Friday, September 28, 2012

A great night with Kozol in Chicago

Kozol & Lewis  (M.Klonsky pic)

Jonathan Kozol brought the packed house of mostly teachers, to its feet last night when he talked about the inspiring effect the Chicago teachers strike was having on teachers and supporters across the country. Kozol said he first heard news of the strike at a book tour event in Los Angeles. When a teacher in the audience announced that teachers in Chicago had walked out, "the roar of the crowd delayed the program for several minutes."

The author/activist hit on familiar themes at last night's talk including a scathing attack on apartheid education. He pointed out that public schools are more racially segregated today than at any time since the '60s and that we have regressed to a pre-Plessy v. Ferguson era of seperate-but-unequal. His new book, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, carries on where Savage Inequalities left off, following the lives of children from the nation's most concentrated areas of poverty with personal narratives combined with analytical commentary.

But the loudest prolonged ovation was reserved for CTU President Karen Lewis. It broke out spontaneously as she entered the sold-out Thorne Auditorium and Nortwestern Univ. Law School.  Lewis spoke briefly, introduced Kozol, and then embraced the author in a show of unity.

(M. Klonsky pic)
Following the talk, Kozol signed books and chatted with a seemingly unending line of readers well into the evening.

All in all, it was a great night. 

Side notes: At dinner after Kozol's talk, a kindergarten teacher from Oswego, Illinois recognized Lewis and came running across the restaurant to our table. Confirming Kozol's point, she told Lewis how inspired she was by the strike and just wanted to shake Karen's hand.

A no-show
With Chris (L) and Tito
My bad: Before introducing Karen, I dutifully read through a printed list of thank-yous to all the groups and individuals who co-sponsored or helped on the event. When I came to thanking Northwestern's great events-coordinator Tito Gomez and AV teckie Chris Puente, I misread the list and wound up thanking Tito Puente. Of course the great King of the Timbales never showed up at the event and I'm sure I will never hear the end of that one from a certain someone.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Good riddance, Gen. Tata

Sara Palin and Gen. Tata hawking their books. 
If there was ever a guy you would never want to run your public schools, it was Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata. But after a brief stint at Eli Broad's training camp for school superintendents, Michelle Rhee brought him in as her second in command in D.C.

Then Tata became fast friends with Sarah Palin, and wrote a glowing review of her book, "Going Rogue," on the Big Hollywood site operated by the late wing-nut journo-goofball Andrew Breitbart. Tata wrote that Palin "is far more qualified to be president of the United States than the current occupant of the White House" and that the she is "precisely the kind of leader America needs."

I guess that wasn't enough of a clue for the embattled Wake County, N.C. School Board who hired Tata  as their schools chief to take command of the board's re-segregation initiative. The program, pushed mainly by Republican school board members, backed by national tea party conservatives, was aimed at reversing years of gains by the North Carolina civil rights movement. Pledging to "say no to the social engineers!" the board rolled back one of the nation's most celebrated integration efforts.

Tata was up to the task. When asked if it's the school districts job to promote diversity Tata said, "I think it's the school systems responsibility to insure student achievement happens in every single school."
"I'm talking about diversity sir," ABC11 I-Team reporter Jon Camp said. "I'm talking about achievement," Tata replied. 
Yesterday it was announced that Gen. Tata has been given the boot after six to eight months of "strained relations" between T-bagger Tata and the Democratis on the school board.

According to, "Tata and his staff made rough going out of situations such as the rollout last week of a test version of an address-based assignment plan."  That's another way of saying re-segregation of Wake County schools.

Good riddance Tata.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's the difference (if any) on education? And why?

"I once thought classroom size was … [the] only thing I could do to make our schools better." -- Mitt Romney
"Come be in a classroom with fifth graders and tell me class size doesn’t matter." -- Pres. Obama   

"But in secondary schools, districts may be able to save money without hurting students, while allowing modest but smartly targeted increases in class size. -- Arne Duncan
How can voters make sense out of any of this?

Joy Resmovits, posting at Huffington, analyzes Mitt Romney's appearance at Education Nation. 
In stressing teacher quality and the importance of testing over money and class size, Romney has aligned himself with many Democrats -- including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan -- who support a movement known as education reform. However, Romney differs from the Democrats on the issue in his views on school choice, vouchers, accountability and the role of teachers unions. "The teachers union has every right to represent their members in the way they think is best," Romney said. "But we have every right to say, 'No, this is what we want to do,' which is in the best interest of our children."
Funny, if not for this corporate-sponsored and controlled farce of a televised ed summit, I doubt that either candidate would be saying a word right now about public education. Drawing lines on this issue isn't in either party's playbook.

Brother Fred takes on the question of why the Democrats "suck" when it comes to school policy.
The question I keep getting asked is why are the Democrats so bad on education issues? Why is there no attempt to distinguish themselves from the Republicans on this issue. They at least pay lip service to differences for electoral purposes on other issues?
He points to Republicans, under the influence of T-baggers and anti-gumint libertarians, who stake out a weakened role for the feds under a Romney regime. Dems see an expanding role for the DOE in framing the Common Core curriculum. That's why DFER hedge-funders stake out a position within the Democratic, rather than in the Republican Party, where they'd probably feel more comfortable.

But once in power, both parties use federal aid to education as well as the DOE as a way to funnel billions in contracts to politically favorable suppliers and contractors, as they've always done. A T-Party backed Romney would be no exception.

