It's teacher hunting season!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

BREAKING: WALCOTT HINTS SHOW UP TUESDAY - Email: Schools to Open; Teachers Should Appear

Five o'clock note:
Walcott is hinting in a Sunday email that mayor Michael Bloomberg's New York City schools will be open Tuesday.
The storm is coming Monday afternoon. Will wreck its havoc in the afternoon and evening. And then, six hours --or maybe four-- later, we are supposed to leave home to get out early for work, because the subways might still be shut down, or just getting back in gear --remember, with our big system, it takes hours to shut down and then restart the whole system. New York governor Andrew Cuomo will not have yet lifted his state of emergency; many of the schools will be open as shelters for thousands of temporally homeless Zone A people. And mayor for life will expect people to drive through the BQL (Brooklyn-Queens Lagoon) to get to work.
You liked 2010's Blizzardgeddon? You liked Michael Brown's heck of a job in New Orleans seven years ago? You'll love how Bloomie handles Rainageddon. Let's see him venture out to coastal Staten Island, Brooklyn, or Queens.

* * * *
You can't make this stuff up - Truth stranger than satire
Crazy but the city actually intended for several hours Saturday night to close the subways but keep the schools open.

Here is New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott's note toward the end of his 9:30 pm email to city school employees:
Reporting to work on Monday
At this time, we expect City government and schools to open on Monday. All agency employees are requested, beginning after 11 p.m. on Sunday night, or on Monday morning, to watch local news, or check or the agency's web site, for the latest information before leaving for work on Monday. Thank you for your cooperation.


Dennis M. Walcott

* * * *

Last night:

Dear Department of Education Teacher:

The Department of Education recognizes that you are expected to perform educational miracles, expected to perform to a degree that your students will meet AYP expectations with all students, and with limited resources.

Therefore, the mayor Bloomberg and I have decided that all public schools will be open. Teachers that fail to appear will get letters in their file and will have hourly observations by local administrators and by the raters in the network contracted to support their school.

Observations will begin on Wednesday, as administrators are excused from the mandate to appear to work for Monday and Tuesday. This is in recognition that it will be an undue hardship on the administrators to come to work, because many will be driving in from Suffolk County or Westchester County.

Friday, October 26, 2012

NYPD Muslim Informant: I was Ordered to Bait Muslims

The Associated Press this week reported that a 19 year old Bengali-born informant in the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Here is how the AP began the story, in "Shamiur Rahman: NYPD Paid Me To 'Bait' Muslims Into Saying Things About Jihad, Terrorism". This is a more than a little bit creepy. As a Muslim site queried, "Is this halal?" (This conception is similar to Jewish tradition. One might ask, "Is this proper, Halachically Speaking?" Or to people less in the loop, is this kosher?)

A paid informant for the New York Police Department's intelligence unit was under orders to "bait" Muslims into saying inflammatory things as he lived a double life, snapping pictures inside mosques and collecting the names of innocent people attending study groups on Islam, he told The Associated Press.

Shamiur Rahman, a 19-year-old American of Bangladeshi descent who has now denounced his work as an informant, said police told him to embrace a strategy called "create and capture." He said it involved creating a conversation about jihad or terrorism, then capturing the response to send to the NYPD. For his work, he earned as much as $1,000 a month and goodwill from the police after a string of minor marijuana arrests.

"We need you to pretend to be one of them," Rahman recalled the police telling him. "It's street theater."

Rahman said he now believes his work as an informant against Muslims in New York was "detrimental to the Constitution." After he disclosed to friends details about his work for the police – and after he told the police that he had been contacted by the AP – he stopped receiving text messages from his NYPD handler, "Steve," and his handler's NYPD phone number was disconnected.

Rahman's account shows how the NYPD unleashed informants on Muslim neighborhoods, often without specific targets or criminal leads. Much of what Rahman said represents a tactic the NYPD has denied using.

The AP corroborated Rahman's account through arrest records and weeks of text messages between Rahman and his police handler. The AP also reviewed the photos Rahman sent to police. Friends confirmed Rahman was at certain events when he said he was there, and former NYPD officials, while not personally familiar with Rahman, said the tactics he described were used by informants.

Informants like Rahman are a central component of the NYPD's wide-ranging programs to monitor life in Muslim neighborhoods since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Police officers have eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses, trained video cameras on mosques and collected license plates of worshippers. Informants who trawl the mosques – known informally as "mosque crawlers" – tell police what the imam says at sermons and provide police lists of attendees, even when there's no evidence they committed a crime.

The programs were built with unprecedented help from the CIA. Police recruited Rahman in late January, after his third arrest on misdemeanor drug charges, which Rahman believed would lead to serious legal consequences. An NYPD plainclothes officer approached him in a Queens jail and asked whether he wanted to turn his life around.

The next month, Rahman said, he was on the NYPD's payroll.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Tuesday. He has denied widespread NYPD spying, saying police only follow leads.

In an Oct. 15 interview with the AP, however, Rahman said he received little training and spied on "everything and anyone." He took pictures inside the many mosques he visited and eavesdropped on imams. By his own measure, he said he was very good at his job and his handler never once told him he was collecting too much, no matter whom he was spying on.

Rahman said he thought he was doing important work protecting New York City and considered himself a hero.

One of his earliest assignments was to spy on a lecture at the Muslim Student Association at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. The speaker was Ali Abdul Karim, the head of security at the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn. The NYPD had been concerned about Karim for years and already had infiltrated the mosque, according to NYPD documents obtained by the AP.

See the rest of the story at "Shamiur Rahman: NYPD Paid Me To 'Bait' Muslims Into Saying Things About Jihad, Terrorism".

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nashville Rejects Charter School, Forfeits Millions - Rhee Ex & TFA Link - TN Parent Trigger Attempts

From Madfloridian at
Metro Nashville Public Schools lose $3.4 million funding for rejecting charter school. Power play.
Posted by madfloridian in General Discussion
Tue Oct 02nd 2012, 01:01 AM
This is the third time that school district had rejected Phoenix-based Great Hearts Academies. It appears to be much like the situation in Florida now where the state board can overrule local districts about charter schools. Since the state school board is filled with charter school advocates, it is not a healthy thing for local districts.

