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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, May 28

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The Mechanics

Op-Ed Thu May 21 2015

Memorial Day Awakening - 2015

By Arnold Stieber

An awakening... to summer festivities and the anticipation of warm weather and fun, picnics, a holiday — that's what Memorial Day is for most. Some will march in parades or stand on the sidelines waving flags and unwittingly support the military model of conflict resolution by violence. There will be words like "heroes" and "bravery" and "God bless America."

memorial day parade chicago
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

The Chicago Memorial Day parade is Saturday, May 23. It's billed as the largest Memorial Day parade in the nation. As an Army infantry veteran of the U.S. war against the people of Vietnam, I attended the parade in 2013 with several members of Veterans For Peace. We were expecting to see a somber memorial parade that recognized the death and destruction caused by war. Instead we saw militarized police and fire departments, military groups and military vehicles. At least 80 percent of the parade was hundreds and hundreds of children, in military uniforms, proudly marching behind military banners. We were overwhelmed with sorrow.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Chicago Public Schools Fri May 01 2015

Chicago Public School Officials Tread Water In Smelly Unethical Swamp

While taxpayers wait to learn the outcome of the federal corruption investigation into the Chicago Public Schools' questionable $20 million no-bid contract with SUPES Academy, it's not too soon to conclude that the School Board and CPS officials continue to operate in a smelly unethical swamp, where they have been mired for many years.

Numerous news organizations recently reported that the FBI and a federal grand jury were investigating CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the contract with SUPES, where she worked before joining CPS.

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Thomas J. Gradel / Comments (2)

Education Wed Apr 29 2015

Adderall On the Brain

themash.comBy James Wendt, Damilola Ajasa, Victor J. Andrew and Sarah Zhang

Tucked inside dresser drawers, sold in school bathrooms and popped before exams, "study drugs" like Adderall are prescription medications that many teens are familiar with.

The pills are sold and traded with bold promises: You'll be able to study all night, focus all day, boost your test scores, suppress your appetite and socialize with ease.

But with the audacious claims come huge risks and dangerous health repercussions for teens who abuse these drugs.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Education Mon Apr 27 2015

PARCC Exam Raises Concerns

themash.comBy Julia Huebner and Alex Rothschild

Last month, thousands of students across Illinois took or opted out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC exam. The test is a state assessment aligned with the controversial Common Core curriculum. Although students are spending hours on the exam, parents and educators are the ones speaking up about it. There's no standard opinion about the PARCC exam.

Supporters of the PARCC argue that it reflects classroom learning better than the Illinois Standard Achievement Test or Prairie State Achievement Examination, both of which were replaced by the PARCC. According to the Illinois Board of Education, the PARCC is "an assessment that requires students to analyze information--and explain their answers--[that] better reflects classroom lessons and experiences."

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Chicago Public Schools Wed Nov 12 2014

Cuts to Social Safety Net, School Resources Leave CPS Bleeding Students

cps_oldlogo.jpgChicago Public School enrollment dropped by around 3,000 this year, contributing to a total loss of 6,000 students in the district since 2012. For the first time since 1970, CPS enrollment has fallen below 400,000.

This loss of students stems from failures by the Emanuel and Daley administrations that go beyond education policy alone. Both our current and previous mayors have focused resources downtown and in wealthy business districts. This has come at the direct expense of low-income families living in neighborhoods City Hall consistently neglects. As housing costs have soared, the social safety net shriveled, and neighborhood schools have been closed or consistently cut back, many low-income families have chosen to move out of the city.

"I knew my daughter couldn't get the quality education that she deserved in our neighborhood schools," explained Zerlina Smith, a single mother living in the West Side community of Austin. When it came time to send her daughter Cherish to pre-K, Smith was alarmed at the lack of resources at her neighborhood public school, Oscar DePriest, which at the time was on the list of schools set to be shuttered by the Emanuel administration. But Smith was not ready to give up on CPS completely. "I chose to send her 16 miles away from our home to Maria Saucedo, which is a scholastic academy and a level one school with an abundance of resources."

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Rachel Anspach

Chicago Public Schools Tue Sep 30 2014

Lessons Learned in Englewood: 8 Years of Reflections from a CPS Teacher

By Dave Stieber

A little over eight years ago, when I took my first job in CPS at a high school in Englewood, people of all races would look at me like I was crazy when I told them where I would be working. During my time teaching in Englewood I had people make assumptions about me, such as that I must not be a very good teacher if I teach in Englewood, because surely, if I were a good teacher I would be working somewhere else.

Obviously if people were making assumptions about me working in Englewood, they were also making assumptions about my students who lived in the community. I have written previously about when a random stranger on the bus called my kids animals and how I responded.

Through all of assumptions and stereotypes, I realized that the students I taught were all that mattered. But I also very recently came to a point in my professional career that I needed a change of schools. I am still a CPS public high school teacher on the South Side, just at a different school now. Leaving the students was and is still hard. I didn't officially make the decision until August so I told my students through email and text messages. That was the hardest thing by far about leaving. But the beauty of the students was they wanted me to be happy. Yes, they were upset and hurt, but every single student (I even messaged kids who graduated awhile ago to let them know) really just wanted me to be happy. So I write this dedicated to every single student I taught in Englewood, which is close to a thousand students.

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Chicago Public Schools Tue Aug 26 2014

Chicago Students Want a Democratic School System

In 1995, Richard M. Daley convinced the Illinois General Assembly to do away with elected school councils and place Chicago Public Schools directly under the mayor's control.

Since then, CPS has operated under a model whereby the mayor directly appoints school board members and district CEOs -- currently Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Chicago Students Union (CSU), a student-run organization formed in 2013 in response to CPS school closures, is pushing to end that system of mayoral-control.

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Emily Brosious

Education Tue Aug 19 2014

Board of Education President to Benefit from Proposed South Side Charter School

David Vitale
Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale. Photo Credit: Chandler West, Sun-Times

Last week, news broke that David Vitale, the president of the Chicago Board of Education, could profit pending the Board's approval of a new South Side charter school. Vitale is chairman of Urban Partnership Bank, which has filed suit to foreclose the same building in which the proposed school, Horizon Science Academy-Clay Evans, plans to open this fall. HSA-Clay Evans was proposed by Concept Schools, a charter school management company whose Des Plaines offices, as well as a number of their schools, were recently subject to an FBI raid.

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Becky Schultz

Election 2015 Mon Aug 18 2014

Six Months in Chicago

Image via NBC5-WMAQ

For six months in Chicago, there may be a rare, once-a-decade opportunity to get some answers. If that sentence seems magniloquent, that's because I had to start big since the subsequent sentence is, "That opportunity is the 2015 Chicago municipal elections."

That opportunity is the 2015 Chicago municipal elections. Chicago is defined by confluence; in the first instance, literally, as sitting at the confluence of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and the Chicago Portage, the connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds. Soon after, the nation's railroad flowed together there; now, it's the confluence of the nation's air travel and trucking. Today, it is also a confluence of some of the country's biggest challenges.

Income inequality, gentrification, rising housing costs, under-resourced schools and creeping privatization, under-served mental health services, police brutality, street crime, segregation, environmental justice, exploitation of undocumented workers, police militarization, un- and under-compensated care work, wage theft, unemployment, over-crowded jails, hyper-criminalization, lack of government transparency, and crumbling infrastructure. These issues intersect on the orange-lit streets of the Great American City. Chicago is a beautiful city and livable city. It is also suffering.

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Ramsin Canon

Chicago Public Schools Tue May 27 2014

I Ran for Local School Council and Maybe I Even Won!

On Monday, April 7, across Chicago, elections were held for Local School Council seats for all CPS elementary schools. I myself ran for a Community Representative seat for Prussing Elementary.

I might have even won!

But maybe the election didn't even happen.

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Phil Huckelberry / Comments (4)

Op-Ed Thu Apr 24 2014

A New President Obama School, Even Though CPS Closed 50 Schools Last Year

Chicago Public Schools - Children First CPS

By David Stieber

Chicago Public Schools just announced that it will build a new high school and name it after our current president, Barack Obama.

This announcement of the building of a new high school is about a year after the announcement by the unelected, mayorally appointed CPS Board of Education to close the most schools in the history of the United States amidst massive community protests.

This announcement also comes about one month after this same board of education agreed to give themselves $5 million to buy brand new furniture for their new offices.

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Education Tue Apr 22 2014

United Students Against Sweatshops Pushes to Kick Teach For America Off College Campuses

TFA forum
Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jessie Sharkey, former TFA corps member Jameson Brewer, UIC College of Education professor Rico Gutstein and Chicago teacher Katie Osgood speak out against TFA at a "Truth Tour" panel forum in Chicago hosted by United Students Against Sweatshops. (Photo/ Emily Brosious)

United Students Against Sweatshops, a national college student-organizing group, wants Teach For America to stop recruiting on college campuses.

Teach For America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to "eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals" to teach in low-income communities throughout the country for at least two years.

Last month, USAS launched a "TFA Truth Tour" to speak out against the organization at college campuses across the country and "expose the dark side of corporate education reform."

USAS National Student Coordinating Committee member Leewana Thomas said groups like TFA threaten public education.

"We will not stand by while corporate education reformers recruit college students into a deeply flawed organization that is undermining instead of supporting our public education system," Thomas said.

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Emily Brosious

Education Wed Feb 26 2014

"Strike for America" Honest, Detailed Chronicle of CTU Strike

strikeforamerica.jpgOn Sept. 10 2012 the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike after negotiations on a new contract fell through. For more than a week teachers and those marching in solidarity could be seen marching outside of Chicago Public Schools and through the Loop.

In Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity by Micah Uetricht the lead up to the strike and the aftermath of the strike is examined in incredible detail, resulting in a magnificent chronicle on the CTU standing up to the current climate facing urban public education.

Uetricht, a former Gapers Block contributor, explains the rise of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), which currently has officers leading the CTU. Prior to the 2010 election in the CTU the union was led by the United Progressive Caucus, which in the portrayal given by Uetricht did not do much to stand up to the CPS. While the United Progressive Caucus was in power, schools were shuttered and then largely transformed into charter schools under the Renaissance 2010 plan. The leadership at the time did not stand up to the closures occurring throughout the city, leaving various teachers feeling disaffected.

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Monica Reida

Education Mon Feb 24 2014

CPS Schools Move Away From Zero-Tolerance Discipline Policies

cps_oldlogo.jpgLast Tuesday, Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett showed off changes in discipline policy in Chicago schools, claiming CPS schools have been successfully moving away from zero-tolerance discipline, toward a more holistic approach where, according to Byrd-Bennett in a DNAinfo article, "suspensions must be the last resort."

Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett argue that the new initiative in Chicago focuses on being proactive, rather than reactive in terms of student behavior. According to Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett, the policy de-emphasizes mandatory punishment rules, and instead focuses on fostering community through teacher and peer involvement.

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Rachel Anspach

Labor & Worker Rights Wed Feb 19 2014

UIC Faculty Members Strike for Fair Contracts and Quality Education

Emma Bell Bern and Joanna Rudenborg, labor organizers with Peet's Workers Group, came out to the picket line Tuesday in solidarity with UIC faculty. (Photo/Emily Brosious)

University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty union members went on strike Tuesday over contract negotiations with the University's Board of Trustees.

This two-day walkout marks the first faculty strike in UIC's history.

UICUF said it has been trying to bargain for a fair and equitable contract with the board for over a year-and-a-half but has not seen progress on key issues such as living wages, multi-year contracts and a system of promotion for non-tenure track faculty.

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Emily Brosious

TIFs Tue Feb 11 2014

DePaul Students, Faculty Take Stand Against Planned Arena

DePaul University student activists are trying to halt the new $173 million basketball arena construction project, which is currently set to begin later this year.

The student organization, the Contingent for an Alternatively Funded Arena, has been working since the plan to build an arena was announced in May, approximately a week after 54 Chicago Public Schools were voted be shut down.

CAFA has plans to meet with DePaul's president again on Feb. 20, as well as Jeff Bethke, DePaul's treasurer. In the organization's second meeting with the administration, it hopes to make many arguments to persuade the university heads to back out of the project and not pull out a nearly $70 million loan.

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Rima Mandwee / Comments (6)

Education Mon Feb 03 2014

Racism & Misogyny from UIUC Students

Last week in Chicago and throughout Illinois we suffered through the latest installment of the polar vortex. Unfortunately, the frigid weather brought out a heated and ugly side of many students at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

On Sunday the 26th, all UIUC students received an email from their school's chancellor Phyllis Wise reading, "Classes and operations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will proceed as scheduled Monday Jan. 27. Please use caution as you proceed in and around campus during what is forecast to be an extremely cold and windy day and night."

Unsurprisingly, given the projections of below-zero temperatures and even lower wind chills, many students were peeved that classes were not cancelled. But understandable displeasure soon morphed into an outpouring of vile, sexist and racist Twitter rants against Wise, who is Asian-American. Some of the Twitter posts, which were filed under #fuckphyllis, included:

UIUC #fuckphyllis Twitter tweet

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Rachel Anspach / Comments (1)

Op-Ed Tue Aug 20 2013

The New "Safe" for the Chicago Public Schools

Demolition crews arrived at Whittier Elementary on Friday night to demolish the field house, also known as La Casita. The Chicago Public Schools made the decision to demolish the field house based on safety concerns. The CPS was so concerned about the safety of school children they skipped applying for a demolition permit and obtained an administrative order from the Department of Buildings, allowing for an emergency demolition.

Meanwhile, two shootings have occurred in the past month along "Safe Passage" routes. The most recent one occurred on Aug. 19 at Sheridan and Wilson, injuring five people. If these are supposed to ensure the safety of CPS students as they walk to welcoming schools on Aug. 26, how can people be confident students will be safe if shootings occur along the routes?

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Monica Reida

Whittier Elementary Sat Aug 17 2013

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolished

As we broke in Merge, the Wittier Field House was demolished Saturday morning. The field house, which came to be known as "La Casita," developed into a vibrant community center after a parents from the community and nearby school demanded it be turned into a library and gathering place rather than demolished in 2010. The parents are now demanding a new field house.

A few photographs from the demolition follow. More information will be added as the situation evolves.

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolition

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David Schalliol

Chicago Public Schools Mon Jun 24 2013

Is Teach For America a Good Thing for Chicago Public Schools?

Chicago schools have seen reductions at almost every level over the past couple years. Cuts to teacher salaries, jobs, and benefits, student arts and athletics programs, and even entire school budgets have created a new austerity within CPS. Amidst all the downsizing, however, one educational element has been growing in stark contrast. Teach For America recruits are teeming into Chicago schools like never before.

Teach For America, a branch of AmeriCorps, is the largest school reform not-for-profit organization in our country. On a mission to improve education and break the cycle of poverty, TFA recruits elite college graduates, gives them about a month of intensive training, and places them in two year termed teaching positions at low-income schools across the country.

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Emily Brosious / Comments (13)

Chicago Public Schools Wed Jun 19 2013

Activists Protest CPS Mass Layoffs and Latest Budget Cuts

IMG_3815.jpgDozens of activists protested and gathered toilet paper donations outside the Chase Auditorium in downtown Chicago on Tuesday, at an event where Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett spoke with Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold about her plans for the CPS. The event protesters gathered outside of was sponsored by ComEd and the Tribune.

Protesters blasted the plan for deep budget cuts that would put many schools in untenable situations. Demonstrators collected toilet paper donations as a nod to the fact that these budget cuts would leave many schools stretched so thin they'd be unable to pay for even the most basic of supplies--including janitorial supplies like toilet paper.

According to the Tribune, Byrd-Bennett is going to look into reports of cuts to funding for toilet paper.

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Emily Brosious

Chicago Public Schools Fri May 10 2013

Chicago Students Always Lead the Way

By David Stieber

Those of us who work with students day in and day out know the brilliance and potential that our students have. We also find ourselves as educators, parents and taxpayers becoming increasingly frustrated by a mayor, "CEO" and appointed school board that consistently and blatantly do not have the best interest of our students at heart.

Have no fear our students will lead the way. Yes, our students that the media far too often label as "gang bangers" "thugs" or "criminals" will lead the way against the harming polices implemented by CPS.

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Chicago Public Schools Mon Mar 25 2013

Giving High School Students a Voice in the CPS Banning of Persepolis

By David Stieber

As we are all aware now, last week at Lane Tech and other Chicago public high schools, the graphic novel Persepolis was removed from classrooms as demanded by a CPS mandate. The removal of the books and the banning of Persepolis immediately prompted students and teachers to protest this decision at Lane Tech. Later that same day, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the banning of Persepolis is only for grades 7 and under. She went on to say that the book will be reviewed to determine if it is appropriate for grades 8-10.

Currently only 11th and 12th graders are allowed to read the book per the new CPS ruling.

The book is a historical and autobiographical account of the author as a young girl growing up under dictatorial rule in Iran and the revolutions led by the people in an attempt to bring in democracy.

As a history teacher, I decided to let my students at TEAM Englewood High School review the book and decide if the banning of Persepolis by CPS and Byrd-Bennett was justified.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Education Tue Feb 19 2013

Genealogy of Scandal in Public Education

When Seth Lavin asks questions, he gets answers. Lavin is a local teacher, parent, and education observer, and briefly published a newsletter following Chicago education news. He's a thoughtful man who has recently been active in the school closure process -- or, "process" -- surrounding Brentano School in Logan Square. Frustrated with the Chicago Public Schools' posture during the closures, Lavin recently posted 10 questions to Twitter meant to question CPS's assertion that its school closure process and the related charterification was purely data-motivated (what I and others would refer to as "technocratic").

CPS felt the need to respond to Lavin's thoughtful questions. Their responses are forceful, but hardly get to Lavin's essential point: if school closures don't really save money, if the past closures haven't improved outcomes for children, and if the main criteria for closing schools, "underutilization," doesn't itself harm student outcomes, why is CPS causing these communities so much pain, ignoring the outrage in the community, and undermining community schools?

One could add: and why are they doing it to support and institutionalize a program of charterification when charters can't be said to be as efficacious as they claim, and scandals like the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) scandal are becoming more frequent and acute?

I envy Lavin. I doubt CPS would have answered my 10 questions. I don't need to doubt actually; these are precisely the questions critics of the privatization of the Chicago school system have been raising at least since 2005.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Chicago Public Schools Tue Feb 05 2013

Mr. Stieber, Protests aren't on the MAP Test!

By David Stieber

Last week my high school students decided, on their own, to have a protest. They were upset about how cold our building has been this relatively mild winter. So after first period many of the students put hoodies and sweaters over their short sleeve uniform polo (which is a violation of the dress code) and marched loudly into the hall. They had signs, some had chants, and one even had an American flag. These 16- and 17-year-old Englewood students were organized. Their downfall was they didn't fully think through how to explain this plan to the 9th grade students, who just thought the protest was fun and were running around getting into trouble instead of helping the cause.

Security, teachers and administration intervened, the kids stopped the protest and went back to class. A few kids got in trouble. Being a history teacher, I was impressed by the students planning, but I realized they needed help understanding the purpose of a protest and steps involved in order to get what they wanted, without having to protest. So I did a mini-lesson the rest of the day that included discussing the following steps.

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Mechanics / Comments (7)

Chicago Public Schools Thu Dec 06 2012

The "Justification" for Closing Schools in Chicago

By David Stieber

To be honest and straight to the point, closing a neighborhood school means the city has failed that neighborhood. It should come as no shock then that all the school closures in Chicago over the past decade have been in black and latino areas of the city. Many of these neighborhoods, like Englewood where I teach, have been ignored, underfunded, and blamed for their own problems for decades.

Logic dictates that CPS should be trying to help improve struggling schools, but using logic and CPS in the same sentence is a mistake. As CPS Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley said publicly, "If we think there's a chance that a building is going to be closed in the next five to 10 years, if we think it's unlikely it's going to continue to be a school, we're not going to invest in that building." So CPS admits that if a school needs help there is no way that they are going to fund that school. Since the vast majority of underperforming schools are in poorer communities, CPS has, through its own policies, decided to give up on the schools in those communities. They look at a school as a business investment, not a community investment.

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Chicago Public Schools Fri Nov 23 2012

Interview with John Kuijper, Kohl Teacher Award Winner

In a city whose public education problems make national headlines, last Friday was an opportunity to step back and celebrate people who represent the best in Chicago Public Schools. The Dolores Kohl Education Foundation recognized three outstanding CPS teachers for their achievements in education: Abigail Weber from Horatio May Community Academy, Folasade Adkeunle from Northwest Middle School, and John Kuijper from Bronzeville Scholastic Academy. Diane Ravitch was also honored--she won the Kohl Education Prize.

These three teachers were selected from a group of candidates nominated by local education leaders. They underwent a lengthy interview process and classroom visits from the nominating committee. They posses five selection criteria: dedication, innovation, leadership, respect for children and families, and commitment to professional growth. They were also selected for their ability to speak comfortably with the media in order to expand public awareness of the importance of quality education. The awards were given out during a ceremony held Friday November 16 at the River North Marriot. During the ceremony WGN shared video of the three Teacher Award winners learning they had won.

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Julie Davis

Op-Ed Wed Nov 21 2012

The Path to True Educational Improvement

By David Stieber

When I was in high school, in a white middle class area, three consecutive junior classes lost someone in a car crash. During my sophomore year conversations would sometimes turn to, "Who do you think will die when we are juniors?" Morbid? No doubt, but these accidental deaths caused students to worry about their own mortality.

Fifteen years later, as a high school teacher in Englewood, I see the same worry in my students -- but it's not about car accidents. Growing up black, on the South Side, my students are guaranteed to experience a tragic event to someone that they know and care about. Let me repeat this, my students are guaranteed to experience a tragedy. Many of them have already experienced the loss of multiple tragic and violent deaths of their classmates and loved ones.

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Mechanics / Comments (4)

Education Mon Nov 05 2012

The Threat and Promise of an Elected, Representative School Board

My friend and much-beloved one-time political consultant Mike Fourcher published an editorial in the Center Square and Roscoe View Journals urging voters to vote against a non-binding advisory referendum on the ballot in many Chicago precincts: whether there should be an elected, representative school board (ESRB).

Mike makes some compelling but ultimately unsatisfying arguments as to why voters should reject this referendum. His arguments, both in the piece and in the comments, are compelling enough to merit a response.

The thrust of the argument against the school board is three-pronged; first, direct elections of technically- or specialty-oriented board are not desirous because of the outsize influence of interested parties; second, more democracy can cut against efficiency; and finally, there is sufficient control over the school board via election of the Mayor.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Chicago Public Schools Tue Oct 16 2012

Does Chicago Need an Elected School Board?

This November voters in hundreds of Chicago precincts will be asked if they think Chicago needs an elected school board. This same question will be the topic of conversation for a town hall meeting taking place Tuesday October 23 at 7pm in the Logan Square Auditorium. The town hall will include a panel of three speakers: CTU President Karen Lewis, Chicago Reader journalist Ben Joravsky, and UIC professor Pauline Lipman.

