The Trump Era Begins: Do We “Fight Back,” Regardless of the Economic and Social Consequences, or, Try and “Educate” the New President And Work Along Side of Him for the Betterment of the Nation? Which Side Are You On?

On a gray, misty day Donald Trump put his hand on a Lincoln bible and become the 45th President of the United States. As he took the oath the rains began, perhaps a message from the heavens.

His inauguration address was brief and more of a campaign speech;  the verbiage was somewhat disturbing. The President used the term  “American First” a number of times, (“We assembled here today and are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first— America first.”).  For those of us with a sense of history we remember that the “America First” movement was virulently  isolationist,  anti-war and sympathetic to Hitler.  An outspoken supporter of America First was Father Coughlin,

For years, Coughlin had publicly derided “international bankers,” a phrase that most of his listeners understood to mean Jewish bankers. In the days and weeks after Kristallnacht, Coughlin defended the state-sponsored violence of the Nazi regime, arguing that Kristallnacht was justified as retaliation for Jewish persecution of Christians.

Trump’s view of our nation as an “American carnage” is chilling,

for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge. And the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

If he followed the passage above with a program, with a plan of some sort he may have started a national dialogue, instead, a  dystopian view of our nation.  Frighteningly, he sounds like the Philippine leader Dutarte who is encouraging the extra judicial  murder of drug dealers.

NPR published an excellent annotated  copy of the Trump inaugural address: Read here.

On Saturday I joined the throng, the massive crowd that gathered around the United Nations and eventually paraded across 42nd Street and up Fifth Avenue to Trump Tower.  The elderly, the young,  the children, men and women, all colors, all ethnicities, it was amazing, and, enormously exhilarating.  The signs were a little over the top, a few emphasizing the owner of a body part unique to one gender, or  a vulgar term that can be used as many parts of speech to express extreme emotion, others dealing with equity, justice, espousing the basic ideals of our democracy.  I chatted with stranger after stranger, upbeat, willing to fight the threat hovering over us all.

The post inauguration ceremonies were distasteful to me, too much like what our first Congress feared, a president looking more like a king. The anti-federalists called George Washington, “King George,” and Washington who was extremely sensitive to the fears of the nation avoided the appearance of royalty. Not so our current President who appears to revel in adulation.

Saturday Night Live (SNL) was hysterical.  Watch it here.

Within minutes of the swearing in, the assumption of the office of president, President Trump issued a number of executive orders, one of which begins the disassembling of the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare.

A presidential aide floated a replacement for the ACA that could result radical changes, including block grants to states in lieu of the current support for Medicare/Medicaid. Read details here.

The battle over the cabinet confirmations will continue throughout the next week or so. The Republican Senate leadership does not seem to be on the same page as the President.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary nominee, at his confirmation hearing, said,

“Honoring the U.S. debt is the most important thing. … I would like us to raise the debt ceiling sooner rather than later,” Steven Mnuchin said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday. It’s one of the first issues Mnuchin will have to address as Treasury Secretary, should he be confirmed.

The Freedom Caucus, the Tea Party gang in the House are adamantly opposed to raising the debt ceiling without steep cuts in federal  spending.

No matter what President Trump says the one indicator he cannot deny is the stock market. Within hours of the election the stock market jumped, referred to as the “Trump Bump,” and the market is at all-time highs. The market is a sensitive monster, the traders, the hedge funders, the managers of pension funds, mega-brokerage firms have a fiduciary responsibility to manage your dollars, to do not harm. A Trump victory on first look was “good for business;” however, if he seems confused, if he fails to understand our economy, traders have an obligation to protect the assets of their customers, and that means, perhaps, moving funds to “safer” investments that could result in a dipping or diving  stock market. Our Great Depression begin with a stock market crash.

While many of us are still angry and cannot accept the results of the election Donald Trump is president. The rallies and demonstrations will continue, the anger will bubble up, and the future is uncertain. Some hope Trump fails, whatever that means, others are fearful is an international calamity.

I have friends who did not vote for Trump, who are fearful, and argue that his failure will be our failure and we cannot pray for the failure of the nation. They argue give him a chance. On the other hand I am reminded of Martin Niemoller;  a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I fear that the future President will resemble Philippine leader Dutarte more than our founding fathers.

To quote a former leader, We must “keep hope alive.”

DeVos, Grizzly Bears and Public Policy: Can Parents and Teachers Create a “#PublicSchoolProud” Movement?

Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos tussled with the committee Democrats for three hours last night, and, the answers to the committee questions ranged from vague, to inaccurate to bizarre.

The fivethirtyeight blog gives a good summary of the major issues at the hearing and Aaron Pallas, a little “tongue in cheek,” recounts what he heard at the hearing.

DeVos stumbled through the three plus hours, glowing as the Republican members of the committee reaped praise and squirmed uncomfortably as the Democrats asked pointed questions. Her handlers trained her, although her performance left a lot to be desired. She refused to commit to upholding the law, waffled on Title IX and the role of the office of civil rights, was vague about supporting transparency for all schools, public and charter, sort of favored accountability in all schools. She supported guns in schools (I believe she is anti-grizzly bear in schools); she has no idea on the debate over proficiency versus growth and steadfastly refused to answer “yes” or “no.” to question after question. She was more than willing to “meet with and discuss policy issues” in her role as secretary, not willing to commit to anything specific. The handlers undoubtedly advised her to commit to nothing, be as vague as possible, charming, and try to eat up as much of the five minutes allotted to each questioner as possible.

