Saturday, March 31, 2012

By Fareen Zakaria CNN Incarceration Nation (Drugs)

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Something caught my eye the other day: Pat Robertson, the high priest of the religious right, had some startling things to say about drugs.

"I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol," Mr. Robertson said in a recent interview. "I've never used marijuana and I don't intend to, but it's just one of those things that I think. This war on drugs just hasn't succeeded."

The reason Robertson is for legalizing marijuana is that it has created a prison problem in America that is well beyond what most Americans imagine.

"It's completely out of control," Mr. Robertson said. "Prisons are being overcrowded with juvenile offenders having to do with drugs. And the penalties - the maximums - some of them could get 10 years for possession of a joint of marijuana. It makes no sense at all."

He’s right. Here are the numbers: The total number of Americans under correctional supervision (prison, parole, etc.) is 7.1 million, more than the entire state of Massachusetts. Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker, "Over all, there are now more people under 'correctional supervision' in America...than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height."

No other country comes even close to our rates of incarceration. We have 760 prisoners per 100,000 people. Most European countries have one seventh that number (per capita, so it's adjusted for population). Even those on the high end of the global spectrum - Brazil and Poland - have only a quarter the number we do.

If you say this is some kind of enduring aspect of America's "Wild West" culture, you would be wrong. In 1980, our rates of incarceration were a quarter what they are now. What changed was the war on drugs and the mindless proliferation of laws that created criminal penalties for anything and everything. If you don’t believe me, listen to Pat Roberston again. Here's a quote:

"We here in America make up 5% of the world's population, but we make up 25% of jailed prisoners....We have now over 3,000 - the number must be might higher than that - but over 3,000 federal crimes, and every time the liberals pass a bill - I don't care what it involves - they stick criminal sanctions on it. They don't feel there is any way people are going to keep a law unless they can put them in jail.... So we have the jails filled with people who are white collar criminals.

In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education. Since 1980, California has built one college campus; it's built 21 prisons. The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate per year.

Why is this happening? Prisons are a big business. Most are privately run. They have powerful lobbyists and they have bought most state politicians. Meanwhile, we are bankrupting out states and creating a vast underclass of prisoners who will never be equipped for productive lives.

I never thought I'd say this, but God bless you, Pat Robertson.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lawmakers Revise Malloy’s Education Proposal

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by Christine Stuart | Mar 26, 2012 1:55pm

(Updated 5:35 p.m.) The bill upon which the Education Committee is expected to vote Monday does not immediately change teacher tenure, but rather sets up a study of the evaluation system that will be used to determine tenure

It’s really critical to have buy-in from all parties,” Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the Education Committee, said Monday morning outside a closed-door meeting of lawmakers.

Teachers, who have been attending Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education town hall meetings by the hundreds, and the two unions that represent them have been opposed to certain aspects of the governor’s proposal that asks teachers to earn and re-earn tenure, as well as teacher certifications, through new job evaluations based on student performance.

If one party is “opposed to a system that’s affecting all of them it’s hard to see how it’s going to work,” Fleischmann said. “We’re appreciative of the fact that the administration is still talking to various stakeholders and appreciative of the fact that we can move forward when everybody is moving forward together.”

The governor’s office, Commissioner of Education, and the two teacher unions are trying to get to “yes” but they haven’t gotten there yet, Fleischmann said.

Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, who was studying the bill after only receiving it on Monday morning a few hours before a Democratic caucus, said “we’re punting on all of the important stuff.“

He said he would like to deal with the issues head on, but turning it into studies seems to put off those hard decisions for another year. However, he agreed with Fleischmann that the bill is still a living document and nothing is final until both chambers vote on it.

The revised bill asks the state Board of Education to consult with the Performance Evaluation Advisory Committee to adopt guidelines for a model evaluation system, but it doesn’t tie the evaluation process to tenure this year.

The revised bill also requires the University of Connecticut’s NEAG School of Education to study the implementation of teacher and administrator evaluations and support programs adopted by local and regional school boards.

It also reduces the three-level certification structure to two: initial and professional certificates. And it establishes a new “distinguished educator designation,” for highly qualified and experienced teachers.

Like the New Haven school reform model, the bill authorizes local and regional school boards to negotiate new salary schedules to align compensation for teachers under the initial and professional certificates, and allows for additional compensation to be negotiated by teachers holding the distinguished educator designation.

Fleischmann bristled at the notion that lawmakers gave the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, everything it wanted in the bill because it’s an election year for lawmakers.

“I have talked with legislators who have made it very clear that they want to get better results for the children in Connecticut, while showing some understanding of the position teachers are in,” Fleischmann said. “They want to strike a balance and that’s what we seek to do in the bill we’re considering today.”

He said if the parties still negotiating the bill can reach agreement sooner, they’re more than happy to make changes.

He said the legislation finalized over the weekend was largely based on the New Haven model. He said it was a good way to resolve the largest source of anxiety out there, which was “how will this evaluation process work?”

