Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Weiner Goes Quiet


In a contentious, must-see encounter with the media, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said that he's no longer interested in talking about how an improper message was sent via his Twitter account to a 21 year old female college student.

Dan Amira: "We won't pretend to know the truth behind Weinergate -- whether Weiner was the victim of a hacker or prankster or conservative conspiracy, or whether he was personally responsible for sending a college girl a photo of a man's bulge over Twitter. But what's clear is that Weiner is only inviting more suspicion on himself by the way he's handling the attention."

"If Weiner is truly innocent of Internet hanky-panky, such questions would indeed be irritating and tiresome... Evading questions, however, is a strategy most often utilized by people with something to hide, and will only further pique the media's interest. Weiner either has something to hide, or he has no idea how the media operates."

Don't know what happened here, wasn't really all that interested in the Twitter/Weiner story earlier than this because I couldn't imagine somebody as politically astute as Anthony Weiner doing anything this stupid.

The whole story just seemed so unreal and the hacking angle seemed the most likely explanation.

But now, I'm not so sure I believe the hacking story any longer.

Not saying Weiner really did send the crotch picture to the female college student, but his handling of the story is growing worse by the hour, so whatever the hell did happen, something seems fishy.

The media sharks will continue to circle now.

If Weiner did do something here, we'll know soon enough what happened.

Just ask former Congressman Chris Lee about how well hiding this stuff works.

However this all plays out, I would knock Weiner down a few pegs in the 2013 NYC mayoral prognostications.

That CNN interview won't play so well in commercials.

A Dark Day Indeed

See here.

The firings commence next year.

So what if the teacher who started the year at the top of the value-added rankings saw her students test scores drop 5/100 of a percentage point, finished the year at the bottom 6th percentile of all teachers and is slated to be fired for being a "bad teacher"?

This is science, after all.

Carefully devised metrics meant to improve educational outcomes for students by pointing out the bad teachers and allowing the state to eliminate them from the workforce.

Uh, huh.

Tell that to the teacher ranked bottom 6th percentile because her students' test scores dropped 5/100 of a percentage point.

The Bad Old Days

Lots of high profile murders and violence in NYC this past week had me feeling like it was New York circa 1989.

The Daily News noticed too:

A recent spate of murders in the city combined with a shrinking police force has some officials and residents fearing bloody months ahead.

And the summer hasn't even started yet.

"I think it's only going to get worse with more violence and shootings," said Alyssa Bryan of Brownsville, Brooklyn. "I have a bad feeling about it. Look at what happened already."

Eight people were shot to death across the city between 12:01 a.m. Friday and Monday night, including a mom in the Bronx and a father of two in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has warned for some time that the reduction in the number of officers - from 41,000 in 2001 to 35,400 this year - would eventually have an impact on crime.

That warning stands a good chance of coming true beginning in July, when a Police Academy class typically hits the street, according to City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens). Budget cuts forced the postponement of the class.

"We're not going to have new police officers the rest of the year," said Vallone, who heads the City Council's Public Safety Committee. "Right now, it's clear to the population we do not have the beat cops and bike cops we used to have. And if it's clear to the population, it's clear to the bad guys, as well."

But Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the NYPD's top spokesman, said the spate of murders over the weekend is likely an aberration.

"We see crime peaks and valleys throughout the year that tend to flatten over time," he said.

Police records show murders were down 1% through Sunday, according to the latest NYPD data available. Police reported a much sharper decline through Feb. 23 - a drop of 25%. That means the number of murders have risen at an alarming rate in March, April and May compared with the same period last year.

Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the NYPD's shrinking patrol force is worrisome. "We have no reason to believe there can't be slippage back to the bad old days," he said.

What people don't seem to understand is that we don't have money for cops - we only have money for tax cuts for hedge fund managers and money to hire outside consultants and money for data tracking systems.

Geez, what does Bloomberg have to do to get you guys to understand what's what?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Surfin' Bird

More Summer Music

Nice Start To Summer

Sure, school's still in session in NYC and if you send your child to a Mistress Eva charter, school is ALWAYS in session (except for mornings off to rally against traditional public schools), but today really feels like the first day of summer.

So let's catch a wave and sit on top of the world:

Teacher Bashing Never Takes A Holiday

Both the Post and the News have stories about ten teachers who were found guilty of telling ethnic jokes or making sexual suggestions to other teachers.

10 teachers out of 75,000.

Oh my, what a scandal!

How dare the teaching profession have ten members who say stupid things, are too ignorant to know "Yo Mama" jokes should not be told in the classroom (or anywhere, for that matter), or too stupid to know that a teacher suggesting to his fellow teachers that they should all have group sex constitutes sexual harassment!

I mean, can you imagine anybody of importance saying something stupid like this in this city and still maintaining their job at the end?

Oh, wait - didn't the mayor tell Irish jokes to people earlier this year?

And didn't people find those offensive?

Didn't the mayor also point at a pregnant employee of Bloomberg LP's belly and tell her that she should "kill it" if she wanted to continue working for Bloomberg?

And didn't Bloomberg call New York City parents who oppose his school policies too ignorant to know what's good for them, a comment some people thought was racist?

How dare a member of the political class say stupid things like this!

And if he were a teacher, the tabloids would really say something nasty about him for these comments and call for him to be fired.

It seems teachers are held to higher standards than New York City mayors.

I don't mind that teachers are held to high standards.

I don't think teachers should make any comments that could be construed as sexual harassment, should make ethnic jokes, or say things that about anybody's background, religion, economic status, neighborhood, family, etc.

I don't think the mayor should either.

What bothers me is when teachers are held to a higher standard than mayors.

Gil Scott Heron Dies


NEW YORK (AP) — The author of the song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" — which helped pioneer sounds that would fuse to become rap — has died in New York City. Musician Gil Scott-Heron was 62.

A friend who answered the telephone listed for his Manhattan recording company confirms he died Friday afternoon at a hospital. Doris C. Nolan says he died after becoming sick upon returning from a European trip.

Scott-Heron recorded "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" in the 1970s in Harlem.

He mixed minimalistic percussion and spoken-word performances tinged with politics in a style he sometimes referred to as bluesology. He recorded more than a dozen albums and wrote a handful of books.

Winter In America:

Relevant as much now as when it was first written.

Rest in peace.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bloomberg: We Did A Heckuva Job With The CityTime Project

The Mayor of Accountability has given himself a thumbs up on the scandal-plagued CityTime project.

The project is years behind schedule, $700 million over budget, has seen six people (four of whom were consultants hired by the city) arrested for stealing $80 million in city dollars from the project, the project director himself arrested for taking $5 million in kickbacks to steer $450 million in contracts to firms doling out money to him, and the US attorney says more arrests in the case are forthcoming.

So how did Mayor Bloomberg react to the latest news about the project director being arrested for kickbacks, wire fraud and money laundering and more arrests to come?

He gave himself a pat on the back:

On his morning radio show, Mayor Bloomberg insisted that CityTime is now up and running, but admitted mistakes were made.

"The one thing here there's no excuse for is we didn't catch fraud, which we should have," he said. "But having said that, the project is done, it is working, it will stop fraud and it will be efficient."

From CK: Jonathan Lemire sent me some additional quotes from Bloomberg's radio appearance this morning. Following is a formal statement from the mayor's office.

  • “Could we have stopped it? I don’t know. If we look back, if we turned left instead of right, but we didn’t.”
  • "We actually did a pretty good job here, in retrospect."
  • "The FAA hasn't been able to get their new traffic control system and the IRS -- at the federal level some of these programs go on for decades, cost billions and billions of dollars and never come up with anything."

"We actually did a pretty good job, in retrospect"?

What the hell is he talking about?

Let me repeat:

$700 million over budget, years behind schedule, seven arrests so far and more to come, $80 million stolen, $5 million in kickbacks to steer $450 million in contracts and you have to wonder how much of that contributed to the $700 million over budgeting problem - and Bloomberg says he did a pretty good job, in retrospect?

Mayor Bloomberg, the Accountability Mayor, the man who loves to point the Royal Finger Of Accountability at everybody else, just cannot accept responsibility for this mess.

He needs to be called to account for this.

Especially since the arrests in this scandal and the widening DOE scandals seem to be coming every week now.

The Royal Finger of Accountability lands squarely on his chest for this.

CityTime Consultant Arrested For Kickbacks, Fraud And Money Laundering

The Bloomberg Consultant Scandals (and I think we can now label them such - there are enough of them) just keep coming and coming.

