Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Secret of His Success
Why does a billionaire think Steve Barr is worth $10.5 million?
By JUDITH LEWIS
Wednesday, December 6, 2006 - 5:00 pm
Steve Barr doesn’t know if the teachers union chief is a ''pig fucker.'' (Photos by Timothy Norris)
It is Friday afternoon, the day after billionaire Eli Broad’s foundation announced it would invest $10.5 million in Steve Barr’s grand experiment to remake public education in Los Angeles, and Barr, in blue Dodger cap and denim shirt, sits on the porch of his sylvan Silver Lake home to “take the rest of the day off.” He says this several times, as if to remind himself, and has the props to prove it: On a table in the shade of a towering redwood, an aromatic cigar burns to a stub in the ashtray, and an unfinished Corona turns warm in the sun.
Still, his blinking laptop periodically announces new mail, and his cell phone beeps alerts. A Christmas party for his group of charter schools begins in just a few hours, and a journalist whom Barr has agreed to meet wants answers to the question on so many minds: What has Barr done to deserve $10.5 million of Broad’s money, none of which will go to Los Angeles Unified School District?
Barr answers without the slightest phony impulse toward humility: “On graduation rates, on test scores, on teacher pay — on just about anything you associate with school reform — we have kicked the district’s butt. There’s nobody in America who has taken the same kind of kids in the same kinds of areas and the same dollars and narrowed the achievement gap like we have.
“Eli Broad doesn’t write a check if we are marginally better,” Barr concludes. “People don’t write editorials about us because we’re not successful.” In fact, he says, “The only reason anybody has to listen to my big mouth is because of our success. And if our success wanes, all the defenders of the status quo will celebrate.”
It’s been six years since the 47-year-old Barr launched his personal variant on the charter-school formula, Green Dot Public Schools, then lured 500 kids (and their supportive parents) away from nearby — and academically disastrous — Lennox High School in Boyle Heights. To the consternation of L.A. Unified officials, Barr created Animo Leadership Charter High School with the aim of showing what he could do with $1,200 less per student than L.A. Unified and most big-city districts in California spend. His goal was to accomplish what California schools have failed to achieve for nearly 30 years: turn functionally illiterate and grossly undereducated urban freshmen into literate, math-competent, college-ready graduates who can compete with the graduates of rich-kid Harvard-Westlake.
The “Animo” used in the title of his schools means everything from “spirit” to “desire” in Spanish. It also means “ ‘get off your ass’ in Spanish surfer speak,” says Barr. “So some of our kids now say they go to, for example, Get Off Your Ass Inglewood School.”
So far, early returns from his 10 schools show a graduation rate double that of LAUSD’s sad results. While the data is too new to be earth-shatteringly conclusive, he is nevertheless giving the keepers of public education’s keys cause to question the city’s own, staggering, 40 percent dropout rate among freshmen and sophomores.
His sometimes fast-and-loose rhetoric — and his claims that he will produce test scores in tough neighborhoods that rival the scores in middle-class Culver City and Santa Monica schools — has won him some prominent detractors. Chief among them is A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, who dismisses Barr as “a good salesman,” and complains that Green Dot charter schools drain state money from public schools.
Duffy has claimed that Barr selectively handpicks only four students out of every 10 in the neighborhoods where he opens a new school. That rankles Barr more than any other attack upon him, because, he says, he and the “20 bureaucrats who oversee 10 schools” work to ensure that the student body accurately reflects the student population in each neighborhood.
Barr greets Rosalyn Hardy and her husband.
“I don’t know what other charter schools do,” Barr says. “But when we did our first school in Boyle Heights, we went after every eighth-grade family that fed into Roosevelt High. I went to Father Greg [Boyle] and I said, ‘I’m going to have 140 slots for the founding of this school, for the freshman class of this school, and I’m going to give you 50 slots.’ ”
Boyle, according to Barr, doesn’t pick the top kids, but instead sends him the children with learning problems or obstacles: “They’re not the Phi Beta Kappas. They’re not the kids in the AP [Advanced Placement] program . . . The idea is you don’t want to be skimming off the cream; you want to have the same exact kids with the same exact issues as the [public] schools that you’re trying to reform. We really spent a lot of time on that. And for Duffy to not know our model and comment —”
So is Duffy’s fear off base that Barr might be creaming the top of the student population, selecting only the most capable? “It’s bullshit,” says Barr. “It’s like me saying, ‘Duffy’s a pig fucker.’ Have I seen him fuck a pig? Do I have photos? No. So I can’t say it. He should check these things out before he says them.”
Duffy stands by his words: “We know they have the ability to [skim the cream]. We just don’t have any way of verifying what they do.”
For all the colorful cussing, Barr’s triumph of personality is not that he makes people around him feel threatened — Duffy and other status quo types excluded. Rather, he makes people think he’s just like them.
Rosalyn Hardy, whose teenage sons, Brandon and Nicholas, attend Animo Inglewood and are gearing up for college, sees Barr as a father concerned that when his own 15-month-old daughter, Zofia, reaches high school, he’ll have to send her either to an expensive private school or to mediocre and troubled Marshall High School. Barr, asked one recent day to pose for a photo with Hardy at Green Dot’s holiday party at the Petersen Automotive Museum, does one better, opening his arms wide to hug the mother of two.
Teachers like Renee Klein, who joined Animo Venice after 25 years at Dorsey High School (“I never lost a student,” she says, “because they knew that I loved them”), see Barr as the lone bureaucrat who respects what “high-quality, professional” teachers know.
“When I heard about Steve Barr,” says Klein, “I thought, ‘This guy is like me.’ Everything he was saying was already in my head.”
Students know Barr as a once-horrible student raised by a single mother in a trailer home, but lucky enough to live in a neighborhood that fed into an excellent Silicon Valley public high school in the days when California’s schools ranked with the best in the country.
