Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, September 30, 2012

State And Local Education Spending Declines Two Years In A Row

Via Political Wire, here's Mike Konczal on the decline in state and local spending for education (2009-2011):


This isn't adjusted for inflation, so the decline is even worse. The dotted line is the seven-year pre-recession average projected forward. I'm pretty cynical about these things and knew that spending had declined in 2010, but I had expected it to even out or go up in 2011. Instead, it has declined further.
There's been yearly increases in spending on elementary and secondary education going back decades. We didn't develop some sort of technology that made educating young people cheaper in 2009 - instead, states were hit hard by a housing crash and liquidity issues that come with having to maintain a balanced budget in light of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. This also comes on top of the mass layoffs of teachers, some 200,000 during this recession. Rather than firing teachers while spending more elsewhere, we are just spending less educating our children, period. This is the worst kind of disinvestment, made at the worst possible time.

Even worse, state and local governments are having to spend ever more money on high stakes standardized testing, test preparation, Common Core consultants and a host of other expenditures related to the education reform movement, so that even as education spending has fallen over the last two years, the money that is going to education expenditures outside of the classroom has risen.

Essentially this means more money for Joel Klein and News Corp. more money for Pearson, more money for David Coleman and College Board, more money for the tech companies making the data tracking systems, more money for all the outside consultants and less money for classroom materials, reducing class size or hiring more teachers.

No wonder Klein and the education reformers/hedge fund managers are pushing for busting the unions and reducing teacher compensation and work protections.

If local and state governments are spending less on education, the only way for Joel and Company to suck up more of the money pot is to make sure it doesn't get spent in classrooms or on teachers.

NYSED Commissioner King: An Education Reform Hypocrite

NYSED Commissioner John King is forcing students to take more Pearson field tests this October in addition to the usual round of Pearson field tests students are slated to take in the spring.

A parent wrote a letter to the Albany Times Union to say that he had called NYSED to see if there was an opt-out clause from the field testing.

He was told by a deputy education commissioner that there was not.

He goes on to write:

This bothers me as an educator and as a parent of four children.

Perhaps I will take the lead of Dr. John King, state education commissioner, whose children won't be in a school where this field testing will occur because they go to private school. Maybe I'll keep my children home.

In a recent commentary by Dr. King ("Give students their moment," Sept. 5), he writes of the so-called "education reform agenda" including teacher evaluations and the Common Core Standards: "These changes will be felt in every classroom in the state." This statement is not true, as private schools are not subject to these mandates and are therefore exempt. Besides the obvious hypocrisy, it seems patently unethical to not allow an "opt out" clause for the field tests being foisted upon students attending public schools.

Commissioner John King is the perfect man to lead the NYSED through its reform agenda.

Just like so many others in the corporate education reform movement - from Barack Obama to Rahm Emanuel to Bill Gates to Arnie Duncan - King loves to pontificate about how he is making the public schools that Other People's Children (OPC's) attend better.

How is he doing this?

By forcing standardized testing in every grade in every subject, K-12, by narrowing the curricula and spending enormous amounts of time, money and effort on standardized tests, by tying teacher evaluations and school closures to the test scores and by stealing money from the classroom in order to hand it to the tech, test and education consultants.

Meanwhile, the school that King sends his kids to - a private Montessori school - doesn't do any of these things.

Oh, no - what's good for Other People's Children is NOT good enough for John King's little darlings.

They deserve small class sizes, a rich, diverse curriculum, excellent facilities and a school not run on test-based FEAR.

King doesn't have to worry about an opt-out clause for his own kids and the Pearson field tests because his kids aren't taking them.

If the so-called reforms that King is pushing on the rest of the state are so good, why doesn't he subject his OWN children to them?

Oh, right - it's because

a) He's full of shit that the NYSED/Regents reform agenda is going to "give students their moment" and he knows it and

b) Because he's a hypocrite.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Manifesto For The Entitled

Washington Post business writer Steven Pearlstein nails this one:

I am a corporate chief executive.

I am a business owner.

I am a private-equity fund manager.

I am the misunderstood superhero of American capitalism, single-handedly creating wealth and prosperity despite all the obstacles put in my way by employees, government and the media.

I am a job creator and I am entitled.

I am entitled to complain about the economy even when my stock price, my portfolio and my profits are at record levels.

I am entitled to a healthy and well-educated workforce, a modern and efficient transportation system and protection for my person and property, just as I am entitled to demonize the government workers who provide them.

I am entitled to complain bitterly about taxes that are always too high, even when they are at record lows.

I am entitled to a judicial system that efficiently enforces contracts and legal obligations on customers, suppliers and employees but does not afford them the same right in return.

I am entitled to complain about the poor quality of service provided by government agencies even as I leave my own customers on hold for 35 minutes while repeatedly telling them how important their call is.

I am entitled to a compensation package that is above average for my company’s size and industry, reflecting the company’s aspirations if not its performance.

I am entitled to have the company pay for breakfasts and lunches, a luxury car and private jet travel, my country club dues and home security systems, box seats to all major sporting events, a pension equal to my current salary and a full package of insurance — life, health, dental, disability and long-term care — through retirement.

I am entitled to have my earned income taxed as capital gains and my investment income taxed at the lowest rate anywhere in the world — or not at all.

I am entitled to inside information and favorable investment opportunities not available to ordinary investors. I am entitled to brag about my investment returns.

I am entitled to pass on my accumulated wealth tax-free to heirs, who in turn, are entitled to claim that they earned everything they have.

I am entitled to use unlimited amounts of my own or company funds to buy elections without disclosing such expenditures to shareholders or the public.

I am entitled to use company funds to burnish my own charitable reputation.

I am entitled to provide political support to radical, uncompromising politicians and then complain about how dysfunctional Washington has become.

Although I have no clue how government works, I am entitled to be consulted on public policy by politicians and bureaucrats who have no clue about how business works.

I am entitled to publicly criticize the president and members of Congress, who are not entitled to criticize me.

I am entitled to fire any worker who tries to organize a union. I am entitled to break any existing union by moving, or threatening to move, operations to a union-hostile environment.

I am entitled to a duty of care and loyalty from employees and investors who are owed no such duty in return.

I am entitled to operate my business free of all government regulations other than those written or approved by my industry.

I am entitled to load companies up with debt in order to pay myself and investors big dividends — and then blame any bankruptcy on over-compensated workers.

I am entitled to contracts, subsidies, tax breaks, loans and even bailouts from government, even as I complain about job-killing government budget deficits.

I am entitled to federal entitlement reform.

I am entitled to take credit for all the jobs I create while ignoring any jobs I destroy.

I am entitled to claim credit for all the profits made during a booming economy while blaming losses or setbacks on adverse market or economic conditions.

I am entitled to deny knowledge or responsibility for any controversial decisions made after my departure from the company, even while profiting from such decisions if they enhance shareholder value.

I am entitled to all the rights and privileges of running an American company, but owe no loyalty to American workers or taxpayers.

I am entitled to confidential information about my employees and customers while refusing even to list the company’s phone number on its Web site.

I am entitled to be treated with deference and respect by investors I mislead, customers I bamboozle, directors I manipulate and employees I view as expendable.

I am entitled to be lionized in the media without answering any questions from reporters.

I am entitled to the VIP entrance.

I am entitled to everything I have and more that I still deserve.


Income Gap Worse In NYC Than Third World, Bloomberg Blames It On Schools

DNAinfo reports that the Mayor of Money, Michael Bloomberg is proud that the income gap between rich and poor in NYC is worse than in some Third World countries:

NEW YORK CITY — Manhattan’s income gap now rivals many third-world nations — but Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn’t mind.

“That’s not a measure of something we should be ashamed of,” Bloomberg told reporters at a press conference on Staten Island Thursday, when asked about new census data out last week.

The latest numbers show the gap between the city’s rich and poor is on the rise, with the median income for the bottom fifth of New Yorkers down to less than $9,000 in 2011, while the top fifth of households made a median $200,000.

