Friday, April 29, 2016

The lead/water crisis and Chicago's school children

CEO Claypool says testing not based on any "indication" of lead. Then why no transparency?
Exposure to even small amounts of lead as a child causes subtle brain damage that can trigger learning disabilities and violent behavior later in life. -- Chicago Tribune
And what about exposure to large amounts of lead, consumed daily in the tap water of old Public Schools over a period of years? This is the prospect we are facing and the question parents are asking as we enter the post-Flint era.

According to the city, about 80% of city buildings are still connected to water mains by lead pipes, which were banned in 1986.

CPS claims that while the district has not tested water fountains for lead contamination. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the system will begin checking water in a "small number of schools" this year. But it won't be the first time. Tests have been done before but the results have been kept from the public.

Schools CEO Forrest Claypool says it's no big deal. He says, “this is not because of any indication. It’s out of an abundance of caution.” Of course, Claypool sends his kids to ritzy private school, Francis Parker, where you can bet the drinking water has been fully tested.

Principals at several of those schools told the Chicago Sun-Times they learned of the testing from the press, and weren’t sure what to tell parents. I can't really blame them for being cautious, given what's happened to outspoken Blaine principal Troy LaRaviere.
Several principals, who did not have district permission to speak, said they had not been notified by CPS of the testing. Though the district typically sends letters home about such developments, the principals said they had been given no guidance on how to respond to parent questions this time.
Rahm's announcement Wednesday came more than a month after the Tribune requested the results of any water quality tests conducted by or for CPS since 2012. The school district failed to respond to FOIA requests, but in an email sent an hour before Emanuel's office released its statement a district spokesman said CPS "had no records to provide".

According to the Tribune,
The water crisis in Flint, Mich., has put new pressure on cities and school districts to address the safety of drinking water. Like Flint, Chicago and many older cities required the use of lead plumbing during the last century, and few have been required to replace those pipes with safer materials. CPS owns or operates more than 600 school buildings, some of which were built in the 1800s.
I'm told that lead and asbestos testing has gone on in the schools since 2003 but the results were never made public.

80% of city's buildings still connected to banned lead water pipes.
Similar lead scandals have emerged, especially in other poor, predominantly black and Latino school districts across the country. In Detroit, they've found elevated levels of lead and copper in nearly a third of its elementary schools, contamination that one expert says could be found nationwide, wherever school authorities spend the time and money to look.

In D.C. they've found 12 schools so far with lead levels that violate federal standards.

Boston Public Schools officials shut down fountains in four schools after a test revealed elevated levels of lead in the drinking water.

Obvious questions. Why are they testing such a small number of schools? Why has it taken so long?And why the lack of transparency? The answers: While testing is relatively cheap (we just had the tap water in our house tested for $35) the cost of necessary infrastructure repair and lead abatement, not just in the schools, but in many neighborhoods of the city (and nation) could require a national campaign with costs running into the trillions. Possibly parallel to what we're spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not to mention the costs of possible class-action lawsuits, criminal trials and political fallout (would this be happening in a wealthy, white school district?) resulting from cover-ups of the Flint variety.

Is Chicago and the nation willing to make such a commitment in these times of austerity and anti-tax, anti-government hysteria? Even with the health and well-being of our children hanging in the balance?

My bet is that Chicago's lead crisis will be used as an excuse to further erode public space, close or privatize more schools.

Schools being tested include:

  • Burr, 1621 W. Wabansia
  • Canty, 3740 N. Panama
  • Coonley, 4046 N. Leavitt
  • Crown, 2128 S. St. Louis
  • De Diego, 1313 N. Claremont
  • Dett, 2131 W. Monroe
  • Ericson, 3600 W. 5th
  • Evers, 9811 S. Lowe
  • Hefferan, 4409 W. Wilcox
  • Mahalia Jackson, 917 W. 88th
  • Jamieson, 5650 N. Mozart
  • Jungman, 1746 S. Miller
  • Kellman, 3030 W. Arthrington
  • Kozminski, 936 E. 54th
  • Lenart, 8101 S. LaSalle
  • Mays, 6656 S. Normal
  • Neil, 8555 S. Michigan
  • Nicholson, 6006 S. Peoria
  • Parker, 6800 S. Stewart
  • Pritzker, 2009 W. Schiller St.
  • Saucedo/Telpochcalli, 2832 W. 24th
  • South Shore ES, 1415 E. 70th
  • Stagg, 7424 S. Morgan
  • Sumner, 4320 W. 5th
  • Tanner, 7350 S. Evans
  • Harold Washington ES, 9130 S. University
  • Webster, 4055 W. Arthrington
  • Westcott, 409 W. 80th

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Did the Sanders campaign come all this way to hand itself over to Clinton?

