I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Another Reason The SCOTUS Makes No Sense To Me

Stepping way out of my wheelhouse here, but why not...

Do I have a lawyer who reads this blog who can explain this to me?

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So Pete Williams is saying the SCOTUS doesn't want to take on the "question" of marriage equity. And it is refusing to hear cases where it would have to render a decision on the constitutionality of denying gays and lesbians the right to marry. OK...

But since 1803 and Marbury v. Madison, the SCOTUS has accrued to itself the power - a power not enumerated in the Constitution - to review acts of Congress to find if they are compatible with the Constitution.

How can the Supreme Court possibly justify having the power to void laws if they are unconstitutional, yet refuse to use that power whenever it sees fit?  

Marbury v Madison presupposes that the constitutionality of a law can be determined. The SCOTUS has said determining that constitutionality is their job, and no one else's. Well, aren't they derelict in their duties when they refuse to make a determination, using powers that they have granted themselves? Don't they have a responsibility to the America people to explain why they believe a law is or isn't constitutional when challenged in court?

My legal views were pretty much shaped by Marvel Comics. As Peter Parker always said: "With great power comes great responsibility." Why is the SCOTUS allowed to shirk that responsibility - a responsibility they gave to themselves - whenever they feel like it?

Yeah, I should probably stick to education policy...

I woulda gone to law school if the texts had more pictures...

Charter Schools, Pitbull, & Money, Money, Money

UPDATE: Mother Crusader has started a petition calling for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to cancel his appearance at NAPCS.

I want, I need, I like to get
Money, money, money, money
I want, I need, I like to get
Money, money, money, I like

"Juicebox" by Armando "Pitbull" Perez, rapper and charter school founder


Yesterday, I reported that this week's National Charter Schools Conference will feature an address by Miami-based rapper Pitbull, known for his misogynistic lyrics and dubious personal behavior. 

Mother Crusader dug further into the Pitbull's past to reveal a man who most likely would never be allowed to hold a job in public education. Perhaps Amplfy's Joel Klein and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will let us know if they think Pitbull's attitudes toward women belong in a taxpayer-funded school.

Because Pitbull, in spite of his past, will open a new charter this fall: SLAM, the Sports Leadership and Management Charter School. The school, built in the shadow of Marlins Stadium, claims it will prepare students for a career in professional sports:

“Featuring a one-of-a-kind curriculum and unmatched experiences, the school will serve as a catalyst for other sports leadership and management charter schools throughout the nation,” SLAM principal Alex Tamargo stated in a news release.    

That program will include internships with Marlins executives on game days and events, such as shadowing executives during pre- and post-game entertainment, parking and customer service.

Marlins executives have quite a track record to teach students about: building a stadium partially on the public dime, hiring a foul-mouthed manager, holding the least successful opening season in a new stadium in decades, and trading away star players.

The team recently said that its season ticket base has fallen to less than 5,000.

Maybe the SLAM students could teach the Marlins’ executives a thing or two. [emphasis mine]
The irony here is rich indeed. First: SLAM's founder, Pitbull, and the Marlins' staff share a predilection for salty language (please try to clean this up around the kids, folks). Second: both SLAM and the Marlins organization are textbook cases of private enterprises feeding at the public trough, raking in obscene amounts of money.

The story of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria's rip-off of Miami's taxpayers has been well documented:
The ballpark financing agreement "sparked an SEC investigation and is considered so one-sided that almost no rhetoric sounds too extreme: The team will pay for $160 million of the $634 million facility, and compounded interest and balloon payments on one $91 million loan will end up costing the county $1.1 billion when it is paid off in 2048." 
Miami mayor Thomas Regaldo [sic] said the Marlins owners "insulted the taxpayers, and then they insulted the fans ... It was: We did it to you—and screw you." Regaldo has opposed the deal, which uses various taxes to fund the stadium, since the beginning.

"Miami has a history of bad deals, but I would rank this Number 1," Regaldo said. "The residents of Miami were raped. Completely." [emphasis mine]
As we'll see below, Mayor Regalado is a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to protecting South Florida's taxpayers. But before we get to that, let's first turn our attentions to SLAM, the charter school that will be imparting the values of both Pitbull and Loria to the youth of Miami.

