Friday, June 28, 2013

Progressive Caucus says Rahm's cuts have created beggar schools

A Small Talk salute goes out to the members of the City Council's Progressive Caucus who "came out swinging" Thursday against Rahm's “draconian” school budget cuts.
“We are alarmed by the stripping of basic necessities which define a school. The neighborhood schools have been reduced to beggars, lacking such essentials as sanitation supplies, library book funds, field trip money, playground supervision,” the eight-member caucus said in a prepared statement.
The eight-member Caucus includes: Bob Fioretti (2nd); Leslie Hairston (5th); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Toni Foulkes (15th); Ricardo Munoz (22th); Scott Waguespack (32nd); Nick Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th).

Ald. Sawyer
Ald. Sawyer, whose South Side ward is home to hundreds of teachers, said Emanuel cannot wash his hands of the problem by blaming the pension crisis.
“When we were consolidating schools, the argument was we would have more resources to educate our children. Now, we’re hearing from our principals that they’re having to cut critical services our children need,” Sawyer said Thursday.
“They’re increasing class size. They’re cutting art and other programs we thought we were gonna finally get back. We need to put enough pressure on the [Emanuel] admininstration to stop placing blame and start doing something about it. These are our children. They’re not a line-item on a budget.”  -- Sun-Times
Hopefully, out of this group a viable opposition candidate will emerge to take Rahm on in 2015.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Mayor 'bristles' while budgets burn

At yesterday's protest, teachers wore stickers with the cut amounts on them: -$535K on Tracy Barrientos from Jungman. -$1.1 million on several students from Whitney Young Magnet High School.  (More great photos from yesterday's protest by Sarah-Ji Fotografa)
As hundreds of people braved yesterday's storms to protest Rahm's draconian budget cuts, the mayor was busy "bristling" at reporters questions and spreading more manure around.

Rahm put the blame for his $82 million budget cuts on greedy retirees and on the legislature for not acting to cut retiree benefits.  He tells the S-T,
 "So we have to get pension reform so we can make the right set of choices, rather than the wrong set of choices.”
According to the S-T report:
The mayor bristled when asked how he feels about some schools cutting art, music, gym and other enrichment programs touted as cornerstones of his longer school day. 
By "pension reform" Rahm, the Governor, and Boss Madigan all mean unconstitutionally taking away a big chunk of money and health care coverage from retired teachers and other public employees. They dare not even consider real pension reform which would mean implementing a fair, progressive tax code and making the state's biggest, un-taxed corporations pay their fair share.
The Chicago Teachers Union blasted the cuts, saying they “shift blame to our local schools and principals are forced to choose between keeping teachers and educating our students. If this continues, public education will no longer be a public good but rather something parents have to pay for out of pockets. And, in the case of Whitney Young only wealthier families will be able to afford it.”
Ironically, it was Talent Development Charter School CEO, Kirby Callam joining the blame-the-victim chorus. Callam, announced that his own school will be closing its doors because it has run out of money and has been unable to recruit new students. But he complains to Catalyst:
“Unfortunately, people in Chicago are getting conditioned to this,” says Callam. “They were like, ‘It is too bad.’ But they aren’t planning any protests at the board meeting.” 
No, Kirby. We aren't "getting conditioned to this". Yes, Kirby, we are protesting at every board meeting and days in between. You should be out there, along with your teachers. The protests have been steady and most recently coming from principals and a group of Local School Councils who have refused to sign on to these preliminary budgets.

The Washington Post carries a video of yesterday's Board meeting. Go to  about 1:57 into the video to see where the fireworks start.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The struggle continues

Fred Klonsky
The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”  -- William Faulkner 
Yesterday will go down as a day of infamy in U.S. history.

The Supreme Court ruling, gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the failure of Congress to respond, sets back the struggle for racial equality in this country by some 50 years. The decision will stand, along with previous rulings like Dred Scott, Plessy and Plessy v. Ferguson as another official tribute to institutionalized white supremacy protected faithfully, if inconsistently, by the highest court in the land.
“I think what the court did today is stab the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart," Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who was with President Johnson when he signed the law and who was beaten at Selma, said on the MSNBC program “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
 Julian Bond, who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, said on MSNBC that the chances were “slim to none” that Congress would agree on a way forward for the law.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Join parents, students and educators from across the city to demand that Chicago puts our schools first! Fight the budget cuts and help win for our students. Please invite LSC members, parents and students from your school!

Board of Education – 125 S. Clark


 10:30 a.m. Board meeting begins
Stand up for your students, your colleagues, yourselves.

Click here to RSVP

School house to jail house

My students are just getting into Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow. We're trying to understand the connection between the mass incarceration of young people, particularly African-Americans and the worsening conditions for poor and children of color in the nation's schools.

