Friday, August 29, 2008

What to do about mediocre teachers?

From Mike's Desk

What to do about mediocre teachers?

If there's one idea that unifies education analysts on the left, right, and center, it's the almost-religious belief that "improving teacher quality" is the surest way to boost student achievement. So it was music to many reformers' ears when, in 2007, McKinsey & Co. released its global report on education and argued that "the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers." Further, wrote the authors of the report (including guru Sir Michael Barber, a former aide to Prime Minister Tony Blair), "the top-performing systems we studied recruit their teachers from the top third" of each cohort of college graduates; other systems should do the same, they insisted. It's easy to understand why so many philanthropists and policymakers have put their eggs in the "superstar teacher" basket.

Unfortunately, it's a basket with many holes. A month ago I explained why the obsession with teacher quality is myopic. For a variety of reasons, it's highly unlikely that the United States will ever draw anywhere near all of its teachers from the top third of their college classes. And it's just as unlikely that we'll succeed in redistributing teachers so that the high-flyers teach in the most disadvantaged schools. So what, I asked, is Plan B?

Some readers took my arguments as overly defeatist, so let me explain myself--and edge a little closer to Plan B. By all means, education policymakers and practitioners should do all they can to recruit talented individuals to their systems and schools. "All" would include: knocking down certification barriers that keep crack college graduates from entering the classroom; raising starting teacher salaries and offering portable retirement accounts; instituting pay-for-performance plans that might attract individuals who seek recognition and reward for a job well done; creating bonuses and salary enhancements for those willing to teach in tough neighborhoods or shortage subjects; and creating a professional work environment while cutting red tape and providing real opportunities for career advancement.

It's reasonably likely that this bundle of reforms will serve to attract and retain a fair number of a new breed of teachers, at least in a handful of cities where top-notch college graduates want to live. In Washington, New York, Denver, Seattle, the Bay Area, Chicago, Boston, and other hip localities, these strategies may well transform the teaching profession. It's no surprise that several of these cities are home to some of the most cutting-edge efforts to improve teacher quality. To the leaders in these cities I say: Godspeed.

But let's face it: most of the nation's children don't go to school in these Yuppy/Buppy Valhallas; they sit in classrooms in Cleveland and Detroit and Kansas City and eastern Kentucky and the Mississippi Delta. Inner-city and poor rural children, in particular, tend to live in communities that don't draw the latest and greatest college graduates. And while some of the reforms listed above might help in the heartland, too, at least at the margins, none is likely to yield teaching force comprised of high achievers alone. In fact, I wager that a majority of teachers in remote rural schools and mid-sized urban communities will continue to come from the middle ranks of middling colleges. Or worse. So policymakers and philanthropists might ask: what can we do to make sure that their students get a strong education too?

I don't have any surefire answers, but I see two possible solutions. First, provide tools to make these teachers more effective. And second: replace these teachers with something else entirely.

What tools might make a difference? More than anything, mediocre teachers need a solid curriculum. This is hardly a revolutionary idea, and yet it's striking how little attention curricular frameworks, standards, scopes-and-sequences and materials receive. How can we expect so-so teachers--especially rookies--to make their instruction engaging if we ask each one to invent the instructional wheel themselves? Yet, can you think of a single effort by a major foundation to improve the textbooks that teachers use every day? (I can't.) Are there any states that have provided rich, powerful, tested lesson plans and readings and quizzes and slides and everything else teachers would need to help their students reach high standards? (Assuming, of course, that the states have such standards.) The voluntary "curricular frameworks" that some states throw on their websites just don't cut it.

Maybe what's standing in the way of significant public or private investment in curricula is the lack of national standards. It makes little sense for companies to invest in developing a hodgepodge of state-specific materials. So here's another reason to push for national testing: it might lead to a national marketplace for curricular materials, which could be a boon to rank-and-file teachers.

Eventually, online technologies will inevitably make such materials more engaging than ever. Here, too, some public or private dollars could help. Imagine a website where teachers could download state-of-the-art materials for free: video-game-like simulations; digital clips of movies and animation that could be seamlessly integrated into lessons; videos of master teachers delivering the very lessons planned for the next day; regular diagnostic assessments that could pinpoint learning difficulties; etc.

But these materials will only be developed if there is a financial incentive. So why couldn't a major national foundation offer a bounty to curriculum developers that's market-based? The more times a particular curricular material is downloaded, the more its creator earns. Put a billion dollars into the system and I'd bet that we could dramatically upgrade the instruction taking place in classrooms across America--particularly if everyone is rowing toward a common standard.

Beyond giving teachers better tools, the other option is to replace teachers entirely. This isn't as outlandish as it sounds. The healthcare system figured out long ago that it didn't need MD's doing every annual physical or treating every patient with the flu. It developed "nurse practitioners" and "physicians' assistants"--individuals with plenty of training to provide basic care at a much lower salary. We should consider that model, too.

Think about poor, remote rural communities. While they struggle to attract top-notch teachers to their schools, they are full of caring adults who love kids and need jobs. But lots of these adults don't have college degrees. Maybe that's not a problem. What if every classroom had a "coach," instead of a "teacher," a person charged with keeping students on task, looking after their social and emotional needs, and providing instruction in hands-on subjects like art, music, and gym? But core academics get provided via the Internet. If companies like K12 (where I used to work) can turn everyday parents into effective teachers, why can't technology, eventually, turn other caring adults into effective instructors? Master teachers, working from the comfort of their homes in hip cities or leafy suburbs, could oversee their charges from afar.

I can't think of any national foundations experimenting with this sort of approach. Why not? Some charter laws might allow for it (though getting around No Child Left Behind's "highly qualified teachers" requirements might be a bear). Isn't this a useful avenue to at least explore?

To repeat, I don't have all the answers. Perhaps there's no magic that can turn mediocre teachers into effective instructors--or supplant them with the functional equivalent thereof. Maybe McKinsey is right that "the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers." But if that's true, American education is in more trouble than we thought.

by Michael J. Petrilli

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

City taking back 82% of placards for educators


Wednesday, August 27th 2008, 2:34 AM

The city is slashing the number of parking permits it gives education employees by 82%, leaving staff to scramble for 11,150 spots outside of schools across the city.

Mayor Bloomberg had vowed in January to trim the number of placards by 20% - a cut of 12,600, considerably less than the the 52,240-placard hit educators now will be taking.

The original plan was drastically altered when city officials found that the number of placards given to teachers and other school staff outnumbered the spaces by a ratio of six to one.

"That creates a situation where you are asking for problems," said Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler.

Instead of towing and ticketing cars when school starts next week, the city is giving people until Oct. 1, he said.

Of the remaining permits, 10,007 will be for parking around the schools, and the remaining 1,142 are reserved for staff who travel, such as home instruction teachers.

Only one placard with unlimited time restrictions is available to the Education Department, and that goes to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, officials said.

The dramatic drop angered teachers, who were already peeved by a 20% threat.

"I don't know what is going to happen, but it's not going to be pleasant," said Charles DiBenedetto, a teacher at Richmond Hill High School.

"Parking is atrocious. There are a thousand driveways," he said of the neighborhood around his Queens schools. He estimates his commute on public transit will hover at an hour and a half.

The nosedive in school placards brings the overall reduction of placards in the city to 54%, or 78,026, nearly 50,000 more than the mayor's original goal.

