Friday, April 28, 2017

A May Day letter from Bob Ross

Dear Friends and Comrades

For many years I have written a Mayday letter as an act of remembering and a contribution to keeping hope alive.

In each of these years I have tried to nudge the rendition with notes about our current challenges. So, here for yesterday today and tomorrow, I offer my contribution to the celebration of International Workers Day, 2017

The story of May Day
MAY DAY 2017: We were all strangers once, and we worked for our livelihood

Robert J.S. Ross,

The story of May Day begins with the struggle to make the eight-hour workday the legal and economic norm for wageworkers. In the older industrial countries, this struggle was largely successful, though, as we have seen the last forty years of apparel and other work has brought old abuses back. Here in the United States we work more annual hours than almost all of our Western European counterparts, according to the OECD. It makes sense to think about this history carefully.

Had the task of regulating the workday been left only to market effects of economic growth, and not social, political and trade union action, how many more of us would be toiling the same ten and twelve-hour days that our grandparents did, or that sewing machine operators in Los Angeles and Bangladesh and Guangdong Province do now?

So it is time to reflect: May Day has become an international day to celebrate workers’ ability to create better lives for themselves their families and their communities.  Its origin is in the American struggle for that most precious of human resources:  time!

Since late in the eighteenth century American workers had sought to protect their lives and families and their humanity by limiting the hours of the workday.  In 1844 John Cluers led a labor federation calling for July 4 of that year to be declared a Second Independence Day in support of the ten-hour day.

In the Fall of 1885 the predecessor to the American Federation of Labor (AFL) decided upon May 1886 as the start of a series of strikes for the eight hour day.   They called for demonstrations declaring that after May 1 the working day would be de facto eight hours.  Hundreds of thousands did demonstrate and strike that day, and tens of thousands won shorter hours.   The most memorable and tragic events of the 1886 struggle occurred in the days directly after what Samuel Gompers grandly called the Second Independence Day.

In Chicago, the Lumber Shovers union of 10,000 was on strike for the eight-hour day.  They held a rally on May 3rd.  The earlier May 1st rally in Chicago had been gigantic, and the city was tense.

The May 3 rally took place very near the McCormick Harvester works, then gripped in a bitter lock-out and strike.  As the workday ended at Harvester, strikebreakers came through the gates and some of the six thousand rallying workers protested against them.  Police shot at the rallying lumber shovers and killed four.

On the next day, May 4, the leaders of the Chicago Eight-hour movement, anarcho-syndicalists of exceptional leadership ability, most of whom were immigrants, called for a protest of the shootings and a demonstration of resolve.  It was rainy and there were numerous neighborhood rallies that day. The crowd was small.  It dwindled from three thousand when the charismatic Albert Spies spoke, followed by his comrade Albert Parsons.  By the time Samuel Fielden began his address the crowd had become only 300.

Then, 180 armed police, who had been waiting in a side street, marched into Haymarket Square, surrounded the small throng, and ordered the crowd to disperse. Fielden defended his right to speak.  The police approached the platform and a bomb was thrown at them.  One officer died there and six later.  Later research showed that the five of the six police who later died were shot by friendly fire as a result of police indiscriminately firing into the crowd.

With scant evidence, the leaders of the eight-hour movement were tried and convicted of the murder of one of the police. Four were eventually hanged in November 1887; years later a courageous governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld pardoned three who were still in jail.  One of the eight died in prison (a suicide).

After the convictions of the Haymarket leaders a worldwide movement in their defense spread through the labor and socialist camps.  Thus, the American struggle for an eight-hour day was internationalized by the trial of the Haymarket martyrs.

At home, the defense efforts were not successful – although three of the eight eventually had their death sentences commuted and they were later pardoned. The Haymarket bombing sparked the first Red Scare.  Police around the country hounded labor leaders and socialist and anarchist groups. However, by 1888, Gompers and the AFL were ready to launch once again a militant movement for the eight-hour day.  The AFL called for a series of demonstrations, including Washington’s Birthday and July 4th 1889, and May 1, 1890.

In the summer of 1889, the (Second) Socialist International was being refounded in Paris.  A representative from the AFL read a letter from Gompers to the Socialist Congress asking for support for worldwide demonstrations in favor of the eight-hour day.  The French representative LaVigne inserted into a prior resolution on the eight hour day support for the American demonstrations on May 1st 1890.

And so, around the world on May 1, 1890, workers called for the eight-hour workday – and many struck and achieved it or shorter hours.  In Vienna, the entire working class called the day off.  In the United States, the Carpenters, leaders in the struggle, won shorter hours for 75,000 workers.  By the next year, 1891, it appeared that the May 1st demonstrations for a shorter workday had become an international and regular practice, becoming also a call for universal peace and a celebration of working class power.

Eventually, the conservative wing of the AFL would cause that labor federation to give up ownership of May Day and instead to preserve Labor Day in September as a more conventional American celebration.

