Thursday, January 30, 2014


These are interesting times in New York as we have a Governor and Legislature touting various reform packages that are expected to drop some tax rates after years of steady tax growth. It comes at a time when those same parties are testing the waters for even more public services such as universal pre-kindergarten.

Decreased revenues and increased costs -- they can’t exist concurrently. So, to make good on all their promises, state officials have been looking at some alternative sources through which to acquire capital. They are now in the developmental stages of allowing local jurisdictions to collect taxes from some properties owned by non-profits.

Long-held state law has said that such lands are off-limits to property and school taxes. This was put into place because legislators believed at the time – and rightly so – that there was a trade-off of pricey revenues versus priceless benefit: Non-profits provide more to the community than what could ever be gleaned from the taxes they would pay.

The language of the potential replacement concept, one being developed by members of the Governor’s tax commission in conjunction with the Legislature, would cap the number of acres that could be considered tax exempt at 400 acres per organization.

It’s a take-off of a bill that was run through both houses in recent years. The old version focused solely on all unimproved properties held by non-profits. The thinking was that property is being used by those organizations only if it supports facilities and other improvements.

That bill was once passed by the Senate but never made it out of committee in the Assembly. The Assembly turned it down because it would affect thousands of non-profits across the state, including those comparable to Habitat for Humanity that might hold 20 unimproved lots in a city that are all awaiting construction. Had the bill passed, all those properties would have been taxed.

The new iteration of the bill makes change more palatable to the dissenting legislators because the 400 acre threshold would exclude most all non-profits and would instead affect only those dozens who hold massive amounts of property, such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and similar groups who need to manage that amount of land in order to offer a quality summer camp program. 

Consider the local scout council of which I am president. We own Camp Dittmer (for Boy Scouts) and Camp Sam Wood (for Cub Scouts). Between the two facilities, the council owns over 700 acres of land. We could end up paying taxes on more than 300 acres that were previously tax-free.

It’s the kind of thing that keeps me up at night, because where exactly would we find the money to pay for the taxes? Any non-profit will tell you that many funding sources have shrunk or dried up completely because of the moribund economy. 

Because of this anticipated change in public policy, many kids will be unable to savor the outdoors because of the financial burden the new tax will place on their organizations. When a camp is taxed the cost will have to be passed on to the customers. Considering that many camps see only a few hundred visitors per summer and the property taxes will exceed thousands of dollars annually (especially if it is prime lakeside real estate like Camp Dittmer) each attendee will pay a substantial addition to the cost of his or her vacation. This will prove to be the breaking point, the fee that causes many lower-income families to say “no” to a week of camp for their kid; many of them can barely pull it off now. That chain of events will force many scout councils to get out of the summer camp business and sell-off their unique properties.

Passage can be stopped, though, with public action. If you value what you did at summer camp as a child and want your kids – and many others – to create similar memories and friendships and learn similar lessons, please take the time add your voice to the debate and point out the many flaws of this new tax to your senator or assemblyperson.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Three weeks ago a bill was submitted to the New York Senate’s Education Committee that would pose a significant attack on parental rights. S142-2013, sponsored by Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx) and cosponsored by Adraino Espaillat (D-Washington Heights) and John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), would require persons in parental relation with a child of elementary school age to attend parent support programs and complete four workshops, one of which must be related to physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children. As the penalty for non-compliance (or what the lawmakers would consider the reward for compliance), a child’s advancement to the seventh grade is contingent on the parents’ completion of these courses.

The language of the bill expresses its purpose as providing “…parents with educational and support systems that would enhance parenting skills and to provide parents with guidelines and resources necessary to prevent instances of abuse and neglect.”

This bill, the first of its kind, would dictate to parents how to do their job, regardless if they are “bad” parents or “good” ones. It assumes there is a standard one-size-fits-all approach to parenting that all households should conform to. As any one will tell you, there isn’t…each and every family has its own unique chemistry, traditions, norms and culture – that’s what makes each family – and each person – on this planet so interesting, so unique. Sameness is the bane of human development. And it is the symptom of total control.  

Not only is the bill a disappointing and insulting assault on parenting (despite its alleged intentions), the impact on the Empire State’s educational infrastructure -- and taxpayers – would be unfathomable.

The bill is constructed in such a way that the classes offered to parents could not be presented by the typical places where they might now voluntarily seek out ideas and assistance (churches, parental support groups, county social services, etc.). Instead, the Education Commissioner and Board of Regents are charged to develop a dozen workshops and institute them through our existing school systems. Mind you, teaching colleges do not offer degrees on parenting, New York’s current certification system does not afford accreditation in these matters and the very subjects themselves do not fit at all with the core competencies of our schools – that is educating youth (not adults) about science, math, language, and arts.     

New York education would have to be remodeled to meet the new standards and it would come with significant hardship. There are just over 2.1 million families in New York State with children aged 0 to 11, so there would be (absentee fathers notwithstanding) some 4.2 million adults who would need to be educated. To put that into perspective, there are approximately 3 million public school students in the state and spending on education is already 73% higher here than it is nationally. Where would the money come from? New York’s property owners, who shoulder the greatest burden of school taxes, can give only so much. And, if they are going to spend more, it should be spent on the kids directly.

