Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Policy Makers And Politicians Responsible For Numbers-Funking Belong In Jail Next To Beverly Hall

From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The book that lay on Beverly Hall’s desk through years of acclaim and reproach at the Atlanta Public Schools contained neither business-school bromides nor educational platitudes.
It was “The Art of War.”

The millennia-old, pre-Machiavellian classic, by the Chinese general Sun-Tzu, lays out strategies for prevailing in any conflict through ruthless efficiency. Its eternal presence on her desk underscores Hall’s approach to her dozen years as Atlanta’s school superintendent: Schools were a battlefield. Test scores were weapons. Defeat was not an option.

An indictment issued Friday charging Hall and 34 other Atlanta educators with racketeering and other crimes sends the former superintendent into a new battle — this one in a courtroom. The case asks the court to render judgment not just on Hall and the other defendants, but also on the aggressive, sometimes-intimidating management style that she, her top advisers and their subordinates propagated for years.

Even setting aside criminal culpability, the indictment portrays a workplace with a toxic culture in which leaders routinely sacrificed their integrity to preserve the district’s image, not to mention Hall’s. Desired results, no matter how unlikely, drew little skepticism, grand jurors found. Truth-telling, on the other hand, could result in severe punishment. Employees who reported cheating put their jobs in jeopardy, and the indictment recounts an episode in which Hall lightly punished a cheating teacher but fired the whistleblower.

Through her lawyers, Hall denied the charges, as did other defendants, and the indictment provides no direct evidence that Hall ordered district employees to cheat on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT. But it states that Hall did little or nothing to ferret out cheaters, and it alleges the superintendent and others took extreme actions to cover up wrongdoing.

“All warfare is based on deception,” Sun Tzu wrote.
If the indictment is accurate, Beverly Hall took his words to heart.

Rhee, Henderson, Klein, Bloomberg - they've all created workplaces with toxic cultures in which leaders routinely sacrifice integrity to preserve a district's image as well as their own.

If New York City and Washington D.C. were given the same going-over that Atlanta received under Governor Sonny Purdue, there would be lots of people carted out in handcuffs on RICO charges.

Does anyone really think Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson were unaware that administrators and teachers, under tremendous pressure from the feds and the city, were funking with the numbers in D.C.?

Does anyone think Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg were unaware that administrators and teachers, under tremendous pressure from the feds, state and city to increase test scores and graduation rates, were funking with the numbers in NYC?

For that matter, does anyone really think Bloomberg and Ray Kelly are unaware that the precinct officers, captains and central office brass, under tremendous pressure from the mayor, are funking with the crime stats?

The pressure to continuously get better stats NO MATTER WHAT creates that toxic workplace culture that leads to cheating and funking with the numbers.

This is not to excuse the behavior, only to say that the people REALLY responsible for the toxic culture that leads to cheating and numbers-funking - the policy makers and politicians - are being spared the perp walks.

Do not think for a minute that the people who set up these policies - get the numbers up AT ANY COST - are not aware that they have set off a rash of cheating under them.

But they will not be held accountable in this mess.

George W. Bush, Rod Paige, Margaret Spellings, George Miller, Ted Kennedy, John Kline, Tom Harkin, Lamar Alexander, Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and all Wall Streeters and hedge fund managers and other corporate reform functionaries will skate accountability (in Kennedy's case, his memory will remain unsullied, at least by NCLB if not by Chappaquiddick.)

From the stories that are emerging of how Beverly Hall ruled by fear, punished whistleblowers in the system and let cheaters get off lightly, she ought to be held accountable for the cheating.

But so should all the policy makers and politicians and corporate funders and malanthropists who have engineered the education reform movement that created this toxic mess in the first place.

Just as the banksters who raided the economy and continue to engorge themselves off the Federal Reserve printing press have skated accountability for the financial collapse of '07/'08, the people responsible for the cheating of the children in Atlanta will skate accountability.

Be Very Afraid

David Stockman in full from today's NY Times:

 The Dow Jones and Standard & Poor’s 500 indexes reached record highs on Thursday, having completely erased the losses since the stock market’s last peak, in 2007. But instead of cheering, we should be very afraid.

Over the last 13 years, the stock market has twice crashed and touched off a recession: American households lost $5 trillion in the 2000 dot-com bust and more than $7 trillion in the 2007 housing crash. Sooner or later — within a few years, I predict — this latest Wall Street bubble, inflated by an egregious flood of phony money from the Federal Reserve rather than real economic gains, will explode, too. 

Since the S.&P. 500 first reached its current level, in March 2000, the mad money printers at the Federal Reserve have expanded their balance sheet sixfold (to $3.2 trillion from $500 billion). Yet during that stretch, economic output has grown by an average of 1.7 percent a year (the slowest since the Civil War); real business investment has crawled forward at only 0.8 percent per year; and the payroll job count has crept up at a negligible 0.1 percent annually. Real median family income growth has dropped 8 percent, and the number of full-time middle class jobs, 6 percent. The real net worth of the “bottom” 90 percent has dropped by one-fourth. The number of food stamp and disability aid recipients has more than doubled, to 59 million, about one in five Americans. 

So the Main Street economy is failing while Washington is piling a soaring debt burden on our descendants, unable to rein in either the warfare state or the welfare state or raise the taxes needed to pay the nation’s bills. By default, the Fed has resorted to a radical, uncharted spree of money printing. But the flood of liquidity, instead of spurring banks to lend and corporations to spend, has stayed trapped in the canyons of Wall Street, where it is inflating yet another unsustainable bubble.
When it bursts, there will be no new round of bailouts like the ones the banks got in 2008. Instead, America will descend into an era of zero-sum austerity and virulent political conflict, extinguishing even today’s feeble remnants of economic growth. 

THIS dyspeptic prospect results from the fact that we are now state-wrecked. With only brief interruptions, we’ve had eight decades of increasingly frenetic fiscal and monetary policy activism intended to counter the cyclical bumps and grinds of the free market and its purported tendency to underproduce jobs and economic output. The toll has been heavy. 

As the federal government and its central-bank sidekick, the Fed, have groped for one goal after another — smoothing out the business cycle, minimizing inflation and unemployment at the same time, rolling out a giant social insurance blanket, promoting homeownership, subsidizing medical care, propping up old industries (agriculture, automobiles) and fostering new ones (“clean” energy, biotechnology) and, above all, bailing out Wall Street — they have now succumbed to overload, overreach and outside capture by powerful interests. The modern Keynesian state is broke, paralyzed and mired in empty ritual incantations about stimulating “demand,” even as it fosters a mutant crony capitalism that periodically lavishes the top 1 percent with speculative windfalls. 

The culprits are bipartisan, though you’d never guess that from the blather that passes for political discourse these days. The state-wreck originated in 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt opted for fiat money (currency not fundamentally backed by gold), economic nationalism and capitalist cartels in agriculture and industry. 

Under the exigencies of World War II (which did far more to end the Depression than the New Deal did), the state got hugely bloated, but remarkably, the bloat was put into brief remission during a midcentury golden era of sound money and fiscal rectitude with Dwight D. Eisenhower in the White House and William McChesney Martin Jr. at the Fed. 

