Friday, February 27, 2009

Bloomberg to Host Charter School in Living Room

February 27, 2009 (GBN News): According to sources close to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, his recent purchase and renovation of property adjacent to his East Side townhouse is not merely intended to increase his living space. The Mayor will instead use the extra space to house a charter school right in his own home.

The Mayor is reportedly hedging his bets due to his concern over the fate of Mayoral control of the school system. Legislative hearings have not been going well for Mr. Bloomberg, and he could lose at least some measure of the total control that he has been exercising over the public schools for the past seven years.

Mr. Bloomberg has bristled over the prospect of ceding some of his authority to stakeholders like parents and their elected representatives, who he feels are “annoying”. He is said to feel that it is preferable to have total control over one school than to have to share control over the entire system.

However, GBN News has also learned that the Mayor does not plan to stop at just the one charter school. Once the school gets large enough, the Mayor plans to break it up into an increasing number of small charter schools, all housed under his own roof. Moreover, the Mayor is said to be negotiating with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to direct billions in Federal stimulus money to his charter schools, so that Mr. Bloomberg does not have to tap into his own dwindling billions.

J. Fredrick Runson, chair of the political science department at Manhattan University and an expert on education politics, says he is not surprised at the Mayor’s plans. “He hates giving up control and he’s really competitive,” Dr. Runford said. “He may be trying to create his own charter school empire here, and if it gets big enough - with the billions in stimulus money he can buy up all the adjacent property from river to river if need be - he may just be able to put the public schools out of business. At the very least, he certainly won’t stop until he has more charter schools than Eva Moskowitz.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bijou Miller on DOE's illegal intention to eliminate a zoned school -- and give the building to a charter

The DOE intends to close PS 241 on W. 113 St., the only zoned school in the neighborhood, and give the building over to a charter school, yet another in Eva Moskowitz' ever-expanding chain of charters, the Harlem Success Academies.
Here is a short description of PS 241 from InsideSchools:
Once PS 241 was known as the Family Academy, supported by a not-for-profit foundation that raised enough money to offer classes until 5 p.m., a summer school, a health clinic, and a team of social workers. The Friends of Family Academy developed a carefully structured curriculum with an emphasis on phonics. When that curriculum was supplanted by the one that the chancellor mandated for most schools in 2003 (and that took a more progressive approach to teaching reading) the foundation pulled out, and with that support went the extras.
Clearly, the malignant neglect (and poor curriculum choices) of DOE officials have brought down this school, and rather than endeavor to improve it, or put another regular public school in its place, they are trying to push through their unilateral decision to replace it with a charter school.
What's especially awful is that by closing this school, the DOE will essentially eliminate the school zone and leaving these children without any zoned school to attend. By Section 2590-e of NY State education law, any change in zoning has to be approved by the district's Community Education Council. Yet in this case, no one from DOE consulted the CEC, no less gave them the chance to approve or disapprove.
This action would be an extremely dangerous precedent if allowed to stand. It would essentially allow the DOE to convert any and all zoned schools in NYC to charters, to essentially privatize the entire public school system without anyone being able to stop them. For more on this, see Juan Gonzalez column here: Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein determined to keep parents seen not heard.
Bijou Miller is co-President of the President's council in District 3 and a member of the District 3 Leadership Team. Here is her account:
In December, the DOE announced that it was phasing out two of our schools in District 3. The reasons given were dropping enrollment and poor performance (though in one case, those were not the original reasons given but that is another story). I was informed as a member of the District Leadership Team (DLT) and told that the DLT would be the group that took community input, looked at new school proposals and then gave a recommendation to the DOE.
Long story short, it did not turn out that way for either school. One of those schools is PS 241. We have had three open meetings on this - one in December and two in January. At the second meeting, John White from Portfolio, had two proposals for PS 241, one a charter school (and it seemed to be Eva Moskowitz's chain, Harlem Success). White had even invited Harlem Success parents to comeand "testify" about how great their school was. So the deck seemed to be definitely stacked.
The other option was a public school but John did not offer any information on it and to date has never said anything about this other option. He said that PS 241 was no longer attracting zoned families and that only thirteen families had applied to the kindergarten class. The DOE felt that replacing 241 with another public school would not solve the under enrollment problem.
They felt that a charter school would attract more parents. At this meeting, he brought up the idea that if they put a charter school in, it would hold its lottery for catchment children first so as to accept as many 241 children as possible and then open the lottery to the district after 241 children had been accommodated.

