Thursday, January 31, 2013

Will Common Core kill early childhood education?

Here's my other problem with Common Core Standards -- besides the testing madness associated with it. In the hands of ed bureaucrats, corporate reformers and Pearson testing profiteers CCS could very well mean death to good early childhood education. Case in point -- New York City schools under the rule of Mayor Bloomberg.

Susan Edelman, writing in Monday's N.Y. Post ("Playtime’s over, kindergartners") reports:
The city has adopted national standards called the Common Core, which dramatically raise the bar on what kids in grades K through 12 should know. The jargon is new, too. Teachers rate each student’s performance as “novice,” “apprentice,” “practitioner” or “expert.” In a kindergarten class in Red Hook, Brooklyn, three children broke down and sobbed on separate days last week, another teacher told The Post.
When one girl cried, “I can’t do it,” classmates rubbed her back, telling her, “That’s OK.” “This is causing a lot of anxiety,” the teacher said. “Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.”
Diane Ravitch blogs:
 There is growing evidence that the Common Core standards are absurd in the early grades. They require a level of academic learning that is developmentally inappropriate. Little children need time to pay. Play is their work. In play, they learn to share and to count, to communicate, to use language appropriately, and to figure things out.
I know the horse is already out of the barn on CCS. Just saying...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Latest Chicago gun deaths. Communities in distress.

"He hits the one that hurts the most to lose,” said Chicago Police Officer Damon Stewart, 36, Hadiya ’s godfather. “I changed her diapers, I played with her growing up. My heart is broken.”
Isolated and racially segregated neighborhoods in economic distress. Schools, medical and mental health facilities facing closure. The lives and family situations of thousands of mainly black and Latino youth in disarray and being further destabilized by city, county and state policies and budget cuts. Add in the easy availability of guns and you have some clues about why we're losing so many young people to the violence of Chicago streets.

There were seven murders from gunshots and other causes from 6 p.m. Friday until 12:01 a.m. Monday , according to the police department. Altogether, the city saw 10 shootings during that period, including victims who were wounded but did not die.

“That’s just not the way those numbers usually play out,” Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Tuesday, "Unfortunately that’s the way it goes sometimes ..." McCarthy says violence is not as bad as it seems. He says the shock of murders doesn’t mean the department’s strategy to curb violence isn’t working. But of course, that all misses the point. Policing strategies, which seem to change week-to-week, come into play after the fact and do nothing to improve the conditions of life in the community.

The latest victims, two King High School students, one dead and one wounded in Vivian Gordon Harsh Park, near the school in the city's Kenwood neighborhood. Along with about a dozen others, they were hanging out under a canopy in the park to get out of the rain after school was let out early because of testing. Shots rang out, killing 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton who took a bullet in the back. Another student was shot in the leg.

King was one of the city's high schools that was closed and re-opened as a selective-enrollment school under Mayor Daley's Renaissance 2010 "reform" initiative.

Hadiya (4th from left) performs at inauguration with King classmates.
A week ago, Hiadiya was in D.C. performing at presidential inauguration festivities as part of the Mikva Challenge. She had plans of going to Paris in the summer on a student exchange program.
“She’s a huge reader, loves stories and novels and was naturally smart, always on the honor roll,” said her cousin, Shatira said. “She was caught up in the violence of the city.” 
As usual, the shootings will be written off in the media as "gang-related" and the record-high number of shooting deaths seen mainly as a policing and jailing problem. That takes us nowhere.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What a night! Belafonte at Northwestern and protest at CPS hearings in Uptown

"Without radical thought, our society cannot move forward."  -- Harry Belafonte (M. Klonsky pic)
I drove up to Evanston last night to hear the great Harry Belafonte deliver a keynote to a packed house at Northwesteern's Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration 2013. Belafonte was a close friend and supporter of Dr. King. He minced no words last night while talking about our nation's history of racism and oppression of people of color and the great freedom struggle of which he and Dr. King were a part. That racist oppression, said Belafonte, today includes the world's largest prison population of more than 2 million people-- mostly people of color, (more than 7 million if you count all adults who were under correctional supervision, probation, parole, jail, or prison).

See Michelle Alexander's great book, The New Jim Crow, for more on this.

Belefonte at 85, is  focused now on the issue of gun control. He's is a critical supporter of President Obama's efforts, calling them "tepid."

Last night a Truman College (DNAInfo Pic)
What I missed though, was another inspiring event taking place a little ways down the road in Uptown at Truman College where the Board was holding hearings on its plan to close more than 100 Chicago public school, mainly in the city's black and Latino communities. You can only imagine what HB would have said about that. Hundreds of parents, teachers and community activists packed the meeting and raised a little hell over the proposed closings.

According to
Attendees filled the bleachers and stood against the wall at Truman College for the opening meeting in the second phase of community hearings being held around the city on the district's plan to close underutilized schools. But district officials had a tough time even making a prepared presentation as crowds shouted and chanted. As one official tried to outline the district's vision, someone shouted, "Do you believe him?" "No!" the crowd answered.
Craig Benes, who oversees schools in the North Side's Ravenswood-Ridge region, was even heckled as he at one point said he wanted "to just step away from the agenda for a moment and speak from my heart. ... I understand that teachers and parents are concerned" — but he asked for the audience's ear.
He did not get it. The crowd started chanting, "Save our schools! Save our schools!"
The schedule for the rest of the meetings across the city this week is as follows:

• Tuesday: Midway Network at Daley College, 7-9 p.m.
• Tuesday: O’Hare Network at Wright College, 7-9 p.m.
• Wednesday: Lake Calumet Network at Olive Harvey College, 7-9 p.m.
• Thursday: Austin-North Lawndale Network at Friendship MB Church, 7-9 p.m.
•  Saturday: Englewood-Gresham Network at Kennedy King College, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

(Becky Vevea/WBEZ)
In the mean time, a busload of Chicago activists organized by KOCO is heading to D.C. to  meet up with people from 18 different cities to speak out against school closings.

According the WBEZ: 
People from some of the cities, including Chicago, have filed civil rights complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, charging that closing schools disproportionately impacts minority students. 
“Everywhere, it’s the same stories that can be told over and over again,” Griffin said. “So it’s not just in Chicago. It’s not just in Witchita. It’s in New Orleans. It’s in L.A. It’s in New York. It’s in Newark. It’s everywhere.” The coalition will bring its complaints to a hearing with national education officials on Tuesday.
Also, don't miss Ben Joravsky's latest Reader piece on CPS school closings.

Monday, January 28, 2013


The Seattle Times/Associated Press"We've been raising our voices about this deeply flawed test for a long time," said Jesse Hagopian, who teaches history at Garfield High School,  But now that the district is using the test for evaluations, we've drawn our line in the sand." -- WSJ

Valerie Strauss, Wash. Post
Here’s a question: Has anybody told President Obama  that his education policies have resulted in a growing revolt against standardized testing? -- The Answer Sheet
Bill Gates
In the past year, I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition... In the U.S., we should be measuring the value being added by colleges. -- WSJ, "My plan to fix the world's biggest problems"
Calif.Gov. Jerry Brown
 Performance metrics, of course, are invoked like talismans. Distant authorities crack the whip, demanding quantitative measures and a stark, single number to encapsulate the precise achievement level of every child. -- Huffington, "Jerry Brown Makes Veiled Hit On EdSec Arne Duncan?"
D.C. Councilman, David Catania
 “If we don’t become very serious about marketing and competing” with charter schools, Catania said, “traditional public schools, as we know them, will become a thing of the past.” -- Washington Post
 LeBron James
”So the Kings getting sold for 525M!! And the owners ain’t making no money huh? What the hell we have a lookout (lockout) for. Get the hell out of here.” -- Tweet

Friday, January 25, 2013


School closers Babbitz & Byrd-Bennett
“CPS needs to make sure it’s not fixing what isn’t broken. The District must not shutter schools that, though technically underutilized, are vibrant hubs of community activity housed in high-quality buildings, and that serve as an anchoring force in their neighborhoods.” -- Commission on School Utilization, Interim Report, Jan. 10th
 “We know that in the past we haven’t done a terrific job of tracking students and understanding their outcomes.” -- Todd Babbitz, head of the CPS department that handles school closings.
 “We were challenged when we did 10 schools.” -- Board member, Andrea Zopp.
 “This isn’t about buildings to me. This is about moving heart, blood and soul of children and families, and that’s delicate, and it must be done with respect, and the kind of nurturing and support that children and families need in that transition." -- CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett
 "Children in shuttered schools must be sent schools that are at least as good if not better....Unilaterally right now, we cannot say in every neighborhood a parent can go to a neighborhood school that is of a higher quality option because often in places it simply doesn’t not exist at this time." -- More Byrd-Bennett
These quotes are all taken from this Sun-Times report.

Tests, typos and video tape

The website parents were sent to instead of a similar URL for information on Illinois testing standards.
BBB's email notification to parents, warning them of a probable decline in student test scores, led instead,  to an erotic website. Pretty hilarious when you consider all the possibilities. But most likely, just a typo on the part of a secretary -- an errant l in the website address that leads us to this ISBEL site instead of to ISBE. But you can bet the CEO's overstaffed Damage Control Dept. is on high alert and is in a tizzy this morning, especially after Sun-Times ed writers Fitzpatrick and Rossi got hold of the story ("Was CPS email a little ‘naughty’? Link sends parents to sex site")  and ran with it.

Yes, pretty funny stuff. But in a way, it may have saved Byrd-Bennett from having to explain the real, un-funny, un-sexy fallout caused by re-norming of state tests and the expected drop in student test scores.

From the Sun-Times:
Byrd-Bennett’s message intended to notify parents of state changes to the Illinois Standards Achievement Test or ISAT, whose standards for scores will be raised this year, and to brace them for the new results.
“What does this mean for your child?” Byrd-Bennett wrote. “By raising the bar on the ISAT, it is likely that scores for students may decrease. In many cases, some students who previously met or exceeded standards on the ISAT will instead show the need for improvement.
“However, even if scores do drop for your child, it does not mean they know less than they did before or are less capable than they were in previous years. ISBE is simply raising the bar on the ISAT in order to align it more closely with standards that better indicate if students are on a path for college and career-readiness.”
Two points here. First, Byrd-Bennett lets the cat out of the bag by admitting that ISAT scores have little to say about what kids know and are actually learning.

Second is the consequences of decline in scores on this high-stakes test for teachers. Under SB7  and the new teachers contract, teacher evaluations are based in large measure, on student test scores. How this will be handled with the constant re-norming of state tests is anybody's guess.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rahm undermines BBB's school-closing commission

Is Rahm really flipping off BBB's own hand-picked School Utilization Commission, led by former ComEd boss Frank Clark, which recommended keeping hands off of high schools when it comes to school closings? If he is it won't be the first time he's dissed the hired help. Remember his hand-picked arbitrator during the teachers strike who recommended a 15-20% pay raise for teachers?

Clark's commission wants as few as 15 schools closed instead of the 200 being pushed by the Civic Committee. Commission members reportedly feel that CPS is "incapable and doesn't have the capacity to close 100-plus schools."

Rahm is also undermining Byrd-Bennett in the process. I knew he would. Didn't everyone expect this when she took the job?

According to the Tribune:
"The commission has provided a reality check that gives Barbara Byrd-Bennett a credible basis to push back against those that may be calling for massive closings," said a source with ties to the district. "The hearings they have conducted have been a real wake-up call to understand the reality for so many families and students who will bear the brunt of this dislocation without the assurance of real improvements in their educational opportunities."
Another point: Why do we still have to get the real deal about our schools from deep-throat "sources" like the one above when BBB promised us transparency when she took the job?

More on that to come.

The Battle in Seattle

SEA. members  use phone bank to build support for Garfield teachers.
The courageous action taken by teachers at Seattle's Garfield High School has won growing support and admiration, not only from the city's teachers, parents and students, but from teachers nationwide. Their announced refusal on January 10th to administer the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), a poorly-constructed, high-stakes, standardized test, has once again brought national attention to disastrous testing-madness policies being pushed and enforced for the past 12 years under No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top.

The unanimous vote taken by the Garfield teachers to boycott the MAP has already garnered local support from teachers at Ballard High, Chief Sealth High, Ballard's Salmon Bay K-8, Orca K-8 and other Seattle area schools. Yesterday, rallying teachers at the Board of Ed heard a message of support from Chicago Teachers Union V.P. Jesse Sharkey who told the crowd:  "Sisters and brothers... There's only one way forward: Stick together and fight."

AFT prez Randi Weingarten and  NEA prez Dennis Van Roekel have both come out in support of the Garfield teachers. Yesterday (better late than never) Van Roekel called the test boycott, "A defining moment within the education profession.”

This from the SLOG blog:
Teachers learned today, in emergency after-school staff meetings, that they could be subject to 10-day suspensions without pay if they did not administer the test, according to Garfield teacher Jesse Hagopian. "They say we're disruptive?" Hagopian called out, right outside the closed doors of the school board meeting. "I think a test that is not aligned to my curriculum is disruptive. Threatening teachers with 10 days without pay is disruptive." The rally ended with a hearty rendition of "SCRAP THE MAP! SCRAP THE MAP!" before leaders reminded everyone to be respectful, and most of the group crowded into the meeting.
Jesse Hagopian
Hagopian's January 17th Op-Ed piece in the Seattle Times makes clear the reasons for the teachers' dramatic action.
Former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson brought the MAP to Seattle at a cost of some $4 million while she was serving on the board of the company that sells it. The state auditor called this an ethics violation because she did not disclose it until after the district approved the company’s contract. After Goodloe-Johnson was fired, the MAP somehow survived the housecleaning. Garfield teachers refuse to administer an ethics violation.
We at Garfield are not against accountability or demonstrating student progress. We do insist on a form of assessment relevant to what we’re teaching in the classroom. 
While new Seattle Supt. Jose Banda is under pressure to suspend the teachers, such a move on his part would only broaden and intensify the anti-testing struggle and spread it to other schools.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rahm shifts gears on Jones H.S. Makes it bigger and more selective

The Sun-Times reports:
Ignoring the wishes of many South Loop parents and their alderman, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday that the old Jones College Prep High School building will not be converted to a neighborhood school but instead will double the number of students allowed to test in...Neither the mayor nor the schools chief would answer any questions, including why they chose to ignore the community’s desires for an open-enrollment, neighborhood school.
Rahm seems to be looking over his shoulder at Ald. Fioretti (2nd), a leader of the Progressive Caucus in the City Council, as a possibly viable opponent in the next election. It was Fioretti who had been pushing turning the old Jones H.S. building into a neighborhood school while Rahm initially contemplated turning it over to developers for condos. Jones was already getting a new $115 million building just down the block from its current home in the South Loop, to open in the fall.

But yesterday Rahm pulled a fast one which had nothing to do with best educational practices and everything to do with trying to out-maneuver Fioretti. At a hastily-called press conference, the mayor announced that Jones, one of CPS' 10 selective-enrollment high schools will maintain its current building, at 606 S. State St., while adding its facility to the new one. The net result is that Jones will almost double in size to 1,700 students while remaining essentially a selective enrollment school rather than adding a neighborhood school. Eventually, 300 of the spots will be set aside for local residents, but they will have to test in, too.

So here we have reason #597 to replace mayoral control of the schools with an elected school board. Turning CPS into a wing of City Hall has meant bigger and more selective high schools. That's just the opposite of what the research tells us about good schooling -- make high schools smaller and more community-based. Rahm's politically-driven, real estate-driven, strategy of turning CPS into a two-tier school system is devastating isolated black and Latino neighborhoods, leading to more street violence and widening the so-called "achievement gap."

For more on this concept, see our book, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The party's over...

"For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class." -- Pres. Obama
“One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you’re raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, “Where do We Go from Here?” (1967)
After all the heavenly words about "we the people" this and "the pursuit-of-happiness" that, and after the magic moment, the dance, and the gazing at Mrs. Obama's stunning Jason Wu gown and bangs haircut is over, we still come back down to earth, to a city where Obama's boys are killing us.

No need to look any further than Ben Joravsky's latest Reader piece, "Mayor Rahm channels his inner Herbert Hoover" where Ben refers to a picture the Tribune ran of the River Point ground-breaking scene, Mayor Rahm and a developer are laughing as if they're sharing a private joke.
The punch line of which is: Can you believe we get away with this shit? The caption under the photo reads: "Mayor Rahm Emanuel, seen here shaking hands with Daniel Fournier, CEO of property development firm Ivanhoe Cambridge, has been tapping into a network of venture capitalists, law firms and leaders of his economic-development team to build up his re-election war chest."
The word, education cannot be found even once in the president's speech and there is only one vague reference to "school reform." So I guess that means four more years without a re-authorization of ESEA, and by default, more years of Arne Duncan's devastating Race To The Top -- leveraging billions in federal ed dollars to push school closings, privately-run charter schools, mass teacher firings, and more testing madness.

On the positive side, there was a least a mention of poverty in the president's speech, and the fact that poor people even exist in this country and that we are all not middle class.
We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.
Then there was this, spoken at the very moment when a Democratic Illinois governor and the state's machine political bosses are leading the raid on the pensions and medical care of the elderly and inform.
And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice –- not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.
Yes, fine words, Mr. President.  

The confluence of Obama's second inauguration with Dr. King's birthday, led to another round of What would King do? debates. My old '60s SDS friend, Tom Hayden believes that MLK would have supported Obama [of course] and then privately and quietly counseled him on drones and Afghanistan. He might be right. Of course we can never know for sure. But I'd like to think that Dr. King would be out in the streets on Inauguration Day and not in tux and tails at Obama's side while school re-segregation is on the rise and U.S. drones and torture cells are central to administration foreign policy. As a product of the times, it's impossible for me to envision Dr. King as a supporter of any Race To The Top or union-busting charter schools.

Father Phleger
Chicago activist priest, Father Michael Pfleger tried to act in the King tradition. Instead of bearing witness to  Obama’s second inauguration in prime seats in Washington, D.C., he went to an Aurora High School Monday night with a Martin Luther King Day warning: The slain civil rights leader’s message must not be watered down, and he should not be treated like a history lesson.
 “Let me make it clear. If you’ve studied Dr. King, his message was prophetic, and his message was radical,”said Pfleger.
 Another man born and reared in the same tradition as King, Dr. Cornell West went ballistic over Obama's symbolic use of Dr. King's bible as his inaugural prop, which West called, "an affront to human rights."

Finally, I was overjoyed to see true King disciple (or was it the other way around?) and living legend, 94-year-old Prof. Timuel Black, receive his overdue Champions of Freedom Award and a Chicago street sign bearing his name. Among his other lifetime achievements, he led the organizing that went on around the historic March on Washington in 1963. Congrats again to my dear friend Tim.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The arc of the universe...

Dr. King's funeral, 1968. (Don Hogan Charles/NYT)
It's M.L. King Day today. Schools are closed. No b-ball practice. This will be my only post as I'm taking the day off and spending at least some of it contemplating Dr. King's famous statement  -- his conviction that the freedom movement was destined to overcome in the long run, "because the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” ("A Testament of Hope")

I don't take that on faith but I'll give it some more thought and be back at it tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2013

CPS retreats on high school closings. But still no moratorium.

“Closing high schools could potentially result in students traveling further, being forced to cross gang boundaries and placing students in great harm,” she wrote to the panel’s chairman. “We simply cannot support any decision that would jeopardize the safety and well-being of our students.” -- Barbara Byrd-Bennett
The schools CEO says she will follow the recommendations of her appointed School Utilization Commission and not close any high schools -- except for "rare cases"??? She admits, it's just too dangerous. That admission is a little late in coming, but okay.

BBB further announced that she won't touch any "high-performing" or Level 1 schools, as they are called. Finally, CPS will pass over schools considered to be under-capacity that are still adding grades by design.

She would not rule out closing schools with at least 600 students, saying she would consider each one “on its own merits”. She also plans to take more time to see how to bolster schools that are close to being efficient, and how to define “significant school action” before ruling out those schools as well.

So far, so good. These concessions show that parent and community voices are being heard.  But the demand for a total one-year moratorium on all school closings remains to be won.

The struggle continues.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Reformers' narrative about lagging U.S. schools covers up poverty

“The brutal fact here is there are many countries that are far ahead of us and improving more rapidly than we are." -- Arne Duncan
"Our competitors understand that the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow." -- Pres. Obama
The rationale behind corporate-style school reform begins and ends with this disturbing narrative that portrays U.S. schools as lagging behind in the global race to the top. This lag is supposedly to blame for the country's economic failures and the declining competitive position of American corporations in the global economy. This narrative also underlies current school reform efforts and  Duncan's Race To The Top initiative in particular. RTTT has forced the closing of thousands of schools and turning them over to privately-managed charter schools as well as the firing of thousands of teachers. None of this has improved the U.S. position in the global economy one iota. Nor has it done much to improve public education as a whole.

International reading scores by social class.
A new report released yesterday shows that in fact, shows that U.S. schools ARE NOT being outpaced by international competition. What the report, "What do international tests really show about U.S. student performance?"  really shows is that social and economic inequality in the U.S. is the real culprit and what's really putting this country at a disadvantage globally.

The study's authors found that average U.S. scores in reading and math on the PISA are low partly because a disproportionately greater share of U.S. students comes from disadvantaged social class groups, whose performance is relatively low in every country.

As I and many others have been arguing for years, apparent low average test scores in the U.S. are really a reflection of a two-tier school system with high concentrations of poverty and racial segregation. The new study confirms that wealthier U.S. schools have scores which are competitive with those in any other nation, while those in high-poverty areas are near the bottom. The real problem with current school reform policies is that they reproduce those inequities and further widen the gap between the two tiers.

As part of the study, researchers Martin Carnoy, a professor of education at Stanford, and Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI)  calculated how international rankings on the most recent PISA exams might change if this country had a social class composition similar to that of top-ranking nations: U.S. rankings would rise to fourth from 14th in reading and to 10th from 25th in math. The gap between U.S. students and those from the highest-achieving countries would be cut in half in reading and by at least a third in math.
"You can't compare nations' test scores without looking at the social class characteristics of students who take the test in different countries," said Carnoy. "Nations with more lower social class students will have lower overall scores, because these students don't perform as well academically, even in good schools. Policymakers should understand how our lower and higher social class students perform in comparison to similar students in other countries before recommending sweeping school reforms."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

An assault weapons ban for Arne's Army?

Arne bought 27 of these military-order, Remington Model, 870 police 12/14P Mod GRWC XS4 KXCS SF. RAMAC #24587 GAUGE: 12 BARREL: 14" - Parkerized choke: modified sights: Ghost ring rear, WILSON COMBAT shotguns in 2010.
Arne Duncan using his bully pulpit to call for an assault weapons ban is a hopeful sign. For one thing, while he's busy rallying the gun-control troops, he's got no time to think of new ways to close neighborhood schools, or to fire teachers in mass. That alone could save some young lives here in Chicago. Plus he'll be too busy to come up with new and "improved" standardized tests to put on top of this year's pile.

But it also got me wondering. Do we we also need to call for an assault weapons ban on Arne?  Remember the 27 military-style assault rifles Arne purchased for his private DOE army back in 2010. At the time I speculated that they were going to be used in an invasion of Rhode Island to enforce the mass firing of teachers and staff at Central Falls High School. Instead, as we all know now, they were used by DOE student loan police to raid the home of a suspected deadbeat in Stockton, Calif. They ended up rousting the wrong man in the early morning raid, but fortunately no one got blasted by Arne's new Remingtons.

Carrying on Dr. King's great struggle

"... For most of the past decade the field of education has been a battleground in the freedom struggle. It was not fortuitous that education became embroiled in this conflict. Education is one of the vital tools the Negro needs in order to advance. And yet it has been denied him by devises of segregation and manipulations with quality.' -- Dr. King's acceptance speech upon winning the John Dewey Award in 1964
Today marks the 84th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. On this day, one can't help but take note that despite all the rhetoric coming from the political leadership about education being "the civil rights issue of our generation" it's shocking how little has been accomplished in fulfilling Dr. King's vision of ed equity and desegregation, during these first 4 years of the Obama administration. If anything, public schooling has become even more racially segregated and certainly more privatized than at any point since MLK's death in 1968.

Here in Chicago, to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, we will be doing what Dr. King probably would have been doing on his birthday were he still alive. We'll be once again on the march to Save Our Schools at one of seven North, West and South side locations on Saturday, January 19th. We will be fighting for our communities, our students and our schools, and speaking out against the planned mass closing of public schools, primarily in under-served black and Latino neighborhoods.


 I am elated that Chicago's own great civil rights warrior, 94-year-old Professor Timuel Black, is getting some well-deserved recognition for his role on the front lines of the struggle. For those who don't know, Tim was Dr. King's point person here in Chicago in organizing the historic 1963 March on Washington. We will be  there to applaud him when he receives the Champion of Freedom award on Friday at the city's 27th Annual Interfaith Breakfast.

ABC News' Ron Majors reports:
He is a proud graduate of DuSable High School on the South Side. There, he is counted among the hall-of-famers. "In this building we had people like John H. Johnson, Harold Washington who became the first black Mayor, Nat King Cole. We used to be in the same classroom," said Black.  A few years after his high school experience, Black made another famous friend- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black was so inspired, that he left a doctorate program at the University of Chicago to dedicate himself to civil rights work. He would become the Chicago chair of the 1963 March on Washington. "We organized the March on Washington over there in this neighborhood. Young people here in DuSable, participating in the organizing," said Black.
It's important to note that Tim led a fight to save his beloved DuSable from the chopping block. The school was turned over to private charter operators in 2005 as part of Daley/Duncan's disastrous Renaissance 2010.

Monday, January 14, 2013

An end to hand-wringing on violence. Stop school closings!

"It is staggering. This continues to haunt me." -- Arne Duncan
Michell McNeil's EdWeek piece, "Chicago Years Inform Ed. Secretary's Views on Gun Violence", portrays Ed Sec. Arne Duncan as a man deeply and personally affected by the Newtown shootings as well as by the epidemic of gun violence sweeping his hometown of Chicago. And knowing Arne, I'm sure he is.
As schools chief in Chicago from 2001 to 2008, he was affected by the gun deaths of a 10-year-old on the eve of her first day of 4th grade, a 16-year-old boy shot in a city bus on his way home from school, and an 18-year-old honor student killed outside his high school, among others. And growing up, he was surrounded by violence on Chicago's South Side.
In this interview with PBS's Gwen Ifill Arne tears up as he puts responsibility for action lies on "all of us."

I'm glad that Arne has reportedly taken on a major role in the administration's push for passage of some "reasonable" gun-control legislation, which I hope turns out to be more than a symbolic or empty gesture.

But I'm also glad that McNeil made a point of showing Arne's support, both in Chicago and nationally, for many of the very policies that have intensified the problem and by most accounts have helped increase the number of young victims of gun violence. Those policies are first and foremost, mass school closings and so-called turnarounds which Duncan has mandated under his Race To The Top reforms. During his term in Chicago, he helped initiate these same unsuccessful "reforms" locally as part of the Paul Vallas regime and later his own.

Writes McNeil:
Yet at the same time, one school policy Mr. Duncan pushed was criticized by those suggesting it made the off-campus violence even worse. He enacted an aggressive school turnaround policy during his tenure in Chicago—which would later become a template for new models under the federal School Improvement Grant turnaround program—that led to many school closures. Critics blamed those closures for not only causing upheaval in students' lives, but also throwing them into new schools that often crossed gang boundaries.
Back in 2007, he was warned that his school closing policies would send thousands of students, unprotected across rival gang territories and into ill-prepared receiving schools that were no better than the ones they had left. The closings further destabilized the city's most poorly-served black and Latino communities and became the targets, as they still are, for mass protests by parent and community groups.

While the string of Duncan successors under Rahm Emanuel's regime continue to pursue his mass closing and turnaround policies, the resistance has continued to grow. The death of Fenger High School student Darrion Albert in 2009, shed more light on the city's ill-considered school policies. But still they continued to be enforced.

This past week, the mayor's own rump Commission on School Utilization issued its Interim Report which called for a halt to high school closings. According to the Commission:
The safety and security of Chicago’s kids has to be a primary concern in deciding upon any school consolidations. But threats to student safety by intermixing students from different neighborhoods are greatest for high school students, and the risk of a violent incident would be magnified. Additionally, high school students need the greatest stability at this time in their lives, and the relocation to a new school creates a dangerous discontinuity in their schooling. So with gang boundaries sometimes shifting on an almost weekly basis, and barring extreme circumstances, it is simply too risky to ask high-school-age kids to cross gang lines just to travel to and from school. (p. 14)
I'm sure that like Arne and like all of us, Rahm and CEO Byrd-Bennett, are deeply saddened by the massacre at Newtown and by the record levels of gun violence in Chicago. But calls for new gun-control laws, while important and necessary are not nearly enough to quell the violence. It's time to put an end to Race To The Top and its mandated closing of thousands of urban schools and put a moratorium on all Chicago school closings.

Enough hand wringing.


English teacher Kit McCormick, left, discusses Garfield High School teachers' decision to refuse to give the MAP test to their students (Seattle Times)
Garfield H.S. teachers 
We are not troublemakers nor do we want to impede the high functioning of our school. We are professionals who care deeply about our students and cannot continue to participate in a practice that harms our school and our students. -- Petition
Nancy Carlsson-Paige
"I have decided that because of your collaboration with TFA, it would not be wise for me or for Matt [Damon] to be nominated for the Friend of Education Award. I regret this turn of events." -- Letter to NEA Pres. Dennis Van Roekel. 
Barbara Byrd-Bennett
“We recognize the need for a more granular level of community engagement."  -- Sun-Times
Bill Ayers
In a free society education is based on a common faith in the incalculable value of every human being; it’s constructed on the principle that the fullest development of all is the condition for the full development of each, and, conversely, that the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all. -- A Letter to the President

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kahlenberg on so-called 'High-flying, high-poverty schools'

Don't miss Richard Kahlenberg's provacative piece in American Educator (Winter 2012-2013) which examines the roles of poverty and racial segregation and their impact of student learning. Kahlenberg takes on those who exaggerate the effect of "high-flying, high-poverty schools" or those [like Michelle Rhee--m.k.], who consider poverty to be mainly an "excuse" made by bad teachers who fail to produce high standardized test score results in poor, segregated schools.

Kahlenberg also takes a fair, but critical look at KIPP charter schools in particular, which have been held up as living evidence by the no-excuses crowd. One thing new I learned is that among KIPP graduates, two-thirds have failed to earn a bachelors degree, "a level of failure, one of KIPP's founders, Mike Feinberg, called 'unacceptable' given the group's goal of 75% college completion."

One area where I may disagree with Kahlenberg is on the optimism he shows regarding new "integration by socioeconomic status" plans which have been put in place after a conservative Supreme Court banned most racially-based affirmative actions plans. Kahlenberg says the new approach is a cost-effective, legally sound strategy that can promote racial diversity while narrowing the achievement gap.

We shall see if that's even its intent. 

Commission report on school closings means uphill battle for Rahm

"Closing high schools highly correlates to drop out rates and spikes of violence. Hopefully they learned their lesson about that." -- Karen Lewis
Parent and community voices from Chicago's targeted neighborhoods are ringing out so loudly against school closings, that the mayor's "reform" strategy -- replacing public schools with privately-run charters, has now become an uphill battle.

Yesterday, a big monkey wrench was tossed into Rahm's school-closing machinery, when Barbara Byrd-Bennett's own hand-picked, rump Commission on School Utilization issued its Interim Report. The report offers no advice about which of the mayor's targeted 80-120 schools to close in the coming year. But it did make a few recommendations on which schools NOT TO CLOSE. These include:
  • Don’t close any high schools. It's too dangerous.
  • Don’t close high-performing schools, no matter how empty or full they may be. (BBB has said she wasn't going to take school performance into consideration. Commission members obviously did not agree).
  • Don't close schools that are making progress with existing improvement plans. 
  • Don't close schools that are close to "efficient utilization." 
  • Don't close schools that are in the process of adding grades
The commission also took it upon itself to offer a vague rejoinder that CPS hold privately-run charters to "the same standards to which it holds district-run schools."

While the Commission's recommendations are based upon shaky CPS data (see Wendy Katten's letter to BBB on School Utilization) and while the report is non-binding, the mayor now faces huge political and legal fallout if he goes against the Commission's findings. After all, he had BBB create the group as a way of avoiding legislature's own legally established Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF) and  state law mandating CPS to present a rationale and get community input before closing any more schools. Now the reputation of Commission Chairman Frank Clark, a retired ComEd CEO, and Rahm political backer, is on the line along with the credibility of its members. 

Community protests and opposition to school closings are obviously reverberating inside commission meeting rooms. If the report shows anything, it's that CPS has not met the state's preconditions for any mass closings or charter-izing and that there's a possible battle brewing between Rahm and Byrd-Bennett over school-closing and charter opening strategy. 

I'm glad Frank Clark's group is showing some independence from the mayor and that cracks are widening within Rham's reform plan. But the report still leaves in doubt the fate of 137 elementary schools, nearly all in the city's least served and resourced black and Laatino neighborhoods. The Commission should have gone a step further and supported the call of the CTU, community groups and parent organizations across the city, for a one-year moratorium on all school closings, turnarounds, or on opening any new charter schools. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hinz: 'At its core, the Nekritz-Biss bill was a Republican bill'

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

Speaking, one would think, for a significant section of Chicago corporatists, Crain's Greg Hinz comes out swinging with his post mortem on the failed pension heist -- swinging at everyone he can think of. And even though he's on the wrong side on the pension battle, he still makes some cogent points:

On the Legislature: "...a true witch's brew of ego, greed, arrogance, irresponsibility and plain old political cowardice. But, I guess, what else could you expect from a General Assembly that now includes no fewer than three members awaiting criminal trial on felony charges ...?

The Democratic Party leadership: "Like a football team with an affable but unsuccessful coach — hellloooo, Lovie Smith — the people of Illinois are going to decide to make a change at the next election if Mr. Quinn can't get the job done."

The Republicans: "At its core, the Nekritz-Biss bill was a Republican bill, one that would have mostly burdened workers rather than taxpayers. There's no reason at least 40 or 45 of the 54 House Republicans weren't publicly on the bill. If they were, the speaker may have had to call it — forcing a lot of squishy Democrats to pick a side."

His pals in the Civic Committee: "They talk and bluster big. But they've offended too many people in Springfield to be effective and neglected to use their best weapon: campaign contributions to unseat recalcitrant lawmakers."

Put it all together and what have you got? The gang that couldn't shoot straight.

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

"We don't need no stinkin' vote!" Pension robbers Quinn and Nekritz agree.  (Sun-Times)
O.K., the great pension robbery has failed -- at least for now. The Quinn-Nekritz gang that couldn't shoot straight, ended up shooting each other and their plot to violate the State Constitution and raid the pension fund of struggling retirees fizzled out with barely a whimper.

But the culprits are still at large, parading around disguised as "progressives." Quinn is already political toast by my reading of the tea leaves.  But Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) still roams the political landscape. There must be a way to punish her at the ballot box. On second-thought, if you've got to fight the pension robbers, maybe it's better to leave the incompetent ones in there.

Football metaphors abound for the Quinn-Nekritz last-minute, illegal move to have their bill become law without the legislature even having to vote on it. After Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), called the move unconstitutional and unions lined up in unison against it, AFL-CIO prez Michael Carrigan said, "“I’d characterize this as a desperate Hail Mary pass.”

Another member of the gang, John Cullerton (D-Chicago), had the most cynical, if ill-conceived scheme of all, forcing retirees to choose between putting food on their table (COLA increase) and their health care. That plan also never even came to a vote. You might say, it petered out. If there's any justice in this world (or beyond), he will someday be forced to make the same choice.

Best quotable of the day came from Speaker Mike Madigan:
“You know, it’s kinda hard to have thoughts, isn’t it?” Madigan said as he left the Capitol.
Yes it is, Mike. Yes, it is.

Also, more kudos to CTU prez Karen Lewis for giving us all a lesson in labor history and for getting wing-nuts Michelle Malkin and Greta Van Susteren's undies all in a twist.
“We are in a moment where the wealth disparity in this country is very reminiscent of the robber baron ages,” Lewis said in the speech videotaped Dec. 2. “The labor leaders of that time, though, were ready to kill. They were. They were just — off with their heads. They were seriously talking about that.”

They still are.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

An opportunist mayor compares teachers union with the NRA

Bloomberg's anti-union rant. (Daily News)
“Teachers want to work with the best, and most of them are not in sympathy with the union,” he said on Friday. “…The NRA’s another place where the membership, if you do the polling, doesn’t agree with the leadership.” -- Mayor Bloomberg
Remember back in '04 when Bush's Sec. of Education Rod Paige was calling the teachers union, a "terrorist organization"? Now N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg is playing the same anti-union card, comparing the teachers union with the NRA.  Is anyone buying this crap?

Opportunist Bloomberg is trying to ride the Newtown school shootings to bolster his plummeting ratings the same way that his predecessor Rudy Giuliani rode the post-9/11 hysteria to carve out a new consulting career for himself.  MB knows that being against the NRA in New York City is like being against hemorrhoids. But the only thing the NRA and UFT have in common is three initials.

Billionaire Bloomberg would have us believe that the majority of New York teachers support him in current negotiations over teacher evaluations, rather than their own union. He sounds a lot like the deluded Rahm Emanuel on the eve of last year's Chicago teachers strike.

Of course, Randi Weingarten is no Karen Lewis. Here Randi offers the mayor a mild scold and ever so politely, asks him for an apology.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Michael Madigan
"We are telling people who have worked for governments, and who have been told for years how much their pension would be, that the number is going to change." -- Ward Room
 Geri Armitage,  Naperville North High School teacher
“The state has not paid their portion — we have paid our dues — and now they are attacking us from every which way saying it’s our fault when, in reality, this is their obligation to us.” -- Daily Eastern News
Charles Blow
As [Michelle] Alexander confirmed to me Friday: “Today there are more African-American adults under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.” -- NYT
Michelle Rhee's Test Cheating 
“My speculation: They didn’t want to hear what I had to say."  -- Former D.C. Principal Adell Cothorne on Frontline 
Norm Fruchter 
So counter to the mayor and the former chancellor’s assertions, ZIP code, race or ethnicity and income still strongly determine students’ academic outcomes across the city’s classrooms. -- "Demography & Destiny: College Readiness in New York"
 Charles Krauthammer
Larger Sandy Relief Bill Was "Rape Of The Treasury" -- Huffington

Suspended learning

What's the point?

Crazy suspension and expulsion stories have become almost commonplace in this era of zero tolerance, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. The Washington Post ran a story last week about a 6-year-old boy being suspended in Montgomery County, Md. for pointing his finger at another student and saying "pow."

Then there's the story of Courtni Webb, the 17-year old San Francisco high school student, suspended for a poem she wrote about Sandy Hook.

But these incidents, often an ill-considered, bureaucratic response to the real fears of gun violence, mask the bigger story buried deeper in the WaPo piece.
Across the Washington region, school systems have suspended thousands of students in the early grades, according to a 2012 Washington Post analysis that showed kindergartners and first-graders had been ousted for disciplinary offenses in nearly every local school system.
Suspensions and expulsions have become the main currency of behavior-modification educational practices as teachers become increasingly dis-empowered when it comes to treating classroom behavioral issues. Decisions about the treatment of behavioral infractions have become removed from the classroom and the local school and are mainly driven by laws such as No Child Left Behind and arbitrary rulings by state and district bureaucrats with an eye on potential litigation.

About 3 million students each year are booted from schools, with black and Latino students as well as students with disabilities, being suspended at about three times the rate of white and abled students often for similar infractions. If you want to learn more about the growing suspension wave and the racial discipline gap, read "Suspended Education" (2010), an important study done by Russell Skiba and Daniel Losen for the Souther Poverty Law Center. They reveal the connection between suspension from middle school and the potential from dropping out and even future incarceration. Another good, more recent study was done by Gary Orfield and the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, "Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School."

One other stunning bit of news on this topic comes from Saturday's WaPo, "D.C. charter schools expel students at far higher rates than traditional public schools." Emma Brown writes:
D.C. charter schools expelled 676 students in the past three years, while the city’s traditional public schools expelled 24, according to a Washington Post review of school data. During the 2011-12 school year, when charters enrolled 41 percent of the city’s students, they removed 227 children for discipline violations and had an expulsion rate of 72 per 10,000 students; the District school system removed three and had an expulsion rate of less than 1 per 10,000 students.
Privately-run, but publicly-funded charter schools have long abandoned their original public school mission of serving all children and increasingly base their marketing and recruitment policies on their ability to exclude and drive-out students with behavioral issues, English-language learners or students with lower test scores.

Possible solutions to suspended education lie in the consideration by schools and districts of alternative discipline approaches, like Chicago's restorative justice and others that directly involve students and teachers. Charter schools should be made to enroll and maintain their student population in the same fashion as neighborhood public schools, which are now seen in many districts as dumping grounds for problem students.

More on this to come in future posts.