It's teacher hunting season!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Politics Behind NBC's Education Nation / Won't Back Down Bombs as Gyllenhaal Lectures Teachers on their Unions


REAL PARENTS REACT TO ASTROTURF FILM FOR ALEC-PUSHED AGENDA As reported in the Hollywood Reporter, real New York parents protested the "Won't Back Down"'s September 23, 2012 New York premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater, the city's last classic showcase theater for films. Click on the video at right for New Yorkers for Great Public Schools and the parents' protest. The film had its nationwide theatrical opening on September 28. Mary Bottari and Sara Jerving in their September 19 story in the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch deals with the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) promotion of parent trigger laws used in "Won't Back Down."

THE POLITICAL BACKDROP TO NBC'S EDUCATION NATION 2012 The Philip Anschutz and Rupert Murdoch bank-rolled agitprop pro-parent ideological trigger law tear jerker, "Won't Back Down" has been used by Michelle Rhee as a centerpiece for a film-promo-tour tie-in. What's better company for that ideological screed of a film-promo-tour than an NBC sponsored love fest of education reformers/deformers?

A CRACK IN THE TEACHER BASHING MANTRA As a New Jersey pro-public school parent and blogger noted, in her blog Mother Crusader blog, cross posting "We’re the real parents, and we won’t back down!" from WHYY's News Works, MSNBC's Alex Wagner slid in a reference to a Stanford study deflating the glories of charter schools.

The WHYY/NewsWorks piece further said,
The protest did not go unnoticed. Inside the premiere NBC News President Steve Capus made note of the "noisy welcome" attendees received, and claimed that he wants the discussion. Then why was NBC's parent engagement panel bereft of actual public school parents who don't want their children's schools closed or turned into a charter?
To date the research has not shown that closing a public school and reopening it as a charter will provide parents with the change they seek. One bright spot at the panel discussion was when the moderator, MSNBC's Alex Wagner, quoted from a Stanford University study that showed that only 17 percent of charters fair better than comparable public schools, while 37 percent actually fair worse and the remaining charters have similar outcomes.

Education Nation was an unfortunate affair, with its banning of Rockaway Wave correspondent Norm Scott and with stacking of panels with pro-charter school zealots.
Why the slant? The corporate outlets that NBC proudly allows as guests, in their "cross-network" geniality. These outlets assert professional neutrality. But a critical mind recognizes the reality that much of their "coverage" of education topics amounts to subtle propaganda for education deform / corporate privatization of education.
This banning of non-major outlet journalists is an outrage worthy of a big stink.
While we're on the topic of exploiting images and messages, at the blog Lil Kid Things, check out the face on giant placard placed on the stage of Won't Back Down event.
Looks a lot like First Lady Michelle Obama. Are the Won't Back Down backers trying to imply that the first lady endorses parent triggers or charter schools?

We can bet that the Michelle Obama picture's getting plenty of use on Rhee's cross-country parent trigger / Won't Back Down promo tour.
Here's one parent's post on the above article about the film. She discusses her town's fight-back against a charter school invasion and its planned stripping parents of the democratic rights of any input in school governance.
Please understand that this film is part of a very well-funded movement right now to privatize public education. The “parent trigger” laws that the film promotes have never been successfully implemented, because they are a legal quagmire, involving a small number of parents at one school appropriating something that is owned by the taxpayers as a whole and giving management of it to a private organization. This isn’t a parent takeover, but a private takeover. The laws aren’t designed to give parents more power in the end, in fact, in Adelanto CA (where the first parent trigger may actually take place after a protracted legal battle) parents tried to rescind their signatures from the trigger petition but a judge ruled that they couldn’t.
There are tremendous corporate interests behind this movement.
My state PTA board recently voted to oppose a charter school ballot measure, because it would strip local, citizen, and parental control away from public schools.
When my children weren’t yet in school, I worried about our local public schools. Now that they are in 6th and 4th grade, I can look back and see that the vast majority of the teachers are trying incredibly hard, often with children who have tremendous challenges at home. If you are an involved parent and you bring your children to school prepared to learn, most of the time they will do very well.
New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a parents' group has released a great video, “Educating Maggie.” (Video uploaded at right.) Maggie, herself, has a word or two of instruction for public teachers and their unions. She now is posturing as a self-proclaimed leftist, chiding labor unions:
In the interview, Gyllenhaal said she comes from a family of proud leftists, and that she herself is staunchly pro-union. However, she also suggested that the quickness with which critics have come out to blast “Won’t Back Down” as a crack against the labor movement shows intolerance among the pro-union camp. “Can we not even take a look at ways that the teachers union isn't functioning without being called anti-union?” she said.  
Gyllenhaal's line falls in line with some conservative pundits who have tried to claim to be pro-teacher and to play up imaginary divisions in unions, over divisions between teachers that favor the test and punish mantra and those questioning the shifts in educational policy.
Potential viewers might not care either way. Since the film’s opening on Friday, reviews of “Won’t Back Down” have been mostly brutal. USA Today said it is “repeatedly focused on a superficial depiction of the powerful teachers union,” while the Washington Post called it “so didactic that viewers are likely to feel less uplifted than lectured.”

But who is Maggie Gyllenhaal to lecture teachers about conditions of public schools or the experience of learning or teaching in public schools. When we look at her biography we see that her parents are a film director and a film producer. Her father hails from Swedish nobility. Her school experience? Her secondary school years were at the Harvard-Westlake School, a prep school of the exclusive international G 20 classification of top “independent schools” --euphemism for super-elite prep schools.
Let's go back in time to 2010, when Cathie Black, Duchess of Bridgewater, Connecticut succeeded mere citizen Joel Klein. Much was made of how she had never any prior contact with an institution of public education. Compare Gyllenhaal and Black with Joel Klein, who at least attended public schools before he entered college.
Harvard-Westlake School, 2011-2012 tuition of 30,350 … what kind of test scores do you think Maggie's school has had? “In 2010, 566 Harvard-Westlake students took 1,736 Advanced Placement tests in 30 different subjects, and 90% scored 3 or higher.” --Wikipedia Harvard-Westlake School, whose “class of 2011 had 90 students out of approximately 280 receive National Merit recognition, with 28 students receiving consideration as National Merit Semifinalists.” --Wikipedia Gee, I wonder what kinds of student-teacher ratios her school had.

Professional critics at Rotten generally pan the film; an aggregate of 33% give positive reviews of Won't Back Down.
David Rooney at Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film is a "pedestrian and insultingly tendentious drama."
Initially, the film sufficiently pulled at the heartstrings of the audience and produced a 79% vote on the audience meter (as of Thursday), today the film has sunk to 58% on the audience.
Per Internet Movie Database, the film is floundering with an out-right poor rating of 4.9, a rating seldom scored by the better half of top Hollywood directors and actors. At “Won't Back Down” is bombing at 43 on a 100 scale, down there with “Hotel Transylvania,” and well below “Trouble with the Curve.” GYLLENHAAL'S UNCOMFORTABLE THANKSGIVING DINNER
The New York Observer reports that the film's stars "don't back down from the film's politics"
“You don’t want a movie to feel like it’s an issue thing. You want it to feel like a human drama. I mean Oscar Isaac’s character, his whole narrative is about someone who’s a big union believer and is struggling with that in the course of the movie.”

The film’s stars, wearing grave political faces in addition to red carpet gowns, were ardent about education reform but wary of appearing anti-union. Ms. Gyllenhall said that she came from “the most progressive left. I wouldn’t be allowed to go home for Thanksgiving if I made an anti-union movie.”
Well, we can feel sorry for Gyllenhaal's upcoming Thanksgiving. Maggie, your film is a tool for teacher bashing, for pulling public resource from public school and for enabling the further privatization of public schools. I just feel so sorry for you. Your progressive family will wax about how great Karen Lewis has been for the nation's teachers, and you will say ...?

Liza Featherstone at the journal "Dissent," ""Empowerment" Against Democracy: Tinseltown and the Teachers' Unions", September 26, 2012 An excerpt:
Jamie crows to a throng of cheering parents—but democracy is the enemy. Getting rid of representative government and calling in a private entity to handle things, in our current Opposite Day political moment, represents a glorious triumph of people power. The “parent trigger” invites parents to use their vote to give up their vote—that is, to be enormously powerful for one short moment of direct democracy, which they will use to dispose, in the long run, with the “public” part of public school, and thus with any actual power over their children’s education.----Liza Featherstone, a real, not fictional, NYC public school parent, as linked at EdNotes.

Rhee alert! Rhee alert! Her spin on Chicago's strike: Praise Emanuel / Hedrick Smith sides with NFL refs

Live blogging CBS' "Face the Nation," September 30, 2012

Michelle Rhee has nothing but the best to say about the two main party presidential candidates. She starts off with complimenting Republican nominee Mitt Romney, that he has a solid plan for education. About the Democratic incumbent Barack Obama, she says that his education accomplishments are the best parts of his record.

They're talking economy on this panel.
All Rhee says: education, education. (Does she think about any other issue?)
She pursues the myth that jobs can't be filled, and that the answer to this is that our schools aren't teaching children properly.

She has said that she's a liberal Democrat. Yet she never argues against any point that Gingrich make, such as when he says that Kasich and Walker are doing wonders in Ohio and Wisconsin.

Then, there's the voice of fresh air, New York Times reporter emeritus and PBS Frontline contributor and producer, Hedrick Smith. He opened his comments with a critique of the National Football League owners. He cited the great wealth that their franchises produce, and he noted that the NFL wants to shift the referees' pensions to 401k's, which Smith said have been a failure.