Kudos to the Democrats on the committee, they were persistent, fair and asked the right questions.

Barring some catastrophic event, the Republican President’s Republican Senate will confirm all of the nominees. The rules of the Senate require a majority vote; the Democrats needs three Republicans to vote “no” and that is extremely unlikely.

If you watched the circus you may have been struck by the civility of the members of the committee, especially the relationship between chair Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray. The rules of the Senate require 60 votes to bring a bill to the floor for a vote, called the cloture rule. Presidential nominations only require a majority and treaties, pursuant to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, requires a 2/3 vote.

The Majority Leader of the Senate sets the calendar, hence the refusal to schedule a confirmation vote for the Obama Supreme Court nominee.

To pass any in the Senate the Republicans require Democratic votes, which means all bills are to an extent bipartisan. Obama’s bills never saw the light of day in the House, the majority in the House totally controls the flow of legislation. If there are conflicts in the House they are within the Republican Party. The Hastert-Boehner Rules deal with whether the Republican Speaker can bring a vote to the floor that requires Democratic votes to pass. Currently the Freedom Caucus in the House, the Tea Party, controls enough votes to stop a bill from getting to the floor, unless the Speaker seeks Democratic votes, very unlikely considering the tenuous nature of the Paul Ryan leadership.

If the cabinet nominees are going to be confirmed why is there so much pressure? Why the 100% plus, plus effort to expose the inadequacies of the nominees?

Simply, we’re only a year and half away from the 2018 election cycle. If the nominees are disasters, the Democrats will pin the blame on the Republican, especially the Republican senators up for re-election in 2018. On the other hand a number of Democrats up for re-election come from pro-Trump states. The 2018 election cycle is in full swing.

Education was barely mentioned in the presidential election, I don’t think a single question was asked in the three presidential debates. Nationally public opinion polls on schools is mixed and hard to decipher.

In the current fight for the hearts and minds of voters we need heroes and villains, and, to be honest villains reap more votes than heroes; many voters voted against Hillary not for Trump.

“If it bleeds it leads” is the motto of much of the media, “eyes on the screen,” or “clicks” are generated by disasters, sex, violence and scandal. Media sites sell ads dependent on viewer/readership, as a friend told me we get the news we deserve/desire.

If Betsy DeVos is a disaster, if she “lives down” to expectations the Democrats can use her as the poster child. An arrogant billionaire, the ultimate elitist, using her billions to promote schools that enrich her friends, bring religion into the classroom, a closet bigot, the paradigm of what we do not want in our schools.

The Democrats have to motivate voters, and parents and teachers are prime voters. Arne Duncan was charming, an excellent public speaker,  dedicated to the neediest, and although his policies were anathema his close allegiance to the President gave him a Teflon shield.

Randi Weingarten at the AFT and Diane Ravitch at the Network for Public Education have been relentless and the opposition to DeVos is enormous, probably hundreds of thousands of phone calls and petitions and email to senators opposing her confirmation. Editorials and op ed columns and blogs read by countless voters opposing DeVos; this is what creating a movement of all about.

The New York City teacher union, the UFT is beginning a major initiative to involve teachers and parents at the school level, the Public School Proud campaign intends to create a pro-public school movement, beginning in New York City, spreading across New York State and the nation.

Over the months ahead as DeVos attempts to privatize public schools we must become the Communards, the defenders of public education, our weapons: words and actions.

Give a listen to Leonard Cohen:,

or, Vince Staples:

ESSA, Martin Luther King and Accountability: Will the New York State Plan Address Fiscal Inequalities?

Learn baby learn, earn baby earn.” Martin Luther King, 1967

Early this morning I donned my winter bike gear and pushed off, a light snow had fallen; it was crisp, really crisp, with the rising sun low in the eastern sky; a glorious morning to greet Martin Luther King’s birthday.

I spent last night listening to MLK speeches; I had never listened to his 1967 speech to the students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia entitled, “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?” Take fifteen minutes and listen to the speech here – it is as relevant today as it was a half century ago.

A year ago we were jubilant, a new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act promised a new era, the end of the notorious “test and punish” No Child Left Behind.” The new law returned to the states the power to set education policy within broad guidelines set by feds.

Tomorrow the Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, who has spent her career and political dollars, with considerable success, opening unregulated charter schools in Michigan. Her vision of education is a return to the pre-Brown v Board of Education days, a voucher system that would return to schools segregated by race, class and parental income; a repudiation of the essence of King’s life work. A few days later the inauguration of Trump: dark clouds hover over our nation.

ESSA, our new education law, passed Congress with wide support across party lines, a rare example of truly bipartisan legislation. As the regulations have been promulgated the fifty states have begun to craft their required accountability plans: the essence of the new law. New York State, after a slow start is fully engaged drafting the plan.

