Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
Matt Skurnick about Sustaining the Teaching Life
Mon, 25.03.2013 14:05
Jon Goldman was both my
English Teacher in 9th
grade and Advisory Mentor
for my four years at
Karen Greenberg about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Tue, 14.08.2012 11:13
Perhaps a more apt term
would be "altering
physics - two objects in
Amethyst about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:51
I really appreciate this
blog entry. Our roles as
teachers require, at our
best, a deep [...]
Mark Ahlness about The Long Haul
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:33
Chris, thanks. Pete is my
hero, and has been for a
while, but now that I'm
retired, after 31 years
Gary Stager about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:15
No need to worry about
Others all around us are
debasing our [...]
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Thursday, February 24. 2011
I am fascinated by marginal tax rates from a historical perspective. (All of you who were not already convinced that I am a geek... I am a geek.)
I'm fascinated by marginal tax rates in general. I'm also fascinated by what I perceive as a general lack of understanding in our society of those things, why so few people understand them, and what kind of paradigm shift it would take to have more people understand them.
First, I think it is important to understand the difference between marginal tax rate and average (or actual) tax rate. Marginal tax rate is the rate you pay on the last dollar you earned. But we because we have a tiered or graduated tax rate, you don't pay that rate for every dollar you earn. From The Money Chimp:
So... first, I think that's a really important thing to understand. If you make $100,000, and you are married filing jointly, your tax bracket (your marginal tax rate) is 28%, but your actual (average) tax rate is 22%. (And according to another tax calculator, if you have two kids and are married filing separately (and really - file jointly, already) your average tax rate is more like 17.4%. A marginal tax rate - a tax bracket system - means you only pay that percentage for the amount your income is in that bracket. To wit - If your income is one dollar into the highest bracket, you only pay the highest rate on that one dollar.
It's important to understand that for the next part.
It's also really interesting to take a look the history of tax rates in this country. If you listened to the rhetoric right now, you'd think taxes were incredibly high in the US, when actually, they are the lowest they have been since 1931 - when Roosevelt raised taxes as part of a Keynesian plan to get us out of the Great Depression. To get a sense of the history of tax rates in this country, take a look at the history of the top of the income tax bracket over the past hundred years. It is incredible to imagine that as recently as 1963, the top tax rate in this country was 91%. Yes, in 1963, a married couple had to pay 91% of their earnings to the government for every dollar in salary over (2011 adjusted dollars) $1,439,000. Think about that one.
So let's take a closer look at marginal tax rates across a specific moment in time. Let's look at the tax brackets and tax rates from just after Ronald Reagan's historic tax cuts of 1981 as compared to today.
Amount of the tax bracket for married filing jointly in 1982.
Amounts of the tax brackets for married filing jointly in 2011
So... most Americans are paying much, much less in federal taxes than they were in 1982 under Reagan. And this is happening at a time where state, federal and local governments are all trying to figure out what essential services they can no longer offer. It is happening at a time when governors are calling for changes to state law to take away contractual benefits to state workers. And this is happening at a time when many states are calling for state-level layoffs and pension and contract give backs at the same time as states are raising the minimum estate value before you have to pay an estate tax.
As we, as voters and citizens, try to make our voices heard... try to figure out what we believe and what party (and candidate) match up most closely with our own beliefs, is it important that we understand both the math and the history of taxation in this country?
If the answer is yes -- and for me it very much is -- do we teach math or social studies as a nation in a way that would lead us to believe that our citizens are getting the transferrable skills - in math, in social science, with the ability to ask good questions and find out answers - in school? If not, why? What are we teaching instead?
At root, this would require us to teach students every subject through the lens of what it would take to help our students become fully realized, full equipped citizens of their world.
Friday, January 21. 2011
[One of the many things influencing this post - Can States Escape Pension Obligations Through Bankruptcy, Ed Week]
[Also, it's pretty clear to me that there are two very different conversations around education reform that are getting conflated in some very dangerous ways. One conversation is a pedagogical debate. One conversation is a labor debate. This post is clearly about the labor debate.]
