Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Building a Progressive Agenda

This essay is from Democratic Left and Tikun. It provides a context for future work in seeking to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and to change NCLB.
Part II: Mobilizing from Below to Enact an Economic Justice Agenda

The impressive depth and breadth of Obama’s electoral victory, combined with Democratic gains in both the House and the Senate, provides the possibility of reversing three decades of growing inequality that is the primary cause of an impending global depression. But these electoral gains will prove temporary if the Obama administration does not improve the living standards of middle and working class voters. To do so, the new administration will have to govern “big” and “quick.” While there is short-term consensus in favor of a major stimulus package, some of his centrist Democratic advisers are already warning that long-term spending plans will have to be put on hold, particularly universal health care and the increased taxes on the wealthy originally set to fund the program. And the moderate punditry, led by global-capitalist enthusiast Thomas Friedman, reminds Obama that “excessive regulation” of the financial industry could “strangle” the “entrepreneurial risk-taking spirit of capitalism.” We are in the midst of a global “liquidity crisis” in which banks will not lend capital out of fear that borrowers will not be able to pay them back. The mainstream media – and the Obama campaign and transition team – does not yet comprehend that this crisis has everything to do with the massive growth in inequality of the past three decades. The policies of deregulation, privatization, and de-unionization, supported by both Democratic and Republican administrations, led working and middle class Americans to try to maintain their living standards by taking on massive consumer debt and borrowing against their home equity. Once the housing bubble collapsed, so did their purchasing power.
Only activist pressure from below can force an Obama administration to govern in a manner than could secure a Democratic realignment. With the constitutional system of checks and balances and separation of powers consciously aimed at forestalling rapid change, it is no surprise that almost all the reforms identified with the twentieth century Democratic Party – Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, the Civil Rights Acts and Medicare – occurred in the period 1935-1938 and 1964-66, the only time when the Democrats controlled the presidency, had strong majorities in both chambers of Congress and insurgent social movements at their heels.
If upon taking office the Obama administration boldly leads, his administration could pass major legislation for universal health care, massive investment in green technology, and labor law reform that would transform United States social relations for generations to come. But already the corporate community is mobilizing heavily against the Employee Free Choice Act. As a former community organizer Obama understands that reforms do not come from the top down; in the past, they arose because moderate elites made concessions to the movements of the unemployed and the CIO in the 1930s and to the civil rights, anti-war, women’s and welfare rights movements of the 1960s. But while the December sit-down at Republic Windows indicates that a new wave of labor militancy could be in the offing, the strength of the labor movement and the Left is even weaker than they were in 1932, when an economic crisis still demobilized workers fearing losing their jobs if they rocked the boat. Nor does there exist the degree of social mobilization within excluded communities of color parallel to the vigor of the civil rights movement of 1960.