A simple question: How will the plan impact the lives of classroom teachers and students?

We currently live in a world driven by annual English and Mathematics tests in grades 3-8 and exit exams in high school. The unintended consequence was to create a narrow, rigid “test and punish” system. For superintendents and principals the goal was “proficiency:” how many students scored in the proficient realm.

School resources were targeted to kids “approaching proficiency” and ignored kids far below or far above proficiency. The Arts, physical education, school counselors, psychologists, nurses, and enrichment programs fell victim to the targeting of resources to a narrow band of students. Race to the Top dangled dollars if states fully implemented the Common Core State Standards and, New York State was the first state to both fully implement the CCSS and move to Common Core tests.  Standards are not a curriculum, they are skills; while curriculum is the responsibility of the school district the State produced Curriculum Modules on their Engage NY site;  modules that were adopted by schools districts around the State. Since the state produced the tests and the modules it would be foolish not to adopt the modules regardless of what you thought of them.

ESSA allows states to decide how to define accountability, and the change can drive education in a different direction: it all depends upon the New York State plan.

The state can decide to move from proficiency, a score on a test, to growth, comparing scores over time.

A few examples: a new principal came into a very low achieving school, the students made impressive progress, no one cared, and the school was still below proficient. What was he doing differently? What organizational and/or instructional changes had taken place?  The school was below proficient; the school district was only interested in high achieving schools. Another school had a steady flow of new immigrants, scores were very low; however, the kids in school a few years were doing quite well, the students were below proficient; that’s all that mattered.

Under a growth accountability system, or a combination of proficiency and growth, both schools would receive recognition for their hard work.

This year the Commissioner and the Regents have had a laser focus on educating themselves, reaching out to all constituencies and collaboratively creating an ESSA accountability plan.

Each meeting of the Board of Regents has been a learning experience – experts from across the nation presenting ideas, warning about pitfalls, describing what other states are doing and making a range of suggestions.

Check out the presentations, high quality Power Points below:

ESSA Law Explained:

ESSA State Plan Development Activities (10/16):

SED High Level Concepts for Draft Plan (10/16):

Linda Darling-Hammond Papers on ESSA (4/16):

Michael Cohen, Achieve, College and Career Readiness, Equity and ESSA (11/16);

Scott Marion: Opportunities and Challenges in the Design of ESSA Accountability Systems (12/16):

Update on the Development of a State ESSA Accountability Plan (12/16):

Linda-Darling Hammond Presentation at the Jan, 2017 Board of Regents Meeting:

All the presenters suggested moving away from proficiency only, to multiple measures, called a dashboard, a range of indicators to both define and measure “success.”  In other words, you have to define accountability before you can measure accountability. Yes, the law requires annual grades 3-8 tests; however, the law does not proscribe or define a test. Some states are exploring performance tasks or portfolios of student work; a complex path: how do you assure inter rater reliability? Should the five regents exams be the only path to a diploma? Should we substitute AP exams? Industry certifications in CTE areas?

Other states are exploring the dashboard concept: in addition to proficiency and growth using attendance, parent and student surveys, as well as other possible questions: Can we “measure” non-cognitive behaviors? Should resilience in post-secondary education impact a school?  Should English language learners in their first few years and some students with disabilities be “measured” differently than all other students?

When the dust clears, the State ESSA plan will define accountability and identify the bottom five percent for intervention. This is NOT Lake Woebegone where all children are above average.

In her slide deck Linda Darling-Hammond reached that moment of truth: describing “Support for Intervention.”

* Teams of expert educators trained to work with struggling schools.

* School pairs and networks for learning.

* Content collaboratives/ subject matter projects

* Trained curriculum coaches.

* Wraparound services including extended learning after school and in the summer.

* School redesign initiatives based on research and best practices.

I don’t want to be discouraging – haven’t we been doing some or all of the above?  Does school and district leadership have the capacity to carry out the supports described, and, a question asked by a number of Board members: equity. Where do schools and school districts get the funds to carry out the interventions?  Vice Chancellor Brown asked if the issue of equity can be included in an ESSA plan. Linda Darling-Hammond gave a hesitant “yes.”

Should plans acknowledge that kids don’t start from the same place and by continuing a pattern of extreme inequality in funding aren’t we exacerbating inequality and undermining any plan?

Fifty years after the MLK speech referenced above we are still asking kids to compete on unequal grounds.

High potential; however, a long complex path; can the Commissioner require schools and teachers, who have the ultimate responsibility to enact the new law,  to move forward without an even funding playing field?

Why is President-Elect Trump So Enamored of Russian leader Putin, What Can We Learn from Washington’s Farewell Address?

Bear with me … I will get around to education.

Tuesday night I walked over to a neighborhood sports bar that was taken over by a local Young Democrats group. I listened to President Obama’s Farewell Address in a room filled with twenty-somethings – a wonderful speech greeted with applause, cheers and occasional tears. I loved the references to Washington’s Farewell Address and to Atticus Finch (“To Kill a Mockingbird.” It was  classy speech that emphasized the foundations of our nation – the orderly transition from administration to administration with nary a jab at his successor.