Tennessee's Education Commissioner is Kevin Huffman, who is/was Vice President of Teach for America, also former hubby of Michelle Rhee. [They divorced in 2007. He has custody of their two tween daughters, probably because of her repeated public criticisms of their soccer abilities: "They suck at soccer," and again here. In the former cite, the Huffman/Rhee daughters were cringing in the audience.]

From Huffington Post:
Metro Nashville Public Schools Losing $3.4 Million After School Board Fails To Comply With Tennessee Charter School Law
The Tennessee Department of Education is withholding $3.4 million of non-classroom, administrative funding from Metro Nashville Public Schools due to the school board’s failure to comply with the state’s charter school law, the Jackson Sun reports.

Last week, the Metro Nashville school board disobeyed an order by the state Board of Education to approve an application from the Phoenix-based Great Hearts Academies, which it had already twice rejected.

The Associated Press reports that members of the school board raised concerns that the proposed charter school planned to draw from affluent white families, as opposed to cultivating a more diverse student body. They voted 5-4 to deny Great Hearts’ application, ignoring a unanimous order from the state school board to approve it.

The charter school has since dropped its effort to open a school in Tennessee, the Tennessean reports.
At the same time Parent Trigger law advocates are making their move in Nashville. It's like a double whammy of corporate education reform going on there.

From the Tennessean:
Parents explore trigger law to force takeover of Nashville schools
Tennessee’s trigger law passed with little fanfare in 2002 as part of a larger bill that ushered charter schools into the state.

When the state’s charter law was updated in 2011 to allow all students regardless of their academic standing or socioeconomic status to enroll, the trigger-law portion was updated as well. As a result, the trigger law can be used to target schools not categorized by the state as failing, such as J.T. Moore and Hillwood High.

The statute states that “an eligible public school may convert to a public charter school pursuant to this chapter if the parents of 60 percent of the children enrolled in the school or 60 percent of the teachers assigned to the school agree and demonstrate support by signing a petition seeking conversion, and the (local school board) agrees to the conversion.”

Evans said the law as written leaves many unanswered questions, such as how would the school district handle a possible conversion if parents were able to garner the necessary signatures? She said parents would be reluctant to pursue a conversion if they ultimately must cede control of the process over to the school district. The law does not define how a conversion would work, if the effort received school board approval.
The Parent Trigger movement is being presented as a grassroots revolution by parents. It is actually being pushed along by charter school companies and other education reformers.

In reality it is funded by big money groups to provide a quicker way to get charter schools growing. [Madfloridian article on CBS' Teachers Rock tie-in with "Won't Back Down", Teach for America and the parent trigger movement.]

Parents are led to believe they can lead a coup over public schools, but they may be surprised at how quickly the charter chains step in. They are being manipulated.
Huffman presents himself as "a lifelong Democrat:"
That's my view too. I'm a lifelong Democrat and the party hasn't been strong, historically, on this issue (Obama and Duncan are strong on it though).
But everyone I know in upper middle class America is picking their home based partially on school quality. It's de facto school choice. We just deny it to people without resources.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

El Paso Imprisons School Superintendent for Pushing Out Students to Distort Test Scoers

It has become a familiar story: toying with tests, pushing students out of schools or certain programs, in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. on a grand scale. And in New York City in a more localized pattern, including the push out policies in place since the early 2000s, in Advocates for Children's 2008 report and in articles here and here. Most of the cited instances are in high school, but even kindergarten at a charter school. It has also been cited in connection with the school to prison pipeline.

In El Paso, push outs meant jail time for the superintendent. But just recently press stories told of his contract renewal for great test results and quoted without qualifications his claims of raising scores for state test scores from "the 50s to almost the 90s." The lynch pin was the "Bowie Plan", involving getting low performing students out of taking high-stakes tests used in conjunction with No Child Left Behind. A subtler program is in place in New York.

When will jail sentences be issued in New York?
El Paso Schools Confront Scandal of Students Who ‘Disappeared’ at Test Time
Published: October 13, 2012

EL PASO — It sounded at first like a familiar story: school administrators, seeking to meet state and federal standards, fraudulently raised students’ scores on crucial exams.

But in the cheating scandal that has shaken the 64,000-student school district in this border city, administrators manipulated more than numbers. They are accused of keeping low-performing students out of classrooms altogether by improperly holding some back, accelerating others and preventing many from showing up for the tests or enrolling in school at all.

It led to a dramatic moment at the federal courthouse this month, when a former schools superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia, was sentenced to prison for his role in orchestrating the testing scandal. But for students and parents, the case did not end there. A federal investigation continues, with the likelihood of more arrests of administrators who helped Mr. Garcia.

Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Garcia, 57, with devising an elaborate program to inflate test scores to improve the performance of struggling schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and to allow him to collect annual bonuses for meeting district goals.

The scheme, elements of which were carried out for most of Mr. Garcia’s nearly six-year tenure, centered on a state-mandated test taken by sophomores. Known as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, it measures performance in reading, mathematics and other subjects. The scheme’s objective was to keep low-performing students out of the classroom so they would not take the test and drag scores down, according to prosecutors, former principals and school advocates.

Students identified as low-performing were transferred to charter schools, discouraged from enrolling in school or were visited at home by truant officers and told not to go to school on the test day. For some, credits were deleted from transcripts or grades were changed from passing to failing or from failing to passing so they could be reclassified as freshmen or juniors.

Others intentionally held back were allowed to catch up before graduation with “turbo-mesters,” in which students earned a semester’s worth of credit for a few hours of computer work. A former high school principal said in an interview and in court that one student earned two semester credits in three hours on the last day of school. Still other students who transferred to the district from Mexico were automatically put in the ninth grade, even if they had earned credits for the 10th grade, to keep them from taking the test.

“He essentially treated these students as pawns in a scheme to make it look as though he was achieving the thresholds he needed for his bonuses,” said Robert Pitman, the United States attorney for the Western District of Texas, whose office prosecuted Mr. Garcia.

