Friday, April 29, 2005

Ferrer Shakes up the Campaign

Chad Clanton, Director of Communications, and David Axelrod, a senior media advisor, quit Fernando Ferrer's mayoral campaign over "strategic differences" yesterday.


Ferrer is sinking faster and faster. Democratic rival Virginia Fields has caught him in the polls. Bloomberg has soared ahead of him. Now Ferrer's shaking up his campaign to gain some traction again.

Maybe a shake-up will work for Ferrer the way it worked for John Kerry in the months before the Iowa caucus. Maybe.

But the only shake-up that I think will work for the Ferrer campaign is if they fire Freddie himself and get somebody good to run. Or at least somebody less self-destructive. Ferrer is such a bad Democratic front-runner, it's like Freddie's actually a double agent for the Bloomberg campaign while simultaneously running for the Democratic nomination.

And don't laugh, Bob Kerry almost did it - heading up "Democrats for Bloomberg" while simultaneously running against Mayor Moneybags in the general election.

"Measurements" and Accountability

Congress held a hearing on the tutoring industry which has grown enormously since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002 required states to provide tutors for children attending "failing" schools.


The money quote from the Times: "Much of the questioning and commentary at the hearing focused on accountability and achievement: how to measure them and whether, ultimately, they are best judged by school districts, the states, the tutoring providers, the federal government or some combination of them."

Ah yes, accountability. Bush is a big on "accountability" (unless it's his own, of course). He's also big on "measuring." In fact the president responded to a question about No Child Left Behind in his April 28th primetime news conference by saying

"I think it's working. And the reason why I think it's working is because we are measuring. And the measurement is showing progress toward teaching people how to read and write and add and subtract. Listen, the whole theory behind No Child Left Behind is this: If we're going to spend federal money, we expect states to show us whether or not we're achieving, you know, simply objectives, like literacy, literacy in math, the ability to read and write. And yes, we're making progress. And I can say that because we are measuring. Look, I'm a former governor. I believe that states ought to control their own destinies when it comes to schools. They're by far the biggest funder of education. And it should remain that way. But we spend a lot of money at the federal level, and we have increased the money we spend here quite dramatically at the federal level. And we just changed the policy. Instead of just spending money and hoping for the best, we're now spending money and saying, 'Measure.' And some people don't like to measure. But if you don't measure, how do you know whether you've got a problem in the classroom? I believe it's best to measure early and correct problems early before it's too late. That's why, as a part of the No Child Left Behind Act, we had money available for remedial education. In other words, we said, 'We're going to measure.' And when we detect someone who needs extra help, that person will get extra help. And absoultely, it's making -- it's a good piece of legislation. And I will do everything I can to prevent people from unwinding it."

Yes, the preznit likes to measure. He likes to measure so much, he said some form of the word eight times during his answer. He especially wants to measure public schools, to see if they are failing or not, and public school teachers, to see if they need to be fired or not.

He doesn't want to measure tutoring providers, however. You see, the tutoring providers are part of that "remedial education' he talked about at his press conference. When we "measure" and see that kids are failing, we provide "extra help" in the form of remedial education. But while the whole theory behind NCLB I is "measurement" and "accountability" for public schools and public school teachers, the private tutoring companies are exempt from the "measurement". Why? Because their private, silly! Everybody knows that the free market does the best job of "measuring" success in private enterprise. Or, as Federal Education Department official Michael Petrilli put it, "We want as little regulation as possible so the law can be as vibrant as possible."

So the Federal Education Department is considering allowing the tutoring providers to "measure" themselves. Isn't allowing the tutoring providers to measure themselves kind of like allowing General Ricardo Sanchez to investigate himself for torture allegations? Isn't it kind of like awarding CIA Director George Tenet a Medal of Freedom for coordinating massive "intelligence failures" in the Iraq War? Isn't it kind of like allowing energy companies to write their own energy legislation in secret with the Vice President? Isn't it kind of like giving Condi Rice a raise and a promotion for failing to look into the August 6th, 2001 "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S." presidential daily briefing memo? Isn't it kind of like making Ahmad Chalabi Minister of Oil in Iraq even though he may have been working as a double agent for Iran? Isn't it kind of like -

You get the idea. The preznit is big on "accountability" and "measurement" for everyone outside of his circle of screw-ups, criminals, con men, religious fanatics, and ne'er-do-wells. Just stay loyal to the preznit and you can fuck up as big as you want with no penalties. But be a member of a nasty teachers union and you better watch out, sucka! We're gonna measure your results and hold you accountable!

BTW: One of people making millions from the "remedial education" component of No Child Left Behind is Neil Bush, the preznit's ne'er-do-well brother (think failed S & L's, think insider trading scandals, think hookers, think crony capitalism, etc). Neil co-owns an educational software company called Ignite! Neil believes educators make education too complex, especially for our "hunter-warrior types" who we place in "prisonlike environments" and "label them attention-deficit disordered and put them on drugs." So he developed a software tutoring program that makes education "fun" for kids who don't like to read (presumably like himself and his brother, the preznit).

The software program uses music, graphics, animation, and games to teach middle-school kids social studies and science. In the first course of the program, eighth grade American history, the software teaches a lesson on the Seminoles Wars by using a cartoon football game between the "Jacksons" and the "Seminoles". The Constitutional Process is taught through rap. When schools purchase the program, they also receive "The Purple COW," a mobile "Curriculum On Wheels" cart with projector, computer, speakers, and pre-loaded courses, that makes teaching easy and fun. According to the Ignite! website, "You just plug it in and start teaching!"

Many teachers and students believe the program is silly and dumbs down education. The program relies on rhyming and games to teach lessons that seem, according to one teacher, more suited to "kindergarten". Students at one school in California where the computer program was tested even argued directly with Neil over his program. One girl, probably not a "hunter-warrior" type like Neil or the preznit, said she liked calculus after Neil told the kids he thought calculus was "useless". She told Neil that calculus was the branch of mathematics that made space travel possible. Neil said nothing.

Neil's company Ignite! first made its educational software commercially available in late 2003. It is being used in Texas and Florida, both Bush family strongholds. Houston bought the educational software after Bush family friends Wells Fargo made a $115,000 donation to the school district contingent upon the purchase of the Ignite! software.

