While the mainstream media, mostly owned by six corporations, reports on politics as a horse race or personality show, David Sirota follows the money, without fear or favor.

Here is his news:


** October 6, 2015



It’s been a while since I last emailed, but I wanted to pass on some exciting news in my world – I’ve just been named editor-in-chief of International Business Times’ new blog/website POLITICAL CAPITAL (http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital) . Our team will be using the new site to intensify our investigative money-in-politics coverage in advance of the 2016 election. I hope you will check it out – and pass this email on to anyone else you think might be interested.

Find Political Capital by clicking here (http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital)

Follow Political Capital’s Twitter feed here (https://twitter.com/Poli_Capital) (it is @Poli_Capital (https://twitter.com/Poli_Capital) )

Read the press release about the project here (http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/international-business-times-launches-political-capital-300153990.html)

As IBT Global Editor in Chief Peter S. Goodman put it: “Political Capital is obsessed with exposing the full stories behind the political headlines, with special focus on the moneyed interests seeking to influence policy.”

In the first 24 hours since launch, we’ve already broken big stories on Chris Christie’s email private address (http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/chris-christie-had-two-private-email-accounts-nj-governor-blocks-release-any) , Bernie Sanders’ GOP alliances
(http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/bernie-sanders-gop-ally-opposing-export-import-bank-2125378) , Jeb Bush’s old firm being under investigation (http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/sec-probe-jeb-bushs-old-firm-may-have-intensified-report-2125557?rel=most_read3) , and the economist targeted by Elizabeth Warren (http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/economist-targeted-elizabeth-warren-had-long-history-corporate-sponsored-reports) . I hope you’ll check out Political Capital, follow its Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/Poli_Capital) — and, of course, send me any ideas you may have for our ongoing coverage.

Rock the boat,


Investigative reporters David Sirota and Matthew Cunningham-Cook, writing in the International Business Times, detail Vice-President Joe Biden’s role in making it harder for college students to reduce their debts.

Jennifer Ryan did not love the idea of taking on debt, but she figured she was investing in her future. Eager to further her teaching career, she took out loans to gain certification and later pursued an advanced degree. But her studies came at a massive cost, leaving her confronting $192,000 in student loan debt.

“It’s overwhelming,” Ryan told International Business Times of her debts. “I can’t pay it back on the schedule the lenders have demanded.”

In the past, debtors in her position could have used bankruptcy court to shield them from some of their creditors. But a provision slipped into federal law in 2005 effectively bars most Americans from accessing bankruptcy protections for their private student loans.

In recent months, Democrats have touted legislation to roll back that law, as Americans now face more than $1.2 trillion in total outstanding debt from their government and private student loans. The bill is a crucial component of the party’s pro-middle-class economic message heading into 2016. Yet one of the lawmakers most responsible for limiting the legal options of Ryan and students like her is the man who some Democrats hope will be their party’s standard-bearer in 2016: Vice President Joe Biden.

As a senator from Delaware — a corporate tax haven where the financial industry is one of the state’s largest employers — Biden was one of the key proponents of the 2005 legislation that is now bearing down on students like Ryan. That bill effectively prevents the $150 billion worth of private student debt from being discharged, rescheduled or renegotiated as other debt can be in bankruptcy court.

Biden’s efforts in 2005 were no anomaly. Though the vice president has long portrayed himself as a champion of the struggling middle class — a man who famously commutes on Amtrak and mixes enthusiastically with blue-collar workers — the Delaware lawmaker has played a consistent and pivotal role in the financial industry’s four-decade campaign to make it harder for students to shield themselves and their families from creditors, according to an IBT review of bankruptcy legislation going back to the 1970s.

Biden’s political fortunes rose in tandem with the financial industry’s. At 29, he won the first of seven elections to the U.S. Senate, rising to chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, which vets bankruptcy legislation. On that committee, Biden helped lenders make it more difficult for Americans to reduce debt through bankruptcy — a trend that experts say encouraged banks to loan more freely with less fear that courts could erase their customers’ repayment obligations. At the same time, with more debtors barred from bankruptcy protections, the average American’s debt load went up by two-thirds over the last 40 years. Today, there is more than $10,000 of personal debt for every person in the country, as compared to roughly $6,000 in the early 1970s.

