Sunday, December 21, 2008

No school left unsold

December 18, 200
Arne Duncan's privatization agenda


Teachers in Chicago are sorry to see that the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Arne Duncan, is getting a promotion. Barack Obama has selected Duncan to be his Education Secretary.

In the past couple years, Duncan has been turning public schools over to private operators--mainly in the form of charter and contract schools--at a rate of about 20 per year. Duncan has also resuscitated some of the worst "school reform" ideas of the 1990s, like firing all the teachers in low-performing schools (called "turnarounds"). At the same time, he's eliminated many Local School Councils and made crucial decisions without public input.

Charter schools and test-score driven school "choice" have been the watchwords of Duncan's rule in Chicago. Expect more of the same in Washington, D.C.

To me, the thing that made Duncan's role clear came after three months of organizing at Senn High School, the community school where I teach, against the Chicago Board of Education's proposal to install a Naval Academy.

After an inspiring campaign that involved literally hundreds of people in the biggest education organizing effort in the area in decades, we forced Duncan to come up to our neighborhood to listen to our case for keeping the military out of our school. More than 300 of us--parents, teachers, and community supporters--held a big meeting in a local church and, at the end of the meeting, we asked Duncan to postpone the decision to put the military school at Senn.

Duncan's answer was a classic. He said: "I come from a Quaker family, and I've always been against war. But I'm going to put the Naval Academy in there, because it will give people in the community more choices."

The exchange showed that when push came to shove, Duncan was always a loyal henchman of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's political machine--albeit with a style that made it seem like he was listening. He's just the kind of person who will look at you with a straight face and tell you that, as a person with a pacifist background, he supports a military school.

Never mind that the community was fighting as hard as it could against this backroom deal between Daley and the Department of Defense--according to Duncan, the Naval Academy would give the community "more choices." Indeed, CPS has more military high schools than any other school district in the U.S.

Despite all this, Duncan is being portrayed in the national media as a school administrator who had a "good" relationship with the Chicago Teachers' Union (CTU).

The truth is quite different. Duncan pursued anti-labor policies by pushing nonunion charter and contract schools. He also imposed test-oriented, competitive schemes that force schools to close if they can't raise test scores above a certain level.

Yet he failed to implement the kinds of changes that really would improve student performance--such as smaller class sizes and expanded facilities to end overcrowding. Instead, special education teachers were laid off and budgets squeezed.

Moreover, Duncan has done nothing to address racial segregation in our schools--which is so bad that a 2003 Harvard University study found that CPS is "only a few percentage points from an experience of total apartheid for Black students." Rather than try to remedy this shameful situation, Duncan requested the removal of the federal judicial consent decree that mandates the meager efforts CPS has undertaken to improve the racial balance of our schools.

CTU members in the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) will use their December 17 press conference to set the record straight.

Duncan is getting ready to take his methods to the national level. Teachers, students, parents and communities everywhere will have to be prepared for a new round of attacks on public education under the banner of "reform."

Jesse Sharkey is a teacher in Chicago.

Within an individual’s biography and within a society’s history, the social task of reason is to formulate choices, to enlarge the scope of human decisions in the making of history (C.Wright Mills 1959).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Culver: Budget cuts to include employee layoffs, furloughs

Gov. Chet Culver announced an across-the-board budget cut today and said education and Medicaid won't escape unscathed.

Culver announced a 1.5 percent across-the board reduction in an attempt to deal with the state’s declining revenues.

The governor said staff reductions and employee furloughs are likely, which will be determined by each department. “It’s going to be painful,” he said.

The cuts announced today amount to $91.4 million and will have an effect on services, Culver acknowledged. In addition, Culver ordered a transfer of $10 million of unused money into the general budget. Most of that transfer money will come from an underground storage tank account, which is used to investigate and clean up any past petroleum contamination from underground storage tanks.

A week ago, Culver announced $40 million in cuts, largely through a hiring freeze and limiting out-of-state travel. In addition, Culver said he will ask the Legislature to withdraw plans for a $37 million new office building.

