Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The embrace of market models -- 'the new wisdom'

The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss interviews Michael Katz and Mike Rose, editors of an important new book, Public Education Under Siege that's worth adding to your summer fall reading list.
 Q)  How did this set of beliefs take hold, even among some liberals who previously had recognized that the public education system should be run as a civic institution rather than a business? 
 A) Multiple reasons, really.  In general, in American politics there’s been a shift toward the Right going on since the Reagan presidency.  And even before that, there’s been a growing attraction toward market-based solutions to public policy problems.  This embrace of market models, and along with it a technological orientation to social issues, has become increasingly bi-partisan.  It’s the new wisdom.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The great TFA/charter scam -- Drive-by Teachers

A TFAer in Birmingham, AL.

Today's NYT carries a piece,  "At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice" by Mokoto Rich. The notion that young, inexperienced short-timers, many with only 5 weeks of TFA training, should form the backbone of the nation's teaching core, has become one of the lynch pins of corporate-style school reform.

The drive-by teacher strategy is being pushed heavily by the power philanthropists in the Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations. It actually is based on the Wal-Mart model where about 70% of its poorly-paid workforce turns over within a year. This is what the reformers mean by 21st Century jobs.
At Success Academy Charter Schools, a chain run by Eva Moskowitz, a former New York City councilwoman, the average is about four years in the classroom. KIPP, one of the country’s best known and largest charter operators, with 141 schools in 20 states, also keeps teachers in classrooms for an average of about four years. 
Short careers by choice, translates into teachers being reduced to low-wage information-age delivery clerks while most "learning" is done by students sitting in front of a computer screen. The benefits to the charter operators include the elimination of pensions, tenure, salary increases, and union protection. This means more money going into the pockets of the charter operators. Moskowitz for example, pulls down about $400,000/yr.

Rich says the notion of a foreshortened teaching career was largely introduced by Teach for America, which places high-achieving college graduates into low-income schools for two years. Today, Teach for America places about a third of its recruits in charter schools.
“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”
But studies have shown that on average, teacher turnover diminishes student achievement, writes Rich. Advocates who argue that teaching should become more like medicine or law say that while programs like Teach for America fill a need in the short term, educational leaders should be focused on improving training and working environments so that teachers will invest in long careers.

Reformers claim that this is all a generational thing where today's young teachers are "restless" and don't like to stay in one job too long. One young teacher, "who is already thinking beyond the classroom",  is quoted, saying, “I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing, and always moving onto something bigger and better.”

I wonder, especially, with a shrinking job market and devastated middle class, what a real teacher would feel is "bigger and better" than teaching children?

Friday, August 23, 2013

James Meredith: The civil rights issue of our time...

Accompanied by U.S. marshals and surrounded by jeering crowds, James Meredith enrolled as the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi in 1962.

“The civil rights issue of our time is to stop unproven co-called education reforms from totally destroying our children’s public education,” says Meredith, “and to get parents, teachers, community leaders and elders, the whole ‘Family of God,’ to take back control of our children’s education from politicians, bureaucrats and for-profits, who have turned our public schools into pawns in a game of money and power.”  -- Diane Ravitch Blog

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Union busting behind Rahm's privatization of Midway

I don't agree. 
A story in today's Sun-Times reveals some of the real reasons behind Rahm Emanuel's assault on public space and public decision making. Reporter Fran Spielman's story is all about the planned privatization of Midway Airport. But it could just as easily be about privately-run charter schools, the Chicago Skyway, or the expansion of privately-managed charter schools. 

This time it's Aviation Committee Chairman Michael Zalewski (23rd), whose ward includes Midway, who's kicking sand in Rahm's face. He’s concerned that a private contractor would attempt to shoehorn more late-night flights into the airport. But he's also worried about a revolt from the many union members who live in his ward.
His concerns are exacerbated by the fact that one of two finalists for the Midway lease — Spain’s Ferrovial — has been accused of “union busting and black-listing,” Zalewski said. 
“A number of employees from Europe came to see me last week with these allegations — that one of the finalists is a notorious union-busting company,” the alderman said.
“I told them I needed proof. I’m awaiting that documentation. But, if it’s true, that’s a huge problem” that would require Emanuel to either risk a political donnybrook with organized labor’s City Council allies or award the contract to the only other bidder, Zalewski said.
Great Britain’s largest union has alleged that a union shop steward on a massive London tunnel project that includes Ferrovial was fired and black-listed after raising health and safety concerns on behalf of rank-and-file employees.
The Great Lakes Airport Alliance is a partnership between Ferrovial and Australia’s Macquarie Group that leased the Chicago Skyway for 99 years. The rival team includes Industry Funds Management of Australia and Manchester Airports Group.

