Saturday, March 31, 2012

Urban Prep charter hype redux

Lots of extra resources for Urban Prep
The media usually go nuts every year when  Chicago's Urban Prep Academy announces it has enrolled 100% of it's graduates in college. In Arne Duncan's Race To The Top, Urban Prep is definitely considered a winner.

I always applaud founder Tim King and the Urban Prep teachers and counselors for meeting their yearly goal. I mean, this is a school that only accepts students who are committed to going to college. Those more interested or financially compelled to go directly into the world of work, need not apply. College enrollment is its reason for being and students are, from the start, dressed up in preppy outfits, blazers and striped ties, to get them into the Ivy League frame of mind. I wonder how many are actually headed to the Ivy League or to schools (or jobs) where people actually dress like this? I also wonder how many of those enrolled will be able to afford skyrocketing college tuition or make it all the way through to graduation.

Urban Prep is located in the south-side, racially-isolated Englewood community and is the only all-African-American, all-male charter high school in Chicago. It's been touted by some reformers as a "Chicago miracle," and "no excuses" school and proof of the superiority of charters over the city's "failing" public schools. It is also a school that has been successful in attracting large donations from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and one that is able to spend $12,000 per student -- certainly not on par with wealthy suburban schools, but high by CPS standards.

But once you cut through all the hype, Urban Prep is anything but a miracle. For one thing, only about half of its students even make it to their senior year. This high attrition rate is typical of charter schools and neighborhood schools alike. For another, despite its strong emphasis on test scores, UP's reading and math scores are among the lowest in the district and usually fall below the CPS average for African-American male students.

Last year the school had its charter renewed even though it failed to meet most of its own accountability targets. Only 17 percent of Urban Prep juniors passed their state exams a year ago, far lower than the district average of 29 percent. On the positive side, that beats the 8.4 percent passing rate in many neighboring high schools. But nevertheless, nothing to write home about. 

As I pointed out last year, the school's entire graduating class has been accepted to four-year universities even though only 12% of them met the college readiness benchmark in reading and only 36% met the benchmark in English on the ACT exam. And while UP's composite ACT score is a few (3) points higher than nearby high schools, it's important to remember that Urban Prep ISN'T a neighborhood school. It draws its students from 31 different zip-codes in the city.

So yes, congratulations to the teachers and students who made it through 4 years at Urban Prep. But let's put an end to all the hype and the playing off of UP against other public schools, all of which could do a hell of a lot better with Urban Prep's resources.

Friday, March 30, 2012

In D.C. with an eye on Chicago

I'm in D.C. for the Occupy the DOE events. I don't speak until Monday so I'm taking in the other presentations and will be reporting on some of them as time allows.

Occupiers should find strength and solidarity vibes floating in from Spain where there's a general strike and where nearly a million protesters are demanding an end to austerity and budget cuts from Madrid to the Basque country.

Meanwhile back in Chicago, I see that the mayor persists in his denial of First Amendment rights to those who want to demonstrate their opposition to NATO's war machine next month. He continues to defend his refusal to allow a march in the Loop on the first day of the NATO Summit, claiming police will be too busy with all the motorcades for visiting delegates.  Of course there's noting in the Constitution allowing for suspension of free speech because the police are "too busy."

 However the real thing keeping them busy in the city's free-fire zones is an epidemic of gun violence. Last night alone there were 13 shot and 2 killed within 6 hours on city streets, all of them between the ages of 16 and 24.

Conditions of life for inner-city youth continue to worsen. The costs are high. Joblessness, easy access to guns, instability caused in so small measure by continued school closings and teacher firings, and growing poverty all contribute to the crisis. 

So far, Emanuel has had no problem in raising $36.5 million from his rich, powerful friends to pay for all the bells and whistles around the NATO Summit. But still no money in sight to pay for lost teaching positions or schools in general. The mayor will say that by bringing this up, we are just making excuses for falling test scores. Is anybody buying that?

Welcome to Chicago, NATO protesters. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Back to Ohio...

On the road again today. I'm heading back to Ohio to do some speaking. Then on to D.C. to take part in Occupy the DOE with lots of other folks. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

At yesterday's press conference

Isabel Nuñez from Concordia Univ. at  press conference
I went to yesterday's press conference to stand with other academics in support of  (CReATE). The research group presented its "Open Letter of Concern Regarding Chicago’s Implementation of Legislation for the Evaluation of Teachers and Principals" to the mayor yesterday.

Academics from 15 universities, including many that run teacher education programs, warned in the letter that relying heavily on student test scores to evaluate teachers will negatively impact students. CPS is currently in negotiations with the teachers union over a new evaluation system, which state law requires be in place in at least 300 CPS schools by fall. I signed on to the letter and took part in the press conference, but thought the statement could have been stronger in its recommendations. It currently calls on the mayor to,
1. Pilot and adjust the evaluation system before implementing it on a large scale.
2. Minimize the percentage that student growth counts in teacher or principal evaluation.
Speakers at the press conference included: Kevin Kumashiro, Professor of Asian American Studies and Education at UIC; Isabel Nuñez, Assoc. Professor of Foundations, Social Policy and Research, Concordia University;  David Stovall, Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and African American Studies at UIC; Therese Quinn:, Chair of Art Education School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Erica Meiners, Professor of Educational Foundations, Women’s Studies, and Latina/o and Latin American Studies
at NIU.

