Bowing to extraordinary pressure from both the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish blocs, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo has put his weight behind an ‘education Tax Credit’ proposal that is just plain wrong.

No matter how you slice this, it is not just wrong, it is also unconstitutional.

Our federal and state constitutions mandate certain services be provided to all residents and citizens, services which include public education.

Sometimes, economists view the shifting a tax burden required to provide sufficient funding to ensure provision of adequate and acceptable services from one taxing entity to another in order to create the illusion of a tax cut or a public cost savings as a “Zero Sum Game.”

This proposed tax credit program is certainly NOT a zero sum game.

The sole beneficiaries of this proposed tax credit charade will be those families – and their allies and supporters – who elect to eschew the free and publicly supported education system which is intended and expected to provide all children in New York State the opportunity for a “sound basic education,” defined as a meaningful high school education that prepares students for competitive employment and civic participation .

When Rhode Island adopted an education tax credit program a few years back, it resulted in a windfall for the state’s two Jewish day schools. Between them, their students received some $400,000 in scholarship money in the program’s first year.

In Florida, tax credit legislation has resulted in nearly $10 million annually for scholarships for Jewish day schools and yeshiva students.

Now New York, which has some 150,000 Jewish day school and yeshiva students — more than all the other states combined — has a chance of getting an education tax credit program that could deliver millions of dollars annually to Jewish day school families.

Another primary beneficiary of this proposed tax credit program will be supporters of private Catholic schools which have been plagued with declining enrollment and decreased core funding from the Church for several decades.

Offering a small number of self-selecting individuals the option to designate (Read:  Divert) up to 75% of their NY State Tax Liability to fund private religious schools is just plain wrong.

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As the calendar moves forward toward an expected announcement from current NJ Governor Chris Christie on his candidacy as the potential GOP nominee for president in the 2016 election, stories about – and soundbites from – Christie abound.

With the radio tuned to news in the background, I listened to some of these stories and soundbites today.

I’m left feeling that Chris Christie has no moral compass. Christie is apparently willing and able to lie about almost anything and everything.

Here’s a soundbite from Christie’s appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, June 7, responding to recent comments from Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton who called out for significant expansion in voter access, calling out several prominent GOP leaders – including Christie – accusing them of purposefully limiting voter access in their states through policies such as voter identification requirements and limited early voting.

Said Christie: “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. In New Jersey, we have early voting available to people. I don’t want to expand it and increase the opportunities for fraud. Maybe that’s what Mrs. Clinton wants to do. I don’t know.”

Christie continued, “But the fact is: folks in New Jersey have plenty of an opportunity to vote. And maybe if she took some questions some places and learned some things, maybe she wouldn’t make such ridiculous statements,” he said.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/chris-christie-hillary-clinton-is-clueless-on-voter-fraud/

What Christie failed to note in his response is that it is more common in New Jersey (and many other states) for elected and appointed public officials to commit fraud then it is for a voter to commit fraud.

And, more alarming: Just 31% of eligible voters in New Jersey exercised their voting rights in the 2014 election. [http://www.electproject.org/2014g]. Seems to me that the real opportunity here is to address and/or eliminate existing obstacles or impediments to help increase voter participation, not creating more obstacles which have the probability of discouraging potential voters.

Chris Christie: You are both a phony and an opportunist, and it’s very sad that you were elected to a position of trust (Governor of New Jersey) and as such, (a) you have tremendous power over the infrastructure and inner workings of our 11th largest state, and (b) you have tremendous influence over the functionality and decisions of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public authority which builds, operates, and maintains critical transportation and trade assets in the NY Metro area.

PANYNJ controls a network of aviation, rail, surface transportation and seaport facilities which annually move millions of people and transport cargo throughout the New York/New Jersey region.

We can only hope that the ongoing ‘Bridgegate’ investigation will soon expose your culpability in the ensuing mess that (at best) inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of bridge users on those days where access to the bridge was restricted; and (at worst) exacerbated economic losses well into the 100’s of millions of dollars through a ripple effect to commercial entities in the Tri-State region, and throughout the U.S.

