Reading First scandal just keeps on getting worse.

us_reading_prog_mn.jpgRandy Best

I just keep wondering when will be the First Indictments for Reading First? Are there date certains, time-lines or just bench marks?

It just keeps getting more sordid.

ABC reports the riches to riches story of Randy Best. Randy was a Bush “pioneer.” That means he donated more than $100K to the Bush campaign.

In return what did Randy get?

After receiving the Reading First contracts, Best was able to sell his company, Voyager Expanded Learning, for $360 million. According to his critics, the company was valued at only $5 million a few years earlier, a figure Best disputes.

“Their friends and cronies, and they ended up not designing the best program for America’s schoolchildren,” said Congressman George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

In a congressional report the inspector general for the Department of Education found gross and repeated examples of conflict of interest in the Reading First program.

Edward Kame’enui, was receiving consultant fees from Best’s company and also received $400,000 in royalties from publisher Scott Foresman, which produced reading programs.

A spokesmen for Margaret Spellings, head of the DOE, was quoted by ABC as saying that the department was, “committed to results.”

I wonder if that’s true about the Department of Justice?

“Have a nice day,” says Senator Kotowski.


After we returned from Springfield, many of our PREA members wrote to Senator Kotowski, asking his views on school funding.

In one form or another, they recieved this answer:

Sorry that it has taken some time to return your email. As you can imagine, I received hundreds of emails per week, and it is difficult to respond to everyone in a timely manner. I appreciate your understanding and your patience.

I support increased, fair and sustained funding for Illinois Schools. I believe that state can better make this case for funding to taxpayers by first paying for its unfunded Medicaid liability, addressing the $41 billion pension obligation due teachers, state police officers and other state employees, and shining the line on contracts awarded in the State of Illinois (SB 767 passed the Senate last week).

I appreciate your contacting my office. Please get back to me if you have any additional thoughts or questions.

Have a nice day.



So, much like he said in our phone conversation, he says he’s not doing anything about school funding until medicaid, pensions or whatever are fixed.

Keep writing. He’s wrong about this.

Green Dot.


We were eating chicken tacos with my own recipe for refried beans, switching back and forth between American Idol (Melinda is technically perfect at every musical style but has very little character or uniqeness) and the Bulls Pistons game (Bulls took game five in Detroit).

We got into a discussion about the Green Dot controversy in LA. If you don’t know about the Green Dot thing, it has been covered by every ed blogger and ed pundit in America. I think there are now 9 pages of links on technorati.

Green Dot is a non-profit charter school corporation founded by Steve Barr, a prominent Democratic Party fundraiser and founder of Rock the Vote.

According to their web site:

Green Dot has opened ten high performing public charter high schools in Los Angeles. We serve neighborhoods where the traditional public schools are overcrowded and underperforming. Our schools provide all students with a college-preparatory education, in a safe, personalized, small school environment. Students and parents love the Green Dot school experience.

“So you’re a union guy. What do you think?”

The union question got asked because of the rest of the story. The LA Unified School District is not friendly to Green Dot and neither is the UTLA, the LA teachers’ union. The UTLA is suspicious that Green Dot is not friendly to collective bargaining. There is evidence. The most recent controversy involving Green Dot has focused on Locke High School in Watts.

Says the LA Times:

Amid dozens of poor-performing middle and high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Locke has long languished as one of the worst. At least one of every two students drops out, while the majority who remain score at or near the bottom on standardized tests.

More than half of the school’s 73 tenured teachers signed petitions this week expressing interest in converting Locke into Green Dot charters. Once verified, the petitions — copies of which were obtained by The Times and checked against a roster of the Locke faculty — would legally allow Green Dot to petition the board for control of the school. Many un-tenured teachers also signed the petitions.

With school district and union leaders quickly catching wind of the hostile-takeover plan and scrambling to counter it with a reform plan of their own, Green Dot founder Steve Barr returned early from a conference in New Orleans to hold a news conference this morning with Locke teachers and parents outside the school.

The tenured, many veteran teachers at Locke, and non-tenured teachers, have signed papers to quit the UTLA (there is a nominal union at Green Dot, but no one takes it seriously).

So, these are the issues. A system that has failed the neediest of its students. Teachers who are willing to give up any union protection to work at a school that is not supported by the district so they can work with kids who are succeeding in school for the first time. Parents who see Green Dot’s take-over as perhaps their last best hope. UTLA, which sees Green Dot as a threat to collective bargaining rights throughout the district. Anti- teacher union zealots who are wringing their hands with joy over the situation. A wealthy liberal Democrat who has an agenda that in many ways mirrors the most conservative critics of public schools and teacher unions.

What do I think?

I think Melinda will win and the Bulls will lose in seven.

More Ash Grove memories.

I’m not sure I intended to go off on an Ash Grove riff. But, since I already claimed it as the main location for my secondary education, here’s a memory received from fellow alum and great musician, Steve F’dor.

I remember sitting in at the Ash Grove in the early 70s, as well as having seen Freddy King, Johnny Otis, T-Bone Walker, etc. Great place. About 10 years ago, Ed Pearl tried to reopen it on the Santa Monica Pier, but it didn’t survive very long. It then became – I think – “Arcadia” and I had a gig there one night. The original Ash Grove became the Improv and Lester Chambers ran a weekly blues jam that was a lot of fun. There was a near brawl one night when a young white James Brown wanabee was making a fool of himself onstage. Bill Bateman of the Blasters couldn’t take anymore of it and went up to the stage and pulled out the guy’s microphone cord. Turns out the guy’s manager was apparently Lester Chambers and one thing led to another and the whole affair emptied out onto the street. I know Ed Pearl’s brother Bernie very well and have played in his band from time to time, backing singers like Barbara Morrison and Harmonica Fats. Bernie used to play behind Ash Grove performers in the 60s.

