Archives for the month of: November, 2016

Frank Breslin has been writing a series of essays for the Huffington Post about “Teaching the Greeks.” He taught the classic s and German before he retired.

He is one of those rare educators who doesn’t think about rubrics, data, or test scores.

He thinks about education, in its deepest sense. The drawing out of meaning from words and experiences of others.

In this essay, he explains how to teach Greek literature.

Here is a snippet of his lesson:

Greek is clear, brief, cerebral, and to the point — almost chilling in its austerity. It sees the beauty of common things and contents itself with the majesty of their unadorned simplicity. It has no use for ornament, exaggeration, or poetic license, and uses adjectives, imagery, and metaphors sparingly. It is like reading Wittgenstein’s Tractatus in that its appeal is solely to the mind and does not condescend to emotionalize issues. In translating Greek into English, one should strive to be literal, for literality is the essence of the aesthetic experience in reading Greek.

Greek places great demands on its readers, who must work out for themselves implications which are often unstated. This compressed style may prove difficult for those new to the subject, since the author may be writing for the few. The unfortunate result is that some readers may become exhausted by the sustained level of concentration, lose the thread of the argument, and stop reading.

This is a common temptation, but if one persists, one begins to make headway. If one has had three years of high-school Latin, many of the problems of learning Greek have already been solved, since their grammatical structure is roughly the same. For those interested, Crosby/Schaeffer’s An Introduction to Greek is a solid beginner’s text, after which one might try a student edition of Xenophon’s Anabasis, and then Plato’s Apology.

Hebrew, on the other hand, appeals to the emotions by the stylistic devices of repetition, cadence, and a profusion of imagery, all of which cast a mood of enchantment over the reader. One need not work out the implications oneself as with Greek since the repetition of the same idea in different words and varied imagery will suggest additional perspectives, which might not have occurred to one reading Greek in English translation.

The problem with Hebrew, however, is that some may find it insufficiently analytical to examine its subject critically and be left with only an emotional response. Some prefer the Greek style of writing, and others the Hebrew. Each tries to affect its readers in different ways, and both are effective.

Are people convinced more by reason or emotion? Can a syllogism make converts? Why do some prefer rational arguments, while others favor emotional ones? What is each group seeking? Is it ethical to move people emotionally, or is this the only way of moving the heart? Can art transform someone’s life and convictions? If you feel that it can, make a case that art should never be censored. Then argue the converse.

Should artists and writers be political? Should they serve the interests of the haves or have-nots, or should they be apolitical? If writers use their art to defend or attack the status quo, is that more honest than not speaking out and tacitly endorsing the way things are? Are the poor automatically in the right and the powerful in the wrong? In some countries, writers are the national conscience. What are they in America?

“Orator fit, poeta nascitur.” (“An orator is trained; a poet is born.“) Is this true, or an attempt to romanticize poets? What are the dangers of being a writer? Why do some writers fear success? What are some ways that an artist can “sell out”? What are some subtle ways for a government to control or silence a writer? What is the best kind of education for young writers and artists? Are writers the voice of the people, or of themselves alone?

Chapter 5

1. What is the meaning of the phrase “Nolo episcopari“?

“I don’t want to be made a bishop.” Is this solemn profession a foolproof way of weeding out unworthy candidates for high ecclesiastical office? What qualities of mind, heart, and spirit should such a candidate have? Should he or she be chosen by church authorities or the people? What are the pros and cons of each method? “I care not whether a man is good or evil; all that I care is whether he is a wise man or a fool. Go! Put off holiness, and put on intellect.” Good advice by William Blake for choosing a bishop? What are good reasons for wanting power? Are these reasons rationalizations? What are some bad reasons? How can one prevent bad people from coming to power?

2. According to Pindar, who alone is fit to rule and why?

Pindar, an aristocrat and lyric poet (518 – 438 BCE), felt that only aristocrats had the training and vision to rule. They were the blue bloods, with the necessary discipline, wisdom, and judgment, tempered by hard-headed practicality that came of running city-states for generations. They alone knew what was best for their people. Does history contradict this self-serving view? Does this brief description sound like propaganda for the aristocratic class?