I, for one, would be delighted to see you spend the next 8 years, or so, in the Big House, not any other house.

Despite the noble intent of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, public schools in New York State are more segregated today than they have ever been in the past 60+ years.

Whether we measure segregation from a racial, religious or economic perspective, it seems clear that some of our students come to school each day ready to learn, and other students face significant barriers which stand between them and educational success.

There are libraries filled with academic research that points to positive parental involvement as the primary force to ensure student success in school.

Most experts agree that when parents promote reading activities at home, the ripple effect goes beyond reading achievement, language comprehension and expressive language skills to positively impact pupils’ interest in reading, attitudes towards reading and attentiveness in the classroom.

The fact is: Family and home life have more bearing on student achievement than anything else.

Classroom teachers have an important role to play, but when confronted in their classroom by a majority of young people who are not prepared, not ready and not inspired to learn, even SuperTeacher faces a Sisyphean task.

From a purely mathematical (statistical/scientific) perspective, it is not possible to use a standardized test to compare groups of anything – including students – when the subjects of comparison lack a common foundation and have insufficient common attributes.

My point is that while elected officials, union members and many others are busy throwing mud at each other, the real issue of ‘failing schools’ has little to do with teachers, and much to do with economic segregation in residential housing patterns across New York State.

The 700 +/- public school districts in NYS serve some 2.7 Million students in some 4,500 public schools (including public charter schools).

Governor Cuomo’s office very recently released an extensive and well-researched report, “The State of New York’s Failing Schools”.

In just over 200 pages, the Report points out many symptoms of a public education system in NYS which is working for some, but leaving way too many students unprepared to become productive citizens.

The Report focuses in on 178 “priority” or “failing” schools in 17 school districts in New York. It says, “Ninety-three percent of students in failing schools are students of color and 82 percent of these students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Student achievement today at failing schools lags behind state averages in every category”.

Somehow, the Report did not really get to the core of the issue: How to address the concentration of disadvantaged and disenfranchised students in these 178 failing schools — just 4% of the overall number of schools in NYS.

While I think there has been some roll-back on the original proposal from Governor Cuomo’s office to tie teacher evaluations more closely to student achievement as measured by standardized test scores, I remain concerned that the debate around Common Core Standards and standardized testing continues to divide parents and other adults in New York State.

It is my belief that the intent of Common Core is really centered on a return to requiring that our students develop and use critical thinking skills.

For the last 40 years, or so, our public education system has relied primarily on Multiple Choice and/or True/False as a way to measure educational achievement.

The shift to Common Core, which relies much more on analysis and critical thinking, is a shock to many adults who were raised on Multiple Choice.

The Common Core State Standards is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know — and be able to articulate — at the end of each grade.

The standards were created through a bi-partisan, multi-state collaborative including teachers, school chiefs, administrators, and other experts to provide a clear and consistent framework for educators to ensure that all students across the U.S. have access to the information and resources they need to graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.

One key role for the elected officials in our NYS Legislature is to ensure that real facts about Common Core Standards and subsequent testing are conveyed and explained to NY residents in a calm and rational way.

Another key role for our Legislature is to ensure that sufficient resources – including new and emerging paradigms – are made available to the 178 priority (or failing) schools in 17 school districts in New York.

As Governor Cuomo’s report, “The State of Failing Schools” points out: It’s not about money.

Some claim that their magic solution involves an unproven model such as: Charter Schools; Teach for America; Say Yes to Education; School Vouchers; Private School Tax Credits; or one of many other ‘snake oil’ solutions.

We are so fortunate in New York State to have some of the best colleges and universities, and some of the most experienced experts on teaching and child development.

Why are we – the residents, voters and taxpayers of New York State – left holding the bag: paying the most of any state in the U.S. per pupil, and achieving mediocre results?

