Archives for category: Chicago

This article by the superintendents of New York City (Richard Carranza), Chicago (Janice Jackson), and Los Angeles (Austin Beutner) appeared in the Washington Post. For those too young to know, the Marshall Plan was a massive American investment in foreign aid package to rebuild Europe after World War II. It was proposed by General George Marshall.

President-elect Joe Biden has described the crisis in public schools caused by the pandemic as a “national emergency.” As the superintendents of the nation’s three largest public school districts — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — every day we grapple with the challenges that worry not just the president-elect but also the students and families we serve. Our schools, like thousands more across the nation, need help from the federal government, and we need it now.

The challenges school communities face aren’t for lack of effort by principals, teachers, staff, parents and students. Among our three districts, more than 2 million students and hundreds of thousands of educators have worked to transform teaching and learning from the inside out. We’ve seen teachers tackle long division from their kitchens and students debate the Constitution in Spanish from their living rooms.

But the fact is that for many — if not most — children, online and even hybrid education pales in comparison to what’s possible in a classroom led by a great teacher. Too many children are falling behind, threatening not just their individual futures but also America’s global competitiveness.

In Los Angeles Unified, where almost 80 percent of students live in poverty and 82 percent are Latino and African American, Ds and Fs by high school students have increased about 15 percent compared with last year. Meanwhile, reading proficiency in elementary grades has fallen 10 percent. In Illinois, students have lost more than a year of math progress. In New York City, 82 percent of students are children of color, largely from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, suffering tremendous loss and trauma that accompanies kids into the classroom. Across the country, math performance on standardized tests lags the prior year by 5 to 10 percentile points.

It’s time to treat the dire situation facing public school students with the same federal mobilization we have come to expect for other national emergencies, such as floods, wildfires and hurricanes. A major, coordinated nationwide effort — imagine a Marshall Plan for schools — is needed to return children to public schools quickly in the safest way possible.

Schools have shown that they can stay open safely despite community spread of the virus, but that demands the right set of actions, and adequate financial support, to bring students back safely and address the impact of this crisis head on.

Part of the problem is that the Cares Act and subsequent relief packages did not designate public school districts as recipients. Direct federal support for schools must be specific and targeted.

A federal relief package for schools should cover the basic building blocks of a safe, healthy and welcoming school environment so that educators and students can focus exclusively on their mission: high-quality teaching and learning. Funds should be provided directly to public school districts for four essential programs: cleaning and sanitizing of facilities and providing protective equipment; school-based coronavirus testing and contact tracing to help reduce the risk for all in the school community; mental health support for students to address the significant trauma they are facing; and funding for in-person instruction next summer to help students recover from learning losses because of the pandemic. Many local districts have poured resources into these efforts, and places such as New York City have seen success. But it’s simply not sustainable without federal support, and as covid-19 infection rates surge across the country, the pandemic shows no sign of slowing.

The cost of this lifeline for schools — an estimated $125 billion — is less than 20 percent of the total earmarked for the Paycheck Protection Program and about twice the amount provided to airlines. That’s a relatively small price to safely reopen the public schools that give millions of children a shot at the American Dream and their families the chance to get back to work.

Getting children back in the classroom and helping them recover must be addressed by the federal government with the same urgency and commitment as other disasters. Failure to do so will allow a “national emergency” to become a national disgrace that will haunt millions of children for the rest of their lives.

Carol Burris wrote the following post. Marla Kilfoyle provided assistance. They asked me to add that there are dozens more exceptionally well qualified people who should be considered for this important post: they are career educators who believe in public education, not closing schools or privatization.

The media has been filled with speculation regarding Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education. Given the attention that position received with Betsy De Vos at the helm, that is not a surprise. 

In 2008, Linda Darling Hammond was pushed aside by DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) for Arne Duncan, with disastrous consequences for our public schools. Race to the Top was a disaster. New Orleans’ parents now have no choice but unstable charter schools. Too many of Chicago’s children no longer have a neighborhood school from the Race to the Top era when it was believed that you improved a school by closing it.

But the troubling, ineffective policies of the past have not gone away. Their banner is still being carried by deep-pocketed ed reformers who believe the best way to improve a school is to close it or turn it over to a private charter board. 

Recently, DFER named its three preferred candidates for the U.S. Secretary of Education. DFER is a political action committee (PAC) associated with Education Reform Now, which, as Mercedes Schneider has shown, has ties to Betsy De Vos. DFER congratulated Betsy DeVos and her commitment to charter schools when Donald Trump appointed her.  They are pro-testing and anti-union. DFER is no friend to public schools.