The disparity was even starker in Manhattan, where the top-fifth earners took in nearly $400,000, versus less than $10,000 for those in the bottom fifth — meaning the wealthiest residents now make more than 40 times as much as those on the bottom rung. That's on par with many Sub-Saharan African nations, the New York Times noted.

Bloomberg, however, dismissed the criticism and said there's nothing wrong with the city's uber-rich.
“Those comparisons are about as meaningless a set of numbers as you can come up with,” he said, noting that the city had “tried very hard” to lure wealthy people from around the nation to boost tax revenue.

“The last time a government tried to have everybody have the same level of income, it didn’t work out very well," he said.

Instead, Bloomberg said what's needed is better education and more jobs at every level.
“What we really have here is... a gap in education,” he said.

First, notice how he accuses anybody who complains about the income gap of being closet Communists with his "The last time a government tried to have the same level of income, it didn't work out very well" straw man argument.

That is of course not what people are trying to do by pointing out that the gap between the top 1% and the rest of us is growing bigger by the year, but the gap between the bottom of the 99% and the top of the 1% has grown so large that NYC now has the same level of income gap as many Sub-Saharan African nations.

It's scary that New York City is owned, er, run by an oligarch mayor so out of touch with ordinary folks that he can't see how unsustainable this is - that we cannot continue to have the top 1% squeezing everybody else the way they have over the last 30 years.

Second, notice how Bloomberg dismisses the issue of poor people anyway, saying we want more rich people in the city because they're the ones that pay taxes.  I think we can dispute just how much rich people, or rich corporations, or rich non-profits like Bloomberg's own, actually pay taxes here and how many plant their money in offshore havens (like Bloomberg's philanthropy foundation), but the point is not really about needing more rich people to pay taxes.  The point of the problem is that there are so many poor people in this city, more by the year, and the mayor just doesn't care about that.

Third, you can see that when the mayor does get around to acknowledge that there just might be an income gap in the city that is a mite too large, he blames it on schools and teachers by saying that it's not an income gap, it's an education gap.

You see, if those lazy teachers would just work harder, NYC children would be getting a better education.  Those same NYC children would then be able to get better jobs, make more money and everybody would be happy.

Except that as John Judis points out in The New Republic, that story about educating our way out of the income gap is jive - it's just not accurate:

If you listen to education reformers, you would imagine that there is a huge demand for highly educated workers at the top that the lower tier schools are not meeting, but that is not the case. In employment projections to 2020, C. Brett Lockard and Michael Wolf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics list the thirty occupations that are projected to have the large numeric growth between 2010 and 2020. Of the top ten jobs, only one--postsecondary teachers--would require a doctoral or professional degree; one--registered nurse--would require an associate’s degree; and the rest--and that includes retail salespersons, home health aides, food preparer and servers, and office clerks--would require a high school diploma or less. Of the top thiry occupations, only seven would require more than a high school degree.
 
If you look at the current flaccid recovery, the greatest increase in private sector jobs over the last year has been in food services and drinking places, where 298,000 jobs were added. According to the BLS, these jobs require “less than high school” and have a median annual wage, as of May 2010, of $17,950. In his speech at the Democratic convention, Bill Clinton suggested that there was job openings, but that American workers didn’t possess the skills to fill them. Most economists dispute this, including conservative Edward Lazear argued in a paper last month that “neither industrial nor democratic shifts, nor a mismatch of skills with job vacancies can explain movements in unemployment rates over recent years.”

Urban public schools like those in Chicago could definitely do a better job of preparing their students to enter the work force, but in doing so, they won’t, except in unusual cases, be preparing their students to become engineers, doctors or lawyers. And in preparing students to enter the lower rungs of a labor force, the schools will face a constant drag of low expectations that impedes learning. Is it really necessary, these students may ask themselves, to master algebra to be a home health aide? Or to learn American history or be able to write passable prose to be a food server? If the reformers really want to reduce the gap between good schools and bad, that will require taking aim not just at the schools, but at the emerging structure of the American economy, and the expectations it generates in America’s young.

There are people who are more qualified than I am to say what could be done about the economy. But a rudimentary list would include raising dramatically the wage and status of service workers, perhaps by restricting low-wage immigration (which puts downward pressure on wages), subsidizing certain kinds of industries and discouraging others, rehabilitating inner cities and rural areas, making sure, as the Obama administration has tried, that all Americans enjoy a safety net against unforseen illness and unscrupulous speculation, and encouraging the unionization of low tier service workers.

The Third World income gap level the city is experiencing is not primarily an education problem - it is primarily an economic problem.

Bloomberg is emblematic of the problem.

In 2001 when he came into office, he was worth $5 billion.

This year, Forbes estimated his worth at $25 billion.

Meanwhile a Fiscal Policy Institute found the following:

Since the last expansion began in 2003, New York’s per capita GDP has grown more than three times as fast as the U.S. overall. This should have translated into real gains for New York workers. However, by dragging down wages, the Great Recession and its aftermath have widened the gap between the growth in worker productivity and the growth in wages for the average worker. New York workers are not sharing in the prosperity they help create. Since 2000, GDP per worker has grown more than twice as fast as annual average wages (even counting CEO salaries.) Where do the benefits of this high productivity go? Gross operating surplus—the basis for corporate profits—has grown over six times as fast as average wages.

...

Between the end of World War II and the end of the 1970s, the income share of the wealthiest one percent in the U.S. held steady at 9 or 10 percent. It started rising rapidly around 1980, reaching 23.5 percent in 2007. In New York, the share of income going to the wealthiest one percent rose to 35 percent for the state overall in 2007 and to 44 percent in New York City. The wealthiest one percent of New York State households had an average income in 2007 that was 50 times the average for all households earning from $25,000 to $120,000.

The wealth is being sucked up by the criminals on Wall Street, the criminals in the corporations, and oligarchs like Bloomberg.

He likes to blame unionized teachers and unionized schools for the income gap.

But the real culprit is people like Bloomberg.

No wonder he's trying to divert attention to schools and "bad teachers".

Now wonder he sent his "personal army" - the NYPD - to destroy the Occupy Wall Street encampments and harass protestors wherever they go.

No wonder New York City has a police force so large and so militarized that it rivals the armies of Third World nations (and even the FBI.)

When you run a city with an income gap at Third World nation levels, you need a police force standing at the ready to take care of any opposition.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Former Bush Speechwriter Calls Opponents To NCLB Villains And Racists

Leave it to Michael Gerson, the former Bush speechwriter who penned the infamous (and infamously dishonest) "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" line in Bush's "Let's Invade Iraq" speech to the U.N., to pen some more propaganda today in the Washington Post on education reform.

He uses the film "Won't Back Down" to explain why those who are opposed to No Child Left Behind and to parent trigger laws are "villains" and racists:

The new movie “Won’t Back Down” is to public education what Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” was to the meatpacking industry — a needed spotlight, but not for the squeamish. In this case, the product unfit for human consumption is, unfortunately, the instruction of children. The movie chronicles the struggles of the mother of a dyslexic child in a failing school. The villains are clock-punching teachers, apathetic parents, change-resistant union officials and unreachable administrators. The movie adds a happy ending, which seems the most unrealistic portion of the script.

Gerson goes on to complain that the No Child Left Behind waivers handed out by the Obama administration have watered down the proficiency targets created by the Bush administration and Congress when No Child Left Behind was put into place.  He never mentions how the NCLB waivers actually require MORE testing and MORE accountability than the old NCLB law, since high stakes tests will now be added to every subject in every grade, K-12, and teachers themselves will be "held accountable" for these scores via their evaluations.  He never mentions how Obama's Race to the Top program has helped bring about a nationalized curriculum with nationalized standardized tests in every subject (something the Bushies at the USDOE could only dream about.)  He mentions but dismisses the "turnaround rules" for "failing schools" as too flexible and not rigid enough - even though NYC may see over 100 schools closed and turned into charters by 2015 under the guidelines of this rule.

