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Commonweal editors mark the departure of Scott Walker from the 2016 field with relief.

“The departure of Gov. Scott Walker from the Republican race for president should come as a relief to American working people. His campaign against public-employee unions in his home state of Wisconsin, underwritten by billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch, proved devastatingly effective, and his goal was to take it nationwide. Not that he was the only Republican candidate to take aim at what is, by general agreement, a fading target—organized labor as both a political force and an advocate for workers is perhaps weaker now than it’s ever been. But Walker, even more than fellow Republican Chris Christie, had been especially vocal in demonizing unions. That put him at odds with many of his fellow citizens: Support for unions has been rising since 2008, according to an August Gallup survey, with 58 percent of Americans—and 42 percent of Republican voters—now viewing them favorably.

“A plan Walker issued days before stepping down, costumed in the rhetoric of freedom, flexibility, and expanded opportunity, was essentially a proposal for finishing off organized labor once and for all. Its title was “Power to the People, Not the Union Bosses,” as if Walter Reuther and Albert Shanker still strode the land, legions of auto-workers and schoolteachers massed behind them. Empowering people, in Walker’s view, would mean abolishing the National Labor Relations Board, rewriting federal law to make Right to Work “the default position for all private, state, and public-sector workers,” replacing overtime pay with unpaid time off, and stripping employees of their ability to bargain collectively. The plan appears to have died with Walker’s candidacy. But its spirit is very much alive among many in the GOP—those who recall Ronald Reagan’s decision in 1981 to fire eleven thousand employees in the air-traffic controllers union the way some remember, say, the establishment of Social Security. That they speak so cynically about labor is not surprising. That Democrats seem to speak so little of it is not reassuring.

“According to the Economic Policy Institute, since the beginning of the “Reagan Revolution” in 1980, American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline, while real gross domestic product has grown by nearly 150 percent and net productivity by 64 percent in this period. More and more of the jobs Americans hold today come without reliable, living wages or benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, training, and job security. Measures like Walker’s aren’t meant to improve things, but rather accelerate what began some time ago. The decoupling of wages and benefits from productivity has been evident over the past two decades, according to the EPI, a period that has “coincided with the passage of many policies that explicitly aimed to erode the bargaining power of low- and moderate-wage workers in the labor market.”

Most of the time, we engage in covil discourse, even with people whom we know are rigid ideologues whose minds are blted closed. but every once in a while, someone opens a window and yells out, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And they say what’s really on their mind.

Rep. Brian Sims did that in Pennsylvania recently. He called out the conservative Comminwealth Foundation after he received a mailing from it. He wrote on his Facebook page:

“See, I already know that you are all racist, homophobic, sexist, classist, ableist, anti-American, bigots whose single driving motivation is to secure the wealth of your multimillionaire donors at the expense of every single working person and family in the Commonwealth. See, I told you I already get it so you don’t need to waste money sending me proof…actually go ahead and waste that money!”

Thanks to reader GST for bringing this important story to our attention: a court in Pennsylvania ruled that the School Reform Commission may not cancel the contract of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. This is a battle that has gone on for two years, as the unelected School Reform Commission looks for ways to cut the budget. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia schools are suffering from former Governor Tom Corbett’s deep budget cuts, and the Legislature has refused to fulfill its responsibility to the children of Philadelphia.


Commonwealth Court judges have handed a win to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, ruling that the School Reform Commission cannot throw out the teachers’ union’s contract and impose new terms.


The decision was confirmed by Jerry Jordan, PFT president, on Thursday morning.


“This is a very big victory,” Jordan said.


After nearly two years of negotiations, the district had moved on Oct. 6 to cancel the teachers’ contract and impose health-benefits changes that would save the cash-strapped system $54 million annually, officials said.
In the decision, judges said that neither the state Public School Code nor the Legislature have expressly given the SRC the power to cancel its teachers’ contract.