That increase — and its attendant interest payments — have generated huge profits for a financial industry that delivered more than $1.9 million of campaign contributions to Biden over his career, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Student debt, which grew as Biden climbed the Senate ladder and helped lenders tighten bankruptcy laws, spiked from $24 billion issued annually in 1990-91 to $110 billion in 2012-13, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, as of 2012, roughly one-fifth of recent graduates’ student debt was from private loans that “are typically more costly” than government loans.

Consequently, every major Democratic presidential candidate has introduced his or her own plan to reduce college debt. Biden himself has spotlighted the issue as he has publicly pondered a White House bid. Earlier this month he attended an event to discuss student debt at community colleges, telling students at Miami-Dade College: “I doubt there were many of you who could sit down and write a check for $6,000 in tuition without worrying about it.” His comments amplified his rhetoric from the 2012 election, when he decried the fact that “two-thirds of all the students who attend college take out loans to pay for school.” He said that the accumulated debt means that when the typical student graduates, “you get a diploma and you get stapled to it a $25,000 bill.”

But advocates for stronger protections for debtors argue that Biden was a driving force in creating the laws that made the problem worse.

“Joe Biden bears a large amount of responsibility for passage of the bankruptcy bill,” Ed Boltz, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, said in an interview with IBT.

That legislation created a crisis, said Northeastern University law professor Daniel Austin. Federal Reserve data show that about 1.1 million people face student debt loans of $100,000 or more, and roughly 167,000 face student loans of $200,000 or more.

The New York Times reported a new study showing the value of union membership in boosting academic achievement.

Not only does union membership raise the wages of working people, which means a better standard of living for children, but it leads to policies that help schools and children.

It is well established that unions provide benefits to workers — that they raise wages for their members (and even for nonmembers). They can help reduce inequality.

A new study suggests that unions may also help children move up the economic ladder.

Researchers at Harvard, Wellesley and the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, released a paper Wednesday showing that children born to low-income families typically ascend to higher incomes in metropolitan areas where union membership is higher….

Their most interesting explanation is that unions are effective at pushing the political system to deliver policies — like a higher minimum wage and greater spending on schools and other government programs — that broadly benefit workers. Perhaps not surprisingly, three cities that appear to reflect the union effect — San Francisco, Seattle and New York — are all jurisdictions where the minimum wage is rising substantially (though for New York it is only for workers in fast-food chains.)….

It’s important to emphasize that the study does not establish causality — the authors can’t prove that unions are driving the improvement in mobility. For that matter, they don’t attempt to. The finding establishes only that, in their words, “mobility thrives in areas where unions thrive….”

And that, in turn, suggests something potentially important, though equally speculative, about the effects of unions more broadly: Higher rates of unionization may give rise to certain norms that instill a greater sense of agency in workers.

For example, people who belong to unions are generally aware that they have certain rights in the workplace and are encouraged to speak up if they believe they’ve been mistreated. It’s the kind of norm that could leach out into a broader population — to both union members and their nonunion peers — if unions are sufficiently visible and active, which could in turn help boost economic mobility.

Los Angeles parent activist Karen Wolfe went to a meeting of the Associsted Administrators of Los Angeles, which was held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. As she listened to LAUSD members speak, she thought she heard a faint rumble, growing louder by the minute. She wondered if she really was hearing them speak truth to power, unafraid of the biggest bully in the city.

Is it possible?

Arthur Goldstein, a veteran high school teacher in the Néw York City public schools and a master blogger, does not agree with Beltway insider Andrew Rotherham that it is too soon to judge Arne Duncan’s tenure as Secretary of Education.

Goldstein does not agree. Goldstein judges Duncan to be not just a failure but a public official who inflicted harm on students, teachers, principals, and public schools.

“Wow. I wish I agreed with that. But with the entire country embracing Race to the Top, Gun to the Head policies like Common Core, I’m not feeling the love. The high-stakes testing and developmentally inappropriate tasks for our children (and not his, or Duncan’s, or Obama’s) are intolerable. That’s not to mention the junk-science teacher ratings that have been foisted upon us, rejected by none other than the American Statistical Association.”