And then comes the "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" lines Gerson is so proficient at:

The coalition that passed No Child Left Behind consisted of strange bedfellows — civil rights groups fed up with educational failure and business groups hoping for more capable workers. The bedfellows intent on overturning high standards are even more unnatural — conservatives opposed to a federal role in just about anything and an educational establishment that has adopted a policy of massive resistance to effective accountability.

What is most shocking is the utter lack of urgency. The “parent trigger” approach depicted in “Won’t Back Down” — permitting parents to take over and reorganize failing schools — would seem a minimal response to an educational emergency. But the general reaction of federal officials, governors and legislators of both parties, school administrators and unions is to loosen standards and lessen pressure for reform. They are simply assuming that a separate and unequal educational system for minorities and the poor is inevitable and that a generation of children is expendable.

The villains in this story are even broader and stranger than fiction. And a happy ending is far from assured. 

 So if you're opposed to No Child Left Behind exactly as it was passed and signed into law, you are a "villain" who is "assuming that a separate and unequal educational system for minorities and the poor is inevitable and that a generation of children is expendable."

This from the man who wrote the "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" line intended to fool Americans into thinking we had to invade Iraq or suffer a nuclear attack on the homeland from Saddam Hussein.

How dare Michael Gerson, the man who contributed to the deaths of over a million people in the Iraq War by helping to sell that abomination to the people of this country, smear anybody opposed to NCLB, to high stakes standardized testing, to an education system based upon something other than meaningless (and often funky, funked with or, as in the case of Atlanta and Washington D.C., outright fabricated) data as "villains" and racists.

If Gerson wants to see a villain who assumes a generation of children is expendable, he can reread the Iraq War speeches he crafted, visit the Iraqis left maimed from that war, and then take a look at his own passport photo.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sequel To "Won't Back Down" Announced

Walden Media, the company behind the pro-parent trigger movie "Won't Back Down" that opens nationwide this Friday, has announced a sequel will be made to the film later this year.

Entitled "Won't Back Down II: Ain't Gonna Work On Maggie's Farm," the film picks up where the original "Won't Back Down" left off, with the characters played by Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal running the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania school they wrestled away from the evil teachers union and a powerful and entrenched city bureaucracy.

The film follows the difficulties Davis and Gyllenhaal have in turning the formerly unionized school into a non-union charter.  Dispensing with all unions rules, the two erstwhile heroes attempt to turn the school formerly known as ____________ into the "David Levin 'No Excuses' Charter," a school that hold classes seven days a week, eleven hours a day, much of that time given over to skills and drills and preparation for the Pennsylvania's high stakes standardized tests.

Students are only allowed to go to the bathroom twice a day because, as Davis' character explains she learned from famed charter school entrepreneur Geoffrey Canada, "There's no time for anything that doesn't lead to increased student achievement in a school setting!"  Children at the David Levin 'No Excuses' charter are urged to save up their bodily functions for as long as they can before asking for a bathroom pass. "Try and wait until you have to do both #1 AND #2!" Gyllenhaal's annoyingly perky character tells her son when he complains about the bathroom rules at the school.  "That way, you can save time and practice math simultaneously!"

Soon it becomes apparent that the people running the David Levin 'No Excuses' Charter School have no idea what they're doing and morale among staff plummets as students and parents begin bailing on the school and transferring to a near-by unionized school with regular school hours, a rich, diverse curriculum that privileges something other than test prep, and more flexible bathroom rules.  The climax of the film comes as Viola Davis' character realizes the problems in education don't come from unions or teachers; they come from living in a culture that doesn't value learning, living in a society where 20% of children come from families living below the poverty line, and living in a country that is fast becoming a neo-feudal state with the top 1% owning more than 40% of the wealth."

"O my God!" Davis character tells her fellow teachers, "We took over the school, fired all the 'bad' teachers, gave the curriculum over to Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch, spend eleven freaking hours a day drilling these kids for the state tests AND nothing is better for these kids!  The children who have abusive drunks for parents STILL have abusive drunks for parents, the ones who live in city shelters STILL live in city shelters, the ones who are so scared about the future that all they do is cry and act out with some negative behavior STILL do all of that.  For God sakes, NONE of this has ANYTHING to do with the school or the teachers!  We can't solve these problems ON OUR OWN!"

The film ends with a surprise twist that Walden Media is loathe to give away, but suffice it to say, the David Levin "No Excuses" Charter School may be getting another name change by the end of the sequel.

The film is expected to be released some time next year, after all the damage caused by President Obama's Race to the Top program becomes increasingly clear to even some members of the reform community.

Highest Number Of Homeless In NYC Since The Great Depression

 In 2005, New York City had 33,000 people living on its streets.

This year, that number has increased to 46,000 - almost 20,000 of whom are children.

Even the NY Times editorial page, which normally blames these kind of socio-economic problems on bad schools and bad teachers, understands that the sharp increase in homeless children in New York City since 2005 is a problem that could be alleviated by the politicians in charge.

The Bloomberg administration unwisely ended priority referrals for homeless families to public housing and for federal rent subsidies, which have very long waiting lists. The mayor should find a way to give destitute families quicker access to public housing and rental vouchers. 

The New York City Council and Speaker Christine Quinn have also been working on a new rental support program similar to one called Advantage, which helped 25,000 families get permanent housing over a four-year period. Mr. Cuomo cut the state’s $65 million annual contribution to the Advantage program in 2011, which resulted in a loss of $27 million in matching federal funds.

The Bloomberg administration also decided to cancel the city’s $48 million annual contribution, arguing that the city could not afford to pay for the program on its own. The governor and Mr. Bloomberg should restore the state and city funds for an Advantage-like program and reapply for more federal money.

Cuomo and Bloomberg are too busy looking for ways to cut taxes on corporations and Wall Street banks to address this crisis in the city's streets.

And back in August, Bloomberg complained that people stayed in the shelter system too long because  “it is a much more pleasurable experience” than in the past - a statement that drew howls of criticism from advocates for the homeless:

Advocates for the homeless, who consider the Bloomberg’s administration record on homelessness to be one of the top failures of his 11.5-year tenure at City Hall, quickly lambasted the mayor for his remarks.

“The Mayor’s assertion that homeless New Yorkers are staying in shelters longer because they are ‘much more pleasurable’ is shocking and offensive,” said Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homelessness, in an emailed statement.

“Mayor Bloomberg systematically closed every single path to affordable housing once available to homeless families with vulnerable children,” she said. “His failed policies are the major factor leading to the record shelter population this summer.  Blaming homeless families and suggesting they are luxuriating in ‘pleasurable’ accommodations shows just how badly the mayor is out of touch.”

An overloaded shelter system, 65% of homeless children turned away from the shelters every night because there's no room, people stuck in the system because they have no way to get out and the highest number of homeless people living on city streets since the Great Depression - that's Bloomberg's legacy as mayor.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Homeless Children In NYC Shelters At All-Time High, Majority Turned Away From Shelter System

It's the "Ownership Society," Bloomberg edition:

Almost 20,000 children are spending the night in homeless shelters in New York City, according to new data, an increase of 24% since July 2011.

The Coalition for the Homeless, which published the figures, said the number of children in shelters would be even higher were it not for the fact that 65% of homeless families seeking admission to shelters are being turned away.

The homeless charity places some of the blame on the closure of the Advantage housing program in the summer of 2011. Since then there has been no rent-subsidy program in place for accommodating homeless families.

The number of homeless children in NYC shelters rose from an average of 15,704 in July 2011 to an average of 18,489 in July 2012, the most recent month for which average statistics are available. A freedom of information request by the Coalition for the Homeless found that 19,537 children were in shelters on 23 September – the most recent information available – which it described as "an all-time record high".

"For the first time ever there is no program in place to help people move from homeless shelters to housing," said Giselle Routhier, a policy analyst at Coalition for the Homeless. She blamed mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration for the increase in homelessness among children, the impact of which she said is "really detrimental".