Fleischmann said if the parties, which are the governor’s administration and the two teacher unions, can’t get to “yes” this year on tying an evaluation system to tenure, then the bill guarantees they will get there by next year. Further, he said the bill helps shorten the current process for getting rid of an ineffective teacher.

The revised bill also cuts the governor’s per-pupil increase for charter school students from $2,600 to $900, and makes it optional for the town to contribute an additional $1,000 for each student who attends a charter school.

Under the bill a school district may use the data from charter school students’ standardized tests if the district pays the charter school $1,000 annually for each of its resident students who attend the school. Funding for charter school students would still be included as part of the Education Cost Sharing formula and would increase from $9,400 per pupil to about $10,300 per pupil.

Patrick Riccards, CEO of ConnCAN, said any local district should find it enormously beneficial to report charter school data, but not requiring municipalities to send the $1,000 per pupil to charter schools creates some concern.

“Again what we have here is a real concern we have two classes of students in the same city,” Riccards said.

The plan to force school districts with 1,000 or fewer students to regionalize with surrounding school districts or face a penalty was eliminated from the bill. The revised bill asks the state Department of Education to study the issue.

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said clearly there are significant changes from the governor’s bill.

“The problem with this draft the Education Committee chairs are bringing out today is they were negotiated by two Democratic chairman, lobbyists, and the governor’s office,” McKinney said. “Republican legislators were completely locked out. It even appears the governor’s people were invited into some meetings and not others.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said there are enough changes in the bill that it indicates to him the governor’s people may have been in the room, but they weren’t there for long.

“It would appear that on every major issue — whether it’s teacher evaluations, certification, linkage between evaluations and certification, certification levels, charter schools, the dismissal process for a teacher — all of the most significant issues in the governor’s bill have all been dramatically changed in this bill,” McKinney said.

As of 2 p.m. the Education Committee was still in caucus discussing the revised bill behind closed doors.

Tags: education, teacher tenure, evaluations, student performance, charter schools, Andrew Fleischmann, Gary Holder-Winfield, John McKinney, Lawrence Cafero, Patrick Riccards

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why Would Any Sane Person Want to Teach?

Steve Nelson

The latest skirmish in the escalating education wars came as the New York Times published performance rankings for public school teachers from throughout the five boroughs. The United Federation of Teachers had finally exhausted all legal efforts to block the release. The New York City Education Department released rankings for 18,000 teachers, simultaneously admonishing the media not to use the scores to "label or pillory" teachers. As if.

The rankings themselves came with labels, making the Education Department's admonition seem insincere, irrelevant or both. Once the lists were published, the world knew which teachers the Department viewed as low (printed in alarming red), below average (purple), average (drab grey), above average (pleasant blue) or high (lovely bird's egg blue). The media didn't have to pillory anyone. The Education Department took care of that.

And someone was surely going to get pilloried. Once a "bell curve" methodology is established, someone is going to fall into the lower categories, regardless of actual competence. It's rather like placing the Miami Heat starting five on a bell curve scale. By this measurement, Dwyane Wade is an average basketball player. Compounding this piece of foolishness was the Department's admission that the statistical margin of error was as high as 53%. This means that Wade might be averaging 26 points per game or, well, maybe actually 13. Who knows. Many teachers in apparently "high performing" schools were rated "low" because of this 53% error margin or due to the liability of being on a relatively strong team. This statistical unreliability is only a small part of the problem.

Worse, perhaps, is that the rankings emphasized how teachers improved (or not) from year to year, without regard to where they started. Punishing the basketball analogy, this means that if D-Wade averaged 26 points per game in 2010-11 but only 22 in 2011-12, he would be deemed "below average" when compared with an off-the-bench player at an inferior franchise who raised his production from 8 points per game to 12.

Worst is that the rankings were derived almost entirely from student performance on standardized math and English tests. The correlation between teaching competence and test performance is low, at best, when taking into account wide variations in student ability, numbers of special needs students, socio-economic factors and class size. Therefore New York City teachers are being evaluated, rewarded and punished largely on the basis of factors over which they have little or no control. This will not improve teaching or learning.

Worse than worst is that these measures incentivize lousy teaching even if all the other issues I cite were absent. I have not met a single teacher, public or private, who wants to "teach to the test." While politicians and bureaucrats blather on about accountability and data, teachers all know that there are much more important things to do in a classroom. But they can't do them. There isn't time.

Among the actual problems in American education is the sad reality that good teachers are leaving the profession in droves and that bright young folks are discouraged from entering it. In the powerful movie Race to Nowhere the most poignant moment, for me, was watching an energetic, charismatic young woman dissolve in tears as she described her decision to abandon the profession and the children she loved because she simply wasn't allowed to teach and could no longer bear it.

And why would anyone in her right mind want to be a teacher? Low pay, long, thankless hours of preparation and grading, ever-larger classes and demanding parents. Sounds like a dream job, eh? And now, at least in New York City, an opportunity to be publicly humiliated in the New York Times on the basis of flawed data with a 53% margin of error. Shall I sign you up?

