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Archive for April, 2012

Shutting Down Public Voice on Charters

As originally envisioned, charter schools were supposed to be a way of empowering communities to have a stronger voice in decision-making at their local schools — with community leaders, parents, and teachers on the boards and decisions being made in ways that gave stakeholders direct access rather than layers of bureaucracy.

In New York, however, the expansion and oversight of the state’s charter sector seems to be moving in the opposite direction. As evidence, I encourage a review of yesterday’s decision by one of the state’s charter authorizers to allow the Success Charter Network to merge at least five of its schools (and soon eleven, and likely eventually all forty of their schools) under a single board — essentially creating a new school district run by non-profit corporate leadership rather than public officials or local leaders.

If you haven’t heard much news about this plan, it’s not surprising — while the boards of the network’s schools approved the mergers in February, the DOE didn’t have a hearing to get local input on the proposal until this past Friday (with two days notice) — and didn’t release any of the documents explaining what the mergers would look like. More »

Facing Closure, “Long Island City’s Going to Rise”

At a public hearing at Long Island City HS last Tuesday, April 17, our own Leo Casey was one of many to speak out against the city’s plan to close the school and remove half its staff.

Videos of many of the other speakers are available on this YouTube channel.

Wal-Mart: Quite The Model Corporate Citizen

In a major expose, the New York Times has revealed a trail of corruption, bribery and cover-up at the highest levels of Wal-Mart, a leading corporate funder of anti-union and anti-public education projects and initiatives.

The list of 2011 grantees of the Walton Family Foundation, Wal-Mart’s corporate foundation, reads like a veritable who’s who of corporate education reform efforts. Among the more prominent beneficiaries of Wal-Mart money are:

  • Michelle Rhee’s and Joel Klein’s StudentFirst
  • Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network
  • Education Reform Now, the not for profit arm of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)
  • The New Teacher Project
  • Teach for America
  • The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the state charter school organizations in California, Floria, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, and Ohio
  • Black Alliance for Educational Options
  • Center for Education Reform
  • American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Bellwether Education Partners

The Walton Family Foundation has also been a major funder of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, founded by blogger Jay Greene, who has been moved to sing the praises of Wal-Mart on occasion.

As a corporation, Wal-Mart has a long history of flouting American laws: it is the leading corporate violator of child labor laws, of the Americans with Disabilities Act and civil rights laws prohibiting sex and race discrimination. Human Rights Watch produced a major 2007 report, Discounting Rights, detailing Wal-Mart’s exploitative treatment of its employees, as well as its violations of labor law.

Quite the model corporate citizen.

The Allegory Of The Pineapple And The Hare

No one has a better take on the now infamous pineapple-hare question than E. D. Hirsch:

“It’s clearly an allegory. The pineapple is the Department of Education. The hare is the student who is eagerly taking the test,” said Hirsch, author of “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know” and “The Knowledge Deficit.”

“The joke is supposed to be on the hare, because the questions are post-modern unanswerable,” he said. “But in fact the joke is on the pineapple, because the New York Daily News is going to eat it up.”


Cry Me A River: The Parent Trigger And The Misfortunes Of Poor ALEC, DFER and Rishawn Biddle

The powers that be at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate funded, right wing outfit that writes model legislation for state and local officials who apparently can’t write themselves, are feeling mighty sorry for themselves these days.

It seems that a confluence of different political events have exposed much of ALEC’s work and political agenda, revealing the connections among a number of their projects:

  • In the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, ALEC’s role in writing and disseminating “stand your ground” gun laws which make armed individuals into judge, jury and executioner have drawn considerable public scrutiny, especially after it was learned that Florida officials originally cited one such law as a reason for not indicting George Zimmerman, the man who had shot Trayvon. (Special Prosecutor Angela Corey recently overrode that initial determination, and indicted Zimmerman for second degree murder.) Read Paul Krugman’s takedown. And don’t miss Shoot ‘Em Up Charlie’s story. More »

“Bully” Gets Wider Release

The new documentary film “Bully,” directed by Sundance- and Emmy-award winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch, will see a wider release starting today thanks to a new PG-13 version that contains fewer expletives than the unrated version that has been screening at handful of theaters in NYC and LA.

The movie follows five students over the course of the 2009-10 school year. Find showtimes near you »

Have you seen the film? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Test Prep Season

Scantron[Mr. Foteah is the pseudonym of a fourth-year elementary school special education teacher in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, where a version of this post first appeared.]

As my third graders prepare to take the state tests, I imagine they’re thinking something like this:

I used to love school. I used to skip there every morning after breakfast. I used to run as fast as I could to get to my classroom (except when an adult was in the hall – then I walked as fast as I could).

I used to wait outside the classroom reading a book or finishing homework. When the teacher opened the door, he used to have a big smile on his face, brighter than the sun. He used to say, “Come in and let’s learn together today!” I used to smile back and say, “Good morning!” knowing I was going to have a wonderful day with my wonderful teacher in my wonderful class at my wonderful school.