Skyler said the teachers union has been "very reasonable...a pleasure to work with" on the placard issue.

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, had been prepared to go to court to block the reductions but said she was relieved that the number of spots remains the same. It's simply fewer placards.

"This was at least a rational way of dealing with this," Weingarten said.

The principals and a UFT rep at each school will determine who gets the placards. Skyler said they will consider a pool of placards, a technique used in the NYPD and FDNY so that when one employee is out, another can benefit from the placard.

By cutting the number of placards, City Hall hopes to encourage more employees to take public transportation and reduce the city's carbon footprint.

The number of placards each school gets will be based on how many spaces the Department of Transportation reserves for the area.

D.C. Teachers Divided on Merit Pay Plan

- Paul Abowd


Washington, D.C.'s plan for its struggling school system first closed 23
schools. Now the district wants to abolish teachers' job security and bring
in a lucrative two-tier merit pay scheme. Teachers say it could lead to mass
firings and favoritism. Photo: Darrow Montgomery

The Washington Teachers Union is on a collision course with D.C. schools
chief Michelle Rhee over her plan to kill job security for teachers in
exchange for merit pay-up to $20,000 a year in bonuses-and higher salaries.

D.C. is home to the second-highest number of charter schools in the country
and a slowly declining school-age population. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who took
control of the school system last year, believes the plan will get rid of
bad teachers, motivate the rest, up student achievement, and raise the
profile of a district that has lost 22,000 students and 1,500 teachers in 10

But merit pay has been taboo in teachers unions because it pits teachers
against each other, and because awards are often tied to students' scores on
the dreaded standardized tests. Teachers say the tests, loved by
administrators looking for quick ways to measure student progress, are not
only an unreliable gauge of learning but also a route to deadly dull

In many districts, teachers already receive performance pay for attaining
board certification, mentoring, or teaching in low-performing schools. Since
the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law, however, standardized
tests have become the key measure of teacher performance and student

During 10 months of negotiations, Rhee's proposals have created fault lines
both within the union leadership and among its members. "This will attract
teachers for the wrong reason," said a veteran teacher and member of the WTU
executive board. "Are they going to come for the pay or to make a difference
for students?"

"I don't consider this merit pay, because everyone would get a base pay
raise," said President George Parker. "This is incentive pay, which is a
bonus for performance."

When contract talks stalled in mid-July, Parker was criticized for convening
meetings where the chancellor pitched her two-tier scheme to the local's
4,200 teachers.


Rhee is proposing that current teachers choose one of two tracks, Red or
Green. Both include $5,000 "transition" stipends for two years, and better

Red track teachers would get a 31 percent raise over five years. Green
teachers would get a smaller raise, but they'd be eligible for merit pay-as
much as $20,000 a year if they met performance standards.

Many teachers left the meetings seeing green. "I'm looking at a 73 percent
raise in one year," said first-grade teacher Steve Oberly. "If we did this
program for five years, I would have a retirement nest egg."

To get on the merit-based pay plan, Oberly, a ten-year veteran, would
undergo a year of probation, after which he could be dismissed for
under-performance. Though fired teachers can appeal to an elected body of
teachers and administrators, the school principal has the final say.
Teachers say favoritism would rule the day.

"This could lead to mass terminations," said Candi Peterson, a WTU trustee
and building representative. "And they could get rid of a position, when
they really want to get rid of a person."

All new teachers would join the Green tier as at-will, probationary
employees for four years. Over that period, they would see a 20 percent
raise and up their total salary from $50,000 to $75,000-if they survived.

Teachers who chose the Red program and got fired would receive a salaried
one-year leave or, for teachers with 20 years' experience, an early
retirement package. Green teachers would get nothing.

The union would be giving up job security across the board, as both plans do
away with seniority for the hiring, firing, or placement of teachers. "There
is no such thing as a safe tier," said Peterson.

WTU's parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, recently elected
Randi Weingarten to the union's top spot. As head of the New York City
teachers union, Weingarten negotiated merit pay last fall, and her elevation
signals AFT's openness to such pay plans.

As early as 2002, the AFT endorsed what it calls "professional
compensation," but highlighted the pitfalls: "questionable or
difficult-to-understand assessment procedures" and "teacher morale problems
stemming from the creation of unfair competition."

Opponents say D.C.'s merit plan contains the same dangers.

"They're going to ask teachers to vote on this plan before determining how
we're going to be evaluated for performance pay," Peterson said.

Solvency has been the biggest issue for merit schemes. "Numerous plans have
begun in the last 40 years but they flat run out of money," said Rob Weil,
of AFT's Educational Issues Department. "They're often programs that we
love, but when they require new money, they lose their luster."

Rhee claims her pay plan has private backing from the Gates Foundation,
among others, but only for five years. When this money runs out, she
promises to free up resources by streamlining bureaucracy and ending the
outsourcing of special education.

Her 20-year early-retirement plan, however, relies on a squeezed district
budget. The city already rejected proposals for a 25-year plan last year.


The contract talks have exacerbated the rift between Parker and WTU's Vice
President, Nathan Saunders. After Parker barred him from speaking on behalf
of the union, Saunders sued Parker, members of the executive board, and
Rhee, charging them with conspiracy.

Saunders' litigious streak has served the union well. A 2002 suit he filed
uncovered a $5 million embezzlement scandal that sent then-WTU president
Barbara Bullock to jail for nine years.

Now, Saunders and others are filing an unfair labor practice charge against
Parker and Rhee after revelations that two nonprofits close to Rhee hired
several teachers for $1,000 a week to lobby their colleagues to accept merit

Despite internal divisions, the WTU is opposing any proposal that attacks
tenure, a legal right shared by all D.C. employees. Tenure rights ensure due
process and recognition of years of service in staffing decisions.

Meanwhile, Rhee has closed 23 schools in the last year, leaving 600 teachers
awaiting re-assignment just weeks before school begins. According to
Peterson, 78 instructors were fired in June. "Even though we have due
process under the old contract, we've had people illegally terminated," she
said. "Imagine what it would be like with a weaker contract."

New teachers can't be hired, nor can negotiations move forward, until
teachers are placed. Rhee's push for a mid-July vote before the AFT national
convention fizzled, heightening scrutiny of her proposals, and making an
agreement unlikely before school begins in late August.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Iknew Danny Porteles when he was at IS 49 in Williamsburg in the 70's. He certainly knew how to play the game then.



Posted: 4:23 am
August 26, 2008

A retired public-school principal and his son used fake bids and forged references to land their teacher-training firm nearly $2 million in work for the Department of Education, according to a new report.

Former Bronx Principal Daniel Portelles, 64, and his son, Edward, both of Staten Island, rigged the competitive-bidding process by submitting elevated bids from a second company they owned along with fake bids from competitors, Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon said.

By being the lowest bidder, their company, Professional Development Associates, earned $170,000 for 20 jobs between October 2004 and May 2006, Condon's report said.

The Portelleses then parlayed that work experience, plus forged reference letters, into a DOE contract worth more than $1.7 million, according to Condon, who said the DOE will sue to recoup losses.

Reached at his home, Daniel Portelles said, "I don't give any stories," before shutting his front door.

His attorney, Richard Gabor, said there are "numerous inaccuracies in the report" and blamed the investigation on a bitter business rival.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Haimson on Student Pay

A companion piece to the previous post critical of the Rhee in DC plan to pay students.