This data-driven drivel is sucking the heart out of teaching and learning. If politicians or policy makers want to know who the good teachers are, they might spend some time in schools and watch the magical ones at work. The kids know who's good. Any principal worth her salt knows who's good. Teachers don't need metrics-driven scolding or public humiliation. They need good facilities, small classes, books and materials, professional development and moral support. This takes money, but all the big talkers refuse to spend any. It is, as I have sometimes quipped, as though policy makers think Hansel and Gretel will get stronger just by being weighed more often.

But given what's happening in New York City and many other places around the nation, pretty soon there just won't be any teachers left to kick around. What a tragedy.

These Billionaires and Millionaires sure are “Interested” in “Education Reform”

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Some readers may remember my earlier columns about the inter-connections between the various “Education Reform” leaders, organizations and the billionaires and millionaires that are funneling money into their efforts.

You may recall when Governor Malloy traveled to New York City to speak at some group’s annual meeting about economic development (although it was really a gala honoring charter school champion Jonathan Sackler). Malloy’s office responded that they had no idea it was a gala and that the Governor most definitely did speak about economic reform and most definitely did not stay to introduce the guest of honor (even though the organization’s newsletter announced that he was being invited for that very purpose).

Coming to Malloy defense was the Hartford Courant’s Rick Green who used the opportunity to mock me and the underlying issue that I was raising and went on to claim that it was absurd to suggest that Governor Malloy, charter school proponents and their wealthy investors were part of some vast conspiracy to push Malloy’s “Education Reform” legislation.

At the time I observed that while that particular terminology was his, not mine, it was rather clear to anyone monitoring the situation that the organizations that are pushing Malloy’s anti-teacher plan and the people funding that effort were – as the saying goes – “closely related entities.”

With the Education Committee voting on Malloy’s bill tomorrow or Wednesday it seem like a good time to go back and reiterate that point.

Achievement First
ConnCAN: CT Coalition for Achievement Now
CT Coalition for Advocacy Now
Students for Educational Reform
Teach for America CT
Stefan Pryor*
Nate Snow
(was with ConnCAN)
Dacia Toll*
Jonathan Sackler
Jonathan Sackler
Jonathan Sackler
Jonathan Sackler
Jonathan Sackler
Jonathan Sackler**
Brian Olson
Brian Olson
Brian Olson**
Alex Troy
Alex Troy
Alex Troy
Andrew Boas
Andrew Boas
Matt Kramer
Matt Kramer
Matt Kramer
Have lobbyists working to pass Malloy’s plan
Have lobbyists working to pass Malloy’s plan
Lobbyists moved to ConnCAN’s budget

Connecticut Council for Education Reform
New Education Reform Business group
Michelle Rhee
Have lobbyists working to pass Malloy’s plan
Have lobbyists working to pass Malloy’s plan

* Stefan Pryor and Dacia Toll led the effort to create the Amistad Academy and then created Achievement First as a vehicle for opening charter schools in Connecticut and New York. Achievement First presently runs 20 schools but their goal is to grow to 35 schools in the coming years so that they can be larger than “95 percent” of school districts in the United States. Stefan Pryor is now Malloy’s Commissioner of Education while Dacia Toll is now President and CEO of Achievement First

A Brief History of Connecticut’s Charter School and Education Reform Lobbying Effort.

·         Achievement First Inc. created in 2003 with Pryor, Toll and corporate executives Jonathan Sackler and Alex Troy.

·         Jonathan Sackler, Alex Troy and Brian Olson, another Fairfield County corporate executive, formed the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now Inc. (ConnCAN) in 2004. Jonathan Sackler served as Chairman and Alex Troy served as President of the Board.

·         Jonathan Sackler and Alex Troy then formed the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc.(ConnCAA) with Jonathan Sackler as Chairman and Alex Troy as Secretary. The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. retained the services of Gaffney, Bennett, one of the state’s premier government relations and lobby firms, and over the next 6 years paid them over $540,000 to lobby Connecticut’s elected officials.

·         Jonathan Sacker formed 50CAN Inc. in order to develop Coalition for Achievement Now chapters in other states. Jonathan Sackler serves as a Director of 50CAN and Marc Magee, who previously served as ConnCAN’s chief operating officer for six years, is the President of 50CAN. There are now CAN chapters in Rhode Island, Minnesota, New York and Maryland and they have announced that they will have 12 state campaigns by 2013 and at least 25 chapters by 2015. RI-CAN, 50CAN’s Rhode Island affiliate, implemented the recent public relations and lobbying effort to get approval for Achievement First to open schools in Providence, Rhode Island.

·         Today, Jonathan Sackler remains on Achievement First’s Board and 50CAN’s Board, Alex Troy serves as the Chairman of Achievement First’s Amistad Academy and the Elm City College Preparatory School, Andrew Boas, who served on Achievement First’s Board, now serves as Chairman of Achievement First – Bridgeport and also serves on ConnCAN’s Board. Brian Olson remains chairman of ConnCAN’s Board.