“We used to laugh at kids who went to private schools,” says Barr. A basketball player who knew how to work the system, Barr thrived in school. His younger brother did not thrive. “He was a pudgy kid, thick glasses,” Barr recalls. “He tried to join band, they gave him a tuba, and he just couldn’t fit in. He dropped out, got into drugs and crime, went into the Navy, where he barely learned to read.
“He’s one of the kids that [new LAUSD superintendent] Admiral [David] Brewer brags about having educated” during their military stints, Barr says.
Barr eventually became an influential political and community organizer, founding Rock the Vote and working on presidential campaigns. But his brother spiraled downward. In 1992, while in New Hampshire working on the Bill Clinton presidential campaign, Barr learned his little brother had died of a drug overdose. A year later, his mother died. Barr went into a “midlife, you know, what-the-fuck-happened” crisis.
“Part of my mending was to try to figure out what happened,” he says. “How does one kid from the same mother have so much and the other have so little? This was my way to honor him, to try and do what I could to fix the public schools.”
He took the name “Green Dot” from a Silicon Valley project he worked on, in which companies volunteered to wire local public schools for the Internet, tracking the completed projects with green dots on a map. “The idea was to turn a whole city into one big green dot,” he says.
Meanwhile, he stole his education model from well-regarded private schools: Raise teacher salaries, reduce class size and reshape the teachers’ union by replacing outmoded ideas like “tenure” with “just cause” — meaning teachers, currently nearly impossible to fire in public schools, can be fired if they don’t perform.
A lot of cash is flowing in to support his ideas, from foundations financed by Bill and Melinda Gates as well as Eli Broad. Broad’s $10.5 million gift this month will fund start-up costs of 10 new schools — a vote of confidence from the city’s reigning civic-minded billionaire. In time, Barr says, he hopes L.A. Unified School District and other struggling districts will imitate Green Dot, not merely sit by as Barr’s schools spread across a map of the city, creating one massive green swath. “That’s the idea,” he says.
Still, even with his new millions, he admits he faces considerable resistance, particularly from Duffy and others trying to protect the status quo.
Says Barr, in his classic no-nonsense style: “Where are these shitty teachers going to go? Where are these lifetime benefits going to go? What will happen to all of these groups protecting their interests and their jobs and their construction contracts? The political puzzle of this is really fascinating. But I have no doubt that within five years, you’re going to see our impact. And it’s going to be huge.”
From the Los Angeles Times
Green Dot plans a school in New York
The teachers union is to run the campus with the charter group, a setup rejected by United Teachers Los Angeles.
By Joel Rubin
Times Staff Writer
June 28, 2007
Green Dot Public Schools, the upstart charter operation that has aggravated Los Angeles school administrators and union officials alike with its early successes and expansionist plans, has entered into what it hopes will be a less strident relationship in New York City.
Green Dot founder Steve Barr and Randi Weingarten, president of the powerful New York City teachers union, have reached an unusual agreement to open a jointly run charter high school.
The two are scheduled to announce the collaboration in a news conference at the union's Manhattan offices today.
The United Federation of Teachers' willingness to enter into an alliance with Green Dot seems certain to put pressure on United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents the roughly 35,000 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although in recent months UTLA President A. J. Duffy has softened his caustic and dismissive attacks on Green Dot — and charters in general — he has repeatedly rejected the idea of a partnership with Green Dot.
Weingarten, in a telephone interview Wednesday, said she hoped the deal between the nation's largest teacher union and Green Dot would encourage Duffy to move in a similar direction.
"If you really actually believe in kids and believe in their success, those of us in education, we really shouldn't be in the sandbox fighting with each other. We should be … trying to figure out how to work together," Weingarten said.
Barr and Weingarten said the unusual collaboration should set an example, not only in Los Angeles, but elsewhere as well. Throughout the United States, charter schools are largely nonunion and, as such, have drawn the sharp ire of union leaders. Green Dot teachers, however, offer an exception, because they belong to a union, though not one representing educators in Los Angeles or New York.
Several weeks ago, Weingarten visited Green Dot schools in Los Angeles and met with Barr. The trip helped her decide to push ahead with the partnership, she said. Weingarten praised Green Dot's model, so far implemented only in the Los Angeles area, as one that has posted promising results while also giving teachers a considerable voice in making decisions on instruction and resources.
"When you go and see Green Dot schools, you see schools that really work for kids … in places where kids have not always been given the best chances in life," she said. "Teachers are treated as the professionals they ought to be, and they step up to act as those professionals as well."
Under the terms of the proposal, which requires approval by New York state education officials, Barr, Weingarten and several New York education and civic figures would sit on a board of directors that oversees the school. The South Bronx campus is expected to open in fall 2008 and will primarily serve Latino students from low-income families.
Weingarten and Barr said they expected the school to operate much like the 10 high schools Green Dot runs in the Los Angeles area.
Those schools are rooted in a set of basic tenets, including enrollment no greater than 500 students and a college-preparatory curriculum.
Although New York state regulations require that they wait until the charter is approved to work out details, Weingarten and Barr said they expect that the New York teachers will work under a labor agreement similar to the one Green Dot has with its teachers in Los Angeles.
Unlike the lengthy, proscriptive contract UTLA has negotiated with L.A. Unified that spells out a teacher's workday down to the minute and offers extensive job protections, Green Dot's contract is more straightforward. While giving teachers considerable authority and higher starting salaries, it calls for a "professional workday" and allows teachers to be fired for "just cause."
Conflict between UTLA and Green Dot has long been a barrier to serious discussions of partnership. Earlier in his first term as union president, faced with an explosion of charters in Los Angeles that ultimately drew hundreds of teachers away from district schools, Duffy hammered on the independent schools, questioning whether they produced better results and criticizing their labor practices.
As the largest — and most aggressive — charter group, Green Dot was a frequent target. Earlier this year, Duffy charged that the group "takes bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, idealistic people and works them to death."
