Friday, January 29, 2010

DFER is on a HUGE roll right now and needs your help to keep it up.

I know there are a lot of folks on this list who can afford $100/month…

Wanted: 1,000 Good DFER Men and Women To Join The DFER Army

Are you sick of watching good, solid reform-minded candidates for office get trounced by special-interests in ways that prevent public education from ever reaching its full potential?
Nearly three years ago, Democrats for Education Reform was launched to try to help pragmatic, change-oriented candidates for office win their battles against a Democratic Party establishment which often stifled innovation and the free-exchange of ideas on education reform issues.

For too long, the Democratic Party – largely because of the strong influence of special interests which were thriving under the status quo – served as the party of "no" when it came to education reform proposals. We swatted down every reform idea with the notable exception of calls for more money and lower class sizes.
Shamefully, we continued to defend public education systems that simply weren't working for the kids who most needed them. We stopped standing up for the little guy.
But all of that has been changing, thanks to people like you. We have a Democratic president and Education Secretary who are fully committed to change. We have mayors, state legislators, and school board members from coast to coast who are joining them in taking on a failing status quo. We have teachers, parents, charter school board members, and others who are helping create ground cover so that we can once and for all save public education from itself.
But we need your help to break through the wall.
Can you commit, right now, to helping pro-reform candidates for office by contributing $100 or more per month to the campaigns of DFER's "Education Reformers of the Month?"
Our goal this year is to get 1,000 people to give $100 or more each month to the candidates who are changing the world and working feverishly to close the achievement gap. By signing on and joining our list of reform warriors, you will be sending a POWERFUL message to the forces that are working to resist the kind of change in schools that President Obama has unleashed: Get out of the way, because change is gonna come.
Or if you'd prefer, contribute directly to DFER to help support candidates indirectly (and support our spectacularly lean and mean operations.)
It's easy to help. You can start winning the war by contributing today to our education reformer of the month via our secure web site and partnership with ActBlue. We'll notify you every month as our support-worthy candidates for office are announced. (You can start by supporting Eric Johnson, a fantastic candidate in a Democratic primary for an important Texas House of Representatives seat.)

If you'd like to join the DFER Army and are willing to commit to contributing at least $100 per month to DFER's preferred candidates for office, please quickly sign on here so we can make sure we keep you up to date on the latest and greatest.
We need your help today! Together, we can win this!

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Jay Mathews with his usual trenchant insights:

Fix schools with ideas, not money

President Obama is apparently about to tell the nation he wants to freeze federal spending for three years in several areas, including education. I like the idea. I would also support cutting back entitlement payments for financially secure geezers like me, and find ways for everyone to make some sacrifices for our country.

I can hear the objections. We can't fix our economy by shortchanging our kids. They are our future. True, but we don't have much evidence that spending more money on their schooling has had much effect on what they have learned. The most exciting and productive schools I have studied are driven by ideas, not bucks. If they need money for special projects, they find it. But the power of their teaching comes from the freedom they are allowed to help with their students, as a team, in ways that make the most sense to them.

More money often prevents that from happening. It has strings that force teachers to do stuff, and spend time on paperwork, that doesn't work for them. The recent history of the stimulus funds used for education makes this clear.

Here is my must-read article of the month: "Toothless Reform?" by Andy Smarick, a fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, writing for the journal Education Next.

Here is one of my favorite paragraphs from that piece, describing how the states promised to follow the Obama administration's desire that the money be used to not just save jobs, but make schools better, and why that didn't happen:

"Yes, governors signed the ARRA's [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] reform assurances but states didn't use SFSF [State Fiscal Stabilization Fund] dollars for reform. Yes, states developed standards and assessments as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) required, but many adopted weak standards and set low cut scores. Yes, districts developed policies for NCLB public school choice and supplemental education services, but they cleverly thwarted the full implementation of these programs, evidenced by the shockingly low student participation rates. As others have noted, the federal government can make states and districts do what they don't want to, but it can't make them do it well."

With that federal education fund flow running drive, what can we do to help educators be creative with less money? We could allow more charter schools. In fact, Smarick sets up a perfect test of the Obama administration's courage in handing out its Race to the Top money, supposed to make schools more creative. Tennessee lifted its cap on charters, as the administration asked, but in two days two of its cities denied all 24 charter applications before them. Will Tennessee still get the big bucks? Stay tuned.

Local districts could give principals more power over what their schools spend their limited dollars on. The unions could pursue good ideas like Randi Weingarten's fund for reform measures. What ideas do you have? There are lots of things we can do with just a little money, and for the forseeable future, that is all we are likely to get.

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Race for education dollars

A Washington Post article on Maryland sitting out round 1 of RttT, putting the blame where it belongs: the unions and their politician lackeys:

MARYLAND SAT OUT the first round of competition for millions in federal dollars because it has some policies that jeopardize its chances. Changing these outmoded laws would help the state get money, and, more important, it would help education. State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick is right to push for reforms, but it's unclear whether state lawmakers will listen to her good advice or, instead, instructions from state teachers unions.

Applications for the next phase of Race to the Top are due June 1, and Ms. Grasmick is pushing for changes in teacher tenure and compensation.


Race for education dollars

Monday, January 25, 2010; A16

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Alonso plan would give Baltimore middle-school students school choice

Alonso is trying to do some great things in Baltimore:


Baltimore would begin giving students a choice of where they attend middle school next fall under a plan expected to be presented to the city school board tonight.

