Tag Archives: Corporate Education Reform

SEVEN SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE FOR NYC PUBLIC SCHOOLS

New York City teachers come back to work tomorrow after an early Spring Break. Just in time too because rumblings of change are everywhere here in the city. The nation should have its eye on what happens in the New York City school system over the next year or two.

Together, the 7 Seals of the Apocalypse are on the horizon for our education system. This doesn’t mean that I think NYC public schools will disappear. It means that, if they were to disappear, these would be the things that will do us in.

First Seal – False Prophets 

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

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Elections for new leadership in the union will take place shortly after we return to work tomorrow. The Unity Caucus, who has had a stranglehold on power from its inception, is facing a challenge from MORE this year. Don’t be surprised if MORE has some measure of success in this election.

The Unity Caucus has been running a non-campaign: not engaging with or acknowledging MORE in any way and not taking any public actions or stances recently so they don’t risk alienating more teachers. If we hear anything, it will be about how Unity brings us “experienced” and “competent” leadership.

Michael Mulgrew and the rest of Unity are the false prophets upon our land. They will speak about how they did not cave to Pharaoh Bloomberg’s impossible teacher evaluations, then they will cave soon after the elections are over. Unity will play nice with teachers over the next month, then will do a whole bunch of selling out once elections are over. Seeing as how they have three years before they face another election, they will try to get all of their selling out done over the next two years in order to give us a chance to forget before the 2016 elections.

Second Seal – War 

“Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.”

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New Yorkers will be voting for a new mayor this year after 12 years of the Reign of Pharaoh Mike I. The Democratic Party in NYC is locked in a battle over who will win the nomination and, thereby, the Mayoralty. Presumably, the favorite is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the woman responsible for allowing Bloomberg’s illegal third term to sail through the City Council. She is the person who many New Yorkers just assume to be a BloomClone.

The Red Horse of the apocalypse is supposed to be a good guy, but the red warrior in this election is most definitely fighting for the dark side. Quinn is the quintessential political operator who believes in nothing and stands for nothing. Her plan for the schools is Bloomberg Lite. She went out of her way to block the paid sick leave bill and then reversed herself when some of her biggest endorsers threatened to retract.

If Quinn ends up winning the war, our schools will not have proper leadership for the foreseeable future. This is the woman for whom the UFT wants us to wait because she would give us a “fair” contract, unlike Bloomberg. Unity’s entire “wait for the next mayor” approach to contract negotiations under the guise that the next mayor is going to be our Great White Hope is laughable.

Third Seal – Famine

“Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’”

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The “economic crisis” is a term that hangs over us with a sense of permanence. Despite the fact that the federal government and private industry are throwing more money into the education world than ever, the poor state of the economy will continually be used as an excuse as to why less and less money finds its way into our classrooms.

We have seen the deterioration of most after school programs outside of bare sports funded by the Public Schools Athletic League. Art and music have been nixed, foreign languages are starting to feel the pinch and the handwriting is on the wall for Global History. Our curriculum will be streamlined based upon what is tested and the only subjects tested are the subjects that will keep us “competitive” in the 21st century. Everything will be cut away except testing and STEM subjects. The specter of “budget cuts” will be the handmaiden facilitating this bare-bones education.

Fourth Seal – Pestilence 

“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

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The plague of standardized testing promises to grow and deepen over the next few years. A vast amount of resources have already been spent on reorienting the entire education system coast-to-coast around standardized exams. The richies who have plunged billions of dollars into the emerging testing economy will not abandon their precious investment without a protracted fight.

For high school teachers here in NYC, the new scoring policy for the Regents Exams will ensure chaos. Most importantly, it will lead to an across-the-board dip in all test scores. In his final year as the “Education Mayor”, Pharaoh Bloomberg will once again be embarrassed when the test scores by which he used to measure his own “progress” end up showing exactly the opposite. It will be a fitting kick in the pants for Bloomberg on his way out of the door.

On the other hand, it will be a sad development for the teachers who remain in the system because the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse is:

Fifth Seal – Martyrdom 

“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of The Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’”

Junk Science

Once UFT elections are over, you can be assured that a deal for a new evaluation system for teachers will be squared away. Although we can’t know the details, we do know for sure that it will cause an unspeakable amount of suffering everywhere in the city.

Teachers will be judged by their students’ test scores or, more accurately, by how much “value” they “add” to the learning of their students. We will also be forced to conform to the “Danielson” rubric, named for its inventor who has a questionable education background and questionable motives for pushing her rubric. Combined with the dictate that two “ineffective” ratings in a row is grounds for termination, many good and dedicated teachers in New York City will lose their jobs.

These are not even the things that concern me the most about the evaluation system to which our union leaders agreed. The most disturbing part is how it weakens an already anemic system of due process for teachers. Restoring the integrity of due process (making it harder for principals to trump up charges against teachers, making teacher investigations open and fair and having a rational standard for handing out penalties as decided by fair labor arbitrators) should be among the highest priorities of our union leadership. Instead, they have proven willing to allow due process to rot away until we are as protected as teachers in “right to work” states.

Sixth Seal – Signs from Heaven

“There was a great Earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.”

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It looms on the horizon like a conquering army. Every teacher in New York City knows that “Common Core” is coming in 2014. Everyone inside of every school building in the vast majority of the country will have felt Common Core’s presence by then, if they have not done so already. We did not ask for it. Parents were not necessarily clamoring for it. But, like every seal of the apocalypse, it came despite our wishes.

Some people like the Common Core and others believe it is a tolerable system. No matter what you think of the content of the Common Core, the intention is obvious: to institutionalize the standardized testing regime on a nationwide basis. Imagine a uniform standardized exam that every child in the country has to take every year? Can you imagine the windfall for companies like Pearson and Wireless Generation (whatever it is called now)?

The idea of national standards for public schools has traditionally been a goal of progressives. It was a policy originally devised to motivate states to uplift their worst schools to the level of their best schools. Despite the long-time progressive pressure for national standards, it only became a reality when businessmen realized there was money to be made and a working and consuming population to be dumbed down as a result.

Seventh Seal – Trumpets of the Apocalypse 

First Woe – “And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.”

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Michelle Rhee recently invaded New York with her lobbying firm, “Students First”. Their machinations can be found behind the law empowering the State Education Commissioner to impose a new teacher evaluation system on NYC. They will continue to ravage our land no matter who the mayor or governor happen to be.

Second Woe – “It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breast plates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur.”

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The troops with the multicolored breast plates are obviously a metaphor for computers. 200 million is the amount of computers that stand to be manufactured if the idea of “e-learning” gains any more currency. The horses who blow fire and sulfur are the online classes that purport to “educate” students.

Learning is at risk of being perceived as something that can be done on the fly, at a distance and on the cheap just like “e-shopping” and “e-mailing”. Education is being commodified like cosmetics and fast food. First it was the boutique charter school with the hyperbolic name. Now, it is the online learning program marketed as a replacement for flesh-and-blood teachers.

In NYC, e-learning is the serpent that lays close to the heart. Programs like I-Learn are increasingly being used by schools as a cheap way to give quick credits to students who need to graduate on time. Very soon people will start to say, “if computers can help make up credits, maybe they can do everything else.” The destruction of public schools as a physical place will not be far behind.

Third Woe – “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet (see articles in our Prophecy section). They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day.”

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By the time all of the seals of the Apocalypse have set in, New York City schools will be ripe for the taking. The culprits will be “the Kings from the east… performing miraculous signs…” They will be the richmen who will reduce education to a series of prompts from the internet, a model which stands to make them a lot of money.

Online learning will be said to “perform miracles” with graduation rates and test scores. We will be told that the best way to get bang for our tax bucks is to shut down all brick and mortar schools in favor of online academies. We will also be assured that private firms will run these academies for less cost than the government can run them.

And then the destruction of New York City’s public education system will be complete.

While it is unlikely that all of these things will happen as I say it will, what is not arguable is that all of these forces will greatly reshape our schools over the next two years.

By the end of 2014, our children and our teachers will be operating under a whole new different set of rules than the ones in place today. It is up to us to make these rules as unobjectionable as possible.

THE MARCH OF THE DATA

What is there to be afraid of?

What is there to be afraid of?

They are there every year. They have been there for the past few years, starting their high school careers with faces anxiously upturned. I give them the run-down: the historical eras we will cover, the class routines, the homework policy and what will be expected of both them and myself.

In many ways they are just like the freshmen I taught when I started my career 13 years ago. They are introverted, extroverted, pleasant, cruel, motivated, sedated. They embody all of the contradictions of humanity, all in one room. And why not? After all, they are human beings.

Yet, on another level, they are very different from the freshmen I taught 13 years ago. Or maybe it is me who is different. Or maybe it is both.

I sort of remember the first high schoolers I ever taught. I would ask them a question, they would go beyond it. They would ask a question and bring to the class a new level of understanding. Sometimes, they would bring me to a new level of understanding as well. Their essays easily regurgitated the facts necessary to pass, but there was more. They saw connections. They synthesized. They reasoned inductively and deductively to give their writing a coherent feel. Above all, they were curious. Their minds were reaching for ever-higher regions of understanding.

