Tuesday, June 30, 2009
“The Bloomberg administration’s long-term goal is to cut the number of public schools in half and double the number of charter schools.” This claim was recently made in a Helen Zelon article quoting long time administrators and DOE officials. It is a claim that is quite disturbing and has motivated a group of educators and parents to organize for the protection and preservation of public schools and public education.
This group, Concerned Advocates for Public Education, seeks to lend their voice to the education policy and reform debate, a voice that has been marginalized and silenced, a trend that we will stand for no longer.
We see public education and public schools as a civic practice, a human right, and the pillar of our democracy. Any policy or ideology that threatens our ability and our right to provide free, fair, and quality public education for our children must be addressed. All too often, especially during the tenure of the Bloomberg administration, parent and educator voices have been silenced in the education reform movement and in terms of policy in general. This silencing has subordinated the voices of the stakeholders in education in favor of the voices of lawyers, corporations, and those most privileged in our society. The perspectives of those whom these policies impact the most are absent and there is no substitute for our perspective. If our voices are not welcomed in the current climate of education reform and policy, we will not be complicit nor will we fight against it, instead we will fight for what we know to be best for our children and we will not be intimidated or undermined by an ideology or administration who insults and threatens those who disagree with them.
At the center of the fight to protect and preserve public education is the Bloomberg administration’s obsession with charter schools. This is not simply a discussion about the merit of charter schools; there is a place in education for any school possibility that opens a door for children. However, we do not believe that this administration’s charter school agenda serves children in any other capacity other than to divert money away from public schools and strain and stress public schools by forcing them to share space with charter schools setting up unfair and unbalanced corporate-style competition. Furthermore, the kinds of charter schools this administration promotes deprofessionalizes the teaching profession through its privilege of prescriptive programs and inexperienced teachers, their militaristic style of discipline and procedures, the silencing and victimization of parents and communities by forcing these schools into areas without due process and community involvement, and the racial implications of targeting minority areas therefore weakening community public schools and marginalizing those who are already most marginalized in our society. This agenda does not promote critical thinking. This agenda does not promote the whole child. This agenda does not promote thoughtful, democratic citizenry. This agenda does promote the systematic deterioration of our public school system in favor of a system that will segregate and underserve our neediest students.
The Bloomberg administration will argue that public schools have been failing our neediest children for years and that teachers and unions do not want competition and simply want to avoid change. Parents and educators are frankly insulted by these claims. While it is true that some public schools have been failing our students, blanket claims are erroneous and dangerous and are the kind of propaganda that promotes extreme executive control and power and disempowers citizen voice and perspective. There are many examples of exemplary public schools that serve underserved populations and have been doing it for years. If the intention is to improve education in the neediest areas, why not access existing successful schools and use their models, techniques, and expertise in a real reform agenda? This administration promotes claims of the success of charter schools, often using test scores as evidence. The scores are not comparable to public schools as they represent a lower number of students in special education, English Language Learners, and our most challenging students who charter schools often discharge at will and send back to public schools. This is a shell game aimed at privatizing education. It comes from a free market mentality that serves the capitalist agenda, but when did capitalism move from an economic philosophy to a social philosophy? There is no place in education, the largest and most important social policy and structure we have in this country, for this kind of corporate ideology that we have seen frankly fail economically in the last year and will certainly fail when it comes to educating our most valuable asset in a democracy: our children.
The second claim, again political propaganda, that seeks to subvert teachers’ unions is simply a power grab and flatly false. Teachers and their unions are by no means a perfect body, but the large majority dedicate their lives fighting for what is best for children and schools and to insinuate that they only want to protect themselves, at the expense of children, is cynical and disingenuous. To further suggest that the solution is to insert business minded folks and inexperienced teachers as a means to best educate our students is simply ridiculous. The Bloomberg administration has an expertise in marketing, but even the best marketing cannot continue to sell a product that is faulty and based on a premise that defies truth and logic.
If you want solid evidence for all of the above claims, make the trip to Red Hook, Brooklyn. There you will find a gem of a school, P.S. 15, nestled in one the largest housing projects in Brooklyn that is a AAA school, has some of the highest test scores in the city, offers a wide range of intervention, enrichment, and health and social services, and has some of the most dedicated administrators, teachers, and staff you could ever hope to find. This school, a successful, well established, corner stone in one our most needy communities is being threatened with a takeover from one of Bloomberg’s hand selected charter schools, PAVE Academy. This charter was placed in P.S. 15’s building, is crippling their ability to best serve their children, and has announced plans to stay put for years to come even though the community, who fought against them coming in the first place, was guaranteed that they would only stay two years. The intent here is clear, push out a successful public school and replace it with a charter school. This does not support an agenda that supposedly addresses claims of what is best for children and communities by closing unsuccessful schools. It does support and highlights an agenda rooted in a clear obsession charter schools as a way to undermine and destroy our public education system.
Concerned Advocates for Public Education seeks to bring an authentic voice to the current policy and reform movement in education. To contact us please email us at CAPEducation@gmail.com or visit us on Facebook and Twitter.
For Immediate Release: Any information provided here may be published on behalf of CAPE.
“I find it a disgusting reality that the kids basically, no matter how bright they are, feel like they have no better option,” said Kaufman in a later interview. “The fact is they don’t have an alternative. Of course I’m concerned about them being sent to war, but I approach it as an economic reality.”
Finding a Way Out
By JAMIE OPPENHEIM
It’s not that Carl Gill doesn’t want to go to college. He does. In fact, the 18 year-old senior at East Brooklyn Congregation (EBC) High School for Public Safety and Law said he eventually wants to study electrical engineering.
It’s just that the Army will pay for it. “I want to do it on my own,” said Gill, with a shy lilt betraying his Caribbean roots.
Gill turned in some of the highest Regents scores for his class, showing more promise as a college student than many of his classmates. Still, he decided to join the military, becoming one of four out of 60 seniors to do so.
