Carmel Martin Foolish to Fight Unions

20 May

Since the Great Depression Adolph Hitler, Margaret Thatcher, and assorted right wing South American despots have been the loudest voices fueling a backlash against the labor unions. Last week, the right-wing gained an unlikely new ally: Carmel Martin. Ms. Martin wrote an opinion piece for the Chicago Sun-Times calling the teachers unions foolish for opposing Common Core.

Ms. Martin’s attack on labor unions is shortsighted. The unions represent an opportunity to set a higher bar, and replace America’s flawed economic system that lavishes huge rewards on capital, while often exploiting workers. Only by supporting unions can we hope to better equip our students for future jobs in the global economy.

While Ms. Martin’s decision is troubling, we’re lucky to have seen some recent push back against the supposed education reform that has infected the nation. Both the mayoral election in New York City and Newark are clear repudiations of top down mandates and test don’t teach education policies. Parents are clearly asking for a new era of leadership in education.

But Ms. Martin has gone against the wishes of these parents and called for abandoning best practices in order to adopt these hackneyed education standards devised by David Coleman, a man who has never taught a day in his life. It is irresponsible to ignore the voices of the Chicago teachers who everyday teach on the city’s front lines.

In shutting up student voice, too often we get dictatorial mind-numbing professional development. Our students deserve far better and so do our teachers.

At the end of the day, Joe McCarthy’s communist witch hunt, Pinochet’s coup in Chile, and Carmel Martin’s opposition to the Chicago Teachers Union are not going to be what ensure our teachers can prepare their students for success. Hyperbolic alarm bells, anti-teacher slogans, and scare tactics will get us nowhere. High expectations are great, but without adequate funding, stable school environments free from threat of closing and turn around, and safe neighborhoods all the professional development in the world will not make much of a difference with most children. Higher expectations to compete for American jobs in a 21st century economy are great, but we can’t get there with a 19th century top down model that ignores teacher voice. We know that in the end standards don’t prepare kids for success, teachers do, so maybe it’s time to listen to the teachers instead of attempting to silence them. Isn’t that just what Hitler did?

CPS Issues Non-Apology for Xenophobic Questions

16 May

ImageI just love non-apologies.   I have always wanted a politician caught in an incredibly embarrassing scandal to do a press conference where he begins his speech, “I want to apologize to anybody who was too stupid to understand what I was trying to say or who with their limited intelligence somehow thought I was lying.”

CPS issued just that kind of apology to the racist test questions mentioned last week on this very blog.  In an email, CPS spokesman Joel Hood said, “We apologize for any misunderstanding and have provided librarians an alternative test to administer to students,”

Let’s get one thing straight, the problem wasn’t a misunderstanding.  A misunderstand happens when somebody means something and you interpret it differently.  Nobody misunderstood those test questions.  The problem was with the test questions themselves.

Hood’s explanation of course is that these views were not held by CPS, but “was designed for students to evaluate the credibility of arguments.”   However, the test asked you to determine, which opinion was credible.  Meaning, you had to pick one of them as authoritative.  The only way to get the question correct was to say that the person saying that immigrants (including documented ones) can’t live in law abiding ways.  There is nothing in the “authoritative” viewpoint that isn’t opinion and hyperbole.  There is no way for an intelligent student to say, “They’re both wrong.  My family is an immigrant family and we aren’t criminals.”

Spin it anyway you want it.  There was no misunderstanding.  What there was, is called racism.

Chicago’s Racist Test Questions

9 May

ImageI have seen a lot in the news today about Los Angeles.   There, a test question asking 8th grade students to determine whether the Holocaust actually happened or was created for political gain drew well deserved outrage.

Lesser know is that Chicago has its own racist and xenophobic test this year.  This test was removed from the knowledge center today, but as far as I know has not been pulled from unsuspecting elementary school classrooms where teachers will be giving the test to many immigrant children.  The assessment asks students to identify the best argument between two on opposing the path to citizenship.

Argument one is from Arie Payo who used to work for the Bush administration and now writes for the Conservative Journal.  His argument is “I think it is best to keep America for Americans and those who know how to speak English properly.  Save America for those of us who know how to behave in law abiding ways.”

