AKMuckraker (Mudflats) Gets Outed By Jerk

Mike Doogan (pictured above) just outed blogger AKMuckraker, author of Mudflats. Lets hope AKMuckraker doesn't have any enemies!

Why don't you send Mike a note letting him know what a jerk he is!

Don't Criticize What You Can't Understand

I love reading Michael Kinsley. He is among the smartest of his generation.
Transparent Obfuscation
A Rescue Plan With the Clarity of a Credit Default Swap

By Michael Kinsley
Friday, March 27, 2009; A17

"The parties may elect in respect of two or more Transactions that a net amount will be determined in respect of all amounts payable on the same date in the same currency in respect of such Transactions, regardless of whether such amounts are payable in respect of the same Transaction."

Got that? It's a sentence, chosen more or less at random, from the most recent (2002) Master Agreement of the International Swap and Derivatives Association. These are the people who brought you the "credit default swap," the mysterious financial transaction that almost destroyed the world, and might yet do so if the Obama administration's rescue plan doesn't work. The Master Agreement is used for credit default swaps the way a standard real estate broker's lease is used for renting a one-bedroom apartment.

Except that we all know what a one-bedroom apartment is. How many of us know what a credit-default swap is? The media do their best to explain it, often using attractive drawings with arrows showing money going hither and thither. Or sometimes they throw up their hands, as I'm doing, and simply describe them as "exotic financial instruments," and leave it at that. Part of the hostility that banks and Wall Street now enjoy comes from a popular suspicion that the mystery and complexity are part of the point -- that these things are made impossible to explain on purpose, as a way of avoiding scrutiny. "Don't criticize what you can't understand," as the financier Bob Dylan once put it in another context.

One problem with the Obama financial rescue plan is that it is almost as complicated and obscure as the problem it is designed to solve. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, testifying yesterday on Capitol Hill, called for greater simplicity in financial regulation. Good luck with that. Here is a sample passage from one of the explanatory documents released by Treasury this week. "Private investors may be given voluntary withdrawal rights at the level of a Private Vehicle, subject to limitations to be agreed with Treasury including that no private investor may have the right to voluntarily withdraw from a Private Vehicle prior to the third anniversary of the first investment by such Private Vehicle." All this talk of getting into and out of private vehicles may be a sly reference to the car and driver that did in Tom Daschle. Otherwise, who knows?

The government's most urgent goal is to cleanse the financial system of "toxic assets." These used to be known as "bad debts" until somebody decided that a more hysterical term was needed to reflect the gravity of the situation. Nobody gives a hoot about bad debts anymore. The government could have just swallowed hard and bought up these toxic assets itself. Then it could have buried them at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where it has almost completed a $13.5 billion nuclear waste dump, just in time to promise never to use it, at least not for nuclear waste. Unlike nuclear waste, credit default swaps are unlikely to leach into the groundwater. And even if they do, there is no detectable difference between trading in derivatives such as credit default swaps and Nevada's principal industry anyway. Except that the amounts involved in Nevada-style recreational gambling are much smaller. Oh, and the government doesn't bail out petty gamblers. Yet.

But the administration decided that it would be more exciting to let private financiers in on the fun. This is an odd echo of what created the mess in the first place. Government-chartered entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac operated with an implicit government guarantee, whereas firms we all thought were private, like AIG and Citicorp, were deemed "too big to fail." One way or another, the government got sucked in against its will. It felt it had no choice. The private firms now pondering whether to join the party do have a choice, so they will have to be subsidized.

The plan is very, very clever. Maybe too clever. It depends on convincing smart financiers that there is a killing to be made investing, with government help, in toxic assets. Inevitably, when the dust settles, it will turn out that some private firms and individuals actually have made a killing, which will cause another eruption of populist resentment like the one over the AIG bonuses. Fear of such an eruption, and any retrospective mischief coming out of Congress as a result, is going to make private money harder to entice, which means the subsidies will have to be larger, which means the killings will even be greater.

It's good, in most ways, to have populist resentment back where it belongs, aimed at financial targets rather than frittering its energy on absurd culture wars over issues such as flag burning. Most people, I suspect, would happily sacrifice a few flags for an equal number of percentage points subtracted from the unemployment rate. But if that resentment boils over into protectionism, for example, it won't be so good.

The cure for everything these days, especially in the business world and also in the government, is thought to be "transparency": no secrets. Let people know everything, and abuses will self-correct. But transparency requires more than just supplying the information. What good is putting it all out there if it's too complicated to understand?

In Darwin We Trust: Another Study In Contrasts

A stark contrast in the division of church and state:

US twenty dollar note with God emblazoned on it

British ten pound note with Darwin on it.

h/t Hendrick Hertzberg


Friday Cartoon Fun: Greedy Bastards Edition

Friday Cartoon Fun: USPS Edition

Britain Scraps Student Testing (And A Country Breathes Again) II

From across the pond, Brits are abandoning their high-stakes tests...
Education unions plan 2010 Sats boycott

Teachers are threatening to bring the Sats system in England to a halt by boycotting next year's tests.

Two of the biggest education unions will ask their members to refuse to take part in the tests, which they say have become "unacceptable for the future of children's education".