Furman Univ. prof, Paul Thomas, writing in Truthout makes the link between Reagan's War on Drugs, which began filling the jails in the 1980s, and corporate-style school reform.
For three decades, the War on Drugs has led to mass incarceration, primarily impacting African American males, the racially defined "others," and the education reform movement based on high-stakes accountability has targeted "other people's children"  in ways that suggest market-oriented education reform is a school-based component of the New Jim Crow grounded in the criminal justice system.
Mass incarceration and market-oriented education reform share more than their genesis in the 1980s, since both have been shown to cause far more harm than good and to further marginalize African American and impoverished youths and adults.
The United States still puts more children and teenagers in juvenile detention than any other developed nations in the world, with about 70,000 detained on any given day, according to the Washington Post.

A new paper by economists Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle, Jr. offers strong evidence that juvenile detention is a really counterproductive strategy for many youths under the age of 19. Not only does throwing a kid in detention often reduce the chance that he or she will graduate high school, but it also raises the chance that the youth will commit more crimes later on in life.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Piston's star and Crane alum, Bynum, speaks out on school closings.

Bynum starred at Crane
As a high school basketball junkie, I got my thrills watching Will "The Thrill" Bynum play for Crane back in 2001. Will, a tough, smart kid who grew up on the south side and went to school on the west side, went on from Crane to Arizona and then to Georgia Tech where he helped lead his school to the Final Four. He bounced around professionally for a few years before landing in Detroit and now is a star guard for the Pistons. He still comes back to Chicago and tries to give back a lot to the community by assisting homeless students.

He's also got a lot to say about Chicago school closings today in Sun-Times sportswriter Mike Clark's column.
"To me, it just doesn't make sense," Bynum said. "I'm from the inner city. I grew up on some of these turfs.
"They may look at it like, these kids can transfer 5-6 blocks to another school. [But] they'll have to pass three different gangs. I don't think it was well thought out."
He has thought about the implications of the closings, drawing from his own perspective. He moved around as a kid, living near 41st and Cottage Grove, 58th and Union, and 63rd and Paulina at different times. He doesn't see the task of giving kids safe passage to their new schools as an abstract exercise in coordinating the efforts of multiple public agencies.
Instead, he knows it's a problem to be faced every day: "It's part of [life for] every inner city kid, whether to walk this way or walk around an extra four blocks."
Bynum considers himself one of the lucky ones. He got a good education and remembers to this day the people who helped him along the way. "Mr. Pickens, my eighth-grade teacher, he was always telling me to have a backup plan, not to put all my [focus] onto one thing. It was an inspiration."
He's worried that the next generation of kids may not have the chance to be as successful as him. Closing traditional schools and diverting money to charter schools is a bad idea, Bynum believes.
"It's a direct blow to African-American kids," he said, expressing concern that students who don't fit in at charters may wind up at alternative schools for no good reason.

Rahm's budget cuts spark LSC revolt

Arts, foreign-language classes and even recess are among the first programs being shed by principals trying to deal with budget cuts of 10 percent or more. Many of those were added for this school year as part of Emanuel’s promise to make the longer school day that he demanded an improved “Full School Day.” -- Sun-Times columnist Greg Brown
Several Chicago Local School Councils are openly resisting the Mayor's draconian cuts and rejecting their school budgets. A full-scale LSC revolt could take place unless funding is restored.

DNA Info reports that Blaine's council has voted to reject the budget, "with Principal Troy LaRaviere abstaining, a move that was loudly applauded as the community agreed to fight for more money from the system." Expected losses at Blaine include the elimination of art, music and a middle school teacher position, LaRaviere told the group. Non-staffing expenses must be cut by 37 percent.

Reports are coming in that similar actions are being taken by the LSCs at Roosevelt H.S. and Whitney Young, where Principal Kenner has threatened to charge students $500 tuition for taking 7th period class.

Burley students protest cuts
At Burley Elementary, one of the city’s top-scoring neighborhood schools, parents and teachers gathered to protest elimination of all art programming and cuts to English, reading, technology and physical education programs.
“Our mayor talked about a full school day in terms of a broad curriculum,” parent Amy Smolensky said, referring to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s extended school day that was implemented this year. “With these cuts, the school day is going to be an empty day, not a full day,” Smolensky said. -- Sun-Times
S-T also reports:
Lake View High School principal Lillith Werner told her Local School Council that “CPS put her between a rock and a hard place,” said LSC member Jackie Rosa. “She made it clear that the principals don’t have autonomy,” Rosa said. “They’re given this dismal budget and they’re told to work with it.”
At Lake View, a neighborhood high school in CPS’ top performing Level 1 category, the budget was sliced from $9.2 million to $7.7 million. It will mean no new textbooks and 14 teachers laid off.
Greg Hinz at Crain's:
Some folks, I guess, are just slow learners.I'm referring to the preliminary budgets that CPS sent to hundreds of local schools a couple of weeks ago, budgets that contain lots of bad news that CPS is going out of its way to hide, rather than use it as a rally to urge parents to lean on state lawmakers to come up with more money.
CPS Liar-in-Chief Becky Carroll says that, "the overall impact on schools is minimal.” But by now, nobody's buying anything she says.

How many more reasons do we need to get rid of mayoral control of the schools and this mayor in particular?


Glenn Greenwald
“Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?” --  Politico
Ald. Bob Fioretti
“This project could not be worse for human priorities. We can’t afford neighborhood schools, but we can bankroll an unnecessary basketball arena for a private university?” -- New York Times
William Ferris
“The memory of slavery and Jim Crow and civil rights is still very much alive,” said William Ferris, a University of North Carolina folklorist and an editor of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. “We carry those burdens through our lives. How we deal with them measures who we are. It’s always there lurking over our shoulders.” -- At Georgia Restaurant, Patrons Jump to Defend a Chef From Her Critics
CTU Pres. Karen Lewis 
“We are unsurprised at the tone deafness of the mayor who clearly has an agenda when he appoints to the Board of Education yet another charter school proponent and Bruce Rauner campaign contributor.”  -- Teachers union blasts Emanuel’s school board choice
Fred Klonsky
“She’s playing the race card!” Holy shit! Not the race card. The nerve of Lewis for mentioning that race is an issue in – of all places – Chicago. -- Saturday Coffee

Friday, June 21, 2013

Letters to the Sun-Times

Steven L. Kispetik, Portage Park
CPS closings devastating for my son 
Thank you so very much, Chicago Public Schools, for erasing all the progress my son has made with his behavioral/emotional disorders while at Near North Special Education School, which will be closed next week. The anxiety of the closing has caused him to revert to several of his old destructive and disobedient ways.

Prior to the announcement of the school closing, he was doing the best he has ever done, with the support of the Near North staff. He was scoring high and on a Gold level almost daily for several weeks. Since then, he has dropped down to the second-to-last level on the behavior charts and constantly talks about how he won’t see his teacher, Mr. Cunningham, again...  READ THE REST HERE.
CTU Pres. Karen Lewis
Karen Lewis: Time for investment, not austerity 
We are on the cusp of massive reductions in library, art, music and special education programming. Since 2008, the district has lost nearly $180 million from toxic swaps that could have been invested in our classrooms. At the city level, a combined city-income and commuter progressive-tax between just 0.5 and 1.5 percent can generate close to $1 billion for the city, with half going to CPS. Imagine if CPS had $600 million more in revenue in addition to nearly $300 million a year from TIFs and swaps? CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked the CTU to offer revenue solutions. When will CEO Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Emanuel join the CTU and lobby for these reforms?  -- READ KAREN'S ENTIRE LETTER HERE.

The new 'CPS Way' smells like the old 'CPS Way'

Last week, as she was closing dozens of neighborhood schools and slashing school budgets at the rest, Byrd-Bennett rolled out the new-and-improved CPS 5-year plan and a new mantra, now called The CPS Way. It comes neatly packaged, complete with slick brochures and videos. But a little scratch-and-sniff reveals that the new  "CPS Way" is the old CPS Way.

Quick, call in the IG to clean up this mess and get Liar-In-Chief Becky Carroll for damage control. This time it's all about replacing Chartwells -- the food service company CPS hired to feed our kids pink slime, to Aramark, the food service company Leslie Fowler used to work for in Rochester.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rahm's great longer-school-day hoax. Charging students $500 for extra classes.

(Fred Klonsky toon)
The hoax began with a mega-political campaign which tried unsuccessfully to convince CPS parents and teachers that the magic bullet in school reform was more seat time for students. When hardly any schools bought into this bogus, baseless notion, the mayor imposed his will on schools, as usual, from the top down.

It was Karen Lewis and the CTU who, without opposing a longer school day and year, repeatedly asked questions like -- How will it be paid for? What will be done with the added time?

Now schools have to live with the longer school day, even while Rahm is slashing budgets, closing schools and firing hundreds of teachers and staff and cutting art programs from the curriculum.

In response, Joyce Kenner, principal at the city's top selective-enrollment school, Whitney Young, is threatening to charge students $500 each if they take a 7th-period class. If this threat is carried at successfully at WY, it will surely be picked up by other principals facing the same budget crunch.

From DNAInfo Chicago
Whitney Young Magnet High School, Michelle Obama's alma mater, may have to charge students $500 to attend a seventh period because of nearly $1 million in budget cuts the school is facing...Kenner, who said she was caught off guard by the depth of the cuts, confirmed that the $500 class fee is definitely an option to counter those costs.
"If it's something legal says that we as a school can do, then yes, we're very seriously considering it," she said Thursday morning. "Luckily, we do have families and parents who are able to afford a little extra."
Yes, we know Ms. Kenner. That's why they call it, "selective" enrollment. But what about the thousands of students and families who can't afford $500/class hour?

