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Numbers Don’t Lie? High-Stakes “Recruiting” at Democracy Prep Charter School

For those parents dreaming of a charter school as a “last resort” for their struggling child, that affection is probably unrequited.

In a world where low test scores mean school closure, struggling students is the last thing a charter needs—and their recruiting tactics back that claim.

Recently, a couple of my fifth grade students received a recruitment flyer and application from Democracy Prep Charter School, a school that boasts among the best test scores in the city. This is not new: fifth grade kids get bombarded with literature about the various middle-school programs available to them. So I just saw Democracy Prep as one of many suitors vying for their attention…

…that is, until I discovered an ulterior motive.

According to two stories, one in Fox 5 News and one in Gotham Schools, Democracy Prep got the green light from SUNY to take over the governance of Harlem Day Charter School, which is at the opposite polar end of its new overseers. Harlem Day was consistently among the lowest-achieving charters in the city, and reformers across the city championed Democracy Prep’s takeover.

In light of such movement, I took a look at Democracy Prep’s literature. The flyer was pretty non-descript, touting it’s perceived status as “the #1 middle school and the #1 charter school in the entire city of New York.” It had a nice mission statement, too: something about educating “citizen-scholars” (great bullshit term, thanks TFA!) to succeed as college graduates and “become active citizens in our community.” Nothing too inflammatory there.

Tucked away in the middle was the notice that Democracy Prep was “working to open a new elementary school in the fall…”, neglecting to mention that this new school did not come out of the blue, but rather from the frequently pissed-on ashes of Harlem Day. Still, if you fire the staff, dump the administrators and redesign all aspects of structure and curriculum from scratch, it’s essentially the same thing.

Then I took a poll, in each class, of the students who received such a letter. To a man, all the students—and ONLY the students—who received passing grades of Level 3 or 4 on their state English Language Arts (ELA) and Math exams in 4th grade were recruited by Democracy Prep.

Furthermore, the application was a slick exercise in covering its own ass from the ravages of an ACLU lawsuit. It stressed there was no admissions exam, and that “English language learners and students with special needs are especially encouraged to apply.” (their italics).

“Encouraged” meaning “…as long as your test scores don’t bring us all down and drag us into the painful light of DOE or SUNY scrutiny.”

If Democracy Prep was open to everyone, they had a funny way of demonstrating their openness.

It didn’t take long for me to figure it out—and not long after to explain to the kids my misgivings. In no uncertain terms, I shared my skepticism about Democracy Prep’s aims and their viability as an option:

(1) Democracy Prep is taking over a failing school. Chances are, propping up that failing school will take priority—regardless of what they say to you. Resources will be siphoned off their more “successful” schools at your expense.

(2) Democracy Prep has no admissions exam. If you are planning to go to a great middle school, what kind of school would not vet its applicants to assess their prior knowledge and skills?

And the most damning evidence of all:

(3) Even though they claimed to be open to everyone, Democracy Prep only sent letters to level 3s and 4s. This should tell you that this school probably cares more about their test scores than about how ready you are for high school and college.

This was only one charter school. Imagine the hijinks going on among schools across New York City. If ever there was proof that charters are not the “silver bullet” that will solve the ills of education, this is it.

It’s even more ludicrous considering Democracy Prep’s superintendent Seth Andrew and his remarks about their new acquisition:

“Harlem Day had incredibly low class size, tons of adults, one of the highest philanthropy per-pupil rates if not the highest, and a really nice building. So all of the traditional arguments that people make about what’s needed to fix schools: more money, smaller class sizes, more teachers, are just wrong. What you need is better teachers in a rigorous academic program.”

…that, and cherry-picking the best students from fifth grade to fill your rosters with ready-made “achievement.”

Lastly, this could not have been done without the connivance of someone within the bowels of Tweed. Middle schools in the city do get information about all fifth graders who are applying. However, how many of them have the top-scoring students already set apart on a silver platter—all the while expressing their desire to work with students at all levels.

