Thursday, August 28, 2014

The ISO Versus Socialist Alternative

The ISO Versus Socialist Alternative

Sectarian Delusions on the American Left

Another International Socialist Organization Internal Bulletin has been leaked to the public over on the External Bulletin website, home to a group of former members. It contains an article written by long-time leader Todd Chretien that targets Socialist Alternative (SAlt)—the group that is rightfully proud of their comrade Kshama Sawant being elected to the Seattle City Council and for her role in the passing of a $15 minimum wage.
I have been partial to Chretien in the past because of his close ties to the late Peter Camejo, whose gubernatorial campaign in California he helped organize in 2003. I worked closely with Camejo in the early 80s and confess to having stolen all my best ideas from him.
The ISO’s chief criticism of Socialist Alternative’s electoral strategy is that it is “triumphalist”, a musty term from the Marxist lexicon. Specifically, Chretien regards SAlt’s call for a hundred independent candidates to run in the 2014-midterm elections as an “overblown perspective”. In his view, her victory did not necessarily mean that political conditions had ripened to the point where such a large number of candidates would be forthcoming. Such “triumphalism” might even be catching–to the point where ISO’ers would be seduced into believing that it was feasible to form a new “broad” party in the near term, or that regroupment of the far left was the order of the day. Heaven forefend.
The ISO is not the only group on the left that is wary about efforts on behalf of “broad” parties., the newspaper of a tiny sect that is hostile not only to SAlt but also to the ISO (and just about everyone else on the left as well), told its readers:
Socialist Alternative has called for a new coalition of like-minded groups, in alliance with the trade unions, to run 100 “independent” candidates in local elections next year. Their aim is to establish a political framework analogous to Syriza in Greece, the Left Party in Germany, and the New Anti-capitalist Party in France.
In tracking down SAlt’s call, it turns out to be more what we might call food for thought rather than a promissory note. From the Kshama Sawant website:
As a concrete step to get there, we should form coalitions throughout the country with the potential to come together on a national level to run 100 independent working-class candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections. The unions who supported the Moore and Sawant campaigns and many others should run full slates of independent working-class candidates in the mid-term, state, and local elections.
Chretien points out that the 100 independent candidates have not materialized, a sure sign of SAlt’s pie-in-the-sky tendencies. But was such a call anything more than what we used to call “propaganda” in the American SWP? (For some odd reason the ISO has studied the SWP for useful hints about party-building. In my view, this is like studying the Hindenburg or the Titanic for transportation ideas.)
Before it became a dirty word, propaganda meant raising an idea that could inspire people to take political action. For example, Lenin used to propagandize for a constituent assembly in Czarist Russia whether or not it was immediately on the agenda. I for one think that the call for a hundred independent candidates was not only right but also one that could be raised again in the next election cycle, to use the hackneyed term from CNN and MSNBC.
With respect to the Syriza question, it is not exactly clear that SAlt is so gung-ho on a broad party. In the most recent Greek elections their comrades ran their own campaign as a way of differentiating themselves from a party that they have characterized as “inadequate” and adhering to “watered down” demands. So, can breathe a sigh of relief.
Unlike the people behind WSWS, the ISO is at least verbally committed to the idea of a Syriza type formation in the USA. Just over a year ago their leader Ahmed Shawki gave a talk to an ISO conference that pointed in such a direction even if it ultimately led nowhere. One must conclude that both the ISO and SAlt are both capable of making unfulfilled projections. I urge that they be forgiven for such peccadillos.
Probably worried a bit about the smaller organization breathing down the ISO’s neck, Chretien calls attention to a SAlt article filled with the characteristic bravado of small propaganda groups convinced of their special role in the final showdown with capitalism. The article speaks of having picked up new members in 45 cities and projects the group doubling in size this year, mostly on account of Kshama Sawant’s high profile.
Like Hertz deriding Avis, Chretien dismisses all this as “irrational exuberance”, Yale economist Robert Schiller’s term for stock market and real estate bubbles. One can understand why he would be so skeptical. It was not so long ago that the ISO itself had the illusion of nonstop growth until it ran into the glass ceiling all such groups impose upon themselves with their ideological purity and their bogus notions of “democratic centralism”. If SAlt’s goal was to become a party of 1,000 members, history will record that it is certainly within reach. But in a country of nearly 300 million people, that is like spitting into the ocean. The sad reality is that it is only a broad left party that can begin to reach those millions, something that neither the ISO nor SAlt is ready to acknowledge except as an abstraction. In reality it would require dissolving themselves into a much larger movement and thus losing their precious individuality.
Let me turn now to the rather arcane matter of how the ISO distinguishes itself from SAlt in terms of their revolutionary bona fides, a topic that I am sure would make most CounterPunch readers’ eyes glaze over. I will do my best to make my account as lively as possible.
SAlt’s “irrational exuberance” was something they supposedly caught like a bad cold from their leadership in Britain, where the Committee for a Workers International is based. This latest attempt to build a Fourth International has the same tendency as every one in the past, going back to the days when Leon Trotsky was running the show. It revolves around the idea that a prerevolutionary situation exists and that it will be squandered unless Leninist parties are built in the nick of time. Chretien scoffs at the CWI’s claim that their South African section was in the vanguard of the working class given their tiny vote (0.05). We are led to believe that Socialist Alternative has the same delusions of grandeur.
Of course, such projections are essential for groups in the “Leninist” mold. How else would you persuade young people to give up so much of their time, energy and money unless they felt that socialism was on the near-term agenda? What tends to happen with such groups is burn-out as people reach their 30s or 40s and the cold, hard reality sinks in that capitalism stands before them like an immovable object when their small numbers are quite resistible. The only force capable of making a dent in that immovable object will have to accept people on their own terms. The largely Black and Latino NYC subway work force that is quite capable of bringing Wall Street to its knees by not reporting to work and that supported the Occupy movement is not likely to attend 3 meetings a week or fit in with a milieu largely made up of white kids who attended Columbia University and other top-drawer institutions.
Chretien also takes issue with CWI leader Peter Taaffe’s claim that a “rapid and peaceful socialist transformation” of society is possible, an obviously revisionist notion. No such illusions exist in the ideologically granite-hard ISO that would never make such errors. Instead of succumbing to parliamentary cretinism as they used to put it a century ago, the ISO has an “extra-parliamentary” orientation. What Chretien fails to mention is that Taaffe was not speaking about Fabian socialist gradualism but rather about one of the most “extra-parliamentary” struggles of the past 50 years, namely the May-June 1968 events in France when workers and students built barricades and seemed poised to take power. Taaffe wrote:
There is not only the sombre tragedy of Chile, but the brilliant example of France, when in May 1968 over 10 million workers participated in a magnificent general strike. The economy was paralysed and the state suspended in mid-air. When General de Gaulle fled in panic to the headquarters of the French forces in Germany, his commander-in-chief, General Massu, told him bluntly that it would be impossible for the army to intervene against the working class under those conditions. A rapid and peaceful socialist transformation of French society would have been entirely possible.
In other words, Taaffe was not talking up Norman Thomas but V.I. Lenin. A “rapid and peaceful socialist transformation” was possible in the same way that it was possible in October 1917. Bloodshed only came when Soviet Russia was invaded, after the relatively peaceful initial conquest of power. One hopes that Chretien can avoid quoting his adversaries out of context in the future. Such behavior does not reflect well on him.
Chretien complains about SAlt reneging on promises to work with the ISO on election campaigns: “It remains to be seen if SAlt can overcome its sectarian tendencies and learn how to genuinely collaborate with other forces on the left.” Who can say why (or even if) this haughty attitude was manifested? Similar complaints were raised about the ISO when their rivals approached them about endorsing Sawant’s first campaign for city council. My experience with these sorts of “he said, she said” disagreements is that both parties share blame. Since they are fighting for market share, there is an almost inevitable tendency to blame each other when an agreement can’t be reached like in a failed corporate merger.
Finally, Cretien draws a contrast between the ISO and the group that it can see gaining rapidly in its rear view mirror:
Our stated goal is no different from Socialist Alternative’s. We are “dedicated to the project of creating a revolutionary workers’ party as a part of a worldwide movement for socialism.” However we are going about this task in way that is different from SAlt’s approach. Our vision is not that the ISO will just become the revolutionary workers party when it reaches a certain size and we drop the “O” and add a “P.” The creation of real mass party of revolutionary workers will undoubtedly involve forces larger than us. Our work is in the creation and development of Marxist militants who are able be involved with those larger forces, movements and unions in order to weave the threads that will in the future pull sections of these forces into that thing that will be a party.
One of the things I have learned about the Leninist left over the years is that except for the nethermost reaches like or the Spartacist League, it is de rigueur to make disclaimers like it “will undoubtedly involve forces larger than us.” The problem is that we are not interested in what happens down the road. We are focused on 2014 when small left groups have a heavy responsibility for taking the next step to draw in larger forces. The ISO, like the Socialist Alternative, is an energetic, uncompromising, principled group that we can appreciate for its efforts. However, we are in a period of deepening class confrontation where everybody on the left will be sorely tested as to their ability to transcend artificial divisions that weaken us in the face of the enemy. The time to overcome such divisions is now, not in the distant future. In fact actions that we take today, or fail to take, will have an impact on the relationship of forces down the road. Unless we begin to move away from sectarianism today, our chances of success in the future will be compromised if not entirely thwarted. One hopes that both the ISO and Socialist Alternative can rise to the occasion.
Louis Proyect blogs at and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Indypendent: What's A Cop To Do?

