Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ohanian Rams the Common Core

/ Daily Journal (Opinion) /

Whoo-Hoo! Occupy the Schools


In response to a poverty rate that tops 90% in many urban and rural schools –and 1.6 million homeless children—many in schools with no libraries–education reformers at the White House, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Governors Association call for a radical, untried curriculum overhaul and two versions of nonstop national testing to measure whether teachers are producing workers for the Global Economy.
They call this upheaval the Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS) and there are two things to remember: The Common Core did not originate with the states and it is speculative and experimental–in a word, cuckoo. I use the (sic) in its title because putting the word “state” in there is a political move, a public relations ploy. Learning from President Bill Clinton’s failure to get the national test he wanted, corporate leaders and their political allies try to keep this school remake as distant from the White House as possible, insisting over and over that it’s a “grassroots initiative” –what the people asked for. Every time they say this, the press repeats it. The Common Core reality is about as far from Mom and apple pie as a zombie invasion.

Writing in Bloomberg Businessweek, Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Golden was one of the few journalists to acknowledge the closeness of the White House to the Common Core: “Today, the Gates Foundation and Education Secretary Duncan move in apparent lockstep.”

School reform rhetoric about the “failure” of public schools draws on the notoriously deceptive and fear-mongering A Nation at Risk–pushed by entities ranging from the Business Roundtable and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U. S. Department of Education. This rhetoric is bi-partisan. Both Republicans and Democrats like to bash schools—as a diversionary tactic to avoid accepting responsibility for the Wall Street and banking debacles. School reform solutions are also bi-partisan–exponentially increasing the number of standardized tests children take, tying teacher salaries to those test scores, dismissing whole school staffs, and shutting down neighborhood schools.
This latest corporate reform plan, the Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS), eliminates community-based planning, destroys personal response to literature, and, instead of fostering education for individual need and the common good, puts children on a treadmill to becoming scared, obedient workers for the global economy. The constant exhortation to teachers and students is “You’re not good enough for the market economy!” When the ruling class screams about people not measuring up, over time the besieged are trained to blame themselves for the lack of jobs, lack of benefits, lack of a safety net. Blame themselves and not the politicos, hedgefunders, bankers, and cronies whose own greed has put our entire system in peril. According to an Associated Press 2012 analysis, the typical CEO took home $9.6 million.

The Common Core State (sic) Standards are the result of hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed in carefully distributed grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accompanied by the threat from U. S. Secretary Arne Duncan to withhold federal funds if individual states did not sign on the dotted line. I looked at two months worth of press citations praising the CCSS –August and September, 2012–and then looked up the Gates money given to those who come to praise CCSS. The list ranges from the American Federation of Teachers ($1,000,000) to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction ($823,637), from the neo-liberal Center for American Progress ($2,998,809) to the neo-conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute ($5,711,462). The PTA got money ($2,005,000); so did the National Writing Project ($2,645,593). And so on and so on. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and with money in their pockets, many are eager to sing the Common Core song and eat the funeral meats.

Although these groups all play a cheerleading role, here are the significant players in deforming school curriculum and testing and their Gates haul.

• Achieve, Inc.: $25,787,051
• The Council of Chief State School Officers: $71,302,833
• National Governors Association Center for Best Practices: $30,679,116
Chief architects of the literacy content for the Common Core content are a lawyer and David Coleman, an education entrepreneur. Coleman gained the most notoriety as he barnstormed the country preaching the importance of nonfiction and a bastardized form of New Criticism, a literary theory abandoned long ago by just about everybody except Mr. Coleman. In his presentation at the New York State Education Building in April 2011, Coleman declared that teachers must tell students: “When you grow up in this world you realize people don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” Student Achievement Partners, an outfit Coleman co-founded is now churning out Common Core curriculum. They’re bankrolled by $6,533,350 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $18,000,000 from the General Electric Foundation. Coleman has moved on to head the College Board ($31,178,497 in Gates funds).