Kenner says, a scholarship program would be set up to offer waivers for students who couldn’t afford the fee. Yes, kind of like Harvard or Princeton, Francis Parker or Lab School (where Rahm's kids attend school). But I thought this was a PUBLIC school system!!!

In addition to the recommended $500 class fee, Kenner has suggested laying off nine more faculty members, eliminating the Writing Center and reducing the number of languages taught at the school, among other ideas.

Already, the school has reduced it deficit to $800,000 by eliminating an art position, cutting substitute teachers and a security position, and having department chairs take on additional classes

Put school closings behind us? 'NO WAY'! Families occupy classrooms at Lafayette.

Three weeks ago, a well-orchestrated call could be heard, coming from Clark Street and the 5th Floor at City Hall. "“We are putting the past behind us,” Byrd-Bennett said. “It is time to turn the page” on school closings. Yesterday, the community resistance movement answered back.

As the first wave of schools were being shuttered, with more than 850 CPS teachers and staff being fired, angry parents, teachers and community groups protested outside the auditorium where Byrd-Bennett spoke,
"There's something about these folks who use little black and brown children as stage props at one press conference while announcing they want to fire, lay off or lock up their parents at another press conference," CTU president Karen Lewis said. 
Rosemary Vega and family stand-in at Lafayette. Credit: OCPress/Twitter
The community also rallied outside of Lafayette School to support families who occupied classrooms in a last-ditch effort to save their school. Rosemary Vega and her family heroically occupied a classroom in the school and held it for more than four hours. They finally left after the police reportedly threatened arrests and the removal of the children to the custody of DCFS. The Burgos family also took part in the occupation. Nidalis Burgos, now a student at Lincoln Park H.S., learned how to play the violin at Lafayette Elementary School. It’s what brought the 15-year-old from “dim to light,” she said.

Lafayette students are being sent to Chopin Elementary, seven blocks away, where the future of Lafayette’s Merit School of Music program is uncertain, as is the program for autistic children.

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown does a good job of documenting the pain being felt by draconian budget cuts, being by the surviving schools.
Lost in the continued angst over school closings, many surviving Chicago Public Schools are facing painful budget cuts that may end up eliminating more jobs and disrupting more students than did even the closings.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

NCTQ 'study' of teacher prep programs is good for something...

Yesterday, on my Schooling in the Ownership Society blog, I wrote a sharply critical review of the new so-called "study" by NCTQ, of the nation's ed schools. The group, led by a gaggle of corporate-reform types, follows Arne Duncan's lead in lambasting nearly all teacher preparation programs, labeling them as "an industry of mediocrity," that churns out teachers ill-prepared to work in elementary and high-school classrooms.

Today, after reading  Linda Darling-Hammond's response to the NCTQ report in the Washington Post, I feel I'm on solid ground. Linda, the nation's leading voice on teacher preparation, calls the NCTQ teacher prep ratings, "nonsense."
It is clear as reports come in from programs that NCTQ staff made serious mistakes in its reviews of nearly every institution.  Because they refused to check the data – or even share it – with institutions ahead of time, they published badly flawed information without the fundamental concerns for accuracy that any serious research enterprise would insist upon.
What can learn about teacher education quality from the NCTQ report? “Not much”, says LDH. Without reliable data related to what programs and their candidates actually do, the study is not useful for driving improvement.

Well, then what is it good for? There is a toilet paper shortage due to budget cuts in CPS schools.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Riding Lessons

Eh? What's that, sonny...?

Funny thing happened in first day of summer session. My students went around the table and introduced themselves and said the usual about what they do; where they teach; goals and passions. One student says, "I give writing lessons out in Oswego."  My interest is perked. I ask, at what school do you teach writing? Student responds: "No not writing -- RIDING LESSONS."  She's taking a few needed ed courses to become a certified riding instructor.

Lots of friends and colleagues gathered at the Ayers/Dohrn home yesterday to give a nice send off to Kevin Kumashiro who is leaving Chicago to become Dean of the Ed School at the University of San Francisco. Our loss is definitely S.F.'s gain.

Kevin is currently professor of Asian American Studies and Education at  UIC. where he was formerly Chair of Educational Policy Studies, Interim Co-Director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, and Coordinator of Asian American Studies. On the national level, he is the president (2012-2014) of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). Here in Chicago, he is a founding member and lead organizer of the Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE), which produces research briefs and organizes public events that aim to re-frame the debates on public-school reforms.

CReATE is doing a lot of the heavy research lifting on the mass school closings, debunking and exposing the disinformation campaign coming from BBB's CPS spin machine.

Speaking of CPS disinformation...