Good cops, dedicated and skilled ones, learn how to look for signs of criminal behavior instead of profiling by race ...good policing requires judgment, being able to tell the difference between a black teenager in sneakers who’s running because he just snatched a purse and one who’s running because his mother said he had to be home for dinner by 6pm....a former Baltimore city cop and Maryland state trooper, told me in 2012. Police who are “serious about their craft” watch out for the body-language cues that indicate when someone’s carrying a gun or looking to break into parked cars. To search large numbers of people instead of patiently observing to see who the real bad guys are, he said, is both unconstitutional and lazy policing.
The left and left-liberals haven’t handled the issue well either. They’ve focused on the racism of police practices, mass incarceration and law-and-order politics while largely ignoring people’s legitimate fears. Leftists regularly call for abolishing the prison-industrial complex (or abolishing prisons entirely) without articulating a clear idea of how they’d deal with violent crime. That leaves the issue as rightwing property.... The Indypendent, What's A Cop To Do? Life After Eric Garner's Death, STEVEN WISHNIA, August 14, 2014 Issue # 199

See more at:
For a left-wing newspaper, I thought Steven Wishnia went outside the "usual left suspect" piece. Rarely do you see terms like "the craft of policing." And just like we know that the attacks by ed deformers on teachers are unfair by lumping them all in one bag, we might also be concerned about lumping all police in one bag.

They included a photo of Josmar Trujillo, who I know from my gym and from some of his struggles over his kids' charter school and leadership of stop and frisk activities in Rockaway. Josmar is one of the most articulate people I know and he has appeared on the WNYC Brian Lehrer show.

The article summarizes with some basic background:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Charter Cap Battle Looming in NY State

New York charter sector prepares for fight over limits

A rally in support of charter schools in Albany, March 2014. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)
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Barely six months after New York City's charter school movement seemingly secured its future with sweeping legislation in Albany, advocates are gearing up for a new battle in the upcoming legislative session to eliminate or increase the cap on the number of new charters that can be created.
Emboldened by their legislative successes last session, thank to help from Governor Andrew Cuomo, charter leaders and groups are in the early planning stages of launching a unified push to get the cap extended or eliminated as a line-item in this year's final budget. Sources said that meetings with legislators will likely begin later this fall  after the governor's race, and intensify throughout the winter.
New York City will likely have just 17 slots for new charter schools by this fall, assuming that the charter proposals currently under review are approved, as is widely expected.
Advocates say they're optimistic about their chances, which would all but guarantee rapid growth for the charter sector.



"Usually the conditions that lead to lifting a cap include long waitlists for charters, strong academic performance and many successful models that you want to replicate, support from political leaders and a strong, vocal advocacy infrastructure," said Nina Rees, the president and C.E.O. of the National Alliance for Charter Schools. "It is the right place to completely lift the cap," Rees said, adding her group, which has national influence, will help in the effort to extend the cap if local advocates ask.
Advocates are expecting more support from Cuomo, who took up the charter cause in a very public way this year by siding with Success Academy leader Eva Moskowitz and other charter leaders in a fight with the city, and muted opposition from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was on the losing side of that fight.
A spokeswoman for Cuomo referred Capital to a budget official, who noted that the statewide cap still allowed room for charter growth outside of New York City.
"The breaks start to go on now in terms of ability to plan new charters," said James Merriman, C.E.O. of the New York City Charter School Center. He also said that, as the cap quickly approaches, "the cap starts to look like the Berlin Wall. It's simply an artificial barrier."
Merriman believes New York City will have a strong case to make in removing its charter cap, which would ensure that the city's charters have both a dedicated funding stream for charter facilities and unlimited room to grow.
"It's fundamentally a crazy policy to put any limit on creating more successful public schools," he said.
New York City's charter cap was created under New York's original 1998 charter law allowing 200 schools statewide, and was extended by 114 schools during a 2010 fight in Albany over the cap. New York state and New York City have different caps; there are still 139 slots available for upstate charters.
Fresh off her victory in Albany against Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this year, Success Academy C.E.O. Eva Moskowitz is likely to emerge as one of the leaders of the charter cap push. Noting the shrinking cap, Moskowitz applied to open 14 new charter schools by 2016 with the remaining charter slots, which will nearly double the size of her charter network.
"[Moskowitz] is sitting on a goldmine, and would make a great advocate to make the case for lifting the cap," said Rees, whose group recently appointed Moskowitz to its "charter hall of fame." A spokeswoman for Moskowitz declined to comment.
Devora Kaye, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said "as we work to support all children and educators, we look forward to collaborating with all community stakeholders."
Opposition from the United Federation of Teachers and its affiliates is all but guaranteed, meaning a familiar series of rallies and counter-rallies will likely flood the Capitol in 2015.
"Given the charters' track record, the cap should be lowered," Michael Mulgrew, president of the U.F.T. said in a statement. "Raising the cap will drain more money from New York's traditional public schools, and the only ones to benefit will be a few people in the charter industry."
During the 2010 cap battle, union leaders and charter critics worked in more regulations on how many special needs students and English language learners charters would have to admit, by way of compromise. Charter advocates say more regulations in that vein will be likely to pass legislation this time around.
And while the 2010 charter cap fight was lengthy and contentious, the national picture is encouraging for the local charter sector, as many states have successfully eliminated their caps.  According to research from the National Alliance, the majority of states with unlimited charters originally had caps. Some states, like Colorado and Maine, have charter laws with sunset provisions that will eventually eradicate the caps the laws were passed along with. Others, like Iowa, Louisiana and Tennessee lifted their caps in order to be eligible to receive federal Race to the Top funding.

New Leaders, New Schools Scams - Another Ed Deform Crook

Susan Ohanian comments on a Jon Lender piece exposing Terrence Carter.

School Chief Candidate, Now In Trouble, Once Rode High On National School-Reform Tide

Ohanian Note: In a 2004 NPR interview New Leaders CEO Jonathan Schnur explained that if you can lead an Army unit in Iraq, you can turn around a failing school in New York City.