Combined with cuts announced Dec. 9, the total is $178.4 million in reduced expenses in the current budget year that ends June 30.

“We are in the midst of an economic challenge that is historic in its scope,” Culver said at a meeting with reporters at the Capitol.

The cuts mean $54.3 million less for education and $20.5 million less for health and human services in the current budget year that ends June 30. Those are the two biggest areas of the state’s budget and ones that both Democrats and Republicans have long tried to avoid cuts.

Iowa will have $99.5 million less in revenue for the current budget year, which ends in June, than was projected two months ago, the three-member Revenue Estimating Conference said last week.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist or suggest to Iowans that their state government is in financial trouble,” Culver said, noting the state has more than $620 million in reserves.

Culver said that he’s not interested in tax increases to help balance the budget. That includes an idea he proposed for the 2008 legislative session to end a tax loophole known as combined reporting.

Iowa currently uses separate entity filing, which allows large retailers and other corporations to legally avoid paying some taxes by setting up subsidiaries in other states. Closing the combined reporting loophole would save the state an estimated $100 million but has long been considered an additional tax on businesses. Increased taxes is not the answer, Culver said.

“We’re not just trying to balance the budget. We’re trying to do it in a responsible way that will not deepen the recession we’re in,” Culver said.

Rep. Scott Raecker of Urbandale, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, praised the action Culver announced today as well as his words against increased taxes and changes to combined reporting.

“I think the governor has taken a good but unfortunate first step,” Raecker said. “In order to meet the requirement of the state law for a balanced budget, this is the type of action that was going to need to be taken.”

Iowa’s $6.1 billion budget faces a $616.4 million shortfall for the budget year that begins July 1, according to estimates released this week by State Auditor David Vaudt. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimates are even larger, releasing estimates this week that show a $779 million gap between revenue and spending.

Those estimates, combined with national economic troubles and declining state revenue estimates, means upcoming budget troubles will extend much further than the current fiscal year, Culver said.

And, for that reason, Culver said he will resist using any of the state’s $150 million economic emergency funds in the current 2009 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“Every economic indicator suggests that ’10 is going to be a lot tougher than ‘09 and that ’11 could be worse,” Culver said. “So we have to be very prudent about the steps that we take and, as painful as this is for everybody who is going to be impacted, it’s the right thing to do.”

ISEA Hotline 12/18/2008


Today, the ISEA released the following statement by ISEA President Chris Bern in response to Governor Chet Culver's budget cuts:

"We are surprised by Governor Culver's announcement today of the 1 1/2 percent across-the-board budget cuts. Across-the-board budget cuts impact all programs equally and don't take into account priorities that are important to keep the state moving forward.

Our members, who are also members of the communities suffering in these tough economic times, appreciate the difficult economic choices that have to be made. But our members also understand that cutting all education expenditures so drastically actually hurts the economies in every community in the state. Our best investment right now is in our schools with community colleges offering job retraining programs, preschools giving low income children a head start, and our public school system working to keep our students competitive in the 21st century.

Perhaps even more troubling to our members is the fact that the Governor has continued to say that education and the students in this state are a priority, yet almost 60 percent of the across-the-board budget cuts the Governor announced today affect education spending. Our professional educators have worked for decades to reach 25th in the nation in average salary and we were on a path to reaching that goal. In a simple across-the-board slice of the pen, the Governor has short-changed Iowa's school children and relegated us to more years of fighting for what we are worth."

It is now more important than ever that you participate in the Legislative Conference and Lobby Day. For up-to-date information during the legislative session go to the At the Capitol tab at


The ISEA Legislative Conference will be held Janaury 9-10 at the Airport Holiday Inn in Des Moines. Sessions will include information on issues and lobbying strategies. Reservations must be received by Friday, December 19, 2008. Please coordinate reservations through your UniServ office.