If charter schools like this are your “Superman,” then they only work under a Lex Luthor-like web of deceit and slight-of-hand.

Would you entrust the education of your child in an institution that bases itself on such dishonesty? The education reform crowd seems to think so…which speaks volumes to their moral fiber.

 

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Videos for the Classroom: The original 1939 “King’s Speech”

The Neighborhood would love to give a hearty congratulations to Colin Firth, director Tom Hooper and the rest of the cast and crew of the 4-time Academy Award-winning The King’s Speech.  Both Firth and Geoffrey Rush give magesterial performances as George VI and Lionel Logue, respectively.  Well done!

I had made a serious point a few months ago to defend this film against its detractors, and I still stand by it.  Yet when it comes to the classroom, I really wish The King’s Speech wasn’t R-rated so it can be used with my students.  Hopefully, a classroom version can be available in the future.

While that happens, today we have a recording of the actual “King’s Speech”: the speech given by George VI over BBC Radio to his people across the Empire on September 3, 1939, as Britain declared war on Germany.  Those who saw the film can help students imagine what it was like for someone like George VI who struggled with his speech impairment, yet still needed to address his people at this awful hour.

It’s a great way to get students into the spirit of wartime Europe by listening to the king the way Britons would have listened back in World War II.

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The Ham-Fisted Problem in the Wisconsin Union Crisis

Protesters at Wisconsin State Capitol, from cnn.com

It’s one of many mantras here at the Neighborhood—in a democracy, style matters as much as (if not more than) substance.

We’ve seen it in Obama’s election. We’ve seen it in Michelle Rhee’s unceremonious exit from the DC public schools. We’re seeing it now as Republicans and Democrats are held to a stand-off in Wisconsin over cuts to public unions—and America, as always, is quick to take sides.

Last week, the GOP-dominated Wisconsin legislature began voting on budget measures that would’ve stripped public employee unions of most of their collective bargaining rights, packaging it as a cost-saving measure in response to the current economic condition. The Democratic minority, rather than vote a pyrrhic negative on a rubber-stamp vote, fled the state, leaving the legislature without a quorum.

The Republicans will not compromise. The Democrats, backed by labor unions, will not back down. The state capital of Madison is a war zone with protesters. Similar scenes are playing out in Indiana and maybe in Ohio.

Pundits have, obviously, opined at length on this. Right now, I’m not concerned about the rightward shift in the politics of the Middle West, as many have brought up. Nor am I looking at the declining power of unions as a base of support for the Democratic Party.

What bothers me is the horrible way this situation got to this point. Unfortunately, both sides are to blame.

Back in the flush times, the pre-2008 meltdown days, many state governments, in an effort to cozy up to their public sector unions, proposed contracts that included ludicrously lavish packages: zero-contribution options for pensions, health benefits for nearly nothing, and annuity funds at hilariously high rates. The unions, sensing this was the time to cash in, willfully signed on to these contracts, packaging them as a victory for the members.

Furthermore, in many states, pattern bargaining made the situation worse. Under pattern bargaining, the state’s contract negotiations are based on the precedent of the contracts presented to the other public unions in the state. So if the police and fire unions were rewarded handsomely, then the teachers and health workers want a similar piece of the pie—it’s only fair.

But what happens when the well runs dry?

The economic crisis of state government is a collective problem (no pun intended). It was caused by a severe shortsightedness on the part of governments both state and municipal, both political parties, unions, government contractors and the business sector.

The fundamental rule of the economic cycle is that the good times never last—and when it comes to economics, government is a slow learner.

That being said, the solution proposed by the Wisconsin legislature—backed by Tea Party-aligned GOP governor Scott Walker—is akin to hacking off a limb with an ax instead of a scalpel.

Hopefully, many states are negotiating with their state employees and unions (key word: NEGOTIATING) on creating contract solutions that solve the mistakes of the past. As a unit, unions need to take initiative in preparing their membership for the worst—and proposing austerity packages to the state that are both prudent and self-sustaining at the same time. States, furthermore, must be both blunt in their assessment of the situation to their workforce and open to solutions that can solve the problem with as little economic bloodshed as possible.

