Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rauner took my 'czar' advice seriously

Czar Purvis
Sun-Times headline reads:
Rauner paying education czar $250k from agency that funds autism, epilepsy services
Gov. Rauner must have read my Tuesday post -- the one where I go after the Tribune's editorial board for proposing that Chicago put a turnaround expert at the top of the school system, with "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement."

I think my point was -- there's something about editorial recommendations that have the words Mussolini and execute in the same sentence...

As you may remember, I pointed out that they could have just said, "You know. We really need an education czar," and no one would have blinked. 

Well, it appears that Rauner actually took my czar advice seriously. Anyone who knows me would have told him not to do so. 

Anyway, the new czar's name is Beth Purvis. As you might expect, she's a former charter school director, a post which makes her eminently qualified for the czar's job. She served as CEO of the Chicago International Charter School, a network of 15 schools in Chicago and Rockford.

What Natasha Korecki's S-T article doesn't tell us is that it was Paul Vallas and Synesi that greased CICS and Purvis's entry into Rockford. Connections, anyone? You out there, reporters?

Unfortunately, Czar Purvis' quarter-million-dollar salary is being taken directly from Rauner's brutal budget cuts, otherwise known as “the Good Friday Massacre.” In other words, she's living off money that should be going for autism and epilepsy funding. 

I hope she chokes on it. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Feds turn over another rock and the plot thickens

Today's Sun-Times story by Lauren Fitzpatrick takes us even deeper into the seamy underbelly of Chicago's pay-for-play contracting process under the current system of mayor control of public education.

The most interesting part of the story for me was the way CPS practically stuffed it's $20.5 million, no-bid contract into Synesi/SUPES founder Gary Soloman's pocket. This after the State Board had found the group(s) unqualified to help the city's schools improve.
Though CPS touted Synesi’s past work in other urban districts, the Illinois State Board of Education found that Synesi failed at a fundamental level to show how it would actually help the schools improve if they were awarded the money, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
“No indication of a daily work experience that garnered results,” is how another state scorer summed up a segment of the review, awarding just 362 points out of a possible 580. In another graded section of its application, Synesi got just 5 points out of a possible 40, the records show.
 In April 2013, grant applications were submitted for Carver Military Academy, Corliss, Farragut and what then was called Marine Math and Science Academy, now the Marine Leadership Academy at Ames. Each planned to pay Synesi $270,000 per year for its help, according to the schools’ proposals. None of the principals answered Sun-Times questions.
CPS leaders contracted with them anyway, coming out-of-pocket after being turned down for state grants. The reason for such a giant waste of taxpayer money becomes obvious as the feds begin turning over rocks, ultimately leading to the cancelling of the SUPES contract and Byrd-Bennett's hasty departure.

Here once again, I feel this overwhelming need to keep reminding people that Synesi was from its very start, connected to Paul Vallas.  I don't mean to dwell on Vallas other than to show the origins of this shady approach to winning district contracts. It was always Valls' M.O. but an approach not just used by Synesi/SUPES, but throughout the entire system. Vallas continues to deny the connection and Solomon claims he used Vallas’ name without permission and it was a “mistake.”

But the idea from the time Vallas left for Philadelphia after being booted out of town by Mayor Daley, was for Synesi to capitalize on its Chicago connections and have Synesi offer districts a free consultation with Vallas in hopes that it would lead to a fat consulting contract. And it usually did. But not just because of Vallas.

The Synesi/Vallas connection was revealed back in 2005 by Sheila Simmons and Paul Socolar from the Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook.
The trail suggesting a business arrangement involving Vallas and Solomon began with SolTyra, a Chicago-based online marketing firm, which on a web page displaying a “case study” of its work, stated that its services were called upon by Solomon Consulting, “when some of the most successful leaders in educational reform came together to form a for-profit enterprise upon the exclusive rights to Paul Vallas’ model.”
Now we learn (actually many of us already knew) that Soloman and others sweetened the pot by offering both current and former top district administrators jobs as high-paid consultants, as in the case of Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her head of strategic services (whatever the hell that is) Tracy Martin, in exchange for those no-bid contracts.

Back then, Soloman touted the "great Chicago successes" under Vallas' leadership and listed on his Synesi roster, the late Phil Hansen, Vallas' chief accountability officer in Chicago; Cozette Buckney, Chicago’s chief education officer under Vallas and now a senior consultant for SUPES; Sue Gamm, chief specialized services officer in Chicago during Vallas’ tenure, who also went with Vallas to Philly; and Gery Chico, who served as chair of the Chicago Board of Education during Vallas’ tenure.

More on this as the rocks continue to turn.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A 'Mussolini' for the schools?

Take your pick. Mussolini, Ivan the Terrible, or Rahm. 
An editorial in Friday's Trib calls on CPS to put a turnaround expert at the top of the school system, with "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement."

Two things -- First, it's probably not workable. Don't we already have an autocrat running the schools? Rahm may not be a turnaround expert, but he is the Little Emperor. Does the Trib board want another dictator under the mayor? Who would dictate to whom?

Secondly, who was it on the editorial board that thought the Mussolini reference was a good idea? I mean, did one of the board members actually say: "Hey, I've got a great idea. Let's recommend that the schools be run by someone like Hitler. No...that might be pushing it a bit. How about Mussolini?"

