Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thoughts on de Blasio's choice of Carmen Farina as his schools chancellor

The educators and activists I know and whose opinions I trust in N.Y. all think Mayor BdB made a great choice, and that Carmen Fariña will be a breath of fresh air in a school system stinking from Michael Bloomberg's corporate pollution.

So do I, especially considering the other names that were being floated around. I'm sure the DFER hedge-funders, corporate reformers and charter profiteers like Eva Moskowitz, were all exerting pressure on the mayor to pick a Michelle Rhee-type like D.C.'s Kaya Henderson or even (yikes!) Barbara Byrd-Bennett, whose credibility string in Chicago ran out long ago. I don't doubt more of the same was coming down the pike from Arne Duncan and the Obama team at the DOE.

I'm also thinking back to the pitiful string of  corrupt, corporate-style union busters (Joel Klein), know-nothings (Cathleen Prunty "Cathie" Black, remember her?), and neer-do-wells (Dennis Wolcott) that Mayor Bloomberg sicked on N.Y. teachers and parents over the past decade. Seen in that light, the choice of a democratic-minded, highly competent, career educator like Fariña should bring a smile to faces of the school community and rightfully so.

I also like that she's a small-schooler and helped create several new, small middle schools within District 15, a tactic de Blasio has praised.

Having said that, and listening to the great exhale all the way from Chicago, I'm also reminding myself that education, like politics, like democracy, isn't a spectator sport. The changes we need don't begin and end in either the mayor's or the chancellor's office.

The de Blasio victory and the independent movement that led to it in New York, are all worth celebrating -- like the Occupy Wall St. movement that preceded it. I hope we can learn the appropriate lessons here in Chicago. As the new year approaches, the future looks a lot brighter for New York educators than it looked before.

Side Note:  I'm taken by the fact that Fariña (like me) is 70 and that she's the daughter of immigrants from Spain who fled the Franco regime. I feel a certain kinship there and wish her well.

Monday, December 30, 2013

On de Blasio's Choice

Pedro Noguera
“Mayor-Elect de Blasio has made an excellent choice in picking Carmen Fariña to lead New York’s public schools. For the first time in many years the nation’s largest school system will be led by an educator with a keen understanding of curriculum and instruction, who is committed to actively supporting our public schools.” -- Gotham Schools
Diane Ravitch
 It is a new day in New York City. The era of punishing, blaming, and shaming professional educators is over. De Blasio announced that he will immediately scrap the A-F grading system that Mayor Bloomberg picked up from Governor Jeb Bush. He will initiate a moratorium on school closings and charter co-locations. Watch for more changes in store. This is a great turn of events, not only for New York City, but for the nation. -- Ravitch blog
Working Families Party
 WorkingFamiliesParty @WorkingFamiliesCarmen Fariña - exactly the Schools Chancellor we need to put an end to a corporate, high-stakes testing approach to education -- Tweet
 Northwestern Prof Nadav Shoked
The Chicago experience under Mayor Rahm Emanuel reveals that there is no reason for business interests to lose sleep. Business need not worry, and those opposed to business should rein in their hopes. The structures of American local government law assure that "transformative" mayors will not transform much. -- Chicago Tribune Business Opinion


E.L. Doctorow (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
E.L. Doctorow at National Book Awards
We in this room especially have to appreciate metaphor. We're the descendants of writers who saw the sun as Helios' chariot riding across the sky. And yet... when was the last time, hearing the word mouse, that you thought of a small gray rodent? Or heard the word web and thought of a spider? -- "The Promise—and Threat—of the Internet" 
N.Y Times on de Blasio's pick
The choice [of Carmen Farina] reflected Mr. de Blasio’s desire to depart radically from the educational policies of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, including his emphasis on data and his policy of shuttering low-performing schools. -- "Veteran of City School System Is Said to Be Next Chancellor"
Carmen Farina
CUNY Prof. David Bloomfield
“Clearly the teacher evaluation system will be on the table immediately. That would be my day one activity if it hasn’t started already.” -- Carmen Farina to head D.O.E
TFA & KIPP Teacher
 "Five weeks was not enough to create the type of magic that Teach For America describes in its vision. Training was like leading us to the top of a cliff before we had to jump off into the reality of our own classrooms. All I can say is the mountain was high and the fall was hard." -- Julian Vasquez Heilig's blog

Friday, December 27, 2013

How about telling the Tale of 2 Cities in Chicago?

Lovely Warren (left) celebrates victory
The two-cities movement is spreading beyond New York City, where it swept Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio into office. This same focus on inequality is also what led to the election last month of Lovely Warren as Mayor of Rochester.

According to the New York Times:
Warren won election as mayor of Rochester last month with a campaign lamenting what she called the “two Rochesters,” challenged by crime and poverty, but also boasting prosperous neighborhoods.
 The push in New York comes as a variety of elected officials across the nation have begun talking more insistently about income inequality, an issue that has been discussed for some years but has rarely prompted significant action.
This tale of two cities must become the narrative of any serious contender who has the courage and political savvy to challenge Rahm Emanuel and the one-percenters who run the political machinery,  in the next Chicago mayor's race. It's one that will resonate with most of the people in this city and create the basis for successful, independent political movement in the city that can take back Chicago and its schools

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trib's "magic moment" of 2013. Mine too.

