Monday, May 28, 2012

Holy Mackerel!What a Difference!



........and which country do I get when I have a technical problem with my computer?

Is Democracy in Crisis? (Ravi Agrawal)

By Ravi Agrawal, CNN

I was browsing through the website of the magazine Foreign Affairs when I came across an article titled “The Present Crisis in Democracy.” The author describes dire times: a world “in a state of hysteria” where an “intoxication of unusual prosperity” was followed by “the harassing uncertainty of the depression.”

From finance boom to housing bust, it reads like a description of inept governance in the last decade.

But it’s not. The article was written in 1934 by Lawrence Lowell, a former president of Harvard University and frequent contributor to Foreign Affairs.

It turns out we’ve always talked about a “crisis in democracy.” A Google search of the phrase throws up articles written not only from the past few years, but from almost every decade of the 20th century.

Lowell began his essay 78 years ago by stating that we have enough examples to estimate democracy’s effectiveness because the extension of suffrage had “reached its limit in several large nations.” He was, of course, ignoring much of the world. At the time, India was undemocratic; it is now the world’s largest democracy. Most of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were yet to fully realize self-determination; that has changed, and is still changing further.

Eight decades later, the world is in a much better position to pass judgment on democracy — although one could argue the prognosis is especially dire. A Gallup poll from September shows that Americans feel a historic negativity toward government, both Democrats and Republicans. A record 81% said they were dissatisfied with the way the country was being governed.

This has already been a year of electoral upheaval. Greece’s George Papandreou and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy have lost their jobs. Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi was forced out in November. Incumbents the world over have record-low approval ratings. Many countries head to polls this year; more churn is inevitable.

But isn’t that democracy’s work at its finest? Is churn not a vital ingredient in refreshing good governance?

History suggests it is. But the difference right now is a sense of despair over the tools that democracy offers, that it’s proving incapable of solving the current fiscal crisis. In my previous article on this series, I wrote of how populism can often stand in the way of solving economic problems. From Nigeria’s stalled economic reforms to India’s spluttering growth, democratic answers seem hard to come by. The euro’s problems seem almost intractable; and in the U.S., investors nervously await another partisan battle over the debt ceiling.

Perhaps the strongest case against democracy comes out of Italy. As Fareed Zakaria put it in an interview last week with Prime Minister Mario Monti, democracy had to be “suspended” to solve Italy’s troubles. Is the fact that Italy had to turn to an unelected economist not the surest sign that Western democracy is truly in crisis?

Monti’s answer is instructive.

“The reason why democracies are very poor these days,” he said, “is that democracies, like markets, have become much too short-term.

“The combination of very important media, of frequent elections, of even social networks which tend to polarize people towards more extreme positions, has the consequence that in democracies, politicians… tend to embark on solutions that imply short-term costs and longer-term benefits with great reluctance, and only when they are faced with an actual huge crisis.”

So it seems the answer is this: Democracies need an absolute power who forces us to eat our vegetables.

What of models only loosely based on representative democracy? Monti says the Chinese alternative is an option, because it projects itself and its decisions into the longer term. But it comes at a cost.

“It would be a very sad conclusion if we were to need to reduce the rate of democracy in order to get better government,” Monti said.

China, of course, has its own troubles, with as many as 500 protests taking place every day around the country.

During the recent scandal over the ouster of Bo Xilai, the disgraced party secretary from Chongqing, a little-known fact emerged. Beijing had not revealed its income gap statistics in more than a decade. But Bo let them slip, telling reporters in March that China’s gini coefficient had exceeded 0.46. (The index measures inequality: 0 indicates everyone is perfectly equal, and 1 indicates one person has all the wealth; anything above 0.4 is considered dangerously high, creating conditions ripe for social unrest.)

Democracy has forever been messy. The solution to its crises is more of the same medicine: more dialogue, more debate, more democracy. Perhaps the greatest endorsement of people power comes from those who don’t have it. The revolutions of the Arab Spring show that millions of people who have experienced autocracies or dictatorships yearn for the freedoms that come with the right to vote. More than anyone else, they know that the alternative is far worse.

