Sanctions lifted on 3 Russian companies


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Treasury lifts sanctions against 3 Russian companies

By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

AP Economics Writer

Monday, January 28

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department on Sunday announced it was lifting sanctions on three companies connected to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The move comes despite an effort in Congress to block the action with many lawmakers concerned that the Trump administration is not being tough enough on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies.

Treasury said it was removing Russian aluminum giant Rusal and two other companies from its sanctions list on the grounds that the companies have reduced Derapaska’s direct and indirect shareholding stake in the three companies.

Congress voted earlier this month to try to block the administration’s efforts to remove the sanctions. In the House, 136 Republicans joined Democrats to disapprove the deal while in the Senate 11 Republicans supported the move but fell short of the 60 votes needed.

The two votes represented a major break in the solid GOP backing Trump has enjoyed in his first two years as president and sent a strong signal that congressional Republicans are willing to split with the White House on national security matters.

In its brief statement, Treasury said that Rusal and the other two companies, En+ Group and EuroSiobEnergo had severed Derapaska’s control.

“This action ensures that the majority of directors on the En+ and Rusal boards will be independent directors … who have no business, professional or family ties to Deripaska,” Treasury said.

The statement also said that the companies had agreed to “unprecedented transparency for Treasury into their operations by undertaking extensive, ongoing auditing, certification and reporting requirements.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had made similar arguments during two appearances before lawmakers urging them not to vote for legislation blocking the removal of the sanctions.

Treasury noted while the sanctions are being lifted on the three companies, Deripaska will remain blacklisted as part of a number of sanctions announced last April that targeted tycoons with close ties to the Kremlin.

Mnuchin’s appearance before House and Senate lawmakers failed to convince critics of the move. House Financial Services Chairman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said that the United States needed to make sure “we don’t align ourselves with the people who are undermining this democracy.”

The sanctions against Rusal had raised worries in global markets about the loss of aluminum production from the company, the world’s second largest producer of aluminum.

Teachers succeed by framing strikes as for common good

By CAROLYN THOMPSON

Associated Press

Sunday, January 27

Los Angeles teachers who declared a victory after a six-day strike have added momentum to a successful wave of activism by educators framing their cause as a push to improve public education, not just get pay raises.

Teachers in Denver, Oakland, Virginia, Texas, Washington and Illinois are planning rallies, marches and, in some cases, strikes of their own — actions that have fed off one another since the movement began last spring in West Virginia.

“Some of this action breeds more action,” said Daniel Montgomery, president of the teachers union in Illinois, where the nation’s first strike against a charter school network ended last month in Chicago. “People look around and say, ‘It is possible to do this. The teachers walked out in West Virginia and the walls didn’t cave in.’”

In several states, governors and lawmakers are moving pre-emptively to address teachers’ grievances through proposals to increase money for education.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, both Republicans, emphasized more spending on schools as they were sworn in this month. Elected officials in New Mexico , Georgia , Indiana,Mississippi and Arkansas are among others who have proposed increases in teacher pay early in the new year.

“Some state legislators may get wise and head this off ahead of time,” said Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a labor and employment law professor at Indiana University. “You may see less strikes just because legislatures get out in front of the problem.”

In Los Angeles, 30,000 teachers returned to work Wednesday. They settled for the same 6 percent raise offered early on by the nation’s second-largest school district, but they also secured promises for smaller class sizes and more nurses and counselors to benefit students.

Labor historian Joseph McCartin, a professor at Georgetown University, said the recent actions have been more popular politically than a series of teacher strikes in the 1970s because of how they are framed.

“What you’re seeing in each of these cases is when teachers did engage in militancy, they did so not just to win raises for themselves, and sometimes not even primarily to win raises for themselves,” he said, “but to push back against the austerity regime that was undermining public education.”

Montgomery said teachers have made a point to discuss things like crowded classrooms and inadequate supplies, an approach that drew public support for Detroit teachers during “sickouts” in 2016.

“They couldn’t strike, but the teachers did a sickout to call attention to rats in school districts and buckled gym floors and standing sewage and things like that, and people see that and they get outraged,” the Illinois union leader said. “It’s bringing it to people’s consciousness in a way that they can see and feel.”

Unions in several districts have been taking cues from the movement that began with the nine-day teacher walkout in West Virginia before spreading to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and beyond.

Denver teachers were ready to walk out Monday before school officials asked the state to intervene, delaying their plans to strike over the district’s pay scale after more than a year of negotiations.

A Washington state union that represents school employees invited a West Virginia teacher to an assembly last spring after their walkout ended with a 5 percent raise for teachers and other staff.