Perhaps these are just the ramblings of an old man who remembers some halcyon days that never quite existed. Perhaps my first students had such an impression on me because I was more impressionable. Yes, one can still be impressionable at 21 years of age in a way similar to a child.

And I still see these same qualities in the students I teach today. They are still precocious because that is the mind of a human child, of children of most any species.

Those qualities are there but they are muted. They still ask questions. They still go beyond what is asked of them. They still help me develop new levels of understanding. They still do these things, but do them less frequently than the teenagers of old. Instead, they do certain other things more frequently. These things, I don’t know, they just don’t seem healthy.

We have students that pay attention to everything. By the look on their faces, you can tell they are following along with the lesson. They may not say anything but you just know they are absorbing history like a sponge. Then they approach you after class. Are they going to ask a question about history? Is there something they need clarified?

Then they open their mouth and ask: “what grade do I have for this class?”

It’s the middle of the semester. They received a progress report a month ago. They have received a grade on every homework assignment and exam. They know how classwork is graded. In their possession is a trail of numbers they can use to get an idea of how they are “doing” in the numbers sense of things.

But they want to know how they are doing now, right at this very second. They want to know how the last number they received has gone up or down.

It used to be that when a student asked me a question after being in rapt attention during class, they would ask something about the lesson. They wanted to know something that wasn’t necessarily covered in class, something that had been burning a hole in their brain for the past half-hour.

Today that look of rapt attention doesn’t necessarily mean they are paying rapt attention. It means they are looking for their opportunity to pounce to ask that one question that has been burning a hole in their brain: what is my grade? Sometimes they ask it in the middle of the lesson, the suspense being too much to hold in.

There are the students who complete one handout in class, then turn to me and ask “am I passing now?” For many of them, it is like they wish to know the exact moment their grade reaches an acceptable level, however they define “acceptable”.

This never used to happen. Grades were something that usually came later. They were something to be discussed during parent-teacher conferences or during moments you had set aside for students one-on-one. It was a conversation that took place once or twice a year for each student, if even that much.

Now, it is something that happens all of the time. Is this the result of the online gaming generation where achievement is measured in an ever-rolling number at the top of the screen? Every level passed or enemy killed, as it were, causes the number to go higher and higher.

Nah, I don’t think so. If anything, video games have become less beholden to scores and more about completing a digital story.

The students who have been entering high school lately are part of the Reform Generation. They have come up through the ranks of a school system that has been thoroughly “reformed” by our saviors in government and business. They are the No Child Left Behind generation, the Mayoral Control Generation, the Standardized Testing Generation, the Race to the Top Generation. They have been reared on a steady stream of data. Their learning measured in a number from 0-100.

Education for this generation is not a matter of learning stuff. It is a matter of doing stuff. It is a matter of doing enough stuff to get their desired grade. For them, school is a series of mechanical processes: filling in the right bubble, filling in the blank with the right words or doing enough assignments to keep their head above water. Sure, there is internal growth, spiritual growth. But the growth they are most concerned with is the growth of their number.

For the student of old, it seemed that learning was an intrinsic thing. A new idea sunk into their brain. It either deepened, contradicted or displaced some other idea they already knew. This would cause them to ask a question or to find a new synthesis or do something else to adapt the new idea into their existing (sorry for using this educationist term) “schema”.

For the student of the Reform Generation, an idea sinks into their head. They stick the idea somewhere in their brain because they were told it was going to be on a test. There are many ideas already in their brain that contradict the new idea, but that is of no bother to the Reform Generation. It is not about how an idea affects you and helps you evolve. It is about how an idea can be stored and retrieved like a data file. What the new idea does to them, how it might deepen or undermine their entire world, is lost. Either the idea does not affect them in any way or the effect the idea has is secondary to its use as a knowledge widget for future regurgitation.

This is the data-driven Reform Generation. People are trained to act like computers. The technocrats and bean-counters who run our school system are succeeding in fashioning the next generation in their own image. They are training the next generation to think, feel and measure everything in numbers. They are training the next generation to think that intelligence is a binary code.

Are these human children? Sure. Like I said earlier, they are still curious like all human children. But as a teacher of teenagers, which is a stage of life where the indoctrination of their past schooling competes with their natural, child-like precocity, I see where these teenagers are tending. I see the sheen of a computerized, technocrized, numberized adult starting to cover the wonderfully chaotic soul a child. I see the silverish shell of a robot starting to grow over the flesh-and-blood human child.

No, I will not tell you your grade now. You will have to wait until report card time. I will not give you a number for every little thing you do and don’t do. I will not put every little assignment, every little breath, every last piece of work you do into an online grading spreadsheet so you can learn the lesson that education means nothing unless there is a number attached. Your education is not a number. Your education is your growth as a human being. Not only is it your growth between September and June, it is your growth forever and ever. Not everything in life has a number. In fact, the most important things in life don’t have numbers.

When you get married, why don’t you ask your spouse for a number to describe how you’re doing?

When you go to holiday dinner with your family, why don’t you ask them for a number to describe what type of relative you have been?

When you go to your place of worship, why don’t you ask your deity to give you a number describing how good a life you have led?

Numbers are for computers, technocrats and bean-counters. You’re a human being. Education is your growth as a human being. I’m sorry but, as your teacher, I have an interest in keeping you human. When I see that silver shell growing over you, it is my job to give you the tools to crack out of it. How can you even breathe in that thing?

Let the computers compute and the bean-counters count beans. You are a human being. The best lesson you can learn as a human is that you can’t be boiled down to a number. Once you allow yourself to become a number you become another bean to be counted, thrown in the pile with millions of other beans.

Our job is to ensure that the reformers’ reforms never amount to a hill of beans.

THE UFT’S MISSED OPPORTUNITY

One of my favorite historical figures of all time, the great French diplomat Talleyrand. Talleyrand may have been a snake but he had the good sense to know when to do nothing.

One of my favorite historical figures of all time, the great French diplomat Talleyrand. Talleyrand may have been a snake but he had the good sense to know when to do nothing.

New York City is the largest school system in the nation. For the past few weeks the eyes of the education world have been focused on whether or not the city and the union can agree to a new evaluation deal. If they are able to do so, it will be touted as a great “achievement” for public schools and serve as a model for other school districts around the country.

Contrary to what many of us expected, the round-the-clock negotiations between the city and union two weeks ago was not the endgame. New York State Education Commissioner John King has set a new deadline of February 14 so the city can “submit a plan that shows it is prepared to implement large portions of an evaluation system.”

This does not mean the same thing as setting a deadline for the city and union to agree on a plan. King is clearly giving the city a few weeks to turn in a blueprint on what a plan would look like.

It gets confusing right about here:

If the city fails to submit a plan by Feb. 14 that shows it is prepared to implement an evaluation by March 1, King said he has the authority to take over more than $800 million in federal Title I and II funding and withhold more than $300 million in Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants. King said the Title I and II money would still be spent in New York City classrooms, but that he would have control over how it is spent.

Say what? So the blueprint the city must submit by February 14 must show “it is prepared to implement an evaluation by March 1.” Again, this does not seem to mean the same as having an evaluation in place by March 1, only that the city must show it is “prepared” to do so.

If not, King says he has the power to take over 800 million dollars of Title I funding for schools and he can outright withhold 300 million dollars. What King intends to do with the 800 million is not clear, although he says it will “still be spent in New York City classrooms.”

I think they call this “bluster”. In reality, both February 14 and March 1 can come and go without much happening. The amount of money King can actually withhold (which seems to be around $345 million altogether), is not going to kill us. The 800 million in Title I funding does not seem to be very malleable in King’s hands, despite his threats to “take control” of it. What can King actually do if the March 1 deadline is not reached? Not a whole lot it seems, at least not now.

Meanwhile, the union wants an evaluation plan to have a sunset of 2 years and Bloomberg wants a plan that will go on indefinitely. How do the two sides compromise on this?

Bloomberg, never the greatest politician, painted himself into a corner by stating publicly he wanted an indefinite evaluation deal. He cannot now compromise on this because he will look incredibly weak and foolish. That is to say, he cannot compromise on this until the public forgets about it, which would certainly be longer than the March 1 deadline. However, Bloomberg is obsessed with his “legacy” and what better permanent legacy than a putative evaluation system that finally holds these lazy teachers accountable? Bloomberg will not moderate his stance on this anytime soon.

The union’s president, Michael Mulgrew, holds all the cards here. His agreement to a two-year evaluation deal, which would have been the longest-running in the state, makes him look like a conciliator. The interminable school bus strike and Bloomberg’s failed negotiations with the CSA hums in the background as a reminder of Bloomberg’s intractable stance during negotiations in general. King’s comments generally have given Mulgrew cover and corroborated his version of why the negotiations were torpedoed. The mayoral campaign will keep people like Christine Quinn off of his back for the foreseeable future, lest she wants to lose the ever-important UFT endorsement.

Mulgrew holds all of the cards. He holds all of the cards in the largest school district in the nation. If he had any morals, any conscience, if he cared about the teaching profession at all or cared about the type of precedent any type of evaluation deal would set around the country he would do one thing and one thing only: nothing.

Sure, he might “talk” here and there with the district about an evaluation but he would have no intention of agreeing to one. Outside of any nominal negotiations, Mulgrew would do absolutely, positively nothing.

February 14 will come and go. March 1 will come and go. June will come and go. The start of the next school year will come and go. King will continue to threaten, to wave his arms, to talk about “taking control” of funds and he will use every threat in the book to get Mulgrew and Bloomberg to play ball.

And all Mulgrew has to do is nothing.

Bloomberg will not pull back from his demand for a perpetual evaluation regime. He is a lame-duck, a billionaire, a media mogul and he cares not what he does or how he is perceived over the next year. Mulgrew can do nothing with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that Bloomberg will never pull back from the precipice.

So why would Michael Mulgrew, president of the largest teachers’ union in the country, do anything?

Perhaps over the summer, after everyone has forgotten about the failed negotiations of a few weeks ago, Bloomberg might moderate his stance on not having any type of sunset clause. He might moderate about some other things as well. He might be so overly obsessed with his “legacy” that he feels some sort of deal is better than no deal at all. At that point, Mulgrew would be well-served to head back to the negotiating table again with the intention of not coming to an agreement.

After all, how much will Bloomberg moderate his stance? He definitely will want an evaluation system more extreme than anything else in New York State. When negotiations fail, Mulgrew can say again that Bloomberg is being unreasonable by calling for unprecedented and unreasonable reforms. Who is going to call him out? The mayoral candidates? Not likely. King? What can he do? Cuomo? Is Cuomo going to take the side of an increasingly unpopular mayor when he has one eye on the White House?

Mulgrew holds all of the cards and he needs to do nothing. He needs to do nothing to set the first positive precedent to come out of New York City in decades. He needs to do nothing because the backlash to education reform is afoot all across the country, as the Movement of Rank and File Educators has illustrated. He needs to do nothing because it is the right and righteous thing to do. Doing nothing will ensure that the schools of NYC will not become testing factories and the teachers in NYC will not be subject to endless harassment thanks to “value added” and “Danielson”. On a nationwide scale, the failure of Race to the Top here in the country’s largest school district would be a black eye on Arne Duncan and his entire effort to “reform” education.

Unfortunately, teachers here in New York City know that he will eventually do something. He has done something at every stage of this process so far. He was willing to consent to an evaluation framework that made tests the vital part of a teacher’s yearly evaluation. He was willing to agree to an evaluation framework that would see thousands of teachers hauled into 3020a hearings to prove that they are not incompetent. He was willing to accept an evaluation that went on for two years, which is about twice as long as most other school districts in NY State have. He was willing to do these things despite the fact that his teachers’ union has no contract. He was willing to do these things despite the fact that what he agreed to was essentially an end-run around tenure rules that his very same union had won for us many moons ago.

In short, us teachers in NYC are too jaded to believe that Mulgrew will not end up caving to the dictates of education deform. This has been his and the rest of UFT leadership’s “strategy” for many years. There is no sense in believing that anything will change now.

Despite the fact that Mulgrew holds the cards. This despite the fact that he has a long track record to prove that he is not some intractable union hack out to protect “incompetent” teachers. Despite the fact that doing nothing is the right thing to do in this case, he will end up doing something and something means disaster.

If the House of Mulgrew does not eventually fall, then the rest of us surely will.

MICHELLE RHEE BOOKS THAT NEED TO BE WRITTEN

We all know the hagiography written about Michelle Rhee called The Bee Eater.

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This inspired me with some more Rhee book ideas that, in my humble opinion, should be explored. Here are just some of the Rhee books that have yet to be published. Together, I think they capture the real Rhee experience.

The Rhee Cheater

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A young Adrian Fenty wins his mayoral race in D.C. by promising to improve the school system. Who better to run his school system than a Teach for America nooblet who never ran an organization in her life? Unfortunately, things go sour when all of the dramatic gains in test scores turned out to be the result of widespread cheating woven into the system Rhee put in place. The cost? Thousands of teacher jobs, millions of children’s futures and one bonehead mayor’s political career.

The Rhee-Peter

rheepeterThis is a story about a boy in one of Ms. Rhee’s classes named Peter. One day he was making too much noise on his way to the lunchroom, so Ms. Rhee duct taped his mouth shut. Traumatized by the experience, Peter was left back. Meanwhile,  Rhee got a promotion as the chancellor of D.C.’s schools. This is not quite the feel-good story Dangerous Minds was, but it has its moments. Instead, it is more like Misery by Stephen King.

THE MONEY RHEEPER

moneyrheeperThis is similar to the Bee Eater in that it discusses many important Michelle Rhee reforms. The difference is this book shows for whom she does the reforming. Read the stories about how Michelle Rhee will do and say anything for money and the billionaires that have it. Read how she is bent on turning schools into memorization factories and teachers into fast food workers all to satisfy anyone with deep pockets who stands to profit from all of her reforms. This book will show you who put the $ in StudentsFirst.

MY HUSBAND, THE PEDOPHILE

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Ok, so I cheated here. Let’s see you come up with a Rhee-tastic title for this one. My Husband, The Pedophile details the romantic courtship of Michelle Rhee and former NBA star (and unrepentant pedophile) Kevin Johnson. Michelle Rhee did what anyone who puts “StudentsFirst” would do. She helped a pedophile who took advantage of his position as a school leader to cover up his disgusting acts. Usually, people like Kevin Johnson go to prison to be ritually beaten and shanked by the other inmates. But, thanks in part to Michelle Rhee, not only did KJ get off scot-free but he got a wife out of the whole deal. Read how KJ scarred several children for life and how Michelle Rhee found this irresistible. It is a match made in heaven. Both KJ and MR put students first in their own ways.

Seriously, how are these books not best-sellers yet?

Compassion?: Education Reform’s Separate and Unequal Agenda

When Michelle Rhee was asked if she had any compassion for the principal she fired on camera, she responded, “compassion?”, because she really did not know what that word meant.

“The most important civil rights battleground today is education, and, likewise, the most crucial struggle against poverty is the one fought in schools” says Nicholas Kristof in Wednesday’s piece for the New York Times. After reading this sentence, we are prepped to believe the person who wrote it is a defender of social justice. This impression is reinforced with the very next sentence: “Inner-city urban schools today echo the “separate but equal” system of the early 1950s.”

Basic progressive bromides that lead us to believe that the solutions proffered throughout the rest of the article are part of the progressive canon. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, these are the tactics of the modern-day education “reformer”. An education reformer is a person who couches their rhetoric in progressive prose while pushing for retrograde policies. It is the reason why so many self-styled reformers are wealthy Democrats. Chiming in on the education debate allows them to brandish their progressive credentials while making apologies for the socioeconomic system that has blessed them with such great fortune.

Reformers love to cite the Brown case while totally ignoring its details. Thurgood Marshall, the esteemed NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court justice who argued Oliver and Linda Brown’s case, demonstrated to the Warren court how segregated schools reinforced notions of racial inferiority and violated the 14th Amendment. Black schools had underpaid teachers, dilapidated facilities and outdated materials when compared to their white counterparts. These were issues Marshall knew of on an intimate level. His mother was a kindergarten teacher at a black school who, by law, earned less than white teachers.

To the Warren court, as well as anyone else alive during the 1950s, it was pointing out the obvious to say that the nation’s black schools existed on a different plane than white schools, a plane of inferiority enshrined in law and tradition. The court ruled in 1954 that this state of affairs indeed violated the 14th Amendment. Historians since have pointed to the Brown case as the unofficial beginning of the civil rights movement. A year later, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama and a fiery young reverend named Martin Luther King, Jr. made his debut on the national stage.

For those of us familiar with urban public schools, we know that segregation is alive and well in all parts of the country. We also know that the solutions put forward by the reformers, represented in this case by Nicholas Kristof, have not only failed to ameliorate this segregation in any way, but have exacerbated it and promise to do so indefinitely.

For example, Kristof enthusiastically worships at the altar of value added. This is the idea that students should be tested several times a year so their scores can be used to hold teachers “accountable”. To make his point, Kristof cites the “Gold Standard Study” that makes the case for value added assessments. This was the study released earlier this year which “proved” that “bad teachers” in early grades could lead students to fail later in life, whether it means getting pregnant or dropping out of school. This “Gold Standard Study” has never been peer reviewed. It was funded by the reformer juggernaut Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its logical inconsistencies, obvious anti-teacher bias and junk science were ravaged from pillar to post, even while the New York Times was mindlessly repeating its findings. Even by the mushy standards of objectivity in the world of the social sciences, this “Gold Standard Study” has never passed muster.