"Homeless kids are more likely to feel anxiety and depression and an array of other health problems. That impacts itself on schooling as well – homeless kids miss more days of school, oftentimes they do worse in school than their peers, so we know it has a very negative impact. The fact that we're seeing record numbers of children in shelters is very disturbing to us."

65% of homeless families are currently being turned away from the shelter system.

This is an outrage.

That the 35% who are accepted into the shelter system amounts to the highest rate of homeless children in NYC shelters ever is also an outrage.

Tell me how poverty does not affect destiny when you're living on the street as a kid and even the homeless shelter system is turning you down for a bed?

Huh, Mr. Bloomberg? 

Mr. Nocera? 

Mr. Kristof? 

Mr. Brooks?

Mr. Obama?

No excuses, right?

If we just fire some teachers, we can solve this homelessness problem, right?

"Won't Back Down" Getting Savaged By Film Critics (UPDATED)

Frank Bruni loved the parent trigger propaganda piece "Won't Back Down, but movie critics for Salon, NPR and the Associated Press did not.

First, NPR's review:

 All cynicism aside, the movie taps a rich vein of accumulated public frustration at the continued failure of government to provide decent access to public schools for all American children. Aside from religion itself, no subject lends itself more to arm-waving entrenched positions than education. And perhaps a movie aimed at a mainstream audience can't help but distill the discussion into culture-war sound bites.

 For all its strenuous feints at fair play, though, Won't Back Down is something less honorable — a propaganda piece with blame on its mind. Directed with reasonable competence by Daniel Barnz from a speechifying screenplay he co-wrote with Brin Hill, the movie is funded by Walden Media, a company owned by conservative mogul Philip Anschutz, who advocates creationist curricula in schools. Walden also co-produced the controversial pro-charter school documentary Waiting for Superman, so the outfit is not without axes to grind.

...


In fact, it's nuance and reason that fall by the wayside amid the sloganeering rhetoric of Won't Back Down. Like most large institutions with interests to protect, the unions could use some reforms, especially when it comes to shielding bad teachers from scrutiny and discipline.
But if you were to wave a magic wand that replaced unions and bureaucrats with a rainbow coalition of local parents and educators coming together to create the kind of school they want, the result would be chaos, not to mention an end to the tattered remains of our common culture.
"We need to start somewhere," comes a stern, God-like voice in Won't Back Down, waving off all talk about the role of poverty and inequality in under-resourced schools and underachieving pupils. We do indeed. Just not here.
 Next, David Germain of the Associated Press pans the movie:

 Despite earnest performances from Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a pair of moms leading the fight, "Won't Back Down" lives down to its bland, us-against-them title with a simple-minded assault on the ills of public schools that lumbers along like a math class droning multiplication tables.

Director and co-writer Daniel Barnz ("Beastly") made his feature debut with 2009's "Phoebe in Wonderland," an intimate story of a troubled girl aided by an unconventional teacher. Here, Barnz gets lost in red tape as "Won't Back Down" gives us the inside dope on the teacher's lounge, the union headquarters, the principal-teacher showdown, the hushed halls of the board of education.

Theaters should install glow-in-the-dark versions of those old clunking classroom clocks so viewers can count the agonizing minutes ticking by as they watch the movie.

 ...

 And it's the children who suffer in "Won't Back Down." Other than some token scenes involving Jamie and Nona's kids, the students are mere extras in a drama that spends most of its time prattling on about how the children are what matter most.

 And finally, saving the best for last, Andrew O'Hehir


So teachers’ unions don’t care about kids. Oh, and luck is a foxy lady. This is what I took away from the inept and bizarre “Won’t Back Down,” a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with very limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product. Someone needs to launch an investigation into what combination of crimes, dares, alcoholic binges and lapses in judgment got Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal into this movie. Neither of them seems likely to sympathize with its thinly veiled labor-bashing agenda and, way more to the point, I thought they had better taste. Maybe it was that actor-y thing where they saw potential in their characters – a feisty, working-class single mom for Gyllenhaal, a sober middle-class schoolteacher for Davis – liked the idea of working together and didn’t think too much about the big picture.

Perhaps that was a mistake, because the big picture is that the movie is unbelievable crap and the whole project was financed by conservative Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz, also the moneybags behind the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” which handled a similar agenda in subtler fashion.

...

 “Won’t Back Down” was reportedly inspired by a California law that allows parent-teacher takeovers of failing schools under certain circumstances. Again, that sounds like a fascinating premise, albeit one that’s highly likely to go in unforeseen “Animal Farm” directions. But all we get here is the most blithe and moronic kind of “let’s put on a show” magical thinking, in which ripping up the union contract and wresting control of the school from the bureaucrats becomes an end in itself, and what happens later is shrouded in the mists of an imaginary libertarian paradise. There are attempts at Fox News-style balance here and there, as when someone observes that most charter schools fail to improve outcomes and when a bombastic union exec played by Ned Eisenberg delivers a monologue about the current assault on labor (right before announcing that he couldn’t care less about children).

...

 Most people still understand, I believe, that teachers work extremely hard for little pay and low social status in a thankless, no-win situation. But this is one of those areas where conservatives have been extremely successful in dividing the working class, which is precisely the agenda in “Won’t Back Down.” Breeding hostility to unions in themselves, and occasionally insinuating that unionized teachers are a protected caste of incompetents who get three damn months off every single year, has been an effective tactic in what we might call postmodern Republican populism, especially in recent battles over public employee contracts in Wisconsin and elsewhere. It works something like this: 1) Turn the resentment and frustration of people like Jamie – people with crappy service-sector jobs and few benefits, whose kids are stuck in failing schools – against the declining group of public employees who still have a decent deal. 2) Strip away job security and collective bargaining; hand out beer and ukuleles instead. 3) La la la la, tax cuts, tax cuts, I can’t hear you!



On the plus side for "Won't Back Down", NY Times food critic Frank Bruni loved the movie so much that he decided to devote an entire column to how much teachers unions and unionized teachers suck and how much better we would all be if teachers would just mindlessly accept whatever "reforms" the education reform movement wants to impose on schools.

That Bruni thought enough of "Won't Back Down" that he used it as a springboard for his teacher attack column makes you wonder what he was watching.

Maybe Bruni wasn't watching the same "Won't Back Down" as the critics for NPR, Salon, and the AP?

Maybe he was watching the video to Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down."

Or, more likely, Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More."

Hey, Frank, stay away from the magic mushrooms when you're writing about education, okay?

UPDATE - 3:01 PM: Critics from Variety, the Arizona Republic, the Hollywood Reporter and the Village Voice also think "Won't Back Down" sucks.

Maggie Anderson in the Voice writes:

The fat, lazy public school teacher who can’t be bothered to stop diddling with her phone or shopping for shoes online while her second-grade class erupts into mayhem in the opening scene of Won’t Back Down isn’t the most despicable entity in this tearjerker. That would be the union that protects her, the same malevolent force in Davis Guggenheim’s horribly argued pro-charter-school documentary from 2010, Waiting for Superman (both films were funded by Walden Media, led by a conservative billionaire).

...

 Viewed solely as maternal melodrama, Won’t Back Down succeeds; its actresses, as they spearhead the takeover and work through “personal demons,” rouse, rage, and rue admirably (though in Davis’s case, marveling at yet another fine performance doesn’t stop you from wishing that her first leading role was in a worthier vehicle). But there’s no prettying up the movie’s vilifying of teachers’ unions, which here resort to dirty tricks and smear campaigns—an easy enough scapegoat for the larger, more intractable economic problems also ignored in Guggenheim’s film and by most politicians of any stripe.