·         Students for Education Reform is a new coalition put together to support “Education Reform” efforts in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York and expanding to other states in the coming years. The Chair of the group is from KIPP. The KIPP foundation runs 109 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia serving more than 33,000 students.

·         In addition to recruiting and training teachers for charter and urban school districts, Teach for America – Connecticut Chapter has been working behind the scenes on Malloy’s plan and in support of the state’s efforts to take over the Bridgeport and Windham school systems.

·         Finally, calling themselves the “Connecticut Council for Education Reform” top executives from New Alliance Bank, The Hartford Insurance Company, UBS Private Wealth Office, Yale New Haven Hospital System, Webster Bank, The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, Nestle Waters North America, First Niagara Financial Group, Yale University, the Travelers Companies, Inc., the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, United Illuminating Holdings Corporation and GE Asset Management have joined together to hire staff and lobbyists to push Malloy’s “Education Reform” plan.

Sinead O’Conner Goes In On Trayvon Martin, Hip-Hop and The Black Community

I would like to extend my very deepest sympathies to the family and other loved ones of murdered teenager, Treyvon Martin. I am very sad today (and am certain the whole of Ireland is) to learn of poor Treyvon’s terrifying ordeal and horrified by the fact his known and named and admitted killer has not been arrested, despite the crime having taken place a month ago. This is a disgrace to the entire human race.

For those out there who believe black people to be less than pure royalty, let me inform you of a little known, but scientifically proven, many times over, FACT. Which after reading, you will hopefully feel both very stupid and very sorry. For you dishonor your own mothers and grandmothers.

EVERY human being on earth, no matter what their culture, creed, skin colour, or nationality, shares one gene traceable back to one African woman. Scientists have named it ‘The Eve Gene’. This means ALL of us, even ridiculously stupid, ignorant, perverted, blaspheming racists are the descendants of one African woman.

One African woman is the mother of all of us. Africa was the first world. You come from there! Your skin may be ‘white’.. because you didn’t need it to be black any more where you lived. But as Curtis Mayfield said.. “You’re just the surface of our dark, deep well”. So you’re being morons. And God is having the last laugh at your ignorant expense.

If you hate black people, its yourself you hate. And the mother who bore you. If you kill or wish ill on black people, its yourself you kill and wish ill on. As well as the mother who bore you.

When you dishonor the the utter glory and majesty of black people, you lie. Your heart lies to you and you let it. Despite seeing every day, all your life, how you and your country would be less than wonderfully functioning and inspiring to the world, without the manifold and glorious contributions made by the descendants of African slaves, who did not by the way actually ask to go to America and leave their future families there to be disrespected for eternity.

What are you doing hating yourself by hating your brothers and sisters who daily show you nothing but inspiration and love, despite having NOTHING, in their own country? Despite having barely a chance of anything, because of racism. Despite being granted no ‘permission’ for proper self-esteem.

These beautiful people continue to believe in and even manifest Jesus Christ better than you do. That alone could stand as the greatest reason your racism is blasphemy, were it not for all the other reasons.

These people you hate and fear ARE the body of Christ, just as we all are. Every child, woman or man. And they know it. Maybe thats why you cant bear to look at them. Because you see Jesus Christ and you cant stand the light.

Stop this ridiculous and uneducated attitude. You would be dead without black people. Think of all the greatest music ever composed. The greatest songs. The greatest inspirational heroes.. Muhammad Ali, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Soujourner Truth, Bob Marley, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield. So many absolute angels, sent from God.

Without the inspiration of these people many millions of so-called ‘white’ people, including myself would not have had the strength to pay the price of life.

And black youth in America. I’m talking to you here too. I love you. So I don’t mean to sound cross, I’m just being a mother.. Why are you killing each other? Why are you hating yourselves? You are the most important people God ever sent to this earth, every man, woman and child among you! Don’t let uneducated people win and take your self-esteem or your esteem for each other, and make you kill each other. over guns, drugs, bling, or any other nonsense.

You are now entering YOUR version of a sort of civil rights movement and you’re gonna see history being made in what has certainly the profoundest potential to become THE most wonderful country on earth. Because soon ALL ‘isms’ and ‘sits” will end. including racism, as the people of the earth begin to understand, we are all one.

We came from one mother. We are all brothers and sisters. And we CAN get beyond this ILLUSION of separateness. With prayer and love. It CAN change. It WILL change. And YOU guys (young people of all kinds) are the ones who are gonna GENTLY change it. And you know where it starts? With MUSIC.

Don’t be guided by rap. Gangsta or otherwise. Sure.. enjoy it.. adore I do.. but realize this.. rap ain’t about your civil or spiritual rights, baby boys and girls. It.. along with most music nowadays.. is about falsenesses and vanities. Bling, drugs, sex, guns and people- dissing. Its giving you the message you ain’t ‘good enough’ if you don’t have bling and ting.. and money. Or if you’re not what it deems ‘sexy’.