Join us for ISEA Lobby Day 2009 on Wednesday, February 18, at 10 a.m. in the Wallace Auditorium at the State Capitol. This is a great opportunity for you to discuss the issues facing education and our profession. Lunch will be provided and all legislators will be invited. RSVP to Joann Randall no later than Friday, February 13. Phone 800-445-9358, 515-471-8003, or e-mail


Join us for ISEA Community College Lobby Day 2009 on Wednesday, February 11, at 10 a.m. in the Jesse Parker Building -- Grant Room, 520 E. 12th Street in Des Moines. RSVP to Joann Rand a ll no later than February 6. All names of attendees must be given to Joann at that time in order for ID badges to be printed. Phone 800-445-9358 or e-mail Parking is limited so please carpool.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Let's Hope that Practitioners are Still at the Table

Washington -- President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan to serve as education secretary, people with knowledge of the decision said Monday.

Obama planned to announce his choice Tuesday morning, according to two people with knowledge of his decision.

Duncan has run the country's third-biggest school district for the past seven years. He has focused on improving struggling schools, closing those that fail. Obama highlighted this work by choosing a turnaround story for Duncan — Dodge Renaissance Academy, a school Duncan closed and then reopened — for the announcement.

The two had visited the school together three years ago, although they share more than an interest in education: Duncan has played pickup basketball with Obama since the 1990s. In fact, Duncan co-captained the Harvard basketball team and played professionally in Australia before he had a career in education.

Duncan ran an education nonprofit on Chicago's South Side before working in Chicago Public Schools under former chief Paul Vallas, now the schools chief in New Orleans.

Obama's choice has been anticipated, and argued about, by education groups anxious to see what Obama will do to fix the country's ailing schools.

Obama managed throughout his campaign to avoid taking sides in the contentious debate between reform advocates and teachers' unions over the direction of education and the fate of President Bush's No Child Left Behind accountability law.

The selection of Duncan may satisfy both factions. Reform advocates wanted a big-city school superintendent who, like Duncan, has sought accountability for schools and teachers. And teachers' unions, an influential segment of the party base, wanted an advocate for their
members; they have said they believe Duncan is willing to work with them.

"Arne Duncan actually reaches out and tries to do things in a collaborative way," Randi Weingarten, head of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, told The Associated Press earlier this month.

Duncan deliberately straddled the factions earlier this year when he signed competing manifestos from each side of the debate.

In the education debate, the competing sides break down over the degree to which teachers and schools should be held accountable for how kids are learning, and the role test scores should play in making that determination.

At the heart of the dispute: No Child Left Behind, the law that has grown as unpopular as George W. Bush, the lame-duck president who championed it.

The reform group agrees with the law's general principle of penalties for schools if test scores fail to improve, although nearly everyone agrees the law has problems that need fixing.

The union coalition says test scores aren't the only measure, and that factors far beyond the classroom affect how well kids learn.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Uncertainty on Obama education plans

Views on teacher tenure, unions' power, No Child Left Behind Act unknown

WASHINGTON - As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to announce his choice for education secretary, there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation’s schools that his selection will reflect.

Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education.

Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers’ unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified? The debate has sometimes been nasty.

“People are saying things now that they may regret saying in a couple of months,” said Jack Jennings, a Democrat who is president and chief executive of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. “Unfortunately, they’re all friends of mine, which makes it awkward.”

Some of the toughest criticism has been aimed at the person Mr. Obama appointed to lead his education policy working group, the most important education post of the transition: Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University.

Dr. Darling-Hammond is liked by the teachers’ unions, and partly for that reason has been portrayed as an enemy of school reform by detractors. These have included people who have urged Mr. Obama to appoint Joel I. Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, or Michelle Rhee, the schools chancellor in Washington, as education secretary. Both of them have clashed with teachers’ unions.

Reformers vs. establishment
Editorials and opinion articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times have described the debate as pitting education reformers against those representing the educational establishment or the status quo. But who the reformers are depends on who is talking.

Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, used different terms in discussing the debate.

