May 6th, 2015
By Jeffrey Lewis
The crisis is compounded by the singular focus of Congress and many state legislators across the country on caring for the uninsured.
Modern healthcare has changed the way we eat, exercise, and live. It consumes approximately 18 percent of our gross domestic product and continues to be one of the most divisive issues in politics, changing the electoral landscape from Arkansas to Alaska.
Unfortunately, when it comes to preparing for the health necessities of old age – ensuring healthy, affordable independence for seniors – we are failing.
America is swiftly approaching critical mass in our long-term home and healthcare sector. Almost 10,000 Americans are turning 65 everyday – more than doubling the number of retirees who will require long-term care by 2050. Even more startling, roughly 70 percent of America’s seniors will need some type of long-term care. That’s why today, more than 45 million Americans are caring for an elderly family member.
No one wants to acknowledge aging. Growing older is shunned, demeaned and avoided at any cost. Children don’t talk to their parents about the eventual needs that arrive with old age. Parents, understandably, don’t want to cede their independence.
Like all important issues – long-term care solutions start at home. Given that American families will continue this struggle alone, we must alter our perception of aging. Instead of fear we should take a pragmatic look at ways to spark discussions, provide information, and give all Americans a fair choice in how they spend their golden years.
Families of all ages should know their options. Seniors should understand the choices, the opportunities and the pitfalls. So too must children of aging parents. But information is only one part of our long-term care equation. Without affordable long term care services to assist people in remaining independent, the prospect of quality independence shrinks.
Elected leaders must also explore new reforms that will spur younger generations to begin investing in their future while easing costs for today’s seniors. No one should be forced to deplete their life savings and place further stress on their families as our economy struggles to rebound.
Younger Americans who start planning today should have their long-term care investments shielded from burdensome taxes. Government should explore options for older Americans that would allow Medicare to shoulder part of home health and senior independence costs. These options should offer subsidies for our seniors who are living in poverty and be tied to income so wealthy seniors pay more.
Finally, we must address the issue of access. By 2030, nearly one fifth of our population will be over the age of 65 and 70 percent of them will require some form of long-term care. Without a viable infrastructure for providing senior independence, there will continue to be a large portion of seniors who must rely on already over-stretched family members for long-term care.
There is no greater challenge facing America, and no greater opportunity confronting Congress.
Jeffrey Lewis is the president of the Institute for Healthcare Innovation (firstname.lastname@example.org)
May 4th, 2015
by Peter Peyser
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s executive budget is expected soon and one of the issues attracting attention is the size of the city’s contribution to the MTA. While the mayor rightly urges Albany to come up with sustainable, long-term capital support for the regional transit network, the city’s contribution to the MTA Capital Plan is today less than half of its peak in 1989, during the Koch Administration. Certainly, there should be a way for the mayor to find significantly more city money to support the bus and subway system that is the lifeblood of our city. But there’s another way the mayor can support the MTA: increase funding to keep damaging water out of the subway.
Just in the past month, we had an illustration of how one system of crumbling infrastructure can contribute to the problems of another. When a water main broke in the West Village on April 7, water came cascading into the 14th Street Station on the 7th Avenue line, interrupting 1, 2, and 3 train service. The dramatic video of water showering a train in the station attracted a lot of attention on social media and elsewhere. But this incident is just one of several since Mayor de Blasio took office that highlight the importance of the city repairing its ancient water system. Others:
January 15, 2014 – a 137-year-old water main break near Union Square requires the diversion of multiple train lines during the morning rush hour
November 22, 2014 – a water main break in the Bronx floods the E 145th Station and requires suspension of 6 train service
April 1, 2015 – a water main break near Central Park West and 96th Street causes disruption in B and C train service
In each one of these incidents, the MTA mobilized people and equipment to restore service and make repairs as needed to subway equipment and infrastructure. While it may be difficult for the MTA to break down the costs for each incident like this, it’s clear that expenditures for labor and materials are not insubstantial. In addition, there are costs to the MTA in lost ridership revenue when these events take place. When you factor in additional economic costs of delaying commutes for thousands of people and lost business income, the total economic costs of this problem mount up.
A review of the mayor’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2016 shows capital expenditures of $325 million over 10 years to replace aging underground water mains. That’s just $32.5 million per year. For emergency repairs to broken water mains, there’s an additional $116 million over that same period – less than $12 million per year. These numbers are woefully inadequate. According to a March 2014 report by the Center for an Urban Future, the city’s water main replacement program has been replacing only about one-third of what’s required to approach a state of good repair. The result: more than 400 water main breaks in New York City last year and every year since 1998 but one.
The risk of underinvestment in our water infrastructure is becoming more apparent each time a water main break disrupts our transit network. If the mayor wants to keep the heat on Albany to fund the MTA, so be it. But he can also help support better transit by pumping more resources into repairing the city’s aging water infrastructure.
April 23rd, 2015
By SAM ROBERTS
Danny Schechter, whose media criticism became a staple of Boston radio and who went on to champion human rights as an author, filmmaker and television producer, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 72.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his brother, Bill, said.
Mr. Schechter infused almost all his work — whether it was for alternative or mainstream media — with his deep-rooted advocacy of human rights. He was a producer of an award-winning public television series, “South Africa Now,” and of the ABC News magazine “20/20.”
His cherubic, if bewhiskered, countenance belied an indomitability that began with the civil rights movement, projected him into the front lines of the campaign against apartheid in South Africa and endeared him to a generation of counterculture radio listeners as “the media dissector.” He described himself as a “participatory journalist.”
“What distinguished Schechter,” John Nichols wrote in The Nation online, “was his merging of a stark and serious old-school I. F. Stone-style understanding of media power and manipulation with a wild and joyous Yippie-infused determination to rip it up and start again.”