On the first day of the spring semester, Gill walked into Jeff Kaufman’s classroom and asked him about his score on the U.S. History Regents exam. His history teacher commended him on his score, one of the highest in the class, and Gill’s blank expression turned into a half-smile.
Kaufman then asked him if he thought about college and Gill was silent. “I see you’re still planning on joining the army,” Kaufman said. Gill nodded and left the classroom.
“I find it a disgusting reality that the kids basically, no matter how bright they are, feel like they have no better option,” said Kaufman in a later interview. “The fact is they don’t have an alternative. Of course I’m concerned about them being sent to war, but I approach it as an economic reality.”
The school, a one-story brick building the size of a city block, is located in East New York, Brooklyn, a notoriously high-crime neighborhood. In 1990, 109 homicides were reported in this neighborhood. The rate fell to 17 last year–much lower than in previous years, but still high compared to other Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Gill said he has seen stabbings and gang fights in his neighborhood, one of the reasons he said he wants to leave. Kaufman, who was once a police officer in East New York’s 75th Precinct, said that neighborhood safety has improved a lot since the 1980s and early 1990s, although he still admits the neighborhood has safety problems.
In the last week of February, the neighborhood experienced four shootings in a 24-hour period, according to published reports in the New York Daily News. One of the incidents involved the shooting of fifth-grader, Samantha Edgars. She was sent to Brookdale University Hospital in Brooklyn where she was said to be recovering. Three of the shootings were fatal.
Gill’s school is slated to close in 2011 for repeatedly failing to meet academic benchmarks on achievement tests and to improve its dismal student attendance rates. The school had a 69 percent attendance rate last school year. In the 2006-2007 school year, the school received a “D” on its annual school progress report, a report that measures school improvement across the city.
So, in a school where a little over half of the seniors graduated last year and students often skip classes, Gill stands out academically. He is rarely absent and always on time to class. He is one of the school’s highest performing students and made the school’s honor roll last semester with an 86.5 grade point average.
In style and culture, Gill blends in with the rest of the school population. Like most EBC students, he wears baggy jeans, a T-shirt, a black and white scarf, and giant diamond stud earrings. He has a large outline of a cross tattooed on his left forearm that he got over the summer. He said he got it not because he’s a religious church-goer, but because he’s obsessed with crosses.
In 2006, Gill moved to Brooklyn from Guyana to live with his father, Carl Gill Sr., a boiler repairman, and his stepmother, who works as a nurse’s aide. Gill’s biological mother lives in Barbados, said Eslin Sparman, another EBC teacher, and the teen plans to visit her before he heads to basic training in July.
Gill said he misses Guyana because there were more activities for him. He used to play cricket for a club team. Now he plays soccer with some of his neighborhood friends, but its not organized. After school he said he usually heads home and studies then plays video games on his Play Station 2 and surfs the Internet on his laptop.
Gill said he started thinking he might join the Army around the time he arrived in this country. His grandfather served in the Guyanese Defense Force and when Gill Sr. arrived in the U.S. Eleven years ago, he tried to join the Army too. Gill Sr. was 35 at the time, and was told by the army that he was one year too old to enlist.
Gill sat on the idea for a while and revisited it again last summer when he decided he was ready to get serious about his future. While on his lunch break at the Winthrop Beacon Center, the tutoring center where he worked, he met with a recruiter on Eastern Parkway and Utica. The recruiter told him that life as a soldier was just like being a civilian except you can’t get fired, Gill said. Job security is somewhat of a worry for Gill. “I see on TV people losing their jobs and houses.”
For Gill, the Army represents a chance to leave behind his everyday life in East New York, a place he said he is not fond of, and experience something different. “I just don’t like it here. There’s too much violence,” he said. The way Gill sees it, the Army will give him a chance to travel to places like Germany or Japan. “It will open my eyes to different stuff,” he said.
When asked if he was worried about getting sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, Gill said it hadn’t crossed his mind. The recruiter didn’t mention those options outright, but said his placement depended on his job assignment, Gill said. He said he doesn’t think he will get sent to war, but if he does he’ll be ready because that is part of the job.
Going to Iraq and Afghanistan may not be the first thing on Gill’s mind, it was one of his father’s first thoughts. “My son, I love him dearly,” Gill Sr. said in a phone interview. “I was a little sad in my heart, not in my face. My hopes are to see him go to college and be successful and make himself a man in his life.”
But Gill’s father also recognizes that life in the military can be positive transformation for some. “I like the military life too. It’s a very good life for a young man, to come out of the streets and teach you discipline, respect for life.”
Marilyn Rodriguez, a teacher at EBC, said that recruiters seldom come to the high school and they usually only come to talk to students who have already enlisted; however, she did say that recruiters will constantly call her and ask for the list of students whose parents didn’t sign opt out forms, forms that if not signed by parents will allow the military to have access to their child’s information for enlistment purposes. Rodriguez said she doesn’t send the military the list.
At other schools, such as Lafayette High School in Bensonhurst, military recruiters are more aggressive in their recruiting efforts. “They would come every day if they could, but we don’t let them up,” Elaine Ghrael, the school’s college advisor, said. “They tell kids they are going to get a good education. I’m not a big fan because I’m a college advisor. I do realize it’s a good option for some.”
Ghrael said she is aware that recruiters target certain lower income inner-city schools. “I live in the suburbs and they don’t target students like that.”
Some EBC teachers believe that the military can be a transformative experience and present options that some students would never have. EBC gym teacher W. Alva De Freitas actively encourages some students to enlist. “Some kids are not cut out for military life and they can get grants and loans and some kids aren’t cut out for college,” he said. “The military gives you all the opportunities. They give you medical, dental, an education and you serve your country. That’s what you should do because your country serves you.”
De Freitas, came to this country from Grenada to play professional soccer for the now defunct Cincinnati Comets. He also served in the military as a presidential honor guard in Washington D.C. He doesn’t just shepherd students to the armed forces, he also suggests college if he feels that it’s viable financially and academically. “They get out of the ghetto life and they’re not in this little world here, East New York. They get to see the world.”