Then came Lyndon B. Johnson’s “guns and butter” excesses, which were intensified over one perfidious weekend at Camp David, Md., in 1971, when Richard M. Nixon essentially defaulted on the nation’s debt obligations by finally ending the convertibility of gold to the dollar. That one act — arguably a sin graver than Watergate — meant the end of national financial discipline and the start of a four-decade spree during which we have lived high on the hog, running a cumulative $8 trillion current-account deficit. In effect, America underwent an internal leveraged buyout, raising our ratio of total debt (public and private) to economic output to about 3.6 from its historic level of about 1.6. Hence the $30 trillion in excess debt (more than half the total debt, $56 trillion) that hangs over the American economy today. 

This explosion of borrowing was the stepchild of the floating-money contraption deposited in the Nixon White House by Milton Friedman, the supposed hero of free-market economics who in fact sowed the seed for a never-ending expansion of the money supply. The Fed, which celebrates its centenary this year, fueled a roaring inflation in goods and commodities during the 1970s that was brought under control only by the iron resolve of Paul A. Volcker, its chairman from 1979 to 1987.
Under his successor, the lapsed hero Alan Greenspan, the Fed dropped Friedman’s penurious rules for monetary expansion, keeping interest rates too low for too long and flooding Wall Street with freshly minted cash. What became known as the “Greenspan put” — the implicit assumption that the Fed would step in if asset prices dropped, as they did after the 1987 stock-market crash — was reinforced by the Fed’s unforgivable 1998 bailout of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. 

That Mr. Greenspan’s loose monetary policies didn’t set off inflation was only because domestic prices for goods and labor were crushed by the huge flow of imports from the factories of Asia. By offshoring America’s tradable-goods sector, the Fed kept the Consumer Price Index contained, but also permitted the excess liquidity to foster a roaring inflation in financial assets. Mr. Greenspan’s pandering incited the greatest equity boom in history, with the stock market rising fivefold between the 1987 crash and the 2000 dot-com bust. 

Soon Americans stopped saving and consumed everything they earned and all they could borrow. The Asians, burned by their own 1997 financial crisis, were happy to oblige us. They — China and Japan above all — accumulated huge dollar reserves, transforming their central banks into a string of monetary roach motels where sovereign debt goes in but never comes out. We’ve been living on borrowed time — and spending Asians’ borrowed dimes. 

This dynamic reinforced the Reaganite shibboleth that “deficits don’t matter” and the fact that nearly $5 trillion of the nation’s $12 trillion in “publicly held” debt is actually sequestered in the vaults of central banks. The destruction of fiscal rectitude under Ronald Reagan — one reason I resigned as his budget chief in 1985 — was the greatest of his many dramatic acts. It created a template for the Republicans’ utter abandonment of the balanced-budget policies of Calvin Coolidge and allowed George W. Bush to dive into the deep end, bankrupting the nation through two misbegotten and unfinanced wars, a giant expansion of Medicare and a tax-cutting spree for the wealthy that turned K Street lobbyists into the de facto office of national tax policy. In effect, the G.O.P. embraced Keynesianism — for the wealthy. 

The explosion of the housing market, abetted by phony credit ratings, securitization shenanigans and willful malpractice by mortgage lenders, originators and brokers, has been well documented. Less known is the balance-sheet explosion among the top 10 Wall Street banks during the eight years ending in 2008. Though their tiny sliver of equity capital hardly grew, their dependence on unstable “hot money” soared as the regulatory harness the Glass-Steagall Act had wisely imposed during the Depression was totally dismantled. 

Within weeks of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in September 2008, Washington, with Wall Street’s gun to its head, propped up the remnants of this financial mess in a panic-stricken melee of bailouts and money-printing that is the single most shameful chapter in American financial history.
There was never a remote threat of a Great Depression 2.0 or of a financial nuclear winter, contrary to the dire warnings of Ben S. Bernanke, the Fed chairman since 2006. The Great Fear — manifested by the stock market plunge when the House voted down the TARP bailout before caving and passing it — was purely another Wall Street concoction. Had President Bush and his Goldman Sachs adviser (a k a Treasury Secretary) Henry M. Paulson Jr. stood firm, the crisis would have burned out on its own and meted out to speculators the losses they so richly deserved. The Main Street banking system was never in serious jeopardy, ATMs were not going dark and the money market industry was not imploding. 

Instead, the White House, Congress and the Fed, under Mr. Bush and then President Obama, made a series of desperate, reckless maneuvers that were not only unnecessary but ruinous. The auto bailouts, for example, simply shifted jobs around — particularly to the aging, electorally vital Rust Belt — rather than saving them. The “green energy” component of Mr. Obama’s stimulus was mainly a nearly $1 billion giveaway to crony capitalists, like the venture capitalist John Doerr and the self-proclaimed outer-space visionary Elon Musk, to make new toys for the affluent. 

Less than 5 percent of the $800 billion Obama stimulus went to the truly needy for food stamps, earned-income tax credits and other forms of poverty relief. The preponderant share ended up in money dumps to state and local governments, pork-barrel infrastructure projects, business tax loopholes and indiscriminate middle-class tax cuts. The Democratic Keynesians, as intellectually bankrupt as their Republican counterparts (though less hypocritical), had no solution beyond handing out borrowed money to consumers, hoping they would buy a lawn mower, a flat-screen TV or, at least, dinner at Red Lobster. 

But even Mr. Obama’s hopelessly glib policies could not match the audacity of the Fed, which dropped interest rates to zero and then digitally printed new money at the astounding rate of $600 million per hour. Fast-money speculators have been “purchasing” giant piles of Treasury debt and mortgage-backed securities, almost entirely by using short-term overnight money borrowed at essentially zero cost, thanks to the Fed. Uncle Ben has lined their pockets.
If and when the Fed — which now promises to get unemployment below 6.5 percent as long as inflation doesn’t exceed 2.5 percent — even hints at shrinking its balance sheet, it will elicit a tidal wave of sell orders, because even a modest drop in bond prices would destroy the arbitrageurs’ profits. Notwithstanding Mr. Bernanke’s assurances about eventually, gradually making a smooth exit, the Fed is domiciled in a monetary prison of its own making. 

While the Fed fiddles, Congress burns. Self-titled fiscal hawks like Paul D. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, are terrified of telling the truth: that the 10-year deficit is actually $15 trillion to $20 trillion, far larger than the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of $7 trillion. Its latest forecast, which imagines 16.4 million new jobs in the next decade, compared with only 2.5 million in the last 10 years, is only one of the more extreme examples of Washington’s delusions.
Even a supposedly “bold” measure — linking the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security payments to a different kind of inflation index — would save just $200 billion over a decade, amounting to hardly 1 percent of the problem. Mr. Ryan’s latest budget shamelessly gives Social Security and Medicare a 10-year pass, notwithstanding that a fair portion of their nearly $19 trillion cost over that decade would go to the affluent elderly. At the same time, his proposal for draconian 30 percent cuts over a decade on the $7 trillion safety net — Medicaid, food stamps and the earned-income tax credit — is another front in the G.O.P.’s war against the 99 percent. 

