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Archive for September, 2010

Clark Kent’s Valet-In-Waiting

Chancellor Joel Klein shot off a movie review on Huffington Post on September 24. He’s no Roger Ebert, but apparently he feels that under certain expedient circumstances, critics are like school CEOs: anybody can do it. There’s reportedly a Detractors Academy housed in the basement at Tweed for mudslinging upstarts.

The chancellor’s gift for twisting is irrepressibly evident in his review of “Waiting for Superman,” the film over which the anti-union warriors are drooling. “It’s a terrific film…(that) is making many people uncomfortable. The truth is harsh. It’s easier to turn away than to watch a crying mom clutch a losing lottery ticket…”

Why the salty tears? The pseudo-empathic chancellor of the public school system is aghast that a child will now be forced to endure a childhood squandered in classrooms over which he, the master of accountability, presides. He practically equates public school education with neglect, abuse and intellectual death. More »

Michael Mulgrew on “The John Gambling Show”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew was interviewed this morning on WOR News Talk Radio’s “The John Gambling Show.” He spoke about tenure, teacher evaluations, charter schools, and more.

Listen to the segment below:

Mulgrew on John Gambling

A Success Story That Didn’t Make the Cut

Edwize contributor Jonathan Gyurko writes on the Huffington Post that “Waiting for ‘Superman'” filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, favoring “dramatic narrative” over “documentary accuracy,” left his footage of Green Dot New York on the cutting room floor.

By all indications, Green Dot New York is already a success. In just two years, 100% of students in the school’s inaugural class have passed the state’s demanding mathematics exam; 100% passed the state science exam; 97% are on track to graduate in four years. Notably, these impressive results were posted by students who have overcome personal challenges: nearly 10% have a learning disability; another 10% are English Language Learners. And family income is low: 88% of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

Some reasons for this success include small classes that are scheduled in blocks for more meaningful instructional time; teachers have manageable work loads and keep office hours to give students extra help; and weekly grade-level meetings keep students from slipping through the cracks. These and other features operate in a culture of trust, hard work and high expectations that is shared and nurtured by the students, teachers, and school leaders.

Unlike many popular reforms, the school’s founding by Green Dot and the UFT is a powerful and relevant example of management-labor cooperation. This collaboration is codified in a different kind of labor agreement that some philanthropists and academics have advocated for years. It includes provisions sought by many district leaders. Weingarten herself has touted the school as a model partnership that yielded a mold-breaking contract.

Davis Guggenheim, conveniently, had much of this on film. Given his belief that teacher tenure “is the most intractable problem in public education,” Green Dot New York, with its thin, no-tenure contract, was a model worth depicting. Yet his new movie, “Waiting for Superman,” leaves the school — and its promising, scalable innovations — on the cutting room floor. Apparently Guggenheim was more interested in dramatic narrative than documentary accuracy. In depicting hero reformers saving innocent children from villainous unionists, Guggenheim has told a theatrical story that aims for moral indignation through over-simplification. His calculated omission of Green Dot and similar efforts, such as the Union Park High School in Chicago, present caricatures instead of characters and ignore the category-defying examples that represent relevant and replicable alternatives that can drive sustained change.

Michael Mulgrew on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show”

Radio host Brian Lehrer spoke with UFT President Michael Mulgrew and WNYC reporter Beth Fertig this morning about Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement on Sept. 27 of a new education plan that included “ending tenure as we know it, so that tenure is awarded for performance, not taken for granted.” They also touch upon President Obama’s statement on the “Today” show that he would like to see a longer school year, and the issue of private funding for public education.

Listen to the segment using the audio player below:

Making a Difference Every Day

This AFT ad began airing on Sunday:

There’s also an accompanying Facebook page.

Merit Pay Unplugged

A three-year controlled experiment on the connection between the availability of individual merit pay for teachers and their students’ achievement shows none and seems to vindicate the contention that there is no link after all, based on the Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives report released last week.

It comes as no surprise to educators, the huge majority of whom dedicate all their idealism, energy, knowledge, training and skills, full-throttle, every day under all circumstances for the edification of each child.

In their heart-of-hearts it probably doesn’t shock the supporters of “merit pay” either, though they no doubt will rush to condemn the results as scientifically unreliable or skewered by “special interests.” More »

The Techniques Of Union Busting

Martin Jay Levitt spent 19 years “on the dark side,” running 250 union-busting campaigns for corporations around the country. He was good at it too, losing a mere five.