Recently though, our knowledge of working conditions in a world that has become de facto one large labor pool, has or should have made us more sharply aware of the role of social regulation, and the ways in which our current practices were earned.  The laureates of the market would have us believe that those demonstrations and strikes – that blood and honor – were simply small absurd sideshows to history.

When trade and labor standards are discussed the history of norms of decency for labor is often obscured.  Mayday –the international workers’ day – began in the United States as a struggle for the eight-hour day.

Recall the lines from James Oppenheim’s famous (1911) poem,
“Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for -- but we fight for roses, too!
…No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

Time to smell the roses --that is one meaning of Mayday.

Here is the heartfelt expression from the even earlier Eight Hour Song of the 1880’s:

“We want to feel the sunshine,
we want to smell the flowers
We’re sure that God has willed it,
        And we mean to have eight hours”

This year, Mayday demonstrations in the United States are led by immigrants and their advocates. It is proper that we should all remember that we are all immigrants, we have all been strangers. Of the eight Haymarket martyrs, those arrested, among whom four were hanged, six were immigrants from Germany, one was born to immigrant parents, and one was descended from English immigrants to Rhode Island in the 1630’s.

Jews are taught, in their celebration of Passover, that each year they are to understand they are personally liberated from bondage and that they too were once strangers.

And so are we all, universal strangers trying to live in a new era. We all deserve decent working conditions, living wages, and a chance to smell the roses.

There is a March or commemoration on Monday, May 1, near you: the stranger near you is your neighbor.


Robert J.S. Ross, PhD
Research Professor of Sociology and
The Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise
Clark University

A new course at CPS. Studying Jon Burge.

Chicago teachers are currently reviewing the curriculum for a new districtwide course on the history of the disgraced former Chicago Police Department commander Jon Burge who systematically abused and tortured suspects on the South Side to force confessions for two decades.

According to a report on Chicago Tonight, the three to five week class – titled “Reparations Won: A Case Study in Police Torture, Racism And the Movement for Justice in Chicago” – was developed through the CPS Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement as part of a professional learning series for eighth and 10th graders beginning next school year.

This comes more than a year after the city passed a $5.5 million reparations package for torture survivors that included, in part, a lesson on the cases to be included in CPS’ existing history curriculum. All told, the city has paid out $100 million in legal fees and settlements related to Burge cases, dating back as far as 1982. Burge was fired in 1993.
“The torture and other abuse committed by Burge and officers under his command are a disgrace to the City and to the hard-working men and women of the Chicago Police Department,” a 10th grade unit overview states. “To remind the City of the injustices that occurred and to ensure that they are not repeated, the City will acknowledge and educate the public about this dark chapter in Chicago’s history.”
IT WASN'T JUST BURGE...I haven't seen the course outline but I'm hoping it will show students the larger context in which the systematic torture of mostly African-American and Latino prisoners took place over a period of decades, I'm thinking here about the culpability of CPD and political higher-ups like former mayor and then-States Attorney Richard M. Daley under whose watch the torture by Burge and his "midnight crew" took place.

Course designers would also do well to include those like Det. Reynaldo Guevara who carried on the Burge tradition in the recently-dismissed murder cases against Roberto Almodovar and William Negron. 

You can read all about disgraced Det. Guevara and how he beat confessions out of Almodovar, Negron and dozens of other Latino ment, in this Chicago Reporter article by today's in-studio guest on Hitting Left, Curtis Black.

Tune in to Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers this morning at 11 (CDT) on Lumpen Radio Chicago. We will also be talking pension theft with Bob Lyons who's about to retire after a dozen years on the board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trump orders DeVos to do a study. Why?

Today's Washington Post reports that Trump will sign an executive order requiring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to study how the federal government “has unlawfully overstepped state and local control."

This raises some obvious questions. First, why does the president need an executive order to make his hand-picked ed secretary do a study? Can't he just pick up the phone and say, "Hey Betsy. Get one of your peeps to knock out a study for me by next week showing... blah blah blah"?

Secondly, why do they even bother calling it a "study" when the conclusions are known in advance? I know what you're thinking: Klonsky, stop being naive. This is the nature of education research these days.

Yes, you're right, with some exceptions (Congrats Kevin Welner). That's why we need to look at all research with a critical eye--especially studies coming from contracted think-tanks and university centers. But this Trump-ordered study is farcical on its face, although the topic of federal overstep is worth talking about.

No Child Left Behind was clearly federal overstep, with Bush's D.O.E. leveraging its relatively small amount of federal dollars to mandate overuse of standardized testing. The same can be said for Arne Duncan's Race to the Top, which imposed massive school closings, teacher/principal firings and the unrestrained growth of privately-run charter schools on local school districts.

But clearly, those aren't the target of Trump's executive order. What he's aiming at are the system's already dwindling civil rights protections.