On top of those fiscal matters, there are financial ones, too: Under Diaz’s bill, employers would be required to provide 1 paid day of leave per year so that those parents can attend training.

There are thousands of bills put before the Legislature every year and most of them are never passed. Let’s hope that this bill is one of them.

But, you can never be too pessimistic about that. In recent years we’ve seen how government has taken it upon itself, through the schools, to act as a parent, dictating to children what they can/cannot eat, how to view the world, how to treat others, and what constitutes good character – all facets of physical, mental, and emotional health more rightly managed by parents.

Even without this bill, parental rights are slipping away one little bit at a time.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Editor’s Note: This is the final article in an eight-part series exploring Common Core

For many, Bill Gates -- he of the $67 billion net worth -- is looked at as a hero for American education. Through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation he has invested millions in the development and introduction of the Common Core standards, the latest -- and allegedly greatest – remodeling of teaching as we knew it.

Here is just a sampling of the recipients of his donations to the Common Core cause:

National Governors Association: This organization was one of the main progenitors of Common Core and most responsible for its integration into 45 states. Gates’ total input to date is $25.7 million

The Council of Chief State School Officials: This group counts itself as the only one to bring together the top education leaders from every state in the nation and being as equally responsible as the NGA for the launch of Common Core. Gates has donated a whopping $79 million to the CCSSO

Achieve, Inc:
Considered by Education Week to be one of the most influential education policy organizations in the nation, Achieve, Inc. wrote the Common Core standards themselves. Their reward from Gates? $46 million

Gates also gave $23.2 million to 8 national educational organizations and think tanks, most of which are strong proponents of Common Core. Among  the largest recipients are: American Federation of Teachers ($5.4 million) and the Council of Great City Schools ($5 million)

While at first blush this looks like the charitable efforts of a philanthropist who truly cares about improved outcomes in education, it is not. Instead of altruistic intent, Gates is more likely concerned with an improved outcome for his baby, Microsoft.

Though no longer the CEO, co-founder Gates is still Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect. And, it’s his legacy. Revenues and profits are paramount to him. So, it’s not coincidental that Microsoft - and another new Bill Gates initiative -- end up reaping substantial benefit from Common Core.

Consider Iris LiveView, something that seems ripped right out of the pages of George Orwell’s “1984”. Since teacher evaluation is a critical component of Common Core’s ancillary practices, Gates has strongly urged school districts to use this surveillance system in every classroom in America (it is believed the cost to taxpayers would be around $5 billion). Iris LiveView consists of a camera and powerful microphones (which could even pick up student banter) that can be watched live over the internet or recorded and saved in the cloud for later viewing. A cursory look at Iris LiveView’s website ( shows a smiling Bill Gates. You can’t blame him for being tickled pink: The required software is Windows Vista or XP.

Then there’s the issue of data-mining. As mentioned in detail over two parts of this series, Common Core and Race to the Top (the federal government’s funding carrot for Common Core implementation) require elaborate data collection and management schemes which will track, at the individual and collective levels, everything from grades to discipline to interpersonal behavior to a student and family’s political, sexual and religious orientations.

You can’t collect and maintain such records without substantial software and hardware. inBloom is the company charged with all of this. It just so happens that inBloom was founded with $100 million in funding from Bill Gates and a few other organizations. Once all 45 Common Core states fully sign on to the mandated data collection, inBloom will reap a spectacular windfall, not only at the launch, but in perpetuity.

Not surprisingly, third-party organizations are granted access to the cumulative data so they can tailor-make educational modules, texts, and software for educators, from which they will amass great revenues. Among the corporations that will benefit from this taxpayer-funded and incredibly-deep data collection that the businesses could never really collect on their own: Microsoft.

Sometimes you have to look a gift horse and this is one of them.  It’s grossly apparent that Gates’ nearly $200 million donations aren’t an investment in education. Rather, they are investments in his bottom line – he is a capitalist, and this “small” sacrifice will result in billions of dollars of income for some of his financial interests.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What Common Core means to education’s stakeholders

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh article in an eight part series exploring Common Core

It’s been made evident over the course of this series that Common Core is an unwelcome addition to our educational system – it’s an all-out assault on classroom performance, individual privacy, and America’s competitive position in the global economy.

To further this analysis, let’s briefly look at the impacts Common Core is having and will have on key stakeholders: 

Taxpayers: Undertaking such a transformation of American education does not come without a considerable investment of resources. School districts need to re-align their policies and procedures and management systems. Teachers need to be re-taught how to teach. Text Books, curricula, software, and hardware need to be developed and/or purchased.

What does all of this mean to taxpayers? Billions.

The Pioneer Institute released a white paper in 2012 on the cost of Common Core implementation. Over the 7-year roll out, participating states will spend $1.2 billion on new assessments, $5.3 billion on professional development, $2.5 billion on textbooks and instructional materials, and $6.9 billion on technology.

Their report was fairly concise but left out the $4.35 billion that the feds are spending on Race to the Top, the official federal program to launch Common Core. Their report may have been too conservative, as well: Other organizations, such as the Washington Policy Center, estimate the total nationwide cost of implementation at $30 billion, twice what they had estimated.