Dr. Fuller said it pitted “professionalization advocates such as Darling-Hammond,” who believe the policy emphasis should be on raising student achievement by helping teachers improve their instruction, against “efficiency hawks like Klein and Rhee.” The efficiency hawks, he said, emphasize standardized testing, cracking down on poor school management and purging bad teachers.

“It’s tough love without any love,” he said.

Teach for America criticized
Dr. Darling-Hammond has become a controversial figure partly because of her longtime criticism of Teach for America, the nonprofit group that recruits college graduates to teach for two years in hard-to-staff schools. She says the group loses too many recruits at the end of their two-year commitments, just when they are learning to teach.

Teach for America has no official preference for or opposition to any candidate, said Kevin Huffman, a spokesman for the group.

But an organization called Leadership for Educational Equity, which was founded to help former members of the Teach for America corps become involved in politics, has photographs of Dr. Darling-Hammond, Mr. Obama and Mr. Klein alongside an article on its Web site with the headline, “Education Secretary Fight Could Affect Teach for America’s Mission.”

The article notes that Dr. Darling-Hammond “has long been a vocal critic of Teach For America,” and it urges the group’s alumni to make their views on the candidates known.

Mr. Obama has given no hint of his own leanings.

Longtime friend may have edge
Arne Duncan, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, may have an edge. Mr. Duncan is a longtime friend of the president-elect and has closed failing schools and improved achievement without alienating the teachers’ union. The superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Michael Bennet, who has enacted a plan to reward effective teachers with higher pay, has also attracted the transition team’s interest.

Mr. Klein and Ms. Rhee, as well as former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and several current and former governors, have also been considered, a member of the transition team said. Mr. Powell has said publicly that he is not interested.

One former Teach for America official who has been outspoken is Whitney Tilson, a New York mutual fund manager.

In a recent blog entry, Mr. Tilson said of Dr. Darling-Hammond, “She’s influential, clever and (while she does her best to hide it) an enemy of genuine reform.”

Mr. Tilson is on the board of Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee based in New York.

'Wish list'
The group sent the Obama transition team a 43-page memorandum shortly after the election with policy advice and a “wish list” of candidates for secretary that included Mr. Duncan; Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America; and Jon Schnur, who started a nonprofit group, New Leaders for New Schools, that trains principals for urban schools, said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform.

Mr. Williams said his group also liked Mr. Klein and Ms. Rhee. “We’d be thrilled,” he said, “if either one were named secretary.”

The two national teachers unions have also been active. The National Education Association has not formally endorsed anyone but has discussed candidates with the Obama transition team, indicating some candidates who would have the union’s support, said John Wilson, the executive director.

The American Federation of Teachers presented the Obama team with written evaluations of a string of candidates without endorsing any of them, said Randi Weingarten, the union’s president. “We have no candidate in the race,” Ms. Weingarten said.

But last week she publicly praised Mr. Duncan in an interview with The Associated Press. “Arne Duncan,” she said, “actually reaches out and tries to do things in a collaborative way.”

This article, "Uncertainty on Obama Education Plans," first appeared in The New York Times.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Culver announces cuts, says his salary might be next

from the December 9, 2008 Des Moines Register

EDITORIAL NOTE: It appears that the current round of cuts will leave education untouched. We are assured from our friends--Governor Culver, Senator Gronstal & Speaker Murphy--that education remains a top-priority. This promise to Iowa's students and schools by the policy makers that we elected will hold our schools harmless.

Iowa will cut $77 million from its budget by freezing most new hiring, halting out-of-state travel, reducing purchases and by making cuts to the state’s public universities, Gov. Chet Culver announced today.

Included in the total is the indefinite delay of construction of a new $37 million state office building to replace the Wallace Building. Culver said he will ask the Legislature to retract the appropriation during its session that begins Jan. 12.

Culver also said he would be willing to take a pay cut, specifically if other state employees face the same action. He noted that he vetoed a legislative proposal earlier this year that would have given him a nearly $12,600 raise to his current $130,000 annual salary.