Diane Ravitch says the trouble is that Obama isn't listening to the right people -- teachers -- and is ill-informed about the failure of the very policies he is pursuing.
...he is woefully misinformed about his own education policies, about the absence of evidence for them, about the lack of results, about the harmful effect they are having on students and teachers and the quality of education, about the shared assumptions of Race to the Top and the failed No Child Left Behind. He doesn’t seem aware that his own policies require “teaching to the test,” which he says he opposes.
She may be right but it's hard to believe he's that misinformed. I mean Obama has been around the ed reform scene for years. In Chicago, he was head of the Annenburg Challenge for Public School Reform and I'm sure talked with many teachers and parents. The question is, why has he turned a deaf ear to them now?

I tend to think it has more to do with the Democratic Party abandoning its traditional base among badly-weakened unions, poor and working-class voters and its courting of support needed to win national elections from ownership society corporatists and power philanthropists who see so-called education reform as part of a bigger, global strategy of market-driven reform

President Obama came to power at least partly on the back of a powerful grass-roots, democratic (small "d") movement. But once in power, the Democrats have managed to send their base back to the barracks and turn current politics back into a spectator sport.

BTW, I don't think this shift could have happened without compliance from traditional union leaders. Thank you CTU for finally breaking ranks.

More to come on this.

Obama's horrible interview with Savannah Guthrie

"When I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as POTUS, because workers deserve to know that somebody’s standing in their court." -- Barack Obama in 2007
Pres.Obama's response to Savannah Guthrie's Education Nation interview questions left me cold -- literally sent a chill down my spine. I had no expectations that he would offer anything beyond the usual empty platitudes about the historic Chicago teachers strike. Those -- "I'll put on my walking shoes" to protect collective bargaining rights -- days are long gone, especially now that big-city Democrats are replacing Tea Party governors in the vanguard of the war against public employee unions. Instead, the president gives us something right out of Rahm Emanuel's current TV ads, which are being underwritten by DFER hedge-funders.

"Teachers have embraced merit pay."
After some double-talk and a few rhetorical bones thrown to AFT and NEA leaders about not relying "completely" on standardized tests (only mainly on them), Obama tells us with a straight face that "teachers have embraced the idea of merit pay." Is he serious? Did he even read the papers about Chicago and how 30,000 city teachers united like fingers in a fist to beat back Rahm's failed merit-pay mandate?

But what really chilled me about the Guthrie interview, was the way Obama talked about education funding, sounding more like a Gates Foundation program officer deciding which of Bill's favorite projects to fund, rather than the President of the United States.
“We’re going to give more money to those schools that are serious about reform but we’re not going to let people make excuses and suggest that it’s just a money problem.”
Yes, he said it. Those states and school districts that go along with Race To The Top will receive funding for their schools. The rest will go hungry. Serious about reform of course, means among other things, de-funding and closing resource-starved inner-city public schools, replacing them with privately managed charters,  firing thousands of teachers, and relying more and more on standardized tests all the way down to kindergarten, as the main way evaluate schools and teachers.

Then came the topper, at least for me. Obama's scripted response included the old "no excuses" line, referring to issues of poverty and the connection between the nation's growing poverty and poor school performance. The nation's poverty rate has risen from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 15.1 percent. The current rate is the highest since 1993. The latest data reveals103 million poor and near-poor in the U.S., and six million with no income other than food stamps, while billionaires and corporations (the real "welfare queens") are given huge tax breaks. Poverty is not only having a destructive impact on public education -- 1 in every 4 persons living in poverty are young children -- Sen. Bernie Sanders calls it a "death sentence" cutting years off the life span of poor people. This is what Obama means by "excuses."

Thanks to one of the last great American liberals, Georgetown law prof Peter Edelman for speaking out on Obama's failure to even mention the "p" word these past four years. Edelman is one of my heroes for walking out of the Clinton administration in protest of Clinton's 1996 signing the so-called  Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, a bill which blamed those in poverty for not working. It was a precursor to Mitt Romney's diatribe against the 47%. Now, more than a decade later, as states try and amend the bill, it's Romney who is it's strongest defender.

In his book, So Rich, So Poor, Edelman writes that the president's "emphasis on the middle class with infrequent references to those at the bottom dismayed me."

It continues to dismay a lot of us.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rahm's ad campaign fizzles

There's two good letters about Rahm's million-dollar ad campaign in this morning's Sun-Times. The first is from Chicago long-time political analyst Don Rose:

Expect more union-busting tactics from Emanuel
It’s obvious why Mayor Rahm Emanuel is airing boastful commercials that you correctly term “a poke in the eye” of the Chicago Teachers Union. He is trying to rehabilitate himself with the public that overwhelmingly supported the striking union — while a mere 19 percent thought he was handling the situation properly. This is the first time the mayor has been upside-down in any polling, and he believes he needs damage control and a way of claiming victory.
What is most distressing is not simply that he continues to generate bad will with teachers through this expensive ad campaign, but that he accepts its financing from anti-union advocacy groups whose acknowledged goal is the destruction of teachers unions and, by extension, the eventual breakup of public education itself.
Don Rose, Old Town
Give it a rest, Rahm 
Dear Mr. Mayor: It is far too early to be campaigning for re-election. Stop the commercials and radio ads already. Tell your rich hedge-fund friends to use the money spent on these misleading commercials to help the children of Chicago. You know, those kids whose parents can’t afford the Lab School. Show the children of Chicago you truly have their best interest at heart by forging a relationship with the CTU and draw a line in the sand and play fair.
Linda Hudson, Avalon Park

Monday, September 24, 2012

Matt Farmer still on Rahm's trail at Clemente

Matt Farmer
No topic has generated more heat and less light in the comments section of SmallTalk, than the Rahm/Brizard move to turn Clemente Community Academy High School into a "wall-to-wall" International Baccalaureate (IB) school. It was a move that led to the firing by new turn-around principal Marcey Sorensen, of some 24 Clemente teachers.