Educators: Over the past 7 weeks my inbox has been flooded with emails from teachers concerned about Common Core. A pessimist might say, “of course they are concerned. They are getting graded on the results, too.” That’s not the case. Not one email of the dozens I’ve received has mentioned teacher evaluations at all. Every writer to a person expressed his or her frustrations with the standards and what the new curricula will mean to their pupils and how children’s development will suffer because of it. I have yet to receive an email from an educator who is in favor of the new way.

If my observations are too anecdotal for you, consider a survey conducted by Education Week. Of the respondents (all of whom were teachers), only 49% thought Common Core would improve the quality of education. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “very prepared”, those same teachers rated their students as being 2.8 in terms of preparedness for Common Core, while rating their schools districts as 2.9 and their states as 2.8. Those numbers don’t bode well for the launch and sustainability of Common Core.    

Employers: Businesses should have a vested interest in education because the hopeful final product of schooling – an educated and capable adult – is the most important thing to any business. Without a proliferation of good people in the workplace and the workforce, businesses and economies fail.  

If you believe everything that the US Chamber of Commerce (the national lobbying group representing the interests of many businesses and trade associations) says, you would think that all business support Common Core. The Chamber says “the standards are relevant to the real world, focusing on the knowledge and skills students will need to succeed in life after high school” and provide “a clear roadmap of academic expectations” so “students, parents, and teachers can work together toward shared goals.”

Anything the Chamber says needs to be taken with a grain of salt. They don’t speak for small business owners. After all, this is the same organization that loves dangerous free trade agreements, endless supplies of cheap immigrant laborers, and fought against the “Made in USA” provision of the Great Recession’s stimulus plan.

Many entrepreneurs are frightened by Common Core. As I had mentioned a few weeks ago, I want people working with me, inside and outside my company, who can think on their feet, be creative, react positively to the circumstances before them, and thoughtfully ponder how to make their lives easier and their customers’ experience better. By devaluing creativity, even making it a sin, Common Core won’t develop such a free-thinking labor pool so critical for economic growth.

So, if these stakeholders – and more -- are being hurt by Common Core, who really benefits?

I’ll answer that question in next week’s series finale when I identify some of the public and corporate interests that actually do benefit. It all comes down to power and profits.         

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Big Brother in the classroom

Editor’s note: This is the sixth article in an eight-part series exploring Common Core

In my last column I looked at New York’s mass data-mining experiment related to Common Core in which the Empire State is collecting individual academic histories of every student to be shared across school districts, in the state’s educational bureaucracy, and with commercial third parties.

Such data collection is not without controversy because it’s a disturbing assault on families’ right to privacy.

Realize, though, that what the state is doing now is the tip of the iceberg.

When the federal government created a grant program for the development and institution of so-called Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (which is what New York’s Common Core data collection machine is most accurately called), the National Center for Education Statistics – an arm of the US Department of Education – issued a document detailing the goals of the program and what is expected from participating states.

The NCES’s brief details secondary identifiers and characteristics which can be used to track students and segregate their strengths and weaknesses based on the effects of those items.  Here is the expanded list of items that the NCES notes could be contained within a student’s records:

·         Political affiliations or beliefs of the student or parent

·         Mental and psychological problems of the student or the student’s family

·         Sex behavior or attitudes

·         Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, and demeaning behavior

·         Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships

·         Legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers

·         Religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent

·         Income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program)

It so happens that New York won one of the aforementioned federal grants and is the only state of the 24 that did that is following through on total implementation of the Statewide Longitudinal Data System. That said, this year, and in the coming years, will New York’s children be subjected to surveys asking for some or all of this highly-specific and highly-private information?

If they are, will our kids be tagged as “troubled” students for matters entirely unrelated to public education? Will those factors once identified and categorized be used as cues to encourage home visitation and/or intervention by Child Protective Services and other government agencies? And will those same identifiers dog them our kids for the rest of their lives?  

Based upon the above list, one can easily see students and their families targeted for any of the following: non-standard political beliefs (such as libertarianism); a parent who is coping with mental illness (even something as common and treatable as depression); disagreements with the concept of same-sex relationships; exhibiting once-normal behavioral traits now deemed to be anti-social (such as playful kidding now classified as vicious bullying); maintaining friendly relationships with reformed individuals who paid their dues to society; regular utilization of the services of medical doctors; regularly attending church services; and family income (“too low” or “too high”).         

The possibilities for abuse of this data are endless. It could be done in the classroom (by a maverick teacher with a personal agenda), at the district level (by one trying to improve its statistical outcomes by sequestering alleged troubled youth), and well into the future --- these corrupted records would follow the youth into the SUNY/CUNY system (impacting their eligibility and/or studies) and could likely be made readily available in their pursuit of gainful employment.

What you see before you is the slippery slope: The data collection being done now is intrusive enough, but it’s nothing compared to what will happen once districts and unknowing parents have warmed up to the practice and accept data-mining as a normal part of public education.

There’s a Big Brother in the classroom…and it’s not anyone’s sibling.