasize how uncomfortable you were directing her in her nude scenes. [Laughs] I was! There was a lot of showing her playback and asking, “Is this okay with you?” But it’s funny, the actual screen time of how much [nudity] you see in the thing is less than you think. I think because of the subject matter it feels like that when you watch the movie.

It’s because you’re in that experience with her, her nakedness and vulnerability dominates your brain. Which is really interesting. I wouldn’t say that I knew that would read like that quite to the extent that it has. I just got back from Locarno from the international premiere, and the foreign sales company that is handling our movie is also handling a movie about children during the Holocaust. And I found it funny that they were talking to some distributor in Europe and the European distributor said to Memento, the sales company, “We saw your really heavy movie.” And they were like, “Oh, you mean the one about children in the Holocaust?” And they said, “No, the one about the fast food restaurant!”

Heavier than the Holocaust — now there’s a tagline. [Laughs] I don’t think I ever saw that coming.

You cast the terrific Pat Healy as your phone caller, and to prepare you had him watch episode of Cops? I was trying to figure out how to write that cop dialogue, and you quickly start realizing that most of your understanding of cops has to do with TV shows.

Law & Order, that kind of thing? Yeah, stuff like that where it’s like your whole understanding of cops is through this media interpretation of them. I was like, how does a cop talk? That’s why I started watching Cops. To Pat I was like, look — it’s all about being passive aggressive. Cops are incredibly passive aggressive! That’s why I sent him the series. You hear them being like, “Okay, ma’am.” The quiet authority. It’s like your entire relationship in any conversation is from a place where you’re a little better.

But you wrote the dialogue not knowing what was actually said in these real life phone calls? There are some parts that I’ll just never understand. I didn’t write the scene that gets them to the full-on assault, because I didn’t know. What would they say? It’s also like, who cares?

True — you don’t need to hear the exchange leading up to the big assault to believe it. Now, you made Compliance long before the recent Chick-fil-A controversy, but rather presciently set this story within a fast food chicken restaurant. What is it about the insidiousness of chicken? [Laugh] Fried chicken sandwiches!

The timing is strangely perfect.
It is amazing! It’s bizarre. I’m from Atlanta, where Chick-fil-A is headquartered. I really wanted it to be a regional chain — I didn’t want it to be like, McSwiggins! I hate that in movies. It’s so distracting. Even Fast Food Nation does it, where they’re like, “Mickeys!” I’m like, Mickeys, really? So I was like, what if it’s not a famous one — what if it’s more like one where if you went to your aunt’s house in another state you would be like, there’s some weird fast food restaurant here that I’ve seen three times that I’ve never heard of, you know? And I’m from Atlanta; what is a regional fast food chain that I know? We have two big chains — one is Waffle House which I guess is more of a diner, but we’re proud of it, and the other is Chick-fil-A. It should be a southern fried chicken sandwich place!

Maybe you subconsciously tapped into something there.
I wonder! It’s funny when you think about it. I knew that Chick-fil-A was super Christian, and was kind of ignoring that because it’s really good food! But it’s that same thing where in the back of my head, I probably could have told you that they were on the wrong side of history. [Laughs] I just didn’t want to look at it. Compliance is in limited release.
Follow Jen Yamato on Twitter.
Follow Movieline on Twitter.

Read More at:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Student Pregnant? In the US, Many Charter and Public Schools Expel Them, Violating Title IX


New York City had a special program for pregnant students, but it was closed down because the numbers did not match up to Department of Education expectations.

In many school districts across the United States, schools are intimidating pregnant students into leaving schools and enrolling in euphemistically labeled alternative schools. Oh yes, all to keep the numbers looking right.

This mirrors practices begun in New York City in the early 2000s to "push out" low performing students, to counsel them out of continuing at school and to steer them towards options outside the school system, for instance, in private vocational schools: from "The New York Times," July 31, 2003: "To Cut Failure Rate, Schools Shed Students." A similar report is here.

The following story in "Education Week" leads with the glaring case of female students' being forced to undergo pregnancy tests in one Louisiana charter school.

