Friday, November 29, 2013

Chicago teacher and 'urban mom' responds to Duncan on Common Core

Carolyn Alessio, a teacher at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, has a piece on the Common Core in today's Tribune. Allessio is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council. She's also a writer of nonfiction and fiction.

Notice, she refers to the Common Core as a "curriculum" and not just as state standards. I mention this because some, including Ed Sec. Arne Duncan, claim that CC is NOT about curriculum, as if the bevy of tests tied to the standards, not to mention how schools and teachers interpret the standards, doesn't drive what and how teachers teach.

Alessio, who also describes herself as a "white urban mother of children in the Chicago Public Schools," says that Duncan's recent remarks about the opposition of "white suburban moms" to the new Common Core curriculum made her wonder whether the secretary of education had read the sixth-grade state standard for effective "Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas."
She says that at Cristo Rey, "my colleagues and I are fortunate that we implement only Common Core curriculum adjustments that make sense and fit with our overall instructional goals. I have not had to toss 'The Odyssey' back into the 'wine-dark sea"' or excerpt 'Hamlet' down to its greatest-hit soliloquies."  Read Alessio's entire piece here.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rahm busts a move. Pushes elected school board off the ballot

Rahm and "Slow Eddie" Burke
Some Thanksgiving thoughts...

I just learned that a group of domesticated turkeys is called a rafter.

Thanks this morning, go out to the handful of stand-up aldermen (those very words have a strange sound leaving my vocal cords) who make up the Progressive Caucus. It must be hard to soar like eagles when you're surrounded by turkeys, meaning the rafter of lickspittles who make up the City Council.

Rahm and his boys pulled another fast one in the Council the other day when he got Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the Transportation Committee, to introduce an innocuous resolution placing a non-binding taxi-cab fare hike referendum on the March 18th ballot. Then Ald. Balcer (11th) and "Slow Eddie" Burke (14th) introduced two more resolutions related to gun control.

But what people didn't see was that this filling up of the dance card for March 18th means that there's no room left on the ballot for a referendum on an elected school board.

Rahm and Burke must be high5-ing each other over their shenanigans. But there's more than one way to skin this turkey.


Speaking of that, I'm giving a drumstick salute to the emergence of a new political movement that has the potential to shake up national and especially urban politics to its foundation. The Nation calls it, "the Progressive Wave", a national trend that has produced powerful grass roots victories, not the least of which was the election of Bill de Blasio in New York. The N.Y. City Council will have also have twenty-one new members, many of them elected with backing from the Working Families Party.
WFP executive director Dan Cantor said, in reference to de Blasio’s presence at the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests, “We are living in the world Occupy made. We are the beneficiaries of what they did in terms of making this [about] inequality, which is from our point of view the core issue of our time.” What OWS did, yes—along with the organizing and electoral infrastructure patiently built by labor and community groups.
Next stop -- Chicago, I hope.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Byrd-Bennett, the Great Disruptor, is at it again

“This is reflective of the [schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s] commitment to bring stability to our communities after consolidating underutilized schools.” -- CPS Liar-in-Chief Becky Carroll.
Last week we heard this from CPS' number-two, Tim Cawley: “It is highly disruptive to relocate people from their existing school to another school.” He meant, of course, that it's disruptive only when kids from wealthier Lincoln Park were facing being moved to "underutilized" (100% black) Manierre. 

Today we read that Byrd-Bennett, while not currently planning more mass school closings this year, is still working on more smaller-scale disruption. In this case, she is planning to move Frazier into Herzl. Aside from increasing the chaos in the lives of kids and families, the move will double the size of Frazier (research, schmeesearch) and force turnaround school Herzl to compete for space and resources within its own home.
Natasha Edmondson, whose 8-year-old daughter attends Herzl, is concerned about the plan to move a new school in. She said she hadn’t heard about the proposal until a reporter called. Herzl, she said, is a “turnaround” school — a low-performing school that was academically overhauled — and the kids are just now getting used to the new teachers and principal, among other changes. “I really don’t think the kids need another change,” she said. “They’re finally starting to adjust to the changes that have been made.”
 In Bronzeville, BBB wants to move Urban Prep into Doolittle West. Urban Prep in Bronzeville, an all-boys charter school, currently shares a building with Drake Elementary School. Doolittle West is now occupied by the Chicago High School for the Arts — known as ChiArts — which sources have said will move into the building that once housed Lafayette Elementary School, one of the schools that was closed.

Sorry if all this makes you dizzy. Just imagine how the students and their parents feel. Safe passage, everyone.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Making learning authentic

With attacks mounting on colleges of education, including from Sec. of Ed Arne Duncan, I'm happy to read the occasional story about good young teachers who learned their skills in good teacher training programs. Yesterday's piece in DNAinfo gives us a snapshot of 5th-grade teacher Heather Reed at Chicago's Pritzker Elementary, teaching the way it's supposed to be done. Ms. Reed comes out of DePaul's teacher ed program.
Now in her eighth year of teaching at Pritzker School, Reed said her approach to teaching "relies heavily on making learning authentic to my students" because "if a topic doesn't matter to them, or they can't find something interesting in it, they're not very likely to understand or remember it."


