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Monday, February 16, 2009

Gov. Paterson Gives Huge Raises To His Staff, While Cutting the Budget

Dismay, outrage, and frustration at the "accidental Governor" has New York City and New York State residents wondering how we will not only get through to the next election for the governor's seat, but whether or not David Paterson's lack of leadership and waffling in political mud will prevent him from moving important matters anywhere.

First, there was the terrible delay as Caroline Kennedy and others waited for David Paterson to "decide" who would take Hilary Clinton's place in the Senate. Kirsten Gillibrand is just too connected politically to political has-beens (i.e. Alfonse D'Amato) for comfort. See this posting:

Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, this minute's “front-runner” for the U.S. Senate seat which is now the subject of a competitive reality show, won in a heavily GOP Congressional district in 2006 for the first time, a seat that had been held by former Republican state director John Sweeney. Given popular sentiments in her region, it is logical that she hews to a conservative line, such as her 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association, sometimes out of step with party policy. Does that change once she’s in the Senate, as a rookie under the tutelage of gun-control advocate Sen. Charles Schumer? Probably; it’s usually practicalities before principle in these situations, as the veterans might tell you.

Her family background is of interest. She’s the daughter of lawyer and lobbyist Douglas P. Rutnik, who was steeped in the Albany Democratic machine long before he was clearly an ally of Republican Gov. George Pataki and Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. Her mom, Penny Rutnik, who’d been in the law firm of her husband, is the daughter of Polly Noonan, the longtime close confidant of the late great mayor Erastus Corning.

A clip from June 1988: A company represented by Douglas Rutnik leased property at the publicly owned Port of Albany for a low price and sublet the place for a much higher rent, pocketing the difference. This of course is the very definition of a sweetheart lease. It was one of two firms he represented that drew lucrative terms. If you’re cynical, or even at all skeptical, that’s standard municipal political-machine stuff. Politics ain't beanbag.

A clip from May 1997: The state Metropolitan Transportation Authority dials back on a $95 million contract for data processing with Lockheed Martin, a company barred from city contracts because of its involvement in previous corruption scandals. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani objected to their hiring. From the New York Times: “Lockheed Martin's registered lobbyist in Albany has been Douglas Rutnik, the companion of Zenia Mucha, Gov. George E. Pataki's communications director, and a confidant of Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato. Public records show that Lockheed Martin paid Mr. Rutnik $115,000 for his lobbying efforts of the last two years. But Ron Meder, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, said Mr. Rutnick was not involved in the efforts to win the M.T.A. data processing contract for Lockheed Martin Integrated Business Solutions.”

A clip from the New York Post, January 2007: “Fredric Dicker spoke to a longtime close Mucha friend, who described her as "off the wall" that Rutnik had replaced her in his affections with his second cousin, Gwen Lee, a lawyer who was a spokeswoman for Gillibrand and now works in Rutnik's office. To make matters worse, Mucha, at Rutnik's urging, hired Lee for several well-paid positions during her six years in the Pataki state house....”

Then, Gov. Paterson nominated Jonathan Lippman to the position of Chief Judge of the New York State Unified Court System, and he was confirmed in a secret meeting rushed through the Senate the day after Wayne Barrett wrote a background expose of Lippman's tie to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. I am one of many victims of Judge Lippman's corrupt management of the Courts in New York City, and can say (and I will), that this choice puts justice in a closet.

Luv From the Guv: Staffers Get Secret Raises: at least a dozen aides get pay increases, report says
Updated 6:30 AM EST, Mon, Feb 16, 2009

Gov. David Paterson issued raises for some of his aides, according to a report in Monday's Post(See article below - Betsy C.)

The state's financial crisis apparently isn't that bad.

In fact, the treasury is so fat that Gov. David Paterson has given raises -- in some cases nearly 50 percent -- to at least a dozen staffers, according to Monday's New York Post.

The pay hikes total about $250,000 annually and were issued just after Paterson's August announcement of a looming financial "emergency" that was going to eliminate raises for 130,000 state employees.

Among the most recent raises was one last month, right around the time when the governor declared the budget shortage had reached a record $15.5 billion, the Post reported.

By FREDRIC U. DICKER, February 16, 2009

ALBANY - Gov. Paterson has secretly granted raises of as much as 46 percent to more than a dozen staffers at a time when he has asked 130,000 state workers to give up 3 percent pay hikes because of the state's fiscal crisis, The Post has learned.

The startling pay hikes, costing about $250,000 annually, were granted after the governor's "emergency" declaration in August of a looming fiscal crisis that required the state to cut spending and impose a "hard" hiring freeze.

One raise was approved as recently as last month - when Paterson claimed the budget deficit had reached an unprecedented $15.5 billion.

The raises, which have stunned the few state workers who know about them, are outlined in data obtained from the office of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli,(pictured at left and below) prepared at The Post's request.

Two of the raises were tied to publicly proclaimed promotions - granted despite the supposed hiring freeze - of some of Paterson's most important appointees, although the announcements didn't include disclosure of the pay hikes.

The remaining 14 raises appear to have gone to individuals who remained in their same positions, despite claims by a spokesman for Paterson that they had been promoted.

"These are not raises for old positions, rather new salaries for new positions," Paterson spokesman Errol Cockfield insisted.(pictured at right)

But a DiNapoli spokesman, Dennis Thompkins, said flatly, "These are individuals who stayed in their same position and received a salary increase."

Paterson's top aide, William Cunningham, a one-time law partner of the governor's father, Basil, saw his pay jump 5 percent to $178,500 - just $500 less than Paterson himself - from $170,000 on Nov. 7, after he was promoted from a temporary "acting" secretary to permanent.

New York Governor David Paterson (C), New York State Deputy Secretary for Labor Charlotte HitchCock (L) and New York Superintendent of Insurance Eric Dinallo (R) announce a deal to provide loan assistance to insurer AIG, in New York, September 16, 2008. The U.S. Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday said the Federal Reserve Bank of New York will lend up to $85 billion to the American International Group in a plan aimed at saving the insurer from a "disorderly failure" that could wreak economic havoc.

Charlotte Hitchcock, one of Cunningham's deputies and a personal friend of the governor's, received an $18,000, or 11.25 percent, raise on Dec. 22. While a press release said she was promoted from deputy secretary to "chief of staff" and "director of financial regulation," it made no mention of a higher salary.

Cassie Prugh, a confidential assistant, was given a 46 percent pay hike in late November, raising her annual salary to $125,000 from $85,721, while Gaurav Vasisht, an assistant counsel, received a 6 percent, $7,427 increase in December, bringing his salary to $130,279.