On Wednesday, he dismissed the notion that an agreement between the New York teachers union and Green Dot had relevance to Los Angeles, saying that "the landscapes are very different." He emphasized that his criticism of charters has been driven, in part, by the frantic growth of charter schools here. New York City has considerably fewer of them.
Weingarten "is doing what she thinks is best for public education in New York City," Duffy said.
But the partnership announcement comes at a particularly delicate time for him. As he prepares to mount a reelection bid, Duffy is under pressure to assuage rising discontent among teachers chafing at the slow pace of district improvements at middle and high schools.
Last month, that frustration spilled over when a core of tenured teachers at Locke High School voiced support for Green Dot's plan to take over the South Los Angeles campus and convert it into several small charters. Since then, teachers from more than a dozen other L.A. Unified schools have contacted Green Dot to discuss similar actions, Barr has said.
Duffy readily concedes that, against this backdrop, he has struck a decidedly less confrontational tone on charters, now saying he would be willing to negotiate with Green Dot if two-thirds of the teachers at a school called on him to do so.
"I am listening and responding to the needs of my members," he said.
Union to Help Charter Firm Start School in the Bronx
Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school operator from Los Angeles, is seeking to expand into New York with the cooperation of the teachers’ union.
Under the proposal, Green Dot, which is heavily financed by the billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, would open a high school in the South Bronx. The school, which must be approved by the state, would become one of only a handful of charter schools in the city to use a union contract.
The cooperation of the union, the United Federation of Teachers, is unusual. It has been lukewarm toward charter schools, many of which actively oppose unions. The schools are publicly financed but are largely free from the control of local school districts.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, said yesterday that she approached Steve Barr, the founder of Green Dot, to open the school because he favors working with unions.
“We have never been against increasing charters, but we were against the anti-union animus in some charter schools,” Ms. Weingarten said. The union already runs two charter schools in Brooklyn.
The plan calls for all teachers to be part of the union, but their contract would be simpler than the citywide contract. The union and Green Dot have already reached agreement on the general terms and structure of their contract.
Rather than dictating the number of hours and minutes teachers must spend at the schools, it would just call for a “professional workday,” they said. The contract could also eliminate tenure, but would set guidelines for when a teacher can be dismissed. Many charter schools can dismiss teachers at will.
Mr. Barr, who has sparred in recent months with school officials in Los Angeles over his aggressive plans for expansion of schools, said that he had turned down offers before to expand beyond California and that he had responded only because it was the union that had approached him.
“If it were the mayor or the chancellor, I probably would have said no,” he said in an interview yesterday. “But to say that we are doing reform with the largest union is something very different. We can prove the unions and reformers work together.”
June 28, 2007
The Beginning With Children Charter School, housed in a former factory in Brooklyn, landed on the state’s list of high-performing schools this year, thanks to rising English and math test scores among black and Hispanic students.
But its founders and wealthy patrons, Joseph H. and Carol F. Reich, who have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the school, think it could be better. “It’s above average,” said Mr. Reich, 72, “but considering the effort and the capability and the resources, we don’t feel we’re getting the best we can.”
So last month, the couple — threatening to cut ties, including financial support — forced most of the school’s trustees to resign in a push for wide management changes, and better student achievement.
The move caused an uproar among parents and teachers who said they would be left with no formal say at the school. “My voice is going to be lost,” said Shakema Daise, the mother of a first grader.
The clash has exposed fault lines of wealth and class that are perhaps inevitable as philanthropists, in New York and nationwide, increasingly invest in public education, providing new schools to children in poor neighborhoods while making communities dependent on their generosity.
And for those lucky to have such benefactors, the situation raises core questions: Who ultimately controls charter schools, which are financed by taxpayers but often rely heavily on charitable donations? Do the schools, which operate outside the control of the local school district, answer to parents, or to their wealthy founders?
At Beginning With Children, many parents and teachers say that the Reichs’ main interest is to burnish their reputation as advocates for charter schools, and that the school’s original purpose, of catering to each child’s individual needs, is now secondary to drilling for exams in an effort to elevate scores and the Reichs’ credibility.
The Reichs support not just Beginning With Children, and a second school they founded in Brooklyn, but charter schools generally. They gave $10 million to help create the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence, a nonprofit group dedicated to opening 50 more of the schools.
“Joe and Carol Reich started the school for whatever reasons initially,” said Gail Sims Bliss, a teacher and former trustee who resigned reluctantly. “But it has grown into their participation in the charter movement with a capital M.” She added, “They cannot allow the school to compromise their status and their progress in this particular movement.”
In an interview, Mr. and Mrs. Reich said they were committed to their original promise of providing children with an education that would lead to success in college and in life. “We promised to build them a model education program that would lay the groundwork for their future,” said Mr. Reich, a retired investment banker. “This didn’t come from nowhere. We were really worried that the school wasn’t delivering.”
The Reichs are not alone in directing their charity to schools. The Walton, Broad and Gates foundations, all founded by billionaires, support charter schools nationwide.
Andre Agassi, the retired tennis great, opened a charter school named after him in Las Vegas. The former N.B.A. star, Kevin Johnson, started two charter schools in Sacramento. The billionaire corporate raider, Carl C. Icahn, has a charter school named for him in the Bronx. And Courtney Sales Ross, the multimillionaire widow of a Time Warner executive, has the Ross Global Academy Charter School, housed in the basement of the city’s Education Department headquarters.
Nor are the Reichs the only ones facing difficulties. The Ross Global Academy is on its fourth principal in less than a year.
Frederick M. Hess, an expert on philanthropy in education, said there would be more disputes like the one in Brooklyn as high-profile donors invest their reputations in schools and face “the enormous kind of name-brand question.”
“When those schools disappoint them, when there are disputes or divergence regarding institutional mission,” asked Mr. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, “how are they going to negotiate this relationship?” He added, “What we are seeing is really just the front end of what is going to be a fascinating dynamic.”