Another former principal, Lionel Rubio, said he knew of six students who had been pushed out of high school and had not pursued an education since. In 2008, Linda Hernandez-Romero’s daughter repeated her freshman year at Bowie High School after administrators told her she was not allowed to return as a sophomore. Ms. Hernandez-Romero said administrators told her that her daughter was not doing well academically and was not likely to perform well on the test.

Ms. Hernandez-Romero protested the decision, but she said her daughter never followed through with her education, never received a diploma or a G.E.D. and now, at age 21, has three children, is jobless and survives on welfare.

“Her decisions have been very negative after this,” her mother said. “She always tells me: ‘Mom, I got kicked out of school because I wasn’t smart. I guess I’m not, Mom, look at me.’ There’s not a way of expressing how bad it feels, because it’s so bad. Seeing one of your children fail and knowing that it was not all her doing is worse.”

The program was known as “the Bowie model,” and Mr. Garcia had boasted of his success in raising test scores, particularly in 2008, when all of the district’s eligible campuses earned a rating of “academically acceptable” or better from the state. But parents and students had another name for what was happening: “los desaparecidos,” or the disappeared.

State education data showed that 381 students were enrolled as freshmen at Bowie in the fall of 2007. The following fall, the sophomore class was 170 students. Dozens of the missing students had “disappeared” through Mr. Garcia’s program, said Eliot Shapleigh, a lawyer and former state senator who began his own investigation into testing misconduct and was credited with bringing the case to light. Mr. Shapleigh said he believed that hundreds of students were affected and that district leaders had failed to do enough to locate and help them.

“Desaparecidos is by far the worst education scandal in the country,” Mr. Shapleigh said. “In Atlanta, the students were helped on tests by teachers. The next day, the students were in class. Here, the students were disappeared right out of the classroom.”

Court documents list six unindicted co-conspirators who assisted Mr. Garcia, but they have not been publicly identified. Parents and educators believe that several of those involved in the scandal continue to work in the system or have taken jobs at nearby districts. The El Paso district, meanwhile, has had trouble maintaining its leadership, with the board of trustees appointing three interim superintendents since Mr. Garcia’s arrest last year.

Mr. Garcia’s program led to an inquiry involving three federal entities: the F.B.I., Mr. Pitman’s office and the Education Department’s inspector general. The state’s education agency penalized the district in August by lowering its accreditation status, assigning a monitor and requiring it to hire outside companies to oversee testing and identify the structural defects that allowed the scheme to go unchecked.

On Wednesday, the newly appointed commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, Michael L. Williams, came to El Paso to speak with parents and administrators, telling them he had the power to take other steps, including installing a new board of trustees.

“I’m outraged by what happened,” Mr. Williams said after the meeting. “We’re going to give the district an opportunity to right the ship. And if that doesn’t happen, then obviously there are several options available to the commissioner of education, and I’ll look very, very carefully at those options.”

Former El Paso educators have criticized state officials and the local board as failing to hold Mr. Garcia accountable. In 2010, the Texas Education Agency issued letters clearing Mr. Garcia of wrongdoing, finding insufficient evidence on accusations of “disappeared” students and testing misconduct.

Mr. Garcia was the first superintendent in the country to be charged with manipulating data used to assess compliance with No Child Left Behind for financial gain, the authorities said. Before he was hired in 2006, Mr. Garcia was a deputy superintendent in Dallas and received a doctorate from the University of Houston. His annual salary was $280,314 when he resigned last November, three months after his arrest.

In June, Mr. Garcia pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. One charge was connected to the scandal, and the other involved his efforts to secure a $450,000 no-bid contract for a consulting firm run by his former mistress. He was sentenced to three years and six months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $180,000 in restitution to the district.

He was also fined $56,500, the amount of testing-related bonuses he had received.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 14, 2012, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: El Paso Schools Confront Scandal of Students Who ‘Disappeared’ at Test Time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Enough is enough! NYPD Officers' Stop & Frisk Harass of Alvin

NYPD obscenities partially censored to make this blog safe for work.
The Nation exclusive: Stopped-and-Frisked: 'For Being a F**king Mutt' [VIDEO]
Ross Tuttle and Erin Schneider
October 8, 2012  

Exclusive audio obtained by The Nation of a stop-and-frisk carried out by the New York Police Department freshly reveals the discriminatory and unprofessional way in which this controversial policy is being implemented on the city’s streets.

About the Author
Erin Schneider is a filmmaker and producer of a documentary on stop-and-frisk.
Ross Tuttle
Ross Tuttle is a documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist living in New York who is working on a long-form...
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On June 3, 2011, three plainclothes New York City Police officers stopped a Harlem teenager named Alvin and two of the officers questioned and frisked him while the third remained in their unmarked car. Alvin secretly captured the interaction on his cell phone, and the resulting audio is one of the only known recordings of stop-and-frisk in action.

In the course of the two-minute recording, the officers give no legally valid reason for the stop, use racially charged language and threaten Alvin with violence. Early in the stop, one of the officers asks, “You want me to smack you?” When Alvin asks why he is being threatened with arrest, the other officer responds, “For being a f--king mutt.” Later in the stop, while holding Alvin’s arm behind his back, the first officer says, “Dude, I’m gonna break your f--kin’ arm, then I’m gonna punch you in the f--kin’ face.”

Listen to the full audio of the stop:

“He grabbed me by my bookbag and he started pushing me down. So I’m going backwards like down the hill and he just kept pushing me, pushing me, it looked like he we was going to hit me,” Alvin recounts. “I felt like they was trying to make me resist or fight back.”

Alvin’s treatment at the hands of the officers may be disturbing but it is not uncommon. According to their own stop-and-frisk data, the NYPD stops more than 1,800 New Yorkers a day. A New York Times analysis recently determined that more than 20 percent of those stops involve the use of force. And these are only the numbers that the Department records. Anecdotal evidence suggests both figures are much higher.