Local School Council members of about a dozen Chicago Public Schools are calling on Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to audit CPS finances.Their letter to Madigan, who has dreams of becoming governor, said: The cuts “revealed to schools last week show that the 50 school closings approved for next  year will not save any money and should be rescinded."
Shredding the budget
Madigan should “get to the root of the educational malpractice the district is currently engaged in,” suggested the letter signed by LSCs from schools across the city, including Burroughs Elementary, Kelly High School, Mollison Elementary and Henson Elementary. 
“We want to know what CPS has done with our money,” said Jeanette Taylor, who sits on LSCs for Jackie Robinson High School and Mollison elementary school, calling the per-pupil budgeting “unfair”.
“CPS is asking LSC members to basically fire veteran teachers and choose who stays and who goes. This is what we say to their budget,” she said, dropping a packet of papers into a shredder. -- Sun-Times

Monday, June 17, 2013


Jeb Bush:"Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families." -- NPR 

CTU president Karen Lewis
“Recently they announced a plan for a ‘quality, 21st century education’. Their 21st century plan looks more like a 19th century plan.” -- WBEZ
Tom Hayden
We are edging closer to the neo-conservative dream of total conflagration in the Muslim Middle East. Despite only 11 percent public support for US military intervention in Syria, a reluctant President Barack Obama is being pushed into escalation.  -- Tom Hayden Blog
Joe Nocera
 Instead, this has become one of the trademarks of the Obama administration: decry human rights abuses abroad, but hold men in prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who have never been accused of a crime. Say all the right things about freedom of the press — even as you’re subpoenaing reporters’ phone records. And express outrage over Chinese hacking while carrying on a sophisticated spying operation of your own citizens. -- New York Times
Deb Meier
Irony of ironies, the richer we are, the more likely we are to select schools that resemble my earlier post rather than a "no excuses" school. (Friends' schools, Daltons, Lab School in Chicago, etc.) Why do those with a real choice elect for very small class sizes, highly credentialed and experienced staff, attention to the aesthetics of the environment, plenty of outdoor space, no dearth of arts of all sorts, plus sports, physical education, well-staffed support services, and even nice dining areas, well-furnished teachers' lounges, and usually paid non-instructional time for teachers to meet together? And actually a shorter school year! -- Why Don't We Fix Poverty, While We're At It?

Friday, June 14, 2013

The CPS Way? Really?

“Here they are coming right back after they claimed they were going to save money [by closing schools] ... and yet they’re saying, ‘Oh by the way we didn’t save any money, now we’re going to have to slash the budget of every school in the system.” -- CTU's Jackson Potter
Chicago principals, including those in charter schools, are still in shock after getting a glimpse of their shrunken school budgets and hearing Board President Vitale's instructions to "do more with less." That's the new mantra, now called The CPS Way, dressed up with slick brochures and videos complete with a new "5-Year-Plan". Many teachers and staff are already being told they will not be needed in the Fall.
“We fundamentally believe that all of our children are capable of success, and to ensure that success, every child must have equitable access to a high-quality education,” said Byrd-Bennett, accompanied at Westinghouse College Prep on Monday by a video called “The CPS Way” and a glossy, 25-page brochure titled “The Next Generation: Chicago’s Children.” -- Sun-Times
Yes, the squeeze is on. The air is filled with empty rhetoric and cliches about equity and "all kids can learn." But when 350,000 kids return to school in the fall, they will find hundreds of their teachers gone, many of their neighborhood schools closed, and the ones that remain open having class sizes of 40 students or more.

Once again my favorite quote comes from CPS Liar-in-Chief Becky Carroll who lays out her definition of equity.
“Many schools will see decreases, and many schools will see increases as well,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said. “This is truly equitable way to pay schools.”
And while the mayor turns CPS schools into beggars, he's threatening another big property tax hike to help him close a $1 billion budget gap. It's his way of turning the tables on the CTU and shifting blame for his mismanagement plunder onto the union, "greedy teachers" and pensioners. The one place he and Quinn and Boss Madigan won't go for new revenue, of course, is taxing Chicago's biggest corporations, many of whom don't pay a penny in taxes.

Block 37 Superstation built with TIF money
In case you really believed all of Rahm's poor-mouthing, just look at his hare-brained big-ticket schemes to invest in downtown and the lakefront at the expense of the neighborhoods. Aside from gambling casinos and a $360 million DePaul basketball arena and complex, and this multi-million-dollar ($46 million in TIF money which should have gone to schools) goofy Block 37 Superstation, now we're hearing about the city going further into debt, with loans arranged by Obama's people, for a $99-million makeover of the downtown Riverwalk. 
Under designs already floated by the city, each block would receive what officials term "a unique identity and landscaping." For instance, the stretch from State to Dearborn streets would be themed "the marina" and feature restaurant retail space, and LaSalle to Wells streets would be "the swimming hole."  -- Crain's
Really Rahm? The CPS Way? The "Swimming Hole"?  Really?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

'Wouldn’t it be nice if educational policy were driven by reality instead of snark hunts and iggernance...?/

I'm re-posting this piece from Maureen Downey's Get Schooled blog. -- M.K.

