|by patrick walsh|
The following italicized section is an editorial from this morning’s New York Times.
November 11, 2011
Tennessee’s Push to Transform Schools
Tennessee has a long way to go in improving its schools, but it has made significant headway in turning itself into a laboratory for education reform. It was one of the first states to test a rigorous teacher evaluation system, which was put in place this school year. Yet even before the results are in, political forces are now talking about delaying the use of these evaluations. State lawmakers and education officials must resist any backsliding.
Tennessee’s need to do better was underscored when the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card, ranked the state near the bottom in fourth-grade math performance, just ahead of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. These dismal results — slightly worse than those reported in 2009 — were made public earlier this month during legislative hearings on the evaluation system.
The Tennessee Education Association has criticized aspects of the system, citing what it describes as poorly trained evaluators and a confusing scoring rubric, and wants it postponed until it is essentially perfect. Some lawmakers are suggesting that evaluations performed this year not be used in personnel decisions. Such a delay would destroy momentum and could weaken reform.
Tennessee and Delaware were the only states to win generous grants in the first round under the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education initiative. It won partly because it had approved comprehensive reforms, which jettisoned a system that evaluated tenured teachers only twice every 10 years. The new approach requires that every teacher be observed several times a year.
Teacher evaluations now have three components: 50 percent from classroom observation data, 35 percent from student growth on test scores and 15 percent from student achievement measures that are locally selected. The teachers are rated on a five-point scale, from “significantly below expectations” to “significantly above expectations.” School districts are not required to fire anyone based on the ratings, but the state now requires teachers to work for five years, instead of three, before they are eligible for tenure. Those who want tenure have to earn high ratings for two years.
At the legislative hearing, superintendents and other school leaders praised the new system, saying that it had forced principals to spend more time in classrooms and required them to offer more help to novice teachers.
The president of the teachers’ union, however, pointed out that some evaluators failed to give teachers the feedback they need to improve. And she raised concerns about the fairness of the state’s decision to use schoolwide achievement measures to evaluate the more than 50 percent of teachers who work in grades or subject areas where standardized tests are not given. Better measures are under development but are not available.
As with any new reform, adjustments will be necessary. For example, principals should have the option of evaluating high-performing teachers less frequently than novices or low performers. And state officials must continue to review the question of how much standardized test data should count in teacher evaluations. Tennessee will need to address these issues fairly if the system is to win wide support among teachers and school administrators. But, even with shortcomings, the new approach to teacher evaluation is a vast improvement over the one it replaced.
Herein the Obama administration’s union busting extortion scheme Race to the Top in action. By turning the state into a “laboratory for education reform” ( am I the only one who find such language chilling ? ) it has paralyzed Tennessee’s school system and demoralized the state’s entire teaching profession.
Sound familiar ?
It has made both teaching and administering onerous if not out right impossible. It is based on wholly unproven assumptions — assumptions provided, once again, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is now the de facto Department of Education and chief policy maker in our great democracy — that may cost good teachers their livelihoods and children any chance of a real education. Moreover, it could pervert education for decades to come, reducing it even further into a corporate sponsored test taking disgrace that you can be sure no child of the editorial staff of the New York Time or the Obama administration will be sullied with.
No matter to wise men of the “liberal” New York Times and their allies in the corporate education heist. Tennessee must continue to implement this disastrous scheme to keep up the momentum. Momentum, after all, is more important than accuracy, truth, fairness and even sanity. Ram it home. We’ll work out the details later. Sure, people will get hurt and further debased and children will be robbed of anything vaguely resembling a meaningful education – but we must begin somewhere. Besides, the plan that preceded it was bad too, maybe even worse. The essential thing is not to think and examine but to just keep pushing forward. We must resist the “political forces” who advocate “backsliding.”
Herein the level of idiocy, recklessness and callous indifference to reality that has pervaded corporate education reform from day one. All in the name of putting kids first, of course. Herein the level of craven surrender to corporate dictates that has characterized the Obama administration from day one. RTTT is a boon to test makers like no other. Herein the logical results of Race to the Top, a plan designed to undermine the very thing it is claiming to improve and so antithetical to public education it should appall all, being excused by the non educator editorial staff who run the New York Times: the same folk, mind you, who thought it a splendid idea to let Mike Bloomberg undermine the will of millions and purchase himself a third term at City Hall and thus allow him to do all he can do to privatize the NYC public school system. Rest assured, Mike is not letting them down.
Herein the corporate media cheerleading the furthering of the corporate state, democracy and the will of the people be damned.
