Monday, December 4, 2017

Are schools really 'too small' to succeed?

Blaming school closings on small size is like shooting someone and then claiming they died from a lack of blood.
We started the Small Schools Workshop back in 1991 based on an abundance of research showing that smaller, more personalized learning environments served children and their families better and were generally safer than large mega-schools. Then we worked with teachers, schools and school districts across the country who wanted to rethink school design, curriculum, assessment, and issues of democracy and equity to create small learning environments as a critical force within the public school system.

Parents and educators created hundreds of new, highly-autonomous small, many of them teacher-led schools and restructured large high schools into smaller learning communities. This was back before the power philanthropists like Gates, Broad and Walton entered the picture and leveraged billions of dollars in grants to turn small-by-design schools into privately-run charters where unions were banned and teachers disempowered.

The Small Schools Movement, was just that -- a movement of teachers -- with close connection to parents and communities. It was the antithesis of today's so-called "choice" movement, where schools choose kids and test-scores rule the roost.

Smallering urban schools...From the beginning, we made it clear that these new schools and learning communities needed to be small by design, not by attrition. So I once again got that bizarro-world feeling when I read this headline in Sunday's Chicago Tribune:


The article barely scratches the surface of the historical issues facing Chicago's racially segregated and inequitable school system and is basically a defense of the Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked school board for their latest round of school closings. Like the 50 closings in 2013, these latest are all in the black community and are being carried out under the banner of "under-utilization". Like their predecessors, the closed schools will leave thousands of students in limbo and neighborhoods blighted. They will also serve as an addition to the long list of reasons black families are leaving Chicago by the thousands.

According to the Trib:
In Chicago, where funding follows students, Tilden is one of more than a dozen shrinking neighborhood high schools that has been starved of resources, leaving students like Averett to prepare for their futures in largely empty buildings that can make dreaming big a daily struggle.
 Nearly all of these 17 high schools are deeply segregated, serving impoverished African-American and Latino students who already struggle to attend and graduate from college at comparable rates to their white or Asian peers. Yet many of these schools cannot offer what are considered basic classes elsewhere, including the bare trio of science courses that will soon be part of a new district graduation requirement.
Now, as many of these schools continue to shrink and Chicago approaches the end of a five-year school closing moratorium, civic and community leaders must weigh whether some of these buildings are too small to succeed.
The writers place the onus on the schools for being "too small to succeed" as if someone consciously chose 250 as the optimal capacity size for these high schools. Like this just happened and without even an attempt to question what "success" means under current conditions. It's as if surrounding these schools with privately-run, better-resourced charters and selective-enrollment schools had nothing to do with their decreasing populations.

And all that begs the deeper question of how these same schools went from being too big in the 1980s and '90s, to too small in just a couple of decades? Of course, they didn't just become small but were the product of planned isolation, disinvestment, and disempowerment of Chicago's black  communities.

There are many other reasons, including the out-migration of more than quarter-million African-Americans from Chicago in the past few decades. But none of them occurred just naturally. Most of the reasons are systemic and the result of policies of disinvestment, ie. closings of plants, factories and surrounding business, cuts in social services, closing of medical clinics and mental health facilities, and now schools.

The same monumental demographic shifts are happening in every major city in the country and are impacting investments and therefore measurable outcomes, often in dramatic ways.

So the question isn't whether some schools in disintegrating neighborhoods are now smaller. Of course they are. It's like shooting someone and then claiming they died from a lack of blood. Wealthy families pay a small fortune to get their kids into smaller, more personalized schools. Rather, it's about adequate and equitable funding and support for public schools and their communities during these times of rapid change.


Fred Klonsky

Fred Hampton 
(August 30, 1948 – December 4, 1969) 
I'm not going to die slipping on no ice.
Sen. Orin Hatch after GOP killed Children’s Health Insurance Program
"I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves – won’t lift a finger – and expect the federal government to do everything.” -- Mic 
Sen. Bernie Sanders
 “This is class warfare, and we’re going to stand up and fight.” -- Washington Post
Steve Askin on Harold Washington
"Harold was a mensch. He reached into many different directions, listening to many different voices, many different people." -- The Reader
 Harper Local School Council Co-Chair Clifford Fields
"If these schools have to go, the mayor has to go." -- ABC7 News 