Early in the campaign, when few took Bernie Senders' seriously, I heard this, over and over again from Hillary Clinton's people: "It's great he's running. He will push Hillary to the left."

But as the Sanders anti-Wall St. campaign began to resonate, especially with thousands of young activists (the very shock troops and organizers HRC so badly needs if she is to beat Donald Trump) the tone of her campaign changed. The attacks, not only on Bernie, but on his young activist base grew sharper.

Remember Madeleine Albright's "special place in hell" barb in February? Or Gloria Steinem telling Bill Maher that young women are attracted to Sanders’ campaign because "that’s a good way to meet boys"?

More recently came the charge that Sanders' unrelenting critique of Hillary's ties to Wall St. will only feed the Trump campaign.

From The Hill:
“You know who would really love it if Bernie Sanders kept attacking Hillary all the way to the convention?” Christina Reynolds, a Clinton campaign spokesperson, wrote in an email. “Donald Trump,” she wrote."
Sanders in Chicago with Troy LaRaviere (left) and Chuy Garcia.
They want the dynamic Sanders campaign, which is still drawing huge rally crowds and lots of new, young voters, to liquidate itself before Hillary's coronation in Philly.

How's that playing with Sanders base? Not well. Latest polls show a quarter of them declaring that they won't ever vote for Clinton. I'm dubious.

If the Sanders campaign was intended to push Hillary to the left, it's been a dismal failure. If it's about building a movement and offering an alternative to traditional pay-to-play politics, it's been an overwhelming success. This, even if and when Hillary gets the nomination.

I have no doubt that, in the end, Sanders will throw his support to Clinton and that great majority of his voters will vote for Hillary in November. The fear of a Trump victory is just too serious and the opportunity for Democratic victories, up and down the ticket is too great.

But the question is, on what basis can unity between the two camps be built. The Sanders movement didn't come all this way to hand itself over to Clinton with nothing in return.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The cat's out of the bag. CPS I.G. admits attack on Troy LaRaviere was political

CPS Chief Ed Officer Janice Jackson fronting for Rahm at Blaine. 
“I can honestly say this was not a politically motivated decision,” said Janice Jackson, CPS’ chief education officer, speaking to a crowd of about 300 inside the auditorium at Blaine. -- Sun-Times
How do you know Jackson is lying? Whenever somebody begins a sentence with, "I can honestly say...", nine times out of ten what follows is going to be a big fib.

The thing that jumped out at me while reading the Sun-Times' story of yesterday's Blaine parents support rally for their award-winning principal, Troy LaRaviere, was this sentence.
CPS’ inspector general Nick Schuler confirmed that his office was looking at LaRaviere’s participation in the Sanders campaign “to see if there are any possible violations” of CPS’ ethics policy.
Not politically motivated indeed.

I'm told that Jackson has finally informed LaRaviere about the dozen or so charges against him. They haven't been made public as yet. But no matter what they have, or think they have on him, the whole thing smells to Blaine parents and community, like another of Rahm's political hatchet jobs.

More from S-T:
LaRaviere is up for election in May to lead the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, which would give him a larger voice within CPS “and that’s something that a lot of people didn’t want,” [parent Betsy] Melton said.
He also has recorded ads for progressive presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, as well as Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who ran against Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year.
Last year, sources said LaRaviere was reprimanded after the inspector general dinged him for “improper political activity” for Garcia, though he was not named in the annual report released to the public.
Could the motivation behind LaRaviere's firing be any clearer?

