Monday, June 29, 2015


Bree Newsome
“For as long as I can remember, I just became aware that simply being myself was an act of defiance,” she said during a panel at Atlanta’s Spelman College in 2014. “The space that exists for many of us, as a young black girl, is so extremely limited so that you really can’t go very far without being an activist, without being in defiance of something.” -- Washington Post
Justice Anthony Kennedy
 “The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.” -- Writing for the Court majority
Arne Duncan to National PTA
Every year, the U.S. spends $7 billion to $9 billion on textbooks that are “basically obsolete” by the first day of school. “We in education move too slowly to change...I know we’re not serving all children well today, and that’s heartbreaking to me.” -- Charlotte Observer
Howard Fuller on Post-Katina New Orleans
Fuller co-founded the Black Alliance for Educational Options and supports the reforms. Still, he said the firing of more than 7,000 public school employees, mostly African Americans, remained an open wound. He said black New Orleanians generally feel the reforms "have been to us, not with us," a disempowerment that threatens the schools' long-term success. -- Times Picayune
Michael Stone, co-CEO of New Schools for New Orleans
"We're trumpeting these gains that are getting us to the state average in a state that's 49th. ..If Louisiana were its own country it would have the highest incarceration rate in the world, and New Orleans has the highest incarceration rate in Louisiana."  -- Times Picayune
Donald Trump
"I love Mexicans." --  Guardian

Friday, June 26, 2015

Negotiations break down. But it's not over pay. Evaluations, testing & taxing.

CTU's negotiating team hanging tough.  

Four days ago, CTU Pres. Karen Lewis was saying, "We’re very close" to an agreement on a one-year contract. Yesterday, with the teachers’ contract expiring next Tuesday, Lewis announced that contract talks have broken off and the Chicago Public Schools’ “bargaining rhetoric is as empty as their bank accounts.”

Most interesting to me was that the deal stoppers, at least in the eyes of Rahm and his rudderless school board, were non-economic issues that wouldn't cost the board a penny. Remember, two education anti-union "reform" bills, one passed in 1995 and 2012 (SB7), supposedly limited the range of issues, with a few exceptions, that can be discussed during collective bargaining to economic ones. But that hasn't stopped the CTU from playing its role as a national model of the new unionism.

Even with major pay-raise concessions being offered by the union, Rahm and the board refuse to budge and inch on, 1) CPS's current discredited teacher evaluation system based mainly on students' standardized test scores as well as on the district's current over-testing regimen, and 2) CTU proposed revenue initiatives based on a more progressive taxing structure that would make the wealthiest pay their fair share.

Also standing in the way of an agreement by Tuesday is the simple fact that the board's leadership is in disarray. There's still no replacement for scandalized schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, which means for the second straight contract negotiations, the board side is basically leaderless. Plus the board's team includes Tracy Martin, who’s named in a federal subpoena into the $20 million SUPES contract scandal.

Only this time, there's no Byrd-Bennett waiting in the wings to come in a clean up the mess at CPS as there was in 2012 when Rahm gave J.C. Brizard the hook.

Not to mention Gov. Rauner's veto of the state budget and threatened shut down of state government entirely, which could change the game entirely.

I hope Lewis, Sharkey and team have some great strategies and tactics up their sleeves. They will need them.

Taking the fight right to Urban Prep's board. 'Bring the fired teachers back!'

It's been tough sledding for union organizers trying to help Chicago charter school teachers win collective bargaining rights. Even though charter schools were originally created by union teachers, state laws were soon passed barring charter teachers from joining their public school colleagues in the same union or local bargaining unit. This forced the union to start organizing efforts as the Alliance of Chicago Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS). Over the last five years, ACTS has led several successful organizing drives.

Privately-run, publicly-funded charters and their corporate-dominated boards and lobbyists have spent millions of their education dollars relentlessly fighting unionization. One of their most common legal arguments is that since their teachers are paid by private operating companies, charter teachers are not really public employees and therefore cannot unionize simply by a majority sign-up or card-check. Nationally, there are more than 4,000 charters, each with their own private board or network organization. This creates a daunting task for the unions, having to win agreements with each board school-by-school.

Charter operators have also used tactics of threats, harassment, intimidation and firings of even their best teachers to undermine organizing efforts. I'll go out on a limb here and say that privately-run charters have now become the center of union-busting efforts.

The irony hits you when you see dozens of charters named after people like the great union leaders, Cesar Chavez or Dr. King, who gave his very life while defending the union rights of public employees in Memphis.

Here in Chicago, eyes are on the successful organizing drive at highly-touted Urban Prep Academies where a majority of teachers recently voted to unionize and be represented by ACTS. But so far, Urban Prep's board has refused to recognize the union or negotiate a contract. Worse, they just illegally fired 16 teachers and staff, including several who have be actively supporting the union drive.

Yesterday I joined a rally outside the UP board meeting with more than 100 teachers, parents and students chanting, "Bring them back!" and "Union busting is disgusting!" Then we marched into the meeting where we made our voices heard in support of those who were fired. Board members, including Urban Prep founder Tim King sat stony faced and unresponsive while speaker after speaker came up to the microphone and voiced support for the fired teachers.

