Friday, November 30, 2012

Rahm starring in 'Jobs Busters'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dynamite CTU report on Chicago charters

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

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

Cruising the blogs

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

“Education is growth" ― John Dewey 

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More BBB sleight of hand

Damn! No sooner had I posted about Byrd-Bennett's school-closing trickery, then she came up with another bit of Three-Card Monte. She's really good.

BBB's enigma, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by mystery, goes like this: When is a moratorium not really a moratorium? Answer -- when BBB calls it a turnaround, instead of a closing. Sure, you're firing all the school's teachers and replacing them with lower-paid, non-union newbies. Sure you're handing the school over to private charter operators. But that's not exactly the same as closing -- is it? And finally, the post-moratorium closings aren't about "right-sizing," says CPS liar-in-chief Becky Carrol. They will be done for "academic reasons." Get it?

Thanks to PURE's Julie Woestehoff for finding the pea under the middle card.
She says a “turnaround’’ has the same affect of a “closure” on adults in a school. “This seems to be more evidence to suggest that this is a phony moratorium. It’s a moratorium whose details are TBA. How can people sign on to support something when the details seem to change from hour to hour? It sounds like a moratorium of convenience and nothing that can be trusted or supported by Chicago parents.’
The editorial in yesterday's Sun-Times said it best:
A five-year moratorium on Chicago school closures proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel sure sounds good — as long as you don’t think too hard about it.
Also watching the cards move, were union V.P. Jesse Sharkey and Catalyst reporter Rebecca Harris who were interviewed last night by Elizabeth Brackett on Chicago Tonight.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BBB's School-Closing Chicanery

So this is why Byrd-Bennett was brought in to replace the bumbling Brizzard. Where he played Rahm's fool, she's the sleight-of-hand magician -- now you see it now you don't. She tells Rahm: You want 200 school closed without a community rebellion? Keeping the aldermen in line?  Watch this!

Let us close 100-200 schools in the next year, she tells the City Club:, and then we'll give them a five-year moratorium on closing schools. That's the "deal" she's now offering to Illinois legislators. If CPS is to close schools in the next year it must, by law, deliver a list of proposed closings to the Legislature by Saturday. Byrd-Bennett has asked for an extension of that deadline to March 31, which would mean beginning to close schools over the summer when most students and teachers are not in school and it is harder to organize resistance.

The Tribune reports:
The Chicago Teachers Union and Parents United for Responsible Education panned the speech and demanded that no schools be closed. "It sounds as if the mayor is saying, 'I promise to stop beating you after I get in this last round of punches,'" PURE wrote on its website.
Reuters reports on the CTU's response:
 "Today's announcement is nothing more than a sleight of hand," the Chicago Teachers Union said in a statement. "How can the district cry 'under-utilization' as a justification for school closings while it simultaneously approves the opening of new charter campuses?"
More reasons for an elected school board in Chicago.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Rahm stalls on revealing his school kill list (minus drones, we hope)

Rahm and his hand-picked school board can't afford drone warfare. But they have a kill list just the same, when it comes to schools in the city's most under-served neighborhoods. They just aren't showing it.

In the face of growing community anger and protests, they've switched to stalling tactics and other tricks to get around Public Act 096-0803 which was supposed to “ensure that school facility-related decisions are made with the input of the community and reflect educationally sound and fiscally responsible criteria.”

This afternoon at UIC, Rahm's sham School Closing Commission is set to meet from 1-3 P.M. Of course, no public input is allowed. But I'm told, mic-checks may be forthcoming. Rahm created the commission as a way of circumventing the legally established Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF).

Tomorrow, the Illinois General Assembly will hold a hearing in Springfield to consider the CPS stall plan.  CTU Political Director Stacy Davis Gates, is asking that we make contact with our elected leaders and speak with members on the Illinois House Executive Committee. Demand that they do NOT extend CPS an opportunity to change the law again.


Reaper Drone
License to Kill
"Creating a legal structure, processes, with oversight checks on how we use unmanned weapons is going to be a challenge for me and my successors for some time to come." -- President Obama 
D.C. Chancellor Kaya Henderson
"If we're going to keep a traditional school system, we can't just have schools pop up anywhere and cannibalize schools, right?" -- WAMU 88.5 News
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Chicago's initiatives come straight out of the playbook Barack Obama put forward in his campaign four years ago and has advocated since Day One of his presidency. -- "How to rebuild America"
Rep. Jack Franks 
I'm embarrassed for him [Gov. Quinn]. -- "Quinn faces key leadership test in coming weeks"

Friday, November 23, 2012

Grading or Degrading?

Michael Brick, writing in yesterday's N.Y. Times, ("When Grading is Degrading") offers a devastating appraisal of current reform policies which are based increasingly on fostering competition and on grading schools and teachers. Brick takes a look at the situation in Texas, which he calls "nobody’s model for educational excellence", where the state has long used complex algorithms to assign grades of Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable to its schools.
So far, such competition has achieved little more than re-segregation, long charter school waiting lists and the same anemic international rankings in science, math and literacy we’ve had for years.
Actually Brick is wrong about the "nobody" part. Chicago's mayor, Rahm Emanuel, with coaching from Stand For Children's Jonah Edelmanheld up Houston as his model for his imposed longer schools day, making wild, unsubstantiated claims about Texas miracles.