The mayor, who has turned CPS into a wing of City Hall, is pleading (according to Brother Fred) Et Ego Nescieban (I do not know). He more aptly should be pleading non compos mentis. Rahm and the beleaguered school district need this new debacle right now like a fish needs a bicycle.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Troy LaRaviere 
"For those who plan on taking some kind of action, please ensure it is purposeful and well-informed. I STILL HAVE NOT BEEN INFORMED OF THE CHARGES AGAINST ME. At this point, this should be at the core of any effort to support my case. Any protest or other efforts should focus on forcing CPS to tell me what they’re charging me with. 
 Again, since we don’t know what the alleged violations are, I believe ANY EFFORTS TO SUPPORT MY CASE SHOULD FOCUS ON FORCING CPS TO TELL ME WHAT THEY’RE CHARGING ME WITH [Troy's emphasis]. After they reveal the charges people can then decide what next steps need to be taken.
This is not about me. This is about corruption, and I am an obstacle to that corruption." -- Troy LaRaviere's Blog
Laughable quotes on LaRaviere firing
Janice Jackson, the chief education officer for the Chicago Public Schools: "We did not consult the mayor in making this decision."
Mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn: "CPS handles its own personnel matters, with which the mayor does not interfere." -- Eric Zorn, "The Sacking of Troy"
Rick Perlstein
Competitors compete: the proposition seems axiomatic. But charter schools don’t really compete with traditional public schools, which rely solely on tax dollars to operate; charters get slathered with private cash, too. -- The Chicago School
Kate Grossman
 Chicago has a poor track record of delivering for its weakest students but this latest chapter, arguably an inevitable and predictable consequence of school choice, may be a new low.  -- Atlantic
Bill Gates
 “We really haven’t changed [students’ academic] outcomes.” -- EdWeek Market Brief

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Road Runner...

I had a great time at Moorhead St. Spoke to local Fargo/Moorhead teachers, pre-service teachers and faculty on "Schools for Sale: Reform, Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education" along with great profs Isabel Nunez (Concordia) and Joe Ferrare (Univ. of Kentucky).

Moorhead has some talented ed faculty, including old friend Steve Grineski (who recently retired), Sheila Marquardt, David Tack and more. Thanks especially to Sheila, Emily O'Meara, Renee Fast and the rest of the EMSP leadership for hosting the event.

Left Minnesota, the birthplace of charters, before getting the news that the state's legendary cultural icon, Prince had died. Sad day. Would have been a great place to celebrate his life and music.

Next stop, New Haven for an event at Yale, "The Inner City School: Inequality and Urban Education." I'm speaking on a panel there along with one of my favorite social-justice educator/researchers, Michelle Fine. Can't wait.

Among other greats on the agenda: Conference host Elijah Anderson ("Code of the Streets"); UIC's own John Hagedorn, (Gangs and Institutional Change); former Chicagoan and now Great Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson, ("The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions"); Gloria Ladson-Billings, ("Dream Keepers"), Charles Payne, ("I've Got the Light of Freedom") and many more. This leaves me with great feeling of inadequacy. But excited to see them all.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Need a new minimum wage ordinance in Chicago

Some days the encampment under a bridge just south of downtown and just north of Chicago’s Chinatown has the feeling of a bedraggled backyard barbecue. Men from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala cook frozen shrimp or crab over a fire, drink beers, joke and even sing. On this Saturday in February, however, the men are silent, and the fear and misery in the air are palpable. It is just too cold. -- The Guardian
Now that the Fight-For-15 Movement has gained such broad support and with 14 cities and states passing $15/hr. minimum wage laws in 2015, isn't it time for new legislation here in Chicago?

We had broad support for it here until Mayor Rahm Emanuel undercut a move by the City Council's Progressive Caucus by countering with his own $13/hr. bill. But Chicago workers won't see even  $13/hr. for three more years under the mayor's plan. This year Chicago comes up 50 cents from Illinois' $8.25 rate, which is already $1 higher than the federal rate. After that, the wage will go up by 50 and 2017, and by $1 in 2018 and 2019.

Now that Rahm is on the ropes politically, it seems to me that this is the time for a new $15 bill to be introduced. He would have a tough time opposing it, especially in a national election year. Rahm is already facing a probable teachers strike in May. The CTU has already called for a $15/hr. floor for all CPS employees. A united front of unions, City Council members, and the Fight-For-15 Movement would be pretty hard to beat.

Families can't survive at the current $10/hr. rate. The result is too many workers are still finding themselves homeless. Too many students are coming to school hungry or having to drop out of high school to find work. Too many black families (200,000 African-Americans) have left Chicago, many in search of livable wages.