Wisconsin Republicans are not doing that. They are out to neuter public unions, once and for all…and it will bite them in the ass.

Regardless of their employer, workers have a right to organize and negotiate with their management. Many people, particularly Jonah Goldberg in a recent Los Angeles Times column, make a distinction between public- and private-sector unions. They see public employees as foregoing collective bargaining for job security—and that the unions themselves are merely a political ploy while the old-guard AFL-CIO unions are more worthy of praise.

Those who make this distinction have a short memory.

What Goldberg and his ilk seem to misunderstand is that public sector unions are not only federal and state employees. The thousands of American municipalities have had workers that fought for their rights well before the rise of government worker unions under the Kennedy administration. Teachers, for example, have fought for better wages and conditions in New York since the turn of the century. Same with police, fire fighters, etc. Many public unions even predate their more “worthy” private antecedents.

Secondly, if the privatization of public services comes to pass, as so many in the right feel must happen, guess what happens to those public unions? They become PRIVATE unions, just like the Teamsters, the electrical workers and so on. The unions will not go away.

Thus, strong-arming basic collective bargaining, even with a working majority, wins no brownie points. Like in economics, in politics the good times don’t last.

The Wisconsin legislature will probably get their vote (even though the courts will weigh in inevitably). The governor may even have his union-busting victory. Now what? How does that make Wisconsin look to other teachers, policemen or government workers who want to work there? Besides a brain drain, Wisconsin will probably suffer shortfalls in hiring, once the economic cycle picks up. Who would want to work in a state that treats them like cattle?

The solution to economic problems is seldom easy and never painless. The state has to be honest about its situation and open to all suggestions—including compromises. The unions have to be upfront with their membership and with management about the sacrifices that need to be made—including compromises. Lawmakers have to find that middle ground that democracy depends on—a middle ground that includes compromise.

If one side refuses to compromise (like in Wisconsin), then short-term victories can turn into long-term catastrophes.

And a final message for Governor Walker: if you insist on treating public employees like cattle to squeeze out a tax cut, go ahead… Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the stampede that’s coming.

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The Strange Bedfellows in US Foreign Policy

President Barack Obama meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in June 2009. Today, Egyptians are protesting to remove Mubarak from power. Photo via the San Francisco Sentinel

At one point, the United States, a beacon of democracy and freedom, turned to a despotic, autocratic tyrant for friendship and alliance during a volatile period.

As soon as the situation was resolved, however, that very same despotic regime caused mixed feelings among Americans, often leading to violent confrontation.

By the way, I’m not talking about Egypt.

It was 1778, and a young United States turned to France, an absolute monarchy almost completely anathema to the ideals of the young nation, as an ally in its war for independence against the British Empire.

When that very same regime became engulfed in revolution a decade later, the new regime divided Americans as never before—and confused US foreign policy into a “quasi-war” with France from 1798-1800.

The recent turmoil in Egypt has us looking at the often strange decisions made in the name of national interest.  In looking at the protests aimed to oust Hosni Mubarak, many classrooms will be full of questions about the situation.  They range from the mundane (“Where is Egypt?”) to the profound (“How can we resolve the situation?”) and even the profoundly dumb (“Who cares about Egypt?”).

Yet one question cannot be avoided: “Why are we friends with a guy like Mubarak in the first place?”

It’s time to teach your kids the painful truth about American diplomacy—it makes for strange bedfellows who tend to stay too long in the sack.

It doesn’t stop at Mubarak and the corpulent king of France.  Josef Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong (once he was dying), the folks in China after Mao kicked the bucket, Ferdinand Marcos, Suharto, the entire Thai government, Ngo Dinh Diem, Syngman Rhee, the assholes after Syngman Rhee, Islam Karimov, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Saddam Hussein (before he got greedy),The Saudi Monarchy, The monarchies of the rest of the Gulf states, Mobutu Sese Seko, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the white regimes in both Rhodesia and South Africa, Rafael Trujillo, Fulgencio Batista, Anastasio Somoza (plus the other Somozas), Manuel Noriega (before he got greedy), Marcos Perez Jimenez, Augusto Pinochet, Hugo Banzer, Alfredo Stroessner and the host of lovable scamps involved in military governments in Brazil and Argentina.