SLAM is part of the Mater Academy family of charter schools, a prolific network that has expanded throughout South Florida. Mater's schools are ostensibly non-profit; however, all are run by the for-profit charter management organization, Academica:
Academica’s reach extends from Florida to Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Utah and California, where the company also manages charter schools. But Academica is best known for managing four prominent school networks in Miami-Dade and Broward counties: the Mater Academies, the Somerset Academies, the Doral Academies and the Pinecrest Academies.
In the 2010-11 school year, these four chains had 44 South Florida schools with about 19,000 students.
Each network of schools is run by a nonprofit corporation, which in turn is run by a volunteer governing board. These boards set policy for the schools, and also approve the management contracts and property leases — including the land deals with the Zulueta companies. While the teachers and principals work for the nonprofits, Academica routinely vets personnel and recommends principals from within its stable of schools.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/13/v-fullstory/2545377/academica-florida-richest-charter.html#storylink=cpy
That's from a blockbuster series of reports by the Miami Herald from back in 2011. The story starts with a description of corporate culture at Academica that sounds like it came straight from one of Pitbull's music videos:
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas On a sun-drenched weekend in September, a group of South Florida charter school principals jetted off to a leadership retreat at The Cove, an exclusive enclave of the Atlantis resort. A Friday morning meeting gave way to champagne flutes, a dip in the pool and a trip down a waterslide. The evening ended at the casino.
Leading the toast by the pool: Fernando Zulueta, the CEO of Academica Corp., which manages the principals’ schools.
Zulueta had reason to cheer. During the past 15 years, Zulueta and his brother, Ignacio, have built Academica into Florida’s largest and richest for-profit charter school management company, and one of the largest in the country. In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Academica runs more than 60 schools with $158 million in total annual revenue and more than 20,000 students — more pupils than 38 Florida school districts, records show.
Academica’s schools consistently get high marks for academic achievement, with some schools earning national recognition. Mater Academy Charter High in Hialeah Gardens is considered among the nation’s best high schools by U.S. News & World Report, and recently won the College Board Inspiration Award.
And despite recent cuts in state funding for public and charter schools, Academica’s schools have prospered financially: One of its chains of nonprofit schools has assets of more than $36 million, the company says.
Academica’s achievements have been profitable. The South Miami company receives more than $9 million a year in management fees just from its South Florida charter schools — fees that ultimately come from public tax dollars.
But the Zuluetas’ greatest financial success is largely unseen: Through more than two dozen other companies, the Zuluetas control more than $115 million in South Florida real estate — all exempt from property taxes as public schools — and act as landlords for many of Academica’s signature schools, records show.
These companies collected about $19 million in lease payments last year from charter schools — with nine schools paying rents exceeding 20 percent of their revenue, records show. [emphasis mine]

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/13/v-fullstory/2545377/academica-florida-richest-charter.html#storylink=cpy
I have yet to confirm that SLAM is using the same real estate tactics as the rest of the Mater network; however, given the school's close ties to Zulueta and Academica, it's quite likely SLAM will follow this model. In any case, Academica will certainly reap big management fees from SLAM, just as they do from the other charters in their networks.

If you haven't read the Herald's complete series, Cashing In On Kids, you really should: even if you don't live in Miami-Dade, it's a terrific guide to the sleazy strategies used by the charter industry to manipulate politicians into shoveling buckets of money into their coffers. The Zuluetas, for example, are lucky enough to have a Fernando's brother-in-law, Erik Fresen, serve on the Education Committee in the Florida House:
In October, Fresen was cleared in an ethics investigation sparked by a complaint that his vote this spring on the high-performing charter schools legislation was a conflict that should have been disclosed. Fresen said he consulted with an attorney in the House of Representatives before making the vote, and he later disclosed his ties to Academica.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/14/2545708/company-cultivates-links-to-lawmakers.html#storylink=cpy
It's no surprise Fresen's fellow legislators let him off the hook: charter industry money flows like orange juice around Tallahassee. Thanks to intensive lobbying and targeted campaign contributions, the Florida charter lobby recently scored $91 million in construction costs, all coming from the Public Education Capital Outlay fund, which collects revenues from "the state's gross receipts tax on cable, electric and land-line telephone bills," a highly regressive form of taxation.