Without any changes, over the next decade or so, the gross federal debt, now nearly $17 trillion, will hurtle toward $30 trillion and soar to 150 percent of gross domestic product from around 105 percent today. Since our constitutional stasis rules out any prospect of a “grand bargain,” the nation’s fiscal collapse will play out incrementally, like a Greek/Cypriot tragedy, in carefully choreographed crises over debt ceilings, continuing resolutions and temporary budgetary patches. 

The future is bleak. The greatest construction boom in recorded history — China’s money dump on infrastructure over the last 15 years — is slowing. Brazil, India, Russia, Turkey, South Africa and all the other growing middle-income nations cannot make up for the shortfall in demand. The American machinery of monetary and fiscal stimulus has reached its limits. Japan is sinking into old-age bankruptcy and Europe into welfare-state senescence. The new rulers enthroned in Beijing last year know that after two decades of wild lending, speculation and building, even they will face a day of reckoning, too. 

THE state-wreck ahead is a far cry from the “Great Moderation” proclaimed in 2004 by Mr. Bernanke, who predicted that prosperity would be everlasting because the Fed had tamed the business cycle and, as late as March 2007, testified that the impact of the subprime meltdown “seems likely to be contained.” Instead of moderation, what’s at hand is a Great Deformation, arising from a rogue central bank that has abetted the Wall Street casino, crucified savers on a cross of zero interest rates and fueled a global commodity bubble that erodes Main Street living standards through rising food and energy prices — a form of inflation that the Fed fecklessly disregards in calculating inflation.
These policies have brought America to an end-stage metastasis. The way out would be so radical it can’t happen. It would necessitate a sweeping divorce of the state and the market economy. It would require a renunciation of crony capitalism and its first cousin: Keynesian economics in all its forms. The state would need to get out of the business of imperial hubris, economic uplift and social insurance and shift its focus to managing and financing an effective, affordable, means-tested safety net. 

All this would require drastic deflation of the realm of politics and the abolition of incumbency itself, because the machinery of the state and the machinery of re-election have become conterminous. Prying them apart would entail sweeping constitutional surgery: amendments to give the president and members of Congress a single six-year term, with no re-election; providing 100 percent public financing for candidates; strictly limiting the duration of campaigns (say, to eight weeks); and prohibiting, for life, lobbying by anyone who has been on a legislative or executive payroll. It would also require overturning Citizens United and mandating that Congress pass a balanced budget, or face an automatic sequester of spending. 

It would also require purging the corrosive financialization that has turned the economy into a giant casino since the 1970s. This would mean putting the great Wall Street banks out in the cold to compete as at-risk free enterprises, without access to cheap Fed loans or deposit insurance. Banks would be able to take deposits and make commercial loans, but be banned from trading, underwriting and money management in all its forms. 

It would require, finally, benching the Fed’s central planners, and restoring the central bank’s original mission: to provide liquidity in times of crisis but never to buy government debt or try to micromanage the economy. Getting the Fed out of the financial markets is the only way to put free markets and genuine wealth creation back into capitalism. 

That, of course, will never happen because there are trillions of dollars of assets, from Shanghai skyscrapers to Fortune 1000 stocks to the latest housing market “recovery,” artificially propped up by the Fed’s interest-rate repression. The United States is broke — fiscally, morally, intellectually — and the Fed has incited a global currency war (Japan just signed up, the Brazilians and Chinese are angry, and the German-dominated euro zone is crumbling) that will soon overwhelm it. When the latest bubble pops, there will be nothing to stop the collapse. If this sounds like advice to get out of the markets and hide out in cash, it is. 

David A. Stockman is a former Republican congressman from Michigan, President Ronald Reagan’s budget director from 1981 to 1985 and the author, most recently, of “The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America.”

Saturday, March 30, 2013

NY Times Runs Front Page Story That Says Evaluation Systems Need To Fail More Teachers

Because it's only a "highly effective" evaluation system when lots of teachers are declared "ineffective":

Across the country, education reformers and their allies in both parties have revamped the way teachers are graded, abandoning methods under which nearly everyone was deemed satisfactory, even when students were falling behind. 

More than half the states now require new teacher evaluation systems and, thanks to a deal announced last week in Albany, New York City will soon have one, too. 

The changes, already under way in some cities and states, are intended to provide meaningful feedback and, critically, to weed out weak performers. And here are some of the early results: 

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.” 

In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better. 

Advocates of education reform concede that such rosy numbers, after many millions of dollars developing the new systems and thousands of hours of training, are worrisome. 

“It is too soon to say that we’re where we started and it’s all been for nothing,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy organization. “But there are some alarm bells going off.”

You can see where this is going, can't you?

Grover J. Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, said variations in teacher quality had been proven to affect student academic growth. If an evaluation system is not finding a wider distribution of effectiveness, “it is flawed,” he said. 

“It would be an unusual profession that at least 5 percent are not deemed ineffective,” he added. 

Does the evaluation system at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution deem 5 percent of the employees there "ineffective" every year?

If not, then it must be a flawed system.

Same goes for the employees at Students First and at the NYSED and the NY State Board of Regents and the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation and the USDOE and all the other places where they promote "teacher effectiveness" and "rigorous evaluation systems".

Let's see the results of performance evaluations at these places.

In fact, let's start with this guy at the Brookings Institution.

What do the performance evaluations in this guy's department look like?

Seriously, he just made a blanket statement that an evaluation system for teachers has to find at least five percent  of those teachers ineffective or it's "flawed."

The same must be true at his institution as well.

Or are they all "above average" at Brookings?

NY Times: Quinn Outmaneuvers De Blasio, But Will It Play Well To Voters?

City Council Speaker had a rough week over questions of her temperament and vindictiveness after the NY Times went front page with an article that depicted her nasty, vengeful side, but conventional wisdom has it that she had a good policy week:

He has hammered her over the surging level of fines against small businesses, chided her for not demanding greater oversight of New York’s police and denounced her for failing to support a bill providing paid time off for sick workers. 

At times, the mayoral campaign of Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, has seemed like a crusade to shame Christine C. Quinn, a rival in the Democratic primary for mayor, into adopting the most cherished positions of their party’s liberal wing. 

His problem: She is starting to do it. 

The limitations of Mr. de Blasio’s strategy were laid bare on Friday when Ms. Quinn, the City Council speaker, struck a compromise with liberal advocates and unions to pass the paid sick-leave legislation she had long blocked. Advocates called the agreement imperfect, but still showed up to applaud her at a celebratory news conference. 

It was the latest episode in which Ms. Quinn’s deal-making acumen deprived Mr. de Blasio of a potent line of attack, showcasing the power that her incumbency as speaker gives her to outmaneuver opponents in the race for mayor. 

Over the past several weeks, amid criticism from Mr. de Blasio, Ms. Quinn has introduced legislation to create a police inspector general and to reduce fines levied on street vendors, seemingly timing her announcements for maximum political effect: her office unveiled the street vendor bill minutes before Mr. de Blasio was to assail her at a news conference at City Hall on the same subject.

As the Times article notes, Quinn risks looking more pragmatic than principled in all these moves and policy shifts.