Miss USA 2008 Crystle Stewart, Mindy Bockstein, Executive Director of the NYS Consumer Protection Board and Brendan Fitzgerald representative from the office of the Governor of New York State, meet President of the Harlem Children's Zone, Mr. Canada and several children during the launch of her PSA campaign under the Consumer Protection Board’s toy safety campaign.

Brendan Fitzgerald, a special office assistant, received a 21 percent, or $15,737, pay hike only last month, bringing his salary to $90,000, while Michael Deloach, another confidential assistant, saw his pay leap 29 percent, or $18,200, to $80,000 in August.

Lauren Passalacqua, a confidential secretary, saw her salary jump $12,000, or 31.5 percent, to $50,000, while the salary of another confidential aide, Chardee Mendoza, (pictured at right) was hiked $10,000, or 28.5 percent, to $45,000.

Disclosure of the secret pay hikes comes as Paterson is under attack for spending well over $20,000 in state funds on a four-day stay for himself and several aides during President Obama's inaugural last month, and for planning a state-funded junket to Davos, Switzerland, which he canceled only after his plans became public.

Paterson, in his budget proposal outlined in December, demanded that state workers who belong to the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employee Federation forgo negotiated, 3 percent pay hikes that would kick in April 1 or face massive layoffs.

NY Governor Paterson Under Fire for Staff Pay Hikes
by Carolyn E. Price,

After mishandling the "Kennedy / Clinton" saga last month, New York's governor, David Paterson has secretly given out pay increases ranging from 5% to 46% to his own staffers after asking state workers to give up their 3% pay increase in April of 2009.

The New York Post is reporting that Gov. Paterson has secretly given staffers pay increases over the last few months, all this after imposing a hiring freeze, proposing billions in dollars of cuts to the state budget and after asking state workers to forgo their negotiated 3% increase slated to come into effect in April, 2009.

The list of increases include:

Paterson's secretary, William Cunningham, received a 5% increase in salary when he was "promoted" from acting secretary to secretary, bumping his salary from $170,000 to $178,500.

Cunningham's deputy, Charlotte Hitchcock, was promoted from deputy secretary to chief of staff and was given an 11.25% increase bumping her salary from $160,000 to $178,000.

Assistant counsel, Gaurav Vasisht, received a 6% pay hike, to $130,279. Cassie Prugh, a confidential assistant, received a whopping 46% pay hike, bumping her salary from $85,721 to $125,000.

Press aide Erin Duggen received a 5% pay hike to $105,786 while special office assistant, Brendan Fitzgerald, received a 21% raise, to $90,000. Another confidential assistant, Michael Deloach, got a pay hike of 29%, to $80,000 and yet another press aide, Morgan Hook received an almost 13% pay hike to $79,568.

A legal assistant, Ryan Dalton received a 17% increase to $52,000 while confidential secretary Lauren Passalacqua was rewarded with an almost 32% pay raise to $50,000. Another confidential aide, Chardee Mendoza, got 28%, to $45,000 while confidential stenographer Erin Donohue received 10% to $43,000.

The increases handed out by Paterson amount to $250,000 per year, a mere drop in the State of New York's $121 billion annual budget, but surely one must see the hypocrisy of Paterson's recent actions. After asking state employees to forgo a negotiated 3% pay increase he hands out raises to his inner staff ranging from 5 to 46%?

The public sector unions in New York have responded to Paterson's requests by flooding the airwaves with advertising and lobbying campaigns. The New York Times is reporting that the radio and television campaigns are costing the health care sector alone about $1 million a week.

NY Gov Staff Gets Secret Raise Amid Pay “Freeze”

Despite asking New York State workers to forgo a 3% salary increase due to the state’s fiscal crisis, Governor David Patterson has granted pay raises to more than a dozen members of his staff totaling US$250,000 annually.

Gov. Patterson declared a “fiscal emergency” in August 2008 when the NY State budget reached US$15.5 billion and ordered a “hard” hiring freeze and cutting fiscal spending.

Those getting a raise include Paterson’s top aide, William Cunningham, a one-time law partner of the governor’s father; Charlotte Hitchcock, one of Cunningham’s deputies and a personal friend of the governor’s; confidential assistant Cassie Prugh; special office assistant Brendan Fitzgerald; and confidential secretary Lauren Passalacqua.

This is not the first time Gov. Patterson has been busted abusing tax payer money during a self-imposed “fiscal crisis”. The governor spent more than US$20,000 on hotels on himself and friends to attend Barack Obama’s innauguration last month, and was forced to cancel a trip to Davos, Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum, which planned to atttend on the public’s dime.

GOP head: Paterson should return money spend on D.C. hotels
By Jay Gallagher, Ithaca Journal, Albany Bureau

ALBANY — Gov. David Paterson should immediately return the nearly $20,000 he and aides spent on hotel rooms in Washington, D.C., during President Barack Obama's inaugural celebration last month, the chairman of the state Republican Committee said Friday.

"While the governor and his entourage were staying in unbelievably overpriced $1,200-a-night hotel rooms and attending inauguration parties and events, families are slashing their household budgets and making do with the bare-bones necessities of life,'' said the chairman, Joseph Mondello.

"Even worse, while Gov. Paterson and his aides are working the party circuit, he is trying to ram through countless tax hikes that will further constrain family budgets and businesses' bottom lines,'' he said.

Gannett News Service reported Friday that Paterson and three aides spent a total of $19,350 to stay in hotel rooms for four nights during last month's festivities.

A Paterson spokesman defended the spending, pointing out that hotels required a four-night minimum stay and prices were inflated because of the event.

"Gov. Paterson, like many other governors from across the country, represented his state at a moment of national importance,’’ said spokeswoman Marissa Shorenstein. “Due to the overwhelming demand that greatly exceeded supply, hotel rates in Washington D.C. were unusually high and based on several night minimums."

A further check of records Friday showed that Paterson and one of his aides who also went to Washington, special assistant David Johnson, each charged the state $947.04 for airplane tickets shortly before the inauguration. Communications director Risa Heller also charged a plane ticket for the same amount on the same day, according to state records.

There was no immediate word on what other expenses the state officials at the inaugural, which also included Paterson's chief of staff, Charlotte Hitchcock, and his secretary, William Cunningham, might have incurred and charged to taxpayers during the four-day celebration.

Paterson has been saying for months that the state faces an unprecedented fiscal crisis, and has proposed about $9 billion in spending cuts and between $4 billion and $5 billion in new taxes and fees to balance the budget. But it's clear that at least some of those cuts and tax hikes are likely to be rolled back because of billions of extra dollars the state expects to get from the federal stimulus package.