I don’t think it has much of anything to do with teacher quality or teacher evaluations.

I think our approach to delivery of public education in New York State is obsolete, and until we are able to honestly and openly evaluate the system, and to seek optimum configuration, we will continue to spend too much; achieve mediocre results; and have this debate long into the future.

Many thanks to those elected officials who have taken the time and put some attention to this critical issue, and please feel welcome to contact me with any questions or concerns on my commentary.

The current U.S. Senate atrocity involves a letter released on Monday, March 9, 2015 from Senate Republicans to Iran’s government (the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran”), saying that any agreement made by President Obama amounts to a “mere executive agreement” goes well beyond the arena of conduct which disregards the laws of our nation.

I believe a significant number of mostly Republican elected officials in Congress are guilty of depriving the people of the United States the intangible right of their honest services, for at least the past 5 consecutive years.

That is a domestic issue, and it is described in Federal Law as ‘Honest Services Fraud’ (see 18 U.S.C. § 1346).

It seems pretty clear that some of these boys elected to the U.S. Senate just can’t resist acting like 3rd graders let loose on the playground with no supervision.

These boys have now pushed into a new and dangerous place. Whether they are guilty of Treason, as some have suggested, is really not the point.

At minimum, they are guilty of acting like narcissistic brats, and their behavior casts a dark shadow over an institution with a proud 250 year history.

This act of cowardice and ignorance engaged in by 47 elected officials in the U.S. Senate ought to be a wake-up call to all Americans that we have a major problem in Washington, D.C. and that our problem is not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

This letter was signed by 47 of 54 Senate Republicans, and was authored by Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave it his approval and signed the letter. Among the Senators who also signed the letter are Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) all of whom are considering running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

In their letter, they wrote, “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution – the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices – which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress…. Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.”

They also reminded Iran that “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

The letter – and the 47 Republican Senators – faced an immediate negative reaction from the White House; President Obama; Vice President Joe Biden; Senate Democratic leadership; Congressional and Senate Democrats; and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; as well as many more.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the letter finding it either (a) undermining the president’s authority; or (b) counterproductive.

Among other things, Zarif said, “This kind of letter is unprecedented and undiplomatic. In truth, it told us that we cannot trust the United States.”

Alabama freshmen Senator Tom Cotton has become a center of attention, facing both criticism and accolades, and he has been the key defender of the letter’s message. Many media sources have fixated on Cotton and the other Senators who signed the letter, led by the New York Daily News headline on March 10, “TRAITORS”.

Even Fox News (Megyn Kelly) was critical of this apparent publicity stunt: “What’s the point in writing to the Iranian mullahs? What are you going to do? They dismissed it already like ‘pfff, whatever’. And you’ve offended the Obama administration. And you may have offended some of the Democrats who would have come over with the Republicans, if depending on what happens with this deal, to have a stronger say in the Senate.”

Not to dismiss some incremental support from the Right: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry have expressed their support for the letter.

Among the seven Republican senators who did not sign the letter, several have commented that, ‘they did not find it appropriate, helpful or productive.’

While it seems likely that 46 of the 47 Republican elected officials are now questioning their decision to sign the letter, Tom Cotton himself is probably saying, “That worked out great!”

Overnight, Tom Cotton has risen from an unknown and obscure Alabama Senator to a household name!

Tom Cotton has demonstrated that a U.S. Senator who’s been in office just a few months can accomplish a great deal, with a little initiative and creativity.

Much like the boy who shouted “FIRE” in the crowded movie theater, Cotton may have caused a major panic. In this case, the resulting impact includes: irreparable damage to the reputation of the U.S. Senate; to the Republican Party; and to the security of the United States.

But, to the Tea Party base from which Cotton draws his support, he is now a hero. The more criticism he gets, the more convinced they become of his heroism.

The Koch Brothers must be mighty proud!

Today (January 14, 2015), JPMorgan Chase announced weaker than expected 4th quarter 2014 earnings.