I think part of the reason King and the board are so union resistant is that contract negotiations require a higher degree of transparency and the school has been anything but transparent in response to questions about its overblown success claims or finances.

Samuel Adams, an eight-year veteran, one of the fired UP teachers, spoke at the rally as well as inside the meeting directly to the board. Adams said teachers at Urban Prep have an interest in communicating with the board and felt the union would help them get their voice heard. It would promote change, he told the board.
“It seems that when we brought these changes to you, that those teachers who brought those changes were let go,” said Adams.
Brian Harris, president of the charter union, said:
“The campaign is over. The teachers chose a union. You had ample time to make your call,” Harris told the board. “How is firing all these teachers negotiating in good faith? The Urban Prep creed says we choose to live honestly. Live honestly. Reinstate the teachers.”
Shoneice Reynolds, whose son will be a senior, said two of the fired teachers helped her son transition from elementary school to Urban Prep, providing constant emotional and academic support.

Several students also gave testimony about how their now-fired teachers had helped them turn their lives around and get them plugged into school.

Knowing how Tim King has responded in the past, I doubt that he and the board will willingly agree to a contract or bring back the fired teachers. It will most likely take legal action by the union and more protests.

*Be sure a read Jennifer Berkshire's (Edushyster) account of what happened when teachers confronted a union-busting charter CEO at the recent National Charter Schools Conference in New Orleans?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Join me today in supporting illegally-fired, pro-union charter teachers and staff

Urban Prep students support their teachers at a rally earlier this year.   (Arielle Zionts)

I hate bullies...
So today I'm heading over to the board meeting this afternoon to stand up for those 16 Urban Prep Charter teachers and staff who were illegally fired for supporting union activities. Two of those fired—Mathias Muschal and Natasha Robinson—are leaders of the organizing committee and exemplary teachers who had dedicated 6 and 7 years to students at Urban Prep.

On June 3rd, the teachers at Urban Prep voted over 60% “yes” to be represented by AFT Local 4343—Chicago ACTS, despite a very determined anti-union campaign. The firings are little more than the revenge of defeated bullies.

The union is fighting back by filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. While we know we have a strong case, the legal process can be long and drawn-out, especially when fighting an employer so determined not to have to answer to its teachers.

Marty Ritter from the CTU tells me that a strong showing by education activists like you and me will go a long way toward not only getting these teachers their jobs back, but getting UP management to the negotiations table.

I hope to see you all this afternoon at 3:30 PM.  We will meet outside the meeting site at Urban Prep Englewood Campus, 6201 S. Stewart Ave.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On the agenda of tonight's board meeting -- $50M for Noble Charters. Stop it!

From CPS teacher Lucia Podraza

Hello Mike,

I just found out last night about the proposals for Noble at tonight's board meeting. The Chicago Teachers Union brought this to our attention. No one at CPS contacted any admins of schools in the affected area.

If there is a budget deficit, I don't see how giving Noble 50 million will fix it or fix our crumbling neighborhood schools. Here is an impassioned plea from a fellow staff member. We don't have the luxury of support from aldermen that the North siders had when they stopped Noble. Please see if you can use this or spread the information for people to know that the fight against corporate democrats and privatizers never ends.

"On the agenda the Board of Education of the City of Chicago monthly board meeting from 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Gwendolyn Brooks HS is a proposal to vote on an additional $50 million for three new charter campuses to be built and opened for the 2016-2017 school year.

With all due respect to the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, why are they even considering approving this expenditure when the Board of Education’s deficit is so high and we are all asked to take reductions in pay and benefits? I can't hold my tongue any further, and I can't sit passively by as all the great work we have done at Kennedy will be pulled out from under us after the next school year.

Today's Board Meeting -- Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy HS, 4:30 PM

If only that $50 million were reinvested in existing schools to make them appeal as much to our neighborhood kids as the gleaming gems of charter schools which have proliferated around our city. Kids and parents are attracted to what is new, certainly not better quality just new.

For your review I've attached the proposed budget for the Noble Street Network of Charter Schools as well as the narrative for the request for purchase (RFP).

We have had the highest growth on the ACT in 2012 in both Composite Gains and Meets/Exceeds Increases. We have been recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education for increases in Student Achievement by being placed on their Honor Roll. We have been authorized as an IB Diploma World School. What more can we do to prove that Kennedy is a great general public high school which services all students from low-incidence to IB, and everything in between.

When Noble Charter students are asked to leave for minor discipline infractions and lack of academic achievement, they come to Kennedy and we educate them. We don't have the ability to ask students to leave our school for discipline issues, while at the same time having the Student Code of Conduct rewritten to handcuff our abilities to truly discipline students and hold them accountable for their poor behavior.

 We have achieved the most impressive turnaround in student achievement for a general public high school in all of Chicago. We did not do it through a multi-million dollar school improvement grant. We even managed to work through this with a $1.9 million budget shortfall in 2013. We have done this through collaborative effort, blood, sweat and tears at times. When will be the moment when our voices are heard? We were never asked to submit an RFP for capital improvements at Kennedy. We don't have the opportunity to request additional resources to improve our building.

We have had a leak in our library since I started at Kennedy HS on September, 2006. Our gym floors are embarrassing and dangerous for our children. The ceiling collapsed in the Varsity Gym Office and still has not been fixed. We have to  use School-based Budget funds to fix it ourselves.