Another arrest was announced this morning:

A former consulting company executive was charged on Friday with receiving at least $5 million in illegal kickbacks in connection with his work as a project manager on the CityTime automated payroll project, people briefed on the matter said.

The consultant, Gerard Denault, a former executive of Science Applications International Corporation, was also charged with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering in an indictment unsealed in United States District Court in Manhattan.

Mr. Denault was arrested in Danbury, Conn., on Thursday, and he is expected to be presented in federal court in Manhattan on Friday.
He was charged as a result of an ongoing investigation by the city’s Department of Investigation and the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.

“It is deeply disturbing that while he was hired to help cut costs and save money, in reality, Gerard Denault was allegedly ripping city taxpayers off to to pad his own pockets,” said Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

Mr. Denault’s lawyer, Barry A. Bohrer, did not immediately return a phone message or an e-mail on Friday morning.

On Wednesday, Science Applications International said it had fired Mr. Denault for misrepresenting the number of hours he had worked and promised to return to the city $2.4 million, the amount the company had billed for Mr. Denault.

The complaint filed in federal court said that for much of the last decade, the Bloomberg administration has been developing the project, meant to modernize the payroll system for city employees, and working to implement it.

Originally budgeted for $63 million, the CityTime project costs have ballooned to roughly $700 million, with additional expenditures still expected to complete the program.

Mr. Denault’s arrest brings to seven the number of people who have been charged by prosecutors in the CityTime case. One of those charged pleaded guilty in February is cooperating with investigators.

Mr. Bahara said that the investigation was continuing and that “there are more individuals yet to be held accountable.

There are more individuals yet to be held accountable in this mess?

Great - how about Bloomberg?

He is the financial and managerial genius who has overseen this mess.

Accountable Talk points out that Denault was charged with steering $450 million in city money to various subcontractors who paid him at least $5 million in kickbacks for the contracts.

Think about that dollar number for a minute - $450 million.

The mayor is going to lay off 4,278 teachers to save $300 million.

Denault steered $450 million in city money to subcontractors in a project that went $700 million overbudget in order to receive $5 million in kickbacks.

That's an awful lot of money that could have been used to pay teachers and lower class sizes that was doled out by a guy Bloomberg hired who just got arrested for taking kickbacks on city contracts.

When the mayor trots out the layoff card again in a couple of weeks, he must be called to account for this scandal. $700 million over budget, $80 million stolen by four consultants involved in the project, another $5 million in kickbacks taken by another consultant involved in the project and the investigation is still ongoing and the US attorney says more people will be held accountable for this.

So far, one person has managed to skirt accountability for this mess, and that is the Accountability Mayor himself, Bloomberg.

But no longer.

There have been too many consultant scandals, too much money stolen, too many people arrested - both consultants hired by the city and city employees who were supposed to be conducting oversight of these consultants - for Bloomberg to avoid scrutiny and accountability.

And keep in mind - this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The US attorney says more arrests are coming in the CityTime scandal, the Judith Hederman case at the DOE looks like it is going to widen and culminate in some arrests, Comptroller John Liu is investing many other city contracts, especially contracts handed out by the DOE, that look fishy (including anything involving two vendors, IBM and Verizon, who helped another DOE consultant, Willard Lanham, hide $3.6 million in stolen city money.)

The Bloomberg Consultant Scandals are just growing and growing.

Ed Koch had Donald Manes and Mario Biagi and Stanley Friedman and the Parking Bureau scandal to deal with in his third term.

Bloomberg is going to have to deal with the fallout from the Bloomberg Consultant Scandals.

And the amount of money that has disappeared in criminal activity during the Bloomberg years is adding up and making the money stolen in the Koch scandals of the 80's look like peanuts.

So have it, Mr. Mayor. Tell us how fiscally prudent you must be by laying off 4,278 teachers so you can save $300 million in teacher salaries.

Then we can ask you, point blank and on camera, how have you allowed all this money to be stolen by city consultants on your watch and how have you allowed all these city employees at the DOE and elsewhere to engage in so much criminal activity.

I mean, you are the Accountability Mayor, after all.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bloomberg Fights FOIL Request For Chancellor Search Emails

A journalist cannot get Mayor Bloomberg's office to provide him with any emails the mayor's office either sent or received related to the alleged search that was done to find a replacement for Joel Klein as chancellor late last year before Bloomberg ultimately gave the job to Cathie Black

That journalist is now suing to get those emails:

Today, I am suing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Last year, Bloomberg baffled New Yorkers when he appointed publishing executive Cathie Black to be the city's next schools chancellor. Black was an unpopular choice, and for months, responses to her appointment ran the gamut of ridicule, confusion, and outrage.

Black's tenure came to an abrupt end in April, when the mayor asked her to step down from the post after just three months on the job. New Yorkers who opposed her appointment were vindicated, but the question remained: What led the mayor to make such a choice?

When he first appointed Black, Bloomberg insisted he'd cast a wide net to find the right fit. "I did have a public search, and I picked the best person," he said.

But critics responded with skepticism, and the New York Times' City Room blog added a healthy dose of snark when it begged anyone who was considered for the job, or even merely heard about it, to come forward.

No one did.

At the time, I was reporting for Runnin' Scared, and in November, I filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the mayor's office to ferret out more details about the "public search" that resulted in Black's appointment. I figured the modern conveniences of e-mail meant there was a decent chance I would find a digital trail leading to Black's nomination.

So on November 19, I asked City Hall for any e-mails between the mayor's office and Black (who, at the time, was still employed at Hearst Magazines). E-mails by city officials are, after all, presumptively public records under New York's FOIL.

The mayor's office dragged its feet (which is not particularly unusual in the case of public records requests, although a spokesman told me for a separate storythat Bloomberg's office received only 38 FOIL requests last year. I guess New York City doesn't have enough lawyers or something). On January 13, a city lawyer wrote that he was denying my request.

The e-mails, he argued, were privileged, internal documents and releasing them would violate someone's (although nobody said whose) privacy. Bullshit.

I appealed the decision, and was blocked again.

By then, I'd left the Village Voice for a reporting stint with the investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica and dropped the story until late February, when a friend of mine referred my case to the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School. In March, one of the clinic's students wrote me back, and we began working together to draft today's petition.

The case is being handled by Elizabeth Wolstein, a partner at Schlam Stone & Dolan and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who used to supervise appellate litigation for the United States in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The petition will be filed in Manhattan Supreme Court later this afternoon, after which the city will have 20 days to respond.

We'll keep you posted.

Now if the FOIL requests were for Teacher Data Reports that use a flawed value-added methodology and have a margin of error in the scores of anywhere from 12%-36%, the mayor would try and have that request out faster than he can turn a New York avenue into a pedestrian plaza.

You see, those he has no trouble making public.

But FOIL requests about his alleged search to fill the chancellor position that ultimately went to Cathie Black?

Oh, no - that he'll fight with all the tools at his disposal.

Another Scandal Involving CityTime

More CityTime fun:

The Bloomberg administration demoted a high-ranking agency official on Wednesday after she admitted falsifying time sheets and collecting more than $22,000 that she had not earned.

The official, Karen Shaffer, an assistant commissioner of the Department for the Aging, was not only demoted and fined, but will also now have to use a scanner to prove that she is showing up at work. An agency spokesman said she was not fired, for reasons that were not clear.

Ms. Shaffer acknowledged in a signed statement to the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board that between March 2009 and August 2010 she was paid for 290 hours of work that she did not perform. She said she did so by manually entering false information into the CityTime automated payroll system.

Ms. Shaffer was fined $1,000, but did not have to repay the $22,000 in unearned salary. She was demoted to a job in the Department of Homeless Services, at a salary of roughly $112,000 — 20 percent less than the $140,000 she earned as an assistant commissioner. She also agreed to use the hand scanner, a time-tracking device that is ordinarily used for rank-and-file employees but not senior officials.


Ms. Shaffer’s case, while unusual, adds an unflattering, if indirect, footnote to the history of CityTime, a project to automate the city’s payroll system that has been plagued by ballooning costs and sullied by subcontractors accused by federal prosecutors of hatching an $80 million corruption scheme. City unions have long complained that the CityTime system gives managers too much latitude by allowing them to enter their own time sheets.

The hard-nosed business mayor with a record of holding people accountable doesn't seem to be able to hold any of the contractors or managers working for him very accountable these days.