(This is true of all popular music not rap alone. I know. Its tragically true of all popular youth culture the world over).

Poor Curtis Mayfield must be crying all day and night ALL day and night in heaven, every day and night.. To see what has been so successfully achieved by those who sent guns, drugs, and bling to squash the civil rights movement. Now you all don’t have to be murdered by racists any more.. you’re murdering each other FOR them! And your parents and grandparents are left crying.

Go back to strong black musical guides who left you information in the 60s and 70s. when they were living through the civil rights struggle. Curtis Mayfield. The Impressions. Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson. Sing back the Holy Spirit ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, as those artists did.

Forget bling. Forget “Get Rich Or Die Trying”. That is an evil message. Evil my dears is only life backwards. Turn it the right way up. With music. The messages American black youth are being given through music are not about the spiritual and therefore strong and conquering but PEACEFUL making of YOUR country into the wonderful place it secretly is and can be.. BECAUSE OF YOU, and BY YOU!!

You know not how you are adored, appreciated, valued, loved, cried for,smiled for, prayed for, all over the world. You know not how much inspiration and uplift-ment of heart you give to millions just by your presence on earth.

These musical guides will give you self-esteem. When you have self-esteem you can achieve anything. You can stand in the street as many did yesterday and change your country peacefully and with song. Chant down Babylon as the Rastas say. Rastafari will also give you self esteem. Investigate it.

You will notice, my beautiful sons and daughters, when you study, as you must, footage of all civil rights gatherings, how singing and music and sound and voice and the Holy Spirit were all employed and were so much part of the energy which moved things along.. just as running was in the South African gatherings I saw on tv in my own childhood, which inspired me to survive my own horrors.

What you listen to musically and whether or not you employ the Holy Spirit’s highest will for your life is whats gonna make you transcend all you’re having to suffer (the worst of which is low self-esteem.. or esteem based upon material ‘success’ or ‘sexiness’)) as a result of being the descendants of people who didn’t ask to be stolen and leave you where you are. Delete bling. Get conscious with your music. Demand conscious music from your artists. Go back to the artists who left you proper guidance.

This is some serious stuff and we (all manner of musical artists) are too silent on matters of enormous spiritual importance. Lemme ask you.. Jayzee and Eminem et al. Why was it always the black people only worked in the post rooms of record companies, which was always in the basement? Why was it that as each floor went up the skins got paler till it was fuckin ghosts at the top? And all us artists.. even me.. said nothing? Those buildings (record companies) always struck me as being a microcosm or painting of America, racially speaking. Christ almighty.. if its like that in the music business how is anything ever going to change?

We, musical artists are too silent on important stuff. And it is our job to be the gate-keepers of truth. ALL the people of this earth must come together eventually and see that we are one. ALL artists must stand up. Black, white, yellow, green, pink, fucking polka dot.. and be a light in these times.

The world is going to shift massively this year.. spiritually speaking. Musical artists are to be a massive part of that shift. Get up, lets all of us. And light Jah fire.. and BE lights.

Where’s the fire gone from music? Where is the love? the oneness? The knowing that music CAN and WILL move things in the right spiritual direction without hatred or violence? We must box clever. Sing the devil to sleep at your feet. Thats what Curtis teaches. He is the master of ALL musical masters. forget, forget, forget and forget again bling and guns and drugs and the worship of fame and money. Its time to wake up. We KNOW the power of music. Why aren’t we using it to change anything important?

Musicians all over the world should now gently demand this child’s killer be arrested immediately and the family of Treyvon Martin be immediately apologized to upon bended knee. Frankly. I myself would like an apology! America is a country I love and adore. what this man has done is un-American in the most horrific extreme.

Him not being arrested is extremely embarrassing and does absolutely NOT paint the true picture of of a country and a people who for the 90% majority are the kindest, most loving, intelligent, and wonderful people you could know.

Please.. ALL Americans should deplore this crime. As should ALL people of ALL nations. And deplore the fact this man has not been arrested. All Irish people should do the same. And I ask that we here in Ireland should express through our American embassy that we would like to see this man arrested this very minute. Because racism is not acceptable. Nor is vigilantism. And this was very clearly in no way at all a case of self-defense.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Angry About High Gas Prices? Blame Shuttered Oil Refineries