3. Why did Pindar celebrate the past?

The past was a Golden Age, and the present was but a pale reflection of its bygone splendor. To celebrate this vision of past greatness Pindar went from court to court singing of those former times when noble lords set radiant examples for their obedient subjects, who looked to them for inspiration and guidance. Wherever he went, he urged his grand hosts to cultivate these pristine ideals and to pass on this legacy to insure stability and sound rule. Only by clinging to the past could they give their people hope and a sense that all was still right with the world. The magnificent odes he composed for these court visits were designed to remind his audience never to lose sight of their sacred calling.

What would prevent aristocrats from discarding these noble sentiments and exploiting their people? What recourse would his subjects have if they discovered that they were being ruled by a tyrant who was seeking to destroy them? How would you explain those who continued to give him allegiance?

You should google his earlier chapters. He is an educator.

Donald Trump must give up his 60-year lease on the Trump Hotel near the White House in D.C., says a law professor who studied the terms of the lease.  The building is owned by the federal government and was known as the Old Post Office Building; it was home to federal agencies, such as the Nation Endowment for the Humanities. After it was closed, Trump leased it and turned it into a luxury hotel.

The lease specifically says that no federal official may benefit from the proceeds generated by the building.

NPR reports:

“After Donald Trump is sworn in as president on Jan. 20, he will follow a time-honored tradition and make his way from the U.S. Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Along the way, just a few blocks before he reaches the White House, he’ll pass the Trump International Hotel. The 263-room luxury hotel is becoming the focus of a debate over conflict of interest between Trump and his business dealings.

Trump doesn’t actually own the landmark building, which was once the headquarters of the U.S. Post Office. In 2013, he signed a 60-year lease for the building with the General Services Administration, which helps manage and support federal agencies. The Trump Organization spent upwards of $200 million on renovations and reopened it as a hotel about a month before the Nov. 8 presidential election.

But there’s a hitch, according to Steven Schooner, a government procurement expert who is also a law professor at the George Washington University School of Law. Schooner has studied the 100-plus-page contract and says there’s a clause that clearly states elected officials should have no role in the lease.

The contract between GSA and the Trump Organization specifically says that no elected official of the United States government shall be party to, share in, or benefit from the contract,” he says, citing clause 37.19 of the contract.

That clause reads:

“No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”

Schooner says the GSA should terminate the lease before Trump becomes president.

Many potential conflicts

There are a host of reasons to cancel the deal besides the specific language in the contract, according to Schooner. He says foreign diplomats or special-interest groups could book rooms at the Trump International as a way to curry favor with Trump.

Once Trump becomes president, he will effectively be both the tenant and the landlord of the building. The administrator of the GSA, an independent body, is also a political appointee.

So the Trump transition team would be naming the person responsible for the agency that’s managing Trump’s lease. Obviously that’s a problem,” he says.

The Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

Will Congress overlook this legal and ethical breach? Will anyone enforce the law?

Yong Zhao, born and educated in China, is one of our  most perceptive scholars of schools and society. He holds a professorship at the University of Kansas.

In this article, he reports the results of the latest international test, TIMSS. Once again, the East Asian nations topped the charts. Aside from 8th grade math, which are up, U.S. scores are unchanged.

TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) beat PISA by two weeks. It just released its 2015 results. Within hours of the release, Google News has already collected over 10,000 news stories reacting to the results from around the world, some sad, some happy, some envious, and some confused. The biggest news is, however, nothing new: Children in East Asian countries best at maths. They were the best 20 years ago when TIMSS was first introduced in 1995. They were the best in all subsequent cycles.

Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Japan are the top performers. In 4th grade, the lowest East Asian country is 23 points above the next best country, Northern Ireland for 4th grade, the same gap as was in 2011, and in 8th grade, a whopping 48 points lead ahead of the next best country, Russia, a 17 point increase from 31 in 2011.

Yong Zhao analyzes the reasons for their high scores.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, predicts an unprecedented level of corruption during the Trump years, related to Trump’s refusal to separate himself from his business empire. Will foreign diplomats reserve the $20,000 a night suite at the Trump hotel in D.C. to impress the President? Will governments grant permits expeditiously to build new Trump hotels, casinos and golf courses to curry favor? Will the President appoint members of the National Labor Relations Board to prevent his hotels from being unionized (there is a labor dispute at a Trump hotel in Las Vegas before the NLRB right now).