According to WaPo:
Obama’s Education Department was notably aggressive on civil rights in schools, not only in directing schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity, but also in pushing for school-discipline reforms and in pushing colleges to overhaul their handling of sexual assaults on campus.
Those efforts, coupled with the department’s sometimes wide-ranging investigations into thousands of complaints of alleged discrimination against students nationwide, also led to complaints of federal overreach in some quarters. But advocates who welcomed the attention on civil rights fear that the Trump administration’s campaign to shrink the federal role in education will translate into weaker protections for vulnerable students.
The only thing I would disagree with here is this praise for Obama's Ed Dept's "aggressive" stand on civil rights. My take is that Arne Duncan's D.O.E. was halfhearted in its enforcement of federal law and that Duncan, despite his oft-repeated claim that school reform was the "civil rights issue of our time," didn't do nearly enough.

I'm thinking here, about the time when Duncan undermined Obama's Justice Dept. just when Atty. General Eric Holder was about to take legal action against Louisiana's voucher program which discriminated against minorities. Duncan pressured Holder to pull back his federal lawsuit for fear it would interfere with "choice" (charters and vouchers). Duncan also admitted that he was opposed to "forced integration."

But forced integration was exactly what much of civil rights law was all about -- as opposed to forced segregation. Rather than federal overstep, what we saw from Duncan's D.O.E. was federal conciliation with racists and school segregationists such as then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and then-governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal.

Trump's latest executive order is aimed at eliminating what's left of Brown v. Board of Ed and the rest of existing civil rights oversight of public education.

Monday, April 24, 2017

It was just a dream

Mayor Duncan?  Yikes!
I woke up at 2 a.m. in a cold sweat.

In my horrific dream, it was 2019 and Arne Duncan had somehow become the mayor of Chicago. He had been brought back into town by a mysterious collective of super-rich patrons. With a $60M war-chest, Duncan was able to narrowly defeat the candidate backed by progressives (wasn't clear who that was in my dream).

Rahm Emanuel decided not to run for a third term and instead, threw his support and campaign money behind Duncan in exchange for Democratic Party support for his run for the presidency. The plan was to have DNC favorite Rahm run on a ticket with someone like Elizabeth Warren to "unite the party" against Trump. Weird -- I know.

In my dream, this secret cabal of hedge-funders and downtown hotel billionaires had spent two years trying to re-package Duncan as a "progressive" after his dismal performance as Secretary of Education and architect behind the same massive privatization and school closings that had made Rahm untenable as a mayor. These were policies that had devastated the city's black community and set the stage nationally for the Trump backlash election and the installment of Betsy DeVos as the nation's ed secretary.

But by somehow attaching himself to Barack Obama's Chicago legacy and positioning himself as the "civil rights leader of our time", Duncan was able to neutralize opposition in the African-American community, divide progressive voters and with solid support on the lake shore and Hyde Park liberals, ride victorious into City Hall.

Thank goodness, it was just a dream.

Then this morning I read this Sun-Times piece about Obama's visit to Chicago this past weekend.
Obama was invited to a neighborhood center at 420 W. 111th by former Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan is now a managing partner at the nonprofit Emerson Collective and working on projects to help reduce crime in Chicago by training and finding jobs for at-risk young men.
 I'm going back to bed.


Tens of thousands of marchers for science packed the National Mall Saturday

Charles Cappell, sociologist and retired NIU prof 

“It seems absurd that we have to march for something as fundamental as science. But with the current administration, it seems you have to defend the basic facts of science." -- Tribune
Elizabeth Warren in Chicago on Saturday
"Never in my life did I think I was going to have to find modifiers for the word 'facts'." -- Politico
Bernie Sanders
"Let me be very clear. It is imperative that Jon Ossoff be elected congressman from Georgia's 6th District and that Democrats take back the U.S. House." -- NBC News
CA Senate leader, Kevin de León on 'Sanctuary Cities'
Trump and Sessions are basing law enforcement policies “on principles of white supremacy — not American values.” -- New York Times
Kevin Hoffman  
“As calls to reform the way Illinois funds public education grow louder, new data released on per student spending is a stark reminder of the disparity that exists among the state’s school districts." -- Reboot Illinois

Friday, April 21, 2017

Randi's school visit gambit with Betsy DeVos

DeVos and Weingarten at Van Wert H.S. 
AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten seems convinced that she can show Trump's Ed. Sec. Betsy DeVos the error of her ways. By touring a few public schools together with DeVos, Randi hopes to show her that public schools are not the devil's workshop after all and should be supported by the D.O.E., rather than demolished as is essentially the stated ambition of the Trump administration.

Even after DeVos' first visit to Jefferson Academy in D.C. began with her having to sneak in the back door to avoid protesting parents and community members and ending with her debasing the teachers there, Weingarten's response has been to plead with DeVos to do another school visit, but this time with her.

