Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disaster politics

The most compelling Tweet this morning comes from Chris Policano ‏@cdpolicano:
The government. Hated by conservatives. Until suddenly it isn't. #FEMA”
No one knows for sure how Sandy will affect polling says pollster supremo Nate Silver. How any of those 50 million people (voters?) whacked by Sandy could support the candidate who calls for the liquidation and privatization of FEMA and who mocks the idea of climate change, boggles the mind. Conciliating Dems are also proposing big cuts in FEMA funding, 3% as compared with 40% by proposed by the Republicans --this as a first step towards liquidation.

Aside from the closing of thousands of storm-threatened schools, I haven't heard much yet about the damage to schools in N.Y. and New Jersey and what impact the storm will have on public education. But I can't help thinking about what happened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when Arne Duncan called the storm, "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans."  Katrina opened the door for the privatization/charterization of New Orleans school public school system and with it, the firing of every public school teacher and the destruction of the teachers union.

Duncan was only echoing pal Rahm Emanuel's charge to never let "a crisis to go to waste" and that of their mentor Milton Friedman who described Katrina as "an opportunity" rather than a disaster.

I'm sure Mayor Bloomberg in N.Y. and Gov. Christie in N.J. would both relish such an "opportunity."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rahm tries turning principals into test whores

He gives 82 principals bonuses for raising test scores, closing the achievement gap -- as if. Some get as much as $20,000. Some in turn, pay tribute to Rahm's longer school day. A few admit the gains weren't theirs alone but belong to the teachers and the whole school community. But they keep the money for themselves anyway.
The announcement blindsided Chicago Principals Association president Clarice Berry, who was not given advance notice of the plan and won outright rejection from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. Both pointed to research and past Chicago experience indicating merit pay in education has not proven effective.

Masters of disaster

Oyster Creek

Such a pretty name. Wait, what?
MYFOXNY.COM - An alert was declared at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey because of water exceeding certain high water level criteria in the plant's water intake structure, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Oyster Creek plant is in Lacey Township, N.J. It gets its cooling water from the Barnegat Bay.  It is the nation's oldest nuclear power plant.
Republicans are begging that Sandy not be "politicized". Who can blame them? Remember, right after Eastwood's empty-chair speech at the RepubliConvention, Romney mocked Obama:.
President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans — [pauses for audience laughter(!)] — and to heal the planet. MY promise is to help you and your family.
TruthOut reports that yesterday, the Romney campaign said that the candidate still stands behind a statement he made during a 2011 Republican debate, in which he called for liquidating FEMA, saying the agency should be  privatized or have its powers given over to the states. He don't want no big gummit.

And then there's Bloomberg
SALON.COM - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tellingly misinterpreted a reporter’s question during a pre-Sandy press conference Sunday. When asked about what would happen on Rikers Island — New York’s main prison complex –  during the storm, Bloomberg responded, “Jails are secure … Don’t worry about anyone getting out.”
Turns out, there was no evacuation plan for the prison's 12,000 inmates (93% black and Latino) in the path of the hurricane.

Monday, October 29, 2012


"Throw out the [public school] system."
Ann Romney
I've been a First Lady of the State. I have seen what happens to people's lives if they don't get a proper education. And we know the answers to that. The charter schools have provided the answers. The teachers' unions are preventing those things from happening, from bringing real change to our educational system. We need to throw out the system. -- Good Housekeeping
Ben Joravsky
The board members are like the two characters in Waiting for Godot. Only the Godot they're waiting for is Mayor Emanuel to tell them what to do on school closings, high-stakes testing, diverting millions to the well-clouted charters, and so on. The idea is that with an elected school board we might have a few members who actually dare to defy our all-powerful mayor. You know, like in a real democracy. -- The Reader
Chris Hayes
The history of the American republic is black people having to vote for white people. No one votes for people of a different race more — more reliably and historically than African-Americans, who just have been voting for white people for years and years and years and years. And you know who votes for white people, also? White people vote for white people. -- Up w/Chris Hayes
Texas Tea Party Sen. Dan Patrick
“When people attack me on vouchers, I look at the word ‘voucher’ as some people see it like I look at a rotary telephone. It’s outdated. When we talk about choice today, it’s the choice to choose schools within a district, potentially across district lines. It’s charter schools. It’s virtual schools. It’s online learning. It’s the secular and religious schools in the private sector.” -- Texas Tribune

The disease of testing madness revealed in latest Calif. cheating scandal

The disease that is high-stakes, standardized testing is laid bare in Sunday's L.A. Times article by ed writer, Howard Blume, "State strips 23 schools of API rankings for cheating."

Blume reports that State officials have stripped the schools of a key state ranking for "cheating, other misconduct or mistakes" that in other times or in the eyes of artful, progressive educators might have been taken for -- well, just good teaching. For example, these misdemeanors included  failing to cover bulletin boards and "more overt improprieties" like "helping students correct mistakes." A fifth-grade teacher at Short Avenue Elementary in the Del Rey neighborhood, "told her students in advance to jot down such helpful clues as multiplication tables, fraction-to-decimal conversions and number lines on scratch paper prior to starting the tests.
On exam day, she allegedly walked around the classroom making encouraging remarks to make sure students followed through. That sort of test-day coaching is against the rules and cost Short Avenue its ranking. The teacher has since retired, according to the district.
What's really revealed in Blume's article is the now explicit purpose of education in California and a host of other states plagued by the cheating pandemic. It is certainly not to teach kids to think, reason and grow intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally. Rather it's to sort and track children and to reward and punish schools and teachers based on a score on a bubble test.