City schools CEO Andrés Alonso's proposal also calls for the closing or revamping of 12 schools, primarily middle schools, that are some of the lowest-performing in the city and often have declining enrollments.

In his latest move to restructure the district, Alonso is attempting to create more competition among schools and more opportunities for parents.

"Poor, urban parents should not be imprisoned by their geography and only have a choice of poor schools," Alonso said.

Under the plan, the city would see a small growth in its number of publicly funded charter schools, transformation schools that serve grades six through 12 and outside groups that take on significant roles in several schools.

If the plan survives scrutiny by the public and is approved by the school board in the next couple of months, fifth-graders in elementary schools would be given a choice of where they go to school next fall, rather than being assigned to a neighborhood school. Fifth-graders in schools with kindergarten through eighth grades would also get to move to a charter or new transformation school, but they would be given lower priority than the fifth-graders at an elementary-only school.


Alonso plan would give Baltimore middle-school students school choice

12 low-performing schools would be closed or revamped


By Liz Bowie |,0,2287019.story

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The nation's schools are failing boys

An interesting article, with great data, on how schools are failing boys in particular:

The headline from The Washington Post celebrates yet another milestone: "University of Virginia picks its first female president." Meantime, the data continues to mount that our educational system is massively failing one gender: boys.

In a new book, "Why Boys Fail," Richard Whitmire points to a study that tracked every graduate of the Boston public schools in 2007. For every 167 women in a four-year college, there were only 100 men. Gender even beat race as a predictor of college attendance: Black women were 5 percentage points more likely than white men to be in college.

And it's not just Boston: Nearly 60 percent of all bachelor's degrees in the country go to women.


The nation's schools are failing boys

Last Updated: 4:13 AM, January 23, 2010

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Teachers miss school more than students

A VERY provoking article from Camden about a terrible yet little discussed problem: teacher absenteeism.  If the apologists are right that "teachers are sick more often because they come into contact with more germs," then why are most days missed on "Mondays, Fridays or the day before or after a holiday"???

Students in Camden City Schools are having their education shortchanged by teachers who are absent from the classroom more than their colleagues across the country, and come to school less than their own students.

The Courier-Post reviewed teacher absenteeism data from the 2008-2009 school year and found teachers missed an average of 11 days of class time, and some schools had teachers miss upward of 17 days. In South Camden Alternative, teachers missed an average of 23 of their 187 days.

…While Camden's teachers as a whole were absent a median time of 10 days, state law allows it. But in Camden, teachers are granted more generous benefits including up to 13 sick days, two personal days and two days for professional development.

In addition, should other tragic or celebratory events happen in their lives, more paid days off are allowed including: five days for the death of an immediate family member, three days for in-laws, grandparents or grandchildren, one day for an aunt, uncle or cousin, one day for a co-worker, one day for a family member's graduation and five days if he or she gets married. There is no vacation time. However, teachers are off most holidays, the summer and a week during the Christmas-New Year holiday and a week around Easter.

With so many days off, Camden budgeted $2 million this year to pay substitute teachers.

Four calls to the leader of Camden's teacher's union, Ken McIntosh, were not returned last week.

Absenteeism and illness are inevitable, but some officials believe the teacher's contracts breed excessive absenteeism.

"It causes all kinds of chaos. Teachers are trying to cover for teachers. When they are short in staff you hear about security guards taking the teachers' place because there is nobody to cover the classroom," said Angel Cordero, a local education activist. "They are short teachers in Camden. It's a monumental problem."

…Besides the monetary impact, studies have found that for every 10 days a teacher is absent, test scores could drop by up to 3.3 percent. Other subjects saw decreases in achievement, too.

Raegen Miller, the lead author of one recent study produced by researchers at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, said students depend on their teacher for success.

"Teacher absences are causing the reduced achievement," he said. "If there is plenty of leave available, teachers will take lots of it."

The average teacher absenteeism rate nationwide is about 5.3 percent, Miller said, a rate about double the 3 percent for all private sector employees in 2008, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Camden, teachers are absent twice as much, or 11.2 days a year.

Teachers also take their time off more often on Mondays, Fridays or the day before or after a holiday, Miller's research shows.


Teachers miss school more than students

Camden Courier-Post Staff

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Play, Then Eat: Shift May Bring Gains at School

Some interesting research on the potential benefits of giving kids recess right before lunch:

Can something as simple as the timing of recess make a difference in a child's health and behavior?

Some experts think it can, and now some schools are rescheduling recess — sending students out to play before they sit down for lunch. The switch appears to have led to some surprising changes in both cafeteria and classroom.

Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.


Play, Then Eat: Shift May Bring Gains at School

NYT blog

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Rubber Rooms featured on CBS affiliate in NYC

The local CBS affiliate in NYC ran a story on the Rubber Room on Monday night that highlighted the cost and absurdity of the system, but it was WAY too kind to the teachers, making them seem like the victims rather than the victimizers (of kids), which nearly all of them are:

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UFT Commercials-

The UFT is running 30-second commercials on the evening news in NYC – you gotta see this silliness to believe it:

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Class Warrior- Arne Duncan's bid to shake up schools

STOP THE PRESSES!  Run, don't walk, to read the attached insightful profile of Arne Duncan in the latest New Yorker.  I never knew that his mom, Sue, has run an after-school program, Sue's, in Chicago's tough North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood since 1961, which was very formative for Duncan.  Here's an excerpt:


Once, when Duncan was in high school, a basketball star he knew from Sue's came to him for help in studying for the A.C.T. test.  "He was being recruited by some big places," Duncan said.  "He was thinking Marquette, something like that.  And we say down, and he couldn't read.  He was a B student at Martin Luther King.  This was the year they won the state championship.  He was a good kid.  He stayed clear of gangs, drugs; his teachers liked him.  He did everything right, everything that was asked of him, and he was functionally illiterate.  It wasn't his fault.  He'd been lied to all his life.  We had a heart-to-heart talk, and I had to tell him.  And he didn't make it.  He went to junior college, but he didn't make it."