At the third meeting and last meeting we had (we were expecting more meetings but unbeknownst to us, the process was over!), White added on to this scenario. In addition to having the charter school hold its lottery for 241 kids first, he said that they would also have first priority at five other area schools.
Parents asked about the zoning issues. For all intents and purposes, this scenario would make one group of families be zoned for five different public schools, all of them outside their original zone. Additionally, because the DOE is not replacing 241 with a public school, they are in essence not giving the families of that zone a neighborhood school. Charter schools do not qualify as zoned schools because they take from throughout the district. This is also not to mention that some of these five schools do not have the room to take in children from another catchment.
Last night, there was a joint Presidents' Council/CEC meeting tonight. Our Pres.Council meeting began at 6 P.M. Upon arriving, I noticed that therewas a huge crowd already in the auditorium. I assumed that it was people getting there early for the 6:30 CEC meeting, which had a very long agenda. Instead, to my surprise, I discovered a rally being held for the Harlem Success Academy.
I later found out that this "hearing" was being held under the auspices of the Charter School Institute of the State University of New York. I also foundout that someone had bused in a group of children who were given caps blazoned with the Harlem Success Academy logo. If this was a hearing to get community feedback, it certainly had a very biased atmosphere. I was told that PS 241 parents had not known about this hearing and apparently, if you wanted to speak, you had to somehow contact the "Hearing Registration Officer" on the day of the hearing BEFORE it started (the window of opportunity was from 5 to 5:30p.m.)
I did not attend this "hearing" as I had to conduct our own meeting but from what I gleaned, I do not think the State University got the response they had expected. In fact, many parents were angry and outraged and that anger and outrage carried over into the CEC meeting (which was delayed forforty five minutes because of this hearing).
At the CEC meeting, parents from 241 and other schools were understandably upset. The upshot is this: There was no consultation with the CEC about putting a new school into PS 241. There was no consultation with PS 241 parents about whether or not they wanted a charter school put into their building.

It now turns out that the DOE is putting in an already established branch of Harlem Success so the first and second grade classes are already full and will not have space for PS 241 children. So much for giving PS 241 children a charter school choice.
The bottom line is that the DOE is radically changing the zone by eliminating it --and the CEC has not been asked to approve. Zoning is the CEC's department and the DOE has no right to proceed with this plan without getting approval from the CEC. The DOE also has decided to place a charter school into 241 without any discussion with the families. I suppose the hearing last night was that "discussion" but, as I said, many parents had no idea it was even taking place.
---Bijou Miller, Co-President of District 3 Presidents' Council and DLT member

Teacher performance reports to be expanded; how reliable are they?

In the midst of all the massive budget cuts, DOE intends to contract out with a company to expand the production of the controversial teacher performance reports. Check out Gotham Schools: City will spend $1.5M to extend judging of teachers via test scores.

Lots of people have disputed the utility of these reports -- despite the comments in Gotham Schools from a DOE contractor. As Skoolboy points out here, even if the model is correct, "the Teacher Data Report provides no evidence whatsoever about why a teacher is successful--the many daily practices that promote student learning."

But I'd like to point out another problem. The model used to evaluate teacher effectiveness, as pointed out on our blog here, includes class size at the school and classroom level, meaning that DOE indeed recognizes that teachers should be expected to produce smaller gains the larger their classes. In fact, this is the only external factor included in the model that is assumed to increase teacher effectiveness policies – the rest are teacher and student characteristics.