Pregnant Girls Pushed Out of School
By Nancy Flanagan on August 21, 2012 7:53 AM

The story last week from Delhi Charter School in Louisiana--girls being forced to undergo pregnancy tests, then booted if they were indeed pregnant--was another in a series of school-based civil rights outrages that have become increasingly familiar, in the wave of education privatization sweeping across the country. Thanks to Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women's Law Center for sharing these facts about teen moms and the law:

(August 10, 2012) Disturbing news surfaced this week about a policy at Delhi Charter School in Richland Parish, Louisiana that required female students "suspected of being pregnant" to take pregnancy tests. According to a school official, over the past six years, the school kicked at least a "handful" of students out of school when the tests came back positive.

A Delhi school board member told the Associated Press that the school "didn't know their policy was illegal." Title IX--the landmark federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools--was passed forty years ago. For decades now, sex discrimination has been understood to include pregnancy discrimination. It is unacceptable that in 2012 so few lawmakers, school officials and teachers know that Title IX prohibits discrimination against pregnant and parenting students.

If a student is pregnant, a school is not allowed to kick her out, transfer her to an alternative program against her will or penalize her for pregnancy-related absences. Title IX requires that all separate programs for pregnant and parenting students be completely voluntary and offer opportunities equivalent to those offered to non-pregnant students.

Notwithstanding the blatant discrimination in Delhi, Louisiana, pregnant and parenting teens across the country face steep barriers to stay in school and graduate. According to a study by Child Trends released in 2010, only about 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by the age of 22. Nearly one-third of teenage mothers never earn a G.E.D. or a diploma.

Why aren't young mothers graduating? Parenthood is not the end of the road for teen moms. Quite the contrary, motherhood can serve as an educational motivator for many young women. Studies show that regardless of their relationship to school before pregnancy, the majority of teen moms describe new educational goals as they anticipate motherhood. Rather than a harbinger of doom, teen parents can view this challenge as a constructive wake-up call. Educators should work with young parents to help them continue their studies and graduate on time.

Unfortunately, that proactive approach is not routinely practiced. A recent report by the National Women's Law Center uncovers a systemic failure: districts across the country bar pregnant and parenting students from activities, kick them out of school, pressure them to attend alternative programs, and penalize them for pregnancy-related absences--all in violation of Title IX. Often these students don't know the law protects them, so they resign themselves to the mistreatment and drop out of school.

Alarming dropout numbers, coupled with the Center's findings, show that far from being an anomaly, the Delhi policy is simply the tip of the iceberg. If we as a nation want to address the dropout crisis, we must address discrimination against pregnant and parenting students. This is a critical first step to keeping these young women in school and securing a better future for them and their children.

Fatima Goss Graves is Vice President for Education and Employment at the National Women's Law Center, where she works to promote the rights of women and girls at school and in the workplace. Ms. Goss Graves advocates and litigates core legal and policy issues relating to at-risk girls in school, including those that impact pregnant and parenting students, students in a hostile school climate and students participating in athletics.

Since 1972, the National Women's Law Center has expanded the possibilities for women and girls by focusing on issues that cut to the core of women's lives in education, employment, family and economic security, and health and reproductive rights--with special attention given to the needs of low-income women and their families.

Mayor Emanuel to ‘ratchet up’ his role in preventing teachers strike - Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Emanuel to ‘ratchet up’ his role in preventing teachers strike - Chicago Sun-Times,

{And, Mike Klonsky on the question of whether Rahm Emanuel is an honest broker.}

{Scroll to end for Chicagoist posting, as linked by the official CTU blog.}

From the Sun-Times:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is preparing to “ratchet up” negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union to seal a deal needed to guarantee an on-time Sept. 4 opening of Chicago Public Schools and preserve his signature plan for a longer school day and year, City Hall sources said Thursday.
He owns this anyway, and he’s gonna need to ratchet it up to close it,” said a mayoral confidant, who asked to remain anonymous.
Emanuel is already visiting several schools a day to drive home the point that 140,000 kids have already started school and cannot be left in the lurch by a teachers strike.