Wednesday morning I listened to the Trump press conference, nasty, highly critical of our intelligence agencies. and, a comment sharply criticizing the pharmaceutical industries pricing policies, a policy that the Republican side of the aisle has supported. Odd.

In spite of mounting evidence of Russian interference in our presidential election  the President-elect has waffled, swinging from mild criticism to bashing our own intelligence services.

Clearly Trump sees Putin as a role model, a highly effective leader with an 80% approval rating by the Russian people, extremely wealthy (his net worth is estimated at $200 billion); a major player on the world stage, a leader who uses his power to attempt to return Russia to a preeminent position among the world powers. Putin has used a combination of threat, economic and military power clawing back Crimea from the Ukraine, eyeing the Baltic states and allying with the Assad in Syria.

Although elected as leader under the Russian constitution Putin has suppressed opposition: the press has been silenced, journalists mysteriously killed, the independent voices few; his tentacles reach around the world: from the Middle East (Russia borders Iran), to Europe (Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to Europe), a nuclear power second only to the USA with a massive and nimble military.

Does Trump actually think he can become a Putin-like leader in the USA as well as on the world stage? I believe the answer is “yes.”

A little Russian history:

Russia is by far the largest nation in the world – it covers eleven time zones!! Our histories are both dramatically different and strangely similar.

Mongol and Tatar hordes enveloped Russia, our aboriginal ancestors crossed the Aleutian bridge, we may be distantly, very distantly related to Russians.

Medieval Russia was ruled by Boyars, essentially war lords who ruled limited geographic domains, once again similar to the European princes who ruled limited areas across Europe. In Europe lesser lords swore oaths of homage and fealty, and the masses were peasants tied to the land; while Russia ended slavery in the 18th century, serfdom, tying of peasants to the land did not end until Alexander I ended serfdom in 1861.

Massive Russian estates were in many ways similar to the plantations in our Southern colonies/states.

Tsar Peter the Great westernized Russia, Catherine the Great expanded Russian boundaries;  similarly through treaty, purchase and war we increased our boundaries.

2017 is the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

A hundred years that has seen many tens millions of Russians killed in the two World Wars as well as the purges of Stalin. Russia moved from a nation ruled by Tsars and an aristocracy to a totalitarian nation ruled by dictators and the Communist bureaucracy, to a flirtation with democracy under Gorbachev and the return to a classic Russian leader, a faux tsar and oligarchs, the billionaires riding the Putin wave.

Trump foresees a new alliance – the two most powerful leaders, Trump and Putin – American and Russia – leading an assault on radical Islam and the Chinese hordes.

To Trump Europe is weak and decaying: The Common Market, the Euro and integration of Europe has seen the weaker states dragging down the few stronger economies. Greece, Italy and Spain with very high unemployment rates, staggering deficits and chaotic banking systems. The right wing parties growing, the Brixit vote, and an uncertain future. The right-wing xenophobic political parties are challenging a century of progressive, socially conscious democratic governments.

Will Trump continue to lead NATO, defending Europe against an aggressive Russia, or, abandon NATO? Will Trump demand that Europe provide the primary support for NATO, and, tacitly accept that Europe is a Russian sphere of influence? The right wing insurgencies across Europe will look Trump as a model.

The Mongol and Tatar invasions from the East and Germans invasions from the West, tens of millions of Russians have died over the centuries due to foreign incursions. Under Putin Russia has taken a leap backwards, away from democratic values, Putin sees western democracy as an enemy not a partner.

The post World War 2 Cold War resulted in the creation of buffer states “protecting” Russia from incursions from the West. The crumbling of the Iron Curtain, for some was the beginning of Russia entering the democratized West, for others a disaster opening Russia to values that threatened Mother Russia.

We are living in an era of asymmetric warfare, modern armies versus insurgencies, i. e., Afghanistan and Iraq. Hopefully we have learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, while we can train and support the Afghans and the Iraqi we cannot fight their wars. I fear that the Trump bluster will create increasing radicalism in the Islamic world.  I fear that Putin will use his friendship with Trump to rebuild further barriers/buffers along its borders.

Have we learned from Vietnam?  A bitter enemy, 50,000 Americans died in the war, fears that communism will roll over Asia; now, decades later, an iteration of communism that has created a thriving economy and frequent American tourist destination.

Economic prosperity is the most effective enemy of radical Islam and other totalitarian regimes; and, economic prosperity means education.

The education level of voters had a stunning impact on the recent presidential election.

Nate Silver in the fivethirtyeight blog wrote,

I took a list of all 981 U.S. counties1 with 50,000 or more people2 and sorted it by the share of the population3 that had completed at least a four-year college degree. Hillary Clinton improved on President Obama’s 2012 performance in 48 of the country’s 50 most-well-educated counties. And on average, she improved on Obama’s margin of victory in these countries by almost 9 percentage points, even though Obama had done pretty well in them to begin with.

