Thursday, January 31, 2008

Teacher 'Rubber Room' Suit

Calls Process Corrupt
Teacher 'Rubber Room' Suit

The Chief:


A middle-school Teacher has filed a lawsuit against the city after he was returned to a "rubber room" Jan. 15, the same day he wrote to Mayor Bloomberg complaining of the conditions faced by Teachers who were removed from their schools.

RUBBER ROOM REDUX: Math Teacher Florian Lewenstein has filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that Teachers are being unfairly removed from their schools and placed in 'rubber rooms.' He believes that senior Teachers whose salaries are near the maximum and who speak their minds are being targeted. 'The process is totally corrupt,' he said.
Florian Lewenstein accused the city of violating Teachers' civil and due-process rights by targeting senior instructors who are near maximum salary. These Teachers, the civil complaint argues, were also chosen because they spoke out against Department of Education misconduct or criticized rubber-room procedures.

'Targeting' Veterans

"They are deliberately targeting mostly senior Teachers and they're succeeding," said Mr. Lewenstein, who had been teaching math at M.S. 217 in Queens. "The process is totally corrupt."

Mr. Lewenstein, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of up to 50 other Teachers, some of whom didn't want their names used for fear of retribution, believes that the DOE is using the rubber rooms to get rid of the better-paid senior Teachers and do an end-run around the tenure system.

The United Federation of Teachers is not a party in the lawsuit, and Mr. Lewenstein's group, Teachers4Action, asserts that the union has not acted in their best interest. UFT officials have acknowledged problems with the way some Teachers are removed from their schools and said they are in talks with the DOE to amend some of the procedures.

The plaintiffs will include about a dozen members of Teachers4Action who have been frustrated with their experiences in the rubber rooms. Many believe they have been falsely accused and resent the months they have spent in the Temporary Re-Assignment Centers, as they are formally known, without being told the specific charges against them.

A DOE spokeswoman said there was no merit to the lawsuit.

Basis for Assignment

For a Teacher to be re-assigned while awaiting charges, she or he must be facing serious criminal charges, such as a drug-related arrest, or the administrator must believe that the Teacher could put a child in danger. Teachers in the re-assignment centers are technically considered innocent until proven guilty, and therefore receive full pay and benefits while their cases play out.

Mr. Lewenstein, who has taught for 11 years in city schools, was first assigned to the Queens rubber room on Linden Place on Oct. 9, 2007, accused of throwing a book-bag at a student. The math Teacher said the charges were false. The student has since left the country and Mr. Lewenstein was disciplined, with a letter placed in his file, and put back in his school on Jan. 2.

He sent a letter Jan. 15 to Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein demanding action and requesting a meeting. Later that day, he was told he was being put back into the rubber room. The charges were categorized as "abuse" stemming from an incident Jan. 8. Mr. Lewenstein said he does not know of any incident that could have resulted in the charges.

Frustrated With UFT

He is also frustrated with what he believes has been inaction on the part of his union. "We got to the point where we decided we had to organize and do something for ourselves," he said.

The UFT had a meeting last fall with Teachers assigned to rubber rooms to discuss a list of demands they had presented to the DOE. Officials said they have been meeting with the DOE to implement several changes, such as mandating that the city tell Teachers the charges against them within 48 hours of re-assignment, unless the charges are criminal. The UFT also wants to establish an independent panel to review any charges within five days of re-assignment to assess whether the Teacher is truly a threat to the school community.

UFT President Randi Weingarten wrote a letter to several elected officials in response to a letter of complaint written to them by members of Teachers4Action about the rubber-room situation. "[T]he UFT is actively engaged with members in the TRCs and its legal department is advocating for them, making certain that members receive due process rights in a timely manner," the letter stated. "The discussions with the employer have been active and ongoing but there is not yet agreement on all matters."

Co-Opted by Union?

Mr. Lewenstein said he believed that the UFT response undermined his group's efforts to get assistance from elected officials and protect themselves from what they see as the arbitrary discipline of the rubber rooms. He said he may include the UFT alongside Mr. Klein and Mr. Bloomberg as a defendant in the lawsuit.

"We are very determined to go ahead with this to see if a court will provide us with some relief," he said. "This is not sound educational policy, and it is affecting the instruction the kids get."

Mayoral Control Issues

Say Schools March To a 2-Man Band

The Chief-Leader


It's not about the Mayor, it's about checks and balances, according to several dozen Teachers and parents who showed up at a Jan. 22 United Federation of Teachers-sponsored forum on the future of mayoral control over the school system.

The Chief-Leader/Pat Arnow

'SCARY' DEVELOPMENT: Vanguard High School Teacher Josh Heisler told educators and parents at a Jan. 22 forum on the future of mayoral control of the schools that the current emphasis on test prep was a frightening development for the future of education and the development of students' critical thinking abilities. 'It's de-skilling and de-professionalizing Teachers,' he said.

There were not many fans of the present system at the meeting at the Martin Luther King educational complex in midtown Manhattan, but neither did the criticisms become personally directed at Mr. Bloomberg or even Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

'We Need a Voice'

"It's not about mayoral control, it's about having a system of governance that works," UFT Staten Island borough rep Emil Pietromonaco told attendees before they took their turns at the microphone. "To do that, people have to have a voice."

The UFT has established a 60-member school governance task force, co-chaired by Mr. Pietromonaco, UFT Manhattan Parent Liaison Teresa Andersen and UFT Vice President Carmen Alvarez. It is holding forums in all five boroughs to get community input on the UFT's future recommendation to the State Legislature when it takes up the debate over mayoral control of the schools in January 2009.

Mayor Bloomberg was given wide-ranging authority over the school system in 2002, abolishing local community schools boards and the central Board of Education. The system will revert to its former incarnation in June 2009 unless the Legislature acts to renew or modify it.

The Chief-Leader/Pat Arnow

WANTED: CHECKS AND BALANCES: United Federation of Teachers Vice President Carmen Alvarez is co-chairing the union's task force on school governance to make recommendations about the future of mayoral control. She acknowledged problems with the previous system, but she argued at a Jan. 22 Manhattan forum that unlike the current structure, 'the process was transparent and it was very open.'

"We've established a nonpartisan task force on school governance," said UFT President Randi Weingarten. "It's a broad-based committee representative of all the union's political parties and the school system's different levels, types of schools and geographic areas. Our goal now is to engage classroom educators, parents, civic organizations, community groups, elected officials and others in a public participation process so that their views on what kind of school governance would support teaching and learning and student success are heard in ample time before the sunset of mayoral control."

About a dozen people seated in the sparsely-populated auditorium gave their opinions, and while not everyone called for the end of mayoral control, all of the speakers argued that significant changes were needed.

Call for 'Two-Way' Flow

"Whatever control we have," said Paula Washington, a UFT chapter leader at LaGuardia High School, "there has to be checks and balances. There has to be a two-way flow of information."

Seth Pearce, a La Guardia student who said he had been studying for his U.S. history Regents exam, suggested that the Chancellor should have to be approved by the City Council, the same way the Federal Secretary of Education must be approved by the U.S. Senate.

Others called for a more complete overhaul of the current system of mayoral control, decrying the emphasis on data.

"If you can't count it, it doesn't count," said Michael Fiorillo, a chapter leader at Newcomers High School whose daughter is a public high school student. "They are using private foundation money to create policy they could not otherwise successfully achieve through a democratic process."

Policy See-Saw

Ms. Alvarez and Mr. Pietromonaco spent about 15 minutes at the beginning of the session outlining the history of school governance in the city. The slide presentation showed the consistent see-sawing dating back to 1842, when the Board of Education was created by the State Legislature, between centralized control of the school system and the decentralization efforts that followed.

Manhattan Democratic Party chieftain William Marcy "Boss" Tweed abolished the BOE in 1871 to create mayoral control, only to have that decision reversed two years later under the direction of a new, reform-minded Mayor. After criticism of the local school boards hit a peak in 1896, they were eliminated and centralized control by a new board and a group of Superintendents was established.