I don't know what there is about photo-op school visits she thinks are so powerful as to turn this evangelical hater of anything public into an advocate for public ed. But Randi is a committed corporate liberal who has faith in the good intentions of corporate power brokers and profiteers and her ability to get them to do the right thing if only they give her a seat at the table. Here, I'm thinking back to the union's brief flirtation with Bill Gates or Randi's flights to Chicago to support Rahm's Infrastructure Trust or to London to sit in on Pearson board meetings 

DeVos flees protesters at D.C. school.
So DeVos agreed and she and Randi toured Van Wert H.S. in Ohio together yesterday. The visit got a nice write-up by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.
DeVos agreed to visit a traditional public school with Weingarten, who chose to take the education secretary to the small, rural Van Wert school district in Ohio, where about half of the students come from high-poverty neighborhoods. Weingarten wrote in an op-ed that just ran in a local newspaper in Van Wert that she sees the district as a model for others trying to improve:
The hallmarks of successful public schools (and systems) include four essential strategies: promoting children’s well-being, engaging in powerful learning, building teacher and principal capacity, and fostering cultures of collaboration. Van Wert puts these four pillars into practice.
 In contrast, Ohio’s charter schools have been plagued by fraud, mid-year school closings, lying about student attendance to receive additional funding, mismanagement, and an overall lack of accountability that has led even charter proponents to call Ohio the “Wild, Wild West” of charter schools. One study by state auditors found more than $27 million in improperly spent funds at Ohio charters. The Akron Beacon Journal found that “charter schools misspend public money nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency.”
When DeVos agreed to visit a traditional public school with Weingarten, the union leader agreed to visit a charter school with DeVos. That visit has yet to be scheduled.
If some WaPo ink is all Randi was after, all well and good. But if she's providing some union cover for DeVos in exchange for some credibility with the Trump administration, she's playing a fool's game.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Eve Ewing (top) and Sarah Chambers.
Tomorrow on Hitting Left, our in-studio guest will be Eve Ewing. Eve is a sociologist of education whose research focuses on racism and the inequality of public school system. She's currently doing a post-doc at the University of Chicago.

Her first collection of poetry, essays, and visual art, Electric Arches, is forthcoming from Haymarket Books in fall 2017, and she co-edited the fiction anthology Beyond Ourselves.  Her work has appeared in venues such as Poetry, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Nation, The Washington Post, Union Station, the anthology The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop and many other outlets. Eve is proud to be one-half of the poetry duo Echo Hotel, alongside Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib. She is also the co-director of Crescendo Literary, a partnership that develops resources and events rooted in community-engaged art; with Crescendo she co-created the Emerging Poets Incubator and the Chicago Poetry Block Party. Eve has held residencies at the WordXWord Festival and AIR Serenbe, where she was a recipient of a Focus Fellowship. She is an editor emerita of Seven Scribes.

We will also be talking with Chicago special education teacher Sarah Chambers in her 8th year at Saucedo Academy, who's been suspended and could be fired by CPS for allegedly engaging in “misconduct” related to a standardized test.
“I received an email the day before spring break that I was suspended, with no explanation at all,” she told Chicago Tonight. “I was very shocked, very angry for not being able to be with my kids, for them harming my kids.”
Supporters met outside Saucedo on Tuesday afternoon in a show of solidarity with Chambers after more than 3,000 people signed an online petition calling for her reinstatement.
Marguerite Horberg, founder and director of the Hot House will tell us about the May Day cultural extravaganza she is planning following the massive march the afternoon of May 1st.

Tune in to hear the Klonsky Bros. Hitting Left on Friday at 11 a.m. CDT, on WLPN 105.5 F.M., streaming live at Lumpen Radio. If you have an IPhone, download the Lumpen Radio app.

If you miss the show live, you can always listen to the podcast 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What did Rahm and DeVos meet about? No one seems to know.

File under #Transparency #Accountability

Rahm Emanuel met with Betsy DeVos a week ago. But we still don't know what the meeting was about.Why not? 

All we saw was this cryptic press release from the D.O.E.:
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel at the Department of Education’s LBJ Building, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W.
The Secretary and Mayor had a wide ranging discussion on Chicago’s education system, rising graduation rate and the Mayor’s reform plans.
The Secretary thanked the Mayor for visiting the Department and for sharing his thoughts, and issued the following statement:
“I want to thank Mayor Emanuel for today’s conversation and for sharing his vision for education in the city of Chicago. I look forward to continuing to find ways in which the Department can work with the Mayor’s office to ensure the students of Chicago receive access to the highest quality education possible. I applaud the Mayor for Chicago’s rising high school graduation rates and commitment to providing more students new opportunities through dual enrollment programs."
 Not a word in the Chicago media. Near total blackout...except for this from Chicago Tonight:
A request for comment from Emanuel's office was not immediately returned. Chicago Public Schools declined comment on the meeting, but did note its dual enrollment program has grown from 15 schools up to 60 over the past five years and currently serves more than 4,200 district students. 
Not even a word about privately-run charters? And dual enrollment? That's it?  Sounds like both were afraid to get to close to each other in public.