In educational philanthropy, the Reichs were pioneers. They fought for years to get the city’s Board of Education to let them open the Beginning With Children school in 1992 in an impoverished section of Williamsburg, before charter schools became a national trend and at a time when private donors were generally reluctant to write checks to public school systems. The school converted to charter status in 2001.
They fought through bureaucratic tangles to get the system to accept a virtually free building, a former Pfizer pharmaceutical factory, which the school now occupies for $1 a year.
The school has done well, though far from stellar. This year, 69 percent of students in Grades 3 to 8 scored at or above grade level on the state English exam, compared with the 56 percent citywide average. And 77 percent of students scored at or above grade level on the math exam, compared with 65 percent citywide. The state reauthorized the school’s charter last year, giving it a full five-year renewal.
But the Reichs are not satisfied and said the school’s trustees were an obstacle. Charter schools get taxpayer funding, but are run independently from local school districts under terms set out in their state-approved charters.
The 14-member Beginning With Children board included appointees from the Reichs’ foundation, which helps finance the school; parents; teachers; the principal; and community representatives. The board chairman, John Day, is a former Pfizer executive.
The Reichs said the problem was that the board was “constituency-based” and that they wanted members with practical skills like fund-raising or public relations instead. To get the changes, they threatened in a strongly worded letter to cut off their support unless all but three of the board members resigned. Among those told to quit were five parent and faculty representatives.
At a board meeting last month, parents lashed out at the Reichs, angrily describing their relationship as that of master and servant or landlord and tenant.
One parent said the threat to cut ties was “a gun pointed at the head of every child in this facility.” In recent years, the school has faced annual budget gaps of up to $635,000 that were filled by the Reichs’ foundation, and parents said they feared that the school would close without the Reichs’ help.
Mrs. Reich, 71, said of the letter: “It was not a blunt threat. It was a choice. You can go the way you are going or you can restructure yourselves.”
Many parents and teachers said they agreed that the board did not function well. But they also said there were disagreements with the Reichs over issues like how much to focus on standardized testing. And they accused the Reichs of meddling in areas like teacher hiring and the choice of a reading program.
“The emphasis on testing means the school is moving away from its original mission,” said Karl Klingbeil, a parent. “They just got tired of listening to us talk about curriculum and pedagogy.”
The Reichs said they did not want to squabble over such points, noting that the principal runs the school and that they themselves are not voting trustees. They said they had proposed creating a faculty senate and parent council to give input to the new trustees.
The city school system has stood at the sidelines. Garth Harries, who oversees charter schools for the Education Department, said they were intended to operate with wide autonomy. “We’re confident in this case, with Joe and Carol,” he said, “You are dealing with folks who have the interests of the school and the kids in mind.”
The three remaining board members at Beginning With Children have enlisted a consultant to help identify new trustees, and the Reichs said they were moving aggressively to set things right. “This was our school, it’s our dream, it’s our vision,” Mr. Reich said. “We are going to fight to make this school the best school it can be for this community.”
Friday, June 15, 2007
Scratch the surface of this sort of 'advocacy" and I think you will see it is more parent and student bashing than teacher advocacy.
Ravitch never met a teacher who wasn't totally dedicated? Obviously she never attended a New York City public school nor has she ever worked in one as a teacher - yet she is the national expert on education! If you like your pity party heavily laden with maudlin syrupy nonsense then lap it up. Sort of pathetic when so called educators rally round and cheer someone who is tickling them under the chin. Displace real advocacy with phony advocacy.
Ravitch fashions herself a defender of the old guard educrats against the new corporatist ones. Seems like both NYU and the Sun have been left out of the feeding frenzy by Tweed. Why is TC getting all the goodies? What is there to cheer about between a rock and a hard place?
Pitting teachers against parents and students is an old fashioned white supremacist ploy employed by Shanker during the 1968 strike; during his collaboration with the fiscal crisis austerity regime in the 70's; and during the early 80's as he rose to be a national spokesperson in opposition to affirmative action in the Bakke case. In each case phony advocacy was offered in place of real advocacy. White racial privileges were defended. Justice and solidarity were repudiated.
At all costs what must be prevented from the Oligarchy's standpoint is close collaboration between teachers and parents in a politcally self conscious and independent way. How?
Keep the educators pitted against the parents and students and ensure social control through divide and conquer. As a strategy, kowtowing to such a false idol as white racial privilege has not and never will be a deliverance for teachers . 'Divide and conquer' has allowed UFT Inc to harvest dues from a captive bargaining unit and fatten at the public trough along with the educrats in academia and in business for themselves. Our own so called union has been the witting agent of such a self defeating proposition and opposition after oppositon has been unable to create an explicitly pro equality alternative.
Those of us outside the perks and privileges of the UFT machine have been played, left with increasing education costs , years of low pay and lousy working condtions. Yes it is frustrating but what is most sad is to see teachers, white teachers in particular, cheer parent and student bashing as a perverse form of teacher advocacy. It is growing, fueled in part by the whitening of the pedagogical staff that has gone on under Mayoral control unchallenged and unreported in the white media, the NY Teacher or in opposition literature. Stand up and speak out against this or at least have enough sense not to cheer at your own funeral!
Guess who was Shanker's principal defender and apologist among the Ed school academics after the '68 debacle? Ms Ravitch herself. Almost 40 years later here she is still tooting the same party line of the shankerites, as if teachers could ever advance their own fortunes through parent/teacher bashing.
Ravitch's career rise paralleled that of the Shankerites at the expense of parents, teachers and students, leaving what was left of a progressive political tradition in this city in tatters. Back then they were neo liberals and neo conservatives of today in vitro. Viewing their trajectory over the ensuing years should be sufficient cause to repudiate such leadership root and branch. Instead of cheering for these dinosaurs, we should be ushering them off the stage, showing them the door as we find our own voices and build solidarity!