The scandals keep coming.

The money keeps disappearing.

Can't wait to hear what happens to the $550 million Bloomberg plans to spend on technology upgrades to schools next school year.

Will even half of it actually go to what it is supposed to go to?

Bloomberg To Increase Class Size For Special Education Students

More Bloomberg budget outrages:

The city plans to save money by increasing class sizes for special education kids, outraging parents and educators who say students will suffer under the new system.

Education officials quietly voted last week to reduce funding and increase class sizes by about 20% for many special education kids in city schools starting next year.

Teachers and parents say the new rules could mean less effective instruction for about 175,000 special education students in city schools.


Under the modified funding formula, high schools will receive enough money for special education classes with 15 students, up from 12. In younger grades, the number of special education students taught alongside mainstream peers will increase from 10 to 12.

The larger class sizes will "decrease the system-wide cost by reducing the need for additional classes," according to a Department of Education memo.

An agency spokeswoman said some schools already have special education class with a larger number of students.

"The changes to the funding weights reflect an alignment with the instructional models we know many schools are already using as well as the state guidelines on special education class sizes," said education department spokeswoman Barbara Morgan.

But special education teachers said that larger class sizes will make instruction difficult for kids with disabilities like autism, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.

"The key to reaching these kids is individualized attention," said Becky Alford, a special education teacher at Public School 32 in Park Slope. "With more kids in your class, you can't possibly give them as much attention."
Principals said the change in the funding formula amounts to a significant cut to budgets for their special education programs, and students with disabilities will bear the consequences.

"It's a huge loss. Our students are going to suffer because of it," said one Brooklyn principal who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Well, there's just nothing that can be done about this because we must increase technology spending by $550 million next year so that children can take standardized tests every six weeks and teachers can be held accountable for the scores on those tests.

That's why Bloomberg is cutting the special education program spending.

That's why he's cutting teachers too through attrition and layoffs.

The mayor has decided that NOTHING is more important than the new testing apparatus they plan to roll out in the next few years and they need the technology infrastructure to pull it off.

So there you have it - computers and computer consultants and tests over children with special needs.

Bloomberg's legacy.

CityTime Scandal Grows Larger

More outrages in the CityTime scandal:

In another black eye for the Bloomberg administration, a contractor for the scandal-scarred CityTime electronic-payroll system yesterday admitted the project's manager ripped off the city by cheating on his own time sheet.

Officials at the contractor, Science Applications International Corp., said they will reimburse the city the $2.47 million that project manager Gerard Denault unfairly billed when he worked on the massive project to switch city employees to the system.

In a letter to the executive director of the city's Financial Information Services Agency -- which now oversees CityTime -- SAIC's senior vice president said it was impossible to determine how many hours Denault should have been paid for.

Instead, the company decided to reimburse the city for the entire amount he was paid during one phase of the project.

Virginia-based SAIC also fired Denault -- and, in an amusing twist, asked that his termination be kept confidential. Hours after receiving the news, City Comptroller John Liu held a press conference to announce it.

"By their own admission, this latest development now implicates for the first time in this scandal SAIC, the prime contractor," Liu said. "The very company entrusted by our city to build a timekeeping system for city employees has grossly mismanaged their own timekeeping.

"Obviously, New Yorkers can see a great deal of irony in this . . . The person in charge of developing a timekeeping system to keep track of New York City employees . . . bilked New York City taxpayers by not keeping [his] own time."

Liu's office said the city still owes SAIC a balance of $42 million for the $720 million CityTime project, and he asked that the final payments be held back until the Department of Investigation completes its review.

The comptroller -- a likely 2013 mayoral candidate who has latched onto the CityTime scandal as an opportunity to blast the mayor -- also said he believes "there are still large, outstanding questions, and the total amount that should be returned to the city is far larger than [$2.47 million.]"

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, disputed Liu's number, saying SAIC is owed $32 million.

"We will withhold any and all payments until the completion of the Department of Investigation's ongoing review, which includes a forensic accountant we added last year," LaVorgna said. "The project is essentially fully online and operational."

SAIC's contract for the project ends June 30, at which point the city will not need an outside contractor, LaVorgna said.

Federal prosecutors in December arrested six people for stealing $80 million in taxpayer funds from the CityTime project. A former city commissioner involved in the project, Joel Bondy of the Office of Payroll Administration, was forced to resign.

The guy in charge of the project to bring a timekeeping system to the city failed to keep accurate records of his own time on the job and overbilled the city for millions.

You can't make this stuff up.

And while Bloomberg is handing crooks like this money hand over fist (remember, this is one of the projects we KNOW is crooked - there are many others yet to be investigated and audited), he is increasing class sizes for special education students in order to save money.

Have you got this?

No money for small class sizes for special education students, plenty of money for outside contractors who bilk the city out of millions, plenty of money for tech spending and other Bloomberg boondoggles.

This is Bloomberg's legacy.

Stringer: Reform Tweed

The education reformers are in need of a little reform work themselves:

In wake of three high-profile contracting scandals, Manhattan Borough President (and potential 2013 mayoral hopeful) Scott Stringer is calling on the city Department of Education to institute reforms.

First up, the agency needs to halt all new non-essential contracts until further changes are made, he said at a press conference today. To prevent a repeat of the problems, he’s also calling for greater oversight from the city controller and the Panel for Educational Policy.

“This gravy train has got to stop,” he said. “New Yorkers are fed up with these abuses....Boss Tweed may have built the Tweed Courthouse as a monument to his corrupt ways, but that doesn’t mean the Department of Education should continue the tradition.”

There have been a string of scandals out of the city Department of Education this month:

-The special schools investigator announced Tuesday that consultants, along with former chief financial officer, George Raab, used DOE time to work on a new business venture.

-Earlier this month, DOE official Judith Hederman resigned after admitting to a personal relationship with a contractor now being investigated for corruption.

-Federal officials indicted another DOE consultant for bilking the department out of $3.6 million while buying expensive cars and Long Island properties.

The joke about all this corruption at the DOE (and remember, this is just what has been found SO FAR) is that the latest example comes in the same week that Chancellor Walcott went to Albany to try and get lawmakers to give him the ability to fire "bad teachers."

Hey, you want to fire some "bad" employees, Dennis?

Take a look at all the consultants on your payroll and the Tweedies doing oversight on them.

Judging by the number of scandals involving private consultants hired by the DOE and the Tweedies who are supposed to be overseeing them, looks like you'll find plenty of targets there.

As for Stringer's call for reform at Tweed, that sounds right to me.

But I'd add reform to mayoral control too.

When one little autocrat gets to make all the rules, you get the kind of system we have now - full of corruption, cronyism and insularity.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Harpo Speaks

Ever wonder what Harpo Marx sounded like?


Ever wonder what playing cards with Harpo and Chico would be like?


I wish Oprah was more like Harpo...

Oprah Has Left The Building

Unlike Johnny Carson, who walked away from The Tonight Show in 1992 and made just a handful of public appearances afterwards (see here and here for two memorable examples), Oprah won't be going anywhere for long.

Not with her OWN network to hawk and her seemingly insatiable need for attention and adoration (what Alessandra Stanley calls her "messianic streak.")

I suspect we will see almost as much of her in the future as we do now.

In that way, she's more like Ed McMahon than Johnny Carson.

Starsearch, anyone?


Life insurance?

Oprah Magazine?


What do you need?

It's all for sale.

All of it.

Oprah likes to play healer, prophet, political guru and The Christ all in one, but really, she was just another egocentric show biz personality with a ton of products to sell and a ready audience to buy them from her.

If you ask me, I prefer the way Carson walked away.

There was grandeur in it.

Thirty years on TV, then you never saw him again.


She may have left her show, but I saw her at the supermarket checkout line tonight on the cover of Oprah Magazine.

What The Gates/Obama Education Reforms Bring


More tests, an emphasis on STEM and "practical" skills that translate to a neo-feudal globalized economy where the only values that are privileged are the ones that matter to corporations.

Latin goes the way of the Roman.

Liberal arts and humanities will go the same way soon.

Who has a need for those things in a globalized economy.


And of course the beauty of the corporatocracy knocking off the liberal arts and humanities is that children will grow into adults who don't know what they're missing in their educations or their lives.

So much easier to manipulate and sell corporate crap to adults who have been educated to know little else but WORK, SHOP, OBEY.

God forbid they should come across a little Ovid or Tacitus.