It is a significant escalation in the teaching profession's opposition to the testing regime, and comes after ministers scrapped the tests for 14-year-olds last year. The two unions, representing more than 300,000 teachers and heads, say they will conduct this year's tests of all seven and 11-year-olds in May only on condition that they will be the last.

The National Union of Teachers will put the plans to its annual conference over Easter, while the National Association of Head Teachers will consider an identical plan at its conference at the end of April. Both organisations say the tests have damaged primary education and put children under unnecessary stress.

Mick Brookes, the NAHT general secretary, said: "Testing narrows the curriculum and makes learning shallow, because the tests are simply regurgitative. Then the results are published in league tables, and schools in the toughest areas, where you've got hardest to teach children, are ridiculed on an annual basis. There is high stress for children; some will already be spending up to 10 hours a week rehearsing these tests. It's a complete waste of time. It is unconscionable that we should simply stand by and allow the educational experience of children to be blighted."

Christine Blower, the NUT's acting general secretary, said: "Primary schools' patience in enduring the damage caused by the tests has been stretched to the limit, and beyond. Our deadline for the end of Sats by 2010 is reasonable, and our alternative is one that will enhance teaching and learning. Above all else, the government needs to understand that this year's national curriculum tests will be the last."

Sats tests for 14-year-olds were scrapped in the wake of the collapse of the marking process last year, when thousands of students faced delayed results after an American firm, ETS, contracted to oversee the tests for the first time, failed to deliver.

Sats were introduced in 1991 by the Conservatives, but were boycotted by several teaching unions in 1993. Last year's failures, as well as a report by Cambridge University highlighting the inaccuracy of Sats marking and the stress the tests cause children, has fuelled union opposition.

The threat of a boycott will now hang over a Sats review that was set up by the government when it announced the end of tests at 14. If teachers refuse to conduct tests, ministers will not be able to publish school-by-school results, which are used to create the annual league tables.

Two other unions, the NASUWT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said they would not take the same action. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said the tests were "unreliable, don't reflect pupils' real ability, take up too much school time, and demotivate children and school staff". But she added that the ATL did not support a boycott.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "These tests are important as they allow parents to see how their children and local schools are doing. Any attempt to boycott them could undermine this and risk removing a basic right from parents."

He reiterated the words of the schools secretary, Ed Balls, who said the tests were "not set in stone", adding that there were pilots of alternatives under way.

Friday Cartoon Fun: Doom And Gloom Edition

NCLB: Impossible

What Doesn’t Work

by Doug Noon

For several years I have looked forward to the day when education policy would move beyond the utopian delusion that all students will would be proficient by 2014, a day that still appears to be a long way off. There’s a new ed.gov website set up for teachers, to help “…all students read and do math and science at grade level by the year 2014.” Doing What Works is supposed to be a practical companion to the What Works Clearinghouse research repository, but they apparently didn’t get the memo that proficiency for all by 2014, or by any other year, is an oxymoron:
… by ignoring the inevitable and natural variation amongst individuals, the conceptual basis of NCLB is deeply flawed; no goal can simultaneously be challenging to and achievable by all students across the entire achievement distribution. A standard can either be a minimal standard which presents no challenge to typical and advanced students, or it can be a challenging standard which is unachievable by most below-average students. No standard can serve both purposes – this is why we call ‘proficiency for all’ an oxymoron - but this is what NCLB requires. (Rothstein, ‘Proficiency for All’ - An Oxymoron, 2006)

Policy-driven “what works” education research is what Jacqueline Edmondson calls ‘functionalist’ research,’ aimed at maintaining the present “reality of schools.” It ignores economic and other forms of systemic disadvantage, treating them as inevitable conditions that require creative technical solutions. The harm in this approach to closing the ‘achievement gap,’ says Edmondson, is that “student difficulties appear to be individual shortcomings rather than social concerns.” The limited focus of functionalist research does not admit questions about ideology, narrowing lines of inquiry to those which can be understood only in terms of the status quo. She advocates for teachers to engage in critical policy study, something I’m going to begin looking at more directly, here.

My interest in this is both practical and ideological. Other than vague references to ‘innovation’, teaching practices get no more than a hand-wave from anyone pushing a policy agenda these days. The promoters of data-driven “laboratories of innovation” have no plans for making anything new or different happen in the classroom, except what can be easily measured with standardized tests. They needn’t bother, either, as long as politicians and newspapers keep the pressure on – blaming teachers and repeating slogans like, “All children can learn” until people are ready to believe that even severely disabled kids must be tested:
McKean: “He learned how to feed himself at school. With a spoon. And he learned how to drink out of a cup. He learned how to push his own wheelchair. His head control has gotten extremely better, because his head is a little bit bigger than an average sized kid.

Jackson has a form of hydrocephalus. It’s a neurological disorder that has caused some severe developmental disabilities. Jackson also has intestinal problems. He has to wear a diaper.

Jackson can turn pages in a book. He can say “yes” and “no,” and in sign language he can say about eight things. He’s still learning. But his mom doesn’t expect reading and math to be part of his education.

