HITTING LEFT #20

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rahm's latest 'reform". Moving backward in Chicago.

Chicago recorded it's 00th homicide over Father's Day weekend. Among those killed was 17-year-old Tiara Viramontes, a student at Marine Leadership Academy. 

After a Chicago weekend with 50 more shootings of mostly young people, eight of them fatal, Rahm Emanuel responded symbolically by laying off 50 more Head Start aides on the eve of the last day of school. Then, pirouetting past the graveyard, the mayor boarded a plane to D.C. where he is set to take the stage at the National Press Club, touting his latest plan to make it more difficult for African-American and Latino students to graduate from ravaged Chicago high schools.

His speech, being billed ironically as “Moving Forward in Chicago,” will detail his plan to require all public high school seniors to provide a college or trade school acceptance letter, proof of military enlistment or a job offer in order to graduate. It's another one of those "reforms" that would be mocked to death if proposed in the rich white suburban schools Rahm attended or in the private school where he sends his own children.

Mainly poor, black and Latino Chicago students students will have to comply with the new mandates without the benefit of the hundreds of counselors and school social workers recently fired  by CPS.

The students, having persevered to overcome the devastating instability caused by Rahm's mass school closings, having been forced to shift from school to school, from teachers who know them to teachers who don't, having risked increased street violence just to make it to school every morning, will soon have another major bureaucratic hoop to jump through or risk being denied their earned diploma.

For those who can't afford spiraling college tuition costs or simply don't choose to enter college right now, or for those who through no fault of their own, can't find a job, let alone one that pays a living wage (Rahm opposes a $15/hr. minimum wage), their only choice is the military.

In other words, Rahm's plan could turn CPS into the nation's largest military recruiter. For many, Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria may even seem safer than the streets of the west side or Humboldt Park.

Here's hoping that members of the Press Club will ask the appropriate questions.

Monday, June 19, 2017

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

‘Taking action is the best cure for despair.’  
Rebecca Solnit
A crisis, says one dictionary, is “the point in the progress of a disease when a change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death; also, any marked or sudden change of symptoms, etc.” This crisis could be the death or the recovery of a more democratic, more inclusive, more generous America. Where we go from here is up to us. -- Guardian
Profs  Christopher & Sarah Theule Lubienski
There is a disturbing disconnect between the predictable, negative effects that vouchers are having on students, and the continued enthusiasm policymakers show for these programs despite the growing consensus that they are causing harm. -- EdWeek
Exiled free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick
“My heart aches for Philando’s family... A system that perpetually condones the killing of people, without consequence, doesn’t need to be revised, it needs to be dismantled!” -- The Nation
Richard Pfeiffer, Chicago's Pride Parade coordinator
"There are so many issues on the front burner right now, and I think you'll see that reflected. Since the change in Washington in November, LGBT people and others have been marginalized verbally and in other ways. There's anger over that." -- Tribune
Eddie Bolden, a father wrongly imprisoned for 22 years
"When I stepped outside … there's a difference between stepping out on a prison yard and seeing daylight and stepping outside outside. I still can't explain it. It was like I stepped into a whole new world for real." -- Tribune

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cesar Chavez Charter School in D.C. finally has a union

A SmallTalk Salute goes out to the teachers and staff at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School at Chavez Prep Middle School in D.C. who voted 31-2 Thursday to unionize, the first time a charter in the District has taken such a step. The educators organized through the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

Staff at the school say they want to unionize to give teachers a voice in decision-making. Jenny Tomlinson, the school librarian, told WAMU in May that staff hoped unionizing would reduce teacher turnover, increase teacher input in the curriculum and attract more experienced teachers.

If you were listening to Hitting Left on Friday, you heard news of this victory from ChiACTS Pres. Chris Baehrend who was our in-studio guest along with CTU's Political and Legislative Dir. Stacy Davis Gates. If you missed it, you can still listen to the podcast where our guests discuss the planned merger of ChiACTS and the CTU Local #1. The Chicago Tribune recently referred to Chicago as the "epicenter" of charter school unionization.