In a tribute on his Facebook page, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the former public radio and television correspondent, wrote that Mr. Schechter had “used the media as Edward R. Murrow defined its mission: To teach, illuminate and inspire.”
Daniel Isaac Schechter was born in Manhattan on June 27, 1942. His father, Jerry, was a garment center pattern maker who became a sculptor. His mother, the former Ruth Lisa Lubin, was a secretary who became a poet.
Mr. Schechter grew up in the Bronx, the grandson of socialist immigrants, and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School and Cornell University, interrupting his studies there to organize rent strikes in Harlem. As an organizer for the Northern Student Movement, he also marched for civil rights in Washington and in the South.
He received his master’s degree from the London School of Economics, where he became active in the antiapartheid movement.
In 1971 Mr. Schechter joined the Boston rock station WBCN-FM, where he found a following as “Danny Schechter, the News Dissector.” Noam Chomsky, the linguist and emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recalled the “enlightenment and insight and humor” of his broadcasts, which, he said, “literally educated a generation.”
At the end of each broadcast, Mr. Schechter borrowed a phrase from Wes Nisker, a San Francisco broadcaster, and exhorted his listeners: “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”
He joined CNN in its early days, in 1980, before moving to “20/20,” where his work won two Emmy Awards. In 1988, he and Rory O’Connor founded Globalvision, a New York production company, which produced “Rights & Wrongs: Human Rights Television,” a 1990s series hosted by Ms. Hunter-Gault, and “South Africa Now,” a weekly public affairs program that won a George Polk Award in 1990.
In a letter to The New York Times in 1991, Mr. Schechter defended his programs against complaints from some stations that they crossed the line into advocacy.
“How many PBS stations may have decided not to air our programs because they don’t want the controversy generated by the self-styled media police?” he wrote. “Self-censorship is always the hardest to detect. The public television system needs to be more open to programming that challenges the conventional wisdom, that lets the voices of the world in.”
By his count, he wrote 17 books, among them “The More You Watch the Less You Know: News Wars/(sub)Merged Hopes/Media Adventures” and “Madiba A-Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela.” He also made more than 30 films, including six documentaries on Mr. Mandela and another titled “WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception,” and had blogged since 2002. He lived in Manhattan.
Besides his brother, he is survived by a daughter, Sarah, and Denzil McKenzie, who lived with the family for years. His two marriages ended in divorce.
“I know all this is easy for me to say,” Mr. Schechter wrote a year ago on Common Dreams, which describes itself as a website for the progressive community. “All I seem to have these days is this keyboard to crank out more condemnations and calls to action, knowing full well, as I do it, that I don’t know what else to do. I am compelled to make media, compelled to do what I can, thinking modestly that perhaps somewhere, in hearts I don’t know, words or images can still stir souls to rise.”
Correction: March 26, 2015
April 23rd, 2015
By SARAH DORSEY
These days, Sean O’Toole can’t take anything for granted.
A nice meal, for example. He can only manage one a day—generally an evening meal of soft food—because it’s tough keeping his mouth moist enough to swallow anything.
“Radiation nuked my saliva glands, so it’s really difficult to eat,” he said. He usually supplements with two or three Ensures, the nutritional shakes that help many sick people get enough calories.
Mr. O’Toole, a retired NYPD Police Officer, responded to the World Trade Center site on 9/11 and continued reporting there in the months that followed, first performing rescue and recovery work, then guarding the perimeter.
“So I was kinda in the Hot Zone from the first day to the last day kind of thing,” he said in an interview last week. “That’s just the way the cards fell when I was assigned. Nothin’ heroic; that’s where I was geographically assigned.”
About a year after the blast site was cleared in May 2002, Mr. O’Toole began having breathing difficulties. He developed asthma and his lung capacity diminished substantially. Then in 2013, doctors diagnosed him with oropharyngeal cancer, a malignancy of the throat.
He’d never smoked—a risk factor for his type of cancer—and his doctors told him the disease was Sept. 11-related, a result of the toxic dust unleashed that day.
As a cop who retired with a pension, Mr. O’Toole has better help than most, including good health insurance. But he said the World Trade Center Health Program, which is funded through the Federal Zadroga Act, put him “on the road to recovery.”
A Vital Cost-Saver
“[The Health Program] has been…” he began, then trailed off. “Without sounding like a drama queen, I cannot stress how important they’ve been to me and my family in terms of my medication.”
The program covers out-of-pocket medication costs that he never could have met on his own, particularly since he and his wife are raising three school-age children. It paid for a new drug not yet covered by traditional insurance to try to restore function in his saliva glands, and helps him cover the Ensure, which he estimates would otherwise cost him more than $200 a month. It also enables him to get acupuncture for neuropathy brought on by chemotherapy.
“They’re all just good people there, too, so it kinda makes the whole process even better,” he added.
The retired officer said he was concerned about renewing the law, in part for those whose cancers have not yet emerged.
“To lose that safety net [for them], it would be very, very difficult,” he said.
Push to Reauthorize Bill
A bipartisan group of Federal lawmakers launched their effort to reauthorize the bill on April 14. The legislation—introduced as S. 928 and H.R. 1786—was sponsored by a bipartisan coalition led by New York lawmakers.
“We made a promise on Sept. 11, not only to rebuild, and pursue justice against those who attacked us, but to care for the injured and their families, and the first-responders and volunteers who risked everything to help others in the wake of the attacks,” Congresswoman Maloney said in a statement. “Our commitment to ‘never forget’ knew no bounds or party lines when joined in unison on the steps of the Capitol back in 2001, and it doesn’t today.”
Senator Gillibrand referred to the fierce fight the original bill triggered before passing in the waning hours of the 2010 congressional session. Lawmakers then threatened to block it over the cost.