Putin/Trump syndrome.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Whitenizing Chicago

UNEMPLOYMENT AND DISINVESTMENT by the city and its corporations are destroying neighborhoods and pushing thousands of African-American families out of Chicago and other big cities. Some call it "reverse migration" but the net effect is the whitenizing or gentrification of the cities. 

Another driving force behind this push-out of black and poor from the city, is Mayor Rahm Emanuel's capital investment plan and his closing of schools, mental health facilities, and other city services. While investment-starved neighborhoods suffer, Rahm has pumped millions into ill-conceived projects like the new DePaul basketball arena.  Rahm's policies have further isolated, destabilized and blighted south and west-side neighborhoods, creating conditions for more crime and violence. Whole neighborhoods are now marked by boarded-up homes, stores and schools as thousands of families lose homes to foreclosure.

DePaul's new $200M basketball arena.
An article in Monday's Reader calls Chicago's South Shore neighborhood, "the eviction capital" of the county. Real estate owners and management companies like Pangea and Kass are doing most of the evicting. Last year, Pangea filed more than 1,000 eviction cases, usually also seeking back rent, and won about 60 percent of them.
 "If you want to know Pangea's ambitions, they named themselves after the ancient supercontinent," says Mark Swartz, director of the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing. "They are buying up the south side."
 "The issue is unemployment, and lack of investment by the city and by companies," says alderman Leslie Hairston, whose Fifth Ward includes parts of northern South Shore. Though she says she doesn't hear much about evictions from her constituents, she wasn't surprised to learn about the higher-than-average eviction rate in South Shore. "You look at the number of people working two, three jobs just to try to make ends meet—it's challenging," she says.

Impact on education...The next time you hear Rahm or schools chief Claypool boasting about rising standardized test scores or graduation rates, consider how these jumps (if they are to be believed) correspond to the loss of CPS enrollment, especially on the part of poor and black students.

Monday, April 17, 2017


Thousands crowd Daley Plaza in Chicago, demanding Trump reveal his taxes. 
Shane Bauer
Militias, alt-right, nazis etc won today in Berkeley. They outnumbered the opposition, pushed it back, and held downtown. Today's America. 6:28 PM - 15 Apr 2017 -- Esquire
Head of ICE in N.J.
 "The executive order basically expands who we should be arresting," --
Joe Biden
Let me tell you, it bothers me most if Secretary DeVos is going to really dumb down Title IX enforcement. --  Interview in Teen Vogue
Neal Broverman commentary
If corporate cheerleader DeVos reconsiders the plan to streamline loan servicing, she could hand the giant contract over to Navient, which allegedly "mishandled loan payments, buried critical information in fine print and set obstacles for borrowers trying to release co-signers from their loans, among other failings, according to the consumer bureau’s legal filing." -- Betsy DeVos Screwed You Over Last Week
Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-TX)
“Are we talking about a parents’ right to choose where their child is educated or are we talking about giving public funds to private and faith-based schools...The reality is that we have options in public schools." -- Austin American Statesman
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai
US’ MOAB bomb was an ‘immense atrocity against Afghan people’ -- Al Jezeera

Friday, April 14, 2017

On Hitting Left Today

Jose Rico joins us for conversation about Chicago schools and immigration tomorrow on Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers at 11AM 105.5 FM in Chicago, live streamed around the galaxy. Jose was part of the board's Latino Advisory Committee that resigned in mass in February to protest inequitable cuts in the budget.

Larry Miller
I'll also be interviewing Larry Miller who, along with a slate of progressives, won his election to the Milwaukee school board last week. The slate, backed by the Working Families Party, defeated the well-financed campaigns of some of their opponents by relying on grass-roots organizing. They are committed to rolling back vouchers and other Betsy Devos privatization initiatives.

Another great show. You would be crazy to miss it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Duncan's latest donut. He claims that kids drop out because school is 'too easy'

"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." -- Mike Tyson
In yesterday's Tribune op-ed piece, Arne Duncan jumps in behind Rahm Emanuel's call to make every kid "have a plan" and to make it more difficult for Chicago's predominantly students of color, to graduate from high school.

Neither Duncan nor the mayor are talking about increased school funding or a more rigorous curriculum, a term that is itself problematic, or anything to do with teaching/learning. Instead they want to use bureaucratic powers to force students to get letters, proving that they've been accepted into college, a job, the military or some other program before receiving a diploma. They both are assuming of course that there are jobs and affordable college seats waiting to accept them. That's quite an assumption in these times.

I'm not sure what that would mean for students who want to travel to Europe or Africa, write a novel, paint a masterpiece or drive a cab.

As Dewey once said: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself"

Duncan does allow for a "gap year" before college or military adventures in Syria (he himself avoided military service) but what about a gap two years? Or even a lifetime?