What would have Thurgood Marshall argued in front of the Warren court? The crux of his case was that one set of standards applied to white schools and a totally different one applied to black schools. Kristof does exactly that. While the children and teachers of minority schools must submit to testing based upon junk science that has never been properly defended, justified or argued, the children and teachers of the Chicago Lab School, Sidwell Friends, Dalton and other schools for the rich do not have to deal with this at all. The motto for Sidwell Friends, the D.C.-area school attended by the Obama girls, is “let the light shine out from all”. The motto for everyone else’s schools is “pass these exams or suffer the consequences”. A rigorous curriculum of critical thinking, creativity and free expression for the wealthy. A narrow curriculum of bubble-in exams and endless factoids for everyone else.

It was not just the junk of value added over which Chicago teachers went out on strike. As Matt Farmer said in this great speech in front of the CTU, the reformers have aimed to get rid of art and music from public schools while reserving those programs for their own children. The new Common Core Standards, to which the schools of the reformers’ children will never be held, aims to squeeze out literary analysis and creative writing in favor of informational texts. In short, wealthy children will be free to develop and indulge the most abstract reaches of their minds. They will continue to be inspired to think creatively and see big pictures. Everyone else’s children will get the drudgery of standardized exams, the minutiae of factoids and the compartmentalized thinking that comes with a narrowed curriculum.

One group of children are educated to lead. Another group of children are educated to respond to prompts. This is the reformer agenda. While using the rhetoric of civil rights and the imagery of Brown vs. Board of Education, the reformers push policies that will enshrine segregation and inequality in law.

Perhaps the most revealing part of Kristof’s piece is when he says “some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be accountable until poverty is solved.” He says this while acknowledging “it’s true that the main reason inner-city schools do poorly isn’t teachers’ unions, but poverty. Southern states without strong teachers’ unions have schools at least as lousy as those in union states.” He understates the case by saying non-union schools are at least “as lousy” as unionized ones, since non-unionized states have the lousiest school systems in the nation. South Carolina and Mississippi come to mind.  Yet, it is rare for a reformer to admit that poverty plays any role in a child’s education. After all, there are “no excuses” for filling in the wrong bubbles.

Again, let us take a look at what Kristof is actually saying when he writes that poverty is the biggest deciding factor in schooling. Poverty can mean many things in the concrete, including a child not having a home to stay in, malnourishment or undernourishment, sickness, lack of positive male role models, gangs, violence, dysfunctional family life, the list goes on. There are actual physical and psychological impacts poverty has on students, children that could be as young as five years old.   They can come to class everyday with their stomachs growling or feeling weak. They could have walked through gang territory to get to school or to get home, exposing them to all types of destructive behaviors or psychological trauma along the way. They could have been beaten by their parents the night before, or been in the next room while their parents did drugs. More often than not, it is a case of a parent neglecting them by failing to ask about their day or sitting them in front of the television all night as a way to avoid interaction. This is what poverty means in the concrete, no matter how much reformers like Kristof try to make it an abstract sideshow.

When I was in high school, my best friend was shot and stabbed right in front of me. He spent weeks in the hospital where he almost died. During that time, what did he or I care about school or the upcoming exam? It did not matter in the least. Growing up in my poor neighborhood, I went to the homes of friends where the television was on 24/7 and the parents were barely around. There was no dinner on the table and, oftentimes, there was no table. In this situation, what does testing matter? What did holding our teachers “accountable” matter? It would have had no impact or bearing over our lives.

What the reformers are saying when they want to hold teachers “accountable” is that they wish to hold teachers accountable for all of these circumstances, circumstances over which teachers have absolutely no control. They want to allow society to continue to damage our children, to make them physically and psychologically sick, and then lay the entire blame at the teachers’ doorsteps. They want to continue to push people off welfare rolls, off-shore jobs, cut back on the most basic social services, air mindless garbage through the media and then turn around to the teachers and say “you fix it”. This is what accountability means to Kristof and the reformers. These are the implications of their policies.

Kristof at least mentions poverty, but he still shrugs it off in the end. Every columnist and billionaire reformer does that because, to them, poverty is not real. They can only approach poverty in the abstract, as a curiosity, as a statistic, because they are so far removed from its actual meaning. This does not mean a dictionary meaning but a three-dimensional meaning, one that is felt in the flesh and lived in real time. They are billionaires, pundits and opinion-givers. They sit in their air-conditioned offices and luxurious homes while their bank accounts get larger without them even noticing or doing anything. They want for nothing. It is all too easy for them to say poverty is not an excuse, to brush it off as a non-issue, to treat it as an abstraction because that is exactly what it is to them. That is all it can ever be to them.

In reality, poverty actually means something. So does education. When my friend was in the hospital, I bought him Gza’s Liquid Swords album, which we had been anticipating for a long time. Classmates of ours brought in artwork they made to put up in his hospital room. I started reading poetry and philosophy as a way to get a handle on life and look for solace. These things: music, art, poetry, abstract thought, are the things the reformers want to deny the poor children of the United States today. These are the things that got us as poor children through trying moments and made us aspire to great things. They might be great for wealthy children, but they are necessary for children of the poor. These are the things that help people understand their role and purpose in this world, and the ones that bring us beauty in times of darkness. The fact that the reformers want to totally eliminate this for children of the poor and leave them nothing but facts, tests, bubbles and computers is tantamount to child abuse. It is a civil rights travesty, no matter how hard reformers try to pass themselves off as new-age civil rights crusaders.

This is why the teachers of Chicago were striking. Anyone who has never lived in urban poverty, or who lacks basic human compassion or empathy, can never understand the destruction education reform means for our school system. These qualities, compassion and empathy, are what the reformers lack. Through their horrid educational programs, they want to turn our children into microcosms of themselves.

Andrew Rotherham’s Advice for Obama II

The Devil always knocks on your door with a smile.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece where notable Democrats offered what they would like to see come out of a second Obama Administration.

For education, the WSJ chose our pal Andrew Rotherham. Rotherham leads Bellwether Education Partners and runs the Eduwonk blog.  I love Andy because his writings provide insight as to what the education deformers are thinking and doing.

Rotherham gets right to the point:

President Obama had a pretty good run on education policy in his first term. Even Republican governors frequently cite the issue as one where they can agree with the president. The bad news? Education special interests are pushing back and momentum is slowing.

Rotherham is saying essentially the same thing as Diane Ravitch and many others: there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican vision for education. Rotherham himself is listed as a “Democrat”, yet is one of the most strident apologists for charters, testing, Common Core and the rest of the corporate reform agenda.

What concerns Andy here is the fact that “education special interests are pushing back” against his beloved policies. By “special interests”, does he mean the Chicago Teachers’ Union, who will most likely begin an extremely important strike today? Does he know that the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators won control of the CTU after tireless organizing of not only school staff, but of parents and students as well? Should the parents and students of Chicago be categorized as a “special interest”? What about the hundreds of students, parents and teachers who showed up to Brooklyn Tech this past February to protest another round of Bloomberg’s school closings, a protest that the actual “special interest”, the United Federation of Teachers, failed to support?

Categorizing actual members of the communities that are being destroyed by education reform as “special interests” is a clever sleight of hand on Rotherham’s part. People tend to associate that term with self-interested bigwigs, like our union here in NYC, with no real interest outside of themselves. It is Andy’s self-serving narrative that pits heroes like himself against entrenched mossbacks like the big bad teachers’ unions. The only union pushing back is the CTU, and they have been all but disowned by their national parent, the AFT under Randi Weingarten.

Rotherham flips the narrative here. He lauds Race to the Top which continues to be a boon to “special interests”: testing companies, charter operators and hedge fundies. A “special interest” is an organization that tricks people on the internet into signing a phony pledge so that organization can count your click as actual membership in their organization (StudentsFirst?). A “special interest” is a charter school operator that goes outside of the school district they wish to invade in order to get “parent signatures” (Eva Moskowitz?). Special interests are astroturf organizations, the ones for which Rotherham shills so effectively.

Congress is now five years behind schedule to update the No Child Left Behind law. That impasse led Mr. Obama to provide some flexibility to states struggling with the law’s requirements. But this has created a highly uneven accountability system. Virginia, for instance, was given approval for a plan that held its schools accountable for passing less than 60% of African-American and low-income students by 2017. After a public outcry, the administration is now forcing Virginia to raise its ambitions—but other states are quietly lowering expectations. The president will need to insist upon a rigorous accountability floor for students currently underserved by public schools. Without one, little else in federal policy will matter.

So it seems that not only do Republicans approve of Obama’s education policy, but “Democrats” like Rotherham approve of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. Rotherham admonishes us for being “five years behind schedule” of the goals set for us by the testing companies and textbook publishers about a decade ago. Virginia is failing 60% of its black student body, a statistic that obviously is the fault of the school system. They are being “underserved by public schools.”

Rotherham is able to write in such thick, simplistic terms because he is allowed to do so. To most of the country, this is what the education debate is about: pass rates, test scores and failing schools. It is not the poverty of that 60% of Virginia’s black population, nor the system that spawned such inequality. No, our socioeconomic system is just fine. It is the schools’ fault, and the lazy teachers that are nothing more than a “special interest”.