My state education department in Vermont urged every teacher to watch a video produced by the Council of Great City Schools ($8,496,854 from Gates) in which Coleman offers advice to the student who reads several grade levels below the complex text assigned to his class: “You’re going to practice it again and again and again and again. . . so there’s a chance you can finally do that level of work.” It sounds like a very bizarre application of Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule. Coleman decries offering students with learning problems alternate resources, insisting that repetition will clear up difficulties with the mandatory complex text. And teachers are told kids must start early with complexity. The New York Post ran a piece–Playtime’s Over, Kindergartners: Standards stressing kids out–explaining that the New York City Department of Education wants 4- and 5-year-olds to forgo building blocks and crayons and get busy writing “informative/explanatory reports.” This includes writing a topic sentence. Teachers report such complexity makes kids cry, but the corporate imperative doesn’t stop for tears. In rebuttal, Kurt Schwengel, a 15-year Santa Monica kindergarten teacher, insists, “They’re going to have to pry the crayons out of my cold, dead hands.”

A February 2013 New York Times story reads like satire–third graders doing one-arm pushups while performing mathematics tasks with Legos while the teacher recites an important vocabulary word for them to learn (and switch arms when they hear it). I wrote the reporter that I predict a big lawsuit when an 8-year-old engaged in a one-arm pushup while doing Legos gets distracted by vocabulary study, falls, and breaks off his front teeth. I wonder why the people pushing this integrated curriculum leave out The Arts. They could have those third graders singing “Dixie” as they do their one-arm pushups, et al. A teacher friend suggested they could put math facts and vocabulary drill on the toilet paper, and I’d be willing to bet some schools are already doing that. Teachers are feeling the pressure of getting in all the skills, and a lot of readers praised this “integration of mind and body” as a way for kids to learn all they have to learn in our brave new Common Core world. Bad things happen to scared people–and the children in their care.

When I received a note from a desperate Oregon mom telling me the only school available to her family wanted to make her son repeat kindergarten because he didn’t measure up on the federally-required DIBELS phonics test, I asked, “Is there any way you can homeschool?” When I tried to tell this story as an invited speaker at the Chicago AFT Progressive Caucus, I was hooted off the podium as soon as I mentioned the homeschool recommendation. I’ve spent my life working for public school for the common good–and I’m not about to stop–but if I wouldn’t allow a school to destroy a six-year-old I loved, then I can’t allow it to happen to anybody else’s child either. In Finland, lauded for its lead on international tests, they don’t even start teaching reading skills until the kids are 7, and then, children in grade school have a play break every 45 minutes, and don’t take any standardized tests until they’re ready to graduate from high school. I just bought a T-Shirt: Occupy Kindergarten!

I scream about the topic sentence requirement in kindergarten and assigning As I Lay Dying, with its 15 narrators, in 11th grade; I mock the notion of such “informational text” as “Invasive Plant Inventory” and Euclid’s Elements (listed in Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, Appendix B) supplanting To Kill a Mockingbird and “Macbeth” as vehicles for conveying to students the world knowledge Common Core thugs insist is necessary to compete as workers in the Global Economy. And I’d scream just as loudly if every required text was a book I loved. All this arguing about the percentage of fiction allowed and what that fiction should be is a deliberate distraction thrown up by the power brokers. They do it with school reform; they do it with social issues. They want us to wage battle with each other–over the content of national standards–so we’ll have no breath left over to ask Who decides? Who’s in charge of public schools? And for whose benefit do they operate?

Make no mistake about it: current school reform is destroying the lives of children. Here in Vermont, my so-called progressive governor, Peter Shumlin, eager to show his chops to the National Governors Association, cheerfully laps up their Kool-Aid. He’s pushing algebra and geometry as requirements for a high school diploma. Longtime public school superintendent and now managing director of the National Education Policy Center, William Mathis calls the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) crisis the new urban legend. In reality, for some Vermont kids, lumberjack skills are much more important than algebra and before we proclaim algebra more important than music and the arts, we must again ask, Important for whom? Mathis points out that there are more STEM-qualified workers than jobs available and of the nation’s nine million people with STEM degrees, only about three million work in STEM fields.
In his second inaugural address Governor Shumlin put Vermont’s economic future on the backs of teachers and children, saying that “to ensure our success, we must embrace change in the way we both view and deliver education. The rapid change that is required of us is not optional; it will define our success or deliver our failure.” No options. Note how the governor defines education as a delivery system. His emphasis on “rapid change” is both disingenuous and dangerous. Teaching is much more like watching what Whitman called the “trickling sap of maple,” which matures and intensifies slowly, than about delivering rigor to kindergartners—or high schoolers. As Wendell Berry points out, “Good teaching is an investment in the minds of the young, as obscure in result, as remote from immediate proof as planting a chestnut seedling.” One of my third grade students, a deaf child in public school for the first time, recently found me on FaceBook to tell me what Amelia Bedelia meant to her thirty years ago. I think of this as teacher wait time.