Communities Organized for Democracy in Education (CODE) is organizing the event. CODE identifies itself as a coalition of parent, community and teacher organizations. CODE has been working to add a referendum to Chicago ballots asking voters if they are in favor of moving to an elected school board. This November, a non-binding referendum will be on the ballot in over 300 precincts across the city. This is an advisory referendum aimed to solicit the opinion of voters on a question of public policy. The next phase of CODE's campaign will be a legislative push in Springfield. To see if the referendum will be on your ballot go to the Chicago Board of Elections website to get a sample ballot from your precinct. The referendum, if included, will be toward the bottom of the ballot.

"When I go door-to-door, people don't even know that we have an appointed school board," said coalition member and CPS parent Wendy Katten in an interview with WBEZ earlier this year. Chicago is the only school district in Illinois without an elected school board, and nationwide, 93% of schools have an elected school board. However of the 6% of school districts with appointed boards, many are in major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Baltimore among others. Since 1995 the CPS school board has been selected exclusively by the mayor. Prior to that an elected committee proposed board nominees to the mayor who made the final selection.

In the wake of the teacher strike earlier this fall and the appointment of a new chief executive of CPS, education deserves to be top of mind for Chicago area voters this November. The town hall will start at 7pm in the Logan Square Auditorium on 2539 N. Kedzie Blvd. The event is free but if you plan to attend please RSVP via email or facebook.

Julie Davis

Op-Ed Fri Aug 03 2012

Corporate Reform is the Bain of Public Education

This op-ed was submitted by Kenzo Shibata

Bain Capital has received a lot of negative press lately from President Barack Obama's reelection campaign as it's the corporation once run by current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

As it turns out Romney made a killing from his time as CEO of Bain, but he was far from a job creator. Through his work thousands of people lost their jobs. The corporation uses a "Corporate Reform" model that looks a lot like the current model being used by billionaire-backed Astroturf groups claiming it will fix schools.

 Bain's a private equity firm that specialized in "leveraged buyouts." According to

Leveraged buyouts, which are what private equity firms do, load companies with debt, extract value for middlemen, and displace workers.

The company profits off of lowering the standard of living for workers It cuts middle-class jobs and funnels wealth upwards, much like the way education is being done in Chicago.

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Media Fri Jul 13 2012

Friday Morning Worth a Read

Some items of interest for you all:

  • CPS principals and assistant principals accused of falsifying information to qualify students for free or reduced lunches after internal investigation. [Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune]
  • Local governments are feeling out how to enforce "Green" and LEED standards in the courts. [SSRN Papers]
  • Union janitors protest granting of contract to firm that laid them off last night at Mayor's Office, push for ordinance to hold contractors accountable. [Progress Illinois]
  • The President's "Midwestern Problem." [Whet Moser]
  • Mayor Emanuel's new initiative may not be so new. [Mick Dumke--Chicago Reader]
  • One for the geekertons: Why Is a 98.6-Degree Day So Miserable? [Slate]

Ramsin Canon

Education Mon Jun 25 2012

Negotiating with Doom in the Schools Debate

The media is reporting, occasionally breathlessly, on the "standoff" and "contest" between the Board of Education--a proxy for the Mayor, who appoints it and controls it--and the Chicago Teachers Union, the democratically-elected collective bargaining representative for 24,000 public school teachers.

I watched an interesting debate over the weekend unfold on Twitter between a young academic in education policy and an award-winning teacher and activist. They were arguing about the supposed intractability of teachers and parents over the pro-privatization reforms of groups like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). The academic was striking a "reasonable" pose:

You're going to have to compromise. That's politics. There are two sides with competing goals, let's get an agreement.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Fri Jun 15 2012

Reactions to Chicago Teachers Union Strike Authorization

A bit about Chicago's teachers voting to authorize a strike should talks with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) break down:

First, a strike authorization is not a call for a strike. Unions are, by statute and traditionally, democratic institutions. Leadership is elected and by-laws approved by the membership. Some organizational decisions require a direct vote by membership (e.g., election of the union leadership) and some through representative bodies--in the case of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), the House of Delegates, composed of delegates elected by members. Because public sector employees are not covered by federal labor law, they are regulated by state laws. So state statutes give public sector workers the right to organize and determine the rules by which they operate. Thus, members delegate authority to the union leadership and other bodies--for example, negotiations are conducted by a negotiation committed chosen by the membership. Similarly, the membership delegates authority to call a strike action by vote. That is what happened; the membership voted to permit leadership to call a strike should one become necessary.

Chicago's teachers voted nearly unanimously to permit a strike should negotiations fail. Ninety-two percent of members voted, and ninety percent of members (but ninety-eight percent of those voting) expressed support for a strike should one be necessary. The analog would be Congress voting to give the President authority to conclude a trade treaty (called "fast-track") without having to return to Congress for ultimate approval; except the strike authorization was more democratic, since all members were permitted to vote.

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Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Jun 06 2012

A Long Time Comin': Chicago Teachers Strike Authorization Vote Begins Today

Beginning today, over 20,000 Chicago teachers will vote on whether or not to authorize their bargaining committee to call for a strike should negotiations with the Board of Education over new contract terms fail. For authorization, 75% of non-retiree union members would need to approve. The voting takes place over three days. This high threshold is the result of legislation passed last year. As state public employees, teachers' collective bargaining rights and terms are governed by state, rather than federal, law.

The legislation in question, known as SB7, was passed after intense and stealth lobbying efforts by Stand for Children, a well-funded non-profit that operates at the state level to encourage entrepreneurial changes to public education that incrementally privatize school systems. Stand for Children co-founder Jonah Edelman famously bragged at a conference that they used access to important and influential political figures like Rahm Emanuel and Michael Madigan, and insiders like Jo Anderson to tighten restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union. Part of the strategy was to take away one of the union's more potent tools, the strike threat. Unable to take away the right to a work stoppage, Stand settled for a 75% approval threshold.

Now, it is looking like Stand's strategy might backfire, if teachers ultimately vote to authorize a strike. After all, the question teachers will vote on is whether to authorize a strike, not whether to go on strike. Arguably, winning an authorization vote by 50%+1 would not be a real show of strength. A significant portion of teachers would have expressed their opposition to a strike, and maintaining the strike, once called, would be exceedingly difficult. The organizational capacity teachers build by being forced to get over 75% means a resilient strike, should things come to that, and a battle-tempered organization prepared to push hard during negotiations.

Besides the mechanics of it, there are the underlying social conditions that are bringing this to a head.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Thu May 31 2012

CPS Parent Matt Farmer Puts Penny Pritzker on Trial

Matt Farmer, local activist, musician, attorney, columnist and LSC member, spoke at the CTU rally last week with an interesting conceit: subjecting Board of Education member (and big time Barack Obama fundraiser) Penny Pritzker to a withering mock cross examination. Farmer, like many CPS parents, is incensed at the double standard deployed by the city's elite leadership when it comes to what their kids deserve and what working class children deserve. Watch:

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Tue May 29 2012

Chicago Teachers Union President's Speech at Historic Rally

Last Wednesday, the Chicago Teachers Union held a rally in preparation for contract negotiations beginning later this summer. Karen GJ Lewis, who was elected president of the CTU in 2010 after a hard-fought, close election against the incumbent, mayor-friendly leadership, sums up the frustrations teachers feel as they've been made scapegoats by school-privatization special interests like Stand for Children.

Last year, Stand for Children and affiliated interest groups pushed through SB7, designed to restrict collective bargaining rights and weaken teachers' negotiating position. Part of that strategic attack on public school teachers was a requirement that 75 percent of union members vote to authorize a strike should contract talks fail.

Nearly 6,000 members of the approximately 25,000 member union showed up to the rally on Wednesday, and as the video below shows, they were fired up. That 30 percent of union members could be motivated to turn out, march, and rally to show their unity should have been a chilling image for the Mayor's contract bargaining team. If talks fail, the CTU may very well have the leadership in schools across the city to secure a strike authorization vote; and if 75 percent of teachers vote for a strike, that will be a resilient strike.

Watch the video:

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Education Sun Apr 29 2012

The Grid: MUNUC at the Palmer House

"MUNUC at the Palmer House" is the eighth installment of our short film series, The Grid. These documentaries are posted throughout Gapers Block and compiled in their own multimedia feature section.

Since 1988, University of Chicago students have organized an annual four-day conference at the historic Palmer House hotel providing thousands of high school students the opportunity to participate in educational simulations of the United Nations and other international affairs-themed bodies. Find out more about MUNUC (Model United Nations at the University of Chicago) at, and about Model UN culture at

About The Grid

This video is part of a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies, and experiments in form. Producers Ben Kolak & Brian Ashby's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's list of top documentaries for 2010. Catherine Sullivan is an artist working in film, video installation and live theatre, with exhibitions at venues including the Whitney Museum, UCLA Hammer Museum and Tate Modern. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate. Graphic Designer Akemi Hong is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's graduate program in Visual Communication Design.

The Grid is funded in part by the Chicago Instructional Technology Foundation Digital Media Production Fund.


Education Tue Apr 24 2012

Students Meet to Discuss Education and Community Issues

This Saturday, 300 students from over 50 Chicago Public schools will be meeting at Little Village Lawndale High School, 3120 S. Kostner Ave., to take on issues like school closures, drug enforcement and teen obesity.

Mikva Challenge, a Chicago non-profit that encourages high school students to get involved in the political process, will be holding its 10th Annual Action Civics Fair Saturday, April 28 from 9:30am to 12:30pm.

Tyler Davis

Education Mon Mar 26 2012

General Assembly To Consider Banning Noble Street's Fining Policies

State Senator Willie Delgado has introduced legislation banning the stringent fining practices used by charter network Noble Street. There was an uproar against the ticky-tacky fines imposed by Noble Street for infractions such as "not tracking the teacher with your eyes" and "running a pencil along the edge of the desk." A freedom of information act request by a student organization and a parents organization found that the school system had raised nearly $400,000 from these fines.

To protest the fines, students self-organized a protest and press conference, wearing chef's hats and aprons, mocking Mayor Rahm Emanuel's statement that Noble had a "secret sauce" that led to be better behaved students.

Senator Delgado's legislation is meant to prohibit nominally public schools like Noble Street from imposing fines (which the schools call "fees") as a disciplinary measure. Noble Street's rationale for the fees, according to Catalyst Magazine's Jim Broadway's coverage, is to increase parental involvement and make sure only those kids using disciplinary resources (e.g., after-school detention requiring staff time) have to pay for them. Of course, this is precisely the type of thing public schools cannot do and which give charter schools a comparative advantage that powers what little greater efficacy they have over public schools.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Public Schools Fri Mar 02 2012

Democracy Disappearing: Is It Time for Local School Councils to Elect Their Own School Board?

The Chicago Board of Education, having proven itself unconcerned with parent concerns that do not match their own person concerns, and unresponsive to popular political pressure, fail the test of participatory democracy that institutions like school systems need to stay vital and innovative. The last vestige of democracy in the school system, local school councils, may need to do something drastic to make the Board of Education as irrelevant as they seem to think parents are.

In 1988, Chicagoans made an impressive step forward in democratic school governance, amending the state's relevant education statute to provide for, among many other things, elected local school councils with authority over hiring, structuring, and budgeting at local schools. These councils, or LSCs, were novel then and continue to be rare. LSCs are composed of members of the public, parents, teachers, the school's principal and student representative with non-voting authority. The LSCs are not merely advisory bodies, but were designed to make schools responsive to the community and give parents a vested interest in the operation of the local schools. When the reforms were first proposed by state Sen. Art Berman (D-Edgewater) in 1988, they were considered radical but necessary--and for a very interesting reason that resonates today:

The new legislation would make some of the most radical changes ever to be undertaken in this country as a way of scrapping the power structure of a failing public school system. It would break up the monolithic control wielded by the central Board of Education and, instead, set up 11-member mini-school boards, comprised chiefly of parents, that would be elected and have the responsibility of governing each of the city`s 595 public schools.

The idea is that control at the school-based level cannot help but be an improvement over decades of unresponsive management by a bureaucratic, heavily politicized, and rigidly centralized Board of Education.

(Bonita Brodt, "School Reform's Achilles Heel: The Parents" Chicago Tribune, 20 November 1988).

The major concern, shared by power-friendly elites like the Tribune, was that unsophisticated parents would be too susceptible to pressure from outside groups. As an example, that same Tribune article pointed out one community organization that was pressuring parents using race-baiting tactics in East Side:

At Bowen High School, 2710 E. 89th St., a community group called the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) has become so heavily entrenched in what began as a parent fight to oust the school principal that the parents have been split bitterly along racial lines and observers now call it UNO`s crusade, instead.

Yet, LSCs have proven remarkably resilient and insulated from this type of pressure. While complaints about principals bullying untrained LSC members are common, the concerns that LSCs would be unsophisticated cats paws or rubber stamps for powerful interests have not born out. Democracy has proven its value as not just a box to check but for its creative power and capacity to ennoble those who feel they have a meaningful role in it, rather than just being a passive consumer.

School privatizers like Mayor Emanuel, his appointed Board of Ed, and his CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, are hostile to LSCs and parent governance. That is to say, whatever their rhetoric, their actions in aggressively pursuing closure of public schools in favor of charters (which do not have LSCs) indicates either outright hostility or indifference amounting to the same thing. This can't be disputed so long as actions are weighted greater than press releases.

The only nod to democratic control of schools the current administration has given is of the "check-the-box" variety, where the Board, before voting unanimously to pursue a Mayoral policy, holds hearings where there are no procedural options for parents to actively and meaningfully participate in decision making. Instead, the Board holds the hearings to say they held them and continue to pursue the precise policy dictated by the Mayor and his CEO.

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Ramsin Canon

Media Thu Mar 01 2012

President of Chicago Teachers Union and Pilsen Environmental Rights Organization on Democracy Now!

A Chicago-heavy edition of Democracy Now looks at the closing of the Midwest Gen Crawford and Fisk coal plants and the Board of Ed's high-intensity efforts to privatize the school system:

Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Feb 22 2012

Struggling High School to be Converted, Kept Open

Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School (Crane High School), on the Near West Side, will become a high school focused on training students to enter the medical field, rather than being closed.

"I am pleased that the Crane Coalition, led by CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Illinois State Senator Annazette Collins, has come to an agreement with CPS and members of the local community," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a press statement.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Chicago Fri Jan 27 2012

Digital Divides and the Future of the Chicago Public Library

Wednesday it was announced that Chicago Public Library (CPL) commissioner Mary Dempsey is resigning.

Dempsey was appointed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and served for 18 years. Under Dempsey, the CPL built 44 new libraries and created programs such as One Book, One Chicago. Her resignation comes after a contentious situation this month due to the branches closing on Mondays due to budget and staff cuts.

Brian Bannon, chief information officer for the San Francisco Public Library, has been named as Dempsey's successor.

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Monica Reida / Comments (4)

Education Tue Jan 24 2012

The Mayor's Pre-Screened Education Town Hall

by Katie Osgood

There was quite the hullabaloo this week surrounding a Facebook town hall meeting Mayor Emanuel put on Monday. Late Sunday night I received an email from a teacher at a neighborhood CPS high school saying that the event was happening at that school and they needed enough teachers, parents, and community members to show up. Any interested teachers were told to RSVP immediately. Here's what was in the original e-mail:

A spokesman in the department of communications at CPS contacted me to request hosting Mayor Emanuel's Town Hall Meeting Monday, January 23rd at 5:30 PM at [Name of High School]. A condition and concern however is that there must be a minimum of 15 or 20 people in the audience. The audience should include teachers, parents, students and members of the community. This email serves as a poll to determine how many of you might commit to attending this event. I also need your support to communicate this event to students who might be interested in participating. I am copying the LSC and PAC officers to soli cit parental attendance.

I ask that everyone receiving this email who can commit to attending this event email a confirmation back to me ASAP. You do not need to email me if you cannot attend.

Many concerned teachers jumped at the chance to join in a conversation in a relatively small venue where we could question our city's leader about his controversial education policy. People began mobilizing immediately. It seemed like a fantastic opportunity, almost too good to be true.

It was. Very early Sunday morning, a follow-up email was sent saying:

There has been a huge misunderstanding. Mayor Emanuel WILL NOT be physically present at [Name of High School] for his town hall meeting today. The event will be streamed over the internet. Individuals interested in attending this view only event are welcome to view the event in one of our computer labs. Please see the message below from the CPS department of communications spokesperson.

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Education Wed Jan 18 2012

A Tale of Two Under Utilizations

Does CPS have differing attitudes towards "underutilized" (low-enrollment) schools?


Public school:

Charter school:

Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Jan 18 2012

How to a Spot a Manufactured Crisis

newtrierhs.jpgI recently discovered that my alma mater, New Trier High School, did not make AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) mandated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act this year. (See here for the letter sent home to parents). Yeah, that New Trier. The one with all the awards, the trophies, the students going on to Ivy League schools, and the highest SAT/ACT scores in all of Illinois for open-enrollment schools. It's the same school where all those kids from Chicago protested in front of a few years back with Rev Meeks to highlight the unfair school funding practices in Illinois. It's the one written about in the infamous book (and still an enthralling read 20 years later) by Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities. It's produced some big shots like Donald Rumsfeld (sorry about that one, world.)

Oh, and Happy Birthday NCLB! You just turned 10 this past Sunday. Now the only question is... when will you die? Because NCLB has proven to be a failure of epic proportions. Quite a few articles have come out to commiserate, oops, I mean commemorate, the occasion including's NCLB Lost Decade Report, and this Wapo piece by Valerie Strauss, and this blog by education great Diane Ravitch.

As a little bit of background, the No Child Left Behind act was signed into law back in January of 2002 and was the first major piece of legislation to come through Congress after the 9/11 attacks. Looking back, many Congressmen admit they probably wouldn't have agreed to the bill, on either side of the aisle, if they weren't focusing so hard on appearing united after the terrible events that past September. (In many respects, the passing of NCLB was Shock Doctrine at its finest.) The act itself set a timeline to hold schools "accountable" by testing grades 3-8 every year and punishing schools that did not meet their AYP. The punishment generally involved withholding much-needed federal funds, and after a certain number of years on probation, the school would be eligible for disciplinary actions such as firing all the staff, handing the management of the school over to a private charter school operator, or closing down the school. (Starting to sound familiar Chicagoans?)

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Katie Osgood / Comments (2)

Education Fri Jan 13 2012

How About a Meritorious Workplace in Our Schools?

I am not a gambler. I hate the uncertainty of betting money on something unpredictable. It makes me feel jittery and off-balance. I have a teacher personality in that respect. I like structure and routine. That is different from say some day trader who takes risks on a daily basis. I'm sure those Type A, go-getter-guys are really good at those risky, high-profile jobs. Some people thrive on uncertainty and the chance to make it big. Kinda like they like cocaine. Same chemical in the brain, no?

I don't work that way. And you know what? Thank god I don't! That's the reason why I chose teaching as a profession, at least in part. See, some of what makes me good at my job is that I provide a little space of stability for my students coming from chaotic, troubled backgrounds. If one of those day traders were to do my job, I'm pretty sure they would not only fail miserably, they would probably scare the children.

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Katie Osgood / Comments (2)

Education Thu Jan 12 2012

The CPS Grind on Teachers

Recently, in Chicagoland, a story hit the papers about a teacher committing suicide. She wrote in her suicide note that the major reason for this drastic act was work-related. According to her colleagues, this woman took her own life because of the bullying and fear she experienced at her school.

As I discussed this event with a friend who is a current CPS teacher, he mentioned that in the comments section of the article many non-educators were shocked and horrified at this tragic happening but were also quick to assume that the woman must have been "soft" or had some kind of underlying mental health problem. But, he quipped, when many CPS teachers heard about the incident, they just shook their heads and said, "Yeah, I can see that happening."

Truth is, so could I. When I think back to my measly one year of teaching at a horribly-run CPS elementary school, I can very easily imagine that scenario unfolding with a number of my colleagues and yes, even with myself.

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Katie Osgood / Comments (26)

Education Mon Dec 12 2011

Conflicting Views Over Possible 36th Ward Charter School

The United Neighborhood Organization wants to build a new charter elementary school in the 36th Ward's Galewood neighborhood. Alderman Nicholas Sposato might have something to say about that.

Tomorrow morning, concerned parents and students plan to attend a Zoning Committee meeting to object to Sposato's, well, objections. The school, which would occupy a now vacant lot at 2102 N. Natchez Avenue, would enroll 576 students — and, touts the UNO, create hundreds of much-needed jobs as well as improve education opportunities for students.

The UNO has a friend in the Chicago Tribune, which published an editorial in favor of the new charter, which Sposato may be opposing due to pressure from the Chicago Teachers Union.

WHERE: Zoning Committee Meeting at Chicago City Hall, City Council Chambers (121 N. LaSalle Street)

WHEN: Tuesday, December 13, 10am

CONTACT: Ray Quintanilla, UNO Communications Director. 312-505-7862

Megan E. Doherty / Comments (4)

Event Mon Dec 05 2011

Preckwinkle and Brizard to Speak at Forum on Dropouts

On Wednesday, Dec. 7 a public policy forum will be held to discuss how to deal with dropouts. The forum is entitled "Re-Enrolling Out of School Youth: A State, County and City Blueprint," and will be held at the Union League Club from 9am until 12:30pm.

The forum will feature Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico.

At the forum a new study entitled "High School Dropouts in Chicago and Illinois: The Growing Labor Market, Income, Civic, Social and Fiscal Costs of Dropping Out of High School," authored by Dr. Andrew Sum of Northeastern University, will be released. Sum will also be one of the participants at the forum.

There is currently no more space for people to attend the forum.

Monica Reida

Chicago Sun Dec 04 2011

Occupy Chicago Joins Motel Occupation

Visitors to Pastor Corey B. Brooks Head onto the Roof

At 7p.m. tonight, Occupy Chicago will hold its first overnight occupation on the South Side following a general assembly on property owned by New Beginnings Church. The church is hosting the event in conjunction with its own occupation of the derelict Super Motel at 6625 S. Martin Luther King Blvd, which is across the street from its main sanctuary. Its pastor, Corey B. Brooks, has been camping on the roof of the motel for a dozen days and fasting on water alone. He plans on camping on the site until the church raises $450,000 to raze the former motel and build a community center with mixed-use, mixed-income development on site.

Pastor Brooks said that he was "excited" when contacted by Occupy Chicago. "I think that anybody who -- especially when they're not from this area -- wants to come lend support, we've got to be open to that." Ultimately, the pastor hopes that he can play a role mediating between the group and Mayor Emanuel. "I want to have good relations with everybody. We are the church. We're not supposed to be at war with anybody ... We bring about peace."

Follow developments in the motel case on the Project H.O.O.D. website and through Pastor Brooks' Twitter account, CoreyBBrooks. Occupy Chicago is online at

Additional photographs follow.