It also led public school parent, lawyer, and community activist Matt Farmer to pursue the paper trail leading to the IB conversion. Sensing something fishy here, he filed  an FOIA request on June 27 which of course was stonewalled by CPS. But that just brought out the bulldog in Matt, who won't take "no" for an answer when it comes to transparency in our public schools. After being dicked around for more than a month, it seems like our intrepid attorney has put the fear of a court battle into the bureaucracy.

Rahm's now trying to make the whole thing go away by claiming that the decision "is not final."

Matt tells the whole story of CPS intrigue today over at the Beachwood Reporter. 


Rauner's revolution
In any case, Rauner sees the strike as the start of "a multi-year revolution." His reactionary "revolution" imposed from above, however, now faces a revolution from below. -- David Moberg, In These Times
Poverty's death sentence
“We’re used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven’t improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling,” said John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the National Institute on Aging. -- N.Y. Times
Apartheid schooling in U.S.
 "Simply sitting next to a white student does not guarantee better educational outcomes for students of color," the report reads. "Instead, the resources that are consistently linked to predominantly white and/or wealthy schools help foster real and serious educational advantages over minority segregated settings." -- Study's author, The Root
Maureen Dowd
As a candidate, Mitt Romney is awkward, off-putting and hollow, so bad that if he were a Bain company, he would shut himself down. -- N.Y. Times
Jay Mathews
The team that former chancellor Michelle Rhee brought in five years ago, including current chancellor Kaya Henderson, can’t explain what it will do differently in the next five years. Even worse, the new goals might inspire more of the corner-cutting and dishonesty that have tainted the effort to help kids. -- Washington Post.

Saturday, September 22, 2012



You may be hearing the same things we are. But if not, I thought I would share. The CPS Board of Ed monthly meeting has been moved at the last minute from next Wednesday to Tuesday.  George Schmidt of Substance News has said that the BOE will be approving many no-bid contracts on Tuesday in an attempt to bankrupt the budget.

One of the first pieces to go private will be early childhood ed. I feel that connected to this is the latest requirement that 3 year-old children will be given standardized tests 3 times a year, and 4 year-old children will be given standardized tests 4 times a year. Wireless Generation has recently received a $4.7 million contract, something that Joel Klein and the WSJ didn't feel didn't needed to be disclosed when he wrote an op-ed attacking the CTU.

The sale and lease-back of Chicago public schools + New Market Tax Credit + the non-profit status of both the Chicago Infrastructure Fund and the charter schools, to me at least, equal a huge, invisible drain on the CPS budget. It hope that you can can come out on Tuesday to the Board Meeting. We need witnesses to this execution. And so few reporters can see the picture regarding privatization.

Maureen Cullnan

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rahm and Mitt try damage control

I turned on the TV this morning to see the new ad with Rahm doing damage control. He's claiming he won the contract battle that led to the 7-day teachers strike by getting his longer school day in place along with evaluating teachers based on student standardized test scores. The ads are being paid for by DFER hedge-funders and school voucher advocates, Whitney Tilson and Ravenel Boykin Curry IV.

Rahm's attempt to clean up his mess parallels and sounds remarkably similar to Mitt Romney's pathetic attempt at damage control over his "off the cuff" remarks to funders claiming that half of us are parasites who pay no taxes. The problem for both Rahm and Mitt is that the more they talk the worse it gets.

Newstips Curtis Black has a great column, "Strike Notes", in which he quotes veteran Chicago political analyst Don Rose:
“The bottom line,” he argues at the Chicago Daily Observer, “is that Emanuel is out of the running as a presidential or vice-presidential candidate in 2016.” Maybe you can run without labor support, but running against active labor opposition is something else.
Black writes:
Mayor Emanuel has his own public relations conundrum at this point, and it’s not just a matter of rhetoric: he (and the business leaders and newspapers) are claiming that in order to pay for the new contract, they’re going to have to close down schools. In the meantime they’re planning to open up 60 new charter schools. In fact, this year’s budget has an additional $76 million for charters, which cost the district well over $500 million a year.

“We’re kind of confused about that,” said Wendy Katten of the Raise Your Hand Coalition. “If they’re claiming they have 130,000 unfilled seats in the district, why are they opening 60 new schools? That’s crazy. That’s just absurd.”

How to make the case? Always ready to help, the Tribune offers this line of argument:: charter schools are the best tool for busting the teachers union. Bruce Rauner, private equity mogul and major charter sponsor, chimes in that the goal is “separating teachers from the union.”
Black nails it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Back in school with heads held high

