Hitting Left with guest Brandon Johnson

Monday, December 31, 2012

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Little Emperor, Rahm makes Chicago Sun-Times front page.
Fran Spielman
In year two of his whirlwind administration, Emanuel survived a seven-day teachers strike that he had helped instigate; parted company with a highly touted schools CEO who turned out to be a bad fit, and struggled to control a spike in homicides that became a national media obsession. -- Sun-Times
Jackson Potter
Why should people, by virtue of their money, be able to make decisions that everyone else has to live with but has no power to influence? -- Letter to Sun-Times 
 Sen. Dick Durbin
"It looks awful." -- NYT
 6th-grader, Shemar Bates
"I feel down. I feel shocked. I don't want them to close my school." -- Philly.com

Friday, December 28, 2012

Record Chi-Town murder rate, but not in the schools

Last night in Austin community
The fatal shooting of a 40-year-old man last night on the West Side pushed Chicago's 2012 homicide toll to the 500 mark. Gun deaths have risen sharply since Rahm took office. Is there a direct connection? I can't say. That's for him to explain.

The Tribune blames it on the weather:
Largely contributing to the spike was the unusual number of homicides that occurred during the early part of the year, in which the city experienced unseasonable warmth. In the first three months of the year, homicides ran about 60 percent ahead of the 2011 rate.
Look out, Lake Havasu, Arizona!

Of course, the rise has more to do with easy availability of guns in the city (despite the mayor's post-Newtown reincarnation as a gun-control advocate), growing concentrations of poverty in the most isolated and under-served black and Latino neighborhoods, Rahm's closing of community mental health clinics, and the increasingly competitive drug trade on city streets. Throw into this mix the neighborhood instability caused in part by Rahm's school-closings, charter-ization, and turnarounds and you have an explosive recipe for disaster.

One thing the record death stats don't show is a single murder inside a city school this year. This fact alone should debunk the NRA's response to the Newtown massacre, calling for more guns inside of school buildings.

Arm teachers? -- Yes, with lots of resources, greater autonomy, access to the new technology, professional development, after-school programs, and smaller learning communities and schools will remain relatively safe havens for children.

What not to do

The one thing you don't want to do is to decrease the numbers of African-American teachers in inner-city schools. But that is exactly what Rahm's ill-conceived school reform has done.

Three heroic CPS teachers, Donald L. Garrett Jr., Robert Green and Vivionell Brown Jr. have filed suit, charging CPS school closings and turnarounds  for a steady decline in black teachers from about 40 percent in 2000 to just under 30 percent in 2010. 

CTU's ace attorney, Robin Potter, is handling the case. She says the three are fighting to get their jobs back, plus lost pay, damages, an independent monitor to oversee the turnaround process in the future, and a moratorium on turnarounds until a monitor’s in place.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Really, Gallup Poll?

The latest Gallup Poll shows 54% of Americans supporting the NRA. But remember, these are the same guys who polled Romney winning the presidential election 51% to Obama's 46%. I think they must just poll the same people over and over again, ending up with the same result.

Under the bus?

Environmentalists I know were really looking forward to Obama's second term. This was supposed to be the four years, free from re-election pressures, where he and his EPA chief Lisa Jackson were going to sock it to 'em.  But now that Jackson, among the last of the first-term progressives, has announced her resignation, these same folks are wondering whether she was thrown under the bus or just became so frustrated with the Obama team's surrender to the polluters, that she gave up the ship. Or maybe, as she tells the Post, she just wanted to go back to New Jersey.  Jackson is being replaced for now by Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, a move that makes the White House team whiter than ever.
Sen. David Vitter (La.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Thursday he would seek a more business-friendly nominee to run the agency. “Moving forward I’ll be working with my colleagues in the Senate to make sure the new nominee is thoroughly vetted, puts sound scientific standards above political ideology and understands that EPA’s avalanche of regulations can crush the growth of American businesses,” he said in a statement.
Who will Defend Rahm?

Now that the entire labor movement is after Rahm for his union-busting policies, the only ones left to come to his defense are the far-right. Jumping all over the SEIU for its push-back campaign against Rahm's anti-unionism, is none other than Breitbart -- yes I know he's dead, but his support for the mayor radiates from the grave.


T-Party's version of gun-control

Aistov Alexey/ShutterStock
In case you were thinking that we ought to be more like the Tea Party...

Here's the way the tea-baggers handle policy debates within their D.C. group called FreedomWorks.

WaPo reports: 
Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant [later identified as former Capitol Hill cop, Beau Singleton -- M.K.]  escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news. 
The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone — with a promise of $8 million — and the five ousted employees were back.
Right-wing Illinois Billionaire Richard Stephenson, founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey’s agreement to leave the group.

Take-aways:
  • The Tea-Party is not just a group of regular folks who want their taxes lowered and the size of government reduced.
  • Wing-nut Stephenson, a pal of the Koch Bros., has a vested interest in private health care and has good reason to use the tea -baggers in his war on ObamaCare
  • The aptly-named Dick Armey isn't to big on gun control. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What happened to Runcie's anti-truancy plan?

Byrd-Bennett gets a whisper of advice on CPS truancy from  state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie at a Nov.meeting. (Tribune )
The CPS focus on the so-called "under-utilization" of schools is all wrong and their plan to close hundreds of schools is misdirected. That's the only reasonable conclusion one can come to, especially after reading the latest report on the district's failure to implement its own anti-truancy program. 

It turns out that the problem of dwindling attendance, particularly in low-income communities on the south and west side, has been ignored by the past three administrations at CPS, even though millions of dollars had been allocated for a comprehensive anti-truancy plan.

The Tribune reports that the plan, developed in 2010 by  Ron Huberman's Chief Administrative Officer Robert Runcie, who left Chicago the next year to become superintendent of the Broward County, Fla., was shelved soon after it was written. Millions of dollars in anti-truancy funds that were apparently given to non-performing, outside consultants remain unaccounted for. 