“This Court is cognizant of the dire financial situation which the Districtcurrently faces and the SRC’s extensive efforts to achieve the overall goal of properlyand adequately meeting the educational needs of the students,” Judge Patricia A. McCullough wrote for the court. “There have been numerous difficult decisions that the SRC has been forced to make in an effort to overcome these economic hurdles, including a one-third reduction in staff and theclosing of 31 schools in recent years.”


But the law does not give the SRC the power to cancel a collective bargaining agreement.

As reported here on several earlier posts, hedge funds saw that Puerto Rico was staggering under debt and bought up its bonds. Now that Puerto Rico is virtually bankrupt, the New York Times reports today that the financiers are fighting bankruptcy protection. States and cities may declare bankruptcy, but Puerto Rico must get permission from Congress to do so. Forcing Puerto Rico to pay back its lenders will require austerity that cripples the island and its people. Lenders have proposed that the debt could be paid off by slashing health care and education.


To block proposals that would put their investments at risk, a coalition of hedge funds and financial firms has hired dozens of lobbyists, forged alliances with Tea Party activists and recruited so-called AstroTurf groups on the island to make their case. This approach — aggressive legal maneuvering, lobbying and the deployment of prodigious wealth — has proved successful overseas, in countries like Argentina and Greece, yielding billions in profit amid economic collapse.


The pressure has been widely felt. Senator Marco Rubio, whose state, Florida, has a large Puerto Rican population, expressed interest this year in sponsoring bankruptcy legislation for the island, says Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. Mr. Rubio’s staff even joined in drafting the bill. But this summer, three weeks after a fund-raiser hosted by a hedge-fund founder, Mr. Rubio broke with those backing the measure. Bankruptcy, he said, should be considered only as a “last resort…..”


“What they are doing, by getting all the resources for themselves, is undermining the viability of Puerto Rico as a commonwealth,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. “They want their money now, and they want to get the rules set so that they can make money for the next 20 years.”


This is predatory capitalism at its worst.


On this earlier post, a couple of commenters argued that the hedge funds had only a small investment in Puerto Rico and that I was wrong for saying they were pressuring P.R. to cut services and programs to repay their debt. Why were they defending the hedge funds? Because one of the major lenders to P.R., John Paulson, made a gift of $8 million to Eva Moskowitz. So they take from the children of P.R. and give to the children who are retained in SA.

Steven Singer is a teacher in Pennsylvania. This is a moving post, and he gave me permission to post it in full. It has many links. If you want to read them, open the article.



Pennsylvania lawmakers are ready to help all students across the Commonwealth – if only they can abuse, mistreat and trample some of them.


Which ones? The poor black and brown kids. Of course!


That seems to be the lesson of a school code bill passed with bipartisan support by the state Senate Thursday.


The legislation would require the Commonwealth to pick as many as 5 “underperforming” Philadelphia schools a year to close, charterize or just fire the principal and half the staff. It would also allow non-medically trained personnel to take an on-line course before working in the district to treat diabetic school children. And it would – of course – open the floodgates to more charter schools!


It’s a dumb provision, full of unsubstantiated facts, faulty logic and corporate education reform kickbacks. But that’s only the half of it!


The bill is part of a budget framework agreed to by Governor Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature necessary to finally pass a state-wide spending plan. The financial proposal has been held hostage for almost half a year!


The major sticking point has been school funding. Democrats like Wolf demand an increase. Republicans refuse. And the worst part is that the increase would only begin to heal the cuts the GOP made over the last four years.


Republicans just won’t clean up their own mess.


They slashed public school budgets by almost $1 billion per year for the last four years with disastrous consequences. Voters who could make little headway against a GOP legislature entrenched in office through gerrymandering rebelled by kicking the Republican Governor out of Harrisburg and voting in Wolf, a new chief executive who promised to support school children.


But for the last 5 months, the Republican-controlled legislature simply refused to spend money on – yuck – school children! Especially poor brown and black kids who rely more on state funding! Barf!