Bernie Sanders has been leading the charge nationally for the $15 MW. Hillary Clinton, ever the triangulatorhas been resistant to such a federal law. Up until now, she's pushed for a gradually-imposed $12/hr. bill,  but now says she could sign such a $15 bill with "stipulations", if elected.

I guess this is what they mean when they say Bernie is "pushing her to the left". I'm doubtful.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Protesters throw dollar bills at Clinton motorcade as she leaves Clooney fundraiser.
George Clooney after throwing a $33K/plate fundraiser for Hillary
"Yes. I think it's an obscene amount of money ... The Sanders campaign, when they talk about it is absolutely right. It's ridiculous that we should have this kind of money in politics. I agree completely."  -- NBC News
New York Values -- A conversation
“We’re neighbors here,” she began calmly. “We enjoy the theater. We enjoy the arts. We enjoy Central Park, we enjoy the city — that’s New York. We’ve got all kinds of people, and we’ve all got to get along. Be kind, be patient, be gentle. Cruz is a moron. Marcia, what do you think of that jerk?”

“He was using New York as a symbol,” said Gillespie. “It’s code speak, so if you buy into the code, you start to defend it, and it’s indefensible.”

“That’s a very good insight,” said her friend. 

“Thank you sweetheart,” said Gillespie. -- Washington Post
CTU Pres. Karen Lewis
 "...we won’t be held hostage by the board’s zombie budgets." -- Sun-Times 
Bill Clinton mocks young Sanders supporters
"One of the few things I really haven't enjoyed about this primary: I think it's fine that all these young students have been so enthusiastic for her opponent and [he] sounds so good: 'Just shoot every third person on Wall Street and everything will be fine.'" -- Politico
Robert Scheer
"This war on terror has become a war on the American people." -- Democracy Now

Friday, April 15, 2016

The youth movement

This, from yesterday's New York Times:
PARIS — A revolt over proposed labor-law reforms in France has set off an uprising among French youth, fed up, they say, over their government’s failure to tackle a host of problems and thus robbing them of their future. Calling itself Nuit Debout — roughly translatable as “Standing Up at Night” — the movement recalls Spain’s 2011 anti-austerity Indignados movement and the Occupy movement in the United States. But there are also echoes of France’s own history of popular revolt, including the student-led protests of May 1968.
The '68 French youth uprising left an indelible impression on me and many other young activists here in the U.S. The war in Vietnam and austerity in the colonial mother countries was at odds with the vision millions of young people had for the future of the world in which they hoped to live.

Whether in the Arab Spring or Occupy, or Paris' Nuit Debout, the youth movement lights the spark. But it becomes a real threat to the power of the 1%ers when it connects with labor movement (often a little slower on the uptake) and the freedom movements of the most oppressed sectors of society as it did in Paris 48 years ago.

This would make for a great discussion topic today at RIOTcon in Chicago where I'm doing a lunch chat, along with my brother Fred. Come join us.

But you can call off the spies, Mr. Mayor. RIOT in this case, is simply an acronym for Raging Issues of Today. The conference is sponsored by the Chicago Theological Seminary. Your citadel is still secure, for now.

According to CTS:
These two days feature a dynamic program and training schedule, including three keynote addresses, panel discussions and workshops led by the brightest minds of today.
Thank you. Thank you.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How I get my news

At Fight For 15 rally in Chicago

Funny way to get the protest news. This morning's traffic report on NBC News warns me to watch out for Fight for 15 protests tying up downtown traffic. Thanks @KyeMartin. I'll rush right over.

More breaking news from CJR. Arne Duncan and his replacement at DOE, John King discover there's actual school segregation in Pinellas County, Florida.
 ...the US Department of Education opened a civil rights investigation into the district, the Times reported. Top department officials had first visited the district after reading the original Times series, which made clear that these aren’t just any struggling schools—they’re schools where student performance plummeted beginning in 2007, when the district abandoned an integration plan that had been in place for decades and the schools became resegregated.
Remember, it was then-Ed Sec. Duncan who, in 2013, came out firmly against what he called, "forced integration".  Shades of  "Bull Connor" and Orville Faubus.

CJR and local media have labeled re-segregated, impoverished Florida schools as "failure factories", a term more appropriate for the Duncan/King Dept. of Ed.