See Face the Nation's page for the transcript of Rhee's first contribution; and then here

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shocking Report Explodes 5 Myths About American Education

Les Leopold, Shocking Report Explodes 5 Myths About American Education We're number one? Hardly. The entire idea of American exceptionalism should be called into question.
Alter Net, September 18, 2012

A new international report demolishes several deeply held myths about our educational system. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, which compares the educational systems of over 30 developed nations, provides data that, when it comes to education, proves we’re so far from being number one, that the entire idea of American exceptionalism should be called into question. Rather than thumping our chests, we should be going to school on how other developed nations, especially those in Europe, invest in education. However, we have little chance of learning until we break through the mythology that blinds us to our decline.

Myth #1: Our educational system provides more upward mobility than any other in the world.

It’s practically a sacred oath to proclaim that we lead the world in upward mobility. America, we are told ad nauseum, is the best place on Earth for a poor person to improve his or her station in life. You might struggle for one generation or so, but your kids can make it up the ladder faster here than any place else. And the reason, of course, is because we provide the best educational opportunities for all young people, rich and poor.

Not true, says the OECD report. “The odds that a young person in the U.S. will be in higher education if his or her parents do not have an upper secondary education are just 29 percent -- one of the lowest levels among OECD countries.”

Just how low is our ranking? Of the 28 countries listed, we’re third from the bottom.

Myth #2: Our teachers (protected by their greedy unions) work less and get paid more.

It’s open season on public employees, especially teachers and their unions. They get paid too much. Their benefits are too high. They get tenure while the rest of us fear layoffs. And they’re a bunch of lazy louts that get the entire summer off! If there’s educational decline, then teachers must be the cause. Right?

Wrong! says the OECD report, especially when it comes to hours worked: “Teachers in the U.S. spend between 1050 and 1100 hours a year teaching – much more than in almost every country.” Of the 38 countries surveyed only two countries had teachers who worked more hours – Argentina and Chile. And when it comes to the hours worked per years by our primary school teachers, we’re number one!

But surely, aren’t these unionized teachers making too much money? Not according to the OECD report: “Despite high overall levels of spending on education, teacher salaries in the U.S. compare poorly. While in most OECD countries teacher salaries tend be lower, on average, than the salaries earned by other workers with higher education, in the U.S. the difference is large, especially for teachers with minimum qualifications.”

Myth #3: Big government (via our tax dollars) funds higher education.

In state after state politicians are taking an ax to higher education budgets. As we plow more money into our prison system, we no longer can afford our lavish public colleges and universities, or so we are told. (See “Crazy Country: 6 Reasons America Spends More on Prisons Than On Higher Education”). But overall, don’t we still lead the world in big government support for higher education?

Well, we almost lead the world in overall spending on higher education, both in absolute dollars and as a percent of GDP. Unfortunately, we place more of the burden on students and their families than just about any other developed nation: “In the U.S., 38 percent of higher education expenditures come from public sources, and 62 percent are from private sources. Across all OECD countries, 70 percent of expenditures on higher education come from public sources, and 30 percent are from private sources.” Little wonder we have a trillion dollar student loan industry that serves as an ever-present lobby to make sure the debt burden remains students and their families.

Myth #4: We provide excellent early childhood education.

Worried about creeping socialism? Look no further than Head Start and other pre-school programs we throw money at. Isn’t this where the Nanny State begins?

Blinded by anti-government ideology, we fail to notice that the rest of the world invests much more in their young people, especially the very young: “On average across OECD countries, 84 percent of pupils in early childhood education attend programmes in public schools or government-dependent private institutions, while in the U.S., 55 percent of early childhood pupils attend programmes in public schools, and 45 percent attend independent private programmes. In the U.S. the typical starting age for early childhood education is 4 years old, while in 21 other OECD countries, it is 3 years old or younger.”

Even more telling is the fact that we tend not to employ professional educators for our very young. As the report delicately puts it: “In addition, education-only early childhood programmes in other countries are usually delivered by a qualified teacher and have a formal curriculum, while in the U.S., the situation can vary.” Vary indeed.

So where are we ranked?
3-year-olds (in early childhood education): 25th of 36 countries
4-year-olds (in early childhood education and primary education): 28th of 38 countries
5- to 14-year-olds (all levels): 29th of 39 countries

Myth #5: We have the highest percentage of college grads in the world.

OK, we may have some issues with early childhood education, who pays for college, upward mobility and public support for higher education. But, as the politicians tell us, we are going to win the global competition for knowledge-based industries and jobs, precisely because we have the best universities and the most college graduates.

While it’s difficult to compare global colleges and universities (and while I’m certain that we do have some of the very best elite institutions), it is possible to compare the number college graduates among developed nations. Again, we suffer by the comparison: “The U.S. ranks 14th in the world in the percentage of 25-34 year-olds with higher education (42 percent).” Those are our young people. That’s our future. And the richest country on Earth can’t even win the competition for the highest percentage of college graduates?

So aren’t we number one in something?

Yes, we are and it’s revealing. We’re number one in 55- to 64-year-olds who finished high school. We boomers actually went to school – 90 percent of us finished high school while the OECD average is 65 percent.

That statistic takes us right to the heart of this story – how during the post-WWII era the United States invested in its people. The GI Bill of Rights provided free higher education to more than 3 million returning GIs. Enormous investments in education helped us catch up with Sputnik and win the race to the moon. The super-rich faced high tax rates so that we could pay for education, a national highway system, and the defense budget. Unions were supported by the federal government and moved wages up across the board. And the burgeoning civil rights movement began to bring the promise of America to African Americans. The middle class was rising. We went to school. And we created the fairest income distribution in our history.

Then, we tossed it away as we forgot the lessons of the Great Depression and our collective response during WWII. We deregulated the rich and they tore our country apart.

You see, none of these myths apply to the wealthy. Their kids get plenty of early childhood education. Their kids don’t attend run-down schools. Their kids don’t run up debts in order to go to college. In fact, our elites are positioned perfectly to thrive in a global economy. They can attack public schools, teachers unions, big government and not suffer the consequences. Frankly they don’t give a damn about our international rankings. The rich are quite happy for the rest of us to swallow the myth of American exceptionalism, even when reality shows how exceptionally bad we are at providing decent education for all of our people.

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Research Shows: Value-Added Teacher Accountability Not Ready for Prime Time

In Alternet research cited by supporters of the Chicago Public Schools' quest for value-added modeling (VAM) actually deflate pro-test arguments: "researchers were unable to compare the long term results of high value-added teachers with results of teachers who excelled in other ways that might, conceivably, have even larger impacts on long term outcomes."

Other research concluded: "It concluded that holding teachers accountable for growth in the test scores (called “value-added”) of their students is more harmful than helpful to children’s educations."

What does help? [This point is not the focus of the Alternet article.] A diverse curriculum and attention to children's basic health needs. These concerns are among the objectives of the Chicago Teachers Union strikers, and a fuller discussion can be read in their report, "The Schools Chicago's Children Deserve."

Writing in Alter Net, Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute raises another concern, so far, little addressed, even among observers that are critical of the link of testing to teacher evaluation: will principals, when they are informed of teachers' value-added scores, use that information in a biased manner against the teachers to skew their own observations of teachers?
"But according to the Chicago district proposal, the observations will be conducted by principals, who will know the value-added scores of teachers they are observing. How principals will be influenced by this knowledge cannot be known—will they tend to give high ratings to teachers with high value-added scores in order not to call attention to possible flaws in their observational skills, will they tend to offset value-added conclusions in order to save favored teachers who have low value-added, or will they tend to sink unfavored teachers with high value-added?"

Rothstein wondered how widespread teacher discontentment is. One specific kind of discontent, that over test-based teacher evaluations, is sure to grow exponentially, as legislation mandating such evaluations spreads like wildfire across the United States. This legislation has been spurred on by President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's signature reform, Race to the Top. As of October 2011, when the National Council on Teacher Quality published a study, these 17 states and the District of Columbia are using "student achievement" as an "objective" role in assessing teacher performance: Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, D.C., Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

Richard Rothstein debunks assumptions in the drive for value-added modeling teacher accountability in "Is 'Teacher Accountability' Ready for Prime-Time?," from Alter Net, September 17, 2012
Economic Policy Institute / By Richard Rothstein
Is 'Teacher Accountability' Ready for Prime-Time?
Though Rahm Emanuel wants to put student test scores at the center of teacher evals, there's little proof such measuring sticks make any sense.
September 17, 2012

It was bound to happen, whether in Chicago or elsewhere. What is surprising about the Chicago teachers’ strike is that something like this did not happen sooner.

The strike represents the first open rebellion of teachers nationwide over efforts to evaluate, punish and reward them based on their students’ scores on standardized tests of low-level basic skills in math and reading. Teachers’ discontent has been simmering now for a decade, but it took a well-organized union to give that discontent practical expression. For those who have doubts about why teachers need unions, the Chicago strike is an important lesson.

Nobody can say how widespread discontent might be. Reformers can certainly point to teachers who say that the pressure of standardized testing has been useful, has forced them to pay attention to students they previously ignored, and could rid their schools of lazy and incompetent teachers.

But I frequently get letters from teachers, and speak with teachers across the country who claim to have been successful educators and who are now demoralized by the transformation of teaching from a craft employing skill and empathy into routinized drill instruction using scripted curriculum. They are also demoralized by the weeks and weeks of the school year now devoted to gamesmanship—test preparation designed not to teach literacy or mathematics but only to make it seem that students can perform in an artificial setting better than they actually do.

I suspect, but cannot prove that the latter group of teachers is more numerous and that teachers in the discontented group are more likely to be seasoned, experienced, and successful. I suspect that teachers in the group supportive of standardized testing are more likely to be young, frequently hired outside the usual teacher training stream, and conditioned to think of education as little more than test preparation.