Still, according to Mondello, the spending on hotels in Washington sends the wrong message.

"The only respectable thing for the Governor to do would be to return that money immediately, so that already overburdened taxpayers are not forced to pick up the tab for his overpriced, outrageous expenses,'' he said.

By FREDRIC U. DICKER, NY POST, February 9, 2009

GOV. PATERSON'S top staff is a rudder less collection of indecisive bureaucrats whose day-to-day operations are wracked by internal chaos and fraught with divided loyalties, key insiders have told The Post.


Things have gotten so bad that even some of the governor's most loyal allies in the Legislature have begun clashing on a regular basis with Paterson's staffers, whom they call incompetent and politically tone deaf.

Here's how senior Paterson aides are viewed by the insiders:

* William Cunningham, chief of staff: A secretive Long Island lawyer and longtime political operative. Widely described as indecisive and unfamiliar with statewide issues, afraid to take stands during policy talks, and often seems to be checking with someone other than Paterson before giving directions to staff.

* Special adviser Jon Cohen: A politically ambitious, Long Island-connected physician with no clear portfolio. He has, according to an insider, "an incredibly inflated view of his own talent."

* Deputy secretary Charlotte Hitchcock: A former lawyer for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) who handles key financial issues for the governor, she's described as insecure, easily rattled, verbally abusive and still close to Silver's staff. "She's in totally over her head," said an experienced policy expert.

* Deputy secretary Larry Schwartz: A longtime Democratic operative in Suffolk and Westchester Counties, Schwartz began work as Cunningham's senior deputy last week.

While Schwartz is credited with administrative and political skills, he's not a policy expert and has had no experience dealing with the massive problems facing the state.

* Chief counsel Peter Kiernan: A solid, experienced lawyer with little political juice. "He's not in the room at all," was how one source put it.

* Budget Director Laura Anglin: Seen as closer to Silver's "competent" staff than what she sees as her own less-than-stellar Paterson administration colleagues.

* Director of state operations Dennis Whalen: Longtime bureaucrat and son of a former state health commissioner, he's a competent administrator but lacks strong ties and access to Paterson.

Who is William Cunningham?

Paterson's new senior adviser will be a 'No' man
DAN JANISON,, April 14, 2008

As Albany's sudden transition keeps churning the executive personnel at the Capitol, Long Island lawyer William J. Cunningham III is preparing to become a kind of "No" man.

At least, that's how his fans like to tell it. Democratic insiders expect that as senior adviser to Gov. David A. Paterson, Cunningham will take on the role of vetting ideas and strategies. Precise duties of his $170,000 post remain hazy, but sources call him "sounding board," "minister without portfolio" and "confidant" - the opposite of a "Yes" man.

Cunningham, 56, is a longtime friend of Basil Paterson, the governor's father. They worked together until 2002 at the Garden City law firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, where Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi's father, Joseph Suozzi, is a prominent partner.

"I've known the governor for about 15 years," Cunningham told Newsday. "I got to know David through his dad. I'd say one of the things David and I have as a common bond is we both love his parents Basil and Portia. ... Our paths would cross frequently enough that on Inauguration Day he [the governor] asked to speak with me and took me aside. I met with him the following week."

Cunningham won't oversee agencies but will take on varied projects and, as he puts it, "specific issues as they arise." He's known major-league political tempests. In 2001, fresh from serving as campaign treasurer in Hillary Rodham Clinton's first Senate run, he was thrust into a controversy over two Arkansas clients who received criminal pardons from the departing President Bill Clinton. They'd been referred, he said, by Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, Cunningham's law associate at Meyer Suozzi - whose labor practice Ickes co-chairs with Basil Paterson, while working for the Clinton campaign. Lightheartedly, he recalls that for all the furor, the firm collected a fee of $4,100 for the case.

Thomas Suozzi plucked Cunningham from the firm in 2002 to be his chief deputy. The Paterson hire was announced last Monday - just as Suozzi fervently disputed rumors that he planned to run a primary to replace Paterson in 2010. Suozzi calls the departing Cunningham "an enormously talented person dedicated to public service." He called the appointment "great" for Cunningham, Paterson, Long Island and the state.

Pushed by Suozzi in 2003, Cunningham ran a Democratic primary for county executive in Suffolk. (He lives in Bay Shore with his wife, Terry, a librarian at St. Peter's School). That contest ignited a cross-border clash with Steve Levy, who ultimately won, and his ally Richard Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman. Both men insist bygones are just that.


A shake-up in Gov. David A. Paterson's inner circle may be in the offing. After communications director Risa Heller (pictured at right) resigned, Paterson said Friday he would examine the "chemistry" within his nearly year-old administration. He should have done so earlier, he said, but was delayed by the recession and the lack of a transition period after his sudden promotion following Eliot Spitzer's resignation.

"I never seemed to get to ... my own little reorganization," Paterson said. "It's not that we haven't had good people but it's the chemistry and the system that you have. And I never had a chance to really look at it and I realize now ... that I should do that."

Paterson was roundly criticized about his selection process in replacing Hillary Rodham Clinton. Heller's departure follows that of homeland security czar Michael Balboni of Mineola, and top aide Charles J. O'Byrne. O'Byrne was replaced by William J. Cunningham III of Bay Shore.

- James T. Madore in Albany

Paterson flak resigns amid trouble for his image

And so, Risa Heller has departed as the governor's communications director. Whether she jumped or was pushed doesn't really matter from the general public's standpoint.

If anyone high up in the Paterson administration thinks they've now solved their image problems rooted in the $20,000 in inaugural hotel costs, the Caroline Kennedy leak fiasco, the zig-zags involving his appointment of a senator and a chief judge, the petty infighting between aides over office space and who-yet-knows-what-else, they are kidding themselves.

Both Heller and Paterson say in the news release she will "pursue other opportunities."

For the full bury-it-on-Friday-evening statement, click 'continued' line below.


Governor David A. Paterson accepted with regret the resignation of Risa B. Heller and issued the following statement:

“My Communications Director, Risa Heller, has told me of her intention to depart state government service to pursue other opportunities. I want to thank Risa for the experience, judgment and counsel she brought to my Administration. She is an exceptional professional who has been an invaluable advisor to me. I wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Ms. Heller said: “It has been a tremendous honor to work for Governor Paterson during the first year of his administration. He is a tireless advocate for the people of New York, and I am proud to have served him. I have decided to leave the Governor’s office in order to pursue other opportunities. My decision comes after careful deliberation. I am excited to enter this next phase of my career and look forward to many new challenges ahead.”

Ms. Heller’s resignation will become effective after an orderly transition with her successor.