Two years later, when the five boroughs were consolidated into the City of New York, each borough got its own board, but in 1902 the system was re-centralized.

That set-up lasted until 1969, when protests for increased community control led to a smaller seven-member central board, appointed by the Mayor and borough presidents, and 32 elected community school boards.

Ms. Alvarez, a former member of District 3's community school board, argued that the former system had greater transparency and better checks and balances. But she also acknowledged that it had problems. "Was it a panacea?" she asked. "It was not - there were schools that had and schools that did not," referring to discrepancies in funding and resources between neighborhoods.

Lack of Input

Several of the people who testified stayed away from specific policy recommendations on how to re-jigger the system. Instead they spoke about what they saw as the outcome of the lack of input from the community under the current system of mayoral control.

The Bloomberg administration's emphasis on testing was a repeated complaint. "There are national trends, but it's really scary when it hits home," said Josh Heisler, a humanities Teacher at Vanguard High School.

He said that he thought the standardized tests had become too important. "I believe it's become like the Holy Grail," Mr. Heisler said. "It's de-skilling and de-professionalizing Teachers."

Monday, January 28, 2008

What makes a good teacher?

Posted at Susan Ohanian site:

Susan Notes:
And of course our corporate-politicos take us further and further away from the seed of good teaching: autonomy. They insist in sending in the scripts.

By Mike Baker

Sometimes the simplest questions in life are the hardest to answer.

For all of the millions of pounds invested in researching school effectiveness, and the thousands of hours spent by policy-makers reforming education systems, do we yet have a unanimous answer to this most important of questions: "what makes a good teacher?"

The short answer is "no".

But this week saw a significant move towards an evidence-based view that might yet influence the politicians.

At the invitation of the Cambridge Assessment agency, a group of experts gathered at Westminster to pool their research knowledge and grapple towards a definition of a "good teacher".

The timing was excellent since the House of Commons Schools and Families select committee is about to start an inquiry into teacher training.

And it was encouraging that its chairman, Barry Sheerman, who chaired this seminar, said his committee preferred to be informed by evidence based on thorough research rather than on opinion.

Teachers with the highest qualifications are not automatically the "best" teachers in the classroom

The timing was good in another way too.

Ofsted has just issued a report praising the innovative teacher-training programme, Teach First.

This scheme places high-quality graduates straight into challenging secondary schools for two years.

In this way it offers practical and hands-on training much earlier than in a traditional teacher training course.

According to Ofsted, the Teach First scheme is both producing a very high proportion of "outstanding" teachers and is also helping to transform the inner-city schools where they are being trained.

It also attracted graduates who might not otherwise have considered teaching.

So this is a good moment to reassess what it is that produces good teachers.

This question also relates to some of the reaction to last week's column, when I wrote about research that found independent schools were recruiting a disproportionate number of the "best" teachers, as defined by those with higher degrees.

A number of respondents took issue with this definition of what makes the "best" teachers.

I should say here, in defence of the researchers, that they used this measure because it was the only one that they could quantify for statistical analysis.

'Soft and fluffy'

They would agree, as would I, that teachers with the highest qualifications are not automatically the "best" teachers in the classroom.

Having got that off our chests, let's turn to what the experts were saying.

Professor Patricia Broadfoot, a former Professor of Education and now vice-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire, argued persuasively that the evidence from international studies showed that "the highest quality teaching and learning comes when we have the greatest autonomy for the teacher and the learner".

The good teacher, she went on, was someone who was "left to get on with what they think their students need".

This certainly sounded like a rejection of the prescriptive approach of the national curriculum and the numeracy and literacy strategies. Professor Broadfoot went on to propose a much more child-centred approach.

While insisting she was not advocating a "soft and fluffy" style of teaching, she argued that research showed that a good teacher had to engage with "the powerfully charged emotional relationship between teacher and pupil".

So, for Professor Broadfoot, the key ingredients of good teaching included: creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and fairness in the classroom, providing opportunities for "active learning" and humour to encourage pupil engagement, making learning interesting, and explaining things clearly.

'Creative subversion'

Professor Debra Myhill, from Exeter University, took a similar line. She argued that while good subject knowledge and intellectual ability were both important, they were not "sufficient" to be a good teacher.

The crucial ingredient, she argued, was a teacher's ability to reflect on his or her own performance and then to change it.

She too argued for a healthy scepticism towards national policy initiatives.

Indeed she advocated that a good teacher should go in for "creative subversion".

By this, she meant that teachers should neither passively comply with government initiatives, nor should they point blank refuse to implement them.

Instead they should "adapt them creatively".

The third expert, Professor Mary James, from the Institute of Education drew on the massive, 10-year long teaching and learning research programme for her recipe for good teachers.

Maybe the wheel is turning?

One of her top 10 requirements was that the teacher should "promote the active engagement of the learner".

Citing studies that showed the academic gains from children working collaboratively in groups, she argued: "If learners are not involved in their learning, they do not learn".

She noted that teachers liked to be given practical guidance on how to improve their teaching, yet what they really needed to develop was their own judgment of what works and what does not work in their own teaching.

This emphasis on engaging pupils and self-reflective teaching might horrify those who support a more traditional subject-based, discipline-oriented approach.

Indeed, for those with long memories, it was the politicians' loss of confidence in child-centred learning that led to the creation of the national curriculum and, with it, a system of national testing to handcuff teachers to a framework of required knowledge.

But maybe the wheel is turning?

The new curriculum for 11-14 year olds, due to start in September, puts much greater emphasis on teacher innovation and local adaptability to pupils' needs.

The big question now is whether - after 20 years of being told exactly what and how to teach - there are enough teachers ready to be "creatively subversive"?

Also, after years of being told in precise detail how to teach, will teachers feel ready both to devise their own way of teaching and engaging students and also constantly to evaluate and adapt their own teaching methods.

We might also ask whether it is too much to ask teachers to do this when, for some, just asserting crowd control requires all their energies.

Finally, although no-one explicitly said a "good teacher" needed to like children, I think this was implicit in their definitions.

However, Professor Myhill did say that "a teacher who hates children may be very good at class management but they are unlikely to be very good at encouraging learning".

— Mike Baker
BBC News

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Accountability Tests' Instructional Insensitivity: The Time Bomb Ticketh

By W. James Popham

Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record], Wednesday, November 14, 2007, Volume 27, Issue 12, pp. 30-31.

Would you ever want your temperature to be taken with a thermometer that was unaffected by heat? Of course not; that would be dumb. Or would you ever want to weigh yourself with bathroom scales that weren't influenced by the weight of the person using them? Of course not again; that would be equally dumb. But today's educators are allowing their instructional success to be judged by students' scores on accountability tests that are essentially incapable of distinguishing between effective and ineffective instruction. Talk about dumb.

What's worse is that we are now racing toward the 2014 deadline of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the point at which all students are supposed to have attained test-based "proficiency." But the 2002-2014 schedules that most states devised when establishing their goals for annual required numbers of proficient students will soon demand some staggering increases in how many students must earn proficient scores on state NCLB tests each year. These balloon-payment improvement schedules were, in most instances, adopted as a way of deferring the pain stemming from having too many state schools and districts flop in reaching their goals for adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

Such cunningly crafted, soft-to-start improvement schedules will lead in a very few years to altogether unrealistic requirements for improved test scores. Without such improvements, huge numbers of U.S. schools and districts will be seen as AYP failures. If the American public is skeptical now about the quality of public schools, how do you think citizens will react when, in the next several years, test-based AYP failure becomes the rule rather than the exception? Can you hear the ticking of this nontrivial time bomb?

How could American educators let themselves get into a situation in which the tests being used to evaluate their instruction are unable to distinguish between effective and ineffective teaching? The answer, though simple, is nonetheless disquieting. Most American educators simply don't know that their state's NCLB tests are instructionally insensitive. Educators, and the public in general, assume that because such tests are "achievement tests," they accurately measure how much students have learned in schools. That's just not true.