Argument two is from a small business owner named Stella Luna who worries that “giving citizenship to undocumented immigrants would increase the number of poor people living in our town.”

Students not only have to decide who is the authority, but explain the author’s viewpoint and what in their background brings them to this conclusion.  In a nutshell, many immigrant children are being asked to explain why they are ruining America with their law breaking ways.

It gets worse, though.  I decided to Google “Stella Luna”, “Arie Payo”, and “Conservative Journal”.   None of them actually exist.  They were totally created by the test creators who could created any topic, but chose one that would be insulting and damaging to many CPS students.  The offensive and xenophobic questions were actually written by the test creators and not some right wing journal.

Actually, if I was a Republican I might be upset too.  At a time, when they are trying to reach out to voters, these vile statements are being attributed to a member of the Bush administration.    CPS has taken steps to cover this up, but what they haven’t done is to recall the tests.  Students across the city are in the process of taking it.

Surely, even very sensitive topics can be addressed by a teacher who provides context.  However, an examination is not the place to provide context, especially one where the teacher must read from a script.  Do the right thing CPS and pull this test.

Boycotting the ISAT: Your Own Personal Decision

3 Mar

I have heard through the grapevine that a teacher at my school is seriously considering refusing to give the ISAT test on Tuesday.  Through that same grapevine, I’ve heard that another 2 teachers may be interested in doing so if they weren’t alone and I am seriously considering making it 4.  It’s a tough decision.  I like my school and my principal.  My only real problem is with CPS.  However, this is a chance to really make a statement about the over testing that we’re forcing on our students instead of teaching them.

Barbara’s Byrd-Bennett’s own email explains just why this is such a waste of valuable time.  She wants us to give these tests in part because next fall, we’ll be able to see what some $10 an hour worker in a mini-mall who was evaluated on how many tests he graded thought of our students’ writing.  There will be no information about where they were strong or weak and the students will have moved on to a new class, but that seems to be the only academic value of the test.  The state has already made it clear that schools won’t lose funding because of low testing rates.

So, what do we as educators have to weigh?  For me, it’s my home and my family.  I can’t afford to lose my job.  However, I know that if we have solidarity, the chances of this having much of a negative impact on my career are greatly reduced.  If this were a movie, this would be our Henry the fifth moment.  This would be the time when all the Hispanic children in Los Angeles walk out of their school or when Norma Rae shuts down the factory.   We really have a chance to strike a blow for sanity in CPS’s testing policy.

Parents throughout the city and suburbs are opting out and it’s becoming a real avalanche of non-participation.   We can stand and we must stand.  I’m not sure if I can do it and I agree that it’s an individual’s choice, but I don’t want to be the person who meekly went to the back of the bus or turned around because British troops were blocking the road.

The Time to Make a Stand on Testing is Now

28 Feb

ImageI have been in semi-retirement from the blog lately, but I received an angry email in my mailbox today from none other than Barbara Byrd-Bennett.  It seems like once every couple of weeks, she feels the need to write to me to let me know just how much she thinks of the teachers of the city of Chicago.  The email was nice enough to include some “Facts” and “Repercussions” for me to ponder.


  • The time spent on the ISAT is less than 1% of the entire school year. 

The test at my school, is taking 4 days.  During those 4 days, the students will be having two test sessions.  Special education and ELL students will be testing practically the entire time.  During this time there will be no gym, library, music, computers, or art.  During this time upper grade students will not be having their departmental classes.   This is 4 days completely disrupted.  Plus makeup tests.  If 4 days of missed education are no big deal, why are we making up the snow days?


  • The test DOES NOT take up the entire 2-week window as some would claim.  It takes about 3 hours each for reading and math, and 2 hours for science in only grades 4 and 7.  (See here and here—page 6, and here—“ISAT Summary” for more details).  The 2-week window allows for maximum flexibility in scheduling at the school level, and for make-up testing of students who were absent.  Make-ups do not interrupt the instructional time of other students as they are conducted in a separate room.  
  • ISAT is not a drain on the CPS budget because CPS pays nothing for it.

Even if that is true, the state is paying big bucks for this and that’s money that isn’t going to CPS.  Also, you’re paying teachers and support staff to watch kids fill in bubbles rather than teach.  That’s a waste of resources.