Finally a bargain was struck to put the money back, but only if it screws over more poor black and brown kids.


As usual, Philadelphia Schools are the state’s whipping boy.


For decades saddled with a host of social ills yet starved of resources, Philadelphia Schools simply couldn’t function on funding from an impoverished local tax base. The 8th largest school district in the country needed a financial investment from the state to make up the difference. However, in 2001 the Commonwealth decided it would only do this if it could assume control with a mostly unelected School Recovery Commission (SRC). Now after 14 years of failure, the state has decided annually to take a quintet of Philly schools away from the state and give them to – THE STATE! The State Department of Education, that is, which will have to enact one of the above terrible reforms to turn the schools around.


Yet each of these reforms is a bunch of baloney!


Hiring non-medical personnel with on-line training to treat diabetic kids!? Yes, two children died in Philly schools recently because budget cuts took away full-time school nurses. But this solution is an outrage! Try proposing it at a school for middle class or rich kids! Try proposing it for a school serving a mostly white population!


More charter schools!? Most new charter companies aren’t even interested in taking over Philly learning institutions. There’s no money in it! The carcass has been picked clean!


Privatizing public schools has never increased academic outcomes. Charter schools – at best – do no better than traditional public schools and – most often – do much worse.


Closing schools is a ridiculous idea, too. No school has ever been improved by being shut down. Students uprooted from their communities rarely see academic gains.


And firing staff because the legislature won’t provide resources is like kicking your car because you forgot to buy gas. You can’t get blood from a stone.


But this is what Republicans are demanding. And most of the Democrats are giving in. Every state Senator from Philadelphia voted for this plan – though reluctantly.


Is this really the only way to reach some kind of normalcy for the rest of the state? Do we really need to bleed Philadelphia some more before we can heal the self-inflicted wounds caused by our conservative legislators?


The bill includes a $100 million increase for Philadelphia Schools. But this is just healing budget cuts made to the district four years ago. Until Republicans took over the legislature, Philadelphia received this same sum from the state to help offset the vampire bite of charter schools on their shrinking budgets. Now – like all impoverished Pennsylvania schools – that charter school reimbursement is only a memory.


So this money only puts Philly back to where it was financially a handful of years ago when it was still struggling.


It’s a bad bargain for these students. Though some might argue it’s all we’ve got.


A sane government would increase funding to meet the needs of the students AND return the district to local control.


Republicans demand accountability for any increase in funding but how does this new bill do that exactly? Charter schools are not accountable to anyone but their shareholders. The School Recovery Commission has been failing for over a decade. Since most are political appointees, who are they accountable to really?


A duly elected school board would be accountable to residents. If voters didn’t like how they were leading the district, they could vote them out. THAT would be accountability. Not this sham blood sacrifice.


The state House is set to vote on this bill soon and will probably pass it, too. Maybe that’s just as well. Maybe there really is no other choice in the twisted halls of Pennsylvania politics.


However, let’s be honest about it. This is some classist, racist bullshit.

In a strange turn of events, Maureen Healey, the Attorney General for the state of Massachusetts, issued a brief defending the cap on charter schools. There is currently a strong push by charter advocates to lift the cap so charters can expand. She speaks on behalf of the Baker administration, but Governor Charles Baker (a Republican) supports charter schools.


Attorney General Maura Healey, acting on behalf of the Baker administration, moved Friday to crush a lawsuit that would overturn the state cap on the number of charter schools, forcefully challenging the argument that limiting these schools deprives children of a quality education.

The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court in September, names as plaintiffs five Boston students who were unable to secure charter school seats during the lottery earlier this year and were assigned instead to traditional Boston public schools that have been classified by the state as underperforming.

The defendants include James A. Peyser, Governor Charlie Baker’s secretary of education, and other Baker administration officials who are officially responsible for enforcing the cap, even though they strongly support lifting it to allow more charter schools.

That tension has raised questions in legal and political circles about how Baker, a Republican, and Healey, a Democrat, might respond to the lawsuit, which argues that the cap unfairly deprives thousands of Massachusetts students of their constitutional right to a quality education.

