Thursday, February 28, 2013

They're whistling Dixie again

Have they really put Jim Crow behind them?

Now the segregationists and Dixie T-Party types believe they have enough backing in the Supreme Court to roll back all or many of the gains made during the Civil Right Movement. They're probably right.

Even as a new statue of Rosa Parks is unveiled in the Capitol rotunda in D.C., the foul aroma of Alabama's Jim Crow laws is wafting through the same building. There's a new move afoot to overturn important provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Bill that forced states like Alabama to end their denial of equal voting rights to African-Americans.

Shelby County, Alabama, is contending that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Bill  is unfair to its residents and other jurisdictions that it requires to obtain federal pre-clearance before changing their voting laws.

Sorry Alabama. But you're the state that just recently drove out thousands of immigrant farm workers. And now you're claiming that race is no longer an issue? That we've moved into the post-racial era because we have a black president?  Really?

Most likely Justice Scalia and his faction on the Supreme Court, who see voting rights as a "racial  entitlement" will agree and overturn Section 5.

But why? Has Alabama and other affected states moved beyond their Dixiecrat past? No way.

Remember this story?
Birmingham, Ala. -- Latino students have started vanishing from Alabama public schools in the wake of a court ruling that upheld the state's tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration. Education officials say scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from classes or kept them home this week, fearful that sending the kids to school would draw attention from authorities. -- AP Wire
They're even deputizing school bus drivers to identify undocumented immigrant students based on the new state law. But federal law, The McKinney-Vento Act, mandates schools to teach all students, regardless of legal status.

Last November, Alabama voters had an opportunity to remove racist language still embedded in the State Constitution by passing Amendment 4. 61% voted against this amendment which would have removed language calling for racial segregation in schools and the imposition of poll taxes. In the same election, Alabama officially became a right-to-work state.

Is this the "post-racial" era?

Obama at Rosa Parks statue unveiling
No it's not!

 While things have certainly changed since 1965 due to the hard-fought battles of the Civil Rights Movement, and Alabamans like Mrs. Parks, plus the many who sacrificed their lives in the face of KKK terror, make no mistake. Without the Voting Rights Act, with all its provisions, that change might never have happened.

Also, the color of real economic, social and political power hasn't changed much. It's is still white. And it's not just in Dixie.

Take Chicago, which recently had its own deseg agreement thrown out. Its school system is still among the most racially segregated in the country.  And check out the make up of the corporate elite in the city. According to an article in Wednesday Sun-Times: "African-Americans make up just a tiny fraction of Chicago corporate boards"
African Americans make up only 6.6 percent of the 1,527 board members at 160 public companies in the Chicago area, according to a KPMG survey commissioned and released by the Chicago Urban League.
If anything, Section 5 should not just be kept in place in Dixie, but should be expanded to states like Florida, Ohio and Michigan, and wherever the hours-long voting lines and other Republican tricks were sprung last November.

 You can read overviews and  more analysis of the Shelby case on Bill Moyers,  SCOTUSBlog (Made Simple | Symposium),The AtlanticThe New YorkerThe New York Times: Room for Debate Blog and the Washington Post.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

First they came for the public schools...

Charter school operators took over DuSable High School in 2005
Now that two charter schools, Betty Shabazz Leadership Academy at DuSable and Mirta Ramirez Computer Science High School, run by ASPIRA, are on Byrd-Bennett's [s]hit list for poor performance, watch the charter operators scream "unfair" and ask local pols to intervene. I agree, it is unfair that the survival of any school is based mainly on student test scores. Those scores correlate much more closely with poverty than anything going on inside the classroom.

But they should have thought of that before they became cheerleaders for the closing of neighborhood schools for the same reason and before taking their public funds and resources moving into the facilities that they once occupied. It reminds me Martin Niemöller's old adage, "First they came for the..."

The latest round of proposed closings will lead to even further destabilization in the lives of children and their families, including more violence and possible killings.

Ralph Ellison charter
Bryan Lowry has a good piece in Medill Reports, "Measuring Up: How Should Charter School Success Be Measured" in which he takes a look at Chicago International's Ralph Ellison campus. Ellison is another charter, like Shabazz, with revolving-door leadership. Its test scores are abysmal. Only 15 percent of the school’s students met state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Examination in 2012 compared to the CPS average of 31.5 percent. Who could blame public school parents and teachers on the south and west side, for asking, why is this school allowed to stay open while BBB is closing ours?

Chicago International, the district's biggest charter operator, has a contract with CPS, but the school is actually run by Civitas Schools, a for-profit management company. CI and Civitas have been the most ruthless when it comes to keeping their teachers from unionizing. They have even gone so far as to claim that their charters are not public schools, since Civitas signs the teachers pay checks, and therefore aren't subject to ILRB rules governing union elections.

Last week, Baltimore's school board revoked the charter of Civitas Middle/High School.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Looking back at Clinton's campaign against youth violence

It's difficult and heartbreaking to look at the news each day and see the growing body count of Chicago's mostly-young gun violence victims without thinking about what might have been. Pandemic gun violence, with accompanying catastrophic effects on the families and friends of both the victims and shooters, could have been avoided or at least diminished if appropriate measures had been taken and policy decisions made in the wake of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School.