]Specifics of a progressive agenda [
Thus, a “realigned” new Democratic majority can only be built if the Obama administration enacts a legislative agenda that reconstructs a new “productive” egalitarian economy. I emphasize “productive” because as this economic crisis should teach us, an economy whose major “wealth” is created by the shuffling of paper assets by ‘mega-banks,’ hedgefunds, and corporate law firms will inevitably be divided between a privileged top 10 or 20 percent of credentialed “symbolic manipulators” and a precarious middle and working class who “serve” them.. Only an economic system that invests in production for human needs – such as renewable energy, mass transit, and urban infrastructure, school and housing construction – can generate a sufficient number of “good jobs at good wages.” The infotainment, finance, and service model of “post-industrial” capitalism is vulnerable to continuous speculative bubbles because it does not produce sufficient real value to sustain mass middle-class living standards.
And if the production of “useful goods” is increasingly off-shored, then United States living standards can only be sustained if the rest of the world will lend it the money to run massive trade deficits. If and when East Asian central banks decide that investment in Euros rather than U.S. Treasury bonds is a more secure way to preserve value, the entire United States model of indebted growth could collapse.. The dirty little secret is that aside from the auto industry, it is mostly military-related aerospace and military hardware production that sustains a high-wage manufacturing base in the United States. That base still produces 25 per cent of our GDP, while only employing 12 per cent of our workforce, whereas the financial industry has those figures reversed.. Such an imbalance between those who produce real value and those who shuffle paper value cannot sustain an egalitarian economic system. Republican intransigence and virulent anti-union sentiment is close to destroying our domestic auto industry.. Our domestic parts manufacturers alone employ 650,000 workers – or nearly triple the 230,000 remaining employees of the (once) Big Three— and sizeably in states outside of the Midwest. Should domestic parts suppliers go under with the Big Three, we could well lose several million industrial jobs forever. Even foreign transplants will switch to importing parts and supplies from foreign suppliers. Add in the Big Three auto dealers, who employ several hundred thousand workers, and the magnitude of the problem is clear.
Our other major remaining industrial centers – aerospace and machine tools -- are heavily tied to military production. While this is a form of high-wage industrial production, it is heavily capital intensive and produces goods that have little “multiplier” effect Tanks and planes are not capital goods – they don’t produce more material goods; rather they either depreciate or are blown up!. Thus, the truth that no “strong on defense” Democrat speaks is that unless we transition our military production to industrial production for civilian use, we cannot create a new “productive” economy that creates a larger number of high-value-added productive jobs. Obviously, not all jobs can be outsourced. There are , and will remain, large numbers of people employed in the “infotainment” industry, health care, retail, construction, and the food and hospitality industry., and further unionization could raise the living standards of those employed in these largerly service sectors. But if the purchasers of care and leisure goods are going to be able to pay human wages to their service providers, then there must be enough industrial high-wage jobs to sustain those not working in the service sector.
Only insurgent social movement activity will push the pragmatic Obama and his centrist, technocratic cabinet to govern “big.” While Obama’s web-based network of predominantly white and youthful middle-strata progressives could be activated in favor of “global warming” policies and major investment in green technology, they are unlikely to agitate for the industrial and social policies outlined above, which only mobilization by organized labor, new immigrant communities and excluded inner-city residents could engender. Obama’s victory raised hopes among these communities; but is there the organizational base within the labor movement, immigrant rights movement and inner city communities to mobilize quickly around an economic justice agenda? A sense of hope may lead the excluded to engage in more spontaneous acts of disruption that can scare elites into offering legislative change. (FDR’s pre-1935 reforms responded more to the homeless and unemployed movements of 1932-33 and the labor unrest in Toledo, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle of 1934 than to the later emergence of the CIO.) Perhaps we will see urban militancy akin to that of the mid-1960s -- though the protests against police brutality that led to mass riots were led by working and middle class community activists who no longer reside in the largely impoverished urban ghettos. And whether mobilization of communities of color would provoke a similar politics of white racial backlash to those of 1966 onwards remains an open question.