On Friday, Healey, acting as the attorney for Peyser and other education officials, made clear that the state intends to aggressively fight the suit. In two strongly worded legal filings, the attorney general argues the lawsuit should be dismissed on several grounds.

She contends that the argument advanced by the five plaintiffs that there is a direct link between the charter school cap and the poor education they claim to be receiving is “illogical, highly speculative, and remote.”

“Numerous other factors” other than the charter cap could be responsible for the poor performance of some schools, Healey writes. And simply opening more charter schools won’t necessarily help because there is no guarantee that they would be high-quality charters, she contends.

‘Numerous factors other than the cap could be responsible for the poor performance of some schools.’


“Not all charter schools in Massachusetts are high-performing,” Healey writes. “In fact, it is not unusual for the department or the board to impose conditions on existing charter schools, or close them because they do not perform as required.”
Healey also asserts that Boston has not, as the plaintiffs argue, reached its limit on the number of charter schools because it still has seats available in so-called Commonwealth and in-district charter schools, which are given more flexibility than traditional public schools, though not as much as full-fledged charter schools.



Nickolas Butler, a writer in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, remembers the Wisconsin of his childhood and wonders why the current political leadership wants to destroy everything that was beautiful about the state. The schools, the dedicated teachers, the world-class university, the precious environment and landscape. 
He writes: 
“I remember, my days and years in Eau Claire’s public schools, well-kept buildings populated by teachers that I truly adored and admired, like heroes. My parents stood in lockstep with these educators and on those days when I arrived home with a substandard report card (and there were many such dismal report cards), I never thought to blame my teachers, nor would have my parents entertained such nonsense.
“When I left for college in Chicago, I volunteered at an inner-city elementary school. The furnace often malfunctioned, and the school was very cold in winter. One day, I waited on the school’s front steps for a bus to take me back to campus. The principal ran out of the building and taking me by the arm, escorted me back inside. 
“Why, I asked, couldn’t I sit outside? Because, I was told, I might be shot. Likewise, the playground was a dangerous place for the children to play, strewn with needles and broken glass, and the chain-link fence no defense for errant bullets.
“Well, I thought, this is Chicago.
“I remember, for example, the first time I heard about mountaintop-mining in the Appalachian Mountains. Such a notion was so profoundly brutal, so antithetical to the manner in which I had been raised, that I could not comprehend the “effiency” of it all. But psychologically I distanced myself from that reality, by dismissively thinking, Well, that only happens in West Virginia, or Kentucky. That would never happen in Wisconsin. We would never scalp our landscape, our home.
“I remember, as a Boy Scout exploring Wisconsin’s network of state parks. Listening to the news or Garrison Keillor on Wisconsin Public Radio each weekend. I remember a popular Republican governor who introduced recycling during my childhood, and often voraciously fought for a public train system.
“I remember that my church invited foreign refugees into our community. I remember my years attending UW-Madison, and the elite, world-recognized professors I had the privilege to study under. I remember a childhood where every vocation, every passion, was encouraged — not just those that made “sense”/​cents.
“Now, every one of those institutions is on the chopping block or threatened with fiscal starvation. And when they fail, as they will, profiteers will buy for a pittance what were once invaluable jewels in a commonwealth we all owned, as Wisconsinites, unified and unseparated by politics.
“I believe I share the same qualities as almost all Wisconsinites, conservative or liberal. I believe in kindness and hard work and decency and respect. But these are all qualities that are in diminishing supply right now in Wisconsin. It is as if we have exhausted all the kindness in our state, and all the decency. 
“We quickly loot our natural resources, stripping the land of what topography there is. We insult our teachers. We allow our university system to decay, our educators to be stolen by other states and schools. Our legislators regularly give no time for public comment or feedback before thrusting a new bill upon us. It is as if they don’t care about what once was. They seem interested in conserving nothing, plowing maniacally ahead with little heed to their so-called love of institutions, history and incremental change.”