Duncan brought us the “education wars,” with newly energized “reformers” opposing unions, tenure, and public schools, while boasting about the superiority of privately managed charters, especially those that demand robotic compliance by students and teachers.

Goldstein writes:

“I’m not sure the education debate can get any nastier. For one thing, our unions are under attack, and SCOTUS may reduce us to virtual “Right to Work” status. For another, accomplished though King may be, I’ve seen precious little evidence of thoughfulness from him, Diane Ravitch goes so far as to call him “brilliant” based on his academic credentials. But King is remarkably thin-skinned and unable to deal with criticism. He thinks it’s beyond the pale when people comment that his signature programs, Common Core and junk science, are not good enough for his own children, in private schools.

“Furthermore, John King shows little evidence of being able to play well with others. He actually canceled a series of public meetings when people dared disagree with him. In fact, he went so far as to call teachers and parents special interests. That’s what we get for advocating for the kids we love, I guess. In Spanish, they say, “Tiene doctorado pero no es educado.” This means, roughly, he has a doctorate but he isn’t educated. In Spanish, being educated means not simply sitting through some classes, but rather behaving well. King’s been to Harvard but treats the people he ostensibly serves with a sorely limited scope ranging from indifference to outright contempt.”

Just for the record, I said that King was “brilliant” based on his remarkable ability to earn simultaneous degrees from Harvard Law School and a doctorate from Teachers College, while apparently working at an Uncommon Schools charter in Massachusetts. Maybe I should have said “astonishing,” “amazing,” or “incredible.”

The fact is that John King managed to antagonize more parents and educators than any of his predecessors. He moved fast and furiously and created a tidal wave of opposition. He was widely viewed as arrogant and hostile to those he was hired to serve. There was no question he believed in his mission of testing and rating; he did not think that listening was part of his job.

Jersey Jazzman has dubbed John King, our new Secretary of Education, “the King of Suspensions.”

John King shaped the disciplinary policies at Roxbury Prep in Boston. It has the second highest suspension rate in the state of Massachusetts.

“This isn’t at all a surprise; as the Boston Globe reported in 2014, Roxbury Prep had previously held the top spot with a suspension rate in 2012-13 of nearly 60 percent.

“Later on, Roxbury moved under the umbrella of Uncommon Schools, a charter management organization with schools in New York and New Jersey as well as Massachusetts. John King, consequently, rose to become Managing Director for the entire Uncommon chain. Soon, the high suspension rates that were a hallmark of Roxbury Prep became common in all of Uncommon’s schools…..

“Uncommon Schools, the charter chain John King used to manage, has some of the highest student suspension rates compared to its neighboring schools in three different states.

“High suspension rates are not good for students. You know who says so? The very USDOE John King is now going to lead.”

JJ quotes at length from USDOE policy statements explaining why suspension is harmful to students.

The USDOE is opposed to suspensions.

JJ says, too bad there will be no hearings on King’s appointment because it would be interesting to learn whether King agrees with department policy on suspensions.

David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, writes that it is time for Merryl Tisch, the chancellor of the New York Board of Regents, to step down and make way for new leadership.

Tisch was appointed to the Board of Regents on April 1, 1996 — almost 20 years ago. She became chancellor in 2009.

“Upon taking the Regents helm, Tisch promised, “We will embrace innovation with a data-driven approach . . . to raise test scores, raise graduation rates, and finally close the achievement gap.”

“By her own measures — and she’s had plenty of time to prove the wisdom of her approach — Tisch has fallen far short. Last month, statewide test scores showed a mere 31.3% of students proficient in English Language Arts and 38.1% in math on the tough, relatively new Common Core-aligned tests.

“In June 2012, Tisch bemoaned that “nearly a quarter of our students still don’t graduate after four years.” That is still the case. For students taking up to five years to complete high school, the 2010 graduation rate stood at 77%. Today it is 76.4%.

“Meantime, the achievement gap persists. Four-year graduation rates for 2010 and 2014 — one of the best apples-to-apples indicators we have — show exactly the same 25 percentage point difference between black and Hispanic students compared to white students…..