In this video, exclusive to, Alvin describes his experience of the stop, and working NYPD officers come forward to explain the damage stop-and-frisk has done to their profession and their relationship to the communities they serve. The emphasis on racking up stops has also hindered what many officers consider to be the real work they should be doing on the streets. The video sheds unprecedented light on a practice, cheered on by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, that has put the city’s young people of color in the department’s crosshairs.

Those who haven’t experienced the policy first-hand “have likened Stops to being stuck in an elevator, or in traffic,” says Darius Charney, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “This is not merely an inconvenience, as the Department likes to describe it. This is men with guns surrounding you in the street late at night when you’re by yourself. You ask why and they curse you out and rough you up.”

“The tape brings to light what so many New Yorkers have experienced in the shadows at the hands of the NYPD,” says Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP. “It is time for Mayor Bloomberg to come to grips with the scale of the damage his policies have inflicted on our children and their families. No child should have to grow up fearing both the cops and the robbers.”

“This audio confirms what we’ve been hearing from communities of color, again and again,” says Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “They are repeatedly subjected to abusive and disrespectful treatment at the hands of the NYPD. This explains why so many young people don’t trust the police and won’t help the police,” she adds. “It’s not good for law enforcement and not good for the individuals who face this harassment.”

The audio also betrays the seeming arbitrariness of stops and the failure of some police officers to fully comprehend or be able to articulate a clear motivation for carrying out a practice they’re asked to repeat on a regular basis.

And, according to Charney, the only thing the police officers do with clarity during this stop is announce its unconstitutionality.

“We’ve long been claiming that, under this department’s administration, if you’re a young black or Latino kid, walking the street at night you’re automatically a suspicious person,” says Charney, who is leading a class-action lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices. “The police deny those claims, when asked. ‘No, that’s not the reason we’re stopping them.’ But they’re actually admitting it here [on the audio recording]. The only reason they give is: ‘You were looking back at us…’ That does not rise to the level of reasonable suspicion, and there’s a clear racial animus when they call him a ‘mutt.’”

The audio was recently played at a meeting of The Morris Justice Project, a group of Bronx residents who have organized around the issue of stop-and-frisk and have been compiling data on people’s interactions with police. Jackie Robinson, mother of two boys, expected not to be surprised when told about the contents of the recording. “It’s stuff we’ve all heard before,” she said at the gathering. Yet Robinson visibly shuddered at one of the audio’s most violent passages. She had heard plenty about these encounters, but had never actually listened to one in action.

“As a mother, it bothers you,” says Robinson. “The police are the ones we’re supposed to turn to when something bad happens. Of all the things I have to worry about when my kids walk out the door, I don’t want to have to worry about them being harmed by the police. It makes you feel like you can’t protect your children. Something has to be done.”

Officers who carry out such belligerent stops face little accountability under the NYPD’s current structure. The department is one of New York City’s last agencies to operate without independent oversight, leaving officers with no safe place to file complaints about police practice and systemic problems.

“An independent inspector general would be in a position to review NYPD policies and practices—like the recorded stop-and-frisk shown here—to see whether the police are violating New Yorkers’ rights and whether the program is in fact yielding benefits,” says the Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel. “An inspector general would not hinder the NYPD’s ability to fight crime, but would help build a stronger, more effective force.”

NYPD spokespeople have said that stop-and-frisk is necessary to keep crime down and guns off the street. But those assertions are increasingly being contradicted by the department’s own officers, who are beginning to speak out about a pervasive culture of number-chasing.

Two officers from two different precincts in two separate boroughs spoke to The Nation about the same types of pressures put on officers to meet numerical goals or face disciplinary action and retaliation. Most chillingly, both officers use the word “hunt” when describing the relentless quest for summonses, stops and arrests.

“The civilian population, they’re being hunted by us,” says an officer with more than ten years on the job. “Instead of being protected by us, they’re being hunted and we’re being hated.”

The focus on numbers, and the rewards for those who meet quotas has created an atmosphere, another veteran officer says, in which cops compete to see who can get the highest numbers, and it can lead to the kind of arbitrary stop that quickly became violent in this recording.

“It’s really bad,” says the officer after listening to the audio recording. “It’s not a good thing at all. But it’s really common, I’m sorry to say. It doesn’t have to be like that.”

Lieberman from the NYCLU agrees: “It’s time for the Mayor and the Police Commissioner to stop trying to scare New Yorkers into accepting this kind of abuse, and to recognize that there is a problem.”

Additional reporting by Erin Schneider. To see this and other related media, go to: or e-mail stopandfriskmedia at gmail dot com Ross Tuttle and Erin Schneider
October 8, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

5 Biggest Lies About America's Public Schools -- Debunked

Kristin Rawls, writing in AlterNet, October 1, 2012:
5 Biggest Lies About America's Public Schools -- Debunked
Here's the truth behind 5 of the most destructive myths about public education.

Just weeks into the 2012-2013 school year education issues are already playing a starring role in the national conversation about America’s future. Because it’s an election year, the presidential candidates have been busy pretending there are many substantial distinctions between them on education policy (actually, the differences are arguably minimal). Meanwhile, the striking Chicago Teachers Union helped thrust teachers unions into the national spotlight, with union-buster Democrat Mayor Rahm Emanuel reminding us that, these days, Republicans and Democrats frequently converge on both education policy and labor-unfriendliness.

Since pundits and politicians often engage in education rhetoric that obscures what’s really going on, here are five corrections to some of the more egregious claims you may have recently heard.

Lie #1: Unions are undermining the quality of education in America.

Teachers unions have gotten a bad rap in recent years, but as education professor Paul Thomas of Furman University tells AlterNet, “The anti-union message…has no basis in evidence.” In fact, Furman points out, “Union states tend to correlate with higher test scores.” As a 2010 study conducted by Albert Shanker Fellow Matthew Di Carlo found, “[T]he states in which there are no teachers covered under binding agreements score lower [on standardized assessment tests] than the states that have them… If anything, it seems that the presence of teacher contracts in a state has a positive effect on achievement” – by as much as three to five points in reading and math at varying grade levels.

Even so, Thomas doesn’t believe that high test-scores should be taken as the primary indication that union teachers are good for kids, noting that “union states tend to be less burdened by poverty while ‘right-to-work’ (non-union) states are disproportionately high-poverty” – and poverty, as we well know, has its own, profound impact on student performance.

For these reasons among others, union presence can never be isolated as the sole relevant factor in producing higher student achievement. But teachers unions are still important to student success. Why? Most importantly, perhaps, because they fight for equality of opportunity in education by, for example, opposing attempts to resegregate American schools. One of the reasons the CTU so resolutely opposed the school closures Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education threatened was because closures have proven to have disastrous consequences for displaced students in Chicago, who are generally forced to move from one underfunded, low-performing school to another. Teachers unions oppose such injustices because they support the rights of all children to have access to high-quality education -- not just the kids whose parents can afford high property taxes. That’s a good thing for America’s education system, not a bad one.

Lie #2: Your student’s teacher has an easy and over-compensated job.

One talking point that circulated around the Chicago teachers’ strike was that public school teachers are overpaid for easy jobs with plentiful time off. This is a longstanding gem that has little basis in fact. As political scientist Corey Robin of Brooklyn College/CUNY Graduate Center writes in the Washington Post, when he was growing up his affluent childhood community was embattled every year because the community so looked down on teachers. “Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game” in the minds of local parents and the assumption, according to Robin, was “there could be only one reason for that: they were losers.”

But is teaching actually overcompensated? It’s hard to imagine how. The New York Times points out that “The average primary-school teacher in the United States earns about 67 percent of the salary of an average college-educated worker in the United States.” (And given the student debt bubble currently crippling so many young people, this is and will remain an area of real concern for recruiting future teachers.) And notably, the Times points out, the ratio of teacher pay to that of other college graduates is wider in the U.S. than in most other developed countries.

Let’s not forget, too, the very long work hours that define most teaching jobs. Former high school English teacher Carrie Rogers tells AlterNet that most of the young teachers she’s known in North Carolina “leave the profession after their second child” because of the extensive demands on their time. She says the “amount of time and effort it takes to teach effectively is [no longer possible] by the time they have two kids.” A “teacher's salary…minus two daycare bills for the total amount of time [teachers] spend at work doesn't work.” In many states, teacher pay falls into a lower-middle income bracket, and Rogers says teachers “never work 40 hour weeks. They spend nights grading; Saturdays and evenings at grad school and continuing [education] programs; and lunch hours monitoring cafeterias.”

Overcompensated? By whose standards?

Lie #3: If your child doesn’t get picked in a charter school lottery, he or she is doomed.

The popular film Waiting for ‘Superman characterizes charter schools as a silver bullet perfectly positioned to save public education -- if only they could replace traditional public schools as quickly as possible. The film picks up on the consequences of social inequality, but goes a step further, presuming that traditional public schools cannot be redeemed, and charters are the last hope for education.

Yet as it turns out, there’s no proof that charter schools are intrinsically better than traditional public schools. A 2009 Stanford study found that charter school students generally perform no better than students attending traditional public schools. In fact, the study found, “academic growth in 37 percent of charter schools is significantly worse than traditional public schools. In addition, 46 percent of charter schools have the same academic results as traditional public schools. The six states with the largest number of charter schools—Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas—fared most poorly in the study.”

But in spite of the evidence to the contrary, the public is often told that charter schools are indeed a better option than traditional publics. That’s what has caused so much trouble in the affluent Silicon Valley school district where Eric Lundberg’s children are enrolled. Lundberg tells AlterNet, “The local school district is one of the best in the state…The district is committed to giving our students the best education possible and is supported by an amazing community.”

But Lundberg says the transformation of a public school into a charter school has caused major upheaval in the community. The charter school is currently demanding the closure of an excellent traditional school so it can take over the school building, but traditional school proponents are fighting back with some strong arguments on their side. First of all, Lundberg notes, the charter school doesn’t serve its “share of special needs or low income students” (privately run charter schools can – and frequently do – turn students away whom they fear may lower their standardized test scores, including students with disabilities). In addition, “They have an unelected board that is not accountable to anyone,” and “the board made what appears to be an illegal personal loan ($250,000) to the principal/superintendent.”

This isn’t just a problem in Silicon Valley; mismanagement and exclusionary policies have characterized the proliferation of charter schools throughout the U.S. Combine those facts with their dubious record of academic achievement and it’s clear charters just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Lie #4: Your child will automatically be better off if your school district adopts a “school choice” assignment plan.

One way charters often take root in communities is that they’re introduced through “school choice” plans that purport to give parents a measure of autonomy in choosing their child’s school. In some cases, this means parents are offered vouchers that can be used to transfer public school dollars to private (often religiously affiliated) schools; in other cases, parent are asked to select two or three of their top school choices, and will be assigned to one of them. The fact that poor parents working multiple jobs might not have the capacity to fully research their options is never discussed.

If this weren’t problematic enough, “choice” can cause other headaches for parents. In Wake County, NC, parents have widely expressed outrage about the effects of their temporarily instituted school choice plan. Promoted as “convenient” for families, in practice the plan has resulted in widespread transportation problems that have left students stranded at schools well into the evening hours. And in Harlem last month, parents complained to The New York Times that they were not given any “high-performing” school options to choose from in their much-touted school choice plan.

School choice tends to resonate with parents, but as Thomas tells AlterNet, “The evidence on choice shows [that]…parents do a terrible job with that choice.” This is in part because though market-based solutions like “choice” sound good on paper, they are rarely any match for the complex needs of our nation’s schools and the children they educate. And as Thomas has previously noted, both pro- and anti-school choice think-tanks and researchers are now finding that choice yields no academic gains. This has happened both at the local level (a conservative think tank called the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute reported that it was “disappointed” to admit that school choice had failed in Milwaukee) and at the national level, as well. To prove this latter point, Thomas cites a voucher-specific 2008 study, the most comprehensive look at school choice done yet, which argues that,

“… what little evidence exists about the likely impact of a large-scale voucher program on the students who remain in the public schools is at best mixed… [and the] evidence to date from other forms of school choice is not much more promising. As such,…one should not anticipate large academic gains from this seemingly inexpensive reform.”

The short of it? There is just no conclusive evidence that school choice programs actually work. Don’t get caught up in the hype.

Lie #5: Your student’s teacher sees your constructive involvement in your child’s education as an annoyance.

A narrative that pits parents and teachers against each other is part and parcel of the politicized rhetoric about education that you hear in the news. Educators have known for some time that parental involvement is a key component of student success. Indiana University’s Career and Postsecondary advancement center reports that, “66 different studies came to one conclusion based on the evidence: families matter. Whether changing TV viewing habits, providing diverse readings materials around the house or volunteering at school, parents can help their children succeed as students.” But corporate reformers are actively promoting antagonistic relationships between parents and schools.

The Center for Public Education cites a 2008 study by the National Center for Education Statistics which found that parental involvement is one of the top predictors – if not the top predictor – of academic success. But common anti-teacher rhetoric has created some unproductive relationships between parents and teachers. Public school teacher Madeleine Bolden of the Atlanta area tells AlterNet that she’s noticed “parents becoming more adversarial with…teachers.” More than ever before, she says, “I have felt bashed by parents who mask either their children's failings or their own failings by the rhetoric” of school failure. Often, she says, parents approach teachers as if “we are doing everything wrong.”

She concludes, “This kind of attitude erodes teacher student relationships in the classroom. When parents consistently put down the teacher,” it’s not easy for teachers and parents to “bond in a way that promotes optimal learning. Students are suffering as a result.”

Whatever else you may have heard, the truth is, most teachers do welcome constructive parent involvement -- especially involvement that doesn’t put them on the defensive from the outset. The Center for Public Education cites a 2003 study: “Two-thirds of teachers surveyed (Public Agenda, 2003) believed that their students would perform better in school if their parents were more involved in their child’s education.” And the center notes further that “virtually all schools welcome parent involvement,” from attendance at teacher conferences to PTA membership to parental help with homework.

As with much of the other disinformation being spread about public education, the key here is to do your homework: Check in with your child’s teacher before there is a problem, and check the assumptions that he or she doesn’t want you there at the door. Most teachers will be glad to find that you’re an active, willing partner in your child’s education.

Kristin Rawls is a freelance writer whose work has also appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, GOOD Magazine, Religion Dispatches, Killing the Buddha, Global Comment and elsewhere online.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Not Again!: Another Police Shooting of an Unarmed Man of Color in NYC

Yet again we have the news that a New York Police Department officer has shot an unarmed young man of color. This is not the instance of the police shooting a man who is actively presenting an imminent danger, as in the case of the shooter at tourist-crowded Empire State Building incident several weeks ago. The latest case is an entirely different circumstance.

Early Thursday morning an NYPD detective shot and killed an Army reservist on the Grand Central Parkway on his way home from one of his two jobs. Now, it is unfortunately not uncommon for New York City area motorists to make ill-informed driving choices, speeding and switching wrecklessly. It is very dangerous, but it is not grounds for the police to shoot the driver.

Here is how DNAinfo reported the story:
QUEENS — An NYPD detective shot and killed an unarmed man behind the wheel of a car on the Grand Central Parkway on Thursday morning as an off-duty cop slept in the back seat, police said.
Noel Polanco, 22, was in his 2012 Honda Fit Hybrid with two female passengers — one of them a police officer who was placed on modified duty recently because of a disciplinary issue — when he was spotted driving erratically in the eastbound lanes about 5:15 a.m., police said.
Friends said Polanco, whose nickname was Sparks, was an U.S. Army reservist who lived with his mother and recently lost his stepfather to suicide.
"He's been stressed since, but he never really did anything wrong," said Tito Cordero, 27, a friend of Polanco's. "He doesn't fight. He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He just works to get his mind off all the problems."
Polanco allegedly cut between two unmarked NYPD Emergency Service Unit Apprehension Team vehicles, police said. He then darted into the left lane and tailgated another vehicle, the NYPD said. After that vehicle didn't move, Polanco shifted back between the two police vehicles in the right lane, hitting the brakes and forcing the NYPD vehicles to slow down, sources said.
Cops turned on their lights and sirens and attempted to pull Polanco's car over, sources said. The NYPD vehicles positioned themselves in front of and behind the Honda until it finally came to a stop at Exit 7 near LaGuardia Airport, police said. Two cops — a uniformed sergeant and a detective — came out of the police vehicle in front of the Honda and approached the vehicle.
As Det. Hassan Hamdy approached on the passenger side of Polanco's car, he saw Polanco reach down and grab an object that appeared to be a power tool, sources said. Hamdy fired a single shot through the passenger window into Polanco's abdomen, sources said.
The last quote gives the police's official story. Notice that there is always some kind of excuse: the police shooting victim is "reaching" for something. And that something often turns out to be non-threatening, a wallet, a candy bar, in this case, even the police are citing an object not likely to be used at that instance --don't power drills need power, have they ascertained that the drill in Polanco's hand, pointed at the officer? Not even that much was in the police's excuse. When Polanco's passenger is quoted, we hear that his hands were on the steering wheel, and that this shooting could be a road rage incident on the police detective's part.
"Noel didn't have a chance to put his hands up. They screamed, 'Put up your hands!' and shot at the same time," said Diane DeFerrari, 36, a bartender who was riding in the front passenger seat, according to the New York Daily News. "It was simultaneous. There was a pop and Noel gasped."
Sources said DeFerrari told investigators that Polanco's hands were on the wheel when Hamdy shot him.
"They acted in pure road rage," DeFerrari told the newspaper.
The rest of DNAinfo's story can be read here. Here is the Daily News's report on the story.

Parallels to another tragic shooting by the police
This story has echoes of another very questionable police shooting this year. In Feburary police in the Bronx trailed Ramarley Graham to his home, and shot him when he was inside. The Socialist Worker reported,
On February 2, 18-year-old Ramarley Linden Graham was shot and killed by New York City police officer Richard Haste in the bathroom of the home where he lived in the Bronx.
Graham's grandmother, Gwendolyn Henry, and 6-year-old brother, Chinnor Campbell, watched in horror as officers broke down the door of their home, cornered Graham in the bathroom and shot him in the chest. Henry was then dragged off to the NYPD's 47th Precinct--where, after the shock and trauma of watching officers kill her beloved grandson, she was subjected to seven hours of interrogation.
Predictably, police claim the officers thought Graham had a gun, but admit now he was unarmed. Police also say they were in "hot pursuit" of Graham, but surveillance video disproves this, too--Graham can be seen walking at a leisurely pace, entering his home and closing the door behind him before Haste and his supervisor, Sgt. Scott Morris, force their way in.
More than three months have passed, and Ramarley Graham's family is still waiting for answers and demanding that police be held accountable for murdering their son.
The rest of Socialist Worker's article can be read here.

As reported in the Nation magazine, Graham's case has been a cause for community mobilization. With the shooting of Polanco, there is another occasion for the community to mobilize against police violence. Where and when will this stop? Why are the out of control police reactions in response to encounters with you men of color?

Ray Kelly's NYPD has a lot of explaining to do on a range of issues: whether it is billing a dead man's family for a dented NYPD vehicle --that caused the man's death (it also made the news in Cincinnati press!), or for the harassment of press at the Occupy Wall Street: "Journalists: NPPA Sends Letter To Ray Kelly Denouncing Police Abuse Of The Press."
(The NPPA's general counsel wrote to Kelly:
It is our strongly asserted position that while the press may not have a greater right of access than the public, they have no less right either...Given these ongoing issues and incidents we believe that more is needed in order to improve police-press relations and to clarify the ability of credentialed and non-credentialed journalists to photograph and record on public streets without fear of intimidation and arrest. Therefore, we urge you meet with us once again so that we may help devise a better system of education and training for department members starting from the top down.) Additionally, AlterNet reported, September 27, 2012, that "The NYPD has expanded into a massive global anti-terror operation with surveillance and military capabilities unparalled in the history of local US law enforcement."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

UFT is Being Weak and Naive to Pursue PERB Contract Arbitration Now with Bloomberg

The United Federation of Teachers is acting too prematurely: most reasonable observers would recognize that New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is out for blood with the New York teachers and that it is best that the union wait until after the election of his successor to seriously pursue a new contract. The most common phrase appearing in conversations is "after Bloomberg," not just among teacher union members, but members of other municipal unions. The following is another one of the UFT's tragically naive mistakes, because it suggests it is seriously planning to settle on a new contract with Bloomberg. Note, ironically, one of the stories with a sidebar link touches the very topic of Bloomberg's pioneering anti-teacher zeal, "Mayor attacks pensions, ATRs and teacher layoff rules."
Mayor Bloomberg took us for suckers with the 2005 contract; could he sell us this bridge as well?

Press release on the UFT's site,
PERB appoints fact-finding panel for UFT/DOE contract dispute
October 3, 2012

The New York State Public Employment Relations Board has appointed a three-member fact-finding panel that will take testimony, hold hearings and issue a report and recommendations in an effort to resolve the contract dispute between the New York City Department of Education and the UFT. The UFT contract expired Oct. 31, 2009.

The factfinders, all labor arbitrators, are: Martin F. Scheinman. Mark Grossman and Howard Edelman. Mr. Scheinman was named chairperson of the panel.

In a letter to the parties, PERB said: “Whereas, the New York State Public Employment Relations Board has determined that an impasse exists in the negotiations … a Fact Finding Panel is hereby appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the causes and circumstances of the dispute.”

The panel has the power to subpoena witnesses, documents, and other material; to administer oaths and take testimony; and after hearings will transmit “findings of fact and recommendations for resolution of the dispute” to the parties and the public. The recommendations, while not binding, are expected to help provide a framework for a final settlement.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said: “For nearly three years we have been unable to reach a new contract with the Department of Education. In the past a review of the issues by independent fact-finders appointed by the state has helped break this kind of deadlock, and it is our hope that PERB’s intervention this time will help lead to an agreement.”

Potential names were provided by the Department of Education, the UFT and PERB. Both the DOE and the UFT were permitted to strike a number of potential appointees, and PERB named the panel based on how the DOE and the UFT ranked the remaining candidates.

The UFT and the DOE have relied on fact-finding panels to help resolve previous contract disputes.
Read more: Press releases
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

2 Suburban NY Principals Attribute Rhee-esque Spike in Ed Urgency to Speaking Fees; Cite $ 500 Billion Market in Ed Profiteering


Valerie Strauss, August 7, 2012, in her "Answer Sheet" column at "The Washington Post."
Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 08/07/2012
Principals: Our struggle to be heard on reform

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

By Carol Burris and Harry Leonardatos

Several weeks ago, on Meet the Press, Michelle Rhee unveiled her new ad, designed to hammer away at how bad she believes American schools to be. The ad likened public schools to an unfit male athlete competing unsuccessfully in a women’s sport. Many found the ad to be offensive in its stereotypical portrayal of an overweight and effete man. But the true offense was that it took a moment of national pride, the Olympic Games, and used it to give American educators a kick in the pants.

It is reasonable to wonder why it is so important for Michelle Rhee and other “reformers” to constantly deride and disparage American public schools. Although we should always seek to improve, why should those efforts be expected to follow from derision? In truth, while we and others see daunting and unfilled needs in many schools, there has not been a sharp and sudden decline in student performance as is being implied, and in fact scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — sometimes referred to as the nation’s educational report card — are higher than ever before.

The answer is simple. School reform has generated a marketplace, and a profitable one at that. Michelle Rhee’s standard fee is $50,000 an appearance, plus expenses. In Michigan, Clark Durrant is paid over half a million dollars a year to run five charter schools. Eva Moskowitz, Geoffrey Canada and Deborah Kenney all make between four and five hundred thousand a year running their New York City charter school organizations.

And these are the minor players. The real money is corporate.

Rupert Murdoch announced that public education is a $500 billion market waiting desperately to be transformed. He is creating the data systems and hiring the people to help him make that profitable transformation happen. All the while, the editorial departments of his newspapers hammer away at New York City’s schools and teachers.