Winston Churchill had it right, all the way back in 1947: “Democracy is the worst form of government … except for all the others.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Highlights SB24


1.)     1000 new pre-school slots

2.)    K-3 Reading assessments implemented (more testing for our kids)

3.)    10 family resource centers established in Alliance Districts (low performing)

4.)    20 School based health clinics established in Alliance Districts

5.)    $200,000. Grants to districts to hire up to 5 students who are in top 10% of college class in a teacher prep program

6.)    School Performance Index will be utilized (Testing) Schools will be labeled from 1 to 5 with those labeled 4 and 5 to be the low performing districts/schools (called “Focus” schools) and will  get intensified supervision and direction from SBE

7.)    What can happen to these low schools/districts---(d) Commissioner can direct the transfer and assignment of teachers and principals (G)Commissioner identifies schools for re-constitution to state or local charter schools or management by an entity other than the local BOE (k) students may attend public schools in a neighboring district (n) require the appointment of a superintendent approved by the Commissioner (person does not need to be certified)

8.)    Commissioner may reconstitute BOE’s (this is un-American)

9.)    Commissioner has IMMENSE powers

10.)  School Governance Councils must be established for low achieving schools—made up of 7 parents, 2 community leaders, 5 teachers, 1 non-voting Principal or designee and 2 non-voting students—in Elementary and Middle Schools the students are not included

11.)  BOE must train members of the Governance Council—this group has the power to recommend re-constitution of schools

12.)  Commissioners Network Schools – (participate for 3 years)—He will select up to 25 schools classified as 4’s or 5’s—(the local BOE’s will establish a turn-around committee for these schools) 2 appointed by BOE—one admin and one parent—3 appointed by Union 2 teachers and 1 parent and 1 Commissioners designee---the local Superintendent or designee shall be a non-voting member and will Chair the Committee

13.) Any non-profit shall continue the enrollment policies and practices that were in effect prior to their participation in Network Schools

14.) Elementary and MS must have 90 minutes of Math a day and 120 minutes of literacy

15.) All teacher at same grade level must meet weekly to plan lessons

16.) Once a week teachers must meet with Team Leaders/Principal to discuss Data

17.) Tests must be given to students every two weeks and District-wide assessments must be given every 6 weeks (testing—testing—testing)

18.) The turnaround models are: COMMPACT Schools, Management by SERC or a higher education institution or an Educational Management Organization –only 6 of the 25 schools can go to Non-profits—Commissioner may appoint a “Special Master”

19.) Collective Bargaining stays

20.) On or after July 1, 2012 and before July 1, 2017 the SBE shall not approve more than 4 applications for new state charter schools

21.) Commissioner shall designate 30 school districts (not schools) as ALLIANCE districts—this designation stays for 5 years

22.) 8 to 10 school districts will participate in a teacher evaluation/support Pilot program (districts must apply to participate prior to May 25, 2012)

23.) Charter school funding increased to the detriment of public school children

24.) There will be a “Distinguished Educator Designation”

25.) New teachers will be required to do 4 semesters in the classroom after July 1, 2015

26.) Evaluation Systems require training for evaluators and orientation for teachers

27.) Local BOE’s may hire Superintendents that are not certified

28.) In order for a teacher to obtain tenure they must be deemed as an effective teacher based on the evaluation system and recommended by the Superintendent

29.) Teachers do not lose tenure once obtained but if deemed ineffective may be terminated

The information above was garnered by reading the final bill that passed the legislature---these are the findings of Tom Burns –Union VP and are submitted for your perusal—If you have any questions feel free to call the Union Office at 203-773-0266 or send me an email—

Although I have some concerns with the Bill (too much emphasis on testing and too much power for the Commissioner)---in general we have come out in a decent place—Sharon Palmer (our AFT-CT President) and her staff did a great job ---and we in CT have slowed down the corporate take-over of public education---for all of you who attended the rallies and/or have contacted your legislators, I want to say thank you----

Tom Burns—Executive VP and Grievance Chairperson

Same Sex Marriages (Todney Harris)

Recently, President Obama stated his opinion regarding same sex marriages publicly.  Before I start to speak about my opinions regarding his statements, I want to say for the record that I do not oppose civil unions between gay men and lesbian women.  My reason for taking this stance is due to the fact that I am approaching the subject as a taxpayer and a citizen.  I think that the issue of same sex marriages should be looked upon as a political issue and not as a religious issue.  Case in point, couples need a marriage license in order to wed don’t they?  As couples decide to separate and divorce, they need to contract lawyers and get approval from a judge in order to make the divorce official right?  As far as I am concerned, marriage is a legal enterprise that is recognized by the state.  Pastors and other church clergy just make the ceremony official by conducting the service in a church, synagogue or mosque.  The reason why states consider marriages legal entities is due to the fact that each spouse is responsible for taxes and debt that they collect while married.

The second issue that I feel is of the utmost importance is that same sex marriages are legal in nine states thus far.  I have not heard any citizens or church clergy turning against the Governors.  The governors had to sign the bill into law which recognizes civil same sex unions Where is the backlash for their actions?  Hmmm…..I wonder….. does the fact that President Obama is an African American male have anything to do with the national backlash that is happening?  Furthermore, since I feel that same sex marriages are a political issue, why are the religious institutions making a huge issue at this particular time?  Most importantly, the religious institutions are politicizing the issue!  Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!  Once again my point is being proven.  If this were not an election year, I feel that the religious institutions would not take this current stance.  It seems that people are out to take shots at President Obama whenever they can. 