Lots of school watchers believe the sole purpose of the Common Core State (sic) Standards is to drive the national test which has been on the corporate agenda for more than two decades. Although the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paid for the CCSS, the new, super-duper assessments traveling with those standards are funded by you and me. The U. S. Department of Education gave $335 million to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop computer-based tests for grades 3-12. They both plan a lot of testing, and costs of hardware and software requirements, of rewiring school buildings and buying computers that meet the specifications are on the backs of local taxpayers. The Florida state department of education recently announced an infusion of nearly half a billion dollars to develop the necessary technology infrastructure capable of delivering the tests. New York City estimates the same amount.

Although hubris seems to drive Bill Gates’ education reform ideology, it is no surprise that his foundation would find the Common Core’s huge reliance on technology attractive. Technology and the desire to put schools under the oversight and domination of a national test also motivated education reformers in September 1989, when President George H.W. Bush convened a meeting in Charlottesville, Va., for the first-ever National Education Summit. Teachers were also absent from that meeting, Instead, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner joined hands with Arkansas governor Bill Clinton to lead the effort. Gerstner and his Business Roundtable cronies got to name the problem and define the solution, which was a relabeled Business Roundtable plan calling for school choice, competition, and a massive infusion of technology. It was signed into federal law as America 2000. When it morphed into Goals 2000, President Clinton was foiled in his attempt to add a national test. Then came No Child Left Behind under President Bush the Younger and Race to the Top and the Common Core under President Obama. With each residency change at the White House, the name of ed reform has changed and the content has become more destructive to the needs of public schools and the children in them.

There is resistance. A national movement of parents opting their children out of standardized testing started when Professor Tim Slekar and his wife went with their son Luke to a school conference to learn why Luke’s grades were slipping. The teacher showed them a sample paper, with a test-prep writing prompt: Write about the two most exciting times you have had with your family. Luke’s response, started, “Whoo-hoo! Let me tell you about my great family vacation trip to the Adirondacks.”

The teacher stopped Luke and asked him to explain to his parents why this opening was unacceptable. “Whoo-hoo! isn’t a sentence,” he acknowledged, adding that the first sentence to a writing prompt must begin by restating the prompt. The teacher said that according to standards, Luke’s response would have been scored a zero, and her obligation was to prepare children to pass the state test. Feeling that education shouldn’t be about preparing students to write answers in a format low-paid temp workers can score, the Slekars decided to opt Luke out of future standardized testing. “We would not allow our son to provide data to a system that was designed to prove that he, the teacher, the system, and the community were failing.” Tim found people of like mind– Peggy Robertson, Morna McDermmott, Ceresta Smith, Shaun Johnson and Laurie Murphy–and together they founded United Opt Out, a national movement to opt students out of standardized testing. Its endorsers include John Kuhn, an outspoken Texas school superintendent, who says, “Parents and students have the power to say when enough is enough.”

Teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle recently demonstrated that teachers also have this power. Despite intense administrative pressure, the whole faculty refused to administer a standardized test there. When a retired Florida kindergarten teacher heard about Garfield High, she called a Seattle pizza shop and ordered five large pizzas with two toppings to be sent to the school. Other expressions of support have poured in from across the country. School watchers are now hopeful that a revolution may be at hand.

Whoo-hoo! Occupy the schools!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Yale Freshman: Say no to charter schools