Duncan's reign was marked by his misuse of federal funding to favor (even mandate through Race To The Top) the spread of privately-run charter schools.

This from Phi Delta Kappa:
The fact is we don’t have to guess about the consequences of one of the Obama Administration’s most visible policies: the national expansion of charter schools. We need only turn to a large body of relevant research showing that charter schools, on average, don’t have an academic advantage over traditional public schools (Gill et al., 2007; Gleason, Clark, Tuttle, & Dwoyer, 2010), but they do have a significant risk of leading to increased segregation (Booker, Zimmer, & Buddin, 2005; Gulosino & d’Entremont, 2011).
Remember too, that it was Duncan, while CEO of Chicago schools back in '07, who lobbied to have the city's deseg consent decree thrown out, which it finally was in 2009.

So the next time you hear these guys say that "education is the civil rights issue of our time", nod and ask them, "which side are you on?"

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hillary throws Randi a bone on Common Core "roll-out". Is this all we get for her endorsement?

Hillary at Newsday
"Well, I have always supported national standards. I've always believed that we need to have some basis on which to determine whether we're making progress, vis-à-vis other countries..." -- Hillary Clinton tells Newsday
 “I believe the Common Core State Standards may prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education.” -- Arne Duncan, June 25, 2013
Looks like Hillary Clinton threw a bone to Randi Weingarten Monday night, when she called the roll out of the Common Core education standards “disastrous”. 
They didn't even have, as I'm told, they didn't even have the instructional materials ready. They didn't have any kind of training programs. Remember a lot of states had developed their own standards and they'd been teaching to those standards. And they had a full industry that was training teachers to understand what was going to be tested. And then along comes Common Core and you're expected to turn on a dime. It was very upsetting to everybody.
Was this payback for Randi's premature (before Hillary even announced her candidacy) endorsement? If so, is this all we get in exchange for her toadyism? Or was HC simply re-positioning herself (triangulating) vis-a-vis her likely opponent in November, Donald Trump,  who attacks Common Core from the right?

Hillary, and the Democrats have been long-time supporters of Common Core, but she been trying to avoid the subject during the primary because of CC's unpopularity with parents and educators from left to right on the political spectrum. For that matter, so has Bernie Sanders.

But why criticize just the roll-out?

This focus on the "roll out", with little mention of the dis-empowerment of classroom teachers, or the mandated testing regimen which now drives curriculum and teacher evaluation, echoes the rhetoric of the AFT and NEA leadership. Along with the Democratic Party leadership, they were originally all-in on this "bi-partisan" (Jeb Bush's baby) legislation. Just like they were on No Child Left Behind and its latest incarnation NESA. But resistance from parents as well as from their own rank-and-file has forced them into a more critical stance.

After the Chicago Teachers Union passed its anti-CC resolution in 2014, Randi came to Chicago and sounded a little more like CTU Pres. Karen Lewis. She even called the standards, "developmentally inappropriate". A big leap Hillary hasn't yet made.

Hillary did tell Newsday that she opposes evaluating teachers based on student test results "as long as the tests are flawed" and thinks the question of whether they’d ever be good enough to rate teachers on is "too hypothetical to answer right now". That's about as good as it's going to get from Hillary and the Democrats.

But she added, that she wouldn’t opt out granddaughter Charlotte from New York’s standardized tests (even if they are flawed?).

Poor Charlotte.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Michele Bollinger, teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C.
“Why should Lynne Cheney get to tell me what I teach in my classroom?” -- N.Y. Times
Michelle Strater Gunderson, first-grade teacher
 I teach first grade in a neighborhood school for the Chicago Public Schools. The PARCC exam begins in the third grade, but even though my students did not take the test, their schedules and learning were still disrupted and negatively affected by the tests. -- Living in Dialogue
Kate Grossman
In a high-school universe defined by choice, these schools and students are the clear losers. Chicago’s neediest students are clustered at the bottom of the pecking order of the district, in the most under-resourced and embattled schools. -- Atlantic
North Carolina NAACP Pres. William Barber
 “We cannot be silent in the face of this race-based, class-based, homophobic and transphobic attack on wage earners, civil rights, and the LGBTQ community, Together with our many allies, we will coordinate a campaign of nonviolent direct action along with other forms of nonviolent protest that will instruct our legislators with respect to the rights of all people.” -- The State
Springsteen guitarist, Steven Van Zandt won't play in N.C.
  "This sort of thing is spreading like an evil virus around the country. We felt we better stop this, we should try and stop this early, and hopefully other people will rise up and join us." -- London Telegraph
Andy Richter remembers Hastert's chair
“I went to Yorkville HS ’80-’84 & I remember this chair. Purportedly ‘to keep boys from fighting,’” -- Sun-Times
CIA Director John Brennan on waterboarding
 "I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I've heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure," -- NBC News