Ex-Suffolk official a new top Paterson aide
Lawrence Schwartz,(at right) a onetime top aide under Suffolk County Executive Pat Halpin, is joining Gov. David Paterson's office as a $178,000-a -year first deputy secretary, reporting directly to the Governor and another Long Islander, William Cunningham, who is secretary to the governor.

Schwartz, who has worked as the $157,000 a year top deputy to Westchester County Executive Andy Spano (photo) for the past decade, will begin in the new job Feb. 2. In a prepared statement, Paterson said his administration “will benefit greatly” from Schwartz’s “insight and breadth of experience.”

Schwartz, 51, who grew up in Port Jefferson Station, was the hard-nosed top political aide who helped engineer Assemblyman Patrick Halpin's upset victory as the first Democrat in 18 years to win the county’s top job. But Halpin lasted only one term in the face of the 1991 economic slump, which like the current crisis, resulted in the first decline in sales tax revenue in decades.

“He has a keen political sensibilities and and an intimate knowledge of Long Island and regional issues which bodes well for both the county and the state,” said Halpin, of his former aide.
Skelos: Paterson lied about attacks on Kennedy
January 28, 2009

ALBANY - State Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos yesterday accused Gov. David A. Paterson of being untruthful about his support for a property tax cap as well as about attacks on Caroline Kennedy after she bowed out of the U.S. Senate race.

"You see [Paterson's] history of trying to modify history. I'm not going to call him Pinocchio but ...," Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) told reporters. He cited Democrat Paterson's call last year for capping increases in school property taxes and subsequent anger when the then-GOP-controlled Senate adopted the measure.

Skelos also said he didn't believe Paterson's statement of not knowing that his aides leaked information about Kennedy to Newsday and other news outlets after she dropped her Senate bid last week. The aides alleged that her withdrawal was linked to questions about prior tax payments and reporting the employment of household help.

"I think the governor knew of some of the activities that went on. ... I can't prove that, but that's my gut" feeling, he said.

Minutes earlier, Paterson had issued another denial of knowledge of the leaks and condemned the rumormongering about Kennedy. He ruled out an investigation, however.

"I'm not going to hunt down scurrilous rumors from sources I don't know. ... I don't have any information about those types of attacks," he said. "I had nothing to do with any negative characterizations of any candidate, particularly Caroline Kennedy. "

Asked to respond to Skelos' criticism, a Paterson spokesman referred to the governor's comments made before the senator's news conference.

Paterson said that he and top aide William J. Cunningham III had spoken to staff about keeping information confidential.

Paterson also again admitted that his public musing about who should succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton was a mistake. "Revealing how I felt every day confused the process and [I] would have probably acted differently in retrospect. "

As he left the Capitol's Red Room, he would not respond to a question about whether he had apologized to Kennedy.

A Kennedy spokesman didn't return messages.

Separately yesterday, Paterson and leaders of the legislature's majority conferences - all Democrats - predicted they would reach agreement on closing this year's $1.6-billion budget deficit by Feb. 5, four days after Paterson's deadline.

He warned the deficit is growing, though at a slower pace than in late 2008.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said, "The deficit reduction plan ... we are fairly confident collectively that we will be in a position to act on it sometime toward the end of next week. "

Republican minority leaders Skelos and Assemb. James Tedisco of Schenectady weren't invited to the leaders' meeting, generating outrage from both.

N.Y. comptroller expects massive job losses across the state
Posted by jthompso November 24, 2008 11:11AM

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the financial crisis gripping Wall Street and the world economy could cost the state and New York City 225,000 jobs over the next two years.

DiNapoli says instability in the securities industry could also cost the state and city $6.5 billion in tax revenue during that same period.

The report issued today suggests the city and state may need a federal bailout despite the efforts of Gov. David Paterson and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to close budget deficits.

DiNapoli says the financial industry in New York City has already lost more than 16,000 jobs and could lose a total of 38,000 jobs by next October.

Teachers at KIPP AMP in Brooklyn Want to Join the UFT, But the Administration Is Fighting Back

The KIPP Model may 'work' in terms of making children afraid of not working hard and the harsh punishments that follow, but teachers at KIPP's Crown Heights, Brooklyn, school say (to me) that they are tired of peers being thrown out without cause with a minute's notice. They want Union protection.

From a parent's perspective, the discipline at KIPP Charter Schools is out of control:

Parents Report Harassment and Abuse By Administrators at the KIPP Charter Schools

also relevant:
Mike Feinberg, Dave Levin, and The KIPP Academy: A Success Story That Public School Educrats Dont Want(my website,, 2004)

UFT goes to PERB for KIPP AMP teachers
Feb 13, 2009 3:58 PM

The UFT petitioned the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) on Feb. 13 to formally recognize the teaching staff at the KIPP AMP Academy in Brooklyn as a collective bargaining unit. The move comes after administrators at KIPP failed to recognize the teachers within the state’s 30-day deadline and in the midst of a campaign by school administrators to threaten and intimidate teachers and parents.

Sixteen of the 19 teachers at KIPP AMP have signed union authorization cards asking to be represented by the UFT. Their organizing committee notified the school’s two co-principals on Jan. 13 that they were seeking union representation to secure a stronger voice in their school and a more collaborative workplace.

“The UFT has repeatedly pledged to work cooperatively with KIPP, and we have sought meetings to discuss moving forward,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. “Rather than meet with us, however, the administrators at the school have engaged in a series of threatening actions against the teaching staff. They also let the 30-day state deadline pass without recognizing the staff’s intentions. We are really disappointed that neither the initial thoughts expressed by management about working together nor the KIPP motto of team and family extend to the hardworking and dedicated teachers of the school.”

State law allows workers such as those at KIPP AMP to legally unionize because a majority of teachers have signed union check-off cards. Once employees go public with their intentions to organize, state law provides for a 30-day period in which the management of the company or organization can voluntarily recognize the desire of the workers to organize. Now that the 30-day period has ended, PERB can step in and recognize the UFT as the designated bargaining agent for the KIPP teachers and order KIPP to begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

On Feb. 11, the union filed improper practice charges against school administrators for holding “captive audience” meetings with teachers in an effort to intimidate them and interfere with their unionization efforts. In those meetings, school officials pressured teachers into withdrawing their bid for a union and said their benefits and pensions were in jeopardy. A similar complaint was filed by the union on Feb. 3 after similar meetings were held with both teachers and students.

In addition, an effort by teachers and parents to form a PTA on Thursday night was met with stiff resistance by school administrators who first denied the group a room to meet, and then had an outside group enter and disrupt the meeting until it had to be abruptly ended.