So she was annoyed to learn that last year, Jackson had to take a standardized reading and math test. He was in fourth grade.
In it’s current politicized form, school reform has little to do with learning or teaching, and more to do with bureaucratic power and control . Critical thinking and innovation in the classroom can, and should, include activity besides what might work in our present - broken - policy environment.


Thursday Cartoon Fun: Dreams Edition

This Just In...

From Jim Horn:
Arizona Supreme Court Rules Unanimously Against Vouchers


Arizona high court rejects private school vouchers
March 25th, 2009 @ 10:12am
by Associated Press

PHOENIX - The state Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned two school voucher programs, saying they violated the Arizona Constitution.

The vouchers provided to foster children and disabled students under a 2006 law are cash grants in the form of state payment warrants provided to parents, who must sign them over to private schools their children attend.

The justices heard arguments in December on whether the programs violate the Arizona Constitution's bans on using tax dollars to support religion or to fund private schools.

The justices unanimously decided they did. Lower courts split on the issue. . . .

It's Official: Arne Duncan Is A Business Roundtable Reformer

Here we go! Arne Duncan supports a longer school year, mandatory summer school for low achieving students (get them ready for prison?), and makes it clear that getting money for schools is a game that must be played, not a right that should be fulfilled. From WaPo:
With $5 Billion Fund, Duncan Seeks to Fuel Innovation in Schools

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009; Page A19

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday that he will leverage a $5 billion fund to shape school reform, rewarding states that push for classroom innovation with federal stimulus dollars and denying extra aid to those that do not.

Duncan's comments detailed how he will manage the Race to the Top Fund, an unprecedented pot of cash created by the stimulus law that extends Washington's reach into local school affairs. No other education secretary has controlled such a fund. Duncan said he will dole out the money based in part on how states and school systems spend tens of billions of dollars in other stimulus funding intended to prevent layoffs and program cuts and help educate children who live in poverty or have disabilities.

"States that are simply investing in the status quo will put themselves at a tremendous competitive disadvantage for getting those additional funds," Duncan said in a conference call with reporters. "I can't emphasize strongly enough how important it is for states and districts to think very creatively and to think very differently about how they use this first set of money."

Overall, the stimulus law pumps about $100 billion into public schools, universities and early childhood education. Most of the funding for school systems will be distributed through long-standing formulas that incorporate such factors as the number of students from low-income families or in special education. But experts said schools hit hard by the economic downturn are hungry for new funding. That could make education officials more willing to experiment with performance pay, extended school days and other efforts that Duncan wants to encourage through the $5 billion fund.

"States are going to be panting to get these extra dollars," said Jack Jennings, president of the D.C.-based Center on Education Policy.

A survey of more than 850 school administrators in 48 states released yesterday by the Arlington County-based American Association of School Administrators found that a growing number of schools have been forced to increase class sizes, lay off employees and cut back programs meant to help struggling students.

Duncan said that in general he supports efforts to extend the school day or year for disadvantaged children, new approaches to overhaul low-performing schools and performance-pay programs. He challenged educators and policymakers to "think differently" about school spending.

"Some of this has to do with resources; some of this has to do with thinking innovatively and having the political will and the courage to challenge some of these status quos," Duncan said.

The stimulus law calls for most of the $5 billion to go toward supporting efforts to create better tests and shore up data systems to track student achievement. The fund includes $650 million for partnerships between schools, or schools and nonprofit groups. The money could be used to support charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently run. Separately, the stimulus law provides $200 million for performance-pay programs for teachers.
How I wish Linda Darling-Hammond had gotten the EdSec nod. Oh well, at 46, I suppose I could find a new career!


I Am In A Foul Mood. You Would Be Too!

We had one of those staff meetings today. You know, the kind where they bring in "data" for us to use to "inform our instruction". The district literacy leader was there to lead a literacy thing. He was very nice. He was not informative or helpful.

We got a piece of paper with a bar graph (just a thought: they could have emailed the Excel graph so we could have looked at it prior to the meeting, and we could each have had a copy instead of 4 of us sharing one, but I digress) that showed our district literacy scores compared to our school scores for the current year. Yes. One year. I asked if there was any data from prior years that we could look at so we had a notion of what trends may exist, so we wouldn't be looking at data in a vacuum. He said, though my point was valid, we didn't need to look at trends to see that some kids are proficient, and some kids aren't.

Now, I didn't mention that knowing this one year's worth of information still informed me of nothing I didn't already know by being their teacher and seeing them every day for over 100 days now, but I let it go. Obviously, valid and important points made by teachers are to be ignored when collaboration, an NCLB sanction, is necessary.

So we were to focus on 4 or 5 students who are below proficient (as are many kids in the middle of the year. Don't they get all year to make it to proficient?) and decide on some new interventions. I asked, why would I need new interventions based on the fact that some kids do well and others don't? Isn't the world sort of made up with bell curves in it? Aren't there kids who shine, and kids that don't? Remember that NCLB requires that all students be proficient. Like all college football teams will win their division. Impossible. Mathematically, sociologically impossible.

We are to come up with a new something (curricular material, lesson, enrichment activity?) to help these kids. As if I am not helping them now! Fuck you!