The API, Blume explains,
"is a scale by which schools are officially measured in California. Top rankings are celebrated and contribute to high property values. Low scores can label schools as failures and trigger penalties."
 It should be obvious by now that the real cheating taking place is the waste of days and months spent on this so-called, race-to-the-top, robbing students and teachers of valuable learning experiences and turning otherwise good teachers into proctors, delivery clerks, or even real-estate criminals.

Also see the accompanying Times piece, " Measuring the worth of a teacher?" by Teresa Watanabe which reveals how L.A.'s so-called Growth Over Time measurement system of teachers' worth is a farce in the eyes of many district teachers.
Lisa Alva, a Roosevelt High School English teacher, said her score for last school year was based on 12 students and wonders how that can be valid or fair. Philip Gerlach at Markham Middle School got sterling scores but said they were skewed downward by counting students he had for just two months and don't measure his strongest suit — teaching writing.
For those who missed it, here's so-called Value-Added formula which L.A.U.S.D. uses to evaluate its teachers:

y = Xβ + Zv + ε where β is a p-by-1 vector of fixed effects; X is an n-by-p matrix; v is a q-by-1 vector of random effects; Z is an n-by-q matrix; E(v) = 0, Var(v) = G; E(ε) = 0, Var(ε) = R; Cov(v,ε) = 0. V = Var(y) = Var(y - Xβ) = Var(Zv + ε) = ZGZT + R.
L.A. Times

Friday, October 26, 2012

The CREDO alternative?

Funny. I continually get mailings from a company called CREDO Mobile asking me to switch from AT&T over to their company, which claims to be politically progressive. CREDO (formerly known as Working Assets), claims to contribute heavily to groups like Planned Parenthood, United for a Fair Economy, Earthjustice and the ACLU. Credo Mobile is basically a re-seller, wholesaling bandwidth from Sprint and then repackage it as their own.

I have no love from AT&T and would gladly dump them for a viable alternative, and not just for political reasons. Their rates are outlandish and their coverage, even in certain Chicago neighborhoods is weak. So I was ready to make the move, especially after reading CREDOs latest mailer denouncing AT&T for contributing to the Romney campaign.

In fact, says the letter from CREDO President Michael Kieschnick,
AT&T "contributed to his [Romney's] campaign -- making this the fifth straight presidential election where they've supported only the Republican nominee."
But before switching, I decided to check. The only thing worse to me than AT&T would be some corporate hustler trying to pimp off the progressive movement through deceit. I'm not saying that about CREDO.

I know that AT&T has no love for the Obama administration. You see AT&T Inc. Chairman Randall Stephenson lost $2.08 million in bonus pay after Democrats killed his bid to build the biggest mobile provider. Six weeks after the deal for T-Mobile USA collapsed, he made his largest campaign donation in more than two decades of giving to Republicans. Stephenson’s personal $30,800 contribution to the Republican National Committee punctuated months of sniping between the biggest U.S. telephone company and the Democratic-controlled Federal Communications Commission.

Sixty-five percent of donations from AT&T employees and their families are going to Republicans for the 2012 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s up from 55 percent in 2010, when the Democrats were in charge of both houses of Congress and the presidency, and is the highest percentage since the center began keeping records in 1990. Republicans got 63 percent of the AT&T donations when they controlled the White House and Congress in 2006.

But OpenSecrets.Org  carries an organization profile of AT&T Inc. on their website showing a list of their corporate political contributions. Here it is.

 Top Candidate Recipients, 2011-2012 (Source: Center for Responsive Politics)
Barack Obama (D) $138,641
John Boehner (R-OH) $103,450
Mitt Romney (R) $47,269
Thomas C. Leppert (R-TX) $35,200
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) $29,250

As you can see, not only is Romney not the only beneficiary of AT&T corporate generosity, he ranks only third behind Obama and Boehner. Even with the bad blood from the FCC fallout, the company still hedges its election bets and contributes heavily to both campaigns. I put all this information in a missive to Mr. Kieschnick and asked for a reply. I will let you know what I come up with.

Open Secrets had lots of other good information about creepy AT&T. Here's an interesting tidbit:
57 out of 84 AT&T lobbyists in 2012 have previously held government jobs
There's also a list of the 49 members of Congress who own stock in the company.

And there's more from Fast Company including that AT&T has donated $377,500 to members of the House Tea Party Caucus.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yet another reason to support an elected school board...

Is this the reason Rahm brought in BBB to replace Brizard as CEO? Did he think that she would be slicker at carrying out the closing of another 100 or so neighborhood schools than J.C. was? Did she and Vitale really think no one would notice their "not open to the public" meetings on school closings, "to give community leaders a reality check, as well as ask their advice on the criteria."

I think it's the pair of them that needs a reality check. Not only are their meetings a violation of the Open Meeting Act, they are such a blatant scam as to rival Rahm's previous attempt to pack board meetings with paid protesters.

The meeting are also a slap in the face of the 32 Chicago aldermen who signed the resolution calling for transparency and an evidenced-based rationale around proposed school closings.

It's become obvious that Rahm, BBB, and Vitale take parents and community folks for fools.

Sarah Karp at Catalyst reports that while open hearing hearings are often contentious, these closed meetings are highly orchestrated, with participants asked to answer specific questions and take surveys.

She writes:
Next, the audience was given keypads and asked to vote on the following question: What is the most important thing that impacts students? The choices were: maintain the adults, maintain the building or provide an effective transition to a higher performing school nearby.
Immediately, Capers C. Funnye, rabbi at Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation on the Southwest Side, grumbled. “This is very skewed. I feel like I am being used, and I don’t like being used. The choices are out of focus. Seems like the decisions have already been made and we are just supposed to fall into place.”
The preface to the question—that the district is broke and has much excess capacity—seemed to steer the answer, he said.
The adults-vs.-kids survey question flashed me back to my early-voting experience Monday when I was asked to vote on Rahm's meaningless pension measure which read:
 “Shall the State of Illinois provide funding for the normal cost of pensions for Chicago teachers in the same manner as the State pays for the normal cost of  teacher pensions in every other school district in the state which will free up local funding that can be invested in the classroom?”
Questions like this are only there to confuse people and to take up ballot space that could be allotted to more community-driven initiatives.