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David Schalliol / Comments (1)

Chicago Public Schools Thu Dec 01 2011

School Privatization Conflicts, Apparent or Otherwise

A little friction met the Emanuel administration's to-date smoothly-rolling program of partially privatizing the school system this week. First, a report in the Tribune indicated that charter schools, which are privately run schools operated on tax money, do not perform any better than public schools on average and in many cases are considerably worse. Particularly troubling for privatization advocates--who are found in both political parties and in a wide swath of the political spectrum--was the suggestion that it is in fact poverty that drags down those charters performing worse. This fact is often brought up by privatization opponents and downplayed by its champions as mere excuse making. From the Tribune report:

More than two dozen schools in some of the city's most prominent and largest charter networks, including the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), Chicago International Charter Schools, University of Chicago and LEARN, scored well short of district averages on key standardized tests.

In two of the city's oldest charter networks, Perspectives and Aspira, only one school -- Perspectives' IIT Math & Science Academy -- surpassed CPS' average on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, taken by elementary schoolers, or the Prairie State Achievement Examination, used in high schools.

Next, Emanuel's choice to spearhead his school-turnaround effort brought the word "cronyism" into coverage of his administration, always a quick way to convince Chicagoans the new boss is the same as the old boss. This week the Emanuel administration announced a turbocharged CompStat program for the public schools and the expansion of the privately run Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) program, handing them six more schools to turn around. AUSL has a mixed to poor record with school turnarounds, and is connected to the Mayor through a number of campaign and policy staffers and his choice to head the Board of Education, David Vitale, raising questions of the propriety of the choice. Interestingly given the mantra of privatization advocates that public school supporters use poverty as an excuse, AUSL head Martin Koldyke defended their record by blaming kids for being slow to catch on.

Emanuel was reportedly testy when asked if there was a conflict of interest in his choice of AUSL given his political connections to them. Asked directly if there was a conflict of interest, the Mayor answered a wholly different question:

It is not a conflict to give kids a good education. It's the responsibility I have as mayor.

Whether there was a conflict or not, this controversy, if it is that, lays bare one of the problems inherent to privatization of public trusts, namely, the ease with which, at worst, actual conflicts arise, and at best, the appearance of conflicts arise. Mayor Emanuel's political connections to AUSL leadership are undeniable; whether they motivated in whole or in part his decision to hand them more business isn't as germane as the ease with which he is able to hand them business, the lack of meaningful checks to that ability, and the absence of transparency in the decision. It is worth nothing that another major charter operator, United Neighborhoods Organization-Charter School Network (UNO-CSN), is headed by a co-chair of Emanuel's Mayoral election campaign, Juan Rangel. From the outside looking in, the lesson is obvious: if you want to build a successful school operator, at the very least it helps to have strong political connections.

Now that the privatization train has started rolling, it will be more and more difficult to stop, and the Mayor's ideological dedication to the principles underlying certainly grease those tracks. It is unfortunate that the years-old warnings that charters were unproven went unheeded. We now are looking at a class of powerful and connected rent-seekers with intense financial and professional incentives to preserve the system. If it bears out that charter schools offer not meaningful advantage over public schools, we have solved no problems while likely creating a whole new class of them.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Social Services Mon Oct 17 2011

A North Side Beacon: Shari Fenton's Asian Youth Services

by Alan Lake

Safe havens for children living in gang and drug infested neighborhoods are few and far between, but for over 20 years the Asian Youth Services (AYS) after school program has filled the role. Besides tutoring math, science, history and reading, AYS aims to create a healthy atmosphere for any child who walks through the door, whether the student is the child of Cambodian refugees or recent Latin American immigrants.

Many of the children's families were victims of the Southeast Asian killing fields, so quite a few of their parents or grandparents are without formal education. Most are on public aid and rely on AYS for assistance for extra-academic aid, including for legal, health and housing problems.

As refugees, they can use all the help they can get.

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Mechanics / Comments (4)

Education Tue Oct 04 2011

Finding More in The Consortium's Findings

by Daniel Hertz

To read the headlines, the report released this week by the University of Chicago's University of Chicago's Consortium of School Research says nothing especially surprising: our public school system has shown "No Real Progress" (the Sun-Times) or "Little Progress" (Chicago News Cooperative), and has "Failed Many Students" (the Tribune). (Actually, you might have been surprised if you had been paying close enough attention to know that state tests have been showing big gains in elementary schools, and if you weren't cynical enough to already believe those same tests were being dumbed-down to produce the false appearance of progress. But I assume not very many people fall in that category.)

The actual report, however, contains major news-both good and bad-that either wasn't reported at all by the major outlets, or was relegated to a few lines buried deep inside the story. Here are three points that were under-covered:

1. CPS high schools are much better than they were 10-15 years ago.

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Education Fri Sep 09 2011

Teachers Allege Board of Education is Bribing and Intimidating Teachers

The Chicago Teachers Union has filed suit before the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board requesting injunctive relief to stop the Board of Education from conducting school-by-school "elections" to lengthen school days.

Specifically, the suit alleges that the Board, which is teachers' employer, is committing unfair labor practices in egregiously violating their contract with the districts 30,000 teachers.

Specifically, working conditions and wages and pay are supposed to be negotiated by the teachers' collectively and their employer. Since both sides are subject to the contract, it would be inappropriate for either side to try to negotiate such a condition on an individual basis.

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Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Sep 07 2011

A One-Man Stimulus Package

by Matt Farmer

Like some ne'er-do-well nephews whose rich aunt just died, the bosses at CPS headquarters are suddenly flush with cash. And from the looks of things, that newfound dough is rapidly burning holes in the pockets of the folks who occupy the corner offices down on Clark Street.

Talk about a sudden reversal of fortune. On June 15, Mayor Emanuel's hand-picked Board of Education voted (unanimously, of course) against paying CPS teachers the 4% contractual raises they were scheduled to receive this year. At that time, the board claimed it did not have "a reasonable expectation" of finding the money -- roughly $80 million -- to cover those raises.

What a difference a couple of months make. On Tuesday, CPS CEO J.C. Brizard became a one-man stimulus package, offering to pay each of the city's 482 elementary schools $150,000, if the teachers at those schools quickly agree to extend the length of the school day by 90 minutes. If all the schools sign on, Brizard's so-called "incentive" payments will add up to about $72 million.

But just in case $72 million isn't enough to seal the deal, Brizard is also offering each of the roughly 13,600 teachers at those elementary schools a lump-sum payment of $1250 -- you know, just to show he cares. That's another $17 million in newly discovered greenbacks.

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Mechanics / Comments (5)

Education Thu Aug 25 2011

Jean-Claude Brizard: It's All About the Love--Take It or Leave It

by Matt Farmer

My nine-year-old daughter was excited to get up in the morning and go to school last year, thanks in large part to the energy and efforts of her third-grade CPS teacher.

CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has now decided to harness even more of that teacher's seemingly boundless energy. In fact, earlier this week he asked her to spend some extra time in the classroom during the 2011-12 school year.

Why? The reason should be obvious. As Brizard told WTTW's Phil Ponce on Tuesday night: "We want to celebrate our teachers...We love our teachers."

Brizard was even willing to put a price tag on that love.

He said he'd break out his checkbook and sweeten this particular teacher's $52,400 salary with a 2% kicker. And all she needs to do is spend an extra 90 minutes in the classroom on each of the school's 170 instructional days.

You read that right. Just for her putting in a paltry 255 additional hours (a little over 6 extra weeks for those of you who remember the old 40-hour work week), Brizard will show his love to the tune of $1048. That, my friends, represents a pre-tax hourly wage of nearly $4.11. Not too shabby in the age of 9% unemployment.

Sure, it's a bit below the $4.25/hour minimum wage that a lot of fast food workers enjoyed back in 1991, but how many Burger King managers actually celebrated and loved their employees back then? (Before you answer, let's remember that President Clinton was not yet in the Oval Office.)

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Chicago Tue Aug 23 2011

It's Hard To Take You Seriously....

From a press release from the Chicago Teachers Union

More than 40,000 homes are foreclosed in Cook County each year. Combined with the illegal lay-off of teachers these foreclosures contribute to housing insecurity for thousands of CPS employees and students. As part of its ongoing negotiations with CPS, the Union requested that the Board turn up the pressure on Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Deutsche Bank until these institutions agree to write down the mortgage principals and interest rates for all homeowners facing foreclosure within the school district to market value as a part of an affordable and sustainable loan modification program. "The decline of safe and secure homes greatly impacts the overall well-being of the children, educators and their families in our public schools. Their interests are our interests," said Lewis. "We urge the school board to stop doing business with the "big five" banks whose policies adversely impact our schools and neighborhoods.
(the emphasis is mine)

Really, the banks should eat all of those losses In order to do business with CPS? I think mathematically alone the losses the banks would suffer would dwarf what they make doing business with CPS.

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OneMan / Comments (2)

Privatization Wed Aug 17 2011

Accountability in a Privatized School System

As the Chicago Reader's Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky reported on recently, private operators of public services seem to be erring on the side of privacy rather than transparency. A private sector instinct for the shielding of information seems to be pervasive among these operators, particularly schools.

The systematic privatization of public services assumes that accountability and efficiency will improve because private firms are more sensitive to consumer response. This is a particularly common rationale for the privatization of the school system. As private operators move in, the argument goes, they will be more accountable to parents out of fear that the parents-as-consumers will take their "business" (e.g., children) elsewhere. Since "an education" is a service and not a good and its effects are rarely immediately evident, parents as consumers would have to rely on information from the school to provide the cherished "market signals" to which private operators would respond.

So a major school operator in a huge education "market" being intentionally opaque would be a cause for concern.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Tue Aug 16 2011

The Business of Higher Education

Yesterday, Rahm Emanuel announced a plan to improve the Chicago Public School system, and it doesn't involve challenging students more.

But it does involve more of something: merit pay for principals.

The bonus money, which is estimated to run between $5,000-10,000 per principal, will be awarded depending on the principal's achievement of certain standards, such as student test scores.

It's unclear why Emanuel is proposing to implement a plan that, according to the above-linked Chicago News Cooperative article, has not only failed to produce noticeable improvements in New York, but also right here in Chicago.

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Megan E. Doherty / Comments (2)

Education Tue Aug 09 2011

No Child Left Behind "Waivers": A View from the Classroom

by Adam Heenan

Since I started teaching, I've always looked forward to the first day of the year. I never sleep the night before, but it is not an anxious time, it is an exciting time. I am even a little jealous of Track E teachers that get to start a month earlier than I.

The anxiety doesn't come in September, but it usually begins in January, and that doesn't have to do with the end of winter break, but rather a beginning of the "Testing Season." Testing Season, formerly known as "spring," is the time of the year when all the really valuable learning that had been going on through December is then set aside for preparing students to take high stakes exams. These tests tests do not inform instruction - we do not see results until the following autumn- they only serve to incorrectly label what students in a certain zip-code cannot do.

It is a time-wasting disjuncture of the school year calendar that tells us nothing about what our students really know and really can do. Teachers know this; students and parents know this. However, it seems that the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan still doesn't get it.

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Education Wed Jul 27 2011

New Scandal at Chicago State

From bad to worse.

Beleaguered south-side university Chicago State has a new set of woes, brought on by supplementing their enrollment numbers with failing students.

Recently, the Chicago Tribune reported that Chicago State went against its official policy by allowing students with GPAs lower than 1.8 continue to enroll in classes - in some cases, those GPAs bottomed out at 0.0.

Current CSU president Wayne Watson has his hands full, and claims that, unbeknownst to him, this "totally inappropriate" enrollment practice was passed on from previous administrations.

Whether CSU, which serves a predominantly minority and economically disadvantaged student body, can "get its act together" remains to be seen.

Megan E. Doherty / Comments (1)

Chicago Public Schools Tue Jul 26 2011

Teachers Union, Parents Challenge Local School Council Elections

Tensions escalated on the education front this week when the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education. United with other community groups, such as Designs for Change and Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), as well as nine individual Local School Council (LSC) members, the union alleges that the Board held illegal elections to fill new, non-teacher seats on the LSCs.

"The Board came swooping in and held these unlawful elections in all of the schools," said one of the CTU attorneys, Elaine Siegel. To her, the Board seemed to think, "'Let's go in there...and have [the elections] before the opposition can galvanize.'"

The opposition she spoke of is the "Local" side in this battle for control: who is really in charge? Individual schools, or the centralized Board?

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Megan E. Doherty

Whittier Elementary Thu Jun 30 2011

Whittier Update: Two Stories

A story on the on-going fight over the Whittier fieldhouse (La Casita) at the Tribune relays the Chicago Public Schools line that they are being frustrated by left wing ideologues who keep changing their demands, while a piece at the RedEye (by GB contributor Yana Kunichoff) looks at the money involved as they relate to the parents' demands:

$1.4 million: allocated to Whittier by Ald. Danny Solis (25th) from the Tax Increment Financing funding.

$364,000: The money from the $1.4 million TIF fund allocated first to demolish, then renovate the field house.

$564,000: The total amount of money raised to build a new, green field house

$750: Prize money awarded to the Whittier Parents Committee by the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) for the environmentally friendly design of the proposed La Casita.

Priceless?: More than 50 people came out last Friday at 5 a.m. to block the planned construction of the library in the school building instead of the field house and halted the construction for the day.

Reminiscent of the first Mayor Daley blaming all civil disorder on "outside agitators," the Tribune article casts the Board of Education as helpless in the face of irrational leftists:

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (7)

Education Fri Jun 17 2011

CTU and School Board Butt Heads

"Lies, damn lies and statistics."

During tough debates both sides try to spin facts and statistics to fit their point of view and provide a stronger foundation to their own argument. The current fight between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago School Board is no different with the new school board president pointing out the following:

* Even without the four percent previously-negotiated raises, 75 percent of all teachers will get automatic raises of between 1 percent and 5 percent for adding another year of experience or for increasing their credentials.

* Based on base salary alone, the minimum CPS starting teachers salary of $50,577 is No. 1 among the nation's 10 largest cities. Its maximum salary, requiring a master's degree, of $87,673 is No. 2, behind New York City. Its average salary also is among the top one or two, Human Capital Officer Alicia Winckler told board members.

CTU responded with their own stats pushing their own side.

Lewis called some of Winckler's numbers "ridiculous'' and claimed the added pay for another year of experience or added credentials amount to. at most, $35 to $50 more in take home pay every two weeks over 26 pay periods. "People tell me, `Oh, I thought I would get a raise and it's only 20 bucks,'" Lewis said.

She also noted that across the state, CPS teacher pay is not that competitive. Lewis cited a May 31 Chicago Sun-Times report that found that CPS high school teachers average total compensation, with benefits, ranks No. 71 in the state. CPS elementary teachers came in No. 38.

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Aaron Krager

Op-Ed Mon May 23 2011

A Longer School Day, or a Better School Day?

This Op-Ed from Adam Heenan, proprietor of The Classroom Sooth, followable on Twitter at @classroomsooth.

Time is a valuable thing. I often wish I had more of it. I can pretty much say with confidence that you, Reader, probably wish you had some more too.

I don’t like to waste people’s time. I don’t believe that any of us who engage in something we love want to either. When I form my lessons, teach a classroom full of high school students, or present information to my colleagues, I don’t want others to wish they were somewhere else. Learning is at its best when students are engaged. Engagement can look like a variety of things: a student hard at work on his or her own composition, a thoughtful classroom discussion about ethics, participation in the school science fair, or designing an exercise regimen in P.E.

Teachers do not believe that what we teach is a waste of time. We can engage students easily when things are important to us.

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Mechanics / Comments (7)

Education Sat May 21 2011

"Get Schooled" with Nicki Minaj


Hard work does indeed pay off--and for the 400-plus students at Collins Academy High School in Chicago's North Lawndale community, that hard work paid off in a major way, via a surprise visit on Thursday from Nicki Minaj.

Through Get Schooled, a foundation whose mission is to boost and encourage high attendance and graduation rates, the superstar rapper served as "Principal for a Day," a reward given to the school for winning the Get MotivatED Challenge, a six-week competition aimed at improving students' daily attendance nationwide. Throughout the challenge, both students and teachers collaborated to motivate students which resulted in the school's daily attendance rate improving by 7 percent. Since the end of the challenge, Collins Academy has maintained an attendance rate at 92 percent, confirming its place at the top among all Chicago high schools.

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LaShawn Williams

Education Thu Apr 28 2011

Again, This Time with Meaning! Accountability

Education reformers fixate on "accountability" because it is an appealing concept to citizens of a democratic republic. Accountability is a fundamental first principle of our democracy. You could sum up the phrase, "Taxation without representation is tyranny!" with the word accountability. That's what democracy is: those whom we entrust with power must be answerable--accountable--to those in whom power ultimately resides.

I'm similarly obsessed with accountability in education. Our public schools must be accountable. That's an easy thing to say: but what does it mean exactly?

Well, what are our public schools? Students are the immediate beneficiaries. Parents act in trust for children, who are unable to fully articulate their goals or advocate for them (since they don't have many legal rights), and partially fund the system. Teachers are the trained professionals entrusted to carry out the policies that would in practice achieve the system's goals. The "general public" generally wants schools to produce productive workers (broadly defined) and responsible citizens, and also funds the system.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Tue Apr 19 2011

Chicago's New Schools CEO: Courageous in Pursuit of What's Best for His Students

Yesterday Mayor-Elect Emanuel named his choice to lead the Chicago Public Schools as CEO. The CEO position was created by Mayor Daley along with his moves to put the Board of Education firmly under his control (the so-called "Amendatory Act" of 1995). The CEO to a large degree manages the Board as much as the Board manages him; this is common in institutions with C-level offices. In Chicago, the CEO's operational relationship with the Mayor as his agent to effectuate policy makes this even more the case.

Emanuel has chosen Jean-Claude Brizard, who headed up Rochester's schools from 2008 to present, and before that worked as an area executive in New York City's school system. He leaves Rochester not as a conquering hero, but as a controversial figure whom teachers and parents accused of an autocratic style of leadership in pursuit of an idealized vision including privatization and weakening teachers' bargaining power. The Emanuel campaign released some media-friendly quotes from various people lauding Brizard. The thought leaders quoted in Emanuel's release include Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education; Robert Duffy, New York's Lieutenant Governor; Seventeenth Ward alderman Latasha Thomas; the President of the University of Rochester; the executive director of the association of Superintendents in New York; a deputy Mayor of New York City; and the head of the Young Women's Leadership Network. The accolades variously credited Brizard's "command of the issues" and courage and leadership.

Here's a representative quote:

Jean-Claude Brizard performed yeoman service in New York City as deputy to Joel Klein and here in Rochester as superintendent. He is incredibly smart, has a very impressive command of the pivotal issues in K-12 education today, and is quite sophisticated in addressing the intricate politics of a complex public school system. He also is indefatigable and determined to achieve the best for his students. I will miss him greatly in Rochester. I wish him the very best in Chicago.

A reporter for Rochester's ABC affiliate has helpfully gathered the high-profile stories about Brizard. The collected articles don't conflict with the Emanuel team's intended sense of the man, insofar as they reveal someone who is willing to pick fights and act courageously and with determination to achieve his vision of what is "best for his students."

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Mon Mar 28 2011

Investigation Demonstrates Problem with Competition Model for Schools

An investigation into high-stakes testing results in DC schools has helped narrow the already skimpy body of evidence on which supporters of school privatization build their case. More telling, the results of the investigation lend vivid credence to a primary concern of skeptics, that the measures used to analyze schools and teachers simply compel sleight-of-hand:

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.


In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

"This is an abnormal pattern," says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years.

A trio of academicians consulted by USA TODAY -- Haladyna, George Shambaugh of Georgetown University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University -- say the erasure rates found at Noyes and at other D.C. public schools are so statistically rare, and yet showed up in so many classrooms, that they should be examined thoroughly.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Wed Mar 23 2011

The Core Principles of Terry Mazany

Could you blame the interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Terry Mazany, for looking forward to the end of his tenure? CPS cannot be a pleasant place to be. Families are leaving the system; federal rules have hamstrung decision making; an ideological war between pro-privatization and pro-public schools advocates uses it as a battleground. When Mazany was appointed by Mayor Daley after Huberman's somewhat sudden resignation, I questioned the appropriateness of the choice, given his limited background in school administration and lack of classroom experience.

As of right now, I think Mr. Mazany has proven me wrong. While not much time has passed, he's shown moxie and thoughtfulness, acknowledging the shock to the system caused by "silver bullet" solutions like Renaissance 2010 and wedding accountability to meaningful standards, not just high-stakes tests.

Of particular interest to me is this outlining of principles Mazany provided in a PowerPoint

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Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Mar 23 2011

What I Learned from David Protess


David Protess receiving the Puffin/Nation prize for Creative Citizenship in 2003

In the winter of 2005, I enrolled in David Protess' Investigative Journalism class at Northwestern University. By then, I had completed all of the core requirements for my journalism degree, and this course would be my last journalism elective before graduation. I was unsure about my future career path, but I knew that I did not want to leave Northwestern without taking this course. Older classmates I had spoken to told me that Protess was likely to change your life and your perspective on the U.S legal/justice system.

When I received word that I was accepted into the class, I was excited and nervous at the same time. We would be investigating possible wrongful convictions and trying our best to free innocent people in jail. That is a lot of pressure on a group of 22-year-olds, but as we would learn, Protess was never one to give up easily.

On the first day of class, I walked quickly to Fisk Hall, where many of the journalism classes were held. I arrived to class a little early, sat down among other eager students and took out my pen and notebook. A few minutes later, Protess walked in to begin class.

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Sheila Burt / Comments (2)

Education Sat Jan 29 2011

Expansion of Charter Schools Will Create a Private School System, Not School Choice

Is a policy of charter expansion a sound reform plan for our schools? Agreeing our schools need reform doesn't mean we need to accept any reform plan, but only the best reform plan. The argument for charter school expansion rests on a number of premises and inferences: mainly, that collectively bargained work rules make it more difficult to cultivate the best teaching; and that sharp competition between schools will increase efficiency and improve outcomes. For critical thinking purposes, let's take a look at this argument and see if there are any pressing objections.

Let's concede for a start that a major problem with the public schools is work rules that make firing and incentivizing teachers difficult, thus confounding the efforts of school operators to cultivate the best teaching.

Does that mean that school administrators should be allowed to fire teachers with "bad cause or no cause at all"? In other words, is the only alternative to the status quo its exact opposite?

Basic reason says this is not the case. There must be other possible and viable alternatives. For example: the grievance procedure could be simplified or changed; peer review could be instituted or, within the range of options, grievance steps could be reduced. The "good cause" standards could be independently policed or more explicitly stated, etc. These are all possible alternatives, and assuming that charter proponents believe no binding work rules is the best solution, we can infer that a minimum of binding work rules would still be better than the status quo. So these alternatives are also viable.

Knowing there are possible and viable alternatives, we still needn't jettison the proposed solution (banning of union rules) unless it is either not possible or not viable, leaving a preferred solution somewhere in between.