The Tribune, WGN, Catalyst, and WBEZ have coverage this morning.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Duncan Etch-a-Sketches on publishing teacher names in Times

Talk about your Etch-a-Sketch politicians -- Arne Duncan was the first in line to applaud the L.A. Times for its publishing of teachers names alongside students test scores, a new low in public debasement of the teaching profession. "What's there to hide?" asked a glib Duncan back in August of 2010.

But now it's 2012 and the winds of change are blowing in the other direction (I hope). Not to mention that his boss is up for reelection in a few months and millions of teachers vote. For whatever reason, Duncan now says he's against the New York Times doing it.
 "Do you need to publish every single teacher's rating in the paper? I don't think you do," he said. "There's not much of an upside there, and there's a tremendous downside for teachers. We're at a time where morale is at a record low. ... We need to be sort of strengthening teachers, and elevating and supporting them."
When asked about his obvious flip-flop by Edweek reporter, Stephen Sawchuck, Duncan wriggles around a bit and then, instead of just saying he was wrong, tries to reconcile both positions.
"What I was reacting to in L.A. was this mind-boggling situation where teachers were denied access to this data. The only way they could get it was through the newspaper," he claims.

"May God have mercy on us..."

Lake Board votes on cuts
I'm heading back to Ohio this week to speak at Kenyon College and then on to D.C. to speak at Occupy the DOE. While at Bowling Green last Thursday, I picked up a copy of the local Sentinel-Tribune. The lead story about the devastating cuts being made in nearby Lake Township schools has stayed with me all the way back to Chicago.

It starts with the Lake Board's ceremony recognizing the accomplishments of its students.
There was a parade of outstanding basketball players, superior-rated music students and the top speller at Lake Elementary. The middle school quiz bowl team got kudos for being tops in the county.
Then the other shoe drops. The Board votes to strip $1.15 million from the district's budget. That's 43 positions, including eight teachers, and the all-day everyday kindergarten program. They blame the cuts on $1.6 million lost this year in state and federal funding, combined with a decrease in property taxes, plus the rejection of two levies last year.
"This board now has no choice but to make these deep and devastating cuts," said board president Tim Krugh before a crowd of about 200 in the middle school cafeteria. "It's heartbreaking to me that we are forced to take this action that we are compelled to take. May God have mercy on us."
Each of the five board members spoke before voting unanimously to make the cuts. There was no public commentary before the vote.


President Obama
"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. I can only imagine what his parents are going through. When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids." -- AP Wire
Jesse Jackson
 "Why isn't America outraged, that far more people die of gun violence in one year in America than the number of soldiers killed in the wars waged in Iraq and Afghanistan?" -- L.A. Times
Rahm Emanuel
“Taking the politics out of politics is like taking the money out of capitalism.” -- Meet the New Boss
Rahm to white, middle-class parents
“Don’t head for the doors when your kid’s in fifth grade or sixth grade — for the suburbs — because the city of Chicago is going to give you a high-quality life with a high-quality education for your children."  -- Sun-Times
Fernando Castro, 14, Brighton High School
“I don’t eat school lunch anyway.  It looks weird.” -- ‘Pink Slime’ Is Vanishing From School Cafeterias

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Urban Ed Conference at Bowling Green

Thanks to the great folks at the ECCO Learning Community (Educators in Context and Community) for inviting me to keynote their Urban Education Conference at Bowling Green University, Friday. The entire conference was great. I especially enjoyed the many informal discussions with ECCO students and then listening to several of their presentations at the break out sessions. ECCO is a small learning community of education students and faculty within the college of education.

My keynote speech Friday evening, was followed by a showing of the documentary film, Louder than a Bomb which drew an emotional audience response. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012


TO:       Journalists Who Cover Education
FROM:  Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director, National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)
RE:       Test Cheating
DATE:   March 24, 2012

The Atlanta Journal Constitution's investigation of suspicious test scores around the nation is the latest example of how the widespread, politically mandated misuse of standardized tests is damaging U.S. public schools and the children they serve. Yes, cheating on standardized exams is very widespread -- FairTest has documented confirmed cases of test score manipulation in 33 states plus the District of Columbia in just the past three academic years with apparent systematic patterns of improper behavior in at least a dozen (list available on request).

These scandals are the predictable result of over-reliance on test scores, as our fact sheet "Tests, Cheating and Educational Corruption" ( demonstrates. In fact, most high-stakes testing practices violate the standards for professional assessment and, in many instances, the proper use guidelines of the exams' manufacturers themselves.

At the same time, the testing obsession has neither significantly improved overall school  performance nor closed persistent achievement gaps between racial groups, as demonstrated by the past decade's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results

Enhanced test security may reduce the number of reported problems, but a real solution requires a comprehensive overhaul of federal, state and local testing requirements. Politicians such as Education Secretary Arne Duncan need to stop mouthing platitudes and reexamine their own failed policies.