Billionaire Rauner
Bruce Rauner
“Capitalism is the greatest poverty-fighting machine in the history of mankind, and I’m proud of the role I’ve played in it,” says Rauner who reported his last year net income at $53 million. -- Sun-Times
Alderman Harry Osterman
"We don't need a charter school. we don't need another high school in Edgewater. We have one." -- DNAinfo
Jitu Brown (KOCO)
"That is not a choice. This [closing of Dyett H.S.] is displacement by force. This historic neighborhood, we feel, is being gutted." -- DNAinfo
Diane Ravitch
 It seems to me that we are thinking about children, teachers, and schools the same way we think about sports teams. In every league, there are winners and losers. But if we think about education as a culture that is very different from that of a competitive sports league, then the picture and the questions change. -- Huffington

Monday, November 25, 2013

What Vallas did in North Chicago

“Vallas ushered in an era of massive expansion of standardized testing; the privatization of public schools through outsourcing and charter school expansion; and the devastating policy of school turnarounds, which resulted in the firing of scores of black and veteran teachers,” Lewis said after Vallas was picked by Quinn.
Before he was booted out as superintendent of Bridgeport, Paul Vallas, one of the great double-dippers of all time, was brought into North Chicago, IL, as a high-paid consultant to "reform" the largely low-income, African-American and Latino school district. IL State Supt. Chris Koch gave a $311,000 consulting deal to the Vallas Group, even though they were outbid by other, more highly-rated consultants. For Vallas, contracts in North Chicago and Rockford, IL, would mark a back-door entryway back into Illinois state politics.

Once in North Chicago, Vallas did what Vallas does. He recommended closing four of the district’s nine schools and laying off 130 teachers and staff — 39 percent of the district’s workforce. That was his view of reform.
“The Vallas Group hopes that the recommendations in this report will help North Chicago become a model for school improvement,” Vallas wrote in his June 2013 report obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times through an open-records request.
 According to the Sun-Times:
For years, North Chicago’s school system has endured extreme financial difficulties; been poorly managed; faced declining enrollment, and seen its state and federal funding drop. Its enrollment of 3,814 students is heavily Hispanic and African American, with 78 percent of students described as low-income. 
In 2011, the district’s former school board president, Gloria Harper, and its one-time transportation director, Alice Sherrod, were charged in an $800,000 kickback scheme tied to student-busing contracts.
Surprising to some is that Vallas-style "reform" -- moving into largely African-American districts, firing teachers en masse and closing schools -- is also the model favored by "progressive" Gov. Pat Quinn. He says that's one of the main reasons he chose Vallas as his running mate,  praising the great union-buster and privatizer of public schools from Philadelphia and New Orleans to Haiti  as “an independent problem solver with a proven record of reform.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Racing to the top?

Arne Duncan, as usual, is sticking to his misfiring guns. But criticism is mounting over his $5 billion in Race To The Top grants showing no real measurable improvement in schools. 

No surprise there, since the whole strategy was flawed from the get-go. The money was used to drive massive school closures in minority communities, the unfettered expansion of privately managed charter schools, standardized testing mania, and the firing of hundreds of thousands of public school teachers. What could go wrong?

Silly us
Trinity Washington University president Patricia McGuire asks, "Can anyone differ with Duncan ‘without being dismissed as silly’?"  -- Washington Post
I have this dream that those of us who have worked in the trenches of institutional reform might actually be asked how we make reform work, how we achieved results that stick. I keep hoping that our leaders will not drive out the good in their quest to create some kind of perfect world according to their own vision — a vision often informed only by other elites like themselves, or major philanthropists, unenlightened by the real lived experience of us lesser lights who are mere practitioners of the educational arts. Silly me.
The color of 'disruption'
Racist underpinnings of Rahm's school closing policies become more obvious every time CPS brass tries to explain them. The latest inanities come from the lips of CAO Tim Cawley (who I predicted will soon be moving on). When considering moving students from overcrowded Lincoln School in upscale Lincoln Park over to "underutilized" Manierre, Cawley suddenly realized that it's "highly disruptive to relocate people from their existing school to another school.” This from Byrd-Bennett's main cheerleader for the disruption of the lives of some 30,000 children from the school closings in the city's black community.

How creepy is this guy?
In September, Rep. Trey Radel voted for Republican legislation that would allow states to make food stamp recipients pee in cups to prove they're not on drugs. In October, police busted the Florida Republican on a charge of cocaine possession.

Mayor 1%
Don's miss Jaisal Noor's interview with Kari Lydersen. She's the Chicago journalist who wrote Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99%. Some interesting stuff on Rahm's underestimation of the CORE caucus within the CTU leading up the the teachers strike.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Chicago Tonight's panel of "experts". No teachers allowed.

Just watched Chicago Tonight show on dropout prevention. Shouldn't have eaten first.

The panel, which included CPS' new accountability chief John Barker, must have set the world record for empty, meaningless cliches abut Common Core and data-driven this and new metrics that. Barker was aided in elevating data about freshman-on-track above any and all other issues, by Elaine Allensworth from the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Accountability Chief Barker
The panel was sailing right along on Phil Ponce's soft-ball questions until a few people in the audience began raising issues of poverty, violence and other outside of school crises. The panel then turned into a gaggle of hand-wringing, head-nodding sympathizers of the poor with nothing responsive to add to the discussion.

The coup de grace came when a staffer from Amundsen High School (how did he get in the building?) asked about budget cuts and when neighborhood schools would finally get the resources they need, ie. for more counselors and smaller classes, to really make a dent in dropout prevention.

No teacher allowed
Barker responded that the system was in a "structural crisis" because of teachers' pensions. Maybe after the pension fund is raided on December 3rd, the problem will be solved and schools will finally be able to afford more data to scrutinize.

Wondering if armed guards were actually stationed around WTTW to make sure no classroom teachers or CTU folks would could sneak in? After all, what would they know about graduating students. and dropout prevention?

Mayor 1% and other good reads

I'm catching up on my reading. Here's what I'm plowing through:

Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99% by Kari Lydersen (Haymarket Books)
Here's a handbook for the anti-Rahm candidate in 2015. It's well-researched and remarkably up-to-date considering how fast things are moving.
Filling The Seat; The Pathway to the Superintendency for One African-Americn Woman Superintendent by Shelly Davis-Jones (Brand N Stone).