Two types of accountability tests are currently being used to satisfy the No Child Left Behind law's assessment requirements. About half of the nation's NCLB tests consist of traditional, off-the-shelf, standardized achievement tests, usually supplemented by a sprinkling of new items, so that the slightly expanded tests will supposedly be better aligned with a particular state's content standards. Other NCLB tests are made-from-scratch, customized standards-based accountability tests, built specifically for a given state. Let's see, briefly, why both these types of tests are instructionally insensitive.

Traditional standardized achievement tests, such as the Stanford Achievement Test-10th Edition, are intended to provide comparative information about test-takers. So the performance of a student who scores at, for instance, the 96th percentile can be contrasted with that of students who score at lower percentiles. To accomplish this comparative-measurement mission, these tests must produce a substantial degree of "score spread," so there are ample numbers of high scores, middle scores, and low scores. Most items on such tests are of middle-difficulty levels because such items, statistically, maximize score spread.

Over the years, however, many of these middle-difficulty items turn out to be closely linked to students' socioeconomic status. More-affluent kids tend to answer these socioeconomically linked items correctly, while less-affluent kids tend to miss them. This occurs because socioeconomic status, or SES, is a nicely distributed variable, and one that doesn't change rapidly; SES-linked items help generate the score spread required by traditional standardized achievement tests. When such tests are used as accountability assessments, however, they tend to measure the socioeconomic composition of a school's student body, rather than the effectiveness with which those students have been taught. The more SES-linked items there are on a traditional standardized achievement test, the more instructionally insensitive that test is bound to be.
SIDEBAR: How could American educators let themselves get into a situation in which the tests being used to evaluate their instruction are unable to distinguish between effective and ineffective teaching?
The other type of NCLB accountability test used in the United States is usually described as a "standards-based test," because such tests are deliberately built to assess students' mastery of a given state's content standards, that is, its curricular aims. In all but a few states, though, the number of content standards to be assessed is so large that there is no way to accurately assess-via an annual accountability test-students' mastery of this immense array of skills and knowledge. Instead, each year's accountability test must sample from the profusion of the state's curricular aims. Such a sampling-based approach to annual assessment means that teachers end up guessing about which curricular aims will be assessed each year. And, given the huge numbers of potentially assessable curricular targets, most teachers guess wrong.

After a few years of incorrect guessing, many teachers simply give up on trying to mesh their teaching with what's to be assessed on each year's accountability tests. And when this happens, it turns out that the major determinant of how well a school's students perform on accountability tests is the very same factor that governed students' performances on traditional standardized achievement tests: socioeconomic status. Thus, even on customized standards-based tests, a school's scores are influenced less by what students are taught than by what the students brought to that school. Most standards-based accountability tests are every bit as instructionally insensitive as traditional standardized achievement tests.

The instructional insensitivity of accountability tests does not represent an insuperable problem, however. Remember when, several decades ago, we began to recognize that there was considerable test bias in our high-stakes educational assessments? Once this difficulty had been identified, it was attacked with both empirical and judgmental bias-detection procedures. As a consequence, today's educational tests are markedly less biased than were their predecessors. Once the test-bias problem had been identified, we set out to fix it-and in less than a decade, we did.

That's precisely what we need to do now. Using a mildly technical definition, a test's instructional sensitivity represents the degree to which students' performances on that test accurately reflect the quality of instruction specifically provided to promote students' mastery of what is being assessed. We need to discover how to build accountability tests that will be instructionally sensitive and, therefore, can provide valid inferences about effective and ineffective instruction. It may take several years to get the required procedures in place, but we need to get started right now.

In the short term, though, we must make citizens, and especially educational policy makers, understand that almost all of today's accountability tests yield an invalid picture of how well students are being taught. Accountability systems based on the use of such instructionally insensitive tests are flat-out senseless. We need accountability tests capable of distinguishing between students who have been properly taught and those who have not. Until such tests are at hand, we might as well re-label our accountability systems as what they are-elaborate and costly socioeconomic-status identifiers.
W. James Popham is a professor emeritus in the graduate school of education and information studies of the University of California, Los Angeles. He now lives in Wilsonville, Ore.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Puerto Rican Teachers Union and the AFT

Received in an email:

Just to let you know that the government decertified the independent and radical union, the FMPR, of Puerto Rico after its delegate body voted for a strike (but the strike had net yet been
called by the leadership). The agency that decertified the union declared that the officers and its 3,000 delegate body cannot run for union elections for 5 years and that the union can no longer deduct fees. A strike is, nevertheless imminent and, if the FMPR has not been bluffing all along, may be quite militant given that it organized strike committees accross the island that are independent of the union's formal structures (and hence, don't need the central leadership's direct supervision or funding). Meanwhile, most other labor leaders have turned their backs on the FMPR and stated that the FMPR knew it would be decertified. SEIU plans to represent the 40K bargaining unit in upcoming elections.

For those of you following the FMPR saga in Puerto Rico -- the largest union in Puerto Rico, which elected a socialist leadership, voted to dis-affiliate from the AFT both through its delegate assembly and a membership-wide referendum, then won a legal case against being put in Trusteeship by the AFT, thereafter won a decert election led by the Asociacion de Maestros, its main "Puerto Rican" rival -- now has a new challenge. The SEIU is gobbling up the Asociacion de Maestros to seek a second decert. Dennis Rivera, leader of the SEIU, seems to be leading the charge ...



By Manuel Ernesto Rivera (AP) San Juan -

The Association of Teachers of Puerto Rico and the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU) today decided to initiate a process of
affiliation to obtain a triumph in the union elections of the
Department of Education. The president of the Association, Aida Diaz,
indicated that still she has not reached an agreement on how much they
would have to contribute of the teachers' dues to the SEIU, and
maintained that those negotiations would take shape once the
organization that she directs becomes the exclusive representative of
the Puerto Rican teachers.

Diaz indicated that this affiliation had been approved by the
membership of the Association.

The president of the SEIU, Dennis Rivera, assured that "the approach
between both organizations was mutual", and recognized that its union
never made a similar approach to the Federation of Teachers, the
current exclusive representative of the teachers. He reminded that the
present leadership of the Federation dis-affiliated itself from the
American Federation of Teachers (AFT, in English) because, in his
opinion, the "rhetoric" of the Federation "is to attack the
international unions". "We did not see the possibility of an alliance
with them", he declared.

The Federation was affiliated with the AFT from its creation in the
decade of the 1970s, but in September of 2004, the assembly of
delegates decided to dis-affiliate itself. Rivera described the SEIU
as "the most influential political organization" in the United States
and "the fastest growing union in the world".

In terms of dues, Rivera maintained that, "We do not desire to get
great quotas. Initially, we have spoken that the teachers would not
pay dues and would then pay a small per capita". Rivera indicated
that the SEIU has 40,000 members in Puerto Rico, half of them in the
Department of Health and about 17,000 in Education.

The Puerto Rican unions have criticized the integration of American
unions in Puerto Rico because they allege that the foreigners arrive
with economic power that is difficult to equal and much less to

The alliance between the Association of Teachers and the SEIU presents
a challenge to the Federation of Teachers, which for more than two
years struggles with the government for the approval of the collective
bargaining agreement. The Association of Teachers seeks to become the
"Puerto Rican Teachers Union" and to become the exclusive
representative of the public school teachers, thus replacing the

Law 45, which made possible the unionization of the public employees
in 1998, was widely supported by the American unions. It was said
that such support was based on their interest to collect hundreds of
thousands of dollars in dues, and the government passed the law in
exchange for the American unions' support of Puerto Rican statehood in

The representatives of the American unions denied such imputation.

Rivera, with his powerful union, was one of the people who most
contributed, at level of the United States, for ousting the U.S. from
Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

DOE's Secret Plan for Merit Pay...Without the Pay!

by Marjorie Stamberg, GED Plus, D79

Naturally they had to do it in secret.