They could have just said, "You know. We really need an education czar," and no one would have blinked. Czarism is still very popular in this country, even after the dismal performances of the White House drug czars, energy czars, healthcare czars, economic policy czars, and even the ebola czar, to name but a few. Here's a complete list of White House appointed czars.

How about someone like Ivan The Terrible to run the schools? Enough of this child-centered crap. Right?

A final thought... Mussolini didn't really make the trains run on time. And even if he had, I would gladly have waited a few extra minutes and been late for work, rather than endure fascism. Wouldn't you?

Monday, May 25, 2015


BIG WIN -- Philly schools activist Helen Gym elected to City Council.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Education activist Helen Gym's victory in particular promises to bring energy and independence to an often monolithic and backward body. -- Editorial
Jal Mehta, Salon
Across this history, we see some recurring themes. The first is the outsized faith that Americans have placed in the tools of scientific management as a mechanism for improving schools. -- Education reformers have it all wrong
Chicago teacher
The working conditions I experienced at Urban Prep were the worst of my career, which has been spent entirely in the inner city. -- Edushyster
Chicago Tribune 
 The people hired to take on corporate salvation projects have to have "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement," turnaround expert Bill Brandt of Development Specialists Inc. tells us. -- Editorial: Why Chicago schools need a turnaround expert at the top
Howard Zinn (1976)
 Memorial Day should be a day for putting flowers on graves and planting trees. Also, for destroying the weapons of death that endanger us more than they protect us, that waste our resources and threaten our children and grandchildren… The Becoming Radical

Saturday, May 23, 2015

An entire Chicago community resists charter expansion

“Because CPS funds on a per pupil basis, every kids who’s not sitting at Lakeview or Senn or Amundsen is $5,200 that school doesn’t get.” -- Northside parent, Wendy Vasquez
  "As governor, I'm all in for you. I want to expand your charter network and get high-quality charters in every community throughout the state of Illinois." -- Bruce Rauner
Okay, it should be pretty clear by now that parents and educators don't want Noble Charters invading their North Side neighborhoods of Rogers Park and Lake View. Amundsen is one of two area high schools backed by growing, community support. Lakeview is the other. And when north-side parents, principals and community activists speak out, local pols listen. That's how the north side ducked Rahm's mass school closings.

Karen Zaccor, a teacher at Uplift Community High School and a resident of the Uptown Community, offers some strong testimony on Tim Furman's blog, about Noble's so-called "no excuses" approach to school discipline.
CPS, you need to use our public tax dollars to support our neighborhood schools, who educate every child, not just the best and the brightest. You need to invest your limited resources in full development of restorative justice programs that keep students in school and teach them better ways to resolve actual conflict. You need to invest in wrap around services to help students who are dealing with the traumas so often inflicted on poor children of color in our city. Say NO to Noble. 
Also, check out the letter to CPS from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and most North Side reps opposing the proposed Noble Academy invasion. 12 elected officials and 15 LSCs wrote letters opposing Noble's expansion.

Ironically, the other thing the Noble opponents have going for them is Bruce Rauner. He's is a huge backer of Noble charters. Billionaire Rauner has given over $6.5 million to Noble and other charter organizations. And these days, anything that Rauner touches fires up the opposition. And that's a good thing that was missing during the Quinn days.

Like all charter schools, Noble’s are privately operated but publicly financed by tax dollars and with huge private donations from powerful foundations and corporate donors. It is one of the largest and oldest charter operations in Chicago.

I'm still feeling sorry for all those Rauner Charter students who were forced to walk around town during the governor's race wearing uniforms with the name Rauner emblazoned on them. Somebody please tell me how that's even legal.

But as it was for school closings, for the charter resistance movement to be successful it has to link up with communities south of Belmont Ave. A good way to start is by building opposition to HB814 House Amendment #2 which lifts the cap on charter expansion statewide.

Another is to oppose the attempt by the board to insert privately-run charters into those shuttered schools on the south and west sides that were supposed closed to save money. This, despite their own "promise" to the community that they wouldn't.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Charter school expansion and spin machine in full gear

Senn Principal Susan Lofton
"We have all been working so hard with our community to bring our schools up, to serve the community, to offer the programs our families want and to really engage in this resurgence where the community has a true community school that is an asset and a partner." -- Senn Principal Susan Lofton 
Andrew Broy, Chicago's minister of charter propaganda, uses Catalyst to spin a WBEZ report on  “freshman retention rate”to support his claim of charter school superiority. He's doing so to try to grease the wheels as one of his clients, Noble Network, makes a move on five north-side high schools,while Rahm's appointed school board tries to walk back its promise that no charters would be allowed to open in any of the 50 schools they closed.

Broy claims that he's looking at data "that has never before been disclosed" -- the number of freshmen who actually went on to earn a diploma from the school they first enrolled in. The first question that should pop into anyone's mind is: why wasn't this "data" ever disclosed? Was it classified? Top secret? The answer of course, is that the data has always been there. It's the spin that changes, depending on who's doing the spinning.

For example, up until now, CPS has always credited high schools (including charters) for graduating students who had left their school as early as the 10th grade. Charters have always used these misleading figures as a way to claim miraculous college-going rates.