“West Virginia was inspiring to our folks because the teachers weren’t just saying, ‘Hey, give teachers something,’” said Tricia Schroeder, executive vice president of Local 925 of the Service Employees International Union.

The union represents school health staff and other paraprofessionals from the Issaquah School District east of Seattle who voted earlier this month to authorize a strike amid contentious bargaining.

In Texas, teachers plan to converge March 11 at the state Capitol, where 12 seats in the Republican-led House flipped to Democrats that emphasized education funding during the midterm election.

After teachers in neighboring Oklahoma won an average $6,100 raise with a nine-day walkout last spring, Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria said he received several calls suggesting a walkout. Striking is illegal in Texas, so teachers organized around the election and plan to keep up the pressure, he said.

Teachers across Virginia plan to march on the Capitol in Richmond on Jan. 28 to demand lawmakers restore funding lost to Great Recession-era cuts and pay teachers in line with the national average. Like Texas, where the march coincides with spring break, it won’t shut down schools.

Virginia educators are requesting leave as they test the waters in a state where teacher strikes are illegal.

“When you take on these things, you really have to do them together. It really has to be big,” said Sarah Pedersen, a middle school history teacher who helped form Virginia Educators United to build unity. “We’re expecting between 1,000 and 3,500 people. We need to ensure that we can grow to 30,000 to 40,000 people.”

The Conversation

How Gates Foundation’s push for ‘high-quality’ curriculum will stifle teaching

January 28, 2019

Author: Nicholas Tampio, Associate Professor of Political Science, Fordham University

Disclosure statement: Nicholas Tampio does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

For much of American history, local school districts had a large amount of discretion over what they taught and how.

In my book on the Common Core, I show how the national education standards in reading, writing and mathematics have reduced the power of communities and teachers to make lesson plans, coordinate field trips, invite guest speakers or incorporate special elements into the curriculum.

A new initiative by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aims to advance the Common Core by getting schools to adopt “high-quality” curricula. But the way I see it, getting schools to use ready-made lesson plans under the guise of “high-quality” curricula will reduce teacher autonomy.

That’s significant because research shows that increased teacher autonomy leads to a greater sense of empowerment and professionalism. Research has also shown that teachers are less likely to be satisfied with their jobs when they lack autonomy within the classroom. To treat teachers like professionals, they must have the freedom to make their own lesson plans for the students before them.

The Common Core’s promise

The Common Core identifies what students should be able to know and do in reading, writing and mathematics by the end of each year in school. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have used the standards since 2010, even if some of the states have changed the name and made small changes.

The Common Core permits teachers to “devise their own lesson plans and curriculum.” For years, proponents have said that the Common Core sets high academic expectations for all students and gives teachers freedom in how to reach them.

The grant and the string

In 2017, Bill Gates, a billionaire tech titan who has devoted a sizable portion of his philanthropic efforts toward education, said that “teachers need better curricula and professional development aligned with the Common Core.” The Gates Foundation has put that plan into motion with a new initiative. School districts with more than 50,000 students – and that serve at least 50 percent black, Latino, or English learners, and/or low-income students – may apply for a US$1 million grant to work with professionals to improve how teachers use what the foundation calls “high-quality” curricula. Even though the foundation anticipates awarding 10 grants, more school districts could change their curricula in the process of applying.

What is a “high-quality” curriculum, according to the Gates Foundation? First, it is coherent and comprehensive, providing lesson plans in English language arts or mathematics for the entire school year. Second, publishers must receive a favorable review from a group such as EdReports.org that evaluates alignment with the Common Core standards.

Gates officials have said that the purpose of the grants is to help teachers use existing titles, not develop new ones from scratch.

EdReports.org has determined that many curricula do not actually align with the Common Core standards. EdReports.org has identified a curriculum that meets all of the Common Core standards: EngageNY, also known around the country as Great Minds and Eureka Math.

EngageNY is not high-quality

The person who eats the meal, not cooks it, gets to write the review. So are the EngageNY modules high-quality? Based on my experience as an education scholar and parent whose children have been subjected to this curriculum, the answer is no.

When my oldest son was in fifth grade, he read the novel, “Esperanza Rising.” If you go to the EngageNY website, you can download the 287-page module that covers 18 lessons and tells the teacher and students what they are supposed to do for virtually every minute of the unit.

For example, the module specifies that for minutes 11 to 30 of the fourth lesson, students will complete jigsaw task cards that require the students to write about how Esperanza’s mother feels about marrying her dead husband’s brother. According to my son, students would answer questions about the text, but they were not given an opportunity to share their own thoughts about the material or the topics.

In a report on EngageNY published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, curriculum experts Kathleen Porter-Magee and Victoria Sears note that the modules are prescriptive and hard to adjust, and the “sheer length can be overwhelming.”