I can go on and on.about our  auditorium, classrooms, bathrooms, locker rooms, auditorium seats, etc, etc, etc.

Can we use a portion of the $50 Million about to be ear-marked for Noble Street Charter Network?

This is all happening now, while in the past $21 million was spent on the worst principal professional development our principal was required to take.

It really breaks my heart to see the priorities of the District not aligned to what is best for students and the teachers to whom parents entrust their children."

Lucia Podraza
Kennedy High School

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Class Size: The Common Sense Bus doesn't stop on School Reform Blvd.

Reformers say: "But there's no research on benefits of smaller class size."

I'm increasingly confronted by some local, self-described school reformers who minimize the effects of rising class sizes on effective teaching and learning. "There's no research supporting smaller class size", they tell me. Of course, they are wrong.

But even showing them a pile of evidence, including the famous STAR study, doesn't seem to do much good. Actually, I don't think they are really into "looking at the data." Evidence seems to confuse or bore them. Instead they seem content to merely repeat what they hear from teacher-bashing, budget-slashing politicians like Mitt Romney or corporate-style reformers like Bill Gates and Secretary Arne Duncan, who claim that fewer, higher-paid teachers teaching larger classes is the solution to the budget crisis.

Higher teacher pay does sound nice. But, as you might expect in these difficult times, what we really end up with are massive increases in class size, downward pressure on teacher pay and our best, most experienced teachers being replaced by cheaper newbies or TFAers.

Kindergarten class with 51 children 
My argument now has been reduced to an appeal to common sense. I say, just try teaching a kindergarten class with 51 children or a first-grade room with 48 kids likes the ones at Avalon Park Elementary, a school with nearly all African-American kids from low-income families on Chicago's south side. I don't care how accomplished an early-childhood teacher you are, you are being set up to fail.

Unfortunately, the common sense bus no longer stops on School Reform Blvd.

The numbers cited above are not isolated examples but typify the conditions for thousands of CPS students who started this year in grossly overcrowded classrooms and will likely face even worse conditions in the coming school year. They come from a new report from Sarah Karp at the Better Government Association (BGA) who writes:
System-wide, about 1,600 elementary classrooms – or about 20 percent of the nearly 8,500 non-charter elementary classrooms in the 2014-2015 school year – exceeded CPS’ own standards, the BGA found. Two-thirds of those overcrowded classrooms are on the South and West sides. About half have 90 percent or more low-income students.
There are no formal penalties for exceeding classroom size standards.
Even though the teachers union is technically barred under recent legislation from negotiating down class size, you can bet that it’s an issue at the center of current contract negotiations.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey says,
"We are worried about [CPS] devastating class sizes. We are worried about them herding students into classes, like animals into stockyards. We are looking for some assurances, especially in the lower levels."
At some point, I'm hoping the reformers will be forced to come to their senses. More research probably won't do it. But maybe growing community anger will.

After all, even the neo-confederates in South Carolina have now agreed to take down that flag.

Monday, June 22, 2015

In Newark, Cami Anderson is out. Cerf back in.

Cami Anderson is toast. 
There's a lot going on in Newark. The good news is that Cami Anderson, otherwise known as "Newark's Michelle Rhee", has finally been forced out as superintendent.

Following the state's takeover of Newark schools, she brought the city to the boiling point with the unveiling of  her “One Newark” plan for school closings and charter school proliferation in much the same way as Rhee did in D.C. Her corporate-style reform plan would have relocated neighborhood schools, converted others to privately-run  charter schools and re-engineered still more traditional public schools by replacing all their principals and firing hundreds of teachers in violation of the contract.

Things have grown so hot in Newark that Anderson no longer attends meetings of the locally elected school advisory board. Ras Baraka's election as mayor more or less sealed Anderson's fate as he solidified the black community's opposition to Anderson and the plan.

The bad news is that Anderson is being replaced by corporate reformer Chris Cerf who is being recycled back into the post by his pal Chris Christie. Cerf was N.J. Education Commissioner before departing in Feb. 2014 (when Christie came under investigation), to hook up with international media criminal Rupert Murdoch.

Fired teacher Marilyn Zuniga
It was Cerf who brokered a landmark tenure law with AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten, a contract which bases teacher evaluation largely on student test scores. He also approved 37 N.J. charter schools and was a key player in the deal to bring $100 million in Mark Zuckerberg money into the corporate reformers' pockets. No one seems to know where that money went.

Also in Newark, support is building for teacher Marilyn Zuniga who was fired by the board for allowing her students to send get-well messages to political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. You can get the whole story from this interview Zuniga did with Real News Network's Jared Ball.


Charleston County Magistrate James Gosnell Jr.
"There are four kinds of people in this world: black people, white people, rednecks, and n******." -- NBC News
Ernst & Young
The Chicago Public Schools will “run out of cash as early as this summer” and be unable to meet payroll, pension and debt payments without “third-party intervention” or a significant “cost deferral.” -- Sun-Times
NY Times editorial
The crisis, in a nutshell, is the isolation of millions of young black and Latino men, who are disengaged from school, work and mainstream institutions generally. -- The Cost of Letting Young People Drift
  Alan Lazowski, LAZ’s chairman
 “This is an isolated incident of one employee, and if these allegations are true, they are contrary to every core value that LAZ stands for.” -- Another Chicago parking meter scandal
Bernie Sanders
"Our country belongs to all of us, not just billionaires. No president can take care of all the problems facing Americans today alone. We need a movement of working people, of middle-class people, to stand up right now. If we don't, I worry about the future of our children and grandchildren." -- What Did O'Malley and Sanders Tell NEA?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Confederacy of Racists

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says the flag is “part of who we are.” He's right. A big part. 