Check out our open letter to Harvard on the blog at

In an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, Michelle Rhee, head of the DC school system, said she intends to spend $2.7 million to pay 3,000 middle school students up to $100 per month for good attendance, behavior and grades.

Roland Fryer, the Harvard professor and author of this initiative, as well as the experiment in NYC schools designed to give up to $500 a piece to each middle school student for getting high test scores (as well as provide them with free minutes on their cellphones), claims that “Surveys of students and parents show support for the concept.”

What surveys? Our survey of over 1,000 NYC parents showed over 70% strongly opposed paying students for good scores. Another survey done by EdWeek showed that an overwhelming majority (81%) were against schools offering cash rewards to students.

Amazingly, Fryer will evaluate the results of his own NYC experiment in a report to be released this fall – a clear violation of standard research practices.

Meanwhile, a similar program this past year in NYC that cost $2 million to reward students for their AP scores led to fewer students passing the test. Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times last spring, detailing numerous studies that reveal how cash rewards in the long run undermine “the intrinsic satisfaction” of positive behaviors like learning.

As to this particular DC experiment, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said the city has spent an inordinate amount on a school bureaucracy over the years that has failed students. Instead, he said, why not direct some of the cash to the students.

As though there is no choice between wasting money on bureaucracy and offering cash to students for high marks?

“Rhee said she is targeting sixth- through eighth-graders because some students in the group typically have had intractable behavior and academic problems. …The schools need to focus on "how we can ensure that students are engaged, that they are invested in their education," Rhee said. "I think it's incredibly important to make sure students take ownership of their learning."

I love that word “intractable.” Is this is the only way Rhee can imagine to make students more engaged? It’s as though everything else reasonable has been tried, and that DC schools already provide all the personal attention and resources that students need to stay focused and on task.

There is now abundant research showing that given smaller classes, student engagement and achievement rise substantially. See this recent study by Thomas Dee of Swarthmore and Martin West of Harvard; revealing that smaller classes in 8th grade are associated with significantly higher levels of student engagement and expected earnings, with the expected benefit from reducing class size in urban schools nearly twice the estimated cost.

See also this detailed observational report by Peter Blatchford, showing that low-achieving students in the middle and upper grades benefit greatly from smaller classes, in terms of the amount of time spent “on task” and focused on learning, with more than twice as much negative behavior per student in large classes than in small.

According to the Washington Post article, the $2.7 million cost of this experiment will be split almost equally between the school system and Harvard's American Inequity Lab.”

At the same time that Harvard is apparently backing this experiment, it has put tremendous resources into reducing class size for their already high-achieving students, including limiting freshman seminars to twelve students or less. Now, 75% of Harvard’s undergraduate classes have fewer than 20 students, and this effort to reduce class size just caused Harvard to regain the #1 spot in the recent US News and World Report rankings, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, more than 70% of NYC middle school students, who clearly have a far higher need for instructional support and attention, continue to be crammed into classes of 26 or more, with about 70,000 of them in classes of thirty students or more.

While DC Mayor Adrien Fenty says of the DC experiment: “If it seems outside of the box, it is,” unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Amazing how such a controversial initiative with so much research evidence against it can spread like a bad virus.

According to its website, Harvard's American Inequity Lab, which devised and is partially funding this latest outrage, is supported by the following foundations: Broad Foundation,, Kaplan Educational Foundation, National Science Foundation and Smith Richardson Foundation

Check out our open letter to Harvard on the blog at

People should send their own emails to; with copies to,; and

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

Desperation Time In D.C.: School Is Money?

Raw Fisher

The Cold Splash of Reality, With A Side of Sizzle

Desperation Time In D.C.: School Is Money?

The school renovations aren't going so well, the teachers are resisting Chancellor Michelle Rhee's ambitious plan to undo decades-old seniority and tenure rules, and student performance remains persistently miserable.

Despite her great energy and stunning ability to push dramatic change through a historically resistant political structure, the District's schools chancellor is getting a little bit desperate. The evidence: Yesterday's announcement of a deeply cynical effort starting this fall to pay D.C. middle schoolers to attend school, behave decently and perform in the classroom.

Yes, pay them, as in cash money. Rhee, Mayor Adrian Fenty and Harvard University economist Roland Fryer, a 30-year-old wunderkind who has taken on some highly controversial topics in novel and fascinating ways, are teaming up on a pilot project that will be rolled out in 14 District middle schools. Kids who show up, follow the rules and meet academic goals will collect points that could earn them paychecks of as much as $100 every two weeks--per kid. The money--the city expects to spend $2.7 million the first year--will be deposited into bank accounts in each student's name.

No reasonable person expected Rhee to start producing better test scores in such a short time, and despite some rough spots, she's still very much enjoying a political honeymoon. So why would she and Fenty embrace a totally unproven, wildly speculative, and depressingly classist, bordering on racially condescending, tactic like "School Is Money?" (That's the name the D.C. school system first circulated for the program, but now it's being called "Capital Gains"--much smoother, much more corporate, but the first name is more revealing about the mindset behind this ghastly concept.)

(Whoa, hold it right there: You can't just drop in that bit about race and move on.

(Right. But how else to explain a program that assumes that underperforming, inner-city black students must be paid to attend and perform in school, while no one has ever suggested that such an approach is even worth discussing for more affluent, suburban, white children? And how else do you explain this bizarre comment from Professor Fryer, who came up with the pay-to-learn plan and has implemented versions of it in New York and Chicago?

("We have incentive programs in our suburbs," he said. "Kids get shiny red cars at graduation." Wow. I've never heard of that actually happening outside of a Hollywood teen flick, but I'm sure there must be some real parents who promise their precious ones a car for graduating from high school. Still, for a Harvard economist to offer that silly stereotype as justification for treating inner-city students as if they are incapable of being infected with a pure love of learning is nauseating and, yes, smacks of racial condescension.)

Ever since she got to town, Rhee has won the hearts and minds of parents and others by talking about her passion for instilling in young Washingtonians the love of learning that school should be all about. That's why she's fought against the narrowing of curriculum forced onto school systems by the No Child Left Behind test mania. That's why she's recruited a whole new generation of teachers and principals to replace those D.C. schools staffers who truly believed that "these kids"--the mainly low-income black students who account for nine in ten D.C. schoolchildren--cannot learn.

So how does she now justify the idea that children must be paid to behave properly and take school seriously?

Washington's middle school students are failing in spectacular fashion. In the national NAEP test scores, the District ranks last among all urban districts in the country, with only 12 percent of eighth graders proficient in reading and only nine percent at grade level in math.

"These numbers are absolutely dismal," Rhee said. "Middle school is a turning point. These are the years when they crystallize their attitudes toward education. This is the time for some sort of radical intervention."

So far, so good, and that's why Rhee has been properly fascinated by experiments in all-day or all-year schools and even boarding programs--anything to pull kids away from dysfunctional homes and neighborhoods where there are far too few models of devotion to academic achievement.

But here's Rhee's rationale for embracing the idea of paying kids: "This is exactly what life is about. You get a paycheck every two weeks. We're preparing children for life, for their jobs."

Really? I asked the chancellor if she does her grueling, all-consuming job for the money. To her credit, she took the question seriously.