All this amounts to simply another top-down, unfunded mandate, reminiscent of Rahm's imposed longer school-day/school-year. Now, as budget realities set in, the mayor is threatening to shorten the school year by three or four weeks. I wonder who's going to keep track of and verify all those college acceptance and internship letters, now that they've laid off all those counselors, school social workers and clerks and when they can't even afford to keep the schools open?

In his op-ed Duncan claims that students, "don't drop out because school is too hard. They drop out because it is too easy". This statement, coming from a non-educator who somehow was put into top management of Chicago's and then the nation's public schools by his wealthy patrons, shows the hollowness of modern school reform.

Actually, reasons for dropping out go way beyond the classroom and the question of easy or hard. As we all know, what comes easy for some, comes hard for others. There are rigorous (hard) schools in both wealthy and poor, black and white, urban and suburban communities. But we know that high dropout rates correlate with poor schools with high concentrations of kids living in poverty.

Poverty, inequality of opportunity, joblessness, violence, mass incarceration, destruction of social networks all are at play here.  Otherwise, the dropout rate wouldn't correlate so closely with concentrated poverty and students of color. Low-income students are six times more likely to drop out of high school.

As I have pointed out over the years here, the anonymity of large-scale schooling can also be a factor for kids who drop-out because nobody seemed to know them well or care whether or not they stayed or went.

Yes, of course students should "have a plan". But education, if it is to be engaging, can't just be about job preparation and training.

Duncan's reductionist polemic, coming on the heels of Rahm's proposed bureaucratic move to create more hoops tor kids to jump through, brings back memories of his failed Race To The Top. Duncan used that program to threaten the loss of federal funding to school districts in order to impose more standardized testing, school closings, teacher firings and privately-run charters. In other words, he set the table for Betsy DeVos. 

The op-ed indicates to me that Duncan is up to something bigger than promoting a few new hoops (no pun intended) for city kids to jump through. I'm hearing rumors that he's planning a run for mayor after Rahm's term expires and that he's got some big money behind him. Remember, Duncan was one of the main advocates for mayoral control of the schools and is an opponent of an elected school board.

Bankrolling Duncan's Chicago political aspirations is the Emerson Collective, a group founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire widow of Apple founder, Steve Jobs. 

I think they're making a bad investment. 

Monday, April 10, 2017


Vallas/Solomon/Synesi connection was ignored when he ran with Quinn. 
The Watch Dogs
In a series of letters to Louisiana officials who oversaw the New Orleans district, Vallas vouched for Synesi Associates, an education consulting firm that recently had been started in Chicago by a former high school teacher named Gary Solomon.
“This out-of-state provider has a record of demonstrated effectiveness,” Vallas wrote in 2007, citing the “unique experience” of the firm’s staff.  -- Sun-Times
Rev. Jesse Jackson: 
Latinos building the border wall is like blacks building slave ships...If they were going to build slave ships to take blacks back to Africa, I hope blacks would not try to get the contracts. -- USA Today
Glenn Greenwald
Mocking “the instant elevation of Trump into a serious and respected war leader,” Glenn Greenwald in the Intercept recalled John Jay, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, who wrote more than 200 years ago: “However disgraceful it may be to human nature . . . nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it.”
In fact, Jay wrote, “absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it” — except, of course, to scratch that eternal itch for military glory, revenge or self-aggrandizement. -- Washington Post
Rex Tillerson 
Tillerson said that once the threat of the Islamic state "has been reduced or eliminated," the U.S. can focus on stabilizing Syria. -- Politico

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Byrd-Bennett asks judge for less jail time. Says she wants to be a schools consultant.

“If you need ** ANYTHING** let me know. A cocktail, some laughing, a quick run to the casino, we’re here for you!!!” -- Vranas to Byrd-Bennett in 2012. 
“You guys are my family away from home,” she responded. “CASINO….hmmmmm (:”
While prosecutors are calling for at least a seven-year sentence for convicted felon and former Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, she is asking the court for half that. She also told the judge, she'd rather do  "community service" as a schools consultant.

According to the Sun-Times:
 “Barbara wants to help others learn from her mistakes,” defense attorney Michael Scudder wrote in a 27-page sentencing memo published Friday. “She believes that superintendents and school districts across the nation need to redouble their efforts to avoid conflicts of interest with consultants and providers.”
In other words, BBB would like to spend the next few years on the outside, warning school districts against hiring or consulting with people like herself. Brilliant!

I'm in the process of checking out rumors that she also asked the judge if she can have her own pillow, in case she has to do some time.

I can relate to that. I can't sleep a wink with hotel pillows.

She also wants her partners in crime, Gary Solomon and Tom Vranas who profited the most from the $20M rip-off of CPS, to pay the restitution costs. It's only fair, since she indicated in her captured emails, that she already spent what would have been her share of the take, gambling in Vegas and paying for her grandsons' tuition.