‘Do the Right Thing’
“I am proud to stand hand-in-hand with members from both sides of the aisle and from both chambers of Congress because it shouldn’t take another ‘Christmas miracle’ for Congress to do the right thing and stand by our heroes,” she said.
The original Zadroga Act set aside $4.3 billion for first-responders and survivors, $2.77 billion of which went to the VCF payments. Under the reauthorization bill, the benefits would be permanent, and there would be no monetary cap.
Like Mr. O’Toole, George Cerbasi Jr. has health problems that he fears will persist after the Zadroga Act expires.
A volunteer fire chief at the time, he rushed over from Norwood, New Jersey to help on the day of the attacks, and for several days he worked on the Pile or at the Fresh Kills landfill, where the air was thick with 9/11 dust. Though his tenure there was shorter than the police officer’s, he said he served “just long enough to get sick.”
In 2006, a cardiopulmonary work-up showed he had spots on his lungs. It turned out to be sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disorder found more frequently among Sept. 11 responders. It’s believed that it can be triggered by breathing in foreign substances, such as the asbestos and other toxins released on 9/11. The disease causes inflammatory cells called sarcoids to form on the body, often on internal organs.
“The next year, my heart wasn’t pumping right,” he said in a phone interview from his new home in Colorado Springs, Colo. He developed chest pain and thought he was having a heart attack, but learned that sarcoids had formed on his heart, too.
Looking back over the series of painful illnesses triggered, his doctors say, by his 9/11 exposure, Mr. Cerbasi found refuge in wry humor.
“They nicknamed me ‘The 1 percent,’” he said of his health-care providers, because if something could go wrong for him, it would. He joked that he was a frequent flier at the emergency room.
Even before the sarcoidosis, he developed several illnesses common among Sept. 11 responders starting in 2004: rhinitis, GERD, sleep apnea, and, by 2011, a precancerous condition in his nasal cavity.
“I call myself a professional patient,” he said.
In 2008, Mr. Cerbasi was given a pacemaker because his cardiac sarcoid was interfering with his heart’s ability to receive signals from the brain. Since then, he’s had two surgeries to fix the pacemaker’s malfunctioning leads and another to replace it.
More ailments followed, including an excruciating sarcoid on his eye socket. He developed nerve damage and had a spinal tap to see if that symptom was triggered by the sarcoidosis. That procedure went wrong, causing spinal fluid to back up and sparking headaches so bad he considered taking his own life. (They were relieved after another procedure.)
Last year, he discovered he had kidney disease, likely caused by the steroids used to control the shooting pain from his nerve damage.
Mr. Cerbasi was just 38 on Sept. 11, and he’s 52 today.
‘Be Dead Minus ‘Zadroga’
“I’d be dead by now” without the Zadroga Act, he said. He didn’t have health insurance before he joined the World Trade Center Health Program, and would likely have put off treatment for his heart conditions, which easily could have been fatal. The pre-cancerous lesions in his sinuses also would have gone untreated.
Three years ago, his doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to work again. He began accepting Federal help.
Still, he says he doesn’t regret his decisions.
“I’m the only one in my department that’s gotten sick,” he said. “That’s the only way I’d have it, [to] go down with my men.”
“If they called me today, I’d be there,” he later added. “I’d go again. I wouldn’t hesitate a bit.”
Make Bill Permanent
Although the Health Program is due to expire in October, the act allows for leftover funds to be used for another year without requiring new appropriations from Congress, so sick patients won’t be turned away immediately.
Earlier versions of the reauthorization limited its benefits to 25 years, in an apparent attempt to gain support. The average age of responders at the Trade Center was 42, and it would have covered many until they reached Medicare age.
But the draft that was submitted by legislators last week would put Zadroga in the company of other landmark worker-health acts with permanent benefits.
Programs providing health care and compensation for coal miners with black lung and energy workers sickened by radiation protect thousands and are long-established law, Zadroga advocates note. They were supported by even some of the more fiscally-conservative members of Congress whose constituents were affected, like Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
A 50-State Concern
More than 33,000 people have so far been certified with at least one Sept. 11-related illness or injury; they now live in 429 of 435 Congressional districts and in all 50 states. Two-thirds of them have more than one condition.
Victim Compensation Fund Special Master Sheila Birnbaum has decided more than $1 billion in awards, nearly all of them to first-responders. The fund covers lost wages, out-of-pocket medical costs and other financial aid. Awards have been determined for about 4,400 claimants, and more than 10,500 more have been approved for compensation.
Federal Zadroga funds currently come from fees on certain visas paid by foreign citizens and, primarily, a tax on the income that foreign corporations make selling products to the United States. It is unclear at this point where future funds would originate, but Congress has strict rules requiring that all new expenditures be offset in some way.
City’s Share 10%
New York City also contributes 10 percent of the costs, a compromise in the original bill that would continue under its renewal.
It’s too early to tell how much the bill would cost; the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation must review it and issue estimates.
Advocates have expressed cautious optimism that reauthorization will face less opposition than the original bill. A filibuster nearly derailed it in 2010, but now its supporters are armed with more scientific studies about the health hazards of Sept. 11 dust. They are also facing a deadline that could convince some lawmakers to act more quickly.
The program has expanded since it was signed in early 2011, now covering dozens of types of cancer. Supporters say that change was vital and long overdue, though it raised costs considerably.
Mr. Cerbasi, who first heard about the medical program through his now-attorney, Noah Kushlefsky, said he is grateful for the good care he is able to get even as far away as Colorado.
“I’m not going to doctors [now] that I can’t afford that are not covered,” he said, adding that they have particular expertise in his conditions. “Now I can see quality doctors and I don’t have to go and draw a name out of a hat.”