]Stimulus plan needed now[
Even before taking office the Obama administraiton confronts the most serious breakdown in the global economy since the Great Depression. Obama’s Treasury department and the Congressional Democratic leadership are likely to agree on a massive two-year stimulus package of at least $850 billion, but Republicans – perhaps joined by fiscally moderate Southern and Western Democrats – are likely to filibuster against such “massive deficit spending,” particularly if major public investment in alternative energy technologies is part of the package.. The Obama administration will have to remind the American public that Ronald Reagan ran deficits equal to 7 per cent of the GDP in each of 1981 and 82 (or the equivalent of $680 billion per year (!) in today’s dollars), in the face of a much less severe recession. In addition, the Obama administration must press Congress to implement a major anti-foreclosure program (similar to FDR’s Home Loan Corporation), as the income stream from homeowner payments on refinanced, affordable mortgages should significantly increase the value of the toxic assets of “securitized mortgages.” The Bush administration’s failure to protect the foreclosed (particularly those who could pay a reasonable renegotiated mortgage rate on a readjusted home value) explains in large measure its utter inability to improve the balance sheets of major financial institutions.
The stimulus package should include major government funding of job-training in the inner cities (in green technologies, for example) and of opportunities for both GIs and displaced workers to return to university as full-time students (and for women on TANF to fulfill their ‘workfare’ requirements through secondary and higher education pursuits). While affluent suburbs provide their residents superb public education and public services, federal cutbacks in aid to states and municipalities has worsened the life opportunities of inner city residents. With all but seven states’ budgets in the red, cuts in social services and public-sector layoffs will devastate already hard-hit communities. .
The inefficient and inequitable United States health care system cries out for replacement by a universal and cost-efficient alternative. If private insurance administrative and advertising costs of 25 per cent on the health care dollar could be reduced to Medicaid and Medicare’s three per cent administrative overhead, both universal and affordable coverage would be achieved.. Even securing “opt-out” provisions from the Obama’s ‘pay or play’ system of private insurance would be an improvement. Such ‘opt-outs’ would allow states to create their own single-payer systems, and enable Medicare or the federal employees health plan to market to employers as a lower-cost alternative to private group plans.
]Looking at the revenue side[
But how to pay for all this? The Obama administration should reverse not only the Bush tax cuts, but also the Reagan cuts in marginal rates on high-income earners, which would each return some $300 billion in revenues to the national treasury. In addition, abolishing the preferential 15 per cent tax rate on hedge fund and private equity managers’ earnings could garner another $100 billion in annual revenues. Truly ending the war in Iraq should save $100 billion per annum; a 1/3 cutback in United States military bases abroad and an end to Cold War era plans to build a next generation of fighters and an anti-ballistic missile defense could save $216 billion in federal revenue per year.
The military budget is hideously oversized for a nation that claims armaments are necessary for defense, and not defense of empire. One fights terrorism by intelligence and espionage cooperation among states and via a multilateral diplomatic strategy that provides hope for the billions who still live under authoritarian governments and in extreme poverty. Obama’s call to send more United States troops to Afghanistan ignores the lessons of the Soviet experience: that foreign military presence only elevates the forces of Islamic fundamentalism into national resistance fighters.
When the ponzi scheme of “securitized mortgages” collapsed with the end of the irrational run-up in housing prices, the federal government had to bail out Bear Stearns, then Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and then AIG. American capitalism has “privatized” gain, but “socialized” risk. Yet if risk is to be “socialized” then so should investments. The Obama administration should not only demand equity shares in the banks and corporations that are bailed out by the public treasury, but should also require that consumer, worker, and government representatives be added to the board of directors of corporations receiving government aid. And the administration must stick to the goal of re-regulating the finance industry so that it serves the interest of the productive economy and not those of run-amok speculators.
A “new New Deal” would have to restructure international economic institutions so that they raise-up international labor, living, human rights, and environmental standards. In large part Obama owes his victory in the key battleground states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania to the efforts of one of the few integrated institutions in the United States – the American labor movement. Restoring the right to organize unions (a right that no longer exists in practice in the United States) is a key policy component in the battle against economic inequality. Given the massive corporate and media offensive already launched against the Employee Free Choice Act, Obama will have to place the entire prestige of his presidency behind the legislation. He must use the bully pulpit to explain to the American public that NLRB elections are not “free” – not when the time lag between petitioning and the election works in managements’ favor, allowing management to intimidate workers, require them to attend anti-union meetings and leaves management free to fire pro-union workers with impunity.
]What’s next for the democratic Left?[
An Obama presidential victory by no means guarantees the bold policy initiatives necessary to restore equity with growth to the United States economy. His campaign did not advocate major defense cuts, progressive tax reform, and significant expansion of public provision. But FDR did not campaign on bold solutions in 1932. It was pressure from below that forced FDR’s hand. Similarly, Obama’s victory may provide space for social movements to agitate in favor of economic justice and a democratic foreign policy. Let us hope that as a president who understands the process of social change, Obama will realize that those demanding the most from his administration are those who can best help him succeed in office.
Obama, a supreme pragmatist , will respond to the balance of social forces that press upon his administration, or ignore them in the absense of pressure. Thus, the work of DSA, YDS and the rest of the democratic Left has just begun. We must join with our allies in the labor movement, communities of color, the feminist, and gay and lesbian and immigrants rights groups to advance the transformative social and economic policies outlined above and in DSA’s Economic Justice Agenda (see www.dsausa.org) . And we should begin to gear up to defend progressive House and Senate gains made in the 2006 and 2008 elections and replace Republicans and conservative Democratic officials at every level of government. To do this, DSA and YDS must not only build more capacity on the ground, but also build working relations with such groups as Progressive Democrats of America as well as trade unions and communityorganizations active in progressive electoral politics.
What will be the unique “value-added” of DSA and YDS in these broad coalition efforts to press the Obama administration from the left? As all crucial economic justice reforms – universal national health care, EFCA,public investment in green technology and inner city infrastructure – involve state action to limit the prerogatives of corporate capital, the right will charge these reforms as being “socialist.” DSA’s role is to educate the American public as to the historic role of socialist-inspired reforms in rendering capitalist societies less capitalist and more democratic. Until more average Americans say “what’s wrong with socialism” even a less exceptional and more humane American mixed economy will remain a utopian dream.