Would Quinn have moved on the sick leave bill if this were not an election year and she not running for mayor in a Democratic primary?

I'm skeptical about that:

At City Hall on Friday, Ms. Quinn played down any lingering doubts about the sick-leave compromise, saying she had secured a deal where “all sides ended up having a voice.” Echoing a theme of her campaign, she described it as an example of “what effective policy making is all about.”

The Quinn campaign moved quickly to portray her as an inclusive champion of the middle class, sending a message to supporters in which Ms. Quinn pledged, “I will never stop bringing New Yorkers together.” 

But people with knowledge of the negotiations over the sick-leave bill said Ms. Quinn only reluctantly joined the discussions, hours after discovering that a dozen council members had signed an unusual petition that would seek to force a vote on the measure despite her opposition. 

Ms. Quinn, seeking to prevent the imminent filing of the petition, said she would discuss a deal. But she at first insisted on a broad exemption for small businesses that employ thousands of workers. Frustrated by the speaker’s position, advocates issued an ultimatum: Unless Ms. Quinn agreed to apply the requirement to businesses with as few as 20 workers, the talks would be off. 

On Friday, as they stood with the speaker to celebrate the agreement, advocates still conveyed that Ms. Quinn had played a grudging role in the deal. 

“We hit her pretty hard on this, and she got pushed to the point where she needed to negotiate,” said Javier H. Valdes, an executive director of Make the Road, a group involved in the negotiations. 

“When she did see that writing on the wall, she took a leadership role in finalizing it.” 

The way forward for de Blasio on this is to hit her again and again on her lack of principles, her grudging agreement to progressive issues like giving the sick leave bill a hearing only when forced to do so.

Frankly, I think this plays into questions about her temperament.

She has no principles and no scruples, as witnessed by the protesters, many of whom were once supporters, who follow her around demonstrating against her.

She cannot be trusted to do the right thing unless she absolutely is forced to do it.

She cannot be trusted by New Yorkers to treat them fairly, as witnessed by the constituents of Peter Vallone's and Elizabeth S. Crowley's districts who suffered program cutbacks and cancellations when Quinn felt slighted by their representatives.

In short, Christine Quinn cannot be trusted.

The Times article reports that many liberals and progressives are seeing Quinn's recent policy moves in just that light:

The feminist writer Gloria Steinem, who had said she would withhold her endorsement of Ms. Quinn if she did not allow a vote on the paid sick-leave measure, thanked the speaker for the compromise. But in a statement, Ms. Steinem pointedly referred to “the 1 percent” that had pressured leaders like Ms. Quinn to block action on the issue. 

One of the city’s most powerful unions, 1199, registered a starker form of disapproval, withholding its support for the compromise this week when advocates were asked to endorse it, according to people involved in negotiations. 

The murmurs of discontent on Friday provided some solace to Mr. de Blasio, who insisted the paid sick-leave question “remains absolutely alive in the debate about the future of our city.” 

Mr. de Blasio said he would join the Rev. Al Sharpton at a weekend rally to call for a more stringent sick-leave measure in New York, and he took pains to explain why advocates were now willing to stand by Ms. Quinn’s side. “As the saying goes,” Mr. de Blasio said, “when a hungry man is offered half a loaf, he will take it.”

The momentum may seem to be temporarily with  Ms. Quinn after her sick leave bill compromise and press conference, but make no mistake, it is just one more symptom of the disease that plagues her campaign for mayor and her political legacy.

She's only in it for herself.

Unlike Beverly Hall, Michelle Rhee Is Too Big To Be Brought Down

After hearing about the indictment of former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall on charges of racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements in a test cheating scandal, it's natural to wonder if such an indictment could be brought against former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Hall, after all, was a lower-profile Rhee - a darling of the test-based, teacher accountability/education reform movement who ran the Atlanta schools with an iron hand, relished firing principals and teachers when their scores didn't increase as she had prescribed and, at least for awhile, basked in the glow of rising test scores and acclaim for increasing student "achievement" in Atlanta schools.

It was all based on fraud, however:

On Friday, prosecutors essentially said it really was too good to be true. Dr. Hall and the 34 teachers, principals and administrators “conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle-blowers in an effort to bolster C.R.C.T. scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores,” the indictment said, referring to the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

As with Rhee's tenure in D.C., there were rumors circulating for years that so-called test gains in Atlanta schools were fraudulent.  Reporters for the Journal-Constitution wrote stories about the so-called "Atlanta Miracle" and questioned how the test scores could increase so dramatically from one year to the next.  

But it wasn't until 2010 that Governor Sonny Perdue, despite pushback from the Atlanta business community, decided to investigate those rumors and get to the bottom of the miraculous test score increases:

In August 2010, after yet another blue-ribbon commission of Atlanta officials found no serious cheating, Mr. Perdue appointed the two special prosecutors and gave them subpoena powers and a budget substantial enough to hire more than 50 state investigators who were overseen by Mr. Hyde.

Mr. Bowers, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Hyde had spent most of their careers putting criminals in prison, and almost as important, they could write. They produced an investigative report with a narrative that read more like a crime thriller than a sleepy legal document and placed Dr. Hall center stage in a drama of mind-boggling dysfunction.

Investigators turned an informer, got her to wear a wire, and slowly but surely got the evidence they needed to get 35 indictments of various educators in the Atlanta system, including the former schools superintendent.

Beverly Hall now faces up to 45 years in prison.  

Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million dollar bond for her.

She is no longer a darling of the education reform movement.

Which now brings us to that other famous darling of the education reform movement, the official once feted by Oprah Winfrey as a "warrior woman," the former schools chancellor famous for ruling her district with an iron hand, firing principals for not getting scores to increase, and pictured on TIME magazine cover with a broom in her hand, ready to sweep out the "bad teachers."

As with Hall, there have been rumors for years that the test score increases D.C. schools saw under Michelle Rhee's tenure were fraudulent. 

As with Hall, Rhee ran her school system under a "culture of fear" and a "conspiracy of silence."

As with Hall, reporters have looked into the test score increases and found convincing evidence that the increases in many of the schools were fraudulent, based upon erasures.  

As with Hall, there have been several "blue-ribbon commissions of officials" who have looked into Rhee's tenure at DCPS and the allegations of test cheating and decided there is no criminality there.   

As with Hall in Atlanta, Rhee hired Caveon Consulting Services LLC to look into cheating in DCPS public schools.  Caveon eventually reported it "did not find any evidence of cheating at any of the schools" in DCPS.

This is the same testing security firm that Hall hired to look into cheating allegations in Atlanta schools.

The Atlanta cheating scandal investigators hired by Governor Perdue found "many schools for which there was strong statistical evidence of cheating were not flagged by Caveon."

In other words, Caveon gave Hall a pass when they should have flagged her.

Have they given Rhee a pass when she, too, should be flagged for potential wrongdoing?

Yes, there are many, many similarities between the Atlanta cheating scandal and the D.C. cheating scandal, many similarities between Hall and Rhee and how they ran their districts, how the scores miraculously increased, how there were red flags all over the place about those increases.

