Green Dot calling.

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Steve Barr of Green Dot

It was on May 18th I first posted about Green Dot. Actually it was a longer than usual ramble about Locke High School in LA, Green Dot charter schools and the Green Dot leader, Steve Barr.

I didn’t expect what was to come.

It was followed by some exchanges with Leo Casey of the UFT in NY. Casey is a regular poster on Edwize. And with NY teacher blogger JD2718.

It surprised me even more when every time I posted something about Green Dot, my blog hits would see major jumps. People are interested in this experiment in education.

A few weeks later there was news that Randi Weingarten, the head of the NY union, and Barr were having discussions about working together on creating a New York charter high school

And AJ Duffy, the UTLA teacher union chief began speaking with more balanced words about the Green Dot schools in LA.

LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the new majority on the LA school board, including the board member who represents the Locke-Watts area, announced support for Green Dot’s efforts. Along came money from the Gates Foundation.

Something was going on.

And then Steve Barr called.

Here’s what I asked and what I think Barr said. No quotes. I wasn’t taking notes.

About unions?

Barr says he is pro-union. He insists that every Green Dot school is organized by a genuine (not a company) union. Casey has reprinted a copy of the LA-Green Dot contract.

I asked about how the contract was negotiated?”

Barr said it was negotiated between Green Dot and teacher representatives of the CTA. He described the teachers at his schools as “mission driven,” as is he, which made the process easier.

I have read the contract. I have read many contracts over the past twenty years. There’s good stuff and bad stuff in all of them. The issue is whether they were honestly and fairly negotiated. I have no reason to think this one wasn’t.

When Barr spoke, he spoke about the educational needs of the poorest of our communities and students. He makes the case for a view of school change and reform as a social justice issue.

Of course, in many ways, so do the Bushies and the privateers when they push NCLB
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But here is what I saw as a difference.

Barr says he doesn’t see Green Dot as part of the charter school movement.

He says he see it as part of the civil rights movement.

He told me the story of being interviewed by some guys from Harvard Business Review. Barr told them Green Dot was trying to use the SNCC model. He said they were confused. “You mean like ‘snickers’ candy bars?” He had to explain to the Harvard guys about SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which organized many projects in the 60s Southern Civil Rights Movement, including Freedom Schools to teach poor Southern blacks to read so they could vote and gain some political power.

I asked about the fight for public schools and the fight against those who want to turn every area of public life into private, market driven operations.

It seemed to me he saw Green Dot schools, not as an alternative to non-chartered public schools, but as a model for them. “Why can’t our successes be brought to any public schools,” he seemed to be asking?

And that has always been the value of the movement of alternative schools. It is nothing new in the history of American education. Go all the way back to Dewey’s Lab School. The best alternative schools have been a challenge to, not a substitute for, public schools.

Barr is a smooth and articulate guy. Was he selling me a bill of goods? Could be.

But he’s a Dodger fan, thinks Dodger Stadium is “beautiful” and wants to see the Cubbies when he comes out here.

Gotta give a guy like that the benefit of the doubt.

NEXT year: remember THIS session.

madiganmichael050503.jpgMichael Madigan.

Illinois House Speaker, Michael Madigan, created buzz in Springfield Wednesday when he called for an increase in the income tax.

No he didn’t.

Who didn’t see through this BS?

Not the Sun-Times:

Madigan’s backing of an income tax hike generated buzz throughout the Capitol, but it later appeared he simply was adhering to the governor’s demand for ideas –not necessarily ideas that have any prayer of passing. Madigan (D-Chicago) said it would not be part of a House budget that may be voted on later this month.

Not the State News Service:

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan has made clear the preference of his caucus to balance the state’s budget is via the income tax. While most media report this as a new development, it is consistent with what the Speaker has said since before the session began in January.

The timing’s not great. In May it could have been done with simple majorities in both the House and the Senate. Now, it takes three-fifths majority votes. That is unlikely even in the Senate, where Democrats have that majority by themselves; in the House, it would take several, perhaps 10 or 12, Republican votes, and that many will not be found.

To all my union brothers and sisters who sit on recommendation committees for the 2008 state elections.  We distribute huge amounts of our members’ hard earned IPACE money to Republican and Democratic candidates: Remember this session. Ask questions.

From Springfield to Sacramento.

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CTA President, David Sanchez

Funding battles are raging in state legislatures across the country. We here in Illinois have watched the three stooges, Blago, Jones and Madigan, go at it over funding for schools, pensions and health care for months.

The LA Times reports that Republicans in the California legislature are demanding $400 million in cuts to the state’s public schools.

Republican legislative leaders, vowing to block passage of a state budget until Democrats agree to more spending cuts, have proposed in secret talks to slash $400 million from schools, according to education groups that were briefed on the negotiations Tuesday

David Sanchez, new and first Hispanic president of the California Teachers Assoication said:

“I cannot tell you how extremely disappointed our members will be to hear this news.”

He promised that teachers would mobilize.

Funding mess in Springfield. Obama blames greed. Durbin runs the other way.

