Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How to Dump Unity and Save Our Union

School closings and the upcoming UFT elections will be among the topics of discussion. Help change our union and save our jobs. We will meet in room 313 at the High School of Art and Design, 1075 Second Avenue, near East57 Street. Closest subway stop is 59 Street/Lexington Avenue on the 4, 5, 6, N and R. Also nearby, Lexington Avenue stop on the E and V trains. For an agenda, and for any materials that will be discussed there, reply to this email. We hope you will be there.

UFT elections are this winter. We need your help to replace the Unity losers who have gotten us into this mess. Here's how you can help.
• Send money. Make a check out to Teachers for a Just Contract and mail it to TJC, Post Office Box 545, New York, NY 10028
• Collect signatures on our nominating positions. Reply to this email with a street mailing address and we will send you petition forms to collect signatures at your school.
• Run with us. We especially need candidates from Middle Schools and active member Functional Chapters. If you are interested in running, reply to this email.

The January Public Education Panel meeting will be voting on school closings. Pressured by angry UFT members, the union leadership has had no choice but to call for a protest at the meeting site, moved to Brooklyn Technical High School. While other actions, both earlier and after that date, are being planned by rank and file organizations, TJC urges all UFT members to come to this protest, and raise the demand, "No More School Closings!"

Notes from the December Delegate Assembly
The D.O.E. is coming at us like a ton of bricks, closing schools like there's no tomorrow. How is the Unity-UFT leadership responding? Why and how did they get the Public Education Panel meeting moved from Staten Island to Brooklyn? How can Unity-UFT consider a rally at the PEP meeting a great idea, while the idea of a rally at City Hall would be "walking into a trap"? And, finally, has Michael Mulgrew read too much Harry Potter and started to believe in spells and magic words, like "Mismanagement"? To get Marian Swerdlow's notes, reply to this email.

We are now on Facebook with the name Just Contract. Friend us and check out our great pictures of our actions and events, including some of our recent fundraiser in Upper Manhattan.

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PTAs to be neutered under new policy

Auctions, raffles would be banned; Dept. of Education employees forbidden to hold offices


Staten Island Advance

December 28, 2009

Call it a 50-50, Chinese auction or penny social.

If it involves raffle tickets, no numbers will be called after next month, if
city officials approve proposed changes to how PTAs function.

The new policy, to be voted on at a meeting at Brooklyn Technical High School on
Jan. 26, could cause schools to lose tens of thousands of dollars in funds that
have paid for classroom supplies, smartboards and even a music teacher.

"It's our biggest fundraiser and parents love them," said Louise DeMeo, who
serves as the PTA co-president at Totten Intermediate School and the
corresponding secretary at PS 1, Tottenville. "You're talking about some
teachers getting around $2,000 gifts from the PTA, all for use for the kids."

The ban comes on the heels of a regulation that effectively prohibits bake
sales, another key fundraising tool for schools.

Previously, raffle tickets could not be sold to children, however, the new rule,
outlined in the proposed Chancellors Regulation A-660, says raffle tickets
cannot be sold at all.

The new regulation comes with a slew of other changes in the way PTAs would be
structured, potentially causing upheaval across the city.

PTAs will be required to give some of their extra earnings back to the parents
or the school, rather than using the funds for future events.

Also, no longer will Department of Education employees be allowed to serve as
PTA presidents, corresponding secretaries or treasurers. Instead, they will have
to resign mid-year, with elections held immediately to find replacements.

"Basically, that's taking away my rights as a parent," said Ms. DeMeo, who is a
public school teacher at a school her children do not attend. "I would have to
leave my position and I don't want to do that. The principal does not want me to
do that. He said this is the best PTA he has ever worked with."

"It seems like what they [the DOE] don't want is somebody who's knowledgeable
and passionate," she added. "They want to limit parent involvement and it's
going to create a very adversarial relationship between the teachers and the

Chinese auctions are the most lucrative fundraisers, generating as much as
$20,000 each time an event is held, parents said. At the auction, parents pay
for dinner and a set of raffle tickets when they walk in the door. Numbers are
called and the winner takes home a prize. Organizing an auction can take months,
between writing hundreds of letters to organizations to collect donations of
items, putting together baskets and renting a space.

But parents said it's worth the effort. PS 1 used $5,000 from a Chinese auction
to prevent their music program from being slashed due to budget cuts. Many
schools also use the funds for cultural activities and carnival days. The
principal at PS 50, Oakwood, was able to purchase air conditioners for some of
the classrooms.

"It was phenomenal," said Michele Faljean, the co-president of the Staten Island
Federation of PTAs. "It's so hot in there, the kids can get heat stroke. They
can't even function because they're sweating to death. All the PTA wants to do
is make the school better and help the kids do better."

According to the DOE, all concerns will be heard before the proposal is voted on
by the Panel for Educational Policy.

"We are still accepting public comment on the proposed regulation and we will
consider all parent and public comments before finalizing the proposed
regulation for a panel vote," said Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the DOE.

TLD Interview: Education Advocate Lisa Donlan


District 1's Community Education Council President Lisa Donlan.

