Monthly Archives: November 2012

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.

Mr. President, Can We Talk about Education?

Dear President Obama,

I am still so very glad to wake up every morning to find you are still president. I worked hard to help make that happen, especially because the Affordable Care Act made a difference to me as it did for millions of people. But I’d like to talk to you about something else that is very important to me: education.

Education is not your strong point. Now, I understand you’re pretty busy with Iran and the fiscal cliff and all of this nonsense with Generals Petraeus and Allen, but that’s why you appoint people who you trust to implement what is best for the country. So I need to clue you in on something that millions of public school teachers, parents, and scholars already know: Arne Duncan is not your guy.

I can tell you this personally as my son briefly went to the same Chicago Public School as the Duncan children. With my own ears I heard him scold our PTA for not raising enough money to hire aides for his child’s classroom. “This is how public schools are going to pay for things,” he insisted. “Other schools are doing it and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

At the time I thought, “This is the philosophy of the guardian of public education in Chicago? If parents want aides in the classroom they must pay for it?”

So last May, when Chicago schools’ chief Jean Claude Brizard stunned a panel of educators by announcing he was in favor of using federal funds (i.e., vouchers) for private education, I was not surprised. His predecessor – now the person leading education policy in this country – had already determined that the future of public schools is privatization. In Chicago, Arne Duncan’s “Renaissance 2010” accelerated the privatization of the public school system by blaming teachers for low performing schools and expanding the number of charter schools.

Now he’s taken that campaign nationwide.  “Race to the Top” told schools they had to compete for federal funds. His “reform” policies opened the door to Astroturf organizations like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform. As Bill Ayers and Diane Ravitch have already pointed out, the “reforms” pushed by these organizations fly in the face of research on key issues like standardized testing and the impact of poverty on learning. They are chasing out good teachers and looking for private organizations to run schools.

Mr. President, you said you would protect our senior citizens and not privatize social security; why won’t you protect our children? I thought the idea of a public school system was that it makes sense to have an educated population, and that education is something that should be a basic right and not a privilege.

I spent most Saturdays in October in a swing state trying to get you re-elected. I spent three three days before the election in Wisconsin getting out the vote. Do you know why? Yes, to re-elect you, but also I because I believe in the democratic process. It warmed my heart to see mothers making their children vote, to see a young woman spend an hour explaining to her younger sister why it was important to go vote.

That is what democracy looks like: me, pounding the pavements for weeks and those young people going out to vote. It’s not about heavily-funded Astroturf organizations with their own political agendas. The problem is, Mr. Duncan is listening to hedge fund managers like Bruce Rauner and crowing union-busters like Jonah Edelman while shutting the rest of us out.

You have promised to listen to us, the people who worked hard for you, this time. Take a look at your own children to see how large their classroom is and how many tests they take and how many children in their class go to school hungry. Do what you’re good at: read, listen, ask around, think – and I mean really think – about the meaning and future of public education.

Then have a chat with Arne Duncan about the purpose and meaning of public education. As president, you set the tone and policy. It’s time you educate yourself on education.

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.