Category Archives: Chicago News

Is Public Education a “Radical” Idea?

At a recent family picnic, an elderly uncle growled at me for wearing a “radical political” t-shirt. My shirt has the popular internet meme “Every Chicago Public School is My School,” which accurately captured the groundswell of anger at Rahm Emanuel’s closing of 50 neighborhood schools. Every schoolIn fact, when Parents4Teachers spokesperson Erica Clark read out the names of the school at the CPS meeting finalizing this deal (the Board did not; they voted them closed in an omnibus vote that took all of one second) people began shouting “my school” when they heard their school’s name. Very shortly the entire room was shouting “My school!” after every name read.

I’ve been wearing this shirt a lot because it gets such a response, mainly “I like your shirt!” But to my uncle I took the opportunity to say, “It’s a sad day in this country when public education is a ‘radical’ concept, isn’t it Uncle Moe?”

Yesterday Catalyst reported that a $20 million no-bid contract went to an organization with connections to CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. This comes as no surprise to CPS teacher and parent Timothy Meehan who claims in his SunTimes commentary that CPS is starving schools n order to privatize.

This corporate reform of education is part of the neoliberal viewpoint that says that school systems should be run like businesses. There’s an inherent problem with this view: it collides with a societal view that democratic ideals include a thriving public school system that offers opportunities. As we go to hearings and protests and file lawsuits, we need to keep alive the question of what is meant by democracy and what is really meant by freedom.

Freedom is not throwing public education open to the free market so parents are free to “choose” a charter school; freedom is knowing that your child can walk to school in a safe neighborhood.

Wal-Mart Funds Charters While Running CPS School Closure Hearings.

Note: This post was from February25, 2013

How hypocritical is it that CPS says that school closings have nothing to do with charter schools – yet the Walton Family Foundation (who have made CPS the largest recipient of funds for charter schools in their massive funding around the country, according to the Daily Kos) are running the community outreach hearings on school closings?

I attended last Monday’s hearing for the Burnham district (my district) and it was somewhat surreal. The church at 60th and Michigan was packed, including the balcony, and it was  standing room only. Three CPS officials sat at a table while two representatives from the 44 schools in the district were called to the microphone alphabetically where their pleas were met with raucous cheers from the audience.

School ClosingsSuddenly, about halfway through the school list, the moderator announced that if your school had spoken they should retire to the basement for “break-out” sessions. Now, not only was this diluting the support for schools most at risk, but these “break-out sessions” were nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation informing the community that the process for “right-sizing” these schools (I hate it when people create new verbs) was going to be done in a way that addressed everyone’s concerns. CPS would protect children from gang crossfire as well as preserve every special program in the school. (And if you believe that ….)

Beyond the chaos of people speaking over each other to one of the two “session leaders” – who by the way don’t work for CPS and were allegedly taking notes and trying to hear above the din, was the acceptance that schools are closing. It quickly then became every school for himself/herself. “Here’s why you shouldn’t close MY school” became the theme.

My favorite part of the night when was when Joy Clendenning, a member of Hyde Park Community Area Residents Empowering Schools (HPCARES) and parent of four children who attend three different CPS schools,  stood up and outshouted everyone to urge parents not to fall prey to the Board’s divide and conquer strategy.

It’s also likely that CPS is strategizing by starting with a big list and hoping people will be relieved when they cut it in half.

Do They Really Want to Hear the Voice of Parents?

 “I wish we had more demand. I wish we had a lot more parents … demanding a world-class education—not just on the policy side, but on the advocacy side.”       Arne Duncan, Education Week

I have to wonder sometimes if I’m on the same planet as my elected officials. How many parents did I see out on the picket lines with Chicago Public Schools teachers last September demanding quality conditions for quality schools? Who was at those rallies at city hall when Rahm shoved through the longer school day with no supports or programs for the additional time? And the candlelight vigils around closed schools?private publiv

Meanwhile, WBEZ reported that while CPS plans to close upwards of 100 schools they have applications to open 14 new contract and charter schools. Further, in a grant to the Gates Foundation, they say they plan on opening 60 charter schools in the next five years.

The article gives us a nice bit of math:

Right now, 14 percent of CPS’s 681 schools are privately run charter and contract schools.If the district closes 100 schools, and then opens 60 new charters in the next five years, the percentage of privately run schools could jump up to 27 percent. In a grant application to the Gates Foundation, CPS leaders said they planned to open 100 new schools in the next five years, 60 of them charters.

At the same time I am in conversations with a parent who moved into a district where the rumors are flying that the school will close.  She’s concerned that the school next to her is a Level 2 school and if her child begins in the district she’s in and it closes she’ll be shuttled to a new school next year.

And Arne Duncan has the nerve to suggest parents don’t care?

We Want Harold (again)

These past few weeks as I’ve watched government operate at the local level, I can’t help but think that Harold Washington would be rolling in his grave. As we’ve been  commemorating Harold’s all-too-short realm of openness and fairness, so-called “open hearings” these days appear to be open to officials and legislators while the voices of the community go unheard.

