Entries by Jim Stergios

Duncan Rex – he means it on charters

In a press release entitled “States Open to Charters Start Fast in ‘Race to Top’: Education Secretary Seeking Autonomy with Real Accountability for School Innovators,” Arne Duncan made it very clear what he wants. As the press release states: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters during a conference call this afternoon that states must be open to charter schools. Too much is at stake for states financially and for students academically to restrict choice and innovation. And more to follow: “States that do not have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the Race to the Top Fund,” Secretary Duncan said. “To be clear, this administration is […]

Chicago 45, Boston 0

After watching Beckett pitch masterful innings of shutout, no-hit ball against Detroit last night, I thought I would go back to my national series on other cities big education wins and the whiffs Menino has been making on charters. (A wink to my colleagues who know that I don’t even know who the running backs are for the Patriots; all I can say is that drinking was involved last night, so watching the game worked.) After the New York 20, Boston 0 post, which highlighted the fact that Mayor Bloomberg is starting 20 (count ’em) new charter schools this summer, let me chime in with Chicago’s big win over Boston — this time 45 to zippo. Azam Ahmed of the […]

We will be able to do this soon

My favorite Education Intelligence Agent Mike Antonucci had this news out of California: There are 3,000 retired educators receiving a six-figure state pension. And that’s out of a total of just over 5,000 for all types of state employees. Pretty outstanding performance for educators in the Golden Parachute State. Now the good news. Pioneer is building MassOpenBooks.org as well as a number of other government transparency sites for release this summer and fall. We’ll be able to pull out all kinds of gems like that back here in the Bay State for folks who are interested in understanding how the numbers stack up.

Countdown to Fiscal Sanity

It took one day for the House of Representatives to raise the sales tax 25 percent. It took just one day for the Senate to do the same. (The Governor has taken longer to put out his tax increase proposals, which range from a 19-cent gas tax increase, hundreds of millions of dollars in soda, candy and other targeted fees, as well as consideration of a graduated income tax.)

Will MA forfeit education stimulus dollars?

EdNews.org passes on this AP report on US Ed Secretary Arne Duncan’s threat to stonewallers on charter schools. As part of the federal stimulus package, there is a $5 billion fund to promote innovations, and President Obama is a clear proponent of charters. So what if a state does not promote charters, has caps, makes excuses, and all the rest? Ah, so glad that you ask a question pertinent to our dear Bay State. States will hurt their chance to compete for millions of federal stimulus dollars if they fail to embrace innovations like charter schools, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday. Duncan was responding to a question about Tennessee, where Democratic state lawmakers have blocked an effort to let […]

I am about to toss my cookies

That was my dad’s self-edited way of expressing his disregard for stupidity. Granted my dad was a marine and therefore knew other ways to express his disgust. He was also a Greek immigrant and, because he went to war as a young guy, largely self-educated. He understood how essential it was to know math and English and U.S. History to succeed in a country where the haves have a red carpet out for them. Well, when a friend passed on this morsel — a video with Cookie Monster peddling 21st-century skills — there is little else I could say… especially in a blog post where I cannot employ spicier words for these donkeys. The lack of critical thought and faddishness […]

Wet, Wetter, Wettest

Jack Butterworth reported in the Daily Item on a recent town hall meeting with the Governor and Secretary of Education S. Paul Reville in the library of Marblehead High School. Among some good proposals such as pension reform for public employees, the speakers also called for “a graduated income tax which will take four years to achieve” and “MCAS testing reform.” Longtime tax foe Barbara Anderson of Marblehead spoke against the graduated income tax after seeing hands go up in support of it, calling the proposal a plan “to pick us off, one tax bracket at a time.” “The harder you work the more they steal from you. That’s why the voters defeated it at the ballot,” she said. Butterworth […]

Harry Lime in Africa

Remember Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in The Third Man (1949, dir. by Carol Reed)? For a reminder of this classic noir based on Graham Greene’s novella, check out the sewer chase scene (sublime notwithstanding what he is wading through). Or, perhaps, you might enjoy the American trailer with its quaint marketing of Anton Karas’ haunting score – “He’ll have you in a dither with his zither…” Many of you will remember the horrible racket that Harry Lime was involved in. Lime stole penicillin and diluted it, reselling it at astronomical profit. In the process he maimed and killed thousands. I write all this because a colleague Franklin Cudjoe, who directs the IMANI Center for Policy & Education, has found very […]