"Do I do my work for the money? Absolutely not. However, would I do this job if I wasn't paid at all?" She couldn't do that, she said, but that was a deflection of the question. Of course Rhee doesn't do this for the money. No one who does creative or enterprising work is in it solely for the bucks. At every level of work, whether executive or clerk, the energy and commitment put into the job is determined far more by a sense of pride, belonging or achievement than by the money. That doesn't mean money isn't important, essential, and a factor in determining job happiness. But money is at best a short-term, superficial motivator.

School, according to Rhee's own oft-stated views, should not be a grim, bottom-line enterprise. If you can get kids to discover the thrill and satisfaction of mastering new material from a very early age, you have them hooked--the whole job of educating then becomes vastly easier. Paying them is the ultimate expression of surrender.

"If this new partnership seems out of the box, it is," Fenty said at the presser announcing the deal. (No money changes hands between the District and Harvard; Fryer's lab handles most of the paperwork on the project and grants pay for Harvard's end of the costs, Rhee told me.) The mayor said it's time for a radical approach in "a school system that for too long has seen too much money being spent with too little result."

But this radical approach is wholly unproven. Fryer is something of an intellectual firebrand. He takes on hot button issues and submits them to the kind of rigorous test that they don't usually get because most people are too sensitive about open discussion of the possibilities. So he examines whether differences in racial groups' academic performance might have genetic roots (not likely, his research concluded), whether distinctively black names sentence children to lives of discrimination or lower economic status (no, it's the family background that plays a much larger role, he found), and whether school segregation is necessarily a bad thing (in the aggregate, yes, but in a particular school, not really, he concludes.)

The pay-to-learn schemes Fryer is running in New York and now Washington are experiments. He does not claim to have evidence yet that the program works, though he hints that he will have data this fall indicating some success.

But the early reports from another New York City pay-incentive program show no such luck: High school students who were offered up to $1,000 if they scored high on Advanced Placement tests were indeed more likely to take the exams, but actually scored lower than those who took the test than those who went through the process before the pay incentives took effect.

Must 3,000 D.C. students in 14 middle schools really be subjected to this degrading experiment just to build up the pile of evidence that school is indeed not money? Apparently so, because we live in impatient times, and Mayor Blackberry and his dynamic schools sidekick want to get there right now.

Here, kid, here's a dollar. Now shut up and learn.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mystery Emerges on Where Obama Stands in the Education Wars

Mystery Emerges on Where Obama Stands in the Education Wars

Powerful Forces Aim To Pull Him in Different Difrections

By ELIZABETH GREEN, Staff Reporter of the Sun | August 22, 2008


A bitter rift inside the Democratic Party over testing, teachers, and No Child Left Behind will be exposed this weekend as the party's convention kicks off in Denver, putting to a test Senator Obama's promise to bridge differences and bring diverse coalitions together.

Although everyone says the goal is to improve schools, one group of activists favors keeping No Child Left Behind mostly intact and pressing even more aggressive measures, such as firing teachers whose students do not score well on tests. Another group argues for overhauling the law, is less supportive of testing, and says failing schools need support, not punishments.

Both groups include prominent education leaders, as well as New York City names. Chancellor Joel Klein is a part of the first group, while the teachers union president, Randi Weingarten, has signed on to the second.

The mystery to some is where Mr. Obama stands in the fight.

Both groups say they believe they have his ear and support, and indeed Mr. Obama's circle of education advisers includes people with ties to each camp. Yet the groups remain bitterly at odds and appear to be jockeying for Mr. Obama's attention.

They have been circulating rival manifestos for months, both intended to influence federal as well as state and local politics. Mr. Obama has signed neither document.

At the convention, Ms. Weingarten, who recently was elected president of the national American Federation of Teachers union, has a speaking slot, while Mr. Klein and his group are staging a pre-convention event heralding their brand of education policy — with the help of at least one Obama adviser, the Denver principal Michael Johnston, who is speaking on a panel.

The campaign listed five education advisers: Mr. Johnston; a Stanford professor, Linda Darling-Hammond, who some in the first camp see as excessively critical of programs such as Teach For America; a New York City-based former aide to Vice President Gore, Jonathan Schnur, seen as a member of the first camp; the dean of the UCLA law school, Christopher Edley, and the Chicago schools chief, Arne Duncan, who signed both groups' manifestos.

Michael Petrilli, the vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington education think tank, said the diversity of opinions is telling. "It is hard to really know where Barack Obama's going to really go on education," he said.

Senior aides to Mr. Obama said his education positions are clear and specific, with details laid out in policy papers posted on his Web site.

The aides said differences among Mr. Obama's advisers are a matter of design.

Mr. Edley, who is the dean of the UCLA law school and Mr. Obama's former law school professor, said the Illinois senator's style is to consult many people.

"There is no education policy Svengali or Rasputin," Mr. Edley said. "His approach has consistently been to try to ignore the politics and the factions and focus on sensible policies that have a basis in the research, and let the chips fall where they may."

The result is a set of positions that negotiate something of a compromise: Mr. Obama says he supports the goals of No Child Left Behind but wants some methods changed, and he says there is too much focus on testing. He is also taking positions more geared to the first group's goal of accountability, such as supporting merit pay for teachers and an overhaul of graduate schools of education.

People on both sides of the Democratic debate said they believe Mr. Obama is in step with their positions.

The executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, Joseph Williams, who is organizing the pre-convention event featuring Mr. Klein, said Mr. Obama shares his group's support for aggressive change. He pointed to several signs that Mr. Obama is in favor of aggressive change, including his support for charter schools and that the Democratic Party platform now lays out clearer support for removing ineffective teachers.

The Duke professor Helen Ladd, a co-chairwoman of the opposing policy manifesto — known as the Broader, Bolder Agenda — said Mr. Obama's support for early-childhood education and beefed-up after-school programs is in line with the group's positions.

The groups are also making gestures to win Mr. Obama's support.

Mr. Klein, whose group is called the Education Equality Project, met with Obama aides along with the Reverend Al Sharpton. Their group also recruited the signature of Senator McCain, who announced his support along with a tough push that Mr. Obama should sign on, too.

The convener of the Broader, Bolder project, Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, said he has not asked Mr. Obama to sign his statement but that he did meet with his aides.

Mr. Schnur said that dividing policy into two groups — he described them as for accountability on the one hand and for resources and support on the other — presents a "false choice."

"We as a country must focus on both to address a very serious problem that we have in education in America," Mr. Schnur said.

Others predicted that bridging the two sides would be more difficult. "The danger is that it will lead to a policy that's not very coherent — that is working at cross-purposes with itself," Mr. Petrilli said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Two Against The One

August 20, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Two Against The One


In the dead of night in a small hideaway office in the deserted Capitol, a clandestine meeting takes place between two senators with one goal.

They grin at each other as they lift their celebratory shots of brutally cold Stolichnaya.

“Our toast to The One,” they say in unison, “is that he’s toast.”

“Obama should have picked you, Hillary,” John McCain tells her. “It isn’t fair, my friend. But it just makes it easier for me to whup him.”

“Don’t worry, John, I’ve put it behind me,” Hillary replies. “I’m looking toward the future now, a future that looks very bright, once we send Twig Legs back to the back bench.”

They chortle with delight.

“He’s a bright young man, but he got ahead of himself,” McCain says. “He needs to be taught a lesson, and we’re the ones to do it. Have you seen the new Bloomberg poll? Obama’s dropped and we’re even again. The Bullet’s getting all the credit, but you and I know, Hillary, that it’s these top-secret counseling sessions we’re having. And thanks again for BlackBerrying me the Rick Warren questions while I was in the so-called cone of silence.”