Yes, the free market system sure does hold these tutoring providers accountable.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

When Does A Soft Patch Become a Sink Hole?

Gross Domestic Product, the measure of all the goods and services produced by both the public and private sectors in the United States, grew at just 3.1% in the first quarter of 2005 after Wall Street analysts had predicted 3.6% growth, more evidence that the economy has hit a "soft patch". GDP growth is the slowest in two years. Economists are blaming high energy costs and higher interests rates for the slowdown in consumer and business spending.


Federal Reserve Chairman Uncle Alan Greenspan has already raised interest rates a quarter point seven times to fight inflation creep and is expected to approve another rate increase next Tuesday when the Fed meets for power sandwiches. Wall Street was hoping that Greenspan would start to ramp down on the rate increases with the economy apparently slowing in the first part of the year, but inflation remains a worry for the Fed. The latest GDP report won't assuage fears of inflation, with personal consumption expenditures excluding food and energy rising 2.2% in the first quarter of 2005, up from 1.7% in the final quarter of 2004 and the biggest increase since the last quarter of 2001.

Business investment was also considerably weaker, falling from a 14.5% annual growth rate in the final quarter of 2004 to just 4.7% in the first quarter of 2005. Consumer spending fell from 4.2% annual growth rate in the final quarter of 2004 to 3.5% in the first quarter of 2005. In the third quarter of 2004, personal consumption expenditures had been 5.1% annual growth rate.

So what does this all mean for the economy? Writers at Reuters and the Wall Street Journal are careful to use words like "softened" when talking about the growth in the United States economy, stressing that 3.1% is modest growth, but still growth. They both note that growth is supposed to slow even more in the second quarter of 2005, primarily due to higher energy costs and lower consumer spending, but that stagflation or recession are not currently a worry yet.

Now I'm no economist, but I want to say a few things about the current state of the U.S. economy and see if they make some sense.

Consumer spending revs the U.S. economic engine. Much of consumer spending has been fueled by debt. Interests rates are rising, albeit slowly. Prices are rising, not so slowly. Consumers are spending less and trying to pay down their debts (especially with that new Bankruptcy Law signed by President George MBNA Bush last week). So the economy is slowing down while inflation is increasing. Uncle Alan will still be raising interests rates, further squeezing borrowers. The housing market, the only part of the economy still rolling, will eventually have to slow down because of rate increases. Real Estate values will decrease as rates increase, since much of the real estate market has been moving on adjustable rate mortgages. As borrowers start missing payments on their mortgages and banks start foreclosing, overly inflated real estate values (the so-called Housing Bubble) will return to earth because quadrupled real estate value in just two years seems a little unreal, doesn't it? Meanwhile, business spending decreases as inventories and energy costs increase, further decelerating economic growth. The trade deficit, already at a record level, further hurts business, as Americans purchase cheaper foreign goods from Asia over homemade American products. Unemployment, already historically high for an economic recovery, will increase as business stop hiring (or start laying off again) during the slowdown. As bankruptcies and house foreclosures increase, the U. S. economy teeters on the edge of recession.

Most economists scoff at the notion that we could head into a recession later in the year. But with Japan (o.8% growth) and Germany (o.7% growth) already heading into recession and U.S. growth decelerating faster than expected, of course it's a possibilty. Economists were originally forecasting 4% GDP growth for the first quarter of 2005, than they lowered growth expectations to 3.6%. GDP came in at 3.1%, 0.9% lower than originally predicted. Wall Street is predicting 2.5% - 3% growth in the second quarter of 2005. What happens if it comes in lower than expectations, say 2% or 1.5%? With oil still above 50 dollars a barrel and price pressures continuing, the Fed doesn't have much wiggle room with interest rates. With a record Federal Budget Deficit, Bush can't cut taxes or increase government spending to make up for the shortfall in private sector spending. So where does the economic impetus come from?

As I said, I'm a novice at economics and I'm just talking basics here. But doesn't it seem like the U.S. economy, propped up by consumer debt and an overinflated real estate market, is a house of cards that could tumble at any time?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ferrer's Dead in the Water

Democratic mayoral candidate Freddie Ferrer has collapsed in the latest Marist poll, falling behind Mayor Moneybags by 13 points, a 20 point shift from last month when he lead Bloomberg by 9 points.


The Marist poll also shows huge gains for Bloomberg against all of his Democratic rivals for mayor in the past 30 days. Since I can't think of anything Bloomberg did in March/April to cause such a huge shift, I can only conclude that the Diallo debacle has killed Ferrer, the only Democratic candidate with any real name recognition. With Ferrer dead in the water, people are telling pollsters they're supporting Moneybags because they don't know anything about the other candidates and don't want to commit to an unknown quantity.

I am trying to stay positive over this poll and I hope Ferrer's early demise gives either Gifford Miller or Anthony Weiner the opportunity to move up in the polls. But if Bloomberg is garnering solid 51% support in April, it will be difficult to beat him in November, particularly after he unleashes $ 75 million dollars in ads. Perhaps if the national Democratic Party throws in millions of extra dollars to defeat Bloomberg, a Dem can compete against Moneybags. But if the polls start to give Bloomberg a consistent double digit lead against the Dems, campaign money is going to dry up pretty quickly. And there is no way a cash-poor Democrat can compete with Mayor Moneybags.

The other hope, of course, is that the Marist poll is an outlier ( a statistical deviation), a distinct possibility since the Marist results are so different from other recent polls.

The one certainty in all of this is that Ferrer is done and the onus is on the other Dems to pull away from the pack soon or Moneybags will be sauntering to re-election.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Ferrer Sinks Some More

How dumb is Freddie Ferrer? So dumb, he proposed to revive the tax on stock trades because the city is under court order to provide billions of dollars for the public schools and must get the money for somewhere.

The only problem: the state is under court order to provide billions of dollars for education, not the city.


You know, I always thought Ferrer was a bit of a schmuck. But the more I watch him during the '05 mayoral campaign, the more I'm convinced he's the dumbest man in New York City politics. Bloomberg will make short work of him in November, so I hope Freddie keeps shooting himself in both feet during this early part of the primary season. Then we can bury his candidacy and start looking seriously at Weiner, Miller, or Fields.