The reaction in the Market was quick and harsh.

The price of JPM stock slid down minus 3.45% today, wiping out some $7.63 Billion in shareholder value, overnight!

Analysts, prognosticators and pundits weighed in on various aspects of weakness in the franchise and potential management failures.

Meanwhile, seemingly oblivious to our real world, the folks in Corporate Responsibility at JPMorgan Chase released a report on declining summer jobs for youth, perhaps as a means to soften or divert attention away from the stock price and management failures?

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/summer-jobs-young-people-decline-150000168.html

Are they kidding?

The folks they cite in this report who are disparately impacted — “low-income youth and young people of color face diminished opportunities to gain work experience and skills, limiting potential for economic advancement” are the very same young people who are most likely to come to the table with blemishes, bruises and with clear and obvious symptoms of “the achievement gap.”

I think the folks at JPMorgan Chase must have abandoned the concept of using available research and institutional knowledge to help impact solutions in local communities to pursue a much higher-level approach which relies on a premise that is based on “research grants” paid to Aspen Institute and Brookings Institution which are intended to help discover hidden nuggets that otherwise might be overlooked.

If you read the footnotes to this particular report (http://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/Corporate-Responsibility/document/54887-jpmc-summeryouth-aw2.pdf), you will find references to 2 basic sources: (1) The Brookings Institution, and (2) Northeastern University.

While no one could legitimately doubt the likely veracity of these sources, would this approach pass the smell test at any legitimate academic institution?

Seems that when a major institution is stepping up to be recognized as a Thought Leader, they ought to at least use decent quality paint to cover over the façade they are trying to use as their primary lead.

The Wizard of Oz would have it no other way!

The vast majority of police and other public safety officers in the U.S. are on the job for the right reasons, and they are indispensable components of why our society is as strong and safe as it is.

Take a deep look at an organization like NYPD which has some 35,000 active officers.

If 99.5% of the uniformed force consistently are doing the right things, that implies that the 0.5% who may be off track amounts to 175 individuals — similar to the size of many small town or small city forces in total!

I think Commissioner Bratton summed it up very nicely this week when he said that the majority of uniformed police officers at the funeral of slain officer Wenjian Liu behaved professionally and appropriately.

He further said that ‘he was disappointed in the (small number of) officers who did not honor his request to refrain from protesting at Liu’s funeral on Sunday.’

This small contingent of “Men in Blue” who seem to be unwilling or unable to control their emotions and do the right thing continue to wear the Uniform and carry a lethal weapon.

They blatantly and publically disrespect the chain of command in the organization they are part of — very similar to watching unsupervised 3rd grade boys who are let loose on the playground.

Those individuals who are not willing or not able to deal with their frustrations in a rational adult manner represent a potential danger to society, and they should go on unpaid leave and surrender their weapons until they have successfully completed some intensive psychological evaluation(s) prior to returning to active duty.

No surprise that the Koch Brothers and Koch Industries have gone on the defensive following the publication of Tim Dickinson’s lead story in the September 24 issue of Rolling Stone (“Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire”).

The full text of the original article, the response, and various links to source documents is located here:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/koch-industries-responds-to-rolling-stone-and-we-answer-back-20140929

Below is an excerpt from the Koch Industries response related to the original article:
10. North Pole refinery shutdown. Response:

“In February 2014, Flint Hills Resources (FHR) made the difficult decision to shut down its refining operations and convert its North Pole, Alaska refinery to a terminal. While some employees unfortunately were laid off, FHR retained approximately 40 employees at the site and offered to find the other employees roles in other Koch companies. This resulted in several of the former FHR Alaska employees receiving job opportunities at other Koch facilities in the US. Federal, state and local authorities acknowledged the regulatory and competitive issues that drove FHR’s difficult decision. For example, Senator Begich recognized the “competitive challenges” facing FHR in a letter to Alaska Governor Parnell. Senator Begich later noted the issues concerning the environmental contamination that existed long before FHR’s ownership and the appropriate regulatory standards concerning the remediation also needed to be resolved in order to encourage another owner to operate the refinery. The City of North Pole likewise expressed its frustration concerning the competitive and regulatory challenges that drove FHR’s decision.
There is no question that the off-site contamination existed long before FHR bought the refinery in 2004 – contamination that was not disclosed to FHR by the prior owner. No one had done anything about the situation until FHR discovered it and quickly and voluntarily began providing alternative water to the community. During the time since it discovered the issues, FHR has tried to work cooperatively with the state of Alaska and the prior owner to remediate these issues, while ensuring our neighbors were not adversely affected. As part of this process, FHR raised an administrative challenge to the cleanup level set by ADEC personnel. The Commissioner of ADEC agreed with FHR that the agency had not adequately supported the cleanup level and the agency is now studying the matter further. FHR remains committed to doing the right thing, while also ensuring that the prior owner lives up to its contractual obligations to FHR and its obligations to the community.”


No one could effectively deny that the Kochs – and their legal and PR teams – possess great imaginations, and are blessed with amazing creativity. It’s almost as though Lewis Carroll has returned to write more poems for us to ponder!

John Boehner Sez

September 28, 2014

I’m trying to figure out:  Is John Boehner an American patriot, or is he representling the enemy?

In his most recent (9/28/2014) appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Speaker Boehner seemed to step well over the line of a loyal American by second guessing the current U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

I believe Boehner is a despicable pawn of the Koch Brothers, and I don’t know anyone who could possibly compete with the Koch Brothers money.

Here in the U.S.A. we have a real problem — we are no longer a democracy where ‘One Person, One Vote’ is the defining factor.

We have slowly, quietly and powerfully morphed into an oligarchy where he who has the biggest treasure chest has the greatest influence on public policy. This is certainly not what the Founding Fathers envisioned.

 

Rev. Al Sharpton used the 1987 Tawana Brawley case as his chariot to infamy.

A grand jury was convened in the Brawley case to investigate claims against six white law enforcement officers who were accused of heinous acts against Brawley, then a 15 year old African American girl from Dutchess County in New York.

In October 1988, after spending seven months investigating the case, the grand jury concluded that Tawana Brawley was not abducted, raped, or sodomized, and no charges were brought in the case.

Outside the courtroom, Sharpton used his well-developed preaching skills to help sensationalize the Brawley saga and spin it up into a bigger than life phenomenon which occupied the national press for several months and which widened the chasm of distrust and loathing within the black community toward law enforcement officials.

Fast forward to 2014:  He seems to be at it again!

The recent tragic death of Eric Garner deserves to be fully investigated and tried in a court room before a judge and jury.  Observing Sharpton’s continuing public behavior relative to the circumstances, facts and emotional components of the Garner case drew me right back to 1987, and what seems to be a mad dash to try and decide the case in the ‘court of public opinion’.

True leadership requires a focus on the big picture and on strategies to move the needle in a sustainably positive direction.  A true leader must be committed to transparency, honesty and integrity in all of his actions.

I see no evidence of strategic thinking or progressive action coming from Rev. Sharpton, and that leaves me feeling very uncomfortable, indeed.

When the Walrus was just a pup, he attended public schools in Buffalo, NY.

Back then, the best teachers encouraged their students to achieve subject mastery not through rote memorization but through active learning. In general, ‘subjects’ were not taught (or learned) in isolation. There was some integration of ELA into Social Studies; math into science; and reading and writing skills were the foundation for all learning.

Somehow, over the past 4 decades or so, our American education system (in aggregate) has deteriorated to the point where in a recent study conducted by The Economist, the U.S. was ranked 17th in an assessment of the education systems of 50 countries, behind several Scandinavian and Asian countries. Finland was ranked first, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, with Singapore coming in fifth. The once-admired public education system in America has reached an unprecedented – and hopefully, unwanted – level of mediocrity.