Could Rhee end up like Hall, the victim of a dogged politician like Perdue and dogged prosecutors looking to get to the bottom of the erasures in DC public schools that a USA Today report found to be so extraordinary that you would have a better chance at winning the lottery twice than having students erase all those wrong answers and change them to the right ones the way had happened at some DC schools?

The answer is no, this will not happen to Michelle Rhee.  

Unlike Beverly Hall, who was a lower-level functionary in the education reform movement in a city that, while big enough to warrant national attention, does not enjoy the prominence of a place like Washington D.C., Rhee is the very face of the test-based, teacher accountability/education reform movement who worked at the very center of power in the United States.  

After she left her DCPS post, she has remained a focal point of that test-based, teacher accountability/education reform movement when she started her Wall Street- and corporate-funded Students First education reform lobbying group which has very prominently lobbied for test-based, teacher accountability "reforms" all over the country, along with providing the funding needed to ram some of those "reforms" through.

Chief among those "reforms" is ending the power of the teachers union, curtailing work protections for teachers like seniority and tenure, and promoting "school choice" and charter schools over traditional public schools.

These are items on the education agenda that the people in power very much like.

You can bet that the powers that be in this country do not want anything to tarnish Ms. Rhee, her tenure at DCPS or her lobbying group, Students First.  

This is why there has been little real action on the very convincing evidence USA Today found for cheating under Rhee's DCPS tenure.

That Rhee has connections to some of the most powerful and most connected people in the country also ensures nothing will happen to her.

The American Thinker published a piece on March 18, before Hall and 34 other educators were indicted in Atlanta on cheating charges, that took a look at the possibility that Rhee and her tenure at DCPS could undergo the same rigorous investigation that Hall and her tenure in Atlanta underwent.

They too are skeptical that will happen, primarily because of her prominence in the education reform movement and her connections to people in power:

A year after the USA Today exposé, Rhee, the media darling, is still riding high.  Appearing on cable news shows, PBS, and network television; crisscrossing the country, speaking to varied audiences; pushing legislation; and heading up StudentsFirst, the advocacy group she founded, Rhee appears unstoppable.  If her public image remains mostly untarnished, it may be due to nothing less than friends like Arne Duncan and former White House operatives.

In late summer 2011, after a USA Today reporter made a number of attempts to get Ms. Rhee on the record about the cheating scandal, Rhee's StudentsFirst PR representative, SKDKnickerbocker's Anita Dunn (also President Obama's former communications director), advised the D.C. chancellor's office to "just stop answering his [Jack Gillum's] e-mails." 

Hari Sevugan, Rhee's VP of Communications at StudentsFirst, served as former national press secretary for the DNC and before that worked as senior spokesman for President Obama's 2008 campaign.  Along with Dunn, he covered for Rhee, saying reporters "were provided unprecedented time and access to report their story."  Answering for D.C. officials last fall, Sevugan suggested that they were running out of patience with reporters' attempts to get a statement from Rhee. 

Rhee did answer written questions submitted by USA Today last May, but out of the eleven pertaining to the cheating scandal, she refused to respond to ten.

Secretary Duncan's closeness to Rhee poses a significant obstacle to getting to the bottom of the D.C. investigation.  In Atlanta there were "subpoenas for signed copies of any and all oaths of office" taken by the former superintendent Beverly Hall.  Where are the subpoenas for information from Michelle Rhee and DCPS?  After nine months, there are still no definitive conclusions from the DOE inspector general's office.  Who's protecting whom?

There is little doubt in my mind that the USDOE and the DOJ will NOT look into Michelle Rhee's tenure at DCPS and the evidence of test tampering and cheating because if they find anything, it will a near-fatal bullet into the heart of the test-based teacher accountability/education reform movement.

Hall's fall from education reform grace is happening far from center stage and while it hurts the movement that someone with Hall's education reform credentials has been taken down by evidence of cheating and fraud, it is not fatal to the movement.

If the same were to happen to Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein, the other education reformer and former schools chancellor with the same prominence and notoriety as Rhee, it would be, if not fatal to the movement, a very grave wound from which the movement might not recover.

Rhee, along with Klein, are the very public faces of the education reform movement.

Whatever happens to them, happens to the test-based, teacher accountability/education reform movement as well.

So in the end, the Hall indictment and trial will provide Rhee and the other functionaries who worked around her with perhaps some uncomfortable moments in private, but I believe there will be no Sonny Purdue to ride to the rescue and run an thorough, honest and independent investigation of Rhee and her DCPS tenure, no dogged prosecutors in D.C. as there were in Atlanta to get to the bottom of the scandal, root out the wrongdoing and work their way up to the people at the top. 

Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Oprah Winfrey and Rhee's other powerful connections will ensure that will not happen. 

The fix is in, folks.  As The American Thinker story notes:

A February 26, 2012 New York Times article questioned Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's appearance with Michelle Rhee at a January education conference given the DOE's pending involvement with the case. 
When asked by the Times about the apparent conflict of interest, Mr. Duncan's spokesperson called the columnist "irresponsible ... to presume guilt before we have all the facts."
Richard L. Hyde, who led the Atlanta investigation, disagreed:
I'm shocked that the secretary of education would be fraternizing with someone who could potentially be the target of the investigation.
But the same Times article fails to mention that the DOE's inspector general, Kathleen Tighe, also heads the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board overseeing Stimulus fund distribution.  How can the IG of the DOE be a watchdog over $100 billion in Stimulus funds designated for that same institution?  Another conflict of interest to add to the growing list?
Indeed, Rhee is ensconced in what seems to be a bubble of invincibility so that even when this happens:

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That's more than half of D.C. schools.


A trio of academicians consulted by USA TODAY — Haladyna, George Shambaugh of Georgetown University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University — say the erasure rates found at Noyes and at other D.C. public schools are so statistically rare, and yet showed up in so many classrooms, that they should be examined thoroughly.

Or when this happens:

Student standardized-test scores at an award-winning D.C. school dropped dramatically in 2011 after the principal tightened security out of concern about possible cheating, according to a new “Frontline” television documentary to be broadcast Tuesday.

The hour-long program raises questions about whether District officials have adequately investigated persistent suspicions that public school employees may have tampered with tests during the tenure of former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Adell Cothorne was principal of the District’s Noyes Education Campus for one year, in 2010-11. She told “Frontline” that just after students took a midyear practice version of the city’s annual standardized test, she stumbled upon three staff members sitting late at night in a room strewn with more than 200 test booklets.

One of the adults was at a desk, holding an eraser. The other two sat at a table, booklets open before them.

“One staff member said to me, in a lighthearted sort of way, ‘Oh, principal, I can’t believe this kid drew a spider on the test and I have to erase it,’ ” Cothorne told filmmakers, offering the first such direct testimony about potential tampering with answer sheets in D.C. schools.

Cothorne told “Frontline” that she reported the incident to the central office, but to her knowledge nothing was done.

Even after both of these very damaging allegations, Rhee and her tenure at DCPS will STILL not undergo a thorough, rigorous and independent investigation.

There is too much at stake here - for Rhee herself, of course, but also for Arne Duncan, for Barack Obama, for Jeb Bush, and for the rest of the corporate education reform movement.

In short, just she is "Too Big To Be Brought Down." 