Joseph M. Schwartz , a national vice chair of Democratic Socialists of America, teaches politics at Temple University. His most recent book is The Future of Democratic Equality: Rebuilding Social Solidarity in a Fragmented America (Routledge, 2008). Parts of this article is revised from “Memo to Obama,” which will appear in the January-February issue of Tikkun magazine.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why our schools will run out of money this year

AP study finds $1.6B went to bailed-out bank execs

FRANK BASS AND RITA BEAMISH | December 21, 2008 10:07 PM EST |

Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits in the calendar year 2007, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for 53 of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines.

Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services committee and a long-standing critic of executive largesse, said the bonuses tallied by the AP review amount to a bribe "to get them to do the jobs for which they are well paid in the first place.

"Most of us sign on to do jobs and we do them best we can," said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. "We're told that some of the most highly paid people in executive positions are different. They need extra money to be motivated!"

The AP compiled total compensation based on annual reports that the banks file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The 116 banks have so far received $188 billion in taxpayer help. Among the findings:

_The average paid to each of the banks' top executives was $2.6 million in salary, bonuses and benefits.

Story continues below
_Lloyd Blankfein, president and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, took home nearly $54 million in compensation last year. The company's top five executives received a total of $242 million.

This year, Goldman will forgo cash and stock bonuses for its seven top-paid executives. They will work for their base salaries of $600,000, the company said. Facing increasing concern by its own shareholders on executive payments, the company described its pay plan last spring as essential to retain and motivate executives "whose efforts and judgments are vital to our continued success, by setting their compensation at appropriate and competitive levels." Goldman spokesman Ed Canaday declined to comment beyond that written report.

The New York-based company on Dec. 16 reported its first quarterly loss since it went public in 1999. It received $10 billion in taxpayer money on Oct. 28.

_Even where banks cut back on pay, some executives were left with seven- or eight-figure compensation that most people can only dream about. Richard D. Fairbank, the chairman of Capital One Financial Corp., took a $1 million hit in compensation after his company had a disappointing year, but still got $17 million in stock options. The McLean, Va.-based company received $3.56 billion in bailout money on Nov. 14.

_John A. Thain, chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch, topped all corporate bank bosses with $83 million in earnings last year. Thain, a former chief operating officer for Goldman Sachs, took the reins of the company in December 2007, avoiding the blame for a year in which Merrill lost $7.8 billion. Since he began work late in the year, he earned $57,692 in salary, a $15 million signing bonus and an additional $68 million in stock options.

Like Goldman, Merrill got $10 billion from taxpayers on Oct. 28.

The AP review comes amid sharp questions about the banks' commitment to the goals of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), a law designed to buy bad mortgages and other troubled assets. Last month, the Bush administration changed the program's goals, instructing the Treasury Department to pump tax dollars directly into banks in a bid to prevent wholesale economic collapse.

The program set restrictions on some executive compensation for participating banks, but did not limit salaries and bonuses unless they had the effect of encouraging excessive risk to the institution. Banks were barred from giving golden parachutes to departing executives and deducting some executive pay for tax purposes.

Banks that got bailout funds also paid out millions for home security systems, private chauffeured cars, and club dues. Some banks even paid for financial advisers. Wells Fargo of San Francisco, which took $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money, gave its top executives up to $20,000 each to pay personal financial planners.

At Bank of New York Mellon Corp., chief executive Robert P. Kelly's stipend for financial planning services came to $66,748, on top of his $975,000 salary and $7.5 million bonus. His car and driver cost $178,879. Kelly also received $846,000 in relocation expenses, including help selling his home in Pittsburgh and purchasing one in Manhattan, the company said.

Goldman Sachs' tab for leased cars and drivers ran as high as $233,000 per executive. The firm told its shareholders this year that financial counseling and chauffeurs are important in giving executives more time to focus on their jobs.

JPMorgan Chase chairman James Dimon ran up a $211,182 private jet travel tab last year when his family lived in Chicago and he was commuting to New York. The company got $25 billion in bailout funds.