“Oh, John, you know I love you and I’m happy to help,” Hillary says. “The themes you took from me are working great — painting Obama as an elitist and out-of-touch celebrity, when we’re rich celebrities, too. Turning his big rallies and pretty words into character flaws, charging him with playing the race card — that one always cracks me up. And accusing the media, especially NBC, of playing favorites. It’s easy to get the stupid press to navel-gaze; they’re so insecure.”

“They’re all pinko Commies,” McCain laughs. “Especially since they deserted me for The Messiah. Seriously, Hill, that Paris-Britney ad you came up with was brilliant. I owe you.”

Looking pleased, Hillary expertly downs another shot. “His secret fear is being seen as a dumb blonde,” she says. “He wants to take a short cut to the top and pose on glossy magazine covers, but he doesn’t want to be seen as a glib pretty boy.”

McCain lifts his glass to her admiringly. “If I do say so myself, while the rookie was surfing in Hawaii, I ate his pupus for lunch. Pictures of him pushing around a golf ball while I’m pushing around Putin. Priceless.”

“I have a little secret to tell you about that, John. Bill made it happen. He loves you so much. He called Putin and told him that if he invaded Georgia, he could count on being invited to the Clinton Global Initiative every year for the rest of his life.”

“Wow. Should I call him? I saw your husband’s kind words about me in Las Vegas on Monday, saying I’d be just as good as Obama on climate change.”

“I think he’d like that,” Hillary smiles. “He’s still boiling at Obama. And you don’t have to worry about my army of angry women. We’ve spread the word in the feminist underground — as opposed to that wacky Obama Weather Underground — that ‘catharsis’ is code for ‘No surrender.’ My gals know when I say ‘We may have started on two separate paths but we’re on one journey now’ that Skinny’s journey is to the nearest exit.”

“But Obama’s says he’s finally ready to hit back,” McCain says, frowning. “He’s starting a blistering TV campaign and attacking me for attacking his patriotism.”

“Now, John, you know that every time he tries to get tough, he quickly runs out of gas. Sometimes in debates, he’d be exhausted by the third question. He must use up all his energy in the gym. He doesn’t have any stamina, and he certainly doesn’t have our bloodlust. Besides, you can throw that Mark Penn stuff at him that I couldn’t use in a Democratic primary about how he’s not fundamentally American in his thinking and values. While he’s up on his high-minded pedestal, you’ll scoot past him in your Ferragamos.”

“How can I ever thank you, my friend?”

“You can announce that you won’t be running for re-election because you’d be 76, and you can pick somebody really lame to run with, like your pal Lieberman. That means one term for you, and two for me.”

“It’s a deal,” McCain says, sticking out his hand to shake on it. “That was inspired to snatch his convention away — makes him look so weak. Listen, why don’t you stop in Sedona on the way to Denver? Wear a black wig and I’ll spirit you up to the cabin for the night. I’ll catch a catfish in the mill pond and grill it for you. It will be an adventure.” There’s a knock on the door. Jesse Jackson sticks his head into the meeting.

“Is it over?” he asks his co-conspirators.

“Yes, he’s over,” they respond in unison.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Candidates for Sale

Candidates for Sale
What do Obama and McCain have in common? The same big donors, who will expect to have their way no matter who wins


Posted Aug 21, 2008 9:42 AM

Remember the total, hideous, inexcusable absence of oversight that has been the great hallmark of George Bush's America for almost eight years now? Well, now we're getting to see that same regulatory malfeasance applied to yet another cornerstone of our political system. The Federal Election Commission — the body that supposedly enforces campaign-finance laws in this country — has been out of business for more than six months. That's because Congress was dragging its feet over confirmation hearings for new FEC commissioners, leaving the agency without a quorum. The commission just started work again for the first time on July 10th under its new chairman, Donald McGahn, a classic Republican Party yahoo whose chief qualifications include representing Tom DeLay, the corrupt ex-speaker of the House, in matters of campaign finance.

Apart from the obvious absurdity of not having a functioning election-policing mechanism in an election year in the world's richest democracy, the late start by the FEC makes it almost impossible for the agency to do its job. The commission has a long-standing reluctance to take action in the last months before a vote, a policy designed to help prevent federal regulators from influencing election outcomes. Normally, the FEC tries to root out infractions and loopholes — fining campaigns for incomplete reporting, or for taking shortcuts around spending limits — in the early months of a campaign season. But that ship sailed way too long ago to take the stink off the 2008 race.

"The time for setting the ground rules was earlier," says Craig Holman, a lobbyist with the watchdog group Public Citizen. "There isn't time to do much now."

That's especially true given the magnitude of what we're dealing with here: the biggest pile of political contributions in the history of free elections, nearly a billion dollars given to presidential candidates in this season alone. Because the FEC has been dead in the water for so long, it's likely that we'll still be in the dark about a large chunk of this record manure pile of campaign contributions when we go to vote in November.

But that doesn't mean that a little sifting through campaign records doesn't tell us quite a lot about who's backing whom in these races. The truth is that the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain are being inundated with cash from more or less exactly the same gorgons of the corporate scene. From Wall Street to the Big Oil powerhouses to the military-industrial complex, America's fat-cat business leaders know that the Animal House-style party of the last eight years that made almost all of them rich with bonuses, government contracts and bubble profits is about to come to an end, and someone is going to have to pay to clean up the mess. They want that someone to be you, not them, and they've spared no expense to make sure both presidential candidates will be there to bail them out next year.

They're succeeding. Both would-be presidents have already sold us out. They've taken the money and run — completing the cyclical transformation of the American political narrative from one of monopolistic Republican iniquity to an even more depressing tale about the overweening power of corporate money and the essentially fictitious nature of our two-party system.

In layman's terms, we've gone from being screwed to being fucked. Who knows — maybe Barack Obama will surprise us if he wins the election. But if you look at the money, it doesn't look good.

Thanks in part to the dormant FEC, corporate America has had even easier access to the candidates than usual in its effort to buy off the next government before the crash. In fact, this election has seen some excellent new innovations in the area of campaign-fundraising atrocities. Chief among them is the rise of so-called "joint committees."

It used to be that campaigns could raise a maximum of $2,300 from each individual. Now, both candidates — but especially McCain, who far outstrips Obama in this area — routinely hold fundraisers in which individuals can give far more to a joint committee. Technically, the candidate still pockets only $2,300 in contributions. The bulk of the money raised — in McCain's case, a whopping $70,100, or 30 times the previous limit — goes to the state and national arms of the candidate's party, which can then spend the unprecedented haul on behalf of the candidate. "This allows CEOs to walk in the door and drop $70,100," says Holman. "It basically allows campaigns to exceed the spending limits."

McCain has raised more than $63 million via these joint committees, thanks to more than 1,000 "megadonors" who have each given at least $25,000 to his campaign effort. Obama, by contrast, has some 471 megadonors — and a close examination of their backgrounds underscores some of the differences in corporate America's attitudes toward the two candidates.

One of McCain's chief sources of corporate money is the private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, memorialized for its takeover of RJR Nabisco in the movie Barbarians at the Gate. Through the pretext of joint committees, 10 KKR executives have given McCain $285,000, and it's not hard to figure out why. Two of McCain's key campaign proposals — lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent and making purchases of industrial equipment fully deductible — would save a single KKR subsidiary, Energy Future Holdings, $49 million.