He writes,

Self-dealing will be the norm throughout this administration. America has just entered an era of unprecedented corruption at the top.

The question you need to ask is why this matters. Hint: It’s not the money, it’s the incentives.

True, we could be talking about a lot of money — think billions, not millions, to Mr. Trump alone (which is why his promise not to take his salary is a sick joke). But America is a very rich country, whose government spends more than $4 trillion a year, so even large-scale looting amounts to rounding error. What’s important is not the money that sticks to the fingers of the inner circle, but what they do to get that money, and the bad policy that results.

Normally, policy reflects some combination of practicality — what works? — and ideology — what fits my preconceptions? And our usual complaint is that ideology all too often overrules the evidence.

But now we’re going to see a third factor powerfully at work: What policies can officials, very much including the man at the top, personally monetize? And the effect will be disastrous.

Let’s start relatively small, with the choice of Betsy DeVos as education secretary. Ms. DeVos has some obvious affinities with Mr. Trump: Her husband is an heir to the fortune created by Amway, a company that has been accused of being a fraudulent scheme and, in 2011, paid $150 million to settle a class-action suit. But what’s really striking is her signature issue, school vouchers, in which parents are given money rather than having their children receive a public education.

At this point there’s a lot of evidence on how well school vouchers actually work, and it’s basically damning. For example, Louisiana’s extensive voucher plan unambiguously reduced student achievement. But voucher advocates won’t take no for an answer. Part of this is ideology, but it’s also true that vouchers might eventually find their way to for-profit educational institutions.

And the track record of for-profit education is truly terrible; the Obama administration has been cracking down on the scams that infest the industry. But things will be different now: For-profit education stocks soared after the election. Two, three, many Trump Universities!

Moving on, I’ve already written about the Trump infrastructure plan, which for no obvious reason involves widespread privatization of public assets. No obvious reason, that is, except the huge opportunities for cronyism and profiteering that would be opened up.

Krugman previously wrote that Trump’s proposal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure would privatize many of our public assets and become a goldmine for the private sector.

Buckle your seat belts. The next four years will make Teapot Dome look like a tea party.

Gary Rubinstein entered teaching via Teach for America, but unlike most TFA recruits, he made teaching his career. He is also TFA’s most incisive critic, sometimes a critical friend, other times a critic of TFA hypocrisy.

In this post, Gary deconstructs TFA’s statement on Trump’s nomination of choice zealot Betsy DeVos. TFA, like other reform organizations, is in a dilemma because they want to be on the side of social justice, but they also want to be on the side of the new administration, which will be very good indeed for TFA. More charters mean more jobs for young recruits. Billions of dollars for school choice are heading the way of the “reformers,” and it is hard for them to seem sad about that. Gary wishes the TFA statement had included a few good words on behalf of public schools and on behalf of teachers. It didn’t.

The TFA statement includes 11 policy priorities, and Gary analyzes each of them. He wishes TFA had called on DeVos to stop the teacher bashing. It didn’t. He wishes it had called on DeVos to protect the funding of public schools while promoting choice. It didn’t.

Read the whole post for links and analysis.

Gary concludes:

Accountability has been used as a weapon to fire teachers and close schools throughout the country based on highly flawed metrics. Obama and Duncan did a lot of damage with this one and maybe TFA feels that they used it in a fair way, even if I don’t. But that same weapon in the hands of Trump and DeVos should be something that TFA should be concerned about. I don’t think that this was something that TFA needed to ask the new Secretary to be vigilant. Based on the contempt she has shown for public schools and teachers over the years, it’s pretty clear that DeVos will use her power to try to make it even easier to fire teachers and close schools. This could have a negative effect on not just all the TFA alumni who are still working in public schools, but also for the ones who are at the few charter schools that try to keep their most needy students and whose test scores suffer for it. In the bigger picture, I think that having DeVos too strong on accountability will negatively affect so many students in this country.

Finally there’s policy number nine about using “evidence and data” to ‘drive’ “teacher improvement and development over time.” This is code for trying to use test scores and value-added metrics to rate teachers, no matter how inaccurate those metrics are.