More from Broy:
Contrary to the claims of charter opponents [researchers from Stanford and other major research institutions --mk], the results reveal that charter schools are graduating their original cohort of ninth-graders at substantially higher rates than their district counterparts. The average freshman retention rate for charter schools is nearly 10 percentage points higher than the average for district open enrollment schools.
But Broy lumps CPS schools into two convenient matched pairs, as if charters were one thing and district schools, something completely different. He excludes district selective enrollment schools on the pretext that charters aren't selective in their enrollment or in their retention policies. That's misleading at best. Charters enroll by lottery meaning, the students they enroll have engaged parents. They are well known for under-enrolling students with disabilities, special needs, homeless, formerly incarcerated students and English language learners.

More importantly, Broy never discusses the things that his charter clients are doing or not doing in different school settings to improve freshman retention rates. Or what's working and what isn't. For him, just being a charter is enough. And therein lies the problem with most charter school research.

But even if you accept WBEZ numbers, here's what you find:

Noble Rowe Clarke retains only 45% of their freshman. The highly touted Urban Prep charter retains only 35%. Other charters like Noble Muchin retain 63% (almost as high as neighborhood school North Grand at 64%). What does all this tell you about charters vs. public schools? Nothing. When you start averaging big groups of schools and comparing them as charters vs. regular, you get nothing but a mish-mash that can be spun any way you want.

When I asked Broy to clarify, he wouldn't respond and instead someone signing him/herself Confused About Charters and claiming to be a "northside parent" answered the bell.

Confused About Charters
When you instantly attack an article with inflammatory questions that are clearly answered in the article it comes across as extremely biased. It hurts your credibility and makes me much less likely to read through your longer post below where you might have some valid points. All of this bluster makes it harder for a northside parent to have an actual informed opinion.

Dear Confused (If that is indeed your real name). There's no such thing as "inflammatory questions." Read what you will. I will continue to ask and to "bluster" in response to Mr. Broy's silly propaganda.

Confused About Charters
There is pro-charter propaganda (Broy). There is anti-charter propaganda (you). When you knee jerk reply with an attack to what you believe to be pro-charter propaganda without reading the article it hurts your credibility and lowers the level of discourse. Paragraphs 3&4 directly answer your attack. Did you actually read the article before posting

Dear confused. Sounds like you're not as "confused" a northside parent as you pretended. "Knee jerk"? Not really. I've been debunking this stuff for 30 years. It's not "anti-charter". In fact, I helped start many of the early charters in Chicago when they were teacher-led and supportive of (not competing with) public education. The WBEZ article is NOT a real study. Its [Broy's] methodology is flawed. It compares apples and oranges and draws unsupported conclusions...But even using their numbers, it's easy to see that Noble has no claim to being better (more freshman retentive) that the five north side high schools near where they want to set up shop.

I couldn't help but add this:

If you look at the source, the U.S. Dept. of Ed (NCES) data base, you will see that Noble Charters reports officially as if they were one school.

Here's how they look as one school:

Enrollment by Grade:
9th-2,837 10th-1,889 11th-1,667 12th -1,306

Nothing to brag about, is there Mr. Broy.
Question is, where did those 1,531 kids lost between 9th and 12th grade go and why?
WBEZ never tells us. Neither does Broy.

When all is said and done, and all the numbers get crunched and re-crunched, the principals of the 5 north-side high schools under assault along with Ald. Cappleman and Ald. Pawar, probably make the best case for rejecting any new charters in their community.

They're not needed or wanted by the community itself. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

This came from VOYCE: Voices of Youth in Chicago Education

Jose Sanchez

Groundbreaking Bill to Address "School-to-Prison Pipeline" Passes Illinois Legislature

Legislative effort led by high school students takes aim at harsh and unjust school discipline practices

CHICAGO (May 20, 2015) – A bill passed today in the Illinois House of Representatives will require sweeping changes in the use of harsh school discipline practices across the state. Senate Bill 100, which was approved last month in the Senate with bipartisan support, represents the most comprehensive effort by a state to address the “school-to-prison pipeline.” 
SB 100 prioritizes the creation of safe and orderly schools while seeking to address excessive use of the most severe forms of discipline. Under the legislation students can only be suspended, expelled or referred to an alternative school if all other "appropriate and available" alternatives are exhausted. In other words, suspensions and expulsions become the last resort, rather than the first response. 
Additionally, the bill provides struggling students with academic and behavioral supports, and promotes fairness by holding public schools and charter schools to the same standards for school discipline. The final House vote was 73 yeses – 41 nos, with broad support from both Republicans and Democrats. SB 100 is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
"In schools all across our state, African-American students are disciplined more harshly than white students. As legislators, we saw that this was a serious problem--and that it required our immediate attention. We want to work engaging educators, administrators, parents, students and experts to help us build support for SB 100. Through that process and hard work, we have passed SB 100, a common sense solution to ending this disparity and making our schools safer and stronger. Thanks to SB 100, Illinois is a national leader with a model piece of legislation,” said Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) chief sponsor of SB 100.
Extensive research shows that overly harsh discipline approaches are particularly harmful to students of color and do not promote school safety or academic achievement. Last year, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidelines on school discipline practices and warned against the discriminatory use of “zero-tolerance” policies on students of color and those with disabilities. The guidelines call on school districts to focus on creating positive school climates and to use suspensions and expulsions only as a last resort.
Illinois has one of the widest disparities between suspended black and white students in the country, according to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In the 2012-13 school year, Chicago Public Schools issued 32 out-of-school suspensions for every 100 black students, compared to just five for every 100 white students. Overall, Illinois students lose over one million instructional days per year as a result of suspensions, expulsions and arrests. 
The effort to pass SB 100 was led by VOYCE (Voices of Youth in Chicago Education), a youth-led coalition comprised of various community groups throughout Chicago, and supported by allies from the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline. VOYCE drafted the bill in 2012 to address the impact that out-of-school suspensions and expulsions were having on their peers and their schools. 
For more than two years, dozens of students traveled repeatedly to Springfield to educate legislators on how disciplinary practices have led to students being pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. They also demonstrated that there were practical, common-sense solutions to what has become a statewide problem. 
“For too long, harsh school discipline practices have contributed to the under-education and over-criminalization of young people, and especially youth of color,” said Dalia Mena, an 18-year-old member of VOYCE. “Illinois legislators have demonstrated that by listening to students, we can create schools where all students are valued and supported in their learning.”
More appropriate and effective disciplinary alternatives such as those promoted in SB 100 have already been applied in school systems around the country, resulting in better school safety, improved school attendance, increased academic achievement, and lower costs to taxpayers.
For more information on SB 100, or to request an interview with a representative from VOYCE, please contact Jose Sanchez at 773-827-6324.