From September 2008 to June 2009, Jon Schnur,
Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of New Leaders for New Schools, was on leave from New Leaders for New Schools, serving as an advisor to Barack Obama's Presidential campaign, a member of the Presidential Transition Team, and a Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Terrence P. Carter's bio for the federally funded National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality not only indicated that he had a Ph.D. from Stanford, it mentioned post-doctoral work at the Wharton School of business and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

My favorite line was from the Nebraska-based "search" firm McPherson & Jacobson who recommended Carter. Among his accomplishments, they say:

Created a high school where students: Focus on hardocre STEAM skills.
So New London hired headhunters who don't know the difference between STEM and STEAM.

Jon Lender noted some of their other flaws.

When a publisher asks for a book blurb, they also ask how the individual wants to be identified. Take a look at the Carter blurb for Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement:
The Common Core State Standards are here and, as with any new initiative, there are the inevitable questions and concerns, debate and discontent. Pathways to the Common Core does not take sides; rather, the authors acknowledge the range of opinions swarming around the CCSS and wisely focus their energy on making sense of the standards. They provide a clear examination of what is and isn t stated and then invite us to seize this opportunity to reflect on our practice and to become co-constructors of the -- Terrence P. Carter, Ph.D., Curriculum & Instruction Department, Academy for Urban School Leadership, National Teachers Academy, Chicago
Carter is scheduled to receive a Ph.D. in August 2014. If they ever release his dissertation to the public, plenty of people will be looking for plagiarism.

by Jon Lender

Terrence P. Carter's chances of becoming New London's superintendent of schools seem remote, now that newspaper disclosures have sparked an investigation into whether he misrepresented his education credentials in past years and copied others' published writings in his 2014 job application.

But it wasn't so long ago that the onetime Chicago school principal was being hailed by school-reform advocates as a model for a national new wave of education administrators.

To fully understand the Carter episode, it helps to look at him in the context of a national battle over non-traditional school-reform efforts. The high praise that he received from influential voices in recent years sounds almost ironic now -- as New London's school board has its law firm conducting an investigation that could send him packing.

"Terrence Carter represents a new breed of principals who entered the profession from business through an excellent principal training program called New Leaders for New Schools. The program, which operates in Chicago and five other cities and is about to add two more, imposes higher expectations on principals," the Chicago Tribune said in an editorial Feb. 4, 2007.

Carter then was principal of Clara Barton Elementary School, in a poor Chicago neighborhood, after receiving training at New Leaders, a national non-profit school-reform group co-founded by Jonathan Schnur, a former Clinton White House staffer and Obama campaign adviser.

Carter's standing in the school-reform movement was such that in 2009 he accompanied Schnur to a presentation at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The topic was New Leaders' partnership with Chicago in the "turnaround" of several low-performing inner-city schools.

"New leaders like Terry" have made "dramatic gains" in student performance, Schnur said in a presentation that helped win an "Innovations in American Government" award from the Kennedy School's Ash Center for the New Leaders-Chicago schools initiative.

"Terry for example -- he didn't spend 15 years as an assistant principal, but he was a chief learning officer at a Fortune 500 company working with and managing adults, and a former teacher, and brought that blend of skills to bear," Schnur said in remarks still watchable on YouTube (

"We first understood that there were individual schools and classrooms ... where kids ... in poverty, kids of color, kids who'd been underserved educationally, were achieving high levels.... But there weren't many," Schnur said. "And in every one of those cases there was a principal [who] had . . . high expectations, who was a strong instructional leader, who could lead adults [and] engage the community."

'Lean On Me'

Carter fit that mold, according to Schnur.

Carter told the Harvard audience: "Those of you that have ever seen the movie 'Lean on Me,' [about] Joe Clark -- the school that I was assigned to was very much similar to that," he said. "It was a bastion of discipline and behavior problems [and] low performing test scores." Those scores turned around dramatically in three years, he said.

The Obama administration has been receptive to school-reform efforts by groups like New Leaders. Obama appointed his fellow Illinois native, Arne Duncan, as secretary of education after Duncan ran the Chicago schools, cooperating with school reformers and engineering oft-controversial school "turnaround" projects where "new breed" principals were inserted.

Chicago was an early battleground in what's become a national controversy between traditional educators and teacher unions, on one side, and, reform activists such as New Leaders and charter school operators on the other. That fight is playing out in Connecticut, where Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has appointed a charter school co-founder, Stefan Pryor, as a state education commissioner who supports turnaround efforts in low-performing schools.

Skeptics about such efforts in Connecticut see more in the Carter controversy than just one candidate whose credentials and character have been questioned.

"This is how the pro-privatization, big-philanthropy-funded networks and organizations tend to work. They pass their own people along and up, greasing rails and plumping resumes as they go. And the main criteria for 'success' often seems not to be real leadership characteristics, so much as willingness to be a good soldier when it comes to pushing forward a particular reform agenda," said Lauren Anderson, an assistant professor of education at Connecticut College in New London.

"Certainly, it should worry people when these are the same groups arguing for loosening licensure and deregulating educator preparation," Anderson said. "I mean, this candidate is someone that these groups vetted and held up as an exemplar, someone who has been on the receiving end of their 'coaching' and 'mentoring.' ... What's their explanation for how this all came to pass?"

Anderson spoke against Carter's hiring at a July 24 meeting in New London when the school board put off a scheduled vote to approve a contract for Carter -- and instead instructed its legal counsel, Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford, to look into newspaper disclosures including the fact that Carter had used the titles Dr. and Ph.D. for years without holding a degree from an accredited university.

Other newspaper revelations: he filed for bankruptcy twice; his application essay included long passages identical with other educators' writings on the Internet; a national research organization released a copy of a bio that it says Carter submitted in 2011 with the claim that he had a Ph.D. from Stanford University, which Stanford says he does not; and he got a Ph.D. in 1996 from "Lexington University" -- which doesn't have a campus and had a website offering degrees for several hundred dollars with the motto "Order Now, Graduate Today!"

Carter met in closed session with the school board on July 24, and said afterward that he did nothing wrong, never misrepresented his credentials to anyone now or in the past, and still wanted the job.

He has declined comment on specifics -- such as the claim to a Stanford Ph.D. in the bio that the American Institutes for Research said it received from him in advance of a scheduled 2011 speaking engagement. But his lawyer, William McCoy of New London, said in recent days that "we're prepared to cooperate" with the school board's investigators "whenever we're asked the questions."

The Honeymoon

Carter had been selected by the school board in June, with Pryor's endorsement, to begin running the troubled New London school system starting Aug. 1. At the time, he was the toast of New London and, in comments quoted by the Day newspaper, he invoked the name of Duncan, Obama's national education secretary.

The story noted that the Chicago-based Academy for Urban School Leadership -- the education-reform group he'd been working for since leaving his principal's job in 2010 -- had been praised by Duncan and Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama chief of staff who now is mayor of Chicago. Carter said in the story that back in Chicago a decade ago, Duncan, then running the Chicago schools, had handpicked him from the New Leaders training program for school administrators.

"He saw my presentation and said, 'I need this guy in Chicago,'" Carter said in the Day article.

Duncan's deputy press secretary declined a Courant request Thursday an interview with the national school chief or a statement about Carter.

Carter's current problems with newspaper stories started with a Courant report on July 18 about his repeated use of Dr. and Ph.D. with his name, and his unaccredited degree from Lexington. The Day on July 29 reported that parts of Carter's job application essay were identical with language in Internet articles.