I admit, I find much of the narrative about public school teachers to be bewildering these days. How people who have spent their careers trying to help kids have become the villains in the public discourse is beyond me. Lately, folks like Chris Christie and Michelle Rhee are talking about how unions are bankrupting states because of defined-benefit pension plans.
There is a legitimate debate to be had in this country around defined-benefit and defined-contribution retirement plans. As a nation, we need to address how we deal with retirement and how we afford the lengthening of the "retired" time of life as people live longer.
But let us understand this... the pensions that teachers (and others) have signed were a contract - both legal and moral. For teachers, the social contract was simply, "We'll pay you less than we should, but you're going to get a good retirement package." I freely admit that having a pension was part of the equation for me. When I had the chance to leave teaching early in my career to go be a part of the tech boom in the '90s, I thought about how much I love teaching, I thought about how much I'd give up financially to continue to do what I loved, and part of what made turning down some obscene sums of money was the pension plan. Long term sustainability rather than short-term wealth... it made sense, especially when I knew I'd rather be teaching than coding. But from a financial sense, it felt like investing in T-bonds rather than stocks. Sure, I might never be rich, but I'd never lose it all, either. Or so I thought.
But let us also remember that those pensions are also all part of a legal contract, made between unions and management. And that's important to note right now. Teachers (and other state employees) got state pensions through negotiations. Contracts were signed, and legal promises were made. Contracts are a hallmark of the civil society, and I think it's a dangerous moment in time when politicians think that they can just break those contracts because it's easier to do that than to honor a contract.
And while this is part of a longer post, I don't believe the "We Don't Have the Money" line. States and districts have been deferring pension payments to mask fiscal problems for too long, and now we have reached a crisis. (And the Federal government has been doing the same thing by using Social Security to mask the size of the real deficit.)
The money was there. But state after state and politician after politician chose to put off doing the right thing by doing the expedient thing.
And worse, now they are saying that teachers are at fault for wanting states to honor their contracts. I suppose blaming others is easier than admitting that you are at fault. Certainly, I see my little children make that move often. And as a high school principal, I see 9th and 10th graders pull stunts like that, although we work hard to teach the kids at SLA to own their mistakes and not blame others for what is their weight to carry.
It'd be nice if our politicians would do the same, rather than just increase the toxicity of the rhetoric to get out doing what you were supposed to do in the first place.
Saturday, January 1. 2011
A piece of Xtranormal satire on the current education debate and what those of us who are trying to make this argument from the grassroots level are up against. Frustratingly accurate, I'm afraid.
(Hat tip to @DianeRavitch who tweeted out the link.)
Tuesday, December 28. 2010
I spent the past several days in Lynchburg, VA where my wife grew up. We saw a bunch of her old friends from (public) high school, and what struck me was that not one of them send their children to public school. These were middle and upper-middle class families who were all the products of public school. All of them spoke well of the education they received in Lynchburg public schools, and all of them spoke of the difficulty of the decision to send their children to private schools. We heard several reasons, and among them were:
And it struck me - how long does this last? If more and more families who can, choose to opt out of the public system, how long will be have one? With so many families making major financial decisions to send their children to private schools and so many more families sending their children to charter schools that do not typically think of themselves as "public school families," how long will we have a public school system that educates the majority of Americans?
It is why I think we will see more and more legislation for voucher programs in the coming years, and while they have mostly been focused at the state level, I think we will see federal legislation for vouchers within the next couple of years. And sadly, I cannot imagine a better way to move Americans toward wanting one than the current national dialogue about school.
We have undermined support for one of the longest standing public institutions we have, and I worry that we are on the verge of replacing it with a franchise model of education where Americans will take their tax credits and shop them to whomever will accept their child. Families of means will take their credit and happily subsidize their children's private education. Families who cannot will take the monies - minus the necessary cut for oversight of this new system - and find the best schools they can. And the best of the democratic ideals that our public schools were built on will be further eroded in favor of "the market."
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Saturday, December 18. 2010
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
-- Emma Lazarus, 1883
I'm ashamed of our nation today.