"Just in his tax policies alone, McCain is saving corporate America $175 billion a year," says James Kvaal, who analyzed McCain's tax policy for the nonprofit Center for American Progress.

McCain has also raked in big contributions from two other giants of the buyout world: the Carlyle Group (famous for its close ties to the Bush administration) and the Blackstone Group (whose co-founder, Pete Peterson, wrote a $28,500 check to McCain after he took home almost $1.8 billion from a public offering last year). McCain has also received monstrous sums from hedge-fund managers, attracted by his pledge to keep the tax rate on their earnings at only 15 percent. Executives and family members in a single hedge fund, Knott Partners, have contributed some $225,700 to McCain's campaign.

Then there's the predictable influx of cash from would-be military contractors. John Lehman, a former secretary of the Navy whose firm builds the Superferry transport vessel, not only donated $28,500 of his own money, but bundled at least $250,000 for McCain from other donors. Donald Bollinger, who is a contractor on the controversial Littoral Combat Ship, gave $27,300 and bundled a whopping $500,000. Anyone want to bet on a decrease in Naval appropriations in a McCain presidency?

McCain has also received big money from telecommunications magnates. The senator has always been a friend to the industry: Back in 2003, just four days after AT&T sent him a check for $10,500, he sponsored a bill to ban state and local taxes on Internet service. Since 2007, McCain has taken in some $1.3 million from the communications industry. Just four members of the McCaw family, which owns the telecommunications firm Eagle River, have kicked in $123,200. McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, was a former lobbyist for BellSouth, Verizon and SBC Communications. His deputy campaign manager, Christian Ferry, was a partner to Davis at Verizon. One of his chief advisers, Charlie Black, is the head of the lobbying firm BKSH and Associates, which represents AT&T. His Senate chief of staff, Mark Buse, worked for AT&T Wireless. All told, of 66 current and former lobbyists working for McCain, some 23 come from the telecommunications industry.

Given McCain's telecom backing, it's not surprising that the senator has had one of his characteristic changes of heart. As recently as last November, McCain was staunchly opposed to retroactive immunity for telecommunication companies that took part in Bush's illegal spying on American consumers, saying their actions "undermine our respect for the law." Now, jammed to the gills with telecom cash, McCain calls himself an "unqualified" supporter of immunity, praising the telecom industry's warrantless wiretapping as "constitutional and appropriate."

All the same, plenty of other evidence suggests that much of Wall Street is betting on an Obama win. In fact, some observers believe that KKR announced a multibillion-dollar public offering this summer because it expects McCain to lose. "They're doing the public offering now so that the compensation can be taxed at the lower rate while Bush is still in office," says a strategist for a major labor union. "They're betting Obama is going to win, and they're getting their money while they can."

Other companies are getting in on the ground floor with the new chief by stuffing money in his ears. Overall, Obama is flat-out kicking McCain's ass when it comes to Wall Street contributions, raking in nearly $9 million from securities and investment executives, compared to $6.2 million for McCain. Obama has received more contributions from Goldman Sachs than from any other employer — more than $627,000 at this writing — not to mention $398,021 from JP Morgan Chase, $353,922 from Lehman Brothers and $291,388 from Morgan Stanley. Even among hedge-fund executives, who have an unequivocal interest in electing McCain, Obama is whipping the Republican, collecting $500,000 more than McCain. All of which begs the question: Why would corporate giants like these throw so much weight behind a man who promises to strip them of billions in tax breaks?

Sadly, the answer to that question increasingly appears to be that Obama is, well, full of shit. He has made no bones about his plans to raise income by soaking the rich, promising to roll back the Bush tax cuts for people making over $250,000, increase the top tax rate on capital gains to 25 percent and raise the top rate on qualified dividends. He has also pledged to deliver a real stomach punch to hedge-fund managers, raising the tax rate on most of their income from 15 percent to 35 percent.

These populist pledges sound good, but many business moguls appear to be betting that the tax policies, like Obama himself, are only that: something that sounds good. "I think we don't want to make too much of his promises on taxes," says Robert Pollin, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts. "Not all of these things will happen." Noting the overwhelming amount of Wall Street money pouring into Obama's campaign, even elitist fuckwad David Brooks was recently moved to write, "Once the Republicans are vanquished, I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that capital-gains tax hike."

Those worried that Obama might be all talk when it comes to needed reform had a real scare in July, when the senator failed to show up to vote for the Stop Excessive Speculation Act, a bill designed to curb rampant oil speculation. Oil speculators provide the perfect microcosm of what happened to the economy under Bush. Back in 2001, investment banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan got together and created an online exchange called the ICE for trading energy commodities. The ICE ended up buying the British-regulated International Petroleum Exchange; it then opened trading windows in the U.S., allowing Wall Street investment banks to make oil-futures trades on American soil, on their very own commodities exchange, without any federal regulation whatsoever.

"In financial terms, they were playing blackjack at tables where they themselves were the dealers, in casinos they themselves owned," says Warren Gunnels, a senior policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders. "It was crazy." Trading on the ICE had a massive impact on U.S. gasoline prices, and more than one legislator wondered if energy speculators were manipulating the market, as energy traders like Enron had been before. The speculation bill was designed to regulate the ICE and place limits on trades. But on the day before Obama returned from his eight-day, eight-country, megadazzling international photo op, Democrats failed by a vote of 50-43 to force a vote on the bill, as heavy lobbying by investment banks like Goldman Sachs torpedoed the effort.

Not only did Obama not show up to vote, he appeared at a public forum three days later flanked by Jon Corzine and Robert Rubin, two former Goldman executives, to discuss how to revive the economy. Here you have the basic formula of campaign contributions in a nutshell: Powerful investment bank gives big money to candidate, needed reform requires candidate to cross said investment bank, candidate pussies out and finds way to be gone at the moment of truth, candidate resurfaces later in arms of aforementioned investment bankers.

Obama's absence on oil speculation was eerily reminiscent of his previous decision to change his mind about giving retroactive immunity to telecom companies for spying on Americans. Obama withdrew his pledge to filibuster the immunity bill right around the time the Democrats announced that AT&T would be sponsoring the Democratic convention. So no filibuster on retroactive immunity from the top Democrat — but conventiongoers in Denver will get tote bags emblazoned with the AT&T logo. So that's something.

Look, we all knew this was coming. Once Obama vanquished Hillary Clinton, it was inevitable that his campaign would start roping in the Clinton moneymen for the fall confrontation with McCain. Among those snagged by Obama were Iranian millionaire and former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Hassan Nemazee, venture capitalist Alan Patricof and the touchingly plugged-in Wall Street power couple Maureen White (First Boston) and Steven Rattner (Morgan Stanley). Rattner and White, the former chief fundraiser for the DNC, are longtime friends of the Clintons; she quit the DNC in 2006 to build Hillary's war chest, while he backed Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont and flirted with a Mike Bloomberg presidential run. Such are the people who are now whispering in Obama's ear.

Over the summer, the Obama camp has relentlessly pushed the notion that its record fundraising is mainly the result of small online donations. The first presidential candidate to raise so much money that he could afford to eschew the spending limits that would be imposed if he accepted federal matching funds, Obama claims that he opted out of public funding so that he could have a campaign "truly funded by the American people." And indeed, he has a record number of small donors, with some 45 percent of his campaign cash coming from contributions smaller than $200.