Memo to neo-confederates Dylann Roof, Nikki Haley, Lindsey Graham, Mark Sanford, League of the South,, Judge Gosnell, Strom Thurmond (deceased) and others.

Just a reminder that the slaveocracy, secessionist Confederacy, whose flag and racist ideology you proudly defend, LOST the Civil War that began in your state in 1861. BTW, there's a reason we don't have the nazi swastika flying over the White House.

The defeat resulted in the emancipation of nearly 4 million slaves, 400,000 of whom who lived in South Carolina. With it came the decimation of the KKK and the mass arrest of its members by Pres. Grant in order to protect the lives of the freed former slaves. The Reconstruction period that followed was a time of great reforms, ie. the founding of the first real public school system and blacks allowed to vote and hold public office and great struggle for freedom and equality.

The  reason the confederate battle flag now flies over your state capitol in Columbia is because your predecessors were able to make a comeback -- a counter revolution -- and violently overthrow Reconstruction (the most democratic period in your history) after the removal of federal soldiers from the South and the return of complete control of the region to the racist Southern Democrats (now called Republicans).

That bloody flag still flies because a big chunk of S.C.'s black population, once the majority in the state, fled South Carolina's systemic Jim Crow terrorism and apartheid segregation and came north during the great migration, thereby strengthening the hold of your white majority.

Racist Roof
Then there's the ongoing denial of voting rights to many of your black citizens. Gov. Haley's statement that, "Not a single CEO" has complained about the flag further illustrates who she sees as her constituency and where the power in the state now lies.

African Americans and progressives have long complained about the state's practice of flying a Confederate flag over the Capitol dome, a tradition that began in 1962 as a show of defiance against the civil rights movement and federal desegregation efforts.

Before his act of racist terrorism, Dylann Roof was photographed displaying the confederate flag along with other symbols of murderous racism, the flag of the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and apartheid South Africa.

Now in the wake of killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday night, it's time for that flag to come down. Your defense of the last symbol of a defeated confederacy means the blood of Dylann Roof's murderous rampage, is also on your hands.

It will come down.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mucking up the data on post-Katrina New Orleans: A tale of two headlines.

"No Excuses" N.O. charter  (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

In our doc seminar at DePaul, my students like to compare and contrast quantitative (statistical) and qualitative (interpretive) methods. Some argue that statistical research is more "objective" while qualitative research, ie. ethnography, participatory action research, etc... is open to interpretation (actually requires it). But every once in a while, real life jumps up and mucks up the data.

For example, here's headline on a story latest study of school improvement in post-Katrina New Orleans. The report comes from Tulane's Cowan Institute whose research has been touted by numerous news agencies, charter school support groups and the Louisiana Department of Education.
NOLA schools show dramatic improvement post-Katrina
Here's the headline above a similar story on the same study. This one is published in EdWeek.
 10 Years After Katrina: New Orleans School System Still in Flux, Report Says
Remember, they're reporting on the same statistical study based on hard numbers on test scores and dropout rates. So which is it? Dramatic improvement or still in flux?  Or both? Can the same numbers tell two different stories depending on whose reviewing the data? Of course.

After Katrina
Readers might recall the last study published by the Cowan Institute in November, 2014, touting the great gains supposedly made since the hurricane by the Recovery School District's privately-run charter schools. But a scandal erupted and the study had to be retracted when it was learned that the hired-gun researchers had used a "value-added" model to predict academic performance at 25 high schools, based on students' socio-economic standing and past testing history. We were told that the researchers' conclusion -- that many high school-ers do better than expected, given their background -- was inaccurate due to their flawed methods.

According to reform critic and ed historian Diane Ravitch:
 The sponsors of the district from a public school district to an all-charter district celebrate the amazing progress that followed the elimination of public schools and the teachers’ union.  
Because so many hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to “prove” that privatization works, we will see many more such declarations of success.
On the other hand, critics say that none of the data is trustworthy. They say the state department of education and the Recovery School District (the all-charter district) manipulate statistics.
Ravitch goes on to quote Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana high school teacher with a doctorate in research methods and statistics, who has been relentless in dissecting the narrative produced by apologists for the RSD. In her latest post, Schneider looks at the tale of graduation rates.
The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) hides information and releases delayed or partial information in an effort to keep the public ill-informed regarding the state of education in Louisiana and especially as concerns the now-all-charter Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans, which White and other well-positioned, well-financed privatizing reform cronies actively endeavor to market as a national model. 
What the RSD is best at, she says, is marketing and sales.
 So much for objectivity vs. interpretation.

Looking back on Chuy's 'Fuzzy Math'. He wasn't fuzzy, was he.