U.S. Senators and Representatives return to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC this week after their early fall recess. High on the Congressional agenda, along with funding federal programs and leadership fights, are the final steps to overhaul the discredited “No Child Left Behind” law. Make sure your elected officials know that you want real assessment reform, not more failed policies. Meanwhile, the testing resistance movement continues to raise issues and win victories in many states across the nation.

National Tell Congress: End Federal Test-and-Punish Policies Now
National Time to Move On From Evaluating Teachers by Student Test Scores
National U.S. Schools Would Benefit From Less Testing, More Equitable Funding

California Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning Into School Accountability

Florida Teachers Raise Concerns About Flawed State Assessment System–332588162.html
Florida League of Women Voters Says “Time to Focus on Teaching, Not Testing”

Idaho Rethinking High-Stakes Testing

Illinois To Fix Teacher Shortages, First Understand Role of Testing in Causing Them

Indiana Report Raises Questions About Fairness of State Exams
Indiana Test Score Delay Is a Matter of Fairness

Maryland Teachers Question Time, Money Devoted to Standardized Exams

Massachusetts PARCC Exam No Better Than Current State Test
Massachusetts State Faces Testing Showdown

New Jersey Another Test Looms for PARCC

New York NYC OptOut Launches New Web Site With Great Information for Parents
New York 144 School Boards Adopt Resolution Against High-Stakes Testing

Ohio New State Test Will Use Questions Cannibalized From Arizona, Florida and Utah

Oklahoma State Ed Super Questions Cost, Effectiveness of Test-Based Teacher Evaluation System

Oregon School Ratings Suspended for One Year
Oregon Moving Testing Target Doesn’t Best Serve Students

Pennsylvania Student Test Scores: Arbitrary Assessments Strongly Linked to Family Income

Texas Lawmaker Takes State to Task for Testing Fixation
Texas In Response to Parents’ Pressure State Shortens Tests for Young Children

Utah State Testing Policy Can Make You Dizzy
Utah Standardized Exams Are Counter-Productive

Virginia State Education Department Overhauls School Accountability System

ACT/SAT More Colleges Dropping Admissions Tests
ACT/SAT FairTest Database of 850 Test-Optional and Test-Flexible Colleges, Universities

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468

Steven Singer, who teaches in Pennsylvania, explains the planned insanity behing standardized testing, rigged for failure. He likens the situation to a video game that he played with his friend as a child, where the questions and answers might suddenly and arbitrarily change.

In Pennsylania, the privatization movement started with deep budget cuts. Then comes a new standardized test. Too many students did well, so the tests were made more “rigorous.” Now, most students “fail.”

Did they get dumber? No. Did he become a worse teacher? He says no.

So what’s up? The students are set up to fail. The teachers and schools are set up to fail? Why? It clears the way for charters and vouchers.

One hopeful sign in Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Wolf wants to help public schools, not destroy them. Unlike his predecessor, Tom Corbett.

Singer writes:

“In my home state, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and the Keystone Exams are high stakes versions of my buddy’s moronic quiz. The purpose isn’t to fairly assess: it’s to stump as many kids as possible.

“And it’s working. For the fourth year in a row, student test scores have declined statewide. Previously, students had been doing relatively well. Why the change?

“It began with budget cuts. The legislature slashed almost $1 billion every year in school funding. That means higher class sizes, less teachers, fewer electives, tutoring, nurses, services, etc. And districts like mine weren’t exactly drowning in money to begin with.

“Students now have less resources, therefore they can’t prepare as well for the tests.

“So what did the legislature do? Did our lawmakers fix the problem by putting back the money they had repurposed as gifts to the natural gas industry?

“Heck no! They made the tests even more unnecessarily difficult.

“As a result, the steady decline in test scores this year fell off a cliff!

“After all, this was the first year in which the Commonwealth fully aligned every question of its mandatory testing with the Pennsylvania Core Standards – which are similar, but not identical to the Common Core standards adopted in other states.