Dr. Davis-Jones is the Supt of Dist. 149 in Chicago's south suburb of Calumet City. It's one of the growing number of mainly-black, working class suburbs affected by the push-out of African-Americans from Chicago's inner-city. Her first book is her doctoral dissertation. It's a qualitative study, an oral history of one African-American woman's childhood influences, educational background, and the barriers she encountered in her career path to the superintendency. She's a friend and I am proud to see her work in print. I'm sure there's more's to come from her. 
Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War against Apartheid by Alan Wieder; foreword by Nadine Gordimer (Monthly Review). 
Ruth First and Joe Slovo, husband and wife, were among the many heroes of the war to end apartheid in South Africa. Ruth agitated tirelessly for the overthrow of apartheid, first in South Africa and then from abroad, and Joe directed much of the armed struggle carried out by the famous Umkhonto we Sizwe. Only one of them, however, would survive to see the fall of the old regime and the founding of a new, democratic South Africa.
That should keep me busy over the holidays.

Turning the neediest overcrowded Chicago schools into beggars

BBB calls parent protest a "knee-jerk reaction" to overcrowding
The Mayor runs the schools the way he runs the city. It's a two-tier system with wealthiest and politically-connected getting the lion's share of the resources while the poorest neighborhoods and schools go begging. As a result, his hand-picked, rubber-stamp school board has become the regular target of protests by parents who want equal  treatment for their children and their neighborhood schools.

Parents whose children attend overcrowded Chicago schools stood up and let their voices be heard once again at yesterday's meeting, making it clear that their buildings deserve improvements just as much as an elementary school in the affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood that is in line for a $20 million annex.

According to the Tribune:

Parents from Prieto Math and Science Academy in the Northwest Side Hanson Park neighborhood — which is more overcrowded than Lincoln, according to Chicago Public Schools figures — said one fourth-grade class overflows with 60 students while eighth-graders are taking lessons in a hallway.
"Wealthier communities that ask for more resources to expand their schools, they are listened to," said Edilia Correa, who has a prekindergartner and a fifth-grader at Prieto. "We feel happy for their parents, but we are angry at CPS for denying those same resources to our low-income communities."
Byrd-Bennett responded in her usual fashion -- chastising the parents for not coming to the board with "a plan rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the overcrowding."

The arrogance of power.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

School community votes and rejects the 'military coup' at Ames Middle School

This from the Logan Square School Facilities Council

Ames activists organize against military coup

The Results Are In!
Maldonado's Military Coup at Ames Even Less Popular than Anticipated97% of Parents and 94% of Students Vote to Keep Ames as a Neighborhood School, not Military School  

Last week, Ames Middle School LSC members held a vote among parents and students on the future of Ames. Alderman Roberto Maldonado and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a plan in October to convert Ames into a 7th-12th grade Marine Academy-affiliated school. 

The alderman’s plan got a powerful shellacking at the ballot box. The 808 voters sent a clear message – converting Ames into a selective enrollment military school goes AGAINST the will of the community.

Votes of parents and other adults from Ames and the two main feeder elementary schools, McAuliffe and Nixon, during Report Card Pick-Up on November 12:
For Community School – 309 (96.5%)
For Military School – 11 (3.5%) 

Votes of Ames students:
For Community School-459 (96%)
For Military School-29 (6%)

In addition, 2,481 parents from across all schools in the 26th Ward and Logan Square signed a petition to keep Ames as a neighborhood school open to all students, not convert Ames into a military school. These numbers blow away the 300-person survey that Alderman Maldonado purports to have.
Ames parents will present the ballots and the petitions to the Chicago Board of Education at the November 20th meeting.

Leticia Barrera, Logan Square Neighborhood Association (773) 727-9941
Emma Segura, Ames parent and LSC member (773) 531-9666
Delia Bonilla, Ames parent and LSC member (773) 708-9603 (Spanish preferred)
Maria Patino, Ames and Nixon parent (773) 410-3717 (Spanish preferred)
Ana Espinoza, Ames parent (773) 216-0539

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

At CPS there's a new colonel in town

Rumor has it that there's a shake up brewing atop Byrd-Bennett's CPS bureaucracy. The roundly-despised Tim Cawley appears to be out as BBB's Chief Administrative Officer, replaced by former Marine Col. Tim Tyrrell who is currently running CPS' school closing debacle

If true, Tyrrell's appointment could be the colonel's reward to commanding the "successful" closing of 50 Chicago public schools, nearly all in city's African-American community, which was done despite vocal opposition coming from tens of thousands of Chicagoans. With the threat of more school militarization hanging heaving in the air, the appointment of the former leader of prisoner exchanges in Kosovo seems appropriate.

No word yet on where Cawley will end up. I just hope the door doesn't hit him on his way out and back to the northern suburbs.

It was Col.Tyrrell along with Byrd-Bennett, who promised that by the first day of school, “all students attending welcoming schools will experience a safe and seamless transition and have an opportunity at a fresh start.”

As it turned out, only about half of the thousands of kids who were evicted from their former schools, ever made it to their assigned receiving school. Nobody, including Col. Tyrrell, seems to know were the missing children are. Kosovo prisoners apparently were much easier to keep track of.

Tyrrell has already been involved in a CPS hiring scandal involving Catherine Sugrue, the sister of Rahm's City Council floor leader, Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th). Sugrue now holds the newly created title of CPS director of school transition, and reports directly to Tyrell about the Safe Passage program.

Sec. Duncan's attempt to silence, intimidate Common Core critics was a miserable failure

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary.”
Duncan's racist and chauvinistic swipe at "white suburban moms" for their opposition to Common Core likely got him a spanking from Axelrod, Plouffe and Hillary Clinton's people. After all, it's her 2016 campaign that will be hearing the echo of Duncan's remarks as Republicans work to separate her from her strongest base of support.