All of these people rotting in hell (we hope).  All of these people received, at one point or another, the blessing, cooperation, and (the important part) funding from the most powerful democracy on Earth.

We were often taught that the United States was “special” amongst its brethren nations in that its high moral purpose and philosophical vision would mean its actions would also be of such moral stature.  The US wouldn’t stoop to make treaties with dictatorships, nor “torture” prisoners for information: Americans “just don’t do that sort of thing.”

Well, not only do we do “that sort of thing,” but we’re real good at it—since we’ve been doing it since our founding.

Foreign relations, one learns quickly, has very little to do with lofty philosophical ideals or moral imperatives.  To be sure, the base of diplomacy lies more in the market bazaar than the debating hall: economics and mutual security drive national ties far more than shared ideology.

Today’s diplomatic landscape certainly owes much to our wallets.  In the United States, most people worry about gas and consumer prices. Thus, we make nice with two nasty regimes that take care of our needs. The Saudis and their autocratic buddies in the Gulf take care to juice up our SUVs and assorted land monsters.  The Chinese and their sundry client states around the South China Sea make sure your little brats get everything they want for Christmas—as well as stock your shelves at Wal-Mart and Target.

During the Cold War, the United States’ biggest diplomatic priorities were thwarting Communism and spreading American ideals—in that order.  To wit, many of the people we cozied up to from the 1940s to the 1990s shared only an intense anti-Communist streak.  Being that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the US looked the other way as dissidents were slaughtered in soccer stadiums, tortured with electrodes, and subjected to inhuman conditions while everything, at least on the surface, looked rosy.

As far as Egypt goes, the mutual enemy isn’t Communism but rather Islamic fundamentalism.  The Muslim Brotherhood, an illegal Islamist group that allegedly masterminded the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 (leading to Mubarak’s accession), is the great bogeyman of the Egyptian government.  Mubarak fears that his departure would cede Egypt to the Brotherhood, thus plunging the ancient country into the darkness of an Islamic state.  I’m not completely convinced this is the case, considering the impact of the military on the country, but it’s been reason enough for the United States to stand by Mubarak for three decades.

The United States is not alone in allying itself with distasteful regimes.  Other countries, notably in Europe, have done the same thing. To an extent, these connections provide the United States with many of the products, materials and resources we need at the prices we want.  The average American has, on the whole, benefitted at least economically from these questionable partnerships.

Yet as you think about the people risking their lives in Cairo, Alexandria and all over Egypt, one can’t help wondering: is it worth it?

There’s no easy answer to that.  We cannot judge all foreign policy as a whole: relations with each country have their own characteristics.  Yet the better students can see how all aspects of national identity—economic, military, financial and ethical—affect international relations, all the better for the American diplomats of the future.

The following are some resources about US foreign policy with dictators as well as about the Egypt crisis:

An article from Salon.com featuring three authoritarian regimes that are friendly with the US.

A Report about US policy towards dictatorships from the Cato Institute made during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s.

A 2002 Global Issues article about support for dicatorships and terrorism.

YouTube compilations of news coverage of the Egyptian protests.

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This Day in History 12/31: The Tet Offensive in Vietnam

Looking at this week’s demonstrations in Egypt, one can only be reminded of today’s event in that far-off land of Vietnam.

On January 31, 1968, the North Vietnamese army, along with its irregular guerrilla force the Viet Cong, or VC, orchestrated a simulataneous attack on numerous American and South Vietnamese installations throughout the country, including the American embassy in Saigon and US military encampments in Hue and Khe Sanh.  The objective was to shock the South Vietnamese people and bring the government to its knees so that the Communist north can swiftly force the Americans to the bargaining table.