That's fine and reasonable of course -- far more fair than the school progress reports -- and the teacher bonuses that are based on them, that judge all schools as though they had an equal chance to succeed, despite the fact that some may have classes of under 20 and other at 30 or more.

The problem is that the reported class size data in NYC middle schools and especially at the high school levels is extremely unreliable – so much so that these evaluation reports are likely to be wrong.

Most CTT (inclusion) classes in high school are still misreported as two classes, years after we have pointed out this problem to DOE. In middle school, the reported class size in most cases is actually the homeroom or advisory, not academic classes. Many high school classes, including quite frequently, two different levels of a subject taught by a teacher at the same time to the same group of students are counted as two separate classes. This means that some teachers may be judged as if they had class sizes of 20 or less, when their real class sizes are up to 34 or more.

I’d like to hear how useful these reports are from teachers who have received them – and also if they are sufficiently transparent as to the data they assume, especially when it comes to class size. Otherwise, it would be impossible to check it for accuracy. Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ELL, Federal Stimulus, and Technology Updates at February Panel for Educational Policy

Monday's Panel for Educational Policy meeting covered three topics. Presentations are available here:

English Language Learners Update

The ELL Performance Report for 2007-2008 is still not available although some statistics are provided here.

Federal Stimulus Bill

The DOE has looked closely at what funds will be available and intends to compete aggresively for discretionary funds, including the $650 million in "Innovation Funds". Given the apparent education priorities of the Obama administration, the focus for grants will likely include technology, testing, teacher merit pay and charter schools.

Technology Update

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Growing the bureaucracy: but guess which office at Tweed has actually shrunk?


The Daily News carried an article this morning, showing that despite the budget cuts, and the increasing class sizes in our schools, and the fact that there is supposed to be a “hiring freeze” at Central, Tweed continues to hire more educrats – with nearly a hundred new ones since last February: Bureaucrats and class sizes are up sharply

Here is where you can see the headcount as of November 2008 (the latest available data)-with Central at 2422 full time employees; as of February 2008, there were only 2342. In October 2004, the earliest data I could find, there were only 1984 – which means the bureaucracy has increased by 22% since then.

In October 2004, the Department of Assessment and Accountability had 19 employees. As of Nov. 2008, this number has grown to 89 – an increase of 421%. Enough to create more useless and misleading test score data.

The Chancellor’s office had seven positions, while now he has16 underlings, a growth of 129%. Enough to help him run around the country and brag about his non-achievements here in NYC.

Office of School Enrollment Planning and Operations (OSEPO) had 19 employees, and now has 35 – an increase of 84% --enough to screw up preK admissions royally!

The Office of Public Affairs had 13 employees as of 2004; now Communications, Communications, Media Relations & Community Affairs is up to 23 – an increase of 77% -- enough to spread disinformation far and wide.

But not all offices of Tweed have grown.

For example, the Office of the Deputy Chancellor for Teaching & Learning had 133 positions in October 2004. Now it is down pitifully to 23 – a reduction of 83%. This is symbolic of the actual interest in teaching and learning at DOE.

The teaching staff has also shrunk since last year. According to a DOE spokesperson, there are “440 fewer teachers working directly with students than … the year before.”

Diane Ravitch asks: Is Arne Duncan really Margaret Spellings in Drag?

Check out Diane's latest on her Ed Week blog.

... based on what I have seen to date, I conclude that Obama has given President George W. Bush a third term in education policy and that Arne Duncan is the male version of Margaret Spellings. Maybe he really is Margaret Spellings without the glasses and wearing very high heels.....

Part of the stimulus money, he told Sam Dillon of The New York Times, will be used so that states can develop data systems, which will enable them to tie individual student test scores to individual teachers, greasing the way for merit pay. Another part of the stimulus plan will support charters and entrepreneurs.