This is not a policy discussion. This is escapism, a fantasy land where all things are equal except the schools. Pass rates are ripped out of context and placed in a vacuum. It is in this vacuum where reformers like Rotherham excel. There is nothing to see here but the same old “failing schools” tripe that has been fed to us for the past 10 years. I guess the fact the country is “five years behind” is not in any way an indictment of the NCLB law that Rotherham supports. Accountability for everyone except the people who formulate and support the same failed policies year after year.

The Race to the Top competition led states to compete for federal education money by designing ambitious improvement plans. The first and second rounds were genuine, but the third round was little more than a guaranteed consolation prize for the also-rans. Meanwhile, a Race to the Top competition for early-childhood education was so small that no state made dramatic policy changes to win it. But a competitive model can encourage policy innovation. A second-term Obama administration can apply it elsewhere in education—for special education or English-language learners, for instance—but only if the competitions are real and the dollars large enough to give states an incentive to change.

The sterile words that Rotherham uses masks the fact that he is pushing educational poison in this paragraph. First, why should schools compete for federal funding in the first place? Is there any nation on earth with a successful school system that does this? (The answer is no, by the way.)

And the Race to the Top, the competition that Rotherham wants to ramp up, is competition based on test scores. It is funny how nowhere in this entire piece does Rotherham use the term “standardized test”, even though this is exactly what he is pushing. This I take as a minor victory. The advocates of real public education have successfully branded that term with the negative connotation it deserves. Notice how Rotherham does not get anywhere close to using it.

If he did, then people would be able to realize that he is advocating standardized exams for kindergarten. That is what he means when he says the “a Race to the Top competition for early-childhood ed was so small that no state made dramatic policy changes to win it.” He is encouraging Obama to force schools to get to testing as soon as children fall out of the womb.

He does not stop there. At the end of the paragraphs, Rotherham advocates for using standardized exam scores to determine funding for English Language Learners and students with learning disabilities. He wants every last federal dollar slotted for our neediest students to be based on a nationwide competition for the highest exam score. What if a group of special needs students fail the test? They get no funding, obviously.

Finally, Rotherham wants to tackle public universities head-on:

The president rightly began to regulate for-profit colleges in his first term because the data are starkly clear that many students are ill-served by these schools. In a second term, Mr. Obama should seek to apply similar accountability to all colleges and universities. Too many for-profit colleges are bad actors, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t the same problems among traditional public and private colleges and universities.

Forget about the for-profit colleges, the ones who run TV ads in the middle of the day offering viewers the world. Forget about charging the poorest people in the nation upwards of $60,000 for fake internships, online classes and minimum-wage school staff without the standing to call themselves “professors”. Rotherham believes Obama has regulated them. The real problem are those other universities with the tenured faculty. They need to be “regulated”. I suppose that means more laws from the Obama administration making online courses for universities more widely available, qualified professors less available and tuition even more expensive than it is now. After all, that is exactly what “regulation” brought us in the for-profit college sector.

Or, maybe like David Brooks, he wants all college students to take standardized exams and all professors to be judged on a “value-added” metric. For Rotherham, it is about cradle-to-grave testing. The next step is to force senior citizens to take an exam before they can collect their first Social Security check.

This is why I love Andrew Rotherham. Nobody advocates such extreme and evil policies with such innocuous language. You would think he actually cares for education in America if you did not know the layer of meaning contained just below the surface of those words.

Despite his benign delivery, Rotherham is an extremist, an educational Jihadist with a one-track mind. Unfortunately, he reflects the educational policy for the Democratic Party. A Republican could not have such a forked tongue without being called out on it.

CTU, UFT, MORE and Rahm

We are moving towards the 11th hour in Chicago. If the CTU and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel cannot agree to a new contract by Monday, 30,000 Chicago public school teachers will go out on strike.

The happenings in Chicago have been, and will continue to be, instructive to public school teachers across the nation. Chicago has been a laboratory for many of the schemes associated with the destructive force erroneously known as “education reform”. Many of us who take the long view of events are hoping that education reform will meet its doom in the city where it all started.

It is the place Arne Duncan made his metamorphosis from retired athlete to education hit man. His friendly basketball games with a community organizer named Barack Obama ensured his spot as United States Secretary of Education when Obama became president. Obama’s 2008 electoral mandate, along with a generous Department of Education budget, helped Duncan become the most powerful Education Secretary in U.S. History.

The result has been a metastasis of Duncan’s Chicago education philosophy across the country. It is a philosophy that celebrates Hurricane Katrina as the best thing to happen to New Orleans public schools, one that seeks to first wipe out and then corporatize all of the nation’s public education systems. Under his watch, the school systems of Philadelphia and Detroit imploded. Children of those cities will henceforward be instructed by deskilled minimum-wage teachers and computer screens. Duncan’s is not so much an education policy as it is a scorched earth policy for public schools.

As Duncan’s handiwork manifests itself nationwide, the teachers of Chicago help point the way to a cure. They are up against a mayor whose ties to both Obama and Duncan are stronger than any other local politician in the nation. If he gets his way, Chicago goes the way of New Orleans, Philadelphia and Detroit. After that, New York and Los Angeles cannot be far behind. Part of the CTU’s cure is a work stoppage, a withholding of the only bargaining chip any working teacher across the nation has left: their labor.

Those of us in New York City must take time to thank and support the CTU and their courageous leader, Karen Lewis. They are fighting an advanced campaign against Duncan’s scorched earth policy. They are manning the gates of the city while those of us in New York and Los Angeles hunker down and hope they can fight off the corporate horde. If they cannot, if the walls are breached, the horde will surely ravage our schools to a degree we have not yet seen.

How we can help:

Brian Jones and Norm Scott say Wear Red on Monday.

Donate to the CTU Solidarity Fund.

Visit the Network of Teacher Activist Groups to voice your support.

While I fully support the CTU, part of me is jealous that it is the Chicago teachers that get to be on the front lines and not those of us in NYC. Our union, the United Federation of Teachers, has been effectively mute throughout all of the high drama in Chicago. Yet, keeping in the spirit of finding silver linings, I am happy that we at least have the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). MORE will be at today’s Labor Day Parade and you can read the details and meet-up info here.

Unfortunately, the fact I am being kicked out of my childhood home means I will not be able to make it there myself. Hopefully, many others will show up so I will not feel too much guilt.

Teachers of New York City have needed a presence like MORE for a very long time now. While the CTU mans the gates of the city against the reformer onslaught, the UFT has been sharing secrets and street maps to our attackers.

Just imagine if Chicago was saddled with the UFT. How would the last two years there been different?

June 11th 2010: An upstart organization of teachers called the Caucus of Rank and File Educators wins all of the key officer seats in the citywide Chicago Teachers’ Union elections. Karen Lewis of CORE is elected president with a 60% vote. CORE’s platform proposes investment in public schools over school closings and charters; the preservation and expansion of enrichment programs over the myopic obsession with testing; and a professional teaching force with the protections, salary and benefits to reflect it. CORE’s victory was the result of years of organizing teachers, parents and students against the weapons of corporate education reform. They passed around copies of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine in order to educate people in the historical and philosophical underpinnings of the education reform movement. People who were otherwise disengaged became activated once they realized that the goal of Chicago reformers like Emanuel and Brizard is nothing less than the dismantling of public education in their city, with the pieces to be sold off to the lowest corporate bidder.

If the UFT were in Chicago: The ruling caucus known as Unity won another term to lead the Chicago Teachers’ Union, winning a whopping 95% of the officer seats. Their president, Michael Mulgrew, won an overwhelming victory by garnering 43,276 votes out of a total of 32,674 votes cast. Despite rumors to the contrary, Unity leaders assured the press that this mathematical impossibility is indeed possible. The fact that Unity people count the votes had nothing to do with it. Unity’s platform calls for conciliation with the Mayor, whom they supported in the most recent election despite the fact that the he called Unity leaders “hacks” and said they have “less spine than an éclair”. Unity leaders sit on the Boards of Director of various charter school networks and assured their membership that “the tireless work of handing public money off to private millionaires will continue unabated”. They also have promised to work with the Mayor on an evaluation system where 40% of teachers ratings will be based on student standardized exam scores. Yet if they receive a poor rating on that 40% portion, they will be rated “ineffective” overall. According to Unity officials, “this is the best agreement we can come up with without trying.”An opposition caucus called New Action won the remaining 5% of officer seats. They are furious over Unity’s stance on the evaluations. A New Action official today said “40% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on tests? That is preposterous. We will fight to get that percentage down to 39.” Unity officials said that New Action’s proposal is “radical” and suggested that New Action’s leaders “go back to Canada with that socialist agenda”.

Summer 2011: Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children lobbied for, and succeeded in passing, legislation through the Illinois legislature that would require the Chicago Teachers’ Union, and only the CTU, to get at least 75% to agree before calling for a strike. He brags about how shrewd he is while speaking at a convention of billionaire reformer types in Aspen. On top of this, his lobbying allowed local school districts in Illinois to further denude teacher tenure,tie teacher evaluations to standardized exam scores and paved the way for an extended school day. He tried to eliminate collective bargaining for teachers, but that law was defeated, although it served its purpose according to Edelman. Many people, especially Edelman himself, believed he pulled a fast one on Karen Lewis. This idea was swiftly dissipated one year later.