Banks cite security to justify personal use of company aircraft for some executives. But Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., questioned that rationale, saying executives visit many locations more vulnerable than the nation's security-conscious commercial air terminals.

Sherman, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, said pay excesses undermine development of good bank economic policies and promote an escalating pay spiral among competing financial institutions _ something particularly hard to take when banks then ask for rescue money.

He wants them to come before Congress, like the automakers did, and spell out their spending plans for bailout funds.

"The tougher we are on the executives that come to Washington, the fewer will come for a bailout," he said.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Duncan's Record in Education

From: Chicago Catalyst
Duncan's track record
by Sarah Karp and John Myers
December 15, 2008

In his seven years as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan has taken on a host of urban education policy challenges to varying degrees of success.

This week, Catalyst revisits some of these signature initiatives, and weighs their significance on the national scene.

Today, we look at the efforts of the Secretary of Education designate to transform high schools, offer families more and better school choices and raise the performance bar for teachers, principals and administrators.

Reforming high schools

Duncan’s oft-stated goal was to create the “best urban school district in the nation.” Yet here, as elsewhere, high schools have made little progress.

Overall high school graduation rates improved under Duncan (up to 55 percent from 47 percent), as did college-going rates (up to 50 percent from 44 percent).

Also improved is the district’s accountability around making sure students go to college. Duncan created the Office of Post-secondary Education and charged it with tracking students after they graduate. CPS is one of the few urban districts that partners with the National Student Clearinghouse, a data warehouse, so it can keep tabs on its graduates. And this past year, Duncan personally pushed principals to get more students to fill out financial aid eligibility forms.

But even with these modest improvements, fewer than a third of the students who were freshmen in 2003 and graduated four years later enrolled in college.

Individual schools, particularly neighborhood high schools like Marshall in the impoverished West Garfield Park community, have not done much better under Duncan’s leadership. Marshall’s graduation rate, for instance, is 40 percent, up only four points; and its college-going rate actually declined 4 points to 31 percent.

Meanwhile, districtwide high school test scores remain stagnant—only 31 percent of juniors meet state standards—leading many to question whether CPS graduates can succeed in college or in the job market. All but two of the 10 lowest performing high schools in 2001 lost ground by 2008.

Duncan has used three strategies to fix high schools: Close them down and replace them with new, smaller schools (Renaissance 2010); fire school staff and reopen under new management (turnaround strategy); or infuse classrooms with new curriculum and materials (High School Transformation). On all fronts, long-languishing, often-ignored high schools got some much needed attention. Also, education experts laud the focus that these efforts have placed on what goes on in the classroom.

But problems with high schools are so entrenched and intertwined with poverty that it is difficult to predict whether these efforts will be enough.

High School Transformation, for instance, launched in 2005 with the promise of delivering carefully chosen curricula designed to engage low-income students, and the teacher training to go with it. Currently, 50 schools are participating at a cost of $80 million. The influx of equipment, such as laptops and science lab materials, has been especially welcome in resource-starved schools.

But the implementation has been rocky. Earlier this year, Catalyst reported that hundreds of students in the city’s worst high schools showed up weeks after the school year had begun. On average, students in these schools were absent 50 days or more. Teachers wound up spending weeks doing catch up and back tracking. Meanwhile, this problem has received little attention in recent years, and the one tool schools need to combat it—truancy officers—are long gone. [See High School Transformation]

Duncan concedes High School Transformation has its limits. To fill some of the gaps, he has created programs to keep freshmen on track academically, and to support small groups of students most at-risk of dropping out.

For individual students, these kinds of supports show promise. The question is: Can Duncan bring them to scale, especially nationally?

Also see this piece:

Lisa Schiff, a parent who lives in the Bay Area, wrote this piece on Duncan that provides a perspective from the parental side of things. Much of her content/information comes from PURE, the Chicago-based parent group who are no fans of Duncan. Parents who are part of PURE are against his corporate approach to education and decry that parent involvement is not part of the agenda of Duncan's Renaissance 2010 program, which they perceive as an attempt to privative schools and/or set up charter schools. It remains to be seen how much leeway Obama gives to Duncan in establishing a similar program on a national level, and how Duncan's penchant for standardized testing as the gold measure of success will impact NCLB reauthorization...