What does this mean for teachers and students who are required to use these modules? Education scholar Cara M. Djonko-Moore provides a warning in an article on the role of school environment in teacher dissatisfaction. After examining survey data of more than 38,000 public school teachers, Moore notes that “control and autonomy over classroom decisions are very important for teachers to be satisfied with their jobs.”

Freedom is essential

According to a blog on EdReports.org, educators should be “engaged in selection” of instructional materials and “supported with meaningful, quality professional learning.” But the blog does not mention the importance of teachers creating lesson plans based on their own knowledge or their students’ interests.

A few years ago, the second-grade teachers in my neighborhood public school made a literacy unit based on fairy tales. The teachers crafted rich vocabulary and spelling lessons out of the books, embedded math and art lessons in the assignments, and gave students an opportunity to create their own fairy tales. The teachers were like chefs preparing a special meal, and my children and the others appeared to love going to class. This is the kind of education all children deserve.

I’ve invited the Gates Foundation to respond to my critique of the new initiative. Spokespersons for the foundation declined to comment.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided funding for The Conversation US and provides funding for The Conversation internationally.

The Conversation

Community schools score key victory in LA teachers strike

January 29, 2019

Author: Karen Hunter Quartz, Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles

Disclosure statement: Karen Hunter Quartz works for the University of California and is the Director of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling.

Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

One of the most enduring images of the 2019 Los Angeles teachers strike will be of Roxana Dueñas.

Dueñas teaches history at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles. It was her image that was used on a strike poster that served as teachers’ call to arms: “Community Schools Build Democracy!”

A poster from the recent Los Angeles teachers strike.

In the end, this was a cry that did not go unheeded. The historic strike produced a tentative agreement to transform 30 LA schools in high need areas into community schools, investing US$400,000 in each one over two years.

But just what are “community schools”? And how did they figure into the Los Angeles teachers strike?

I come at this subject from a unique vantage point. For the past decade, my colleagues and I at the University of California, Los Angeles have joined forces with the district, teachers union and the community to establish the Robert F. Kennedy UCLA Community School in Koreatown and the Mann UCLA Community School in South LA. This collaboration is part of a larger national effort to establish community schools in partnership with universities. This is tied deeply to the democratic traditions of collective problem-solving and equal educational opportunity.

Not everyone agrees that community schools are the best solution to the problems that beset education. For instance, some critics claim that they are “racially and economically segregated.” And some research has found that they achieve “mixed results.” Overall, however, the evidence is promising. A thorough research review found that well-designed community schools are effective in meeting the educational needs of low-achieving students in high-poverty schools.

Control issues

At its core, the strike, which concluded on Jan. 22, was about who should control public education. The teachers’ union advocated putting control in the hands of local communities in order to curb the influence of pro-charter school education philanthropists. This was in part a reaction to an initiative by Eli Broad and others who proposed a plan to improve the Los Angeles Unified School District by attracting “edupreneurs” to launch 260 new charter schools that would capture 50 percent of the district’s “market share” by 2023. So far, charters are halfway to that goal, enrolling 25 percent of the district’s 621,414 students.

When Broad framed the future of public education in corporate terms – not democratic terms – it prompted widespread backlash.

Former school board president Jackie Goldberg declared, “This is war!” Local foundation leaders cautioned that intended reforms “often fall short if they are done to communities rather than with communities.”

Working with communities to improve schooling – and thereby democracy – is a central premise of the growing community schools movement. A century-old idea that originated with social reformers Jane Addams and John Dewey, community schools are neighborhood hubs that bring together families, educators, government agencies and community groups and organizations to provide all the opportunities and services young people need to thrive. The movement has experienced a renaissance of sorts, tied to the broader “new localism.”

The Coalition for Community Schools estimates that there are more than 5,000 community schools nationwide. The organization reports that most existing community schools are public schools but that any school can be a community school, including charter, magnet and parochial schools. Evidence is mounting that community schools are particularly effective at addressing the many barriers to learning experienced by children living in poverty.

For example, Oakland International School is a community school focused on the challenges facing its newcomer students. As a result, the school partners with 21 agencies to provide health and legal services, mentoring for students in eight languages, social workers and other supports. As a result, the college enrollment rate reached 68 percent by 2014, outperforming the state average for English learners.