Chicago Teachers Union delegates embrace after voting to end their strike. (Scott Olson, Getty Images / 
Who won?
They put on their red T-shirts and commanded the attention of the nation and the admiration of millions of teachers. Powerless no more, they showed that unity made them strong. Ninety-eight percent voted to authorize the strike, and 98% voted to end it... Regardless of the terms of the contract, the teachers won. -- Diane Ravitch, Washington Post
We won so much more than a contract says TSJ
In this strike, so much more was won than a contract. After 17 punishing years of corporate, neoliberal policies, Chicago teachers stood up, and they stood up for the whole country. This courageous strike was born of a new kind of teacher unionism - democratic, activist, allied with parents, and fighting not only for fair compensation but for a richer, more humane and just education. -- Teachers for Social Justice
The Monitor
The strike focused attention on a national debate over how to improve failing schools. Emanuel, backed by a powerful reform movement, believes poorly performing schools should be closed and reopened with new staff or converted to "charter" schools that often are non-union and run by private groups. -- CSM
Delegate Haley Underwood, a physical education teacher. 
"I am jumping up and down," she said. "I'm so excited, excited to see my kids. I feel we won. ... We'll continue to fight for the soul of public education." -- L.A. Times
Rahm's billionaire Republican pal Bruce Rauner
Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist who is helping lead a drive for more charter schools in the city, predicted the final details of a new contract would not "end well" for critics of the teachers union because "I think we've given in on a fair number of critical issues." But he called the intense contract negotiations "one battle in a very long-term fight." -- Tribune
At least he got that last point right.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Day 7 Strike suspended. Big victory for teachers

CTU's House of Delegates voted to end the strike and ask teachers to return to class tomorrow.

“Everybody is going back to school,” said Jay Rehak, a delegate from Whitney Young High School. Delegate Mike Bochner said “an overwhelming majority” of delegates voted to suspend the strike. “I’m really excited, I’m really relieved,” said Bochner, a teacher at Cesar Chavez elementary.
Hoots, hollers, applause and what sounded like a cowbell erupted multiple times from inside the closed-door meeting. At the meeting, delegates were given a summary of the contract’s key issues. An introduction to that summary declared victory on several issues. 
“Our brothers and sisters throughout the country have been told that corporate ‘school reform’ was unstoppable, that merit pay had to be accepted and that the public would never support us if we decided to fight. Cities everywhere have been forced to accept performance pay,” the statement said. 
“Not here in Chicago. Months ago, CTU members won a strike authorization, one that our enemies thought would be impossible. Now we have stopped the board are imposing merit pay! We preserved our lanes and steps when the politicians and press predicted they were history. We held the line on healthcare costs. We have tremendous victories in this contract; however, it is by no means perfect. While we did not win on every front and will need to continue our struggle into the future, we soundly defended our profession from an aggressive and dishonest attack. We owe our victories to each and every member of  this rank and rile union. Our power comes from the bottom up.” -- Sun-Times

Taking a break from picket duty to read the contract

Chicago teachers take break from the picket line to study the contract.
America's Radio News has been providing good coverage of the strike by calling on sources other than Rahm's overworked and under-truthed PR squad. Yesterday they interviewed Katie Osgood who gave them an accurate assessment of Day 6. Today, I will be on at 2:15 p.m. CDT. You can listen live here.

With an eye on the Chicago teachers strike, D.C. council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) is pushing a plan that would require every D.C. Public School to hire a full-time librarian, art teacher and music teacher.

Don't miss Joanne Barkan's excellent piece in Dissent Magazine, "Who Is Victimizing Chicago’s Kids?", which lays shines a light on the conditions leading up to the teachers strike and puts responsibility for the strike right where it belongs.
Yes, schoolchildren in Chicago are victims, but not of their teachers. They are victims of a nationwide education “reform” movement geared to undermine teachers’ unions and shift public resources into private hands; they are victims of wave after wave of ill-conceived and failing policy “innovations”; they are victims of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which turned inner-city public schools into boot camps for standardized test prep; they are victims of Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program, which paid states to use student test scores—a highly unreliable tool—for teacher evaluations and to lift caps on the number of privately managed charter schools, thus draining resources from public schools. Chicago’s children are victims of “mayoral control,” which allows Rahm Emanuel to run the school system, bully parents and teachers, and appoint a Board of Education dominated by corporate executives and political donors. 
According to CSM, by turning to the courts to try to end the Chicago teachers strike, the mayor is taking a calculated risk that the public will be on his side and that the move won't actually slow the resolution of the city's battle with the union.
Emanuel has long had the option to ask the the court to intervene and end the strike, but he paused in the hope of settling the contract dispute at the negotiating table, say labor analysts. One likely reason for the pause was political: Media coverage of teachers being forced back to the classroom, or facing fines or jail time, would not help President Obama, Emanuel's former boss, for the November election.
Good point.
Thanks to Sr. NEA Press Officer Sara Robertson for following up with me. I had asked her for a copy of  the NEA's Statement on Chicago Strike. For some reason, I was having a difficult time finding it. Here it is online. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Day 6

Out on the picket lines I saw teachers in small groups, reading the tentative contract, line-by-line and discussing it. Talk about your participatory democracy. Here it is, right on the mean streets of Chicago. No wonder Rahm and his corporate pals are horrified. No wonder he's asking for an injunction. Reading a contract before you sign it is a concept so beyond anything that ever takes place in Rahm's City Council or in his hand-picked Board of Education, it seems downright revolutionary. Or to quote Rahm, "a threat to public health and safety."

Best headline in the S-T today: Judge punts on forcing teachers back; no school likely Tuesday. 

Makes you wonder what's happened to the city's once-powerful political machine when the mayor can't even find a judge willing to do him a favor -- NOW! Old man Daley must be turning in his grave. 

Best column comes from Laura Washington,‘Shadow strikers’ marched with CTU , who spotlights the CTU's deep base of support in the communities, in large part a result of the city's many community-based organizations.
Community organizing is embedded in Chicago’s DNA. Jane Addams, Saul Alinsky, Harold Washington and Barack Obama all tapped the strategy to force social change at crucial moments in the city’s history. This is one of those moments. Organizing took a big hit when Mayor Rahm Emanuel took City Hall. During the 2011 mayoral campaign, Emanuel ignored “countless” invitations to community forums and requests for meetings to hear their concerns.
Once again I'm thinking back a few years ago when Arne Duncan made mayoral control of the schools his own personal hill to die on. "At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed," Duncan told a forum back in 2009.