This article can be found on the web at
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070618/alterman the liberal media by Eric Alterman
[from the June 18, 2007 issue]
The conservative New York Sun announces on its front page each morning that it reaches "150,000 of New York City's Most Influential Readers Every Day." I read in Scott Sherman's sympathetic April 30 profile in this magazine that the Sun says it is selling 13,211 hard copies a day and giving away more than 85,000.
But if my experience is any guide, these numbers are about as reliable as a Bush budget briefing. I have twice received free Sun subscription offers, initially when the Sun began publication, in the spring of 2002, and more recently this past winter. Both times I signed up. In 2002 I got bupkes, though I called about it more than once. Between January 1 and Memorial Day, I not only hassled the circulation people myself; so did my intern, Mike, many times over five months. Over and over, the Sun's staffers insisted that I was getting the paper and just didn't know it. Eventually about eight copies showed up one morning addressed to different apartments in my building. That lasted a day. (Ironically, one more showed up Tuesday morning, May 29, as this column was due.)
I have similar reservations about the paper's purported sales figures, however meager. I did no sleuthing myself, but not only is this a business rampant with fraud, it's also characterized by more shady-but-legal tricks of the trade than a border-based bordello. According to William Breen, for instance, who says he worked for a New York City wholesaler (and wrote a 2004 letter to Jim Romenesko's blog, MediaNews), city news dealers paid just a penny per copy. That means it makes no economic sense to return the leftovers. The result, Breen claimed, was "their circ figures look great. Virtually every copy they print is 'sold.'"
The Sun is supported by many famously savvy and unsentimental investors, including Richard Gilder, Roger Hertog, Michael Steinhardt, Bruce Kovner and Thomas Tisch (though its most prominent one, Conrad Black, is now on trial for myriad varieties of fraud). I'm sure one of them would be smart enough to explain why it's so hard to actually obtain one of their newspapers, but during the Sun's high-profile 2002 launch, none was able to offer a convincing commercial rationale for creating a conservative highbrow newspaper in a liberal city that already had two highbrow papers and at least two conservative ones (depending on how you measure these things).
When its guiding spirit, Seth Lipsky, tried to explain the paper's raison d'être to Sherman, he found himself not only ignoring Rupert Murdoch's New York Post--which may be understandable, given its addiction to sleaze--but also the Wall Street Journal, which, while published in New York City, with an enormous New York-based staff and readership, Lipsky says is something other than a New York newspaper. Lipsky was also compelled to place the prowar Daily News, whose extremely involved owner-editor, Mortimer Zuckerman, is one of America's most prominent supporters of the Israeli government and voted for George W. Bush in 2004, on the left side of the spectrum.
Given such contortions, it should surprise no one that so much of the Sun appears to exist only in its owners' and editors' neoconservative imaginations. Indeed, its investors--together with Lipsky, a refugee from Bob Bartley's Wall Street Journal editorial page, and the founder of the English-language version of the Jewish Forward--appear to have little interest in publishing a newspaper in the traditional sense. Back in 2002, Daily News editor in chief Ed Kosner called the Sun "an intellectual vanity publication" with "a very small niche, the niche of weekly and monthly journals." But Dissent could run for a hundred years on what these machers are paying for the Sun. Why go to the enormous trouble and expense of publishing a multimillion-dollar daily newspaper that (apparently) reaches next to no one, at a moment when investors are eagerly shedding their newspaper holdings and privately owned papers are just as eagerly shedding staffers? The answer, obviously, has nothing to do with profits or even readers; advertisers are not stupid enough to put their faith (and money) into imaginary circulation figures. But journalists are. And there's the rub.
Lipsky quotes his mentor Bartley that it requires "seventy-five editorials to get a law passed." It's not clear whether those editorials require actual readers who care what they say. In the case of the Sun, which mimics Murdoch's technique of blending editorials and news coverage in the same story, the intent is less to pass legislation than create tsuris for people and places of which it disapproves. Sherman aptly described the paper's primary function as that of "a journalistic SWAT team against individuals and institutions seen as hostile to Israel." During its first five years, these have included the Ford Foundation, which it accused of aiding Palestinian terrorism; Columbia University, accused of creating an atmosphere unfriendly to Jews; Kofi Annan's office at the UN, accused of rampant corruption; and Harvard University's Kennedy School, publisher of the famous Walt-Mearsheimer paper, likened to a David Duke neo-Nazi screed. It matters little that few sensible people would concur with the Sun's wild charges. (This is, after all, a paper whose editorial board thinks Dick Cheney should run for President in 2008.) What matters is the political value to the neoconservative agenda of creating the appearance of smoke, regardless of whether it's connected to fire.
But I don't want to harp on the Jewish-media-moguls-supporting-Israel angle, which hews a little too close to traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes for my taste. While it may explain the Sun's rise, it obscures the more salient fact that countless conservative propaganda factories are supported in America by literally billions in ideological investment. Their success in swaying gullible reporters in the MSM and elsewhere accounts, in significant measure, for the widespread misperception that the public has moved rightward in recent decades. (The past four decades of public opinion polling show exactly the opposite: The public has moved leftward as the political system has moved rightward.) The beauty of this operation is that all this can be accomplished--as the Sun demonstrates--without the participation of any actual readers.
This article can be found on the web at
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070430/sherman Sun-rise in New York
by SCOTT SHERMAN
[from the April 30, 2007 issue]
One of the more damaging articles concerning the United Nations Oil for Food scandal appeared in a New York newspaper on November 26, 2004, under the byline of Claudia Rosett. In that article Rosett revealed that Kojo Annan, the son of the UN Secretary General, had remained on the payroll of the Swiss firm Cotecna, which had a UN contract in Iraq, for years after he had supposedly ended his relationship with the company. The piece had an instant ripple effect: Three days later William Safire devoted his New York Times column to Rosett's revelations and demanded that Kofi Annan resign from his post. Senator Norm Coleman, whose subcommittee was then investigating the Oil for Food program, joined the chorus two days later in the Wall Street Journal with a piece titled "Kofi Annan Must Go," a piece that also cited Rosett's reporting.