The DFER candidates belong to Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, an organization that promotes Bush/Duncan education reform, as Jan Resseger describes here. “Chiefs for Change,” you support school choice, even if it drains resources from the public schools in your district, of which you are the steward. In their recent letter to President BidenChiefs for Change specifically asked for a continuance of the Federal Charter School Program, which has wasted approximately one billion dollars on charters that either never open or open and close. They also asked for the continuance of accountability systems (translate close schools based on test results) even as the pandemic rages.

We must chart a new course. We cannot afford to take a chance on another Secretary of Education who believes in the DFER/Chiefs for Change playbook. 

We don’t have to settle. The bench of pro-public education talent is deep. Here are just a few of the outstanding leaders that come to mind who could lead the U.S. Department of Education. Marla Kilfoyle and I came up with the following list. There are many more. 

Tony Thurmond is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, California. Tony deeply believes in public schools. Prior to becoming his state’s education leader, he was a public school educator, social worker, and a public school parent. His personal story is both moving and compelling. 

Betty Rosa dedicated most of her adult life to the students of New York City.  She began her career as a bi-lingual paraprofessional in NYC schools, became a teacher, assistant principal, principal, superintendent, state chancellor, and now New York State’s interim commissioner. 

Other outstanding superintendents include Joylynn Pruitt -Adams, the Superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest in Illinois, who is relentlessly determined to provide an excellent education to the district’s Black and Latinx high school students by eliminating low track classes, Mike Matsuda, Superintendent of Anaheim High School District and Cindy Marten, the superintendent of San Diego.  

Two remarkable teachers with legislative experience who are strong advocates for public schools and public school students are former Teacher of the Year Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and former Arkansas state senator Joyce Elliot

There is also outstanding talent in our public colleges. There are teachers and leaders like University of Kentucky College of Education Dean, Julian Vasquez Heilig, who would use research to inform policy decisions.  

These are but a few of the dedicated public school advocates who would lead the Department in a new direction away from test and punish policies and school privatization. They are talented and experienced leaders who are dedicated to improving and keeping our public schools public and who realize that you don’t improve schools by shutting them down. Any DFER endorsed member of Chiefs for Change is steeped in the failed school reform movement and will further public school privatization through choice. They had their chance. That time has passed. 

 

 

A federal investigation of Gulen charters in Illinois concluded with a large fine. Gulen charters are associated with the Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. Gulen charter schools can be recognized by the dominant presence of Turkish people in the board and the staff. In the past, they have been criticized for steering contracts to Turkish-owned firms, regardless of whether they are the low bidder.

The article, written by veteran reporters Dan Mihapoulos and Sarah Karp, describes the conclusion of a lengthy federal investigation.

A politically connected charter school chain based in the Chicago area has agreed to pay $4.5 million to end a long-running federal corruption investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Concept Schools Inc. — which has four publicly-financed campuses in Chicago and dozens of other charter schools in the Midwest — allegedly engaged in a bid-rigging scheme to steer federally funded technology contracts to insiders.

The costly, civil settlement with the government comes more than six years after federal agents raided the charter operator’s northwest suburban offices and other sites connected to Concept in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

In a statement this week, the Justice Department alleged Concept officials violated the federal False Claims Act “by engaging in non-competitive bidding practices” when they awarded contracts funded with taxpayer dollars from the government’s E-rate program. Through the program, the government subsidizes internet access at “needy public schools,” officials said.

“Today’s settlement demonstrates our continuing vigilance to ensure that those doing business with the government do not engage in anticompetitive conduct,” said Jeffrey Bossert, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Government contractors and schools that seek to profit at the expense of taxpayers will face serious consequences.”

Concept has denied wrongdoing. The nonprofit organization is based in Schaumburg and runs 30 taxpayer-financed charter schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio.

Documents show all of Concept’s revenues come from managing taxpayer-funded schools.

Chicago Public Schools officials — who approved and oversee two Concept campuses in the city — are set to provide about $17 million for those schools this year. The two other Concept-run schools in Chicago are regulated by the state, which is giving them another $22 million for the current year.

The four schools in Chicago, in turn, pay a total of $3.8 million a year to Concept in management fees, records show...