Looking Left
The News reported three weeks ago on plans to open new charter schools in New Haven (“State may get new charter schools,” Jan. 23). Over the past several years, charters have been expanding in the Elm City, as well as across the country. My hometown of Chicago has already opened 59 charter schools and has plans to open many more over the next few years. But these paradoxically publicly funded, yet privately operated, institutions need to be critically examined.
Charter schools, freed from the regulation of the public school system, were supposed to fix public education through innovation. Instead, lack of regulation has led to a variety of problems, including hiring inexperienced teachers, failing to serve difficult-to-educate students and using taxpayer dollars corruptly. What charters haven’t created, though, are better-educated students.
In Chicago, charter school operators claimed for years that their schools produced better performing students. In late 2011, however, state standardized achievement tests showed that only one of the nine charter school networks in the city had outperformed district averages. Six of the networks fell below average at all or a majority of their schools.
And just last week, Chicago’s United Neighborhood Organization Charter School Network was revealed to be using a $98 million state grant to dole out contracts to the close family and friends of UNO administrators. UNO claims to be a nonprofit community organization, but CEO Juan Rangel makes over $250,000 a year. And as a Sun-Times investigation showed, Rangel’s schools seem to be a nice place for his buddies to make easy cash. Public schools are required to contract only with whatever companies can perform jobs at the lowest cost, but privately operated charter schools, freed from regulation, can contract wherever they would like.
Moreover, Rangel is a political ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and served as co-chair of his 2011 campaign. The Sun-Times investigation revealed that profiteers from the UNO network donated large amounts of time and money last year to Silvana Tabares, a state representative candidate allied with Emanuel, who ran on a platform that would give more state dollars to the UNO network.
UNO is shady and possibly participating in illegal activities, but gets away with it because its charter school network status allows it to avoid following the same financial standards that public schools do.
Beyond the corruption, the advantages that charter schools claim to provide don’t appear to actually exist in many cases. Many charters across the country do not outperform public schools, and to the extent that they do, much of their success can be attributed to their selective admissions. Many charters avoid serving special education students and non-native English speakers — two groups that tend to score lower on standardized tests.
Other charters create the illusion of greater success by discouraging low-income students from enrolling. In Chicago, some charters charge students $5 for minor rule-breaking, including not tying their shoes properly.
Politicians like Emanuel and much of the mainstream press have done a good job of demonizing teachers unions. This rhetoric makes charter schools look comparatively better, as they rarely allow teachers to unionize. But teachers at charters rarely stay for more than a few years at a time, and are often overworked and underpaid, leading to inevitable lower student performance.
Were charter school teachers to unionize, they would work under better conditions, which would in turn allow them to do their jobs better. But charter schools remain strongly anti-union in most places. When teachers at Chicago’s Youth Connection Leadership Academy decided to unionize, the school fired every single teacher, even though many of them had been issued employment renewal letters.
A high correlation exists between family income level and success in school — many of the current problems with our public education system are a direction reflection of our country’s economic problems. We can’t blame teachers, or their unions, for the inevitable problems caused by this excessive wealth disparity. Given the current state of public education, our time and money would be much better spent on fixing that system instead of diverting resources to charter schools. If we want real progress for public education, we need to focus on eliminating the high concentration of wealth in this country.
Not only are charter schools not a solution; they are a problem themselves. New Haven ought to reconsider its charter school plans and instead look at putting the necessary resources into existing public schools while also making sure to support policies that reduce poverty.
Diana Rosen is a freshman in Pierson College. She is a staff blogger for the News. Contact her at diana.rosen@yale.edu .

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

You Should Be Outraged By What Is Being Done To Our Postal Service


You are probably hearing that the Post Office is “in crisis” and is cutting back Saturday delivery, laying people off, closing offices, etc. Like so many other “crises” imposed on us lately, there is a lot to the story that you are not hearing from the “mainstream” media. (Please click that link.) The story of the intentional destruction of the US Postal Service is one more piece of the story of crisis-after-crisis, all manufactured to advance the strategic dismantling of our government and handing over the pieces to billionaires.
Here are a few things you need to know about the Postal Service “crisis”:

  • The Postal Service is the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. But unlike Walmart, which gets away with paying so little that employees qualify for government assistance, the Postal Services is unionized, pays reasonable wages and benefits and receives no government subsidies. (Good for them!)
  • Republicans have been pushing schemes to privatize the Postal Service since at least 1996. In 2006 Republicans in the Congress pushed through a requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. The Postal Service has to pay now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency — and certainly no company — has to do this.
  • Unlike other government agencies (like the military) since 1970 the Postal Service is required to break even. Once more: the Department of Defense is not required to break even.
  • While required to break even the Postal Service has to deliver mail to areas that are unprofitable for private companies to operate in. A letter sent from a small town in Alaska is picked up and transported across the country to a farm in Maine for 46 cents. While the internet and recession have eaten into some of the Postal Services letter business, magazines, books, newsletters, prescriptions, advertising, DVD services like Netflix and many other services still depend on the Postal Service for delivery. And many people for one reason or another still send letters. In a democracy these people are supposed to count, too.
  • But along with require the Postal Service to break even, Congress has restricted the Service’s ability to raise rates, enter new lines of business or take other steps to help it raise revenue. In fact, while detractors complain that the Postal Service is antiquated, inefficient and burdened by bureaucracy the rules blocking the Postal Service from entering new lines of business do so because the Postal Service would have advantages over private companies. For example, Republicans in Congress forced the Postal Service to remove public-use copiers from Post Offices and even blocked the Postal Service from setting up a secure online system that allowed Americans to make monthly bill payments.
The Postal Service is a public service for We, the People, not a business. The Service is hamstrung by people who pretend it is supposed to compete and then won’t let it. They won’t help with taxpayer dollars and say it has to compete in the marketplace (again: the Department of Defense is not required to break even.) Then they give it rules that no private company could survive. Then when it gets into trouble, say that government doesn’t work, start laying people off, selling off the public assets, and saying it has to be “privatized” (so all the gains will go to a few already-wealthy people instead of to the public).
Manufacturing A Crisis
So Republicans have hamstrung the Postal Service, forcing it into “crisis” and are now “solving” the crisis by working towards dismantling and privatizing it. Here is how it works:
  1. Require the Postal Service to “break even.” (Again: the Department of Defense is not required to break even.
  2. Require them to serve all areas of the country. (Which is a service to democracy and should continue.)
  3. Keep them from raising or lowering rates as needed.
  4. Keep them from using their competitive advantages to compete with private businesses.
  5. Require them to pre-fund 75 years of health benefits.
  6. When the Postal Service has the inevitable resulting financial “crisis” complain about government and unions and demand their buildings be sold, employees laid off and the service be dismantled and given to private companies.
If you don’t see the pattern yet, try this:
  1. Cut taxes,
  2. Double military spending,
  3. Obstruct all efforts to fix things,
  4. Wait a few years, then scream loudly about a “deficit crisis” and say we have to severely cut back on government — the things we do to make our lives better.
This is not the way an informed democracy is supposed to operate.
Part Of Bigger Assault On Government
The postal service “crisis” is just one more instance of the ongoing pattern of government by lies, hostage-taking and manufactured crises. This is one more assault on a government service.
The “fiscal cliff” was a manufactured crisis, engineered to force cutbacks in the things We, the People do to make our lives better. The “debt ceiling” was a manufactured crisis, engineered to force cutbacks in the things We, the People do to make our lives better. The 2010 “tax deal” was a manufactured crisis, engineered to force cutbacks in the things We, the People do to make our lives better. Etc., etc., on and on…
And the Postal Service “crisis” is one more manufactured crisis.
Not Governing, But Destroying Government
Republicans don’t talk about governing, they talk about killing government, and when they get power they don’t govern, they destroy government. They appoint industry lobbyists to agencies that are supposed to oversee their own industries — and they don’t oversee their industries. They appoint polluters to the agencies that are supposed to protect us from pollution — and they let the companies pollute. And they appoint people who have called for getting government out of areas like education, medical care, etc. to head up and dismantle those departments for the benefit of the companies they came from.
This is not the way our government is supposed to operate. This does not serve We, the People and does not help us make our lives better.
The Push To Privatize Public Assets
Privatization means dismantling government and public assets and turning them over to private companies. It involves “contracting out” or even ending the services that were performed by We, the People (government) to make our lives better. Instead these services are operated for profit, which the citizens (and certainly not the employees) share none of the gains.
To be clear about this: contracting out government services “saves money” by laying off people who have good wages with benefits, and rehiring them at minimum wage with no benefits, while removing the accountability that goes along with a government service. For example, when a city “contracts out” its garbage collection what happens is all the city employees who had government jobs doing this work are laid off. The private company that contracts to do the service “saves money” by hiring employees at a much lower wage with no benefits, doesn’t have to meet the standards of government agencies, doesn’t have to be transparent, doesn’t have to use well-maintained equipment, etc. Obviously the city employees and the places they used to shop are worse off, but their lower wages mean everyone else’s wages come under pressure, too. So the “money saved” comes at a great cost to the public.
This same process occurs in all instances of privatizing or “downsizing” government. The public receives less service, wages generally are lowered, but a few people make a bundle at the expense of the rest of us.
Cato Institute Push To Privatize The Postal Service
The Koch brothers’ Cato Institute has been pushing to privatize the Postal Service (and the rest of government) for many years. (Note: Frederick W. Smith, Chairman & CEO, FedEx Corporation was on the Board of Directors of Cato Institute. FedEx is also a funder of the Cato Institute.) In 1996, for example, Cato’s Edward L. Hudgins testified before Congress on Postal Service Privatization.
Today Cato employees write about “freeing the mail from the government’s grip” and ” getting the government out of the mail business.” (from Cato’s Stamp Out the Postal Service.)
While part of Cato’s motivation for privatizing the Postal Service is their efforts to transfer all public assets to private hands, Their website Privatizing the U.S. Postal Service explains their reasoning,
The USPS is in deep financial trouble as a result of declining mail volume, bloated operating expenses, a costly and inflexible unionized workforce, and constant congressional meddling. At the same time, electronic communications and other technological advances are making physical mail delivery less relevant.