Today's front-page New York Times article has caused quite a sensation. It may not have swept the nation, but it sure shook up the world of education in New York.

The Times revealed that that the DOE has a program in which 2,500 teacher in 140 schools across the city are being evaluated on the basis of their students' test scores.

Did you know about this? Of course not. Becaue they've kept it under wraps.

"The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement."

There are actually 280 schools participating in the program. In 140 schools, teachers are being measured on how many students in their classes meet basic progress goals. In a second group of 140 schools, principals are "subjectively" evaluating teachers, to see how the results match up!

This is really fishy--it flunks the smell test. It proves what we have been saying all along, that the "school-wide bonus pay" is just a wedge to open the way for Mayor Bloomberg calls "performance pay." If these programs go through, it will be a mortal blow to the union and put every teacher at the mercy of the principal or higher-up.

The Time's article saw the connection of these secret program to school "bonus pay" as well. "A new bonus program for teachers and principals, as well as the letter grading system for schools unveiled last fall are all linked to improvement in schools."

The Times said that Randi Weingarten and the UFT knew about this secret program for months and said nothing to the teachers! In a quote, Randi said she could not reveal it because she was told "confidentially" by the DOE and did not know which specific schools were involved. She said she "had grave reservations about the project and would fight if the city tried to use the information for tenure or formal evaluations or even publicized it." (So now it's public--I wonder what she's going to do?)

It's even more outrageous: The secret program is being administered by Chris Cerf, who is deputy schools chancellor. Cerf was hired by the DOE last year. He used to be head of the Edison Schools, the largest for-profit outfit in the country. The Edison schools made an attempt to open up shop in NYC a few years ago, but was defeated by a campaign of the UFT and concerned parents. So Bloomberg and Klein hired Cerf to be deputy chancellor. It's called privatization from within.

So, this brings us to the vote underway in GED Plus on "school wide bonus pay." We are being told by the D79 UFT reps that this is free money, and "why turn down $3,000 for work you would do anyway?"

We have argued that this money ain't free, it's a bribe, it's divisive and it blames teachers for the dire situation of students in NYC. We said, "It's letting the camel's nose in the tent." Well, it's hard to picture Joel Klein as a camel, but more than the nose is now in the tent!

This just underscores how important it is to vote down bonus pay.

But we should all ask our UFT reps what they knew about this secret plan and when they knew it.

As members of the UFT executive board, and as district UFT reps, were they informed about the existance of this program before today? Did they know about it when they were asking us to be part of this agenda? Or did Randi keep it from them as well?

They can't duck this one.

Teachers throughout the system, in every single school, should ask the principals of their schools whether they are part of it and have been secretly evaluated.

Now Randi has a statement out (on the UFT website), calling the secret program misguided and claiming it is in contradiction with the " collaboration and working together.. in the School Wide Bonus Program." No, there's no contradiction--this is all part of the same program and the UFT leadership has acted as enablers.

Hopefully, there is so much outrage now that we, the 130,000 members of the UFT, can stop this privatizing, corporatizing anti-student union-busting now.

Monday, January 21, 2008

New York Measuring Teachers by Test Scores

NY Times

January 21, 2008

New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.

The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.

While officials say it is too early to determine how they will use the data, which is already being collected, they say it could eventually be used to help make decisions on teacher tenure or as a significant element in performance evaluations and bonuses. And they hold out the possibility that the ratings for individual teachers could be made public.

“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”

The effort comes as educators nationwide are struggling to figure out how to find, train and measure good teachers. Many education experts say that until teacher quality improves in urban schools, student performance is likely to stagnate and the achievement gap between white and minority students will never be closed. Other school systems, including those in Dallas and Houston as well as in the whole state of Tennessee, are also using student performance and improvement as factors in evaluating teachers.

The United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers’ union, has known about the experiment for months, but has not been told which schools are involved, because the Education Department has promised those principals confidentiality.

Randi Weingarten, the union president, said she had grave reservations about the project, and would fight if the city tried to use the information for tenure or formal evaluations or even publicized it. She and the city disagree over whether such moves would be allowed under the contract.

“There is no way that any of this current data could actually, fairly, honestly or with any integrity be used to isolate the contributions of an individual teacher,” Ms. Weingarten said. “If one permitted this, it would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life.”

New York invited principals from hundreds of elementary and middle schools with sufficient annual testing data to participate in the program, which will produce an elaborate stream of data on 2,500 teachers.

In 140 schools — a tenth of the roughly 1,400 in the system — teachers are being measured on how many students in their classes meet basic progress goals, how much student performance grows each year, and how that improvement compares with the performance of similar students with other teachers.

In another 140 schools, principals are being asked to make subjective evaluations of roughly the same number of teachers so officials can see if the two systems produce widely disparate results. New York City schools employ roughly 77,000 teachers. In all 280 schools, the principals agreed to participate in the program.

Deputy Chancellor Cerf said that how students performed on tests would not be the only factor considered in any system to rate teachers. All decisions will include personal circumstances and experiences, he said, but the point will be to put a focus on whether or not students are improving.

“This isn’t about how hard we try,” Mr. Cerf said. “This is about however you got here, are your students learning?”

Ms. Weingarten said the system was not needed. “Any real educator can know within five minutes of walking into a classroom if a teacher is effective,” she said. “These tests were never intended and have never been validated for the use of evaluating teachers.”

The experiment is in line with the city’s increasing use of standardized test scores to measure whether students are improving, and to judge school quality. A new bonus program for teachers and principals, as well as the letter grading system for schools unveiled last fall, are all linked to improvement in scores. Nationally, too, school systems are increasingly relying on these measures to judge schools.

Virtually all education experts agree that finding high-quality teachers is critical to improving student learning, particularly in high-poverty urban areas, where good teachers are usually more difficult to find. Recent research has found that the best teachers can help struggling students catch up to more advanced students within three years.

But experts are grappling with how to determine what makes a good teacher. Neither graduate programs in education schools nor previous academic records are reliable predictors, they say. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that districts place a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom, which typically means one who has completed a certification program, but this, too, is not necessarily a good indicator of quality.

“It seems hard to know who is going to be effective in the classroom until they are actually in the classroom,” said Thomas J. Kane, a professor of education and economics at Harvard, who is conducting several research projects on teacher quality in New York City, and who is involved in the new effort.

Mr. Kane said there was little evidence that teachers with the “right paper qualifications” were any more effective than those without them. “But most school districts spend very little time trying to assess how good teachers are in their first couple of years, when it is most important,” he said.

Nationwide, more than 95 percent of teachers receive tenure within their first three years of teaching, according to some studies. And once teachers receive tenure, it is extremely difficult to have them removed from classrooms.

In some sense, New York’s effort to judge teachers partly on their students’ improvement is a logical extension of the grading system for schools that was unveiled last fall, although officials adamantly say they have no plans to assign letter grades to individual teachers.

“I don’t think anyone here would embrace the formulaic use of even the most sophisticated instrument — you get tenure if this, you don’t get tenure if that,” Mr. Cerf said.

He added that the new effort was just one of several ways in which the city was exploring how to evaluate and improve teacher quality. In recent months, city officials have begun training new lawyers to help principals navigate the considerable red tape required to remove inadequate teachers.

They have increased recruiting efforts to attract talented teachers to hard-to-staff schools. And they are allowing schools to earn merit bonus pools to distribute to teachers based on test scores.

“This should simply be one more way to think about things,” said Frank A. Cimino, the principal of P.S. 193 in Brooklyn, who said he was participating in the experiment. “It is going to tell you some things you don’t know, but it will miss the other things that go on in a classroom.”

William Sanders, a researcher in North Carolina who was one of the first to begin evaluating teachers and schools based on student test score improvements, said that while such a system could be used to make broad judgments, it was difficult to use it with precision enough to find differences among teachers who are simply average.