Since the attacks occurred during the Vietnamese new year, or Tet, the attacks of January 31, as well as subsequent smaller skirmishes through February, became known as the “Tet Offensive.”

Although the plan was bold–it shocked US and South Vietnamese military leaders to the core–none of the objectives were met.  American forces quickly contained and subdued all VC and NVA attacks, including the attack on the embassy in Saigon.  The sieges in Hue and Khe Sanh would be put down after several months of vicious fighting.

Yet Tet’s full effect would come on the six-o’clock news.

As reporters rotated through Vietnam in the days following Tet, especially in one-on-one interviews with field officers and soldiers deep in “the shit”, as the front was called, many newsmen began to question the overly optimistic reports coming from official channels at the Pentagon.  One of these was veteran CBS anchor Walter Cronkite.  His reports, which would cast a shadow of doubt on the whole Vietnam enterprise, helped re-shape the war in the minds of millions of Americans.

Only in the twentieth century, only through the media can a victory be cast as a defeat–and work.

Attached is some footage of the fighting in Saigon during the Tet offensive, as covered by CBS News.  Have your students note the tone and content of the coverage, including what the reporter chooses to show–and not show.  Ask how that creates “slants” in the news, even when it should be unbiased.

More importantly, reflect on how the media can be a powerful tool in world affairs–just like Twitter and YouTube is showing in places like Iran and Egypt.

 

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Some Free Advice to New NYC Schools Chancellor Cathie Black—from her friends at the Neighborhood

Cathie Black, New York City's new Schools Chancellor

Chancellor Black, welcome to America’s largest, most Byzantine, and most convoluted school system. We sincerely hope that during your tenure (should I use the word “tenure”?) New York City will also be among America’s greatest networks of learning.

We must admit, in all fairness, that many folks here in the Neighborhood were none too pleased at your appointment. Given the outward business-like nature of the Bloomberg regime (or dynasty, royal house, whatever), we expected a selection process free of the nepotism, cronyism and backdoor dealing that so typified the dark days of the past. Wishful thinking, of course…

Yet we digress. In an effort to bury the hatchet, we wish to open a true dialogue with our new capo. Our hope is that through honest, frank communication we can achieve the best results possible for everyone in our school system.

We won’t belabor you with the nonsense questions so many critics have leveled on you. That would be insulting your intelligence—a well-honed trait of your predecessor. As you settle into your first week on the job, however, here are some suggestions to make your work a little more meaningful:

Visit every school in the system—unannounced

The typical Chancellor’s tour involves an entourage of poobahs parading through a pristine campus while smiling, polite children entertain him with well-worn platitudes about their “reading levels” and “learning processes”. This usually takes place at schools with “KIPP”, “Mott Hall” or “Kappa” in their names, or with suffixes like –Academy, -Charter School, or Blankety Blank School for Success and Entrepreneurial Excellence in Waste Management.

This is not reality—not even close.

Make a point to visit schools in our most distressed neighborhoods, especially those schools that have been deemed either failures or in danger of closure by the DOE in the past. Pop in without the menagerie, and watch as teachers struggle with day-to-day tasks, principals balance inane initiatives with budgetary constraints, and parents tangle with administrators over discipline, zoning and programming.

Also take into account schools that are succeeding, but are bursting at the seams with students from closed schools in the community. Take a good hard look, and tell me if these schools will continue to succeed given the budgetary and population constraints on them.

Teach one class in each grade level—including Kindergarten

You can’t hide from it. We all know: you have almost no experience in a classroom, let alone any educational institution. You might already have it in your head that teachers are lazy and uneducated, do little with their time, and need the stick more than the carrot.

At the very least, that was the vibe we got from your predecessor—as well as his boss. Michelle Rhee certainly put her two cents in, we’re sure.

