Monday, August 29, 2011


Area activists, including teachers, principals, and parents, gathered at Jane Addams Hull House Saturday to launch SOS/Chicago as a follow-up to the July 30th Save Our Schools March and Rally in D.C. The symbolic significance of Hull House wasn't lost on the group. It was here, at the turn of the last century, that social-reform and community organizing in this country really began.

Miguel del Valle (Catalyst)
Retired State Senator and former mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle welcomed the organizers, including one from Rockford and another from Denver,  pointing to the dire straits public education was in, particularly under the current administration's NCLB and Race To The Top policies, and the urgent need to have teachers' voices heard in the movement for reform.

Del Valle described his anger and disgust at witnessing current Mayor Rahm Emanuel "attempting to pit the ministers and church members against the teachers," under the guise of fighting for a longer school day. "It's hard to believe, but I think as a city we've really hit bottom" in this instance, he said.

Oswego, IL schools activist Roger Sanders listens intently at SOS/Chicago meeting. (Cassandra West photo)
The meeting generated a list of activities members could work on, including teach-ins and protests, research, messaging and media work, alliances with other groups in Chicago and around the midwest, and support for classroom teachers in areas of professional development. A teacher at one of Chicago's public preschools reported that testing madness has made its way into pre-K. This year her students will be subjected to an official "Kindergarten Readiness Test," and she and her colleagues will be evaluated based upon the performance of their 4-year-old students on this test.

In this environment, the most critical issues identified by participants included:
  • Overuse of standardized testing, including use of student scores to sort kids and evaluate teachers.
  • Budget cuts and their attendant teacher firings, school closings, and soaring class sizes. 
  • Growth of inequities in funding of public schools, widening gap between affluent and low-income districts
  • Current assault on teachers' collectiving bargaining rights.
  • Corporatizing and privatization of public schools.
  • Debasement and silencing of teachers and their unions.
A second SOS/Chicago meeting is tentatively planned for Sept. 27th. Stay tuned.

Side story:  I raised the possibility of an SOS counter-action as a response to a planned move on Chicago by corporate reformers who call themselves Democrats For Education Reform (DFER). While calling themselves "Democrats," their program is right out of the Republican playbook, including support for school vouchers and more privately-run charter schools. The group is heavily financed by a gaggle of short-selling hedge-funders, including the infamous Whitney Tilson, who  sees dollar signs floating around the ed business and whose market manipulations tiptoe along the fringes of legality ("There's a very fine line between what we do and fraud...").

Tilson's group had posted a notice of a rally demanding more privately-run charter schools,  planned for Chicago's UIC Pavilion on September 24th. I had spoken with SOSers and members of other school and community groups about the possibility of a protest at the rally, including some street theater actions.

Catalyst reporter Cassandra West mentioned the DFER rally and possible protest activities in her coverage of the SOS/Chicago meeting. Her piece was published online late Saturday afternoon (nice going, Catalyst). Within two hours after West's story appeared on line, DFER pulled the plug. Its post about the Sept. 24th rally disappeared from the website without comment.

I'm not claiming any cause and effect -- just saying. One possibility is that with the 2012 elections fast approaching, the last thing rgR Chicago Democrats need is Wisconsin-style protests (or a strike).  A phone call from Rahm's people to Tilson's people may have been in order. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.