Early next week, sources said the mayor plans to step it up a notch by having a “second level of negotiations with more senior people” away from the same cast of characters currently at the bargaining table.
The second tier of negotiations is likely to include Beth Swanson, Emanuel’s point person on education, and “someone from Washington, D.C., who is a more moderate, outside senior level” expert capable of “driving this home,” sources said.
“People who’ve been in those meetings for weeks have war wounds. It’s hard to break through that,” the Emanuel confidant said.
Community groups and Emanuel’s education “surrogates” are also expected to turn up the heat by orchestrating a series of news conferences, protest marches and rallies warning both sides not to “do this to our kids.”
And, if and when the talks appear to be nearing the goal line, sources said Emanuel is prepared to do what his predecessor would not: summon the two sides into the mayor’s office to personally broker the final chapter of bargaining.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley never got personally involved in labor negotiations, unlike his father.
Instead, Daley delegated the responsibility to negotiators, remained at arm’s length and inevitably ended up agreeing to contracts taxpayers could not afford to maintain labor peace.
Daley was timid and notoriously risk-averse when it came to labor negotiations.
Emanuel has no such compunction. He brokered many a difficult deal — including the auto industry bailout — during his days as White House chief-of-staff under President Barack Obama.
He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty — but that should not be confused with weakness.

“If we come to the end, and it’s a choice between a ridiculous settlement and a strike, we would take a strike,” the mayoral confidant said.
“People went into negotiations with Daley knowing he was allergic to strikes. He wound up giving a ton in the end. This mayor can’t cave. It’s what he ran on. The kids will have a longer day, and he’s not gonna bankrupt the system to get it. The only way to do that is to have a more sane contract. He sees this deal as fundamental to that.”
Asked Thursday whether he was prepared to personally intervene in the teacher talks, Emanuel kept the spotlight on his negotiating team.
“The parties [who] need to work on this are at the table. ... And I expect the parties to stay at the table and get this done on behalf of the children of Chicago and on behalf of the taxpayers. ... That’s their responsibility. That’s how we’re all held accountable. And I expect them to do it, since the parties are there,” he said.
Emanuel would probably be inclined to jump into the talks sooner if he had a rapport with CTU President Karen Lewis.

But, their relationship is non-existent. Lewis even went so far as to accuse the mayor of using the f-word during one of their earliest private meetings.
“He and Karen have not had productive meetings in his office,” a mayoral confidant said. “You hold that as a final card.”

Last month, the two sides appeared to have taken a giant step toward averting Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years.
It called for hiring 477 teachers to staff the longer school day — at a cost of up to $50 million — so elementary school teachers don’t have to work a minute longer, and rearranging the high school day so teachers there have to work only 14 extra minutes.
Since then, progress appears to have slowed to a crawl. The union complained this week that the teacher hiring deal is not being honored and that the longer school day in schools that started earlier this month has been a flop.

On Thursday, City Hall sources identified teacher hire-backs and pay raises that reward teachers for education and seniority as the two biggest roadblocks standing in the way of an agreement.
The so-called “step-and-lane” increases that Emanuel wants to eliminate are likely to be preserved in some form but could be offered every other year, sources said. They also might be “different for new teachers,” the sources said.
Emanuel has cleared his calendar for Labor Day weekend to be available to broker eleventh-hour teacher talks.
He’s even prepared to cancel his trip to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. — and a coveted speech to delegates — if that’s what it takes to nail down a deal.

The mayor would also skip the convention in the event of a strike. He’s not about to leave town while working parents are scrambling to make alternative plans for their kids.
That’s even though his handpicked school board has authorized $25 million in spending to keep kids occupied, supervised and fed at libraries, Park District fieldhouses, charter schools and churches during a walkout.

From Chicagoist:
Negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union on a new labor deal will continue without the threat of a strike on Sept. 4. CTU president Karen Lewis said she has no intention of filing a 10-day strike notice by Saturday, which is the deadline to do so for a strike to coincide with the beginning of the school year for most of the schools.
Lewis made her announcement during a leafleting at the 95th Street Red Line station this morning. It’s been clear for a while Lewis would use the 10-day strike notice as a hammer in an attempt to spur negotiations between the union and CPS. Lewis has said repeatedly that talks on a new contract have been unproductive, while CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard disputed Lewis’s take, saying progress has been made. Both CPS and CTU are arguing over how the new longer school day has been implemented at Track E schools so far. Brizard released a statement saying the longer day was working and a strike would undo all of the benefits. Lewis said the longer school day isn’t working and “and if we just leave it up to these guys, it will never be a better school day.” We tend to believe Lewis at this point, especially after Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he intends to take a more hands-on approach to avoid the first teachers strike in a quarter century. A mayoral confidant told the Sun-Times the mayor plans to “ratchet up” negotiations with the union. The source said Emanuel plans to meet with a “second level of negotiations” involving people who aren’t currently at the bargaining table, and organizing a series of rallies, protest marches and news conferences with community groups to try to steer the message back to “don’t do this to the kids.”
Emanuel’s more aggressive approach may be a case of too little too late, especially for a man who has seemingly been itching for a showdown with the teachers union almost from the moment he was sworn in as mayor. Lewis, at the leafleting, said it won’t matter. “Ultimately, (Emanuel) is going to tell the board what to do anyway.” If a teachers strike occurs the contingency plan the Chicago School Board was asked to authorize Wednesday, which would authorize vendors to provide food, shelter and other “non-instructional services” to students displaced by a strike, could cost up to $25 million. The contingency plan will be executed only if the union issues a 10-day strike notice.
Contact the author of this article or email with further questions, comments or tips.
By Chuck Sudo in News on August 24, 2012 9:35 AM