Long live Occupy Wall Street and the spirit that brought it to life across the states and the globe. Let it occupy every office and editorial board and class room across these starved and suffering United States until the corporate state is exposed as the degrading, inhuman, mindless totalitarian monster that it is and can only be and locked in the dust bin of history where it belongs.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
tags: CIA, FOIA, freedom of information act, joseph lambert,mandatory declassification review, MDR, Obama, Open Government Partnership
by Nate Jones
This very important Document Friday features a very obscure document, just two pages (59033 and 59034) that the Central Intelligence Agency printed in the Federal Register on Friday, 23 September 2011 –without a notice for public comment. These regulations, which the CIA began enforcing in December, are a covert attack on the most effective tool that the public uses to declassify the CIA’s secret documents, Mandatory Declassification Review(MDR).
Overnight, without public comment or notice, the Agency decreed that declassification reviews would now cost requesters up to $72 per hour, even if no information is found or released. To even submit a request –again, even if no documents are released– the public must now agree to pay a minimum of $15.
Mandatory Declassification Review is an extremely powerful tool because it eventually allows declassification decisions to be removed from the control of the overly-secretive CIA and decided by an independent, rational, democratic, outside entity. First, the requester must request a document under MDR and exhaust his appeal. Then, according to President Obama’s executive order on classified information, he can invoke what is sometimes called the “secrecy court of last resort,” the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). ISCAP has certainly proven the most effective means that the National Security Archive has used to pry the release of documents from the CIA.
ISCAP is composed of senior-level representatives appointed by the Departments of State, Defense, and Justice, the National Archives, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Security Advisor. These senior representatives review classified documents, and vote to determine if some or all of the information can be released without harming US national security –majority vote rules. According to the most recent US government report on classification, these officials have overruled agencies –certainly including the CIA– in more than 65 percent of their decisions since 1996. And now, to avoid this accountability and oversight, the CIA is trying to price users out of turning to ISCAP.
MDR and ISCAP are certainly more effective tools for requesting documents from the CIA than the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). After the CIA denies a FOIA request and a FOIA appeal, requesters have the right to go to court, but that’s expensive and risky business– judges are frequently overly-deferential to dubious CIA claims for the need of secrecy. (For one example, see the CIA’s recently brief to a US federal judge stating that it would not release a volume of a three-decade-old history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle because it would “confuse the public.” For another, see the CIA’s tooth-and-nail fight against releasing a 95-year-old invisible ink recipe, available on google scholar.)
To prevent requesters from an independent review of their requests by ISCAP, the CIA amended its regulations –without allowing for public comment, as is required the Administrative Procedure Act– to allow charging astronomically high fees to process MDR requests. Even if no documents are found or released, the CIA’s rules now allow it to charge up to $72 dollars per hour of review time. Furthermore, each requester must now agree to pay a minimum of $15 dollars before the CIA will even accept their request — again, that’s regardless if the CIA finds or releases anything.
Compare these exorbitant fees to those charged for FOIA requests. Before the CIA surreptitiously changed its regulations, its MDR fee structure was “in the same amount and under the same conditions as specified in [the Freedom of Information Act] 32 CFR part 1900.” The Freedom of Information Act stipulates that public interest, educational, journalism, and other fee waivers must be granted by agencies where applicable. Under the bipartisan 2007 Open Government Act, Senators Leahy and Cornyn crafted amendments to FOIA which now force agencies to forfeit their right to collect some FOIA processing fees when they miss their processing deadline, an extremely common occurrence at the Agency. The CIA’s new MDR regulation, which allows it to claim that unlike FOIA, “there are no fee categories in processing MDRs” is clearly a step back for access to government information.
Furthermore, the fees the CIA is now charging for MDR reviews are astronomically more expensive than the FOIA fees charged by other agencies. And no other federal agency mandates a minimum payment, especially if no information is found or released. This was certainly not a good-faith effort to recoup costs by the CIA.
Fortunately, regulations can be repealed. Late last year, an outraged public forced the Department of Justice to withdraw a regulation that would have allowed it to lie to FOIA requesters. The condemnation of Senators Grassley, Udall, Leahy and Representative Smith forced the Department of Justice to recall its damaging regulation. Will Congress act to stop this retrograde regulation as well?
And what about President Obama –who recently pledged to the leaders of 46 other countries that he would “streamlin[e] the declassification process throughout the federal government”? What has his administration done to counter this covert, harmful, and anti-openness CIA regulation? Nothing yet. So far it appears that the CIA’s sneak attack on the”new era of open government” is flying under White House’s radar.
The more that agencies are allowed to issue covert, transparency-stifling regulations without public comment, the closer the United States looks to a “managed democracy.” The longer the White House stands on the sidelines as agencies openly defy its instructions on openness, the more it appears that the entrenched secrecy establishment of the United States really is “literally out of control.”
Let’s fight to reverse these trends, beginning with the repeal of this nefarious CIA attack on open government.