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The union makes us strong

Karen Lewis not only was re-elected by acclaim by CTU's House of Delegates, she out-polls the mayor 3-1.
Congratulations to CTU President Karen Lewis and her fellow CORE-slated candidates on being re-elected by acclamation (no opposition slate ran against CORE) as leaders of the teachers union for another term. The re-election of the slate is testimony not only to broad teacher support and respect President Lewis enjoys, but also to the need felt by union members for unity of action in the face of anti-union attacks.

If not for last year's health problems, President Lewis would likely be Mayor Lewis today. She and the union continue to out-poll Rahm Emanuel citywide, offering hope that an end of mayoral control of the schools is on the horizon.

That unity and discipline were also on display on April 1st, when some 30,000 teachers and staff took to the streets in a one-day strike, demanding fair and adequate funding for public education. This in response to the board's violations of their own contract agreements and Gov. Rauner's ongoing hostage-taking of the state's school budget.

In the weeks leading up to the strike, teachers faced threats of punishment from CEO Forrest Claypool. Local media sent reporters out desperately searching for teachers willing to scab on their striking union brothers and sisters. They even found a couple. But when it came to the Day of Action, nary a scab could be found.

Leading up to the strike, there were obvious internal disagreements within the CTU over tactics. In the end, the vote by union delegates to authorize the strike won by a margin of 486-124.

Hooray for internal struggle within a democratic union. The national AFT could learn a thing or two from the way the CTU struggles out its differences. Once dissenting voices were heard and the vote taken within the union's House of Delegates, union members closed ranks and their strike drew citywide support. It offered a powerful show of union and community strength and is most likely a harbinger of things to come in May if teachers are still forced to work without a fair contract.

CPS is now claiming that 247 CTU members crossed union picket lines.

S-T's Lauren Fitzpatrick writes:
 The bulk of them, 173, were teachers, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. She had no details of where those workers reported or how CPS counted them.
I have my doubts. But then I don't believe anything CPS' Liar-In-Chief Emily Bittner says. Since schools were shut down tighter than a drum and parents kept students home or out on the picket lines, the question is, what were these 173 out of 27,000 teachers supposedly doing that day?

In any event, even if these reports are true, that's a minuscule number of strike-breakers.

Let the dogs howl. The union makes us strong.

One final note from an old hand.

S-T's Mick Dumke reports today that Chicago undercover cops are being diverted from dealing with the city's gun violence pandemic and are being sent instead to spy on protest groups.
The police department already had been monitoring the actions and online postings of protest groups in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri. Then, in October, the records show Ralph Price, the police department’s top lawyer, signed off on a plan to send undercover cops to “monitor” meetings of four additional groups. They included Black Lives Matter activists, as well as churches and philanthropic organizations. 
A month later — after the court-ordered release of police dashcam video showing a white Chicago cop, Officer Jason Van Dyke, shooting and killing a black teenager, Laquan McDonald — a top Emanuel aide went to the command center of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications to keep tabs on protests organized by the Black Youth Project 100, one of the groups spied on by the police.
FBI Chief Hoover and Pres. Nixon launched COINTELPRO.
Back in the day, I and thousands of other Chicagoans were victimized and had our civil liberties violated by similar programs of spying, disruption and intimidation. Operation COINTELPRO and the Chicago Red Squad were central to the plan, which wasn't limited to spying, but included more heinous acts, including the assassination of Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton. The Red Squad and FBI spread misinformation, gossip and rumors among and within various organizations in their efforts to sow division and destroy social movements.