And I was surprised to see former small-schools educator and Kenwood principal, Liz Kirby allowing herself to be used in this charade.  Does she really expect us to believe that this is all just about cost-cutting and "under-utilization" of school buildings when they are, at the same time,  opening dozens of new privately-run charter schools?

Yes, it may be necessary to close some under-utilized schools, but not before the needs of the community are carefully and thoughtfully considered. And not before real community voices have been heard. If that were to ever happen, it would be a first for the current school board.

As if we needed any more reasons to replace Rahm's hand-picked, rubber-stamp board with an elected one.

Today's Quotables

Diane Ravitch
 As usual, I did not pull punches. I don’t have time for that. The amazing thing is that even though everything I said contradicted the axioms of Chicago-style “reform,” I got a standing ovation from a warm and friendly crowd of civic leaders at the City Club. -- What happened when I spoke in Chicago
Letter to parents from Chicago principal asking for air-conditioning money 
“The weather is getting hotter and hotter every year and we need to make sure that our students have a classroom with a suitable temperature to learn,” the letter read in English and Spanish. “You can choose to pay in monthly installments for your convenience." -- Sun-Times
 Palin's racist "shuck and Jive" 
“I’ve been known to use the phrase most often when chastising my daughter Piper to stop procrastinating and do her homework." [Piper, stop shuckin' and jivin', STFU and do your gottdam homework--mk] ... “Just to be careful, from now on I’ll avoid using it with Piper, and I would appreciate it if the media refrained from using words and phrases like igloo, Eskimo Pie, and 'when hell freezes over,' as they might be considered offensive by my extended Alaska Native family.” -- Politico
McCarthy at budget hearings
Cops were "playing cowboy" 
 “ You’re talking about people who really liked being in those task forces who have no accountability, no connection with the community and could run around the city playing cowboy. That’s not good policing. That’s not what modern policing should look like.”  -- Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy 
Best Tweet
 Obama to Leno: 'Rape is rape' (by @JTSTheHill)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sending a strong message: This movement is for real

Last night's panelists
Packed house
Last night's Town Hall Meeting sent a strong message that the movement for an elected school board in Chicago is the real deal. We packed the Logan Square Auditorium to hear a panel of dynamic speakers that included CTU Pres. Karen Lewis, UIC Prof. Pauline Lipman, Ames Middle School parent, Dalia Bonilla, and Chicago Reader columnist, Ben Joravsky. Former state rep. candidate Will Guzzardi moderated.

Ames Middle School parent
An advisory referendum is already on the ballot in many of the city's precincts. But the struggle to get legislation passed to finally put an end to the mayor's hand-picked, rubber-stamp, board of billionaires and real estate brokers is just beginning. A movement is galvanizing in the wake of the victorious CTU strike and I left last night's meeting feeling good about our chances of ending a disastrous (for public education) couple of decades of mayor control of our schools.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Binders of horses and bayonets

"There were no binders full of women at the final presidential debate on Monday, but there were certainly horses and bayonets." -- Huffington Post
"I love teachers" -- Mitt Romney   "I think we all love teachers" -- Bob Schieffer 
Sharpton spun it best, comparing Romney to a boxer clinching and holding on to his opponent just to keep from getting knocked out. Romney handlers knew that few among his right-wing base gave a crap about his foreign policy positions, their main concern being making the White House white again.

So instead of a badly-needed debate on our  foreign policy, we were treated to an Obama beat-up on the weakest, least-prepared-to-be-president of any Republican candidate I can remember in my time. If the Dems can't defeat this guy, PAC money, voter suppression and all, they should break up their party and start anew.

The take-away for me was that both men (parties) still believe that this is still the American Century, that the world can still be dominated by a single U.S. superpower in political, economic and cultural terms. Romney, posing as a born-again peacenik last night, is really an old-line imperialist who sees every world hot spot or disaster as "an opportunity." Obama and the Dem globalists are more in tune with the new diplomatic and war-making realities (drones and mercs instead of boots on the ground). This was all brought out with Obama's horses and bayonets zinger planted squarely on Romney's slack jaw.

It was also a zinger on the Marines, who still use bayonets and who appear to be on the road to extinction under drones-and-mercs.

Poor ill-informed Romney is still fighting the Cold War while both aim to contain China, not as an ideological enemy, but as economic one, in a battle for markets. Good luck on that one.

Other take-aways:
  • Even though this was supposed to be a foreign policy debate, Romney couldn't resist bashing teacher unions  while claiming to "love teachers.”
  • Even though Romney's main point of attack on Obama re: the 10-year war in Afghanistan (remember Obama called this his "smart war") had to do with setting a date for withdrawal of forces, last night he said, "When I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014."
  • Both are also apparently willing to continue uncritically backing Israel (Netanyahu's regime) as the main U.S. client state in the Middle East, and making support for Israel the heart of U.S. foreign policy, even if it means billions more in military aid and risking war with Iran and a possible nuclear conflagration. 
And so it went. A tactical win for Obama. A strategic no-knockout event for Romney. A pathetically weak discussion of foreign policy. A likely meaningless debate in terms of influencing the outcome of the election. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012