Another brick (sorry!) in the testing wall fell to the ground in PA when federal education officials denied the state's request to evaluate charter school achievement using more lenient criteria, saying they must be assessed by the same standard as traditional schools.

Diane Ravitch finds it "interesting that the announcement was made on the day before the long holiday weekend, which meant that someone decided to bury it."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

In L.A. the least experienced teachers are being placed with the neediest kids

A new Harvard study shows the so-called "achievement gap" growing wider in L.A. as the neediest of the district's students are taught by the least experienced teachers. Under Supt. John Deasy's control,  LAUSD has increased its reliance on extended substitutes and TFA five-week wonders as an austerity measure and a way of undermining the union contract. First-year teachers are assigned to students who begin the year academically behind students assigned to more experienced teachers.

According to the L.A. Times:
No single finding can produce a strategy to erase the district’s substantial achievement gap between white students and their black and Latino classmates, the study said, noting that the difference in performance on fifth-grade math tests is roughly equivalent to more than one and half years of learning. 
The study also shows the limitations on the district's use of value-added or "teacher affects" evaluation based on student standardized test scores.
Further, teacher effects are only as good as the assessment used to formulate them. Assessments that are insufficiently challenging or that are poorly aligned to the curriculum that the district expects its teachers to cover will not yield useful estimates.
Yet, it is just those types of assessment that the study and the district rely on to generate their evaluations.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rahm's 'reform' agenda takes a beating

At City Club luncheon: i don't know what Gov. Quinn is saying, but Karen Lewis doesn't seem too impressed .
Rahm's school reform agenda of school closings and charter schools, was taken to the woodshed yesterday. First and foremost by CTU Prez Karen Lewis in her address to the City Club.
At one point, half the room gave Ms. Lewis a standing ovation. Among those who stayed seated: Beth Swanson, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's education point person during the contentious teachers strike held in September. “We usually walk a fine line at the City Club,” said Ed Mazur, a city club board member who stood up for Ms. Lewis. “She likes to cross it. She doesn't mince words.” -- Crain's
Then by Diane Ravitch on Chicago Tonight.

Finally, Ald. Fiorretti continues to be the voice  for the growing resistance movement within the city council, to the mayor's school closing/charter school expansion plans.
In his ward , Fioretti said, eight charter schools have moved in, two have moved out, and five neighborhood schools have closed, causing “significant dislocation and emotional distress.’’ One charter recently opened across the street from a neighborhood school that CPS last year had considered solidly performing but half-empty, Fioretti said.

In Pearson we trust. Really? But our blood is never blue.

Remember back in April, when a single insipid test question sparked the pineapple rebellion and shone a light, not only on current standardized testing practices, but on the whole testing industry and its leading profiteer, Pearson Publishing? With lives, careers and the very existence of schools hanging in the balance, we have become totally reliant on Pearson and the testing companies to measure and arbitrate truth and correctness. Even more so, with the era of the Common Core curriculum at hand. But what happens when Pearson is wrong -- either in the content of their texts or in the proscribed answers on their tests?

Check out this exchange between Chicago Science/Math Teacher Oscar Newman and Pearson.
November 17, 2012 
To Whom It May Concern, 
My school recently purchased Pearson's Interactive Science for our middle school students (6-8 Grades). While preparing for a lesson, I happened upon the following quote, from the Interactive Physical Science book 1 TE, p.119 Under "Science and Society": "The influx of oxygen changes blood's color from blue to red...Have students examine their arms to see if they have any blue veins. Explain that the blood in those veins is headed back to the heart and lung to receive more oxygen." 
Really? I am appalled at the poor scientific review that this book apparently underwent. Even cursory editing would have prevented this error. Human blood is never blue.
Hemoglobin turns bright red when oxygenated. Deoxygenated (vertebrate) blood is dark red. Mollusks and some arthropods use hemocyanin, which turns blue when oxygenated due to the copper it contains, but our blood is never blue. Pigments in skin cause veins to appear blue. Those who have donated blood are well aware of this, in fact, I show my students a photo of me donating blood to dissuade them of this misconception. 
I was on the team that decided to purchase this series for my school, and I am saddened that I did not catch this in time or have a chance to question the representative who sold this product. I will now thoroughly check these science texts to make sure that I do not have to waste valuable instructional time addressing this and other foolishness.
Please address this problem in future versions. 
Yours in outrage, 
Oscar Newman,
NBCT (EA Science 2002, 2011) 7-8 Grade Science and Math Teacher 
Chicago Academy Elementary School  3400 N. Austin Ave. Chicago, IL 60634
Pearson responds to Oscar Newman 
Question Reference #121117-000138 
Thank you for contacting our Curriculum K12 Customer Service Dept. Our customer service team will research your request and respond as quickly as possible.
Our regular office hours are 8:00AM to 6:00PM Eastern standard time, Monday through Friday. If you received this message outside our normal operating hours, please expect our team to begin researching your inquiry the next business day. We appreciate your business. 
Learn about our Virtual Learning Achievement Guarantee.Click here for details: 
So far, Oscar tells me he has received no call-back from Pearson. So for millions of American public school students and their teachers, human blood remains blue -- at least for the purpose of getting the answer right on the test.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gov. "Squeezy" and autocrat Rahm

It would be hilarious if it wasn't so tragic. It's not only the low point of this once-progressive governor's career, it is characteristic of the buffoonery that marks state Democrats' attack on public employees' pensions and on their own political base. Of course I'm referring to Gov. "Squeezy's" pet python and his "grass-roots" campaign to "reform" the pension fund.