Could things be any clearer?

Ahmad and Rahm
Carrying Rahm's water in defending Midway's privatization is none other than his Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott.  If you don't know who Scott is, she's the one who recommended Rahm's former comptroller Amer Ahmad, who was just indicted in Ohio on conspiracy charges about directing state investments in exchange for bribes. Ahmad currently sits on the boards of all four of the City's largest pension funds. Ahmad tendered his resignation to Emanuel on July 23, more than 10 months after the former comptroller was questioned by FBI agents in the probe involving his tenure as Ohio deputy treasurer.

It turns out that Scott's private financial firm apparently worked on some $200 million in state highway construction bonds in Ohio and that Scott Balice Strategies LLC, co-owned by Scott, served as "financial adviser to the treasurer" on those Ohio deals. Scott sold her interest in the firm in 2011 when she came to work at City Hall.

As you might expect, Scott loves the Midway privatization deal. If you were in her expensive shoes, you would too.

Lois Scott 
Funny, Crain's has been all over Rahm for his choice of Ahmad as his chief money guy.  But looking back, guess what I found. Ahmad had made Crain's 2012 40 Under 40 list and quoted the high praise being offered by none other than, Lois Scott.
"There's been some extraordinary results," says city CFO Lois Scott, noting Mr. Ahmad's perhaps not universally appreciated efforts to get tax and fine delinquents to pay up, or the more than $100 million she says he saved by tightening up the city's health insurance coverage. "I give major credit to Amer."
The best quote in the Crain's story comes pre-indictment  from Ahmad himself :
What's next? Government pension reform, he says, adding with a smile, "Sometimes I miss the private sector."
I'll bet you do, Amer.  And they will miss you too, while you're (uhm) away.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Yuck, Tuck

Marshall Tucker Band
When I first got this news from a friend in L.A.,  I thought she was talking about Marshall Tucker, the S. Carolina piano tuner after whom one of my favorite '70s bands ("Heard it in a love song") was named.  But alas, it was about Marshall Tuck, the corporate f*%k, who just announced he's running for State Supt. of Education in California.

Tuck is the head of the Partnership for LA Schools and former Green Dot Charter exec. He's also big in the so-called Parent Revolution, the group behind the so-called "Parent Trigger", one of the great hoaxes ever played on public school parents and their children.

Tuck will be running against the incumbent Tom Torlakson, who I'm sure will be baited for being a "union lover" (a Class 1 felony in some parts of the state). Tuck will most likely have a huge pot of money in his war chest coming from the likes billionaire boys clubbers like Broad, DFER and other corporate reformers.

According to the L.A. Times:
Under Torlakson and Gov. Jerry Brown — who also enjoyed teachers union support — the state has bucked national trends in education policy. Top state officials, for example, have resisted efforts to make students' standardized test scores a major component of a teacher's performance evaluation. 
Running against Tuck, I wish him luck.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Profiting off the 'deliberate starvation' of Philly schools

The district has never recovered from Paul Vallas' financial mismanagement. 

Yes, schools will open on time in Philly. But only by going further into debt to the banks. According to the NYT, ("A City Borrows So That Its Schools Open On Time") the situation is not as dire yet as Detroit’s. But the problem is so severe that the city agreed at the last minute on Thursday to borrow $50 million just to be able to open schools on time. Even with that money, schools will open Sept. 9 with a minimum of staffing and sharply curtailed extracurricular activities and other programs.
“The concept is just jaw-dropping,” said Helen Gym, who has three children in the city’s public schools. “Nobody is talking about what it takes to get a child educated. It’s just about what the lowest number is needed to get the bare minimum. That’s what we’re talking about here: the deliberate starvation of one of the nation’s biggest school districts.”
The district has been victimized by state takeover, which put the schools under the control of a corporate School Reform Commission. It was the SRC that brought in Paul Vallas as CEO and Vallas left the school district in 2007 in a state of financial chaos from which it has never recovered.

Look for Supt. Hite to try and take advantage of the crisis by forcing more concessions from teachers and the unions.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Children on Medicaid are prescribed anti-psychotic drugs at 4 times rate of those privately insured

Drug makers for years have been making billions marketing antipsychotic and antidepressents for use in schools and foster homes on children with behavioral issues.

Now Barron's and WSJ report that the feds are investigating the over-prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs like Abilify (now the nation's No. 1 prescription drug) to children from low-income families on Medicaid. The children, often diagnosed with "behavioral problems" such as bipolar disorder or "irritability" associated with autism, or even kids with ADHD, are prescribed antipsychotics at four times the rate of privately insured children, according to a study by Stephen Crystal, a professor of health policy at Rutgers University, that looked at data from 2004 on 6- to 17-year-old children in seven states.