I notice that Weiner is starting to get some serious press, though his poll numbers aren't moving yet. That's all right. Let the good press come and the rise in poll numbers (or at least the name recognition) will follow.

In the meantime, the bad press for Freddie Ferrer continues.

Dead Pool for No Child Left Behind?

The National Education Association and eight school districts in states as diverse as Texas, Michigan, and Vermont have filed a legal challenge to No Child Left Behind. The suit was filed in Federal District Court in Detroit and charges that the federal government costs the nation's school districts a "multi-billion dollar national funding shortfall" by not providing adequate federal money for the mandates of the education law. According to the New York Times, the union "seeks a court order notifying states and districts that they are not required to spend their own money to comply with federal requirements."


So how has Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings responded to the spate of lawsuits and challenges to the Bush Administration's signature education law? For starters, she called Connecticut un-American and racist for planning to file a lawsuit against the federal government for not properly funding the law. In an interview with Ray Suarez on the April 7th Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Ms. Spellings said,

"And you know, I think it's un-American -- I would call it -- for us to take the attitude that African-American children in Connecticut living in inner cities are not going to be able to compete, are not going to be prepared to compete in this world and are not going to be educated to high levels. That's the notion, the soft bigotry of low expectations, as the president calls it, that No Child Left Behind rejects."

Right. So you're un-American, racist, and discriminatory toward all those nice inner city black children if you don't want to fund the entire bill for No Child Left Behind so that Our Great Leader can simulataneously fight his Wars on Terror and Taxes without having to throw any extra dineros into the federal education kitty.

Nobody is saying black kids in inner cities across this country shouldn't receive proper educations. Nor is anybody saying we should futz with the test scores by hiding the low performing children (often black and Latino kids) in with the averages of the higher performing children (often white kids). What Connecticut, Utah, Michigan, Vermont, Texas, and the National Education Association are saying is that if you want to hold states, school districts, and schools "accountable" for the new federal education mandates that require progress for all students, you should put your money where your mouth is and fund them.

The point is, George Bush and Margaret Spellings don't give a flying fuck about black kids in Connecticut or Houston or Washington Heights or Oakland. They care about their evangelical base who want federal vouchers for religious schools and their privatization buddies who want to end federal funding for public education. No Child Left Behind is a smoke screen set up to destroy public education by having all public school declared "failing" under the dictates of the law by 2015 to give the evangelicals and the privatization people their rewards. And the kicker is, Bush and Spellings get to declare public education a failure while piously claiming they are fighting discrimination against inner city minorities and "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

But Bush and Spellings didn't care about minority kids when they were "reforming" Texas education policy in the 1990's (Latest "Texas Miracle" Scandals: educators at 400 schools across the state helped students cheat on exams and the city of Houston misrepresented their drop-out rate, which may be as high as 42%) and they don't care about them now. If they did care, they'd stop throwing around the accusations and start funding the mandates.

Now I just wonder: when do we start the dead pool for No Child Left Behind?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Utah Pulling out from NCLB?

Looks like Utah is pulling out from No Child Left Behind, turning down $ 76 million dollars in federal funds in order "to give state education standards priority over federal ones."

Between Connecticut's lawsuit against the federal gov't and Utah turning down the federal funds, I can't imagine Bush and Spellings are going to have an easy time selling the high school sequel to NCLB.

Thank God.

UPDATE: Yep. The Utah Senate passed a bill (25-3) requiring state education officials "to ignore provisions of the federal law that conflict with Utah's education goals or that require state financing." The Utah House passed the bill 66 -7. And the governor, Jon Huntsman Jr., says he will sign the bill into law.

Looks like NCLB II is going to be as dead in the dust as privatization of Social Security. How do you expand your federal education law to high schools when so many states (15 in all) are starting to rebel against its unfunded mandates (including Bush's home state of Texas, which is fighting testing for disabled students)?

Pope Adolph I

Whew. The cardinals chose Ratzinger, the former member of the Hitler Youth, as the new pope.


Ratzinger was John Paul II's doctrinal Luca Brasi, sent to whack anyone who didn't strictly abide by church doctrine as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Ratzinger also made some nasty sex scandals go away and protected pedophile priests from investigation or punishment.

As a recovering Roman Catholic, I can't say that I'm disappointed or surprised by the choice of Pope Adolph I. John Paul got some good press, especially after his death, but let's face it: the church is run by a bunch of homophobic, misogynistic criminals who would be in jail if they had been running a public school system instead of the largest church in the world. And John Paul, in the words of Andrew Sullivan, "presided over the rape of thousands of children by his own priests...and protected the chief enabler of the abuse in the U.S, Cardinal Law, and used the occasion of his own church's failing to blame homosexuals in general for the abuse." So why not follow up the John Paul enabling years with the authoritarian dictatorship of a former member of the Nazi Party who will threaten you with excommunication and deny you the sacrament of communion if you don't toe his strict doctrinal line, as he did to John Kerry last year.

Of course there is always the chance that everybody is wrong about the reactionary nature of Ratzinger. Maybe the new pope will turn out to be a reformer, like John XXIII.

Well, Pope Adolph I called homosexuality a "moral disorder" which "prevents one's own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God." In other words, God created the penis for the vagina, every sperm is sacred, don't spill your seed on that leather bondage boy and so forth. This doesn't sound too reform-minded to me, especially since so many of his own priests suffer from this "moral disorder."

Pope Adolph I also wants Turkey kept out of the European Union because he believes Europe should remain essentially a Christian continent. You know, racial purity, keep the heathens out and so forth. This doesn't sound too reform-minded to me either.

And of course Pope Adolph I also hates "feminism" because it makes women adversaries of men. You know, barefoot and pregnant, speak when spoken to, what do you mean you're having an independent thought and so forth. Again, reform-minded? Not so much.

I wonder if George W. Bush will appoint Pope Adolph I to the Supreme Court to replace Rehnquist when he retires later this year. That would surely be one way to pack the Court with a conservative and keep Democrats from filbustering the pick. I mean, how do you filibuster the pope? And Pope Adolph I would certainly fit in with Bush's conservative philosophy: bash gay people, crusade against Islam, etc.

