Archives for category: Chicago

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.

The Chicago Board of Education voted to end their relationships with two private companies that received hundreds of millions of dollars for custodial services but did a lousy job. The companies got a one-year renewal while the school system prepares to restore their own custodians.

Chicago Public Schools plans to end its maligned relationship worth hundreds of millions of dollars with two facility management companies, one of which for years has maintained filthy schools, in an effort to regain control over the cleaning and maintenance of its hundreds of buildings.

CPS officials are renewing contracts with Aramark and Sodexo for one more year to give themselves time to come up with an alternative, then they’re calling it quits after a turbulent stretch of outsourced work that includes oversight of janitorial, landscaping, snow removal and pest control services.

CPS first tried that model, called integrated facilities management, in 2014 as a pilot program at a few dozen schools. More buildings were then added to Aramark’s and Sodexo’s control each year through 2018 until management of all CPS facilities fell under the two companies’ control. Prior to 2014, school engineers and principals managed their own facilities.

The change comes as schools remain closed during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Parents and teachers have long lamented CPS’ ability to keep its buildings sanitized, concerns that are heightened while there is no cure or vaccine for the highly-contagious novel coronavirus.

A Chicago Sun-Times series in 2018 revealed disgusting, pest-filled conditions at dozens of schools managed by Aramark that failed surprise inspections, even as the district signed rich contracts to expand the company’s work.

Last week, I had a whirlwind visit to Chicago to talk about my new book. Fortunately before my flight to Charleston, West Virginia, I had time in the morning to visit Karen Lewis at an assisted living facility where the care is excellent.

Karen is a brilliant charismatic woman who taught science in the Chicago public schools for more than 20 years. In 2010, Karen led a faction of the Chicago Teachers Union called the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which swept to victory in the union elections. She became president of the CTU. She was a strategic organizer who worked to build alliances with parent and community groups. In 2012, the CTU voted to strike. The legislature, egged on by Gates-funded Stand for Children, passed a law that they thought would make a strike impossible by requiring a vote of 75% of the membership. Karen and her team won the approval of about 90% of the members and led a successful strike that had the support of parents and communities because they understood that teachers were striking for their children.

Karen was an articulate and greatly admired visionary. She planned to run for mayor against Rahm Emanuel in 2015, and her own polling suggested that she would beat him handily.

Tragically, Karen was diagnosed with a brain tumor in October 2014. Since then, she has had a series of setbacks, including a stroke. Life is so unfair. Karen is only 66.

When I saw her, she was happy that I visited. As I expected, she is disabled and has limited mobility. But despite the terrible blows that life has dealt her, she is spirited, still has a sense of humor, and is interested in what’s happening in the world. I told her that wherever I go, people remember her as the Mother of the Resistance. They remember that she stood up to a bully and won. I showed her the photo of her in my book and told her that her legacy is there whenever teachers stand together and demand better conditions for teaching and learning. I told her she was the spark that lit the fire by her example and the powerful union she created. I told her she will never be forgotten.

She was a strong labor leader, a saucy woman who was fearless, wise, and funny.

I was glad I saw her but sad to see the tragedy she endured when she was at the peak of her promise. Her beloved husband John sees her every day and has been by her side through the best of times and the worst of times.

I wrote a note in the book I gave her. Simply, “Karen, I love you. Diane.”

While in Chicago, I was interviewed about SLAYING GOLIATH by Justin Kaufman of WGN Radio, who is one of the best interviewers I have met. We had enough time to go into depth and he asked smart questions.

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch: “What you are basically measuring with standardized tests is family income and family education”

This is a really great podcast that I enjoyed taping with brothers Mike and Fred Klonsky on their podcast “Hitting Left” while I was in Chicago. We borrowed time from our host Mario Smith, because the show occurred while Mario was on the air. Start with the photograph of the four of us holding baseball bats, the better to hit left with. Mike and Fred are veteran activists. While Mike was a leader of Students for a Democratic Society decades ago, I was a budding neoconservative. I remember reading about this fiery radical and never imagined that one day we would be friends. Fred and Mike asked some interesting questions, and it’s a wide-ranging discussion. Mario, a former art teacher in the Chicago Public Schools joined in. He referred to the”illustrious” Klonsky brothers, and so they shall remain.  We had fun.

Last night I spoke at the conference hall of the Chicago Teachers Union. Today began with an interview at WGN-TV.

It’s a short segment but I said what I needed to day about the condition of education. 

Enjoy!

Jesse Sharkey is president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

 

Diane-

Last week, schools across the country sat through the most recent episode of a show that jumped the shark years ago: “Test Score Blues.” This particular episode featured the release of Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores showing that the U.S. wasn’t at the top (again) of national rankings. Of course, the test itself doesn’t matter. The performative outrage that follows is the main event, headlined by predictable hand-wringing editorials about how schools need to do better.

Those editorials don’t address the massive increase in student poverty across the country, or discuss any history since the Coleman Report in 1966 showed that poverty and segregation have horrific negative impacts. They also don’t examine the more recent history of constant educational social experiments in places like Englewood’s Hope High School, which Chicago Public Schools plans to close after years of neglect.

CPS has, in fact, been ground zero for testing mania. The district labels schools according to those tests via the School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP), the so-called standard of school comparisons that is the basis for principal evaluations and is two-thirds based on test scores in elementary schools. Poverty isn’t included. A school’s suite of art offerings isn’t included. A school’s curriculum, debate program or robotics team isn’t included. Faulty school “quality” metrics like the SQRP reinforce continued tests through perverse incentives that legitimize gaming of the system to goose test scores, but lose focus on things that matter.

It’s clear why teachers across the country have gone on strike after strike after strike, and that’s to save one of our country’s hallmark institutions: public education. The way forward is to invest in public education. Ensure that schools have sufficient revenue and distribute it to those most in need; ensure that every school has a social worker and a nurse; ensure that students with special needs have appropriate staff to meet those needs; ensure that class sizes are developmentally appropriate; and ensure that students have arts curriculum and sports and other extracurricular programs that teach creativity and collaboration.

Teaching to the test does not work. Well-rounded curriculum, hands-on experiential learning, proper nutrition and exercise, and positive and loving schools do work, but they aren’t counted so they don’t count, according to CPS. The district instead looks to SQRP, which relies on metrics like test scores, attendance and school culture surveys that directly harm our most vulnerable students—including students in poverty, students in unstable housing arrangements, students with disabilities and students learning English as a second language.

The fact that test scores are stagnant, or growing in some places, is incredible given that students—especially those in Chicago—come to school with more challenges: language, trauma, malnutrition, and a lack of physical and mental health care. We accept sports teams that intentionally lose so they can improve in the future, but schools that give their all for students in the face of great obstacles are punished for not churning out the same student “product” as schools with fewer challenges. This is backwards, and presents an obstacle to school districts making better decisions.

Our union will continue to push the district to abolish the SQRP system, and abolish all measures that have adverse affects on students in high-poverty school communities, special education students, homeless students and refugee/recent immigrant students.

In the end, why does any of this matter? How does an analysis of our PISA scores explain anything? Why is a test score the barometer as opposed to the elimination of illiteracy and poverty, eradication of communicable diseases, and an end to sexual and physical violence?What is this country really doing to help lower-achieving students?

Educators have the answers. Fortunately, for those who get tired of the same old tropes, we are actually good at facilitating learning, and many people—from parents to presidential candidates—are joining us in standing up for what truly matters.

In solidarity,


Jesse Sharkey
CTU President

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