The Trib quotes former CPS Office of Student Support and Engagement leader Paige Ponder, whose division helped oversee the effort before she left the district in frustration. Truancy and absenteeism are "such an enormous, complex issue. But the money, the will, the leadership just wasn't there to tackle it in a sustained way."

It's not clear who's leaking these internal documents to the Tribune. This is the second major leak in a month, following the report of the secret list of supposedly underutilized schools marked for closing. The latest leak may have come from Runcie himself, a Harvard grad who was trained at the infamous Broad Superintendents Academy, but passed over for the top spot at CPS in favor of J.C. Brizard

The long and short of it is that communities are not under-utilizing their schools. Rather, dwindling populations in some south and west side neighborhood schools are the product of a myriad of problems having to do with poverty, violence, and  failed policies (over-development of charter schools) and misuse of public funds at the top of the system with its lack of transparency and public accountability. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas from Gov. 'Squeezy' and the Civic Committee

Retiree, living on fixed income, Thea Halvorson, uneasily envisions the possibility of losing here home. (Sim-Times)
Sun-Times headline: Retired state workers in cross-hairs of Illinois’ pension crisis 

Cross-hairs is right. Who would have imagined that a gaggle of "progressive" Democrats, along with a Democratic governor who has a Dem majority in both houses, would be stuffing rocks in the Christmas stockings of the state's elderly, retired public employees?

The great pension theft will impact some 700,000 retirees and family members -- who vote. Bye bye Gov. Squeezy. The Civic Committee's liar-in-chief, Ty Fahner blames the crisis on “too many [retirees] taking out and not enough paying in.” But brother Fred demolishes Fahner's arguments and lays bare the duplicity of the so-called "progressives" in his appearance on Live From the Heartland.



He also offers the pathway out of the crisis. Go ahead, Fred!
It's not so difficult, says Fred. Just takes some Democrats with spine. Oh well.

Remembering Christmas 2008

That's when workers at Republic Windows & Doors on Chicago's north side, took over the plant and are demanded to be paid for their labor. Republic had shut its doors with little notice, leaving its workers high and dry for Christmas. They refused to pay the workers their due severance pay and had begun sneaking assets and equipment out of the plant for weeks. The takeover stopped all that. President-elect Obama even sent a message of support to Republic workers. Ah, those were the days.

U of I profs join pension fight

Here is the text of a letter sent to University of Illinois email accounts on Tuesday evening from Cary Nelson, an emeritus professor at the UI and the president of the American Association of University Professors.

Pension side bar

Illinois State Board of Investment Executive Director William Atwood says that agency's $12 billion portfolio includes about 84,000 shares worth $1.7 million in three gun-makers — Olin, Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson. Spokesman Dave Urbanek says the teachers' system is reviewing its $37 billion portfolio for connections to other gun-makers as information for its trustees. -- News Gazette

Oh, almost forgot. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Will Sandy Hook reshape ed reform policy?

The heroism of the Sandy Hook teachers has helped reshape the national discussion about the policy direction of school reform -- or at least it should, according to AP education writer, Christine Amario:

That gratitude for teachers is a respite from recent years in which politicians and the public have viewed them as anything but heroes. Instead, teachers have been the focus of increased scrutiny, criticized for what is perceived as having generous and unwarranted benefits and job security.
More from Amario:
Over the last four years, a wave of reforms, prompted largely by the U.S. Department of Education and its $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition, has led states to strip teachers of tenure and institute tougher evaluations based in considerable part on student scores on standardized tests. The heavier emphasis on testing has led to a narrowing of what is perceived as the teacher's role in the classroom.
Amario goes on to quote Harvard ed prof Pat Graham who I first met when she was president of the Spencer Spencer Foundation here in Chicago back in the '90s.
"Most of the talk about teachers lately has been, `Should we judge teachers simply by children's performance on standardized tests?"' said Patricia Albjerg Graham, a professor of the history of education at Harvard University. "And while it's very important that teachers assist children in learning, it's also true that they help them get in the mood for learning and protect them and care for them while they're in school." 
Whether the courageous actions in Newtown, Conn., lead to anything more than a temporary shift in the tone of how the nation talks about teachers remains to be seen. But for the moment, teachers are grateful, concludes Amario.

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Maps show charter schools are on average several blocks closer to elementary schools that Chicago Public Schools considers under capacity

CPS Liar-In-Chief Becky Carroll
“What you’re seeing is just by looking at the location of these charters, more are located in areas that are underutilized than over capacity, but they are not the main driver of underutilization.” -- Sun-Times:  Union sees problem with charters being closer to under-capacity schools  
Times of Trenton Editorial
To fully appreciate the conditions at Trenton Central High School requires watching for showering plaster from the peeling ceilings, sidestepping warped floor tiles, and sniffing the musty odor of mold. -- "Gov. Chris Christie, please visit Trenton Central High School to witness deteriorating conditions"
The Wilmington 10
 Most of the defendants were young — some just high school age — when they were collectively sentenced to a total of more than 280 years in prison. Prison robbed them of the promise that their young lives had held. Even after the sentences were overturned, the notoriety associated with the case made it difficult for some of them to find or hold decent jobs, and sometimes led to their being shunned. -- NYT editorial
NRA's Wayne LaPierre
A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill? -- Forbes
Maureen Dowd
President Obama, who should have been alarmed that his re-election inspired a boom in gun sales, seems daunted at the prospect of taking on gun lovers, having handed the matter off to Joe Biden to study. The president seems to be setting the table for defeat. If only he had the visceral outrage of a Bloomberg. Who knows what could happen? -- NYT

Friday, December 21, 2012

The rabid ferrets

Obama is trying desperately to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff by putting more Medicare and Social Security cuts on the table and letting all but all but the super-rich off the tax hook. Boehner tried to cover his ass with House Republican loonies by coming up with a ludicrous "Plan B." But as Krugman writes in a great NYT piece, Obama was once again "saved from himself by the rabid ferrets." 