If we look at public education outcomes by state, we find a wide disparity in student outcomes. In its most recent report on the status of education in all 50 states, Education Week found that Massachusetts is our top performing state, followed closely by Maryland and New Jersey.

Bringing up the rear at number 50 is Mississippi, just slightly worse than Louisiana and New Mexico.

The differences from state to state on some critical measurements are staggering.

Just 59.4% of students in New Mexico graduate from High School, where in Vermont, 85% of students graduate.

It is widely accepted that at-grade reading and math proficiency in the 4th grade is a strong predictor of success in school and in life. Maryland is the best performing state in the U.S. on 4th grade reading skills, yet just 45% of Maryland fourth graders demonstrated at-grade proficiency.

45% is the highest in our country? And, that is more than 10 percentage points higher than the national average?

Of course, we can drill down even further, looking within states as the disparity of student outcomes by district, or within districts, outcomes by school or by teacher.

The facts on disparate student outcomes were part of the inspiration which brought together state leaders — including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states — to seek solutions to this national crisis.

The state-led effort to develop the Common Core State Standards was launched in 2009, through a collaborative partnership involving the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

The goal is very simple. Implementation of the Standards will refocus schools toward ensuring that students acquire skills which are useful in college and in life. Life is not a series of multiple choice or true/false questions. Critical thinking and reading skills, focused on nonfiction and current event articles rather than fiction, provide a foundation for college, career and success in life.

Understanding the raw components of how to do math problems using logic is much more valuable than memorizing formulas, and it provides the foundation for problem solving across multiple disciplines.

We know that multiple-choice tests are best used for testing well-defined or lower-order skills. Problem-solving and higher-order reading and reasoning skills are better assessed through short-answer and essay tests.

Yet, no matter how you slice it, multiple choice tests are more affordable for testing large numbers of students. In most of the United States, multiple choice tests have become the default form of “high-stakes testing”.

How it came to be that our public education system devolved away from active learning and critical thinking into a series of “drill and kill” classroom exercises followed by mind-numbing multiple choice and true-false tests must somehow be related to the amount of resources required to read, analyze and objectively grade essays and ‘show your work’ problems.

There is also the issue of cost and scale as class sizes have generally increased, school district resources are stretched, and the complexity of material has expanded.

Let’s face it: a standard answer sheet marked with a #2 pencil can be machine graded, and the ability to collect and analyze the data is unmatched.

On the other hand, multiple choice tests are very rigid. Misinterpretation of the problem or information presented by the test maker can result in a false “wrong”, even when the student’s answer has some validity. Similarly, when students have some knowledge of a subject or question, they receive no credit for knowing that information if they select the wrong answer and the item is scored by a machine.

Just a few years ago, some of the best and brightest educators and public officials from across the U.S. launched an intensive collaborative partnership to develop the Common Core State Standards as a means to repair our failing public education system.

The state-led effort was launched in 2009, under the guidance of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Here we are today, just a few weeks away from the beginning of the 2014-15 school year for some 48 Million K-12 public school students across our 50 states.

A large and growing coalition of Monday Morning Quarterbacks – most of whom I suspect were raised on multiple-choice and deprived of active learning and/or critical thinking – have begun to rally in opposition to Common Core.

Very recently, noted media personality Glenn Beck – himself a high-school graduate – added his voice to the nay-sayers about Common Core.

Beck tells us that, “American children shouldn’t be tracked, monitored, and educated from D.C. And parents should have a voice in their child’s education. Common Core standards threaten parents’ rights, children’s privacy, and traditional American values.”

Great rhetoric with no substance; and it fails the critical thinking test.

But it is emotionally appealing to some, and clearly falls into the “True or False, Multiple Choice Method to Maintain International Mediocrity in Education” model.

Want to help destroy the fabric of America? You don’t need weapons of mass destruction or any sort of acts of terrorism. Just keep depriving our children of the opportunity for active learning and/or critical thinking skills they so desperately need to lead a productive and meaningful life.