More telling than the policies TFA chose to include on this list is the ones they chose to exclude. Knowing that DeVos is planning to use her power to divert funds from the public schools (and charter schools too) for vouchers for private schools, perhaps TFA could have asked that she not cut funding to schools. Knowing how much contempt DeVos has shown toward public school teachers, TFA could asked her not to bash teachers so much. Knowing that DeVos has funded reform propaganda sites like Campbell Brown’s The Seventy Four, TFA could have suggested that she spend time in public schools and see what great work is being done.

There’s a lot they could have said to help stave off the at least four year battle everyone in non-charter schools is going to have to fight daily. Instead they padded their valid concerns about discrimination with a bunch of reform code.

Of their nine policies that TFA is urging DeVos to consider (three of the eleven are basically saying, make schools safe for all students), six of them are things that she was already on board with. It’s the TFA way of saying “We are already in agreement with you on most things so you can trust us and work with us to help you out in general.” They seem to care more about their own survival and the continuation of Duncan’s reform strategies than they do about the potential damage that the Trump / DeVos duo can wreak on the children of this country.

Today is #GivingTuesday. Please give whatever you can to the Network for Public Education and help us as we fight efforts to privatize our public schools.

The Network has generated nearly 75,000 emails to members of the Senate, urging them not to confirm Betsy DeVos, who supports charters and vouchers, not public schools.

Please open this link and add your name. Share it with your friends. Our goal is to reach 100,000 emails. We can do it.

It is wrong to appoint a Secretary of Education who opposes public schools. Her nomination should be opposed by Republicans and Democrats alike. Republicans are supposed to be protectors of tradition and community values. Public education is a central American tradition. Republicans serve on local school boards and state school boards. They too should vote to oppose DeVos’ radical attack on public education.

“When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal.”

― Garrison Keillor, “Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America”

Please stand up against the vandals who would destroy the mortar that holds the community together.

And please give generously so we can fight on your behalf and on behalf of America’s children.

An investment group in Portland, Oregon, paid $72 million for five charter schools in Florida. The investors paid nearly $18,000 per student.

Do you think these are public schools? Do you think they are community schools?

School’s out: Portland investors pay $72M for charter school portfolio in Florida

Charter School Capital, an academic investment group based in Portland, just scooped up five charter schools spread throughout Florida for $71.74 million. The sellers were MG3 Development Group and ESJ Capital Partners, a pair of local real estate companies.
The deal illustrates how investing in nontraditional real estate like schools can be lucrative, especially when other markets like residential and commercial properties appear to be cooling down.

According to a news release from Colliers International Education Services Group, which brokered the deal on behalf of the sellers, the portfolio encompasses 295,992 square feet split among five schools in Riverview, Vero Beach, Coral Springs, Davie and Plantation. Colliers’ Todd Noel and Achikam Yogev worked on the sale.

MG3 Principal Hernan Leonoff told The Real Deal that his firm developed the schools in Riverview, Davie and Plantation, plus renovated the facility in Coral Springs while ESJ acted as the lead company in building the portfolio. MG3 had no involvement with the Vero Beach charter school.

The ownership varied between properties: for most of the schools, MG3 had a minority interest while ESJ, led by principals Arnaud Sitbon and Gabriel Amiel, was the majority owner.

The sale breaks down to about $242 square feet, but Leonoff cautioned that a school’s capacity for students is a better gauge of pricing because common areas can skew square footage.

The five schools can house roughly 4,000 students, he said, bringing the price to about $17,935 per enrollee. That’s significantly more expensive than the $16,641 per student that tennis pro Andre Agassi and his partner Bobby Turner sold their Boynton Beach school for in August.

Barbara Kingsolver, novelist, essayist, and poet, wrote this column in The Guardian about the angst of the age of Trump.

If you’re among the majority of American voters who just voted against the party soon to control all three branches of our government, you’ve probably had a run of bad days. You felt this loss like a death in the family and coped with it as such: grieved with friends, comforted scared kids, got out the bottle of whisky, binge-watched Netflix. But we can’t hole up for four years waiting for something that’s gone. We just woke up in another country.

It’s hard to guess much from Trump’s campaign promises but we know the goals of the legislators now taking charge, plus Trump’s VP and those he’s tapping to head our government agencies. Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; limits on corporate influence over our laws. That’s the opening volley.