Which is a great percentage — but it's only eight points better than John Kerry in 2004 and only 14 points better than George Bush that same year. In truth, Obama is still raising tons of money from big corporate donors. In June alone, as Obama was raking in more than $30 million from small donors, he also bagged $6 million in a single fundraiser at Ethel Kennedy's home in Virginia and another $5 million at an event in Hollywood. But time and time again, you see Obama aides boasting about how the day of the big-dollar donor is over. "More people are involved, and I think that necessarily dilutes the impact of any individual — which is probably a good thing," one prominent Obama supporter recently declared. This staunch champion of the small donor happened to be none other than James Rubin, son of former Goldman Sachs co-chairman Bob Rubin.

Obama's decision to embrace Clinton's moneymen coincided with his decision to attend a public forum on economic policy with an A list of Clinton-era economic advisors, including Rubin and Corzine. "The message is that he's going to be a friend to Wall Street, just as Bill Clinton was a friend to Wall Street," says Pollin. "Wall Street will want to be at the head of the table."

By now it should be clear what type of service Wall Street will demand. The financial disaster dumped on us by eight years of Bush's mismanagement has left America with the prospect of short-term solutions in the form of massive government bailouts, and long-term solutions in the form of reform and regulation. A big chunk of the $1 billion in cash that will be spent on the presidential race this year represents Wall Street's desire to make sure that both candidates can be counted on to make the short-term bailouts large and passionate, and the reforms gentle and halfhearted. "They want to make sure there's socialism when they need it — bailouts — and capitalism when they need that," says Pollin.

Both candidates are already falling all over themselves to signal their business-friendly approach to the economy. McCain entered this election with a reputation as a strict Goldwater conservative. "I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly," he declared. McCain also sounded off in the past about troubled quasi-governmental lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, pledging to "make them go away" and to strip them of their right to lobby.

But this year, McCain — perhaps emboldened by the $238,100 he got from seven JP Morgan Chase executives or the $500,000 bundled for him by Chase executive James Lee Jr. — caved in and supported Chase's outrageous government-backed acquisition of Bear Stearns. He also backed the recent bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae — no surprise given that former Fannie Mae lobbyists are serving as his chief of staff and the head of his vice presidential vetting panel.

Obama also supported the Freddie Mac-Fannie Mae rescue, and that, too, is no surprise, given that he hired one former chairman of Fannie Mae to chair his vice presidential vetting panel and hired another former Fannie Mae chairman to serve as his consultant on housing issues. Most of us will never get within a hundred miles of a single Fannie Mae chairman, but Obama has already hired two — and he isn't even president yet.

This, folks, is the way of the world. Forget all the promises to make the rich pay their fair share. As the candidates get closer to office, the actual paying customers move to the front of the line.

Sadly, both candidates have an extensive history of being dependable pals of campaign contributors. Back in 2000, when Obama was a state senator in Illinois, an entrepreneur named Robert Blackwell Jr. hired him to be his lawyer, paying him a monthly retainer of $8,000 — big money for a part-time legislator with an annual salary of just $58,000. A few months later, Obama sent a letter urging state tourism officials to give a grant to one of Blackwell's companies, the amusingly named Killerspin, to fund a table-tennis tournament. Killerspin received $320,000 in public funds; Obama pocketed $112,000 in fees from Blackwell.

So far this year, Blackwell has bundled more than $100,000 for Obama's campaign. Looks like there's going to be a shitload of table-tennis tournaments all across America next year.

McCain also likes to write letters for big contributors. In 1998, four months after BellSouth contributed $16,750 to the senator, he sent a letter to the FCC asking it to give "serious consideration" to the company's request to enter the long-distance market. He later wrote letters on behalf of Paxson Communications, which donated $20,000 and let him use their company jet, as well as Ameritech and SBC Communications, which raised $120,000 for McCain at a time when they were seeking permission to merge.

McCain's still sticking by that gang. Former Ameritech chairman Richard Notebaert bundled more than $100,000 for him this year, and two of McCain's key fundraisers, Peter Madigan and Tim McKone, hail from SBC. The point is that politicians are intensely loyal to the people who give them money — and not anywhere near as loyal to the promises they've made to suckers like us. No matter who's in the White House, the direction of the government has remained remarkably stable. Clinton's treasury secretary, Rubin, was a Goldman Sachs man; Henry Paulson, the current secretary under Bush, is also a Goldman Sachs man. It'll probably be a Goldman man again next year. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. In sickness or in health, the faces may change, but the money remains. "It's not an accident that both administrations picked for leading economic advisers people from Goldman Sachs," says Pollin.

The really distressing thing about all of this is the signal it sends to Americans. Goldman Sachs posted a record profit of $11 billion last year, much of it from betting against the subprime mortgage market they themselves helped to fuck up. That little energy exchange Goldman set up, the ICE, made a profit of $240 million last year, as gas prices skyrocketed. It may suck to be you right now, but all that pain isn't so bad if you are a big oil speculator.

When you live in million-dollar Manhattan townhouses and make billions in profits betting on the pain of the ordinary foreclosed homeowner, you shouldn't get to run around on TV with the prospective president on your arm. You should be hung by your balls. But that's not the way it works, and despite what you might have heard about "change," it probably never will be.

For all the excitement that Barack Obama has garnered, and all the talk about a new day in Washington, it would be tragic if the real legacy of his election victory was to finally expose the essentially unchanging, oligarchic nature of our political system. It's the same old story: Money talks, and bullshit walks. And don't be surprised if we're the ones still walking after November.

Teacher Poll: Tenure Trumps Big Money

Teacher Poll: Tenure Trumps Big Money

Marcia Davis

By an almost 3-to-1 margin, D.C. teachers want their union to stay at the bargaining table rather than bring Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's two-tier salary plan to the membership for a vote as part of a new contract. That's the bottom line of a new poll commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) for its local affiliate, the Washington Teachers Union.

The survey of 400 teachers, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates on August 5-7, challenges Rhee's repeated assertions that teachers heavily favor her pay plan. Teachers who were surveyed urged union leaders by an overwhelming margin (80-17) to preserve their seniority and tenure protections. Under Rhee's proposal, tenured teachers can choose a salary option that offers big raises and performance bonuses, but only if they spend a year on probation, risking dismissal.

Seventy-four percent of teachers called Rhee's plan to fund the raises and bonuses with five years of foundation grants "a very serious concern," because it is not clear where the money will come from later. Seventy-three percent raised the same level of concern about the added authority over personnel decisions that principals would enjoy under the plan.

Teachers were split on Rhee herself, with 41 percent saying they were "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with her job performance while 50 percent described themselves as "very" or "somewhat" dissatisified. Asked what would improve the quality of education students receive in D.C. public schools, teachers most frequently (31 percent) cited improved parental involvement. Twenty percent mentioned higher quality and accountability for teachers.

Support Puerto Rico Teachers- FMPR

Hello folks.

Please consider taking some time to donate to the FMPR - they've led an amazing struggle earlier this year, and deserve everyone's support. I understand that a resolution supporting them also passed the AFT convention.