“Less appreciated, but perhaps more important, Tisch’s unsuccessful focus on standards and testing has distracted the department from another major function, district oversight. The crisis in East Ramapo — where the school board has long plundered district funds to provide services to students attending yeshivas — is only beginning to be met with effective action.”

Districts failed to meet state requirements for helping English language learners and immigrant children. The Regents didn’t crack down. In Néw York City, Bloomfield writes, “state requirements for school librarians, physical education and more have been ignored. Of greatest consequence, the rampant racial and income segregation of the state’s schools has been met with mere lip service from the person who should be New York’s leading voice and change agent on the issue…..

“Tisch vehemently believes that poor performance should lead to firings and school closures.”

Tisch insists that failure should not be allowed to comtinue.

Bloomfield writes:

“It is time for Tisch to take the medicine she has advised for others.” Leave, resign, go. Why allow failure to continue?

The Wall Street Journal–the voice of free market globalism–loves privatization of America’s public schools, loves high-stakes testing, and loves evaluating teachers by test scores. Conversely, it despises public schools and unionized teachers. This newspaper, one of the jewels of mogul Rupert Murdoch’s Empire, is consistently on the far right, hawkish and pro-corporatist. They dismiss the views of parents, as if they don’t matter. As you will see, they love centralized control by the federal government so long as it is pushing their radical rightwing goals.

Read what the WSJ said about federal education policy today.

“The Lost Education Opportunity”

“President Obama made a fine choice on Friday in John King, a charter
school advocate, to be his next Secretary of Education. Then again
Arne Duncan, who is returning to Chicago at the end of the year after
seven years as Secretary, also arrived with much promise only to run
afoul of the antireform inertia in the Democratic Party.

“Mr. King has been a senior adviser to Mr. Duncan since last year and
before that was state education commissioner in New York, where he
pushed for higher standards. This made him unpopular with unions,
which these days ought to be a requirement for any education
leadership position. Mr. King helped found one of Massachusetts’s top
charters, Roxbury Prep, and later moved to New York to help launch the
Uncommon Schools charter-school network.

“It’s nonetheless hard to be optimistic that Mr. King can accomplish
much in the waning days of the Obama Presidency, especially after Mr.
Duncan’s experience. Mr. Duncan did well to promote charter schools
and high standards. His Race to the Top initiative used federal
dollars to catalyze reform in the states, especially by encouraging
them to hold teachers accountable for student performance.

“Yet such progress was overshadowed by his unwillingness to fully take
on the union-backed status quo. When Democrats in Congress killed a
scholarship program that gave poor kids in the nation’s capital a shot
at a decent school, Mr. Duncan remained on the sidelines. He was also
mute when the Justice Department sued Louisiana because its voucher
program helped poor minority kids by letting them attend schools that
didn’t have enough whites.

“Mr. Duncan’s worst legacy is the Administration’s assault on
for-profit higher education. He promoted the takeover of most student
loans, piling up a trillion dollars in new federal liabilities. And
his department, at White House insistence, has driven a “gainful
employment” rule that targets for-profit schools whose graduates don’t
meet the arbitrary debt-to-earnings level the Education Department
thinks they should have.

“The rule doesn’t apply to the nonprofits and community colleges that
often do even worse by employment, confirming a glaring double
standard. Some of Mr. Duncan’s admirers say he was merely going along with an agenda driven by the White House and Capitol Hill liberals,
but the result has hurt minority and lower-income adults who benefit
from the flexible schedules and job-focused skills that for-profits
can provide.

“The Obama Presidency has been disappointing on many counts, but
education is its biggest lost opportunity. The nation’s first
African-American President had unique standing and moral capital to
remake the politics of education. Mr. Obama might have united
reformers on the right and left into a movement that empowered parents
to choose the best school for their children regardless of their
location or income. It might have been a unifying issue and a great

“But he opted for tepid, and now his main K-12 legacy will be having
presided over the unwinding of President George W. Bush’s bipartisan
No Child Left Behind reform. We were no fans of that law, but at least
it elevated higher standards and performance measurement regardless of background. Those principles are now under assault by unions on the
left and populists on the right.

