Friday, April 30, 2010
Technically, the money would be funneled through the Soprano Foundation, which, like other education funders such as the Walton and Broad Foundations, furthers corporate interests through charitable donations. “There’s money to be made in education”, said the Mafia source. “If an amateur like Eva Moskowitz can make $450,000 a year by muscling out schools to make room for her people, imagine what we can do with our methods.”
Asked what credentials the Mafia has to warrant such substantial influence on education, the source appeared to mock one foundation spokesperson who claimed to have “deep expertise” in education. “We’re the ones with ‘deep expertise’”, he said. “You don’t perform, we send you deep to the bottom of the river”.
NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, for one, says he is grateful for all the help he can get in these troubled financial times. “They promised me they’d ‘get rid of the f***ing ATR’s’ within a week”, he told GBN News. “The only condition was that we don’t ask how.”
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The CityRoom article begins in the familiar Times style and heralds the arrival of something very important:
"The New York Times has assembled an extensive database of New York education statistics that will help readers put the vast sea of information about schools into better context."
But did they? The paper of record would have us believe that an "extensive database of education statistics" has nothing more than test scores. How about the age of the facility? class size? number of science labs? hours of gym? is art offered? music? an orchestra? credentials of staff? number of sports teams? number of after school clubs? funding per student? special education services? grievances filed? criminal incidents? AP courses? placement record? ....
Sorry, a school's test scores don't constitute a "vast sea" of anything. I suspect the publishers and editors of the Times would consider more than test scores before selecting a school for their children. But they have one idea of education for their children and an entirely different one for ours.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Times article on Klein's campaign to fire teachers regardless of seniority provokes more questions than it answers
Excerpt: In 2008, New York City began evaluating about 11,500 teachers based on how much their students had improved on standardized state exams. A Times analysis of the first year of results showed that teachers with 6 to 10 years of experience were more likely to perform well, while teachers with 1 or 2 years’ experience were the least likely.
This article confirms what all research shows, that experience leads to more effective teaching. In fact, there are only two objective, measurable correlatives to effective instruction: smaller classes and more experienced teachers, and yet the administration has done everything it can to prevent either one from taking hold in NYC public schools.
Yet the article glosses over or omits much critical information.
Why does Klein want principals to be able to fire teachers with more seniority? It is not because of their quality, or lack thereof, but because they cost more money.
Why would principals tend to fire more experienced teachers if they get the chance? Not because they are less effective, but because of the “fair student funding” scheme imposed by Klein, principals now have to pay for their higher salaries out of their limited school budgets, meaning they are forced to choose between higher class sizes and experienced teachers.
Why is it that given the similar squeeze on the police and fire budgets, no one in the administration is recommending that either the Commissioner of Police or Fire Department be able to fire staff regardless of seniority? Indeed, there would be huge public outcry if the administration proposed firing senior police officers or firefighters; even though in their cases, there is far less research to show their increased effectiveness.
Of course, no one would dare put into place a system where police captains had total control over the staffing in their precincts, and had to pay for it out a limited budget, regardless of changes in local conditions and/or spikes in crime. Or for all the police officers to be fired in a precinct to be replaced with newbies if the crime rate rose.
No, this is part of the concerted attack on the whole notion of professionalism in the teaching force, and an attempt to destroy anything (read the union) that might interfere with the administration’s free-market, deregulatory, pro-privatization education policies.
One more question: how did the NY Times get a hold of the teacher data reports, based on value-added analysis of student test scores, to allow them to do the analysis mentioned above? Weren’t they supposed to be confidential?
According to an email from Jenny Medina, the reporter on the story, the Times submitted a FOIL request last year and received the teacher data reports on the district level, without names attached. It allowed them to “do some analysis, albeit fairly limited.”
Yet it is astonishing to me that there is a system in place for the last three years, in which these reports (see sample to the right) are distributed to principals and teachers, and now the Times as well, yet no member of the public has been allowed to see or vet the mathematical model on which they are based. This is especially the case, as given the chance, principals will likely refer to these reports to determine who to lay off.
More than a year ago, in February of 2009, I FOILed for the value-added formula embedded in the teacher data reports; as well as the identity of the supposedly expert (but still secret) panel that had approved of its validity and reliability, and the DOE has still not provided this information.
Every few weeks, I get the same canned response from the DOE, that “due to the volume and complexity” of the requests they receive, as well as the need to determine whether any redactions are needed, additional time is required, and I that should expect a substantive response within a month. And then I get the same exact email a month later. So much for transparency!