For Gill, the military will offer him a chance to escape some of the senseless violence he sees in his neighborhood that he said he just doesn’t understand. Yet an uncertainty surrounds his future. He said he dreams of moving somewhere nice, peaceful and warm after he finishes his service commitment, somewhere far from the violence he sees in his neighborhood.
“There’s just a lot of violence here, stuff that kids should not be open to. I’m glad I’m not out there,” he said referring to the streets of his East New York neighborhood. “In 10 years, I see myself being happy. Doing what I love doing, engineering.”
The Business Roundtable, which led the attack on public education is now deeply enmeshed in an existential struggle to save itself and the global economy. The CEO's have turned their public schools campaign over to the US government and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan soldiers on with the corporate catechism. Charter schools are good, public school teachers are bad. He won't be able to do it but Duncan wants to use billions of the taxpayer's money to close inner-city public schools and make sure the bad teachers who work in them finally get their comeuppance.
But Duncan will fail just as the Business Roundtable, Gates, Broad, and the Waltons have failed because these forces have tried to hold back the tide of history. Ultimately, teachers will takeover the nation's public schools and dictate educational policy in the US. Those teachers will have to work through faux-unions like the WTU where figurehead George Parker simply carries out policies handed down by labor aristocrats like Randi Weingarten. But teachers will achieve that in time.
Ironically, when the teachers do run the schools, the "bad teachers" will be gone soon thereafter along with the standarized tests bad teachers love so. Their lips will have to be detached from administrators backsides across the country. The worst teachers love standardized testing and mindless data collection, they crave to be told what to do minute-by-minute in the classroom, they beg for rules to follow and rules to enforce. The worst teachers seek refuge from the classroom in administration. The worst teachers have a missionary mindset and spend a couple of years in an inner-city charter school like KIPP Ujima Village before they get on with their lives work.
The best teachers are in the classroom and in th eir unions by choice. They care for their students and want them to learn skills that will serve them in the real world, not useless test taking skills. They care for their fellow teachers and their own families and want good things for them. Concern for all the children causes good teachers to guide them away from becoming cannon fodder in wars for oil in Iraq or Afghanistan. Concern for all the children compels good teachers to guide them away from competition with Chinese children and Indian children and other children of the world to see who can work for less in sweatshops and farm fields. And good teachers do not lie to the children about success and a wonderful job in a failed global economy if they will just do well on some meaningless test. Good teachers do not lie to them, like they are lied to everyday now!
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Under Assault recently delved into this document in comparing Randi Weingarten's speech at the UFT Spring conference, which seems lifted right from this document. See her excellent analysis in ACES sounds like ICE.
The pdf of the document is up on the ICE web site 2004 ICE election platform but here are the jpgs for a look see if you don't want to download it. Click to enlarge.
If you want to peruse the document without downloading, here are jpgs of each page.
Monday, June 22, 2009
By JOEL FRANK
The Trustees of the Teachers' Retirement System of the City of New York recently published its investment returns for the Tax-Deferred Annuity Plan. The figures are for the 1-, 3-, 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-year periods ending on Dec. 31, 2008. The chart and TRS commentary can be found at: www.trs.nyc.ny.us/brochure/IS News.pdf
In order to prove their assertion that one should not invest in the equities market for the short-term, the TRS trustees zero in on the 15-year period Jan. 1, 1994 through Dec. 31, 2008. During this period, there was much short-term volatility (ups and downs) in the stock market. As a result of this volatility, the Diversified Equity Fund (formerly Variable A) was the clear loser, with an accumulation of $20,675, compared to the Stable-Value Fund with an accumulation of $25,554 and the Fixed-Return Fund with a stunning value of $34,472 (named "Fixed" because the State Legislature fixes the guaranteed rate of return).
Most observers would say that 15 years is a long term but the Diversified Equity Fund still came in last, so let's go to the longest reporting period, 20 years. One would think that the Trustees' comment: "Historically, however, equity investments have performed well over the long term" would be borne out by the 20-year performance of their Diversified Equity Fund. Their own data, however, proves their assertion wrong. For the 20-year period Jan. 1, 1989 through Dec. 31, 2008, the Diversified Equity Fund (formerly Variable A) was, again, the clear loser, with an accumulation of $40,685 compared with the Stable-Value Fund at $40,698, and the Fixed-Return Fund with a whopping accumulation of $58,585.
More at The Chief:
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Posted on Sun, Jun. 21, 2009
Teachers cite intense push to promote
Many say pressure continued from their principals despite an Ackerman e-mail.
By Kristen A. Graham and Martha Woodall
Inquirer Staff Writers
The pressure to pass students - even those who rarely go to class or can't read - is pervasive in the Philadelphia School District, teachers around the city say.
The push comes in memos, in meetings, and in talks about failure rates that are too high, the teachers say. It comes through mountains of paperwork and justification for failing any student. It comes in ways subtle and overt, according to more than a dozen teachers from nine of the city's 62 high schools.
"We have to give fake grades," said a teacher at Mastbaum High in Kensington. "The pressure is very real."
A teacher at University City High described getting pressure from the school's administrators to pass a student who had 89 absences over a half-year.
Social promotion - moving along students with their same-age classmates whether they deserve it or not - has plagued the district for decades despite efforts to stop it.
The reasons for its persistence are unclear, but teachers suggest that the push to pass is especially great now because of increased scrutiny from Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Schools are now judged on many criteria, including the number of students who pass.
The Inquirer interviewed 15 teachers who spoke on condition that their names not be reported for fear of reprisal.
Since The Inquirer first reported June 7 on alleged pressure to pass at South Philadelphia High School, Ackerman has disavowed the practice and ordered an investigation into the complaints.
Teachers from around the city have now come forward to say pressure to pass students is prevalent at their schools, too.
The teachers say the pressure continued from their principals despite an e-mail Monday from Ackerman directing them to report the grades students earned. High school grades were due that week, and school ends Tuesday.