This is what we get. We get treated like children who need to be told how to do something. Administration does this because they, like my principal, have decided that schools, and especially, teachers (now that the administrators are no longer teachers) are how the achievement gap will be closed. No ideas for what we should do. We just meet and talk about kids. And look at meager data, too meager to hold anything like statistical significance. So we talk, look, and never have anything of value happen. Ever. Oh, and the sycophants who mutter things like, "Hmmm, interesting" and "That's a good idea". These people are thought of as thoughtful, yet they are not thinking, they are kissing up. Brown-nosing. Fuck them too.

Apparently, the gap will be closed by NOT eliminating poverty; by NOT offering better social services; by NOT funding art, or music; by privatizing the schools and NOT listening to parents and teachers.

What a fucking disaster.

Rant over.

The Edublogoshpere Is Not Happy

Another edublogger, in Oakland, Ca, has been writing about the takeover of Oakland's schools. It's been going on for a while, and should be complete in 20 years or so. Anyway, The Perimeter Primate wrote about how it feels to be taken over by moneyed interests. I must snippetize:
If I was one of the billionaires, my educational reform life's work would have been to find the ways that would strengthen things that were weak, instead of trying so very, very hard to break everything, and everyone, down.
The public is being duped into all this. My principal even said today that she believes schools and teachers can close the achievement gap; that the gap does not exist due to poverty and the rest, and she and I just have a philosophical disagreement. No, it is not philosophical. It is factual. She is wrong about the decline of scores (as was Obama) and she is wrong when she thinks she can get teachers to close the gap while she sits in her office tying things. THINGS. Go help a teacher! She is a fucking principal!

Pull your kids out of public school before they are privatized. Find a public school teacher you respect and offer to fund a private school for them. Get out before the whole thing is ruined!

There Is No One Right Way

This Brazen Teacher is one of my favorite edubloggers. She really hits one out of the park with this one. So clear, so easy to relate to. Read it, bookmark her, and read the rest of her stuff. She is a gem!
The "Right" Way

After college I shocked friends and family by picking up and moving to Miami, Florida. After researching Teaching positions, I became flabbergasted to discover that Miami rent was triple an Ohio rent, and yet a Miami Teacher's starting salary in 2003, was the same as an Ohio Teacher. So I waited tables at a Cafe in Coconut Grove. Sadly, it was much more lucrative.

One evening a guest at one of my tables introduced herself as "Maria." She was impressed with my service, and told me she was hiring. She presented a crisp white business card with a small tree on it that read: "Director of Human Resources." Fancy.

While I didn't realize it until a few hours later at home in front of "Google," Maria was from The Four Seasons Hotel- one of the most prestigious hotel chains in the world.

I jumped on the opportunity. After a 6 hour interview process with 4 different levels of management, I was hired as a pool attendant. The following day 20 new employees sat in a hotel meeting room with polished cherry wood paneled walls and leather chairs. They passed out fresh fruit, distilled water, and thick binders stuffed with policies, philosophies and agendas. I felt a mixture of awe and fear as a small Asian woman carrying a handbag that cost more than my car filled us in on our new jobs.

Among the most important things I learned that day, and over the next nine months working with them (intended or not intended) are listed and numbered for your reading convenience below:

1. Four Seasons Guests aren't just treated like Gold. They are Gold.

2. We will treat you like Gold, so that you treat the Guests in kind.

3. If you begin to imagine that you are Gold for any other reason than to pass on uncompromising service to CEO's, CFO's, and Princes from countries we cannot pronounce... you will promptly be reminded of your place. You are indeed wonderful, but replaceable.

4. Rewards for good work will be bigger and better than other jobs you have worked at.

5. Punishments for bad work will be swifter and harsher than other jobs you have worked at.

6. Perfection is perhaps unattainable... but we will try to get you there regardless.

7. Money does indeed buy many more things than can be imagined in a middle class upbringing.

8. The Guest is always right. Even when they are wrong. Never say "no." Never argue. Always be humble and apologetic. Smile as you do this.

9. You are always being watched. The Guests watch you, the staff watches you, and there are cameras in planters that watch you too. Don't even pick your nose without first considering it's ramifications.

10. "Be Afraid. Be very Afraid."

There was never so clear an example of this, than the day they began formally evaluating the service staff. By then I worked as a Cocktail Server in the Piano Bar. A manager would silently and anonymously watch us as we served a table. It could be any table, at any time, and we would not know about it until a briefing later on. They would grade us on a list of bulleted items that we were expected to hit accurately in order to maintain good standing at the hotel.

One morning I came in on the Banquet floor, and as I headed towards the locker room I saw a large poster board on the wall. There in huge black Sharpie marker was a chart listing all of our names and our grades. I was on the only "C" in a group of "A's and B's." That was my first introduction to shame-based motivation... and I was indeed ashamed.

It was also the first time I realized how a large "ship"operates when trying to trouble shoot. The Four Seasons Management had undoubtedly targeted a problem with Employee Steps of Service. Certainly they didn't have time or resources to examine the unique personalities of their employees and determine the most effective way to motivate and train each one. No way. This would be an insane waste of time... not to mention close to impossible to implement with hundreds of people.