The group New Leaders had posted a note congratulating Carter on its Facebook page in June, when his selection by New London was announced. It's been removed. "We did post a congratulations to Facebook to Terrence Carter on his potential appointment when that was originally reported in local press. Once it was reported in local press that Terrence's appointment was delayed, the message became inaccurate, and so was removed," Benjamin Fenton, the group's other co-founder, and chief strategy officer, said in an email Friday.

On the issue of licensure and certification, Fenton said that "all candidates who successfully complete the New Leaders program" -- including Carter -- "are fully certified to be principals in their respective states, and must meet all requirements without exception for principal certification as well as demonstrate all of the required competencies expected by the New Leaders program."

Schnur, the New Leaders co-founder and former CEO who spoke at Harvard with Carter in 2009, declined comment Thursday.

Meanwhile, Carter awaits the outcome of the New London inquiry, which is expected to wrap up in a couple of weeks to permit a final board decision within 30 days of the July 24 meeting.

Carter's lawyer, McCoy, was asked if he thinks his client has any prospect of ever signing a contract. "I think the difficulty at this point in time is whether or not he could successfully work in this atmosphere," he said. But he added that Carter is willing to negotiate "to get a resolution to this" and still wants the job.

Anderson, however, said: "I cannot imagine a situation in which this candidate now becomes the superintendent. And at this juncture, like a lot of people who care deeply about New London, I'm more concerned with the process -- how it went awry, what role the state played, and how the community moves forward from here."

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender. — Jon Lender
Hartford Courant


Monday, July 28, 2014

Francesca Gomes: Austerity Contract for NYC Teachers

Francesca Gomes teaches at a Brooklyn middle school. She will be a member of the new MORE steering committee beginning a 6-month term on August 1. She is a member of Socialist Alternative, which has run candidates in some municipal elections, most notably in Seattle where they elected an SA member to the City Council who spearheaded the highest minimum wage law in the nation.


Austerity Contract for NYC Teachers – More Attacks, More Need for Unified Fightback

Published On July 17, 2014 | By Francesca Gomes | Workers' Movement
by Francesca Gomes, New York City teacher

For the past dozen years, the American elite has pursued a relentless agenda of “education reform,” which has aimed to privatize large sections of the education system and drastically weaken the strength of the teacher unions. The recent negotiations for a new contract for 110,000 education workers in the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in New York City was an important opportunity to push back against these relentless attacks. But unfortunately this opportunity was missed when the leadership of the union came back from negotiations with a 9 year austerity contract, which a demoralized membership largely accepted. This setback has real negative consequences for the teachers’ unions nationally and for other municipal unions in New York City.

De Blasio’s “Tale of Two Cities” Rhetoric

New York City’s new Mayor Bill de Blasio ran under the banner of addressing inequality as he described New York as a “tale of two cities,” rife with inequalities in housing, early childhood education and police tactics” (“De Blasio Asks City to Address Its Inequalities,” By Michael Barbaro. New York Times 5 Aug 2013). Furthermore, he sold himself as a friend to the unions. Almost the entire municipal workforce of 350,000 were working under expired contracts while de Blasio’s predecessor Bloomberg, a notorious anti-union mayor, was in office.
Photo: Christie M Farriella / New York Daily News
Photo: Christie M Farriella / New York Daily News
De Blasio also promised a serious change in education policy from that of Bloomberg, who had been one of the top education “deformers” in the U.S. Bloomberg pretended he cared about the fate of working class and poor children. But the net result of his policies, as described succinctly in a recent New York Times headline, is that “Public Schools in New York City Are Poorer and More Crowded” (2 July 2014). In order to contrast himself with this image, De Blasio quickly appointed Carmen Fariña, a former teacher, principal, and district superintendent, as the Chancellor of the Department of Education (DoE). This looked to teachers, like a hopeful development, as Fariña promised to fight alongside de Blasio against high-stakes testing for universal pre-K, funded by taxing the wealthy, and for more arts programs in city public schools. De Blasio and Fariña said they were also against charter co-locations, and school closings.
However, a month after de Blasio’s inauguration, he “approved 36 charter schools to share space with other schools” (“Bill de Blasio Is Actually More Helpful To Charter Schools Than Some Republicans, Report Says” [The Huffington Post 7 Apr 2014]). Carmen Fariña, not surprisingly, did not utter a word of protest.

The Legacy of UFT President Michael Mulgrew

Like de Blasio, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and the UFT leadership’s dominant Unity Caucus has a poor history of fighting against the privatization represented by charter schools and the use of standardized testing in New York City. The UFT leadership has yet to attempt a mobilization of the membership against charter schools’ use of public school buildings, which usually results in the original public school becoming squeezed for resources and makes them more likely to do poorly on standardized tests.
And last year, the UFT leadership agreed to a deal with the DoE that uses standardized test score as 20% – 40% of a teacher’s annual evaluation – with the added caveat that if these test scores are deemed low enough to rate a teacher as “ineffective,” this trumps all other parts of the evaluation and the teacher automatically receives an “ineffective” rating – illogically proclaiming that this meant the new system took more power away from the subjective assessments of principals and was therefore a victory.

The Proud Sale of an Austerity Contract

From left: Mayor Bill de Blasio, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña (Photo: Rob Bennett / Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)
From left: Mayor Bill de Blasio, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña (Photo: Rob Bennett / Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)
As the UFT had gone longest out of all the key municipal labor unions in the city without a contract (the last expired in October of 2009), it was the first to engage in negotiations with the new mayor. On May 1st, the UFT leadership brought de Blasio’s first contract proposal to its membership. UFT President Michael Mulgrew crowed that the education issues were the time-consuming parts of the negotiations, but that the raises had been offered immediately, as soon as the mayor realized the UFT was “willing to be reasonable.”
The raises were deceptively described as “generous,” at 18%. However, there were quite a few issues. One was that the contract is 9-years long, which means that the raises will average 2% a year. This number does not even keep up with the headline rate of inflation, which is significantly less than the actual rise in the cost of living experienced by most working people in New York. In addition, whereas back pay is normally given in a lump sum upon contract ratification, Mulgrew and de Blasio insisted that this would bankrupt the city, as the money was not available in the labor reserve. No mention was made of the vast amounts of money spent on data analysis, payments to the Pearson test making company, and corporate consultants, all of which could be diverted into teacher salaries. The “no money” argument was used to support the back pay and raises owed for prior years being spread out over the course of 7 ½ years.
At a deeper level, the whole argument used to justify the lack of real wage increases (i.e. raises above the rate of inflation) which will now be used to justify similar deals with other city unions, rests on a giant lie. Tens of billions of dollars flowed into the coffers of Wall Street banks in the depths of the financial crisis while city services including education were cut to the bone. The number of teachers was allowed to shrink by several thousand even though there were no fewer children in the school system, leading to ever more crowded classrooms. Now, if finance and real estate profits are anything to go by, the city is experiencing a mini-boom. Even a minimal transaction tax on sales of stocks and shares in the city would be sufficient to reverse all the cuts to education and pay for real wage increases for all city workers.
The contract also includes several other measures eroding teacher rights. Teachers displaced from “failing” schools closed by the DoE , or ATRs, continue to be rotated, staying at each school for one week, but they are now subject to proceedings to strip them of their licenses and be terminated if two principals report that their behavior is in any way “problematic.” They will then undergo a one-day termination hearing. With the increase in support for charter schools, approved by the UFT leadership, more and more teachers will be displaced and subject to this dangerous, tenure-attacking system.
The UFT even agreed to include moves towards further privatization of schools, lauding a clause that creates 200 new “PROSE” schools, in which most union rules can be suspended, including those regarding the length of the school day and year. The teachers in these schools will be largely outside union jurisdiction, and there is a very real danger that if the students in these schools get higher standardized test scores, the proposal for the next contract will insist that things like tenure, a reasonable work day, and summer vacations are holding the city’s children back and should be eliminated.
In addition, a thinly disguised form of merit pay was introduced, allowing for up to $20,000 to be added to the salaries of teachers who take new “career ladder” positions, one of which is acting as a “peer validator,” a position that asks them to evaluate teachers rated “ineffective” by their principals. This will be even more divisive than other proposed merit pay schemes.
What is even more important is what was missing from the contract. Class size was not lowered, and instead of moving towards a reduction in standardized testing, the contract expressly confirms the use of standardized test results as 20% – 40% of a teacher’s rating, an astoundingly hypocritical proposal from a mayor, chancellor, and union president who passionately insist they are against so much standardized testing in schools. For all his talk of inequality, de Blasio presented teachers with a contract that measured them based on test results that are largely tied to levels of poverty in the neighborhoods they serve, effectively denying the fact that inequality in the distribution of New York City’s money and resources has any effect on the educational opportunities of our most vulnerable children.
In reality, a huge opportunity was missed to begin a push back against education reform in the biggest city in the U.S. Key to this agenda is “high stakes” testing, which has been used as a battering ram to close schools, open charter schools and tie teacher pay and evaluations to allegedly objective “performance”. Education reform backed by billionaires like Bill Gates and the Waltons (owners of Walmart) has strong support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Union leaders like Mulgrew said it would not be right to put too much pressure on “friends” like de Blasio. But the absolute opposite was true. For many reasons, de Blasio wanted to make a popular deal. If the membership had been mobilized to push for real measures to move away from high stakes testing as well as real wage increases, this could have resonated with the public and other city workers and forced de Blasio’s hand.