What's especially dangerous about all this, of course, is that through the "Race to the Top" fund, Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education is pushing states to adopt similar schemes, with teacher evaluation, pay and tenure based on student test scores, without any independent vetting of the reliability of such systems.
In fact, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report last October, warning that these systems are not ready for prime time, and might do more harm than good if implemented on a broad scale. From their press release:
"Too little research has been done on these methods' validity to base high-stakes decisions about teachers on them. A student's scores may be affected by many factors other than a teacher -- his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support -- and value-added techniques have not yet found a good way to account for these other elements...
From the NAS report itself:
In sum, value-added methodologies should be used only after careful consideration of their appropriateness for the data that are available, and if used, should be subjected to rigorous evaluation. At present, the best use of VAM techniques is in closely studied pilot projects. Even in pilot projects, VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used as the sole or primary basis for making operational decisions because the extent to which the measures reflect the contribution of teachers themselves, rather than other factors, is not understood. ....such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable.
And yet little attention was given these vehement warnings of the nation's top academic experts in testing and statistics; with no mention in the NY Times or other national media, and no acknowledgement by the administration that their efforts to impose these models on the nation's school districts might be off track.
No, the motto of Joel Klein and Arne Duncan as well as their sponsors in the business community and the Gates Foundation continues to be: full speed ahead! And the reckless high-speed train of experimentation that threatens to run over our children's schools hurtles forward, without any end in sight.
Friday, April 23, 2010
As it happens, Diane Ravitch is the keynote speaker at the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association for its 50th anniversary dinner on June 1. Knowing Diane as I do, I would guess that Sen. Craig Johnson has not heard the last about his insistence on foisting more unregulated charter schools on New York City, which the parents and school boards in Nassau County would vehemently oppose if they were inserted into their own communities.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
We all know Bloomberg’s political mantra: “not beholden to special interests.” Of course, some of us also know that he IS the special interest to which all are or soon will be beholden.
While the politicians and the press exploit the American public’s exquisite ability to train its sights on the near-rich (Wall Street bankers’ bonuses as low as $50,000 would be taxed at 25% under some proposals) while letting the obscenely rich go scot free (John Paulson and other hedge fund managers will not be subject to the special tax since there’s no bonus component to their income, which gets taxed at the lower capital gains rate to boot), Mayor Mike has been quietly assembling his little empire—mostly at the expense of taxpayers.
Today’s New York Observer has a long and admirably researched article on Bloomberg’s Offshore Millions. For those who get a migraine at the mere mention of tax rules so shortly after April 15, or who don’t have the time to follow the many twists and turns, I have taken the liberty of summarizing the key points. (my comments in italics; quotes from the article in plain text)
On December 26, 2007—the same day that the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board opened the door for Mr. Rattner’s firm to manage the foundation’s money— the foundation immediately sent $210 million to a new fund—“QAM Select Investors (Offshore) Ltd.”—based in the Cayman Islands.
Why would Bloomberg’s foundation—a tax-exempt entity-- move money offshore?
Nonprofits like the Bloomberg Family Foundation are tax-exempt, but some investments that aren’t related to an organization’s core mission can be subject to a levy called the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT, for short). So to avoid more than 40 percent in federal and local taxes on unrelated businesses, nonprofits use a legal loophole, routing investments through offshore tax havens.
The foundation’s tax returns indicate that Mr. Rattner’s team migrated much of its money to large hedge funds with ostensible island charters, including several in the Caymans, two of which list an address at P.O. Box 309 of the Ugland House, a building that “houses” an estimated 12,000 to 18,000 foreign businesses.
This is how it works and it’s perfectly legal, although it smells an awful lot like money laundering:
“It cleanses the unrelated business taint from the total return,” Harvey Dale, of the N.Y.U. School of Law, told The Observer. “You invest in the same thing through an offshore entity. You are making the same investment; you are just putting an intermediary entity in the middle. Instead of investing directly in the hedge fund, you invest in the foreign entity, which, in turn, invests in the hedge fund.”
“Is (using the loophole) allowable under the law? Yes,” said tax expert Dean Zerbe, a former staffer at the Senate Finance Committee. “Is it something that is a best practice, particularly by an elected official? I think they should look very hard when they are engaging in this kind of activity. What does it say to the average New Yorker?”