Teachers also blasted a district policy that requires them to give every student at least a 50 even if he or she didn't attend class or do the work. At some schools, teachers said, the minimum grade is 60. Passing is 65.
Late Friday, Ackerman issued a statement abolishing the 50 minimum starting in the fall for all 167,000 students, saying it conflicted with her "long-held philosophy."
Jerry Jordan, president of the teachers' union, condemned the push to pass, saying it undermined his teachers' professionalism.
But the practice is prevalent throughout the system, he said. "Absolutely. No doubt. At every level."
Jordan also said the union could push only for contract language protecting teachers from pressure.
Michael Silverman, a regional superintendent who oversees the neighborhood high schools, acknowledged that the district had asked principals to do more to prevent failures this year.
Teachers might interpret the new controls differently, but they should not, he said.
Principals now track the percentage of students failing courses so they can offer adequate supports, he said. A failure in a major subject could trigger a student's failing the grade.
Ackerman declined to be interviewed for this article, directing questions to Silverman.
"The goal of none of this is intimidation or to inflate grades," Silverman said. "It's really to look at the instructional practices necessary for our kids to be successful."
He would not say whether teachers had complained to his office, but vowed to investigate if they do and to discipline anyone who pressures teachers to pass students.
A University City teacher provided The Inquirer with a March 27 memo from principal Anthony Irvin that decried the 46 percent of students who were failing one or more classes.
"This statistic is unacceptable, particularly since this is a reflection of the delivery and quality of our core or elective subject offerings," Irvin wrote of the 1,350-student school. "It is essential that every staff member immediately address this issue."
He and other principals were all contacted for this article but declined to comment.
Two teachers at Gratz High School in North Philadelphia said principal Vera White required teachers to submit lists of students in danger of failing, then told some teachers their "numbers are too high."
A teacher quoted White as saying, "This is not from me. This is from the superintendent's office." The teacher ultimately passed seven students who earned F's, the teacher said.
Michael Lerner, head of the district's principals' union, said his members had not told him of any directives that they pass students.
But "many principals today feel terribly micromanaged," he said. "Principals are walking a tightrope right now. They feel like any mistake they make is going to be held against them."
Several teachers said pressure to pass was particularly acute in the neighborhood high schools, which often lag state standards and have higher-than-average dropout rates.
"The thing is, we're not asked to educate our kids. We're asked to pass them," the Gratz teacher said.
At Olney West, a teacher said she had received warning calls after failing students.
"I'll get a phone call saying, 'Are you sure he earned a 58? Are you sure it wasn't a 65?' " the teacher said. "To me, if a student has 80 absences, the question should be, 'Why did they pass?' and not, 'What are you doing so they don't fail?' "
Olney West's principal, Barbara Wells, "let us know our failure rate was too high," the teacher said. "She said, 'We need to do something about that.' "
The teacher, who failed every student who earned an F, said preventing failures at any cost was a way of life at 930-student Olney West.
"When I entered the building, there was an understanding that this is the way things work," the teacher said. "We talk about it, but there's this sense of inevitability."
No lasting remedies
The roots of the practice go deep.
When Constance E. Clayton became superintendent in 1982, she vowed to end a 37-year-old unwritten policy of social promotion.
But despite the district's many attempts to tackle the problem, teachers say, there were no lasting changes.
"Every time a new superintendent comes in, they say, 'We are not going to have social promotion,' " said Lorna Bearn, a veteran reading specialist who retired in 2004 after 30 years with the district. "That lasts about a year."
Clayton, superintendent for 11 years, said she was incredulous when she read in The Inquirer that some teachers were contending that social promotion had been the norm in city schools for 40 years.
"We took definitive action," Clayton said. "We tried to deal with this. . . . Social promotion is untenable.
"This has not been going on for decades," she said Friday, adding that Ackerman should know that her predecessors had worked to stop the practice.
Clayton's new policy called for students in grades first through eighth to pass subject areas before they could pass the grade.
Promoting students who are not competent, she said, shortchanges them, the city, and the nation.
"People said, 'They will be damaged when they don't move forward,' " Clayton recalled. "But then you find ways in which they can succeed. . . . Children do not all learn in the same way or at the same rate."
Her administration brought back summer school. "Instead of leaving children behind," she said, "it gave them an opportunity to catch up."
She said she had no idea when the district moved away from her policies.
Despite Clayton's efforts and those of her successor, David Hornbeck, social promotion was still in practice when Paul Vallas arrived in 2002 from Chicago.
"It was not as ingrained in Philadelphia as it was in Chicago," recalled Vallas, who left Philadelphia in 2007 and now heads the Recovery School District in New Orleans.
He said the threat of being retained in grade helped persuade most students to attend class and complete assignments.
"It raises standards and puts everybody under pressure to work harder," he said, adding that special interventions were needed to help the others.
In addition to implementing new promotion standards, the district under Vallas expanded alternative-learning programs to help older students who were years behind.
"When I came to Philadelphia, we had 3,000 kids who had reached the age of 16 and had not graduated from eighth grade," he said. "You need to provide special avenues for advancement for kids who otherwise would not make it in a traditional environment."
But former teachers said they still were pressured to pass.
"They just stopped using the words social promotion," said one former teacher who taught a variety of subjects during his 36-year career with the district. "No matter what school it was, the administrators would come around in June and say, 'Could you pass this student?' "
Bearn, the former reading specialist, said that during the early 1980s, she had been directed to pass a middle school student who never arrived at school in time to attend her first-period class.
"The vice principal told me to give him extra work, and I was told to pass him," she said. "I'm sure I was not alone."
Current teachers say there has been a subtle but definite shift in recent years. Students used to be responsible for showing up prepared, learning the material, and passing. Now, the teachers say, it's their responsibility to make sure students pass.
"Even with principals who are reasonable and not on a witch-hunt and not calling you on the carpet for everything, it's just the system now," said Lisa Haver, a sixth-grade teacher at Harding Middle School in Frankford. "If you're having too many kids who fail, the question is, 'What are you doing wrong?' "
Failing students are offered an array of ways to pass classes, including summer school, packets of makeup work, and "credit recovery," an abbreviated after-school program.