I'm ashamed that the U. S. Senate had the chance to do the right thing.
And instead, the U. S. Senate could not muster 60 votes to bring the DREAM Act to the Senate floor for a vote.
It would have cost nothing, in fact, in a very short amount of time, it would have contributed to the national economy.
It would have allowed thousands of kids who believe that America is their home to have the chance to live the American dream.
It, simply, was the right thing to do.
I am proud of Senator Dick Durbin who said,
I want to make it clear to my colleagues, you won’t get many chances in the United States Senate, in the course of your career, to face clear votes on the issue of justice.... Thousands of children in America who live in the shadows dream of greatness. They are children who have been raised in this country. They stand in the classrooms and pledge allegiance to our flag. They sing our Star-Spangled Banner as our national anthem. They believe in their heart of hearts this is home. This is the only country they have every known.
These are the names of the senators who voted against it or - in an even more cowardly fashion, chose not to vote at all. These are the senators who do not believe that those who were brought to this country through no choice of their own do not have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are the men and women who denied children the chance to live a dream. I want every person on the list below to have to sit down and listen to a group of students who lives were affected by their vote. I want them to listen to the stories that so many of us in schools hear day after day, year after year. I want them to look at them and try to justify their vote. This vote was abut moving past politics. It was, simply, about doing the right thing.
Every Senator on this list should have to answer for their vote. Our students whose lives would be profoundly changed by the passage of the DREAM Act should, simply, ask, "Why did you vote against giving me a chance at the American Dream." They can't, of course, because to do so would be to put themselves at risk. So I will ask for them. And I call on everyone who reads this blog to do the same.
"Senators, why did you deny innocent children the chance at the American Dream?"
No Votes - 41
Not Voting - 4
Wednesday, April 21. 2010
I had the opportunity to speak at the New York City 140 Characters Conference yesterday. #140Conf is the brainchild of Jeff Pulver and the conference explores the powerful effect of social media on the world today. Jeff asked me to speak about the power of social media to change education, and for me, the chance to talk about some of the ideas I am most passionate about to an audience that most educators don't often have access to. I'm incredibly thankful to Jeff for the opportunity to speak to the conference, and my only regret is that I had to zip in and zip out so that I could get back in time for Parent-Advisor Conferences. Here's the talk:
My take-away from the conference -- and from the reaction to my talk -- is that people really are passionate about education, and that so many people outside the "echo chamber" of education / ed-tech folks get that something is wrong with where we're going with school right now. There are some "Have To's" that yesterday taught me:
What #140Conf reminded me is how much non-educators want to believe in schools... and how deeply they care about what is going on in education. Let's have the courage to talk about what schools can be... about what keeps us from getting there... and about how we can involve the whole community in overcoming those obstacles.
Thanks again, Jeff, for allowing me to be a part of #140Conf... it was an amazing day.
Tuesday, March 9. 2010
As a former English teacher, and as someone who believes that programs that work should continue, I'm very deeply dismayed by the Department of Education's decision not to fund the National Writing Project. NWP has, for many, many years been an unequivocal good in education. There are few pure wins in education, but NWP is one of them.
If you need more convincing, SLA teacher Zac Chase has made the argument in a much more compelling fashion. Go read what he wrote. Here's a sample:
Were this simply an impassioned plea, I would have hesitated to write. The data speaks for itself, the National Writing Project has offered a significant return on investment in its 36 year history. Federal funding for the NWP must be maintained if we are to continue striving to meet the Project’s goal of “a future where every person is an accomplished writer, engaged learner, and active participant in a digital, interconnected world.”
Then, when you're done, write to your Congressmen and Senators. Urge them to to sign Rep. Miller's Dear Colleague letter. The National Writing Project is an important organization that has created a national network of teachers who share a vision and a plan to help students find their voices, both on and off-line. They deserve our support, and we all benefit from their continued work.
Thursday, February 25. 2010
At some point in time, I think we have to start asking ourselves what is going on at the US Department of Education. Just this week, Secretary Duncan (and his PR people via twitter) said ""We have to stop lying to children," in reference to the levels of achievement students reach. And then he supported a school district's decision to fire all its teachers at a high school. This is after he slammed teacher prep programs back in the fall.