In the below video, “Confessions of a Union Buster,” Levitt shares his experience and trade secrets with 27,000 flight attendants at Delta Airlines who will begin voting Sept. 29 on forming a union with the Flight Attendants/CWA (AFA/CWA).

Two of the main pillars of an anti-union campaign says Levitt, are misinformation and fear. Charter school teachers, from New York to Illinois to California, will find much of this playbook familiar.

HAT TIP: AFL-CIO Blog

One Nation: October 2 March on Washington

Statement of Principle of One Nation Coalition:

Everyone in America deserves a just and fair chance to achieve the American Dream. Our national identity is rooted in the ideal that all people – regardless of race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or ability – should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential and contribute to an economy that works for everyone.

Yet today our nation remains in crisis. More »

“Waiting for Superman”: Don’t Believe the Hype

Waiting for SupermanWaiting for Superman,” the new education reform documentary by Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) hits select theaters this Friday. Having generated plenty of buzz at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals, and at its premiere at the Newseum in D.C. last week, it’s already being called the hottest documentary of the year. The reviewer for New York magazine called it “one of the most galvanizing documentaries I’ve ever seen.”

Though the “Superman” of the title is a reference to Geoffrey Canada’s childhood wish for a savior, the film does have its heroes (Michelle Rhee, et al.) and villains (unions), with Randi Weingarten cast as Lex Luthor. Many in the “blame the teacher” crowd are feeling triumphant (though Mike Petrilli is exercising caution), and presumably well-meaning folks are hoping this film will drive the national conversation, just as “An Inconvenient Truth” did for global warming.

At the Huffington Post, education professor Rick Ayers posted a thoughtful piece on why allowing this film to frame the school reform debate  is a heartbreaking prospect. More »

Pajamas Patriotism

Did you know that if the American economy returned to the “gold standard” monetary system, as libertarians and other right-wing social Darwinists urge, our immortal national soul would be spared and so would your Lord-fearing wallet?

And did you realize that patriotism and progressivism are incompatible and mutually exclusive, according to these protectionists of privilege and portfolio?

If you want to save your country from ruin and takeover, then close your eyes (or better yet, blind them with pokers) and be led by the likes of the bloggers at Pajamas Media,  the supply-siders of motherhood, apple pie and those other quaint Yankee things that folks in lands with more equitable distribution of riches cannot relate to.

They prescribe panaceas for everything that ails America, especially in education. More »

10 Things I Wish a Teacher Had Told Me

[Editor’s note: Miss Brave is a fourth-year elementary school teacher in Queens. She blogs at miss brave teaches nyc, where this post originally appeared.]

Happy back to school! In honor of my officially becoming a tenured teacher (take that, new value-added teacher data reports to determine tenure), I present to you 10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started Teaching.

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

You put your students’ names on everything in your room only to find out that some of them are spelled wrong on your class list. Or some of them moved away and you’re getting three more instead. And now you don’t have enough little birthday cakes to complete your class chart! Something like this will inevitably happen in the first week of school. But the truth is, the only person who will notice is you — and if you resent the fact that you’re going to stay at school until 6 pm redoing it, you’re just going to make yourself miserable.

2. If you can put off until tomorrow what you planned on doing today…you might want to think about it. More »

It Speaks For Itself

Whitney Tilson, DFER founder and Wall Street hedge fund tycoon:

In the article in my last email about Bill Perkins, he was quoted as saying that the rise of charter schools in Harlem has created a system that is “separate and unequal.”  He’s right, but it isn’t a bad thing (and he intends it), but rather a cause for celebration.

What Do You Do When Your Candidate…

  • Has outstripped his opponent in fundraising, by better than a 3 to 1 margin [$4.6 million to $1.3 million]?
  • Has raked in huge corporate donations?
  • Has used the advantages of incumbency to secure large donations from city employees working underneath him?
  • Has had Michael Bloomberg host a fundraiser and has taken donations from the disgraced former Governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer, and the past drug dealer of the former Mayor of your city?
  • Has the organization on whose board you have sat for years, well known for being financed by Wall Street hedge fund tycoons, put him on the top of its national list for financial support?

And then your candidate is still decisively defeated in the election.

You whine about how teacher unions supported his opponent.