So they instituted a one size fits all grading plan. Sound familiar teachers? And it worked for the ego-driven types that were fueled by competition... but for a 23 year old from the Midwest... it horrified me. I was so humiliated, that for my last few months working there, I would get sweaty and stressed just thinking about serving a table. I had always been a fantastic server in the past- indeed that was what got me here in the first place. Yet my nerves translated directly to my performance, and both continued to nose dive until one of the upper level managers pulled me aside one day to ask if I needed "extra help."

Do you have a Resource Room you're going to send me to also?

This was an important lesson for me. In order to maximize time and resources, institutions narrow the options down to "one fix." The problem is... there is no "fix for ALL." There is only "a fix for me" which might not be "a fix for you"... so on and so forth.

Fast forward to 2009 as an Art Teacher in white upper-middle class suburbia. There are countless different ways to teach children... millions of different kids to teach... with ONE system of education for their needs. There are a lot of kids looking at the poster board on the wall and feeling ashamed. When their confidence and performance takes a nose dive- the system starts to scratch it's head. "But look at all the students who are doing so WELL with this." Clearly, something is wrong. Perhaps they need "Extra Help." We'll give them Special Services.

And they don't. They just need a system that looks at them as says:


Wednesday Cartoon Fun: Remain Calm Edition


Test What They Know

I think this might be a very good idea. Here is the problem stated in the article:
These much maligned, fill-in-the-bubble reading tests are technically among the most reliable and valid tests available. The problem is that the reading passages used in these tests are random. They are not aligned with explicit grade-by-grade content standards. Children are asked to read and then answer multiple-choice questions about such topics as taking a hike in the Appalachians even though they’ve never left the sidewalks of New York, nor studied the Appalachians in school.
In fact, I think testing the kids reading comprehension by making them read stuff they learned about in class might even be fair to the kids! Imagine, a testing idea that might just test something relevant!

h/t edwise

Arne The Incenter II

I love this Jim Horn guy. In 2 sentences he throws an elbow into Arne Duncan:
There is something in how Arne Duncan writes and speaks that conveys the same kind of ivy-jock attention deficit that would be totally appropriate for a hurried after-game interview in which the reluctant star utters a few bromides about teamwork and playing hard and listening to the coach. As if in a hurry to get to the showers, Duncan, when wound up, dumps a fusilade of platitudes along a desolate stretch of disordered sentences that are too impatient to hold separate ideas apart, that roll out of his mouth or onto the page as instant bundled cliches that would have [been] better off had they had never been put into a position to need forgetting.

Oligarchy. Tep Says Oligarchy

Over at The Plank they're talking the economy. These are some smart mofos! Here is the latest bit of brilliance from a commenter in response to this comment:
Is there a name for our form of government in which the forms of democracy are observed while all meaningful power lies with money? If so, I don't know what it is, but there should be one.
And the response:
teplukhin2you said:

roi - that's easy: Oligarchy. This is what prevails in Russia, the middle east, most of Latin America, including the pseudo-socialist states like Chavez's Venezuela and Fidel's Cuba, where the oligarchs wear fatigues.

Oligarchy in the present environment denotes that polity where the commanding heights of the economy are controlled by a few actors who move frictionlessly in and out of the halls of political power.

The main political idea of the oligarchs is of a continuum between the state and private enterprise. Unlike fascism, which seeks to organize and co-opt powerful private groups (labor, industrial sectors, the church, etc) into "corporate" entities existing in uneasy harmony with the reigning political party, the oligarchs have little interest in society as such and are motivated less by power than by the desire for financial gain. They are happy to preserve a two- or multi-party system, so long as each side recognizes that political power is merely a stepping stone to the lucrative, state-affiliated key industries of investment banking and political lobbying.

While the twin oligarchic parties in this country fight bitterly over social issues, on the core issue of access to financial power, the parties share a fundamental belief that the state is subservient to financial interests which themselves are viewed as the the key driver of economic growth and the ultimate arbiter of wise policy.

Some oligarchs extend this belief further to the idea that the nation = the state, and that those who control the state-- the permanent political class, which rotates in and out of power into lobbying firms and corporate suites closely aligned to the state-- have sole authority for the state's direction, scope and resources. In this political model, the public is redirected away from fundamental economic and financial discussions toward socio-cultural battles via feigned outrage, "dog whistles", phony controversies.

in sum, the animating principles of Oligarchy are:

-- lack of transparency

-- redirecting the public gaze to non-economic issues

-- the blurring of the state and the private financial sector

-- sweetheart $$$ deals for the permanent political class

Meanwhile, our government-as-Davos model proceeds apace, with each party ensuring that it can land safely in a seven- or eight-figure salaried position for an investment or lobbying firm, as Rahm Emanuel, the Bojangles of the Banking Business, did in 1998 when he schlepped his DNC donor Rolodex to an investment fund for $18m in three years, or Tom Daschle did in 2006, on his way to $5m in quick money, or Donna Shalala and Walter Mondale did, as directors of that poster child for corporate misgovernance and theft, United Health, or the new ass't HHS sec'y, Ms DeParle did when she left the public sector to run an fund investing in, you guessed it, health care companies, or....