The research evidence is weighty in support of the discontented view; two years ago, EPI assembled a group of prominent testing experts and education policy experts to assess the research evidence on the use of test scores to evaluate teachers. [Eva L. Baker, Paul E. Barton, Linda Darling-Hammond, Edward Haertel, Helen F. Ladd, Robert L. Linn, Diane Ravitch, Richard Rothstein, Richard J. Shavelson, and Lorrie A. Shepard, "Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers"] It concluded that holding teachers accountable for growth in the test scores (called “value-added”) of their students is more harmful than helpful to children’s educations. Placing serious consequences for teachers on the results of their students’ tests creates rational incentives for teachers and schools to narrow the curriculum to tested subjects, and to tested areas within those subjects. Students lose instruction in history, the sciences, the arts, music, and physical education, and teachers focus less on development of children’s non-cognitive behaviors—cooperative activities, character, social skills—that are among the most important aims of a solid education.

Recently, however, some have made claims to the contrary that there are great benefits to holding teachers accountable for standardized test scores. One study, sponsored by the Gates Foundation, administered a higher quality test of reasoning and critical thinking skills to students who had also taken their state’s high stakes standardized test of basic skills. The Gates researchers found that teachers whose students had high value-added scores on the standardized basic skills test also tended to have high value-added scores on the test of reasoning (i.e., teachers’ value-added on the two tests were positively correlated). This was a potentially important finding because it suggested that narrowing the curriculum as a consequence of high stakes testing is not something about which we should be concerned. If we know that teachers who are effective at teaching basic skills are also effective at developing reasoning skills, then we can hold teachers accountable only for basic skills and be confident that their students are getting both.

But although the teacher results were correlated, they were only weakly correlated. True, more teachers who had high value-added scores on a basic skills test also had high value-added scores on a test of reasoning, but it wasn’t many more. If you fired teachers who did poorly at teaching basic skills you would get rid of many teachers who did poorly at developing reasoning skills, but you would also get rid of many teachers who did well at developing reasoning skills. The first group (those who did poorly) would be larger than the second group (those who did well), but not much larger.

The second highly publicized study, done by a group of Harvard researchers, concluded that teachers whose students had high value-added test scores were also those whose students had better long term adult outcomes—better earnings, for example. This was a potentially important finding because it suggested that these tests had not become ends in themselves, but rather that success for students on these tests made the students more likely to be successful as adults, and if you put pressure on teachers to increase their students’ test scores you would also be putting pressure on these teachers to improve their students’ adult success. And that would be a good thing.

The flaw here is that the researchers were unable to compare the long term results of high value-added teachers with results of teachers who excelled in other ways that might, conceivably, have even larger impacts on long term outcomes. For example, the researchers could not say whether teachers who are more effective at developing their students’ cooperative behavior, or reasoning skills (and we know from the Gates study that only sometimes are these the same teachers who are more effective at teaching basic skills) might have students who have even better adult outcomes—like earnings. If this were the case (and we have no reason to believe it one way or the other), then getting teachers to shift their attention from teaching reasoning or cooperative behavior to standardized test preparation might be lowering their students’ future earnings, not raising them.

In short, the two recent studies most heavily promoted by supporters of the Chicago district’s plan to evaluate teachers in part by their students’ test scores do not confirm that the district’s position is wise. It may be, but it also may do great harm.

The Chicago district, and other promoters of teacher evaluation based in large part on student test scores, have become aware of these problems. And so they now emphasize that they support evaluating teachers by “multiple measures”—not only their students’ test scores but by the performance by students of assigned tasks under the supervision of experts, by observation of teachers by their principals, and sometimes (for high school students, for example) by student reports of teacher effectiveness.

This is a fine balanced approach in theory, but is very difficult to implement in practice. For example, when the Gates Foundation study also showed a correlation between a teacher’s value-added test scores and a rated observation by instructional experts, it conducted this experiment by providing the experts with videotapes of teachers conducting instruction. The experts watching (and evaluating) the videotapes did not know the value-added scores of the teachers on the tapes, so the two measures (value-added scores and expert observation) were independent. But according to the Chicago district proposal, the observations will be conducted by principals, who will know the value-added scores of teachers they are observing. How principals will be influenced by this knowledge cannot be known—will they tend to give high ratings to teachers with high value-added scores in order not to call attention to possible flaws in their observational skills, will they tend to offset value-added conclusions in order to save favored teachers who have low value-added, or will they tend to sink unfavored teachers with high value-added? One thing of which we can be certain: Armed with knowledge of teacher value-added scores, it will be much harder for principals to observe and evaluate teachers objectively. In times past, when student test scores did not have high stakes for schools or teachers, principals with knowledge of test results could use this knowledge constructively to guide their observations; principals would visit classrooms where test scores were poor to see if they could determine something being done poorly, or visit classrooms where test scores were good to see if they could learn what was being done right. With high stakes now attached to the test, such constructive evaluation is less likely.

With a rush to implement test-based accountability before these systems have been tested experimentally, or even thought-through carefully, the Chicago district proposal is in some respects silly. What about teachers who don’t teach math or reading and so who don’t have standardized value-added scores? Or those who have not had students for a full year, or who have not been teaching the same subject for sufficient time to have value-added scores? The district proposes to evaluate these using their school-wide average value-added scores. Perhaps, with this proposal, the district is acknowledging that a teacher’s impact on a student is not only the result of her own efforts, but of the school’s entire teacher corps, working collaboratively. But if so, then individual teacher evaluation-by-test-score makes no sense (even if individual teacher data happen to be available), and student growth data should be used only to evaluate schools as a whole.

The impact of teachers’ practice on each other is apparent. Should, for example, a fifth grade teacher’s value-added score be adjusted if her students had come from a class the year before with a fourth grade teacher whose value-added score was unusually high or low? With similar students, a fifth grade teacher will have an easier (or perhaps harder) time if her students had a more effective teacher in the fourth grade. It could be easier if students had a more effective teacher the previous year, because the skills students learn in one year can give them an advantage in learning in subsequent years. Or a teacher’s job could be harder if students had a more effective teacher the previous year, because students who learn more in one year will have less room to grow in the next year. Nobody, no educational theorist or practical policy maker has an answer to this problem, and the Chicago proposal ignores this obvious source of distortion.

News reports suggest that the Chicago strike may be settled soon. The district’s latest proposal is that value-added test score data could ultimately make up 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, with student growth on some yet-to-be-defined “performance” tasks—writing an essay, for example—comprising another 15 percent. This is far better than what some districts around the country are attempting to do, with standardized test score data making up half of a teacher’s evaluation. The union will likely agree to something close to the district proposal, with an appeals process that is stronger than what the district has thus far proposed.

Although the Chicago teacher evaluation system will not be the worst in the country, it will still rely on methods that are not yet ready for prime time. Whether the Chicago strike slows down the rush in other places to implement a terribly flawed system, or the settlement encourages other places to try it, remains to be seen.

Richard Rothstein is a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at U.C. Berkeley.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

NYC DOE Does Nothing in 6 Year Sexual Abuse of Teacher; $450,000 Settlement Reached

With the court cases piling up, the contention can be made that the New York City Department of Education is acting like a gangland organization, to the extent that it is singlemindedly acting with the prime directive to let no negative information be divulged. The result of this is a ruthless crushing of individual dignity of people seeking respect and safety on the job. Instead, they experience heart-breaking, health-threatening stress.

Case in point #1: Witness the case of the child relentlessly bullied at one elementary school on the Upper East Side. School authoritities did nothing. The parents sued to have the city pay for the child's private school education. See my post earlier, this summer, NYC Must Pay for Private School for Bullied Child; Will DOE Finally Act vs. Bullying?.

Case in point #2: Yesterday the New York Daily News broke an exclusive story, that a Brooklyn high school social studies teacher, Mississippi native, Theresa Reel. Students relentlessly subjected her to verbal and direct physical sexual harassment. No action by her supervisors. Thankfully, she has a nearly half million dollar settlement. But what is additionally sickening is that her supervisors remain in supervisory positions, still overseeing teachers, still able to retaliate again against teachers that dare to speak for their basic human dignity. (Keep posted to this blog as I update with highlights from Daily News reader comments.)

Where is the broad swath media reaction to this? DOE-type press releases read over the air at WNYC? David Gregory at NBC's Education Nation? Calls by politicians to go after bad administrators? Don't hold your breath. These cases are not aberrations, but actually symptomatic of the problems that arise from a system in which principals are punished for any negative statistics. The daily routine result?: Students can get away with anything and they know it. And principals can get away with anything. And the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers has never made a public pronouncement on the connection between the negative stats fear and the harassment toleration outcome, nor has the UFT made any campaign to push back against these rampant abuses. There had been some ocassional stories in the uion's New York Teacher newspaper on PINIs, Principals in Need of Improvement, but no campaigns. Note that Ms. Reel had to go with a private lawyer. Note also the comments on her case that appear on the Daily News site. (Check the end of this blogpost for highlights from the posted reader comments.) They evince the public animus towards to teachers, such as get a spine.

Moreover, it is disturbing how many commenters take the blame the victim, you asked for it attitude that the administrators took with her plight. It is a sad statement on the level of sexism in our society. It is immaterial what this teacher was wearing or what her body dimensions are. She had planned her suicide. And no wonder, her supervisors, who were duty-bound to come to her aid, did nothing. If she had followed through with her plans, blood would have been on their hands, by extension.