Gee, I don’t think it says anything to the average New Yorker because he/she hasn’t a clue and the media—who zealously pursue inconsequential improprieties such as the gift of Yankees tickets and sexual peccadilloes—somehow lose their investigative nerve when it comes to the big stuff. And then there’s Obama himself.
Of that very same Ugland House that ostensibly houses the Bloomberg Family Foundation along with 12,000-18,000 other foreign companies, candidate Obama famously said: “Now, that’s either the biggest building in the world or the biggest tax scam in the world….and I think we know which one it is.”
President Obama, however, seems content to score cheap political points by fulminating against greedy insurance companies and “bankers” while doing absolutely nothing to close tax loopholes that net some investors and their money managers billions (remember, it’s these kinds of folks who are investing heavily in charter schools and other education reform projects favored by Obama and his buddy Arnie Duncan).
With all the money it saves by not paying taxes on unrelated business income, you’d think the Bloomberg Family Foundation could afford to hire its own staffers and buy its own paper clips. Well, a penny saved is a penny earned after all, and Bloomberg Scrooge McDuck can save a lot of pennies because his friends (technically, appointees—but let’s not quibble) on the Conflicts of Interest Board look out for him:
[In January 2008], the foundation was given clearance to allow two city workers to use municipal time and resources on foundation work—on the assumption that the charity would “ultimately serve the city” and “further the interests and purposes of the city.”
The Bloomberg Family Foundation didn’t need an office or staff because there are lots of city employees who just love to spend their spare time helping their boss, which is the same as helping the city, according to the Conflicts of Interest Board:
In spite of the flurry of investments, it appears that for years, Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation had no office, phones, staff, Web site or public brochures. In late 2007, the mayor wrote a second letter to the Conflicts of Interest Board, looking for another blessing: Some of his staffers at City Hall, he argued, were asking him, “unsolicited,” if they could help with his foundation. Saying that the foundation would “ultimately serve city goals,” the board approved. At least three of his staffers were even allowed to use government resources, like office space, phones and Internet service, for foundation work.
No one loves to help Mayor Mike more than Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris, who somehow can help run a big city by day and a big foundation in her spare time. Not that she needs much spare time: Mayor Mike trusts her so much that she—the sole officer of the Bloomberg Family Foundation—manages to give away millions on its behalf while working a mere fifteen minutes per week:
One of the staffers was Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris. Aside from Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Harris was the sole officer listed on his foundation’s tax return. A longtime Bloomberg loyalist, Ms. Harris worked at Bloomberg LP before joining the mayor at City Hall. On foundation tax returns, Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Harris each claimed to have spent .25 hours, or 15 minutes, per week on the charity—as it gave away tens of millions. Last month, the mayor announced that Ms. Harris would take on even more duties at the foundation, although it is unclear if she will increase her time commitment.
If you want to know more about the foundation, you’ll have to ask James Anderson, who runs its press office (naturally, he’s a former mayoral aide; possibly, one of the city employees who help the city by working for the foundation on city time). Given his job, Mr. Anderson is curiously mum: since Mayor Bloomberg must remain in the dark about specific investment decisions “in order to avoid conflicts,” Mr. Anderson“[is] not in a position” to discuss foundation business.
There’s a lot more in the Observer article, including details on some of the funds’ world-wide travels. At least one expert thinks the Bloomberg Family Foundation’s extraordinary opacity makes it a unique beast in the non-profit world ( the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reportedly does not invest in offshore vehicles, whose “profit model is centrally tied to corporate activity that they find egregious”):
Compared with those of the great foundations of America, the Bloomberg investment strategies stand out. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s about as opaque set of investments as you can find,” said Rick Cohen, who covers foundations and charities for Nonprofit Quarterly, and who agreed to review the foundation’s tax return. “This involves extensive investments in hedge funds offshore, where the motivation and purpose is not discernible, so you can’t tell what kind of activity it is or who is going to benefit from the investments.”
However, the former head of New York State’s Charities Bureau, who agrees that the Bloomberg Family Foundations’ tax forms reveal next to nothing, does not consider it extraordinary among the new breed of foundations:
“The Bloomberg foundation is not that significantly different from the foundations of other individuals who come out of the investment world.”