Duncan told me another story about the boys at Sue's.  "There's a photo of our group, the inner circle from my mom's program," taken back in the late nineteen-seventies, he said, "and some of those guys are dead.  Growing up down there, and having friends from the program and from the streets die when I was twelve, thirteen – that scarred me.  It was hard to comprehend.  As much as the success stories have shaped me and given me hope, those deaths might be an even bigger motivator.  The guys who got killed were the guys who didn't finish high school.  It was literally the dividing line between you live or you die.  Nobody who went to college died young."


Carlo Rotella, Profiles, "Class Warrior," The New Yorker, February 1, 2010, p. 24

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New York Could Use the $700 Million

Nice to see the NYT weighing in on blasting Albany – but as I note below, the real culprit is the UFT.  On the same day that Randi was giving her annual look-what-a-reformer-I-am speech in DC, an army of her lobbyists (seriously) were in Albany trying to destroy the highly successful NY state charter movement.  Maybe that's her job to try to kill anything and everything that channels a penny away from her members, regardless of what's best for kids – but we need to make it crystal clear who's looking out for kids, and who's looking out for adults:


January 26, 2010

NYT Editorial

New York Could Use the $700 Million

Because of a disagreement over charter schools, legislative leaders in Albany are in danger — once again — of letting hundreds of millions of federal dollars slip through their fingers.

Washington is making $4 billion in education funds available under a program called Race to the Top. The money is aimed at encouraging states to improve or close failing schools, keep the most-qualified teachers and expand well-run charter schools. New York's share could be as much as $700 million. The deadline for state applications was last Tuesday, and most states jumped at the opportunity. New York submitted its application, but it lacked a crucial ingredient: a plan that would allow for more charter schools.

A bill favored by legislative leaders would have doubled the number of charter schools allowed in the state to 400. But the bill was flawed and faced an almost certain veto from Gov. David Paterson. The big problem was that it would have undercut the schools' independence by transferring the power to create charter schools from local authorities to the Board of Regents, which is appointed by the Legislature.

This shift particularly offended Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He called the bill a "wolf in sheep's clothing." It would definitely have been a step backward from a system that has mostly worked well, especially in New York City. Charter schools are not without flaws. Their finances should be more transparent. And public-school parents often resent sharing much-needed space with charter schools. But none of these criticisms are a reason for Albany to undercut the whole system or give up on federal funds, especially during a state budget crisis.

A second round of applications for federal aid is due this summer. By then, the Legislature should be able to organize hearings and come up with a plan for the entire state. Otherwise, New York runs the risk of forfeiting, once again, money it needs badly. In 2008, Albany failed to approve even an experimental version of Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan that would have imposed fees on cars coming into Manhattan during rush hours. That cost the city millions of dollars in federal transportation funds. New York can't afford a repeat performance.

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DFER issued a statement giving the Obama administration well-deserved praise:

Unfettered by inside-the-beltway partisan politics, President Obama indisputably has affected more change in the nation's education policies in his first year in office than any President in modern history.


The boost that the Administration's Race to the Top initiative - which was accompanied by a record $100 billion increase in general federal aid to education - has given state and local education reform efforts is the Administration's biggest domestic policy success of 2009 - all without yet expending a dime of the $5 billion Race to the Top fund.


What's more, while not a single Republican Congressman and only 3 Republican Senators voted for the economic and education reform stimulus package last February, the policy initiatives that Obama and Secretary Duncan put forth have since been embraced through both words and action by state and local elected officials in both parties across the ideological and geographical spectrum.


…If the Administration continues to keep the bar high for Race to the Top, and stays on the path of real change by making major investments only in those states and school districts that have shown the willingness to break out of the old ways of doing things, it will mark a major turning point in U.S. education policy, the effects of which will reverberate for decades. 

To download DFER's handy 5-page fact sheet on "Educational Change We Can Believe In", click here. For more information on Democrats for Education Reform, visit

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DFER’s Ed Reformer of the Month, Eric Johnson

DFER's Ed Reformer of the Month, Eric Johnson, a Harvard, Penn and Princeton grad who's running against the worst sort of entrenched incumbent for a seat in the Texas legislature, is especially worthy of your support.  I just gave him $100:

Drumroll please....

This month, our reform-affections are fixated on the State of Texas (which, if you are following Race To The Top, you understand needs some serious change in Austin) and the race for one of the Dallas seats in the Texas House of Representatives. DFER is finding itself swooning over Eric Johnson, an education reformer/lawyer and one of the most exciting challengers in a Democratic primary right now. 

Eric grew up in West Dallas and was fortunate enough to have received a Boys and Girls Club scholarship to attend Greenhill School starting in second grade, from which he graduated in 1994. He then went on to graduate from Harvard cum laude before earning a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Public Affairs with a focus on education policy and international affairs from Princeton University. After spending time as a lawyer at Haynes and Boone, he has now decided to represent the neighborhood he grew up in, which desperately needs his support and representation.

