Thursday, March 1, 2012

  • Occupy Education: Teachers, Students Resist School Closings, Privatizations, Layoffs and Rankings


    As students across the country stage a National Day of Action to Defend Public Education, we look at the nation’s largest school systems—Chicago and New York City—and the push to preserve quality public education amidst new efforts to privatize schools and rate teachers based on test scores. In Chicago, the city’s unelected school board voted last week to shut down seven schools and fire all of the teachers at 10 other schools. In New York City, many educators are criticizing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration after the release of the names of 18,000 city teachers, along with a ranking system that claims to quantify each teacher’s impact on the reading and math scores of their pupils on statewide tests. "The danger is that if teachers and schools are held accountable just for these relatively narrow measures of what it is that students are doing in class, that will become what drives the education system," says Columbia University’s Aaron Pallas, who studies the efficiency of teacher evaluation systems. "The effects of these school closings in [New York City] is one of the great untold stories today," says Democracy Now! education correspondent Jaisal Noor. "The bedrock of these communities [has been] these neighborhood schools, and now they are being destroyed." Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, says, "When you have a CEO in charge of a school system, as opposed to a superintendent, a real educator, what ends up happening is that they literally have no clue as to how to run the schools." Lewis recounts a meeting where she says Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told her that "25 percent of these kids are never going to be anything. They’re never going to amount to anything." [includes rush transcript]

  • Chicago Residents Win Closure of Toxic Coal-Fired Power Plants After Health Ailments Spark Campaign


    Chicago has announced an agreement to close two of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants. For more than a decade, residents near the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants have complained of the pollution, saying the mercury and carcinogenic particulate matter aggravates asthma and potentially other illnesses. "In my community, the people were afraid," says Leila Mendez, who lives near the Fisk coal plant and first got involved in community activism after experiencing health ailments. "They felt they didn’t have a voice. But we proved that we do have a voice, when we unite." Plans to close the two facilities follow the passage in December of stricter federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards regulations, which give the facilities up to four years to clean up or close down and have led other companies to opt to shutter their power plants. [includes rush transcript]

  • David Cay Johnston: "Romney’s Tax Plan is George W. Bush on Steroids"


    As presidential hopeful Mitt Romney campaigns ahead of next week’s Super Tuesday primary vote, we look at the winners and losers under his proposed tax plan. Romney has vowed tax breaks for all Americans, but a recent analysis by the Tax Policy Center found his plan would mostly benefit the wealthy, while raising taxes on the poorest 125 million Americans.

    "All the Republicans have the same basic strategy: reduce taxes on people who are already wealthy, and take away tax benefits for poor people, particularly who are striving to try and get out of their poverty, and restrict tax benefits for people who are workers in the middle class," says David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes about tax issues for Reuters. "Romney’s plan is George W. Bush’s plan on steroids.

    George W. Bush gave 12.5 percent of his tax cuts to the top 10th of 1 percent. Romney’s plan gives a third of the tax cuts to the top 10th of 1 percent. And Romney’s plan gives 57 percent of the total cuts in his package to the top 1 percent. That’s people who make more than about $400,000 a year. It’s astonishing how heavily weighted it is to the top. Under his plan, there would be no estate tax and no gift tax, which means that very wealthy families can move money around freely, pass it from one generation to the next." said Johnston, author of "Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill)." [includes rush transcript]