Friday, August 24, 2012

Venture Capitalists Poised to Profit from Public Schools

Republic Report with the headline reposted a story from Reuters on the major venture capitalists boosting investment in the education market.
The Reuters headline, "Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools."

Note that the private firms are capitalizing in an environment that is represented by severe austerity. For instance, the article notes that students are often charged fees for basic things, such as riding a school bus or enrolling in honors English.
The opportunities to exploit for investment range from curriculum to tests to school management.

"Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools," by Stephanie Simon:
Aug 1 (Reuters) - The investors gathered in a tony private club in Manhattan were eager to hear about the next big thing, and education consultant Rob Lytle was happy to oblige.

Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they're as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They'll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.

"You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up," said Lytle, a partner at The Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting firm. "It could get really, really big."

Indeed, investors of all stripes are beginning to sense big profit potential in public education.

The K-12 market is tantalizingly huge: The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors.

Traditionally, public education has been a tough market for private firms to break into -- fraught with politics, tangled in bureaucracy and fragmented into tens of thousands of individual schools and school districts from coast to coast.

Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They're pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.

The conference last week at the University Club, billed as a how-to on "private equity investing in for-profit education companies," drew a full house of about 100.


In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.

The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.

"It's time," Moe said. "Everybody's excited about it."

Not quite everyone.

The push to privatize has alarmed some parents and teachers, as well as union leaders who fear their members will lose their jobs or their autonomy in the classroom.

Many of these protesters have rallied behind education historian Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University, who blogs and tweets a steady stream of alarms about corporate profiteers invading public schools.

Ravitch argues that schools have, in effect, been set up by a bipartisan education reform movement that places an enormous emphasis on standardized test scores, labels poor performers as "failing" schools and relentlessly pushes local districts to transform low-ranked schools by firing the staff and turning the building over to private management.

President Barack Obama and both Democratic and Republican policymakers in the states have embraced those principles. Local school districts from Memphis to Philadelphia to Dallas, meanwhile, have hired private consultants to advise them on improving education; the strategists typically call for a broader role for private companies in public schools.

"This is a new frontier," Ravitch said. "The private equity guys and the hedge fund guys are circling public education."

Some of the products and services offered by private vendors may well be good for kids and schools, Ravitch said. But she has no confidence in their overall quality because "the bottom line is that they're seeking profit first."

Vendors looking for a toehold in public schools often donate generously to local politicians and spend big on marketing, so even companies with dismal academic results can rack up contracts and rake in tax dollars, Ravitch said.

"They're taking education, which ought to be in a different sphere where we're constantly concerned about raising quality, and they're applying a business metric: How do we cut costs?" Ravitch said.


Investors retort that public school districts are compelled to use that metric anyway because of reduced funding from states and the soaring cost of teacher pensions and health benefits. Public schools struggling to balance budgets have fired teachers, slashed course offerings and imposed a long list of fees, charging students to ride the bus, to sing in the chorus, even to take honors English.

The time is ripe, they say, for schools to try something new -- like turning to the private sector for help.

"Education is behind healthcare and other sectors that have utilized outsourcing to become more efficient," private equity investor Larry Shagrin said in the keynote address to the New York conference.

He credited the reform movement with forcing public schools to catch up. "There's more receptivity to change than ever before," said Shagrin, a partner with Brockway Moran & Partners Inc, in Boca Raton, Florida. "That creates opportunity."

Speakers at the conference identified several promising arenas for privatization.