Plus Scalia and Thomas could use another buddy for the Opus Dei meetings they attend every week, right? I mean, how often can you hang out with Mel Gibson?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

More Daily News Slander Via a Chicago Sun-Times Columnist

Neil Steinberg, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, says teachers are "inept" at "holding the interests" of New York City public school students.


Steinberg is reacting to the Daily News story earlier in the week that criticized teachers for preferring to perform a "professional period" over doing lunchroom duty, schoolyard duty, or hallway patrol. Many schools have had to cut off recess periods or playtime for children because of this rule in the teachers' contract, known as Circular 6R. Thus teachers are failing to hold the interests of New York City schoolchildren by abiding by Circular 6R and forcing schools to cancel recess and playtime.

But as I already have written, the controversy over Circular 6R is more complex than either the Daily News or Neil Steinberg let on. First off, teachers are not given the authority to responsibly and respectfully discipline students whose conduct is out of bounds. Here are two examples: You chase a kid down the hall for smoking marijuana in the stairwell outside your classroom. You can be brought up on charges for harassing the student, both verbally and physically. You stop a kid from leaving your classroom without a reasonable excuse. You are liable to receive a letter in your file for verbal harrassment (if you demanded the student stay in class where he or she is required to be) or dismissal for physical abuse (if you stood in the kid's way to ask where he or she was going).

Teachers know that they can only limit a child's behavior by requesting a child to act accordingly; they cannot demand proper behavior. So, why should teachers put themselves at risk by performing duties for which they have not been given the needed authority or power?

Secondly, Circular 6R was offered to teachers in the contract in lieu of money; therefore, to revoke Circular 6R will cost the city money in the next contract. How many employees would accept a perk in their contract with their employer in lieu of financial compensation, then give back that perk without getting any financial compensation in return? Indeed, how many company CEO's would do this? The answer is obvious: few to none.

Therefore, if teachers are going to be required to patrol hallways, schoolyards, and lunchrooms, two actions must be taken:

1. Teachers must given the power to control the improper behavior of students and to respectfully and reasonably discipline students when their behavior is beyond the limits of acceptable conduct. I am not talking about allowing teachers to physically discipline students; I am talking about requiring the student to pay a penalty when they act out (cursing, cutting, lateness, fighting, etc). Schools can't even hold detention anymore because detention is considered "abuse". Perhaps that rule could be adjusted so that students came to learn that there would be a penalty for acting out other than being told "Don't do that again, Junior!"

2. Teachers must be compensated financially for the loss of the Circular 6R professional period.

Teachers are not grinches. Teachers do not want to keep kids from playing in the schoolyard or running around in the gym. In fact, many of the reasons why schools have cut off recess and playtime opportunities for kids is because of the climate of high-stakes testing that the Bloomberg Administration has forced in the third and fourth grades. Mayor Mike and President Bush are as much at fault for the lack of school playtime as the consequences of Circular 6R. Nonetheless, teachers will not simply give up Circular 6R just because Daily News editors or Neil Steinberg wants them too.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

More Sordid Daily News Headlines

The New York Daily News loves sex scandals.


I don't know if either of these teachers is guilty of having sex with students. I do know that if either one or both of these teachers are innocent of the allegations, their lives are already ruined no matter what the ultimate outcome.

I wonder if there is not a better to way to investigate these kinds of criminal charges without plastering the people all over the front covers of the tabloids? Or is that part of the legal strategy? Break 'em down by humiliating them in public?

And aren't there more important stories (even education stories) to put on the front page of the paper? Are these salacious tales the most important pieces of "news" that have occured in the city, country, or the world in the last 24 hours? I mean, isn't there something else about the Pope's death we need to know about?

Sigh. I'm not excusing the behavior of teachers who engage in sexual activity with students. This behavior is abominable and a betrayal of the public trust. I am sick of the tabloids' lapping these stories up while engaging in phony outrage over them. Let's face it, the editorial page of the Post will publish diatribes over the protections teachers' unions offer for "perv teachers" while they really relish the ability to splash these stories all over their paper.

How come we never hear about when a Post or Daily News employee is arrested for something sordid?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Cracks in No Child Left Behind Stats

The Bush Administration is always crowing about how the test scores of many students across the nation are rising under the No Child Left Behind law.

But a new study by the Northwest Evaluation Association (a company which develops tests for 1,500 school districts in 43 states) used test data from 320,000 students in 23 states to show that "the academic growth that students experience in a given school year has apparently slowed since the passage of No Child Left Behind, the education law that was intended to achieve just the opposite" and that "the achievment gap between white and nonwhite students could soon widen."


The problem seems to be that schools spend so much time preparing at-risk students for the high-stakes tests that are given each year that they cannot adequately educate students who are "far below or far above the proficiency mark." These students then make little individual progress throughout the school year. Minority students with the same test scores as white students at the beginning of the year did not progess as much during the year, suggesting that the achievment gap may widen under NCLB I. These startling statistics have been masked by the overall scores of schools and the improvment from grade to grade, but the study may predict some scary numbers for the future.

According to Northwest's Director of Research, Gage Kingsbury said, "Right now it's a hidden kind of effect that we would expect to see expressed in the next couple of years. At that point, I think people will be disappointed with what N.C.L.B. has done."

Critics of the study note that states in the Northeast with high minority populations were excluded from the study because they are not clients if Northwest Evaluation Association, so the study should not be extrapolated to the nation as a whole.

Certainly this study is not proof that NCLB I is a failure. It is, however, a wake-up call for all the NCLB proponents who are patting themselves on the back for creating this high-stakes testing environment in education to the detriment of other methods of assessment. Perhaps a study of individual student progress from September through June in each grade in all 50 states could tell us whether there is anything to the Northwest Evaluation Association study.

I wonder if Margaret Spellings would be willing to put up the money for that kind of independent study?

I bet not. The Bush people only like studies that prove their policies or justify their reasons for war.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Daily News: Teachers Won't Let Kids Play

The New York Daily News blames teachers for the lack of playtime in city schools.