His phony act of contrition that followed only made matters worse. The “white suburban moms” remark was first reported Friday by Politico, which later reported that Duncan back-pedaled, saying that he “didn’t say it perfectly.” You can read his official "apology" for "clumsy phrasing" on the D.O.E. website.

It's actually not an apology at all. As Diane Ravitch put it, "Arne Duncan made the grievous error of speaking frankly."

There so much that's rotten, embedded in the Duncan statement, it's hard to know where to begin.
  • Does he really believe that white women all think alike or that their whiteness defines their view on ed issues?
  • What about "white suburban moms"? Aren't they also workers, technicians, professionals. teachers, community activists ...? Why would Duncan want to characterize them by their whiteness? Was it a conscious attempt to divide his opposition of the basis of race or gender? Did it succeed?
  • What about this use of power and position to try to intimidate critics of government policies?
  • As for children of a certain women being "brilliant" or not so "brilliant," or their schools being better or worse --- what does any of that have to do with Common Core standards? Does Duncan really consider the testing associated with CCSS to be a measure of smartness? An IQ test?
  • Even in his "apology," Duncan implies that wealthier suburban schools are failing, like urban schools. But the data reveals that it's not the schools, teachers or kids that are failing at all. Wealthier, mainly white suburban schools districts outperform poorer urban districts (or, for that matter, other countries), precisely because they are wealthy and well-staffed and resourced. Not because moms' children are smarter or dumber. 
This wasn't Duncan's first attempt at silencing Common Core critics. Just a few weeks ago, he lashed out, referring to them as "armchair pundits." His attempt at silencing was particularly directed at those who point to poverty and the resulting inequality of opportunity as a primary source of supposed "school failure." 

Nor was it the first time Duncan has had to back-pedal after making racially insensitive or outright racist remarks. Just go back to March of 2010 when he claimed that Hurricane Katrina was ""the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans." Four days later, after receiving a torrent of criticism and doing some political triangulation, Duncan retreated, saying, "“I said it in a poor way and I apologize for that. It was a dumb thing to say." 

Sound familiar? He's only apologetic for the way he says what he really means. 

Funny stuff: Students Last blog headline -- White Suburban Moms Declared A Terrorist Group 

Chicago teacher and union activist Michelle Gunderson tweets
Dear @arneduncan, do you have any idea what would happen to me during my Danielson framework evaluation if I used "clumsy phrasing"?

Monday, November 18, 2013


Chicago Neighborhood Schools Fair  (Sarah-Ji Fotógrafa) 

Julie Kosowski, CPS parent
"We are standing on the shoulders of lots of other people who have worked hard for public education to be an opportunity for everybody, and we do feel that it's being dismantled," Kosowski said. "And we're responding to that." -- At the Neighborhood Schools Fair
Arne Duncan on Common Core
“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were..." -- Speech to State Superintendents
David Axelrod (imagined)
"Duncan said what?" 
Jose Vilson 
I get the offense, and understand the need for flexing a bit of political muscle to hold Duncan accountable again. The package deal of the Common Core State Standards has me, at best, leery of the nonsense. Just don’t expect me to get riled up, either. I’ve been mad. Perhaps you should have been angry with us, back when the levees broke … 

Friday, November 15, 2013

'Hope springs eternal...'

Yesterday was the first official day of basketball practice. Alexander Pope said, "Hope springs eternal." Well, at least in November before we've played our first game. I've got a promising squad of hard-working, fun-loving kids and even have some height for a change. What Pope didn't say is that "you can't teach height". That was the old Utah Jazz coach, Frank Layden 

Great news! Diane Ravitch's health has improved (I'm certain it was my matzo ball soup that did the trick) and she has been cleared by her doctors to travel to Chicago to speak on January 11th.

Saintly and patiently progressive Deb Meier lays out her views on democratic education in yet another round of debates at Bridging Differences. This time she's trying to find common ground with traditionalist educator and Common Core advocate, Robert Pondiscio. Pondiscio wrote in the Atlantic that he once considered himself a progressive teacher but now believes that he "damaged" his poor and urban students by teaching self-expressive writing instead of focusing on grammar, sentence structure, and mechanics (as if the two were separable to a good teacher).

Hopefully, this go-around will be a better than the last one when Deb took on the insufferable think-tank hack, Michael Petrilli. Makes me nostalgic for the days of the Meier/Ravitch blog tussles.

Arne Duncan's new flavor of the month is Career Education.

So I've changed my reform plan. Earlier I had advised Chicago schools to militarize their names, ie. Special Forces High School or Navy Seals Elementary, if they wanted to get adequate funding and survive the latest round of "reform."  But nationally, now I'm leaning more towards simply adding the words Career Academy to the school name in order to receive federal funding under Race To The Top. Take the case of Dunbar Early College High School in Dayton.

This from Huffington:
Dunbar was labeled underperforming, so in 2010, the school received money for an overhaul from the federal government, a favorite Duncan project known as "School Improvement Grants." At a later step in that transformation, Dunbar reinvented itself as an "early college" school. But recent visits to schools such as Dunbar, and Duncan's late October visit with President Barack Obama to a New York City school run in partnership with IBM, show that this mentality is shifting, at least rhetorically. At Pathways in Technology Early College High School in New York, Obama called on Congress to fund career education programs to help bolster the economy.
What's in a name? Shakespeare asked. Plenty, when it comes to funding schools.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Where democracy goes to die...

Chicago's City Council

Progress Illinois Photo
The Mayor's toadies were on full display in yesterday's Council meeting. When the Progressive Caucus moved to get two important measures out on the floor for a vote, Rahm put the hammer down. He even cut off the mic when Caucus leader and Rahm's possible opponent in the upcoming election, Ald. Bob Fioretti, took the floor to support the measures.