North Shore Dist. 112 picketers
Wave of teacher strikes
"Obviously, CPS set a precedent," said Sandy Randles, a parent in Crystal Lake-based Prairie Grove Consolidated School District 46. -- Chicago Tribune, "Why sudden crop of teacher strikes?"
 Amy Wilkins, Gates-defunded group leader 
"Gates was such a big part of the funding. That made some of the partners and other funders nervous. How do you look like an independent actor? You have to show broad public support so you're not seen as a phony-baloney front for Gates. People criticized the organization for that and they didn't move closer to shaking that label." -- L.A. Times, "Gates Foundation-funded education-reform group to close"
Mark LaMont Hill
"Since 2001 2,000 troops have died in Afghanistan while 5,000 have died in Chicago." -- Huffpost Live
Rahm Emanuel
"Chicago's  crime strategy is working."  -- Huffington Post
Ben Joravsky
“I don’t like using standardized tests as a benchmark. But since the charter school advocates are using them as benchmarks and feel no compulsion to be accurate in the use of these scores, I had to weigh in. And the reality is that unionized schools in Chicago by and large are outperforming charter schools. You have to go through forty unionized schools before you reach a charter school in the ranking of these test scores. So I feel the public has been misled into believing that charter schools have a magical formula because they fire teachers.” -- Chicago Newsroom

Friday, October 19, 2012

View from right field: Smarick wants an end to urban school systems

I don't agree.
Is there any real difference between calling for an end to "urban school systems" and calling for an end to urban public schools?  I don't think so.

Andy Smarick, who works for right-wing think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Fordham Institute, tweeted me yesterday, saying that I was being unfair to him for equating his call for the destruction of urban (code word for black and Latino) school districts with destruction of urban schools, in my Twitter post. He says he was only talking about "urban districts" in his call for urban mass demolition.  Is he playing with words here? I think so.

In fact, I don't think I was being unfair at all. I told him basically to stop whining and own up to his obvious anti-public school perspective. After all, Smarick says he wants to replace urban schools with privately-run charters. He thinks urban schools are a "total failure" even though they outperform most charters by every measure,  and he claims that our urban schools system is "broken, and it cannot be fixed. It must be replaced."

He writes:
 Given urban districts’ unblemished record of failure over generations, you’d think these statements would be widely accepted and represent the core of the education-reform strategy... The blueprint for the urban school system of the future can be found in charter schooling.
Of course, he offers no evidence about this record of failure, or to support the supposed superiority of charters. The reason -- there isn't any evidence. To his credit, likeable Andy tries to find some common ground with me, tweeting, " I bet you're not always a fan of what districts do."

He's right, of course. I'm not always a fan. But public schooling is not some sporting event where fans cheer for their favorite team; i.e., the public school team vs. the privatization team. Being a critical voice is a lot different than bashing and destroying.

The dismantling of urban school districts and replacing them with a market-driven system, would mean that the neediest public schools would be left to sink or swim on their own. The mechanism through which they received public funding and support would be smashed. Parents would be completely reliant on small, often self-interested and corrupt, charter school operators for their children's education. Schools would be at the mercy of private sponsors, (Fordham itself is one) for their existence. Teachers would lose all rights to bargain collectively and all constraints on the operator's attempts to cream kids or re-segregate schools would be lost. Smarick's anti-public vision strikes at the very heart of democracy.

As Smarick writes:  
First, we must see chartering not as a sector and not even as a system but as the system for urban education’s future. The systemic practices it has introduced into public education must be the playbook for how urban school portfolios are managed. Second, we must accept that the full flourishing of this new system requires the permanent demotion and the potential cessation of the district.  
Smarick (left) and his team at Fordham
Smarick and Fordham have a record for for all kinds of unethical shenanigans. It's because of groups like this that we need government regulation. In the state of Ohio, for example, Fordham has been both a lobbyist for charters and at the same time,  a sponsor (authorizer) of charter schools. In other words, they authorize (vet) the very schools that they sponsor. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house.

Despite their protestations to the contrary, privately-run charters are a source of wealth for both Smarick and Fordham. Smarick makes his money working for Bellwether Consulting, which is basically a union-busting and school privatization company run by his pal Andrew Rotherham and with clients like Louisiana Tea-Party Gov. Bobby Jindal. 

Even the most corrupt of the charter school operators, White Hat's David Brennan, is hailed as a "revolutionary" by Smarick's Fordham group.

And he's not just about smashing urban public school systems. He wants to "re-invent" government as a group of privately-run enclaves. He calls it "entrepreneurial government."

As I see it, Andy Smarick's plan calls for nothing less than the end to the institution of public education and the erosion of public space and public decision-making. Behind all his buzzwords, cliches, and obfuscating language about "innovation" and "re-inventing," he and his right-wing think tank pals are really just about narrow self-interest and the profitability for themselves and wealthy patrons like David Brennan.For me, this is about the future of democracy.

Oh yes -- fair? Yes, I'm fair. Didn't I call him likeable?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What's wrong with this picture? The man in the middle.

The man in the middle, between Walter Isaacson and Adlai Stevenson II is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. They took the stage at Wednesday's Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner benefiting the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

Why Rahm is allowed within 100 feet of a library awards dinner escapes me. He presides over a school system that has 160 schools with no libraries. That was one of the big issues raised by teachers during the strike. As for the Chicago Public Library system, it has been devastated by massive budget cuts and layoffs, coming from the 5th floor of City Hall.

Rahm’s attack on Chicago libraries began exactly one year ago. His cuts included reduction of library hours, the loss of 363 full-time positions, and the closing of libraries on Monday and Friday mornings for a grand total of 10 million dollars in “savings”. This set off a wave of parent and community protests. One was even led by a local Girl Scout troupe. 28 of 50 aldermen found enough nerve to send the mayor an angry letter about the library cuts. 

So Rahm, shame on you for showing up for photo ops at the Library Foundation dinner. Get the hell off that stage. Stop mugging for the damn cameras and do something to restore our once-great library system and to rehire our lost librarians.

How to talk to parents in Dallas: Use "power words"

How did I let Ravitch beat me to this one?

It seems that Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles wants the district to undergo a makeover — including how it communicates with the public.The first thing he asked his communications chief Jennifer Sprague to do was, distribute flyers to all his principals and A.P.s advising them on how to best communicate with parents and community members.

The multipage brochure recommends “power words”, “acknowledgement phrases” and “headlines” principals should use when parents have questions.
If a parent asks about the new administration, a principal might reply, “District leaders are student-focused in their decision making.”

Or: “The superintendent’s plan brings stability and a clear direction to the district.”

Or perhaps: “Destination 2020 will take five to eight years to achieve, but we will make significant progress in one year.”

Or even: “We are all about improving student performance and the quality of instruction; that is the expectation.”
I'm sending Dallas parents an accompanying flyer which contains my own suggested power responses to Supt. Miles reformspeak. For example:

If a principal or district bureaucrat responds to any of your questions with these phony "acknowledgement phrases," respond calmly with the following power phrase:
"O.K. Mr. (Ms.) so-and-so. Cut the crap and tell me what's really going on or I'll be back here with 200 of my closest friends."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Take-aways from last night's debate

"Candy, I don’t have a policy of stopping wind jobs in Iowa." -- Mitt Romney
"I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women." -- Mitt Romney
It was a good thing I left the Give a Sh*t Happy Hour at Cole's Bar early to head home and watch the debate (with one eye on the Tigers/Yankee game). If I had stayed, I would have gone broke buying rounds of drinks every time Romney blew it, misspoke or blurted out one of his his string of inanities.

My (everybody's) favorite was "Binders full of women" which is still trending world-wide but has been largely ignored by the media. I also loved "wind jobs" (sounds salacious, doesn't it?). And didn't Romney's "5-point" plan for cutting the deficit remind you of whatshisname's "9-9-9"?

Low points for Obama were:

-- He was asked, "What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?" Since the correct answer would have been -- nothing, Obama began his response by throwing a bone to the NRA:
"We’re a nation that believes in the Second Amendment, and I believe in the Second Amendment. We’ve got a long tradition of hunting and sportsmen and people who want to make sure they can protect themselves."
Yeah, right. With AK-47s? 

Romney was even worse. His response to the plague of assault weapons was essentially to tell children to have a full set of parents.
"But gosh to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that’s a great idea."
You see, the deal was, every time he said, "gosh," or "golly gee", everyone has to belt down a double.

-- Obama's short recitation on the wonders of his corporate-style education reform which was mercifully cut short by Candy Crowley.

-- His attempt to find common ground with Romney on tax breaks for the corporations:
"We need to create jobs here. And both Governor Romney and I agree actually that we should lower our corporate tax rate. It’s too high."
It brought back sickening memories from the last debate when the president found common ground with Mittens on Social Security.

Anyway, it was a good night for Obama, although the bar for his success was set pretty low after the last debate. It reaffirmed my axiom -- if you don't hit it, it won't fall.

 Axelrod obviously was forced to dump his abysmal  prevent-defense strategy and script Obama with some  punch-back. This I'm sure, to the delight of the gang over at Cole's. And speaking of bars, yes, glad I left early -- sober and with money still in my pocket.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In the wake of Chicago teachers strike...

North Shore teachers are out on strike this morning. Here, fifth grade Lincoln Elementary teacher Larry Patrick, center, rallys with other 112 district teachers outside the North Shore School District 112 Office. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)
Poll watching madness. Isn't this just another way of turning politics into a spectator sport? Like watching the playoffs. I'm glad Chicago's teachers and now those in the North Shore are taking a different route.

In the wake of the teachers strike, cracks are starting to appear from within Rahm's tightly-run organization. The victorious teachers strike and CTU prez, Karen Lewis' willingness to tell the abrasive mayor where to put his middle finger, seems to have given courage to a slavish city council. With Ald. Rick Munoz in the lead, more than 30 aldermen have signed onto an anti-school closing statement. And now, a Progressive Caucus has formed and attracted some 200 community member to a meeting Monday night, to air concerns, frustrations and ideas regarding the 2013 municipal budget. It was the first of three hearings organized by the Caucus, taking place this month. 

At Monday's meeting, moderated by Chicago Reader Senior Reporter Mick Dumke, more than 15 Chicagoans, including Chicago Public Schools teachers and parents, firefighters, police officers and other community residents, testified about their concerns on issues from public safety to job creation and economic concerns.
“When will the banks and corporations be asked to pay their fare share? Where is the accountability when it comes to the corporate elite?,” asked Amisha Patel, Executive Director of the Grassroots Collaborative. Patel called for the closure of the LaSalle Central TIF to “put $15 million back into public services every year.”
Empty chair at Progressive Caucus budget hearings noted.
Missing from the meeting? You guessed it. The RahmFather.

Dumke's partner in crime over at the Reader, Ben Joravskyhas another strong, biting piece on Rahm's autocratic rule over the schools and his firing of schools CEO J.C. Brizard, "B-3 in, J.C. out—Chicago gets a new school boss." Don't miss. 

Rahm has already been dumped as Obama's campaign chair. One of the reasons may be, his attacks on Obama's base for demanding fidelity to campaign promises, are campaign killer, writes David Sirota in Salon. I wish Sirota had mentioned Dems' corporate-style ed reform policies, also spearheaded by Rahm, which have also badly divided Obama's base of support. 

It's true that Obama has Chicago and Illinois locked up, but this goes way beyond local borders. 