Government Medicaid data indicate that some of the prescriptions are being written for very young children. An analysis by Mathematica found that in 2008, 19,045 children age 5 and under were prescribed antipsychotics through Medicaid, 3% of recipients under 20, up from 7,759 in 1999, according to James Verdier, a senior fellow at the organization. Some were under a year old, including one listed as a month old. In New York, a spokesman for the state health department said some children between ages 1 and 2 received antipsychotics for conditions such as autistic disorder and attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity.
Dr. Fernando Siles, a pediatric psychiatrist in the Dallas area who treats many poor foster children, says he sometimes prescribes such medications to treat serious behavior problems. "A child that continues to be aggressive will be kicked out from his foster home," he says. "The antipsychotic is to stabilize the behavior of the child, to keep him from being moved and moved again."
The article doesn't break it down by race. I would like to know if children of color are being given anti-psychotics in great numbers than are white kids. What would you guess?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Rahm selling off everything that's not nailed down

I don't think so. 
Following the direction set by his predecessor, Mayor Emanuel has put the whole city up for sale. Next up on the auction block, the airports, hospitals, and port. 

Writes Mick Dumke in the Reader:
"We are taking what was an underutilized, run-down port and turning it into an engine of opportunity," Emanuel promised.
These are the times we live in: the city has to sell off pieces of public property so it can invest in them. At least that's the narrative that Emanuel is advancing out of City Hall, like Mayor Daley before him. When they say it over and over it almost makes sense, like it's not paradoxical after all. It certainly sounds a lot better than coming out and saying that the city is for sale.
There's one problem, and it's not so little: Most of the city's long-term privatization deals are put together behind closed doors, with such complicated terms that no one can tell if the public gained or got gamed until long after they're on the books. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

For Pearson CEO, measurable learning outcomes is a growth industry

Pearson CEO Fallon
“Education is now emerging as one of the major growth industries for the next decade and beyond; it is serving a huge rise in the global middle class, and we now need to be thinking of how to serve global products focused on efficacy,” says Pearson CEO John Fallon.

Our strategy is to transform Pearson into a single operating company that is sharply focussed on the biggest needs in global education and on measurable learning outcomes. With our restructuring program on track and the reorganisation of the company under way, we are making significant progress towards that goal." -- 

Can MOOCS replace face-to-face teaching/learning?

Peter Scott, a professor of higher education studies, writes about MOOCS in yesterday's Guardian.

The acronym stands for mass open online courses, now rapidly replacing face-to-face teaching/learning in post-secondary education in Britain and the U.S.. The idea is to make higher education more accessible to the masses by uploading more and more courses to the Cloud. But the reality is that the testing and credentialing component, along with the separation of  teaching from accreditation that goes along with MOOCS, are actually making the end product even more unattainable for all but the elite.

In my view, the ones who stand to benefit the most are the big global media and testing companies, like Pearson and global online diploma mills like the University of Phoenix.

Writes Scott:
Government cuts, high fees, league-table snobbism – all point to a reinforcement of elite forms of higher education. Attempts to deliver HE-lite through further education colleges and private providers are never going to get very far. So Moocs provide the perfect cover story – "higher education for the masses" when real-world opportunities to go to university are being cut.
Scott makes the case that the debate about the potential of Moocs has to be put into a wider context, "a more fundamental debate about the nature of the university curriculum and teaching in a mass system." He asks, how can the Socratic tutorial coexist with the delivery of expert skills? How can we keep the curriculum open in increasingly industrialized "learning environments" and "managed" institutions?
There is another equally fundamental debate about "openness" more generally – the links between open-access courses and open access (good old "widening participation") and between open-source research publication and democratic science, and also between both and the need to build an open society.
Difficult stuff, writes Scott – "but far better than narrowing the debate about Moocs to a neo-liberal fix."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

K12 Inc. lags far behind face-to-face schools in Florida

The thing about privatization is, there's little or no public accountability. Take for example, K12 Inc., the e-learning company that competes with traditional schools for a piece of the  multi-billion-dollar education pie.

Progress Florida also found that K12 schools are not only lagging behind in performance, but they also have “fewer students qualifying for free-or-reduced-lunch, fewer students with disabilities, fewer ELL students, and fewer minority students.” But K12's poor performance hasn't hurt their bottom line any.  In 2012, K12 Inc. experienced “a 35 percent increase in revenue to more than $700 million, the report found.”