Again, I can sympathize. If a woman can't reach out to help her own grand kids, what kind of a world are we living in?
Her lawyer added that Byrd-Bennett is not in a financial position to pay her share of $254,000 in restitution to CPS, unless the others who actually saw profits from the scheme can’t pay the whole thing on their own. “Only if those defendants cannot make full restitution should Barbara be responsible for any remaining portion,”
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s second chosen schools chief was busted for agreeing to take kickbacks from educational consulting companies owned by her former employers, to whom she’d steered some $23 million in no-bid contracts in 2012 and 2013. She never pocketed any of the millions made by those companies’ owners. She was not going to collect any of the kickbacks until leaving CPS to return to their employ; she intended to use the money for her twin grandsons’ college funds.
“I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:” read the email that secured her a place in Chicago corruption history.
To me, it's like the man who murdered his own parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court, pleading that he was an orphan.

Elected officials oppose Vallas' appointment
AND WHAT A PERFECT DAY for Chicago State's Board of Trustees to announce the appointment of Solomon's former Synesi partner, Paul Vallas as a top interim administrator.

According to the Tribune:
Frank Horton, who graduated from Chicago State in 1964, stood to speak against Vallas.
 "Paul Vallas wrecked Chicago Public Schools. He wrecked Philadelphia. He wrecked New Orleans," Horton said, referencing places where Vallas worked. With each proclamation, a woman in the audience replied, "Amen!"
He might have also mentioned Bridgeport, Haiti and Chile...
Horton finished his speech by exhorting the board not to "let this Bruce Rauner bring his people in to control you."
Too late, I'm afraid.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

'School killer' Rahm still on the hunt

Rahm uses Chief Ed Officer Janice Jackson to push his latest school closing scheme. 
Rahm's latest scheme calls for the closing of at least 7 more high schools in Chicago's black community. I know, I know -- he promised the community a moratorium on school closings after blighting the neighborhoods with his 50-school closings four years ago. But now he's promising the Englewood neighborhood a brand new, consolidated $76M large, shiny new high school to mollify the expected opposition.

The mayor's using the same old "underutilization" argument to board up more south-side schools. And it's true that there are about 15 predominantly African-American high schools in the city with enrollments of under 250 students. But there's several things missing from discussion of the consolidation plan (assuming that the decision hasn't already been made and the discussion isn't just for show).
  1. Why is enrollment dropping? The obvious answer has more to do with the whitenizing of the city, including the push-out of more than a quarter-million African-Americans over the past few decades, than anything about the schools themselves. It's about neighborhood gentrification and switching neighborhood populations. Disinvestment, loss of jobs, combined with the closing of schools, businesses and community social-services have left these neighborhoods blighted and dangerous. The Chicago Reporter attributes the enrollment declines and eventual school closings to "a legacy of disinvestment and segregation".
  2. What's the downside to more mass high school closings? Past closings, done despite massive community opposition, haven't saved the city or the school system much, if any money. After a previous round of closings, internal documents leaked to the press showed how school administrators failed to inform the public of associated transition costs for closing and consolidating a proposed 95 public schools. The cost of maintaining the buildings and problems of reuse often led to even greater debt for the city. Four years after the last round, two-thirds of the closed buildings are still vacant. Closings also failed to improve measurable learning outcomes for those students affected by the closings. But they have disrupted the lives of thousands of students, destroyed relationships between students and teachers, and exacerbated the threat of neighborhood gun violence and gang conflicts. 
  3. What's wrong with consolidation? It lessens parent and community participation in school affairs. It creates a larger, more anonymous, more highly tracked learning environment. It leads to lost jobs on the south side for teachers, staff, janitors, clerks, and in adjacent businesses. There's also a greater threat of violence with more students having to cross gang territory lines just to get to school. 
  4. What are the alternatives to more mass school closings? Smarter usage of existing buildings for adult education, housing badly needed community health and other surrounding services. Shifting city high schools to a (non-charter) small-schools model as we have been advocating for 30 years. 
Dyett hunger strikers
In a statement Wednesday night, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said: 
“The Mayor and his handpicked cast of school killers are proposing new obstacles to high school graduation with zero resources. And once again, he’s proposing a new round of school closings in one of the most violent spaces in this city. He continues to prove that he has zero capacity for sound and compassionate leadership. He’s gone from bad to worse.”
Can Rahm's school-killer plan be stopped? Yes it can. Remember how a small group of committed parents and community activists went on a hunger strike and saved Dyett from closing? Just imagine what a much larger and equally committed movement to save our schools could do.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What I told reporter about CPS' falling suspension rate

 "Chicago Public Schools has one of the highest suspension and expulsion rates and the disproportionate use of suspensions." -- Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Feb 7, 2014

This morning, I'm being asked by a reporter to respond to CPS's recently-reported remarkable drop in the rates of suspensions and expulsions since 2012 (67% and 74%) along with a corresponding rise in graduation rate (74%, 85%) and improvements in math and reading scores.

My response won't be much different from the one I gave to the NYT  when I took issue with their previous glowing reports on Chicago's graduation and drop-out rates.