The expansion of private school operators promised by Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico will turn teachers into at-will employees. This impacts who gets fired and how, but that isn't the primary objection. More importantly it adversely effects the maintenance of professional standards. Charter teachers regularly complain about being made to teach classes they are not qualified to teach or grade levels they are not certified to instruct. Even if this is merely anecdotal, the fact that it is possible and not remediable should disqualify it as a structural reform. Lack for formal grievance makes it difficult for teachers to prevent their own termination, but it also makes it impossible for the professionals to police the profession, which by definition unravels the profession itself. As a policy, it is not clearly viable.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (10)

The Left Thu Jan 06 2011

Teachers Union Condemns Recent FBI "Witch Hunt"

The Chicago Teachers Union passed a resolution yesterday condemning the FBI raids on activist group in Chicago and Minneapolis, calling the recent federal grand jury subpoenas on activists a "witch hunt." (See the full text of the resolution after the jump.)

In the fall, FBI agents raided six homes in Minneapolis and two in Chicago, issuing subpoenas to eight people to appear in front of a federal grand jury in Chicago. The search warrants for the raids cites a federal law that prohibits "providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations," according to Democracy Now; the bureau claims they are looking for ties to terrorist groups in Palestine and Colombia.

Second protest of FBI raids 08
Photo by Alan Wilfahrt

Numerous groups have condemned the raids--the subpoenaed activists held a press conference condemning what they called a "fishing expedition." Joe Iosbaker, one of the activists targeted in the raids, saw the subpoenas as part of a history of bureau suppression and disruption of social movements, saying, "The FBI acts today as they have always acted: to intimidate and disrupt the anti-war movement and the movements for peace and justice."

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (1)

Classroom Mechanics Mon Jan 03 2011

Classroom Mechanics: Annie

classroommechanics.jpgAnnie appears born to teach. A third grade teacher near Bucktown, she bursts with enthusiasm, gesticulating excitedly when talking about her students or a math curriculum she thinks highly of.

The majority of her students are Latino; she is white. Born on the East Coast and educated in Urbana-Champaign, she now lives in the neighborhood, and likes it that way. On the way to the interview, she says, she ran into a student from the past year.

She comes from a family of educators, and has wanted to teach from a young age. Now in her sixth year of teaching, she plans to be an educator for life.

I was lucky to grow up in a town where the public system was phenomenal. I had great teachers. When I go home, I still visit my teachers from as far back as third grade. In my class, we do a project called Flat Stanley, and every year I send a Flat Stanley back to my old third grade teacher's classroom. My third grade teacher now can see me as a third grade teacher.

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (1)

Education Sun Jan 02 2011

Is it Time to End Mayoral Control of the Schools?

Find a profile of Mayor Richard M. Daley. In it, you'll find a sentence about how the Mayor wrested control of the schools from special interests to institute reforms that special interests had been resisting for years. For "education reformers" fixated on introducing market pressure into public schools, "mayoral control" is a dream, a way to accelerate all the subsequent reforms they so badly want.

By introducing mayoral control first, it becomes much easier to institute the various "reforms" beloved of groups like Broad-Gates and Stand for Children. Despite claims to rampant grassroots desire for the types of reforms they espouse, efforts to shut down neighborhood schools in favor of charters, break down parental control of schools through privatization, and otherwise subject public education to market forces often face resistance from parents and community groups. Mayoral control of schools makes it possible to push through reforms quickly and with fewer regulatory and democratic hurdles.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

Mayor Wed Dec 22 2010

Rahm's Education Video and Some Light Recycle-ry

Rahm's campaign has released this video to detail his education plan. I'm still working with the campaign to respond to some questions about the plan's details.

Here's one irrelevant piece of trivia: Rahm's campaign has used this expression, "There's nothing wrong with Chicago's public schools that cannot be fixed by what's right with Chicago's public schools." This had a familiar ring to it, and then it occurred to me:

Ramsin Canon

Classroom Mechanics Mon Dec 13 2010

Classroom Mechanics: Lara Lindh

classroommechanics.jpgThis story was written by Yana Kunichoff.

Lara Lindh (not her real name) an early childhood education teacher at a public school on the Northwest side of Chicago in her early 30s, speaks slowly and deliberately. Her enunciation is effortlessly precise, as are her hand movements and color coordination. Her white blouse is covered with tiny bouquets of flowers that match the greenish-blue of her eyes and the mustard yellow of her upswept hair. She holds her left hand around her iced tea for the duration of our interview while gesturing, and punctuating, with her right. "Play is the work of children," she says.

Lindh is from Cincinnati and has been teaching for four years. Prior to getting her degree in early childhood education, she was a bartender and a political activist when she realized she wanted to go into a "caring profession." She says she considered becoming a pediatric nurse but went instead into teaching young children -- not entirely surprising for a woman who had a collection of over 6,000 children's storybooks before she even became a teacher. She was trained at Columbia College, one of the few schools in the country which teaches the Reggio Emilia approach, which seeks to build up the values of respect, responsibility and community through exploration and discovery, and Lindh swears by it.

She consistently refers to the students she teaches as "little personalities" or "little people," and on any one day Lindh says she will find herself in a room with up to 20 small personalities who may speak any mixtures of English, Spanish, Arabic or Polish. This explains why one of the books she brings with her to our meeting is The Black Book of Colors, a children's book entirely in black with no words but raised representations of sensations, such as feathers, meant to be experienced not through language but with the touch.


I'm lucky to teach in one of the few public schools in Chicago that is also embarking on an exploration of the Reggio approach in their early childhood classrooms but you know we're very limited by a few things that are happening in education. The way early childhood programs in Illinois are funded is through state funding, it's called Preschool for All. Five years ago there was a huge expansion of pre-school because the state was flush with cash, but today since the state budget crisis that's different. Year to year you just don't know if you're going to have a job, if your program is going to be open the next year. So that's how we are funded. We are part of the Chicago public schools so you know our buildings and all of that are supplied through mainstream funding.

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Mayor Thu Dec 09 2010

Early and Often: Emanuel's Kids and CPS

Chicago's great new local politics reporting site, Early and Often is reporting on the efforts of Mayoral hopefuls Miguel Del Valle and Gery Chico to pin Rahm Emanuel on his commitment to making Chicago's public schools institutions worthy of the ideal of equality of opportunity. Dan Mihalopolous reports:

Almost as soon as mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel balked when asked Tuesday whether he would enroll his three children in Chicago Public Schools, rival Miguel del Valle's campaign fired off a brief news release to emphasize del Valle's "history as CPS father and alumnus."


Soon after del Valle's missive...Gery Chico also sought to capitalize on the situation[:] "There is something to be said for leading by example and having a personal stake in the system you seek to reform," Chico said in the statement. "I would never tell a parent what decision to make for their own child, but personally, I wouldn't feel comfortable asking parents of more than 400,000 public school students to do something I wouldn't do myself."

Ramsin Canon

Education Tue Nov 16 2010

Daley Appoints Another Non-Educator to Head City's Education

Mayor Daley announced today the appointment of Chicago Community Trust CEO Terry Mazany to head up the Chicago Public Schools. The Sun-Times piece, in listing Mazany's qualifications, leaves out that he sits on the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Mazany seems like a perfectly capable man, but his education qualifications to run the Chicago Public Schools are not immediately evident. Note: While Mazany has served as a public administrator in school systems in California, it was not in an educator capacity, which is the principle concern of critics. The Chicago Community Trust has created programs for increasing access to arts programs in schools and fund grassroots after-school programs, but has not delved into the structural problems facing the Chicago Public Schools.

In defending his choice of a non-educator to head the public schools, the Mayor reiterated the need to put a business type at the top of the schools, with the bizarre rationale that it has served the district well since he took over the schools in 1995. I'm curious; why do "market solutions" get infinite time to prove themselves? The schools have not appreciably improved--certainly not to a point that has satisfied privatization-focused reformers--in the fifteen years since the Mayor decided a "business model" would improve the schools.

Mazany was also a driving force behind the Renaissance Schools Fund, the private sector partner of the abysmal Renaissance 2010 initiative. Why any of this should endear Mazany to parents, students, and teachers is unclear. Renaissance 2010 is predicated on the idea that some students must fail, and that a school system should focus on giving an extra boost to students already more likely to succeed. This undermines the entire premise of public education. Is that the mindset we want at the top of a public school system?

Disclosure: The Chicago Community Trust funds the Community News Matters grant along with the John S. and James L. Knight foundation. Gapers Block is a grantee.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Classroom Mechanics Mon Nov 08 2010

Classroom Mechanics on WBEZ

Morning gang! Tune into WBEZ's 848 program this morning; host Alison Cuddy will be talking to a number of guests about public education here in Chicago, including yours truly. I'll be talking about the changes at CPS and the background and future plans for our new "Classroom Mechanics" teacher oral history project. Show begins at 9am and repeats at 9pm.

UPDATE: Here's audio of the segment.

Ramsin Canon

Classroom Mechanics Thu Nov 04 2010

Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project: Lindsey Rohwer

Lindsey Rohwer is a 26-year old Spanish teacher who lives in Lakeview. A native of Omaha, she began teaching in Chicago in 2006 at Corliss High School on the South Side through Teach for America, a non-profit organization that places recent college graduates in schools in low-income communities. Rohwer fulfilled her two-year commitment with Teach for America in 2008 and worked at Corliss for another year. In August 2009, she started a new position as a Spanish I and II teacher at TEAM Englewood Community Academy High School. A few weeks before Rohwer began her second year at TEAM Englewood, I sat down with her at a Starbucks in Bridgeport to discuss her experience teaching and why she remains committed to staying in a classroom beyond her tenure with Teach for America.


I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. My mom and both my aunts were public school teachers. I grew up in the suburbs of Omaha, and it was a really fantastic school district. So my experience with public school is that it is very high quality, just excellent education from those schools. Then I went to school at the University of Kansas and was a Spanish and International Studies major. I thought I wanted to go to grad school and do foreign policy, sort of more on the politics side of things. During my senior year, I heard a couple of people that had done Teach for America and I started to find out more about it. To be honest it seemed at the time like a good two-year buffer before I actually had to decide what I was really going to do, so that is what drew me to it. I had done tutoring and teaching throughout college, and really enjoyed it, but I did not have an interest in having a career in public education. So it was really like, 'This will be something I will enjoy doing for two years. It will be a challenge.' Then I will go on to do what I really planned to do.

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Sheila Burt / Comments (2)

Education Wed Oct 20 2010

Agreement Reached in Whittier School

The Chicago Public Schools and protesting parents who've taken over the Whittier Dual Elementary School Fieldhouse have reached an agreement to end the sit-in, Anne Elizabeth Moore reports -- but only once the parents get the agreement in writing.

CPS agreed to repolish, not demolish, as parents had been asking for 36 days straight--and for seven years before that, too. Once renovations are completed, the building will be leased back to the Whittier Parents Community Council, the recently christened organizational name of the group, for $1 per year.

An official school library was also part of the agreement, although it will be housed inside the school, and not in the field house. The field house will continue to be used as a community center.

Moore tweeted confirmation of the agreement this afternoon:

CONFIRMED: The moms will end the #Whittier sit-in when they get those CPS *promises* IN WRITING.less than a minute ago via web

We'll see how long it takes for CPS to get the agreement put in writing.

Andrew Huff

Classroom Mechanics Wed Oct 20 2010

Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project: Mark

classroommechanics.jpgAs Mark and I are sitting in a Northwest Side coffee shop, the baristas make the unfortunate choice to blare a Black Sabbath album at a volume that makes it difficult for me to hear myself, much less Mark's stories from teaching. But despite the cacophony in the air around us, Mark is unfazed. A young white science teacher, Mark takes teaching in an all-black South Side high school very seriously; when I comment on the deafening roar of the music, he gives me a look that indicates he barely noticed it. He has given the topic of his school and his students his utmost attention--little can break his train of thought.

A native of a northern suburb, Mark went to school at an elite private university out of state, returning home to teach. He was first hired to teach high school in a rich, mostly-white neighborhood, but was pink-slipped; after substitute teaching for a year on the South and West Sides, he was hired at a high school on the South Side, where he now lives. Several times during his tenure as a sub, he taught at schools where a student had been killed the day before.

In his early twenties, he's about as young as a teacher can be. In conversing about his experiences, however, one could easily mistake his seemingly seasoned demeanor for that of an educator with a decade of experience.

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (2)

Classroom Mechanics Tue Oct 19 2010

Announcing Classroom Mechanics: An Oral History Project of Teaching in Chicago

classroommechanics.jpgWe are none of us either angels or devils, and that fact is where the best stories live.

Teachers are wrongly lauded as heroes and demeaned as Those Who Can't.

At Mechanics we've been covering the struggle of educators and parents to overcome a rigid bureaucracy and a generation of onslaught on the public schools. We can lose our heads -- we all of us can -- and begin taking sides that refuse nuance.

How around that?

We decided to go out and talk to teachers -- public and charter, neophytes and seasoned, currently working and laid off -- and bring their own voice to the discussion. We weren't interested in hearing about the wild regrets and the bloody sweats, but the day to day. What it takes to teach, what a teacher faces, and how they're rewarded and punished.

This project is ongoing. Over the next few months we want to bring as many teacher voices to you our readers as we can get to. If you are yourself an educator, a student, a parent, or just know someone who'd be interested in participating or who should participate, please, get in touch.

Wherever you are in the debate on the future of education, you must agree that we have to all of know us what it means -- and what it takes -- to teach, first. Let's not reduce things to abstractions or absurdities. Let's not exalt angels and condemn devils that after all are neither.

Our first history will go up tomorrow, Wednesday, October 20.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Tue Oct 19 2010

Where Do We Go From Here on the Education Front?

This editorial was submitted by Valerie F. Leonard

The Chicago Public Schools has been under Mayoral control for the past 16 years. Under the Mayor's leadership we have had School Reform, Renaissance 2010 which called for school closings and reopening them as charter schools, and attempts to qualify for the national Race for the Top (which seems to have been modeled after the local Renaissance 2010 initiative). The changing of the guard in City Hall could have serious implications for the direction of education in Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune ran an interesting article regarding the fact that the State's standardized tests have been made increasingly simpler over the last 5 years. ("Students Can Pass ISAT With More Wrong Answers"). It should be noted that the article does not mention the fact that Chicago Public Schools lobbied the State to simplify the test 5 years ago.

At the same time, the Chicago Tribune's Editorial Board is urging the next Mayor to continue the course that has been laid by the current Mayor, and suggested that the new Mayor keep the current CPS CEO on board to continue the reforms that have been made. ("Reform on the Ropes?").

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (1)

IL-GOV Wed Oct 06 2010

March of the Morons: Brady on Evolution and Creation

Darwin_ape.pngI have one question that I believe should be used to disqualify people from running for executive office. It is, "Do you accept the theory of evolution?" Anybody who says no should be disqualified. No, it's not a religious test that would violate the Article VI prohibition. It's a moron test. We could also ask, "Are you a moron?" but then we'd be less likely to get an honest response. This way we could actually root out the morons.

This has nothing to do with conservative/liberal, Democrat/Republican. Evolution is a fact--in fact, it's more than a fact. It is a theory built upon literally millions of facts. Believe whatever other thing you want, but denying that evolution took place--maybe not exactly how science now conceives, but that it took place in some way--is absolutely no different than denying gravity. Newtonian physics got the mechanics of gravity wrong, but that didn't make gravity itself wrong. If you think "the jury is out" on evolution, you're not particularly bright, willfully ignorant, or poorly educated (which may not be your fault, but still--probably shouldn't be elected to executive office).

Bill Brady thinks it's okay to teach Creationism in schools. By doing so, he betrays his claim that he accepts "both" creationism and evolution. Accepting both as equivalent to be taught is like saying you accept "both" the theory of electromagnetism and fish are delicious. I don't care about any of the rest of his politics. How can you vote for a person like that? Creationism in schools? Really? We want the US to create well-educated kids prepared to tackle the most significant problems of the future--not to mention stay on the cutting edge of science--and we're going to allow school districts to teach Creationism? How stupid is this guy?

Apparently immensely.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (25)

Education Mon Oct 04 2010

Waiting for Superman -- Another Man's Perspective

I like this. I think that One Man and I should review films more often.

Waiting for Superman is not, as the title may imply, a "reboot" of the old Christopher Reeve film, although the films do show parallels. Each story begins with a societal problem. The problem in Metropolis was crime caused by supervillains. In Waiting for Superman, American education is the issue and the supervillains are the very people who make improving young people's lives their life's work.

Each story has a fantastic villain. In the original, it was Lex Luthor, a greedy megalomaniac with hordes of henchmen. In the Waiting, the villains are teachers unions, with hordes of "bad teachers" who are only interested in keeping their jobs, according to this overly simplistic film.

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Kenzo Shibata / Comments (2)

Education Sun Oct 03 2010

Waiting for "Superman" -- OneMan's Perspective

Two of us Gapers Block Mechanics section writers were invited to the Chicago premier of Waiting for Superman, by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. I am not sure if we got our invitations because we write for Mechanics or have blogged about education in other places. Regardless, we thought it might be interesting to post our thoughts on the movie separately.

In order to understand my viewpoint on the movie, I think I should provide some background about myself...

I am a Republican who is in favor of vouchers. I attended public schools though my undergraduate degree (In Dolton, IL for K-12 and then NIU for my BS); my graduate education is from two private universities in the western suburbs (Aurora and Lisle). I have a MS in MIS. I have taught for credit classes (part-time) at the community college level (Introduction to Windows, Introduction to Windows 95) and a database class for credit for the on-line component of The University of Phoenix. I currently work as a computer professional. Finally, because I think it is relevant to the discussion, I grew up in a union household: my dad was a union member and, at one time, the shop steward.

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Education Fri Oct 01 2010

Whittier Field House Library Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Parents of students at the Whittier Dual Language School opened a new library in the occupied Whittier Field House on Thursday, September 30, with the help of the Chicago Underground Library and donations from as far away as Florida. The following photographs are from the ribbon cutting ceremony that officially opened the library at 5pm with speeches, song, prayer and -- of course -- some reading.

Read Cinnamon Cooper's piece about the field house occupation for background information.

Putting Finishing Touches on the New Library at the Whittier Field House
Putting finishing touches on the new library.

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David Schalliol / Comments (1)

Education Tue Sep 28 2010

The Kids Who Fight For a Library

The parents of students at Whittier Dual Language School have been fighting for seven years to get a library built for the school. They learned about Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), they created petitions, they called press conferences. And 12 days ago, after finding out about a demolition order for the field house that parents call "La Casita," the parents decided occupying the field house on school property to prevent it from being torn down, was the only way they may be able to get the library they felt their children deserved. So they've spent the night in the field house to prevent it from being demolished and have started taking book donations (with a great deal of help from Chicago Underground Library) to create the library on their own.

Gapers Block published an article on September 18th and Anne Elizabeth Moore has written more than a week's worth of posts about the parents' fight to save La Casita from demolition.

Most of the attention has been focused on the parents, the sturdiness of La Casita, and the lack of response given by Chicago Public Schools to the parents. But I was curious how much the children at Whittier actually cared about having a library. Statistics show us that kids aren't reading for fun as much as they used to, kids spend more time playing video games than reading, and getting boys to read just isn't going to happen.

So with the permission from their parents, I sat down and talked with four students at Whittier Dual Language Elementary School. Their parents weren't present for the interview and seemed quite comfortable trusting me to talk with their children within eyesight, but not earshot. Most of the parents did tell their children to only talk to me about "la biblioteca." Most of the kids nodded serenely and politely before moving to the playground to talk with me. Raul rolled his eyes when his back was turned to Guadalupe, his mother, and said to me, "It's like she can read my mind sometimes! How did she know I was going to tell you all our family secrets?" He then laughed and said, "I'm just kidding with ya."

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (5)

Education Sat Sep 18 2010

Parents and Students Occupy Whittier School Fieldhouse

arms.jpg Several dozen parents and students completed the third night of an occupation of a Pilsen elementary field house Friday night, protesting the planned demolition of the allegedly dilapidated structure. The sit-in has withstood several visits by the police - at one point they threatened arrests then abruptly left after more than 100 students, parents and community members pushed past barricades to support the protesters - and scored the promise of an interview with Ron Huberman to discuss turning the field house into a library for the school.


The field house of Whittier Dual Language School, at 1900 W. 23rd St., has been used as a center for after-school programs and community meetings. According to Gema Gaete, an activists with Teachers for Social Justice and Pilsen resident, parents found out that the building was set to be demolished in November 2009, when a budget detailing the proposed spending of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money allotted to Whittier was released.


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Mechanics / Comments (5)

Education Fri Sep 10 2010

Teachers Union Weighing In Nationally and Locally

The new leadership slate at the Chicago Teachers Union has been getting quite a bit of attention inside and outside of Chicago lately.

Karen Lewis, the newly elected president of CTU, recently spent some time on Democracy Now!:

And, for the first time in two decades, they'll be weighing in on our next mayoral race, which you may have heard a thing or two about in the last few days.

Things have been heated, nationally and locally, on the education front. The CTU already made an impressive showing in the streets this summer. As the new leadership throws its hat into more venues, including what is sure to be a circus when the mayoral primaries approach, it should be interesting to see the impact a revitalized but still much-maligned group of educators will have on city and national politics.

Micah Uetricht / Comments (1)

Education Mon Aug 30 2010

Catalyst Report On Charters Demonstrates Duncan's Record of Failure

That Arne Duncan is a professional failure has never really been up for much debate. He achieved precisely zero of his objectives as head of the schools in Chicago, and failed upward into the President's administration mainly for his skills at self-marketing and the President's bizarre desire to appear "tough on teachers".

Catalyst Chicago in its latest issue[PDF] is digging into what teachers and parents have known since at least 2005: that the Renaissance 2010 program is a disaster, that privatization and charter schools have done nothing but increase opacity, decrease accountability, and aggravate the bifurcation of the school system; and that whatever improvement CPS has seen since the Mayor took over the school system in 1995 is due not to the free market unicorns sneezing their econowoozle magic on the evil teachers unions, but to gentrification.

As opponents of public school privatization have warned for years, the fascination with "innovation" and "entrepreneurial spirit" is hanging the hopes of a generation on buzzwords and sloganeering. There is no evidence, nor has there ever been, that introducing profit motive and private sector slash-and-burn sensibility would add value to education. Indeed, it hasn't been. What a surprise: firing master teachers and destabilizing the work force has NOT lead to an improvement in retention in poor schools and has not somehow magically improved classroom instruction.

As the Catalyst study points out:

  • On average, charters lost half of their teachers over the past two years, a turnover rate that rivals many low-performing neighborhood schools.
  • Only 16 of 92 new schools have reached the state average on test scores. Of those 16, just eight are charters. The rest are new magnet schools or new satellites of existing magnet and selective schools.

Just as public education advocates have been saying, introducing private operators into the school system with little oversight simply accelerates the problem of bifurcation. Charters are competing with each other for the best students and leaving the public school system to educate kids with poor performing kids, kids with learning disabilities, and kids from the poorest communities. Oh, and kids from multi-lingual households: Latino kids are particularly left behind according to the Catalyst study. The proportion of Latino kids attending high-performing schools has not increased at all since Renaissance 2010 began in 2004.