A great debate on unions and improving our schools

For those of you who need a smart debate about the role of unions in advancing better student outcomes in our schools, there is a pretty smart debate occurring at the Flypaper blog. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute started off this string, and it has attracted thoughtful contributions and some sharp elbows. It all started with a post of mine that argued that Diane Ravitch is wrong to say that Massachusetts’s situation proves teachers unions to be a non-factor in education reform. After Ravitch responded with a rebuttal post, Jay Greene added a follow-up that challenged her to “point to a rigorous piece of social science research that supports her argument.” Sol Stern then joined the discussion to add […]

NYPD not so blue

Police Chief Ed Davis has calmed the spikes in crime seen before his arrival. It would be good to see some numbers on crime rates in the past few years in case anyone wants to pass those on. That said, New York’s police commissioner Raymond Kelly brings some good news in a recent New York Post short that he penned. Noting that NYC is still the number 1 target in the country for terrorists, he points to a slimmer police force (5,000 fewer officers) AND lower crime rates. Today, despite having 5,000 fewer officers, crime is down by nearly 40 percent from eight years ago. At the year’s start, many predicted that crime rates would spike as a result of […]

New York 20, Boston 0

Tip of the cap to Whitney Tilson for directing me to this article by Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice, who calls on mayor Bloomberg to “roll the union.” My, how far attitudes toward charters have changed on Left. Everywhere, that is, except in Massachusetts. If Bloomberg wins this year, it will be the fifth consecutive time that a Republican candidate has carried a 5-1 Democratic city. This time, the mayor isn’t running as a registered Republican—as he did the first two times—and he wants us to believe that he is an Independent with a Democratic tilt. Democrats just can’t take back the big office in Gotham, and the Union of Federated Teachers has learned new tactics to gain the […]

Obama v. Patrick

No, silly. There is not going to be a lawsuit just because the President isn’t going to nominate His Excellency the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (HETG to the BlueMassGroupies, see line 3). It’s that HETG has not once, to my knowledge, ever recognized charter schools during National Charter School Week. And below follows the proclamation made by POTUS. Hmmm, perhaps HETG v. POTUS is a catchier title for a blog entry. While pondering such imponderables, let me cue the presidential proclamation: Improving our schools is the collective responsibility of all Americans—business owners and workers, educators and parents, students and their communities. We must ensure that all students receive a high-quality education that delivers the knowledge and skills needed […]

Paper cuts in Haverhill

Shawn Regan reports in the Eagle Tribune that “the greatest myth in the [Haverhill] school district” is “that city schools have been losing dozens of teachers every year due to budget cuts.” Not so. But in truth, the number of teachers in the district has grown by four in each of the previous three years, according to information provided by the Haverhill teachers union — figures school administrators don’t dispute. Several School Committee members who have voted to eliminate teachers for several years in a row said they were surprised by the revelation. “The community and certainly the School Committee has believed teachers are going down every year because we’ve been cutting them,” School Committee President Scott Wood said after […]

They are good at what they do

The National Education Association is, bar none, the most effective public employee union of the past 30 years. So it is good to understand what they do and how they do it. If you are interested in seeing their 2008 election debrief, then click right here — specially delivered to you by our education spymaster. Now, of course, noting that they are good at what they do does not mean what they do is good.

One Day

That’s all it took. We wait years for pension reform. Years for the state to reform the health care purchasing regime. Decades for them to loose the embrace of public employee unions. All that takes decades. And it isn’t done. But an increase in the sales tax? All it takes is a day. On this one the Governor is right. His letter yesterday certainly offended House members, in a way U.S. interference in a Central American election would offend that country’s population. The Governor’s letter was certainly an act of political gamesmanship, but what is wrong with that? Yes, he got the gospel late in the game, finally insisting on reform first. But the Senate only talked a great game. […]