So Academica benefits from its political connections - but that's not the only key to its "success." As the Herald reports, South Florida charters, like Academica's, enroll very few poor or special needs students, which serves the dual function of bumping up tests scores while keeping costs low. Miami's charters also appear to engage in targeted marketing:
In 2009, a Miami-Dade school district study of middle-schoolers found that while black students and poor students were less likely to transfer to charter schools, those who were classified as gifted or had earned high marks on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests were more likely to choose charter schools.
The report also found that advanced students were nearly twice as likely to transfer to schools in the Mater and Doral networks of schools as to continue in their home schools.
“It is unlikely that the effects seen for these particular schools can be explained by direct marketing techniques, which are typically ineffective, given that these effects are not seen in other charter schools,” the report concluded. “This raises the possibility that specific students were targeted in some way.” [emphasis mine]
That's particularly interesting regarding SLAM, which has specifically billed itself as a sports-oriented school. The charter just signed up Rich Hofman, a renowned private school baseball coach, as its Athletic Director. I've reported before on the growing national trend of sports-oriented charters, many of which are engaging in unethical recruiting practices; I'd suggest that SLAM needs to be watched very carefully in this upcoming season.

In any case, Academica has developed a bit of a problem: while the schools continue to make gobs of money, they are attracting unwanted publicity - and that's keeping the Florida charter industry from getting everything they crave. The "parent trigger," a mechanism to expand charters, has gone down twice in the Florida Senate, and that $91 million in funds for charter construction isn't recurring, which is what the charter industry desperately wanted. For the Zuluetas and their compatriots to take even more taxpayer funds, they have to splash some perfume on the charter school pig.

Enter Pitbull. It's safe to say the rapper is one of the most image-conscious performers in hip-hop: he's carefully cultivated an persona that gives him "street cred" while remaining palatable to mainstream America:

I remember it well. It was eight years ago, nighttime, and I sat inside an empty banquet hall at the Radisson Hotel in Dallas. Rapper Pitbull sat in front of me. The room was dimly lit. A couple of things about him immediately struck me. His only piece of jewelry was a watch. A nice watch, but hardly anything fancy or shiny. I would learn during our conversation that his mother advised him to look like “old money,” meaning no gaudy bling blinding you from the sparkling glare. She told him that if he decked himself out in expensive clothes and ostentatious jewelry he would look like “new money,” and the sycophants would want to bleed him dry of cash.

Pitbull still heeds mama’s words. Today he has international fame and total assimilation into the Anglo world of hip-hop, which he’s parlayed into product endorsements, TV and film appearances and recorded featured spots on singles by Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Taio Cruz, among others. Pitbull’s image, however, remains all about simple yet elegantly tailored suits, sunglasses and that’s it. Still no obnoxious bling. [emphasis mine]
It speaks volumes about our culture that a man who writes the lyrics Pitbull does can remain in the mainstream of American culture. But he has, and it's paid off in a series of product endorsements:
He’s one of the most aggressive celebrity product and brand endorsers, having struck deals with Kodak, Dr. Pepper, Sheets energy strips, and several other brands. Guided by brand manager Daymond John, the founder of the FUBU clothing line and the star of the ABC Show “Shark Tank,” Pitbull actively searches out companies to align with, often with the goal of endorsing products in exchange for equity in the companies. He receives stock for some endorsements and gets upfront cash payments for others.

“It all depends on how you look at a deal and break it down. Different deals get struck differently,” Pitbull said. He said the equity deals tend to come about when a company is looking for the recording artist to help launch a relatively unknown product that needs a boost from a celebrity. In Pitbull’s case, his penetration into international markets has been an asset in the negotiations for new deals. [emphasis mine]
You can see why charter industry types like the Zuluetas would want to partner up with Pitbull, a shameless self-marketer who appeals to political conservatives (Pitbull is passionately anti-Castro) and is tied into South Florida's youth and Hispanic markets. And so Pitbull has been making the rounds and promoting the proliferation of charters in Miami-Dade. Here he is taping a television special at a Mater Academy school in Hialeah Gardens:

Here's Pitbull selling his story and SLAM to Katie Couric:

Here's "Mr. Worldwide" selling his brand and SLAM on the Today Show:

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You'll notice that none of these media appearances mentions Academica, the Zuluetas, or the money the South Florida charter industry is scooping in at the expense of Miami's public schools. What we get instead is a prefabricated Horatio Alger story designed to tug at our heartstrings:
You might think the biggest moment in Pitbull’s life would be getting signed to a label or his first record hitting stores, but Pitbull said neither are his biggest moments. Getting the key to the city, said Pitbull, was the biggest moment of his life.

“It is always a big day for a Cuban to get a key and I got the key to the city,” Pitbull joked.
And who gave Pitbull the key to Miami? Why, none other than Mayor Tomas Regalado: you remember, the same fellow who now complains Pitbull's partners in SLAM, the Miami Marlins, "raped" the taxpayers. Regalado has himself been a promoter of Miami's charters, especially the Mater Academy schools.