“Can you distinguish the top teachers? Yes,” Mr. Sanders said. “Can you distinguish the bottom teachers? The answer is yes, too. But it would be risky to make decisions using information at the classroom level for teachers who are just in the middle. You might miss a lot that way.”

The city’s pilot program uses a statistical analysis to measure students’ previous-year test scores, their numbers of absences and whether they receive special education services or free lunch, as well as class size, among other factors.

Based on all those factors, that analysis then sets a “predicted gain” for a teacher’s class, which is measured against students’ actual gains to determine how much a teacher has contributed to students’ growth.

The two-page report for each teacher examines information both from one year and over three years. The information also compares the teacher with all other teachers in the city, and with teachers who have similar classrooms and experience levels. The second part of the report measures how well a teacher does with students with different skill levels, showing, for example, whether the teacher seems to work well with struggling students.

Mr. Cerf said officials expected to decide by the “early summer” whether they would use the analysis to evaluate individual teachers for tenure or other decisions, and if so, how they would do so. Such a decision would undoubtedly open up a legal battle with the teacher’s union.

Which Rising Star Will Be 'Next Randi Weingarten'?

Which Rising Star Will Be 'Next Randi Weingarten'?

BY ELIZABETH GREEN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
January 17, 2008

With the United Federation of Teachers' president seemingly moving toward leaving New York and becoming a national labor leader, a strange realization is settling over Randi Weingarten's union: Life after the towering leader may not be so far off, and there is no heir apparent to fill her shoes.

A union representative in the Bronx, Lynne Winderbaum, called the successor problem the UFT's "million-dollar question."

According to Ms. Weingarten, the job is not for everyone: "Anybody who thinks that they can just walk into New York City and become the next Randi Weingarten is smoking something," she said. There have been only two other presidents of the UFT, and both eventually left the job to lead their parent union, the American Federation of Teachers.

Ms. Weingarten could decide to do the same thing as early as this month. The AFT elections are set for July, and President Edward McElroy is widely expected to retire before then.

Reversing years of denials, Ms. Weingarten last year said for the first time that she is open to considering the job if Mr. McElroy chooses to leave.

Ms. Weingarten said this week that she expects a decision from Mr. McElroy this year.

"I hope he decides to run, and I have encouraged him to run," she said. "But he's going to make a decision some time in the early part of this calendar year. And the only thing that I've said is that for the first time I won't rule anything out."

Likely fueling speculation is that Ms. Weingarten has recently been encouraging her top aides to step up and take more prominent roles.

A rising star among her cabinet of vice presidents, Michelle Bodden, has been appearing beside Ms. Weingarten at news conferences and delivering public testimony to the City Council. She also earned praise for organizing the union's largest expansion, a jump in size of 25%, when child-care workers voted to join the UFT last year.

Another rising star, Leroy Barr, was just promoted this month to leave a Manhattan UFT office and become Ms. Weingarten's staff director. Mr. Barr's old boss, Jerome Goldman, who runs the union's Manhattan office, said Ms. Weingarten personally selected Mr. Barr for the position.

A former staff director, Michael Mendel, now in the union's no. 2 spot as secretary and executive assistant to the president, has begun joining Ms. Weingarten in running contract negotiations with the Department of Education.

A recently appointed vice president, Leo Casey, has enjoyed Internet fame as the main voice on the UFT's Web log, Edwize, and has seen his name stamped on a recent press release as making a statement jointly with Ms. Weingarten.

Rounding out a list of names that were the most mentioned in conversations with nearly a dozen sources inside or close to the UFT, a union vice president, Michael Mulgrew, is planning to accompany Ms. Weingarten to Mayor Bloomberg's State of the City address tomorrow, while another, Carmen Alvarez, is heading up a commission studying the question of mayoral control.

"We've been building capacity at the union," Mr. Mulgrew, who oversees the union's work with career and technical schools, said. Ms. Weingarten also acknowledged the new role her aides are taking. "I think they're stepping up because they have the competence to step up, and because I'm pushing people to step up. I'm pushing a lot of people to," she said. "I want 10 or 20 years later for the union to be in better shape than it is now."

Yet while many young — and some not so young — leaders are emerging, there is no single obvious choice for Ms. Weingarten's heir apparent.

That is uncharted territory for a union that has in the past plotted its transitions studiously, with the first leader, Albert Shanker, handing off naturally to his handpicked successor, Sandra Feldman, and she to hers, Ms. Weingarten.

"In Al's case, Sandy Feldman was capable and talented and well-known. And in Sandy's case, Randi was talented gifted and well-known," Mr. Goldman said. "At those times, there was just such an incredibly talented person in the wings that it seemed apparent to everyone that this person is the appropriate successor."

Who emerges this time will be up to Ms. Weingarten, nearly every person interviewed said.

"The beauty of what Randi has done is that she has more than one choice," Ms. Alvarez said. "Instead of just one, you groom several people, which is a smart thing to do."

Another possibility, if Ms. Weingarten seeks the AFT presidency, is that she will not initially give up her role as UFT president, but hold onto it while she seeks the new job. Both Shanker and Feldman presided over both the UFT and AFT in their first years leading the national union.

That would leave Ms. Weingarten time to survey the field and let a successor emerge naturally.

Ms. Weingarten refused to name any specific person she is considering as a successor, but — echoing the message of the presidential candidate for whom she is assiduously campaigning, Senator Clinton — she did indicate one quality that matters to her: experience.

Of those whose names were most mentioned, the person with the longest history at the UFT, Ms. Alvarez, said she would seriously consider taking the position if it was offered to her.

Ms. Alvarez, a former special education teacher who has worked at the Bank Street College of Education; the old Board of Education, and served as a school board member for six years, is also one of three racial minorities being named as potential successors. Ms. Bodden and Mr. Barr are black, and Mr. Barr has served as chairman of the New York State chapter of the AFT's black caucus. Selecting a black or Hispanic president could be a significant step for a union that has been battling charges of racism since it knocked heads with black separatist teachers in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville section of Brooklyn. "The idea of having an African American lead the United Federation of Teachers — it would be a whole new era," the executive director of the lobbying group Democrats for Education Reform, Joseph Williams, said. "It would leave the sore feelings from the Ocean Hill-Brownsville era behind."

Richard Ianuzzi, the president of the UFT's state affiliate, NYSUT, said he is staying out of transition conversations — except for one thing. Responding to murmurings that Ms. Weingarten might serve in Senator Clinton's White House as education secretary, Mr. Ianuzzi said he told her it is not allowed.

"Because I wouldn't want to lobby her," he laughed.

January 17, 2008 Edition > Section: New York > Printer-Friendly Version

Friday, January 11, 2008

Author Returns to Class: Tales Out of School Lead Teacher Back

Union chief-leader

January 11, 2008


It would be a perfect Hollywood story arc if the day when first-year Teacher Dan Brown terrified his out-of-control fourth-graders by putting his fist through the blackboard was the turning point in the school year. But there were no such epiphanies at that chaotic elementary school in The Bronx four years ago.

The Chief-Leader/Adrienne Haywood-James

TRIAL BY FIRE: Dan Brown spent a year teaching at a high-needs school in The Bronx and recently published a memoir that details the grinding struggles of a new Teacher and the fourth-grade class that tormented and inspired him. 'The kids would benefit so much more if rookie Teachers were looked at as valuable assets,' he said, 'as opposed to lambs to the slaughter.'

An unlikely and initially indefatigable Teaching Fellow, Mr. Brown left the public-school system after that bone-draining year and recorded his experiences in a recently published memoir, "The Great Expectations School." It chronicles a harrowing 10 months, compounded by an incompetent and negligent administration.

Came Back for More

At the center of the story are the institutional barriers he faced trying to teach his sporadically violent, often maddening and frequently heroic children, who made such an indelible mark on him that, three years after leaving, he has returned to the city's public schools to give it another try.