Wall Street, DFER, Education Privateers:
“Dissolve The People, And Elect Another”

Last Saturday’s front page New York Times article told the story of the unprecedented flood of Wall Street and hedge fund money into primary elections, targeting elected officials who had the courage to oppose their anti-public education and ‘blame the teacher’ agenda. But from New York to Washington DC, Democrats for Education Reform [DFER] supported campaigns went down to crushing defeat in election after election.

In New York City, the three high profile African-American State Senators on the top of the DFER hit list — Bill Perkins of Harlem, Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn and Shirley Huntley of Queens — won re-election in landslides with the support of the UFT. Perkins beat Basil Smikle and Huntley beat Lynn Nunes by 3 to 1 margins and Montgomery beat Mark Pollard by a 4 to 1 margin. In an open  State Senate seat in northern Manhattan and the Bronx, UFT-backed Adriano Espaillat bested DFER’s Mark Levine by over 10 percentage points. In the Bronx, UFT and union supported insurgent Gustavo Rivera beat Pedro Espada, Jr. by a margin of nearly 2 to 1. Espada,  currently under investigation on charges of corruption, was one of the three Democrat State Senators who had joined with the Republican caucus in the infamous Albany coup d’êtat that paralyzed state government; he was a favorite of Wall Street, real estate and anti-public education interests. In Queens, Hiram Monserrate, another of the three turncoat State Senators who was convicted of misdemeanor assault in a domestic violence case, was trounced 2 to 1 by UFT supported Francisco Moya. In congressional races, UFT supported Carolyn Maloney beat Wall Street candidate Reshma Saujani by a 4 to 1 margin and UFT supported Charles Rangel swept to re-election against 5 opponents, including DFER favorite Adam Clayton Powell IV.

The sole Wall Street and DFER victory in New York City was in the 73rd Assembly District, where incumbent Jonathan Bing put together the largest campaign treasury for Assembly candidates across the state and rode a 10 to 1 financial advantage to victory over public school teacher and UFT member Gregg Lundahl. Bing, who had sponsored legislation to allow the DoE to lay off New York City public school teachers without regard for the collective bargaining agreement, had received donations from Chancellor Joel Klein and his wife, among others. Lundahl’s valiant campaign against overwhelming odds sent a clear message that those who lead attacks on us will not go unchallenged.

In statewide races, UFT and union backed progressive Eric Schneiderman won a hotly contested race for the Democratic nomination for State Attorney General, beating four other candidates. In Buffalo, DFER favorite Assemblyman Sam Hoyt narrowly squeaked to victory over his opponent.

In Washington DC, incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty was decisively defeated by challenger Vincent Gray in an election widely seen as a referendum on the antagonistic, divisive education policies of his school’s Chancellor Michelle Rhee. In the weeks leading up to the DC election it became clear that Fenty’s overwhelming financial advantage was not enough to overcome the Rhee legacy, and desperate Rhee supporters issued ever increasingly shrill threats on the dire consequences of turning Fenty out. In the blogosphere, DFER supporters argued that the election had little to do with Rhee’s  policies, and looked about for someone else to blame for the coming defeat. Despite Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s transparent efforts to support Fenty, some even blamed President Obama for not actively intervening in the election.

It all reminds one of the Bertolt Brecht poem, “The Solution,” written in response to a East German apparatchik’s statement that the people “had forfeited the support of the government” by rising up against the Stalinist regime. Brecht wryly concluded,

Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

The ‘Blame the Teacher’ Crowd: “Time Is On My Side, Yes It Is”

In the 1998 cinematic thriller Fallen, Detective John Hobbes, played by Denzel Washington, battles a demonic force Azazel. Azazel takes possession of human bodies, using them for gruesome criminal acts. Once possessed, the sign of the beast is that the bodies take up the Rolling Stones song, “Time Is On My Side.”

It seems like “Time Is On My Side” has now become a popular theme song for the ‘blame the teacher’ crowd. Our colleague at the Albert Shanker Institute blog, Matthew Di Carlo, looked behind the headlines of the widely reported Time Magazine public opinion survey on the state of American education.

Here’s just a small flavor of Time’s political agenda. It asked those polled what they thought of tenure:

Do you support or oppose tenure for teachers, which makes it difficult to remove them from their jobs after they have worked for a certain period of time?

As loaded and misleading as that phrasing of the tenure issue is, it apparently was insufficient for the editors of Time, who reported a different version in the magazine:

Do you support or oppose tenure for teachers, the practice of guaranteeing teachers lifetime job security after they have worked for a certain amount of time?

And guess who recently reported that he will be writing a regular column on education for Time?