  • Although ISAT will not be used for accountability, selective enrollment or student promotion, it is not meaningless.  It will be completely aligned to the Common Core standards in both the range of skills assessed and the depth of student-response expectations in writing.  This will provide educators an important first look at how well their students are doing on these more rigorous expectations.  Other current assessments do not offer this depth of information.

So next year, at some point, teachers will be able to see how students that they no longer have in class did on a test without any information on what kind of problems they got right and what ones they got wrong.  The writing is 1 day out of four.  Furthermore, the writing is scored by people in a mini-mall making $10 an hour.  Their evaluations don’t fill me with confidence.


  • Federal and State law require all students to be assessed in grades 3 – 8.

OK, so what are the Benchmark Tests, the multiple NWEA tests, and the REACH assessments for?

  • Schools with low testing participation are in jeopardy of losing federal funding as this test is a required component of NCLB.  
  • ISBE may review the accreditation of schools with low testing percentages.
  • Low percentage participation will also affect AYP status.

Isn’t this the year in NCLB where students don’t make AYP unless 100% of their students meet or exceed?  Good luck with that.

  • If an individual teacher refuses to administer the test, you should direct that teacher to swipe out and leave the work place.  You should direct another employee to administer the test.

Because all schools have plenty of teachers with nothing better to do.  I’m sure that if, say 20 teachers refused, a school could do great.  It almost makes me just want to use my 3 personal days this week,

  • Notify your staff that:

The State Certification Board may take action to revoke the certification of any employee who encourages a student to boycott the ISAT.

That, of course, would be up to the state.  Would they revoke the certification?  They can try, I suppose.  I don’t see it.

The Chicago Board of Education will discipline any employee who encourages a student not to take the ISAT or who advocates against the ISAT on work time for insubordination and for any disruption of the educational process. 

If parents or students make unsolicited inquiries regarding testing or opting out, staff shall explain that the ISAT is required by state and federal law and Board policy, and shall refer the questioner to school administrators to address any further inquiry or request.

I believe that they can require that I do not encourage my students to opt out on work time, but they certainly can’t make me tell parents or staff that their child is required to take the test, when that simply is untrue.

It is critical that all parents, students and staff understand these potential repercussions.  While employees may voice their opinions on matters of public concern, they have an obligation as government employees not to undermine or interfere with state and federal law and with Illinois/CPS Testing policies by encouraging students to opt out.

Breaking the law?  Just a little over-dramatic.  However, every time BBB sends something like this out and it makes the news, the parents learn the truth anyway.   And that is the scariest thing for CPS.

Please direct any additional questions about testing policy to Didi Swartz (773-553-1161 or  Please direct questions on potential repercussions to Tom Krieger (773-553-1193 or or David Ruhland (773-553-2321 or


Barbara Byrd-Bennett

Despite promises to the contrary, testing continues to expand.  They are taking a considerable amount of teaching time away so that a perhaps the one day they do the writing tests, there may possibly be data generated that next year will possibly be useful to someone.  I’m sorry, you don’t lose weight by weighing yourself and you don’t cure a patient by taking their temperature.  Testing is big business and that is the true force behind this ridiculous and abusive over-testing.


We Have Altered The Deal, Pray We Don’t Alter It Any Further

3 Dec

Harry S. Truman once said, “Given a choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican,  the public will choose the real Republican every time.”  Those words have a lot of wisdom in them.   If you can’t give people a reason to vote for you, giving them a reason to vote against the other guy will only vote for so long.  Again and again, however, I am seeing the Democrats fail to learn this important lesson.

I am writing this just moments after the Illinois Legislature rammed through a pension gutting bill and then immediately began spending these savings by passing them along to ADM.  I truly believe that this is the final blow for Pat Quinn  after pension theft and naming Paul Vallas as his Lieutenant Governor will find moderate public employees moving to Dan Rutherford and the more liberal ones voting green.  In fact, if he gets a Republican opponent who can appear to be a common sense moderate (I don’t think any of them are–we’re talking appearance here), he’s going to lose big.