Voices of Youth in Chicago Education is a youth organizing collaborative for education and racial justice led by students of color from community organizations across the city of Chicago. VOYCE’s work is driven by the belief that young people who are most directly affected by educational inequity are in the best position to develop meaningful, long-lasting solutions. VOYCE’s organizing focuses on three priority areas:
  • Ending the use of harsh discipline policies that push students out of school and into prisons;
  • Implementing the use of restorative practices in schools; and
  • Limiting the use of high-stakes testing and creating high-quality learning environments

At last night's meeting. Support builds for CTU in contract talks

There was a packed house at Luther Memorial Church last night for the forum on the current teacher contract negotiations. Parents 4 Teachers called the meeting and invited members of the CTU's negotiating teach along with Board Pres. David Vitale and acting schools CEO Jesse Ruiz (Byrd-Bennett is still in hiding). Vitale & Ruiz were no-shows.

CTU's Jesse Sharkey started it off, saying the negotiations are going poorly. The board is stalling. While there's a very real revenue crisis and it's questionable if the board can even afford to open schools in the fall, CPS is "broke on purpose".

Packed house at Luther Memorial last night.
More Sharkey: CPS is hiding money in reserve funds. There's lots of wasteful spending, ie. toxic interest rate swaps and the $20 million no-bid SUPES contract now under investigation by the feds.
They won't tax the LaSalle St. "gamblers", but instead are relying on illegal retiree pension take-backs and casino gambling profits for needed revenue. 
"We're looking for 3% pay increase", says Sharkey. "They're offering 7% cut."

No room for serious negotiations here. So what kind of game is Rahm and the board playing?

Members of the negotiating team made it clear that they're putting much more than teacher pay on the table. Union demands include:

  • Limitations on yearly testing, including an end to testing pre-K and kindergarten kids. 
  • Libraries and school nurses in every school.
  • Social (restorative) justice coordinators to deal with discipline issues as an alternative to the school/prison pipeline.
  • Full access to early childhood education for all kids. 
  • More community schools. Stop charter expansion.
  • $15 minimum wage for lowest-paid school staffers.
  • Save our pensions

Every union demand was greeted with cheers from the crowd of teachers and parents.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

'Another lost generation': My notes from yesterday's inauguration

No words... 
First -- One look at the new members being sworn in tells me that the City Council won't be the same. Congrats to the expanded and energized Progressive Caucus and especially newest progressives like Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Milly Santiago (31st), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) and more.

Rahm's inauguration speech got rave reviews -- from Rahm. He couldn't wait to get on the phone and call gossip columnist Sneed to tell her how wonderful it was. Rahm tells Sneed, his speech was so great that his mother cried and his father praised him in Hebrew.

Comedian Richard Lewis stopped by lingerie company peach’s launch party at the Public Chicago Hotel Saturday . . . Oh wait. I'm reading the wrong Sneedling. Sorry. Here's the one on Rahm's call.
He told me he had a speech on education and finances ready to go, but he scrapped it a week ago. 
“I thought, well . . . spring is a season for renewal and what could be more personal than our kids,” said Emanuel, who has three children: Zach, Ilana, and Leah [remember, he scorched reporters for bringing up his kids?--m.k.].
“But I wasn’t just thinking about my kids,” he said. “I was thinking about the human spirit and about kids who have an absence in their eyes that you don’t see in your own children."
Who's Lost?...Rahm was speaking not about his kids, but other people's children, who he describes as "a lost generation." You know -- the human spirit.

When the mayor talks about young people in Chicago, especially children of color, it's in the language of pathology and hand-wringing.
And so the mayor talked about the city's troubled youth, describing them as children who live in poverty, fail to receive a proper education and can turn to a life of crime. -- Tribune
“The faces of these lost and unconnected young men are often invisible — until we see them in a mug shot as the victim or perpetrator of a senseless crime, Their existence is avoided rather than confronted. They live in the shadows of our cities — and in the recesses of our minds."
Does this generation look "lost"?
He takes no personal or political responsibility and offers only band-aid solutions to the problems he helped create.
  "...beyond government initiatives... the mayor cited the Phillips Academy football team that made the state finals and Urban Prep Academy’s record of 100 percent college attendance". -- DNAInfo
Don't even get me started on Urban Prep's 100% attendance.