Protesters of 'Persepolis'-gate
March 15, Lane Tech College Prep High School, Chicago
Massive school closings, epic teacher layoffs. Chicago Public Schools officials had plenty to answer for in 2013. So much that their decision in the spring to yank Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel/memoir "Persepolis" out of schools and libraries because of a complaint (about a single image of torture) became something of a cultural blip. But what a blip: The banning led students at Lane Tech to rally against censorship in the rain outside their school. Which led to the news spreading internationally, the irony of the banned selection particularly poignant. (The 13-year-old book tells the story of Satrapi's childhood in culturally repressive Iran.) Which gave 451 Degrees, an obscure student book club at Lane Tech that reads only banned books, a popularity it couldn't have achieved on its own. Six months later — long after the outcry led to CPS telling its principals to reinstate "Persepolis" — 451 Degrees, founded by 16-year-old senior Levi Todd, was given the Illinois Library Association's prestigious Intellectual Freedom Award. — Christopher Borrelli

Belmont's Blues

Roybal Learning Center
There's a pretty good piece in yesterday's L.A. Times about the trials and tribulations of the once-giant Belmont High School. I wrote extensively about Belmont more than a decade ago, opposing the board's decision to replace the 5,000 (mostly Mexican) student school with another humongous school-- the Belmont Learning Complex (now named the Roybal Learning Center), built on a toxic site at the highest cost ever for an American high school.

After years of restructuring, destructing, re-designing and clean-up at a cost of around $200 million, today's Belmont is a trimmed-down community school. While it's lost some of the wonderful tradition of the old neighborhood school, relationships between students and educators are stronger, students feel safer, and measurable learning outcomes have improved. The problem now is that the school is being surrounded by an ever growing number of privately-run charter schools competing with Belmont for scarce dollars and trying to skim off the school's best students.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Quotables

Christmas in Washington

Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic: "If he were taking the red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York today, Jesus might be profiled for additional security screening." -- The Race of Jesus Unknown, Yet Powerful

NSA Whistle Blower Edward Snowden: "A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalysed thought. And that’s a problem because privacy matters, privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.” -- Alternative Christmas Message

Kurt Vonnegut: “If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?” -- Daily Vonnegut 

Daniel Denvir: "This Christmas, it’s clear that our wealthiest citizens expect the lion’s share of Santa’s bounty. In Philadelphia, the rich reap philanthropy in reverse." -- City Paper

Still cleaning up Rhee's Value-Added mess in D.C.

Seattle teachers protest Rhee-forms.
They're still cleaning up the debris from Michelle Rhee's signature reform in D.C.. Her top-down imposed Value-Added IMPACT system of teacher evaluation has long caused havoc in the system here and elsewhere. Remember, it's also a central piece of Arne Duncan's Race To The Top.

The teachers union should have never agreed to IMPACT and evals based on student test scores.  The formula for tying every student's test score bump or dip directly to an individual teacher is so complicated and inherently error-ridden that it's bound to confuse parents and negatively affect teachers and students.

Monday's Washington Post reports that faulty calculations of the “value” that D.C. teachers added to student achievement in the last school year resulted in erroneous performance evaluations for 44 teachers, including one who was fired because of a low rating. School officials described the errors as the most significant since the system launched a controversial initiative in 2009 to evaluate teachers in part on student test scores.
Half of the evaluations for the 44 teachers were too high and half too low, said Jason Kamras, chief of human capital for D.C. Public Schools.
Current WTU Pres. Elizabeth Davis, called the disclosure disturbing.
“IMPACT needs to be reevaluated,” Davis said. “The idea of attaching test scores to a teacher’s evaluation — that idea needs to be junked.”
Now she tells us.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Chancellor Kaya Henderson, a Rhee protege, aren't likely to junk V-A regardless of its consequences.

We should also consider the shameful role played by some academics in the imposition of value-added evals. One case in point: It was back in October when Professors Thomas Dee of the Stanford Graduate School of Education and James Wyckoff of the University of Virginia were heaping praise on  Rhee's V-A program, calling it, effective and accurate.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

View from Florida: Chicago charter scandals look familiar

Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott visits Florida charter school
Chicago's scandal-ridden charter schools look eerily familiar to educators down here in Florida where public schools have long been free give-aways to Govs. Bush and Scott's corporate and political cronies. It seems that almost anyone with blood or alcohol running through their veins can get a charter here in the Sunshine State --- students and teachers be damned.

A December 14th NPR report found that Florida charters openly and illegally violate the rights of disabled students.  In fact, a recent Miami Herald investigation found that few charter schools in Florida  even try to serve students with severe disabilities. Statewide, 86% of charter schools do not have any students classified as severely disabled. That's despite state and federal laws that require charter schools to give equal access to these students.

Kids from low-income families and children of color are also systematically excluded from the state's wildly-expanding, privately-run charters.

The difference between Florida and Illinois is that  in Illinois, the Democrats -- not Rick Scott's Tea Party Republicans -- run the schools. The latest Concept charter school give-away was done by one Dem machine warlord faction overruling the other to do the bidding of Turkish billionnaire Fethullah Gulen in exchange for some free junkets to Turkey.

Another difference is that, while Florida charters openly and willfully violate the law in their discriminatory practices, Illinois charter rip-offs of public dollars and trust are all legal.

Yesterday, DNAinfo reported that new Chicago charter schools could  cost  city and state taxpayers an additional $20 million this year and $255 million over the next decade. This in a district that the Mayor and his predecessor have already mortgaged to the teeth and where schools in black and Latino neighborhoods are being shuttered in record numbers.  Those millions will be taken directly from the swelling classrooms in oversized public schools and from children and families in the city's under-served communities.
Considering that comes after the Board of Education closed 50 schools earlier this year, citing a billion-dollar budget crunch, and imposed cuts on schools districtwide over the summer, Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand called that "mind-boggling.  
"At this point it's crossed the line so that you're wondering if everyone's on the same planet with the same fiscal facts," Katten said Monday. "I'm not sure if these people have any clue how bad things are at any of the district schools with the funding. They can't take any more cuts."
Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti agrees with Katten:
 "This is really a continuation of the misplaced priorities by CPS. We need to focus on funding our neighborhood schools. We're seeing neighborhood schools suffering across this city. We're seeing closures by the mayor and CPS on these 50 schools. Yet they claim they can't deal with the overcrowding."
Fioretti renewed calls for an elected Board of Education, adding, "There's no accountability at CPS."