April 23rd, 2015
Even though the Common Core State Standards Initiative was meant to strengthen the U.S. education system by ensuring “all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live,” sadly, it appears to be having the opposite effect.
The problem? All kids learn and test differently and it’s impossible to capture the myriad needs and nuances of learning under the framework of a “common” set of teaching standards – especially for kids with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). What’s a frustrated parent to do?
Empty PARCC-ing lot
The upcoming PARCC exams seem to be piling on the frustration. Aligned with Common Core standards, PARCC has become a lightning rod for controversy by confusing kids (and parents) and as a result, many states have refused to participate in the PARCC exams. Of the dwindling support remaining, an opt-out movement is gaining momentum amidst controversy over corporate ties to Common Core – which begs the question: Who’s really driving education in the U.S.?
To its credit, PARCC has been very transparent about its testing procedures, encouraging people to participate in sample tests. But when educated parents struggle with many of the questions, it becomes obvious that “teaching to the test” isn’t the best tactic to make students more prepared to enter the workforce or attend college.
Learning from other industries
Establishing a common set of standards certainly makes sense – on paper at least – to establish credibility, competence and trust for a variety of different industries. Global software firm SAP, a leading provider of cloud solutions and supporter of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) is on a continuous mission to improve its certification standards to ensure qualified individuals understand how to implement and operate its software.
According to Mary Bazemore, COO, SAP Education, establishing competency standards for SAP professionals requires input and validation from a wide variety of experienced resources, with the input being tied directly to a specific set of tasks expected to be performed by a given role.
“We do not recommend using our certification test results as an exclusive standard for evaluating an individual’s capability, but as part of an overall evaluation of a candidate’s competency,” said Bazemore. “Evaluating a range of relevant criteria, including certifications, job experience and education has proven to be the most productive means of establishing standards that our ecosystem can use to determine an individual’s overall competence.”
What are your thoughts? Can Common Core learn from other industries to improve testing procedures?
This story also appeared on SAP Business Trends, an open community dedicated to uncovering business benefits of IT innovation.
April 22nd, 2015
By Mike Hall
In a hearing on U.S. trade policy Tuesday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the Senate Finance Committee, “We don’t believe we can build strong and sustainable economic growth on a foundation of stagnant wages and disempowered workers.”
“And a key component of a raising wages economy is a new approach to trade and globalization—one that puts good jobs, safe products and a clean environment at the center of global economic integration—not enhanced corporate power and profits.”
He said that the AFL-CIO has been advocating for a new trade policy more than two decades and that “far from being ‘opposed to trade on principle’:
“We have supported trade deals when warranted. We have engaged with policymakers in both parties and at every level to work toward a new generation of trade policies that will create a virtuous cycle of demand-led growth while strengthening our democracy, protecting workers’ rights globally and promoting sustainable global economic development. Key to reforming our trade policies is abolishing the outdated, unaccountable, undemocratic Fast Track process.”
The stakes for allowing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to be considered under Fast Track “couldn’t be higher,” Trumka said. It covers 12 countries that represent about 40% of the world’s economy and, under its terms, could be expanded to even more nations.
“The idea that Fast Track lets Congress set the standards and goals for the TPP is a fiction—the agreement has been under negotiation for more than five years and is essentially complete. Congress cannot set meaningful negotiating objectives in a Fast Track bill if the administration has already negotiated most of the key provisions. And Congress will lose crucial leverage over any few remaining provisions by agreeing to Fast Track at this late date.”
“These agreements put in place rules that could limit the ability of Congress and the states to legislate in the public interest now and for decades to come. Yet the public and Congress have too little say in the important details of these deals.”
“cede important and long-lasting decisions about our economy to a few negotiators in a small room in the middle of the night. This is undemocratic. It’s wrong. And it has led to disastrous policies for America’s workers and producers.”
Urging lawmakers not to pass Fast Track legislation, Trumka said, “the short time allotted between introduction of the bill, hearings, committee consideration and floor action is a sign that this bill cannot stand on its own merits. It is losing support fast.”
“It seems that its proponents see their only hope for passage is to rush it through before anyone has had a chance to review it properly. The American people deserve better.”
April 22nd, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The author of a new report touting the enormous economic and social benefits of single payer healthcare and the New York Health Act, is urging organized labor in the Empire State to “get ahead of the curve” and to boldly take healthcare off the bargaining table once and for all.
Trade unionists have traditionally looked upon their negotiated healthcare packages as great sources of pride, and one of the most attractive things about being part of a union.
But at an open forum looking at the New York Health Act held near Union Square this week, Gerald Friedman, PhD, chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, suggested that clinging to negotiated healthcare benefits is unnecessary under a single payer system, and actually undermining the labor movement in a couple of important ways.
“That’s the past,” Friedman said. “Unions have to get ahead of the curve. If you go to collective bargaining negotiations these days, it’s always the first thing the employers talk about — how healthcare costs for retirees or current employees are too great, so, we can’t give you wage increases. At this point, we’ve got to get healthcare off the bargaining table. It’s working against unions.”
NYSNA — The New York State Nursing Association — is a major advocate for single payer and adoption of the New York Health Act. It too, however, reports encountering some rank and file reticence when presenting members with the idea that, under a single payer system, the state would cover their healthcare needs.
“Our health benefits are one of the prize reasons for being a member of a labor union in this country,” said Steve Toff, director of Strategic Campaigns for NYSNA. “If you ask people why they pay their dues, they often think, ‘Well, in return I get great healthcare.’ But that’s come at the expense of collective bargaining over the course of 30 or 40 years. If the state, all of a sudden provided it, it would throw a big wrench in the way that works. I think it’s a good wrench, ultimately. But it creates a lot of transitional problems from our past dependency.”