Public money for the wealthy to build sports stadiums and get even richer? Outrageous! Public money for the wealthy to build charter schools and get even richer? Meh...

Let me hasten to add this: in all my research, I couldn't find any indication that Pitbull himself is making a dime off of SLAM. He may well be doing this out of the goodness of his heart (although it certainly isn't hurting his image, which is how he makes his money). There has also been scant little reporting about the financial structure of SLAM - we simply don't know how Academica, the Zuluetas, Mater Academies, the Marlins, and Pitbull have structured their deal.

Which is precisely the problem. This entire enterprise is using taxpayer money to fund a school affiliated with people who have already made piles of money from the Florida charter industry. And yet - save for the outstanding work of the Miami Herald - a sycophantic press has not given us any insight into the finances of SLAM.

What does it say about Joel Klein and Arne Duncan that they will share the stage this week with Pitbull and push the gospel of charter school salvation, even as the deals that fund these charters don't meet the simplest standards of transparency?

What does it say about our press that they are so taken with celebrity journalism that they refuse to do their jobs and look into the backgrounds of schools like SLAM - schools that are enriching operators like the Zuluetas to the tune of millions?

And what does it say about our culture that we hold up a beer salesman like Pitbull as an exemplar of our education system?

For a moment there, I considered calling for Pitbull to step down as a speaker at the National Charter Schools Conference. But it's clear to me now he is the best possible spokesman for the charter "movement." Pitbull is, indeed, the very personification of everything charter schools seem to stand for.

Let him stand on that stage and represent the charter industry; I really can't think of anyone who would do a better job.

I want, I need, I like to get
Money, money, money, money
I want, I need, I like to get
Money, money, money, I like

SLAM founder Pitbull.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

National Charter Schools Conference Features Sexist Lyricist Pitbull

UPDATE: I take a look at the finances behind Pitbull, SLAM, and the charter's management company, Academica. It ain't pretty.

UPDATE: Mother Crusader has more on the background of Pitbull. Darcie, by the way, is the mother of two adorable daughters. I wonder how other mothers might feel about sending their daughters to SLAM after reading what she found.

This year's National Charter Schools Conference will feature failed NYC Chancellor and current snake oil salesman Joel Klein; the incoherent and failed SecEd, Arne Duncan; and easily confused education writer and meme producer for the reformy, Amanda Ripley.

But, as exciting as it will be to hear from these reformy luminaries, they aren't even the main attraction:

Armando Christian Pérez

International Music Superstar Pitbull, SLAM Public Charter School
Miami-native Armando Pérez (Pitbull)—also known as "Mr. Worldwide" and "Mr. 305"—is a globally successful musician, performer, business entrepreneur, fashion icon and actor whose career sales exceed 5 million albums and 40 million singles worldwide. Pitbull has had #1 hits in more than 15 countries and his videos have been viewed more than 3 billion times. His world tour sold out concerts in Latin America, Canada and Europe, before bringing the party to the United States, Japan and Australia.
Mr. Pérez’s commercial success has solidified his influence in his hometown community. He is making the most of his position as a civic leader in Miami by opening the Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM) charter school for youth of the city. SLAM seeks to provide an in-depth educational and career-preparation program through “3 R’s”: rigor, relevance, and relationships. The school’s first cohort of students will begin classes this fall.

Let's leave aside any discussion, for the moment, as to why anyone would think Pitbull is in any way qualified to receive taxpayer funds to run a school. Let's instead take a short tour of Mr. Perez's music, and hopefully gain an insight into the values he hopes to impart to his young charges at SLAM.

Courtesy of the website MetroLyrics, here are some prime examples of Pitbull's "art" [all emphases mine]:

International Love

I've been to countries and cities I can't pronounce
And the places on the globe I didn't know existed
In Romania, she pulled me to the side and told me
"Pit, you can have me and my sister"

In Lebanon, yeah, the women are bomb
[Yes, he really did say that. - JJ]*
And in Greece, you've guessed it, the women are sweet
Spinned all around the world but I ain't gon' lie
There's nothing like Miami's heat

En Colombia women got everything on
Some of the most beautiful women I've ever seen
In Brazil, is freaky big o' booty
And they bounce, blue, yellow and green

The Anthem

She told me that her mama's Latin, her dad Asian
Abuela está loca, abuelo Hatian
Y yo soy Cubano and I'm impatient
So do me a favor, let's skip conversation
I just wanna taste ya ASAP
Take ya ASAP, to the room ASAP
Zoom zoom ASAP, boom boom take that
Ooh, I like that when you fight back [Is there any way to interpret this other than as a rape fantasy? - JJ]

She like that freaky stuff
Two and the O, 1 in the eye,
that kinky stuff, you nasty,
but I like your type
and like T.I. its whatever you like.