Teachers also must fill out paperwork for each failing student - a dozen pages, at least - under the district's Comprehensive Student Assistance Program (CSAP), which also requires calls to parents and meetings with other school staff.
Silverman said that while he realized that change was difficult, the new measures were crucial.
"You need to ask, 'What do I as the educator need to change in my classroom to successfully educate kids?' " he said.
But if every effort has been made to give students help and they still fail, Silverman said, then they should receive an F.
At 3,300-student Northeast High, teachers received a memo this spring informing them that they could not fail students who earned a 63 or 64 - a student passes a course with a D at 65 - unless they had an administrator's signature.
If no administrative signature is secured? "You must override the final mark to a 65," read the memo, from principal Linda Carroll and other leaders.
The Gratz teachers said they had to submit lists of failing students before grades went in. At Bartram High in Southwest Philadelphia, teachers were told they needed to fill out separate forms - in addition to CSAP documentation - for each student they planned to fail, a teacher said.
Some teachers said that when a student's grade was 60 or higher, the pressure was most acute to give that student a 65.
A Northeast High teacher reported having three students who should have failed with 63s and 64s, but that was not what their report cards reflected.
"I bumped them up to a 65," the teacher said. "It's not worth the fight. I passed them, and they don't deserve it."
Teachers say students often game the system. For instance, if they receive an 80 for the first two marking periods, they could skip the rest of the year and still squeak by with a D.
"I've had kids who've told me in the fourth marking period, 'Based on my first three marking periods, I don't have to show up at all, and I'll still pass,' " the Gratz teacher said.
It's infuriating, the teacher said.
"It's not that subtle an educational issue that the kids who work should get higher grades than the kids who don't," said the Gratz teacher.
A Strawberry Mansion High teacher also said there was increased pressure in the 540-student school to halt failures at any cost.
Like the other teachers interviewed, the Strawberry Mansion teacher supports giving students who work and are close to passing extra chances. But giving free passes to those who put forth little effort is galling, the teacher said.
"I feel pretty crappy about passing somebody that has only been in my class five or six times," said the teacher, who passed 10 failing students.
The University City teacher failed a handful of seniors, the teacher said, and has heard about it.
"They all had excessive absences. They didn't do work. They blew off the course. I've had several meetings now," the teacher said, "and my grade records have been requested."
When the teacher turned in a list of students failing one marking period, it was suggested that the grades of 59 percent of them be changed. Ultimately, the teacher said, only one student who did not deserve to pass did so.
Students flaunt the ease of passing, a Mastbaum teacher said. "I've had an 11th grader say, 'I can fail your class. I'll go to summer school for a little while and do a little work and pass there.' They get a little piece of the curriculum that gives them the grade, and they're free."
Those ultimately hurt by passing students who don't earn it, the teachers said, are the students, who after years of easy D's might drop out or turn 18 and still struggle to read.
The Mastbaum teacher passed six students who earned failing grades.
"I feel like it's a disservice to pass them when they don't deserve to be passed," the Bartram teacher said. "The kids lose out in the end, and that's the saddest thing."
Passing In Philadelphia
The current grading system in public high schools:
A: 100-90 B: 89-80 C: 79-70 D: 65-70 F: 50-64
(no grades below 50 are accepted)
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has ordered that there be no minimum grades starting next fall. Here are the promotion standards:
Promotion to 10th grade: 5 credits.
Promotion to 11th grade: 11 credits.
Promotion to 12th grade: 17.5 credits, or enough to reach 23.5 by the end of 12th grade.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Fifty-seven years later, Irving Adler still remembers the day he went from teacher to ex-teacher at Straubenmuller Textile High School on West 18th Street.
It was the height of the Red Scare, and the nation was gripped by hysteria over loyalty and subversion. New York City’s temples of learning, bursting with postwar immigrants and the first crop of baby boomers, rang with denunciations by interrogators and spies.
Subpoenaed in 1952 to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigating Communist influence in schools, Mr. Adler, the math department chairman and a member of the executive board of the embattled Teachers Union, refused to answer questions, citing his constitutional right.
The end came quickly, recalled Mr. Adler, 96, who later acknowledged membership in the Communist Party: “I was teaching a class when the principal sent up a letter he had just received from the superintendent announcing my suspension, as of the close of day.”
Mr. Adler, who has written 56 books, was one of 378 New York City teachers ousted by dismissal, resignation or early retirement in the anti-Communist furor of the cold war, when invoking the Fifth Amendment became automatic grounds for termination. These painful stories may have been buried to history, if not for a coming documentary and a lawsuit seeking to reopen 150,000 documents on more than 1,150 teachers who were investigated and on the informers who turned them in. Among the questions, all these years later, is whether their names can be published, and whether there is still a stigma in being named, or having named, a Communist.
The Board of Education’s purges came to be widely condemned as the city’s own witch hunt, repudiated decades later by subsequent administrations that reinstated dozens of dismissed teachers.
“None of those teachers were ever found negligent in the classroom,” said Clarence Taylor, a professor of history at Baruch College who has written a study of the Teachers Union and the ideological strife that destroyed it. “They went after them for affiliation with the Communist Party.”
Teacher interrogations also occurred in Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo, among other cities. In hearings of the security subcommittee, about 1,500 of the country’s one million teachers were said to be “card-carrying Communists,” with two-thirds of the accused residing in New York City.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Lisa Harbatkin, a freelance writer, applied in 2007 to see the files on her deceased parents, Sidney and Margaret Harbatkin, and other teachers summoned for questioning in the 1950s by the city’s powerful assistant corporation counsel, Saul Moskoff, assigned to the Board of Education as chief prosecutor.
As next of kin, she got access to files showing that informants had named her parents as Communists, and that her father had surrendered his license rather than be interrogated while her mother escaped retribution. But files on other teachers and suspected informants were withheld.