The Snark syndrome in educational policymaking 

  By Peter Smagorinsky

    In 1993, Eileen Byrne published "Women and Science: The Snark Syndrome."

    Snarks have been around for some time, first appearing in 1874 in Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark." Well, actually they are imaginary, as I learned when sent on a “snark hunt” as a tenderfoot Boy Scout on my first camping trip long ago, much to the delight of the older boys in my troop.

     Byrne in particular draws on the following stanzas to coin the “snark syndrome” or “snark effect”:
    'Just the place for a Snark!' the Bellman cried,
    As he landed his crew with care;
    Supporting each man on the top of the tide
    By a finger entwined in his hair.
    'Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
    That alone should encourage the crew.
    Just the place for a Snark! I have said thrice:
    What I tell you three times is true.'

    Byrne reads these stanzas as a commentary on the effects of repeating something until it becomes widely accepted, no matter how little evidence supports it or how much of a chimera the claim is designed to prop up. To Lewis Carroll and to George Orwell, who called this phenomenon "The Big Lie," the deception is deliberate. In the area of educational policymaking and teaching theory, the repetition may follow from ignorance as much as deliberate deception.

    Regardless of the source, the term provides a way to characterize how the repeated assertion of an idea that has no empirical support can indeed become institutionalized in policy discussions and affect those subject to its consequences.
    I find considerable evidence for this phenomenon in Arne Duncan and David Coleman’s educational world and their decision to barge ahead with Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards, even though there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate a need for either, or the efficaciousness of either as planned and implemented. If anything, the evidence against the idea that massive testing improves teaching and learning, rather than disrupting teaching and learning and requiring teachers to spend as much time submitting reports as they do thinking about how to teach better, is quite convincing.

     Neither Duncan nor Coleman, however, has much use for things like research-based knowledge of educational processes, in spite of their roles as U.S. Secretary of Education and president of the College Board. Rather, they began with agendas and marshaled their evidence selectively to support it, and then repeated their claims endlessly until they became part of the national conversation, buttressed by the bully pulpits afforded these two men with a total of zero teaching experience between them.

     Duncan and Coleman have hardly acted alone; rather, they are part of a great national chorus of people repeating over and over that schools are in crisis, teachers are terrible, public education doesn’t work, market-based thinking applies as well to schooling as it does to commerce, charter schools work by virtue of being charter schools, vouchers can enable private schools to admit unlimited numbers of students who don’t want to attend their neighborhood schools, educators know less about education than people who have never taught in schools, teachers are greedy and selfish, principals all know what’s best for teachers and students and so should have unlimited authority, and countless other canards whose verity follows from repetition rather than documentation.

     The first time I met Roy O’Donnell, a Southern gentleman who taught at UGA from the 70s through the 90s and now rests in peace, he was speaking at a conference, where he told the following story: An adult overheard a young boy from Georgia telling his friends about another boy who, in the boy’s phrasing, was “iggernant” about something. The adult stepped in for a gentle correction, saying that the boy surely meant “ignorant.” The boy replied, “No, I meant iggernant. Ignorant—that’s when you don’t know nothin’. Iggernant—that’s when you don’t know nothin’, and you don’t want to know nothin’.

    Arne Duncan works in Washington, D. C., which is also the location of the headquarters of the American Educational Research Association, so he has plenty of access to cutting-edge educational research. He traveled to the recent AERA convention in San Francisco, where he said in a major address the “solution to mediocre tests is not to abandon assessment” but to generate “much better assessment." That statement is not only iggernant, it meets the classic definition of insanity, attributed to Albert Einstein, which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

     Wouldn’t it be nice if educational policy were driven by reality instead of snark hunts and iggernance, driven by claims repeated so often that they are taken as axiomatic by stakeholders great and small, from the folks at the barbershop to the U.S. Secretary of Education and President of the College Board? Perhaps then we would not have one of the lowest levels of teacher morale ever measured, and instead have classrooms characterized by something more stimulating than preparing for yet another round of tests that even Arne Duncan finds mediocre.

Peter Smagorinsky is Distinguished Research Professor of English Education in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia.

Lies, spies, and videotape

I guess the Sun-Times saw which way the wind was blowing in the surveillance society -- towards them. Now fascist-minded Rep. Peter King is calling for the jailing and prosecution, not only of whistle-blower Ed Snowden, but of journalists as well.

Today's S-T editorial in support of the ACLU suit, is decent.
The American Civil Liberties Union took a step in the right direction Tuesday by filing a lawsuit in federal court. It may be the only way we find out exactly what was going on.
They should have gone even further and called for an end to the massive spying/hacking program on every U.S. citizen and beyond.

 Watch White House Liar-In-Chief Jay Carney come to the defense of admitted liar, James Clapper.