Bring your girls,
its whatever tonight,
your man just left,
I'm the plumber tonight,
I check your pipes,
oh, you're the healthy type.
Well, here goes some egg whites.
Now gimme that sweet, that nasty gushy stuff,

Move, Shake, Drop

I got 1's, 5's, 10's, 20's
I got them 50's
Got them 100's baby
I got plenty, I wanna see ya work (work) that pole
'till 'till 'till you get sweaty
I wanna hit it from from the back
I promise you'll like it if you let me

You think you gangsta'
Cause you did time
Well, listen here, gangsta
Don't cross the line

Mr. Collipark
If you think it's a game, you play with it right
Ain't nothin' safe when them guns start

Pequeño JuanBoy, you killed this one dog
If you don't know her name it's cool call her this
Jigga jigga, call that girl Bojangles
Jigga jigga, call that girl Bojangles
Jigga jigga, call that girl Bojangles
The following is not a test, DJ!

I see the way you move and I picture you nude
Baby keep movin' that thing, baby keep movin' that thing
I wanna take you to the boom boom room
So we can do it like boom, boom, boom, boom

Pleasure, yes, God bless
I love my women rated triple-X
Let me show you how we do it 'round here
Man the women they don't fake it they get naked down here
It's da bottom, no bras no drawers
Da bottom, where they holla "Take it off!"
Da bottom, where we turn out daughters
Just to plan a lick on the father, we got 'em
Licky licky, licky licky, I like to
Licky licky, licky licky, we like to
Licky licky, licky licky, they like to
Licky licky, licky licky, DJ!

I want, I need, I like to get
Money, money, money, money
I want, I need, I like to get
Money, money, money, I like

Her right there and her friend over there, I like
Her right there and her friend over there, I like
Her right there and her friend over there, I like
Her right there and her friend over there, I like

That juice box wet, she keep that juice box juicy, I like
That juice box wet, she keep that juice box juicy, I like
That juice box wet, she keep that juice box juicy, I like
That juice box wet, she keep that juice box juicy, I like

My life, Vincent Van Gogh couldn't paint it
And I love that you hate it
I fuck 'em, you date 'em, I'm hotter than Satan
Look partner just save it

Folks, I'm not a prude, but seriously: yuck. Hey, Joel, are you down with all this?

ADDING: Everyone deserves a second chance.
Rapper Pitbull has been arrested for DUI - twice - and has admitted to once being a drug dealer in Miami, but that's not stopping Commissioner Tomas Regalado from giving him the keys to the city.
The 28-year-old rapper, born Armando Perez, will be presented with the keys by Regalado during a ceremony Wednesday morning at City Hall.
Pitbull was busted in December 2007 for driving under the influence after his Mercedes was clocked going 93 mph on the Palmetto Expressway. The arrest report noted that Pitbull had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath, his eyes were bloodshot and watery and his speech was slurred. He also failed all field sobriety tests, according to the report.
He reportedly tried to brush off the incident, telling the arresting officers, "This is a big waste of time your time, papo."
He later refused a Breathalyzer test. The case was finally closed just last month, and Pitbull was found not guilty in the incident.
The rapper had previously pleaded no contest in another DUI case in March 2001 and only paid a fine.
Pitbull, also known as "Mr. 305," has talked about his rough past in several interviews, claiming his father dealt drugs in the '80s. He said he began to follow in his father's footsteps, but music set him straight.
Aside from the DUIs, Pit has mostly stayed out of trouble and does a lot of charity work around the city.
Good for him. So why not stick with that and leave running public schools to professional educators? I mean, you don't see me running around telling strippers to "work that pole," do you?

Let's each do the jobs we are best prepared to do.

* ADDING MORE: International Love, Pitbull's collaboration with admitted woman-beater Chris Brown, contains this lyric:
In Lebanon, yeah, the women are bomb
According to Wikipedia, the song was released in May of 2011. It's worth noting that the Israel-Lebanon border clash took place in August of 2010. This was followed by the collapse of the Lebanese government in January, 2011. In other words: at the time Pitbull must have been producing this song, Lebanon was very much in the news.