In the past several weeks, the Lower East Side has become a main battleground in the struggle for New York City's public schools. Parents have staged protests, called news conferences and come out in force for public meetings to speak out about the expansion plans of the Girls Prep Charter School. In the middle of the debate is Lisa Donlan, the president of District 1's Community Education Council. I sat down with her recently for a wide-ranging conversation about the state of the neighborhood's schools. From her perspective, the Girls Prep controversy has exposed (but not for the first time) the perils of centralized control of the city's schools in the hands of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

There are 32 Community Education Councils (CEC's) in New York City, each aligned with a school district overseeing a neighborhood's public elementary and middle schools. According to the Department of Education's web site, the CEC's "responsibilities include: approving school zoning lines, holding hearings on the capital plan, evaluating community superintendents, and providing input on other important policy issues." But, as a practical matter, Donlan says, the councils were made impotent by the 2002 state law transferring control of the schools from the Board of Education to Bloomberg:

(CEC's are) granted very few rights and responsibilities compared with, say, a school board, which any non-urban, non mayoral-controlled district would have. You pay your taxes, you elect people who make decisions about the schools. That's direct representation. One of my biggest issues is that this is, to me, a very racist and classist setup for urban school districts. In Scarsdale, this is not happening. This is not what's happening in most of the country. There's this shock doctrine that says, 'failing urban schools are the fault of local control and we need to centralize it and put it into the hands of the mayor, who can make these tough decisions.' I think there's something implicitly racist and classist in that, and colonial, in that thought process.

Earlier this month, the CEC passed a resolution calling on the Department of Education (DOE) to deny the Girls Prep request to expand its middle school in District 1. They argued the DOE had badly underestimated the impact of three proposed expansion scenarios on other neighborhood schools. But Donlan is not optimistic the council's opinion will matter very much. Like many parent advocates, she contends the local superintendents have almost no influence with the decision-makers at the DOE. State legislators have insisted this year's law renewing mayoral control guaranteed parents a stronger voice. But Donlan says:

The mayor and Chancellor (Joel Klein) have made it very clear that they don't think parents have any role in this level of decision-making, so they've done everything they can to thwart the law... Not only do we have no levers of power but we don't even have the ability to get information to empower ourselves. There is no transparency. The rhetoric of transparency and accountability is absolutely Orwellian.

Back in 2005, Bloomberg boasted he had "boldly and systematically overhauled and streamlined the management structure of the schools," eliminating "the patronage-infested community school boards." But Donlan rejects the notion that District 1 schools needed "saving."

To say that schools were a mess is inaccurate. Schools are a mess today. To say there's been progress? I really don't see the progress that he's been pointing to. Show me the progress you're talking about. Is it in the over-inflated, dumbed-down test scores that have become the whole carrot and stick of an entire system? Have the least performing schools improved incrementally? That may be true. I'm not completely sure. By closing all kinds of schools and pushing the most at-risk kids and the least prepared kids into these mega-schools that you then close one by one - I'm not sure that's progress. I think this is the illusion of progress. I certainly think we've lowered the bar. I think District 1 is a wonderful response to the mythologizing or demonizing of the past. I can tell you that every time you can find examples of corruption or inefficiency in government anywhere, you don't close the system down. You work on improving it. You just don't demolish everything and say we're starting over and then call that progress.

Donlan and other opponents of mayoral control have a new ally. Bill de Blasio, New York City's public advocate-elect, is calling on the mayor to take parental concerns more seriously. More pointedly, in an interview with WNBC, de Blasio said he was " suspicious of the math and reading tests that City Hall cites as proof that schools are getting better." Donlan is equally skeptical. But what concerns her most is the dismantling of programs and policies in District 1 schools that were beginning to bear fruit.

We had this incredible admissions policy that was very forward thinking. I think that had it been allowed to continue it would have continued to bring about more progress. When the parents took over the school board 20 years ago with a particular vision, the District 1 schools were 31st out of 32 test scores published in the New York Times. When it was dismantled in 2003 they were in the top half, clearly making their way up. Were there plenty of schools that were still struggling? Yes. Would time have continued to bring about progress in those schools? Possibly.

Donlan also points to the district's commitment to universal Pre-K, which has made a tremendous difference to poor, working families. Small classes and an emphasis on art and music programs, were also major factors in the district's improving fortunes, as well, she said. This past October, a state report found District 1 was the "most improved" school district in all of New York City.

During the summer, explaining his determination to increase the number of charter schools in New York City, Bloomberg said, "you give me competition, I'll show you progress." His comments were detailed in the New York Times:

It is the charter schools that will get the public to demand that the rest of them come up,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It’s the charter schools that let parents vote with their feet and tell us what the parents think about the quality of the education, of the schools. And I can tell you, one of the reasons that the public schools in the city have gotten better is because the charter schools exist and give parents an alternative and let parents see that you can do something better.

Donlan says the notion of parental choice has always been an important principle in District 1. All parents can choose which school to send their children, a policy that has encouraged innovation and diversity in teaching approaches and educational programs. So, in theory, she's not opposed to the mayor's ideas about competition in the city's schools. The problem, she told me, is that the deck is stacked against traditional public schools:

Philosophically we believe in choice. So philosophically I believe that the charter model makes sense in this district of choice where we've always aligned with the same goals that the New York Charter Law delineates: innovation, creating capacity in the teaching staff, providing increased education for at-risk students and choice... Where the rubber hits the road is in the implementation... and whether or not those schools are meeting (expectations) and how that is measured. I would maintain that the charter schools are not carrying their share of the burden in terms of ELL's (English Language Learners).

Charter schools are publicly financed but privately operated. Donlan believes this decreases transparency and accountability. And she shares the concerns, expressed by some parents, that charter schools could one day destroy the public school system.