The federal corruption probe came into public view in June 2014, when agents raided Concept’s headquarters at the time in Des Plaines and the Chicago Math and Science Academy, in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

Court records show authorities launched the raids because they suspected a long-running “scheme to defraud a federal program.” The feds said at the time that Concept funneled about $5 million in federal grant funds to insiders and “away from the charter schools,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

In announcing the settlement, the Justice Department accused Concept of giving its E-rate business to “chosen vendors without a meaningful, fair and open bidding process” and alleged the charter operator paid those vendors “higher prices than those approved by the [federal government] for equipment with the same functionality.”

And some of the equipment the federal government paid Concept for was “discovered missing,” the Justice Department said.

But in a statement last week, Concept officials sought to portray the settlement as an exoneration, because the probe did not result in criminal charges. They pointed out that in its press release on the settlement, the Justice Department said the “claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability…”

Concept officials also said they had been the subject of unfair allegations of wrongdoing from “foreign actors.” Although the statement from the charter operator did not specify what foreign critics they were referring to, the charter chain run by Turkish immigrants has faced criticism from the government of their homeland for several years.

In a civil case in federal court in Chicago in August, the Turkish government sought information about Concept and a long list of “relevant individuals and entities.”

Turkey says Concept and other charter school networks across the U.S. “were created to siphon public, taxpayer funds away from the education of children in order to finance the international political activities of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric residing in the State of Pennsylvania.”

Gulen once was a staunch supporter of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the two men have become bitter enemies, with Erdogan pressing the U.S. to extradite Gulen. Erdogan has accused Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup against him in 2016.

According to the court filing here, Turkey “has initiated an investigation within its own borders to determine whether the proceeds derived from these illegal activities in the United States are being unlawfully transported and transmitted to individuals in Turkey in violation of Turkish criminal law, including international money laundering and fraud…”

Concept also has connections to one of the most powerful politicians in Illinois — state House Speaker and Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan of Chicago…

The speaker, his wife Shirley and other Madigan allies repeatedly travelled in Turkey as guests of a Gulen-led foundation and other Turkish groups in Chicago.

According to economic-interest statements he filed with the state, Michael Madigan made four trips to Turkey from 2009 through 2012 — before Gulen fell out with Erdogan.

This is a longer version of same article with details about Missouri Gulen schools.

https://chicago.suntimes.com/2020/11/6/21552520/concept-schools-charter-school-chain-investigation-settlement


Chicago Public Schools are ready to open, according to officials.

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools said classrooms are ready for students and teachers to safely return Wednesday after the district installed air purifiers and took other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Last month, the Chicago Teachers Union said neither teachers nor students should return to class because school buildings are old and not designed to sufficiently ventilate and purify air during a pandemic.

CPS said it addressed those concerns by spending $8.5 million to put a HEPA air purifier in every classroom. District officials said the 20,000 purifiers are capable of removing “99.9% of ultrafine particles,” including airborne mold, bacteria and viruses like COVID-19. 

Additionally, CPS officials said the district implemented the top five COVID-19 mitigation efforts recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to keep schools safe, and hired independent industrial hygienists to produce a school-by-school analysis of air quality and ventilation systems.

Now the district says classrooms are ready for students and staff so long as they have either a HEPA filter or an operating mechanical ventilation system which includes both an air supply and an exhaust. By those standards, CPS says 99% of its classrooms are ready and the ones that are not will be prioritized for repairs. 

Fred Klonsky says there are many reasons to worry about postal service, including delivery of medicines.

Open the link and see the photograph of the discarded mailboxes.

Destroying federal property is a crime, isn’t it?

Fred Klonsky writes here about “cancel culture” and about opinion columnist John Kass, who lost his prominent spot in the Chicago Tribune after his references to George Soros as a bad guy. Kass did not get fired, but his column did lose its highly desirable spot on page 2 of the paper.

Here is what you need to know about George Soros. He was born in Hungary, survived the Holocaust, and became a billionaire. He has used his fortune to promote democracy and civil society in eastern Europe and elsewhere. He is Jewish. When rightwing fringe elements invoke his name, they are using his name, irrespective of facts, as an anti-Semitic slur, to imply that his money (Jewish money) is supporting whatever they oppose. This is a “dog whistle” in the new lingo of our day.