The Opt-Out Movement

IMG_1203-editSince the union leadership has utterly failed to take the lead in fighting high stakes testing, it has been left to a grassroots movement, led by parents and rank and file teachers, with the support of some school principals, to take action. Referred to as the “Opt-Out Movement,” it involves parents instructing their children to decline to take the test while sending them to school with a letter stating their refusal to allow their children to be subjected to three days of 90-minute tests in English and Math. Alternatively, some school staffs and principals have decided to refuse to administer the tests due to widespread opposition from parents. It is criminal that the union leadership has refused to come out and support this movement which could develop in the coming years into a serious challenge to education reform.

A Lack of Unity

IMG_1098-editWhile many teachers were able to see the contract for what it was, the only organized protest against it was mounted by the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). Though the effort made by this group was truly commendable, it currently has too small of a base to mount an effective attack or empower the teachers in a city with such a vast, sprawling geography and such a high number of schools. In most schools, only the rose-colored version of the contract promoted by the leadership and its Unity Caucus (which included outright lies) was heard. If all UFT members had properly heard both sides of the argument, the vote would have been much closer.
From the use of fear tactics by the current UFT leadership to its acceptance of charter schools and standardized testing, it has shown that it is entirely incapable of and has no intention of even attempting to stage a fightback against the erosion of teachers’ rights. Its “strategy” at the moment appears to boil down to the mantra “we must trust our friends”, de Blasio and Fariña. This led inevitably to the need to present the austerity contract as a victory.
It must also be said that part of the context for the 77% vote in favor of the contract was the extremely low expectations of a deeply demoralized membership, which also had little faith in the leadership to get something better if it was sent back to the bargaining table. An article on the MORE website entitled “Disappointment” states that: “Most of the members with whom we spoke who approved this contract only did so because they felt it was the best our union could do,” and this was a direct effect of the union leadership’s campaign to scare teachers into accepting the deal, insisting that “the money [would] go away” if it were not ratified.
Rebuilding the fighting confidence of the union rank and file is not a straightforward process. The recent winning of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle shows working people can win real victories when they mobilize at a grassroots level. Union members, however, are contending with a leadership that actively works to reinforce their fear and demoralization, while presenting themselves as the strength of the union, instead of mobilizing their membership to exercise its own strength.

Further Dangers for All NYC Workers

This contract does not only affect the New York City’s teachers. Due to the de facto system of pattern bargaining, which is what made the 4% raises for the first two years of the retroactive contract (as that is what other municipal labor unions were given), there will be the expectation that all other municipal labor unions negotiating a retroactive contract will be offered the same raises as the UFT (0% for 2011-12, then for each of the next school years: 0%, 1%, 1%, 1%, 1%) as part of pattern bargaining. It remains to be seen if other unions, like that of the NYPD, FDNY, and Department of Sanitation will accept this kind of austerity measure. Regardless, the ratification of this contract is disastrous for the system of pattern bargaining, which has been the one way in which New York City unions have shown a measure of solidarity with each other, threatening to turn worker against worker at the very time we should be unifying to form a true fightback. Already, New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation members of Chapter 1199 of the SEIU have been offered a contract with the same delayed implementation of raises, 1% raises for each of several years covered by the contract, and the threat of paying into healthcare down the road ( 25 June 2014).
The leaderships of municipal labor unions, not only in New York, but around the entire United States, put all of their faith in the Democratic Party, even after these politicians establish a pattern of consistently breaking promises and forcing austerity measures onto the working class of our cities, insisting that we need to “be realistic.” Because the memberships of these unions are constantly being told how much worse our situation could be, it is very difficult for most of us to envision how much better it could be if public sector workers showed real solidarity with each other at all times, realized our strength as the people who make cities run, and demanded real wage increases and the restoration of the massive cuts to social services that were designed to make working people pay for the crisis of capitalism. We must also start running our own working-class, independent political candidates for office if the municipal labor unions of New York City and the entire U.S. if we are to have a chance of pushing back against anti-worker, anti-union policies.
While the new teachers’ contract in New York City is a real setback, it is not the end of the struggle to defend public education or public sector trade unionism. Teachers, parents and students must unite to demand an end to high stakes testing and a massive investment in education to radically reduce class size. Further provocations from corporate America and its political minions like the new wave of lawsuits aimed at eliminating teacher tenure will inevitably provoke resistance. Furthermore, the struggles of other workers, including fast food workers and the fight for a $15 minimum wage, can lift the sights of demoralized sections of the unionized workforce and show them that the road of struggle and a split from the Democratic Party in favor of running workers’ candidates are the only ways to defend past gains and secure real gains in the future. Without this the very existence of public sector unionism in the form in which it has existed will be in jeopardy.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Forbes: Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City

Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City

On Thursday, July 25, dozens of bankers, hedge fund types and private equity investors gathered in New York to hear about the latest and greatest opportunities to collect a cut of your property taxes. Of course, the promotional material for the Capital Roundtable’s conference on “private equity investing in for-profit education companies” didn’t put it in such crass terms, but that’s what’s going on.
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  Parents of student...
(Getty Images via @daylife)
Charter schools are booming. “There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children,” according to Reuters.
Charters have a limited admissions policy, and the applications can be as complex as those at private schools. But the parents don’t pay tuition; support comes directly from the school district in which the charter is located.   They’re also lucrative, attracting players like the specialty real estate investment trust EPR Properties EPR -0.93% (EPR). Charter schools are in the firm’s $3 billion portfolio along with retail space and movie megaplexes.
Charter schools are frequently a way for politicians to reward their cronies. In Ohio, two firms operate 9% of the state’s charter schools and are collecting 38% of the state’s charter school funding increase this year. The operators of both firms donate generously to elected Republicans
The Arizona Republic found that charters “bought a variety of goods and services from the companies of board members or administrators, including textbooks, air conditioning repairs and transportation services.” Most charters were exempt from a requirement to seek competitive bids on contracts over $5,000
In Florida, the for-profit school industry flooded legislative candidates with $1.8 million in donations last year. “Most of the money,” reports The Miami Herald, “went to Republicans, whose support of charter schools, vouchers, online education and private colleges has put public education dollars in private-sector pockets.”
Among the big donors: the private equity firm Apollo Group APOL +1.09%, the outfit behind the for-profit University of Phoenix, which has experimented with online high schools. Apollo dropped $95,000 on Florida candidates and committees.
Lest you get the idea charter schools are a “Republican” thing, they’re also favored by big-city Democrats. This summer, 23 public schools closed for good in Philadelphia — about 10% of the total — to be replaced by charters. Charters have a history in Washington, D.C., going back to 1996.
And they were favored by Arne Duncan when he ran Chicago Public Schools. Today, he’s the U.S. secretary of education. In 2009, Duncan rolled out the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, doling out $4.4 billion in federal money to the states — but only to those states that lifted their caps on the number of charter schools.
Too bad the kids in charter schools don’t learn any better than those in plain-vanilla public schools. Stanford University crunched test data from 26 states. About a quarter of charters delivered better reading scores, but more than half produced no improvement, and 19% had worse results. In math, 29% of the charters delivered better math scores, while 40% showed no difference, and 31% fared worse.
Unimpressive, especially when you consider charter schools can pick and choose their students — weeding out autistic kids, for example, or those whose first language isn’t English. Charter schools in the District of Columbia are expelling students for discipline problems at 28 times the rate of the district’s traditional public schools — where those “problem kids” are destined to return.
Nor does the evidence show that charters spend taxpayers’ money more efficiently. Researchers from Michigan State and the University of Utah studied charters in Michigan, finding they spent $774 more per student on administration, and $1,140 less on instruction.
About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.
In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: Under the federal “New Markets Tax Credit” program that became law toward the end of the Clinton presidency, firms that invest in charters and other projects located in “underserved” areas can collect a generous tax credit — up to 39% — to offset their costs.
So attractive is the math, according to a 2010 article by Juan Gonzalez in the New York Daily News, “that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.”

It’s not only wealthy Americans making a killing on charter schools. So are foreigners, under a program critics call “green card via red carpet.”
“Wealthy individuals from as far away as China, Nigeria, Russia and Australia are spending tens of millions of dollars to build classrooms, libraries, basketball courts and science labs for American charter schools,” says a 2012 Reuters report.
The formal name of the program is EB-5, and it’s not only for charter schools. Foreigners who pony up $1 million in a wide variety of development projects — or as little as $500,000 in “targeted employment areas” — are entitled to buy immigration visas for themselves and family members.
“In the past two decades,” Reuters reports, “much of the investment has gone into commercial real estate projects, like luxury hotels, ski resorts and even gas stations. Lately, however, enterprising brokers have seen a golden opportunity to match cash-starved charter schools with cash-flush foreigners in investment deals that benefit both.”
So how can you, as a retail investor, grab a piece of this? How can you reclaim some of your property tax dollars from the fat cats?
As with many other instances of “extraction”… good luck.
Sure, you could buy shares of the aforementioned EPR Properties. Unfortunately, you’re buying strip malls and ski parks along with charter schools. It’s not a “pure play.”
The history of publicly traded charter school firms is limited and ugly. Edison Schools traded publicly from 1999-2003. During that period, it reported one profitable quarter. Shares reached nearly $40 in early 2001… only to crash to 14 cents.
“There’s a risk to taking education to Wall Street,” says Education Week — “one that helps explain why so few publicly traded companies cater to the educational needs of students in elementary, middle and high school.”
That risk is spotlighted by the only pure play currently trading on a U.S. exchange. In December 2007, just as the “Great Recession” got underway, K12 Inc. went public under the ticker symbol LRN.
It has proven, at best, a trading vehicle.
<span class=K12 Inc.” width=”495″ height=”343″ />
Share prices hit nearly a four-year low in December 2012 when The New York Times published an expose on a K12 online charter school venture. Nearly 60% of its students are below grade level in math, and 50% in reading. One-third don’t graduate on schedule.
The story also revealed CEO Ronald Packard collected a salary in 2011 — $5 million — nearly double that of the previous year. And that his bonus is linked not to student performance, but to enrollment.
It’s a lot easier to escape this sort of scrutiny if your charter school venture is privately held — or, in the case of EPR, mixed in with other ventures that have nothing to do with education.
Well, I tried.
“I spend a great deal of time, money and resources looking for new investment ideas that you, dear reader, can act on independently,” I wrote in my Apogee Advisory, early in 2012… “Sometimes what I find instead is outrage.”
For now, the big money in charter schools is confined to those on the inside.  In late 2010, Goldman Sachs announced it would lend $25 million to develop 16 charter schools in New York and New Jersey. The news release said the loans would be “credit-enhanced by funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.”  Of course.
Ed. Note: This essay originally appeared at The Daily Reckoning.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Chris Pavone's 'The Accident' fuses literary world, spy craft

Chris Pavone
The cover of "The Accident" and author Chris Pavone. (Crown; Nina Subin),0,2994005.story#ixzz2vIT3iKFL

No advice is more confusing to writers than "write what you know." Taken to its solipsistic extremes, it would mean novelists could not write characters outside of their own gender, race, geography or professional background. While the works of Susan Straight, Khaled Hosseini, Elizabeth George and others make clear the fallacy of that thinking, a writer's experiences and observations do play a significant role, along with research, in creating a believable universe for their characters and stories.
But what of the spy novel? Is special knowledge of spy craft, the inner workings of the CIA, MI6, CIA or Lakam essential in making such fiction credible?
Consider Chris Pavone. A few years ago, the longtime literary editor and ghostwriter moved to Luxembourg to care for his twin sons while his wife took a job in that country. There, Pavone's exposure to similarly uprooted women who knew little of their spouses' work led him to write "The Expats," which masquerades as the story of an expat wife and bored stay-at-home mom but is really a deviously plotted, Edgar-winning thriller that explores the boundaries of honesty, transparency and self-reinvention in marriage, life, and the shape-shifting world of international espionage.
Pavone has again mined his own life experience — this time in the publishing industry, where he worked for almost two decades — to write "The Accident." Told over the course of one fraught 24-hour period on two continents, the novel's heroine is New York literary agent Isabel Reed, battered by tragedy, divorce and being "just old enough to be congenitally uncomfortable with new technologies." Isabel has been up all night compulsively reading "The Accident," a manuscript that landed unsolicited in her in basket at Atlantic Talent Management.
The contents of the tell-all biography of a powerful media magnate, penned by Anonymous, are literary dynamite (for reasons not immediately made clear) and significant enough that Isabel's concerns are not just getting the book to the perfect acquiring editor but trying to figure out how to stay alive long enough to see it published. Before the reader can figure out exactly why, the novel cuts to Hayden Gray, refined cultural attaché and a Paris-based CIA operative introduced in "The Expats." Assisted by Kate Moore (another "Expats" alum), Hayden is surveilling a man in Copenhagen doing research on a book. Is this man "The Accident's" Anonymous, or a fact checker employed by the author? And why should the CIA care?
Pavone layers on further intrigue as he introduces, in successive short chapters, a cast of well-drawn players, all willing to betray one another and their own values at the drop of an eight-figure book deal. Among them: Alexis, Isabel's naively ambitious assistant, who recognizes in her boss a mentor and a launching pad; Jeff Fielder, a once-relevant fortysomething editor at McNally & Sons "who never met a conspiracy theory he didn't like"; Brad McNally, the pot-smoking publisher looking to bring in much-needed revenue to stave off a corporate takeover; and Anonymous, whose relationship to media baron Charlie Wolf provides him with unparalleled knowledge of the tragedy and subsequent dirty tricks at the heart of this too-hot-to-handle biography.
As flashbacks and excerpts from the manuscript are interspersed throughout the novel, readers will come to understand why the secrets that website billionaire Wolf (a self-satisfied mash-up of Arnon Milchan with Ted Turner) and the CIA are keeping would motivate Anonymous to go into hiding in Europe and Hayden Gray to authorize the off-the-books elimination of those even remotely connected to the manuscript. These gruesome events serve to ratchet up the tension for the reader and amplify Isabel, Jeff and Anonymous' desperate search for a way out of this seemingly lose-lose proposition.
"The Accident," like "The Expats," contains enough credible spy craft, dead bodies and incisive observation of the politics and perils of international espionage to pass muster with all but the most persnickety aficionados of the genre. And while Anonymous' identity will probably be obvious to the careful reader, it is Pavone's insights into myriad professional and personal betrayals that infuse "The Accident" with its vibrant core. That and his insider's knowledge of publishing shine, resulting in a novel rich in trenchant details about the motives and machinations of the book business — from genteel back-stabbing in literary agencies and publishing houses to the Pinot Grigio-and-dried-out Manchego book-launch parties.
New York is also knowingly limned here — the private Greenwich Village clubs with rooftop pools and posh midtown brownstones where Isabel seeks help from her well-heeled clients, the Hamptons in all its geographical one-upmanship, where the chase culminates in mayhem and a few surprises that set the stage, one hopes, for more intrigue down the road.
All told, "The Accident" is a propulsive A-train of a thrill ride and worthy successor to Pavone's debut, destined to make readers as compelled to turn its pages as Isabel and her colleagues are to publish the manuscript that spawned it.
Woods has written four mysteries in the Charlotte Justice series and edited several anthologies.