Private management, which is disconnected from any sort of democratic input is very problematic. And I see a fine line between private management that is today not for profit in New York City, but in New York state is allowed to be for profit, so I do buy into the doomsday scenario of the dismantling of the public schools for a private management system, and then we no longer have the public service. If that is indeed the end game or the consequence or even the unintended consequence of having management that is disconnected from a larger community than I'm philosophically opposed.

In October, we visited Girls Prep and spoke with the school's founder, Miriam Raccah. She told us Girls Prep is "relentlessly focused on achievement," and in recent weeks she has repeatedly argued that charter schools deserve the same resources as traditional public schools. In followup stories (here and here), it became clear Donlan and Raccah disagree on almost everything. On one issue, however, they are aligned. Like the downtown political establishment, and parents across the neighborhood, they're convinced the DOE has failed to accommodate the space requirements of all schools. Girls Prep, for example, shares a building on Houston Street with P.S. 188 and P.S. 94. Many critics of the Education Department are convinced it's not a lack of money or incompetent management causing the space crunch - but a deliberate strategy.


DOE official Ross Holden

At a recent Education Council meeting, DOE official Ross Holden seemed to suggest charter schools could grow by pushing out "failing neighborhood schools." And he made it clear a $200 million charter school construction fund was no magic bullet. While Holden denied making the argument that charter schools could grow at the expense of existing neighborhood schools in a later conversation with Donlan, the remarks played into many parents' worst fears. Donlan says more than 80-percent of the schools in District 1 share a building with another school. If the State Legislature raises the charter cap, as Bloomberg hopes they'll do, the space crunch will become even more acute. Donlan told me the Girls Prep dilemma is not the only illustration of the problem - only the most recent example:

Is there some space in our schools that could be used more efficiently? Yes. Is there enough room to sustain another middle school - three sections of four grades? - no. What would have to be given up to create that is something that's already quite rare... It's about who gives up what to whom. It's not just 'oh there's space let's use it better.' It's about giving up occupational therapy rooms, giving up rooms to do speech or guidance counseling. It's rooms for art, music, dance, after school.

Donlan says she's been begging for more schools for five years. The Lower East Side makes up the fastest growing district in the city. Young families are moving into certain sections of District 1 (the Grand Street co-ops, for example) in large numbers. Alluding to the school overcrowding crisis that has enveloped the West Side, Donlan warns, "don't make us the next Tribeca." Making that case, she says, has been made far more difficult by the renewal of mayoral control:

There is nothing that replaces democracy. Having levers of power around decision making that affects our community is essential.... Mayoral control is the opposite of democracy. It's politicized, it's not transparent and it's not accountable.

Monday, December 28, 2009


By Helen Zelon

The New York City public school system has always been led by teachers. Until the chancellorship of Joel I. Klein.

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg was elected, he vowed to improve the city’s

schools, initiating far-reaching overhauls that began with mayoral control: The

demolition of the independent and often mayor-opposing Board of Education, the

creation of a Department of Education, and the formation of the mayor-vetted

Panel for Educational Policy. Critical to Bloomberg's vision was his appointment

of Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, the former head of publishing giant

Bertelsmann and U.S. Department of Justice antitrust attorney who sued Microsoft

– and won.

Historically, educators lead departments of education. But of the 16 individuals

on Klein’s leadership team, only two are educators. In the Bloomberg era,

lawyers and MBAs dominate: not only did Klein have a career in law, James

Liebman, the Chief Accountability Officer who developed the school progress

reports that now drive school survival and principals' job security, is a law

professor at Columbia. Stephanie Dua, who heads the Office of Strategic

Partnerships – and is CEO of the DOE-linked Fund for Public Schools – worked as

a management consultant at the global business consultancy McKinsey & Company.

Garth Harries, former Chief Executive of Portfolio now charged with reviewing

special education services, came to the department via Stanford Law and

McKinsey. Deputy Chancellor Christopher D. Cerf trained as a lawyer and worked

with the Edison Learning Company, in 2006 the world’s largest for-profit schools


Others come from the political sphere: Micah Lasher, the department’s chief

lobbyist, founded the KnickerbockerSKD political communications firm, with

clients including Caroline Kennedy, Andrew Cuomo and the Fund for Public

Schools. Brian Ellner was a Bloomberg campaign staffer and one-time Manhattan

Borough President hopeful who now serves as Klein’s director of Public and

Community Affairs.

“I was elected largely on the basis of my business background. I think New

Yorkers expect me to run city government in much the same way I ran my company,"

said Bloomberg in his 2003 State of the City speech, with “the incentive and

desire to do more, do it better, and do it with less.”

Under his leadership, the art and practice of education has shifted perceptibly

to the business of education – market-driven, "incentivized" and data-steeped.

Enter the Microsoft slayer

“It’s not an accident that the mayor selected the country’s leading antitrust

litigator and not a teacher” to lead the DOE, says Eric Nadelstern, who holds

the title of Chief Schools Officer. “What the mayor understood [is that] when

you have a system with so much vested interest, somehow, you have to break

through that.”

Klein’s nomination as chancellor required special state waivers, to permit him

to assume the post without advanced academic credentials in education or

experience in education leadership. “You can make the argument that the head of

the schools should be an experienced pedagogue,” Klein said at an education

journalists' roundtable last fall. But fixing the schools posed “a massive

management challenge," he said, and the mayor needed “to try outside


So Bloomberg “hired the Microsoft guy,” is how a former member of the DOE

cabinet under Klein summed it up. “He’s a guy who breaks up monopolies. The

problem was the problem of monopolies – the lack of competition, market failure.