When you think about it, it's kind of amazing that for all these years, there's been schools named after the renowned union leader, Cesar Chavez, that resisted unionization and collective bargaining rights for teachers. Detroit's Cesar Chavez Charter School was unionized back in 2013.

I'm remembering back 10 years ago, debating with anti-union charter school backers and "choice" advocates. I pointed out back then, the hypocrisy of naming a charter school after a great union organizer like Chavez, where teachers were working without a contract, without a real voice in educational decisions, or without union representation.

Stacy Davis Gates (CTU) and Chris Baehrend (ChiACTS).
They called our arguments "preposterous". DFER's snarky response was, "No one's holding a gun to their heads." In other words, if teachers really wanted a union they would have one, or if they didn't like the conditions at school like Chavez, they were free to leave and go elsewhere.

Turns out they really wanted one.

Their arguments ring even more hollow today and discount the years of charter operators' active resistance to teacher unions, including the use of high-paid union-busting consultants and claims that charters were actually "private schools"and that teachers weren't really considered by law to be public employees.

Yes, it's taken a while. But all that's changed now as charter unions are starting to take hold nationally. The American Federation of Teachers says it now represents 234 charter schools in 15 states, including Chavez in D.C.

Lots more are on the way.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Even Trumpsters can see holes in Rahm's school plans

Robeson H.S. on the chopping block. 
It's getting hard to tell who's worse on school issues these days, Donald Trump or Rahm Emanuel.

Trump's appointment of Betsy DeVos as ed secretary and his pumping $20B into so-called "choice" programs while making draconian cuts to public ed, certainly keeps his hold on the worst spot locked in for now. Arguably the worst ever.

But Trump still needs legislative and judicial support for his assaults on all things public while Rahm is able to carry out similar attacks through his autocratic control over CPS. The effects are just as chilling.

No need to rehash Rahm's devastating history of mass closings of public schools in Chicago's black community. He's still at it , like a one-trick poney, with 4 high schools in Englewood and the National Teachers Academy in South Loop now on the chopping block. They'll be replaced in theory by new, large, expensive megaschools.

Past school closings, where carried out by overriding mass opposition expressed in dozens of community meetings. The closing of every high school in Englewood  is now a fait accompli, without the benefit of community forums. A few are planned, after the important decisions have been made.

Mass closings in the past haven't saved much money for the district. They have created more neighborhood blight and added to the threat of more gang violence.

Then there's Rahm's new mandates for high school graduation which even the Trumpies can see through. Last month, Rahm's hand-picked school board approved making the class of 2020 jump through more bureaucratic hoops which include making them show proof they've been accepted into college or the military, or a trade.

This from Tuesday's Sun-Times:
WASHINGTON — [Anti] Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta panned Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new high school graduation requirement, in which seniors will have to prove they are heading to college, the military, a trade or a job in order to get a diploma — saying Monday that a student should have a choice — not a mandate.
Acosta has some food for thought. Since Emanuel has no money to throw to CPS to help the 41 percent at-risk students figure out their post-high school plans, why deny them the high school degree they otherwise, under the old requirements, earned?
Good point, Acosta -- even though made on shaky ground since you are part of the reason there's no money "to throw" at public education. But there's no reason to make 17-year-olds "prove" they are going into the military, college or the job market in order to get their diploma. Especially now that CPS has fired hundreds of teachers and counselors and have done nothing to make college affordable and have one of the nation's highest black and Latino youth unemployment rates. 

CPS's job is to provide educational opportunities for all of its 350,000 students. It's not Rahm's or the board's job to serve as military recruiters or brokers of a cheap labor supply for Chicago companies.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dialectics of school 'choice'


School "choice" groups have never been able to present a unified front. As with any reform movement, divisions are bound to occur and this confederation of corporate reformers and privatization advocates has long been divided around issues of class and race, charters vs. vouchers, unionization, and much more.

But since Trump's election and his appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, those contradictions have burst into the open, throwing organization leaders into a state of panic as they try and keep their heavily-funded ship afloat. Many educators within the charter school networks are repulsed by Trump and don't want to be openly associated with vouchers or DeVos' attempt to privatize and Christianize the schools. And yet they still want a piece of Trump's $20B "choice" pie and a seat at DeVos' table.