Rosett's article did not appear in the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal or the Daily News--all of which are routinely scathing about the UN--but in the New York Sun, a pugnacious conservative daily that sprang up in lower Manhattan a few months after the attacks of September 11.
When the Sun was born in 2002, media soothsayers predicted that it would never find a permanent place in New York's brutally competitive newspaper market and that the hearse would arrive within two years. But the Sun is still here, and on April 16 it will mark its fifth anniversary. Although it is funded by a coterie of wealthy individuals, published on a shoestring and edited by a tenacious journalist, Seth Lipsky, the paper is not a financial success: Last year Lipsky told journalism students at Columbia that the Sun lost $1 million a month. But those losses amount to pocket change for the proprietors, whose investment and ongoing commitment have yielded something else: a broadsheet that injects conservative ideology into the country's most influential philanthropic, intellectual and media hub; a paper whose day-to-day coverage of New York City emphasizes lower taxes, school vouchers and free-market solutions to urban problems; a paper whose elegant culture pages hold their own against the Times in quality and sophistication; a paper that breaks news and crusades on a single issue; a paper that functions as a journalistic SWAT team against individuals and institutions seen as hostile to Israel and Jews; and a paper that unapologetically displays the scalps of its victims.
Ten years ago I published a Nation cover story titled "Why America Needs a Labor Daily," in which I attempted to revive an idea that A.J. Liebling had floated in the late 1940s: that the American labor movement should create a daily newspaper to counteract the probusiness--and antiunion--bias of the mainstream press. A month later, Seth Lipsky, whom I had never met, invited me to his office at the Forward newspaper, situated in the Workmen's Circle Building on East 33rd Street in Manhattan. I found myself gazing at a bald, diminutive man who looked as though he had just stepped out of a Charles Dickens novel, a man whom Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker has described as "Pickwickian."
Lipsky is an intriguing figure in New York journalism. As a high school student he kept the masthead of the New York Times tucked away in his wallet. After graduating from Harvard he went to Vietnam as a combat reporter. In 1971 he launched a nineteen-year career at the Wall Street Journal, during which time he served on the editorial page under the late Robert Bartley and assimilated much of Bartley's ferocious intellectual and rhetorical manner. In 1990 Lipsky was hired by the Forward, once the bible for the Yiddish-speaking masses of Manhattan's Lower East Side, to produce a weekly edition of the paper in English. A neoconservative admirer of Ronald Reagan, Lipsky immediately ran into political difficulties: Early on he received a letter from the late Arthur Hertzberg, who declared that the editors of the old Yiddish Forward "did not create and maintain a newspaper of socialists and social democrats for their inheritance to become now, in English, an echo of the Wall Street Journal." Lipsky, whose heroes include Ze'ev Jabotinsky (the militant Zionist who admired Mussolini), Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, certainly did push the Forward rightward--a 1994 editorial called for the bombing of North Korea's nuclear facilities--but he also won praise for his editorial finesse. "No matter how conservative Lipsky may be on certain subjects, especially foreign affairs," David Remnick wrote thirteen years ago in The New Yorker, "his stewardship of the paper has been open and daring."
But Lipsky had higher ambitions than to publish a weekly edition of the Forward. He summoned me to his office a decade ago to encourage me to start a labor daily but also to boast of his own grand plan: to transform the Forward into a daily, one with a pro-union orientation in line with both the Forward's history and my blueprint in The Nation. His scheme seemed grandiose: A top newspaper analyst, John Morton, had told me that a new daily would cost $300 million, and I doubted that Lipsky, sitting in his modest office in the Workmen's Circle Building, could raise even a fraction of that sum.
I underestimated Lipsky. Three years later he left the Forward, and in 2002 he delivered on his promise to create a new daily (though not, alas, one that stands with organized labor). Today the Sun has four principal investors--men who, Lipsky notes, "are among the most successful financial investors in history." It's a group that includes Michael Steinhardt, Lipsky's former partner at the Forward; Thomas Tisch, a board member of the Manhattan Institute; Bruce Kovner, chair of the American Enterprise Institute and a man ranked by Forbes as the eighty-fifth richest American; and Roger Hertog, chairman emeritus of the Manhattan Institute. In an interview Hertog half-seriously quipped that, owing to the Sun's steady financial losses, his involvement in the paper is an example of "delusional behavior." But he proudly views the Sun as an idea factory for the elite and says he'll continue to support it into the foreseeable future. (Steinhardt made the same vow, saying, "It's money well spent.") "If you just did a random survey of opinion leaders in New York, whether they be cultural or political or business types," Hertog says, "I think you would find that a very large number read the paper." Sun watchers concur that Lipsky has captured a limited but influential audience. Says Fred Siegel of Cooper Union, "In New York and Washington it gets read by politicians and intellectuals, and by people in the think-tank world."
Afew weeks ago I asked Lipsky why he launched a conservative daily in 2002, when New York already had two of them--the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. "If one drew a quadrant of New York newspapers," he replied, "there was a center-left broadsheet, the Times. There was a center-left tabloid, the News, and a center-right tabloid, the Post. But there was not, until the Sun, a center-right broadsheet." (He views the Journal as a national paper with a limited interest in New York City. But it's hard to agree with his assessment that Mortimer Zuckerman's Daily News, which has fervently supported the Iraq War, is a center-left publication.) Before Lipsky could launch his center-right broadsheet he needed someone to manage the newsroom, so he brought with him from the Forward a fiery young protégé, Ira Stoll, a Harvard Crimson veteran best known for his website devoted to the daily excoriation of the Times, smartertimes.com. Today Stoll is a busy man: When he is not supervising his fifteen full-time reporters or collaborating with Lipsky on the unsigned editorials (one of which recently urged Dick Cheney to run for President), he is endeavoring to complete a biography of Samuel Adams for the Free Press.