The single payer system outlined under the New York Health Care Act uses a progressive model, and places an 80 percent assessment on employers, and a 20 percent assessment on employees. Workers earning less than $25,000 a year would not be assessed at all.
Advocates for passage of the New York Health Act argue that the single payer system would be at least as comprehensive as any employer- or union-based sponsored coverage with no deductibles, co-pays or limited networks. Additionally, unions that have negotiated low or zero worker contributions to a health plan would negotiate the same arrangement for the worker share of the payroll assessment.
“Even without renegotiation of a contract, [workers] will be getting savings from not paying co-pays and deductibles,” Friedman said. “Even the well positioned workers will probably be doing better.”
Friedman also projects that switching to a single payer system under the New York Health Act would generate some 200,000 new jobs, while saving New Yorkers $45 billion.
In a perverse way, the economist says that the comprehensive healthcare packages that organized labor has been able to win at the bargaining table, has actually made unions vulnerable to right wing attacks.
“It’s made unions look like there’s something wrong with them…they’re these spoiled brats with all that good healthcare,” Freidman said. “It’s not helping anymore.”
Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin recently sparked shock waves when he reversed stated plans to bring single payer to the Green Mountain State. Friedman denounced the governor’s actions this week saying, “There’s no economic basis for Governor Shumlin’s decision to back away from single payer. He did it because of political considerations.”
April 16th, 2015
By Emma Brown
New York City’s charter schools are leaving thousands of seats unfilled each year despite ballooning demand and long waiting lists, according to an analysis of public data to be released Friday.
The decision not to fill seats that are left vacant by departing students deprives other deserving students of places in the schools, the report argues. It also means that charter schools can appear to be improving, according to proficiency rates on standardized tests, even as the absolute number of children scoring proficient declines each year, it says.
The report, entitled “No Seat Left Behind” and issued by the Harlem-based parent advocacy group Democracy Builders, calls on charter schools to begin voluntarily “backfilling” their empty seats — or admitting new students to replace those who leave.
[Charter schools still a D.C. hot-button issue]
Traditional public schools are required to fill empty seats, often taking in children who are English language learners, or homeless or poor. Some charter schools also backfill, but many do not, allowing new students to enroll only at certain entry points — such as kindergarten, fifth or sixth grade, and ninth grade.
“We love to say charter schools are public schools,” said Princess Lyles, executive director of Democracy Builders. “We have to be who we say are. If we want to proclaim that we are public schools, then we have to do some of the things that traditional public schools have to do.”
In New York City, charter schools lose an average of between 6 and 11 percent of students annually, Democracy Builders found. Since many schools do not replace those students, more than 2,500 seats are left empty in grades 3 through 8 alone, according to the report.
“One seat left open is one too many,” Lyles said, arguing that the 50,000 children on wait lists deserve as much access as possible to the city’s charter schools. The city’s charter schools enroll about 80,000 children.
Charter school critics have long contended that charters’ refusal to backfill has given them an unfair leg up in comparisons with traditional schools because a steady influx of new students — who are often behind grade level — can hurt math and reading proficiency rates.
The new report echoes that criticism but was written by charter school advocates. The founder of Democracy Builders is Seth Andrew, who also founded one of the city’s most vaunted charter school networks, Democracy Prep (which backfills its seats).
[Separating fact from fiction in 21 claims about charter schools]
The data show that attrition has left a considerable number of vacancies at some of the most acclaimed charter schools in the city, such as Success Academy, which is known for producing high test scores even though it primarily enrolls poor children.
Between 2006 and 2014, the proportion of students at Success Academy who scored proficient in math ranged from 94 percent in third grade to 97 percent in eighth grade, according to the report.
But the number of test-takers declined with each passing year, as students departed, and the number of proficient students fell from 88 students in third grade to 31 students in eighth.
By contrast, many traditional schools see their numbers increase in later grades. In District 7, for example, between 2006 and 2014 the average number of test-takers increased from 77 to 109 between third and eighth grade, while proficiency fell from 30 to 28 percent.
“Without backfilling, a school can maintain the illusion of success,” Lyles and her Democracy Builders colleague Dan Clark wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published in February. The organization is supporting a bill before the New York City council that would require schools to make public far more information about student attrition and backfilling.
In a recent WNYC radio interview, Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz called backfilling a “long, complicated debate” and said her schools now accept new students through fourth grade. Accepting older children who were not prepared academically for Success Academy’s rigors would be detrimental to other students, she said.
“It’s not really fair for the seventh grader or high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level,” she said, according to a report in Chalkbeat New York.
The report is one sign that backfilling has emerged as a key issue dividing charter advocates around the nation. It is a question that has taken on new urgency particularly in cities where charter schools enroll a substantial share of students and are coming under pressure to reexamine not only their enrollment policies, but also their suspension and expulsion practices and their services for special-needs students.
Michael J. Petrilli, president of the conservative Fordham Institute think tank, wrote in a recent blog post that decisions about such policies should be left to individual schools.
“That’s the whole point of charter schools: to allow educators to escape the Gordian knot of regulations and requirements that have imprisoned traditional public schools,” he wrote. “When we force charter schools to backfill, or adopt uniform discipline policies, or mimic district schools’ approach to special education, we turn them into the very things they were intended to replace.”
April 13th, 2015
By: Nick Reisman
Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law School professor who challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo in last year’s Democratic primary, recorded a robocall informing parents of their right to not have students take state tests.
The call is part of a growing campaign to have students not take standardized tests and potentially dilute results for teacher evaluations.
Teachout’s call was received by parents on Sunday evening and directs recipients to the website of New York Allies for Public Education, which provides further details on how to opt out of state tests.
In the call, Teachout tells parents they have a “constitutional right” to have their children not take a standardized test in a public classroom.
Standardized testing begins this week in New York schools for the next two weeks.