Chicago is now into its third decade of mayoral control. CPS is now a wing of probably the most corrupt City Hall in the country, and Rahm has become the poster child for the toxicity of autocratic control by the mayor. This can also be said of  Bloomberg in New York and half a dozen others. I don't hear Duncan giving such speeches today and I sure didn't see him rushing into town to support his mayor pal in his moment of distress.

As soon as this strike ends, community activists can get back to their so-far successful petition drive to have an elected school board in Chicago and finally put an end to one-man rule over the schools.

Our hipster alderman

"All labor has dignity"

Just got this missive from a CTUer:

Good morning,

Chicago Teachers Union Delegates voted to extend the strike until Tuesday, giving members time to review the tentative agreement before voting on it.

Chicago is the city of the parking meter deal where aldermen voted to privatize parking meters before reading the deal, leading to everyday Chicagoans paying millions to park over the course of a 75-year deal. Teachers knew to read their deal before signing.

And now, one Alderman in particular, Joe Moreno of the first ward, sent out this email lambasting CTU leadership for continuing the strike.

He blames CTU President Karen Lewis for the delay, but it was the democratically -elected delegates who made the decisions to take the TA back to their members to consult before making a decision.

This is the same alderman who is attempting Chicago machine style zoning maneuvers to block a Chick-Fil-A in his ward.

To this date, he has yet to survey the ward over their feelings in this matter.

Just last week, Joe was on Fox Business News blaming union leadership for the strike and agreeing with the Fox News host when she suggested "blowing up" public schools.

It appears that he governs through search engine optimization. When Chick-Fil-A was trending, he was passionate about it. When Chicago Teachers Union Strike was trending, he found passionate in it.

He was not so passionate when 20 teachers were fired at one school in his ward. They were fired by no fault of their own.

However, he did brag about the change in program at the school on the Huffington Post that arguably led to these firings.

Joe is known as the hipster alderman.

He is @alderman_moreno on Twitter.

I'm just saying, but you didn't hear it from me.


If that wasn't enough for the hipster alderman, Brother Fred toons him over at the Red Line Tap.


Matt Farmer on Up with Chris Hayes, MSNBC Sunday

Karen Lewis
"Delegates just didn’t trust Chicago Public Schools not to try to slip one over on them if they called off the first CTU strike in 25 years without more study and discussion of the offer. Please write ‘trust’ in big giant letters because that’s what the problem is.’
 -- Sun-Times
Alex Kotlowitz
It’s been too easy to see this dispute as one between two hotheaded personalities — Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Lewis, or as a play for respect. Rather, as I spoke with teachers on the picket lines last week, it became clear that it was about something much more fundamental, and something worth our attention: top-notch teaching can’t by itself become our nation’s answer to a poverty rate that, as we learned the other day, remains stubbornly high: one of every five children in America live below the poverty level. -- N.Y. Times
Delegate Kevin Hough
“I think everybody wants to be back in the classroom, but I think everyone is nervous about a bad contract. In the end I think it’s wise for members to have a day to review the contract." -- N.Y. Times
St. Paul union prez
"We had just been working toward these things in St. Paul and here they were erupting in Chicago," said Mary Cathryn Ricker, the president of a teachers union in Minnesota who attended the Chicago rally, adding that workers across the country are watching this city's negotiations closely. -- TruthOut
Best blog headline
Democracy breaks out in Chicago. Many surprised, not having seen it before. -- Fred Klonsky

Friday, September 14, 2012

Education Apartheid

Occupied Chicago Tribune
Dyett High School students are not allowed to enter the front door of their school. Instead, the more than 170 students at the Southside high school enter through the back. From there, they must spend their day pushing through other students in the one open hallway, after half of the building was placed off limits. -- Education Apartheid: The Racism Behind Chicago’s School “Reform”

A Wisconsin judge struck down on Friday the state's controversial collective bargaining law pressed by Republican Governor Scott Walker, ruling that it unconstitutionally limits the rights of many public sector union workers. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas ruled that the law passed by Wisconsin lawmakers in a contentious session in 2011 violated the union members' free speech, association and equal protection rights in the state and U.S. constitutions. -- "Wisconsin state judge strikes down collective bargaining law"
Alan Singer
The strike, if successful, will benefit teachers, students and parents, not only in Chicago but across the entire country, as well as both unionized workers and non-unionized workers. This strike has the potential to go down in history along with other labor actions, such as those in Homestead, Lawrence, Paterson, Ludlow and Flint that ultimately built the union movement in the United States and transformed life for what used to be known as the working-class but what politicians today euphemistically refer to as the middle class. -- "Chicago Teachers Strike for Us All"
Those realities in Chicago include children walking to school through neighborhoods full of gang violence, poverty and parents just trying to survive day-to-day. Lewis champions giving more resources to such schools to lift them up rather than closing them and opening new non-union charter schools. -- "The Firebrand Leading Chicago's Striking Teachers

Day 5

"Stand up, sit down. Chicago is a union town!"
Chicago teachers continue to hang tough despite a negative media barrage orchestrated by the mayor and his big-money outside supporters. Hopefully, an agreement will be announced today with the union's House of Delegates scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Minus some last-minute shenanigans by Vitale, Byrd-Bennett and the rest of Rahm's crew, students could be back in class on Monday.