If the UFT were in Chicago: UFT officials locked themselves away in a smoke-filled room in Springfield with state lawmakers and Jonah Edelman. It took days, but UFT officials came out of the room with big smiles on their faces. “We got Cubs tickets!” The union was able to get box seats at Wrigley Field for all 30,000 Chicago teachers. In return, they agreed to an evaluation system where teachers get fired if even one of their students fail a statewide exam, due process for tenured teachers is eliminated and the school day was increased by two hours. Edelman, sweat pouring down his brow, said “It was tough getting them to accept the deal. I originally wanted the requirement to be two students have to fail before a teacher gets fired, but they just insisted on making it one. I also wanted some form of kangaroo court for due process hearings, sort of like they have in NYC, yet those Unity guys insisted that even the appearance of due process was unnecessary. The school day was about the only thing we were in agreement on. Teachers will not be paid for the extra time, of course.” House Speaker Michael Madigan said of the negotiations “I felt bad for the union. Edelman is not even a particularly tough negotiator, it’s just the Unity guys are that bad. It was my idea to offer them the Cub tickets. I felt they should have gotten something.” Later, the Unity guys realized they had been had. The Cubs tickets offered by Speaker Madigan are for October, and everyone knows the Cubs never play in October.

Spring2012: Rahm Emanuel directs his puppet Board of Education to cancel the last 4% raise contained in the city’s contract with CTU. To justify his decision, Emanuel cries poverty despite the fact that millions of dollars meant for the public schools never get there and end up right back in the pockets of the city’s millionaires. In response, Karen Lewis mentions the possibility of a strike and promises that there will be a new contract to replace the one that Rahm broke, which was set to expire June 30. For good measure, Rahm explains that Chicago’s public school teachers are horrible people who fail half of the city’s children and do not deserve a raise. Rahm was steeled by the idea that the CTU would never be able to muster the 75% necessary for a strike. Karen Lewis knew that Rahm was stirring up the beehive of teacher discontent in Chicago, making 75% an eminently doable goal.

If the UFT were in Chicago: Unity leaders pretend to be disgusted by the mayor’s arrogance and viciousness. Articles are written on the union website explaining that the mayor is a spoiled sport and pooopyhead. They reassure the membership that they will do “everything they can” to get that 4% raise. The possibility of contract negotiations are not even mentioned, let alone a strike, dooming the teachers of Chicago to an indefinite period of continuous wage losses as the cost of living competes with the national debt for the fastest-growing dollar value in America. To soften the blow, Unity hacks throughout the internet leave comments on blogs about how teachers should be thankful to Unity for health benefits that were negotiated 30 years ago. They also remind Chicago teachers that their salary allows them to “buy food” and maybe “go to the movies once a year if you are good with money and do not mind three-dollar Wednesday matinees featuring Buster Keaton films”. Teachers should be thankful to their union for being able to live the life of a member of the lower middle class. In the next election, the union supports Rahm for reelection and still, no contract. Unity claims that “no contract is better than no contract at all.”

Summer 2012: Rahm Emanuel and his incompetent lapdog CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, unilaterally announce an extension of the school day. What will go on in that extra time they do not say. They announce that teachers will not be compensated for the extra time they work, which includes not only the time they intend to tack on to the day, but the time needed to prep for that extra time. Karen Lewis again mentions the possibility of a strike. In order to prevent a strike, an independent arbitrator is called in to make suggestions for a new contract. In his report, arbitrator Edwin Benn said teachers working the extra day should get a 15-20% pay increase for the first year, and a nearly 39% raise over the next four years. Emanuel is stunned that someone would want to pay workers for their work. Emanuel again cries poverty and exhorts the arbitrator to consider the city’s financial straits. It is apparent someone has to, since Rahm cannot be bothered to both run the city and ensure it has money.

If the UFT were in Chicago: Union leaders have had enough. They are sick and tired of their membership having to be paid for every single thing they do. It is so selfish. Educators should do this job for nothing if they are so dedicated. After the mayor reveals his plans for a longer school day, Unity leaders hold a press conference where they explain that the union will not fight to be paid for the extra school hours. “We think it is important to be on the right side of school reform.”, said the union vice president. The teachers of Chicago seem upset. Many we spoke with say they are getting tired of the union selling them out. “Oh, they always say that.”, said the VP, “they will calm down, where else are they going to go? We’re the only game in town.” Even the independent arbitrator said that Chicago teachers need more pay, to which the union VP says “Poppycock. What needs to happen is that we need to score points with the mayor so he could give us a good job after his term is up. It is not about schools, it is about us.”

Fall 2012: The CTU goes on strike.

If the UFT were in Chicago: Do not ever use the “S” word….. Taylor Law, Taylor Law, Taylor Law, are you nuts?

Teacher on the Street

The photo the Daily News took of me for today’s article. This is my intellectual pose.

The Daily News has back-to-school fever this week. Yesterday they ran a person on the street feature where parents and students critiqued Michael Bloomberg’s education record. It is a nice thought, although I do not remember the last time they ran a teacher on the street version. Therefore, I decided to do one myself as a response to said article.

Question: Are you better off now than you were 10 years ago, when Michael Bloomberg got full control of the education system?

Jorge Perlaza Sr., 37, whose son Jorge Perlaza Jr, 12, is a sixth-grade (sic) at Bronx Green Middle School:

“Oh, absolutely, they’re 100% better. The preparation for our children, getting information out to the parents, the security level is higher than it ever was. And teachers are very dedicated to the students. My son has been going to after-school programs since he was in first grade, and he will continue to do that here.”

Well Jorge, saying schools are 100% better since Bloomberg took over is quite the high compliment. Let us look at how you justify your assertion point by point.

a) “The preparation for our children….” – With all due respect, this is kind of a vague statement. Preparation for what exactly? It certainly cannot be college, for this Daily News article from last year shows that the college readiness rate of Bloomberg graduates is well below pre-Bloomberg grads. The percentage of Bloomberg grads in need of remedial classes when they hit the CUNY system has consistently hovered around the 80% mark. Maybe you are referring to the rise in state test scores under Bloomberg? Well, test scores were rising before Bloomberg. This is very important, since those exams of the pre-Bloomberg era were notably more difficult. Any teacher will tell you that over the last 10 years, state tests have been getting easier each year. This is mostly due to the impact of No Child Left Behind which ties federal funding to state test scores. States want to keep the fed dollars rolling in, so they consistently dumb down their exams. This puts the Bloomberg rise in test scores into perspective, does it not? On a final note, Bloomberg’s obsession with closing schools has wiped out pretty much any vocational programs the city had left, so students are not even prepared for the world of blue-collar skilled labor. It is tough to see for what exactly our children are being prepared.

b) “Getting information out to the parents….” – That might be an interesting point, and I trust that you as a parent would know better than I about how much information actually gets out to you. Bloomberg’s big innovation has been to staff schools with parent coordinators. In my experience, parent coordinators tend to be used by administrators as glorified school aides. They seem to have very little time to parent coordinate. I have heard parents around the city complain that their concerns fall on deaf ears. The parent coordinator has sort of acted as a buffer between parents and school leaders, ensuring school leaders do not have to directly hear from parents. I guess what I am trying to say is that, while I trust your judgment about information getting out to you, how do you feel about your information getting to the school? How much say do you have in your child’s school environment? The fact that Bloomberg abolished the Board of Education, a body that was democratically elected by the citizens of this fair city, and replaced it with his puppet Panel for Educational Policy whose meetings are basically for show, demonstrate that Bloomberg has no use for your concerns or opinions. This past February at Brooklyn Tech, there was a massive student, parent and teacher protest at the PEP meeting that was completely ignored by the puppets on the stage. They are completely insulated from your concerns as a parent.

c) “The security level is higher than it ever was” – I beg to differ with this statement. First, I believe metal detectors and the like create a false sense of security and make students feel like prisoners in their own schools. Second, thanks to Bloomberg’s destruction of teacher tenure, combined with his elastic definition of what constitutes “corporal punishment”, school staff is scared to death of disciplining any student, breaking up fights and basically exercising any type of authority. Bloomberg’s annual school report cards encourage principals to underreport serious incidents. In many schools I have visited, there is a palpable sense of insecurity from students right on up to administrators.

d) “Teachers are very dedicated to the students” – Does this imply that they were not dedicated in the pre-Bloomberg era? Would the fact that so many of our students graduate totally unprepared for the world of work or higher education change your mind about the dedication level? Do you see something wrong with the fact that Bloomberg’s regime has graduated more students than ever before, yet they have no job skills and need remedial classes in college? I am sorry, but I do not see the diploma mills into which Bloomberg has turned our school system as encouraging of more staff dedication to students.

e) “My son has been going to after school programs since he was in the first grade”- Great. There were more afterschool programs in the pre-Bloomberg era, just so you know. Bloomberg’s budget cuts, restructurings and disparity of funding among schools ensured a steady dwindling of afterschool activities. Remember when schools had debate teams? Well, those are all gone except for the few large high schools that remain. The reason for this is that in order to have something like a debate team, a school needs a large pool of students from which to choose. Bloomberg worships the small school model where, rather than 3,000 students in a building pooling resources and talent, 3,000 students in a building compete for resources and space, oftentimes with privately-run charter schools. On top of that, the forced exodus of veteran teachers has left school buildings without any qualified staff to run a debate team. Something like a debate team needs a few competent staff members who not only know the art of rhetoric, but who have institutional memory in order to build a program that transcends any particular group of students. Unfortunately, Teach for America grads who do not stay in the profession for more than three years have neither the qualifications nor the institutional memory to run a debate team. Afterschool programs are dying. I used debate teams as an example but it goes for everything else, from chess clubs to cultural groups. The fact that your son goes to an afterschool program does not mean Bloomberg is a champion of such things.