First, I am elated to hear about any improvements in city schools, including lower suspension and expulsion rates. Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan and advocate for public schools and unlike those who currently run CPS and the D.O.E, have sent all three of our children to CPS schools. Currently, my grandson is enrolled at a neighborhood high school in Chicago.

The lowering of suspension/expulsion rates is a key indicator of school improvement. It only makes sense that the more children are in the classroom instead of sitting at home or running the streets, the better chance they have of graduating and going to college (if that is their goal). There's tons of research showing that students who are suspended or expelled have a much greater chance of dropping out altogether.

Despite reported overall reductions in CPS suspension rates, there are still deeply-rooted inequities in the way school punishment is meted out.
The number of suspensions among black and Hispanic students has been cut in half since 2012. But those two groups combined made up more than 96 percent of the district’s total suspensions in the 2015-16 school year, and more than 99 percent – all but three – of its 329 total expulsions.
This past school year, CPS recorded 55,270 total suspensions. Black students within the district were suspended more than 76,000 times in the 2012-13 school  year. That total fell to 39,000 in the 2015-16 school year. The number of Hispanic students receiving suspensions also fell from more than 25,000 down to 13,800 between the 2011-12 and 2015-16 school years. 
It's also unclear if the overall drop in suspensions resulted from policy changes at the top, the way those changes were implemented (ie. Zero-Tolerance was discarded as a district discipline policy back in 2006 but is still being used to different degrees in different schools), or from external factors.

By external factors, I mean large-scale demographic shifts and the resulting loss of 100,000 CPS students (mainly poor and African-American) over the past decade. You know the old dictum. Get rid of those poor kids and test scores will surely rise.

Finally, it's difficult to trust the data now that data itself has become so politically charged and there's so little transparency over at City Hall where all the important decisions about schools are made. So much of it has been misreported in the past. Fudging the numbers has almost become a way of life at the board. Even more with CPS schools still under the autocratic control of the mayor.

Then there's the privately-run charter schools whose boards are rarely inclined to reveal their suspension rates and who routinely, after broad-brush attacks on CPS school, reject students with behavioral issues, learning disabilities or other problems. CPS teachers and principals who despite these external issues, have managed to lower suspension rates, deserve a SmallSchools Salute.

And finally we have a know-nothing, fact-free president and his appointed rube, Betsy DeVos, who sits atop the D.O.E.,  making sweeping statements about "failing" city schools without presenting a shred of evidence. The under-funding of city schools at federal and state levels, means that more troubled kids won't get counseling and other badly-needed services. As a result, more school violence and bad behavior being left for teachers to handle by themselves.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

DeVos' resume

The family tree
Betsy DeVos' appointment as Sec. of Education had less to do with her competency, adroitness, or knowledge of the field than it did with massive donations to the Trump campaign and her family's ties to a web of international intrigue centered around her brother, Blackwater founder and secret Trump attaché, Erik Prince. 

That's the only conclusion I could draw, especially after reading the WaPo story about Prince's secret Seychelles meeting to establish a Trump-Putin back channel.
Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.
Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.
 Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a security firm that became a symbol of U.S. abuses in Iraq after a series of incidents, including one in 2007 in which the company’s guards were accused — and later criminally convicted — of killing civilians in a crowded Iraqi square. Prince sold the firm, which was subsequently re-branded, but has continued building a private paramilitary empire with contracts across the Middle East and Asia. He now heads a Hong Kong-based company known as the Frontier Services Group.
DeVos and Prince are the children of an industrialist named Edgar Prince. Prince and the DeVos family were major GOP donors in 2016. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the family gave more than $10 million to GOP candidates and super PACs, including about $2.7 million from Prince's sister, DeVos, and her husband.

What more perfect résumé could one have in aspiring to run DT's Dept. of Education?

Monday, April 3, 2017


“It is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation.” -- LA Times 
Bernie Sanders
"It wasn't that Donald Trump won the election, it was that the Democratic Party lost the election" -- CNN
No one wants a return to Ohio's Wild West days when failing charter schools were propped up by taxpayer dollars. That was a scandal that should never be repeated. --
Betsy DeVos
Even if you didn’t use a ridesharing service, I’m sure most of you at least have the app on your phone. Just as the traditional taxi system revolted against ridesharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice. -- WSJ
Missouri League of Women Voters
There is an unfounded belief that charter schools are superior to traditional public schools and therefore provide parents with an advantageous choice. Studies of charter school academic achievement do not demonstrate that they are better than traditional public schools. Parents expect superior outcomes when placing their children in charter schools. Unfortunately, such is often not the case, and all too often charter school outcomes are actually inferior to those of traditional public schools. -- No to charter expansion 
War mongering from former DNC Chair, Donna Brazile
“I’ve never agreed with Dick Cheney in my entire life, but when he said this was an act of war, I have to agree with the former vice president. It was an act of war..If this is the modern warfare that we have to all participate in, we all better get ready for it.” -- The Hill