Most of my political junkie friends tell me that Rahm's election victory in April was sealed when Chuy Garcia failed to come up with specifics on how he'd solve the city's financial crisis. But political theories are like butt cracks. Everybody has one. Yes, the media did a job on Chuy (above) for his reluctance to commit to a property tax increase without first being able to examine the books to see where the money is stashed and how the dark money really being spent.

Turns out that Chuy was just being honest and that's no way to win a mayor's race in Chicago.

If Rahm had been honest (did I really say that?) he would have admitted that he too had no solution to the city's debt/pension crisis and that he wasn't really about that anyway. What he was about was using the crisis to enrich his bankster friends without taxing their profits or big incomes.

Yesterday, Rahm did what he and Daley have always done. Despite the city's junk bond rating, he borrowed another $1.1 billion at an exorbitant interest rate from Morgan Stanley, the very bank which financed Daley's criminal parking meter deal. Billy Daley's bank to be exact.

As you might expect, the bogus borrowing plan sailed through the city council without even time for Rahm's toady alders to even read it. Shades of the parking meter deal.

Only 3 NO votes, Arena (L), Waguespack, and Rosa.
Despite the victories of supposed anti-Rahm council candidates in April, there were only three NO votes yesterday -- Scott Waguespack (32nd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and John Arena (45th) -- bless their souls. Makes you wonder about the other "progressives". Don't it?

As you might have expected, Patrick DALEY Thompson (11th) and "Slow Eddie" Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, voted "present", knowing that the plan would pass anyway.

Said Ramirez-Rosa:
“We can no longer allow the working families of Chicago to shoulder the cost of new borrowing with no plan to repay the debt. We were promised a responsible financial plan. Instead, we have been asked to blindly supply private banks and a limited number of connected individuals with the power to determine the future of Chicago’s financial health.”
He's only a rookie. But he has the heart for the struggle

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

800 years after Magna Carta, Chicago schools are still ruled by an autocrat

This week we're celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta which is widely considered the foundation of parliamentary democracy, human rights and the supremacy of the law over autocracy. It established the principle that the monarch is not above the law.

Meanwhile in Chicago, where the public schools have been placed by law under the autocratic rule of one man --the mayor -- there's much being made over questions of who approved the decision to hire now-disgraced CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett back in 2012 and who approved that $20 million no-bid contract to SUPES. Everyone knows the answer to these questions but they are still the topic of the day for federal investigators in the midst of grand jury hearings. It's doubtful that indictments, if any are brought, will reach anywhere near the fifth floor of City Hall.

As Rahm and his predecessor might have put it: "We don't need no stink'n Magna Carta".

The only reason there's even a question, is that mayoral control of the schools, which was intended to bring greater transparency and accountability to a bureaucratic system, brought instead its very opposite. Since CPS was made a wing of City Hall, there has been a cloud of secrecy and a lack of public disclosure with one chief bureaucrat after another, all hand-picked by the mayor himself, being tossed under the bus in order to deflect attention away from the misdeeds and corrupt behavior of the autocrat.

Since the signing of the Magna Carta, democratic revolutions have swept the world clean of many czars and monarchs. But when it comes to urban public education, the trend appears to have been reversed. This was highlighted by Gov. Rauner's recent appointment of state "education czar", Beth Purvis following a Chicago Tribune editorial calling on CPS to put a turnaround expert at the top of the school system, with "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement."

Duncan pinned his success to mayoral control of schools.
When Arne Duncan was first appointed U.S. Secretary of Education by Pres. Obama back in 2009, he made his number-one priority the expansion of autocratic control of the schools by urban mayors. This was the only way Duncan could forsee his plan for corporate-style, top-down school reform being driven past the resistance of educators, parents and community groups. He argued that the revolving door of urban superintendents was leading to too much instability and churn.

Ironically, mayoral control in Chicago has resulted in 6 school chiefs in six years and greater instability than ever before. Another teachers strike seems almost inevitable.

Duncan proclaimed at the time:
"At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed."
By next year his tenure will have ended, his race-to-the-top and his planned expansion of mayoral control tossed in the waste bin of history. He will, by his own admission, have failed.

By then, hopefully Chicago will have joined with the rest of the state and most of the country in having an elected school board and the spirit of the Magna Carta may have survived yet another test.

Monday, June 15, 2015

WEEKEND QUOTABLES: Not dropouts at CPS. Rather, 'transferring to motherhood'

FOX 32 News Chicago

Sarah Karp, BGA
"[At CPS] There was widespread misclassification of students...They were classified as transfers. In some cases transferring to motherhood." -- FOX 32
Stanford charter researcher Margaret “Macke” Raymond 
“[Ohio] Be very glad that you have Nevada, so you are not the worst.” -- Ohio charter schools have become a joke — literally
Curie High School is one of many high schools falsely labeling dropouts.
Bernie Sanders
“This campaign is sending a message to the billionaire class, and that message is you can’t have it all." -- Iowa speech
Scott Walker
“The first step is, we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public-­employee unions because you use divide-­and-­conquer.” -- N.Y. Times Magazine
Chris Christie on Clinton's shift to the left
 “I thought that Elizabeth Warren wasn’t running for president,” -- The Guardian

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Here's the problem with 'data-driven" school reform. You need good data.