FairTest's Monty Neill will be in Chicago on Friday, Nov 2, for a public forum on testing issues at 7 pm at St Xavier University (more here). According to Julie at PURE, Monty has also agreed to help lead a citywide strategy session on anti-testing resistance - how we can work across groups, unite behind some common messages, share resources and otherwise build a strong testing resistance in Chicago. The session will be from 2 to 4 pm on the 2nd at the CTU office, 4th floor in the Merchandise Mart.

Speaking of Monty, check out the FairTest Fact Sheet on "Why Teacher Evaluation Shouldn’t Rest on Student Test Scores." 
To win federal Race to the Top grants or waivers from No Child Left Behind, most states have adopted teacher and principal evaluation systems based largely on student test scores. Many educators have resisted these unproven policies. Researchers from 16 Chicago-area universities and more than 1,500 New York state principals signed statements against such practices. Chicago teachers even struck over this issue, among others. Here’s why these systems-- including “value added” (VAM) or “growth” measures -- are not effective or fair. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Munoz warns Byrd-Bennett on school closings

The Tribune reports Brizard had trouble connecting with aldermen almost since he took the job. His avowed support of charter schools made some residents skeptical of his motives, a situation Ald. Ricardo Munoz said Byrd-Bennett can avoid by seeking true collaboration on the politically sensitive question of which schools to close.
“As I’m sure (Byrd-Bennett) realizes, she has to have buy-in. With well over 30 members of the City Council signing a letter calling for hearings on school closings, she needs to be very careful that it’s not seen as an attempt to destabilize public schools and replace them with charters,” said Munoz, 22nd. “Part of Brizard’s problem was that there was a direct correlation between his talk of school closings and his affinity for charters. There has to be a partnership and it has to be genuine.”


Barbara Byrd-Bennett (for future reference)
“I’m here for the long haul. I don’t know what to do other than sign in blood. . . . I’m here. I’m not gonna say ‘I’m outta here.’ That’s not who I am.” -- Chicago's 4th CEO in last 2 years.
Michelle Gunderson ‏
It takes a Chia Pet longer to grow than the 6 weekends a person spends at the Broad Academy training to be a superintendent. -- Tweeting @MSGunderson
Dan Quinn, Texas Freedom Network
 "That's where all these culture war battles will come to a head over what students learn about evolution, about civil rights, about church and state separation. All those battles will come in 2013 and 2014, and the textbooks will be in the classrooms for a generation." -- Monitoring Texas school board elections
Brooklyn parent, Lori Chajet
“I want my school to use tests to help instruction, to help find out if kids don’t know fractions. I don’t want my child to feel like her score will decide if her teacher has a job or not.” -- NYT: "Dear Teacher, Johnny Is Skipping the Test"

Friday, October 12, 2012


Hello all.

Please consider coming and bringing students to this event: I've been assisting the 19th Ward Parents in hosting a forum on standardized testing and how to opt-out, to be held at Saint Xavier University, 7-8:30 pm, Friday, November 2.

Monty Neill will keynote, and his talk will be followed by a panel including Julie Woestehoff from PURE, Jackson Potter and more. The focus will be on parents' and children's legal rights vis-a-vis school testing.

Thanks to CreATers who authored the research brief on standardized testing for your help. We're also in need of more information about the REACH test being used in CPS (apparently it is being administered only in English; all students--including kindergartners--have to take it on a computer and use a mouse, etc). If anyone is doing any work on this, please let me know.


Kathleen McInerney, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Graduate Reading Program and ESL/Bilingual Education Program
School of Education
Driehaus Center 3925
Saint Xavier University
3700 West 103rd Street
Chicago, IL 60655

Brizard was never more than Rahm's front man

What we all knew months ago is now official. Jean-Claude ("Don't call me a puppet") Brizard is out. Barbara Byrd-Bennett is in. 

It was all so predictable. J.C. Brizard was never anything more than Rahm's front man. Just another of those itinerant, what-do-you-want-me-to-do-boss, bureaucrats who moves from job to job every couple of years collecting a fat pay check and a golden parachute. If he's Arne-Duncan-lucky, he may even be primed for a political career and go to Washington to play in the big leagues at the DOE. If he's Paul Vallas, he moves on to Philadelphia and then New Orleans, where he turns a natural disaster into a Mecca for privatization.

But unlike his non-educator predecessors, Vallas, Duncan and Huberman (who was brought over from the police department and then the CTA to City Hall's education department for two years)  Brizard was what my brother Fred jokingly calls, a wuzza -- a former real-life New York City educator.

But he had long been gone from the classroom or any direct contact with teaching and learning. Instead he had been recruited from the ranks to go through Eli Broad's superintendent's training academy where, like his friend, Michelle Rhee in D.C., he learned the art of union busting, mass teacher firing, school closing and privatization -- the prototype leader/manager for corporate reform. Former N.Y. Chancellor Joel Klein hired him as a manager and then he was brought in to Rochester to take on the teachers union.

It was Klein who made clear the role bureaucrats like Brizard play. He served the mayor as his buffer, ready to take the political fall after doing Bloomberg or Emanuel's dirty work.
"If you're going to take a tough stand on certain issues, talking about closing down schools, which he did, or talking about teachers' evaluations, you're going to rock some boats," Klein said. "(Brizard) understands that." -- Chicago Tribune 
He lasted only slightly more than three years in Rochester before becoming politically untenable when his autocratic style, a testing scandal, and fiscal mismanagement earned him an unprecedented 95% no-confidence vote of the city's teachers. Rahm looked at that vote and said to himself, "Ah, perfect. Just the man I need." When Rahm called, Brizard jumped ship without giving his board notice, leaving them in the lurch.