The whole thing had to be blown up.”

Klein doesn’t disagree: “The DOE was fundamentally a monopoly,” he explained at

the roundtable. “The mayor wanted someone who was not a career educator, not a

captive to the organization.” The mayor got what he wanted – Klein's seven-year

tenure is the longest chancellorship in memory.

Product over process

It's not as though the city's public schools were perfect when teachers rose to

the highest levels of leadership. School quality and safety varied wildly by

neighborhood. Local political clubs controlled school boards. Bureaucracy was

impenetrable to all but the most crafty or connected. Teachers were grossly

underpaid; their professional growth was hobbled. And most critically, students

were failing by the tens of thousands: dropping out, or being neglected by

low-functioning schools.

Bloomberg spelled out the first phase of his school reform agenda in a major

education address on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2003. “Woefully inadequate”

public schools that failed too many students presented “the opportunity to

rewrite that bleak scenario and chart a new course of success,” the mayor said.

Primary among his goals was “ending the bureaucratic sclerosis” with “one

unified, focused, streamlined chain of command ... freed from the dead hand of


The chancellor sits at the top of that chain, Bloomberg said, and “will dictate

the curriculum and pedagogical methods” for the city’s schools. He dismissed

Klein’s inexperience in education, touting instead his legal prowess: “No one is

better qualified to navigate the legal labyrinth that constantly frustrates


“Bloomberg came from Wall Street and the business community,” said the former

DOE cabinet member, who, like many current or former educators interviewed, did

not want to be named for fear of professional or personal retribution. “They

think entirely differently about organizational structure and dynamics. They

needed the market approach to shake things up. In that respect, Joel delivered

exactly what he promised.”

Yet the wholesale restructuring in 2003 that eliminated the city’s 32 districts,

substituting 10 regions in their place, gutted existing structures for

communication and professional development, say school leaders and education

advocates. Reforms were needed, but went too far, spearheaded initially by

consultants from McKinsey and later by Ron Beller, a former Goldman Sachs

partner who was considered “their hit guy,” said the former DOE cabinet member,

who worked with Beller during the reorganization. “There’s nothing like a trader

at an investment bank for the sharp, bright edge of the marketplace – a brutal

clarity, applied to the school system.”

CEOs and investment bankers allied forces with Klein, as did business titan Jack

Welch and high-profile management consultants like Noel Tichy, who with Welch

created the GE corporate training center that later served as a model for the

NYC Leadership Academy for school principals. Sir Michael Barber, former advisor

to Tony Blair, also joined the effort, as did activist philanthropists like Eli

Broad and later, Bill Gates. More than a dozen private-sector business leaders

participated in the Klein-Bloomberg reform efforts, in a kind of “patrician

liberalism,” according to United Federation of Teachers Vice President Leo

Casey, citing a long American tradition “of elite reform from above” by

individuals sincerely motivated to serve the greater good, but with little

personal stake in the system, in the form of their own children in the public

schools, for example.

“Their theory of change is one that distrusts educators,” says Casey. “You don’t

work with people in schools but impose various frameworks upon them and

experiment. It’s a system designed for noneducators to be able to manage that

system.” The new system focuses more on the "product" of greater efficiency,

better graduation rates and higher test scores, than the process of teaching and


“For the longest time, the people who ran the education department were

educators,” Casey says. “These folks aren’t educators. They don’t know how to

have education conversations. They’re lawyers and MBAs who never spent a day in

the classroom or running a school.”

“When you have folks who don’t know or understand education, they think the

union is trying to trick them,” says Casey. “What was a common language, and a

common ground for conversation between the union and civic leaders, is not



Teaching and learning downgraded

The 2003 restructuring centralized processes at the DOE, only to be undone in a

second wave of reorganization in 2006.

“Phase I involved depoliticizing the system, building coherence, and building

capacity,” Klein said in September. Dissolving districts to create far larger

regions shattered previous structures. Imposing a universal curriculum

standardized content and teaching practices citywide. And developing like-minded

teachers, principals and leadership expanded the DOE’s ability to bring its

vision to the schools. “We built a system we knew would migrate to a very

different state,” he added, which led to the second wave of reorganization at

the DOE, in 2006, which decentralized power (in particular, the power of the

principal’s pocketbook) out of DOE and to the individual schools, creating the

empowered “principal as CEO” model that is the norm in schools today.

“It’s a social-Darwinistic view of schools,” says UFT VP Casey. “They talk about

'empowerment.' A more accurate characterization is the devolution of

responsibilities onto a school – if a school’s not functioning, it has to be the

responsibility of the people in the school” and not the DOE.

The position of Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, long a premier post

in the education universe, has lost its luster and its strength in the

Bloomberg-Klein reforms, critics say. “That position is the one that keeps

turning over,” says Pedro Noguera, Professor of Teaching and Learning at NYU’s

school of education, who also chaired a city task force on middle school

performance. “That position doesn’t have a lot of power. It’s almost

superfluous, now.”

Turnover in the role has been steady under Klein. His first pick for Deputy

Chancellor, Diana Lam, was forced to resign following an investigation for

nepotism. His second nominee, Michele Cahill, was thwarted when the state denied

her the same waiver of educational credentials that it had granted Klein.