I've got news for charter-hungry IL pols like House Speaker Mike Madigan and Ald. Joe Moore, who were bought  off with free Turkey junkets. Groupon was recently offering round trip flights to Istanbul plus hotel for about $900. Makes me wonder if Fethullah found a Groupon for buying crooked politicians on the cheap?


Last week  FBI agents raided one of Gulen's charter schools in Louisiana. During the raid at the Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter school in Baton Rouge, federal agents seized several boxes from the campus but they refused to reveal the reasons behind the raid.

The Justice Dept. and AG Eric Holder has been at war with  La. Gov. Bobby Jindal and his use of "school choice" to impede court-ordered school desegregation in the state.  The Justice Department filed suitin New Orleans federal court to block 2014-15 vouchers for students in public school systems that are under federal desegregation orders.

There's no word yet as to whether or not the raids and the DoJ suits are connected.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Bill de Blasio
N.Y. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio
"He [Bloomberg] did not address inequality. He looked away from it. He governed during the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and he never addressed it. We will decidedly write a new chapter.'' -- USA Today
Donald Gaynes,  Local 597 member
“I used to go down to the union hall and would be there from opening to closing,” said Donald Gayles, 64, who joined the union in 1974 and again in 1999. White workers would come in and get their jobs and leave out, and black workers would still be sitting there.” -- Sun-Times
UFT Pres. Michael Mulgrew
“Publicly, they’re like, ‘Oh, observations are supposed to be about helping teachers,’ ” he said. “But their language and their approach to it and all of their directions to the schools is like, ‘Wink, wink, it’s not about helping them grow, it’s about going after teachers we don’t want.’ ” -- Bumpy Start for Teacher Evaluation Program in New York Schools (NYT)

Reporter pulls up a rock and finds a charter school rat's nest

Salim Ucan (second from left),Vice-president of Concept Schools speaks to at the Illinois Network of Charter School's conference in Chicago. | Michael R. Schmidt-For Sun-Times Media
Ace Sun-Times investigative reporter Dan Mihalopoulos turns over the rock on Concept Charter Schools and shows exactly how the grand charter school hustle plays out here in Chicago. Under the rock we find everyone from Boss Madigan and son Adrew, his aide and travelling companion Liz Brown-Reeves, and Ald. Joe Moore to retired Caterpillar Inc. Chairman Glen Barton, and a host of other politicians and corporate guys, all receiving free trips (Moore went twice) to Turkey and other goodies from the shady Turkish billionaire Fethullah Gulen, in exchange for authorizing more of his Chicago charter schools.
He’s a politically powerful Muslim cleric from Turkey who moved to this country in 1999 shortly before being implicated in a plot to overthrow Turkey’s secular rulers and install an Islamic government — charges that were later dropped.
This even as the schools's expansion scheme was being nixed by CPS for low student performance.

Gulen didn't care. He appealed directly to the State Board, headed by Rahm's Democratic Party nemesis Gery Chico, who then turned it over to his rump Charter Commission head Jeanne Nowaczewski. No problem Mr. Gulen, sir. How many charters did you say you wanted?

Boss Madigan gets a trip to Turkey
It seems that since Fethullah has gone into the charter school business, Turkey has become a destination of choice for Illinois pols.
State records show Madigan’s visits were among 32 trips lawmakers took to Turkey from 2008 through 2012. The speaker and members of his House Democratic caucus took 29 of those trips, which they described as “educational missions.” Turkey was the destination of 74 percent of all foreign trips Illinois legislators reported.
It seems like everyone makes out on this deal except the kids.
The school’s current board president, Edip Pektas, was treasurer at the time and recused himself from the bond-deal votes. School records show New Plan Learning paid $100,000 to Pektas as a financial adviser.
[Petkas' lawyer] Adelson is with Chico & Nunes PC, former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico’s law firm, which was paid more than $67,000 by CMSA. Chico’s wife, schools consultant Sunny Penedo-Chico, was on the school’s board from its foundation in 2003 until 2007.
There should be more than enough here to indict some folks and reverse the charter expansion. Maybe even disband the commission. Wouldn't you think? Oh wait. I almost forgot. Boss Madigan's daughter Lisa, is the Attorney General.

Is this why she's didn't run for governor?

I hope Mihalopoulos doesn't end it here. There's so much more possibly crawling around under that rock. Why did Rahm's crew turn down Gulen in the first place? Was it just a response to community pressure or is there more here in terms of inter-machine rivalry? 

What about a possible Ohio connection with Rahm's former comptroller Amer Ahmad who was indicted for taking bribes in exchange for business when he was Ohio’s deputy state treasurer. Concept runs some charters in Ohio. 

Just askin'.

Friday, December 20, 2013

UNO laying low 'til the heat blows over

Rahm and disgraced UNO leader Rangel (left)
The Reader's Ben Joravsky is at it again. He's still dogging UNO charter school hustlers who have handily ripped off the taxpayers for more than $98 million, thanks to the largesse of Gov. Quinn, Boss Madigan, and Mayor Emanuel.

Ben tells us how UNO uses its non-profit front, UNO Charter School Network, or UCSN, to hide behind while ace Sun-Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulos tries to make them accountable for how they spent all that money. Good luck on that one, Dan.