Trump's recent budget request exposed that growing fracture by proposing more than $1 billion in new spending for a variety of school "choice" initiatives while also slashing public education funding by more than $9 billion, trashing dozens of education programs and making steep cuts to important social service programs, like food stamps and Medicaid.

According to an AP Wire story in the Detroit News:
...when a member of this elite group was elevated to education secretary, the appointment opened a philosophical schism that now threatens to shatter the alliance, turn billionaires against each other and possibly lead some school-choice advocates to join with teachers’ unions, their archenemies. 
Closed-door, off-the-record meeting... U.S. News reports:
...dozens of charter school leaders met in Washington, D.C., last week, just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, to discuss a number of pressing issues facing the charter sector – chief among them, how to navigate the politically thorny situation of opposing much of the Trump administration’s agenda despite that agenda including the expansion of charter schools.
The closed-door, off-the-record meeting, confirmed to U.S. News by several sources, comes at a precarious time for the charter sector and the broader school choice movement on the whole.
The current political landscape presents a particular quagmire for charter school advocates: The budget included $168 million boost to expand charter schools and a $1 billion boost to Title I that their schools could benefit from, but was rife with cuts to other programs deemed essential for the majority of students their schools serve. The budget also included $250 million for a private school voucher program, which, paired with increased visibility for private choice programs thanks to DeVos, some charter advocates see as a threat.
Yesterday, Trump brought a number of  school "choice" groups to the White House in an effort to consolidate his base among ed reformers. DeVos and other White House officials reportedly attended.

According to POLITICO: 
The purpose of the meeting is unclear. Aside from President Donald Trump’s budget proposal — which would invest $1.4 billion into public school choice, charter schools and private school vouchers — the Trump administration has yet to unveil a plan to completely fulfill its $20 billion campaign pledge to expand school choice. And the many groups interested in that goal are at odds over just how to get it done. The White House declined to comment about the meeting and the Education Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The purpose seems clear enough to me. Dangling $20B (which comes right out of the public education budget) over the heads of school "choice" groups may be enough to, at least temporarily. quiet dissension in the ranks. That approach certainly worked for the pro-"choice" muscle philanthropies like Gates, Broad, and Walton during the Obama administration. Arne Duncan's DOE also threatened the loss of federal dollars to keep states and school districts in line with his own "choice" agenda, ie. Race To The Top. 

One of the common threads holding "choice" and charter groups together until now, has been a disdain for teacher unions. But now, an energized union organizing drive among charter school teachers seems to be taking hold. The initial promise of charters included more autonomy and empowerment for teachers. But as large networks of charters are increasingly run by corporate-style boards with no teacher representation, charter teachers find themselves feeling more like delivery clerks of a pre-packaged curriculum. Without collective bargaining rights, they find themselves working for lower pay, without job protection, and minimal health care or retirement plans.

Chicago, according to a Tribune report, has become the "epicenter" of charter school unionization. After a weeklong vote inside dozens of local charters, ChiACTS Local 4343 announced late Friday that 84% of its voting members are in favor of unifying with the 28,000-member CTU.