Please feel free to call on FairTest whenever you are reporting about any facet of testing or assessment. This weekend, I can be reached directly via my cell phone at 239 699-0468

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Urban Education Conference at Bowling Green University

Friday and Saturday, March 23-24, in Olscamp Hall

The third annual Urban Education Conference is where BGSU undergraduates will be presenting alongside University faculty, graduate students, professional teachers, and administrators to learn from each other about the complexities of the urban education experience.

Keynote speaker Dr. Michael Klonsky, Small Schools Workshop, Chicago, will be presenting "Public Schools-An Endangered Species" at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 23, in 101 Olscamp Hall.

A showing of "Louder Than A Bomb" will be held at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, March 23, in the Student Union Theater.

Sessions with presentations will be held all day Saturday, March 24. Registration that day begins at 8:30 a.m. in Olscamp Hall.

For more information, please e-mail

The struggle continues

Cook County machine boss,"Big Daddy" Berrios
"Big money talked — big. The Chicago Democratic Machine still lives." -- Greg Hinz, Crain's Chicago Business
It wasn't a great day for ed progressives. But after making the rounds of last night's election funerals parties, I felt disappointed but not disheartened by losses for Rudy Lozano, Jr. (in an amazingly close race) and Ilya Sheyman, who hung tough but lost to a blue dog in the 10the Congressional Dist. race. Rudy was targeted by both the machine and by the anti-union group, and largest PAC contributor, Stand For Children.  

Will Guzzardi made a surprisingly strong showing and is still alive and still waiting for a final vote count in a district loaded with drunk election judges, misshapen ballots, and voter machine breakdowns. As of this writing, Will trails machine hack Toni Berrios by only 72 votes with one precinct not reporting. Berrios is the daughter of machine boss Joe Berrios.  According to election data, Guzzardi held majorities in all of the district's seven wards except for two -- the 30th Ward in Irving Park and the 31st Ward in Hermosa. Guzzardi's showing was most strong -- 58 percent of the vote -- in the city's 35th Ward, which includes the heart of the city's Logan Square neighborhood  (Yikes--that's my ward. How could we no have turned out 72 more votes?).

I predict that all three of these young guys have great political futures ahead of them.

Progressive candidates depend on high voter turnout in working class and black and Latino communities. That didn't happen in 2010 when Republicans rebounded after getting crushed by the '08 Obama juggernaut. It didn't happen again yesterday in these local elections. It was the lowest primary election turnout in history so I wouldn't draw too many big conclusions about future political trends based on this one. Progressive candidates had almost as many endorsements as they had votes. Problem is, the endorsing organizations can't mobilize their own base on election day.

But you may be surprised to learn that there were more votes cast in the Democratic primary for president (even though Obama was running unopposed) than in the Republican primary.

Congrats to Jesse Jackson, Jr. who has recently taken a strong stand against Chicago school closings and the mayor's turnaround schemes, and who won by a landslide yesterday.

I'm sure that this morning, candidates and staffers will be summing up the lessons learned yesterday -- tactical and strategic. How do these campaigns, both successful and not, contribute or detract from building the progressive movement? Who is our base and how do we educate and energize it? How does the rapidly changing demographics in our communities influence the way we do politics in these times?

All I can be sure of now is that when it comes to elections, we win some and lose some. But the struggle still continues.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Clear choices in today's Chicago area elections

Rudy Lozano, Jr.
Rudy Lozano, Jr, (21st), Kenny Johnson (21st) and Will Guzzardi (39th) deserve our votes in today's House of Rep. primary elections. They are all advocates for public education and vocal opponents of the current legislative assaults on teachers and their collective-bargaining rights. Lozano and Johnson, in particular, face candidates bought and paid for with big bucks from the anti-union group, Stand for Children.

Up north, in the 10th Congressional Dist., progressive Ilya Sheyman is battling Republicrat Brad Schneider.

In what appears to be a low-turnout election, every vote counts. You know what to do.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Joshua Lott for The New York Times

Matt de la Peña’s novel has been banned at Tucson High for containing “critical race theory.”
John Huppenthal, AZ state supt.
“When we encountered this situation, we did what Hannibal did to the Romans. This is the eternal battle, the eternal battle of all time, the forces of collectivism against the forces of individuality.” -- Racial Lens Used to Cull Curriculum in Arizona
 Santorum in Puerto Rico -- "Speak English..."
"Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law," Santorum said. "And that is that English has to be the principal language." --Reuters
Times Columnist, Joe Nocera
...the kind of amoral, eat-what-you-kill capitalism that Goldman represents is one that most Americans instinctively find repugnant. It confirms the suspicions many people have that Wall Street has become a place where sleazy practices are the norm, and where generating profits in ways that are detrimental to society is the ticket to a successful career and a multimillion-dollar bonus. -- The good, bad and ugly of capitalism
Sun-Times Columnist, Mark Brown
 When I placed a call to Misty Gillian of Auburn, Ind., confused as to why she donated $1,500 to Tabares, I got a call back from her husband, Kevin, who explained that his company, TFC Canopy, made all those shiny aluminum wall panels cladding UNO’s new Soccer Academy. That explained it. -- Lozano Jr. vs. Tabares campaign one to watch on Southwest Side