I was part of a lawsuit that resulted in an agreement by the city to disband the Red Squad and cease and desist the spying on protest groups.
After 11 years of litigation, a 1985 court decision ended the Chicago Police Department's Subversive Activities Unit's unlawful surveillance of political dissenters and their organizations. In the fall of 1974, the Red Squad destroyed 105,000 individual and 1,300 organizational files when it learned that the Alliance to End Repression was filing a lawsuit against the unit for violating the U.S. Constitution. The records that remain are housed at the Chicago Historical Society. The public requires special permission to access them until 2012. (Encyclopedia of Chicago)
I visited the Historical Society's archives this week to review my own files.  It's a great site for a school research project.

Looks like Rahm is back at it again. Be careful out there.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Cruz came to the Bronx touting charter schools. But he was the one who got schooled. [Updated]

Malaika Mataba (l.) and Shula Selby helped draft the letter that led to Bronx Lighthouse Charter School to cancel Ted Cruz's appearance Wednesday.
[Correction/clarification: The references below to N.Y. charter boss Eva Moskowitz weren't meant to imply that Lighthouse charters were part of her personal network. But rather that she has become the powerful leader and spokesperson for the district's charter schools as a whole. Thanks to Diane Ravitch for the heads-up. -- mk]

I tried to warn them. When I first head that Donald Trump was holding a rally in Chicago, I asked, who on his staff thought that was a good idea?

When he ventured into Chicago last month, Trump was greeted by a coalition of thousands of protesters, inside and outside the UIC Pavilion. Seeing the size and militancy of the protest, he quickly cancelled his rally and hightailed it out of town. Trump's racist, anti-immigrant, misogynistic, and homophobic campaign may well have met its Waterloo in Chicago. The seemingly invincible campaign has been tumbling downhill ever since.

Ted Cruz down on "New York values". It's mutual. 
On Wednesday, Ted Cruz wandered into NYC attacking "New York values" and talking education. His strategists must have thought his pro-charter, school "choice" message would give him cover in the inner-city. Instead, he was the one who got schooled at a Bronx charter school of all places. 

According the NYDN,
The lesson came from a group of Bronx high school students who told the Republican presidential candidate to stay away. Cruz was scheduled to speak at Bronx Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy until students wrote a letter to the principal asking her not to let Cruz come, prompting staffers to cancel the appearance.
After her board invited Cruz to Lighthouse, Principal Alix Duggins was afraid to cancel without their permission. So the students planned their walkout.
"We told her if he came here, we would schedule a walkout," said Destiny Domeneck, 16. "Most of us are immigrants or come from immigrant backgrounds. Ted Cruz goes against everything our school stands for."
The students' letter made it clear that they had no use for Cruz' "misogynistic, homophobic, and racist" politics and would take action he came to their school.

Fearing a student walkout and a parent revolt, the charter school's CEO Khori Whittaker stepped in, patted the kids on the head, and cancelled Cruz.

A huge embarrassment, not only for Cruz, but for N.Y. charter boss Eva Moskowitz as well.

Lighthouse is a so-called "no excuses" school. The charter company operates 11 schools in NYC and one in D.C. It's one of Moskowitz' "choosiest of charters", with only a 5.9% admission rate and an extremely high (54%) teacher turnover rate.

The wingnuts at Breitbart have their undies in a twist.

The Bronx isn't Texas.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Crisis and/of Leadership

"Don’t follow leaders
 Watch the parkin’ meters"
-- Robert Zimmerman

In '65, a prophetic Dylan must have had vision of Chicago which included Mayor Daley's notorious parking meter deal. But it's the first line that should generate the most reflection on our part.

Joshua Rothman might well be describing today's corporate-style school reformers when he writes in the New Yorker:
People who fetishize leadership sometimes find themselves longing for crisis. They yearn for emergency, dreaming of a doomsday to be narrowly averted...
...Elizabeth Samet writes, in the introduction to “Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers” (Norton). “If we live in a world of crisis, we also live in a world that romanticizes crisis—that finds in it fodder for an addiction to the twenty-four-hour news cycle, multiple information streams, and constant stimulation.” 
Many of today’s challenges are too complex to yield to the exercise of leadership alone. Even so, we are inclined to see the problems of the present in terms of crises and leaders.
She quotes John Adams, who suggested, in a letter to a friend, that there was something both undemocratic and unwise in the lionization of leadership. The country won't improve, Adams wrote, until the people begin to "consider themselves as the fountain of power."
Plenty to think about here, especially when the two leading candidates for president are campaigning on the promise that they and only they, have the power to "make deals" (Trump) or "get things done" (Clinton). Here in Chicago, we have institutionalized the lionization of leadership by giving the mayor autocratic power over our public schools.