Illinois Democrats helped to spearhead legislation being pushed by ALEC and they should know that it won’t end well for them.  Labor traditionally has been in your corner while ALEC is made up of a bunch of people who give to Republicans.   How you expect to win, I don’t know.  When the election rolls around even if the CTU leadership wanted to support you, they’d never get it past the House of Delegates.  It’s quite possible the Illinois Supreme Court will undo the damage to the pensions, but it won’t be able to undo the damage done to the Democrats.

I’ve seen the same thing happen in Wisconsin where a real movement was mobilized to take on Scott Walker.  That movement quickly dissipated when Democrats championed a Milwaukee Mayor who was from the Rahm Emanuel wing of the party.  Now, the Democratic insiders are trying to foist another anti-labor non-progressive candidate on the state in Mary Burke.  This is a losing strategy.

I could explain just how morally reprehensible this pension grab was, but politicians don’t usually respect that sort of thing.  Instead, I will make it very clear that we will remember and there are a lot of us.  We could have worked with you, but instead will fight you and if we can’t do it at the ballot box, we’ll do it in the streets, and in the hearts and minds of every voter we come in contact with and we talk to a lot of people.

One Teacher’s Look at Politics – The Governors

19 Nov


I remember when things got down to the wire in the 2010 election.   In the Democratic Primary, I had wanted Dan Hynes.  He lost in a heartbreaking election with no turnout and I was disappointed that teachers who should have known better had stayed away in droves.  At the last House of Delegates meeting before the election, a Chicago Teachers Union with very mixed feelings about Quinn who had already pushed through an attack on our pensions, had a very close vote to endorse him.

I pushed for us to endorse Quinn despite not believing he was a very good Governor.  I was scared of Brady getting in and when we saw what Scott Walker was able to do in Wisconsin, I think the movement of the teachers union and other organized labor to Quinn saved us from having a string of right to work states from Wisconsin to Indiana.  Some of my friends wanted to support any third party candidate.  However, a teacher who is gay, posted on a mailing list that I am on that she didn’t have that luxury.  She wanted to marry her long term partner and Quinn was her best chance of that happening.  In the end, supporting Quinn was a good move.

Things changed when Quinn chose Paul Vallas as his lieutenant Governor.  Even though they run separately in the primary, choosing an out of state Republican with a track record of education reform failures as his running mate was a slap in the face to the Chicago Teachers Union.  When local pundits analyzed it, they all said “well, who else are they going to vote for?”  We have other choices besides Rauner and Quinn and I want to go through them point by point.

Rauner – I believe he’d be like Emanuel, but worse.  However, the Governor has less control over us than the mayor does.   Also, it may be easier to fight a Republican Governor than a Democrat.   Voting for him is not an option

Voting for a more moderate Republican – There are none.  Senator Kirk has refused to endorse any of the candidates because he doesn’t think any our moderate enough for the state.  I think he knows.

Vote for third party – If you want to get behind a third party, that’s great.  I understand the desire to say a pox on both of your houses.  However, with so much at stake, I don’t see why I should give up a vote in order for the green party to go from 5% to 7% of the vote.  If the greens or any other party can run a quality candidate with a chance, I definitely would be for supporting them, but that’s a huge “if”.

Run our own candidate – To what end?  Do we want to play spoiler?  There probably isn’t enough time to really be credible a year from now.  Also, with limited resources should teachers be putting all of them here?

Vote for Mickey Mouse – The inability to find an actual candidate probably has as much to do with your unwillingness to be informed as it does with the quality of the candidates.

Endorse Pat Quinn – I think that ship has sailed. 

So what do we do?   I think we need to continue to advocate for our issues.   We should fight for a fair tax, for pensions that we can live with, for an elected school board, and for more funding for our schools.  We should get involved in the elections where we can make a difference and where there are candidates who have championed our issues or are willing to do so, we give them our full support.

In the race for Governor, we play the game.  Maybe we do endorse Quinn, maybe we don’t.  However, we don’t throw our resources into this election.  I will probably not take a Democratic primary ballot and will instead vote for Rauner’s closest challenger int he GOP primary.   We can vote for Quinn, we can choose not to, but I do think we need to get political.  We need to advocate for our issues and for those who champion them and let the race for Governor take care of itself.


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