New York City Teacher Ratings Set to be Released Today!!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times is reporting that the New York City Education Department will release the ratings of thousands of teachers today, ending a nearly year-and-a-half-long legal battle by the teachers’ union to keep the names confidential.

The ratings, known as Teacher Data Reports, grade nearly 18,000 of the city’s 75,000 public school teachers based on how much progress their students have made on standardized tests. The city developed these so-called value-added ratings five years ago in a pilot program to improve instruction and has factored them into yearly teacher evaluations and tenure decisions.

Even before their release, the ratings have been assailed by independent experts, school administrators and teachers who say there are large margins of error — because they are based on small amounts of data, the test scores themselves were determined by the state to have been inflated, and there were factual errors or omissions, among other problems.

The union, the United Federation of Teachers, is responding to the release with a $100,000-plus newspaper advertising campaign starting on Friday. With the headline “This Is No Way to Rate a Teacher,” the advertisements will feature an open letter from the union president, Michael Mulgrew, that displays a complex mathematical formula followed by a checklist of reasons why the ratings are problematic.

“The Department of Education should be ashamed of itself,” Mr. Mulgrew said Thursday. “It has combined bad tests, a flawed formula and incorrect data to mislead tens of thousands of parents about their children’s teachers.”

Indeed the NYC DOE should be ashamed for releasing these ratings and for creating a culture of unbridled testing and assessing of students and teachers that has done more harm than good in our public schools.



Bill Gates on Teacher Evaluations Going Public!

Dear Commons Community,

Bill Gates has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, criticizing the recent decision/plan to make teacher evaluations public in New York City schools.  Gates states:

“I am a strong proponent of measuring teachers’ effectiveness, and my foundation works with many schools to help make sure that such evaluations improve the overall quality of teaching. But publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning. On the contrary, it will make it a lot harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that work.”

I agree with his view completely.   However, Gates, his foundation, and his corporate colleagues have to bear a good share of the responsibility for creating a culture of unbridled testing especially here in New York City that has reduced everything in the schools to assessing students and teachers.  Public disclosure of teacher evaluations directly relates to vitriolic attacks on teachers and their unions and are related to projects and initiatives started by Gates, Broad, Walton and several other corporation-affiliated foundations.

His op-ed piece and his call for a more sophisticated teacher evaluation system seems hollow.



Republicans Candidates Debate – Maybe for the Last Time!!

Dear Commons Community,

We are now down to four men sitting around a table as the Republican presidential candidates debated on CCN last night. I have to confess that I miss Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain.

The New York Times and the Huffington Post  have good summaries of the give and take.  Here are my impressions.

Mitt Romney and Ron Paul went after Rick Santorum most of the evening.  Newt Gingrich seemed an afterthought.  The issues (health care, Iran, ear marks, energy, No Child Left Behind) discussed were more wide ranging than in previous debates where the questions and candidates centered on the economy.

Romney scored points with the Republican audience by going after Santorum’s voting record especially his support of earmarks and Arlen Specter’s (Republican turned Democrat) senate run.

For me, one of the best exchanges of the evening was when Ron Paul called Santorum “a fake” who voted one way when he was a senator but now that he is running for president, opposes the same laws he helped enact.  Specifically,  Paul criticized Santorum’s support of the No Child Left Behind law, President George W. Bush’s signature education plan now out of favor with conservatives. By the end of the night, the scrutiny seemed to wear on Mr. Santorum, who was taunted with boos when he said he had voted for the education program even though “it was against the principles I believed in.”

Santorum explained that he had done so because of its importance to Mr. Bush, saying: “Sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader.” That line provided an opening for Mr. Paul, who declared: “He calls this a team sport. He has to go along to get along, and that’s the way the team plays, but that’s what the problem is with Washington.”   Paul further commented that Santorum’s loyalty was to his party first and not to the country.



David Brooks on The Talent Society and Social Capital!!

Dear Commons Community,

In the past week, there have been several articles and reports regarding the waning of marriage as a social institution in this country especially among young adults.   David Brooks weighs in with a column entitled, The Talent Society.  He credits this transformation to individualism as follows:

“We can all think of reasons for this transformation. Affluence: people have more money to live apart if they want to. Feminism: women have more power to define their own lives. The aging society: more widows and widowers live alone. The information revolution: the Internet and smartphones make it easier to construct far-flung, flexible networks. Skepticism: more people believe that marriage is not for them.

But if there is one theme that weaves through all the different causes, it is this: The maximization of talent. People want more space to develop their own individual talents. They want more flexibility to explore their own interests and develop their own identities, lifestyles and capacities.”

