Search results for: "commonweal"

Commonweal, the Catholic magazine, published an editorial about the election of Donald Trump. The editors are deeply concerned about Trump’s lack of empathy for those in need. They hope he will govern with policies and attitudes different from those he expressed in the campaign.

The editors wrote:

“It seems unlikely, but perhaps the enormous responsibilities of the presidency will calm Donald Trump down and sober him up. Or so we should all pray. In fact, prayer may well become the default political option over the next four years.

“Trump’s surprisingly gracious acceptance speech gave a faint hope of such an unexpected prospect, but his mercurial conduct during the campaign and the lugubrious gang of right-wing political has-beens and media hucksters he has surrounded himself with does not bode well for the republic. All three branches of the federal government are now in the hands of a Republican Party far more radical and heedless than the so-called Party of Reagan….

“Will President Trump make good on promises to take revenge on his adversaries? Will the Department of Justice and the FBI be politicized, and political protest suppressed? Will he “lock her up”? One can never be sure what Trump will do or say next. But it is not unreasonable to fear that he will govern as he campaigned—as an authoritarian, a threat to the rule of law, and an agent of disorder on the world stage. When he reaches for the vast powers of the federal government to intimidate his political opponents, he must be opposed, both by Democrats (whose strategies and policies need rethinking) and principled Republicans….

“It is useful to remember that voter turnout was low, and that Trump—like the last five of six Republican candidates—lost the popular vote. Suppressing the vote, in fact, was part of Trump’s strategy. If he was the beneficiary of a populist revolt, he was still not the most, or even a very, popular candidate. Trump won the election largely thanks to the votes of white working-class Americans without a college degree from the rural Rust Belt. By large margins, he won counties that had voted for Obama in 2012. Economically insecure older white voters, dismayed by the eclipse of a culture once defined by their values, rallied to his cause. They expressed an inchoate demand for change, and what Hillary Clinton and the Democrats offered was mainly more of the same. Trump voters may not have taken his outlandish promises and incendiary rhetoric literally, but they seem to sincerely believe that he is going to shake things up in Washington. What they are likely to get, however, is a sustained assault on the federal programs that have provided a measure of security for working- and middle-class Americans in old age, in ill health, in the workplace, and when misfortune or disaster strikes. What they certainly will not get is a renaissance of manufacturing jobs, which have disappeared more because of automation than because of bad trade deals or immigration.

“Republicans have long promised that low taxes, reduced business and financial regulation, climate-change denial, and broader competition in the health-care industry will usher in a new era of prosperity. It seems unlikely that this program will help the people who voted most enthusiastically for Trump, but Republicans now have the power to implement it. Their success will not be measured by the size of the GNP, technological innovation, or the “greatness” of America. It will be measured by how it improves the conditions and well-being of the vast majority of Americans, especially the poor, and whether the institutions and habits of self-government are handed on intact to subsequent generations.”

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.

A veteran educator explains why she will vote NO ON Question 2.

My background and position as a high school administrator have led people to ask me about Question 2, the ballot proposal that would allow expansion of Massachusetts charter schools. I have been around public education my entire life. My father was a Superintendent of Schools in Pittsfield, Brockton, and Weston. My husband taught English at Brockton High School for almost 40 years. I was a practicing attorney for 25 years, changed careers, and am now the very proud principal of Falmouth High School, which my own three children have attended.

With that as a backdrop, I remain baffled as to how charter schools are considered public schools, and how they can take taxpayer money to run smoke and mirrors operations.

I do not pretend to know all charter schools in the Commonwealth, but I do know the one in Hyannis, Sturgis Charter School, which has garnered not only local, but national recognition as a tip top so-called “public” high school.

This is where I get confused. I would like someone to explain how charter schools are “public” schools when the one in my neck of the woods allows for the following:

• None of its teachers are required to be licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) which oversees all of the state’s public schools, and mandates licensure of public school teachers.

• Its teachers are not subjected to the same public school educator evaluation regulations (603 CMR 35.00) that every other public school teacher is bound by (

• Although it claims to admit students by public lottery, it gives applicants priority status if they have a sibling attending the school, it reviews discipline records of applicants before deciding to admit them, and it outright refuses to admit students in grades 11 and 12.

The Sturgis website proudly proclaims that given its lottery admissions process, “All students who wish to attend . . . have an equal chance of getting in.” How is this possible when the enrollment policy clearly states that the number one priority for admission is whether an applicant has a sibling who attends the school? And Sturgis gets to exclude students who want to apply in grades 11 and 12? What other public high school gets to do that?

Moreover, despite the statement on its website that Sturgis “is a tuition-free, public high school [see footnote below] that accepts students through public lottery regardless of past academic records,” Sturgis nevertheless exercises discretion to condition admission upon the review of an applicant’s discipline record. That is some lottery. Indeed, I thought “lottery” meant everyone who plays has an equal chance of winning.