Before we go to the Daily News' important exclusive, take note of another abused teacher, Francesco Portelos. Betsy Combier's Rubber Room Reporter Gotcha Squad reported on his court case. Keep posted there.
Brooklyn teacher who says she was sexually tormented by students wins $450,000 settlement: Theresa Reel says students and staff at High School for Legal Studies in Williamsburg 'treated her like dirt.' She says students flung condoms at her and rubbed against her breasts

By Mark Morales, Ben Chapman and Tracy Connor, September 21, 2012 Read full story at the New York Daily News
A high school teacher who said she was sexually tormented by her students and then punished for complaining has scored a $450,000 settlement from the city. Theresa Reel, 52, who quit her job when she signed the deal, said the knowledge that she never has to set foot in the High School for Legal Studies again is just as sweet.

“I wasted six years of my life being treated like dirt — less than dirt,” Reel told the Daily News on Thursday. “I can’t put into words how happy I am.”

The Mississippi native started working at the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, school in 2005 and within a month, her job was a nightmare.

In a lawsuit she filed three years later, she described how students called her filthy names, flung condoms at each other and even touched her breast.

Her pleas to school bosses were met with accusations that she showed too much cleavage, she charged.

When she told then-Principal Denise Morgan that she made a student leave the class for sexual comments, the official’s response was: “And how does that threaten you?”

Morgan defended her handling of Reel’s complaints. “I am very comfortable with the professional manner in which I responded to this teacher’s concerns,” she told The News.

After Morgan was replaced at the troubled school, the new principal, Monica Ortiz, gave Reel unsatisfactory ratings.

And a 2008 letter from the Department of Education chastised the social studies educator for “inappropriate attire,” described as a “low-cut, V-neck lace top.”

“It made me feel like I was worthless, like my own supervisors believed that I deserved to be treated like this,” Reel said at the Woodside, Queens, home she shares with her cat.

City officials declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.
“The settlement was in the Department of Education’s best interest,” said Lawrence Profeta, a city attorney.

Reel’s court papers detail the barrage of X-rated insults she faced in the classroom and corridors.

One boy allegedly told her: “I’ve got rubbers — want to party?” Another student accused a classmate of performing a sex act on Reel for good grades, she said. She recalled one male student crossing a hallway so he could graze her breast with his elbow and then “smirk” at her.

“I was screaming,” Reel said.

She said the harassment made it impossible to function some days.

“Sometimes I’d break down on the subway,” she said. “I would go home, sit in front of the TV and cry.”

At one point, she said, she was suicidal.

“I had a plan in mind,” she said, without elaborating. “It got so black and bleak I couldn’t see it getting any better.”

The city tried to get the federal discrimination suit tossed out, arguing Reel did not prove the school was a hostile environment, that she was singled out for her gender, or that she faced retaliation.

On each count, the judge ruled there was enough evidence to let a jury decide and set a trial date for Sept. 10.

On Aug. 31, the city agreed to pay Reel $450,000 and remove the poor ratings from her record if she resigned.

“We think she had a very strong case,” said lawyer Joshua Parkhurst of Cary Kane LLP. “We ultimately agreed to settle because it allows our client to get on with her life.”

Reel has been on an unpaid leave of absence for a year, spending down her pensions savings. She’s been looking for a new job, but was even turned down for a cleaning gig.

DOE had no comment on the case.

Morgan, the former principal, is now an assistant principal at the High School for Violin and Dance in the Bronx. Ortiz is still the head of Legal Studies, a D-rated school which had less than 60% of its students graduate in 2009.

Legal Studies made headlines in 2010 when teachers were caught taking a lavish, taxpayer-funded junket and students were busted for using cell phones to film brawls and sex acts.

Reel wasn’t the only person at the school who thought pupils were out of line. In a 2010 city survey, only 49% of the students said kids treated teachers with respect.

Read more at the Daily News
It is disgusting that we have a city government that enables sex abusers and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyer costs and pay-outs to perpetuate the tolerance of the abuse.

And now the Daily News reader comments on Ms. Reel's case. In posting these I am not necessarily agreeing with every reader's comment below.
SHOFNER43 2 hours ago
Students that are ALLOWED to behave like this are being set up for failure. Definate boundries must be communicated to students and teachers and consequeces in place. There is a reason why so many private schools flurish in metro areas. Having taught in public, private and state schools, I understand why a third of the teachers leave the profession after five years. It's usually not dealing with the students, it's poor administration, a lack of respect for anyone over the age of 30 and negative role-model. The schools reflect our culture, so that should tell you someing.

BKLYN RAIN 5 hours ago
Good for her!!! I dont care what she was wearing it is disrespectful to put your hands on another personer, especially someone who is there to teach you, someone who cared enough about the future to try to prepare these knuckleheads and she is treated like a piece of meat. For those who wrote the stupid comments about her size, what if that were your mom, you sister, your wife?? R u saying it is ok to touch them if they are wearing a lowcut blouse, or when they are on the beach....seriously, it's never ok. My son is being raised to respect his elders as well as his educators, I will light that butt otherwise. Education needs to start in the home people.....

SHO-NUFF 6 hours ago
You need tough skin to teach in the NYC school system and she should have known that. What she said the kids did to her sounds like nothing big she could not handle. She seems like a cry-baby to me.

KDAZE10 5 hours ago
Students were touching her inappropriately....and throwing condoms at her. Calling a teacher names is one thing, but to actually touch and throw things at a teacher has nothing to do with her being 'thin-skinned' is straight harassment.

KDAZE10 6 hours ago
"kids will be kids"!? HOW is throwing condoms and suggesting hooking up to your teacher acting like a KID!? And, I'm pretty sure it works like this, the student EARNS the respect...not the teacher. Why should a teacher have to earn a student's respect first (regardless of their socioeconomic background)?  I agree that it needs to start at home, but it's not happening that way, and there is only so much a teacher can do. And, from what I've heard, class sizes are 30+ in some NYC schools, so while the teacher is beating their head against a wall trying to control the behavior issues of 3 students, the other 25+ are losing out on their education. Teacher's hands are tied when it comes to behavior issues in ALL schools, but due to over crowding in classrooms, it definitely tends to be much worse in the inner city.

Our education system has gone to hell in a hand basket.Teachers are too afraid to give little Johnny the F he deserves because his car will be torn up or he will be followed to where he lives and tormented so he gives the fool a D so that he won't have to see him again.I can't even imagine having to walk thru metal detectors or having a real police force within the school because of the depraved attitudes that prevade young people that are supposed to be there to get educated. And we wonder why we are falling further and further behind some countries in math and science.It's sad, good luck to her I know it must have been hell.

SPACEENGNYC 8 hours ago
As CoolnRelax commented, Good discipline starts at home. Violent Savages are born from and raised by Violent Savages. Satan breeds little Satans. It won't matter how good the teachers may be, when the Barbarians they teach are Violent Savages. You can take the Monkey out of the jungle, But... These Savages grew up in broken drug addicted "homes" out-of wedlock with their welfare queen mothers calling their fathers "their man". Meanwhile, "their man" has 1,000 other biatches calling him "their man" with more babies they squeezed out and can't feed. It's a vicious cycle. Those puppies will breed drug addicted Welfare Kings and Queens of their own. 
"coolnrelax - 'good discipline starts at home, if these kids dont have it, then teachers can't instill it in them, it's up to the parents, my sons graduated back in 08, and every time i see one of their teachers from high school, they complimented me on their discipline, i didn't play around, again these parents need to take responsibility for the actions of some of these students. '

MIMI5 9 hours ago
she deserves no money for not having control of her class, loser. go be a librarian

ATTILLA 9 hours ago
The unfortunate experience of Ms Reel exposes one of the chief flaws of the american public education system. There is a profound lack of discipline. Teachers are not allowed to have control of their classrooms. The students need not respect the teachers and face no consequences when they don't. In essence, the students are the ones with the power in the classroom; the teachers are powerless. Then everyone wonders why the children are graduating as functional illiterates. There could never be learning without discipline. The very word discipline means learning. America spends more on public education than than practically all the other industrialized nations. Yet it remains at the bottom in academic achievement. What is the problem, then? It's not the money. It is not that other kids are smarter than our kids. It is our attitudes toward education-- from the parents to the administrators. Kids who do not want to learn should not be in a classroom. They tend to be the thugs and while they are not the majority, they tend to disrupt the entire classroom. There must be a way to remove them forthwith. It is better to have 50% of a class performing proficiently than have none at all. Because that's what happens when the thugs are allowed to take over the classroom. 
If you look at other countries that are successfully educating their children, there is one common denominator. There is a system of discipline. Could you imagine that in China or Korea the kids are ruling the teachers and the teachers have no backing from the administration? It would never happen. Is there any surprise that the Asians are emerging as the leaders in educating their youth? of course not.

Well said! You obviously, are there, or have been there...Having written that, it is very strange that this pedagogue, got such a settlement, when other teachers have to deal with similar situations, and there is never even a thought of a lawsuit!

DELINDA 10 hours ago
Here we have it in a nutshell; the conditions many teachers face in the classroom in New York City. First, the insulting behavior and the general lack of school readiness that permeates much of the school population. Secondly, the incompetant and blaming administrations that attack the teacher before addressing the real issues of student misconduct, mostly because administrators don't have a clue as to how these problems are solved, but greatly because they get away with simply blaming a teacher. In the climate that currently exists within New York City, any excuse to berate a teacher is pounced upon, thanks to the man who has control of the system. Besides from the designer schools that have been created to showcase the success of this mayor's policies, the rest of the system is in a shambles. This article describes it well.

INTRIGUE 8 hours ago
I've read a few of your comments and I don't know why you think complaining about being treated disrespectfully is on par with not having a backbone. She does have a backbone, she reported it and when the principal blamed her she didn't take it and quit her job, she pursued her legal rights. Teachers have very limited recourse when it comes to what they say and how they punish students and you know that. Blaming the victim of a crime is pretty pathetic. You sound exactly like that AZ judge who told the victim of a cop who groped her that if she just stayed home it wouldn't have happened to her.

NUYORKER4LIFE 10 hours ago
To writer sho nuff, nobody has to have tough skin to teach or live in New York kids need to be respectful of their teachers and adults alike you sound like an idiot when you say she should grow thick skin how about get rid of the little disrespectful monsters out of our schools and let their lowlife parents if that's the case home school these lil terrors why should a complete stranger have to deal with someone else's problem child or better yet let's put them in a class with sho nuff and see how long this idiot lasts.

GINAS13 10 hours ago
There is a lack of respect that students have for teachers and it reflects back to our society. It used to be that if your child got in trouble you believed the teacher and were horrified that your child misbehaved. In this modern society the child is always right and the teacher is wrong. Now there certainly are bad teachers, we have all had them, but what does this teach our children? It explains the problems we are already having with these "helicopter" children becoming adults and thinking the deserve $100,000 right out of college and have no other ambition. These principals are all out for themselves and not the children or teacher's concern. The DOE needs am major overhaul. So does many of the parents these days too. Also, if she has been told to wear less cleavage then she should have done that. Teachers should leave that dress for their personal time.

My sister-in-law has taught in some of NYC's fine schools, and experienced harassment and hostility from principals like the Morgan and the Ortiz in this story when she has tried to seek disciplinary action against some of the thugs and thugellas she has to deal with, including incidents exactlly like those experienced by this teacher. Partly it is about trying to avoid accumulating disciplinary statistics for the school, but it is also about not being part of the club.

SLICK SKILLET10 hours ago
In my opinion, when student's misbehavior crosses a certain line, the teacher and/or principal of the school should be able to expel them....PERMANENTLY. End of discussion. A school could then rid itself of all its hard core "problem students" in an afternoon and get back to teaching and learning.

ARCIFERA 11 hours ago
She should have opted for a trial and put the entire school in the public eye. She deserved 10 times that settlement. Most poor performing schools escape the axe by tutoring students on passing tests with more than average scores. They graduate and the school gets more federal dollars. They are in effect, turning out dummies who enter college without a clue.

POUNCEUMA 12 hours ago
I believe her story. I went to school in the boroughs and the kids get out of control and the administrators can't do anything about it. I'm glad she was able to get something out of the city.

IMRIGHT 12 hours ago
The principals should be fired since they did not handle her complaint the correct way. And who raises kids to act in this manner? Parents, take responsibility for the way your child acts towards others. Parents should be held responsible for their child's actions.

BOOMBOOMPOW 12 hours ago
Amazing that Denise Morgan defends her actions (that is, if this story accounts the truth properly)…

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Denounce NPR for Slanted Anti-Karen Lewis Story

Karen Lewis has been the union leader of the decade, as president, leading the Chicago Teachers Union on a new path of being a democratic union, made over from a bureaucratic bosses-dominated union, with an active, conscious rank and file.

Teachers union leaders can do well to emulate her in style and substance. Thousands of teachers across the nation are applauding her leadership, as she is a strong and eloquent voice against the education reformers [sic -actually deformers]. On web pages that have reported her comments or reprinted her speeches people have written comments such as God Bless Karen Lewis, or she deserves to be president of the American Federation of Teacher.

Thus it was quite disgusting to hear on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" reporter Claudio Sanchez starting a whispering campaign against her leadership, with one person questioning her effectiveness as a spokesperson. Huh??? Lewis is someone that is at once a thoughtful figure, scrutinizing the issues at stake in education today, the class dynamic at play in student performance, the commercializing machinations of education profiteers, yet she does so in an energetic, accessible manner.

So, where does he get off with his agenda-creating reportage? I have been impressed with his reportage in the past. But I will now be far more skeptical when listening to his reports, given his misrepresentative, selective, biased report on Karen Lewis' leadership. How many people did he or his staff speak with to come up with this agenda-setting closer to his story on the ending of the strike?

Call NPR and criticize this agenda-pushing report:
NPR Listener Care (202) 513-3232, Hours: 10am to 5 pm ET, Monday through Friday Or file an online complaint at this web page.

Here is the controversial closer to the story on "All Things Considered," tonight. Closing words set the tone for news articles or debates, so Sanchez is leaving listeners with a feeling that Lewis is a deficient leader.
SANCHEZ: When Lewis came on WBEZ Public Radio this morning to talk about the strike, teachers at Pierce Elementary hovered around an iPhone listening to the broadcast and Lewis' words carefully.

LEWIS: I think that people that really want to go back to work will be able to make the argument..

SANCHEZ: Bridget Fabianski says no matter how the union delegates vote this afternoon, its time for someone other than Lewis to speak for teachers.

BRIDGET FABIANSKI: She seems confrontational. Any parent that I've talked to says she's confrontational. But..

SANCHEZ: That's her nature.

FABIANSKI: Maybe that's her nature and she's the one who's going to get it done. Maybe it's a confrontational...

SANCHEZ: So this next phase might call for (unintelligible).

FABIANSKI: For a different spokesperson, for a different person to stand up and to represent us.

SANCHEZ: As union delegates gather to vote, Karen Lewis will once again be in the hot seat and have a chance to show whether she's the right leader at the right time.
Sanchez's story is disappointing reportage. I would expect labor-bashing reportage, reducing union stewardship to personality characterization from Fox News.

On the other hand, maybe he's just a national counterpart to WNYC's Brian Lehrer who has a questioning ear as an interview on many subjects, but uncritically echoes the deformer agenda, promoting charter schools. CHECKING BACK TO REALITY
As I wrote in an update to my last post, "Despite myths: Parents do support CTU strikers; School-day killings not up," an impressive crowd formed tonight as Lewis and the CTU announced the end of the strike:
Hundreds of parents stood by the Chicago Board of Education to support teachers, as the announcement was made that the Chicago Teachers Union was ending its strike of the Chicago Public Schools. This should put to rest the media and politician's arguments that parents did not support the striking teachers.
And I also indicated:
Chicago parents do support the strikers. This support is at higher levels in the African-American and Latino communities, communities representing 87 percent of Chicago's schoolchildren, and by more than 20 percentage points, the public blames [mayor] Rahm Emanuel and the school board more than they blame the Chicago Teachers Union for the strike.
It looks like Sanchez needs to do a better job reporting. When do we get a chance to give him a letter grade?

Then there's Audie Cornish, who introduced the piece. Daily Kos has a contribution from a few days ago, "NPR Audie Cornish - swings right," discussing her treatment of Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy.

Despite myths: Parents do support CTU strikers; School-day killings not up

UPDATE: Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012 | Updated 8:47 PM CDT from WMAQ NBC 5, Chicago
Hundreds of parents stood by the Chicago Board of Education to support teachers, as the announcement was made that the Chicago Teachers Union was ending its strike of the Chicago Public Schools. This should put to rest the media and politician's arguments that parents did not support the striking teachers.
* * *
As indicated at the blog Choosing Democracy, Chicago parents do support the strikers. This support is at higher levels in the African-American and Latino communities, communities representing 87 percent of Chicago's schoolchildren, and by more than 20 percentage points, the public blames [mayor] Rahm Emanuel and the school board more than they blame the Chicago Teachers Union for the strike.
Read the polls, or just the press accounts of parental support for the teachers, however, and you come away with an altogether different impression. A poll commissioned and released Thursday by Capitol Fax, an Illinois political report, of 1,344 registered Chicago voters found that fully 66 percent of parents with children in the public schools, and 55.5 percent of Chicagoans overall "approve the Chicago Teachers Union decision to go on strike." Among African Americans, strike support stood at 63 percent; among Latinos, 65 percent. (Roughly 80 percent of Chicago's schoolchildren are minority.)

So, who disapproved of the strike? A majority (52 percent) of parents with children in private schools, and a majority of whites (also 52 percent).

While most Chicagoans support the strike, a 48 percent plurality believes that a portion of a teacher's evaluation should be based on student performance on standardized tests. And when it comes to fingering who's responsible for the strike, 29 percent blame the Teachers Union while 34 percent blame the mayor and 19 percent the school board (meaning, 53 percent blame management). Among whites, the share blaming the union rises to 41 percent.

A caveat is in order before we subject these numbers to interpretation: Strikes that are three days old (which is when the poll was taken) are sure to have higher levels of support than strikes that have dragged on for three weeks or three months. That said, the racial gap in the polling, which overlaps the gap between parents with their kids in Chicago public schools and everyone else, is what leaps out.

Does the strike harm children, is it true that the “CTU strike is a clear and present danger”?
(See the full text of the Chicago city government's request for the injunction, Board of Education of the City of Chicago v. Chicago Teachers Union, as reported in the Chicago Tribune.) A law professor strongly doubts that the city can make the claim that the strike hurts children, as reported by Arturo Garcia, September 17, 2012, "Judge denies mayor’s injunction as Chicago teachers strike continues."
“There is the legal right to strike in Illinois,” said Andrea Kayne Kaufman, who teaches courses in human resources management and home, school and community relations at the university. “[To say] any strike harms children, I don’t think that’s going to be the theory that’s successful here.”
And when have the killings of the last been occurring? They do not represent killings among school age children who would otherwise have been in class. Rather, when looking at patterns that arise from Chicago killings chronicled daily at the blog What About Our Sons?, it appears that the killings are usually occurring outside of school hours and the vast majority of the killings are among people 18 to 29 years old.