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Texas Two-Step -- Cut budgets, increase class size

"I try to meet their needs. I'm not sure I am anymore," says Sara Estrada, who has been teaching for 27 years, says of her pre-kindergarten class at Lion Lane School in Houston, which has grown to 25 students even as it lost its full-time teacher's aide. -- Houston Chronicle
Rahm Emanuel loves the way they do schooling in Texas. Time and time again, he has held up Houston as his model school district because of its supposedly longer school day. Chicago's mayor claims, for example, that children in Houston graduate high schools with "three more years in the classroom." than do Chicago kids. Forget for a moment, that this nonsense was cynically fed to the mayor by Jonah Edelman of the union-busting group, Stand For Children. It sounded believable enough until you start doing some digging and find out what's really going on down in Rick Perry's state

Today's Texas Tribune pulls the shade on the real "reform" forced on Texas schools. It all amounts to massive budget cuts and fewer teachers teaching more kids in larger classrooms. Texas Education Agency data for the 2011-12 school year show that the number of elementary classes exceeding the 22-student cap has soared to 8,479 from 2,238 last school year.

The Republican-dominated state Legislature has cut $4 billion in education funding over the next two years while eliminating an additional $1.4 billion from grant programs, even though statewide enrollment is increasing by about 80,000 students annually.

No wonder Rahm grins when he thinks about Texas.


Ceresta Smith
Yesterday's Educating South Carolina blog reports on Ceresta Smith's talk in Sumter, Tuesday night. Ceresta is a longtime educator, civil rights and parent activist who is a member of the SOS National Steering Committee.

She told a community meeting at the North HOPE Center that moves across the nation to require more standardized testing in schools limit the curriculum and hurt students, and ultimately will result in schools in poorer, largely minority neighborhoods being shut down and replaced with privately run, profit-seeking charter schools with no accountability to the community. It's up to parents, students and teachers, Smith said, to resist test-based curricula.

 "Our children are being robbed, slowly, of a free, quality public education," Smith said. ESC blogger responds: "Somebody say, amen!:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Choice" and the language of reform

I'm in D.C. this week, thinking ahead to the summer's SOS conference which will be held here in August. It's here, the scene of last summer's SOS March & Rally, that teachers, parents, students and community activists will gather to adopt an education platform that we can organize around at upcoming Democratic and Republic conventions.

So much of ed politics is based on the language of reform. I sure you've noticed the catch words and phrases that are thrown around by the corporate reform groups. It seems like their debasement of teachers and attacks on their union rights is always couched in, "it's all about the kids -- not the adults" rhetoric. It's as if the interests of children, their parents and teachers are somehow at odds. Every corporate reform group, it seems, has taken on a name like, Stand for Children, or Children First, or We Love Children, as if the adults who run these organizations weren't drawing fat salaries for themselves while they pour millions of dollars into grown-up politicians' political war chests in order to ensure legislation that favors privatization.

Another piece of corporate reform lingo comes wrapped in the word choice. It's become a buzzword behind school vouchers, privately-run charter schools, school segregation, and more recently, the so-called Parent Trigger, which gives a group of parents the power to close their neighborhood school and hand it over to a private (often for-profit) firms to essentially own and operate.

There's nothing wrong with choice, of course. Real democracy is all about a community's ability to make informed decisions about community life.

Schools will now get to "choose" ground beef or pink slime for their students.
But in my mind at least, there are two very different kinds of choice. One is a limited kind consumer choice, which we all enjoy -- the choice offered by marketeers -- say between smooth and chunky or caff and decaff. The other has more to do with power -- the ability of people to define phenomena themselves and make the important decisions that affect their lives and communities.

An example of the former was the announcement yesterday by the USDA, that schools will be able to choose between purchasing ground beef and pink slime (meat mixed with ammonia-treated filler).
A USDA official with knowledge of the decision says the agency wanted to be transparent and school districts wanted choices. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement. The USDA buys about a fifth of the food served in schools. -- AP Wire.
Remember, it's all about the kids.

An example of the latter is the choices made by teachers in classrooms every day about what's most worthwhile for students to know and experience. These decisions are the heart and soul of democratic education. But with corporate reform, increasingly these decisions are being taken out of the hands of educators and left to corporate school operators or the power philanthropists to make.

Public space in general is being eroded with the selling off of public entities and with that, public decision-making. Powerful conservative forces are pushing for less regulation over corporations and their products, and more teacher evaluation based entirely or largely on student test scores. The result in schools is the overall weakening of the teaching profession and the dis-empowerment of teachers, parents and communities over their schools. The New York Times reports that teacher morale is at a 20-year low.
Many of the teachers also report that their schools have been hit with budget cuts, often resulting in layoffs, the loss of important enrichment courses and lags in technological capability in classrooms. The dissatisfaction was across the board, though worse in urban schools and those with large minority populations, the survey found.
Another good reason for us to show up in D.C. this summer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jose Vilson joins SOS leadership team

Jose Vilson (left) and Pedro Noguera at SOS Rally
Congratulations to Jose Vilson on his appointment to the National Steering Committee of Save Our Schools. Jose was a speaker at our national march and rally in D.C. last July. As we build for the next SOS Platform Convention in D.C., August 3-5, Jose will be a great addition to the organization's leadership team. Jose is a teacher/writer/activist in New York. For more on Jose, check out his website and his blog.