The Sturgis brand of lottery sure sounds more like a stacked deck than a lottery.

Sturgis is a top “public” high school that is not required to follow any of the hiring, licensing, educator evaluation, and admissions practices required of every other public high school in Massachusetts.

And Sturgis is run by a principal, excuse me, an “Executive Director,” who touts the school’s high MCAS scores – why wouldn’t he when the scores are statistically skewed due to cherry-picked students?

Indeed, according to the most recently available DESE data, Sturgis has ZERO English Language Learner students, has almost half the number of High Needs and Economically Disadvantaged students as Falmouth High School, and doled out discipline to just 12 students in the 2014-2015 school year.

I am proud of what we do at Falmouth High School, where we have been able to maintain our Level 1 status for several years now without having to resort to elitist and exclusionary admission practices. Falmouth High School students are regularly awarded top prizes in state science, history, math, foreign language, writing, music, and art competitions.

We have AP Scholars and National Merit Scholars, and our athletic teams can boast regional, state, and even national titles. Falmouth High School students have been admitted to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Middlebury, Amherst, Wellesley, Smith, MIT, Williams, Columbia, University of Chicago, the Air Force Academy, Northwestern, and a slew of other top tier colleges and universities. According to its own 2015-2016 school profile, from 2002 to 2015, it appears not a single Sturgis graduate had been accepted to Harvard or Yale — — nor to Williams, Amherst, Wellesley, or Middlebury, the top four liberal arts colleges in the country.

In its 2016-2017 school profile, Harvard was finally added to the list — Nevertheless, hidden deep within the Sturgis website is a veiled warning that colleges do not always look so kindly on the school’s International Baccalaureate Programme ( So it runs a “Programme” with two “m’s” and an “e” at the end, that despite its fancy, pretentious sounding name, may hinder a student’s ability to enter a top college? I’d like to see that disclaimer on the website of any real public high school.

But what is most important, most impressive, is that Falmouth High School is a public school where nobody is turned away. Nobody. We don’t have the right to exclude anyone, and we don’t want that right — because we are a public school. We take every child, whatever his status or ability, and still we retain our Level 1 standing and our sense of dignity. This is what real public schools do, all of them.

As a taxpayer, I am outraged.

As a school administrator, I am angered that not only must we fight for every dollar, but we must fight to keep families from being bamboozled by so-called “public” charter schools. It is nose-on-the-face plain that charter schools are not public schools. Real public schools do not participate in elitist and exclusionary admissions practices that are axiomatically antithetical to the meaning of public education. Go ahead and let charters do what they want, but let’s stop pretending they are public schools, and let’s stop funding them as such. Please vote no on Question 2.

Mary Whalen Gans, J.D., M.Ed.

footnote: Why the need to proclaim that it is a “tuition-free public high school”? What public high school charges tuition? Is it that Sturgis is trying to connote that it’s giving something of great quality that you’d otherwise have to pay for in the private sector? Ridiculous….

A couple of days ago, New York Times’ writer David Leonardt wrote a column endorsing Question 2 in Massachusetts, which would expand charters by 12 a year for the indefinite future. He presented some studies to buttress his view that charters are “schools that work,” which he defines as “high expectations, high support.” He visited the MATCH charter school and talked to some of the researchers, who were excited about their findings. Leonardt acknowledged that not all charter schools were as effective as the ones in Boston, but nonetheless thought it was a good idea to authorize more charters in Massachusetts.

I invited Jersey Jazzman, who is a teachers and also a graduate student at Rutgers, to review the column and the evidence. Here is his response, as he is an expert on charter research.

He begins by suggesting that the comparisons in the study cited by Leonhardt are inadequate.

Because simply showing that charter school students in Boston get better test scores than similar students in the Boston Public Schools is not, I’m afraid, nearly enough evidence to support lifting the cap. In fact, the more time I spend looking at this research, the more questions I have about whether Massachusetts can reasonably expect charter expansion to improve its schools:

– Are the students who enter charter lotteries equivalent to the students who don’t? This is a critical limitation of these studies that is often ignored by those who cite them. The plain fact is that the very act of entering your child into a charter school lottery marks you as different from the rest of the population; you are taking an affirmative step the majority of public school parents are not taking in an attempt to improve your child’s education. There’s a real likelihood your family is not equivalent to a family that doesn’t enter the lottery…

It’s not always clear how to calculate the overall target population in these studies; I used the Ns that made the most sense to me.** But even if we’re not quite sure about the exact numbers, the scope of the issue is clear: the study sample is only a fraction of the total population. Which would be fine — if the sample was randomly drawn from the target population.

