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Archive for January, 2012

“Shorting” New York City’s Schools?

Hedge fund manager David Einhorn was in the news this week after he and his firm were hit with an $11.2 million fine for insider trading. Based on an investigation by authorities in the UK, Einhorn was cited for selling millions of shares of a troubled business just minutes after an executive there quietly revealed to him that the company was in financial trouble:

“Einhorn is an experienced professional with a high profile in the industry,” said Tracey McDermott, the FSA’s acting enforcement chief. “We expect someone in his position to be able to identify inside information when he receives it and to act appropriately. His failure to do so is a serious breach.”

If the name sounds familiar to many New Yorkers, it may be because of his recent flirtation with becoming the white knight of the beleaguered Mets franchise; others may remember him for his fame as the financial analyst whose decision to bet on the collapse of Lehman Brothers made him a huge profit in 2008.

For those who follow education, however, Einhorn now joins the ranks of fellow hedge funders who have been implicated both in questionably ethical business decisions and in the New York City charter school sector. More »

There’s One Big Worm In Checker Finn’s Apple

On the Fordham Foundation’s Flypaper blog and in the electronic pages of the Hoover Foundation’s Education Next, Checker Finn is bemoaning the state of the American work ethic, and blaming American education for this sorry state of affairs.

This narrative of American cultural decline, with the public school teacher playing a starring role as villain, is a trope that appears frequently in conservative circles dedicated to waging ‘culture war’ on issues of race, gender and sexuality.  In his piece, Finn cites a forthcoming book by paleo-conservative Charles Murray on the decline of ‘industriousness’ in the America’s white working class. (Murray is best known as the author of The Bell Curve, with its theory of a genetically based African-American intellectual inferiority; apparently, the industriousness of American workers of color is not worth discussing.) Finn links to a chapter from Murray’s book, just published in the Wall Street Journal,  in which he characterizes the declining rate of full-time employment among male white workers as a cultural failing of the workers. Amazingly, Murray has no discussion of the impact of the current economic downturn, the deepest and longest since the Great Depression, on working class employment, and no mention of the effects of four decades of globalization, during which corporations exported decent paying industrial jobs abroad to countries with very low labor costs enforced by authoritarian regimes. No, in Murray’s hands, the decline of full-time working class employment is entirely a cultural flaw, a loss of the Puritan ethic of hard work, to be found in the workers themselves.

Finn does not simply endorse Murray’s narrative of working class cultural decline; he provides his own supporting argument, centered on Apple Inc.’s outsourcing of its production work to China. More »

Save Bahraini Teacher Unionist

The leader of the Bahrain teachers’ union, Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, was imprisoned and tortured in the Bahraini regime’s crack down against the ‘Arab Spring’ democracy protests in that country. He is now seriously ill and being denied medical treatment. To read more about his case and to send a letter of protest to the Bahraini government, go this Labor Start page.

Analyzing Tweed’s Propaganda Sheet: A Lesson Plan

[Editor’s note: The author is the UFT chapter leader at John Dewey HS.]

Aim: How can the ability to identify and understand basic propaganda techniques empower you to make better informed decisions?

Do Now: Read and briefly discuss with a partner “Recognizing Propaganda Techniques and Errors of Faulty Logic”

Motivation: How many of you have ever been excited to purchase an item, partake in an activity, or follow a course of action, only to find yourself disappointed by the outcome? Who would like to share the situation? Elicit a response or two. Why did you specifically make the decision that you did? What led you to make the decision?

SWUT: The best way for the individual not to be manipulated into making decisions not in their best interest is to understand propaganda techniques.

Step 1: Briefly discuss and elicit examples of the propaganda techniques found in Cuesta College’s “Recognizing Propaganda Techniques and Errors of Faulty Logic”

Group Task/Differentiation:

  1. Have students work in groups of four or five to do a close reading (pen, pencil, and/or highlighter in hand to underline main ideas of each paragraph, write notes, and/or write questions/comments on doc) of DOE “Turnaround” doc, dated January 13, 2012.
  2. Have roughly half of the students in each group answer the following questions:
    1. (p.1) What evidence of additional support have you seen this year? Have support services and or programs increased or diminished this year?
    2. (p.2) Based on the context of this paragraph, how does Walcott define meaningful system? Does the paragraph imply that the current evaluation system is meaningless?
    3. (p.3) Does the misuse of the plural possessive form in the first sentence imply Walcott is performing poorly in his educational duties? Why would the specific “conditions the UFT insisted on” be left out of this document? Is there any evidence to show the replacement teacher would better serve our students?
    4. (p.4) Is “real accountability” clearly defined? If so, what does it specifically mean? If not, why not?
    5. (p.5) Does Bloomberg currently have the authority to carry out his plan? Why would the DOE hold back the details of their plan?
    6. (p.6) What specifically will be used to screen the existing staff? What are “rigorous standards for student success”? Why is the term “significant portion” used? Is there an insignificant portion?
    7. (p. 7) Does the DOE currently have the authority to carry out their plan? Is the approval of the plan presented here the only course of action in restoring the funding? What does the phrase “whatever it takes” mean? What details are provided to clarify “best equipped”?
    8. Using one sentence, clearly describe the DOE’s plan to improve your educational experience at John Dewey High School.
  3. Have the other half of students in each group use the DOE source doc to try to identify examples of the four propaganda techniques listed in “Recognizing Propaganda Techniques and Errors of Faulty Logic”
  4. Have the groups discuss and share out their answers.

Closure: Exit slip: Other than the “turnaround” model, decide what other solutions are possible?

HW: What appropriate and viable means are available to students to influence major decisions made regarding their education?

‘A’ Stands For Axed By Bloomberg’s Political Agenda

The staff of Maxwell High SchoolThe staff of Maxwell High School, which received an ‘A’ on this year’s School Progress Reports, and yet is still slated for closure by Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Education, gave the superintendent who had come to the school to do a “pre-engagement” meeting all of their ‘A’s, and then stood up and walked out: there is nothing that the DOE can say about such a cynical political use of their school that they need to hear. Today’s newspapers talk about what is happening to Maxwell and another six schools — Brooklyn School for Global Studies in Brooklyn; Cobble Hill School for American Studies in Brooklyn; Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn; Harlem Renaissance High School in Manhattan; William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn; and Intermediate School 136 Charles O. Dewey in Brooklyn — which received ‘B’s on their School Progress Reports.

Mayor Bloomberg: Stop Playing Politics With Our Schools

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, Jan. 19, 2012Highlights from the Jan. 19 issue of New York Teacher:

Mulgrew: Mayor lost in fantasy world
“The mayor seems to be lost in his own fantasy world of education, the one where reality doesn’t apply,” declared UFT President Michael Mulgrew in response to the mayor’s State of the City speech on Jan. 12, in which, among other proposals, he threatened to fire half the staffs in 33 schools receiving federal School Improvement Grant support.

UFT asks PERB to help restart evaluation talks
The UFT on Jan. 13 asked the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to order mediation to bring negotiations on a teacher evaluation system for 33 restart and transformation schools back on track, after the city walked out of the talks during the Christmas break week.

Tweed OKs unwanted Eva in Cobble Hill
When charter school impresario Eva Moskowitz comes knocking at your school’s door, the Department of Education lays out the welcome mat. That’s what parents and educators in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood discovered when the city’s Panel for Educational Policy on Dec. 14 gave the green light to the co-location of Moskowitz’s newest Success Academy in a local school building already housing three schools. More »

Which Schools Close? Redux

How does the DOE decide which high schools to close? For the third straight year, and all claims to a nuanced review of quality aside, the schools the DOE chooses to shut are simply those that dare to teach the students with the city’s highest needs. There’s nothing terribly nuanced about it at all. (For previous years, see here and here).

Which Schools Close? Redux, chart 1It starts with this chart (and then gets worse).

Even though DOE claims that the Progress Report grades are demographically neutral, DOE did not fail a single high school with lowest concentrations of high-need students (that top 1/3 in dark green).1 And, though the D’s and F’s are spread across the bottom 2/3 (in blue and red), it was overwhelmingly the D’s and F’s with the highest needs that made the “pre-engagement” list — the short list from which DOE would ultimately choose the final closures. 65% of the highest-need D’s and F’s were put on the short list, but only 15% of the schools in the middle where the students on average had fewer challenges to overcome.

And it gets worse. More »

Good News for Opportunity Charter School

Most of the coverage about the Department of Education’s role as a charter authorizer in recent weeks has focused on the management scandals at the Believe Network and the decision to close Peninsula Prep after three years of C’s (although interestingly enough, the role of for-profit charter manager Victory Schools has mostly been left out of the Peninsula Prep story, despite quotes from current Victory executive and past DOE Charter Office head Michael Duffy in the Times coverage of the school’s closing).