Prexy Nesbit, striking Columbia College part-time faculty
Students are having their best teachers laid off or having to live out of their cars because of low salaries. It's really sad. I also think about what it would mean to the founders of this great college to see where the current leadership has taken it. -- Hitting Left

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why I can't vote for Pritzker

Gassing the water protectors
“JB personally and through his businesses and trusts has both active and passive investments in many different economic sectors,” Pritzker spokeswoman Galia Slayen said. “If elected, JB is committed to putting in place best practices to ensure that no conflicts ever exist.”
It's not just that he's another white male billionaire. No, I've more or less made peace with that, given the record high cost of running for governor and that there are no women or people of color in the race with a realistic chance of defeating Public Enemy #1,Gov. Bruce Rauner.

And it's not just that J.B. Pritzker, a partner in the union-busting Hyatt Hotel chain, is another mainstream Democrat who is bound to sell out the very unions that have rallied behind him. After the pension-theft debacle with Gov. Quinn, I've almost gotten used to that.

Company thugs set dogs on DAPL protesters.
I guess the killer for me was when I read the Sun-Times this morning and learned that Pritzker, like Donald Trump, is a big investor in Energy Transfer Partners LP, the pipeline operator that constructed and is a part owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline. That's the notorious pipeline which carries oil underground, through Native American sacred burial grounds, from North Dakota all the way to an oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois.Yes, the very same company that turned hired thugs and vicious dogs on the water protectors at Standing Rock.

Yes, I know that candidate Chris Kennedy, who has tried to rebrand himself as a leftist, is also a global capitalist with major investments in oil and defense companies. He even stands to profit from his holdings in Amazon, the corporation that Rauner and Rahm Emanuel are trying to lure, with huge tax breaks, to Chicago.

At Standing Rock with Chicago students.
I have disliked Kennedy ever since he used his position as head of the Univ. of IL Board of Trustees to tarnish or destroy the careers of educators like Bill Ayers and Steven Salaita because of their political views.

But Standing Rock is where I draw the line. I went to Standing Rock twice last year, once with a dozen Chicago neighborhood high school students, to join the protests. The time spent there left an indelible mark on me and on those students. For over a year an international movement has called on cities, universities and other investors to divest--to get rid of their holdings connected to the Energy Transfer Partners and to the Dakota Access Pipeline.  So the fact that J.B. Pritzker fattens up his investment portfolio with pipeline blood money makes it impossible for me to vote for him, much less support him.

I'm hoping against hope that Dan Biss can pull an upset in the primary and go on to defeat Rauner.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Luis steps down. I'm good with it. Stirs the political pot in Chicago.

Normally, I would take the news that a progressive Democrat was leaving congress, as a bad thing. But I didn't take Cong. Luis Gutiérrez' announcement that way. On the contrary, I think his announcement yesterday that he won't run again in 2018 and his endorsement of Chuy Garcia in the primary, is good news.

For one thing, Gutiérrez will be easily replaced by another Democrat as part of the anti-Trump wave in 2018. For another, the announcement disrupts the current political inertia on the part of progressives in a good way. Already, potential candidates, including Garcia, Ald. Carlos Rosa, Ald. Joe Moreno and others, are mobilizing their supporters to go out, knock on doors, gather signatures and speak to the issues that Gutiérrez championed. These include: Trump's impeachment, immigration rights (including several arrests for acts of civil disobedience); defense of the Dream Act and support for DACA students, Puerto Rico's post-hurricane rebuilding, maintaining Chicago as a sanctuary city and many others.

I also think Gutiérrez can be much more effective in the years to come, working on these issues outside of congress. Twenty-four years should be enough for anyone.

While some on the left are bemoaning the idea of a primary race among progressives, I think it will generate a lot of excitement and should improve voter turnout and increase votes for progressive candidates up and down the ballot. Dan Biss and Fritz Kaegi, among others, should be smiling this morning.

I was also impressed that Luis and Chuy, who were close allies back in the Harold Washington days, were able to come together and set aside recent differences. Remember, Gutiérrez supported Rahm Emanuel over Garcia in the last mayor's race. I assume that Rahm's sticking to his support for Sanctuary Cities is part of the return on the deal. Luis' endorsement of Chuy should also help rebuild bridges between the city's Mexican and Puerto Rican communities.