I have been interested in “political correctness” and censorship for many years. In 2006, I published a book called “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn.” The book has a list of hundreds of words, phrases, and images that will never appear in a textbook or on a test because someone finds them objectionable. So, for example, students will never encounter references to owls or witches or Halloween or death on a test. They will never see an image of an elderly person using a cane or a walker. They will never see a rainbow or a picture of a man with his hands in his pockets. The list is hilarious and at the same time sad. The book contains many examples of books that were banned from school libraries and from classroom use, decades ago. It also goes back in history to demonstrate that censors bowdlerized Shakespeare to remove references to sex that the censors found objectionable.

“Cancel culture” (another new term, but not a new practice) has a long history, rooted in Puritanism and prudishness.

I only recently became aware of “dog whistle” and figured out its meaning from the context.

Here is the online definition:

dog whis·tle
noun
noun: dog whistle; plural noun: dog whistles
a high-pitched whistle used to train dogs, typically having a sound inaudible to humans.
a subtly aimed political message which is intended for, and can only be understood by, a particular group.
“dog-whistle issues such as immigration and crime”

Merriam-Webster added the word to its dictionary in April 2017:

The earliest, and still most common, meaning of dog whistle is the obvious one: it is a whistle for dogs. Dog ears can detect much higher frequencies than our puny human ears can, so a dog whistle is nothing more than an exceedingly high-pitched whistle that canines can hear, but that we cannot.

dog whistle
Figuratively, a ‘dog whistle’ is a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others.

Yet there’s another dog whistle we’ve been hearing about lately: a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others.

Given that the term dog whistle has been around for over 200 years, it seems odd that it only developed a figurative sense recently. After all, it’s the perfect word to use to describe something that some people can hear, but others cannot. Yet it is only within the past 20 years or so that it has seen this figurative sense take hold. And it is primarily used to describe political speech.

If you want to cast him as just a nativist, his slogan “Make America Great Again” can be read as a dog-whistle to some whiter and more Anglo-Saxon past.
—Ross Douthat, The New York Times, 10 August 2015

Saul introduces the concept of the “figleaf,” which differs from the more familiar dog whistle: while the dog whistle targets specific listeners with coded messages that bypass the broader population, the figleaf adds a moderating element of decency to cover the worst of what’s on display, but nevertheless changes the boundaries of acceptability.
—Ray Drainville, Hyperallergic, 12 July 2016

Dog whistle appears to have taken on this political sense in the mid-1990s; the Oxford English Dictionary currently has a citation from a Canadian newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen, in October of 1995, as their earliest recorded figurative use: “It’s an all-purpose dog-whistle that those fed up with feminists, minorities, the undeserving poor hear loud and clear.”

The recent appearance of the figurative use does not mean that dog whistle has not been used previously to describe the habit that politicians occasionally have of sending coded messages to a certain group of constituents. In 1947, a book titled American Economic History referred to a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as being “designed to be like a modern dog-whistle, with a note so high that the sensitive farm ear would catch it perfectly while the unsympathetic East would hear nothing.” However, saying that speech is like a dog-whistle (which is a simile) is not quite the same as saying that it is a dog whistle (which is a metaphor), and this subtle distinction is what causes us to judge the phrase as having originated in the 1990s, rather than the 1940s.

Trump is the master of the dog whistle. Every time he talks about his reverence for Confederate monuments and the Confederate flag as “our heritage” and “our history,” that’s a dog whistle, which racists hear clearly. It is such a loud dog whistle that even non-racists and anti-racists can hear it.

In this post, Mercedes Schneider interviews Annie Tan, who joined Teach for America in 2011, and, with inadequate training, was assigned be a teacher of special education in Chicago. Her experience was, she says, a disaster.

One of Tan’s responses:

Tan: I will never forget the first day when we had our celebration, and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools came and made a speech to us. It felt very strange for him to be there for some reason. Yes, we were going to be 250 new teachers in Chicago, so logically it may have made sense to introduce us and do a welcome, but I also couldn’t imagine him doing that at a regular university that had education majors graduating. I couldn’t imagine him going to one of those graduations and making a speech.

There were a few moments that I still remember that were odd, as well. I remember the first day of professional development through Teach for America, when we got no talk around how segregated Chicago was, just people alluding to it, like Teach for America was not even going to approach that schools were unequal because of race and income, especially in Chicago, which really stands out since I worked in Chicago Public Schools for five years and taught there for four.

And then, the speech from some Teach for America staff members, that we might be the first teachers in some of these kids’ lives that had high expectations for them. I first thought to myself, “How can I have high expectations for my students when I don’t even know them yet? All I’ve done was graduate from a fancy college, so how am I better than someone else?” That really rubbed me the wrong way.