Equally important, however, was the DOE’s decision to grant a two-year renewal to the third school it had placed on the closure list this year — Opportunity Charter School, a charter founded to serve students with special education needs. The DOE’s threat to close Opportunity had inspired a passionate response from the school’s community, including powerful presentations of evidence from the district’s own progress reports showing its success in helping students with intense special education needs achieve academically and graduate from high school at rates well above other schools in the city. More »

Leaps of Logic and Sleights of Hand:
The Misuse of Educational Research In Policy Debates

Did the New York Times sensationalize its account of an analysis of value-added measures of teacher performance it recently featured on its front page, misleading its readers about its policy implications? Have commentators such as the Times’ own Nicholas Kristof and bloggers such as Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey seized upon the Times’ misleading narrative to confirm pre-existing policy biases, rather than do their own careful reading of what is universally acknowledged to be a rather complex study? Was Mayor Bloomberg’s cynical use of the analysis and Kristof’s column in his State of the City address to teacher bash and union bash, as he cited them to justify his mass closure of PLA schools and his refusal to negotiate meaningful appeals of ineffective ratings, not the logical conclusion of this misrepresentation of educational research?

An email exchange I had with one of the co-authors of the study, Raj Chetty of Harvard, provides interesting evidence that the answer to all of these questions is yes. More »

MLK: The Dignity And Worth Of Labor

AFL-CIO Convention, December 1961

Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires, and few Negro employers. Our needs are identical with labor’s needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.

AFSCME Memphis Sanitation Strike, April 3, 1968

You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.

A Letter from Michael Mulgrew to UFT Members in PLA Schools

Dear Colleagues,

The UFT has filed legal papers with the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to declare impasse in the negotiations between the UFT and the NYC Department of Education (DOE) over a teacher evaluation system for schools that had been placed in the Transformation and Restart models of school improvement. We have charged the DOE with walking away from the negotiations that they were required to complete in good faith by the agreement they had signed with the UFT last June. Further, since the DOE has explicitly refused to negotiate an appeals system, with repeated statements to the UFT in negotiations that they would never overturn a supervisor’s rating on an issue of substance — a stance confirmed by the 99.5% rate at which they currently turn down U rating appeals — they are in direct violation of state education law which requires a substantive appeals process. If PERB declares impasse, as we have reason to believe they will, the NYC DOE will be forced back to the negotiations table to complete the process they agreed to undertake last June.

On the morning of Jan. 13 the DOE sent teams to Transformation and Restart schools, and to other PLA schools which had not as yet been placed in any School Improvement model, announcing its intentions to close your schools, and to impose by fiat a new evaluation system that could be used to remove half of your staff and your principal. In his State of the City address on Jan. 12, Mayor Bloomberg said that he believed there was a loophole in state law that would allow him to take such steps without negotiating it with the UFT. Our UFT lawyers have carefully examined the laws and regulations the mayor is invoking, and we do not see any grounds for the view that the DOE has the legal authority to take such unilateral action. If and when the DOE begins the legal process for closing your schools, the UFT will be immediately taking the appropriate legal action to stop it. More »

UPDATED: Schools As Collateral Damage:
The Price We Pay For A Decade Of Tweed’s Failed Policies


As hard as it is to believe, it now seems that the initial reports we received from the field actually understated the complete lack of educational integrity in this development. We have now been told that not every PLA school was told it would close; rather, for purely political reasons, some schools will not be slated for closure. Incredibly, while a school such as Maxwell which received an ‘A’ on their School Progress Report was told it would close, there are reports of a school which received an ‘F’ being passed over. No wonder Tweed has not published a list of all the PLA schools it is closing.


Much like the brief torrential rain which drenched New Yorkers on Thursday morning, Mayor Bloomberg’s Thursday afternoon State of the City Address received a deluge of media attention. Today, the print and electronic media feature talk of his jeremiad against the UFT, of his attempted resurrection of ‘market reforms’ such as merit pay which have been discredited even in ‘reform’ circles, as study after study has shown them ineffective, and of his claims that he will introduce a new evaluation system by fiat. Tellingly, nowhere will you read an account of what the Mayor’s proposed imposition of closure under the Turn-Around model would mean for the PLA schools, were he to be successful in implementing it.

Consider what is happening to just a few of the PLA schools. Note that we use here the performance data that, the DoE insists, informs their decisions on the future of schools.

Maxwell Career and Technical H.S. in East New York. Over the last two years, the principal and staff have taken a school which had a ‘D’ on its 2008-09 School Progress Report and was slated for closure by the NYC Department of Education and led it to grades of ‘B’ on its 2009-10 and ‘A’ on its 2010-11 School Progress Reports. The DoE’s now wants to remove that principal and half of the staff that produced that real turn-around, all without the slightest bit of help from Tweed.

Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology.  For three years, the DoE left in place the principal of this school who was found by his own superintendent to have engaged in sexual harassment, and was the subject of continued sexual harassment complaints from female staff and parents. The school was finally given  a new principal and a chance to turn itself around this past September, but now the DoE wants to remove that principal and half of the staff.