I don’t love school anymore. I don’t think I even like it anymore, to tell you the truth. I don’t skip there anymore (but sometimes I think of skipping it altogether). I don’t run to my room (but sometimes I want to run away). More »

The 99% Spring

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, April 5, 2012Highlights from the April 5 issue of New York Teacher:

Mulgrew challenges DOE to increase school budgets
With new money coming from the state and an improving city revenue picture, the Department of Education must finally start rebuilding ravaged school budgets, UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the City Council on March 27. Class sizes should go down and after-school and enrichment programs must be restored, he said.

Here’s the pitch
City schools finish in the money at annual Virtual Enterprise competition
Would-be entrepreneurs need to pitch detailed business plans to funders and investors. Learning to do that is part of schooling, too, as the annual Virtual Enterprise International’s Youth Business Summit competition attested. In round one, held at union headquarters on March 27, 19 student teams from high schools nationwide competed.

‘We can’t do it alone’
450 educators get message that collaboration is key to success in education
The theme of the day was “Collaboration: Changing Lives Together,” and it brought 450 early childhood educators to UFT headquarters for their fifth annual conference on March 24. “We can’t do it alone, we know it takes parents, teachers, family child care providers, administrators and advocates for children,” said UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford.

UFT blasts mayor for ‘reckless’ child care cuts
UFT President Michael Mulgrew accused Mayor Bloomberg of turning his back on 16,000 low-income families by failing to include $104 million in the budget for subsidized child care. At a press conference on the steps of City Hall on March 29, child care activists and community, union and political leaders protested the cut as unacceptable. More »

What Happened to Creativity in the Classroom?

[Editor’s note: The author is a retired New York City public school teacher.]

One of the many luxuries of retirement that I now enjoy is time to spend browsing the newspaper, especially the Sunday Times. Occasionally I find myself glancing through the Business Section thinking there will be nothing there to hold my interest. Invariably, however, I become engaged in a human interest story, biography, or innovation that is detailed in this section.

Several Sundays ago a piece about creativity in the work place captivated my interest. A primary focus of the story was that architects and designers were formulating nooks, hallway spaces, etc. to encourage employees to sit and think quietly, reflect and think creatively. During the same time period I happened to tune into a documentary about the old Ma Bell business model. Since the telephone company was a monopoly for an expanse of time, funding was rarely an issue. Employees at Bell Lab were encouraged to invent and create without necessarily addressing specific needs or problems. A result of this environment was the invention of laser technology and early prototypes for cell phones. Indeed an astounding number of patents came directly from this lab on almost a daily basis.

This type of support for creativity and inventiveness is laughingly and obscenely absent in our current school system. More »

Free ALL Of The Schools Held Hostage!

Today, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC Department of Education released seven of the thirty-three schools they had been holding hostage.

The NYC DoE announced that it would not close the schools which had a grade of “A” or “B” on this year’s School Progress Reports – Maxwell High School, Harlem Renaissance High School, Intermediate School 136, Brooklyn School for Global Studies, Cobble Hill School of American Studies, Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, and William E. Grady High School.

Clearly, the growing opposition to Bloomberg’s reckless mass closure of public schools has taken its toll. The single-minded reliance upon mass closure of schools as their sole strategy demonstrates the exhaustion of educational ideas at City Hall and Tweed. And the embarrassment of closing schools that the NYC DoE itself had given high grades had become too high a price to bear.

But the school hostage crisis is not over. Twenty-six schools, including 12 other schools which do not meet the DoE’s own minimum criteria for closure, remain under the Tweed guillotine. And there is an agreement, signed by Chancellor Walcott and President Mulgrew, which places all of these schools in the Transformation and Restart models. That agreement must be followed.

So long as one school which does not deserve to be closed is held hostage by Bloomberg and the DoE, the UFT and all of NYC public school communities will continue the struggle to save them.

Bloomberg and Tweed: “Our Standards Mean Nothing”

Last Wednesday, the New York City Department of Education (DoE) began holding public meetings for the 33 Transformation and Restart Schools that Mayor Bloomberg announced he would close in his State of the City speech. At the start of each meeting, a Deputy Chancellor reads out a prepared script which purportedly makes the case for closure. For 19 of those 33 schools, nearly 3 in 5, there is a glaring omission in the Orwellian accounts of their “deficiencies”: these schools do not meet the DoE’s own well-established standards for closure.

When the Scho0l Progress Reports were introduced five years ago, the NYC DoE decreed that the decision on whether or not to close a school would be henceforth be made on the basis of the school’s grade. Only those schools which received a “failing grade” — ‘F,’ ‘D’ or three consecutive ‘C’s  — would be considered for closing. That scale cut a remarkably wide swath, as the Bloomberg-Klein DoE wanted an ample supply of schools to close: where else would consecutive ‘C’s constitute a failing grade? But whatever else you could say about this policy, it was a fixed and clear standard. Even when the DoE announced that it would grade elementary schools and middle schools on a curve, as too many were scoring ‘A’s and ‘B’s, it still held to this standard. (Since 85% of the grades for elementary and middle schools were derived from student scores on New York State’s standardized ELA and Math exams, school grades rocketed during the period of grade inflation on those exams.)

But now that is all history. More »