As always when I write these kinds of things, I hope to be wrong.  I hope Rhee does undergo a thorough, rigorous and independent investigation and, if wrongdoing is found, she is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law the way Hall is enjoying right now.

But I've seen nothing from DC officials, the Congress, the USDOE or the DOJ that makes me think that will happen. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Interest Rates For Student Loans Set To Double

This is bad:

WASHINGTON — Congressional inaction could end up costing college students an extra $5,000 on their new loans.

The rate for subsidized Stafford loans is set to increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1, just as millions of new college students start signing up for fall courses. The difference between the two rates adds up to $6 billion.

Just a year ago, lawmakers faced a similar deadline and dodged the rate increase amid the heated presidential campaign between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But that was with the White House up for grabs and before Washington was consumed by budget standoffs that now seem routine.

“What is definitely clear, this time around, there doesn’t seem to be as much outcry,” said Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “We’re advising our members to tell students that the interest rates are going to double on new student loans, to 6.8 percent.”

The rates do not count for subsidized loans previously taken out by students - just for future Stafford subsidized loans.

Unsubsidized and private student loan rates are not expected to change.

Let's see, the banks get money at 0% and lend it out at 3.4% -hmm, that's a pretty good deal for the banks.

Now they get money at 0% and lend it out at 6.8% - and the loans are "guaranteed".

Sure is good to be bankster.

Might say it's better to be a bankster than even a king.

And where is Obama in all of this?

So far, pretty silent.

NY Times: City Council Colleagues Say Quinn Vindictive And Spiteful

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn went on CNN and MSNBC to deny a NY Times report that she retaliated against elderly people and children by cutting programs to both groups in the district of a City Council member who failed to praise Quinn in a p.r. release.

Now City Council members are pushing back against Quinn's denials:

Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, denied on Wednesday that she had used the power of her office to avenge grievances with elected officials who disagreed with her. 

But hours later, two council members said that was not the case, describing episodes when they believed Ms. Quinn, who as speaker controls the Council’s financial accounts, had cut financing from programs in their districts after a political altercation. 

Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., a Queens Democrat, said that Ms. Quinn, had slashed city contributions to his district and allowed cuts to a college scholarship fund named for his father after the younger Mr. Vallone opposed a proposal by Ms. Quinn to name the Queensboro Bridge for former Mayor Edward I. Koch. 

“It was made clear to me in no uncertain terms that there would be retribution for my vote,” Mr. Vallone said in an interview. “No one should ever be punished for representing the voices of the people who elected them.” 

Councilwoman Elizabeth S. Crowley, another Queens Democrat, said Ms. Quinn cut financing for youth programs and senior centers in her district in 2010 after her office issued a news release about local firehouses, before budget negotiations were finished, that failed to credit the speaker. 

“It was so brazenly vindictive, I don’t know what else to call it,” Ms. Crowley said. The councilwoman acknowledged that she had erred by sending out a premature and unauthorized news release, but said Ms. Quinn’s response was inappropriate. 

“She’s not hurting me,” Ms. Crowley said. “She’s hurting the people I represent, the people of the city of New York.”

I'm going to take Quinn's side here. 

It is entirely the fault of the elderly people and children in Elizabeth S. Crowley's district. 

If they weren't represented by Crowley, they wouldn't have been subject to any program cuts. 

Same goes for the people in Vallone's district.

So the answer to this issue of Quinn's alleged vindictiveness and vengeance against innocent constituents for the ostensible crimes of their representatives is simple - if your City Council representative crosses Chris Quinn, move out of that rep's district pronto.

Issue solved.

And just in case you don't think the issue is solved, Chris Quinn will call you up herself and set you straight on the issue.

Can't wait for Mayor Christine Quinn's tenure.

It's the worst of the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations together - corporate sell-outs and screwjobs leveled against the middle and working classes + angry, retributive actions taken against anybody not on board with Mayor Quinn 100% and/or not bowing down to her highness.

Kids Rally Against Bloomberg's Afterschool Program Cuts

Letting the Children First Mayor know exactly what it means to put children first:

NEW YORK CITY — Hundreds of kids held signs and chanted outside City Hall Thursday morning to urge Mayor Michael Bloomberg to spare their afterschool programs.

"Our parents need to go to work sometimes and they can't leave us at home alone," said 9-year-old Ayana Barnes. "That is why it's important to have an afterschool program."

The mayor's preliminary budget for fiscal year 2014 includes $130 million in budget cuts to afterschool and childcare programs. These cuts could affect 47,000 kids from all over the city, according to Campaign for Children. 

Children who attended the rally not only spoke out against the budget cuts but also showed what would be lost if they didn't have afterschool programs.

Young girls from Sports and Arts in Schools in Queens offered a double-dutch performance, kids from Stanley Isaacs Center sang an original song and little ones from Union Settlement showed off their drum beats — all skills that were learned in afterschool programs.

"I didn't just learn how to play sports and do activities, I also learned how to speak my mind," said Erinn Cruz, 14.

She added that the afterschool programs in her community keep kids off the street and relieve the stress some parents feel about who will look after their children while they work.

"To cut these programs would be a disservice to the community," she said.

The mayor's office declined to comment on the afterschool cuts specifically.

"We’re working with the City Council to deliver an on-time, balanced budget that keeps the city’s fiscal house in order, while also protecting vital services," said Lauren Passalacqua, spokeswoman for the mayor.

Mayor Bloomberg believes putting money toward standardized testing, data tracking systems for the scores from those tests, and an evaluation system that closes schools and fires teachers based upon that data tracking is much more important than afterschool programs or childcare.

Oh, and let's not forget the outside consultants to run all those things (and rob the city blind while they're at it...)

Companies That Value Workers

The Atlantic has an interesting piece about how Trader Joe's, Costco's and Quiktrip pay their employees well enough to actually, you know, live:

The average American cashier makes $20,230 a year, a salary that in a single-earner household would leave a family of four living under the poverty line. But if he works the cash registers at QuikTrip, it's an entirely different story. The convenience-store and gas-station chain offers entry-level employees an annual salary of around $40,000, plus benefits. Those high wages didn't stop QuikTrip from prospering in a hostile economic climate. While other low-cost retailers spent the recession laying off staff and shuttering stores, QuikTrip expanded to its current 645 locations across 11 states.

Many employers believe that one of the best ways to raise their profit margin is to cut labor costs. But companies like QuikTrip, the grocery-store chain Trader Joe's, and Costco Wholesale are proving that the decision to offer low wages is a choice, not an economic necessity. All three are low-cost retailers, a sector that is traditionally known for relying on part-time, low-paid employees. Yet these companies have all found that the act of valuing workers can pay off in the form of increased sales and productivity.

"Retailers start with this philosophy of seeing employees as a cost to be minimized," says Zeynep Ton of MIT's Sloan School of Management. That can lead businesses into a vicious cycle. Underinvestment in workers can result in operational problems in stores, which decrease sales. And low sales often lead companies to slash labor costs even further. Middle-income jobs have declined recently as a share of total employment, as many employers have turned full-time jobs into part-time positions with no benefits and unpredictable schedules.