Circular 6R - a contractual provision which frees teachers from lunchroom duty, schoolyard duty and hallway patrol and replaces the time with a "professional assignment" - is the culprit for the lack of playtime, according to the News article. Since principals cannot assign teachers to patrol lunchrooms, schoolyards, or hallways, the schools must hire extra school aides to watch the kids. if the schools cannot hire the aides, then no playtime.


But let's look at the Circular 6R controversy a little closer. Mayor Giuliani agreed to Circular 6R several contracts ago. Circular 6R was one of those "perks" given in the teachers' contract in lieu of money. Teachers do have to perform duties during their "professional assignment". They can choose from a menu of assignments such as tutoring, professional development, curriculum writing, etc. But the point of negotiating Circular 6R, according to the United Federation of Teachers, was to "relieve teachers of non-professional duties" in order to better help "students meet higher standards and implement new curriculum requirements" and to "enhance teachers' effectiveness, which is a true measure of educational productivity, without yielding to measures that were intended not to improve education but to save money."


In other words, union negotiators felt that teachers' time would be better spent on "educational" assignments which "enhance the quality of teaching and learning" as opposed to security assignments, which can be performed by other members of the staff.

Critics of Circular 6R say the provision costs the public schools millions of dollars in added payroll and should be deleted from the next teachers' contract. Principals would then be able to assign teachers to schoolyard duty, lunchroom duty, and hallway patrol. The kids could now play in the schoolyards and walk safely in the hallways and everybody would be happy, right?

Well, no.

The problem with lunchroom duty, schoolyard duty, and hallway patrol is not that teachers' think those duties are "beneath" them, as some critics allege; the problem is that teachers do not have the authority to do those duties proerly without placing themselves and their jobs at risk.

If a teacher stops a student in the hallway during the middle of a class period and asks why he or she is not in class, that teacher better have an adult witness there to prove the teacher did not intimidate the student. Because if a student makes an allegation against a teacher doing hallway patrol, the teacher will have to prove his or her innocence before the student has to prove his or her guilt. Teachers are very rarely given the benefit of the doubt in these kinds of cases.

Here's another example of how these duties put teachers at risk: Let's say a teacher has lunchroom duty. The teacher's job is to check student programs at the door to the lunchroom. Only students with lunch scheduled for that particular period are allowed into the lunchroom. This is to keep other students from cutting their classes and hanging out in the lunchroom. But let's say a couple of students without programs try to push into the lunchroom past the teacher with lunchroom duty. Let's say the teacher tries to stop those kids from pushing through into the lunchroom. Which party is liable to punished for these actions?

Believe it or not, the teacher. Depending upon how the teacher handles the incident, he or she could have a letter placed in his or her file because they engaged in "corporal punishment" or "verbal abuse" by restraining the two children from entering the lunchroom without authorization.

Many teachers resent Daily News articles like the one I linked to above that infer teachers are hurting the kids because of Circular 6R. The reality is much more complex. Sure their are teachers who don't want to patrol hallways because they are lazy. There are also teachers who thinkthese duties are beneath them. But there are many more teachers who don't want to patrol hallways one period a day because they know every 42 minutes they spend on that duty could lead to an incident or altercation with a student for which the teacher will have to prove his or her innocence.

If you want teachers to patrol hallways, lunchrooms and schoolyards, give them back some authority to control the children in a responsible, non-physical manner or balance the investigation process so that teachers feel they are being treated fairly. When students are always considered in the right and teachers always considered suspect, you will not have a workforce that wants to watch your children playing in the schoolyard.

After all, how many of you have thought about suing a teacher when your kid falls while playing in the schoolyard?

A few, I bet.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Reverse Robin Hood Rides Again

Student loan providers continue to bilk the United States Government for millions of dollars. They have been charging the government 9.5% interest for guaranteed student loans that actually carry much lower interest rates. Congress attempted to close the guaranteed subsidy loophole last year, but subsidies to student loan providers have actually increased duing the first quarter of 2005 by $ 22 million dollars from the last quater of 2004.


So while George W. Bush cuts Pell Grant subsidies to thousands of middle-income and low-income college students, he and the Republican Congress are providing millions more for the banks providing the loans.

This is known as Bushonomics or the Reverse Robin Hood Program. You take money, benefits and opportunity from middle-income and low-income people and provide them for the wealthy, the powerful, and the banking and investment classes.

Bush and the Republican Congress have also played Reverse Robin Hood with the pending Bankruptcy Bill and the Class-Action law. Credit card companies and corporate malefactors like Walmart (Biggest retailer and Most Sued in the Nation - All right, Sam!) have directly written laws that will benefit them to the tune of millions of dollars.

But students all across this nation are finding that their Federal Pell Grants have been either cut or eliminated by Reverse Robin Hood and his band of merry congressmen. These same students may find their Social Security benefits cut or eliminated in the future (if Reverse Robin Hood has his way with "private accounts"). And certainly these students will be paying off the federal deficit throughout their lives because Reverse Robin Hood fought two wars and cut taxes simultaneously.

In instance after instance, George W. Bush and the Republican Congress (along with some 'moderate" Dems like Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden) have sided with the moneyed interests and investment classes over the rest of us who work for a living. Prices rise, productivity rises, the federal deficit rises, personal debt rises -while wages stay stagnant. Most of us owe more and own less. When the real estate bubble finally bursts (and it will even if Greenspan refuses to acknowledge it) Americans will really owe more (in adjustable rate mortgage payments) and own less (foreclosed homes).

Ah yes, Reverse Robin Hood and his band of merry bankers, brokers, and congressmen never met a worker or student they wouldn't rob or a wealthy interest they wouldn't rescue.

41 Self-Inflicted Shots

Freddie Ferrer is done.


Ferrer spoke at Al Sharpton's National Action Network mayoral candidate's forum on Friday. Audience members laughed and hooted at Freddie's attempts to explain away the comments he made to a Sergeants Benevolent Association group on March 15th about the Amadou Diallo shooting. Ferrer had told the police organization that he didn't think the Diallo shooting was a crime and there had been an attempt to "overindict" the police in the case.