Finally the post went to Carmen Fariña, a respected longtime educator who rose

through the leadership ranks. With nearly four decades of service in the city’s

schools, Fariña brought enormous credibility to the position, and helped to

advance and defend reforms like the universal curriculum and the DOE’s plan to

end social promotion.

Yet she did not participate in planning meetings, or help to develop the

"blueprint" reforms she was asked to execute and present to the public. And she

was discouraged from going out to spend time in the schools. Instead, Fariña was

expected to manage Teaching and Learning from her desk at Tweed Courthouse. (As

a local superintendent, Fariña routinely visited four schools a week.)

“To me, the only thing I can judge is what you can see in the classroom,” said

Fariña, who retired in 2006. “Schools doing excellent work in class instruction

don’t always see it reflected in their Report Card.”

Her successor, Marcia Lyles, recently accepted a position as head of a small

school district in Delaware, leading Klein to appoint his fifth Deputy

Chancellor in seven years: Santiago Taveras, who is considered "interim."

(Leaders at a Manhattan high school where Taveras once worked have spoken of his

shortfalls in curriculum planning, even with “a great deal of support.”)

'Contempt for the profession'

The DOE’s increasing focus on data management as an instructional tool, and as a

tool to motivate and reward leadership, in the form of $25,000 bonuses for

principals at the schools making the greatest gains on state standardized tests,

means that teachers have become technicians, according to the founding principal

of a highly regarded and high-performing elementary school in Manhattan.

“Education is a communal effort – it’s a people business, it’s all about

relationships. Data is one small piece of it,” said the principal.

“The brightest college graduates” – the same students sought by Klein-favored

teacher-training programs Teach for America and New York City Teaching Fellows –

“don’t want to become teachers because it’s so scripted, so formulaic,” she

added. “There’s too much structure; they’re expected to become technicians.

Teachers want to be decision-makers, find the teachable moments, explore the big

ideas. If you’re driven to follow someone else’s agenda, you’re not honoring the

child. Eyes only on test scores means no eyes on the children.”

“There’s not enough focus on access to good teaching,” said NYU’s Noguera.

“Higher-order thinking, the ability to write well, the ability to read and

analyze complex text. The real issue is how to make sure kids are getting good

instruction. With pay pegged to [test] scores, the drive is to test prep.

Assessment is a tool, not the solution.”

The extent of the reforms, many say, is a direct reflection of the diminished

role of educators in the upper echelons of the DOE. Consider the department’s

endorsement of unconventional educator-training programs, for example, which one

veteran high school principal says shows "contempt for the profession." Teach

for America and the city's Teaching Fellows program both recruit top grads and

career-changers and thrust them into the classroom while earning their Masters

degrees in education. Many of these unorthodox recruits end up teaching only

briefly, studies show, before going on to other career options. “The idea that

teaching is charity work, where young people parachute in for two or three years

– what does that do for children?” the principal asked.

“They have no idea of the human relationships and of the community educators

need,” said the Manhattan principal. “That’s not a business model. Business is

about selling things, not about people.”

“Klein’s vision of the public schools is not one of a lifetime career, where you

work with children all your professional life,” says UFT Vice President Leo

Casey. “It’s a Peace Corps mentality – you spend two years teaching, then you’re

off to your ‘real’ career.”

In fact, Klein himself did a brief stint as a math teacher, during a break from

law school in 1969. He also has spoken out often on teaching reform – and

recently shared with the New York Times his desire to “slowly, over time,”

reduce the numbers of teachers by 30 percent, while raising teacher salary by 30

percent as well. (The teachers' contract will expire in October.)

Klein recognized teachers as "welcome assets" to learning, but envisions an

education world where students will “basically work it out on their own,” and

where, in two or three decades, schools will be “a hybrid model where there is a

physical school, a place where they go and have clubs and sports activities and

drama, but then, for their academic course work, they might take most of it


“He is so enraptured with accountability, Report Cards, and driving the test

scores up that he’s forgotten that the primal scene for all education reform is

in the classroom,” said Manhattan Institute senior fellow Sol Stern, who writes

frequently on local education. “It matters what you do in a classroom. Teacher

quality and a curriculum stressing strong content knowledge are the keys to

raising achievement.”

Fewer teachers earning more may personify the business-efficiency model, but

“teachers are not like lawyers or MBAs,” says Casey. “They’re not motivated by

money or power. They want to make a difference in the lives of kids.”

“Teachers are viewed by the chancellor as the problem, not the solution,” said a

former Klein cabinet member. “He’s always been averse to having people with

education experience around him. You don’t need teachers at the table to fix the

school system.”

But businesses have gone bust

Mayor Bloomberg first took office in the city’s boom years, when business

culture dominated. Now, as financial edifices topple daily, many ask whether the

paradigm of competition, incentives, and free-market reform still pertains. “The

Mayor’s alliances cross political lines, from corporate leaders, through the

financial and publishing industries, real estate, insurance, technology. He

relies on, and rewards, corporate leaders for education initiatives,” says one

prominent scholar. “Why should we have such respect for the business model,

given the chaos it’s created in the country at large?”

“Bloomberg and Klein are geniuses at marketing their products,” says Stern, of

the Manhattan Institute. “But then, so was Enron. If all these investment banks

were cooking the books, it's becoming clearer to me that this is also happening

in the education world.”

“It is absolutely bizarre that the head of the DOE has no education background

or experience,” said State Assembly Member Rory Lancman of Queens, sponsor of a

bill to make the DOE a city agency subject to local laws, which do not now

pertain to the mayorally-controlled entity. “No one would accept a police

department head without a background in law enforcement. The Chancellorship

should not be someone’s first job in education.”