This strikes true to me and my own observations and relationships.  Brooks concludes:

“Today, the fast flexible and diverse networks allow the ambitious and the gifted to surf through amazing possibilities. They are able to construct richer, more varied lives. They are able to enjoy interesting information-age workplaces and then go home and find serenity in a one-bedroom apartment.

On the other hand, people who lack social capital are more likely to fall through the cracks. It takes effort, organization and a certain set of skills to surf these new, protean social networks. People who are unable to make the effort or lack social capital are more likely to be alone…

Over all, we’ve made life richer for the people who have the social capital to create their own worlds. We’ve also made it harder for the people who don’t — especially poorer children.”

I don’t see the above changing anytime soon.  Those of us involved with education have a duty particularly for students who do not come to school or college with social capital, to work as hard as we can to give them the skills to succeed.



The Plutocracy at Work: Millionaire Super PAC Donors!!

Dear Commons Community,

For those of us following the presidential primaries, we have increasingly heard/seen the impact of super PACs.  A “super PAC” is like a traditional PAC (Political Action Committee) without many of the restrictions. A “super PAC” can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for the sole purpose of supporting or opposing political candidates. A “super PAC” can directly attack a political candidate. The only caveat is that a “super PAC” is not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates or political parties.

The New York Times  is reporting on the individuals who are among the largest donors to super Pacs during this election cycle.  For example:

“Last June, Harold C. Simmons, a wealthy Texas businessman, sent a $100,000 check to Americans for Rick Perry, a “super PAC” preparing for Mr. Perry’s entry into the presidential race. A few months later, he donated $1 million to a different pro-Perry group through his company. In December, as Mr. Perry’s fortunes waned, Mr. Simmons wrote another check, this one for $500,000, to Winning Our Future, a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich.

But Mr. Simmons was not done. In mid-January, as Mr. Gingrich was headed toward a victory in the South Carolina primary, Mr. Simmons wrote a $100,000 check to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. And toward the end of the month, as Restore Our Future used his money to help bludgeon Mr. Gingrich with attack ads in Florida, Mr. Simmons sent yet another $500,000 check to Mr. Gingrich’s super PAC.

“He generally supports conservative Republican candidates,” said Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for Mr. Simmons. “I assume he was just trying to be helpful.”

Mr. Simmons’s contributions — all told, he has given more than $14 million to Republican super PACs so far this cycle — make him the exemplar of a new breed of superdonor in presidential politics. About two dozen individuals, couples or corporations have given $1 million or more to Republican super PACs this year, an exclusive club empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other rulings to pool their money into federal political committees and pour it directly into this year’s presidential campaign.

Collectively, their contributions have totaled more than $50 million this cycle, making them easily the most influential and powerful political donors in politics today…

Some of the superdonors… are longtime backers of independent groups that were active in past campaigns, like the Swift Boat group, which in 2004 challenged the Vietnam War record of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee.

Several attend the exclusive, secretive gatherings of wealthy conservative donors hosted twice a year by the billionaire Koch brothers. ..”

The New York Times has provided a website that lists  a number of the major super PAC donors for all the candidates including President Barack Obama.

In an age where the need to buy “exposure time” in the mass media is critical for national candidates, these super PACs provide an unfair advantage in making or breaking candidates. It makes a joke of the first words of the United States Constitution about “We, the people…”  In reality, they  been replaced by “We, the people with money…”

We are in a country and world ruled by elites.  For further information, I highly recommend The Rise of the New Global Elite by Chrystia Freeland that appeared in The Atlantic in January/February 2011.




Closing Failing Charter Schools – New York Times Editorial!

Dear Commons Community,

Last week amid protests and rancor, New York City’s Panel For Education Policy approved recommendations to close 18 public schools and severely truncate 5 other schools.   This has become an annual scene in New York and basic education policy of Michael Bloomberg and his school chancellors.  However, there has been little discussion of closing charter schools that are under-performing.

The New York Times in its editorial today is asking why?   Commenting on the issue nationally:

“Despite a growing number of studies showing that charter schools, financed with public money and operating in 40 states, are often worse than traditional schools, the state and local organizations that issue charters and oversee the schools are too hesitant to shut them down. That has to change if the movement is to maintain its credibility.

A new study from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a nonprofit, pro-charter school organization, found that a smaller and smaller percentage of schools are being denied charter renewals.

According to the study, charter authorizers who oversee many of the nation’s approximately 5,600 charters have, in recent years, shut down fewer schools. Only 6.2 percent of those that came up for renewal in 2010-11 were shuttered, down from 8.8 percent in 2009-10 and 12.6 percent in 2008-9.