On November 20, the City Council Committee on Education and Child Development held hearings on potential school closings. As reported by Substance, while several alderman asked probing questions (such as what happens if a school is closed and parents have missed the selective enrollment deadline), the dozens of parents and community groups  in attendance were not allowed to speak. Similarly, at a raucous Springfield hearing that granted CPS an extension on the Dec. 1 deadline to announce school closings, the hundreds who showed up were also not given a chance to testify.

In the meantime, Raise Your Hand released their survey of recently compiled data from ISBE 2011 report cards shows that 76% of CPS schools had a grade that exceeded CPS’ recommended class size limits in 2011.  CPS claims the district has 500,000 classroom seats for only 400,000 students.

New CEO Chief Barbara Byrd Bennett promised a five-year moratorium on school closings if the General Assembly extended their school utilization deadline, a move Parents United For Responsible Education (PURE) likened to saying, “I promise to stop beating you after I get in this last round of punches.” Both the SunTimes’ and the Tribune’s editorials questioned the Boards ability to keep that promise.

The Commission on School Utilization’s first community meeting will be Monday, December 3 from 7-9 PM at Salem Baptist Church – 752 E. 114th Street.

Communities Prepare for School Closing Announcements

Four weeks ago I attended a candlelight vigil outside of Price Elementary School (49th and Drexel) as students and teachers  prepared to board a bus to Washington DC. They joined groups in four other cities who filed separate complaints with the Department of Education’s Office of civil rights, asking them to review the school closing policies.

It was an extremely moving experience, and one of the groups from Philadelphia caught some of the action on video (see below). In the meantime, we await Rahm’s pronouncement concerning the 80 to 120 schools that may be targeted for closing.  The issue of school closings is getting more attention around the country; last week Diane Ravitz visited Chicago and criticized Emanuel, calling the school closings destabilizing. (Listen to her full talk here.)

Thirty-two alderman signed a resolution calling for hearings on the proposed school closings. If hearings are to be held, they would be called by Ald. LaTasha Thomas (17th Ward) who chairs the Education Committee and who did not sign the resolution. No meeting has been scheduled; I emailed her last week and did not receive a response.

On November 2 a rally calling for a moratorium on school closures and charter expansion sponsored by Chicago Teacher’s Union Local 1 will take place at City Hall (LaSalle between Washington & Randolph) at 4:00 p.m.

For more Information please contact organizing@ctulocal1.com or call 312-329-6227

A Tale of Two Strikes

In the 1980s I covered three Chicago teacher strikes as an education reporter for a community newspaper. Today, twenty-five years after the last strike I reported on, I am watching as a parent.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what is different about this strike, and I’m not sure that watching it from this parental angle is what makes it different.  Two things have changed: In the nineties most of the issues were around salaries and benefits. And in those days parents were largely on the sidelines and the children were in the middle .

Today, both the teachers and the Chicago Board of Education say that it’s no longer about the money. It’s about class size, standardized testing, charter schools, and teacher evaluation.  It’s about a steady stream of policies – from charter schools to more tests to abruptly shutting schools without parent involvement. Parents understand  gang boundaries; the suits downtown do not.

Parents get it. Most have experienced that hollowed out feeling on the first day of school when leaving a wide-eyed six year old in a classroom with 35 other six year-olds and one adult. We learn about “high stakes testing” when  we see the ten year old worry  over a test that will determine whether or not he or she gets into a selective enrollment middle school, which would ensure a similar enrollment in high school, which would have a direct impact on where he went to college. For some kids, it determines whether or not they go to college.

And they want more tests? Parents see how these tests shape their education long before they even have to take them. Preschools and kindergarteners suffer lockdowns with no recess, quiet lunches, no music, or dancing or loud talking while the Big Kids take the test. They practice filling in scantrons and watching the clock in first grade. I told my frustrated first grader to take his time with his math homework, and then learned he was just practicing timed tests. We understand “Race to the Top” better than our elected officials think we do.

When the 1987 strike ended,  some say it was parent outrage that forced the two sides to settle. But that happened three weeks into the strike. Parents have been angry about tests and class size for years, and seeing this taken to a national discussion has been somewhat cathartic.

On the third day of the walkout, parents from the University of Chicago Lab schools –  where Mayor Emanuel sends his kids –  joined  teachers on the picket line at the school where Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent his kids before he went off to DC.  They volunteered at the hastily organized camps in a nearby neighborhood club for parents who don’t want to cross the picket line. “Our teachers don’t get subjected to these evaluations and our kids don’t get tested the way they do in public schools,” a parent told me.

Apparently Emanuel’s disconnect extends beyond public schools teachers and parents.

These past few days have been difficult as parents scramble for short term solutions and pray for longer ones. I won’t predict how long the teachers will stay out, or what the outcome will be, but I hold out hope, remembering  that the long strike in 1987 resulted in school reform. That reform created Local School Councils (LSCs) where parents worked with teachers, they hired (and fired) their principals, and approved  the school budget. The long-term result is that parents are very involved and have a lot invested in the issues on the table. Mayor Emanuel doesn’t understand that the outrage of parents won’t come three weeks into the strike; it’s already there.

This appeared in the Christian Science Monitor’s “Modern Parenthood” column on September 12.

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2012/0912/Chicago-teachers-strike-Mom-s-long-view-of-city-s-work-stoppages