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Durbin would rather deal with shia and sunni than Blago, Jones and Madigan.

Schools are still waiting. Health care goes without support. Pension funds teeter. Blago, Jones and Madigan still fiddle.


Illinois senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama blamed greediness. Whose greed? I’m not exactly sure who he was talking about when he told reporters:

The problem, my sense is, is that everybody was trying to take too big a bite this year.”

Do you think maybe he was talking about Washington spending a trillion dollars on the war so far?

Richard Durbin, the senior senator was avoiding taking sides on any of this. Even if the side was with the teachers, schools, and kid’s health:

“I’d rather deal with the Sunnis and Shias than an open civil war. It’s easier to figure out who your enemy is. We’ve got enough dysfunction in Washington to deal with.

Rotherham Watch

rotherhamwatchjpg.jpgA faux Rotherham.

I never thought that the faux Rotherham could be crazier than the real one. But each new day of his fill-in comes closer to a true out of body experience.

Today he blames teacher salaries for the failure of the system to adequately fund school change. He even claims that teacher benefits, non-salary items like health insurance, have increased everywhere.

The problem now is that we have no money to do a “money-for-reform” deal. We’re pinned.

In fact, we don’t even have enough money for the status quo, let alone for anything new.

In most cities and towns, teacher salaries rise at 5% to 6% per year. Benefits rise even faster, not just here, but everywhere. Meanwhile, state $ for K-12 grows at only 3% or so. When districts try to raise local prop taxes, elders freak out. So cuts are made to the discretionary areas — sports, arts, et al.

The only “free” “reform” is to tilt far left — unwind the Ed Reform deal, dilute MCAS, stall charters, etc.

That’s why NCLB is so important. It helps moderate cash-strapped Dems at the state level fend off the anti-reform forces by saying “Look, we have to comply with federal law, or we’ll lose gazillions in Title 1 and have to fire a lot of people.”

Ask a teacher if their benefit package has improved over the past five years. Has this guy heard of the crisis in health care insurance? Jeez, buy a ticket to Sicko.

His argument is we need NCLB so that districts will stop wasting money on teacher salaries and benefits. What is this boy smoking?

Merit pay plans: “Bye bye plane.”

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Obama speaks to merit pay.

When our IEA Executive Director, Jo Anderson, spoke with an open mind about performance or merit pay plans, even some members went nuts.

When Barack Obama spoke briefly and with sympathy about performance or merit pay plans to the NEA RA, there was silence in the hall and big noise in the national media.

A number of bloggers, here and here, have pointed out what should be obvious. There is nothing federal about local teacher contracts. No matter what Obama says, few school funding dollars come form Washington. Most dollars come from the state and local taxing districts, excluding short term federal and foundation grants.

So if there are no new dollars coming, or there are cuts to be made, what happens to merit pay programs? As the baby on the runway said, “Bye bye plane.”

No Sock Puppet: Teaching for Special Needs.

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Sock Puppet

You may have noticed that I don’t write about my school on this blog. I rarely write about my district. And never about my students. It is not what this blog is about.

I write using my real name. I’m not a “sock puppet,” a term I recently learned. A sock puppet is someone who scams others by using a phony ID when posting on the internet. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods was recently busted for being a sock puppet when trashing competitors and manipulating stock sales.

I respect my colleague’s and my student’s privacy and stay away from postings that would identify them.

But I am proud of my school and the work that we do with Special Needs students. As a public school, we welcome all students that live in our district, regardless of their learning needs. We work with many children with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy

There are two factors here. One is that, as a result of struggle and parental demands, the law requires that public schools accept all children, no matter what disability they may have, and teach them in the least restrictive environment.

The other factor is that our school, parents, students, staff and administration have worked hard to make our school a warm, accepting, inclusive and safe place for everyone who learns and teaches in it. This is not something that happens by itself. It takes effort, sensitivity and consciousness.

So it is with more than a little anger that I read John Wooten, right-wing columnist for the Atlanta Journal.

In arguing for charter schools, he claims that one of their values is the fact that they don’t have to accept Special Needs students.

Critics note, for example, that private schools aren’t required to have curriculums tailored to special-needs children, or to hire certified teachers or those trained in special education. True enough.

They note, too, that competitiors are free to accept or reject applicants. True enough.

And hallelujah.

What’s happening here is that the locus of authority is tranferring from government to parents. For the first time in well over a century, the earth is moving in a direction that empowers parents — all parents, not just those with money.

For choice to be real, providers of education services should never, ever, be required to take every applicant. If they can’t serve a child’s particular needs — either because he’s disruptive, not up to grade, or deemed to have problems the school’s not equipped to address — they should be free to reject him.

When enough like-needs children exist, creative educators and entrepreneurs in the free market will create new schools.

This is a lie. It is public schools that have been the most responsive to the demands of parents, particularly to parents with Special Needs children. The more distant the school from the control of the public, the less they need to act on behalf of the common community. This has not happened without political action, nor has it happened quickly enough. But to the degree that there have been advances for those with disabilities, it has taken place where the public has leverage: in the public sector.