Those comments created an immediate furor for the Ferrer campaign. His poll numbers plummeted against his Democratic rivals in the week after he made the comments. Ferrer tried to explain the comments again Friday, saying "I'm not a lawyer" when asked whether he thought the Diallo shooting was a crime.

Many in the crowd were not receptive to Freddie's explanations. One man told Ferrer he would not vote for him and a chorus of other audience members called out in agreement.

It was not a good afternoon for Ferrer.

I get the feeling that the Diallo comments and Ferrer's attempts to explain them have become watershed moments for the Ferrer campaign. It goes without saying that the initial comments weren't the smartest words to ever come out of Ferrer's mouth. As one of the audience members at Friday's forum pointed out to Ferrer, "Why would you support the police sergeants? Ninety percent of them don't even live in the City of New York and don't even vote in the City of New York. And now you appeased them and turned your back on us."

No, Freddie has not handled "damage control mode" very well. Not when the story is still showing up in the papers on April 8th, more than three weeks after he made the original comments.

While Ferrer deals with the Diallo comments fallout, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields is rapidly closing the gap in the polls between Ferrer and herself and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller is adding more and more campaign donations to his war chest (he leads all Democrats in donations). Ferrer better change the subject soon or he's got his campaign theme song for '05: American Skin (41 Self-Inflicted Shots)

I don't care who wins the Democratic Primary as long as he or she can send Mayor Moneybags packing on a permanent Bermuda Vacation come November. Just watching Ferrer deal with the Diallo controversy makes me think Bloomberg will make short work of him in the fall when he unleashes $8 million dollars of negative advertising.

I don't know if Gifford Miller or Anthony Weiner can win in either the primaries or the general election. I don't know if Virginia Fields can win in November. I don't know if Mayor Moneybags can make people forget he's a multi-billionaire who loves helping out his fellow multi-billionaires at taxpayers' expense.

I do know Freddie Ferrer's done. Friday's pathetic performance at Sharpton's forum proves it.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Spellings Takes Op-Ed Piece on the Road

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings met state education officials yesterday at George Washington's estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia where she said the federal gov't would be more "flexible" in its application of the No Child Left Behind law as long as states "follow the principles" of the law. She warned that states who do not follow the principles of the law would be "disappointed."


Disappointed? How? You mean maybe you won't fund the law? You mean maybe you'll declare more schools "failing"?

Please. Only 15 state superintendents and 10 deputies showed up to hear Ms. Spellings essentially reiterate the talking points from her op-ed piece in last Saturday's Washington Post. You know the points I mean: NCLB I was great, the sequel's even better (hello, high schools!), and those who don't like the law are against accountability and student achievement.

Ms. Spellings did not address the main concern of the states, which is to say the money. The state of Connecticut, for instance, which is planning to sue the federal government for forcing the states to pay for unfunded federal education mandates, wasn't assuaged by the Spellings pep talk (or the bone Spellings threw the states to allow schools to separately test 2% of learning disabled students rather than the currently mandated 1%).

"This supposed initiative offers less than meets the eye," said Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Attorney General. "Nothing in all of today's verbiage corrects the key legal lapse; by the law's clear terms, no mandate means no mandate, if it's unfunded. Our determination to sue continues."

Indeedy. The Bush Administration often forces the states to pick up much of the tab for federal programs, including EPA mandates on arsenic in drinking water and Medicaid. The Bush Administration often talks a good game when they're proposing initiatives, like Global AIDS Relief, too, but they're never around when the check arrives for those things either. And of course the Bush Administration made the municipality of Washington D.C. pick up much of the security tab for the Inauguration, cities across the nation pick up much of the security tabs for Bush/Cheney '04 campaign stops, and taxpayers everywhere are stuck with the tab for Bush's 60 day Social Security "Phase-Out Follies" (currently estimated at $2 million dollars and counting).

No, this adminstration (and it's "responsibility president") will not take responsibility for their programs or their mandates, but they're always up for making tax cuts permanent or arranging for unregulated reconstruction funds for Iraq.

But it's critics of No Child Left Behind who are against accountability, right?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Silver Weighs in on Stadium

Sheldon Silver, Assembly Speaker and member of the Public Authorities Control Board, sounds like he's leaning against Mayor Bloomberg's $2 billion dollar West Side land/stadium give-away.


Silver, speaking on WFAN yesterday, said he wasn't sure whether the MTA got a fair price for the West Side land or if the stadium would cause traffic nightmares to an already grid-locked area of the city near the Lincoln Tunnel. He also said he thought most New Yorkers were against the deal, putting Mayor Bloomberg at odds with the will of the people.

Of course, Mayor Moneybags thinks he is the will of the people. Unfortunately for Bloomberg and luckily for satdium opponents, Silver isn't so convinced of that. And since Silver has a vote as a member of the Public Authorties Control Board, Bloomberg has his work cut out for him.

I hope.

Oh, and still nothing on the billions owed to the city's public school children by the state

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Free Market Good: Regulation Bad

The No Child Left Behind law requires failing schools and school districts to provide tutoring free of charge to their students. The Bush Administration has decided that the companies providing the tutoring will not be regulated because, in the words of Michael Petrilli, a federal Education Department official, "We want as little regulation as possible so the law can be as vibrant as possible."


Fresh from providing unregulated reconstruction of Iraq (Hey, who wouldn't pay $27.5 million dollars for $82,100 dollars worth of fuel in a war zone?), the Bush Administration wants to make sure every shyster, con man, and Tom Delay associate can make a quick buck off NCLB I while still ensuring that nearly every public school in the nation is declared "failing" by 2015. To this end, lots of shady companies have been incorporated to join such tutoring stalwarts as Princeton Review and Kaplan in providing tutoring for children who attend failing schools. So what if many of the tutors aren't qualified to tutor in their subjects? So what if some of the tutors don't show up? So what if the tutors "aren't familiar with the schools, the students or the curriculum"? So what if some of the tutoring companies are bribing state officials to get on the "State Tutoring List"?

So what? This is about free-market principles, dammit!

Ah, but even one of the writers of NCLB, Representative George Miller (D-CA) finds the deregulated tutoring apparatus unseemly. He says "History says, when you put this kind of money on the street, you get a lot of suede-shoe operators."