Now here’s the opposite list: The 50 counties (minimum population of 50,000) where the smallest share of the population has bachelor’s degrees:

These results are every bit as striking: Clinton lost ground relative to Obama in 47 of the 50 counties — she did an average of 11 percentage points worse, in fact. These are really the places that won Donald Trump the presidency,

The crowd in the bar, young, well-educated, engaged in local politics were enthusiastic and avid supporters of President Obama, the poorly educated are frequently “birthers,” refused to believe that the President was born in this country, believed he was a Muslim, and on and on.

The radical Islamic fighters are poor and uneducated with no future,  they succumb to  the propaganda that their leaders use to create armies willing to sacrifice their lives.

Armies will not defeat Islamic radicalism or North Korea, or rebut Chinese expansionism. Yes, we must maintain a nimble military able to respond to threats from asymmetric warfare.  “Winning” the war means responding to an ideology, means creating avenues to economic prosperity

My “plan” to winning the war in Vietnam was dropping Sears catalogs with $100 gift certificates.

I fear that the President-elect is ill-suited to lead the nation, I fear that Putin will use Trump to further entrench himself and expand his boundaries and I fear China will continue to encroach across Asia.

These are perilous times.

I find solace in the wisdom of our founding fathers, Washington’s Farewell Address  (1796) is amazingly prescient.

While the Obama Farewell Address was deeply personal Washington’s Farewell Address contained warnings that resonate today, warning us against “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men.”

… combinations or associations … may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Washington foresaw the bitter enmities of partisanship and fearing that a “spirit of revenge” will lead to a “frightful despotism.”

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Washington, cogently, warned against the “illusion of an imaginary common interest,” and especially “by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate.”

… a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As the confirmation hearings for the cabinet nominees continue the spirit of Washington is hovering over the Congress, reminding us ” … a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The Farewell Address was primarily written by Alexander Hamilton,  interred in the cemetery of Trinity Church;  hopefully Washington and Hamilton and Jefferson are still whispering into the minds of our current leaders.

Should the NYS Commissioner Remove Carl Paladino from the Buffalo School Board? Are Abhorrent, Racist Comments Protected by the First Amendment?

Carl Paladino, answering a questionnaire from an online Buffalo publication made outrageous comments  about President and Michelle Obama – read the entirety of the comments here:

David Bloomfield, a professor of Education at Brooklyn College, and a highly respected attorney, in an op ed in the Albany Times Union quotes some of the comments, and, while finding the comments abhorrent, finds Paladino’s comments protected by the First Amendment. and suggests the  “…commissioner should preserve her right to take such action [remove Paladino from the Buffalo School Board] in these circumstances, but withhold the ultimate sanction.”

Bloomfield avers the commissioner must answer two questions,

 Do Paladino’s comments meet the test of a removable offense and, if so, should she take that action against a democratically elected official? Case law recognizes that removal is ‘a drastic remedy that should be taken only in extreme circumstances”.”

I believe the fist question to be answered by the commissioner is whether Paladino’s comments are “protected speech.”

If Paladino was speaking in his role as a member of the Buffalo School Board I do not believe his comments are protected and the commissioner is within the spirit and intent of the commissioner’s regulation governing the conduct of School Board members.

The blog I wrote six years ago that I believe is still relevant.


Freedom of Speech Outside of the Classroom: Protected and Unprotected Speech: How Do the Courts View Teacher Speech on Internet Platforms? Do Teachers Have Special Responsibilities or Special Rights Re: Freedom of Speech?

Posted on March 18, 2010 | 13 Comments | Edit

In our Brave New World of social networking, IM, Skype and the blogosphere ,the ability of teachers to “speak” to their students, parents and colleagues knows no bounds. The number and frequency of teacher blogs seems to grow daily.

Does the First Amendment protect teachers from principal retribution for comments made on the range of Internet platforms?  Does the First Amendment protect teachers from comments made directly to principals? to students?  from comments made at public meetings?

The courts divide teacher speech in two categories, “protected” and “unprotected” speech.

There is considerable case law re teacher freedom of speech outside the classroom. In landmark decision Pickering v Board of Education(1968) the US Supreme Court wrote,

Free and open debate is vital to informed decision-making by the electorate. Teachers are, as a class, the members of a community most likely to have informed and definite opinions … operation of schools …. absent proof of false statements knowingly or recklessly made by him, a teacher’s exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment …. It is possible to conceive of some positions in public employment in which the need for confidentiality  is so great that even completely correct public statements might furnish  a permissible ground for dismissal.

The Pickering decision informed state courts,

In a NYS Court of Appeals decision (Puentes v Board of Education of Bethpage (1969) the Court held “indiscreet bombast in an argumentative letter … without damage to the operation of the school system and without proof of reckless or intentional error, was not sufficient to sanction disciplinary action …”

Courts, however,  slowing began chipping away at Pickering,

Givhan v Western Lane Consolidated School District (1979),

Rehnquist, writing for the Court avers that the interests of a teacher as a citizen in commenting on matters of public concern “must be balanced against the interests of the state, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency” of public schools. A teacher’s speech may not be protected when it specifically impedes “the proper performance of his classroom duties or generally interferes with the regular operation of schools.”