The proposed merger could well be an omen of things to come nationally. What I like most about it, is that teacher unions are recovering their own purpose for being-- to organize the unorganized.
“This vote for unification is a vote for educators with both ChiACTS and the CTU to speak with a stronger collaborative voice for real educational justice for all of our students,” ChiACTS President Chris Baehrend said in a statement. “It is our identity as public educators – not our employers – that defines us, and our overwhelming vote for unity affirms that charter educators are educators first, and servants of the public with a shared commitment to the futures of our students across the city.”
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Chris Baehrend and the CTU's Stacy Davis Gates will be our in-studio guests Friday, 11-noon on Hitting Left radio, talking charter school unions, school closings and... Tune into to WLPN, 105.5 FM, streaming live at Lumpen Radio or download the podcast. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Organizers estimated between 50,000-80,000 participated in the Equality March on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
Rev. William Barber
“Rosa Parks didn’t just decide to sit down one day. We can’t choose the moment that the flame bursts out, but we can be the kindling.”-- New York Times 
Sen. Bernie Sanders 
 “The current model and the current strategy of the Democratic Party is an absolute failure,” Mr. Sanders said to booming applause, arguing that Democrats need “fundamental change.” -- At People's Summit
 CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey
“The CTU supports union rights for all educators in Chicago, including charter school teachers. Local 4343’s vote for unity takes a stand for using our collective power to support quality public education for the students we all serve.” -- ChiACTS Local 4343
Chris Baehrend, president of ChiACTS Local 4343
“This vote for unification is a vote for educators with both ChiACTS and the CTU to speak with a stronger collaborative voice for real educational justice for all of our students." -- Ward Room 
Mary Bouwense, president of the Grand Rapids Education Association
“The Christian schools in Michigan were set up to be separate from the state, and now [DeVos'] intent is to use the state to finance them. I know she says it’s about choice, but it’s really about funneling money to what she knows... I think her agenda is shaped by her idea of what God wants for the world." -- New York Times 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Coming of Age in California

At Dodger Stadium

The Klonsky Bros. are winding up our Hitting Left listening tour, combing L.A. for current and future listeners. Our search has taken us from ocean-front Santa Monica and Venice, through Topanga Canyon to the Valley, and back west with a stop in our old Silverlake hood for lunch.

Yesterday we touched base with potential listeners at Dodger Stadium while watching one of the great pitching match ups of the century between the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. Dodgers won, of course, by a predictable 2-1 score.

Having come of age here in the '60s, I've had to come to grips with the reality that (for better or worse) this is not that California. Aesthetically it's so much worse. Politically, it's so much better. I grew up and went to college here in the Nixon/Reagan era when the state always went red in national elections and big ag and the defense industries ruled the roost. Republicans won the state in nearly every presidential election between 1952 and 1988.

But the expanding need for farm and service workers led to an explosion in California’s Latino and Asian populations which boomed in the 1990s and the GOP's racist and anti-immigrant stance became the party's achilles heel. It still is.

Since the party closely tied itself to Proposition 187, a ballot measure that denied public services to those without legal documents. Democratic candidates have won decisively in every election since 1992 by performing well in the most populous areas. Despite failing to win the presidency, Hillary Clinton won a higher percentage of votes than any candidate since Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Dems keep talking about how she won the popular vote by 3 million -- it was essentially California.

Is Gov. Brown the new leader of the "free world"? Politics in CA these days are a bundle of contractions. The state has become a leader in green technology and regulation of big polluting companies. Now its the information movers and high-tech that have the power and enormous concentrations of private wealth. Their globalists, not nationalists and they especially like their pan-Pacific partnerships.

After Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, CA's Gov. Jerry Brown, stepped into the breech and took up the environmental banner. His recent meeting with top Chinese officials will lead to a massive expansion of cooperative business ventures. It also had Brown and Chinese President Xi Jinping sharply criticizing Trump's America First line.

According to the Washington Post:
Xi “has definitely given the green light for more collaboration between China and California and, I would say, other states through this subnational-level arrangement,” Brown said.
So while Trump's unilateral abandonment of the Paris Accord pretty much handed over leadership of the pact to China and Europeans, it also has opened up possibilities for states like California and cities to act autonomously or in concert, forming global partnerships for the new economy.


The other side of the California contradiction lies in the assault by a handful of billionaire corporate reformers, Republican and Democrat, on the state's public school system. What ties the likes of Democrat-leaning CA billionaires Eli Broad and Bill Gates to Trump and Betsy DeVos is their autocratic style, disdain for government regulation, dislike of public employee (especially teacher) unions and their ideological bent towards privatization, "choice", charters and vouchers.

Broad recently bankrolled successful pro-choice school board election campaigns in the most expensive board elections ever.  His dream is nothing less than the total replacement of L.A. public schools with privately-run charters, a la New Orleans.

But we will keep hitting left.

Tune in tomorrow at 11 CDT to Klonsky Brothers radio on WLPN FM,streaming live on the internet at Lumpen Radio to hear move about our west coast listening tour.