More possibilities open up, including Progressive Caucus Ald. Rick Munoz replacing Chuy on the County Board and some younger progressive (I hope) replacing Rick in the 22nd Ward and on the City Council.

Some pundits, like Politico's Natasha Korecki, claim that this is part of a deal brokered by Rahm, to pull Chuy out of the next mayor's race, thereby "clearing the path" towards Rahm's re-election. But that doesn't seem plausible to me. First of all, I don't believe Chuy would have been part of such a deal with Rahm. Second, I'm not convinced Chuy had any serious intention to run again for mayor. Third, I'm not sure that Chuy, despite having, against all odds, forced the mayor into a runoff last time around, had much chance of defeating him this time. Having said this, I still don't agree that the mayor can't be beaten in 2019 by any one of a number of other candidates. Certainly no "clear path" as Korecki claims.

Rahm is still running scared this morning.

Brother Fred and I will be discussing these issues and more with Friday's guest on Hitting Left, veteran Chicago media and political consultant Delmarie Cobb. Tune in Friday at 11 a.m. CT on or download the podcast  at iTunes.

Monday, November 27, 2017


Remembering Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor who died 30 years ago. 

Conrad Worrill
“It’s hurtful because that was a time when black people had come together in unity around a common purpose...And the personality of Harold Washington and his ability to communicate the desires of not only his own community, but the city as a whole, is the reason why his untimely death impacted the spirit of the black community.” -- Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell 
Rachel Weber, professor of Urban Planning at UIC
“Let’s hope, though, that CPS has some more creative ideas for how to deal with this problem than just radical surgery.” -- Will Chicago close another 50 schools? (WBEZ).
10-year-old Ronyde Christina Ponthieux
“We are not criminals. Like my parents, like your parents, like you, they are hardworking honest people who just want a safe place to raise their families.” -- Daily News
Charles Barkley, an Alabamian 
 “Roy Moore is running with Steve Bannon as his righthand man who is a white separatist. I’m not even going to get into the women stuff. But the guy, how can you be a white separatist and represent all the constituents in your state?" -- Guardian
 Democratic political strategist Phil Singer
But overall it's a weak [Democratic] field, “You have a bunch of Celine Dions but there’s no Beatles." -- Yahoo News

Friday, November 24, 2017


We're taking the day off to recover from last night's turkey fest. But if you missed last week's show with in-studio guest Fritz Kaegi, it's re-running this morning at 11 a.m. CT on WLPN FM 105.5 in Chicago, streaming wherever you are at  We will return to the airwaves next Friday, Dec. 1st, same time, same station.

Local holiday thanks go out to...
State's Attorney Kim Foxx whose first year uin office ended on a high note, including the release of two black men serving life sentences for a 1994 rape and murder, set free based on DNA evidence that links the crime to another suspect. In other words, Nevest Coleman and Derrell Fulton, doing life life in prison, were obviously framed for the 1994 murder of Antwinica Bridgeman and served 23 years when a fresh round of DNA testing this spring showed semen stains on Bridgeman's clothing matched a serial rapist.

Foxx should credited with the release of Jose Maysonet, and Arthur Brown, who have served 29 years after being falsely convicted and the exoneration of 15 men, en masse, who had 18 convictions between them - all tainted by crooked cop Ronald Watts and his officers who terrorized residents of the Ida B. Wells public housing complex for years before they were caught by federal agents.

Thanks also to Alds. Scott Waguespack (32nd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), and John Arena (45th) the only three aldermen who had spine enough to stand up to "Mayor 1%", Rahm Emanuel and vote no on his budget.
Ald. Ramirez-Rosa: "It is time we demand that the rich and wealthy elite of this city pay their fair share. We can and should reinstate the corporate head tax, enact substantive TIF reform, implement a commercial lease tax, and create a municipal bank."
Ald. Waguespack: And yet, again through this year's budget, the Emanuel administration adds to the load of regressive fines, fees and taxes that working families must bear. We cannot in good conscience vote to advance this irresponsible approach." .
And thanks in advance to groper/assaulter, Al Franken, for voluntarily stepping aside and allowing MN Gov. Mark Dayton to replace you with another Democrat, hopefully a woman or even a real progressive like Keith Ellison. Yes thank you for saving the party from humiliating defeats in 2018 and allowing fellow Dems to speak out on women's issues in Congress without being rightfully  ridiculed. 