Indeed. Lots of 'em. In fact, Neil Bush, brother of our current President George W. and our future President Jeb, is one of them. He runs an education company set up to provide tutoring under the NCLB guidelines.

I don't know how shady Neil's shoe operation is, but I bet it would be fun to look into. I wish the press wasn't so busy looking into the Tom Delay thing (which apparently has been going on for ten years). But you know, these things take time to check into.

So many potential Republican scandals, so little time to investigate...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Connecticut Sues


Connecticut becomes the first state to plan to sue the federal government for forcing states to meet the unfunded mandates of the No Child Left Behind law. Connecticut claims NCLB I forces them to administer standardized tests that cost millions of dollars without receiving any money from the federal government to pay for the increased education costs. The Connecticut Attorney General is looking for other states to join his lawsuit.

The Times article says Connecticut could be successful with this suit because NCLB I includes a passage placed in it by Republicans that forbids the federal gov't from forcing states to pay for the federal policies required by the education law.

And this is the law the NY Times Editoral page wants to keep around?


The Times editorial says much of NCLB I needs to be fixed but is fundamentally a solid law with solid goals.

But what's the point of creating a solid law with solid goals if you don't intend to fund it?

And I guarantee you, Bush never intended to fund it. He set the NCLB I goals so high so that schools have trouble meeting them and can be declared "failing" by 2015. And then his conservative buddies can pass the Federal Voucher Law of 2015 and keep the evangelical and Roman Catholic bases happy.

As I have said earlier, real education reform must wait until a man with a shred of decency and honesty resides in the White House. And Shrub ain't him.

Cablevision Sues

As expected, Cablevision has sued to kill the MTA's West Side real estate deal with the Jets. They have named the Jets, New York City, and the MTA as defendants in the lawsuit.


Cablevision said in a statement: "The MTA, the mayor's office, and the Jets stacked the deck in favor of the Jets at the expense of New York taxpayers, subwayriders, and commuters." They asked the judge to either award the bid to Cablevision or force another bidding process that would be fair and proper.

Mayor Moneybags responded this way at a news conference: "'If you can't beat 'em, sue 'em' is unfortunately how some people go about it."

Right, Mike. Cablevision was beaten fair and square and now they're just leveling a frivolous lawsuit to muddy the waters, delay the inevitable stadium deal, and ruin it for everybody. Some people are just such sore losers.

Except that you can't call someone a sore loser when the game wasn't fair to begin with.

And the game is never fair when your involved, is it Mikey boy? Let's run down how you "stacked the deck" in favor of your side:

1. You were planning on giving away the West Side real estate, worth as much as $1 billion dollars, for a million bucks to your billionaire buddy Robert "Woody" Johnson.
2. You were planning to railroad the stadium deal through without any public scrutiny until Cablevision embarrassed you into opening the bidding process.
3. When Cablevision offered a better deal than your billionaire buddy did, your associate, Deputy Dan Doctoroff, put together an ancillary real estate deal with some of the city's biggest builders to improve the paltry amount of money the Jets were offering.
4. Finally you and Governor Pataki rigged the voting process by the MTA board.

So you're so right, Mike. Cablevision is just showing itself to be a sore loser while you are a gracious, gracious winner.

But real gracious winners actually give their opponents a chance to win, Mayor Bloomberg. You never do. In your case, it's "If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em."

That's how you won in the first place, right.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

No Child Left Behind II

Secretery of Education Margaret Spellings, fresh from taking Buster the Bunny Rabbit to task for promoting a gay lifestyle to impressionable children on PBS stations, fired a Fort Sumner shot at public high schools yesterday in a Washington Post op-ed piece.

"Now we must expand the promise of No Child Left Behind to our high schools. Its principles of accountability, flexibility, choice and research-based practice can help restore value to the high school diploma, making it a ticket to success in the 21st century. There is a growing consensus behind high school reform. Never before have some many groups -- governors, business leaders, children's advocates -- been so united on the need to act...We need to encourage students to take challenging coursework, and to assess our high school students every year, so that teachers can intervene before a problem sets in and sets a student back for life."

If you are a public high school teacher today, these are indeed scary words. Ms. Spellings, one of the main architects of NCLB I and a huge proponent of high-stakes testing, wants to add federally-mandated, high-stakes tests in every subject in every year of high school. Currently, the states mandate the testing schedule in high school. In New York State, students can take Regents exams in a variety of subjects during their four years in high school: english, math a, math b, global, U.S. history, living environments, chemistry, physics, foreign languages, and vocational majors. In order to graduate with a Regents diploma, students must pass exams in english, global, U.S. history, math, and science. If they entered high school between the years 1999-2005, students can pass the exams with a score of 55 (though most schools are judged by how many students pass with a 65 or higher on their exams); if they enter high school after 2005, they must pass all of their Regents exams with a 65 or higher.

What will NCLB II do to the New York State Regents exam standards? Will the federal mandates supercede the state mandates? Will the federal standards be higher than the states standards or lower? Remember, when it come to environmental standards, the Bush Administration federal standards are often less rigorous than many state standards, so we can't say for certain how rigorous the new federal standards will be and how they will affect the states.

What we can say for certain is that NCLB II will be another smoke-and-mirrors act by the Bush Administration that will ultimately undermine the very purposes it is purporting to achieve. Just as the recent Medicare Reform law was devised to undermine the Medicare system by bankrupting it, just as the "private accounts" the president wants to add into the Social Security system are designed to choke the funding from the system and kill the program, NCLB I and NCLB II are designed to undermine American public education over the next ten years so that ultimately every public school in the nation will be declared "failing" under the dictates of the law by 2015. At that time, conservatives can then throw their hands in the air, say "We tried to fix this mess, we really did; but obviously we're going to have to kill it." And then they will pass the Federal Voucher Act, which will starve the public system of its tax money while enrapturing the conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic base with tax subsidies for religious schools.

Make no mistake, the strategy behind the No Child Left Behind laws is not to improve public education but to destroy it. Now I have no problem with conservatives who want to end New Deal programs like Social Security and Medicare, nor do I have issues with conservatives who want to add a voucher system to public education, if those conservatives are being honest and open about their true motivations. Ronald Reagan declared he wanted to shut down the Department of Education (at that time a recent expansion of the federal government enacted by the Carter Administration). You knew how Reagan felt about the Department of Ed and you could have an honest and open debate with him on whether it should exist or not.