It all makes me wonder:   first, why are we taxpayers footing the bill for this crap? And second, what idiot on the gov's staff ingested enough drugs to come up with Squeezy? As I said the day Quinn was chased out of the state fair by thousands of pissed-off union members down in Springfield -- he's toast.

The school board appointment means that two former CPS principals — Azcoitia and Mahalia Hines — will be voting on what could be the closure of scores of schools as the system begins to “right-size’’ the nation’s third-largest school district. -- Sun-Times
If we had an elected school board, I would be applauding the selection of Carlos Azcoitia. But with the mayor continuing his assault on neighborhood schools, I take little comfort in his appointment to Rahm's  rubber-stamp school board. Azcoitia has been one of Chicago's best community educators with a legacy of leadership in the creation of two wonderful small schools in Little Village -- Telpochcalli and Community Links.

But I'm sure that autocrat Rahm made it clear before appointing educators Azcoitia, Hines and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to his billionaire-dominated board that he expects nothing less than their uncritical support for the Civic Committee's plan to close 100 neighborhood schools in the city's most under-served black and Latino communities to pave the way for 100 privately-run charter schools. There are no NO VOTES allowed on Rahm's hand-picked board.

But it's still hard for me to imagine Azcoitia playing a role in the closing of some of the very schools he helped to create. Nevertheless, the CTU, parents and community groups aren't going to sit around hoping that Azcoitia, Hines, Byrd-Bennett or anyone in the City Council will have enough spine to stand up to the little autocrat when push comes to shove.

Resistance to the school closings has already succeeded in forcing the Board's current stall tactics. Now they want to delay providing us a list of school closures until March 2013. And they want to undercut the power of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF) by establishing their own school-closing commission that meets in secret.

But this won't fly, as I'm sure CTU President Karen Lewis will tell the City Club when she speaks at their luncheon this afternoon.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Duncan remains
"We came out of the gates flying" in the first term, he said, and he plans to "replicate that as much as we can." -- Edweek
Michelle Rhee on Duncan
"The signaling by Secretary Duncan that he will continue for another term is an enormous win for children." -- Huffington
Bobby Jindal says something stupid
Republicans "need to stop saying stupid things... We're not the party of big—big businesses, big banks, big Wall Street, big bailouts." -- The Hill
School districts brace for more cuts
“It in essence widens the gaps between the haves and have-nots,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “The wealthy suburban communities that receive very little federal funding — it’s not going to have much impact on them.” -- NYT
Michigan affirmative action ban overturned
 George Washington, the Detroit lawyer who argued the case, said  “The Big Lie told by the supporters of Proposal 2 is that grades and test scores are a neutral means for judging merit,” he said. “But that system is openly biased against black, Latino and Native American applicants.” -- NYT

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Newark teachers got the shaft [Updated]

Warning to teachers. Please don't watch this video immediately after eating.

I was sickened to see Randi Weingarten and Tea-Party Gov. Christie on Morning Joe, fawning over each other and over the deal they cut on the Newark teachers' contract. It was the worst display of seat-at-the-table unionism I have seen in years. Both are hailing the deal as a "model" for the rest of the country. I hope against hope that it isn't. Christie called it "the most gratifying day of my governorship, by far." That should tell you something about the deal right there. New Jersey Education Commissioner and chief privatizer Chris Cerf (not be be confused with Che Guevara) called the contract "revolutionary." Union President Joseph Del Grosso was a little more restrained, calling it a "roadmap" and  “a step in the right direction for the teaching profession."

I can understand why many Newark teachers voted for the contract (actually, only a slight majority of city teachers even voted and 62% of them voted yes). They have been forced to work without any contract these past two years, under the state takeover of their schools, and now will receive some retroactive pay. They were also given some input into the design of their own evaluations which are still based largely on student test scores along with peer evaluation, and which will determine whether they receive "merit pay" from now on. So the argument could be made that this was the best they could get. Of course, that's not what Weingarten and Christie are saying.

Teacher pay is now also dependent upon the largesse of billionaires Eli Broad and  know-nothing power philanthropist Mark Zuckerberg who can pull the plug on his $100 million gift at any time -- for example, if Christie or Newark mayor Corey Booker were to be defeated in the next election. This is the same kind of top-down manipulation and leveraging of Gates and Broad grant money that Michelle Rhee and former Mayor Fenty pulled off in D.C. before voters gave them the boot. Newark schools have been turned into beggars operating largely on private funding to circumvent public decision-making. A Tea Party dream come true. 

Teachers are no longer guaranteed pay step and lane increases based on credentials. They can win bonuses for teaching in low-performing schools (not a bad idea in and of itself). Teachers who are deemed "ineffective" based on a test-based, value-added formula, can elect to be rated by an independent "peer validator." That review will be considered before determining their final ratings or whether they should be fired or "mentored." However, Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson will have the final say if an agreement on a teacher's competence can't be reached. What? Where's the union grievance procedure in all this?

The Star-Ledger reports that Christie is now threatening the NJEA:
The AFT is only affiliated with Newark teachers; the rest of the state’s more than 100,000 teachers are aligned with the New Jersey Education Association, which insists merit pay is discriminatory and a recipe for low morale. "I hope that they would look at this as a model," Christie said of the NJEA. "If they don’t, they’ll become dinosaurs, because this is where education in America is moving, and you can either be part of the difference or you can be run over by it."
Edweek reports that critics of the contract include the members of a new political "caucus" or party within the NFT. Called the New Caucus, the group has posted a number of documents that pick apart aspects of the contract.
The New Caucus seems modeled on the rise of similar groups, such as the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators in Chicago, from which emerged Karen Lewis, the hard-charging president of the Chicago Teachers' Union; and the the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, a similar one in New York City.
Weingarten was one of Christie’s most prominent critics last year, when he slashed state pensions and health benefits by shifting more costs to public workers. Christie joked that if he could find common ground with Randi Weingarten, then Democratic President Barack Obama should be able to get along with Republicans in Washington. Buckle up, folks. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Study: Why do so many kids drop out?

The 2012 High School Dropouts in America survey finds that the great majority of kids who leave school early, do so because of out-of-school conditions such as family problems or economic necessity. The survey findings cut against the current mythology that bad teachers, failing schools and unions are the source of the dropout problem.
Nearly one-quarter — 23 percent — of Americans attribute their failure to complete high school to a lack of parental support or encouragement, followed by entering parenthood at 21 percent. Missing too many days of school ranked third at 17 percent. Other reasons for dropping out include failing classes (15 percent), uninteresting classes (15 percent) and suffering from mental illness (15 percent).
 One-third of high school dropouts say they are employed either full time, part time, or are self‐employed. Another 38 percent of the men and 26 percent of the women were unemployed.

According to the research, if a sixth grader in a high poverty school attends school less than 80 percent of the time, fails math or English, or receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course, there is a 75 percent chance he or she will drop out of high school.

I'm surprised that the study fails to mention the high incarceration rate among black and Latino youth and the lack of resources available to help transition them back into school once they are released.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reason No. 54 why we need an elected school board

If you're looking for another reason to replace the mayor's hand-picked school board with an elected one, look no further than yesterday's school board meeting. CPS board meetings continue to be a place where citizens come for their monthly share of abuse. Yesterday it was CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson being insulted and yelled at by a vitriolic board president, David Vitale.

As Brunson got up to speak, Vitale, had the nerve to accuse him and the CTU of "spreading lies" and "threatening and intimidating the board" as the union, along with parents and community groups attempt to stop the board's arbitrary school closings in under-served neighborhoods. 
"If you want us to continue to act civilly to you, you need to act civilly to us," Vitale said
Wait! What! This coming from the former bank president who was even booted from his position as head of the Chicago Board of Trade for not being able to play well with others. It was Vitale himself who was slinging the bullshit when he falsely accused the union of marching on his house to protest school closings (not a bad tactic in my book), claiming that his daughter was home alone and scared by the protesters. Acually (rumor has it) the Vitale kid was so excited, she called up her friends and they all came over and joined the peaceful protest.

What got Vitale's shorts in a twist was this public promise made by CTU V.P. Jesse Sharkey:
"We're here to serve notice to the appointed (school) board that if you're going to close schools, we're coming after you. We're serving notice to billionaires hoping to close our schools, if we close our schools we'll expose you. And we're serving notice to elected officials if you close our schools, there will be no peace in the city."
Sharkey was simply telling the truth. 

The union also denied that it organized the march on Vitale's house.

Another Vitale lie -- or at least a fudging of the truth -- came when he leaped to the defense of fellow billionaire board member, Penny Pritzker. Vitale claimed that the union was lying when it said that Pritzker had received  $5.2 million in city TIF funds for the development of her Hyde Park Hyatt Hotel. Yes, technically, the money didn't go directly into Penny's purse. Instead it went to the developer. But Pritzker is definitely a beneficiary and her position on the cash-strapped board makes her at least an accessory to the crime and a board member with an obvious conflict of interest. TIF money should be going to schools first and to wealthy, no-tax paying corporations last.

The point of all this is that Vitale,and the board don't appear to be trying to reach an accommodation with teachers and parents. Rather, under Vitale's leadership, they appear to be heading towards another major confrontation with the union and the community, having learned nothing from their defeat in the strike. Vitale's outbursts are also putting new CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a difficult spot and she tries to keep her commitment to more community involvement in the process -- something that Vitale obviously abhors.

If you want to know reasons #55 and 56, come to next month's board meeting. 

Teaching Democracy

There was a good turnout of students and faculty Monday night at Lake Forest College, to hear Deborah Meier speak on the topic of "Democracy is more complicated than rocket science: So why don't we teach about it?" Wow! That's a brainfull.

Here's my headline of the week. It says a lot.

The growth of charter schools

NYT reports that between 2010-11 and 2011-12, the number of students in charter schools increased close to 13 percent, to just over two million.
New Orleans, where the city’s schools were essentially destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, leads the nation in the proportion of students in charter schools, at 70 percent. But in six other districts, including Detroit, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, more than 30 percent of public school students attend a charter school.
As you might expect, these are all school districts heavily populated with black and Latino students. The pattern breaks slightly in Clark County (Las Vegas), Nevada, the nation's fifth largest school district, where charters are growing at the fastest rate in the nation. There white students still make of a slight majority of charter school students but district charters are highly segregated. Charters like 100 Academy of Excellence and Agassi, for example, are about 90% African American while the other charters have only a sprinkling of African American kids.

The school district is the largest single employer in Clark County and the rapid growth of privately-run charters signifies a growth in non-union jobs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Numbers that leave me shocked-and-awed

I am hardly one to try and quantify everything, particularly teaching/learning. But there are some numbers that I find fascinating if only for purposes of shock and awe. Here are a few:

50.8 -- The percent of votes cast by Washington state voters in support of Initiative 1240. The new law will permit up to 40 privately-run charter schools over the next five years in the state. Votes are still being counted a week after the election which marked the fourth time since 1996 that Washington voters have been asked to approve charters. Previous bills have been rejected by voters despite millions of dollars behind the charter campaigns. This time, a handful of billionaires, led by Bill Gates put in more cash than ever before, and had a 10:1 financial edge over opponents. Given all that money, opponents have said they are happy the vote was close. -- Maureen Downey, ajc

738 -- The number of minutes over a three-week period  (12 hours and 18 minutes), preparing for and administering standardized tests by a Chicago teacher. -- Adam Heenan

53,000,000 -- The number of dollars former Dixon, IL comptroller Rita Crundwell, is charged with siphoning off from this tiny town's treasury. I'm just imagining what that $53M might have meant for Dixon schools, students or needy families.

20,000 -30,000 -- The number of pages of lewd emails sent by U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Allen to Jill Kelley. My lord, how big is her in-box?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"We don't need no stinkin' Open Meetings Act..."

Public school teachers, students, parents and activists rally against school closings inside the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel on North St. Clair Street in Chicago. -- Chicago Tribune

Here's Byrd-Bennett's response to the ongoing protests against the Gates-funded closing of 100 neighborhood schools, replacing them with privately-run charters:
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett appointed a new “independent commission” to oversee school closings and help engage the community. The commission has not yet met publicly and is not subject to the Open Meetings Act, which requires they meet in public any time more than two members want to get together. -- WBEZ
Rahm chimes in:
“(Delaying school closings) was not intended to stop protests, I understand people will be upset, but we’re going to have to deal now with what’s been postponed.”
CTU Vice-President Jesse Sharkey:
“If you really have a problem with too many school buildings, I think you can get a good faith conversation and start by saying you’re going to give up on the plan of open 100 new schools. That doesn’t make any sense, to be closing schools at the same time you’re building new ones.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sun-Times has a 'democracy problem" of its own

The landslide victory for Chicago's elected school board referendum has the Sun-Times editorial board in a tizzy. Today's editorial begins by answering its own question:
"Does the Chicago Board of Education have a democracy problem?  Without a doubt."
My guess is that most of the 65,763 yes voters (as compared  to the 10,174 no voters) would have offered a slightly stronger response -- like " OH HELL YES!"

I mean -- problem with democracy? Our autocratic mayor's hand-picked, elitist billionaire board has never even had one dissenting vote, even while the top-down reform policies under mayoral control since 1995, have yet to produce any significant improvement in the schools or in the lives of their students. Parents and community members are routinely shut out of the real policy discussions affecting their kids. Board members have been the targets of investigations involving financial misuse, and on and on.

I know what you're saying. Something like -- Well, duh! Your public schools system is now a wing of Chicago City Hall, probably the most corrupt institution this side of Tammany Hall. What did you think would happen? [Good point, by the way.]

The Sun-Times editorial board, while recognizing that 87% of voters favor an elected board, immediately begins back peddling and rationalizing on Rahm's behalf. While "no one should ignore" the referendum, it is, after all non-binding and "wasn’t on the ballot in all precincts." Voters in "ONLY [my caps] 327 precincts across 35 wards" weighed in.

Of course the reason it wasn't on the ballot citywide was because the mayor's new puppy dog in the City Council, Ald. Joe Moore, blocked it in committee. But it's only reasonable to assume that if it was on the ballot in other precincts, the vote would be the same.

So recognizing that they are bucking a near unanimous anti-Rahm, anti-board tide here, they offer some concessions. They are willing to accept a continued mayor-appointed board that is "more diverse" including some (but not too many) "average (i.e. not affluent folks) parents, school staff and community members" who could be "vetted by an independent commission," which then could forward the names of potential board members to the mayor."

Inside the Hyatt
Or umm, how about this -- a minority of the board could be elected, preserving mayoral control but making the board "more democratic".

In other words, anything and I mean anything except a democratically elected board like the ones in every other school district in the state, except Chicago's.


Hundreds of teachers and supporters are using their Veterans Day holiday to rally at City Front Plaza, hold a mock trial and march on billionaire school board member, Penny Pritzker's Hyatt Hotel, demanding a moratorium on school closings.


Election Results
"Mitt Romney is the president of white male America." -- Maureen Dowd, NYT 
Rehabilitating Michelle Rhee 
Debate about how to improve schools will continue, as in the sadly effective effort by the teachers union in Chicago and in some election-day initiatives to defeat reform. Evidence that the common-sense changes engineered by Ms. Rhee are paying off should be part of the discussion and hopefully will spur other systems to follow the District’s lead. -- Washington Post editorial
Testing: Enough is enough
About a month and a half ago, astute journalists covering the historic Chicago teachers’ strike realized the issues brought up by the strike weren’t just about money, but were also a reaction to the tsunami of testing that is overwhelming teachers and students. -- Lisa Guisbond of FairTest
'YOLO --"You only live once"
  738 minutes in 3 weeks
In my school, in just three weeks’ time, I have calculated that we spent 738 minutes (12 hours and 18 minutes) on preparing for and administering standardized tests. -- Adam Heenan, WaPo
The Government and the Storm
Over the past four decades we have sown the seeds of privatization and relentlessly eroded our public services. With Katrina, Irene and Sandy — and more names surely to come — we are reaping the whirlwind. -- Kenneth M. Coughlin. Letter to the Times

Friday, November 9, 2012

Remembering Central Falls, I hear that Duncan is staying put

Anonymous reader points to Lynn Sweet's column in the Sun-Times which tells us that Arne Duncan wants another term and "there is no plan for a change."

While I'd be happy to see Duncan go, I'm not so concerned with that now, since it would only amount to a cosmetic change at best. Obama shows no sign of evolving in his understanding of education reform and it's clear (to me at least) that Duncan was never capable of an original thought on the topic. He's only doing what the president and DFER hedge-fund "reformers" tell him to do vis-a-vis Race To The Top, teacher unions, privatization, testing, etc...

I'm reminded of this as I head off the Providence for the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum where in neighboring, economically devastated  Central Falls, the current war on teachers, their unions, and public schools began full-force in 2010. I'm recalling that it was not only Duncan, who heaped praise on Rhode Island's moronic state superintendent Deborah Gist for firing the entire Central Falls H.S. faculty and staff, but the president as well. Duncan called the cowardly deed "courageous",  but Obama was quick to join in and publically second the motion.

So regardless of which bureaucrat fills the DOE seat, we will be back in the schools and in the streets struggling to save our schools. I'm taking seriously, the words Obama himself imparted the other night in Chicago.
The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America's never been about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A call for Obama to change course on ed reform

Athena on my mind

I'm hoping to be able to get to Providence tomorrow for the start of the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum. I'm on a panel with Deb Meier and Xian Barrett from the CTU about the strike and ongoing struggle for public education in Chicago. But now I hear that Athena is battering the east coast, cancelling lots of flights. Better pack my snow shoes.

My pre-travel reading includes an excellent piece, "A call for President Obama to change course on education", in yesterday's WaPo by Arthur H. Camins who's the director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.

Camins writes:
Is there evidence to support the notion that private sector innovation in product quality – not short-term profit — is advanced by fear?  Is there evidence that fear and competition will spur more effective teaching?  If anything, the evidence suggests the opposite.  There is no credible evidence to support the reformers’ theory of action that merit pay and of the threat of firing of presumably low-performing teachers will drive systemic improvement.  It is pure unsubstantiated ideology. 
 It's a good companion piece to Bill Ayers' Open Letter to President Obama.

Bennett bites the dust
There's lots I skipped over in my election hangover post yesterday. As Hoosier Daddy commented, I should have mentioned the defeat of  State Supt. Tony Bennett in Indiana.

HD writes,
Bennett was the arch enemy of public schools. He was responsible for pushing "reform", which included school takeovers, vouchers, and privately run charter schools. He was defeated by Glenda Ritz, who was outspent by Bennett's billionaire backers 4-1. She's a veteran teacher and teachers union leader, who campaigned on halting corporate school reform. A great victory!
Then there was the passage of Prop 30 in California, which will raise income taxes on the wealthiest citizens in the state and temporarily increase the state sales tax by a quarter of a cent to fund K-12 schools, community colleges and state universities.

It's most interesting and exciting to see how these ballot initiatives are changing the political landscape and how they are no longer owned by the right-wing. Victories for marriage equality initiatives in four states are a prime example. They're not a panacea. They're expensive and require lots of legal skill, strategic planning and organizing. But with another four years of legislative gridlock on the horizon, such initiatives can be a great organizing tool for participatory democracy.

How about a Prop 30 here in Illinois to go along with our elected school board initiative?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Open Letter to President Obama from Bill Ayers

Dear President Obama: Congratulations!
I’m sure this is a moment you want to savor, a time to take a deep breath, get some rest, hydrate, regain your balance, and take a long walk in the sunshine. It might be as well a good time to reflect, rethink, recharge, and perhaps reignite. I sincerely hope that it is, and I urge you to put education on your reflective agenda.
The landscape of “educational reform” is currently littered with rubble and ruin and wreckage on all sides. Sadly, your administration has contributed significantly to the mounting catastrophe. You’re not alone: The toxic materials have been assembled as a bipartisan endeavor over many years, and the efforts of the last several administrations are now organized into a coherent push mobilized and led by a merry band of billionaires including Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Sam Walton, and Eli Broad.
Whether inept or clueless or malevolent—who’s to say?—these titans have worked relentlessly to take up all the available space, preaching, persuading, promoting, and, when all else fails ... READ THE ENTIRE LETTER HERE. 

Election hangover

I'm feeling a little hung-over this morning but still trying to get some of my election-night notes down on the blog. First and most importantly, I lost my $5 bet by badly underestimating the number of electoral votes for Obama. As you all know, I predicted 290 and it appears that he got (with the late addition of Florida) 332. Sorry Nate Silver, I should have kept the faith.

Second, Obama owes his victory to his well-positioned field workers,  an abysmal cast of Limbaugh Party opponents, and to an amazing turnout of his ever-forgiving base, particularly African-American, Latino, women (thanks Akin, Murdock, Ryan, etc...) and youth voters, in the key battleground states. Black vote was 93% for Obama. Latino, 76%.  It's safe to say that the road to the White House went straight through the barrio.

Obama got about 60% of the youth vote, but his share shrunk from 4 years ago. Good reason to support and build the emerging youth voter movement looking towards 2014.

White voters who still make up 72% of the electorate (hear O'Reilly moan), went 57% for Romney/Ryan. Older white males were the heart of their voter base, as expected. But Obama was able to do better among white males than he did in '08, especially in states like Michigan and Ohio, where Romney's class bias and opposition to unions and the auto industry bailout had an impact. Obama's support among white men went from 16 %  when he defeated Republican McCain in 2008, to 21%.

Irony is that neither candidate said much to separate themselves on education, yet education turned out to be a big vote motivator. I think the Dems, despite their horrible corporate reform policies (Race To The Top) were able to score votes by supporting more funding for public ed and shoring up their alliance with the teacher unions. Despite dire predictions by some lefties about teachers abandoning Obama, they appear to have voted for him in overwhelming numbers (as did swing-state lefties). The reason -- teachers aren't just teachers. They are also, women, African-Americans, parents, college-loan payers,  home owners, health care consumers, etc...


It was a great day in the Windy City. We got almost a 90% vote for elected school board. But non-binding. Now we need to put the heat on the legislature. 65,763 voted for it, 10,174 against. That's actually 86.6%. Also, the mis-worded Constitutional Amendment put on the ballot by Mike Madigan's pension grabbers, failed to win the needed 60% vote. Rest assured that they will try, try again.

Lots more to talk about. Victories for women, marriage equality, the overcoming of  T-Party govs' supression of voting rights and more. Look for civil war in the GOP to explode. Look for their mea culpas and a promise to do right by Latinos and immigrants. Overall, great victory over the right-wing surge. Most fun was watching postmortem at FOX with Rove trying to claim that Obama hadn't really won Ohio.  Bad news if any -- Obama promises to be even more conciliatory towards the Limbaugh Party.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I hope I lose the election pool

Nearly all (except for one nabob of negativity) in the family election pool have Obama winning the electoral college vote handily. I'm the most conservative prognosticator at 290. I think the highest is 332. Chief concern is over the counts in Ohio and Florida where T-Party apparatchiks run the ballot counting and Rove's funny business circa '04 could tie things up for days or weeks. But early voting turnout is amazing and my favorite pollsters are saying it won't even be close enough to matter.

Here in Chicago, my vote in the presidential race is of little value to anyone but myself. But there are other important ballot measures. PLEASE VOTE NO on the Pension Constitution Amendment and VOTE YES on the Elected School Board referendum.

While I have been among the most critical of Obama/Duncan ed policies, I am more concerned with the threat of a right-wing electoral coup d'etat that the Romney campaign represents and especially the threat it poses for women, people of color, and to the rights of working people.

Side notes to the election:

Chicago already has registered more homicides than it did during all of last year. But the Sun-Times reports that cops are leaving the force and retiring at a record pace. Could it be that there worried about pension "reform." Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields disclosed Monday that the ranks of 2012 retirees will top 580, breaking the old record of 570 in 2004. While the mayor disputes these figures, there's no doubt that demoralization and anger towards Rahm is widespread.  I'm no fan of the FOP, especially after their long, extensive defense of racist torturer Sgt. Burge. But it seems like there's a basis for some tactical unity between them and the CTU over defense of pensions and rights for public employees unions.


Everyone knows by now the obscene amount of money spent on the presidential race. Electoral politics, especially now with the court's Citizens United ruling, has become a spectator sport played exclusively by multi-millionaires and billionaires while the common folk watch on TV. But what may surprise you is the equally obscene cost involved in running for local office as well. Crain's Greg Hinz reports that the top congressional and state legislative races here, with the cumulative figures running something around $100 million.


We were awakened around 2 a.m. this morning to the sound of low-flying choppers over our Logan Square neighborhood. I assume it had something to do with Obama's return to hometown Chicago where he will spend election day. Word is he will be hooping with friends. Once again, I didn't get invited to the game. He and Duncan have both been ducking me for years. I don't blame them. Even with one knee gone and pushing '70, I still have too much game left for either of them. Plus they're intimidated by my political shit-talking.

Why we vote

This is going around on FB. Roots sing "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around."

h/t to Jesse "Walking Man" Turner

On the ground in Chicago

This post was written by guest blogger Bob George. Bob is a member of the National Steering Committee of Save Our Schools (SOS).

A day in the life

Over the past several days I had the privilege of being involved in several Chicago education events with Parents, Students, Teachers, CTU and Core members. On Thursday evening, the Black Caucus of CTU sponsored a discussion with CTU President Karen Lewis, on the recent teachers strike, the implications for the community, and what’s next.

Several Black community leaders were on hand as Karen laid out the strike story.  Carl West the owner of Truth Be Told news service asked Karen to describe the process of how CTU came to Strike.
Karen said:
“The strike bubbled up from the Rank and File!” As the membership’s voice was heard they expressed their anger at the injustice of a system that treated children as numbers, regularly underfunded minority schools, had no books on hand to start the school year…  a system that is three times more likely to provides less than half a day of nursing services and social work services to poor and minority schools, a system that tests and tests and tests. The rank and file had enough!!!! The strike was not lead from the top but rather guided from the bottom. It was about RESPECT.
The leadership was responsive to the membership. It was a means of empowering the people, as the drivers of change. CPS has had four CEOs in two years, more than 86 schools closures, 101 charters opened, yet the performance of the school district has not measurably improved. In reading scores the aggregate of the charter schools performs at a rate 10 % points below the aggregate of the public schools.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on this experiment of privatization in Chicago with mediocre results in the classroom. Yet these changes have had horrendous impact on the communities they affected. 87 % of the schools closed were schools of predominately children of color, schools in poverty, community schools that were an anchor of the neighborhood

As the schools closed the children were dispersed their sense of safety of belonging was lost. Some even lost their lives as they were forced to cross gang lines to go to new schools. Millions of ARRA dollars were spent to alleviate the distrust, violence and trauma the closings caused. Yet even now, the school board and the mayor persist that more schools will be closed for fiscal reasons. At the same time they made a commitment to the Gates foundation that 60 additional charters will be created in the next four years.

After Karen spoke, there was a panel of teachers from the Black Caucus.

Tara Stamps a CTU middle school teacher and Black Caucus leader spoke passionately about the lives that are being neglected in her community because the schools are harmful for the “babies” the black children enrolled in them. Her mother taught her to give back to her community. She extolled the need to create a moratorium on school closures to save the lives of the “babies”.
These are our children who are being tested and not taught, whose safe schools are being closed and whose teachers are being disrespected. Children absorb that poison we must make sure that the atmosphere they grow up in the schools they attend and learn in respect them. Honor their inherent desire to learn.
Soria Lofton, a nurse, spoke to the lack of counselors, nurses and social workers to support the children and their families. A school in a high-poverty neighborhood is three times less likely to have even minimal time from these three critical professions.

Brandon Johnson a High school teacher spoke to the phenomena of  "Educational Apartheid" practiced by CPS since 1995. During that time Chicago schools went from 45% of the teachers being Black to 19%. This undermines the solid middle class jobs that black women held that are so important to the community. Furthermore the role models that all students need are increasingly not there for black children

The final speaker Stacy Davis Gates reminded all of us that we must hold the legislators feet to the fire when it comes to school closures and elected boards. The people work for us not us for them. The legislature passed every thing that has happened regarding closures and mayoral control of the board. We must work to create the conditions in which the people we elect listen to the needs of the community by letting them know we are watching and will support or oppose them based on how they vote on pour core issues

Monday, November 5, 2012

If the goal is 100% "failure" then we're almost there

After nearly a dozen years of No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top

Remember, back in the day, when all the talk was about leaving no child behind? Remember the NCLB mandate that ALL children will be proficient by 2014?

Now as the new year approaches, comes the news that 82% of Illinois school districts have failed to make the grade, up from 80% the year before. Even worse, 98% of Illinois high schools are now considered failing. That means only 11 out of Illinois’ 671 eligible high schools achieving the standard known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Scores on state achievement tests barely budged in 2012 and graduation rates also dipped across the state, and the majority of schools failed federal academic standards in math and reading — similar to results last year's. The same pattern is holding true nationwide as well. In other words, the longer we persist in these top-down, corporate reform policies, the worse things get,  even according to their own standards.

It should be obvious however, that all those schools and districts aren't really "failing." The failure here is with the way the system measures and defines success and failure and the way it considers or fails to consider the effects of poverty and external downward pressures on all these measurable learning outcomes.

Maybe the next round of testing madness connected with Pearson-driven and Duncan-led Common Core Standards, can push us over the top, to the 100%-failure mark, truly leaving no school behind.


The view from Miles Davis Magnet Academy in Englewood on Chicago's south side. In the 90s, Englewood had the highest lead-poisoning rates in the country.
There's no better example of these negative external poverty-driven forces than the fact that Chicago has the distinction of being home to more cases of lead toxicity than any large city in the U.S. One in 12 of the city's children is lead poisoned. Megan Cottrell makes the link between lead poisoning and under-performing students in the Nov. 1 issue of The Reader.
A recent study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the blood lead levels of third graders between 2003 and 2006—students now likely to be roaming the halls at CPS high schools. It turns out that at three-quarters of Chicago's 464 elementary schools, the students' average blood lead level was high enough to be considered poisoned, according to standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And although lead poisoning is rarely mentioned in the debate on how to improve schools, the UIC research shows just how much it may be damaging kids' ability to succeed. According to the study, lead-poisoned students in Chicago Public Schools are more likely to fail the third grade and score notably lower on their yearly standardized tests.
So without making "excuses," it should be obvious that if you really want to improve outcomes for inner-city children, stop evaluating/punishing schools and teachers for student test scores. Instead, get the lead out.