Tuesday Bonus Cartoon Fun: "A Signature Loss" Edition

Merit Pay: It Doesn't Work!

I've said it before!
Following the wrong example

Houston teacher Laura Taylor examines proposals for merit pay for teachers in light of the experience in her school district.

March 24, 2009

IN HIS recent speech, President Barack Obama spoke about the importance of education in our country and declared that under his administration, "good teachers will be rewarded with more money for student achievement."

Obama gave two examples of school districts already doing this, one being the district that I teach in, Houston Independent School District (HISD). The largest school district in Texas, HISD has been at the forefront of using standardized test scores to determine bonuses.

Given this, you might expect merit pay and standardized testing to be universally effective and accepted within HISD. In reality, they are anything but.

In this economy, it's difficult for any person to turn down extra money. Yet a survey done by HISD right after bonuses were awarded in January found that only 45 percent of teachers and other school employees liked the system.

Every year, it seems, the HISD administration rolls out yet another version of ASPIRE, the program that determines these bonuses. And every year, confusion and frustration reigns among teachers.

Though the district pours in money for professional development to explain the program, the merit pay "awards" still feel arbitrary to many teachers. As Houston Federation for Teachers President Gayle Fallon told the Houston Chronicle, "They're still comparing it to winning the lottery."

Part of what makes the system so controversial is the tremendous amount of bonus money that goes to principals and administrators.

For the most recent round of bonuses, School Superintendant Abelardo Saavedra gave himself the largest, paying himself $77,500 out of a possible $80,000, in addition to his annual salary of $327,010. The next highest paid were executive principals, many earning bonuses of well over $10,000. Teachers who did earn a bonus got nowhere near that amount. And more than 2,100 eligible employees earned nothing.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

EVEN IF the merit pay distribution appeared to be fair to those involved, it would still be a failure.

On the surface, it might appear like a good idea to reward teachers--who are underappreciated and underpaid--with more money. However, this is not the role merit pay plays in the school system. Merit pay is another way to divide teachers, fostering competition between teachers instead of collaboration.

It also goes against what I have experienced as a teacher. Teachers do their best not because they could earn more money if they do, but because they care about their students. Barbara Falcon, a high school teacher who opted out of the system this year, agrees. "I am against ASPIRE because, as an insider, I clearly see that you cannot improve the quality of teachers or teaching unless teacher salaries in total are raised," Falcon told the Houston Chronicle.

On top of the problems inherent within merit pay is the way in which money is divvied up. Merit pay schemes reward not good teachers, but those who are most effective at test preparation.

When merit pay is involved, student achievement becomes simply student scores on standardized tests. Any teacher can tell you that standardized tests are not the best measure of student achievement. Not only are they culturally biased, but they typically represent the lowest levels of thinking, via multiple-choice answers, and leave no room for creative and critical thinking.

Relying on standardized testing removes the trust we have in our teachers to determine student achievement. What is a better measure of student learning--an assessment by the teacher who spends every day with a student or high-stakes, fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests?

Beyond this, because standardized testing has come to determine everything from bonuses to student promotion, teachers are increasingly pressured to "teach to the test." Learning is focused on figuring out the right answer in the mind of test creators, rather than the most creative answer.

In many schools, entire lessons are devoted to teaching young children how to appropriately fill in the bubbles for these standardized tests. Principals and superintendents, who are looking forward to big merit pay bonuses, push teachers to focus on this test preparation rather than genuine learning.

The use of merit pay in HISD is not an example for others to follow, but rather a cautionary tale. Those who seek to improve our public school--teachers, parents, students and community members alike--should oppose merit pay in favor of paying all our teachers a fair wage and fully funding teaching, not test preparation.

Tuesday Bonus Cartoon Fun: They Don't Get It Edition

Tuesday Cartoon Fun: Blind Faith Edition

Guest post by mom2015:

We'll Let You Go If You Lie About Torture, Okay?

This is from Jonathan Turley. He was on Rachel Maddow's show last night talking about this and the Obama/Cheney exchange. His take on the Obama/Cheney thing caught me by surprise; I thought Obama smacked Cheney down. Turley thinks Obama, by even having this dialogue with Cheney, is perpetuating the slide toward changing history instead of vindicating it with war crimes trials. You need to watch the Maddow clip, he is impassioned about it, and you should be too! (in the first graf of Turley's post).
Court: United States Offered to Release Detainee If He Would Not Reveal His Own Torture

Two British High Court judges have released a very disturbing decision that finds that ormer detainee Binyam Mohamed was offered his freedom by the United States in exchange for his promise not to reveal his own torture at Guantanamo Bay. Equally disturbing is the statement from the English government that it cannot release proof of the torture because of objections from the United States government. If the Obama Administration is continuing this position, it is not only blocking prosecution of war crimes but the release of evidence of such war crimes to other nations. I discussed this and other developments on this segment of Rachel Maddow’s show.

Mohamed is an Ethiopian who moved to Britain as a teenager and was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. He claims he was tortured Pakistan and in Morocco. He was then transferred to the United States, which also tortured him.

All charges against him were dropped last year. He refused our Faustian bargain.