But at least all the sunlight shining on UNO has forced them to withdraw their bid for even more new charter schools. They are already the biggest private charter operator in the state. I guess Rahm must have told them to lay low for a while til the heat blows over. Rahm really needs to make this one go away before 2015. Good luck on that one, Rahm.

BTW, what ever happened to the feds's UNO investigation? Just asking.


As newly-elected N.Y. Mayor Bill de Blasio scrambles to find a decent chancellor to run the schools, he finds there's slim pickings. The New York Times reports:
No matter where he turns, it is almost impossible to find someone who has run a large school system in the last decade without having to close failing schools, expand charters or comply with state and federal guidelines on using tests to grade schools and teachers — all hallmarks of the education reform movement championed by Mayor Bloomberg, and all policies that Mr. de Blasio has said have serious flaws.
At least Byrd-Bennett has been dropped from consideration. But there's still got to be someone better than D.C. Rhee wannabe Kaya Henderson.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Right On, Pittsburgh

A Small Talk salute goes out to the new school board in Pittsburgh for giving the boot to TFA before its recruits even had a chance to put boots on the ground.
.“I really don't see Teach for America as a program to help us,” said new Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Sylvia Wilson, a former teacher and former official with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

The latest round of testing madness shows that poorer urban school districts once again score lower than wealthier suburban ones. Anyone surprised here? Some testing mavens like Arne Duncan, are spinning the results of the 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) as an improvement for districts like D.C., where scores went up a few points. But "these huge cities still perform dismally," writes Huffinton's Joy Resmovitz. 
 "It's not a causal model," said Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes of Research, who used to oversee the Education Department's research arm. "I get very leery when people say that 'This shows that X happened, DCPS is doing everything right and we should be learning, it's had spectacular gains since 2003' -- we really can't do that. Demographics in D.C. have changed. The city is a different city."
More evidence showing that if we REALLY want to improve measurable learning outcomes and close the so-called "achievement gap" (a term you rarely here any more -- thank goodness) we have to recognize the correlation between test scores and poverty. Otherwise we are simply cheering the whitenizing of the cities.


Clinton-ite think-tankers at the Center for American Progress are trying to assure the hedge-funders and corporate 1%ers that they needn't worry about a Hillary election win. CAP Pres. Neera Tanden,  an alumnus of the Clinton White House, downplays concerns about Democratic "wealth distribution" strategies. But the issue has become the centerpiece in the struggle between contending Democratic Party factions headed nationally by the centrist Clintons and the more progressive-leaning Elizabeth Warren group. Warren has called on big banks to disclose donations to centrist think tanks like Third Way. It seems the victory of New York mayor Bill de Blasio has really got the Third Way-ers worried.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chicago's Grand School Closing Cost Scandal

Movers haul books from closed schools to shuttered Von Humboldt Elementary for storage. The amount the district is paying to empty the closed schools is poised to triple.  WBEZ Linda Lutton

Board will vote today to triple its payments to GWS

Back in November of 2012, our CReATE research group began warning that the planned closing of more than 50 Chicago schools would not only fail to produce promised academic gains, but would not achieve the anticipated savings being touted by CPS. Then again in March of this year, we warned that district estimates of savings coming directly from school closings were largely overblown. At the time, these warnings wer ignored by the school board and downplayed in the local media.

But I must admit, we never anticipated the extent to which Rahm, Byrd-Bennett and CPS Liar-In-Chief Becky Carroll would go to mislead the public about the massive costs involved in closing those schools.  Thanks to WBEZ's Linda Lutton (apparently the only reporter who will touch this story), we now learn that pretty much any of this year's costs savings associated with the largest district school closings in history will be erased when the Board votes today to triple its payments to logistics firm Global Workplace Solutions.

This according to WBEZ:
Back in April—even before the vote to close 50 schools—the district signed a contract with logistics firm Global Workplace Solutions to move all the things out of schools. Price tag: $8.9 million...  In September, the district quietly doubled the amount of the contract, to $18.9 million. Chicago Public Schools’ closing czar [ex-Marine Col. Tom Tyrrell] said the reason for the overrun had to do with the volume of stuff movers found in the 43 shuttered buildings they are emptying out...Now, the agenda for Wednesday’s school board meeting shows the board will vote on another increase, this time to  $30.9 million, more than tripling the amount of the original contract with GWS.
This story seems to be too hot for both the Sun-Times and the Trib. In fact, on the eve of the board vote, the Tribune is going with another misleading feel-good story about how smoothly the transition to the "welcoming schools" is going. This despite the fact that only about half of the anticipated students even showed up a their assigned receiving schools.

Expect Rahm's hand-picked school board of head-nodders to go along with today's vote. We can also anticipate strong opposition coming from the City Council's Progressive Caucus members who should argue against any further payments to GWS.

Also see Lutton's WBEZ piece, "What happened to all the 'stuff' in Chicago's closed schools?"


The Sun-Times reports that a 15-year-old girl was found beaten and sexually assaulted near a Safe Passage Route.
 Chicago Police say the attack happened about 6 a.m., just 30 minutes before Safe Passage Route workers began patrolling Fullerton Avenue near Long. The girl was “struck about the head and dragged into the rear yard of a nearby residence and sexually assaulted,” Chicago Police said in an emailed community alert seeking information about the assault... Just before the assault, the teen was heading to catch the Fullerton bus, which ferries her to the high school she attends outside the neighborhood, Chicago Police said. 