The incumbent in the race, who has a strong anti-reform record, is currently facing trial on public corruption charges for allegedly accepting bribes from a developer. (This hasn't stopped a lot of traditional Democratic groups from endorsing the incumbent.) The primary is March 2nd.

As the Dallas Morning News put it in their endorsement: " A lawyer and an active volunteer in the community, Johnson is attuned to the challenges facing many of the neighborhoods in the district. He has spent time getting up to speed on an array of legislative issues, but he has made K-12 education his priority. Johnson, who is 34, astutely points out that the dropout rate is a critical issue; he argues that failing to finish high school amounts to a one-way ticket to economic hardship or incarceration." While Johnson aspires to spur change and help at-risk students succeed, (Incumbent Terri) Hodge seems to personify the soft bigotry of low expectations. Her goals – both for herself and her district – are disappointingly modest."

Please show Eric Johnson some education reformer love by contributing early and often to his campaign. Again, the primary election is March 2nd, so please give today! It's easy to help support his campaign through DFER's Ed Reformer of the Month web page -


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A worthy donation-

Speaking of worthy things to donate to, Angel Batista, the young man who's going to MIT next year, and his debate team at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem need to raise $2,000 in the next three weeks so they can compete at a tournament at Harvard.  I already sent $100.  If you'd like to help, email him directly at  Here's the email he sent me:


My debate team has about three weeks to raise $2,000, which would cover things like registration fees, housing, travel costs and food.  Debate is one of those things in this country, like quality education, that is built in a way that excludes kids from low-income areas (or just poor schools in general), so we're on a massive effort to raise money.

Firstly, you have already made a huge contribution to the team and I don't want to ask you for more financial contributions! However, I was wondering if you possibly knew of anyone who would be interested in helping a debate team from Harlem compete at Harvard. Any kind of contribution, even if just a dollar, would help tremendously. I understand that due to economic situations, it would be hard for people to easily donate, but again, if anyone could help with the slightest amount, it would be a great help.

Anything that you could do, even if it's just to spread the word, we appreciate it greatly!


PS--There's actually a film that portrays the whole idea of debate being an "elitist activity," which gave me my passion for debate, named Resolved (if you ever find the time to watch it, I recommend it).

PPS--If you're wondering what we would be debating at Harvard, the resolution is: "In the United States, organized political lobbying does more harm than good."

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DFER's Charlie Barone and AFT President Randi Weingarte

Here is the 46-minute audio of today's "On Point" on NPR, featuring DFER's Charlie Barone and AFT President Randi Weingarten:

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Passing of Torch from Shrewd Negotiator to Blunt Instrument

As promised, here's the real story on the UFT and the reality behind Randi-the-Reformer.  Let's start with Tom Carroll on Randi's replacement, Michael Mulgrew:

I haven't always agreed with Weingarten, but I always respected her sense of strategy, her ability to frame issues, and her perfect ear for how far the political process could be bent in her union's direction.

Over the weekend, however, we got a glimpse of a new UFT.  Michael Mulgrew, the new UFT president, issued with much fanfare a blistering report offering charter-school "reforms" that would disembowel charter schools in New York City and beyond.  Not a subtle passage in the 16-page document.  All red-meat for the anti-charter union masses as he attempts to position himself for re-election in spring 2010, after failing to secure a city teachers contract from the Bloomberg administration.

The report, issued on the Christian Sabbath, was timed to come out before the start of the 2010 legislative session.  Early action on a cap hike is anticipated as the state finalizes its Race to the Top application due January 19th.

With a new UFT leader, gone is Weingarten's velvety smoothness.  Mulgrew's report had all the subtlety of an ironworkers strike.

The shrewd negotiator has been replaced by the blunt instrument.

Some of the crasser proposals include the following:


Passing of Torch from Shrewd Negotiator to Blunt Instrument

January 3rd, 2010

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The UFT’s Conspiracy Theories

Two blog postings by Randi's right-hand man, Leo Casey, who spells out his union's wild conspiracy theories and implacable hatred of all non-union charter schools.  First, here are two rebuttals, the first by Tom Carroll:

The United Federation of Teacher's Leo Casey – in two recent blog entries on its blog (The Charter Challenge and We Were Born – It Just Wasn't Yesterday) – tackles the subject of charter schools and what he perceives as "right wing" influence in its ranks.

Leo, although feverish at times, is a nice guy, so I thought I would give his arguments serious thought and offer my response.  Peter Murphy of the New York Charter Schools Association responds elsewhere (Living in Make-Believe – and Malice)


The UFT's Conspiracy Theories

ShareThis December 23rd, 2009

by Thomas W. Carroll

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Living in Make-Believe - and Malice

Here's Peter Murphy's more detailed rebuttal:


Leo Casey is a man with "issues" when it comes to the New York Charter Schools Association as demonstrated by his latest hit piece. You see, Leo, the United Federation of Teachers blogger on, shows no restraint when it comes to his latest screed of a blog post.

Leo doesn't like charter schools. We already knew that. But his contempt for them is so rabid he makes up his own realities, beginning with the activities of the Charter Association, which advocates on behalf of charter schools. He's now outdone himself with this latest tirade…

…Why the Obsession Against Charters?
Why is Leo so obsessed with NYCSA to the point of spreading his series of canards? One can only speculate. Charters are advancing in New York and nationally. They are improving results for children in many school districts that for years failed to do so. More and more elected officials support them and are poised here and in many states to expand them. And, in a time when public funding has tightened, competition from charter schools intensifies, which may be troubling to Leo whose union represents teachers in district and charter schools that, in effect, are competing for dwindling dollars.