Tossed into a classroom that had been consciously and somewhat sadistically loaded with the students boasting the previous year's most intractable discipline problems, Mr. Brown - an NYU film student who turned to teaching on an impulse - repeatedly flails about in the absence of desperately-needed resources. At times he faces off with administrators who pummel his morale, less concerned with the daily struggles of their educators and more attuned to the pressure from the Bloomberg administration, which has just launched its first major school-reform initiative.

"There's an unspoken understanding that you will get hammered and, if you love it, you will stay," said Mr. Brown in an interview last month. "The kids would benefit so much more if rookie Teachers were looked at as valuable assets as opposed to lambs to the slaughter."

'Still Use Trial by Fire'

Currently student-teaching in The Bronx as part of his degree program at Columbia University Teachers College, Mr. Brown said he has gotten numerous e-mails from Teachers who identify with his experience and have thanked him for telling his, and their, story. "I'm absolutely certain that trial by fire still exists," he said, qualifying his assertion by noting that some schools, including the current incarnation of P.S. 85 now managed by a different Principal, take a different, more supportive approach.

The book is peppered with moments during which a young, eager and inexperienced Mr. Brown - whose mother was a secondary-school Teacher in Cherry Hill, N.J. for 34 years - is drowning and pleading for assistance, only to meet a cold, highly anxious set of administrators. There is the Assistant Principal, Sonia Guiterrez, who derides his explanation of what his children will get out of a planned Social Studies unit.

"Mr. Brown, does it really matter if the students understand the lifestyle and culture of the Iroquois people?" she asks, then answers for him: "It doesn't matter. What matters is literacy ... Do you think it will make a difference on the Test if your students know a lot about Iroquois lives?"

(Ms. Guiterrez's name, like many of the others in the book, have been changed to protect their privacy.)

'Creates Testing Fanatics'

It is the Test - the standardized math and English tests fourth-graders are required to take - that guide most of the administrators' actions, according to Mr. Brown. He believes that in a different environment, given different mandates, the administrators would also have been different people. "There is so much pressure on standardized testing," he said, "that it turns people into testing fanatics regardless of their personal feelings."

But there are other reforms mandated by the Department of Education that also torment the Teachers, especially the new ones. For example, the emphasis on elaborately illustrated bulletin boards. "You've shown improvement, Mr. Brown, but not enough," Principal Kendra Boyd tells him at one mid-year meeting. "What I caught of your lesson this morning was superb ... [but] your classroom environment is bare-bones. Look at this bulletin board ... I took a chance on you, but the proof is in the pudding." Threatened with a U-rating, Mr. Brown is constantly scrambling to keep his classroom presentable according to DOE standards, even as the central obstacle to his students' progress is his inability to manage the discipline problems in the classroom.

(In the latest re-organization, bulletin boards have lost their importance and are no longer emphasized as a central part of a Teacher's assessment.)

Students Are the Story

But the book showcases more than the problems with unsupportive administrators. The real drama is the students themselves and the gap between the amount of resources and assistance the mostly-impoverished children need and what is available at the school.

Most of Mr. Brown's fourth-grade class cannot identify what country they live in or the planet on which that country sits. Some write beautiful essays, while others do not understand that George Washington is not alive, even though they know he was president more than 200 years ago.

Staff are told that they cannot refer students to special education. As a result, children remain in Mr. Brown's classroom who can barely get through a week without punching another child in the face. Others disrupt the class continuously and can find no meaning in the lessons since they can barely read a sentence.

Building Ties That Bind

Mr. Brown believes that the multi-faceted problems exacerbated by poverty - a lack of housing (one child lives in a homeless shelter), substance abuse, parents who care deeply but don't have the time or skills to assist their children academically - could be addressed by the school if it put resources into hiring more guidance counselors and tutors and creating smaller class sizes. "When kids feel that they have relationships with adults that they have to live up to, that produces accountability; not the testing," he said.

His experience is only made more stark by comparison to the private city school, Collegiate, where he taught for two years after writing his book. Every class had 22 students and was managed by 2 teachers. When the kids went to science, art or music classes, only 11 of them left at a time and those remaining received attention from both teachers. "That's where kids' breakthroughs would come from," Mr. Brown said. "If they were falling behind, that's where they would catch up."

'Made Each Other Better'

Just as important for the still-new teacher, the instructors met several times a week to share and develop lesson plans. "It was so huge - everyone made each other better," he said, suddenly animated. "There was none of the adversarial stuff between teachers and administrators. It removes so much of the stress, and you get the idea you are supported instead of on the chopping block."

While there were gutter-low moments at P.S. 85, there were enough times when students excelled, against all odds, to convince Mr. Brown of the possibilities of academic progress within the city's toughest schools. There were hugs at dismissal on a Friday that made enduring a week of classroom fist-fights seem worth it. There were students, like Sonandia, who handed in superb homework assignments and pored through the books Mr. Brown got from his mom.

There was Asante, whose mother cried as she told Mr. Brown how much his class had meant to her daughter, a student he had thought was otherwise engaged most of the time.

Kids Surprised Him

Those moments kept a mantra alive that another Teacher had told him at the beginning of the year: Something comes across. "In the moment that Asante and her mother turned to leave, the far-reaching influence of teachers upon children took tangible heartbreaking form," he writes in the book. "This job was going to kill me."

But even though there were weeks on end when he felt like he was giving everything he had and still failing, his children managed to perform. His class became more manageable after the administration redistributed a few children who had made it impossible for him to get through a lesson. He started an after-school visual arts club. He led a field trip during which the children behaved and thrived, which would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the year.

And all but two of his students, both of whom were severely troubled, passed the state English tests. In fact, he had the fewest failures in the entire fourth grade. Mr. Boyd and Ms. Guiterrez never said a word to him about that accomplishment. At the end of the year, when the new assignments came out, he wasn't given a classroom, instead banished to teaching "on wheels," with students to rotate into his class throughout the day. That conclusion, which he acknowledged he reacted to with a mix of anger and relief, sealed his decision not to return to the school.

'Like Abandoning Them'

"I felt really conflicted about it. Whatever good I had done, I had gone," he said. "I hate the idea that I left the kids in some way. It was just impossible to stay."

Mr. Brown taught in Harlem last semester and will be teaching honors English at DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx this semester. He will go on the job market this year to find a permanent position beginning in the fall when his coursework ends.

While he has a positive opinion of the United Federation of Teachers, he said that to his detriment, the union did not play much of a role during his tenure at P.S. 85. "I really like the union, but it didn't have much to do with my year there," he said. "There's a New Teacher Advisory Committee, which is doing great stuff, but I just didn't know about it." He also believes that the union's power to affect the day-to-day functioning of a school is dependent upon cooperation with City Hall, the DOE and individuals at the school.

'Talk to Veterans'

"The Great Expectations School" fills in the details and the daily struggles that graphically explain why about 40 percent of new Teachers leave the city's public schools within three years. But it also explains why the majority stays.

Mr. Brown's advice to other new Teachers, or those considering entering the system, is to take the plunge, but to make sure they have support. "Reach out to other Teachers," he said. "Talk to the veterans. There are so many incredible, uncelebrated people in the schools. Don't go it alone."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Intel Quits Effort to Get Computers to Children

January 5, 2008

Intel Quits Effort to Get Computers to Children

SAN FRANCISCO — A frail partnership between Intel and the One Laptop Per Child educational computing group was undone last month in part by an Intel saleswoman: She tried to persuade a Peruvian official to drop the country’s commitment to buy a quarter-million of the organization’s laptops in favor of Intel PCs.

Intel and the group had a rocky relationship from the start in their short-lived effort to get inexpensive laptops into the hands of the world’s poorest children.

But the saleswoman’s tactic was the final straw for Nicholas Negroponte, the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer researcher and founder of the nonprofit effort.

He demanded that Intel stop what he saw as efforts to undermine the group’s sales, which meant ceasing to sell the rival computer. Intel chose instead to withdraw its support from One Laptop this week.

The project has been a lightning rod for controversy largely because the world’s most powerful software and chip making companies — Microsoft and Intel — had long resisted the project, for fear, according to many industry executives, that it would compete in markets they hoped to develop.