And, just as predicted, charters inherently prejudice students with highly involved parents, as this story heartbreakingly illustrates:

This spring, Charise Agnew was forced to confront the lack of school options in Roseland as she made an agonizing decision about where to send her older son, Dorian Metzler, to high school. Dorian was one of the top 8th-graders at Lavizzo, one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. In 2010, only about 44 percent of students met or exceeded state standards on the ISAT. Agnew had her heart set on Dorian attending Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, a selective enrollment school just to the west of Lavizzo. She had him apply, and then she waited. But Agnew didn't know that Dorian needed to take an entrance exam. Few students at Lavizzo score above the 70th percentile on the ISAT, the cutoff to take the selective enrollment test. So there was no buzz in the hallway. A teacher might have asked about it, but the original 8th-grade teacher was fired and the class had a substitute for two months.

The end result is that no one tapped Dorian or Agnew on the shoulder to tell them about the entrance test. "I just had no idea," Agnew says.

Brooks is the only higher-scoring high school in the area. Agnew's first reaction was to take Dorian's transcript up to Brooks and try to talk to the principal. But selective enrollment school principals can be inundated with pleas from parents to offer their child a slot. Schools set up shields, and Agnew didn't make it past the foyer.

A woman like Charise Agnew is undoubtedly an involved and interested mother. But in an education system perverted by the neoliberal fascination with competition and markets, even her children end up losing out.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Budget Thu Aug 12 2010

A Tale of Three School Districts

Once upon a time there were three school districts, two of the districts were right next to each other and one was a few miles away and they were all informed that they could get new federal funding to help them retain teachers.

But once the school districts got to see the numbers they got three very different stories. The three districts were the Aurora East, Oswego and Yorkville school districts, all were consolidated districts so they taught K-12. The federal funding numbers come from the Beacon News.

But lets look at some of the numbers. First the amount that the new funding will provide to each district.

Continue reading this entry »


Labor & Worker Rights Mon Aug 09 2010

Chicago Math and Sciences - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

[This article was submitted to Gapers Block by Kim Bobo of Interfaith Worker Justice.]

Chicago Math and Science Academy is a charter school on Chicago's far north side neighborhood of Rogers Park, an ethnically and economically diverse community that has struggled to have quality public schools. Community residents were pleased when the charter school was founded in 2004. Its first two graduating classes, in 2009 and 2010, had college acceptance rates of 100 percent.

I vaguely knew about the school because one of my choir members attended and graduated in its 2010 class. She spoke highly of the school and the teachers. She got lots of help from the school in applying for colleges and tuition assistance.
The school loomed larger in my life when it moved last year from its original location to a spot about five houses down from where I live. Chicago Math and Science Academy bought and renovated what had been a run-down shopping area. The renovation is an attractive addition to the neighborhood and I enjoy seeing the children and parents streaming around the school every morning. Although I had been inside the school once, I had never met its leadership or teachers. Nor did I know much about its philosophy. I just knew it was doing a good job. Chicago Math and Science Academy, as its website touts, is one of the top three charter schools in Chicago. It's clearly doing something right for the students and their families. This is clearly the good.

The bad is a function of the failure of the public schools to establish learning environments in which all children can learn. Into this void has entered a collection of for-profit charter schools that are only marginally accountable to local communities. Some would argue that this outside control, without having to mess with community politics, is why they are succeeding. Perhaps. But there is some weirdness here.
Chicago Math and Science Academy is a part of Concept Schools. According to its website, Concept Schools is a management organization founded in 2002 to support and develop charter schools that seek to integrate the best aspect of the Turkish and American educational systems. Concepts Schools have grown from two to 19 schools, of which 16 are in Ohio, and one each in Indiana, Michigan and Illinois. Concept Schools bring in teachers from Turkey, Russia and other European countries to help teach math and sciences. Currently, approximately 25 percent of the faculty are international teachers.

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Mechanics / Comments (16)

Education Mon Jul 12 2010

New CTU President Elected to National Body

The American Federation of Teachers had its national convention this weekend. You can follow their proceedings here; it's a critical time for teachers nationally, as the one place liberals and conservatives seem to be agreeing on (if the Obama administration's posture is any guide) is that teachers are the problem and mass firings of experienced teachers is the best solution.

According to the Chicago Teachers Union twitter feed, newly elected President Karen Lewis was elected to sit on the national body's Executive Board, which is only natural given the size and prestige of the Chicago local (the CTU is considered the first teacher's union in the country, and is designated as "Local 1" inside the union).

Ramsin Canon

Education Fri Jun 18 2010

News Room With Ken Davis and Lorraine Forte

This week I was on CAN TV's News Room with Ken Davis, appearing with Catalyst Chicago editor Lorraine Forte. We talked about CORE's victory in the CTU election, the public schools budget, privatization, TIFs, and Mayor Daley. Briefly.

The show will air Thursday, June 24th, 6:30 PM, Channel 19 and Friday, June 25th, 1:30 PM, Channel 19

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Tue Jun 15 2010

CPS: 35 to a Class

Ron Huberman called an "emergency" meeting of the Board of Education for today to move the district towards shoe-horning more kids in the classroom. The Board dutifully agreed. The timing of this "emergency" meeting could be a little suspicious, as an insurgent caucus dedicated to fighting Huberman tooth-and-nail just won the leadership of the CTU on Friday. Before leaving office, the previous leadership of the CTU filed a lawsuit against the Board alleging that raising class sizes to 35 would violate the fire code in many schools.

UPDATE: Via Mike Klonsky's Small Talk Blog:

Ramsin Canon

Education Sat Jun 12 2010

Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) Takes Over Chicago Teachers Union

A slate for union leadership run by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) has defeated the incumbent United Progressive Caucus (UPC) leadership in a run-off election, and decisively. Approximately 60% of the teachers voting in the run-off (of a total of about 20,000 votes) chose CORE over the incumbents. CORE also swept all of the "functional Vice President" positions with the exception of one, the VP for "PSRPs", the clerical and support staff in the schools. The mandate for change is clear.

CORE began only two years ago as a caucus of teachers determined to push the union to take a more aggressive and adversarial posture on the issues of privatization, school closures, and to push the union to work more closely with community and parents organizations as a way to protect and improve public schools. CORE's leadership has been especially critical of Ron Huberman and Mayor Daley, indicating that the go-along, get-along posture of the CTU over the last decade will be coming to an end.

CORE forced a run-off after nearly out-polling the UPC in the first round of voting two weeks ago. Despite a contentious election, the other slates--the ProActive Chicago Teachers and the Coalition for a Strong, Democratic Union--quickly endorsed CORE and campaigned among their supporters to ensure an insurgent victory in the run-off. President-Elect Karen Lewis addressed the media this morning at King High School in Bronzeville. The leadership slate is rounded out by Jesse Sharkey (Vice President), Michael Brunson (Recording Secretary) and Kristine Mayle (financial secretary). More video to come.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Tue Jun 08 2010

The CTU's Lawsuit: Posturing or Protecting Students?

The Chicago Teacher's Union continues to make noise over the cuts and subsequent classroom changes teachers will endure as a result of the CPS' budget quagmire, but this time, it's legal. CTU President Marilyn Stewart (up for a run-off election for the presidency against CORE nominee Karen Lewis in two days) announced today that the CTU is filing suit against the CPS for its plans, announced last Friday, to increase class sizes to 35.

"It appears that CPS is willing to sacrifice Chicago's students in order to balance its budget," she said at a press conference today. According to Stewart, raising class sizes will have a negative impact not only on students' education but also on their safety.

The CTU asserts that the CPS' plan violates Chicago's Municipal Code, which requires that classrooms be built with at least 20 square feet of space for each student. With the proposed increase and including a teacher, each classroom would require a minimum of 720 square feet--a luxury many older classrooms don't have.

Continue reading this entry »

Alex Jaffe / Comments (1)

Education Fri Jun 04 2010

Chicago Merit Pay Program Was Not Uniquely Flawed

Maybe it was the policy postures of Clinton era--I don't know--but for some reason, this mythology that all social problems can be solved through the awesome force of "markets" and a business ethos has been wholly absorbed by liberals, particularly big city liberals. We can all agree that capitalism has created an awesome amount of wealth and raised the quality of life for many people. Isn't that enough? Do we have to admit the profit motive and corporate governance to every area of human relations? Does it mean corporate CEOs know the solutions to all our problems? Must we be thankful, rather than terrified, that JP Morgan Chase is trying to underwrite our schools?

The little local kerfuffle over the failure of Chicago's pilot teacher merit pay program is another example of petty liberals assuming "seriousness" by just accepting that a corporate approach can solve social problems if only properly designed. Can't it be that some things aren't like profit-seeking entities, and therefore those models can't be transposed onto them? Isn't it possible that some things we as a society want are going to be expensive, big, and not anything like, say, Wal-Mart?

The fact is, Chicago's merit pay experiment failed not because of some illicit design flaw, but because pay for performance for teachers is fundamentally flawed, from its head to its toes. It's nothing new. It's been tried since the 18th Century--yes, the 18th Century--and has failed fairly consistently. In fact as cited in that report, the sole serviceable model--the one in Denver--is even low-rated by its supporters in that school system, who admit that lots of other expensive things are required for even modest improvements.

Here's Cottrell's take:

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Thu Jun 03 2010

Does the NYC Mayor Have Good Advice for the CPS?

Perhaps the Chicago Teacher's Union needs to take a page out of New York City's book, where teachers will have to forego projected two percent pay raises to save some 4,400 teachers their jobs, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Wednesday.

The layoffs would, according to the mayor, "devastate the school system and erase much of the great progress we've made," reports the AP.

Is the same not true of the CPS? In Chicago, the budget deficit may force the layoff of 2,700 teachers to provide for a four percent pay raise negotiated in the CTU's contract in 2007. These layoffs and other budgetary cuts will lead to class sizes of up to 35 kids and the loss of junior varsity sports and other extracurricular activities.

And yet the CTU doesn't seem to be willing to make compromises. In March, the CTU released a statement in which President Marilyn Stewart emphasized her commitment to keeping the contract consistent.

"Parents and students in Chicago should have both: small class sizes with quality educational programs and teachers who are paid a fair salary for the hard work they do," she said.

It's true that teachers often go underpaid and overworked, but is this a case of Chicago teachers wanting to have their cake and eat it too? The future for the CPS is likely to be either cuts in the classroom or cuts in raises, because the Illinois legislature doesn't look like it's going to be figuring out a solution any time soon.

Alex Jaffe / Comments (1)

Education Wed May 26 2010

CPS Posts Positions, Names, and Salaries of Employees Online

The Chicago Public School system announced today that it has posted and will continually update the CPS Employee Position File, which records the names, positions, and salaries of all CPS employees.

Coming the day after a thousand-strong teacher rally at City Hall to protest CPS inaction on school budget cuts (where chants of "Hey hey, ho ho, Huberman has got to go" could be heard down the block), one has to wonder at the timing of this release. But this is undoubtedly not quite what those teachers were looking for in terms of "action," while the CPS is looking at a potentially $1.2 billion deficit for 2011.

According to a press release on the CPS website, CEO Ron Huberman considers this "an example of CPS making public information readily and easily available to the public" and evidence of their "ongoing commitment to transparency."

This may be part of it, and District 299's Alexander Russo muses that the publication of salaries will likely add some weight to CPS' call for salary freezes and its plea for funding, but the 834-page document is barely navigable. It certainly doesn't offer indisputable proof that CPS employees should forego their scheduled pay raises, but then again, who really knows what a Director of New Construction does, and if their job is worth $136,000?

Alex Jaffe / Comments (3)

Education Wed May 26 2010

Thousands of CPS Teachers, Students March on City Hall During Rush Hour

Chicago teachers were out en masse yesterday, protesting against teacher layoffs and proposed expansion of class sizes outside of city hall.

Photos by Isaac Silver

A crowd of several thousand teachers were visibly fed up with the local and national discourse blaming them for Chicago's and the U.S.'s education crises. The most frequent target of their ire was Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman, who appeared on signs and at the end of chants calling for his departure from CPS.

Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht

Education Sun May 23 2010

CORE Forces Run-Off In CTU Election

The slate of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, CORE, has forced a run-off election against the incumbent United Progressive Caucus slate, headed by President Marilyn Stewart. UPC has come under harsh criticism from the opposing slates for a perceived unwillingness to organize with teachers and parents to fight privatization, as well as for failing to adequately service the contract.

More than 30 boxes of ballots were uncounted as of Sunday night, due to a logistical failure on the part of the third-party American Arbitration Association, which was brought in to run the election. Preliminary results of the election were reported by observers early Saturday morning.These are not expected to considerably change the outcome.

In the preliminary count, CORE and the leader of their slate, Karen Lewis, ended up with only about 300 fewer votes than the UPC, out of nearly 20,000 cast; UPC took 32% of the vote to CORE's 31%. The third-place finishers, ProActive Chicago Teachers, or PACT, ended with about 16%. Between CORE, PACT, and the Coalition for a Strong, Democratic Union (CSDU) which endorsed CORE after the results were announced, there are enough votes to take the 50%+1 necessary to secure election.

CORE began two years ago as a reform caucus and has used parent-teacher organizing coalitions, legal pressure, and direct action to help prevent school closures and protest Board policies. Should CORE win the June 11th run-off, they would assume leadership over one of the largest teachers unions in the United States.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Labor & Worker Rights Fri May 21 2010

Decision Time: Chicago's Teachers Vote

Today is election day for the Chicago Teachers Union, an election we've covered over the last few months, which touches on issues we've covered exhaustively since Mechanics launched in '08.

Teachers will be choosing between several caucus slates; the incumbent United Progressive Caucus, the Coalition for a Strong, Democratic Union (CSDU), Pro-Active Chicago Teachers and School Employees (PACT), the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), and the School Employees Association (SEA Caucus). Voting is open all day today and the results will be announced by the union's press secretary, Rosemaria Genova, "between 2am and 4am" according to a press release.

Earlier this week, CORE's co-chair, Jackson Potter, filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education to force them to reveal the calculations that go into their budget projects--the same projections they are using to justify increasing class sizes and demanding union concessions.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Wed May 19 2010

The Vote of the Hunted: The Chicago Teachers Union Election and City Politics

At some point in the 1980s, attacking public school teachers became the best way to prove your "independence" as a politician and make you seem serious as a reformer. Public educators have been at the receiving end of a now decade-old onslaught of privatization; tens of thousands of experienced teachers have been fired and replaced by neophytes given to the "charter churn", or exceedingly high burn-out rates. But while the profession has been under assault, teachers unions have done little to effectively partner with parents to push back against privatization that both groups see as a threat to community control and equality of access. In fact, teachers unions have often been frighteningly narrow-minded in their focus on working conditions, ignoring the larger context in which they operate and the core mission of their profession.

Now, here in Chicago, rank-and-file teachers are fed up and are fighting back, and could end up radically changing Chicago's political climate.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Education Fri May 07 2010

The Unhelpful Voucher Conversation

Megan Cottrell at True/Slant has decided that the defeated measure to create a pilot voucher program in Chicago has "doom[ed] thousands of poor children to an inferior education." This type of hyperbole, besides being indefensible, has helped make real reform of our schools impossible. No, defeating a voucher program proposed in a vacuum is not what is "dooming" anybody. One reason is that inside of an education regime with high-stakes testing that results in ham-fisted school closures and displacement and punishes rather than fixes problems in our schools, a voucher program only takes students more likely to succeed already out of the system, and--well, should we say "dooms hundreds of thousands of poor children to an inferior education"? No, I think that's too loaded.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Education Mon May 03 2010

The Education Revolt: The Chicago Model's Fallout

Teachers, parents, and students are not happy at Chicago's education leadership--there is mounting frustration with the Board of Education, the CPS bureaucracy, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership. As President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan take the Chicago model of slow-burn privatization national, Chicago may just be seeing a full fledged revolt against it. With the recent revelation that there are now no educators among the CPS' top leadership, scrutiny of a reform program dominated by entrepreneurs and private interests (including a Board of Education stacked with financiers and real estate developers) is likely to sour people further.

Teachers, Parents, and Students, Oh My

Chicago's teachers are angry; but that matters less than the fact that even more are discouraged, leaving the profession, burning out and warning the next generation away from teaching all together. Teachers have been under a full assault by corporate interests and the disingenuous reformers they underwrite for decades, and this assault has only intensified since the election of Barack Obama to the White House and the elevation of former CPS CEO Arne Duncan to the top of the Department of Education. Obama and Duncan have undertaken to bring Chicago-style education reform to the level of national policy, without any evidence whatsoever that that reform works.

The (arguably illegal) Race to the Top program, which embodies Chicago Renaissance 2010 model of school turnarounds, privatization, and "pay-for-performance" incentives, is just getting underway, and teachers around the country are finding out, too late, that Obama et al are hostile to public educators.

But here in Chicago, where the method to this madness was born, teachers and parents are organizing revolts to protect their schools. Unhappy teachers are lining up to challenge a union leadership they characterize as ineffective or accommodationist and an insular Board of Education, as parents and students are fighting to keep their schools public and democratically controlled. And what happens here, at ground zero of school privatization, could presage what happens nationally as the federal government tries to strong arm school districts into dismantling their public schools; a policy instituted as a sop to "centrism" could end up sparking a serious fight in the moderate liberal wing of the Democratic Party as urban community groups and teachers union factions resist.

That's Why There Will Be a Change

The Chicago Teachers Union is in the middle of a bruising factional fight as union elections approach in May. Several caucuses are vying for leadership by running slates to unseat the current ruling caucus, the United Progressive Caucus (UPC) and CTU President Marilyn Stewart. The gentlest of the criticisms against the UPC are that they are inept, unable to effectively advocate for teachers and students; the more stinging criticisms allege outright accommodation by union leadership of the Board of Education (and, by proxy, Mayor Daley). Whatever the various grievances, there is undoubtedly frustration among teachers that they are being vilified and left hung out to dry with little support. Teacher activism is as high as it has been in years, and that activism is a direct result of the privatization policies of Renaissance 2010 and the inability of the CTU--under different administrations--to halt those policies.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

Education Wed Apr 21 2010

LSC Elections Today

It's Election Day in Chicago--for schools. Chicago is fortunate to have a system that allows for democratic control of our schools. The Center Square Journal wants you to remember to get out and vote--but first, find out about the candidates.

Local school councils have the power to select principals and keep tabs on how school funds and other resources are used-a responsibility that has become even more important as Chicago Public Schools tackle a whooping $900 million deficit that makes the Chicago Transit Authority's doomsdays look like a cakewalk. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and you can find candidate profiles and school contact information through the links below.

For the links, visit the CSJ.

Ramsin Canon

Education Thu Apr 15 2010

Schools Chief Fudges Numbers, Uses Deficit to Beat up on Teachers Union


Teachers union leaders angrily accused D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee of unethical behavior Tuesday by failing to disclose the discovery of a $34 million surplus in the school system budget in February, three months after laying off 266 teachers because of what she described as a budget shortfall.

News of the surplus comes at a critical time for Rhee and the teachers union, who just last week announced a tentative contract agreement that ended more than two years of often rancorous bargaining. The two sides were close to a deal late last summer when union anger over Rhee's plans for layoffs delayed its completion.


Last Thursday, Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman announced a $900 million projected deficit for next year. Huberman's presentation[ii] specifically singled out "increases in pension costs" and "increases in teacher compensation" as the main causes of this crisis.[iii]


Can we trust this announcement? No. This is a political announcement designed to build public support for attacking teachers. Though there is a recession, and we expect there to be some deficit, Huberman's numbers are suspect.

  • For the past eight years the BOE has projected a deficit in January or February only to show surpluses in the actual audited budget as presented in August.[iv] These discrepancies have averaged over $300 million each year.
  • No transparency--the presentation that we have been shown is not a budget, does not reveal any of the underlying assumptions on which the projection has been based, and does not seem to add up to $900 million, in any case.[v]
  • The percentage CPS spends on salaries has actually shrunk since 2004, while the amount of the reserve (fixed charges) has ballooned to over 8% of the budget. [vi] That's right, we getting a smaller piece of the pie, but being blamed for the financial troubles.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Wed Apr 07 2010

Local School Council Elections

Chicago's system of Local School Councils provide a unique opportunity for residents to democratically participate in the management of neighborhood schools. Unfortunately, they're also one of the most underutilized; LSC elections are often fairly uncompetitive, and public information about their operations is scarce (the Board of Education conspicuously keeps no data on these meetings).

To their credit the relaunched Center Square Journal is inviting residents to get involved and get information about the LSC elections and operations in the Northcenter, Lincoln Square and Ravenswood Manor area:

As Chicago's public schools struggle with tremendous budget issues and as Coonley and Bell Elementary schools are preparing to hire new principals, the next group of LSC members will deal with important issues. Historically, LSC Elections also have low turnout, so your vote can make a big impact on your local school's future.

Ramsin Canon

Education Tue Mar 30 2010

Finkelstein Lecture Controversy

Norman Finkelstein was once a popular professor at DePaul University. He was on the tenure track and was publishing books critical of the occupation of Palestine and the use of the Holocaust to silence critics of Israel's human rights record.

Finkelstein was denied tenure in a dramatic confrontation, where Harvard law professor and torture apologist Alan Dershowitz lobbied DePaul and students supporting Finkelstein occupied the office of the President of DePaul for three days before being kicked out under threat of arrest.

Since that time, controversy has not failed to follow Finkelstein. He was set to speak at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago on April 16 about his new book This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.

However, on March 24, event organizer Shirien Damra received a letter from the church.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Education Tue Mar 30 2010

Daley Opposes Lifting of Residency Requirement for Teachers

I think the Mayor may have a point about the state legislature's recent action to lift a requirement that Chicago Public Schools teachers live in the city:

"If you say government employees don't have to live here, I guess maybe elected officials don't have to live here, too. You could start a trend. I don't have to live in the ward. I don't have to live in the city. I can work on a contract. I firmly believe that is the essence of keeping neighborhoods strong."

Of course, agreeing with the policy means the city needs to take bolder steps to insure there is affordable housing in Chicago; Chicago has been shedding affordable housing units, bifurcating the city into the upper middle class and the poor. But given the sheer number of city employees, and the fact that city housing will always be more expensive than housing in many bordering suburbs, lifting the residency requirement will result in another exodus of middle class residents--and valuable tax dollars.

I'm not convinced of this position, though--is there an argument to be made that the residency requirement is overly onerous or unfair?

The bill was sponsored by Senator Heather Steans of the north lakefront. Below is the roll call vote.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Labor & Worker Rights Mon Mar 29 2010

Federal Judge Enjoins BoE From Infringing on Union Election

Northern District of Illinois Judge Amy St. Eve has granted the request for a preliminary injunction against the Board of Education to stop them from enforcing a policy that would curb the ability of Chicago Teachers Union activists from campaigning for office in non-work areas and during non-work times in Chicago Public Schools.

Judge St. Eve's ruling was made on behalf of plaintiffs from an opposition caucus in the CTU, ProActive Chicago Teachers and School Employees (PACT). PACT is the caucus of former CTU President Debbie Lynch, who was defeated for reelection by the Unity Progressive Caucus and current President Marilyn Stewart. PACT argued that their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by schools CEO Ron Huberman's order. The preliminary injunction states that PACT's case has a reasonable likelihood of succeeding and that the harm union activists would suffer should the injunction not be granted would be "irreparable".