Education entrepreneur John Katzman urged investors to look for companies developing software that can replace teachers for segments of the school day, driving down labor costs.

"How do we use technology so that we require fewer highly qualified teachers?" asked Katzman, who founded the Princeton Review test-prep company and now focuses on online learning.

Such businesses already have been drawing significant interest. Venture capital firms have bet more than $9 million on Schoology, an online learning platform that promises to take over the dreary jobs of writing and grading quizzes, giving students feedback about their progress and generating report cards.

DreamBox Learning has received $18 million from investors to refine and promote software that drills students in math. The software is billed as "adaptive," meaning it analyzes responses to problems and then poses follow-up questions precisely pitched to a student's abilities.

The charter school chain Rocketship, a nonprofit based in San Jose, California, turns kids over to DreamBox for two hours a day. The chain boasts that it pays its teachers more because it needs fewer of them, thanks to such programs. Last year, Rocketship commissioned a study that showed students who used DreamBox heavily for 16 weeks scored on average 2.3 points higher on a standardized math test than their peers.


Another niche spotlighted at the private equity conference: special education.

Mark Claypool, president of Educational Services of America, told the crowd his company has enjoyed three straight years of 15 percent to 20 percent growth as more and more school districts have hired him to run their special-needs programs.

Autism in particular, he said, is a growth market, with school districts seeking better, cheaper ways to serve the growing number of students struggling with that disorder.

ESA, which is based in Nashville, Tennessee, now serves 12,000 students with learning disabilities or behavioral problems in 250 school districts nationwide.

"The knee-jerk reaction [to private providers like ESA] is, 'You're just in this to make money. The profit motive is going to trump quality,' " Claypool said. "That's crazy, because frankly, there are really a whole lot easier ways to make a living." Claypool, a former social worker, said he got into the field out of frustration over what he saw as limited options for children with learning disabilities.

Claypool and others point out that private firms have always made money off public education; they have constructed the schools, provided the buses and processed the burgers served at lunch. Big publishers such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have made hundreds of millions of dollars selling public school districts textbooks and standardized tests.

Critics see the newest rush to private vendors as more worrisome because school districts are outsourcing not just supplies but the very core of education: the daily interaction between student and teacher, the presentation of new material, the quick checks to see which kids have risen to the challenge and which are hopelessly confused.

At the more than 5,500 charter schools nationwide, private management companies -- some of them for-profit -- are in full control of running public schools with public dollars.

"I look around the world and I don't see any country doing this but us," Ravitch said. "Why is that?"
"Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools," by Stephanie Simon

Guess Who's Coming to the Party: Romney Foreign Pol. Advisor on StudentsFirstNY Board

As we noted earlier this month, Campbell Brown (former journalist at CNN) spouse Dan Senor is on the board of Democrat Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirstNY. Rhee voted for Barack Obama, but only after some begging, "I'm somewhat terrified of what the Democrats are going to do on education."
His presence brings significant Republican heft to StudentsFirstNY. For he is the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority (the UK and US run government over Iraq from 2003 to 2004) and is the chief Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan foreign policy advisor, according to the New York Times. This role was noted this week by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. Oh yes, he is also a FoxNews contributor.

There you have it. That is the face of the local branch of the organization that is presenting the parent trigger movie, "Won't Back Down," at the Democratic National Convention. Actually, the board is bipartisan, having major donors to both major parties, as the New York Times noted earlier this month.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

8/22/12: Chicago Teacher Delegates OK to Lewis: 10 Day Strike Notice Capping a Week of Nasty Leaks From CPS

BREAKING: From Network of Teacher Activist Groups:
8.22.12 – The CTU [Chicago Teachers Union] House of Delegates authorized Karen Lewis to give a 10 day strike notice tonight. No actual strike date has been set, however. The 10 day notice is required by law and keeps the CTU on a timeline if a strike does need to happen. More details to come.
(Also, confirmed at Fred Klonsky's blog.)
The official CTU blog also reported the 10 day strike notice authorization vote late Wednesday night, but it said that no inference should be drawn as to when or if such a notice shall be issued.

CTU members signing off for picket signs. (From Fred Klonsky's site.)
CTU teacher with a device Bloomberg and Kelly prohibit in New York City.

Earlier in the day CTU president Karen Lewis held a press conference to address the state of teachers contract talks with the Board of Education of Chicago Public Schools.