Schneider called this attitude “the savior complex.”

Who thought it was good to place an unprepared young teacher in a classroom of children with special needs?

It is a revealing interview.

The Network for Public Education has sponsored a series of weekly ZOOM conversations in which I interview someone who has important things to say.

On Wednesday, I interviewed Jitu Brown, a prominent community organizer in Chicago and leader of the Journey for Justice Alliance, which has organizations in thirty cities.

When we set up the discussion, we thought we would talk mostly about privatization and Jitu Brown’s successful fight to save the Walter H. Dyett High School in Chicago. Jitu Brown is one of the heroes of my new book SLAYING GOLIATH, for his success in stopping Rahm Emanuel from closing Dyett.

These topics were discussed but the main focus was on the murder of George Floyd and racism in America. Jitu Brown has quite a lot to say about racism, in large part because of his experiences. We also talked about a Rahm Emanuel, and his disastrous role in running the public schools as mayor of Chicago.

Listeners said it was a “riveting” conversation.

Listen and see for yourself.

Next week, I will talk with Amy Frogge, a great leader of the resistance to privatization in Metro Nashville. She is a member of the Metro Nashville public school board, as well as a parent of public school students and a lawyer.

She too is a hero of SLAYING GOLIATH for her leadership in defending public schools.

We will talk about “The Fight for Better Public Schools in Tennessee.” The billionaires and their puppet organizations have poured many millions into school board races in an effort to capture control of the district. Amy has fought valiantly against proponents of charters and vouchers.

This is a battle that is being played out in urban districts across the nation.

Join us on Zoom on June 10 at 7:30 pm, EST.

Community organizer Jitu Brown and I will be in conversation on Wednesday June 3 at 7:30 pm EST.

Please sign up and join us.

Jitu Brown is the leader of Journey for Justice, a civil rights organization with chapters in 25 cities.

We will talk about the murder of George Floyd, about racism in America today, about the legacy of Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, about Jitu’s fight to prevent the closing of the Walter H. Dyett High School in Chicago, and much more.

Robert Kuttner is editor of The American Prospect. Here he writes that Biden has asked Rahm Emanuel to advise him. What Kuttner fails to mention is Rahm’s disastrous control of the Chicago public schools. He should be forever stigmatized by his decision to close 50 public schools in a single day. He was continually at war with the Chicago Teachers Union. To know him, if you value public schools, is to loathe him.

Kuttner writes:

MAY 29, 2020

Kuttner on TAP

Say It Ain’t So, Joe: Rahm Emanuel?? Just when you thought that Team Biden couldn’t get any worse than Larry Summers, we now learn courtesy of the Chicago Tribune that Clinton and Obama alum Rahm Emanuel is a Biden adviser.

A quick refresher (or maybe emetic) on Emanuel. He began as a staffer in the Clinton White House where he helped push through NAFTA, then went to Wall Street to make his fortune (he made $16 million in less than three years). From there, he got elected to Congress where he epitomized everything bad about the revolving door.

As head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he arranged to load up the House Financial Services Committee with Wall Street Democrats who sought the prized seat to raise lots of Wall Street money and protect Wall Street’s financial interests. This made the job of Chairman Barney Frank much harder when Congress was working on what became the Dodd-Frank Act.

Obama, looking for someone who knew Congress, selected Emanuel as his White House chief of staff, where he was a force for lowballing recovery outlays. He tried to talk Obama out of proposing the Affordable Care Act.

After exiting the White House, he got elected mayor of Chicago in 2011, where his approval ratings dropped to 18 percent following the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and the city’s bungled attempt to withhold evidence. Emanuel initially announced for a third term, but pulled out. He then joined the private equity firm Centerview Partners.

Just the guy to advise Biden. Though events are conspiring to push Biden to the left, his default setting is to reach out to the old boys of the Obama years.

Meanwhile, polls show that Elizabeth Warren is the possible running mate most likely to help Biden get elected. The two have been doing a public mating ritual, but the Wall Street Democrats close to Biden will do everything possible to keep her from being named.

If by some miracle Warren is selected, it will be trench warfare, with Wall Street Dems demanding one of their kind for the power posts of Fed Chair, Treasury Secretary, and head of the National Economic Council to balance Warren.

Rahm Emanuel! A good thing that Andrew Mellon is dead and Bernie Madoff is indisposed.