Huberman's policy would naturally favor the incumbent slate of the UPC, given their control of union personnel and finances, and considering the size of the electorate (some 30,000+). Opposition slates are not given access to membership lists or significant funds to run campaigns, making opposition an uphill climb as is. Huberman's non sequitor decision, with no precedent in recent school history, sure looks like a sop to the incumbent, perhaps in reaction to the organizing opposition groups such as PACT and CORE have done against CTU acquiescence to Board of Ed policy changes.

Lawsuit Ruling 3.26.10

Ramsin Canon

Education Fri Mar 26 2010

Jitu Brown and Pauline Lipman on Democracy Now

...and they're talking about Arne Duncan. And they are not particularly fond of him. Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization is always great. Pauline Lipman is an academic from UIC.

Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Mar 24 2010

Big Bill Thompson, Clout Lists, and Local Control

Arne Duncan is a disaster. His model for school improvement (e.g., "privatize it") is a failure, as even former staunch supporters of charter-focused reform like Diane Ravitch are realizing:

If this plan is enacted as proposed, it will eventually become just as toxic as NCLB. Only we won't know it for another five years or so after the evidence of devastated schools and communities has accumulated.

It's not too late, Secretary Duncan, turn back and offer a helping hand, not a death sentence. Send help, not a firing squad.

Now a story is gurgling in the local press about former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan's involvement in clouting kids into better schools. Duncan hasn't responded to the report, as I could find, but the evidence is fairly damning that Duncan exploited the discretionary powers of magnet and selective-enrollment school principals to admit kids outside of the usual channels. (Consider this psychic fuel in our on-going quest to have Arne Duncan justify his existence).

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Wed Mar 17 2010

Teachers, Tear Down This Contract

Schools chief Ron Huberman continues to beat the drum of financial meltdown if there aren't drastic cuts to the CPS budget: yesterday he announced that classes should be increased to 37 students per teacher. The Chicago Teachers Union came just short of characterizing Huberman's scenario as a negotiating ploy:

Under the current contract, if CPS declares a budget "emergency,'' it can move to reopen negotiations with the CTU and seek union agreement to forestall $169 million in teacher raises or to impose furloughs.

"If this is a negotiating ploy, there will be no negotiations in the press,'' said CTU spokeswoman Rosemaria Genova."I can't begin to speculate what Mr. Huberman's objective was in terms of briefing principals. . . For a man who is promoting a 'culture of calm,' this is not the way to do it."

One of the union's independent caucuses, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, dispute the accuracy of Mr. Huberman's projections.

Ramsin Canon

Education Thu Mar 11 2010

UIC Graduate Employees Prepare for Mediation


GEO President Charles Moss delivers petitions to UIC Chancellor's office.

The Graduate Employees Organization of the University of Illinois at Chicago is a union for graduate student employees. GEO members have been working this school year without a contract and are facing a heated battle with UIC's administration.

GEO has been attempting to negotiate a contract with the administration, but has reached a stalemate over a number of issues including guaranteed assistantships. They began mediation with the university and a neutral mediator last week.

On March 10, the day before they began mediation, members of the Graduate Employee Organization of the University of Illinois at Chicago delivered petitions signed by UIC community members urging the university to bargain in good faith and to take the mediation process as serious as GEO does. The petition urged the chancellor to direct the universities bargaining team to negotiate fairly.

Charles Moss, the president of GEO said that GEO, "takes the mediation process seriously. We would rather settle the contract through mediation than go on strike." Moss added that GEO organizers have been putting in a lot of work to obtain a fair contract.

A group of GEO members went to the 28th floor of the University building hoping to give the petitions to Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares. Allen-Meares was at a trustees meeting and the GEO members gave the petition to Assistant Monica Rausa Williams.

Matt Muchowski

Education Mon Mar 08 2010

UIC Students, Faculty, Staff Demand, "Chop From the Top!"


UIC Students, Faculty and Staff Rally Against Budget Cuts.

Several hundred students, faculty and staff rallied at the University of Illinois Chicago campus on March 4th, to demand an end to budget cuts that target the poor. They rallied in the Quad, before marching around campus and marching to University Hall where the administrative offices for the school are. It was part of a national day of action to defend public education.

SEIU Local 73 chief Steward Joe Iosbaker led the crowd in chants, "They Say Furlough Day, We Say No Way! They Say Cut Back, We Say Fight Back!" and the sarcastic, "They Say Fee Hike, We Say, Yea, Right!"

At University Hall SEIU members served Soup to passer-by's "to prepare us for what we'll be eating if the budget cuts go through." They then sang a parody of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, "Is UIC crazy? They must be crazy,to think that they can defeat, local 73."

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Education Thu Mar 04 2010

Ravitch's Volte Face

Albert Shanker, for all his many faults, was a powerful voice for public education as a necessity for a democratic society. Shanker believed a public system accessible to all was necessary for meritocracy to function. Shanker was also an exponent of charter schools as a part of a public school system to allow for innovation in curriculum development.

Diane Ravitch, the leading public intellectual on education, has undergone a transformation that has brought her back closer to Shanker. She has come to realize that the privatization of public education is actually reactionary, not forward looking; that a strong public school system with highly-paid professional teachers are common features to all of the world's best schools systems, while private and religious schooling is common to the most dysfunctional. And she has come to see what "traditionalists" have been saying all along: that the cry for "accountability" in practice amounts to little more than standardization and rote curricula.

Ravitch--among the architects of No Child Left Behind--had her realizations come just as the privatization movement is being foisted on America as a whole by a cynical administration and incompetent Secretary of Education. Apparently the Magical Free Market Unicorn so many prayed to in the heady days of the 1990s has proved itself to be just as made up as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

These and other experiences left her increasingly disaffected from the choice and accountability movements. Charter schools, she concluded, were proving to be no better on average than regular schools, but in many cities were bleeding resources from the public system. Testing had become not just a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself.

"Accountability, as written into federal law, was not raising standards but dumbing down the schools," she writes. "The effort to upend American public education and replace it with something that was market-based began to feel too radical for me."

Ramsin Canon

Education Thu Mar 04 2010

City Hall, Teachers Union Showdown: It's Complicated

The Chicago Teachers Union pension is statutorily separate from that of the rest of Illinois teachers, and for years performed better. The pension has performed poorly recently, and schools CEO Ron Humberman--a Daley lieutenant who ran the CTA for the Mayor after stints at the Police Department and emergency services--has been talking tough about the need for a drastic overhaul of how the pension is funded.

According to schools monitor Catalyst,

Last week, CEO Ron Huberman started his doomsday budget press conference by saying, "You are going to hear me talk a lot about the pension."

Pension costs have long been an issue for CPS, and costs have now skyrocketed to $587 million--three times what the district was required to pay into the teacher's pension fund just three years ago.

As a quick fix, Huberman hopes to convince lawmakers to simply reduce Chicago's additional payment by about $300 million, which would cut the nearly $1 billion deficit by about a third.

To stem the problem, various solutions have been proposed: higher employee contributions, raising property taxes, or rediverting the money in the city's enormous tax increment financing (TIF) districts back to the schools (the bulk of those funds were originally supposed to go to schools). Given that the Mayor's administration has performed dazzling feats of privatization in order to avoid raising taxes (or the appearance of raising taxes) employee give backs are the only tool available that can cut into the deficits the district faces. Typically, the CTU has been pretty easy to tame.

This year, however, may be different.

Catalyst notes, as Greg Hinz did earlier this week, that the effort by City Hall to change the pension funding system could be complicated by internal union politics.


Stewart faces a tough re-election campaign this spring. In fact, her union caucus recently lost two seats on the Pension Board to the new, hard-line caucus called CORE (the Caucus of Rank and File Educators). It was a major victory for CORE, whose members say the Pension Board needs better watchdogs to protect it from a cash-starved district administration and prevent mismanagement. CORE still lacks a majority on the Pension Board, however.

CORE is but one of several opposition caucuses; former insurgent CTU president Deborah Lynch heads PACT; ousted former Vice President Ted Dallas is associated with the CSDU. Several other smaller groups are also clamoring for change.

Stewart is regularly accused of being too close to the Mayor and too unwilling to stand up to him on issues like Renaissance 2010 and the draconian "turnarounds" that have costs so many teachers their jobs and so many students needed stability. The prospect of losing the presidency of the 30,000+ member CTU may just be what is needed to stiffen her spine.

Similarly, the prospect of a hard line causing a more adversarial caucus to take power in the union leading up to his reelection in 2011 may be giving the Mayor pause in his effort to dismantle the public school system as the centerpiece of his urban education "revolution". The union election is in May. Keep a wary eye on the maneuvering between now and then.

Ramsin Canon

Economics Wed Mar 03 2010

Northwestern University Community Fights for a Living Wage

The Rally

On Wednesday February 24, despite a chilly 27 degree day, over 400 Northwestern University students rallied outside a meeting of the university's board of trustees to demand a living wage for cafeteria workers at the school. It was a high point in the student anti-sweatshop movement at Northwestern.

Tom Breitsprecher, a lead cook who has worked at the Northwestern University cafeteria for 31 years, said that this was the largest demonstration he has seen on campus since an anti-war rally in the early 1980's.

According to Northwestern University activist Matthew Fischler, the average cafeteria worker at Northwestern makes a measly eight to nine dollars an hour. This poverty is compounded with the fact that the health insurance offered by Sodexho still includes expensive co-pays and premiums that many employees can not afford. It becomes especially difficult for many workers who lose their health benefits when their hours are cut during winter, spring and summer breaks.

According to Breitsprecher, "Many workers on campus live in government subsidized housing. Even if they are offered a discounted health insurance plan, many can't afford the premiums. Many qualify for food stamps for their families... if the government subsidizes workers, aren't they really subsidizing a company that pays such low wages?"

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Education Wed Mar 03 2010

Obama's Olive Branch to the Chamber: Privatize Education

Glad they could come together on something. America's bipartisan consensus: privatize education.

While the Chamber, congressional Democrats and the Obama administration have found little common ground on climate change and financial regulation legislation, among other major issues, there is general agreement on the president's approach to education -- building on the reforms initiated under President George W. Bush.

Ramsin Canon

Education Mon Mar 01 2010

Never Mind the Millionaires, Here's the Teachers Unions

The crusade to privatize Chicago's (and America's) public schools is not the same thing as a desire to reform our schools. You can believe in charter schools within a public school system to innovate curriculum (I do) and believe that there has to be some peer review process to allow schools to get rid of bad teachers more easily (I also believe this) without buying into the massive privatization scheme being sold as the only way to reform education. Our schools are failing and we need to address that problem. Is injecting the profit motive into school districts, unraveling civil service protections and slashing pay and benefits for teachers, and allowing "problem" children to fail the only way to do it? Privatization zealots want so desperately for you to believe that, but in order to believe it, you have to make some extraordinary and irrational assumptions.

For the school privatization behind Renaissance 2010 to make any sense, you'd have to think that something in the order of 1/3rd of Chicago's teachers are bad teachers that should be fired (the union has shrunk by an estimated 5,000 teachers in the last ten years), you'd have to answer "yes" to the first follow up, and have to be oblivious to the fact that it was highly-paid "education professionals" who hired them (and kept them long enough for them to get tenure).

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (9)

Education Thu Feb 25 2010

What's the Future of Education in Chicago?

The Chicago School Board voted yesterday, the 24th of February, to approve the closing of a school, the phasing out of another, and the turn-over of management at 5 others. Despite a large crowd that opposed the cuts and complained of being excluded from the process, it appears that Renaissance 2010, the city's plan to increase charter schools, and privatize schools, was victorious in the school board.

It was in this context that I attended the The Public Square's discussion on Chicago charter school's on February 23 to hear James Thindwa, the former head of Chicago Jobs With Justice and current Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff speak. The Public Square is a joint project between Chicago Public Radio and the Illinois Humanities Council's Cafe Society. The discussion was held at the Chicago Public Radio West Side Bureau.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Education Fri Feb 12 2010

A Bad Year for Teachers, a Bad Year for Public Education

This is going to be a bad year for public education.

After the State of the Union address and GOP response, there was a lot of back and forth about different policy points and the challenge the President laid down and the people standing behind Bob McDonnell and the number of times the President used certain words. What nobody commented on was that the two men agreed enthusiastically on exactly one thing: the need to privatize public education.

The take away from that night is that the American political duopoly supports the privatization of public education. They honestly believe that injecting the profit motive into education is the way to make sure that all American children get a decent education. That is a major policy shift that is so harmonious with the corporate policy tune that no news operations expressed any surprise or outrage.

But, of course, it is an outrage. The privatization of schools is sold as "ingenuity" and as a way of "leveling the field" by offering that cornerstone of free market fundamentalist mythology, "choice". Give parents choice and all problems go away. Because education is like used cars.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (7)

Chicago Tue Feb 09 2010

Sold Out Premiere of Disturbing the Universe Impresses Chicago Crowd

On Jan. 22, William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe, a documentary about the legendary left-wing lawyer, premiered to a sold out crowd at the Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Directed by William Kuntsler's daughters Emily and Sarah Kuntsler, the film looks at the life and cases of one of America's most controversial lawyers.

William Kuntsler fathered Sarah and Emily late in life, and when he died, they were still young, so the movie became a way for them to know their father in a more adult way. It became a way for them to shed the simple childlike images of their father, and come to know him in a complex way.

The sold out Chicago premiere was hosted by the Next Gen, the young lawyers group of the Chicago chapter of the radical National Lawyers Guild. The theater was filled with activists, lawyers and law students. The amazing thing about the showing was how many people in the crowd had met or knew William Kuntsler.

National Lawyers Guild Next Gen members Sarah Gelsomino and Robert Luderman at the Chicago premiere of Disturbing the Universe.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Education Tue Jan 19 2010

Chicago Board of Ed Hit List Released

Via Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), the hit list of CPS schools as Ren 2010 marches on (more on that later):

* Curtis Elementary, 32 E. 115th
* Guggenheim Elementary, 7141 S. Morgan
* Prescott Elementary, 1632 W. Wrightwood.
* Las Casas Occupational High School, 8401 S. Saginaw.

* Ruggles Elementary, 7831 S. Prairie
* Gillespie Elementary, 9301 S. State
* Deneen Elementary, 7257 S. State
* Phillips High School, 244 E. Pershing
* Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams

* McCorkle Elementary, 4421 S. State
* Paderewski Elementary, 2221 S. Lawndale
* Marconi Elementary, 230 N. Kolmar
* Mollison Elementary, 4415 S. King Dr.

* Schneider Elementary, 2957 N. Hoyne

Ramsin Canon

Chicagoland Thu Jan 14 2010

Chicago Education in Danger of Being Parking Metered

"They never thought of the children first," Lillie Gonzalez exclaimed to several hundred people's applause at Malcolm X college. The small, but feisty, Latino community activist was speaking at the Democratic Alternatives to Renaissance 2010 conference organized by the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) on January 9, 2010. Gonzalez was "one of the lucky ones," who was able to stop the closure of Peabody Elementary School in 2009 in Chicago's Near West Side. The planned closure of the more than a century old school was a part of Renaissance 2010, Chicago's program to privatize its public schools.

"Renaissance 2010 and 15 years of mayoral control are 15 years of failure." Explained Kenwood Community Organization organizer Jitu Brown. Describing the conference, Brown stated, "we want to begin to project what we think should happen in our schools... Our vision, not a corporate vision."

President Obama's appointment of Arnie Duncan to the Secretary of Education made the conference particularly important. "The first thing that Arnie Duncan did as US Secretary of Education is fly to Detroit and promise Detroit Public Schools major federal funds if they were to adopt the Chicago model," Pauline Lipman, a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, explained.


Lipman pointed out that, "Renaissance 2010 is a partnership between Mayor Daley and the most powerful financial and corporate leaders in the city. What is their goal?" she asked before answering "to train a low wage workforce and to support real estate development. That's their education agenda. Their strategy is to hand public school to private operators, undermine the teachers union, phase out local school councils, the only democratic community voice we have, and replace neighborhood schools with selective enrollment schools and gentrifying neighborhoods."

"They have a long term plan. If they don't kick you off this year, they will pick you off next year." Lipman explained.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Daley Thu Jan 07 2010

Pay No Attention to the Mayor Behind the Curtain

The Sun-Times published this editorial imploring Chicagoans to hold Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman's feet to the fire when it comes to his promises to fix the CPS.

The editors describe the new patches that Huberman promises to affix to the failed CPS practice of school turnarounds. "Turnarounds" are a CPS program where the Board of Education fires the entire staff at a school when test scores are too low. Due to the fact that these students are sent to other schools with low test scores, Huberman promises to ensure that these students have the opportunity to attend "substantially better" schools. To prevent repeats of the horrific beating death of Derrion Albert, the former CTA boss makes a nebulous promise of "safe passage" for students who have to travel further to go to neighborhood schools. This is often a problem when schools are closed and reopened as select enrollment or magnet schools, which is a key component of the Mayor's "Renaissance 2010" program.

Not once does Huberman mention that maybe the policies added no value to the lives of these students and exacerbated violence in schools because they are simply lousy policies. There is no reason to fix these experiments when it is clear that they do not work.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Education Thu Dec 17 2009

'Chicago Model' Infecting Other Cities

Thomas Frank, author of the vulgar Marxist tract What's the Matter With Kansas?, published a piece in the Wall Street Journal outlining the "Real Chicago Way," arguing that in fact the policies that have characterized Chicago government for a generation were in no way the socialist/fascist nightmare/fantasies the right wing paws themselves over in sweaty reveries about men in uniforms punishing them. Instead, Mayor Daley and his legions of Public Policy Masters Degree Technocrats have implemented a neoliberal, essentially conservative regime: privatize everything, do nothing if there's no profit in it, and co-opt identity politics by making small groups of people very, very rich, so that they stand behind you at press conferences. Even the Mayor's supposedly outrageous tax regime was regressive: it jacked up fees and sales tax, but never instituted a city income tax (as New York has) and held the line on property taxes (and the shadow property tax increase--the creation of TIF districts--redistributed wealth upward as corporate welfare). Chicago's union density has declined over the course of Daley's Mayoralty. Our schools have been rampantly privatized with no attendant benefit. Public housing stock has decreased. Chicago is a practical model for neoliberal--Milton Friedman wet dream--policy.

Thanks in part to President Obama's ascension, it is spreading. Arne Duncan, the rich kid nitwit who is the Secretary of Education because he's not too tall to kiss ass but tall enough to post up on the elbow, is the worst kind of mushball liberal, raised in comfort to believe he knows what is best for the mudpeople under his feet, and his "Race to the Top" program seeks to replicate the model he used in Chicago--you know, the one that accomplished precisely nothing. So insidious is this program that other cities are calling on activists in Chicago and asking them for advice on how to prepare--and what to expect:

On Sunday December 6th a group of nine teacher activists gave a presentation in Milwaukee on the ongoing fight for public education in Chicago, Illinois. They are part of a group called Caucus Of Rank and File Educators (CORE).

They are part of a movement that is bringing together parents, students, teachers and community to fight against the Chicago plan called Renaissance 2010 initiated by Mayor Daley in 2004. Its goal was to close 100 Chicago Public schools by 2010.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Education Tue Dec 08 2009

Dan Hynes Believes in Teachers

Take the above with a grain of salt--it's from Hynes' campaign, so who knows what the rest of Quinn's statement was. But Hynes should be given credit for giving this answer before a hostile crowd (the Union League Club), and his answer is absolutely right: teachers unions built the American education system, and professionalized teaching. It was teachers unions that took the schools out of the hands of patronage machines and forced accreditation and intensive education to be part of teaching. The teachers unions democratized education--the privatization movement wants to make it pay-to-play again.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Wed Nov 04 2009

Arne Duncan Is Unqualified Case File: Militarization

Andy Kroll reports on how Arne Duncan forged the most militarized school district in the country.

Yet a closer investigation of Duncan's record in Chicago casts doubt on that label. As he packs up for Washington, Duncan leaves behind a Windy City legacy that's hardly cause for optimism, emphasizing as it does a business-minded, market-driven model for education. If he is a "reformer," his style of management is distinctly top-down, corporate, and privatizing. It views teachers as expendable, unions as unnecessary, and students as customers.

Disturbing as well is the prominence of Duncan's belief in offering a key role in public education to the military. Chicago's school system is currently the most militarized in the country, boasting five military academies, nearly three dozen smaller Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs within existing high schools, and numerous middle school Junior ROTC programs. More troubling yet, the military academies he's started are nearly all located in low-income, minority neighborhoods. This merging of military training and education naturally raises concerns about whether such academies will be not just education centers, but recruitment centers as well.

Rather than handing Duncan a free pass on his way into office, as lawmakers did during Duncan's breezy confirmation hearings last week, a closer examination of the Chicago native's record is in order. Only then can we begin to imagine where public education might be heading under Arne Duncan, and whether his vision represents the kind of "change" that will bring our students meaningfully in line with the rest of the world.

Yes, I added double emphasis, because it says middle school. Twelve- and thirteen-year-olds. Thanks, Arne.

So, President Obama, why did you make this man our chief educator? For his track record of militarization?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Wed Oct 28 2009

The CTU Needs Democracy and Rank-and-File Leadership

The father of the American common school system, Horace Mann, once referred to the public school as "the greatest discovery ever made by man". I tend to agree, though the scientific method is up there, too: giving every child the same education and critical thinking skills is necessary to building the cognitive girding that a true meritocracy requires.

A public school system is also invaluable to democracy because they are in a sense immobile, essentially local, and connect families, workers, and youth in one place. It's easy to see why the public school system is a favorite target of reactionaries on the right: done right, it undermines the status quo by its very existence.

Despite the right's constant harping on the evil teachers' unions, there's no debate as to their positive impact on education historically. America's schools improved by every conceivable measure as unionization of the profession grew. In fact, teaching only became a profession because of teachers' unions. It's easy to forget now, but the schools were a patronage dumping ground in all but the toniest of schools for generations.

Despite the hysteria whipped up among parents and the free market fundamentalists, teachers don't go into the profession because they hate children and teaching. Teaching is an immensely stressful profession--consistently ranked among the most stressful. Teachers have to face roomfuls of children and adolescents in the most emotionally trying times of their lives, and they must manage to both educate them and keep them in line. The caricature of the teacher who puts on a movie and puts her head down to sleep is just that, and is the result of years of propaganda and little else.

Don't get me wrong; teachers' unions need reform. There needs to be a reasonable method for removing bad teachers; there needs to be room for innovation in curricula. And they need democracy.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Education Thu Oct 08 2009

Arne Duncan Should Justify His Existence

During his time here, Arne Duncan had little detectable effect on our schools. In fact, he left behind a mess, according to Chicago Magazine's profile of Ron Huberman. He accomplished little to nothing. His program of privatization has put and is putting unqualified, terrified teachers in front of students who have no faith in the adults around them.