Back during the Clinton administration, as part of his National Campaign Against Youth Violence (NCAYV), in the months following the Columbine disaster, I was invited to join President Clinton's Academic Advisory Board. The board was led by anthropologist John Devine (Maximum Security) and included some of the nation’s leading scholars of urban America and youth violence, such as Elijah Anderson (Code of the Street), Sissila Bok (Common Values), Philippe Bourgois (In Search of Respect), William Damon, Kenneth Dodge, Richard Freeman, James Garbarino (Lost Boys), James Gibbons, James Gillian (Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic), David Kennedy, Alan J. Lipton, William Pollack (Real Boys), James Short (Collective Violence), Joel Wallman, Frank Zimring (The City that Became Safe), and Nancy Scheper- Hughes (Small Wars: The Cultural Politics of Childhood).  [Apologies to those whose books are not mentioned. These are the ones I've read and use in my courses].

Writing in this month's CounterPunch ("No Magic Bullets"), UC-Berkeley professor Scheper-Hughes takes a critical look back at the Campaign and gives an in-depth account of the work of the Academic Advisory Board.

Over the course of several meetings we collaborated in the preparation of a detailed report that identified key variables overlooked by the national campaign. We documented the links between isolated public mass shootings in schools and the broader social and political context of excessively high rates of youth homicides and suicides, of alienation and isolation of youth from their parents, schools, and communities. Drawing on the expertise of the advisory panel members we explained the ‘Code of the streets’ (E. Anderson) and the ‘Search for respect’ (P. Borgois) that contributed to homicides and suicides among minority youth. The hypersensitivity and hyper reactivity to imagined insults were the offspring of a profound sense of shame and low self-esteem resulting from the extreme marginalization of unwanted and despised (even more than disrespected) populations. We described the culture of bullying in elementary schools that was not yet recognized as a trigger in some mass shooting incidents. Finally, we touched upon the lethal association of male honor with physical force and of power and might with deadly weapons. This led us to a critique of gun culture, but this conversation was derailed by those members of the board who labeled gun control a toxic subject, one that had to be carefully finessed.
Scheper-Hughes even takes note of my own "passionate advocacy for smaller schools with lower teacher-student ratios that have a proven record of decreasing incidents of school violence." She points out that such advocacy made no inroads to a US Congress that was all about charter schools and downsizing and closing failed public schools. The call for building new and creative school environments on a human scale seems, in hindsight, almost utopian.

But I should make one slight correction there. A badly divided Congress (what else is new?) did come together to appropriate funding for a national Smaller Learning Communities initiative, a federal grant program to encourage the creation of smaller learning environments in large high schools. But like most other school-based reforms, SLCs, which could be designed and implemented by classroom teachers, soon gave way to privately-run charter schools as the reform of choice, under pressure from Gates and other power philanthropists who felt charters gave them more bang for the buck.

In the main, however, Scheper-Hughes has it right. A political bent towards charters, privatization, and militarization of public schools held sway in Congress over the need for the more thorough-going school and societal changes being pushed by the Advisory Board.

In short, all the solid academic educational research filling up college libraries has little chance when it comes up against the interests of corporate school reform and its giant philanthropic backers, unless it is connected to real social movements in the communities. CReATE, here in Chicago, may provide such a model.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Follow the money. UNO's kick-backs to Madigan.

Boss Madigan
Dan Mihalopoulos reports in this morning's Sun-Times that UNO has kicked back more than $24,000 to campaign funds controlled by Boss Madigan after receiving millions in charter school construction grants that Madigan greased.
Madigan had given a big boost to the group’s aspirations to be a major operator of charter schools in the city when he helped it get a $98 million state school-construction grant in 2009, without any requirement for competitive bidding on the work, as government agencies typically must do. The state money helped fuel UNO’s rapid growth as the operator of publicly funded schools that offer an alternative to Chicago’s public schools in heavily Latino neighborhoods. 
Funniest part of the story has the billionaire heiress State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) saying she doesn't know who wrote the provision into her latest bill, sending another $35 million UNO's way. Gee, I don't know. How did that get in there?

 Where are the feds? S-T journalists have already made the case. Is Madigan, UNO, too big to jail?


Alex Kotlowitz
In the wake of Hadiya Pendleton’s shooting, we’ve talked about stiffer gun control laws, about better policing, about providing mentoring and after-school programs, all of which are essential. But missing from this conversation is any acknowledgment that the violence eats away at one’s soul — whether you’re a direct victim, a witness or, like Anita Stewart, simply a friend of the deceased. Most suffer silently. By themselves. Somewhere along the way, we need to focus on those left behind in our cities whose very character and sense of future have been altered by what they’ve experienced on the streets. -- NYT: "The Price of Public Violence"
Pedro Noguera
 “You could almost predict that whatever groups have the highest poverty rates will have the lowest achievement rates. The fact is when you look at these chronically under-performing schools, who are they serving? The poorest kids who are disproportionately African-American.” -- Chicago Sun-Times
 Economist Richard Wolff
A whole generation of young people is learning that in order to get the education, without which the American dream is not possible, you have to borrow so much money that your whole situation is put in a terrible vice. -- BillMoyers.Com
Anthony Cody
 It is perfectly legal for billionaires to, in effect, buy up local school board races. And it is perfectly legal for them to hire "journalists" to write stories largely sympathetic to their point of view. Fortunately, it is also still legal for skeptics to point out all of the above, and suggest the voters of Los Angeles might want to think twice before they vote. -- Yes, Virginia, There Really IS a Billionaire Boys Club

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mayor 2% and the freedom riders

All the corporate reformers, from Duncan to Rhee,  have been claiming that education is a civil rights issue. Turns out, they were right. Only they are the violators.

Here's the real freedom riders:
“We are here today to declare that school closings and displacing children primarily black and brown children is a civil rights issue,” said the Rev. Krista Alston, whose son attended Price until it closed. “It is a civil rights issue when children are denied the right to a quality education in their own neighborhood where they live.”
Rahm's wreck

Brother Fred art
Some are speculating that Rahm can kiss his 2016 White House aspirations goodbye. His ratings are in the toilet, according to Greg Hinz at Crain's. Daley left office when his ratings fell to around 30%. Rahm has now joined bed bugs, congressmen, and herpes, in the 2% club. The good news for Rahm's overstaffed PR Dept. is that no matter how many schools he closes, how obnoxious he gets, or how high the murder rate climbs, he still can only drop another 2 points.

I wonder if Byrd-Bennett is having second thoughts about her jump into Rahm's mess. I'll bet she thought she could just hold some community meetings, close a few hundred schools and then ride off to Washington with Rahm, a la Arne  and Barack. Sorry, BBB. You may be heading back to Detroit instead, after this train wreck.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Liberal rhetoric, a Republican echo

Biden: "Buy a shotgun! Buy a shotgun!"
I'm always amazed, but not surprised, when liberal Dems in power begin acting and sounding more and more like Republicans.

Of course, here in Chicago, there is no Republican Party. Only a Democratic machine that ideologically and politically could easily be mistaken for the regime of any one of a number of Tea Party governors in neighboring states of Wisconsin or Indiana -- especially when it comes to public education.

Case in point: Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett's likely ghost-written commentary in yesterday's Sun-Times imploring citizens not to "throw money at" schools she has labeled as "underutilized".

It was just about a year ago when her predecessor, J.C. Brizard first threw around the neo-con don't-throw-money-at-it rhetoric in a speech to business execs at the Economic Club of Chicago. Brizard essentially came out for vouchers, saying:
“It doesn’t make sense (that) our parents pay taxes and then pay tuition (for their children) to go to (private) school as well...It's a matter of making sure the dollars follow children. If 500 traditional CPS (students) would go to the parochial schools ... the proportional share (of dollars) should go to the school actually educating those children."
We were told afterwards that Brizard "was only expressing his personal opinion" but Brizard never had an opinion that wasn't hatched on the 5th floor of City Hall. No schools CEO does, now that CPS has become a wing of City Hall. His big mistake was letting the cat out of the bag, Joe Biden-style. But BBB's call not to throw money at badly under-resourced schools in primarily black and Latino neighborhoods is no slip of the tongue, but rather a piece carefully crafted in the office of CPS liar-in-chief, (No, CPS hasn't lost 145,000 students) Becky Carroll.

Obama w/shotgun
Believe it or not...

Speaking of Biden, laughingly called Obama's point person on "gun-control," I followed his advice and went out and bought a shotgun (from some guy hawking them out of the trunk of his car, down by the local high school). I popped a couple of 12-gauge shells into into the chambers, just like Joe had instructed. Then I went out on the front porch and fired two rounds in the air. Sure enough, just as Joe promised, no intruders dared enter the premises. Unfortunately, now even my kids and grandson are afraid to come visit.

Also, I accidentally shot two squirrels and killed the beautiful cardinal that had been coming around to eat the seeds we put out for the birds during the winter. Next, I got busted for illegally discharging a weapon within city limits, after the neighbors called the cops. Chicago has strict gun laws.

 Please send contributions for bail money over to the house, ASAP. Oh, and thanks a lot for the advice, Joe.

P.S. It could have been worse. Remember what happened when Biden's predecessor, Cheney let loose a shotgun blast and blew his buddy's face off.

Yes, the liberal/neocon rhetoric has its consequences.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ruiz gets an F, Katten an A+ on Chicago Tonight

I almost felt bad for Jesse Ruiz last night as I watched him play the fool to Wendy Katten on Chicago Tonight. Armed only with an embarrassed grin, a pocket full of cliches ("it's for the kids"... "it's about teaching and learning"..."all hands on deck"...) and a bag full of half-truths and misinformation, Rahm's hand-picked board V.P Ruiz was sent out to face the Raise Your Hand's Wendy Katten and Catalyst's Rebecca Harris to try and defend the indefensible -- CPS's list of 129 "underutilized" schools slated for closure.

It was a total mismatch. Katten, armed with credible information, waited patiently as Ruiz spouted the party line:
"It's under-utilization that's driving it. We want to right-size the footprint. There's been a drop in the student population of Chicago of about 145,000 over the last decade."
Then she turned on the lights:
"We assessed the utilization formula and found that it allows for overcrowding. You can have 36 kids in a classroom under this formula and still be deemed efficient. So it doesn't allow for space for things like music rooms, art rooms..."
Ruiz: "Figures can be argued with ... so if we're off by a few percentage points, we still have a big problem that has to be dealt with." 

Katten: "I just want to add that we have lost 30,000 children in the past decade. It's just wrong to keep using numbers [145,000] that mislead."

Off by a few percentage points, Jesse??  Uh uh. The difference between CPS losing 145,000 and 30,000? You're only off by about 80%. That's an F on the math section on any standardized test. Back to first grade.

BTW, despite having chaired ISBE, Ruiz is no educator. He's a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath's Corporate and Securities Group, specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Before that, he worked for the privatization firm of Booz Allen & Hamilton. His motives should be clear.  He doesn't lack for information. He knows the figures as well as anyone. His spreading of disinformation is purposefully misleading.

Reason #897 for replacing mayoral control of the schools with an elected school board.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Obama's Chicago speech

I was glad, if skeptical, heading into President Obama's appearance in Chicago last Friday. But  was once again left with that old post-speech, empty feeling as I sat in traffic coming back from the south side, waiting for the president's motorcade to clear out. It seems I wasn't the only one.

 Here's Dr. Brittany Cooper, writing in Ebony. 
Almost as soon as he began to talk, I found myself deeply incensed at President Obama’s address in Chicago this past Friday. I hoped, along with the 50,000 folks who petitioned for this speech after Hadiya Pendleton’s murder, that the president would offer both empathy and solutions to a community shell-shocked by massive violence. Instead when the president began by suggesting that we need to “do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood,” I started shaking my head.
Rather than empathizing with those Black families that have been destroyed by violence, he blamed the prevalence of non-nuclear Black families for contributing to it! Recycling this tired narrative about broken families and absentee Black fathers does nothing to address the steady flow of guns into our communities, nor the pathologies that lead young people to fire them.
Melissa Harris-Perry wasn't as harsh, but offered a similar critique:
Harris-Perry said that as she has spent most of her time with her daughter being an unmarried mother, she bristles at negative discussions of single motherhood. She then went on to cite statistics, which find that while 41 percent of single mother families live in poverty, only 14 percent of single mothers with full-time, year round work live in poverty. “So that’s an indication to me that this is as much an issue about economic opportunity, about the opportunity for good-paying, full time work” as family structures, she said.
To be fair, Obama did talk some about gun control, the need for greater economic opportunity and an expansion of early childhood education. But the speech rang mostly hollow, with the President delivering it surrounded by the same gaggle of local machine pols whose  policies are in many ways responsible for the local gun violence epidemic:  the closing of hundreds of schools, the funneling of millions of dollars into the pockets of charter school hustlers, and the ensuing further destabilization of south and west-side communities.

I'm sure the Chicago speech gave a temporary morale boost to many of the kids at Hyde Park High School and maybe to those at King, where Hadiya Pendleton and her accused shooter both attended school. But the community needs so much more and so much less of blaming distressed families, themselves the victims of the de-industrialization and the resulting massive stretches of urban  poverty left in its wake.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Van Jones to Obama: "This is it!"

(Reuters pic)
Van Jones, President Obama’s former Green Jobs Advisor, spoke directly to tens of thousands of people who rallied on the National Mall Sunday to protest the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. It is being called the largest climate protest ever. Jones aimed his remarks directly at the president:
Well, this is it. This is the last minute in the last quarter of the biggest most important game humanity has ever played. This is it. One thing I know having worked in this town, the simple maxim, if you don’t fight for what you want, you deserve what you get. If you don’t fight for what you want, you deserve what you get. 
I had the honor of working for this president, and I want to direct my message to him. President Obama, all the good that you have done, all the good you can imagine doing will be wiped out, wiped out by floods, by fires, by super-storms if you fail to act now to deal with this crisis that is a gun pointed at the head of the future. Everything you have done. History will judge you 20 years from now based on one decision alone. That decision is not in the hands of the congress. That decision is not in the hands of any governors. That decision is not in the hands of any mayors or any dogcatchers. The decision is in your hands, Mr. President, your hands. Your hands.
The decision to let this pipeline come through America is a most fateful decision you’ll ever make, Mr. President. It would be like jabbing a dirty needle into this country from Canada. It would be like lighting a fuse on a carbon bomb. That is what it would be like doing, Mr. President. And you cannot allow that to happen. 
If the pipeline goes through, Mr. President, the first thing it runs over will not be farmland. The first thing it runs over will not be small towns. If you let this pipeline go through, Mr. President, the first thing it runs over is the credibility of the President of the United States of America. That is the first thing it runs over. 

No 'even playing field' for FL charters

Florida parent activist Rita Solnet did this interesting little research project.
Out of curiosity, I googled "successful charter schools" and "failing charter schools." About 20,200 results (0.22 seconds) related to "successful charter schools". About 76,600 results (0.23 seconds) related to "failing charter schools."
Rita posts on FB:
 In 8 yrs, PBC [Palm Beach County] opened up 57 charters. In 8 yrs, 23 of those charters closed. That money that was siphoned from the education coffers to the schools that closed is gone. Vanished. So, what do we do -- open up 90 more of these gems! This makes my blood boil. I don't want to be sheep. We need to tell Tallahassee that if they;re going to overturn PBC's decisions to deny charters, then they can pay for them. Where's the local control they claim to espouse.
Rita's right on. FL's Republican controlled Legislature is preparing to pass a charter expansion bill that would siphon millions more taxpayer dollars away from public schools and into charters. It would also take away power from county districts to reject many charter applicants for lack of quality standards. The new bill also won't require charter school teachers to be held to the same standards as regular public school teachers.

Says wing-nut State Senate Pres. Don Gaetz:
“I’ve been in business for thirty years. I’ve never asked for an even playing field,” Gaetz said. “You can’t make everything equal.”
 Gaetz has also been out front in pushing a "Parent Trigger" bill through the Legislature.


Thousands rally in D.C. against Keystone XL pipeline (MANUEL BALCE CENETA/AP)
Evangeline Lilly
“I’m ashamed of what my country is doing. I’m ashamed we’re knocking on your door with dirty oil. I want to stand up here as a Canadian and say I’m sorry to the workers in Canada and the workers in America who have to go home and look their kids in the eye and know that they are damaging their future." -- Raw Story: Thousands protest Keystone XL pipeline in D.C.
Paul Krugman
For today’s Republican leaders clearly feel disdain for low-wage workers...: “takers,” members of the contemptible 47 percent who, as Mitt Romney said to nods of approval, won’t take responsibility for their own lives. ... NYT, "Raise That Wage"
Khalil Gibran Muhammad
“The truth is that when black folks started moving into places like Chicago over a hundred years ago, the rhetoric of crime, the stigma of shame, the trope of them being a dangerous newcomer to these communities was as virulent and as viral as it is today. The difference is that there used to be jobs, but, they don’t have work there anymore.” -- Melissa Harris-Perry Show
Alexia Garcia, Oregon H.S. student
 We see these standardized tests as an inaccurate depiction of student knowledge, they’re expensive and take time from real class time, they do not provide comprehensive feedback to teachers, and scores have an extremely high correlation with class and race. -- Answer Sheet: "Student ‘zombies’ protest standardized tests."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Study: School closings 'may hinder, rarely help students' academic progress'

In the weeks ahead, as Chicago, Philadelphia and other large urban school districts pursue large-scale school closing reform policies, I will be taking a look at some of the current research on how such policies impact the lives of students.

Research for Action, a non-profit education research organization, has done a study of large-scale school closings which includes the impact of closings on student learning.  The study was done on behalf of the Philadelphia City Council. Philly's school district is currently moving ahead with its plan to close 37 schools.

According to RFA, research on the effects of mass closings in an unnamed district found small, persistently negative effects on displaced students. These negative effects were ameliorated when students were sent to better achieving schools but the study's authors don't necessarily support school closures as a means for improving student achievement. The study concludes:
Research suggests school closings may hinder, and rarely help, students’ academic progress. Our analysis of Philadelphia’s closing and receiving schools reveals that in at least some cases, students may be transferred to lower or comparably-performing schools based on standardized achievement data and AYP determinations. A caveat here is that the measure of any school building goes far beyond student test scores and accountability determinations, and other factors—such as indicators of parental and community engagement and student safety—should be considered as well.

The closing of Jay Cooke Jr. High

Philly activists pack a City Council hearing on school closures. (City Paper)
Now it's Cooke K-8 in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia. I was transferred there in 1956, when it was Cook Jr. High, because I was a white kid, one of the last in my North Philly neighborhood, about to attend all-black, segregated  Fitzsimons Jr. High. But after a minor scuffle with a group of kids over lunch money (mine), the system decided that the all-white Cooke would be a better place for me. So instead of walking to school, I had to ride three buses and a train from my Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

Jay Cooke
Now I read that predominantly-black Cooke Elementary  is "underutilized and targeted for closure Supt.William Hite's plan to close 37 city schools by next fall.. Of course lots have changed since I went to Cooke. Now 94% of Cooke students are considered “economically disadvantaged,” and 86% are African-American. The district claims that Cooke is at just 42% utilization, and fewer than half of all students score proficient in math and reading. Cooke’s test scores have also shown "statistically improbable" swings in the wake of an investigation of cheating at dozens of Philadelphia schools.

Cooke students are set to be relocated to Logan Elementary, Grover Washington Middle School or Steel Elementary in Nicetown.

Daniel Denvir writes in The City Paper:
Parents, teachers and community members are outraged. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) have put forward an alternative proposal that calls for curbing the rapid expansion of charter schools, de-emphasizing standardized tests and ending state control of city schools. In the neighborhoods, the message is blunter still: Don’t close our school. Four thousand people, according to the district, have attended 14 community meetings. Last month, City Council called for a one-year moratorium on closings.
As for Fitzsimons, Philly's corporate-style school reform  hasn't been kind to my almost alma mater. In September 2005, the district converted Fitzsimons, a coeducational middle school managed by the for-profit Victory Schools Inc. since 2002, into an all-male middle and high school. It became an all-male school after the district established The Young Women’s Leadership School for females. After the redesign FitzSimons reported increases on assaults targeting students and teachers.

Margaret Harrington, the chief operating officer of Victory, described Fitzsimons as having a "transition problem." 

At the end of the 2010-2011 school year, it was turned into the Thomas FitzSimons High School- Promise Academy. In August of 2011, budgetary issues and political conflicts within the district negatively impacted the school's program direction and FitzSimons didn't open as a Promise Academy. It was once again tuned into comprehensive neighborhood high school adopting some of the "reform" measures associated with the Promise Academy model.

As of Summer 2012 KIPP Du Bois Collegiate Academy, a charter high school that is part of the national KIPP network, was housed at Fitzsimons.

As of now, 40% of high-school students affected by last year’s closings are now in schools slated to close.

And so it goes.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Obama will deliver another speech tomorrow in Chicago. But why?

I know there's a lot of people glad that the Obama is coming to Chicago to focus on the gun violence epidemic plaguing the city since Rahm took office. But I think Obama's people may be making a mistake by sending him here on Friday. He's scheduled to speak at Hyde Park High School, no doubt surrounded by the mayor and his gaggle of Democratic Party pols -- maybe the most corrupt and most hated group of inglorious bastards in the history of Chicago City Hall -- and that's saying something.

I'm sure he will be trying to turn the local focus away from school closings (mandated under his Race To The Top), UNO corruption, more local pols going to prison, and the pension grab, and onto gun control -- an issue that even do-nothing Dems somehow claim as their own.

Protesting parents at Chalmers last night
But with thousands of angry parents packing community hearings demanding that their children's schools be saved, the last thing the city needs is more politicians trying to pose for a photo op next to the president or even worse, next to the Pendleton family. Last week's disgraceful rush by the pols to Hadiya Pendleton's funeral was bad enough.

Congressional Dems are already caving in to the NRA on an assault weapons ban and multi-round clips. Neither were even mentioned in the president's SOTU speech. Obama needs to be in D.C. right now, pushing for a national ban on assault weapons, not in Chicago trying to pull Rahm's chestnuts out of the fire. We don't need any more hand-wringing speeches about gun violence. Less talk, more action!

 Parents on the west and south sides, from Lawndale to South Shore, know that the closing of hundreds of neighborhood schools, more charter expansion and shipping thousands of students across town to suddenly overcrowded schools, will only add to neighborhood destabilization and lead to even more violence as it has done in the past. This despite Byrd-Bennett's assurances that she and Chief McCarthy have got all that covered.

The Sun-Times editorial board is worried:
We worry about the “welcoming schools” that are to take in displaced students. Those schools won’t be identified until late March, giving them little time to prep for a huge influx. Plus, half the kids may end up at other schools that aren’t even expecting them. Just 48 percent of students from four schools closed last year enrolled in their “welcoming school.” One school sent kids to 45 different schools, about half of them no better academically than the one they left behind. It’s pretty hard to offer special supports for thousands of kids spread across CPS.
Rita McNeal, a 5th grade teacher at  Mason Elementary.
More Quotables
“Now you’re going to destabilize these children again. It’s not right.” -- Ald. Pat Dowell
“It’s common sense. How can we say we have 100,000 empty seats, we’re broke, yet we keep opening schools? We have no business opening schools." -- Ald. Matt O'Shea
"The list should be zero. There should be no schools closed this year. They haven't made the case. The process has been corrupt from the get-go, and they need to stop it in its tracks right now." -- Erica Clark with the group Parents 4 Teachers.
 “Everywhere you go there are a lot of gangs and guns and violence, and now they want to send our kids into unfamiliar streets they don’t even know.” -- Janice Thompson, who has twin six-year-olds at Crown Elementary School.  
Early childhood expansion

Change of topic: My concerns about Obama's otherwise badly-needed call for the expansion of early childhood education is that with the present crew running the DOE, this will mean spending millions more on the testing and re-testing of 4-year-olds and even bigger contracts for the testing companies. I'm also concerned that the early childhood expansion will be run as a competitive grant process like Race To The Top, or as a giant, federally-funded, privately-run charter school operation, rather than on the basis of need and equity.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

News blackout on Monday's school closing protest

(Sarah-Ji Fotógrafa pic)
Monday night's huge Logan Square confrontation over school closings never happened. At least it never happened according to city media outlets (except for some Spanish language stations). Substance ran a story and Catalyst mentioned it. But not a peep in the Sun-Times or Trib. Oh well. I guess that's why we're here.

Today's Hyde Park Herald has a good piece on the Feb. 4 Mid-South hearings,  where parents and teachers from Reavis, Kozminski, Ray, Murray and Shoesmith elementary schools and Canter Middle School spoke out on behalf of their schools.

The Herald also continues to carry Timuel Black's Birthday Letter to President Obama. Don't miss.

To their credit, the Sun-Times did pick up on the press conference called by Parents 4 Teachers. The group filed a complaint alleging conflict of interest, saying the district is motivated to close schools not by a budget deficit but by a desire to expand charter schools. Of course, the S-T tries to discredit the parents group by referring to it as having "strong ties to the Chicago Teachers Union."  I think P4T should take that as a compliment.

The Sun-Times has also been doing a great job on the UNO charter-school corruption story, which reaches right into Rahm's office. Coverage includes a piece today on the resignation of their number-two exec, 8 days after the paper reported that the politically connected charter school operator paid state grant money to companies owned by two of his brothers. One of them, Miguel d’Escoto, who was UNO’s senior vice president of operations, under chief UNO charter hustler Juan Rangel, resigned “by mutual agreement.”

See how they run when someone shines a light on them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

After being locked out in the cold, we made our voices heard [Updated]

Outside the church, crowd chants, "Let us in!" (M. Klonsky pic)
While hundreds of us were enduring the sub-freezing Chicago night, locked outside the Armitage Baptist Church in Logan Square, where the Fullerton Network School Utilization meeting had been called, I was remembering a similarly cold night in 1987 following the death of Mayor Harold Washington. That night we stood in the snow and cold, locked out of City Hall while the forces of darkness pulled off the coup d'etat that put the city back in the hands of the corrupt Democratic political machine, after its brief flirtation with democracy. But I knew that wasn't going to happen last night. We were going to get inside the meeting one way or another.

At the Logan Square Auditorium. (M. Klonsky pic)
The current movement to save our public schools also evokes memories of the movement that led to Harold's Election and beyond.

After rallying at the Logan Square Auditorium, we marched up Kedzie to the church. There we were forced to stand outside in the cold for close to an hour, a diverse shivering crowd, black, white and Latino neighborhood folks, lots of teachers and working class and middle-class moms, with kids in hand, chanting, "Let us in! Let us in!" That picture, those chants, tells you all you need to know about the nature of the growing battle over neighborhood  school closings.

If they thought the freezing wind would disperse us and send us home while they allowed a few to trickle into the church, they were wrong. Finally a nervous Ald. Waguespack showed up and I think it was he who pressured them to let us all inside. [Update: I have since been informed by a Goethe parent, that Waguespack was not at all involved in getting CPS to allow more people to enter. See comment below].

The CPS bureaucrats now had to face the brunt of the angry crowd, chanting, SAVE OUR SCHOOLS! and singing, "... Like a tree that's standing by the water, We shall not be moved." Apparently, they have become smarter since the first community protests began. First they trotted out the priest who warned the crowd to "be respectful" since we were now in "the house of God."  These "public" hearings are all being underwritten with private, pro-charter school Walton money. Holding hearings in a conservative Baptist church was obviously part of the game plan -- a way to divide the crowd.

Inside the church. (M. Klonsky pic)
The standing-room only crowd of about 700 was anything but disrespectful. Yes, we were loud, angry and determined not to lose our neighborhood schools to the charter operators and privatizers. But we were also there to engage with CPS. After the local pols had their say, one by one, the parents took the stage, representing Brentano, Darwin, Goethe, Ames and other local schools, research -- statistical and anecdotal-- in hand, every speech translated in English and Spanish, trying to convince the invisible powers that be, that their school  be saved from the CPS death list.

I imagine these same forces of darkness, having made the school system a wing of City Hall, are not resting easy over the emergence of this  new grassroots democratic movement. I'm certain Rahm and his boys are paying close attention.

The word is that tomorrow, they will put out their list of schools they want to close. If the past is any prelude, they will try and divide the movement by backing off some of the schools where the loudest and most militant opposition has been organized. It that's the case, I suspect that at least some of the well-organized Logan Square schools will saved.

I left the meeting hoping that things move to the next level -- from Save our school, to Save OUR SCHOOLS. Then we will really have something.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Diane Ravitch
The embargo seems as antique as the now ancient slogans.The sooner the embargo is lifted, the sooner there will be normal relations between our countries. -- My vacation in Cuba
Wendy Lecker, Connecticut Adocate
It is time for both parents and taxpayers to wake up. Millions upon millions of our hard-earned tax dollars will be wasted on a useless teacher evaluation system.  -- Connecticut's teacher evaluation plan - even worse than we thought
 David Bernstein, non-profit exec
Rhee’s approach to education reform makes no more sense in functional schools than it does in dysfunctional ones. -- The Answer Sheet
Marian Brady
Unwilling to trust teacher judgment, we’ve handed their responsibilities to machines incapable of making judgment calls. -- The Real Paradigm Shift in Education
Deb Meier  
Then–above and beyond–we need to assess as a society the deprivations that poverty itself inflicts–in country of great wealth we have the most astounding percentage of children in deep poverty. -- Ready To Learn

Friday, February 8, 2013

Detroit charter teachers live up to Chavez name

Detroit's Cesar Chavez Charter School
Congratulations to the teachers at Detroit's Cesar Chavez Charter School. Chavez teachers, counselors and social workers voted Thursday to unionize the southwest Detroit charter school. The staff voted 88-39 to have the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff, associated with the American Federation of Teachers' state affiliate, become their official bargaining agent.

Today's Detroit News reports: 
Employees at the four-campus academy had pushed for unionization since last year, said Eva Coleman, an English teacher at its high school. "We noticed that parents didn't have a voice, we didn't have a voice," Coleman said. "Only a select group of people made decisions for everyone."
This should put to rest the ongoing debate that Leo Casey and I had with anti-union charter backers --Eduwonk (Andy Rotherham) and DFER (Joe Williams) going back to 2007. Leo and I pointed out back then, the hypocrisy of naming a charter school after a great union organizer like Cesar Chavez, where teachers were working without a contract, without a real voice in educational decisions, or without union representation.

Rotherham called our arguments "preposterous."  DFER's snarky response was, "No one's holding a gun to their heads." In other words, if teachers really wanted a union they would have one, or if they didn't like the conditions at school like Chavez, they were free to leave and go elsewhere.

Of course these arguments completely discount the years of charter operators' active resistance to teacher unions, including the use of high-paid union-busting consultants and claims that charters were actually private schools and that teachers weren't really considered by law to be public employees.

Detroit AFT organizer Nate Walker says the schools private operators, The for-profit Leona Group,  which operates in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, had refused to recognize the union without a formal election, and has used intimidation tactics to discourage organizing.

According to Eva Coleman,  an 11-year teacher at Cesar Chavez,  teachers want a voice through collective bargaining. She said mistreatment of some employees and a poor working environment had driven good staff members away.
“When I first started working here, we were united,” Coleman said. “It’s not that way anymore.  Certain people are favored over others. “We’re there for the students, and the parents…to make sure everyone succeeds, and make it more of a family environment.”
What makes the Detroit teachers' victory even more impressive is that Michigan is a Right-To-Work state, making unionization twice as difficult.

How's all this privatization working for you, Rahm?

I don't think so.
The Skyway, the parking meters, charter schools, and red-light cameras -- all sold off to politically-connected private companies. The result of these get-rich-quick schemes? Some short-term revenue generated at the expense of long-term debt for the city and lower pay for union-less workers. Pockets lined for a handful of friends of the mayor, Boss Mike Madigan or Ald. Eddie Burke. Charter and cyber schools, run by profiteers like UNO, most of which don't do any better or under-perform the neighborhood schools they replaced. The airports are next.

And now a new bunker-buster red-light scandal involving the city's multi-million-dollar contract with the Australian company, Redflex Holdings Ltd.

According to today's Trib, the latest internal probe found that Redflex executives systematically courted former city transportation officials, like John Bills,  a longtime precinct captain in the political organization of House Speaker Madigan, with thousands of dollars in free trips to the Super Bowl and other sporting events. After retiring from the city, Bills went to work for Redflex.

Daley took job at Katten Muchin Rosenman.
Sound familiar? Remember that Mayor Daley, after leaving City Hall, landed a spot at Katten, Muchin, Rosenman, the law firm that engineered the scandalized parking meter deal.
The company [Redflex] also hid the extent of the improper relationship from City Hall after the newspaper's reporting last year forced Redflex to partially reveal its ties to Bills, sources said.
Until the allegations were published by the Tribune, Redflex was positioned as a leading contender for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new program to sprinkle the city with automatic cameras to tag speeders in school and park "safety zones." The company listed its annual revenue as $146 million in 2012.

According to the Trib:
Last year the company opened a new vein of potential business in the U.S. when it bought two companies involved in putting camera surveillance on school buses to ticket the drivers of cars who illegally pass the stopped vehicles.
"Opened a new vein" indeed.

If you needed yet another reason to end mayoral control of the public schools and remove CPS as a wing of City Hall, here it is.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

CPS privatizes its training of principals as test pushers

Yesterday, as local parent groups at 37 schools, gathered signatures on petitions calling for more limited assessment tests, CPS announced that new principals are going to trained by private companies, basically as test pushers.

The board has handed out lucrative contracts to politically-connected New Leaders for New Schools and Teach For America (TFA) to train Chicago principal candidates.

Local school councils, who by law have the power to hire new principals, will now be limited to selecting those who have been trained by these two corporate "reform" groups. One can only imagine what's on the new Five-Step Principal Quality Strategy training table. The Sun-Times report gives us a clue.
Anyone aiming to take the helm of a school will have to prove a knack for dealing with parents who are upset or breaking up a student fight in the hall and other routine situations, Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said.
Yes, "dealing with parents." If there was ever a motto to be inscribed in Latin over the front door at Clark Street., this is it. Or maybe something like -- Parentes Sunt Stulti (Parents Are Fools)

As one would expect, no mention is made of the role of principals as teacher supporters, modelers of good teaching, trust builders, power sharers, or community leaders. That's the kind of principal preparation we were doing at UIC and other schools of education back in the early days of school reform, when LSCs had some real power and the principalship was gradually being liberated from the backwardness of white-only political patronage.

But under mayoral control, the clock is being turned back and principals are once again being rapidly rotated and sent out as anti-union enforcers for City Hall and the corporate school reformers. They are now going to be  evaluated and paid not as professionals, but on the bonus system, like a sales manager, with the product being standardized test scores. The bonus money is coming from private sources and the power philanthropists with half of the criteria for these bonuses based on higher student test scores.

It's hard to believe that principals and their association will let all this go down without a peep. Shame on them if they do.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The growing revolt against testing madness

Seattle NAACP announces support for test boycott. 

The teachers revolt at Seattle's Garfield High has lit a spark that's growing into a prairie fire. Today is being called a National Day of Action to Support Seattle MAP Test Boycott.

The Seattle Times reports that despite Supt. Banda's insistence that widely criticized tests be given, angry parents are joining the revolt and pulling their kids out of the testing process. On Tuesday, only 97 of the roughly 400 ninth-graders who were supposed to take the MAP reading test did so. The other 300  had their parents’ permission to be excused.
Teachers say the tests’ margin of error is greater than the number of points that the average ninth-grader is expected to gain, that the tests cover material they are not expected to teach, that students who are struggling must take the tests more often even though they shouldn’t miss class time, and that giving the MAP tests ties up Garfield’s computer labs for weeks.
Over the weekend, staff members at Ballard High announced that 18 of them will join the MAP boycott, and more may follow. In all, more than 100 teachers and staff at four schools  are participating in the boycott, and many others have written letters of support for protesting teachers, including 21 staff members  at Graham Hill Elementary, who announced their stance on Sunday.

The boycott has also drawn support from the city's civil rights leadership. On Monday, the Seattle NAACP announced its support of teachers. They plan to protest outside Garfield High School today. The civil rights organization said it feels the MAP testing negatively impacts low-income students of color who can’t afford computers and Internet access at home. For the next three weeks, students will be unable to access computers in the school library while MAP tests are being administered.

Revolt spreads to Chicago

The boycott movement is spreading to Chicago where a group of public school parents have signed petitions to cut back on their children’s standardized testing and where the CTU is attacking what they call “abusive” testing in Chicago Public Schools.

According to today's Sun-Times:
Parents behind the website will circulate petitions near at least 36 public schools asking the Board of Education to limit testing and provide more details about the cost and stakes of the 22 tests now used in the district.
 CPS students in kindergarten through second grade sit for up to five different tests, administered several times through the school year, for a total of 14 sessions, according to CPS’ testing calendar. Third- through seventh-graders may take up to four tests over a total of nine sessions, and eighth-graders take up to five over 10 sessions. High school students take up to four — three for seniors — over as many as 13 sessions.
 “This testing regime is just not what students need. It’s hurting, not helping education and it’s abusive especially at the early childhood level,” said Carol Caref, a CTU researcher and author of a report released Tuesday, “Debunking the Myth of Standardized Testing.”
 Here's a list of some of the  national actions planned for today.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Last week's Journey for Justice

 When some 400 parents and students from 18 cities around the country descended upon the DOE last week, it got pretty good media coverage. Their message to Arne Duncan -- school closings, mandated under his Race To The Top program, are disrupting lives and destabilizing neighborhoods and are in violation of Civil Rights law.

This piece, by James Cersonsky, "Pushing Arne Duncan to Fast-Forward," was posted in The American Prospect.
Tuesday’s hearing elevated these voices. Students and parents told endless stories of harsh school discipline, inexperienced teachers, missing textbooks, and untenable class sizes. The cause of all this, virtually every speaker claimed, is disenfranchisement: Stakeholders are buried by state and local receivers who have no interest in listening to their constituents, and the federal government seems more intent on experimentation than racial justice. “Racism is well and alive in this country,” said 76-year-old Helen Moore, co-chairperson of Detroit’s Keep the Vote-No Takeover. “We are the descendants of slaves. We are now reversing back to slavery.”
Duncan stayed in the meeting for a half-hour and then left the meeting without making any commitments.

Also see, "Activists to U.S. Education Department: Stop school closings now" in the Washington Post.
A 2009 University of Chicago study found that most students displaced by school closings between 2001 and 2006 showed no academic impact.
And even FOX picked it up.