More On The Latest DOE Consultant Scandal

Juan Gonzalez reports some more details in the latest DOE outside consultant scandal:

Another day, another outrageous consultant scandal at the Department of Education.

A group of consultants billed taxpayers for full-time, six-figure salaries while spending big chunks of their time devising - along with their school system boss - plans for a new business enterprise, Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon reported Tuesday.

The boss, George Raab, the DOE's chief financial officer at the time, "engaged in prohibited private business relationships" with the consultants, Condon said.

A former managing director at Bear Stearns, Raab was appointed to the $196,000-a-year school system post in October 2008 by then-Chancellor Joel Klein.

Once he arrived at the agency, Raab arranged for four former Bear Stearns colleagues to be hired as consultants, the report found.

Three of them immediately began using their DOE email accounts to prepare drafts of business plans with Raab for a new department Raab wanted to launch at a private investment firm, Guggenheim Securities LLC.

One of the consultants, William Howatt, received $374,000 for less than a year's work.

Howatt, a new age hypnotherapist, was supposed to boost productivity and morale among mid-level managers by "improving their ability to adapt to change," DOE officials claimed at the time.

Howatt appears to have done much of that morale-boosting remotely - from his home in Nova Scotia.

You can't make this stuff up.

Another consultant told Condon's investigators under oath she "did not have a set schedule at the DOE" and sometimes "worked from home."

A third was found to be billing the DOE even when he went out of the country on vacation.

Raab quit in September 2009, less than a year after Klein appointed him. He then went to work for Guggenheim and hired two of the DOE consultants at his new firm.

Raab did not respond to calls and emails for comment.

DOE brass only began to notice something was wrong after the Bear Stearns group had moved on.

"As soon as we discovered there was improper use of emails, we reported this matter to the Special Commissioner," DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said.

The bigger questions are: Where was Klein while this was happening, and why has financial oversight over private consultants virtually disappeared in the Bloomberg era?

The CityTime scandal, the Judith Hederman scandal, the Willard Lanham scandal, a 2005 scandal involving an outside consultant who stole $1.5 million while receiving improper pay increases approved by three top DOE officials who later resigned - the list is adding up.

Now Bloomberg plans to spend $550 million on tech upgrades to the school system, most of which will be paid to outside consultants and companies that receive no-bid contracts even as he says he has to lay off 4,278 teachers to save $300 million.

How is he getting away with all of this?

Despite these recurring problems, the DOE's discretionary spending on consultants has increased by 331% since 2004, notes Manhattan Borough Scott Stringer.

"It's time we stop this black hole of consultant spending until we have a complete overhaul of the process and better oversight," Stringer said.

Bloomberg wants teachers to be accountable, but apparently not consultants.

And you can add Bloomberg himself, as well as Klein, to the list of non-accountability.

It IS time to stop him.

Queens City Councilmember Attacks Bloomberg's Testing Plans

Pressure is starting to mount against Bloomberg's plan to add a new battery of standardized tests that will not count for students, just for teachers.

Yesterday a City Councilman from Queens hammered Bloomberg's plan:

In light of today’s A1 New York Times story about the Bloomberg administration’s plans to administer a dozen new standardized tests in order to evaluate not students, but teachers, Queens City Councilmember Mark Weprin is out with a statement blasting the mayor and the Department of Education.

“These tests will do nothing to improve education in our public schools and will only continue to sap time and resources that should be going toward helping our children learn,” Weprin said. ”Enough is enough. It is time for parents to rise up and give the DOE a wake-up call. Stop the insane obsession with testing.”

Weprin noted that the city planned to use $64 million it received in federal Race to the Top money in order to pay for the increased testing regimen during a time when schools are losing arts, music and phys ed classes, especially since the money is going not toward students, but towards teachers.

“At a time when DOE is planning to lay off teachers, choosing to spend sixty-four million dollars on additional standardized tests is truly an outrage,” said Council Member Mark Weprin. “In short, the children are being used.”

Weprin, it should be noted, is not a particular fervent critic of the mayor, but has often disagreed with his reliance on high-stakes tests.

I agree this is an outrage - whether the system is facing a budget shortfall or not, adding a dozen new standardized high stakes tests for children to take so that their teachers can be evaluated with the scores is a really, really bad idea.

But this has ALWAYS been the plan - at Tweed, at the NYSED, at the USDOE, and certainly at the Gates and Broad Foundation, where most of the funding for this garbage is coming from.

Perhaps we need a new rule for politics - politicians don't get to make rules and regulations about public education when they send their kids to the Sidwell Friends School or some other elite private school.

You can be sure parent Obama would NEVER allow his girls to receive an education at a school where they took a dozen or more standardized tests a year so that their teachers could be evaluated by the results.

You can bet parent Obama would NEVER allow his girls to attend a school where teachers were forced to engage in nothing but test prep and test administration.

Same goes for Duncan, Klein, Bloomberg, Gates, et al.

But this IS the plan they are pushing on everybody else.

It IS time to stop them.

It starts by putting an end to the city plan to add a dozen tests to the school year in addition to the new state tests that will be introduced those same years.

Then it continues by ending mayoral control so that one man, one autocratic despot, cannot push his agenda on everybody else and there is nothing anybody can do about it.

And then it continues by changing the laws in Albany so that teacher evaluations are NOT tied to test scores (and especially not tied to a measurement system with a 12%-36% MOE.)

Hard work, this. Perhaps we will not be successful at it. But students and parents and teachers and politicians with actual children in actual public schools seem to be overwhlemingly in favor of ending many of the most damaging ed deforms.

Especially this test mania.

Or as Weprin called it, this insane obsession with testing.

Clueless Mayor

It seems the mayor cannot help but say something insensitive these days:

“We all buy our coffee at the same Starbucks.”

– Mayor Bloomberg, speaking to graduates of LaGuardia Community College’s small business program, on the diversity of New York City.

Uh, huh - except for the homeless woman who huddles in a corner of a building near the Starbucks by my job.

She doesn't buy anything at Starbucks, though I think she might use their bathroom for hygiene purposes.

I guess that's sort of like a shared experience with Bloomberg and the members of the LaGuardia Community College small business program.

Sort of.

Overwhelmingly Negative

That is the reaction by 168 people who left comments at the Times story about the city's new battery of standardized tests they plan to roll out to evaluate not students, just teachers.

There were many good comments left by people that really pointed out the unfairness of this system, the absurdity of spending all this money on tests when the budgets have been cut to the bone, the craziness of the people in charge who say that adding fifteen high stakes tests a year for teachers will somehow make students learn more when there are so many other factors involved in student learning.

I think this comment, however, might be my favorite:

As a parent of two children in the NYC school system I find this mania for testing both infuriating and profoundly depressing. The reality of the situation is that teachers will increasingly teach their students how to take tests. Especially when their own future rests on the test results.
But the tests themselves are not indicators of what children are learning - they don't measure a 3rd graders love of reading or a skilled teacher's ability to focus a restless pre-adolescent boy. Nor are they measures of a real ability to teach.
The tests are simply irrelevant to what a student is learning.
But they are (sadly) relevant to a bureaucratic system that is increasingly out of touch with the needs of students, parents and educators.

Whatever is not quantifiable in the test will no longer be valued in schools.

That will be the outcome of the new test system.

Let me remind you that this is the system brought to us first by the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition, then by the ed deform movement and the newspaper editorialists and publishers who pushed the legislature to pass this so that the state could "win" $700 million from Obama (though ironically the new evaluation system is going to cost more to develop and implement than that), then by Cuomo and the ed deform shills at the Regents, and finally by Bloomberg and all the Broad and Gates Foundation people he's hired at the DOE.

A handful of rich people or people on the payroll of rich people are going to affect the lives of millions of students and the reputations and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of teachers.

And as the public is getting a glimpse of how the new high stakes testing evaluation system for teachers is going to look, they don't seem to like it at all, at least judging by the comments at this story.

Get ready for Gates and Bloomberg to either openly or covertly roll out a media campaign to promote this system and to tar any opponents to it as defenders of the status quo, people who put the interests of adults over kids, etc.

We'll see if they win that battle.

Bloomberg didn't fare so well the last time he tried a media campaign to sway people.

And people can see the insanity of this system for themselves.

Maybe, just maybe, Bloomberg's overreach will come back to bite him on this.

We'll see.

Remember too, that he is coming to the second part of his last term.

With lame duck status all over him, his popularity really low, and the popularity of his education policies even lower, he can be beaten on this.