Who's Absent?... No, it's not about "an absence in their eyes". Those "shadows" the lost generation are supposedly living under are about boarded-up schools, the absence of health clinics, libraries, factories and businesses in their isolated and segregated neighborhoods. On top of that comes Rauner's cuts to social services, youth job programs, and education.

No mention in the mayor's speech about Moody’s downgrade of Chicago’s bond rating to junk status. along with those of the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Park District. He never mentions Spike Lee's "Chiraq" film, the results of his massive school closings, or the SUPES/Barbara Byrd-Bennett scandal. And hardly a word about the pension crisis -- what the S-T calls, "the gorilla in the room”.

Ald. Scott Waguespack noticed.
 "I was really expecting to see something by now, and it's a little foreboding not to see any substantive ideas put on the table."
Memo to Rahm -- It's not the generation that's "lost." It's you.

Monday, May 18, 2015


"I'm not 'The Scream' in Edvard Munch's painting." -- Tribune

Rahm Emanuel
There are a lot of hands on the bloody knife, not one. . . . Sun-Times
Curtis Black
So according to the Illinois Supreme Court, when the state constitution says pension benefits shall not be diminished, it means pension benefits shall not be diminished. And somehow this bit of elementary logic comes as a huge shock to the state’s political leadership. -- Chicago Reporter
Rhoda Rae Gutierrez
 “The policies of the appointed Board of Education have exacerbated historical educational inequalities. This presses us to ask: Whose interests does the Board serve?” -- The Promise
Elizabeth Warren to California Dems
 "This country isn't working for working people. It's working only for people at the top. That's not the American dream. That's the American nightmare...We don't win what we don't fight for." -- L.A. Times

Dave Zirin

Friday, May 15, 2015

Spike Lee takes on Rahm and his puppy-dog alders

Flanked by parents holding photographs of the children they've lost to gun violence in Chicago, Lee defended his choice to make a movie about the city with the Iraq-inspired title "Chiraq." (Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media, via AP)
“Art must be courageous, and anybody who wants a more peaceful America will understand where the heart of this film is,” John Cusack said. The actor called Lee’s project a “film of conscience.” -- Sun-Times
 “It’s not a First Amendment issue, and I’m on the board of the ACLU." -- Ald. Burns
It's Friday afternoon and the shooting victims are already falling in the city's most isolated and blighted neighborhoods -- areas where Rahm Emanuel's school closings, joblessness and cuts in city services have had their greatest impact.

Spike's new film has the mayor and puppy-dog alders with undies in twist, even before it's made. Why? All because of the title, Chiraq. This while thousands of neighborhood folks lined up, hoping for jobs working on the film.

At St. Sabina's yesterday, mothers who’d lost loved ones to gun violence clustered around Lee. They held up framed photographs of the lost. One woman brought an urn containing her daughter’s ashes.

RAHM'S RESPONSE... "It's bad for tourism", cries the mayor.

"We'll take away your $3 million tax break" [for filming in Illinois] threatens faithful sidekick, Ald. Will Burns (4th). Burns, who spends most of his time fighting against community activists who are trying to save Dyett High School, apparently fancies himself the city's new cultural minister. 

Another Rahm city council pup, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) piles on. When asked about the film maker's First Amendment rights, Beale said he's okay with the Amendment so long as you're not saying anything important or critical.
"Freedom of expression still does not mean you can insult the people of this city,” says Beale.
Uh, yes it does Alderman.

It seems that whether these guys are trying to steal retiree pensions or censor a movie, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are just pieces of wall decorations. Denying that the attempt by politicians to leverage tax-payer dollars in an attempt to politically influence a film is a First Amendment issue, Burns even claims to be on the ACLU board of directors. Wow! I hope not. 

From DNAInfo:
Spike Lee came to Chicago Thursday to tell everyone who complained about the “so-called title” of his next film, "Chiraq" — and that means you, Ald. Will Burns — they’re going to “look stupid” when the film hits the big screen.
“People act like they've never seen my films, like I was grabbed off the streets. Everything I've done led up to this film,” the New York City filmmaker said, pointing out that people criticized arguably his best movie, “Do The Right Thing,” before its debut.  
“The same thing is going to happen in Chicago. They are going look stupid and end up on the wrong side of history,” Lee said.
Father Pfleger
Count on Father Pfleger to tell it like it is:
 Very disappointing to see Ald. Will Burns trying to block the tax break for Spike Lee's movie. He has not seen the script, nor know the story line but wants to ignore an iconic Director his First Amendment Right! Perhaps with 112 Killed and 607 Shot in Chicago in the first 4 months of 2015, we should be much more concerned with the reality of loss of life than a name of a movie we don't know anything about yet. Ask Brothers on the Street or Parents who have lost their children to violence, or children going to and from school each day in fear, or ask the IIT student who turned down a scholarship for college to get out of the city, what they're more concerned with
Burns was still shaking after his threat. Never in his life has he ever imagined taking away a tax break from a millionaire. Somehow, I think Spike will do OK either way.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Insider Tells a Florida Charter Schools Story

I received this from former Florida charter schools teacher and administrator, Jodie Pillius-MacKrell.