“One sign of how this debate has moved backward: The nation’s two
largest teachers unions have already endorsed Hillary Clinton for
President. Mr. King looks to be a short-timer even if Democrats keep
the White House in 2016.”

The New York State United Teachers, which represents all public school teachers in New York, clashed repeatedly with John King when he was state commissioner. So did parents. So did superintendents. He was one of the most divisive state superintendents in the state’s history.

NYSUT urges its members to let the White House know what they think of the President’s selection of John King as Interim Acting Secretary of Education.
“New York State United Teachers is disappointed in John King’s appointment as acting U.S. Secretary of Education. NYSUT has always considered John King an ideologue with whom we disagreed sharply on many issues during his tenure as the state’s Education Department commissioner. Just last year, our members delivered a vote of no confidence against him and called for his resignation. NYSUT urges its members to call the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414 — as well as a special White House telephone line dedicated to public comments at 202-456-1111 — to express their displeasure in John King’s appointment.”

Thanks to the reader known as FLERP for finding this terrific article about kindergarten children in Finland.

What matters most: Play!

While our five-year-olds buckle down to show that they have mastered academic skills in math and reading, the children in kindergarten in Finland are playing.

When children play, Osei Ntiamoah continued, they’re developing their language, math, and social-interaction skills. A recent research summary “The Power of Play” supports her findings: “In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development…When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn,” the researcher concluded.

Osei Ntiamoah’s colleagues all seemed to share her enthusiasm for play-based learning, as did the school’s director, Maarit Reinikka: “It’s not a natural way for a child to learn when the teacher says, ‘Take this pencil and sit still.’” The school’s kindergarten educators have their students engage in desk work—like handwriting—just one day a week. Reinikka, who directs several preschools in Kuopio, assured me that kindergartners throughout Finland—like the ones at Niirala Preschool—are rarely sitting down to complete traditional paper-and-pencil exercises….

This is scandalous! How can they expect to be global competitors when they don’t buckle down and learn to suffer through stultifying exercises?

And there’s no such thing as a typical day of kindergarten at the preschool, the teachers said. Instead of a daily itinerary, two of them showed me a weekly schedule with no more than several major activities per day: Mondays, for example, are dedicated to field trips, ballgames, and running, while Fridays—the day I visited—are for songs and stations.

Once, Morning Circle—a communal time of songs and chants—wrapped up, the children disbanded and flocked to the station of their choice: There was one involving fort-making with bed sheets, one for arts and crafts, and one where kids could run a pretend ice-cream shop. “I’ll take two scoops of pear and two scoops of strawberry—in a waffle cone,” I told the two kindergarten girls who had positioned themselves at the ice-cream table; I had a (fake) 10€ bill to spend, courtesy of one of the teachers. As one of the girls served me—using blue tack to stick laminated cutouts of scoops together—I handed the money to her classmate.

With a determined expression reminiscent of the boys in the mud with their shovels, the young cashier stared at the price list. After a long pause, one of her teachers—perhaps sensing a good opportunity to step in—helped her calculate the difference between the price of my order and the 10€. Once I received my change (a few plastic coins), the girls giggled as I pretended to lick my ice cream.

Throughout the morning I noticed that the kindergartners played in two different ways: One was spontaneous and free form (like the boys building dams), while the other was more guided and pedagogical (like the girls selling ice cream).

In fact, Finland requires its kindergarten teachers to offer playful learning opportunities—including both kinds of play—to every kindergartner on a regular basis, according to Arja-Sisko Holappa, a counselor for the Finnish National Board of Education. What’s more, Holappa, who also leads the development of the country’s pre-primary core curriculum, said that play is being emphasized more than ever in latest version of that curriculum, which goes into effect in kindergartens next fall.

“Play is a very efficient way of learning for children,” she told me. “And we can use it in a way that children will learn with joy.”

Imagine that! Finland will surely lose the race to the top of global competition if they keep up this play methodology. They should do what we do: drum the kids into silence, require them to march and sit in rows, teach them to keep their eyes on the teachers at all times, and require that they are college-and-career-ready from day one!


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