In case you need more reasons, consider recent polls and let me remind you of the fact that you used your super-delegate vote at the 2016 convention in Philly to override the votes and voices of Minnesotans who wanted Bernie Sanders as their candidate. 

Thanks and don't let the door hit you on the way out. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Broad and loud opposition to DeVos' voucher plans

Trump's Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos is determined to use the Dept. of Education's federal grant program as a weapon against public education. DeVos' stated number-one priority for the program is to “maximize” “educational choice". This means taking billions of dollars away from public school classrooms to promote school vouchers and privately run charters.

States that adopt her program, will be heavily rewarded, while those that don't will be punished. I should note that Obama's former Ed Secs, Arne Duncan and John King also used their $5B grant program to push charters and punish states that wouldn't adopt their failed "Race to the Top" program which included massive school closings and teacher firings. But DeVos' plan is Duncan squared with vouchers and "scholarships" for private schools put at the top of the list.

DeVos' Proposed Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs has been met with loud opposition from a coalition of 50 school, community and civil rights organizations. The National Coalition for Public Education which includes both national teachers' unions, AASA: The School Superintendents Association, the National PTA, disability rights groups, the NAACP, and others is dead set against DeVos's priorities.

Their statement reads in part:
The Department should not reward states for adopting voucher programs that do not serve all students, fail to improve academic achievement, undermine public education funding, harm religious freedom and lack critical accountability for taxpayers. Instead, the Department of Education’s first priority should be funding, supporting, and strengthening our public schools, where 90% of our students attend.
It's a strong statement on vouchers, but unfortunately makes no mention of privately-run charter schools, the second leg of the destructive, right-wing Trump/DeVos "choice" initiative. While some groups within the coalition, like the NAACP, have been highly critical of charters, others haven't. So I'm assuming that the anti-voucher statement was the best possible without splitting the group.

In any regard, I doubt that DeVos (if she remains in power) will pay much attention to the statement unless it is backed up with protests in the streets and at schools.

Side note on charters...

Charter school operators who stand to gain from Trump/DeVos initiatives as well as from the biggest private foundations, have put their stamp of approval on DeVos' "choice" priorities. However, they do have one small criticism. They want the word "quality" put in front of "charter schools".

Quality is NACSA code language to signify that only the largest and richest charter school chains get the grants and that small, teacher-run, unionized, or "mom & pops" charters are eliminated.

Monday, November 20, 2017


Harold died 30 years ago. 
To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men. -- Ella Wheeler Wilcox ("Protest" 1914 poem)

 Forrest Claypool (Doing his best Jeff Sessions)
“However differently I recalled my past conversation, the documents you shared with me this week make it clear I did do that." -- Sun-Times
Diane McWhorter, author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
...noted the city’s history as the industrial centre of the south and the related rise of trade unionism. “What made Alabama different from other deep south states is that it did have this pesky progressive tradition."
For the state to have gone through so much agony and now be in this position is “deeply heartbreaking”, McWhorter added, describing Alabama as something of a bellwether for the nation. “Looking back at George Wallace, we thought he was a fading and terrible relic, but he’s now in the White House, effectively. After Trump, we’re all Alabamans now.” -- The Guardian
Rev. Dr. William Barber
This is not Christianity. Rather, it is an extreme Republican religionism that stands by party and regressive policy no matter what. It's not the gospel of Christ, but a gospel of greed. It is the religion of racism and lies, not the religion of redemption and love. -- NBC News 
Fritz Kaegi
Fritz Kaegi
Within Chicago, we have a lot of cynicism ("Oh, this is just the way the system is and that's the way it's always been") but people in the rest of the country who see what we see, they see an anomaly. They see a problem. They can't quite believe it's like this. And it's become a national story. -- Hitting Left
Joshua Tepfer, attorney for victims of Chicago police corruption
“This group of police officers led by Sgt. Watts had been doing this for 10 years; corruption on this scale is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s truly astounding. This represents great hope for the future of our county.” -- Sneed
 David Figlio, economist at Northwestern University
"I think the best evidence from the best recent research ... if anything, it looks like that maybe kids going to private school on voucher programs might do worse in reading and math than they do in public [schools]," -- Edweek