Reformers’ financial successes, their careers and their celebrity rest on their ability to convince the public of the failures — real, perceived, and generated — of our nation’s public schools. Yet in national polls the vast majority of Americans have continually awarded high marks to their own schools, even while giving substantially lower marks to public schools across the board. The poll results represent the disconnect between the judgment that the public makes based on day to day experience with their own neighborhood schools, and the perception the reformers and the press have created.

And this is all before the upcoming Parent Trigger advocacy movie, “Won’t Back Down.” There is now so much money and power backing market-driven reforms that it is nearly impossible for alternative views to break through.

We recently had our personal experience with how difficult it is to be heard. On July 26th, New York Governor Cuomo’s Education Commission held its only meeting in New York City.
[Ed.'s note: the linked New York state government education commission page has an introductory slogan, "Putting Students First," echoing Michelle Rhee's group's name.]
The purpose of the commission is to travel around the state in order to hear from stakeholders regarding suggestions for New York State school improvements.

Prior to the time and place of the meeting being posted, both of us sent a request to testify on the topic of teacher and principal quality. As high school principals, we are deeply concerned about the direction of the Regents reform agenda, especially in regard to evaluating teachers using test scores. We were joined by an outstanding New York City high school principal and two teachers from South Side High School. Both teachers had submitted requests to speak, one sending that request and her remarks weeks in advance.

We were not allowed to speak. That was certainly troubling, but even more troubling was the overall staging of the event to ensure that the weight of testimony would support the predetermined, favored policy agenda. The selected panelists on teacher and principal quality were not practicing educators. The first speaker, former CNN reporter Campbell Brown, spoke about sex abuse and arbitrators’ decisions. Brown has no experience as an educator or public school parent, and she has been inconsistent in disclosing that her husband [Dan Senor] is on the board of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.

The other panelists were Jermima Bernard, the New York executive director of Teach for America; Lesley Guggenheim from The New Teacher Project; and Evan Stone, an 18-month sixth grade teacher who described himself as the CEO of Educators 4 Excellence, another group aligned with the favored policy agenda.

So, with the exception of Campbell Brown, they all represented organizations that embraced the governor’s policies, and they all advocated for the following three policies: state imposition of teacher evaluation systems if local negotiations are not successful, elimination of contractually guaranteed pay increases, and the use of test scores in educator evaluations.

We patiently waited through the testimony because the directions on the website stated that the final 30 minutes would be reserved for those who wished to speak, determined via a sign-in, first-come basis. Because we were among the first five to sign up, we believed we would have time to make brief remarks. We were stunned when the list in the lobby was not used. Instead, additional speakers were hand-picked. The speakers selected to comment on teacher and principal quality were a teacher who told the committee how she looked forward to being evaluated by test scores, and Anna Hall, the new head of StudentsFirst NY. Hall is a former principal from the Bronx, and she argued that teacher tenure should be abolished.

After one of us (Harry) confronted the governor’s representative, he promised us that we would be allowed to speak at later hearings. We are hopeful that he will keep his word. The rules on the website regarding public comment have changed to now say that the speakers chosen would be the first to email rather than the first to sign in. You’ll excuse us for worrying that this might be one more attempt to control testimony at what is supposed to be an opportunity for the public to speak.

None of us who came to the Bronx on that sweltering July day believed that we would change the direction of the Governor’s reform agenda by our testimony. We were there to give testimony and witness to the teachers and principals across our state who know that the barrage of negative press and misguided solutions generated by the young “CEOs” of hundreds of Gates-, Broad- and Walton-sponsored reform centers is wrong. We were there to give testimony that by setting teachers up on a bell curve, you are creating the contrived headline — “Half of all New York teachers not effective when judged by test scores,” thus cynically undermining the faith of parents in their public school teachers and principals.

We hoped to speak for the teachers and principals who know that our students are being over-tested [Marion Brady, "The complete list of problems with high-stakes standardized tests"] and that this is happening for purposes other than the assessment of their learning. We were there to represent the views of the 1,508 New York principals and the 5,400 teachers, parents, school board members, professors and administrators who have signed on to the principals letter in opposition to using student test scores in teachers evaluation. South Side High School teachers, Katie Burke and Debbie Tanklow were there to say how the evaluation system would undermine their relationship with their students. We also went to present our own ideas on how New York State schools can serve students better.

Ironically, across town on that same day, venture capitalists were eagerly searching to invest in companies that will sell the products to ‘fix the crisis.’ They were huddled in a private club in Manhattan to scope investment opportunities. As reported by Stephanie Simon of Reuters, the venture capitalists were told to “Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools… If they’re as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They’ll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.”

These venture capitalists could stay in the club. They had no need to worry about their concerns being heard, and they had no need to attend the Governor’s hearing. They were well represented.

Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking .
The original Answer Sheet post carries the YouTube video reproduction of StudentsFirst's video ridiculing the man representing American education.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chicago Suburb Teachers Strike, As CTU Vote on Formally Settling Strike

From Mike Klonsky's blog, Test-based evals, 'merit" pay at issue in Evergreen Park strike

As Chicago teachers prepare to vote today on their new contract, teachers and support staff in the predominantly white, working-class Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park went on strike this morning. Negotiations have been dragging on since April. Highland Park and Crystal Lake teachers could follow suit later this month if they are still without a decent contract.

Among the things at issue are forced cuts in health care and retirement benefits. The board is also trying to force a new evaluation plan on teachers using "merit pay" based on students' standardized test scores. Seems to be a pattern here. Here's hoping the EP teachers get some real backing from IEA leaders who were conspicuously invisible during the Chicago teachers strike.

Chicago teachers are expected to vote overwhelming to accept their hard-won contract. A yes vote would also represent a strong show of support for the CTU leadership and Pres. Karen Lewis. Here are the details of the new contract.

I had to chuckle at yesterday's Sun-Times editorial telling Chicago teachers which way to vote today. As if anyone gives a crap what the S-T editors want. Likewise for the members of a tiny ultra-"left" sect who've been trying their best to get in front of T.V.cameras, calling the union leadership "sellouts" and telling teachers to vote no.
Posted by Mike Klonsky at 5:29 AM