But clearly, that’s not the case: The sample is self-selected, because families have to choose to enter the lottery. Which means the results of the study can only be generalized to that population, because there may be characteristics of the students in the sample that are different from the entire Boston population and affect test scores….

First of all, how do we know the charters are any different than the traditional public schools regarding these school practices? Angrist, Pathak & Walters (2012) surveyed charters for their practices, which is fine… except we don’t really know how they compare to the public district schools. If we’re going to ascribe effects to these practices, we should know how they differ across our treatment and control schools.

We can say, however, that the charters have longer school days and years. This is probably a significant contributor to any effects the charters show. But is it necessary to expand charters to lengthen instructional time? Can’t Boston just do that in its district schools?

JJ points out that charters are known for their reliance on inexperienced teachers who burn out and leave within 2-3 years. Does the Boston area have enough wannabe teachers to staff a growing number of charters? Is it really a good idea to rely on policies of churn-and-burn for teachers, continually recycling inexperienced teachers to meet the demand for them?

He says that the question of cost is central to the proposal for expansion. Parents understand that more money for new charters means less money for public schools, their own community’ public schools.

JJ writes:

And, yes, there are costs. As this clever model developed by a couple of public school parents shows, districts can’t easily absorb the costs of charter expansion, which is why the state offers extra funds. Unfortunately, the state has not fully funded this program in recent years; if they can’t find the money now, how will they find even more funding in the future?

We know that charters place fiscal burdens on hosting districts, largely because they educate students who would otherwise go to private school and they replicate administrative and other costs by creating multiple systems of school governance. We know that charters are not held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as public district schools, because they are not state actors. This has created major problems in other states, incentivizing behaviors that are not in the public’s interest.

Is it not possible, given all this, that Boston’s charters are getting good results because of the cap? That limiting their expansion has increased quality and stopped the abuses that have plagued states like Michigan, Ohio, and Florida, which have let charter expansion run wild?

He concludes:

I understand Boston’s children can’t wait any longer for real improvement in their schools and their lives. But lifting the cap largely on the basis of these limited studies is not, in my opinion, smart public policy. The good people of Massachusetts have every right to question whether voting yes on Q2 is in the best interests of students both in and out of charters, and to consider the limits of the evidence presented to them as they make their decision.

And I would add, taking money away from the schools that serve the overwhelming majority of children in Massachusetts so as to open schools for a tiny minority of other students makes no sense from a public policy standpoint–or common sense. Why weaken the public schools that serve more than 90% of children in public schools to benefit the few?

As for David Leonhardt, I suggest that he visit charter schools in Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, and many other states, where charter schools are among the lowest performing schools in the state. Anecdotes do not make good public policy, nor does one visit to a “no-excuses” charter school in Boston.

Jonathan Kozol wrote an article in the Boston Globe explaining why voters should reject Question 2, the referendum on adding a dozen new charters every year until the end of time.

Slice it any way you want. Argue, as we must, that every family ought to have the right to make whatever choice they like in the interests of their child, no matter what damage it may do to other people’s children. As an individual decision, it’s absolutely human; but setting up this kind of competition, in which parents with the greatest social capital are encouraged to abandon their most vulnerable neighbors, is rotten social policy. What this represents is a state-supported shriveling of civic virtue, a narrowing of moral obligation to the smallest possible parameters. It isn’t good for Massachusetts, and it’s not good for democracy.

This commonwealth has been an exemplar of democratic public education ever since the incubation of the common school idea at the midpoint of the 19th century. For all its imperfections and constant need of diligent repair, it remains a vision worth preserving. The privatizing forces from outside of this state have wisely recognized the powerful symbolic victory they’d gain by turning Massachusetts against its own historic legacy. I urge my friends not to let this happen. Vote “no” on Question 2.

At the elections next week, Virginians will be faced with a proposal to write its so-called “right-to-work” laws into the state constitution.

Even conservative newspapers say this is a bad idea.

This is from an editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

This newspaper has always supported Virginia’s right-to-work law — and we continue to do so. The law, which prohibits making union membership a condition of employment, is good for the commonwealth’s economy and helpful in keeping a proper balance between unions and employers.

But not every good law deserves to be raised to the level of constitutional writ. A speed limit of 25 mph is a good idea. We can think of no more worthy cause than saving children’s lives. But writing that speed limit into the Virginia Constitution would be foolish and wrongheaded.

Constitutions create frameworks for governance. They lay down a set of rules by which all other rules should be established: Bills for appropriating money shall originate in the House of Representatives, the president may veto legislation, Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, the governor shall be elected to one four-year term, and so forth. They are not supposed to be cluttered up with detailed compendiums of what government allows and forbids. That is what the legal code is for.

This is the principal reason Virginians should reject the proposed amendment. There also is a secondary reason.