And David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter writes:

The jury is still out on a solution to the national education system crisis, but the verdict is delivered with a heavy hand and a stacked deck in the formulaic Won’t Back Down. Simplifying complex school-reform hurdles into tidy inspirational clich├ęs while demonizing both teachers’ unions and bureaucracy-entrenched education boards, the movie addresses timely issues but eschews shading in favor of blunt black and white. It’s old-school Lifetime fodder dressed up in Hollywood trappings.
Peter Debruge of Variety writes that the film takes its audience "for dummies" by "grossly oversimplifying the issue at hand" while Barbara VanDenburgh of the Arizona Republic writes that

Oversimplified politics undermine the film at every turn. The shrill preachiness reaches a fever pitch by the film's climax, a schoolboard hearing that takes place under the watchful gazes of a muralized Abraham Lincoln and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and in which the deciding vote is cast by a man named -- what else? -- Mr. King, who monologues against a backdrop of the civil-rights leader to thunderous applause.

The movie doesn't just shriek its point to you through a megaphone -- it beats you over the head with it.

And it doesn't matter which side of the debate you land on; two hours of schmaltz mired in bloodless policy debate just doesn't make for good movie watching. Even if you stripped the film bare of political pretensions, you'd still be left with unabashed, hokey sentimentality where such feel-good adages as "Change the school, you change the neighborhood" are sprinkled on complex problems like so much fairy dust.

There's a real conversation to be had about the sorry state of the public-school system, but all this movie is going to trigger is a lot of screaming.

Looks like there will be no Oscar for the ed reform movement again this year.

They were dying to get an Oscar win for Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting for Superman," but not only did "Superman" not win an Oscar, it wasn't even nominated.

Judging by the reviews of the heavy-handed, badly written "Won't Back Down," the reform movement is going to have to hope the third time is a charm when it comes to winning an Oscar and promoting their message via pop culture.

Wonder what they'll try next?

An animated Disney education reform picture (Donald Duck can be the lazy, nasty, unionized teacher.)

Maybe an updated Boston Public mini-series that promotes privatization, charterization and high stakes testing?

Or maybe they can stop trying to fool people with propaganda and engage on the issues for real.

Improving the education system is not as easy as firing all the teachers, closing all the schools, and turning the entire public school system to charters.

The economic conditions that kids face at home matter when they come to school.

The movie critics get this.

Why can't the education reform community and the politicians?

Why can't President Obama?

No Accountability For Bankers Or Obama Administration Officials

Barack Obama loves to hold teachers accountable for performance.

Bankers and his own administration?

Not so much.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Apple Factory Workers Riot At Foxconn

A fight at the Foxxconn factory in China that makes products for Apple spiraled into a full-scale riot on Sunday, forcing the shutdown of the factory:
A riot between workers at Foxconn's Taiyuan factory in northwest China has caused the company to temporarily shut down operations there for a day.
According to Reuters, a personal dispute between several Foxconn employees broke out into a riot late Sunday night.
The riot involved 2,000 workers and 40 were sent to hospital for medical attention, the report noted. Citing Foxconn, the report said the personal dispute in a privately-managed dormitory escalated at around 11 p.m. on Sunday.
However, local police brought the situation under control at around 3 a.m, the company said. "The cause of this dispute is under investigation by local authorities and we are working closely with them in this process, but it appears not to have been work-related," Foxconn said.
Local news site Sohu Finance said the riot involved Foxconn employees and security guards.
While the actual reason for the riot was unknown, rumors suggest it started because a security guard had beat up an employee which caused the dissatisfaction of other employees, the news site said. Chinese news site Sohu IT included photos of the riot from early morning which showed broken windows of the dormitory, campus supermarket and bus.

The news of the riot at Foxxconn comes on the heals of revelations that the factory used enforced student laborers to make the iPhone 5.

 

Education Nation Sponsors - A Rogue's Gallery Of Criminality And Corruption

NBC is a media conglomerate that used to be owned by the evil General Electric (a company that manages to straddle evil in quite a few ways, from making and profiting off armaments that kill people to making badly designed nuclear power plants to polluting the environment with impunity to exploiting its own labor all across the world to preying on low income minorities with $700 million in subprime loans, $218 million of which ended up in foreclosure.)

Now NBC is owned by Comcast, a company that is universally hated by consumers across the country and regularly ranks in the top five of the the list of "Most Despised" companies in America.  If you want to see just how bad a company Comcast is, check out the customer forums on Comcast's own site!  I have been a customer of all three major cable companies and I can say without a doubt that Comcast was by far, the worst of the three.  The bill consistently shifted around, they were always trying to stick me with charges for products or services that I never asked for, and the customer service was abysmal.  Then, when I ended my service and returned my cable box and paid my last bill, they claimed they never got the money and sent the last month's charges into collection.  Yeah, I have fonder memories of that time when my apartment building burned than I have as a Comcast customer.

So, let's cut to today.  NBC is running the third edition of its education reform show called Education Nation.  As has been usual with the other two editions of this nonsense, NBC has invited a corporate education reform friendly line-up of guests - people like Joel Klein, Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee.  When they have invited parents or teachers to be part of the line-up, these have been parents and teachers who espouse corporate education reform values like firing hundreds of thousands of teachers, tying teacher evaluations to test scores, charter school expansion, online schools and the like.  This year, NBC is promoting the education reform movement movie "Won't Back Down," just as a couple of years ago they promoted another education reform movement movie, "Waiting for Superman."  And just as in the past, NBC's Education Nation tolerates no dissent from the corporate education reform narrative - Diane Ravitch and other noted opponents to the education reform agenda have not been invited to the show, though darling of the corporate reform movement Randi Weingarten is there to give her perspective on things.

Which perhaps makes sense, since the AFT is inexplicably one of the sponsors of this crap, as is the NEA.  Yes, you heard right, teachers - you're hard-earned dues money is going to help sponsor an NBC show that promotes the myth of the "bad teacher" and the sanctity of the standardized test score.  I suppose this is the unions' way of "staying relevant" in a time of anti-teacher, anti-union bashing, but frankly, both the AFT and the NEA would do better to put on their own "Debunking NBC's Education Nation Nonsense" show and invite real students, real parents, real teachers and real education leaders to tell their stories.  But that would take some actual ingenuity or desire at the unions to take on the education reform movement, and as we have seen over and over, that does not exist at either the AFT or the NEA.  They would rather have " a seat at the table" or some such nonsense rather than promote the values and principles their members hold dear - like smaller class size, a rich, diverse curriculum, and other progressive education values.

So I get why they wouldn't want to put on their own Education Nation to debunk NBC's corporate version.  But why the hell are they also sponsoring it?  Have you seen the list of corporate sponsors?  The line-up reads like a rogue's gallery of corporate criminality, nepotism and cronyism:

University of Phoenix
Gates Foundation (i.e. Microsoft/Monsanto)
Bezos Foundation (i.e., Amazon)
ExxonMobile
Citibank
Statefarm
Kelloggs Foundation

We could take a brief look at each of these criminal organizations and the harm they do to America and the world and then ask what would anybody who cares about kids, education or schools be doing watching an education show on a network once owned by one of the most evil companies in the world, now owned by one of the most despised, that is sponsored by these corporate criminals.  But you can do your own Google search and come up with the pollution caused by ExxonMobile, the horrible working conditions at Amazon warehouses, the horror Bill Gates is doing to Africa and Asia via GMO, and the predatory business practices of TARP-recipient Citibank.  Instead I am going to focus on the University of Phoenix, since this company purports to be an institution of higher learning, has been a corporate sponsor of Education Nation for all three years and has managed to get its president onto the Education Nation stage to pontificate about education issues.

Here is how NBC bills the University of Phoenix:

University of Phoenix is constantly innovating to help students balance education and life in a rapidly changing world. Through flexible schedules, challenging courses and interactive learning, students achieve personal and career aspirations without putting their lives on hold. As of May 31, 2011, 398,000 students were enrolled at University of Phoenix, the largest private university in North America.

All of that is just advertising jive.  The University of Phoenix is actually a for-profit "college" with the highest number of student loan defaults of any school in the country.  One out of every four students who attends this "college" defaults on his or her loan.  The graduation rate is also one of the lowest in the country (currently 9%, 5% for online students), and even when you do graduate with a University of Phoenix degree, you find out very quickly it's not worth the paper its printed on.