As a result, One Laptop’s XO computer comes with a processor built by Intel’s rival Advanced Micro Devices and open-source software, rather than Microsoft’s Windows and Office software.

After several years of publicly attacking the XO, Intel reversed itself over the summer and joined the organization’s board, agreeing to make an $18 million contribution and begin developing an Intel-based version of the computer.

Although Intel made an initial $6 million payment to One Laptop, the partnership was troubled from the outset as Intel sales representatives in the field competed actively against the $200 One Laptop machine by trying to sell a rival computer, a more costly Classmate PC.

The Classmate sells for about $350 with an installed version of Microsoft Office, and Intel is selling the machine through an array of sales organizations outside the United States.

Even after Intel joined the One Laptop board, in country after country, the two organizations competed to make government sales, Mr. Negroponte said yesterday in a telephone interview. The relationship first frayed seriously in October, he said, when an Intel salesman gave a Mongolian government official a side-by-side comparison of the Classmate PC and the XO.

Mr. Negroponte said he was infuriated and threatened to throw Intel off the One Laptop board. In response, Intel’s chief executive, Paul S. Otellini, agreed to change Intel practices and he accelerated the development of the Intel prototype.

Sean Maloney, the company’s top sales and marketing executive, sent e-mail instructions to the sales team that were intended to end the practice of product comparisons.

Mr. Negroponte said eliminating the comparisons was required as part of a nondisparagement clause in the partnership agreement the two companies had signed.

In the field, according to Mr. Negroponte, nothing changed.

He complained, in particular, that Intel sales representatives were claiming that as a result of the company’s board position at One Laptop, Intel had information suggesting that the organization was in trouble.

Intel refused to respond to Mr. Negroponte’s specific account of the events that led to the end of the partnership.

Instead, Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman, reiterated the company’s statement that Intel had decided to leave the organization after it reached a stalemate over whether the chip maker could continue to promote the Classmate.

“Our position continues to be that at the core of this is a philosophical impasse about how the market gets served,” he said.

Mr. Negroponte said that an Intel representative did not attend a board meeting of the group in Miami last month, citing a potential conflict of interest.

At the meeting, the board agreed that Mr. Negroponte should make a final effort to end Intel’s efforts to disrupt One Laptop’s sales.

A rapprochement never happened, however.

“They played another dirty trick in Peru,” he said. “It’s a little bit like McDonald’s competing with the World Food Program.”

In Peru, where One Laptop has begun shipping the first 40,000 PCs of a 270,000 system order, Isabelle Lama, an Intel saleswoman, tried to persuade Peru’s vice minister of education, Oscar Becerra Tresierra, that the Intel Classmate PC was a better choice for his primary school students.

Unfortunately for Intel, the vice minister is a longtime acquaintance of Mr. Negroponte and Seymour Papert, a member of the One Laptop team and an M.I.T. professor who developed the Logo computer programming language. The education minister took notes on his contacts with the Intel saleswoman and sent them to One Laptop officials.

In a telephone interview Friday, Mr. Tresierra said that his government had asked Intel for a proposal for secondary-school machines, and it had responded with a proposal offering the Classmate PC for primary grades.

“We told them this is a final decision, we are running the primary-grade project with the XO,” he said. “She wasn’t very happy.”

He said the decision to purchase the XO had come after the government had run a pilot project with the computers. “We were very happy with the results,” he said.

Until Intel surprised him by quitting on Thursday, Mr. Negroponte said he had still held out some hope that the relationship could be saved. The Intel XO was supposed to be introduced next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in keynote speeches to be made by Mr. Negroponte and Mr. Otellini, but the prototype will now be set aside.

Intel’s decision to leave was announced first in a series of phone calls made by a company spokesman to a small group of reporters. Some time later, D. Bruce Sewell, Intel’s senior vice president and general counsel, sent an e-mail message to Mr. Negroponte.

The note said that the statement, which had already been reported by wire services, was an inadvertent leak. He apologized for the way the announcement was handled.

For his part, Mr. Negroponte said he still hoped to sell two million to three million computers this year. He said that on Monday, if all goes well, he will announce a major order. Mr. Negroponte had originally hoped to sell up to five million computers.

The group did not get major orders; instead One Laptop has continued with a variety of smaller deals in countries including Uruguay, Peru and Mexico.

The group, based in Cambridge, Mass., announced Friday that its two-month “Give One, Get One” charitable promotion had generated $35 million and sold a total of 167,000 computers, half of them to be distributed in the developing world.

He said he still believed that the XO could have a big impact.

“If I can sell 1.5 million computers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ethiopia, I will feel a lot better than other sales we might make.”

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Paul Krugman on Labor and the Economy

3 columns by the NY Times' Krugman worth commenting on which I'll do on Ed Notes at some point.

December 24, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
State of the Unions

Once upon a time, back when America had a strong middle class, it also had a strong union movement.

These two facts were connected. Unions negotiated good wages and benefits for their workers, gains that often ended up being matched even by nonunion employers. They also provided an important counterbalance to the political influence of corporations and the economic elite.

Today, however, the American union movement is a shadow of its former self, except among government workers. In 1973, almost a quarter of private-sector employees were union members, but last year the figure was down to a mere 7.4 percent.

Yet unions still matter politically. And right now they’re at the heart of a nasty political scuffle among Democrats. Before I get to that, however, let’s talk about what happened to American labor over the last 35 years.

It’s often assumed that the U.S. labor movement died a natural death, that it was made obsolete by globalization and technological change. But what really happened is that beginning in the 1970s, corporate America, which had previously had a largely cooperative relationship with unions, in effect declared war on organized labor.

Don’t take my word for it; read Business Week, which published an article in 2002 titled “How Wal-Mart Keeps Unions at Bay.” The article explained that “over the past two decades, Corporate America has perfected its ability to fend off labor groups.” It then described the tactics — some legal, some illegal, all involving a healthy dose of intimidation — that Wal-Mart and other giant firms use to block organizing drives.

These hardball tactics have been enabled by a political environment that has been deeply hostile to organized labor, both because politicians favored employers’ interests and because conservatives sought to weaken the Democratic Party. “We’re going to crush labor as a political entity,” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, once declared.

But the times may be changing. A newly energized progressive movement seems to be on the ascendant, and unions are a key part of that movement. Most notably, the Service Employees International Union has played a key role in pushing for health care reform. And unions will be an important force in the Democrats’ favor in next year’s election.

Or maybe not — which brings us to the latest from Iowa.

Whoever receives the Democratic presidential nomination will receive labor’s support in the general election. Meanwhile, however, unions are supporting favored candidates. Hillary Clinton — who for a time seemed the clear front-runner — has received the most union support. John Edwards, whose populist message resonates with labor, has also received considerable labor support.

But Barack Obama, though he has a solid pro-labor voting record, has not — in part, perhaps, because his message of “a new kind of politics” that will transcend bitter partisanship doesn’t make much sense to union leaders who know, from the experience of confronting corporations and their political allies head on, that partisanship isn’t going away anytime soon.

O.K., that’s politics. But now Mr. Obama has lashed out at Mr. Edwards because two 527s — independent groups that are allowed to support candidates, but are legally forbidden from coordinating directly with their campaigns — are running ads on his rival’s behalf. They are, Mr. Obama says, representative of the kind of “special interests” that “have too much influence in Washington.”

The thing, though, is that both of these 527s represent union groups — in the case of the larger group, local branches of the S.E.I.U. who consider Mr. Edwards the strongest candidate on health reform. So Mr. Obama’s attack raises a couple of questions.

First, does it make sense, in the current political and economic environment, for Democrats to lump unions in with corporate groups as examples of the special interests we need to stand up to?

Second, is Mr. Obama saying that if nominated, he’d be willing to run without support from labor 527s, which might be crucial to the Democrats? If not, how does he avoid having his own current words used against him by the Republican nominee?