The Caucus, which sponsored the two measures — a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Surplus Ordinance and a resolution calling for a citywide referendum on an elected Chicago school board — invoked "Rule 41" to liberate the legislation from the Rules Committee. That's the committee which some people call the place "where good legislation goes to die." Both measures were sent to the Rules Committee immediately after being introduced.

Many of the 32 Alder-sucks, who had previously co-sponsored the ordinances, ran and hid. Faux-progressive Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who co-signed the TIF-surplus ordinance, not only flipped and opposed the  attempt to get it out of committee, he also accused the Progressive Caucus of “throwing my signature back into my face” and asking him to “give my vote to you under pressure.” Pawar went to far as to compare the Progressives with Grover Norquist and the Tea Partyers.

Rahm smiled and probably patted Pawar on the head.

Council Wars: O'Connor was with Vrdolyak 29
But the sleaziest of the Council yes-men was Rahm's floor leader, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) who claimed that the move to bring the measures up for a vote was "uncivil," and compared it to the Council Wars of the 1980s. Council Wars was the term given to the battles that saw 29 mostly white aldermen, led by "Fast Eddie" Vrdolyak and "Slow Eddie" Burke, do everything in their power to thwart the city's first black mayor, Harold Washington.
“Those were the worst days that I’ve ever had in this body. And it was because we, as a body, departed from an opportunity to be civil to one another all the time and be able to take opposite ends of a political question and know the difference,” O’Connor said.
No, O'Connor, it wasn't "we as a body." It was the Vrdolyak 29. You might have mentioned that you were an active member of that "uncivil" racist bloc.

I hope people were taking names back on October 16th, when several of these phony progressives were up on stage at the Take Back Chicago rally at UIC, swearing up and down to support the progressive agenda come what may. You know who you are, Will Burns (4th).

Kudos to Fioretti, Aldermen Arena (45th), Sposato (36th), Munoz (22nd), Waguespack (32nd), Foulkes (15th), Hairston (5th), Sawyer (6th) and the few others who had the spine to stand up, vote the right way and speak out for fair funding and democratic decision making for Chicago's public schools without being intimidated by Rahm and his gang.

Ald. Harris: "What's Rule 41?"
Funniest moment was when the Caucus tried to use Rule 41 to liberate the two measures from the Rules Committee. Rules Committee Chair Ald. Michelle Harris acted all confused and claimed she didn't know what Rule 41 was.

Writes Mark Anderson at the Ward Room:
To understand what happened, you have to recognize some basic facts. First is that the measure was buried in the Rules Committee, chaired by Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), for a very specific reason: because Mayor Rahm Emanuel wanted it buried there. From the mayor’s perspective, giving control over TIF dollars to aldermen would be a very dangerous thing. Who knows, they might start listening to their constituents when it comes time to decide how to spend them.
Note to Ald. Harris -- Rule 41 is the rule in between Rule 40 and Rule 42. But the most important rule you have to remember is Rule 86 which states clearly that there are no rules except, do what the Mayor tells you to do. Get it?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Vallas is Quinn's white knight with a "servant's heart"

Gov. Quinn must think we are all idiots.

Yesterday he described his newly-named running mate Paul Vallas as, a white knight — a school reform champion — who now would help focus his expertise on fixing the state’s pension crisis.

Rahm, who also has a white horse, Bruce Rauner, in the Republican race, chimed in:
"The governor made the decision to pick Paul Vallas based on his record of being a strong advocate for education reform." 
Yes, Vallas is white. Yes, he is a champion of corporate-style reform, union-busting, and privatization. As for "fixing" the pension crisis? Well, we already knew what Gov. Squeazy means by "fix", long before he picked Vallas.

“The most significant positive contribution that Paul Vallas left in Bridgeport is the fact that he united teachers, students and parents in opposition to everything he spent his lifetime creating,” Jon Green, National Deputy Director at Working Families, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.
Maybe it's time for a Working Families here in Illinois to take on the Democratic Party of Quinn, Madigan, Burke, Emanuel and now, Vallas.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Study war no more

There was no where to go, no channel to turn this past 3-day weekend, to escape the hyper-commercialized Veteran's Day war culture. College and NBA basketball teams playing in camouflage uniforms. But little was said about the growing veteran suicide epidemic -- 8,000 each year, 22 each day.

Fredy Guiterrez
While last night's Dolphin/Bucs game was turned into a military extravaganza, there was no break in the action to show 59-year-old vet Fredy Guiterrez out on the turnpike near the Ft. Lauderdale Airport, dangling his legs over the overpass with a rope around his neck.

According to the police who finally talked him down, Guiterrez has had difficulty getting help from the Veterans Affairs and he is facing deportation.

Yes, we love our veterans until the wars come home, along with the bills that have to be paid for wars fought on the national credit card. The price of this gift to virtual tax-free corporations is felt in our inability to pay for schools, veteran health benefits, retiree pensions and general disintegration of our country's living standards. 

Here in Chicago, the Mayor is turning the public schools into military training academies for the poor, an easy substitute for the academics and pathways to the shrinking world of good-paying work found in predominantly-white, middle-class suburban schools. Chicago now leads the nation in publicly-funded military high schools and middle schools. 

Ames Middle School community member Delia Borillas informs neighbors about plans to turn Ames into a military academy.  (Sun-Times)
The latest militarization target is Ames Middle School which was originally built to house Small Learning Communities focused on personalization and experiential learning. After first threatening to move a Marine Academy into the "underutilized" Ames building, Rahm shifted gears and is now planning to militarize the entire school elevating military programs at the expense of music, sports, and art. But it is the mostly-Latino community and parents who are up in arms

Today is Report Card Pick-Up Day at CPS schools. Ames LSC members will be setting up a voting booth at the school (1920 N. Hamlin Ave.) to ask for a parent vote on the future of Ames. Parents can stop by the voting booth between 11:30am - 6:30pm or contact Leticia Barrera or (773) 727-9941 for more information.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Vallas (right) was beaten by Rod Blagojevich (left) in '02. 