And what kind of tone has Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard set this week? The CTU disclosed that it had acquired a CPS email memo that directed principals to monitor staff members' union activity. And on August 20 Substance News broke the story that "No sooner had the Board of Education prepared the agenda for its August 22, 2012, meeting — including a secret agenda item that will reveal CPS plans to open between 100 and 150 schools under various pretexts, but basically as what union people will call "Scab Schools" — than "Chief Executive Officer" Jean-Claude Brizard distributed a letter, in print and on the Web, for parents and teachers."

So, what kind of tone do Chicago Public School's memos and plans set, going toward this mass rally / town hall meeting with Karen Lewis, Matt Farmer and Rev. Alvin Love, on August 28 at Trinity All Nations Church? (Lead via Fred Klonsky)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Parties are Linked: Rhee's Romney-Linked StudentsFirst to Show "Won't Back Down" at DNC Convention


It is official!: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are organically linked, and they are demonstrating so at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, in the right-to-work state of North Carolina, on the week of September 3, 2012.
Self-identified Democrat Michelle Rhee's thoroughly presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney-linked StudentsFirst is showing the propaganda pro-parent trigger drama film, "Won't Back Down" in the middle of the Democratic National Convention. (She is also married to a Democrat, Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, who is also appearing a panel discussion after the screening.) The screening event is also sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Parent Revolution (whose executive director Ben Austin is also appearing at the panel discussion).

Re-posted from MadFloridian at, from Karoli at Crooks and Liars: "Michelle Rhee Infiltrates Democratic Convention With Right-Wing Film:"
Not that this surprises me much, since Michelle Rhee pretends to be some kind of "different Democrat," but it's really pretty nervy of her to show up at the Democratic National Convention with a film funded by right-wing education deformers and pretend she's "one of us."

StudentsFirst is screening the film "Won't Back Down" in the middle of the Democratic National Convention in an effort to convince everyone her brand of education deform is the best pathway forward.

I wrote about this last week. The film is financed by Philip Anschutz, notorious winger. And StudentsFirst is spearheading an effort to deform New York schools in concert with right-wing funding sources. See this report revealing Romney and Republicans' involvement:

*StudentsFirst NY Board Members and funders are contributing over $2 million to Mitt Romney and Super PACs working to defeat President Obama;
*StudentsFirst NY is using a complex web of multiple tax designations and different names to shield donors and funders from scrutiny on campaign contributions and political activities;
*StudentsFirst NY is out of touch economically and ideologically with the education stakeholders—the students, parents, communities, and educators—it claims to represent in New York City;
*StudentsFirst NY is supporting market-driven restructuring and privatization of schools that goes even further than what Mayor Bloomberg has implemented in the past decade;
*StudentsFirst NY is using a plan developed by Bain & Company and advocating actions that will treat public schools the way Romney’s Bain Capital treated companies.

...No self-respecting Democrat should be caught dead at this screening. I plan to be out front with my camera to see who supports public schools and who doesn't. Please reach out to anyone you know who is attending the convention and encourage them to stand firm for public education.

Audaciously, StudentsFirst has their September 3, 2012 screening announced on their website. I have given links to their organizational affiliations, which I have inserted below.
Join Us Won't Back Down Screening at the DNC

You and your guests are cordially invited to a pre-screening of Won't Back Down at the Democratic National Convention sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform, Parent Revolution and StudentsFirst. The film will be followed by a panel discussion with Michelle Rhee (see how she has advised Republican governor Rick Scott), Ben Austin (Parent Revolution), Joe Williams (Democrats for Education Reform-DFER), Mayor Kevin Johnson and others.

Where: EpiCentre Theaters - 210 E. Trade St., Charlotte, NC 28202
Date: September 3, 2012
Time: 1:00 - 3:00pm
The fun site, RheeFirst, has listed several Florida links Rhee has with the Republican establishment there. It pointed to the [Talahassee] Florida Current as the source of its report.
“Most readers of The Florida Current who responded to last week’s poll thought it a bad idea to let parents be the finger on the trigger to start turnaround plans for failing public schools that could include a takeover by for-profit companies.

Such authority would be granted by HB 1191, which is waiting for heard by the full House, and its companion, SB 1718, which is scheduled to be considered Tuesday by the Budget Subcommittee on Education Pre-K – 12 Appropriations.