In the most recent decision involving the First Amendment protections for government employees Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court clarifies and limits the issue of protected speech. The plaintiff in the case was a district attorney who claimed that he had been passed up for a promotion for criticizing the actions of his office The Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that because his statements were made pursuant to his position as a public employee, rather than as a private citizen, his speech had no First Amendment protection.

Commenting on the decision, a legal memo distinguishes between a government employee as citizen and as an employee,

 … a government entity has broader discretion to restrict speech when it acts in its employer role, but the restrictions it imposes must be directed at speech that has some potential to affect its operations. On the other hand, a citizen who works for the government is nonetheless still a citizen. The First Amendment limits a public employer’s ability to leverage the employment relationship to restrict, incidentally or intentionally, the liberties employees enjoy in their capacities as private citizens …. So long as employees are speaking as citizens about matters of public concern, they must face only those speech restrictions that are necessary for their employers to operate efficiently and effectively.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority concludes his opinion,

    We reject, however, the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties. Our precedents do not support the existence of a constitutional cause of action behind every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job.

The impact of the Kennedy decision has had a chilling impact.

Debbie Almontasser, the principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a public school in New York City was forced to resign her position as a result of comments she made during an interview by a local newspaper in an interviewed sanctioned by the employer. The court, citing Ceballos, rejected her appeal.

In a January, 2010, in a Federal Appellate decision (Weintraub v The Board of Education of the City of New York) the court examined a claim by a New York City teacher. The teacher was discharged as a probationary teacher for a range of alleged infractions. The teacher claimed that his dismissal was the result of the filing of a grievance complaining about the failure to suspend a student who threw books.

The panel majority held that plaintiff, “by filing a grievance with his union to complain about his supervisor’s failure to discipline a child in his classroom, was speaking pursuant to his official duties and thus not as a citizen. Accordingly, [plaintiff’s] speech was not protected by the First Amendment.”

The teacher was not fired for the filing of a grievance, however, his claim that the filing of a grievance is “protected” speech was rejected by the court.

In a Federal District of Connecticut case (Jeffrey Spanierman v Hughes, et. al.,), the court fine tunes Garcetti, supporting a teacher’s claim that comments placed on is protected speech, although not overturning the failure to renew the teacher’s employment contract, and criticizing the nature of the Internet posting comments.

The Court asks “whether the Plaintiff expressed his views as a citizen, or as a public employee pursuant to his official duties …” and usesGarcetti as guidance.

when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizen for First Amendment purposes, the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline … Employees who make public statements outside of the course of performing their official duties retain some possibility of First Amendment protection because that is the kind of activity engaged in by citizens who do not work for the government … When a public employee speaks pursuant to employment responsibilities, however, there is no relevant analogue to speech by citizens who are not government employees …

The court reviewed the nature of the Myspace comments by the teacher and finds “…examples of the online exchanges the Plaintiff had with students, and the court can see how a school’s administration would disapprove of, and find disruptive, a teacher’s discussion with a student … (after a careful analysis of the Myspace student-teacher exchanges) Such conduct could very well disrupt the learning atmosphere of a school, which sufficiently outweighs the value of Plaintiff’s Myspace speech.”

From Pickering to Garcetti the Court has moved the line that differentiates protected from unprotected speech.

Some caveats:

* Teachers should from refrain from communicating with students on social networking sites.

* Teachers should use “common sense” in what they post about themselves on social networking sites.

* Comments made “in their role as a teacher,” is not protected speech.

* Employers have the burden to show that teacher speech impedes the ability of the “employer to operate efficiently and effectively,” a substantial burden on the employer.

As the highways of electronic communication grow, and citizens can communicate on a 24/7 basis I suspect First Amendment issues will emerge and the courts will face new challenges, and, remember: Big Brother is probably watching, and listening, to you!

Albany 2017: What Can We Expect from the Governor, the Legislature and the Regents?

In a few weeks Donald Trump will put his hand on a bible and repeat the constitutional oath of office, a month or so later the Senate will confirm Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. Yes, she’s totally unqualified, is totally committed to vouchers, to charter schools and an enemy of public schools. Unfortunately the Senate has 52 Republicans and it is highly unlikely that three Republicans will vote against DeVos.

It is impossible to know how a Trump presidency will impact New York State: drastic cuts in federal entitlement programs, cuts in federal support of Medicaid, a range of possibilities that will adversely effect New York State finances are all possibilities.

With a dark cloud hovering   the Albany legislature convened today.

A coming attraction of the legislative session.

The Assembly and the Senate:

The New York State legislature is off and running, and very unhappy. The issue: the absence of a salary raise. The last raise was at a lame duck special session in December 1998; Governor Pataki offered a salary raise in exchange for the charter school law. Yes, that’s right, a simple “deal” that was supported by Democrats as well as Republicans. The legislature can only vote raises for the incoming legislators. Almost everyone gets reelected, in fact, they are voting raises for themselves.  Legislators will have had twenty years without  a raise; with the increasing turnover in the legislature most of the members have been elected since 1998.