Just in case anyone had any illusions that this guy was anything more than Rahm's go-for, he wasn't even allowed to talk to the press for days after his arrival in Chicago, long enough to be sequestered and scripted by Rahm's boys.
Finally cornered in the corridors of the Rochester School District Thursday evening by a Sun-Times reporter, the man the mayor-elect picked to run the nation’s third largest school district beamed his winning smile, leaned in and asked, “How can I help you, without getting in trouble?” -- Sun-Times
He still didn't always get it right and often blurted out his disdain for public schools and his bias towards privatization. Speaking before a group of corporate reformers back in March, Brizard said:
“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's role in school closings earned him the hatred of not only teachers, but community groups as well. At one board meeting in December, 2011, community protesters drowned out Brizard's voice as he was about to announce the closing of more schools, turning them over to private charter school management companies.  
“You have failed…You have produced chaos…You should be fired” they chanted. When they paused, billionaire board president David Vitale said he hoped they had “gotten it out of their system.” They hadn't.  
We all know now that Brizard's final undoing was his "mishandling" of the contract negotiations. When it became clear that Brizard had no juice, he was pulled from the negotiations and they were turned over to board president David Vitale to manage directly. The victorious strike and Rahm's plummeting poll ratings were final nails in Brizard's coffin. But even in the weeks leading up to the strike, Brizard could be seen running from the media and cancelling public appearances. He must have known he was already toast. 

His replacement, former Cleveland Supt. Barbara Byrd-Bennett -- more on BBB later-- was actually put in place (without the customary search) in April, serving as a mysterious shadow figure as "interim Chief Education Officer" but never showing her face until a few weeks ago. It soon became clear that she was already playing the role in the contract negotiations in place of Brizard who had lost all credibility. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The closing and re-segregation of our schools

As we move as a society towards total and complete re-segregation in our schools and as colleges and universities becomes less and less accessible to all but the wealthy, the Supremes are about to roll back even more of the gains of the '60s Civil Rights Movement. This week, they are preparing to stamp out the last vestiges of affirmative action at the post-secondary level.  Here's the way Justice Roberts is framing the case: "How much diversity was enough."

Ald. Ricardo Munoz opposing school closings.

Chicago's Mayor Emanuel runs what is by most accounts, the most racially segregated school system in the nation. His so-called reform plan centers on the closing of hundreds of more schools in black and Latino neighborhoods. Up until now, the arbitrary closing of schools and their replacement with privately-run charters has been a function of neighborhood gentrification. It has also be driven by a federal school de-funding approach dictated by Arne Duncan's Race To The Top, which demands that school districts close "low-performing" schools in order to receive federal funds. By "low-performing" he means schools with low scores on standardized tests, scores which correlate most closely to race and poverty.

Now the mayor claims he's doing it because neighborhood schools are "under-utilized."  This latest piece of corporate reform lingo is a way of blaming the community itself for supposedly failing to use their public schools. He would be better off admitting that neighborhood schools have been under-resourced and abandoned rather than not utilized. For the poorest and most racially-isolated communities, the neighborhood schools is often the anchor and utilized as a center for the distribution of services, community meetings, polling places, adult education and after-school programs. To close these schools, based on the temporary up and down swings in student enrollment is short sighted at best. School closings destabilize neighborhoods and endanger students as they are forced to move from neighborhood to neighborhood, often across gang territories, to schools that are ill-prepared to receive them.

Even his coming up with this wretched rationale has been forced on the mayor, partly as a result of  State Rep. Cynthia Soto's legislation and now a statement signed by 32 aldermen demanding that the mayor present valid reasons before any schools are closed and  that Emanuel’s handpicked school team come clean about what aldermen fear is a secret plan to close more than 100 under-utilized schools to help to pay for the newly-ratified teachers’ contract.
“The biggest concern is that the board will just hand down a list of closures and expect everybody to go along with it. That’s what they’ve done in the past,” Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said last week.
 Ald. Rick Munoz has been out front on this issue. He's one of many I can think of who would make a great opponent to Rahm in the next mayor's race.

The school-closing issues has also activated many of the city's community organizations and parent groups and is one of the driving forces behind the demand for an elected school board.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guest blogger Susan Klonsky's response to Wendy Kopp

Guest blogger Susan Klonsky responds to Wendy Kopp's critical review of Jonathan Kozol's latest book, Fire in the Ashes. Kopp is founder and chief executive of Teach for America. 

Wendy Kopp derides Kozol's  Fire In the Ashes for not being the book she wanted  him to write, and for not "being more current" nor embracing the world view that she champions. She implies that Kozol's exposures of "savage inequalities" embedded throughout Fire in the Ashes are outdated due mainly to the great progress being made by contemporary school reformers like herself and New York Mayor Bloomberg.  Kopp characterizes Kozol's  book as "misleading" and "pessimistic" because it does not hail the Bloomberg education agenda in New York Public Schools, an agenda of  school closings, privatization, and union-busting.

Little of Kozol's book is actually about schools at all. Rather, it is a study in the long-term effects of profound, prolonged trauma and poverty experienced in childhood. It poses a number of hard questions for our society.  Why do some kids "make it," while others succumb to depression,academic failure, drugs, violence?

In this book, Kozol revisits some of the now-adult children who peopled his earlier books. He completes the loop not simply to learn how their stories turn out, but in order to ask:  How did we allow this to happen to these children? Which systems failed? Which individuals and systems helped?

The protagonists of these tales pre-date the advent of charter schools, Teach for America, the Harlem Children's Zone. They were untouched as kids by the largesse of huge and powerful foundations. Yet Kopp faults Kozol for not recognizing that -- in her opinion -- great improvements have been made--the giant homeless shelter hotels have been shut down, a huge network of privately operated charter schools has replaced many of the neglected schools described in Kozol's early works.

For America's poorest children, there is still a separateness which Kopp can't seem to see.  Kopp talks as if  the bantustan of subsistence living in substandard schools and substandard housing  are vestiges of a bygone era. She charges Kozol with dwelling in the past.