Duncan paid his first visit to New York City last week ("New Education Secretary Visits Brooklyn School," New York Times, Feb. 19, 2009). He did not visit a regular public school, but a charter school. Such decisions are not happenstance; they are intended to send a message. Bear in mind that the regular public schools enroll 98 percent of the city's one-million-plus students.

At the charter school, Duncan endorsed the core principles of the Bush education program. According to the account in the Times, Secretary Duncan said that "increasing the use of testing across the country should also be a spending priority." .... Wow! More testing is needed. In New York City right now, students take a dozen tests a year. How many more should they take? How much of the stimulus package will be used to promote more testing across the country?...

(for the picture, thanks as always to our resident Photoshop genius, David Bellel).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The myth of the great teacher, hopefully euthanized once and for all

I hereby nominate the best blog posts of the month so far to be two by Diane Ravitch in EdWeek and one by Skoolboy (Aaron Pallas) in Gotham Schools. These two brilliant critics dissect and hopefully put to sleep for once and for all the great teacher myth, as propounded in a recent Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times.

Kristof writes, “It turns out that having a great teacher is far more important than being in a small class, or going to a good school with a mediocre teacher.” Okay, so what does that mean? Especially as we don't know how to identify a great teacher, or to produce one.

The corollary of the great teacher myth is that the main thing wrong with our educational system – particularly in urban, high needs schools -- are lousy teachers, and the true evil resides in the teacher unions that protect them.

It amazes me that anyone could actually believe this -- but this is the standard argument in DC think tanks and mainstream foundations. No one would seriously argue that the main problem with our inequitable health care system is that there are too many lousy and incompetent doctors serving the poor– or that the best way to address this problem would be to fire more and more of these doctors, and in their place hire new college-graduates from Ivy League schools– but this is the accepted ideology in education policy circles.

As Diane Ravitch writes in her column, Why Are People So Gullible About Miracle Cures in Education?:

Teacher-bashing has become the motif of the day. It is usually cloaked in some high-minded rhetoric that pretends to praise teachers. Say the bashers: We need great teachers; great teachers can solve all our problems; great teachers can close the achievement gap; if you don't have great teachers, you are doomed; blah, blah, blah. What they really mean—read between the lines—is that they think most of the teachers we now have are no good. We have to start firing the stragglers, the ones whose kids don't get high test scores. The theory is that—emulating Jack Welch at GE—we should fire the bottom 10 percent every year, and over time we will have a staff of "great" teachers because all the bums will be gone.

Recently, I attended a conference where a well-known scholar actually proposed this as the way school systems should function. Just keep firing the "weak" and replacing them with newbies. That way, the teaching force will get continually better. …

The great mystery is why so many people are so gullible about miracle cures when it comes to education. They certainly don't expect miracles in any other part of their life. But the schools just can't seem to shake this belief that all children will learn to the highest standards when: 1) all teachers are great teachers; 2) every school has a brilliant leader as principal; 3) every superintendent has an M.B.A.; 4) every school is run by entrepreneurs; 5) every school is organized around a theme; 6) every school is small; 7) all schools are charters.

In a subsequent column, The Miracle Teacher, Revisited, she directly addresses the weaknesses in Kristof’s argument:

If I read Kristof correctly, a "great" teacher is one who can produce higher test scores. We know that this can happen through relentless test-prepping. Is that what a great teacher does?

But if that is the definition of a great teacher, then we can't possibly identify them until they have had at least three, or better yet, five years in the classroom, so there is sufficient data showing that they produced dramatic gains in their classroom. So, that means that no new teacher—certainly no Teach for America teacher—could possibly be a great teacher, because we don't know whether they are great teachers until they have created a consistent record of big test score gains over three-five years.