It won’t make up for it, but walking a short distance in the shoes of a New York City classroom teacher can do you a world of good for giving much needed perspective. Put up a bulletin board with substandard work so your superiors look good for their bosses. Push back art history or science for the umpteenth time to test prep for an exam six months away. Get hands-on with Global History, and its rushed, watered-down, one-year fiasco of a curriculum (and we wonder that our students know little about the world.).

But no cheating, now—you can’t teach at a private school or some Upper East Side celeb-charter academy. Like before, find those schools “In Need of Improvement” or “In Restructuring”, those wonderful NCLB phrases that taste like boiled Auschwitz.

Take the standardized tests the students take—all of them.

We can probably guess that like the mayor and his minions, you are ga-ga over standardized tests and their use in evaluating everything, from the teachers to the lunchroom floor. Oh, the joy of reducing everything to a number! It looks pretty on a mission statement, makes for great graphs that delight educational Neanderthals such as Arne Duncan, and make for great printing material and “culling of the herd.” (Just ask the Los Angeles Times).

Take the time to take each of the tests yourself, from the 3rd grade reading and math tests to the vaunted Regents tests at the high school level. As you plow through the material, ask yourself these questions:

(1) Do these things really measure the ability to read and function as an intellectual being? Will a “4” on the 5th grade ELA guarantee a slot at Harvard in a few years—or a slot on the night shift at McDonalds?

(2) If you find yourself struggling with certain tests (especially the science ones), imagine a kid with half your intelligence, a quarter of your attention span and a thousandth of your resources—a specimen we find a lot of in our system. Do you think he has the right supports to pass a test that you, a middle aged wealthy white woman, are struggling with?

(3) If the teacher is already hamstrung with a motley array of students in an overcrowded classroom with a lack of support and unsuitable standardized assessments to use, how can it be the only measure of a teacher’s success or failure? How can you measure a teacher’s effectiveness on one variable?

We’re pretty resigned to the fact that test scores will factor in teacher evaluation. However, it shouldn’t be the ONLY factor. Taking the tests yourself will convince you of this.

By the way, we’ll cut you some slack on those advanced science and math Regents. Most of us couldn’t tell Planck’s Constant from a plank at the Home Depot.

When cutting the budget, cut the fat, not the muscle.

Times are tough economically, we know. There will, inevitably, be cuts in funding from Albany which will trickle down to the schools themselves.

When you look at the budget for the coming year, remember that the school level—yes, that level that you should’ve experienced firsthand, by now—is the sinew and muscle of our system. Yet why has it been that the knife was drawn closest to this all-important skeleton?

Instead, turn your scalpel towards the people behind you in the mirror. Since you’re a smart lady, you may notice how we chuckle at the juxtaposition of DOE headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse. That courthouse was at the center of the city’s largest political scandal, and its named for the chief culprit. That insult aside, make sure that those people immediately around you are utilized the best way possible.

If not, you can definitely lay-off at the top in a professional manner (We remember the show where you talked about laying off workers effectively—nice job.)

Give Principals real autonomy—in discipline.

Principals bear the brunt of the abuse as our schools are slowly becoming all-encompassing nation-states that are built ass-backwards—a body like an Athenian and a brain like a Spartan. A lot of the hot talk is around whether principals should be given more leeway to hire and fire personnel at will, as well as more control over the school’s purse strings.

Now remember the little bastard in the classroom you were in that was so defiant he would make any classroom cringe with fear? Good luck getting him placed in a different setting. The process for removing or transferring students due to behavior problems is long and convoluted: even teachers who diligently follow up with phone calls and letters find that administrators have their hands tied as well.

So how about this: let the principals admit and expel students as the need arises, especially at the elementary level. We’re not talking about cases where the child acts up due to academic struggles. It’s about the stone-cold bad kids that have reached the end of their rope with students, teachers, parents and principals; those kids that pose a true threat to learning for everyone.

Wondering how to use closed school buildings? Use them for programs that move these “bad kids” in a more productive direction than a regular classroom would allow. If he keeps up into high school, then he can be expurgated without a fuss.