Virginia law does more than forbid requiring someone to join a union in order to get or hold a job. The Code of Virginia also forbids making employment conditional upon non-membership in a union. In other words, it is against the law for a company either to force you to join a union, or to force you not to.

This is a properly neutral stance. Yet the proposed amendment includes only the former provision from the Code of Virginia, not the latter. In short: While the state code is neutral, the amendment is tilted against union membership.

It is one thing for individuals and companies to take sides in the tug-of-war between workers and employers. The government should not — and it most definitely should not inscribe its partiality in its own foundational documents. That Virginia Republicans have sought to mar the state’s Constitution with what is, at bottom, a political stunt ought to be a mark of enduring shame.

Robin Darling Young, a native of Hampton, Virginia, writes in Commonweal magazine about the frightening possibility that Trump has rekindled the spirit of white nationalism and race hatred that she knew so well in her youth.

“To comprehend fully the anarchic spectacle of Donald Trump—a show unhindered by the guiding political and religious institutions of the United States—it helps to have been a young white woman growing up a half century ago, as I did, inside the border of the Old Confederacy. In my Tidewater hometown of Hampton, Virginia, democratic hopes were abundant. The twenty years after World War II had seen American progressivism pry open the old Southern social order and force it to admit black Americans. Southern integrationists expected that another generation or two would banish Jim Crow forever, more or less as the scourge of polio had yielded to Salk’s vaccine. Such things were inevitable, after all, like the ever-rising prosperity guaranteed by American industry and empire.

“What the progressives of my girlhood did not foresee was the postindustrial impoverishment of the working class; furthermore, even as the Republicans’ Southern Strategy captured the Old South, those same progressives failed to reckon with the lasting wages of America’s original sin. In time these two phenomena combined with ominous ramification. The crash of 2008 underscored the insecurity of the white working and middle classes, and in the context of this abiding insecurity, Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again” now clearly signals its real meaning: bring back white jobs, and with it white male power, to quell the threat of dark-skinned immigrants and the menace of black urban neighborhoods. Like the witch of Endor, Trump has the power to summon America’s undead, in the form of the white nationalists now relabeled the “alt-right.” Seizing the legacy of the new Southern Republicanism rooted in Richard Nixon’s cynical appeal to Dixiecrats, he has reanimated the race-hatred of the Old South.

“The success of Trump’s dog-whistle appeal to race comes as no surprise to someone who observed firsthand the satisfactions that white Southerners took in segregation. In my 1950s childhood, Confederate statues and flags sanctified the landscape throughout the South. My nursery-school class marched, battle-flags clutched in our hands, to commemorate Confederate Memorial Day. My elementary school class watched Gone With The Wind during the Centennial. My Episcopalian parish featured a statue of a Confederate soldier in its graveyard, facing the town’s main street. My second-grade class excursion to Richmond included a devotional visit to Lee’s statue, where we learned that his boots had no spurs because the noble “General Lee would harm neither man nor beast.” At the time Virginia was fighting in vain to hold the line against miscegenation, its bitter defeat inscribed in the Supreme Court’s 1967 landmark ruling in Loving v. Virginia. Four decades after the last lynching in the state in 1926—which occurred after a white woman gave birth to a “mixed” baby and named a black man as the father—racial lines remained clear, and white women and black men knew all too well that they must not touch in public. Yet everyone also knew that the paler, blue-eyed blacks among us had come from precisely such unions….

“Though Donald Trump’s path to victory appears increasingly narrow as the election approaches, his ascendancy to the Republican nomination—boosted by his coded segregationist rhetoric—has left a mark on American politics. Even if he loses, he’s emboldened the dormant monster of white supremacy, in part by nurturing a pernicious lie that played to white resentment at the election of a black president. Assessing the significance of Trump’s appeal, John Cassidy, writing in The New Yorker, warned of a “long-term Trumpian movement —a nationalist, nativist, protectionist, and authoritarian movement that will forever be associated with him, but which also has the capacity to survive beyond him.” While Trump himself might lack the discipline of a serious candidate, Cassidy reasoned, another leader could arise in four or eight years to lead a movement like the Know Nothings of the 1840s or the America First Committee of the 1930s.”

We have been warned.

Arne Duncan appeared at a DFER event in Boston to lend his support to Question 2, which would increase the number of privately controlled charter schools by 12 per year forever. The bill was written by the CEO of the Massachusetts Charter School Association. DFER is the organization representing hedge fund managers, who have bet on privatization as the antidote to puberty and low test scores.

Duncan failed in Chicago, where he promised to transform the schools by 2010, and he failed as Secretary of Education, where his Race to the Top produced massive funding for privatization, high-stakes testing for teachers, a national teacher shortage, and endless rancor among teachers, parents, and school officials burdened by his mandates.