“Proficiency rates in grades 3 through 8 dropped by an average of 35.4 percent in math and 9.4 percent in English language arts on the PSSA. Nearly half of all seventh and eighth graders dropped an entire proficiency level in math in just one year.

“If I made up a test like this in my own classroom, gave it to my students and got results like these, my first assumption would be that there was something horribly wrong with the test. I must have messed something up to fail so many students! Teachers are always on the lookout for unclear or bad questions on their self-created exams. The for-profit corporations that create our state-mandated tests? Not so much.

“Though state Department of Education officials acknowledge the continued decline in scores, they insist problems will work themselves out in subsequent years – as if a 4-year trend is just an anomaly. Move along. Nothing to see here, folks.

“My students used to make impressive gains on the tests. My principal stopped by today to give me the scores for my current students and those I taught last year. No surprise. Very few passed….

“It’s almost impossible to avoid certain conclusions about this whole process. Standardized testing is designed to fail students – just like my buddy’s movie quiz was designed to stump me.

“These tests constitute fake proof of inadequacy. They attempt to “prove” our public schools are failing and should, therefore, be replaced by private corporations – maybe even by subsidiaries of the same for-profit companies that make and grade these tests!

“When my buddy unfairly stumped me, we both knew it was a joke. We’d laugh and play another video game.

“But there’s nothing funny about this when it’s perpetrated by the state and federal government.

“Pennsylvania’s standardized test scores are a farce just like the scores in every state and territory throughout the country. They’re lies told by corporations, permitted and supported by lawmakers, and swallowed whole by the media and far too much of the public.”

One hundred students at the Luis Munoz Rivera High School in Puerto Rico went on strike and paralyzed the school to protest the reassignment of several teachers, according to teacher-blogger Steven Singer.

“Students streamed out of their classrooms chanting in unison in the mountainous Utuado region of Puerto Rico earlier this month.

“They took over the halls and doorways of Luis Muñoz Rivera High School on Thursday, Sept. 10, locking their arms together to create a human chain.

“They paralyzed their school, shut it down, and allowed no one in or out.

“The reason? Not too much homework. Not lack of choice in the cafeteria. Not an unfair dress code.

“These roughly 100 teenagers were protesting the loss of their teachers. And they vowed to occupy their own school until the government gave them back.

“Six educators had been ordered to other schools, which would have ballooned classes at the Rivera School to 35-40 students per classroom.

“Government officials claimed the high school had too few students to justify the cost. However, with more than 500 young people enrolled, the school has more than double the island average.”

These students are fearless activists:

“The students including Vélez, 17, called an assembly to discuss the situation where they voted unanimously to take action. They blocked two gates and wrote a document demanding the Puerto Rican Department of Education revoke the decision to remove their teachers.

“Later that day, Sonia González, a representative of the Secretary of Education, met with students and signed the document promising to keep the teachers at the Rivera School. Three parents and one student also signed.”

Similar protests have occurred at other schools:

“What happened in the Rivera School is not an isolated incident. All across the island, communities are fighting government mandates to relocate teachers, increase class size and shutter more schools.

“This Tuesday at Pablo Casals School, an arts institution in Bayamon along the north coast, students protested the government decision to relocate their theater teacher, Heyda Salaman.

“About 100 students hung the Puerto Rican flag upside down and taped their mouths shut to represent the state of the government and the silence officials expect from the community.”

Eventually the government met with the students and relented, bringing back their teacher,

One student said:

“We have a good education and excellent teachers but the administration is failing their workers,” she said.

“The government is cutting rights and benefits to the teachers and employees and soon there will be no teachers. Maybe our schools get privatized and then only people with money will send their children to school.”

The government hss closed some 150 schools in the past 5 years.

Singer writes:

“Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!

“The island is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling Puerto Rican debt.

“Hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

“As a result, tax revenues to fund public goods like education are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.”


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