This union tension came alive early this year. In an unprecedented move, NYSUT and UFT came out against more charter funding and succeeded in getting the state legislature to cut the funding formula -- revealing a blatant conflict of interest. We've never let them forget this sell-out of their own charter members who pay them dues and who have since been pressuring the union not to repeat it.

Now we have Leo using his playbook to try and discredit NYCSA for doing its of job advocating for charter schools. But this union behavior makes it especially ironic and hypocritical for Leo to accuse the Charter Association--with zero real evidence--of putting "ideology" above its own school membership.

Better to Focus on Productive Things
Leo and many of his central union brethren have been kicking against the goads when it comes to charter schools by dusting off tired, irrelevant diatribe from old that rings hollow and looks more and more silly. They should instead take a lesson or two from their national leader, Randi Weingarten, who found productive ways to work with charters, even while having disagreements with them.

Those of us working in, and advocating for, public education have more productive things to do than attack each other. For starters, we should be doing what it takes to get Race to the Top money for our state. We can disagree at times, and we will; but truth should matter. With Leo Casey's latest jejune special, the truth is absent, while distortion and bile reign.

Leo can choose keep it up, spewing his shopworn acrimony. We're movin' on.


Living in Make-Believe - and Malice


Saturday, December 19, 2009

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The Charter Challenge

Here's part 1 of Casey's rant:


As the United Federation of Teachers heads toward our fiftieth anniversary in 2010, we find ourselves facing a challenge greater than any we confronted in the last half-century of our history. Our union has been tempered by many extraordinary struggles over these last five decades, but never have we seen what we are witnessing today: a direct assault on the public character of American education and on the very right of teachers to organize collectively in unions. While the UFT has withstood these attacks as well as any teacher union in the nation, it would be a serious mistake to look at developments in New Orleans and Washington DC and proclaim "it can not happen here." If we fail to grasp the critical nature of this moment and mount an appropriate, vigorous response, it can and will happen here.


At the center of this challenge is the charter school movement. In their original conception, charter schools were to be innovative public schools, freed from the stifling bureaucracy of school districts, professionally led and directed by their teachers and organically connected to communities they served. Charter schools would be laboratories of educational experimentation, expanding our repertoire of best educational practices. This was the vision put forward by the late UFT and AFT President Al Shanker, when he became one of the very first advocates for charter schools, and it is the vision we relied upon when we started our own UFT Charter School in East New York and partnered with Green Dot to establish a charter school in the South Bronx.


Over the nearly two decades since Minnesota enacted the first state charter law, charter schools have become an increasingly important and permanent fixture of American education. But for too long, teacher unions and progressive educators paid far too little attention to charter schools, incorrectly seeing them as marginal developments. Right wing ideologues moved into the vacuum created by this inattention, and seized a very significant beachhead inside the charter school movement; from this salient, they have pushed a notion of a charter school at direct odds with Shanker's original conception. In their world view, charter schools are a wedge to pursue the privatization of public schools and to create schools in which unions are eliminated. In this vision, charters are private schools, supported with public funds.


In New York and nationally, the leadership of the charter school movement is today dominated by outspoken partisans of this right wing agenda.


The Charter Challenge

Nov. 24, 2009

9:46 pm

by Leo Casey


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We Were Born – It Just Wasn’t Yesterday: How NYCSA Places Ideology Before the Interests of Charter Schools

And here's part 2 – it takes a lot of chutzpah to blame charter supporters from killing NY's chances to win RttT money:

Representatives of the New York Charter School Association have been lobbying against New York State receiving Race to the Top funds, elected officials in Albany and Washington DC have told the UFT. If successful, these efforts would deny funds for important educational reforms to both district and charter schools in New York — at a time when all of these schools are facing draconian cuts in funding.

But NYCSA — and the allied New York City Charter School Center — are once again placing their ideological agenda above the interests of the schools they claim to represent.


We Were Born – It Just Wasn't Yesterday:
How NYCSA Places Ideology Before the Interests of Charter Schools

Dec. 17, 2009
1:58 pm
by Leo Casey–-it-just-wasn't-yesterday-how-nycsa-places-ideology-before-the-interests-of-charter-schools

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South Carolina lieutenant governor compares free-lunch recipients to 'stray animals'

Wow…  Here's Jon Stewart blasting Bauer on The Daily Show yesterday:

South Carolina lieutenant governor compares free-lunch recipients to 'stray animals'

By Gary Reese
Florida Insider

January 24, 2010

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in a recent speech compared people whose children receive free and reduced-price school lunches to stray animals that are fed handouts.  Bauer is a Republican candidate for governor.  He's floating the idea that too many people get locked into unproductive lives because they receive various wealth entitlements without making any sacrifices or doing anything to better themselves. But it remains to be seen how South Carolinians will respond to his harsh analogy. "…We've got more people voting for a living than we do working for a living," said Bauer. Fifty-eight percent of students in the state's public schools participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010


My friend Jacques-Philippe Piverger (who is Haitian) has organized a big event in NYC on Thursday evening to benefit Haiti (I'm on the host committee).  Here's his email about it::


ANSWERING THE CALL: A Fundraising Initiative Benefiting Earthquake Victims in Haiti