Another DOE Scandal Involving Outside Consultants

How many more of those scandals can go on before somebody takes the keys for the DOE car from a clearly drunken and oblivious Mayor Bloomberg?

A former Department of Education chief financial officer inappropriately lined himself up for his next job in the private sector while he was still at the DOE, and he was aided by consultants who were supposed to be working on DOE business, according to the special commissioner of investigation, Richard Condon.

George Raab, who was CFO until September of 2009, "had an inappropriate financial relationship with three consultants" to the DOE, Mr. Condon said in a report released Tuesday. Mr. Raab and the consultants worked on setting up a department at Guggenheim Securities LLC, Mr. Condon said, and Mr. Raab joined Guggenheim immediately after resigning from the DOE.

In addition, Mr. Condon said Mr. Raab sent and received e-mails using his DOE address concerning personal residential real-estate investments.

Mr. Condon recommended that Mr. Raab and the consultants be made ineligible for future employment with the DOE. A spokeswoman for the DOE, Marge Feinberg, said that "as soon as we discovered there was improper use of emails, we reported this matter to the special commissioner. We agree with his recommendation that these individuals should be made ineligible to work" for the DOE.

The special commissioner's report details a series of e-mails sent between Mr. Raab and the consultants regarding the set-up of the Guggenheim business. Some of the consultants' emails were sent during times that the consultants had submitted work sheets that indicated they were working for the DOE.

The DOE's use of outside consultants has been coming under increased scrutiny, with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer saying the agency should "put the brakes" on their increasing use.

"This is just another example of run-away consultant spending at the Department of Education, which for years has failed to impose even minimum standards of oversight and accountability when it comes to outside contracts," Mr. Stringer said in a statement. He added that the allegations are particularly troubling given that the city is set to eliminate about 6,000 teacher jobs. Spending on "non-mandatory consultants" has more than tripled since 2004, Mr. Singer's statement said.

Now it would be nice to see Condon look into just how it is that Rupert Murdoch bought Wireless Generation a couple of weeks after Chancellor Klein joined News Corp.

Klein of course signed a contract with Wireless Generation for a few million when he was chancellor.

That contract is up for renewal this month.

Klein, the man who signed that contract, now works for the same umbrella company that owns Wireless Generation.

I guess as Orwell observed, some conflicts of interest are more conflicted than others.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mulgrew and Bloomberg and Repeal of Mayoral Control

Read down into the story - apparently Mulgrew and the UFT aren't convinced after 10 years of autocratic Bloombergian rule that mayoral control should go:

Mulgrew accuses Bloomberg of sitting on a $3 billion surplus that could be used to prevent teacher layoffs. The mayor's aides blast the union for failing to lobby state legislators in Albany, whom they blame for shortchanging the city on education funding. The two rarely appear together at public events any more. And the Cathie Black debacle did nothing to raise Bloomberg's stock in the eyes of teachers.

Things have gotten so bad between Bloomberg and the teachers that Mulgrew said he was starting to rethink his position on mayoral control, a policy the union once endorsed.

"This is something we're questioning, because wherever I go, when I'm outside of meetings with teachers, when I'm meeting with parents and the community, I'm constantly being called on," Mulgrew said. "They're asking, 'Why aren't you calling for the repeal of mayoral control?' That's something I'm getting more and more of."

I take back what I said in this post.

Mayoral control goes unchanged if Mulgrew doesn't have the guts (or is too corrupt) to call for the repeal.

After hundreds of school closures, the LIFO battle, the mayor's insistence on layoffs even as he increases tech spending in the DOE by $550 million, the mayor's plan to add fifteen standardized tests in high school (2 city, 1 state test per subject x five subjects = 15 tests), the DOE insistence on publishing the TDR reports in the media (and breaking a promise not to in the bargain) even though they're rife with errors - seriously, how much more evidence does Mulgrew need to see that mayoral control needs to go?

More About The New City Tests

The writer of this morning's Times piece about the new battery of city tests the Mayor and his ed deform braintrust plan to add to the city school system in order to evaluate teachers adds a little more to the story:

Officials at the New York City Department of Education provided some more information on Tuesday about the potential cost of the up to 16 new tests they are developing to grade teachers.

Instead of spending up to 25 percent of its $256 million in Race to the Top grant winnings to develop the new tests, the city will spend at most $25.6 million, 10 percent, on the tests, officials said on Tuesday. They will spend another $38 million on other aspects of the development of the new principal and teacher evaluation system.

And as a debate over the merits of the tests takes place on our Web site, we also wanted to offer some more information to fuel the discussion. For example, while the tests will count for up to 20 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation, schools will be able to decide how much the tests count for the children who take them. That means the exams may carry the same weight, for example, as a regular classroom assignment, or a unit test, or not at all.

Daniel Koretz, a Harvard University testing expert whose analysis of the state standardized tests in English and math helped lead New York to acknowledge that scores had become inflated through test preparation, has expressed concern about the proposed design of the city’s new tests, because, he says, they are trying to do many things at once. The city wants to use the new tests both to transform and improve instruction and hold the teachers accountable for their students’ performance.

But Jennifer L. Jennings, an assistant professor of sociology at New York University who also studies tests, also raised another issue last week about the proposed design of the exams that we did not get to explore. She expressed concern that giving the test in two parts and judging the teacher on how much improvement is made could influence teacher and principal behavior in an unusual way. “You have a huge incentive to have your kids underperform on the first test,” she said, “and then maximize performance on the second test.”

Some readers have expressed concern that the students in a class might purposely do poorly on a test to punish a teacher they did not like. That concern was shared by Diane Ravitch, an education historian critical of high-stakes standardized testing, who feels such tests “give the students the power to fire their teachers.”

So here are some questions to ponder:

  • What other consequences, unintended or otherwise, do you think the tests could have?
  • Does their lower cost projection affect your opinion?
  • Could they make a positive addition to instruction, by pushing teachers to focus on writing and other higher-order skills?
  • If you were a principal or teacher, how much would you recommend the tests count for students?

You can leave a comment at the end of the post - so far, most of the comments I read to both this morning's story and this one are negative toward the city's plans.

If Bloomberg gets away with this (and remember, the UFT has the ability to make sure he doesn't by refusing to okay the tests), you can be pretty sure that the teachers who remain in the system will be forced to teach to both the state and city tests and nothing else.

You can be sure that students with behavioral problems will be bounced around like pinballs because no teacher in her/his right mind is going to want to have to deal with behavioral issues if they have even one iota of an effect on other students in a class.

You can be sure that the evaluation system will be rife with mistakes and excellent teachers will be labeled "ineffective" and fired, after they are publicly humiliated in the newspapers and the media.

Remember that the UFT is currently litigating the right of the DOE to release the TDR's to the media for widespread dispersal. The UFT has already lost the first case, is appealing, but could lose that case on appeal.

If so, teacher evaluations will be in the newspapers every year, even though the value-added measurements used to grade teachers are rife with error.

This is a mess, for sure, and while Bloomberg and Klein and the rest of the ed deform proponents of this testing claim it will improve education and hold teachers accountable, it is not meant to do any such thing.

It is meant to destroy the public education system as currently constituted - to force schools to spend millions on test prep and test prep materials, to give districts the tools to fire as many expensive vets as possible and clean the system out of anybody with any seniority whatsoever.

The 25/55 agreement of a few years ago changed how long it takes teachers to get vested into a pension. It's now 10 years.

You can be sure that the city and state politicians want to fire as many vets as possible, replace them with newbies or computer programs, then fire those newbies before they make it to ten years (and a pension.)

The new system allows that to happen, as tenure no longer means anything under the new evaluation rules.

Get declared "ineffective" two years running and you're gone. And you just have to be declared ineffective on 40% of the evaluation to be declared "ineffective" overall.

If the value-added measurements - so complex that even the city admits they have a 25% margin of error - show that you have not "added value" to your students test scores, you're gone whether you have tenure or not.

This is EXACTLY what Cuomo, Bloomberg and the Regents were cooking up over the past few weeks, aided by the Obama administration last year and its Race to the Top Social Darwinist jive.

So now we have the logical extension of the city tests - the tests will only count for teachers, not for students, unless schools declare that they count for students.

In addition, the state is adding tests as well to the year, so a typical high school student could be subjected to fifteen high stakes tests a year or more, depending upon how many classes he/she is taking.

But the stakes are not truly high for the student, they're only high for the teachers who teach him/her.