The U.S. media as a whole has been shameless in its support for the mega-spying operation, even as they themselves have become its targets. I'm thankful that there are still some journalists left with courage and integrity, like Glenn Greenwald and those at the Guardian and Washington  Post who help exposed the criminal hacking program at great risk to themselves even as top government officials like James Clapper were looking us right in the face and lying to us about it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Byrd-Bennett's 5-year plan is perfect, except for that fact that ...

...there really is no plan and BBB probably won't last 5 years.
For the first time since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took over CPS, his CEO laid out an education plan, calling for high academic standards, more focus on parental engagement and greater accountability for the district, including an annual scorecard. -- Catalyst
Ok, but what are the specifics of the plan? The Sun-Times supports the plan. Here what they have to say about it.
"Much of the plan already has been announced, and it was short on details... But where’s the money to do this well? Ditto for arts education and better attendance (it takes people and time to hunt down truant kids). Byrd-Bennett says they’ll redirect resources and tap outside funds. That’s a start but not a recipe for lasting change."
Umm, no specifics, no recipe for lasting change, and no money to implement. So what is it you actually support here, S-T editorial board?

Well there is "parent engagement". Doesn't saying those two words constitute a plan of some sort?

Well it might, if we didn't already know what BBB means by parent engagement. 20,000 turn out for sham hearings to protest school closures. BBB attends none of them. The she announces that all 20,000 supported closures. Parent engagement.

More from Catalyst:
 But Byrd-Bennett’s announcement at Westinghouse High School raised immediate questions about how the board would pay for the initiatives. And following the announcement, Board President David Vitale confirmed that principals, who received their school budgets just last week, will have to make do with less.
Making do with less? Why, that's the same 5-year plan we just had. Thanks President Vitale.

OK, so what do the teachers, who have to carry out the plan, think of it?

We don't know. No one's asked them.
 “It is amazing that CPS’s first impulse, no matter who heads it, is towards an autocratic, top-down approach that people who actually work with kids are expected to implement without the appropriate resources or tools. When will CPS understand that having a ‘plan’ that never includes the voices of parents, students, CPS workers and a realistic blueprint on how to generate revenue will continue to foster mistrust, alienation and lowered expectations, especially after the tragic closing of 50 schools?” -- CTU Prez Karen Lewis
So much for the plan.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Back from Portugal. Little has changed.

Well, vacationing in Portugal was nice but it's always great to be back home, sleeping in my own bed and getting back into the swing of things. Also, getting back to work. summer quarter starts next week and someone's got to pay for all that bacalhau and natas.

Glad to see nothing's changed much back home in the past week. Rahm's still the most hated man in town -- even the cops hate him. Too pushy? Maybe, but that's the least of it.

Two dead and 17 wounded in weekend shootings. Rham will probably say we're behind last year's schedule and declare another victory in the war on gangs.

The machine still has both ends covered with corrupt union leaders like John Coli, who runs the Teamsters like a family business. Just in case you're not sure how the City That Works works, Marty at the Red Line Tap lays it all out for my brother, Fred.

CTU's Jackson Potter
And CPS seems to be preparing to follow the lead of Supt. Hite in Philly, who just pink-slipped nearly 4,000 school employees, including hundreds of teachers.

“Seeing what happened in Philadelphia, we are definitely concerned,” said the CTU's Jackson Potter. 
“They’re going to threaten Armageddon and a disaster scenario where we have to raise class sizes to 40 and lay off thousands of teachers, and there are other options,” Potter said. “Why not take the TIF surplus and put it back where it belongs, in schools, parks and libraries?”  -- Sun-Times
It's alll part of BBB's 5-year plan which she announced to under-enthused staffers today.  The plan, which is very optimistic given the short tenure of BBB's last two predecessors, can be summed up in  just a few words: "It's for the kids." Right?

Actually, the whole idea of a 5-year plan sounds like something out of the Kremlin in the 50's. Hmmm.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The end of Europe?

Cabo Da Roca, the end of Europe
That's the ominous name given to the wild, rocky coast on the westernmost end of Portugal. On another level, lots of folks here are talking about the end of Europe. While I don't believe that the end  is in sight, the standard of living here is in free-fall and millions of people are truly suffering under imposed austerity and are ready for change. Educators are a big part of the protest movement and lots of debate is taking place over the role of schooling in Portuguese society.

I know,  I'm supposed to be on vacation.  And believe me, we've been taking that seriously, enjoying great seafood, taking in the music and art, visiting Moorish castles and hitting the beaches and all that good stuff. Not to mention, getting up at 2 a.m. to watch the Spurs beat the Heat in game 1.

CGTP's Fernando Mauricio
But I'm also drawn to the complex political life of Portugal, both for its role as a brutal colonizer in Africa and for its 1974-75 "Carnation Revolution," which toppled the fascist Salazar dictatorship. The revolution helped the emerging liberation movements in Portugal's former colonies win their independence in 1975. Every country has its two sides and I like to see them both.