The Chicago Teachers Union Tuesday, issued a statement to alert Chicago residents and public school parents about efforts by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to open 21 new private charter schools just a week after the mayor also blocked a proposal for an elected school board referendum.
"The confusion, misdirection and mixed signals are ongoing symptoms of the 'Chaos on Clark Street,'" [CTU V.P. Jesse] Sharkey said. "We are also mindful that these violations of the public’s trust and refusal to serve the actual needs of students come just a week after maneuvers by the mayor's office to block a popular referendum for an elected representative school board from the 2014 ballot.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The view from sunny Florida

Here's how things look in Broward County where I'm trying to escape the Chicago frost for a few days. American Prospect has the story of the district's attempt to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline.
The new superintendent [former Chicago administrator Robert Runcie] released the data and acknowledged that the problem had a racial dynamic. “It’s a problem all over the country,” Runcie says, “and Broward is no exception.”
The story was also picked up by NYT:
The Florida district, the sixth largest in the nation, was far from an outlier. In the past two decades, schools around the country have seen suspensions, expulsions and arrests for minor nonviolent offenses climb together with the number of police officers stationed at schools.
And then again by the Valley News in sunny New Hampshire where it's -18 deg.
“A knee-jerk reaction for minor offenses, suspending and expelling students, this is not the business we should be in,” Broward Superintendent Robert W. Runcie told the Times. “We are not accepting that we need to have hundreds of students getting arrested and getting records that impact their lifelong chances to get a job, go into the military, get financial aid.”

The Alderman From UNO Cuts Deal With Another Toxic Corp.

The potential site for Pure Metal at 2201 S Loomis across the street from Benito Juarez High School on Nov. 29 2013. (The Gate/ Theresa Campagna)
The Alderman from UNO, Danny Solis, has cut a deal with (not so) Pure Metal Recycling Corp. to put another dangerously toxic plant in the Pilsen community. If Ald. Solis, a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a founder of charter school scandal-ridden UNO is successful in reining in mounting opposition, the company would be the only indoor recycling plant in the neighborhood, taking up 15 acres of land just across the river from predominantly Mexican Benito Juarez High School, It would also be the second recycling plant in Pilsen next to Sims Metal Management – one of the largest in the area. Students and other residents are threatened by a measurable rise in particle and diesel pollution from the truck traffic around the plant..

Last year, community protests forced the shut down of Fisk, a coal-fired power plant that was emitting health-hazardous contaminants like coal dust into the air and soil in the neighborhood. The Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) has been organizing neighbors to oppose the plant.

Chicago's slow job recovery has left its black and Latino neighborhoods like Pilsen, particularly vulnerable to assaults by polluting corporations. PERRO is part of a growing movement that includes a huge community protest against the Koch Bros. Petcoke storage facility in southeast Chicago.

But so far, despite some speeches and photo ops aimed at pacifying protesters, the Mayor and Sen. Durbin have done little to take on the Koch. Bros. who are among the world's largest polluters.

Also, check out last week's Tribune commentary, "No Harm in Petcoke" by Jim Watson, Executive Director, Illinois Petrolium Council, claiming that breathing petcoke dust is actually good for us and our children.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Stopping the charter invasion

I guess I've become cynical about CPS-run community meetings ever since David Vitale confided to me that they were called simply to rein-in the dissenters. It got worse after CEO Byrd-Bennett completely ignored the 20,000 parents and community members who turned out to opposed her planned school closings.

Wednesday's community meeting about Noble Network and Intrinsic's charter school invasion of the northwest side had all the dama of a done deal. Even though the crowd of teachers (a big group from Prosser), parents and community activists that packed the Northwest Community Church, was overwhelmingly anti-charter, the process is being run by Rahm's pro-charter, anti-union pals, Stand For Children and CPS' Office of New Schools. The N.A.C. group, who will vote up or down on recommendations for the two new charters (one right across the street from Prosser Career Academy) has no real power. The land's already been purchased. The zoning has already been changed. Despite the best efforts from independent Alderman Nic Sposato, it will take a full-scale community rebellion and an elected school board to hold back the expand-or-die charterization of the neighborhood.

One of the high points of the meeting was reading a copy of the Steinmetz student newspaper, the Steinmetz Star. I've had a thing for Steinmetz ever since their Louder Than a Bomb poetry slam team, the Steinmenauts, won the championship a couple of years ago. The newspaper continues the tradition of great writing with a bent towards social justice. The front page headline on the latest reads: STUDENTS FIGHT CPS CHARTER PLANS. I'm pretty sure Byrd-Bennett will send her censorship squad out there as soon as she catches a glimpse.


If CPS is going to introduce a mandatory black studies program, why exempt the charter schools -- the ones who need it the most?


New York's newly-elected Mayor Bill de Blasio, hasn't asked me for advice about picking his new school chancellor. But I'll give him some anyway. Dump Michelle Rhee's understudy Kaya Henderson and Chicago school-closer supreme Barbara Byrd-Bennett from your short list. Starr, Alonso ... anybody but these two.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

KIPP Guru Seligman helped develop GITMO interrogation techniques

Thanks to reader Dienne (see comment below) for pointing out the role played by KIPP guru Seligman in developing interrogation techniques used on the prisoners at Guantanamo. While Seligman denies working for the SERE Program or directly for the CIA (he was granted a $31-million no-bid Army contract to provide “resilience training” to US soldiers), his own experiments, using electric shocks on caged dogs, heavily influenced the Bush Administration's use of torture techniques.

First read this from the Times story on KIPP:
Toll and Levin are influenced by the writings of a psychology professor from the University of Pennsylvania named Martin Seligman, the author of a series of books about positive psychology. Seligman, one of the first modern psychologists to study happiness, promotes a technique he calls learned optimism, and Toll and Levin consider it an essential part of the attitude they are trying to instill in their students. Last year, a graduate student of Seligman’s named Angela Duckworth published with Seligman a research paper that demonstrated a guiding principle of these charter schools: in many situations, attitude is just as important as ability.
And by "attitude" they mean...