America’s postal system needs a radical overhaul. This essay … concludes that taxpayers, consumers, and the broader economy would stand to gain with reforms to privatize the USPS and open U.S. mail delivery up to competition.
Cato’s funders also oppose unions because they enable working people to bargain for a larger share of the pie, and the Postal Service is unionized — the largest remaining union. In The Postal Service Can’t Afford Unions Cato’s Tad DeHaven writes, “A big drag on the USPS’s bottom line is the pesky postal unions.” DeHaven continues,
The USPS has been able to eliminate thousands of positions through attrition, but it still possesses the second-largest civilian workforce in the country, behind only Wal-Mart. With 85 percent of that workforce protected by collective bargaining agreement, the unions have become a giant anchor on an already sinking ship.
The Postal Service is a PUBLIC service, serving We, the People and our democracy. It is our second-largest employer. Like Social Security it demonstrates that government can and does serve We, the People. You should be outraged by what is being done to our Postal Service! It is time to step up and defend all of our democratic institutions.
Other Voices
Here are a few other voices on this issue:
John Nichols writes in The Nation, Postal Cuts Are Austerity on Steroids,
The austerity agenda that would cut services for working Americans in order to maintain tax breaks for the wealthy—and promote the privatization of public services—has many faces.

Most Americans recognize the threats to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as pieces of the austerity plan advanced by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), and the rest of the Ayn Rand–reading wrecking crew that has taken over the Republican Party. But it is important to recognize that the austerity agenda extends in every direction: from threats to Food Stamps and Pell Grants, to education cuts, to the squeezing of transportation funding.

But the current frontline of the austerity agenda is the assault on the US Postal Service, a vital public service that is older than the country. And it is advancing rapidly.
Dean Baker at CEPR: Killing the Messenger: The Downsizing and Death of the Postal Service
Congress also has to be prepared to allow the Postal Service to win. About a decade ago, the Postal Service had an extremely effective ad campaign highlighting the fact that its express mail service was just a fraction of the price charged for overnight delivery by UPS and FedEx.

The two companies actually went to court to try to stop the ad campaign. When the court told them to get lost, they went to Congress. Their friends in Congress then leaned on the Postal Service and got it to end the ads.
Sen. Tom Carper of Deleware has a good information page: Postal Reform Myths vs. Facts, (click through for the details)
With all the information floating around about the U.S. Postal Service’s financial crisis and the possible Postal Service default at the end of September, it can be difficult to wade through what is fact and what is fiction. Below are 8 Myths about the current crisis and 8 facts explaining what can and must be done to reform this vital American institution and ensure its services remain for generations to come.