Under privacy rules adopted last year by the Municipal Archives, researchers without permission from the subjects or their heirs can review files only upon agreeing to seek city approval before quoting material or publishing identifying personal information about the subjects (except for accounts from already-public sources like newspapers).
Ms. Harbatkin sued, gaining free representation from the Albany firm of Hiscock & Barclay. “The city’s offer imposes restrictions on her freedom of speech that are unconstitutional,” said her lead lawyer, Michael Grygiel. The legal brief calls it “more than a little ironic” that the city sought “to prohibit Ms. Harbatkin from ‘naming names’ in writing about this period of history.”
A lawyer for the city, Marilyn Richter, said that a 1980 court ruling allowed the archives to redact some names before releasing files. But the same ruling noted that the city had sealed the files only until 2000.
“The courts previously determined that the individuals named in these records have a right of privacy not to have their identity revealed,” said Ms. Richter. She said the offer to allow Ms. Harbatkin to review unredacted copies of the documents, “if she agrees not to reveal identifying information, actually provides her greater access to the records than the law requires.”
Ms. Harbatkin said her aim was to write about cases she found compelling but not to expose every name in the files. “The fear increases directly proportional to how closed off everything is,” she said. The city, she said, had no right “to tell you what you can see.”
Files already released to Ms. Harbatkin recount a battle of wills in 1956 between her mother and Mr. Moskoff, the inquisitor who became the fearsome face of the crusade to ferret out subversion in the schools. In her interrogation, Margaret Harbatkin acknowledged joining a Communist Party cell under a pseudonym but said she later withdrew.
Then, directed by Mr. Moskoff “to identify those people who were members of this group,” she replied: “I don’t remember any. I’ve known teachers at so many different schools. As a substitute I went from — I don’t even remember all the different schools I worked at, Mr. Moskoff, and that’s the truth.”
The files contain reports by informants who have never been publicly identified. But one operative known as “Blondie” and “Operator 51” was later revealed as Mildred V. Blauvelt, a police detective who went undercover for the Board of Education in 1953 and was credited with exposing 50 Communist teachers. Later, in a series of newspaper reminiscences, she said her hardest moments came when, posing as a Communist hard-liner, she had to argue disaffected fellow travelers out of quitting the party.
Other material was collected for a documentary, “Dreamers and Fighters: The NYC Teacher Purges,” begun in 1995 by a social worker and artist, Sophie-Louise Ullman. She died in 2005, but the project, accompanied by a Web site, dreamersandfighters.com, has been continued by her cousin Lori Styler. The unfinished work is narrated by the actor Eli Wallach, whose brother, Samuel, was president of the Teachers Union from 1945 to 1948 and was fired from his teaching job for refusing to answer questions before the superintendent of schools, Dr. William Jansen. Samuel Wallach died at 91 in 2001.
“They called everybody a Communist then,” growled Eli Wallach, 93, in a telephone interview, still bridling over the way his brother was treated.
The Teachers Union, which was expelled from the American Federation of Teachers in 1941 before disbanding in 1964 and being succeeded by the United Federation of Teachers, maintained that “no teacher should be disqualified for his opinions or beliefs or his political associations.” State and city authorities countered that Communists were unfit to teach because they were bound to the dictates of the party.
When asked by Mr. Moskoff, “Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?” many teachers refused to answer. They were then charged with insubordination and subject to dismissal.
In his case, said Mr. Adler, the math teacher, it worked out happily. In response to his challenge of the state’s Feinberg Law, which made it illegal for teachers to advocate the overthrow of the government by force, the United States Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.
He went on to a successful career as a writer of math and science books, settling in North Bennington, Vt. But although he renounced communism after the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, he said, the F.B.I. in 1965 listed him as “a potentially dangerous individual who should be placed on the Security Index” — subject to detention in the event of a national emergency. Another teacher, Minnie Gutride, 40, killed herself with oven gas in 1948 after being called out of her classroom to be questioned about Communist activities.
Outside the written record, Ms. Harbatkin did discover unexpected moments of humanity. The Board of Education was often reluctant to oust a husband and wife when both were teachers, and her mother, who died in 2003, confided to her that after she told Mr. Moskoff she would never sleep again if she provided or verified the names of fellow teachers, he turned off his tape recorder “and told her to keep saying she didn’t remember the names.”
She was not charged and continued teaching into the 1970s.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Tucson teacher will be part of NYC education experiment
As a science teacher, Judith LeFevre is all about watching experiments unfold.
So perhaps it's fitting that the 54-year-old recently left her Tucson home and boarded a train for New York City. Upon her arrival today, the Arizona master teacher will begin participating in a revolutionary education reform effort.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Two Years of Hard Lessons For D.C. Schools' Agent of Change
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 14, 2009
The image of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee on newsstands nationwide was causing an uproar among teachers, parents and other constituents. So D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray had to ask her, as she sat in his cavernous, wood-paneled office in December: "Michelle, why would you agree to be photographed with a broom on the cover of Time magazine?"
And he had a follow-up: "What does it get you, to constantly bash those you're trying to get to help you?"
Rhee explained that most of the shoot for the Dec. 8 issue involved images of her with children. The idea for the broom, which she gripped while standing stern-faced in front of a blackboard, came up near the end, she said, according to Gray's version of their meeting. She told Gray that it wasn't her first choice for the cover but that the decision wasn't hers. Gray wasn't satisfied.
"Why did you let the picture be taken in the first place?"
In her quest to upend and transform the District's long-broken school system, Rhee has acquired a sometimes-painful education of her own. The lessons, in many respects, tell the story of her tenure as her second school year draws to a close Monday: that money isn't everything; that political and corporate leaders need to be stroked, even if you don't work for them; that the best-intentioned reforms can trigger unintended consequences; and that national celebrity can create trouble at home.
Rhee arrived in 2007 as the surprise choice of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who introduced her hours after he took control of what was a 49,000-student system (now down to about 45,000). Compared with predecessors, she had scant experience. Then 37, the former Baltimore grade-school teacher had spent the past decade at a teacher recruiting and research firm she founded. She also had the effusive endorsement of her mentor, New York Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, who had retained Rhee as a personnel consultant.