A 2009 study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that 37 percent of charter schools performed worse on student test measures than their traditional counterparts. Given that data, closure rates should clearly be higher. Those rates vary widely across the country. The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board is one of the agencies that sets clear standards and shuts schools that fail to meet them, according to the study. It oversees 98 charter schools and has closed 14 over the last three years.”

In New York City, the rate of closures of charter schools is about 4 percent, below the national average.   This is an area in need of closer scrutiny.




Rick Santorum – Barack Obama’s “Phony Theology” – What???

Dear Commons Community,

I have been trying to figure out Rick Santorum’s comment about President Barack Obama and “phony theology”.  I did not get it.  If you missed it,  in a speech to Tea Party conservatives on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, Santorum had dismissed Obama’s politics as being based in “some phony theology.”

“It’s not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs,” Santorum said. “It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.”

It seems I am not alone.  Yesterday on Meet the Press, the  host, Bob Schieffer began his interview with Santorum by asking, “What in the world were you talking about?”  Santorum’s reply:

“I’ve repeatedly said I don’t question the president’s faith, …I’ve repeatedly said that I believe the president’s Christian — he says he’s Christian. But I am talking about his worldview, the way he addresses problems in this country, and they’re different than most people view it in America.”

“I was talking about the radical environmentalists,” Santorum said, suggesting that they believe man should protect the earth, rather than “steward its resources.” “I think that is a phony ideal. I don’t believe that’s what we’re here to do … We’re not here to serve the earth. That is not the objective, man is the objective.”

Sorry I still don’t get it. This morning on Morning Joe (MSNBC), six news and media people were still trying to figure out what Santorum meant.


Quantum Computing a “Bit” Closer!

Dear Commons Community,

Quantum computing came a step closer as Australian and American physicists  built a working transistor from a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon crystal.   The New York Times reported that:

“The group of physicists, based at the University of New South Wales and Purdue University, said they had laid the groundwork for a futuristic quantum computer that might one day function in a nanoscale world and would be orders of magnitude smaller and quicker than today’s silicon-based machines.”

Imagine computers operating at the atom level.  The speed and capacity of such computing would be many magnitudes greater than what we have today and the cost would be significantly cheaper.  Such devices would be able “to solve problems beyond the reach of today’s machines”.


Romney – 2008 New York Times Op-Ed Piece – Let Detroit Go Bankrupt!!

Dear Commons Community,

With the Michigan Presidential Primary a week away, the New York Times has republished Mitt Romney’s op-ed piece entitled, Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.   Originally published on November 19, 2008, it basically advises the Detroit automobile industry (GM, Ford, Chrysler) that the best thing they could do is to declare bankruptcy and restructure:

“IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.”

Given that all three automakers have bounce back well (GM recently had its best quarter ever last),  Romney is busy having to explain his business “acumen” to Michigan voters.

Romney sounds a little like President Gerald Ford in 1975 who in essence said “drop dead” in terms of helping New York City out of its fiscal crisis.  The comment cost Ford his re-election.  Will it cost Romney the primary in Michigan or should he win, cost him the presidential election should he be the Republican nominee.



Rick Santorum – Federal Government Should Get Out of the Business of Running Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The issue of education in this country has received very little attention during the Republican presidential primaries.  The focus has been largely on the economy, foreign affairs, and personality issues.  Candidate Rick Santorum yesterday came out with a position yesterday   that questioned the legitimacy of federal government involvement with public education.  The New York Times is reporting that:

“he said the idea of schools run by the federal government or by state governments was “anachronistic.” Mr. Santorum did not say public schools were a bad idea, and he said that there was a role for government help in education.

But it was the latest in a series of comments by the former Pennsylvania senator — who is tied in polls in the critical Ohio and Michigan primary contests — suggesting that he takes a dim view of public schooling. He and his wife home-schooled their children.

For the first 150 years, most presidents home-schooled their children at the White House, he said. “Where did they come up that public education and bigger education bureaucracies was the rule in America? Parents educated their children, because it’s their responsibility to educate their children.”

“Yes the government can help,” Mr. Santorum added. “But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home-school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools. And while those factories as we all know in Ohio and Pennsylvania have fundamentally changed, the factory school has not.”

Historically, state and local governments have been responsible for public schooling. According to the Department of Education, the federal government contributes almost 11 percent of the cost of elementary and secondary education, financing intended to compel districts to enforce standards.

I don’t support Santorum’s position but in the past dozen years, the requirements of federal No Child Left Behind and its successor Race to the Top programs with their unbridled and simplistic emphasis on standardized testing have done and are doing more harm to education than good.