QuikTrip, Trader Joe's, and Costco operate on a different model, Ton says. "They start with the mentality of seeing employees as assets to be maximized," she says. As a result, their stores boast better operational efficiency and customer service, and those result in better sales. QuikTrip sales per labor hour are two-thirds higher than the average convenience-store chain, Ton found, and sales per square foot are over 50 percent higher.

Here is an MIT study comparing Whole Foods to Trader Joe's - the "Staffing" section gives you some good information about how Trader Joe's treats its employees.

We can have an economy in which companies value workers and treat them accordingly and STILL have those companies prosper.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why Is Mulgrew Afraid To Debate?

Via ICEUFT blog, we learn that even the NY Post is wondering why UFT President Michael Mulgrew won't debate opponent Julie Cavanagh:

Brash-talking teachers-union boss Michael Mulgrew is a chicken and a hypocrite, union critics charge.

Mulgrew is ducking a debate with his United Federation of Teachers rival before next month’s union elections, The Post has learned.

Special-education teacher Julie Cavanagh is challenging Mulgrew’s re-election bid and has personally asked him to participate in a “town hall” debate.

“To this point you have ignored outreach regarding your participation in a debate or question-and-answer town hall with me,” Cavanagh said in a March 14 letter to Mulgrew.

And a top aide to Mulgrew confirmed that the incumbent would not debate Cavanagh. Instead, Mulgrew’s political handlers offered to have one of the subordinates from his Unity Caucus debate her. 

The contempt with which Mulgrew and his leadership are treating Cavanagh and the MORE caucus is not new to how they treat people within the union who do not swallow the party line 100%.

What is different is that the news of that is showing up in the newspapers.

Why won't Mulgrew debate Cavanagh?

Understand that a 90 second spot for Cavanagh at the DA does not count as a debate.

I mean a real, honest 90 minute "Here Is How I See The Future Of Public Education, Teaching And Unionism" debate between Mulgrew and Cavanagh moderated by an independent third party.

That would be a great opportunity for both candidates to explain to UFT rank and file just how they plan to handle a very dicey future for teachers, schools and the UFT.

What is Mulgew afraid of that he won't have that debate?

Great Guardian Article On The Sham That Is Education Reform And The School Closure Movement

The Guardian, despite its funding from the Gates Foundation, remains one of the few major newspapers around that really gets how much of a sham education reform is.

Today's article from Micah Uetricht on the Chicago school "reforms" is a case in point.

It is so good, I wanted to repost it in full:

If you want a glimpse of what slash-and-burn free market education reform does in cities throughout the US, look no further than Chicago. Last week, Chicago Public Schools announced its plan to close 54 public elementary schools in the city by next year – about 8% of all public schools in the city. Almost all are located on the city's south and west sides in predominantly black neighborhoods.

In a city where the majority of black children live in poverty, in communities long plagued by hyper-segregation, unemployment, youth violence, and disinvestment, these neighborhoods will likely be thrown into further chaos, as students (91% of whom are students of color) are forced to cross into rival gang territories. Public schools, which served as one of the few remaining community anchors, will be shuttered.

Chicago Public Schools claims the move will save $43m annually, and is necessary to close a budget deficit of $1bn over the next three years. The district has a history of using questionable math, issuing loud proclamations of deficits to justify austerity measures like closures, then quietly discovering budget surpluses months later. Even if CPS is telling the truth about the size of its deficit, the numbers on closures don't quite add up. They would only shrink the district's deficit by a small percentage and only in the long term, at least according to the district's statements. Independent analyses also show that past closures have produced minimal or nonexistent savings for the district.

So if budget shortfalls aren't the real issue, why, in neighborhoods desperately in need of strong public institutions like neighborhood schools, would a district shutter 54 schools and "turn around" or consolidate 17 others? And if the deficit is the issue but savings wouldn't be seen for several years, why would CPS propose the largest number of school closures in American history, in one fell swoop, rather than proceed cautiously with a few each year for several years?

Perhaps because some within the district are looking to dismantle education as a public good by handing schooling over to free market forces, and they know the only way to accomplish this is through "shock doctrine"-style policies, ramming the closures down the throats of a citizenry that would never freely choose them.

Over the past two decades, a remarkable consensus has solidified among both American political parties that free market reform is the panacea for all that ills public education. And Chicago has long been what education policy scholar Pauline Lipman calls the "incubator, test case, and model for the neoliberal urban education agenda," through programs like Renaissance 2010 (pdf), a program to close and "turn around" schools deemed failing (and the basis for the Obama administration's Race to the Top program), mayoral control of schools with an unelected CEO and school board, and the 110 charter schools that have cropped up in recent years.

The rise of charters has been central to the reform plans of current Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his predecessor, Richard M. Daley, including their school closure strategy. In the past dozen years, CPS has closed 75 schools; 40% are now run by private operators, most of which are charters. Of the schools targeted for "turnaround" under Ren2010, a process that includes firing all teachers at schools deemed low-performing, nearly all are now charters.

The district insists that the current spate of closures is necessitated by declining enrollment, but plans to open new charters are continuing full-steam ahead. Charter operators like the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), for example, a close ally of Emanuel that runs 13 schools in the city and recently caught flak for giving millions in publicly funded contracts to executives' close friends and family like a kind of 21st century patronage organization, was awarded a $98m grant from the state of Illinois in 2009 and recently applied for $35m. The network has big plans to open new schools in the near future, amassing huge amounts of debt (serviced with public money) to fund its expansion.

Maybe the district's goal isn't to fix underutilization. Maybe CPS is more interested in expanding charter schools, privatizing public education, and weakening the Chicago Teachers Union. Charters, of course, are overwhelmingly non-union, and that is a principal appeal for reformers pushing them. Charter school students may not outperform traditional public school students, in Chicago or elsewhere, but they do help weaken teachers unions – the biggest potential roadblock to the free marketeers' agenda.

Not all teachers unions have had the willingness or wherewithal to resist that agenda; many have capitulated, or at least been complicit. But the Chicago Teachers Union has fought back. In November, 10 people were arrested in a sit-in outside Mayor Emanuel's City Hall office. Today, thousands of CTU members – alongside community activists, clergy, CPS students, and members of other unions – will return to City Hall, shutting down part of downtown in the middle of rush hour before many are arrested in an act of civil disobedience. The union and the communities will demand the district halt all school closings.

The school reformers peddling neoliberal snake oil, promising the healing benefits of privatizing the country's public school system, are undoubtedly watching Chicago very closely, looking for strategies to export to other cities. But the teachers and communities sure to be devastated by such policies should pay attention, too, as free market education policies spread from New Orleans and Detroit to Philadelphia and beyond, they might glean some useful lessons for resistance.
The entire article is excellent, but the last two paragraphs speak the most to me.

Teachers unions have mostly been complicit in the neoliberal snake oil reform movement, but there are lessons here in Chicago for future resistance - and "Share My Lesson sure ain't on the blueprint.

Judge Slams DOE For Making "Spurious Arguments" And "Illogical Claims" In Move To Have PCB Lawsuit Dismissed

The Children First people want to delay taking cancer-causing PCB's out of the school system for as long as possible.