I'm not going to get into the politics of the Mid-East here; my knowledge of Lebanese history is extremely limited, and I know the various sides in the conflicts around Lebanon have very strong views as to who is to blame. I will, however, point out that this country has a sad, bloody history of conflict in which many people - including children - have died. The conflicts that have dogged Lebanon continue to this very day.

I wonder if Pitbull ever thought about all of this as he was making his little song and his little joke.

2000 Posts

I really need to get a hobby or something...

Thanks to all of you for the great story ideas, the tips, the inside info, and yes, the constructive criticism. I hope you've enjoyed reading my posts half as much as I've enjoyed writing them.

The best part about all this is that I've made some great friends through blogging - including some I've never met face to face! You've all been a blessing and I thank you for your company.

Let's keep going...

Seriously, they allowed the video to be posted - but only with no sound. Oy... 

How about this instead? Always loved the montage in "Being There" that uses this music.

Is Corporate "Reform" Coming to Denmark?

Does this sound familiar? A center-left government is pushing an unproven series of education "reforms," including longer school days and less time for free play, over the objections of many parents.  And to facilitate this, the government has gone out of its way to diminish the collective bargaining rights of teachers, insisting they work more hours without consultation from their unions.

Sounds like Chicago or Philadelphia or Los Angeles, right? Except this is apparently happening in, of all places, the socialist country of Denmark:
The lock-out of teachers in Denmark has ended after the Danish government intervened in the industrial action between the Danish Union of Teachers (DLF) and the municipalities’ association (Local Government Denmark – LGDK [KL]). The DLF is an affiliate of EI. 
“The schools have ended up in a very difficult situation, where teachers have been run over by the partnership between the Government and LGDK,” said DLF President Anders Bondo Christensen on 25 April 2013. “The legislative intervention takes the LGDK demands into consideration to an outrageous degree. No real negotiations were held, because LGDK has always felt sure that it was backed up by the Government. Now we are facing a major school reform that got off to a bad start.” [emphasis mine]
Turns out America isn't the only place where the labor movement has been hung out to dry by the party supposedly on the political left. Good to know...

Some news outlets have characterized this as a strike, but it was really a lockout, where teachers lost a month's pay. And the dispute eerily echoed similar battles in the United States in that government leaders made their case by bad-mouthing both teachers and students:
Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt defended the plan to introduce longer hours in school, and said her government was not yet prepared to intervene in the dispute.

"We cannot accept that an average of three or four children in each class never learn to write at a level that enables them to go on to further education," she said on Tuesday.
Holy cats - it's like she got Rahm Emanuel's or Chris Christie's p.r. people to write her talking points! That last sentence is so ambiguous (probably deliberately) it could mean anything; is the PM saying all children should be above average?*

One of my continuing pet peeves about the "reform" conversation here in America is that the reformy types make lots of comparisons to student outcomes in other countries without exploring how those school systems work (the astonishingly ignorant proclamations of Bill Gates about Shanghai are a perfect example). It turns out that the Danes have traditionally not placed a premium on instructional time - until now:

On the face of it, the disagreement has been about the amount of time Danish teachers have to prepare lessons. Prior to the dispute, they taught a maximum of 25 hours per week and the rest of their 37-hour week was spent doing preparation or other duties. KL wanted to change this so that local headteachers could agree preparation and classroom time individually with their teachers depending on the specific needs of the school and individual classes.

This may sound sensible, but the underlying dispute is more ideological. Danish kids usually split their day between school from about 8am to 1pm and then an after-school club where they get to do what they want: theatre, play board or computer games, cook etc. There is a movement to extend the school day, giving less time for "free" play, which is something the Danes have always prioritised. Generally, the teachers are against this approach, as well as being against the proposed changes for their working week, which is viewed as a preliminary step to making the school day longer in the future. They want to enshrine their right to a specific length of preparation time in a national agreement, rather than leaving it to local heads of school who may be pressurised by budget considerations. They have not been successful in this demand. [emphasis mine]
The Danes really need to think very carefully about whether it makes sense to go down this road. Right across the Baltic Sea, Finland has been regularly besting Denmark in both the quality of their educational system, and in equity in distribution of educational resources. The Finns didn't get where they are by parroting America's corporate "reforms," such as de-unionization and drill-and-kill; instead, they made equity a top priority, and elevated the teaching profession.