Support for community schools

When LA teachers negotiated for more nurses and counselors, they were pushing for a pillar of the community schools movement – providing health and social services. Cities such as New York have embraced community schools wholeheartedly, supporting 247 community schools in 2018. Early results are promising, including higher attendance and graduation rates. In June 2017, LA Unified passed a resolution to create a Community Schools Implementation Team charged with developing a rollout plan for an unspecified number of community schools. Three months later, the union released a bargaining proposal to the district requesting $10 million to support 20 high-need schools in becoming community schools. The agreement reached 16 months later through the strike increased the proposal to $12 million and 30 schools. Details of the implementation plan are forthcoming.

The funding problem is complex. It involves attracting and coordinating a diverse set of public and private investments. For example, school-based health clinics may rely on federal Medicaid funding, while afterschool college tutoring may be privately funded. Ensuring private funds are used to strengthen the public system is a longstanding challenge.

LeBron James recently invested an initial $2 million to open a community school in Akron. He told ESPN, “It’s not a charter school, it’s not a private school, it’s a real-life school in my hometown.” Widely lauded, this investment may be signaling an increased willingness to invest private dollars within neighborhood public schools given the controversy surrounding charter schools that surfaced in the strike.

Local Los Angeles philanthropists Melanie and Richard Lundquist are investing $85 million over 20 years in 18 historically underserved schools, including Roosevelt High School where Roxanna teaches. This adds about $650 per student per year. Though impressive, it makes only a dent in the amount needed to adequately fund public education.

To put that into perspective, Policy Analysis for California Education estimates that it would take a 38 percent increase in the current $12,204 spent per pupil to meet the goals set by the State Board of Education. That’s an estimated $4,686 more per student – which explains why the teachers were fighting for increased public school funding.

The striking teachers were also fighting to correct the imbalance of resources across charter and non-charter schools. One teacher who writes a popular blog explained that he was striking because competing with charters wasn’t a fair game given their lower class sizes. A teacher from a charter school reflected on how the strike has made her consider how charter school expansion is harming the city.

While there are many excellent charter schools in Los Angeles Unified, as a group they serve fewer students living in poverty 72 percent in charters versus 86 percent in non-charter schools. When families compete for seats in an educational marketplace, often the students facing the most challenges are left behind because they are too expensive or considered disruptive.

The Mann UCLA Community School opened in 2017, building on the foundation of the historic Horace Mann Middle School. In 2000, Mann enrolled 1,737 students. By 2016, enrollment had plummeted to 330 students. Meanwhile, 37 charter schools had opened within a 2.5-mile radius of the school.

The students still enrolled at Mann are promising, resilient young people, but they face more challenges than those who left for charter schools. For example, 29 percent of the students at Mann are enrolled in special education, versus 11 percent in charters. New community school resources like summer programs, a college center and Saturday school are slowly attracting local families back to their neighborhood school. By September 2018, 444 students were enrolled and the percentage of students with 96 percent or higher attendance had improved 9 percent, from 59 percent to 68 percent, according to Los Angeles Unified School District data. This is still below the district average but a promising sign of improvement.

As more families choose the Mann UCLA Community School, they are not just exercising the individual freedom Americans so deeply value. They are joining a community. As John Dewey put it in 1927, “Democracy must begin at home, and its home is the neighborly community.”

Comment

Andrew Taylor: What’s the internal structure of a “community school”? And how is the internal structure different from publics/charters/privates/sectarians?

In particular: Can community schools expel students who won’t allow others to learn? Publics/charters = no, private/sectarian = yes. Currently the largest cost to public’s/charters is the higher teacher salaries required to keep some teachers in the room while violent, soul-killing kids run rampant. Allow expulsion to decrease school costs. Certain sectors of our industry use expulsion in a racist way. Those educators should get jail time, instead of cursing all educators with unexpellable bullies who make education literally impossible.

Do commmunity school principals expect the “leap of authority” where new teachers must openly insult their alma mater and any previous school they worked at and change every aspect of their teaching in a show of commitment to the new principal’s personal education whims? Currently, 90% of all American schools do this, and it’s the key reason America so consistently tanks its scores on the international tests PISA, PIRLS, and TIMSS. Education costs will be reduced when “professional development” is intrinsically linked to the education degree and professors who provided it in the first place. Why waste so much money on “consultants” and “interventions” when the principal’s job was to hire a good teacher in the first place? A key money saver for all schools would be the three-fire rule – if a principal fires three teachers they hired themselves, then they need to follow the third out the door, obviously! If they can’t hire adequately, why the hell should they keep that job of hiring people? That alone would save millions in new employee hiring/installing, and give teachers themselves a higher professional security level and the mental health that accompanies that security, and reduce the current antagonism between (clueless power-hungry never-go-to-the-classroom only-taught-for-3-years) administrators and the (dedicated-their-whole-lives-to-poorly-resourced-careers-for-America) teachers.

Do community schools treat teachers as if we are full members of the community?

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