Hopefully the union leadership of the We Are One Coalition will be saved from themselves by pension-grabbing ferrets, Quinn and Madigan.

What's That Smell?

Finally, as we head into this wet, cold, Chicago weekend, I'm wondering what that foul odor is, emanating from Byrd-Bennet's supposedly independent Commission on School Utilization? Is it the already-composed (decomposing) secret list of "underutilized" schools to be closed in black and Latino Communities and handed over to charter operators? Or is it Frank Clark's consulting deal with the Civic Consulting Alliance?  Or both?


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wait, what? I thought "we are one."

We Are One Coalition leaders make their case at Wednesday's press conference
A coalition of public employee unions Wednesday blasted legislation to address the state's underfunded worker pension systems and offered instead to make increased contributions — if the state guarantees its share of retirement payments and raises $2 billion by ending corporate tax benefits and imposing new taxes. -- Chicago Tribune
I'm sorry, but I don't remember giving these guys the authority to negotiate away any part of my meager but constitutionally protected retirement money. In fact, I can't recall any of us retirees ever being asked to be part of the conversation about how to save the state's underfunded worker pension systems. 

I know the pension fund is in trouble and I'm glad the We Are One Illinois coalition is there as part of the growing movement to fight back against Gov."Squeezy" Quinn's proposed legislation. I was planning to go down to Springfield with them on the 3rd of January to protest the latest fund grab.

We Are One has always been clear on the fact that the trouble wasn't caused by teachers, cops, firefighters, disability caregivers and other public employees taking too much out of the fund they have paid into for years. Everyone knows it's because the state has failed to meet its legal obligation and make payments into the fund.

So why are they offering up increases in our contribution to the fund as a negotiation starter? Who gave them the authority? And in exchange for what? A supposed "ironclad guarantee" in state law that government would fund its share of pension obligations? 

But who can make such a "guarantee"? And once you agree to the first cut, aren't you opening the door for more and weakening our legal stand in the courts? And where will this iron-clad guaranteed money come from? Increased payments from local school districts that are already on shaky financial ground?

Coalition leaders are proposing in their White Paper, eliminating some corporate tax loopholes and imposing new tax increases. These are all good ideas and discussion starters. An even better one would be a state graduated income tax, which, when combined with a refinancing of the state’s pension debt, would allow for a 30-year payoff of the debt and a reduction in taxes for a large number of the state’s citizens.

But our gutless Democrats, most of whom operate under the thumb of Boss Madigan, have never been willing to stand up to the corporations, who are their major campaign donors. The only iron-clad guarantee I see is that our pension benefits are guaranteed by the State Constitution--even if Quinn, Madigan and the rest believe that's not worth the paper it's written on. Iron-clad means nothing to them. They always have their fingers crossed when they make promises. Let's see them in court and on the streets of Springfield. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The post-Newtown view from right field

First grade teacher Victoria Soto was one of six faculty members killed in the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.—Rex Features/AP
Rick Hess of the far-right American Enterprise Institute (AEI) claims to be "horrified by advocates and education pundits who seize upon Newtown as a "hook" to place an op-ed or push their favorite talking points and agenda items."

He's not mentioning any names, but it's clear that he's talking about Diane Ravitch who posted a thoughtful and powerful tribute to the heroism of teachers (union members at that) on her blog. Diane's piece was picked up and circulated by lots of other bloggers and tweeters, (including Brother Fred).
Hess confesses, he hasn't written about Newtown because "I haven't had anything useful to say. I'm not a K-12 educator, a religious or community leader, a public official, or a role model. I'm inclined to defer to those who have something to say or inhabit positions of public trust."

In other words, Hess is OK with policy makers moving quickly to strategize and push new legislation and government policies, but is "horrified" that any of us would dare to contribute to that discussion. Some democrat, that Hess.

Of course, what Hess is really doing is staking out his own position. He and AEI have an agenda and that's why he blogging about it, as he should. So should Diane. There nothing disrespectful to the shooting victims or their families about praising the heroic actions of the teachers and other first responders nor is it disrespectful to advocate for gun-control policies or more resources for mental health care in the wake of the Newtown shooting. In fact, had this discussion gone on the way it should, free from fear of political retribution from the NRA and other conservative opponents of gun control, the Newton massacre might have been avoided. Hess' organization has long been in alliance with the NRA in opposition to all gun-control legislation and made no bones about it in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Hess of course, isn't the only one trying to hush up democratic discussion. Teach for America marketing VP David Rosenberg demands that Diane take down her “reprehensible” post. Isn't it obvious that what Rosenberg and TFA find reprehensible is her mention of the word "union."

Jersey Jazzman makes a similar point in his post, "It's Politicizing If You Disagree With Me!".

Look what's In Byrd-Bennet's 'hidden drawer' -- The real school-closing plan

Angelique Harris, a member of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, attends a hearing on school closings Monday at the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church in Chicago. Harris has a child enrolled at Wells Preparatory Elementary Academy. (Warren Skalski, Photo for the Tribune /December 17, 2012)
"Unless my staff has a hidden drawer somewhere where they've got numbers in there, we don't have a number." -- Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in November.
Pretty clever of the new school boss to slip in that escape clause when responding to media questions last month about how many and exactly which "underutilized" schools CPS planned to close. When it inevitably comes to light that Rahm already knew back in September, which schools and in which communities (nearly all black and Latino of course) they were going to close, she could always point back to her "hidden drawer" escape clause, as in "I told you there might be numbers in a hidden drawer."

The latest problem for Rahm, Pritzker, Vitale and BBB is that one of their very own has leaked the contents of the hidden drawer to the Tribune.
An internal Chicago Public Schools document obtained by the Tribune shows for the first time that the Emanuel administration has weighed how many elementary and high schools to close in which neighborhoods and how to manage the public fallout.
Yes, managing the public fallout, or as David Vitale is fond of saying, "reining them in," is always the number-one problem when you have the mayor running the schools and when CPS is made a wing of Tammany City Hall. 