Rahm projected an 82% graduation rate when he ran for office.
“No one questions the facts: more CPS students are graduating than ever before, those students are more prepared for their futures and we’re making huge strides in helping struggling kids graduate."
-- Rahm Emanuel
With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, some folks are questioning the your facts.

Becky Vevea/WBEZ and Sarah Karp/BGA certainly are:
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been talking proudly about something that is really a bit of a miracle: Even during a time of tight budgets and leadership chaos, Chicago Public Schools graduation rates have climbed to a record 69.4 percent. But new data obtained by WBEZ and the Better Government Association shows that number is wrong.
CPS records recently obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act show at least 2,200 students from 25 Chicago high schools were counted as having transferred out of the district between 2011 and 2014. In reality, they were dropouts. The transfers aren’t factored into CPS graduation rates, while dropouts are. (Emanuel touts bogus graduation rate)
Cooked books. No problem. 
The worst part of this is that Rahm and CPS officials admit that the books are cooked but basically say, "Don't confuse us with facts. We know what we want you to know." They are also muzzling principals while the Ministry of Lies and Deception (MLD) goes into to full ass-cover mode.
CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey also refused to make any principals available to talk about this story. McCaffrey acknowledged that the district has a problem, but said officials don't plan to go back and adjust the rates because of the “billion dollar deficit.” 
Curie Principal Phillip Perry did not respond to phone calls or emails. When reporters stopped by his school, they were not allowed past the front foyer and escorted out by a security guard and a woman who identified herself as a police officer, though she did not have her badge evident and was not in uniform.
Well, maybe that's not the worst part. The worst part may be that researchers at the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research appear to shrug off the deceptive reporting on graduation rates as simply "coding errors" at the school level. They appear to use a method that assumes misreporting that goes both ways, cancelling each other out. The Consortium's Emily Krone says:
In fact, UChicago CCSR research finds double-digit improvements in graduation rates over the last several years, even using a very conservative method of calculation that counts every student who transfers or goes to an alternative school as a dropout.
That's not a "conservative method.. It's a bad guess as well as an unsolicited confession on her part.

CCSR Director Elaine Allensworth claims that coding errors go both ways — some students counted as dropouts did legitimately transfer. Maybe so, but it's not a valid or reliable way to report dropout rates, especially when you have a mayor running for office by boasting of an 82% graduation rate.
The credibility of the researchers is also at stake here.

Okay, so maybe even that's not be the worst part. The worst part may be the complete loss of confidence and trust in administration transparency at the very time when the district needs to go begging for financial support for its schools and when the city's credit rating has been reduced to junk. Remember, it's not just about the false reporting of graduation rates.

They are also misreporting the city's crime rate; did the same on the missing children resulting from the school closures; they overestimated savings from controversial janitorial services with Aramark, partly by forgetting to count 22 entire schools; Rahm's promise to save $60 million by switching garbage collection from a ward-by-ward to a grid system fell $42 million short; and the D.O.T.'s
Inspector failure to report 53% of all requests for pothole and other street repairs.

Figures don't lie but liars can figure.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Can't believe I missed this one...

CTU President Karen Lewis told supporters gathered outside the Thompson Center. "And if we have a chance, this is it. This is the time where you have to stand up and tell 'em all 'No, we're not going to take that.'" -- Tribune

I'm laid-up for a few days after a Saturday biking accident (yes, wearing a helmet) and had to miss yesterday's CTU rally. So I was super elated looking at Tweets (#CTUrally), pics and yes, even news coverage of this great event. Shades of the union rallies and marches leading up the 2012 strike.

The Chicago Teachers Union is asking for a one-year contract with a 3 percent raise. In addition, the CTU wants limits to class sizes and additional resources.
"We need a just equitable distribution of resources in our school system, so every school has what it needs including a nurse, a social worker, a librarian," said Martin Ritter, a CTU organizer.
 "CTU is advocating for more revenue for our schools. That could include a financial transactions tax, that could include a winding down of some of these unnecessary TIFF districts, and also wasteful spending on things like standardized tests, the SUPES contract," Ritter said.
Rahm,who earlier was threatening a 7% pay cut, now says he wants a three-year deal with a 1 percent raise in the third year. He's not listening. But yesterday, he heard.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rahm picks Moore to chair the Housing Committee, Jones to run the CHA. Why???

Jones was backed by crackhead Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. 
With Ald. Joe Moore running the City Council’s Housing Committee and Gene Jones picked as Rahm Emanuel's 3rd CHA director in 4 years, what could possibly go wrong for a city with destabilized public housing and a rapidly growing homeless population?


OK, you can understand Moore being thrown a bone by the Mayor in exchange for the last couple of years of faithful toadyism. That's what committee chairmanships are for, I suppose. Moore takes over doling out housing jobs and contracts from previous committee chair Ray Suarez who got his ass kicked in the 31st Ward election by Milly Santiago, before anyone could figure out how to get hold of hundreds of millions of unspent CHA dollars intended to house the city's homeless.

But Gene Jones? Why in the world would Rahm bring Jones in from Canada to run the Housing Authority? Did he comb the world for the most conflict-ridden, scandal-ridden bureaucrat he could find? Looks that way.