This is absurd on the face of it, but so far, Bloomberg, Cuomo, Obama and the other proponents of these reforms are getting away with it.

We'll see how this plays out. Bloomberg is gone in 2 and a half years. Mayoral control will be changed next time the law is up for renewal. It is still possible to change the trajectory of this standardized test rocket ship.

But right now, we're headed straight for a system that no one in their right mind would want to either teach in or send their kids to.

As one commenter at the Times said:

As a Brooklyn middle school parent I am seriously considering our family's options. Despite assurances from NYC Education Department "leaders" that teachers won't teach to the test, this new evaluation will ensure it. If a teacher knew that my child's score might affect her salary, his tenure, their future, they will junk traditional methods and make sure our kids know what they'll be tested on and practice, practice, practice. Shame on our schools for not providing a strong, rounded, vigorous curriculum at every school, regardless of privilege or neighborhood. You will let the country know that you put our kids future at stake so you could play the stupid test game.


All Testing All The Time

All standardized test taking all the time - you give us 185 schools days, we'll give you 8 standardized city tests for high school students and another batch of state standardized tests.

That's the new testing battery put in place in order to pull off the new plan to evaluate teachers:

New York City education officials are developing more than a dozen new standardized tests, but in a sign of the times, their main purpose will be to grade teachers, not the students who take them.

Elementary school students would most likely take at least one or two additional tests every year, beginning in the third grade. High school students could take up to eight additional tests a year, and middle school students would also have extra tests. These would be in addition to the state English, math and Regents exams that students already take.

The exams, which would begin rolling out as early as next academic year, are being created as part of a statewide overhaul of how teachers are evaluated. Under a law passed last year that helped the state win $700 million in a federal grant competition, known as Race to the Top, each school district must find a way to evaluate teachers on a scale from “ineffective” to “highly effective,” with teachers facing potential firing if they are rated ineffective for two years in a row.

Under the law, 40 percent of a teacher’s grade will be based on standardized tests or other “rigorous, comparable” measures of student performance. Half of that should be based on state tests, and half on measures selected by local districts. The remaining 60 percent is to be based on more subjective measures, including principal observations.


But New York City, which has made standardized tests a centerpiece of its school reform efforts, is pushing ahead. The city schools system is planning to use up to one-quarter of its $256 million share of the federal grant money for as many as 16 new standardized exams to cover science, math, social studies and English in the 3rd through 12th grades.

$256 million for test development, no money for teachers.

The test proponents say this will improve public education by showing us exactly, with scientific logic, who the "bad teachers" are.

And then we can fire them.

But only after humiliating them in public first as "bad teachers."

A fool-proof plan.

Except when the value-added measurements are wrong.

Which, given the margins of error in these things, is often.

Oh, yeah - this is going to end well.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cuomo, Bloomberg Work Together On Pension Overhaul

I guess the new normal in New York State will be to have a new pension tier every two years.:

The retirement age for city workers would be jacked up to 65 and new hires would be forced to pay more for their pension plans under sweeping reforms backed by Gov. Cuomo.

Signaling a thaw after their brutal budget brawl, Cuomo is "working with Mayor Bloomberg so that when we do pension reform, it covers the entire state," a Cuomo administration source told the Daily News on Sunday.

Bloomberg has agreed to modify a proposal for new hires he put out in February to conform with the governor's so-called Tier 6 plan, a second Cuomo source said..

Until now, there was some question as to whether the Albany reforms would extend to the city's powerful municipal unions - the Tier 5 changes in 2009 exempted city workers.

The governor wants the Legislature to agree to set a retirement age of 65 for new hires, end early retirement and take overtime out of the pension calculation to prevent what's known as "padding" or "spiking."

He also wants union workers to contribute twice as much to their retirement.

The city, along with other municipalities, has long complained that funding pensions for retirees is a crushing taxpayer burden that can't be sustained as is.

While changing the system for future hires won't address the current issue, proponents say it's crucial in the long term.

"Gov. Cuomo said our taxes are way too high. New York is becoming less and less affordable," the first Capitol source said. "We need to make the state affordable again. ... That's what pension Tier 6 is - it's just another tool."

The unions responded:

Bloomberg's February proposal, seen by some in the labor community as more aggressive than the governor's program, enraged union leaders such as Harry Nespoli of the Municipal Labor Committee.

"The mayor just set back labor relations 40 years," Nespoli said at the time. "We're fed up with this. [He's] going to have a battle. We're not just going to roll over."

Denis Hughes, head of the state AFL-CIO and monitor of the city's Central Labor Council, which is in the process of seeking a new leader to replace former boss Jack Ahern, says neither the Cuomo nor Bloomberg plan is necessary because the economy is on the mend.

"There's really no need for either of these plans, because [the] return on investments in both the state and the city plans have resulted in a decrease in the contribution [governments] have to make to maintain these pension plans," Hughes said.

"The diminishment of the economic security of working men and women is not necessary," Hughes said.

I have yet to see the unions not roll over in the end in the battle against the oligarchs.

We'll see if they actually fight this or just, you know, roll over.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is This The System We Want To Emulate?

President Obama likes to point to South Korea as one of the countries we should emulate when it comes to education policy.

Here is the NY Times tonight on one disturbing trend in South Korea education - suicide:

DAEJEON, South Korea — It has been a sad and gruesome semester at South Korea’s most prestigious university, and with final exams beginning Monday the school is still reeling from the recent suicides of four students and a popular professor.

Academic pressures can be ferocious at the university, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, formally known as Kaist, and anxious school psychologists have expanded their counseling services since the suicides. The school president also rescinded a controversial policy that humiliated many students by charging them extra tuition if their grades dipped.

After the last of the student deaths, on April 7, the Kaist student council issued an impassioned statement that said “a purple gust of wind” had blown through campus.

“Day after day we are cornered into an unrelenting competition that smothers and suffocates us,” the council said. “We couldn’t even spare 30 minutes for our troubled classmates because of all our homework.

“We no longer have the ability to laugh freely.”

And just in case you think the unhappiness is isolated to just one university campus, here is more from the Times:

Young people in South Korea are a chronically unhappy group. A recent survey found them to be — for the third year in a row — the unhappiest subset among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Education Ministry in Seoul said 146 students committed suicide last year, including 53 in junior high and 3 in elementary school.

South Korea as a whole ranks first among O.E.C.D. nations in suicide and is routinely among the leaders in developed nations. Subway stations in Seoul have barriers to prevent people from jumping in front of arriving trains, and eight bridges in the capital have installed closed-circuit suicide-watch cameras.

Suicides of singers, models, beloved actors, athletes, millionaire heiresses and other prominent figures have become almost routine in South Korea. A former president, Roh Moo-hyun, threw himself off a cliff in 2009 after losing face with his countrymen.

But the suicides of the four Kaist undergraduates — three jumped to their deaths and a 19-year-old freshman overdosed on pills — have stunned the nation in a profound and poignant way. (The professor, a biologist who was reportedly being audited for the misuse of research funds, hanged himself on April 10.)

The competition for a place in a leading university begins in middle school for most South Korean students. More than 80 percent of Korean young people go to college, and parents here spend more money per child on extra classes and outside tutoring — including military-style “cram schools” — than any other country in the O.E.C.D.

The pressure builds to a single day in November, when a national college entrance exam is held. Some mothers pray at churches or temples throughout the day as their children take the test, which is given only once a year and lasts nine hours. The South Korean Air Force even adjusts its flight schedule so as not to disturb the test takers.

The ultimate goal for most students is acceptance at one of the so-called SKY schools — Seoul National, Korea or Yonsei universities. In South Korea’s status-conscious society, a degree from a SKY school is nearly a guarantee of a big career and lifelong prosperity. Pedigree is everything.

Oh, yeah - that sounds like a country we ought to emulate when it comes to education policy and competition.

Oh, wait - that is exactly what our education reformers and policy makers want to do.

Everything comes down to the test.

Nothing else matters.

Score high on the test or be considered a "failure".

Add "value" to your students test scores or be publicly humiliated in the newspapers as a "bad teacher" and then summarily fired.

Increase test scores every year in every category of students or the school is shut down.

Competition is good, they tell us.

It brings out the best in all of us.

Uh, huh.

John Liu: Layoffs Are Not Necessary

Here is some video of Comptroller John Liu on both layoffs and the school progress reports.

He notes that school progress are "very problematic because first and foremost, they don't actually measure progress."