Legislators are paid $79,500 plus per diems for days in Albany plus a stipend for serving as a chair of a committee ranging from $4,000 to $16,000 for the few top committees. The legislature convenes on January 4th, sessions will be held two days a week, increasing in time until the April 1 budget date, and, resume after the Easter-Passover break and adjourn in mid June.

The legislature has extremely low favorability ratings with the public.

Each member maintains an office in their district, with sufficient funding to pay for a small staff.

About 15,000 bills will be introduced in the Assembly, maybe 500 will become law.

The Assembly is led by Carl Heastie, the relatively new Speaker. The Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the 150 member Assembly. The Senate is more complicated, much more complicated. There are 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the 63-member Senate; however, five Democratic members broke away from the other Democrats and formed the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) led by Bronx Senator Jeff Klein. The IDC caucuses with the Republicans; John Flanagan, the majority leader of the Senate leads the Senate, although, he requires IDC acquiescence.

The Democratic Assembly members wanted a raise and were willing to give up outside income, the Republican Senate members wanted a raise and were unwilling to give up outside income. The Governor wanted a strict ethics package …. eventually … the talks faded.

Democratic Assembly members who were unhappy with the Governor, now despise him.

They hinted they would not attend the Governor’s State of the State address, the Governor changed the process, five separate addresses across the state with invited guests only. (I sent in my request for an invite – we’ll see)

The Governor:

Governor Cuomo rarely, very rarely gives press conferences; he strictly controls media access and the narrative.

On one hand he chose to attack teachers and their union, to support charter schools, to vindictively punish teachers for the widespread support of Zephyr Teachout, and, to reverse course, dump Merryl Tisch as leader of the Board of Regents as well as Tisch supporters on the Regents, support a moratorium on the use of testing to assess teachers, support substantial increases in state aid; if he hasn’t made 180 degree change in attitudes towards teachers its pretty close to it.

His adoption of the Sanders/Clinton “make colleges free” plan resulted in headlines in the national press.

Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign for reelection in 2018 is off and running with an eye on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2020.

Angry Democrats and/or Republicans could sidetrack an April 1 on time budget embarrassing the Governor.

Remember the political aphorism: when you toss a rock into a pool of feces you never know whose going to be splashed.

The Issues:

State revenues are down, Trump’s policies could reduce federal dollars to New York State or more likely shift budgetary responsibilities from the feds to the state.

With budgetary woes hovering can the state afford to begin to implement the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) judicial decision?

Will the state continue to increase state aid to school districts at the rate of the last few years?

If the legislature does not agree to an April 1 budget the Governor can opt to fund the state through the continuing resolution process, unwieldy,; however, Governor Patterson used the process to bypass the legislature.

The Cuomo apotheosis: The Governor is far more in sync with the current leadership of the Board of Regents. The December 2015 Cuomo Commission Task Force Report set out a roadmap and slowly the Regents are moving to implement the recommendations.

The elephant in the room are the over 200,000 opt out parents. The state tests later this spring will continue to be three days for English Language Arts (ELA) and three days for mathematics. The evolution to computer-based testing and the problems with lack of computer hardware and band width could lengthen the testing period. The Regents are in the midst of building a new accountability plan for the state could move from proficiency (a single score) to growth (a comparison of last year to this year), or, begin to experiment with alternatives, such as performance tasks, portfolios, that are referred to as authentic assessments.

The Regents have been flirting with a big question: high school diploma requirements.

Do the current high school diploma requirements prepare students for the world of work and post secondary education?

Should we revert to a lesser or specialized diploma for students with disabilities?

Should recent immigrants have to meet the same requirements as all other students?

Why are Career and Technical Education, (CTE) programs, formerly known as Vocational Education declining across most of the state?  Are state policies and regulations too complicated? antiquated? Can/Should the state directly intervene to create more CTE schools/programs?

Are we adequately preparing prospective teachers?  Why has the enrollment in college teacher preparation programs dropped so precipitously?  Can the state both uncomplicate and bring coherence to teacher preparation programs?

New York State leads the nation in the inequality of school funding. Richer, higher tax school districts spend  far more dollars per student than poorer, low tax districts. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. About 80% of education dollars come from local property taxes, state aid from Albany is distributed in a fairer manner; however the variation in per capita funding remains immense. Should the Regents propose a major revision in school funding?  A political land mine!!!

Will the Assembly, the Senate, the Governor and the Board of Regents dance together, or, will the dark clouds hovering over the nation’s capital move East?

A nineteenth century political wag wrote, “No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State legislature is in session.”

Maybe a little too pessimistic,  the agenda is full, and I am cautiously hopeful.

E. D. Hirsch: “American Teachers Are Being Blamed for Intellectual Failings That Permeate the System Within Which They Must Work.”

Its hard to believe that its been thirty years since the publication of E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. The book proposes,

…that all public schoolchildren should be provided with instruction aimed at familiarizing them with a wide variety of topics, including literature, geography, history, math, science, art and music, in order to have the background knowledge that would make them successful readers and learners.

The book became famous, or, depending your place on the ed reform spectrum, infamous, for the 63-page index of 5,000 essential subjects and concepts that Hirsch believed teachers should impart to students.

Hirsch, a self-described, “almost Socialist” was painted as a neo-conservative and few school districts adopted his ideas.