“I’m prepared to take a step if I need to sacrifice along with other state employees in the future and that might be necessary,” Culver said today at the Iowa Taxpayers Association annual meeting in West Des Moines.

The nearly $7 million cuts to state universities amounts to roughly 1 percent of the state’s allocations. Regents will have to make decisions about what is cut, Culver said.

More cuts might be on the way, he added. Much of that depends upon budget estimates to be established Friday by the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference.

The state was expected to end its budget year with $85 million in its general fund, but budget officials' calculations show the state will have only about $5 million when the fiscal year ends June 30.

Here's the breakdown of budget cuts that the governor's office released in a statement today:

• Freeze personnel vacancies and new temporary positions, unless approved by Department of Management (DOM), and reduce the amount of overtime.
SAVINGS: $12.6 million

• Freeze out-of-state travel, unless approved by DOM, and reduce in-state travel.
SAVINGS: $1.5 million

• Reduce equipment purchases, service contracts and office supplies.
SAVINGS: $5 million

• Cuts in spending by the Regents Institutions, Judicial Branch, and Legislature.
SAVINGS: $8.9 million

• Transfers made to General Fund since the last Revenue Estimating Conference meeting.
SAVINGS: $12 million

• Request the legislature to de-appropriate funding for a new state office building.
SAVINGS: $37 million

TOTAL: $77 million

In total, the cuts amount to roughly ½ a percent of the state’s $6.1 billion budget.

“It’s nice that the executive branch acknowledged the fiscal crisis we have at stand and, more importantly, we appreciate there are steps being put in place,” said Ed Wallace, president of the taxpayers association.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Anxiety rises as IPERS falls 19%

from the December 5, 2008 Des Moines Register

EDITORIAL NOTE: Brad Hudson, our representative to the IPERs Board, briefed us at the December 5-6 ISEA Executive Board meeting. Mr. Hudson shared some more specific information with us. For more insider information on the health of IPERs, please email Tom McLaughlin who will share more specific information on the health of IPERs with LCEA members.

Iowa's largest public employee pension fund has lost more than $4 billion in the stock market's meltdown, and taxpayers could ultimately be on the hook if Wall Street does not recover, state officials said Thursday.

The Iowa Public Employees' Retirement System - with more than 312,000 members - has seen the market value of its investments drop since July 1 from $22.3 billion to an estimated $18 billion. That is a decline of 19.3 percent.

Karl Koch, IPERS's chief investment officer, warned the pension system's board Thursday that he expects "substantial future declines" once the fund factors in its losses in difficult-to-value investments in real estate and privately held stocks.

The fund's overall losses could reach 25 percent, he estimated.

"There is nowhere to hide," Koch said. "It seems like every portfolio is getting hurt."

IPERS was established in 1953. It covers current and former employees and retirees of state government, cities, counties, public schools and other agencies.

The pension fund has lost money only four years since 1981. Over the 28-year period, it has posted an average annual gain of 11.1 percent on its investments.

The current losses are significant because Iowa taxpayers "absolutely" could be responsible over the long term if the stock market does not recover because IPERS's benefits are guaranteed by law, said State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald. He serves on the pension fund's board of directors.

IPERS's pensions are an important part of Iowa's economy, paying out slightly more than $1 billion a year in pension checks to retired government employees.

Of Iowa's 3 million population, IPERS members account for one of every 10 residents.

Fitzgerald said he remains optimistic about IPERS because the pension fund is well-managed with diversified investments. He said he sees no imminent crisis for taxpayers.

"I look at these results knowing that we are facing the worst times since the Great Depression," Fitzgerald said.

"There is no guarantee that things can't get worse. But where we are right now I think we are holding on very well."

David Creighton, a West Des Moines businessman who chairs the IPERS board, acknowledged that these are difficult economic times, but he said there is no reason to panic.

"Let's make sure that we remind ourselves that we are long-term investors" having a 40-year horizon, Creighton said.

About 87,000 people receive IPERS monthly pension payments. All will continue to receive those benefits, and there are no plans to reduce payments, said Donna Mueller, chief executive officer of IPERS.