He also says that “It’s not true that the layoffs are absolutely necessary."

Video below:

Nothing Grass Roots About Any Of These Groups

The Times does a pretty good job of exposing the Gates Foundation financial tentacles into the education reform world.

Nearly every reform group and reformer is on the payroll.

So are the teachers unions.

As one graduate student who pored over the Gates Foundation tax filings noted:

“It’s easier to name which groups Gates doesn’t support than to list all of those they do, because it’s just so overwhelming."

Should one oligarch have this much power to promote his "reform" agenda?

Let's list the groups, organizations, institutions, notable education reform individuals and media companies that are named in the Times article as on the Gates Foundation payroll:

1. Teach Plus
2. The Education Trust
3. Education Week
4. Education Equality Project
5. Harvard University (which got a $3.5 million grant to place “strategic data fellows” who could act as “entrepreneurial change agents” in school districts in Boston, Los Angeles and elsewhere)
6. Scores of other schools and universities
7. The National Governors Association
8. Council of Chief State School Officers
9. Achieve Inc.
10. The Alliance for Excellent Education
11. The Fordham Institute
12. The Center on Education Policy (which laughingly touts itself as "independent" while sucking on the Gates Foundation largesse)
13. The New Teacher Project
14. The AFT and the NEA
15. The ad campaign for "Waiting for Superman"
16. Foundation for Educational Excellence, founded by Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida
17. Educators for Excellence
18. Frederick Hess, education writer and blogger, member of the American Enterprise Institute
19. NPR and other public media

And what does the Gates Foundation money buy from these groups?

Advocacy, that's what. Give Gates what he wants or risk losing the Gates Foundation largesse next year. As Frederick Hess said in the article:

Mr. Hess, a frequent blogger on education whose institute received $500,000 from the Gates foundation in 2009 “to influence the national education debates,” acknowledged that he and others sometimes felt constrained. “As researchers, we have a reasonable self-preservation instinct,” he said. “There can be an exquisite carefulness about how we’re going to say anything that could reflect badly on a foundation.”

“Everybody’s implicated,” he added

Indeed, everybody is implicated.

This idea that the Scapegoat Teachers movement sprang up out of the dust and there is this overwhelming "grassroots" support to radically "reform" public education ought to be into a coffin and buried deep under ground after you read the Times article, see how many groups have promoted Gates' "Scapegoat Teachers" movement, his Common Core initiatives, his push for nationalized standardized tests tied to those standards, and his desire to bust the teachers unions and end the way teachers are compensated and protected.

Yes, the teachers unions are on the payroll too, which is part of the problem here - there is no well-funded pushback to the Education Oligarch's radical education agenda and advocacy.

There IS real grassroots opposition to Gates and his agenda, of course, from real parents and students and teachers who are negatively affected by what the Gates Foundation is promoting.

But it is difficult to make yourself heard when one man so controls the dialogue on education - right down to how the stories get framed on NPR, at Education Week, or indeed, even on the corporate media like MSNBC, or how they get studied at universities and thinktanks.

Over the next five years, Gates plans to spend $3.5 billion on education reform efforts. The Times article frames the dangers of all this money and advocacy coming from one man this way:

“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who said he received no financing from the foundation.

Indeed, it is Orwellian.

Maybe we should try and, you know, put a stop to it.

Obama Touts School With High Attrition Rate Of At-Risk Students As What's Right With Education

Obama hails Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis as the future of education:

President Barack Obama on Saturday called on Congress to overhaul the No Child Left Behind legislation this year, arguing that school systems around the country need the flexibility to tailor education programs to each community’s needs.

“We need to promote reform that gets results while encouraging communities to figure out what’s best for their kids,” Obama said in his weekly address. “That why it’s so important that Congress replace No Child Left Behind this year — so schools have that flexibility. Reform just can’t wait.”

In his remarks, Obama talked about Booker T. Washington High, the Memphis, Tenn., school where he spoke on Monday. He lauded the school for transforming its curriculum and culture in just a few short years and raising its graduation rate from half the student body to four out of five students — achievements that helped the school win the 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, which challenged schools across the nation to demonstrate their commitment to preparing students for college and a career.

This year, about 70 percent of Booker T. Washington’s students will continue to pursue higher education — a dramatic increase from just a handful who would go on to college in the past.

“So Booker T. Washington High School is no longer a story about what’s gone wrong in education,” Obama said. “It’s a story about how we can set it right.”

But Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post noted this troubling point about the Booker T. Washington High School:

Some things, as we sometimes find out after the fact, are not always what they originally seemed. That may be the case at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, where President Obama is delivering the commencement address today.

The school won the administration’s Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, in which hundreds of schools competed to win an Obama apperance by showing how they have worked to increase their graduation rates and improve student achievement. Obama picked the winner himself from three finalists chosen by the public.


The school says its graduation rate jumped from 55% in 2007 to 81.6% in 2010, an accomplishment that would certainly appeal to Obama, who has made increasing high school and college graduation a key education priority.

But here’s the thing: Veteran teacher and author Gary Rubinstein looked into the graduation rate rise and discovered something that casts a different light on that achievement.

Rubinstein, a Teach for America alumnus and author of two books on teaching -- “Reluctant Disciplinarian” and “Beyond Survival” -- wrote on his blog that he looked at demographic figures for Booker T. Washington and found this:

I found that there was a lot of attrition over that four year period. The school enrollment was 760 in 2007, 732 in 2008, 649 in 2009, and then in the ‘miracle’ year 2010, down to 566. So the school had lost nearly 25% of its students in that time period, which is also the exact percent that the graduation rate climbed by.

I looked into this sudden drop in enrollment to find if I could learn if the 200 students who disappeared were the ones who were less likely to graduate. It didn’t take long for me to locate this article, which explains that two housing projects right near the school were torn down, thus displacing the 200 students that account for the drop.

The actual demolition of the projects didn’t happen until a few months after the miracle, but surely people started leaving once they found out about it. Though some of the displaced kids, as the article states, found a way to continue going to their school, most didn’t.... The poorest, and thus least likely to graduate, kids were exactly the ones that the school lost.

The video Booker T. Washington submitted to the contest begins with images of the demolition of one of the projects so this is not something they were trying to hide.

There is more in his blog post about dropout rates and cohort rates that you can read here.

So this leaves an open question as to just how the graduation rate rose at Booker T. Washington.

Asking the question does not negate the real achievements at the school, or make it any less eligible for a presidential visit.

But it does raise the issue of how much stock we put in statistics when we aren’t sure how they were calculated or what they really mean.

25% attrition rate of the most at-risk students.

High poverty projects demolished, the area around the school gentrifying.

And suddenly - it's a miracle!!! - the graduation rates at the school soar.

And this is what Obama touts as "What's right in education!"

Displacing the most at-risk students, phonying up the stats by failing to state the attrition rate and explain the significance of it, then smear the schools those at-risk students eventually wind up in as "drop-out factories" when graduation rates drop there.

This is education reform in a nutshell.

So the president is wrong when he says reform cannot wait.

Reform like this can wait since it doesn't actually solve the problems - it just moves them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

We Made It!

Wow - the world didn't end!

Let's celebrate with something from Forever Changes:

Even If The World Does End

De Blasio Calls For Bloomberg To Stop Treating School Parents Like "Problems"

More fall-out from Bloomberg's insulting of NYC school parents who oppose his education policies (which judging by poll numbers, is the overwhelming majority of them):

Mayor Bloomberg is under pressure to apologize for insulting public school parents who oppose his education reforms.

In his weekly WOR radio appearance, Bloomberg responded to a question about why parents fight the city's efforts to close struggling schools that are often in poor, immigrant and minority neighborhoods.

"There are some parents who ... never had a formal education, and they don't understand the value of education," Hizzoner said.

"The old Norman Rockwell family is gone. Some of these kids don't have parents. There's nobody to stand up for them."

This week, the NAACP and the teachers union sued to block the closing of 22 struggling schools with support from some parents.

It's the third year in a row the union has sued to block closings.

The last two lawsuits have been successful.

"How dare he and how disrespectful of him to think we don't have the brain power - whether we have a Ph.D. or an eighth grade education - to know what we want for our children?" said public school parent Zakiyah Ansari, who joined the lawsuit.

Public Advocate Bill De Blasio said Bloomberg should stop treating parents like "problems."

"As a public school parent I believe that the mayor should admit he made a mistake and apologize," he said in a statement.