Yesterday's rally by thousands of strikers at the Hyatt made all the necessary connections between Rahm's hand-picked board, which includes Hyatt billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker, and his union busting policies. A strong case is being made for an end to mayoral control of the schools and for an elected school board.

All this wasn't lost on political analyst Don Rose who called the mayor out for "posing himself as a democratic version of Scott Walker." It wasn't lost nationally on Republican politicians either who also see Rahm as their guy in the war against public employee unions. Joining Romney and Ryan on the pro-Rahm bandwagon yesterday was William Bennett, who was Reagan's Ed Secretary and founder of K12Inc, a virtual learning company with million of dollars in contracts with CPS at stake. Here what Bennet posted at CNN yesterday:
For decades, conservative education reformers like myself have been pushing for performance pay, strict accountability, flexible rehiring practices for school principals and longer school days to improve our public schools. Now, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, through the Race to the Top grant requirements, are trying to implement similar measures in Chicago's public schools. Duncan, whom I sometimes agree with, and Emanuel, whom I almost never agree with, both seem to be taking the traditionally conservative side of this issue.
Insiders told me yesterday, what I already knew -- that Rahm has become toxic to the Obama campaign and  that there's pressure coming from inside the White House for Rahm to make this go away.

Latest polls posted at Capitol Fax showed that parents and community members aren't buying the mayor's anti-union propaganda.
(CTU) support jumped to 66 percent among parents of public school children. Less than a third of those parents, 31 percent, disapproved of the strike, according to the poll. Among people with no school-age children, 51 percent approved of the job action, while 44 percent disapproved.
A very strong 63 percent of African-Americans polled approved of the strike, while 65 percent of Latinos expressed approval. Women and men almost equally approved of the strike - 55 percent of women and 56 percent of men.
Asked who they thought was “most to blame” for the strike, just over 34 percent pointed their finger at Mayor Rahm Emanuel, while 29 percent blamed the Chicago Teachers Union and 19 percent blamed the school board. In other words, a solid majority blames management, one way or the other.
But almost a majority, 48 percent, of Latinos blamed Mayor Emanuel, as did 33 percent of African-Americans, 42 percent of parents of public school children and 40 percent of parents of school-age children. All age brackets except those aged 55-64 blamed Emanuel the most, with 50 percent of 18-24 year olds pointing their finger at hizzoner, as well as 41 percent of 35-44 year olds.
More picketing and neighborhood rallies are scheduled for today and a massive noon rally tomorrow at Union Park, which I hope will turn into a victory rally.

I'm headed this morning to a support rally in Logan Squarer where striking teachers from 3 schools will converge on the Logan Square monument for a rally/press event with students and parents. The event is being organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Kozol's letter of support

Kozol will sign copies of "Fire in the Ashes"
Author Jonathan Kozol has sent a message of support to Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union.
In the current climate, where teachers are being blamed for the dire state of our inner-city schools, and where large chunks of our school system are being privatized, it is refreshing to see teachers find their voices. I support the Chicago teachers because they are standing up for quality public education, with more art, music, critical thinking, and with the dignity of educators properly respected. American kids don't need more rhetoric about social justice; they need smaller class sizes, and they need to see adults doing something to solve the problem of priorities in this country. I wish the Chicago teachers all the best. --Jonathan Kozol
Jonathan is speaking in Chicago on September 27th at 6 p.m. at Northwestern University Law School's Thorne Auditorium, 375 East Chicago Ave . Admission is free but seating is limited. Tickets are still available at the CTU website.

"The worst way to evaluate teachers..."

Isabel Nunez is an associate professor at the Center for Policy Studies and Social Justice at Concordia University and my colleague at CReATE. She has written a great commentary in the Sun-Times, "Standardized test scores are worst way to evaluate teachers."
 I am part of a group called CReATE, or Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education, which is trying to unite the voices of academics in opposition to these changes and to the corporate takeover of public education. We are trying to spread the message that what is happening in our schools today is not supported by the research.
Standardized testing has become monstrous, which brings us to the proposed changes to teacher evaluation: the latest and worst use of testing so far. The Chicago Public Schools are planning to implement evaluations based in part on student test scores this school year. Terror at this prospect prompted CReATE to gather 88 signers on an open letter criticizing the plan, which we hand-delivered to the mayor, schools CEO and the Board of Education... READ THE REST HERE.

Day 4

so join the picket line like mr pickett in his prime,
put on ya red shirt like the bulls in 95.
hit the streets with a sign that says im fightin for mine

-- Rebel Diaz
The Tribune reports that an agreement is near and that Vitale has moved some on the teacher evaluation issue.
“We feel like we’re in a pretty good place, we’ve made a lot of progress today,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “We spent a lot of time on evaluation. We still have a lot of work to do but it seems like we’re definitely coming much closer together than we were certainly this morning.” Lewis said CPS parents should plan for no school Thursday but said, “Let’s hope for Friday.”
Public opinion is still running strongly on the side of the teachers and there's mounting pressure on Rahm from within the Obama campaign to end it in order to avoid the brewing "civil war" within the Democratic Party. But the key to victory isn't about public opinion surveys or Democratic Party scuffles. It remains the ability of the union to hang tough, stay unified and keep that sea of red shirted-teachers out on the streets. So far that's exactly what they've done and victory could be near.

Another massive rally is planned for Saturday at noon in Union Park at Lake & Ashland. Hopefully, this will turn into a victory rally.