I was very interested in your blog on the charter schools. I was the director at Richard Milburn in Lehigh Acres FL - it was called Lee Alternative Charter High School.  I applied to work for them after being a teacher and administrator for 13 years in the local district because I really thought I would be making a difference.  I had worked the prior 10 years in the same city, but in middle school, and so many of my students were dropping out of high school.  I wanted the chance to help them.  The school was a nightmare.   I had no idea what a Charter school was and I had no idea of what I was getting myself into.

I have always thought that someone needed to investigate the company, but no one ever seemed interested in what I had to say.  I was given the task of enrolling, I was a long time ago... 150 students for the first year.  I exceeded the enrollment by quite a bit, I do remember that.  (I was told I would get a $10,000 bonus for making that enrollment, but I never received it).  Anyway, in Florida, they only check attendance for funding twice a year - once in October and once in February.  Many of the students I enrolled were called "packet students" - they would come to school and pick up packets of work, which they were expected to complete and return on a regular basis.  They didn't.  In fact, after their initial enrollment, many of the students never returned to the school.  During FTE week in October and in February, we had to call every single student and tell them they needed to come to school one day during that week - at which time we had to sign them in.  Once they signed in during that week, we could count them for funding purposes.  I would say about half of the students the school received funding only showed up at school a few times a year.  This bothered me very much, but I was kind of stuck.  I was single and needed a paycheck.  I resigned at the end of the year, but with much guilt, even to this day.
"I applied to work for them after being a teacher and administrator for 13 years in the local district because I really thought I would be making a difference."
In addition to the funding, the work the "packet students" were given were copies of workbooks that the FLDOE had published for special education students years prior.  We made copies of the books the DOE had online and the students completed the questions.  Once the books were completed, the students were given credit for the course.

Our school building was a church.  We didn't have enough furniture when we opened and virtually no textbooks.  We had no resource officer present but we had a lot of gang members, drug addicts, and students on probation.  After a few months, the company put in metal detectors, but we still didn't get an SRO.  There were 5 teachers - and they were phenomenal teachers - they cared about the kids very much!  They worked extremely hard and took a lot of abuse from the students and the company. I worked 10-12 hour days - I was the principal, assistant principal, and guidance counselor - sometimes I taught.   At our board meetings, I was forbidden to talk.  I could only answer questions for fear of stirring up controversy.

The next year I took a job at Newpoint Charter High School in Brandon, just outside of Tampa.  They did a good job at educating the students, for which I give the credit to opening Director, Bruce Holaday, but mid-year, in order to cut costs, the owner told him he had to fire people.  He refused to do so and instead he resigned.  Bruce had relocated to Florida from California for this position - it put him in a very difficult situation, and he was such a good school leader.  It was sad.  I was promoted to director from assistant director and my salary was cut by $25,000.  I never attended a single board meeting - I'm not even positive they had any.  That year we had some really great teachers, but as soon as they could get into district schools, they left.   At least in these two charter schools, teachers had no planning period and sometimes did not even get lunch because they were on duty.  They got paid a bit more to start, but they were almost all first year teachers who could not get a job in the regular district schools.  They were a wonderful staff though and I remain in touch with several of them - all are rapidly rising stars in the education business today.

That first year at Newpoint we only took Freshmen and Sophomores, and the Sophomores did graduate from Newpoint, but the owner closed the school before the Freshmen could graduate.  They were very upset by this.  Basically, the owner refused to follow Hillsborough County School District's rules, he kept trying to out-fox them and Hillsborough has a very strong charter department.  He just closed up shop and moved on to St. Petersburg.  What did he have to lose?   All the supplies were from grant money, some of it had to go back to the school district, I am sure, but everything else he earned was profit.  He rented the building, so there was no loss there.  In my opinion, he had no concern for the students, and certainly none for his employees, which is why I decided to leave.

I got accepted into the doctorate program at the University of Florida that year and the next year I started teaching in Hillsborough County School District. I taught there for two years and then I returned to my home state of NY.  When I think back to these days, I feel sick to my stomach.  I will never work for another charter school because of these experiences and I am always very wary of any data published or information that is written about charters because I know first hand what goes on.   I think there are good charter schools out there, don't get me wrong, but there are a lot of bad ones too.  More of them need to be investigated.

You may be interested in these articles, sent to me from one of my former teachers at Newpoint, as well as one article about Lee Alternative. local/Charter-School-Operator- With-Four-Fs-Gets-Cash-to- Open-More-292778251.html

Jodie E. Pillius-MacKrell, M.Ed.
Educational Research and Evaluation Analyst

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rahm's 'fear Detroit' campaign worked. But then there's this...

Remember Rahm Emanuel's fear campaign, the one that -- along with $20 million -- helped get him re-elected?

John Kass ridiculed it in the Tribune:
...what if Chuy wins?How long will it take Chicago to become Detroit, as threatened by the Rahmulans? Not the real Detroit, but more like a cinematic post-apocalyptic Detroit. Just imagine Chicagoans dressed as the extras from "The Book of Eli," in a parched wasteland Chicago of the future as promised by the Rahmulan politicos should Rahm not win.
FOX News was all too happy to pick on on David Axelrod's fear campaign associating Chuy with Destroit. Here's John Stossel on March 23rd:
Emanuel’s opponent in the run-off, Garcia, vocally supports the unions and joins them in opposing both pension reform and competition from charter schools at all costs. Garcia also wants a "moratorium on charter schools." But charters are a rare bright spot in the failing city. Chicago is the next Detroit.
Well, they all can relax now. Rahm won the election. There's no Latino mayor sitting on the 5th floor ready to blow up LaSalle St. And the plan to transform Chicago into the Silicon Valley of the Midwest, rather than Motown, is in full swing. You know about Silicon Valley right? Privatization Mecca with white-only gated communities and where even millionaires don't feel rich.