The 2010 state law requiring the district to release the list of school closings every year by Dec. 1 created the need for the drawer and for CPS officials to ask for an extension to March 31 for the next round of closings and charter school openings. That would supposedly be followed by five years with no closings — but only if CPS got its extension from the legislature. They did, by hiding the fact that the list already existed. All the B.S. about "community input" and establishing a new fact-finding commission proved to be exactly that. 

The secret document, prepared three months ago, when J.C. Brizard was still around and 30,000 Chicago teachers were going on strike, discusses how to deal with public reaction to school closing decisions, with ideas ranging from establishing "a meaningful engagement process with community members" to building a "monitoring mechanism to ensure nimble response to opposition to proposed school actions."

But Brizard proved to be incapable of "meaningful engagement" and nimbleness was never part of his skill set. Thus, the back-door entry of the more nimble, if not meaningful, Barbara Byrd-Bennett. 

As you might expect, BBB and her crew are now running as fast as they can from the secret document. As CPS' always nimble liar-in-chief Becky Carroll put it, "this plan was proposed by past leadership at CPS and is not supported by CEO Byrd-Bennett. In terms of whatever document you have, I don't care when it's dated, as of today there's no list and there's no plan."

Carroll's lips are moving so you know she is lying.

Back in November, Robert Starks, director of the Harold Washington Institute for Research and Policy Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, told Rahm's rump commission that he was deeply concerned about the possibility of mass closings, especially in poor African-American neighborhoods. "People out there right now, in this community … they are saying that this is a done deal," Starks told the panel.

Commission Chairman Frank Clark, retired chairman and CEO of ComEd, responded, claiming that his panel had requested information on all CPS schools to start working on recommendations. "I have not seen, nor do I believe any member of this commission (has) seen, any prescribed list of schools designated to be closed," Clark said.

Starks (and the community) had it right. Clark was blowing smoke. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Post Sandy Hook: Did GOP win the election after all?

Beautiful speech, then more concessions on health care, taxes.
If you thought that the reaction to the Sandy Hook school shootings would provide impetus for more mental heath care resources, think again.

Following the Pres. Obama's beautiful speech in Newton, he went and met with Boehner and offered the Republicans a deal sweetener on the mythical "fiscal cliff" that would cut $400 billion from federal health care programs, including those for mental health. Obama also agreed to cut $122 billion more in cost-of-living increases in Social Security and other benefits by using a different formula for measuring inflation. Obama is reportedly also retreating on the level of a tax increase for the wealthy,  permanently extending Bush-era tax cuts for those making below $400,000 (rather than $200,000) meaning that only the top tax bracket, 35 percent, would increase to 39.6 percent. 

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is urging  renewed attention to the issue. “Medicaid is the largest payer of mental health services in the U.S.,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, as both state and federal budget cuts have mounted nationwide, both inpatient and community services for children and adults living with serious mental illness have been downsized or eliminated. We must fix that.

Maybe Republicans won the election after all.



Monday, December 17, 2012

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

A man plays violin along Church Rd. in Newton.
Stephen Landman (Global Research)
US civilian gun ownership is the highest worldwide. Yemen ranks second. America doubles the Yemeni level.  Gun related violence follows. In America it’s endemic. In Chicago alone, gun-related deaths exceed one a day. More Chicagoans are shot and killed than US forces in Afghanistan by any means.  -- Gun violence in America
Rev. Jesse Jackson
What more "do we require?" before something is done to stop such events from occurring again. "We are the most violent nation on earth. We make the most guns and we shoot them, we make the most bullets and we fire them." -- FOX News
Rahm to Holder on guns
“Emanuel was furious. He slammed his desk and cursed the attorney general. Holder was only repeating a position Obama had expressed during the campaign, but that was before the White House needed the backing of pro-gun Democrats from red states for their domestic agenda. The chief of staff sent word to Justice that Holder needed to ‘shut the fuck up’ on guns…” -- ABC Political Punch Blog 
More Rahm 

Children in the Chicago public school system with an interest in nutrition will benefit from a million dollars in unspent NATO funds.
“I saw the kids that were planting there, garlic,” said Emanuel. “And they were planting garlic and they were doing it by how much distance do you need, how you put it outside, what is the best way to nurture it.”
The tour was interrupted by a small, but loud group of protesters, claiming this was a diversion from the bigger picture, that a budget deficit could force dozens of schools to close. -- CBS News

Father Michael Pfleger
"When are we gonna draw the line and say this proliferation of guns, and this sense of violence has become a norm of American culture?" --  Huff Post Chicago

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nassau Junkanoo and the King H.S. sit-in

Junkanoo in Nassau
NASSAU, BAHAMAS-- On winter break. We couldn't pass up a chance, between family visits in Florida, to grab a cheap fare from Miami over to Nassau for a couple of days of R&R. It's nice to be able to escape the Chicago winter for a few days but I've still got my mind on Chicago schools, especially after reading the Sun-Times story about yesterday's student sit-in at King College Prep, where 500 students demanded the firing of principal Shontae Higginbottom.

King sit-in
King students are angered over Higginbottom's imposition of key changes this fall, including closing the new media center where students used computers after school, and locking students outdoors after they’ve left the building during the day.
“I want the rules to change,” sophomore Joshua Phillips said. “And if things can’t change, I guess it’s time for a new principal.”
Back to Nassau where we were lucky enough to take part in yesterday's Junior Junkanoo festivities, a prelude to the Christmas holiday Junkanoo which looks like a mix between Mardi Gras and festival time in Rio. No one here is quite sure about the origins of Junkanoo but it may have West African origins as the costumes and conduct of the masqueraders bear similarities with the Yoruba festivals. I read that this festival began during the 16th and 17th centuries when slaves in The Bahamas were given a special holiday around Christmas time, when they would be able to leave the plantations to be with their family and celebrate the holidays with African dance, music and costumes.

Today, despite it's heavy corporate sponsorship,  Junkanoo marchers satirize politicians and social issues through costume and Junkanoo music and art.