All I can say is that I am really annoyed with the African American churches.  As far as I am concerned, this is an act of betrayal. Why are the pastors speaking out the civil unions on CNN?  Why didn’t they speak out when the Governor’s legalized same sex marriages?  The Constitution states that every person is entitled to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The Constitution also states that citizens cannot be denied of the right to life and property.  Therefore, gay men and lesbian women should be afforded the right to engage in civil union.  Most of them have been engaged in civil unions for years.  Why all of a sudden are clergy acting as if by granting them legality that civil unions will increase?  In reality, the official recognition is just already giving them the legal status that they have been seeking.  Hell, they deserve the right to be miserable just like everyone else in a long term relationship!  No, just kidding!  All I am saying is that it is what it is.  We need to stop acting like this is something new.  It isn’t.  The President isn’t going to stop gay and lesbian relationships if he endorses them or not.  Get over the nonsense and let the issue work itself out on its own.

The Real Reason Why Education is Failing...(Todney Harris)

For those of you who have been following my progression with my blog, my book entitled Battlegrounds: America’s War in Education and Finance outlines key issues as to what is “broken” in the educational system and what “remedies” can be applied to not necessarily fix or solve every issue but make some meaningful changes that could have considerable effect in the future.  After lengthy and considerable conversations with colleagues, I feel the need to make a statement that I have not made in the book.  At this juncture, I feel that the overall denigration of American culture has contributed significantly to the denigration of our educational system.

After careful consideration, it is my humble opinion that the one factor that politicians and pundits have not spoken about is the lack of respect that currently exists for the institution as a whole.  Asian and Indian cultures do not suffer from this issue at all.  One thing is for certain; a lack of respect for elders, and teachers in general is not tolerated whatsoever.  Culturally, all sectors of society support education and schools in general.  

America and its leaders need to understand this philosophy.  I have an important question:  How are the educators in society expected to compensate for the weaknesses ingrained our culture?  I have already explained in my book that everything that happens in America finds its way into a classroom.  I just don’t understand how educators are expected to solve the inequities of poverty and teach students concurrently?  It is public information throughout the halls of our government is that parents cannot be legislated.  There will never be a law that makes parents accountable for raising their children.  In addition, there is no way that American culture can be legislated as well.

As a proud teacher, I will defend my progeny to my last breath.  I am aware of the educational gaps that exist between poor and rich students.  Once again, educators are not responsible for the condition of poverty.  Yet we are expected to solve the issues.  In my book I have made it perfectly clear that the institution of education cannot be reformed without reforming the institution of Capitalism first!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Battlegrounds Book Excerpt

Economic factors

Poverty is an issue that plagues all races of people in America. People who live under the conditions of poverty did not wake up one day and say to themselves, I am going to be poor and my family members including my children are going to be poor as well.  In my humble opinion if a person does not have any experience with poverty and its conditions, then a person cannot comment.  The rich or elite members of American society are especially ignorant of the poor.  I remember watching Spike Lee’s HBO special on the aftermath of the Katrina natural disaster.  The people of Louisiana were displaced and suffering.  The poor people who did not have the means to leave Louisiana who did not have the means to leave were all forced to seek shelter in the Superdome.  The Superdome is the arena that the professional football team uses for its games.  Former first lady Barbara Bush and former President George H. bush referred to the citizens of Louisiana as “refugees”.  How can people who live in America and pay taxes be referred to as refugees?  Another comment that former first lady Barbara Bush stated was that  they are probably living better in the Superdome that what they did in their original homes.  This is just one example of extreme poverty and the response by the elite members of society.  In order to understand why poverty exists in America, I think that it is time for people in America to learn once again how the economic system in America functions.  Once that information is learned, then people can begin to conceptualize how serious poverty and its ramifications are on American society. 

I would like to start by speaking about capitalism.  First, I want to define it.  Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for a private profit; decisions regarding supply, demand, price, distribution, and investments are made by private actors in the free market; profit is sent to owners who invest in businesses, and wages are paid to workers employed by businesses and companies. 

In essence, Great Britain and America were pure capitalist countries prior to the Industrial Revolution.  The owners of industry operated without any government intervention.  The term is “Laissez-faireis the term used to describe the marketplace without any government intervention, but pure capitalism has its limits.  America today is a mixed economy.  There is some government regulation of a few major industries.  Government intervention has been required due to recession and worker demands for equal pay and equal rights.   