Unity Center for Urban Technologies. DoE Deputy Chancellors consider this school to be a paragon of a school turn around. Unity received an ‘A’ on both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 School Progress Reports, but now the DoE wants to remove the principal and half of the staff it has touted so widely. Talk about the Tweed ‘kiss of death.’

Long Island City High School. For many years, LICHS had done a credible job of teaching a high needs student population before it ran afoul of federal and state benchmarks that demanded it produce the same graduation rate as Stuyvesant High School. Far from being given the additional funds, supports and resources which it had been promised to allow it to improve its instructional program, LICHS has been  radically destabilized by Tweed since it became a PLA school, as decisions made at the highest level of the NYC DoE have created turmoil and disrupted the educational program. The schools has had three principals over the last three years, and the imposition of closure under the Turn Around Model would require a fourth in September. The school’s administrative capacity had been so deteriorated by these frenetic changes, that the school was forced to introduce a third entirely new class schedule and program in November, in the third month of a five month term: half of the term had been lost to administrative mismanagement. Despite this sabotage by Tweed, LICHS still pulled a ‘C’ on its last School Progress Report, but now the NYC DoE says it wants to further destabilize this school by removing 50% of its staff.

Bushwick Community H.S. and Harlem Renaissance H.S. As transfer schools, both Bushwick and Harlem Renaissance teaches students who had dropped out of other high schools. They ended up as PLA schools not just because they were held to the same graduation standards as Stuyvesant H.S., but also because they were given as little as one or two years to have their students pass 5 Regents exams and acquire 40 credits. The Regents are now considering changes to the performance metrics for transfer schools so they can be more fairly assessed. With these extraordinarily long odds against them, Bushwick scored a ‘C’ and Harlem Renaissance scores a ‘B’ on their last School Progress Reports. But the NYC DoE wants to fire the principals and half of the staffs that accomplished this, against all odds.

Queens Vocational and Technical High School. Queens Voc is a school that has been placed on the PLA list only because there is a full year’s lag in the data the state uses for these decisions: by the time it was added, its graduation rate was already well above the cut-off line.  It had an ‘A’ on its 2009-10 School Progress Report and a ‘B’ on its 2010-11 School Progress Report. How could such a record deserve closure under Turn Around? And what will happen to the many high needs students at Queens Voc when the school leadership and 50% of the school staff that has served them so well are forced out?

The list can go on and on. Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School, Cobble Hill School of American Studies, Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, William E. Grady High School, the School for Global Studies… All good schools with strong leadership and a solid track record of educating large numbers of high needs students. Each school received a ‘B’ on their 2010-11 School Progress Report. And each is now scheduled to lose their principal and half of their staff.

Could there possibly be more damning evidence of how decisions are made by the Mayor and his lieutenants at Tweed, without the slightest concern for what happens in schools to students? Like the cavalier military officer who dismisses civilian deaths as ‘collateral damage,’ Bloomberg and Tweed see the harm that will come to schools and students as the necessary cost of their political blitzkrieg.


“Believe” the Teachers

Monday’s announcements that all three charter schools in the Believe Network would likely have their charters revoked at the end of the school year were no surprise to those who have been following recent news about these schools and the network which runs them. From security camera footage that showed Believe students were being forced to attend classes in factory space to the photo of Believe CEO Eddie Calderon-Melendez charging a New York Post photographer, evidence suggested that both the state’s investigation into the Network’s finances and the DOE’s review of the school’s management would find multiple egregious violations of the school leaders’ legal responsibilities.

As the DOE’s own revocation letter for Williamsburg Charter High School notes, Mr. Calderon-Melendez and his schools’ Boards have a long history of questionable dealings, including the decision of the boards to pay him huge salaries ($478,000 in 2009 and $378,000 in 2010) even as the schools he managed were failing into so much debt that they were eventually unable to pay their rent. More »

In Bad Faith

There is but one conclusion that can be drawn from the NYC Department of Education’s last minute walk out of negotiations over a teacher evaluation system for 33 schools placed in the Transformation and Restart models: it was always Tweed’s intention to refuse to enter into an agreement for teacher evaluations.

Part of the evidence for this conclusion comes from the conduct of NYC DOE officials during negotiations. Throughout the month of December, the UFT made intensive efforts to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion before the NYS Education Department’s deadline of December 31. Yet while UFT officers and staff canceled vacation plans to work on a potential agreement, key actors on the DOE side, such as the lawyer who writes up contractual agreements, were outside of New York City on vacation as the clock ticked down. More »