The editorial formula fashioned by Lipsky and Stoll is a peculiar mix of canned political ideology and spry reportage and criticism. Consider a recent issue, March 20, beginning with the front page. The main story concerns the latest developments in a major police shooting in New York, followed by a piece about New York City's public schools ("Schools Seeing Fast Rise in Bureaucrats"), a dispatch from the state capital ("Spitzer Nears Hospital Deal That Could Isolate Union"), an overview of the rift at the NAACP and a feature about a businessman's obsession with a 1906 Danish painting. The opinion pages, which usually feature William F. Buckley Jr., Cal Thomas and the scabrous Mark Steyn, contain two unsigned editorials--one calling for school vouchers, the other demanding an end to rent stabilization and rent control--alongside op-ed pieces lashing Human Rights Watch and French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin ("Oh So Civilized, Monsieur"). In the culture section readers are treated to an assessment of Ira Glass's Showtime debut of This American Life, a review of a concert at Carnegie Hall by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, a survey of dance photography, an essay about Hesiod and a review by renowned critic Gary Giddins of the DVD release of the film Muriel. All in all, a fabulous read for culture and a tendentious (though not uninteresting) one for politics.
It's only a slight stretch to say that Israel is to the Sun what gossip is to the New York Post or jockdom is to Sports Illustrated. A portrait of the historian Lucy Dawidowicz once hung in the Chambers Street office of the Sun, and her best-known book provided the Sun with the theme of its first editorial in 2002: "The War Against the Jews." For Lipsky and Stoll, it's a war that exists in perpetuity, and some of the Sun's most relentless crusading has been undertaken against New York institutions the editors view as hostile to Israel, Zionism and Jews. In late 2003 the Sun published a series of articles and editorials about the Ford Foundation, assailing it for funding Palestinian NGOs accused of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic behavior at the UN World Conference Against Racism, in Durban in 2001. The articles, which strongly implied that the foundation's top executives were anti-Semitic, jolted members of Congress into action, and Ford was eventually forced to alter its grant-making procedures in a way that disillusioned many of its admirers [see Sherman, "Target Ford," June 6, 2006].
In October 2004 the Sun published the first of twenty articles and editorials alleging that Jewish students at Columbia University were experiencing systematic harassment by anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic professors. Some of the stories ran under the tag line "Crisis at Columbia," and a typical headline declared, "Anti-Defamation League Director: University Fails to Protect Jewish Students." A number of Columbia's most distinguished (and longest-serving) Jewish faculty members dismissed the Sun's allegations as preposterous, but the Sun's drumbeat soon attracted the attention of the Daily News, New York magazine and the Times [see Sherman, "The Mideast Comes to Columbia," April 4, 2005]. What Lipsky calls "an enormous story" was born, and he is unapologetic about his paper's unrelenting coverage of Columbia: "Bob Bartley used to say it takes seventy-five editorials to get a law passed."
Occasionally the Sun uses tactics that would please the ghost of Walter Winchell. In March 2006 Lipsky walked by Ira Stoll's desk and heard him laughing. And with that laugh a Sun crusade was born. Stoll had been reading a Harvard University working paper by professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, of Harvard and the University of Chicago, respectively, titled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy." The barrage began with a piece by reporter Eli Lake, who contacted David Duke and then produced a page-one story announcing that the Walt-Mearsheimer paper was "winning praise from white supremacist David Duke." (That story was headlined "David Duke Claims to be Vindicated by a Harvard Dean.") A few days later another Sun story insisted, with no evidence, that the two professors had "culled sections of the paper from neo-Nazi and other anti-Israel hate Web sites." (Walt and Mearsheimer dismissed the accusation as "absurd"; the link with David Duke, they said, is "guilt by association.")
In its zeal to demolish Walt and Mearsheimer the Sun also chased their colleagues--including Marvin Kalb, who, like Walt, holds a post at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. A Sun editorial noted that Kalb had recently petitioned the Newspaper Association of America on a historical matter pertaining to Jewish journalists trapped in Hitler's Germany, and went on, "Now--at a moment when Israelis and Jews everywhere are under attack in a global war against America and Israel launched by Islamofascists--the cat has got his tongue." The next day the Sun printed a front-page story, "Kalb Upbraids Harvard Dean Over Israel," in which Kalb proclaimed that the Walt-Mearsheimer paper "clearly does not meet the academic standards of a Kennedy School research paper." Kalb declined to be interviewed by The Nation. (The same editorial warned Harvard to get its house in order and added, "The Ford Foundation recently had its own learning experience.")
When I asked Lipsky to delineate the Sun's editorial priorities, he included in his list "the United Nations--its scandals, the anti-Israel maneuvering." The UN is indeed one of the Sun's most passionate and enduring obsessions. Lipsky employs a full-time UN correspondent, Benny Avni, who is a sharp thorn in the side of the UN hierarchy and who produced no fewer than 237 pieces in 2006. Edward Mortimer, director of communications under Kofi Annan, was continually exasperated by Avni's reporting: "I felt that he was systematically putting the most negative, conspiratorial interpretation on practically everything that happened at the UN." Few topics at the UN are off limits to Avni: In 2005 he somewhat gleefully reported that Mark Malloch Brown, then Annan's chief of staff, was renting a house from George Soros in Westchester. It was a purely commercial transaction, and Avni alleged no wrongdoing. But the Sun was keen to link Malloch Brown to Soros, who has a prominent place in the Sun's pantheon of villains.