National health plans competing with the private sector

John Graham of the Pacific Research Institute makes a great point in an email today: One key item on President Obama’s health care agenda is to “establish a National Health Insurance Exchange with a range of private insurance options as well as a new public plan based on benefits available to members of Congress that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health coverage.” The chairmen of five congressional committees have all agreed that there should be a government-run plan that competes against private health insurers and is available to all Americans. Senators Kennedy and Baucus; and Representatives George Miller, Henry Waxman, and Charles Rangel, have been engaged in secret negotiations to hammer out a deal. They are […]

Is quasi-governmental power a 21st century skill

Robert Pondiscio of Core Knowledge passed on this nugget: Common Core’s Lynne Munson has an eyebrow-raising post today on a piece of federal legislation that would give extraordinary quasi-governmental power to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Munson reports that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will put forth a “21st Century Skills Incentive Fund Act.” The bill would create “an incentive fund for states to sign on to P21 and give tax breaks to corporations who support P21 at the state level.” As Munson notes the bill would make P21 the gatekeeper of hundreds of millions in federal taxdollars. That’s because the legislation would require any state that applies for these incentive funds first to be ‘approved as a 21st Century […]

Take a deep breath and relax on union infiltration of charters

Our Education Intelligence agent comes through with an interesting find. Elizabeth Green at Gotham Schools has the scoop: “Teachers at two New York City KIPP charter schools today asked state labor officials to sever their ties from the city teachers union, in petitions signed by every single teacher at the two schools.” The KIPP Academy and KIPP Infinity staffs (totaling about 60 members) sent out a press release about their decision: “In recent months, the UFT has made clear its desire to play a more active part in the day-to-day operations of our schools. Two examples illustrate this point. In January, the UFT sent a letter to the KIPP: Infinity Board of Directors with the goal of beginning collective bargaining […]

Love thy Labor

Mayor Menino is asking bargaining units in Boston to accept wage freezes and other compensation reductions in order to minimize layoffs. Well, in from our former companion state, Maine, comes some very helpful advice as to how unions can interact with the other side of the table in tough times. From our Education Intelligence Agent Mike Antonucci comes this report: I learned the Maine Education Association’s “Dos, Don’ts of Bargaining in Tough Times” aren’t appreciably different from bargaining in good times, or bargaining in OK times, or bargaining in the End Times. Still, this one caught my eye: “Insist that all other steps to reduce costs be implemented, including reduction-in-force if it is unavoidable, before reductions in employees’ compensation are […]

Newsflash: You may be a second class citizen

The Providence Journal reported late last week that a group of mayors and town administrators, led by Cumberland Mayor Daniel J. McKee, announced yesterday the launch of plans for a novel kind of public charter school. The mayors hope their proposed Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, free from many of the rules and restrictions of regular public schools, will spread through the state as a new educational model. Unlike the state’s existing 11 charter schools, mayoral academies would not have to pay teachers a prevailing wage, contribute to the state teachers retirement system or offer teachers tenure protection. These freedoms would allow the academies greater control over school budgets, culture and personnel, and enable them to attract — and pay for […]

Long blog on biotech gift ban

Good public policy is built on two pillars – and they pretty much boil down to common sense: Be fair and first do no harm. Giving preferential treatment to individual businesses or industries is bad public policy. The Governor and Legislature’s $250 million tax giveaway to the life sciences industry (even as they increased taxes and fees on other sectors by $300 million last year alone) isn’t fair. And it’s particularly unjustifiable as we enter a protracted economic downturn – a downturn that has already caused hundreds of millions of dollars in social service cuts. But it’s hard to comprehend the logic behind it, when we throw money at life sciences companies with one hand, and take it away with […]

Our charters are especially good

Our charters are different. Massachusetts staked out non-ideological ground in creating the charter school approval and accountability processes. We did not just say to all comers — Oh, you want to start a charter, sure. After all, charters are public schools and they use public dollars. With this thinking in mind, Massachusetts developed a thorough vetting and planning process for applicants. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (once upon the Department of Education) works to ensure that any proposal advanced by the Commissioner to the Board of Education is one worthy of consideration. Only a handful get past in any one year. This year only one was approved (ahem, with some unfortunate strings attached). We also close down charters […]