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education

Education Secretary Announced

After more than a month of speculation and debate, President-elect Barack Obama finally announced that Arne Duncan will be Secretary of Education in his administration.

Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) since 2001, has never been a teacher, but has been deeply involved with education for many years, beginning when he was playing professional basketball in Australia and working with children who were wards of the state. Once returning from Australia, the Harvard graduate became director of the Ariel Education Initiative before joining CPS in 1998.

Duncan has earned a reputation as a reformer who backed paying students for grades, charter schools, and he supported a failed proposal for a gay-and lesbian-centered high school. Despite angering some people with his reforms, Duncan has managed to get nothing but praise from teachers' unions for working with them instead of engaging in constant battles.

Obama faced a tough choice in appeasing the more traditional unions and the reform-minded generation of educators, and Duncan seems to be a good fit to placate both sides. He's a progressive who pushes for reform, but he also works closely with the unions and their allies.
An Opinion:
For all of Obama's touting of governmental change, his selection of the Secretary of Education disappointingly is more of Chicago-style "business as usual." During Duncan's tenure with Chicago Schools, there has been little real systemic change - just a continuation of the top-down, test-them-till-they-drop-in-the-guise-of-accountability that George Bush's administration rammed down school district's throats. Real systemic change cannot occur without the voice and ownership of those expected to implement the change. Duncan doesn't get that and it would appear Obama doesn't either. Sadly, teachers will continue to be the whipping boy for society's ills and students will continue to be political pawns instead of valued citizens of and contributors to this country.
Priscilla Gutierrez

See the comments here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/16/ifreakonomicsi-levitt-pra_n_151404.html

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Secretary of Education fight heats up

No one ever said that this was going to be easy.
Now David Brooks has weighed in on the Secretary of Education.
One of several problems with this analysis is that those of us opposing Klein have been opposed to the education bureaucracy all along. We have been trying to make urban schools work.

December 5, 2008
Who Will He Choose?

As in many other areas, the biggest education debates are happening within the Democratic Party. On the one hand, there are the reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards. On the other hand, there are the teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms.

During the presidential race, Barack Obama straddled the two camps. One campaign adviser, John Schnur, represented the reform view in the internal discussions. Another, Linda Darling-Hammond, was more likely to represent the establishment view. Their disagreements were collegial (this is Obamaland after all), but substantive.

In public, Obama shifted nimbly from camp to camp while education experts studied his intonations with the intensity of Kremlinologists. Sometimes, he flirted with the union positions. At other times, he practiced dog-whistle politics, sending out reassuring signals that only the reformers could hear.

Each camp was secretly convinced that at the end of the day, Obama would come down on their side. The reformers were cheered when Obama praised a Denver performance pay initiative. The unions could take succor from the fact that though Obama would occasionally talk about merit pay, none of his actual proposals contradicted their positions.

Obama never had to pick a side. That is, until now. There is only one education secretary, and if you hang around these circles, the air is thick with speculation, anticipation, anxiety, hope and misinformation. Every day, new rumors are circulated and new front-runners declared. It’s kind of like being in a Trollope novel as Lord So-and-So figures out to whom he’s going to propose.

You can measure the anxiety in the reformist camp by the level of nervous phone chatter each morning. Weeks ago, Obama announced that Darling-Hammond would lead his transition team and reformist cellphones around the country lit up. Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford, is a sharp critic of Teach for America and promotes weaker reforms.

Anxieties cooled, but then one morning a few weeks ago, I got a flurry of phone calls from reform leaders nervous that Obama was about to side against them. I interviewed people in the president-elect’s inner circle and was reassured that the reformers had nothing to worry about. Obama had not gone native.

Obama’s aides point to his long record on merit pay, his sympathy for charter schools and his tendency to highlight his commitment to serious education reform.

But the union lobbying efforts are relentless and in the past week prospects for a reforming education secretary are thought to have dimmed. The candidates before Obama apparently include: Joel Klein, the highly successful New York chancellor who has, nonetheless, been blackballed by the unions; Arne Duncan, the reforming Chicago head who is less controversial; Darling-Hammond herself; and some former governor to be named later, with Darling-Hammond as the deputy secretary.