Even by the high-turnover standards of D.C. public schools leadership, Rhee's watch has been brief -- well below the average of three years, three months for her seven predecessors, most recently Clifford Janey (two years, nine months).
But new pockets of promise -- some initiated by Janey and sustained by Rhee, others forged by her -- are visible. Three freshly restored schools -- Phelps High in Northeast, Hardy Middle in Northwest and Sousa Middle in Southeast -- are the leading edge of a $2 billion plan to modernize a crumbling campus inventory. An "academic power hour" of extra instruction is part of a revamped after-school program in 100 schools.
Last year's DC-CAS standardized tests showed increases in reading and math proficiency rates of 8 to 11 percentage points since 2007. A handful of schools are piloting efforts to reach the most neglected and vulnerable students: those in special education, those with emotional or family issues and those at risk of dropping out. High school students, plagued for years by shoddy recordkeeping and class schedules that often left them with insufficient credits to graduate, can take "credit recovery" courses on weekends, after school and in the summer. Although not as complete or as rigorous as regular offerings, they create a path to a diploma for students who were barred through no fault of their own.
Spending for professional development is up 400 percent since 2007 in an effort to establish a coherent set of expectations about what constitutes good teaching.
Rhee acknowledges that the successes pale in comparison to the task of reversing decades of failure.
"The reality in Washington, D.C., is that we continue to fail the majority of kids who are put in our care every day," she said at a panel discussion last month. In a draft five-year action plan, introduced in October, she targets 2013 as the year when the D.C. student experience will be "dramatically different."
For the moment, 90 of 123 schools are under some form of federal notice to improve under the No Child Left Behind law. One-fifth of special education students attend private schools at public expense because the District can't meet their needs. Although the public school system has lost 4,000 students since Rhee's arrival, the District's public charter movement continues to thrive, with a projected increase this fall of about 3,000 students (to a total of 28,000).
Rhee said in an interview last week with The Washington Post's Jay Mathews that she has "full faith and confidence" in about a third of her principals. About a dozen need to be removed, she said, and for the rest, including most of the 45 she hired a year ago to replace those who left through dismissal or retirement, "it's going to take a while to determine whether they have what it takes to be successful."
Despite recent high-profile gestures to praise and support the District's 4,000 teachers, her blueprint calls for firing or buying out over the next two years "a significant share" of educators, described in the plan as "not willing to commit" to the demands of the job.
The upheaval might ultimately improve the school system. But some parents wonder whether they should wait.
Alicia Rucker is considering pulling her son out of Ron Brown Middle in Northeast, a school with low test scores and discipline problems, and sending him to a charter or private school. "I have to ask myself, am I doing him a disservice by leaving him in DCPS?" she said.
Rhee's supporters say she has brought passion, urgency and a conviction that with the right teachers, children can thrive academically no matter how deep the swaths cut through their lives by poverty, violence or family dysfunction. There is wide agreement that her signal accomplishment so far has been to change the conversation about what is possible in public education.
"I think she's raised our whole game by raising expectations and not letting inertia stop her from trying to bring about change," said George Vradenburg, a former AOL Time Warner executive and chairman of the D.C. Education Compact, which supports public schools.
She has won a national following as standard-bearer for a new generation of tough-minded urban school reformers determined to close minority achievement gaps. Her signature proposal is to raise teacher salaries dramatically with private foundation money in exchange for union concessions that would give her more latitude to reassign or dismiss ineffective instructors. That has made the District the setting for a historic confrontation with the American Federation of Teachers.
Two years into the job, Rhee has lost none of her zeal. But those who know her well say she's found that converting conviction into sustainable change requires more patience, indulgence and attentiveness to politics than may come naturally to her.
"It's a test of her leadership," said Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of Education Sector, a think tank. "The test is being a certain kind of leader, even if it doesn't come naturally."
Lesson 1: Fame Can Backfire
The world of education policy is not a wellspring of rock stars. But Rhee's unconventional career path, blunt style and willingness to challenge the entrenched power of the teachers union made her one.
National news outlets, from the Atlantic Monthly to PBS's NewsHour, lined up to tell the compelling narrative: the slight young daughter of Korean immigrants poised to do battle with bad teachers and a fossilized bureaucracy. But her rising celebrity alienated key constituencies at home. Teachers seethed as she told anecdotes painting them as incompetent, lazy or hostile to change. Parents felt decisions were imposed after only minimal consultation with school communities.
And then the Time cover.
Rhee tells a somewhat different story from Gray's. Asked last week whether she had regrets about the cover, she said she did not.
Her message, she said, was not about sweeping out teachers. "The point of that was about cleaning house and sweeping change," she said, referring to such moves as firing central office staff employees and upgrading operations so that teachers were paid on time and had textbooks delivered.
But Rhee's tone has changed. She launched an outreach campaign to meet with hundreds of teachers and listen to their concerns in small, after-hours groups. In a contrite letter to educators March 13, she said she might have pushed too many changes on them at once.
Rhee said in the interview that her message hasn't changed, only that she's worked to communicate more directly so that her views aren't "warped and diluted" by the media or central bureaucracy.
"We weren't doing a good job of communicating," she said.
Lesson 2: Money Doesn't Always Talk
Rhee expected to be hailed as a hero last summer by the Washington Teachers' Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. She introduced an unprecedented financial package to raise the base pay for a teacher with five years' experience from $46,500 to as much as $75,000. Senior instructors could collect as much as $131,000 a year in salary and performance bonuses.
"I could not have been more wrong," she told an audience of local Cornell and Columbia university alumni last month. "This thing went down like a lead balloon."
Rhee had hoped to split teachers into two pay tiers. The biggest raises and bonuses would go to instructors willing to relinquish their tenure for a year, exposing them to dismissal without appeal. New teachers would be required to take this track. More risk-averse educators could keep tenure in exchange for smaller, but still significant, raises and bonuses.