So why is University of Phoenix on the list of Education Nation sponsors?  Why was the president of this for-profit diploma mill on stage at Education Nation talking about education standards last year when his own company has none other than, "Can you hold a pen and sign for the loan, please?"

NBC News president Steve Capus has defended the presence of University of Phoenix as a sponsor, saying that the company is not shaping editorial content for Education Nation and has been the subject of some "tough news stories" on NBC News.

But as FAIR has pointed out, NBC has actually done more to promote University of Phoenix than scrutinize them. Ann Curry actually patted a University of Phoenix VP on the head on The Today Show at "Learning Plaza" last year and praised him for helping kids.  So much for the "tough NBC news stories" on University of Phoenix.  And in fact, NBC has partnered with the University of Phoenix to "donate" technology to classrooms that will show NBC "educational programs" while promoting the University of Phoenix and made the University of Phoenix it's lead sponsor in the "On-The-Road" segment of last year's Education Nation. Far from being a simple sponsor with no say over editorial content, it is clear from the prominent place the University of Phoenix has on the sponsor's list, the donor's list, and in the content of Eduction Nation that NBC and its parent company Comcast are quite comfortable selling a diploma mill with abysmal graduation rates and the highest defaults of any college in the land to its viewers.

What are we to make of a so-called education reform forum that promotes and partners with a "college" that has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers over the last decade in the form of defaulted loans, has saddled hundreds of thousands of students with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and continued to expand its business even as its graduation rates and loan default rates show that it should be shut down?

If NBC News was an actual "news" organization as opposed to some public relations wing of its parent corporation, the people at the network wouldn't be partnering with some shyster college like University of Phoenix and putting the president of said college on stage to talk about higher education standards.

No, if NBC News were an actual "news" organization, they would be exposing the University of Phoenix for the crap college it is, warning every American to stay as far away from it as possible, and asking law officials why the University of Phoenix president wasn't behind bars with Bernie Madoff.

But of course NBC News is not an actual "news" organization any more than Brian Williams or Matt Lauer are real newsmen (as opposed to corporate shills) and so we get the Education Nation crapola, hosted by the unctuous Williams, complete with corporate criminal sponsors and studio audience.

The good news out of all of this is, fewer people are watching TV these days, and of those, fewer still are watching NBC News shows, so who knows how many people are actually going to see this garbage.  Many Americans have woken up to the fact that what they see spewed on TV news programs these days is propaganda and lies.  They actually hold teachers and schools in much higher esteem than, say, news media personalities from NBC.

Still, it's really a big pain as an educators to have to push back against the lies and propaganda on something like NBC's Education Nation and it's certainly true that many of those lies and some of that propaganda has become conventional wisdom for Americans.

How could it be otherwise when all they ever hear about schools from hacks like Brian Williams is "Our schools are in crisis!"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

New Report Shows Most Interest Rates Around The World Are "Rigged"

Rate rigging is not just for LIBOR anymore:

Interest rates all over the world are mostly made up.

That's the verdict of a new study by the International Organization of Securities Commissions, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg. It found that more than half of the benchmark lending rates in the U.S., Europe and Asia are "calculated by methodologies that were unclear, not transparent and only rarely subject to specific regulatory standards or obligations." Less than half of all benchmark lending rates, in contrast, were based on actual market transactions.

In other words, the interest rates that affect personal and business loans, and hundreds of trillions of dollars in derivatives contracts around the world, are based on either guesses or lies: Not particularly comforting.

“The risk of manipulation will be greater where participants in the process have both incentive and opportunity to submit inaccurate data or apply a methodology inaccurately,” IOSCO wrote, according to Bloomberg. “Furthermore, where judgment is required in determining the data to be submitted, the problem is particularly acute.”

English translation: When banks can just make up these benchmark numbers, they're likely to cheat. Even when they can't just totally make up the numbers, they still try to find ways to cheat.

Value added is bullshit.

So are interests rates.

The numbers provided by the government are bullshit too.

Does anybody actually believe the unemployment rate?

Or the GDP numbers that are reported?

We live in this age where we give numbers and figures increasing importance even as it becomes clearer and clearer that they do not actually provide the truth we think they do.

Whether it's in education or in the economy, numbers are misleading us - beware the data fetishists who think everything can be measured, quantified and evaluated.

As The Flower Kings once noted, There is more to this world than we see...


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Harold Meyerson Schools The Corporate Education Reform Movement With Some Data

Wow - two straight days the Kaplan Test Prep Post has published opinions pieces defending teachers and taking on the education reform movement.

Yesterday Eugene Robinson told the reformers to "Stop blaming teachers!" and today Harold Meyerson exposes the reform movement with some very telling statistics:

Here’s a bit of advice to America’s teachers: If you want the nation’s opinion leaders and CEOs to like you, don’t congregate in groups. Everyone, it seems, loves teachers individually. But when they get together, they become a menace to civilization.

That’s one of the clearest take-aways from the just-concluded teachers strike in Chicago. Editorial boards from the right-wing Wall Street Journal to the liberal New York Times were nearly unanimous in condemning the seven-day strike. The Chicago Teachers Union was depriving the city’s children of their right to an education not just during the strike, editorialists argued, but also every day — by refusing to bow down to standardized tests. In the eyes of our elites, such tests have emerged as the linchpin of pedagogy and the best way to measure teacher, not just student, performance.

The unrelenting attack on teachers unions has some measurable consequences, too. This is evident from the fact that more than 90 percent of Chicago teachers voted to authorize the strike and that the union’s governing body so mistrusted the administration of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that it took two additional days to go over the proposed contract’s fine print.

The presumably numbers-driven educational reformers are highly selective when it comes to which numbers they take seriously. For years, many have touted charter schools (which usually are not unionized) as the preferred alternative to (unionized) public schools. But the most extensive survey of student performance at charter schools, from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found that, of the 2,403 charter schools tracked from 2006 to 2008, only 17 percent had better math test results than the public schools in their area, while 37 percent had results that were “significantly below” those of the public schools and 46 percent had results that were “statistically indistinguishable” from their public-school counterparts.

There’s also a good amount of data — including a study of high-performing public schools from the National Center for Educational Achievement — showing that ongoing teacher collaboration and mentoring and using tests for diagnostic, rather than evaluative, purposes produce better outcomes than the reformers’ brand of measuring teacher and student performance. The Cincinnati school district, which measures teacher performance chiefly through repeated peer evaluation, has the best student performance of any big Ohio city.
The Century Foundation’s Greg Anrig has argued in Pacific Standard magazine that reducing teacher evaluations to standardized tests amounts to subjecting education to Taylorism — the time-and-motion studies that so entranced corporate managers (and even Lenin) in the early 20th century and that boiled down worker performance to basic, repetitive tasks. A more successful management ethos, Anrig says, has been propounded by W. Edwards Deming, who argued that competitive performance evaluations eroded the social capital and trust successful institutions require. Deming’s more collaborative methods were taken to heart in postwar Japan and inform management practices at a range of successful companies, including Ford and Kaiser Permanente. As the example of Cincinnati suggests, they also work pretty well in schools.
There are other data that “educational reformers” would do well to study. Last week, the Illinois political newsletter Capitol Fax commissioned a poll of Chicago voters that showed that fully 66 percent of parents with children in the city’s public schools supported the strike, as did 56 percent of voters citywide. The only groups that disapproved of the strike (narrowly) were parents of children in private schools and whites. (Blacks and Latinos supported it.)

Given what we know about the cost of private schools and the demographics of Chicago’s public schools (87 percent of students come from households below the poverty threshold), it’s safe to say that the school reform movement hasn’t converted many outside the upper middle class. I suspect that a number of parents with kids in the city schools may have a more direct understanding of the challenges, both in school and out, that their children confront, as well as a clearer perception of the lack of resources that bedevil the schools.
Teaching, at least in major cities, is also a profession in which minorities are heavily represented; when reformers argue that we need to take down teachers unions to give more opportunity to minority youth, the argument veers perilously close to “We need to destroy the black middle class in order to save it.”
As both policy and politics, the demonization of teachers unions is a dead end for improving American education. Working with, not against, teachers is the more sensible way to better our schools.