In some sense, the final option would be the biggest setback for reform. Education is one of those areas where implementation and the details are more important than grand pronouncements. If the deputies and assistants in the secretary’s office are not true reformers, nothing will get done.

The stakes are huge. For the first time in decades, there is real momentum for reform. It’s not only Rhee and Klein — the celebrities — but also superintendents in cities across America who are getting better teachers into the classrooms and producing measurable results. There is an unprecedented political coalition building, among liberals as well as conservatives, for radical reform.

No Child Left Behind is about to be reauthorized. Everyone has reservations about that law, but it is the glaring spotlight that reveals and pierces the complacency at mediocre schools. If accountability standards are watered down, as the establishment wants, then real reform will fade.

This will be a tough call for Obama, because it will mean offending people, but he can either galvanize the cause of reform or demoralize it. It’ll be one of the biggest choices of his presidency.

Many of the reformist hopes now hang on Obama’s friend, Arne Duncan. In Chicago, he’s a successful reformer who has produced impressive results in a huge and historically troubled system. He has the political skills necessary to build a coalition on behalf of No Child Left Behind reauthorization. Because he is close to both Obamas, he will ensure that education doesn’t fall, as it usually does, into the ranks of the second-tier issues.

If Obama picks a reformer like Duncan, Klein or one of the others, he will be picking a fight with the status quo. But there’s never been a better time to have that fight than right now.
David Brooks.
Be certain to read the earlier posts on this topic below.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Michelle Rhee In Sacramento

Michelle Rhee
The Sacramento Bee on Sat. Dec.6 has an important education story on B1 concerning the role of Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools and her role in advising and staff selection for new Mayor Kevin Johnson. It is a valuable piece, however it tells less than half of the story. What makes Michelle Rhee a story is that she is the leader of the Washington D.C. public schools, one of two or three school systems which regularly score below those of California if reading, math, high school graduation and other basics.

As noted, Ms. Rhee came to the job of Chancellor from leading the New Teacher Project which has placed lots of teachers in urban districts. However, these teachers have not improved student achievement because the new teachers are minimally prepared to teach and they leave their positions at a very high rate before they learn to teach well.

From this position Michelle Rhee was selected to run the Washington D.C. schools. The article by Mary Lynne Vellinga describes some of the major issues there. It is correct and useful to say that these are difficult schools traditionally failing students. This is a tough job.
Chancellor Rhee uses a management style currently advocated by a number of school business managers including Joel Klien of New York City and others. ( see previous posts)
The administration of Michelle Rhee as Chancellor of Schools in is representative of a particular rigid approach to school change promoted by NCLB which I oppose because it assaults teachers and does not improve schools. Rather than take the advice of educators, Chancellor Rhee repeatedly championed and implemented policies that support corporate interests as opposed to children. The Department of Education under Rhee has been run like a ruthless dictatorship – with no input from parents or educators. Teachers have not been respected, consulted, nor listened to. You can not improve schools without working with – not against the teachers.
The bottom line is that this form of arbitrary management has not worked to improve student achievement. Yes, she has closed schools and fired teachers, but have the students scores have not improved? This brand of drive by school reform produces headlines but has not improved the schools. The pattern is clear, generate a lot of controversy, impose harsh conditions, make claims based upon one or two years data, and then move on quickly before the data from several years of failed efforts catches up with you. A new “leader” is brought in and the process starts all over again.
Sacramento has had several years of this kind of faux “reform” not only at Sacramento High ( with Rhee’s participation) but in the reform cycles of Terry Greer ( currently in San Diego), John Sweeney, and others. This “business approach” was also the driving force behind Alan Bersin in San Diego before he left and became Secretary of Education for the entire state of California. And, is the current mantra of the failing Superintendent in Los Angeles Unified.
The press should look at the data. These management approaches have not worked.
So now, according to the story, Michelle Rhee is consulting in Sacramento to the new Kevin Johnson Administration. She has worked here before as a hands-on advisor in the transition of Sacramento High to a Charter School. Look at the data.
By the way, while Michelle Rhee consults in Sacramento the Washington D.C. schools have not improved achievement for the students. Perhaps she hopes to bring the achievement scores of all of Sacramento students down to the level of those of Washington D.C.
If I were her boss, I would counsel that it is time for her to pay attention to her day job.
Duane Campbell