The streets are filled with locals and tourists from the huge tour boats. Food stands compete for prizes for best conch salad, ribs or jerk chicken while thousands of Bahamian school students take to the streets in dazzling costumes and masks and march down Bay Street to steady rhythms and applause from the huge crowd of onlookers that lasted past midnight.

Among the hundreds of predominantly-black public schools marching last night, was an apparently all-white group from the nearby Spanish Wells All-Age School on tiny St. George's Cay. Spanish Wells, it seems, was settled by a mix of Bermudan pirates and British loyalists (who brought their slaves with them) fleeing the American Revolution.


Where's the connection here? Well, check out the rules for Spanish Wells students:
1. Be neat and tidy in your dress. Your appearance says a lot about you.
2. Litter makes your surroundings unsightly. Put it where it belongs.
3. Obey orders right away. You might be giving them someday.
4. Be courteous, kind and respectful to all.
5. Never leave the school premises without permission.
6. Show enthusiasm, pride and perseverance in all that you do.
7. Be on your best behaviour at all times.
8. Wear only the prescribed school uniform and accessories.
9. Stealing, fighting, and cursing are bad habits. Do not engage in these.
I guess no matter what country you're in, you can tell the class character of the schools by the hidden curriculum. For working class kids its almost always about rule #3.

The King student protest kindles hope that critical thinking and democratic ideas are still alive, even in the most oppressive schools.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Forget all the 'fiscal cliff' drama. The deal has already been cut.

Honeywell CEO David Cote OK's the deal
Why am I so sure that the deal has already been done on the so-called fiscal cliff?

Because, according to this report in the NYT, the big boys have already given Obama and Boehner their blessings to increase taxes on the wealthiest 4% of Americans in exchange for cuts in so-called entitlements, ie. medicare benefits and social sec. By the big boys, I mean the real power in the country, including CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Honeywell, Dow, Morgan Stanley, G.E. and the rest.
“We recognize that part of the solution has to be tax increases,” David M. Cote, chief executive of Honeywell, said on a conference call with reporters. “That’s the only thing that allows a reasonable compromise to be reached.”
According to the Times, on Wednesday, several hedge fund managers, including Daniel Och, the billionaire founder of Och-Ziff Capital Management, met with Valerie Jarrett  and members of the White House economic team.
What’s more, the political symbolism of some of the wealthiest Americans’ saying they support higher taxes on the rich takes a bit of the sting out of the idea of raising rates, for both Democrats and Republicans.
The fact that the the majority of voters overwhelmingly voted against austerity measures and cuts in supports for the neediest among us, means little to the leaders of both parties when compared with the voices of these corporate power houses.

What would Dr. King say about 'Right-to-Work' Michigan?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks at a 1968 strike support rally for public sanitation workers in Memphis seeking recognition under AFSCME. ( Pan-African News Wire File Photos)
What would Dr. King tell Michigan's Tea Party Gov. Rick Snyder about the so-called "right to work" bill his party is rushing into law? Here's what he said in 1961:
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”  -- EPI

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Rowdy' Rauner and the 'Rahminator' are steamin' mad


The nerve! Doesn't the CTU know that you never mock the rich and  powerful? Billionaire fat cats like Bruce "Rowdy" Rauner, Robin "Robbing" Stains and Penny "Pincher" Pritzker, just don't like it. And even  "Rahminator" Rahm, who is already the target of so much public abuse by his own patrons, is so mad, he's spitting milk all over his whiskers.

Yes, the union's gone and done it. They've posted a 5-minute video of a scary bedtime story, “Stand Up to the Fat Cats,” accusing the mayor and cronies like Rauner and Pritzker of privatizing public education. Shocking!

The Sun-Times reports:
The union video mocks Mayor Rahm Emanuel as “The Rahminator,” plus venture capitalist and charter school advocate Bruce Rauner, school board member Penny Pritzker, director of Advance Illinois Robin Steans, and the school reform organizations Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform and the Broad Foundation.
Rauner says he doesn't like being "lectured by a leader of a failed union."  Union leaders "are a joke, just not a funny one," says "Rowdy". Sounds like he's still fuming over the victorious CTU strike which put a serious crimp in his corporate-style school reform.

Rahm's liar-in-chief Becky Carroll leaps to defend her boss as only she can:
“These kind of mean-spirited tactics have no place in our school system as they do absolutely nothing to help kids or support their learning,” 
Carroll on the other hand, thinks that closing hundreds of neighborhood schools and turning them over to private charter operators, destabilizing the lives of thousands of black and Latino children, taking away teachers collective-bargaining rights -- all that is right in tune with the holiday spirit.

The much smarter spokeswomen for Steans and Stand for Children declined to comment.

Monday, December 10, 2012

WEEKEND QUOTABLES



Sen. Jacqueline Collins
"I voted against restoring Tamms' funding, and I urge the governor to proceed in closing this troubled and controversial facility, transferring its inmates to other prisons and respecting their human rights through responsible correctional practices." -- Chicago Reporter
Chicago teacher Michael Doyle
“I’m a teacher. I’m a parent. So I understand this game. When I hear this word utilization, I’ve never heard that word used before in education.”  -- Sun-Times
 Kelly High School parent Anita Caballero
“I keep hearing about more charters. How about us not closing schools? How about keeping neighborhood schools open and giving them the resources they need, like counselors, nurses, better teachers, after-school programs, reading and math help?” -- Sun-Times
Duncan claims a shortage of good parents
 "I wish we had more demand. I wish we had a lot more parents ... demanding a world-class education—not just on the policy side, but on the advocacy side."  -- EdWeek
Paul Krugman
 "If Obama really does make this deal [on Medicare], there will be hell to pay." -- NYT

Friday, December 7, 2012

Preckwinkle: 'Rahm the emperor has no clothes'


Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle stuck her boot right up Rahm's rear end yesterday in a speech to the Union League Club. Of course Preckwinkle was simply saying what everyone in this city already knows about the“miserable" state of public education under mayoral control and Rahm's failure to do anything meaningful about the alarming rise in gun violence in the city.
“Clearly this mayor and this police chief [Supt. Garry McCarthy] have decided the way in which they’re going to deal with the terrible violence that faces our community is just arrest everybody.” -- Sun-Times
And then on school reform::
 “I think we’ve failed our young people and we’ve failed our young people because graduation rates are so anemic, particularly for young men of color … and . . . I think as a society, we have to focus more on our public education system and devote frankly more resources to it,” she said at a news conference after the luncheon. “We live in a country, unfortunately, in which we’re much more willing to spend money on keeping people in prison than we are educating them in our public schools, and that’s disgraceful.”
While she tried to soften her comments later, it was too late. The cat's out of the bag. The emperor has no clothes and Preckwinkle has jumped out as a possible Rahm opponent in the next mayor's race.