As Diane Ravitch recently pointed out, America's test scores on national assessments have flatlined in the last four years after decades of steady growth. This has been during the height of Obama/Duncan/Gates-style corporate "reform"; why, then, would the Danes ever think the educational schemes of our corporatized "center-left" would be worth emulating?

Mermaids need free play, too!

ADDING: Another parallel to the USA: Danish teachers are using social media to get their message out:

You don't have to speak the language to know exactly what these guys are saying. Oh, and can we all agree auto-tune is a crime against humanity and should be banned internationally?

*Corrected to make sense. Where's the coffee?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Congratulations Gary Rubinstein and Arthur Goldstein!

Last week, the eldest Jazzboy graduated from one of New Jersey's pubic high schools: you know, the schools of which Education Commissioner Chris Cerf says:
This data “will make clear that there are a number of schools out there that perhaps are a little bit too satisfied with how they are doing when compared with how other schools serving similar populations are doing."
The Jazzboy's own high school is so overhyped that he will be attending one of the top dozen research universities in the country this fall; many of his classmates will also be attending extremely competitive colleges and universities, including several Ivy-pluses.

So, once again: nice job bad-mouthing our kids and our schools, Chris. You're one hell of a morale booster...

Anyway, we had about ten thousand relatives and friends drop by for the big day, and then a ridiculously huge party after graduation. Between that and work, I had no time: which is my lame excuse for missing this year's Skinny Awards, presented each year by the good folks at Class Size Matters to outstanding journalists and other writers who cover the New York City schools.

Normally, I wouldn't have missed this, because two of my favorite bloggers won the award this year: Gary Rubinstein and Arthur Goldstein. Arthur might be the funniest teacher-blogger out there (don't make me choose between him and EduShyster) - he's certainly the most sardonic. Years of watching the Gotham elite smack down teachers has given Arthur a finely honed sense of snark, which he uses to great effect:

State Senator Ruben Diaz Makes His Ignorance and Bigotry a Priority for All

State Senator Ruben Diaz believes you should be very careful before assigning guilt when he's involved. Yet it's different for teachers, who are all guilty no matter what.

In fact, because he reads all the crap in the Daily News and believes it, or at least thinks impressionable voters do, he's introducing legislature to "ban sex creeps from school property--not just the classroom." Those are the thoughtful words of some ace reporter from the Daily News who clearly does not wish to prejudice readers in any way.

One wonders what line a reporter has to cross to be guilty of libel, and which junior high school student they've enlisted to aid in the composition of their always-evolving juvenile epithets. However, I suppose names like "pervy," "sicko," and "sex creep" do not cross that line. The News gives itself credit for this genius Senator's move, saying it came in the wake of their series of stories, which are indeed a repeat of a series it ran last year or so.
Remind me to never get on Arthur's bad side.

Gary has become known as the Jiminy Cricket of Teach For America, speaking inconvenient truths to the organization when few others will:
As someone who is, I suppose, a big “friendly critic” (an expression TFA coined as the need to describe the growing number of frustrated alumni) of TFA, I think the biggest problem with TFA is all the lying.  Though the individual people I’ve known on staff aren’t huge liars, themselves, the sum of all the lies add up to an organization whose lying is pathological.  Really, they’ve elevated the art of lying to new heights, much the way Mozart elevated the concerto.  Even people like Bernie Madoff who thought they were great liars can’t help but marvel at TFAs techniques.
For me, though, I think Gary's greatest contribution may be his data analysis pieces. His takedown of the Gates MET's use of "binning" to sell the lie of reliability in test-based teacher evaluations is the best explanation I've seen on this important topic. Gary is what reformers fear most: an actual teacher who understand statistics and can write.

So my apologies to both Arthur and Gary for missing the ceremony (and my thanks to Darcie Cimarusti for covering the event). Please accept my belated congratulations. You both set a high standard for the rest of us to aspire to, and your work is invaluable both in and out of NYC.

Will Anyone Ask Chris Christie Some Real Questions?