Jones replaces Michael Merchant, who is leaving for other "professional opportunities" after serving since 2013. Merchant replaced Charles Woodyard, who resigned in October 2013, at the same time that the CHA agreed to a $99,000 settlement with a former staffer who accused Woodyard of sexual harassment. Woodyard had been hired in 2011 to succeed CEO Lewis Jordan, who quit in June of that year in the wake of questions about his credit card use and big expense charges he ran up for meals and employee gifts.

Four CHA directors in 4 years sounds a lot like  Rahm's record for instability at CPS where he is about to appoint his 3rd full-time Chicago Public Schools CEO in four years and Chicago's 6th in 5 years.

According to Rahm,
"Gene Jones has a proven track record of being a solution-driven leader in public housing."
But isn't that what he said about the last three? Let's look

Jones' last big job was up in Toronto where he was backed by crackhead Mayor Rob Ford and where, according to the Tribune, "he was key to executing three major housing projects". No pun intended, I'm sure. After all, we've already executed most of Chicago's public housing stock, driving thousands of black families from the city.

Here's what the Toronto Star had to say about Jones' departure:
Gene Jones Jr. has become the third Toronto Community Housing Corporation chief executive in its decade-long existence to have a career marked by scandal. After a scathing ombudsman’s report earlier this week, CEO Gene Jones resigned from the position, receiving a $200,000 severance settlement, in what board chair Bud Purves described as a mutual decision.
Fiona Crean, the city’s ombudsman, released a report this week that said Jones and other senior executives at the housing agency flouted hiring rules, ignored conflicts of interest, gave managers sudden and unjustified raises, and fired people recklessly.
In Indianapolis, where he served as executive director of the housing agency from 1997 to 2000, he would accompany police on raids into the community, donning a flak jacket. He would later do the same in Detroit.

Ah, perfect! Just what we need -- a public housing bureaucrat in a flak jacket.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The 'Magic question' -- I don't think so.

"Griffin could solve the problem just by paying his taxes." -- Karen Lewis
S-T reporters Fran Spielman and Loren Fitzpatrick call it "the magic question": How can CPS make looming pension payment and payroll?  They say CPS is faced with "impossible choices" with its cash reserves depleted, the Springfield budget stalemate dragging on and three weeks to go before a $634 million teacher pension payment is due.

Well, I stopped believing in "Magic" when Shaq left Orlando and the choices don't seem all that  "impossible" to me. In fact, they're are quite clear. You can continue to try and bleed the infirm and elderly who are barely making ends meet on fixed incomes.

OR the Mayor can push pals Madigan and Cullerton to make a deal for a temporary fix from Rauner and the legislature. And then -- do the right thing and find the only long-term solution. Find new revenue streams, and I don't mean a casino. In other words, make the wealthiest in the state begin paying their fair share of taxes. Illinois is currently one of the ten most regressive tax states in the country

As CTU Pres. Karen Lewis put it during last Tuesday's panel discussion at the Hideout.
"We have to have serious conversations about revenue now... And if we're talking about anything else, then we're not going anywhere." (43.19)
Then she put the exclamation point on it:
"Ken Griffin alone could write a check that could solve the pension problem...just by paying his taxes."  (122.24)
Griffin recently donated $155 million to Harvard in order to get another tax break.

Of course, what you generally get back from our knee-bending legislators is: But if we tax the billionaires, the banks and the corporations, they will flee the state. 

I don't know about you, but I have a hard time imagining someone like Griffin, abandoning his $24 billion hedge-fund empire in Chicago and turning that business over to his competitors, paying off his ex-wife, and then heading for low-tax Podunk, Nebraska, over a tax bump.

No, the real flight from Chicago is being made by the city's poor and largely African-American work force who can't find well-paying jobs here any more and can't afford housing here either. More than a quarter of a million black people have left the city in the past decade. Imagine if they were all still here, working good union jobs and paying takes, how much better Chicago's economy would look.

No, the choices aren't "impossible".  They're necessary.


Urban Prep students support their teachers at a rally earlier this year. (Arielle Zionts)

Noel Perez-White, Urban Prep English teacher
"I support the unionizing efforts at Urban Prep because our students deserve a school where teachers return year after year. Teacher turnover has a grave impact on students. I believe a union will create a more supportive climate for teachers at Urban Prep -- ending the revolving door, and creating a more consistent learning environment for students". -- Progress Illinois 
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights 
“The evidence from across the country is clear and compelling: Our nation must dramatically change the way that educational resources are distributed so that there is true equity in America’s classrooms.” -- Washington Post
Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller
 “The whole idea of regimented, special discipline for African-American children doesn’t work for me...How are you bringing music? How are you bringing the arts? Kids need much more than just academic rigor.”” -- Neighborhood News Service
Zabe Davis, the chief of the campus police at Senatobia [MS] High 
“We were instructed to remove anyone that cheered during the ceremony, which was done. And then Jay Foster, the superintendent, came and pressed charges against those people.” -- New York Times
Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin A.F.L.-C.I.O.
“Scott Walker didn’t have the stature, influence or money to become governor on his own or to end collective bargaining on his own. All of that flowed from Mike Grebe, the Bradley Foundation and a network of influential conservatives, including the Kochs.” -- New York Times

Friday, June 5, 2015

How to pay a Czar

After reading the Trib's editorial calling for a Mussolini-type to run Chicago schools, Gov. Rauner picked Beth Purvis as the state's "education czar". I'm not exactly sure what a state ed czar does, given that Chicago schools are already ruled from City Hall by our own Little Emperor. And Rahm's about to anoint his own 4th sub-czar in 4 years to replace BBB (Didn't I just see her on America's Most Wanted? Or am I confusing BBB with "Fast Eddie"?).