Summer-Fall, 2008

Dear Fellow Teacher Activists,

The teachers of Puerto Rico need your help! In February 2008, FMPR (Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico--Puerto Rico Teachers Union)--the island's largest union--endured a ten day strike after working without a contract for over two years. The anti-labor governor of the island, Anibal Acevedo Vila, responded by decertifying the union and suspending its dues check off. Meanwhile, Dennis Hickey Rivera, VP of SEIU (Service Employees International Union), entered into discussions with Acevedo Vila with the intention of securing for SEIU exclusive representation of the island's teachers. Rather than stand in solidarity with the teachers of Puerto Rico in their hour of crisis, SEIU broke ranks and initiated a management-supported campaign to raid their union.

To continue to service members and fight for their rights and the improvement of education in Puerto Rico, FMPR has reconstituted itself as a --bona fide|| organization under Puerto Rican law and is challenging the governor's decertification in court. But legal and other fees are mounting and SEIU's well-financed campaign to raid and destroy the union promises to be long and brutal. Elections for exclusive representation of the teachers may be called at any moment. Monetary donations from people like you are critical NOW!

Juan Gonzalez of the NY Daily News describes SEIU's raid as --a shameful betrayal of solidarity.|| The UFT (United Federation of Teachers) the PSC (Professional Staff Congress), teachers unions in New York, and the AFT (the national teachers union) have all approved resolutions in solidarity with the striking teachers of Puerto Rico.

Ironically, SEIU is a strong critic of raiding - when it is the target of such raids. Union raids distract workers from the overarching issues that unite them. The battle gets redefined in terms of who can offer the --best deal.|| Instead, FMPR offers an extremely democratic structure in which members determine the union's direction on numerous levels. It has been on the forefront of every major education battle on the island for forty years and has played a leading role in the broader political struggles in Puerto Rico. FMPR has fought:

* for the right of public sector workers to strike

* to eliminate lead, toxic substances and rodents from school buildings and areas

* to obtain quality learning materials, improvements in the physical plant and to reduce class size

* for successful implementation of evidence-based pedagogy, emphasizing critical thinking instead of No Child Left Behind mandates which are destructive to real learning (such as over-testing)

* against the privatization of education and its manifestation: Charter Schools

* against military recruitment in schools instead of college recruitment

* for teacher/student/parent councils to collaborate on school issues

* to improve conditions for teachers whose base salaries cannot even sustain their own families

But FMPR will only be able to continue working for parents, students, and teachers with your help. Can you contribute $25 today to support FMPR as it fights for labor solidarity and union democracy?

Together we can stop the raids of union against union and bring

about a more democratic labor movement that empowers workers.

Support quality public education and the teachers of Puerto Rico!

In Solidarity,

FMPR Support Committee-NY



Urb. El Caribe 1572 Ave. Ponce de León

San Juan, Puerto Rico 00926-2710

Check or money order payable to "FMPR"--indicate "donation" on check

For more information:




Lincoln Douglas Debate


Associated Press Writer

FREEPORT, Ill. (AP) - This is the "Pretzel City," thanks to
German bakers who settled here in the 1850s. It's appropriate,
given the way a lightweight named Abraham Lincoln twisted up a
political colossus here and began cementing his place in American

Lincoln, a longshot candidate for U.S. Senate, debated Stephen
A. Douglas on the edge of the rolling northwestern Illinois hills
150 years ago this month, halting the Little Giant's march to the
White House and opening its door for the Railsplitter from

The "Freeport Doctrine" that Douglas espoused on Aug. 27, 1858
- that states and territories could ban slavery despite a Supreme
Court ruling suggesting otherwise - was not a new idea with
Douglas, who beat Lincoln and returned to Congress.

But Lincoln forced Douglas to record it for a national audience,
solidifying slaveholders' opposition and splitting the Democrats.
Add Lincoln's stellar and unexpected performance in seven matchups
across Illinois that fall, and influential eastern Republicans were
convinced that Lincoln should be their man for president in 1860.

Now, as another U.S. senator from Illinois admired for his
oratorical polish - Barack Obama - shoots for the presidency,
Illinois is marking Lincoln's rise to the national stage with a
sesquicentennial commemoration of the David-and-Goliath showdowns.
The festivities will take Lincoln and Douglas re-enactors to each
debate site starting this month, with storytellers, parades, and
dancin g at period balls.

The debates played a role in "determining who we are as a
people today," said Edward Finch, a retired Freeport schoolteacher
and chairman of "Reunion Tour '08," the statewide celebration.

Freeport certainly has never forgotten. The flavor that topped a
local ice-cream parlor's contest for a commemorative confection?
"Lickin' Douglas."

Slavery was the focus of the debates at Ottawa, Freeport,
Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy and Alton. But underlying
that incendiary theme was the ultimate question of democracy's
purpose - whether it's about majority rule or right and wrong, said
Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College, author of "Lincoln and
Douglas: The Debates that Defined America."

"Americans regard democracy as something more transcendent,
something more sacred than just counting noses," Guelzo said.
"Americans at base want to know that their politics is about what
is right. And if a majority wants to do what is wrong, people just
don't roll over."

Douglas wanted to push permission for slavery out of Congress
and let states decide. To Lincoln, slavery itself was the issue.
Blacks were people, not property.

Lincoln wasn't alone in that belief, but it was radical to give
it a national voice.

"Just that very basic principle of recognizing the humanity of
blacks was huge," Illinois state historian Thomas Schwartz said.

Douglas was legendary for helping fashion the last territorial
compromise between slave and free states in 1850, seizing on the
idea that voters should decide on slavery.

He thought "popular sovereignty" was his White House ticket,
and 1854 legislation he ushered into law applied it to the vast,
unsettled West. To the horror of anti-slavery northerners, it
nullified a 30-year-old deal that kept slavery south of the
Mason-Dixon line.

It also brought Lincoln out o f political retirement. By 1858, he
was the fledgling Illinois Republicans' best hope against Douglas.

The underfunded Lincoln began tailing Douglas, letting the
celebrity draw crowds that he addressed a day later. Douglas
finally agreed to joint appearances in the seven congressional
districts where the two hadn't already given major speeches.

The Little Giant, so called because he stood just 5-foot-4, knew
he'd have his hands full with Lincoln. With news reporters making
verbatim transcripts, ensuring wide publication, Douglas started
strong at Ottawa.

But Honest Abe recovered, refining his moral arguments in later
debates until at Alton, Douglas had no real response, said Rodney
Davis, co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College,
site of the fifth debate.

Douglas had no qualms about playing to white supremacists'
fears, using the N-word liberally.

Lincoln wasn't blameless on the subject. Pressured to respond to
the race-baiting, at Charleston he dismissed the idea that blacks
should have civil rights. He said a "physical difference" between
the races precluded their living in equality with whites.

But as president, Lincoln set the stage for constitutional
changes that ended slavery and eventually offered blacks civil

And nearly 150 years later, a black man would announce his run
for presidency in Springfield on the steps of the Capitol where
Lincoln once served. Obama's nomination is "breathtakingly
stupendous," Guelzo said, considering the slow pace of worldwide
change in race relations over the centuries.

Lincoln lost to Douglas when Democrats won control of the
General Assembly, which chose U.S. senators in the 19th Century.
But the debates put Lincoln in contention for the Republican
presidential nomination two years later. Douglas was waiting.

"When they would face off in 1860," said Schwartz, "they had
already had the dress rehearsal."

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