The greater flow of life

No reason for doom and gloom here in Chicago. Spring is in the air, Derrick and the Bulls are streaking and the Cubs are getting ready for another World Series run.

Yes, I know that Judge Hyman just tossed out the civil rights suit, filed by Local School Councils, that sought to block the Chicago Public Schools from closing 17 schools in mainly African-American neighborhoods. But he also left an opening for the case to be refiled. If that fails, the LSCs can try again in federal courts.
“The deeper issues that underlie this lawsuit will not disappear anytime soon,” he wrote. “Yet before the court today is a narrow question involving the legal sufficiency of the amended complaint. As such, the answer is dry, cold, removed from the greater flow of life.”
"Removed from the greater flow of life," my ass.  I'll tell you what's removed from the greater flow of life, your honor -- closing our neighborhood public schools and turning them over to private "turnaround" companies and charter operators.

Special thanks should go out to attorney Tom Geoghegan, who is handling the suit.

Yet, another gleam of sunshine has burst through the cold Chicago winter's gloom. Parents are beginning to speak out against the mayor's longer-school-day scheme. 19th Ward parents are asking why CPS seems stuck on a 7.5-day for all students when the national average is 6.6 hours, the state average is 6.5 hours, and the top-10 suburban elementary average is 6.5. Good question.

The Tribune reveals the continued involvement of the anti-teacher, corporate reform group, Stand For Children, in promoting the longer-school-day. You might remember how the group came into Chicago spreading millions of dollars around to local pols' war chests, and how Stand leader Jonah Edelman bragged about selling the scheme to the mayor as a way to break the union.

Now, according to the Trib, the group is robo-calling 20,000 households from various zip codes across the city to push the 7.5-hours of seat time. Those who remain on the call will then be invited to participate in a longer school day discussion with schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

Another bright ray of hope was the victory for the coalition of organizations that pushed the board to extend the registration deadline for LSC candidates. The board responded positively, showing that they're worried about the growing grass-roots resistance movement. 

Finally, the sun has shown its light on Brizard's plan to use federal education dollars to support private schools. An unsolicited confession from the CEO that confirms what everyone's already been thinking.

Go Bulls!

Monday, March 12, 2012


Parent Trigger fails in Florida Senate vote.
Rita Solnet
“This was a victory for true parent empowerment. By working together with my colleagues in PAA and other grassroots parent groups, including Save Duval Schools, 50th No More, the Florida state PTA, Fund Education Now, and Testing is Not Teaching, we managed to beat the richly-funded corporate reformers.” -- Parents Across America hails defeat of Florida’s Parent Trigger bill
Arthenia Joyner, Tampa Democrat
"With every fiber of my being, I will fight to see that my schools will not be taken over by private enterprise." -- Huffington 
Andy Ford, FEA President
"Gov. (Rick) Scott and the Florida Legislature have done more to unify the Florida labor movement in the state of Florida than anybody else could have ever done.''  -- Bradenton Herald
Julia Preston, N.Y. Times
In a bright hall next door to the law enforcement conclave, dozens of technology vendors were offering the latest military-style tools to make the border even more secure. Contractors large and small displayed radar devices that can see through walls, thermal imaging cameras mounted on mobile masts that retract in seconds and unmanned droneboats to scout rivers too perilous for human navigation. -- "Immigration Decreases, but Tensions Remain High"

Read more here:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Morning Community Forum at Rainbow Push

From Left: Patricia Pratt, LSC Member; Mike Klonsky, SOS; Jonathan Jackson, Rainbow Push; Rev. Jesse Jackson, State Rep. Will Davis; Jitu Brown, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization

Friday, March 9, 2012

Jeb Bush attacks SOS, League of Women Voters, over "Parent Trigger"

Former Florida governor and Bush family scion Jeb, has for some reason found it necessary to launch an  attack on Save Our Schools (SOS) as part of his campaign to import the Parent Trigger into his state.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of Bush’s Foundation, sent out a blast e-mail to supporters this week, asking them to contact their senators to urge them to vote for the so-called Parent Empowerment Act which comes up for a vote today. The proposed legislation would allow any group of parents at any public school to have their school closed and turned over to private charter school operators. It is a divisive act designed to pit parent against parent and open the way for total privatization of Florida schools.

Blogging at the Palm Beach Post, Dana Karn writes:
The controversial “Parent Empowerment” proposal isn’t just causing a bipartisan kerfuffle in the Senate where critics say the measure is a cash cow for for-profit charter schools and private management companies.
But the “parent trigger” measure could also make hay for Gov. Jeb Bush’s non-profit Foundation for Florida’s Future. Bush is backing the bill, pushed by Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution and education reformer Michelle Rhee and fiercely opposed by a teachers’ unions and a Florida coalition of parent-led groups, including the PTA.
Levesque's memo fires a shot at SOS and other groups opposing the Parent Trigger bill, calling them "vitriolic" agents of the "status quo."
You will not find the vitriol... surprising. Despite incredible successes over the past 10 years, those who seek to protect the status quo are as passionate as ever. This includes the League of Women Voters, AFL-CIO, Florida Education Association and local affiliates such as Fund Education Now and Save our Schools.”
I'm not sure what "success" Levesque is talking about. Florida's school system under the Bush regime, was a nightmare and the Parent Trigger has failed to do anything positive for California's schools since its conception two years ago.