KIPP guru, Seligman
Then there's this from Wikipedia's page on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques like the SERE Program at GITMO:
The psychologists relied heavily on experiments done by American psychologist Martin Seligman in the 1970s on learned helplessness. In these experiments caged dogs were exposed to severe electric shocks in a random way in order to completely break their will to resist. Mitchell and Jessen applied this idea to the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.[39][50] Many of the interrogation techniques used in the SERE program, including waterboarding, cold cell, long-time standing, and sleep deprivation were previously considered illegal under U.S. and international law and treaties at the time of Abu Zubaydah's capture.
KIPP founder Levin says he considers Duckworth’s work an indication of the practical side of the “character” education he and Toll and Atkins are engaged in.

The sad part of all this is that some parents believe that this type of behavior mod is just what their kids need to straighten them out. KIPP's well-heeled corporate backers also believe these techniques are just the medicine for poor black and Latino children. Not for their own kids, of course.

Seligman, described as politically conservative by a psychologist who knows him well, once threatened his fellow academics who, he claimed, were “forgetting” 9/11. 

This from The Edge Foundation's website:
“It takes a bomb in the office of some academics to make them realize that their most basic values are now threatened, and some of my good friends and colleagues on the Edge seem to have forgotten 9/11,”  
 In that post, Seligman was arguing that any science advisor to the president “needs to help direct natural science and social science toward winning our war against terrorism.”

I'd like to get our dog Millie, to bite Seligman on the ass. But alas, she's too mellow. I hope Seligman hasn't gotten to her.

KIPP's child abuse for other people's children

KIPP padded cell for kindergartners
Since their start in Houston in 1994, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter schools have been the most celebrated of the No Excuses schools.

But reports that a KIPP charter school in N.Y. is locking children in a padded cell in order to "calm them down" are just the latest example of the charter chain's long record of child abuse and mis-education targeted primarily at African-American and Latino children.

The Daily News reports that a kindergartner and first grader at KIPP Star Washington Heights Elementary School were emotionally damaged after being put away in a padded walk-in cell used for 'time out.'
“He was crying hysterically,” said Teneka Hall, 28, a full-time Washington Heights mom whose son, Xavier, was rushed to the hospital after he panicked and wet himself while he was holed up in the padded room. “It’s no way to treat a child.”
I didn't have to look at the picture of the terrified youngster and his mother to know that they were African-American. It's hard to imagine this happening in white, middle class, public schools.

Teneka Hall and son Xavier
But these brutal forms of discipline have become routine for KIPP where strict obedience and sit-still-and-nod (I call it bobble-head) instruction lies at the heart of the curriculum. Much of it is based on KIPP's system for classroom behavior created by founders Levin and Feinberg. It's called Slant, which, according to the N.Y. Times,  instructs students to sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their eyes. To me, it's all about breaking down their will and behavior modification.

Slant is based on the writings of a pop psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania named Martin Seligman, who studied the conditioning of dogs and then authored of a series of self-help books about positive psychology.

No divergence is permitted and deviants are quickly labeled, punished or expelled. KIPP has the highest student attrition rate in the nation. I recall one KIPP school where African-American children were made to sit on a bench with a sign around their neck that said, "CRETIN." KIPP leaders say they would rather  push out 60% of their kids than “coddle” them.

My friend and early childhood ed expert Deb Meier calls it "military style" discipline aimed at "humiliating them into compliance." But I must say that even as a military recruit, I was never debased in the fashion of KIPP's Washington Heights Elementary School.

While it's true that not all KIPP schools (I have visited several and have worked with some former KIPP teachers) faithfully follow this routine or its most abusive aspects, there is still enough of a history here to warrant an investigation and a revocation of KIPP's charter and public funding.

A twist on "separate but equal"

The [KIPP affiliated] schools that Toll, Atkins, Levin and Feinberg run are not racially integrated. Most of the 70 or so schools that make up their three networks have only one or two white children enrolled, or none at all. Although as charter schools, their admission is open through a lottery to any student in the cities they serve, their clear purpose is to educate poor black and Hispanic children. The guiding principle for the four school leaders, all of whom are white, is an unexpected twist on the “separate but equal” standard: they assert that for these students, an “equal” education is not good enough. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Great SUPES Hustle now under investigation by the IG

Back in July, I posted about Gary Solomon's SUPES Academy and their $20 million no-bid contract with CPS to facilitate some workshops and other activities with principals. As I reported then, there was a barrage of complaints from principals critical of the quality of the SUPES training.

You might recall that schools CEO Byrd-Bennett worked as a high-paid consultant for Soloman right up until the day she was hired here in Chicago. You might also recall that Solomon is a former Broad Foundation guy who also worked with Paul Vallas and ran Vallas' Synesi consulting company which has been trying to get back into the city ever since Mayor Daley sent Vallas packing off to Philly.

How Solomon games the system is by hiring big-city superintendents as double-dipping consultants to work in other districts while they in return, bring SUPES in to train their own principals. Because they are paid by SUPES, which is a private company and not subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, their compensation is not public. Solomon makes out on both ends. Perfect!

Karp writes:
An example is Dallas Dance, the superintendent of Baltimore County, Md. Public Schools, which serves 108,000 students. Dance is now serving and getting paid as both a master teacher and a coach for 11 CPS principals.
It makes me wonder what Supt. Dance is doing consulting with other districts while his own is in disarray? Here's some of the other double-dipping supes.

Byrd-Bennett worked for Solomon
In July I wrote:
 I'll defer to the new federal prosecutor to determine the legality of all this. But if the $96 million UNO charter deal was legal, and the Zimmerman shooting was legal, then this is probably legal also.
Now, I'm not so sure.