Let's suppose that a district uses its data to identify the teachers who consistently produce big gains. What happens next? Do these teachers get assigned to the lowest-performing schools? Which children in those schools are assigned to these teachers? What happens to these teachers if they don't get the big gains in the next years? No one has tried to explain how this would be implemented, whether successful teachers would be willing to go wherever they are assigned, and how their services would be parceled out among many needy students.

Isn't it wonderful that we have economists with tons of data (but no practical experience) to tell us how to find and reward great teachers?

In support of his claim in the pre-eminent value of a great teacher, Kristof cites findings from “A Los Angeles study [that] suggested that four consecutive years of having a teacher from the top 25 percent of the pool would erase the black-white testing gap.” Yet in Gotham Schools, Skoolboy points out that this oft-repeated statistic is an urban legend, originally propounded by Gordon, Kane, and Staiger in a study of LA schools that has since proven to be wrong.

“As eduwonkette pointed out last summer, Brian Jacob and his colleagues have shown that these effects do not cumulate. Only about 20% of the effect remains after a single year, and only about 12% after two years. After two years, then, the 10 percentage point swing is down to about 1 percentage point.”

The LA study was written by three men, the first of whom, Robert Gordon, was hired by Klein to perform the “fair student funding” hit job on NYC schools and write nasty opeds in the Daily news, attacking public school parents for their “obsession” with class size. Gordon now works in the White House (alas!). The second author, Tom Kane, is now employed by the Gates foundation, undoubtedly propounding more myths, such as the key to improving our schools is better data collection and teacher performance pay.

Skoolboy further explains that “the vaunted value-added methods show that a teacher who is great’ one year may not be so hot the following year.” A recent report from the National Center on Performance Incentives reveals the substantial volatility of teacher performance.

In fact, one study from San Diego cited by the report shows that “35 percent of teachers initially ranked in the top quintile remain there in the second year while 30 percent fall into the first or second quintiles of the quality distribution in year two.” Apparently, even “using different tests can affect the stability of estimated teacher effects.”

Oh well. I don’t suppose anyone at the New York Times, the DOE, the White House, or the Gates Foundation is listening – that would be too lucky.

Bloomberg administration blames parents for larger classes

See the article in today’s NY Times, Class Size in New York City Schools Rises, but the Impact is Debated, a follow up to the article on Wednesday, Class Size Makes Biggest Jump of Bloomberg Tenure.

Though it is one of those typical “on the one hand this, on the other hand that” pieces– citing research that is either outmoded or easily refuted -- it is important because it is the first in-depth article in our paper of record to have dealt with the issue of class size in at least five years.

Indeed, the Times has had a “black out” on class size through most of the Bloomberg administration – as the former education editor admitted in June of 2006 – though at that point, she promised “to explore the class size issue” soon after -- which has not occurred until now, almost three years later.

This omission has persisted, despite the fact that our public school students continue to suffer from the largest class sizes in the state, smaller classes have consistently been the top priority of NYC parents, and in subway and TV ads, the administration has claimed to be reducing class size while being repeatedly cited for misusing hundreds of millions of dollars of state aid meant for this purpose.

In today’s article, the administration once again tries to evade its own responsibility for failing to reduce class size, despite a state mandate passed in 2007. In the previous Times article, Garth Harries of DOE attempted to blame the economy– even though the state provided an additional $400 million this fall, with $150 million of that targeted for class size reduction. He also attempted to shift the blame onto principals, which Chris Cerf tries again in today’s article, without acknowledging that it is the DOE’s duty to see that these funds are spent appropriately.

But now, even more outrageously, they are trying to blame parents – with Harries actually arguing that large classes are the result of popular schools where parents insist on sending their kids.

As I pointed out to the reporter, the vast majority of children attend their neighborhood zoned elementary and middle schools– and DOE entirely controls the admissions for high schools, so blaming parents for the systemic problem of large classes is entirely unwarranted. Who will they blame next – our kids?

Indeed, at the same time that the administration goes around claiming that mayoral control means accountability, they are quick to shift the blame on everyone else when they fail to create more adequate and equitable learning conditions for our children.