Klein’s long-term goal is a financial one, according to one veteran

administrator: "Half the number of public schools, double the number of charter

schools – there will be less people in pension plans, and less money spent per

capita each time a charter school opens."

“There is no other agency that’s so out of whack, in terms of who runs it and

what the agency is for,” says State Senator Bill Perkins of Harlem, whose

district has experienced conflict over the number of charter schools versus

traditional public schools. “People with no credentials whatsoever regarding

education are in charge of the system and telling people how it should be run.”

- Helen Zelon

Editor's Note: In preparing this article, City Limits spoke with former and

current DOE staffers and cabinet members, former and current school principals,

academics, and critics on the left and right of the political spectrum, nearly

all of whom requested anonymity out of concern for possible detrimental

consequences for speaking candidly on the record on a sensitive issue. “The

incredible concentration of political and financial power leaves no room for

dissent or difference,” said one person.

Many expressed worry that their schools might suffer or their programs might be

jeopardized, given the depth and reach of Bloomberg-funded civic and

philanthropic projects citywide. The mayor’s broad and deep connections across

political, financial, social and philanthropic networks limit comments to those

kept off the record – and, critics say, strongly influence largely favorable

coverage in the mainstream media.

The DOE, despite prior verbal agreement to review and consider questions related

to this article, declined comment, and would not address the near-universal

desire for anonymity.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

still waters: what buys what

Howdy, everyone!

Here's a brief outline of what your contribution (or the contribution of a friend with extra means) to Still Waters in a Storm (www.stillwatersinastorm.org/support) makes possible:
$25 buys a splendid Fortunata's pizza and juice for one meeting
$50 buys 100 fundraising Still Waters buttons (stylish conversation-starters)
$100 buys food to host a cross-town meeting with our sister group from the Bronx
$150 buys stationery supplies for a year (we really WRITE! and then we write some MORE!)
$250 pays for recording and distributing our next CD (go to www.stillwatersinastorm.org/media/audio to hear our first CD)
$300 buys food for a month of meetings
$350 hires a renowned writer to give a poetry workshop (this year we hired Willie Perdomo)
$400 buys a group set of books (this year we bought 15 copies of THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE WOLF, by Mark Rowlands, and RANDOM FAMILY, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc; we're looking forward to Junot Diaz's THE BRIEF, WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, among others)
$500 sends the group on two field trips to museums or sites of natural beauty (this year we went to the Museum of Modern Art, and brought a real, live wolf to class; we look forward to hiking along the Hudson and keeping naturalist journals)
$1,500 sends 15 group members to a Broadway show (this year we saw IN THE HEIGHTS)
$2,500 stocks our store with fundraising merchandise (books, stationery, meditation guides, yoga supplies, water filters, umbrellas,...)
$30,000 hires three youth workers for a year, part-time
$35,000 hires the group director for a year, full time
The above are GENERAL OPERATING EXPENSES, and they keep us alive. As such, they are the group's pressing needs.
If you are interested in contributing to our long-range CAPITAL CAMPAIGN for a home in the neighborhood, where we can open our doors seven days a week offering Still Waters sessions, tutoring, and a place for peaceful reflection, please read on.
Any donation helps, but here are some major targets:
$5,000 puts a deposit on our new home
$7,500 renovates our new home
$10,000 pays two months' rent
$30,000 pays half a year's rent
$50,000 pays the deposit, insurance, renovations and rent for half a year
$75,000 pays the rent and insurance and utilities for a whole year in our new home
We would gratefully and happily accept donated space in the Bushwick neighborhood, and in-kind donations such as furniture, signs and cleaning supplies.
Please let us know if your donation goes to our Capital Campaign for a home in Bushwick or to General Operating Expenses. For complete instructions on how to make a donation, go to www.stillwatersinastorm.org/support. All funds received by December 31st qualify as charitable donations for the 2009 tax year and will instantly receive a receipt for deduction purposes.
If you have questions, ideas or concerns, please feel free to email stillwatersinastorm@yahoo.com or call me at 646-579-5025.
Anything and everything you donate turns into beauty, fun and peace in the neighborhood.
Amor y paz,
Stephen Haff
Still Waters in a Storm

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Charter Schools: Education's Fox in the Henhouse?


Charter Schools: Education's Fox in the Henhouse?

Successful urban charter schools are showing that high demand, high support education works for all students—not just Jewish and Asian and upper-class kids, but all kids who commit to academic success. Some of these schools’ achievement gains are very impressive.

So why am I, a retired public school teacher of 34 years, cautious and suspicious?

Perhaps there’s a hidden agenda, one that may be revealed by the following questions:

1. Are charter schools “culling”? Are they taking in lots of low-income youngsters, keeping the high-achievers, and sending the rest back to the regular public schools?

2. Are high-performing charters spending huge amounts of money per student, thereby getting the large achievement gains one might expect from one-to-one tutoring and after-school and summer support? Although many charters receive less public funding per pupil than their public school counterparts, these schools can supplement their budgets with grants—and with private money.

3. Do charter schools create disinformation campaigns against the public schools, so that urban districts will turn over their schools to what appears to be an idealistic crop of young administrators with proven results?

4. Are these idealistic young administrators working hand in hand with the Wall Street investors who already have brought this nation to financial disaster? As The New York Times reported earlier this month, hedge-fund managers play a significant role in New York City’s charter movement.