The problem for Rauner is, how to pay Purvis her quarter-million-dollar annual salary, given his own draconian cuts to the state's education budget. Turns out to be no problem at all. He simply raids the Department of Human Services budget. That's the agency that funds things like autism and epilepsy services  The Czar's new contract was signed three weeks before the governor’s office authorized $26 million in cuts to that same agency.

Robbing Peter to pay Purvis. Nice.

All this prompted this angry missive to the Sun-Times from CTU V.P. Jesse Sharkey .
Illinois is not broke. Illinois is flush. The problem is that those who can pay, don’t. The effective state income-tax rate for the poorest 20 percent of earners in the state is double what the wealthiest 1 percent of people pay.
Well said.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Last night at the Hideout

First Tuesday at the Hideout last night: Karen Lewis, Ben Joravsky, Troy LaRaviere, and Mick Dumke. 
It was the best First Tuesday yet at the Hideout. CTU Pres. Karen Lewis and Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere were compelling, powerful and funny guests.

What came across was that the main focus of attention has to be new and equitable revenue streams to solve the city and state pension and debt crises. This ultimately means increased taxes for 1%ers like billionaire Ken Griffin, who makes $90,000 per hour even while he's sleeping, and who, as Lewis points out, "could solve the city's problems himself just by paying his fair share of taxes." LaRaviere described graphically the "parasitic" relationship the 1%ers have with the city. This includes several newly-appointed and former members of the school board, ie. outgoing Deborah Quazzo and incoming Mark Furlong.

The mayor is already working to strike a deal to skip another pension payment.

LaRaviere provided some data:
“Of the 50 highest-performing schools in Chicago, all 50 are public schools that were here before he [Rahm Emanuel] arrived,” he said in the four-and-a-half-minute video, referring to NWEA scores. “Of the 20 lowest-performing schools in Chicago, 13 of them – over half – are turnaround and charter schools, which are cornerstones of the Rahm Emanuel education reform agenda.”
--Fred Klonsky
But the main target of the evening was "sociopath" Gov. Rauner who somehow finds it politically advantageous to shutter prisons, close museums, cut funding for kids with epilepsy, and increase co-pays for parents using the Childcare Program, while preserving tax breaks for wealthy pals.

Lewis made it clear that there's lots riding on whether city Dems like Emanuel and Madigan are willing to go to war with the governor over his cuts -- including the outcome of contract negotiations with the CTU and other unions. While it's too early to talk strike, she made it clear that the union is doing the necessary educational work among its members and parents. She expressed fear that class size in city schools could go up to "50 students per class" under Rauner's budget plan. 

Best aha moment came when Lewis suggested, half-jokingly I suspect, that LaRaviere run for mayor. Some of us didn't take it as a joke and many were visibly moved by his personal narrative after Mick Dumke asked what led him to become a principal.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Next CEO an educator, business manager or Vallas? Makes little difference under mayoral control.

“I think Barbara Byrd Bennett's legacy is going to be she'll be remembered by educators and community members as the person who sold the mayor's schools closings,” --  CTU VP Jesse Sharkey.
Carol Felsenthal at Chicago Mag interviews Paul Vallas and comes away thinking he may be the man for the job. I come away thinking, what has Carol been smoking?

Actually, my blog was intrigued by the idea. It kept whispering to me, "Oh please, yes, yes. Bring him on. Especially now, right in the middle of the Byrd-Bennett/SUPES grand jury hearings."

I mean, the guy has been running one step ahead of the feds and grand jury hearings since he left Bridgeport, where he gave FUSE a fat no-bid consulting contract a la SUPES/Synesi.

I know I have at least 70 more Vallas exposés stored away in virtual SmallTalk file cabinets. A Vallas appointment, while a total disaster for public ed, as it was in Philly, N.O. and Bridgeport, would be a windfall for SmallTalk.

But then my brain answers my blog: "No way in hell will Rahm go there". Mr. Brain is right. My sources tell me that Rahm will go with another loyal bureaucrat/manager, turnaround type like CTA boss Forrest Claypool. Think Ron Huberman. What could possibly go wrong?

We got a hint of another Huberman type from last week's Tribune editorial. Remember the Mussolini reference? Make the trains run on time? Get it? However, even Mussolini would be just another bureaucrat serving totally at the pleasure of the mayor.

Meanwhile, the media debate is all about whether Rahm should appoint another career educator like BBB or J.C Brizard, or another non-educator business guy? I don't think it makes a damn bit of difference so long as either one, along with the hand-picked school board, are mere puppy dogs. It's mayoral control of the schools that's the real issue here. The fact that Rahm is shopping for Chicago's 6th CEO in 6 years following Huberman, Mazany, Brizard, Byrd-Bennett, and Ruiz, makes my point. Instability is the name of the game and when things go south, like a major scandal or a teachers strike, they are all easily replaceable.

We need an elected school board and an end to autocratic rule over the schools.