And Emanuel's professed concern for public safety at the time of the strike is sort of inconsistent in contrast to his behavior in running off to Charlotte, North Carolina for the 2012 Democratic National Convention for a good part of the first week of September. Chicago's very high murder rate has been the top political story of the year, as Progress Illinois indicated late this summer in "What To Make Of The Chicago Murder Rate."
The homicide rate is probably the top political story in Chicago so far this year, with an approximately 30 percent citywide increase in murders between 2011 and 2012 and a succession of new pronouncements from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on how they are responding to the issue.

Unfortunately, the solution is complicated in terms of what local political leaders and also specific Chicago communities can do regarding a problem that stirs much emotion. The Chicago homicide rate has, in fact, gone down, significantly and continually, over the last 20 years. However, citywide numbers do not provide a complete picture because of the enormous fluctuations in homicides between neighborhoods.

Addressing the homicide problem looks to be an issue of addressing social and economic segregation as much as any change in law enforcement tactics.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Homicide Statistics

The daily coverage of homicides, for example stories on the number of city murders reported over a weekend or over a month, can elide the larger citywide trend. According to Chicago Police Department crime data, there were 308 murders at the end of July putting Chicago on pace to have 528 homicides by the end of 2012.

This is a higher per capita murder rate than New York City and Los Angeles, which have each seen declines in homicides this year. And it would exceed the 440 murders Chicago recorded in 2011.
Community members supported teachers, citing their right to read a contract before signing it. As reported September 17 in the Chicago Sun-Times:
At noon Monday, an angry, pro-union group composed of community and labor leaders, parents, students and academics — with striking teachers and social workers mixed in — staged a noisy demonstration outside Emanuel’s office.

They denounced Emanuel for asking a judge to order teachers back to work before they had exercised their legitimate right to read the fine print.

Sarah Johnson, a senior at Roosevelt High School, held up a piece of paper with the handwritten words, “Full Proposal,” then ripped it in half to signify the summary distributed to the CTU’s House of Delegates.

“They only got half of this to read. Is that right?” Johnson said, as the crowd shouted, “No!”

“I’m only 17 years old and I know that I will not sign a contract that I have not fully read yet or I have not even fully received,” Johnson said.
"I think the union has a vision of a school system that has the kind of resources where children get what they actually need."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Meet Chicago Public Schools, the Most Segregated Big City School System


See the graphic at the upper left on the following link at the NY Times. America's top cities figure among the most segregated; and Chicago's schools are the most segregated of all major cities.
Ford Fessenden, The New York Times, May 11, 2012
"A Portrait of Segregation in New York City’s Schools"

Graphic at left shows Chicago's residential segregation.

George N. Schmidt, Feb 6, 2009 –CPS demonstrates massive segregation:
“American Apartheid: Chicago school officials announce that 42 segregated all-black elementary schools could have been put into 'turnaround' this year, but only five were targeted” [reprinted below]

Parent activist and Chicago Teachers Union ally Matt Farmer spoke on Up with Chris Hayes Sunday morning (September 16, 2012) about racial disparities in the distribution of resources, such as libraries, in African-American and Latino south and west Chicago, as compared to white-American-populated north Chicago.

Nerissa Kunakemakorn, The Opportunity Agenda, on Mon, November 23, 2009
"Racial Segregation in U.S. Schools: Illinois Terminates Chicago’s Desegregation Decree"

Anonymous, The Chicago 77, January 21, 2009
“Chicago is America’s Most Segregated City”

Anonymous, The Huffington Post, January 31, 2012
“Chicago Most Segregated City In America, Despite Significant Improvements In Last Decade”

Whet Moser, Chicago Magazine, June 29, 2012
“How Segregation Is Evolving (And Not Evolving) in the 21st Century”

Whet Moser, Chicago Magazine, April 30, 2012
“Chicago-Area Schoolkids are the Second-Most Economically Segregated in the Country”

Liz Dwyer, Good Beta, Jul 9, 2012
“Is School Segregation Still Legal? Chicago Teens Reflect on Their Racial Isolation” – 40 percent of Latino and 70 percent of black students in Chicago area attend extremely segregated schools."

Linda Lutton, WBEZ, June 27, 2012
A segregated education, K-12: Students offer reflections on 13 years of segregated schooling

George N. Schmidt - February, 2009
"American Apartheid: Chicago school officials announce that 42 segregated all-black elementary schools could have been put into 'turnaround' this year, but only five were targeted"
Officials of the Chicago Public Schools have quietly made public a list of 42 elementary schools that they say could have been targeted for so-called "turnaround" this school year. In addition, Substance has learned that the majority of the remaining general high schools in Chicago (schools that serve the general populations, anybody who walks in the door and lives in the community) also meet most of the "criteria" for "turnaround."

Under CPS guidelines, "turnaround" is actually the process known to the rest of the nation as "reconstitution." Under "reconstitution" the entire staff of a supposedly "failing" school is fired, and a new staff, supposedly trained in better teaching methods, is brought in to replace those who have "failed."

What has not been noted in the carefully scripted hearings aimed at condemning the teachers and other staff at the schools on trial this year for failure is that two federal laws governing how schools and children are supposed to be treated are being carefully ignored as Chicago goes through its annual ritual of reconstitutions. The laws? The first are federal desegregation laws that go back to the famous 1954 case in Brown v. Board of Education. The second are federal laws and court decisions governing the treatment of students with disabilities. In Chicago, both are governed by federal consent decrees, both of which are still being monitored by federal judges. The desegregation consent decree governing Chicago was put into place in 1980 after Chicago mayors tried for more than 20 years to claim the city hadn't segregated itself or its public schools. The special education consent decree, under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been in place since the mid-1990s under the "Corey H" decision. The federal desegregation consent decree is currently being monitored by U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras. The Corey H consent decree is being overseen by U.S. District Judge Charles Gettleman. Despite the long list of legal precedents cited by CPS officials at each of the hearings calling for the reconstitution of the schools, neither federal law or consent decree is noted, either by CPS officials or the hearing officers who are hearing the cases. In the view of many observers, this is not an accident. Instead of being examples of the failures of the teachers, parents, principals and students at the schools targeted this year for reconstitution, the schools -- and dozens of others -- are examples of the fact that Chicago remains the nation's most viciously segregated city.

Also, Chicago has systematically deprived children with disabilities of their right to public education in the least restrictive environment. As long as CPS officials and their hearings officers are allowed to ignore federal law, the current reality will continue. The list of elementary schools that have "failed" according to this year's CPS criteria includes two schools -- the so-called "Sherman School of Excellence" and the so-called "Harvard School of Excellence" -- that are currently managed by the "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL). AUSL is currently slated to receive more schools for "turnaround" after hearings that are taking place this month and a vote by the Chicago Board of Education on February 25. The full article will be available in the print issue of Substance.

Forty-two elementary schools could have faced 'turnaround'. Five do.

This school year, five Chicago public elementary schools have been targeted for reconstitution (which in Chicago is termed 'turnaround' using the corporate jargon currently in vogue. All five of those schools meet what CPS officials call the 'turnaround criteria' based on low test scores.

But the five schools -- and the remaining 37 schools on the list that CPS officials say could have been targeted for 'turnaround' -- meet another criteria as well.

All of them are located in the heart of Chicago's ruthlessly segregated ghettos.

All of the students at the majority of the schools are African American. The vast majority of those students have been living in heart breaking poverty since long before the current economic crisis hit the middle classes and the wealthy.

And the majority of the teachers who teach in those schools are viewed in the community as sources of stability and continuity that does not exist in most other parts of the lives of these children, all of whom are victims of the most segregated city in the United States of America -- Chicago.

Thirty years ago, the existence of these schools -- and their problems scoring well on so-called 'standardized' tests -- would have been utilized as evidence that Chicago segregates its public schools in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. That decision ruled that racial segregation in public schools was inherently unequal.

But in 2009 in Chicago, the problems faced by these same schools are considered -- in the eyes of those who run CPS -- as proof that the teachers and other staff at the schools should be fired and replaced with teachers who are supposedly experts in new methods of teaching and can, in the jargon of corporate Chicago, 'turnaround' the schools.

Forty-two of Chicago's most segregated elementary schools listed as being 'turnaround' candidates. Black teachers and staff face firing for teaching the children of the poor in the largest ghettos in the USA

The following is the list of the 42 Chicago elementary schools that could have been subjected to reconstitution this school year under the three criteria outlined by the Chicago Board of Education's Chief Executive Officer during the early February hearings on the proposed reconstitution (known locally as 'turnaround') of Bethune, Dulles, Holmes, Johnson and Yale elementary schools. All of the schools are located in the heart of the city's vast south side and west side segregated black ghettos or on the border with a nearby Latino barrio.

The list below includes each school's name, followed by the address (in parenthesis), followed by the total number of students attending the school this school year, followed by the percentage of students who are African-American.

Segregated African American Elementary Schools which could have faced reconstitution at the end of the 2008-2009 school year based on the Chicago Board of Education's three "turnaround" criteria. [Schmidt then lists 42 highly segregated schools and their segregation rates.]

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chicago teachers fear wave of school closings after strike - Murder wave to worsen?

Reuters exclusive: Chicago teachers fear wave of school closings after strike
[Ed.: More murders on the way, as more children cross more gang territory lines?]

By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO, Sept 15 | Sun Sep 16, 2012 1:40am IST [Sat Sep 15, 7:40 PM CDT]
(Reuters) - Striking Chicago teachers fear that once they approve a new contract with the school district and end their strike, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will go ahead with dozens of school closings because of falling enrollment and poor academic performance.

The closing of schools and what happens to the teachers working in them has been a major issue in the bitter dispute, even though the disagreement over evaluating teachers based on standardized test results of their students has received more attention.

Urban school districts around the country are grappling with closing schools, including Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Washington, according to a study last year on school closings by the Pew Charitable Trust.