Jim Cramer is obviously a smart guy with a schtick. It’s kind of fun for 2 minutes. Then you have to lower the volume. I am troubled to say that he is sounding much wiser than our leaders in Washington. I don’t know about you, but I think that means we are now officially in deep do-do. In this clip, Cramer rails against the stimulus because it does not invest in infrastructure at anything even close to the level originally discussed. Yup. Then he calls for interest rate and principal adjustments for all mortgage payers, not select ones. Yup. Finally, he gets hot under the collar on Geithner’s lack of a plan. That’s a feeling many of us are getting. […]

Erroll Tyler and the IJ lawsuit

Kudos to the Globe editorial page and to the Boston Herald for picking up on an important lawsuit regarding Erroll Tyler’s attempt for seven years now (isn’t that long enough, folks?!) to open up a small business in the Boston area. You would think that we are rolling in dough and trying to push away the business tax revenue… Erroll Tyler’s dream is to launch Nautical Tours, a cutting-edge amphibious vehicle tour service based in Cambridge. But, like countless cities across the country, Boston appears to be using its licensing power to protect existing businesses from honest competition by denying others their basic right to earn a living. Last week, the Institute for Justice filed a major federal lawsuit against […]

Is global warming due to sulfur and not carbon

A great post by DA Mittell on his new blog (welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Mittell!), where he delves into the work by Dr. Peter Langdon Ward on volcanic activity, sulfur and global warming. I quote at length, because there is no snipping where Mittell is concerned: A year ago, I had the privilege as a mere editorialist of reading, along with scientists of several disciplines, the draft of a paper on the causes of global warming written by Massachusetts native Dr. Peter Langdon Ward. Dr. Ward studied earthquakes, plate tectonics and volcanoes for 27 years at the U.S Geological Survey. Viewing climate change over the whole history of the Earth, Dr. Ward noticed that warming patterns have appeared consistently […]

Lincoln 200 and the US History MCAS requirement

Anne Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has a beautiful letter she sent out today. It begins: Anniversaries and birthdays—humble and not so humble—give all of us occasion to celebrate and to give thanks. Today, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who so eloquently understood that America’s founding documents embody not just abstract propositions but living, breathing principles that unite us as a people. In his speech at Peoria on October 16, 1854, Lincoln called for Americans, to “re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it.” It was time, he said, that “all Americans—…all lovers of liberty everywhere—join in the […]

Government apples and private apples

I’ve always thought state policy is more interesting than federal policy. It takes so much to move big things in Washington. It is so much easier to get a waiver, to test and correct at the state level. And then all those 000000s make me think there is less to what they are doing in DC. And in the zeroes, you can include all the lobbyists. But let me wander a bit into the thicket of the “stimulus package,” which we once knew as the “bailout” before Obama became president. Question: We hear everyone bemoan the lack of savings by Americans. We need to save more, they say, because we are living beyond our ability to sustain the spending rate […]

Il Sorpasso

A great Italian movie of the early sixties directed by Dino Risi, usually translated as “The Easy Life.” The actual meaning is “the passing maneuver” — and that is the moment we are about to witness. Our friends at the Education Intelligence Agency, white hats and trench coats at the ready, note that we are very close to the moment when public sector union membership jets past the number of union employees in the private sector. A dangerous maneuver indeed. Last year was one of the best in ages for organized labor, as 428,000 members were added to union rolls. But before you crack open your choice of champagne or cyanide, it’s worth examining what propelled the boost. The unionization […]

The Governor's choice on charter schools

The Governor’s proposal on charter schools does two things: It increases the cap on commonwealth charter schools for a single year in districts falling in the state’s lowest performing districts, and it changes the funding formula in a way that puts equitable funding for charters at risk. The proposal ostensibly creates 4500 new charter seats, but stipulates a range of sub-groups that must make up 80 percent of the charter student body, including low-income, limited English proficient or special education students, or students determined to be at risk of dropping out. In addition, LEP and SPED enrollments in each new charter must exceed the sending district’s average by 5%. The one-year limit on the time to create any new charter […]

MA budget woes and the federal stimulus package

Governor Patrick has to close a budget gap of at least $950 million at this point. How will he do it? What we know so far is that the Governor is seeking · Over $300 million in additional cuts · $128 million local aid cuts Which means that via withdrawals from state reserves and anticipated assistance from the still being defined federal stimulus package, he will need to close at least half a billion dollars of the budget gap. I think we will be learning quite a lot about the federal stimulus package from the Governor’s budget announcement at 11 a.m.