The New York State United Teachers union, along with their allied groups, is encouraging parents to not have their children participating in the testing.
The opt out push began right before Cuomo and state lawmakers approved new teacher evaluation criteria in the state budget.
The legislation would require teachers be evaluated based on one test, plus in-classroom observation. A second test would be subject to collective bargaining on the local level.
The state Department of Education would determine how much weight to give the tests versus classroom observation.
But NYSUT, along with other labor-backed groups like the Working Families Party, are seeking to have parents keep their children from taking the standardized testing this month.
Lawmakers, too, have sought the passage of measures that would require the state Department of Education to inform parents of their right to have their children opt out.
The Cuomo administration has insisted the education measures in the budget will put in motion a plan to reduce the amount of testing in schools overall.
Nevertheless, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul added last week that having children opt out could be harmful down the road.
“The truth is, I think if you hold you’re children back from this kind of participation, it could be doing them a disservice,” Hochul said. “But if they want to make an individual decision going down that path, there are consequences in the future that I’d be concerned about.”
April 13th, 2015
by Leo Casey
Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute, a think tank affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.
Do charter schools pose an existential threat to public education and teacher unions? One need look no further than post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, widely touted as a national model of education reform, to understand why many observers now answer this question in the affirmative. Today, New Orleans charter schools enroll more than nine in every ten public school students, a share that continues to grow as traditional public schools are closed and new charters are opened. With the growth of non-union charter schools, the post-Katrina teaching force has become significantly younger and whiter, supplanting the predominantly African-American and unionized teaching cohort that was illegally dismissed en masse in the wake of the hurricane. Despite this sweeping change, there is scant evidence that the academic performance of New Orleans schools has meaningfully improved in the nine years since Katrina. But that did not stop U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, an outspoken advocate of charter schools, from declaring that “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”
The Political Challenge of Charter Schools
Post-Katrina New Orleans is the vanguard of a larger charter school movement. Today, forty- three states and the District of Columbia have laws authorizing charter schools. There are over 7,000 charter schools across the country, accounting for more than 7 percent of all American public schools. But these aggregate numbers tell only half of the story. Charter schools are heavily concentrated in urban centers and now constitute a significant portion of the schools in cities from Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., to Chicago, Houston, and Oakland. A majority of Detroit’s students attend charter schools. In absolute numbers, Los Angeles has over 120,000 charter school students, the most in the nation; New York City is second, with 60,000-plus charter school students. In both cities, charter schools have been deliberately concentrated in communities of color and in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, part of an effort to take advantage of the inequities of race and class that afflict American public education.
Since 2008, charter schools have more than doubled in number, while 4,000 district public schools have closed.
Since 2008, charter schools have more than doubled in number, while 4,000 district public schools across the country have closed. During this time, the leadership of the charter school movement, the leading charter management organizations (CMOs), and most charter schools have adopted an antagonistic posture toward district public schools and teacher unions. They view themselves as engaged in a zero-sum competition, in which charter school development, growth, and health can only come at the expense of district public schools and teacher unions. Charter school leaders have been outspoken critics of the work of district public schools and the biggest supporters of mayors and school superintendents who have pursued policies of mass public school closures in inner-city communities. Less than 9 percent of the nation’s charter schools are represented by unions and have collective bargaining agreements; as a general rule, charter management has fought unionization tooth and nail.
The charter movement leadership has championed schools modeled after for-profit businesses and corporations, and serving as a market alternative to district public schools. Support for this conception came from two different political quarters, Republican conservatives that dominate the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools and the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party that initiated Democrats for Education Reform. While they disagree on a number of political issues, both of these forces share a common allegiance to corporate power and a common antipathy for organized labor, especially teacher unions. As the last outpost of the American labor movement that has effectively organized its economic sector, teacher unions provide crucial electoral support to progressive candidates for public office and vital political power for a progressive legislative agenda. Republican conservatives confronting increasingly unfavorable demographic trends see voter suppression and union suppression— especially of teacher unions—as vital to maintaining their electoral competitiveness. Similarly, the Wall Street Democrats for Education Reform see teacher unions as the main political foes of pro-corporate Democrats such as Michael Bennett and Cory Booker who are the stalwarts of their agenda.
The Intellectual Challenge of Charter Schools
While public education advocates and teacher unionists focus on the political dangers posed by the charter school movement, the intellectual understanding of that movement lags far behind what is needed. Much of the current discourse is in the thrall of a crude and one-dimensional analysis that renders charter schools as private schools, pure and simple, solely because they are governed and managed by independent boards and not by a school district. It is their “private”
governance and management structure, this line of argument goes, that makes charter schools antagonistic to district public schools and teacher unions. But the minority of charter schools that seriously engage with promising experiments in curricula and teaching, and have a positive relationship with district public schools and teacher unions, demonstrate the fallacious reasoning of this thinking. Insofar as most charter schools have adopted this antagonistic posture, the source of the problem lies not in the structure of their governance and management, but in the specific policies and practices advocated by the leader- ship of the charter school movement and adopted by those who manage the great preponderance of charter schools.
To address the intellectual challenge posed by charter schools, we need a deeper and more complete understanding of what it means for schools to be public. American society needs a robust system of public education because education is, in its essential aspects, a public good: it is the means that we as a people use to fulfill certain common objectives that are fundamental to our aspirations of democratic self-rule. Among those objectives are the socialization and enculturation of youth; the development of the skills and dispositions of democratic citizenship, from critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and problem solving to historical understanding and civic participation; the nurturing of the self-reflection and self-direction that allows the citizenry to construct productive lives of meaning and purpose; the promotion of economic opportunity and the reduction of economic inequality; and the preparation of a workforce for the global knowledge economy. Taken as a whole, these ends are the necessary foundation of a productive economy and democratic polity in a free society.
