Tag Archives: Race to the Top Program

What’s Been Going On (?)


This is as good a time as any to make a comeback. There are too many things happening in the world of education, both here in New York City and around the nation, to remain on the sidelines much longer. Doubtless there will be time enough in the coming months and years to discuss all of these developments. For now, it might be worth it for me to get somewhat personal to let you know why I have been away for so long and what has been happening on my end. I did not say goodbye the last time, so maybe now I can give a proper hello, again.

You might recall that I moved out of Manhattan into Astoria in Queens over the past year. This was due to the passing of my mother and the fact that the real estate managers did not allow me to inherit her apartment. They were none too polite about it either. While I figured that I had grounds to fight them on this issue, I did not have the stomach to do so. Instead, I cut and run in hopes of making a fresh start of things. I love the neighborhood here in Astoria for its diversity, affordability and proximity to Manhattan (and, therefore, to work). Getting this place in this neighborhood for this price helped me bounce back after my mother’s passing, although I do not think anyone fully recovers from losing a beloved parent.

In the tribute I wrote to my mother last year, you might recall that I mentioned an older brother I had never met named Tommy. He was my mother’s first born and he was taken away from her at an early age. She would spend the rest of her life talking about him and missing him. Well, this past spring I received a message on Facebook from one of those accounts with a fake name, no picture and no personal information, the type that is usually used as a secondary account. This person said that they knew I had an older brother named Tommy and knew how to get in contact with him. I wasted no time in asking this person for Tommy’s contact info. I called Tommy on a Sunday and we spoke for a few hours. A month later he came up here from Florida for a weekend visit. This past summer I went down to the Tampa area to see Tommy, my sister-in-law, my niece and my nephew. We spent a week and a half trying to make up for a lifetime.

If only I had received that Facebook message two years earlier, perhaps meeting her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren would have given our mother more reason to hold on just a little longer. Every day I was down there I imagined our mother was there with us, happy to be with her two sons and big family in the warm Florida sun. While I have shed many tears over what could have been, I am happy that fate saw fit to provide me with a family when I thought I had none left. The fact that I have somewhere to go during the holidays and a niece and a nephew to spoil has given me a newfound happiness. If Florida was not such a red state with awful teacher salaries and no job security, I would have moved down there months ago.

All of this is to say that I did not realize how unhappy I truly was until I spoke to my brother for the first time. This was around the time I disappeared from blogging. I realized I was using this website as a way to throw myself into something so as to forget my depression. While that is not necessarily a bad thing in most cases, it is not the ideal situation for a blog that purports to touch on vital public issues which need a rational and dispassionate (as much as possible anyway) treatment. Also, my own obsession with the written word was keeping me up until 2 am on most nights, which left me a four hour of window for sleep. It was getting tougher to get up in the morning, to get into work on time and to be on top of my game when I was there. Fueled by black coffee and cigarettes, I became overly testy and wound as tightly as a modern baseball. Something needed to give and this blog, which I love because of the people who come here to read and comment, was collateral damage.

On the bright side, stepping away from this site followed by an agreeable summer vacation helped me gain my footing again. I feel self-possessed enough to jump back into the fray, which means maintaining this blog and returning to union activism.

Anyway, I hope everyone is having a good start to the school year. For those of us in New York City, this entails reckoning with the new evaluation system. For educators around the country, it means another year dealing with the forces of education deform who show no signs of abating. Common Core is on the horizon for New York and other states as well. All of this combined with the prospect of a new mayor here in New York City makes this an interesting, if not a happy, time to be associated with public education.



Today’s ceremonial  inauguration (the real one took place in private yesterday) takes on an added layer of meaning because the nation’s first black president will give his speech on Martin Luther King Day. I’m sure the networks will point this out if they haven’t already.

Last year I wrote a piece pointing out that MLK Day is the nation’s annual exercise in self-deception. We pat ourselves on the backs in this country for having come so far in race relations, thereby fulfilling MLK’s “dream”.

The man taking the Oath of Office today will certainly occupy a special place in American history. However, when his term is up in four years prompting journalists (and later, historians) to perform the post-mortem on the two Obama Administrations it will be a mixed legacy at best.

On the one hand you have the man who brought us universal healthcare and killed Bin Laden all while working with an intractable (and not just a little racist) opposition. On the other hand you have a man who has reinforced a system of inequality that serves to oppress the very people for which MLK fought, especially towards the end of his life.

I’m thinking mainly of Obama’s Race to the Top initiative that has wreaked havoc in the states that have adopted it, including here in NY. Not only has RTTT helped along the proliferation of charter schools that benefit private interests and shut out the neediest children, but it has been a boon to the billion-dollar edu industry. Now, thanks to the failure of RTTT in NYC, New York State threatens to withhold millions in Title I money which are funds reserved for the poorest children.

Martin Luther King fought for a totally inclusive society, one where the most powerless would have fair access to opportunity. But the programs that Obama has supported have left the most powerless behind. On Diane Ravitch’s blog is a quote in defense of charter schools that essentially concedes what charter school critics have said all along: charters in fact do not serve the neediest students. This after years of charter school defenders telling us that charters don’t get to “cherry pick” students and are subject to the same laws as all other schools.

And when we look at the rest of the national scene with its rising inequality, proliferation of low-wage jobs (the so-called economic “recovery”) and increase in food stamp applications, there would be very little for Martin Luther King to celebrate.

King once said something along the lines of “the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice”.

Are we bending towards justice now?