M2 Ultralounge

530 W 28th Street, New York, NY 10019

 6P-7P: Open Bar Mix & Mingle sponsored by Belvedere Vodka

7P-10P: Program features special guests and Phone/Text Banking


Young & Rubicam

Green Technology Group


The Council of Urban Professionals, National Black MBA Association, Harvard Black Alumni Society of NY, National Urban League, The NBA Wives -- Project Save the World, Carma Foundation, ACA United, Haitian Memorial Foundation, SIMACT, World Policy Institute, Harlem Jets, New Heights Youth, Inc., Haitian American for Humanitarian Action, Metro New York Chapter NBMBAA Association, Inc., Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, ConceptLink Consulting, "BLAPA" of NYU School of Law, NAACP Brooklyn Branch, RG & Associates, Haiti Cultural Exchange, Hollywood Unites for Haiti, MIHventures, KYA Entertainment, HaitiXchange, 67 Orange, (In Formation)

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The Lottery Debuts Trailer and Website Today

Run, don't walk, to watch the two-minute trailer for the new documentary, The Lottery, which looks AMAZING: (it will be out on May 7th).  The filmmaker, Madeleine Sackler (who's been on this email list for nearly two years), profiles four families that try to win the lottery to get into one of the Harlem Success Charter Schools, and talks to all the right people.  Here's a summary from the press release (below):

The Lottery follows four families as they flee their assigned public schools and enter a high stakes and low odds lottery for acceptance into a Harlem charter school. A heartbreaking look at parents who will not accept failing schools for their children but may have to, The Lottery exposes the backwards politics and nefarious agendas of politicians and special interest groups who stand in the way of improving a failing public school system. New York State's recent loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from the Race to the Top Fund is just one example.

One only needs to read today's headlines to see the volatility of this issue and its impact on children. In fact, yesterday Mayor Mike Bloomberg issued the following quote about Albany's maelstrom: "Dr. King told us that a right delayed is a right denied, and this Assembly bill would continue to deny those children the quality school options that they deserve. The bill really is an insult to parents and children and Dr. King and his legacy." "I wanted to show that we do not have to accept failure, because some schools are proving that all kids can succeed if given the chance. Parents know the difference and apply in droves to the better schools. The tragedy is that the demands of adults are getting in the way of the needs of kids," said Sackler.

"Where you're born is a lottery. Going to a great school shouldn't be." Interviewees of the film include Mayor Cory Booker, Chancellor Joel Klein, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Harlem Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Children's Zone President and CEO Geoffrey Canada, Achievement First co-CEO Dacia Toll, and New York Times Magazine editor Paul Tough.

Be sure to take a few seconds to sign The Education Constitution:


New Film to Spotlight Fight over NYC Schools The Lottery Debuts Trailer and Website Today

By: Business Wire | 19 Jan 2010 | 01:57 PM ET

NEW YORK, Jan 19, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The Lottery, a suspenseful and emotional film about the crisis in public education by producer-director Madeleine Sackler, will have a theatrical release beginning May 7, 2010 through Zipline Entertainment, but is debuting its trailer and public education advocacy website today.

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Harlem charter schools…coming to movie theaters everywhere

This article mentions both The Lottery and Waiting for Superman:

Guggenheim's film is one of two new documentaries that feature Harlem charter schools prominently and cast them in a glowing light. The other is "The Lottery," which will be released in May and which follows a group of families seeking entrance into Eva Moskowitz's Harlem Success Academies.

"Waiting for Superman" follows five children from around the country as they navigate the public schools system. None of them are Harlem Children's Zone students, said an HCZ spokesman, Marty Lipp, but Canada offers commentary throughout the film. In an interview, Guggenheim calls Canada "perhaps the strongest voice" in the film.

… [E]mbracing the belief that good teachers make good schools, and ultimately questioning the role of unions in maintaining the status quo, Guggenheim offers hope by exploring innovative approaches taken by education reformers and charter schools that have—in reshaping the culture—refused to leave their students behind.

In addition to Canada, the film also features D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates and KIPP co-founders David Levin and Mike Feinberg. This group, along with Moskowitz, Chancellor Joel Klein and Teach for America's Wendy Kopp, all advocate broadly for high stakes accountability for schools and teachers and often clash with teachers unions.

When "An Inconvenient Truth" was released, it was accompanied by a strong off-screen anti-global warming advocacy campaign, and it looks like "Waiting for Superman" will have an off-screen activism element as well. (There's already an advocacy social media site set up for the film where highlighted news headlines include Mayor Michael Bloomberg's push to tie student test scores to teacher tenure.)

"Waiting for Superman" was the first Sundance film this year picked up for distribution by a studio and should hit theaters this fall.


Harlem charter schools…coming to movie theaters everywhere

by Maura Walz

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News from KIPP Philadelphia

Interesting news from Marc Manella, the rock star founder of KIPP Philadelphia and now the Executive Director of KIPP Philadelphia Schools (currently two schools, with plans for many more):


Good morning Whitney – I thought I'd fill you in on some interesting happenings here in Philly.  Here is the email I sent to my leadership team Friday after the Thursday vote by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to ratify the new Union contract that is (rightfully, in my opinion) getting so much positive press from both sides:





I've been reading everything I can find about the new teacher contract the PFT ratified last night, and I think some components of this are actually really good for kids.  If you haven't had a chance to read about this yet, read this: (   


The new contract calls for the following:

-          The first semblance of merit-pay will be implemented next year, with the entire staffs of the highest performing schools receiving bonuses. (Top 25% of failing schools, top 10% of other schools).

-          It expands site selection to all schools in Corrective Action II, although frustratingly it keeps the old provision for other schools, (some site selection spots, some seniority spots, unless there is a majority vote of the faculty calling for 100% site selection at that school.)