Teachers of the Year say, “change NCLB.”

Would you be shocked to know that 50 of the 56 winners of Teacher of the Year awards call for a “seat at the table” when reauthorization of NCLB is discussed?

They have a list of 10 big changes they would make.

They commend the teachers’ unions for their role in combating the worst aspects of the Bush/Kennedy law, but they say as teachers they bring real-life experience.


50th Anniversary of the Ash Grove.

Earl Monroe

Back in the sixties.

On Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood there was a folk club called the Ash Grove.

Most weekends during my high school years you could find me there. Unlike the time I spent in my classes at Fairfax High School it was at the Ash Grove that I received my real education.

John Lee Hooker. Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponies (Linda always barefoot). Son House. Ry Cooder. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The Chambers Brothers. Taj Mahal. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Josh White. Doc Watson and Earl Monroe, Barbara Dane. Odetta.

Ed Pearl ran the place. I would buy a ticket and Ed would let us sit and listen for as many sets at there were. Sometimes two. Sometimes four.

In the front, by the guitar shop Ry Cooder would be hanging out just playing.

My high school buddies, Danny Fefferman and Dave Elson, they of the Pseudo-Mountain Boys would play along.

Pickin’ and strummin’.

One rainy night in 1964, just sixteen years old, I pushed my way in through a crowd for a fund-raiser for students that had been arrested at Sproul Plaza in Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement. I don’t even remember who all was playing.

I just remember knowing I had to be there.

Next April, Ed Pearl is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Ash Grove at UCLA.

I just know I have to be there.

Can’t the state just pay us what they owe us?

There’s no question that there is a real problem facing our Teacher Retirement System, or TRS. But if there is crisis looming it is because the state has not fulfilled their responsibility to fund it. Local boards of education have paid their share. Teachers have paid our share. I pay 9.5% every paycheck into TRS.

For the past two years the state has taken a “holiday” from making their contribution. But now, rather than having the state pay their bill, some want to change the system to a 401(k)-style retirement system. This would turn it from a defined benifit system into a defined contribution system. This would cost the state more and reduce benefits.

You would think those that are proposing this would be spending time thinking about a fair progressive revenue stream for funding our schools. But no.

According to the Illinois Retirement Security Initiative, working under the auspices of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, state lawmakers should instead focus on how to pay off the $40 billion debt run up by the five state-funded pension systems.

The Springfield Journal-Register reported:

“It was not our current (benefit) system that created Illinois’ unfunded pension liability, it was the state’s failure to fund the system,” said Jourlande Gabriel, author of the study. “Switching to a defined contribution system will not erase the debt. It will simply cost the state more money while depriving retirees of adequate benefits.”

The study warned that those with 401(k) style plans did significantly worse than those who are currently receiving defined benefits from TRS.

Can you fund schools without money?

One of the things I found frustrating when I talked with Senator Kotowski was his position that you could adequately fund the pension systems and public schools without new taxes.

He was absolutely againt the governor’s Gross Receipts Tax and he was non-committal on SB 750, the tax swap.

Well, I want to be clear.

I think he said two things.

First, he said, the legislature has to win the trust of the taxpayers that their taxes are being spent wisely.

I asked several times if he was saying that this was a prerequiste for supporting, SB 750, which swaps property taxes for an increase in the state income tax.

His answer was not clear to me.

He also said his focus was on the state pension situation. He seemed to require no prerequisite on tax policy for that issue.

Over on Open Board Blog a north suburban school board member reports on a forum he attended this weekend on the battle over school funding in Springfield.

Yesterday I attended a forum on state education funding reform organized and hosted by local officials and reform advocates. The forum featured 3 local state legislators who briefly gave their views on the state of funding reform and then took some questions from the audience. Unfortunately, two out of the three left before the Q & A session so the interaction and answers were somewhat limited.

Anyway, the 3 legislators were:

Rep. Lou Lang

Sen. Jeff Schoenberg

Sen. Ira Silverstein

My general impressions from the meeting were:

Everyone (including legislators) wants something to be done.
Nobody can agree on what to do.
The good news is the funding reform movement has more momentum than it’s had in a decade.
The bad news is this still won’t necessarily translate into legislative action.
Local legislators still don’t have the backbone to champion a cause they vocally support.
My larger takeaway is that the word “tax” is so tainted, elected officials can no longer have reasonable and rational discussions about it. Rep. Lou Lang spoke to this very point. It’s the 10-ton elephant in the room.

This, I think, is one of the most dubious achievements of the conservative movement: to take occasional past government ineptitude and use it to broadly discredit a legitimate government function, the collection of revenue. Thanks guys, this is now your dysfunctional and crippled government at work. Spending isn’t going away but responsible ways of paying for it are becoming endangered. Even though funding reform in Illinois means shifting the burden from local homeowners to statewide taxpayers, if the plan includes the nuclear word “tax”, then legislators run and hide.

I guess conservatives can gloat and be proud of their anti-tax efforts and liberals can keep fumbling about, searching for a third way. Meanwhile, all of us suffer. This is some way to run a government.

And that really is that. Until we hear otherwise from Springfield (in the form of a shocking news flash), my guess is this is going to be the status quo for quite some time.

Why a new site?

I’ve decided to move over to WordPress as my blog publisher. It’ll take me a little time to get the hang of it. And I’ll be playing around with the layout. But my mac blog site isn’t really designed for what I want to do. You can’t create a blog roll, for example. It doesn’t track hits very easily. And you can only post from one computer, at least without moving everything over with a flash card. And, of the blog publishers I’ve looked at, WordPress seems pretty good.

There will be a link from my old site for a while.