How ironic then for Bush to label parent groups and grass-roots school activists as "status quo." His 8-year rule over the state's education system became notable for widening the so-called achievement gap. Bush gave his schools A or B grades, even while they were getting F's by his own brother's standards under No Child Left Behind. The state has become a prime example of testing madness, teacher bashing, and privatization of public school under current Gov. Rick Scott whose chief education adviser is Michelle Rhee.

The Parent Trigger is seen by Bush, Scott and Rhee as an essential tool in privatizing the state's public schools and breaking the back of the teachers union. Back in March, Scott, signed into law one of the first and most damaging of the current wave of anti-teacher, anti-union bills passed by any state legislature. Among other things, the new law took away teachers' collective bargaining rights and has them working for "merit pay" based on their student's FCAT scores. The bill was crafted with Rhee's help.

Bush may also be firing at SOS, the League of Women Voters, the unions, and parent groups in order to appeal to his conservative base and to gain T-Party backing for his own presidential run.

Surprisingly, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also has presidential ambitions, has found it convenient to jump into the middle of the Florida "kerfulle." Rahm's pushing of the Parent Trigger in Chicago has long been met with vocal opposition from local national parent and community groups.

*See "Jeb's Florida 'miracle' coming to a state near you?" by Teacher Q in the June 30, 2011 Daily Kos. .

Thursday, March 8, 2012

CPS spinners in a tizzy over Brizard's call for vouchers

When Chicago schools chief, J.C. Brizard came out in support of school vouchers the other day, he freaked out his own loyalists like U. of Chicago corporate reformer Tim Knowles. But the funniest thing was watching his own confused PR team wiggling around trying to make things right.

Here's how the Tribune reported it:
When CPS was asked for clarification on his remarks Monday, Marielle Sainvilus, a CPS spokeswoman, said Brizard was giving his personal opinion on education funding and was not recommending that the state adopt school vouchers... On Tuesday, CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler reiterated that Brizard was not advocating for such a policy at CPS, nor will the district be pursuing it.
The Reader's Ben Joravsky writes:
Supposedly, this is a union town, yet you voted for one of the most anti-union Democratic mayors in the country. Okay, he's not as bad as Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker. But he's coming dangerously close. Jean-Claude Brizard, Mayor Emanuel's handpicked public school CEO recently endorsed a voucher plan in which private schools would get public funds. In short, the man Mayor Emanuel put in charge of our public schools is calling for the privatization of public education.
Progress Illinois adds this:
Also at the talk, Brizard called the parents, Local School Council members, teachers, and community groups who protested 17 CPS school closings and turnarounds the "vocal minority."Channeling Richard Nixon, Brizard said that the "silent majority" supported CPS's school actions.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In the mailbox

Dear Supporters of the LSC Filing Extension Deadline,

As you probably know, the filing deadline for LSCs was estended to March 23. See <>

Thanks to everyone for your support. You should have received the letter sent by the "Coalition to Strength Local School Councils" to CEO Brizard that we sent last night and the related press release.

We know that CPS was aware that we were building a coalition and that Brizard received our letter last night. This helped motivate CPS to act.

See also favorable editorial in Sun Times about LSCs.

Don Moore

Coalition demands extension of deadline for LSC candidate sign-up

Chicago's popularly-elected Local School Councils have been an effective model of democratic school management in this district for more than two decades. But in all those years, they have never received the kind of support they deserve from district leadership, especially under mayoral control of the schools. In fact, the mayor, his hand-picked school board and CEO, and the city's powerful corporate reformers would like nothing better than a quiet death of the LSCs, which would enable them to have total and unrestricted control over principal selection and millions of dollars in discretionary funds now in the hands of the councils.

With this year's LSC elections drawing near and the deadline for candidates to sign up to run for election only a day away, only about 2,000 parent, community teacher, non-teaching staff, and student candidates have been enlisted  to run. The problem is a total lack of leadership and support for the elections coming from CEO Brizard and the board.

The Office of Local School Council Relations, its Director (Guillermo Montes de Oca), and the rest of the Central and Network Administrations have failed to lead a successful candidate recruitment campaign. Hardly anyone knows about the approaching deadline and recruitment has fallen entirely upon the shoulders of community-based school-reform groups. Information about the numbers of candidates signed up at each school has been kept under wraps and parents and community groups have been told by Montes de Oca that they have to file Freedom of Information requests to find out those numbers.