Education can also provide private goods such as marketable job skills and inculcation into the values and customs of a particular faith community. While individuals and groups may pursue these private goods, and may even establish private schools to secure them, they are not a compelling reason for public support of education. Education as a private good can be readily bought and sold in a marketplace, as it has utility for individuals, but education as a public good is of a different order. It is part of “the commons” of a free society, and is best delivered as a public service.
Understood in this way, public education has a number of critical dimensions that are logically entailed in the idea of education as a public good. Briefly put, public schools
are publicly funded, with those funds equitably distributed among all schools
Taken together, these dimensions provide a normative standard of what it means to be a public school in the fullest meaning of the term. The distinction between public education and private education is no longer seen as a fixed divide along a simple line of demarcation, but as a dynamic continuum in which a school can be more or less public. All schools, charter and district, can be evaluated against this normative standard.
Actually Existing Charter Schools
So where do charter schools fall out along this public–private continuum? For the organized charter school movement, most CMOs, and most charter schools, it is far to the private side. To be sure, the charter school movement has been quick to claim for itself the name “public”: the national organization of charter management calls itself the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS). But it is
hard to see this appropriation of the term “public” as anything but a deeply cynical claim on public funding. NAPCS had no difficulty characterizing charter schools as “private” corporations when it filed an amicus brief on behalf of the management of a charter school, the Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA), which fought unionization by their teachers. CMSA argued it was a “private” school, because it was incorporated as a not- for-profit entity and governed by an independent board; this designation placed it under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board rather than the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The reason for this legal maneuver? It is easier to delay and obstruct efforts of teachers to unionize under the federal labor relations law.
In the area of governance, the boards of many charter schools—particularly those affiliated with charter school chains—are populated with the corporate and financial elite and sponsoring elected officials and not community representatives, educators, or families of students. In some states, educators and family members are even prohibited from sitting on boards. Boards are often reduced to the creatures of CMOs.1 Charter school educators and families generally know very little about their board’s decision-making process and have virtually no entrée to it.
Charter school educators and families generally know very little about their board’s decision-making process and have virtually no entrée to it.
In the charter school world, for-profit CMOs such as Imagine, White Hat, and K-12 make substantial amounts of money off real estate deals and management fees, while their affiliated schools perform poorly on academic measures.2 The problem of profiteering extends far beyond for-profit firms. Charter executives at ostensibly non-profit firms often make salaries more befitting the excesses of Wall Street than public service: for example, high-profile charter executives in New York City make as much as $500,000 annually for supervising a handful of schools, while the Chancellor of New York City public schools, who supervises over 1,700 district schools, makes a little over $210,000.3
Non-profit CMOs often charge exorbitant management fees that are taken directly out of public funds provided for the education of students: Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies recently increased their fee to 15 percent—$2,000 per student—of the public funds provided for their students’ education.4 And there is a growing problem of financial malfeasance and corruption in charter schools, concentrated in states that provide the weakest regulatory oversight.5
Despite the common complaint otherwise, many charter schools receive greater public funding than comparable district schools. A financial study of the most prominent charter school chain—KIPP—found that its schools received (on average) almost $1,800 per pupil in federal government grants, considerably more than com- parable district schools. When all public and private revenue was combined, KIPP schools had more than $6,500 in per pupil funding, 54 per- cent more than comparable district schools.6 In New York City, most charter schools receive
$2,000 more per pupil funding than district schools as a result of the policy of co-location, which provides free space in city schools, free utilities and free food, janitorial and security services.7 Yet despite this generous support from the public coffers, New York charter schools have fought the ability of the New York State Comptroller to audit their schools, a function regularly exercised with other public schools. Their argument? Charter schools are private entities, thus beyond the purview of democratically elected officials charged with auditing public agencies.8
When all public and private revenue was combined, KIPP schools had more than $6,500 in per pupil funding, 54 percent more than comparable district schools.
As a rule, charter schools enroll fewer numbers of high needs students—students with special needs and English language learners—than comparable district schools.9 Moreover, students in these categories they do admit tend to be students with lower levels of need.10 School practices and policies—especially among “no excuses” charter schools—lead to very high rates of attrition among high needs students.11 At the same time, there is a compelling body of evidence which points to charter schools as an exacerbating force in the re-segregation of American public schools.12 Charter schools are more racially segregating, for both majority and minority students, than comparable district schools; moreover, they are more economically segregating, tending to concentrate more of the very wealthy and the very poor students than comparable district schools. Charter advocates defend this segregation with the argument that charter schools are providing a superior education to the students with the great- est need. Yet the best research shows that a plurality of charter schools perform more poorly than district schools on standardized exams, and that the preponderance of charter schools perform either at the same level or more poorly than district schools. Only a minority of charter schools outperform district schools.13
Only a minority of charter schools outperform district schools.
In an age of mass incarceration with growing attention paid to the “school to prison pipeline,” the disciplinary policies of the “no excuses” chains that increasingly dominate the charter sector raise serious questions about the impact of those policies on the large numbers of poor African-American and Latino children they are responsible for educating. While expulsion rates of district public schools are certainly too high and must be reduced, they are dwarfed by the rates in charter schools: according to recent reports, in Chicago, charter schools expel students at twelve times the rate of district schools, and in Washington, D.C., charter schools expel students at twenty-eight times the rate of district schools.14 This is only one aspect of a disconcerting educational approach that focuses inordinately on student performance on standardized exams, with a consequential diminishment of a richer, broader curriculum and the civic purposes of schooling.15
As troubling as this evidence of the pursuit of a broad privatization agenda by charter school movement leadership, CMOs, and most charter schools is, it is not the complete picture. Throughout the United States, there are charter schools that could only be described as fully public schools on virtually every one of the eight dimensions identified above. Indeed, in many respects, these community charter schools are more fully public than their district school counterparts. They are a minority within the charter school sector, but there is no question that they exist.