“These are terrific teachers, and they couldn’t be more committed to their school community or their students,” said Weingarten. “They just want a voice and respect and support, and they don't understand why KIPP is refusing to acknowledge that. This is a real test about whether KIPP respects the people who have made their schools great.”

“We look forward to negotiating innovative provisions tailored to the KIPP schools and the needs of the kids and the staff,” continued Weingarten. “That really should be the next step, not litigation and delay.”

The UFT currently sponsors three unionized charter schools, the newest of which is a Bronx High School run in collaboration with Green Dot, a successful and labor-friendly charter school operator and educational reform organization based in Los Angeles. The UFT also represents educators at several other successful charters in New York City, including two of the other three KIPP schools.

Citing high turnover, Brooklyn KIPP teachers are unionizing
by Elizabeth Green, Gotham Schools

If I hadn’t spent the last several hours in a meeting, I would have conveyed this dramatic news sooner: Teachers at one of the country’s most prominent charter school networks, KIPP, have decided to buck their board members‘ skeptical attitudes towards teachers unions — and organize.

Fifteen of 20 teachers at KIPP AMP in Brooklyn, a middle school, today sent a letter to the school’s board of trustees declaring their intention to form a union with the United Federation of Teachers. The president of the union, Randi Weingarten, signed the letter.

In letters to fellow city teachers, the KIPP AMP teachers explain that they want to “create a more sustainable culture so that we can better serve our students and reduce teacher turnover.” They said they’re asking for a “basic contract” that sounds, in their short description, kind of like the slim, tenure-less Green Dot contract: Administrators would have to prove “just cause” before firing a teacher, and discipline would follow a graduate scale, including measures to support struggling teachers.

The union also announced today that teachers at a second KIPP charter school, KIPP Infinity, would like to enter collective bargaining talks. KIPP Infinity’s teachers were already represented by the union, in an agreement that guaranteed them health insurance and other benefits, but now want to negotiate a job contract. In a letter released today, UFT official Michael Mendel asked KIPP Infinity’s board for detailed information on the school’s employees and their salary and benefits details.

The two moves represents a dramatic victory for the UFT, which has been campaigning to bring charter school teachers into its fold for at least the last year. If other charter school teachers in New York City follow suit, the unionization effort could also mark a significant turning point for the charter school movement, which has often scorned unions.

Here’s how the KIPP AMP teachers explained their decision in a letter to the school’s two principals, arguing that their demands will help the school improve:

Teachers and professionals must have a voice in the creation and implementation of school policy. We must have our concerns as professionals recognized and addressed. We must be evaluated in a clear and transparent manner and given support when we need it. We must feel secure in our employment so that concerns as well as ideas can be voiced in a trusting environment.

KIPP AMP opened in 2005 and got a low A on its progress report.

I called KIPP co-founder Dave Levin but haven’t heard back from him yet today. I’ll keep updating this story today and tomorrow.

February 13, 2009
Charter School’s Deadline to Recognize Union Passes

A move to create a union at one of the city’s leading charter schools may turn into a protracted battle, as the deadline passed on Thursday for the school, KIPP AMP in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to voluntarily recognize the union.

The United Federation of Teachers, which is seeking to represent the teachers, must now file for recognition with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, which will most likely give the school’s administration several days to respond.

David Levin — a founder of the national network that operates the schools, the Knowledge Is Power Program, and the superintendent of its four New York City schools (another will open this summer) — said that the administration would “respect and follow the state process,” but did not specify what, if any, challenges it would raise with the labor board.

“For the past 15 years, it has been the ability of everyone to work together, and to do that with flexibility has been the key to our success,” Mr. Levin said in an interview on Thursday. “We were created as an alternative to the public schools, and we need to be committed to and maintain our work and focus on results.”

The city’s teachers’ union also filed a complaint with the state’s labor board on Thursday, claiming that the administration intimidated employees at KIPP AMP and used staff meetings to discourage them from forming a union.

According to the complaint, Mr. Levin attended a mandatory staff meeting and said that the teachers’ current retirement, maternity and private pension benefits would be “potentially in jeopardy” and “all of that goes away,” if they formed a union. At the meeting, Mr. Levin distributed a letter with instructions on how to revoke their support for a union, union officials said.

George Arzt, a spokesman for KIPP, said that Mr. Levin was simply responding to inquiries from teachers about their options under state law, and added that the same information was available on the Web site of the state’s labor board.

Union officials said that they have received signatures supporting a union from 16 of the school’s 20 teachers and that no teacher has revoked support since the meeting with Mr. Levin on Feb. 6.

While two of the KIPP schools are formally represented by the teachers’ union, neither school has its own union contract, although one is subject to the city’s contract under a quirk of state law. Teachers at New York City KIPP schools are generally paid about 20 percent more than teachers with similar credentials in traditional public schools, in exchange for working longer hours and a longer school year.

February 7, 2009
Teachers Say Union Faces Resistance From Brooklyn Charter School

With its stellar test scores and connection to a national network, the KIPP AMP charter school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, presented a ripe opportunity for the city’s teachers’ union to prove that it, too, could embrace innovation that fuels rapid improvement for students.

The founders of the network, the Knowledge is Power Program, often paid teachers more than they would have earned under union contracts, and one of its four New York City schools was already unionized under a quirk of state law. When the United Federation of Teachers announced last month that it had collected enough signatures to unionize the charter school, Dave Levin, KIPP’s co-founder and New York superintendent, said he was willing to work with the union and was optimistic things would proceed smoothly.

But in the weeks since, several teachers said in interviews, the atmosphere at the school has grown increasingly tense, with administrators making veiled threats about the effect of creating a union. E-mail and text messages that would usually be returned at all hours have gone unanswered. And late last month, teachers said they were told by their students, school administrators pulled students into a private meeting and asked them to critique their teachers.

“The general tenor has been of increased distance, and administrators felt more inaccessible than they have ever been,” said Leila Chakravarty, a seventh-grade math teacher who helped collect signatures to form the union.

The union filed a complaint this week with the state Public Employment Relations Board saying that KIPP’s administration was intimidating the organizing teachers.

A spokesman for KIPP said that Mr. Levin declined a request for an interview. The co-principals at KIPP AMP, which was founded in 2005 and now has 275 students in fifth through eighth grades, did not respond to telephone messages. (The AMP in the school’s name stands for “Always Mentally Prepared.”)

Under state law, if the majority of a charter school’s teachers sign a petition supporting the union, as 15 of KIPP AMP’s 22 teachers have, management has 30 days to recognize the union or the matter goes to arbitration with the state; that deadline is Thursday. Union officials said that Mr. Levin met with the teachers on Friday, and also contacted Randi Weingarten, the union president, to arrange a meeting for next week.