The reform group Designs For Change has issued a call for the sign-up date to be extended until March 22nd. The call has received support from 27 organizations in the city who yesterday, in an open letter, called on CEO Brizard to act on the extension. The Coalition to Strengthen Local School Councils includes:

Austin Community Action Council
Black Star Project
Black United Fund of Illinois
Blocks Together
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Chicago Principals and Administrators Association
Chicago Teachers Union
Designs for Change
Education Village Keepers
Family Resource Center on Disabilities
Introspect Youth Services
Kenwood Oakland Community Organization
Kids Off the Block
Latino Organization of the Southwest
Lawndale Alliance
Men and Women in Prison Ministry
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
North River Commission
Parents 4 Teachers
Parents United for Responsible Education
PUSH Excel
Small Schools Workshop
South Side Branch NAACP
Teachers for Social Justice
West Side Branch NAACP
Youth Guidance

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Look who's taken by surprise

Chicago Public Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard, second from left, takes part in a panel discussion Monday with moderator Tim Knowles, left, director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, Michael Milkie, CEO of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, and Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools. (Antonio Perez / March 5, 2012)
Taken aback yesterday was corporate reformer Tim Knowles, who directs the Unversity of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute. Knowles was moderating a panel before an audience of business execs at the Economic Club of Chicago, with Chicago schools CEO J.C. Brizard as one of the panelists. The common theme that united the panelists and delighted the execs, was hatred of teacher unions.
“How do we ensure charter schools don’t become a version of what we have today, with incredibly thick teacher contracts governing every move we make as a profession?” Knowles asked.
The surprise came when Brizard announced, seemingly out of the blue, that he favored  use of  federal education funds to send kids to private schools -- in other words, vouchers.

According to the Tribune, Knowles "expressed surprise that an urban educator would be willing to forgo public dollars." But Brizard affirmed his support of the idea.
“It doesn’t make sense (that) our parents pay taxes and then pay tuition (for their children) to go to (private) school as well,” Brizard said.
Of course it makes sense, J.C. That's because they CHOOSE to send their children to private or religious schools instead of the public schools for which you are responsible. It's like -- we all pay taxes to support libraries but if we choose to buy books at the book store, it's on us -- get it? Well, maybe libraries aren't a good example, since Rahm seems hell-bent on closing as many public libraries as he can.

We all know that Brizard doesn't say boo without Rahm's permission. The question, then, is, why wasn't the ever-loyal Knowles informed in advance of the change of line, before Brizard blurted it out?

I can only imagine how Knowles must have felt. Probably left out of the loop, like Rahm himself felt yesterday when he heard that the White House had pulled the G8 Summit out of Chicago. Whatever happened to the spirit of collaboration?

Is Rahm falling from White House grace?

Following up on my post from Saturday, I'm told that Nancy Pelosi had a come-to-Jesus talk with Rahm Emanuel following her Saturday appearance at Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH. It looks from here like Rahm, the autocrat, has been taken down a peg by the party bigwigs and told in no uncertain terms to heal his rift with Jackson. .

It was only a little more than a week ago that Rev. Jackson openly sided against Rahm and with the CTU and community activists, who had packed a CPS board meeting to protest the board's decision to close more neighborhood schools and hand them over to a politically connected, private turnaround company, AUSL.

Jackson and CTU President Karen Lewis openly denounced  the policies of Rahm's hand-picked board as "education apartheid," a move which immediately re-framed the whole reform discussion and put Rahm and his cronies on the defensive. A day later, Rahm made his schools boss, J.C. Brizard get up in front of the media and deny that he was running an apartheid system.

Pelosi then flew in to Chicago, stood side-by-side with Rev. Jackson at PUSH and then endorsed Jesse Jackson, Jr. in his congressional  re-election bid. The timing and place of the endorsement was an obvious slap at the mayor who then was forced to to come out himself and openly endorse Triple J.

The party leadership is obviously worried about Rahm's rift with Jackson as well as the growing resistance to Rahm's attack on public schools, especially in the black community. There's the risk that the growing school protests will spill over into upcoming Occupy protests scheduled here for May and possibly lasting up until election time.

Teacher unions are are a badly-needed ally of Democrats in the November elections. But Rahm's war on the unions, reminiscent of the anti-union assault by T-Party guvs like  Wisconsin Gov. Walker, is obviously becoming a concern of the White House. Yesterday, Brizard stunned many of his own supporters when he came out in favor of using federal education funds to be used to send CPS kids to private schools.

Chicago Reader pic
To make matters even worse for Rahm, the White House announced yesterday that it was pulling the G8 Summit out of Chicago and moving it to Camp David. The White House says the change was not in response to the possibility of protests, which means that's exactly what it's about. Rahm had essentially moved to suspend Constitutional freedoms during the May 18-19 Summit.

According to a report in the Monitor, Rahm didn't even learn about the change until yesterday making it pretty clear that he has fallen from grace in the party's inner circles.
Monday's announcement appeared to catch many in Chicago by surprise. A spokeswoman for Emanuel said the Chicago mayor was informed about the location change in a Monday phone call from a White House official. Chris Johnson, spokesman for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said his organization was "just as surprised about the announcement as anybody else."
Chicago will still play host to the NATO Summit, May 20-21at great expense (conservatively estimated at $65 million) to city residents, mainly for a massive police presence. Thousands of anti-war and civil-liberties protesters are still preparing to come to the city and make their voices heard, according to Joe Iosbaker of the United National Antiwar Committee in Chicago.

Check out the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky who has been writing the best local stuff on this.