"If they fire us, we're done," said Rhonda McLeod, a special education teacher at Gresham Elementary and one of the union delegates expected to vote on Sunday whether to end the strike. "We're terrified. We don't need to be dumped to the wayside. We're not trash, we're teachers."

Union and school officials said on Friday that they had reached a tentative agreement that could end the five-day strike and clear the way for classes to resume on Monday in the third-largest U.S. school district.

The union has set a meeting on Sunday of some 800 representatives from around the city to vote on whether to end the strike and allow more than 350,000 Chicago students to go back to school. Negotiators were putting the finishing touches on that agreement on Saturday.


Enrollment in Chicago Public Schools has fallen nearly 20 percent in the last decade, according to the Pew study, mainly because of population declines in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

According to the union, 86 public schools in Chicago have closed in the past decade. Many have been replaced by charter or "contract" schools run by philanthropists, and charter schools now account for 12 percent of students, district figures show.

The Chicago Tribune reported this week that school district officials are considering closing up to 120 schools next year, which would be 17 percent of all schools in the district. Asked about this on Wednesday, Emanuel said it was too early to say.
Charter schools are publicly funded but non-union, and the teachers union has complained that they undermine public education and force more community schools to close. Their academic performance record compared with community schools is mixed, according to national studies.

But a powerful U.S. education movement is pushing charter schools. Reformers such as Emanuel and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago schools chief, argue that schools performing poorly in academics should either be closed permanently, reopened with new principals and teachers, or converted to charter schools run by non-union personnel.

The union has fought for so-called "recall rights" giving teachers who have been laid off because their school closed priority in being rehired at another school.

Emanuel has said he wants principals to hire any teacher they want, not according to seniority or recall rights.

"I think it should be left up to the principal, locally," Emanuel told reporters on Wednesday.


An example of this conflict is Gresham Elementary school, where McLeod works on the South Side of Chicago.

Some 90.8 percent of the 325 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students who attend Gresham are classified as low income, according to the school district.

The student population is 98.8 percent African-American, the district says, and the neighborhood is one that has been hit by a wave of gang-related murders this summer, drawing national attention.

There have been 366 murders in Chicago through the beginning of September, up 30 percent from a year ago, mainly due to gang violence, police figures show. Thirty-one of those deaths have been in the neighborhood where Gresham Elementary school is located, up 19 percent from last year. Over the last two years 23 children ages 10 or younger have been killed in the Chicago crossfire, some of them while walking to or from school.

McLeod said gunfire could sometimes be heard near the school.

Gresham elementary has been rated "on probation" by the school district for the last four academic years because its students have performed poorly on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), which measures students on reading, math and science.

While the school's academics have improved some, probation means that if the school does not improve further it could have its principal removed, the school closed and students transferred, or the school closed and reopened with new staff.

The teachers union argues that they are working in exceptionally challenging conditions of poverty and crime and that this affects the ability of their students to learn.

McLeod said principals sometimes were pushed by bosses to hire new teachers who may not work out in rough neighborhoods.

"Over the years, I've seen a lot of teachers come in and go running out the door," said McLeod, a 15-year veteran of Chicago Public Schools who has a masters degree and teaches a college special education course.

Teachers and parents have also expressed worry that school closings can make life more dangerous for students, forcing them across gang lines into other neighborhoods and increasing the possibility of violence.

The beating death in 2009 of 16-year-old high school student Derrion Albert, captured on a cell phone video and seen around the world, has been blamed by activists in part on conflicts arising from school closings.
The tentative new contract comments on the the school closings:
New Recall Rights & Tackling School Closings: Acknowledging, the CTU will continue its ongoing legal and legislative fight for a moratorium on all school closings, turnarounds and phase-outs, the new contract requires teachers to “follow their students” in all school actions. This will reduce instability among students and educators. The contract will also have 10 months of “true recall” to the same school if a position opens.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

5 So-Called Liberal Pundits Who Are Attacking Teachers

Plusupdates from comments on Diane Ravitch's blog. Scroll to end of this post.
5 So-Called Liberal Pundits Who Are Attacking Teachers Chicago's teacher strike is shaping up to be one of the most important labor actions in a generation. So why are people who consider themselves progressives siding with the bosses? September 12, 2012 | By Sarah Jaffe

Chicago's teacher strike may turn out to be the most important one in a generation, as teachers stand up to a corporate-backed education reform regime that stresses testing and firing teachers as a form of “accountability” while continuing to refuse to invest real money in making educational opportunities equal for all students.

The so-called education reform movement wants high-stakes tests that students take yearly to be used to evaluate teachers and weed out the "bad" ones, and pushes money into charter schools that are privately owned and don't have union teachers. Under the guise of "accountability" for teachers and schools, reformers put taxpayer dollars into the hands of private investors despite the charter schools' negligible results when it comes to actually improving education. The movement has been particularly pernicious because it's crept inside the heart of the Democratic party and taken hold of politicians and commentators who profess to be on the side of working people, but end up bashing teachers' unions.

As Molly Ball at the Atlantic wrote last week ["How Michelle Rhee Is Taking Over the Democratic Party"], Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, spoke during the convention at a movie screening hosted by the face of the pro-charter-school movement, Michelle Rhee. “Another Democratic star, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, spoke at the cocktails-and-canapes reception afterward,” Ball noted. “Across the country, Democratic officials from governors like Colorado's John Hickenlooper to former President Clinton -- buoyed by the well-funded encouragement of the hedge-fund bigwigs behind much of the charter-school movement -- are shifting the party's consensus away from the union-dictated terms to which it has long been loyal.”

And of course, Chicago's teachers are facing down Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff for Barack Obama.

It's not just politicians falling for the rhetoric of the union-busters when it comes to teachers. Few would dare to demonize police or firefighters' unions the same way they have teachers, who are mostly women, working for decent middle-class wages but hardly getting rich, and in Chicago often working in horrific conditions ["The Daily Change: 5 Facts You Need To Know About The Terrible State Of Chicago Schools"], with huge classes and in some cases no air conditioning. Yet as the teachers hit the streets and Chicagoans declared support, supposedly liberal pundits echoed far-right talking points about teacher salaries and budget cuts, implied that teachers were hurting students by standing up for their rights and for better conditions in the schools, and argued that not supporting the union was evidence of their independent thought—not their susceptibility to a well-funded message machine or their general contempt for public school teachers.

Here's five of the most egregious examples of otherwise smart liberal pundits repeating the talking points of the corporate education reform movement.

1. Nicholas Kristof. The New York Times' columnist is celebrated for his trips into Global South countries to report heartwrenching stories of women; he's lauded as an activist and a human rights advocate. But when it comes to women and workers fighting for their rights closer to home, he seems to have a big blind spot. He tweeted:
Re the Chicago teacher strike, my take: teachers should have greater pay but more accountability & less job security.
Kristof doesn't seem to have a great grasp on the facts—arguing for “bottom-third” teachers not to have job protections, then suggesting that we should listen to teachers for ideas on how to weed out that bottom third. “In response to your questions, yes, 1 yr value added isn't adequate to judge a teacher. 3 yrs data better. Some subjects not measurable,” he admits, but continues to argue for high-stakes testing as “accountability.”

New York teacher Brian Jones pointed out ["Unions Are Striking Back, at Last"], in the Times as well, that the “carrot-and-stick” routine Kristof implicitly endorses here to try to make teachers perform won't work. "Any experienced classroom teacher will tell you that punishments and rewards at best encourage obedience, but will not promote creativity, intelligence or initiative." Instead, he noted, “By confronting the mayor and standing up for things teachers and students desperately need to actually improve our schools, the union is likely to do more to retain the best teachers, and to help more teachers to do their best, than any merit pay scheme ever could.”

Kristof's admission that teachers should be well-paid would be more welcome if it didn't come along with the call for more testing—as we know, high-stakes testing doesn't lead to better teaching, it leads to lousy learning and in some cases, cheating ["Michelle Rhee Can't Shake Cheating Scandal at D.C. Public Schools"].

Finally, Kristof wraps up with some concern-trolling intended to appease both sides, saying that the real losers are poor kids who attend Chicago's public schools. Of course, if Kristof had any interest in listening to activists, many of them women of color, he'd understand that that's why the teachers are striking in the first place.

2. Joe Nocera. Nocera, also at the Times, tries to soften his critique of the teachers' strike by throwing them a bone midway through his column. “As regular readers know, I have been somewhat skeptical of the reform movement. For those disadvantaged students who get into a good charter school or land in a program that can help them succeed, that’s wonderful. In the grand scheme of things, though, the number of students who get that kind of attention is small.”

Great, Joe. The reform movement is full of it. But where you got your next sentence is completely unclear. “On the other hand, the status quo, which is what the Chicago teachers want, is clearly unacceptable.”

Here's a deep-seated bit of ideology that's really worth unpacking for a second. This is the image of unions in the American psyche these days. Most people think of them as little-c conservative institutions holding on to a dead past, trying to protect what their members have against a sweeping tide of change.

It's wrong, and the CTU couldn't be a better example of just how wrong it is. Karen Lewis and her union are the ones actually fighting for reforms in the schools, starting with things we know work: smaller class sizes, well-rounded curriculum, support for teachers and school staff. They might legally only be allowed to strike over salary and benefits, but they've been out there at every turn arguing for change, not the status quo.

Nocera seems to brush off the points the teachers make about poverty, about the unfairness of statewide tests that hold teachers in schools where families are barely staying afloat to the same standard as white kids in suburban well-funded districts. Just lengthening the school day won't help if you have overfull classes stuffed with kids with empty stomachs and no air conditioning—those aren't conditions for learning.

Nocera might want to ask some people who would know what works. But those would be teachers, and no one seems to actually care what they think.