Conn. House approves education overhaul bill 149-0

HARTFORD -- Connecticut lawmakers have given final legislative approval to a wide-ranging bill that attempts to overhaul the state's public education and attempt to close one of the nation's largest achievement gaps between rich and poor.

The House of Representatives passed the bill Tuesday night on a 149-to--0 vote, erupting in cheers. It now moves to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy desk. The Democratic governor first pushed for legislation, which includes everything from targeted help and resources for failing schools and changes to state teacher tenure rules.

Initially, teachers' unions clashed with Malloy over the bill. But eventually, a compromise between the legislature and the governor was reached late on Monday night.

Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, the co-chairman of the Education Committee, called the bill "a giant leap that is long overdue."

Connecticut's teachers' unions had expressed relief on Tuesday after the Senate passed a compromise education overhaul bill that leaders said is a marked improvement from legislation first proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a plan the unions believed was akin to reforms offered by Republican governors in other states.

Officials from the state's two major unions credited their members with fighting off some of Malloy's original proposals, such as allowing the state's commissioner to take over a school, negate existing union contracts and allow greater privatization of struggling schools.

"We're really the only state that has stopped this. I don't know of anybody who has stopped this. It's amazing, it really is," said Mary Luftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. "It's different because it's done by maintaining teachers' rights, being extremely collaborative and it's research-based reform -- all of which we have been advocating for from the beginning."

The legislation was expected to pass the House of Representatives on Tuesday evening.

"I feel like we should have been doing this for a long time," said Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, of the overhaul efforts. "It wasn't until the state got embarrassed that the state decided to do something about this. It just baffles me the way we've operated."

Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said the bill finally puts the state on the right path.

"No longer are we going to accept chronically underperforming schools," he said. "That is a good day for the state of Connecticut."

Senate Balks at Taking up Student Loan Bill

By Jennifer Liberto@CNNMoneyMay 8, 2012: 12:41 PM ET

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- With federal student loan interest rates set to double July 1, the Senate failed Tuesday to get enough votes to take up a bill to extend low 3.4% rates for another year.

The vote was 52-45 to take up the bill, 8 fewer than the 60 needed to officially start debating the bill. Senate Republicans and Democrats are still negotiating a compromise, and the Senate could vote again this week. Guide to student loans

In Washington, many lawmakers in both parties agree they'd like to extend the current 3.4% rates for another year. What they don't agree on is how to offset the $6 billion it would cost to do so -- a substantial hurdle.

House Republicans passed a measure that would pay for extending the lower student loan rate by cutting from a health care fund that promotes preventive care. President Obama vowed to veto that bill.

President Obama and Senate Democrats want to pay for the measure by eliminating some tax benefits for small business owners.

Senate Republicans say the Democrats aren't serious about extending low rates, that they're just looking for political campaign material this summer.

"Rather than prevent an increase in student loan rates, they want to check a political box," wrote Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in an op-ed piece in Politico on Tuesday.

If Congress doesn't act by July 1, more than 7 million undergraduates taking out federally subsidized loans to cover next year's tuition will have to dig deeper in their pockets to pay them off.

The average cost to students would be $1,000 in increased student loan debt, according to the White House.

While the issue has been brewing for months, President Obama turned it into a big political flashpoint, using the issue to stump for votes. His Republican rival Mitt Romney says he, too, believes Congress should step in.

With subsidized student loans, the federal government absorbs some of the interest rate for lower- and middle-income families based on financial need.

Most students, including graduates, pay 6.8% on so-called subsidized Stafford loans.

But in 2007, lawmakers temporarily cut the rate for undergraduates taking out those loans up to the 2011 school year. The lower rates were phased in, so students have really only enjoyed the lowest 3.4% rate on subsidized federal loans for one school year. The 2007 law allowed interest rates to revert back to 6.8% for the 2012-2013 school year starting July 1.

0:00/1:26Students protest for lower loan rates

Students are paying close attention to the issue. With unemployment just below 24% for teenagers and 14% for those ages 20 to 24, more young people are going back to school or staying in school, according to recent data by Equifax.

Additionally, more students struggle to pay back these loans. Student loan delinquencies with payments more than three months late rose 14.6% in 2011 from the year before, according to Equifax.

One student financial loan expert, Jason Delisle of the left-leaning New America Foundation, points out that there are programs already in existence that ease the repayment burden for unemployed and under employed graduates. He thinks the federal government can help more students in other ways -- such as maintaining funds for Pell Grants going to lower-income students.

Delisle points out that even the 6.8% interest rate is also a subsidized rate that's lower than what students will find on the private market.

"You're spending a big chunk of money, and it's a very diffuse, back-end loaded subsidy," Delisle said. "A 3.4% interest rate is very, very heavily subsidized. This is going to be something students will benefit from a long period of time, and some of them don't need it at all."