Rhee has established other cash incentives as well: for middle school students who get good grades and behave, and for schools that make big gains on standardized tests.
But her assumption that cash trumped other issues for teachers was mistaken. After serving under five superintendents in the past decade and enduring waves of abortive attempts at reform, they were wary of the latest Big Idea. And they were especially wary of Rhee after reading and hearing her comments about teachers.
The union concluded that the only way to sustain such an expensive salary structure after five years of private funding ran out would be to front-load the system with younger, less-expensive instructors. They simply didn't trust her.
"It's hard to get trust through fear," WTU President George Parker said.
Still, some D.C. officials and community leaders believe that Rhee might have been able to sell the plan had she tried to cultivate the WTU and AFT as allies early on.
Her signature proposal now faces an uncertain future at the bargaining table. She and AFT President Randi Weingarten agreed to bring in a mediator -- Howard Law School dean and former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke -- to try to conclude contract talks that she once predicted would be completed by March 2008.
"I thought she missed a real opportunity to build an esprit de corps in terms of the union," said Emily Washington, a professional developer at H.D. Woodson High and 30-year veteran of D.C. schools.
Lesson 3: Politics Matters
When Rhee arrived, she operated as if only one power center counted: the mayor's office. The 2007 law that gave Fenty control of the school system had stripped authority from the old D.C. Board of Education.
Council members chafed at the lack of regard she displayed, saying that her appearances were infrequent and that she often left questions half-answered. Gray said the chancellor and her young senior staff conveyed an "us against them" attitude about transparency and communication.
In last week's interview, Rhee reiterated her disdain for politics as usual.
"If I go down at the end of the day because I didn't play the political game right, that's okay with me," she said. "At least when you're making decisions that you believe are in the best interests of kids, you may not win in the end, but at least you can operate with a good conscience."
But Rhee also has discovered that although she serves at Fenty's pleasure, the council can make life miserable for her if it feels disrespected. Skeptical of her enrollment projections, which showed public schools gaining several hundred new students this fall after years of steady decline, the council voted to sequester $27 million until the trends were more clear.
Rhee angered council members this month with an aggressive campaign to restore the funds. But Gray also noted that she did something he had never before seen: visit members in their offices.
"She never thought there was a need to do it," he said. "But there has been a need, from day one."
On June 2, the council voted to restore most of the funds it had pulled.
Rhee now sits at hearings for hours at a time waiting to speak, per the council tradition that has members of the public appear first. She can be seen fiddling with her BlackBerry, conferring with aides and idly cracking her knuckles, one hand at a time.
Business leaders, supportive of Rhee but occasionally put off by her blunt manner and lack of detail about her long-term plans, are also in closer touch. Venture capitalist Jonathan A. Silver, who sits on the executive committee of the influential Federal City Council, now attends Rhee's weekly senior staff meetings to identify ways in which the private sector might be able to help.
Silver arranged for a case management firm to work pro bono to help close a backlog of hearing officer decisions involving families seeking special education services for their children, as required under a federal court order.
The private sector also helped her search for a chief operating officer, a position Rhee created to strengthen her senior management team. She hired retired Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata, the former deputy commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, who started work June 1.
Lesson 4: Beware Unintended Consequences
By major measures of progress, the jury on Rhee remains out.
It will take at least three sets of annual standardized test scores to assess whether her changes are making a difference in classrooms, experts say. The second set is due this summer.
Whether enrollment will stabilize also remains uncertain.
Rhee has discovered that well-intentioned reforms can create new problems. Her decision to close 23 under-enrolled schools at the end of the 2007-08 academic year was widely viewed as a painful but necessary step for a system with far too many buildings and not enough students.
The closings, which moved thousands of children into consolidated "receiving" schools, also created ripple effects in the populations of some of those campuses. The school system traditionally "right-sizes" after the academic year begins, aligning money and staffing with actual enrollment. Schools that do not meet projected enrollment lose; those with more students than expected gain.
But the system did not completely right-size this school year. Although adjustments were made, some under-populated schools ended up with more money per pupil than those that were overenrolled. Rhee said that families from closed schools had already experienced enough disruption and that it was unfair to trigger more change by pulling teachers and funding just as they were adjusting to new surroundings.
But the attempt to protect uprooted families also created significant, and seemingly random, disparities in funding for some schools with similar concentrations of poor children. Moten-Wilkinson and Patterson are two elementary schools less than four miles apart in Ward 8. Yet Moten-Wilkinson received $8,826 per pupil, while Patterson received $6,567.
Rhee aims to avoid a reprise of what her staff called "anomalies." Officials said they'll try to balance money and students before schools reopen Aug. 24.
Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit. She realizes that virtually
all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no
longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up
with a new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay
She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the
Word gets around about Heidi's "drink now, pay later" marketing strategy
and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi's
bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Detroit .
By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands,
Heidi gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially
increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages.
Consequently, Heidi's gross sales volume increases massively.
A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes that
these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases
Heidi's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since
he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.
At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders transform these
customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These
securities are then bundled and traded on international security
markets. Naive investors don't really understand that the securities
being sold to them as AAA secured bonds are the debts of
Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb, and the securities
soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation's leading
One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager
at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand
payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi's bar. He so
Heidi then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons. Being
unemployed alcoholics, they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since
Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations, she is forced into bankruptcy.
The bar closes and the eleven employees lose their jobs.
Overnight, DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and PUKEBONDS drop in price by 90%.
The collapsed bond asset value destroys the banks liquidity and prevents
it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in
The suppliers of Heidi's bar had granted her generous payment extensions
and had invested their firms' pension funds in the various BOND
securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her
bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds.
Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family
business that had endured for three generations. Her beer supplier is
taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and
lays off 150 workers.
Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective
executives are saved and bailed out by a multi-billion dollar no-strings
attached cash infusion from the Government. The funds required for this
bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class,
Now, do you understand?