The article also repeats the administration’s canard that there is a trade-off between teacher quality and class size, when the two factors are actually complimentary. Indeed, the main reason we have such a high teacher turnover rate here in NYC is that our teachers so often leave for a new profession or to work in suburban or private schools -- because their excessive class sizes do not provide them with a fair chance to succeed.

In a recent national poll, 97% of teachers responded that reducing class size would be an effective way to improve teacher quality – far above any other strategy, including raising salaries, instituting teacher performance pay, or providing more professional development. Indeed, the only way we will ever obtain a more experienced and effective teaching force here in NYC is by reducing class size.

But the most ridiculous part of the article is the “evidence” offered by the administration that smaller classes don’t matter, by referring to an unpublished (and probably unpublishable) internal DOE study that purported to show that the grades schools received on the “Progress reports” weren’t correlated with smaller classes. No mention is made of the fact that most experts have found that the grades schools receive are mostly random – with almost no correlation from one year to the next -- as an article by the same reporter in the Times pointed out last year.

In contrast, the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the US Department of Education, has concluded that class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms proven to increase student achievement. (None of the policies that the Bloomberg/Klein administration has introduced are on the list, by the way.)

In fact, the DOE has devised another formula – a “value added” model to evaluate teacher effectiveness, in which class size is included as a “predictor”, the ONLY factor included in the model under the school system’s control. This is an admission that the larger the class, the less a teacher is expected to raise student achievement. All the other factors in the model pertain to characteristics of the students themselves, such as economic status, prior test scores, absences, etc.

See the model here – which includes average class size at both the classroom and school level, showing that both should be taken into account when assessing a teacher’s performance. The DOE also states that the model used “draws on 10 years of city-wide data (test scores, student, teacher, and school characteristics) to predict individual student gains.”

Check out the accompanying FAQ:

Is the DOE’s Value-Added model reliable and valid? A: A panel of technical experts has approved the DOE’s value-added methodology. The DOE’s model has met recognized standards for demonstrating validity and reliability. Teachers’ value-added scores from the model are positively correlated with both School Progress Report scores and principals’ perceptions of teachers’ effectiveness, as measured by a research study conducted during the pilot of this initiative.

Anyway, please send a letter to the Times at with your name, address and phone number. Let them know what you think – and whether it’s fair to blame parents for the fact that NYC classes have remained the largest in the state, with no significant improvement under this administration.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Marist poll results: most voters disapprove of Bloomberg's education record

On Friday, a new Marist poll was released, showing Bloomberg’s approval rating has dropped seven percent -- to its lowest level in nearly four years.

Though most New Yorkers still approve of his performance overall, the majority of voters disapprove of his handling of the public schools – 52% to 40% -- despite the millions of dollars spent to convince New Yorkers otherwise.

This disinformation campaign is being carried out through subway and TV ads sponsored by the Fund for Public Schools (a nonprofit headed by Joel Klein that was ostensibly established to improve programs for public school students); Learn NY (which is funneling cash to community groups so they will back the continuation of Mayoral control); the editorial boards of the NY Post and Daily News (which are controlled by Bloomberg’s buddies, Rupert Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman); and the DOE’s own considerable PR staff of 23– larger than that of any other city agency by far.

For more on the results of the Marist poll, see Gotham Schools: Poll: Majority of voters disapprove of mayor’s handling of schools.

Arne Duncan in NYC: is the federal stimulus bill a Trojan Horse?

The good news: Arne Duncan came to NYC, and appeared at a press conference with the mayor and Chancellor Klein. He promised about $535 million from the federal stimulus package for NYC public schools in each of the next two years, as well as $300 million for Title I, approximately $100 million for special education, and more than $25 million in educational technology funds. (For more details, see Wonkster, GothamSchools, NY Times City Room, and the NY Post.)