-          Also, and perhaps most excitingly for kids, it "creates a Peer Assistance and Review program (PAR), based largely on ones in Montgomery County, MD and Toledo, OH in which specially trained consulting teachers will work with new teachers and those who have been rated "unsatisfactory" to help them improve. If they continue to flounder, a joint committee appointed by the District and the union can recommend termination"


The devil is always in the details, and ideas that sound good on paper can be screwed up in practice, but these provisions are progressive and positive.  In all, I think today was a good day for kids here in Philly.





In the 72 hours since the vote, the distressing news is that the bozos are crawling out of the woodwork saying the same horrific things that cause some to paint all Union members as regressive, selfish, and anti-kid.  Check out the comments to this article in the Public School Notebook (, especially this one by "Jeff":


"Until they stop blaming the teachers for failing schools, nothing will ever change. The problem is, and always has been, the students and their parents. You can trade the staff of a failing school with the staff of a beautiful suburban one, and everything will stay the same. In fact, the good school may improve because the teachers will be so happy to have "good students" that they'll flourish and teach what's left of their hearts out. I want a "super" to come in a say: "Do what you think is best for your kids," and then go hide. There's nothing wrong with the teachers; they're all hard-working and quite efficient. The powers that be and the students are the problem, and always have been. In fact , it it weren't for these teachers, these kids would be a bigger mess than they already are."



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Large High Schools in the City Are Taking Hard Falls

This is an important article in today's NYT about a most vexing problem: what to do with huge, failing high schools – so-called dropout factories.  I wasn't expecting much from the article, frankly (most such articles are of the silly he-said-she-said variety), but this was well done, capturing the genuine anger and disappointment of some, yet also the endless failure and the many failed turnarounds that finally led to the school's closing:

But in auditorium after auditorium at schools on the closing list, like Columbus, Jamaica and Beach Channel High Schools in Queens, and William H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn, the hearings have exposed a torrent of anger about how large high schools have fared in the Bloomberg years.

The city's Education Department says that on the whole, the closings have been a success. The small high schools created in the shells of old large high schools have average graduation rates of 75 percent, 15 percent higher than in the city as a whole and far greater than those of the schools they replaced.

"Obviously, closing schools is not something anyone enjoys," said Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor. "By and large, what this is about is simply the fact that when you have many kids in a high-needs community, you find that the smaller schools, where they are highly personalized, where they have strong partnerships and involvement with various organizations, those things really have been a successful strategy for us."

To education officials, the failures of Columbus, a 70-year-old school that graduated only 40 percent of its students on time last year and received a D on its most recent report card, are self-evident. And they say they make the closing process as painless as possible. For the closing school, it is a gradual death, with current students allowed to graduate if they do not fall behind, but no new classes admitted. As space opens up, the new schools come to life, adding a grade each year.


Large High Schools in the City Are Taking Hard Falls

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Students from Christopher Columbus High School and Global Enterprise Academy marched to protest the scheduled closing of their schools.



Published: January 25, 2010

The boos cascaded over the auditorium as a city education official read out the case against Christopher Columbus High School, one of the last remaining large high schools in the Bronx.

Columbus has had a "long history of sustained academic failure" and "chronically poor performance and low demand," Santiago Taveras, a deputy chancellor, told the standing-room crowd. As a result, he said, it should be closed.

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Doing right by New York schools

A HUGE shout-out for NY State Senator Craig Johnson, a Democrat who represents a district on Long Island that doesn't even have any charter schools, yet he nevertheless bucked his own party and played an instrumental role in killing the hostile-to-charters bill that the unions very nearly got passed recently by the gutless weasels in Albany.  Here's his Op Ed in today's NY Post:


NYPOST: Doing right by New York schools

January 25, 2010


Last week, my support for strong legislation to reform New York's education system and my subsequent opposition to an alternative "consensus" measure were both praised and derided by Albany's political class.

My decision was guided by my conscience. I asked myself one question. What legislation was best for all of New York's children? Facing a terrible economic climate and a state budget proposal that includes significant cuts in aid for our schools, we had a golden opportunity to qualify for up to $700 million in badly needed federal education funds.

Qualifying for the Race to the Top grant meant embracing the goals set by Education Secretary Arne Duncan to foster innovation in education policy. I'm a longtime supporter of the education-reform movement -- since before I began serving in the state Senate -- so I was happy to back (along with many others) robust legislation that would make our educational system more competitive.

Yes, that included raising the state's cap on charter schools -- alternative public schools that have produced many success stories across New York. While there are no charters in the district I represent, I'm not blind to good they've done elsewhere. And this legislation not only raised the charter cap, but also established new accountability and transparency requirements for these schools.

Of course, since it's Albany, politics intervened. As a result, this muscular reform legislation was cast aside in favor of a weaker bill -- "consensus" legislation that would have gutted the current charter-school program and put New York in a significantly weaker position to qualify for the federal funds. For these reasons, I opposed this measure, which in the end didn't come for a vote in the Senate or the Assembly.

It was strongly suggested to me that my stand was somehow a show of disloyalty. I reject that notion. Most Race to the Top funds would go to traditional public schools in New York. Just as I did when I opposed mid-year school cuts in this most recent deficit-reduction plan, my motive is to preserve the overall quality of educational system, as well as protect the property-tax payers that I represent.

The legislation that I support, and put my name on, would have a greater chance to accomplish this aim and help expand educational opportunities for children across New York. I'd like to believe that this is a goal that everyone shares.