She's right on of course. More than 17 years of mayoral control of the schools combined with school closings, turnarounds, teacher bashing and privately-run charters have done nothing to close the so-called achievement gap.

However much I like TP calling out the mayor, I don't see where she's doing anything much better --cutting the budget for county health facilities and mental clinics resulting in more and more prisoners in County Jail.

Rahm's flack, Sarah Hamilton responded to TP's verbal assault on the mayor with a duh remark of her own (there were many at yesterday's luncheon):
"Criminals deserve to be arrested.” 
That's right. She said it. Now you know. Criminals are bad.

How's about we start with Daley's son Patrick and  his nephews, the Vanecko boys?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

un·der·uti·lize

Underutilize is one of those fabricated words, like fiscal cliff, that politicians grab onto when they want to do nasty things to us. According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the term took place in 1951. The dictionary doesn't say where or why the term was first used, but I suspect it had to do with somebody taking something away from somebody because they didn't think they were using it enough.

1951
Let's see, 1951 -- OK in 1951 U.S. nuclear scientists set off the world's first thermonuclear reaction in a test at the mid-Pacific atoll, Eniwetok. They probably thought that the Marshall Islanders were underutilizing Eniwetok anyway, so they used their homes and magnificent coral reefs as an atomic testing ground and used them and their children as radiation guinea pigs. I guess you could say, Eniwetok was turned around.

OK, I'm not really equating nuclear testing with Chicago school closing, some of which may be necessary for budgetary reasons. Just doing a little etymology here.

But Rahm and Byrd-Bennett have taken ownership of this malaprop to justify the closing of another hundred or so neighborhood schools based solely on their definition of underutilization, and their own utilization formula (see below) with no consideration given to how the schools are doing academically, or what a school's existence means to the surrounding community. And they want to proceed without telling anyone, until next summer, exactly which schools they have chosen to put on their closing list.

BBB has even set up a rump group called the Commission of School Utilization to do an end run around the legislature's own legally established Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF) and get around state law mandating the district to present a rationale and get community input before closing any more schools.

“You are going to destroy communities,” says Laurie Smith, of  Esmond Elementary School, a small school in Morgan Park. (Sun-Times)
The good news is that lots of parents, left to guess where their children will be going to school in the fall, are speaking up for their schools. Parent and community groups with help from university researchers are debunking some of the underutilization misinformation being handed out by the board. The questions they are raising are good ones, like:
  • How can a small, high-performing school be targeted for closing for being "underutilized"?
  • How much of the drop in CPS enrollment is artificially caused by the board's shift in resources to privately-run, non-union charter schools?
  • How is the board's proposed destruction of neighborhood schools destabilizing neighborhoods and adding to the problems of violence and the mounting death toll among the city's youth?
  • How can a school be considered underutilized when it has overcrowded class rooms?
At a recent meeting, a CPS bureaucrat told us that the underutilization problems stem from the fact that the city’s school-age population is declining in most areas. He claimed that there's been a decrease from 845,000 to 700,000 from 2000 to 2010.  CPS calls it decrease of 17% overall.

According to a WBEZ reporter Becky Vevea,  public school enrollment has not changed dramatically in that time. Overall school enrollment has decreased just 6% and could well rise again in the near future. However, district enrollment patterns have been exacerbated because school officials opened new privately-run and selective-enrollment schools that drew enrollment away from many neighborhood schools.

CPS' space-unilization formula
The percentage of students attending traditional schools has dropped 17% while the percentage in charter schools (many of which operate in private buildings) has increased. Today more than 50,000 students attend charter schools.

There are also pockets on the north and southwest sides of the city where the number of school-aged children is increasing. That further complicates the problem, as extra buildings are not necessarily available in some of those areas.

Activists and some parents take issue with how the district calculates its ideal building capacity. Jeanne Marie Olson, a parent with the Raise Your Hand coalition, has been analyzing class sizes and the way the district calculates “utilization.” They don’t always go hand-in-hand, she says. In some cases a school is labeled "under-enrolled," but it may have overcrowded classrooms. 
Olson adds that CPS is overstating the number of schools that are underutilized and overcrowded because officials are not sticking to the district’s recommended class size limits when calculating overcrowding. The calculation allows for a maximum of 36 students in a class before it’s considered overcrowded and labels anything below 25 as underutilized. In other words, Olson suggests, CPS is treating 30 students as a target — not a cap. 
 The Sun-Times reports:
Leslie Austin Thomas’s voice shook with emotion as she described her “heartfelt” reaction to problems surrounding the Charles Wacker Elementary School her daughters attended. “How do you fill classrooms when the majority of the homes in our communities are boarded up? “Those children are no longer in the neighborhood, and I would hate for this commission not to understand the entire picture because it’s going to be different for every Chicago public school.”
More coming.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Remembering Metro, the school without walls


Progressive educators, alternative and small-schoolers will want to download a copy of Metro: The Chicago Public High School for Metropolitan Studies, 1970-1991. 