You cannot have honest debate with anybody in the Bush Administration or the current Republican leadership because they are liars. They are not honest about any of their policies or their true intentions. They want to destroy the New Deal social programs and public education, but they know most American voters don't agree with them, so they say openly they are strengthening the programs while their actions show they are undermining them from within.
For a group of people that used to hammer the Clintons so much for having poll-driven beliefs and policies, the Republican Party has been greatly influenced by Frank Luntz and other pollsters who have shown that obfuscation and deliberate deception in language usage is the practical way to confuse Americans over your true intentions and get what you ultimately want without having to be honest about it.

For example, George W. Bush is on record as wanting to privatize the Social Security program as far back as 1978. Amerciancs genuinely like Social Security and do not want to see the program privatized, so the Republican Party has to be careful how they couch the issue. What they do is parse words in a masterful exercise of Clintonian language manipulation. Therefore the words "private accounts", a phrase George W. Bush has used in the past to describe his Social Security reform plan, suddenly becomes "personal accounts" when Frank Lunzt and other pollsters tell Karl Rove that the word "private" creates anxiety in voters who don't want to see it privatized. So Luntz changes the phrase to "personal accounts", though the policy proposal itself never changes. Now Americans feel less threatened by the phrases being used to talk about the Bush Social Security plan and are more apt to consider the reforms in a positive light. It turns out that the deception and obfuscation haven't worked so far in the case of Social Security, but they sure did work during the first Bush Adminstration with Medicare and education, which is why so many Democrats, including Ted Kennedy, signed onto these "reforms".

Democrats have not been in the mood for compromise so far in the second term, so I do believe Bush and Spellings will have a more difficult time passing high school education reform than they had passing NCLB I. Many Americans are catching on to the obfuscation strategy the Bush Administration has perfected into an artform (it hasn't worked so far in convincing Americans to accept the Republican positions in either passing Social Security reform or ending the Senate Filibuster), so Bush is starting to find that people are not taking his words at face value any more. Republican small-government conservatives are leary of extending more federal power over the states or enlarging the size of the federal government. Finally, the states themselves are starting to rebel over the unrealistic federal mandates, as witnessed in the fight between the Department of Education and the state of Utah, which is still unresolved but may result in Utah giving up federal tax money in order to opt out of the NCLB mandates.

If I believed or trusted George W. Bush or Margaret Spellings about their true motivations to reform high school education, I would be open to listening to their reform ideas. But I do not believe or trust them and neither should anybody else. Bush modeled NCLB I on what he called the "Houston miracle", though we have since seen that the Houston education miracle was actually a scam in which Houston education officials falsified test scores and graduate statistics in order to make their school districts look much better than they truly were. Thus NCLB I was based on false premises and lies, just the way the war in Iraq was; in fact, false premises and lies pretty much sum up the true nature of George W. Bush, Margaret Spelllings, and the rest of the administration.

Thankfully those false premises and lies are starting to catch up to the Vacation Cowboy. Bush got his bankruptcy and his class-action reforms; but so far he has not gotten his Social Security privatization plan, he has not gotten his right-wing conservative judge appointees, and he has not gotten the "nuclear option" he has been pushing (i.e., the end of the Senate Filibuster).

I hope he does not get his high school education reform plan either. I believe high schools need to be reformed, but we must wait for a president with honor and honesty before we embark upon that reform.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Off to Court

Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Doctoroff, Jets owner Woody Johnson, and Governor Pataki got what they wanted yesterday: the MTA board unanimously approved the Jets bid for the Far West Side site.

No surprise here. The rubber members of the MTA board have rubberstamped what the big boys wanted. But three non-voting members of the board expressed their disapproval of the vote, saying essentially that the MTA board had violated the trust of New Yorkers by selecting the inferior bid and accepting millions less for the site than it is worth. This argument is potentially damaging to the Jets stadium deal because the MTA needs an infusion of millions in cash for capital improvements and repair projects over the next five years. The need is so dire that legislators have been planning a slight increase in the sales tax to fund some MTA projects. So if it appears tha the MTA accepted less money for the site than it is truly worth, the deal could be held up in court.

And now the process will be going from the backroom offices of Deputy Dan and Mayor Moneybags straight into the courts. Both Cablevision and the Straphangers Campaign (a transit riders public interest group) plan to challenge the MTA decision in court. Between the court challenges and the need for the approval of the Public Authorities Control Board (a Pataki aide, State Senate leader Joe Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver), the Jets have plenty more obstacles to hurdle before the final "TOUCHDOWN" headlines are written in the tabloids. The Mayor, flush with victory yesterday at his press conference, knows this. You can expect to see more union "jobs" demonstrations, more rallies with local minority politicians, and many more commercials trying to sell this stadium to an unconvinced public.

The one irony in all of this shameless behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing is how such devout free-market capitalists like Bloomberg, Doctoroff, and Woody Johnson only agree to free market bidding when it suits their purposes. When a true free market bidding process threatens their sweetheart real estate deals, then they rig it like Tammany Hall bagmen of olden days and create their own monopoly.

Funny thing that. The mayor and many other Republican education reformers are always decrying the monopoly that the public school system and teacher's unions have over American education. They push the Charter School Movement and vouchers as ways to add some "free-market accountability" into the mix. And yet when faced with their own "free-market accountability" moment during the Far West Side bidding process, they threatened potential real estate bidders, stacked the voting board with a bunch of rubberstamps, and chose cronyism and personal profit over their cherished free-market values.

Thankfully, what George W. Bush calls "the accountability moment" is coming up soon for Mayor Bloomberg. The election of '05 is the time to pay him back for choosing his real estate and banker buddies and his own ego over the citizens and schoolchildren of New York City.

Let's send this self-anointed "reformer" on a permanent Bermuda vacation (where he usually spends his weekends). What the hell. Maybe they need some of Bloomberg's brand of "reform" (i.e., cronyism) there.

Or maybe their in the market for a new, over-proced sports stadium.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?