The Accident
A novel
Chris Pavone
Crown: 381 pp., $26

Thursday, March 06, 2014

vote NO on current Regents up for re-appointment

All parents should contact their legislators to vote NO on current Regents up for re-appointment who should be held accountable for their incompetence and refusal to listen to the view of parents and teachers; the vote will take place March 11.

Lawmakers unsure if they'll replace regent incumbents
Gary Stern, TJN 6:16 p.m. EST March 5, 2014

Says the Regents must be held accountable for the much-criticized rollout of the Common Core standards.

Despite widespread criticism of the state Board of Regents for driving the troubled Common Core rollout, it's far from clear that lawmakers will replace any of four incumbents seeking re-election on Tuesday.

Democratic legislators are trying to figure out whether there are enough votes between the Assembly and Senate to support any of close to 20 other candidates for the four seats. If not, the incumbents are likely to be given new five-year terms on the board, which sets education policy for New York.

"The question is which candidates can get enough votes," said Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Mount Pleasant, who has been harshly critical of the regents and the state Education Department. "This is not just a negative — a case of replacing people. We have to fill the seats."

Regents are elected by an unusual majority vote of the state Assembly and Senate, which traditionally receives little attention. This year, though, the process is being watched closely by parent groups and others because of the regents' aggressive reform agenda, which has created statewide controversy.

Assembly Democrats dominate the process because of their large numbers, with their leadership choosing the initial nominees. But Senate Democrats could play a key role this year in forming a coalition to support or oppose a candidate.
Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said Wednesday that she expects to vote against the four incumbents, even if it will be difficult to gather the votes to support other candidates.

"It's important to send a message that we're paying attention and understand the important role of the regents," she said. "The implementation of the Common Core has been so disastrous, and I understand the anger and frustration in our communities."

On Wednesday, Sens. George Latimer, D-Rye, Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Schenectady County, Terry Gipson, D-Rhinebeck, and Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, became among the first lawmakers to say they will vote against the incumbents because the regents must be held accountable.

"The incumbents are not bad people, but none were willing to fundamentally reassess the direction we are going in with respect to the Common Core," said Latimer, who attended hours of candidate interviews last month.
The four regents seeking re-election are Christine Cea, who represents Staten Island; James Jackson, who represents Albany; and two at-large members, James Cottrell of Brooklyn and Wade Norwood of Rochester. All four have been generally supportive of the reform agenda promoted by regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner John King.

No incumbent has been rejected in memory.
The challengers are mostly self-nominated candidates with a wide range of experience who drew mixed reviews from legislators. Among them is David Levin of Pomona, a high school math teacher in the Bronx.

Candidates will need the support of 107 legislators to be elected. Republican senators generally boycott the vote because of their lack of say in the process.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, a member of the Assembly Education Committee who has been very critical of the sweeping changes brought by the regents, said it is unclear who the Assembly leadership may nominate or whether there are enough votes to defeat the incumbents.

One key factor, she said, is that Cea and Jackson are supported by their local legislative delegations.

Paulin, who also attended hours of interviews, said there has been tremendous discussion among Assembly Democrats about how the voting process might go.
"This is a puzzle that hasn't come together yet," Paulin said. "You don't want to scapegoat these four regents, but they were part of the decision-making or ignored it. I'm trying to work with my colleagues to figure out what's best for our schools in the long run."
Twitter: @garysternNY

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Book Review - Chris Pavone: The Accident

'The Accident': book review

Chris Pavone's suspenseful thriller is set in the worlds of book publishing and global media; also reviewed: Anne Thompson's 'The $11 Billion Year,' Felix Martin's 'Money: The Unauthorized Biography' and Caeli Wolfson Widger's 'Real Happy Family'

Chris Pavone, author of “The Accident”

Chris Pavone follows up "The Expats" with “The Accident,” about a provocative and dangerous book manuscript.

  • Publisher: Crown
  • Genre: Fiction
“The Accident,” Chris Pavone’s followup novel to his debut best seller, “The Expats,” is a slick blend of suspense and savvy as a media overlord’s choke hold on the power establishment is threatened by, of all things, a manuscript.
Wolfe Media, ruled by Charlie Wolfe, ascended by breaking exposés on two dozen websites before consuming newspapers and television stations across the world. In the U.S., its cable channel is a loud, haranguing presence and a ratings triumph.
“The Accident” follows a literary agent as she tries to determine the veracity of an explosive manuscript that has landed on her desk.

“The Accident” follows a literary agent as she tries to determine the veracity of an explosive manuscript that has landed on her desk.

All of that is jeopardized by a manuscript that shows up on the desk of Isabel Reed, the “once-famous” literary agent at Atlantic Talent Management. Reed used to be known for the high-profile books she shepherded onto the best seller lists. But she’s getting older and, slowed by a personal tragedy, is falling behind the hot young things creating buzz in publishing.
Reed knows that what’s revealed is explosive. Wolfe, who has political ambitions, killed a woman in his youth and turned to his powerful father to hatch the coverup. As malignant is the disclosure of the CIA’s involvement in the company’s exposés. It seems Wolfe Media scoops may have been hand-delivered by the agency, the equivalent of a public execution for a targeted politician or businessman.

What the literary agent has reason to doubt is the veracity of the charges, particularly since the title page reads “The Accident by Anonymous.” The email address listed proves defunct. Reed is finally convinced when her assistant, who had a first look at the manuscript before she turned it over, is murdered.
Pavone’s marvelous setup is the prelude to an effective thriller that intercuts scenes from Anonymous’ life on the run, a rogue CIA officer’s pursuit with lethal intent, and Reed’s sometimes quavering efforts to protect the property on the way to publishing it. Also, her life is at stake since she can’t unknow what she has learned even if the manuscript “disappears.”