It also brings to mind power philanthropists, like Gates, Broad, and Walton, who hide their wealth in huge tax-exempt foundations and leverage it to erode and override public space and public decision making.

Monday, April 4, 2016


CTU Pres. Karen Lewis
"This is not a moment," CTU President Karen Lewis said to a raucous rally in the campus commons at Chicago State University. "Brothers and sisters, this is a movement." -- Tribune
Drew Faust, president of Harvard University
 “Although we embrace and regularly celebrate the storied traditions of our nearly 400-year history, slavery is an aspect of Harvard‘s past that has rarely been acknowledged or invoked. Harvard was directly complicit in America’s system of racial bondage from the college’s earliest days in the 1700s until slavery in Massachusetts ended in 1783.” -- Harvard Crimson
Yohuru Williams, Fairfield University professor
“Choosing to opt out is one way of fighting back against the tide of corporate education reform with its emphasis on high-stakes testing, which has had a traumatizing effect on young people. We have a moral responsibility to demand that the government attack the real source of inequality in American society, which is poverty, rather than promoting schemes that discourage rather than encourage social justice.” -- Answer Sheet
Adam Hochschild, asked about the title of his new book
It comes from a quotation from Albert Camus, which I should know by heart by now but don’t. But it goes something like—he said it some nine or 10 years after the [Spanish Civil] war: "Men of my generation have always had Spain in our hearts. There we learned that you could be right but still be defeated, that courage was not its own reward." -- Democracy Now
With supporters like Ben Carson...
"Donald Trump has major defects. Are there better people? Probably.” -- Huffington

Friday, April 1, 2016

Strike morning

 Oscar DePriest  teachers load up the picket signs.

After stopping at Dunkin's for a bucket of coffee to bring with us, Susan and I are heading down to Telpochcalli Elementary school in Little Village later this morning to walk the picket line with my daughter Jennifer and her CTU brothers and sisters.

BTW, thanks to Spoken Cafe on Montrose for their offer of free breakfast to teachers heading to the strike line.

It's the logical school for me to walk the line because I've been a part of that small (by design) neighborhood school since it was founded by teachers as part of the early small-school movement. And the school's been a part of me.

Jennifer has been a teacher there from the beginning. My grandson Oscar went to Telpo and I'm forever grateful to his teachers for the loving care and support he received there. He's my pride and joy,  16 now and a high school sophomore.  So maybe, we should spend some time picketing at the high school as well. We'll see how things go.

The one-day teachers strike for school funding and fiscal reform comes in response to the continuing violations of the contract by the board and Gov. Rauner's hostage taking of the state's school budget. Rauner is using his hold on the budget to fulfill his dream of a Republican-led state takeover of Chicago's public schools and the busting of all public employee unions, especially the CTU.

His manufactured budget crisis even threatens to shutter predominantly-black Chicago State University on the city's south side.

The strike is drawing support from parent groups, several of the city's unions -- including SEIU Local 1 which led its own one-day strike of airport workers yesterday out at O'hare -- and from community organizations from across the city. If the weather holds up, this afternoon's rally and march should be huge.

This despite threats directed at teachers by CEO Forrest Claypool and a vicious and misleading, anti-union media offensive, the likes of which I haven't seen in years. Both papers and CBS News have even sent reporters out, beating the bushes, with little success, to find one or two teachers willing to scab on their colleagues.

The worst, as you might expect, was an editorial in the Tribune calling the strike "Tantrum Day" and calling on teachers to "rebel" against their own union. Remember, it was the Tribune board that recommended "Mussolini-like" command and control over CPS.

The Sun-Times hasn't been much better with articles referring to CTU Pres. Karen Lewis as a "boss" and hoping against hope that some teachers will cross the line.

Crain's Greg Hinz offers his own unsolicited tactical advice, telling teachers that their efforts amount to just "noise" and are bound to fail.

Fail or not, it's better to stand up and fight than sit passively and hope that our sociopath governor and autocrat mayor concede out of the goodness of their hearts.

Today's strike is just another step in a long struggle to save and transform public education. If things don't change, a bigger and protracted strike in May is on the horizon.