Perhaps the standoff should not be a surprise. Charter schools, which are publicly financed but operate independently, were founded in opposition to teachers’ unions; many of the movement’s supporters view union contracts as a fundamental flaw in public education that keeps ineffective teachers on the job. And KIPP, like many charters, has hired teachers without traditional training and requires long hours and weekend work, usually for extra pay.

Teachers’ unions initially ignored charter schools or viewed them as the enemy, but as the charters grew in size and influence, the unions’ feelings warmed somewhat. Green Dot, a Los Angeles-based charter network, has unions at each of its schools, including one that opened with the teachers’ union’s cooperation last fall in the Bronx.

In New York, 18 of the state’s 115 charter schools are unionized, including two in Brooklyn operated by the teachers’ union. What happens to the unionization effort at KIPP AMP is being closely watched nationally as a test of whether two powerful forces in education will cooperate, coexist or devolve into protracted battles.

KIPP’s administration seemed to be caught off guard Jan. 13, when seven teachers wrote to the principals at the school and in the nonprofit network to inform them of their decision to organize. Ky Adderley, KIPP AMP’s founding principal, met with the seven and told them that he was disappointed, according to several teachers who were there.

“He said he had founded the school as a nonunion school and he had done so for a reason and that he was not pleased,” Ms. Chakravarty said. Forming a union, the teachers recalled Mr. Adderley saying, would mean staffing decisions would be out of his control, suggesting that state officials who approved the charter would be able to fire people at any time.

The teachers said they hoped both sides could come to an agreement. Several days later, they asked Mr. Levin to meet with them; he did not respond.

Then during the last week in January, while teachers were at a faculty meeting, the principals met with seventh- and eighth-grade students alone, a move the teachers said was unprecedented. Several students told their teachers that they had been encouraged to talk about “negative feelings and interactions” with them, those teachers said.

Mr. Adderley distributed notes on the meeting with the subject line “7th and 8th Grade feedback on Testing Environment.” The comments included “Teachers are very disrespectful. They always tell us sarcasm and mean words and expect us to have respect for them,” and “We need more reason to come to school, the classes are boring and there’s nothing to do. I miss how it used to be,” according to the memo.

Ms. Weingarten, who is also president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers at more than 70 charter schools nationwide, suspects pressure from financial backers underlies the tension.

“We had talked in the abstract about doing great things together, about creating a laboratory for reform with teacher support,” she said. “So I am deeply disappointed by these actions.”

Teachers at the school said that before the unionization drive, they had not had any major conflicts with administrators, and insisted they had no qualms about the intense schedule KIPP routinely requires. (Two teachers excused themselves during late evening interviews to take phone calls from students and parents.)

They say their main goals in forming a union are to establish clearer expectations for teacher performance and official procedures for how and why teachers are dismissed.

“We think it would be the best thing for us to formalize the system, so that we are clear for whoever comes along in two or five years,” said Emily Fernandez, who has taught fifth-grade reading for two years at the school. “The point is just to have clear voice in these kinds of decisions.”

School of Hard Choices
In the KIPP Academy Program, It's Motivation That's Fundamental

By Jay Mathews, Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2004; Page C01

When Mike Feinberg, then a recent University of Pennsylvania graduate, and Dave Levin, just out of Yale, met at a 1992 summer teacher training institute in Los Angeles, they were typical of young people signing up for the Teach for America program -- smart, idealistic, confident. That summer they spent as much time playing basketball as they did learning how to handle a classroom. Yet when they got into Levin's rotting gray Taurus, loaded with soft drinks and Doritos, and headed for their new jobs in Houston, they thought they had all the solutions to the problems of educating low-income kids, and even outlined a grand strategy while they drove through the Mojave Desert.

Then they started to teach, and realized they had no idea what they were doing.

Levin's class was in chaos. His tires were slashed in the teachers' parking lot. A student sent to the office for throwing a book at Levin's head returned smiling with a Tootsie Pop. Feinberg, recruited as a bilingual teacher at another elementary school, spoke Spanish so poorly he had to keep asking his students what they were saying, especially one word he kept hearing.

"What does chupa mean?" he finally asked.

"Mr. Feinberg, it means 'suck.' "

"Oh. Thank you."

Most such stories in America end right there. Young educators intending to be classroom heroes discover that they lack the skills and energy and patience. Then they do what their mothers always wanted and apply to grad school.

But this story is different. Levin and Feinberg, more than a decade later, have invented something very rare in American education: a way of teaching low-income children that actually works in 36 public middle schools, producing the largest and fastest learning gains around the country. Even in the District, where most of the educational news has been very bad, the school they established three years ago in Southeast is beating schools in middle-class neighborhoods, and is about to expand as a model for what the poorest Washington schools could do if they paid closer attention to each child's habits of living and learning.

Their method becomes clear during a visit to the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy New York, where Levin spends most of his time. One day during the most recent school year, he was standing in the aqua-green hallway of the academy's quarters on the fourth floor of a public school in a grimy, unreconstructed corner of the South Bronx, along with five frowning eighth-graders. While their classmates headed out for a day at Central Park, they had to stay behind because they lost points for misbehavior, missed homework and other failings in the incentive system that rules their days.

Levin is 34, tall and curly-haired. He leaned close to whisper words of encouragement into the ear of each disgruntled 13-year-old. He told them, as he had many times before, that they were smart and capable, but they had to focus on what is important. The school motto is "Be nice, work hard." Those who did that not only went on outings to Central Park but had other good things waiting for them.

That old-fashioned motivational blend of the bitter and the sweet has come from nowhere with no establishment support -- barely escaping strangulation at birth -- to capture the attention of school superintendents, policymakers, scholars and the president of the United States.

It is becoming the model that all other attempts to close the achievement gap between rich and poor students must measure themselves against. It is so successful that even affluent Montgomery County, which usually resists departures from its highly rated public school programs, is trying to get KIPP to put a school in one of its low-income neighborhoods.

And in the District, under the direction of Susan Schaeffler, a Feinberg and Levin protege, the public charter KIPP DC: KEY Academy has produced the highest math scores and nearly the highest reading scores in the city. Washington education leaders, such as D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, embrace KIPP, although school system administrators have not been able so far to find the organization more space.

Schaeffler wants to open two more KIPP middle schools and a KIPP high school in the District in the next three years, in every case with low-income students just like those in the lowest-scoring schools. "I am getting a head start on college," said Shakiera Mosby, an eighth-grader -- or what the school calls a senior -- at the KEY Academy. Evoking the dream of higher education is a KIPP hallmark.