Read more:

The American Public School Under Siege

michael Brenner 
Senior Fellow, the Center for Transatlantic Relations; Professor of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh

The American Public School Under Siege

Posted: Updated:
A feature of the Obama presidency has been his campaign against the American public school system, eating way at the foundations of elementary education. That means the erosion of an institution that has been one of the keystones of the Republic. The project to remake it as a mixed public/private hybrid is inspired by a discredited dogma that charter schools perform better. This article of faith serves an alliance of interests -- ideological and commercial -- for whom the White House has been point man. A President whose tenure in office is best known for indecision, temporizing and vacillation has been relentless since day one in using the powers of his office to advance the cause. Such conviction and sustained dedication is observable in only one other area of public policy: the project to expand the powers and scope of the intelligence agencies that spy on, and monitor the behavior of persons and organizations at home as well as abroad.
The audacity of the project is matched by the passive deference that it is accorded. There is no organized opposition -- in civil society or politics. Only a few outgunned elements fight a rearguard action against a juggernaut that includes Republicans and Democrats, reactionaries and liberals -- from Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York to the nativist Christian Right of the Bible Belt. All of this without the national "conversation" otherwise so dear to the hearts of the Obama people, without corroboration of its key premises, without serious review of its consequences, without focused media attention.
This past week, as the deadline approached for states to make their submissions to Arne Duncan's Department of Education requesting monies appropriated under the Race to the Top initiative, we were reminded that the DOE has decreed that no proposal will be considered where the state government has put a cap on charter schools. In other words, the federal government has put its thumb heavily on the scales of local deliberations as to what approach toward charter schools best serves their communities' interests. Penalties are being imposed on those who choose to limit, in any quantitative way, the charter school movement.
This heavy-handed use of federal leverage by the Obama administration should not come as a surprise. After all, Obama himself has been a consistent, highly vocal advocate of "privatization." He has travelled the country from coast to coast, like Johnny Appleseed, sowing distrust of public schools and - especially - public school teachers. They have been blamed for what ails America - the young unprepared for the 21st century globalized economy; the shortage of engineers; high drop-out rates; school districts' financial woes, whatever.*
To hear Mr. Obama explain it, one would think that full employment in 2007 turned into the lowest rate of employment among working age adults in 40 years in 2013 because of America's teachers falling down on the job - the failure of public schools to prepare students for radical structural changes in the job market. He downplays the Wall Street/Fed created financial crisis or his administration's mishandling of the recovery effort. Nor does it have anything to do with downsizing, outsourcing, and the business world's discovery that productivity can rise by paying workers less and resorting to temps. As for the financial squeeze on school districts, this too was laid at the door of greedy teachers unions who resisted having their salaries cut or their contracted pensions slashed. They became scapegoats for a condition stemming from the protracted Great Recession and the austerity mania that his rhetoric and actions helped to promote.
Let us recall some highlights of this presidential campaign. In 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan castigated public school teachers in Rhode Island for going on strike to protest arbitrary changes in working conditions and wages while encouraging authorities to fire them if necessary. He "applauded" the move to fire every teacher at Central Falls High School (as reported in the Providence Journal). This is from an administration that never asked anyone to resign from AIG, Bank of America, CITI, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Fannie Mae or Sally Mae.
Similarly, in 2012-2013, Obama lent the tacit backing of the White House to Rahm Emanuel's strategy for busting the Chicago teachers union and for a mass closing of public schools. The follow-on 'charter' program has been cited as rife with corruption. Secretary Duncan has been given free rein to use the powers of his department to cajole and pressure states into the unqualified promotion of charter schools -- whatever the record shows about their mediocre record.
Duncan's office has been the moving force behind a concerted effort to conceal the reality of what charter schools have, and have not, accomplished. The truth is not very pretty. Overall, the performance of their students on standardized tests, and graduation rates, are marginally worse on than those of the country's public schools. The drop-out rate among minorities is actually higher.** This dismal record is despite the preferential treatment that charter schools' receive: subsidies above and beyond the budgets of counterpart public schools; the cherry-picking of students that excludes many of those with chronic learning and/or discipline problems and/or from non-English speaking families; etc.
Other results are more favorable - for investors. A number of start-up companies have jumped onto the charter school bandwagon with little experience in education and with their eyes fixed on the bottom line. They hire a disproportionately large percentage of young teachers who may be highly motivated but who lack the essential seasoning that makes for quality teaching. These youngsters of course are given lower salaries that veteran teachers would receive. This exploitation is encouraged by Arne Duncan who makes much of the opportunities thereby created to tap the market of unemployed recent college graduates. It supposedly is a good and virtuous thing that they may spend only a few years in the classroom before moving on to other career "experiences" - to be replaced by yet another batch of enthusiastic, underpaid novices. Several states, e.g. Texas, do not even require charter schools to hire certified teachers - easy come, easy go. Presumably, the senior teachers who are laid off as their public schools are shuttered are expected to retrain as greeters at COSTCO and Target. Their expectations of being solidly middle class then will be fulfilled by their children who avail themselves of Obama's shaky ladders of opportunity to acquire the skills needed to entrepreneur their own charter school companies.
Shouldn't we ponder this question: what reasonable, qualified, person would be inclined to pursue teaching as a career under these circumstances? In fact, the voluntary drop-out rate of school teachers is at historical highs. Nationally, 16% leave after the first year; approximately 45% leave within five years. This is significantly higher than the student fail rate. Of Florida's 2,280 public elementary and middle schools, only 17 scored an "F" on the FCAT. Of the state's 270 Charter elementary and middle schools, 15 flunked. In Ohio, in one year the state's school report card gave more than half of Ohio's 328 charter schools a D or an F. Many charter schools themselves fail under their own weight; 15% of those established since 1995 have gone bust. In Florida, which does no significant monitoring of charter schools, the failure rate is double that. 17 charter schools in Columbus closed in one year - 2013. Nine of the 17 schools that closed lasted only a few months this past fall. When they closed, more than 250 students had to find new schools. The state spent more than $1.6 million in taxpayer money to keep the nine schools open only from August through October or November.
Where are the students thereby abandoned shunted to - with what disruption in their
To round out this picture, the White House hypes opening pre-college education to the money and influence of business. President Obama in recent months has been touring the country to tout these partnerships wherein curriculum, teaching methods, and materials are designed in part by the businesses who may hire these vocationally trained graduates. Vocational training does have a long history in the United States at the secondary level and it is not entirely a bad thing; we need highly skilled machinists. What we do not need are students siphoned away from a liberal education to be molded into drones to serve the corporate machine. Can we trust business interests with the main responsibility for structuring, and partly financing such programs - at a time when austerity policies continue to cut back public spending and local school boards are under immense pressure to privatize?
The distressing truth of the matter is that, in most states, any group of guys able to present what looks like a "sound business plan" can obtain a certificate to set up a charter school. The most worrying phenomenon is the manipulation of charter school curriculum to serve the ideological interests of the groups that run them. In Texas, Indiana, Ohio and other states, "creationism" and related Bible based 'science' has replaced standard approaches. (Slate Jan 16) A Right- wing interpretation of American history that, among other things, casts the New Deal as the workings of "un-American" spirit in the land is becoming commonplace. The businessman's view as to government's role in regulation also is gaining authority and prominence. In short, the charter school way is entrenching the ideas and attitudes of a sectarian element in American society whose ascendance already has wrought enormous damage. That a Democratic president should be the agent of this transformation is a telling commentary on where this White House and those who back him to the bitter end have gone wrong.
Of all the institutions that made the United States into a coherent society, none made a greater contribution than our public schools. It was they that fashioned a loyal citizenry bound by a core of civic values and a collective identity -- regardless of creed, national origin, religion or political preference. It was they that molded a disparate population into a unified nation. That may not be the case in the future.

* The relatively poor performance of students in the United States on standardized tests compared to students in other developed countries is misleading. When allowance is made for those from non-English speaking homes and disadvantaged racial communities, American students score close to the top of the table. (Education Law Center)
**The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found in a 2009 report that 17% of charter schools outperformed their public school equivalents, while 37% of charter schools performed worse than regular local schools, and the rest were about the same.