The Washington Post may own Kaplan and be making money off of education reform, but they've got Valerie Strauss, Eugene Robinson and now Harold Meyerson (and Dana Milbank a couple of years ago) defending teachers and pointing out some of the flaws with the reform movement.

That's more than we can say for the NY Times that has been running an anti-teacher editorial and/or opinion piece a day since the strike began right up until the end.

Unions Get Tentative Contract Agreement With Verizon

Following on the heels of the CTU strike comes word that the Communication Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Verizon have agreed to new contracts:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Verizon Communications and two unions have reached tentative agreements for labor contracts covering about 43,000 technical and customer service workers in its wireline telephone business after more than a year of negotiations and a strike.

Verizon was looking to slash its wireline telephone costs to bring them into line with declining revenue at the business, which has faced a steady stream of customer disconnections in recent years as consumers favor cellphones over home phones.

But the unions had fought back, saying that it asked for too many concessions in areas such as job security, pensions and healthcare contributions for the workers, which represent about half of Verizon's wireline workforce.

Under the new agreement, Verizon failed in its effort to freeze pension plans and change some job security provisions, but it prevailed in making the workers contribute for healthcare benefits, according to a union communication with its members.

...

Guggenheim Securities analyst Shing Yin said it seemed "at first glance that Verizon had probably made more concessions than the union."

But Yin described the news as a "mild negative" and said he expects Verizon shares to hold steady because investors were not "expecting the contract to be very positive for Verizon" after the long drawn-out negotiations.

The new contracts with the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers would run through August 1, 2015, if they are approved by the workers.

Current employees maintain their pensions, but employees hired after ratification will receive 401(k) plans.

Job security language from the old contract is kept as is, according to Reuters (itself a union-busting organization.)

Agreeing to a 401(k) for new employees seems like a really big concession to me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chicago Teacher Strike Suspended

From the Sun-Times:

The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted Tuesday to end its strike after seven days, meaning classes will be in session Wednesday for 350,000 Chicago Public Schools students.

“Everybody is going back to school,” said Jay Rehak, a delegate from Whitney Young High School.

Delegate Mike Bochner said “an overwhelming majority” of delegates voted to suspend the strike on a voice vote.

“I’m really excited, I’m really relieved,” said Bochner, a teacher at Cesar Chavez elementary.

At a press conference a short time after the vote, CTU President Karen Lewis said the vote was approved by a margin of “like 98 percent to 2.”

“We said that it was time, that we couldn’t solve all the problems of the world with one contract. And it was time to suspend the strike.”

She said teachers were excited to return to work.

“I am so thrilled people are going back,” she said. “... Everybody is looking forward to seeing their kids tomorrow, I can guarantee you that.”

Nevertheless, there were some “die-hard hold-outs” in favor of continuing the walk-out, Lewis said.

“We cannot get a perfect contract,” Lewis said. “There is no such thing as a contract that is going to make all of us happy.”

While the strike is over, the entire 29,000-member union still has to approve the contract.

Sad sad Rahm didn't get his injunction against CTU.

CTU members talked this contract over for two days and decided it was time to go back to work and have an up or down vote in the near future.

Democracy in action.

Sad sad Rahm hates that.

I couldn't be prouder of my fellow teachers.

They stood up to the corporate reformers, they stood up to Rahm "F---ing" Emanuel, they put the Obama education agenda on trial, they got people talking about class size and liberal arts and humanities classes and the absurdity of VAM and the damage poverty does to children.

Then they showed how democracy works by taking the extra two days to read over the contract in detail, talk about this with their colleagues and families, then call for a suspension of the strike.

The concern trolls in the corporate media hated that last part.

How dare they show how a real democratic operation works rather than operate as some top-down organization wherein the members do what the leadership wants!

But that's because the corporate media, like many of our politicians and certainly like Arne Duncan, prefer authoritarianism to democracy.

One person pushes the agenda and everybody else falls in line.

That's what corporate reform is all about.

That's what mayoral control is all about.

That's what the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation and the USDOE and the Obama administration are all about.

It's nice to see a group of people show how good old fashioned democracy can work.

Now the rest of us have a model to use.

As CTU said in a statement:

“Our brothers and sisters throughout the country have been told that corporate ‘school reform’ was unstoppable, that merit pay had to be accepted and that the public would never support us if we decided to fight. Cities everywhere have been forced to accept performance pay,” the statement said.

“Not here in Chicago. Months ago, CTU members won a strike authorization, one that our enemies thought would be impossible. Now we have stopped the board are imposing merit pay! We preserved our lanes and steps when the politicians and press predicted they were history. We held the line on healthcare costs. We have tremendous victories in this contract; however, it is by no means perfect. While we did not win on every front and will need to continue our struggle into the future, we soundly defended our profession from an aggressive and dishonest attack. We owe our victories to each and every member of this rank and rile union. Our power comes from the bottom up.”


Are you listening, Randi?

How about you, Mike?

I know you are.

Because what happened in Chicago must scare the shit out of you guys...

Eugene Robinson: Stop Blaming Teachers

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Eugene Robinson defended teachers today in the Washington Post.

Here is the column, in full:

Teachers are heroes, not villains, and it’s time to stop demonizing them.

It has become fashionable to blame all of society’s manifold sins and wickedness on “teachers unions,” as if it were possible to separate these supposedly evil organizations from the dedicated public servants who belong to them. News flash: Collective bargaining is not the problem, and taking that right away from teachers will not fix the schools.

It is true that teachers in Chicago have dug in their heels against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s demands for “reform,” some of which are not unreasonable. I’d dig in, too, if I were constantly being lectured by self-righteous crusaders whose knowledge of the inner-city schools crisis comes from a Hollywood movie.

The problems that afflict public education go far beyond what George W. Bush memorably called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” They go beyond whatever measure of institutional sclerosis may be attributed to tenure, beyond the inevitable cases of burnout, beyond the fact that teachers in some jurisdictions actually earn halfway decent salaries.

The fact is that teachers are being saddled with absurdly high expectations. Some studies have shown a correlation between student performance and teacher “effectiveness,” depending how this elusive quality is measured. But there is a whole body of academic literature proving the stronger correlation between student performance and a much more important variable: family income.

Yes, I’m talking about poverty. Sorry to be so gauche, but when teachers point out the relationship between income and achievement, they’re not shirking responsibility. They’re just stating an inconvenient truth.

According to figures compiled by the College Board, students from families making more than $200,000 score more than 300 points higher on the SAT, on average, than students from families making less than $20,000 a year. There is, in fact, a clear relationship all the way along the scale: Each increment in higher family income translates into points on the test.

Sean Reardon of Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis concluded in a recent study that the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students is actually widening. It is unclear why this might be happening; maybe it is due to increased income inequality, maybe the relationship between income and achievement has somehow become stronger, maybe there is some other reason.

Whatever the cause, our society’s answer seems to be: Beat up the teachers.

The brie-and-chablis “reform” movement would have us believe that most of the teachers in low-income, low-performing schools are incompetent — and, by extension, that most of the teachers in upper-crust schools, where students perform well, are paragons of pedagogical virtue.

But some of the most dedicated and talented teachers I’ve ever met were working in “failing” inner-city schools. And yes, in award-winning schools where, as in Lake Wobegon, “all the children are above average,” I’ve met some unimaginative hacks who should never be allowed near a classroom.

It is reasonable to hold teachers accountable for their performance. But it is not reasonable — or, in the end, productive — to hold them accountable for factors that lie far beyond their control. It is fair to insist that teachers approach their jobs with the assumption that every single child, rich or poor, can succeed. It is not fair to expect teachers to correct all the imbalances and remedy all the pathologies that result from growing inequality in our society.