Metro was fondly referred to as “the school without walls,” and the city was its classroom. Derived from the radical concept that students should take responsibility for their own education and that urban institutions and businesses represented countless and varied opportunities for educational enrichment, the Chicago Public High School for Metropolitan Study, or “Metro,” was unique in the CPS system and the school was under fire from the Chicago Board of Education almost as soon as classes began in 1970. As I recall, Metro was ultimately closed and absorbed into Crane High School in 1991, which is now being closed and turned into a charter schools. And so it goes in Chicago's version of school reform.

The late, great Chicago educator, researchers and schools activist, Don Moore, then a Harvard doc student, was part of the Metro planning team.

Paula Baron, one of Metro’s history teachers, brings the school’s story to life in 86 pages of essays by Metro students, parents, teachers, and the school’s founders and  founding principal, Nate Blackman. Illustrated with photos and ephemera, including a wonderful picture of Studs Terkel speaking at 1975 graduation,  the book evokes the spirit of a school that allowed teachers to use their creativity to find ways to link academics with practical experience, and to bring students into the lives and workplaces of professionals in an array of fields.

It's available as a print-on-demand book at www.lulu.com on Amazon, or as a free PDF download at www.metrohschicago.com.  For more information or to speak with the editor, you can contact Paula Baron directly at plbaron@rcn.com (773-907-2203).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Duncan's spinning wheel stuck

Cunningham's gone.  Hamilton's gone. Who's left at the DOE to hold Arne Duncan's hand? Daren Briscoe?

Duncan buys in to the Bush model
Somebody needs to step in and help Arne move beyond his rat-a-tat-tat speed rapping and engage in some serious media discussion. After keynoting Jeb Bush's D.C. ed summit, along with a gaggle of other T-Party'ers, privatizers, "parent-trigger" pullers, and charter and voucher pushers like Mitch Daniels,  Condi Rice and Rupert Murdoch flack, Joel Klein, Duncan refused to answer any questions from the media. VaPo's Valerie Strauss offers some possible reasons why, straight out of the Onion.

Maybe without Cunningham or Hamilton to feed Duncan his lines, Obama's folks are afraid of being embarrassed when the obvious question is asked: Why have current administration ed policies found such a comfortable home among the Bush neo-cons when they can't get the time of day from teachers, labor and civil rights groups, parents and community-based organizations?

Or how about: Do you agree with Jeb Bush that public-sector unions should be banned?

Diane Ravitch says:
"Just think of it as a testament to bipartisan comity around a shared agenda."
Better yet is Charles Pierce at Esquire who writes:
"But the conference itself is worth noting because I think that it is the issue of education "reform," and not immigration, where the moderation mummery among Republicans is going to be more obvious. It's a better issue for them because they can bash unions, and there's nothing inherent in it to inflame The Base, which is why they can only go so far out of the Phantom Zone on immigration. Not only that, but a substantial portion of Democrats — most notably the Secretary of Education and the current Mayor of Chicago — have proven themselves quite willing to fall for the blandishments of long-con specialists like Michelle Rhee, so, glory be to god, bipartisanship!!!"
Peter, Justin, help!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Sun-Times editorial board is muddled and confused

The Sun-Times editorial board is lost. On days like this they don't know whether to crap or play hockey. Today's editorial, "Build on successes of charter schools", tries to dismiss the CTU's excellent report on charter schools but ends up validating most of it.

On the one hand, they wish it would go away:
It is easy to dismiss the Chicago Teachers Union’s latest assault against charter schools in Chicago... It is hard to take the CTU’s analysis seriously, given their clear bias and their hyperbolic and conspiratorial language.
But they can't help but admit:
But the CTU report has value. It’s a starting point for a conversation that’s desperately needed about charters. Because charters, despite the good work at many individual schools, have produced uneven results overall and have had a negative impact on some neighborhood schools that must be addressed.

Some charter supporters refuse to admit charters can do wrong and, fueling the CTU’s conspiracy theories, have grand visions of huge charter expansion in Chicago. CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel would do well to tamp down those voices, creating the space to improve all schools in Chicago. 
CPS has opened charters haphazardly, without considering how they affect nearby schools. This can drain students from neighborhood schools and, in some cases, leave them with needier populations.
The CTU correctly points out that charters have fewer students with severe disabilities, fewer bilingual students because they have a slightly lower Latino population than CPS has a whole, higher teacher turnover and a less diverse teaching force. And charters can end up with the more motivated families who have the wherewithal to seek them out. Charter operators also admit to instances of difficult students leaving charters for neighborhood schools.

The answer isn’t to rid Chicago of charters but to figure out ways to tackle these problems and to give neighborhood schools the extra support they need to help every child thrive.
I agree.  But getting rid of charters is not the issue. The issue is closing (not giving extra support to) hundreds of neighborhood schools and replacing them with privately-managed, non-union, charters. That is precisely the mayor's plan (not a CTU "conspiracy theory") and that is what the union is rightfully resisting.

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Rahm responds to another weekend of gun violence by offering $1 milllion in funding for youth programs. The money comes from private funds raised for the NATO summit that were never spent.
Rahm Emanuel
"This [left over NATO money] is what it takes to make sure a community is safe and secure for our children and our families." -- Chicago Tribune
Indiana's Tea Party Gov. Mitch Daniels
“Despite all of the progress that has been in states like ours, the forces of [resistance] never quit.” -- Washington Times
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. 
"Tea party two is going to dwarf tea party one if Obama pushes us off the cliff." -- CBS Political Eye
Curtis Black
Take the longer school day.  Emanuel’s rush for immediate implementation – and an entirely unnecessary adversarial, “win-lose” approach, using the issue (unsuccessfully) as a weapon against the teachers’ union – led to a chaotic, alienating rollout. -- Rahm Emanuel, Job Creator, For President?
Boner
 “We’re nowhere, period,” he said. “We’re nowhere.” -- Boehner Braces America For Going Over The Fiscal Cliff

Friday, November 30, 2012

Rahm starring in 'Jobs Busters'

Robert Pawlaszek, of SEIU Local 1, gathers with O'Hare janitors and other employees during a prayer vigil outside Rahm's house. 
Perfect timing. As we head into the Christmas season in the land of high heating bills, comes the news that  Rahm is laying off many of the city's library custodians.