A well-documented majority of Americans want to keep all those things, and in some cases expand them. We now find ourselves seriously opposed to our government-elect. We went to bed as voters, and got up as outsiders to the program.

How uncomfortable. We crave to believe our country is still safe for mainstream folks like us and the things we hold dear. Our civic momentum is to trust the famous checks and balances and resist any notion of a new era that will require a new kind of response. Anti-Trump demonstrations have already brought out a parental tone in the media, and Michael Moore is still being labeled a demagogue. Many Democrats look askance at Keith Ellison, the sudden shooting star of the party’s leadership, as too different, too progressive and feisty. Even if we agree with these people in spirit, our herd instinct recoils from extreme tactics and unconventional leaders on the grounds that they’ll never muster any real support.

That instinct is officially obsolete…

We’re in new historical territory. A majority of American voters just cast our vote for a candidate who won’t take office. A supreme court seat meant to be filled by our elected president was denied us. Congressional districts are now gerrymandered so most of us are represented by the party we voted against. The FBI and Russia meddled with our election. Our president-elect has no tolerance for disagreement, and a stunningly effective propaganda apparatus. Now we get to send this outfit every dime of our taxes and watch it cement its power. It’s not going to slink away peacefully in the next election…

With due respect for the colored ribbons we’ve worn for various solidarities, our next step is to wear something on our sleeve that takes actual courage: our hearts.

I’ll go first. If we’re artists, writers, critics, publishers, directors or producers of film or television, we reckon honestly with our role in shaping the American psyche. We ask ourselves why so many people just couldn’t see a 69-year-old woman in our nation’s leading role, and why they might choose instead a hero who dispatches opponents with glib cruelty. We consider the alternatives. We join the time-honored tradition of artists resisting government oppression through our work.

If we’re journalists, we push back against every door that closes on freedom of information. We educate our public about objectivity, why it matters, and what it’s like to work under a president who aggressively threatens news outlets and reporters.

If we’re consumers of art, literature, film, TV and news, we think about what’s true, and what we need. We reward those who are taking risks to provide it.

If we’re teachers we explicitly help children of all kinds feel safe in our classrooms under a bullying season that’s already opened in my town and probably yours. Language used by a president may enter this conversation. We say wrong is wrong.

If we’re scientists we escalate our conversation about the dangers of suppressing science education and denying climate change. We shed our cautious traditions and explain what people should know. Why southern counties are burning now and Florida’s coastal cities are flooding, unspared by any vote-count for denial.

If we’re women suffering from sexual assault or body image disorders, or if we’re their friends, partners or therapists, we acknowledge that the predatory persona of men like Trump is genuinely traumatizing. That revulsion and rage are necessary responses.

If our Facebook friends post racial or sexist slurs or celebrate assaults on our rights, we don’t just delete them. We tell them why.

If we’re getting up in the morning, we bring our whole selves to work. We talk with co-workers and clients, including Trump supporters, about our common frustrations when we lose our safety nets, see friends deported, lose our clean air and water, and all the harm to follow. We connect cause and effect. This government will blame everyone but itself.

We refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble. Every soul willing to do that is part of our team, starting with the massive crowd that shows up in DC in January to show the new president what we stand for, and what we won’t.

There’s safety in numbers, but only if we count ourselves out loud.

Mike Klonsky has some thoughts about why Antwan Wilson, superintendent of schools in Oakland, left his $400,000 a year job to take Kaya Henderson’s job in the District of Columbia.

It can’t be for the money. He will probably earn about the same, maybe more.

Could be because he is a Broadie, and Broadie don’t set down roots in any community.

Must be for the visibility.

The people in D.C. credited him with raising test scores in Oakland, but he was only in Oakland for two years.

He will bring some Broadie ideas with him that folks in D.C. were not expecting, like trying “to dismantle special education.” Although, having weathered nine years of Rhee-Henderson policies of high-stakes testing and privatization, they must have some idea of what they will be getting. More of the same.

GOP state leaders in Michigan are warning that they plan to find a “solution” to the problem of teachers’ pensions. This is the DeVos legislature, commanded by Republicans who salute when the  DeVos family calls.