This should be very alarming to anyone who cherishes democratic principles and open government. As big money is increasingly being made in the investment world—whether by private equity or hedge funds—and governmental functions are increasingly being fulfilled by public-private “partnerships”, we the people are losing control of our own government. It’s especially galling that we, the taxpayers, are essentially funding our own subjugation by the clever use of tax-exempt “non-profit” entities by the likes of Mike Bloomberg.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
April 21, 2010 (GBN News): Barely 24 hours after the NY State Board of Regents gave their approval to alternative Masters degree programs, Teach for America has already named noted Beverly Hillbilly Jethro Bodine as Dean of its new graduate education program. Mr. Bodine, said to be a favorite of TFA founder and President Wendy Kopp from the time she first saw him on TV Land reruns at the age of 10, will be taking up the position immediately.
At his introductory press conference, Mr. Bodine touted his own qualifications for the job, telling reporters, “I done graduated the sixth grade.” He also noted that he is not the first member of his family to be involved in a professional alternative certification program. “My granny done became a doctor back in the hills,” he said. “She didn’t need no fancy medical school. Why should teachers need some fancy education school?”
NY City Mayor Bloomberg welcomed the new program and expressed the hope that Mr. Bodine’s uncle, wealthy oilman Jed Clampett, would take an interest in NY City schools. “We love rich people,” said the Mayor. “And we love how they run our schools.”
When: Thursday May 13 at 6 PM
Where: Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street
This briefing, sponsored by Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz, will be followed by discussion and a strategy session.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
According to a source at the DOE, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has been working jointly with Xe Worldwide (aka Blackwater) and the Walton Foundation to instantly turn around failing schools. This would be accomplished by forcibly replacing the principals and entire administrative staff, as well as teachers and students.
The source told GBN News that as currently conceived, the plan calls for Blackwater mercenaries to physically take over the targeted school buildings, while Wal Mart executives move in to take over the schools’ administration. Blackwater is said to already effectively control the NY City school security apparatus (which may explain such incidents as the recent arrest of a student for writing on a desk). And Wal Mart has reportedly trained hundreds of its greeters to replace the entire teaching staffs of the failing schools.
While the benefits of the new turnaround policy seem clear - there would be no time for inconvenient public hearings, as the takeover would be presented as a fait accompli; and the greeters’ non-union salaries and lack of benefit package would save millions over that of the teachers they replaced – there could be some controversy given the recent indictment of the former President of Blackwater and five top company officials on weapons violations. But this could also work to the DOE’s advantage. “Chancellor Klein feels that the Blackwater folks have a certain cachet,” the DOE source told GBN News. “The intimidation factor could actually help head off any serious opposition.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, when asked about the Chancellor’s reputed plans, told GBN News that he cannot comment on specific “Race to the Top” applications. However, he did say that short of a hurricane or other natural disaster, a Blackwater/Wal Mart takeover could be “the next best thing” that could happen to a school system.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
And just this week, "The Cartel" (about NJ public schools, particularly Camden's) hit the big screens and was reviewed on Friday for the NY Times by Jeannette Catsoulis. Actually, "reviewed" is hardly the word for what she wrote; better to say trashed, skewered, shredded, ripped, and thoroughly humiliated in every possible sense for its argumentation, presentation, and even film-making values. As a film project, she obviously rates it a total F. There's a vast (and, too often, intentional) gulf between reasoned advocacy and flat-out propaganda, although few seem really to care any more.
Catsoulis's review is so devastatingly harsh, it would be positively hilarious if it were not for the knowledge that so many of the converted will just see this as further support of their "ed reform" positions. Regardless, for those who might, like me, take some comfort in having the "emperor's clothes" publicly called out for what they really are (or should I say, aren't) by an objective reviewer with no particular stake in the issue, I have included the full text of her review below. Those wishing to try a second (and critically similar) review source, as opposed to Kyle Smith's slavish, slobbering write-up in the NY Post, try Stephen Whitty's review from the (NJ) Star-Ledger.
Herewith, Ms. Catsoulis's positively priceless review from the NY Times:
Children Left Behind
A mind-numbing barrage of random television clips and trash-talking heads, “The Cartel” purports to be a documentary about the American public school system. In reality, however, it’s a bludgeoning rant against a single state — New Jersey — which it presents as a closed loop of Mercedes-owning administrators, obstructive teachers’ unions and corrupt school boards.
Blithely extrapolating nationally, the writer and director, Bob Bowdon, concludes that increased financing for public schools is unlikely to raise reading scores but is almost certain to raise the luxury-car quotient in administrator parking lots. To illustrate, Mr. Bowdon rattles off a laundry list of outrages — like a missing $1 billion from a school construction budget — and provides a clumsy montage of newspaper headlines detailing administrative graft.