Today Malloch Brown, who has left the UN, considers the story to be "totally unfair. It just fell way below minimum journalistic standards of research or ethics." In his estimation, the Sun is "a pimple on the backside of American journalism." But he accepts that the paper's obsession with the UN translates into influence. Regarding Rosett's reporting on Kojo Annan, he admits the Sun "does punch way above its circulation number, on occasion." He goes on to say, "Clearly amongst its minuscule circulation were a significant number of diplomats. And so it did at times act as some kind of rebel house paper inside the UN. It fed the gossip mills and what was said in the cafeterias."
As a business venture the Sun is not exactly flourishing. On its front page the paper proclaims: "150,000 of New York City's Most Influential Readers Every Day." But according to its latest audit, the Sun is selling 13,211 hard copies a day and giving away more than 85,000. (By contrast, the Daily News sells about 700,000 copies a day.) In an attempt to lasso subscribers in certain New York ZIP codes, the Sun recently offered free subscriptions for a full year, an unusual way for a newspaper to build circulation.
People who know Lipsky say that in 2006 he was very anxious about the Sun's future. Today that anxiety appears to have dissipated: He is enthusiastic about his paper's website and insists that "the print edition of the Sun is growing sharply, albeit from a small base. I'm highly optimistic." He likes to recite a famous saying from poker: "lose early, win late." The paper's survival depends almost entirely on Lipsky's ability to manage his wealthy investors, a task in which this journalist-entrepreneur has excelled and for which he is well suited. "The Sun could continue as long as Lipsky's investors are interested in continuing it," says Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker. "I'd expect to see it survive for several more years. And they'll get a boost if the Democrats win the next presidential election."
Monday, June 11, 2007
BY NAUSH BOGHOSSIAN, Staff Writer
LA Daily News
Article Last Updated:06/10/2007 09:44:34 PM PDT
Implicitly admitting its antagonism to the charter school movement has failed, United Teachers Los Angeles now wants to unionize their faculties and push for more independence in the classroom.
UTLA President A.J. Duffy says the union has created a committee to study how it can organize charter schools created by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"We have come to the realization that we need to look at organizing teachers at charter schools," Duffy said. "It's not just organizing charter school personnel, which we have an internal committee looking at. It's pushing the reforms that we've been pushing for two years including local control of schools."
With 103 charter schools in operation at the LAUSD - a number expected to grow to more than 150 in two years - UTLA has watched many of its teachers leave traditional public schools. Many of those who remain have demanded the same classroom freedom offered by the charters.
And in what may be a critical first step, charter powerhouse Steve Barr, head of Green Dot Public Schools, is in talks with UTLA as he works to convert the troubled Locke High School into a charter.
Barr's teachers are members of the California Teachers Association, the umbrella organization of UTLA, and are among the few unionized teachers at LAUSD charters.
"We're having very public conversations with teachers represented by UTLA across the city and also with UTLA. I hope it leads to something but we've been talking for years," Barr said. "I don't believe you can go into a 100 percent unionized industry and change it with nonunion labor."
Hostile to union
But Barr said the charter movement is, for the most part, hostile toward the union. He added that charters are missing a chance to form a productive relationship.
"As relationships start to come together between the unions and unionized charters, the people that will be left out of the equation are non-unionized charters," Barr said. "The charter movement is more stubborn about these kinds of relationships than the unions are."
Charter schools are probably one of the biggest political land mines around which Duffy has to maneuver. Duffy has blasted the independent schools for years, and is now seen by many rank-and-file members as flip-flopping on the issue.
The union president said his position is clear: If a school chooses to turn charter and they want UTLA as the bargaining agent, then he must negotiate.
But the issue goes beyond bringing in more dues, Duffy said - it's about making real reform happen.
Barr hopes the new school board, along with the mayor, will apply a sense of urgency to embrace charters and the best practices they offer.
"It's all aligning because there's got to be some radical restructuring in that district, which is going to be painful and bloody," Barr said.
"With a new school board, a parent revolt and a teacher revolt happening, I'm very optimistic, and I think when A.J. Duffy and his team realize that we have it all in common, it's going to be very powerful."
But recent events show that it may not be enough to work with a few leaders who share the ideas for change.
Recently, Brewer was working feverishly behind-the-scenes with Barr to develop a model that would transform the challenged Locke High School in South Los Angeles.
Duffy was part of those meetings and was on board, but when Barr said could not wait until Duffy got his 48,000 members on board, it forced the UTLA president to back out.
But the outcome at Locke will likely become the blueprint for future relationships with the union, Barr believes.
"I think there's a perfect storm brewing," he said, citing shared goals like more money to classrooms, more teacher pay, smaller classrooms and having more say on budget and curriculum.
"I think it's inevitable with this (union) leadership that this trend is now happening faster than people anticipated. I think these guys understand those trends and I hope they get in front of it."
David Abel, an education advocate, believes Barr's move to eschew the union's backing to get something done is the only way to change the direction of a school district as large as the LAUSD.
"Barr is on the right track. Clearly we have a broken, almost crippled school district and he doesn't have time to reflect," said Abel, chairman of New Schools Better Neighborhoods, a civic advocacy organization.
Caprice Young, head of the California Charter Schools Association, said now that their schools have proven academic records and high satisfaction among teachers, the union cannot ignore them anymore.
And the district's traditional public schools are raising the pressure by contacting charter operators like Green Dot for guidance to convert - most recently Taft High School in Woodland Hills and Santee in Los Angeles.
In fact, Young said she would put up the association's resources to help train UTLA to create their own high-quality schools.
"The leadership of the union is going to have to listen to its own membership and they're saying we have to start charters," Young said. "They're seeing their peers leaving LAUSD to go to charters and they're loving it."
Saturday, June 09, 2007
I can’t make heads or tails out of them; my husband who has a PhD in physics said they appear to be mislabeled and are so ineptly created that it would be difficult to do a worse job.
If this is how our schools are going be graded now we are all in a lot of trouble.
Class Size Matters