Lord Justice John Thomas and Mr. Justice David Lloyd Jones said that there was evidence to show Mohamed was tortured, but that the documents could not be made public because of the objections by the United States. Presumably, if the Obama Administration lifted such objections publicly, the British government would not have a basis to withhold the material.

For the full story, click here and here.

Obama's Global Op-Ed

From HuffPo:
A time for global action
By Barack Obama
Monday, March 23, 2009

WASHINGTON: We are living through a time of global economic challenges that cannot be met by half measures or the isolated efforts of any nation. Now, the leaders of the Group of 20 have a responsibility to take bold, comprehensive and coordinated action that not only jump-starts recovery, but also launches a new era of economic engagement to prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again.

No one can deny the urgency of action. A crisis in credit and confidence has swept across borders, with consequences for every corner of the world. For the first time in a generation, the global economy is contracting and trade is shrinking.

Trillions of dollars have been lost, banks have stopped lending, and tens of millions will lose their jobs across the globe. The prosperity of every nation has been endangered, along with the stability of governments and the survival of people in the most vulnerable parts of the world.

Once and for all, we have learned that the success of the American economy is inextricably linked to the global economy. There is no line between action that restores growth within our borders and action that supports it beyond.

If people in other countries cannot spend, markets dry up -- already we've seen the biggest drop in American exports in nearly four decades, which has led directly to American job losses. And if we continue to let financial institutions around the world act recklessly and irresponsibly, we will remain trapped in a cycle of bubble and bust. That is why the upcoming London Summit is directly relevant to our recovery at home.
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My message is clear: The United States is ready to lead, and we call upon our partners to join us with a sense of urgency and common purpose. Much good work has been done, but much more remains.

Our leadership is grounded in a simple premise: We will act boldly to lift the American economy out of crisis and reform our regulatory structure, and these actions will be strengthened by complementary action abroad. Through our example, the United States can promote a global recovery and build confidence around the world; and if the London Summit helps galvanize collective action, we can forge a secure recovery, and future crises can be averted.

Our efforts must begin with swift action to stimulate growth. Already, the United States has passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the most dramatic effort to jump-start job creation and lay a foundation for growth in a generation.

Other members of the G-20 have pursued fiscal stimulus as well, and these efforts should be robust and sustained until demand is restored. As we go forward, we should embrace a collective commitment to encourage open trade and investment, while resisting the protectionism that would deepen this crisis.

Second, we must restore the credit that businesses and consumers depend upon. At home, we are working aggressively to stabilize our financial system. This includes an honest assessment of the balance sheets of our major banks, and will lead directly to lending that can help Americans purchase goods, stay in their homes and grow their businesses.

This must continue to be amplified by the actions of our G-20 partners. Together, we can embrace a common framework that insists upon transparency, accountability and a focus on restoring the flow of credit that is the lifeblood of a growing global economy. And the G-20, together with multilateral institutions, can provide trade finance to help lift up exports and create jobs.

Third, we have an economic, security and moral obligation to extend a hand to countries and people who face the greatest risk. If we turn our backs on them, the suffering caused by this crisis will be enlarged, and our own recovery will be delayed because markets for our goods will shrink further and more American jobs will be lost.

The G-20 should quickly deploy resources to stabilize emerging markets, substantially boost the emergency capacity of the International Monetary Fund and help regional development banks accelerate lending. Meanwhile, America will support new and meaningful investments in food security that can help the poorest weather the difficult days that will come.

While these actions can help get us out of crisis, we cannot settle for a return to the status quo. We must put an end to the reckless speculation and spending beyond our means; to the bad credit, over-leveraged banks and absence of oversight that condemns us to bubbles that inevitably bust.

Only coordinated international action can prevent the irresponsible risk-taking that caused this crisis. That is why I am committed to seizing this opportunity to advance comprehensive reforms of our regulatory and supervisory framework.

All of our financial institutions -- on Wall Street and around the globe -- need strong oversight and common sense rules of the road. All markets should have standards for stability and a mechanism for disclosure. A strong framework of capital requirements should protect against future crises. We must crack down on offshore tax havens and money laundering.

Rigorous transparency and accountability must check abuse, and the days of out-of-control compensation must end. Instead of patchwork efforts that enable a race to the bottom, we must provide the clear incentives for good behavior that foster a race to the top.

I know that America bears our share of responsibility for the mess that we all face. But I also know that we need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve our people or any people.

This G-20 meeting provides a forum for a new kind of global economic cooperation. Now is the time to work together to restore the sustained growth that can only come from open and stable markets that harness innovation, support entrepreneurship and advance opportunity.

The nations of the world have a stake in one another. The United States is ready to join a global effort on behalf of new jobs and sustainable growth. Together, we can learn the lessons of this crisis, and forge a prosperity that is enduring and secure for the 21st century.

Barack Obama is president of the United States. A Global Viewpoint article distributed by Tribune Media Services.


"These Guys Just Don't Get It"


Commentary By Ron Beasley

This is just too much:

Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Criticize Limits
March 21 (Bloomberg) -- Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., recipients of more than $100 billion in U.S. rescue funds, criticized congressional proposals to tax Wall Street bonuses.

Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lewis called the tax “unfair” in a memo to employees yesterday, while Citigroup’s Vikram Pandit said his bank is “working in every appropriate way with policymakers.” JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon held a conference call with about 200 executives, saying the firm is concerned about retention and is working with lawmakers.
These guys just don't get it. There are people standing outside their gated communities with pitch forks and they think that it's all unfair. Yes these are the same people who's greed and incompetence resulted in this cluster fuck economy. It would appear that the Obama administration is just as clueless. Mr Obama read my lips:

  • Seize the insolvent "zombie" banks.

  • Split them up into little pieces and send Mr Lewis, Mr Pandit and Mr Dimon packing with only the shirts on their backs.

If you don't it won't be long before the pitchfork armed crowd is storming the White House.

Think Bastille Day.

See Keith Olbermann

Monday Bonus Carrtoon Fun: Hope Fading? Edition

Monday Cartoon Fun: Gun Control Edition

The Greedy Bastards Are Also Evil

You gotta love Matt Taibbi and his explanation of why America is so completely fucked financially. Here is a snippet:
As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren't hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.

"The Rapacious Raptors Of Unrestrained Greed": Education Reformers

Jim Horn is a force. His writing reflects his righteous anger about the reformers and their apparent desire to privatize the public schools.
The Age of the Education Oligarchs: Nip It in the Bud

The many millions that the neo-liberal oligarchs have pumped into the Democratic Party Machine have paid off handsomely in every area of government, especially education. Darling-Hammond, the only Obama advisor who had any understanding of education issues and educational solutions (as distinct from business solutions), was banished early on in favor of the Harvard business guys, economists, lawyers, recycled sychophants from the Clinton years, testing industry leeches, and most importantly, the new superclass of education entrepreneurial parasites and tax evaders, who have their non-profits and foundations in place to launder their hoarded, dirty money so that American taxpayers will end up funding the planned takeover of public schools for corporate interests.

Education by and for the oligarchs is intended to be achieved while making the education-industrial complex deliriously wealthy for putting in place a system that drains any remaining creativity from the schools and for instituting an oppressive, omnipresent surveillance system so that students and teachers are monitored K-20. The most galling part of all this is that the inherent evil of this neo-fascism is shrouded for its perpetrators and press offices by a rosy, inpenetrable fog of arrogance, hubris, and an overweaning air of unacknowledged privilege and superiority. What tiny bit of liberal guilt or glimmer of awareness that does register to this new superclass of super A-holes is quickly glossed over, then, by a bullying rhetoric that has been only slightly tweaked since the recent reign of the Decider.

Remember when Bush attacked anyone who might resist the inherently classist and racist testing plans as engaging in the bigotry of low expectations? Well, that sentiment survives and takes on new life in the Age of the Education Oligarchs, as recently evidenced in the speech by the new President of the ASCD corporation, who promises to maintain the advertising campaign to have educators drink another cup of Kool-Aid:
. . . .We can foster a world in which learning transcends geographic and cultural barriers.
A world in which poverty caused by economic conditions and poverty of racial inequities, and the most sinister of all, the poverty of low expectations - all can be overcome by learning. . . .
And so it goes--if your homeless students aren't learning like Seth and Caitlin or the Obama girls, well, there is something you need to fix about your expectations, Mr. Teacher Man.

Meanwhile, the same strategy of lying about the public schools continues, too, under the new regime. FactCheck.org is now in the game:

Last year, the president touted U.S. gains in education, saying that our "fourth- and eighth-graders achieved the highest math scores on record." He bragged that "African-American and Hispanic students posted all-time highs." Last week, the president said those eighth-graders weren't so great at math after all. He claimed they had "fallen to ninth place" in the world, and he bemoaned a high school dropout rate that had "tripled" over three decades.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year President Bush was talking up improvements that had occurred since his No Child Left Behind Act was implemented. This year President Obama is making a case for spending more on teachers' salaries, early education and more as part of his new agenda. We certainly wouldn't argue that education can't be improved, but some of the figures Obama used painted a bleaker picture than actually exists:

The high school dropout rate hasn't "tripled in the past 30 years," as Obama claimed. According to the Department of Education, it has actually declined by a third.

Eighth-grade math scores haven't "fallen" to ninth place compared with other countries. U.S. scores have climbed to that ranking from as low as 28th place in 1995.

Obama also set a goal "of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world" by 2020. But in terms of bachelor's degrees, we're nearly there. The U.S. is already second only to Norway in the percentage of adults age 25 to 64 with a four-year degree, and trails by just 1 percentage point. . . .
It is unfortunate for Broad, Gates, Dell, the Waltons, and Fisher, etc. that their ascendancy would come at a time when the bankruptcy of their Greed Model has come into sharp relief against a world of struggling workers and unemployed people living in tents. And yet the U. S. Department of Education still doesn't get it, for it reflects more every day a single viewpoint that has been entrusted to the rapacious raptors of unrestrained greed who continue to feed on American taxpayers, while ensconcing themselves in the highest seats of political power.


Olbermann Special AIG Comment

In case you haven't already seen it, here is Keith Olbermann expressing my outrage over the greedy bastards:

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