So Mr. Perlaza, care to rethink your assertion that schools are 100% better? What percentage is it at now?

Nadine Coriano, 32, whose son Jacob Oliveras, 11, is in sixth-grade at Bronx Green:

“No. When I was growing up, schools were so strict. Now, it’s so different. Now it’s like they don’t even care. And even with education, I feel like (the students) play more in class now than they did before. We should get teachers that can actually handle the children, so they can have a better education.”

There is much to untangle in your critique Ms. Coriano. First, you are right: schools were stricter in the pre-Bloomberg era. That is because there were veteran teachers in the room who not only knew how to handle the class, but were not afraid of being fired because Bloomberg defines “corporal punishment” and “verbal abuse” as taking any sort of disciplinary action towards a student. Therefore, it is not that teachers “don’t care”, it is more like teachers “don’t dare”. They don’t dare tell a kid to be quiet, lest the kid complains to the principal or their parents that the teacher is picking on them. They don’t dare break up a fight, lest they touch a student in the wrong way and get accused of physical or sexual abuse. They don’t even dare throw a sustained teacher glare at a misbehaving student, lest that glare is taken the wrong way. Teachers’ hands are tied. Combine that with a generation of Teach for America alumni who only had a 5 week training course on how to teach, and whose fuzzy-headed notions of education generally include such rigorous methods of instruction as gluing sparkles to student self-portraits, and you have the “play” you describe in your critique. You want more serious education? Get veteran teachers in there (you know, the ones Bloomberg calls “dead wood” and the ones the media portrays as uncaring burnouts) and give them some job protection so they will not fear being fired for sneezing the wrong way. Until that happens, there will not be any hope of serious education in NYC.

Miguel Diaz, 17, senior at Long Island City High School in Queens:

“I don’t think he’s doing a good job, but I don’t think he’s doing a horrible job. From what I hear, all the teachers hate him. … If they hate him, he must be doing something wrong.”

Oh Miguel, it is noble of you to try to take a fair stance on this question, but you are absolutely onto something in your last sentence. Maybe ask your teachers why they hate him. The answers you get might be very interesting.

Parent Anne Castro, 45, mother of Long Island High School sophomore Emily Castro, 15:

“He’s done a wonderful job. He’s organized. He’s not a people person. He does what needs to be done. I trust that he knew what he was doing (trying to close the school last year). We were happy with it. I was thrilled with her (her daughter’s) teachers.”

I think the Daily News meant to publish that this student goes to Long Island City High School. Let me get this straight Ms. Castro: you were happy that he tried to destroy your daughter’s school? Do you realize that he was going to most likely end up stuffing a charter school into that building that would have bled your daughter’s school dry of resources? If you are thrilled with your daughter’s teachers, why would you approve of a plan that would have ended up firing half of them? Is this what you mean by Bloomberg doing “what needs to be done”? Trusting that Bloomberg knows what he is doing in education is like trusting your daughter to drive the N train to school every morning. I am sure your daughter is bright, but she most likely does not have any train conductor experience. Likewise, Bloomberg might be rich and powerful, but he has no education experience. Due to this, he has derailed the entire system and it is going to take a generation to get it back on track again. Ironically, I would probably feel safer on a train being driven by your daughter than I do working in Bloomberg’s school dictatorship.

You are right that Bloomberg is not a people person. Being a billionaire totally insulated from the concerns of real New Yorkers tends to have that effect.

Howard Cheung, 17, senior at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan:

“I’ve certainly noticed more of a focus on standardized testing. … Teachers tend to teach more for the test. To me, that’s a bad thing, because it takes away from a richer instructional experience.”

This is why you go to Stuyvesant, Howard. This wins the award for most insightful and accurate comment in the article. Leave it to a teenager to outshine the adults.

Monse Serrano, 22, whose son Daniel, 6 is in first grade at PS 169 in Brooklyn:

“They’ve gotten better. They worry about the kids and now they’re more on top of the kids trying to get them to understand the schoolwork. … I’d like to see mandatory school uniforms. That way the students will pay more attention.”

Well Mr. or Ms. Serrano, why is it that so many kids are not understanding the schoolwork then? (Refer to my previous comments in this article). I do not think our children are stupid. I believe they are being held to low standards.

As for mandatory school uniforms, I am sure Bloomberg has toyed with that idea. This does not mean he believes it would be good for education. It merely means he probably has rich business friends with clothing company interests and mandating school uniforms would be a pretext for another no-bid, cronyism contract. Float it by Pharaoh Bloomberg himself, you might be onto something.

That is it for this installment of Teacher on the Street. Parents, I know you are doing the best you can, but you must wake up to the fact that Bloomberg has been educational poison. Do you see any of his rich friends’ children going to class with your kids? If the school system he has “reformed” is so wonderful, why is the 5th Avenue crowd with whom he rubs elbows continuing to refuse to allow their children to touch our public schools with a 10-foot pole?

The day that I buy into the idea that these billionaire education reformers actually believe in what they are doing is the day I see one of their children in my classroom.

New Policy for the Khan Academy

Every time I am on a long hiatus from this blog, I come back to find a ton of comments under my past posts about the Khan Academy. (See: The Khan Academy and the Snake Oil of Education Deform, Finally, More Criticism About the Khan Academy, Putting It All On The Table About The Khan Academy, Khan Academy: If You Don’t Like It, You Don’t Get It and, my personal favorite, 60 Minutes Worships Salman Khan and So Do You.)

The vast majority of comments all have the same tone and tenor. For a while I have believed that something was rotten in Denmark. Take a look at some of the typical comments below and maybe you will see what I see. (Feel free to skim or completely ignore the comments quoted below. In fact, I encourage you to do so because they are mostly redundant wastes of time. Yes, redundant wastes of time.):

I would just like you to address what I’m going to say here to help you understand my belief on online learning in general I have read little of what you’ve had to say sense most of it’s nonsense and has no arguments backing it up. I would like to give a real world example of the benefits of Khan Academy. I have a good friend who struggled in Algebra II and after going in depth and learning online from Salman Khan’s Khan Academy, he ended up passing the class with an A-. So many teachers in the status quo are just trying to pass kids and not further their knowledge, they want the load of kids off their hands. I would say that about 70% of my own teachers are like this within my own school.

I, myself, have had the benefit of learning more about biology. I got a more in depth understanding of it, and learned the complete concept of meiosis in under an hour where in a class room I got lectured for 4 straight days of hour and a half periods and I still couldn’t grasp that during my Freshman Year of high school. Why should one have to send their kid off to a university (and pay 100,000 dollars when it’s all said and done) when knowledge can be spread so beneficially over the internet?

or

I am a public school teacher. Not in math, but in music, though I often end up in the topic of math and also teach it on the side and there are many similar situations.
I spend class time engaging my students in authentic experiences, but sometimes I know that not all of my students have the basics that are required for the activity and I struggle with the decision of whether to spend time drilling (wasting the time of students who already get it) or just move on (causing some students to fake it or fail). If I want all of my students to be able to identify piano keys by note name, or identify pitches on a staff, or tap out various rhythms of increasing difficulty, I have to put making actual music on hold while chucking in with each student. Some of these things I could do with worksheets, but I would not have the results of that assessment quickly enough to plan the rest of out class time based on it. I also hate the idea that I might “grade” those papers and hand them back to students, than decide whether to teach the lesson to everyone again and test again, or just move on. i wish I had some method of helping each student achieve mastery of these basic skills so we could all use them together in class. If I were a math teacher I would be very excited about Khan’s practice tools for this reason- a unit does not end with each student being judged. it ends when you actually have learned it (and then you continue to review it later.)

I am very wary of people who would say who is and is not an educator. Being a school teacher does not mean that you can or should control information- quite to opposite. Students should know that you are just one source, the textbook is just one source, their parents, television, youtube, just other sources, and they need their critical thinking skills to put it all together themselves and make their own decisions about it. You do not teach critical thinking by telling students that you are right.

If you say Khan is not an “educator” then no doubt you do not consider your students, their parents, or any other members of your community capable of being educators, or you think they at least don’t deserve the title just because they haven’t taken the certification test.

or

I am in total support of Khan Academy…

I know you will not like my viewpoint but here it goes,,,,

1. The school classroom model was originally designed by the Prussian military intended to create an obedient society by providing a platform for authority and for its children to recognize and submit to this authority. The rationale for this control model (classroom) was to mobilize its young citizens in times of war. The classroom model was eventually adopted by the west including North America. Today we have the industrial military complex to address national security yet this classroom or should I say military model still persists.

