Category Archives: Politics

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.

Red State/Blue State

I’ve spent the last three days in Kenosha, Wisconsin for the final push in this long 2012 election year. We thought we’d be in Ohio but in the last few days, everyone from Illinois has been sent to Wisconsin.

Near Downtown Kenosha, WI

But we’re also working for Rob Zerban, who is challenging Paul Ryan, so as we go door-to-door we tell people, “You get to vote against Paul Ryan twice!” Wouldn’t it be nice if it came to pass that Ryan actually did lose twice?

In some of the neighborhoods we’ve been in,  I feel like “wow … they need to be voting for Obama.” But then as we’re talking to them and hear how they’re traveling 90 miles for work (and these are the lucky ones) or see the number of houses in foreclosures or abandoned buildings you do understand the absence of hope.  While I can talk about how Obama opened the door on his presidency to the messy pile of excrement left by de-regulation and bad wars from previous administrations, one can understand why election day is not necessarily on the frontal lobe in much of Kenosha.

History is mostly fabulous because of firsts, and in 2008 it was an almost unbelievable first but we dared to believe. I’m not bothered by the lack of “enthusiasm” that some papers are focusing on … I am just concerned with results. And the next four years so we CAN see some change.

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