A few examples of charter schools in this vein will illustrate the point.16 Amber Charter School in East Harlem is one of the oldest elementary charter schools in New York. It was founded in 2000 by the Association of Progressive Dominicans, a community-based organization, and has a number of partnerships with East Harlem and Latino community organizations. From its start, the school’s staff was represented by the New York City teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and has an active parent involvement. The school provides a dual language (Spanish and English) program of instruction, based on a rich curriculum, and actively engages its students in the East Harlem community. Bronx
Community Charter School is a newer New York City elementary charter school. It was founded by a group of New York City public school educators and families who wanted an alternative to the “test prep” culture forced upon schools under the Bloomberg and Klein administration, and its instructional program focuses on project-based learning, inquiry learning, and performance assessments. The school has deep roots in the Fordham neighbor- hood of the Bronx, and its staff is represented by the UFT.
If a school receives public money, it must be a public school in the fullest meaning of the term, educating for the common good.
What this complicated reality tells us is that the legal quality which defines a charter school as a charter school—its management by an independent board rather than by a government entity—is not of the greatest consequence for education understood as a public good. A civil society institution may even be better than a school district at having its schools focused on a fully public education. Rather, the crux of the problems we face is found in the privatizing policies and practices adopted by charter school management and in the market fundamentalism that currently dominates charter movement thinking, with its denigration of the common good in education. The struggle that needs to be waged is that if a school receives public money, it must be a public school in the fullest meaning of the term, educating for the common good.
Actually Existing District Schools
An intellectually honest discussion of the differences between charter schools and district schools must acknowledge that in a number of significant respects, district schools can and often do fall out along the private side of the private–public continuum. Take the vital issue of school segregation: district public schools in the United States are generally segregated by race and class. If charter schools were to disappear tomorrow, American public education would still be intensely segregated and still moving toward greater segregation. Charter schools have just intensified the move toward greater segregation. And the role of local financing for American public schools has created a public education system with yawning chasms of funding and resources between schools educating children of the well-to-do and schools educating children of the poor and working class.
These historic failings have provided the foes of public education and teacher unions within the charter school movement with openings to pursue their agenda of constructing a substitute system of schools, free of unions. Charter schools were strategically located in inner-city communities of color, where parents looked for alternatives to failing district schools that were often unsafe, poorly resourced, and segregated by race and class. In 2008, Democrats for Education Reform reported on a campaign on behalf of charter schools specifically targeting the historic African-American community of Harlem, which was then undergoing a wave of gentrification.17 The Walton Family Foundation of Walmart, a major giver to anti-union charter schools, decided in 2008 that it would only sup- port New York charter schools that were established in Harlem.18 By that time, Harlem had the second-greatest concentration of charter schools in the United States, second only to New Orleans.
Charter schools were strategically located in inner-city communities of color, where parents were looking for alternatives to failing district schools.
While issues such as race and class segregation, and disparities in funding and resources, are long-standing features of American education, over the last decade district schools have been subjected to an incremental privatization, in which the public “substance” of their education has been increasingly hollowed out. This incremental privatization has been the result of what can be called corporate education reform, as it is organized around the idea that public schools should be remade in the image and likeness of a for-profit business and corporation, much like the dominant model in the charter school sector. American public schools are a government monopoly, the indictment goes, and are thus not subject to competition; unlike “for-profit” businesses, they do not live or die dependent upon their performance in the marketplace. The solution is to create competition among public schools by establishing an educational “bottom line” for public schools that functions in much the same way as the profit-and-loss balance sheet functions for a business. That “bottom line” is to be provided by student scores on standardized exams.
This theory of action applied not only to schools but also to the educators who work in them. Corporate education reformers argue that public school teachers and supervisors have faced no consequences for poor performance,
because they are protected by civil service regulations, tenure laws, and collective bargaining agreements. Educators needed to be ranked, from the best to the worst, with the bottom 10 percent facing dismissal: this would create in the workplace a struggle in which the fittest, best performing educators survived and the weakest, lowest performing educators were eliminated. To achieve this ranking, evaluations would rely heavily upon student scores on standardized exams.
In combination, these changes have yielded a system of “test and sanction” accountability that has transformed American education for the worse. As student performance on standardized exams became the dominant organizing force behind school closures, teacher evaluations, and student graduations and promotions, district schools and teachers adapted to this new reality by focusing more and more on “test prep”— especially in struggling schools with high concentrations of students living in poverty. The curriculum has been narrowed and truncated at the expense of non-tested subjects, and the civic purposes of education are being lost.
The concentration of political power in the hands of management that is sought by corporate education reform is not limited to the internal workings of schools and districts: it has been extended to the overall governance of education. The rise of mayoral control in urban school districts has been a major component of corporate education reform, precisely because turning the mayor into the “sole decider” makes it easier to implement policies such as mass school closures that generate intense opposition in impacted communities.
On the new, more complex political terrain on which we now find ourselves, the old fixed understandings of the difference between public and private ill serve the cause of public education. A simple identification of charter schools as unambiguously public schools or private schools fails to grasp the crucial dimensions of the struggle over the character of charter schools at a time when we need to be focused, laser-like, on what would make charter schools truly and fully public schools. Similarly, a simple defense of district schools as public schools has all of the negative features of an unthinking defense of the status quo at a time when a critique of long-standing inequalities and the “incremental privatization” of district schools over the last decade is more important and more necessary than ever. Effective advocacy for the public character and public content of district schools demands criticism of the actually existing district schools as they have been reorganized under corporate education reform. In this moment of political peril, only a powerful, compelling vision of what it means to be a public school in the fullest meaning of the term “public” can save American public education.