The average price of gas is up more than 10 percent since the start of the year, a point repeatedly made during Wednesday’s Republican Presidential debate. Predictably, the four GOP candidates blamed President Barack Obama for the steep increase.
Actually, the President doesn’t have that kind of pricing power. The more likely reason behind the price increase, though certainly less compelling as a political argument, is the recent spate of refinery closures in the U.S. Over the past year, refineries have faced a classic margin squeeze. Prices for Brent crude have gone up, but demand for gasoline in the U.S. is at a 15-year low. That means refineries haven’t been able to pass on the higher prices to their customers.
As a result, companies have chosen to shut down a handful of large refineries rather than continue to lose money on them. Since December, the U.S. has lost about 4 percent of its refining capacity, says Fadel Gheit, a senior oil and gas analyst for Oppenheimer. That month, two large refineries outside Philadelphia shut down: Sunoco’s plant in Marcus Hook, Pa., and a ConocoPhillips plant in nearby Trainer, Pa. Together they accounted for about 20 percent of all gasoline produced in the Northeast.
This week, Hovensa finished shutting down its refinery in St. Croix. The plant processed 350,000 barrels of crude a day, and yet lost about $1.3 billion over the past three years, or roughly $1 million a day. The St. Croix plant got hit with a double whammy of pricing pressure. Not only did it face higher prices for Brent crude, but it also lacked access to cheap natural gas, a crucial raw material for refineries. Without the advantage of low natural gas prices, which are down 50 percent since June 2011, it’s likely that more refineries would have had to shut down.
The U.S. refining industry is being split in two. On one hand are the older refineries, mostly on the East Coast, which are set up to handle only the higher quality Brent “sweet” crude–a benchmark of oil that comes from a blend of 15 oil fields in the North Sea. Brent is easier to refine, since it has a low sulfer content, though it’s gotten considerably more expensive recently. (Certainly another reason for higher gas prices.)
Then there are the plants that are able to refine the heavier, cheaper sour crude–the stuff that comes from Western Canada, the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, and South America. These refineries tend to be clustered in the Midwest–places such as Oklahoma, Louisiana, and outside Chicago. These refineries also tend to have access to West Texas Intermediate crude, a grade of sweet oil similar to Brent, but that is produced in North America. Refineries on the East Coast lack access to WTI, leaving them at a disadvantage. While the price of Brent crude has closed at over $120 a barrel in recent days, WTI is trading at closer to $106. That simple differential is the reason older refineries on the East Coast are hemorrhaging cash and shutting down, while refineries in the Midwest are flourishing.
“The U.S. refining industry is undergoing a huge, regional transformation,” says Ben Brockwell, a director at Oil Price Information Services. “If you look at refinery utilization rates in the Midwest and Great Lakes areas, they’re running at close to 95 percent capacity, and on the East Coast it’s more like 60 percent,” he says.
This is primarily why the cheapest gas prices in the country are found in such states as Colorado, Utah, Montana, and New Mexico, while New York, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., have some of the highest prices.

US police arrest dozens of 99-percenters in New York

US police forces have clashed with Occupy protesters in New York City, arresting dozens of the 99-percenters on the sixth-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, Press TV reports.

The police stormed the crowd of protesters on Saturday night and arrested those 99-percenters who tried to reoccupy the Zuccotti Park, the focal point of the anti-Wall Street campaign in New York's financial district.

The protesters sat down and locked their arms as officers moved in at about 11:30 p.m.

The 99-percenters chanted, “We are not afraid” as the police began pulling people from the crowd, one by one, and leading them out of the park in handcuffs.

On Saturday evening, the protesters grew larger in numbers as several dozen police ringed the park.

Earlier in the day, the demonstrators had marched on nearby Wall Street, where the police made another unspecified number of arrests.

The protesters use the slogan, "We are the 99 percent" to distinguish themselves from the one percent of Americans who are in possession of the greatest portion of the nation's wealth.

The Occupy movement, emerged after a group of people on September 17 rallied in New York's financial district under the motto of 'Occupy Wall Street,' protesting corruption, poverty as well as social inequality in the US.

Obama Can Stop This Travesty

by EdwardBerger on March 17, 2012

In response to

Todney, thank you for your comments. It is becoming obvious to me that the extreme right has mounted a campaign in most if not all states to take over education by discrediting teachers, schools and the American education system. Groups like ALEC, run by corporate powers who want access to our education tax dollars, and some religious groups, together with Santorum-type mentalities, are already established inside, and in control of, many state legislatures. They form a major lobby writing legislation and forcing their greed-driven views on most states. The IRS has cowered under their political and corporate power and refused to hold them to the laws governing non-profit corporations. I support Obama, but he can stop this takeover and subversion of the democratic process. He can, but he has supported these Bush-era movements.

What concerns me most is that there are few educators, such as yourself, who are informing the public about this takeover of our elected officials and, I’m sorry to say, the “Republicans” who control states. That said, the desire to capture education tax dollars and run our schools has been around for a long time. It was held in check by intelligent and public-serving politicians from both political parties.

Opposition to these greed-driven movements should come from the democrats, independents and republicans who represent the best interests of America, the children, teachers, and public education. In my state, Arizona, only one democrat is controlled by ALEC. The rest cower and go along with ALEC’s corporate written legislation and lobbying. Major corporations like Coca-Cola, Kraft, public utilities – the list is public through Common Cause, etc. – also bully the IRS into ignoring violations. That suggests lack of leadership from the top.