Fran Spielman
Sources said Vallas alienated teachers unions by privatizing some New Orleans schools and forging partnerships with Connecticut Republicans in a desperate attempt to hang onto his job there. -- Sun-Times
Carol Felsenthal
[Paul's brother] Dean Vallas supported conservative Republican Brady against Quinn in 2010 because he thought Quinn lacked “the political skills to navigate around a Mike Madigan." -- Chicago Magazine
CTU Pres. Karen Lewis
"While he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Vallas pioneered the corporate driven education model in our city. His policies continue to devastate our schools system, which recently suffered 50 school closures, deep and painful school budget cuts, and the loss of thousands of experienced school staff are key tenets of the Vallas model." -- Examiner
Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party
"It's not surprising Vallas is leaving town. His brand of corporate reform turned out to be toxic, and the voters have rejected him. But the last thing he deserves is a promotion." -- The Courant
Eric Zorn
Vallas, like Quinn, is a balding white guy in his 60s from a fading political era — he ran a close second to Rod Blagojevich for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2002 ... I like the Vallas choice in part for that reason — Vallas is the only candidate for lieutenant governor who's clearly ready to take over the top job if necessary.  -- Chicago Tribune

Friday, November 8, 2013

We thought we were done with Vallas but... he's back

Look out. Vallas is back in town. 
We tried to finish him off back in 2001 but...

No sooner had I finished posting about how the Working Families Party and allies were running Paul Vallas out of Bridgeport, than I get the news that he has been selected as Gov. Quinn's running mate here in Illinois. Yes, the master of the disaster from Philly to New Orleans and from Haiti to Chile, the buster of teacher unions, the school privatization guru himself, is back with a vengeance.

Sun-Times political reporter Fran Spielman and David McKinney call it, "a stunning political move that puzzled many African-American politicians."

What was Quinn thinking? friends ask. Is this a way of sticking it to Rahm? Madigan? To the state's unions? Doesn't he need those unions to defeat the Republicans? Maybe not. Or maybe they will support him anyway. After all, they (including the teachers unions) were probably going to overlook his role as pension buster and turn out their members for him.

Quinn is most likely hoping that Republicrat Vallas will bring him badly-needed votes in the white collar suburbs or in cities like Rockford where his ed consulting firm has been successful in bringing in privately run charter schools to replace neighborhood schools. He might also see Vallas as a fundraising link to corporate "school" reform groups and their PACs. Finally, Quinn who's on the outs with Madigan, Rahm and others in the Chicago machine, might see Vallas as an ally in the state's back-ally faction fighting. After all, despite his declaration of support for Quinn, the Mayor and his friends are quietly backing Republican pal Bruce Rauner in the race.

Remember, Vallas, was dumped by Mayor Daley in 2001. It was Daley who had invented the position of schools CEO for him in 1995. But Vallas who had his own battles with then school board President Gery Chico began trying to upstage the Mayor himself in the media. This led to an irate Daley firing him. Then he ran for governor and was defeated by the machine boys in his run for the Democratic nomination in 2002 against Quinn's predecessor Rod Blagojevich. Vallas answered with an endorsement of Gery Chico in the mayor's race against Rahm. Vallas' brother even worked as an insider on Chico's campaign. After Quinn replaced Blagojevich, he appointed now Vallas ally, Chico to lead the Illinois State Board of Education, a post that often puts him into confrontations with Rahm.

PV, as savvy political infighter and former Chicago machine soldier, would like nothing better than to take advantage of current faction fighting and get back into the game here. There was even talk recently about him jumping into the mayor's race.

Fred Klonsky
The question now is, what are the unions going to do? They obviously can't support Republican Rauner who is their self-admitted sworn enemy. They could sit this one out despite threats to take away their "seat at the table" if Quinn wins anyway, without their support. Or they could debase themselves by planting their lips squarely on Quinn's behind while he busts their pensions and restores union-busting Vallas to prominence.

The same could be asked about party liberals and even the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, since it was Vallas who launched corporate "reform" in Chicago which began the large-scale removal of black principals and teachers from CPS. In picking Vallas, Quinn passed over several black and Latino possible running mates who could have helped the ticket in those communities. Like the unions, Quinn probably figured he has those groups in his back pocket anyway. We'll see.
"It’s amazing to me. I’m extremely disappointed in his decision, as I know the caucus is,” said Ald. Latasha Thomas, chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee.“There’s already backlash. I don’t know what it’s going to mean in March or, better yet, November. But there is some backlash. Absolutely…In the primary, he has no challenge. So, it’s the November election. He’s got some work to do. That is why I am so disappointed in him because we are taken for granted.”
 In a comment in the Tribune, African-American schools activist Valerie Leonard writes:
Where's the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus now? We need them to voice outrage about Pat Quinn selecting Paul Vallas as a running mate...He used Hurricane Katrina and charter schools to break unions and destroy the public school system in Louisiana. He did the same thing in Philadelphia. The folks in Bridgeport, Connecticut had the good sense to kick this non-educator out of the superintendent's job. So, Governor Pat Quinn selected him to run as Lieutenant Governor?
Yes, he's back.

Racing to the Top?