Despite what the knuckleheads think, children are left behind, sometimes by choice. It even happens in (gasp!) Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan—those bastions of academic excellence. You think every kid in Asia is on the board of directors of a car company, construction conglomerate or electronics consortium? Morons are the same the world over.

Want Teacher Quality? Stop the half-measures and go after the source.

It’s something we harp on here at the Neighborhood almost as if in a mantra: the goal is to acquire and RETAIN excellent quality teachers. Don’t listen to Rhee and the morons at TFA who think that alternative certification programs are the “silver bullet” that will finally eradicate the achievement gap.

Teaching gets better with age, and the TFA’ers don’t stick around long enough to reach that level of maturity (if they were ever that mature to begin with).

You want to get good teachers? Make teaching a respectable profession to graduates from the top universities. The only way that can happen is (a) the salaries are commensurate with other professionals. This can only happen if we have (b) teacher training programs at the university level that are as competitive and as rigorous as professional schools and higher academia.

The education programs at New York’s universities must stop becoming diploma mills for any two-bit dipstick that wants the summer off. As schools chancellor, you are in a unique position to correct this problem.

All the education programs love the deals they have with the DOE to provide training, professional development, seminars, etc. Hold their asses to the fire with these sweetheart contracts until there is evidence of major overhauls in their education departments. It’ll be a long process, but we’re willing to bet that out of it will come high-quality teachers who will stay in the system for a long time.

Just remember to pay them adequately, otherwise they will go elsewhere. That’s the price you pay for intelligent, well-trained teachers: they usually won’t stand the bullshit for long.

Stop the “Fear Culture” of communication at the DOE

This may be the most important task you can accomplish as Chancellor.

For a long time, the draconian regime of your predecessor has rhapsodized about the need for greater collaboration, communication and team-building. Yet in private, especially amongst the administrators of all-too many buildings, a culture of fear and suspicion has arisen. Complaints, suggestions, and even legal union grievances have been met with back-stabbing, reprisals and vengeful acts that demonstrate the basest venality…

(Sorry, got poetic with the vocabulary. You following all this, Chancellor?)

You, and only you, can put a stop to this. If we can see you leading by example, taking advice, compliments and criticism professionally and courteously (from teachers, parents, administrators and even students) and offering a sense of safe and fruitful dialogue, it would be a wonderful first step in creating real cohesion within our system.

I keep going back to him, but it bears repeating. Your predecessor cared little about public opinion, nor the opinions of those who toiled under him. He was often curt and even combative in interviews and press conferences. In last year’s testing fiasco, he even pointedly showed up late to community meetings in the ultimate display of cowardice.

Chancellor Black, you seem like a smart, eloquent woman. Only by using that intelligence to understand the system, its flaws, its accomplishments and its future can you succeed. Look at Rhee: she was even more stubborn about her dictatorial ways, and look at where it got her.

We bust our butts for these kids every day. The concerns addressed here have been shouted, mentioned, whispered, e-mailed and texted for many years now. It is high time that we finally find the common ground to create viable solutions to our educational problems.

Chancellor Black, we at the Neighborhood wish you the best of luck in leading this great school system. Thanks for hearing us.

PS. Did Joel leave any booze in the desk? You may need it every once in a while. Hope he left the good stuff.

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Videos for the Classroom: Last US Combat Brigade leaves Iraq

In all the hoopla over oil spills, a mosque in downtown Manhattan, and the upcoming midterm elections, a moment in in history quietly occurred yesterday with little fanfare.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the last combat brigade left in Iraq, crossed the border into Kuwait yesterday, marking the official end of “combat” in the Iraqi theater.  This does not mean we won’t have troops there, but the mission is changed to a development/stabilization stage.  The actual “fighting”, at least in the eyes of the Pentagon, appears to be over.

All troops are, according to President Obama, supposed to out of Iraq by 2011.  We’ll see if that happens.  In the meantime, here’s the Associated Press video of last nights’ events.  You may want to use it in your classroom to compare it to the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.  What were the circumstances behind each withdrawal?  What was the end result?   What do you think the end result will be in Iraq?

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