Feinberg, 35, and Levin say they might have given up on teaching that first year in Houston if their egos had not gotten in the way. They were so annoyed by their inability to make headway in their classrooms that they began to devote every waking hour to turning themselves into at least passable teachers. They started visiting students' homes in crowded apartments and little houses, in hopes the parents could help them with discipline.

And right across the hall, they met their savior: a classroom magician named Harriett Ball.
The Teacher

Ball's classes often exploded in songs and chants, and then just as quickly, when she said the word, were silent. Her test scores were very good. Levin spent every spare moment watching her work. After school, he would join Ball for happy hour drinks -- beer for Levin, soda for Ball -- at a little club near the school called King Leo's. They would also get together on weekends at her house or Levin's apartment, with Feinberg joining them. Ball, now a popular consultant to school districts, said they were "very, very hungry" for something that would make them good teachers.

They began to borrow her chants -- such as "Rolling the Sixes" -- using a rhythm irresistible to 10-year-olds:

"Six, 12, 18, 24, 30, 36. And the spider says, 42, 48, 54, 60, 42, 48, 54, 60, 66, 72. How do you do? How do you do?"

The two neophyte teachers kept visiting the homes of their mostly Hispanic and African American students. A child would open the door and then slam it in shock at seeing a teacher. After much whispering and laughter, the door would open again and parents would invite them in.

They would get home about 6 p.m. and religiously watch "Star Trek: The Next Generation" "because in the 25th century, everyone was literate," Feinberg said. "Everyone walked around with this little tricorder, and the 15-year-old was doing nuclear fusion. That was always our escape. Then we would eat dinner."

They would be up until 11 p.m. comparing notes and preparing lessons for the next morning. Gradually, they improved. Each is 6 feet 3, already hard to miss, and they became classroom dynamos, full of games and demands and rules and standards, sweetened with pizza parties, dramatic productions and a year-end trip to the AstroWorld theme park.

Levin became so confident of his progress at Bastian Elementary School that he defied a principal's order to exempt several of his low-scoring Hispanic students from state tests, a popular technique for getting the school's average scores up. Passing the test was the children's only chance to get into a good middle school, and he thought they could do it. When school administrators told the parents to sign a form exempting their children from the test anyway, they declined on instructions from that nice Mr. Levin, which got him on the principal's troublemaker list.

Levin was voted teacher of the year by his school's faculty. Ninety-six percent of his students passed either the math or reading test, and 70 percent passed both. But at the end of the 1993-94 school year he was fired for what his principal called insubordination. It was a bad omen because he and Feinberg were starting the Knowledge Is Power Program that summer for 50 fifth-graders stuffed into one classroom in Feinberg's school, Garcia Elementary.

From the very beginning, homework was crucial. They gave each student the telephone number of their apartment, and told them to call if they had any homework questions. Feinberg said to a student he dropped off at home: "I don't want to hear tomorrow that you didn't understand it. I want to hear from you tonight." They only had one phone line, so they took turns fielding calls, as many as 20 a night. There was no more time for "Star Trek."

They jumped on misbehavior immediately. "We are not drill sergeants, we are not babysitters and we are not behavior correctors," Levin shouted after an early hallway scuffle. "We are teachers, and we're busting our butts to prepare you for Miss Such-and-Such's class in that middle school so that when all hell is breaking loose, you'll be the one who's still learning."

And it worked. At the end of the first year of KIPP, a class in which about 53 percent of the students passed the state fourth-grade tests suddenly had a 96 percent passing rate in fifth-grade math and a 93 percent passing rate in fifth-grade English.

That meant little to the Garcia principal, who became increasingly impatient with what she saw as their disruption of her school. Levin said she didn't change her mind even when Levin, willing to try anything, asked her out on a date.
A Program on the Move

Levin thought his home town might work better for KIPP. Armed with the first-year scores, he persuaded the New York City school district to let him open the second KIPP school in the Bronx. But it had the same ugly beginning. His new principal verbally flayed him to show her staff she wasn't playing favorites, he recalls. To find more students, he had to sneak into a parents' meeting from which he had been barred, and whisper invitations to take a look at KIPP, before he was escorted out.

Back in Houston, Feinberg was being forced to move the original KIPP school every year, even when he was about to add a seventh grade to a thriving fifth- and sixth-grade operation, with a growing young staff and still-impressive test scores. There was no room anywhere for that, he was told. He would have to tell some kids to forget it.

Such resistance was typical of big-city school district administrators, who had little patience with innovators, particularly novices like Feinberg and Levin; rookies with big innovative ideas have a habit of disrupting comfortable routines and often fail to deliver. Feinberg's attempts to see Superintendent (and later U.S. Education Secretary) Roderick Paige were rebuffed. So at about 2 p.m. one sweltering April day he sat on the rear bumper of Paige's maroon Acura in the parking lot outside the ornate school district headquarters and graded papers until Paige, heading for home, showed up four hours later.

"Dr. Paige!" Feinberg said, using the excited voice that worked so well with fifth-graders. "I'm in a pickle. You've got to help me. They are trying to take away my babies!" The superintendent arranged a meeting the next day with the aide who had been the roadblock. Feinberg said she looked as if she wanted to fry him in oil, but he got the space he needed.

By 1999 Feinberg -- with fifth- through eighth-graders in trailers on a school parking lot -- and Levin -- with the same grade levels on the fourth floor of a public school surrounded by housing projects -- had the best performing middle schools in Houston and the Bronx, respectively. That led to a story on "60 Minutes," and a major investment by Doris and Donald Fisher, founders of the Gap clothing stores, who leapt to support an educational initiative that actually seemed to help disadvantaged kids. President Bush has since been to two of the schools, and Democratic and Republican legislators, including vice presidential nominee Sen. John Edwards, have endorsed KIPP.

One hundred percent of eighth-graders at KIPP Academy Houston passed the Texas state tests last year. KIPP Academy New York ranks in the top 10 percent of all New York city schools. Students at KIPP schools opened since 2001 averaged score increases last year of 39 percent in mathematics and 20 percent in reading. About 80 percent of KIPP students in 15 states and the District have family incomes low enough to qualify for federal lunch subsidies, and they are all of the hormone-addled middle school age that makes even teachers at wealthy private schools tremble. (KIPP is starting an elementary and a high school in Houston this year.)

Feinberg and Levin say they want discipline, attention and steady, measurable progress that supplants the distractions of their students' homes and neighborhoods. Their secret is what they call "the joy factor": excursions in Central Park, games, songs, trips to Disney World or Los Angeles, and music. The 180-piece orchestra at KIPP New York gives bewildered and frustrated preteens an incentive to go to school each morning. They must earn the right to play by being nice and working hard.