Rahm's disgusting ad campaign

A desperate Rahm was running disgusting anti-union ads last night on T.V. paid for with DFER money. DFER, a pro-voucher, pro-charter group, bankrolled by New York hedge-funder Whitney Tilson, was also the group that ran those racist "hey girl" ads on black radio station a few weeks ago. The ads claimed to show two African-American moms talking about how bad the union was not caving in to Rahm's demands.

On Monday night in the Chicago Tonight green room, Jay Rehak from the union, asked DFER spokeswomen Angela Randolph about the ads. She admitted that DFER was behind them and that even she didn't like them. Rudolf, a former program officer at the Joyce Foundation, now on the DFER payroll, was sent in to debate me about SB7. Once on the show with me and host Phil Ponce, she immediately tried to distance herself and DFER from the anti-union legislation, claiming that DFER wasn't yet officially on the scene in Illinois when the bill was passed. But she then went on to offer her scripted defense of SB7.

I told her she was being much too modest. DFER, which tosses lots of money around to influence local political campaigns and has Arne Duncan's ear, has been leading the fight for corporate "reform", school vouchers and privatization within the Democratic Party. Along with Stand For Children and Michelle Rhee's group Children First (DFER should change it's name to We Love Kids) they are among the most aggressive union busters this side of Gov. Walker.

At Wells High School on Wednesday morning, about 50 students and parents rallying in support of teachers complained about the standardized tests and their role in rating teachers. Protesters carried signs reading “Don’t test me Bro!” and “Testing does not equal learning,” and chanted “1,2,3,4, more than just a test score.” They argued that their teachers should not be evaluated by student test scores. 
From CNN:

Gage Park High School teacher and union activist Xian Barrett gives CNN this report from the picket lines.
I spent the day with my Gage Park High School community. Our entire CTU staff came out to the picket line, wearing red. At 7:45 a.m., when students were supposed to report to school and be assigned to one of the Chicago Board of Education’s student strike holding sites, they began to join the picket line instead. Dozens of students marched and reached out to the community. I didn’t see any students enter the building or leave for the holding sites. Other students messaged or texted from home, saying that they were following the news. Some wrote their own pieces reflecting on the strike in their own voice that I’ll post on my blog as the week progresses.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Latest I'm hearing...

At Clemente High School this morning, teachers manned all 4 corners at Division and Western . I seemed like every car , truck, bus and taxi that went by was honking its horn in support of the strikers. (M. Klonsky pic)
Fire Alarm

Insiders tell me that Fire Dept. inspectors went to Children First holding centers to do safety checks yesterday. Many of the buildings aren't schools and may not have proper safety requirements for little kids. I'm told that calls were made from Rahm's people to the department brass. The brass then told the dept. inspectors people to stand down.

Where's Brizard?

CPS liar-in-chief Becky Carrol is denying that J.C. Brizard has resigned. I think he's just hiding under his desk.

Super PAC Man

Rahm is really pissed. He had to cancel his appearance at a Super PAC dinner to go back to playing mayor. POLITICO reports that he cancelled a planned appearance at a Chicago fundraiser Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. Rahm was bounced from his position as Obama Campaign Chairman last week and sent out to run the Super PAC, now legal after the Citizens United decision. Republicans are jumping all over this one. Toxic Rahm has become Obama's Achilles heel.

Best columns today:

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to have returned with an infestation of hitch-hiking critters in his suitcase as well. How else can one explain the strange assortment of conservative bedfellows crawling all over themselves this week to side with Emanuel in his fight with the Chicago Teachers Union? On Tuesday, it was none other than media titan Rupert Murdoch, once known for union-busting tactics in his early days as a mere newspaper publisher, offering his attaboy to Chicago’s mayor.
Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin:
Rahm Emanuel started a fight with teachers that only he can finish. In his 2011 campaign for mayor, he took the Chicago Teachers Union on as an adversary rather than attempt to make them a partner. He opted for a blunt instrument rather than a finessed approach. In hammering home how he was “for the children,” he left the implication that teachers were not.
And then, shortly after his election, Emanuel went to Springfield to get Senate Bill 7 passed. Touted as education reform, it was really an anti-collective bargaining measure, setting up a 75 percent vote threshold for union members to authorize a strike.

Autocrat Rahm draws a line in the sand on test-based evaluation

Striking. teachers are hanging tough. So far, they've won overwhelming community support.. Latest polls show 47% support CTU and only 39% for the mayor.     (CTU pic)
It appears this morning that our autocrat mayor has decided to stonewall the negotiations. While he's moved on compensation issues, he's refusing to even discuss teacher evaluation and the power of principals to hire and fire teachers at will.

Rahm is operating here without the benefit of knowing much about education. He's that just-right combination of street-thug ward politician and Wall St. hustler who thinks that because he believes something to be true, he has the right (power) to force it on the public. First case in point was his notion that more seat time in school necessarily produces better results. It doesn't. Now he's convinced that you can evaluate a teacher based wholly or largely on their student's score on a standardized test. You can't.

Yesterday Rahm hauled a few of his pet principals, (including Ethan Netterstrom, principal at Skinner North) in front of the TV cameras, to claim that in order to be "successful" they need the unchecked power to hire and fire whoever they choose, regardless of qualifications and experience and without any due process. This is a recipe for City Hall-style patronage and going back to the days when teachers (and principals) worked at the pleasure of ward politicians. It is also a recipe for principals getting rid of teachers who may be the wrong color or political persuasion. It's interesting to note here that principals already have lots of authority over faculty hiring and that black and Latino teachers have been the victims of these kinds of hiring practices. Today, just 19 % of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, down from 45 % in 1995.