The evidence may be verifiable (and even depressingly familiar), but its complex underpinnings are given short shrift. Instead Mr. Bowdon, a New Jersey-based television reporter, employs an exposé-style narration lousy with ad hominems and emotional coercion. In one particularly egregious scene he parks his camera in front of a weeping child who has just failed to win a coveted spot in a charter-school lottery — another tiny victim of public school hell. Later, confronted with the president of the New Jersey Education Association, Mr. Bowdon performs the rhetorical equivalent of poking a lion with a stick and running away.
Visually horrid and intellectually unsatisfying, “The Cartel” demonstrates only that its maker has even more to learn about assembling a film than about constructing an argument.Here, here!
Monday, April 12, 2010
In its papers, the city argued that the court has no role in deciding this matter, but right off the bat, the Judge rejected the claim that the sole authority over NYC’s compliance with the law should be reserved for the NY State Commissioner of Education. Judge Barone said that even if the state legislature wanted to deprive the court of jurisdiction that would be unconstitutional. He said he was “astounded” that any attorney would dare argue that the court doesn’t have the power to review this matter.
Very quickly the legal arguments became focused instead on whether the plaintiffs (including Class Size Matters, the UFT, NAACP, the Hispanic Federation, and assorted public school parents) should exhaust other administrative remedies first before coming to court, i.e. filing a complaint with the Commissioner.
Charles Moerdler, one of our attorneys from the firm of Stroock, Stroock and Lavan, recited a long list of legal precedents as far back as 1919, including decisions of the Court of Appeals, showing that the court has a right to step in before other administrative procedures have been exhausted. He provided important background information, explaining how as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, the city had been provided with more than $1.5 billion in state funds, with $760 million of that earmarked for class size reduction, on the condition that it reduce class size. The city submitted a plan to do so, promised it would spend that money appropriately, and did not. Thus it is in breach of contract, pure and simple. This is matter of law, not fact, and the court is the best place to hear a matter of law, he argued, especially as the Commissioner of Education has no legal background.
Moerdler also pointed out that going to the Commissioner now for a ruling could take months, and the courts have found that where there is a need for urgent action, as there is in this case, they should step in. Going the other route could consign thousands of children to irreparable harm and another school year of illegal and excessive class sizes that would deny them the fundamental right to an adequate education. Given that the Commissioner’s decision is likely to be appealed to the Court in any event, these children could have graduated from high school before the case was resolved.
The lawyer from the city’s Corporation Counsel, Emily Sweet, said that if the Judge did hear the case, the trial would be full of complicated and arcane matters involving budget allocations, DOE guidance memos and various funding streams, and that the Commissioner was more able to determine the facts of the case and understand these complex matters.
Yet despite the attempts of the city to confuse and obscure this issue with smoke and mirrors, including jargon-filled memos, abstruse powerpoint presentations, and talk of funding streams, the facts in this case are clear and undisputable: the DOE has not reduced class size, according to its own data. It has not adhered to its own state-mandated and binding class size reduction plan, and has not used the funding as required by law.
Judge Barone said that he would give both sides two weeks to submit more papers, but that he intended to rule shortly thereafter as to whether the case should proceed to trial. As he said the city's motion to dismiss is is an important motion in an important case. Cross your fingers and hold onto your hats!
Sunday, April 11, 2010
The second part of her speech is posted here.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
We will also offer workshops on PTAs, School Leadership Teams, and the new Chancellor’s regulations; how to ensure your special education child receives the services s/he needs; toxic schools; the rights and responsibilities of Community Education Councils; Title 1 and parent involvement: and how to advocate for your school and reach out to the media.
When: Saturday, April 10 from 9:30 AM-3:30 PM.
Where: School of the Future; 127 E. 22 St. (between Park and Lexington.)
Here is a flyer you can post or distribute in your school. Be there or be square!
Also, next Monday, arguments will be heard in our lawsuit against the city for its failure to reduce class size.
When: Monday April 12, 9:30 AM
Where: Supreme Court Bronx County Courthouse (Grand Concourse and 161st Street) before Justice John Barone.
Join us if you can and show your support! For more about our lawsuit, which we filed in January with the UFT, the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation, and other parents and parent groups, check out on the Class Size Matters website here.