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Archive for August, 2010

The Spinning Race To Nowhere

George Steinbrenner and Billy MartinNew Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision to fire State Education Commissioner Brett Schundler over the state’s failure to win a spot in the Race to the Top competition is reminiscent of the late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s serial firings of manager Billy Martin: you keep looking for a way to root against both bullies.* Certainly, there is enough blame to share over New Jersey’s runner-up status.  Schundler’s embarrassing faux pas of failing to submit an up-to-date budget was in part the result of a hasty rewrite of the state’s application, an act necessitated by Christie’s last minute decision to pull the rug out from underneath the state education commissioner’s efforts to gain district and union support. And New Jersey lost far more points — more than enough to finish in the money — from Christie’s scorched earth refusal to seek common ground than from the budgetary gaffe. But Christie is the portly Queen of Hearts, much like the late Steinbrenner, so it’s off with Schundler’s head. More »

Blood Lust at the Ed Reform Corral

There is an old myth that vampires cannot be seen in a mirror. A vampire has no real substance, the story goes, so light simply travels through him, rather than bouncing back and creating a reflection. That myth came to mind when Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project recently asked “who’s a member of the ‘blame the teacher’ crowd?” and could not find a single person. Apparently Daly cannot see himself in a mirror.

If there was ever a question about the existence of the ‘blame the teacher’ crowd, it was surely put to rest by the response of many in the self-identified ‘education reform’ community to the prospect of a wave of teacher layoffs as schools re-opened for the 2010-11 school year. More »


In a bold dramatic headline of the type associated with reports of international events that threaten global annihilation, a tabloid announced a few days ago that a handful of teachers were busted for faking illness in order to go on a honeymoon or for some other absurd motive. The story was accompanied by a spread of six pictures and had the flavor of a “perp walk.” The fruit of this investigative report was the revelation that some teachers took days off, with pay, to which they would have been entitled had they actually been a bit under the weather. More »

Mott’s and the “Race to the Bottom”

Over at Dissent Magazine, our own Leo Casey writes that the recent Mott’s strike is “the latest battle against the ‘race to the bottom,’ the process of undercutting labor market standards that has plagued American labor for the last three decades.” He also counters Matt Yglesias on the issue, saying that the usually reasonable progressive blogger “seems to lose the very capacity to empathize and understand” when writing about the plight of the working people at the center of the Mott’s story.

Brookings vs. Broader, Bolder:
Why the New Critique of the Harlem Children’s Zone Gets it Wrong

Harlem Children's ZoneGiven the high profile of recent efforts to spread the Harlem Children’s Zone model of school and social reform to other parts of New York City and the nation, it’s not surprising that a recent Brookings Institute report criticizing one of the Zone’s charter schools has attracted a lot of media attention. Despite the study’s small scale, its emphatic rejection of the HCZ argument that social service provision is an essential element of urban school reform makes it important to understand whether or not its criticisms are valid. In fact, the report has some significant weaknesses which call its biggest claims into question. The study’s statistical methods are one issue, especially its failure to consider proportions of special education students when comparing HCZ with other charter schools and the decision to use snapshots of test scores rather than measuring individual students’ or cohorts’ progress over time. More »

Dunkin’ Dialogue

At a “town hall” meeting perched on the airwaves of Sirius XM Radio earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan acknowledged the “need to do a much better job of listening to and empowering teachers.”

The tone and wording of that confession suspiciously lacks that Agency’s familiar ring of omniscience. Have they really reached the point of admitting that they don’t have all the answers?  Teachers are, with good reason, wary of freely-given deference to their expertise emanating from those non-professionals, whether high profile or behind the scenes, who agitate and set crucial education policy. More »

PERB Seeks To Protect Merrick Teachers Fired Via FedEx

The State Public Employment Relations Board of New York will petition the State Supreme Court for an injunction to prevent last month’s mass-firing of 11 Merrick Academy Charter School staff members, counsel to PERB notified the UFT and the school today.

After being petitioned by the UFT in July, PERB has reached the conclusion that “there is reasonable cause to believe that an improper practice has occurred and it appears that immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage will result.” PERB will seek an injunction prohibiting Merrick from implementing its decision to discontinue the Merrick Teachers pending a full hearing and final disposition.

Last month the Queens charter school delivered termination notices to eight teachers and three teaching assistants, representing approximately one-third of the professional staff, via FedEx. Employees received no prior notice.

“The State Public Employment Relations Board’s decision to seek an injunction against the mass-firing of Merrick’s staff is an important step in vindicating the right of these educators to organize a union and bargain collectively without fear of retaliation,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. More »

Open Letter from Merrick Academy Charter School Community

The following open letter to elected officials and community leaders was signed by over 200 Merrick Academy teachers, parents and community members.

Merrick Academy Charter School is in a state of crisis which threatens the education of its students and the very future of the school. In the recent past, a Board member was convicted of stealing half a million dollars of public money, the founding principal suddenly departed, and now nearly one-third of the teaching staff have been summarily and illegally fired for exercising their rights to unionize and bargain collectively. The scandals caused by the Board’s behavior are undermining the hard work of the staff, students and destroying the school.

We believe that the current Board at Merrick is now made up of individuals who have shown that they are unprepared and unwilling to make sound educational decisions on behalf of the school and its students. Perhaps nothing illustrates this more than the Board’s firing of nearly a third of the school’s teaching staff, including many of the best and most experienced teachers from a staff that has consistently obtained excellent test scores for the school’s students. The firings were done by Fed Ex notices sent to teachers’ homes, and none included even the most minimal explanation for their abrupt dismissal.

Why, one might ask, would a Board make such an educationally inexplicable and indefensible decision? More »

The Great Bourgeois Cultural Revolution:
The Politics of Naming Names in the Service of a Market Vision of Education

An appalling act of public humiliation and shaming: that it the only honest way to describe the decision of the Los Angeles Times to publish the names and pictures of teachers who scored poorly on a “value added” statistic derived from their students’ standardized test scores. Even if “value added” measures were completely reliable and accurate measures of an individual teacher’s performance — and the best research indicates that in their current state of development and with the current flawed regimen of standardized tests, they are not — the decision to publish the names of teachers would still be indefensible. It submits to public disapprobation individuals who had committed no crime and engaged in no professional misconduct, and issues a summary judgment, for which there is no appeal, on their careers of many years. The decision of the Times to publish names tells us more about its distorted sense of journalistic ethics than it does about the performance of the teachers in question. And the rush of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to cheer lead the Times action, telling its reporters in grand Orwellian fashion that “in education, we’ve been scared to talk about success,” puts to rest any hope that the Duncan who recklessly embraced the mass firings of all the teachers in Bedford Falls, irrespective of their actual classroom performance, was an aberration of that moment.

There are many historical analogies for this action, but one with remarkable resonance is Mao Zedong’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. More »

A Private View of the “Test” of Education

The large bold font of the headline of what may have been an advertorial passing as a news story in the “Religious Schools Section” of at least one prominent community newspaper in Queens not long ago caught my attention and wouldn’t let go. Can you read it and break free of its implications?

The headline reads “Why Do Private Schools Not Have To Teach To (the) Test?” The last paragraph is most revelatory.

“Private schools don’t teach to the test. More »

More on Moral Purity, Political Sectarianism And Talking To Bill Gates

Some additional thoughts, responding to the comments below.

1. It seems that a number of the comments on Bill Gates simply reassert, without logical argument or supporting evidence, what is actually put into question by my original blog post — that Gates and Sam Walton of Wal-Mart are both of the same cloth, the sworn enemies of teachers, unions and public education who seek our destruction. More »