But then, yesterday there's this...Moody's drops Chicago's credit rating to 'junk' (Reuters)
Moody's Investors Service on Tuesday pushed Chicago's credit rating into the "junk" category, potentially triggering $2.2 billion in accelerated debt payment and increasing the fiscal challenges facing the nation's third-largest city...The only big U.S. city with a lower Moody's rating is Detroit, which exited bankruptcy in December.
I guess the city's creditors aren't buying the Rahm as great white hope scenario, especially after the Supreme Court ruled that pension theft was unconstitutional -- something anyone with half a brain knew they would.

Chuy's plan to reform the tax structure, to make it more progressive rather than balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and retired public workers, looks pretty damn good right now. A lot better than Gov. Rauner's plan to drive the city into bankruptcy, a la Detroit.

So Rahm's fear campaign worked -- for the time being. But really, what did he win? The feds are in town inching closer to City Hall. His schools chief has gone underground. He's facing another possible teachers strike after offering CTU members a 7% pay cut. He's going to have to raise property taxes. His pension-theft plan has been ruled unconstitutional. And his brilliant plan to finance his operations with red-light tickets and gambling casinos is blowing up in his face. VICTORY!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

New principal standards omit any mention of social justice, ethics, cultural responsiveness

The latest revision of school leadership standards which guide the training and professional development of principals, eliminates social justice, cultural responsiveness, and ethics. Aside from that, they're perfect.

The proposed new version of the principal standards—known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards, written by the Council of Chief State School Officers and supported by corporate reform groups like New Leaders, is scheduled to be released next week.


Joseph Murphy, an education professor and expert on education leadership at Vanderbilt University, who wrote the original standards in 1996, said that it was “problematic and outrageous” that those three sections and other key language were removed. Once the language is erased from the standards or the actions that accompany those standards, he said, they will not be incorporated into state laws and district policies or programs that build on the standards. Murphy is the past vice-president of AERA.

He said that while he does not object to some revisions, he and the two educators who helped him lead the rewrite—Margaret Terry Orr, a professor of educational leadership at Bank Street College of Education in New York City, and Mark Smylie, a retired professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago—do not support the current version of the standards.

Look for a battle over this one. At least, I hope so.

Monday, May 11, 2015


Women in Cook County Jail
Cook Country Board Pres. Toni Preckwinkle
"We had a delegation from South Africa that came to our jail to visit. They got to the end of their tour and they said, 'Where's the jail for white people?'" -- Ward Room
Prof. Salvatore Babones, Univ. of Sydney
Strangely, reform has gone from being a progressive cause to being a conservative curse. -- Salon
Jay Caspian Kang
“I kept thinking, Kids can’t learn if they’re dead.” -- NYT Magazine, Our Demand is Simple. Stop Killing Us. 
Arthur Costa, emeritus professor at California State Univ.
 “What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn’t worth learning.” -- Quoted by Marian Brady, Washington Post

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I'm not 'anti-charter' but I am anti-this...

Mavericks charter founder Frank Biden, brother of V.P. Joe Biden.
"I give you my word of honor on my family name that this system is sustainable.”
"I'm very proud of what we're doing." We're on a  mission from God."  --  Frank Biden
As I have pointed out many times, I am not "anti-charter". But I am against what they've become and the way charter schools have been taken over by networks of politically-connected corporate privateers. They have co-opted the language of the small-schools movement, ie.  "choice" and "autonomy", in order to further debase teachers, erode public space and public decision making, to bust teacher unions, and to reap profits from urban gentrification.

The wild, unregulated expansion of these privately-run charter networks has come at the expense of public schools. It has also served to increase racial segregation. And to top it off, there's no evidence that these networks perform and better (often worse) than the public schools they were meant to replace.

A case in point, as if another one were needed... A large Florida-based charter network is called Mavericks (R.I.P. James Garner).  It was founded by Frank Biden, brother of Vice-Pres. Joe Biden. Yesterday's Palm Beach Post reported that Mavericks Principal Krista Morton was arrested while allegedly using drugs and having sex with a student in a car.

Okay, some might say. This is terrible but it has nothing to do with charter schools per se. After all, we read about incidents like this all the time, sensationalized in our gossip-hungry media. But that begs the question. This story not only highlights a school principal who probably shouldn't have been hired in the first place, but a charter chain, established by a politically-connected non-educator. It's one of many that has failed to keeps its promise to its students and their families. It also raises the question: Are charters really public.?

Back in 2011, when Krista Morton was the principal at Richard Millburn Academy — a charter school for dropout students in Manatee County — district officials investigated the school for graduating students who did not meet requirements, having grade-change irregularities and giving students puzzles and word searches instead of more rigorous work. It is not known whether Morton resigned or was fired. The school shut its doors later that year.

Mavericks Principal Krista Morton
Why did Frank Biden choose her to become a Mavericks principal? We may never know. But this we do know. Mavericks have been under scrutiny for years. Back in October, the Sun-Sentinel reported widespread financial mismanagement within the chain. It said that Biden had launched the network of charter schools more than five years ago, "drumming up publicity with prominent pitchmen and pledging to turn dropouts into graduates".