Sarah Karp at Catalyst reports that the CPS Inspector General James Sullivan, is now investigating the district’s $20 million deal with SUPES.
The contract is by far the largest no-bid contract that CPS has entered into in at least five years. And the contract has raised suspicion because CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had a previous relationship with SUPES.
Since the IG doesn't take a breath without the Mayor's approval, my hunch is that nothing much will come of the investigation unless, for some reason, Rahm is looking for an excuse to dump BBB or has a beef with Vallas.

D.C.'s Mayor Gray under fire for Rhee-ism without Rhee

Like President Obama, who campaigned as a critic of the war in Iraq but then continued many of George W. Bush’s military policies once in office, Gray ran as a skeptic of the reforms being implemented by Rhee but continued them under Henderson, who also has closed more than a dozen schools and fired hundreds of teachers. -- Melinda Henneberger, Washington Post
D.C. students protest 2010 teacher firings.
Following up on Monday's post which was critical of WaPo's excellent education writer Valerie Strauss. Remember, Strauss was dismissive in her response to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's drawing parallels between the conditions black people face today in the nation's capital with those faced under South African apartheid. I defended Gray on that one, but also pointed out that I was also critical of Gray who seems to be following in the path of his horrible predecessors Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee.

It was Fenty who brought in Rhee as his appointed school chancellor. In a matter of months, Rhee, with heavy backing from corporate school reformers and power philanthropists, threw the school system into financial chaos. Her regime was marked by a massive test-cheating scandal along with a successful effort to weaken the teachers union and take away many of the teachers' collective bargaining rights. Rhee fired hundreds of good teachers and regularly debased the entire teaching force, promoted vouchers for Catholic schools, and put many the district's schools into the hands of private charter operators. The list goes on. But while Rhee became the darling of the corporate school reformers,  including Arne Duncan, she drew the ire of parents and of the city's under-served black community.

Henderson and Rhee
Fortunately, both Fenty and Rhee were run out of D.C. in a populist revolt by district voters. Unfortunately, Mayor Gray, who ran as an outspoken critic of Fenty's policies, quickly appointed Rhee's deputy “for human capital” Kaya Henderson as his chancellor. She is now following in Rhee's footsteps. Back in 2010 I called it, Rhee-ism without Rhee. 

Instead of dismantling Fenty's "reforms", Gray has continued them. Henderson, has closed more than a dozen schools and has fired hundreds of more teachers and librarians. D.C. charters now have the third-highest market share in the nation, enrolling a larger proportion of students than in every city except New Orleans and Detroit

Gray is now running for a second term and like Fenty, he's coming under heavy fire from educators, parents and school activists for his Rhee(ism)-without-Rhee approach. At Monday's community meeting, Gray was confronted by a hostile crowd that packed Eastern High School's auditorium to slam his education policies and his appointment of Henderson.

The Post reports:
On Monday, upstart candidates including restaurateur Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, and Reta Jo Lewis, a Democrat and former State Department official, drew the biggest applause, indicting both Gray and members of the council who seek to replace him for alienating parents and teachers amid a forceful push for school reform.
It looks like the mayor is in for tough sledding in the months leading up to the election. But as we have seen, getting rid of a mayor or a corrupt schools chancellor is one thing. Getting rid of the powerful corporate interests behind them is quite another. They don't have to run for office.


On that point -- Now that New Yorkers have elected progressive Bill deBlasio as their mayor along with a slate of councilmen backed by the Working Families Party, all eyes are on that city to see who the new mayor will pick as his chancellor. Rumors abound that Henderson and Chicago school chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett have made the short list.

I hope those rumors are false. I'm also glad to see Valerie Strauss is back on track. Here's her take on a possible Henderson appointment in N.Y.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The white blindspot -- My response to Valerie Strauss

"We called it ‘segregation,’ they called it ‘apartheid,” it’s the same system and the same political and military and diplomatic players. We had to fight that same system running parallel.” -- Rev. Jesse Jackson
D.C. Mayor Gray at South
African Embassy (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
I never thought I would be saying this, but I'm shocked and dismayed by Valerie Strauss's column in yesterday's Washington Post ("D.C. Mayor Gray needs a history lesson on apartheid"). Let me say first that I have been a big fan of Valerie's for years and not such a big fan of Mayor Gray's. I often link to her blog and re-post most of her columns on Twitter. She has been a superb defender of public education and a thorn in the side of the corporate school reformers and privatizers, while Gray often seems to be following in the path of his horrible predecessor and Michelle Rhee follower, Adrian Fenty.

That being said, yesterday's admonishment delivered to D.C.'s African-American Mayor Vincent Gray, over his daring, in a rhetorical way, to draw parallels between the conditions black people face today in the nation's capital with those faced under South African apartheid, was almost too much to bear.

Mayor Gray reportedly said:
I think there are some parallels because we have 632,000 people who continue to live under the yoke of a form of oppression.  You know, we can’t control our own money, we can’t control our own local laws. We have taxation without representation in this city. I think there are a lot of people who see a parallel between his experience and ours.
Strauss alerts us that Gray "didn’t say it just once on Friday," but "uttered similar words at least four times during the day." I guess that's the answer to who's counting?

Gray might have added (maybe he did elsewhere) that even as we speak, D.C. residents don't even have full voting rights including voting representation in the Congress. The Constitution grants the Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the District in "all cases whatsoever" including the District's public schools. D.C. is also a city that is in the process of being whitenized as thousands of poor black families are being pushed out of the district and its schools. D.C. is no longer a majority-black city and the black population has been shrinking steadily for the past few years.