You see, spending money to remove PCB's that are present inside classroom light fixtures takes away precious resources that could be used for standardized testing, data systems to track the scores from those tests, and computer and software consultants to run the tests and the data tracking systems.

Parents sued to get Bloomberg and the DOE to move the timeline on the PCB removal up.

The city wanted that lawsuit dismissed, but a judge ruled it will go forward - and slammed the city for making "spurious arguments" and "illogical" claims in his decision:

A judge has rejected the city's request to dismiss a lawsuit brought by parents trying to speed up the effort to get polychlorinated biphenyls removed from schools.
As many as 800 city schools have been found to have PCBs in lights or insulation installed before 1979.

The New York City Department of Education gave itself 10 years to remove them from schools, but parents and public interest lawyers sought to expedite the removal, saying the long timeline endangers children.

Parents protested last year about the toxins.

"There have been leaks at our school we have found little droplets under chairs," said Daniella Liebling, whose son attends the Brooklyn New School.

City lawyers tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, but Judge Sterling Johnson said their claims were "illogical" and accused them of dragging their feet.

“With the cognitive development of children at stake, it would have been refreshing to see humanitarian concerns trump the compulsion to delay litigation with quite so many spurious arguments," Johnson wrote in his decision. "But some dreams remain deferred."

"Judge Sterling Johnson actually quotes Langston Hughes," said Christina Giorgio of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. "He makes numerous references to the fact that parents really are entitled to have answers from the city, and that PCBs are toxic. Their impacts are well known, and what the city is doing with regard to insisting on this 10-year plan is simply irresponsible."

In response, New York City Corporate Council said it disagreed with the ruling, stressing that nothing is more important than the health of the city's children.

The Department of Education said that fixtures have been fixed in 92 buildings, with work planned for another 97 buildings this summer.

PCBs were banned in 1979, and exposure can affect the immune and nervous systems.

Liebling says the city told her that her son's school is on the fast track for repairs within five years but is hoping more will be done even sooner.

Indeed, it would be nice if the Children First people actually were true to their word and put the health of the children over the dither and delay, but that would be asking too much.

You see, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott do not care about your children at all.

They care about the politics around the schools, privatizing the system, busting the teachers union, firing unionized teachers and school choice.

But kids having safe schools to attend?

That they don't care about.

Judge Sterling Johnson called the Children First people out on this in his decision.

It's refreshing to see that kind of honesty from the judge, calling Bloomberg, Walcott and the DOE on their hypocrisy and their horsehockey.

Lhota And The Elephants

The NY Times reminds us this morning of the infamous Brooklyn Museum Virgin Mary/elephant dung painting and Joe Lhota's role in the Giuliani administration's controversial plan to punish the museum for having the show.

While not as damaging to Lhota as the NY Times piece on Christine Quinn earlier this week was to Quinn, today's article leaves the reader with the impression that Lhota is as reactionary and vindictive now as he was then:

He still appears to be wrestling with the lessons of “Sensation,” as the museum exhibition was called. Mr. Lhota, a seasoned municipal deal maker, prefers to describe the ultimatums that the city issued, including the eviction threat, as routine strategies in a negotiation, not as a flash point in the battles over free speech that raged throughout Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s tenure.

Should Mr. Lhota become the Republican nominee for mayor, his Democratic opponent would most likely pounce on his role in the museum controversy, linking him to an administration that, in pursuit of a better-behaved New York, ran afoul of the First Amendment by seeking to block a rally for young black men in Harlem, cutting financing for an AIDS housing group that mocked City Hall and firing a police officer who criticized the department. 

For many involved in the Brooklyn Museum debate, bitterness toward Mr. Lhota still lingers.
“He did it once; he could certainly do it again,” said Jack A. Josephson, a museum board member at the time. 

“If you are a museum person today, you’d have to keep this in the back of your mind. They all should be worried that they might do something that would offend a Mayor Lhota.”

Some people think Lhota has a shot at becoming mayor.

I think his years in the Giuliani administration, his inextricable links to the Guiliani "ferret moments" like the Brooklyn Museum episode, make him a hard sell in a general election.

Yeah, I'm sure there will be white voters in parts of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island who remember the Giuliani years fondly and will happily cast a vote for Lhota.

And yes, many of the city's power brokers would support him.

But I have a hard time seeing how that puts him over the top if the Democratic candidate who runs against him uses the "Rudy Test" on him throughout the campaign.

Do you want the Rudy years back?

If so, vote for Lhota - he'll bring back such favorites as defunding arts institutions in retaliation for shows he doesn't like or shoving reporters and call them ethnic slurs at press conferences.

And just in case you think Lhota can say he's grown up since the Rudy Years, let's not forget this episode from his time at the MTA:

On Thursday, Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, turned his attention to another adversary: a member of his own board, whom he accused of lying and challenged twice to “be a man” during an unusually heated exchange at the authority’s monthly meeting.

The board member, Charles G. Moerdler, 77, who served as New York City’s housing and buildings commissioner in the 1960s, responded by saying he would “bring it on,” although his response was rather muted compared with Mr. Lhota’s remarks.

The group was discussing a proposal to reduce the number of board meetings to 8 a year from 11, and add 2 “forum” meetings specifically for the public to address the chairman and the authority’s presidents. The board meetings include public comment periods.

Mr. Moerdler opposed the plan, saying, “We need at this time to increase, not decrease, timely disclosure.”

It did not take long for Mr. Lhota, 57, to pounce. He said he wished Mr. Moerdler would reconsider his position, “since your flawed thinking and the erroneous things that you’ve just said are actually scurrilous.”

Mr. Lhota, who has trumpeted the authority’s transparency, said agency information would be available more frequently under the proposal.

He said Mr. Moerdler’s “blubbering” was “just a waste of time and a waste of effort.”

Mr. Lhota then appeared to allude to a May article in The Daily News in which Mr. Moerdler was accused of using a police-issued placard to park illegally outside the Cornell Club.

“To make statements in public like this, similar to the statement that you made when you only parked in that parking spot for a few minutes when it was documented by camera that it was over four hours — enough of lying to this board,” Mr. Lhota said, at turns pounding his finger on the table.

Mr. Moerdler seemed taken aback. “Mr. Chairman,” he said, “character assassination does not do you credit.”

But he said he “will not challenge” Mr. Lhota, to which the chairman responded, “I wish you would.”

“Be a man,” he said, as the two began speaking over each other. “Be a man.”

“Oh, I’d be happy to do it,” Mr. Moerdler said. “In your words, I will bring it on.”

“Let’s go,” Mr. Lhota said.

Mr. Moerdler said he stood by his opposition to the plan. “With respect, and I say with respect, I find your comments disturbing,” he said. “I will leave it at that.”

“Respect is not mutual,” Mr. Lhota said.

Clearly, Lhota is a bully and a jerk, using character assassination and ad hominem attacks against the MTA board member simply because he didn't like the proposal the man made.

It's a shame the Times didn't do the same kind of temperament piece on Lhota that they did on Quinn.

It is quite clear that Lhota's temperament is no more suited for running NYC, the NYPD or the NYCDOE any more than Quinn's is.

Just ask the reporter he shoved or the MTA board member he challenged.