This is what happens when you make the school system a wing of City Hall, weaken collective bargaining, take power away from popularly-elected school boards and Local School Councils, and dismantle public space and public decision making.

This strike really represents a last stand for teachers and all public employees against moves by Tea Party governors and their Democratic Party counterparts in urban districts like Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, to eliminate teachers collective bargaining rights altogether. This was the original idea behind SB7 which made it illegal for teachers in Chicago (nowhere else in the state) to bargain over anything except salary and benefits -- two issues that could easily be reneged on after the contract was signed for budgetary reasons. Remember, the board agreed to a 4% raise in the last contract only to take it back once the contract was signed.

All this leaves Chicago's teachers with only one option. Dig in and fight back with the only tactic left to them under SB7 -- the power to withhold their labor and put their bodies on the line in defense of their profession and of democracy. What happens here in Chicago will ultimately determine the fate of teachers and public worker unions everywhere.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Spirits high at Telpochcalli

This morning we brought coffee and donuts to Telpochcalli Elementary, a small school in Little Village.  Spirits were high. Picketing teachers singing Solidarity Forever (Solidaridad Por Siempre) in Spanish. 

They set up a silk screen printing table and made beautiful signs saying SCHOOLS ARE FOR PEOPLE, NOT PROFITS.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Romney, Ryan Support Rahm

This from ABC10 in Philadelphia:
"Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet." -- Mitt Romney
And this:
"I've known Rahm Emanuel for years. He's a former colleague of mine. Rahm and I have not agreed on every issue or on a lot of issues, but Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teacher's union strike is unnecessary and wrong. We know that Rahm is not going to support our campaign, but on this issue and this day we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel." -- Paul Ryan
More from Ryan:
And so, we were going to ask, where does President Obama stand? Does he stand with his former Chief of Staff Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with the children and the parents, or does he stand with the union? On issues like this, we need to speak out and be really clear. In a Romney-Ryan administration we will not be ambiguous, we will stand with education reform, we will champion bipartisan education reforms.
Actually a damn good question. Where does Obama stand? Answer:
Obama "has not expressed any opinion or made any assessment," White House spokesman, Jay Carney said.


Karen Lewis
“Real school will not be open [Monday]. ... No CTU member will be inside our schools." -- Sun-Times
Bad timing for Rahm?
The timing also may be inopportune for Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff whose city administration is wrestling with a spike in murders and shootings in some city neighborhoods and who just agreed to take a larger role in fundraising for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. -- Time 
More Lewis
“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the state and country who are currently bargaining for their own fair contracts. We stand with those who have already declared they too are prepared to strike, in the best interests of their students.” --- CTU Statement
Xian Barrett
When you, rather than bargain on any of this stuff set up fake school centers staffed by positively motived Central Office staff, many of whom are terribly pissed to be pressed into veritable scabitude when they know you are wrong, and you equip them with a manual that tells them things like, “communicate with words”, that not only hurts our kids, but it suggests you have no idea how to run a system with their welfare in mind. -- Teacher X: Why I'm striking
"The issues that remain [ie. teacher evaluation based on test scores] are minor." --NBC


Press Release: CPS Fails To Negotiate Fair Contract To Prevent First Strike In 25 Years

More than 29,000 teachers and education professionals will not report to work today 9/10

CHICAGO— After hours of intense negotiations, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent the first teachers strike in 25 years. Pickets are expected to begin Monday at 675 schools and the Board of Education as early as 6:30 a.m. Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians have been without a labor agreement since June of this year.

Union leaders expressed disappointment in the District’s refusal to concede on issues involving compensation, job security and resources for their students. CTU President Karen Lewis said, “Negotiations have been intense but productive, however we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike. This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid. Throughout these negotiations have I remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.

“Talks have been productive in many areas. We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and have put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The Board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school rather than have our students and teachers wait up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.

“Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.

“Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.

“We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois. We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators.

“We are demanding a reasonable timetable for the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms--a sweltering, 98-degree classroom is not a productive learning environment for children. This type of environment is unacceptable for our members and all school personnel. A lack of climate control is unacceptable to our parents.

“As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day and an elected school board. Class size matters. It matters to parents. In the third largest school district in Illinois there are only 350 social workers—putting their caseloads at nearly 1,000 students each. We join them in their call for more social workers, counselors, audio/visual and hearing technicians and school nurses. Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence and other social issues, so the fight for wraparound services is critically important to all of us. Our members will continue to support this ground swell of parent activism and grassroots engagement on these issues. And we hope the Board will not shut these voices out.

“While new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers and compensation for a longer school year, we do not intend to sign an agreement until these matters are addressed.

“Again, we are committed to staying at the table until a contract is place. However, in the morning no CTU member will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines. We will talk to parents. We will talk to clergy. We will talk to the community. We will talk to anyone who will listen—we demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now. And, until there is one in place that our members accept, we will on the line.

“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the state and country who are currently bargaining for their own fair contracts. We stand with those who have already declared they too are prepared to strike, in the best interests of their students.”

“This announcement is made now so our parents and community are empowered with this knowledge and will know that schools will not open on tomorrow. Please seek alternative care for your children. And, we ask all of you to join us in our education justice fight—for a fair contract—and call on the mayor and CEO Brizard to settle this matter now. Thank you.”


The union is not on strike over matters governed exclusively by IELRA Section 4.5 and 12(b).

The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the more than 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third largest teachers local in the United States and the largest local union in Illinois. For more information please visit CTU’s website at .