Bad news: Though this infusion of cash will help fill the gap in the city education budget, it will not address the cuts in state aid to our schools, which are estimated to be $700 million or more.

More bad news: The press conference was held at yet another charter school, Brooklyn Explore Charter School. Here is an excerpt from the DOE press release:

Named a National Charter School of the Year by the Center for Education Reform, Explore Charter earned an A on its 2007-2008 Progress Report. The school serves 425 students, and more than 1,700 families are on the school’s waiting list.

Unmentioned is the fact that this school also has class sizes of 16, according to Gotham Schools.

By relentlessly promoting the success of NYC charter schools -- that is, those schools that are not under their total control -- the administration appears to forget that they have denied the vast majority of our students who attend regular public schools the same advantages. In fact, at our regular public schools, class sizes greatly exceed state and national averages and grew even larger in nearly every grade this year – as a direct result of the DOE's obstinate failure to comply with state law, .

Even more bad news: At the press conference, Duncan gave lavish praise to the myriad "reforms" of the administration, and pledged to disperse lots of cash from his new $5 billion slush fund for all those programs pushed by the Klein administration – such as encouraging more teacher performance pay based on test scores, dysfunctional "data systems", and similar initiatives that, unlike smaller classes, do not benefit our kids.

For more on this, see Diane Ravitch in Politico:

…along comes Arne Duncan, our new Secretary of Education, and everything he has said to date might have just as well been said by Bush's Secretary Margaret Spellings. Duncan paid his visit to New York City and toured a charter school, not a regular public school. He declared that the nation's schools need more testing, as though we don't have enough information already to act on our problems. He declared his support for charter schools, where only 2% of the nation's children are enrolled...

It looks like Obama's education policy will be a third term for President George W. Bush. This is not change I can believe in.

Who is the real dictator?

Earlier this week, Erin Einhorn, the fearless City Hall reporter for the Daily News, tried to ask Mayor Bloomberg about whether he should have allowed the public to vote on extending term limits, as did Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. As you can see, the Mayor brushed her aside:

Q: Mayor, it’s hard to compare New York City to Venezuela but as you know, Hugo Chavez did his second effort - this time sucessful - to extend term limits. You chose to go through City Council. Do you have any second thoughts about this? Do you wish you should have had a chance to take to the...

A: I don’t understand your question. What on Earth do we have to do with Hugo Chavez?

Q: Well, like you, he wanted to extend his term.

A: if you wanted to ask Hugo Chavez, call him up! Maybe he’ll take your call. My suspicion is he doesn’t have press conferences and let people ask questions or if they ask questions, he probably throws them, I don’t know he does with them...Who knows? (Laughs). I still fail to see a connection.

While saying that Erin should win an award for her question, the Economist magazine also pointed out that Chavez holds regularly televised press conferences in which ordinary citizens are allowed to query him; one can hardly imagine our petulant Mayor allowing that.

For more on the contrast between Chavez or Bloomberg, and who acted as though he believed in democracy more, see Clyde Haberman's column in today's Times:

The people voted a while back to impose term limits on their political leadership. That was a nuisance for the man in charge. He was in his second term and prohibited by law from running again. But he sorely wanted to try for a third term.

Here’s what he did. He went back to the people to ask if they’d had a change of heart.

Obviously, he was not from New York.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shame on You, Mr. Murdoch!!

It wasn’t enough that Chip Saltsman, a candidate to chair the defeated Republican Party, sent as a Christmas present (!!!) to fellow Party officials a CD featuring a parody song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro.” That same CD, compiled by a so-called “conservative satirist” named Paul Shanklin, contained 41 songs, among them “The Stay-Spanglish Banner,” “Mister Tan Marine Man,” “Wright Place, Wrong Pastor,” and “Bank of Amigo.”

Today, the New York Post elected to top that disgrace, hands down, by printing the following editorial cartoon by Sean Delonas.