Part of what happened here, I think, is that Mr. Obama, looking for a stick with which to beat an opponent who has lately acquired some momentum, either carelessly or cynically failed to think about how his rhetoric would affect the eventual ability of the Democratic nominee, whoever he or she is, to campaign effectively. In this sense, his latest gambit resembles his previous echoing of G.O.P. talking points on Social Security.

Beyond that, the episode illustrates what’s wrong with campaigning on generalities about political transformation and trying to avoid sounding partisan.

It may be partisan to say that a 527 run by labor unions supporting health care reform isn’t the same thing as a 527 run by insurance companies opposing it. But it’s also the simple truth.

After the Money’s Gone

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve announced plans to lend $40 billion to banks. By my count, it’s the fourth high-profile attempt to rescue the financial system since things started falling apart about five months ago. Maybe this one will do the trick, but I wouldn’t count on it.

In past financial crises — the stock market crash of 1987, the aftermath of Russia’s default in 1998 — the Fed has been able to wave its magic wand and make market turmoil disappear. But this time the magic isn’t working.

Why not? Because the problem with the markets isn’t just a lack of liquidity — there’s also a fundamental problem of solvency.

Let me explain the difference with a hypothetical example.

Suppose that there’s a nasty rumor about the First Bank of Pottersville: people say that the bank made a huge loan to the president’s brother-in-law, who squandered the money on a failed business venture.

Even if the rumor is false, it can break the bank. If everyone, believing that the bank is about to go bust, demands their money out at the same time, the bank would have to raise cash by selling off assets at fire-sale prices — and it may indeed go bust even though it didn’t really make that bum loan.

And because loss of confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, even depositors who don’t believe the rumor would join in the bank run, trying to get their money out while they can.

But the Fed can come to the rescue. If the rumor is false, the bank has enough assets to cover its debts; all it lacks is liquidity — the ability to raise cash on short notice. And the Fed can solve that problem by giving the bank a temporary loan, tiding it over until things calm down.

Matters are very different, however, if the rumor is true: the bank really did make a big bad loan. Then the problem isn’t how to restore confidence; it’s how to deal with the fact that the bank is really, truly insolvent, that is, busted.

My story about a basically sound bank beset by a crisis of confidence, which can be rescued with a temporary loan from the Fed, is more or less what happened to the financial system as a whole in 1998. Russia’s default led to the collapse of the giant hedge fund Long Term Capital Management, and for a few weeks there was panic in the markets.

But when all was said and done, not that much money had been lost; a temporary expansion of credit by the Fed gave everyone time to regain their nerve, and the crisis soon passed.

In August, the Fed tried again to do what it did in 1998, and at first it seemed to work. But then the crisis of confidence came back, worse than ever. And the reason is that this time the financial system — both banks and, probably even more important, nonbank financial institutions — made a lot of loans that are likely to go very, very bad.

It’s easy to get lost in the details of subprime mortgages, resets, collateralized debt obligations, and so on. But there are two important facts that may give you a sense of just how big the problem is.

First, we had an enormous housing bubble in the middle of this decade. To restore a historically normal ratio of housing prices to rents or incomes, average home prices would have to fall about 30 percent from their current levels.

Second, there was a tremendous amount of borrowing into the bubble, as new home buyers purchased houses with little or no money down, and as people who already owned houses refinanced their mortgages as a way of converting rising home prices into cash.

As home prices come back down to earth, many of these borrowers will find themselves with negative equity — owing more than their houses are worth. Negative equity, in turn, often leads to foreclosures and big losses for lenders.

And the numbers are huge. The financial blog Calculated Risk, using data from First American CoreLogic, estimates that if home prices fall 20 percent there will be 13.7 million homeowners with negative equity. If prices fall 30 percent, that number would rise to more than 20 million.

That translates into a lot of losses, and explains why liquidity has dried up. What’s going on in the markets isn’t an irrational panic. It’s a wholly rational panic, because there’s a lot of bad debt out there, and you don’t know how much of that bad debt is held by the guy who wants to borrow your money.

How will it all end? Markets won’t start functioning normally until investors are reasonably sure that they know where the bodies — I mean, the bad debts — are buried. And that probably won’t happen until house prices have finished falling and financial institutions have come clean about all their losses. All of this will probably take years.

Meanwhile, anyone who expects the Fed or anyone else to come up with a plan that makes this financial crisis just go away will be sorely disappointed.

Blindly Into the Bubble

When announcing Japan’s surrender in 1945, Emperor Hirohito famously explained his decision as follows: “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”

There was a definite Hirohito feel to the explanation Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, gave this week for the Fed’s locking-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-is-gone decision to modestly strengthen regulation of the mortgage industry: “Market discipline has in some cases broken down, and the incentives to follow prudent lending procedures have, at times, eroded.”

That’s quite an understatement. In fact, the explosion of “innovative” home lending that took place in the middle years of this decade was an unmitigated disaster.

But maybe Mr. Bernanke was afraid to be blunt about just how badly things went wrong. After all, straight talk would have amounted to a direct rebuke of his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, who ignored pleas to lock the barn door while the horse was still inside — that is, to regulate lending while it was booming, rather than after it had already collapsed.

I use the words “unmitigated disaster” advisedly.

Apologists for the mortgage industry claim, as Mr. Greenspan does in his new book, that “the benefits of broadened home ownership” justified the risks of unregulated lending.

But homeownership didn’t broaden. The great bulk of dubious subprime lending took place from 2004 to 2006 — yet homeownership rates are already back down to mid-2003 levels. With millions more foreclosures likely, it’s a good bet that homeownership will be lower at the Bush administration’s end than it was at the start.

Meanwhile, during the bubble years, the mortgage industry lured millions of people into borrowing more than they could afford, and simultaneously duped investors into investing vast sums in risky assets wrongly labeled AAA. Reasonable estimates suggest that more than 10 million American families will end up owing more than their homes are worth, and investors will suffer $400 billion or more in losses.

So where were the regulators as one of the greatest financial disasters since the Great Depression unfolded? They were blinded by ideology.

“Fed shrugged as subprime crisis spread,” was the headline on a New York Times report on the failure of regulators to regulate. This may have been a discreet dig at Mr. Greenspan’s history as a disciple of Ayn Rand, the high priestess of unfettered capitalism known for her novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

In a 1963 essay for Ms. Rand’s newsletter, Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”

It’s no wonder, then, that he brushed off warnings about deceptive lending practices, including those of Edward M. Gramlich, a member of the Federal Reserve board. In Mr. Greenspan’s world, predatory lending — like attempts to sell consumers poison toys and tainted seafood — just doesn’t happen.

But Mr. Greenspan wasn’t the only top official who put ideology above public protection. Consider the press conference held on June 3, 2003 — just about the time subprime lending was starting to go wild — to announce a new initiative aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on banks. Representatives of four of the five government agencies responsible for financial supervision used tree shears to attack a stack of paper representing bank regulations. The fifth representative, James Gilleran of the Office of Thrift Supervision, wielded a chainsaw.

Also in attendance were representatives of financial industry trade associations, which had been lobbying for deregulation. As far as I can tell from press reports, there were no representatives of consumer interests on the scene.

Two months after that event the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the tree-shears-wielding agencies, moved to exempt national banks from state regulations that protect consumers against predatory lending. If, say, New York State wanted to protect its own residents — well, sorry, that wasn’t allowed.

Of course, now that it has all gone bad, people with ties to the financial industry are rethinking their belief in the perfection of free markets. Mr. Greenspan has come out in favor of, yes, a government bailout. “Cash is available,” he says — meaning taxpayer money — “and we should use that in larger amounts, as is necessary, to solve the problems of the stress of this.”

Given the role of conservative ideology in the mortgage disaster, it’s puzzling that Democrats haven’t been more aggressive about making the disaster an issue for the 2008 election. They should be: It’s hard to imagine a more graphic demonstration of what’s wrong with their opponents’ economic beliefs.