He's also put 300 union custodians's jobs on the chopping block at O’Hare Airport because of a controversial $99 million, non-union janitorial contract he's handed out to one of his mobster friends, Richard Simon, a buddy of  the son of the late mobster William “Potatoes” Daddano (stay with me now) who also happens to be connected to the UNO charter school hustlers.

According to the Sun-Times report, UNO’s non-union janitorial service is listed as an “anticipated” sub-contractor on the O’Hare deal — an arrangement that could have been worth almost $5 million, according to city records.

Charter schools, airport contracts, we always get our cut, says UNO boss and bag man for the machine, Juan Rangel. He tells the S-T that  his janitorial firm "does not have a deal with United Maintenance and hopes only to conduct “outreach” efforts to help the new city contractor find workers." Very funny.

Ben Joravsky, as usual, tears the jobs-creator mask off of the mayor in his latest Reader post, "Rahm's addition-by-subtraction approach to jobs."

 In the meantime, the real problem of economic development in Chicago is that the new jobs the mayor brags about are not being filled by people who live in the communities that need them the most. Meanwhile, the mayor replaces union jobs that bring much-needed money to hard-hit communities with low-wage, part-time ones. I'd love to hear the mayor give a speech explaining how this is a good economic development strategy for Chicago. 

Dynamite CTU report on Chicago charters

UNO and other private charter school operators also figure prominently in a devastating report on Rahm's school-closing, charter opening strategy. The union report, issued today, titled "The Black and White of Education in Chicago's Public Schools," accuses CPS of intentionally under-utilizing schools, in order to create more opportunities for privately run charter schools. The report goes on to say that school closings disproportionately hurt African-American students, creating segregation and "educational apartheid."

According to the report, over 80 percent of schools affected by closings had a student body that was overwhelmingly made up by people of color. CTU says that "the policy of closing schools in one area of the city and opening schools in another has been the failed status quo in Chicago for nearly 20 years."

Cruising the blogs

When it csomes to ed bloggers, some of my favorites can be found on NEPC's aptly-named Best of the Ed Blogs, including the likes of Ravitch, Ferlazzo, Thomas, Cuban, etal... In this post, Stanford prof, Larry Cuban wrestles with the progressive/traditional teaching duality when one of his students innocently describes him as a "traditional" teacher. He is and isn't.
******
After reading Anthony Cody's favorable review of Lois Weiner's new book, "The Future of Our SchoolsTeachers Unions and Social Justice", I ordered a copy from Haymarket Books for possible use in my winter quarter course.

“Education is growth" ― John Dewey 

Another EdWeek (Teacher) blogger, Elena Aguilar offers advice to fellow teacher-coaches in her "Art of Coaching Teachers" blog. I'm a little put off (biased?) by the title and the patronizing tone it projects. It's not that I'm anti-coach. I am a high school basketball coach (among other things) and also direct the Small Schools Workshop where lots of "coaching" of willing teachers and principals has taken place over the years. I appreciate the teacher-as-coach metaphor and what it connotes in the way of democratic teaching/learning. And as a coach, and a teacher, I appreciate being coached by others in my field who are willing to share their experience and knowledge with me.

So why do I feel that old chill run up my spine when I read Aguilar's response to a San Diego math coach complaining that she is seeing "no growth" in the teachers he/she is working with. This all too common response on the part of professional-developers says more about them than it does about the teachers they are trying (unsuccessfully) to coach.

 The coach has no business making such an evaluation. No growth is really a death pronouncement. Isn't it? What kind of teacher would ever deem one of their students to be "no growth."  It sounds like this coach means, I can't get these teachers to do what I want them to do. Big difference from no-growth. This coach needs to go.

But even Aguilar's response to her fellow coaching artist, smacks of the same patronizing tone towards teaching professionals. Maybe it's the way she refers to them as "your teachers" as in,
"Dear Stumped, I know how hard it can be to feel like your teachers aren't making growth ..." 
Yes, that's it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

After Nov. 6th, aren't we already at 'the table'?


“...being seated at the table, which do you think is a better place to be?” -- Sen. Durbin
November 6th was the election. The very next day came the "fiscal cliff" media deluge, concocted by the leadership of both parties as a way of justifying the grand deal that's already in the works -- a slashing of so-called entitlements in exchange for a slight bump in the tax rate for the multi-millionaire and billionaire class. Obama is adamant about the next step: putting money on the table, by not extending tax breaks set to expire at the end of the year for earners over $250,000. By entitlements, they mean the very survival basics of millions of poor and elderly -- social-security, medicare, medicaid. Also on the table are more massive cuts to public education.

Like the artillery barrage before the military assault, here comes the brigade of liberal pols, softening up the ground for the grand deal. In Illinois, where a Democratic governor is already leading the charge on the pension fund, it's the liberalist of liberals, the number 2 leader in the Senate, Dick Durbin leading the retreat.
Sen. Dick Durbin delivered some tough love Tuesday to his fellow progressive Democrats in a speech on the “fiscal cliff.” His message: Be ready to compromise — or be left out of the conversation while others make decisions about the priorities you care about the most, such as preventing the middle class from carrying an unfair tax burden. -- Sun-Times
Compromise or be left out of the conversation? Now? Before the battle even begins? Sound familiar? Hasn't this been the mantra of some national teacher union leaders as they push contracts in Newark, Cleveland, and D.C. that include self-destructive demolition of teacher's bargaining rights and test-based teacher evaluation, in exchange for a "seat at the table" they already have?

How can Dems possibly be "left out of the conversation" after November 6th? What the hell are you talking about, Sen. Durbin? Off course compromises may be necessary based on the relative strength of the base of each party and the willingness of the leadership to mobilize that base.

But the CTU strike pointed the way. There's no need to surrender before the fight even begins. The real targets of the grand deal on entitlement cuts are the poor, the elderly, the sick and the children. We don't need more "tough love." We're not afraid of the fiscal cliff. Many of us are already over it.