Educators are used to closing the door and entering a comfortable world under their control. Many do not understand the need for their involvement in fighting for kids and fellows. Many will lose their jobs. (Look Away While Teachers Are Crucified, blog.)

There are educators who speak out. Diane Ravitch is a hero. We need to identify others, like you, and get teachers and community leaders aware of what is happening. In many states, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Connecticut, Kansas, New York, as examples, educators will act when they know the gravity of this travesty.

Of great concern to me are the actions of the USDOE. Obama appointees are carrying-out the wrongs done by the GW Bush agenda. Arne Duncan and others refer to teachers as “labor”. They see education through the filters of Industrial Age concepts – Labor-Management language, conferences about labor-management, and the subtle degradation of the teaching profession. Without diagnosing the problems, the USDOE is forcing privatization of education on the American people, even though significant evidence exists of how partial schools destroy interdisciplinary comprehensive, fact-based education utilizing essential curriculum. Obama can stop this, but he has not.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fight For Real Reform in CT!

Reform Alert

Management, business, and charter groups recently claimed to separate the myths from the facts regarding the Governor’s Education Bill #24. However, their claims fall on deaf ears because there are real and dramatic consequences for teachers in the governor’s bill—consequences that we have detailed in these Critical Questions and Answers Regarding the Governor’s Education Bill No. 24.

Michelle Rhee, the divisive former head of the Washington, D.C., School System, has brought her group to our state. Rhee’s Connecticut blitz included a rally in Hartford today. Contrary to its name (StudentsFirst), her group seeks to undermine high-quality public education with the imposition of one-size fits all approaches. Please see
this statement released to the press by CEA today.

CEA’s new TV ad launches tomorrow. It says that Governor Malloy’s Education Bill #24 does not get reform right. It takes control away from school districts and gives it to the state education commissioner, allows principals to decide which teachers are certified, and siphons tax dollars away from neighborhood schools.

Remember to contact your legislators, especially if they are on the Education Committee, and ask them to eliminate proposals in the Governor’s Education Bill No. 24 that would weaken high-quality education for our students. Please tell them to fix the governor’s bill to:

· Restore collective bargaining rights.

· Separate evaluation from certification and salary schedules.

· Maintain the Master’s Degree for Professional Certificates.

· Restore local control rather than enabling decisions about local schools to be made by one state education commissioner.

· Preserve scarce resources for neighborhood schools instead of diverting tax dollars to charter schools that don’t have the same standards.

If your legislators are not members of the Education Committee, urge them to discuss your concerns with Education Committee members. Contact your state senator and state representative using the link and phone numbers below.

Senate Democrats 1-800-842-1420 Senate Republicans 1-800-842-1421
House Democrats 1-800-842-1902 House Republicans 1-800-842-1423

The governor, business-backed groups, and other privately funded organizations are lobbying legislators to act on their behalf. We, as teachers, need to be persistent and unwavering in our commitment to ensure education reform gets done right.

Finally, we hope you will join us in being heartened that NEA President Dennis Van Roekel is well aware of our legislative challenge here in CT. He already has provided and will continue to provide his tangible and strong support to our efforts.

Phil Apruzzese Mary Loftus Levine
CEA President CEA Executive Director

Sunday, March 11, 2012

@teachermant I'm enjoying following your opinions! It is good to hear a voice stand up for us teachers. -- tanda (@tnbellenct)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Call to action! Education has to be the priority! Click like on my Battlegrounds page. the hundreds who have... -- todney harris (@teachermant)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Be sure to like Battlegrounds: America's War in Education and Finance and stay current about our educational system. Thanks for your support!!

Value-Added Evaluation Hurts Teaching

Here’s the hype: New York City’s “worst teacher” was recently singled out and so labeled by the New York Post after the city’s education department released value-added test-score ratings to the media for thousands of city teachers, identifying each by name.

The tabloid treatment didn’t stop there. Reporters chased down teacher Pascale Mauclair, the subject of the “worst teacher” slam, bombarding her with questions about her lack of skill and commitment. They even went to her father’s home and told him his daughter was among the worst teachers in the city.

Now the facts: Mauclair is an experienced and much-admired English-as-a-second-language teacher. She works with new immigrant students who do not yet speak English at one of the city’s strongest elementary schools. Her school, PS 11, received an A from the city’s rating system and is led by one of the city’s most respected principals, Anna Efkarpides, who declares Mauclair an excellent teacher. She adds: “I would put my own children in her class.”

Most troubling is that the city released the scores while warning that huge margins of error surround the ratings: more than 30 percentile points in math and more than 50 percentile points in English language arts. Soon these scores will be used in a newly negotiated evaluation system that, as it is designed, will identify most teachers in New York state as less than effective.

Is this what we want to achieve with teacher-evaluation reform?

Everyone agrees that teacher evaluation in the United States needs an overhaul. Although successful systems exist, most districts are not using approaches that help teachers improve or remove those who cannot improve in a timely way. Clearly, we need a change.