MYTH #1: The U.S. Postal Service is bankrolled by taxpayers.
MYTH #2: The U.S. Postal Service will inevitably see a total financial collapse in the coming months.
MYTH #3: Congressional action to save the U.S. Postal Service amounts to yet another government bailout of a failing industry.
MYTH #4: Allowing the U.S. Postal Service to default will simply force much-needed restructuring and reform.
MYTH #5: A new government control board could better take the dramatic steps necessary to fix the U.S. Postal Service.
MYTH #6: A new government commission – similar to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission – could help the U.S. Postal Service close or consolidate unnecessary processing and retail facilities free from political pressure.
MYTH #7: The U.S. Postal Service must raise rates on certain postal products to help cover its losses.
MYTH #8: Sen. Carper’s bill – the POST Act – wants to end Saturday mail delivery.
Think Progress: Thanks To Congressional Incompetence, Saturday Mail Delivery Is History,
Postal access is, ultimately, a rights issue for rural Americans; since they live in areas where internet coverage is inconsistent, post office closures and slowed-down delivery can mean big limitations on communication. A lack of access to postal services can lead to a growth in economic inequality. The new rules for Saturday delivery, set to take effect on August 1, 2013, will continue delivery of packages, but discontinue basic first-class mail.
From Sept 2011, Brigid OFarrell, writing at the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog, Ten Reasons That the U.S. Postal Service is Not a Failure — and is Vital to Our Country,
There is a crisis, but it is not because the Postal Service is inefficient and its workers overpaid. It is because the Postal Service:
1. Receives no taxpayer dollars
2. Is funded by the products and services it sells
3. Working with its unions, has already reduced its workforce by 110,000 employees, improved efficiency, and introduced new products and services
4. Handles more than 40 percent of the world’s mail more efficiently and at lower cost than other services
5. Despite the growth of the digital world, continues to support a $1 trillion mailing industry with more than 8 million jobs
6. Has a workforce that is made up of 40 percent women, 40 percent minorities, and 22 percent veterans, many disabled
There is a crisis, but it is not because the Postal Service is inefficient and its workers overpaid. It is because the Postal Service:
7. Is the only federal agency or private company required to pre-fund retiree health benefits for 75 years
8. Is therefore required to pay $5.5 billion annually to the Treasury, an amount not required of any other agency or company
Without these unique requirements, it would have earned a surplus of over $600 million during the last four years. In addition, the USPS:
9. Has over-paid its obligations to the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) by an estimated $50 billion (and this money should be returned)
10. Has overfunded the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) by approximately $6.9 billion (and would be profitable if these funds were returned)
David Morris at AlterNet takes a good look at the history of the Postal Service and the current problems, in Why We Must Rescue the U.S. Postal Service From the Brink of Death, and concludes,
The Postal Service can still be saved. But the grave has been dug. The coffin has been built. And funeral music is in the air. Only the most aggressive effort by AARP, the NAACP, Consumers Union and other affected constituencies can save this most public of all public institutions.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Friday, February 01, 2013

Gary Rubinstein in NY Times Blog

Another MORE candidate in the news. Gary Rubinstein is running on the MORE slate for AFT/NYSUT delegate. The work he has been doing has been outstanding and we are proud to have him join the MORE campaign.

Schooling January 31, 2013, 9:08 pm22 Comments

Teachers and Policy Makers: Troubling Disconnect

Can the school reform movement accept constructive criticism? Gary Rubinstein hopes so. Mr. Rubinstein joined Teach for America in 1991, the program’s second year, and has now been teaching math for 15 years, five of them in some of the nation’s neediest public schools and 10 more at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. He has a bachelor’s degree in math and a master’s in computer science, has written two books on classroom practice and at one point helped train new corps members for Teach for America. For years, he was a proponent of the program, albeit one with the occasional quibble.

Then, in 2010, Mr. Rubinstein underwent a sea change. As he grew suspicious of some of the data used to promote charter schools, be became critical of Teach for America and the broader reform movement. (The education scholar Diane Ravitch famously made a similar shift around this time.)

Mr. Rubinstein, who knows how to crunch numbers, noticed that, at many charter schools student test scores and graduation rates didn’t always add up to what the schools claimed. He was also alarmed by what he viewed as misguided reforms like an overreliance on crude standardized tests that measure students’ yearly academic “growth” and teacher performance. Mr. Rubinstein, who favors improving schools and evaluating teachers, says using standardized test scores might seem “like a good idea in theory.” But he also thinks the teacher ratings based on the scores are too imprecise and subject to random variation to be a reliable basis for high-stakes hiring and firing decisions.

Given his long alliance with Teach for America, Mr. Rubinstein knows many of the program’s alumni who have become marquee players in school reform. In Houston, he became friends with his fellow T.F.A. teachers Dave Levin and Michael Feinberg, who went on to start KIPP, the nationwide chain of charter schools. Mr. Rubinstein worked briefly under Michelle A. Rhee before she became the chancellor of the District of Columbia’s public schools. At another point, he met Michael Johnston, the former charter-school principal who is now the Colorado state senator who helped push through one of the nation’s most aggressive testing schemes for teacher evaluations. Along the way, Mr. Rubinstein got to know Wendy Kopp, Teach for America’s founder.

He’s now written a series of “Open Letters to Reformers I Know” on his blog, hosted by teachforus.org, in which he shares his unease about the direction of current school reforms. The letters are unusual, partly for their personal tone and evident admiration of some of the recipients, and partly because attempts at dialogue like this are increasingly rare as bitter debate rages among educators who support charters and testing and those who don’t.

Michael Petrilli, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a pro-charter education analyst with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, worries about this lack of exchange. He recently conducted an analysis of Twitter and the tens of thousands of followers of Ms. Rhee, who is pro-charter, and Ms. Ravitch, who is anti-charter, and discovered that only 10 percent overlapped. Just as conservatives gravitate to Fox News and liberals to MSNBC to hear their preconceived notions and biases confirmed, Mr. Petrilli speculates that those in education are now preaching solely to the converted, a phenomenon known in the media world as “narrowcasting.”
Worse, in Mr. Petrilli’s view, those who follow Ms. Rhee tend to describe themselves in their Twitter profiles as policy makers or otherwise removed from the immediate realities of the classroom, while Ms. Ravitch’s devotees are typically self-identified practitioners: principals and teachers on education’s front lines. Surely these folks should be talking to one another, but in Mr. Petrilli’s experience, they often aren’t.

“A lot of people in the reform community say, ‘We know what we need to do; we just need the political will to do it,’ and I think that’s wrong,” he says. “We need to be much more humble. We’re now in a position where a lot of reforms are being enacted; they’re playing out in the real world, and it’s crazy not to listen to teachers, to the problems that might need to be addressed.”

Mr. Petrilli’s wisdom derives from hard experience: “I went through this with No Child Left Behind,” he says. “We put so much effort into cheerleading and making the case for it, we didn’t address the inevitable problems.” Mr. Petrilli now recognizes that the law might have been stronger and worked better had its supporters been more open to input and constructive criticism from the start.

Perhaps proving Mr. Petrilli’s point, only two of the eight recipients of Mr. Rubinstein’s “Open Letters” — Mr. Johnston and Ms. Kopp — have replied so far (although a third, Jon Schnur, a former presidential education policy adviser and the executive chairman of America Achieves, had already promised to do so before being contacted for this article and says he still will). However, Mr. Johnston chose not to publicly answer some of Mr. Rubinstein’s more pointed criticisms. For example, Mr. Johnston has stated that the alternative school he helped establish and where he was a principal “made Colorado history by becoming the first public high school in which 100 percent of seniors were admitted to four-year colleges.”

As Mr. Rubinstein notes, the claim is technically accurate but misleading because the school also had very high attrition rates before its students graduated. This is the kind of data distortion Mr. Rubinstein disparages: “There were actually 73 10th graders,” Mr. Rubinstein writes, “who had dwindled to 44 seniors — a pretty relevant detail.” The school apparently couldn’t meet the needs of a good proportion of its original students. Many of those who left presumably ended up back in traditional public schools, which often become the dumping grounds for students whom charters can’t, or won’t, teach and then are solely blamed for these students’ failure.
Still, Mr. Rubinstein concedes that even 44 graduates out of 73, in many low-income communities, amounts to “a story about kids beating the odds.” But why the need to exaggerate the sales pitch instead of acknowledging the more complex, challenging picture?

At the heart of all Mr. Rubinstein’s “Open Letters” is a plea to his old friends and colleagues, many of whom long ago left the classroom, to remember just how hard teaching is and to remain honest and transparent about what they have and haven’t accomplished, not only to keep faith with those teachers and principals entrusted with the tough job of implementing reforms but also so we can know what truly works and doesn’t and why, in order to build on real, not imagined, gains.

For those who wish to be part of the solution, Mr. Petrilli advises more genuine dialogue: listening to those whose views one opposes and “staying open to the possibility,” he writes, “that they might, nevertheless, have a few smart things to say.”

 One interesting point Gary concedes below that I disagree with is that 44 out of 73 is not spectacular. Even in the school I taught at we had a decent percentage of graduates --- most of my top classes graduated from high school and many went on to college. It was the ones that are similar to the group pushed out or left  - the 29 out of 73 that are similar to our struggling students -- and in fact this school probably had a higher level of motivated students to start with.