Now people are wondering: Does the policy of school "turnarounds" that guts schools of all its leadership, denigrates teachers, alienates parents from schools, and destabilizes school life for kids, have something to do with the increased chaos and poor performance? (Yes.)

Was Arne Duncan not only ineffective but detrimental to our schools? If so, then how the hell did he get a promotion?

The tragic beating death of Derrion Albert of Fenger High School brought national media attention to Chicago's failing schools. Electing a guy who was a "community organizer from the south side of Chicago" will get you that kind of attention. They are starting to ask the question we've been asking here: what qualified Arne Duncan to be the national leader of our public schools, other than his playing basketball with the President?

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Education Thu Sep 24 2009

Charter Schools: Changing Lives

Today the Illinois Policy Institute is releasing a new short film about charter schools and their success in Chicago.

Entitled 'Charter Schools: Changing Lives,' the documentary profiles students, teachers and administrators in three Chicago charter schools: Chicago International Charter School's Ralph Ellison campus, Noble Street Charter School's Pritzker College Prep, and the Urban Prep Academy for Young Men.

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc / Comments (6)

Education Tue Sep 01 2009

The Education Bubble

To the speculator, "saturation" is the filthiest word. When a market is robust and investments see steady and steep returns, all is good. When too many of his cohort are vying for the same investments, the rate of return diminishes.This situation forces these investors to get creative.

The "edupreneur"- a creature that is one part philanthropist and a thousand parts venture capitalist- is the paving the way for the newest, untapped market; our schools.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Education Mon Aug 31 2009

The Great Inflation

The Sun-Times and the Chicago Teachers Union conducted a joint survey of Chicago Public School teachers that revealed that a shocking percentage--among High School teachers, more than half--have felt pressure to change a student's grade. Given the high stakes of the "percent graduating" statistics as a metric of public schools, it makes sense that the heaviest percentage would be among High School teachers. Still, more than a quarter of middle school teachers also reported feeling pressured to change a student's grade.

Of seven thousand teachers in CPS, fourteen hundred responded to the survey; while that provides more than enough for a statistically valid survey, it should also be considered or understood that the fact that it was self-selected to some degree could have altered the results.

With that in mind, this is still absolutely shocking, and adds yet another piece of evidence to the (well, my) on-going case that Arne Duncan was hardly qualified to be named Secretary of Education.

Obviously it was not Duncan pressuring teachers. According to the survey, the pressure came primarily from principals. But as the "CEO" of the schools, the buck must stop with him. And if principals felt the need to put the arm on teachers, that did not come from nowhere. There must have been in-turn pressure on them to meet statistical standards no matter what the cost.

While that pressure may have gotten Mr. Duncan the press needed to ascend in his career, it has done nothing for students.

Of course, this is not Duncan's school district. Many of these teachers had been teaching well before Duncan came on the scene--but the vast majority (64%) of teachers reporting have been teaching less than ten years, which puts them under either Duncan or Vallas, and certainly inside the Amendatory Act, Daley-control era.

Have our schools made progress since William Bennett described them as the worst in the nation in 1987? Perhaps; but with each new revelation and report, we seem to be getting further away from being able to actually answer that question.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Thu Aug 27 2009

The Mystery of De La Cruz and Renaissance 2010

De La Cruz, in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, was a small middle school, taking kids mainly from Whittier Elementary and sending them on to Juarez HS. Small--a few hundred students. To the Chicago Public Schools, under the auspices of the Renaissance 2010 program, that is a bad thing.

Because the school was small, the class sizes were, relatively speaking, small. But the teachers, being unionized, tenured, and with in many cases decades of experience teaching in that neighborhood, were expensive. That, according to Ren2010, is "under-utilization". Too few kids, too much school. Yet, of course, small school size is touted as among the benefits of charter schools--more personalized instruction and care from teachers.

De La Cruz, in a neighborhood with a high number of Spanish-speaking families, in a neighborhood periodically plagued with gang problems, is an award-winning school. It won the Spotlight Award from the state Board of Education. Not a decade ago. Not five years ago. In 2009.

So here was a public school where the kids were learning. The school was making progress. The school was small and the class sizes manageable. And it had to be closed.

Why? Why close a successful, small school in a working class neighborhood?

The residents, teachers, and students surely didn't understand. A heart-wrenching "hearing" last year in February featured parents and students astounded at the callousness of a Board of Education indifferent to local control, so sure were they in the magical wizardry of the "market" to fix education. Given what happened to De La Cruz, is Ren2010 about fixing public schools? Or destroying them?

The neighborhood, the Board argues, simply doesn't need a school.

Well, except when they do.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (8)

Education Mon Aug 24 2009

Obama and Duncan: Unanswered Questions

When I appeared on the 848 "Month in Review" on WBEZ last month, I made a comment that I heard a lot about afterwards: that Arne Duncan appeared to have no qualifications to run the nation's schools. I followed it up with a joke that the only qualification appeared to be that he used to play basketball with the President. You can listen to my appearance here.

Looking now at the increased news coming out that the CPS is in bad shape and made essentially no progress under Duncan's leadership, I think that point is made more serious. Why did President-Elect Obama choose this man to run the nation's schools?

If it is because Duncan had supposedly achieved such great progress with the Chicago Public Schools, then the President has to answer for why he failed to perform his own due diligence in evaluating potential picks.

This is not based solely on the research by the pro-privatization Civic Committee of the Commercial Club. More and more research is coming out:

Former CEO Arne Duncan often said that a key to creating the best urban school district in the country was to improve long-failing high schools. But Duncan's broadest, most expensive effort, called High School Transformation, sputtered in implementation and has failed to spark significant improvement, according to an evaluation released Thursday.

Granted, this information is just coming out now. But if President Obama was truly seeking change and was as in touch with the neighborhoods as he claimed to be (skinny kid community organizer from the South Side, right?) why didn't he know what every parent and every teacher knows: that the CPS privatization efforts were doing little to help students and schools?

If it is because Duncan was such an aggressive pursuer of Renaissance 2010 and the school privatization effort, why didn't the President say so? Even during his confirmation hearings Duncan was noticeably unwilling to give specifics. Given the criticism Obama was getting at the time from the left for importing much of the Clinton-era economic minds, it would have been risky to come out and say, "Privatize American education the way Duncan tried to do in Chicago."

The skeptical person could conclude that it isn't Duncan's supposed "new approach" to school reform--an approach that all evidence shows failed conclusively--that prompted his choice, but perhaps his ability to mask failure with corporate-speak laced "initiatives" that give liberals the sensation that schools are "innovating" and provide a good bulwark against criticism from teachers' union and public school advocates.

That would be the skeptical person. I'm going to give the President the benefit of the doubt and say that it was because they played basketball together.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Mon Aug 17 2009

Let My People Retire

Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman takes notes from Republican Democrat Daleycrat playbook by invoking the tax increase boogeyman to garner support for raiding teacher pensions.

The CPS proposed budget for 2009-2010 was unveiled (in a limited capacity) last week. The budget projects a $475 million dollar deficit (which, to the keen observer is $25 million less than the proposed "cap" on Olympic spending). Huberman is using this as an opportunity to pit Chicago resident against Chicago resident over scarce dollars.

City officials have stated that a property tax increase may be necessary to fill in budget gaps. This increase will average about $18 per year increase per home valued at $262,000 per year. The framing of this increase, however, is textbook means for pitting recession-beleaguered homeowners against public school teachers (many of whom also being recession-beleaguered homeowners).

Huberman, along with officials from the Civic Federation, have blamed this shortfall on one thing, teacher pensions.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Aldermen Thu Aug 13 2009

Was Alderman Munoz Wrong?

Kids getting preferential admission because of who their parents are is wrong--although, of course, it happens in higher education all the time and basically creates America's version of a ruling class--but I'm not fully convinced that what Alderman Munoz did, in placing a call to request admission of his daughter to Whitney Young despite her grades, was wrong.

He is a parent. And parents call schools and ask for reconsideration all the time, particularly in cases where they want to keep siblings together (and I imagine for a dad, keeping his young daughter with her older brothers would be a particularly strong motivator). Should he not do what any other parent would do simply because he is an alderman?

Perhaps that is something you sacrifice when you enter public service. But if you put, "sacrificing basic parental prerogatives" on the list of things you sacrifice when you become a public servant, I'm not sure you'll ever get any quality public servants.

The background:

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) acknowledged Wednesday that his daughter was admitted to Whitney Young Magnet High School for the upcoming school year after he called the principal to ask that his daughter be allowed to follow in her brother's footsteps.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the follow-up was this bit of candid talk from the Mayor, who apparently has abandoned any pretension that the City Council's statutory powers are anything but a formality:

"As a parent, he is speaking for not only his family, but his own constitutents," Daley said. "They don't have to accept the child. They can refuse the child because [aldermen] have no power over the Board of Education. They don't fund them. They don't review their budgets or anything else."

The City Council does approve the Board of Education's property-tax levy and ratifies the mayor's appointment of school board members.

[Emphasis added]

I'm ambivalent. What do you think?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Daley Tue Jul 28 2009

Chi-Town Daily News on City Colleges Intimidation

No offense to my print journalism friends (may your Victrolas play joyous tunes) but reporting like this from the Chi-Town Daily News, who are covering the discrimination lawsuit at the City Colleges that implicates the administration in intimidation over personnel decisions, leads me to believe that democracy could potentially survive the death of ink. (Don't get me wrong--I love ink).

Here is staff writer Peter Sachs:

Last week, we reported that there was a culture of retaliation inside the City Colleges, citing the deposition of the district's former general counsel, now a circuit court judge. There's more to it.

Now that we've had time to go through yet more of the depositions, we find this:

"Non-African-Americans were easy to promote and were not punished as severely if they made a mistake, or if they did something that was not within procedures or the rules of the City Colleges."

That's Marnell Love, a former vice chancellor (read: high-level manager) inside the district's HR department, in his deposition in the Shaw lawsuit.

Speaking of promotions:

"I wanted to promote my employees who had outstanding records, and we had documented their performance ... and that they deserved to be promoted. And I had to promote other people that did not deserve it in order to get my promotions through, which, basically, I promoted everybody in the department."

Love goes on to talk about the tense work environment, festering upset over pay inequities, and infighting and feuding among some people in the HR department.

I've quoted too much. Please proceed and read.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Fri Jul 24 2009

CPS organizes Job Fair...Shhh! Don't Tell Anyone

Displaced Teachers, concerned parents, and employees concerned over tyrannical principals spoke during the public participation portion of Wednesday's Chicago Board of Education monthly meeting. Board President Micheal Scott and CEO of CPS Ron Huberman castigated many of these Chicago taxpayers for expressing their concerns in the public arena.

CORE member Jay Rehak expressed his concern that Huberman would attempt put CPS on two-tiered pension as he did while at the helm of the CTA. Rehak was also concerned about pension holidays. Current budget shortfalls in the CPS make these options desirable for public administrators.


I hope to some day, God willing, retire from CPS. In that retirement, I hope to receive the full pension that I will have earned. I am concerned about the financial health of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, not only for myself, but also for my brothers and sisters in the system who hope to retire both before me and after me.

Huberman shamed Rehak for relaying what he claimed were falsehoods and accused Rehack of being misleading. Board president Michael Scott shouted over Rehak as he attempted to defend his own honor.

The mood of the meeting shifted from ominous and combative to lighthearted as one teacher asked Huberman about a rumor. She heard that CPS was holding a secret job fair that was invite-only and dibs would be given to first-year alternative certification teachers in programs like Teach for America and the Chicago Teaching Fellows. The notion made Huberman and his newly hand-picked CPS administration team burst into laughter.

"I can dispel the rumor,'' schools CEO Ron Huberman told the giggling crowd. "There are no secret teacher fairs. Any teacher fairs are public. Everyone is invited, and they are advertised.''

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Huberman found out a few hours late that there was indeed a secret job fair to be held July 31 from noon to 3 pm. at the Lakeside Center of McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Dr.

Although the new buzzword of "accountability" is thrown around the CPS to justify the caustic policy of school "turnarounds," apparently when it comes to bureaucracy, the CPS advocates for a free-for-all. According to spokesperson for CPS, Monique Bond:

"There will be no reprimand for an honest mistake.''

This puts either the internal communications of the CPS into question, or the honesty of its leaders. If an "honest mistake" created a secret job fair and said fair was never relayed to the CEO, how much stock can be taken in Huberman's word when he says that teachers pensions are safe.? He stated that CPS will not go after pensions with the same confidence as he "dispelled" the rumor that there was no secret job fair.

Kenzo Shibata

Education Mon Jul 20 2009

CPS (Illegally) Fails Special Needs Students

Chicago schools reporter and publisher of Substance News George Schmidt documents the utter failure of Mayor Daley's public schools to serve special needs kids. The Mayor's hostile takeover of the Chicago Public Schools with the 1995 Amendatory Act made him a hero with Mayors around the country and his "taming" of the Teachers Union an idol to education reformers who think privatizing education is the only way to improve it. Arne Duncan's tenure at the schools earned him a promotion to be the nation's top education bureaucrat. Why? Because they fired teachers. The only discernible record of the Daley administration is this: performance is little or no better, and the most experienced teachers, particularly if they're Black, have been fired. Congratulations, Team Daley!

Read the whole thing.

Principals, parents, teachers and students across Chicago are growing in the awareness that the Chicago Board of Education, for the past seven years under the leadership of Mayor Richard M. Daley and Michael Scott, has been systematically (and illegally) depriving the city's most deserving children of the public special education services both the law and common decency say they deserve.

The recent revelations that the principal of Prescott Elementary School, Erin Roche, had dumped as many special education programs as possible from his school in his drive to create an "elite" school for the children of a wealthy handful who have been moving into the area is not singular.

The closing of schools with programs for the neediest children, along with massive cuts in special education services and the sabotaging of the IEP process (so that teachers cannot prescribe one-on-one services for children) was a long-term policy of the Duncan administration (2001 - 2009).

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Sat Jul 04 2009

Arne Duncan at the RAINBOW/PUSH National Convention

North Lawndale Little Village High School for Social Justice Teacher and Co-Chair of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), Jackson Potter, sent me a report on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's speech at the RAINBOW/PUSH National Convention.

A Slam Dunk for Duncan

By. Jackson Potter

At RAINBOW/PUSH's annual convention on June 29th, 2009, the audience was filled with college students working for the city college system. Two of these students who told me that they were getting paid $9.00 an hour to be at the event and claimed that the summer program was "excruciatingly boring" and that they had to beg their supervisors for "something to do." It should surprise no one that patronage and trading favors was part of the Secretary of Education's homecoming, after all he's been rewarded mightily by his corporate sponsors for spawning Chicago style school reform. Regardless of why people were there, the topic of the day was an admirable one, how to fix our failing educational system.

Jesse Jackson began the session asserting that "strong minds break strong chains" but deemed it unacceptable that a school like Harper High gets a mediocre education while other school communities get an "Olympic education." In a comment seemingly directed at the young people in the room Jackson insisted that "if you're behind, you have to run faster."

That opening gave Duncan an opportunity to expand upon his educational vision for the country. He started by thanking himself for doubling "the number of those passing and taking AP courses" in Chicago and for the fact that we "have more Gates Millenium winners than anyone in the country." Then he delivered the bad news "we [the United States] have a 30 percent dropout rate, we used to lead the world in the number of college graduates." Never mind that we have never had such a high number of low-income students of color attending college in our nation's history. Duncan then proceeded to insulate himself any doubts that his compassion and empathy for student struggles might not be legit. Referencing his close ties to the White House, Duncan insisted that the president and first lady "were not born with silver spoons in their mouths" and "the president talks about being on food stamps at one point." He also commented on the importance of Historically Black Colleges for training "half of our nations African American Teachers," this despite the fact that his Turnaround policies have led to a tremendous loss of black teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. Last, he took aim at the bad guys, us teachers.

"We're gonna push a very strong reform agenda" apparently necessary because "standards have been dummied down," something Duncan ensured was the case when he presided over a new Illinois State Achievement Test test that drastically improved the performance of elementary schools on state exams. Arne got on with his message, teachers are at the center of the achievement gap because "talent matters tremendously, great teachers, great principles matter." Last came the punch line; "were challenging the country to think about the schools that are not performing....when that happens we as educators perpetuate poverty and perpetuate the status quo." Another speaker challenged the Secretary of Education to think about the "health gap and the wealth gap" when diagnosing the distress of our schools but Duncan was nonplussed and responded, "this is not just about closing the gap, we have to raise the bar."

Apparently, that bar is to be raised, even if it chokes us!

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata

Education Thu Jun 18 2009

What a School Closing Looks Like

Substance News has been the go-to unofficial news source for the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union for decades.

They will be publishing a series of letters from students, teachers, and other Chicagoans who have been affected by school closings. The first in the series highlights the plight of De La Cruz, an elementary school in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Pilsen that closed its doors this month.

From teacher Kristine Mayle, recounting the plundering of "goods" by neighboring principals:

The Final Days of De La Cruz...A free-for-all of greed

By Kristine Mayle

They let the Area 10 principals into the building to take and claim whatever they could get their hands on... while teachers were trying to close up for the year and with students present!

I even had a principal reach over my head while I was typing to put a sticker on my classroom computer to claim it as her own. WHILE I WAS TYPING.

She didn't say a word, just reached over me. Shocking behavior all around. One student compared it to when her grandma died and all the relatives rushed her house to claim and fight over her property. I do not understand why they couldn't have had this free-for-all next week, when teachers and students were out of the building....

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata

Education Wed Jun 10 2009

CORE Files Discrimination Charges Against Board of Education

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators has filed charges against the Chicago Board of Education under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, claiming that the "turnaround" policy of the Renaissance 2010 initiative has amounted to discrimination against African-American teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. According to a CORE release, there are 2,000 fewer African-American teachers in CPS today than there were at the beginning of the Renaissance/Turnaround process in 2002.

Title VII prohibits formal or practical discrimination in hiring and firing practices--so even where a system is formally fair, if the practice or operations are discriminatory, legal action is possible.

In a statement, CORE co-chair Karen GJ Lewis said, "Since the beginning of the year, I've met black teachers who are working as substitutes. They are in tears, not just about the loss of their jobs but also about the loss of their status in the community. These school and position closings are insidious and Draconian. They are based on only one measurement -- test scores -- which say more about socio-economic status than they do about teaching and learning."

Copies of the complaint were not immediately available. A spokesperson for the Board of Education declined to comment.

Ramsin Canon

Social Issues Sun Jun 07 2009

Life of a Homeless CPS Student

Very sad story about a homeless CPS student and her mother that aired on WTTW's Chicago Tonight on the day of May 27th, 2009. Via Uptown Update!


Education Wed Jun 03 2009

A Jab from the NLRB Followed by an Uppercut by the General Assembly

Public education (and organized labor) was dealt two crushing blows this week.

The Charter School Reform Act of 2009 (SB 612 in the Illinois General Assembly raises the cap on the number of charter schools to be approved in the state of Illinois.

According to the Rockford Register Star:

The new bill eliminates boundaries -- now there are two areas: Chicago and everywhere else. Under the current law Rockford is considered "downstate" Illinois.

That means 15 charter schools can be licensed outside Chicago, on top of the previous five licenses left for downstate Illinois. In Chicago, 40 new schools can be added, and five new schools in Chicago can be allocated for dropout recovery. Before this approved act, only five charter licenses were available for downstate.

To clarify, one charter is not the same as one school. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has boasted in the past how Chicago was able to get around the original cap by allowing one charter operator to run multiple campuses. This new bill, if signed into law by Governor Quinn, will turn the charter school epidemic into a pandemic throughout the state.

Charter schools are non-union schools that are managed by private non-profit and for-profit organizations, using public dollars. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has not taken a stance against these schools, but advocated organizing them into union schools The AFT launched an aggressive campaign to organize schools run by the Civitas organization, and was successful in obtaining a majority of union membership cards to be signed by educators at three of its campuses.

Remember, these organizations use property tax dollars to run these schools and the schools are supposedly available to all students who enroll in public schools.

However, when it's no longer convenient to hide under the guise of "public school,"

Civitas argued that its charter schools are essentially private schools not accountable to the public, despite receiving taxpayer dollars. In the brief Civitas submitted to the NLRB, it claimed it is a for-profit company not required to provide any type of annual presentation to any government body to justify its annual expenditures, and that it has no "direct personal accountability" to any government public officials.

What are the word does President Obama and Secretary Duncan repeat profusely when talking about the advantages of charter schools? To give you a hint, it rhymes with "schmaccountability."

What does this mean?

If the schools were declared public entities, they would fall under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, which would recognize the majority of cards signed as a vote for the union at the schools. Since the the NLRB has declared them private employers, they now must conduct a "secret" ballot "election."

This gives the charter operator more time to intimidate and/or fire staff before the election occurs or EFCA is passed...

but that's another story.

Disclosure- I am proud member of AFT Local 1

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Education Wed Jun 03 2009

Union Democracy: Live-Tweeting the Chicago Teachers Union

Follow @coreteachers to follow the debate over the budget within the Chicago Teachers Union, one of the largest unions in Chicago.

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) is a teacher-led movement to bring transparency and democracy to the Chicago Teachers Union.

(and by the way, since we're talking about can follow me at @ramsincanon)

Ramsin Canon

Education Tue May 19 2009

Follow the Chicago Teachers Union Meeting

CORE, the movement of rank-and-file teachers to democratize their union, is tweeting (twittering? I'm only 27 years old, and I'm not sure) the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates Meeting. Follow 'em.

Ramsin Canon

Education Tue Mar 31 2009

Phony Tough Guy Watch: Arne Duncan

Last month, Ramsin Canon wrote about Tribune columnist and "consummate phony tough guy" John Kass.

In that vein, I would like to nominate Arne Duncan for a Phony Tough Guy Award, for being quoted as saying he would

"come down like a ton of bricks" on anyone who defies the administration's plans to bring relief to states who face layoffs because of budget cuts."

Words signify things and his metaphor of "coming down like a ton of bricks" should mean something. Does this mean that he's going to fight Bobby Jindal?

Kenzo Shibata

Education Wed Mar 25 2009

The Board of Education Votes for More of Your Money

On the agenda for today's Chicago Board of Education Meeting was a resolution to double the pay for the members of the Board.

According to Parents United for Responsible Education:

Board member payments would go from the current $1,000 per month to $2,000. The Board president's payment will go from $1,600 to $3,000/month.

This means that the yearly cost of paying Board members will go from $91,200 to $180,000. It's is important to note that the members of the Board of Education are all extremely wealthy members of the business community who meet once a month and rubber-stamp every initiative coming from the fifth floor.

These appointees of Mayor Daley claim that the schools are "failing" and that merit pay schemes like the Chicago Tap program (unveiled in collusion with the Marilyn Stewart-led Chicago Teachers Union) will bring about positive change in Chicago. This group sets forth the policies of these "failing" schools and insist that they are "meritorious" enough to warrant 100% pay raises.

Although members of the Board represent organizations like Banco Popular and LaSalle Bank, their practices are akin to the bailout-bonus frenzy of AIG. The City is hemorrhaging money, and these part-time Board members are cutting off the tourniquet.