Gray could have also pointed out, as Michelle Alexander does in her book, "The New Jim Crow", that the U.S. imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South African did at the height of apartheid.

Writes Alexander:
“In Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison.”
Now Mayor Gray never said that conditions in D.C. were exactly the same or nearly as brutal as South African apartheid. But his drawing of "some parallels" between the two resonated, I'm sure, with many of the District's black residents -- of which Strauss is not one.

They also resonated with me. I have been to South Africa and spent time in schools there as well as in D.C. and couldn't help drawing numerous parallels between them and the apartheid-like, racially-segregated school system that still predominates in cities like D.C. and Chicago.

Gray wasn't really saying anything new here. Valerie (and all of us) would do well to read "American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass" by Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton. I'm sure she wouldn't find much to disagree with in the author's comparisons or with their emphasis on poverty as a driving force in the so-called "failure" of American schools.

It was author/activist Jonathan Kozol (who certainly needs no history lessons from any of us) who helped popularize the parallels between apartheid South Africa and school systems in D.C., Chicago, E. St. Louis and other cities, when he titled his 2006 book "The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America."

The irony here is that Strauss ran a great interview with Kozol on the eve of our 2011 Save Our Schools protest in D.C. In that interview, Kozol refers to NCLB as "an apartheid of the intellect."
NCLB, in itself, adds a whole new level of division on the basis of a child's economic class or race. An  One class enjoys the treasures of the earth and also learns to ask demanding and irreverent and insightful questions. The other class is trained to spit up predigested answers.
Valerie doesn't blink.

Obviously there are differences between the South African system of apartheid and U.S. post-slavery, post-Jim Crow, segregation. For one thing, hypersegregation here has become defacto instead of enforced by law as it was in South African and in Jim Crow America.

As Dr. King said in a 1963 speech,
"We like to draw parallels between forms of oppression to neatly summarize the experiences, but in the 1960s black Americans were recognized as human by their constitution, whereas black South Africans were not."
But the closer you are to systemic, historic, institutional racial inequities, often the harder they can be to see...for some people, even very smart people like Valerie Strauss.

The white blindspot.


Nelson Mandela 
Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”  -- Johannesburg   July 2, 2005
Secret Teacher
My son brought home a Christmas card that consisted of a piece of white card folded in half which had been decorated with pictures from clipart. It had a typed message on the back about the learning objectives covered in the task. Disappointing. -- Guardian
Amisha Patel, Chicago Grassroots Collaborative
 “To even force a City Council debate around TIFs for the first time was amazing, and we’re going to continue to push. You don’t get to bury legislation in committee and think your work is done anymore." -- Huffington
New Jersey State Board of Education V.P, Joe Fisicaro 
“In my district, they would have had a revolution,” Fisicaro said of [Trenton Central High School]. “We would have parents all over the place.” -- Huffington
Martinez won her seat with union backing.
Weekend's Worst Quotable comes from IL State Senator Iris Martinez in a letter she sent to her constituents (including me). The letter tries to explain why she voted for the pension-robbing SB1 bill, even though she opposed it, knew it was unconstitutional, and unfair to workers.
 "While SB 1 will alleviate some of these budget pressures, it does not – in my opinion – meet the requirements of the state constitution. I believe sending a plan to the courts is the necessary next step. It is my hope that, once the new law is ruled unconstitutional, my colleagues and I will be able to return to the drawing board and agree on a negotiated, fair solution that does not unilaterally diminish benefits."

Friday, December 6, 2013

The struggle continues

Nelson Mandela after he was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 1964

Bridget Murphy writes, re. community resistance to the military coup at Ames Middle School:
The referendum drive is in full swing.  40 parents will be meeting at Ames (1920 N. Hamlin) this morning (Friday, Dec 6th) at 10:30am to continue collecting signatures door to door. We will be out on the doors every day between now and Dec 15th. Come join a pair of doorknockers! 
Don Washington (Mayoral Tutorial) admits he's guilty of a little hyperbole here but I think he's right-on.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is already running for re-election and has been doing so for months. That means that we, mere mortal citizens trying to make an honest buck, can expect daily doses of public policy by press release and cynical opportunism of the sort that would shock the conscience if he had one. It's called public policy theater and it's what you do when your actual record reads like the Neo-Liberal Disaster Capitalism Handbook of Darkness.
Chicago teacher/activist Phil Cantor on FB reminds us:
We live among people who are willing to get arrested for a cause they believe in. Nine of them go on trial [at 9 a.m. this morning] for putting their bodies between bulldozers and "La Casita" the small community center building at Whittier Elementary School in Pilsen. 
Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte
L.A. Board of Education member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, a persistent critic of corporate "reform" and a staunch defender of public education and teachers, has died. She was 80.

According to the L.A. Times:
Her critics faulted her for some of the same traits her supporters celebrated: her rhetoric against charter schools, and her distrust of corporate-inspired reforms, such as limiting teachers' job protections... Relations were frequently strained with current Supt. John Deasy. In October, LaMotte was the only dissenting vote against giving Deasy a positive evaluation and contract extension.
Wisconsin's neo-fascist Tea Party Gov. Walker gets space in today's Tribune calling on Illinois to "look north" to see what the future looks like.

Writes Walker:
To put our fiscal house in order, we passed a law called Act 10 that ended collective bargaining for everything except base wages... One Illinois official who desperately needs the tools in Act 10 is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel...To his credit, Emanuel canceled the teachers' pay raise, declaring that he would not accept Chicago's children continuing to get the shaft, and he demanded a series of reforms.
Thanks for the advice, Walker, but I think Quinn, Madigan, Rahm, Rauner and the boys are already looking north. It was called Senate Bill 7. In fact, they probably outdid you with this week's great pension robbery.