Socrates: "We're all mortal", even Diane. 
AMAZING DIANE RAVITCH, still blogging from her hospital bed. But she has to cancel her Chicago talk. First Free Church would have been packed to the rafters.
This week I realized that Socrates was right: All men are mortal. So are all women. I am going to take some time off and rest: Doctor’s order. And I will take better care of my health. I’m regretful about the reminder of my age and mortality, but I will be back. And we won’t give up.
Here's wishing her a speedy and complete recovery. I'm sending her some chicken soup.

CAN IT BE? -- Common Core implementation is worse than ObamaCare launch, says Weingarten.

#RACINGTOTHETOP -- Hey, have you heard the exciting news? NAEP math scores have rising almost 1% since 2011. Reading scores, not at all. Arne Duncan says, he "encouraged." At what?

LET US TEACH -- CTU Pres. Karen Lewis is calling on teachers and parents to take a stand against the testing mania.
“Why must our public school children be subjected to this battery of pointless standardized testing throughout the year, every year?,” asks Lewis. 
 “Year after year, I have watched my child stress over testing,” said mom Nellie Cotton, who has a special education student at Grimes Elementary School. “Year after year, the stakes have only gotten higher and the intense pressure to attain the magic score continue to grow.”
RAHM'S LATEST FIASCO is called Ventra. It will get you "coming and going" says the Transit Union. Reminds me of the old joke about mixing Viagra and Exlax.

According to the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman, Chicago's finances are in worse shape than all but two major cities, Boston and bankrupt Detroit since coming out of the 2008 depression.
The reasons are simple. The mountain of debt got higher. Unfunded pension liabilities are $19 billion and rising. And taxes are not growing as fast as city spending, according to the Civic Federation.
Rahm's approach (like Daley's before him) has been to engage in wild borrowing for short-term political gain while mortgaging the city's future. All this has led Tribune columnist John Kass to apologize for comparing Chicago's political machine to the old mob bosses -- apologize to the gangsters, that is. The gangsters ripped of millions. Rahm, Daley and the Chicago boys -- billions.
That's billions with a B, almost $10 billion, and that doesn't count other mountains of debt that the same bosses have put on the taxpayers through other agencies under their control, including Chicago Public Schools, parks and pension obligations, adding billions more.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


CPS parent volunteers
Latest from CPS -- All parent school volunteers will now be required to be fingerprinted. Accurate Biometrics has been given the $650,000 contract (no board approval required) to do the fingerprinting and parents will have to travel to one of their four centers in the city to have it done. 

According to Brother Fred
Accurate Biometrics' President is Peggy Critchfield. Her previous experience in security work was running the ice pro shop at Marshall Fields. She was Marshall Field's crystal buyer before that. Her other major client is Teach for America.
When asked if parents would also be required to assume the position and take the perp walk? CPS Liar-in-Chief Becky Carroll offered no comment.


Yes, election victories are possible even in this era of Citizens United, ALEC, the Koch Bros. and Bloomberg billions. Aside from the de Blasio landslide victory in New York, there was the victory of the grassroots school board campaign in Bridgeport. The campaign, led by the Working Families Party, won out over the corporate-backed forces who were pushing a horrific school privatization and corporate reform initiative.

Vallas is toast in Bridgeport
The victory means that the nine-member school board will now have a five-member voting bloc that opposes charter-hustling, union-busting Supt. Paul Vallas.  The election victory should pave the way to finally get rid of Vallas much in the way the D.C. mayoral election got rid of Michelle Rhee in 2010. The bad side is that he may decide to return to Chicago. That's probably only fair since we sicked him on the rest of the country in the first place.

An election-day stumble took place in Colorado where Amendment 66, a ballot initiative to fully fund public education, reduce class size and institute full-day kindergarten, went down to defeat.

Ironically, the measure was supported by Bill Gates, and Michael Bloomberg and opposed by the Koch Bros. Corporate contradictions. Yes they exist and are worth noting.


Harry Belafonte
Speaking of the Koch Bros., despite their gazillions, they may have bitten off more than they can chew when they attacked veteran civil rights hero Harry Belafonte. Harry spoke truth to power, as usual, and called out the Brothers Koch on the final Sunday of the N.Y. mayoral campaign. The Koch's poured money into the campaign of de Blasio's opponent, whatshisname.
“They make up the heart and the thinking in the minds of those who would belong to the Ku Klux Klan. They are white supremacists. They are men of evil. They have names. They are flooding our country with money.

The Koch Bros. flack, Rob Tappan responds:
 “It is unfortunate that he and others choose to make such false comments about Charles Koch and David Koch, who have devoted their lives to advancing tolerance and a free society — where every individual is judged on his or her individual merits and they are free to make decisions about their lives.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Victory in Bridgeport. Pro-Vallas forces spanked.

Democrats an Connecticut Working Family Party members tally election returns last night at the Red Rooster Deli, in Bridgeport, Conn.   Photo: Ned Gerard
“As I’ve gone around the country, I always point to Bridgeport as one of the signs that the people can beat the power.” -- Diane Ravitch

In yesterday's school board elections, the majority of the nine-member school board tipped in favor of the Connecticut Working Families Party as WFP candidates and Democrats won a decisive victory over Republicans and corporate reformers. But at center of the election campaign was the issue of Supt. Paul Vallas, currently waiting a court decision on his eligibility to hold the post.

Yesterday's victory was a blow not only to Vallas, but to Democratic Mayor Bill Finch who staked his own reputation on Vallas. It looks certain now that Vallas is toast in Bridgeport. He's even dropping hints that he may run for mayor in Chicago.
To many, much more was at stake than control of one of the most troubled school districts in the state. Some had pegged Bridgeport as the epicenter of a nationwide struggle over the control of public schools, a fight against efforts to cede control to corporate interest groups that seek to privatize education. -- CT Post

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chicago under Rahm is becoming a second-rate city

The loss of manufacturing combined with corrupt mis-leadership in Springfield and City Hall, is rapidly turning Chicago into a second-rate, parasitic city that produces little but where public space is reduced and insatiable corporate interests suck up more than their share of the resources.