The retirement system has stockpiled a cash reserve of about $200 million in response to the market crisis. That will provide plenty of money to pay obligations, officials said.

Iowa's retirement system is among many pension and institutional funds nationally that have been rocked by plunging markets.

The Kansas Public Employee Retirement System this week estimated its losses at 26.8 percent so far in 2008. Harvard University's endowment has reported investment losses of about 22 percent between July and October. New Jersey's pension fund has lost more than $23 billion this year, dropping to $57.8 billion, according to news reports.

IPERS was already facing a long-term shortfall of almost $2.7 billion at the end of June, according to an actuarial report submitted Thursday by a consultant.

Pension consultant Patrice Beckham told IPERS officials the shortfall could increase significantly because of declining investment returns this year.

Long-term funding of the pension system could be affected, meaning higher contributions from employees and their employers, she warned.

"More than ever, future investment return is critical," Beckham said.

The Iowa Legislature two years ago approved changes aimed at helping to fix IPERS's long-term financial issues by gradually increasing contribution rates from 9.45 percent of an employee's wages to 11.45 percent over a four-year period that started July 1, 2007.

Sixty percent of the contributions are made by government employers, with 40 percent by workers.

Starting July 1, 2011, the Iowa retirement system will review contribution rates annually and make adjustments as necessary based on an actuarial valuation. Rates can change no more than one-half of 1 percentage point annually for each membership class.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Works4Me: Tips for Teachers by Teachers

Teacher and Substitute Responsibilities
From Beverley Fifer (, a principal in Virginia:

"As a principal, I ask teachers who are taking extended leave to provide thorough plans for only the first two weeks of their absence. In my school district, our long-term or extended leave substitute educators must assume all of the duties of the teacher for whom they are substituting. These duties include bus duty, conferences, PTA, and other responsibilities. These substitute educators also receive pay commensurate with first year teacher salaries, so I expect them to do the planning after the first two weeks.

The teachers' plans for the first week should be very detailed, containing not only the curriculum planning, but also notes about the children, typical behavior expectations, and teaching and learning styles. The second week plan should account for the material to be covered, resources used, assignments, etc. For the remainder of their extended leave, I ask teachers to provide an outline of work to be covered and the anticipated pacing. Often students need additional remediation; or, if students have a good grasp of the material, they may only need to review the concepts.

I require my teachers to do the planning prior to their absence, but in the case where an emergency has arisen, my teachers may submit plans daily after they leave. Therefore, there may be some differences in the actual pacing; however, if there are vast differences, I ask the sub to talk with me and the teacher to discuss alternatives to the outline."

Professional Discussions
From Fran Lo (

"I find Classroom 2.0 to be very practical, interesting and helpful. I use the groups to be part of discussions about matters that interest me. For example, in one group I've asked how teachers in secondary schools who have used Smartboards/LCDs like them. Secondary teachers use them differently than elementary teachers, and classroom needs are different. This website has provided a way to share ideas with teachers who share the same interests and concerns."

Question of the Week: Multiple December Holidays
From the Works4Me Worker Bees:

"December is full of holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and others. How do you teach about these multiple holidays? How do you inclusively celebrate the season, and what are your favorite holiday projects to do with your students?"
Send Us Your Answer
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Writing Tablet
Heard Last Week in the Works4Me Lounge:

"I am thinking about getting a writing tablet that can relay what I am writing to a computer and then project it onto a screen via an LCD projector. I want to be able to wander around the classroom as I go through the explanation of the material. I teach pre-calculus, trigonometry and calculus, so I need one that allows the symbols and graphs to be displayed. Does anyone have an idea of which tablet would be best to use?"
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DISCLAIMER Works4Me is a vehicle for instructional staff to share their ideas with other instructional staff. As such, it does not constitute an endorsement of any particular curriculum or teaching method by the Lewis Central Education Association, the Iowa State Education Association or the National Education Association or any of its affiliates.