5. Is the ultimate goal privatization? Have the financiers realized that voucher plans are politically dead, leading them to implement their privatization strategy through charter schools?

I doubt that privatization would improve the nation’s schools. It certainly would result in the destruction of the public school teaching profession, the last secure, middle-class occupation in America.

My own take on effective education reform is based on two seemingly contradictory assumptions: Education is a public good, and competition is a good thing. Perhaps public education should become something more akin to what the U.S. Postal Service now is: a quasi-governmental institution that allows for limited competition. Private companies compete with the post office in overnight, package, and other special deliveries, but regular mail service is left intact. A system like this forces the government-supported component to improve or lose resources.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not a shill for the public schools and the teachers’ unions. Teachers in public schools have few incentives to excel. Their pay is fixed, based on experience and degrees. The system in which I worked for over three decades took good care of me, but it did not lead me to work as hard as I could have. Could merit pay be a solution?

Michelle Rhee, the controversial chancellor of public schools in the District of Columbia, has offered teachers there the possibility of high salaries in return for their giving up tenure protections for one year. Of course, hedge-fund managers would laugh at my calling the proposed salaries of up to $130,000 high ones, but let’s simply ask whether the potential of more pay would attract good teachers. Finding talented math and science teachers is especially difficult; maybe an incentive system would bring in candidates with better math and science skills.

But who might be willing to give up the benefits of tenure? How about those Teach For America recruits, who are only going to teach for a couple of years anyway? Even TFA’s most well-known critic, Stanford University’s Linda Darling-Hammond, admits that the students of certified TFA teachers do better in math. This makes me wonder if a lot of these folks—the successful charter schools, the hedge-fund managers, Chancellor Rhee—are on the same team. If they are, let’s ask another question: Is this a better team than the one that’s in charge now? The one in which teachers make political contributions to become administrators, while their former colleagues who stay in the classroom have to work second and third jobs to send their children to college?

Maybe we do need some sort of incentive system for professional educators. I prefer one based less on standardized tests and more on “customer satisfaction.” And I do believe that charter schools should be allowed to compete on an equal playing field.

But I absolutely do not believe that any school district should turn over all its schools to a corporation. Special education services would be slashed immediately. Unregulated monopolies—public or private—are not good for the consumer. Privatization does offer the hope of some helpful efficiencies, but a form of public-private competition would be the better answer.

Of course there are those who would argue that I am overreacting. I have no proof that the hidden agenda of the charter school movement is to privatize American public education. Some sources (including The New York Times) say the hedge-fund managers see their involvement in charter schools as community service, rather than profit-generating. Only time will tell if this is true or not. I love community service, but I also believe that capitalists are geniuses at finding new markets and ways to put the screws on the working class.

I am among the few lucky Americans to have a decent pension and good health care, and I want others to have the same. Privatizing the public schools would not help any of us educated, middle- and working-class folks. It would just move more of us, and our children, into the ranks of the working poor.

One of my great professors in college believed that the public schools were nothing less than the foundation of American democracy. Lawrence A. Cremin of Teachers College, Columbia University, knew full well that this nation’s education system was imperfect. But he also understood that we have continually tried to reform public schools precisely because we believe in them.

Are we ready to give up on an institution that, throughout our history, has promoted and sustained our democracy? Should we not recognize the fact that our poorest students are failing to achieve at high levels largely because we have allowed wealth and income gaps that are morally intolerable to exist in this country?

The arguments for privatization sound good at first, but once you give the fox the key to the henhouse, it’s virtually impossible to get it back.

Vol. 29, Issue 16

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

JW's Email #11

Hi, good evening,

Before the rest of this email, let me just say to TRUMAN people that people are very discontent about the Dec. 21st directive to augment or even re-do the Progress Reports we just submitted. The chapter leader wants to know of your concerns: see him, email him, call him. Whatever.

Other than that -- our profession is really going down the tubes. Everyone has to start getting involved.




There were rallies last week. At the PEP meeting on Thursday, over which Klein presided — though he was texting his way through most of it on his Blackberry, to the irritation of everyone in the hall) — it was interesting that the protesters got the panel to back off two of the school closing proposals on the docket. (Gotham calls these "flashes of independence" on the panel.) As someone in the listservs remarked, if they can get the Klein and his PEP team to withdraw one of these things in ten minutes' worth of discussion, that says a whole lot about the fragility of this politically-motivated campaign to close down schools.

I was impressed by a lot of HS VP Leo Casey's short speech in the public comments, which he premiered the week before at the DA. Some of the things he said were what we in the progressive caucuses have been saying years — that Klein is driven more by corporatization and real estate than out of a desire to help children, teachers, or schools. (Leave it to Norm Scott to remind us that it's "disingenuous for Casey to complain that closing schools is just a real estate grab (Ed Notes, ICE and GEM should have copyrighted the idea) when the UFT is engaging in its own real estate grab with two charter schools occupying space in public schools.")
If the union is adopting some of our progressive analysis, I believe there's a wide gap between Casey's speeches and the Union's new campaign to portray Klein's failures as mismanagement. (See this UFT link for more on that.) Casey did speak of Tweed mismanagement in this Edwize post from Dec.9th, but I'm almost sure I didn't hear much of that "mismanagement" rhetoric in the two more recent speeches (DA and PEP), where he was clearly making the point that Klein's assault on the system are political and ideological.