During a break in sightseeing, we were able to visit with Fernando Mauricio, one of the leaders of the CGTP, Portugal's largest union, which along with the smaller and not-so-militant rival UGT, is organizing for the upcoming general strike.  Fernando, who was a public school teacher before becoming a union organizer, gave us an update on the current struggle and some background on the history of the union movement here. As a young political activist in the 1960a and 70s, he spent time in prison and underground and in exile during the years of the dictatorship.

Students at Bento de Jesus Caraça High School
We also got to visit and meet with the leaders of Bento de Jesus Caraça Vocational High School, one of half a dozen public schools run by the union -- this one housed in  the union's downtown Lisbon headquarters. It's named after the revolutionary Portuguese educator who was a notable figure both in the field of popular education and in the resistance movement against Salazar dictatorship.

The classrooms are airy and inviting. The view from the classroom windows out over the Tagus River is so beautiful,  if I were a student here I'd have a tough time focusing on my lessons.

The school's curriculum, while called voc-ed, is really about educating the whole child and providing a step up towards either  university or  career. It includes a mix of technical skill-building and general core courses--science, languages, arts, social studies, etc... Assessments are mainly performance-based, although all Portuguese students must pass exit exams to graduate. Caraça represents, at least to me, a kind of mixture of John Dewey and Paulo Freire.

Caraça talked about "a school that is life" and the school's philosophy is laid out in a book presented to us, called A School For Life, which includes this statement of purpose:
"Looking at the students as a whole -- taking into consideration their personalities, backgrounds, and aspirations, and not just as recipients of knowledge or as future professionals... Our school has small clusters, which allows a human approach to all situations."
Not bad.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Portugal's hot!

"Against the Troiks"
"We are faced with a wall of intransigence. The government better understand that negotiating is not the same as imposing." -- Carlos Silva, the head of the 500,000 members-strong UGT
It's hot here in Lisbon and I'm not just talking about the weather.  Luckily we're able to get around the city pretty well, arriving in town just after another strike shut down the Lisbon Metro for the 4th time in the past year.

Lots of young people in the streets. Graffiti is ubiquitous. Unemployment is at a record level, 17.8% with youth unemployment at a record 42.5%. Among Lisbon's large African immigrant population from Portugal's former colonies, it's much higher. The whole country is reeling under the burden of imposed austerity and while things are pretty peaceful here, say as compared to Turkey, neighboring Spain, or Greece, signs of resistance are everywhere.

Saturday's protest.
Saturday, more than a million people took to the streets here and in 30 other cities, the largest protests in Portugal's history, and marched against, what protesters call the Troika -- the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - Portugal's one-percenters.

The Lisbon protest ended with the hymn to the 1974 revolution that overthrew the dictatorship, sung by hundreds of thousands in the Plaza de Comercio.

Yesterday, the country's biggest unions announced support for a general strike, called for June 27th. It will be the second general strike here in 6 months.

This all has a familiar ring as we learn about the dismantling and closing down of social services,  layoffs and falling wages for public sector workers, and increased privatization. Among the hardest hit, Portugal's already suffering public school system and one of the weakest in Europe. Thousands of teachers are being fired under pressure from the I.M.F. which issued a report recently, singling  out public school teachers as a "privileged group within society."

I don't think many Portuguese would have a tough time relating to the mass closings of public schools, health and mental clinics and the attacks on public sector unions we're facing back in Chicago.

Monday, June 3, 2013


Sen. Mark Kirk wants mass arrests of 18,000 young black Chicagoans he labels as GDs.

Chicago Magazine's Whet Moser
I saw a headline the other day in which Mark Kirk proposed to arrest literally every single Gangster Disciple in Chicago. That's an estimated 18,000 people, the equivalent of arresting every man, woman, and child in East Garfield Park or Kenwood. An entire Chicago community's worth of people. It's putting it mildly to say this idea is not entirely thought-out:
 Thomson has 1,600 cells. So at the tight fit of ten prisoners to a're still gonna need a bigger jail. (Cook County Jail holds about 10,000 people, but it's almost full.)  Maybe this is what we could do with all the closed schools. Anyway, those are mere logistical details. This is America, and if we're good at anything, it's mass incarceration. -- The 312
N.Y. Principal Carol Burris
The proliferation of high stakes testing — mandated standardized assessments with critical consequences for the student, teacher and school– has led to the inevitable rise of the testing bullies. The testing bullies are the high stakes testing companies. They, along with policymakers and politicians, are harming our children to the point of abuse. -- WaPo
 Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies
“It’s the first time in Turkey’s democratic history that an unplanned, peaceful protest movement succeeded in changing the government’s approach and policy.” said Sinan Ulgen, the, a research group in Istanbul. “It gave for the first time a strong sense of empowerment to ordinary citizens to demonstrate and further their belief that if they act like they did the last few days they can influence events in Turkey.” - NYT