Many of the company's schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars.  At least three of the Mavericks schools have received $250,000 federal grants through the state, state documents show. They've been repeatedly cited for flawed enrollment and attendance numbers, which Florida uses to determine how much public money charter schools get. Three have closed. Local, state or federal officials have flagged academic or other problems at Mavericks schools, including:

• Overcharging taxpayers $2 million by overstating attendance and hours taught. The involved schools have appealed the findings.

• Submitting questionable low-income school meal applications to improperly collect $350,000 in state dollars at two now-closed Pinellas County schools.

• Frequent academic errors that include skipping state tests for special-needs students, failing to provide textbooks and using outdated materials.

This latest incident also brings up the question of whether or not charter schools run by private networks are truly public schools.

The Sun-Sentinel reports:
Jim Pegg, who oversees charter schools for the Palm Beach County school district, said Morton's actions violated professional standards. But because Morton was a private employee of the charter school, the district had no power to discipline her. 
No, I'm not anti-charter. But I am anti-this.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Finally, Vallas appears on the crime scene.

The Synesi/SUPES Connection 
Once S-T reporters finally discovered the Synesi/SUPES connection in the current federal investigation of CPS contracting, I couldn't understand why they missed the obvious connection between Synesi/SUPES founder Gary Soloman and Chicago's first schools CEO, Paul Vallas. For some reason, no reporter would dare mention Vallas' name. This even though he had a direct connection to Synesi and was a central player in Synesi/SUPES expansion into other school districts including Chicago.

I can almost understand the omission. Vallas tried to keep his ties to Soloman and Synesi a secret, especially once the investigation began, even while setting the table for their consulting contracts in district after district. Then Soloman came out and claimed"he had used Vallas’ name without permission and it was a mistake.”

Sorry -- It always takes me a while to stop rolling on the floor with laughter when I hear stuff like that.

I kept badgering the reporters on Twitter. Sometimes it takes a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to get their attention:

Finally in this morning's S-T we find the following. Credit reporters Lauren Fitzpatrick, Dan Mihalopoulos, and Fran Spielman.
 [Former CPS CEO, J.C.] Brizard is not the only former top CPS executive Solomon knew.
Paul Vallas, who was former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s first schools chief, said he met Solomon about 10 years ago, when Vallas led Philadelphia’s public schools.
Vallas said lawyers for the Philadelphia district sent Solomon a cease-and-desist letter because Solomon’s consulting company at the time boasted of holding “the exclusive rights to Paul Vallas’ model” for education reform. “He apologized and dropped it from his website,” Vallas said...
Another Solomon company, Synesi Associates, worked in Louisiana while Vallas was the top official in New Orleans. On the Synesi website, the company says it participated in “the successful implementation” of Vallas’ goals and led efforts that landed a $10 million grant from a private foundation.
Those assertions and other by Synesi are vast exaggerations, Vallas said. “He played no role in policy development,” Vallas said of Solomon.
See how they run.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Is Rauner threatening secession? Says Chicago gets too big a share of school funds.

Old Napa Valley Winery pals greet each other at Council meeting. 

I listened to Gov. Rauner's speech before the City Council yesterday and came away wondering why he even bothered. He had nothing of import to say and came off like an ignorant boob. With protesting unionists gathering outside the council chambers, Rauner skipped even a mention of his so-called right-to-work (for less) zones.

Well actually, he did make a couple of points. The first was laughable. He's pitting down-staters against Chicagoans and threatening secession (?) unless Chicago accepts his turn-around agenda and austerity program (massive cuts in education and social services).
"When I'm south of I-80 and I ask an audience what we need to do to turn Illinois around, you know what the number-one answer I get? The most frequent response is, 'secede from Chicago.' I'm not making that up. I'm not making that up."
Whenever a politician keeps repeating that he's "not making that up", I always suspect that he's making it up. But if he's not, it says more about Rauner's tiny base of Dixie-whistling, neo-confederates than anything else.

The second -- not so laughable -- was that Chicago schools are receiving much too big a share of state school funding. Yes, he's pitting downstate against Chicago on school funding too all while he's screwing school districts statewide.

Illinois consistently gets an "F" in evaluations of the fairness of its funding distribution between low- and high-poverty school districts. The state usually ranks third from last compared to other states, in its share of school funding . Most school funding comes from local property taxes, not state funding.

The State of Illinois provides only 26% of total education dollars, down from a high of 48%. About 8% of funding comes from the federal government, primarily for special education. The remaining 66% comes from local sources.

And the state has consistently failed to contribute it's required share of pension funding, thereby causing the current crisis. State policy effectively forces residents in economically struggling communities to pay higher property tax rates for local schools than those in similarly valued homes in more affluent areas.

Rauner claimed that Chicago gets "hundreds of millions of dollars" a year in other money, mostly for anti-poverty programs, that "no other community gets."

Uh, yeah. That's because Chicago has more people living in poverty. Get it?

Hey, but at least the governor didn't refer to Chicago as a "black hole" the way Republicans used to do back in the 90's. But basically, it's the same idea.

Before Rauner spoke, the City Council approved a $5.5 million reparations package for victims of police torture under the watch of disgraced police commander Jon Burge Click here for a live video stream of the council meeting.