So here we are, well into the summer campaign for New Jersey governor, and Chris Christie is already spouting utter nonsense:
[NJ Governor Chris] Christie said parents must stand up to organizations who he said care more about pensions, wage increases, generous benefits packages and summers off than about extending quality education to all students. [emphasis mine]
Ah, yes: "summers off," one of the great myths about teachers. Christie loves to bring it up:
The governor told a friendly Bergenfield crowd Tuesday that Garden State students are in need of more hours in the classroom and longer school years in order to stay competitive. Christie blamed special interests with blocking those changes for purely their own personal interests.
They don’t want a longer school year, they like having the summer off,” said Christie, referring to the adults – not the students – who he accuses of blocking the reforms.
Christie argued longer school days and years are needed to ensure students are educated. [emphasis mine]
Of course, teachers do not get "summers off": summer is an unpaid, mandatory furlough for teachers, who only get ten-month contracts. Teachers either have to save their money throughout the year to make it through July and August, or they have to get seasonal work, which often pays considerably less than their regular salaries.

However, since the governor himself has brought up extending the school year multiple times, I think it's well past time the press demanded that he flesh out the details of his plan. To that end, I call on the Trenton press corps to ask the governor and his staff some basic questions:

- Governor Christie, you've said previously that you "love collective bargaining." So you can't possibly think that teachers will work more days and more hours without being paid more, can you? If you do, how do you expect to impose this without circumventing the collective bargaining process?

- How much longer should the school year be extended? Because your own children attend private schools where the school year is actually shorter than the year in public schools. Governor Christie, if a shorter summer break is better for other people's kids, why not your own?

- What will happen in this extended school year? Will it simply be more regular school? If so, where is the research that you have relied upon that shows an extended school year is in the best interests of children?

- Do you expect children to attend summer sessions in classrooms without air-conditioning? If so, will you show solidarity with them by turning off the air-conditioning in your own offices until every child in New Jersey has an air-conditioned classroom?

- The cost of extending the school year includes:

  • Wages and benefits for staff to work longer.
  • Upgrading facilities to make them useable for the summer months.
  • Facilities, insurance, supplies, and other costs to run the schools for the extended period.
  • Transportation costs for the extended period.
Governor Christie, do you intend to provide funding for districts to extend the school year? Or is this yet another unfunded mandate on local districts from Trenton? And if you won't provide extra funds, will you lift the property tax cap so districts can pay for this?

Christie has developed the habit off shooting his big mouth off because he's confident that no one will follow through and challenge him on his nonsense. Well, we're in the middle of a campaign: it's way past time for him to start explaining himself.

He has said repeatedly he wants to extend the school year. Will anyone ask him for his plan?

I don't need to answer anyone's questions! Just report my insults to teachers and go away!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chris Christie Must Go

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am so very, very tired of this crap:
[NJ Governor Chris] Christie said parents must stand up to organizations who he said care more about pensions, wage increases, generous benefits packages and summers off than about extending quality education to all students.
And yet this pompous fool has done more to decimate New Jersey's excellent public schools than any man ever, and his carnage has hit the poor particularly hard. He has refused to follow the law and provide the proper amount of state funds to districts as determined by the School Funding Reform Act. The dramatic retreat from funding equity in New Jersey has led to an increase in the funding gap under his administration.

How has he used these funds, which should be going to schools?
New Jersey has provided more corporate tax breaks in the past three years than in the entire previous decade, yet the state's economy continues to lag, according to a report released on Monday.
Since the start of 2010, when Republican Governor Chris Christie took office, the state has awarded $2.1 billion in subsidies, compared to $1.25 billion for the previous 10 years, New Jersey Policy Perspective, the liberal think-tank, said in its report.
Even so, New Jersey's economy remains sluggish. Though its unemployment rate has fallen slightly, it is the sixth highest in the United States at 9.3 percent in February, well above the national jobless rate of 7.7 percent.
New Jersey had the second-highest foreclosure rate in January at 7.2 percent, behind only Florida, according to CoreLogic. [emphasis mine]
We teachers have taken a hit on pensions, on wages, and on benefits over the last four years. Chris Christie lied to us when he told us he wouldn't touch our pensions - see the quote at the top of this blog. Meanwhile, the price of health care continues to skyrocket, even as we teachers pay more and more into the system. Has Christie done anything to hold down the cost of premiums?

Please - that would threaten the profit margins of the insurers. Can't have that...

And the "summers off" idea is beyond stupid. Do you want us to work those two months for free, Chris? Is that what you're saying? If not, where will you get the money to pay us? And how will you pay to retrofit every classroom with air conditioning?

Chris Christie is an empty fleece: a blustering, bullying toad of a man who hurls insults at teachers from the safety of behind his podium, never daring to meet his critics face-to-face on equal ground and justify his fealty to the rich and cruelty to New Jersey's students.

Chris Christie must go.

New Jersey's problems aren't my fault! Nothing's my fault! It's all you greedy teachers!