Bloomberg faces wide opposition to his education policies from parents.

A Quinnipiac poll found just 20% of voters with children in public schools approve of the way the mayor is running the schools.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew yesterday joined the chorus of voices defending public school parents.

"Does the fact that they disagree with the mayor's agenda mean they don't understand education or care about their kids? I don't think so," he said in a statement.

A mayoral spokesman offered no apologies yesterday, defending Bloomberg's efforts to replace "persistently failing" schools with successful ones.

"The central pillar of this mayor's life in public service has been fighting to fix longstanding inequities in the education system and give every student the opportunity to attend good schools," Marc LaVorgna said

Norm's story about how they gave Mistress Eva Moskowitz all the good space at PS 241 ought to dispense with the LaVorgna pushback that the mayor is simply fighting to fix longstanding inequities in the system and give the opportunity for every student to a attend a "good school."

In the PS 241 case, the students in the charter school got all the good space and resources, the children in the traditional public school got put into the basement next to the boiler.

In almost every charter school location story, that's exactly what happens - the charters are given the cream of the resources, the space, even the students, and the traditional public schools are left to fend for themselves.

The reality is that the central pillar of this mayor's public life has been ideological - he has worked to destroy the traditional public school system and replace it with a quasi-privatized system where as many operations as possible can be outsourced to private contractors and companies, close as many traditional public schools as possible and replace them with as many charter schools as possible, implode as much of the old system structure as possible so that it becomes nearly impossible to rebuild any semblance of the system that once was in place, and impose as much of his authoritarian will and policies onto students parents and teachers as he can without, you know, pulling off a Beer Hall Putsch.

When 78% of public school parents are opposed to his policies and only 20% approve, the reality of the mayor's policies have not gone unnoticed.

People know that Bloomberg sees them as problems for not going along 100% with his policies.

Bloomberg as corporate oligarch is used to getting his way 100% of the time.

Perhaps we should stop giving corporate oligarchs who are used to getting their way 100% of the time total power to run a school system with no accountability measures?

The mayor's comments about the parents who oppose his policies are just the latest example of that.

More Music For The End Of The World

Friday, May 20, 2011

Night Before The End Of The World Music

Music For The End Of The World

I have no fear cuz' London's drowning and I live by the river...

Bloomberg Called Out For "Insulting" Comment About Public School Parents

Bloomberg's still pissed about the NAACP/UFT lawsuit opposing both his school closures and his charter school co-location policies.

For the past few days, he's been lashing out at the UFT over the court action.

Today he laced into the parents of students at the schools slated for closure for supporting those schools and the lawsuit and the comments are causing quite a bit of controversy:

Responding to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday seeking to prevent the city from closing 22 poor-performing schools, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made a comment that has sparked outrage among some community leaders.

Mr. Bloomberg, appearing on his weekly radio show, began by criticizing two plaintiffs in the suit — the teachers’ union and the N.A.A.C.P. — saying the groups “should know better” and that allowing the schools to remain open would be “unconscionable.”

But it was the way he referred to the parents who have continued to support these schools — which overwhelmingly serve poor, minority and immigrant students, including many who live in homeless shelters — that caused the anger.

“They never had a formal education, and they don’t understand the value of education,” Mr. Bloomberg said on the program, which is broadcast on WOR-AM (710).

He went on to observe: “The old Norman Rockwell family is gone.”

The Norman Rockwell family is gone.


The Alliance for Quality Education wasted no time in responding to the Mayor of Money and his comments:

Zakiyah Ansari, a parent organizer with the Alliance for Quality Education, an umbrella organization that is another plaintiff in the lawsuit, called the mayor’s comments “insulting.”

“How dare he say we don’t know what we’re talking about?” said Ms. Ansari, whose organization represents more than 200 parent, teacher and student groups. “How dare he assume that because we’re poor or black or Latino or homeless or all of the above, that we’re uneducated, that we don’t know what’s best for our kids?”

How dare he indeed.

The mayor, like so many other education reformers, has decided he has all the answers and what other people think or feel about his policies - even when these policies directly affect them - doesn't matter to him.

He's not the only "reformer" who thinks this way - so does Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Bill Gates and Arne Duncan.

They have decided that they have ALL of the answers in the public education sphere and any time the public doesn't agree with them, it's because they're either too stupid, too naive or too ignorant to know what's good for them.

There is also an underlying tone of racism and classism here, a kind of white man's burden thing, that should not be ignored - Bloomberg's saying, in effect, "We're going to give these people what's good for them even though they don't know it and even worse (sigh!), they're fighting us on this."

Hey, Mr. Mayor, why don't you get off the UES and go talk to the parents yourself, sans Howard Wolfson and the rest of the jive artists you surround yourself with.

Ask them what these schools mean to them and why they are supporting them.

You might be surprised to learn it's about more than "data."

It's about connections, it's about community, it's about respect, it's about feeling like somebody in power is listening to you.

Stop insulting parents and teachers and start actually engaging them - you could learn an awful lot - and you might learn that there are real lives and real stories behind the "data" that has you convinced these schools need to be closed and replaced with charters that complicate matters so much more than you realize.

Misconduct, Crimes and Conflict of Interest At The DOE

Juan Gonzalez exposes more into the Judith Hederman/DOE/outside consultant scandal. Investigators are now aiming at not only the outside consultants who marked up bills to the DOE by as much as 600% but also "DOE officials" connected with the company:

A top Department of Education official who quit after admitting to an affair with a consultant she supervised passed him inside information - and approved a $60,000-a-year raise for him, records show.

Judith Hederman, the $168,000-a-year executive director of the DOE's division of financial operations, resigned May 4.

That was day the Daily News revealed that an unidentified DOE official told the office of Special Commissioner on Investigation Richard Condon she had a "personal relationship" with a top executive of Future Technology Associates, a Florida-based firm she supervised.

DOE officials later confirmed Hederman was the unnamed official.

FTA, which has received nearly $100 million in city contracts, mostly to service the DOE computer system, has been under investigation for more than a year.

In recent weeks, city Controller John Liu has launched an audit of the firm's work.

Condon's probers believe FTA's two owners, Tamer Sevintuna and Jonathan Krohe, used a web of secretly owned subsidiaries in the U.S. and Turkey to supply programmers to themselves.

The two then "profited from enormous markups" on those consultants to the DOE, according to papers Condon's deputies filed in Manhattan Supreme Court last week.

Some programmers employed in Turkey by a Sevintuna and Krohe subsidiary, for example, were paid only $3,000 a month, but FTA billed the DOE more than $22,000 a month for their work.

No criminal charges have been filed against the firm or its owners.

Condon's office has had to reveal details of the ongoing probe in a civil court case, where Sevintuna and Krohe tried to quash a subpoena for them to be questioned under oath.

The latest court papers, filed by Condon's deputy Gerald Conroy last Friday, claim SCI's probe is "focused on misconduct, crimes and conflict of interest ... not only by persons affiliated with FTA, but by DOE officials."

"On Jan. 20, 2008, the DOE official used proprietary DOE information to warn the person [in FTA] with whom the official was involved about a DOE deputy chancellor's inquiry into FTA's increased expenditures charged to the DOE," the papers say.

Two DOE sources familiar with FTA said Hederman's relationship was with Krohe, who owns 40% of the company. Sevintuna owns the other 60%.

Neither Krohe nor Hederman, whose husband also works for the DOE, returned calls for comment.

Krohe's lawyer Gordon Mehler said he has advised his client against any interviews.

In court papers Mehler filed last week, he withdrew any objections to his client speaking to Condon's investigators.

Krohe and Sevintuna have also received hefty individual salaries from the DOE for years.

Under a previous no-bid contract that began in 2006, Krohe was paid $245,000 annually.

In September 2009, the DOE's Panel for Educational Policy approved a new $43 million contract for FTA.

Krohe's salary in the new contract jumped to $306,250 - a $61,000 hike, DOE records show.

Hederman was the official who submitted that contract for approval and praised FTA's performance.

"One of the many unanswered questions about the [personal] relationship is whether it affected the DOE's purported pleasure with FTA performance," Conroy wrote.

So far, Hederman seems to be the only DOE official connected to the case and under investigation.

But the court papers filed last Friday say the Special Commissioner of Investigation's probe is "focused on misconduct, crimes and conflict of interest ... not only by persons affiliated with FTA, but by DOE officials" which seems to indicate there may be at least one additional DOE official involved.