Now we'll see if the CTU and it's allies can take advantage of this rift in upcoming negotiations and in support of legislative efforts to stop the school closings.

Monday, March 5, 2012


31 were arrested at Virginia protest against law requiring women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion.
Rep. Delores McQuinn
"The men and women who marched on Capitol Square have a right to peacefully protest without the threat that they will be arrested for exercising that right. At several recent women’s rights events, there has been an overabundance of police presence. In fact, the Capitol Police tactical team has been at all of the events."  -- Richmond Times-Dispatch
Anna Allanbrook, principal of P.S.146 in Brooklyn
Calls the scores the “invalid value-addeds.”-- Michael Winerip in NYT
Maureen Dowd
Mitt Romney reacted to Limbaugh for days with craven silence before finally allowing on a rope line on Friday night that “it’s not the language I would have used.” Is there a right way to call a woman a slut? -- NYT
George Will
Criticizing his own GOP presidential candidates' timid response: “They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.” -- TPM
It's the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, a founding document of the '60s campus radical activist group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Sam Roberts writes in the New York Times ("The Port Huron Statement at 50"):

But by invoking the spirit of John Dewey, Albert Camus, C. Wright Mills, Michael Harrington and Pope John XXIII, by at once championing and chiding organized labor as a victim of its own success (the S.D.S. began as the student arm of the League for Industrial Democracy), by elevating the university to the apex of activism and by validating liberalism and the two-party system, Tom Hayden and his colleagues forged a manifesto that still reverberates.
FYI: In the wake of the school shootings at Columbine High School, and Port Huron, Michigan in 1999, I wrote a chapter for our book, A Simple Justice: The Challenge of Small Schools, titled, "Remembering Port Huron." Check it out.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rahm's school "reforms" cause problems in ranks of the Dems

Rahm Emanuel is mayor of Chicago for two reasons. One -- he was given a multi-million-dollar campaign war chest by a handful of billionaire Koch Bros. types. Two -- he rode back into town on the good will engendered by his time in Barack Obama's White House.

A interesting sign that that good will has rapidly eroded is the appearance this morning of Sen Nancy Pelosi at Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH headquarters. Pelosi will address a packed house at PUSH and then endorse Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. It was only a week ago that Rev. Jackson lambasted Rahm school closings, calling them, "educational apartheid" -- which they are.

Pelosi's appearance today is an indication that Rahm attack on the unions, his closings of more schools in Chicago black community in the face of mass protests, and possibly his pokes at former mayor Daley, are not sitting well with some Democratic Party higher ups. We'll see how all this goes down.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Student killed at privatized CPS school

Chris Wormley
Students at a therapeutic day school on Chicago's far south side have returned to class, one day after one of their classmates, Chris Wormley, 17, was stabbed to death in an attack in the school's entryway.  Another student who intervened and tried to stop the attack, was also stabbed and is expected to recover.

Questions are now being raised about conditions in an around the school, AMI Kids Infinity High School, formerly a Chicago public school, Las Casas Occupational High School, which was ordered closed in 2009, despite community protests. The school was then handed over to a private, Florida-based company, AMI Kids which operates a chain of 56 facilities across the nation.

Family members say that Wormley had characterized the school as an unsafe place. “He used to always tell me he thought threatened at the school,” Wormley’s mother, Charmayne Prince, told CBS 2’s Mike Parker. “He didn’t want to be there.”

More to come on this. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Democracy Now!

Occupy Education: Teachers, Students Fight School Closings, Privatization, Layoffs, Rankings

From the civil rights battle front

Little Rock, 1957
'More Blacks and Latinos Admitted to Elite New York High Schools'

When I read the above headline in the Times this morning, I thought for a moment I was in Arkansas circa 1957, when National Guard troops were needed to escort the Little Rock 9 through the doors of Central High School. Maybe we should call these newly-admitted black and Latino students, the Stuyvesant 9.

 The Right to organize

Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit have an Op-Ed in today's NYT: "A Civil Right to Unionize." They call for legislation that would make disciplining or firing an employee “on the basis of seeking union membership” illegal just as it now is on the basis of race, color, sex, religion and national origin.
It’s time to add the right to organize a labor union, without employer discrimination, to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, because that right is as fundamental as freedom from discrimination in employment and education.
Selma revisited

Thousands of people, including SOSers like Jesse Turner, Ceresta Smith, and Nancy Flanagan, are heading to Selma, Alabama this weekend for the Bridge Crossing Jubilee. How appropriate to see the merging of the civil rights movement with today's struggles of parents, teachers and community organization to keep the public in public education.

Educational Apartheid

They could just as easily be marching in Chicago where civil rights stalwarts like Jesse Jackson, CTU Pres. Karen Lewis, and Jonathan Kozol have condemned the current system of "educational apartheid".  Jackson's comments at the recent school board meeting, have reframed the whole discussion. The mayor's hand-picked school boss, J.C. Brizard, has been forced to stand before the media to claim, "ninety percent of our kids are black and brown ... how can that be educational apartheid?" Sounds like South Africa
during Apartheid to me.

The mayor himself had to stand before the media on Tuesday and deny that he has already written off 25% of Chicago school children.