"As in other professions, good evaluation starts with rigorous, ongoing assessment by experts who review teachers’ instruction based on professional standards."

As student learning is the primary goal of teaching, it seems like common sense to evaluate teachers based on how much their students gain on state standardized tests. Indeed, many states have adopted this idea in response to federal incentives tied to much-needed funding.

However, previous experience is not promising. Recently evaluated experiments in Tennessee and New York did not improve achievement when teachers were evaluated and rewarded based on student test scores. In the District of Columbia, contrary to expectations, reading scores on national tests dropped and achievement gaps grew after a new test-based teacher-evaluation system was installed. In Portugal, a study of test-based merit pay attributed score declines to the negative effects of teacher competition, leading to less collaboration and sharing of knowledge.

I was once bullish on the idea of using “value-added methods” for assessing teacher effectiveness. I have since realized that these measures, while valuable for large-scale studies, are seriously flawed for evaluating individual teachers, and that rigorous, ongoing assessment by teaching experts serves everyone better. Indeed, reviews by the National Research Council, the RAND Corp., and the Educational Testing Service have all concluded that value-added estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make high-stakes decisions about teachers.


First, test-score gains—even using very fancy value-added models—reflect much more than an individual teacher’s effort, including students’ health, home life, and school attendance, and schools’ class sizes, curriculum materials, and administrative supports, as well as the influence of other teachers, tutors, and specialists. These factors differ widely in rich and poor schools.

Second, teachers’ ratings are highly unstable: They differ substantially across classes, tests, and years. Teachers who rank at the bottom one year are more likely to rank above average the following year than to rate poorly again. The same holds true for teachers at the top. If the scores truly measured a teacher’s ability, these wild swings would not occur.

Third, teachers who rate highest on the low-level multiple-choice tests currently in use are often not those who raise scores on assessments of more-challenging learning. Pressure to teach to these fill-in-the-bubble tests will further reduce the focus on research, writing, and complex problem-solving, areas where students will need to compete with their peers in high-achieving countries.

But, most importantly, these test scores largely reflect whom a teacher teaches, not how well they teach. In particular, teachers show lower gains when they have large numbers of new English-learners and students with disabilities than when they teach other students. This is true even when statistical methods are used to “control” for student characteristics.

For this reason, Chris Steinhauser, the superintendent in award-winning Long Beach, Calif., where schools have been nationally recognized for progress in closing the achievement gap, refuses to include state test scores in teacher evaluations. He points to one of the district’s expert veteran teachers, who routinely takes the highest-need 4th graders. Because she can move such students forward where others often cannot, they gain much more than they otherwise would. Meanwhile, other teachers who have easier classes can experience greater success, and everyone wins.

"These test scores largely reflect whom a teacher teaches, not how well they teach."

Penalizing such a teacher for taking on the toughest assignment does not make sense. Rather, Steinhauser has spread this model to other schools, allocating the best talent to the neediest students and supporting teacher collaboration.

Similarly, Singapore’s minister of education explained at last year’s International Teaching Summit that his country would never rank teachers by student test scores because doing so would create the wrong incentives and undermine collaboration, which is emphasized in Singapore’s schools and teacher-evaluation system. In fact, no country in the world evaluates its teachers based on annual test-score gains.

Yet this has not stopped some policymakers in the United States from forging ahead. In Houston, where teachers are dismissed or rewarded based substantially on value-added scores, teachers can find little relationship between what they do and how they rate each year. As one put it: “I teach the same way every year. [My] first year got me pats on the back. [My] second year got me kicked in the backside. And for year three, my scores were off the charts. I got a huge bonus. What did I do differently? I have no clue.”

Among many teachers recently dismissed was a 10-year veteran who had been voted “teacher of the year.” Rated each year as “exceeding expectations,” she showed positive value-added scores in most subjects every year, except for the year she taught 4th grade, when English-language learners, or ELLs, are mainstreamed in Houston. The pattern of lower scores in classes with large numbers of ELLs is well known. As another teacher said: “I’m scared I might lose my job if I teach in an [ELL] transition-grade level, because my scores are going to drop, and I’m scared I’m going to get fired.” When teachers avoid these classes, high-need students are increasingly taught by less effective novices.

So what’s the alternative? As in other professions, good evaluation starts with rigorous, ongoing assessment by experts who review teachers’ instruction based on professional standards. Evaluators look at classroom practice, plus evidence of student outcomes from classroom work and school or district assessments. Studies show that feedback from this kind of evaluation improves student achievement, because it helps teachers get better at what they do. Systems that sponsor peer assistance and review programs also identify poor teachers, provide them intensive help, and effectively remove them if they don’t improve.

If we really want to improve teaching, we should look to such districts for models of effective evaluation, as well as to high-performing countries that have professionalized teaching by ensuring excellent preparation, on-the-job collaboration, and ongoing professional learning.

Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun professor of education at Stanford University and co-director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Her latest book is The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future (Teachers College Press, 2010).