You didn’t see any of this reality in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the 2010 documentary that argued we should “solve” the education crisis by establishing more charter schools and, of course, stomping the teachers unions. You won’t see it later this month in “Won’t Back Down,” starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, which argues for “parent trigger” laws designed to produce yet more charter schools and yet more teacher-bashing.

I’ve always considered myself an apostate from liberal orthodoxy on the subject of education. I have no fundamental objection to charter schools, as long as they produce results. I believe in the centrality and primacy of public education, but I believe it’s immoral to tell parents, in effect, “Too bad for your kids, but we’ll fix the schools someday.”

But portraying teachers as villains doesn’t help a single child. Ignoring the reasons for the education gap in this country is no way to close it. And there’s a better way to learn about the crisis than going to the movies. Visit a school instead.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Emanuel Takes CTU To Court, But The Judge Won't Hear The Case Until Wed

Rahm was enraged when CTU delegates voted to extend the Chicago teachers strike through at least Tuesday, giving them time to read over the details of the new contract and discuss the particulars with union members.

So he took the CTU to court to force them back to work tomorrow.

But a judge has put a wrinkle in Rahm's suit:

Chicago Public School students appeared less likely to be heading back to school Tuesday after a Cook County judge declined Monday morning to take up immediately a lawsuit by Chicago Public Schools asking the judge to end the teachers strike.

In a brief hearing, Cook County Judge Peter Flynn told a city attorney he preferred to schedule a hearing on the matter for Wednesday, a city law department spokesman said. The spokesman could not immediately provide a reason for the delay.

Wednesday is, for now, the earliest possible time students could return if the teachers union House of Delegates votes to approve the tentative deal at its meeting Tuesday.

Chicago Public Schools balked at that timeframe, wanting to sent students back on Tuesday. It filed a lawsuit in Cook County court Monday morning, asking a judge to end the teachers strike because it is illegal and presents a “clear and present danger to public health and safety.”

The complaint is asking for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to halt the strike.

“All of these students now face the all too real prospect of prolonged hunger, increased risk of violence and disruption of critical special education services, and all because of decisions not of their making, in which they did not have a voice or a vote,” the complaint alleges.


Leaving aside the hypocrisy of Rahmbo taking the CTU to court because he says the strike is withholding critical services from students when his budget cuts and deliberate starvation diet for schools has been doing just that, it seems Rahm's ploy isn't going to work if a judge won't hear the case until after the CTU have another delegates meeting scheduled to make a final decision on whether to end the strike or not.

Nice try, Rahm, but like much of the your other ploys in this fight - from rigging the strike vote to 75% to publicly hammering teachers for months in order to drive down public support for them to bragging behind the scenes about how you're going to fuck these teachers right after the election by closing 100 schools, this strategy seems to have backfired.

Keeping Bank of America Safe From Protesters

Three protesters in wheelchairs are arrested by NYPD police outside Zuccotti Park today on the one year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

No word on whether the NYPD has shot anybody yet at today's protests.

But it's still early.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Foley Square

How Dare CTU Members Read A Contract Before They Sign It!

CTU delegates have voted to extend the teachers strike until at least Tuesday while they read the final details of the contract and discuss it with their chapter members before a final up or down vote on whether to end the strike or not comes Tuesday night.

Of course the concern trolls in the media will explode at this - how dare they extend the strike, how dare they inconvenience parents and harm students, blah blah blah.

You know what?

Rahm "F---ing" Emanuel has already reneged on one contract signed by his predecessor.

It behooves CTU members to see the final details of this contract before they decide to stop the strike or not.

In addition, Rahm Emanuel is a banker by trade - never, ever trust a banker or sign anything one of these criminal bastards puts in front of you without reading it first - all of it.

We have plenty of instances since 2007 of lying, weasel bankers screwing people who didn't read what they signed - and even screwing people who did read what they signed.

We also have at least one instance in which Rahm "F---ing" Emanuel's word has been worth less than Enron stock.

CTU members should take the time to read this contract, discuss it with their colleagues and family and figure out what they want to do.

That's a good lesson not only for other teachers around the country, but also for all kids - see all the details of an agreement and read what you're going to sign, discuss it with others first, get all the information you can - especially when the group you're doing the deal with has shown themselves to be dishonest and devious in the past.

Democracy may not be quick and easy, but it sure works better when people actually take the time to think, reflect, share, and discuss with others important things like this.

Occupy

Great day at Foley Square today.

Tomorrow:

Bloomberg Threatens To Lay Off Teachers At The Same Time He Gives Raises To 48 Members Of His City Hall Staff

It's that time of year again, folks - it's time for Mike Bloomberg, the genius fiscal king of New York City, to claim the only way he can balance the city budget is to lay off teachers and other city workers.

I posted about his latest threat yesterday.

This time around, he's threatening layoffs at the same time he's handing out generous raises to his staff at City Hall:

Despite a gaping budget hole that could lead to layoffs of teachers or police officers, Mayor Bloomberg found money in the city budget to give out raises to 48 members of his City Hall staff.

A Daily News review of payroll data found that 10 of those lucky employees got raises that topped 20% since last summer.

“It is hypocritical,” steamed City Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn). “It’s just disrespectful to the people who basically make the city run.”

But Bloomberg spokesman Marc LaVorgna said the mayor’s office was paying some employees more because they were performing more work as a result of staffing cuts.

He said the office shrank by 17 workers, going from 484 employees in June 2011 to 467 in June 2012.

“Fewer people on staff means some employees have been promoted or taken on more work, so their salaries increased, but we’ve pushed our overall salary costs down,” he said.

...

Gregory Floyd, head of Teamsters Local 237, which represents 20,000 city workers, was angry about the raises.

“I thought there was no money for raises for any city employee, and the last I checked the people who worked in the mayor’s office were city employees,” he said. “They’re being paid with taxpayer money.”

Harry Nespoli, who heads the sanitation workers union, said every union is working without a contract and being told to inform its members to work harder without any rises.

“He had enough money to give raises to the people in City Hall, but not the people that work for the citizens of New York City on a day-to-day basis?” he questioned. “That is totally unacceptable.”


Yes, you teachers had better work longer and harder for the same money, get those test scores up as measured by the city's jive ass value added measurement system with the 87% margin of error or they will "I-rate" your ass and fire you.

But people on the mayor's staff get a 20% raise for working harder at whatever it is they do there at City Hall (i.e., mostly bullshit political stuff - like looking for ways to spin why the city needs to do layoffs.)

Just another example of the hypocrisy of this mayor and the Ruling Class he represents.

Austerity for the commons, party time for the connected.

Corporate profits reached an all-time high in June 2012.

Corporate tax rates are at their lowest rate in 40 years.

Wages are the lowest they have been in 25 years.

So corporations are making more money than they ever have before, their paying the lowest amount of taxes in two generations, and they've been squeezing wages for the last 25 years and they're STILL telling us there's no money for anything?

It is clear that the Ruling Class have stolen all the of the money, all of the wealth, and have relegated the rest of us to fight it out amongst ourselves for the scraps.

Until they fear that there will be an uprising to take back the stolen wealth, circumstances are not going to change.

We will continue to have the Ruling Class and their corporate media push austerity for the masses and party time for themselves.

This is why the Chicago teachers strike is so important - it's the first popular, member-led uprising in the face of the Ruling Class Austerity Movement.

Make no mistake, education reform is NOT about improving schools, it is about pushing austerity and fear for the masses while opening up $600 billion in new revenues for the Rupert Murdochs of the world.

It is time to fight back against this austerity, call the education reformers the corporate criminals they are and take back what they are stealing.

It is time to fight back.

Believe it or not, this is what the Rahm Emanuels, Mike Bloombergs and Rupert Murdochs of the world fear.

It is true, they've got the guns and the power of the Surveillance State on their side.

But CTU showed how we can get the numbers on our side and stand up to our corporate overlords.

It is time to stand up to Herr Bloomberg.