According the report:
“…Notably only 27.7 percent of K12 Inc. schools make adequate yearly progress—a national metric of measuring student achievement—and this figure is merely half nearly half the rate achieved by public face-to-face schools. The on-time graduation rate for K12 Inc. schools is 49.1percent, compared to 79.4 percent for all students in the states in which K12 Inc. operates.”
 Lisa Larson-Walker (Slate)
Speaking of Florida, Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott's regime is awash in scandal and corruption. Not only has he lost his privatizing school chief, Tony Bennett, to a grade-changing scandal, but now his biggest outside campaign contributor, Bill Edwards, has been caught swindling Florida military families and veterans.

Ironically, the one's crying the loudest over the Bennett resignation, besides Jeb Bush and his GOP pals, are the so-called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Obama's ed chief, Arne Duncan.

Who says there's no bi-partisanship?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The selling of Chicago

CFO Lois Scott refuses to reveal specifics of  Midway privatization. 
Like Daley's selling of the city's parking spaces, Rahm is doing his sell-off of Midway Airport in the dark, until after the deal is done.

He's using the manufactured pension crisis to justify the further looting and burning of Chicago the same way that Daley used the city's debt crisis to cut his parking meter deal and the selling off of the Skyway before that. Neither deal did anything to get the city back on sound financial footing.

The victims of all this is what's left of public space -- schools, clinics, mass transit, and housing projects, none of whom will benefit from the Airport deal.

Fran Spielman at the Sun-Times reports:
In a meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board to discuss the city’s financial crisis, Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott refused to discuss specifics of the competition or the potential for a $2 billion windfall. Nor would she say when final bids are due or even confirm that only two bid teams remain. 
 The only question is whether a reluctant City Council would go along with the idea.
Of course they will. When have they ever said NO?

Last week, Bloomberg reported that the Midway sweepstakes was down to two bidding groups and that a contract could be awarded as soon as this fall. The rivals were identified as Great Lakes Airport Alliance — a partnership between Spain’s Ferrovial and Macquarie Group, which leased the Chicago Skyway for 99 years — and a team that includes Industry Funds Management of Australia and Manchester Airports Group.

Best quote comes from Ald. O'Connor:
“Any time one talks about privatizing a municipal asset, immediately the next words out of their mouth is, ‘parking meters.’ 
Ya think?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Who's making out on the great DePaul Basketball land swindle?

Just in case you thought Rahm's DePaul Arena land grab was about basketball -- it ain't. Rather it's nothing less than one of the great taxpayer rip-offs in Chicago history. The deal enriches a web of the mayor's clouted friends using millions in TIF funds that should have gone to bail out a bankrupt school system. It is the culmination of massive kickbacks and political contributions from investors, bankers, and lakefront property owners to Gov. Quinn, Ald. Burke, Mayors Daley and Emanuel.

While everyone has lately had their eye on the penny-ante shenanigans of the Chicago machine boys, like Boss Madigan's hiring of his pals and relatives over at the RTA, Tribune writers Kathy Bergen and Bill Ruthhart were documenting the major league stuff in last Sunday's business section. 

Best and funniest quotes:
"This isn't some clout project," McPier CEO Jim Reilly said. "That isn't how we do business."
Emanuel spokesman Tom Alexander said the mayor's chief lobbyist, Matt Hynes, also has recused himself in any negotiations connected to the project because of his father's involvement with DePaul but said "there would have been no conflict or rules violation" had Hynes chosen to work on such a deal.
"The city has one interest and one interest only when it comes to negotiations — to find the best deal for taxpayers."
 Like Reilly, the mayor has no concerns about potential conflicts of interest, and Alexander said "the notion of any conflict is preposterous."
In a statement, [Gov.]Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said, "The governor has zero tolerance for any conflicts of interest," but she did not elaborate on whether the Democratic governor had concerns that any such conflicts could exist with the McPier project.
"He expects board members to fulfill their fiduciary duty and make these decisions based on the best interest of taxpayers," Anderson said of McPier's land acquisitions. "The process should be open and transparent."
[Lakeside Bank Pres. Vincent] Cacciatore said his record as a donor to DePaul is irrelevant. 
"God knows how many thousands of donors there are," he said. "Does that mean that no property owners who are donors to DePaul — that the city couldn't buy their properties?"
[CenterPoint co-founder John S. Gates] said he recused himself and left the room whenever the legal proceedings came up for discussion. "It's not that I had to — I had no financial interest," he said. "But there could have been an appearance of conflict of interest because CenterPoint is a company I was involved with for a long time."
I'll stop now. I'm laughing too hard.