KIPP combines several methods -- up to 9 1/2-hour school days, required three-week summer school, regular Saturday sessions, close teacher cooperation, regular parental contacts, consistent methods of punishment and reward, and keen attention to test results -- that each have proved to be effective in isolation. It then tells young principals and mostly young staffers -- paid somewhat above regular public school salaries for their extra hours -- to make it work in ways that make sense to them.

At the end of each week, students receive up to $40 in virtual cash that can be redeemed for snacks and other favors at the student store, and also count toward day excursions like the trip to Central Park or what KIPP calls year-end "field lessons" to Washington, D.C., California, New England, Utah, Florida or Tennessee. Each grade is known by the year that its members will be going to college. Each classroom is named after the college that its teacher attended. Graduating KIPP eighth-graders are usually placed in private schools or magnet schools that can be counted on to maintain the same high standards. On average, a new federal study shows, charter schools are no better and in some cases worse than regular public schools, but KIPP's test scores show it to be a glaring exception to that general rule.

There is no active opposition to KIPP, although some skeptics say they want to see how the achievement gains hold up, and note that it will take many, many more such schools to make a dent in the problems of low-income neighborhoods. They also suggest that KIPP might be doing well because it attracts the most motivated parents, to which KIPP teachers reply that their students had the same parents when they were doing terribly in regular public schools. KIPP schools have many students with disabilities, and expulsions are rare, their enrollment figures show. KIPP accountants calculate that the longer hours and trips increase per-pupil costs by about 13 percent in their schools across the country. In some expensive cities like New York, however, KIPP is still spending less per student than regular public schools are.

Feinberg, married now to a former Teach for America teacher, has left his post at San Francisco headquarters to go back to Houston and be with kids again, supervising two KIPP middle schools and the new elementary and high school. Levin, still looking for the right woman, resisted attempts to move him to San Francisco and remains at KIPP New York, helping the new principal, Quinton Vance, while focusing on KIPP principal and teacher training and the development of KIPP curriculum materials.

The real work, they say, starts every summer with the new fifth-graders, and requires regular reinforcement. The New York fifth grade recently had an afternoon of miniature golf, and Levin remained behind with the dozen or so who did not earn the trip to plant the seeds of future achievement. "What are the choices you made that left you in this situation?" he asked them. "Are you going to be ready for the next trip five or six weeks from now? We will probably go to the movies, or whatever, but will you be ready to earn that?"

The sixth-graders had come back from their miniature golf excursion the day before. Levin watched them closely to gauge their mood. They were happy and energetic, 11-year-old batteries recharged by the joy factor. "They came back much more motivated for the academics," said Levin. "So it works."

From Gotham Schools:

The raw materials of KIPP teachers’ unionizing efforts
Posted By Elizabeth Green On January 13, 2009 @ 7:12 pm In Newsroom | 11 Comments

Per request [1], I’m uploading the letters the KIPP charter school teachers in Brooklyn wrote explaining their decision to form a union. A tiny, wonderful detail enclosed within: In their organizing efforts they apparently used the e-mail address

Read the letters here [2] (PDF). Here’s a visual for the PDF-shy of the e-mail the KIPP AMP teachers sent to other KIPP teachers in the city:

And the end of the e-mail, with that amazing gmail address they created:


URL to article:

URLs in this post:

[1] request:

[2] here:

What 'Yes, We Can' Should Mean for Our Schools
By Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, Washington Post
Friday, January 9, 2009; A17


In 1994, we founded KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, by starting one middle school in the South Bronx and one in Houston. Today, KIPP is a growing network of 66 public charter schools serving 17,000 children in 19 states and the District. Eighty percent of our alumni from those first two schools have now gone on to college. More than 90 percent of KIPP students are children of color, and 80 percent qualify for the federal free or reduced-price meal program.

At KIPP, we believe that "the actual proves the possible." Barack Obama's election embodies this credo.

As Obama and Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan (pictured above) begin to shape the policies that will drive the new administration, we would like to offer five concrete thoughts from the field on how to channel Obama's "yes, we can" spirit into substantive education reform:

· First, Obama should use his ability to inspire Americans to set a goal for our educational system akin to putting a man on the moon. Much as President John F. Kennedy did with the space program in the 1960s, Obama could establish a paradigm-shifting goal -- ensuring that within 10 years every child in America will be on track to earning a college degree or completing a meaningful career training program. Achieving this goal would significantly enhance the opportunities our children will have over their lifetimes, especially in our new global economy.

· Second, perhaps the single greatest lever for raising expectations and achievement for all children in America would be the creation of national learning standards and assessments. With KIPP schools operating in 19 states, we have seen how the maze of state standards and tests keeps great teachers from sharing ideas, inhibits innovation, and prevents meaningful comparison of student, teacher and school performance. Rather than there being 50 different standards, Obama could unify the country around a common vision for the kind of teaching and learning we need to prepare our children for the future.

· Third, as president, Obama could help build enthusiasm and respect for all who enter the teaching profession. Obama could sound a clarion call about the crucial role that teachers play in the nation's economic and social well-being; he could raise awareness, alter public perceptions, and motivate countless people to become and remain teachers. Alternative programs for recruiting and training teachers, such as Teach for America, have already begun to generate tremendous interest in teaching among top college graduates. We need to build on this momentum to attract an ever-growing number of talented people to this important profession.

· Fourth, we should assess teachers on their demonstrated impact on student learning, not whether they hold a traditional teacher certifications. At KIPP, we have the ability to hire, fire and reward principals and teachers based on their students' progress and achievement. If we are going to hold all public schools accountable for their results -- and we should -- we need to grant this same power to all public schools. Otherwise, public schools will not meet the goal of providing a world-class education to every child.

· Finally, we urge Obama to follow through on his campaign pledge to double federal funding for public charter schools with proven results. Because of technicalities in state laws, successful charter schools looking to open new campuses are often ineligible for federal money set aside for new charter schools. Along with granting successful charter schools access to federal funds, we should provide these schools with the space to operate. If Obama includes funds for infrastructure projects in his economic stimulus package, we hope that charter schools will be given the same access to facilities funding as any other public schools.

Our students are full of hope for the future. They see in Barack Obama the embodiment of the opportunities and change they aspire to in their own lives. We believe that this new administration can shift the priorities and practices in our public schools so that the next generation of young people will build a better tomorrow for themselves and for us all.

Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, both alumni of the Teach for America program, co-founded the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) in 1994. The Agenda is an occasional series on policy issues facing the Obama administration.