Craig M. Johnson represents the 7th Senate District, which covers northwestern Nassau County.

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New York Races to the Bottom

More on NY's lameness, with a great Joe Williams quote at the end (and more kudos to Craig Johnson and Ruben Diaz, Sr.):


Charles Upton Sahm

New York Races to the Bottom

Blame the teachers' unions and corrupt pols for the state's lost opportunity.

22 January 2010

Unconscionable. Shameful. Deplorable. Despicable. Those are just a few adjectives that come to mind to describe the New York State Legislature's failure to pass commonsense education reforms that would have qualified New York for a share of the federal government's $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative. As a result, New York taxpayers have probably lost out on some $700 million in federal education funding, and the state has missed a golden opportunity to improve the educational prospects of its neediest schoolchildren.

When the Obama administration announced the criteria for its Race to the Top grants competition last summer, it seemed that the education-reform movement had reached a tipping point. Here was a Democratic administration backing cutting-edge reforms like rigorous academic standards, data-driven instruction, performance pay for teachers, and the takeover of struggling schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made it clear that states that inhibited the growth of charter schools or prohibited the use of students' test scores when evaluating teachers would be deemed ineligible for Race to the Top grants.

Most states responded by embracing the tenets of Race to the Top. Tennessee, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and Massachusetts passed charter-friendly laws that lifted caps on the number of charters and allowed public money to be used for their construction. California, Indiana, and Wisconsin scrapped laws that barred the use of student test scores in teacher assessments. Just two states still have such data firewalls: Nevada and New York.

And late last year, it looked as though New York would join the wave of Race to the Top–inspired reform sweeping the country. In December, Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, and David Steiner, the state's education commissioner, proposed a broad framework for Race to the Top reforms. Then Governor David Paterson initiated the legislative action needed to put those reforms into place. Paterson's proposed bill would have eliminated the state's cap on charter schools, presently set at 200; let the state finance charter-school capital funding; encouraged the Board of Regents to take control of persistently low-performing schools; and immediately rescinded the law, already set to expire on July 1, that prohibits using student performance as a criterion for evaluating teachers before they receive lifetime tenure.

Just days before the January 19 Race to the Top application deadline, however, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, doing the bidding of the state's powerful teachers' unions, submitted what must be one of the most cynical pieces of legislation in Albany's long history of deceitful and corrupt politics. Silver's bill, which mirrored proposals put forth earlier in the month by the New York State United Teachers and New York City's United Federation of Teachers, would have raised the charter cap from 200 to 400. But several "poison pills" inserted into the legislation would effectively kill the state's charter schools. The bill would have imposed some half a dozen onerous new restrictions on charter schools, including making it nearly impossible for them to share buildings with traditional public schools, as two-thirds of New York City's charters do now. It would also have removed the power to grant charters from the New York City schools chancellor and the board of trustees of the State University of New York—which together granted 29 of last year's 31 charters—and instead given controlling authority to approve any future charters to the Board of Regents, whose members are appointed by the Legislature. And the bill would have subjected charters to a restrictive new request-for-proposals process that predetermined the schools' size and location. "This bill, masquerading as a charter cap lift, instead would have shackled chartering beyond recognition," said Peter Murphy of the New York Charter Schools Association. "The teachers' unions narrowly missed terminating charters, practically speaking."

The state senate's majority conference leader, John Sampson, introduced identical legislation there, and it looked as though this fraud of an education-reform bill might pass until two Democratic senators, Craig Johnson from Long Island and Ruben Diaz, Sr. from the Bronx, joined Senate Republicans led by Dean Skelos and blocked the bill from coming to the floor for a vote. In the end, Albany's dysfunction prevailed and nothing was done. So while New York was among the 40 states to submit Race to the Top applications by the deadline this past Tuesday (another round of funding will take place later this year), it's doubtful that the state will receive any funding. Indeed, it shouldn't, if Race to the Top is to live up to its name.

While it's clear that the teachers' unions fear competition from the mostly nonunionized charters, it was stunning nonetheless to see such a brazen power play—especially since New York's charters are unquestionably succeeding. A recent study by Stanford economist Carolyn Hoxby revealed that students in New York City's charter schools outperformed their traditional public school counterparts by substantial margins. Indeed, charter schools like KIPP and Harlem Success outperform public schools in New York's toniest suburbs. Tens of thousands of students are on waiting lists to enter the city's 99 charters. Little relief is in sight for them, since this fall, the state and city will hit the Legislature's cap of 200 charter schools.

New York's Race to the Top debacle highlights a growing divide within the Democratic Party. On one side are anachronistic Tammany Hall–type pols like Silver, with their longtime obeisance to the reform-resistant teachers' unions. On the other is a growing cadre of Democrats—at the national and local levels—who are championing an aggressive education-reform agenda. Democratic assemblyman Sam Hoyt from Buffalo, for example, introduced a comprehensive education-reform bill in November that could have catapulted New York to the head of the Race to the Top competition.

How can New York recover from this embarrassing episode and join other states in adopting commonsense education reforms? Joe Williams, director of Democrats for Education Reform, believes that voters must start paying attention to which politicians are on the side of the teachers' unions and which are on the side of the children. As he puts it: "Right now, the only people holding elected officials accountable on education are the teachers' unions—and the teachers' unions are driving public education into the ground." It's time for New Yorkers to get angry and start holding officials accountable for obstructing real education reform.

Charles Sahm is a program officer at the Manhattan Institute.

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