The mindset to control students is evidence by the grading system, devised and adopted in the 17th century and still used in 2012. And this is the crux of my argument. It is my opinion school marks are draconian, pschologically damaging, and counter productive for both the A student as well as for the C student. I will not even speak of the poor F student. Furthermore, school marks are often misused by the authority figures (teachers) and given for behavioral modification. Children who follow instruction, are non disruptive, and are obedient are often awarded with a good mark and children who are less inclined to follow or independently minded with less favorable marks. May I mention Enstein here?

It is in my opinion the grading system has created a society full of followers, who upon graduation from college, are all on the search for employment. There is only a recent awakening due to the sluggish economy that perhaps entrepreneurialship needs to be moved to the forefront in the classroom. How though is the teacher going to control independent thinkers, potential leaders using a militaristic method such as a grade marking system to produce our leaders for tomorrow? The output of graduates today struggling to find a job in a shrinking job market is just not working. You may argue that it is not educator’s job to provide employment, and while that was true decades past, today our society is counting on higher education to provide innovation for future employment.

It is my opinion Khan Academy has the potential to replace the marking grade system with its innovative approach usung statistical data to both validate student progress as well as identify challenges requiring additional time for mastery without placing a grade “label” on the student ‘s head. A label that can last a life time sometimes in a very, very negative way. So unjust. Furthermore, both Harvard and MIT, will be releasing in the fall of 2012, EdX, a free online access to their courses offered to the world. If you view the announcement, May 2, 2012 online, you will hear the rationale for this approach, namely they wish to use the statistical data gained by the servers offering the online course material to a worldwide audience whereby they may data collect from these students to better learn and understand the learning processes, something, Khan Academy has been doing since 2004!

2. My biggest excitement with Khan Academy is its revolutionary scalability. Instead of the teacher having to repeat his/her lectures over and over again, a one-time video can now be created in a more intimate, less talked-down approach and shared with the World. Imagine the scalability to view and witness to lectures being delivered by the very best teachers the world has to offer.

In closing, the true reason you have created this website is that you are scared for your job and I empathize. May I say in closing, your profession is not alone in this disruption due to technology. Perhaps the definition of employment needs to be addressed but that is a different topic for another time.

Thanks for allowing me my viewpoint on your website.

Khan Academy is here to stay !!

You get the idea. First, there are the testimonials. The “Khan Academy worked for me” type comments that remind me of an infomertial at 3 in the morning. Then there are “you’re just worried about your job” comments that are so laughable as to not warrant a response. And then there are the “public schools are failing” and the “wave of the future is having your eyes glued to a computer screen” comments from those that want to seem as if they are cutting edge and hip. They are all taken from the same playbook it seems. If I did not know any better, I would venture a guess that Khan or Gates offered people a free sandwich for spamming blogs, a la StudentsFirst. Alas, there is no evidence for this, so I assume that they have been truly brainwashed through the normal means of propaganda.

Now, when I come across a blog article from a blog I have never seen before, I do a little background check. I read the “About” section, I read some other articles and I come back to the article that drew me there in the first place so I can get a better idea of where the author is coming from. This is not because I run a blog myself, since I did this before I had a blog, but because I do not want to contribute points that have been addressed before. Because I am a new commenter on a website, I usually want to contribute something, you know, new. It is the courteous and thoughtful thing to do.

The Khan Academy sycophants, for the most part, not only refuse to read around this site to see what it is about, but they do not even address the points I make in the articles to which they respond. They literally talk at you, over you, through you. They do not engage you in discussion.

Instead, they repeat the same arguments and traverse the same ground over and over again. There is a word for that on the internet. It is called spam.

Therefore, from now on, before you step up to defend the Khan Academy, take stock of what I said above. Khan spammers will go in the spam filter where they belong. It is not worth my time, nor the time of the readers, to have to hear the same arguments again and again.

On the bright side, many recent and thoughtful comments were left under the Khan Academy articles listed above by one Michael Paul Goldenberg. Sorry it took so long for me to approve the comments. Here is an example (as opposed to the comments above, they are worth the read):

You can’t appease the fanatic defenders of Sal Khan and KA. It’s impossible. They refuse to accept any questioning of his work, his work ethic, his knowledge, his goals, his character, or his knowledge of mathematics (let alone other subjects). No one has proper standing to critique Sal Khan. NO ONE. If you teach, you’re jealous, weak, afraid, threatened, lazy, stupid, conservative (hah!!!), REACTIONARY (hahahahahaha!!!), racist (yes, I’ve seen that one, defender of the status quo, ad nauseam. If you’re a potential “competitor,” then obviously you’re trying to crush your “opponent.” If you’re a professor, well, see “teacher”; and worse, because professors are all commies, and some are fat (see the commentary on the MTT2K first video), well, we needn’t take their criticism seriously. And if you’re none of those (I’m an independent educational consultant who coaches high school math teachers on a per diem basis in Detroit. I have no long-term contracts, no union, and no one yet has suggested that using KA would make my work obsolete, nor do I have the slightest fear of him or his work. Were what he was doing of real quality, i would be recommending him unhesitatingly. I do recommend the free videos of others. Why not Sal’s? I think my many criticisms of him and his work make that crystal clear.

Here’s my strongest reason for critiquing Khan’s work: I care deeply about kids, about math, about democracy, and I think KA undermines kids’ thinking, disrespects mathematics, and ultimately will be seen to be anti-democratic and pro-elitist and plutocracy. Let’s see where this all is next month, next year, next decade. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to stay silent because a bunch of Khan-trolls need to make up a bunch of lies and insults to justify their bad taste and willingness to call McDonald’s hamburgers a healthy, nutritious, delicious meal.

Check out his other comments on the Khan Academy articles as well.

Happy reading Khan lackeys. Look forward to trashing your mindless drivel in the future.

Campbell Brown is a Woman and other Revelations

Campbell the Riveter stands up for women and corporate shills everywhere.

It has been a rough summer on this end. Perhaps, one day in the future, I will provide details of the Hell Summer of 2012.

The New York Times ran a piece about the furor caused by Campbell Brown’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal. I read the editorial while at the Save Our Schools Conference and was unable to write about it then.

I found this part of the Times article particularly illuminating:

Then Ms. Brown became the story, at least on Twitter, when Ms. Weingarten reposted a message that pointedly raised Ms. Brown’s marriage to Dan Senor, who is Mitt Romney’s senior foreign-affairs adviser and, more to the point, is on the board of StudentsFirstNY, an education policy group close with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

This escalated the fight. Ms. Brown said she took the post as sexist, though she stressed that she still desired Ms. Weingarten’s help. “Disappointing that @rweingarten thinks I hold my views b/c im married to repub. Always thought she was great role model for women until now,” she wrote.

Now, anyone following this issue knows that Weingarten did not say she holds her views because she is married to a Republican. She is married to a man who sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY, the astroturf organization that wants, among other things, to strip teachers of the thin membrane of protections we have left in NYC. Her entire WSJ editorial could have been written by Michelle Rhee. It raises questions over whether Brown is using her celebrity to further the cause of an organization with which her husband is associated. If Brown was the sister, the daughter or the mother of a person who sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY, the question would be the same.

Therefore, it has little to do with Brown being a woman.

Of course, Brown twisted Weingarten’s comment into a sexist attack. This is in step with the tactic of education deformers, who use the language of civil rights as a cover for the retrograde policies they advocate. Anyone that disagrees with them is sexist or is against equal education for all children.

The NY Times goes on to say:

Ms. Brown, who worked for a year as a teacher in what was then Czechoslovakia, said she was drawn to the issue of teacher misconduct from the perspective of a parent of two young children who was disgusted by the rat-a-tat-tat of sexual misconduct cases seizing headlines; she also said that she was moved by a recent piece penned by the city schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, and that she saw it “as a clear expression of his frustration at a broken system.”

So Brown started caring about this issue when she read a few articles filtered through the corporate media of which she has been a part for so long. Did she bother to learn about these issues via a non-corporate media outlet or in some way cross-reference these articles with more independent sources? If Campbell Brown is as smart as she think she is, then she should know that the media for whom she works is a propaganda machine that pumps out half-truths at the behest of editors more concerned with the bottom line than truth.

It is either Campbell Brown is not that bright, or is lying. In light of her attacks on Randi over Twitter, I would say the latter.

As we head back to school in a few weeks, issues of job protections for teachers in NYC will make more and more headlines, with the media all spouting the same “sexual predators infest our schools and the union protects them” nonsense.

The union could not even protect Christine Rubino. Teachers live in fear under Bloomberg that one angry student or one maniacal administrator can take everything from them. Campbell Brown, instead of shilling for StudentsFirstNY, should have some journalistic integrity and look into the issues independently of the corporate-controlled media for which she also shills.

She will not, of course, because Campbell Brown is part of the monster that is corporate-controlled media.