The measure has drawn opposition from Democrats and parent groups. Supporters include StudentsFirst, an organization founded by former Washington public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who has advised Gov. Rick Scott. It’s also supported by former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future and California-based Parent Revolution, which successfully lobbied for a trigger law in that state.“

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will attend a screening of a new movie dramatizing the national debate over so-called parent trigger legislation during the Republican National Convention.

Rhee has been busy with her political magic this summer, edging "Won't Back Down" into a central position at the July 19 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The Conference has endorsed parent triggers.

Many NYC Candidates Will Refuse $ From StudentsFirstNY; Quinn Will Accept

It is fourteen months away from the November 5, 2013 election for New York City mayor and the second highest profile elected office, that of public advocate, and it is time to look carefully at where mayoral, public advocate and city council candidates stand on education issues. Election season these days begins months ahead of the actual election. Below is an August 21, 2012 piece from Capital New York on how two likely public advocates will refuse money from StudentsFirstNY. Other outlets have in the past week addressed how there is donor overlap between StudentsFirstNY and Republican Presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney. As the article notes, it is "the organization created to advance Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education agenda after he leaves office."
Paybarah's article closes with other candidates from municipal office who have rejected contributions from StudentsFirstNY.
4:00 pm Aug. 21, 2012
Two prospective candidates for public advocate say they will not accept money or support from StudentsFirstNY, the organization created to advance Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education agenda after he leaves office.

City Council member Letitia James of Brooklyn, who is expected to join the race next year, signed onto an anti-StudentsFirstNY pledge, as did Noah Gotbaum, a Community Education Council member from Manhattan and stepson* of former public advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

Two other candidates expected to enter the race, State Senator Daniel Squadron, who was endorsed by Bloomberg when he ran for office in 2008 against incumbent Marty Connor, and Reshma Sujani, a former aide to Bill de Blasio, have not signed the pledge. (De Blasio, the current public advocate, has also not signed onto the pledge.)

The group that organized the anti-StudentsFirstNY pledge is a collection of union and education advocates calling itself New Yorkers for Great Public Schools. The group faults StudentsFirstNY for promoting the use of charter schools and teacher evaluations rather than pushing for increased funding for public schools.

A total of 33 Democratic officials and candidates for various offices in New York City have so far signed onto the pledge, and it ought to be said that few if any of them had any chance of getting any support from StudentsFirstNY. But the overall goal of the pledge is to make the group toxic, or at least to indicate that candidates who accept its support are choosing a side in the fight between unions and pro-charter reformers.

City Council Speaker and likely mayoral candidate Christine Quinn said she'd accept StudentsFirstNY support and donations, just as she has accepted them from the United Federation of Teachers.

City Comptroller John Liu said he'd reject it.

Former comptroller Bill Thompson said he was concerned about StudentsFirstNY, but not ruled out accepting their support. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and de Blasio have not taken a position yet.

Here's the latest list of Democrats who have pledged to reject StudentsFirstNY support and money:

Senator Eric Adams, Candidate for Brooklyn Borough President

Assemblyman Jeff Aubry

City Council Member Charles Barron

Assemblywoman Inez Barron

Assemblyman Michael Benedetto

Assemblyman William Colton

City Council Member Leroy Comrie, Candidate for Queens Borough President

City Council Member Daniel Dromm

City Council Member Julissa Ferraras

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick

Jesus Gonzalez, City Council candidate

Noah Gotbaum, Candidate for Public Advocate

Senator Shirley Huntley

City Council Member Robert Jackson, Candidate for Manhattan Borough President

City Council Member Letitia James, Candidate for Public Advocate

Senator Liz Krueger

City Council Member Brad Lander

City Council Member Stephen Levin

Comptroller John Liu, Candidate for Mayor

Assemblyman Alan Maisel

City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito

Jason Otnaño, Candidate for State Senate

Senator Kevin Parker

Assemblyman Nick Perry

City Council Member Diana Reyna

Antonio Reynoso, Candidate for City Council

Donovan Richards, Candidate for City Council

Senator Gustavo Rivera

Community Board 7 Member Helen Rosenthal Candidate for NYC Council

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez

City Council Member Mark Weprin

City Council Member Jumaane Williams

CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that Noah Gotbaum was Betsy Gotbaum's son.