In his President's Report at the DA, Mulgrew forcefully suggested we all go around calling Tweed "Mismanagement Central" (exx.: burgeoning class sizes; the hiring of new teachers and even paying bonuses to recruiters while there is still a hefty ATR pool). According to the NY Teacher, Mulgrew said: "These issues could have been — and still could be — better resolved with better management and hard work, not political grand-standing.” That's a very far cry from Casey's speech, which cast Klein as a deft and ruthless politician going about killing off our schools.

Two GREAT videos of the PEP protest are here and here . These are very exciting times and it's good to see these people in action, but it's very sad that there is such a disconnect between educators and parents.

FOR PEOPLE IN THE BRONX, the union is mounting a rally to Save Columbus HS on Jan 7th.



Developing in the union at this point are at least two thoughts on how defend against closings. The UFT seems to want to protest in little ways, community board by community board, school by school. Members of the opposition are leaning toward larger, citywide protests. Though Mulgrew is not inclined towards the latter, the Chapter Leader Weekly is MEEKLY asking us to

Save the Date: Citywide protest against school closings

In that paragraph they ask chapter leaders (and I assume members) to "plan on attending" the PEP monthly meeting at 6 p.m. on Tues., January 26, when there will be a vote to close 20 city schools. Frankly, I don't know how asking a cityful of educators to attend a monthy PEP meeting is the same as the "citywide protest" mentioned in their heading. To me, a citywide protest means a 10-block march culminating in a demonstration at Tweed, not trying to get thousands of people inside a public hearing whose agenda moves slow as molasses through all the business of the panel before anyone from the public has the chance to speak. And then only for 90 seconds, which they've just reduced from 2 minutes.

I thinketh the UFT speaketh in forked tongues. Or maybe it has management problems . . .

Here's JD2718 's take on how the union should be reacting to these things:

The DoE is acting so quickly, which creates some urgency here. They are planning to run the public hearings next month, fulfilling the letter of the requirements of the new governance law (while thumbing their thumb at the spirit of the law). This will be likely be the largest round of closings we have seen. They are running it like a lightning round:
One day, probably this week, a DoE team shows up at the door and starts by meeting with the Principal, the cabinet, Chapter Leader… Then a Faculty Conference. The next day they make arrangements to send a letter home to parents. And then the third day, or soon after, a parent meeting. Then they wait a few weeks (cowards are using Christmas break to reduce the number of work days), hold an open meeting with the SLT, accept comments. And that’s it. Except for the formality of a PEP vote.

He gives this list of the schools the DoE is looking at, saying that some will be ok:
Science Skills Center HS for Science Technology and Creative Arts; International Arts Business School; School for Legal Studies; Boys and Girls; Maxwell; FDA IV; Metropolitan Corporate Academy HS; Secondary School for Law; Robeson; FDNY HS; HS for Civil Rights
Peace and Diversity; Columbus; Monroe Academy for Business Law; Grace Dodge; New Day; Gompers; Clinton; Smith; JFK; Jane Addams; Global Enterprise; Community Research and Learning
Norman Thomas; Murray Bertraum; Choir Academy of Harlem; Academy of Environmental Science; University Neighborhood HS; Legacy School for Integrated Studies; Washington Irving; Chelsea Career and Tech; Coalition School for Social Change; Graphics; Leadership and Public Service
Beach Channel; Business Computer Applications and Entrepeneurship; Jamaica; John Adams; Grover Cleveland; Math Science Research Magnet; Richmond Hill

There's also this bit that's been circulating the listservs:

"The data person for my school went to a DOE data meeting last week. They were told that a 80% graduation rate will be required....33 more schools are in danger of being closed because of this." Later:
"It was stated that of the 33 schools there were two schools in "North Brooklyn" that were in danger of not meeting this requirement. This rate is for 4 and 5 year graduation rates."



Norm Scott just blogged on his perspective of union history, particularly the opposition. It is a good reference point if you want to get involved with union activism, even if you are looking to join Unity. An few sentences from it:

By 2001, it was becoming clear that Randi was not only not liberalizing the union, but also making it more undemocratic than ever. As a small example, the new motion period ever since I became a delegate in 1971 took place immediately after the question period. Suddenly, if Randi didn’t like a resolution I [JW: or someone else, I suppose] was proposing, she either eliminated the time altogether or pushed it to the end of the meeting. She became more and more of a demagogue . . .
. . . W hatever progressive wing there might be (and I had plenty of conversations with people who came off that way) was cowed by Unity Caucus discipline. It became clear that the caucus was like a black hole. Once you went in you never came out."



1. The side agreement that the UFT reached with the DOE in June regarding our pension benefits was only recently enacted into law by the NYS Legislature. Benefit changes for members hired after Dec. 9, the change in the rate of return for the fixed TDA plan, and other questions are answered at Q&A at this link.

2. Reminder to have your file letters removed after three years. Make an appointment with principal to do this.



Recognizing in the Dec 09 issue that people "despair" over the state of the union — "It's been go-slow and don't-rock-the-corporate-boat" — Jim Hightower says now is the time to be more active than ever and suggest six ways to cope with such despair:

1. Consider what's reasonable for you: since the issues are complex, just take one bite on one issue and contribute what you can — in time, skills, contacts, money, enthusiasm, etc.
2. Inform yourself
3. Democracy belongs to those who show up.
4. A community is more than a collection of issues and endless meetings. (He suggests socialize, but who has the time?)
5. Become the media (we've been doing that already)
6. Hold your "what to do" sessions in your community.