(He did take time to praise a charter school organization recently, though.)
So what is the end game?
What is the point of attacking educators as liars, praising leaders who fire entire faculties and calling into question the way we teach teachers?
Can you imagine if another cabinet member did this? Could you imagine if the Secretary of Defense talked this way about the soldiers?
What is the point?
There's only one reason to erode public trust in public education -- to destroy it.
It was the the "we have to stop lying to children" line. Not "we need to do better." Not "we need to find better ways." Not "we need to change."
"We need to stop lying to children."
Think about that... Duncan is claiming that public educators are deliberately lying to children.
You only do that if you want to tear something down.
I think the Race to the Top push to expand charter law is only a first step. I think we're going to see a federal push for vouchers before the end of the Obama administration.
And lest you think I've got the tin-foil hat on, the email blast from EdWeek had as its lead a story about how Florida is expanding its voucher program and that Illinois and New Jersey may be soon to follow suit with more and more bi-partisan support for vouchers. (The article claims that Obama will not expand the DC voucher program, but we'll see.)
What I worry will happen over the next ten years, unless there's a movement to stop it, will be a federal push for state voucher programs followed by a massive explosion of publicly subsidized private and parochial schools where parents will be able to supplement the public voucher with their own monies. I think there will still be a "public option" for families, but they will probably be more underfunded and needy than ever before. There will always be a need for schools for the kids who can't take advantage of the new market-driven system, but in many places -- especially in our cities -- they will become the schools of last resort.
There is a lot of money and power lining up behind voucher programs, and make no mistake, vouchers will mark the end of public schools as the hallmark of the American democratic experiment.
And here's the thing... if this is what Obama and Duncan want, why aren't they saying so?
If we want something different, we are going to need to fight for what we believe in. We cannot expect the usual allies. We are going to have to retake the language of school reform from those who would tear down our work. We are going to have to partner with students and parents. We are going to have to listen deeply and create a new language of reform that is authentic... one that puts the best of what our schools can be at the front of every message.
We are going to have to lead.
I'll be there. Will you?
Wednesday, September 9. 2009
Anna Deveare Smith is one of my favorite American artists (and not just because she was on The West Wing.) She is a gifted actress, author and playwright, but even more importantly, her "documentary theater" style of writing and performing displays a respect for the diversity of voice and opinion that makes up the American mosaic. (See her TEDTalk which is a piece from her show "On the Road: A Search for American Character for an example.)
So it should come as no surprise that she has the ability to capture the range of the debate on health care in this country in an OpEd piece in today's New York Times. Here is her introduction:
Over the last few years, in preparation for a new play, I interviewed doctors, patients and healers about the human body, its resilience and its vulnerability. Although our conversations were not primarily about the health care debate, they do reveal many of the feelings and thoughts of the people in the audience President Obama will address tonight.
The unruliness that now animates the conversation stems from our passions, hopes and discomforts -- about life, death, who should (or should not) take care of us and whom we should take care of. The president's audience has a million and one perspectives, some of them clumping together like blood platelets under one political roof or another. The following excerpts (not all of which are in my play) reflect the range of views.At a time when civility and rational discourse seem to be at an all-time low, her ability to listen so intently and bring across the myriad voices of the debate without irony and without judgment is so important. We all can learn from her ability to listen for the humanity in our voices.
Blogged with the Flock Browser
Tuesday, May 26. 2009
Today, President Obama nominated a very experienced center-left jurist for the Supreme Court. The nominee is a Hispanic woman. If confirmed, she will be the first Justice of Hispanic descent to serve on the Supreme Court.
Today, the Supreme Court of California ruled that Proposition 8 -- the ballot initiative that outlaws gay marriage -- was legal under the California Constitution.
Today when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about President Obama's reaction to the California decision, he responded with a very politic non-answer:
Blogged with the Flock Browser
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media - Edited by Chris Lehmann and Scot McLeod
The Quote File
"Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiam"