Friday, March 29, 2013

It's Duncan's Race To The Top that should have been indicted

When the Atlanta test cheating scandal broke two years ago, Arne Duncan pooh-poohed it. He started out saying how "stunned" he was and then called it an "isolated" problem. 
"I think this is very isolated," Duncan said. "In Baltimore, there's two schools and they dealt with it. This (Atlanta) is an easy one to fix, with better test security.
Isolated? An easy one to fix?

Today AJC reports:
 Former Atlanta Public School Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others were indicted Friday indictment on charges of racketeering, theft by taking, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and false statements in connection with the cheating scnadall that has dogged Atlanta Public Schools for years.
How isolated is the Atlanta cheating scandal? According to a FairTest's press release we received this morning, cheating is widespread --in 37 States And D.C. to be exact. FairTest has the list.

Of course this scandal is really just a symptom of a much larger problem and Duncan bares as much responsibility for it than the 35 who were indicted. It's his test-crazy Race To The Top, a continuation of No Child Left Behind that is behind the cheating wildfire. And his initial response, downplaying the scandal, was in a way a cover-up.

Next question -- is Michelle Rhee and her former team in D.C. next?

Sound and fury over crowd estimate

The current dust-up about the various estimates of the crowd size at Wednesday's school closing protest qualifies as sound and fury, signifying nothing, to quote Will Shakespeare. What difference does it make whether the size of this particular march and rally  was 2,000 or 10,000?  The point is, it was big, loud and militant enough to be heard all the way up to the fifth floor of City Hall and in BBB's offices at CPS. The message was loud and clear and was picked up by the media. SAVE OUR SCHOOLS and HEY HEY. HO HO. RAHM EMANUEL'S GOT TO GO!

While the size of the protest may have paled in comparison to the rallies in support of the striking teachers last fall, it was still plenty big and deep. Mass civil disobedience arrests showed that the level of anger and commitment has risen  as the voice

It's not just about size.
Does anyone really doubt that the vast majority of the city's residents oppose Rahm's school closing plan? Just look at the polls. Wednesday's NBC News Flash Poll showed 78% of tens of thousands of participants favoring CTU prez Karen Lewis over Rahm on the school closing debate. Not even close. The weather and Spring break may have played a role, as well as Rahm's divide-and-rule tactics of selective targeting of closings. But that's neither here nor there. When you see unionists and school lunchroom ladies in hairnets sitting down in the middle of Clark St. and getting arrested by sympathetic Chicago cops, you know your time has come.

One question is still unanswered. Why the hell are Rahm's people, like CPD spokesman Adam Collins calling the Sun-Times City Desk, arguing with editors over the crowd estimate? How desperate and petty is the mayor?

School closings wrong

Don't miss Karen Lewis' op-ed, "Shifting the mark: Why school closings are wrong" in today's Trib. It slams a recent Tribune/Joyce Foundation slanted poll which tries to show mass support for privately-managed charter schools.

 Lewis writes:
During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, schools were built to provide a fundamental, essential resource in overcrowded African-American neighborhoods. Now, schools will be dismantled, along with the continued destruction of families, public housing, social services and employment opportunities.
 The idea that the Tribune uses its biggest stage — the Sunday edition after the announcement of the largest mass school closing in U.S. history — to trumpet a loaded poll that blames teachers for problems in schools is unfortunate.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sun-Times editorial calls the union, 'bomb throwers'

A funny thing happened to me this morning. I read the Sun-Times. The editorial page that is. What's funny about a S-T editorial, you ask? Well, the title for one thing -- 'CTU, don’t burn down the house'.

But the really funny thing was that the editorial is essentially in agreement with the teachers union in its critique of the announced 54 school closings over the next few months. So why has the editorial board resorted to such offensive metaphors? Why are they distorting the union's positions and making them seem like the unreasonable ones, when it's Rahm who is saying that "the time for negotiations is over"?

The S-T board claims the union is "preventing the public from looking at this issue honestly." But they don't say how they're preventing it. The  CReATE group of more than 100 Chicago-area academics and researchers has been looking at the issues "honestly" all year and they, along with the Raise Your Hand Coalition will offer their findings to the board on April 2nd. Nobody from either side tried or could have prevented these scholars from doing their work. 

If CTU is the piper, what are we?
But for some strange reason, the S-T wants to overstate the power of the union and present Karen Lewis as a "pied piper" leading the rest of us astray. Don't they see how insulting a metaphor that is? If Lewis is the pied piper, what does that make the rest of us? The little children of Hamelin? The rats?

But then the editorial board actually raises some good points:
  • "The first question now should be: How many schools can CPS humanely shutter this year? We’ve said repeatedly that a large number like 54 in a single year, impacting more than 30,000 children in closing and receiving schools, is unworkable and wrong.
  • "And then there’s the second big question: where has CPS gone wrong in assembling its closure list? Undoubtedly, CPS’ list includes schools that should be saved as well as receiving schools that cannot absorb students without causing harm.
  • Hidden in CTU’s rhetoric are important truths about what CPS risks with these closures — student safety, neighborhood stability and slim odds that students who transfer will be substantially better off academically (University of Chicago research says students benefited academically in past closings only when they were transferred to top-performing schools)."
Given all this, doesn't it make sense to keep schools open this year until Rahm and Byrd-Bennett can get their act together. Maybe even read up on the research offered in the latest CReATE Brief?

So how is the CTU "burning down the house" by raising essentially these same points? 

Well actually, there are some real differences here. Karen Lewis and her team have, much to their credit, continued raising issues of racism and inequity embedded in the mass school closings. This is an area where the S-T has always had a blind spot. Whenever community groups or activists raise the specter of racism, you can always count on someone calling them conspiracy theorists, bomb-throwers or in this case house burners. After all, we are now living in post-racial Chicago, right? No segregation and inequity in schools or housing here, right?

S-T responds: "CTU continues to roil the waters by lobbing these bombs."

Lobbing bombs? Roiling waters? (mixing metaphors?) What? Where? Are they denying that race comes into play when all, or nearly all the targeted schools are in the black community. This is bound to be the subject of Civil Rights lawsuits in the months ahead, hopefully throwing a big wrench into Rham's hurried closing plans. Roil the waters indeed. 

The only house in danger of burning here is the house of cards upon which mayoral control of the schools rests. But that one is self-igniting. 

The thing about autocrats...

"The time for negotiations is over." -- Rahm Emanuel
A few minutes later, in front of City Hall, janitors, lunch ladies, teachers,  parents, clergy and union officials interlocked arms and sat down in neat rows in the northbound lanes of LaSalle Street. "Save our schools," they chanted. -- WBEZ

Shades of Hosni Mubarak and Dick Cheney.

The one thing autocrats and political bosses world-wide have in common -- they don't give a rat's ass about what the 99% think. Their power comes from a tiny reactionary base of support from corporate billionaires  and they have no tolerance for popular dissent, either from inside or outside their own narrow political machines.

Mubarak, who responded to the Egyptian people's demands for democratic reform with violence and terror, was ousted after 18 days of demonstrations that sparked the 2011 Arab Spring. Now he sits behind bars, most likely until he dies.

When I think of Cheney, I recall his curt  response in the Spring of 2008, to polls showing growing opposition to the Iraq invasion. When asked about polls showing that  two-thirds of Americans opposed the war, Cheney replied, "So?"
"You don't care what the American people think?" ABC News' Martha Raddatz asked the vice president. "You can't be blown off course by polls," said Cheney.
Eight months later, Cheney, Bush and the neocons were swept out of office by a mass movement including millions of young voters, energized largely by their opposition to the war and pinning their hopes on Barack Obama.

Karen Lewis out-polling Rahm 77% to 23%
On a day when thousands of angry parents, teachers, students, unionists and clergy turned out in Chicago to protest the announced closings of neighborhood schools, Rahm took the Mubarak/Cheney road.

At a hastily called press conference, the mayor, whose poll ratings of those strongly approving his policies are now at 2%, declared that "the time for negotiations is over". He spoke at length about the "new process" he said has already allowed the public to weigh in on the proposed closings. CPS and a school closings commission held public hearings over more than four months on the issue, and said more than 20,000 people participated, said Rahm. The district now will hold three meetings for each school on the final closing list before the school board votes.

But a group of a dozen African-American ministers who came to the Mayor's Office with a letter urging him to  put a moratorium on closings asked about the point of additional hearings if Emanuel has already made up his mind.
“If nobody is going to be heard at the hearings, what’s the use of having the hearings?” said Pastor Marshall Hatch of the New Mount Pilgrim Church in West Garfield Park. “If it’s a done deal, then stop wasting everybody’s time.”
Rahm believes that a huge campaign war chest and his links with Obama will be enough to keep him in power after 2014. But growing anger in the black community over these targeted school closings could change all that. Yesterday's mass protest, including civil disobedience arrests of some 150 people, has raised the stakes. The mayor can now talk all he wants about no negotiations but he faces a potential Chicago Spring if he does. Not to mention the dozens of Civil Rights law suits and possible injunctions he and his lieutenant Byrd-Bennett face as they move ahead on school closings.

An NBC News poll (scroll to bottom of the page to vote) yesterday on the heels of the protest, asked: "Whom do you support in the school closing battle, Rahm Emanuel or Karen Lewis?" So far, with some 80,000 people voting, it's Rahm 23% -- Karen 77%.

Expected Rahm response -- "So."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

'Throwing money at it'

I actually put on a tie and went on English Language Al Jazeera last night with Jitu Brown and a smarmy wing-nut from the Heritage Foundation, Jason Richwine. They didn't tell me up front that there would be three of us sharing about 20 minutes of air time. My intention was to plug the CReATE Research Brief on School Closings. But I didn't get much of a chance to do that. I had to shout out the address, as the show was winding down, and probably got it wrong. I'll have to watch the Inside Story video once they put it up.

I wasn't sure who Richwine was at first. I vaguely remembered him from an anti-union screed a while back, about the "ongoing whine from teachers unions and their fellow travelers that public school teachers don’t earn enough money."

Last night he had all the well-scripted stock cliches about Chicago public schools not being "cost effective." Jitu came loaded with good research and lots of  stories from his work with schools and neighborhoods on the south side, which Richwine dismissed as "anecdotal." He claimed he had the real data, right from some economists, showing that schools needed to be closed and that the resulting 40 students in a class would be no problem for "good teachers."

But what really pushed my button was when he came out with that old canard, "throwing money at schools doesn't work." I found myself, squeezed for time as usual on these shows, shouting out, "why are the people with all the money always the ones telling us not to throw money at it?"

I actually borrowed that line from Jonathan Kozol via Brother Fred. Thanks JK.

After I got home, I realized that Richwine was only parroting Arne Duncan on the 40-students-in-a-class crap. It was Duncan, speaking a year ago at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, who claimed that, "Class size has been a sacred cow and I think we need to take it on." I'd hand over my pension check for a chance to watch either Duncan or Richwine in a classroom, trying to manage a class of 40 first-graders.

So now, here was this know-nothing right-winger, drawing on Obama's Ed Secretary Duncan's wit and wisdom about class size and using it to defend the school closing policies of a Democratic Party mayor.

Yes, Chicago politics do make for some not-so-strange bed fellows.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In response to Chicago Spring, CPS throws up the barricades

Chicago students hit the streets yesterday. 
Sunday it was the postal workers marching downtown to protest the end of Saturday delivery. Yesterday it was the students demanding an end to school closings and 1,000 more "running the streets" for immigration reform. But the big one is tomorrow's citywide march which I'm predicting is just the beginning of a Chicago Spring.

Who knows where they are going to hide Rahm this time around? He probably can't go back to Utah so soon. It looks like he and BBB will just have to huddle together in their offices and sweat it out as thousands of angry parents, teachers, clergy, students and community residents march against school closings.

Immigration march yesterday
It's a good thing for the mayor that the barricade builders haven't been pink-slipped yet. CTUnet reports that BOE security began erecting metal barricades around the building today. Metal ones are supposedly better because they can't burn and protesters will likely hurt their knees climbing over them. 

I'll also be checking the sky for drones. 

Says the union:
People will gather at Daley Plaza at rush hour before heading to City Hall and BOE headquarters at 121 S. LaSalle Street. Participants will include CTU Local 1 President Karen Lewis, SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff, Unite HERE Local 1 President Henry Tamarin, parents, clergy, students, rank-and-file teachers, paraprofessionals, school clinicians, lunchroom and custodial workers, community activists, and others.
 The CTU has also published a SECRET MEMO that went out to CPS principals, warning them about possible civil disobedience and assigning them to spy on demonstrators, and take note of media.

CReATE members buoyed by the publication and wide distribution of their Research Brief on School Closures, will be making signs at the Cultural Center, 78 E Washington St, from 3:00-3:45 and then marching over to the rally point at the Daley Center.

CReATE's Stephanie Farmer, a Roosevelt prof, gets a SmallTalk Salute for doing such a good job on Chicago Tonight, having to take on a DFER charter/voucher promoter and someone from the Archdiocese hunting for public funds for Catholic schools. Stephanie was determined to stick to the research and presented it well. . 

Rahm finds his strongest support coming from the right

The Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools group marches to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office at City Hall on Monday to present a letter from Chicago Public Schools students asking him not to close their schools. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times
Once again, the mayor is finding his strongest support coming from right-wing, anti-tax, anti-union conservatives. The far-right National Review dotes on Rahm and his school closings and blasts CTU prez Karen Lewis for her "overheated rhetoric." Oh the horror -- she called him the "murder mayor" since the city's murder rate jumped 40% in his first year and his policies include the mass murder of city health and mental clinics as well as schools.

But while the squeamish gentlemen at NR may take offense at Lewis' hard-hitting metaphors, her rhetoric seems mild compared to what I am hearing from her base in the schools and in the neighborhoods. If anyone (NR conservatives included) has any doubts about the strength of that base of support on the school closings issue, it would behoove them to show up at the Daley Center tomorrow around 4 p.m. and get a taste of the breadth and depth of anger people are feeling.

It's Rahm, not Karen whose ratings are plummeting and the National Review crowd isn't going to be much help to Rahm in 2014. Check out the Crain's/Ipsos poll from a few week's ago showing strong support for the mayor at just a measly 2%. Axelrod & Associates can't be happy with those numbers. Rahm won the last election with a big bankroll and strong turnout from the city's black community mainly a result of his previous association with Obama. But his assault (murder?) on social services and now south and west-side public schools could open the door for a viable opposition candidate in 2014. Toni Preckwinkle's name is already being mentioned, along with that of some members of the Progressive Caucus in the City Council.

Meanwhile, Karen Lewis and her progressive CORE Caucus are facing a rematch with their old-guard opponents (sorry, I can't remember their names) in the upcoming union election. But I did hear that CORE just filed 5,000 signatures, five times the required number on nominating petitions. This, in case there was any doubt about rank-and-file support for their leadership.

Just a reminder 

Save the date, April 11th for Cocktails and Conversation, a fundraiser for CORE, at Weegee's Lounge in Logan Square. It will be the social event of the Spring. No one wearing a tie will be admitted.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The continuing Vallas saga in Bridgeport

Kathleen Megan writes in the Hartford Courant:
To hear some tell it, Paul Vallas is the savior of Bridgeport schools, a visionary working to turn around one of the state's lowest-performing districts. Others contend that the schools superintendent is an arrogant reformer, making too much change too quickly, with an agenda to turn education into a profit center.
I'll go with the latter.

Says fellow privateer, Andrew Rotherham: "He's a disaster specialist."

Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party, sees Vallas as part of a "national assault" on public education aimed at privatizing it.
"He's profit-motivated, said Farrell... I think he's a businessman who is trying to turn a profit and use the thing that he's known for to make money either in Bridgeport or other places."
You've nailed it, Lindsay. Take it from us here in Chicago, Philly, New Orleans, Haiti and Chile.


Trumbull Elementary student Daqueeta Holland, 10, left, sobs as she and friend Dyanna Davis, 10, lament that they'll be separated next year when Trumbull closes. (Chicago Tribune)
CTU Pres. Karen Lewis
“Performance has creeped back in the conversation. Every time you look up, they’ve changed the bar on what this is going to be about.” -- Sun-Times
Ald. Bob Fioretti
"I think they set them all up for failure. And then what they set up even worse was the communities and the parents and the faculties and the administration against each other." -- Ward Room
Cook County Board Pres. Toni Preckwinkle
"I don't know how the superintendent can say he's going to keep all the kids safe. I don't know what possessed him to say that." -- Reader 
Melissa Harris-Perry 
Now I  know there has been an outcry from communities,  in part because the CReATE Research Brief on school closures, and there's very little reason to think these kids will get into higher performing schools.  -- MSNBC
Peter Cappelli, Wharton School of Management
What employers are complaining they can’t find now are not things the schools can deliver. They want work-based skills. They want the kinds of things that you can’t learn in a classroom. How do you manage a team of people? How do you implement this particular software? And we shouldn’t expect the schools to try to do that. It’s not very efficient. It’s much easier to teach somebody as an apprentice in the field. -- Larry Cuban's Blog

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I feel Rahm's pain

Try this Mr. Mayor
The mayor says closing 54 schools and displacing 30,000 students has been "very difficult" for him. 
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Saturday said the “difficult” decision to close 54 Chicago elementary schools was not a matter officials took lightly.There is a lot of anguish and I understand that and I appreciate it,” said Emanuel, who appeared to have windburn from his Utah skiing trip. -- Sun-Times
My first thought upon hearing about the mayor's discomfort over the school closings decision was, maybe we should cancel Wednesday's mass protest rally at Daley Plaza in order to give him time to heal his face. After all, just think what he and his family have already been through. I mean, the whole school closing thing coming right on top of the book-banning fiasco would be enough to ruin anyone's ski trip. How could we be so insensitive as to hold a protest and do mass civil disobedience across the city so soon after his vacation

I know I've always hated having to jump back into the rat race the next day after a restful vacation. Not to mention the windburn. I've had that before and believe me when I tell you, it stings. And then your face gets all greasy from the aloe cream... It's horrible.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A calamity of seismic proportion

Students arrive for school at Garrett A. Morgan Elementary, only to find out their school is being closed.
"You know, schools are community anchors. They're social centers. They're part of a community's identity. The closings are going to take place almost entirely within the African-American community, and given the problems we already have with violence, I think it's very problematic." -- County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Make no mistake. This is a crime against the community. 54 schools and 61 buildings closed, left to blight already neglected black and Latino neighborhoods. More than 30,000 children of color, many with special needs, uprooted and put in harm's way. Pink slips for more that 1,000 of Chicago's finest teachers.

Posed as a saving to tax payers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chicago high school teacher, Jay Rehak, makes the case in this excellent blog post, "The Importance of Half-Filled Schools."
...every school that is closed adds to the blight and destabilization of a neighborhood... Each time we abandon or shutter a school, we are marring our communal landscape and inviting further social decline. It is imperative that CPS and the Civic Leaders of Chicago recognize that what the money they believe they are “saving”  is actually promoting further economic decline that is far more costly to residents of Chicago.  Those who do not believe me need only ask business owners whose storefronts abut vacant businesses.
All this carried out by a mayor, currently hiding out in the mountains of Utah, his conspiracy against his own city hatched in the paneled offices of the billionaires boys club called the Civic Committee. There, I've snitched.

The only question now is, whether the citizens of Chicago will stand up, band together, and take back their schools and their communities. And by citizens, I mean the citizens in each and every ward, whether their schools were closed or spared this time around. We are the ones who are all going to pay the social and economic cost for this calamity.

Thursday, March 21, 2013



CONTACT: Stephanie Farmer, Roosevelt University

New Study from CReATE: School Closures will Negatively Impact Academic Performance, Destabilize Communities

CHICAGO (March 21, 2013) -- Closing public schools in Chicago will negatively impact academic performance and create more hardship for communities that are already suffering from disinvestment, according to a new study by Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE), a group of Chicago-area university professors specializing in educational research.

After a review of scholarly research and new data on school closings occurring in Chicago and around the country, CReATE, a network for more than 100 professors from Chicago-area universities, urged the Chicago Board of Education on Thursday to reject a proposal that would shutter 80 neighborhood schools.

“We find that the history of previous school closures and school actions reveal that closures will negatively impact academic performance and create hardship for communities. Simply put, we believe that massive school closures will do more harm than good for Chicago’s children,” said David Stovall, professor education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and contributor to the CReATE report.

Calling the school-closure issue “the most critical education policy decision today” for Chicago and its future, CReATE researchers found evidence that:

School closures historically have had a negative impact on children’s academic performance.  Analyses of school closures in Chicago reveal that 94% of students from closed CPS schools did not go on to “academically strong” new schools.  The evidence also shows that students transitioned to new schools experience lower test scores and are at an increased risk of dropping out.  School closings also negatively affect the achievement levels for students in the receiving schools due to increased class sizes and overcrowding in receiving schools.

School closures have not historically resulted in the savings predicted by school officials. In national studies of school closings, closure-related costs have consistently been underestimated or understated by officials, as districts found themselves paying for closed school site maintenance or demolition, moving services, new costs of transporting students and support for both displaced students and the schools that received them.  A Pew study shows that CPS is having difficulty disposing of the schools they have already closed.  Furthermore, public school districts may also lose federal and state grants if parents remove students from the destabilized public school system and send them to charter schools.

Chicago Public Schools measurement of ideal utilization of 30 children per classroom reflects poor education policy.  The evidence shows a huge gap between the number of empty seats CPS claims it has versus what CPS has reported in their yearly data, thus casting doubt on the magnitude of the so-called underutilization problem.  More importantly, studies on class sizes advise against the Chicago Board of Education’s standard of ideal utilization at 30 children per classroom.  The most credible study on the impact of class size, Tennessee’s Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) program found that students from smaller classes outperformed students from larger classes, with the biggest gains seen among African American students, lower-income students, and students from urban areas.

School closures have historically benefited charter school expansion.  Previous rounds of CPS school closures have facilitated charter school expansion whereby 40% of closed CPS school buildings have been leased to privately operated charter schools.  Enrollment data show that the presence of charter schools contributes to declining CPS enrollment in neighborhood schools, which goes on to create the conditions for neighborhood school closures.  Charter school funding from the state is expanding while funds for public neighborhood schools are significantly reduced.  Finally, CPS signed an agreement with the Gates Foundation to introduce 60 more charter schools in Chicago at precisely the same time CPS threatens to close 80 neighborhood schools due to underutilization.

School closures exacerbate racial inequalities in Chicago.  Approximately 90% of the school closings will impact predominately African-American communities.  The pattern of schools being considered for closure overlays the patterns of disinvestment in African-American communities such as closed public housing units, foreclosures, city-owned vacant properties and troubled mortgages.  We believe that closing schools will deepen the distress and insecurity that these communities are already confronting.

School closings will contribute to even more violence Chicago communities are enduring.  Studies of previous school closures in Chicago found spikes of violence in and around the elementary and high schools where students from closed schools were sent.

For all these reasons, CReATE has determined that school closures are not in the best interest of Chicago children, parents, residents and communities.

“We strongly believe that the pathway to stronger schools for children is paved by safe and stable school environments, and strong communities.  School closures undermine these conditions,” Stephanie Farmer, professor of sociology at Roosevelt University and contributor to the CReATE report.

The CReATE Research Brief on School Closures is available on their website:

The briefing paper was prepared by professors Stephanie Farmer of Roosevelt University, Isaura Pulido of Northeastern Illinois University, Pamela J. Konkol of Concordia University, Kate Phillippo of Loyola University, David Stovall of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Mike Klonsky of DePaul University.


Byrd-Bennett's Book Ban now extended to 10th grade

In this interview, Stephen Colbert warns his audience that after seeing the film Persepolis, they may begin to see the Iranian people as human beings.

Byrd-Bennett's unilateral decision to ban Persepolis from school libraries, morphed into simply pulling the book from the 7th-grade curriculum. But now that the CPS legal department has been called in to cover BBB's rear end, she is now considering an extension of the ban to grades 8-10.

So says CPS chief of teaching and learning Annette Gurley, in response to letter sent late last week by six free speech advocacy organizations, including the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

Gurley now says that Persepolis will not be taught in 7th through 10th grade classrooms until the CPS curriculum department can put in place guidelines for teachers “who are not familiar with the book [to] better help students navigate through” it.

In the meantime, Persepolis author Marjane Satrapi has called out Becky Carroll's Dept. of Disinformation,for claiming that the book was "never banned."
"It's a lie," said Satrapi. "If you have to take a course to teach a book, you pick another book. It's a big insult to the teachers. It's insulting their intelligence, their integrity."
I'm still wondering about two things:

   -- If Gurley's in charge of the Dept. of Teaching and Learning, what is the rest of CPS about?
   -- Where's Rahm on this? Is he still, "looking into it"?

It's War!

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them. -- Frederick Douglass

Barbara Byrd-Bennett will make her declaration of war on Chicago's most vulnerable communities today, when she announces officially that she will close 50 schools over the next few months, the largest number ever closed in one place at one time in the country, This first round of closings will move about 15,000 students to consolidated "welcoming" schools, dramatically increasing class sizes, heightening safety risks, and causing major problems for families with special-needs kids. This, despite research showing that the closings will save little money and despite the more than 20,000 parents, teachers, students and community members who turned out at 34 recent community hearings to plead their case. BBB never attended one of those hearings, only to declare cynically after supposedly "pouring over the transcripts", that "'Everybody got it that we really needed to close schools..."

What BBB and her newly-appointed ex-Marine covert opps chief Tom Tyrell were really studying was the selective breadth and depth of community resistance. Her not-so-secret school closing plan, designed under the guidance of the Mayor and the Civic Committee, has always been to close or consolidate 200 schools and replace many with privately-managed charters. But tactically, she will hone in on the 50 most isolated, under-resourced black and Latino neighborhoods where she suspects the lowest levels of organization and resistance from aldermen.

The real test will be whether communities can unite citywide and move beyond standing up for only their local neighborhood school, to form a powerful, unified resistance movement. A good indicator will be the size and militancy of the March 27th, 4 p.m. rally at Daley Plaza, being called by the teachers union and a host of student, parent and community groups.

While BBB is announcing her war plans,CReATE, a group of about 100 Chicago-area professors and researchers, has scheduled its own press conference to announce the publication of its latest Research Brief on School Closures. The brief should provide ample ammunition to those making the case against mass school closures. It offers solid evidence that closures of this type are racially discriminatory and generally harmful academically to the thousands of victimized students.

Don't miss Greg Michie's compelling tale of Salvador's Last Day to get a close-up picture of the effects of school disruption and mobility on the lives of children. Greg's piece in Huffington offers better evidence than any quantitative study for why these mass school closings and shuffling of kids from one school to another, needs to be stopped.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hansel and Gretel banned in Chicago

CEO Byrd-Bennett has denounced the children's book Hansel and Gretel, as "too grim to be read by first graders." She has reportedly sent her library purification teams in to elementary schools across the city with orders to remove every copy from the shelves and destroy them.

Hansel and Gretel, as you may know, is the nightmarish story of two small children whose parents abandon them in order to save on food costs. After several failed attempts to find their way out of the forest, H & G are lured into the gingerbread house of a cannibal witch who puts Hansel in a cage and makes a slave out of Gretel. The witch plans to fatten Hansel up and then eat them both. But the children escape by burning the witch alive in an oven, stealing her money and then finding their way back home to live happily ever after with their dad (mean old mom died while they were away).

Talk about graphic images. No youngster should be exposed to such a horror story, said BBB.

Just in -- Protesting teachers, librarians, publishers, parents and students have now been told by CPS Liar-in-Chief Becky Carroll that the book was "never banned." Rather, it has been pulled from the first-grade curriculum until every teacher goes through an intensive 6-week training program at the Pearson Institute on Early Childhood Literacy in order to become H & G Certified.

Despite the book's removal, questions about Hansel and Gretel will still be on state tests.

Chicago research group on school closings

The Chicago research group, CReATE, has been turning out the best, most readable stuff on corporate-style school reform. CReATE's latest research brief, prepared by Stephanie Farmer, Isaura Pulido, Pamela J. Konkol, Kate Phillippo, David Stovall and Mike Klonsky, on School Closures, is worth a read.

It concludes:
At present, the data reviewed in this research brief does not support Chicago Public Schools’ claim that closures are a viable solution to the current issues in the district. Instead, their greatest potential is to inflict deeper harm on African American and Latino/a communities. In addition to the current issues of privatization (via charter school expansion) and displacement, massive school closings are poised to continue the legacy of mass displacement, marginalization and isolation of low-income communities of color in Chicago. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Persepolis not banned at Lab School or New Trier

7 editions of Persepolis in Lab School library
Funny. It seems the Klonsky brothers are the best news source in town on this one. Clair Kirch quotes from both our blogs as she tries to make some sense out of the continuing book-banning fiasco at CPS. But as folks in the community say, "the Common Sense Bus doesn't stop on Clark St."

If the banning and restrictions on Persepolis was just a "clumsy, at best, and brainless at worst", "ham-handed" bobble by some CPS bureaucrats, as Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg contends, then why won't Rahm or BBB just say that, chastise the 'crat, pull back all the top-down restrictions on 7th-grade teachers and simply get out of the way?

Answer -- because even if that would improve teaching and learning (which it would) they can't. It's not in their nature. And besides, with the mayor's dwindling poll ratings, they can't afford much in the way of self-criticism or transparency. It's not the stuff on which political campaigns are built. Yet another reason to get rid of mayoral control of the schools.

Instead, the struggle at Lane continues and a student movement against censorship and democratic education is born. Hopefully it won't be crushed.

Persepolis only "inappropriate" for CPS students?

Interesting to take note of this library guide plan at high-scoring, wealthy, suburban New Trier High School --Rahm's alma mater.

Better yet, it only took a quick call over to Arne Duncan's alma mater, the U of C Lab School, where the mayor currently sends his own children, to find out that Persepolis is part of the middle school curriculum and is readily available to all middle school students in the Rowley Library. In fact, the middle school library has 7 different editions of Marjane Satrapi's book, both in English and in French.

Arundhati Roy speaks in Chicago. Book banning, no small thing

Arundhati Roy reads from The God of Small Things (M. Klonsky pic)
Listening to author/activist (The God of Small Things) Arundhati Roy last night at Northwestern's Thorne Auditorium was a powerfully provocative experience. As her narrative, on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, wound around and through the global struggle for peace, democracy,  human dignity, Arundhati couldn't avoid mention of the banning by CPS of Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis. She noted how strange it was that in countries that routinely practice torture, it is considered inappropriate to learn or talk about it.

The packed auditorium applauded loudly when Anthony Arnove of event sponsor Haymarket Books, announced that there were copies of Persepolis for sale at the book table, alongside Roy's own Field Notes on Democracy and Walking With the Comrades. Arnove drew a laugh when he offered a discount to Chicago 7th-grade students.

The mayor was tactfully nowhere in sight last night. In fact, Rahm has been conspicuously AWOL from the book-banning battle, leaving his schools boss Byrd-Bennett to defend the indefensible and take the hits, just as he did with her predecessor, J.C. Brizard.

Student at Social Justice H.S. hold Persepolis read-in.
Until yesterday, that is, when Rahm, reportedly told that he was "looking into" the situation, whatever the hell that means.

Democracy Now!

If you missed Arundhati last night, you can hear her being interviewed on Democracy Now!

Chicago Tonight

If you were at last night's event, you probably missed this interview on Chicago Tonight with Barbara Jones, Exec. Director of the American Library Association, Kristine Mayle from the CTU, and two brilliant, articulate Lane H.S. student  protest organizers.

Stupidest headline award

It goes to the Sun-Times for this one:

Lane students try to stage library sit-in — but can’t pull it off 

It should have read -- CPS tries to ban books at Lane, but can't pull it off. 
Thanks Lane and SOJO students for standing tall.

Monday, March 18, 2013

CPS blocks Lane student sit-in over book ban

Hundreds of Lane Tech College Prep students attempted to hold a sit-in this morning inside the school library, in response to CPS' book banning.

Progress Illinois went to the school as classes began this morning but was told by one of the school’s assistant principals that members of the media were not allowed to attend the sit-in within the school or speak with faculty or students on school property about the protest, or other events, citing CPS’ communications policy.

PI reports that, Lane Tech students organized today’s 8 a.m. sit-in in the school’s library on Facebook and other social media platforms, however faculty broke it up about 20 minutes later, according to student reports on Twitter. Multiple students reported on Twitter that the library was locked and up to 400 students flooded the surrounding hallways.
And were those drones, I saw flying above Addison and Western this morning?

You laugh. But check out S-T liberal columnist Laura Washington, calling for drones "navigating the streets of Woodlawn, Englewood, Roseland. Steel-and-wired contraptions equipped to detect illicit activity on our corners, alleys and parks."


Persepolis author, Marjane Satrapi
 “For me, the worst in all of that is it’s absolutely the biggest insult to the intelligence of the teachers.” -- Sun-Times
 More from Marjane Satrapi
 I’m absolutely shocked. Even in Texas I didn’t have trouble with Persepolis.” -- Sun-Times
CPS liar-in-chief, Becky Carroll
"The book was never banned.” -- Sun-Times
Lane Tech students 
 - This is a SIT IN…We will SIT. And READ. You do not need to bring the book with you. You can hold up signs expressing your opinions toward CPS, Persepolis, Censorship, etc. - If you have other banned books, feel free to bring them and read them there. -- Flyer announcing today's sit-in in the library
Lane Tech Teacher, Steve Parsons
"I tell my students all the time, this is what education is all about. You don't learn just so you can take a test. You learn so you can change the world. They are actually doing that now." -- Chicago Tribune
Barbara Jones, American Library Assoc.
The CPS directive to remove this book from the hands of students represents a heavy-handed denial of students’ rights to access information, and smacks of censorship... As an institution of democracy and learning, CPS has a responsibility to actively model and practice the ideals of free speech, free thought, and access to information at the heart of our democracy. -- Washington Post

Friday, March 15, 2013

Byrd-Bennett says yes to book banning

Today at Lane Tech
In this morning's post, I greatly underestimated the arrogance and stupidity of the CPS autocrats. That's a sin that someone with my experience should never commit.

I assumed that the outrageous banning of the graphic novel Persepolis was the move of some misguided middle-level bureaucrat. But by this afternoon, CEO Byrd-Bennett had not only taken credit for the banning, she had doubled-down by declaring the book to be inappropriate for seventh-graders "because it contains "graphic language and images."

And here I always thought that graphic language and images were the mark of great literature -- especially of a graphic novel. I also thought that it was the job of teachers to guide their students towards developmentally-appropriate reading. Do we really need the schools CEO to decide for teachers which books to ban?

An award-winning work, Persepolis has been translated into more than 40 languages. It was published in the United States as two volumes in 2003 and 2004 and later as a single volume. It was chosen by the Young Adult Library Association as one of its recommended titles and named as one of “100 Best Books of the Decade” by the Times of London.

Lane Tech students and teachers are having none of it. Today, lots of them poured out onto the rain-soaked streets after school to demand an end to book banning. One student told me that she was quite able to decide for herself which books to read and what to think of them. A Lane teacher called the banning ridiculous and told me that he had assigned the book to his students two years ago. The principal of another school told me that she was ordering 10 copies of Persepolis for her school library.

As is usually the case, book banning soon turns into its opposite. The publishers of Persepolis must be grinning from ear to ear today after hearing the news from Chicago. Please ban more of our books, I can almost hear them appealing to CPS 'crats. As for Rahm, BBB & Co., I can't imagine this going well for them. Can you?

How many more reasons do you need?

“Listen. I don't like to preach, but here's some advice. You'll meet a lot of jerks in life. If they hurt you, remember it's because they're stupid. Don't react to their cruelty. There's nothing worse than bitterness and revenge. Keep your dignity and be true to yourself.” ― Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood 

I've met a lot of jerks in my life. Unfortunately several of them were in leadership of our wonderful city and our public school system.

It's for this reason that I've kept a running count of reasons to get rid of mayoral control of the schools. I'm already up in the high 600s. When the public schools are run autocratically as a wing of City Hall, you wind up with an education system run strictly in the political interests of the mayor and his corporate backers, some of the biggest jerks around.

More reasons were added just yesterday:

#667 -- The Big Lie Syndrome
Schools CEO Byrd-Bennett came up with a whopper, obviously cooked up with the aid of CPS Liar-In-Chief  Becky Carroll. BBB claims that the 20,000 people who attended her Walton-funded school-closing hearings all agreed on the need to close schools.

If she had attended any of them, it would have made it 20,001. BBB now claims she is "pouring over the transcripts" from those meetings before she makes her final recommendations to the school board March 31. If she was really basing her decision on the transcripts she would have no choice but  to agree to a moratorium on school closings.

But in the same breath she says that "everyone got it, everyone understood that we needed to close schools." Anyone who actually attended any of those meetings like I did, knows that's a big lie. We didn't "get it."

#668 -- Book Banning
The forced removal of the graphic novel Persepolis from school libraries beginning with Lane Tech, is outrageous. So outrageous, in fact, that it seems unlikely the banning order came directly from Rahm. More likely, it's the inevitable extension of his top-down, bureaucratic network of sub-district managers, each trying to impress superiors and to show school principals (and librarians?) who's the boss.

Fred Klonsky blog
It's interesting to note other places where Persepolis has been banned at one time or another -- Iran, Morocco, Lebanon, and the UAE.

Lane Tech parents and students will protest the book banning today at 3:30 p.m. on the corner of Western and Addison. I hope to join them.

#669 -- Penny Pritzker
Enough said.

If you're still not convinced of the need for an elected school board, stay tuned. I'm sure we will hit the 700 mark shortly.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A regional war over school funding in IL

"We're not here to ignite a regional war over school funding fairness. And we certainly recognize the very real challenges every school district in Illinois is facing."  -- Republican Senator Christine Radogno
Yes they are. No you don't.

IL leads nation in cuts to education
As Gov. Quinn and the Democrats cut more than $300 million from the state's education budget, Republicans are claiming that Chicago's children are getting too big a share of that funding.  Radogno and the GOP claim is that Chicago is getting "a free lunch" based on the distribution of state poverty funds which naturally flow in greater proportion to Chicago rather than downstate or suburban schools.

Both parties link their attacks on public school funding to retiree pensions. Quinn, who would gladly stick it to the state's elderly and infirm before daring to raise taxes on the corporations,  has posed it as a choice between pension funding and school funding. His implication is that greedy retired teachers are taking money away from their own grandchildren by opposing his so-called pension "reform." The Republicans are also reacting to Boss Madigan's attempt to shift the cost of teacher pensions onto already under-funded local school districts.

The good side of this war is that it will probably blow up (at least in the short run) any of the proposed pension-robbing bills. The bad side, of course, is that Illinois, already the victim of the biggest school funding cuts in the nation, will be targeted once again, with cuts hitting hardest at black and Latino children and families and those living in poverty.

Neither Chicago's mayor nor schools CEO Byrd-Bennett has made a case in Springfield about more money for Chicago schools. Rahm seems quite content to see those cuts to his own school district's share of school funding as he closes hundreds of schools and shifts to a system of privately-run charter schools while at the same time, relying on private donations from a gaggle of willing billionaires to fund his own special projects.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A r-r-r-radical 10-year plan for new tests

In a report that was set for release this week, a panel of top education research and policy experts has come up with a 10-year plan for states to develop a "radically" different systems of assessments that supposedly "go beyond identifying student achievement for accountability purposes and toward improving classroom instruction and giving greater insight into how children learn."

Edweek's headline reads: "Commission Calls for 'Radically Different' Tests."
Joanne Weiss, the chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan but not part of the commission, said the report "shines a needed spotlight on the future of assessment, pushing us to make the next stages of this vital work coherent, coordinated, and sustainable." 
I love the clever spotlight metaphor. And while I don't think the word radical ever belongs in the same sentence with the word testing, I'm glad that there must be some growing critique of the current testing madness.

However the obvious implication is that current testing and assessment policies are deeply flawed and needing radical improvement. If that is the case, why a 10-year plan for change? Just think of the many potentially destroyed teaching careers and shuttered schools hanging in the balance with current high-stakes testing practices.

Moving right along from the "radical" to the "realistic" we find Eric Hanushek's defense of current and past testing practices. In his exchange with Deb Meier over at Bridging Differences, Hanushek says testing has been really great for education since scores have gone up and there's "overwhelming evidence that they measure skills that are rewarded in the labor market and that affect the viability of our national economy."

Of course there is that little problem of the ever-widening so-called achievement gap, which Hanuskek calls "embarassing." So Hanushek must be referring to the white-only labor market.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Black, Latino legislators step up to the plate

Tribune photo
Leaders of the Illinois Legislature’s black and Latino caucuses on Monday accused CPS of preparing to close schools without having a comprehensive plan in place and called for a moratorium on closings for the 2013-2014 school year. They were joined by several member of the City Council's Progressive Caucus
“We’re not gonna sit back and say, ‘OK, Mayor Rahm Emanuel do what you want to do, how you want to do it, when you want to do it at our expense. It’s OK with us, buddy.’ Not on this issue. Not on our watch,” said State Rep. Ken Dunkin, chairman of the Illinois General Assembly’s Black Caucus. -- Sun Times
CPS Liar-in-Chief Becky Carroll, responded in no uncertain terms, "blah, blah and blah..." Byrd-Bennett seconded her motion.

Monday, March 11, 2013


UIC Prof. Pauline Lipman 
“These school closings have been happening in communities that were already destabilized by the dismantling of public housing, by gentrification and effects of the economic crisis.” -- New York Times
State Rep. Curtis Thomas (D., Phila.) 
"I think it is time for the parents, teachers, and students of Philadelphia to go into federal court - tomorrow. We have a situation that is completely out of control." -- Philadelphia Inquirer
Brian Harris, Charter union (ACTS) president
"If the UNO teachers unionize, people will notice that all of the scary stories that people come up with what a union will do to a charter school, which I think are incredibly false. People will notice that unions and charters can work together just fine." -- WBEZ
L.A.union activistm David Rapkin  
“The ‘strategy’ of closed-door negotiations around single issues without a broad public campaign to defend and promote public education is failing miserably. Out-foxing the enemy at the negotiations table is a losing strategy. It ignores the fact that without building real grassroots power around a broad vision for public education, and a vision that includes our power to wage a popular strike, we cannot win in this political and economic climate.” -- L.A. Times
Ct.Post writer, Hugh Bailey
So maybe that's what he meant. Paul Vallas actually is the Michael Jordan of school reform. And unless he's derailed by lawsuits filed by people who think the superintendent of schools really ought to be lawfully certified to hold the job, he's Bridgeport's guy for the next three years. -- The rules apply to celebrities, too