Let's put this into perspective. According to the salary schedule listed in the Chicago Teachers Union contract, a first year teacher with a bachelor's degree will make $46,761 with pension.

This means that about four more teachers can be hired for the year. Looking again at the contract, on average, class sizes are "advised" to have no more than 28 students. Hiring four more teachers would allow 112 students to have class sizes as advised by the contract. Of course, since the passing of the Amendatory Act of 1995, which gave the Mayor of Chicago control over the CPS (and the ability to appoint the Board of Education) class sizes are not grievable, and thus these numbers are "advised."

Of course, the CPS does need a Board of Education. It cannot be cut entirely. However, these positions should not be patronage jobs for the rich. The city schools are constantly compared to their suburban counterparts. Until an equitable funding formula is devised to level the playing field, there are other things that can be done to make city schools more like suburban schools. One of those things is to repeal the Amendatory Act and have a school Board comprised of community members elected to these positions.

This would be a great civics lesson for our students.

Kenzo Shibata

Education Thu Feb 19 2009

Soto School Closure Moratorium Bill Passes Committee

We all know that means little if Speaker Madigan (or Senate President Cullerton) wants to squash it, but good on Rep. Cynthia Soto for bucking the Mayor and his corporate lackeys on the Board of Ed and moving this moratorium on school closures through the General Assembly. The vote was 20-0.

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, candidate for Rahm Emanuel's House seat, is a Chief Co-Sponsor. The bill has a Republican co-sponsor, Roger Eddy of Hutsonville.

The Board of Education has no standards for its school closures. It views our city as a "market" and is merely trying to increase the "market share" of the privatized schools so favored by the Mayor and the myopic mopes who purr in his lap on the Fifth Floor.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Wed Feb 04 2009

How Not to Advocate Charter Schools: A Case Study

There are many excellent arguments in support of charter schools -- including nearly 17,000 in the form of students voluntarily enrolled in Chicago's charters from 2006-2007 -- but I've never encountered a bad one.

Until now.

Today's Southtown Star features an opinion piece by Fran Eaton in which she suggests Chicago parents should support charter schools because incoming Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman is gay.

Say what?

Eaton writes:

There are few choices for dissatisfied Chicago parents. Either move to another school district, find an alternate means of education for their children, or get over their concerns, accept homosexuality as normal and admit to themselves they are abnormal for thinking anything different...One way is to establish more charter schools.

Eaton quotes the director of the Illinois Family Institute's Division of School Advocacy, who thinks Huberman's appointment portends certain doom -- or gayness -- for CPS students:

"First, Huberman will be called upon to superintend issues related to how homosexuality is addressed in Chicago public schools," Higgins wrote. "Second, Huberman serves as a public role model. His open, unapologetic, unrepentant appropriation and affirmation of sexual deviance as morally defensible and central to his identity vitiates any legitimacy as premier educational leader in Chicago that his admirable qualities may have otherwise conferred on him."

(Hypothetically speaking, would Huberman be more acceptable as CPS's CEO were he to apologize for his sexuality? Just how silly is that question?)

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc / Comments (8)

Education Wed Feb 04 2009

Direct Action May Save Chicago's Schools

The recent actions by CORE, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, under the umbrella group GEM (Grassroots Education Movement), may have brought life back to a moratorium on school closings that was tabled in the General Assembly in 2007, and re-introduced by State Representative Cynthia Soto.

Rep. Soto announced the moratorium at a press conference held at her office on Tuesday, February 3.

From Medill Reports-Chicago:

"[Rep.]Soto presented a similar version of this bill in 2007, but it was tabled, she said, because former schools CEO Arne Duncan offered to work with legislators on a new decision process. But the district has broken its promises, she said, and continued its Renaissance 2010 program, aimed at opening 100 new schools by 2010."

Had the bill been passed, or had Duncan kept his promise, the staffs and faculties at Copernicus, Fulton, Howe, and Morton elementary schools, along with Orr and Harper High Schools, would still be intact. Apparently, this type of reneged horse-trading was overlooked during the Senate confirmation hearings of Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education.

Rep. Soto called a press conference yesterday, well attended by members of CORE and GEM, where she called for a one-year moratorium on school closings and reorganizations.

From ABC 7:

"So you are hearing from my constituents. They want a moratorium now and that's what this bill will do. There is going to be a process...and we are going to be investigating how the old process works," said State Rep. Cynthia Soto, (D) Chicago.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Education Mon Feb 02 2009

Reform Caucus of CTU Takes Lead

Labor Beat produced video of last Wednesday's Renaissance 2010 protest. In the video, Substance News Publisher George Schmidt explains how the the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) has pushed the Chicago Teachers Union in its recent actions against the Renaissance 2010 program. Apparently, the group has lit a fire under the "sleeping giant" that is the Chicago Teachers Union, as described by co-founder Jackson Potter*.

*Potter's analysis can be found here.

Disclosure: I am a member of CORE and a delegate to the CTU.

Kenzo Shibata

Education Fri Jan 30 2009

Over a Thousand Protest Renaissance 2010

Wednesday was a day of protests warning incoming CEO of Chicago Public Schools Ron Huberman of the resistance that lies ahead of him as he implements Mayor Daley's Renaissance 2010 Program.


From Jim Vail's piece on

They came, and they came fast and furious, and before one knew it, as many as a thousand children, teachers, parents and other concerned community members came out in mass to protest the Renaissance 2010 plan to close, turnaround, phase out, consolidate and otherwise turn the Chicago public school system upside down and inside out.


From Ben Strauss's piece on

"Hey, hey. Ho, ho," they chanted. "Mayor Daley's got to go."

The march came to rest in Daley Plaza, with demonstrators huddled at the foot of the larger than life cubist Picasso statue...organizers impressed upon those gathered that this wasn't the end, but merely one of many calls to action....


The event was so large that it even brought out the mainstream media:

NBC's coverage




Kenzo Shibata / Comments (2)

Education Wed Jan 28 2009

Teachers, Parents, Students Out in Force

After making Ron Huberman's first day on the job at CPS quite unpleasant (h/t to Progress Illinois), a large demonstration of hundreds -- inching into thousands -- of teachers, parents, and students will be demonstrating in front of the Chicago Public Schools building at 125 S. Clark Street, beginning at 3:30pm today. If you work downtown, you may want to head over there and check it out -- and send us pictures, while you're at it. We'll post 'em!

Mayor Daley's Board of Education is run by the business community and himself. It's enough already. How much longer are the people of Chicago just going to accept that "The Mayor gets his way?" Do you really think forever?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Tue Jan 27 2009

Greg Hinz: Huberman Is Pretty Good WITH TRANSIT

Greg Hinz says:

In shifting Mr. Huberman, Mayor Daley candidly admitted he believes that educating kids is more important than getting people to jobs.

"The most imporant aspect of life is a quality education," he replied when I asked him if having both good schools and good transit wasn't important. "Education is the answer to all the ills."

I don't know if you can interpret that as Daley prizes education above transportation. Transportation is crucial for a city to function, and a fool our mayor is not. He's on the money earlier in the same piece:

At the CTA, Mr. Huberman wasn't perfect but he was a breath of fresh air.

Unlike his immediate predecessors, he recognized that the CTA is in a consumer business, a business in which good service is required. Thanks to him, those slow zones on miles and miles of el lines are gone. Articulated buses get fixed fast, rather than breaking down every day. The amount of service has increased. And, while fares went up, the system's basic finances are in the best shape in decades.

Even bigger were his dreams for the future, dreams of clean, high-tech service like other cities have on existing and new lines. At least some of those dreams were starting to come into focus with the prospect of billions of dollars in federal aid under President Barack Obama.

Is it too much to ask to keep the somewhat competent people in the places where they actually are competent? I'm going to channel Daley right now and say "yes."

Daniel Strauss

Education Sun Jan 25 2009

CTA President To Be Next CPS CEO?


Mayor Richard Daley on Saturday acknowledged he has spoken with CTA President Ron Huberman about succeeding Arne Duncan as public schools chief, but Daley declined to say if he has offered the post to Huberman, Daley's onetime chief of staff.

Kenzo Shibata

Education Wed Jan 21 2009

Labor Beat Produces Video of Anti-Renaissance 2010 Meeting

500 Attend Anti-Renaissance 2010 Community Meeting

Thanks to Dave Vance at Labor Beat.

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Education Wed Jan 21 2009

School Occupation on South Side

Teachers are planning a sit-in picket at Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary at 955 W. Garfield (55th St.) beginning tonight tomorrow night (1/22) at 7:30p.m. 5pm to 7pm, when the school must be evacuated.

Holmes Elementary was slated to be a "turnaround" school, the Board of Education's method for liquidating public schools.

Come out and show your support for the parents, teachers, and students of Wendell Elementary.

A letter from the teachers, faculty, and LSC after the jump.

UPDATE: Sit-in details have been changed to a picket after a community meeting.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Fri Jan 16 2009

Rockford Takes One Giant Leap for Educational Excellence

But this is only the first step.

I attended the Rockford School Board's meeting on Tuesday and witnessed their unanimous approval for the first charter school in the city. The Legacy Academy of Excellence will be a K-5 school for "at-risk" students.

Charter schools are public schools but they're different than the norm, so here's some background from an op-ed I wrote last month in the Rockford Register-Star:

Charter schools are public schools open to any families who wish to apply. Charters design their own curricula, hire their own teachers and need to meet certain student achievement standards set forth in their agreements with state and local officials. If they don't meet these standards, the school must close, and students return to their local traditional public school.

In other words, Legacy will have freedoms that other public schools lack. From flexible work rules that allow charters to hire and retain the best teachers, to their independence to design curricula without mandates from Springfield or Washington, charters are fundamentally different than traditional public schools, and results in Chicago and elsewhere prove their high worth.

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc / Comments (7)

Education Thu Jan 15 2009

500 Attend Anti-Renaissance 2010 Community Meeting

"I am Jackson Potter and I'm here to recruit you." Those were the words that opened the Community Meeting on School Closings that took place last Saturday at Malcom X College. Potter, founding member of CORE (The Caucus of Rank and File Educators), was alluding to the phrase Harvey Milk used to open his movement-inspiring speeches. From the success of the Saturday event, it was clear that a new movement is spreading through Chicago.

CORE, along with several other community groups, organized the meeting. Eighty-two Chicago Public Schools were represented and an estimated 500 attended.

Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) stated (via Catalyst's District 299 Blog), "I haven't seen this kind of effort since 1987" (in reference to the last strike of the Chicago Teachers Union).

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata

Education Thu Jan 08 2009

No Child Left With Dignity?

According to the Washington Post, the Chicago reform model implemented by CEO Arne Duncan could become the model for the United States when he takes the helm as Secretary of Education.

According to Professor Elliot Weinbaum of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education:

"Obama chose Arne Duncan for a reason, and part of that reason is the experimentation that Duncan has done in Chicago and his real attention to data and outcomes." .... "Duncan's willing to try new things and see if they work, hopefully keep the ones that do and drop the ones that don't. I expect that experimentation to continue on a national scale."

One of Duncan's most famous "experiments" is the proliferation of charter schools across the city and his ability to get around the state cap on charters.

According to parents who sent their kids to Aspira Charter School, this "experiment" led to the strip-search of their children by off-duty police officers during school hours.

The teacher who blew the whistle on this activity was rewarded by being fired. As charter schools are non-union schools, she had no recourse in the matter.

Duncan, who is facing confirmation hearings next week, did not return two days of phone calls by the Sun-Times in relation to the story. Apparently "accountability" is only important when it comes to test scores; when it comes to the dignity of children, "experimentation" is acceptable.

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (4)

Education Mon Dec 29 2008

Chicago Educators, Policy Watchers: Duncan a Bad Choice

President-elect Obama's choice of his pick-up basketball buddy and Daley apparatchik Arne Duncan as the highest education official of the world's only superpower was met with either yawns or vague plaudits by "liberal" commentators who think a free market model of competition in education will lead to greater equality. But Chicago's teachers, who have faced years of school closures, meaningless benchmarks, and an all-consuming focus on testing, are not letting Duncan enjoy his honeymoon. An organization of teachers, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, has raised a ruckus about Duncan's destructive "turnaround" and Renaissance 2010 policies. And the negative reviews keep coming in:

Meanwhile, new charter schools face far less regulation and less accountability during their first few years. The charter school experience either provides a curriculum that should be the envy of the world or teach-to-the-test discipline with a bland curriculum. The test-till-you-drop method, utilizing the "research-based" models designed solely to improve test scores, appeals to the CEOs running charter school administrative companies (complete with their "chain" of schools, such as Alliance, Nobel, or ACT), Department of Education officials, and businesses providing capital.

The best charter schools, staffed by teachers envisioning a radically different kind of experience of childhood, resemble the education every child deserves but few receive: child-centered, stimulating, and explorative, with relevant materials and teaching strategies flexible enough to reach all learners.

The policies touted as educational "reform" by the New Democrats apply the same neoliberal theories responsible for NAFTA, the WTO, and GATT with the same results: the inequalities become greater while those in positions of power receive even greater rewards. A two-tired education system lurks in the distance, the result of neoliberal efforts to create equality. The gradual privatization and outsourcing of public schools represents a shift towards the voucher system, the ideal school system envisioned by Milton Friedman and present-day neoconservatives.

Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Dec 24 2008

CEO of the Classroom, Arne Duncan

Apologists have made the argument that Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan's lack of experience as an educator will not impede his ability to fulfill his role as Secretary of Education. Outside of a few photo ops, he has not worked within the classroom; his experience was in the business sector, which has been crucial to informing his policies in Chicago.

Henry A. Giroux and Kenneth Saltman at Truthout describe the Chief Executive Officer's hidden agenda in education reform:

One particularly egregious example of Duncan's vision of education can be seen in the conference he organized with the Renaissance Schools Fund. In May 2008, the Renaissance Schools Fund, the financial wing of the Renaissance 2010 plan operating under the auspices of the Commercial Club, held a symposium, "Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market in Public Education," at the exclusive private club atop the Aon Center. The event was held largely by and for the business sector, school privatization advocates, and others already involved in Renaissance 2010, such as corporate foundations and conservative think tanks. Significantly, no education scholars were invited to participate in the proceedings, although it was heavily attended by fellows from the pro-privatization Fordham Foundation and featured speakers from various school choice organizations and the leadership of corporations. Speakers clearly assumed the audience shared their views.

Without irony, Arne Duncan characterized the goal of Renaissance 2010 creating the new market in public education as a "movement for social justice." He invoked corporate investment terms to describe reforms explaining that the 100 new schools would leverage influence on the other 500 schools in Chicago. Redefining schools as stock investments he said, "I am not a manager of 600 schools. I'm a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I'm trying to improve the portfolio." He claimed that education can end poverty. He explained that having a sense of altruism is important, but that creating good workers is a prime goal of educational reform and that the business sector has to embrace public education. "We're trying to blur the lines between the public and the private," he said. He argued that a primary goal of educational reform is to get the private sector to play a huge role in school change in terms of both money and intellectual capital. He also attacked the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), positioning it as an obstacle to business-led reform. He also insisted that the CTU opposes charter schools (and, hence, change itself), despite the fact that the CTU runs ten such schools under Renaissance 2010. Despite the representation in the popular press of Duncan as conciliatory to the unions, his statements and those of others at the symposium belied a deep hostility to teachers unions and a desire to end them (all of the charters created under Ren2010 are deunionized). Thus, in Duncan's attempts to close and transform low-performing schools, he not only reinvents them as entrepreneurial schools, but, in many cases, frees "them from union contracts and some state regulations." Duncan effusively praised one speaker, Michael Milkie, the founder of the Nobel Street charter schools, who openly called for the closing and reopening of every school in the district precisely to get rid of the unions. What became clear is that Duncan views Renaissance 2010 as a national blueprint for educational reform, but what is at stake in this vision is the end of schooling as a public good and a return to the discredited and tired neoliberal model of reform that conservatives love to embrace.

Does this sound like someone able to maintain "respectful relations with teachers and their unions?"

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Education Tue Dec 23 2008

Danny K. Davis on Student Loans

Congressman Davis has published with Yvette Clark an essay on the need to "bail out" students, over at Truthout. Read it.

The Treasury-Fed plan seems to equate credit card, auto and student loans. However, these debts are not equal. Private student loan lenders enjoy federal protections from bankruptcy that other consumer creditors do not. Specifically, unlike other types of consumer debt, private student loans are protected from discharge during bankruptcy except under extreme circumstances. Thus, an individual who accumulates thousands of dollars in debt for purchases of cars or luxury goods can obtain relief via bankruptcy; however, a teacher with private student loans cannot.

Ramsin Canon

Education Tue Dec 23 2008

Victory for Parents Over CPS Shell Game

From the PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education) website:

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sophia Hall denied a Chicago Board of Education motion for summary judgment which asked her to throw out the small and alternative schools Local School Council (LSC) lawsuit filed by a number of LSCs, LSC members, parents, and advocacy organizations.

LSC attorneys Elaine K. B. Siegel and Associates argued that the Chicago Public Schools' broad practice of closing schools and reopening them without elected LSCs violates the school reform law.

Judge Hall expressed frustration with CPS lawyers who were unable to produce evidence in support of their arguments that CPS had followed the law or even their own policies in disbanding a number of LSCs and replacing them with advisory bodies appointed by the Chicago Board of Education.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata

Education Mon Dec 22 2008

Community Coalition Interrupts Duncan's Love Fest

On Wednesday, December 17, the Chicago Board of Education held its regular monthly meeting, one day after Barack Obama announced his nomination of Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education. The meeting began with a standing ovation for Duncan, local champion of school "turnarounds" and school choice. The board praised Duncan for his work in Chicago. Principals from various CPS schools were on hand, each giving their iteration of how Duncan was wonderful for Chicago and will be wonderful for the nation.

The public comments portion of the proceedings, the time when community members are given the chance to weigh in on their proposals and reactions to the CPS, sharply contrasted the preceding love fest. In this time, a coalition of teachers, parents, and students was there to voice its concerns over Duncan's model for urban education. The groups, including members of CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators), PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education), and the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization took to the mics during the public portion of the meeting to voice their concerns about the school closings, school turnarounds, and Mayor Daley's educational piece de resistance, Renaissance 2010.

Most on the list of forty-four speakers spoke critically of the policies under Arne Duncan. One notable exception was the principal of Namaste Charter School , who proposed a renewal of her school's charter, citing a decrease in the Body Mass Index of her students. Two foci of Namaste are continual assessment of students and yoga.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata

Education Thu Dec 18 2008

Duncan's Task in D.C.

Although our governors are making us the shame of the nation, much of the state is still feeling the afterglow of Obamamania. Slowly, we see our sons and daughter pack their bags and head out to D.C. to create change. The popular media have reported that Chicagoans are happy to see our citymen make the transition to the national spotlight.

Tuesday, Obama announced Arne Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, to be his choice for Secretary of Education, to succeed Margaret Spellings. The popular media again report that we Chicagoans are all happy with the choice of Duncan, who they repeatedly mention as a "reformer."

Duncan comes from the camp of "reformers," a term widely used by the popular media to describe big-city superintendents who lead districts with vast disparities in educational opportunities using scarce resources. Duncan, Washington, D.C.'s Michelle Rhee, and New York City's Joel Klein share the belief that the underlying problem in education in the United States can be mainly pitted on "bad teachers." Solutions they propose: merit pay for teachers whose students make gains on standardized tests, giving parents the option to enroll their students in charter and specialized schools, and working around the much vilified policy of teacher tenure. These are all measures that keep budgets low but have unproven track records for success.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Education Mon Dec 15 2008

Arne Duncan is Obama's Pick for Secretary of Education

Sources have leaked that tomorrow President-elect Barack Obama will announce that his pick for secretary of education will be his pick-up hoops buddy Arne Duncan, current CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

More to come...

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Federal Government Fri Dec 05 2008

Stimulate "Value," Not Consumption

We've been artificially stimulating consumption for decades now. Isn't it time we stopped and thought about what we should be "stimulating?"

I think "stimulus packages" are nonsense, but if we are going to go down that path, shouldn't we rethink what we should be stimulating? We ought to be stimulating the production of value, and nothing else. Perhaps more importantly, stimulating the production of value goes hand-in-hand with preventing (current and future) the unnecessary destruction of value, which comes in the form of waste, corruption, duplication of effort, and any other misallocation of resources in both the public and private sector.

Why is the mere stimulation of consumption a mistake? One obvious answer is that this the kind of nonsense that got us to where we are. Whether one likes demand-side ideology (Keynes -- "demand creates its own supply") or supply-side (Say's law -- "A product is no sooner created, than it, from that instant, affords a market for other products to the full extent of its own value"), the fact is we have played out the string on both of them. If you spend enough time on "econo-blogs," it becomes apparent that the two bleed into each other so much that they are virtually indistinguishable. Excessive government transfer payments are welfare for the unproductive/connected, and excessive tax cuts are welfare for the rich.

Continue reading this entry »

Bruno Behrend / Comments (1)

Education Wed Nov 12 2008

The Attack on Public Education Continues

Richard Cohen, op-ed columnist from the Washington Post, offers his endorsement for the Secretary of Education...NYC School Chancellor (nominal reform of "superintendent") Joel Klein, due to his pro-merit pay stance. He argues that this appointment will mean that Obama is showing his ability to triangulate by throwing teachers unions (many of whom endorsed him) under the bus:

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (2)

Education Mon Nov 10 2008

Chicago Teachers Twelve Votes Away from City-Wide Protest

On Wednesday, November 5, at the delegate meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union, members were twelve votes shy of a majority to protest the upcoming announcement of another round of massive teachers firings. The motion, proposed by Jackson Potter, member of the reform caucus of the Chicago Teachers Union, CORE (The Caucus of Rank-and-File-Educators) read as follows:

"Approve that CTU organize a protest against contract, turnaround and charter school proliferation by calling for a emergency protest in response to any announcement of mass layoffs, scheduled for the Monday following such an announcement."

Union president Marilyn Stewart herself came down off the dais to argue against the motion, blaming membership for the inaction of the CTU leadership in opposing these school closings and mass teacher firings.

The Chicago Board of Education has recently announced the opening of 13 new schools for 2009, the turnarounds of up to 12 additional schools. This will eliminate over 1500 union positions. The CPS has not released the names of the schools involved, making a this a waiting game for the 30,000+ Chicago Public School Teachers anticipating the news as to whether or not they will have a job next year.

Kenzo Shibata

Education Thu Nov 06 2008

My Endorsement for Secretary of Education

It shocked many education wonks when President-elect Barack Obama announced Linda Darling-Hammond as his campaign's education policy adviser.

Their pick would have more likely been a staffer from one of the big-city school districts that adhere to the a very simple orthodoxy. The formula is simple. Deprofessionalize teaching, hire fresh-faced Ivy-League graduates ready to do their two years of service in the classroom (that they would normally reserve for the non-profit sector), privatize everything from school services to curriculum, and make the bottom line as small as possible.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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