The biggest victim of Daley's and now Rahm's post-industrial strategies have been Chicago's black community which has been shattered and dispersed, it's professional and middle-class practically "reformed" out of existence; it's poorest neighborhoods re-segregated and more isolated than ever; it's schools shuttered to make room for privately-managed charters and selective-enrollment schools for the new arriving white, young technical workers and professionals; and it's youth (it's future) incarcerated in record numbers.

The mass black out-migration (nearly 200,000 in the past decade) is Chicago's loss -- economically, culturally, politically and in many other ways. Ironically this push-out of a large section of the black community is being used as the rationale ("under-utilization") for the closing of even more schools, the firing of even more teachers and professionals, and the cutting of services. The loss of good-paying jobs means a shrinking tax base since the city's corporations pay little or nothing in taxes. It also further blights neighborhoods, increases violent crime, and drives even more families out of the city and into predominantly black suburbs and beyond.

Late last week, about two months after pink slips are typically issued, Chicago Public Schools issued layoff notices to nearly 100 teachers and support staff. This on top of the 3,000 teachers, counselors, librarians and support staffers who were "reformed" out of their jobs over the summer.

CPS Liar-In-Chief Becky Carroll blamed the latest round of layoffs on the decreases in state and federal poverty funds that follow the lost students. She failed to mention that enrollment dropped by thousands of students since the closing of 49 schools this year (more on the way) and with only about half the anticipated students from the closed schools showing up at their assigned "welcoming schools."

At least this time she didn't blame it on those gigantic pensions being pair to those greedy retirees.

Monday, November 4, 2013

School reform and the gentrification of our cities

The now-closed Alfred David Kohn Elementary, 10414 S. State Street in Roseland.
As someone who has long been involved with urban school reform, I have tried to make the case that current top-down, corporate-style "school reform" policies have more to do with the gentrification of cities than it does with improving education. Those policies, including mass school closings, mayoral control of the schools,  the misuse of testing, privatization (particularly the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools) and union busting have done nothing to improve schooling for the great majority of students and parents.

Rather, these so-called reform policies, combined with the recent global financial disaster, de-industrialization, and the destruction of low-income housing, have led to the economic isolation or massive out-migration of poor people, particularly African-Americans from cities like Chicago, Detroit, D.C., San FranciscoPittsburgh, and others. Former magnets for black migrants, including Illinois, Michigan, New York and California, all have had black population declines. Meanwhile, Chicago has lost about 181,000 African Americans over the past decade, a drop of 17 percent. In many cities, a shrinking black population is being replaced by returning young, middle-class white families and a burgeoning Latino population, brought in as low-paid service workers to support the new information-based economy.

On a recent visit to a south-suburban elementary school, I was told that class sizes in the lower grades had risen recently to 32 students in a class. I found  that many of the new students had recently transferred from Chicago following the mayor's closing of dozens of elementary schools in the city's black community.

Students protest school closings at City Hall.
When Rahm Emanuel closed 49 of those schools this year and slashed school budgets district-wide, he shifted millions of school dollars over to supposedly higher-achieving, "welcoming" schools which were supposed to accept some 15,000 new students. $16 million was used to hire hundreds of low-paid, part-time "Safe Passage" workers to protect those students as they crossed dangerous rival gang territories to get to their new schools.

This all turned farcical when it was learned that nearly half of the displaced students never showed up at their assigned receiving schools. Now many of those jobs are being cut back.

But the predominantly-black suburbs that border Chicago's south side have not received any extra resources to accommodate the thousands of new arrivals. Instead, they are being forced to compete for already scant educational resources, classroom space and over-burdened teacher time.

The underserved black neighborhoods on the south and west sides are becoming even more blighted and destabilized with boarded-up schools and few if any jobs for young people.

Some reform.

Two important articles having to do with these demographic shifts and accompanying educational changes in and around Chicago appeared in the Sun-Times over the weekend. The first, "School report cards: Dramatic shifts seen in ethnic, racial makeup," shows that minorities now make up nearly half the students in Illinois public schools. And of those minorities, Latino students have eclipsed blacks over the last 10 years as the largest minority, 24 percent.

West Pullman Elementary closed. 
Chicago demographer Rob Paral notes that the black population is falling, and blacks are not just leaving Chicago; they are leaving the state.
“Blacks have been so segregated, there are not many places where non-blacks move into places that are majority black,” Paral said. “It highlights the incredible black population decline we’ve had in Illinois.” But blacks also became the new largest group in six districts, mostly in the south suburbs, replacing whites in every case. 
For many of these poorer suburban districts the changes have been a factor in lower academic achievement. One elementary school in the Posen-Robbins district dropped by 130 school ranks in the last three years.

In the western suburbs, enough Latinos have moved into Maywood to push the Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview School District 89 from 58.2 percent black to 59.1 percent Hispanic over 10 years. But in wealthier Evanston, home to Northwestern University, whites replaced blacks as the largest group. The white percentage there increased only slightly, but the black percentage dropped from 43 percent to 26 percent, making Evanston the only district where whites became the new leading group.

The second piece by columnist Phil Kadner, "Impoverished south suburbs could use a lift," describes the area south of Chicago as “Forgottonia.” The gentrification of Chicago neighborhoods, writes Kadner, has sent low-income blacks to the south suburbs in search of affordable housing.
Many of these communities are so short on money they often can’t come up with matching funds to obtain state and federal grants to rebuild roads, bridges and maintain their infrastructure. The problem Robbins faces is that if this development deal goes away, it will be forgotten once again. No jobs, no money, no future.
And they forgot to mention falling standardized test scores. Oh well.