The cartoon draws from the recent police shooting in Stamford, Connecticut of Travis, an out-of-control chimpanzee, with the two befuddled (and apparently Conservative Republican) cops lamenting that the country will have to find someone else to write the next economic stimulus bill now that the monkey is dead. The overtones are appalling, not just racist in the most disgusting and retrograde of ways but also not-so-subtly promoting violence directed at America’s first black President. This from an editorial board that routinely and slavishly supports its corporate soulmate, Mayor Bloomberg, particularly when it comes to the Mayor’s dictatorial control over the City’s public schools.

This cartoon, sad as it is, needs to be subject matter in every NYC high school history and government classroom when school resumes next Monday. Anyone who believes that racism, whether personal or institutional, is no longer tolerated, or is something whose vestiges remain only in the Deep South, needs only look at this pathetic attempt at political “humor” to disabuse themselves of this notion. Our children in the city’s public schools need to see that it’s still right here in their back yard, in one of their local daily (I shudder to dignify Murdoch's fish wrap with the word) newspapers.

An apology will not be enough. Nothing less than two firings will do - one for Mr. Delonas, the other for the editor who let this go to print. Boycott, anyone?


The Post issued an apology this evening for Wednesday's "dead chimpanzee" editorial cartoon. The apology, to be printed in tomorrow's edition, reads in part as follows:

It [the cartoon] was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill. Period. But it has been taken as something else - as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism. This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.

However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past - and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback. To them, no apology is due. Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon - even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.

This statement makes Alex Rodriguez's recent steroid non-confessional look like the hair-tearing, breast-beating, crying jag mother of all apologies. Sorry, Col [Editor Col Allen]. Sorry, Rup [Rupert Murdoch]. Not nearly good enough. If it weren't for the truth-telling likes of Al Sharpton and Keith Olberman, you would never even have gone this far.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The piece below was submitted by a teacher. While the massive layoffs are probably averted due to the passing of the federal stimulus package bill, we may still see class sizes increase from attrition.


I’ve been preparing my fifth grade class for the up coming New York State Math Test. This is the pass or fail exam that parents, students and administrators alike are romanced into thinking will determine each and every child’s fate in the world. We were reviewing factors, multiples, primes and composites: The factors of 9 are 1, 9 and 3. The factors of 16 are 1,16, 2,8,and 4. Out of the blue one of my students, who regularly naps through math, perked up and asked the following:

“What are the factors of 14,000?”

I responded, “That’s kind of a big number. Any reason you chose 14,000?”

“Because that’s the number of teachers that are going to be fired by the mayor.”

He was right.

So, we went on to a much more interesting math problem.

If they’re about 1,100,000 students in the NYC school system, and approximately 79,000 teachers, what is the teacher to student ratio? We found it was about 13, well below what we know it to be. Then we figured that about 25% of those “teachers” were support teachers and specialists, so we did our math again. 60,000 teachers and 1,100,000 students, and the teacher to student ratio came about to about 1:18, still low as we looked around our classroom of 26 kids. We added 10 students to make it a more realistic average of 28 per class, which is congruent with our experience.

But then we fired 14,000 teachers.

And then we did the math.

Now the average was 23 students per teacher. We then estimated that this average was still low, so we added 10 students and got 33.

Then a student raised the question that left me stumped: Why?

Why not cut something else? Why not cut pay of administrators who work at city hall? Why doesn’t the city pave one less street per day to pay for more teachers? Why don’t we have one less bus stop fixed? Why can’t we figure this out?

I looked at my kids and said, “There are many things in this world that I can help you explore, find answers and sometimes simply more questions to research, but this is one area in which I am learning along with you.

Back to our math lesson and factors, multiples, primes and composites. But the mood had changed. The kids had learned a sobering lesson: That some numbers and equations just don’t add up, and never will.

Written by Otis Kriegel, Teacher in District 2 and founder of The K5: Elementary Education for Parents, a parent-advice website (