Far from projecting hopelessness, Kozol describes transcendence, at least for some of his children. The ones who survive and persist and, indeed, luck out, express their determination to become rescuers, teachers, writers, organizers. In Kozol's view, these are the hope. Not the hedge-fund manager who figures out a way to make a charter school his tax shelter, but the kid who grew up poor and disadvantaged and who has figured out a way to help change society.

Yes, Kozol paints a grim picture, but grim isn't wrong. There is still this shadow world, invisible to many of Kozol's  readers, on the other side of a gaping economic chasm. This new book shines a bright light on some of  those individuals who choose to stand in the gap, rather than stepping on those who are still on the bottom of the food chain.

Wendy Kopp would do well to acknowledge that it takes more than 5 weeks of Teach For America training to prepare educators to make a difference for disadvantaged children. Perhaps her negative reaction is moored in defensiveness. Until we get serious about ending poverty, even our most highly trained teachers will be working with a hand tied behind their backs. Time to quit blaming the messenger.

Susan Klonsky is a Chicago writer and public school advocate and activist. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Turning right off the interstate: How Obama and I settled the teachers strike

Driving through southern Ohio to speak to students at Kenyon College and Bowling Green University I hear the steady stream of right-wing radio and see the dozens of anti-Obama billboards paid for by Clint Eastwood and his wing-nut superpac. In the towns, there's more of a mix of Obama and Romney signs and of course, the university towns are mostly Obama. Those in the know think that Obama will narrowly win Ohio. I'm not so sure.

The main media spokesman for the Republican Party and for national conservatives is of course, Rush Limbaugh. Here's what his 20-30 million listeners, mostly small town and rural, heard from Limbaugh about the Chicago teachers strike:

It was all a set-up, says Limbaugh, so that Pres. Obama could step into the fray and settle it by getting union head, Mike Klonsky [hey, that's me], a former member of the Communist Party U.S.A, to get his members to accept accept a compromise on their wage demands.

From:  "Why Did I Say the Chicago Teachers Strike is Tailor-Made for Obama?"
Yet the Wizards of Smart say, "No way! Impossible. Couldn't happen. Obama's got too much to lose." The only way Obama has too much to lose is if he inserts himself and there is no solution. I'm sure that's what they mean, but Obama wouldn't insert himself unless there were a pre-ordained, pre-established solution. Like somebody gets on the phone to the teachers union. 
The head teachers union guy in Chicago was a member of the Communist Party USA. He's a huge Obama supporter. So somebody from the White House calls him and says, "Here's what's going to happen," and they lay out the deal. The communist teacher guy says either yes or no. If the guy says, "Screw that! I'm not taking it," then Obama doesn't get involved. But if he takes the deal, then it works. It would be made to look like Obama couldn't take it anymore.
Now first let me say, with apologies to Groucho Marx,  that I would never belong to a union that would have someone like me as its leader. As for the Communist Party U.S.A.? Never been there. Other radical left groups back in the day, but never that one.

And finally, neither the prez nor his people have ever called me. But if he or they did, I would have asked him to put on his "walking shoes" and come down here and man the picket lines like he promised back in 2007. While, I'll probably vote for him again next month, calling me "a huge supporter" is really far fetched. As my readers all know, I've been highly critical of Obama, especially around his education policies and the continuation of his "smart war" in Afghanistan.

As for bloated, drug-addicted, demagogic windbag Limbaugh, you would think he would at least get one fact right, if only to preserve some semblance of credibility. He didn't -- not even one.

Monday, October 8, 2012


“I honestly think everybody won. No one wanted the strike, teachers didn’t want that, the administration didn’t want that,” said Duncan. But wait.  Rahm said ithis was a "strike of choice." Who's writing the script?

Arne Duncan
"Everybody won in Chicago teachers strike." -- Daily Caller
Paul Ryan
"Let's make this country a tax shelter..." Mother Jones
The Notebook
The term “portfolio management” is borrowed from Wall Street, where the idea is to buy winning stocks and sell losers. -- "A new blend of public and private." 
Rupert Murdoch's N.Y. Post 
Michael Bloomberg wants history to judge his mayoralty based, in large part, on what he did for the city’s schools. But his system for grading those schools is eroding confidence in his leadership. -- Mike's Murky Marks

Friday, October 5, 2012

Testing madness, stress driving good teachers out of public schools

There's an excellent piece in yesterday's Texas Trib (NYT), "Strain for Teachers Runs Deeper Than Budget Cuts," which gets to the heart of the matter for my pre-service, college of ed students. It's not just massive ed budget cuts, nor the inequities in funding that are driving the best and the brightest away from teaching in urban public schools -- although that helps.
Ms. Peterson taught for 10 years in the Houston Independent School District at Johnston Middle School, which serves primarily economically disadvantaged, black and Hispanic students. For much of that time, she said, she considered the district a place that rewarded good teaching and leadership. Then policies changed, she said, and raising students’ standardized test scores became a goal that overrode any other aspect of their education.

“What mattered was the test scores of the students in the classroom, not the impact that people were having on students as a teacher,” she said. “Frankly, that’s super demoralizing, spending all this extra time doing what you know is best for the kids, and no one cares.” 
Remember, Houston Texas is the model school district held up by Rahm Emanuel to show the benefits of more seat time for students. 

Daley was smart enough to step down when his poll ratings dipped to 35%.
Speaking of Rahm, you may be wondering how is post-strike ad campaign, financed by the anti-union group DFER, is working for the mayor? Crain's reports that his poll ratings are plummeting. Only 34% support him. He's down where Mayor Daley was when he announced in 2010 that he wouldn't run for a 7th term. Only 15% approve of the way Rahm is handling crime. What's the law on recall, I wonder?