The current apostasy are Common Core standards.

In many schools an unintended consequence of the emphasis on Common Core-based testing has been purging classrooms of all but what is tested.

Since the 1987 publication innumerable “innovations” or “reforms” have come and gone: from Ebonics to the Common Core; the Core Knowledge Foundation (Explore Core Knowledge Sequences here), continues to support parents and schools that advocate the cultural literacy philosophy.  The foundation, a not-for-profit provides a K – 8 curriculum; a grade-by-grade sequence of lessons, of “knowledge” that Hirsch believes are essential for any American to master.

During the Bloomberg/Klein years, New York City was divided into ten Regions, one of the Regions, implemented the Core Knowledge curriculum in twenty schools, with considerable success; sadly, Klein and his deputy, current chancellor Carmen Farina, who is wedded to Lucy Calkins methodology,  allowed the grant to expire.

Hirsch, at age 88, has a new book, Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children form Failed Educational Theories (2016) and the current issue (Winter, 2016-17) of the American Educator contains an article by Hirsch, “In Defense of Educators: The Problem of Idea Quality, Not ‘Teacher Quality’.”

Hirsch writes,

… in the last few years the teacher quality issue has risen to the top. I think it may be reform fatigue, possibly desperation. We are blaming teachers because of our disappointments with the results of our reforms.

Hirsch summarizes the reforms of the last few decades, from No Child Left Behind through the Common Core and concludes,

Educational success is defined by what students learn—the received curriculum. Not to focus on the particulars of the very thing itself has been an evasion that is not of the teachers’ doing. The underlying theory of the reforms (reflected in state reading standards) has been that schools are teaching skills that can be developed by any suitable content. That mistaken theory has allowed the problem of grade-by-grade content to be evaded. It was that fundamental mistake about skills that has allowed teachers to be blamed for fundamental failures—the failures of guiding ideas, not of teachers.

Once upon a time, in the halcyon days of yore, teachers were trusted to determine classroom practice. The New York City Board of Education supported a curriculum-writing section that churned out materials written by teachers for teachers. In the era of data, curriculum has been replaced by standards and competent teaching is defined by Charlotte Danielson and obscure mathematical algorithms. It is not surprising that teachers see the union contract as salvation.

When the classroom, which should be a daily reward, becomes a purgatory, one turns to contract stipulations. … We have a system that, according to teachers themselves, does not prepare them adequately for classroom management or the substance of what they must teach. Therefore, my counterthesis to the blame-the-teachers theme is blame the ideas—and improve them.

Hirsch, as you would expect, does not shy away from the reform mantras of the day. He challenges the trope that teacher quality should be at the top of any list, as well as the concept that you can accurately measure teacher quality; he especially challenges the emphasis on value-added measurements of teacher effectiveness, i. e., VAM.

Scores on reading tests reflect knowledge and vocabulary gained from all sources. Advantaged students are constantly building up academic knowledge from both inside and outside the school. Disadvantaged students gain their academic knowledge mainly inside school, so they are gaining less academic knowledge overall during the year, even when the teacher is conveying the curriculum effectively. This lack of gain outside the school reduces the chance of low-socioeconomic-status (SES) students showing a match between the knowledge they gained in school during the year and the knowledge required to understand the individual test passages.

The fifty states are in the midst of complying with the new Every Student Succeeds Act that requires states to author an accountability plan. The law continues the requirement of grades 3-8 tests publicly reported; however. states have wide discretion in what they measure. The PARCC and Smarter Balance tests measure Common Core standards acquisition, skills not curriculum-based content. State use tests to measure proficiency not growth.

The results have been disastrous.

High poverty, poorly funded schools have lower test scores than high wealth schools: what a revelation.

Applicants to schools of education have nose-dived, down 20, 30 and 40% around the nation. Teacher attrition continues at disturbing levels, almost 40%of teachers in New York City leave in their initial five years and approaching 70% in high needs middle schools.

While we want to select and prepare students to teach in New York State we require four separate exams (costing over $1,000) to receive certification, with no assurance that the tests produce more effective teachers. Strangely, there is no set period of weeks required for student teaching, the range in teacher training programs is enormous.

Hirsch makes a simple recommendation,

If I were a principal in a primary school, I’d spend my money on teachers, on their ongoing development, and on creating conditions in which the work of teachers in one grade supports the work of teachers in the next, and in which teachers would have time to consult and collaboratively plan.

Can the state support a school district that implements the Hirsch Core Knowledge curriculum?  (The state Engage NY site does support K-2 Core Knowledge sequences) By support, I mean creating assessments of pupil progress that reflect content?    Interestingly one member of the current Board of Regents, Dr. Cashin, was the Regional Superintendent in New York City who supported a cluster of Core Knowledge schools.

The union and the Local Education Authority (LEA) in New York City have created a cohort of schools who have created innovative practices that require changes in contract language and LEA regulations  (See description here).

Can the state create a cluster of school districts with similar arrangements: local unions and school districts creating “innovative” approaches to instruction, curriculum and assessment?

After thirty years the education community may be ready to listen to Hirsch.