3. Dylan Matthews. Over at Wonkblog, founded and headed by liberal darling Ezra Klein, Dylan Matthews went two for two, first arguing that teachers' strikes hurt student achievement (measured, of course, by those magical test scores) and then churning out a charming little piece arguing over teachers' wages.

Doug Henwood at Left Business Observer provides an expansive response to Matthews' “attempted heart-tugging” over the damage being done to students. The studies Matthews quotes, Henwood points out, are from Canada and Belgium, and one of them was a six-month long work stoppage. He quotes Michèle Belot and Dinand Webbink, the authors of that study, who are far less interested in fearmongering than Matthews is:

Strikes do not occur randomly and are likely to be correlated with other factors affecting educational outcomes, thereby compromising the identification of a causal effect. A before–after comparison might be biased by other unobserved factors that changed after the strikes.

And then on to the money. He qualifies his eight paragraphs of numbers by admitting that none of his calculations have anything to do with whether teachers deserve to make $56,000 or $71,000 or any other possible rate of pay, he's essentially done the right's work for them: insisting that the teachers make the high end of a possible range of pay opens them up to the charge being flung around that they're greedy.

It also contributes to the myth that the strike is only about pay, when in fact, like most labor actions, it's about so much more than that, from class sizes to standardized tests to the lack of air conditioning in schools and the persistent, grinding poverty of so many of Chicago's public school students. But as Phil Cantor, a striking teacher, told Democracy Now!, due to neoliberal reforms pushed through by Emanuel and others, the teachers are only legally allowed to strike over pay and benefits, but they get blamed in the press for being concerned about their pay. It's almost like the politicians planned it that way to make teachers look greedy and selfish.

As Micah Uetricht notes at Jacobin, CTU president Karen Lewis was asked what the primary issues were that caused the union overwhelmingly to vote to strike. “She replied that all issues, from compensation to smaller class sizes to the increasing reliance upon standardized testing to understaffing of positions dealing with 'wraparound services,' like social workers and clinicians, were causing the impasse.”

By focusing solely on the numbers, Matthews contributes to the idea that a teachers' strike is all about the money, and by insisting repeatedly on the higher number, he contributes to the divide-and-conquer tactics the right has gotten so good at using to split the working class and attack unions.

4. Matt Yglesias. Yglesias' contribution, at Slate, to the teachers' union-busting is one of the most unintentionally ironic things I've ever seen. Just a year and a couple of months out from the biggest labor uprising in decades over the rights of public employees, Yglesias is actually arguing that teachers' unions suck because they are public employees.

Really. Check this out:
If CTU members get what they want, that's not coming out of the pocket of "the bosses" it's coming out of the pocket of the people who work at charter schools or the people who pay taxes in Chicago.
So if the teachers get a better pay rate, it's coming out of the pockets of...other teachers? It escapes Yglesias, of course, because he's firmly bought in to the myth that the teachers just want more money. But one of the things the CTU wants is fewer charter schools, and one of the reasons they want fewer charter schools is that the teachers in them don't have access to the protections of collective bargaining.

As for the idea that taxpayers should hate teachers because they pay their salaries, I don't even know where to begin. Yglesias is responding to a brief post by Doug Henwood ["Why do so many liberals hate teachers’ unions?"] in which Henwood compares teachers to blue-collar workers like autoworkers or janitors, and his argument is that people don't mind janitors striking because it doesn't come out of their bottom line. Except janitors are also employed by public entities sometimes, but whatever, liberal pundits don't want to get too close to those types of workers anyway. (In Chicago the janitors are refusing to cross the teachers' picket lines, standing in solidarity.)

Public workers, of course, were the target of lots of attacks last year, but by Republicans (mostly). The difference between Scott Walker and Rahm Emanuel on this issue is quite slim, actually. Part of the education reform plan is, as Nicholas Kristof points out above, to take away job security from the teachers deemed “bad” by the powers that be. Walker's attacks, like Emanuel's, disproportionately fell on a part of the workforce dominated by women and people of color. CTU president Karen Lewis attended Dartmouth, the only woman of color in her class, and has put race and gender at the center of her analysis.

Even when attacking public employee unions, Scott Walker and his ilk avoid fights with the police and firefighters. Only John Kasich in Ohio had the guts to go after cops and firefighters, and unsurprisingly his bill was defeated. (It's also worth noting that in Chicago, the police union is also standing with the teachers.) There is simply no comparable demonization of these public workers to what happens constantly with teachers. Coincidentally, there is no way for hedge funders to get rich pocketing tax dollars by creating charter police departments or fire departments. Though now that I've said it, maybe they'll start.

The main difference seems to be, on this question, that Emanuel is a Democrat and so belongs to a party that at least feels the need to pay lip service to teachers and their unions—though not long ago an Obama campaign manager bragged about the president's relationship with teachers unions being “anything but cozy.”

Oh, and that this is a strike, and apparently liberal pundits prefer it when unions lie down and wait for the abuses to come. Yet as Matthew Stoller pointed out last year, the lack of strikes has led most people to consider unions ineffective and useless, creating the same kind of thinking that Cohen displays here. “People might only like unions when they see strikes, otherwise all they hear about is backroom negotiations,” Stoller argued. “Perhaps effectively striking is actually the way to force people to ask questions about what kind of country they want to live in.”

If Yglesias is seriously worried about the taxpayers in Chicago getting screwed over by public school funding, perhaps he could start here: according to Bill Barclay at Dissent, “In revealing contrast, nine selective-enrollment high schools (charter and magnet) that make up 1 percent of the total number of schools got 24 percent of the money spent on school construction projects.”

That sounds like misallocation of taxpayer funds to me.

As Henwood replied, “The 'what about the taxpayers?' lament is straight out of the Reagan playbook—from which it’s clear that a lot of Democrats are taking instruction these days.”

5. Jacob Weisberg. It might be easier to understand Yglesias' position on striking teachers when you look at his boss's tweets on the subject. Weisberg, editor-in-chief at Slate, is the most gleeful yet:
Rooting for Rahm to make the Chicago Teachers' Union sorry for this inexcusable strike. Students in class fewest hours of any big city.
It's disconcerting to see such clear desire for punishment of working people (by a multimillionaire politician whose best friends are on Wall Street no less). But Weisberg should know, right? He's an alum of Chicago's schools—or rather, one of Chicago's illustrious private schools. The Francis W. Parker school's Web site stresses its “...small class size and interdisciplinary approach to teaching result in a challenging and meaningful educational experience.”

Now, of course it's possible for someone to have attended a private school and still have solidarity with striking workers, or to have ideas worth listening to about how schools should be run. But when your only answer to the questions raised by a teachers strike is:

Teachers, fire & police shouldn't have right to strike. It's blackmail power over essential services. They have many other protections.
At least Weisberg is consistent here in saying that teachers are just as essential as police and firefighters. But he then argues that none of them should have the right to strike. It's thinking like this that led to the assaults on public workers' collective bargaining rights that flared up last year but haven't really gone away. It's also the same thinking that leads to Republicans arguing that public sector jobs aren't real jobs, that they're simply government waste. Or that leads to a Democratic mayor [in Scranton, PA] cutting wages for all public workers (again, including police and firefighters) to minimum wage.

Striking is the strongest weapon that working people have to fight for their own rights. The bar in Chicago was raised to a height that politicians thought the union would never be able to scale, cutting back what the teachers were legally able to strike over and requiring a larger percentage of the union to vote than they thought possible. But they underestimated the solidarity and determination of the teachers' union, and now Democrats are making Republican-sounding arguments while insisting that they don't hate all unions or all teachers, it's just that this time is different.

“What about the children,” what Weisberg essentially asks here, is a question being used across the board against the unions. We are supposed to believe that wealthy charter school backers and Wall Street Democrats, along with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, the architects of No Child Left Behind, and so many other conservatives, really have the best interests of children at heart instead of the people who willingly take on a thankless career in the nation's poorest schools.

As economist Dean Baker pointed out, “The main determinants of childrens' performance continues to be the socioeconomic conditions of their parents. Those unwilling to take the steps necessary to address the latter (e.g. promote full employment) are the ones who do not care about our children.”

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @sarahljaffe.

And these recommendations from a commenter at Diane Ravitch's blog:
reality-based educator
September 15, 2012 at 9:59 am
Add NY Times columnist Tom Friedman and former Tribune editor/current Daily Beast contributor James Warren to the list.

Friedman has been wrong about almost everything he has every written about – from the wonders of global free trade to the wonders of the Iraq war.

Matt Taibbi has done the best take downs of Friedman. Here’s the most famous of those:

Glenn Greenwald points out how Friedman is emblematic of our imperial press corps – shilling for the corporate state, but wrong about everything:

Somehow Friedman, despite being wrong about pretty much everything, gets to continue to pontificate about the horrors of teachers unions and the wonders of standardized test scores in China (not realizing, of course, that only a small segment of children in China take those tests and thus are counted in the scores.)

If there were a value-added score for Tom Friedman, it would be in the negative.

Read something he’s written and you lose brain cells.

As for Warren, he attacked teachers for whining about air conditioning in the Daily Beast earlier this week.

Warren doesn’t seem to care that some Chicago schools are actually in session in July and August and some teachers have to work in classrooms with 40+ students when it’s a 100 degrees.

Warren also called Karen Lewis a “bumbler,” though it seems Warren’s old newspaper thinks Emanuel was the one who bumbled into – and then through – this strike by being tin-eared and sticking to his “Demonize the Unions” strategy he’s been using since NAFTA:,0,3383662.story?page=2

As the son of stockbroker, I guess I can see why Warren would side with Emanuel and the Hyatt heiress over the students and teachers of Chicago.
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